Read an Excerpt
It was a long hallway. Sean’s secretary caught him at the top of the marble steps, in front of the town hall’s double doors. Evelyn Roemer was firmly convinced Sean’s responsibilities were far too pressing to wait until he was seated behind his desk. She walked abreast of him, talking a mile a minute as they passed the Florida and U.S. flags, the framed photographs of previous mayors, and old, oversized and slightly yellowed maps detailing Coral Beach and the surrounding county.
“I printed out your upcoming schedule, Sean. You’ve got two meetings this morning. The first is with the reps from the waste management union. The sanitation workers’ contract is up for negotiation. I highlighted in yellow the major trouble spots in your copy of the contract. Your next appointment’s at ten, with Chief Reynolds and the CPCB, the Concerned Parents of Coral Beach. The parent organization wants the police department to explore new safety initiatives for next spring’s senior prom. Roadblocks, compulsory handing over of car keys, etc. The folder’s label is highlighted in blue—just think blue for police. That’ll bring you to eleven a.m., just enough time to get to the airport for your flight to Atlanta. Your speech is in a folder on your desk. The label’s highlighted in . . . ,” Evelyn paused.
“Orange?” Sean hazarded a guess. Evelyn’s color theories were something of a mystery.
His secretary shook her head. “No, pink,” she corrected. “I got a new batch of pink highlighters yesterday. The old ones just weren’t doing the job.”
Evelyn Roemer had a real thing for highlighting. A few might even call it an obsession. Whatever it was, though, it was difficult to ignore. Someone, at some point, started a rumor that Evelyn had invested heavily in whatever company manufactured those thick, fluorescent markers. As rumors went, this one was just plausible enough to be accepted as Gospel.
As she walked, Evelyn’s index finger, its nail lacquered a bright fuchsia, tapped loudly against the sheet of paper. “Where was I?” she muttered under her breath. “Oh, right.” And lungs replenished, she dove back into her rapid-fire monologue. “You come back from the mayors’ convention in Atlanta on the first flight Thursday, which should get you back in the office by ten. The press will be ready and waiting. Then, at eleven-thirty, there’s a brown-bag lunch with the Department of Transportation. Should be a long one. Matt Jacobs wants to go over anticipated traffic reroutes due to upcoming construction. How the town will handle the extra traffic once the season starts is beyond me, but that’s your headache. The fun really begins at two-thirty. The high school’s holding a school-wide forum on civics this month. You, Sean, you lucky thing,” she chirruped brightly, “are delivering the keynote speech. You’re to speak for twenty minutes on what made you decide to dedicate yourself to public service. Questions and answers to follow—”
Here Evelyn was forced to pause once more. This time because the two of them had reached the door to the office suite they shared. Of solid oak, the door had “Mayor Sean C. McDermott” neatly stenciled in gold paint on its panel. Sean turned its brass knob, then held it open so Evelyn could precede him. He grinned down at her. “And good morning to you, Evelyn. That’s an extremely becoming shade of yellow.”
In fashion as well as highlighters, Sean’s secretary went for eye-popping. Although she often favored electric blue to offset hair dyed somewhere between a vivid scarlet and a delicate rose, today her couture color of choice was lemon yellow: tight yellow pants stretched over her pencil-stick legs, her shirt a matching hue, emblazoned with larger than life daisies.
“Thank you, Sean,” she replied, smoothing the vibrant daisies over her hips. “Now, tell the truth, did you hear a word I just said?”
“ ’Course not,” Sean replied amiably. “You know politicians can’t multitask. Let me sit down, then I’ll give you my undivided attention.” Sean followed Evelyn through her own office to the adjacent, slightly larger one, shrugging out of his jacket as he walked. He draped it over the back of his leather office chair, unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, and gave the knot on his tie a hard yank, feeling immensely better when it gave.
“All set now? Oxygen flowing properly? Oh, silly me, of course not, you haven’t had your morning shot. Coming right up,” Evelyn said, already moving toward Sean’s cherished espresso machine.
“Could you make it a double, Evelyn? Who knows when I’ll get a fix as good as yours over the next two days?”
“Flattery will get you reelected,” Evelyn quipped.
From day one of Sean’s term as mayor, they had established a standard routine in which he played the role of the bumbling politician, she the impatient secretary. It made for a casual mood in the office—something both of them appreciated when the phones were ringing off their hooks and the fax machines churning out reams of paper, irate citizens demanding that Sean right whatever recent outrage had befallen them.
“Here you go,” she said, as she set a small, white porcelain cup in front of him. “Double shot for you, green tea for me.” Evelyn had recently gone on an antitoxin kick. Probably decided to restrict substance abuse to her hair only, Sean thought, lifting his cup to hide his grin.
Evelyn sat down in the chair facing Sean’s desk. She took a sip of tea, grimaced, and set it aside.
“Ready?” she asked, as she picked up her notepad and pen.
“Mmm, yes.” Quickly, he downed half the espresso in his cup. “Absolutely. Please, Evelyn, don’t keep me waiting; the suspense is more than I can bear. What thrills await me after I extol the virtues of public duty with this year’s teenagers?”
“Who, if you bore them to tears for too long, will get their revenge by voting you out of office at the next election.”
Sean grinned, remembering how deadly some of the “special” speakers had been back in high school. “I promise I won’t go a second over the allotted time.”
“Good, because after that, you’ve got the coral reef advisory committee.”
“What?” he asked in astonishment.
Evelyn pretended to consult her notepad. “Four p.m.: coral reef advisory committee,” she informed him with a wide, pink lipsticked smile.
“You mean Dave found a scientist willing to take over for Lesnesky?” Dave Cullen was the commissioner of Coral Beach’s Department of Parks and Recreation and Sean’s closest friend in and out of town hall. “When did this happen?”
“Late yesterday afternoon.”
“That’s fantastic,” he said. “I was beginning to lose hope. Who’d he find? Someone from around here?”
Evelyn shook her head. “It’s not a local team—no one was interested in taking on a project that was so close to completion.” She made a moue of disgust. “Dave had to telephone his way up the East Coast until he finally wrangled a yes. Took him several hundred miles . . .”
Sean’s eyebrows rose. “That far, huh? So who was willing to come to Coral Beach’s rescue?” He reached for his cup of espresso, bringing it to his lips.
“The Marine Center in Massachusetts.”
Sean replaced the cup, espresso untouched. “Did you say the Marine Center in Massachusetts? The one in Gloucester, Massachusetts?” he asked carefully.
This time Evelyn did check her notes. She gave a firm nod, saying, “Yes, that’s the one, Gloucester, Mass. Dave was positively ecstatic—”
“Who are they sending?”
“The head of the department himself—name’s George Hunt. He’s apparently some big muckamuck. And guess what else: The Marine Center’s offered to do the study pro bono. That’s two big pluses on our side.”
Sean hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath until he sank back against the padded leather of his chair, expelling it with a whoosh of relief. “This is terrific news. And the Marine Center’s willing to waive its fee?”
“That’s right. An excellent PR move. All we have to do is supply the accommodations, research boat, and lab.”
“You’ll see to it?”
Evelyn nodded. “Dave gave them my number. I don’t know how many are coming with Dr. Hunt—I’m assuming he won’t be working alone.”
George Hunt could bring as big a team with him as he liked, Sean thought. Lily Banyon wouldn’t be doing the grunt work of an assistant; she was a senior researcher at the Marine Center. And besides, hadn’t May Ellen told him Lily would be in the Bahamas over the next month? No, he thought, his muscles relaxing one by one. Lily Banyon wouldn’t be coming back.
“Evelyn, can you contact the university and have them send us a copy of the report Lesnesky was preparing? I’m sure Dr. Hunt will need to refer to it.”
“I’ll ring them at nine, when the university opens.”
“Good. And make sure they understand we need it soon. We’re not on an academic schedule here—not with this development company breathing down my neck. I assume you’ve already notified the other committee members we’ll be meeting on Thursday?”
“Yes, I called them. Everyone will be there.” She paused, then added, “Pete Ferrucci, too.”
“Well, no meeting would be the same without him,” he replied easily.
“That’s for sure. I wonder what he’ll come up with this time.”