I ’m not the first to say it, but I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Pleasure itself is hard enough to come by in this endlessly spinning world; why would I deny myself the thrill a perfectly paced pop confection can offer? The answer is I don’t deny myself; hence the fact that Vanderpump Rules is a Shakespearean drama to me (and Lala is my feminist hero, and I wish she’d get a new job outside the drama of Sur, though that’s a plea for a different time).
The latest thing I know will be keeping me up late into the night? It’s Daughter, First, the new interactive, serialized political novel from Lenny and Glamour. Though the tale of the ambitious, controversial Mahoney political clan—particularly cool-as-a-cucumber governor’s daughter Katie Mahoney Brown—is truly a delight, and squarely a work of fiction.
We’ve brought together seven of the best voices in contemporary fiction (Jessica Knoll, J. Courtney Sullivan, Nafkote Tamirat, Caroline Kepnes, Camille Perri, and Lenny’s own Kaitlyn Greenidge and Jessica Grose) to bring this deliciously paced novel to life. This week, you’ll be getting the first two chapters in Katie Mahoney Brown’s saga—and every Tuesday after that, you’ll get another new chapter. As you read each section, you’ll be clapping a hand over your mouth to keep from squealing on the job or waking up your bedfellow.
But the coolest part? Each week, the writers will include prompts that we’ll amplify on social media. These prompts will allow readers to suggest details to bake into the following week’s delicious cake (am I taking the pleasure thing too far?). I could not be more excited for an innovative project that brings together female authors and reminds us all of the unifying power of a good page-turner. I am, after all, a Web browser extraordinaire but a reader first. —Lena Dunham
The Governor’s Daughter Has a Big Problem
Katie Mahoney Brown had a perfect, gilded life. Until today.
By Jessica Grose
PHOTO: NAJEEBAH AL-GHADBAN
As Katherine Mahoney Brown walked her daughter away from St. Bernadette’s School for Girls, she didn’t stumble. Katie pushed past the throng of journalists without looking at them, and without changing the expression on her placid, unlined face. The mothers in the pickup line, who didn’t know Katie well enough to say more than hello to her, pretended to look away. It was only polite. And whatever the gossip was about Katie—and there was a lot of gossip in this particular corner of Boston—everyone always said she was polite. The nannies stared openly. They didn’t have to suck up to Governor Mahoney’s daughter.
Flashes popped, blinding them. Katie’s three-year-old daughter, Orla, looked up at her mother with confused, bright-green eyes and started to cry. The girl pulled her hood down over her eyes while tears streamed down her chubby cheeks. Katie picked Orla up and hid the child’s face in her shoulder without missing a step. Her four-inch stilettos clacked evenly on the ground.
Reporters, staked out on the wide sidewalks surrounding St. Bernadette’s, screamed, “Katie! Katie! Are you going to stand by your man? Did you know about the kickbacks?” Katie Brown didn’t say a word. She flipped her perfectly blown-out chestnut hair over her back and maintained eye contact with the horizon.
The reporters trailed her down the street, all the way to a waiting black SUV, which gleamed with a fresh wax in the waning October sun. She turned her head only to look at the car door. She opened it and deposited Orla in her car seat. Then she climbed in behind the petrified child and shut the door in all their faces.
“Good afternoon, ma’am,” Sully said as he drove away. He tried meeting Katie’s eyes in the rearview mirror, but she was still comforting Orla, whose shrieks had tapered off into sniffles and caught breath. Katie had always been Sully’s favorite of the Mahoney kids, and she was certainly the best looking. She had penetrating blue-green eyes, and those light eyes and her gleaming, burnished hair made for a striking combination. Katie was tall, 5’9″, and broad too, but somehow still remained lean and muscled. She resembled a very expensive racehorse in the best way possible.
The preschool receded behind them, and the Charles River appeared in the distance. “Where are you going?” Katie said sharply when she finally looked up from the child. She had never yelled at Sully, who had been driving various members of her family around since she was a kid. Sully, with his kind eyes that crinkled around the edges with age and the weathered cap he’d been wearing for as long as Katie could remember. The cold, impatient edge in Katie’s accentless voice was the closest she’d come to snapping since her family’s ordeal had begun earlier that day.
The Mahoney girls, Katie and her sister, Mary, had manners above all else, drilled into them by their mother, Rosemary. Especially with the help. Rosemary would say, “If you can’t keep help, you can’t run a home.” Katie remembered this whenever she directed her maid, Manuela, to use a different vase for the lilies, her favorite flower. “No, Manuela,” Katie would say brightly and slowly, the way you’d talk to a preschool class if you had no experience interacting with children. “This vase is for roses.”
The Mahoney boys, however, were allowed to treat the help with sneering indifference and outright abuse. Patrick and Jim Junior had driven out every single nanny they’d ever had. Patrick once convinced Nanny Marta that their rabbit’s poop was a Milk Dud and had made fun of Marta for eating Bunzo’s poo for the rest of her employ. Junior once locked Nanny Bridget on the balcony during a blizzard and let her back in only when she started to sob. Katie had overheard Rosemary say that one of them, a particularly fragile au pair from Belgium named Nanny Fleur, had had to seek mental help back in Antwerp.
“I was taking you home, like always,” Sully said. Home was a brownstone in Beacon Hill. Katie and her husband, Tommy Brown, had bought the brick mansion when he was still working for his family’s construction business and she was the owner of a local clothing store called KAYT, which sold Lilly Pulitzer dresses, brightly colored tights, classic brown Uggs, and headbands for local teenagers to stock up on before they left for boarding school.
That was before Katie and Tommy had Declan, their oldest, now seven, and Katie decided to shutter her business to work on “personal projects,” or at least that’s what she told the Boston Globe’s “Names” reporter when they asked her at the Pretty in Pink benefit to support breast cancer survivors.
That was before Katie’s dad, Big Jim Mahoney, the controversial former mayor of Boston, had announced his run for governor—Katie had really quit to help her dad realize his dream, something she was deeply honored to do. It was something she felt he was owed, after everything they’d been through.
And that was long before Jim Mahoney won the governor’s race in a stunning upset, making her family the most famous local political clan since the Kennedys.
An independent had never won the governorship in Massachusetts before, but even though no one could agree on Big Jim, everyone could agree that he was not like other politicians. For one, he hired both Katie and Tommy as senior advisers. “Keep your enemies close and your family closer” was one of Jim Mahoney’s mangled maxims. For another, he had already weathered one political scandal, the kind that had ended a million other promising careers but seemed, somehow, to slide right off Jim in the long run.
“We’re not going home today, Sully,” Katie said. The edge had left her voice. Orla had fallen asleep by then, which she did on any car ride longer than four minutes. Katie watched Orla as she slept, as her eyelids fluttered, and she sighed deeply. She has no idea, Katie thought, and suddenly felt very tired herself. She closed her eyes—the lashes that she had just paid to have glued into her face suddenly felt incredibly heavy. “Just keep driving.”
This was not Katie’s first rodeo with an after-school stakeout. She’d been through this all before as a child. That was when her dad was mayor of Boston, and halfway through his first and only term, The Herald’s coverage became a fact of her family’s life. Rosemary barely acknowledged the reporters camped outside their brownstone. She told the kids not to make eye contact. “Reporters are scum,” she’d say. “They live to bring us down.” She never even talked to Katie or her siblings about what was really going on, preferring to pretend the family existed on some protected plane, high above the fray.
The distance between Big Jim’s brain and what came out of his face had always been nonexistent, and it got him into trouble, but it was also why people loved him so deeply. He was big in every sense of the word: 6’4″, with a lunky body, and a big head, even for his frame, that seemed even bigger because it was topped with a shellacked helmet of chestnut hair, the same shade as Katie’s. But nothing was bigger than Jim’s mouth. That was something Katie had learned from the womb.
Katie was the last of her sainted mother’s four children. She was the biggest at birth, clocking in at nine pounds, three ounces, with a big, bald Irish head. The size of her was something her father would boast about to anyone who would listen. “Can you believe little Rosie pushed out that big baby? All nine and a half pounds of her,” he’d say, pulling her mother in close. “All because of my supersperm,” Big Jim would say, laughing as Rosie cringed. “Nobody’s stronger than my kids!”
As the years went by, the legend of Katie’s size grew. “Can you believe little Rosie pushed out that big baby?” Jim would say. “All 10 pounds of her, and with a big Irish noggin, full of brains!”
When Katie was old enough to comprehend what her dad was saying, she once tried to correct him. He was on the campaign trail, running for mayor, and he had dragged eight-year-old Katie along with him. She hadn’t wanted to go, but her mother forced her. “This is a family effort,” Rosemary said, tightening Katie’s pigtails as she scowled. “And you’d better represent the family well.” Rosemary’s piercing blue eyes bored a hole into Katie’s. She turned her scowl into a neutrally pleasant expression. “OK, Mommy, whatever you say.” Katie wondered if Rosie could discern the tiny note of sarcasm in her voice, but her mother wasn’t big on subtlety. “Good,” said Rosemary as she watched Katie’s face change to her liking. “You understand.”
They were at Florian Hall in Dorchester, and her dad was having beers with a bunch of grizzled World War II vets. He held court at the podium, saying things like “I want to bring jobs back to our neighborhoods,” and the old men would erupt in cheers.
They’d known Jim since he was a local kid running around in short pants—his dad, George, had been their landlord or their employer, because he owned half the bars and tenements in the neighborhood. George started as one of their peers, living with all his relatives in a triple-decker. George ended up inheriting another triple-decker, and he shrewdly bought two more, for cheap, when he was just starting out. Then he seemed to buy up half of Dorchester, and when Jim was a kid, they moved into a big, showpiece Queen Anne in Savin Hill. And by the time Jim was in high school, it was boarding school for him and his brothers, and then off to a fancy private college.
Even after they made all that money, the Mahoney family still went to St. Mark’s parish with the old guys from the neighborhood, and everyone knew George paid for that big chapel renovation in ’66, even though he showed his face only on Christmas and Easter.
George was an old bastard, everyone agreed. He refused to fix broken toilets and busted refrigerators until his tenants got together and sued him. And there was the little matter of that federal lawsuit against George for violating the Fair Housing Act, because he refused to rent to anyone with skin darker than George Hamilton’s. But still, he was their old bastard. And Jim was their fortunate son.
Katie had been quietly drawing with crayons, the way her mother told her to, when she heard her name. “See my little girl Katie over there?” her dad said, gesturing toward her with his beer. “I’m running because of her. I want to make the future better for her and her brothers and sisters. I want to make sure they can stay in the Boston I’ve always known, and keep it strong forever,” he said. Katie was a bit confused by this—no one had ever mentioned leaving Boston. In fact, her family talked about their hometown as if it were the only place in the universe.
“I’m sending these four kids to Catholic school in our fair city, and let me tell you, it isn’t cheap. But I want the best for my kids, just like you want the best for yours.” The old guys cheered again, this time louder. One of them leaned over and pinched Katie’s cheek, hard, with his wizened, dry hand. She gritted her teeth; she knew better than to cry, no matter how much it hurt.
“Look at this beautiful face,” Big Jim said, sitting down next to Katie. “Did you fellas know this baby was 11 pounds when she was born? Damn near tore her mother in two, with that big Irish head full of brains!”
The room erupted in laughter, and Katie’s face burned with embarrassment. Her dad was wrong. She knew how big she was when she was born; her mother had told her—nine pounds, three ounces. Katie had a head for numbers and remembered. She just couldn’t let this misunderstanding stand. Her dad would want to tell the truth, she knew it. It was clearly very important to him—just last week he had slapped the piss out of Junior for cheating on a test at school and then lying about it.
“Actually,” she said quietly, “I was nine pounds and three ounces.” The din in the room was so loud that only her father heard her. And before she could say it more loudly, so that everyone would know what was correct and true, her father pinched her leg so hard that tears welled up in her eyes.
He stood up quickly and continued his speech, “Like I was saying, we gotta keep these big Irish babies in our prayers….”
From then on, Katie spent more time observing her father than speaking to him. She never again wanted to make the mistake of saying the wrong thing, and especially not in public. Not that she had much of an opportunity to speak to him. He was elected mayor—the first time an independent had won that office too—by a slim margin. And he was almost never home after that. In order to see her father, she had to make an appointment with his secretary, and then Big Jim would always make sure it was some kind of photo op so Katie would be sure to be dressed in her Sunday best, with white patent-leather shoes that pinched her toes and French braids so tight that she couldn’t move her eyebrows—always her father’s favorite look.
From then on, Katie spent more time observing her father than speaking to him. She never again wanted to make the mistake of saying the wrong thing, and especially not in public.
These visits were rare, though. Because the Mahoney administration was dogged by charges of corruption from the day he took office in 1984. Big Jim had a lot of friends. And those friends always seemed to wind up with lucrative city contracts for everything from waste removal to school construction. There were reports that the government was building a conspiracy case against him, but Jim always dismissed that as media lies.
Ultimately, it was a woman who brought him down. He had a longtime mistress, a barmaid and part-time model named Raquel. The Herald, which had been following his various corruption scandals, got wind that he was spending a lot of time on his boat, the Good Time Sally, and that he wasn’t alone there. When asked about it, in his typical grandstanding way, he said, “If you think I’m getting up to no good, follow me.”
So they did. And photos of Raquel and Big Jim entwined on the deck of ol’ Good Time Sally were everywhere within a week. And that’s when reporters were posted outside Katie’s house, and outside St. Bernadette’s, where Katie went to school, just like Orla.
During the troubles, Mary would link arms with Katie as they walked into school. Mary was two years older than Katie and had never been particularly warm toward her before this happened. “Never let them see you sweat,” Mary would tell Katie, echoing their mother, before hugging Katie goodbye. Besides a few anonymous notes in her cubby, no one was outwardly cruel to Katie—she was too rich and pretty and powerful for that—but she could feel her friends pulling away from her. She stopped getting invites to birthday parties, and groups of girls would go silent as she approached. The lesson for Katie was clear. When things got hard, most people would fall away. But Mary, and even those bastards Junior and Patrick, remained.
Still, she was relieved when Big Jim decided not to run for a second term “to spend time with his family.”
As she reclined, eyes still closed, in the SUV, Katie remembered how much the flash had hurt her eyes and how her legs had burned as she’d run as fast as she could away from those monstrous reporters. It still made her angry to think about it, more than 30 years later. She was just a little girl. How dare they. And how dare the media do this to her child too, her precious Orla bug. She could still hear the slow, even breath coming from her sleeping child, who was peaceful. Hopefully, she was young enough that she wouldn’t remember this.
Katie was so trapped in this feeling of rage that she hadn’t noticed Sully turning on the radio. She perked up only when she heard her husband’s name.
Tom Brown is the first of Governor Jim Mahoney’s advisers to be indicted on federal charges of racketeering, conspiracy, bribery, and extortion. Brown could not be reached for comment. A representative for Governor Mahoney says the charges are “baseless” and “yet another plot by the federal government and the media to prevent the governor from doing his job: standing up for the people of Massachusetts.”
“Turn that off, now,” Katie said, as quietly as she could, to be heard without waking Orla.
Sully startled. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I thought you were asleep.”
“It’s fine,” Katie said, putting her hand up.
“Do you want to go home now? I don’t think anybody’s trailing us.”
“No,” Katie said. “Take me to Daddy’s house.”
The Feds Are on the Case
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dia Morgan goes way back with Katie Mahoney Brown. And now she knows where the bodies are buried.
By Nafkote Tamirat
PHOTO: Najeebah Al-Ghadban
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dia Morgan knew no one else would touch the case. She was the only black woman in the office, the only one without ties to the current governor. She saw that for the others, her apparent decision to sabotage her career felt inevitable: She was to be congratulated on getting this far.
What they didn’t know was that she was about to blow everything wide open. Hand Boston the Mahoney family on a platter, with Big Jim’s chestnut-colored scalp served up as the main dish. As for that weasel Tom Brown…he wouldn’t even know what had hit him.
None of them were aware that she and Katie Mahoney Brown had their own history. They’d met on college move-in day. Everything had felt so different from what Dia had always known, like the school needed to be sure that she understood how out of her depth she was: the eighteenth-century stonework, the impossible green of the never-ending lawn. The students wore no obvious brands, emitting an aura of affluence that she’d seen only in magazines. She watched as awe, then shame, flitted over her father’s face.
There were a few other black kids, but they were different from those she’d grown up with in Mattapan. She sensed in them how it wasn’t her race that would isolate her here: It was her fear, her certainty that she didn’t belong, her suspicious glares in response to the friendly greetings of the beautiful people in this beautiful place. She’d soon learn that the problem wasn’t her blackness, but rather her refusal to forget it, or the fact that once they left these walls, neither would they.
Dia felt humiliated by her bulky suitcases, so different from the matching plastic crates used by her fellow freshmen, pastel like their outdoor performance gear, streamlined like their slim bodies. They and their possessions made sense in this immaculate institution. She, with her jiggling stomach, oversize T-shirt, and cornrows that shone with pomade, did not. It was on the sixth-floor landing that the zipper on her biggest duffel bag broke, along with her resolve. She dropped onto the stairs, deaf to her father’s gentle words. She should have never left Boston.
“Those suitcases are so badly made,” someone behind her remarked.
She turned, hastily dabbing at her tears, and saw a slender girl, with hair mousier than it was now but eyes that were just as piercing. She was the most stunning person Dia had ever seen. She looked like one of the heroines from her favorite childhood books, where white girls took care of horses and rode into adventure and romance.
Before Dia or her dad could protest, Katie had already heaved the broken baggage up into her arms.
“We’ll be done in 30 minutes,” she cheerfully pronounced over her shoulder, as the other two huffed and puffed behind her. “And then I’ll show you the best place for Thai food.”
She was lying, it turned out: They were done in 26. When Dia’s father asked Katie to join them for lunch, she declined; she would have loved to, but her parents were forcing her to participate in all the orientation activities.
“My dad’s an alum, so they really get into this kind of thing,” she smiled.
“Try to become friends with that girl,” Dia’s father later advised, over pad Thai and green-curry noodles. “She’s going places.”
Dia refrained from explaining that that was the last thing she’d ever do. She hated Katie. She hated her smile, her ease, her alumni parents, her wealth.
She found a way to justify her fury when someone told her who Katie’s father was, and she recalled seeing her as a child on TV, solemnly staring into the camera next to her mother. Dia refused to make eye contact with Katie whenever she attempted conversation and felt only a little guilty upon seeing the other girl’s confusion and hurt. You feel bad?, she thought. Ask your dad how we felt when his deals got us shitty housing. Ask your grandfather how my parents felt when they had to integrate his tenements, when they couldn’t fight back against people who screamed at them, threw things at them, and then finally left them behind to pick up the pieces and start again. It was more than enough to keep her going.
Dia almost boycotted graduation when she learned that Jim was one of the speakers (it was the least his alma mater could do, what with the library and Olympic-size swimming pool that bore his name). It was only the thought of her parents’ disappointment that compelled her to sit through his 40-minute set, which left everyone around her in hysterics. No, not everyone—when she peeked over, Katie looked as furious as Dia felt. A kind of respect tried to inch its way into her heart before she shoved it back down.
Over the next few years, Dia would sometimes think that she detected something different in Katie during her family’s televised appearances, as if she wanted to say something else, be anywhere else. But each time, Dia would catch herself, remember that Katie had still married Tom and helped her father campaign his way into glory, and thus shore up her resentment, grown quieter with age.
Nothing could have prepared her for the phone call.
The woman who’d contacted Dia six months ago had called herself Stephanie and claimed to be Jim’s child from a previous marriage. Dia had hung up on her, certain it was one of the prank calls that had increased in frequency since her last few courtroom victories had gotten her more press.
And yet it nagged at her. When she couldn’t stand it any longer, she launched a public-records search and, within an hour, was facing written proof of Big Jim’s first marriage, which had lasted three months before his wife filed for an annulment on the grounds of fraud. Dia wondered why she was surprised.
She called Stephanie back.
“That didn’t take long.” Stephanie sounded breathless.
She explained that she’d been following Dia’s career closely.
“Remember when the state sued that restaurant for refusing to cater a wedding, just because it was two men getting married? I kept thinking, There’s no way she’ll win this one. More fool me.”
“I’m guessing you didn’t call to stroke my already healthy ego.”
“I’ve got a case for you.”
“Stephanie, we’re not on TV. I’m a real lawyer, who needs real details. Who? What? How? You get me?”
“What would you say if I told you I could help you put him and his cronies behind bars?”
“I’d ask how and how soon.”
“I knew you were a brilliant lawyer.”
The next morning, a messenger arrived at the U.S. Attorney’s office with an enormous bouquet of flowers, chocolate-covered strawberries, and stuffed animals for Dia (the name on the card belonged to an ex from college—she simultaneously admired the level of detail and felt uneasy about Stephanie’s investigations into her personal life). As everyone joked about secret lovers, Dia slipped a USB key into her bag. She locked herself in her office and spent the next twelve hours poring over photos, deeds, contracts, recordings, correspondence, all of which placed Jim and his allies—including his son-in-law, Tom—at the wrong end of the city’s most lucrative financial transactions, as both citizens and politicians. Jim had been running the grift on both sides, a Boston classic.
It turned out his political renaissance wasn’t the miracle that the pundits claimed but rather a strategic operation, one whose foundation went as far back as his mayoral disgrace: promises of reduced state oversight and astronomical tax cuts, offers of prime real estate to Boston’s biggest corporations. In return, public support and multimillion-dollar loans that made his campaign for governor an unprecedented success.
Most shocking of all—at least to Dia—was how the Seaport neighborhood, intended to showcase the best of Boston, had been dominated by these shadow investors, so that a place meant to symbolize a new vision of the city was more of the same: big talk, empty walk.
She’d witnessed how the Mahoneys used their connections to stomp out anyone who wasn’t “from the neighborhood.” Now was her chance to show the men around her what she’d always known.
“Where did you get this?” Dia demanded over the phone, after she’d reread everything.
“OK, fine, why are you doing this? He’s your father too.”
“Is he? He’s never acted like it.”
“So this is a personal vendetta? I’m not blaming you, I’m only trying to figure out your angle here.”
“It’s not just that!” A pause, as if she were struggling to contain herself. “I read about what happened to your family, Dia. In that profile the Globe wrote after you took down that sleazeball who was keeping his employees locked up? You talked about how your parents never got to buy a house, lost their jobs, and then—”
“They died. What’s your point?”
Dia had long ago learned that you had to attack first to stop them from making you cry. Something new entered Stephanie’s voice, a bitterness that Dia recognized as an old friend.
“You get tired of seeing someone you love get hurt, Dia, of seeing them deny the obvious, fall into the same traps, fall for the same tricks. And why? For a father who wants people to say he’s better than his dad, George. How could I just sit here and not do something?”
Dia didn’t know what to say. When Stephanie spoke again, her voice sounded calm.
“Did you know that Jim says the little boys’ room? He thinks it makes him sound like Cary Grant. How he lives with himself, I’ll never understand.”
Along with her gratitude, Dia felt outrage: how nice it must be to have the luxury of doing the right thing whenever you felt like it. How nice to still have parents to sell out.
And yet here she was, standing before dozens and dozens of paper-fat files, neatly labeled and color-coded, to be presented to her superiors in less than three minutes. She’d spent her whole life observing how greed and corruption made it impossible for those closest to her to thrive. She’d witnessed how the Mahoneys used their connections to stomp out anyone who wasn’t “from the neighborhood.” Now was her chance to show the men around her what she’d always known.
A knock on the door.
It was Whittier, a more senior U.S. attorney and the only 35-year-old she knew who still regularly played beer pong (team name: the Eva Pongorias) and seemed proud of the fact.
“Whenever you’re ready, D.”
She noted his use of the nickname that she’d repeatedly told him she didn’t like, his cocky certainty that they’d find a way to dismiss her work as incomplete, irrelevant, so minor that everyone could just keep on doing what they’d been doing for the last however many years.
Also, there was something glistening and green in his teeth.
She smiled back. There goes the neighborhood, she thought.
Nafkote Tamirat is a native of Boston and now lives in Paris. Her first novel, The Parking Lot Attendant, is out now.
A Good Wife’s Burden
Rosemary Mahoney was the perfect political spouse, until her husband did something so awful, she couldn’t turn away.
By J.Courtney Sullivan
PHOTO: NAJEEBAH AL-GHADBAN
Rosemary had packed and unpacked her suitcase three times. Now it lay full, near to bursting, on the bed. All her winter clothes were inside, plus the contents of the bathroom cabinet, and an envelope containing enough cash to last a year.
The flight to Aspen would take off in four hours. She’d called a car service to take her to Logan, arranging to meet the driver in front of a laundromat on Joy Street.
Suddenly the plan seemed absurd. Could she really leave her children to face this mess without her? Then she remembered: They were in her husband’s thrall, just like everyone else.
Rosemary lugged the suitcase downstairs, lingering in the doorways of each of the rooms she’d spent decades decorating. In the formal living room, the grand piano was crowded with photographs in silver frames. There were Katie and Tom on their wedding day, beaming on the church steps. Here were her four children on an Easter Sunday when they were small. Her eyes landed on a photo of Jim, arms raised in victory on the night he was elected mayor.
She considered leaving him a note. Three months ago, he’d booked the biggest of the Copley Plaza ballrooms for their forty-fifth anniversary. In front of 300 people, he’d given a speech about her loyalty, how she’d stayed by his side, even when he’d acted like a fool. He could have said anything, and he chose that.
His affairs were mortifying, his sloppiness enraging. She’d never forget the photo on the front page of the Herald—him and that model locked in an embrace on the deck of his precious schooner. The headline screamed “MAHONEY’S LOVE BOAT.” A swarm followed, reporters stooping so low as to involve her children. It turned out that Jim had the model on the payroll, listed as a senior economic consultant.
Not long after Jim resigned, George, his beloved father, had died of a heart attack. This sent Jim into a depression: six months of padding around in his boxer shorts, adding whiskey to his coffee. Then one day he emerged newly energized, determined to make his father’s company a success at any cost. For two decades that occupied his time. That, and chasing girls half his age.
Beyond the embarrassment, Rosemary didn’t care about the affairs, which at least gave her many pleasant evenings alone. Sometimes she spent two hours in front of the bathroom mirror, applying face masks and eye creams, the efficacy of which she could never be certain, but those tiny jars cost a few hundred dollars apiece, so she reasoned that they must be doing something. The freedom also gave her time to have dinner with her oldest friend, Virginia, the one person who knew Rosemary’s deepest fantasy: to escape to an abbey full of nuns, to wear a long black habit and never again feel a hand snake into her underpants while she was trying to sleep
She hadn’t always been like this. When she met her husband, she was intoxicated by the abundance of him—not just his size, but his confidence. He walked into any room certain that everyone in it was now better off being in his presence. From the start, she noticed how he lied, but she somehow overlooked it. Their differences thrilled her.
But six years into their marriage, she picked up the extension in the kitchen and heard Jim say, “Sherry, you know I’ve always loved you.”
“Bullshit,” said a woman’s voice. “You wouldn’t do this to someone you loved. Our daughter worships you, even though you won’t have anything to do with her. She worships the idea of you.”
Rosemary’s heart raced. She thought she must have misheard, but when she confronted Jim, he admitted everything. He’d been married before; this woman had had his baby, a girl named Stephanie. Sherry had run into trouble with drugs, and George had convinced him that he’d never amount to anything with a wife like that. So Jim left her and agreed to support the child as long as she remained a secret.
When Rosemary said, “But you still love her,” he didn’t deny it.
It was as easy as that. As quickly as she had fallen in love, she fell out. After that, Jim handed Rosemary an envelope on the first of every month and asked her to pop it in the mailbox on her way to aerobics class. It contained a check for Sherry.
When Rosemary was a child, her mother had worked as a maid for an heiress in Chestnut Hill. Her mother told her how the heiress had fired two other maids for coming in late. She sent the girls away, then said to the remaining staff, “If you can’t keep help, you can’t run a home. I’m sure the rest of you will redouble your efforts.”
Rosemary was terrified of what people might say about her family, her own wild brothers. So she pretended to be someone else—her mother’s old boss.
Jim’s family was lace curtain Irish from the fancy end of Dorchester, but he loved telling people how Rosemary’s mother spoke only Irish until her death. He won over Mexican voters by repeating this story, by reminding them that he was like them, even though of course he wasn’t. Maybe this had been part of the calculus of choosing her. He could always say, “My wife grew up in a three-decker in Southie with ten cousins on every floor.” Authenticity by association.
Now Rosemary watched with a mix of pride and regret how easy it was for her children to fit in on private jets to St. John, at fundraisers full of celebrities. They were so privileged. Too privileged. Jim bought Mary a house because she was sad about being single. He bought Katie a store.
But Rosemary never stopped thinking about the first daughter, the one they pretended didn’t exist. She worships you. She worships the idea of you.
Her phone buzzed: Your driver will be on location in ten minutes.
It had only been six weeks since she ran into Rita O’Shea, a friend from the old neighborhood, at the Stop & Shop deli counter.
“You’re still in Southie?” Rosemary asked. “So lucky to have the Seaport right in your backyard! All the fabulous restaurants—and that walking path. My cousin just sold his house for two million dollars, can you believe it?”
Rita narrowed her eyes. “My family always rented. From George and Jim. Well, we did until your husband made the rents impossible. He couldn’t wait to get us out, and the yuppies in. Land of luxury condos, that’s what Southie is now.”
Rosemary frowned. “No. Jim wouldn’t do that.”
“Please. That’s the least of what he’s done.”
“Your husband never made an honest dollar in his life. As if you didn’t know.”
Rosemary left her cart full of groceries and ran out of the store.
Had she been kidding herself, ignoring the signs? Campaign funds paid for Jim Junior’s wedding on Nantucket. Jim had been caught for that—said it was just a mix-up. He reimbursed the campaign, but Jim Junior was embarrassed to be dragged into it.
When Big Jim came home that night, she was waiting at the kitchen table. He smelled like beer and perfume. She told him what she had heard—what she’d found when she looked through the contracts in his office. Had he forgotten that she’d dropped out of BU law school to marry him?
“You’ll be caught,” she said. “You need to fix this. You need to resign.”
“Rosie,” he said. “Why don’t you stick to your specialties, and I’ll stick to mine.”
“And what are my specialties?” she said.
He waved his arms at the rooms around them. “This,” he said. “The home fires. Lunching with your girlfriends.”
Rosemary felt a fire growing in her.
“You can’t bring him back from the dead, you know,” she said quietly.
“Your father. No matter how you try to impress him, he doesn’t know. In his eyes, you’ll always be the disappointment who couldn’t hold onto the mayor’s office.”
Long-married people had perhaps the greatest capacity of anyone to injure one another. So much knowledge at hand. Rosemary had never made use of it before. It felt good.
He didn’t come to bed that night.
She lay awake, thinking of Katie.
Katie loved and feared her father in equal measure, always had. She had always been his favorite. How could he drag her into this?
If Rosemary had found it odd when Jim made Katie and Tom his advisors, the thought didn’t linger. “Katie’s our little shark,” Jim said. “She’ll do what it takes.”
Rosemary rolled this around in her head after their fight. As soon as the sun was up, she went to Katie’s house. Her daughter was in the kitchen in yoga pants, making coffee as the nanny served breakfast.
“I need to talk to you,” Rosemary said.
Katie seemed annoyed. “You could have called. I would have told you that I have a conference call with the offices of fifteen governors across the country.”
Rosemary grabbed her daughter by the sleeve, the way she did when Katie was a child. “Come,” she said, leading her into the den and closing the door.
“Your father is up to no good,” she whispered. “I looked through some papers in his office, listened to tapes, and—”
“I’m sorry, you did what?”
“He’s taking kickbacks and bribes. Oh, Katie, it’s bad.”
She couldn’t decipher the look on her daughter’s face. Did it mean she already knew?
“Mom, business stuff probably seems shady to anyone who doesn’t know what they’re looking at.”
Rosemary tried to ignore the condescension. She took a deep breath. “I’m worried that he hired you and Tom because—”
Katie interrupted, seeming angry now. “Daddy didn’t hire me for any reason other than the fact that I’m a shrewd businesswoman. Now, I’ve got work to do. Maybe you should go get a facial or something.”
Rosemary couldn’t remember feeling so enraged in all her life. Her husband was a liar, and their daughter thought she was a twit to be brushed off.
She heard Rita’s parting words in her ears: As if you didn’t know.
Where did her own guilt lie? With Stephanie, of course. The daughter Jim had willed into nonexistence. She and her mother had always been a threat. Rosemary had helped him squelch it. The story almost came out three weeks before the governor’s election. A reporter at the Globe had gotten an anonymous tip, asked Jim and Rosemary to comment. Rosemary flew into a panic, and Jim said not to worry, he would just pay the guy off.
“Will that work?” she asked.
“Everyone has their price,” he said.
She felt pure relief in that moment. But it wasn’t for him that she went along with it, nor for his career, his money. She did it because she knew the revelation would destroy her children. She had always carried guilt about this. She hadn’t heard a thing about Stephanie since she was a little girl. Who knew if she still had that same romanticized vision of her father? Rosemary saw how to show her she’d been lucky not to know him.
She left her daughter’s house, went home, and made copies of everything. Then she put it all in a box and mailed it to Stephanie.
In the days that followed, while she waited to see what Stephanie would do, she went to Aspen alone. She checked out a rental apartment, a dim one-bedroom twenty miles from downtown. The realtor seemed to recognize her, or at least her type. “It’s for my maid,” Rosemary said. “I’ll take it.”
After that, there was nothing to do but wait. She heard the news about Tom on the radio, along with everyone else. Neither her husband nor her daughter had called to tell her. So Rosemary booked the flight, began to move forward her plan. In the end, none of them would miss her. She refused to be taken down with them. She’d done nothing wrong.
She went toward the front door now, pulling the suitcase behind her.
To her surprise, the door opened. She shoved the suitcase in the closet.
“Mom? Where are you going?”
“Nowhere,” Rosemary said. Her heart raced. Orla came to her, put her arms around her leg.
“But you’re wearing your coat.”
She glanced down. “Oh! Yes! I’m heading out for a walk on the Common.”
“Is Daddy here? I need to talk to him.” She spoke in her business voice, as if Rosemary were her assistant.
“He should be back soon.”
Tears came into Katie’s eyes. “You heard?” she said. Rosemary nodded.
“Oh, Mama,” Katie said, coming to her, falling into Rosemary’s arms.
Rosemary smoothed her hair, as she did when Katie was a little girl.
“Shh,” she said. “It will be alright.”
Many things had shocked her in her life, but none more than this. To still be needed. It was a wonder, the greatest gift.
“Would anyone like some cookies?” she said.
“Me!” Orla said.
“Me,” Katie said with a laugh, drying her tears.
“Come on, let’s go get them in the pantry.”
“I thought you were going for a walk,” Katie said.
“I changed my mind.”
J. Courtney Sullivan’s fourth novel, Saints for All Occasions, will be published in paperback in May.
What Tom Loves More Than Katie
Katie Mahoney Brown’s marriage isn’t what it looks like on the red carpet.
By Kaitlyn Greenridge
PHOTO: NAJEEBAH AL-GHADBAN
Katie watched as her mother led Orla into the kitchen for snacks. She kept the smile on her face; Carol, the house manager, was watching.
She said, “Please tell my mother I’m just in the library if she needs me.”
Then she collapsed into one of the brown leather wing chairs and tried to relax, rubbing her temples, until she couldn’t take it anymore. She dumped her purse upside down, not caring about the mess, and pulled out her phone. There were 80 missed calls plus 75 text messages and counting. She ignored them all and dialed Tom’s number, saved under “THE HUBBY.” This wasn’t her style, but one of the image consultants had persuaded her to do it. “It’s cute and real,” the bubbly woman had said.
Katie’s call went to voicemail. So did the next one, and the next.
She couldn’t bring herself to click open the Google alerts that were flashing across her screen: SON-IN-LAW INDICTED; WHAT TOM KNEW; SHOCKING TWIST IN MAHONEY CASE. There were other ways to torture herself.
Katie pulled up wickedlocal.com and wrote her name in the search bar. There they were: Dozens of photos of Tom and Katie, looking pressed and golden, on the red carpets leading to various black-tie events. It calmed her to remember what they had looked like together before everything got so complicated.
Her thumb slipped, and one of the photos opened to a separate page. Oh Lord: the comments.
He’s gay, ChelseaGirl wrote.
Nah, he’s into feet, LynnecityofSin replied.
My cousin says she saw him at the Blue Banana back in the day, said BrocktonBabe69.
Occasionally, someone would write, They are very much in love! And then the commenters would go into a frenzy. Trust me, I know chemistry, and these two don’t have it. I mean, she’s a gorgeous girl, but he always looks like he’s stuck with his grandma when he’s with her.
She really wanted to tell them. It wasn’t anything risqué or depraved: Tom simply liked money more than sex.
Katie laughed. How she wished she could tell them. She really wanted to tell them. It wasn’t anything risqué or depraved: Tom simply liked money more than sex.
She’d tried to explain it once to Felicity, a woman she’d gotten close with at 5:00 A.M. Spin class. Katie always took the bike at the front of the room, right in front of the instructor. The class was small—just six bikes—and everyone knew Katie’s spot.
But one morning Katie walked in to see another girl on her bike. She was small, maybe 5’2”—tops—and wiry. Her ringlets curled perfectly around her face, and her skin was a deep tan, not the kind that came from a bed or a bottle but one that had clearly come from the actual sun.
When Katie walked in, the instructor and the other women in the class watched with nervous amusement. Katie gamely walked around the bike, looked Felicity in the eye, and smiled, then settled onto a neighboring bike. You could smell the pH of the sweat in the room change. But Felicity just smiled broadly and held out her hand. “Katie Mahoney,” she’d said. “I’m Felicity Bonas.” Her handshake was strong and firm and almost made Katie yelp in pain.
She hadn’t been able to pin Felicity down—was she brazenly stupid or really that secure in herself that she wasn’t intimidated by Katie? It had been a kind of game, making friends with her, trying to figure it out. Felicity was not from Boston, that was clear. She had grown up in California, “just a beachy hippie kid. Like, I lived at the beach. Like, my mom loved crystals and green juice and now all of a sudden they’re a thing? But that’s just how I was raised, you know, with deliberate consciousness and compassion and stuff, so it’s in my blood. It comes naturally to me.”
Her husband was a biotech investor; he’d moved them to the city to open a lab somewhere out on Route 128. But the way Felicity said it was: “He just wanted to come home. He went to college here, you know?” Ah. That was it. The euphemism for Harvard. Apparently, Felicity wasn’t so spiritually enlightened that she was above a name drop.
Katie made her eyes soft. “Oh, a lot of us went to college here,” she replied. It was clear what Felicity wanted out of her: It wouldn’t hurt for her husband to make friends with Tom. This way the governor’s office could help him secure a sweetheart deal for his lab.
First, Katie and Felicity went out for drinks, “just us girls.” After two French 75s, Felicity was rhapsodizing about her husband. She said, blurrily, “He’s my best friend. Like, the love of my life. Like, you know? I know that’s lame. It’s lame! I’m lame,” she screeched, her sugary breath in Katie’s face. “But I love him. And his dick. My God, his dick.”
She was one of those drunk girls.
By then, Katie was tipsy too. She took a swallow from her glass and said, “Tom loves money.” She felt an overwhelming desire to wipe that self-satisfied grin off Felicity’s face.
“Well, who doesn’t?”
“No, I mean, money is his true love. Give him a woman or a feed to the stock exchange; he’d rather watch the stock exchange. Even if that woman is me.”
“Seriously, that’s how he’s built. Powered by money.” Katie’s voice was cool and cavalier. She’d kept her eyes to the right, as if she were tossing off an aside while looking for someone more important to talk to. It was a tactic she’d learned from her mother, intimidation as a way to control a conversation. The problem was, it worked only on people who knew their place, who understood the concept of places.
But Felicity wasn’t like that. She patted Katie’s hand. “Oh, honey. Oh, my love. Is that true?”
Katie pulled her hand back. “It’s not the end of the world,” she said. She’d intended this to come out in the same crisp tone she’d used for her revelation about Tom and money, but by this point the gin had worked its magic. Her voice sounded hoarse and broken. Even to her.
Felicity put her hand to her mouth, and her eyes watered. Katie wanted to bolt, and it took everything in her power not to grab her bag, toss her French 75 in Felicity’s face, and disappear. Instead she sat and tried her best to keep her face neutral as Felicity, increasingly agitated, talked about what a fool her husband was to not love her. “I mean, look at you! You’re a goddess! You’re, like, some kind of old-school movie star! Ava Gardner or some shit. You go home and you say, ‘Tom, you have a goddess with you, and all you care about is your wallet?’”
Katie kept it together, cool and civil. By the end of the night, her comparative sobriety had unnerved Felicity, who had downed a few more French 75s while Katie sipped sparkling water. In her heated, drunken way, Felicity asked, “Did I do something wrong? Are you mad?”
“No, sweetheart.” Katie called the car to take her home.
A goddess. That’s what Felicity had called her.
“Fun night?” Sully asked companionably, in the quiet of the car.
In the library Katie pulled her legs up to her chest and tucked her chin in. This is how she cut herself off from the world. When she was in school, she’d sneaked out of this very library to go to Middle East, and Manray. She was in love with the wildest boy in her class, the son of an MIT professor. He’d called her a goddess too.
His name was Rolo, and he spent most of his time in the Pit, a sunken concrete park around the Harvard T entrance. She’d meet him there after school, where he sold prep-school sweatshirts, stolen graphing calculators, and crushed-up aspirin he pretended was coke. His customers were tourists and gutter punks.
Inspired by her love for Rolo, Katie dyed strands of her hair a deep blue, so that they framed her face, and got a third piercing in her ear. Once, Rolo convinced her she should canvass for the Green Party in the presidential primary, and she reluctantly agreed.
Someone snapped a picture. There was Katie, illuminated by the flash in the graying basement of a Roxbury community center, her hair as messy as she’d ever allowed it, blank-faced with shock, looking into the camera, and Rolo, sloppy-stoner smile wide, holding up a campaign poster right by her face. Big Jim, who was just starting to think about running for governor, had to spend a lot of money to make sure it was never published. “The way I see it, missy,” he said to her as she sat across from him in his office, hands folded, head bent, “you’ve got two choices. You can keep playing hippie and accept the bank account that comes with it. Or you can be the girl we raised you to be and quit looking for love in a sewer. Second choice comes with the allowance you’ve been accustomed to, in case it wasn’t clear.”
So she’d given up Rolo. For money too, a choice that Tom would have approved of. It was funny. It had only hurt a little at the time. But as the years went by, she felt the shame more. Rolo was one of the only people ever to tell Katie she was interesting. “I could talk to you for hours,” he’d said, and he’d meant it.
Katie knew it was ridiculous to hang on to the sentiments of a high school boyfriend when you were in your late thirties with small children, but she did.
“Rolo was your folly,” her mother said. Her siblings were less kind. They’d teased her relentlessly—until she learned to tease herself too. During the campaign, she’d even dug up a picture of herself from the Rolo days and posted it on Instagram: “#TBT. Who misses the Cranberries as much as I do? LOL.”
After Rolo, there was a string of boys whom her father liked a little too much and who liked her father to a degree that made her ill. Boys who angled for invitations to the Mahoney homestead and boys who casually dropped that they too were “interested in changing the world one day.” Boys who said, “Your dad is such a badass.”
Tom wasn’t any different. They’d met in at a bar, Daisy Buchanan’s (for the wedding announcement, they’d said the introduction had happened “through friends”). That night, there had been a big crush of recent graduates home from school. It was one of those unbearably muggy spring nights in Boston: all the bricks blushing in the sunset on Newbury Street, the kind of night where you felt like you might fall in love. Katie had stepped out of the bar for a smoke—she’d still smoked back then—when Tom had moved in beside her.
He was only maybe an inch or two taller than she was, but he made up for his lack of height with his perfectly symmetrical face—long, lean nose; brown eyes; and a hard, sharp jawline. He’d let his hair grow a little then, so that boyish curls brushed over the top of his forehead. It was also clear he worked out, not like the other boys in the bar, already getting pudgy after epic college drinking careers. The thing that charmed her were the freckles, faint but insistent, that played across his nose—the only part of his appearance that seemed outside of his rigid control.
“You shouldn’t do that,” he’d said.
“Wrinkles.” He’d kept his face completely straight. She knew what he was doing.
“Is this a pull-the-girl’s-ponytails-to-get-her-to-like-you kind of thing? I should warn you, I don’t respond to that. My dad actually loves me.”
Tom laughed. “I’m well aware.”
It seemed fated—the son of a builder and the daughter of a real-estate magnate. Right from the start, their families were invested in the union.
Almost immediately afterward, she’d realized who Tom was: the son of Donal Brown, who owned one of the biggest contracting firms in Boston. It seemed fated—the son of a builder and the daughter of a real-estate magnate. Right from the start, their families were invested in the union. Rosemary beamed: “He’s such an appropriate choice.”
Their first date had been at the Cambridge Boat Club. He’d taken her sailing. They’d worked well together on the boat—surprisingly natural, although they’d both had the good sense not to say it out loud. Their first time had been decidedly respectful. If not passionate, at least decent. She didn’t know Tom well enough to expect otherwise.
The first time he talked business with her father was the first time Katie really saw him come alive—eyes sparkling, hands gesturing, sharp wit on full display.
“I do believe you love my father more than me,” she said often in their marriage. It was one of those things that she’d started as a sort of joke but had become a real lament. Too many dinners eaten alone while Tom stayed late with her father at the office. Too many parties spent making small talk with her mother’s dull friends while Tom backslapped with Big Jim. Hell, she’d joined the campaign as much for her own ambitions as to prove to Tom and her father that she was as interesting as whatever bond happened between the two of them. On her wedding day Big Jim had said, “You did good, Katie. You picked someone like yourself.” But had she? She’d thought she and Tom were the same. Money over love, easy. It was to her great surprise, 10 years into their marriage, that the answer to that question was no longer clear.
“I love you and your father both the same,” Tom always said back, never letting her know if he was joking or not.
Well, Katie thought, looking down at her phone. Now she knew.
Kaitlyn Greenidge is the author of the novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman.
Special thanks to @kaileeeemarie @oliviamomme @rosibeau and @punkyneu for suggesting the French 75 detail.
Dia’s the Ringmaster of This Circus
The federal prosecutor has second thoughts as she closes in on the Mahoney family.
By Caroline Kepnes
PHOTO: NAJEEBAH AL-GHADBAN
Dia wasn’t surprised when her phone buzzed with a text from her best friend, Njeri: I saw the news…
By then, everyone in Boston had seen the news. Fourteen members of MS-13 had been arrested in Chelsea, and there was her colleague Whittier on every channel. We seized 30 pounds of heroin, over $300,000 in cash, and we have 16 assault rifles now in our possession. Though I can’t say any more at this juncture, we expect to add first-degree murder charges. This is a win for our city, our future.
Whittier craved the flashbulbs. How many times had he forwarded Dia that Seth Meyers Boston crime movie parody? You gotta see this, D. Wife says he and I could be twins. And of course, MS-13 was an ideal opponent. His white teeth sparkled, “Our goal is to stop that cancer that is MS-13 before it metastasizes.” It seemed like the man’s stockpile of metaphors was akin to his budget for dental veneers—infinite.
Dia leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eyes. It was nearly 6:00 P.M., and she’d been in here for close to 12 hours, bouncing between her own investigation against the Mahoney administration and the news about Whittier. She closed the window on her browser. Enough.
Her office phone rang.
“This is Dia,” she said, longing for the modern wonders of technology, caller ID.
It was her boss Henry. “Don’t worry,” he said. “In a couple days, this little shit’ll be yesterday’s news. That’ll be you up there.”
She sighed. “Great. Can I send a proxy?”
Henry chuckled. “’Fraid not, kiddo. What I can tell you is that our circus will definitely be a helluva a lot more exciting than this one.”
After the call, Dia leaned back in her chair and felt queasy. Even if he wouldn’t admit it, Henry knew as well as she did: Big Jim wasn’t MS-13. What would happen next wouldn’t be a circus; it would be more like a funeral. She thought of those T-shirts they started making when the Red Sox became the Yankees, when Tom Brady became our Lord Jesus Christ: Boston vs. Everybody.
Not everyone likes change, but people in Boston share a particular loathing for anything different, any shift in what they perceive as the natural order of things. Even the locals whose parents had victimized by decades of Big Jim’s slumlord shenanigans would lament his demise.
Whether you loved Big Jim or hated him, there would be townie pride in knowing the man, having watched his rise and fall and followed his family in the gossip columns. Slideshows of the Mahoneys in different stages of growth would crop up all over the place. You’d see Katie escorting Orla from school—That poor, beautiful woman, imagine them coming for your daughter like that. Big Jim would be referred to as a complicated figure, a family man. After all, he wasn’t Whitey Bulger. He wasn’t the Boston Strangler or—God forbid—Bill Buckner.
Maybe she was so hell-bent on taking down the Mahoneys because they were such a unit, so fortified by their own numbers.
There was power in being a part of a family unit. Dia remembered being a kid, watching Family Feud, counting the players on each team, realizing that hers would be so small: just her and her parents. They were only three. Maybe she was so hell-bent on taking down the Mahoneys because they were such a unit, so fortified by their own numbers. Also, if she was being honest, because it still hurt to think about freshman year, running into Katie before Thanksgiving break, both handing in papers before the deadline.
“Where do you guys go?” Katie had asked, that irritating innocence in her voice.
Dia was blunt. “Home.”
“So it’s just the three of you?”
What was the point of replying? Katie Mahoney would never understand a family like hers.
Instead, as Katie hoisted her Dooney & Bourke duffel over her shoulder, Dia asked, “Where do you go?” Even though she already knew. She’d seen the pictures in some magazine.
“Oh God,” Katie said, always maintaining a low buzz of friendliness even when it would have been more natural for them to coexist in silence. “We’ll be on the Cape. It’s a total madhouse.”
Dia pictured an asylum with padded walls even though she knew the house was more likely to have tasteful wallpaper and an entire wall dedicated to framed family pictures. “Wow, how many people will be there?”
“This year I think there are 26 of us,” Katie said. “You don’t even want to know how many turkeys we have to make.”
Later that week Dia was home. It was Thanksgiving, just she and her parents gathered around the kitchen table. She pushed her mashed potatoes around her plate, and her father eyed her. “Whatsa matter? We’re not good enough for you anymore?”
It was an impossible question to answer. No, their three-person family wasn’t good enough, wasn’t big enough, wasn’t white enough, wasn’t black enough. Then she took one look at her mother’s face and did a 180.
“It’s just…at school everyone has so much, you know? Cars and endless cash and fancy vacations full of family time and—”
Her father sighed. “That’s the road to hell, Dia. Comparing yourself to other people.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
Dia’s mother knew how to calm a storm. “That Katie comes from a different world,” she said. “Nobody says you have to be best friends.”
It would be wrong to discount Whittier’s success, so when she got the invitation to pour one out for the local hero, Dia headed down the hall. She obligingly lifted her glass along with everyone else.
Dia wondered what she would say when it was her turn to stand at the front of the room with the whole office clasping paper cups of cheap champagne. But wait. There wouldn’t be a pour for her. Instead, Whittier’s many admirers would be sequestered at their desks, whispering among themselves about her “witch hunt,” emailing editorials laden with phrases like “the complex nature of men in power.” Even the pictures of Big Jim with his lady friends would conjure sympathy. They’d blame the hidden first wife: I bet she told him she was on the Pill…. I bet she tried to take him for millions…. How do they even know Stephanie is really his daughter anyway?
Dia saw Whittier making his way across the room. She nodded to Henry for the OK, and she emptied her glass before that plaid cad could get to her.
As soon as she stepped out of the room, she texted Njeri at lighting speed: I’m free. And buzzed. Be at Harvard Gardens in 20?
The response came quickly: Done.
Now that her parents were gone, Njeri was the closest thing Dia had to family. She was sensitive to Dia’s aloneness in the world—no surprise, since she was a clinical psychologist.
“So I saw that guy on TV,” Njeri said, as soon as they settled at the bar in the glow of the Patriots game. “What a day, right?”
“You know his name is Whittier.”
Njeri shrugged. “All I know is he was in full Affleck mode.”
Dia was already more relaxed. “I’d say he’s more Wahlberg than Affleck. He wouldn’t even have a glass of champagne to celebrate. Said he wanted to be able to play with his kids when he got home. Please.”
Njeri grew serious. It was a stark reminder of their differences. Njeri was married, with two kids. Her husband was a pillar of the business community. If she were putting Big Jim behind bars, she’d be able to say she was doing it for her family.
“Dia, is everything OK? Dia hadn’t divulged any of the details of her case. Emotions, however, were another story. But Dia held her ground. “I’m fine,” she said. “What about you? How’s that new nanny working out?”
Njeri wasn’t going to give up that easily. “Dia,” she said. “I see what’s happening here. You work with Whittier, you see him up there preaching about good and evil, like that’s how it’s done. But that’s not you. Don’t let him get to you.”
If Dia stayed on the case, it would be Boston vs. Everybody. She would be Everybody. She would also be alone.
“And if your parents were here—”
“Which they’re not,” Dia said, signaling the waiter for a second drink.
“If they were,” Njeri said, “they would tell you what I’m gonna tell you. They would say you were happier six months ago, when you weren’t in that office day and night. You did right by them. It’s over. Take a break.”
The waiter arrived with Dia’s drink. None for Njeri, who must have waved him off.
“You ever notice how some people in this world don’t get caught even when they do get caught?” Dia said. She rubbed her forehead. “I think I’m just tired.”
Njeri’s shoulders dropped a little. “No,” Njeri said. “You’re sad. Grief isn’t all at once. There are waves. All you can do is ride the waves.” She leaned closer. “But Whittier’s big win doesn’t mean that you lost. Why don’t you come over this weekend? I have a birthday party where I’ll probably see Katie, ugh, but you know, after that I’ll need a drink.”
Dia realized she was getting what she wanted after all, her shot at Family Feud. As much as she loved Dia, Njeri wasn’t going to be there when she realized that Dia was on a mission to put Katie’s husband behind bars. Njeri ran in the same circles as Katie. Njeri had children to consider. If Dia stayed on the case, it would be Boston vs. Everybody. She would be Everybody. She would also be alone.
The next morning Dia’s head was clear. She’d always been this way, more focused with a slight hangover. Her foolproof hangover cure had helped too: She took vitamin B and plunged her feet in ice-cold water right after she woke up.
Sitting across from Tom in the interrogation room, Dia already had enough to convict him. He thought he was being tricky, moving money into a dummy corp, an LLC called Wychmere Selections. His lawyer dragged him in here first thing, and he was humbled, but there were still flashes of pride.
“You know I got the idea from my wife,” he said. “Wychmere, the scarves and the key chains, the jewelry. Truth be told, most businesses fail. Fashion and restaurants, especially.”
“But the start-up money,” he continued, sensing her impatience. “That was all Jim.”
“But it’s your signature on the forms,” Dia countered.
“Yes, it is,” he said. “But only on the forms you’ve seen. I forgot the others.”
Ah, so it was like that. “And you’re here to turn yourself in, then?” she asked.
He pulled at the tip of his aquiline nose. “That’s a gross oversimplification of facts,” Tom’s lawyer kept trying to shush his client, but Tom kept going, getting angrier as he went on. “This was the Jim show. See, he laughed at Katie’s ‘little business,’ as if she could just wake up one day and become Lilly Pulitzer. Do you know the story behind Lilly? Do you know she was friends with Jacqueline Bouvier? Down in Palm Beach, she started a juice stand for kicks. A rich woman with nothing to do but squeeze a few oranges and call it a lifestyle. Obviously, it exploded. But that’s the exception. Jim was shocked when Katie actually made money, for a little while.”
That’s the thing about privileged people. There’s delusion that comes with money. They mistakenly equate wealth with intelligence.
Dia pointed to the Wychmere file. “Ellen Palmer is listed as the president of Wychmere Selections.”
His cheeks flushed. “Ellen doesn’t know a thing,” he said. “She’s someone we just know.”
“Through Katie?” Dia asked, knowing what that meant, someone we just know.
He twiddled his thumbs like a child. “No,” he said. “Katie doesn’t know Ellen.”
“My client is here to cooperate,” Tom’s lawyer said. “We know that you have bigger fish to fry, and we’d like to help you out with that.” Dia wasn’t making any promises. Still, Tom outlined their “magic” tricks, using Wychmere Selections as a sieve for hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing consultants, shop rental deposits, prototypes that never materialized. That’s the thing about privileged people. There’s delusion that comes with money. They mistakenly equate wealth with intelligence. Deep down, Tom never thought he’d be caught. But then, Tom wasn’t a very good magician.
“We’ll resume shortly,” Dia said. And it was a rush, closing the door on him, locking it.
Tom’s lawyer wanted immunity for his client—what else is new?—in exchange for his testimony about Jim.
In her office, Dia thought back to that Thanksgiving in college, her inability to process her emotions about big families, big money. Even then, she’d sensed that a blanket of money and trust could only hold so many. You couldn’t love 26 people equally. Marriage is a squeeze. Would Katie blame her husband or her father?
She watched Tom on the security feed. He paced in the interrogation room, running his hands through his hair, pulling at his pink button-down, no doubt selected for him by Katie. Katie, so often lauded for her impeccable taste in fashion, had terrible taste in men.
Special thanks to Instagram user @angelabewicknutrition for the hangover cure detail.
Big Jim’s Game
Who will win, the father, or the son-in-law? Depends on who plays dirtiest.
By Camille Perri
PHOTO: Najeebah Al-Ghadban
Big Jim was enjoying his dinner alone at his desk when Tom stepped in the door.
“You look like hell,” Jim said.
Tom sad-sacked across the room, his pale pink button-down damp at the armpits, his tie yanked loose around his neck. “Do you know how many hours they kept me in that interrogation room?”
“You must be starving.” Jim held up what was left of his KFC drumstick. “Chicken?”
Tom shook his head, dropped into the chair across from Jim’s desk. “It’s real this time,” he said. “They have us.”
No, Jim thought. They have you.
“I said as little as I could,” Tom said. “I tried to follow the script, but…”
“I know everything. I already talked to the lawyer.” Jim stared into Tom’s too symmetrical, freakishly boyish face, those damn freckles across his pointy little nose.
“There will be no immunity deal from this prosecutor,” Jim said louder than he’d intended. He took a breath and forced himself to continue in a calmer voice. “No immunity deal. We knew that, we discussed that. I told you what my guys on the inside said about this Dia Morgan, whoever she is. For whatever reason this is personal for her for. She’s out for blood, yours as much as mine.”
Jim was pleased with himself for remaining cool and composed when he’d much rather wrap his thick hands around the boy’s skinny neck and squeeze him back into submission. Tom had not in fact said as little as he could. He had not followed the script. He came undone in that interrogation room and tried to throw Jim under the bus. If not for the fact that Tom’s lawyer was on Jim’s payroll, the Feds might be in Jim’s office right now.
Tom sat rigid in his chair, even in his current state of exhaustion. How did the boy manage to be so stiff and yet so floppy all at once? He was so clearly inferior to Jim’s Katie. Though in fairness, Katie did set a high bar. Unlike snot-nosed Jim Junior, or knuckleheaded Patrick, or inconsequential Mary. Rose was a loyal wife—Jim loved her for that, and she was a real looker in her younger days, but let’s be honest she was never the brightest bulb on the porch. Katie alone was perfect.
Jim could be hard on Katie, tough on her, and it only made her stronger. He had tested her countless times, since she was just a little doll in pigtails, and she always came through for him. The older Katie got, the more perceptive she became, until she could intuit exactly what Jim needed from her in any situation. It had been this way between Jim and his own father, too, but Katie succeeded at making Jim proud in ways Jim never could with George.
Hell, Katie may have actually been smarter than Jim. But even when they disagreed Katie wouldn’t dare contradict him in public. She understood family and fealty like no one else.
“I did my best,” Tom said. “But this prosecutor already knows everything. What we did with Katie’s store, how we laundered the money. She’s not going to stop until someone, maybe both of us, are behind bars.”
Jim pushed his tray of chicken bones and cold potato wedges aside. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out the deck of cards he kept for instances such as this. “Let’s play.”
“Not now, Jim. We have to talk about what’s going to happen next.”
“Tommy boy, you need to relax.” Jim divided up the deck, urged a neat stack toward Tom.
This was Jim’s game. He first learned it from some old Wop at a Dorchester bar called the Golden Horseshoe while campaigning for mayor in the 80s. The game had an Italian name Jim couldn’t remember and a complicated scoring method that took all the real fun out of it — so over time, Jim simplified it, dismissed the rules he didn’t like, but kept the part he loved best, which was that the game was won by throwing an Ace at the perfect time.
When Jim had showed this better, more populist version of the card game to his father, which he took to calling Card-on, wouldn’t you know old George, cunning bastard that he was, quickly figured out—just as Jim had when playing the Italian—the obvious way to cheat. By the second round Jim noticed George palming his Aces, using magic-trick style sleight of hand to keep and hold his winning cards till just the right moment. As every good Irish son worth his salt would do, Jim let his father cheat and win every time till the day he died.
“Go on now,” Jim said.
Tom exhaled a defeated breath, ran his bony fingers through his wispy hair, then reluctantly threw down a card.
The first time Katie brought Tom home to meet Jim, Jim made the boy play—somewhat against his will, like now. Katie kept an encouraging hand on Tom’s back while Jim explained the simple rules. “I throw a card, you throw a card. We’re flipping for matches. If you throw a match you take those two cards. No match, the cards accumulate in a pile. Only an Ace takes the whole pile.”
A delicate flush had colored Tom’s anemic baby face. He seemed confused, like someone had told a joke he wasn’t sure was a joke. “So it’s just a game of chance,” he said.
“No,” Katie corrected him, with her flawless blend of gentility and forcefulness. “It’s a game of skill.”
Tom capitulated that night — they played. But when Jim threw down his game-winning Ace, Tom squinted his beady little eyes. The boy was meek, but he wasn’t stupid. He opened his thin-lipped mouth to protest, but hadn’t had the chance to squeak out the first sound of accusation before Katie silenced him with one pointed look.
Jim’s Katie, his shark.
She smiled brightly for her father and said to Tom, “Daddy always wins.”
Tom adjusted his expression then, to complement Katie’s angelic obedience. This was the moment Jim knew for sure that Katie had finally chosen the right man. Tom was tamable, trainable. He could be trusted to yield to Katie’s authority.
Over the years, Jim was proven correct. Tom stayed in line and propped Katie up as she propped up Jim. This was the dynamic he could always count on—that he was counting on now.
But what if he’d underestimated the boy?
“We really need to talk about the plan,” Tom said now, irately flipping cards onto Jim’s desk. His usual docility had been replaced by a smoldering defiance that was making Jim nervous.
“I think we need to reevaluate,” Tom continued. “Get Katie over here and go over all this with her, make sure we can keep her out of it.”
“Don’t you worry about Katie,” Jim said. As if Tom knew the first thing about how to protect his daughter. As if she, with her brilliant mind and iron will, needed him to.
Of course it would all come down to Katie. Tom must see that. How polite, universally admired, impeccably bred Katie—whose testimony would be verbal gold—would decide everything.
“This is no time to fall apart on me, Tommy.” Jim kept his eyes on his cards. “You knew from the beginning that we all had a role to play. You knew what you were signing on for when I made you my top advisor.”
“You mean advisors,” Tom said. “Katie and me.”
Jim didn’t appreciate the aggression in Tom’s voice just then. He raised his eyes to stare the boy down. “Katie is an informal advisor. You’re the only one with the official title, my friend. Are you forgetting how this all started, with Wychmere? How you suddenly came alive with a million ideas of how to move the money around, how to sidestep every rule and regulation. That was all you. I’d never seen you so lit up.”
Of course it would all come down to Katie. Tom must see that. How polite, universally admired, impeccably bred Katie—whose testimony would be verbal gold—would decide everything.
“I did all of that for you,” Tom shot back. He rose out of his seat and lunged forward.
Jim would not flinch. “No.” He shook his head. “You did it because all you could see was green.”
“You know what? I’m done with this.” Tom chucked all of his cards down onto Jim’s desk. “I’m tired of always letting you win.”
Jim leaned back in his big, throne-like chair, procured his Ace seemingly from thin air, and flicked it forward into Tom’s flaccid face.
Tom remained still, closed his eyes, and reopened them. “I can’t go to prison, Jim. I won’t.”
“You’re talking now like an innocent man.” Jim crossed his arms over his chest. “And you’re not.”
“Neither are you,” Tom said.
Jim forbid himself from showing an ounce of fear, even as his heart raced.
“Maybe you’re right.” Jim reached for the receiver of his desk phone. “Maybe it is time we brought Katie in here.”
Tom fumbled for his cell.
They both started dialing Katie would never side with Tom, would she? If Tom forced her to choose, if he refused to roll over?
Jim’s Katie, his shark. Did she have it in her to betray him?
No. No way. The Mahoneys were a clan, a dynasty. And Katie was a Mahoney, through and through. She worshipped Jim just as Jim had worshipped his own father, with unshakable devotion and a steely determination to please. Katie only saw the best in Jim, always.
“Katie’s my wife.” Tom brought his phone up to his ear.
Jim listened for a ring. “She was my daughter first.”
Camille Perri’s new novel, When Katie Met Cassidy, is available for preorder now.