Hey, all, I’m back from my unplanned July vacation! Our family spent the 4th of July at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hamshire and when we got back home I just decided to loaf in my garage workshop (haha) for a few weekends.
A lost chapter? Well, not exactly lost. If this were a movie, we’d say it was a piece of 35mm film found on the cutting room floor. Desn’t exactly work for digital, but in this instance it’s a chapter that was edited out of the original, lengthy manuscript by my skilful Associate Editor, Tori Merkle.
I had occasion to haven lunch with a colleague-friend of mine in New Hampshire and chose The Common Man restaurant. There are several locations but they all have a similar, old New England ambiance, which I like. Food’s good, too. It reminded me of this exised chapter, which is set in The Common Man. I shared it with my lunchmate and decided to share it with you. It’s presented here with its original chapter number and title, although that title was retained and reassigned to a different chapter in the published book. If you need some context, you can get it on the book’s website or by reading the book, of course.
Let me know how you like it and if you’d like some more excerpts from Bridge or my earlier Nathaniel Hawthorne Flowers novels.
Chapter 31: Rough Justice
It was ten past one the following day. Jed stood in the waiting area of The Common Man in Concord. The restaurant was a converted barn, and he was admiring the way the designer had preserved the barn atmosphere while transforming it into a charming, rustic place to dine.
“Jed?” He turned toward the door. A pleasant-looking young woman, a little out of breath, stood looking at him. “Hey, Jed,” she said again.
Jed nodded and took a step toward her, smiling. “Teresa,” he said. “Hi, it’s nice to see you again.” They shook hands.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “It’s so hard to get out of the newsroom.”
“No problem. It was hard – no, impossible – for me to get out of our attorney’s office yesterday. Thanks for rescheduling. I’ve been looking forward to having a good talk with you. About Luke.”
“Listen,” she said. “I have a lot to discuss with you and not much time to do it. I usually skip lunch, so what do you say we head upstairs, find a place to sit, eat some of the C-Man’s famous cheese and crackers and get something to drink. So we can get right to it.”
“Fine with me,” said Jed.
Teresa Lawton smiled and led the way up the staircase. Below, people lined up at a buffet, sat eating, talking, drinking together while they watched some sports channel or other on the television behind the bar. The din receded as they reached the upper floor, where only a few couples sat in quiet conversation at the bar. No TV. Clearly familiar with the C-Man, Teresa led the way to two blue wingback chairs in front of a window, a small round table between them. An antique upright piano, beautifully restored, stood nearby. A dozen feet away a fireplace burned real wood, even though the early October weather outside was warm and beautiful.
“Nice spot here,” said Jed. “Is it reserved for journalists?” He grinned at her. Teresa smiled back. She had a simple face: a small bow-tie mouth, hazel eyes, slightly curly strawberry blonde hair that bounced on her cheeks and shoulders. No makeup. She wore a long-sleeved green blouse tucked into L.L. Bean khaki pants, sturdy no-nonsense shoes. A New Hampshire girl, born and bred, he thought.
“I told you Michelle couldn’t be here, right?”
“Yes, you did, but you didn’t say why.”
“She just can’t. Luke’s case is still under investigation. There may be a grand jury convened. Anything she said or did could have a bad effect on the case. It’s risky enough for her just talking to me.”
“So, she knows something,” said Jed.
“Of course she knows something,” said Teresa, an edge on her voice. Just then the waitress from the bar arrived and took their drink orders. They both ordered iced tea.
“So, is Michelle telling you stuff?”
Teresa leaned close to him. “She’s my best friend. Of course she is.” She sat up straight, obviously bristling. “That’s why I’m here talking to you.”
“Hey, no offense,” said Jed. “Look, I know practically nothing. The cops won’t tell me – or my dad – anything. I’ve been in Taiwan for the past few weeks and totally out of touch with this. Everything you’ve said so far is news to me.”
Teresa sat back in the wingback. She let out a big breath of air. “I’m sorry. I’m like way too busy and it’s stressing me out. I didn’t mean to be rude to you.” She pursed her lips and gazed at him, as if she was seeing him for the first time. And liking what she saw. Then her focus sharpened and she was all business again.
“Jed, let me lay a few things out for you. Michelle and I are best friends. We went to college together, here at NHTI. That’s –”
“Yeah, I know, New Hampshire Tech. I’m a local. Grew up in Holderness.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot. Your dad and all. So back on point, Michelle is leaking information to me about the incident. I’m sworn not to print any of it. New Hampshire has a – well, different – approach to handling crime incidents. They don’t like to leak little tidbits to the press. They put a lid on everything while they gather evidence, then they decide if a crime’s been committed and if they’re going to arrest. Then they let the press know what’s going on.”
“Interesting,” said Jed. “This is obviously why my dad can’t drag anything out of Hooper or Lemieux.”
Teresa leaned toward him again, lowering her voice. “Do you remember the Pam Smart case a few years ago? The teacher who was having sex with her 15-year-old student, who she then supposedly coerced into killing her husband? Well, they blew that one by leaking. The prosecutor ended up with no alternative but to convict Smart of murder, even though the evidence was paper-thin, because he let the case get tried in the court of public opinion. Totally humiliating. They learned their lesson with that one.”
Jed couldn’t help but think about the Chinese attitude toward saving face. Guess they’re not the only ones. “Hmmm. I guess I’m wondering if it’s OK for you to talk to me,” he said.
“Like I said on the phone, this is all off the record. If you get leaky on me, I’ll deny I ever met you or spoke to you.”
“And I don’t want to go there,” he said.
“Me neither,” she said.
Their iced teas arrived. Teresa went to the bar and brought back a plate of cheeses and crackers. “Have you had this before?” she asked Jed, pointing to the cottage cheese mixed with thousand-island dressing.
He smiled and nodded. “Yeah. We used to eat at the C-Man in Ashland a lot.” He spread the cheese on a cracker and munched. “What does Michelle tell you?”
Teresa proceeded to lay out the chain of events since her newspaper article: how the crime scene was contaminated by careless, inept Lincoln police, that the driver’s identity was being shielded by the NEEC general manager, that Lemieux was deflecting virtually everything and that, given the state of affairs, the Staties had more or less dropped their investigation and declared it an accident. “Michelle doesn’t think it’s an accident, but she has no proof. She has suspicions, but the real proof would consist of a motive, and we don’t have one.”
“I might,” said Jed, but Teresa kept talking. She told him Michelle had been surveilling the NEEC shop and had determined each pickup was driven by the same man every day. The driver of L-213 was a big, burly man with long black hair and a full beard. Jed smacked his fist into his palm. “I knew it,” he said. “I just knew it was him.”
“His name is Goncourt,” said Teresa. “François Goncourt. His brother is Albert Goncourt, the general manager.” She gave Jed a knowing look. “They call him Frenchy because he’s from Quebec. Like his brother. And Lemieux. They’re all Canadians.”
“And they’re all involved in some sort of conspiracy,” said Jed.
“More than likely,” Teresa said. “The question is, what? Michelle can’t find anything, and believe me, she’s been trying.”
“I’ve never believed that truck driven by this Frenchy hit Luke by accident,” said Jed. “There were a number of events that occurred after the hit-and-run that have led me to believe it was intentional and part of a conspiracy to steal valuable technology from my bike company.”
Teresa listened intently to Jed as he explained his theory: It started with the presentations at American bicycle companies and their refusal to sell, then Luke getting killed, possibly unintentionally; the track-and-monitor tradecraft which began at Narita with the information worms following them to Taipei, ending in their theft of the Dragon Fire CF bikes and subsequent arrest, and finally the arrest of a third agent of espionage for attempting to steak Rick’s briefcase back at Narita. When he had finished, she said, “That’s quite a story, Jed. I have no doubt there were thieves after you from Tokyo to Taipei. But I seriously doubt what happened to Luke in Lincoln, New Hampshire, had anything to do with their chasing after your technology.”
“No, I think it was all of a piece,” said Jed. “The events are too close together. They’re linked circumstantially. If the agents of espionage knew Luke was the software engineer at Smithworks, which they could have learned from the presentations we made to the bicycle manufacturers, they had to think we’d drop the development of the Spinner without him. The only thing they botched was getting the Spinner itself. Since they’d wrecked the one on his bike, they kept coming after us, in Tokyo and all the way to Taiwan, looking for another.”
Teresa took a sip of her iced tea. “I’m sorry to say this, but as a reporter I must tell you I think that’s preposterous.”