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Caught

Chapter 11

   


WENDY CALLED THE RESIDENCE of Mercer's college roommate, Phil Turnball. After graduating from Princeton, Turnball had taken the express train straight to Wall Street and high finance. He lived in the tonier section of Englewood.
When the Dan episode of Caught in the Act first aired, she had tried to contact Turnball. He had refused to comment. She let it go. Maybe now that Mercer was dead, Phil Turnball might be more forthcoming.
Mrs. Turnball-Wendy didn't catch the first name-answered the phone. Wendy explained who she was. "I know your husband's been blowing me off, but trust me, he's going to want to hear this."
"He's not here now."
"Is there a way I can reach him?"
She hesitated.
"It's important, Mrs. Turnball."
"He's in a meeting."
"At his office in Manhattan? I have the address here from my old notes-"
"Starbucks," she said.
"Excuse me?"
"The meeting. It's not what you think. It's at Starbucks."
WENDY FOUND A PARKING SPACE in front of Baumgart's, a restaurant she frequented as often as she could, and walked four stores down to Starbucks. Mrs. Turnball had explained that Phil had been laid off during the economic slump. His meeting, such as it was, was more of a coffee klatch for former masters of the universe-a group founded by Phil called the Fathers Club. Mrs. Turnball had told her that the club was a way for these suddenly unemployed men to "cope and find camaraderie during these very trying times," but Wendy couldn't help but hear the sarcasm in the woman's voice. Or maybe Wendy was projecting. A group of blood-sucking, overpaid, over-important yuppies whining about the economy they helped destroy by feasting on it parasitelike-all while enjoying a five-dollar cup of coffee.
Well, boo-friggin'-hoo.
She entered the Starbucks and spotted Phil Turnball in the righthand corner. He wore a fresh-pressed business suit, and he sat huddled around a table with three other men. One wore tennis whites and spun a racket like he was waiting for Federer to serve. Another wore a baby sling complete with, uh, baby. He gently bounced up and down, no doubt to keep the little one content and silent. The final guy, the one the others were all intensely listening to, wore an oversize baseball cap with the flat bill precariously tilted upward and to the right.
"You don't like it?" Hat Tilt asked.
Now that she was closer, she could see that Hat Tilt looked like Jay-Z-if Jay-Z suddenly aged ten years and never worked out and was a pasty white guy trying to look like Jay-Z.
"No, no, Fly, don't get me wrong," the guy in the tennis whites said. "It's righteous and all. Totally righteous."
Wendy frowned. Righteous?
"But-and this is just a suggestion-I don't think the line works. What with the puppies swinging and all."
"Hmm. Too graphic?"
"Maybe."
"Because I gotta be me, you know what I'm saying? Tonight at Blend. Open mike. Gotta be. Can't sell out to the man."
"I hear you, Fly, I do. And you'll kick ass tonight, no worries. But necklace?" Tennis Whites spread his arms. "It just doesn't fit your theme. You need another puppy reference. Dogs don't wear a necklace, am I right?"
Murmurs of agreement around the table.
The Jay-Z NeverBe-Fly?-noticed Wendy hovering. He lowered his head. "Yo, check it. Shawty at five o'clock."
They all turned toward her. Except for Phil, this was hardly what Wendy had expected. You'd have thought Mrs. Turnball would have warned her about this particular collection of ex-masters of the universe.
"Wait." It was the guy in the tennis whites. "I know you. NTC News. Wendy Something, right?"
"Wendy Tynes, yes."
They all smiled except for Phil Turnball.
"You here to do a story on Fly's gig tonight?"
Wendy thought a story on these guys sounded like a hell of an idea. "Maybe later," she said. "But right now, I'm here to see Phil."
"I have nothing to say to you."
"You don't have to say a word. Come on. We need to talk in private."
AS THEY WALKED out of the Starbucks and back up the block, Wendy said, "So that's the Fathers Club?"
"Who told you about that?"
"Your wife."
He said nothing.
"So," Wendy continued, "what's with Vanilla Ice back there?"
"Norm... well, actually, he wants us to call him Fly."
"Fly?"
"Short for Ten-A-Fly. That's his rap handle."
Wendy tried not to sigh. Tenafly was a New Jersey town right down the street.
"Norm... Fly... was a brilliant marketing guy at Benevisti Vance in the city. He's been out of work for, what, two years now, but he thinks he found a new talent."
"What?"
"Rapping."
"Please tell me you're kidding.
"This is like grief," Phil said. "Everyone does it a little differently. Fly thinks he's got a new market cornered."
They arrived at Wendy's car. She unlocked the doors. "Rapping?"
Phil nodded. "He's the only white middle-aged New Jersey rapper on the circuit. At least, that's what he says." They slipped into the front seats. "So what do you want with me?"
No easy way to do it so she dived straight in.
"Dan Mercer was murdered yesterday."
Phil Turnball listened without saying a word. He stared out the front windshield, his face pale, his eyes moist. His shave, Wendy noticed, was perfect. His hair had that perfect part and a curl in the front so that you could imagine what he looked like as a young boy. Wendy waited, let him absorb what she'd told him.
"Something I can get you?" Wendy asked.
Phil Turnball shook his head. "I remember meeting Dan first day of orientation, freshman year. He was so funny. The rest of us were so uptight, wanting to impress. He was just so comfortable, had such a strange outlook."
"Strange how?"
"Like he'd seen it all already and it wasn't worth getting too worked up about. Dan also wanted to make a difference. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but he really did straddle that line. He partied hard, like the rest of us, but he always talked about doing good. We had plans, I guess. All of us did. And now..."
His voice faded away.
"I'm sorry," Wendy said.
"I assume you didn't track me down just to deliver this bad news."
"No."
"So?"
"I'm investigating Dan-"
"Seems you've already done that." He turned toward her. "Only thing left is to pick at the corpse."
"That's not my intent."
"What then?"
"I called you once before. When we first ran our expose on Dan."
He said nothing.
"Why didn't you return my calls?"
"And say what?"
"Whatever."
"I have a wife, two kids. I didn't see where publicly defending a pedophile-even a wrongly accused one-would help anyone."
"You think Dan was wrongly accused?"
Phil squeezed his eyes shut. Wendy wanted to reach out, but again it felt like the wrong move. She decided to shift gears.
"Why do you wear a suit to Starbucks?" she asked.
Phil almost smiled. "I always hated casual Fridays."
Wendy stared at this handsome yet thoroughly defeated man. He looked drained, bled out almost, and it was as if the gorgeous suit and shoe polish could prop him up.
Studying his face, a sudden memory flash of another face stole her breath: Wendy's beloved father, age fifty-six, sitting at the kitchen table, flannel sleeves rolled up, stuffing his rather flimsy resume into an envelope. Fifty-six years old and suddenly, for the first time in his adult life, out of work. Her dad had been a union leader, Local 277, running a printing press for a major New York newspaper for twenty-eight years. He had negotiated fair deals for his men, striking only once in 1989, beloved by everyone on the floor.
Then there was a merger, one of those constant M &A deals of the early nineties, the kind of thing Wall Street suits like, well, Phil Turnball loved because stock portfolios go up a few points, damn what may. Her father was suddenly made superfluous and let go. Just like that, for the first time in his life, he was out of work. The next day, he started at that kitchen table with the resumes. And his face that day looked a lot like Phil Turnball's did now.
"Aren't you angry?" she'd asked her father.
"Anger is a waste." Her father stuffed another letter. He looked up at her. "You want some advice-or are you too old for that now?"
"Never too old," Wendy had said.
"Work for yourself. That's the only boss you can ever trust."
He never got the chance to work for himself. He never found another job. Two years later, at the age of fifty-eight, her father died of a heart attack at that same kitchen table, still combing classifieds and stuffing envelopes.
"You don't want to help?" Wendy asked.
"With what? Dan is dead."
Phil Turnball reached for the door handle.
Wendy put her hand on his arm. "One question before you go: Why do you think Dan was wrongly accused?"
He thought about it before answering. "I guess when it happens to you, you just have a feel for it."
"I'm not following."
"Don't worry about it. It's not important."
"Did something happen to you, Phil? What am I missing here?"
He chuckled, but there was no humor in it. "No comment, Wendy." He pulled on the handle.
"But-"
"Not now," he said, opening the door. "Right now I'm going to take a walk and think about my old friend for a little while. Dan deserves that, at the very least."
Phil Turnball slid out of the car, adjusted his suit jacket, and headed north away from her, away from his friends at Starbucks.