Daria made her way to the office half-asleep. She had stayed up late, drank too much, and was hung over from crying for a four-hour bus ride. Hap had made her stay at Mariette’s apartment, like he was their father. She was woke up by Mariette looking like a million bucks. “Hey, you got your raccoon eyes all over my pillowcase.” Mariette was already out the door before Daria realized whose raccoon she was talking about.
But she’d made it—miraculously—to Day 21, which meant she was making her way off the R at Seventh half-awake as well as half-asleep. Which meant the job might stick. Which meant she’d be able to pay for the Jackson Heights apartment she had planned to move into on June 1.
Before she arrived at the office, however, she received an email from Ted—no text, only a link to an article in the Times: “Authorities puzzle fugitive’s turn as indigent priest.” The Metro reportage, read in its entirety within one block on Seventh, told her that DNA tests had revealed that Francis X. Sullivan, the murdered former priest, was in fact Ethan Mercer Toomey, partner in a white-shoe San Francisco law firm. Police believed Toomey shot and killed one of his partners in 1997, before going into hiding. They now suspected he may have also killed and assumed the identity of Reverend Sullivan, the defrocked priest.
When she got to the eighth floor she heard the voices of all three showpeople in the conference room. She followed them inside, looking first at Ted. “I thought you were at Duke today.”
He shook his head. “Cancelled.”
She looked at the other two. “What’s going on?”
“People who say they’re priests and aren’t really priests,” said Mariette.
“Fool me once,” said Jude, “shame on you.”
Daria didn’t like this sudden skeptical turn. “I don’t think Hap has done anything wrong.”
As if on cue, the elevator dinged, then the door clicked, and then Alan Hapgood entered the room. “I see you’re a step ahead of me.” He nodded. “That’s good. Confirms my expectations.”
“What expectations?” asked Mariette.
He sat and placed his phone and iPad on the glistening table.
Daria noticed Jude staring at him like a brooding child.
“What?” Alan said when he noticed as well.
“In walks betrayal.”
Alan’s shoulders fell, his head tilted back. “Come off it, Jude.”
“We need to know the deal with Frank,” said Mariette. “He could be a killer.”
Alan shook his head. “I’m not a killer if that’s what you think.”
Ted seemed ready to pounce. “What if this Toomey guy killed the real Brother Frank?”
“Listen to what you’re saying,” said Alan, shaking his head. “Yes, you, Ted. ‘This Toomey guy’? Really? This Toomey guy happens to be the only Brother Frank you and I have ever known.”
“Tell us then,” said Jude.
Alan stared down at his hands on the table. “I don’t know who Frank may have killed before—what his life was like before—but I know he didn’t kill Brother Frank because there is no Brother Frank.” He paused. “I, too, thought he was a priest—a legitimate priest who was booted out of the order for whatever reason. But I now realize he was involved in the same organization that helped me lose an old identity and gain a new one. In the new one you’re a former priest. That’s the way it works. Frank knew that about me, but I didn’t know that about him.”
Ted stared at a blank spot in front of him. “This is so fucked.”
This banal remark weighed on Alan’s patience. “Yeah, well, try living and dying for a while.”
In the ensuing silence, Daria could feel the crushing disappointment, the massive letdown overtaking her. She had such sympathy for Hap but realized what was coming next.
“Who do you think took Frank’s notebooks?” asked Ted.
“I don’t know,” said Alan. “And I don’t wanna go there.”
“Where’s there?’” snapped Jude.
It was apparent that Alan was doing his best to hold it together. “Wherever Nancy Drew the line in the sand, Jude.”
Daria wished she could disappear.
“Well, where do you wanna go?” asked Mariette. The tone was flip, but the face behind it broadcast a thirty-second warning on possible tears.
The object of this reproach could only sigh. “Away, I guess.” He placed both hands, palms down, on the table in front of him, as if to ground himself. “All right. So here’s the proposition. I leave, and you four take over Hap. The name, the brand—everything.”
They were silent.
“Or we fold the operation. I’m sorry it has to be that way, but that’s the only alternative. I’m certainly not selling this . . . this whatever to some outside party. Hap is us. It’s . . .” He sighed. “It has the potential to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Still the silence.
“I realize that some of you were already thinking of moving on. So this may not be the most appealing proposition. If you do want to stay, however, I’ll sign over my royalties and publishing options. I’m walking away with what I came in with.”
Daria couldn’t believe what she was hearing on her twenty-first day. “Who else have you told about this?” she asked.
“No one but you four.”
Mariette was obviously distressed. “What about the whole point of who we are?”
Daria couldn’t believe this was the same girl behind those sunglasses and tight hair. She’d been too overcome by her own Boston tragedies the night before to realize that the four of them were in Hap’s office because Mariette had threatened to jump out Hap’s window.
“This ‘proposition’ thing,” Mariette continued. “It makes us seem like greedy little bitches.”
Alan closed his eyes. “I want the four of you to have the option do with Hap what I should have—or whatever you think I should have. I dropped the ball and let us down.”
“You didn’t let us down,” Mariette objected. “You just didn’t tell us the truth.”
“You saw me getting waylaid by the business side,” he continued, “the demand for our product. I never thought it would take off like this. I don’t have an agent and a publicist; I have brand-maximizers and search-engine optimizers—legions of them sweating in their Bengali underwear. I have all these people waiting on whatever I have to say. I’m the guy the media hate expressly because all I do all day is keep the whole thing in motion.”
Ted looked seriously disturbed. “Are you saying that Hap was all for nothing?”
Alan was exasperated and Daria didn’t blame him. Why? she wondered. Why were they making him explain what was transparent?
“Everything about TED Talk fixes and Silicon Valley solutionism,” he continued, “all that we felt was belittling and mocked the difficulty and gross inequalities of American life . . . it’s like they all at the same time smelled fresh money and immediately stuck to us like zebra mussels to a barge.”
“You make us sound so vulnerable,” said Mariette.
“He said we’re the barge,” said Jude.
Alan sighed heavily. “I remember this movie from the seventies.”
Ted let out an unexpected burst of laughter. “Oh, God, not another movie from the seventies!”
Alan smiled. “It’s called Smile, the movie. About the Miss America Pageant. One plot strand involves a group of feminists who have their own contestant in the race. If this woman is crowned, the plan is she’ll make a dramatic speech about the dated sexism of the pageant—take the whole show down in one shining moment. And wouldn’t you know the woman wins. But what does she do but balk—reverts to miserable stereotype and cries into the flowers.”
Jude laughed. “Sounds like the Disney version of Carrie.”
“So that’s you,” asked Ted, “crying into the flowers?”
Alan smiled again but in a sad way. “I don’t have the character to cry.” He looked at Daria. “Not for a million years.”
The room again reverted to silence. Ted fell back in his chair. “I suppose I have to let The Whiskey Priest die as well.” He paused. “Like the Catholic Church.”
Alan shook his head. “He believed he was Brother Frank the former Franciscan. That’s what counts, Ted. Didn’t any of you ever read Graham Greene?”
They all looked away like delinquent students.
“Oh, come on,” he said to Mariette. “Not even you?”
She shrugged. “He was a dead white man before people started counting them.”
“Forgiveness,” said Alan. “The economy of salvation. I don’t believe in Frank’s God, but I do believe that the man killed on Friday was Brother Frank. I believe in the good things he said.”
He looked at Daria. “Remember when I told you expectations was the reason for the épat? Expectations was also the reason that the épat could not be sustained by me.” He paused. “I feel that what we all wanted was the freedom to tell a complex truth, by our exaggerated example. And somehow we lost that freedom—or I lost it for us. We lost the freedom of being outside by being too much inside.”
Jude leaned back in his chair and began to sing: “There is freedom within, there is freedom without.”
Ted took the baton: “Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup.”
Mariette snickered against her will. “Why does everyone in the world know the words to that?”
Ted nodded. “Dentists.”
Daria sensed tears (her own) at any moment. “Hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over.”
“OK, stop,” said Jude.
Mariette sang, but terribly: “Hey now, hey now, when the world comes in, they come, they come . . .”
Ted shook his head. “And nobody has lighters anymore.”
“If I had a French girlfriend,” said Jude, “I’d have a lighter.”
Mariette laughed. “If you had a French girlfriend you’d be wearing Friday’s underwear.”
Ted smiled at Mariette and kissed his fingertips like a chef. “Épat. Even from the Soviet judges.”
Jude stood up, causing his chair to fall backwards. “You CANNOT be serious! That ball was on the line!”
To Daria, it was like high school theatricals, everyone in their chalked places ready with their well-rehearsed lines. It was funny and it was pathetic. In the throes of emotion she looked to Alan. “You’re not going to disappear from us, are you?”
She knew he had the voice that could make it sound right, make the wound all better. And so did they, who looked on with irony but also hope.
“I don’t want to disappear this time.” He paused. “And besides, I’m not very good at it, am I?”