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Authors: Gillian Roberts

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BOOK: The Bluest Blood
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I didn’t remember giving the go-ahead, but why not? This was the happiest, most energized Jake I’d seen in months of taking his emotional temperature and worrying over the results.

“I want to trace everything that happened, back to the time the grant was announced, then the ceremony, and what all happened. Get quotes, opinions and all, real investigative journalism. What do you think? Griffin’s been taking photos, too.”

Again, Griffin did his head-duck, indicating agreement. “A lot,” he said.

“Plus we could get some of the news footage, do you think?”

I hadn’t needed to stop my car or to worry. Jake was fine.

“Nothing like this ever happened at Philly Prep, I’ll bet,” Jake said. “It’s like the Sixties. Maybe we could have a sit-in tomorrow.”

“Better still,” I said, “time it for Open House. That’d be terrific. A great first impression.”

Griffin’s eyes gleamed even more.

“I was being facetious,” I said. “Don’t you dare!”

He grinned. I was sure there was an interesting person in there and I wondered why he kept him hidden, even now, when he lived in comfort and safety.

“There’ll be picketing,” Jake said. “Prospective students deserve to know what the place is really like.”

“Sounds great.”

They gave each other high fives. “I told that TV lady I was writing it,” Jake said. “She invited me to be on this show they’re taping. She said I’ll be the voice of the student body. Cool, huh?”

“You have a great future as a reporter,” I said. “But is going public this way—your stepfather’s on the panel. Is that going to create—”

“You think I care?” His features turned stony. He cared too much. It must be so hard being Jake, containing those cataclysmic emotions.

“Sorry.” That was his family and his decision. “Could it be that before fame hits, you could use a ride to the TV station?”

Jake’s lack of wheels was a topic he lamented, over and over. It was also another bond with Griffin Roederer who, of course, had his wreck of auto mobility parked across the street.

“Well,” Jake said. “I guess I...”

Griffin said, “See you there, man. Give you moral support. I have things to do first.” Sometimes his voice sounded as rusty as his car, as if he needed to oil it between sentences.

But the obvious thing was that he’d been expecting to drive Jake.

“I’d appreciate a lift,” Jake said to me.

There was, then, still an untouched agenda. Something he needed to talk about en route.

As soon as we were on our way, Jake opened and shut his mouth, but said only, “So.”

“Something up?”

“I’m, ah…I’m glad you gave me a ride. Because…see, I feel bad about stuff I said. Yesterday. At the meeting. Miss Leary, you, and my mom?”

“I remember,” I murmured, intrigued by how emotion segmented his sentences. “Showing your honest feelings isn’t a reason to feel bad.”

He shrugged. “She—my mom—said I didn’t love her and that’s why I want to leave. And he—Harvey—he’s berserk. Worse than ever. Bragging how he made Havermeyer ‘bow down’—I swear, that’s what he said. And then, talking about…more, about...”

I waited. The sentences were lengthening, growing more complex. He was gaining control of whatever it was.

“He hit her. I wasn’t there, but there were red marks on her face when I came into the kitchen.”

“That’s a real problem. Does your mother talk about it? Has she done anything to protect herself?” Dear God. Yet another pathological stone added to what the kid already carried. “This can’t all be on your shoulders.”

His eyebrows converged as he wrinkled his brow in obvious confusion.

“The abuse,” I said. “Isn’t that what you’re getting at?”

He shook his head. “I mean, sure, I try to stop him, but I can’t make her leave or do anything. It wasn’t only that, though. There was the thing he said. Remember?”

“Remind me.”

I heard him swallow. “Harvey had this guy he was going to blackmail. The one who was secretly gay?”

Ah, yes. Harvey, the amoral moral enforcer, although I hadn’t known his victim’s so-called crime. But why was this relevant?

“The thing is—I know who he was talking about. I knew yesterday, too.” He darted a glance at me, then looked away again. “I didn’t say anything, and I feel bad about it.”

I kept quiet. Sometimes a speaker needs a soliloquy. My role seemed to be the skull that Hamlet held, a symbol toward which Jake could direct his to-be-or-not-to-be.

“He’s always been nice to me, and now, nice to the school.”

He. A nice-to-Jake he. That narrowed the field. Combined with nice-to-the-school, it could mean only Neddy Roederer.

“So to know Harvey wants to blackmail him, or thinks he can, or whatever—I don’t know what to do.” I felt his gaze like a tug on the sleeve, asking for a response this time. I kept my eyes on the road ahead as long as I could, glad of the need to drive safely.

“Help me out on this,” I said, when my comprehension refused to untangle. “How do you know your stepfather was talking about Mr. Roederer—if I’ve followed you correctly.”

“He called him the Trashman. He said he finally knew why he’d recognized the Trashman at the party. Placed him. Remembered him from Canada. He said he met him at a New Year’s party and that he—Neddy—lived with another man back then. Harvey knew the other man, too. And he saw them hug and kiss at midnight. He said Mr. Roederer wasn’t any big social deal then, either. He was a nobody, Harvey said. No talk about Benjamin Franklin, no mansion. A nobody. Who had a ‘no-good man’ on the side. And then Harvey got really angry and said that now the Trashman was everybody’s darling. A leader of society, up for a political commission, some appointment. He wanted to know what people would say when they knew the truth about him. What his
wife
would say.”

Jake sounded as if he could have cried out of frustration. “I don’t know what to do, who to tell. For sure, I couldn’t tell Griffin.”

I felt pressure in my chest and realized I’d been holding my breath. “I don’t get it,” I said softly. “Who cares about Neddy Roederer’s private life? Suppose it’s true, suppose he’s bisexual, or homosexual. So what? Mr. Roederer’s life or history shouldn’t matter to anyone else. And I doubt that a single part of it is true, anyway. Mr. Roederer said he and his wife were in Canada only briefly. He and his wife. Where was she if he was out on New Year’s with a man? Your—Harvey met somebody else.”

“Harvey wants to stop him from using his money to pollute minds. Like with the books he gave our school. Those pictures of naked men. He says Mr. Roederer’s a pervert.”

Now I saw the warped logic, and it exhausted me. I was too weak to battle the manic, unceasing energy of a fanatic. It was too difficult ducking, let alone deflecting, Harvey Spiers’ fury.

“He said what he knows would land Mr. Roederer in jail.”

“Well, that much is ridiculous. Even if he had the right man, even if it were true, people do
not
go to jail for their sexual preferences these days. This is Philadelphia. This is the Nineties.”

No jail, but an accusation, a flutter of prurient public interest, embarrassment to Neddy and Tea Roederer. And then, when he’d done as much damage as he could, Spiers would turn his attention and wrath elsewhere. And the Roederers, if they were nearly as wise as they seemed, would relocate as far away as possible and start over. Speaking selfishly, the bottom line would be that our schools would no longer receive the gifts we desperately needed. And Griffin and Jake would each lose his best and possibly only good friend. What an equitable service the Moral Ecologists provided. Everybody lost.

“Should I do something? What? I don’t know what to do.”

And neither did I. I know I’m supposed to have answers to issues beyond whether a semicolon is required in a given sentence. But I was flat out of solutions, even, perhaps, about semicolons. “Can I think about this overnight?”

He shrugged. He didn’t look happy about leaving the issue in limbo, but he didn’t have any other options, and neither did I.

“Let’s talk about your article, instead,” I said. “And what points you plan to make during the roundtable.”

For the rest of the ride, I listened. And prayed, silently, for a visit from the goddess of inspired responses to impossible situations. There just had to be one in the pantheon. Or at least on the Internet. Maybe it was that Dot Com who was evoked in every online address. So I prayed to her.

Six

The greenroom wasn’t. It was cream-colored and minimal, and there were too many of us crammed into it, perched uncomfortably on furniture that looked like a dental office’s rejects, or hovering around a small table holding a half-filled coffeepot, Styrofoam cups, and a plate of doughnuts. Oh, the unbearable glamour of it all. When was reality going to edge even close to my fantasies?

I was nervous about being in front of a TV camera as a spokesperson for “educators.” Was I speaking for teachers everywhere? The idea gave me palpitations.

I wished I could think of a way to pass the time. I didn’t want to drink coffee, for fear of having to be excused while on the air. I didn’t want the doughnuts, which looked stale. I tried to concentrate on the TV that quietly played the station’s current broadcast, but it happened to be a discussion of whether the gross national product was up or down, or subject to interpretation, and I couldn’t concentrate enough to comprehend its significance. Didn’t care, either.

Bored and agitated. A bad combo. How to fill the waiting time?

A squabble was not what I’d had in mind. “You might as well know now,” Neddy Roederer said to my headmaster. “We’re withdrawing Griffin from Philly Prep. Immediately. I intend to discuss our reasons on the air.”

“Oh, no!” Havermeyer looked shocked, as if biting the hand that fed him—and his library—wasn’t supposed to matter. I glanced at Jake, who was standing next to Griffin. This was old news to both of them, it appeared, but Jake looked devastated and Griffin smoldered with rage.

“We need,” Havermeyer said, “to talk about—”

“There’s nothing to discuss. Griffin needs a coherent moral structure, not a demonstration of spinelessness. We’ve already contacted several boarding schools.” Next to him, his wife looked subdued in a severe suit as dark as her hair. Today’s costume was meant to signify grimness and determination. It succeeded. She nodded agreement with each point her husband made.

“But Griffin has done so well at Philly Prep.”

If Havermeyer had any sensitivity, he would have realized the futility of arguing. The fact that oh-so-private Neddy Roederer was willing to talk on TV about this issue meant he was passionately concerned. The wrongheaded administrator who had driven him and his wife to this point wasn’t about to change their minds.

“Griffin will do as well elsewhere,” Neddy said. “Our decision was made the instant you made yours about removing books. You allowed us no other choice.”

Tea nodded again. Her hair, long today, shifted and resettled like a shaken bolt of silk.

Nobody asked Griffin’s opinion. I hoped it had been asked earlier. He leaned against the wall as if it were holding him up.

“The grant, of course, is hereby rescinded.”

Tea nodded twice.

Havermeyer looked apoplectic, visions of bankrolls flying out of his hands. He was going to need makeup or cosmetic surgery before he’d be presentable on camera.

“Pretty high and mighty, aren’t you?”

Jake winced at the gravelly voice. I checked the wall clock, wishing they’d start our taping immediately. People were reasonably polite to one another on-air.

Harvey Spiers stood near the coffee table, arms folded, thick features squeezed into a sneer. “You’re a fine one to squawk about
coherent morals.
From what perverted perspective do you get outraged when somebody does the right thing and protects the nation’s young?”

“Please.” Jake put up a hand like a traffic cop. “We’re supposed to have the discussion inside, when they tell us to.”

“This isn’t for the TV public, is it, Reverend Spiers?” Roederer asked. “This is a private vendetta you have with me, although I have no idea why.”

“Don’t be silly,” Betsy Spiers said softly. “There’s nothing personal about whatever Harvey has to say. He has principles, that’s all.” She was again in vague colors tending toward mud, and she sat in a corner, clutching a coffee cup. She wasn’t a panelist, she had explained to everyone who entered. Only “here for Harvey.” And, I suspected, to monitor her husband’s brassy partner/lover/competitor, Mother Vivien.

“You’re a corrupt presence, Mr. Roederer,” Mother Vivien said. “Your money’s empowered you to spread filth.” She wore a flowing dress of emerald green, and her little-girl curls cascaded over her shoulders and down her back. I could not believe she honestly thought the combination of a mask of makeup and those incongruous baby curls was attractive. I could, however, imagine her opting, for better or for worse, to regain the ground she’d lost to Harvey by sheer attention-getting, and for starters, she’d look like nobody else. She’d succeeded with at least part of that.

“I can speak for myself,” Harvey said.

Mother Vivien pursed her lips. Betsy Spiers allowed herself a small smile.

“You know perfectly well why I don’t like you,” Spiers told Roederer. “I knew you when you were slumming.”

BOOK: The Bluest Blood
2.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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