THE VILLAGE BUYERS
© 2003 Arthur Herzog
All Rights Reserved
By the same author:
How to Write Almost Anything Better and Faster (revision)
Seventeen Days: The Katie Beers Story
The Woodchipper Murder
Vesco: From Wall Street to Castro’s Cuba
How to Write Almost Anything Better
The B. S. Factor
McCarthy for President
The Church Trap
The War/Peace Establishment
L*S*I*T*T* (in softcover: Takeover)
Glad to Be Here
Make Us Happy
Allan Cook, Pastor, Grace Tabernacle Church, Brentwood, NH
The late Dr. Harold Fiskin
Lee Gordon, Esq.
Dr. Richard Hausknecht, New York City
Dr. Henry Lee, former Chief Forensic Office, Connecticut State
Dr. Joseph Sacco, New York City
Julie Keyes, Sag Harbor
Profit, gain and the extraordinary
materialism of our society are
weakening the human condition.
APRIL – JUNE
If there were one aspect about her life that Sally most hated it had to be those dreadful anxiety attacks which happened without warning and seemed to bear little relationship to the reason, almost as if, being already anxious, she needed something to be anxious about.
The attacks had symptoms she was all too familiar with - - shortness of breath, biting her nails, tugging her hair, trembling…
Just yesterday she’d had another anxiety event; the bank had declined to give her a line of credit, not that she required money yet, although she would if her real estate business failed to improve.
As it must, otherwise she’d have to close her office. She felt like screaming.
But she restrained herself. Sally didn’t want to alarm her chubby crew-cut 10-year-old, Brad. Anxiety, a psychiatrist she’d consulted had told her, is easily passed from mother to son as if by an invisible waterfall; the damage might be permanent; Brad would suffer from anxiety too if she didn’t get cured.
The shrink had questioned Sally on her childhood and she’d admitted her mother had also been anxious, especially about money. The reason was 7
hard to find because her husband, Sally’s dad, had been rich. Was anxiety a genetic disease?
Even if she possessed the qualifications to answer the question, Sally didn’t have time. She had to get Brad off to school.
She saw the yellow bus pull up across the peaceful street, the stop sign extending from its side reminding her of a tiny wing. Sally, now a part-time photographer, wished she could capture the image on film.
But Brad, lunch box in hand, waited impatiently for a kiss; Sally
pecked him and reluctantly - - the day was glorious - - climbed back up the stairs and went inside to begin her normal routines: making their beds, vacuuming, running the dishwasher. Occupied with the chores, she reflected on her (sort of) life.
While she had been in the hospital, giving birth to Brad, her husband had sent a note announcing he’d found another woman who had moved into their apartment; Sally had obtained an uncontested divorce. Feeling shaky, she’d decided to abandon her career as a professional photographer and leave New York. Cousin Harriet had lured her to central Long Island and try real estate. She’d passed the test with flying colors and prospered on commissions - - Sally hadn’t realized how easy it was to succumb to greed.
Greed – a desperation to make money; a problem: how could she
By marrying a rich man, but how would she know she loved him?
The question seemed hypothetical. The answer far away. This was
Things had been fine for awhile and then the real estate market in Bayville, where she worked and resided, had gone down the tube and never recovered. Nick, her former husband, had always been behind in child support; Brad had required braces for his teeth; the house she’d brought with a mortgage had to have a new roof and furnace. She’d incurred constant expenses and was always low on money. She’d dipped into savings,
exhausted them. She owed on credit cards.
Anxiety led her to imaginary disasters: she’d lose the house; Brad and she would be forced to live with her parents who might not want them; they’d end up on the street as homeless people… No! She’d make money goddamn it, or was that like believing in magic?
Sally bit her fingernails.
In her new Jeep - - Sally drove a new car to impress her clients -
-Sally went to the office. She looked at the mail - - again, no checks - -
brewed coffee in the machine, and, at her desk, started to read The Bayville Star, when a soft knock sounded at the door. She dashed to open it.
A tall, trim man stood there, pointing at a Cadillac convertible, top down though the April morning was cool. He asked, “Legal to park here?”
Was he the magic that would save her? But Sally couldn’t believe in magic - - down deep, she remained a realist.
“Why not? There’s no red line.”
Sarcasm was related to anxiety, Sally’s shrink had said.
“Means you can’t park.”
“Well, I’m a stranger in town. I came to see you.”
“I wish to discuss real estate.”
“You’re at the right place.” Bestowing her best smile, she led the man inside. “I’m Sally Edwards, Mr…”
“Okus,” he said in a deep voice.
“Spell that, please.”
“May I be of help, Mr. Okus?”
“I’m sure you can.”
She gestured at the winged leather armchair on the far side of her narrow desk - - her chair was wood without a cushion, good for the posture -
- and studied the face before her. Mr. Okus had broad cheekbones, aquiline nose, and a flat chin with a dimple in the center, pale skin. His close-cropped gray hair reminded her of a helmet. Clear cobalt eyes were his best feature, though odd crinkles at the inner corners made him appear slightly sinister. She put him in his late forties or early fifties. He was a handsome man.
And what clothes! Brown herringbone jacket, cavalry twill slacks, open-necked silk shirt, green-and-gold scarf that might have been a Hermes.
Most local guys, she suspected, hadn’t heard of ascots. He was like a movie star.
“Tell me how.”
“I understand Bayville’s charming.”
“Depends on what you mean by charm.” She rolled her brown eyes.
“I meant you.”
Sally paused, thinking they should stick to business.
“Why did you come to Bayville?”
“I might want to buy a house.”
Mmmm. Mr. Okus could be a client, “Well, Bayville’s nice.”
“I hate that word. ‘Nice’ signifies nothing.”
“Should I have said ‘cozy’?”
“Worse than ‘nice’.”
“Would ‘tranquil’ be all right?”
“Yes, I prefer tranquillity.”
“Tranquillity is our middle name.”
“Would you mind showing me the town?”
He had a slight accent and a formal manner of speech; she wondered if he was foreign. “That’s what I generally do.” When she had clients…
Sally went through the motions on the computer screen of checking
her listings, although she knew most of them by heart. Another reason like the last one and she, Bayville’s last surviving realtor, would be out of business too.
He walked beside her to the street. The Caddy was parked in front of the Jeep. “Let’s use mine, okay?” It was her turf, even though she would have enjoyed riding in the Cadillac.
He nodded and climbed up.
“Where you from?” she asked, half-expecting the answer would be
New York City.
“Alaska,” he said.
“Alaska? You came all the way from Alaska?”
“Just to visit you,” he seemed to tease. “I landed last night at
MacArthur in Islip.”
“I know where MacArthur is. Where’d you get the Caddy?”
“Rented - - in advance. And I reserved a suite at the Radisson Hotel, which has a pool.”
“Swim a lot?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.”
“Why’d you pick on Bayville?”
“I was fascinated with Long Island and Bayville gets top marks
scenically, I read.”
“In a guide book, I think.”
Bayville was a jewel in places but a guidebook listing the tiny town amazed her. Are you from Alaska?”
“I wasn’t born in Alaska, no.”
“But you have to be from somewhere.”
“True. I have a U.S. passport.”
She turned the ignition key and they started off in silence, passing green hills dotted with boulders, tall trees, leafless as yet, fields covered with carpets of grass, wooden fences, windmills, farmland - - but no farm animals except for an occasional horse - - a few light trucks and campers, flocks of tiny birds perched on coated electrical lines, lakes and ponds, a pheasant darting across the road, running deer, foxes diseased by mange, an osprey nest on top of a pole, bay breezes, American flags flying, churning cement trucks on their way to building sites, wells being dug, ill-concealed swimming pools, a seagull…
Mr. Okus stretched and their shoulders touched. Sally resisted a false feeling of intimacy. He was only a possible client. “Shall I tell you about the town?”
“Before the turn of the century - - more than a hundred years ago - -
Bayville was the Long Island Rail Road’s last stop. The town was expected to thrive because New Yorkers would summer here in droves.
“There was going to be a hotel, a beach pavilion, one of the earliest golf courses. Everything would be elegant. Investors had high hopes. What happened? The railroad kept extending east as if it had tentacles. Until the track reached towns with ocean beaches. A black day for Bayville!
Development here ground to a halt. Now, only the localest of local trains bother to stop.”
“Count your blessings.”
Mr. Okus opened his jacket to take a handkerchief from his pants
pocket and Sally noticed a pistol butt protruding from his belt. He blew his nose, returned the handkerchief to his pocket and buttoned his jacket, unaware she’d observed. The gun flustered her - - was he a gangster? - -
but she went on, “How much of Bayville have you seen?”
“Not much. I’d like to see more.”
Sally thought he was looking at her breasts. “And it would be a
pleasure to show you.”
“Is this virgin territory?”
Okus blinked as if he did not entirely understand, then nodded. “Terra incognita.”
“Bayville’s big - - fifty square miles. I’ve sometimes thought we could be cut off fairly easily. A couple of barricades on country roads…Our backs to the bay. Train service and telephones could be interrupted if somebody had a mind to.”
Twisting her head she caught his stare. “Quite a fantasy life you have.”
“I’ve been told that before. My imagination’s active to a fault,” she said, remembering the school bus with a wing. “Then you have Bayville Hills, the rich section.”
“What do you mean by rich?” His tone struck her as condescending.
“I shouldn’t have used the term. Rich is rich only by comparison.
Well-off, I should have said. Comfortably fixed. Affluent…Only one individual in Bayville is really rich and even there I have doubts.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I’d had the impression you people equated
riches with style.”
“Some have style without money,” she said, thinking of herself.
“Well, it’s hard.”
“Sure is.” It would be fine not to have to scratch for a living like a chicken in the backyard. “And you have the main part of Bayville. Blocks of houses with scattered ones along the bay, where mine is, shopping center, American Legion Hall, grade school…Have you children, Mr. Okus?”
“No. I’m not married, but I have an extended family.”
What did he mean? Polygamy? “The schools are first-rate, if that’s of interest.”
Mr. Okus was silent, and then said, “What’s the population of
She couldn’t recall having told him. “About three thousand.”
“So there’s bound to be a business district,” he said accusingly, as if she’d left something out. In fact, she had.
“Downtown,” Sally said quickly. “Fast-food joints, movie theatre, video places, stores (those that haven’t gone to the shopping center), couple of bars, the police station, what passes for a courthouse…No big deal.”
She prayed she wouldn’t have to give Mr. Okus a tour of downtown.
Not today when she was eager to sell him a house. She wanted him to have a good impression of Bayville. And of her.
A photographer, or former photographer, Sally had always had an
urge to take pictures of what appealed to her, a bowl of fruit, a sunset, and now the gray-haired man with cobalt eyes seated next to her. He had a kind of aura, impossible to catch on film.
But anxiety stirred again. Maybe he wasn’t what he seemed. Her
client - - yes, he appeared to be a client - - would turn out to be one of those people you have to watch for? A real-estate - - what’s the word? - - voyeur who consumes your precious time window-shopping for a daydream they can’t possibly afford, who put on a front (fancy clothes and a high-class 17
rented car would be part of the act) but in the end return to a grubby apartment.
“Mr. Okus, would it be appropriate if I asked about your
“I don’t follow you.”
“Whether you’d qualify for a mortgage, I mean.”
“Ah,” he said, frowning. “The proper question is whether I need a mortgage.”
“Everybody needs a mortgage, as an income tax deduction if nothing else.”
He shook his head. “Taxes don’t concern me. At least not yet.”
“Most people lack ready cash,” she said.
“I brought lots of cash from Alaska.”
“Is that why you carry a gun?”
She examined his elegant scarf, Hamilton watch, and shiny leather
shoes with tassels. No, Mr. Okus was the genuine article.
ON THE BEACH
The Jeep, a metal monster with more power than necessary, had
begun the gentle climb on coal-black asphalt, a freshly-painted double line down the middle, up Bayville Hills which offered a magnificent view of the water, shimmering under the spring sun. On the slopes above the saffron shoreline stood an assortment of ranches, with pink tile roofs, and colonials with dark shingles. One house, however, dominated the others by its sheer size and elegance, copper roofs, massive brick chimneys, a port-cochère, stained Gothic windows, tall hedges hinting of formal gardens within.
“We call that the castle,” Sally said. “Wouldn’t you love to live there?”
“The castle would suit me. Who owns it?”
“I mentioned a really rich person. Peter Glover, from an old Bayville family that made a fortune in whale oil.”
“I read somewhere they used to fuel the Montauk Lighthouse with
whale oil. The family managed to hang onto their money then?”
“Clever people. Most rich families dissipate their assets, don’t they?”
“But Peter can be a nerd.”
“Excuse me?” Mr. Okus pursed his lips.
“An…” Asshole, Sally started to say but thought better. “A jerk.
Where have you been, Mr. Okus, that you haven’t heard of ‘nerd’?”
“Not far enough, I guess.” He chuckled. “Might Glover desire to
“Everything in this world is for sale at a high enough price.”
He seemed so confident she couldn’t resist taunting him. “Not the White House.”
“Including the White House if it would help the ruling party. What would the castle bring?”
“Considering the location, the acreage, the sheer prestige? Around three million. It’d be more except the place needs extensive repairs.”
“Glover can’t afford them?”
“He’s short of money. He gambles,” Sally said.
“I’d like to meet him.”
“Peter’s out of town for the moment.” She dangled a ring of neatly labeled keys. “Are you in a real estate mood, Mr. Okus?”
His eyes burned with a peculiar intensity as Sally showed him houses.
She too was always in a real estate mood - - well, not quite. Sometimes she 20
took refuge in meditation, tried to think of something else, counted numbers, recited nursery rhymes - - was she a sort of mystic? Was that why her photography revealed life that was hidden before she clicked? Or so it seemed to her.
While he was at the office Sally had phoned ahead to make
appointments but, when the owners were present, he asked none of the usual boring questions about the cost of taxes, heating, electricity, upkeep, moving the lawn in summer. The only thing that interested him was how fast occupancy could be obtained.
“A couple of months,” said a husband with deep lines on his cheeks.
“It would take that long to find a smaller place,” added a wife who had a mouth so small it made Sally visualize a chipmunk. She would have adored photographing the woman chewing nuts with her tiny teeth.
In the car Sally scolded her client. “They aren’t gypsies - - you can’t expect them to pull up stakes overnight.”
“People must learn to be flexible.”
“They’re stable and change takes awhile to get accustomed to. Shall we catch a glimpse of the area below?”
“Let’s,” he said in an agreeably low voice that reminded her of Cary Grant’s.
The road in Bayville Hills led along a flat stretch to the business section several miles away. They were descending on the opposite side of the hills when the double line vanished and the highway wasn’t so well maintained. Sally’s mind was on Mr. Okus. How could she describe him?
Suave, urbane, friendly up to a point. Unfailingly courteous but guarded.
He often appears to be somewhere else. I’ve been with him only a short while, but I have excellent instincts. Realtors must understand their clients, their desires and peculiarities. Mr. Okus, thus far, is opaque, impenetrable.
We’re bound to have an unusual relationship.
As she rounded a sharp curve, Mr. Okus shouted, “Pull over! Fast!”
She swerved abruptly. A gardener’s truck - - from the top, rakes and brooms protruded - - careened into view nearly hitting the Jeep which would have been maybe totaled. Sally suppressed a scream. “That was close!
“You didn’t hear the vehicle? Something the matter with your
“Not that I’m aware of.”
She had to have her ears examined. Maybe she had wax on the
# # #
On the plain below Bayville Hills the houses were crowded together, a field of “For Sale” signs, some hers, some by owners. Too many, she thought, for a prosperous community.
Mr. Okus asked, “How many houses does Bayville have?”
“In round numbers?”
“The precise figure, please.”
“I can’t recall exactly. The town’s annual report is in the glove compartment.”
He extracted the booklet and thumbed it rapidly. “Seven hundred
eighty-four houses. A lucky number.”
“Are you superstitious, Mr. Okus?”
“In a sense.”
784, Sally wrote on the blackboard of her mind. She was a good
mathematician – had to be in the real estate business. A multiple of seven.
Is he a gambler too?
# # #
Sally was about to skip the rambling old house facing the water as too rundown for the tastes of a man who’d coveted the castle but he told her to stop.
“I’d like to visit this one, please,” he said.
“Because it’s large.”
SHOWN BY APPOINTMENT ONLY - - SALLY EDWARDS
REALTY said the metal sandwich sign on the lawn. Such pretenses our business has, Sally mused. As if a casual passerby would be denied admittance. She’d had the listing for three years and the placard had begun to rust from exposure. She’d have to replace it soon.
The owners were home - - they were almost always home. Phil
Jenkins an emaciated man with red-rimmed bulging eyes, had taken early retirement as a high-school teacher after a drunk driver had crushed his leg and left him with a permanent limp. (Such things were counter to the town’s image and The Bayville Star had compressed the story into a single paragraph). His wife, Paula, had owned a kitchenware store on Main Street but, when the shopping center opened, with downtown in the doldrums, she couldn’t take the competition and closed her modest shop.
The Jenkinses were desperate to sell and move to Florida.
She knocked. “Sally! What brings you?”
Sally was shocked by Paula’s recent weight gain. The middle-aged
woman virtually filled the doorway.
“I have a customer in the car, Paula. Sorry I didn’t warn you. May I show him the house?”
“It’s a frightful mess!” said Paula.
Paula’s idea of a mess was a few dishes in the sink. But it was a defensive reaction, as if she were afraid her house wouldn’t pass muster.
“We can come back later if you’d like, although, well, this might be your only shot.”
“Bring him in.” She yelled, “Phil, we have company. Get dressed!”
“These are the Jenkinses,” Sally said when she brought him in. “And this is…Mr. Okus.” She realized she didn’t know his first name.
Mr. Okus nodded pleasantly. “May I tour your lovely home?”
“We’d be flattered,” Paula said and they left.
Phil leaned on his cane. “This guy’s a class act. He won’t have the slightest interest in a dump like this.”
“Don’t knock your own product, Phil. It’s not so bad though it could use some paint.”
“Christ, we can’t afford…”
Paula and the client returned, his face a mask. In the spacious kitchen she said, “The floorboards are yellow pine from Maine…”
Sally had expected him to gesture that he wanted to get out of there but he said, giving Paula his full attention, “Swell.”
“And the rafters are from an old barn. We bought them when we
remodeled the house…how many years ago was that, Phil?”
“Damn near thirty.” He jabbed his cane. “Especially at sunset, the screened porch gives a great view of the bay.”
“Not that we have mosquitoes,” Paula put in hastily.
Sally concealed a smile. Mosquitoes were plentiful along that stretch of Bayville coast but the Jenkinses wouldn’t admit it. They were more than eager to sell. A house that had once been a joy to them had become a burden as the relentless tide of bills rolled in.
“How many bedrooms are there? I lost track,” Mr. Okus said.
“Six,” Paula said. “Seven if you count the maid’s room. People could afford live-in help when the house was built.”
“Seven? When would the dwelling be available?”
Paula peered at her husband. “Soon,” he promised.
Mr. Okus said in his formal manner, “I’m interested. Mrs. Edwards will let you know what my decision is.”
“The house is a bargain,” she said as they walked to the car, “but are you serious?”
“I wouldn’t toy with these good people,” he said gently. “I need a bit of time, however. Tell me, is Bayville xenophobic?”
“Is it what?”
“Frightened of strangers.”
“We’ve have many nationalities in our midst. We’re proud of that.”
“You should be,” he said. “Shall we hit the beach?”
Bayville’s beach, broad with finely powdered sand, had everything a beach was supposed to except waves, which Sally preferred. You could swim better in calm water. And the sun was democratic, shining equally on Bayville and the ocean beaches of the glitzier Hamptons, further east.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” she said with a realtor’s enthusiasm.
“The vistas here are a definite plus.”
As Mr. Okus gazed longingly at the bay, Sally looked at his cobalt eyes. Strange eyes, she thought, large, round, without expression, though sometimes they seemed to emit radiance. “I must be close to open water.”
“Water’s one thing Bayville has plenty of.”
Face blank, he looked at her heart-shaped face, delicate lips, and curved chin. We occupy different worlds but I sense he can penetrate my soul as if he’s an antennae and I give off signals. It’s scary.
He examined the sand by his feet. He seemed suddenly vulnerable
and she longed to hug him.
“Would you object, Mrs. Edwards, if I told you you’re beautiful?” he said out of nowhere.
“Oh,” she said, startled. “I wouldn’t, no.”
“Well,” he said matter-of-factly, as if nothing of consequence had happened between them, “I’m housed-out for the day. I’m still suffering from jet lag. I’m tired.” The crinkles at the inner corners of his eyes looked deeper. “I have to sleep. Can we meet again in the morning?”
“I’m certain that can be arranged,” she said lightly.
He knows he’s the most attractive man I ever met.
But another thought intruded. Could you get that jet-lagged flying from Alaska? Yes, with a five-hour time difference, she supposed you could, but maybe he’d come from further away.
Next morning, Sally woke in an optimistic mood for once.
Maybe real estate values would increase. Maybe Mr. Okus would
really take the Jenkins house and pay her a commission. Maybe he was a turning point.
He’d called her beautiful, but she wasn’t, not exactly. Her nose thrust up too much, her jaws were a little wider than she would have liked. She’d settle for good looking, tall and thin, hair swept back and parted in the middle. At 36 she passed for less and was willing to use her charm to her professional advantage, even to flirt.
With Mr. Okus, though, she felt constrained as if that probing gaze of his would detect sexual artifice.
She dressed that morning with particular care - - brown sweater,
tartan skirt, nylon stockings and, instead of the flats she usually wore, heels which would bring her in kissing height range of the mysterious stranger.
# # #
The Jeep crossed a narrow bridge and reached Main Street. No
wonder she hadn’t wanted to show it to Mr. Okus. Normally she drove without bothering to look but this time she tried to see the world through his 29
vision. A side street led to the railroad station and beside it, a garish sign over a bar that pandered to prostitutes. In doorways, figures lurked, some slouched in depression while others were agitated, pacing, talking or shouting to themselves. They’d been released from the grim state hospital with barred windows out by the Pine Barrens and occupied squalid lodgings on the second or third floors of buildings with boarded-up stores whose owners had migrated to the shopping center or closed for lack of business, as had Paula Jenkins.
The village square looked bleak and forbidding - - trees that needed to be pruned, patchy grass, bare earth. The outpatients that came to drink from the water fountain were about the only ones who did. A stray bum, hat over his face, slept on a cracked bench. Sally occasionally gave him loose change for food.
The shuttered stores, outpatients from the mental hospital, the bums, though all contained in a few blocks, and were a blot on Bayville’s pleasant image. Snootier townspeople avoided downtown altogether, preferring the shopping center.
# # #
Her destination was Snyder’s pharmacy, just beyond the rundown
section and a favorite breakfast gathering place. She enjoyed congregating 30
there - - it made her feel part of the town in which little social life existed because people often worked elsewhere and returned home late.
Snyder’s was where Sally kept abreast of the local news and gossip.
Parking behind the drug store she entered through the rear. She helped herself to coffee and a bagel with cream cheese, carrying them to a table.
She asked Mack, “What’s new?”
The Bayville Star came out on Thursday mornings and Mack, leaning
on his elbows, bent over the newspaper. Tall and thin, in a long blue apron, he reminded her of a heron with bifocals. “Somebody claims to have spotted a flying saucer in the Pine Barrens!”
“That’s your land.”
“A bit of it. The ship was supposed to have left off passengers.”
“I met one,” she said, laughing as she thought of Mr. Okus. “What else?”
“There was a break-in early this week. And Bill Chmielewski - - he came in this morning - - told me about still another robbery, the Gerards, on Bayville Drive, last night when they wasn’t home. Took the TV, stereo and Amy Gerard’s jewelry which didn’t amount to much,” Mack said.
Chmielewski was a cop; one of Bayville’s downsized force of three.
It was an informal arrangement - - the town hadn’t bothered to appoint a 31
chief. “Hey, we never had robberies when I came here - - what was it, six years ago? I don’t lock my door.”
“Maybe you should. Things are changing for the worse.”
She smiled. “Do they ever change for the better, Mack?”
“Maybe not. But who’s behind the crimes? Hoods from down
island? Local toughs? Or…”
A square-faced, squarely-built, aggressive bald man, Brian Patterson bustled in. An assistant district attorney based in Hauppauge, Brian was said to want the top job if the D.A. decided not to run for reelection. He always pushed for the maximum sentences permitted under the guidelines.
“We were talking about your favorite subject, crime,” Mack said.
“My least favorite subject! It’s what I deal with day in, day out,”
As Brian poured coffee from the green-lidded decaf pot, Mack
complained about the robberies.
“Why tell me? The Bayville cops will handle the situation. For
Chrissake, we’re talking about minor thefts and damn few of them.”
“If they continue the community will become alarmed,” said Mack.
“And if it does real estate values, such as they are, could be affected,”
Sally pointed out.
“Besides, some of us have a pretty fair idea whodunit,” Mack said.
Timothy Duff, a shy, diminutive man with a pleasant face who
entered, was chief psychologist at the mental institution. He was usually content to listen and rarely spoke. He poured hot water over a tea bag and said, “Listen, I understand your concern but it’s baseless. The outpatients are medicated, calm…”
“Not the ones I just saw,” Sally said.
“They’re harmless. And only a few have cars. You need wheels to
transport stolen goods.”
“Correct,” Brian snapped.
“What’s on your agenda this morning?” Mack questioned him.
“Another attempted homicide. This year, Suffolk is breaking its own record. Rather than beating your breasts over the theft of a few trinkets, you ought to consider yourselves fortunate. Bayville is the safest town in Suffolk County, and on all Long Island for all I know. We don’t have shootings, battered wives or even a drug problem and delinquent kids. The beauty of living here is that nothing serious ever happens,” Brian declared.
“Still, I wish the mentals would go away,” Mack said, reflecting the town’s longstanding grievance.
“Me too,” said Tim. “But they won’t.”
Two women in Talbot country clothes came in and chattered quietly
in a corner. “What amazes me is that real estate prices haven’t risen in Bayville,” Brian said.
“We’re not the Hamptons. We lack excitement. We’re sort of staid,”
Sally said, “and off the beaten track.”
Brian and Tim drained their cups and departed, to be replaced by Dr.
Richard Rush, one of Bayville’s several physicians. A GP and internist, Rush was locally famous for never refusing a case in his understaffed clinic.
A ruggedly cheerful man, his pink cheeks sometimes revealed fatigue lines.
He was terribly overworked and his young wife, on whom he doted, accused him of neglecting her and their child, according to rumors.
Dr. Dick poured a liberal amount of sugar into his coffee and assured them, “No diabetes in my family.”
The chatted about Bayville, how the village green needed
refurbishing, the bridge by Sally’s house a paint job, how the mayor and town council ought to be thrown out in the next election for ineptitude.
“Well, on balance, we have a pretty good town. I wouldn’t want it changed that much,” Mack said.
“What’s hard to do is communicate is Bayville’s spirit. We may not see eye-to-eye all the time, but the beauty is we hang in together. We’re more or less unified and that’s a rarity,” Sally said.
“True,” said Mack.
Rush was on his feet when Sally called, “Dick, I ought to have my
“I failed to hear a loud noise close by. It might have been dangerous.”
“Come to the clinic any time.”
# # #
Sally was ready to leave when Harriet Baines walked in, bringing
coffee and a Danish to the table. On bad days, Sally wanted to curse her cousin to enticing her to Bayville but today might turn out well and Sally smiled cheerfully. “Hello, darling.”
“Hi, hon.” Sally had phoned the previous evening and left a message with one of Harriet’s teenage daughters. “When I got home it was too late to call you.”
Harriet dated, actually dated. God knew how Harriet, a strapping woman with big auburn hair, met men. Maybe she ran personal ads in a magazine, lying about her age, which was 40.
“Bowling’s fun with the right man.”
Sally couldn’t imagine how bowling could be fun under any
Mack went to the front of the store.
“I called to tell you I may have a real-life client,” Sally said.
“A he or a she?”
“A he. Popped in from nowhere - - it was the damndest thing.”
“You could use the dough. Is he charming?”
“Umm. But he isn’t the bowling type.”
“Too sophisticated, huh? I passed your office. A Caddy convertible is parked in front.”
“Sorry, Mr. Okus,” she explained. “I didn’t expect you so early. I open at nine but I’m a little late.”
“Never apologize.” He wore a sharkskin suit and handpainted tie and carried a briefcase with a combination lock. He followed her inside.
“All caught up.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“I had breakfast at the Radisson. Ms….or are you married?”
“I’m divorced,” she said emphatically.
They were seated at her desk again. Mr. Okus twirled his thumbs as if reluctant to speak. At last he did, rapidly.
“I haven’t told you much about myself.”
“I’m a businessman who retired.”
Sally laughed. “An odd word, I’ve often thought. Like getting
“I believed I’d settle down but I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to reenter business, having seen a new opportunity.”
“Yes, you seem awfully young to quit working. What kind of
“Real estate!” She gasped. “Where?”
“Real estate here is greatly undervalued, in my opinion.”
“You’d be in competition with me?”
“We could be partners.” He took a wallet made of a rubbery material from his jacket and gave her a card.
Jon Okus, Associates
She glanced at it. “At least you have a first name.” Sally read on.
“Which stands for?”
“The Third Millennium.”
“Uh-huh. We’ll try to make the world better.”
“The real estate outfit I formed.”
“Based in Alaska?”
“And now?” She muttered, dreading his response.
“Long Island, starting with Bayville.”
“Why Bayville, for God’s sake?”
“Partly the location, but not just that. Extensive computer runs have indicated Bayville typifies the area, headquarters has determined.”
“My command post.”
He was more like Donald Trump than Cary Grant, she decided.
“Surely you don’t mean we’re average.”
“Not at all. But you’re representative of small towns throughout Long Island. To me, small towns are where the future lies. What happens here will help me decide how, and if, to proceed.”
“I wanted to size up the town to be certain the computer printout was accurate. And to meet Bayville’s only surviving realtor.”
He was much too smooth and Sally disbelieved him.
“You must have placed us under surveillance.”
Jon seemed evasive and Sally persevered. “When you undoubtedly
had the answer, why did you ask how many houses Bayville has?”
He shrugged. “I can’t keep statistics in my head. I was far more interested with Bayville’s willingness to accept strangers - - whether we’d be welcome here.”
She lost her temper. “As far as I’m concerned, you’d be fucking
“Language,” he cautioned.
Sally ignored him. “Bayville’s last realtor? Is that a prophecy? An outfit like you could put me out of business!”
Jon rose. “You needn’t worry about competition. Cooperation is our style. Business has been slow, hasn’t it, Mrs. Edwards?”
“Well…” she said.
“The bottom line can only improve.”
“I can’t imagine how,” she said reluctantly.
“I can.” He started pacing. “You might consider joining me.”
His presence seemed to fill the room. “The days of the lone wolf, the freelancer, the independent, are over.”
“What’s in it for me? A ball and chain?”
“Money. You’d be part of my operation.”
“You could be my rep. I don’t have a license to sell, or buy real estate.”
“I’d be a Millennium agent?”
“Right. Using your office.”
“Who’d pay the rent?”
“I would. And your listings would appear on our TV ads.”
“There’s another angle that should please you. To show my
confidence in Bayville’s future, I’ve decided to invest here. May I call you Sally?”
“I’ll buy a piece of Bayville and I’ll pay you a commission. Best think since sliced pasta.”
“I won’t deny I stand to benefit. I might open a community for
“Who would come?”
“People who can’t tolerate Florida’s summer heat and overcrowding.
Bayville, lovely and under-populated, would be an ideal site.”
“For people whose preferences are exactly opposite to the Jenkins
“There must be legions of them. We’ve done a mailing…” How did
he obtain a list? She wondered. “…and had a surprisingly good return. But we must acquire a few carefully-chosen properties to find out if we can sell them to the retirees.”
“Like a pilot project?”
“You’re a quick study,” Mr. Okus complimented her.
“But aren’t retirement communities sequestered?”
“That’s an antiquated notion. Many oldsters prefer to mingle with, ah, ordinary people. They want the sense of belonging. All they’d need from us are basic services - - meals, transportation, house cleaning.”
“What about medical care?”
“That, too, but bear in mind we’d only accept those in excellent
physical condition. Yes. Would you like to come on board?”
“I’ll get commissions?”
“Of course,” he said, reassuringly.
The prospect of a steady income for her and Brad, almost no matter small, enthralled her. “How can I apply?”
“All you need to do is sign on.” He unlocked his briefcase - - of the same rubbery material as his wallet, she noted - - and extracted a computer-generated form. “You’ll be my exclusive Bayville agent, Sally.”
“The contract is a serious one. It demands complete honesty, loyalty and confidentiality. You are required to follow instructions even if you fail to agree with them.”
“What is this, the CIA?”
His laugh was hollow. “Nothing like that. But you’re not allowed to quit without ample notice. Can you handle the terms?” A thoughtful line bisected his broad forehead.
“Yes, I believe so. Who do I report to?” Him, I hope.
“I’ll send someone to show you the ropes.”
Sally hesitated. The contract called for honesty, on which she prided herself, but she might blow a golden chance: here, in Robert Frost’s words, might be a road not taken. “The business district’s partly a slum populated by outpatients from a mental hospital.”
“I know that from our analysis but you deserve high marks for telling me.” He seemed slightly amused.
“Okay, I’ll sign.”
“Shouldn’t you read it first?”
She couldn’t understand the legalese so she skimmed, affixing her
signature and address at the bottom. Jon took her hand in his firm grip,
“You won’t regret this.”
“I hope not. When do I start?”
“At once. Buy the Jenkins house. Make a lowball offer and insist they throw in the furniture.”
“If they won’t?”
“They will. Here’s a certified check as a deposit. I must fetch
something from my car.”
She examined the check, signed “Ben Okan, Treasurer” and
guaranteed by a Chicago bank.
Jon returned with an object wrapped in cardboard and instantly
It was a green plaque, of wood, announcing, in gold letters
On Friday, Dick Rush squeezed Sally in and tested her with an
“You don’t need a hearing aid. Your ears are absolutely perfect.”
Paula threw in the furniture and accepted the check as a deposit.
“How can we ever thank you, Sally?”
“Send me a box of Florida oranges,” Sally said, amazed the Jenkinses should be grateful for having sold their house at a bargain price. “Where will you live there?”
“With my in-laws who have a place near Tampa,” Phil said. “Plenty of room and we get on fine.”
“Umm.” She’d have hated to see them traipsing back, tails between
their legs. “Won’t you miss Bayville?”
The veiled glances couldn’t conceal an element of pathos. “No. Time for a change. We’ve been here too long,” Paula said.
Sally felt a pang of guilt. The Jenkinses were fine upstanding citizens, active in community affairs. The town would miss them.
# # #
In honor of her new position, Sally decided to give her office a long overdue paint job and Harriet offered to help.
On Sunday - - the beginning of the second week since Jon had entered her life - - Sally and Harriet covered the walls with the nearest color the 46
paint store could come to jaune brilliant. An amateur artist, Sally wouldn’t settle for any old yellow. Standing on a ladder, a kerchief over her auburn hair, Harriet said, “So this Jon is fixing to buy houses here? How many?”
“A piece of the town, according to him.”
“What’s a piece?”
“Several houses, I suppose.”
Harriet dipped her roller into the paint tray fastened to the ladder.
“Bullshit. If they’re to provide services for the elderly it would have to be a lot more houses than that.”
“You’d need a central kitchen to feed them. Lugging them around,
depending on what number they are, would require a van, probably
customized, adorned with fresh flowers, which means a staff. So I suspect, for efficiency’s sake, Jon would have to buy more than a few houses.”
Sally listened. She couldn’t fault her cousins’ math - - Harriet was a bookkeeper.
“If he sprang for twenty homes, for instance, you’d earn a bundle in commissions.” Harriet climbed down the ladder with her tray for more paint. “But I wonder about the retirement community. In winter, Bayville’s 47
cold and windy - - we have the worst weather on Long Island, if you ask me.
Why should senior citizens choose a climate like ours?”
“Masochists maybe. Polar Bears.”
“That’s just it. Perhaps they won’t be normal people like us.”
Harriet started up the ladder again but stopped. “The trouble with you, Sally, is you’re too trusting. What if Jon has an objective we can’t understand?”
Sally visualized Jon’s honest countenance. “I don’t think so. We’ll paint the trim in semigloss white. Tomorrow, if you’re able, we’ll tackle the outside.”
That night she said to Brad, “Mind if I work for somebody else?”
“No – if they pay you.”
“I assume he will.”
“I’d like to meet him.”
“Maybe.” She hugged him.
# # #
Monday, Harriet took a day off work.
The one-story building was small and, with rollers, they painted the front and the side exposed to the road in tan. Sally would finish the job at her leisure.
“Doesn’t it look great?”
“All spruced up and ready for customers.”
“As of now, my only client is Jon.”
On the wall by the front door hung Sally’s shingle.
“Shall I put the new sign above or below the old one?” Sally asked.
“Below. You’re still the boss.”
Sally shrugged. “Am I?” She faltered. “The two signs sort of repeat themselves.”
She removed her sign and, instead, hung Jon’s.
After the lettering appeared a black and white heraldic device.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harriet said.
“Must be the company’s insignia. It looks like a fish wearing armor.
Such weird eyes.” They reminded Sally of Jon’s.
“It could be almost anything,” Harriet said. “So might Mill 3.”
Sally stared at the sign with mixed emotions. If Millennium lived up to the contract, she was spared financial anxiety for awhile. But had she sold her freedom?
A boxy brown truck pulled up and the clean-shaven driver delivered a package. Sally glanced at the shipping label. The sender was J. Okus, Radisson Hotel.
Harriet opened the carton and removed the card. “Compliments of
Millennium 3,” she read. “It’s a fax machine.”
“Jon must have noticed I didn’t have one. What am I supposed to use it for?”
“You’re part of a team now, remember. They’ll send you messages.
It’s the most expensive fax machine there is,” said Harriet who, unlike Sally, knew electronic equipment.
With sherry Sally had in the fridge they toasted the paint job, they toasted Millennium 3, they toasted the retirement community, they toasted Bayville, they toasted Brad. Then the machine whirred, clicked, beeped, whirred again and ground out paper. Sally raced over. First came the insignia, then Millennium 3 and the words (to Sally like a transmission from outer space)
FROM: J. OKUS
THE JENKINS DEAL WILL CLOSE AT THE SELLER’S HOME
PROMPTLY AT NOON ON WEDNESDAY. EXPEDITE THE
A MILLENNIUM 3 STAFFER WILL BE ON HAND AND WILL
PAY THE BALANCE OWED BY CERTIFIED CHECK.
THE JENKINSES MUST DEPART IMMEDIATELY.
“He’s not long on pleases and thank yous,” Sally said.
“This is business. What do you expect?”
“Jesus. The deadline allows the Jenkinses less than forty-eight hours to clear out.”
“Can they pack so fast?”
“They’ll have to. They wouldn’t risk a deal-breaker.”
“Doesn’t this Okus need a mortgage?”
“Apparently not. He seems to have abundant cash.”
“Where’s he headquartered?”
“Haven’t the vaguest.”
“And why the Jenkinses house?” Harriet said. “It’s no great
“Because it’s instantly available, I guess. He wants to get started.
Mr. Okus - - Jon - - would have preferred the castle. A pipe dream.”
# # #
Sally woke with an anxiety attack. What she often did to fight off sleeplessness was to compose lists and she made one now.
high cheekbones, the chin dimple
word slips (“pasta – bread”)
out-of-this-world auditory responses
origins – unexplained
She’d add to her “Jon” list later on, she felt certain.
Then she seized a large artist’s pad filled with blank pages. As a photographer, Sally often sketched what she intended to shoot before pressing the button. Using charcoal, from memory, she sketched Jon.
Beyond the usual boilerplate, the contract Sally typed on her computer was extremely simple.
Immediately on signing and receiving the balance of the money due, Seller must evacuate the premises.
Buyer will pay brokerage commission (a stipulation that helped
persuade the Jenkinses to sell.)
When Sally arrived, Paula and Phil had been up most of the night
packing, and boxes en route to their minivan were strewn on the floor. Sally put herself in the Jenkinses’ shoes: not only were they moving out of their years’ long habitation (a major trauma, just behind the death of a loved one, serious illness and divorce) but they’d had to do so on short notice. What a heroic effort it must have been for the couple, her obese, him with a limp and a cane, something like (for them) scaling Mount Everest.
“Hard as we’ve worked, Sally dear, we’re not quite ready. Could we have a day’s grace?”
Filled with sympathy, Sally would have given it gladly but it wasn’t up to her to decide. She forced herself to say, “You’ll have to ask the buyer.”
# # #
At noon sharp, Sally saw through the picture window a shiny Jaguar
screech to a halt before the building. The woman who emerged from the car was gorgeous: glossy black hair tied in a bun, taut skin, lips curved in a bow, giving the impression of sweetness. A wool garment clung to her slender frame like Saranwrap.
As Sally opened the door, she noticed the woman’s eyes were the
same color as Jon’s - - bright blue. She guessed the woman was in her late twenties.
“I’m from headquarters. Name’s Jan Okla. O-K-L-A.” Sally
laughed. “Anything wrong?”
“It’s so close to Jon’s. I’m Sally Edwards.”
“Your maiden name?”
“No. It was Stufflebean.”
“No wonder you got married. Are the documents prepared?”
“Yes. But the Jenkinses have a favor to ask.”
Paula stretched out a nervous hand, pawing the air. “Might we,
please, have an extra day to move?”
Jan’s bow mouth quivered. “Absolutely not. After all, you’ve had ample warning. Let’s proceed.” Her voice was well modulated, like Jon’s.
At the kitchen table Jan unlocked her briefcase - - it seemed to be made of the same rubbery material as Jon’s - - and waved a certified check.
Sally, a notary, passed papers for both parties to sign in her presence and affixed her stamp and signature. In minutes Millennium 3 owned the Jenkins house.
Jan’s mouth relaxed into a bow again. “All right. You have until tomorrow at nine a.m. But then I really want you outta here.”
The Jenkinses’ faces dissolved in gratitude. Jan got on a cellular phone she grabbed from her briefcase.
# # #
The Jag followed the Jeep to Sally’s office. Inside, Sally said,
“Generous of you to let them stay.”
“What did it cost to give a little? The movers weren’t ready, as it turned out. Now we’ll have a reputation for being good guys. PR’s important.”
“Kind of you anyway. What do you plan to use the house for?”
“I’ll live there. Maybe others. Maybe Jon.”
“Is he expected?” Sally said eagerly.
“Soon.” Jan took a certified check from her briefcase. “Your
“But I earn six percent on a sale, not two!” Sally protested.
“You didn’t read the contract. You’re lucky to get that much. You’ll be dealing with a volume business.” Jan pursed her lips as Jon had and Sally wondered if she might be his girlfriend and unexpectedly felt jealous.
“I suppose that depends on how many houses the company plans to
“This is absolutely confidential. Blab and you’ll be in violation of your contract, which I wouldn’t advise. Give or take thirty houses.”
“Thirty!” Sally cried.
“Thirty of the best houses.”
“I haven’t thirty expensive houses listed. More modest ones…”
“We’ll come to those if we need them. Meantime, let’s flush out
prospective sellers. The local paper…”
“The Bayville Star.”
“Advertise we’ll pay top dollar, not that we will.”
Jan’s wink alerted Sally to curious folds at the inner corners of her eyes. “Don’t mention the company yet. They’ll learn about us soon enough.
And better use a box number. You’ll be swamped with responses.”
“Oh, I doubt that very much. Bayville isn’t up for grabs.”
Sally’s wall clock announced 2:45. “The Star’s cut-off on ads for the Thursday paper is three o’clock on Wednesdays. They’re strict about that.
I’ll have to hurry.
“Where’s their office?”
“On Main Street, a few blocks down.”
“Here’s some wording. ‘We simply help people sell their homes.
Everyone has the same aspiration’.”
# # #
So! Jon’s company intended to acquire a small piece of the town and
she’d be their realtor.
Whose side was she on? Who was she loyal to? Bayville, of course, and yet Jon’s image was always in her thoughts.
Behind a plate glass window on which was printed The Bayville Star, Blake Feldman’s back could be seen as he hunched over a computer on a rolltop desk. Blake combined electronics with old-fashioned stuff. The Star, a thin paper because of lack of advertising, operated on a shoestring 57
budget and Blake ran almost a one-man show. A short, corpulent man, his alert face expressed bewilderment.
WANTED TO BUY
BAYVILLE’S ELITE HOUSES. BANNER PRICES.
WE SIMPLY HELP PEOPLE SELL THEIR HOMES. MOST
EVERYONE HAS THE SAME DREAM.
NO BROKERAGE FEES.
Blake inserted a Z. “What’s going on?” he said.
“I don’t know how much I’m allowed to reveal. Off the record?”
Blake nodded. “An out-of-town company wants to purchase Bayville
properties. The town has a bright future, they seem to believe.”
“They’re nuts or con guys.”
“They bought the Jenkins house today. Cash.”
“Cash? In short supply around here. The company’s substantial?”
“That’s my impression. I’m their broker.”
“The company might drive up the price of real estate, which would
help the town. Bayville, God knows, needs helping.” He studied the ad.
“‘We simply help people sell their homes. Most everyone has the same dream.’ Could that be true?”
“Could what be true?”
“That people fantasize about selling their homes. Because, sooner or later, they must sell them? A bleak idea, almost un-American, a signal of economic instability and profound unrest. Anyhow, if most everyone sold, where would they live? In a park?”
Blake was a poet on the side - - he taught at a local school. He
probably engaged in leaps of the imagination, as she did.
Nonetheless, Sally had considered selling her home. It would have been great to have money in the bank, not to worry about next month’s mortgage payment, a leaking roof, the loose step outside the front door.
(She’d have to shell out cash to a carpenter to make repairs.)
But where would she and Brad go? An apartment? Almost none of
those in Bayville. Move in with Harriet? Ugh. Those teenage kids! “The ad’s a teaser,” she said. “If more than a few people answer, I’ll be astonished.”
# # #
On Thursday morning Sally went to the supermarket in the shopping
center for supplies, English muffins, milk, Brad’s favorite cereal and Evian water. She ran into several people she knew whose bright happy faces reminded her summer was coming in. Then, just to check, Sally drove slowly by the Jenkins’ former place. A mover’s truck stood in the driveway.
Men struggled to carry in a giant crate surrounded by wooden slats.
Two wiry young men in business suits, one sporting a ponytail,
emerged from the house carrying briefcases and climbed into a Ferrari.
The newcomers are guilty of extravagance.
I’ve settled for a Jeep.
How many of them are there? Will they all drive fancy new foreign cars?
The former Jenkins place could turn into a parking lot.
Friday, by Sally’s count the tenth day since she’d met Jon, she went to The Star. Box Z was devoid of mail except for a letter put there by mistake.
And Bayville had next-day delivery.
Hey, Jan, I was right!