Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

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

The Knowland Retribution (35 page)

BOOK: The Knowland Retribution
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Maloney turned toward Walter. He looked almost happy. It was a look Walter hadn't seen since Vietnam, a battlefield euphoria that affected some men just before they died. But they were in the penthouse of the Waldorf Astoria, not the jungles of Southeast Asia. Maloney was alive and kicking, not about to die, and Walter knew it. He had something up his sleeve. Walter couldn't see it, but he knew it was there.

Atlanta

In 1968 Ralph Nader
assembled a team of dedicated, intelligent, and vigorous young people with an aim to investigate the Federal Trade Commission. These were true believers, children come of age in the sixties. They believed their government could be made answerable to the informed will of the people. They believed disclosure of wrongdoing and malfeasance would mean an end to both. It was a time when such things could be believed. Three years earlier he came to prominence with a book called
Unsafe At Any Speed
, detailing the deadly deficiencies of the Chevrolet Corvair. Corporate colossus General Motors fought back, thinking they could manhandle Nader, push him around, discredit him, consign him to the margins reserved for civic-minded nutcases. He sued, and funded his consumer-based operations with the GM money he won. So it was that America's largest corporation unwillingly financed the start of the most effective consumer movement in the history of the United States. A year later, in the summer of 1969, Nader's group was so well known that more than thirty thousand people applied for two hundred unpaid internships. William Greider, a columnist at the
Washington Post,
tagged them

Nader's Raiders.”

Isobel saw the parallels between Nader and The Center for Consumer Concerns. Certainly they shared a rather unique funding source—the very corporations they sought to expose and change. She hoped her newly constituted organization would be the equal of Nader's in its formative years. That was a lofty goal she set. And she was equally determined that The Center not lose focus like Nader had. In 1971 he officially founded Public Citizen as a permanent organization, and in time it drifted into mediocrity and loss of influence mainly because it attracted a staff of poorly-paid nonprofit careerists whose internal politics closely resembled academia. Isobel had something to get her started that Ralph Nader never had—an enormous amount of money. She was determined to use it to build a staff of lawyers, analysts, researchers, investigators, and administrators who would be paid as much as the very best in their field might earn in the private sector.

As part of her plan, The Center would have the equivalent of a major industry marketing department, complete with writers, media people, and specialists in promotion and public relations. The work of The Center would be delivered to the public as effectively as if they were in the beer or automobile business. She knew influence would come with public acceptance. She also knew acceptance was as much the result of advertising and promotion as was brand preference and market share for laundry detergent or soft drinks.

For Isobel, just as the
New York Times
was regarded as the country's newspaper of record, she wanted The Center for Consumer Concerns to build a social position of equal weight. Nick Stevenson told her she had carte blanche. The trustees were there mainly to handle the legalities of forming and operating The Center. She started February 1st and they told her The Center would pull in about thirty million in its first thirty days. Another thirty million would follow in the weeks after that. Of course, she already knew that. She would be responsible for setting policy guidelines for delivery of the remaining pledges, within the framework of the three and four year time limits. She would work directly with the contributors themselves. With those as her only instructions, The Center leased office space near Colony Square in midtown Atlanta, and she got started.

It took only two weeks for Nathan Stein to call Nick Stevenson. He was prepared to transfer $29,910,000 to The Center for Consumer Concerns. Nick provided the routing numbers and other information needed to complete such an electronic deposit.

“We're so pleased with your generous support,” Nick said. “All of us at The Center are grateful. Exactly how would you like this contribution attributed, Mr. Stein?” Nathan broke it down for him, listing amounts for himself, Thomas Maloney, the Stein, Gelb firm, Alliance Industries Inc., and SHI Inc. When he was done, Nick was once more effusive with his thanks.

Nathan said, “Are we supposed to play this game all the time, or what?”

“I'm afraid I don't understand you, Mr. Stein,” said Nick.

“You don't, huh? You're Leonard Martin's partner, aren't you?”

“Former partner.”

“Oh, go fuck yourself. The money's on its way.” He hung up.

Walter called from the airport. “Good afternoon, The Center for Consumer Concerns,” said a friendly voice with a delightful southern accent.

“Good afternoon to you too, but I think it's still morning, isn't it?”

“Why, no sir. It is truly afternoon. Twenty minutes after twelve noon.” By the sound of her voice Walter could tell she was smiling.

“You know, you're right,” he said, realizing where he was. “I just got off a plane from Chicago and I'm still on Central time.”

“Well, welcome to Atlanta and the Eastern time zone.”

“Thanks. Can I speak with Isobel Gitlin, please?”

“I'll put you right through.”

“Very nice,” thought Walter, “no
‘
whose calling' or ‘what company are you with' or, the most hated of all demands, ‘may I tell her what this is in reference to?'”

“Hello,” said Isobel.

“Hello.”

“Walter! Where are you?” He told her he was at the airport, changing planes in Atlanta on his way home. His flight to St. Thomas didn't leave until five fifteen. Could they meet for lunch somewhere?

“You want real food, or bar food?”

“Bar food is fine with me,” he said.

“Good,” she said. “Me too.” Isobel gave him directions to Manuel's Bar on Highland Avenue. “Tell the cab driver to get off at the Presidential Parkway, otherwise you'll end up in Chattanooga. It's a great bar. You'll love it.” The cab ride, she told him, won't be more than twenty minutes. “I'll be there, waiting.”

Isobel was right. Less than a half hour later Walter saw her standing in front of Manuel's. He reached out to hug her and she kissed him just the way she had at the Hilton on Sixth Avenue. Once inside, Walter could see that the founder, Manuel Maloof, was something of a local personality. A large painting of Manuel hung over the bar. The walls were covered with old photographs, nearly all of them showing Manuel with some entertainer, politician, or sports celebrity. Walter recognized many of them, and those he didn't know looked just like the ones he did. Jimmy Carter was there. Bill Clinton with dark hair and Bill Clinton with gray hair. Andrew Young. Hank Aaron, Frank Sinatra, and Carol Channing. There was one with LBJ and another that looked like young Manuel and a young Elvis Presley.

“This guy, Manuel, still alive?”

“I don't think so,” she said. “I'm still new here.”

They sat at a table in the front room just off the bar, the nonsmoking section of what Walter agreed looked like a terrific neighborhood establishment.

“You live nearby?” he asked.

“Not too far. I'm in a condo until I get myself settled. I think I'm going to buy a house in a neighborhood called Inman Park.” Walter never did well at these kinds of conversations. He had no idea where or what Inman Park was, and, except for the fact that Isobel might buy a house there, no interest in finding out or being told. They started going through all the uncomfortable questions with all the meaningless answers. She asked where he was coming from? Did he have a good flight? Was he happy to be getting back to St. John? How was his health? Was he hungry? He asked if she liked Atlanta. Where the Center's offices were? Was the weather more enjoyable than the winter in New York? All the crap, and it continued even after their food arrived. Finally, he said, “Isobel, no more bullshit. This is going to drive me fucking nuts. How are you? Really?”

“Fine. I'm f-fine.” It wasn't what he was looking for. Her eyes had no sparkle, her smile, such as it was, lacked the warmth he'd come to treasure, and her manner made no offer of intimacy. He reached out across the table to hold her hand.

“Is there someplace we can go. I don't have to be back at the airport—”

“No. No, I can't. I've got to get back to the office.”

“What for?”

“This is a real job, Walter. I'm not running around chasing Leonard Martin anymore. And I'm not ducking photographers from the
Post
or the
Daily News
. No one in Atlanta knows who I am. Isn't that wonderful?” The food ran out before the small talk.

“I should be home by ten,” he said. “I'll call you tonight.”

“You don't have to do that. I'm not even sure—”

“When are you coming to St. John?” Walter asked. Now it was Isobel who leaned across the table to take Walter's hand. They sat beneath a photo of a middle-aged Manuel and two other men of the same age. All three stood next to Arnold Palmer. They were smiling. Arnold was young, in his prime, lean and fit, had dark hair, and a cigarette in one hand.

Isobel said, “Walter, don't go getting serious on me, alright? It was great, wonderful—I love you dearly—but we each have things we need to do. Don't we? Places to go. People to meet. We'll see each other again. We will.” Her smile was breaking his heart.

“It's just, I thought—”

“Don't. Please don't.”

“I love you, Isobel.”

“Oh, Walter, you don't. No, you don't. You think you do, but you don't. It's been a long time for you. I know. But you have a life, Walter. We both do. We'll always be friends and we will see each other again. We will. I promise.”

“Isobel—”

“Walter, Walter. Please don't. Don't be hurt. I never wanted to hurt you.”

She was young and he was not. He was experienced, so experienced, and she was not. What was it about her? Time had not dulled all his senses. He'd missed some things, sure, but you always missed some things. You never got it all right. Why had it taken him this long? Why didn't he want to know? The pain. The pain. It came to him now. It came to him the way it always had, the way it had in Vietnam and Laos and ever since. The unease he sensed when she called him the night she met with Leonard—the feeling that something was missing when he read her article—the shock that went through him when Debra Melissa described the cowboy. It all came to him now like the floodgates had been thrown wide open. He looked at Isobel. Her eyes begged him to be silent, but he said it anyway. “You saw him, didn't you? You knew all along.”

“Walter—”

“No,” he said, looking away, waving her off.

He finished his drink. Isobel didn't touch her ice tea. The moment passed, although both knew the memory would last forever. She offered to drive him to the airport, but he said he'd catch a cab. He kissed her on the forehead when they said goodbye. His lips lingered a moment—too long? The scent of her hair caused him to close his eyes. He could tell it was an uncomfortable parting for Isobel. On the plane, he tried to convince himself she meant it when she said,

We will see each other again. We will.” Didn't he know her? Couldn't he tell how she felt? Nor could he keep Leonard Martin at bay. He saw the fat, suburban attorney, disheveled and depressed. He saw the lean, trim Michael DelGrazo. He saw the cowboy in Clarksville—saw him in his own cabin. And Isobel knew from the beginning. He had opened the iron gate to his soul and let her in. Knowingly. He had shared with her things he had never shared with anyone. Purposely. He had kept no secrets from her. Gladly. He had loved her not at first sight. She was different, special. He earned this one. He had given himself to her. Completely. And she betrayed him. How had he missed it? There were so many things lately he failed to see, none more painful or more humiliating than this.

He fell asleep in first class, frightened he might never again run his hand across her bare hips, down her legs, across her knees; never again wake her in the morning, kissing her nipples, watching as she opened her eyes, smiling. In his dream he chased her across an open field. She climbed a flight of marble steps outside a large building, a building with no doors. He struggled to reach her as she stood atop the stairway. He climbed as fast as he could, yet made no progress, got no closer. He had trouble breathing. Then, finally, he was within reach of the top. Just as he was about to touch her, she stepped back out of sight. He crawled the last few steps, then, gasping, he looked up to see the Indian woman, smiling, offering him a pendant. And there was Leonard Martin. Behind him stood a young Vietnamese mother desperately clutching her two children. All three wept. Leonard had a rifle in his hands. He lifted the gun, shifting its weight against his shoulder, and pointed it at him. Isobel was nowhere to be seen. Leonard squeezed the trigger. Walter woke up trembling.

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