Read Miranda's War Online

Authors: Howard; Foster

Miranda's War (5 page)

“My wife knows this Miranda Dalton from town government—very smart, ambitious, bitchy, take your pick,” the coordinator explained as Stephen read. “She's a registered Republican and has not given to anyone in this race. She went after someone for having a peace sign painted on their barn at her first meeting.”

“That's pulling a Donald Trump. Very gutsy.”

“You want me to call her?”

“Do we want her?”

“We need anyone we can get. We're losing.”

“Is she a tea party type? They're trouble,” Stephen demurred.

“Why don't you find out?”

“Alright, let me take a crack at this one,” Stephen said. “I know that barn in Lincoln. It's famous.”

Chapter Seven

When Miranda heard Archer's car crunch on the gravel driveway that evening, she went to the kitchen for the freshly polished silver tray with crabmeat salad and crackers. He parked in the barn, and walked to the back door with his distressed cordovan briefcase in one hand and the other hand deep in his pants pocket, probably snapping his key case and mentally counting his change. He'd always used a key case to prevent tearing the fabric of his pants. And he kept the key case—his current one was fourteen years old with embossed initials—in the same pocket as his change. That way the opposite pocket would be available for tissues, as he was allergic to everything, or occasionally a cell phone, but only the most basic flip model. He'd held out until 2003, then purchased one, only to leave it in his briefcase for a year.Gradually, under Miranda's prodding, he began to use it, first to call her from his car, and eventually the boys and his secretary. He looked good in a suit, and tended to wear one every day to work unless he wasn't seeing students. At forty-eight, his brown hair was full, the lines fanning out from his eyes and across his forehead were still barely detectable, and his weight was a steady 180. He was nice looking but asexual. Miranda never noticed him eyeing other women.

“Hi, Hutch,” he said when he reached the kitchen.

“I'm not sure I accept that sobriquet.”

“Good, I'd like to bury it.”

“Right, so tell me about your day in the upper echelon.”

They went back to the living room, and she mixed him a Manhattan at the bar.

“We had the hearing on the plagiarism case. Remember, Roger Fantini, one of my best students?”

“And?”

“Halfway through the hearing he admitted to plagiarizing three pages of his thesis from an old thesis in the library. He was hoping for clemency.”

“Did he get any?”

“Afraid not. We expelled him. The vote was unanimous, and I've already dictated the letter.”

“You know I never understand that about you academics, you believe plagiarism is the ultimate sin. But that's it. Everything else is relative.”

“How can a university tolerate plagiarism?”

“How can a university tolerate being wrong? I mean if a scholar spends years working on a theory, and publishes his work, and then other scholars debunk him, then why isn't that scholar expelled?”

“We're all wrong at points in our careers. And we all get criticized for it by our peers. We have academic freedom to be wrong.”

“But there are degrees of being wrong. Mack Taylor's entire thesis about exchange theory in the First Bank of the United States was discredited.”

“Totally. He basically had to issue a mea culpa last year.”

“And why should he be forgiven for that? He did sloppy work, and some young kid without tenure came along and discredited five years of his work. Why wasn't Mack expelled?”

“Because if we did that, everyone would be chilled, afraid to publish anything novel.”

“There's wrong, and there's wrong. Mack was discredited for using poor methodology, relying on graduate students to do his regressions. I told you that three years ago when I read his first article.”

“And you were right. It took me too long to realize it, but I do. And I think less of Mack. He's never going to be Chairman of the department.”

“But he's still got tenure, and all the sabbaticals to Europe and his speaking gigs, right?”

“He sure does.”

“And he's still in our social circle. I replenished his tumbler of scotch five times at our last party.”

“What would you do with him?”

“If someone should be expelled from the academy, let it be him, not the plagiarist. The plagiarist is young. He's actually brilliant and won't do it again. All you need to do is put an asterisk on his diploma and at the bottom say this student committed plagiarism on his thesis. Then anyone dealing with him in the future will know, and watch him like a hawk.”

“Like being a registered sex offender?”

“Basically, but don't cut off his genitals.”

Archer sipped his Manhattan and thought. Miranda had a glass of Bordeaux and put the bottle back into the five-bottle cooler built into the wall behind the bar.

She saw Cody come down the stairs and motioned for him to join them. He sat on the couch across from them.

“Do I get a Manhattan?”

“No, I wanted you to know I read your essay on Proust, and I'm really impressed. It's so much better than the last go-around. I emailed it to Dad.”

“Then it must be good,” said Archer. “You didn't fillet and skewer his prose with that Track Changes tab?”

“It's very nicely written. He's developing a discerning and ironic voice. And I know a few Proust scholars.”

“You know scholars in everything,” said Cody.

“Rejecting the compliment?”

“No, but I wouldn't want you as a teacher.”

Miranda's cell phone emitted the first bar of the second movement of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the ring tone she had assigned to Julia Nickerson. She put her drink down and reached over to the coffee table.

Archer sighed and shook his head.

“Julia, what's going on?”

“We just got word from the Hulls, they've agreed to repaint the barn. No appeal.”

“Fantastic, so it's over. We won.”

“Yup. I guess you proved your point.”

“Hull performed his own cost-benefit analysis. That's what this is all about.”

Julia signed off and immediately called Karl to tell him all that Miranda had said.

“Cost-benefit analysis?” he said slowly. “Is she an economist, or should I say would-be economist, too?”

“She never mentioned economics. There were a lot of academic studies thrown my way, the broken glass theory and this sociologist who writes in
The New Yorker
, but not that.”

“Sociologists don't write for
The New Yorker
.”

“I mean some study that was discussed in
The New Yorker
.”

“Did she cite it?”

“Not really. She mentioned the name in passing.”

“She knows best,” he said. “She always has, and she always will. What does she want?”

“She has this well thought out.” Julia paused and grappled for the right word. “I guess we would call it a cosmology. She sees a giant struggle for our future. It's all Lincoln versus the developers. They're using more sophisticated methods to gobble us up, and we're just sitting on our hands. She wants to counterattack.”

“And what the hell are we supposed to do?”

“Enforce our ordinance, not allow anyone any slack.”

“And what does that have to do with the developers?”

“The more public we are in enforcing it, the less likely they will be to pick a fight with us.”

“And what empirical evidence does she offer?”

“None, I suppose. It's theory.”

“I come back to my earlier question. What does this woman want? Usually they're happy with the husband, the home in Lincoln, the listing in the Social Register. They don't have cosmologies.”

“But she's not.”

“She wants power, I suppose, my position.”

“That wouldn't satisfy her. She wants to use that power.”

“To what end?” he asked.

“I don't know.”

“Find out.”

Karl paused to pull off his black half glasses and rub his temples.

“I gave you a free pass on the Hull vote,” he continued. “I thought you'd get close enough to crack that porcelain veneer. But she didn't let her guard down enough.”

“So do I get another shot at her?”

“Yes,” he said, nodding vigorously into his phone.

Chapter Eight

They met for a pastry and espresso at the AKA Bistro in Lincoln, the only restaurant in town. The tiny commercial district consisted of this, a bicycle shop, an upscale market, the headquarters of the Audubon Society and the commuter rail station. Miranda immediately recognized Stephen Rokeby from his Internet pictures. He was fair-haired, attractive, but distracted. And he did not recognize her despite the fact that her picture was on the town of Lincoln's website. She stood up and gave him a slight wave.

“Mrs. Dalton?”

“How do you do?” she said and extended her right hand.

“Very nice to meet you. You've got the town abuzz, and I want to hear all about it.”

She talked for fifteen minutes, and he not only listened but halfway through began to scribble some notes.

“George Soros is backing this group Fair Share that wants to force development in high-income towns without affordable housing,” she continued.

“Doesn't Lincoln have some?”

“Yes, we've got 125 units! And my husband and I almost didn't move here because of it. I had to be persuaded those people kept to themselves. And they basically do. They're not involved in this town.”

“I live in Sherborn, same story. We've got a few cheap apartments on the Needham border, and nobody likes them. But this is the first I've heard of this, and I've been running for the last two months.”

She sipped her espresso and glanced at his narrow wedding band and cheap Tag Heuer watch.

“I'm not surprised. There are two very good reasons for that. One, the real push to develop hasn't begun yet. But a bill was filed a few weeks ago that would create a state zoning board of appeals, which could overrule the towns. It's known informally as the anti-snob zoning bill. I can't prove the connection to the Soros group, but the evidence points in that direction. It was mentioned at that Soros event in Cambridge by that activist James Holt—grew up in public housing, former Peace Corps member, a young Obama type.”

“What would you like to see done?”

“I know the academic progressive mind. I'm married to one. I joined the Conservation Commission to make us feel less guilty. Somebody needs to say we've done enough. Let us live our lives in this beautiful town.”

He nodded.

“I'd vote for you.”

“I was appointed to the Conservation Commission. But you're here because you want my vote, right?”

“Sure do, and maybe there's a lot more people who think like you in towns like this.”

“You've got Lincoln, Sherborn, Weston, Dover, Carlisle and parts of Wayland, Sudbury, Littleton, Harvard. We want our so-called ‘snob zoning' kept intact.”

“How do I say that in a subtle way?”

“I don't know that you can. But I just took on the owner of the barn with a giant peace sign, and he backed down.”

“So I heard. Very courageous.”

“You're running against Ann Cronin-Reynolds, blasé liberal Republican from Framingham. She'll get her people out in Framingham and Natick. But you've got a bigger base in our towns with the zoning.”

“That's the polar opposite of what I've been doing, running a quiet little affair where people can envision me as a Congressman …” and his voice trailed off as if he'd been asked to name the last Shakespeare play he'd read.

“I can envision you as a Congressman. But do I really care if you don't relate to what's going on in my town?” She laughed.

“I grew up in Boxford on the North Shore, on five acres. Now I live in Sherborn. We have one-acre zoning in part of the town and two acres in the rest. I'm with you. Will you support me?”

“I didn't know what to make of you, are you a Brahmin like my husband, a pink-fingered yuppie with a BMW, a social liberal?”

“All three—with a wife from Wellesley.”

“What does she think?”

“She thinks this is a waste of time and I should go back to running my business.”

“Maybe you should.”

“No,” he said emphatically. “I'd like to be a Congressman and think I'd be better than Ann Cronin-Reynolds.”

“Why?”

“Because she has no principles except holding office. She's not a Republican or anything else. If that's all it means to be a Republican in this state, then why have a two-party system?”

“And your principles?”

“I know how markets work. I want to balance the budget.”

“And?”

“And people in towns like this should be able to have any zoning they want. You've earned the right to live here.”

“Will you say it now on your website?”

He hesitated.

“What exactly would you have me say?”

“You're against this anti-snob zoning bill.”

“I can say that, in a longer statement about my ideas on property rights or land use, or whatever.”

“I checked,” she continued, her gaze boring into him. “You don't have anything up there now on this. It's all the usual boilerplate about healthcare and taxes and Syria.”

“That's what people want to know.”

“When you're ready to speak to me, to us, let me know. I've got more than enough on my plate right now trying to save this town.”

She motioned to the waiter for the check.

“I'd like your support.”

“And you know how to get it.”

Rokeby drove back to the campaign office and went directly in to see Diane, his campaign manager, an obese single forty-five-year-old with a bad back. She sat like a sphinx on a giant blue ball to ease her pain as he recounted the meeting with Miranda.

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