The Wilde Room: Chapter 4

The Grand Canal

Shrewsbury Road

Ollie called Monday of the following week. Jeremy’s oldest friend in the world had turned his own life upside down since those long ago Vancouver days. Sold his company and started the fund. Let his marriage dissolve. Relapsed hard into booze as best Jeremy could make out. Now, among all those many other things, Ollie seemed unable to phone at anything other than a bad time. Ollie thought of Jeremy whenever there was no deal left to be done, or no guests left awake. He called whenever the action had temporarily subsided wherever he happened to be, and these were always straining, in-between times.

So here the came the familiar digits. Still a Canadian number although Ollie was always in agitated motion at that point in his life, rushing off to get to the next thing, meeting, opening night, private box party or whatever it was. He did this at sufficient pace that, from Jeremy’s end of the phone, he actually did seem to exist in several places at once. A molecular particle whose location and speed could not simultaneously be known.

And where was Jeremy? Well, as always, Ollie’s invisible motion made Jeremy himself feel very stationary indeed. He was sitting in the back seat of a taxi in the driveway of Martine’s father’s large house on Shrewsbury Road, in fact, scraping coins together to pay the fair. Steadying himself for the audience that had been called.

“Ollie man,” Jeremy said. “You wouldn’t believe how bad a time this is.”

“The girlfriend’s father,” Ollie drawled, when Jeremy had explained. “He’ll wait. It’s me. Now tell me honestly, you all right? Talk to me, Jay Jay.”

The old nickname. The old life. They shared this space, Ollie and Jeremy. They lived uncomfortably in a number of contiguous pasts. So Jeremy heard all the versions of Ollie in his every sentence, which was no always easy. He heard his easy-going college pal, the guy who played bass in the long ago rockabilly band they’d started, The Decoders. But Jeremy also heard the sober Ollie that followed, the one who married Margaret, the one prone to speeches about responsibility and work ethic. The one with the tailored shirts and suits and a seat on the Vancouver Art Gallery board. He heard the father of his godson Trout, who was 16 now and no longer spoke to his father. Oliver newly rich and newly debauched. Oliver who had given up on so many things but still clung to Jeremy, for reasons opaque and convoluted. Oliver who even spoke differently, his voice gone raspy and low, full of hard new experience about the world and people to which he seemed always interested in drawing Jeremy’s attention.

“Well it’s been a bad couple of days,” Jeremy said.

Ollie said: “Sorry about that. I mean it. Terrible thing your dad. His heart?”

“They say?”

“They say?”

“Dante told me.”

“Mr. Beale,” Ollie laughed, who was not impressed by any of the other people who might serve as inspiration in Jeremy’s life.

“Where’d you hear Oll? From Margaret?” Jeremy asked, waving at one of the Foley’s gardeners, who’d come around the corner of the five car garage, expression quizzical. When he saw Jeremy he waved back and pointed over his shoulder. Foley was waiting.

Margaret, yes, Ollie said. Which meant he was communicating with his ex-wife in some fashion at least. Perhaps she was now reading the emails he sent. Jeremy doubted Margaret would have the patience to hear this new voice on the phone, close in her own ear where there had once been such a different version of this man, a version she’d loved.

But Ollie didn’t want to talk about any of that, of course. He called, always, with an immediate point of decision. Some thing that needed settling, some pressing question.

Today, specifically, dinner. “As in, tonight,” Ollie said. “As in us. You working?”

Jeremy wasn’t working, in fact, having successfully tracked down his sous-chef Ethan through his always connected Polish friend Kanopka. Having successfully negotiated Ethan back from his week break in Donegal with promises and cajoling. Having covered The Wilde Room for his unexpected trip back to Canada, leaving the very next morning.

But that wasn’t what had Jeremy thinking now. It was the sound of Olli’s voice. A strange sense of proximity. Of course, Olli had been known to fly places on impulse before. Jeremy had taken calls from Dubai and Delhi, only to find the Ollie had flown there to buy a shirt, or watch the soccer team purchased recently by a friend. He’d taken several calls from London over the past three years, Ollie calling him out to dinner, with an airline ticket for Jeremy and reservations at Petrus all arranged. Ollie did this sort of thing now, exercised impulse on a hemispheric scale. And he had a BA frequent flyer rank of some obscurely high level as a result, giving him access to lounges and facilities in airports, to cabins in actual commercial jets that many passengers don’t even know exist. To secret flights for only the rich. The Cloud Club. The Meridien Lounge. The Sultan’s Tent. But none of this made sense measured against the fact that Ollie was supposed to be working back in North America again, leading one of those deep, black, cold pools of equity that had been re-gathered in the wake of financial turmoil. Oliver was a fund king now, that’s apparently what he did. This was a job definition with no specific focus. Jeremy only understood that everything for sale was of potential interest to Ollie if it could turn billions into fractionally more. But flying into London from San Francisco, which is the last place where Jeremy knew Ollie had been, scoping out companies that made a particular kind of fuel cell, well that would surely be too long a flight for dinner even by Ollie’s standards.

Then Jeremy heard a familiar sound. The sharp and repeated ring of a streetcar in the background, behind Ollie’s voice. A streetcar. A Dublin streetcar.

Jeremy said: “Where the hell are you?”

Ollie said: “Surprise. Sucking a long neck Bud in Temple Bar, baby. Why isn’t your place down here? Place is hopping.”

“In Dublin why?” Jeremy asked.

“Jay Jay,” Ollie said. “You’re hurting my feelings.”

Jeremy pinched the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger. And he didn’t have to say much for Ollie to know all that he was thinking just that moment. They’d been friends for 25 years. It had been that long a time since they first picked each other out of the crowd for whatever mutual and reassuring reasons. That’s how it worked at the beginning, Jeremy knew. You picked each other on the strength of resemblance. Later, things became more complicated.

“Al l right,” Ollie said. “Easy now. It’s a bad time. I know. So go on in. Talk to the old man.”

Just go on in, he continued. A calm coach for just those moments. Go on in and you’ll be fine. Straight shoulders and walk in there now and fuck it anyway, am I right?

“Am I right?” asked Ollie. Never in doubt, of course. Never for a moment in doubt that he was right.

Jeremy went in.  And when he’d been walked back through the big house, he came face to face with Martine’s father at the door to his den. And Cillian Foley took his right hand in his, and gripped Jeremy’s elbow in his left, holding them firmly together, so that they rocked briefly in place, as if they were a single structure leaned into the same wind.

Cillian Foley said: “Come in lad. Come in. Sad news. Now we talk. Because after the sad news, there’s always a moment for talk. Coffee? Tea? Brandy? Have the brandy. We have important matters to discuss.”

Jeremy took brandy and coffee, an equivocation he wished he had suppressed in the presence of this gravely serious man. Once big in the government. Once big in a lot of things. Troubled now, it occurred to Jeremy. Troubled and needing to talk to Jeremy.

Important matters, he said with a smile, splashing brandy into the Wexford crystal.

And Jeremy – who was thinking of Martine just then, her smooth hip in the warm morning, the unlikely olive tone of her satin skin – Jeremy leaned forward to listen. Carefully.