I found Jimmy D’Ambrosio where he said he’d be, slouched on the stone bench in the Public Garden beside the statue of George Washington astride his horse. In his rumpled beige trench coat and faded Red Sox cap, and with the silvery stubble on his cheeks and chin, it would’ve been easy to mistake Jimmy for just another bum who’d recently crawled out from under his newspaper blanket on what promised to be a pretty early-autumn morning in Boston.
In fact, Jimmy D., as he’d been called since he handled Kevin White’s mayoral campaigns back in the sixties, was a kingmaker, one of the most powerful old-time Democratic pols in the Commonwealth, and presently the campaign manager for Ellen Stoddard, who hoped to become the first female United States senator ever chosen by the voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Ellen also happened to be a friend of mine—I was her mother’s attorney—which was why I’d agreed to meet with Jimmy D. on a park bench at seven A.M. on a Tuesday morning in the last week of September.
He was sipping from a large Dunkin’ Donuts cup and eating a muffin, and when I sat beside him, he reached into his bag and handed a cup and a donut to me.
I broke off a hunk of donut and crumbled it in my hand. When I tossed the crumbs in the direction of Jimmy’s shoes, half a dozen gray squirrels came scurrying over to fight for them.
“Very funny,” said Jimmy, making a halfhearted kick at the squirrels, who ignored him. He made a show of sticking out his arm and frowning at his watch. “Six-fifty-five, it says.” He tapped the face of his watch. “Hm. I don’t get it. It’s still running.” He shook his wrist, squinted at his watch again. “Must be slow. I never heard of a lawyer who was early.”
I pried the lid off the cup Jimmy had given me and took a sip. “Plain donut,” I said. “Black coffee. You remembered.”
“My job,” he said, “remembering how people take their coffee.”
“I know you,” I said. “You’ve got it all on your computer.”
He grinned. “I got more than that on my computer. What do you want to know about yourself?”
“You are a scary man, Jimmy D.,” I said. “Somebody calls me at home at six-fifteen in the morning, wakes me out of a sound sleep, says he’s gotta talk to me, insists on meeting on a park bench at daybreak, says he’ll buy me coffee and a donut, I figure it’s somewhere between important and urgent. So which is it?”
“If I knew which,” he said, “I probably wouldn’t need you. Maybe it’s neither. Maybe it’s nothing.” He looked up at me from beneath his shaggy gray eyebrows. “It concerns our candidate.”
“I guessed that much,” I said. “So why am I talking to you, not her?”
“Actually,” he said, “the problem isn’t exactly our candidate. It’s our candidate’s husband.”
“Albert?” I said. Albert Stoddard was a history professor at Tufts University. He and Ellen had been married for about twenty years.
“Albert’s the only husband she’s got,” said Jimmy.
“I always thought Albert was a pretty good guy,” I said. “He likes trout fishing.”
“Everybody who likes trout fishing is a good guy?”
“Yes,” I said. “Pretty much. So what’s the problem with Albert?”
He flapped his hands. “If I knew, I wouldn’t be talking to you, would I? He’s acting … weird.”
“He’s pretty much dropped out of the campaign,” Jimmy said. “He used to chip in. Go to events, stand at Ellen’s side, participate in our meetings. Lately he seems evasive. Furtive. Like a man with a guilty conscience, something to hide. Can’t be much more specific than that. Weird. Not himself. It’s upsetting Ellen. Upsetting me, for that matter.”
“You think Albert’s fooling around or something?”
Jimmy shrugged. “First thing that comes to mind, isn’t it?”
I shrugged. “A lot of people fool around.”
“Me,” said Jimmy, “I don’t fool around. Do you?”
“Not anymore,” I said. “Not since Evie. Anyway, my impression is that the voters nowadays are pretty tolerant of a candidate’s spouse being involved in some extramarital dalliance. Hell, they’re tolerant of candidates themselves.”
Jimmy smiled. “Dalliance.”
“So what’s the big deal?”
“I never said he was … dallying,” said Jimmy. “If that’s what it is, okay, we deal with it. I just want to know.” He turned to me and put his hand on my wrist. “Look, Brady. Ellen’s really got a chance to win this thing. She’s been an underdog from the get-go, but she’s climbing in the polls. She’s got the momentum. Any little thing could knock the pins out from under her.”
“So why are you talking to me?”
“I want you to get the goods on Albert, if there are goods to be gotten, whatever those goods might be, before the newspapers do, and before her opponent does, and if there aren’t any goods, well, terrific, I want you to find that out for me.”
“Jimmy,” I said, “I’m a lawyer, remember? Early for appointments, maybe. But still a lawyer.”
“A lawyer who’s made a career out of discretion,” he said. “A lawyer who’s bound by attorney-client confidentiality. A lawyer who is not associated with the Stoddard campaign.” He touched my arm and leaned close to me. “A lawyer, however,” he said, “who might have a cushy job waiting for him if the right people were grateful to him.”
“I don’t want a cushy job,” I said. “I will refuse a cushy job if it’s offered to me. My present job is plenty cushy enough.”
“A federal judgeship, maybe?”
“Don’t do that, Jimmy. I cannot be bribed.”
“Hell,” he said. “Everybody can be bribed.”
I shrugged. “Anyway, I’m not a private investigator.”
“But you know some.”
“I know several.”
“Any as discreet as you?”
I nodded. “A couple are, yes.”
“Hire one for me, then.”
“Why don’t you hire one for yourself?” I said.
“Because it’s got to be separate from the campaign, Brady. I’d’ve thought that was obvious. It gets into the papers we’re hiring somebody to tail Albert, the faintest whiff of a scandal, you know how it goes. That’s why we keep the distance. This cannot be connected to me or Ellen or the campaign. You’re the man. The buck stops with you. Who you hire deals with you. You keep my name out of it. You pay them and I’ll reimburse you.”
“You are as Machiavellian as ever,” I said. “I assume Ellen’s okay with this.”
“Of course,” said Jimmy. “You don’t think I’d do this behind her back, do you?”
I smiled. “Truthfully, Jimmy, it wouldn’t surprise me.”
He made a fist and punched his heart. “You wound me deeply.” He put his hand on my arm. “I finally talked with Ellen about it last night. She agrees something’s got to be done.”
“Does she know you’re talking to me?”
He nodded. “So whaddya say?”
“What if I say no?”
He shrugged. “I’ll have to find somebody else.”
“I’d sure hate to see Albert blow it for her,” I said. “I think she’d make a terrific senator.” I looked at him. “If I’m going to do this, I’ll need—”
“Got it,” he said. He reached into his trench coat and pulled out a big manila envelope. “Auto information. He drives a two-year-old light green Volkswagen Beetle, if you’re curious. Home and business addresses, phone numbers, favorite hangouts, the names of friends and acquaintances. Basically, everything I could think of that might give a PI a start. You need something else, let me know.”
I took the envelope and put it on the bench beside me.
Jimmy stood up and brushed crumbs off his lap. “You need to talk, use my cell phone.” He turned to leave, then stopped and came back. “I just hired you to do something for me, right?”
He rolled his eyes, then reached into his hip pocket, took out his wallet, and counted out some bills. He handed them to me. “Okay?”
I counted the bills. Five twenties. “This is about what I get for twenty minutes.” I looked at my watch. “About right.”
“So now I’m your client,” he said, “and you’re my lawyer.”
I shoved the money into my pants pocket. “I’m not doing anything until I talk to Ellen.”
Jimmy stared at me for a minute, then shrugged. “That’s what she said you’d say.” He took a notebook out of his pocket, scribbled on it, ripped out the page, and handed it to me. “Her cell phone. About five people in the whole world know this number. If she doesn’t answer, leave a message, she’ll get back to you.” Then he turned and walked away.
I watched Jimmy D’Ambrosio shamble through the gate, cross Arlington Street, and disappear amid the early-morning sidewalk crowds on Commonwealth Avenue.
I finished my coffee and watched the rising sun brush the tops of the trees with golden light. Then I got up and headed back through the Garden, down Charles Street, across Beacon, and up Mt. Vernon to my new home on Beacon Hill, where Evie Banyon, my new housemate, and Henry, my new dog, waited for me.
A lot of things had changed in my life since August. After being divorced and living alone in a rented condo on the waterfront for eleven years, I moved to the townhouse on Beacon Hill, and Evie moved in with me. We’d bought it from Walt Duffy’s son, Ethan, after Walt was killed. Henry David Thoreau, the Brittany spaniel who’d lived there with Walt and Ethan, came with the place.
So now I owned a home, shared it with a woman I loved, and had a dog who seemed to love both of us. Evie and I had junked all my old furniture, and most of hers, too, and bought new stuff. We had a housekeeper come in every week to vacuum up the dog hairs. I was learning to squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom and to unroll the toilet paper from the back and to pile yesterday’s newspapers in the special box on the back porch. I was trying to remember to call when I was going to be late and not to make plans without consulting Evie.
Big changes, after eleven years. But so far it seemed to be working pretty well.
I went in the front door, poured myself some coffee, and looked out the kitchen window. Evie was in her bathrobe sipping coffee and reading the paper at the table in the little walled-in patio garden out back. Henry was lying beside her with his chin on his paws eyeing the gang of goldfinches that were pecking thistle seed from the feeders.
It was a tranquil domestic scene, and it made me smile.
When I stepped out the back door into the patio, the finches burst away in a flash of yellow.
Henry scrambled to his feet and came over to sniff my pant legs. I reached down and scratched his ears.
Evie looked up and smiled. “You frightened the finches,” she said.
I went over, kissed her cheek, and sat across from her. “They’ll be back.”
“Where’ve you been?” Evie and Henry had been asleep when I’d slipped out of the house a little after six-thirty.
“Ah,” she said. “Lawyer business.”
“And you can’t talk about it.”
“Not even to me?”
She lifted her cup to her mouth and looked at me over the top of it. I couldn’t tell if she was smiling.
“Client privilege,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “we’ve got some fascinating cases at the hospital. I can’t talk about them, either.”
“Medical privilege,” I said.
“Aren’t you curious?”
“One of the doctors is screwing two nurses,” she said.
“Both of ’em at the same time.”
“A neat trick,” I said.
“He’s married,” she said. “So are the nurses. They use the custodian’s room. The three of them together. You’ve heard of him. He’s a world-famous surgeon.”
“I can’t talk about my clients, honey,” I said. “Not even to you.”
She stuck out her tongue at me. “You’re no fun.”
“I’m a lawyer,” I said. “What’d you expect?”
Copyright © 2001 by William G. Tapply.