The Rumor(6)


by Elin Hilderbrand

Hope wrote: One of our cousins went to BC. A while ago.

Brick wrote: Oh. Okay.

Hope wrote: Did you ask Allegra about it?

Brick wrote: Nah. Not a big deal. Never mind.

Burying his head in the sand, Hope thought. She couldn’t blame him. The truth was too awful to contemplate.

Hope went to church every week with her mother. She was a spiritual person, she believed in God, she bought most of the tenets of the Catholic Church but not all of them. She did believe in prayer, and so she said a heartfelt one for Brick, and then she opened to page 242 and started learning about the inert gases.

EDDIE

He bounced up the cobblestone street in his Porsche Cayenne, wearing his lucky Panama hat, waving at everyone he saw. Grace liked to accuse him of what she called “indiscriminate waving.”

“You didn’t even know that person,” she said once. “Why did you wave?”

The fact was, Eddie was a little nearsighted, and he feared not waving to the wrong person more than he feared waving to a complete stranger. A not-wave in the real-estate business could mean a killed deal or a lost rental; it could mean missing out on thousands of dollars of potential income.

Next to Eddie, on the passenger seat, were four bills from the spec houses on Eagle Wing Lane. Or, more correctly, four bills from 13 Eagle Wing Lane, because Eddie had been forced to stop construction on numbers 9 and 11. He simply didn’t have the cash.

Getting four bills in one day should be illegal, Eddie thought. Three should be the maximum. But today’s mail had brought four; his secretary, Eloise, had handed them over, pinched between her thumb and index finger, as if she were giving him someone’s snotty handkerchief.

The first bill, for putting in the foundation, came in at twenty-two grand. Eddie blinked, then felt a rush of relief when he realized he had already paid that one. But a call to Gerry, the foundation guy, revealed that Eddie had paid for the foundations of numbers 9 and 11 but not for the foundation of number 13.

His Panama hat was not lucky. He would have taken it off and thrown it into the way back, but he so believed in its powers that he feared taking it off in anger would cause him to crash the Porsche and die, leaving Grace and the girls in debt.

Before he’d left the office, he’d stopped by the desk of his sister, Barbie, who was the only other broker that worked with him, because she was, essentially, the only person on Nantucket that he trusted other than his wife and children.

He said, “What am I gonna do about money?”

Barbie looked up at him through her frosted bangs. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman on the island, but she presented what she had to maximum advantage. She always wore a dress—she favored Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses (Eddie had no clue, but Allegra had schooled him as to Aunt Barbie’s tastes), always heels (Manolo Blahniks), always the perfume (he didn’t know what it was called, but it was so distinctively her that it might as well have been called Barbie). She was wearing her signature piece of jewelry: a black pearl that was the same size as the jawbreakers they used to steal from the five-and-dime when they were kids.

They had grown up on Purchase Street in New Bedford, dirt poor. High school for Eddie had been two pairs of corduroy pants (gray and beige) and two pilled sweaters (gray and beige), two button-down shirts (white and red plaid), and a pair of zippy red-and-blue running shoes that his mother had found at Goodwill. The shoes had come to define him as he proceeded to break every sprinting record at New Bedford High School and other high schools across the Commonwealth, earning himself the nickname Fast Eddie.

Eddie was able to run away from his disadvantages, but Barbie, eleven months his junior, had been forced to face them. She had been teased mercilessly about her clothes, her shoes, her hair, her smell—and she had gotten into fights and was suspended three times before she graduated from high school. In Barbie’s mind, he knew, there could never be enough money.

“I have a novel idea,” she said. “Try selling a house.”

“Funny,” he said. The market was a frozen tundra.

“Well,” Barbie said, checking her desk calendar, “that guy is coming with his group to Low Beach Road next week.”

“What guy?”

“You know what guy,” Barbie said. “The guy who asked.”

The guy who asked: Eddie wished he didn’t know what his sister was talking about, but he did. She was referring to Ronan Last-Name-Withheld.

One of the perennial aces in Eddie’s hand was the house at 10 Low Beach Road. This was a showcase house right on the Atlantic Ocean with six—count them, six—master suites, an infinity-edge pool, two gourmet kitchens (one indoor, one outdoor), a grass tennis court, a five-thousand-square-foot basement with a movie theater, an arcade filled with vintage pinball machines, a gym that was exactly like the one the New England Patriots worked out in during the off-season, a sauna, a mahogany-paneled billiards room, and a walk-in cigar humidor. Also, there was a stucco-walled wine cellar with a table that had originally been built for William of Orange. The house rented for fifty thousand dollars a week, and Eddie had the exclusive listing. The owner was a thirty-year-old graduate of Nantucket High School who had gone to Cal Tech, where he invented a computer chip that was used in every ATM in America. The owner had married a supermodel and lived out in L.A. The owner and supermodel came to Nantucket for two weeks every August; the rest of the season, the house was Eddie’s to rent.

The year before, Eddie had rented the house to a group of businessmen from Las Vegas. They were a gaming operation called DeepWell that had chosen Nantucket for their annual retreat. The leader of the group, Ronan Last-Name-Withheld, had arrived at the house before Eddie’s team of five Russian housecleaners were quite finished, and Ronan LNW said, “Any chance these girls could come back later and entertain the guys?”

“Entertain?” Eddie had asked. He knew what Ronan LNW was getting at—or he thought he did, anyway. He squinted quizzically at Ronan. “They don’t juggle, and I’m pretty sure they don’t sing.”

Ronan said, “Ten grand extra in it for you. Per night.”

Ten grand per night. Eddie had felt dizzy.

He wasn’t going to lie: for a moment, he had considered it. He would pay the girls a thousand dollars apiece per night, and he and Barbie would split the other five—per night.

But then his good sense took over, his moral compass spun and landed on true north, and Eddie said, in a self-righteous tone of voice he didn’t even recognize, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t think that will work out.”