Selected Works


Excerpt from Chapter 3


I sat down in a green-upholstered ball and claw footed chair that matched Peggy’s, except for being armless, and was struck immediately by signs of her displeasure. Two partially-consumed Starbucks lattes and the pecked-at remains of a cheddar-dill scone had been pushed aside to provide unobstructed access to four "from the desk of PEGGY KING -- Your HOLISTIC Supervisor” green and azure blue memo slips that were folded vertically and pointing, dart-like, at me, as was her silver letter opener of a mermaid straddling a swordfish.

"So, Gus," she greeted me. "Another reject from HUD."

She was wearing a gray neckerchief under a proper navy blue suit which bulked slightly on her short, muscular body. Her face was overly tanned and conveyed long-suffering patience. To my chagrin, I found myself feeling anxious.

"I don’t know why they failed us, Peggy," I said evenly. "We put in a strong application and you know we have a good record -- solid audits, no evictions, no complaints from neighbors ..."

"You failed because you ignored procedure." She tapped one of her memo darts. "Dan Plumb at HUD informs me you haven’t been advertising availability of the waiting list to Samoans, as required by federal law."

"To what?" I asked.

"Samoans," she sighed. "Or to Aleuts."

"Is he serious, Peggy? Do you know how many Samoans we have in the town?"

"No. But I’m sure you do."

"One. Manny Mana, the linebacker for the Tennessee Titans. He just bought a six million on Sand Spires Close. If you want, I’ll personally bring an affordable-housing application over to him. Just in case his income happens to be under $29,000 a year."

"You’re no better than anyone else, Gus. You have to play by the rules."

I felt like reminding Peggy that 20 years before, when I was wealthy and she was selling real estate, I’d actually bought a house from her. Rather than carping at me about rules, she’d casually offered me a toss in the downstairs den, a little freebee for closing the deal. The way she put it, it was like the bonus point offers you get with your credit card bill: free tickets to the opera, a free bottle of Chateau Petrus or free sex on the pool table. I was tempted. She had a confident, perky way to her and nimble fingers that were easing along my crotch when what Katonah would refer to as my "Inner Guides" warned me that the freebee was really an introductory offer with hidden charges between the lines. I wondered if we’d be different with each other now if I hadn't backed off.

"As for Aleuts, Peggy," I said, "there are 9 in Eastcogue that I know of. Charlie Summerbear, who happens to run the largest boat charter fleet in town, and his 8 kids. Maybe I should put him on the waiting list too."

"You could have identified appropriate Aleut and Samoan advertising venues on the internet." She picked up another memo. "I am also notified that you have not been filing your annual audits electronically. HUD is fining BayCogue $28,000."

"That’s ridiculous. We send them certified mail. I know they get them."

"Twenty-eight thousand. Four-thousand per year for 7 years. Since the Audit Filing Verification Implementation and Full Disclosure Rule was first effectuated. Off-line filing is no longer valid on its own."

"I'm going to fight this one, Peggy. They never notified us we had to file on line."

She picked up her swordfish letter opener and grazed it along her fingers. "Maybe the BayCogue office did receive notice," she said, looking bullets into my eyes, "and your august site manager and dear friend, Jack Murphy, was in one of his ‘I'm-not-going-to-bother-with-this-chicken-shit modes.’"

With Peggy, it always came back to Murphy.

"You are also subject to a fine," she said moving on to the next memo, "for lawn mal-maintenance. Apparently the grass has consistently been at least two inches higher than permissible maximum."

"I know, Peggy. We don’t cut the lawns more because it hurts the dandelions."

"Dandelions? You're kidding me!"

"The seniors sauté the stems and roots and eat the petals raw in salads."

"Cut them, Gus."

"The seniors feel a strong loyalty to dandelions, Peggy. During the Depression, dandelions were all many of them got to eat for days at a time." I paused. "I had to eat them too. As a boy. They were my basic vegetable. The stems are delicious and the petals have a wonderful tart flavor."

She groaned. "Cut the dandelions, Gus! And kindly spare me the lecture on Depression cuisine."

"We did other things like that, Peggy. That might seem strange now. We rolled used twine into balls so we didn’t have to buy string and pressed ends of soap together so we could keep using them. I'm proud of that. We all are."

"This is the 21st century, Gus. No one is starving and the Town provides a nutritious meal every day at the Senior Center."

I said, anger overriding common sense, "You mean the Cholesterol Café?"

Peggy glared at me with a look hard enough to slow time, reached for one of her lattes and started ripping and dribbling in little packets of Equal, slowly, one by one, five of them in all, our Holistic Supervisor controlling her weight and temper with artificial sweetener.

"And the source of that inventive name," she guessed accurately, "would no doubt be Rose Dailiucci."

"I checked it out myself," I lied. "The meat is all fat and the baked goods all chemicals."

She took a sip of latte and seemed to like it. "While on the subject of Rose, and of rules, have you made sure she isn't concealing income so HUD doesn’t increase her rent?"

"Jack Murphy keeps on top of all that," I said, lying again.

"I saw her peddling those ridiculous paintings of hers at the art shows last summer. Does she report that income on her annual certification form?"

"I don’t think she actually sells any paintings, Peggy."

"Oh? And why then does she go?"

"To hang out. She enjoys the scene."

"Last week she bought a $300 apple tree from Wilmot’s Gardening Center. She paid for it in cash. Now pray tell me, Gus. Where does our dear, impoverished 88 year old widow get money for that? I understand she goes out late every night and returns in the morning. Perhaps she has a paying job she’s hiding from us."

I snapped. "Maybe she’s hustling, Peggy. Doing the Roving Dunes party circuit."

"Don’t be disgusting!"

"Prostitutes are flown in here every summer Thursday night," I said. "From Morocco and Sweden, for $30,000 a weekend each, right into our own rustic little airport. You know it, the police know it, the whole damn town knows it. No customs, no immigration, no DEA inspections, no Homeland Security checks to delay the fun for our cosseted billionaires. And they’re out of here at dawn Mondays with everything they brought with them except the cocaine and hash. So, why not Rose? Tell me, Peggy. At what age do we old folks become subject to curfews and chastity? Does HUD have regulations for that too?"

"If Rose Dailiucci is concealing income, she is guilty of a felony punishable by eviction from her apartment plus a fine and/​or imprisonment."

I leaned back as much as I safely could in her Lady Chippendale, suppressing a smile and relishing everything about me I knew she despised -- my floppy dungarees, short-sleeve Madras shirt with an ink stain on the pocket, fraying sneakers, absence of a watch, even my age.

I’ll never know what would have happened if her immediate-attention buzzer hadn’t sounded. Four buzzes. Three signaled a call of priority importance. I’d only heard three for a Prime Minister of Canada and the President of Harvard. Who could rate four?