– from my novel set a year before the 2008-2009 market crash, an investigative reporter finds out damaging information about one company selling risky investments
Night was falling when Rossi pulled into the gravel lot next to the giant Victorian house with the office and lounge and two looming gables. Across the street the three floors of a restored brick factory held the rooms based on themes ranging from Saturday Night Fever to the Etruscans. Down the sloping field at the side of the house came the steady, liquid song of a running stream. Rossi took their pull bags out of the trunk and they rolled them up the ramp.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s?” Caroline said when Rossi had the key card in his hand.
“It’s a surprise,” he said. He hadn’t told her what to expect. He hadn’t known what she would think. “You’re going to like it. I just know you are.”
Not much longer after that they were in the room with the soft blue walls, etched glass fixtures and sparkling Tiffany-style tiles. Caroline was staying positive. Humored as well. “I’ve been in plenty of hotels, but nothing like this. It’s a first for me.” Her roaming eyes continued to scope it out. Never, she went on, would it have occurred to her he’d take her to a place like it. It was a bit of playfulness she hadn’t recognized in him.
She was at the desk unwrapping a Godiva chocolate, one of the sweet welcomes left for them next to the postcard greeting Mr. Rossi; they hadn’t forgotten his previous visit. “Nice to have you back!” the handwriting on it said. He opened the bottle of syrah he ordered with the room. Touching glasses, he said, still selling it, “Come on, admit it, you dig it the most.”
“I thought you’d be more of a lodgey, brown wood guy. With the big spa and tacky cocktail lounge with a moose head over the fireplace.”
“I was one of those once. I suppose I have to give it up to Anne for expanding my horizons. Making me realize idiosyncratic isn’t so bad. Strange is good. Very strange can be interesting too. That’s about all I can credit her for. Maybe I’ll aspire back to paneling and ugly wallpaper.”
“Don’t do that. Not for me at least.”
“I was joking. Believe it or not, this is the most popular hotel in the area. And since we were heading this way, why not?”
“Where’s the steak place you mentioned? You put that idea in my head so… Unbelievably delicious steak, you said. It’s been a while since I sat down to one of those.”
“Meat Me’s. Cute huh? Free range cuts. Roasted potatoes and veggies. Locally sourced. Run by a graduate of the Culinary Institute. Everyone wants to eat their food.”
“That includes me. So let’s go. This wine’s making me hungry.”
“I was thinking we do that tomorrow. It’s a-ways from here. I say no more driving. Tonight we go around the corner to Common Ground. It’s fine. Fine enough to keep us out of the car the rest of the night.”
The lights of a living room came on as they passed by it on the way to Common Ground. A mild wind blew in their faces. A bag of almonds was all Rossi had eaten since lunch at Nakai, munching them at his desk mid afternoon. His mind focused on the menu as he remembered it from two years ago. Pasta and barbeque ribs and quesadillas. Not top quality Culinary Institute grad food, but better than standard bar food as he knew it.
“If we’re having steak tomorrow I’ll go with either pasta or a quesadilla. Still pondering that important First World matter.”
“Same here. Go easy on the colon, is what I say, even if this is supposed to be a vacation, mini as a vay-kay it is.”
“Mini is the right word. We’ll be back at it Monday.” Rossi checked his wrist as if looking at a watch. “That’s about three hours from now.”
“I have a few things to get done tomorrow. Sorry. Not many, but I’ll need to take care of them.”
“Aces of Spaces never rests.”
“Some clients email me at midnight expecting an office to go to seven in the morning. Thankfully there’s nothing like that going on tonight.”
“You take care of whatever. I’ll be out on my run.”
The spinach and mushroom quesadilla and pint of a local IPA restored Rossi. There in the Common Ground’s low, dusk-like lighting he began to see how much he’d missed out on over the past year. That his first weekend out of New York with a woman not named Anne had been a move waiting for him to respond to.
Out the window the wind whipped up some dust in the parking lot and blew it around in a funnel. When it died out, Caroline looked at him and said, “So how did that issue at your job work out?”
“It went underground. Or almost. No one’s mentioned it again. Not to me, anyway. But get this, I was taken off the project I was on. They told me to put it on the back burner. It got replaced with another one that’s going to, believe it or not, it’s preposterous really, take me right to Futures. The SEC’s in there wondering why there’s no updated paperwork on their systems? All the stuff is old. They can’t understand it. I get to give it a refresher. That’s what I do. It’s my new title. The Refresher Man.”
“You really think you’re going to run into some big secret you’re not supposed to know about? Would they have an outsider doing that if they thought there was a chance?”
“I got the feeling they don’t know what I already know. I really have no freaking idea. Tom didn’t seem to think anything of it. Rich, the guy who put that report in my face, he wasn’t in the meeting. It all seemed straightforward enough. I go off this to do that. It happens all the time. Something urgent comes up, I get put on the job. I fill up some paper. Send a batch of files over that way. That’s it. I pretend I know nothing else. I go back to my other project. Maybe it’s no big deal. Honestly, I don’t know. This is why I never wanted to work for one of those places. To keep out of shit like this.”
“But there you are, in it.”
“There I am, in it up to my chin.”
Rossi went back to his food. Had he made any sense? Was he boring her up there, in the country, on their mini vacation?
Caroline said, “Do you really want to do it? Do you have to?”
“The new project? Sure I have to. If not, I go find another place to work. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to cut my ties there.”
“I get it. You like the place, but as a mercenary, not an embedded operative.”
“That’s it in a nutshell,” he said. “But let’s do this, how about we put that away. We’re on this time out, right?”
“Except for those few things I have to do.”
“Unlike you I can’t bill up here. I have to be in the office. Those are the hours that count. And only those hours. They keep tabs on everything I do. Every door I use my ID to go in and out of. The number of keystrokes I type. The number of pages and names of the documents I print. The monitoring starts the moment I walk in there. I’ve given up all my rights as an independent human being to become a corporate slave. And when I’m out of there the NSA steps in to track all the rest. In my other role I’m a corporate citizen. In my real life I’m Winston Smith.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Unlike me you’re not on it seven days a week.”
“Unlike me you’re making some real money.”
“I’m doing okay. You are too.”
“I’m doing all right. I’m planning to do better.”
“Do me a favor, just let me in on the IPO. That’s all I ask. No matter what happens to us I want to get a thousand shares at the issue price.”
“I’ll have to think about it. If that ever happens I’m going to have a lot of friends.”
“You know that many people?”
“I would if we went public.”
“Who took you to the Breakfast at Tiffany’s room? Who did that?”
“And I’ll think about it.” Caroline closed off the sentence with a smile.
They walked down the slope, across the field of grass with the beds of flowers in full bloom. To their right the lights of the Sudbury’s office and sitting room cast a dull glow. In one of the windows the back of a man’s head was visible. They came to the stream, its watery song continuing into the night. They stood at the edge, taking in the bubbly flow rolling over the rocks. It had been a while since Rossi had inhaled the calming smells of clean country water and damp earth. He put his arm around Caroline and she moved into him.
“You know,” he said, “we don’t have to live in the city. It’s not mandatory. But we voluntarily shackle ourselves to it. Why do we do that? Why?”
“For whatever reason,” Caroline said. “Maybe we just like it. I do and you do too, I think.”
“Right, we live there to live there. We choose to. When it’s time, we’ll leave.”
“That time might come for you. I don’t see it ever coming for me.”
“A friend of a friend whose wife might be, is I guess, in the CIA, told him to sell his place and get out of New York soon as he could.”
“You think she was being serious?”
“Sure I think that. The nuclear option’s always a threat.”
“I suppose they know more than us.”
“The CIA? Do we want to know what they’re up to?”
“I sure don’t.”
“Kansas is safe.”
“Which is why we don’t own property.”
“Better for a quick getaway to Dodge.”
“And an event like that will lower property values.”
“Among lowering other living things.”
“We’d be safer in Brooklyn. And how often do you hear that?”
From that they turned and went back to their room. When Caroline came out of the bathroom Rossi opened his arms and she let him squeeze her. The food and drinks hadn’t inhibited his urge for sex. Nor Caroline’s, he found out in the next moments. It was as if a final glass of amaro and the splitting of a chocolate torte back in Common Ground hadn’t been a closing to the night but a continuation of it. They stood next to the bed clinging to each other until he broke away and fell back on the mattress, settling on it with a single bounce.
Rossi said, “I think Holly Golightly would approve of what’s about to happen. She was definitely a horny chick. No way she’d let a night in a room with a guy go by without a little badda bing.”
“It’s my understanding she only went out with rich men. Or am I making that up?”
“No, I think you have it right. But exceptions can be made. She must have made a few of those in between the guys with the cash. That’s how I read into it.”
Caroline was still standing. “I’m between rich guys.”
“I kind of figured that.”
“Did you really?”
“Since I’m between rich women, of course I thought the same about you.”