A GIANT SMILE spread across Pops's face when they entered the Blend bar.
"What?" Wendy asked.
"More cougars on those bar stools than on the Discovery Channel."
The bar had low lights and smoky mirrors, and everyone was dressed in black. He was right about the clientele. In a way.
"By definition," Wendy said, "a cougar is an older woman who frequents clubs to score with younger men."
Pops frowned. "Some of them still gotta have Daddy issues, right?"
"At your age, you should hope for a Daddy complex. Check that-Grandpa complex."
Pops looked at her, disappointed, as though the line was super lame. She nodded an apology because, yeah, it was.
"Mind if I mingle?" Pops asked.
"I cramp your style?"
"You're the hottest cougar here. So, yes. Though some chicks dig that. Like they're stealing me away."
"Just don't bring any of them home. I have an impressionable teenage son at home."
"I always go to her place," Pops said. "I don't like her knowing how to find me. Plus I save her the morning walk of shame."
Blend had a bar up front, restaurant in the middle, club in the back. The club was holding the open-mike night. Wendy paid the cover charge-five bucks including a drink for men, one buck including a drink for the ladies-and ducked inside. She could hear Norm, aka Ten-A-Fly, rapping:
Hotties, listen up,
You may not be in Tenafly
But Ten-A-Fly gonna be deep in you...
Oy, she thought. There were forty, fifty people gathered around the stage, cheering. Ten-A-Fly wore enough gold bling to make Mr. T envious and a trucker hat with a flat brim and forty-five-degree tilt. He held up his droopy trousers with one hand-might have been because they were too big, might have been because the guy had absolutely no ass-while the other gripped the microphone.
When Norm finished that particularly romantic ditty with the closer that Ten-A-Fly be so deep in you, you be begging for no Engle-Wood, the crowd-median age: early forties-gave him a huge ovation. A red-clad maybe-groupie in the front threw something onstage, and with something approaching horror, Wendy realized that they were panties.
Ten-A-Fly picked them up and took a deep sniff. "Yo, yo, love to the ladies out there, the burning shawties, Ten-A-Fly and the FC in da house!"
The maybe-groupie put her hands in the air. She wore, God help her, a T-shirt that read, "Ten-A-Fly's Main Ho!"
Pops came up behind her. He looked pained. "For the love of all that is merciful..."
Wendy scanned the room. She spotted the rest of the Fathers Club-FC?-near the front, including Phil. They cheered wildly for their man. Wendy's gaze traveled back and settled on a petite blonde sitting alone near the back. Her eyes were down and on her drink.
Sherry Turnball, Phil's wife.
Wendy swam through the crowd, making her way toward her. "Mrs. Turnball?"
Sherry Turnball turned from her drink slowly.
"I'm Wendy Tynes. We talked on the phone."
"I didn't realize that you were the one who did the story on Dan Mercer."
"Did you know him?"
"I met him once."
"He and Phil lived in the same suite at Princeton. I met him at the political fund-raiser we held for Farley last year."
"Another classmate." She took a sip of her drink. On the stage, Ten-A-Fly asked for quiet. "Let me tell you about this next number." A hush fell over the room. Ten-A-Fly took off his sunglasses as if they'd angered him. His scowl aimed for intimidation but seemed more in the neighborhood of constipation.
"So one day I'm sitting at Starbucks with my homies in the FC," he began.
The Fathers Club hooted at the shout-out.
"I'm sitting there, enjoying my latte or whatnot, and this dial-nine-one-one-kickin' shawty walks by, and man-o-man she's working it up top, if you know what I'm saying."
The cheers said, We know what you're saying.
"And I'm looking for inspiration, for a new tune and whatnot, and I'm checking out this five-alarm shawty in a halter top... and this phrase just comes to me: 'Swing dem puppies.' Just like that. She saunters by, head up, working it up top, and I think to myself, 'Yeah, baby, swing dem puppies.' "
Ten-A-Fly paused to let that sink in. Silence. Then someone yelled: "Genius!"
"Thanks, brother, I mean that." He pointed at the "fan" in some complicated way, like his fingers were a gun turned on its side. "Anyway, my homies in the FC helped me take this rap and bring it up to the next level. So this is for you guys. And of course, all you top-heavy shawties out there. You be Ten-A-Fly's inspiration."
Sherry Turnball said, "You think this is all pretty pathetic, don't you?"
"Not my place to judge."
Ten-A-Fly began to perform what some might consider a "dance," though medical experts would probably classify it as a "seizure" or "devastating stroke."
Yo, girl, swing dem puppies,
Swing em like you're my favorite ho,
Swing dem puppies,
Swing dem like you're Best in Show,
Swing dem puppies,
Yo, got here a bone to feed ya,
Swing dem puppies,
Take it, girl, be no protest from PETA...
Wendy rubbed her eyes, blinked, opened them again.
By now, the other members of the Fathers Club were standing and joining in for the "Swing Dem Puppies" chorus, letting Ten-A-Fly solo on the lines between:
Swing dem puppies,
Ten-A-Fly: "No need to scream and holler."
Swing dem puppies.
Ten-A-Fly: "Swing dem right, I gives you a pearl doggie collar..."
Wendy made a face. The men were up now. The guy who'd been wearing the tennis whites was all prepped out in a bright green polo. Phil had khakis and a blue button-down. He was standing and clapping and seemingly lost in the rap. Sherry Turnball stared off.
"You okay?" Wendy asked.
"It's nice to see Phil smile."
The rap went on for a few more verses. Wendy spotted Pops talking up two ladies in the corner. The biker look was rare in suburbia-and some tony club hopper always wanted to take home the bad boy.
Sherry said, "See the woman sitting up front?"
"The one who threw her panties onstage?"
She nodded. "That's Norm's-uh, Ten-A-Fly's-wife. They've got three kids, and they're going to have to sell their house and move in with her parents. But she's supportive."
"Nice," Wendy said, but looking again, the cheering looked a little too forced, closer perhaps to classic overcompensation than true enthusiasm.
"Why are you here?" Sherry Turnball asked.
"I'm trying to find out the truth about Dan Mercer."
"A little late, don't you think?"
"Probably. Phil said something strange to me today. He said he understood what it was like to be wrongly accused."
Sherry Turnball played with her drink.
Her eyes rose and met Wendy's. "I don't want him hurt anymore."
"That's not my intent here."
"Phil wakes up every morning at six and puts on a suit and tie. Like he's going to work. Then he buys the local papers and drives down to the Suburban Diner on Route Seventeen. He sits there alone with his coffee and goes through the classifieds. By himself, wearing a suit and tie. Every morning, alone. The exact same thing."
Wendy flashed again on her father sitting at the table stuffing resumes into envelopes.
"I try to tell him it's okay," Sherry said. "But if I suggest moving down to a smaller house, Phil takes it as a personal failure. Men, right?"
"What happened to him, Sherry?"
"Phil loved his job. He was a financial adviser. A money manager. Nowadays those are negative terms. But Phil used to say, 'People trust me with their life savings.' Think about that. He cares for people's money. They entrust him with their toil, their kids' college education, their retirement. He used to say, 'Imagine the responsibility of that-and the honor.' It was all about trust with him. About honesty and honor."
She stopped. Wendy waited for her to continue. When she didn't, Wendy said, "I did some research."
"I'm going back to work. Phil doesn't want that. But I'm going back."
"Sherry, listen to me. I know about the embezzlement charge."
She stopped as though she'd been slapped. "How?"
"That's not important. Is that what Phil meant by wrongly accused?"
"The allegations are trumped-up nonsense. An excuse to fire one of their most highly paid. If he was guilty, why hasn't he been charged?"
"I'd like to talk to Phil about it."
Wendy opened her mouth, stopped, closed it again.
Sherry said, "It doesn't have anything to do with Dan."
"Maybe it does."
"Will you talk to him for me?" Wendy asked.
"And say what?"
"That I want to help him."
But a thought hit Wendy, something Jenna had said, something Phil and Sherry had said too, stuff about the past, about Princeton, the name Farley. She needed to get home, get to a computer, do some research. "Just talk to him, okay?"
Ten-A-Fly started up another song, an ode to some MILF named Charisma, plagiarizing himself with some joke about having no charisma in him but wanting to be in Charisma. Wendy rushed over to Pops.
"Come on," she said.
Pops gestured toward the tipsy woman with the beckoning smile and plunging neckline. "Working here."
"Get a phone number and tell her to swing dem puppies at you later. We've got to get out of here."