Here are the first 16 chapters of Pulling Strings. Enjoy!
He watched the trophy fall. Slowly. A mixture of metal and Lucite tumbling end over end until it smashed the tempered glass-top desk, creating a tiny cluster bomb that peppered his face with clear pellets. His left eye caught a volley and suddenly stopped working.
Before it quit, before the blood began to flow, the eye sent a message to his brain. It was an angry farewell, a middle finger to whatever force had ended its life.
The eye occupied his imagination for a second or two before the pain in his chest took over. A burning sensation, it overwhelmed his senses and focused his fading consciousness on the wound just below his ribs. The blood was everywhere, seeping into the cracks between the polished strips of oak on the floor, chosen to match the built-in shelves that circled the room.
He had fallen back, out of his chair, his arms flailing and bringing down everything from the shelves behind him. The trophy had been there. It hadn’t moved for 20 years.
What a mess. How am I ever going to clean this up?
It was his last question, unanswered.
By the time his heart stopped, he was alone once again in his home. The visitor had been there for two minutes – 30 seconds longer than he planned. His work was done and he needed a shower.
The cherry blossoms had just broken their buds, hinting at the beauty to come, as Sara Clancy looked out across Capitol Hill. Although she stood looking right at them, she did not see them. Her mind was locked on a day much like this one, nine years before – a painful day from which she had never fully recovered. She had stood at that window countless times wishing there was some way of getting that day back, some way of changing the course of events. The cherry trees offered no more solace as they bloomed than when they stood bare.
Sara and Turk had met in high school, both exhilarated by Holden Caulfield, both eager to escape the clutches of their parents. In their senior year, they explored their feelings and bodies in the back seats of cars, darkened basements and once in the equipment room off the gym while the senior boys basketball team was getting pasted by a cross-town rival.
In college, they virtually lived together, maintaining separate apartments for only one reason: her parents. No daughter of Jim and Tammy Taylor was going to live with a man unless he married her. They liked Turk a lot, but they loved their daughter, and the tens of thousands of dollars they were spending to send their only child to the University of Washington gave them some leverage.
If Sara and Turk lived a cliche, it in no way detracted from their love for each other. Late at night, they would cuddle together and plan their future. The blueprint never varied significantly. It wasn't as though Turk had consciously decided to go into politics: It was just understood by Turk, his parents, his friends and, especially, by Sara. He had a knack, the source of which no one knew. Neither of his parents could recall ever delivering a speech to a group larger than the extended family at Christmas dinner. And they wouldn't have cared about politics if JFK had been shot dead right on their front lawn. By some quirk of DNA, Turk had grown up confident, outgoing and articulate, fully engaged in the politics of whatever organization he was in at the time. His charisma carried him through sticky spots, and eventually he learned how to cut corners and get what he wanted.
He asked her to marry him on their graduation day, and by the next fall she was Mrs. Turk Clancy. By their fifth anniversary, he had been elected to represent the second district of Washington State in the House of Representatives. Among a wave of freshmen congressmen and women he shone brightly. Standing on the victory podium at the Bellingham Holiday Inn, it seemed as though the young couple could not be stopped. "We did this together," he leaned over and whispered in her ear. "I'll always love you."
He was a right-leaning Democrat, embracing a carefully crafted mix of social programs while appealing to business owners and pro-choicers, cutting a wide swath through whatever electorate he asked to judge him. He was handsome but not in a plastic cut-out way that characterized so many of his colleagues. His thick, black curly hair bordered on being too long, nearly touching his collar; the early flecks of gray reassured older voters. It was his eyes, however, that most people noticed first and last. Regardless of the person on whom he fixed his gaze, his quiet brown eyes simply melted any vestige of pretence. They were the closest thing to genuine x-ray vision a person could have.
After six terms in the House, he challenged and defeated a Republican warhorse to become the junior senator from Washington. It had been his toughest election ever, and with two weeks to go, his pollsters declared the race a dead heat. As much as Sara was unsettled by the prospect of losing, Turk seemed to thrive on the challenge. He campaigned 20 hours a day for the final 14 days, going $3-million in debt to finance a wave of TV ads that suggested, with increasing vitriol, that 68-year-old Senator Lathan MacKenzie just wasn't up for the job anymore.
One ad received national media attention, so pointed was its message. It was a one minute, black-and-white collage of old people fumbling with cutlery, moping along behind walkers, cupping their hands behind their aging ears and generally showing the effects of their years. Between these uncomfortable slow-motion shots, Turk's ad man had cut shots of his opponent falling asleep on the floor of the Senate, tripping as he exited a limousine and sitting uncomfortably among groups of kindergarten students. It was the last image, sadly, that said the most. In an effort to counteract whispers about his age and demonstrate his continuing vitality, MacKenzie had spent a great deal of time with young students throughout the state. But slowed down, and carefully edited, the footage had the opposite effect. It was hard for any adult to look comfortable on a chair designed for a five-year-old, and his creaking knees only made it worse.
Although quickie polls suggested people hated the ad, those offended were already planning to vote for MacKenzie. Run repeatedly over a three-day weekend, it burrowed into the soft belly of the state's swing voters and festered there until election day.
Turk won by five points; eight of every 10 undecided voters supported him. Lathan MacKenzie did not call to congratulate him.
That victory might well have been the high point of both Turk's career and their marriage. Three months after he was elected, on a February day like this very one with the cherry blossoms at about the same stage, she thought ruefully, his heart gave out. Only Turk was more surprised than Sara. He died at age 38, leaving no children and a wife who had done little but orbit his star since high school. Worse yet, he left most of the $3-million debt he had racked up to win the senate seat he had occupied officially for all of three weeks. There was life insurance but not enough to erase the debt.
Sara was profoundly depressed and unreceptive when someone first suggested she run to replace her husband in the special election later that year. But the party brass liked the idea. She was considered a shoo-in, and no one else of any stature was prepared to run on such short notice. Those who were approached deemed it a tad unseemly to be seen stepping over a dead body to grab the reins of power.
Most of them figured Sara Clancy would win the first time and flame out so badly that her seat would be easy pickings the next time around. When she came out of her funk, Sara listened to several of what in essence were supporters of Turk's; she let them convince her there could be no better tribute to her husband than to run for his seat. In the end, the decision was easier than an outsider might have presumed, easier certainly than she let on through her new public persona.
She needed a job, something that paid well and allowed her to carry Turk's debt and raise funds to reduce it. She had no traditional job skills, but she knew she had learned something watching Turk operate in the House for more than a decade. She won the election handily, tripling the margin by which her husband had won the seat less than a year earlier. Out of respect or disorganization, the Republicans fielded a genuine loser candidate – a college professor who had published a series of scholarly papers matching intelligence and race, suggesting Caucasians were more suited for intellectual pursuits while those with darker skin were better suited for more physical labor. That he managed to finish second above the various fringe candidates was considered something of a miracle.
Sara gave her victory speech from the same stage where Turk had given all of his. "This victory is a tribute not to me or to my wonderful late husband," she read from 8 1/2-x-11 pages printed in double-spaced, block letters. "It is a tribute to all of you, the workers on this campaign and the citizens of this beautiful state. Together we will go forward."
She basked in her victory for most of a week, slowly going through the mounds of congratulatory calls and emails. She knew she had to respond to each one, much as Turk had always done, but the task seemed immense. Within two days, the pile of correspondences from people she knew was dwarfed by those from people who were strangers to her.
Although she planned to fire her, she set Turk's executive assistant the task of running down information about the strangers. "Certainly Mrs., er, Senator Clancy. I think we have files on most of these people."
To Sara's dismay, she reappeared that afternoon with a stack of files on nearly every person: Jason Schurr, president, Chevron Texaco; Marilyn Black, COO, Citigroup; Charles "Whiskey" Malone, CEO, Duke Energy; Rudy Povowich, senior vice-president, Ford Motor Co. The list ran on for several pages and catalogued very precisely who Turk Clancy's real constituents had been while he served in the House. The corresponding files listed each company's contributions to the Clancy coffers over the years, much of it funnelled through various intermediaries to escape detection and abide by the letter of the convoluted campaign financing laws.
If Sara Clancy was unclear about the meaning of the files that day, it soon became clear to her. She was in debt, and these people and companies held the purse strings. She could give speeches and hit up ordinary folks for legitimate donations every day for the remainder of her six-year term, and she wouldn't have enough money for lawn signs at election time, never mind TV ads. These people – these faceless people scattered across the country, occupying the corner suites at their various offices, most with weekend country homes and drivers to take them there – they owned her now. She was beholden to them.
It was a crushing realization, not only about her future but about her past. She thought back to some of Turk's more controversial votes and saw his reasoning for what it was: payback. He had lied to her and to his voters on and off for a decade, and without realizing what she was doing until it was too late, Sara had stepped into his place, into his duplicitous life.
Nearly a decade later, having easily won re-election after her first term and thoroughly entangled in the Washington D.C. web, she was despondent.
An aide poked his head into her office and startled her. "You're late for the meeting," he said. She nodded blankly, sucked in some air and walked briskly down the marble-floored hall.
“The job is complete. Area one is secure,” he said into the cell phone he had purchased that morning at 7-Eleven.
The baritone voice on the other end was flat and emotionless. “Excellent. No complications, I trust?”
“Two minutes. Too long, but no witnesses. Clean.” As he spoke, he scanned the world around him, casually surveying 360 degrees. It was dusk and he was sitting in a rental car at the Chevy Chase Pavilion shopping mall. Nothing about him aroused suspicion on this day or any other. The job had been the 82nd of his career, if you could call executions a career. Never saw that table at the job fair, but he was rich because of it, and he had long ago settled whatever moral dilemma the work created in his soul.
“I’ll wire the money first thing tomorrow,” said the voice on the phone.
“See that you do,” he said, punching a button and hanging up.
The gruff manner wasn’t really necessary. No one ever tried to short change him. It was an unspoken truth that double crossing an assassin was a stupid thing to do. One time, early in his career when payments could not be sent around the world quite so easily, an OCD husband had hired him to take out his wife’s lover. Payment, in the form of cash, was $20,000 short. A quick visit to the husband’s place of business had rectified the situation – and netted him a bonus of $10,000 which the husband insisted he take.
He grabbed a duffel bag from the floor on the passenger side of the car, glanced at the back seat and opened the door. There was no reason to wipe away fingerprints: He always wore gloves. Walking away from the Kia Optima, he clicked the key fob to lock it and headed to the Embassy Suites attached to the mall. He had been staying there all week, in town on business, and would fly out the next morning after double checking his account in Zurich.
He had nothing scheduled for more than a week and planned to surprise his daughter, who was just completing her second year at Brown University in Rhode Island. It would have been nearly as fast to drive there from D.C. but he was manic about maintaining his cover and flying out as any other businessman would do.
The art auction had been an unalloyed success. Her assistant Penny would have the exact figure for her in the morning, but Annabelle Colson was confident it would top $1-million – an astounding figure, really, given not just the weak economy but also the growing gaggle of charities to which the same Washington society crowd was invited every year. Unlike some of her friends who ran similar events for their chosen causes, Annabelle believed deeply in her charity. But that didn’t mean everyone else did, so raising $1-million in support of diabetes research was a coup, no matter how you looked at it.
At the wheel of her silver Mercedes CLS-Class Coupe, she was reliving the entire evening, easily navigating the Chevy Chase streets on her way home. She hosted the art auction every year, always introducing a new artist – one of her finds – to the city. That they were always gorgeous men roughly 20 years her junior was a happy coincidence. She knew what she liked in art and in men, although deep down she was committed to her husband of 25 years. She had only slept with one of her discoveries, and that was 10 years ago when she and Andre were not speaking to each other. Since then, she had taken pleasure only from flirting with the artists – looking but not touching.
She tapped a button on her steering wheel, waited for the $100,000 car to ding and then said, “Call home.” Within five seconds, she could hear her home phone ringing. After the sixth ring, she heard her own voice inviting her to leave a message. “Honey, it’s me. The evening was wonderful. You really should come one of these years. Anyway, I’m on my way home. Will be there in 15 minutes. Take a pill ‘cause I’m in a mood to celebrate.”
When she married someone 15 years older, she had no idea scientists soon would create a little blue pill to make their age difference so unimportant. She loved her husband, and with a little Pfizer magic, the differences between him and the young artist she had flirted with all night were trivial. Too trivial certainly to risk the life she had.
As she approached her home, a sensor on the front gate recognized her car and swung open the right side of the wrought iron barrier. When she had driven through, it closed again and she crept up the cobblestone drive toward the three-car garage. The middle door opened automatically and she pulled in, grabbed her purse from the seat next to her and burst into the mudroom, ready for a glass of wine and the better part of four good hours with her husband.
“Andre? It’s me. Did you get my message? Where are you?” Kicking off her heels, she danced down the hall toward his study. The great room was home to an 80-inch flat screen TV, but she knew he was just as likely to be sitting in his study, behind his desk, listening to the ball game on the radio while he did three other things, unaware of the time, her activities or whether he had eaten that day.
“Honey, I really hope you got that message. Maybe I should have texted too.”
The first thing she noticed was the mess. Everything on the shelves had crashed to the ground and lay strewn on and around the desk. She felt queasy. Then she saw a shoe, protruding from the left side of the desk, attached to a leg that was bent at an unnatural angle. She turned involuntarily, dropped to her knees and threw up. She heaved twice more before gaining the strength to crawl around the desk and see her husband’s crumpled body, lying in a proverbial pool of blood. It wasn’t like TV – his eyes were wide open, his face expressionless. The trophy, topped by two figurines holding tennis rackets, was broken, its pieces lying beside him. She pulled him to her and sobbed for 10 minutes before calling 911.
Senator Sara Clancy had attended thousands of meetings during her nine years in the Senate. Halfway through her second term, her life was largely about absorbing enough information to perform well in whatever meetings were scheduled that day. Rarely did the information stick in her head more than a week; often she had trouble remembering who she had met earlier that day. She had devised a system to help battle the monotony of it all, something she had started doing in her first year. Before every meeting, she rated it from 0 to 10, a predictive exercise taking into account factors such as subject matter, brevity or likely political gain. She wasn’t as cynical as the rating system suggested. She was just bored. Coming out of the meeting, she rated it again and compared the number to her prediction. A positive number meant it was a good meeting – interesting, beneficial or both. A negative number meant she had probably wasted her time.
She added the scores at day’s end to produce a numerical summary of her day. A score above 0, something approaching double digits meant it had been a good day. A negative number meant the day had been a disaster, and she was likely to have a second or third glass of wine with her late dinner that night.
She did not share her rating hobby with any of her staff. To reveal her boredom to such an idealistic group would have been like Robin Hood admitting to his Merry Men that he’d been stashing the loot they stole in an offshore account for years.
Like many of her meetings, this one had a double purpose. As a member of the commerce committee, she frequently met with the titans of industry. That was a phrase she rarely heard anymore. When she was a kid, that’s what her parents called them. Henry Ford had been a titan of industry. So was William Sloane, the creator of General Motors. The Rockefellers, of course.
Contrary to popular accounts, there were still plenty of manufacturing companies in the U.S., but the real business leaders controlled companies that did not need transport trucks to deliver their goods. Even after the crash, finance companies ruled the economy, and Sara had to admit she had a tough time understanding how they made so much money and what exactly they contributed to the greater good of the country. She had seen how a few rogue financial firms could bring down the whole country, and the world along with it. It seemed to her all they really did was find ways to skirt new regulations, moving money from here to there, producing stacks of paper and not much else.
But there was no denying their influence. In the depths of economic collapse, it was the banks that got help first, with virtually no strings attached. She had voted for all of it, understanding no more than half of her briefing books. The half she understood boiled down to a single sentence: Do this or you’ll be responsible for creating another Depression. The auto industry got billions later, but mostly because so many voters worked in the industry. Lots of experts said the economy would be better off without the aging auto companies. But those experts didn’t have to run for re-election, so the car companies got help. It came, however, with strings, lots of strings, and a few scalps. Get rid of the guy running GM, as if he were singularly responsible for the ruination of a great company. Whatever. She did what she had to do, and as usual it meant ignoring a voice in the back of her mind that kept calling her a hypocrite.
She breezed into a smallish board room two floors down from her office in the Reagan building. She always wore two-inch heels, partly because she was shorter than most of her male colleagues but mostly because she loved the sound they made as she walked down the marble corridors of the building. If power could be distilled into a sound, she thought, it was the echo of her heels on the cold, hard floor. The loafers worn by 94 male senators could not match that sound, and she loved hearing it.
She was the last to enter the room and took her seat at the circular table. An aide – wearing black, tasselled shoes that, appropriately, made no noise as he walked – sat directly behind her, obscured by a pile of file folders stacked on a table in front of him. The other three people in the room had power that didn’t require high heels to project. They didn’t have aides or file folders. Only one bothered with a BlackBerry. They had people to send and receive their emails and texts.
“Evening senator,” said Larry Heinz, a long-time presence on Capitol Hill. Heinz had come to Washington in his 20s, an intern in the Congressional Budget Office. It was after Woodward and Bernstein had taught everyone to follow the money, and that’s exactly what he set out to do. He wanted to understand Washington, so he worked 14 hours a day – for free – learning how the city really worked.
Most people concentrated on the president and Congress. Heinz was interested in all of that, but he knew what most Americans never considered. Without the money, there wasn’t a hell of a lot any president or legislator could do. The president and members of Congress all knew that, of course, and Heinz quickly saw that real power resided in the offices of those who controlled the money. It’s a simple lesson that can be learned by playing Monopoly in grade school. Heinz’s genius was to implement what he learned. Lots of people knew money was power; he used that knowledge to turn himself into a broker of that power.
His degree of influence in Washington was related inversely to his fame outside the Capitol. He was anonymous to most of his fellow citizens, millions of people whose lives were affected by what Heinz did every day. They didn’t know him, and for many years he had been happy to keep it that way. But anonymous power could only take someone so far. For decades he had helped politicians – almost all men in the early years but more women lately – to achieve their goals, not only to get elected but to grasp, however briefly, the levers of power in Washington.
For a long time he was satisfied doing that, but in the last couple of years his attitude had started to change. Rather than celebrating his clients’ victories he had started to resent them. He saw people with little talent but plenty of connections come to Washington and become celebrities – celebrities as defined within the Beltway of course, which was not what most people thought of as celebrity. Appearing on Meet The Press twice a year was not the same as walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards, which was why former Senator Chris Dodd had jumped at the chance to leave the Senate and become chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America. Instead of presiding over health care committee meetings that went nowhere and schlepping around Delaware begging for political donations, he now rubbed shoulders with movie stars, the least glamorous of whom was considerably more exciting than any of his fellow senators had ever been. His first meeting with Gwyneth Paltrow, at the opening of one of the Iron Man movies, dispelled any doubt he had about his career move. He stammered like a school boy as blood flowed to parts of his body that hadn’t been stimulated like that in many years.
Beltway celebrity wasn’t like that, but still Heinz was increasingly jealous of the high profile success so many do-nothings achieved, often because of his hard work. One common denominator among most of his clients was their innate ability to profit from their time in Washington, whether that was four years or four decades. They didn’t get rich on the surprisingly tiny government salaries, but they collected favors: chits they invariably cashed in when they left politics to gain access to the upper stratosphere of wealth, sitting on boards and collecting fees just for showing up to have a picture taken. Not everyone was like that; some went on to work hard and contribute legitimately to whatever company or law firm hired them. But they were the exceptions, and even they relied on markers they collected while in office to open the doors that needed opening.
Eighteen months earlier, Heinz had decided he wanted – needed actually – to make a change. He wanted to step out of the shadows and show people how talented he was. He had enough money to buy anything he wanted for the rest of his life, but that was no longer enough. Having been around power for so many years, he was determined to exercise it before he was too old, to prove to himself and to anyone else who was watching that he could outperform the lightweights all around him. He was dating again – if skulking around having sex could be called dating – and he had to admit part of his motivation was to show the new woman in his life that he could accomplish something big. One crisp fall evening, he had toasted himself with a Lagavulin, neat, vowing to do whatever it took to achieve his goal, and he’d worked every day since to make it happen.
The police arrived in three minutes, followed closely by a pair of detectives. It took them less than five minutes to realize their task was likely to be futile. Forensics would dust every surface and take enough pictures to fill an old-fashioned scrapbook – the kind of scrapbook produced these days by lumpy, middle-aged women who go away together on weekends to document their banal lives using bits of pink and orange paper embossed with trite expressions and quotes. But Detective Kerry Simpson had a feeling it would all be for naught. She had worked dozens of crime scenes – murders, robberies and assaults – and after eight years she usually knew within minutes if the perpetrator had made the kind of mistakes that invariably led to his arrest.
What few people knew was that most criminals were incompetent. Most of their crimes were not carefully considered. Those carefully considered often were executed badly. A detective’s job was to find the mistakes, figure out what they meant and then follow wherever they led. To outsiders, it seemed like magic. That’s certainly how Hollywood portrayed it. The truth was somewhat simpler. Cops relied on a mixture of mistakes and luck to solve cases. Their odds went up in proportion to the hours they spent looking for those mistakes, but if there weren’t mistakes to be found, it didn’t matter how long they spent, or how many people got involved.
In Simpson’s precinct alone, dozens of serious crimes went unsolved every year. Once in a while the cold case geeks would track someone down, but that was only because the criminal had made a mistake they could detect today with better technology. Without a mistake, the cops were useless.
Simpson stood in the Colson study feeling useless. The only thing she could say for certain was that Andre Colson had died from a single shot that pierced his heart with near symmetrical perfection. There was no indication how the shooter entered or exited the home. Aside from the mess in the den, there was not a pillow or spatula out of place in the rest of the home. An army of beat cops would soon discover not one neighbor had heard or seen anything, and the sophisticated security system – the one that had recognized Annabelle’s car and let her in the house – had not recorded a tittle of information about anything out of the ordinary.
“Professional job,” Simpson muttered to her partner, Ed Campbell, as they stood back-to-back in the study looking for anything that might help figure out why the hell someone had executed the popular owner of the Baltimore Orioles.
The meeting that afternoon had been scheduled for an hour, a standard block of time in the senator’s day. Like many meetings she attended, this one reminded her of a rollercoaster ride. The first few minutes were slow and kind of painful, as things got going, then there often was a rush of adrenalin as she discussed a panoply of ideas with some very smart people. She usually enjoyed that part of the process, but getting there often was painful. She had never mastered small talk the way her husband had. Of course, small talk in Washington was not about the weather or sports – Redskins excepted during football season – but rather about the minutia of the social scene inside the Beltway. The social scene overlapped considerably with the political scene. Just like in Hollywood, it mattered what party you attended. The quality of invitations was a barometer or how connected you were, and everyone knew it.
“Will you be at Daisy Shore’s barbecue?” Heinz asked the senator by way of kicking things off.
“I never miss it,” she answered with a roll of her eyes. “It isn’t spring without the cherry blossoms and that damn barbecue. I see you there every year Larry.”
“Well, yes. It just so happens that I love pulled pork. That’s what brings me back, the pulled pork and the potato salad. Can’t beat it.”
Across the table, Elroy Thompson smiled broadly. “Are we really here to talk about pork in Washington? That’s such a cliche.”
Thompson sat directly across from Heinz, to the senator’s right. He ran SkyVision TV, which piped satellite TV service into about 80 million homes across the country. His company was more than double the size of its nearest rival, a dominant player in a quasi-monopolistic industry that made lots of money during good times and even more during bad times. Thompson was 53 and barely looked 40. He ran six times a week; on the seventh day he rested but thought and talked about running. When he took over SkyVision from its affable but short-sighted founder 15 years earlier, its only value was the federal licenses it held, allowing the company to bounce signals off satellites 22,000 miles above the earth. NASA hadn’t put anyone on the moon in more than 40 years, but they damn sure knew how to launch a satellite, and SkyVision had lots of them up there, beaming cooking shows, sports and porn into American bedrooms every day and night of the year, for an average monthly bill of $128.
That figure had increased every year for a decade. The goal was to nudge it to $140 in the next 18 months, sucking ever greater profits from a public that simply could not live without a steady stream of content for its growing number of big-ass, flat-screen TVs.
To Thompson’s right sat Thomas W. Cartwright, a man whose wardrobe matched his name perfectly – blue checked shirt, a la Morley Safer, a yellow bow tie, a tweed blazer and navy blue pants, or trousers as he called them. At 67, he had led a full life, but he was far from content to spend his remaining years fishing or sitting on the wrap-around porch of his plantation-style home in Charleston, South Carolina. Until four years ago, he had been the commissioner of baseball, a post he held for 10 years, a job he enjoyed more than anything else he had ever done: more than the two years he spent in Sudan with the Peace Corps right after college; more than the three years he spent playing bass in a Rockabilly band touring the South when he got back from Africa; more – a lot more – than the five years he spent getting his Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan. Damn, winters in Ann Arbor were cold.
Luckily, he had met Betsy about two months after arriving. Among other things, she made the cold winter nights much more bearable, the weekends in particular. She played field hockey, and Cartwright fell for her the first time he saw her in the pleated, blue skirt she wore to represent the Wolverines in battle against other Big Ten schools. He watched a lot of field hockey games before getting up the nerve to ask her out, and he watched a few more before she agreed. But he counted the time as the best investment he ever made. They married in his fourth year and remained in love for the next 40 years.
Cartwright sat at the table thinking of her. Her death two years earlier still seemed like last week to him, and there literally wasn’t a day when she didn’t pop into his consciousness, if only briefly. He was astounded at how many ordinary events brought her to mind. He was wondering, for the 100th time, if he would spend the rest of his life missing her when he caught a scent of something, a faint but distinct perfume, that made him blink. He looked again at Sara Clancy, and in less than a second had two thoughts – he missed having sex, and this senator, dressed rather conservatively in a grey skirt and dark silk blouse, was very attractive.
“Thank you senator for your time today. We are grateful for the work you do,” Heinz began.
Sara stifled a smile, allowing it to surface only briefly at the corners of her mouth. Having pulled back the grin, she nodded acknowledgement across the table. That morning, when he had woken up in her bed, Larry Heinz had expressed his thanks for the work she did in a more creative and interesting way. It was the sixth time they had slept together, not that she was counting. They both understood the risks, but after a year or so of dancing around the question, they had given in to their desires.
Why the hell should anyone care? she had asked, almost rhetorically, to the mirror the morning after their first wonderful evening. I’m a single woman. Everyone knows that. He’s been divorced for, what, a decade? Why is it anyone’s business?
A few months in, she had nearly convinced herself their relationship was safe for public consumption when she saw the ubiquitous Breaking News banner fly across the CNN screen. Wasn’t all news breaking? Isn’t that what makes it news? And why did all the news networks take such delight in telling us what was happening right now? Of course, it’s right now you idiots. You’re not running the History Channel.
The breaking news that morning was about a state senator in Minnesota who had been enjoying the company of a lobbyist, often at a hotel in Minneapolis, every other weekend for the last year or so. The time frame was still uncertain. What seemed absolutely certain was that the senator and the lobbyist were in for an awful couple of weeks. At that moment, as their pictures appeared on screens around the world, framed by the alliterative banner, ‘State Senator Sex Scandal’, there wasn’t any evidence either of them had done anything illegal. It wasn’t clear if the lobbyist, a single mom with two teenagers at home, had ever worked for any company with business before the senator’s committee. And it wasn’t clear whether the senator had ever accepted money from any of the lobbyist’s clients. That wasn’t the issue today or for the rest of the week it seemed.
The issue was simple: sex. And Sara Clancy most certainly was having sex with Larry Heinz, something she very much wanted to continue doing.
She snapped back to the present when her aide tapped her shoulder and passed her a folder. Evidently, it was germane to something someone had said. Shit. I have to pay attention. Focus.
"He’s a stranger, and I don’t trust him. He’d say anything right now to get you to sign. What’s the rush?"
Angela Vanders looked earnestly at her son, hoping for an opening, looking for some way of delaying a choice she knew deep down he already had made.
"But Mama, it’s everything we ever talked about. Half a million. How can I stand them up,” asked Kevin Vanders, who, at 6’ 3”, was more than a foot taller than his mother but nevertheless ceded to her on most issues.
Carl Crozier replayed the moment over and over, letting his mind wander as he sped along I-95 toward Baltimore. It was a conversation he had overheard through a kitchen door, and it was the reason he was on the road that morning. Two weeks earlier, he had played his hand just right and convinced his newest client, a fireballing lefthander who had been drafted after his sophomore year at school, to sign with the Orioles. In theory, his job was to do what he thought best for his client, and there was a plausible case that signing was indeed the right move.
But it also was the best chance for Carl to revive his fledgling career, to achieve some long lost goals, signposts that had been slipping away from him in recent years. Fifteen years earlier, his plans did not include an evening spent in Charlotte, essentially auditioning for the role of father figure and financial advisor for a 19-year-old boy he barely knew. His dreams were larger, so his failure to fulfil them often left him feeling depressed.
At college, he knew where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do. He had represented several athletes over the years, mostly baseball players, but as they retired or were forced to quit because of injury, he hadn’t been able to replace them. He landed the occasional client, but after a decade of losing more than he signed, his one-man firm was sucking wind. This was his chance to get back on track, or so he hoped. He had searched his soul several times in the last month, and he was sure his advice was based on his client’s interest and not his own.
The hurdle had been the boy’s mother, naturally, and Carl understood why she felt so strongly her son should finish college. No one in the family ever had – not even close. But the financial windfall was too much to ignore. How any teenager could say no to $500,000 was a question for which Angela Vanders simply had no answer. Maybe because it all seemed so easy, maybe that was why she was determined to find the catch. But then, how easy had it really been?
Kevin’s father had never met his son, preferring to spend his time in a series of state-run facilities stretching from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Angela had raised him by working two jobs so they could live in a decent part of Charlotte. In the early years, a neighbor came over after Kevin was asleep so she could duck out and put in her four hours tending bar nearby, the nutritional quality of the week’s meals fluctuating with the tips she got. The pathetic band of regulars were always more generous when the Hornets were on cable, putting a beating on some crappy expansion team. A close game held their attention too closely, cutting tips by about half, she had calculated over the years. A loss meant she and Kevin would dine on her wiener hash recipe for most of the week. She was as despondent as any season-ticket holder when the team left for New Orleans, leaving the city and her bar without an NBA team for several years until the expansion Bobcats arrived. They were awful but people still showed up to watch them. They reclaimed the Hornets name about the time a group of young players arrived to give fans hope again.
A few times, she had managed to switch shifts so she could work Sunday afternoon when the Panthers laced it up. But the risk was simply too great. A victory brought instant wealth; a loss translated into six hours of high-volume complaining and second-guessing of everyone from the coach to the play-by-play guy with nothing in her pocket to show for it. The time away from her son simply wasn’t worth the risk, she decided, so she stayed away from the bar on weekends.
With some luck, but mostly her dogged determination, she had raised one hell of a son. Kevin had grown up adoring his mother, tolerating school and loving baseball. It was the first and third items that were in conflict that Saturday morning earlier in the month.
"We didn’t even know if I’d be drafted," he reminded her. "Now Mr. Crozier is talking half a mil. We’ve gotta do it Mama. I’ve gotta take it."
The offer had come quite suddenly from the Baltimore Orioles. Kevin had only finished two years at Mars Hill College, three hours away near Asheville, when he was drafted in the 2nd round. A left-handed pitcher, he had hit 94 mph on the radar gun (the fast gun, he told anyone who would listen, trying to lower expectations). About a dozen batters had felt the sting of that fastball last season as he worked on his control. Still, there was potential, and scouts beat a path to his games all season long.
"Another year like this one, you’ll get picked even higher," she pleaded back. "And you’ll have your degree. That was supposed to be why you went there."
"What if I get hurt? Do I call them up and say, OK, I’ll take the money now. This could be our only chance. I can get the degree later, when I finish playing or whatever. Mama, you could move outta this place and buy something of your very own. And a car too. I gotta do it – for both of us."
"Don’t think I didn’t hear what you said about finishing that degree," she said finally after dragging out the argument long enough to save face.
That evening, when Carl returned to the house with the Orioles scout in tow, there was a new paragraph to be added to the end of the contract. "This really isn’t binding, you know Mrs. Vanders, but I don’t see any harm in appending it."
And so, the contract Kevin Vanders signed that day, in addition to providing him with a $500,000 signing bonus and a plane ticket to Rookie ball the next month, included the following line: "I undertake to complete the necessary work to earn my degree at my earliest opportunity."
Kevin’s hand shook as he scrawled his name along the dotted lines on five copies of the contract. The next thing he signed was a check made out to Carl Crozier: 10 per cent of $500,000 was $50,000, and his hand shook even more as he signed that piece of paper.
To his surprise, his mom had arranged a little party in his honor, and within half an hour of signing, the tidy apartment was overflowing with friends and neighbors, all of whom were genuinely happy for Kevin and Angela. Kevin floated through his home, shaking hands, slapping backs and laughing inside at his mom: He estimated she had put in about five hours getting the food ready for an event she had argued hard to delay for at least a year. She knew he would sign; she knew a lot about him. Just then it occurred to him that she would be alone next month, that maybe her argument was more about losing a son than about the value of education.
Sure he had been at college for two years, but only three hours away and always home for special weekends and holidays. This goodbye was different. He would never return to that apartment in the same circumstances. In fact, he hoped to persuade his mom to move when she could find a nice house with a garden of her very own.
A wiry woman of about 60 made her way through the living room and gave Kevin a limp hug. "You take care of yourself now, and don’t go forgettin’ your roots. Yor mama here worked like a dog for you, and if you mess that up, I’ll personally smack yor rear end."
"Hey, Miss Helen. How could I ever forget you?" he asked with a broad smile, giving her arm a gentle squeeze.
"Don’t sweet talk me young man. I’m serious."
After five years of minding "the boy" while his Mama tended bar, Helen Jean Hampson considered herself part of the family, and anyone who doubted it would do well to get comfortable while she explained the integral role she had played in raising this fine young man. Never mind that Kevin usually was sleeping when she arrived, over the years she had assumed the role of aunt, and it wasn’t a role she intended to relinquish just because Kevin was leaving town to play ball and make lots of money.
As Helen dispensed advice, Carl worked the room like a pastor. Small talk was his currency, and he was flush with anecdotes, jokes and observations. He knew when to talk and when to listen. The fact that he was the lone white face in the apartment went unnoticed entirely.
"I’ll tell you what. If every client of mine was as solid a young man and good a ball player as Kevin, well, I can’t imagine what I’d do with my time," he told a small clutch of neighbors gathered around the piano. "It’s very rare to find a young player who has so much ability and also has his priorities straight."
"You’re layin’ it on a bit thick, don’t you think Mr. Crozier?" Kevin had been listening for a couple of minutes and watching as his mother’s friends ate up every line Carl delivered. "You make me sound like a saint. Haven’t you cashed that check yet?"
Carl laughed and turned his attention to Kevin, leaving the crowd behind, emotionally if not physically. “I’m dead serious Kevin. It’s a privilege to represent you.”
Kevin looked at him closely but could not decide if he was speaking from the heart or simply delivering yet another line from a speech he had filed in his head. If Kevin was unconvinced, the dozen people who had been standing between the two of them and received the full emotional effect of the comment were sold.
Carl knew he had scored points, but just as Kevin could not yet read him, he was unsure of the effect of his speech on his new client. It would take time to build trust, and without it the relationship would neither last nor flourish, both of which Carl was determined to see happen.
He had, indeed, cashed that check immediately, allowing him to pay some long overdue bills and buy a new suit for his trip to Baltimore. The Orioles had whiffed on their first round pick, taking a chance on a two-sport wunderkind who decided to focus on basketball in college and not sign a baseball contract. That made Kevin Vanders their de facto first pick. The PR department wasted no time organizing a quick trip to Baltimore for Kevin and his agent, to introduce the newest member of the Orioles family to the local media before he was shipped off to Sarasota to play Rookie ball with a bunch of other young draft picks, most of whom would never sniff the big leagues, but all of whom expected to be stars on that stage within a year or two.
Sitting on the couch in the formal living room, Annabelle Colson was having trouble staying in the moment. There were so many people in her home, and they all seemed so busy. Every part of her body was in denial. Two hours ago, she had been racing home to celebrate the evening with her husband; now he was dead. She had always expected he would die before her, given his age, but not once had she ever considered the end would be violent. Violent and unfathomable.
The detectives kept asking her if Andre had any enemies. Was there anyone who might want him dead? He had received death threats, like any public figure, but mostly they had come a few decades earlier when they were living in Atlanta and were one of the most visible mixed race couples in the city. There were always a few crackpots who thought Jesus would have responded to their marriage by grabbing a semi-automatic weapon and taking them out. WWJD indeed. But more recently, the correspondence had been lauding. No one in and around D.C. blinked at the idea of a black man and white woman; a few might have snickered at the age difference, but that was hardly motive to kill.
The phone message! Suddenly, she remembered the message she had left on her way home. Damn, no one should hear that. And the pills! There were strangers going through their bedroom and bathrooms. Those were none of their business. The whole thing was awful, such an invasion, so sudden.
“Excuse me,” she whispered to the only female cop who had shown up. “Umm, do you have a moment?”
“Certainly maam,” said Kerry Simpson, kneeling down to make eye contact. “Did you think of someone who had a beef with your husband?”
“It’s not that,” Annabelle said, leaning in further to keep the conversation private. “It’s just that, well, I don’t want to embarrass Andre, and really it’s no one’s business, and…”
“Maam, please don’t worry. We’re only interested in information that might help us figure out what happened. What is it?”
When Annabelle finally stammered out her concern, Simpson gave her a warmly empathetic look and reached into her pocket. She handed over the box with the pills, adding, “We’ve listened to all your phone messages. None of them are of any interest to us.” And then, “You must have had a wonderful marriage.”
Surrounded by strangers, alone in her grief, Annabelle soaked up the kind words, drawing strength from them. She stood up and gave the detective an awkward hug. “Thank you,” was all she could say. It was enough.
In mid-April, the sun rises in Washington D.C. around 6:30.
Larry Heinz was awake at that hour but was unaware of the breaking daylight. His attention was focused entirely on the left leg of Sara Clancy, peeking out from the dishevelled blankets all around her. Turning onto his right side, he reached out with his left hand and began stroking her thigh. Her nearly imperceptible moans told him to continue.
Moving his hand up her body, he discovered, to his great pleasure, that she had slept in the nude. After they made love, she often would put on a silk pyjama top to sleep. Nothing on the bottom, he had been delighted to discover, but the pyjama top was her usual move. Lately, she had started sleeping in one of his shirts, which excited him greatly. But completely naked – well that was the best choice of all, and he quickly burrowed under the blankets to continue the exploration of her body he had started the night before.
They had left the meeting separately, both satisfied with how it had gone. She was fairly certain she had secured a sizeable campaign donation from Elroy Thompson and his colleagues at SkyVision TV. All she had to do was talk to someone at the FCC and encourage the regulator to free up some more TV bandwidth so SkyVision could improve service to its millions of customers. No one at the meeting had made such a crass connection. Rather, Thompson had mentioned in passing that his company was ready to launch a variety of Ultra HD channels, if only it could find room on existing satellites and expand its broadcast spectrum.
Sara had nodded, understandingly, and mentioned an acquaintance of hers at the FCC, who had the difficult job of parcelling out all the publicly-owned airwaves. “I don’t understand how all that works, but I know it’s tough deciding who gets what,” she said. “Seems like the cell phone guys are always over there begging for more capacity and more licences. Can’t say I understand it all.”
From there, she pivoted to a discussion of her schedule, which included numerous fundraising trips throughout her home state. “It’s so time-consuming. I hate asking people for money; I’d much rather be working to help them, but of course I’m up for re-election in two years and I know the Republicans are itching to take me down. They aren’t going to make the same mistake they made last time, that’s for sure. It’s gonna take millions to fight them off.”
Thompson had nodded, understandingly, and scribbled something on a notepad – the first and only note he took during the entire meeting.
Heinz watched Thomas Cartwright take all this in. He was old but not stupid. He knew he was watching democracy in action – real democracy, not the textbook version with representation by population and petitions and protest signs. This was how things got done, and he felt certain he was observing only a hint of what went on every day all over Washington. But he found it exhilarating to be seeing even that much. He was grateful to Heinz for bringing him along, but he wondered, of course, what he had in mind, what favor he would ask for that day or at some point in the future. The only thing he knew for sure was that Heinz would ask because that’s how Heinz operated, and as Cartwright was able to see, that kind of horse trading was the most efficient way to make things happen. Heinz was pleased to see Cartwright absorbing the scene with such enjoyment. He did, indeed, have plans for the old man, but for now he was keeping them secret.
Annabelle Colson was up early as well. She had slept for an hour or two, in the guest room, not in the bed she and Andre had shared for so long. As the first rays of light knifed through her plantation shutters, she heard noise in the kitchen. Her best friend, Alice Shafer, had spent the night, rushing over when Annabelle called her just before midnight, when the police had finally stopped asking questions. Alice lived alone, had never married, and was as interested in men as she was in women, which was to say not very.
Years ago, encouraged by an ample serving of Riesling, she told Annabelle about the last time she had sex – in college with her roommate’s boyfriend. The roommate never suspected and they parted as friends after graduating. “Not very exciting,” was how she described the encounter, leading Annabelle to wonder if the boyfriend knew what he was doing.
“You really should try again,” she had advised her friend. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
The smell of coffee and toast filled the lower level of the house, which included the guest room. Annabelle rolled out of bed and pulled a robe around herself. She was wearing the clothes she had come home in the night before, and she had no desire to change just yet. Wrapped in the fluffy white robe, she caught a glimpse of herself in the floor length mirror positioned in the corner so guests could thoroughly inspect themselves before emerging.
God, I look like hell. She had washed her face before going to bed, as best she could recall, but there were still remnants of mascara and tears highlighting the bags under her eyes. Her hair, colored monthly using a painting technique at her regular salon, was matted and gnarly. Ten hours earlier, she had been the center of attention at her art auction, laughing, dancing and flirting the night away. If only she had been home all night, maybe Andre… What was she thinking? If she had been home, the police would be investigating a double homicide right now. What would she have done, attacked the shooter and wrestled him to the ground? Not likely.
In her mind, the killer was a man. She knew nothing about what had happened or why someone had killed her husband, but that didn’t stop her from picturing the shooter – dressed in black, she figured, using a pistol with one of those…what were they called?...silencers screwed on the end. Did they really work? And how did he get in? She hated their security system, hated the course she had to take just to understand how to get in and out of her own goddam home, hated the lecture she got from the police the year before after their third false alarm in 17 months. When they actually needed the damn system to work, it had failed. Her grandson had a name for that. What was it? Epic fail. Ya, he said that a lot. Now she understood what he meant.
She was going to call the security company and yell at someone. It didn’t stop the shooter and it didn’t record any information about him. What the hell did it do? She resolved to have it removed that week. I’m not going to keep paying them $100/month or whatever we pay – god, Andre pays all the bills; I don’t have a clue – just so I can set the stupid thing off every two months. Prying herself away from the mirror, she considered for the first time how she would tell their kids.
In truth, they weren’t her kids; they were Andre’s. He had them in his 20s, so they were about her age. The grandkids were all in their 20s and 30s, except the epic fail kid. He was 14. Or 15. Whatever. He lived in California, and she couldn’t keep track. Am I supposed to get a goddam Facebook account just to keep track of Andre’s grandkid? Come on. He once had braces and always had some catchy phrase when they talked on the phone. That’s what she knew. Would he even care that Andre was dead?
News of Andre Colson’s death became public at 3:23 a.m. when an overnight Washington Post reporter followed up some chatter on the police scanner, called a regular contact, and then tweeted out a brief update. “Orioles owner Andre Colson dead. Shot in his home. Police investigating.”
He managed to post a brief story on the newspaper’s website within an hour, but of course most of Andre and Annabelle Colson’s friends relied on the actual newspaper to get their news. It had gone to print at 12:30 that morning, long before the news broke, so it contained not a mention of the events that night. As a result, few of the Colsons’ friends knew anything about it early that morning.
Many of them heard about it from Tony Kornheiser. The former Washington Post writer had a D.C. radio show that nominally covered sports weekdays from 10-12. What it really did was save its host from paying for therapy. For 10 hours a week, he talked about his life – the Mr. Tony Experience as he called it – with a rotating group of co-hosts to the great delight of about 60,000 local radio listeners and many more podcast fans around the world.
“That’s a wow,” he said after recounting the facts police had released to the media. “Andre Colson murdered in his own house. That gets your attention.”
It certainly got the attention of Nathaniel Oliver, who had heard about it directly from Annabelle Colson in the wee hours of the night. Tossing and turning in her guest bed, she had finally decided to wake up Nate with the news. She didn’t want to wake him, but she wanted even less for him to hear about it from someone else.
Nate had been friends with Andre Colson since college, nearly 40 years now. They had met at Penn, bonded immediately and built a friendship that bridged their racial, social and political differences. Colson was the rarest of political birds, a black Republican. He had swooned over Ronald Reagan, stomached George Bush the elder and counted the days until W. left office. But he believed in low taxes, a well-funded military and the end of affirmative action, which he believed was stigmatizing blacks, not helping them. It wasn’t like Abe Lincoln had just freed the slaves last year. Good God, stop patronizing us with affirmative action. Get the hell out of the way and let us prosper like everyone else.
He and Nate had fought about politics a lot in college, but rather than sabotaging their friendship it had cemented it. With a name like Nathaniel Oliver, he recognized he had absolutely no street cred – they didn’t call it that back then, but that’s what it was – when arguing with Colson about affirmative action and racial politics. That didn’t stop him, however, from taking the liberal position and arguing that only government could redress the ills of society. They argued about everything, usually over beers, often after playing tennis. They were a dangerous doubles team, and they had won the state championship, representing Penn, in 1966. Decades later, they both proudly displayed the trophy each of them had received. It long ago had ceased to be about the tennis itself; instead it was a tangible reminder of their friendship, even when they went months without seeing each other.
“Nate, I have some terrible news,” the voice had said when he found his iPhone on the nightstand and fumbled to answer the call. “Andre,” she stammered. “Andre is dead. Oh god. He’s dead Nate. Someone killed him.” It took several seconds for his somnolent brain to comprehend who was on the phone and what she was telling him. He was in New York, and somehow the distance made comprehension more difficult. All he managed to do was say how sorry he was and promise to be back in D.C. the next day. It all happened so quickly that he rolled over and fell back asleep when Annabelle said goodbye. That led to the inevitable moment at 6:45 when his alarm woke him, and he thought for a moment he had experienced an awful dream about his best friend being murdered.
But his phone was in bed with him, not charging on the nightstand. And it showed a call coming from the Colson house at 1:52 that night. Shit. He’s dead. What the hell happened?
Carl Crozier arrived in Baltimore early that morning, unaware one of the people he and his client were supposed to meet that evening had been murdered the night before. He had driven up from his home in Richmond, Virginia, listening to a series of podcasts he had saved that week to pass the time. No radio and no news.
Kevin and his mother were taking the train to Baltimore and meeting him for lunch so they could head to Orioles headquarters together. Excited, Carl had left very early, which meant he got to Baltimore by mid-morning. Looking to kill time, he found a diner on the outskirts of the city and went in to order a late breakfast. He knew he wouldn’t eat a lot during his lunch meeting.
Sitting at the counter, along with six others who appeared to be regulars, he ordered three eggs, over easy, wheat toast and coffee. Sipping the coffee and waiting for the eggs, he glanced at the TV that hung above the bar. It was an old-style TV, a huge box that required some serious hardware to keep it aloft. The picture was crummy and the sound wasn’t much better. But that didn’t matter this morning.
Carl nearly dropped his mug when he saw the banner running across the bottom of the screen – ‘Orioles owner found dead overnight. Foul play suspected.’
Everyone else had seen the news earlier, and since there hadn’t been anything new all morning, they had tuned it out.
“What the hell happened?” Carl asked no one in particular, pointing at the TV.
“I heard from my niece that he was shot,” said the waitress as she delivered his eggs and toast. “She does that Tweet thing or whatever. Anyways, she says he was shot. And not suicide either.”
Carl poked at his eggs with the toast, managing to do little more than paint his plate with egg yolk. The contract was signed; that wasn’t at risk. And there was no reason to believe the team wouldn’t follow through and send Kevin to Rookie ball. The general manager would still be calling the shots, right? But geez, the owner of the team was shot. Wait, there were two owners. He almost forgot. Which one were they supposed to meet today? Which one had been shot? He never really committed all that to memory. After all, agents rarely met with owners, dead or alive.
Geez. Kevin. He’s on the train. Has he heard? Will his mom freak out and call this an omen? They couldn’t get out of the contract, but she could make his life very difficult if she decided her son shouldn’t follow through with the Orioles plan. Kevin had a cell phone, but he never turned it on. He had the cheapest, bare bones cell package, and even that was considered an extravagance by his mom. So he hadn’t grown up texting, and he hardly ever made calls on it. It only cost him $12/month, but it was basically useless. Kevin and Carl had agreed they needed to seriously upgrade his cell phone situation before he left for Sarasota, but they were waiting until he left home to do it. Neither of them wanted to face Angela and explain why Kevin needed the latest Samsung Galaxy phone with an unlimited text plan.
Carl pulled out his own cell phone – definitely not the latest or greatest – and found the train schedule. He would meet the pair at the train station and break the news to them in person. In the meantime, he would try to figure out how the day’s schedule was going to change. Scrolling through his ancient flip phone, he found the Orioles PR contact who had set up the whole day. He didn’t pick up. Natch – it’s not every day the team owner is whacked, so the PR folks had a few things on their plate. Carl left a message that conveyed sympathy but also raised the issue of how the whole thing would affect Kevin Vanders and his little entourage of two. He then jumped in his car, unfolded a map and set out to find the train station.
Nate Oliver returned to D.C. later the same morning, at about 11:30. Traffic on I-95 was unusually light, and his driver made good time, once they cleared New Jersey. Everything seemed better once you cleared New Jersey, he thought, smiling to himself. Clichés were based on a kernel of truth after all.
His first stop would be to see Annabelle. She and Andre lived about 30 minutes from his house so it only made sense to drop in on the way home.
“On my way home, heading to Andre’s house first,” he texted to his wife, Corrine. She would be golfing or playing tennis that morning – like most mornings – and not be overly concerned when he was coming home. She wasn’t hostile, just disinterested. Once the kids had left home they had drifted apart. Neither wanted to end things; they were comfortable and still cared about each other to some degree. The passion had long since left, however, and Nate assumed she was filling that need elsewhere, much as he was.
Having arranged his morning, he called Art Spagopolous, his attorney for more than 30 years. One time when he was annoyed at him, Nate roughly calculated how much money he had paid Spagopolous since they met, by chance, at the firm where he started his career. When he started his own firm, Nate went with him, and – by his reckoning – had funnelled more than $2-million his way since.
“I talked to the probate lawyer yesterday,” Spagopolous began after some small talk about Andre’s death. “Considering everything, it’s actually a pretty simple process. His estate holds his 50 per cent of the team for now but you have first right to purchase it. If you pass, the estate can do pretty much anything. Safe bet Mrs. Colson won’t want to keep it. The kids could get involved, that’s for sure. Or they could put their share on the open market, which would give you a new partner you have never met.”
“Hmmm, that’s not very appealing,” Nate muttered into his phone. “What else?”
“Well, MLB has to approve any sale, but since it’s not technically a controlling interest, they would probably give the estate some leeway to choose a buyer,” Spagopolous continued. “The thing is, the probate lawyer has an obligation to make sure the asset is sold for real market value. The kids are gonna insist on that, and I’d say we’re talking $450-million or more.”
The number didn’t come as a shock to Nate, since he held the identical asset and was always interested in its value. But hearing someone say the number out loud was another matter.
“Shit Art, I don’t have that kind of cash. I extended myself to buy my half four years ago. What if Annabelle just held on to it? Is she required to sell for the kids or anything?”
“No, she doesn’t have to do anything, but you know better than anyone she doesn’t want to own a baseball team.”
“This is a mess. Don’t you dare say you told me so, OK?” Nate added, only half joking.
When Nate and Andre had started talking about buying the Orioles after Peter Angelos dropped dead in his suite during in the 11th inning of an eventual win over the Yankees, they had agreed immediately on splitting it 50-50. Best friends, coming together to buy their local team – it was the only way they ever imagined going forward. But all their advisors were against the idea. Spagopolous led the charge, insisting one of them take control with 51 per cent. Friendship didn’t have any place in the boardroom, regardless of how long or deep-rooted it was.
“Someone has to be in control ultimately,” he stated. “It doesn’t matter which one of you takes it, but you’re asking for trouble if you go 50-50.”
The trouble he envisaged had more to do with divorce or a tough decision about whether to pay some high school kid a $10-million bonus just because he could throw a ball 98 mph and hit his spots. He hadn’t spent much time considering what would happen if one of the men died, leaving his estate with a baseball team.
“I’m not gonna panic until I see Annabelle,” Nate said into his phone, as his car entered Maryland and barrelled toward D.C. “If she hangs on to Andre’s half, we don’t have to deal with this, at least not now.”
The conversation turned to other topics, one of which Spagopolous brought up reluctantly. “Hey, I wouldn’t mention this, you know, if you hadn’t asked me to keep an eye on it,” he began with all the confidence of a geeky, 15-year-old boy asking a beautiful girl to the junior prom. “Um, she’s spending more every month, and it’s well beyond the figure we talked about last year. Sorry, but ah…”
The figure they had discussed last year was $25,000 per month, an amount most people would consider a generous stipend, but which Corrine Oliver viewed as an insulting allowance designed to humiliate her by highlighting who controlled the money in their marriage.
She never let on how difficult it was to burn through more than $25,000 every month, but she was determined to do it, simply to show Nate and his Buttinsky lawyer – what was his ridiculous name? Spaghetti? – that they couldn’t control her by setting financial boundaries. Or guidelines as that asshole Spaghetti called them.
“Last month was $41,000 and the month before was $38,000,” Spagopolous said gingerly, grateful he was breaking the news by phone and not in person. “It’s your call, of course, but she hasn’t been under 25 recently, and I thought you should know.”
"Yes,” Nate said, wearily. “I want to know, I guess. I’ll talk to her. Fuck.”
Maybe she could sell a few jewels and other baubles and buy Andre’s half of the team herself.
He had the driver stop at a flower shop near the Colson home. While the driver picked out a suitable arrangement, he called Annabelle.
“I’m 20 minutes away. Is this a good time to stop by?”
“Oh Nate,” she replied. “It’s such a relief to hear your voice. I’m sorry I woke you up last night, but you know, I just figured you’d want to know. Yes, come right over. Alice is here; you know her. And Penny just arrived. Yes, please come over.”
Penny had worked late the night before attending to the final details of the auction. She went to bed excited by the prospect of reporting in the morning the event had raised $1.15-million. When she heard the news, she didn’t know what to do. She and Annabelle were very much employee-employer, not friends in any real way, so she hesitated to rush right over, although that was her first instinct. She waited a while, combed the Internet for more details of what had happened and then showed up as she normally would have, around mid-morning. The auction news appeared to buoy Annabelle a little bit, or so it seemed to Penny, and after the requisite hugs and condolences, she settled in to a more-or-less normal day of attending to her boss’s busy social schedule. There would be the matter of a funeral to plan in the coming days, but she didn’t dare ask about that.
When I get a new car, I’m getting a fucking nav system. Carl Crozier had been driving around downtown Baltimore for 40 minutes, trying to find Penn Station. If looking at a cell phone for directions while driving was dangerous, trying to read a giant map, crumpled and folded in the passenger seat, wasn’t much better. Add to that roads closed for construction and the occasional one-way street, and Carl was swearing up a storm as he desperately tried to locate the station in time to meet his new client and – more importantly – his new client’s mother.
He caught a glimpse of the station with 15 minutes to spare, parked semi-legally nearby and hustled to the proper platform. That he could just walk up to the train platform surprised him, given the country’s paranoia about terrorism and Baltimore’s proximity to Washington. Whatever, not my problem. With the four minutes he had to spare, he practised what he was going to say. Whatever happened, he wanted to make sure Angela Vanders didn’t have a conniption or turn around and get on the train back to Charlotte. Carl was not a picture of calm, however. He had sweated through his shirt on his journey to the platform, and still hadn’t caught his breath when he saw the pair step off car three, bags in hand.
“Afternoon, how was the trip?” he asked a little too jovially, walking up to meet them.
“Mr. Crozier, I thought we were meeting for lunch,” Kevin said. “You didn’t have to come here.”
“Just as well he did,” Angela said. “But my goodness, Crozier, what did you do, jog here from Virginia? Here, help us with our bags.”
Recognizing a cue when he heard one, Carl grabbed her suitcase with his left hand and extended his right hand to shake Kevin’s. He offered Angela a stiff, if somewhat moist, hug and got them walking toward a bench he had picked out moments earlier. He wanted them to be sitting when he broke the news.
“Look, this is a great day for you Kevin. It’s a day you’ll always remember. It’s just that something happened this morning that is going to take a lot of attention away from what we’re doing today. It might even delay things a little bit.”
Halfway through his preamble, he saw Angela’s spine stiffen. If she had been a dog, her tail would have gone from wagging to pointing straight out. She had heard plenty of bad news in her life, and she knew when it was coming.
“What is it?” she asked in what Carl thought was a rather accusatory tone.
“Well, I’m sorry to say, Andre Colson has been shot. He’s dead.”
His client and his client’s mother might well have been dogs just then because they seemed to understand nothing he was saying. They turned their heads slightly and looked bewildered.
“Sorry, he’s, ah, the owner, well one of the owners, a half owner actually, of the Orioles. And he’s dead. Umm, that’s why I met you, to tell you. He’s dead. Shot. Dead.”
He might have continued mumbling and repeating himself if Kevin hadn’t stood up and put his arm around Carl’s somewhat slumped shoulders, a move that surprised both adults in the group.
“Mr. Crozier, it was really good of you to come and tell us that in person. Whoa, how awful. What should we do?”
“I think we should pray,” Angela said, standing up and positioning all three of them into a small circle. They stood there for more than a minute, heads bowed, attracting virtually no attention, offering impromptu prayers for a family they didn’t know and for a man they would never meet.
The reaction was so different than anything Carl had feared, that he had to catch himself from appearing too happy. He wasn’t happy at all, just relieved. They weren’t going to bolt, and Angela hadn’t uttered the word omen. Amen to that.
Nate Oliver had known Annabelle Colson for almost as many years as his best friend Andre had known her. Early on, Andre had introduced her to Nate, later telling Nate she was the one. He didn’t see her again until their wedding, where he was the best man, a function the two men performed for each other, two years apart. After Penn, Nate and Andre had gone separate ways, to build the fortunes they later would combine to buy the Orioles. They kept in touch but rarely saw each other early in their careers, save for weddings and funerals, the former outnumbering the latter by a factor of 10 so early in their lives.
Nate always admired the way Andre had exceeded expectations, battled invisible but very real racism and created a communications empire that encompassed 11 southern states. In his 40s, he sold his interest to CNN, which later was sold to Time Warner, which then merged with AOL in 2000. Within a year it was considered one of the least successful mergers in corporate history, a colossal $164-billion misstep that demonstrated how easily a bunch of very smart people could make a very bad decision if they started to believe they could predict – and control – the future. Nine years later, the experiment died when Time Warner dumped AOL.
By that time, Andre had bought and sold half a dozen companies, provided start-up investments for several others and started talking to his friend Nate about buying a major league baseball team.
He had moved to Baltimore after selling his company and had loved living there for nearly two decades.
While in Atlanta, he had met and fallen hard for Annabelle Tremblay, a southern belle who sold advertising at WSB-TV, one of the higher profile stations in his collection of broadcasters, most of which were affiliated with ABC. She had no problem dating a black man; she did have some serious reservations about dating her boss – or more accurately her boss’s boss’s boss.
Andre always maintained it was merely a coincidence that he chose to sell WSB right around the time he was trying to convince Annabelle to date him. She was horrified to think he would sell the station to remove her primary reason for turning him down. Mostly horrified, but flattered too – if it were true, which, of course, it wasn’t. He said so repeatedly during their first dinner. He had numbers and graphs that purported to show why it was the ideal time to sell the station for the greatest return on his seven-year investment. As he went on about it, she thought of Shakespeare. At least, she thought it was Shakespeare – the man doth protest too much. Which was fine with her, and on their second date, they didn’t discuss the TV station at all, except when she talked about her successes signing up advertisers for the station he no longer owned.
If Andre was a hare in business, Nate was more of a tortoise, building his wealth slowly by investing in companies few people had heard about or dealt with. You didn’t see TV ads for any of the businesses he financed and managed. But they provided the support systems for flashier, more public businesses in technology, retail and fast food.
His greatest success was mostly a stroke of luck, he often admitted to his closest friends. At 43, he was working for a company called Automated Machine Systems. Based in Miami, it had created some of the first workable ATMs for the U.S. market. The idea had been around since 1939, but the machines had never caught on. For several years before Nate arrived, the best thing one could say about the company was that it was fledgling.
When he joined the company, it had perfected the second incarnation of the ATM and was starting to sell them to banks across the U.S. and Canada. For whatever reason, the founder of the company, Harvey Anderson, took a liking to Nate and moved him up through the organization with alacrity. Within three years, he was the boyish COO of the company, appearing – at least publicly – to be largely responsible for the meteoric growth in sales that was delivering huge profits to the private investors in the company scattered all over the world. “You’re doing great work,” Anderson said one day during a working lunch, as they nominally sketched out the next two years. When dessert arrived, Anderson got to the real point of the meeting.
“Listen, Nate, I’m going to retire next year,” he said, turning his fork on its side to slice through the tip of a cheesecake triangle sitting in front of him. “Lois and I have a bunch of things we want to do while we still can, so I’m going to walk away. And I want you to take the reins. It has to stay quiet for a few months, but I wanted to let you know.”
“Shit Harv, this is kind of sudden isn’t it? I mean, we’re just hitting our stride here and you worked so hard to get to this point. Why not hang in for a few more years? You’re only, what, 62?” He had no earthly idea how old the man was. Hadn’t cared until this very moment.
“I thought you were smarter than that,” he replied. “I’m 66 and I’ll be 67 when I actually leave next year. My father dropped dead at 64; his father made it to 57. It’s time, believe me.”
“OK, wow, well I’m honored you want me to succeed you. How’s that going to work? You know there are some guys here who think they are next in line. They’re gonna be pissed.”
“Screw them,” Anderson said, chuckling. “They’ve made millions from their initial investments, when we were just getting started. You’re the one who knows how to manage this thing so we don’t get too fucking big and just collapse on ourselves.”
“Look, Harv, I wasn’t here at the beginning. I didn’t invest. I don’t have the cash to buy you out.”
“You don’t need to. I’m gonna sell some of my shares, say 20 per cent or so. But I’ll keep enough to retain control. You can buy as many of those 20 per cent as you can afford, and the rest I’ll put on the market. You take what you can, but even if you don’t buy any, I will still be in control. And I intend to appoint you the new goddam president and CEO. Got it?”
Nate left early that day, unable to wipe the smile from his face and not yet allowed to tell people why he appeared so happy that afternoon. He knew he had worked hard, but there was no denying he happened to be in the right place at the right time. If the situation seemed too good to be true, it didn’t occur to him until decades later that it most certainly was. It simply wasn’t possible to know everything about the history of the company – the nitty gritty about how Harvey Anderson had kept the company going in the early days – after only three years working there. Of course it would be better to know everything, but on the afternoon his mentor promised to hand him the keys to the building it was the farthest thing from his mind. Instead, he was thinking of how he and Corrine would celebrate that night. Those were the days when they still celebrated his achievements – the dinner locations varied widely but the evenings always ended up the same way, with Corrine wearing a maid’s costume and Nate losing himself in her intoxicating performance. Married only five years, they were still very much in love, and they revelled in the good news well into the morning.
“Two Coors Light, ah, and a couple of sausages, lots of onions.”
Larry Heinz carried the food in the flimsiest of cardboard trays down to the club level seats at Nationals Park. Along the way, he glanced up at the corporate suite he paid $80,000 a year to rent. It was empty this afternoon, a rare Wednesday day game. Ridiculous, he thought, stepping over people, spilling beer and clutching the brauts. For $80,000, his suite came with attractive young women who appeared regularly to take food and drink orders.
“Hey, thanks a lot,” said Thomas Cartwright, removing a beer from the tray and making the whole thing that much more unstable. “I know you’d rather be up in your box, but that’s no way to watch a ball game. This is where you wanna be. I can smell the grass from here.”
Great, Heinz thought, as he smiled and waved his hand in a feigned gesture of indifference. If I want to smell the fucking grass, I’ll take the dog for a walk in the park.
“No problem. You’re right, these are great seats.”
Bloody narrow, he thought, wedging himself into seat D10, but great if you want to duck line drive foul balls all game. He took a big gulp of his beer and felt a little better. There were worse ways to spend an afternoon, and he was getting paid to be there after all.
Following the national anthem, there had been a moment of silence for Andre Colson. D.C. fans followed the nearby Orioles closely, and most knew – or felt they knew – Colson well. His murder had been the talk of the capital all morning, not just for the shock value but because it was such an opportunity for gossip and speculation, two pastimes that rivalled baseball and even football in the nation’s capital.
“Awful thing,” Heinz said when the moment passed and he put his Nationals cap back on his balding head. “You must have known Colson.”
“He and his partner bought the team when I was in my last year as commissioner,” Cartwright said, almost wistfully. “I spent a fair amount of time with them, in meetings and at dinners. Both of them were very impressive. Colson talked a lot about his wife, clearly was still infatuated. Talked about her all the time. Hard to imagine what she’s going through.”
Of course, he knew a little of what she was going through. His Betsy hadn’t been murdered, but she was taken from him suddenly, long before he had even considered the possibility.
“So ya, it’s a tragedy. You’re connected Larry. Whadya hear about it?”
“I haven’t heard a thing,” Heinz said. “Just a lot of speculation that, honestly, is kind of offensive. People assuming he was into something sketchy. You know people always want a reason for a murder or attack. If there’s a reason, makes ‘em feel better about the world. If it’s just a completely random thing, they don’t feel safe. That’s just the way people think, so they wanna know if Colson was into drugs or something like that.”
They sat in silence for a couple of innings. The crowd was sombre after the Colson moment, and there wasn’t much going on in the game. In the third inning, the Nationals scored a run on a double and two ground outs, and the atmosphere started to pick up.
“What did ya think the other night?” Heinz asked, just as Cartwright bit off about 1/3 of his second braut, which was oozing with mustard and onions, chewing vigorously and chasing the whole thing down with a swig of beer.
“Well, it was interesting,” he said, wiping condiments from his moustache. “I’m not really sure why I was there, but it sure was interesting.”
Heinz knew Cartwright was smarter than he let on. Or so he hoped. Of course, the old man didn’t know exactly why he was there, but surely he understood Heinz was buttering him up for a favor. It wasn’t a conversation to have in public, amongst dozens of people he didn’t know, most armed with cell phone cameras and the requisite Twitter account. Of course, in a suite, above the din and out of earshot, well, that would be ideal. He sighed inaudibly.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Cartwright continued, his mouth now empty. “Senator Clancy is one impressive woman, wouldn’t you say?”
“Ya, she’s impressive, no doubt. I guess you miss your Betsy an awful lot, huh?”
“Ah, yes, yes. I do miss her, of course. It’s just that, well, I hate being alone, you know? You live alone don’t you? How long have you lived like that?”
Cartwright made living alone sound like a prison sentence, and Heinz had spent the last 10 years convincing himself it wasn’t like that at all.
“When Betsy and I were together, well, I can’t say my eye never wandered, you know, but we were faithful to each other. Now that she’s gone, I...just, well, it’s difficult. She made me very happy, and I would like to get that back somehow, if it’s even possible.”
The moment lingered as both men considered what more, if anything, to reveal to each other. Any awkwardness evaporated when a fortysomething Latino approached Cartwright and reached out to shake his hand.
“Mr. Cartwright? Manny Alvares. Great to see you again sir.”
The sudden greeting startled Cartwright, causing him to juggle the remaining 1/3 of his braut. He tried to corral it, but succeeded only in spiking directly into Heinz’s lap. Heinz jumped up instinctively, dumping his beer on the ground in the process.
“Whoops, sorry Larry,” Cartwright said, embarrassed.
When he finally got around to addressing the man standing before him, he realized he had no idea who he was.
“Ah, I’m afraid I don’t recall our ever meeting,” he said with as warm a smile as he could produce. He wasn’t old enough for his memory to be failing, but he had trouble placing people out of context, always had. Was this someone from the university, a former student maybe? He hadn’t called him ‘professor’ so that wasn’t it. He had met a lot of Latinos when he was commissioner. Maybe that was it. He could never remember their names though – everyone was a Martinez or some other name ending in z.
If Cartwright and Heinz were chagrined by events of the last minute or so, the man who had kicked off their little Three Stooges routine was mortified. Manny Alvares adored Cartwright. He felt terrible for startling him, and he felt worse that the man seemed not to remember him.
“Manny Alvares,” he said again, more slowly this time. “I was in the New York office when you were commissioner, sir.”
That was all it took for Cartwright to place him, and for a series of images to tumble through his mind. Of course he remembered the man; he had hired him for a specific purpose. It was one of his finer moments in the job. How the hell could I have forgotten? Damn it.
“Manny, of course, I’m sorry. My mind was on the game. Oh, ah, say, do you know Larry Heinz?” With that, he turned to his right, only to find Heinz bent over with a stack of napkins, consumed with the task of blotting up as much of the beer and mustard from his khakis as he could.
He stopped long enough to extend his hand and shake Manny’s; then he reverted to cleaning mode and began mopping up the beer on his seat and armrest.
“What brings you to Washington Manny?” Cartwright asked, trying his best to make amends for not recognizing him.
“Vacation, sir. I’m here with my family for the week. I had to bring them to a Nationals game, and then I thought I saw you sitting over here. Are you still living in Charleston?”
“Yes, good memory. Better than mine,” he replied ruefully. “I’m really so sorry for not recognizing you at first. I’m glad you came over to say hello.”
After another minute of small talk, they shook hands and Manny departed.
“Who was that?” Heinz asked, his seat finally dry.
“He’s one of the good guys,” Cartwright said. “I hired him for a special project when I was commissioner. We had all these awful people preying on young ball players in the Dominican and throughout Latin America, posing as agents, taking a huge percentage of their signing bonuses and then more or less disappearing. Manny helped us get a handle on all that. We did it quietly, so he never really got the credit he deserved, and then after I left, they ended the program. They offered him a token job, something like Spanish liaison, whatever the hell that is. He turned them down and left. I should have asked what he’s doing now. Damn, I was just so startled.”
“Ya, I noticed,” Heinz said, grinning and fanning his wet khakis with a handful of napkins.
Most of the time, when he took in the game from his suite, Heinz left early. He let his guests take the lead, but most were happy to depart in the 7th or 8th, assuming the game wasn’t tied or particularly important. Heinz used a car service and paid an exorbitant amount for a reserved parking space that he could reach in less than five minutes, walking at a brisk pace. His driver usually stayed in the car, listening to the game on the radio. Around the 7th inning stretch, when the presidential mascots raced around the warning track, he sat up, cinched his tie tight and waited for Heinz and his guests to climb into the back seat.
Today would be different. Although the Nats were up five going into the ninth, Cartwright made no motion to leave early. Instead, he scoffed at those all around them who were packing up their souvenir 32 oz. plastic soda cups and heading to the exits.
“You’re not a real fan if you leave early,” he said to Heinz, in a tone – Heinz felt – he likely used when explaining something to his grandkids. “You’re OK if we stay ‘til the last out aren’t you?”
It could have been worse. The former commissioner certainly could have gained access to either clubhouse after the game and chatted up the manager and coaches. Instead, Cartwright seemed happy to file out of the stadium with the rest of the fans, revelling in the experience it had to be said, and following Heinz to the car.
Seated in the back, Cartwright perused the mustard-stained scorecard he had filled out during the game. That was another reason he never left early: You have to be there to fill in every play. Heinz had never filled out a scorecard in his life and he didn’t understand the romance associated with doing so. You didn’t see football fans up in the stands, pencils in hand, recording passing stats and field goal percentages. He’d never seen a basketball fan taking notes about a player’s triple double. So what was with baseball fans and their scorecards? Seemed to Heinz it was just a way to plant a flag in the ground – a flag that identified you as a serious baseball fan and pundit. Add to the scorecard a set of headphones with which to listen to the radio play-by-play of the game, and there was no mistaking the individual as anything other than a superior life form – the true baseball fan. George Will without the bowtie. That was the one concession Cartwright had made this day. He had ditched the bow tie for an open collar.
Once the car cleared some of the parking lot traffic and got up to speed, Heinz turned to Cartwright and delivered a speech he had been rehearsing for weeks. The last thing he wanted to do was make it sound like a speech, and he was pretty sure the old man would jump at his suggestion. Even so, he was genuinely nervous as he began to speak. For a moment, he considered all the actions he’d taken in the last six months, many of them illegal. Part of his brain was amazed this was the moment when he suddenly felt nervous. Ignoring the aberrant thought, he pushed ahead.
“Thomas, you really love this game don’t you?”
“Well, ya, you know that Larry. I tried to make that clear when I was commissioner, that I think baseball is part of what makes the country unique, I mean, you know, part of the fabric and all that. Sounds corny sitting here saying it, but ya, I really believe that.”
“I know you do. I respect that. I don’t get it sometimes, I mean with the scorecard and staying ‘til the very end,” he teased. “But I see what it means to you.”
“And I can see you have been slobbering all over me this week for a reason,” Cartwright said, peering over his glasses and suddenly looking very serious. “What’s up Larry?”
“OK, OK. You’re right. Look, I have this client – can’t say who it is but he’s a good guy, nothing fishy or anything – and he desperately wants to buy a major league team. Has dreamed of it for a decade or more. Well, you know how tough that is. They don’t go on the market every day, and even when they do, the owners have got to approve the sale, welcome you into the club.”
“Ya, it’s a private club, 30 members and they don’t open the doors for very many people,” Cartwright agreed. “So where do I fit in?”
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Heinz said, letting Cartwright find his way to the water and take a sip. “I guess I thought when an opportunity comes up, when a team is out there and maybe for sale, it would be nice if the respected former commissioner had a few kind words to say about a prospective owner rumored to be interested in buying the team.”
“You want to buy my influence,” Cartwright said flat out.
“Well, I’m not buying anything actually,” Heinz said with a forced smile. “There’s no money involved. I’m certainly not asking you to break any laws. I don’t go around doing that either you know. I just thought if you met my client at the right time, and if you like him, well…”
His voice trailed off, and he turned away to look out the window. The car was zipping along at 70 mph now, and the scenery was flying by. For several minutes, the only sound was the car’s suspension absorbing the ruts and cracks in the pavement.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to offend you,” Heinz finally offered. “If you’re not comfortable with the idea, let’s forget all about it.”
“You didn’t offend me,” Cartwright said. “Honestly, I’m glad to finally hear what you had in mind. The suspense all week was killing me. You must realize I get asked to lend my name to all sorts of things all the time, lots related to baseball not exclusively. So I’ve made a policy not to do it for anyone or anything, you know, to keep it simple.”
“Sure, I get that,” Heinz said, sensing Cartwright was about to start his next sentence with the word ‘but.’
“However,” Cartwright continued, lifting Heinz’s spirits as he talked, “in this case, I’m not really lending my name to anything. I take it from the way you’ve sketched it out, you’re not looking for me to play a public role, make a statement or anything like that.”
“No way,” Heinz said, consciously trying not to grin. “The last thing we want is to apply public pressure to anyone. That will backfire, almost certainly. Everything we would do here would be behind closed doors, on private phone calls, things like that. And I don’t expect you to close the deal. I just want your voice at the right moment, to nudge people in a certain direction, that’s all, I swear.”
Cartwright let him stew for the rest of the ride back to his hotel, 10 minutes that felt like twice that.
“Thanks for a great day,” the old man said as the car turned into the circular hotel drive and the doorman – dressed like a 17th Century court jester – approached to open the door. “Let’s talk next week,” he said, reaching out to shake Heinz’s hand. “I think we can probably work something out.”