Read Close Relations Online

Authors: Susan Isaacs

Close Relations (8 page)

“Okay,” said Jerry cautiously. “We’ve been through this—what, ten, twenty times? But we’ll make it twenty-one. You have me. Joe Cole for blacks. Mary LaRosa for petitions. Carl Obst and Linda Freeman for fund-raising. Eileen here for counsel. Marcia for speeches. Consuelo Fuentes for Hispanics and women. Eileen can also help out on women if necessary—”

“Think, goddamn it. Will you think? Who have you got, Morrissey?”

“I’ve got a fucking good group of people for you, that’s who I’ve got, and if you don’t stop these guessing games, you can take them all and ram them up your Italian ass because I’m not going to take this crap.”

Paterno’s voice went soft. “Morrissey, where are all these people from?”

“I told you, I’m not going to play guessing games.”

“They come from New York!”

“So what? Who doesn’t?”

“I mean, they come from here, the city. Not one person is from upstate. You haven’t got a single goddamned Protestant in that whole crew.”

“I think Joe Cole is Protestant.”

“He’s black as midnight.”

“So?”

“So are you going to trot Joe Cole up to Plattsburg to have tea with the Lutheran minister’s wife?”

Jerry swiveled his head slightly, just enough to glimpse Eileen and me, the audience on the couch. When he turned back to Paterno—the entire movement took less than a second—the flush had spread to his ears. I felt his embarrassment. “I have got,” he said in a monotone, “a good campaign staff lined up. If you want to take advantage of it, that’s just dandy. If you’re not pleased with what I’ve been doing, you can find someone else.”

“Look, I’m not criticizing you, Jerry.” Paterno’s tone was controlled and sincere as Nixon’s.

“Bullshit.”

“No. I mean it. I think you have the makings of a great staff. I was only wondering if maybe we need someone with some upstate experience.”

“I have upstate experience,” said Jerry. “If you remember, I’ve only been working for you for eight years. I had a life before that.”

“I’m not saying you didn’t.”

Jerry had had a nice life: Special Assistant to Bernard Merkin, Attorney General for the State of New York. Bernard Merkin, the Mafia’s nemesis, the consumer’s champion, the—who knows?—maybe the first Jewish candidate for Vice-President of these United States. Gerald Michael Morrissey had a good life. How would he know that his employer, his friend, his creation, his Merkin would take up with one Floria Garcia, a twenty-one-year-old summer intern, and that Mrs. Bernard Merkin, the previously loving Bernice, would object, especially when September came and went and Bernard’s infatuation with the young Floria did not die? And not even so close a friend of the Merkins as Jerry Morrissey, a friend who came to dinner every single Thursday night, would dream that sweet Bernice, Bernice of a thousand fund-raisers, would bundle up a tote bag full of family papers and trot down to Foley Square in Manhattan and share with the Chief of the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney’s Office the secret that had been hers and Bernard’s—that for five years the Attorney General of the State of New York had forgotten to report his outside income, which amounted to about $100,000 per annum. And even an ace forecaster like Jerry Morrissey couldn’t have predicted that, eleven months later, Bernard’s attorneys would be working on his appeal from conviction while Bernice got her divorce in Mexico and Floria went to law school in Brooklyn.

And Jerry Morrissey was out of a job.

“Well.” Jerry confronted Paterno. “Just what are you saying?”

“Why are you so angry? I’m not trying to undercut you or anything. But you haven’t had
recent
upstate experience.”

Jerry was not out of a job for long. As Merkin began his trip down the tubes, Jerry waved him a saddened bon voyage and cast about for a new politician. After just a few weeks of floundering, he joined Paterno, recognizing in him two key qualities: promise and need.

William Paterno, on the verge of running for the Presidency of New York’s City Council, had great potential. He was bright, ambitious, and popular. He was also in trouble because, until he hired Jerry, his advisers’ vision did not extend beyond his assembly district in Little Neck, Queens. His lawyer pals and his clubhouse cronies knew Bill had the stuff, but they didn’t know how to package and transport it over the 59th Street Bridge to Manhattan.

But Jerry Morrissey knew. For years he had lived behind his blazing blue eyes, observing, calculating, registering the moves of the wrinkled, the pockmarked and birthmarked, the plain; watching as they schemed and sneaked and screamed and whispered. Jerry had grown from a mere employee, a paid adviser, into an artist, a creator. He knew, and he stepped in, taking William Paterno’s life and shaping it, giving it form and a purposeful design.

By that election night eight years before, Paterno was no longer viewed as just another shrewd pol. He was special. Jerry had exploited Paterno’s extraordinary capacity for work, giving him position papers, reports, articles to study, until Paterno became the city’s greatest expert on sewage conversion, expense budgeting, and public education. Jerry had manipulated Paterno’s instinctive, politically dangerous tendency to say whatever was on his mind into a reputation for amazing honesty: in East Harlem, they called Paterno “el honorable.” And Jerry had channeled Paterno’s huffy self-righteousness into a career as a labor negotiator: no one could talk down the municipal unions on behalf of the city as well as a puffed-up Paterno.

“Don’t jerk me off, Bill. I mean it.”

“I’m not.” Paterno thrust out his lower lip, offended.

“All right. Then just what do you want?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

“Good.”

“I was just wondering. You know. Whether if we picked up a little extra help, if it would help any.”

“Help helps, Bill.”

“Yes. Right. I mean, maybe one of Gresham’s people. I mean, they know upstate like—well, like you know the Bronx. I mean, some of them have really been way up there, visited those people. Do you know they make cheddar cheese up there?”

“Who did you have in mind?”

“What? Oh, I don’t know.”

Jerry leaned back in his chair, forcing himself to look casual, putting too much weight on his weak lower back. “Just any old Gresham aide? You don’t have anyone in mind?”

“Maybe—urn”—Paterno gazed up at the ceiling, trying to appear thoughtful—“maybe someone like Lyle LoBello.”

My fists clenched in protest. Eileen, beside me, took in a fast gulp of air. Paterno looked at Jerry and attempted an ingenuous smile. He failed, managing only to display a lot of teeth.

“Someone
like
Lyle LoBello,” Jerry said. “Tell me, Bill, who is like LoBello?”

Lyle LoBello was unique, at least in Gresham’s organization. He had been the governor’s appointments officer, his closest adviser, dearest pal, big-ass buddy, and, thus, the second most powerful man in New York State. He and the guv had even double-dated, and it was rumored that they frequently switched girls mid-evening. “What do you mean?” Paterno said. “No one is like LoBello. He knows upstate and—”

“Where does he come from? Syracuse? Watertown?” Jerry demanded, letting his chair return to all four legs.

“Brooklyn,” Paterno mumbled. “Red Hook, I think.”

“Red Hook,” said Jerry. “Perfect. Go get him, Bill. He’s just what you need—an upstate Protestant who just happens to look and act and sound like a Neapolitan pimp and who comes from Red Hook. Really a shrewd political move, Bill. Ace.”

“Are you nuts, Morrissey? Jesus, I’ve never seen anyone so touchy. All I did was mention LoBello and—”

“Where are you going to put him in a campaign? On the mimeograph machine? Collating petitions? Or are you going to stick him in as something like—well, like campaign manager when I step out for a second to take a leak?”

“Of course not!”

“Do you think he’d take a secondary role? I mean, old Lyle’s used to being a mover.”

“I don’t know. I mean, he’s out of a job.”

“And he needs the money?”

“No. It isn’t that. But—I mean, he offered to help. It was really nice of him, especially since he’s so down in the dumps about Gresham. It was just decency on his part.”

“For which he expects nothing in return.”

“All right. I’ll call him. Right now.” Paterno’s hand stretched for the intercom box, to jingle one of his secretaries. “I’ll tell him no thanks, that you feel you can handle upstate and that we don’t need him. Is that what you want?”

“That’s what I want,” Jerry answered.

Paterno pulled his glance away from Jerry’s glare and looked toward the sofa. “Excuse me, ladies,” he muttered. Eileen and I shuffled our feet, unsure whether we had received a courtesy or a dismissal.

Jerry interpreted for us. “Out,” he said, never taking his eyes off Paterno.

And that night, he would not take them off the ceiling. “Jerry, talk to me.”

“What?” he mumbled, trying to will me far away, where he would not have to listen to my analyses of Paterno’s motives.

Lying beside him on the bed, I propped myself up and leaned over, putting my face near his, interrupting his examination of the ceiling. “You’d be happier if you talked about it.”

“No, you’d be happier. Come on, Marcia. I need some quiet.”

“Jerry,” I murmured and leaned over to kiss his one flaw, a chicken-pox scar right below his eyebrow.

“Marcia, just leave me alone.”

I rolled back to my side of the bed and opened a paperback that seemed to be about a young American doctor uncovering a huge cryogenic facility with thousands of icy Nazis about to be defrosted. The cover assured me the book would not only be a breathtaking thriller but be spellbinding as well. For the third time that week I put it down. I watched Jerry watch the ceiling.

I wanted to cradle him in my arms, pacify him with deep, humming noises. Jerry wanted silence. I wanted to lie on top of him, a shield between his heat and the cold community we worked in. Jerry wanted his own side of the bed. I wanted to recite the lines from
Othello
I had been saving since college: “Perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee; and if I love thee not, chaos is come again.” Jerry wanted to listen to the ten o’clock news.

“Listen,” he had said, about three days after I had moved into his apartment. I was sitting on top of the toilet seat, watching him shave. “There’s something I want to make clear.”

“Perfectly clear?” I had demanded.

“Yes. I’m serious.”

“Nobody with a huge gob of shaving cream on his chin can be taken seriously.”

“Marcia, I hope this arrangement lasts for a long time.” I had nodded, swallowed. “But I don’t want to get married. It has nothing to do with you. It’s just a decision I made a long time ago, about what’s best for a guy like me.”

“Fine. Sure.”

“Okay. I just don’t want any misunderstandings.”

“No. Of course not. There won’t be.”

“No hurt feelings. No pressure a year from now.”

“Absolutely not,” I had vowed, watching his jawline emerge in the razor’s wake. “I value my independence as much as you value yours.”

“Good,” he had said, nodding his approval to the bathroom mirror.

I never tried to tie Jerry’s life into a knot, and that was probably my chief attraction. I was company at breakfast, company in bed, but I restrained any word or gesture that might interfere with his privacy. He continued to cherish his independence. I allowed myself only an occasional quiet thought about having him always, about a bright-eyed baby with a lilting cry, so perfect my family’s hearts would collectively melt. But most of the time, I remained a realist.

I leaned across the bed and stroked his cheek. “You don’t have to talk,” I said softly. “I didn’t mean to pressure you.”

A moment passed and then Jerry turned onto his side, facing me, and stretched out his arm toward me. The black hair stopped at his wrist, making a neat, natural cuff. I reached to stroke it but he slid his hand under my nightgown, working it up slowly between my thighs. “What can I do for you tonight?” he asked, his voice slow and silky. “What would make you happy, Marcia?”

Five

J
erry’s face had the soft, misty aura of someone who is loved. For three weeks, Paterno had been wooing him at breakfast meetings, office lunches, and working dinners, trying to convince him that the mild flirtation with Lyle LoBello hadn’t meant a thing, that his heart would always be true to Jerry. By the beginning of April, Jerry had permitted himself to be seduced.

“Jerry.”

He gazed out of the grimy taxi window into the foggy, chilly night.

“Jerry?”

“What?”

“Nothing.” On behalf of Paterno, we were heading uptown to a political affair, something called Dollars for Dick, a fund-raising dinner for Richard Krasnoff, who had retired gracefully from the House of Representatives after twenty-two years of selfless service and was now, sadly, the subject of a very intense and doubtless grossly unfair investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. “You look wonderful tonight,” I murmured.

“Thanks,” he said, abruptly. Jerry did not take compliments very gracefully, nor did he tolerate discussions about his appearance.

His response to his extraordinary looks was largely denial. When we were first getting to know each other outside of the office, sitting over coffee and trading vignettes of our childhood, exchanging dead father stories, I had asked him about his handsomeness.

“Were you a beautiful child?”

“Cut it out, Marcia.”

“I mean it. Did the little girls lust for you in the sandbox? What was it like, growing up knowing people loved to look at you?”

“This is a ridiculous conversation. I was a normal kid. I went to school, played ball—”

“But didn’t you have an abiding sense that you were different?”

“Nope.”

He knew though. He dressed neatly but unimaginatively, ignoring changes in style. When he heard that my ex-husband, Barry, had used hair spray, he had laughed with surprise. But his casualness was just an attempt to downplay his dazzle. He wanted to be one of the guys, trusted, relied on, and he sensed that other men distrusted beauty.

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