Editor's Note: This is the second installment of the novel, The Battle for Nashville, which we're serializing every week on our Web site as part of Late Edition.
Joanie Moseley walked into the garage, where a ping-pong table was collapsing under the weight of country hams, sweet rolls, biscuits, her mother-in-law's chocolate chip cookies, airline-sized Jack Daniel's bottles, cheese straws, cheese balls, quail eggs, pork sausage from Dickson County, smoked trout from Bucksnort and other indigenous food products that would soon be arranged in a basket, tied with red and green bows and transformed into a $24.99 product known as "Joanie's Tennessee Treat." Four years ago, when Joanie's youngest son had entered kindergarten, she'd roamed the hallways of her home asking what she was going to do with her life. When her husband announced that he had no idea what to do for client Christmas gifts that year, she became inspired.
"Trigg, I saw the cutest straw baskets the other day at Filmore AntiquesI think they're from India somewhereand they weren't any more than two dollars apiece. Why don't you let me fill them up with ham biscuits and some other goodies and I'll wrap them up nicely and that'll take care of it for you?"
Trigg's clients had never been so pleased. The next year she decided to see if she could do the same for other businesses, and sales had gone through the roof. This Christmas, she was filling 8,000 straw baskets, which had arrived the day before. UPS delivered them from a village outside Kashmir.
"Maria, go get me the glue gun por favor," she said, wiping the palms of her hands on a white apron that covered a sharp, black pantsuit. "And did you call that engineering firm downtown about dropping off their gifts this afternoon?"
"But Meez Sanderz," Maria said, "dey eez no way we will finish! Too many box! Not enough time!"
Joanie cracked a smile, as if to express the vital need she had for Maria to keep her tethered to a schedule and help her manage her time. "OK, fine, just let them know we'll have everything done by tomorrow."
Such a Godsend Maria had been! At the Interfaith Community Center on Church Street, an old, downtown brick storefront designed to serve as an intake center for the city's destitute and homeless, Maria had wandered in one day, just off a Greyhound bus from Nuevo Laredo. With only $25 to her name, she was trying to locate a brother who was working in construction, in a town somewhere in Middle Tennessee. Joanie had been at the desk that day, volunteering as the assigned representative from St. Anthony's Episcopal Church. Volunteers had been given a handout listing all the local, state and federal agencies and nonprofit groups that were supposed to handle every imaginable human problem that walked through the doors. But nowhere did Joanie see a government agency to handle someone like Maria, who simply had no way of finding her brother. Rather than send her off into the confusing maze of social services agencies, Joanie instead took the woman home. It was so Joanie.
When Trigg had come home later that day and caught a glimpse of Maria cleaning his swimming pool, he hadn't asked his wife about this Hispanic woman with Indian features and dirty tennis shoes and hair tucked under a straw hat, who was skimming a net across the top of his chlorinated water to remove the fallen crepe myrtle petals. Frankly, his first thought was about the crepe myrtle petals. He hated stuff floating in his pool; the trees would have to come down. No sooner had he thought of calling the tree service than he wondered why someone new was cleaning his pool. This, despite the fact that he had hired Sun Shined Swim Service to scrub the thing twice a week only a month earlier. As the questions popped in his mind, he stewed. The more he thought about his pool, and the woman cleaning it, the more he began to realize where the situation was headed.
Were he to ask his wife about this person, he knew the answer wouldn't be simple. He knew Joanie. He knew she was drawn to human suffering like a moth to a flame. Her answer, he knew, would involve a narrative beginning long, long ago, coursing through Latin American history and the transmigration of peoples and the tragedy of warring nations and a people horribly wronged. Inevitably, somewhere in this story, he knew there would be the recurring theme of victimhood, with the most recent victim somehow standing somewhere in his house, before him, as the beneficiary of Joanie's outsized benevolence and Christian goodwill. His money, he also knew, would be involved.
He knew the speech so well, he began reciting it in his mind: "Trigg, Hispanics are everywhere in Nashville," she would say. "It's like we're caught up in things that are bigger than we understand, these new patterns of immigration, people coming to us from smoky villages and sprawling shantytowns and sidewalk hovels from nations far away. I know these people are led here by the promise of better jobs and more money, but I worry, Trigg, that we're not doing what we can to help them. Imagine what needs they must have!"
Trigg knew he would not fall for the theme of victimhood and hardship, but he did agree that these people were cheap and worked like hell. It was a New South, and these people were here to help build it. It was not a new development: The promise of economic explosion in Nashvilleand all across Dixie, for that matterhad first been broached in cover stories by Newsweek and Time in the late '60s, when Yankee bankers and developers and brokers had discovered that Southerners were, well, easy. They were cheap. They didn't argue. They didn't care much about the environment, or labor unrest or zoning. Fact was, they were poor, and they didn't want to stay that way.
At about this same time, as demographics experts were having fun with the phrase "Sunbelt Explosion," the East Coast intelligentsia that had beaten the region into submission in the ugly episode of civil rights in the '60s extended an olive branch to the South. If race had once been the bane of the South's existence, economic dynamism would become its salvation. As the East Coast moneymen descended on the region, the South became a full and equal trading partner, a place pulled at last into the embrace of the rest of the United States by virtue of its agreement to sell out.
As everyone knew, this had all pretty much come to pass. And in what was only the most recent chapter, Mexicans were coming. There simply were not enough laboring blacks and whites to go around to push the economy even further toward the stratosphere.
So there was this Mexican woman, cleaning his pool. Deciding there was only one way to get some answers, he walked into the kitchen.
"Dorthula, who the hell's out there sweeping my pool?"
"I dunno Trigg, I just dunno," Dorthula said, staring straight at him. "Joanie just come on in with her like they knowed each other for a lifetime. The girl can't hardly speak a stick of English."
Dorthula sighed, as if relaying this information was difficult. Dorthula had, in her head, more knowledge of the Moseley family than most of the Moseley family members themselves. Years earlier, when he and Joanie had children, Trigg's mother had called Dorthula out of semi-retirement to help in the early weeks of Trigg and Joanie's first born. Though Dorthula was getting up in years, Trigg and Joanie had been so excited to have a veteran like her in their midst that they got weepy whenever she talked about leaving. In those first sleepless weeks, when the newborn would cry all night, Dorthula had patted the baby on its back, sung songs, comforted him, and played a support role that was both beautiful and indispensable.
"Did Joanie say if this woman was gonna stay?" Trigg asked.
"No, I didn hear nuthin 'bout that."
"You know her name?"
"You talk to her at all?"
"Look, you wanna find out 'bout this woman, you just go ask Joanie your own self."
That conversation was nine months ago, and Maria Angeles had been living in the Moseley's pool house ever since. Trigg had eventually gotten the lecture on the Hispanics, the movement of a people, basic international economics, Western cultural imperialism and the need for a Nashville agency to deal with the arrival of these immigrants. It was the lattera community initiative to help the arriving Hispanicsthat had captured Joanie's attention and occupied so much of her time.
Within four months of Maria's arrival, a nonprofit agency had, in fact, been formed. Called "Su Amigo, Nashville," the new organization had secured a $50,000 gift from the United Way to begin outreach. A board of directors including a cross-section of Nashville community leaders had been named. Not surprisingly, many of those asked to serve were delighted to join, having heard so much about all the Hispanics descending on the city. Of course, Joanie had been elected the group's first chairman, and one of her inaugural acts was to convene a daylong retreat at which members pounded out a mission statement. On its new letterhead, the mission read as follows: "To establish dialogue with the new Hispanic residents of this city; to assist in their daily struggles in locating the necessities of life; to ennoble their efforts to live safe and peaceful lives among us."
While it was the United Way grant that had made the organization's existence financially possible, all agreed as the months went by that Su Amigo needed an annual fundraiser. That way, it would have a source of recurring revenue to fund operations. But alsoand perhaps even more importantan annual fundraiser would give the group the visibility and standing among leading individuals in the community. In Nashville, you weren't on the map until you threw a pay party.
The problem with pay parties was that there were so many of them. There was the black-tie Opera Ball and the white-tie Symphony Ball. The Tennessee Theater Company sponsored the Ides of March, and the River Networks Preservation Society threw the "White-Waters/Dark Liquors." There were pay parties thrown by social workers helping heroin addicts get off the streets, environmentalists promoting construction of windmills in rural counties and film buffs throwing a festival dedicated to Southern art films. Joanie had seen only one possible window on the city's crowded social schedule, that being the week before Christmas. And so, someone hatched the idea to throw a Hispanic-themed event, a "Feliz Navidad" gala, with not only plenty of potential big donors in attendance but numerous new Hispanic immigrants too.
The benefit had been in the planning stages for months. Joanie's official title was honorary chairman. Entertainment was to be provided by a new, breakout Music Row artist, Calli Rawn. A "save the date" postcard had gone out three months before the event, simply to announce that it was being held and to encourage people to mark their calendar. The invitations themselves had gone out two months later.
But just now, Maria was waving to Joanie from beyond the ping pong table, one hand holding the phone in the air, the other supporting a tray piled high with 250 sausage balls that had just been pulled out of the oven. "Ees man from Roundup Records," she said. "Dey say ees a problem with singer."
A bad feeling came over Joanie. The benefit was, after all, tonight. Everything seemed to have been arranged. She was scheduled to meet with the florist at 2 o'clock to approve the table arrangements, and the caterer at 3 o'clock. The committee chairs had various other last minute obligations, but other than that, everything that could have been done had been done. What, then, could this man from Roundup Records want with her?
"Hello," Joanie said, tentatively but firmly, having taken the phone from Maria. She really didn't know how to deal with these Music Row people. She once knew a producer from church, but only superficially.
"This is Fred Durham, marketing director at Roundup Records. We have a problem that I need to discuss with you."
"OK," she said.
"Calli Rawn has suddenly had to go to Los Angeles for a mixing session, and I'm afraid she's not going to be able to attend Su Amigo's fundraiser this evening. As you know, Calli was excited about performing tonight, and she is extremely distressed about the fact that she will not be there."
"Uh, I, well, I'm sure Miss Rawn is upset, as we all are, that she will not be able to make it this evening," Joanie stammered. "Mr., um, what is your name again sir?"
"Durham, Fred Durham. I work in marketing here at Roundup," he replied pleasantly. His voice was so smooth and self-assured that Joanie thought for a second she was speaking with a deejay. "I am really extremely sorry about this. Everyone here is. At our morning staff conference, we were trying to hash out something we could do. Frankly, nobody wanted to make this call, because we were feeling so bad about what was going on, but I volunteered because, well, it's my department."
"Oh, goodness," she said. "What, uh, what do I do?"
"Mrs. Moseley, I don't really know," he said. "I'm trying to be as honest with you as I can."
"I mean, good gracious," Joanie interrupted. "This has been in the planning stages for months, and we have only hours until our fundraiser begins."
"Yes, I know, and Calli is terribly sorry about this too."
"Mr. Durham, is there anyone else who might be available to substitute for Miss Rawn? I mean, our fundraiserthis is our first fundraiser, after alland it's for such a worthy cause. As you know, the arrival of thousands of new Hispanics in this city has thrown our city's social services networks such a curve. Everyone is having to learn Spanish now, and the needs placed on such a system are so enormous. We are having to raise significant sums of money to finance operations. If you could give us another entertainer it would be much appreciated."
She exhaled. She was nervousbut she had stood her ground and asked for another act for the evening. She felt a little proud of herself.
"At this time, nobody comes to mind, and in fact this was one of the things we were discussing this morning. But as I say, I'll check some more. I know this seems like a small thing, but both Calli and Roundup Records are shipping a box of 100 complimentary CDs of her latest work that you can hand to your guests as they walk into this evening's benefit."
Joanie wouldn't have thought of doing such a thing, but she didn't tell Fred Durham that.
"Will you please call me if someone becomes available?" she asked. "I absolutely must know something by noon today. Will you call me by then?"
"I certainly will," Durham said. "Thank you so much and, again, I really am sorry."
Joanie was floored. Of all things, a problem with the entertainment. Joanie and the other host committee chairs had, among them, worked on literally dozens of nonprofit pay parties over the years. Working from their address books, these women could line up place cards and valet parkers, printers who would do the invitations for free and hotel managers who would offer their banquet rooms at reduced rates. They were people who knew, innately, what kind of benefit should serve lamb chops, and which should stick with tenderloin. They knew the issue of black tie vs. business attire, where the host's table should be located, and which Nashvillians should not be seated near one another.
All these things Joanie knew. But she did not know the city's music community. Matter of fact, no one was much help here. Nobody talked much to people in that business. To get Calli Rawn, Joanie had made a cold call to Roundup Records, because she had heard that Rawn performed classic country tunes with a salsa interpretation. Thinking that would go over well for Su Amigo, she had been able to get Rawn, a new artist, to perform for free.
As Maria had been watching the phone conversation proceed, she had sensed something terribly wrong was happening. She had set the sausage balls on a card table, and as she did so, several had tumbled off and onto the garage floor. Maria had then walked over to Joanie, placing her hand on Joanie's shoulder just as the conversation was ending.
As Joanie set the phone back in its cradle, she stifled the urge to cry. She then took two brisk steps away from Maria, turning her back on her, wiping her eyes with her apron so that Maria couldn't see her. She would not show weakness. Instead, she would get angry. "It could have been anything!" she suddenly barked out loud, "the flowers, the food, the parkers, the place tags, but it had to be the entertainment! I have no idea how to find another performer! These goddamned music industry people! What will I do?"
Now she looked at Maria, begging for a response. It was rhetorical, of courseshe didn't expect Maria to say anything, but it was helpful to be bouncing her rage against someone, anyone, even if they barely spoke English. Walking toward the ping pong table, she snapped up a box of Triscuits, ripped off the cardboard top, tore through the plastic wrapping and thrust her hand inside. Grabbing three of four crackers, she shoved two in her mouth. Then she began to pace across the room, waving the cracker box in the air like a pistol.
"I am sooooo steamed," she pronounced. As soon as she swallowed a mass of cracker, more went in her mouth. Bits of crumbs shot out of her as she raged. The more she yelled, as a matter of fact, the better she felt. As the seconds went by, she could sense the hot air slowly escaping her even if she still had no idea how to get out of the bind she was in. Maria, who had walked over to pick up the fallen sausage balls, let a couple of moments pass before offering a suggestion.
"Call Meester Moseley," she said, matter-of-factly. "He know people."
"I really don't want to call that sonofabitch right now," she said, momentarily appreciating the opportunity that had presented itself to fire away at her husband, however briefly. "He hates it when I need him. Which I don't, actually. Plus, this is HIS day, with the tour and all."
"No, you must really call him. He know what to do."
It was true. Trigg knew a lot of people in town, and even if he wasn't a person who ran around with the Music Row community, he at least knew people who knew people. Plusand now Joanie was trying to look on the bright side of thingsit was still early. She glanced at her watchit was 11 o'clock in the morning.
Joanie cleared her throat in the interests of trying to sound calm. She dialed Trigg's cell phone, thinking he might still be on the tour. She did not want to interrupt him there, but it was an emergency.
"Hello darling," he fairly exploded. Trigg had seen his home number was the incoming call. He did not want to let on to Joanie that anything was wrong, that his Civil War tour had ended on such an odd note and that he was rushing to discover just what, indeed, had happened to Darby Glen. Joanie had her party tonight, and he didn't want to break his own bad news to her. Better to stress the positive, he thought.
"Before you get going, let me tell you that speaker thing-a-ma-jig, well, it just worked wonders," Trigg continued. "It was the best tour in years. Nobody had to get me to repeat a thing. Even the neighbors I bet." Here he chuckled a bit at himself, hoping to pull her along in his infectiously fun wake. When Joanie did not respond, he sensed his strategy had failed. So he stopped.
"Anyway, you called me, right?" he said.
His cell phone tucked between his ear and shoulder, he steered his car into Smathers' parking lot.
"Trigg, Calli Rawn has cancelled. Some guy from Roundup called and said she has to be in L.A."
"Oh my goodness, sweetheart. Surely they'll send a replacement?" He tried to find a silver lining. Find the lining, and the problem will vanish.
"No, they say they'll look, but they think everyone's busy."
"Well, have you spoken with your entertainment committee? Maybe they have an idea."
"Well, no, because I was the one who wound up getting Calli Shawn. I mean Rawn. Whatever. It's such short notice, Trigg. Look...," she said finally, cutting to the bone and acknowledging what he already knew to be the case. What she really wanted to do was yell at Trigg for reasons even she was not entirely clear about, but instead, at that precise moment, she snapped a cracker in half and shoved it in her mouth. "I am in an extremely bad situation here. I know you're busy, and I know you do not particularly like this about me, that I can sometimes seem frantic when I get in a pinch, but I simply am calling to see if you know anyone I could call." She walked over to the pimento cheese finger sandwiches neatly arranged in a shoebox and played with one before thrusting it in her mouth whole.
Trigg, meanwhile, pulled into a parking space. An austere, bright, white contemporary structure loomed before him. "Smathers & Assoc." was painted in bold, sans-serif, navy-blue lettering on the building's side. As Joanie finished making her request, he thought a bit about people he had known in the music industry, but nothing popped into his mind right away. He really wanted to help his wife find a solution. It was one of the few things he did well. In fact, he really hated to see her so anxious.
"I'll see what I can do, darling. What's your deadline?"
"Trigg, I have got to know something by noon. If you can't find me on my cell, let Maria know any new developments. Tell her it's urgent, and that she's to interrupt me whatever I'm doing."
"Joanie, I don't understand a word that woman says."
"I've told you to take classes. It's a new world out there."
"All right already. I'll call you when I know something."
Trigg hung up. He inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly. He felt his plate filling, filling, filling, the Daytimer now crowded to maximum capacity, the wife now in crisis, his business affairs now in chaos, his options diminishing with each available second. If anything, he was a man who liked keeping his options open. Today, they didn't exist.
Opening his car door, he discovered, standing directly in front of him, two well-formed, denim-clad legs. It was Smathers. God, she was a long woman. From this angle, with him deep down in his car seat, she seemed a lot taller than he remembered. He then thought about the legs themselves, which was only natural, considering they were only inches from his eyes. He wondered if they were muscular and brown. Taut. Strong. Cords of iron. Or were they white and fleshy, milky-looking, goose bumpy? Then a thought struck himquite a good thought, one that came like lightning, which was kind of unfortunate, because he was enjoying the diversions of the legs. The thought was that maybe Smathers, connected and wired as she was, could help his wife.
He wasted no time in asking, because he wanted to get the issue behind him.
"Don't you know some people in the music business?" Moseley asked.
She nodded silently.
"Seems as if my wife's entertainment cancelled for her charity event tonight," he said, sounding downcast. "You know anybody who'd be willing to perform on short notice?"
"I can try my husband."
"Yup. Dave Dubinsky. He's not out on tour right now. Just sitting around at home. I could get him to do it."
"What's he play?"
"He calls it Jew Grass. You kind of have to hear it. He's got a development deal with Sony."
Trigg didn't know what a development deal was. And, in hindsight, it's debatable whether he even heard the phrase "Jew Grass," having thought he heard the more conventional "bluegrass." Whatever the case, and without a moment's thought, he decided he would accept her offer, which would have the unintended consequence of both pleasing Smathers for getting her husband some local visibility, and his wife for pulling her chestnuts out of the fire. When he called his wife to say he had lined up a replacement, she had been ecstatic, just as he had thought she would be. He was glad to feel her mood change. He could check that off his list.
Trigg followed Smathers into her office. Passing the receptionist's desk, they entered a white-walled conference room. There, at a Scandinavian-style blond desk underneath blinding lights that gave the illusion of being discs floating in mid-air, the two faced one another.
"Would you let your husband know he needs to be at the Loews Vanderbilt by 8 o'clock?" Moseley asked. "And lemme add, you don't know how much this helps me, Jill."
"You bet. Dave is a pretty worthless human being, but he can be delightful on stage," Smathers responded, walking over to a crystal pitcher brimming with ice water. Pouring two glasses, she brought one to Moseley. Around the corners of her mouth, a smile was thawing. A perfect row of white teeth slowly emerged before him, like lights guiding him in toward a distant shore. Her blue eyes, wolf-colored and hungry, beamed hard in his direction. Taking the glass of water from her, he was nearly frozen by her brutal efficiency.
"We need to talk about a few things, Trigg," she said, speaking barely above a whisper. He could not tell whether this sudden sotto voce delivery was her way of communicating something very important, perhaps a communication technique she had picked up in a public relations conference somewhere. On the other hand, Trigg also allowed himself to wonder whether in fact she was coming on to him. What was it she had just said about her husband, after all? Were they unhappy? Was there a problem there? The fact that he was confused by so much of the situation only served to make him hungrier for her. Both thingsher apparent business sense and her coming on to himwere good signs. Taken togetherand he was praying they were perhaps going togetherthey were overwhelming. What a glorious two-fer, he thought. "First, we need to talk rates," she told him. "And second, once you take that speaker off your head, I need to know: What have you ever done to Joe Mudge?"
COPYRIGHT 2004 BY BRUCE DOBIE.