get yourself dead
In some parts of Philadelphia, you don’t die, you don’t get murdered, you don’t commit suicide or fall off a roof or come home and light a cigarette when the oven’s pilot light has gone out, blowing half the block to Kingdom Come.
You get yourself dead.
And like a lot of things that happen in a neighborhood when you’re not watching your back, this isn’t particularly good. Because, maybe you really did make a mistake that you could’ve avoided, but it is also possible that there were real reasons, people, money, or other things involved that had something to do with the neighborhood, and that can bother people.
It bothered Andrea—call her Andy—Cosicki that her father, “Benny Lunch” Cosicki, got himself dead, but, if you listen to some people, Benny shouldn’t’ve gotten her that job with the Philadelphia Press because the media always gets it wrong, even when they get it right, and you don’t want no one in the media looking over your shoulder, asking you questions about who you’ve been breaking the bread with. Especially if you come up from a neighborhood like Redmonton, make enough money cutting deals—you know, making some things happen sweet and easy for some people in the city, and not so easy for others—then move out to the suburbs—the Main Line, no less. He figured he could drop back in on the place where he got his start, that he could drive into Redmonton in his gray suit and his yellow Buick and that wouldn’t bother people.
It bothered people and then he got himself dead.
And that bothered N. S. Ladderback, the guy that writes the obituaries at the Press. They say he made some calls, just the way he does when somebody gets dead in the city, somebody who isn’t big or rich or famous, but important enough to get a mention.
So why was it nobody in town, not the Press or the Standard or the little newspapers, the freebies that you see blowing around all over the streets, did an obituary about Benny Lunch? It could’ve had something to do with Benny Lunch working a deal that settled the newspaper-delivery truck drivers’ strike in such a way that the drivers made out okay but the newspaper owners got a little bit screwed.
Or maybe it was because Benny Lunch never liked seeing his name in the papers and that, even when he was dead, he could call in favors.
You’d think he get an obit because Benny Lunch had this faith in people, places, and things: That no matter how bad things got, no matter how much people hated each other and tried to kill each other, you could get them to sit down at a meal and work out their differences.
The cops found his body in the basement of the Straight Up Club, a place at North Seventeenth and Sackawinick where he used to tend bar before it caught fire and was never rebuilt. They figured he fell through a hole that the fire had made in the second floor of the club, in what had been an apartment where the sarge—retired Philadelphia Police Sergeant Francis McMann—lived with his daughter Charlotte (her mother, a Polish woman named Natalie, had died of some kind of cancer a few years before that).
Everybody knows that the sarge died in that fire while helping to rescue the club’s patrons. N. S. Ladderback wrote a great obituary of him in the Press—it hung in a frame on the wall of Bep ‘n’ Betty’s Luncheonette at Eighteenth and Sackawinick until the place closed. Ben Cosicki, who was really, really short, married Charlotte McMann, who was really, really tall, not long after what was left of the sarge was buried. The baby came a little too quick—but that didn’t stop Ben from strolling Andrea around the neighborhood. He let everybody admire her and wonder if she was going to grow up tall, like her mother, or short, like her father, while Ben handed out the street money from Councilman Szathmary’s office, right upstairs of Bep ‘n’ Betty’s Luncheonette.
Now Cosicki had a real job that the councilman got him, riding a trash truck, but everybody knows when you get your job through politics, your job is just what you do when you’re not working for the person who got you the job.
Oh, you should have seen Ben working the street money on election day, walking fast and wearing the big smile of somebody who knows he’s on the bottom but thinks if he plays the game right, and performs an occasional miracle, he’ll go right to the top.
There was one election day coming on and the weatherman was calling for rain, which meant that it would cost more to get out the vote, because there are people in the city who will walk from Redmonton all the way down to Broad and Market to watch the Mummers on a freezing New Years Day if the sun is shining. But these very same people will not go two blocks to the polling booths at the Gerrold Street VFW Hall if there’s a drop of rain on the sidewalk, unless they can expect something for their effort.
Up in Councilman Szathmary’s office, Bep Adamo had wrung every penny he could out of the businessmen, shopkeepers, laborers, tradesmen, bookies, drug dealers, pimps, and any other fine, upstanding citizen who wanted the very best government money could buy. But there just wasn’t enough.
That was when Ben Cosicki saved the day. He was strolling his baby daughter around with him when he heard that the councilman had come up short. He parked his daughter in the stroller in front of Bep ‘n’ Betty’s Luncheonette, and got Betty to go up on a stepladder and hand him down one of the cookie jars she kept on shelves above the tables. Then then he took the cookie jar into the Hampton Bank branch, this big, old, domed, marble-sheathed monster of a building that stood just across Sackawinick Street from Bep ‘n’ Betty’s, but could be miles away.
The Hampton Bank, like a lot of Philadelphia institutions that survive, persist, and endure, in spite of the offspring that inherit them, was not the biggest, richest, or most powerful financial institution in the country, but it was the oldest. The bank’s chairman, Kellum Brickle, a New England blue blood who married into the Wadcalader family that had owned the bank since before the Revolutionary War, sometimes used that branch as his office because he liked to wander down to the sarge’s nightclub and drink himself blind listening to the jazz music there before the limo came to take him back to his estate in the suburbs. They say Brickle, no spring chicken, had had himself a stroke the night that the Straight Up Club caught on fire, and that Ben Cosicki had helped get him out of the fire and into an ambulance.
Brickle wasn’t in his office that day—he hadn’t been seen around Redmonton since he had that stroke. But Ben made one phone call and came out with a cookie jar considerably heavier than when he went in.
Everybody stood around and cheered when Ben put that cookie jar in his daughter’s tiny arms and carried her, and the jar, up the stairs to the councilman’s office, as shining with pride as one of those lights they used to put on the front of the locomotives that came roaring out of the factory just down from the bank.
No doubt about it, at that moment, everybody thought Ben Cosicki was going places. “You’ll see, as soon as the results are counted the next day, Ben will be off that trash truck and behind a desk.”
On election day some of this street money came back to Betty, because she got paid at a discount rate to make coffee and donuts (no cookies, though) to give to the people when they showed up at the VFW Hall to vote, as well as the buffet for the victory party later that night. Some of the street money went to people you never saw or heard of, who had gone around the neighborhood at night and put up signs for the state representatives, judges, and functionaries major and minor, sharp and flat, that Councilman Szathmary wanted to boost into office. Some of the street money went to cab and limousine drivers working out of Hank Norwood’s garage to pick up the people that needed picking up and bring them to the VFW Hall, and, later, to the victory party, those that were invited and should be there to show their consideration. And because a few of the more progressively minded of the neighborhood’s clergy made sermons about how it was important to remember who takes care of you, in this world as well as the next, some of the street money went their way, too.
But because Councilman Szathmary wasn’t running for reelection that day, and Redmonton was considered a knee that jerked when Councilman Szathmary tapped it, most of that street money went to other districts where the election results might not be so predictable.
In some of those districts, due to many reasons that people are still guessing about, the election turned into what the Press called “a bloodbath that money couldn’t buy.”
But, as an old hand like Bep Adamo would tell you, that’s the way it goes in politics: You only win when you win big. Win small, or lose big, and people look for someone to blame.
Ben Cosicki got blamed. He was picking up trash when some creeps threw him into the hopper, turned on the hydraulics, and crushed him half to death. Not long after that, Hampton Bank announced that, due to low customer demand, it was closing its Redmonton branch, for good.
By the time Ben Cosicki got himself dead in his old neighborhood, the bank building, Bep ‘n’ Betty’s Luncheonette, the locomotive factory, and the sarge’s ruin of a nightclub had all been bought by the Reverend Hooks, a crazy preacher who, because he could tell his parishoners who to vote for without passing out street money (at least, that’s what people said), was the new force to be reckoned with in neighborhood politics.
What Ben Cosicki was doing getting himself dead in the sarge’s club, nobody could figure. The club had been boarded up more than twenty years since the fire, but you could get into it if you wanted. Some people say the second floor was used as a place to stash drugs that the dealers were selling on street corners. The same streets had once been filled with Cadillacs and limousines belonging to suburbanites who’d come to listen to jazz at the sarge’s club.
Other people say Ben had set up a meeting on the second floor with people who maybe didn’t want to be in the same room with each other, and that things got out of hand. This, in itself, was a little hard to believe because getting people who couldn’t stand each other to sit down for lunch was Benny Lunch’s thing. Supposedly, there was not a soul in the entire city—good, bad, or whatever—that Ben couldn’t invite to sit down for a bite. They’d meet and eat, and, somehow, arrangements were made, deals were greased, details would get ironed out, and if you were to ask Ben how it came down, he’d just shrug his shoulders and say in that side-of-the-mouth way he had of talking, that all he did was pick up a check.
So, it makes you wonder, what kind of check is it that somebody like Benny Lunch would not want to pick up, especially in a place like Redmonton, a neighborhood that has been going downhill ever since they closed the locomotive factory. (Tell people that they used to make big huge monster locomotives in Philadelphia and they won’t believe you until you show them the wider-than-usual streets where the tracks used to run up to those big doors that no longer open in the walls of that big monster of a brick building that’s now the First Church of God Harmonious). All the Irish, Polish, Ukranian, Italian, German, Spanish, and Jewish people that lived in Redmonton who were content to hate each other in peace as long as they all had jobs found themselves having to go farther and farther out of the neighborhood for work. Used to be, there were half a dozen nightclubs like the Straight Up in Redmonton, and, from six in the morning until three o‘clock in the afternoon, you’d see everybody coming in and out of Bep’n’ Betty’s Luncheonette, the place that had all the cookie jars on the shelves.
That the restaurant was lined with cookie jars had nothing to do with Betty’s saving habits. There was a time her marriage to Bep hit one of those potholes that you read about in the Press’s “Tell Tracy” advice column and Betty exhibited what everybody thought was cruel and unusual fascination for the custom-order porcelain restaurant crockery items proffered by a salesman who blew in from a redware china factory up in Phoenixville because—he said—he’d heard she served the best scrapple this side east of Mantua, and would she like to come out and see the factory one day?
So one day after Betty was gone for a long weekend that Bep said was to visit family but everybody knew was a factory tour (you know what kind of free samples were being passed out). Betty comes back like a cat that had been left out all night and nobody says anything until a truck pulls up and there’s all these boxes of all these pink porcelain cookie jars with Bep ‘n’ Betty’s Luncheonette written on them in blue letters.
Bep starts to smash them on the street in front of the driver but Betty comes out and asks if there was a bill with the shipment, and the driver said there was no bill—as far as he knew, the shipment had been paid for in advance. Bep turns to his wife and realizes that, whatever happened on that tour, he is suddenly richer by twenty-four—actually twenty-two because he smashed two—porcelain cookie jars.
Such a look of love you have never seen between two people, at least, not on that day. They should start baking cookies, Bep said. When I’m ready, Betty said. So he built shelves all around the restaurant just high enough to be out of anybody’s reach, put the cookie jars on them, and one day some idiot reporter from the Philadelphia Press named Howard Lange (who’s now running the newspaper—can you believe that?) did one of those don’t-you-love-those-mom-and-pop-restaurants and wrote the place up as “The Cookie Jar.” Nine months later, Betty gives birth to a girl, Maria, who would grow up waiting tables at the luncheonette, try to become a nightclub singer at the sarge’s place, drop out of sight for a while after the indictments came down, and then come back to work in a soup kitchen run by the Reverend Jeffrey Hooks’s First Church of God Harmonious.
If you asked anybody from Redmonton, they’d tell you Maria didn’t look as much like Bep as she looked like a gingerbread girl, and that that was enough to make Ben Cosicki fall in love with her, but marry somebody else. Councilman Szathmary married Ben and Charlotte McMann in his office. Then they went downstairs to have the party at Bep ‘n’ Betty’s.
Councilman Szathmary got the city to pay to convert Bep’n’ Betty’s upstairs apartment into his office so he could set up a kind of one-stop service in Redmonton. You’d just follow the aroma of scrapple, kielbasa, and Italian sausage and eggs in the morning, and marinara sauce and steak sandwiches cooking in onions and olive oil in the afternoon, and if you had a problem, like a pothole in the street, or if you were waiting on your driver’s license from Harrisburg, or you couldn’t pay your gas bill that month, you went upstairs to Councilman Szathmary’s office and you’d see Bep Adamo, who always sat by the front window so he could see who was coming and going (but it might’ve been really because he had the worst breath and it was better if he was talking to you near an open window), and if Bep liked the way you looked, he’d say, “We got a visitor,” and show you into the backroom that was the councilman’s office, which they called the “Doug Out” because his first name was Douglas and that’s supposed to be funny.
The councilman was a Redmonton legend, a bachelor who always seemed too old for the young girls and not old enough for the widows and divorcees. He never forgot a name or a face, and if he couldn’t remember if you voted the full Democratic ticket on election day, Bep Adamo did. The lone Hungarian in Redmonton, Douglas Szathmary would have had one of the longest ethically conflicted political careers in Philadelphia history if an FBI agent posing as a parking-lot developer didn’t make a tape recording of him spelling out that to get “things built right in town you have to take care of people, you have to show consideration, you have to put out street money.”
Some people say that it was Ben Cosicki who told Bep Adamo that some well-off developer from the suburbs, who used to hang around at the Straight Up Club and knew Ben when he was tending bar there, was willing to “show consideration” in order to get city approval to build a multistory parking garage next to the sports stadiums down in South Philly. They also say that the meeting was going to be local, for lunch, at a place convenient to the councilman and that the councilman picked Bep’n’ Betty’s.
The developer, who was actually an FBI agent, supposedly told Bep Adamo when they set up the lunch that he’d heard the scrapple there was the best west of Mantua.
Now Redmonton is east of Mantua. Always has been. Always will be. When the developer got out of his limo, Bep sent Whitey Goohan, this creepy orphan kid who was always hanging out in the councilman’s office paring his fingernails with a switchblade, down to the street corner to check the man out. The agent later said Goohan asked him if he was wearing a wire. The agent said, “No,” and he was telling the truth. The councilman came down, with Bep Adamo behind him.
They picked the table that was always the councilman’s table, and they sat down, and it all went on tape because Bep was wearing the wire.
Now there were those who say that “Double-Dip” Szathmary (as he was nicknamed by Howard Lange, then a general-assignment reporter) went to jail because Anthony “Bep” Adamo became a government witness. On the witness stand, and later, in a series of interviews with Howard Lange, Adamo spelled out that there were daytime rackets and nighttime rackets running out of Redmonton and that the councilman had a piece of the daytime rackets. Adamo said he was going to help the Feds get the guy running the nighttime rackets after he was done with the councilman.
People who were close to Szathmary when the indictment came down said that it was like Szathmary had been laid low with a case of the stupids. Given the adversarial nature of Philadelphia ward politics, he could have kicked up a fuss, hired the best criminal lawyers in the galaxy, and pulled all kinds of favors to get himself off. People in the wards and neighborhoods may not admire a man who is willing to lie, cheat, and extort money to benefit himself, but if they can see him walking the streets, if they can walk up to him and ask him to get a pothole fixed, if he can get some lousy city building inspector off the backs of the widow running the apartment house down the block, if he’ll show up at the banquet and give a gold-plated watch to the janitor who was a drunk but is finally retiring after thirty years of hard labor, and if they have proof, in the form of street money given out on election day, not as a bribe, but as a reminder that their support is dearly and truly appreciated by the powers that be, why, they’ll vote for him for the rest of their lives.
Councilman Szathmary did the wrong thing. He got a local lawyer nobody had ever heard of (who moved out of the neighborhood to the suburbs after Szathmary was found guilty), who happened to be a Vietnam vet, as Szathmary was. Szathmary refused to say or do anything, on the witness stand or off, that he thought was in the slightest way dishonest, compromising, or underhanded. By the time the federal prosecutor was done with him, Szathmary looked like the worst kind of loser: a guy who plays by the rules even though he knows the rules are out to get him. And they got him, bad, finding ways to stick him with enough stuff to keep him in jail for his entire life. Why didn’t Szathmary fight it, just a little bit?
People didn’t need a reason to stay away from Bep ‘n’ Betty’s after the indictments came down. Bep Adamo closed the place, got himself and Betty put in the Witness Protection Program, and was all set to embark on a career of ratting out more politicians, mobsters, and petty scumbags, but, what should happen, but he got himself dead.
It happened after the FBI grabbed Jeffrey Hooks, the bass player in the sarge’s old club. According to the FBI, Hooks had stepped into Bep Adamo’s shoes after Adamo turned straight. Bep Adamo said as much at Hook’s trial, though he wasn’t as convincing as the Feds had hoped.
At the climax of a boring trial in the big, boring federal office building off Independence Square, Bep sat and sweated and told the jury it was his mission in life to put creeps like Hooks away. Hooks, who was half asleep during the trial up until now, jumped out of his chair and screamed that he was innocent, that he’d found God and that if he got off he would dedicate his life to making things better in the neighborhood.
The judge asked Hook’s celebrity lawyer from New York to restrain his client. Naturally, the celebrity did no such thing and Hooks pointed a finger at Bep and said, “You are a devil and a liar and you will die for your sins.” When the judge adjourned for the day, Bep went back to where he and Betty were living on the Witness Protection Program’s tab, had himself a heart attack, and died.
The judge instructed the jury not to pay attention to “coincidental events” in determining the defendant’s guilt, but they sure did and Hooks founded that church of his the very next day.
Encased in plaster from head to toe, Ben Cosicki kept track of the fates of Councilman Szathmary, Bep Adamo, and the Reverend Hooks of the First Church of God Harmonious by watching the televions bolted to the ceiling over his hospital bed. When the somebody from the U.S. Attorney’s office showed him mug shots and asked him who among these distinguished gentlemen had tossed him into the back of the trash truck, Cosicki said the incident had “messed up” his brain.
Cosicki couldn’t do much on a trash truck when he got out of the hospital, so he got a position in the Sanitation Workers Union office, and sometimes he’d fetch a take-out order from the kind of places that catered to the people who catered to the people who like very much to be catered to. He started to wear suits, nothing fancy, always gray, but nice, real nice. Then, wouldn’t you know it, Ben started having his lunches at Jimmy D’s. It wasn’t long before Benny Take-Out became Benny Lunch. The Lunchman figured out he could do more, and do it more lucratively, if he became a consultant. He left his job at the union office so quietly that it was a week before anybody knew he was gone.
Leaving quietly was Ben Cosicki’s style. He never talked about himself, never talked about much of anything, really. But he kept in touch, even when he moved out of the neighborhood, to the Main Line, where his wife, the sarge’s daughter, got a job selling art to rich people, and his daughter Andy, who used to be so small, grew up real tall and went to the University of Pennsylvania.
Ben kept in touch, even when he had to bring bad news.
For Betty Adamo, who had enamed herself Beatrice Adams and was living in sin with the executive chef of a Main Line banquet hall she had bought into, the bad news was that Szathmary was finally getting out of jail.
Ben brought his daughter along to visit Betty—very strange for a guy who always worked alone, or always seemed to. Was it just an accident, her being with him, or was there something she was supposed to see, and remember, and do something about?
From Andy’s point of view, it was just one more of those boring things her father did when he should be doing just for her. She had taken a history of psychology course in college and when the professor was talking about Freud’s definition of a narcissist, a lightbulb had gone off in Andy’s head and she thought of both her parents and opened her mouth and said “Bingo” just a little bit too loud, the way they say bingo in the church basements that her father took her to when he was doing more of those boring things he did when he had promised he was going to do something for her. The man couldn’t leave the house to go to a supermarket for a dozen eggs without driving off into the city to drop in on this one or that one, to stop by a bar in this neighborhood or blow into a party or a get-together or diner where short, thick, fat guys who looked like they never did anything but eat would look up and say they were happy to see him in such a way that Andy wondered if they really meant it.
Her parents were both narcissists, Andy decided. Everything that happened to them, they related to themselves, even if there was no relation to themselves. The only difference was, her mother would talk about herself and whatever was going on at the gallery, while her father wouldn’t say a thing, but gave off little hints with his body language, or the speed in which he’d get into his screaming-yellow Buick and start doing things.
That very morning, she had asked him to do one thing for her, and, as he always did, he’d promised that he would do it “the next thing.” This thing she wanted was for him to drive her to an interview she’d set up. After sending out five different packages containing articles she’d written for the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper and getting no response at all, she was going to meet with the Morning Standard’s Montgomery County bureau chief.
She’d set up the interview days after she graduated from the university by telling that lie you’re supposed to to tell if you’re going to get a job in any ruthless, highly competitive organization that pays well: You call up and press all kinds of numbers to blow past the phone tree until a human being answers, and then you ask to get transferred to the top man or woman and try not to go crazy when you’re cut off or somebody snide gets on and asks, “What’s this in reference to?” Sooner or later, if you can tolerate the fact that you are contributing to the amount of suffering in the world by annoying people you have never met, you are transferred to the top man or top woman’s secretary and then you start saying how much you’ve always admired this top man (even if you really hate this creep because you sent him all this stuff about you that either never got to him, or he threw out) and that you’d love to meet him and just ask him all sorts of questions about what it’s like to be the top man and how you break into such an exciting field.
This hallowed and time-honored act of craven brown-nosing is known in student job-placement offices as an “informational interview” and, like the pickup lines that buzz like flies around the pickup bars on Delaware Avenue, it works more often than not because those who are truly weak but acquire power cannot resist the attentions of attractive youngsters who are willing to listen to them talk about themselves.
Of course, Andy had done her homework in advance. She had grown up reading the Evening Standard, the broadsheet newspaper published out of Philadelphia that, even when it found good things to say about the city, was primarily interested in assuring people who lived in the suburbs and had their kids educated in the suburbs and bought everything they needed in the suburbs and dreamed of the day they might get jobs in the suburbs so they wouldn’t have to pay that stupid Philadelphia city wage tax and put up with a horrible commute where it takes an hour in a car or a train or god forbid a bus, to go a few miles and you could probably travel faster if you walked but who walks when you live in the suburbs?—that the city was an incompetent cesspool of corruption, ineptitude at all levels, and enigmatic ethnic intrigue, and that they were better off where they were.
Now, the editors who decided what went into the Philadelphia Morning Standard didn’t sit at a table every morning at ten A.M. and say, “What are we going to do next to stick it to the city?” They didn’t put themselves in the shoes of the typical suburban reader and contemplate what would make this reader grateful that he put a few miles of lawns and malls and school systems between so much poverty, crime, and vicious urban rage.
No, what these editors did every morning was get into their cars and leave their suburban houses and put up with that horrible commute where they can see the landscape change from green-this and green-that and everything works and boy-oh-boy-wasn’t-that-a-great-barbecue, to smog-stained concrete, potholed asphalt, broken-down storefronts on streets where weird people stood on the corner and shouted obscenities at the traffic, and they’d wonder why the City of Love had sunk so low and swear that they were going to get to the bottom of it and find out.
And they would think about bottoms, pits, dark pockets of shame and degradation that were just so different from happy shopping and never-ending errands and trips to specialty shops, specialty restaurants, specialty health care, specialty warehouse clubs where, for a small annual membership fee, they could load up the sport utility vehicle with a year’s supply of toilet paper, frozen pizza, and bottled mayonnaise and congratulate themselves on how much they’d saved.
These editors would summon their very best reporters—dynamic, hard-charging kids who had been hired after they won awards writing for tiny newspapers in towns these editors had never heard of—who would fill their front pages with horrifying multi-part series in which the city became a gruesome setting for the specialty wretched of the earth.
These series would provoke outrage, investigations, protests, lawsuits, firings, and hirings within the city, and then the editors would have these series reprinted in lavishly illustrated packages that they would send to the Pulitzer committee in New York, gratified that, even if the New York papers grabbed half the awards the way they always did, the editors of the Philadelphia Morning Standard had gotten to the bottom of something.
That these bottoms never quite disappeared was not necessarily the editor’s primary concern. If the city was a place of dark valleys, it would also be a place of lofty peaks, though scaling those peaks required money to spend on restaurant food, performances, sports, exotic medical treatments, books, recordings, art, antiques, education, history, experiences, things you couldn’t find in the suburbs. Thus, the Standard’s editors perpetuated a vision that had nothing to do with the day-to-day life experienced by the majority of the city’s inhabitants, who might spend long fruitful years of their existence without encountering any of the bipolar dysfunctions that delighted and horrified the paper’s readers.
The possibility of filling the Standard with even more Philadelphia bottoms and tops was not why Andy Cosicki had spent several days after she graduated annoying anyone who answered the telephone at the Standard’s Montgomery County bureau, trying to land a precious informational interview with the bureau chief. Ever since her parents had moved to a succession of larger houses culminating in the huge stone knock-off, an Italian villa on Albemarle Way, she had pored over the Local News section of the Standard, hunting for articles about similar bottoms in Montgomery County, a rolling spread of lumpy hills, rippling streams, spectacular golf courses, superb school systems, magnificent malls, great colleges, stupendous hospitals, a few good restaurants, and, thanks to a solid population of old-money families, still one of the largest concentrations of wealth on the East Coast.
She hadn’t found any. She had been thrilled at the Standard’s revelations of inner city scandals, crimes, and shameful goings-on detailed elsewhere in the newspaper, but, beyond an occasional murder or swindle that was always reported as having “shocked the neighbors in this quiet, affluent suburban community,” she found nothing in the Standard’s Local News that was as unbearably, relentlessly, impossibly bad as the Standard’s Metro section.
Andy was certain there was something rotten hiding behind so much green-this and green-that because her mother could never stop talking about them. When she wasn’t in New York at the gallery’s office and showroom, Charlotte Cosicki flitted and fluttered to the luncheons, banquets, teas, and galas of the Main Line social scene which, if her gossip was even slightly accurate, was more spectacularly shameless, sinful, vicious, and venal than anything that gray, grimy, sunk-so-low Philadelphia could produce.
When Andy was in middle school she figured out that some of the people her mother was dishing about on late-night phone conversations with Abigail and Belisaria and Georgiana were parents of kids who seemed no worse for wear, in spite of the affairs, embezzling, frauds, and other polymorphously perverse misadventures their parents were allegedly enjoying.
Andy, at six feet and maybe half an inch extra, was just about as tall as her mother, had always been shy, and so never really asked any of these kids if their parents were carrying on, until that magic day in her English class when the teacher decided to make some of the students reporters and some editors, and Andy got a note pad and a pencil and was told that, as a reporter, she had to “find out the truth about something.”
During a social-whirl-type visit to the Brickle estate in St. Anne’s with her mother, she found Logan Marius “Logo” Brickle, the prodigal son of the Hampton Bank chairman Kellum Brickle and his insufferable wife Belisaria Wadcalader Brickle, trying unsuccessfully to ride his motorcycle into the estate’s swimming pool (he couldn’t quite get the motorcycle to start) as part of his lifelong ambition to disgrace himself. Andy asked him why it was that her parents saw so much of his parents, or rather, parent, since Kellum had died from a series of strokes shortly after Logo was born.
Logo was Andy’s pathetic excuse for a best friend. They were both only children, and, though Logo had numerous disreputable acquaintances in Bermuda, Bar Harbor, and other places the Brickles had residences, they had known each other longer and closer than anyone else.
Logo might be a best friend, but he was never friendly. Obnoxious, sarcastic, and whiney, he would be utterly loathsome if he weren’t harmless, ineffectual, and more than a little bit pathetic.
So his answer to Andy’s question was predictably mean. “We use each other,” Logo said. He was being predictably obnoxious in a dinner jacket and denim shorts, both perfectly pressed. “We keep each other’s secrets. And your father thinks of me as a son.”
He went back to trying to kick start the motorcycle and Andy wanted to tell him that her mother didn’t keep anything secret, at least, not on the phone.
“Like what kind of secrets?” she asked him.
He shook his head until she said, “I have an assignment for my school newspaper. We’re supposed to find out something.”
“Like, how it is rich people never seem to get into trouble?”
“Everybody gets into trouble,” Andy said.
“But some people never pay for it,” Logo replied. “Even if they can afford it. Is that what you want to find out?”
Andy became aware that Logo wanted to tell her something and he was just waiting for her to listen. So she said, “Sure.”
And he told her of times he was busted for drugs, and her father helped pay off the cops. He told her of moments that his mother, who was legally blind, bought art that was fake or merely bad, and how Andy’s mother sold it off through the New York gallery. And he told her about his father, the late Kellum Brickle, who liked to stay in the city and listen to jazz music, get drunk, have a fling with a whore, and drive home and forget about it.
“Your father was a bartender at one of those clubs,” Logo said. “He used to pour my father back into his limo after the place closed down. One night it burned down and your father pulled my father out. Am I telling you anything you didn’t know?”
Andy tried to pretend that she had heard this before, but she hadn’t. Her parents never talked about her grandfather’s nightclub, other than to say it was where they met.
“And what about my mother?” Andy said.
“At least you have one,” Logo snarled. He got his motorcycle started and drove it into the pool, which brought Mrs. Peters, the Brickle family’s personal secretary, out into the open with a train of servants while Andy looked across the pool at her mother, in a black-and-white vertical striped couture dress that made her look like a cell phone antenna tower, standing next to her father in one of his anonymous off-the-rack gray suits.
Andy got an A for her school newspaper project when she wrote about the effect of swimming-pool water on a motorcycle engine and, from then on, Andy understood that you get a weird kind of courage from having a pad and pen in your hand that you don’t get from merely being curious. She never had a reason, or the guts, to ask questions around her parents because her parents discouraged such questions by either talking too much about what she didn’t want to know (her mother) or glaring at her and saying nothing (her father).
Andy became a regular member of various student publications and discovered the corollary to the courage-from-the-pad rule, which was that if certain people saw you with a pad and pen in your hands, if they knew you were “the media,” they’d tell you things about themselves they wouldn’t tell their best friends.
For a teenager who was too tall, too shy, but smart enough to find compensations, Andy was hooked. Her curiosity became almost insatiable. She wanted to work for the Morning Standard so she could ask questions and find out the truth about things for the newspaper she’d read for so many years. But not in Philadelphia. She didn’t want to learn about a place invented just so the Standard could fill itself with risible tales of vice and venality. She wanted to find out about her own neighborhood, if not her own backyard.
After long years of education and a degree in journalism from one of the best Ivy League schools in the country, she was ready to grab a shovel and start digging. She had no doubt that the Montgomery County bureau chief would put her to work after she listened to him blather on about himself. That she had zoomed through Penn with straight A’s and done the kind of work that made her professors volunteer to write recommendations was certainly a plus. That she’d sent those recommendations, with samples of her work, to the bureau chief five times previously without reply did not daunt her enthusiasm. That her parents had both tried to talk her out of working for the Standard only made her want the job more.
But her dented, rusting Ford Escort wouldn’t start on the morning of the interview and her mother had gone before the sun came up to attend a breakfast meeting at the gallery in New York.
Her father was in his underwear, muttering into the phone in his little office in the bedroom on the second floor. He seemed nervous. “She ain’t going to like it with Doug getting out. She never forgot about the street money.”
Andy knew better than to ask to borrow his car. She waited until he finished the conversation. She asked him to take her to the bureau’s office and, of course, he agreed.
“I’ll take my girl anywhere she wants,” he said, dialing another number. “It’ll be the very next thing.”
When she heard that, she walked right out the door.
Maybe it was the slam of the door, the front door, which nobody uses much in the suburbs (like the four-wheel drive in a sport utility vehicle, it’s there if you need it but you’re better off not needing it) when you have a kitchen door or door through the garage, that made Ben Cosicki sit up and remember what his daughter was wearing when she walked out of the house.
It was all legs, with a jacket that just came down over a skirt that was so short and tight that when you saw it, you wondered if it came with instructions on how to sit down. Charlotte must have picked it out. Ben paused in mid conversation and had a vision of his wife blowing into his daughter’s room and flinging down half a dozen outfits that she bought for herself in New York boutiques and then decided that maybe they might not necessarily work for the vice president of an art gallery, but, what the heck, Andy was just about her height, and she was young enough, and what’s wrong with wearing something that would cause a car wreck?
Charlotte was like that: Getting these ideas into her head about how a person should behave, forgetting that this was the suburbs, the Main Line, and you just don’t push things, not in that way. Even if the only people up and about at 9:30 were the landscape services mowing lawns or the maids cleaning up inside the houses set so far back into the trees you could only imagine what kind of cars the owners of those houses drove. People had a way of finding out that Benny Lunch’s daughter was dressed up like she had to sleep her way to a job and, with three-quarters of the politicians in Philadelphia owing him deep, most of them ready, willing, and able to put Andy on any patronage job he could ask for (and enough that he couldn’t), it didn’t look good for the Lunchman’s daughter to dress up like she was answering a want-ad for a management position at an exotic dance club on Delaware Avenue.
So he got dressed the way he always got dressed: fast, wincing when he had to pull a shirt or trouser leg over joints in his body that never quite worked right after he got crunched in back of the trash truck. Or maybe he was just getting old: finally. All his life, Ben Cosicki had wanted to be old because, growing up in the Catholic home without a mother and father, all the old people either had all the cards or could act like they didn’t need to play the game.
So here he was, racing down the stairs while pulling up his tie, fishing the car keys out of his pocket as he went through the kitchen door with that stupid alarm system keypad that he had insisted Charlotte never should have put in, but she did because she wanted people who came through the back door to know that the junk she had hanging on the walls was worth stealing. Into the car, the Buick, yellow because when he finally started driving his own car, he figured he’d be able to find a yellow car faster than one that was black, white, or red, so it was always a yellow, American-made car so as not to piss off the union people. He bought them used, at first taking them back to Redmonton for Hank Norwood to work on and then later to places closer to home where parents or relatives worked in the unions in the city. That’s the way you do whatever it is you have to do: through people who know you from someplace or someone. You walk into an establishment where they don’t know you, and you’re expecting to get treated good, you’re just going to get screwed.
So he started his Buick, his yellow Buick sitting in the big, separate three-car garage next to Andy’s beat-up Escort. He expected to see Charlotte’s silver Mercedes in the last bay but then he remembered she had gone to New York, having driven it into Thirtieth Street Station and left it in the lot down there. He briefly imagined his wife in New York, lighting that town up like she used to when she waited tables at the sarge’s nightclub. The woman was born to get attention and keep it. You have to admire people who know where they belong, from birth. He had to find out the hard way.
The Buick’s engine groaned and heaved and it didn’t want to start. Ben had that momentary fear you get when you remember the face of the mechanic who knows you and talks to you and you talk to him like you’re both equals and you pretend that this mechanic, with grease under his fingernails that he’ll never wash out, wants nothing more than to make you, the guy in the gray suit and the shiny brogans, the owner of a flawlessly performing vehicle. And you know that’s a crock of shit because the guy with the grease under his fingernails can do the job right or he can screw up and sometimes he’ll do one instead of the other just for variety’s sake, and the guy in the suit will never know.
As the engine coughed and wheezed, Ben wanted to call up his mechanic and tell him that before he started seeing people that expected him to wear a suit, he used to stink so bad from a day of hauling trash that it would never wash out, and that there’s something to be said for hauling trash, for the feeling you get when you see the stuff that people throw away and you think about the places in the world where people would be so grateful to have half of what we leave at the curb, and that this knowledge, as simple and uncomplicated as it is, can give you a feeling of power, a strange certainty, that the people who are the real masters of their fate are those who use everything they have because everything that comes to them is a gift. Even before Councilman Szathmary got him that job on the trash truck, Ben Cosicki wanted to be the kind of guy who used what he got, everything he got, and see where it took him.
And then, as if such humble thoughts pleased the Lord above, the engine woke up, grumbled, and roared as he tapped the gas pedal. Ben backed out and tried to remember where his daughter said she was going when up ahead he saw her, a vision in black and gray and white piping that didn’t look at all like him and, if his prayers were answered and he could work the right kind of deals with the right kind of people, she would get a job where she could make things better and help people and be able to sleep at night.
How much had he slept last night, knowing that Szathmary had finally used up every favor he had, and that, as much as Szathmary loved the prison and everything about it, he was going to be a free man, whether he liked it or not. He was most certainly not going to like it because Doug Szathmary was one of those rare people who, once they are in prison, not only adapt to it, but maybe even do good things for the inmates, and for the people on the outside who still came to him and asked for things.
But on this bright, slightly chilly, spectacularly green June morning, Ben Cosicki put such potentially nauseating thoughts from his mind as he snuck his car up on the street behind this fantastic female with that dumb shoulder bag she always dragged around with her, her hair bouncing and swaying as those legs that had been sharpened to sculptural magnificence by long hours spent doing layups with a basketball at the single wire hoop mounted over the garage—those incredible legs that she got from her mother moved with a long, strong, this-world-belongs-to-me stride (that she also got from her mother)—that would have been such a knockout combination if each step wasn’t wobbling from wearing shoes she obviously hated but wore because they went with the outfit. Taking all in, Ben Cosicki felt that warm numbness of parental pride rise in his chest like the sun shining over creation.
Until he remembered where it was she was going, and he had that parental thought that is the exact opposite of pride, when you wonder if everything and anything your kid has accomplished up to this very moment was done because your kid knew that it was precisely what pissed you off.
And Andy, who heard the engine of his yellow Buick ker-chunking behind her, was thinking the kid-version of the same thought: Was he coming up behind her in the car because he had finally decided to do what he was supposed to, or was he just going to make things worse?
“How’s my girl?” her father called behind her.
She stopped and let him drive up, as if he just happened to be out for a morning drive.
“I’m telling you, you don’t want to work for those creeps,” he called out to her over the weird, rhythmic ker-chunk of the engine, which was always sounding slightly off because the guy who worked on her father’s car was such a terrible mechanic but her father was loyal to anyone who was loyal to him, so the car ker-chunked and ker-chunked until it threw a rod or broke down in some spectacular fashion on a road to the mall or in one of the cruddy neighborhoods where he went to visit the geezers and wheezers, and the girlfriend that her mother swore he was seeing.
She resumed walking, and whatever had been cool and pleasant in the morning changed into the hint of heat and humidity that would turn this dumb gray-and-black pinstriped suit her mother had gotten her in Manhattan with the little label inside the jacket that was supposed to make all the difference into a soggy sack. She heard him follow her in the car but she looked straight ahead, knowing that it was two miles to the offices of the Montgomery County bureau of the Philadelphia Morning Standard and she would be a liquid mess of sweat by the time she got there but that maybe this was the story they would tell, years later, after she was a brand-name journalist, a veritable truth-squad shock-jock always flying off to the places on the planet where the world was coming apart, or coming back together; where it was interesting all the time and your father and mother didn’t try to tell you what you should be doing with your life.
“I tell you, Andy, they won’t put you on unless they have a reason,” her father said. “And if there’s one thing most of those media creeps are, it’s being unreasonable. They don’t even play by their own rules.”
She closed her eyes, continued walking. She hoped nobody was hearing this. She told herself that everybody’s got the air-conditioning on and the windows closed, except if they’re a gardener mowing the lawns or cutting the hedges and then they’re working machines so loud they don’t hear anything. Maybe she was thinking too much about this because then she didn’t feel the changing texture of the ground beneath the overpriced half-heeled square-toed pumps that were pinching her heels. The texture changed rapidly, from the bleak and wretched flatness of the sidewalk to the foamy mush of an overprotected lawn, and then it was too late, and the steel truss that the stop sign was mounted on smacked her hard in the shoulder, sending her backward until the balance that she’d developed from doing layups clicked in. She planted her feet in the grass, and took the battered shoulder bag that had gotten her through four years at the University of Pennsylvania and hauled back and let the stop sign have it, right there.
She smacked the sign two more times before he said, “Okay. I give.”
Not give up. Not give in. Just give. Sometimes her father was such a miser with words, as if he truly believed that what went out of his mouth diminished him in some way and that, whatever he did, he could never put back what sneaked out. Other times, it was like all junk and he couldn’t get rid of the words fast enough.
She heard him open the Buick’s passenger-side door.
“You don’t want to stand here all day,” he said. “You’ll waste the air-conditioning.”
This was a man who would drive with the air-conditioning off in summer, the heat as high as it would go in winter, and always have his window down wherever he was going, unless it was on a highway, and then he would have it down at least a quarter of the way, the wind making a rip-roaring sound so you just couldn’t talk, even if you wanted to.
She looked at him, this short, frail, puny guy with glasses and a crew cut, in a gray suit with a blue button-down shirt and a tie that didn’t quite match, his eyes on her, knowing exactly that she was going to get into the car.
She had to say, “You’re taking me.”
“The very next thing.”
“I don’t want you parking the car and leaving me in it. I want you to take me directly there.”
“Direct.” He agreed, or seemed to.
She came around and got in, feeling the freezing blast of air from the dash hitting her in the chest. She pulled the door shut and the car was moving when he said, “After.”
“Nothing after,” Andy said. “You’re taking me now.”
“I’m taking,” her father said. “You got time.”
“You don’t got an appointment,” her father said.
“He said I should feel free to come in.”
“You know what it is, when they say feel free? That means they don’t give a shit.”
“I’ll make him give a shit.”
“Only one way you’re going to do that, and you’re not going to do that.”
“There’s more than one way.”
“You got that right. Let me handle it.”
“You’re not handling it,” she said. “But I’ll let you do this: You tell me something I can tell him to show him I know what’s going on.”
He said nothing as he steered the car out onto Montgomery Avenue.
She said, “I’m not asking to get anybody in trouble—”
“Only if they deserve it.”
“Everybody deserves it. It’s what they don’t deserve that they worry about.”
“You tell me something I can tell the bureau chief, so after he finishes telling me his life story, I can impress him.”
“This something,” he said. “Does it have to be true?”
“I’m serious,” her father continued. “You’re going up to this guy, who don’t know what’s going on or he wouldn’t be in the business he’s in, and you think you have to give him something that shows you know what’s going on, and you think if you tell him, it’ll be like going down to Atlantic City and hitting the jackpot, and he’ll be so grateful, he’ll put you on, which is the number one thing he won’t do, because if it’s really something that’s going on, he figures out that you’re right, he’ll get pissed at you for telling him something that he’s supposed to know, and he’ll never want to see you again.”
She shook her head. “This is an editor with one of the top ten newspapers in the country. He gets a hundred resumes a week from college journalism majors. I have to make him see I’m different.”
“You just stand there in what you got on and he’ll see enough. He might even fall in love.”
She folded her arms and glared at the storefronts. “You don’t like the media, do you, Dad?”
“As long as I’m not in it, I like it just fine.”
He stopped the car at a traffic light, then turned right into the driveway of an apartment house and before she could say anything, he stopped the car in front and said, “You wait. I gotta stop in here for a minute.”
“You’re not stopping here. You’re taking me to the bureau office.”
“I’m stopping here and I’m taking you to the bureau office the very next thing.”
“I’m not staying in the car.”
He got out and she followed him. He stopped, thought about it for a second, then turned and went through the glass doors into a lobby so small they must have cut the single chair into three sections and then glued the ends back together with the middle section left out so it would fit into the space between the second door and the wall with the mailboxes.
“What do you have to do here that’s so important?” She knew better than to ask, but she asked anyway.
“Let’s hope it isn’t important,” he said quickly, pressing a buzzer over a mailbox that said B. ADAMS.
An old woman’s voice came out of the speaker by the door and said, “Who is it?”
Her father said, “Hey.”
The door buzzed open and Andy followed her father into a narrow hall that was painted what she would call cooking-odor brown. He went into the elevator, which was cooking-odor beige, and into another hall that was cleaning-odor blue.
Halfway down the hall, a door was open. Her father went in and stopped in front of a dining room table set for four in a small living room. Two women sat at the table, one of them in a wheelchair. A man was shuffling cards. He looked up and said, “The Lunchman.”
Her father said, as if it was all a big accident that he happened to show up, “I was in the neighborhood.”
A tiny, dried-up bump of a woman came out of the kitchen. “You coming here, this better be good.”
“It ain’t,” her father said.
The guy shuffling dropped one of his cards.
The tension in the room made Andy want to turn around and leave. She moved away from the table, feeling herself being appraised, and pretended to be studying the shelf of pink-and-blue cookie jars along the far wall of the living room, the same cookie jars as the one back in the kitchen of Andy’s house. They’d come from a restaurant her father used to take her to, the place they would end up at when he’d say, “Let’s get ussa ice cream,” and an hour or so later after he’d gone up and down so many streets, knocking on doors, taking payments from some people and giving out money to others, he’d park her in the restaurant and go upstairs to the councilman’s office and stay there while she watched her ice cream melt and the old woman who ran the restaurant always sat down next to her and said, “What’s a matter? You’re not hungry?”
The woman was a dried-up bun now, shorter than she used to be, more wrinkled than she used to be, in a silver pantsuit with white hair and eyes just as mean as they used to be. She looked at the cards that had been dealt to her on the table, examined them, and said, “What is this?” Then she put her cards down and went back into the kitchen and came out with a tray with a pot of coffee, six cups, six spoons, a sugar bowl, a small pitcher of milk, and a dish of little packets of artificial sweeteners.
She put down the tray and looked Andy right in the eye and Andy felt herself being swept by friend-or-foe radar as the woman said, “Decaf okay?”
“Uh, sure,” Andy said, suddenly nervous because these were people she’d never seen before who weren’t necessarily happy to see her or her father.
The woman poured the coffee, sat down, took up her cards again, and said, “Big girl.”
“You remember my daughter, Andrea,” her father said.
“She used to be a baby,” the woman said.
“They all used to be a baby,” the guy at the table said.
“She’s with me, is all,” her father said. He picked up a mug of coffee and a minute went by as the people playing cards began to bid. Andy had the feeling that something should have been said by now, whatever her father was going to hear from these people. Andy moved out of the small dining area and saw in the living room over the TV, a color picture that had faded mostly to red of a bright-eyed little girl in a Catholic school uniform.
The woman said, “We fed your girl good, Benny, when you brought her around. How come she don’t look like you?”
“It’s her mother she looks like,” her father said.
“How come a guy like you gets a daughter like her?”
“Things happen,” her father said.
“Only once?” the woman asked.
“You take what you get,” Andy’s father replied.
“It’s the other way around, Benny,” the woman said firmly.
Andy watched her father fold his arms. “You know, the councilman is going to come out soon, and I think it’s time to make peace.”
Andy heard cards move across the table and then the woman said, “How much are they asking to keep him in there?”
Andy’s father said, “He’s done his time.”
The woman smacked her cards on the table and said, “He stays in.”
“Hey,” the man cut in. “No need to get excited. You don’t live in the city no more. You could forget about it.”
The woman said again, “How much to keep him in?”
Andy’s father said, “From what I hear, he don’t exactly want to come out. He’s made friends in there. He’s gotten comfortable.”
“He would,” the woman said.
“But he’s got to come out because there’s no more reasons left to keep him in,” Andy’s father said. “And what we have to think about is, maybe, sometime after he’s out, we sit down, we have something to eat—”
The woman said, “What he did to Maria, there’s no excuse.”
Her father folded his arms even tighter. “I still see her, you know.”
“You should stay away. She should see me. Why is it she sees you but she doesn’t see me?”
Andy’s father said, “It’s been long enough. We should sit down and make peace.”
The woman said, “With Szathmary? I would spit at myself in the mirror if I was in the same room with him.”
“He’s coming out no matter what,” Andy’s father said. “I can see us all sitting down and putting it behind us.”
“What good would it do?”
“Maybe show our kids that things aren’t completely hopeless.”
The woman slammed down her cards. “They can get him in the jail. They put a pillow on his head and smother him. There are people I can pay to do that. He can come down with a disease and they can take him to the hospital and he can have a heart attack. If he comes out, it might not be so easy for him to have accidents. You said you could arrange it to keep him in.”
“What I said,” her father replied, “was that there are no more ways to keep him in. Now, I can have a meal with some people who might give me an indication of a date. Or they might give me no indication. What you could do is …” Andy heard her father deliberately let a second pass before he said, “you should visit.”
A cup dropped. Chairs moved. The man said, “Let me have that. There’s a spot you missed.”
After the movement subsided, the woman said, “You have some nerve bringing me that kind of news, Ben.”
“Nerve is what I don’t have, okay? If there’s anybody who never took a chance in his life, it’s me.”
“You took plenty of chances. For her and for him.”
The man said, “Betty, he’s done his time. We should let bygones be bygones.”
“Get me close enough to him,” the woman said, “and I’ll cut his heart out and eat it.”
The man said, “Hey.” Her father said something about great coffee and in a few minutes Andy was out and in the elevator with him, saying nothing until she checked the name on the mailbox that her father had buzzed going in.
When they were in the sunlight, Andy said, “I get an explanation?” Her father didn’t say anything as he got into the car, but it took him a few tries getting the key into the ignition.
“Why is she so mad at him?” she asked with just enough of a hint in her voice that he’d better answer her this time or she’d keep asking even more questions.
Benjamin Cosicki, of Cosicki & Associates, also known as Benny Lunch, steered the car back onto Lancaster Avenue. “What it is, is, she’s still mad.”
“So you going to set up a lunch?”
“It’s my business to set things up, but with Betty and the councilman, and some of the other people I know, getting them to settle up and make peace after twenty years of wanting to stab each other in the back—I would only set that up to show somebody I could do it. And who would I show?”
“Me,” Andy said.
“And what would I be showing you?”
“Something I could write up in the newspaper.”
“I don’t want you writing nothing about me. What you see and hear, you keep to yourself.”
She said, “Can I at least tell the bureau chief what I heard? That Szathmary’s coming out and there’s some unfinished business with him and an old lady that used to run a restaurant whose husband used to be his right-hand man?”
He almost laughed. “No. Just go in there and say nothing and watch him fall asleep.”
“I’ll make him talk about himself and then I’ll show him my stuff. He won’t fall asleep.”
He stopped for a red light. “You’re going to go in there and even if he does talk to you, you’re going to figure out real fast that he doesn’t care how good you are, because hiring somebody who’s good isn’t going to do anything for him. Hiring somebody who’s famous, or connected, or who can sweep his dirt under a rug, or who can get him free tickets to a show down in Atlantic City—that’s the person he’s going to hire.”
He pulled into the parking lot of a profoundly boring office building with a sign by the road that read: PHILADELPHIA MORNING STANDARD.
“And you’re going to sit there,” he continued, “and it’s going to become obvious to you that what I’m telling you is the truth, and you’re going to want to tell him that Benny Lunch is your father, because while Benny Lunch might not be the most famous expediter around City Hall, Benny Lunch is connected. Can he sweep dirt under the rug? You don’t even have to show him the rug. Can he get tickets? Just tell me where you want to sit. And can he get two people, any two people, especially if they hate each other enough to want to kill each other, can he get these two people to sit down for a sandwich and have these same two people, at the end of the meal, push themselves back from the table like they were long-lost buddies? Can he do that? Can anybody do that? Benny Lunch can do that and nobody has to know how. Nobody has to know that it’s me doing a thing. You might want to tell him that, but you won’t, because the one thing you don’t want him to say is the one thing he’s probably going to say, and you know what that is?”
She looked him in the eye. “Who’s Benny Lunch?”
He grinned, gave her a hug, and said, “That’s my girl.”
STREET MONEY. Copyright © 2002 by Bill Kent. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.