Sunday, February 12, 2006
The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 74
The first post of then novel was made April 9 of 2005 and roughly every week after that. Next week the final two chapters will be published.
Jordan received a call from a deputy at the city attorney’s office asking him to come in for a few questions relative to his stay in county hospital and he thought it best to comply with the request.
He would have liked to ask City Attorney what to do in a situation like this, but something told him to keep that cartridge in the ammunition belt.
It was a good thing too, because the path at City Hall promptly slid him along and into City Attorney’s office, and it was not like running into an old friend.
“You pulled the plug on the old lady didn’t you.”
Jordan knew since the dinner at the Argentine restaurant when CA had mentioned “Andy Dumburton,” that his goose was got, but shocked all the same that this so-called member of The Sidewalk Smokers Club, this bandwaggoner, had used the cheapest machinations of his power to move J. around and to frighten him.
But CA still wasn’t aware of whom he was dealing with at this point. Jordan was already in battle with the criminal justice system of which City Attorney was part boss; already preconditioned to its clumsy and overheated responses to just about everything but real violent crime perpetrated on good people.
“Who told you?” he coolly decided to satisfy his personal curiosities before hearing whatever plan for closing off his future City Attorney had put together.
City Attorney’s response was but one word, but a word, which attached to the way he said it, took on scroll-like profundity.
“Oh,” J. said to the second surprise in as many interactions with this guy. Jordan heard contempt mixed with love in City Attorney’s mention of his paramour. He knew this had nothing to do with Eilin’s grandmother (who was dead). He would, in any case, play along.
“Why did you do it?”
“She had the right to die, that’s all.”
“I know you and your friends are big on rights, aren’t you?”
“Real pain in the ass ain’t it.” As the words leapt from his tongue, J. realized how much he already missed the antagonisms of Dumburton, and what a pleasure it was to keep his inner wise-acre sharp.
“You know she loves you?”
“No,” Jordan responded, feeling accused.
“You don’t know she’s with me partly because I agreed not to pursue the case against you?”
Jordan said that given this news, yes, he could see how her actions might be attributed to a deeper affection. “I just never thought I could get a girl like that.”
“You couldn’t,” City Attorney reminded him.
“So what’s the problem?” said Jordan, impatient and still searching for his lost life of coffee serving and late nights with jazz radio. “She’s all yours Mr. City Attorney.”
“The daily Joya, not the eternal one.”
“This sounds like a conversation you should be having with Randall.”
“Joya’s not in love with Randall,” City Attorney pointed out.
He wasn’t, so he changed the subject to avoid emotional vertigo. “So the old lady was your girlfriend’s grandmother?”
“Can you believe it?”
“You’ve got yourself in a bit of a vice there, dontcha?”
Jordan pointed out that City Attorney’s situation was no less conflicting.
City Attorney agreed.
“Why’d you bring me down here like this?” Jordan began the pursuit of an entirely different thread.
City Attorney shrugged. “When you have power you exercise it. Just like The Sidewalk Smokers.”
Jordan failed to make a connection between the passion play that is the tale of these puffers, and a dirty trick played on him by City Attorney. But he let it slide because, again, it had been kind of sprung on him. He thought hanging around City Attorney was like being best friends with a machine gun that leans on you for target practice.
Jordan was, in truth, somewhat flustered by the idea of having once had an actual shot at Joya – Eilin’s warm and magnetic affect upon him put off to the side.
Paralyzed really. Learned in craft, City Attorney had set about to stun him and then circle a while before the telling blow.
It was time. “What I’d like you to do is admit to the crime.”
Jordan got up to leave. This was City Attorney’s back-up plan. Randall had committed to ending the fight, but things could, probably would, go wrong.
“We’ll bungle it and you’ll walk.”
Jordan sat backed down.
City Attorney pressed his case. “The new mayor will downplay the case, leak memos, bury it. Prosecution is something the lesbian city councilwoman has always been against anyway. She liked the Angel Without Mercy.”
“Good for her,” Jordan interjected, nonplused.
“It’s a free shot. A chance to come out on something that’s important to her and a ready-made smokescreen for all the problems her ill-fated incumbency will present.”
“She should hear that.”
“She has,” City Attorney marveled again at The Smokers’ collective innocence.“She already has. She agreed.”
Jordan knew it was time for City Attorney to get to the part about what was in it for him.
Sensing the rhythm of the thing, City Attorney obliged. “You yourself could become a spokesperson for assisted suicide.”
“Spokesman. Assisted Suicide Spokesman,” Jordan tried to imagine a business card with that very title. “No thanks. I’m moving myself and my girl outta here as soon as possible. I’m too young for the death business.”
City Attorney went into a brief explanation of why he thought Jordan and most of The Sidewalk Smokers Club would never have the opportunity to be real people again. Of how they’d made a name in the pushing-a-cause business and that is where their value to future employers resided – if they were truly interested in work.
“You’re going to be needing a cause buddy,” City Attorney told him. “This smokers thing has run the skein.”
Not a big sports fan, Jordan was not sure what “run the skein” meant, but the tone of CA’s voice left little room for doubt. The game was over.
Eilin slipped into his thoughts, Dumburton came banging on the door at the back of his mind. He reflected on his favorite part of bum philosophy, its nine commandments of being lazy or whatever it was: “We are born to live and rest; If work is good for you, let the sick do it;” and, the top of his pops, “If you see someone resting, stop to help him.”
A different set of ideas; a different arrangement.
“Aren’t you the nice man,” Jordan said. “You’re asking me to give up my love and salvation, my woman.”
Jordan did not see the selfless risk in this for CA, for if J. were cut free of his entanglement with Eilin, he’d be free to begin a new one with Joya.
So Jordan rejected this call to duty outright. He simply didn’t care half that much about assisted suicide as he did about his soft and sweet girl.
He’d arrived at the same place as Randall regarding the usefulness of causes without quite so many turns of the mind. J. told City Attorney that he didn’t understand what the ultimate goal of the scheme was.
“I release the news tonight,” CA explained. “We merely admit to your being one of The Sidewalk Smokers Club and by doing so brand the whole movement negatively, cutting off its support and media coverage.”
Jordan thought that City Attorney thought he must have been plotting the bombing of an Andean country or something. And that was before the idea itself was considered. “You’re trying to associate The Smokers with old lady killing?”
“Merely pointing out that the association is there.”
Which, Jordan had to concede, it was.
Jordan was surprised at the way he’d taken the affront, at how loyal he felt to his friends. His tribe was his family. “You’re betraying The Sidewalk Smokers Club,” he pointed out.
“Keeping people from getting hurt, pure and simple. There are more important things, after all, than smoking.”
So, City Attorney was the enemy. His little speech was scripture to those who had driven all smokers to the curb and now not even that would be permissible. Where else could they smoke? That was the crucial and overriding question to which there was no satisfactory answer.
So Jordan affirmed his “no.” He wasn’t interested and left wrapped in a warm “and-that’s-that” feeling about things; never once entertaining the thought that City Attorney might put his plan in motion anyway, because he didn’t think the politician would ever risk Joya’s affection completely. He confused his own feelings for her with City Attorney’s, both a grave and common mistake.
He walked home in the working crowd twilight all car horns and steel movement swinging with danger. Like dragons they overwhelmed the lower human rumble, weapons of sound. And Jordan felt assaulted, closed in. He was sullen and angry at having been stuck with (another) moral duty, with having to stand up for what he’d done. So he acted boldly over a matter of conscience, since when was that such a big deal?
He wanted everything to fall away and be left with Eilin.
He thought this request to just be left alone to love his girl modest. The truth is there is little affordable in a life apart with another, away from the world, living a perpetual garden party at which all the guests hobble about on muscles dry like jerky.