I woke up by myself. It felt strangely good. I remembered the clock reading 11:35, and that was about it. It was now a quarter to ten, and I was going to be late for the meeting unless I hauled some serious ass. Showering was out of the question, as was breakfast. I threw on some pants, black shoes, a new t-shirt, sweater, and my coat. When I opened the door and got outside, I started to sweat; the storm had passed, the sun was out, and the snow was already melting and running down the gutters to pool in front of the overloaded drains. The water was clear and the city was noisier than it usually is after a snow; peope were out and walking. I walked the five blocks to city hall in the street; nobody had really started to clear their sidewalks yet, and everyone’s car was buried under the slowly melting drifts of snow.
City Hall is a big church-like building on Massachusetts Ave, about two blocks from Jon’s Place. It’s been under construction for the past three years, so I’ve never really seen what it looks like without scaffolding all over the front façade. You have to go in through the side entrance, a set of swinging doors that wouln’t be out of place in a high school. When I let the doors slam shut behind me, the echoed in the emptiness of the hallway. I stood and listened; the building was dead silent, except for a tiny humming. I followed the hum down the hallway, up two flights of stairs, and through a door marked “Community Meeting Room 2.”
The room was about half full. Brianna was sitting near the front on the right hand side; she turned around when I opened the door and patted the seat next to her. She was there with most of the crew from last night: Adrian, Gina, Barry, even Jason, who had brought along three or four identically-baggy raver kids. . I recognized a few of our other regulars, as well; maybe twenty people in total had shown up.
“Where is everybody?” I hissed to Brianna as I sat down.
“This is it,” she whispered back. “This happens a lot with activist stuff; everyone says they’ll show up, and then they want to sleep in or they have work. I’m kinda surprised that this many people showed.”
“I thought this was an activist town,” I said.
“It was,” she said. “Until the property values started rocketing so high that only Republicans can afford to buy houses. Not that I’m bitter.”
“I’m bitterer,” I said. “I’m probably going to be out of a job.”
“I’m bitterest,” said Gerald from behind us. “I’ve been looking for three months and Jon’s place is the most solid lead I’ve had.”
“Is it really that bad?” asked Brianna.
Gerald nodded. He had dark circles under his eyes.
“You look like hell,” I said.
“I feel it,” he said. “Everyone went home except for me, Adrian, and your crazy roommate. We made sure that Donnelly didn’t sleep at all. As a consequence, neither did we.”
Barry looked exactly as he always did. It occurred to me that I had no idea when he slept—he was either awake with the door open or the door was closed. I had a vague notion that he was more nocturnal than not, but I wouldn’t bet either way. The thought made me kind of sad; what kind of jerk lives with a guy for two years and doesn’t even know when he goes to bed?
“Cheer up,” said Adrian. “Donnelly’s not here.”
The door opened, and Donnelly walked in, looking like a Vietnam veteran who’d been exposed to Agent Orange, given Gulf War Syndrome, and thrown into the middle of a Balkan civil war. I couldn’t really tell what he was wearing; it looked kind of like a sweat suit, but the shirt had buttons. Weirdly, his footwear didn’t match—he was wearing an old Nike trainer and a black tuxedo shoe.
Adrian snickered. “Well, it worked.”
“What did you do to him?”
“Jason came back later in the evening. He was really, really up on something or other, so we faked a message from a repo man and had him and a couple of his bigger customers make their way over to Donnelly’s apartment at around midnight and take away a bunch of his clothes.”
“He believed that?”
“He was pretty screwed up by that time. His car was in a tow-lot in Brockton, his computer was automatically downloading bestiality videos, and he couldn’t disconnect because we kept sending him contradictory fake emails from corporate headquarters.”
Barry leaned over. “I think we might have been found out, though. He did go outside and use a pay phone to call Seattle a couple of times this morning. Phred told me.”
Donnelly looked over at our crew. I gave him a thumbs-up. He shook his head, looked disgusted, and sat down on the other side of the aisle, next to a well-coifed guy with a head full of hair-gel and a perfectly pressed suit.
“Lawyer?” I said to Brianna.
“Worse,” she said. “He’s a lawyer I know—Byron Bettendorf. He went to Harvard with me; he was the guy who was always coming into class hung-over because he was out wining and schmoozing with guys from big firms the night before. After a year and a half he stopped going to class altogether and just did the schmoozing. He’s a real shithead, and he makes a lot more than I do.”
“Does that mean anything?”
“We’re probably screwed,” she said. I can’t believe we didn’t think to find out who his lawyer was. Our only saving grace is that Byron doesn’t actually know anything, most likely. He’ll make a statement and rely on Donnelly to take care of anything that involves actual facts. I’m really surprised he even came. His whole goal in life was to live across the river in the Back Bay and never soil his feet with this side of the river again. I guess the money must be really big on this one.”
“Yeah, otherwise they’d send a girl lawyer.”
“Okay, everyone, sit down,” said a guy behind a podium at the front of the room. He was old, with white hair and reading glasses hung around his neck on a string. He looked up. “Lots of people here for a simple building acquisition approval.” He flipped through a few papers. “Is Mr. Donnelly here?”
“Yes, sir,” said Donnelly. He stood up.
“Do you have the forms I mentioned to you last week?”
“Yes,” he said. He leaned over and cracked open his briefcase, pulling out a sheaf of paper. “I have to apologize; these are on fax paper. I had some computer problems last night, and had to have them faxed to the Kinkos down from my apartment last night.”
“I really don’t care,” said the old guy. “Give me the forms, and sit back down.”
Donnelly gave him the forms, and sat back down. The old guy put on his glasses and started to flip through the papers, which made the slippery-shuffling sound that only old-school slick fax paper can make. Other than that, you could have heard a sorority girl’s brain hit the ground.
“I think this is going in our favor,” said Brianna into my ear. Her breath smelled like spearmint toothpaste. “He’s being awfully hard on Donnelly; if he was a judge and I was at trial, I’d be crying. After I have my say, we should be walking tall.”
“Okay,” said the old guy. “This looks good.” He reached over to the side of the podium and picked up a stamp. “After I approve this, take it down to the records department, have it filed, and you’re all set.”
“Wait a minute!” said Brianna, jumping up. The old guy paused with his hand in the air, stamp ready to go.
“Yes?” he said.
“There has to be some public comment,” she said. “After all, we are talking about the destruction of one of Cambridge’s great landmarks, the elimination of history, the …”she faltered under the old guy’s gaze. He was tapping a pencil against his podium.
“What I’m saying is that there are several regulations that need to be considered,” said Brianna. “C.C. 00121 establishes the right of the full City Council to review purchases that my be ‘potentially harmful to the character of the City,’ while C.C. 000348 declares that ‘transactions deemed possibly detrimental to commerce shall be reviewed.’”
“And?” said the old guy.
“It’s my belief that these statutes apply to this particular transaction, where a large company from outside the community is attempting to purchase a building and substantially change the character of the business that goes on inside.”
“Mr. Donnelly?” said the old guy.
“Yes, sir?” said Donnelly, standing up again. His right hand was drumming hard against his hip, as if it was desperate to come up and scratch his brow or go into his pocket.
“What is the nature of the business that you’re going to put into the building on Massachusetts Avenue?”
“A Starbucks, sir.”
“And what does a Starbucks do?”
“Starbucks is a chain of high-end coffee shops, serving premium coffee at good prices..”
I snorted, and Donnelly shot me a dirty look.
“Decent prices to knowledgeable consumers..”
Adrian laughed into his sweater sleeve.
“..consumers, all over the country. It’s our belief that the Starbucks on Massachusetts Avenue will bring a high quality of foot traffic to the area, thus encouraging business growth for the neighborhood and the city of Cambridge.”
“So much bullshit,” said Brianna under her breath. “I hate it when they talk like this.”
“And why is that, miss?” said the old guy. “It’s my understanding that there’s a coffee shop at the location now, so the needs of the community will not go unmet. Be quick—I don’t like long arguments.”
“The needs of the community,” said Brianna, “are probably not met by having two identical Starbucks establishments within a third of a mile of each other. Starbucks has another store on the main intersection of Central Square, and there’s no reason to put one so close other than to drive out local competition. They’ll close the second one a year after opening it, sell the building at a profit and turn it into condos, and a little bit of the character of this city will be lost. In the meantime, while they’re remodeling, twenty people will be out of work. That’s why this sale is harmful to the community.”
“Mr. Donnelly, will Starbucks hire the people at….” He looked at his papers for a moment. “Jon’s place back when the new store opens.”
“We can’t say for sure,” said Donnelly. “Starbucks holds its employees to the highest possible standard, and we are fairly certain that the current employees do not measure up to that standard. Surely you can see that we have an image to protect.” He gestured towards our side of the room, and I started to stand up, only stopped by Brianna’s hand on my shoulder.
“We’re fairly sure that the Starbucks Corporation has no such intentions,” she said.
“Do you have any corroborating evidence?” said the old guy.
Brianna shook her head.
“Young lady, I’d like to believe you,” said the old guy. “I really would. But, I have here paperwork from the owners of the building…who are not here, which doesn’t make me happy, but they have sent Mr. Bettendorf as a representative, and all of the paperwork is in order. They’re selling the building for $2.2 million, far above the one competitive offer of $900,000 from a Mr. Pelagro. The city cannot stand in the way of its landowners getting the best deal. The statutes you mentioned would be applicable if we could have some sort of fair offer, but…” he shrugged. “There’s nothing I or any entity can do. I don’t particularly like doing this—Mr. Donnelly, next time you come to a meeting such as this, please bother to wear clothes with some semblance of coherence—but the sale goes on.” He stamped the form and handed them to an aide (I don’t think the guy was a bailiff, since this wasn’t court), who handed the documents to Donnelly.
Donnelly didn’t even pause on his way out the door. Bettendorf got up and came on over.
“Brianna,” he said. “Still fighting for the poor and under-intelligent, I see.”
“Fuck off, Byron,” she said.
He ignored her. “I’m having a bit of a gathering next weekend, at my apartment on the 26th floor of the Pru—fantastic view. Some of the old law school gang are going to be there, and we’d love it if you’d come and hash over some old times. I’ve got the guy from the Blue Room doing the food, and it should be top-notch. Give me a call.”
“I might make it,” she said, “if the only alternative is dying from a long bout with testicular cancer.”
Bettendorf nodded and walked out the door.
“Prick,” she said.
We filtered out into the street. While we were inside, city workers had cleared the snow off of the sidewalk in front of and around city hall, sprinkling the concrete with the mix of salt and sand that inevitably ends up encrusted on your floor until mid-March, even if you ban shoes from your apartment and mop every morning and evening. Jason and his friends headed off to bed; they hadn’t slept. Barry walked on home, saying that he had a ton of work to catch up on. Gina went with him, holding his hand. Brianna went back to her office for a client meeting. Gerald went home. Adrian and I headed back to the shop. Nobody had opened up this morning, and the place looked sad and empty, despite the brightness of the sun reflecting off the melting snow.
“Hey,” I said. “Where was Jon?”
“You didn’t catch that?” said Adrian.
“No,” I said.
“Jon’s last name is Pelagro,” said Ade. “He was trying to buy the place using a home equity loan.” He turned the key and opened up. “We found out last night after you left.”
“He came by?”
“No,” said Adrian. “He called from Malaysia. He said he’d be gone for a while, and to close up if we needed to.” His voice was flat, dead. “So I guess we close.”
“I guess we have to,” I said.
I went behind the counter, opened the fridge and took out one of our foaming jugs. I filled it with milk, steamed it just right, and pulled a couple of espresso shots. Two shots of vanilla syrup later, and I walked over to where Adrian was sitting. He took the proffered cup with a mumbled thanks, and we drank in silence, listening to the quiet and watching a few of the usual people walking by on Massachusetts Avenue. After a while, Adrian got up, and I followed him out the door. He locked it, and dropped his keys in the mail slot. I did the same. He grinned at me.
“Defiant to the last, eh?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe they’ll have to break the door down to get rid of all of the stuff. Cost ‘em a few thousand extra bucks.”
The keys made a clinking sound on the floor.
“Well,” said Adrian. “What now?”
A white sedan pulled up to the curb; it looked like a cop car without the lights and the checkerboard paint job. I could see a guy lean over from the driver’s side, straining to see something that was just cut off by his roof. He gave up, opened the door, and popped up from the other side. It was Jack Ramsey.
“Hi, Jerry.” he said. He looked good. Spry, even. He was wearing his usual grungy coat and a battered bowler hat. “Adrian.”
“Jack,” I said. “Why do you always call me Jerry? My name’s Pete. It’s always been Pete, and it always will be. Why?”
He shrugged. “You always looked like a Jerry to me; maybe I was hoping that you’d change your name. I want to show you guys something.” He walked over to the locked door to Jon’s place, took a key out of his pocket, and used the key to open the door. Adrian and I looked at each other; as far as we knew, the two of us and Jason had the only keys.
“Coming?” said Jack.
We walked in to the shop we had just left.
“Funny how all of this works,” said Jack. “I wasn’t really expecting to sell this place this early.”
“Sell?” I said.
He nodded. “Any coffee left here? I could use some.”
“Sure,” said Adrian. He walked over to the counter, powered up the machine and the grinder, and set small dose to dripping. “It’ll be a minute or two,” he said.
“Fine,” said Jack. “That’ll be fine. You guys ever have plumbing problems here?”
Adrian nodded. “The pipes moan and groan sometimes when you flush the toilet. When it’s cold you have to run the water and flush out the system a bit before you can make things in the morning.”
Jack nodded. “Yeah, I’d heard about that. It’s too bad; whoever bought this place is going to have to deal with that; it turns out the pipes in here are about fifty years old and need complete retrofitting, going all the way back to the central supply pipes under the street. I guess that one of ‘em’s been leaking for a few years now and has nearly rotted away one of the corner supports, too. That’s what they tell me, anyway.”
“Who tells you?” I said.
“A friend of mine, a city inspector. I had him come in a while ago when that Donnelly fellow first inquired about buying the place. I’d been planning on trying to raise the money to do the work myself, but…”
“Instead you sold him the building,” I said. “Why didn’t you ask us? Why didn’t you tell us? We could have gotten donations from the customers, put on a fund-raiser, something.” I was practically yelling. “Everyone in town comes here, they would have all given some money, they…”
“Would have donated about a hundred bucks apiece, maybe,” said Ramsey gently. He was speaking so quietly that it was tough to hear him over the steam sounds of the coffee maker. “With all of the customers, that’s maybe fifty grand. One tenth of what it would cost to retrofit everything. Pipes, supports, electricity, you name it. If you re-do one thing you’ve gotta do them all. So I sold.”
“Why did you sell to them?” I howled. “They’re going to turn this place into another cookie-cutter faux-Seattle wireless Internet burned coffee yuppie trap with smooth jazz piped out to the sidewalk! Why?”
“Because they won’t be able to do it anytime soon,” he said. “Turns out the city inspector’s office is going to be awfully busy for a while, too busy to tell them what needs to be done in order to get this place up to spec. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did all of the outside work necessary to open, wait a few months for the inspection, then find out that they have to practically level the place in order to bring it up to speed.”
Adrian brought over a cup of coffee. “That would be a shame,” he said.
“But I did want to talk to you boys,” he said. “I wanted you to know what had happened and why. You helped, you know; the folks at the city absolutely hate that Donnelly character for showing up the way he did today. They’ve got long memories. Plus, he was trying to negotiate the final sale last night while you were screwing with him. We probably got an extra hundred thousand out of that.”
“A hundred thousand?” said Adrian.
“We?” I said.
“I’m taking off,” said Ramsey. “I’ve got a friend who’s been knocking around Southeast Asia for a while—you may know him, name of Jon? He invited me out there yesterday, and as I don’t seem to own any property in Cambridge any more, I figured I might do that. But, before I go…” He reached into his pocket and took out two white envelopes.
“I always liked you guys,” he said. He handed one to Adrian. “Call that my first contribution for the mayor-of-Texas fund.”
“And for you, Jerry,” he said, handing me another envelope. “I’ll see you guys around. Be good.”
He walked out the door, leaving Adrian and I with a half-drunk cup of coffee and two envelopes. I opened mine. Inside was a check, addressed to Peter Ainslie.
“Jesus,” I said when I saw the amount. “He remembered my name.”
I looked over at Adrian, who had tears in his eyes.
“I know what I’m going to do with this,” he said.
“I think I do, too.”