The old Jews knew what to do with rain like this.
Conjure an honest man with a boat and spin a parable about the wages of sin.
In Ironton, New Jersey people with six feet of water in their cellars wondered why they had not been told about the boat.
The last waves of an August tropical storm stalled over the state bringing a year’s worth of rain in a week. Once the ground and plants absorbed their fill, the water pooled on rock ledges, filled depressions in the woods and in backyards under the swingsets and began a slow fall toward the river.
Saturated soil slid down the slopes souplike and sloppy, smearing against cellar windows and car doors and red flower boxes filled with marigolds as the water rose and splashed against locked front doors, seeping under the carpet while frantic homeowners ran sump pumps two at a time.
The footballs and basketballs came first, bouncing atop the current along with a few aluminum chairs as if a backyard game had been interrupted. A chunk of plastic fence surfed along, curving and dipping as the water rose, the grape arbor from Mrs. Girardi’s garden dipped in and out of view, followed by an acre of Sam Johnson’s newspapers that had been blasted out his shed when the door caved in and the editions of all the days of his life became flotsham; then it in its last turn, the flood lifted the Salvatore’s woodframe greenhouse from its cinderblock foundation and carried it along suspended like a parade float until it was thrown into a telephone pole where it splintered and left the plastic sheeting fluttered loudly in the stream.
When the flood finally crashed into the middle school and swirled and pooled into a menacing lagoon at the bottom of Berry Street, the neighborhood looked like Venice the day after hell brook loose and someone held a rummage sale.
By the third day, the river had backed up into the broken storm sewers, and street by street Ironton was cut into segments with orange and white barriers blocking access to flooded roads. Cellars in the riverbank homes were floating with seat cushions, books, toys and shredded cardboard boxes while gas from a broken line bubbled through the black water to the surface. Two blocks away the fire department in scuffed black helmets with bright spotlights and yellow turnout coats rowed the fireboat around stalled cars on dark Richards Avenue to pluck families from their porches.
When the water receded the families had waterlogged homes to clean, town officials had streets caked with mud and Detective Frank Nagler had a body in the Old Iron Bog.
“It’d be easier if she had a head, huh, detective?”
Frank Nagler squinted down at the rescue squad kid waiting as an investigator zipped up a black body bag that contained the headless, handless body of a young woman and tried to remember what he forgot to do last night.
Sleep, that was it. It was 5 a.m. When the call came and shocked him awake, Nagler was stuffed into a small office chair like an old jacket. It hurt to unfold and stand.
“And maybe hands,” the kid added brightly. “Man, I don’t envy you,” he said as he wheeled the bag toward the ambulance. Nagler just nodded. Why are you so excited? It’s five a.m. and you’re hauling a corpse.
And maybe a note pinned to her chest with her mom’s phone number, Nagler thought sadly. Solve this thing by noon and get some sleep.
Police Supervisor Chris Foley reached Nagler’s side and shoved a cup of coffee into his hand. Nagler nodded, but wondered, what are you doing here? He let the thought pass. The man has coffee.
“What do we know?” Nagler asked.
Foley was a straight shooter, a razor cut, white shirt kind of cop. He examined crime scenes as if they were math problems and left no remainders. But he never saw the magic the math produced, Nagler knew, never imaged that in a crime sometimes one and one equaled three. Crimes for Chris Foley were a formula, a step one, step two, kind of thing. Sometimes the formula worked; sometimes it didn’t
He read from his notes.
“The body was found by a couple of high school kids out here drinking beer and fornicating. They were underage. We will speak with their parents. About 3 a.m. Let’s see. They said they fell asleep, woke up when they heard a car drive in, started throwing on their clothes since they said they thought it was the authorities…. Hum, … car stopped in the distance,… heard some voices.”
He turned a page. “Door slammed, car drove away. The kids sat in the car for a while. They thought it was no big deal. Someone dumping trash, happens out here all the time, they said.”
“Speak to their parents, Chris?” Nagler said. “Jesus, they’re just kids out here screwing. This ain’t Sunday school.” Nagler shook his head. ”I supposed you would have turned me in, too.”
Foley paused a moment, then looked Nagler, and then again at his notes. “What?”
Nagler smiled; he knew about those kids and cars and drinking beer and fornicating.
Foley, however, was the guy who called the cops about kids drinking beer and fornicating. It’s five o’clock in the morning, Nagler said to himself. Cut him some slack.
Still, Nagler knew, Foley was a good investigator. Started at the local department and worked his way through the ranks and was appointed to a regional task force a couple of years ago. But he was as stiff as a two-by-four and as narrow minded as a telescope viewed through the wrong end. But it didn’t make him a bad guy, Nagler knew, just a pain in the ass.
The coffee landed in Nagler’s stomach with a crash and was jamming its way to his brain, pushing back the sleepless, dull ache. Nagler shook his head. A couple of cylinders were firing, he thought.
Foley gave Nagler the once over. “Little casual this morning, aren’t we, detective?
Was that a joke? I’m wearing pants, right? Never could tell with Foley. Since it was known he wanted to be chief, probably not.
Nagler ran a hand through his hair and scratched the stubble on his chin.
“Wanted to look my best for you. I was up half the night with that other thing,” Nagler said. Well, it is a damn swamp, junior, Nagler thought.
“Oh, is that the…I see. You have to copy me on that.”
“Yeah, sure.” Nagler pursed his lips and shrugged. Then he asked, “What are you doing here, Chris? Working below your pay grade aren’t you?”
Foley turned slowly. “We haven’t had a decapitated body in some time. Thought you might need the help. I am, after all, a police supervisor.”
Nagler slugged back some coffee rather than say anything. “So where’d they find her?”
Foley led Nagler along a narrow sandy road overgrown with small trees, cattails and grass.
Foley stepped carefully around the mud and debris so his tassled loafers would not get ruined, but caught his jacket sleeve on a small tree branch an spend more than a minute examining the cloth. “Sorry, Frank. just got it back from the dry cleaners.”
Whatever, Frank Nagler thought.
This was The Old Iron Bog, an old swamp that for generations going back to the iron mining days three hundred years ago had been a dumping ground for waste rock, slag, badly made iron parts, bent rails, then in modern times, trash, cars, and everything society needed to hide. The roads had been cut by the miners to give access to the swamp, and improved, if that was the word, by the towns that dumped garbage here before it was outlawed.
The place seemed undisturbed by a week’s rain, as if the hole at the bottom of the
bog was deeper than anyone could guess. Nagler recalled a story about the construction of
the interstate highway. Engineers were battering a steel piling into a hole on the edge of the bog when the piling broke through the roof of an old mine shaft and disappeared into the void. The engineers stared at one another, pushed back their yellow hard hats, scratched their heads, consulted their maps, and stared into the hole.
This swamp, Nagler thought, will swallow us all.
They were going to build a shopping mall here, Nagler thought. A peeling, battered billboard hung for years along Mount Pleasant. Where’d it go?
Yellow tape marked off about one hundred yards of road and swamp. “The car stopped about here,” – Foley walked about ten feet away – “They took the body out of the car, and dropped it.”
Foley stuck the notebook in the pocket of his sportscoat. Nagler smiled. Five in the morning and he’s dressed for the office.
“One thing I don’t like,” Foley said with a question in his voice. “They could have pushed her into the water. Why not? There’s five feet of thick weeds and brush on either side of the road here.. She would have sunk out of sight–the water is absolutely pitch black in this place–maybe got hooked on some roots and never came back up. Even if she did, you’d never see her.”
“You saying they were just sloppy?” Nagler asked. “Or they wanted us to find her?”
“Maybe they wanted us to find her,” Foley said as he walked away.
About a dozen police, rescue and fire vehicles lined Mount Pleasant with one set of wheels in the road and another in the muddy ditch. Cops in hip waders crashed in and out of the brush and weeds, and a fire boat was being backed into the swamp. They had not yet found any clothes, or her head and hands, and the body had no jewelry. It was just the butchered body.
The roar of rush hour traffic on the interstate about a half-mile away started to filter into the swamp and overtake what until that moment had been a oddly quiet place. The sounds, even the chatter of the police radios was sucked into the deep endlessness of the swamp. The overgrowth absorbed all the noise just like it sucked nourishment from the water. But the grumble of daily life on the highway would soon overpower the dense swamp. By mid-morning once the trucks started rolling down from the quarry, ten at once, each carrying forty tons of rock, the water would begin a tremble that would shimmer on the oily surface until well after dark.
It’s a hell of a place to die, Nagler thought.
Nagler walked the site for a few more minutes, talking off and on to a fire captain, one of the county guys, or just observing, trying to imprint the scene on his very tired brain.
The sand coated his shoes and he felt the ooze of the swamp soaking his socks. Dress shoes, he thought. What was I thinking?
The rubber-neckers lined Mount Pleasant, crawling by, watching the lights flash on the police cars. A local cop with a flashlight waved them on, one by one, taking in what they could see or imagine they saw.
Nagler rubbed his forehead, stopped and looked up and down the street into the confusion of cars and lights. Where the hell did I park, he wondered. He turned to face the swamp and remembered he came in from the left, then walked that way. He squeezed his eyes shut and let the kaledeoscope of swirls and circles fade to black. He hoped they would take along with them the endless lists numbers he had been examining for the past three weeks, ever since the letters began to arrive. Just lists and dates and numbers on City of Ironton stationary or invoices with no explanation, but day by day, Nagler could see they were heading toward some conclusion.
Just send the last chapter, he thought.
Shit, did I say that out loud, Nagler asked himself.
“Yeah, you did. Said ‘just send the last chapter,’ out loud.”
It was Jimmy Dawson.
“Don’t you ever sleep?’’
“I’m Icabod Crane. I hear the headless horseman is out tonight.”
Dawson was a reporter for the local paper. He was cynical, hard-nosed, fairly nasty at times, but always got it right. He knew the rules of the game and Nagler knew he could lay out a story on background and no one would ever know the source.
“Yeah,” Nagler said. “Some young woman. Headless, handless. Looks like she was dumped here after being killed elsewhere. No clothes, no ID.” He shrugged. “No clue.”
Dawson finished writing and waited for more description.
“How do you do that?” Nagler asked.
“What?” Dawson asked.
“Read your hand writing. Especially while taking notes in the dark.”
“Write extra big. Trick I learn when I was a movie reviewer.”
Nagler and Dawson had been meeting like this for years. There was a respect between them, a knowledge that comes from being in the same places under the same circumstances too many times.
“You in later?” Dawson asked.
“After 10. Be here for a while.”
“I’ll call you,” Dawson said as he walked away.
Then he stopped.
“Hear from Lauren Fox?”
Nagler just stared at the reporter as he walked away. “No,” he finally said.
The Pakistani girl behind the counter at Dunkin Donuts asked, “Onion bagel?” Nagler smiled wearily and nodded. “And a small regular,” he added.
He took a seat at a window table and listened through the glass as the NJ Transit engine blasted its horn at the Warren Street crossing and he pictured the long red and white gates bobbing while the cars piled up on Orchard and past the traffic light on Blackwell just as they did a dozen times a morning as the old streets of Ironton came back to life.
Across the street, wrapping around the corner, about 50 scruffy Latinos eyed each passing truck to see if the driver would stop and offer them a job. In an hour most of them would be gone, stepping inside the back door of a longbed Ford or Chevy with rakes and mowers or ladders and paint in the bed. What a life, Nagler thought. But better than the one they left in Mexico or Colombia.
The streets of Ironton hummed each morning. The restaurants or coffee shops were lined up five deep. The buses belched and swayed from stop to stop and the cars queued to fill the parking lots or cut through town heading for the interstate.
The suburban Jersey commuters parked their pick-ups and SUVs in the main lot and took the long gleaming trains east to where they worked in towers changing money, inventing drugs and computer applications, while in Ironton the shop keepers swept the sidewalks, arranged their goods and prepared for a day of commerce.
Nagler stared out the window at the activity. What’d all this have to do with a dead body in the Old Iron Bog?
Something, he thought; but right then he didn’t k now what.
Nagler was born and raised in Ironton, the son of an ironworker. As a kid he loved to hear the mill stories, read the local histories, and grew to understand that something important had happened along that curve of the Rockaway River.
The city was founded three hundred years ago when men figured how to turn iron ore into an industry that carried Ironton from the American Revolution to the Korean war.
The sounds of industry had filled the air: the hammering at the forge, the hiss of iron cooling, the brays of mules pulling canal boats along the old towpath, the scream of train wheels on that last wide turn from Wharton; the sound of a dozen languages spoken at once, the tapping of a fine lady’s shoes as she window shopped at George Richman’s department store. The clatter of a world being invented daily.
It was such a place, such a center of that small corner of New Jersey, that when the silence came, no one knew what to do.
“It was like everyone in town was struck dumb,” Jimmy Dawson said one day. “Everything grew from that old iron mill, but at the end, it was a rusting, falling down old hulk, an embarrassment, a symbol of failure in a world that after the war demanded something spiffy, something shiny, something new.”
So the mill was torn down without so much as a good-bye, thanks a lot, or a second thought.
Its absence left a giant hole in the middle of Ironton that decades later was just a gray empty parking lot that ends in a stone wall that once channeled the Rockaway River into the mill. The cracked asphalt ripples like waves cresting; papers pinned to the rusted metal fence embed themselves like weeds.
What happened in Ironton was repeated all over the United States as the new highways pulled the returning veterans out of the cities and the G.I. Bill that helped an entire generation go to college made it possible for them not to have to return to the mills, the mines and the sweatshops. In the rush to the future Ironton was left along side of the road, sleeves rolled up, forge hammer in hand; John Henry tired and beaten as the diesel engine pulled away, the cry of the working man unheard as the world changed overnight.
All that was left was the hush of the river pouring daily uselessly through that old stone channel, water passing over stones with the meaninglessness of time.
It took years for the politicians to realize it was never coming back. “All they talked about was the good old days when there were five department stores, three groceries, ice cream shops, jewelers, fancy men’s and women’s shops and three newspapers,” Dawson said. “The real sin was they thought Ironton was unique,” he said. “Like the place was surrounded by a wall. They were waiting for Commodore Perry to sail up the river and open the place up like he did Japan.”
There were no Commodore Perrys. Just Urban Renewal and in one swift decade the wreckage of Ironton’s historic past was swept away — the seedy bars, the old warehouses, railroad shops with no roofs, all the claptrap 100 year old– before it burned down.
Urban Renewal brought more parking lots.
“Parking lots!” Dawson raged. “Parking lots.” The glorious colors of the past beaten flat into acres of sun-baked asphalt.
Worst of all, Dawson said, they all forgot.
All but Gabriel Richman, great-grandson of George Richman, the first mayor of Ironton, who in the late 1880s led the drive that carved the city from the surrounding townships. George Richman didn’t invent Ironton, but he nearly owned all of it: the mills, the mines, the railroad, the water and sewer companies, rows and rows of tenements; and sat on state commissions that oversaw the mills, mines and railroads, and when the city was formed he set its borders along the property lines of all his friends.
He even owned the Old Iron Bog , but for all of his connections and money could not figure out how to use the swamp for anything but a dump.
But Gabriel Richman knew. A century of modern industrialization and environment law later, Gabriel Richman, now the four-term mayor of Ironton, had a plan that he touted as the saving grace of the old city. It would rid the region of an old smelly swamp, trade that wetland for a piece of riverfront property that needed restoration and build a shopping center.
Not just a shopping center. But a power center, he declared the day he made the announcement, standing behind a podium that had been hauled to the swamp on the back of a town pick-up truck. Large, national chain stores, a small golf course, a transportation center for bus service and commuter parking, with a hotel, fancy restaurants and shops, some upscale housing. All the taxes the old city would ever need. All the prestige the old place had been lacking since the days of his great-grandfather. He would reinvent Ironton, he declared to a cheering crowd.
The fact that the old bog was a more than a mile from the heart of the city and would require billions in investment and environmental clean-up didn’t faze the 42-year-old mayor.
Hell, he said, a decade ago the state filled in a corner of the Old Iron Bog when it built the interstate. How hard can it be?
Apparently harder than he thought. Five years after the announcement and after the forty-foot billboard declaring “Ironton Center: The Center of Your World” was erected, there was no transportation center, upscale hotels or condominiums.
Just acres of black water, tree stumps and old rusted cars settling into a bottomless goo.
Gabriel Richman’s big dreams had run headlong into the reality of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the opposition of nearby apartment dwellers, historians, environmentalists, the dot-com crash, corporate scandal, Wal-Mart, the jealousy and opposition of the mayors of neighboring towns, and the sweet-voiced, but reasoned concerns of Lauren Fox.
It wasn’t that she opposed the plans. It was just as the manager of a program designed to revitalize the downtown area, she had to tell the mayor that the state would rather see all that effort and money maybe spent filling in the 12 acres of empty parking lots in the center of Ironton and not the Old Iron Bog
The mayor, however, was not one to take no for an answer, Jimmy Dawson reminded everyone. And since he could not move the engineers, the environmentalists, the money lenders or the apartment dwellers, he targeted Lauren Fox.
Six months after she told the mayor what he did not want to hear, funding for her job was removed from the city budget and she was gone.
Gone without a trace, Nagler thought. Gone without good-bye.
He shut his eyes against the pain. We talked nearly every day for two years. In the corridors of city hall, in her office, on street corners, at ballpark ribbon cuttings. God, she was kid. That’s what raised all those eyebrows, he knew. She was a kid, maybe 26, and he was 45.
And she was beautiful. Every single cop in town hit on her. The mayor probably hit on her. And old dumpy Frank Nagler caught her eye.
No, he said silently.
He stuffed the waxed paper from the bagel into the coffee cup and jammed them both through the dirty swinging door of the trash bin. I can’t do this again.
She’s gone. No one they both knew had heard from her. Vanished. Bury all the old memories, he thought. That’s what I’d do. All the confusion. All the disappointments.
He stepped from the silence of the coffee shop into the clash of sounds that was Blackwell Street: Horns honking, engines revving, shouts, train whistles and the wail of distant ambulance.
I wonder what the mayor will think about the headless horseman, Nagler thought.
After he left the medical examiner’s office Nagler headed back to the Old Iron Bog to ponder the scene in full daylight.
Wasn’t any better.
The yellow tape was still there, tire tracks in the sand; the same emptiness.
Mulligan, the M.E. said she was five-eight, a hundred-twenty pounds or so. She didn’t appear to be a junkie, but they had no tox-screen results. There was no sexual assault.
“She wasn’t dumped before the rain came. There wouldn’t have been any blood and the body would have been more seriously degraded,’’ Mulligan said. “Like those kids said, some time last night.”
In his mind Nagler scanned the streets in the north part of Ironton near the Old Iron Bog. Lots of homes, but a few older warehouses, machine shops and storage sites left over from the days when manufacturing took place, back alleys, narrow streets, lots of dark out of the way places worth checking.
He walked along the narrow dirt road unfulfilled, head down, kicking clots of dirt until he heard a door slam.
Mulligan also said she might have been tortured before she was killed.
At the head of the road parked with its big fat cargo butt half in the travel lane was Gabriel Richman’s gold Cadillac Escalade.
The men shook hands. “Frank. What do you think?’’
“I think some unfortunate kid got caught up with the wrong gang and they sacrificed her,’’ Nagler said. “We’ll find out soon enough. Something like this, something this messy …. someone talks.’’
Gabe Richman was gazing off into the distance.
“I hated this place as a kid,’’ he said. He turned back to Nagler. “Hated this town.”
“That something you want to tell me, Gabe?”
“It’s not a secret,’’ he said and laughed. “I grew up watching this city die. Factories closed, stores moved out. People out of work. It wasn’t the place I imagined it to be and I could feel myself being sucked into the hole that at the center of the city. Everyone was so angry when I spoke about the future; they said the city had none. I was too young. I believed them. My own hometown was killing my dreams. This town was old George Richman’s creation. You’ve seen the photos. The department store with the line of horse-drawn delivery wagons. The dress shops, the theaters. The old mills. People worked hard here, raised their families, made dreams come true. And I wanted that. But the dreams were gone, the mills shut down, the great passenger trains just photos on the station walls. The politicians at the time began to blame my great-grandfather. Lived for himself, paid off his friends, made them all rich while the town declined, when the truth was that this was not going to be an iron center for ever. The mines were played out, the new technology was not used. The mills were old and inefficient. It the end it collapsed under its own weight. The world changed after the war and Old Ironton was not ready for it. In fact of it had not been for the war, the mills would had stayed shut after the Great Depression.”
The mayor rubbed his hands on his pants to loosen some sand.
“When I went to college I realized that lots of places were like Ironton. Places that found themselves running behind. That’s why I wanted to build that commercial center here. To show people in this town that dreams can happen. If it had worked, Ironton would have been a place to remember again.”
Nagler asked, “so what happened.”
“Politics. Gamesmanship. Graft. A mayor whose name I can’t tell you wanted a big political pay off for his support and another wanted to create a shell company so he could buy in and not have to declare the income. Some state officials said they would approve the clean up if I was willing to contribute to the governor’s campaign. Every developer in the county wanted a piece of the action and every lawyer wanted to handle the rezoning application. I never realized how many people thought they could make money off an old swamp.’’
He rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hands like he was grinding the sleep out of them.
Then he laughed, but it did not disguise the weary bitterness in his voice.
“I’ll see you, Frank. Have a meeting downtown with the business administrator about next year’s taxes.’’
Nagler said he’s keep the mayor informed of any developments in the case.
“So that whole shopping center plan is dead, huh?” Nagler shouted after the mayor.
Richman turned back to the cop, his face wrinkled in a peculiar quizzical frown as if Nagler had just found the magic box.
Richman brushed his hair back and waved a hand in the air.
“Maybe for this place ,” he said and waved at the bog again. “ But maybe not dead. The city could use it and someone will make a hell of a lot of money when it happens. Need to find the right place.” He turned and walked back his car.
Nagler glanced up at the Escalade as the passenger side window slipped down a bit.
Behind the dark glass for just a second before the panel slid closed, Nagler thought he saw a blonde woman. In the next moment as the image sharpened, he was sure it was Debbie Glance, the planning board secretary.
Nagler looked his watch. It was 9:30 in the morning.
Debbie Glance. Ouch.
“Post that online yet, Dawson?”
Jed Upton, the day editor, tugged at the sleeves of his pinstriped shirt. He was more fashion plate than editor, a shill for what had become a three-wagon traveling show as corporations drained away profits, cut staff, and swore that the Internet would be their salvation even as the electronic termites ate away the underpinnings of the enterprise.
That was all that mattered now. Getting the story online — posted on the paper’s website – so the anonymous commentators could tear the poor girl apart before they turned on themselves.
Hits, clicks, unique visitors, an invisible and uncountable audience upon which the Jed Uptons of the world based the future of his newspaper and the fate of his company.
Dawson thought he would do better to try to count fairies.
Dawson yelled back, “It’s up. Let the feeding frenzy begin.”
Upton stopped by the reporter’s desk. “What’s next? How about something on the old bog?”
Dawson squinted up at the editor.
Upton hated to be questioned about his story ideas, because back in the day, he was a hotshot big city reporter, don’t you know.
“No one knows anything about it,” Upton said. Dawson knew that meant that Upton did not know anything about it. “How long has it been there? Has it always been a swamp? Maybe there’s a sunken village there and maybe there’s some survivors?”
Dawson just shook his head.
“Sunken villages? The paper going to pay for an archeological dig? Damn swamp’s been there since the last Ice Age, for crying out loud,” Dawson said. “Maybe we’ll find Fred Flintsone and Barney Rubble.”
Upton walked away with a scowl. Another close encounter with a reporter.
One of these days, he’s going to fire my ass, Dawson thought
He glanced around the huge, empty room. The paper would be moving to a new, smaller office in a month. The owners contracted to have the paper printed elsewhere and delivered by hired trucks. The move had cost a hundred jobs. Once the paper had been one of the largest employers in the county. Now it was one of the smallest with just a eight reporters, a couple editors and a few ad reps.
They gave up on the business, Dawson told Frank Nagler one day. It got hard, so they quit. The Internet gave them one more flashy toy but it drained the company of income so all they could do was cut costs, processes and people.
Dawson returned his attention to the body in the bog.
He had checked the website. That was the predictable headline they wrote: “The Body in the Bog. Cops probe tale of headless woman.”
Maybe she was someone’s girlfriend and the wife caught them in bed. Like some corporate executive, or a state senator. That’d be juicy, Dawson thought.
But something like that would already be in the wind: I’d already have a dozen calls.
Probably just some runaway. She might not even be from here, he thought. The interstate was known for a couple famous unexplained deaths of young women who had been kidnapped elsewhere, killed and dumped along the highway that ran from New York to Pennsylvania.
After he had returned to the office Dawson had checked with Nagler who said there were no local girls missing and a check of a national database had so many women with similar descriptions to be essentially useless, since the locals had no head to match against a photo.
As he picked up his notebook and stood up, a flash box popped up on his screen as he was shutting down the computer. The state’s U.S. Attorney was holding a televised press conference at two in Trenton.
He just held one , Dawson thought. Busted some small time mayor in South Jersey for taking a bribe to rezone a parcel of land for a developer.
Sold his soul for like two grand, Dawson remembered. Cheap soul.
Dawson headed out to Barry’s, an old lunch place on Warren for his usual, a Cuban sandwich, coffee and a load of crap from Barry.
The restaurant was a hole in the wall with one long counter with nine chairs and five tables crammed against the wall. It was half filled when Dawson arrived, as usual, but one end of the counter was piled with brown paper bags for take-out.
The door opened to Barry’s bellow: “Hey Jonny, get these outta here. What am I, paying you to look good?”
Jonny, a thin Colombian kid of 19 with slicked-back black hair and killer grin, grabbed the bags. “That’s exactly why you paying me, old man.”
Dawson and the kid nodded hellos in the doorway and then Dawson stepped into that simmering air of the diner, assaulted by a dozen aromas swirling together yet distinct like a good gumbo or salsa.
“Hey, mister reporter man,” Barry yelled. “So what you got? What’d your paper say, a body in the bog? What is she, some chicka, a little Latin hottie, huh?”
Dawson just shook his head. “That’s disgusting, you old fart. She’s one of your ex-waitresses. Gonna spill the beans on what a crummy boss you are.”
“You’re wrong. They all love me. Tony, give me a Cuban.”
Barry placed a cup of coffee, silverware and a napkin in front of Dawson, and leaned in. “So what is this?” He tossed his head back slightly, raising his chin.
Dawson dumped milk and three sugars in the coffee and stirred it around.
“Don’t really know. Just some unfortunate kid.” He shook his head and swallowed some coffee. “Why’d they cut her head off? That seems pretty brutal for this county. She might be a dump from the city.”
Dawson’s Cuban arrived.
“Could be,” Barry said. “These kids here, they hear stuff. But they ain’t heard nothing on this.”
Dawson raised the sandwich.
“But you hear about the shit in the fourth ward?”
Dawson placed the sandwich back on the plate with a grimace. Now what? The fourth ward, he thought. Even though this town was mostly Democratic, there was always shit in the fourth ward, some stupid party infighting. A couple of elections ago the party chairman ran a slate of candidates against his own incumbents which gave the Republicans an opportunity. They ended up winning most of the council seats and drove Gabe Richman crazy, calling for studies of everything under the sun, blocking all his plans, even for street repairs.
“So what’s up?” Dawson asked.
“The Trenton Street Club wants to expand the parking lot out back. But there’s a house on the lot they want. They want Richman to knock it down, declare it blighted.” Barry said. “That way they can claim the lot through eminent domain.”
Dawson rolled his eyes.
“I’m guessing the house is occupied,” he said. “What, some Hispanic family with three kids? “
“And they’re claiming it’s a crack house with mattresses in the cellar and families living in the attic that’s been all chopped up.” Barry looked out the window and cursed in Spanish. “Ain’t no crack house. I know the lady that owns it. She’s been there 40 years. Nice old lady. Goes to St. Stephen’s. But the old mayor, he got a bug for her house. Wants it to be like the old days, when he could get the city council to approve stuff like that.”
The old mayor, Dawson thought. Howard Nelson. The Trenton Street Club was his power base, ran it like an old political boss. Everyone paid homage to Howard Nelson.
“What’s Richman think?” Dawson asked.
“I think he’s trying to avoid it. He doesn’t need Howie Nelson asking for stuff right now.”
Back in the newsroom, the three reporters and two editors on duty stood in front of one of the flat screen televisions the publisher installed to give the empty room the feel of a big city newsroom. Either that or an off-track betting parlor, Dawson thought. All they needed was a bucket half-filled with cigarette butts, a couple of winos and a green-and-gray checked linoleum floor.
The U.S Attorney had just announced the arrest of 100 municipal, school board and county officials from dozens of Jersey towns on charges of bribery, money laundering and conspiracy.
“Holy shit,” someone said.
The attorney’s office had turned into an informant some attorney who got caught stealing his client’s money. The guy met with the officials and offered them a bribe if they would rezone some land for his supposed development company.
It was so transparent to be almost comical, Dawson thought. But they fell for it.
Frank Nagler looked at the charts one last time. He had one of Chris Foley’s forensic accounting guys go over all the material that had been delivered to him in a series of nine letters.
He had created one giant chart highlighting repeated numbers in a colored box, but there were so many of them the chart looked like Christmas wrapping paper.
The first letter was simple enough. It said Nagler would get a second letter. It was written on a computer in a standard format and printed on common white copy paper. All the letters were created in the same manner. After the fourth one, Nagler was hoping the author might have decided to use letters cut from magazines or newspapers just to liven them up. The postmark was no help: All mail in North Jersey was processed at a regional center where a generic postmark was imprinted on the envelopes.
“This is the first letter,” the first letter said. “What will follow will be a series of letters and packages that contain copies of documents.”
What the letter didn’t say was that most of the invoices that would come had been redacted. So while at times a few numerals of an account number were visible, most had been blacked out.
Nothing had an address, nothing had a bank name, an initial or any other mark except for wavering black lines that appeared to be made by a felt-tipped pen.
For Frank Nagler at first glance, the pages and pages of documents were hieroglyphics.
“What a mess of numbers,” he said, shaking his head. Maybe I should have listened to Mrs. McGrady in third grade.
But to Dan Yang, the forensic accountant, they were a pattern.
Look at numbers that end in “25,” he said. They appeared ten or twelve times up and down the charts: 125, 525, 825, 1225. “Dates?” Nagler asked. Yang shrugged; maybe.
The number 9,235 was listed twenty-five times. Yang said that could be a bank deposit. “But why the same number?” Nagler asked.
This could be money laundering, Yang said. Despite the random nature of the material there seemed to be a pattern.
Yang said the city was adding new software to its computers to shift all the financial data to one system. Because it involved the police department, he would be consulting on the project.
“I can get a complete list of the banks and accounts the city has used for, what, 20 years?” he said.
“That’s probably far enough back,” Nagler said.
One set of numbers puzzled both men.
10.2167; 10.2171; 10.2245; 10.2246. 10.2301; 10.2319; and 10.2326.
The set of numbers were listed on a separate sheet of paper, typed in order on one line each. 10.2245 had a check mark next to it.
Two days after the woman’s body had been found, the police lab and the crime scene crews had completed their analysis of the evidence gathered at the old bog but had not added much to the general knowledge.
Anything left in the sand like boot prints or tire tracks were inconclusive because the sand was so moist any imprint was unclear. They had typed the blood droplets as AB positive and were awaiting a DNA analysis, and the city, county and state police were checking the old warehouses and vacant lots in the area for anyplace that could be a crime scene.
Alerts has been sent to high schools and to colleges to report any female student who failed to report for class at the start of school and a group of officers were going through old crime records, a lot of which were still in paper form, for any similarities.
To Nagler the lack of a crying mother or worried husband or boyfriend appearing at the local police station was a good indication that the woman was not local. You might notice in two days that your daughter or wife had not come home. Unless you killed her, he thought.
Nagler pondered all this as he watched two officers maneuver the small boat through the thickets at the old bog. They would be out there for a few more days, poking the weeks, scooping up baskets of muck on the chance that as the water level in the swamp settled, there could be evidence there.
Nagler heard the voice before he heard to footsteps.
“Reliving past glories?”
It was Jimmy Dawson.
“Actually I’m just waiting for you,” Nagler said. “Surprised you weren’t here earlier, you know, before all the good seats were taken. What’s up?”
“Poking around as usual,” Dawson said. “Upton was yelling because we didn’t get any video of the search the other morning. I told him that badly lighted footage of shadowy figures wandering around in the dark taken from the road would not have made compelling viewing. He didn’t seem to get that this wasn’t reality TV and the cops and the camera crews were not going to do it over for a better take. But he didn’t care. It’s all about traffic on the website. I could see that a good piece of video might draw some attention, But it’s not about quality anymore. Just get them to open that file and get a few more clicks.”
Nagler looked at Dawson. He had never heard him sound so discouraged.
“What’s up, Jimmy,” he asked. “Doesn’t sound like you.”
Dawson scanned the old bog.
“The other day, a new kid, Havens, comes into the office is a big fuss and runs over to Upton and they had a big old time viewing a tape Havens made. He apparently went out on a drug stakeout with Ortiz and Martin and ended up chasing some drug dealer through the back alleys of the old silk mill.”
Dawson shook his head. His voice a flat as expressionless. Didn’t sounds like Dawson at all, Nagler thought
“I saw the tape, Frank. The kid was running so the camera is bouncing all over the place. Video is all jiggly and out of focus. Gave me a headache. You can’t tell where he is or really what he is doing, and he is out of breath so you can’t understand what he is saying, but they thought it was Academy Awards winning stuff. I asked him what all the running was about, and Havens really didn’t know. They never caught anyone and the rest of the video is Havens and two cops sitting in a police car talking about the Yankees.”
Dawson look at the ground, kicked at some of the sand. “Don’t know, Frank. The business may be passing me by…”
Nagler looked at the ground. He was wearing boots this time. Sleep, he said to himself, is a wonderful thing. “I’m not sure about that, Jimmy. But then said nothing else. Nagler knew that he’d been there, had that same thought.
Dawson said, “you know, Frank, when I asked you about Lauren Fox the other day, it wasn’t a joke. It was a real question. I know you two were close.”
Nagler just sighed.
“She left town, Jimmy. In a big hurry. Foley wondered if she maybe had stolen something, but all her city accounts books checked out. Every dollar was accounted for. Because she left in a rush, the chief assigned a detective to trace her, but they followed her last paycheck to her parents’ home, and after that there was no trail. As I recall, I thought the probe went on a little longer than was necessary for an employee who quit her job suddenly and who had not committed any crime.”
“But what about you, Frank?”
Oh shit, Nagler thought.
There was an edge in his voice when he answered. Jimmy ought to know better.
“Did it hurt? Yeah, What the fuck? We weren’t getting married or anything, but it was fairly serious.”
Dawson took a few steps away.
“Look, I just know that you seemed pretty shaken at the time. I was asking just in case, you know, you heard from her.”
“It took you two years to bring it up?” Nagler was now laughing. “Thank you for your concern.”
“Jesus, Frank.” Dawson just shook his head.
After a minute, Nagler asked, “what do you know about Debbie Glance?”
“Debbie Glance?” Dawson shifted his weight. “She’s been around city hall for maybe ten years. Started in the tax office, worked in the mayor’s office for a few years and now is in the planning board office. Why?”
“She was riding around with Gabe Richman the morning the body was found. I came back up here and he was on the bog road and she was in the front passenger’s seat. She cracked the window just enough so I could see her. I think she did it on purpose.”
“Gabe Richman and Debbie Glance? Holy shit,” Dawson said.
Nagler shrugged. “It was nine thirty in the morning.”
Before Dawson could say anything, one of the cops in the boat yelled out.
“Hey, detective. Nagler. We found something.”
Nagler started running toward boat, with Dawson trailing. “You have to stay there,” Nagler said. “You’ll get the damn story. See anyone else out here?”
When Nagler reached the boat, the officers were standing on the road, holding something in a plastic bag. It was a woman’s hand.
Foley met Nagler at the medical examiner’s office as Mulligan carefully examined the shriveled, white hand with long, slim fingers. Nagler decided the hand wasn’t white at all; it was beyond white, drained of all color, shading or life.
The medical examiner compared the cuts at the wrist to the right arm of the dead woman, but it was difficult to determine at first if it was a match or even from the same woman. Mulligan said a closer investigation to examine the cuts to the bone might reveal a more certain analysis. The real problem, he said, was that the hand had been in the water for several days.
What attracted their attention was a gold ring on the hand’s third finger. It was a lion’s head gently hammered into a thin sheet of gold less than a half-inch round. Even after three days in the Old Iron Bog, the ring looked expensive.
Foley said. “You were there when they found it, Frank?”
“Yeah. They said it was in the water about four feet off the side road that headed to that spot you showed me the other day,” Nagler said. “What are the odds that the rest of her might be in that swamp?”
The police released a photo of the ring to the papers in hopes that someone might recognize it.
Jimmy Dawson sat before his computer with a blown up copy of that photo in front of him. It didn’t seem like the kind of a ring that a young girl would be wearing unless she had rich parents and they spoiled her. And it didn’t seem to be an heirloom: Too modern.
It also did not seem to be the kind of ring that a boyfriend or even a husband bought without a lot of help. It was a little too fine, and for a boyfriend, seemed to be a little too expensive.
It was the kind of ring, Dawson decided, that a woman would buy for herself. Someone who understood her own sense of fashion, and yet it was a conservative sense. This was not a showy ring, but a simple, confident piece of jewelry, bought by some who knew herself.
And was probably single. Otherwise the clueless husband would have bought it, after she told him to, Dawson thought.
With not much else to do, he scrolled through a series of photographs in the paper’s computer archives, stopping to enlarge any hands of women visible in the photos.
After scanning about a hundred, he decided that too many women wore rings.
The next image on his screen was of a ceremony at town hall from about three years ago, a classic ribbon cutting, with a line of eight participants on either side of banner declaring “Congratulations!”
At the end of line to the right of the photo was Lauren Fox.
Dawson drew a square around her face and watched as it emerged larger and slightly fuzzy on the screen. Even in that poor display, Dawson understood her beauty.
Her face was finely drawn and he recalled that she always seemed to be smiling.
He wasn’t exactly sure when and where he first met her on an assignment, but remembered that she seemed to be at nearly every event in Ironton that involved a grand opening, new program or check passing.
No one had quite seen anyone like her, Dawson recalled. She kicked into gear programs and ideas that had been discussed at city hall for decades but no one had taken time to shake off the dust.
With Frank Nagler as her guide she walked down the back alleys of sections of the city that even the police would only enter if they had a partner. Dawson remembered Nagler commenting about her bravery. But, she would say, that was her job.
Then she was gone, that whole mess about the mayor’s shopping center at the old bog.
Even Dawson thought it was a hairbrained scheme.
Hadn’t they seen that before in the Fifties and Sixties as the strip malls and shopping centers left behind barren but historic town centers?
But Gabe Richman was not to be deterred. That is until the fifty bad reasons not to do it showed up and the mayor simply stopped talking about it.
Jimmy Dawson paid little attention when Lauren Fox left. But he didn’t know exactly why.
He closed out the photos on the screen and pondered that question in silence.
The U.S Attorney was everywhere there was a camera, a microphone, a reporter, or a voter talking about corruption in the State of New Jersey.
It’s never “New Jersey,” Dawson thought. It’s always “The State of New Jersey,” just as in Washington it’s “The American People” who have spoken or not spoken, approved or disapproved, according to the politicians, when most of The American People, Dawson knew, were at home watching football.
Dawson thought the Attorney needed to rent a bus and hang a big banner on it declaring the “End Corruption in NJ Tour.”
A hundred officials was pretty impressive, Dawson thought, but it was like throwing chum on the water. Like sharks drawn to blood, politicians are drawn to money.
Did they have to make it that easy?
“We will end this corruption,” the Attorney declared. “The people of the State of New Jersey deserve no less. I am disgusted that one hundred elected representatives of the people felt they had a greater right to sell their office to the highest bidder than they did to fix the streets, help the seniors citizens, take steps to lower taxes or simply act in an honest manner.
“They sold their office for a couple thousand bucks. Who are these fools? My office will make sure they never serve the people of the great State of New Jersey again.”
The people of the State of New Jersey.
Dawson looked away from the television as Howard Nelson laughed at the scene being broadcast.
“The poor people of the State of New Jersey,” Nelson coughed out. “They elected these assholes, again and again. What do they think is going to happen? The people of the State of New Jersey. My God. Biggest bunch of sheep there ever was.”
Said the man who had been elected to office five times by those same sheep, Dawson thought.
They were on the shaded patio of the Trenton Street Club. Dawson had come to ask Nelson about Lauren Fox and Gabe Richman, but the television was on and the cable news guys were following the U.S. Attorney everywhere.
Nelson was probably 85, Dawson figured. He never told his age to anyone. His face had settled into a mass of splotches and moles that might have been cancerous. That probably accounted for the oversized Panama he always wore, that and the shades. Always shades, even indoors. The scars on his nose traced back to his boxing days when Nelson was a small middleweight with an up-yours chip on his shoulder that got him into more trouble inside the ring than he ever faced outside it.
He fought on guts, not skill, and after a round of being pounded by a whirlwind of punches, his opponents inevitably sized the kid up and leveled him with a combination or two.
He had shrunken inside his clothes like a punching bag that leaked stuffing, and when sitting in a chair silently as he was now, he was scarily corpselike.
Dawson always noticed Nelson’s hands. The leathery brown skin was wrinkled and bulged with veins. The knuckles were broken and bent, but his nails were perfectly manicured. The index finger of his right hand curled around a fat Cuban cigar like it was a wad of hundreds.
Beyond the line of evergreens at the end of the yard Dawson could see the peaked roof of the house Barry had told him about. The club’s yard with a perfect green lawn was lined by trees and shrubs that were centered in garden patches of flowerbeds that were rotated seasonally. The landscaping bill for the place was probably more than I made in a month, Dawson thought. But knowing Howie Nelson, he paid nothing. Got it in trade. An exchange of services.
Because that was what Howard Nelson could deliver: Services. Help with a permit, a building inspection, a work permit for some underage kid, a job in the road department that suddenly was opening on Thursday, a little environmental clean-up problem at your auto repair place?
It was the whole subterranean wink-and-nod culture that laughed in the face of the U.S. Attorney and his gang of a hundred saps who managed to get caught. They all knew how the game was played but just got so full of themselves they thought no one would ever notice.
Howie Nelson had been doing it all his public life. A little at a time. Just enough not to get noticed too much.
Dawson had written a countless stories about Howard Nelson. He had been investigated or sued dozens of times. The state had been in to look at the city’s books five times when he was mayor. Somehow the books were always square.
Dawson gazed jealously at the green lawn and peaceful yard. All that greenery took a lot of fertilizer, he thought.
Dawson laughed to himself, amused that it was so easy to jerk the system around to one’s own advantage. During the Depression when Ironton was really in the dumps a city mayor, who also served on the county commission, had all the city’s main streets renumbered as county roads so the county government had to plow and repair them. It wasn’t illegal, and in a way it made sense. But it twisted the rules and gave to a few that which was denied to the many.
When everyone did it, the system crashed.
“So, Howard, I hear you’re interested in that house out back for a parking lot,” Dawson said.
“Parking lot?” Nelson asked. “Where’d you hear that? Not a parking lot. Just the other side over there is that empty Italian joint, Dominic’s? There’s a fast food company wants to buy it, but they need a bigger lot to get it past the planning board.”
“So you’ll get the property and become good friends with the fast food guy’s real estate attorney…”
“What the hell…yeah.”
Had to love Howard Nelson, Dawson thought. Right out there in the open.
“What about the homeowner. What’s she think? Maybe she wants some of that fast food money?”
“Old Maria? She’s got cancer and wants to sell out so she can go back to the old country and die in peace. Asked me to buy the place last year.”
“What? I’ll give her a fair price, more than it’s worth,” he said.
“Did you even mention that fast food company?”
“Crap, Jimmy, she’ll be dead before they make her an offer, and they’ll lowball her anyway. She’ll do better with me.”
The pair sat in silence for a moment. The television channel had returned to its regular programming.
“You’re surprised, Jimmy,” Howard Nelson said. “You always seem surprised; as long as I’ve known you. Need to stop being surprised; it’ll clear up your vision. Sometimes what seems to be really crooked, is actually pretty straight. Look at it from a different direction.”
Dawson thought, am I?
Nelson gazed over the lawn.
“I know you think I’m a crook,” he said. “Go back and look what I’ve done. I helped people. Their sons needed jobs, the daughters needed to get into the county college but her grades weren’t so hot. So I helped.”
“Oh, hell,” Dawson said. “That’s so much bullshit. You were mayor for twenty years, made what? Three grand a year? As far as I could find, you never had a regular job in your life. But you always had a new Caddy, your house was half again as large as your neighbors’, and your son has a job for life in the sewer department. Come on, Howie. That’s Mob stuff. You must have something on nearly everyone in town.”
Dawson stopped. Why am railing at this old man? Known him my whole life and he’s never been any different. He’d steal your lunch while you were in English class and sell it back to you an hour later.
The old man was silent for several minutes; his fingers rolled slowly over the smooth edges of the chair’s arm.
“It’s what we learned, Jimmy.” The voice came from a smoky distance. “What our grandfathers learned to survive.
“They were all working for the big boss who owned that mansion on Blackwell with the five turrets and wide porch and forty windows. They worked 15 hours a day in dirty overheated buildings handling hot metal with no protection. They got burned, lost hands, arms, got crushed by a load of iron, branded by the dripping slag and if they faltered, the shift bosses ground them into the dirt. If they were lucky if they lived to be fifty.
“They’d walk past that house behind the iron gates – made with iron they had forged – and knew that it was their labor in that hot, stinking iron mill that had made the man rich.
“So they set up an alternative way of doing business, because they had no money, but mostly they knew they could not trust the mill owners or the bosses or the bankers, the landlords or anyone who had control over their lives. So we all did favors, and some of the favors got big.”
The old man stood up and put his hands in his pants pockets.
“Did that make us corrupt? Don’t think so. Made us traders. Trade something, get a little extra for it when you trade it again. It was all so small time. But you know what? People didn’t lose their homes to the banks. If they got behind somehow it was made right. And when they got hurt on the job and the factory boss threw them out, their kids got fed , the house got fixed. Then they did a little work for you. Look at that flood last week. Those people will be paying off those repairs for years because the insurance companies who sold them flood insurance didn’t tell them that it didn’t cover water damage. What the fuck did they think a flood was anyway?”
Dawson stood and walked to the edge of the patio.
“But when that something you traded wasn’t really yours, isn’t that corrupt?” he asked.
The old man turned, his mouth working.
“You tell me, Jimmy. You tell me.” The raspy voice had an edge, the lips drawn tight. “What’s it mean when a lobbyist for the oil business sits in a committee room and helps a Congressman write a bill about oil regulations? Or when the bankers cook the books in a way that even other bankers can’t figure out? The U.S. Supreme Court gave human rights to corporations and said that money is free speech. Said big companies can cheat women out of equal pay. The big stores pay so little or schedule employees so they work a little less than full time so they have to get health insurance from the state. That’s corruption, Jimmy. Big time, in your face , stop us if you can corruption and they have the money, the votes and the rules to make it stand up.
“They make rule after rule to shut that door of opportunity for the little guy. Get their hands around the throats of the middle class and squeeze. They make deals that only benefit themselves and their money men. The cut taxes for the rich and screw the poor. Remember that congressman who wanted to get rid of Medicare and let the insurance companies run it? That would put old folks out of their homes, take food from their mouths. These assholes act like the Great Depression happened to somebody else.
“They won’t be happy till they grind everyone else under their wheels, the grinning bastards. Eisenhower said fear the industrial-military complex. These guys make the industrial-military complex look like a carnival, such is their immeasurable greed.”
“And you’re worried about me buying an old lady’s home so she can get out from under a monthly mortgage payment that’s bigger than what her immigrant parents earned in a year? Bah.”
Nelson returned to his chair and shut off the television.
“ There’s a lot of people exercising their free speech these days, I’d say. And that holier-than-thou AG has a list of friends as long as your arm, and they’re all going to come calling one day.”
When Dawson left, Howard Nelson had settled back into that corpselike state, sitting stiffly in his chair, the only sign of life was the occasional rise and fall of the Cuban cigar in the corner of his mouth.
Back in the newspaper office Dawson sat before his blinking computer screen alone in the vast room. He hadn’t turned on the lights so the room was lighted by the dim safety lights. There was an unholy silence.
He had just finished his Sunday political column. Jed Upton was not going to like it.
Tough shit, Dawson thought.
So they are holding hearings in Congress on whether native born Muslims are American enough.
The congressman who is running the show once supported the Irish Republican Army, freedom fighters to some, but declared terrorists by England and the U.S. government, the nation which the congressman has pledged to support, and pays his salary.
Perhaps he is aware that the Irish were once as despised as the he feels the Muslims are, that once employers posted signs that said “No Irish need apply.” Perhaps he conveniently forgot.
Remember when the big question about JFK was whether a Catholic could be president?
We have chased the Italians out of town, the Methodists, the Mormons; demonized the poor, blamed flood victims for living where they do and blamed people in need for having the gall to be needy in the first place.
They should be like me: I don’t need anything. I have my truck and big screen TV, my three-bedroom house in the suburbs and a lawn tractor the size of a Volkswagen to cut my lawn.
And if someone tries to take it away I have my licensed handgun and will use it to defend my castle.
We became blinded by our own self-satisfaction, and as soon as we did, they had us. Otherwise every middle class homeowner and job holder would be in the streets when teachers, librarians, clerks, street cleaners, public engineers, accountants, crossing guards and the occupiers of all those little jobs that hold our society together are attacked as greedy, tax-sucking bums.
But they are not attacking me because they’re union, and I’m not.
I’m an insurance adjustor, a car salesperson; I sell pizzas, run a local hardware store, a bodega, a carpenter, plumber. I’m an independent business owner.
And everything they do makes my life harder. Or at least I think it does.
And while the little guys fight among themselves for scraps the people who make the rules tilt them in their own favor again and again.
The millionaires being ripped off by the billionaires. And everyone lost their homes.
The magician’s trick in the end is to get the audience to look where he wants us to look while he switches coins. And we’re all suckers for a good magic trick.