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Authors: Laura Lippman

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Charm City

BOOK: Charm City
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LAURA
LIPPMAN
CHARM
CITY

 

For
John

I am fortunate to work at a place where my
generous colleagues and conscientious editors bear little resemblance
to the workers at the oh-so-fictional newspaper in this book. In
particular, I am indebted to the following co-workers for their help
and technical advice: Joan Jacobson, Mike James, Peter Hermann, Arthur
Hirsch, Jon Morgan, Mike Littwin, Dan Rodricks, Kate Shatzkin, and
William F. Zorzi. Any errors, deliberate and otherwise, are mine.
Special thanks to Johnny Ketchum, king of the Baltimore malaprops.

I also want to thank Spike and Dulcie for
their expert contributions.

1
ordinary man + 1 ordinary life = 0

1
ordinary man + 1 extraordinary adventure = News

1
ordinary husband + 1 ordinary wife = 0

1
husband + 3 wives = News

1
bank cashier + 1 wife + 7 children = 0

1
bank cashier - $10,000 = News

1
chorus girl + 1 bank president - $100,000 = News

1
man + 1 auto + 1 gun + 1 quart = News

1
ordinary man + 1 ordinary life of 79 years = 0

1
ordinary man + 1 ordinary life of 100 years = News

—George
C. Bastian
"Editing the Day's News," 1922

By
choosing to share your life with a Greyhound, you are participating in
an act nearly as old as civilization itself. These are the same dogs
that slept alongside the pharaohs, hunted with the noblemen of the
Middle Ages, and have inspired artists and poets for thousands of
years. Without a doubt they are worthy of us. The question is, Are we
worthy of them?

—Cynthia
A. Branigan
"Adopting the Racing Greyhound"

Drive-bys
are out. Executions are in.

—Baltimore
Police Commissioner
Thomas C. Frazier in a 1997 interview on local crime statistics

CONTENTS

Chapter
1

Nothing
wet was falling out of the sky. No snow…

Chapter
2

"The
years, I saw the years," Spike muttered, his brown
eyes…

Chapter
3

Tyner
Gray's law office was in an old town house…

Chapter
4

The
Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, like most bureaucracies, ran
inefficiently.

Chapter
5

Never
a cheery place, The Point was particularly bleak at…

Chapter
6

Tess
had been to the Beacon Light on official business…

Chapter
7

Sour
and disoriented, Tess left the Beacon-Light feeling as if…

Chapter
8

"I
can think of five other things I should be…

Chapter
9

Tess
began Saturday by visiting Spike at St. Agnes. Unfortunately,
her…

Chapter
10

"How
much do you weigh?"

Chapter
11

When
Tess switched on her computer at the Beacon-Light Monday…

Chapter
12

Whitney
was waiting in Tess's bare bones office when she…

Chapter
13

Puzzled,
Tess stared at the computer screen. It was Tuesday…

Chapter
14

It
was almost 2 o'clock when Tess finished scraping
the…

Chapter
15

Tess
was just pulling out of the Cotswolds when she…

Chapter
16

"Did
you get her blanket?" Tess asked Crow the next…

Chapter
17

You
couldn't call Tommy tough, but he had a stubborn…

Chapter
18

There
were only two Wynkowskis listed in the Baltimore phone…

Chapter
19

A
dispirited Tess left the Beacon-Light at 4:30, sick of…

Chapter
20

Rosita
Ruiz.

Chapter
21

Had
violet ever bloomed in Violetville? It was hard to…

Chapter
22

Linda
Wynkowski stood in front of a full-length mirror, arrayed…

Chapter
23

It
snowed on Friday morning, a heavy, wet snow with…

Chapter
24

Tess
was too anxious to take the time necessary to…

Chapter
25

"Did
you really hit him with a dog chain?"

Chapter
26

Tess
ended up staying at Colleen Reganhart's until dawn broke.

Chapter
27

Rosita's
notes were virtually indecipherable. She had assigned numbers
to…

Chapter
28

The
first thing Tess noticed when Lea Wynkowski opened her…

Chapter
29

On
the first Friday in May, Spike left the hospital…

Epilogue

Two
weeks later, a package arrived from Tokyo. While Esskay…

N
othing
wet was falling out of the sky. No snow, no ice, no hail, no rain
changing to sleet, no sleet changing to rain. And that was reason
enough, Tess Monaghan decided, to feel celebratory. She would walk home
from work instead of taking her usual bus, maybe stop at
Bertha's and squinch up her nose at the tourists eating
mussels, or nurse something warm and alcoholic at Henniger's.
A March Monday night in Baltimore would never be Mardi Gras, or even
Lundi Gras, but it could have its moments, for savvy natives inclined
to seek them out. Tess was inclined. For the first time in more than
two years, she had a full-time job and a full-time boyfriend. Her life
might not have the party-all-the-time euphoria of a beer commercial,
but it was definitely edging into International Coffee territory.

The first few blocks of her walk home were
deserted. Downtown tended to empty out early. But as Tess approached
the Inner Harbor, she suddenly found herself in the thick of a
jazzed-up, happy crowd.
Were those klieg lights
up ahead
? Tess might have left newspaper
reporting behind, but her instincts could still be juiced. Besides, she
had caught a whiff of food—hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels,
something sweet and scorched. Cotton candy, one of those seductive
foods that smelled so much better than it tasted.

"It's all free,
hon," a vendor said, holding out a hot dog slathered with
mustard and relish. "Courtesy of the Keys." Tess
had no idea what he was talking about, but she took the hot dog anyway.

What would draw so many people to the harbor
on a usually dead Monday evening, she wondered, finishing off the free
dog in three bites. Businessmen types, coming from work. Young men in
athletic gear and polished-looking women in gabardine raincoats, high
heels striking sidewalks only recently liberated from the last ice
storm. Then there were the suburban moms, in leggings, oversize
sweaters, and fluffy jackets, holding tight to the hands of small
children, who held even tighter to small black-and-violet flags.

Carried along by the crowd and its feverish
anticipation, Tess found herself at the small outdoor amphitheater
between Harborplace's two pavilions. Hundreds of people were
already there, massed in front of the small stage. A man with a
bullhorn, a local television anchor, was leading a chant. It took Tess
a moment to understand the blurred, electronically amplified words.

"
Slam dunk!
Jam one! Slam dunk! Jam one
!"

Other men filed out, a ragtag basketball
team in black-and-violet warm-up outfits. Some wore shorts, their legs
all purple gooseflesh in the brisk evening. Who would be crazy enough
to come out like that on a night like this? Tess recognized the
governor. That figured; he had never met a costume he didn't
like. But the mayor, not known for his sense of whimsy, was there as
well in a black warm-up suit, his trademark Kente cloth tie peeking
over the zipper. Tess spotted another television type, two state
senators, and a few pituitary cases from the old Baltimore Bullets, now
the Washington Wizards, renamed in deference to that city's
homicide rate. Surprisingly, the name change hadn't done much
to quell the capital's violence.

"
Slam dunk!
Jam one! Slam dunk! Jam one
!"

Beneath the crowd's chant, Tess
picked out a tinny recording, the city's onetime public
service jingle, which had encouraged people to keep the streets clean
by playing "trash ball." She remembered it vaguely.
The city's orange-and-white wastebaskets had been decorated
with slogans such as
Jam One! or Dunk One
!
Then they'd ended the campaign and collectors of
Baltimorebilia had stolen the trash cans before they could be taken off
the streets and repainted.

Another man limped out on stage, an aging
athlete whose cane gave his garish warm-up suit a strangely
aristocratic look. "Toooooooooooch.
Toooooooooooch," men yodeled and a few women actually
screamed when he acknowledged the cheer with a thumb's-up.
Yes, Paul Tucci still had his Loyola boy good looks and the build of
the star athlete he had once been, although he was fleshier since his
much-publicized knee replacement surgery earlier in the winter. Tess
suspected the women were swooning not for the Tucci physique, but for
the Tucci fortune, which had started in olive oil, then oozed into
virtually every aspect of Baltimore life, from food importing to waste
disposal. "The Tuccis get you coming and going," it
was commonly said.

The music on the P.A. system changed to the
sprightly, whistling version of "Sweet Georgia
Brown" associated with the Harlem Globetrotters. The
governor, inexpertly dribbling a basketball, broke from the group,
jigged forward, then passed the ball to the mayor, throwing it over his
head. They had never worked together very well. The mayor recovered
nicely, retrieving the ball and passing it beneath his legs to a state
delegate with a quite new, quite bad hair transplant. The crowd roared
its approval.
For the pass or the plugs
?
Tess wondered. Tucci caught the ball and spun it on the tip of his
cane, prompting a few more female screams. Then the real basketball
players came forward, upstaging the pols with their perfunctorily
perfect passes and moves.

After a few minutes, the television
anchor—
At least he's not dumb
enough to come out here bare-legged
, Tess
noted—seized the floor again.

"Hellooooo, Baltimore."
The crowd caroled the greeting back. "As you know, the city
has been without basketball since 1972 and has only recently seen the
return of football, despite the initial reluctance of the National
Football League—"

"Kill the commissioner!"
screamed one frenzied fan, straight into Tess's right
eardrum. "Kill Tagliabue! Damn Bob Irsay! Fuck the rotting
corpse of Bob Irsay!" Irsay had taken the Baltimore Colts
away on a snowy night in 1984, and although the city had a new football
team and Irsay was dead, he was still anathema. Baltimore sometimes
forgot, but it never forgave.

The television anchor continued smoothly
over the outburst. "But one man never said die. And now that
man is going to bring basketball back to Baltimore. Within days, he
expects to sign a letter of intent with a pro franchise that wants to
relocate to Charm City. In return, the city has agreed to build a
beautiful new facility, and you fans turned out tonight to show the NBA
we can support a team here. Now, that's teamwork!"

And a great use of tax
dollars
, Tess thought sourly. Then again, the
state had already done the same for the Orioles and the Ravens. If ever
a city needed a self-help book, it was Baltimore:
Towns
That Love Sports Too Much, and the Greedy Team Owners Who Use Them
.

"So please welcome the team
captain, the guy who's brought us this far, the guy who
‘winked' at everyone who told him it
couldn't be done, our very own Gerard
‘Wink' Wynkowski."

A slender, not quite tall man bounded
onstage. He had bypassed the warm-ups in favor of a violet polo shirt,
black jeans, and a black leather bikers' jacket.
Gray-and-white cowboy boots of some exotic and politically dubious
skin—ostrich, maybe snake—added a few inches to his
height, so he appeared lanky alongside the governor and mayor.
Shrewdly, he kept his distance from the former pros, who would have
dwarfed him.

"Are you ready for some
basketball?" he drawled, in an unmistakably Baltimore accent.

His face, angular and sharp, was deeply
tanned, his brown curls worn in a white boy's Afro. Tess
recalled a caricature of that sharp face and wild hair as the logo for
one of his businesses, but which one? In the past decade,
Wink's company, Montrose Enterprises, had created a
half-dozen businesses, each more successful than the last.

"Wink! Wink! Wink!
Wink!" the crowd yelled to their sports savior, much as they
had yelled it on high school basketball courts twenty-five years ago,
when the idea of a 5'11" Polish kid going on to a
pro career had not seemed quite so ridiculous. His last name had
provided the nickname, of course—his last name and, it was
rumored, a tendency to hoodwink anyone he could.

"You guys are the
greatest," he told the crowd. "You came out on a
night like this, not even knowing which team I'm negotiating
with. Imagine how many people will be here in a week's time,
when I expect to make an official announcement about our new team, the
Baltimore Keys."

The crowd chanted back eagerly: "
Jam
one! Slam dunk! Jam one! Slam dunk! Jam one! Slam dunk
!"

Tess moved forward through the cheering
crowd, curious enough to want a better look at this local hero.
Wink's life story was straight out of some old thirties
movie: a fatherless young hood who was actually rehabilitated in the
system after a string of petty crimes had landed him in the infamous
Montrose facility for juveniles. She had known he was rich, but
hadn't realized his restaurants and health clubs had made him
enough money to consider buying a sports team.

When the crowd became too dense to let her
advance through the center, she cut left, zigzagging until she was down
front, but far to the side. This close up, Wink's flat blue
eyes were not the merry or dancing lights she would have expected above
such a broad grin. Large and grave in his small face, they took
everything in and gave nothing back.

Suddenly, someone shoved Tess roughly from
behind, with the sense of entitlement found only in popes, royalty, and
television news crews. Given that the Pope wasn't expected
back for a while, and native daughter Wallis War-field Simpson was the
closest Baltimore had come to the throne in this century, Tess knew she
would be face to lens with a cameraman when she turned around. She had
wandered into the media clot, where the television reporters were
taping segments for the 11 o'clock news.

"You're in my
shot," the cameraman hissed at her.

"How inconsiderate of
me." She didn't move—at least, not right
away.

Nearby, two print reporters, a man and
woman, stood with notebooks in hand. The woman scribbled madly, while
the man just stared at Wink as if he couldn't quite believe
what he was seeing. For a moment, Tess felt as if she should be with
them, as if she, too, should have a notebook. Then she recognized the
man—not by his face, which was turned away from her, but by
his ankles, always bare, even on a night like this.

"Feeney!" she yelled. He
looked up warily from beneath the bill of his battered wool baseball
cap, smiling when he saw it was Tess who had called his name.

"Darlin'
Tess!" Kevin Feeney called back, beckoning to her.
"Come over here. We're just gathering
atmosphere."

The young woman at his side surveyed Tess in
one quick, lethal glance. Tess could almost hear her brain clicking
away on the sort of points system that some women used:
Taller—1
point for her. Hippy—1 point against. Big breasts, long
hair—2 points for. Hair, unstyled, worn in a braid down her
back—2 points against. Older than me—3 points
against. Face, okay. Clothes, not stylish, not embarrassing
.
Tess wasn't sure of her final score, but apparently it was
just a little too high. The woman gave her a terrifyingly fake smile,
one that suggested she had little experience with real ones, and held
out her hand.

"Rosita Ruiz."
Ouch—a bad case of NPR disease. The Rs rolled off her tongue
like ball bearings and the T was an aural machete. Rosita seized Tess
by the hand, pinching the flesh between thumb and index finger the way
a crab pinches one's toes in the surf. Tess, who often did
grip-strengthening exercises with an old tennis ball as she spoke on
the phone, took pleasure in squeezing Rosita's hand back,
taking her own inventory as she did.

Short, but most women looked short to Tess.
Built like a gymnast—slender above the waist, stocky and
firmly rooted below. With her even features and glossy black hair, she
should have been striking, even beautiful, but something had soured her
looks.

"Tess Monaghan," she
said, dropping Rosita's hand and turning back to Feeney.
"I can't believe you're covering this.
Don't they have interns to do this kind of crap? Or
sportswriters? You belong in the courthouse, covering real
news."

"I told you. We're here
for color. Sparkling details."

"For what?"

"Can't say, darling,
can't say."

"When Feeney says color, he
doesn't mean it literally," Rosita explained
earnestly. "You see, in newspapers, color
means—"

"Tess used to be one of
us," Feeney interrupted gently, although Tess sensed no
interruption was ever gentle enough for Rosita. "Now
she's a private investigator."

"Well, sort of. I still have to
get my license. But I'm definitely no longer a member of the
fourth estate." Funny, it didn't hurt to say that
anymore. The
Star
was
dead, life had gone on, Baltimore was a one-newspaper town, and the one
paper, for better or worse, was the
Beacon-Light
—the
Blight
, as it was known by
its often less-than-satisfied customers.

"Well, let us know when you do.
Maybe Rosita can write a little feature about you when you crack a big
case. Tess Monaghan, the rowing P.I."

"No rowing this time of
year," Tess reminded him. "That's for the
real diehards. I'll go back on the water on April
Fool's Day, not a day sooner."

Feeney didn't hear her. He was
practically glowing, lighted from within by his secret story. It could
be about politics, Tess guessed, given the cast of characters onstage.
A new profile of the governor would require a fresh anecdote about his
propensity to make himself ridiculous. Or the Tucci family might be
using its considerable clout to ensure another concession for its trash
disposal business, which found fewer and fewer neighborhoods wanted an
incinerator down the street. Like most rich families, they were quick
to cry poverty whenever a state regulation or a new fee got in their
way.

BOOK: Charm City
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