The rush to judgment had been a mistake. It still haunted him. Divine Fury. Chapter 25
February 5, 2013
“See, I told you it wouldn’t be so bad,” said Lorraine Carr as she speared another prawn sautéed with red and yellow cherry tomatoes in butter and pastis, the anise-flavored liqueur.
She was doing nostalgia today. Her hair was pulled back with a clip in the back. She was wearing a simple black, sleeveless dress. A silver necklace and white circular earrings completed the look.
Lee plunged his fork into a small mound of Dungeness crab layered with thinly shaved fennel and seasoned with sweetened Japanese rice vinegar. He thought that if Carr was trying for Aubrey Hepburn, she had it pretty close.
They were celebrating Lee’s first article about the Harper campaign at Fringale, a French bistro in San Francisco’s South of Market district that was his favorite lunch spot, particularly when it was on someone’s expense account. The article had run that morning:
Monday, May 17, 2004
Campaign Playing Like a Bad Movie
By Enzo Lee
If the early days of the Andrew Harper campaign were made into a movie, the competition for titles would boil down to “The Campaign That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” vs “Apocalypse Now: Harper’s Run for Governor.”
In less than 10 days:
-An environmental policy announcement turned into a dramatic rescue at sea of six journalists tossed into the ocean while Harper prattled on about the fate of otters.
-An out-in-the-fields press conference concerning Harper’s immigration stance was dive-bombed by an errant crop duster seemingly intent on delousing a couple dozen reporters and photographers.
-A campaign-changing endorsement turned into an embarrassing ‘oops’ moment when former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Arthur Wainwright withdrew his support 90 minutes before its planned announcement.
Journalists covering the campaign are now torn between demanding combat pay and extra protective gear to attend future events and the morbid fascination that comes with witnessing a slow-motion train wreck…
“I’ve got to admit it’s played out a little differently than I expected,” said Lee.
“Me too,” said Carr. She paused while she dipped a small piece of bread in the sauce in front of her and popped it into her mouth. “Why do you think they’re shooting themselves in the feet? Pretty soon there won’t be anything left to hit.”
“I don’t get it either,” said Lee. “I mean the people running the campaign are all experienced pros. I’m sure there’s some bad luck involved. But the solution to bad luck supposedly is good planning. So, something is going wrong.”
The waiter came by with their entrees. For Carr, duck confit on a bed of French lentils soaking in a red wine sauce. Lee had the poached black cod with capers and a light tomato sauce.
“Yum,” said Carr. “This place is great. Why don’t I know about it?”
“Running with the wrong crowd, I guess,” said Lee.
“Hmmm,” said Carr. She licked her finger and made a vertical line in the air. “The man knows food.”
“Uh oh,” said Lee. “The air tally again.”
“What does that mean?” she said.
“Oh…well,” said Lee. “You guys – I mean women – don’t like to be graded, right? Someone calling you a seven or an eight. Or in your case, a twelve.”
“Are you about to ask me for a raise?” she said.
“No. And, don’t take it personally,” said Carr.
“Okay. I won’t,” said Lee. “But…um…back to the grading thing. You get the point, right? It’s a little demeaning. Like being back in fifth grade. Getting a passing grade.”
“I get it,” said Carr. “Look. I’ll try to be more qualitative in the future. How about, ‘Your taste in food and knowledge of local culinary establishments is impeccable.’ ”
“Much better,” said Lee. “See. Wasn’t so hard, right?”
“Uh. Yeah. Okay,” said Carr. “If that really makes you happy, so be it.”
“Hey. I know this is changing the subject,” she continued. “May I ask you a personal question?”
“Yeah…sure. Ask away,” said Lee.
“What happened in New York…I mean at the paper there,” she said. “I know a little bit, but not the full picture and I’d like to hear it from you.”
“Hmmm. I see. And is this inquiry personal or professional?” said Lee.
“Well. That’s a good question,” said Carr. “How do I answer that? I mean I can’t not be the city editor sitting here, right? But would I be asking this if I wasn’t city editor? Yes. I would.”
“Well. Okay then,” said Lee, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly. “Where do I start? You know, I haven’t actually had to tell this story that often. It’s like…I don’t know…people know enough that they avoid asking about it. ‘How did that train wreck work out for you?’
“All right. The beginning. That’s always a good starting point. I’d gotten to know a detective on the police force pretty well. We helped each other on a couple of cases – low level corruption. You know, zoning commissioners selling their votes. That kind of stuff.
“So, one day, he tells me another detective is in big trouble. A well-known guy – almost a celebrity – had been caught stealing drugs from the evidence room. My guy had all the background. He even had a copy of the log showing when the cocaine was checked out. Internal affairs is investigating. The whole thing.”
“And it all looked right?” asked Carr.
“Yeah,” he said. “I confirmed the internal affairs part. So, I started writing the story. I called the guy I was writing about. I call him in the morning and he has no comment. So, I finish the story the next day and it’s going into the paper. It’s been edited, laid out, everything. And 8 o’clock at night, he calls me at home. He says he’s got evidence that will exonerate him. He just needs one more meeting tonight with a witness who will set everything straight.
“So, this guy is begging me. Crying. And, I’m saying, ‘No. I’m sorry. It’s too late. You had your day to respond. You know the drill.’ It runs the next morning. It’s got a photocopy of the evidence record with his signature. The whole ball of wax.”
Lee paused for a moment. Took a sip of water. Telling this was taking more out of him than he’d thought it would.
“And, immediately, all hell breaks loose,” he continued. “It turns out my source has fabricated this whole thing because he hates this other guy. I don’t know why. Something that happened 20 years ago. He’s made up the whole thing. Paid a guy in the evidence room to change the records.
“And, the worst thing is that the target in this, the fellow who calls me at home. Well, he’s already in the pits. Divorced. Depressed. Alcohol. You name it. This pushes him over the edge. He goes into his garage, starts the car with the garage door shut, puts on his favorite CD and goes to sleep. A neighbor finds him. He’s still alive but comatose.”
“Oh, god,” said Carr.
“Yeah. He’s like that for two days,” said Lee. “He comes out of it finally. But he’s never the same. His career is done. He never works again. He’s retired in Tampa or somewhere.”
Lee paused and took another sip of his water. The memories were coming back. He shivered involuntarily.
“I can’t tell you what that was like,” he said, talking more slowly now. “I knew pretty fast that the story was wrong. I could feel it collapsing. And, then this guy…I thought he was going to die. I just knew it. Those two days. It was like having a giant hand inside your chest squeezing everything. I could hardly breathe. All I could do was walk. I must have walked 40 miles around Manhattan those two days.
“So, the paper pretty much dumps it all on me. I don’t know. You can debate that. I had verified parts of the story and had a document that looked legit. But it’s true that this guy just played me and I should have smelled it. I shouldn’t have just rushed into it.”
“But you thought it was okay,” objected Carr. “It looked right to you.”
“Yeah…well. Later. I mean weeks later. I realized the problem was that I wanted it to be right,” said Lee. “It was convenient and easy. Another quick scalp. And this guy – my source – knew that. He knew what I was about. It was collecting scalps. I didn’t start out that way. But that’s where I was. He knew me better than I knew myself.”
Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
You can learn more about Divine Fury on Amazon.