- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
THE UNIVERSAL ENLIGHTENED ALLIANCE
Everything was going perfectly.
Jordan Cross sat in the back of a taxicab headed for the wharf wearing tortoiseshell glasses, a blond mustache and a straw fedora over his dyed hair, smiling like an idiot, nodding his head up and down, up and down, like one of those fuzzy sequin-eyed plastic dogs they sell in tacky souvenir shops.
He was sitting by the window behind the driver—a boney Vietnamese man who kept clicking his teeth together—and beside Jordan sat Wendy Frye.
Wendy was slightly plump—rather attractively so—with rosy cheeks beneath her big ocean-blue eyes. She wore a teal silk dress and giggled a lot behind tightly pressed lips, as if she were doing something naughty—which she was—and kept squeezing the arm of the man beside her to her pillory breast.
The man beside her was T. C. Braddock, a man nearing fifty, on his way to being fat, with rusty hair and an immaculately trimmed beard. A big ring glimmered on his left pinky and a gold ID bracelet dangled from his right wrist. The worst thing about T. C. Braddock was his cigar; it was just one of those small ones, but it might just as well have been a long fat stag because it smelled just as bad, so bad that the cracked window didn't help.
Jordan hated cigars.
But he just kept smiling and nodding and listening to Braddock's endless monologue until he came to a conclusion: the worst thing about T. C. Braddock was not his reeking cigar, but his inexhaustible mouth.
"... so when my papa finally passed on—and I don't care what the doctors said, it was from a broken heart 'cause he missed Mama so much—I took over the business. And I did it proudly. That's the problem with young people today, so ashamed of their mamas and papas, ashamed to fill their shoes. But I knew, see, I knew how hard my papa had worked to build that business, and I was proud to take it over. Nothing to be ashamed of, selling men's suits. 'Specially when they're suits of such high quality, know what I'm saying? Like I said before, this suit I'm wearing now? Took it right off the rack in my Daly City store." The Daly City store was where Wendy worked, where they'd met. "Proud to wear it. S'a fine suit." Braddock puffed.
Jordan smiled and nodded.
"'Course, things have changed a lot since papa died," Braddock continued. "I've worked hard to make the business grow. Papa'd be proud of me, I think." Puff, puff. "I don't think he and mama ever dreamed his little business would grow so big. We do a lot of television now, you know? Commercials, stuff like that. A lot in prime time. Mostly independent channels, you know? They wanted me to do my own commercials, but, you know, I like to keep a low profile." He nudged Wendy.
Jordan produced a very convincing knowing chuckle as he glanced at the fat wedding band on Braddock's finger.
Braddock said, "You'll probably see our commercials, you watch any TV in your hotel room. What hotel you staying in?"
"Good hotel, good hotel. I stayed in the Hyatt in Dallas last, what was it, October? I was there for the—" He suddenly leaned forward in the seat, "—oh, here, drop us here, boy."
The cab lurched to a stop and Jordan quickly got out, treating his lungs to a long drag of cool salty wharf air. He hitched the strap of his traveling bag up over his shoulder as the cab roared away, then he joined Braddock and Wendy on the crowded sidewalk.
The sunlight was beginning to fade and dusk cooled the July air. The steamy aroma of crab was quickly replaced by the strong odor of fish, then a gust of sea air, more crab....
The smells were the best part of Fisherman's Wharf, the part Jordan liked. It was the tourists he hated, parading around with their balloons and their babies and kids and their overpriced packages from Ghirardelli Square and Pier 39, stopping to watch jugglers and clowns and caricature artists who drew the same picture over and over again. He'd asked to see the wharf because he knew they wouldn't mind going; there was little chance of seeing anyone they knew there.
"Bet you don't get a smell like that anywhere in Kansas, do you?" Braddock laughed, waving his cigar. "Where was it you said you're from?"
"Kansas City," Jordan said with the drawl he'd rehearsed to perfection. He'd told them he was on a business trip.
"My husband had a cousin used to live in K.C.," Wendy said. "He used to come visit every—"
"Well," Braddock interrupted, "we're very proud of our wharf here in San Francisco."
"Don't blame you." Jordan looked around and smiled.
"I promised dinner," Braddock said. "Hope you like seafood."
"Well, if you don't mind, Mr. Braddock, I'd like to look around a little."
"Oh, please, call me T.C., and hell, no, I don't mind. Be proud to show you around. I've lived here thirty years. This is my city!" He beckoned Jordan as he put his arm around Wendy and the three of them walked along Beach Street past the cable car turntable, then down Leavenworth to Jefferson, Jordan craning his neck this way and that, looking at everything as if it were his last day on earth, just like those tourists he hated so much.
They walked the streets, slowed by Jordan's meandering sightseer's pace. He kept a smile on his face as he browsed the tables of the street vendors. He watched a man with long graying hair wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt bend a strand of copper wire into an eagle with moveable wings; he stopped as a trio of young boys did a dance number on a corner; he let a street magician with breathless patter outwit him with a card trick. All the while, T.C. kept up a steady stream of trivia about the shops and restaurants they passed. They kept on like that for a while, maybe fifteen minutes, as the evening grew darker and the lights came up.
Then the moment came.
A little Hispanic boy stepped in front of T.C. and Wendy. He had a camera and a big smile and said, with a heavy accent, "Take your picture? You and the lady? Five dollars?"
"No, no," T.C. grumbled, gently pushing the boy aside.
"Hey, that's an idea," Jordan said, grinning with tourist enthusiasm. "How about a picture? I've got my camera—" He started fishing it out of his bag. "—and if you don't mind, Mr. Braddock, I'd like to be able to say I met you."
T.C. laughed modestly. "Well, I-"
"I mean, I know this is really a silly tourist thing to do, but, if you don't mind ..."
"Oh, sure," Wendy giggled. "Let him take a picture."
Jordan had the camera out—one of his Polaroids, because he didn't want to waste time—and they crossed the street to a corner that afforded a nice view of the lights of the piers, and Jordan had them stand close together—"Just a little closer, if you don't—yeah, that's good"—and snapped one picture, plucked it from the camera, then another, and on the third, something happened that made Jordan smile.
Wendy giggled, stood on tiptoe, and gave T.C. a big sloppy kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you," Jordan said with a grin and five minutes later, before T.C. could bring up dinner again, Jordan lost them.
At nine thirty the next morning, he was in his office, sans glasses, mustache and hair dye, looking across his desk at Andy Frye, a wiry thirty-two-year-old construction worker from Daly City, who was examining the Polaroids.
"That little cunt," Frye whispered.
"It wouldn't have taken so long if they hadn't been so careful," Jordan said. "They were never together in a place where it was possible to take pictures."
"That little cunt," Frye whispered.
"So I had to do a little fancy footwork. Followed them into a bar and started up a conversation with Braddock. Said I was a small businessman from out of town, I'd seen him in Business Monthly, was an admirer of what he'd done with his business, Braddock Clothiers, and he took it from there. He couldn't resist. Wanted to show me around a little and, voila."
"That little cunt," Frye whispered, then, glancing up, asked, "Was he? In Business Monthly?"
"You knew that?"
"Of course not. I had to find out. I do my homework before I leave my office, Mr. Frye."
"How'd you find out it was him? You hardly been on it for a week, how'd you find out it was him?" He didn't look up from the pictures this time.
"That's what you hired me to do. I found out. Took those. Satisfied?"
"That little cunt. Yeah. Yeah, this is fine. All I needed. Thanks." He sat at the desk and stared at the three pictures. "That little cunt."
"Well, if you don't mind, um, I've got some work to do, and ..."
He shook his head as he stared. "That little cunt."
"Mr. Frye? Was there anything else you wanted me to—"
"Oh, no, no. Fine. That's ... little cunt ... that's fine."
They were always like this, the husbands, when they found out.
Jordan slid the bill across the desktop.
"That ... little ... cunt."
He put the bill on top of the pictures and Frye looked up, blinked a few times.
"Oh, yeah, yeah." He glanced over the bill, got out his checkbook and scribbled as he muttered, "... cunt, that little ..." He tore the check out violently, stabbed the pen back in the pocket of his blue chambray shirt, and stood, shaking his head and muttering.
Jordan stood, too. "If it's any consolation, Mr. Frye, I'm sorry. I've been there and I know how it feels. It hurts."
"You know what hurts?" Frye asked quietly, and chuckled, pocketing the pictures. "I'll tell you what hurts. What I'm gonna do to that goddamned son of a—"
Jordan was around the desk quickly, leading Frye to the door with a hand on his shoulder, saying, "That's not the right attitude, my friend."
"Whatta you mean? That son of a bitch's been fucking my wife. He's been—"
Jordan held up an index finger and raised his brows, silencing his client. "Remember. Your wife has been fucking him, too."
Some of the anger left Frye's face and he took out the pictures, looked at them again thoughtfully, his eyes darkening, not with anger, but with pain.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah. Guess you're right." Then he left.
Lari Parker, Jordan's secretary, looked up from her small desk and watched Frye leave.
Jordan turned to her and said, "They always want to beat up the wrong person," then he turned to go back into his office, but Miss Parker stopped him.
"Um, there's a man named Fiske on the phone. Edmond Fiske?" She cocked a brow.
Jordan mused over the name a moment. It was a familiar name, an important one—even Miss Parker seemed to realize that—but he could not remember why. He said, "Okay," and went into his office and picked up the phone. "Jordan Cross."
"Mr. Cross, thank you for your time. My name is Edmond Fiske." He said it as if Jordan should recognize it, even paused, as if waiting for the recognition.
"Uh-huh. Your name sounds very familiar, Mr. Fiske, but I can't say that I know you. Should I?"
"Oh, no, not personally. Do you read Trends magazine?"
Edmond Fiske owned Trends magazine, which was on every grocery store checkout stand across the country, on the rack between People and Us. He also owned a nationwide cable network, one of those artsy channels that showed foreign films with subtitles and documentaries about old lesbian war correspondents and the invention of the bomb. But what kept him in the gossip columns was the very prestigious and astronomically expensive apartment building he owned in Manhattan; the residents moved in by invitation only and included some of the weightier names in society, politics and show business and being a weighty name in all of the above, Mr. Fiske himself lived in the penthouse.
"Mr. Fiske," Jordan said, "my apologies. Of course I know who you are. It just didn't occur to me that you would be—"
"Oh, never mind, please." He had a deep voice that sounded young and healthy and pleasant. And important. "Look, the reason I've called you is this: I'm in L.A. right now, but I'm coming to San Francisco tomorrow and I'd like you to have lunch with me tomorrow afternoon."
Jordan waited a moment for the punch line. "I'm sorry?"
"I said, I'd like you to have lunch with me tomorrow afternoon."
He was tempted to tap the receiver on the desktop to knock the bugs out of the connection. "May, uh, may I ask why?"
"Of course. Because I want to hire you and I'd like to talk with you first. I sent a package to your office that should arrive today. I'd like you to look that over before we meet. Say, one o'clock? Stars?"
"Stars? The restaurant, you mean?"
"Yes. I'll be staying at the Mark Hopkins so, should anything come up, you can reach me there."
Jordan still didn't believe it, not for a second, but he spoke as if it happened every day. "Sure. One o'clock it is."
"Great. See you then." Edmond Fiske hung up.
Jordan sat behind his desk frowning for a few minutes, trying to remember the last time he saw the real Edmond Fiske on television and trying to decide if the voice on the phone bore any resemblance to the one on television and wondering why anyone would pull such a lame prank and if maybe it wasn't a prank at all. Finally, he got up and stepped outside his office.
"Miss Parker? Who just called?"
"An Edmond Fiske. Um, was that ... the Edmond Fiske?"
He worked his jaw, thinking a moment, then looked at her as if she'd asked a stupid question.
"Yes. Of course it was. By the way, has a package—"
She held it up, a thin manila envelope. "It just came. It's from—" She looked at the envelope's label. "—Fiske Enterprises."
Taking it into his office, Jordan said, "Yes. Of course it is."
At his desk, he cut the envelope open and an issue of People magazine slid out. It was two weeks old and there was a small quickly scribbled note paper-clipped to the cover that read, MR. CROSS – PLEASE READ COVER STORY.
There was a picture of a woman on the cover. Pretty, blond, smiling, and probably forty or so, Jordan guessed, although she looked younger. He knew who she was, had seen her everywhere lately. But he couldn't imagine what interest Edmond Fiske could possibly have in Hester Thorne, or why that interest would require Jordan's services.
In bold white letters beside her face, the cover read, WHO (OR WHAT) DOES THIS WOMAN THINK SHE IS?
Jordan opened the magazine, skimmed the long article, then picked up the phone and placed a call.
"Ackroyd Security, may I help you?"
Lowering his voice: "Pete Lacey from the IRS calling Mr. Ackroyd."
A pause. "Just a moment, Mr, Lacey."
After a few moments of silence, someone picked up and hesitated before speaking.
"This is Marvin Ackroyd."
"How about lunch, Marv?"
"You son of a bitch. You son of a bitch."
"Hey, it got me through, didn't it? Your secretary hates me."
"Your secretary hates you. To what do I owe the steaming lump of shit I'm now sitting on?"
"Sure, I could use a bite. You paying?"
"Aw, c'mon. I gotta look at your office again? Can't we meet somewhere?"
"I want to talk to you about something and I'd rather do it here."
"Couldn't you come to my off—yeah, yeah, I know, my secretary hates you. What kind of sandwich you want?"
Jordan read the article again, very slowly this time, including all the captions under the photographs. When he finished, he was frowning and Marvin still hadn't arrived, so while he waited, he opened his closet door and threw darts at his ex-wife.
It was her day off.
Lauren Schroeder could not afford a day off, but the Message Line Answering Service refused to work its employees the eighteen hours seven days a week Lauren needed if she and Mark were ever going to get back on their feet.
But that was okay because on her two days off each week, Lauren was able to avoid thinking about how much money they needed and concentrate, instead, on Nathan, their five-year-old son.
After taking the job at the answering service more than nine months ago, Lauren had been able to spend far too little time with Nathan, and she was afraid it showed in his behavior. Of course, Lauren was fully aware of the fact that she was such a consummate worrier, she sometimes searched for things to worry about just to keep in shape. She knew it might very well be her imagination.
Excerpted from Dark Channel by Ray Garton. Copyright © 1992 Ray Garton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 9, 2013