It was one month after the summer solstice which gave me just enough daylight to get in my swim before joining the Olsons for pot luck. In honor of this mauve decade I selected a pair of mauve trunks adorned with orris braiding and a matching mesh belt. I pulled a white hooded terry robe over my shoulders and ambled across the A1A barefoot.
Amazing how traffic grinds to a halt when my wraithlike figure appears in the waning twilight. Will I meet my maker on one such balmy evening when a giddy teenager in a Porsche attempts to drive through me?
There are many who flee southern Florida in the summer for cooler climes and we natives are prone to say unto them, Ta-ta and don’t hurry back.” There is nothing like having an ocean all to yourself after a hard day in the salt mines. My shadow grew long as I walked across the tepid sand and the Atlantic was beginning to cool under a white moon, almost full, just peeking over the horizon. I swam my laps beneath a red sky, a mile north, before retracing my wet path back to my starting point. If it ain’t Eden, it’s a reasonable facsimile thereof.
When the family is all in residence we usually breakfast in the kitchen with Ursi cooking and serving after which she often joins us for a cup pa before father and I leave for the office and mother rushes to her beckoning begonias. Jamie Olson is sometimes present, lacing his black coffee with Aquavit while waiting to see if mother wants to go shopping at Publix, which I believe is the only supermarket in the world that offers valet parking, or hit the local nurseries in search of an orphaned begonia in need of TLC. For these excursions Jamie drives mother’s wood-paneled Ford wagon.
Evenings, we dressed for dinner in the formal dining room where father officiated and pontificated over the fine quality of his wine cellar, which, I must say, is superb. Being alone, I joined Ursi and Jamie in our commodious kitchen for the evening meal, and when the sire is away the offspring will play at selecting a wine of reputable vintage to enjoy with the fruits of Ursi’s labors.
Tonight, it was fricandeau, or loin of veal to the common folks. This she larded and braised and presented with roasted potatoes and onions, asparagus in lemon butter sauce, and, for color, glazed baby carrots.
For openers there was a spinach salad avec bacon and mushrooms, tossed with Ursi’s own warm bacon vinaigrette. If this is not the average American’s bill of fare on a warm summer evening, please remember that Palm Beach is not the average American seaside resort.
My contribution was a 1982 cabernet sauvignon. For appearances’ sake we toasted our benefactor, wishing him calm seas and a safe return.
Silently, I offered an invocation to Poseidon, adjuring him to treat my kin with more respect than he had shown poor Odysseus. I acknowledge the old gods because I am a firm believer in never burning my bridges and, who knows, if culottes can make a comeback, why not the original Olympians?
As expected, Ursi had spread the word of my involvement with the famous authoress Sabrina Wright. “They all knew that she was in town,” Ursi said, ‘thanks to Mr. Spindrift, but it was me who told them why she was here. You could say I had an exclusive.”
Any reaction?” I asked.
“Well, they all agreed that Ms Wright should stick to her books and let her daughter elope with the man she loves.”
That was predictable and did nothing to further my cause in locating Robert Silvester and, should he still be with them, Gillian Wright and Zack Ward. Sudden thought. Had he ever been with them? Did Robert Silvester in fact find Gillian and Zack? He told his wife he had, but it’s what my father would call hearsay. Then the guy disappears and therein lies the crux of the matter. Where had he gone, and why?
But Ursi had done my bidding. Lolly had told them Sabrina was in town and Ursi had connected me with the writer. Both Lolly and Ursi had the ear of those that mattered granted on different strata, but due to necessity the twain doth meet on Ocean Boulevard. Now, interested parties would know whom to contact if they had anything to share.
Jamie’s mandible, except when chewing, was as rigid as always, but then Jamie only spoke when he had something to say. I had dropped an ant in the pants of the Palm Beach noblesse and now had to wait on their sagacity, which, thankfully, did not hinge upon our national security.
Dessert was raspberry sorbet with Ursi’s own decadently fudgy brownies, plus a few actual berries for their antioxidant powers. Stoically refusing seconds, I withdrew to my leaky penthouse and settled in for the evening. Not having dressed for dinner summer flannels, lavender polo shirt of Sea Island cotton, white tasseled loafers and no socks of course — I went directly to my desk, got out my journal, and began recording my interview with Sabrina Wright and the case of “The Man That Got Away.” I thought a more apt title might be “The Men That Got Away,” not realizing at the time just how prophetic my own musings would be.
The men, of course, would include Gillian’s natural father, who had fled some thirty years ago; Zack Ward, who followed suit a week ago; and then Robert Silvester, just a few days ago. Originally, Gillian’s father and Silvester must have believed he was the subject of Lolly’s blind item. I omit Zack Ward because I’m sure he tipped off Lolly. Now that the Olsons had got my message out, Gillian’s father knew, or would soon know, that Sabrina was here in search of Gillian and her lover.
Would he believe it? If he did, would he find it inconvenient to have both his old flame and the result of their indiscretion on our tight little island? Too, he must be wondering why Gillian had sought asylum in Palm Beach. The guy’s feathered nest was suddenly rife with thorns.
I had no idea how I was going to go about finding Robert Silvester.
Both he and Zack Ward were strangers in our midst and therefore would not be privy to the gossip Ursi and Jamie had spread around Ocean Boulevard, so they could not link me with Sabrina. And even if they did, it was unlikely they would contact me. The deer does not attract the attention of the hunter.
So why did Zack tip off Lolly? Role reversal. Sabrina’s prey was playing the hunter. This case had all the trappings of a bedroom farce which comes with the territory when you get in the middle of domestic fisticuffs.
I undressed, washed, and donned a blue-and-white striped silk robe. I poured myself a small marc and refusing to break the rule never a second without a third I lit an English Oval.
At this juncture, as in the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. It is said that the average man thinks of sex once every thirty-seven seconds. I have no doubt that Binky Watrous was canvassed on that one. If you think I was mulling over the idea of calling Connie Garcia, you are wrong. In fact, I was thinking of Bianca Courtney and her crusade for justice. More to the point, I was thinking of Bianca Courtney and her position between a boy and a bear Binky Watrous and Al Rogoff.
What Bianca needed was a sheik in a blue-and-white striped silk robe, to sweep her onto his Arabian charger and gallop off into the sunset. I have these heroic fantasies every thirty-seven seconds. Was guilt a by-product of this fantasy? Absolutely not. I am true to Connie in my fashion, hence I remain single, which makes me more a puritan than a libertine.
Being a firm believer in the sanctity of marriage, I will not take the fatal step until I am prepared to draw a blank every thirty-seven seconds and become monogamous in thought, word, and deed, till death do us part. Being as far from that goal as the distance between our planet and infinity, I remain footloose and fancy-free. A cop-out?
Sure. But it proves that one can rationalize anything, crawl into bed, stroke your cheek good night and savor the restful sleep of the just.
“Mr. McNally? This is Robert Silvester. I believe you’re looking for me.”
Was I just lucky, or was I the plaything of an author in search of a plot? To appreciate the full impact of this morning call on my febrile brain, let me begin with enumerating on the roods I bore before the mountain came calling on Mohammed.
For breakfast Ursi presented me with eggs Benedict. For those who only know from scrambled to fried to hard boiled, this delight is a toasted English muffin, upon which is placed a succulent slice of frizzled Canadian bacon, over which we have a poached egg. The resulting composition is then doused with a delicate Hollandaise sauce. Once one of my favorite egg dishes, it now brings back memories I would rather forget. Other loving couples have their song. Connie and I have eggs Benedict.
One afternoon in the not too distant past, I was lunching at Testa’s with a charming young lady, unaware that Connie was also taking her midday meal there. Seeing us, Connie came directly to our table, toting her brunch plate. I thought she intended to join us uninvited, I might add. In the manner of civilized people, I rose to introduce her to my companion. What Connie did was open the waistband of my lime-green linen trousers and slip in two perfectly prepared eggs Benedict.
So much for breakfast and remembrance of things past, but not forgotten. I drove my Miata into the garage beneath the McNally building, exchanged a few words with Herb, our security guard, and took the elevator to the executive suite. Dear Mrs. Trelawney accepted my expense report with neither meticulous analysis nor sarcastic comment.
En garde, I thought, reaching for an imaginary epee. She signed it with a flourish and handed it back to me. Poised for battle, I waited for her first parry. My father’s private secretary has two passions in life: serving the master and giving me a hard time, not necessarily in that order.
I was loathe to turn my back on her and leave. Mrs. Trelawney wears a gray wig and, for all I know, packs heat. “Thank you,” I ventured, sadly. A day without sparring with Mrs. Trelawney is like a day without sunshine.
“I have you down for a microwave,” she stated.
“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Trelawney.”
“A microwave oven,” she expanded. If she thought this clarified her meaning, she was wrong.
“I seem to have come in in the middle of the movie, Mrs. Trelawney.
Could you go back to the opening scene?”
Looking over her glasses she said, “You didn’t come in in the middle of the movie, Archy. You came in in the middle of the workday.”
This was more like the Mrs. Trelawney I had come to love. My spirits rose as I geared for combat. “Does your spy in the garage below report the time of everyone’s arrival, or just mine?”
“Just you, Archy.” She spoke without a trace of shame.
“You missed your calling, Mrs. Trelawney. One of those alphabet organizations is where you would have risen to the top of the class.
FBI, CIA, KGB, G-E-S-T-A-P-O.”
She nodded knowingly, as if agreeing with me. Mrs. Trelawney has the irritating habit of defusing a barb with a smile. And you should have been a hairdresser,” she shot back. “Love your suit.”
She referred, no doubt, to my three-buttoned, pale pink linen ensemble of which I was particularly fond. Growing more conservative with the passing years, I no longer wore it with my lavender suede loafers but now opted for a pair of shiny black brogues with cooling perforations at the tips. I thought I looked smashing, but Mrs. Trelawney was the kind of gal who would gladly kick the crutch from Tiny Tim’s grip and tell him to walk like a man.
Round one. I declared it a tie and made to depart. “See you in court, Mrs. Trelawney.”
“Just make sure you bring the microwave with you.”
I froze. “Okay, I give up. Am I supposed to say, “What microwave?”
“Binky?” I echoed. “Do you mean…”
“I mean, we’re giving Binky a housewarming and I have you down for a microwave oven. Is that clear?”
Nothing could be clearer. I glanced at my watch. Mickey’s small hand was on the ten and his big hand was on the three. I was aghast.
Minutes after ten in the morning and everyone knew that Binky had rented living space last night and a housewarming was already being planned? “Did he distribute change of address notices this morning?” I complained.
“He told Evelyn Sharif in Records that he found a place last night, with your help. Evelyn told Sofia Richmond in the library, and Sofia passed it on to me. The housewarming was my idea,” she concluded, as if she had just invented the wheel.
From Sharif to Richmond to Trelawney, a perfect double play. Binky had a gaggle of middle-aged women vying to make him comfy, like doting mothers gussying up a dorm room for their little freshman. It was those Bambi eyes that evoked the mother instinct in older women and indifference in their daughters.
There are two things I detest in this vale of tears, and they are eggs Benedict over heather-gray briefs and office parties. Being the scion of the firm’s ruler, I am forced to contribute financially to the latter but reserve my right to be a no-show at the gala. There is something almost morbid about seeing those you toil with in their cups.
Bottoms are pinched, tops are ogled, and, on occasion, romance by misadventure follows. This differs from death by misadventure in that both parties can get up and walk away from the scene of the crime.
“Why should I give Binky Watrous a microwave oven?” I wanted to know.
We did not have such an appliance in our home, thank you. Mother would never force a begonia and Ursi would never force a baked potato. Like Julian, the last Roman emperor to defend the old gods against the Christian hordes, so we McNallys fought valiantly to keep the digital world from encroaching upon our doorstep.
No fax, no e-mail, no voice mail, no PC, no WP, no CD, and no DVD.
However, you might find the odd pair of BVD’s in father’s chiffonier.
“Remember, you’re Binky’s best friend,” she announced.
“Says Binky,” she argued. Binky has diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of ideas. Not wanting to singe Mrs. Trelawney’s ears and, by propinquity, her darnel tresses, I toned it down to, “Binky speaks with a profusion of words and a paucity of facts.” “You’re still down for a microwave oven.” With this she ticked my name off her list of donors. “Your father is giving china. Service for four. A starter set, don’t you know.” “Father? You spoke to the boss?” “This morning at half-past nine, as usual. I told him I would give you his regards as soon as you come in.” “You are a national treasure, Mrs.
Trelawney, and will take your rightful place in history alongside Pearl Harbor, the Lusitania, and The Fall of the House of Usher,” I was losing my cool. “Flattery will get you wherever you want to go.”
“Right now I want to go to my office and cry.” “Fine. Then go for the microwave.” “Just how much does one cost?” I asked. “About a hundred, but it depends on the size. And go with a known manufacturer; you don’t want to go cheap on this. Remember, he’s your best friend.” “I don’t have a hundred to spare,” I pleaded like one being audited by the IRS. “You will when you cash in that swindle sheet. Have a nice day, love.” The phone was ringing when I entered my office.
“Mr. McNally? This is Robert Silvester. I believe you’re looking for me.”
I wanted to say I was looking for a microwave oven but refrained from doing so. After a significant pause I decided to play it with moxie and answered, “As a matter of fact, Mr. Silvester, I was just about to call you.”
“Really? And do you know where I am?”
“I do now. I have caller I.D.”
Robert Silvester laughed. “I don’t believe you, but you have a whimsical sense of humor, and if you’re going to be dealing with Sabrina you’ll need that in great abundance.”
“You know I’ve seen your wife?”
“I do now.” Again the laugh. It was a pleasant sound, not at all mocking. “It was me who gave Sabrina your name.”
I got the feeling I was being jerked around with humor and I didn’t like it. “You told your wife to hire me to look for you? How clever.”
“So, I am the man that got away.”
“Let’s say you’re in the running, Mr. Silvester.”
“How did Ms Spindrift know Sabrina had come down here looking for me?”
“Mr. Spindrift. Lolly is a he.”
“I’ll tell him.” Not wishing to get into a discussion about men named Carroll and Adrian I asked, “Why did Zack Ward tip off Lolly that Sabrina was in town looking for some guy?”
“He didn’t.” came Silvester’s immediate reply.
“Then who did?”
“For all I know it may have been Sabrina herself.”
Lolly had told me the caller was a man, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. Instead I told him what I thought of the inference. “I’m not amused, Mr. Silvester.”
“Please, call me Rob.”
“I’m still not amused, Rob.”
“If you give me a chance, I’ll tell you what I know,” he said.
“Not on the phone, it would take too long. Besides, I’d like to meet you in person. Do you lunch?”
“Only when I’m hungry.”
“Would Harry’s Place at The Breakers suit?”
To a “I.”
“Good. Let’s say twelve-thirty or one.”