On Day 22, Daria heard a text arrive at the crack of dawn; it was from Mariette, asking the showpeople to meet her at the Red Flame for breakfast. Overnight, a fresh wind from the Post had made the Brother Frank/Ethan Toomey flames lick a little higher. The man who went by Panda—Dang Phan—had been killed execution-style in broad daylight. He was at an ATM in New Haven, talking on the phone. The assailant stopped a black Suburban on the street, got out of the car he’d left running, walked up behind Phan, and shot him in the head. Then he shot the ATM’s camera and got back in the car and drove away. No profile of the killer had been released.
As usual, Daria was the first to arrive and had to wait by herself in a booth, also as usual. Then it was Ted, somehow able to walk inside a diner and straight to Daria’s booth without once looking up from his phone.
“How did you do that?” she asked.
He frowned at the thing in his hand, still without looking. “Search-and-destroy app. Recognizes warm bodies.”
She laughed. “But not hot ones.” Then she laughed more, thinking she had said this to Ted Brand. “You’re like those swimmers who don’t come up for air,” she said as he continued to ignore her.
Luckily, Jude appeared with a paper to slap on the table.
Ted had to look away. “Why do you carry those things around with you?”
Jude dropped himself into the booth. “So, it looks like Dang Phan is not the Whitey in this plot.”
Daria noted how he sat next to Ted and not her.
Ted looked at the paper. “So now there’s only three convicted felons in the metro Boston area who go by the name Panda.”
“Who is the Whitey in this plot then?” asked Daria.
Almost immediately she noticed Mariette arriving—the new Mariette, who looked so different from the old Mariette, starting from when she sat in a circle wearing a sweaty T-shirt.
The new Mariette looked down at the paper. “I know who killed him.”
“Fuck,” said Ted. “Was it Shawn?”
She dropped into the seat next to Daria. “Levon,” she said. “Shawn told me.”
Jude shook his head, dazed. “What are the odds that Frank leads to Panda who leads to one of your brothers and then another?”
Mariette looked at Ted, not Jude. Daria didn’t really care about this thing suddenly going on between Mariette and Ted—this thing that was obviously annoying Jude. Life-or-death had come and gone; for now, Mariette was OK with carrying on. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Shawn said Levon’s only doing corporate jobs now.”
Jude didn’t look up from the table. “Does that mean we’ll see him on the VH1 Awards?”
No one could do anything approaching a laugh.
“If it’s any consolation,” Jude added, “I read Shawn’s poems. They’re pretty good. If they really are his, he’s got some kind of talent.”
“Oh, yeah. I’m sure poetry’s going to take him far.”
“Maybe he can turn his life around,” said Daria.
“His girlfriend seemed like she knows what she’s doing,” said Jude.
“Maybe it will work out,” said Daria. “We need to help him. We can make videos of his readings. We can use them in Hap.”
Jude let out a welp. “Don’t say that word!”
After some time of no one talking, Daria knew she’d have to be the one to make them face up to it. “So what are we going to do?”
“You mean this is another job I’m going to lose?”
Jude smirked. Daria felt her frustration growing large, like the blue genie out of Aladdin. She looked at Mariette. “What did you want us to talk about?”
Mariette looked at Ted, who seemed to have just snapped out of a trance. “I don’t think I told you that even though I didn’t get Frank’s notebooks, I got this Hardy.” He proceeded to pull a book from his courier bag and set it on the table.
“I can’t believe you’re carrying around a book,” said Jude.
Mariette stared at the fraying cache of printed matter. “It’s like kryptonite. It will drain all your power.”
“Especially that seckle-edged paper,” said Jude. He looked at Mariette. “Wessex Poems.”
“It’s because ‘Hap’ is inside,” she replied.
Daria was even more frustrated. “What the what?”
“Thomas Hardy wrote a poem called ‘Hap,’ ” said Ted, tapping the book with his phone. “You can read it if you want.”
Jude looked away. “Why did Frank have to do all that shit anyway?”
Mariette looked at him. “You mean like shoot a guy at Lake Tahoe?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “That shit.”
Ted made a face. “We know how he felt about the friars at Francis of Assisi. Maybe he was afraid he’d shoot one of them if he got too close.”
Now Jude made a face. “How could he shoot anyone with that hand? It’d be like pulling the trigger with an electric toothbrush.”
Ted shrugged. “I always asked him about those friars at the Capuchin Monastery at St. John the Baptist. Their spread is only half an avenue away. You always see some guy out front in the brown robe with the rope belt, rocking on his heels like he had all the time in the world. Like a casting call for Robin Hood. It’s crazy to see that in the middle of Manhattan. I made a joke about how the Baptist and Assisi were like the Yankees and the Sox, but Frank didn’t think it was funny. He stayed away from both places like the plague. He told me the Capuchins were an offshoot of the Franciscans. All this bad blood I imagined—and at the core something profound, like out of Shakespeare. Now I see it was just because he was a con.”
Jude shook his head: “They’re all cons.”
“Who?” asked Mariette.
“Anyone who wears a rope belt.”
Daria would not tolerate any more talk against their leader. “Not Hap.”
Mariette frowned with worry. “I can’t get out of my head that he’s going to meet his end like Michael Caine in Get Carter.”
Daria squinted. “Does he get killed in a bad way?”
“No, Daria,” said Jude. “He gets killed in a good way.”
“He kills the last of the bad guys,” said Mariette, “and he’s alone on a beach. And then someone—a sniper—shoots him dead. All for nothing.”
“Who would be the sniper for Hap?” asked Ted.
“That’s what I already asked,” said Daria impatiently. “Who’s Whitey in this story?”
“The priest-makers,” said Jude.
Mariette shook her head. “You make it sound like a Dan Brown novel. It’s too easy to hate on the Vatican.”
Ted looked at Mariette and then Jude. “What are you gonna do with your life when you’re defrocked?”
Mariette let her shoulders fall forward. “Go back to the DQ?”
“Go back to picking up women at the National Debt Clock.”
Daria frowned at Jude. “Because it’s got you so far with women.”
“Daria?” asked Ted.
She felt her spirit sag even lower. “I don’t know. I’ve only had a job for twenty-two days.”
Jude looked at her. “You never told us why you worked at nonprofits.”
She sighed. “Oh, come on. You know I just fell into it. I wasn’t like you guys. I never had the luxury to ‘select,’ didn’t have a ‘safety’ anything.” She thought more. “Maybe it’s that I don’t wanna work for The Man.”
Jude laughed. “So with nonprofits it’s The Woman you work for?”
Suddenly Daria’s expression turned piercing, like the beam of a laser. “I think we should make a go of this.”
“Why?” asked Jude.
“How?” asked Ted.
Mariette nodded. “That’s the relevant question.”
“We go nonprofit.”
“Shit,” said Jude. “Already she’s dragging us down to her level.”
She shook her head. “We become more of an agency, a recruiting firm. That’s the one side. But we also teach corporations and foundations and even the government how to find the good people, the ones who deserve the jobs.”
“Why do you think any of us would be good at this?” asked Ted.
Daria shrugged. “We’re performers selling something?”
He briefly closed his eyes before speaking. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, Daria, but you suck at motivational speaking.”
She burst out laughing. “I know I suck!”
Mariette laughed too.
Jude looked annoyed. “I don’t know why you’re laughing.”
“But that doesn’t mean she can’t be our overlord,” said Mariette.
Ted shrugged. “I’d go for that. Daria as slave-driver.”
All three looked at Jude.
“I can’t go for that,” he said, looking down. “No can do.”
“But you have to go for something,” Daria argued.
Jude’s brooding was seriously trying her patience. “You know how Hap hates ‘Don’t overthink this’?” she told him. “Well I hate the shit out of ‘It is what it is.’ Everyone says that all la-di-da. It is what it is. It gives you permission to do nothing, like mushrooms under trees. And it reminds me of what you told me about that something you were supposed to start called As Is. You must already know you can’t have a goal like that anymore. You don’t need to tell people how bad things are as is. What you need is to make the goal As Isn’t—talking about things being better.”
Mariette applauded. “Go, Daria.”
Daria was surprised to find herself this excited. “I know exactly the people we can hire. Like Clive Harding, this awesome guy from Harvard who everyone assumes went to Harvard because he’s this good-looking black guy raised by a single mother from Cape Verde. He didn’t even finish college but he’s a genius. I could steal him away in five minutes. And Luz Toledo—Harvard graduate, wanted to be a hostage negotiator for the State Department but ended up working for some NGO in Virginia that doesn’t do shit.”
Jude smirked. “That’s great that you can get us the cast of Glee. But where are the Ted Brands?”
Mariette smiled and shook her head. “I’m afraid there will be no more Ted Brands.”
Jude looked at Daria. “Why would I want you for a boss?”
“Because I saved a woman from drowning. A woman I couldn’t stand. I don’t let people down—literally, even when they want to take me with them.” She paused before adding, “And also because I understand how it is for that guy in the Orwell book. I know that awful taste of the lower middle class that you can never get out of your mouth. That bitterness that’s so much worse for the smart people who get beat down. I know the taste and I know the ones who have it and want to get up and out. Those are the people we need to find and help. That’s our value proposition.”
“Value proposition,” said Mariette, nodding. “I like it.”
Ted rubbed his hands together. “So it’s agreed. We tell everyone today?”
Mariette looked across the table and smiled like a doting mother. “You’ll never be happy with any life situation, will you, Jude?”
To Daria, Jude looked like a boy ready to cry. “I feel like a bunch of orphans without Hap.”
Mariette made a face. “Not pathetic Jane Eyre orphans I hope.”
“Creative ones,” said Jude. “Like the Boxcar Children.”
Daria laughed. “Boxcar Children?”
He nodded. “I loved the Boxcar Children.”
Mariette shook her head. “They had Dick and Jane hairstyles even before there was Dick and Jane.”
Daria grimaced. “Plus they ate carrots and turnips because they were so goddamned destitute.”
“But they had their boxcar,” said Ted. “Whatever the hell that is.”
Mariette stared at him and grinned. “He really doesn’t know.”
“He’s young,” said Daria.
Jude laughed and rolled his eyes. “Ted, are you really one of us?”
Ted looked skeptical. “I’m not sold on boxcar. How ’bout we go for box-cutter? The Box-cutter Children: a domestic terrorist cell subsisting on carrots and turnips.”
“We’re not terrorists,” said Mariette. “We’re just unmoored from our age demographic.”
Daria laughed. “Is that why I hate everyone these days?”
“I fucking hate those people who spend ten bucks a day on their customized chopped salads,” said Mariette.
Ted smiled at her. “She won’t go near a Starbucks.”
Mariette slapped the table with her palm. “Ask any of the coffee-jerks for a do-over on the latte they just fucked up, and you get attitude not only from the entire staff but also from the customers. These stupid college kids who pay five bucks a pop for a botched operation three times a day.”
Jude stared at her. “My God, you sound like Daria.”
Ted rubbed his hands together for a second time. “So we tell everyone today?”
Suddenly Daria remembered a reason to be dejected. “I’ve got to leave for Boston in a couple hours to go to Jonathan’s wake.”
“That sucks,” said Ted.
“It does,” she replied. “There’s this big fat mass of sadness lying in wait for me on I-87. Though I guess that’s not technically true since I don’t have to take a bus. Hap said I could book the Acela, courtesy of Hap. So the big fat sadness is waiting for me on the tracks.”
Mariette picked up her phone and quickly began thumbing. “I’ll go with you.”
“Where?” asked Daria. “To Boston, you mean?”
“To the wake,” said Mariette. “Hap can pay for me too.”
Ted shrugged, looking at each of them. “It’s our money to piss away how we like, right?” He, too, began thumbing his phone. “Book two tickets,” he said without looking up.
It took a moment for Jude to grasp what was going on. “You mean you’re both going with her?”
Ted smiled. “Good old-fashioned drunken Irish wake. That’ll put hair on your chest.”
Mariette smiled. “And God knows you need a hairy chest.”
Jude again looked to Daria like he might suddenly cry. “First you have your Sunday-night beer party and don’t invite me, and now this.”
“Three tickets,” said Ted, nodding.
Daria thought that this must be what a blood transfusion felt like. To suddenly have in your arteries the red-celled blood of a complete person—successful, fulfilled, and above all grateful. “This will give us some group time to plan Frank’s memorial service,” she said.
“Why are you already bossing us around?” asked Jude.
“She’s right,” said Mariette. “We’re gonna do something great for Frank.”
“And don’t ever say ‘group time’ again,” Jude warned.
When Daria laughed and rolled her eyes she felt like that was a gesture of another person—maybe that other Daria, with her symmetrical boobs and head in a book.
Jude put his hand on the book and slid it closer to him. “Looks like Hap is heading to be what Anik said about the Ducati.”
“Yeah?” said Ted.
He shrugged. “I have to sacrifice myself to destroy it.”