|A Year and Change|
This prologue begins the second part Book Four. More than a decade has passed since the Sailor Stars left Earth . . .
|Prologue: Fine Choices|
Torvaldson, Black, Miller, Agnelli and Fine was a successful and long-established partnership that had become a firm. Fine was not a partner--that is, Michael Fine. His grandfather was one of the founding partners, though, and that gave young Fine enough cachet to handle this client without belittling him, but without getting the firm too closely involved.
The client was Johnny Lee Swainson, head of the New Gospel Church and the real power inside the Coalition for a Moral America. Michael had expected to find either a rock-solid fundamentalist Christian or a cynical manipulator in the style of Elmer Gantry, a character one of the old novels he'd been forced to read but was glad of later. Close-up, Swainson was neither, though exactly what he really was, Michael Fine did not know, even after dealing with the man for more than a year.
One thing that he was sure of was that Swainson was not usually a heavy drinker. He didn't pretend to be a teetotaller in front of his flock, but the only time he was ever photographed with a drink was with champagne at his wedding, and then at his son's. But on this election night, Fine had seen him finish two tall drinks and start on a third, and he suspected Swainson had drunk more earlier.
Swainson hadn't really said much so far. Mostly what he had done was ask questions and encourage Michael to talk. Meanwhile the housekeeper flitted in and out, endlessly attentive. She was African-American, fairly young but not very attractive. She was very pleasant and efficient, and . Finally Swainson said, "Valita, I'll be fine by myself. It's time you were in bed."
The housekeeper looked a little hurt, but she left them alone. After she was gone for long enough for it to be clear she wouldn't return, Swainson finished his latest drink and made another--he got up to do that, and he walked steadily enough, but perhaps carefully. Swainson was drinking his usual, Johnny Walker Green Label, a cheaper, not-heavily-advertised brand drunk mostly by knowing Southerners. Maybe he preferred it; maybe it was part of the role he was playing.
One thing that Swainson had not revealed was exactly why he wanted to be with Michael Fine. Now that the housekeeper had been chased out, he was wondering if Swainson had something other than his legal affairs in mind.
"Haven't you finished your drink yet, son?" asked Swainson.
There was another decision to make. Fine finished the dregs of his martini and said, "I guess I could stand another."
Swainson mixed up another, something he seemed to enjoy, and talked while he did. "Cocktails are very American, you know? Mixed drinks were here before the American Revolution."
"Why do you stick with whisky and water, then?"
"Oh, I don't know . . . I like a good cocktail now and then, but I never change my drinks. The only hangover I ever got was after a cocktail party. I wanted to sample everything. I did, but I paid for it." Swainson combined the gin and vermouth with shaved ice in a small shaker and began agitating it rather gently. "What do you think of the election results so far, Mr. Fine? Please, be honest."
"I'd say they should be making you happy. It looks like you've got the President you wanted, and you've unseated two Congressmen. I'd say the CMA is going to have more influence."
"More," said Swainson. He poured out the mix, deftly leaving the ice in the shaker. Then he speared an olive with one clean thrust of a toothpick, and added the garnish. He held it up for a moment, as if to inspect it. "More, but not as much as I hoped. Senator Fallon was the important one this time. We failed."
"That's not certain yet. It still--"
"We failed, Mr. Fine," said Swainson, handing the finished drink to Michael. "Why do you think we failed, Mr. Fine?"
"I'm no political analyst."
"I know, but you are a good lawyer, and all good lawyers know politics. So, why do you think we failed to unseat Fallon?"
Fine took a sip of his drink before answering. "I think it was a mistake to commit so much against one candidate in a three-way race. Not enough people thought either of the other guys could win, so they didn't bother to vote, a lot of them. I think you would probably have won if you'd had just one guy running against him."
Swainson sat down and listened, holding his drink but not drinking. Then he said, "I've heard that before. But it is still the right idea, I think. The Coalition did try to get Drysdale to drop out, but he wouldn't." Swainson now took a swallow. "I have information that he's really a sick man. Perhaps that made him more stubborn . . . you know, Roosevelt--FDR, I mean--knew he was dying when he ran for a fourth term. He really did know it, and believed it, and yet he ran anyway." Swainson took another swallow, and then looked directly at Fine. "My great-grandfather Hiram knew Roosevelt, you know. Knew him before he was President. He used to spend part of every year at Warm Springs, with great-grandma's family."
"That's interesting," said Michael Fine, wondering where this was going, if it was going anywhere.
"What do you think of my great-grandfather, Mr. Fine? Truthfully, if you have an opinion at all."
Fine answered candidly. "My grandfather did tell me some stories. He wasn't what he was supposed to be."
"Now that's where you are wrong, Mr. Fine. He was exactly what he was supposed to be."
"I don't mean to offend your beliefs--"
"No, you don't, Mr. Fine," said Swainson. "Hiram Swainson was a born swindler. That was what made him such a superb instrument of the Lord's. Faith is the business of swindlers and saints, Mr. Fine. Sometimes it can be very hard to tell one from the other." Swainson smiled, and took another swallow.
Fine did not care to follow this line further, so he presented an opportunity for his client to change the subject. "Does this relate to the matter you wanted to discuss?"
"Great Grandpa Hiram? Not much, I suppose," said Swainson, sounding a bit disappointed. He took another swallow and set down his glass, and began writing on a pad. "I want you to look into a child welfare matter."
"Yes, child welfare, Mr. Fine. I want you to be very quiet and not bring me or the Church into the affair." Swainson tore off the top sheet, and gave it to Fine. "This is how to get in touch with the parents--but I wish you would not if you can help it, not before you tell me what you think you can do. These are the agencies involved, and this is where the children are--something rings a bell for you, Mr. Fine?"
Once again Fine found Swainson eerily perceptive. "Ahh, yes, something does." <He can smell a lie . . .> "I have a relative who lives in this town."
"Well, there's a happy coincidence, Mr. Fine. Have you seen her recently?"
"No," said Michael Fine.
"But you were close to her once, weren't you?"
"Yes," admitted Fine, taking a sip of his martini. "I got to know her when she was interning in Boston and I was at my first year at Harvard Law. She's older than me. Second cousin or maybe third, I don't quite know; her mother was my grandfather's youngest sister." Fine took another sip. "You know, Reverend, if you ever quit preaching, you would make a damned good bartender. This is about the best martini I can remember."
"Thank you, Mr. Fine," said Swainson. "Go on about your cousin, if you care to."
Fine did not care to, but he sensed Swainson was intensely curious. "Her father is Chinese. That did not sit well with the family at all, except for my grandfather. The last time I saw her was at Grandfather Fine's funeral."
"But you've kept in touch?"
Fine shrugged. "Last time I heard from her was in July. Her daughter had just had a birthday."
"Oh?" remarked Swainson, putting a lot of implication into that one word.
"Her daughter is four now, I think. She was engaged to another doctor she knew, but they didn't get married, after all. The kid is his, though." <Not mine,> Michael Fine added in his mind.
"I take it that doesn't set too well with your family, either."
"Actually--" Actually it was none of Swainson's business, but Michael had already started the remark. "Actually the folks back in Boston are pretty curious about her kid. But she doesn't want to have much to do with them. Ginger, I mean. I don't know about her kid; I've never met her . . ."
Gabe Fine, Michael's father, wasn't a member of the firm, though he certainly had warm relations with it. He'd been in and out of New York City government; he was out for the moment, because the other party was in. So he'd taken a job with GC Associates, an international firm. "We do more lobbying than lawyering," he explained. "At least, I do."
"Sounds interesting," said Michael, making it clear that it was not. Michael was not very close with his father; his parents had divorced when he was four. Still, he wasn't angry with his father; he just did not want to hear any of his long stories. He got to the point. "Do you want my help with something, Dad?"
"Yes, I do," said Gabriel Fine. "I want you to see what you can do about getting cousin Ginger's body moved to Boston."
Michael hesitated. "Why would you ask me? The last time I heard, both of her parents were alive."
"They aren't cooperating," said his father.
"I'm afraid I can't help you much there, Dad," said Michael, shaking his head. "I've never met them."
"But you knew her," said Gabe Fine. "Maybe you know some of her friends?"
Michael said, truthfully enough, "I know something about them, but I can't say I know any of them."
"I don't expect you to work miracles, Mikey, but give it a try," said his father, placing a hand on his shoulder.
After his father left, Michael Fine spent a long time staring out of the window that was one of the perks that come with handling a very big client for the firm. It was something he did not do often. Mostly he thought of choices he might have made . . . but had not.
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