PALM BEACH, March 1996
Almost everyone had heard of the family’s mansion on Ocean Boulevard, but very few had been there. A large part of the reason I had agreed to go to Florida, to spend my spring break with McFetridge, was simply to get inside. We were staying at
his parents’ place, down the road in Delray, but every night we were invited to a party or a gathering somewhere, and this was the crowning event, cocktails at the iconic Spanish Revival house on the beach, where, it was promised, the Senator himself would be present.
I would speak to him as a guest of a guest in his house. Senator, yes, George Becket here. I admire your work on . . . What did I admire his work on? Any liberal cause, I suppose. I was twenty- two and fi lled with grandiose ideas. And then I was there, in his house, surrounded by people wearing silk and linen for a supposedly informal gathering where everyone acted as though it was normal for men in white jackets to park your car and women in black pinafores to serve champagne in crystal fl utes carried on silver trays; and I had no opportunity to say
anything more than, “Hello, Senator, thank you for having me.”
I had entered in McFetridge’s wake and we had been greeted by
several family members who were not so much stationed in the foyer as conversing in its vicinity. I stood to the side while McFetridge went about kissing women’s cheeks and shaking men’s hands.
McFetridge seemed to know everyone. He knew them from a sailing race he did each May between Hyannisport and Nantucket, from Christmas- week ski trips to Aspen, from clubs to which his parents belonged, from prep school. “Nan . . . Eastie . . . Harlan . . . this is my friend Georgie.”
I had gone to prep school, too, but not Hotchkiss, St. Paul’s, Groton, or even Milton. In my brief exchanges with his friends, I
found myself mentioning the dominance of my school on the athletic fields, courts, tracks, and pools of New England. We didn’t even play their schools. We played Andover, Exeter, Choate, Deerfi eld, and beat them all. I caught looks that said, You want to talk about that? And I would scramble for something else to say. “You guys always had a good crew team, didn’t you? Going to Henley this year?” Sometimes I would be ignored, sometimes abandoned. George thought he was having a conversation one moment; George was all by himself the next.
I wandered through large rooms with red tiled fl oors, nodding at
everyone who caught my eye and smiling at those who seemed to be wondering who I was. There were pictures on the walls, pictures in bookcases, pictures on shelves and on top of the grand piano. Pictures of members of the family with the pope, Churchill, Desmond Tutu. I wondered if Desmond Tutu had the same picture in his house. I wondered if the pope did.
Eventually I found myself standing next to a striking young woman who seemed similarly out of touch with everyone else at the party. She had thick black hair that swept past her shoulders and green eyes that probably sparkled when they weren’t so glazed with drink. Kendrick Powell, she said her name was, and she was a student at Bryn Mawr. I had been there once, for a mixer, and I knew just enough about the school to keep the conversation going. And then one of the cousins appeared holding two very large cocktails in his hands. Palm Beach Specials, he said they were, and he had just made them.
He handed a drink to each of us and then he was gone, and we were left sipping fancy combinations of liquor and fruit juice out of tall frosted glasses. “Are you part of the family?” she asked, and I told her no, I was a friend of a friend. She looked as though she had to consider that, whether it was worth her time to continue talking to me if I was only a friend of a friend of the family, and then the friend himself appeared. Paul McFetridge, with his dangerous smile and his air of knowing exactly what was going on, delivering yet another Palm Beach Special to the already intoxicated Ms. Powell. He rather absently handed me one as well, and now I stood with a Palm Beach Special in each hand, feeling rather like McFetridge’s butler, his man George, as
he shouldered his way between Kendrick and me. Elliot was here, did she know Elliot? She didn’t know Elliot. Wonderful squash player, Elliot. She didn’t play squash.
I finished one of the drinks in a single long swallow and put the
glass down on whatever surface I could fi nd. It was immediately
scooped up by one of the waitstaff, who was gone before I could even say “Sorry.”
And then McFetridge, too, was gone, replaced by two more of the cousins, Peter Gregory Martin and Jamie Gregory, and I was pushed to the outskirts of the conversation once again. It had been Kendrick and me. Then Kendrick and McFetridge and me. Then Kendrick and Peter and Jamie, and I was left with no one to talk to, nothing to do but hold my place while Peter chatted her up.
What had they talked about? What do rich girls discuss when they are at the homes of even richer people whom they do not know personally, but whom they know all about? Peter had offered her things. You ever Jet Ski? We’ve got a couple, you want to go out on the ocean with us? Maybe tomorrow. Oh, wait, there’s a polo match. Have you ever been to a polo match? Jamie, half a head shorter, had chimed in, telling her what a hoot they are, spread out a blanket, get a couple of bottles of champagne. What did I have to offer? I had no place to go tomorrow. No place to go even while they were talking to her.
Maybe that was why I agreed to join the tour when Peter and Jamie offered to show Kendrick the rest of the house. They said, “C’mon,” and I went. Tagged along. Not to have done so would have meant standing alone.
The thing about the senator was that despite his flaws, and he had many of them, he was an incredibly nice guy. He was also very polite. When he saw what was happening— when he opened the door and stuck his head into the room, saw that the girl was not protesting, saw that her eyes were open— he simply pulled his head back and shut the door. This was no place for him.
The thing about me was that I wasn’t doing anything, which was
both my saving grace and my ultimate shame.
I had thought we were going to look at pictures, such as the ones I had seen already. Oh, my, look. There’s Jacques Cousteau! Willy Brandt! James Earl Jones! I had been thinking that we were going to visit rooms where important people had gathered: statesmen and politicians, artists and actors and writers and singers, educators and generals, industry leaders and social activists. That we were going to stop to admire mementos given by one celebrity to another. But instead we went directly to the far end of the house, down a long hall and away from the rest of the revelers to the library. Where it was quiet. Where we shut the door behind us.
Except the door did not quite shut before Peter stopped in his tracks and looked rather blearily at me. He was a fairly large man, his face pink, his eyes light blue, and for a moment he seemed uncertain who I was or what I was doing there. And then it came to him, I was Mc Fetridge’s friend. “Georgie,” he said, as though he was responding to a quiz.
"Why don’t you go and get us another round of those specials?”
I still had one in my hand. I didn’t need another round. I had done
nothing but drink since I arrived. I looked at Kendrick. Her glass was empty except for the ice. She had drunk two to my one, and neither Peter nor Jamie seemed to have anything. I tilted my glass to my mouth and for the second time drained everything in it in one very long swallow. “Okay,” I said.
When I left, Kendrick was standing in a corner of the library, staring at a painting. When I returned, she was on the couch. Both shoes were off. Her feet were up on the cushions. Her knees were up and her black dress had slid a fair way down her thighs.
I had four red drinks and was clutching them together so that extraction of any single glass had to be done quite carefully. “Oh, thank you!” she cried as I bent at the waist to give her fi rst choice. I turned then to Peter, who was positioned down by Kendrick’s feet, one haunch on the couch cushion, one leg extended behind him, almost as if he was ready to start a sprint. “Put them over there, Georgie,” he said, waving to a credenza that was under the painting I had seen Kendrick admiring.
The painting turned out to be a Winslow Homer. I was pretty sure
it was a Homer. A seascape illuminated by a spotlight that did little more than emphasize how dark and dusty the painting was, as though nobody had paid attention to it for a very long time. Kendrick was drinking. Peter and Jamie had taken up positions on either end of her. And I was staring at the Homer. Ah, the patina provides a palpable sense of the perils of pursuing a large poisson in a small boat on the open sea after dark.
I think the Senator looked in when Peter was still half on the couch and half off. When he was still wearing his blazer. When it was possible to look from the door to the couch and not be absolutely positive what was going on.
But what was going through my mind?
Was anything? Was I just there, holding the remains of my third
Palm Beach Special? Kendrick, by this point, had had at least three, which was why she was in the condition she was, more or less spread- eagled on the couch in the library, saying nothing, doing nothing, while Peter and Jamie moved their hands over her. While I stood by, a half- smile on my face.
Was I smiling?
I try to imagine that I wasn’t. But what else would I have been
doing? Peter wasn’t paying any attention to me, but Jamie kept looking up and grinning almost maniacally. What are you supposed to do when someone grins at you like that? When you barely know him? When you are a guest in his family’s house? Like the Senator, I was being polite.
I think now I should have slapped that grin off Jamie’s face. Now
when I see his picture in a newspaper or a magazine I remember the way he looked at me and it literally makes my stomach turn. Sometimes I gouge his face out of the picture, leave just a hairline and a body, usually clad in a sport coat, a white shirt, a loose tie, khaki pants. Even when I do that you can still tell who it is, by the hairline and the family uniform.
Back then I didn’t slap, didn’t gouge. I just watched. It was only
when I thought Peter was going to hurt her that I stepped in. Hurt
her. Jesus, what was I thinking before, that she wasn’t being hurt? Hurt, harmed. I didn’t want him to do physical damage to her. Permanent damage. Go ahead, abuse her. Foul her. Debase her. But don’t hurt her.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. What was I thinking?
Peter was looming over her, looking like a Cape buffalo eyeing its
prey. He had one hand on the back of the couch, one hand on the coffee table. She was leaning back. To lean back meant tucking herself into the corner of the couch. Was she trying to escape or was she relaxing? One bare foot was on top of the couch. A narrow foot at the end of a long, slender, well- tanned leg.
Why do I remember that part? Was that what I was looking at?
Kendrick wasn’t saying anything. Had she not paid attention when Jamie kneeled on the floor behind her head? Did she not care when he put his hands on her shoulders, when he started rolling his wrists to make the transition from black cloth to bare skin? Wasn’t he making little cackling sounds like a roulette ball makes when it drops into a slot?
Peter was stroking her ankle, her shin, sliding his hand up to her
knee, sliding it back down her calf. Couldn’t she have pulled the leg away? Especially when his hand, on the third or fourth passage, went over the apex formed by her knee and slid down her thigh? The front of her thigh. And then around the side, to someplace where the black dress had bunched. Peter’s hand disappeared, then came into sight again as it traced its way along the back of her leg to the crux of her knee. Where it lingered. Where it twisted and turned in a gentle little screwing motion designed to open the angle between calf and thigh. And all the while he was talking to her, complimenting her, murmuring something about her perfume. He recognized her perfume.
If you are just standing there and a girl, a college girl, who seems to know so much more than you about things that count, isn’t protesting that two men are touching her with increasing intimacy, is it up to you to tell her she should be? Is it up to you to ask if she is all right when she isn’t saying anything about the one man’s hands down the top of her dress and the other man’s up the bottom of it?
Was it enough for me to be on alert in case she got hurt?
Peter’s hands went under her buttocks, lifted her up, and came out from under her dress with her panties, black silk underwear with a filigree front on which was embroidered an intertwined set of vines. I didn’t know that detail when he took them off her, when he tossed them back over his shoulder. I knew only that the panties were black. And small. With a front panel that you appeared to be able to see through.
I waited for her to say something. She didn’t. I didn’t.
Peter took a red candle out of a brass candlestick.
She didn’t say anything and I didn’t.
His blazer came off. His pants and boxers went below his knees. He took her legs and put them on either side of his waist. He held the candle in front of him and moved forward, grinning at Jamie. And Jamie grinned back.
She didn’t say anything and neither did I.
It was only later, when he dropped the candle and I realized what he meant to do with the brass candlestick, that I acted.
“Hey, that’s not cool,” I said, putting one hand on Peter’s shoulder. I was still holding what was left of my drink in my other hand.
Peter twisted his head predatorily, looked at me as if my opinion
meant nothing. How did I know what was cool? He had gone all his life without taking advice from me, or the likes of me. Who was I to tell him what was cool in his family’s house?
I squeezed his shoulder, tugged on his striped shirt.
Peter was big, but he wasn’t strong. I squeezed harder, pulled more. My fingers were digging deep into his fl esh.
He could have swung the candlestick at me, but Peter was not interested in fi ghting. He just kept looking at me, his pink- and- white face slightly flabby and dissolute, his pale blue eyes seeming not quite to recognize me or understand my message.
I was trying to smile while I squeezed. It wasn’t a real smile, my lips never opened, but it served its purpose. I was telling him it wasn’t my house. Not my party. The girl wasn’t my friend. But guys don’t do this sort of thing.
I just wanted him to stop, that was all.
The place i lived my senior year at penn was four blocks
from campus. It was a house with antique oak fl oors, built- in bookcases, a leaded glass front window with a window seat, three bedrooms and a bath on the second story, another bedroom and a bath in the basement. It was trashed most of the time. McFetridge wouldn’t wash dishes or put food away. Ellis took a vow that he would not do McFetridge’s cleanup for him. Tuttle was oblivious.
On any given day, pizza boxes, beer cans, soda cans, and newspapers covered the chairs, the couch, the coffee table, the dining room table, the kitchen table. If we needed the space, if we wanted to sit down, we pushed the clutter aside.
One problem with throwing out boxes or cans or containers was
that any one of them could be a repository of scraps and butts of marijuana, and there were times when those roaches had to be stripped down and consolidated into re- rolled joints. These times usually occurred around 10:00 p.m., when someone made a hoagie run. It was spring of senior year and the only one who was still studying was Ellis. He was hoping to become a doctor.
It was not likely that anybody would ring our doorbell at 9:30 in
the morning, but there it was. Ellis was off at class; McFetridge was out; Tuttle wasn’t going to get up for anything or anyone. The bell rang and rang until I had to come down from the second fl oor to get it. I did not even brush my teeth. I should have at least done that.
A grown man was standing on our front porch. He wore a plaid
shirt, jeans, running shoes, a gray jacket that was unzipped. Could have been a neighborhood guy, come to complain about the music, the junk in the yard, the lights that stayed on all night. Except he had an air of authority about him. If he had fl ashed a badge, I wouldn’t have questioned it. But what he showed instead was a cardboard tray holding two coffees, a couple of small containers of cream, stir sticks, and half a dozen packets of sugar.
“You George Becket?” he wanted to know.
I told him no.
Very slowly, a smile spread across the man’s mouth. It was not a
wide mouth and the smile did not have far to go, but it was there. “I’m not a bill collector, kid,” he said.
I figured he wasn’t a coffee delivery guy, either. He was probably five- feet- ten, but looked taller, just by the way he carried himself. His hair was dark, cut short around the ears, combed carefully from left to right on top of his head. His eyes were as dark as his hair, his features narrow. There was, from what I could see, not an ounce of fat on him. Indeed, he seemed almost spring- loaded, as though he could bounce up and hit his head on the ceiling of the porch, come back down and not spill a drop of the coffee.
The longer we stood there the more sure he became that I was
George Becket. Perhaps he had seen a picture. Perhaps it took him a while to realize that the tousle- haired, sleepy- eyed guy in front of him was, in fact, the same person who had appeared in a coat and tie for a fraternity or graduation photo.
“I’ve got a little something to talk to you about, Georgie,” he said.
He gestured to the porch, where perhaps he expected there to be chairs. He recovered fast enough to keep his hand moving until it ended at the top step. “We can do it out here.”
I could have, I suppose, simply closed the door in his face. But I was not thinking clearly. I moved to the top step and sat down. I had nothing on but jeans and a gray athletic department T- shirt that had the number 46 on its chest. I shivered in the morning air and tried to place myself in as much sunshine as possible.
The man handed me one of the coffees, let me take a cream and a sugar and a wooden stir stick, and waited until I had mixed and stirred and sipped.
“My name is Roland Andrews,” he said. “I work for a man named
Josh David Powell.” He let the name sink in before he continued. He wanted to see what kind of effect it would have. “I believe you know his daughter. Kendrick.”
I gave a lot of thought to my next move. I, of course, had no idea
what Mr. Andrews did for Mr. Powell, but I had my suspicions.
“She said you were very nice to her.”
Nice. I helped clean her up. I walked her out of the party. Put her
in her car. Kept her panties in my pocket.
I sipped my coffee and tried to buy time. How much time can you
buy when a man on a mission is sitting right next to you, watching every breath you take, every flick of your eyes, every twitch of your face?
“She said you were there when she was raped by Peter Gregory Martin.”
Raped. It was a word I had been thinking about for two weeks
straight, ever since we returned from Florida. I had even looked it up. “Illicit sexual intercourse without the consent of the woman and effected by force, duress, intimidation, or deception as to the nature of the act.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. I had carried that definition around with me for a few days, telling myself it did not apply to what Peter and Jamie had done. There had been no force, duress, intimidation, deception.
“I don’t exactly remember it that way,” I said.
“Which part don’t you remember, son?”
I wondered if I could say I didn’t remember any of it. But Kendrick
had told him I had been there. She had told him, told someone, enough to track me down. Had I given her my last name? I must have told her where I went to school. She said Bryn Mawr, I said Penn. Just a few miles apart. See how much we have in common?
Had she been sober enough to remember any of it? She had been sober enough to drive. She had had a little sports car. A red one. An Alfa Romeo drop- top. With a stick shift. And I had let her get in it, get behind the steering wheel, go off down the gravel driveway and out the gate to Ocean Boulevard. But so had the valet. A smiling young black man, to whom I had given fi ve bucks.
He should have said something.
“I was just there in the room when she was fooling around with
The man’s breathing became more shallow, as if somehow I had just insulted him, the man who had brought me coffee, the man who had called me “son.” “Fooling around?” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Is that what you call it?”
I didn’t answer. There was nothing I could say that was going to
bring this conversation to a pleasant end.
“Do you know who Mr. Powell is, George?”
“You ever hear of CPA Properties?”
“CPA stands for Coltrane Powell Associates, out of Delaware. It’s the largest developer of commercial properties in the Mid- Atlantic region.”
I didn’t know CPA. I didn’t know the fi rst thing about developers.
“Delaware, Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey.” He delivered the names of each place directly into my ear, as if he fully intended the accumulation to cause me to break down, beg for mercy, promise a lifetime of cooperation if only he would stop hitting me with geographic areas.
I said nothing, tasted my coffee, which tasted like nothing. My bare feet began to rattle on the stairs. I told myself it was just because I was cold and tried to hold them steady, press them down into the old wooden planks.
“Mr. Coltrane is dead.”
Mr. Coltrane. Who was Mr. Coltrane, and why was that of any
interest to me?
“Which makes Mr. Powell virtually the sole owner of CPA and a
very wealthy man. A very. Wealthy. Man.”
Did he just jab my knee with his finger? Was that what that sudden weight was? Was that why my leg went numb? I tried to kick it out. It wouldn’t move.
“More wealthy, I would venture to say, than even your friends the Gregorys. The difference is . . .”
I waited for him to tell me, waited for the numbness in my leg to
clear. Both happened at the same time.
“. . . his money was earned during his lifetime.”
Yes, of course. The Gregorys had to go back two generations for theirs. Back to Peter’s and Jamie’s grandfather. I wondered what he had done to get my leg to spasm like that.
“Not so many people know about Mr. Powell’s money, which
makes it a little easier for him to operate. Doesn’t get in all the right clubs as easily as the Gregorys, but he’s under a lot less scrutiny, if you know what I mean.”
Did I? A lot less scrutiny for what?
“Mr. Powell wants something done, he’s in a position to get people to do it.”
“People like you, you mean?”
It was a childish swipe and Mr. Andrews easily defl ected it. “Know what I did before I went to work for Mr. Powell?” He did not expect me to answer. He paused just long enough to build suspense. “I was Special Forces.”
My leg almost spasmed on its own, without him even touching me.
“There were things I learned there that make me a valuable person to a man like Mr. Powell.”
“Learned how to go around intimidating college kids, did you?”
Mr. Andrews took a long time to respond. He spent that time searing me with his eyes. It was impossible for me to look back at him. I glanced, looked away, glanced back, and looked away again. “I learned,” he said, his words coming out slowly, each seemingly hanging in the few inches of air between us, “a lot more than that, pal.”
I had little doubt that he did. My hand was now shaking in counter-point to my feet and I chose not to even try to raise my coffee to my lips. “What is it you want, Mr. Andrews?”
Very slowly, he reached inside his gray jacket. I thought about
throwing the coffee at him. I would throw it directly into his face and then roll away. Throw, roll, run. In fact, I could not even move.
“I want you to talk to the Palm Beach County state attorney.” Mr.
Andrews was now holding an envelope that he extended into that very small gap between us. “Round- trip airline tickets, fi ve hundred dollars expense money.” He nodded at the envelope. “Instructions on whom to call and where to go.” He pushed it closer, so that it was touching my chin, then he traced it up my jawline. “I want you to fl y down there and tell the state attorney the truth about what happened at the Gregory home week before last.”
There were cars going by in the street, one after another, a steady stream heading west. Drive off in that direction, you could just keep on going, get on Highway 80, take it all the way to California, where nobody would have heard of Josh David Powell and CPA Properties, and where they might not even care so much about the Gregory family.
The envelope came to rest against the side of my face. “Georgie?
You still with me?”
I pulled my head away. The envelope followed. My ear was practically against my shoulder when I said, “Look, Mr. Andrews, the truth is, I didn’t really see what went on. Kendrick was really drunk. They all were. We all were.” Suddenly my words were fl owing and I seemed to have no more control of them than I did the cars in front of me. I didn’t know where they came from or where they were going, they just appeared, one after another. “She’s a beautiful girl, that much I remember, but I hardly know her. Okay? I hardly knew anybody at the party and so I was just kind of wandering around by myself. I was talking to her, talking to some of the Gregorys, looking at all the stuff on the walls, and then I ended up in the library and there she was on the couch, fooling around.”
“You keep saying that, don’t you, kid?” The corner of the envelope carved into a spot beneath my ear. It pinned me as if it were a dart. “Peter Martin was penetrating her with foreign objects!”
Jesus, I wanted to say, it was only one foreign object. I stopped the second one. But I didn’t say anything at all. For a moment or two I may not have been breathing at all.
Mr. Andrews swung around so that one of his legs was below mine, his foot on the stair below where my feet were. He was practically surrounding me, so close I should have been able to smell the coffee on his breath as he hissed, “That girl’s in therapy now. Probably will be for a long time.”
I thought of telling him the things I had been telling myself. Kendrick knew what she was doing when she went to the party in her fancy little sports car and her tight little dress. She knew what she was doing when she got drunk, when she went into the library with those guys. Who would go into a closed room with Peter and Jamie, for God’s sake?
I said none of that and yet Mr. Andrews seemed to have heard it all. “You really are an arrogant little shit, aren’t you?”
The last guy who had said something like that to me had gotten a
fi st in the face. But I wasn’t doing that now. I was just trying to move my head to keep Mr. Andrews away, keep his teeth away, keep them from ripping the skin from my skull.
And then suddenly he pulled back, as though he couldn’t stand
being near me any longer. “I don’t know how you justify it,” he said, “but what Peter Martin did to Kendrick Powell was something you wouldn’t accept from an animal. And he’s going to pay for it.”
Rich girl, tight dress. If she was so drunk that she allowed what
happened to happen, then she couldn’t really be psychologically
scarred, could she?
“So, she’s going to sue him?” I said, because I had to say something, because I wanted to know if this girl who was so humiliated was going to exchange her humiliation for money.
“Sue? No, George, she’s not going to sue.” He spoke as if only an avaricious weakling like me would think of such a thing. “Like I told you, the Powells have every bit as much if not more money than the Gregorys. No, what Josh David wants is to bring them in line, once and for all.” He waited for me to lift my head again. He wanted to make sure I was listening to every word. “The Gregorys have been getting away with this sort of outrageous behavior for a long time, and Mr. Powell’s determined to put an end to it. Expose them for what they are. Let the world see they have to play by the same rules as everybody else.”
“And I gather you need me to do that.”
He waved the envelope.
I looked down at it, looked up and saw McFetridge come walking
along the street. Mr. Andrews saw that, too, and the envelope disappeared.
McFetridge wasn’t just walking, he was sauntering. He had spent
the night with one of the girls from Tri Delt, and he had his socks
sticking out of the pockets of his jacket to prove it.
The sauntering slowed as he saw the stranger next to me. His eyes darted between us. McFetridge was six- feet- four, a tennis player, and used to using his size to his advantage. He was trying to fi gure out if he needed to do that now. “Hey,” he said softly as he turned onto the cement walkway leading to the steps.
“Hey,” I said, and did not otherwise move.
“Hey,” said Mr. Andrews. He did not move, either.
McFetridge stopped. “What’s going on?”
“This is Mr. Andrews. He used to be in Special Forces.”
Funny how you can use a person’s accomplishment in such a snide way. With that one remark, the die was cast.
“Yeah?” said McFetridge, staring down at the older man. No doubt McFetridge was feeling full of himself, having just gotten laid, this being his front porch, it being spring semester of his senior year.
“Kendrick Powell’s father sent him to talk to me.” Craven, that’s
what I was. Looking for help.
“Who’s Kendrick Powell?” McFetridge said.
“She was at the party at the Gregorys, down in Palm Beach.”
McFetridge nodded. He had heard the story. “You want to talk to
me?” he said, addressing Mr. Andrews like he was issuing a challenge. “I was there.”
“Were you?” said Mr. Andrews. His tone was every bit as challenging as McFetridge’s. It was, in a way, like watching two Thoroughbreds about to start a race, each one leaning forward, waiting for the gun to go off.
“Were you in the library with Kendrick and Peter Martin and Jamie
“Yeah,” said McFetridge, moving his feet apart, squaring up his
stance. I remember looking at the socks sticking out of his jacket pockets. I remember thinking they looked like little bunnies. I remember thinking he was about to get annihilated.
“Nothing happened,” he said.
“Is that right?” Mr. Andrews’s eyes narrowed. “You were all just
standing around? Admiring the Winslow Homer?”
There. She couldn’t have been that drunk if she recognized the
Winslow Homer. Unless she had been there before. Or unless Mr. Andrews had.
McFetridge’s eyes clouded just enough to make me think he either didn’t know about the painting or didn’t know who Winslow Homer was. But he recovered nicely. “Hard to say what we were admiring, we were all so drunk.”
There, see, Mr. Andrews? Just like I said. You can go home now.
Leave the two of us alone.
But Mr. Andrews didn’t go home. He pretended to think through
what McFetridge had just told him. “So then you don’t remember if nothing happened,” he said.
“No,” McFetridge said, knowing he had just been played and not
liking it. His head dropped lower, bull- like. He had not had a haircut all year. It had been the subject of much discussion among the older set down in Palm Beach, and now his hair was dangling down in long, looping spirals as he tried to press his point on the ex- soldier. “I do remember. Nothing happened.”
Mr. Andrews gazed up at him as if in all his life he had never met
such a clueless moron. I have tried many times since then to piece all those elements of his expression together to form some semblance of the overwhelmingly unfl inching look of contempt that Mr. Andrews bestowed on McFetridge, and I have been unable to do it.
McFetridge faltered. His movements were all slight: a shift of his
weight, a lift of his head, a baring of his lip; but none of them was
quite complete before Mr. Andrews popped into a standing position in front of him. The stairs were a help. They put the shorter man on direct eye level with the taller, they allowed Mr. Andrews to smirk right in his face, promising without saying anything that if McFetridge so much as hinted at another act of aggression he would slit him from hip to shoulder, pull out his guts, stomp them into the planks of the porch.
“Well, I guess there isn’t anything more you can tell me,” Mr. Andrews said, and the two men continued staring at each other until finally McFetridge was reduced to blinking, to glancing down at me, to saying, “Well, unless you need me for anything, Georgie, I’m going inside. Shower up.”
He had to step past Mr. Andrews to get to the door. He did it by
going around me. He tapped me on the shoulder as he went. A slight tap. It could have meant many things. It could have meant farewell.
Our visitor turned his upper body without moving his feet and
watched McFetridge enter the house. McFetridge looked back and Mr. Andrews nodded mockingly, as if paying respects that they both knew were not due. Then Mr. Andrews looked down at me.
I was sipping my coffee again, trying to appear as though nothing
strange had just taken place, as though my reinforcements had not just fled the field.
The envelope appeared again. Directly in front of me. Held as
steady as if it were resting on a table. “All you have to do is tell the truth, son,” said Mr. Andrews. “That’s what makes it so bloody easy."