VENGEANCE ON HIGH
"Do you see them?" Wally Morris asked, as she hurried beside her husband Nate. They were walking among hundreds of people, all headed in the same direction and it was almost impossible to see.
Nate looked around. "Down there. Louise is waving." He took Wally by the arm and steered her along.
When Wally and Nate arrived, summer dusk was just settling over a park filled with people awaiting Grosvenor?s yearly July Fourth spectacular. The warm, slightly moist atmosphere hung close, although the humidity was lower than it had been earlier in the afternoon. The air hummed with the sounds of bees, mosquitoes heading for a human feast, and people, thousands of them, speaking in scores of different languages. Many of the people wore clothing that matched their ethnicities, such as saris, dashikis, turbans, hijabs, and African head wraps. Everyone bubbled with anticipation.
The Morrises picked their way through a sea of blankets, folding lounge chairs, and running children until they found their place among several of their friends.
"I hope you're handling the heat better than we are," said Cameron Buxton, shaking Nate's hand. With his other hand he wiped his forehead.
"Your contractor still hasn't finished putting in the central air conditioning?" Wally asked Cameron's wife, Cyd.
Cyd shook her head. "It was bad planning to start it in April. The contractor kept running into concrete walls that no one knew were there. It's been a nightmare."
Wally commiserated for a moment, then she and Nate moved on to Marty and Leigh Fried. "How did you do at the show?" Nate asked Marty.
"Okay, I guess."
"I'd say it was more than okay," Wally said. She had really enjoyed Marty's first one-man show. "The photos were wonderful."
"He's being too modest," Leigh said. "The show was great. Many of the photographs sold, although it turns out someone," she nodded in Marty's direction, "wasn't ready to part with them."
"Can't you just print more?" Wally asked, hoping her ignorance wasn't showing.
"Of course he can," said Leigh. "But I bet he won't. He'll have moved into a whole new phase--the Africa phase. I'm sure he'll have plenty to work with after our trip."
"When do you leave?" Wally asked.
Marty beamed. "The limousine will be at the house at six tomorrow morning. We fly to London first, and then on to Africa."
"Have a great time, you two," said Wally. "I have to admit, I'm jealous." She worked her way down to the clear spot at the edge of the group of couples to sit next to her closest friend, Louise Fisch.
The group had been attending this event at BertenPark together for as long as most of them had lived in Grosvenor, New Jersey. But unlike in years past, when everyone was mellow from a long barbeque at the home of one of the group, full of children and noise, each couple had gone its own way for the day. As dutiful and loving grandparents, Wally and Nate had spent theirs with their daughter, Rachel, and son-in-law, Adam, and their granddaughter, Jody, at their house in Westchester, an hour away. Rachel was due to deliver her second child in four weeks and Wally?s excitement was mounting daily.
Louise put her long red hair into a clip and stuffed it under a baseball cap. "That will keep the mosquitoes off my head,? she said, adding a spritz of bug repellant. ?I can?t stand the little buggers."
"Give me a shot," Nate said, tilting his silvery head toward her. "I think Wally missed the top."
"I don't see how I could have not missed," said Wally, "since you wouldn't bend down.' As vertically challenged as Wally was, especially in relation to her over six-foot-tall husband, she didn't bother feeling guilty. She spread her blanket to sit facing the valley where the fireworks would be launched and pulled Nate down next to her.
Louise turned to her husband, Norman, with her insect repellent poised to squirt him. He shook his head, and tipped his Yankees cap. "I'm good, thanks anyway." Louise finished her preparations and put everything away in a large tote bag. Norman sighed with apparent relief and fell into conversation with Nate.
"How are the newlyweds?" Louise asked Wally.
Wally and Nate's second daughter, Debbie, had married Elliot Levine in June of the previous year. "I wouldn't call them newlyweds anymore," Wally reminded Louise. "They just couldn't fit in the actual honeymoon until now, since they wanted to go away for so long. And in answer to your question, we haven't heard a thing."
Louise swept a stray red hair off her neck, fanned herself and smiled. "They must be having a fabulous time."
Nate settled in beside Wally and looked over at Norman. "How are things coming along with the museum bid?"
"Good," Norman said. "We've got all our ducks in a row and everything has been filed. Gabe Ferry did a good job on the exhibit proposal, and the town engineers have certified that the designated house has no violations. The deadline is July 31st, and then I guess we'll know."
Norman was chairing a committee that had applied for a grant being offered to one of four towns along the Morris-Essex rail line. Each town had an old mansion that was a candidate for restoration to its original mid-nineteenth century condition. Only one would get the go ahead, which came with more than a houseful of period furnishings and artifacts.
"What are our chances?"
"I think they're okay. We've probably got a better chance than Chatham. Summit may have an edge because of the hotel, and maybe Madison too, but a little birdie told me."
"That would be me," Louise chimed in.
"Right," said her husband, "that little birdie told me that she has a client who is looking at another nearby mansion, a real fixer upper, to be kind, to convert into a bed and breakfast. That should satisfy Mrs. Hampton."
Dolores Hampton was the heir to a publishing fortune and well known in philanthropic circles for her generosity and eccentricity. Her desire to completely refurbish her own mansion was the impetus for the museum dedicated to remembering the heydays of the New York moguls who came to settle along the rail road line. That way she could donate all her old things and not feel guilty when she went shopping for new furniture, or so Wally had heard.
It came as no surprise to anyone that Dolores Hampton made it into a competition and had everyone dancing to her tune.
"I hope so," said Nate. "She's progressive and modern in wanting to redecorate her house and kind in offering to donate all her old things to a museum. She is also more than generous in helping to fix up the mansion where her collection will be housed, but from what I heard she is prim and proper when it comes to decorum. Any hint of scandal will sink a town's chances."
"What's happening over there?" Wally asked, looking at a particularly dense crowd on the far end of the park. It was much steeper in that section and used in the winter as a sledding hill until every speck of snow has been worn off the slope.
Louise jumped out of her chair and strained closer for a look. "I think there's a brawl." Police hurrying over to the point of the altercation confirmed what Louise had said. Wally could see that it was among the opposing groups carrying placards for and against building in the abandoned quarry up near the top of the mountain on which the town of Grosvenor was built. No one had paid any attention at all to the quarry, not for years after it was shut down. Now it was a hot-button issue, ever since a local entrepreneur-turned-housing-developer, Keith Hollis, purchased the land and made plans to clear it and fill it with condominiums and mini-mansions. Suddenly everyone, or at least so it seemed, had an opinion.
People opposed the building because they felt the influx of residents who would fill those housing units would overwhelm the schools and cause overcrowding. Others were against it because of traffic congestion. Gabriel Ferry, a college professor who lived high up on the hill overlooking the quarry, which was the premium real estate in town, had come out publicly on behalf of himself and his neighbors, worrying about their scenic views and quality of life. And all the groups gave loud voice to their opinions.
As the police led away whoever had been involved in the fist fight, the picketers regrouped. For a moment it looked as if another fight might erupt but the protesters soon dispersed. Norman breathed a sigh of relief. "That's just the kind of thing that could blow us out of the water for the museum."
Louise took him by the arm and told him not to worry.
Hundreds of people were still streaming into the park, carrying coolers, blankets, chairs, and babies. Little by little, as the sky darkened, teenaged vendors sold pliable light sticks, which children flocked to buy and turn into colorful, glowing necklaces, bracelets and head rings. In the growing dark, all one could see was floating halos.
Sitting and watching all the people of the town walk by was always a pleasant time for Wally. On an evening like this, with the whole town coming together to celebrate the nation's birth, the richness of the diverse community was in full view. In general, everyone got along, with the late exception of the quarry warriors. None of them got along because there all had different reasons for and against the building
Nate, for example, had stated emphatically and at length on many occasions that clearing out the abandoned quarry and filling it with hundreds of condominiums would not only destroy the ecology of the quarry, it would disturb the wetlands that had formed and which had become a beautiful place to watch wildlife. He believed it would make a lovely park and be a good addition to the county park that abutted the community. There were many people working with him to preserve the open space. Unfortunately, Hollis, the developer, was fighting just as hard to get his own way.
At a little after nine-thirty, people started gazing around because fireworks could be heard but not seen. Looking over Wally’s shoulder in the opposite direction from the valley at the bottom of the park, Louise pointed. "Up there."
"The country club," Wally said, referring to the tennis club one block up from Berten Park. Due to the steepness of the mountain, every block from east to west was significantly higher than the one before it. It was easy to see the rooftops of the houses midway down the street from the upper corner, at least until the street curved out of sight, as did most of the streets. "They are always a few minutes ahead of the town and---"
She broke off when she spotted Keith Hollis. He was a good looking man, wearing khaki pants, a striped polo shirt and dock-siders and he strode purposely along the sidewalk at the top of the park, his appearance and pace most unlike the more casually dressed, slowly sauntering crowd.
Hoping to keep Nate's attention diverted until Hollis was out of range, Wally squirmed around to make it more convincing that she was looking at the fireworks from the country club. "Oh, look at how pretty that one is."
"You don't have to twist yourself into a pretzel," Nate chided her. "I already saw Keith. I'm not going to confront him, if that's hat you think."
"I don't. You aren't the militant type. I just didn't want to remind you of the problems. We're here to have fun."
"Yes, you two," Louise chimed in. "And I think the fireworks are about to start."
Suddenly the night sky was filled with color, slowly at first and then with increasing intensity. For the next twenty or so minutes beautiful and varied fireworks kept the huge crowd on the hill happy. As the finale approached, more and more rockets were launched in quick succession. Then there was a lull, during which some people gathered their things to leave, turning away from the valley and the source of the fireworks, but savvy residents knew what was coming. A single blast was followed by an enormous red burst of color which turned a brilliant white, before changing to a gorgeous shade of blue. Slowly the blue dots fell, fading out as they descended. The sky returned to inky black, with the exception of the lights from airplanes going to and from nearby Newark Liberty airport.
"Do you want to come up to our house for some ice cream?" Wally asked Louise and Norman as the mass exodus started.
Norman looked as if he was about to accept the invitation but his wife shook her head. "I have an early client tomorrow," Louise said. "And don't you have to get up early for school?"
"We call it camp in the summer," Wally told her, referring to the nursery school where she worked. "But no, I don't. We're having a four-day weekend."
They had arrived at Louise's sports car which she had parked under one of Grosvenor?s signature gas lights. "Then catch some extra winks on my behalf. I'll see you soon. Goodnight you two," Louise added, giving Nate and Wally each a peck on the cheek. "Eat some ice cream for me."
The music for a news bulletin suddenly came onto Wally's television at eleven-fifteen, a.m., breaking into a talk show mid-sentence. Wally had no time to wonder how that sentence finished because the next words of the newscaster made the talk show subject disappear completely from her mind.
"We interrupt this program," said the man with the perfect teeth, hair, and suit, whom Wally did not recognize. He was probably a substitute due to the holiday weekend. His next words confirmed he was new to the area. "We are here this morning to tell you that in Grosvenor," which he pronounced the English way, "Grove-ner," instead of as "Gross Venner," as the town was called, "New Jersey. Police are investigating the suspicious death of a man. We have B. J. Waters on the scene." The picture switched to an outdoor scene, and B. J. Waters could be seen standing in front of a police crime scene tape which appeared to be roping off a lot of weeds. Rescue vehicles filled the background, as well as police cars and news vans. The words "Live in Grosvenor" filled the upper left corner of the screen.
"Police this morning are reporting that the body of a man was found at the base of a local quarry," said B. J. "A group of budding television journalists from a summer high school program, who were documenting what would be lost if a housing development was built here, made the grisly discovery at about ten this morning." "Earlier" replaced "Live" and a covered body was seen being taken out of the quarry bottom and brought to a van. While the tape ran, B. J.'s voice could be heard.
"This quarry is a center of contention in the town and while police haven't confirmed it, foul play may have been involved in this death. Names aren't being released at this time, pending notification of the next of kin, but an eye-witness said the body was that of Keith Hollis, the would-be developer of the quarry. Back to you in the studio."
"Thanks, B. J." He looked into the camera. "We'll be following this story closely and we?ll have more at noon, five, six, and eleven o'clock."
Wally had chills. It was unbelievable. She picked up the phone to call Nate.