Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

 

Chapter 2

 

"So, Geena how's the weather in the Golden State?"

 

"Don't know. I left California last week. I'm back in New Jersey, working on the Matt

            Moran campaign."

 

"Matt Moran! I know you're a sucker for long shots but this is one for the Jake Barnes   file," Kenyon sneered.

 

            The "Jake Barnes file" was an inside joke among Kenyon, Geena and other journalists. It's  about the legendary New York Times junior staffer who got fired in the 1950s for daring to have fun with the Columbia University graduation list, which the august newspaper of record printed routinely in agate type. The Columbia press release cited 37 separate awards for varying levels of achievement. The smart-ass newcomer saw no harm in inventing, replete with recipient, the  Jake Barnes Award "for valiant effort in the face of impossible obstacles.," He made up the name Jasper Finch then added it to the list that appeared in print. Jake Barnes was the protagonist in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises who lusted after the captivating Lady Ashley even though his testicles had been blown off during a battle in World War I.

 

"Means nothing. The polls show he has enough support to sneak by the primary. I think I have the silver bullet, and I need somebody to load the gun. Which is why I called you in the first place. Can I come see you?"

 

            Kenyon drew a deep breath, torn between an overwhelming desire to lay eyes on Geena once again but terrified about the pain. He felt like a recovering alcoholic faced with a freshly poured class of Jack Daniels over shaved ice.

 

                        "When can you be here?"

 

                        "In about 30 seconds. I'm on a cell phone. In the driveway."

 

            Kenyon hung up the phone then raced to remove the morning cereal dish from the kitchen table, throwing the curdled milk residue in the sink. He smoothed the hair at his temples as he passed the mirror over the fireplace enroute to opening the door to the tiny cottage.  Now his heart was really pounding and he felt his mouth go dry. At least the color had returned to his cheeks as he opened the door.

 

           

 

The lost decade had been good to Geena. The laugh lines made her blue eyes twinkle. A Burberry raincoat draped her body, covering the five to 10 extra pounds that somehow enhanced her looks. She wiggled her nose and winked as she thrust her cheek towards Kenyon's face. He suppressed the trembles as he gripped her shoulders and obliged with a gentle kiss on the cheek. She looked around quickly at the living room, opting against criticizing the sloppiness. "It's  pretty much the same as it was," she said finally.

 

            The cottage was one of the great finds of all time and the one silver lining in the aftermath of Geena's sudden departure. She garroted Kenyon's spirit when she left and it took a few years for him to get back to at least a semblance of normalcy. He learned to accept the heartache of her departure as a condition of his life. And, of course, he had the cottage as a consolation prize. Geena had lived alone in the cottage for 18 months before Kenyon moved in with her. It sat behind a three-story mansion with a copper manyard roof and a sweeping front porch with thick pillers that faced the Delaware River midway between Trenton, 20 miles to the north, and Camden, 20 miles to the south, in a town called Edgewater Park.

 

            The mansion had been built by the son of a wealthy Philadelphia merchant for his beautiful new wife shortly after the Civil War. Jacob and Oliva Saunders lived there for about 20 years. In January of 1893, the Rev. Alpheus Terwilliger took note that the cheerful couple had missed three consecutive Sunday services at the First Presbyterian Church in nearby Burlington City. They were last seen in the Saunders pew box on Christmas Eve for a candlelight cantada. Rev. Terwilliger decided to visit their six-acre waterfront estate known as Windswept. Getting no response when he rang the bell at the main entrance, the elderly minister let himself in to investigate.  It seemed colder inside than outside, even without the wind whipping off the ice-covered river.

 

            Rev. Terwilliger called out for Jacob and Olivia. There was no answer. He cautiously climbed the magnificently crafted mahogany staircase until he reached the third floor and saw the door leading to the widow's walk atop the house slightly ajar. He made his way through the creaking door, the 15-knot wind stinging the tips of his ears. Perspiration formed on the back of his neck when he saw Olivia's frozen body seated on a wooden bench. Her violet eyes stared over the wrought iron fence as if waiting anxiously for a sea-faring husband to steer his vessel around the bend enroute home from a voyage. A gingham nightgown clung to her long, lean body. A dark green ribbon adorned her auburn hair.

 

            Jacob was nowhere to be found by the police summoned by Rev. Terwilliger. Exactly how Olivia's body came to occupy the wooden bench, her toes touching the iron railing protecting the widow's walk, became the topic of much conjecture and gossip  for several years around Edgewater Park and Burlington as well as in Philadelphia, where Jacob's father had made his fortune in the leather tanning business. Jacob Saunders was never heard from again.

 

            By 1920, Windswept had deteriorated and the estate had become overgrown by the 38 varieties of unusual trees and shrubs Jacob Saunders had imported from various parts of the world. It was up for Sheriff's sale and a group of canoeing enthusiasts incorporated as the Red Dragon Canoe Club raised the $12,000 needed to pay the delinquent real estate taxes. One of the Red Dragon members, William Murray, was a wealthy lawyer and ponied up half the money himself. Murray and other charter members of the male-only club traveled the 25 miles from their offices and homes in Philadelphia and Camden on weekends to hack away the bushes and branches in the morning, paddle their canoes on the river and the nearby Rancocas Creek in the afternoon then build a fire in the evening to cook freshly caught shad they nailed, Indian-style, against weathered planks. Those with sizable investments in the club, or seniority, were eligible to rent one of the six bedrooms in the mansion of the home Jacob had built for his Olivia for $2 a night; the others pitched tents on the banks of the river and slept soundly from the combination of work, play and brandy consumed after stuffing themselves with smoked shad and the rich roe smeared on crusty bread.

 

            Once the early Red Dragons cleared away the property, a dozen cottages were built by individual members, These were the days before zoning boards and environmental nazis took control of the world. Eventually, laws were enacted restricting such development because of the danger posed by the outhouses to underground wells fed by the Delaware River. There was also a six-foot urine trench dug within six inches of the underground water supply. In 1938, fire destroyed many of the rare trees and all but one of the cottages used as a weekend retreat by the Red Dragons. By then, the Red Dragons were dying off at the rate of two or three men per year.

 

            After World War II, small boat sailors took over the Red Dragon Canoe Club and it became nationally renown for Comet and Lightning class sailboat racing. In the 1950s, the surviving cottage was rehabilitated by some of the Red Dragons, a few of the handy ones installed in door plumbing and an oil heater. The cottage with the new amenities was provided free as part of the compensation to an elderly couple that took care of the property. They kept an eye on the boats and equipment stored on the back lot. They died in the early  1980s and for a few years the Red Dragons whacked up the chore list and kept up the property on their own. They cleaned up the cottage again, this time adding the screened porch in the front and the wooden deck on the back.

 

            Then they put it on the rental market as a way of raising revenue to pay utility and tax bills and provide a measure of around-the-clock security. Thus, one of the lease provisions requires the tenant to stroll through the Saunders mansion once a day to check on the heater and make sure vandals had not broken in. The tradeoff is a paltry $350 monthly rent, a genuine bargain in view of the fact that the neighboring waterfront properties are worth upwards of $1 million each. Geena saw the ad in the paper and applied. She loved the location and the legend that grew up around Windswept over the years. She became hooked on the exotic trees, the gentle flow of the river and the spectacular sunsets.

 

            Problem was the Red Dragon officers did not like her. First, she was a woman and the whole point of renting the cottage, from their point of view, was to find a tenant who could double as a part-time security guard. After a full two weeks of excuses from Red Dragon Commodore Howard T. Smith, Geena figured out the stall and got an attorney friend to send a letter threatening a housing discrimination suit. To help Commodore Smith save face, she agreed in the lawyer's letter to buy a dog. Actually buying a dog was a no-brainer for Geena because, in her heart, she knew the Red Dragon concern was not mere gender paranoia. It could get lonely and scary after dark, especially on freezing winter nights at Windswept. So she went out and found the cute chocolate lab as much to calm her own anxieties as she did for Commodore Smith and the Red Dragons. She called the lab "Killer," despite his friendly nature and they became good friends as she made her nightly  rounds of the mansion and the rest of the property. The howling winter wind gave the inside of the cottage a permanent chill in January and February.

 

            Geena remained the sole leasee when Kenyon moved in. A  few months after Geena walked out on him and "Killer," Kenyon renegotiated with the Red Dragons and kept on living in the cottage, with Geena's dog, and enjoying the charm of waterfront living for the bargain rate of $350 a month -- provided he checked the property once a day to be sure there were no burglars and the pipes were in no danger of freezing. In the bargain, Kenyon hooked up with Ricky Curran, one of the best racers on the river, and became a regular crew member aboard Curran's J24, "Sundance," handling lines and learning the principles and joys of sailing.

 

            "Killer" lept clear in the air to get Geena's attention. She bent over, hugged him around the neck and kissed him on the lips. "Killer" was functioning at an energy level usually reserved for chasing squirrels along the banks of the river in the springtime. After about a minute of Geena-worshipping, Kenyon grabbed Killer's collar and dragged him onto the screened porch. The lab briskly paced back and forth for a few minutes before figuring out that if he leaned his plaws on the outside window box he could look inside the cottage and see Geena lowering her tight little ass into the leather wing chair (Kenyon’s chair!) next to the fireplace. She crossed those limousine legs, the hemline of her Versace dress falling a tad short of mid-thigh. Kenyon could not take his eyes off of those legs, accentuated by two-inch Gucci heels. "Killer" barked from outside and Kenyon's gaze shifted to the lab panting ferociously, his tongue hanging from the side of his mouth. Kenyon hoped his own reaction to the shock of Geena's sudden reappearance was not as obvious.

 

            Kenyon lowered his voice an octave or two in a bid for control of the moment. "You said something about loading a gun?"

 

"Right, loading a gun. Moran's biggest problem is the law and order issue. He's perceived as weak and we have to come up with some things that move voters in the other direction. It's his achilles heel and we have to give him credibility on the issue. Absent the doubts about him on crime, Matt Moran not only has a lock on the nomination but a three-point advantage over the Republicans in November. But the perception of weakness is killing us."

 

"You're starting to morph into Jim Phelps. This is a 'Missison:Impossible" if I've ever heard one. Harvey Denton is Mr. Death Penalty in this state. He makes Attilla look like a faggot. Not only did he single-handedly restore capital punishment but he tried to arrange live coverage of the first execution on Nightline until the ACLU filed suit to block the cameras. The cops love him. There were at least 100 uniforms at his press conference when he announced his candidacy, and I saw a crew filming the whole thing for the commercials he's going to use to bury your guy when they go up on TV next month."

 

"Yeah, but that's all Denton has. Except for credibility on law and order, the man is a buffoon with no record other than a lot of showboating on the death penalty. Our polls show he's touching nerves, though, and it's up to us to give Moran something to hang his hat on. It's not that Matt has a bad record on crime; he has no real record, except for his days as an assistant prosecutor right after law school. We need to create a record on law and order. We have the makings of a great crime issue but there are a lot of dots to connect."

 

            "And I'm supposed to connect the dots."

 

            "Nothing gets by you, Kenyon."

 

“Some things do. Like how do I get around the paper's ethics code against moonlighting for political candidates.”

 

            "Easy. Quit. It's something you should have done long ago anyhow."

 

"You're probably right but I can't right now. One more year and I vest my pension. It's not much but it's the only thing I can count on to buy the occasional slab of bacon when Social Security kicks in. It would be stupid for me not to hang in."

 

"Let me give you a little scoop you won't be reading in The Trentonian. The paper's a walking corpse. It's dead. I have good connections on the corporate side who tell me the deal is done. They're keeping it alive until they collect delinquent accounts from the Christmas ads. In fact, they're insisting on cash up front for all ads even as we speak. Once they bring in the cash from the street, it's over. The plug will be pulled immediately."

 

            "Geena, this rumor has cropped up five years running now, and we keep on keepin' on."

 

"This time it's true. Trust me. I know what I'm talking about. Ask Goldie. By the way, I'm not exactly offering you wet matches. You get a 25 percent raise right off the bat as an employee of the Paladin Group, a $5,000 cash bonus if Moran wins and a guaranteed job with yet another big pay raise in his administration unless you seriously screw up and Moran writes you off as a total moron."

 

            Kenyon slumped back on the couch. Is Geena on target? She always had a knack for scoop, and, in truth, Kenyon knew it was a matter of time before the paper went belly up. Kenyon had been hoping it would be okay at least until he vested the pension. But he knew down deep that death was inevitable. For one thing, Trenton's population had been shrinking and it never was big enough to be a two-paper town in the first place. The Times was always the stronger paper, especially now that it was part of a conglomerate that kept it going through the hard times. The paper's audience was getting older every year and hundreds of readers were simply dying off and not replaced by younger readers who for two generations now had grown up on television news. True enough. Geena probably had her long fingers around yet another 'beat' on the competition. Still, Kenyon was devastated by the prospective death of The Trentonian; it was like the shock of losing a loved one, like losing Geena ten years earlier.

 

"I'm almost there," he finally responded. "But I want to check out your story with Goldie before I make it definite."

 

            "Go ahead. He's sworn to secrecy but you know he won't lie if you confront him."

 

            "One more thing. Tell me about the silver bullet I'm supposed to invent?"

 

"That's a little tricky at this point. You are still a reporter and it's way too early to be talking about campaign strategy with outsiders who could ruin our plans with one short story in print."

 

"Yeah, but I've got to know a little something about what I'm getting into. You never know. Maybe it's over my head."

 

"I know you well enough to know what you can't do. This is your meat, Kenyon." Geena dug into the tan suede brief case she had carried into the cottage over her shoulder and pulled out a manila envelope. "The basics are right here. I turn you loose with this. You play investigative reporter and come back with one of those 5,000-word opuses you love to write, except you'll find most of the doors normally closed to a reporter will be greased and will swing open the first time you ask. That's all there is to it."

 

            "The envelope, please."

 

            Geena froze. "This is make-or-break stuff for my client. I have to know that if I give you this envelope and you reject my offer you that you will forget the contents of this envelope ever existed. Your word has always been golden with me, even now. But unless you give me your word this envelope stays with me until you, or somebody like you, signs on with the campaign."

 

            Kenyon rose from the couch and began pacing the tiny living room. "Is my hearing off or have I just been lectured by Geena Fallon on trust and integrity? Damn it, Geena. I'm the one who's been waiting 10 years for an explanation."

 

"And I'm the one who has spent 10 years trying to put one into words. You will get your explanation but not now. Tonight, it's strictly business."

 

"All right. Tonight's conversation is strictly business, an interview between an employer and a prospective employee. Those are the terms and on that basis I can promise you the matter is strictly personal business between you and me and you will not see anything in print. Okay?"

 

            Geena rose from the leather chair and handed Kenyon the envelope with her business card attached. "I know what you're going to hear from Goldie tomorrow and I know that after you mope around a few hours, you'll take the deal. My cell phone number is on the card. Call me as soon as you can, one way or the other. I'm due now at a strategy meeting at Moran's house in Somer's Point. I have an hour to make the 90-minute trip."

 

            She looked at Kenyon for a few seconds not sure whether to kiss him or shake his hand. Kenyon fidgeted. Finally, she smiled and moved toward the door. She bent down to hug the rammy "Killer" then climbed behind the wheel of the navy blue Jeep Cherokee, waved at Kenyon restraining Killer by the collar on the porch and backed out of the driveway onto Edgewater Avenue.