The Writers Voice
Favourite Literary Website
The Devil You Know
From The Westlake Village Collection.
The Mets were
in the middle of a late afternoon ball game -- one
run ahead, and still three games out of first
place. The next inning or two would be critical --
the pennant race was in the balance. With my hand
wrapped in a dish towel, I was about to pull a TV
dinner out of the microwave, and I was not in the
mood for distractions.
Out in the street there was the sound of canned
marching music and an arrogant knocking at my front
door -- Damn!
People never use their front doors in Westlake
Village, we are back door people. Our back doors
lead directly to our pantries and our kitchens ....
that's where the action is. Front doors are knocked
on by wandering evangelists with patronizing
smiles, Girl Scouts with order pads -- people you
really don't want to see. The knocker at my door
was a man in a blue serge suit. He wore a blazingly
white shirt with a bright red tie on which were
embroidered small white elephants. He was obviously
a point man for Frank Vendetta. He didn't look at
me, he looked over my shoulder and he was very
disappointed to see no one behind me.
"Come out and meet Frank Vendetta, your candidate
for Town Supervisor!" With a month to go before
election day, Frank's tenacious grip on the
Supervisor's office was loosening and he was
running scared. In the fading light of this early
autumn day, Frank was on foot, out there in the
middle of the street, walking the boulevard like a
"I'm busy at the moment," I replied. "It's a pity
he had to show up at supper time." Ignoring my lack
of enthusiasm, the man in the blue serge suit
handed me a sheaf of slippery brochures celebrating
the accomplishments of Frank Vendetta, and Frank,
himself, waved at me from the middle of the road.
He was trailed by a black sedan with "Official"
license plates driven by a uniformed chauffeur.
I am not excessively observant, but I could see
Frank was not used to walking. His upper torso
seemed to be working its way down into his pelvis,
and his hips pendulated like those of a
hippopotamus. In spite of the warm late afternoon
light, his complexion was liverish -- the face of a
boozer. His hair, it seemed, had been painted on
his head with black enamel, and he smiled at me
from ear to ear through a mouthful of Chiclet-like
teeth. As he walked, his feet, in patent leather
shoes, plodded paddle-like, pointing northwest and
What was the provocation that forced this
politician to humble himself in this manner? Was
the job of Town Supervisor so important to him that
he would humiliate himself in the humble streets of
The Morgan's dog next door barked at him
tentatively, but kept a safe distance. Barney has
seen many strange people walking our street in his
twelve years, but this misshapen politician was new
to him. I had the impression that if Frank's door
knockers disappeared, and if the black sedan behind
him was to turn around and drive off, he would have
no idea where he was.
It was the beginning of the off-year campaign for
the office of Town Supervisor. We have learned to
simplify things here in Westlake Village. Mixing
Presidential elections with those of Town
Supervisors can have confusing results, and it's
often difficult to predict who will ride in on the
other's coattails. One thing I was sure of; it
would be a time for decision down at the newsroom
of the Village "Guardian." Lucas Crosby, our
'publisher' is a devious man, and he tends to go
with the flow. Our 'paper' is 85 percent
advertising, and 'hits,' (although 'finds its way'
accurate) the street every two weeks. It is the
people's only source of inside information, and it
is supported entirely by the status quo. It is a
mortal blow to us if a local retailer pulls an ad.
I am the solitary newsman.
the make-out page and answers the phone. For those
of you not familiar with such high-tech
newspaper terms as "make-out page," a peek over
Stacey's shoulder would reveal such truncated prose
as, "SWCM with great build seeks hugs and kisses
from similar type SWCF."
Doesn't sound like much of a newspaper, does it? To
stimulate interest therefore, we have added a
"Golden Years" page for the elderly (who seem to
hang on like sucker fish), high school sports
results -- a dining out page called "High On the
Hog," and "Police Blotter," which reveals the most
interesting break-ins of the past two weeks. What
news we have is limited to the issues that concern
the NIMBY-minded Westlake Villager. We are not
interested in what happens elsewhere, so long as it
doesn't happen to us.
Lucas was endorsing checks again, and as he would
sign one he would cross off a name in his ledger.
This quaint procedure, Crachitt-like in its numbing
simplicity, gives Lucas more joy than anything I
can think of.
"Guess who knocked at my door yesterday, Lucas."
He looked at me as though from a great distance.
"Who knocked on your what?"
"My door, my door! Who knocked at my door?"
"How do I know? Who cares anyway?" He was mumbling
to himself, "Shangri-la Restaurant,
two-fifty. Habib's Dry Cleaning, one-seventy-five."
"Frank Vendetta, that's who!"
He sat up straight. "Oh! Why didn't you say so ....
that's more like it." His eyes narrowed. "What do
you and Frank Vendetta have goin' anyway?"
"I don't have to tell you that he's running against
Tom Sweeny for Town Supervisor, do I?"
"That friggin' liberal! We sure don't want none of
them in the supervisor's office."
"I'm thinking of voting for him."
He pushed his eyeshade up, shook his head slowly
from side to side, and looked at me as a doctor
might look at a terminally ill patient. "You can't
be serious," he said.
"Lucas, the sooner you know how the people in this
town feel about Frank Vendetta, the better
off you'll be. Remember when the streets didn't get
plowed after the last snowstorm? Remember that
traffic light at the school he promised us? How
about the fact that we're 119 million dollars in
debt, huh? How about that, Lucas?" I rarely get
that voluble with Lucas, but local elections bring
out the wind bag in me.
Lucas closed his ledger book with a sigh. "You're
really worked up over this ain't you? You're too
old to get involved in politics. Just remember
this".... He turned to Stacey, who was filing her
nails and holding the phone in the crook of her
shoulder. " .... and you too, Stacey -- this here
paper is solid behind whoever's got the ball.
Possession is ten-tenths -- y'know what I mean?"
"So if Tom Sweeny was sitting in Vendetta's seat,
you'd be for him, right?"
"Bet yer ass," he growled.
In my hey-day, the press was the people's advocate.
We were a not-so-gentle reminder to those in
power that they must answer to the folks who
elected them. We tripped them up in lies and broken
promises, looked in their closets, and even pawed
through their garbage cans if we had to. We were
the politician's bete noire; we did our best to
keep them honest, even though the methods we used
were often more squalid than theirs.
Lucas ended the discussion with the the terse, "Get
this straight, both of you. We ain't printin'
nothin' derogatorious about Frank Vendetta. We take
his advertising and nobody else's. That's as far as
we go -- period, see? Sweeny can suck wind." It
didn't sound like a ringing endorsement to me,
rather he appeared to have one foot in each of the
bandwagons, with the bulk of his weight tending to
favor the pushcart of Frank Vendetta.
I had accumulated a lot of dirt on Frank Vendetta
and I nursed it in the corner of my mind, like an
ape with a apple in the side of his jaw. I recalled
trying to reach him for an interview during that
last snowstorm. The side streets were untouched and
if it hadn't been for Windy Mullins and his ancient
snow plow, grades K-8 would have been canceled for
a week. Frank, his wife, and their seven children
were in Aruba -- his deputy was snowed in and could
not get to the office.
Then there was the garbage contract. Only Harris
Carting bid for the town's garbage collection
contract. Harris, in turn, would not bid for
contracts in any other town. How about that? Why
should Harris Carting be so concerned with the
litter we leave at our curbs -- and care nothing
for the litter of others? The subject was on the
agenda of a town meeting last spring, but after
Frank and his family got back from Aruba, other,
more important issues, took precedence.
The word going around the Village was that Tom
Sweeny was closing fast. He had an honest, open
face -- an Irish face -- a beer drinker's face. He
smiled a careful smile, optimistic and hopeful, but
not euphoric. His face was a healthier pink than
Frank Vendetta's liverish Nixon look, Tom looked as
though he never used a razor in his life. But, as
if to strike a note of dissonance, his wife
displayed a wild, almost maniacal grin. She stared
out of the group portrait that had been stapled to
every telephone pole along Westwood Avenue like a
hunted woman. Her face appeared frozen in rictus,
as though she had held the grin too long. The
placards proclaimed "Tom Sweeny -- Honesty in
Government." Tom was a lawyer with a workplace
injury practice on Atlantic Avenue, an advocate and
a champion of worker's rights.
On the whole it looked good. Every chance I got, I
spread the Gospel According to Tom Sweeny. Lucas
was disgusted with me, but so long as I kept my
opinions out of the Guardian, there wasn't much he
could do. True, there was more hemming and hawing
from Tom at rallies and town meetings than I liked,
and Mrs. Sweeny's smile remained cast in stone. He
did hint at a new traffic light at the school,
however, and perhaps a sizable downgrading of our
indebtedness to the township. The gist of his
campaign, as articulated by his manager was, "You
want good gummint? Put'cha trust in Tom!"
On election day I cast my vote at 6:01 a.m., that's
about as early as its possible to be, the equipment
was barely up and running. Then I kept my ear to
the ground the rest of the day. Around nine I asked
Stacey if she had voted.
"No!" She said harshly, and looked at me as if she
didn't want me to continue. It's not like her to be
short with me, we're usually a team of two in
opposition to Lucas.
"Sorry, I thought with so much at stake you'd be
.... " She cut me off again.
"I'd rather not, okay? I don't really give a damn
who's gonna be Town Supervisor." She bit her lip
and looked up at me. I was shocked to see tears in
I went back to my desk and started on next week's
Golden Years. Every once in a while I'd look over
at her. It wasn't just the election, it was
something else. Maybe she and Murray, the china
buyer, broke up again -- their stormy relationship
was, by my count, now in its third year. No, that
couldn't be it -- whenever something goes wrong
with Murray she's on the phone with her girl
friends all day.
Lunchtime came, and to my great surprise and
delight, Stacey came over and said she wanted to
have lunch with me. That hadn't happened since
Christmas a year ago. I offered to treat, but she
wanted to go Dutch -- "You're too old to be buyin'
"In that case, let's go to Max's -- we can sit in
the back and hold hands."
All through lunch she had this distracted look in
her eye -- as though there was something on her
mind and she couldn't quite put it in words. She
let me buy her a Chardonnay, or whatever passes for
Chardonnay at Max's. She got through half of it and
pushed her glass over to me.
"Here, you finish it -- wine gives me gas."
"What the hell's wrong with you, Stacey. Look, I'm
nobody. You can tell me anything. I'm not family,
I'm not Murray, I'm not even Lucas. I'm just an old
friend. I've seen a lot in my eighty years, little
girl. You can't tell me anything I haven't heard
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It's
about votin' -- well not really, it's about Mr.
Sweeny. There, I got that out. Mr. Sweeny -- Sweeny
-- Sweeny. It's been eight years, since I said that
I took a deep breath myself. "Why should it be so
hard to say Sweeny?"
"Promise me you'll never tell, okay? I mean, I
wanna hear you promise me."
"I promise you Stacey -- whatever it is, it'll
never leave this room."
"He has a son, Todd, you know?"
"Yes, I know. Blond kid about twelve I guess. I
always thought it was a kick in the ass to name a
kid Todd -- I mean if his last name is Sweeny."
"My girl friend Barbara, you know Barbara?"
"No, I don't. Don't hold back Stacey -- get on with
"I'll get it out -- just give me time, okay? Well,
Barbara, she used to baby sit for them when he was
little .... Todd, I mean. She couldn't do it this
one time, and she asked me if I would -- you know,
baby sit I mean. It was an easy gig. I mean, you
could sit Todd in front of the TV and he'd go into
a sort'a trance like and stay there 'til it was
time to stuff him in bed .... y'know?"
I could sense she was trying to hold back so I
primed her. ".... and then they came home, the
Sweeny's I mean."
"Yeah, that's right. They came home, and Mrs.
Sweeny says for Mr. Sweeny to drive me home and pay
me the eight dollars." She pulled her half empty
wine glass back over to her side of the table and
took a healthy sip of it. "Gee! This is tough --
but I come this far already."
"How old were you, fifteen?"
" About fourteen and a half -- but, promise me
again, Mr. "B," I never told Murray even."
"I promised you before, Stacey. It stays here in
"We get to my house. It's, I dunno -- 1:30 or so.
He shuts off the engine and turns out the lights.
I'm waiting for my money see .... he takes out his
wallet and he .... he unzips himself." She looked
away, swallowed hard and shuddered. "He says --
'how'd y'like to make an extra twenty five bucks,
Stacey?" She stood up and put her napkin on the
table. "There," she said. "That's all -- that's why
I didn't vote today."
We paid up, and I insisted on doing the tip. It was
early November, still warm, and we took our time
walking back to the Guardian. Stacey is a knock-out
blond and a pretty savvy piece of work, and I
couldn't see how an event like this, however
sordid, could still effect her so intensely. I'm
not very bright I guess.
"I was fourteen, Mr. "B." I couldn't tell anybody.
He told me not to tell anybody -- that nobody would
believe me -- and if I did, he'd .... "
"My God, he didn't threaten you, did he?"
"He said he'd see to it that I'd get a bad name in
the Village, and my parents would be ashamed of
me." She picked up the pace a bit. "Let's leave it
there, okay? Enough's enough. It took me a long
time to get over it, and you brought it all back
again with this Town Supervisor crap .... and don't
forget .... forget it!"
Lucas was all smiles when we got back. He looked at
us triumphantly -- "Where the hell have you two
been, we got a paper to run y'know. By the way, Mr.
know-it-all, my man Frank's sixty-five votes in the
lead with eighty-five percent counted -- and I
ain't even voted yet!"
I smiled back at him, then Stacey and I smiled at
each other. "Like I always say, Lucas; the devil
Critique this work
Click on the book to leave a comment about this work