Jimmy puts his coffee down and reaches across the desk to answer it.
He glances at the display, vaguely recognises the number, can’t quite place it.
‘Well, well, young Mr Gilroy. Phil Sweeney.’
Jimmy’s pulse quickens. Of course. The voice is unmistakable. He straightens up. ‘Phil? God, it’s been a while. How are you doing?’
‘Not bad. Keeping busy. You?’
‘Pretty good, yeah.’
And after this, Jimmy thinking, maybe a little better.
‘So that was a shame there, all those cutbacks. Hard going, I imagine.’
‘Yeah.’ Jimmy nods. ‘It’s not exactly front page news anymore, though.’
‘No, no, of course not. But come here. Listen.’ Formalities out of the way, it seems. Very Phil. ‘Is it true what I hear?’
‘Er … I don’t know, Phil. What do you hear?’
‘That you’re writing an article or something … about Susie Monaghan?’
Jimmy looks at the block of text on the screen of his iMac. ‘Yeah,’ he says, after a pause. ‘But it’s not an article. It’s a book.’ Cagey now. ‘A biography.’
‘I’m no editor, but … Susie Monaghan? Give me a break. Tell me it’s not the prospect of the last chapter they’re drooling over.’
Jimmy is taken aback at this – celebrity drool, as he remembers it, always having been something of a Phil Sweeney speciality. Though he’s right in one respect. The paragraphs Jimmy currently has on the screen are from the last chapter, the longest and most detailed in the book and the one he’s tackling first.
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘But that’s not all they’re interested in. There’s plenty of other stuff. The boyfriends, the drugs, the tantrums.’
‘Which no one outside of the Daily Star demographic would give a shit about if it wasn’t for how she died.’
Jimmy shrugs. ‘Not necessarily. It’s an intriguing story, her death, the timing of it, what it exemplified.’ He pauses. ‘What it … meant.’ He shifts in his chair, picks up a pen, fiddles with it. There was a time when a call from Phil Sweeney was a good thing. It meant a lead, a tip-off, information.
This he’s not so sure about.
Jimmy’s old man and Phil Sweeney had been in business together in the late nineties. They were good friends. Then the old man died and Sweeney started taking an interest in Jimmy’s career. He kept an eye out for him, introduced him to people.
Fed him stories.
‘Oh come on, Jimmy.’
But those days, it would appear, are over.
‘I’m sorry, Phil, I’m not with you. What is this?’
There is a long sigh from the other end of the line.
Jimmy glances over at the door. He can hear voices. The students from across the hall. Are they arguing again? Fighting? He’s not sure, but it might come in handy as an excuse to get off the phone, if he needs one, if this conversation gets any weirder.
‘Look,’ he says, no longer attempting to hide his frustration. ‘I’m doing a bio of Susie Monaghan, OK? Sneer if you want to, but I’m taking it seriously.’ He hesitates, then adds, ‘Because you know what, Phil? It’s work, something I haven’t had a lot of recently.’
He tightens his grip on the phone.
‘Yeah, Jimmy, I know, I know, but –’
‘Well, I don’t think you do actually –’
‘I do, I get it, you need the assignment, and that’s fine, it’s just –’
‘Oh, what? I’m supposed to run all my proposals by you now, is that it?’
‘No, Jimmy, please, it’s just … all this focus on the crash –’
‘It’s where the story is, Phil, where the different elements converge. And yeah, to justify the advance, I’ve promised to pull out all the stops, sure, but…’ He pauses. ‘I mean, what the hell do you care?’
Sweeney doesn’t answer.
‘No, tell me,’ Jimmy goes on. ‘What’s it to you? Really, I don’t understand.’
Sweeney draws a breath. ‘OK, look,’ he says, ‘just slow down for a second, yeah? This advance you mentioned. How much is it? I’m sure we could come to some –’
Jimmy hangs up, stands up – backs away, stares at the phone appalled, as if it had unexpectedly come to slithering, slimy life in his hand.
When it starts ringing again, he doesn’t move. He lets it ring out, waits a bit and then checks to see if there’s a message.
‘Jimmy, Jesus, for fuck’s sake, I was only saying. Look, we can go over this again, but just be careful who you talk to. This isn’t about Susie Monaghan. And call me, yeah?’ He pauses. ‘Take care of yourself.’
Jimmy exhales, deflates.
He flips the phone closed and puts it on the desk. He sits down again.
Be careful who you talk to.
This from Phil fucking Sweeney? PR guru, media advisor, strategist, fixer, bagman, God knows what else? Someone for whom talking to people was – and presumably still is – nothing less than the primary operating system of the universe? Be careful who he talks to? Jesus Christ. What about Maria Monaghan, Susie’s older sister? A woman he’s been pestering for the last two weeks. He’s meeting her this evening.
Does that count?
Jimmy gets up and wanders across the room. He stops at the window and gazes out.
This is all too weird. Not to mention awkward. Because he really does need the assignment. It’s his first decent opportunity in nearly two years.
The bay is cloudy, overcast. The tide is coming in.
Jimmy releases a weary sigh.
Two years ago he was still at the paper and doing really well, especially with that ministerial expenses story. He’d made connections and built up sources – assisted in no small way, it has to be said, by Phil Sweeney. Then these lay-offs were announced. Eighty-five jobs across the board, last in, first out. Among the thirty or so editorial staff affected Jimmy was in the middle somewhere and didn’t stand a chance. He eventually found a part-time job covering the Mulcahy Tribunal for City magazine, but after six months of that not only did the tribunal come to an end City magazine itself did as well, and the work more or less dried up. He did a few bits and pieces over the next year and a half for local papers and trade publications, as well as some online stuff, but nothing that paid much or was regular enough to count as a real job.
Then, about a month ago, this came up.
It was through an old contact at City who was running the Irish office of a London publisher and looking for someone, preferably a journalist, to slap together a book on Susie Monaghan in time for the Christmas market. Jimmy didn’t have to think about it for very long. The advance was modest, but it was still a lot more than anything he’d earned recently.
He turns away from the window.
But what is this bullshit now with Phil Sweeney? Did he even understand it correctly? Was Sweeney asking him not to do the book? To drop it? It seems incredible, but that’s what it sounded like.
Jimmy glances over at his desk.
The advance. How much is it? I’m sure we could come to some –
– to some what? Some arrangement?
On one level, Jimmy shouldn’t even be questioning this. Because it’s not as if he doesn’t owe Phil Sweeney, and owe him big. He does. Of course he does. But dropping a story? That’s different. Being paid to drop a story? That’s fucking outrageous.
He doesn’t understand. Is Phil representing someone? An interested party? A client? What’s going on?
Jimmy walks over to the desk.
All of the materials laid out here – transcripts of interviews, old Hellos and VIPs, Google-generated printouts, endless photos – relate directly to Susie.
He selects one of the photos and looks at it.
Susie in a nightclub, champagne flute held up, shoulder strap askew.
She looks tired – wrecked, in fact – like she’s been trying too hard and it’s not working anymore.
But Jesus, that face … those eyes.
It didn’t matter how tawdry the setting, how tacky or low-rent the gig, Susie’s eyes always had this extraordinary effect of making everything around her seem urgent and weighted and mysterious.
As he replaces the photo, Jimmy wonders what the sister will be like. He’s spoken to her on the phone a few times and they’ve exchanged maybe a dozen e-mails – his focus always on getting her to say yes.
To talk to him.
The primary operating system of the universe.
Jimmy sits down and faces the computer. He looks at the words on the screen. Drums his fingers on the desk. Wonders how he got from investigating a ministerial expenses scandal, and doing it in a busy newsroom, to writing about a dead actress, and in a one-bedroom apartment he can barely afford the monthly repayments on.
But then something more pressing occurs to him.
How did Phil know what he was working on in the first place? Who did he hear it from? In what circumstances would Phil Sweeney be talking to someone – or would someone be talking to Phil Sweeney – where the subject might possibly come up?
Jimmy doesn’t like this one bit.
Nor is it the kind of thing he responds well to, being put under pressure, nudged in a certain direction, told what to do or what not to do. And OK, an unauthorised showbiz biography isn’t exactly Watergate, or uncovering My Lai, but still, he should be free to write whatever he wants to.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it?
He stares for another while at the block of text on the screen.
But he’s no longer in the mood.
He checks his coffee. It has gone cold.
He looks back at the screen.
He reaches over to the keyboard, saves the document and puts the computer to sleep.
* * *
‘I watch a lot of TV.’
He just blurts it out.
It’s not how he’d answer the same question if it came from a journalist, but God, could he not dredge up something a little more interesting for Dave Conway? Travel maybe? Or a bit of consultancy? The Clinton Foundation? Bilderberg?
Standing at the window, phone cradled on his shoulder, Larry Bolger gazes out over the rooftops of Donnybrook.
Usually when a journalist asks him how he’s spending his time these days he’ll say he’s serving on various boards, which is true, and then add that he’s started writing his memoirs, which isn’t. But at least he gives the impression of being busy. And that’s important.
Or is it?
Serving as a corporate director, in any case, doesn’t take up that much time, and not writing your memoirs doesn’t take up any time at all … so, yeah, big deal, he does have a lot of time on his hands. But is it anyone’s business how he chooses to spend it? No, and if that means he watches six episodes of CSI in a row, or a whole season of Scrubs, or the Hermann Goering Week on the History Channel in its entirety, well then, so be it.
Because there’s no manual for this, no seven-step recovery programme, no Dr Phil or Deepak-whatshisname bestseller. If you’re an ex-head of state, and you don’t have anything lined up on the jobs front, then that’s pretty much it, you’re on your own.
‘What,’ Conway asks, ‘like Primetime, Newsnight?’
‘Yeah, that kind of thing. Current affairs.’
‘Keeping ahead of the curve?’
Bolger throws his eyes up. He didn’t phone Dave Conway for this, for a chat.
‘So listen,’ he says, ‘this week some time, are you free?’
‘Er, I’m –’
‘I won’t keep you long.’
‘OK, Larry. Sure.’
They make an arrangement for the following morning. Here in the hotel.
After he hangs up Bolger trades the phone for the remote. He stands in the middle of the room and points it at the 42-inch plasma screen on the wall.
When he read that thing in the paper last week, he wasn’t sure what to make of it – though it certainly put the shits up him. What use talking to Dave Conway will be he doesn’t know either, probably none, but he needs to talk to someone. He needs reassurance. Besides, he hasn’t had much contact with any of the old crowd since leaving office over a year ago and he’s been feeling isolated.
He fiddles with the remote.
It’s amazing, he thinks, how quickly you get cut out of the loop.
He even swallowed his pride and tried phoning James Vaughan a couple of times, but the old fucker won’t return his calls. They haven’t spoken for about six months, not since that debacle over the IMF job Bolger had been up for and really wanted. Vaughan had championed his candidacy in Washington, or so it had seemed at the time, but then without any explanation he’d blocked it.
It was awful. Bolger had had everything mapped out, his trajectory over the next ten years – a solid stint at the IMF to hoover up connections and kudos, then a move to some post at the UN, in Trade and Development or one of the agencies or maybe even, if the timing was right, Secretary General. Why not? But if not, Trade, Human Rights, Aid, whatever. It was his dream, his 4 a.m. fantasy, and when Vaughan chose for whatever reason to snuff it out, Bolger was devastated. Because it wasn’t just that job, the first phase of the trajectory, it was the whole fucking trajectory. The thing is, you don’t survive getting passed over like that, it’s too public, too humiliating, so you may as well stuff your CV in a drawer and dig out your golf clubs.
That is, if you play golf.
The former Taoiseach, the prime minister, in any case, reckons that James Vaughan owes him at least a phone call.
But apparently not.
Bolger often thinks of that lunch in the Wilson Hotel, what was it, four, five years ago now?
How times change.
He goes into ‘My Recordings’ on the digital box, which is still clogged up with movies and documentaries he hasn’t got around to watching yet. He flicks down through everything on it now, but nothing catches his eye. He turns over to Sky News and watches that for a bit.
They appear to be having an off day.
The news is scrappy, unfocused, nothing with any real heat in it. They need a good natural disaster, or a high-profile sex scandal, or a child abduction.
Get their juices flowing.
He turns the TV off and throws the remote onto the sofa.
He looks around the room. Bolger likes living in a hotel, it’s convenient and private. You don’t have pain-in-the-arse neighbours to deal with. He and Mary have had an apartment here since they sold the house in Deansgrange, and with the girls in college now it suits them just fine.
He looks at his watch, and then over at the drinks cabinet.
Mary is out.
Bridge night. He could have gone with her, but he can’t stand the fucking chatter. All these people in their late fifties and early sixties sitting round playing cards. It’s too much like some sort of a retirement community for his taste. His excuse is that he’s absorbed in writing his memoirs and has little or no time for socialising, something he even has Mary believing – and to look at his desk in the study, with all the papers laid out on it, and the permanently open laptop, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was true. Which of course it should be. Because working on his memoirs would be good for him. It’d keep his mind occupied, keep him out of trouble.
But he has no idea how to write a book – how he should structure it or where he should even begin. He’s actually sorry now he signed the contract.
He looks over at the drinks cabinet again.
Ever since last week – Monday, Tuesday, whatever day it was – Bolger has been acutely aware of this piece of furniture in the corner of the room. Prior to that, it was just an object, albeit a beautiful one, with its art deco walnut veneer and sliding glass doors. It never bothered him in any way. He liked it. When required, he even served people drinks from it. But then he saw that report in the paper and something happened. It was almost as if the damn thing came to life, as if the bottles inside it, and the various clear and amber liquids inside them, lit up and started pulsating.
Gin, vodka, whiskey, brandy.
Fire water … water of life …
He has no intention of doing anything about this, of course. He won’t act on it. Not after all these years. But it isn’t easy.
He stares at the door leading to his study, and hesitates.
Then he goes over to the sofa again, sits down and picks up the remote control.
* * *
Dave Conway has a headache.
He’s had it for a couple of days now and it’s driving him up the wall.
He’s taken Solpadeine and Nurofen and been to the doctor. But apparently there’s nothing wrong with him.
It’s just tension – he’s exhausted and needs a rest.
And to be told this he has to pay sixty-five euro?
He pulls into the gravel driveway of his house and parks in his usual spot, next to the stables. The spot beside it is empty.
Which means Ruth isn’t home yet.
As he gets out of the car, Conway feels a dart of pain behind his eyes – the sudden convergence, he imagines, of half a dozen little pulses of anxiety: there’s the ongoing disaster that is Tara Meadows, the fact that his liabilities now exceed his assets, and the possibility that one of the banks he’s in hock to may seek to have a liquidator appointed in a bid to seize control of his company.
Conway approaches the house.
There’s also this gorgeous French au pair inside he has to look at now and talk to without weeping, without feeling drab and ashen and like some agèd minion of Death …
How many is that?
There’s his children, seven, five and two, disturbed, speculative visions of whose unknowable futures haunt his every waking hour, to say nothing of the sleeping ones.
He puts his key in the front door.
And then there’s just … dread. A general sense of it. Vague, insidious, nameless.
He opens the door.
Always there, always on.
As he steps into the hall, Molly is emerging at high speed from the playroom.
She’s clutching the Sheriff Woody doll.
‘It’s mine –’
‘I had it first –’
He watches as Molly heads in the direction of the kitchen and disappears.
A distraught Danny, outmanoeuvred once again by his kid sister, can be seen through the open door of the playroom, burying his face in the beanbag. Standing behind him, the baby – they still think of Jack as the baby – looks on, serene as usual, taking notes.
Corinne appears at the door, in hot pursuit of the dragon lady. For once, she looks flustered.
‘Oh Dave, sorry, I –’
Stepping forward, he holds up a hand to stop her.
‘It’s OK, don’t worry, she’s fine.’
‘I think there must be a full moon or something. They’re acting like crazy today.’
‘Didn’t you know? There’s always a full moon in this house.’
Dumb joke, but Corinne smiles.
Dave’s insides do a little flip.
They’re standing next to each other, almost framed in the doorway, and it’s a little overwhelming – Corinne’s scent, her perfect skin, her searching eyes that –
Oh enough, Conway thinks, and steps into the playroom.
He winks at Jack, and hunkers down in front of the beanbag. Danny turns around, tears welling in his eyes, and says, ‘Where’s Mommy?’
‘She’ll be home soon,’ Conway says.
‘I had it first.’
‘I know, I know. We’ll get it back in a minute. Come here.’
He reaches across, retrieves Danny from the bean-bag, hitches him over his shoulder and stands up.
This manoeuvre used to be so easy, so natural, but now that Danny is bigger and heavier it requires a lot more effort. He squeezes his son’s still-small frame in his arms, and then breathes him in, like a vampire, waiting for that familiar emotional rush.
‘I’ve just changed Jack,’ Corinne is saying. ‘It was quite loose. What’s that word you use … splatty?’
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘Splatty. A splatty poo. Very nice.’
Or surreal. Or whatever.
Before Conway can say anything else, his phone rings. He lowers Danny to the floor and gets the phone out of his jacket pocket. He nods at Corinne. She bends down to distract Danny.
‘Come on,’ she says. ‘Time for dinner.’
As Conway moves away, he raises the phone to his ear.
‘Dave? Phil Sweeney.’
‘Phil. How are you?’
‘Good. Listen, have you got a minute?’
‘Yeah.’ Conway heads for the door. ‘What’s up?’
‘Just something that’s come to my attention. Thought you should know about it.’
As Conway listens, he walks across the hall and into the front reception room.
Phil Sweeney is an occasional PR consultant. He does strategic communications, perception management, media analysis. He identifies and tracks, Echelon-style, issues that might have a bearing on his clients’ companies.
Like this one.
‘And the weird thing is,’ he’s saying, ‘I actually know the guy. His old man and I worked together, back in the early days of Marino.’
‘Right.’ Conway is confused, unsure if he’s getting this. ‘Susie Monaghan, you said?’
Conway lets out a deep, plaintive sigh here, as always happens whenever this comes up, each of the sighs like an instalment, a staged payment against the principal, itself a lump sum of a sigh so great that to release the whole thing in one go would be enough, he imagines, to kill him.
‘So what is this guy,’ he says, ‘a journalist?’
‘Yeah. Young, very smart. But he needs the work. That’s part of the problem. He got laid off back when all this meltdown shit started. So I suppose he sees it as an opportunity.’
‘But look, don’t worry. I’ll talk him out of it.’
‘OK,’ Conway says, nodding. ‘Or maybe, I don’t know…’ He pauses. ‘Maybe we could find something else for him to do.’ A signature Dave Conway technique. Misdirection. He’s been in business for over fifteen years and it always seems to work. If there’s a problem with staff, some kind of dispute or disagreement, redirect their attention. Get them thinking about something else.
He walks over to the bay window.
‘Yeah,’ Sweeney says, ‘I did offer to buy out his advance, but –’
‘No. Jesus.’ With his free hand Conway massages his left temple. ‘That’s not going to work.’ He looks out over the front lawn. ‘Not if he’s young. Not if he thinks he’s Bob fucking Woodward.’
‘Yeah, you’re probably right. But he does owe me. So we’ll get around it one way or another. I just wanted to let you know.’
‘I’ll keep you posted.’
After he hangs up, Conway stands for a while staring out of the window.
But doesn’t he have other, more pressing shit to be concerned about?
Like Conway Holdings going down the tubes, for instance.
So why then does he have a knot in his stomach? Why is the pounding inside his skull so much more intense now than it was five minutes ago?
* * *
Jimmy Gilroy is sitting at the quiet end of the bar. Arranged in front of him on the dark wood surface is an untouched pint of Guinness, some loose change, his keys, his phone and that morning’s paper.
It’s like a still life, familiar and comforting.
Take away the phone, replace it with twenty Major and a box of matches and this could be any time over the last fifty years. In fact, Jimmy could easily be his old man sitting here – or even his old man.
He takes a sip from his pint.
Though you’d definitely need the cigarettes and matches. And he’d need to be wearing a suit.
And they wouldn’t be Major, they’d be Benson & Hedges. Senior Service in his grandfather’s case, as he remembers – and not matches, a gold Ronson lighter.
And the paper. The paper would be crumpled, having been read from cover to cover.
Sports pages, obituaries, letters to the editor, classifieds.
Leaning back on his stool, head tilted to one side, Jimmy looks at the scene again. But the argument for continuity seems even thinner this time, a little less authentic. And it’s not just the lack of smokes, or the mobile phone, or that USB memory stick attached to his key ring.
It’s the unread paper.
He bought it on the way here, in the SPAR on the corner, but the truth is he’d already read most of it online earlier in the day.
Jimmy takes another sip from his pint.
He worries for the health of the printed newspaper.
Unfortunately, his own direct experience of the business was cut short by an industry-wide epidemic of falling ad revenues. But even in the few years prior to that things had started feeling pretty thinned-out. Some of the senior reporters and specialist correspondents still had good sources and were out there on a regular basis gathering actual news, but as a recent hire Jimmy spent most of his days in front of a terminal recycling wire copy and PR material, a lot of it already second-hand and very little of it fact-checked. If it hadn’t been for Phil Sweeney, Jimmy mightn’t ever have had the chance to work on anything more exciting.
The barman passes, rubbing his cloth along the wooden surface of the bar as he goes.
Jimmy reaches for his glass again.
In those final months, Sweeney steered him in the direction of quite a few stories he was able to get his teeth into, and although most of his time was still spent chained to a desk, he put in the extra hours at his own expense and managed to score a couple of direct hits. He’d been building up considerable momentum – and was even due for a review – when the axe fell.
Which is why after six months at City and a further eighteen of intermittent and even lower-grade ‘churnalism’, Jimmy leapt at this chance of doing the Susie Monaghan book.
It may sound like a rationalisation, but he welcomed the change. OK, no more job security, but also no more multiple daily deadlines, no more shameless lifting of news-in-brief items from other sources, and no more frantic, soul-sapping last-minute reliance on Google and Wikipedia.
And while the Susie story might not exactly be news anymore, it still resonates.
Jimmy downs a good third of his pint in one go. He puts the glass back on the bar and stares at it.
Susie Monaghan was a tabloid celebrity, a bottom-feeding soap-star socialite from a few years ago who the entire country seemed fixated on for a while. Every aspect of her life was covered and analysed in excruciating detail, the outfits, the tans, the openings, the reality-show appearances, even the comings and goings of the character she played on that primetime soap.
But then her story took on a whole new dimension when she and five others died in a helicopter crash somewhere along the north Donegal coast. The outpouring of national grief that followed was phenomenal and curiosity about her lingered in the ether for months.
So while the book may be an attempt by Jimmy’s publisher to cash in on an early wave of nostalgia, Jimmy himself sees it as more than that – because as far as he’s concerned, whatever nostalgia there might be is not just for the dead girl, it’s for the dead boom as well, for the vanished good times she’d been the potent, scented, stockinged, lubricious poster-girl for …
In any case, the point is: it’s an angle. He has ideas. He’s excited. He’s getting paid.
And, in ten minutes’ time, he’s meeting the dead girl’s sister.
A first-hand source.
But then it hits him again, comes in another wave. Phil Sweeney wants to pay him to drop the story?
Tell me it’s not the prospect of the last chapter they’re drooling over.
For fuck’s sake.
The last chapter of the book, covering the twenty-four hours leading up to the crash, was always going to be the most interesting one – Susie still in crisis over the whole Celebrity Death Row controversy, Susie turning up uninvited at Drumcoolie Castle, Susie sending that weird series of texts, Susie’s last-minute decision to go along for the helicopter ride.
Jimmy shifts on the stool.
Susie’s unerring, compulsively watchable, creepily addictive little Totentanz …
He stares at a row of bottles behind the bar.
It’s so obvious now that Phil Sweeney is covering for someone, a friend or a client, some balding, paunchy fuck who was maybe having an affair with Susie at the time and doesn’t want the whole thing dredged up again now, doesn’t want his name associated with her, doesn’t want his reputation or his marriage put in jeopardy.
Jimmy lifts his glass.
But could it really be as banal as that, and as predictable? Unprepossessing rich bloke, gorgeous girl on a fast-ticking career clock? Then this grubby, undignified attempt a few years later to pretend it never happened?
He downs most of what’s left in the glass.
He thinks of all that research material laid out on his desk. He’s gone through it a hundred times, but maybe he needs to go through it again, with a fresh eye, a colder eye – in case he missed something: a detail in a photo maybe, a telling glance, a bit of furtive hand-holding.
Not that it’ll make any difference, because even if something does turn up, what’s he supposed to do? Not write the book just to save the blushes of some solicitor or banker friend of Phil Sweeney’s?
Jimmy drains his glass and puts it back on the bar.
This is only speculation, of course. But it means he’s going to have to phone Sweeney back. Find out what the story is.
Out of respect, if for no other reason.
And the sooner he does so the better.
He looks at his watch.
But not before this meeting with Maria Monaghan.
Jimmy gets off the stool and gathers up his stuff from the bar – keys, phone and change. They go in various pockets. The newspaper he takes in his hand. He looks at it for a moment, then leaves it on the stool.
He nods at the barman on his way out.
* * *
Conway moves away from the window, head still pounding. He walks over to the doorway, hears voices and follows them. In the kitchen Danny is drawing quietly at the table and Jack is playing on the floor. Corinne is cooking something in a wok. Molly is beside her, looking up, her nose wrinkled in distaste.
‘I don’t like that.’
‘But sweetheart, you don’t even know what it is.’
‘I don’t like it.’
Conway stands for a while by the fridge, observing the scene. He is about to make a comment when he hears a key in the front door.
Everyone turns around.
A few moments later, Ruth walks into the kitchen. Within seconds she is being harangued, pulled at, climbed on.
‘MOMMY, MOMMY, LOOK AT THIS! MOMMY!’
‘I’m looking,’ Ruth says. ‘I’m looking.’
‘She took my Woody,’ Danny says, ‘and hid him in the washing machine.’
‘I didn’t hide him there,’ Molly says, stopping short of adding your Honour, ‘I put him there.’
Conway starts massaging his temples.
Ruth catches his eye.
He nods yes, but it’s not very convincing.
Raising her arms over Danny in exasperation, Ruth says, ‘Please, chicken, quiet for a second, Mommy needs to talk to Daddy.’
Corinne intervenes. ‘OK, guys, dinner is ready. Time to wash hands.’
She herds them off.
In the sudden calm that follows, Ruth looks at Conway. ‘So, did you go to the doctor?’
He nods another unconvincing yes.
‘Nothing. He said it was tension.’
‘I could have told you that. I did tell you that.’ She takes a grape from a bowl on the counter. ‘You worry too much.’
He doesn’t say anything. It’s not an argument he can win without getting into areas he doesn’t want to get into.
He watches as she breaks another grape off and pops it in her mouth.
Ruth is a redhead, with green eyes and pale, freckled skin. After three kids, she’s heavier than she used to be – but then again, and without her perfectly reasonable excuse, so is he. She’s still good-looking though, gorgeous in fact, curvier than before and therefore, as far as Conway is concerned, sexier … a perception these days, it must be said, that is filtered through the alienating prism of extreme and permanent exhaustion.
‘Did you get to talk to Larry Bolger?’
‘Yeah, this afternoon. Finally. ’
They’d been playing phone tag for a couple of days.
‘What did he want?’
‘I’m not sure really. I’m meeting him tomorrow.’
‘He didn’t say?’
‘Strange.’ She reaches across the counter for a bottle of Evian. ‘I wonder what he’s up to these days. He probably just wants to talk. Rake over old times. Revisit old grievances.’ She opens the bottle of water and takes a sip from it. ‘Summon up old ghosts.’
Conway stares at her.
That’s precisely what the old bastard wants to do. He must have heard the same thing Phil Sweeney heard.
Old ghosts …
Ruth returns his stare. ‘What?’
‘Nothing.’ Conway shakes his head. ‘I’ve just … remembered something.’
The headache. He’s had it since the other night, since around the time he first heard Bolger had phoned looking for him. Which means it really is tension – but not because of the banks, or Tara Meadows, or his kids, or some stupid crush he might have on the au pair.
It’s because of …
‘Honey,’ Ruth says. ‘What’s wrong?’
… a very different convergence …
‘You’ve gone pale.’
… of very different pulses …
He shakes his head again.
… of anxiety.
‘No,’ he says, ‘I’m … I’m fine.’
Conway mightn’t have seen the dots straightaway, mightn’t have wanted to see them.
Ruth leans forward. ‘You sure?’
But he sees them now, sees where they connect.
‘Yeah,’ he says, and reaches up to open a cupboard. ‘I just … I need to take something for this damn headache.’
* * *
Jimmy spots her straightaway, and it’s the weirdest thing: she’s unmistakably Susie Monaghan’s sister – same posture, same shape, same bone structure even … but she …
What is it?
She didn’t get that extra little shuffle of the genetic deck that Susie obviously got. There’s nothing wrong with her. You just wouldn’t put her on the cover of a glossy magazine.
Is that unfair?
Jimmy doesn’t mean it to be.
No one would put him on the cover of a magazine, glossy or otherwise.
He moves away from the revolving doors and starts crossing the lobby. Maria is on the far side of it, standing by a large potted palm tree. She’s wearing a conservative business suit – navy jacket, skirt, flat shoes – conservative but also very stylish and expensive-looking. Her hair is dark and short. She’s glancing around, and doesn’t seem very comfortable.
Jimmy approaches her with his hand outstretched.
‘Maria? Jimmy Gilroy.’
She turns and looks at him. She shakes his hand. ‘Maria Monaghan.’
The next few minutes are awkward. They find a table in the lounge and as they are getting settled a bar girl appears.
Jimmy orders a coffee, Maria a glass of white wine.
The bar girl moves away.
‘So,’ Jimmy says. And waits.
Sitting on the edge of her chair, eyes down, Maria smoothes out a wrinkle in her navy skirt. ‘OK,’ she says eventually, eyes still down. ‘Let me make one thing clear. I’ve agreed to meet you, but I haven’t agreed to anything else. I haven’t agreed to co-operate, whatever that might involve, or to go on the record. I’m just meeting you because you’ve been so bloody persistent.’
‘Yes. Sorry about that.’
She looks at him. ‘Sure you are.’
He holds up his hands. ‘How else would you have agreed to meet me?’
‘See? But that doesn’t have to mean I’m hustling you, does it? The thing is, if I do this book I want to do it right. I want to be fair.’
She leans forward slightly. ‘That’s easy to say, but what does it mean?’
‘It means I want to tell your sister’s story as truthfully as I possibly can.’
‘Right,’ she says, and nods. ‘So where the hell were you three years ago?’
Jimmy hesitates. He doesn’t have an answer. He sits back in his chair.
The media had a field day when it came to poor Susie. They were having one already before the accident, but afterwards it was extreme. In the previous few months, they’d crawled over every aspect of her life, like maggots, and now they had her actual corpse, twisted and torn, to gorge on.
Jimmy sits up. ‘We didn’t exactly cover ourselves in glory, did we?’
Maria snorts, but doesn’t say anything.
‘For what it’s worth,’ Jimmy goes on, ‘I was little more than a trainee at the time. I didn’t even –’
‘For what it’s worth, Jimmy,’ Maria interrupts, ‘little Susie Monaghan loved every minute of it. Right up to, and possibly including, the very end.’
What did she just say?
The bar girl arrives and as she’s transferring the coffee things and glass of wine from her tray to the table, Jimmy studies Maria closely. He remembers reading that she was two years older than Susie, which would make her twenty-eight now, or twenty-nine.
His age, give or take.
Though she seems older in a way, more serious.
Maria picks up her glass of wine and takes a sip from it. Jimmy pours milk into his coffee.
What was that, up to and including? He wants to ask her to explain this, but he needs to pace himself. He doesn’t want to scare her off. What he says instead is, ‘What do you do, Maria?’
‘I’m an administrator. At the Fairleigh Clinic. Not very glamorous, I suppose, but at least I’m still alive.’
Jimmy nods again. Doesn’t seem like she’s going to let him pace himself. He leans forward in his chair.
‘I’m sensing a little resentment here, Maria.’
‘Oh you are, are you?’
She looks as if she’s about to tear strips off him, but suddenly her eyes well up. She puts her glass down and stifles a sob. After a moment she produces a tissue from her pocket. She dabs her eyes with it and then blows her nose.
Jimmy shrugs. ‘For what?’
Maria holds up the tissue. ‘This,’ she says, and shrugs too. ‘I don’t know. But you’re right about one thing. I do feel resentment. A lot of resentment.’ She tucks the tissue into her sleeve. ‘When I was younger I resented Susie. I resented her looks and her success. Then I resented the way she squandered her success and didn’t seem to care, didn’t even seem to notice. I resented the media, and the cops, and her friends, anyone we had to deal with after the crash. I resented the fact that Mum and Dad had to suffer so much, and not just the grief, but the indignity, the intrusion. Now they’re both dead and for some reason I resent them, too. Don’t ask me why. And of course I resent you. But you’re easy. You want to revive the whole thing, drag me into it, get me talking. So what do you expect? In fact, if you’re not careful I might pile all my resentments into one big basket and slap your name on it.’
Looking at her now, listening to this, Jimmy already sees a different Maria from the one he spotted out in the lobby only a few minutes earlier, a different Maria from the one he pictured in his head through all those phone calls and e-mails. For one thing – and he can’t believe he’s only seeing this now – she’s actually very attractive. Not in the way Susie was, but in her own way. She’s tough, and she’s vulnerable, and there’s a light in her eyes, a spark of something, of spirit, of real intelligence.
‘I get that,’ he says. ‘I do. It makes sense. But you have to understand … a lot of people are interested in your sister, still interested. She struck a chord.’
‘Oh bullshit. She was a celebrity, and one of the best kind, too, the kind who dies.’
Jimmy raises an eyebrow at this.
‘Don’t get me wrong,’ Maria goes on. ‘I loved my sister. I just wish things had been different.’
‘In what way?’
‘Between us. For her. In every way.’
Jimmy has a sense that this isn’t going to be easy. As usual with a human-interest story you talk to someone, look them in the eye, and what happens? Things get knotty, ambivalence creeps in, black merges with white and you end up with an amorphous headachy grey.
‘Susie loved being famous,’ Maria says, reaching for her wine again. ‘She really wanted it, always did, but it gnawed at her soul that that was all what she wanted … because she knew on some level … she knew it was nothing.’ Maria takes a sip from her glass. ‘And that made her do reckless things, made her be reckless.’
Jimmy hesitates, then says, ‘That’s a whole narrative right there, Maria. It’s a perspective no one’s heard before. People will be interested in that.’
Maria looks alarmed. ‘Yeah, but they won’t be hearing it from me. I’m just shooting my mouth off. Being a little reckless myself.’ She takes another sip of wine. Then she furrows her brow. ‘Is this some technique you’re using here? Getting me to talk?’ She pauses. ‘You have a sympathetic face. Maybe that’s it.’ She pauses again. ‘But I suppose the real question is do you know you have a sympathetic face and use that fact, or is it just –’
She stops, looks away, shakes her head.
‘Jesus, listen to me. This is why I didn’t want to meet you, you know. I’m a talker. I talk. And what happened to my sister is something I haven’t talked about in a very long time, to anyone. And the thing is I want to. So you’re probably the last person I should be sitting in front of.’
She leans forward and puts her glass back onto the table.
Jimmy looks at his untouched coffee, which is probably lukewarm by now.
He should have ordered a drink.
‘Maria,’ he says, ‘all I can do is try to reassure you. I don’t work for a tabloid. I’m not out to trap you. This is a book, commissioned by a publisher. And yeah, there’s a sales and marketing aspect to it, of course there is, but I want to do a good job, and your insights can only help to round it out, give it substance.’
Maria looks at him, holds his gaze for what feels like a long time. She seems to be calculating something. Then she says, ‘You know what I’m afraid of? I’m afraid something will come out.’
Jimmy swallows. ‘Like what?’
‘I don’t know, but … the crash? There was never really any explanation for it, was there? There was no faulty or missing bit they could find, nothing mechanical, the weather wasn’t particularly bad. It was just a crash, a disaster. What was the verdict at the inquest? Accidental death? Then, case closed. Just like that.’
‘Well, I’ll be honest with you, Jimmy, I knew Susie better than anyone, and she was wild, she liked to make scenes and kick up a fuss for no apparent reason. So my darkest fear, what I’m afraid might come out, is that in some way…’ She stops for a moment and takes a deep breath. ‘Look, it was a helicopter, right, a small, confined space, six people, she was probably coked out of it, even at that time of the day, plus she’d been sending those weird texts, and clearly wasn’t in a stable frame of mind, so … who knows?’ Maria’s eyes well up again. ‘Maybe she made some kind of a scene, maybe she got hysterical about something, went crazy. Maybe the accident was her fault.’ Maria pulls the tissue out of her sleeve again. ‘There, I said it.’
Jimmy’s heart is racing. ‘This is just … speculation, right?’
‘Yes. Of course. But I can see it. I can visualise it. It’d be so typical, so … Susie.’
‘This idea has haunted me for three years, Jimmy. I still have nightmares about it.’ She pauses, wipes a tear from her cheek. ‘Though you could never write that I said that. I’d sue you if you did –’
She looks him in the eye again.
‘But then with that … that image in my head, how could I possibly co-operate on a book with you, how could –’
Jimmy doesn’t know what to say, blindsided himself by what she has conjured up.
‘Look,’ Maria goes on, ‘I know I’m probably not being very rational here, but –’
‘No, no, you are. Jesus. You’re fine. You’re allowed.’
She nods, then blows her nose again. As she does so, Jimmy looks down at the floor, gazes at a pattern in the carpet.
Some sort of commotion in the cockpit? Instigated by Susie? It’s a tantalising idea. But even if that’s what happened, who could prove it now?
Who would want to?
He would. That’s for sure. And Maria, if it ever came to it – the thing is – probably wouldn’t.
This is how it goes. You get talking to someone, you interact, and it all starts to fall apart.
Then something occurs to him.
‘Those texts,’ he says. ‘Did Susie send one to you?’
‘From the actual helicopter?’
She shakes her head.
‘It was before. From the hotel. From her room.’
Jimmy waits. He wants to ask her what was in the text, but he’s assuming that if she’s prepared to tell him she will. When she doesn’t, he says, ‘In all the documentation there is reference to four texts she sent that morning. Yours would make it five.’
Maria shrugs. ‘It was just a text. It was no smoking gun, believe me. Susie was a text head. She would have loved Twitter.’
‘She sounded kind of hysterical in the one she sent to her agent.’
‘Yeah.’ Maria pauses, and almost smiles. ‘Look at you. You’re all intrigued now, aren’t you? I’m sorry. This is precisely the opposite of what I wanted to happen.’
‘Intrigued by this or not, Maria, I still want to write the book. There’s enough there as it is. But it’d be great if you went on the record.’
She studies him for a moment.
‘You know,’ she says, ‘you do have a sympathetic face. But I actually don’t think you’re trying to hustle me.’
Jimmy remains silent.
She picks up her glass of wine again and takes a sip from it. ‘Nothing in life is easy, is it?’ she says.
Jimmy smiles. ‘No. So does that mean you’ll talk to me?’
* * *
Flanked by two senior civil servants, he emerges from Government Buildings and steps out onto the landscaped courtyard, where a car is waiting. But something isn’t right … it’s one of the civil servants … he turns to look …
The man is bleeding from his eyes …
Bolger grunts, shifts in the armchair.
The door clicks shut. He opens his eyes. The TV is still on, Frasier Crane, looking harried.
What time is it?
He turns. ‘Mary?’
‘Hi, were you asleep?’
She approaches, stands over him.
‘Christ,’ he says. ‘What time is it?’
‘Not late. Just after ten, I think.’
‘Why are you home so early?’
He has the feeling of being caught out. She wouldn’t normally be home before eleven, and by that time he’d have ensconced himself in the study with a cup of hot chocolate.
To make it seem like he’d been slaving away all evening.
‘I had a bit of a headache,’ she says. ‘I wasn’t in the mood.’
He feels guilty, slumped here in the armchair, watching television.
‘Will you have a cup of tea?’ she then asks, turning and unbuttoning her coat.
He rubs his eyes. How long was he asleep?
A civil servant bleeding from …
What is wrong with him? He stands up and walks around the room, trying to get his circulation going. Mary is in the kitchen now. He can see her through the door filling the kettle.
‘Did you get any work done?’ she asks over her shoulder.
‘A little, yeah.’
He throws his eyes up.
Chapter a hundred.
He has barely started is the truth. He doesn’t know where to start.
Chapter one. I grew up in the shadow of my older brother, and despite how things may have come to seem in later years – I never really got out from under it …
Yeah. Fuck off.
‘How are the crowd anyway?’ he says, deflecting a follow-up question.
‘They’re grand. Everyone asking for you.’
Mary comes out of the kitchen, smiling, grabs her coat from the back of the chair where she left it and heads into the bedroom.
Bolger stands in front of the fireplace, looking down at the carpet, listening as the dull hum of the kettle in the next room ascends to a muffled roar.
He is sick with anxiety, and that’s about the size of it.
Meeting Dave Conway tomorrow is supposed to make him feel like he’s taking some kind of action. But he won’t be really. All he’ll be doing is asking Dave if he saw that thing in the paper last week.
Saying, I saw it. Did you see it? I saw it.
And I haven’t been right since.
Reading the Irish Independent that morning, alone in the apartment, Bolger came as close as he has in nearly ten years to falling off the wagon.
He glances over once again at the corner of the room, at the drinks cabinet.
Takes a deep breath, holds it in.
Couple out walking their dog. In Wicklow. Remains of a body in a ditch – just bones really, and a set of clothes. Reckoned to have been there for at least two years. Unidentified, but no shortage of speculation.
He breathes out slowly.
Mary emerges from the bedroom in her at-homes and goes back into the kitchen.
Bolger stands there, not moving.
Couple out walking their dog.
Is this it? Is this beginning?
* * *
It’s nearly eleven thirty.
Too late to phone now, but then again maybe the perfect time to phone. Catch him off guard.
Jimmy is walking along by St Stephen’s Green.
He left Maria at the top of Grafton Street and while they didn’t make a specific arrangement to meet again, the understanding is that they’ll be in touch – once Maria has had a little time to think, and maybe consult a lawyer. Once he’s had time – not that this came up in conversation – to clear the decks with Phil Sweeney.
He gets his phone out and looks at it.
There’s no point in putting this off. Besides, things have changed. He’s on his own now, no longer a valuable asset working at a national newspaper …
He finds the number.
What has he got to lose?
He brings the phone up to his ear, and waits.
He glances over at the Shelbourne Hotel.
‘Phil. Hi. I hope I’m not calling too late.’
‘No, no, you’re grand. Thanks for getting back to me. I appreciate it. I wouldn’t want there to be a misunderstanding.’
‘Oh?’ Jimmy says, deciding to get straight into it. ‘Really? What’ll we call it then, an absence of understanding? Because you know what? I’m at a loss here. You call me up –’
‘I was just trying to help –’
‘How? By insulting me? And where did you hear about what I’m working on anyway?’
There’s probably no straight answer Sweeney can give to this, at least not one Jimmy will find acceptable.
‘The flow of information,’ he says. ‘I pay attention to it.’
‘Look, I often hear things I don’t necessarily ask about, things I maybe shouldn’t even be privy to. Whatever. It is what it is.’ He pauses. ‘So, did you have a think about what I said?’
‘Yeah, I did, and the thing is –’
‘No, Jimmy, there’s no thing. Just take it on board, OK? Please.’
Jimmy stops in his tracks. A group of American tourists walk past him, one of them talking loudly, a big guy with a beard saying something about ‘this giant Ponzi scheme’.
At the taxi rank to his left a young couple appear to be having an argument.
‘I told you, he’s from work.’
Beyond them are lights, colours, a kaleidoscope, traffic stopping and starting.
Jimmy turns, takes a few steps towards the railings of the Green.
‘For Christ’s sake, Phil,’ he says in a loud whisper, ‘you can’t just dangle something like this in my face, and not expect me to bite. I’m supposed to be a fucking journalist.’
Sweeney exhales loudly.
‘It’s not like that,’ he says. ‘There’s no story here. It’s not –’
‘Susie Monaghan? No story? Her name on a magazine cover, let alone her picture, and you still get a huge spike in circulation, even after all this time, so don’t tell me –’
‘It’s not about her. Believe me.’
Jimmy reaches out and takes a hold of one of the railings.
‘Then what is it about?’
Sweeney clicks his tongue. ‘I know this is tricky for you,’ he says, ‘professionally, being told, being asked, to stay away from something, a story, it goes against the grain, I get that, but … the thing is, I’m good friends with Freddie Walker. Yeah?’ He pauses. ‘Ted Walker’s brother? And … they’re still suffering. Every time the story comes up, every time Susie Monaghan’s name gets mentioned, it brings the whole thing back, the tragedy, everything, and the prospect of a book, with all the publicity, the photos, dredging through the details again, and having it all be about her, with only a cursory mention of Ted and the others who died, it’s … well, frankly it’d be fucking torture for them.’ He pauses again. ‘So I’m asking you, Jimmy. As a favour. Give it a miss.’ He clears his throat. ‘And I certainly didn’t mean to insult you.’
Jimmy squeezes the railings until his knuckles are white.
He didn’t see this coming.
Black, white, headachy grey.
‘Freddie Walker?’ he says.
This is a question, sort of, but they both know what the answer is. It’s a no-brainer. It’s Yeah, sonny Jim, back in your box now and shut the fuck up.
Jimmy releases his grip on the railing. Behind him is kinesis, light and noise, the streets. Ahead, through the bars, is stillness, a dark blanket of shadows, the Green at night.
‘Yeah,’ Sweeney says, ‘Freddie Walker, he’s a client, lovely guy, you’d really like him, and of course –’
‘No,’ Jimmy says. ‘Stop it, right? I’m not listening to any more of this.’ He turns around and walks towards the head of the taxi rank. ‘Good night, Phil. I’m sorry, I can’t help you out.’
He snaps the phone shut and puts it away.
Steps around the arguing couple.
And opens the back door of the waiting taxi –
‘That’s our –’
– anticipating a musty whiff, the residue of long hours, long years, of sweat, smoke and overheated opinion.
‘Take that one,’ Jimmy says, pointing at the next car along, and gets in the back of the Nissan.
Maria will talk to him, he’s pretty sure of that, and it’ll add a whole new dimension to the story.
‘Sandymount,’ he says to the driver, ‘Strand Road.’
So Phil Sweeney can just …
‘That’s not a bad one.’
‘No,’ Jimmy says, as they cruise past the spot where he left Maria a few minutes earlier, ‘no, not a bad one at all.’
* * *
On his way down in the elevator of the BRX Building in Manhattan, Clark Rundle is about to flick through the latest issue of Vanity Fair to look for the article when he gets a call from Don Ribcoff.
‘Yeah, Don,’ he says, putting the magazine under his arm, ‘what’s up?’
‘Clark, I need five minutes. Are you around?’
Rundle looks at his watch. ‘It’s nearly seven o’clock, Don. I’m leaving the building. It’s been a long day.’ He’s also had this copy of Vanity Fair in his possession since lunchtime, and has managed to hold off opening it until now. He resents the intrusion.
‘Can’t it wait?’
‘Not really, Clark, no. Where are you headed? Let me meet you there.’
‘I’m going to the Orpheus Room. I’m meeting Jimmy Vaughan for a drink.’ He hesitates, then says, ‘Look, why don’t you join us?’
Rundle closes the phone. The elevator door hums open and he steps out into the lobby area.
Seems he’s not the only one leaving the building.
As he walks through the crowds, Rundle keeps the Vanity Fair under his arm, with the cover concealed. It’s absurd, but he feels a little self-conscious. He’s been interviewed before, many times, but usually under controlled conditions and not until multiple confidentiality clauses have been agreed to and signed.
None of which applied with Vanity Fair, of course.
Rundle didn’t mind, though. He was doing it for J.J., for this campaign he might be running. Plus, he finds there’s a certain cachet to being profiled in VF that even he isn’t immune to.
He’ll read the article in the car.
Out on Fifth it is warm. The air is still heavy and the evening sun is struggling to break through the haze.
He crosses the sidewalk. His driver holds open the door of the waiting limo and he gets in. As far as Rundle is concerned, the interior of a car like this, with its tinted windows and chilled hum, is a refuge, one of the modern world’s few remaining private spaces. Advances in telecommunications haven’t helped much in this regard, but he still tries his best. Phone-time is kept to a minimum, and e-mails are ignored.
Settling in now, he places the magazine in his lap and looks at the cover. It shows an actress he doesn’t recognise. She is pale and blonde, with icy blue eyes. She’s got blood-red lipstick on and is wearing a mantilla.
A Veronica Lake wannabe. A Veronica Lake-alike. She’s pretty cute, though.
Her name, apparently, is Brandi Klugmann and she’s in some new blockbuster franchise.
He scans the rest of the cover for article titles. He finds what he’s looking for at the bottom.
The Rundle Supremacy. How brothers Senator John Rundle and BRX chairman Clark Rundle are taking on the world … and winning.
He reads this over a couple of times and nods, as though in agreement with someone sitting in front of him. He then lifts the magazine and gives a preliminary riffle through its glossy, scented pages, catching a rush of images, ads mostly, promissory shards of the erotic and the streamlined.
Perfume, watches, banks, celebs, real estate porn.
He looks up and out of the window for a moment. Traffic is light and flowing easily. They’ll be at the Orpheus Room sooner than he expected.
He goes back to the magazine and quickly locates the article.
It opens with a two-page spread of photos, some colour, some black and white – he and J.J. at various stages in their lives, together and apart … grainy images, weird clothes and, of course, hair, from the seventies, suits thereafter, and less hair … J.J. with Karl Rove, J.J. on Meet the Press … Clark looking inscrutable at some charity ball, Clark in the cabin of his G-V.
He scans the text.
It actually is something of a puff piece – the Rundle brothers, John, 50, and Clark, 48, sons of the legendary Henry C. Rundle, each on a trajectory to stellar success, one in politics, setting his sights on the White House, and the other in business, steering long-held family concern, mining and engineering giant BRX, to global domination. The ‘narrative’ in the article is how close the brothers are, no sibling rivalry, just mutual support, the kind of bond you’d expect from identical twins sort of thing, with anecdotes emanating from the usual sources, how J.J. ceded control of his part of the company to Clark against all legal advice, and how Clark chose to withdraw his name for consideration as commerce secretary under Bush so as not to steal J.J.’s thunder.
He closes the magazine and puts it on the seat beside him.
It’s strange reading about yourself. The material usually feels diluted and one-dimensional. By the same token there’s nothing in the article here he needs to call his lawyers about. It’s accurate enough, he supposes, and will achieve what it was intended to achieve – at least as far as J.J.’s press office is concerned – and that is to help pave the way for this possible nomination.
Rundle wonders if J.J. has seen it yet. He’s on a foreign trip at the moment – doing Clark a favour, as it happens – so it’s unlikely.
But then again the article is probably available online.
In which case, knowing J.J., he’ll definitely have seen it.
And will be in touch about it the first chance he gets.
The limo pulls up outside the Orpheus Room on Fifty-fourth Street. Rundle waits for the driver to open the door and then gets out. As he straightens his jacket he glances at the passing traffic down a bit on Park and something occurs to him. It’s easy to forget this, but it’s true what was in the article. There is no rivalry between them, none, and they genuinely do root for each other. In taking BRX Mining & Engineering to new levels of success, Clark has remained largely anonymous, and that’s been fine. J.J. was always the attention-seeker anyway, the approval junkie. But if that’s what his brother wants, a shot at the presidency – which until now, being honest about it, Clark hasn’t really taken that seriously – then why not? And why shouldn’t Clark do everything in his considerable power to help make it happen?
Add ‘kingmaker’ to his list of achievements.
Stick it one more time to the old man.
He heads in under the sidewalk canopy.
Realigning his headspace.
Inside, Jimmy Vaughan is sitting at his regular table, nursing what looks like a fruit juice.
Rundle approaches the table with his hand outstretched. ‘Jimmy, how are you?’
Vaughan looks up. He shakes Rundle’s hand and indicates for him to sit down. ‘How am I? I’m eighty-two years old, Clark, what do you want me to tell you?’
Rundle laughs at this and sits down. ‘Well, if I could look half as good as you do, Jimmy, and I mean now, let alone when I’m eighty-two, I’d be a happy man.’
This is bullshit, of course, palaver, but on one level he actually means it. Vaughan is extraordinary for his age, his steely blue eyes displaying an undimmed and ferocious intelligence. As chairman of private equity firm the Oberon Capital Group – as well as sitting member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission – Vaughan is something of an éminence grise around these parts.
A waiter appears at Rundle’s side. ‘Your usual, sir?’
A gimlet. For his sins.
He looks at Vaughan. ‘How’s Meredith?’
Vaughan waves a hand over the table. ‘She’s … well.’
Meredith is Vaughan’s umpteenth wife. They got married about four years ago, and she’s at least forty-five years his junior. Which maybe explains a lot.
She’s even younger than Rundle’s own wife.
‘She’s good. She’s in England at the moment, Oxford. Checking up on Daisy.’
Wives, daughters, whatever.
‘Listen,’ he says, leaning forward, getting down to business, ‘this thing with the Chinese?’
‘It isn’t going to go away, Clark. I mean, let’s say our friend the colonel turns down their offer, yeah? Let’s say we pull that off. It just means they’ll come back with a bigger offer. That’s the kicker in all of this, it isn’t about money.’ Vaughan makes a puffing sound and throws his hands up. ‘It’s like we have to learn a whole new language.’
Rundle is all too aware of this, but hearing Vaughan articulate it, hearing him sound even vaguely defeatist – that’s a little unnerving.
‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘or maybe we have to relearn a language we once knew, but have forgotten.’
Vaughan looks at him for a moment. Then he reaches over and pats him on the arm. ‘Oh lord, Clark,’ he says. ‘That’s a bit subtle, even for me.’ He laughs. ‘Or … or what’s that other word … inscrutable?’
‘Well, I wouldn’t –’
They both look up.
It’s Don Ribcoff. He has arrived at the table in what seems like a frantic rush. He sits down, nods at Vaughan, but then faces Rundle.
‘Forgive me, Clark,’ he says, ‘I wouldn’t normally barge in on you like this, but I thought it’d be better not to talk over the phone.’
Rundle nods, wondering what this is about – the urgency, the not talking on the phone. Especially the not talking on the phone. But also thinking who’d be a better judge of something like that than the CEO of Gideon Global?
He turns to Vaughan. ‘I didn’t mention it to you, Jimmy, but I spoke to Don earlier and asked him to join us.’
‘Of course, of course,’ Vaughan says, and makes an inclusive gesture with his hand. ‘Don, what are you drinking?’
Ribcoff bites his lip. ‘Er, water, please.’
Vaughan raises a finger and a waiter seems to materialise out of thin air. Instructions are given, two chilled 330 ml bottles of Veen, one velvet, one effervescent. Almost immediately a second waiter appears with the gimlet and as the drink is being transferred from the tray to the table Rundle takes a moment to study Don Ribcoff.
He seems uncharacteristically ruffled. Still only in his mid-thirties, Ribcoff is a hugely capable young man, good-looking, fit, and incredibly focused when it comes to his business. He also provides an invaluable service to people like Rundle, Vaughan and many others. The privatisation of the security and intelligence industries has been nothing short of revolutionary and the Don Ribcoffs of this world, who have spearheaded that revolution, are men to be cherished and nurtured.
Which is why it’s disturbing to see him like this.
As soon as the waiter withdraws, Rundle reaches for his gimlet.
Gin and lime juice.
Who could ask for anything more?
He takes a sip.
And then it strikes him that the reason Ribcoff is agitated is because he wants to talk to him.
Vaughan and Ribcoff are looking in his direction.
Ribcoff clears his throat, shifts his weight in the chair and then says, ‘Look, er, this trip the Senator is on? It’s run into a little trouble. I’m afraid we might have to think things over.’
Rundle immediately says, ‘What things?’
And then adds, after a beat, ‘What trouble?’
Copyright © 2011 by Alan Glynn