Read Miranda's War Online

Authors: Howard; Foster

Miranda's War (8 page)

“I think it's not a bad idea, Karl. Why can't we kick it around at the next meeting?”

“Tell me why we need to sell that beautiful mansion? It's not like Lincoln needs the cash.”

“We do.”

“To do what with?” he asked and slammed his pipe down into a big ashtray.

“To buy up more land. Isn't that our mission?”

“Our mission is to conserve, not sell.”

“I'm just saying I see some merit in the idea. Fourteen million is three times our annual budget. How about an objective cost-benefit analysis?”

“The charter says we hold the Pierce in trust. There is no cost-benefit analysis.”

“I don't think selling it with the strict conditions on use is inconsistent with that.”

“I cannot pursue this conversation graciously.”

He got up and just left the room most ungraciously. After a few minutes she just saw herself out. And that was as close to using profanity as Karl would come. Julia sensed she was a pawn in someone else's game.

Chapter Thirteen

Stephen made it to the campaign office by 6:00 a.m., before anyone else. It was still dark, giving the place a feel of lifelessness and inertia. The polls hadn't budged. He was fourteen to seventeen points behind Cronin-Reynolds in everyone's view, including his own pollster. The money wasn't coming in, and he had to put in another $100,000 of his own to make it to the primary three weeks away. Every piece of advice had been wrong. All of the memos he'd received about the “atmospherics” of the Third Congressional District were consultant-driven drivel to give him the impression his candidacy could catch on. He didn't like campaigning, and what unempathetic person would? Investment managers could choose their clients and render cold, hard judgments based on the numbers. Candidates could not. He had to talk to and care about everyone who approached him: the single mothers who weren't making it, the Obama haters, the Bush haters, the hard-core left, the overweight and hard-core unemployed. Ninety percent of them had nothing original to say, yet he was required to lend an attentive ear and ask for their support. His father had enjoyed the crowds, the attention, the thrill of election night. Stephen now believed him to have been suffering from some sort of personality disorder.

His largest contributor in the last month was someone named Hamilton Greeley from Wellesley Hills, seventy-four years old and retired. He'd given the $2,500 limit for the primary. His wife, Pamela, had given $1,500 a week earlier. Stephen went on Google Maps and found their stately brick house with awnings hanging over the windows and well-tended flowerbeds around the lawns. It had a market value of $2 million. And that was the Rokeby constituency in this primary: people with $2 million-plus houses. Whether he spoke about green jobs or China or Obamacare, the people who were sending in the trickle of contributions that paid for half the campaign were people like himself. He had failed to reach anyone else.

An hour later Diane showed up and stopped outside his office.

“What are you doing here?”

“Take a seat, Diane,” he said and swiveled his chair away from the computer toward her.

“Are you dropping out?”

“No, but I'm changing my strategy. I'm going to win this, or not get my butt kicked without a fight.”

“Then you can find a new manager.”

She left his office. He heard the pounding of her shoes on the floor and then her office door slamming.

He called Alicia and hung up before she answered. He thought of calling his father. He thought of calling his consultant. But then he rummaged around his desk for Miranda's number and called her.

“OK, Miranda, I just fired my campaign manager. I'm nineteen days from the primary, I don't have a message, I'm down in every poll and I'm calling you. I want to work with you.”

Miranda was at the campaign office two hours later sifting through the campaign's strategy memos in Diane's office.

“This would be more productive if these memos were saved on a network so I can use my laptop. What kind of enterprise doesn't have a 4G network?”

“This isn't an enterprise, Miranda. It was dysfunctional from the start. Nobody was in charge.”

“Listen to this drivel,” she said, reading from a memo from his campaign consultant: “The electorate of the district is disillusioned by partisan rancor and would identify with a non-doctrinal Republican who promised to work with both sides.”

“That's exactly what I did for three months, and the electorate didn't give a rat's ass.”

“Of course not. Rule one is solidify your base.”

She walked the memo over to the shredder and slid it through.

He laughed.

“And this one written by Diane. She came from the academic world. Notice all the citations to scholarly journals.”

Miranda read a few pages.

“Hollow pomp draped with footnotes,” she said and motioned for the shredder.

“I paid $84,000 for that analysis.”

“All of it useless. Look, this is basically a one-party progressive-liberal state. I don't care what district you're in. If you want to run against it you need an issue that picks off a big chunk of the liberals. You've got the zoning issue, which we can expand to interest people in a group of towns. That's enough to win the primary. And that's all we can focus on. How you win the general is not our concern at this point.”

“How much is this going to cost?”

“Nothing. I'll create the conflagration, the crisis, whatever you want to call it. And when it's over, your name ID is 95% among likely voters.”

“Now I can see why Karl Anderson and you can't work together.”

She was thrown off balance and wondered just what he knew.

“Do you know him?”

“I'm running for Congress. It's my business to know the opinion leaders of the district.”

“Karl and Diane would see the dynamics of this race the same way.”

“And she's gone. Go to work, Miranda. Let me see the conflagration.”

“What's that ball for?”

“That was Diane's therapeutic chair. She had a bad back.”

Miranda opened her handbag, pulled out a red Swiss Army knife and opened a blade. She sliced the ball in one intense thrust, and it quickly collapsed.

He looked at her with a mix of revulsion and admiration.

“Why did you do that?”

“Because it needed to be done. You are too timid for this business. You and Karl need to be kicked out of your cocoons and dropped into the boiling vat of oil that awaits. There is no alternative. Think of me as Douglas MacArthur.”

“I've never heard a woman quote him.”

“Neither have I. And I've studied military history since high school.”

Chapter Fourteen

Within twenty-four hours of getting word from Julia that she was onboard for selling the Pierce House, they met Nathan Griswold, one of their three colleagues on the Commission, the one most likely to side with Julia on anything. He refused to speak confidentially. Anything they told him was fair game for his next conversation, which would be with Karl and Henry Gerstenzang, the fifth member.

“I want you ladies to make your best case for this,” he told them as he filled his pipe in the study of his old rambling farmhouse. “I know Miranda has some fresh ideas.”

He, like Karl, exuded fairness and probity. He'd been on the Commission for only two years and never pursued his own course. He tended to vote with Karl but had opposed him a few times on spending issues, and when he did, he did so because of lobbying by Julia. So they presented this as a fiscal measure. Why not sell the damn Pierce Estate for $14 million? Their fiscal problems would be solved for three years. It was purely about the bottom line. Miranda assured him over and over that every aspect of the sale would be subject to their scrutiny, that the Commission's lawyer could revise the contract as much as he wanted to protect their interests, and if no deal could be struck, then no deal would get done.

“All we're doing with this vote is moving the process to the next step,” she said in her most amiable tone. “We can't just put on an agenda item to approve the sale of the Pierce House Museum.”

“What are we going to do with the money?”

Miranda rose from her chair and pretended to be interested in Nathan's Mount Washington paintings. To her they were stiflingly dull, like a still life of a bowl of fruit.

“I really like this one, Nate. It seems to be as much about light as the mountain. It feels like five minutes after dawn.”

“I didn't know you were into paintings.”

“Oh my God, Nate, I've got two Sargents, a Degas, a Homer and ten more from up-and-coming artists Archer and I are betting on. I need to have you over for an evening so we can trade insights.”

“I'd enjoy that.”

She turned around and looked back at him.

“Now, in answering your question about the money, we need to keep in mind the idea of keeping a healthy reserve. Our charter doesn't require us to spend every dime we've got. I'm not saying we should sell just to have a healthy reserve, but there will be rainy days ahead. Our job is getting more difficult, not easier.”

He nodded.

“So why not just hold off until we need the cash?”

“I've thought of that too. But I've been reading a lot lately about roots of inertia. There was a piece in
The New Yorker
; did you see it?”

He confessed, quite sheepishly, that he had not.

“Well the point was that once a person decides to defer an act, he constructs justifications for inaction—a sort of confirmation bias sets in. So when anything happens that indicates the deferral was correct, say someone praises the decision not to act, he begins to change his thinking. Eventually, he will change his mind completely, because confirmation bias comes from a multitude of sources.”

“I can see where that might happen, but this is a huge decision. Nobody is going to be pushed into making it by confirmation bias.”

“I know that, but we need to at least move the process ahead so we don't get caught in a negative mindset. Inertia must be avoided.”

“I can't add anything to that, Nate, except to say I'm onboard,” Julia chimed in. “We need to do this. Who are we to turn down that kind of money?”

On the way out Miranda stepped in front of a collection of framed photos of his family beneath the staircase. She stepped closer to look at a very old black-and-white photograph of a young Nathan standing on a schooner at a point just off Marblehead harbor that she knew from her sailing days.

“The Marblehead Yacht Club would appreciate a copy of this photo. Judging by your youthful appearance, I'd say it was taken between 1955 and 1960, before the causeway to the Neck was built.”

“That's exactly right,” he said, sidling up to her. “It was my Uncle Nick's boat. He died in '61, and my aunt sold it.”

“A lot of people want to widen that causeway, and that's just the type of photo they want in order to make their case against it.”

“I'll give them a call tomorrow,” he said.

“You're the best,” she said and gave him an air kiss before walking out.

“Oh by the way,” he said, and stepped out the door to walk her a few feet down the stone path toward the driveway, “the Hulls have repainted the barn with the peace sign per the color code.”

Miranda was crushed.

“I didn't think he'd actually do it. Is it smaller at least?”

“Nope, I can't tell the difference, except for one little detail.”

“What's that?”

“Take a close look at the bottom of the sign and you'll see an image of an elephant with a teacup hanging from its neck. And it has the initials ‘MD.'”

“That son of a bitch. That might be another violation.”

“We reap what we sow, Miranda. Everything has unintended consequences. And I don't need
The New Yorker
to explain why he's furious at you and would do something like that.”

Miranda drove over to the Hull barn, pulled out her flashlight and found it from three feet away in the pitch black. She felt like pulling her knife and slashing the tires of his dented Volvo. He had bested her. She had to up the ante.

Chapter Fifteen

The next morning Miranda had the Marblehead Yacht Club call and invite Nate to lunch with the photo. Then Stephen called Nate that afternoon to seek his support “as a town leader” in the primary without any mention of her. And she sent Nate an email thanking him for his “time and input” and attaching an article from the National Land Trust Foundation, in which she was active, about the current trend in communities with large tracts held in conservation trusts to acquire more land in the depressed housing market.

Archer wandered into Miranda's study and put his hand on her left shoulder.

“A penny for your thoughts.”

“I'm working, love, commission business.”

“There's a rumor around town that you're planning to sell the Pierce Estate.”

She saved her document and looked into his eyes.

“I'm exploring the possibility and I thought I was being discreet. How did you find out?”

“You can't make discreet inquiries about selling a place like that. That's a lot of money even to Anthony Zenni. And you didn't talk to me first.”

“Why, do you want to buy it?”

“You just joined the Commission. What the hell are you up to?”

“I have a long-term plan, a vision.”

“And what's next after you've sold that estate?”

She got up and closed the door.

“I don't know.”

“You don't know? You must have some designs on that money.”

“I think we should buy more land. And we're talking about 14.5, not 10. And if we can get that price, we'd be crazy not to take it.”

“I want to know the agenda.”

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