Schmidt Delivered (7 page)

Really? Is your mother a chef?

Chef? No. She cooked for a neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn. A lot of Italians eat there. Nothing fancy, not like O’Henry’s. Yeah, she worked until the veins in her legs got real bad. Also her blood pressure. That’s why I quit college. When she stopped working, Mom and Dad couldn’t afford it.

He needn’t have worried. Carrie could take care of herself. That was how she had told him her short life story too, in flat, matter-of-fact statements, leaning on the backrest of an empty chair while he ate the hamburger and French fries she put before him. Not a hint of self-pity or desire to appear other than she was. She knew what she considered her place and, without fuss, calculated the position of others in relation to it. Only she was worth far more than her modesty allowed her to take into account.

I’m sorry to hear it. And is that why you came to Bridgehampton?

That’s right. I left Brooklyn College after a year and got the job at O’Henry’s to make enough money to go back to school. Maybe in a couple of years. But now Schmidtie’s helping me so I’m going to Southampton College. I’m majoring in social work, but someday I want to study film.

Having said that, she blushed. In a moment, Schmidt felt her naked foot, which had traveled under the table, insert itself into his trouser leg and rub against his calf. Cautiously, he reciprocated the caress.

Maybe I should have studied film too. Sometimes it seems that half my college class is in Hollywood, doing something or other. Mostly writing scripts. I think it’s too late for me.
Dad’s friend Gil Blackman should be able to help you. If they’re still friends.

Yeah, he’s talked about it. I think I should finish school first. That way, maybe I can get a job on my own. Wouldn’t that be something!

Never happens in my father’s circles. Remember, Dad? When you sent me to meet Mr. Ogglethorpe—the man who would help me enter the workforce. It seems it was impossible to believe that any PR firm would even dream of hiring me unless my father, the great Mr. Schmidt of Wood & King, pulled the right strings! God, I hated it. The same way Mom would never leave me alone. Every summer job I took had to be something she cooked up. Basically another intern slot at some la-di-da country newspaper.

She looked drearily sad but also triumphant.

You loved those jobs, Charlotte.

Sure, tagged from the word “go” as the kid of the publisher’s friend. Someone you better not mess with, if you know which side your bread is buttered on. Like living at the publisher’s house, with one of Mom’s pre-Alzheimer authors.

Hah! An unkind cut, one that Schmidt hadn’t expected. That was the job in Pittsfield, at a first-rate paper, liberal then, owned by Jay Kane. Jay became known when he threw himself into Ed Brooke’s Senate campaign and antiwar protests. The little snake had stayed with Jay and his wife, Sue, who had been Mary’s roommate at Milton. Mary published Jay’s
Dangerous Games
a couple of years before Charlotte’s summer at the newspaper, when it was still on the
best-seller list, making Jay even richer. Coals to Newcastle. He remembered Charlotte’s telephone calls—a little too breathless, he had worried—commenting on the glamorous doings in the Kane household. He would have sworn then that she was having the time of her life.

Carrie spoke. Man, I wish I’d had those problems. So this guy Oggle-something handed you a job.

No way. I could just see myself stuck forever as his assistant in charge of sending birthday cards to members of Congress and their wives. What else would Miss Schmidt, who couldn’t get a job on her own, be good for? Thanks a lot! I got my job all by myself, through the college placement office, just like everybody else. Only Dad thinks it’s shit, because I do public relations for tobacco! Lobbying for tax breaks, like Dick Ogglethorpe, that’s OK.

Oh, I’ve pulled in my horns, believe me. Anyway, now that all your clients’ chairmen have told Congress they don’t believe cigarettes are addictive, you may be out of work. Everybody will recognize they’re just lovable businessmen. They won’t need public relations help at all!

Very funny. You think all I can do is tobacco. Well, you’ve always been supportive.

Not at all. I can see you just as easily fighting for the cause of snack foods—or the Sierra Club. It’s all the same. Just working on a case, representing a client.

That’s what you thought too about your clients, when you still had them. Hey, this lasagna is great. You really made it from scratch?

Just the filling, not the pasta itself. I got that from the Italian guy at the mall. But I could have made the pasta if I’d had more time. Mom showed me.

That’s cool.

She helped herself to another serving, without bothering to pass the dish to Carrie or to Schmidt, and held up her glass.

Carrie filled it. You like it? Your dad got it. He said we should have Italian wine.

He would. Always saving his good wine for a special occasion. Actually, it’s OK.

That too was a low blow. Since French red wine in the year of her birth was not up to the mark, he had laid down cases of the next great vintage to drink the night before her wedding, at the rehearsal dinner, and when she had her first child. The former occasion he had missed. Either the Rikers, who had taken over all the arrangements, had not given such a dinner, or he hadn’t been invited. One could hope the wine would hold up until time came for the latter event.

I consider this is a special occasion, Charlotte, he told her, and the wine is a great Chianti, not just an OK wine. We can cook some lamb on the grill tomorrow evening and break out a burgundy.

If I’m still here.

It was time for Carrie’s foot to visit Schmidt’s leg again. It remained there, gentle but busy, until she got up to clear the dishes.

I’m going to make coffee. You guys want to talk in the library while I clean up? I’ll serve the coffee to you.

Thanks, Carrie, I’m beat. No coffee and no talk with my father tonight. Can’t do that unless I’m rested. Tomorrow morning, if that’s convenient.

You’re sure, Charlotte? Won’t you sleep better if we have a chat before you go to bed?

Dad, it can wait.

      He came down early, careful not to interrupt Carrie’s sleep. The sheet on his side of the bed confirmed his recollection, entwined with dreams, of how the evening ended. The most exposed, vulnerable flank of his position was for the moment secure; he thought he could face anything. Charlotte must have gotten up even earlier. He had run his morning errands and was starting to read the
Times
when she walked into the kitchen in her running clothes. Sweat stains, hair tied back, tall and fit. That was how he remembered her when he thought of the morning, in his distant earlier life, when she told him she was going to marry Jon Riker.

I’ve been running.

I see that. I’ve made orange juice for you. It’s still in the juicer. Tea or coffee? The tea is right here on the table. If you want coffee, the machine is all set to go. Just flip the switch.

I’ll take the tea.

A croissant?

Is there any yogurt?

In the icebox. Do try the croissants. They’re quite good. I don’t eat them.

Ah. Try lying low. Listen without making a noise. Back to the article he was reading in the paper. It was pure rot to pick
on him and claim he was an anti-Semite. There were some Jews he liked and others, including selected members of the Riker family, he didn’t. Mostly, he didn’t notice them, one way or another. He certainly wished Jews in general and the state of Israel the best of luck. Right now, his hat went off to Rabin—maybe that wasn’t the right metaphor—for being willing to get physically close to Arafat, an unshaved, probably ill-smelling, loudmouth with bad teeth. It must be hard to tolerate being in the same room with him, never mind performing those Levantine embraces. Even when it came to Arabs, his dislikes were individualized; they weren’t racial prejudice. He had absolutely nothing against King Hussein. Arabs should be looked at one by one, just like Jews and everybody else. That didn’t mean one had to ignore group characteristics, such as Arabs’—and Jews’—odious rhetoric. Always exaggerating. Unable to stop themselves.

Dad, can we talk?

Of course.

When is she going to come down?

Carrie? I don’t know. When I last saw her she was sound asleep.

Sure. I mean could we talk somewhere else?

As you wish. In fact Carrie is very discreet. She’ll probably stay out of the kitchen if she sees that we’re having a conversation. Anyway, she won’t mind. Let’s move to the back porch.

The old rosebush at the edge of the lawn had never looked better. Schmidt decided he would keep his eyes fixed on it, to stay grounded.

So look, I want to talk about some business matters. I suppose your investments are doing well in this market. Is that right?

I think so.

She fell silent, so he babbled on: The Romberg people still look after them, and they do a good job. I try to see Herb Stein over there once every few months, just to make sure he hasn’t lost his marbles or hit the bottle. Other than that, I don’t pay much attention. In fact, I’ve sold those two little funds I’d invested in on my own. Remember? I was always looking them up in the business section. They appreciated nicely, and that’s how I paid for the little convertible I gave Carrie.

Nice for her. Then you haven’t lost all your money—or the money you got from your stepmother.

Bonnie’s money? Oh, no. Not at all. Though I have given a good chunk of what she left to me to the hospital in Palm Beach. Including the house.

He wished he hadn’t thought of the house. It was his lawyer Murphy who had urged him to transfer it to a charity, and as a business matter the advice was good. Disliking Palm Beach, he’d never use it, and the cost of upkeep, if you included the salary he paid as tribute to Bryan, was ridiculous. As part of the deal, he did get the president of the hospital to agree that Bryan would go on the payroll as a handyman at the conference center into which Bonnie’s house would be transformed. But when he announced the news to Bryan on the telephone, the little creep didn’t seem pleased. Working for the hospital wasn’t what he had in mind. What
was he thinking and what could he be up to? If Schmidt only had one of his yellow pads at hand, he would make a note to himself to check into the situation.

Oh yeah? How much did you give away?

Basically I kept what my father had left to her, which was everything he had when he died, plus the average return she had on her investments. It seemed to me I was entitled to that. But the money that came to her from Sozon—her first husband—that was another matter. I didn’t feel right about keeping it, so I gave it to the hospital.

That’s pretty grand, Dad. I didn’t know you had become a philanthropist.

Not at all. It just seemed the right thing to do, to honor her for what she had done for me, which she wasn’t under any obligation to do.

I sure hope you didn’t give away too much, because I have to ask you for money.

You mean to tide you and Jon over until he sorts things out?

This has nothing to do with Jon. I guess if we have to we can talk about him later. Gee, you really have Jon on your mind or something. Dad, the thing is that I’m plain tired of working for other people. Marden Bush is OK, I’m still on the learning curve, and, believe me, representing tobacco clients isn’t a dead end, like representing some other kinds of institutions.

Were these gratuitous digs ever going to stop? This one, Schmidt tended to think, had been prepared in advance. On the other hand, it might have just popped out. Having lived
five—or was it six?—years with Jon Riker, she must have heard plenty about how Schmidt’s clientele, insurance companies acting as lenders to corporations, had melted away until he became, in Riker’s estimation and that of his cohorts, one of those older partners who burden the firm, siphoning off income from others who are more deserving, especially the Young Turks. Considering that she was apparently about to ask him for something—something big, he was willing to bet—she might see the wisdom of holding her tongue just once. But then she knew him well enough to realize that in the end it wouldn’t matter how much she hurt his feelings. It was possible that she felt she was striking out as an independent, real grown-up by getting what was due to her without being nice or grateful.

I see.

She continued, There is this great guy at the firm I work with a lot on a bunch of campaigns. He’s very good, they just made him managing director. We’ve been talking how we could go out on our own. You know, set up our own shop. Start small and grow the business or whatever. You never did that, but lots of people do. It’s no longer standard to stay in the same firm all your life.

She paused, as though to give Schmidt equal time. A grunt, somewhere between “oh” and “right,” seemed to him a sufficient and prudent response.

You don’t seem very interested.

Oh, I am. And what would you hope to do? Provide the same services you are providing now to the same clients? Is that possible? I would imagine Marden Bush has some sort of
noncompete rules that would apply to a managing director, if not to you.

Harry’s looked into this. That’s the name of my future partner, Harry Polk. We want to go into organizing special events, like fund-raisers and seminars and that sort of stuff, and we’re allowed to do it. That’s what the lawyers have told him. We’d get a consent anyway, to cover all the bases and make the firm feel they’re participating. That’s good strategy if we want them to refer work to us. They might. Marden Bush doesn’t have an events capability.

He smiled at her. Polk, Polk. Interesting, but let’s not jump to conclusions about family and background. The name could be a short version of Polski or Pohlstein. Or whatever, if he might borrow Charlotte’s and Carrie’s entrancing locution. It was amusing how belonging to the same generation seemed to transcend differences of upbringing and class. Why not call a spade a spade? Schmidt knew that the expression could no longer be used in polite conversation, but he wasn’t talking. Just thinking.

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