#8 – I’ll Drink To That
- Oliver Jordan had expressed an interest in expanding his business.
- Oliver’s trust was betrayed by Senator Charles Taylor who he thought was working for him.
- Kerstin Waterford met a new man who lives in her apartment, and they had breakfast.
- Kerstin decided that she needed to get a job.
The things a man will do when he has nothing else to live for, were the words which had governed the past year of Harry Custone’s life. It had been exactly one year since Nancy had died. He could remember the last words he had said to her, the last time he had touched her, the last time he saw her face.
It was a year ago that she had been speeding along the coast. It was a year ago that she had lost control and plunged into the water. The speed it was travelling caused the car to leap clean over the guardrail. It was speeding away from Emerald Heights; away from Harry Custone.
They’d had an argument – not the first of their short marriage, of course, but the last – and both had said things that Harry would come to regret. There were raised voice, accusations and denials, and there was name-calling.
And then there was the slap.
As soon as it had happened it was over. The marriage, the love; it was over.
She had just stared at him for a time, as her hand slowly came to her cheek. She felt the warmth that had begun to spread over the reddening skin. Her eyes welled up with pain; pain from the slap, pain from the fight, pain from the knowledge that all that she had dreamed of their life together was gone.
And Harry stared back; he could do nothing but stare. He could do nothing but stare into the face of the woman he loved. He stared as she traced her hand over her face. He stared as she stood, her mouth open in shock and despair, having been bodily betrayed by the man that she loved.
He wanted to apologize, he wanted to console her, to hold her and profess his love; but his body betrayed him, too. It left him – his body, it left him standing in a dumb stupor as she backed away from him; backed toward the door, toward the exit of their home and of his life.
She had glanced over her shoulder only a single, brief time. Silently she mouthed, “good bye”; and then she was gone.
In the year that had come and gone since Nancy’s death Harry’s world had changed completely. The now-former advertising executive had sold their home, quit his job and had gone through a phase as a hermit living along the Emerald Heights waterfront. He lived rather morbidly in a building with a view of the very spot that was the last piece of the world his wife ever experienced.
In the course of that year Harry had come to a new line of business, and he had found himself quite good at it; he was Harry Custone, Man for Hire.
It was in this capacity as Harry Custone, Man for Hire, that had come into the employ of Oliver Jordan on occasion. When Oliver needed someone discreet, someone who was willing to put himself on the line to do his dirty work, he called on Harry Custone.
“Brilliant work with the Wellroth case,” Oliver said, clapping Harry on the back. “Would you like a cigar?”
Harry grinned a lop-sided grin – it was the only sort of facial expression that seemed appropriate when one was being congratulated for rigging a jury. “Thanks, Oliver,” he replied. Oliver Jordan was a good 30 years his senior but Harry never hesitated to refer to the man by his first name. “Piece of cake.” Harry winked just so. “I think the tax hike the city’s going to bring in to pay for the clean-up may mean my rates are goin’ up, though,” he said with a chuckle.
Oliver laughed in a way that sounded sincere. “I’ll get on the horn to my Swiss accountant.” Harry watched him return from the bar with two drinks in his hand. He took the one offered to him, he clinked it against the one in Oliver’s hand, and tossed it back readily. “So,” Oliver said after finishing his own drink and reaching for the cigar box, “I’ve got another job for you.”
Kerstin stepped off the bus and looked around; it was strange to be so jarringly inserted into a part of the city. She had been used to experiencing Emerald Heights as a series of forked branches all of which began at, and traced back to, Red Terrace. The bus system, with its circular routes and the sort of mindlessness of the ride wherein one forgets the lefts and rights of the journey, disoriented her when she stepped off.
She had been passed the P & Q before in her daily routine but had never entered it. Before she’d gone to college in Grand City she had been too young to drink – and there was scarce little other reason to go there, so far as she knew – and since she had returned to Emerald Heights she hadn’t had the inclination. It was only eight blocks west of the Rockwell, well within walking distance, which meant that if she got the job it would be an easy commute.
She had taken the bus back to her own – new – neighbourhood after her brunch with Frank Denzre. They had hit it off quite swimmingly and Frank had offered her a ride back home, gentleman that he was, but when she realized that he was putting himself out and that he actually had a meeting close to where they had eaten, she insisted on taking the bus. She was feeling decidedly less awkward after the successful meal and it was for that reason that she chose to tackle her next demon.
Getting a job.
The front door, she discovered, was locked and so she made her way along Third Street to the back of the building which was accessed by a small alleyway. The alley wasn’t creepy at four o’clock in the afternoon but it certainly had creepy-potential. She made a note not to meander out of there at four o’clock in the a.m. She knocked on the closed door before turning the knob and pushing inward.
The scent from the kitchen was strong and not entirely pleasant. It wasn’t bad food or rotten vegetables or anything of the like, it was cigar smoke and it stung her nose. Only three or four steps into the kitchen she was wheeled around by the sound of a voice stating, “yeah?”
She turned around and spoke, “I’m here for the… uh… job.” She thrust forward the piece of paper on which she’d printed the job advertisement as if it was a magical shield. It was not.
“Good,” he stated simply. The man was older, about her father’s age or slightly more senior, and was rounding in the belly. He had a full head of hair but it was greying considerably. She didn’t know his name but he looked like a Stanley – one of the old families in Emerald Heights. One thing that the ‘natives’ got good at was being able to pick out families. “Gordon,” he said offering his hand. “Gordon Stanley.” She hadn’t known that the P & Q was run by a Stanley.
She took the man’s hand and smiled. “Kerstin,” she replied, not adding her last name. This and two conjoining city blocks had been rebuilt by her father’s company after the fire of ’87; she figured that he would know that. He would learn her name if he hired her.
“So you want a job here, Kerstin?” He inquired, “What are your qualifications.”
She frowned and almost pulled the ad back up to her face to verify that it did, in fact, protect her from actually having to have qualifications. She looked at the man for long seconds before she answered. This was her first job interview – ever – and as such interviewing skills were not in her repertoire. “Uh… well,” she began, not a good way to start, “I don’t have any qualifications for this job,” she yanked the ad up and showed it to him as if he didn’t know what it said, adding “per se.” She forced a smile, “but, I’m a keen learner and… I… I’m pretty good with people,” who’re comatose, she didn’t add that last part.
“Yeah,” he said, not sounding convinced, but he didn’t say anything more. At that moment a younger man – a sort-of version of Gordon – stepped around from behind one of the shelves of stores.
“Pa,” the young man said. Kerstin recognized him immediately – and she was sure he recognized her. She winced visibly.
“Waterford and Senator Taylor?” Harry repeated after having been brought in on Oliver’s latest capers.
“Yeah,” Oliver replied, taking another swig of booze from his glass. The drinks were going down more slowly now. “I need to negotiate the buy-out terms with Waterford’s partners.” Oliver mused, “and in order to ensure that I get the very best value for my dollar, I need to know as much about these partners as there is to know. And as for the Good Senator… well, I will leave you to devise a strategy for him.”
Harry nodded thoughtfully. Waterford and the Senator were big marks. And while he’d done a number of shady jobs for Oliver Jordan in the past – not the least of which was tampering with a recently decided court case in which he falsified evidence, pressured and bought off jurors and even slept with the Jordan Enterprises attorney (that last part was mostly for fun) – taking on Lawrence Waterford and Senator Charles Taylor would be a couple to talk about.
Without the Waterford family, as Harry understood it, there would be no Emerald Heights. Charles Taylor was well known for his influence in Congress and his ability to funnel cash to wherever he saw fit. Oliver Jordan was taking his shot at being the undisputed King of this burgh and becoming a major player in the state, and he wanted Harry Custone to be his right-hand man.
“Can do, Oliver,” Harry stated, “can do.”
“Good,” Oliver said, “there was never any doubt in my mind.” He blew a ring of smoke from the cigar he was puffing away at.
Oliver continued, “Waterford’s a long deal, of course, we’ve got time. But I want you to get on this matter with the Senator immediately. I need the appropriations decision to be reversed before it gets too much press. It wouldn’t be good for business for it to be printed that Jordan Enterprises was being stiffed by the DOD.”
“I know just what to do, Mr. Jordan,” Harry said, using the more formal title for emphasis.
Oliver nodded, “oh?”
Harry shook his head, “the less you know about my methods the better, Oliver,” he smiled that sly grin again, “you just watch for the results.”
Gordon turned and regarded the young man and asked, “what?”
Without taking his eyes of Kerstin, Gordon’s son replied, “there’s a problem with the order.” He held up a clipboard. Gordon gave the one fingered wait-here sign to Kerstin and walked toward his son.
They spoke for a few minutes about something Kerstin couldn’t hear. At least twice more the young guy looked directly at her while speaking to his father. She wished at that moment that she’d paid more attention in her college sign language classes and had learned to read lips – even the few human skills I do have aren’t honed well enough to be useful, she thought wryly; although it was highly unlikely that they were actually talking about her.
Having obviously settled the matter and vamoosed his son off to complete his task, Gordon returned to Kerstin. He was looking markedly more jovial when he returned – though, in truth, he wasn’t especially dour to begin with. “Listen, here’s the deal,” he said plainly, “do you want the job?”
She nodded and though the word “yeah” escaped her lips her brain didn’t actually recognize what was going on – having no reference for what a successful “interview” felt like – so she felt the need to repeat herself and so she said “yeah” again. Gordon seemed not to notice.
“The pay sucks and the hours can be long. Some of our patrons are assholes and I run a tight ship with an iron fist. You’ll have to do pretty much anything that needs to be done and you take orders from everyone,” he stopped and looked at her again. “Do you want the job?”
She swallowed hard. “Uh… yes. Yes, sir.” she said finally.
“Good,” he said, then added, “you start in two hours.”
She should have said great, but she didn’t; she should have said thank you, but she didn’t. In fact she didn’t say anything. She just stood there and waited for an undeniably awkward amount of time before Gordon, no doubt succumbing to the apathy of this girls stunned silence, began walking away shaking his head. He stopped before disappearing into the kitchen and turned to look back at her. She suddenly realized that she hadn’t moved an inch in far too long and so she shifted her weight; it probably looked awkward. He appeared amused, “get an apron from Jehua and ask him to show you where we keep stuff.” Then he was gone.
“Jehua,” she said out loud. Jehua was Jehua Stanley; he was Gordon Stanley’s son.
Jehua had been her first love.Tags:Harry Custone, Jehua Stanley, Kerstin Waterford, Oliver Jordan, The P & Q