Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

Tags: #mystery, #fiction, #kit, #frazier, #midnight, #ink, #locator, #bones, #spinoff

The Knowland Retribution (24 page)

Isobel finally agreed to appear somewhere. She decided on
60 Minutes
. She chose it because CBS never offered her a penny, not even a job. In a world gone crazy, she judged CBS to be the last refuge of sanity. They told her Ed Bradley would tape the conversation at Isobel's apartment three days before the broadcast. She looked forward to the experience. The network promoted her all week. It seemed that every break had a promo promising

Isobel Gitlin, only on
60 Minutes,
this Sunday, after football.” These messages promised the “whole story” plus “exclusive revelations.”

“My God,” she told Mel Gold, “is this my fifteen minutes? When will it end?” He only smiled. He'd already told her it was too late.

“You never know,” he said. “Woodward and Bernstein got thirty years out of theirs.”

By Thursday, she'd just about mastered the stutter, partly by learning to make the camera an ally. The awareness of its harmlessness to her worked like an umbrella in hand on a threatening day; more often than not it kept the clouds away. In her mind the camera became a machine intended to help her focus. She also had come to understand that the defect itself, the stutter, loomed large in her legend. “Oh my,” she thought, “do I really have a
legend
?” Before the cameras rolled she asked Mr. Bradley if it was true that, as she'd heard, some producers at CNN, FOX, and MSNBC had lost their jobs for failing to book her.
He told her it was possible. “This business eats people for lunch,” he added.

That Sunday's
60 Minutes
show got its best ratings of the season. For CBS, it was one of the few times they didn't lose audience after football. Nonetheless, Ed Bradley's interview was not what he expected. At first, Isobel gave him no new information. She talked at length about things she'd already written about. Bradley's frustration surfaced when he came to understand that Isobel was skillfully holding back anything not already public knowledge. The blockbuster news he hoped for, expected, been told he was going to get, was nowhere on the horizon. What's more, she demonstrated devilish mastery of the process, especially in view of her reputed inexperience. Isobel had the infuriating knack of sounding as though she was offering new, exciting facts while revealing nothing. Eventually, her inquisitor threw up both hands and said, “Stop the tape.” He glared with undisguised anger at Isobel.

“Something wrong?” she asked. A production assistant brought her bottled water. A makeup man worked on her forehead.

“Yes.” He was trying, gentlemanlike, to take the edge off his voice. “I'm not getting anything here.”

“What is it you want?” Isobel asked.

“A b-blockbuster's what we expected. Something new and exciting.” She thought that it was absolutely odd that her own voice was strong as steel while he tripped on the always dangerous
b.
“Something we don't already know. I thought we were going to get into this. In all fairness, that's what we were led to expect.”

“I see,” she said, returning the water. “Something . . . b-big. I think I have it now. Get the tape ready and ask me how I feel about Leonard Martin and then about my future.”

“Okay!” He yelled at the crew, and they bustled.

Bradley was all ease and purpose again, speckled beard glowing in the meticulous lighting. “Tell me, if you can, what do you think of this guy? How do you feel about Leonard Martin?”

Isobel said, “When I was a child, in France, my grandmother told me about a neighbor. During the war the Germans occupied the neighbor's house. They threw him out—him and his wife and his children—into the barn. They made them servants of the Nazis. The man's wife and both small children died that winter from disease and hunger and despair. When the war ended, my grandmother's neighbor reclaimed his home. Many years later, she told me—forty years or more—a man came and knocked on the door. He was an older man, a German, traveling with a young boy. He was one of the German officers who had occupied this man's house. I suppose he wanted to show his grandson where he had been during the war. Well, when the neighbor recognized the German, b-both of them old men by now, he reached behind the door, got the shotgun he'd kept there for decades, and killed the German right there on his doorstep, in front of the man's grandson.” Isobel paused to take a deep breath. Ed Bradley gave her one of his practiced looks; the one that asks, “What does that mean?”

Isobel said, “Leonard Martin sees himself as that neighbor.”

“Do you?” Bradley asked.

“Do you?”

Bradley was speechless. It was a great look, and Isobel wondered how long it took him to perfect it. Then he said, “This has been quite a ride for you. I mean personally. What does all this mean for Isobel Gitlin? You've got a wonderful future ahead of you. So, what are your plans?”

Isobel's answer, as disclosed to the world on that Sunday evening, sent a wickedly rapturous rush through the breast of the wife of a certain
New York Times
senior vice president. Few people outside the business would care, but a Richter scale for the global media culture would have surely shuddered and shattered when Isobel said, “I have no contract with the paper I'm with now
.
[She didn't even call it by its name!] Who knows, I might like to return to London.”

“Back to England. Back home? Have you thought about that?”

“Yes, I have. There are so many things I'd like to do. I'm not married to the newspaper, you know. [Once more she failed to identify the
New York Times.
The
New York Times
!
] I feel an obligation to the unfinished obituaries of Christopher Hopman, Billy MacNeal, Floyd Ochs, and Pat Grath. Leonard Martin is really part of that. I started these stories, and until I've finished them I cannot walk away. You see that, don't you? But I've no desire to be celebrated, famous, or turned into a journalist with a capital
J
.

Ed Bradley's face registered no expression at all. But for his unchanged posture he might have been pole-axed. Isobel Gitlin, a woman on the very edge of media stardom, fame, and riches—the crowning achievement of American culture—had just said she wanted no part
of it.

“You just want to go back to writing obituaries?” Bradley asked.

She addressed herself to the friendly camera. “People die every day, don't they. The stories I write are the stories of their lives, and I would hope I do it in a way that's both interesting to the reader and respectful of the subject. I believe obituaries are a noble part of this country's freedom of the press. I continue to strive to live up to the standard set by Robert McG. Thomas.”

She was careful not to say “our country.” She was, after all, a proud Fijian, carrying a British passport.

“You're
leaving
the
Times
?” asked Bradley, having quickly refitted the smile that helped make him rich and famous. “You can't be serious about going back to . . . to writing obituaries. You've got big stories ahead, no? Books maybe. And you're thinking of leaving the
New York Times
? Leaving the newspaper business altogether? Going back to England?”

“I might,” she said, light as a feather, and smiled right into the camera.

Watching the show at home in the Whitestone section of Queens, bourbon and soda in one hand, giant salted pretzel in the other, Mel Gold let out a grunt of epic proportions. His wife hurried in from the kitchen, fearing it was something to do with his health.

“Sonofabitch!” said the Moose, unable to wipe the smile from his face.

St. John

Back on the island,
Walter read Isobel's story about the infamous Leonard Martin
while enjoying breakfast in his usual spot in Billy's Bar. On St. John, the
New York Times
comes ashore with the early morning ferry from the rock. The distribution began with Billy's because it was right on the square, only steps from where the ferry docked, plus it was well known that Walter Sherman liked to read it with breakfast. They do know everything. The story detailed the things Walter and Isobel talked about, and, while it was news on the most striking order for the world at large, it provided no new information for him. He read every word, examined every graphic: the rifles and ammo, the player chart that was spread out on the page as if they were each key members of the underworld. He couldn't help feeling there was something missing. He didn't know what, but he knew enough to keep that uneasy sense in a special file for future reference.

That Sunday he watched the interview with Ed Bradley on the television Tom Maloney had thought of as Radio City. Clara saw it too. She knew something about Walter's job, although she had never heard him refer to what he did as a job. He did something for people they couldn't do for themselves, something important, something she was sure was dangerous—that she knew. All those trips he took. Now, looking at Isobel Gitlin talking to one of her favorite TV personalities, that handsome Ed Bradley, telling him she had discovered this man, Leonard Martin, all by herself—Clara wondered just what it was that Mr. Sherman really did.

St. John

“Still got nothing to
say?” Billy asked. Walter had been sitting in his regular seat at the bar in silence nursing the same Diet Coke all morning. He hardly ate his breakfast, and the
New York Times
lay folded on the bar, unopened. Walter muttered something at Billy, nothing he could make sense of.

“I knew a man once,” Ike said. “Didn't say nothing to nobody for damn near two months.”

“Who was that?” Billy asked, astonished.

“Isaac. You know him, Billy? Runs that Budweiser stand over near the beach.”

“The hot dog place?” Billy said, clarifying things. “It's got that big Budweiser sign on it? Yeah, I know him.”

“Well, like I said. Nothing to nobody for two months.”

“You said ‘damn near two months,' not ‘two months'.”

“Thank God A'mighty!” hollered Ike, managing not to cough in spite of the prodigious puff of smoke coming out of his mouth simultaneous with his words. “Walter, you
can
talk.”

“Better than the two of you.”

“I talk pretty good,” Billy said, a tiny bit of hurt in his voice. “You know, you can't run a bar, not one as popular as this, and not be a good talker.” Walter nodded, but clearly not in agreement. Ike took another deep drag, the sound of the burning embers racing toward the butt, carrying all the way to where Walter sat.

“Christ, Ike,” he said. “You're going to explode. So, are you going to tell us?”

“Tell us what?” Billy said.

“Alright Ike,” said Walter, putting on his best third-grade teacher voice, “why didn't Isaac say anything for . . . however long you said?”

“Well,” Ike said, “I can only tell you what he told me—later on, of course. He said he didn't have nothing to say.” Walter stared at Ike, the question of the old man's credibility written all over his face. Ike, as always, smiled.

“Best talker I ever heard was Hitler,” Billy said, and neither Walter nor Ike could think of what to say next. They looked at each other with flat amazement. Finally, Walter said, “Hitler?” And Ike followed with, “Shit,” sounding more like bed linen than anything else. Billy rose to his own defense.

“Hey, I don't like him. I'm just saying, did you ever hear him speak, talking? I've seen him on The History Channel. I don't even know what he's saying, but I couldn't take my eyes off him. And then that crowd—all those Germans—yelling like that. All I'm saying is I never heard anyone else talk that way. That's all.”

“I have,” Walter said. “Ever hear of Martin Luther King, Jr.?”

Billy picked up a rag and began wiping down the already spotless bar. His embarrassment was painful. Walter knew Billy wouldn't be the next to say anything. Then Ike spoke up.

“Minister Henry Broomfield,” he said. “Come here a long time ago, must be forty years. Preached three weekends in a row, mind you. Out by the old slave battleground. In a tent. Went back and stayed on the rock during the week. Everybody went that first weekend. Ain't that many of us here, right? And not much to do neither. But we went back again the next week, and then again another time just to hear that man talk. Spellbinder. For a few days after he'd gone I was this close to seeing Jesus myself.” Ike held up one finger on each hand about a foot between them. He laughed, and Walter did too.

“Powerful, huh?” Billy said, feeling a bit rehabilitated. Jesus and Hitler were equally irrelevant to him.

“And that wasn't the best part,” said Ike. “You see, Minister Broomfield come here only once and leave. But he come back a few years ago—thirty, thirty-five years later. He sets up his tent in the same exact spot as before. We all went. Why not? My wife—” Ike stopped and took a very deep breath, this time without the cigarette. Walter remembered when Sissy died about a year before Billy arrived on St. John. The old man needed a minute. “We all went,” Ike continued, “and my wife wanted to speak to Minister Broomfield after his services, so she waits in line to see him and I'm waiting with her. Well, Sissy finally gets to shake his hand and she says something like, ‘I bet you don't remember me, but I heard you when you were here before—twice, actually.' That minister looked right into her eyes with a big smile, held her hands with both of his—you know, sort of like he was Christ himself—and he says to her, ‘Of course I remember you, darlin'. And your sister too.'”

“That's impressive,” Walter said.

“Let me tell you,” Ike went on. “I was shocked. How this man remember Sissy's sister? Sissy's so happy she just sort of drifts away and I'm left standing there, just me and Minister Henry Broomfield. I look at him and say how could he remember my wife's sister after maybe forty years? Her
sister
! That man put his hand on my shoulder, and with that same smile he just gave my Sissy he whispers to me, ‘They all got sisters.
'

The three friends were silent. What more was there to say. At last Billy said, “Sonofabitch. You want me to write it?”

“That's good,” Ike said.

“How can people vote for this one?” asked Walter.

“How can they vote for any of them?” said Billy. “Nobody's got the slightest fucking idea what this stuff is all about.”

“Okay,” Walter said, looking over to Ike for approval.

“That's good,” the old man said again.

“Well then,” Billy said. He rambled over to the chalkboard next to the ancient cash register and, for the time being, a miniature Christmas tree, picked up the blue chalk, and wrote, “Hitler/Martin Luther King, Jr./Henry Broomfield.”

Walter ordered a fresh Diet Coke and Billy's special swordfish steak with everything—the salad and potatoes too. He was hungry at last. And he was thinking, “They all got sisters.”

Other books

Tats Too by Layce Gardner
The Masseuse by Dubrinsky, Violette
Pompeii by Mary Beard
The Arx by Storey, Jay Allan