“What are you working on now?” Juliette asked halfway through the first sandwich.  “Anything in particular?”

“Juliette, really.  The least you could do when you want a favor is read my stuff.”

“I’ve been busy.”

Maggie perked up.  “With what?  Dirty deeds at the crossroads in Western Mass?”

“You can say that twice.”

“Something I might be interested in?”

“That depends.  How do you feel about the safety of the water supply?”

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The next morning, Juliette Rose called in sick again to her regular job stirring up trouble in places other than Wilbur and headed the battered old VW microbus for Boston.  She was meeting an old friend of hers on the Cambridge bank of the Charles River for lunch.  In Wilbur, it was another beautiful spring day, warm and sunny, so naturally she threw her winter parka on the back seat and wore thermals under her jeans.

She met her friend, Maggie Halloran, on the river wall next to the Harvard Boathouse with her parka zipped and the hood up.  As she’d expected, the breeze coming off the water was fierce and as cold as a north wind in January.

“Couldn’t we have met somewhere civilized?” she griped as she lowered herself onto the thick wool blanket Maggie had spread for their picnic.

Maggie just laughed.  “And hello to you, too.  Juliette Rose, you are the only human being I know who never fails to replace the standard greeting common to everybody on earth with a complaint.”

“I have a lot to complain about.  It’s freezing out here, and not half a mile away are some of the best restaurants in the world.  What’s wrong with you?”

“And I always thought you were one of those tough, pioneer-type mountain women who catches rabbits in her teeth and climbs snow-covered peaks in shorts and jogging sneakers.  Now I find out you’re just another wuss after all.  Color me disappointed.”

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“I can’t go in front of a judge and ask for an injunction on the basis of something Robert heard in the woods,” Roger was saying to an exasperated Juliette Rose. “We have to have something concrete, some kind of proof.”

“Like what?” DJ asked before Juliette could explode.

“Almost anything that would support what Robert says.  Plans for the plant, a sworn statement from somebody in a position to know what those plans are.  Hell, a memo outlining their intent would do it.”

“And there’s nothing we can do until we have it?  This proof?”

“Not legally.  You can’t get away with ‘we have reason to believe’ in a courtroom unless you’re the District Attorney.”

DJ looked at Juliette.  “Unlike the press?”

“You don’t need proof to make an accusation,” Juliette said, “but you do need a hook and we don’t really have one.”

“What’s a hook?” Robert wanted to know.

“Something to grab their attention.”

“Like a demonstration?”

“That’s the second step.  The first is an issue they think is newsworthy.”

“Well?” DJ demanded.  “What have we got if we don’t have that?  A secret chemical plant that’s going to be built on the banks of one of the key rivers that feeds Boston drinking water?”

Juliette shook her head.  “Not good enough.”

“Not good enough?  What more do they need?”

“An explosion would be nice.”

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Mave was profoundly confused, her emotions in upheaval, her mind in a whirl.  For a while she considered the possibility that she was actually sick with some kind of stomach flu because it seemed so tight and empty and she couldn’t eat.  Then she thought it might be a mild heart attack because it was pounding so hard she could hear it and jumping around in her chest, plus she seemed to be having a great deal of trouble breathing all of a sudden and when she looked at her face in Roger’s bathroom mirror, it was all flushed (her face, not the mirror).

Eventually she rejected all those physical explanations and two or three dozen more because they didn’t explain the prime symptom: she was as wet as a leaky faucet, you know, down there.  Well, alright, it had been awhile since she got laid and Roger hadn’t been very obliging in that way when they were in his office together, but she knew what simple physical lust felt like – that ache to have something inside you, pounding away, even if it was only a perfectly-shaped cucumber – and it wasn’t just that.  It was different.

She was consumed by Robert, filled by him in places other than the one between her legs (which was particularly, almost painfully empty at the moment), places she never knew existed and still didn’t understand.  It was almost enough for her to be in the same room with him, to gaze into his eyes when the opportunity offered itself, to memorize the expressions that crossed his face, to imagine what it would be like to have those huge arms wrapped around her and those thick, hard lips attached to hers, to wonder if his size 12 boot meant anything special.

She maneuvered herself so that if he moved he had to brush against her, and when their shoulders touched for a nanosecond as he passed by, she shivered.  Whenever she thought she might be able to catch his eye, she arranged her flexible body in her most provocative poses – sitting with legs crossed at mid-thigh and the hem of her skirt riding not that far from her waist; standing with hip thrust out while sensuously smoothing her dress over her ass; pulling her neckline down even further and arching her back so that her glorious breasts – the breasts that had made her a fortune, literally – seemed even rounder and fuller than they usually did, which was, let’s face it, plenty.

One of her most reliable moves was the bump-and-roll, and she used it twice on Robert.  She would “accidentally” collide with him as she tried to move past him, put her hand on his arm, stroke it, and say “Excuse me” in her sexiest, most sultry voice.  The first time he ignored her.  The second time, he smiled at her briefly and said “No problem.”  Her knees went weak and she damn near melted on the spot.

It was frustrating, though.  She was working like a plow horse and all she managed to harvest were a few brief touches, a couple of perplexed looks, and that tiny smile.  Normally, her targets would be signing checks by now but Robert was focused exclusively on that DJ woman, who was deep in conversation with Juliette Rose and Roger and barely noticed Robert’s ardent worshipping-from-afar behavior.  What, Mave asked herself repeatedly and with increasing heat, did this woman have?  Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t visible.

Teddy Makes a Deal

Teddy Davenport had two missions in life. The first was to get his senator re-elected, which frankly didn’t look like it was going to be all that much of a challenge. The second was to secure for himself a cushy job in the private sector with a nice big office; a secretary with an active, overdeveloped body whose moral sense was, shall we say, fluid; so few duties that he could spend the majority of his time on the tennis court (Public Relations would be perfect); and a salary big enough to keep him in the style to which he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to become accustomed. That afternoon in the Wilbur Forest, he saw those two fervent wishes come together in a Eureka moment so intense he felt like the guy must have felt who first thought of putting jelly with peanut butter.

It was all a matter of spin, he figured. First, spin Underhill into believing that if it weren’t for Teddy, Senator Finnerty would never have had the balls to get him his chemical plant, then spin the chemical plant into a great economic boon that was going to revitalize the whole western part of the State, thus getting Finnerty his seat once more and a probable shot at the governorship.

The second was the easiest. He did that sort of crap all the time. Convincing voters that a destructive development was actually good for them required little more than a few plausible lies they wanted to believe and a compliant press who’d take the photos he wanted them to take and not ask too many questions. He had both in his back pocket.

The first was going to be a mite trickier. Before he could strike a deal with Underhill and the Raven Chemical Corp, he had to maneuver himself into a position so crucial to the success of the project that Underhill would believe Teddy alone had the power to greenlight or kill it. Anything less and he’d have nothing to bargain with. He had an idea how to accomplish that but it would take some really creative number-crunching.

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“The band will be back tomorrow,” Nikki said over supper.  She had made a tub of lasagna big enough to feed the 5th  Fleet and at least half of the 3rd Battalion Field Artillery Marching Band & Wind Ensemble.  “I learned how to cook in a commune,” she explained when Cas noted the size of the pan.

“Where have they all been?”

“On tour.  Maine and Vermont.”

“Without you?  The lead singer?”

“I was sick when they left two weeks ago.  They had to go, the gigs have been booked for months.  Charlene’s filling in for me.  She’s very good.”

He put his fork down.  “Then you aren’t even supposed to be here right now.”


“I would have come all this way to an empty house.”

“The house is always open.  You could have stayed here anyway.”

“I didn’t know that at the time.”

“Then you lucked out, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” he said slowly, “I guess I did.  So what happens now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you want me to leave?”

“What?  Leave?  No, I don’t want you to leave.  Do you want to leave?”

“Only if you think I should.”

“Why would I think you should?”

“Could be awkward.”

“For who?”

“Both of us.  Aren’t you and Jonathan sort of…?  You know.”

“If we were sort of you know, don’t you think you should have brought it up before now?”

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Don Nelson Remembers

The two sides – who barely spoke civilly to each other when they met in the General Store or the Post Office – hit head-on over the school budget cuts.  Those who owned houses now worth much more than they’d paid for them were getting socked with rising property taxes and wanted them cut.  The cabin-owners, whose valuations were so low they were paying mere pennies a year, saw no reason why their kids’ education should suffer to save the home-owners a couple of hundred dollars a year they wouldn’t even notice.

Don Nelson, who was Chair of the Selectboard that year and the leader of the homeowners, thought at first that the Town Meeting was going to go his way without much of a fight.  The Town Moderator was on his side and had instituted a few seldom-used parliamentary rules to keep the opposition from ganging up on them, principally a requirement that each side be held to ten minutes and one spokesman during the debate.  The homeowners had Craig Wisher, a part-time preacher and full-time logger who was a fiery speaker and very persuasive.  Don assumed that Juliette Rose would be spokesman for the cabin-owners, and while she was a forceful speaker and not to be taken lightly, she was also a well-known radical and tended to alienate swing voters with her extremism.

But Juliette Rose outfoxed him.  When the time came, it wasn’t Juliette who rose to speak, it was Molly Pepperell.  There couldn’t have been a more perfect choice.  An old-timer with roots in Wilbur as deep as anybody’s, she was known for an even-handedness and hard-headed realism which earned her the respect of conservatives even when they disagreed with her, and she was an icon for the newcomers.  After all, she was a liberal and an artist – a combination tailor-made to appeal to card-carrying members of the counter-culture.  As soon as she stood up, Don knew they were dead in the water, and he was right.

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A Little History

You’d think the news that a chemical plant – and all that comes with it – might be built within bowshot of Wilbur and right smack dab in the middle of a State Forest watershed would unite the town like never before but in fact it split Wilbur right down the middle.  Half the population was unemployed, partly unemployed, or underemployed.  The other half thought their taxes were too high.  Between the two groups, Don Nelson suddenly found allies he’d never had before.  It was one thing to fight for a watershed area when you had nothing to gain from its destruction; it was something else when that destruction meant money in your own pocket and a decent living for the first time in many years.

Wilbur had been founded by Boston Brahmins in the late 19th century as a summer haven.  For a brief time it flourished as a spa for the wealthy who built large summer homes, a two-story inn, and baths fed by the creeks that dotted Owl Mountain like needles on a porcupine.  They began arriving in June, filled up the town in July, cooled themselves under their parasols in the August breezes, and abandoned it in a mass exodus the first week in September.  Only a few years after they’d created it, one of them discovered Lenox and the following year Wilbur found it had been left to its own devices.

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An Informer

“It’s Don Nelson, I bet,” Juliette said. “He’s always been in favor of the road. Thinks it would be good for business, good for Wilbur’s tax base. And he gives a lot of money to those pricks.”

“If it is, he’s telling them right now that we know about the plant,” Roger said. “There goes the element of surprise.“

“Would Nelson know about you being involved?” DJ asked.

Juliette shook her head. “I didn’t tell anybody he was going to be there.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Roger said. “He’d assume you’d come to me after the last time.”

It was DJ’s turn to shake her head. “According to Robert, the Senator’s aide didn’t say a lawyer might be involved. He said a lawyer was involved. He wasn’t guessing or assuming. He knew.”

“Maybe Robert’s remembering it wrong,” Roger suggested.

DJ turned. “Robert?”

“’I understand they had a meeting this morning, as a matter of fact. And they’ve got a lawyer involved.’ That’s word for word.”

Juliette Rose looked at each of them in turn but settled finally on DJ. “Everyone who knew about Roger before the meeting is in this room,” she said.

Working the Phone Tree

Meanwhile, news about the chemical plant was spreading across Wilbur like mosquitoes in May. Roger, Juliette Rose, and even Robert took turns on the phone calling everyone they knew, and those people called everyone they knew, and on it went until only a tiny fraction of Wilbur’s 700-odd residents were unaware of the sneaky deal being perpetrated behind their backs. The whole process took the better part of an hour.

DJ, who was too new in town to know anyone, was exempted from this duty, so she slumped in Roger’s wing chair with her leg over one arm of it, and watched and listened to the others run through their address books while she went over in her mind everything Robert had said about what he overheard. Robert stole a glance at her every now and then but didn’t interrupt her train of thought – he knew what Juliette Rose was like when she was in that state – but his heart leapt into his mouth when she suddenly got up and came over to sit next to him on the couch. Juliette Rose was on the phone and Roger was in the kitchen making coffee.

“Tell me again what the Senator’s aide said. Word for word, whatever you can remember. Close your eyes and concentrate.”

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