Marty's mouth was on his neck.
He himself had entered that fugue state in which reality was temporarily suspended. It hadn't happened to him often in his life. Once, when he had gotten in a car crash — it hadn't been his fault — and for the seven seconds of the crash, and the seven minutes afterward, everything had acquired this floating unreal quality. The first time he had held his newborn daughter. And being fourteen and watching the soaring limitless moments of Ted Williams' last at-bat, that clean pure home run right down the center, just because he could, and because for one last time the greatest player who ever lived was stretching into his game with a radiant, untouchable joy.
None of that was close to Marty's mouth on his neck.
They weren't saying anything, for which Robby was grateful. Marty was not much of a talker at the best of times. They were speaking only with mouths and hands. They were kissing in a dank unused elbow of an even danker, more unused archive storage room. The kind of place no one but the Spotlight team ever went. Marty's mouth was back on his mouth now. It felt so good, it felt so fucking good. His mouth felt so fucking good. Marty's hand — his hand was around Robby's waist, on his back. His other hand was on Robby's face. No one had ever kissed him like Marty kissed him. No one had ever. Nothing had ever.
He was kissing Marty now, he was the one doing the kissing now. Their shoulders were pressed against the dusty bookshelf. No one had anybody shoved against a wall or anything like that. Marty was holding him like he wanted to hold him, like he was precious. The beard should have felt weirder than it did. He had thought the beard would be a problem. And yeah, he had thought about it, before. In the seconds before his brain had clamped down on the fantasies, he had thought about it. He had thought about it a lot.
He was kissing Marty more fiercely now, and Marty was letting him. So good, so fucking good. A lifetime's hunger was rocketing through his veins. His hands were brushing Marty's face now, his fingertips against that beard. Their chests were pressed together, he could feel the firm solid warmth of Marty's chest against his, and that solidity, to have something that solid to hold onto even while Marty's tongue was making him uncertain where the fucking ceiling was in this shithole of a room—
Marty had broken off, his eyes to the side, intent on something. Wait, no, you're stopping? screamed every cell in Robby's body.
And then Marty had pushed away, and in the next half-second Robby heard the footsteps, and he turned hastily back to the boxes on the shelf, the ones he had been looking at when Marty had come down here.
"Hey, there you are," Mike said, bounding into the room the way he pushed his way into every room, like the molecules in the doorway had done something personally to offend him. "I been looking everywhere for you. You find anything?"
He was glancing curiously at Marty, because what the hell was Marty Baron doing down here? Robby's throat had tightened, and he—he was hard, he was actually hard. How many years had it been since he had gotten hard just kissing someone, from making out like a schoolboy behind the gym? What the hell kind of ridiculous—
They were going to have a whole conversation tonight, about how never at the office had been a good rule that they really should not have stopped ignoring.
He shoved the file folder in his hands at Mike. "Yeah, couple of things, take a look," he said, and pushed his way past Mike, headed for the door. He knew Mike was still standing there clutching the folder, probably looking after him and wondering what the hell he had done. Had to use the bathroom, he could say later. The hell of it was, that was entirely true, but not for the reason Mike would think. Jesus Christ.
Somewhere, his life had taken a serious turn.
There was his life before they broke the story, and there was his life after.
Before, most of the city knew what Spotlight was, and sure, the name had cachet — though Marty had been right, by the time he had arrived on the scene Spotlight had been more reputation than action, and there was no denying it had been a while since they had had a big story, a really big one. Afterward, that had all changed. And it wasn't just the phone calls, and the fact that Spotlight now had their own bank of receptionists whose only job was to field calls. It was that they themselves had become part of the story, too. There had been NPR profiles, and stories that were just about the team and their work on Spotlight.
"It's like we're local celebrities," Robby had said with a wince, and Marty had given him that keen flat glance, and said, "You're not local celebrities. You're national celebrities."
At the time he had thought Marty was exaggerating, though how often did the man exaggerate? You were lucky if you got two connected sentences out of Marty, any given day. He was not as a rule prone to exaggeration.
And yeah, now the Herald sure as hell was covering the story — they were covering them. "You wanna do a profile of who?" he had heard Mike say on the phone. And then after he had hung up: "That was my buddy at the Herald."
"You hate Joe," Sacha said idly, frowning at her screen.
"Sure, he's my buddy. But get this, he wants to do a profile on me."
"A profile on your what?"
"No, on me. On my me. Like, on the author of the church abuse story."
"Okay, to be fair," Matt said, looking up.
"Yeah yeah, I know, right? It was all of us, obviously I'm gonna make that point. But what the hell?" And he had glanced over at Robby, sitting at his desk, who was just listening. Glanced Robby-ward, like he often did — for confirmation, or permission, or checking-in, or more likely waiting for Robby to yell at him. "So, ah, what do you think?" Mike had said.
He had waited until he had all their eyes, and peered over his glasses. "I think you do the profile," he said, and went back to what he was working on. But he had actually been writing an e-mail to Marty about it. Shit's about to get real, he had typed.
He had been worried for his team, and it hadn't even occurred to him that he himself might be coming in for his share of it, and more than his share. The day the call came from NPR, he hadn't known what to say — had gaped, he was sure, like Mike. But before the week was out he was sitting in the studio of the Boston affiliate, being interviewed by Melissa Block during All Things Considered for like fifteen solid minutes of air-time. He had tried to sound thoughtful, and he had tried to punt as much credit away from himself as he could. And only he had known it wasn't modesty at all, but something else. The shame had crawled inside him like spiders.
The elder statesman of investigative journalism, Marty had texted him after.
Couldn't resist that "elder," could you, asshole? he started to text back, but he never could get the little buttons on this phone — why, why had Sacha made him switch to this more complicated phone that hated him, why couldn't she just give him back his flip phone, that had worked fine, goddammit. So he had called.
"Asshole," he had growled.
"It was a compliment."
He had barked a laugh as he swerved onto the on-ramp. "Seriously," Marty said. "You did us proud."
"Yeah," he sighed, feeling the spiders again.
"Glad you called though, there's something I need to ask you about. You guys have been under a lot of pressure the last six months, and you've handled it like pros. I think it would be a good idea for some downtime. You've all earned it."
"Are you laying us off?"
"I'm trying to send you on a vacation."
"Oh yeah?" Some Mass-hole cut him off, dodging in front of him as he tried to change lanes, and then slowed to forty miles an hour. He swore quietly.
"Don't get too excited yet," Marty was saying. "I think a team vacation would be a good idea."
"A team vacation? Like what, blindfolded trust falls?"
He heard the slight exhale that passed for a laugh, from Marty Baron. "I have access to a cabin in Maine. It's nice. I was thinking about sending you guys up there some time in the next few weeks, while the weather holds. Take a long weekend, all of you. Have some time to talk through story ideas for where Spotlight goes next, that kind of thing."
"So, a working vacation."
He pictured Marty's slight answering shrug, and he grinned. "You are a piece of work Baron, you know that."
"We'll talk about it when you get back to the office," Marty said, and clicked off, like he always did. Robby laughed again. It was funny, though. He couldn't have told you when Marty had become the person he called up and growled at, or e-mailed when things were going shit-end-up in a story, or complained at over the phone, or went for beers with after a late night. But it had happened, somehow. Well, not that Marty much drank beer. Or drank at all, really.
"That kike's a barrel of laughs," Hank Tweedy had said, at some fundraiser he had been at, just a few months ago. It hadn't been a remark aimed at him, but at Hank's companion, just a muttered aside over a whisky as they were all standing around, but Robby had whipped around and glared at Hank, who had just raised his eyebrows. "Come on, Robby, you don't actually—"
"You will watch your fucking mouth," Robby had said, low and fierce, the blood pounding in his throat. He had advanced on Hank, and had the joy of seeing Hank flinch, just the slightest bit. But then he had brushed past Hank, and past the knots of other people too, everyone talking and laughing, and strode all the way out to the marble atrium, still holding his whisky, whose contents he had tossed in a potted palm. He had not stopped until he was in the parking garage and at his car. This town, this fucking town.
"Fuck," he had breathed, and kicked his own tires, braced against the side of the car. Fuck them, fuck them all. They came for Marty Baron, and he would take them, take every last one of them. He knew there were plenty of people in this town who didn't appreciate what Marty had done, who saw him as a betrayer, an outsider, the Jew who had attacked the Church. And that was before he had known about the box.
"So how bad has it been?" he had asked one afternoon, sitting in Marty's office. "The hate mail, I mean. You keep a scrapbook?"
The beard-buried quirk of Marty's mouth. "Used to. These days I just toss most of it. Might have to open a new file, though, for Boston."
"That bad, huh? Worse than Miami?"
"I would say. . ." Marty looked up, looked at the top of the door, thoughtfully. "Culturally specific to the area."
"Oh yeah? How so?"
And Marty had nodded at a shoebox over on a table in the corner. "Take a look if you want," he had said, and gone back to what he was working on. Marty was easy to get work done around. He never made you feel you had to make conversation, because Marty so rarely made any himself. Marty's office was a good place to get thinking done in. So while Marty worked, Robby had gone over and opened the shoebox, and pulled a few of the letters out of their poorly-spelled envelopes, thinking it would be good for a laugh.
After the third letter, he sank into a chair. After the fifth, he put his head in his hands. After the seventeenth, he shoved the box onto the floor, his chest pounding. The letters spilled everywhere, an avalanche of Christ-killer and filthy Kike and die scum-sucking Jew die die die.
"Jesus," he breathed, through the churning nausea in his stomach. "Jesus Christ."
"Well, exactly," Marty said. His eyes on Robby were grave. "It doesn't bother me," he said, and the hell of it was, Robby knew it was true — that was the hell of it. Marty waded through shit like this every day, but it didn't get to him.
"It sure as hell bothers me," Robby said, his voice shaking, and he couldn't bear to reach down and pick the letters up, couldn't make himself touch the filth. "Why do you save this shit?"
Marty looked thoughtful again. "So I can remind myself how much it doesn't bother me," he said. He had stayed like that, his eyes on Robby, Robby's on his. That had been the second time he had ever touched Marty Baron — the first time being that handshake at the Oak Room, when they had first met. He hadn't known what to say. He had wanted to apologize — for his city, for his religion, for his people, for everything. For Pete Conley and Cardinal Law and Hank Tweedy and every sneering, murmured aside about Marty Baron's "agenda." But he hadn't known what to say. So he had crossed the room and put his hand on Marty's shoulder where he sat, a firm steady grip, his fingers digging in, and strangely enough Marty hadn't shrugged him off, but had just kept his eyes on Robby's. And then Marty had reached his hand up, and put it on top of Robby's, and they had rested like that.
"Mr. Baron, do you—sorry," Shirlene had said, exiting the room quickly, and Robby had put his hand down and bent to put the letters back in the box, clearing his throat.
He had gone back down to his office and sat there, and then there had been the ping of his e-mail. Is this a good time to press you on the team vacation idea? Marty's e-mail had read. Robby had laughed out loud, long and low, there in his office. He had taken off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, still laughing.
In all the conversations about the team vacation idea, and all the planning, it had never occurred to him that Marty was actually including himself in it. Marty had never said word one about actually being there himself. Robby had driven them, because Sacha's car was in the shop and Matt just had the minivan and he didn't want to leave his family without a car over the weekend, and Mike had a car but no one in their right mind would actually consent to be driven anywhere in it, not if they valued their lives. So it had been an hour and a half of the four of them in Robby's car together, and hadn't that just been a flashback to kid-wrestling on a family vacation from hell.
"Because I said, that's why," Robby said in exasperation. "Mike, so help me, you touch that radio dial again and I slice your fingers off."
"No one wants to listen to this shit, I'm bleeding out my ears, come on. Matt's been vomiting up his sleeve for twenty minutes."
"Hey, leave me out of—"
"Complex instrumental music improves your brain waves, it makes you smarter. You want to be ignorant? You should be ashamed of yourselves."
"I'm ashamed of your music," Mike said. "Sacha, bear me out."
"I'm reading my book," Sacha said from the back seat. "Besides, isn't it someone else's turn at shotgun?"
"I get carsick," Mike said.
"You drove a cab!"
"Yeah, drove a cab. I can only ride in the front, otherwise I get nauseated. I'm happy to drive though," he said hopefully at Robby.
"Christ give me strength," Robby muttered.
And then when they pulled up into the wide pine-strewn area in front of the cabin, there had been Marty, getting out of his sleek new Infiniti, wearing jeans and a canvas jacket and boots, and they had all sort of stared at him. "It looks nice," Marty said, assessing the place. He had climbed the cabin's stairs, and they had all just stood there looking at him, until Robby had thrown a duffel at Mike.
"Make yourself useful," he said.
"What the fuck," Mike muttered, as Marty went into the cabin. "A working vacation, I get it, we can do that. But now he doesn't even trust us to get shit done? He has to come so he can, what, monitor us or something?"
"Don't be a jerk," Sacha said. "Maybe he just wants to get away too." She climbed the stairs behind Marty, lugging her bag.
"Help me with this," Robby said, and Mike bent over the trunk with him, and while it was just the two of them at the trunk — Matt was wandering over to the porch, looking around at the trees, taking in the fresh air like a city-bound Labrador, which in many ways he was — he pitched his voice so it was just for Mike.
"Over a year now," Robby said gravely. "We would never have had that story, if it wasn't for Marty — if it wasn't for Marty pushing us, if it wasn't for Marty seeing what none of us did. Spotlight is back on the map because of Marty. You're a superstar right now, because of Marty. He's part of this team. That's why he's here. He's as much a part of Spotlight as any of us."
Mike nodded, studying the contents of the trunk, his hand braced on the car. "Sure," Mike said. "I get that."
They were quiet, and again, Robby felt the thing pulse between them that was never wholly absent now. "Say what you want to say," he said.
"Marty seeing what none of us did," Mike said, and now those eyes were looking right at Robby. "But some of us saw it, yeah?"
Robby took his time with that one. It wasn't like he hadn't known it was coming. It was just he had thought it would slip out in anger one day, arguing over a story, and he hadn't expected it on a crisp September day with the sun floating through the pines, and the weekend stretching in front of them. "Yeah," he said, when he found his voice again. "I guess you're right about that one." He picked up his bag and closed the trunk, and headed up the stairs to the cabin.
Take a team vacation, Marty had said. It was worth noting for the record that not all of Marty Baron's ideas were winners.
Maybe six months before, he would have had a different answer for Mike. Maybe he would have given Mike the rough side of his tongue; after all, it was one thing to know you had failed, and another to be reminded of it by one of your own reporters. But when you had come face to face with the most colossal personal failure in your life, professional failures just failed to measure up, somehow.
"Hey," Robby had said, sticking his head in Marty's door. "You coming?"
"For what?" Marty was at his laptop, glancing between a stack of papers and his keyboard, and he didn't even look up.
"Blood drive downstairs. Seriously? Shirlene has been beating people with sticks all day, trying to get everybody to donate. Day of service, larger purpose, giving back to the community, all that bullshit. It's like seven-thirty, they're about to close up. I thought this was your thing. Did you forget?"
"I can't," Marty said, still frowning at the documents.
Robby sighed and clicked the door shut behind him. "Listen," he said. "I get that this is what you do. I get that this is who you are. You get behind that desk, and you get going on something, and you forget that the rest of the universe even exists, I get that. But are you under the impression this paper will somehow explode if you step away from your desk for twenty minutes? Are you aware there are people out there in the bullpen who are terrified to go home to their families at night if your light is still on, and who stay till ten, eleven at night just so they don't leave before the boss does? Acting like you're God's gift to the Globe newsroom doesn't do anybody any good. Believe it or not, we will not crash into the sun if Marty Baron takes a coffee break."
Marty was at last looking up. "I meant I can't donate blood because I'm gay, but feel free to go on about the non-essential nature of my work here."
"Oh," Robby said, in one of his more elegant conversational segues. The room was silent. Say something else, his brain prompted. Marty was still looking at him.
"FDA bans gay and bisexual men from donating blood. HIV can take nine months to show on a test, so high-risk populations get turned away."
"Right," Robby said. The blanketing silence descended on the room again, and Marty was now staring at him with the same intentness he had been focusing on his laptop. "Okay," Robby said. Nothing chipped into the room's stillness.
"Do we have a problem?" Marty's voice was quieter, and there was something in it Robby had not heard before.
"What? No! Not like—no, hell no, I didn't mean that, I was just surprised."
Marty was still silent, evidently uninterested in helping him out. "Surprised because you had never said," Robby explained. Nothing he said was making it better.
Marty's eyebrows lifted slightly behind those round inscrutable glasses. The light from the screen reflected off them, made his eyes blank. "I was supposed to say something?"
"No, I—look, you just surprised me. All the work we've done all year, and you never said anything, that was what I meant. Because of the story."
"Because of the story," Marty repeated. His eyebrows were no longer raised. In fact, there was no expression at all on that face, and it was a face Robby had studied a lot this year. A canny, watchful, hard-to-read face, but full of tells, if you knew where to look. And now there was nothing on it.
"We spend a year of our lives working on the subject, and you never mention it, is what I mean," Robby said in frustration.
"I never mention that I'm gay," Marty said slowly, "while we're working on a story about child molesters. Which is strange to you, because those two things are the same."
No, Robby opened his mouth to say, I didn't, that isn't what I, but no sound came out.
"Here is where you get out of my office," Marty said, his voice a low thrum. Robby's chest pounded. His throat had closed, there was no more air in his lungs, but somehow his limbs still worked, and he managed to turn and get his hand on the doorknob, grasping it with fingers that felt numb.
He strode down to the Spotlight offices without feeling his legs, really. It was like the numbness was traveling, spreading. Matt looked up as he came in, but something about his face made Matt's question die on his lips. He made it to his office and slammed the door, and that was when feeling rushed back in. Feeling, and a kind of dull rage — rage not at anyone or anything but himself and his own idiocy, his own ineptitude, his own fucking stupidity, and there was nowhere for the rage to go, so he picked up his keyboard and smashed it into the wall. Little beige letters went skittering everywhere.
It was childishly satisfying, so he decided to try it again. Somehow his computer had been ripped out of the wall, and the monitor was lying on the floor. He aimed another kick at the hard drive, which gave a gratifying whirring sound, so he kicked it again, and again. He had a fistful of electrical cords in his hand. That was when he remembered that generally speaking, it was a good idea to shut the blinds of your office before you trashed it like the final tour of Whitesnake. He became aware that activity in the outer office had ceased, and all three of them were staring at him. They whipped back around to their computers when he raised his head. He sank into his chair.
After fifteen minutes, Sacha knocked on his door. He wondered if she had clocked it. He watched Matt and Mike put on their coats, gather their things while studiedly not glancing at his office.
"Yeah," he barked.
She came in, because Matt and Mike might quail at his bark, but never Sacha — not Sacha who was all of maybe five foot one and weighed eighty pounds if you turned the hose on her. He had never even seen her flinch at anything. He wondered if they had elected her, or if she had taken it upon herself, because this was the sort of thing you did when you were teacher's favorite, and knew it.
"Hey," she said. "You okay?"
"Yes," he said. "I'm great. How has your day been?"
"A little less eventful than yours, maybe." She glanced at the outer office, where Matt and Mike were still collecting their things. "They're heading home."
"Were you in Marty's office earlier today?"
He cocked his head at her, and she looked away, because even Sacha knew when she had overstepped. "I think I'm headed out too," she said. "Walk me to my car?"
He got up and grabbed his coat and bag without saying anything, and in silence he waited for her to gather her things. In silence they rode the main elevator. Most everyone had already gone home, and the floors were quiet. "I'm sorry your day was so shitty," she said, as they got into the parking garage elevator. She sounded remorseful. "I just wanted to let you know I'm here if you needed a sounding board, or if you just want to talk."
"They elect you because you're the girl?"
"I elected me, because I can communicate like a normal human."
"Well that makes one of us."
"I've known you to go nine rounds with Ben before," she said. "I never saw you trash your office afterward, though."
"Yeah," he sighed.
"Was it about Spotlight? Did he—he's not still talking about cuts, is he?"
He looked at her, and read the anxious line between her brows, and the concern behind her concern. He gave a grim laugh. "No. It was nothing to do with Spotlight. It was nothing to do with anything, other than me being an idiot." The elevator pinged, and they got out in the parking garage.
"So I'm getting a divorce," she offered.
"That's maybe the most horrible thing anyone has said to me yet, thanks."
"You bet. I'm on a roll today."
"Robby. What the hell happened?"
"What happened was, I set fire to the best thing in my life. I destroyed a friendship for no reason other than I am a fucking goddamn moron, and I deserve it. All right? And that's all you need to know about that."
She had stopped walking. "Then fix it."
He gave another grim laugh. "Not that easy."
"Well, you know," she said thoughtfully, "bullshit. Look, I'm getting a divorce. That's unfixable. But your friendship with Marty, that's fixable. One afternoon can't destroy everything."
"Sure," he said, "that's a great idea. Why didn't I think of just fixing it. I'm gonna run right out to the Hallmark store and find me a card for that. What exactly would that say, now? Sorry I called you a child molester, wouldn't want to just let that fester!"
"You did. . .what?"
He sighed. What the hell kind of explanation would someone like Sacha understand? He couldn't even begin to unravel the tangled mess his head had made. She was frowning at him, clearly thinking he was talking in metaphors. "Go home, Sacha," he said. He turned and headed to his car at the far end of the floor, off by itself. But then he stopped and called to her. "Hey," he said.
"What I said about your divorce, when I said I figured. I meant I figured, because doing this job I've never seen a marriage last, is what I meant. Not because of anything specific about you and Hansi. You're good people. What I meant to say was, I'm sorry to hear that."
He could see the faint upturn of her smile. "See, that's how you fix things. Now go and try that with Marty."
"Yeah," he said. "I don't think it works like that."
"Sometimes it does," she said, tugging her trenchcoat around her. "Give it a try and see."
He had just laughed a little, inwardly, at her words, and not really considered them. But by the time he arrived home he discovered that he was, somehow, considering them, and by the time he had thrown his bag on the hall chair and hung his coat and flipped the lights in his empty house and clicked off the alarm on the downstairs floor, he was already mapping out his e-mail in his head.
It was one of his better e-mails, it definitely was. It was four beautifully constructed paragraphs, and it began with I have no idea what to say and throughout were phrases like the value of your friendship and profound respect for you and my inability to express. He sat there looking at the four turgid paragraphs, re-read them carefully, and then slowly hit the backspace key, until the cursor had eaten every last one of his hollow, meaningless words. And then he rested his head in his hands.
This afternoon, when he had destroyed his office, he had just been filled with rage: rage that he couldn't go back in time and fix what had come out of his mouth (and really? that had actually come out of his fucking mouth?); rage at himself, for not keeping a better guard on the fucked-up over-catechized psychologically-tortured Catholic schoolboy that would fall off his tongue if he weren't careful, every now and again; rage that a simple mistake was going to cost him. . .
Cost him the look on Marty's face when he walked into a room.
He hadn't known there was a look, until he saw its absence. He hadn't known it was there, until he saw it replaced by something else, and in the midst of his fury and confusion and childish rage this afternoon, there had been a small part of his brain that had sat up and said, Oh. So that's what it looks like when Marty Baron looks at you without respect.
He hadn't known, until he lost it, what Marty's respect had meant.
He looked at his phone, and considered texting. He considered calling. And then he grabbed his coat and his keys.
He didn't let himself think, all the long drive to Marty's apartment. It was an executive rental in the city, not too far from the office, of course. You know, grown-ups buy houses, he had said not too long ago.
Marty had winced. Real estate is not for me.
Robby had just continued picking through his carton of Chinese, and wiped his mouth. Okay but, he had said. Everyone in this town is waiting you out. They all think you came in here because it was the smart career move, because the Globe is your stepping-stone to your next big gig. You keep renting, they'll think they're right. They'll never deal with the fact of you as a fact that isn't going away.
Marty had chewed meditatively. By 'they' do you mean the Church, do you mean the corporate-municipal power structure, or do you mean the Globe?
The last two. And you may not care about City Hall or Arch Street, but you care what your own people at the Globe think.
Mm, Marty had said, nodding as he crunched a water chestnut. So you think the ship has sailed with me and the Church?
I'm saying, I don't think your next confession is going to go well.
Marty had grinned, and Robby had grinned too, and then he had started laughing, because all of a sudden he had had this flash of remembering Marty at the Catholic Charities ball, looking tall and grim, received about as warmly as a fart in church, and he couldn't stop laughing at the memory of it. If Law had only known then. And maybe he had; maybe some of the old scoundrel's sixth sense had picked up on the quiet intent danger lurking behind Marty Baron's glasses. Or more likely the arrogant SOB had never even seen it coming.
Two weeks after that conversation, Marty had bought the penthouse he had been renting. Adventurous, Robby had remarked.
I hate moving, Marty had said.
The extent to which you are about seventy is something I did not see coming.
Lots of people get thrown off by my fun-loving exterior, Marty said.
Robby sat now in the parking garage of Marty's building, clutching his keys. But still he didn't let himself think; still he let himself be propelled out of his car and up the elevator, with nothing but fix it fix it fix it thrumming in his head. He had no idea what he planned to say, but I swear to God I will open a vein right here in your fucking hallway if you will never, ever look at me that way again would be an excellent place to start. He banged on the door.
That Marty might not be there was a possibility he had not considered. How late was it, exactly? He was a little surprised that it was midnight. Well, traffic had been murder. Marty would still be awake. Probably he was awake.
The door swung open, and a glasses-less Marty was staring at him, in his boxers. The man had been in bed. In his boxers and nothing else. "Robby?" he said. "What's wrong?"
And it was that moment that did him in. Because when he said what's wrong, Robby saw that if he had been pounding on Marty's door at midnight because something really had been wrong, or because he had needed something, Marty would have made this afternoon like it had never happened. And that knowledge unstrung Robby's voice.
"Me," he said hoarsely. "Me is what's wrong. I fucked up. I fucked up so bad, I can't even—I can't begin to dig my way out, so I won't. I just need you to know something, okay? I need you to know that what you heard me say today, the stupid shit that came out of my mouth, that is not me. That is not what I think. I know there's no changing what you think of me now, I know what I did, and I accept that. But I can't stand for you to think that I—that I don't respect you, more than anyone I've ever known. Your friendship. . ." and here his throat began to close on him, treacherously, but he pushed through it. "Your friendship has been the thing I have valued. . ." The iron fingers around his throat closed, and he had to stop. He kept his eyes just to the left of Marty, on the doorframe.
"I just came to say I'm sorry," he said. "You're right to think about me what you do. I. . ." He shut his eyes. Wow, it really was midnight, and he had in fact been up since three in the morning. Yesterday morning. He could feel the burn in his eyes, and it matched the one in his throat. "I'm sorry," he said again, and turned to go, before he made an even bigger hash of this. If that were possible. Marty was still standing half-naked in the doorway. It was mildly funny that being naked had zero negative effect on his sphinx-like impassivity.
"Hey," Marty said, as Robby was halfway to the elevator. "Please wait." So Robby obediently came back, and stood there. Marty was squinting at him thoughtfully. "Have you been sleeping?"
"Ah, not. . . so well this week. It's fine."
"What's going on?"
"Barbara moved the last of her stuff out. Hardly an unforeseen event. It was the most convenient week for both of us."
Marty was frowning at him like he was speaking another language. "You’re kidding," he said. "I didn't even know you were getting divorced. I didn't know you guys were in trouble. How long has this been going on?"
"We’ve been separated two years," Robby said, and Marty still stood there, staring at him. "Yeah, I don't—no one knows about it.”
“I thought she just didn’t like parties."
“No, she likes parties fine, it’s me she’s not so crazy about. And it's not really a divorce, it's just a Catholic divorce."
"No, in a Catholic divorce you stay legally married, just in different states. She actually lives in Connecticut. A Catholic divorce has a lot of advantages, like being a hell of a lot cheaper, for instance. Its disadvantages would be the complete lack of psychological closure, and the ongoing emotional torture. Oh, and guilt. You get extra of that."
Marty was still frowning at him. He couldn't remember how he had gotten talking about Barbara. "Get in," Marty said, swinging the door open.
Robby stepped inside. He stood and looked around at the high white walls and sterile glass everywhere. "Let me guess," he said. "The furniture was part of the package."
"What gave it away. Come on." He followed Marty past the living room and into a smaller hallway. Marty pointed at the end of the hallway. "Guest room," he said. "I think. I don't know what's in there, but I'm pretty sure it came with furniture too. Go fall on the bed and sleep. I'll wake you when you need to get up."
Don't be ridiculous, I'm fine, I didn't come here to fall on top of your furniture, Robby opened his mouth to protest. But then he saw Marty's face, and it looked like Marty's face again. He was looking at Robby the way he always did.
"I can make this a salary-contingent demand," Marty said, misinterpreting Robby's hesitation.
"Yeah, okay," Robby sighed. And that was how he had ended up spending the night at Marty Baron's penthouse, which turned out to be one of the better night's sleeps he had ever had, on a mattress that felt like it was made of stacked clouds, and sheets he was a thousand percent sure Marty had not chosen. His phone buzzed as he was drifting off, but he didn't answer it. He saw that it was Sacha. Probably she was checking on him, the way you did when your relationship with your boss was overly filial. He was a little wickedly glad about Hansi — the laconic lump of a man was not exactly a good fit for Sacha.
He considered answering and saying, hey, great advice, it actually worked. In fact I'm at his place right now. Yeah. In bed, actually. Okay, gotta go, bye.
He smiled in the dark, imagining the horror on Sacha's face at that one. And as though the dark dam of thoughts had been waiting for an opening, and had seized the opportunity at his lame joke to himself, he was rushed by things he had thought long dead, feelings and desires he had thought long suppressed. He shifted in the bed, kicked them away with the sheets.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Marty Baron wearing only his boxers. Bless me, Father. Self-abuse, my son? How many times? Five times, Father. (Only lying by seventeen hundred.) And impure thoughts? Yes? Of what nature?
The old nausea slung around and caught him in the gut. His dreams, when they came, were long and haunted. He woke eleven hours later to a quiet hand on his shoulder, waking him slowly with its presence. The third time Marty had touched him.
"You've seriously never played poker?" Matt was staring at Marty like he had confessed to disliking baseball. Which of course he did, but that wasn't something the Spotlight team needed to know about.
"Ah, no," Marty was saying. "Not really. I watched my roommate play when I was in college. It seems more or less similar to bridge."
"Similar to—how so, exactly?" Mike's expression had gone from faintly pitying to openly insulted. "Are you serious? Okay, sit down. Just—just sit down, we're going to fix this, this is some kind of fucking unimaginable travesty. Robby, you in?"
"Always," he said, and pulled up his chair to the table.
The fun of it was, Marty was, as it turned out, genuinely terrible at poker. Not just in a beginner's kind of way, or in a got-a-bad-hand kind of way; he was terrible at it down in his bones, hopelessly. It was such a profound thrill to find something Marty Baron was bad at that Robby hadn't even known how eager he was to see Marty fail at something, and then was ashamed at the part of himself that enjoyed it. In fairness, Marty seemed to enjoy it too, and as the evening wore on was more bemused at his own failure than anything. Mike's mood improved, too, as his chips piled up — the pile-up of empty bottles might have had something to do with that, too.
"Okay, so Pam sent me with this, which I graciously and against my better judgment have decided to donate," Matt said, stretching to reach his duffel on the floor and emerging with a bottle of Glenmorangie.
"Wait a minute," Robby said. "Your wife not only let you go out of town for the whole weekend, she sent you with a bottle of ten-year-old Scotch to enjoy yourself with?"
"Matt, I think your wife is having an affair," Marty said gravely, and Matt laughed his big open genial laugh, and Robby grinned, and Sacha and Mike did not. Goddammit. It wasn't like in some dark corner of his head he hadn't suspected.
"She is a queen among women," Robby said, reaching for clean glasses. "To Pamela McTavish Carroll, long may she put up with Matt's bullshit."
"To Pamela," they all solemnly intoned, and downed the Scotch. Marty was still studying his glass.
"Don't tell me you don't like Scotch either," Mike said, but it had no bite in it, and Marty's smile was inscrutable. They played another few hands after that, at least until the Glenmorangie held out, and then Mike decided it would be a good night for a swim in the lake, and Sacha and Matt agreed, because that was the sort of thing that seemed like a good idea if you were blotted and in your thirties. Robby stayed behind and cleaned up in the kitchen, and Marty continued to sit at the table, brow furrowed, picking up and examining everyone's hands like he was trying to figure out this game.
"So listen," Robby said. "You wanna sit for a bit?"
"Sure," Marty said, and they uncorked some more beer and went to sit out on the porch. The porch was on the side of the cabin, and the lake was around the other direction; they weren't likely to be disturbed by the returning swimmers, who at some point would discover that a lake in Maine in September was not as warm as it might look, even early September. Well, that was more shit you didn't care about in your thirties.
They sat in easy silence for a bit, lit only by the porch's dim warm light, and listening to distant whoops and shouts and laughter, and the buggy sounds of the woods. "This is a nice place," Robby said. "How'd you get it again?"
"Friend of mine from Miami. They bought it years ago, when they were up here on a holiday and fell in love with the area. Then she took a job at the Herald, and they couldn't bring themselves to sell it, even though they hardly ever get up here anymore. When I said I was moving to Boston, they said to use it as often as I wanted. I'd kind of forgotten about it until a little bit ago."
"Huh," Robby said. In his head he was trying to reconstruct what Marty's friends would look like. Kind of a shock to think of the man as having any, actually. In the past year in Boston, Robby had never heard him mention any friends in the area, or talk about going out with any of them. He had just assumed that was Marty. Maybe that was just Boston.
"You miss it?" Robby said, after a bit.
Marty took his time, like he was thinking about that one. "No," he said. "Truth is, I was glad to leave."
"Oh yeah? Things at the Herald getting you down?"
"No, the Herald was great. I had personal reasons for wanting to leave."
"Oh," Robby said, and some strange sharp thing drove right up his middle. He wondered what Marty's personal reason looked like. Well, it could have been a relative. A falling out with a sister, or a brother. Family issues. It could have been anything. And Marty's face always looked closed, that didn't necessarily mean anything.
"So the Globe's offer just came along at the right time, I guess," Robby said, keeping his voice light.
Marty shrugged, or did the thing he did that passed for a shrug — a sort of side-to-side, back-and-forth tilt of his head. "The Globe had been nosing around for a while," Marty said. "I had never really considered it."
"Because you don't like Boston?"
"Because I don't like cold."
"Yeah, tough luck there, old man."
"Yep," Marty said, taking another sip of his beer. "So how are things with Barbara?"
"Oh, they're great. We had a good long talk on the phone last week, and we both admitted we'd made mistakes, and she agreed to move back home first of the month."
They relapsed into silence, and Marty's voice when he spoke again was meditative. "Is that what you would want?" he asked.
"What I want," Robby said slowly. "What I want is to be twenty-one again, and it's 1972, and The Doors are my idea of decent sex music, and in the second-to-last game of the season Aparicio makes the catch like he goddamn should have, and the Sox take the AL East, and that pretzel place on Atherton hadn't closed down, and hell, I might understand a little better what the hell a lifetime means, and maybe I'd even know the difference between an impossible dream and an impossible choice. But that's not the sort of thing you get to know, and have all your hair."
"I have quite a bit of hair."
Marty took another reflective swig of beer. "The Doors, huh. More of an R and B man myself.”
“Well, that’s just your Florida showing through.”
"Also, there's a new pretzel bakery over at Quincy Market, supposed to be pretty good."
"You are amazingly skilled at evading the point.”
"Kind of like you at evading the question."
Robby snorted and sank back into his beer. The distant calls and laughs were fading now. They had all either drowned, or were getting sober enough to discover the lake was actually cold. There wouldn't be a better time. He finished off his beer with a last swig. "Listen," he said. "There's something I need to talk to you about."
Robby set his empty beer carefully on the table. "I think it's time," he continued, "for me to make my graceful exit."
Marty cocked his head. "From Spotlight?"
"From Spotlight," Robby said, nodding slowly, "and from the Globe. From the job. I think it's time for me to move on. This kind of investigative journalism, it takes a toll. I'm ready to step back. I think it's time."
Marty's face was inscrutable as ever. Can't get a read on him, he had said to Ben a year ago, and in all the essential ways that hadn't changed. It occurred to him you could probably know Marty Baron your whole life and not be able to read that face, which would always be politely open and forever closed. He wondered if it had been different in Miami.
"You think it's time," Marty said, thoughtfully. "At fifty-two."
"Yeah, well, like I said, the job takes a toll. And I'm ready to do something else. And Spotlight is ready for new leadership."
"Who did you have in mind?"
Robby swallowed that one. Part of him had thought Marty would protest, would fight him on it; part of him had thought — hoped? — this might be kind of a battle. "Been thinking about that one," he said. "Matt's got the most seniority, it makes sense to give it to him. But Matt's thing is the data. Sometimes he's got a hard time pulling his head out of the data to see the larger picture. Handing him Spotlight feels like pulling him out of the thing he's good at and pushing him into something he's not good at. And Mike is the next obvious choice, in terms of seniority, and God knows he's got the passion, and that's great, that's what he needs to get the stories he does, but that's not what you need in the driver's seat, you know? So even though she's got the least seniority, I think it should be Sacha. She's got the level head, she's got the eye for the big picture, and what she doesn't know she can learn on the job. For what it's worth, that's where my money would be. You can pull someone from Metro — Lindsay or O'Hannon — and train them to be the fourth team member. Easier than you could pull in an outsider to lead, I mean."
"Mm," Marty said, and they sat there in silence. Robby watched Marty finish his beer.
"I'm assuming you've been thinking about this for a while," Marty said, eventually.
"Yeah. I have."
"Mm," he said again. Robby wondered if he was preparing some remark about waiting for this vacation to spring it on him, and how that was kind of a dick maneuver. About coming up here already knowing full well what he was going to say.
"Well," Marty said, and set his beer down beside Robby's. "If you think it's time to go write your book, I can't stop you. But I would have hoped you would give me the reason. I had thought maybe I would get that much." He rose, and picked up both their bottles. "Overestimation, I guess," he said, and he went into the house.
"Oh, for—" Robby muttered. He sat there a minute, collecting himself, before he followed him in. Marty was in the washroom off the kitchen, putting their bottles and some he had collected from the kitchen in the recycling bins. Robby slammed the little door behind him.
"For fuck's sake," he growled, "you know the reason."
"Then say it."
"Oh, that would make you feel better? You want to hear me say it? I have zero business leading Spotlight or any other investigative team and you goddamn know why."
"Because why, Robby? Because of something that happened eight years ago? Because of—"
"Because I fucking failed, you smug self-righteous son of a bitch!"
He picked up one of the empties and hurled it into the recycling bin, where it crashed and shattered against the others. "I fucked up, all right, and it wasn't something that happened eight years ago, it wasn't like I messed up the copy editing, are you kidding me? People were hurt because I fucked up, kids were hurt. I could have stopped this whole thing, maybe, stopped it, and I didn't. I chose not to. I walked away from a fucking story. I buried it. I did that. And to you, that's just something that happened in the past, something that isn't supposed to matter now? Bullshit. It matters every time my team looks at me, it matters every time I look at myself in the mirror, and hell no, I have no fucking business behind a desk at the Globe or anywhere else! Is that what you want to hear? Are you happy now? Is that enough why for you?"
"I hear a lot of yelling, but I don't hear any why at all. I hear a lot of useless self-pity.”
“Self-pity, are you fucking serious? I am talking about reality here, and you have the gall to look at me and say it’s useless, that confronting reality is useless?”
“I just don’t think walking away from a problem is the way to fix it.”
“I have lost my team’s confidence, are you listening to me? I have lost—”
“You lost your confidence.”
Robby stopped and stared at him. Marty sighed. “Look. You want to make things better? Then you get back in that office and make a difference. You try harder. You do better."
"Do better,” Robby choked out. “Do better, is what you say to me. Fuck you. No, sincerely Marty, fuck you. I spill out my soul to you, and all you say is do better? You are one cold bastard, you know that? But I'm guessing I could have called up a guy in Miami and found that one out."
He saw the quick rise and fall of Marty's chest, but that was the only tell. That, and Marty just stood there. Marty put his hands on his hips and looked at the floor like maybe someone had left some vital bit of recycling there.
"The thing is this," Marty finally said, and his voice when he spoke was quiet. "And this is the thing. I know the reason you want to quit. But the reason I think is worth asking about — what I think is worth asking yourself about — is why you failed in the first place. Figuring that out, it seems to me that's a harder job than quitting would be. And I can't help but think you're quitting because you don't want to ask that question, or you don't want the answer. That's—that's all I was trying to say."
He brushed past Robby on his way to the door, which he wrenched open. "And I can give you that phone number if you want it, you unbelievable jackass."
The door banged back on its hinges. Robby stood there another few seconds, his limbs slightly numb. When he trusted himself to move he emerged from the little room, only to find — and wasn't that just the cherry on the cake of his day — the entire team standing poleaxed and dripping wet in the kitchen, staring awkwardly at the ceiling, the cabinets, the goddamn baseboards, to avoid looking at him. Wasn't that just the best.
"Nice swim?" he said.
"Amazing!" Sacha said, with forced heartiness, and Matt and Mike chimed in with "Phenomenal!" and "Great!"
"Well, that's just super," Robby said, and strode off to his room. He found childish satisfaction in slamming the door behind him.
He woke with the dawn, and the flat taste of remorse in his mouth. Easy to say it had been the booze, but he had always been able to hold his liquor, and he hadn't even had that much last night — not compared to his capacity, anyway. He rose and slipped on his clothes, because he knew enough about Marty Baron to know that if the sun was up, so was Marty, and he went in search.
The cabin was still, and the floorboards creaked under his feet. He flipped on the coffeemaker and slipped on a jacket, heading down to the lake. Sure enough, once he rounded the last curve on the path to the lake, he saw him. Marty was in the water, slicing a clean untroubled line across the near end of the lake. Because of course, Marty Baron would be sure to work out while on vacation. Robby walked to the end of the floating dock and stood there, waiting for Marty to surface.
After another circuit, Marty aimed for the dock, and came up for air, bobbing beside the dock. He pushed his hair out of his eyes, and shook a bit, like a dog.
"You're not going to believe this," Robby said, crouching down, "but among my friends, I'm the one with the reputation for keeping my cool."
Marty's bark of a laugh rang out across the lake. Wisps of mist still floated above the surface of the lake, and the golden morning light reflected off the mist, turning it opaque. Marty hauled himself up onto the dock in one effortless motion. Robby kept his eyes on the mist, and sat beside him.
"All of which is my way of saying that 'unbelievable jackass' was just about right. Look, I'm sorry I lost it last night. That was not how I intended that conversation to go."
"I goaded you pretty hard," Marty said, wiping at his face with the towel, scrubbing at his hair.
"I don't have an answer for you," Robby said. "The truth is, I just don't. I don't know why I did it. The truth is. . ." He turned his head abruptly and let the glare of mist and sun blind his face. "The truth is I don't remember why I did it."
"What do you mean?"
Robby was silent a bit more. Somehow, in the dawn quiet, things were easier to say. "I don't remember doing it," he said. "Sacha handed me that article, and it was like I hadn't ever seen it before. I don't have any memory of it. I don't remember getting those boxes of material from Phil Saviano. Maybe I did. Maybe the mailroom sent it on to someone else, who knows. But the truth is, I don't have any answer because I just don't remember any of it, and that's a hell of a lot scarier than knowing why I did it."
Marty was quiet, and together they studied the dawn on the lake, and the mist like white-gold icing. "I mean, what the hell," Robby whispered. "Why can't I—why can't I fucking remember? The biggest fuck-up of my life, and I can't even goddamn remember it?"
Marty lay back on the dock and closed his eyes. For a minute Robby thought he might have drifted back to sleep, he was so motionless. "Did I ever tell you," he said at last, "that I read the catechism Law gave me?"
"You're shitting me."
"That I am not. I read it cover to cover. Fascinating stuff. 'Tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' I do remember that part."
"Yeah," Robby said. "There are some good ones in there."
"I also read some Aquinas," Marty said. "I got interested in the source material the catechism was deriving most of its sexual morality from. You ever read any of the Summa Theologica?"
"You are a pretty unusual Jew," Robby observed.
"Jesus was a pretty unusual Jew."
"And look where that got him."
Marty smiled. "You think Boston's going to crucify me?"
Robby said nothing, thinking of some of the recent websites he had found. There was one called The Jew's Revenge that was even more virulent and poison-dripping than most. It featured a giant blown-up photo of Marty Baron, and was extremely detailed about the Jew's eternal desire to destroy the Catholic Church. Funny how those people always said "the Jew" like there was only one of them, like they were all the same demonic manifestation through the centuries. But this website had been more dangerous than your average deluded Nazi propaganda mill. This website had featured Marty's home address at the bottom of the page.
"You ought to go back and read Aquinas, if it's been a while," Marty was saying. "Some very illuminating stuff. In case you were napping through this part of catechism class when you were in school, Aquinas says that any sexual act that precludes procreation is a graver evil than a sexual act that at least contains the possibility of procreation. So rape is bad, sure, but masturbation is worse."
Robby nodded, but there was some strange thing in his throat. "And even heterosexual rape," Marty mused, "is better than consensual homosexual acts. Because the former is a violation of civil law, but the latter is a violation of natural law. Heterosexual rape is just a disordered application of a right impulse, but the homosexual act — even the consensual one between two loving adults — is disordered down at its root."
"Yeah, that. . . sounds about right," Robby said.
"I think it does," Marty said, and now he was looking right at Robby. "I think to you it does sound right. I think you don't come out of twelve years of Catholic schooling without believing at least some of that, down at the subconscious level. Even if you think that's not what you think, at some level, you think it."
He found no rejoinder to that, and Marty's eyes did not veer away. "That's why you said that to me, before," Marty went on. "That's why you associate gayness with child abuse. They're both violations of natural law. The catechism makes no real distinction between them. One mortal sin is not more mortal than another. So why should a gay person be any different from a child molester?"
"That is not — that is not what I think of you," Robby managed, past the tightness in his throat.
"I know that," Marty said. "It's what you think of yourself."
Marty's eyes without his glasses were uncomfortable, were unbearable. Robby could feel the thud-thud of his chest, like he had had too much coffee, like he had just jogged the perimeter of the lake. He knew that soon, soon he would have to find something to say back. The seconds were ticking by, and he had nothing.
"I think you know why you don't remember," Marty said. "I think you know why you don't want to remember. Not all child abuse happens in the rectory bedroom. Sometimes it happens in the schoolroom too. What they told you about yourself, it wasn't true."
“About myself,” Robby repeated numbly.
“You and I both know what I’m talking about.”
Robby just stared back at him, and he had slipped into some shadow universe in which words evaporated like the lake mist and thoughts crashed and wheeled in his brain. “So maybe you killed the story because you thought you didn’t have the right,” Marty continued inexorably. “Maybe you thought you were just like them. Maybe your sub-conscious brain pushed the story away. It’s called survival mode.”
"I have to go inside," Robby said, when he found words again.
"And I think you don't really want to quit your job," Marty said. "I think if you wanted to quit, you would have told me on our last night here, not our first night. I think you know everything I just said, and you know why you don't remember. Why you don't want to remember."
"I need coffee," Robby managed, which was perfectly true, but he also needed air, needed to be away from here, needed to be far away from Marty's grave level voice, his eyes that wouldn't look away. He was halfway up the path to the cabin before his chest stopped hammering.
"Hey there," Sacha said chipperly, when he pushed back the door. "You out for an early morning hike?"
"Something like," he said, aware how surly he sounded. He downed a half-cup of coffee before he let himself speak again. "You sleep okay?"
"Like the dead. So you—how about you?"
"That's good," she said. "Good. I—so, you know, you and Marty kind of went at it last night."
"Look," he sighed.
"None of us think that," she said, low and intent. "Robby, listen to me, none of us think those things. None of us want you to go. Mike especially. Please don't."
He finished his coffee. "It's bound to happen eventually," he said. "Soon enough, you'll be the one making lame jokes at my retirement party and serving cake."
"I wish I'd never found that article," she said, just as intent. "I wish to hell I hadn't seen it. I wish I hadn't—"
"Found out the truth about me?"
"That isn't what I—" she began, but then Matt stumbled down the stairs, bleary and puffy-eyed but with an unerring sense of where the coffeemaker was located, and Sacha became intent on her muffin. The worst part of this weekend was, he couldn't even do what he wanted to, which was get in his car and drive off, all the way back to Boston, because he had driven all of them here. Of course, he could just drive away and make them Marty's problem; Marty had the room in his car. But he'd had enough of being a petulant child in front of Marty. Worse, Marty would just forgive him with more of that gravely reasonable tone that made Robby want to punch him. It was the same tone he himself deployed on Mike, to such excellent effect. Galling to see his own tactics mirrored back at him like that. And why did he let Marty get under his skin like that?
The day itself was actually not so bad, though. Marty mainly stayed clear of them, which was good, and Robby hauled the whiteboard out of the trunk of his car and set it up in the cabin’s living room area, and Mike got a fire started for them, and they brainstormed ideas. And it was good – the working vacation idea had not been such a bad one, truth was. They hadn’t really had time to stop and do what they were doing now. This whole past year, there had been so much to uncover and so much to follow that lots of avenues had been left until later, because there just wasn’t time, because the essentials had to get out there, because each new lead led to a hundred more, and because editorial decisions had to be made. So it was good to sit back and say, okay, what do you wish there was more time to follow up on? For Mike it was the legal stuff – he wanted to talk to more lawyers who worked with these kinds of suits, explore what it would take to get legislatures to shift those statutes of limitations, what sorts of pressures were operating in all directions on keeping them where they were. For Matt it was, unsurprisingly, the data – he wanted to keep working with Richard Sype on combining their findings with his, and seeing if they could get some publishable statistical evidence of a psychological phenomenon here, some scientific basis for Sype’s anecdotal findings.
“The people,” Sacha said, when it was her turn, and Mike nodded.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “The ordinary churchgoers, right?” She nodded back.
“I mean, I saw it with my Nana, but I’d like a chance to talk to more people about what this has meant for them, if anything. Maybe a series on how life in the pew has changed since this all became public, how views of priests have changed.”
“And of the priesthood,” Mike added.
“There’s the danger,” Robby said, “of us becoming the all abuse all the time channel. And I think we need to weigh how to give this story – all these stories – the oxygen they deserve, versus how to use this forum to move the needle on a range of issues.”
“Okay,” Mike said, “so what about we do both? I mean, we’re used to going in-depth on just one story at a time, right? But this isn’t like anything we’ve ever done, so maybe we go to a new model of, we keep returning to this story while we’re also running sidebars on other issues – or the other way around, whatever. But I think we can do both at the same time.”
“I think so too,” Robby said. “As long as we’re intentional about both. And one tangent at a time, yeah? We stay on the stats story, for instance, while we’re also running the dockworkers investigation, and then we move on from there.”
“One thing though,” Matt said, and Robby caught his glance at the others, the glance shared among the three of them. “Yeah,” Mike interjected. “We have a thing.”
“You quit, we quit.”
There was silence in the room, and Robby fiddled with the expo marker he was holding. They were all sitting there looking at him. “For real,” Mike said. “You want to walk away, we can’t stop you. But none of us want anything to do with Spotlight if you’re not sticking around.”
Robby uncapped and capped his marker, suddenly very interested in it. “Not very career-minded of you,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, we have these jobs because we’re awesome at careers,” Matt said, and Mike gave a lopsided grin at that, and Sacha looked right at Robby with her small quiet triumphant smile.
“All right, back to work,” Robby said. “Before I make Sacha cover the statistics and Mike cover the psychology and Matt do legal.”
“Shoot me,” Matt moaned, and Mike reached over to slap the back of his head, and Sacha laughed, and Robby hid his smile in more notes on his stupid whiteboard.
“Listen up,” he said, flipping the marker. “We’ve got some decisions to make.”
He tried to sleep that night, he really did.
He gave it the old college try, but it was no good. Maybe it was all the quiet of the country; he was a city boy at heart, and all this blanketing noiselessness made it impossible to rest. I’m not such a fan of the country, he had said to Barbara, years ago, when she had wanted to buy a place up in Vermont for the weekends. She hadn’t said anything – hadn’t rolled her eyes or sighed in exasperation or even made that little smirky-mouth she used to make, the one that said he was both frustrating and incredibly endearing at the same time. How many years had she checked out before he had even been aware she had checked out?
So the compromise was, they had rented. They still took Ellen and Wally on trips to the woods, and they still did all that stuff, but they just continued to rent the same place, and never invested in buying. He had thought Barbara was being nice, not pressing about buying a place; in retrospect, maybe she had just been grateful for the lack of financial entanglement. Maybe she had already been thinking about how to get clear of him.
I’m not who you really love, she had said to him once.
Tell me this is not a conversation about my job again, had been his reply.
It’s not, she had said sadly. I learned a long time ago about having conversations you’ve decided not to have.
He kicked back his covers and stared into the dark. She thought she knew everything about him; she thought she had seen right through him. Truth was, he had never let her anywhere near, and whose fault was that if not his?
In the cabin’s silence, he pulled on his pants and a shirt and stepped out his door, trying to make his footfalls noiseless on the creaky floor. He paused on the landing. Matt and Mike were sharing the larger room across the hall. What were the chances that if he pushed back their door, he would find only Matt curled up, snoring? Mike was probably in Sacha’s room right now. Was that the cause of her divorce, or a more complicated symptom? Something told him the latter.
He crept downstairs, all the way to the cramped room Marty was sleeping in. He pushed back the door, quietly. He couldn’t have told you what was impelling him. Don’t take that one, it’s going to get the least amount of heat, Robby had said when they were unloading, and Marty had silently lifted his portable quartz heater to show him. It had made him laugh, all Marty’s earnest preparation for the cold he hated so much.
And now he was standing in the (admittedly toasty) dark of Marty’s bedroom. Marty sat immediately up, got out of the bed. His boxers again. He remembered that that was how Marty slept. No. More lies. He had never stopped thinking about it. And then this morning, at the dock, his swim trunks and the water droplets and his slight breathlessness as he heaved himself onto the dock—
“Robby? You okay?” Marty’s voice was quiet, low.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m . . . fine. Look, I just came to say I’m sorry about this morning, about how I—”
“No.” Marty’s voice rode over his. “Robby. You don’t have anything to apologize for. I was out of line. I said things I shouldn’t have.”
There was a window to Robby’s left, and the slant of moon sliced into the room, illuminating this weird little patch on the floor right between them. Robby studied it.
“You didn’t say anything that wasn’t true,” he said. He had come down here thinking he would tell Marty all of it. Some weird confessional impulse. And what had he thought he would say? That he would confess to Marty all his adolescent locker-room fumblings? “That’s all. I just wanted to say . . . you were right, is all.”
“So you’ll stay.”
“Yeah. For now. I mean yeah, I’ll stay. As long as the team wants me. There’s good work to be done. Work that I can do.”
“Thank you,” Marty said, and he sounded so sincere, so relieved. It was such a strange conversation. They might have been having it in the office, instead of standing here in the dark half-clothed.
“I really am sorry for today,” Marty was saying. “I couldn’t have been more out of line, and your personal life was—it’s none of my business.”
For once, Marty appeared to have no answer ready to that one. They both stood there in silence. For the rest of his life, Robby was sure he would remember what Marty had looked like, standing there in his undershorts, striped with moonlight. It wasn’t an intellectual’s body. His body was ill-suited to him, and made you think things about him that were not true, possibly. His body – his physical presence – was formidable, intimidating even. The stiff awkwardness of his carriage made you forget that.
People misread Marty all the time. Read him as gruff, or blunt. It was a mistake he had made too, at that first dinner. But the night he had slept over, he had used Marty’s bathroom to shower, because there were no towels or soap or anything, really, in the guest bathroom. And he hadn’t meant to, but he had been looking for a spare toothbrush when Marty had been bringing him some towels, and the medicine cabinet had swung open, and there had been a pharmacy staring him in the face, and Robby had hastily shut it. Not before he had seen it was like a benzodiazepine grocery store in there. Marty had seen that he had seen.
“I have some . . . social anxiety issues,” he had said. “It’s better now. Most of those are old.”
It was never that apparent, one on one. Well, sometimes it was – moments when it was clear that appropriate eye contact was something Marty had studied in a book. Strange for Robby to try to understand that; he himself had always been the social center of any group he was a part of, always captain of the team, always the one people were trying to sit next to. That it wasn’t that way for other people was a lesson he had learned later in life. Just a few weeks ago he and Marty had been at the ACS fundraiser together, and Marty had been (naturally, as befitted the Globe’s editor in chief) in the middle of a knot of people pressing close around him, trying to talk to him, shake his hand, get introduced. After about half an hour Marty had excused himself, and Robby had followed, and Robby had guarded the restroom door while Marty quietly vomited. And then he had re-emerged, and splashed water on his face, and gone right back out there to do his job. That was a kind of courage Robby knew he himself did not possess.
Case in point being this moment right here.
They stood there, like the puddle of moonlight between them was a sixty-foot moat swarming with alligators. Marty was just looking at him. Robby wasn’t trying to look away any more.
“You work for me,” Marty said, his voice quiet like before. “Technically speaking.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that whatever else I can do. . . Robby, I can’t cross this room.”
“Oh,” Robby said. “So could you, if I go back to quitting?”
“Yes,” Marty said, and his voice sounded weird, like there was something tight he was swallowing around.
“But you don’t want me to quit.”
“Kind of a bind, then.”
“Kind of,” Marty said lightly, and the strange thing was still in his voice.
“You can’t cross the room,” Robby said.
“And if I was the one to cross the room?”
Marty was silent, his eyes locked on Robby. Robby stepped into the moonlight and swam through the alligators. He was in Marty’s space. He was inches from Marty’s chest. “Honestly we’ve exhausted my knowledge of what comes next,” he whispered.
In ninth grade had been the first time he had done anything about it, about the things he thought about when he jerked himself in silent, desperate agony. He had been wrestling Joey Di Sando after practice, just the two of them on the mats, and then Joey was pinning him, face-up. That was when he had realized he was hard, about four seconds before he realized Joey was too. They had gotten off in their singlets, right there in the empty gym, just rubbing. And after that, he and Joey had made it kind of a regular thing. Nothing they ever talked about. They didn’t even meet each other’s eyes. They used hands, and looked away from each other, and Robby knelt in the pews on Sundays in an agony of self-loathing and shame. They sure as hell didn’t kiss, or anything like that. Hadn’t kissed any guy he had been with afterward, either. It was easy enough to spot who was good to go, who was interested. And then there was college, and Barbara, and he had thought he was cured of the other. Kissing was what you did with girls, kissing was for other things. This was always about his body, just his body.
What did you do when you could no longer find the line between your body and your heart?
He stood in Marty’s space, and he wasn’t kidding when he said he didn’t know what to do beyond that. Marty bent to him, and Marty’s lips. . . brushed his jaw. Robby was breathing like he had run all the way up here from the city, his chest thudding.
“Robby,” Marty breathed, and he couldn’t believe what he was hearing in Marty’s voice. Marty was just saying his name like he liked saying it, breathing it like he was. . . praying it, almost. Robby felt the old shame collapsing his chest.
“You can’t. . . want to touch me,” he choked out.
“You’re all I want to touch,” Marty whispered in the half-second before his lips found Robby’s. Marty was kissing him. Kissing was both the same, and not the same. Marty’s mouth was so warm, but his kiss wasn’t insistent. It was. . . gentle, somehow. His lips were. . .
Robby didn’t wait to find the word in his head. He kissed back. Kissed back, he was kissing Marty back. Kissing his lips. Kissing, like it was something people did. Something he did. He was so hungry. The taste was – there was a taste. He kissed back. So hungry. No, he was kissing—kissing too hard. He wasn’t kissing Marty, he was eating his mouth, he was—stop, he had to stop, but he couldn’t—
“Sorry,” he whispered, but he couldn’t stop shaking, this stupid shivering all up and down his body. It was like the blood in his body was reversing course, only now it was going the right direction, for maybe the first time in his life.
“Don’t stop,” Marty said, only he didn’t say it, exactly—it came out in a small gasp of sound, and holy fucking Jesus H. Christ, that was what Marty Baron sounded like turned-on.
“No, okay,” Robby said back, or some nonsense words, just anything to put his mouth back near Marty’s. Whatever he was doing—and he was doing everything wrong, he had to be—Marty appeared to like it. Marty’s arms were tight around him. Marty’s naked chest was against his own naked chest. Marty’s chest hair was scratching against his own chest. Nothing had ever felt so good.
“Can we,” Marty gasped, and it was definitely a gasp now, “can—”
“Anything,” Robby said, but they were kissing again.
“Can we lie down?”
“Yeah, sure, I—”
“It’s just—my hamstring.”
“I—your what?” And he reared back so Marty came into better focus for a few seconds.
“I took a hike around the lake to give you guys time to do your thing today, and it ended up being longer than I thought it would, and there was this bluff over on the southeast side, and mistakes were made. I just need to get off my leg.”
It was such a homely simple request—almost Robby had forgotten that a real world existed outside the circle of Marty’s arms, a place where people took hikes and pulled muscles and carried about their daily business, a place where the ordinary rules of the world continued to apply. He laughed aloud, just an astonished bark of a laugh. “Feel free to laugh at my pain,” Marty said, settling himself on the bed with a wince, and then Robby was lying down beside him, still with a grin on his face.
“I didn’t mean we had to move faster than you were comfortable with,” Marty said softly, when they had resettled, and found out where all the arms should go. “We don’t have to. . . nothing has to happen you don’t want to.”
“I know,” Robby said, just as softly. They were kissing again, only more gently this time. Like moving to the bed five inches away had been a reset button, somehow. Robby propped on his elbow, but did not stop kissing Marty, who arched his neck to meet Robby’s mouth and was. . . Jesus Christ, he was beautiful. Every inch of him was beautiful. When had he started thinking Marty Baron was beautiful? About five minutes after you met him, came the honest answer. It was like his brain and he were just getting reacquainted, like he was talking to himself—and listening, maybe—for the first time in decades.
“It would be a mistake,” Robby said, “to overestimate the extent to which I know what the hell I’m doing here, logistically speaking.”
Marty’s hand was rubbing his arm, just up and down. “I know,” he said simply. “Listen. Do you want to go back to your room, and we can continue this tomorrow? Or whenever you want to?”
“Mm,” Robby said thoughtfully. There were certain physical realities in this bed that Marty’s boxers were not doing such a good job of hiding—nor were his own sweatpants, for that matter. “And if I go back to my room, what would you do?”
“I would. . . go to sleep,” Marty said.
“Would you,” Robby said, and apparently his own store of courage was not yet exhausted, because he moved his hand to Marty’s dick, and cupped him through the thin fabric of his boxers. “Would you really?” he murmured, flexing his fingers a little.
Marty—holy fuck, Marty gasped for air. He grabbed a fistful of sheet. He arched his neck back, and Robby watched the vein on the left side of his neck pulse. “Robby,” he panted. It was his name again, said that way Marty said it.
“I said I was inexperienced,” Robby said, “not that I don’t know how to get off.” And he slid himself over on top of Marty and lowered his weight down on him, and his own cock felt raw and painful, it was so hard. He felt the heat of Marty’s cock beneath his, even through his sweatpants and Marty’s boxers, all that delicious firmness pushing back against him, pushing up into him. And now Marty was grabbing his head and pulling him down for another kiss that blistered the inside of his mouth, practically, Marty’s tongue was so hot.
“Marty,” he moaned.
“I didn’t mean to,” Marty was whispering. “I thought it was my problem, I thought I could deal—”
They were back to the kind of kissing that was more chewing on each other’s mouths. Somehow they couldn’t keep away from kissing like that, somehow it always became that. Marty made everything derail inside his head.
“Robby,” Marty whispered in his ear. “Can I touch you.”
What the hell do you mean, our hands are all over each other, he almost said, but then he got what Marty meant, and he gasped out a “please.”
The next second Marty’s hands were inside the loose band of his sweatpants, and his large fingers were brushing Robby’s stiff cock. “Nnguh,” Robby said, or some such elegant thing. It was just that it had been so long since it was anybody’s hand on him but his own.
“Shift up,” Marty whispered, and with some maneuvering they found a position. Marty’s hand was working him. Marty’s hand was as overheated as his tongue. “I—oh Jesus,” Robby managed. “Marty—”
“Here,” Marty said, and shifted them again, and now Robby was on his back. This let him tip his head back and close his eyes and try to breathe, but where had all the oxygen in the room gone? Marty’s hand was . . . it was touching places in him he hadn’t. . . he didn’t even know all the things Marty’s hand was doing. Hands, maybe?
Too late, too late he realized he was actually going to come. He was going to come in Marty Baron’s beautiful hands, in this narrow bed with the squeaking mattress. His dick was going to fucking explode, all in Marty’s hands, it would be all over Marty’s hands. Marty’s mouth was back on his neck. “Fuck,” Robby panted, and then “FUCK!” and his groan was definitely loud enough to reach upstairs, to carry over the far corners of the lake, to terrify the shit out of the fish.
“Robby,” moaned Marty, and he was clambering on top of Robby now, pressing his weight down into Robby’s still sensitive cock, shoving his own boxers down, gripping Robby so hard. Another wave of orgasm was ripped from Robby just at the pressure against his cock. Marty was riding him, and Robby dug his fingers into Marty’s bare back, and he felt the shudder of his orgasm, and Marty’s groan was louder even than his own—shook the thin walls, shook down Robby’s spine. He kissed Marty to taste the rest of the groan, to taste the sweetness of his mouth and cum and hands. Marty was panting, his head resting heavily on Robby’s shoulder. His head was bent, and he didn’t raise it.
“Oh God,” he murmured. Robby stroked his broad beautiful back.
“Shit,” Marty said. Marty was not given to profanity. He was still not raising his head. “I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I’m sorry, this wasn’t what I meant to—none of this was what I meant to—I was going to go slow, I wasn’t going to do this, I didn’t mean to—what are you. . . are you. . . Robby? Are you. . .laughing?”
And Marty raised his head, because he was, he really was laughing. “You’re laughing,” Marty said, incredulously. “Why are you laughing?”
“Because,” he said, letting the laughter tug him under again. “I’m the one who’s supposed to be freaking out,” Robby said. “And listen to you.” He twisted and pulled at a corner of blanket or whatever and stuffed it in between them wiping up their mess. He was pretty eager to clean them up before Marty noticed just how much he had come.
Marty was smiling now too, a slow bleary smile, and collapsing onto the pillow beside him. “Quartz heater,” Robby said. “Good investment.” His limbs felt too heavy to move. He turned his head to look at Marty, who was watching him. They watched each other, and there was a hand that nudged against his, fingers that laced in his. So that’s what this was supposed to feel like. He couldn’t look away from Marty’s face.
Tentatively, like they hadn’t touched before, he reached his hand out and brushed Marty’s face. He caressed the scratchiness of beard. There were too-sharp eyes that kept watching him—warm hazel eyes that were, like the rest of him, impossibly beautiful. Marty’s hand mirrored his gesture, and began stroking Robby. “I don’t want to stop touching you,” Robby whispered.
“Don’t ever stop,” Marty whispered back. The warm eyes slid shut for a brief second, like he wanted to pay attention to Robby’s hands on him.
“You know,” Robby said, “I’m not really sure that whispering is all that necessary. I’m not naming any names, but someone in this bed is kind of loud.”
Marty’s slow smile was lopsided. “Yeah, well, I’ve waited a while,” he said.
“That so,” Robby said. “How long would that be?”
“Hard to say. Since sometime between Hi, I’m Walter Robinson and asking for the menu, if I had to pin it down.”
Robby squinted at him. “You’re shitting me.”
“Mm. Not really.”
“You never. . . I mean, I didn’t think. . .”
“Yeah, I know.”
“When were you. . . were you ever going to, I mean. . .” Complete sentences seemed to have deserted him. And all the time they were lying here, Marty’s hand was stroking his back.
“Of course not.”
“That’s a hell of a plan you got there.”
“It seems to have worked out.”
Robby laughed again, softly, and he felt the answering shake of Marty’s laugh. And then he maneuvered himself up a little bit, and kissed Marty. This kiss was even more tentative than before. If kissing a guy had been new territory, kissing a guy when there was no immediate sex in view, kissing a guy as an expression only of tenderness, of the un-nameable something that pressed on his chest, was another planet entirely. Marty’s arms came around him again, and there was no word for how good that felt, that iron grasp of Marty’s arms around him, like he would never let go.
He didn’t mean to fall asleep in Marty’s room, because that would be courting disaster in a crowded house. But he couldn’t quite make himself get up, either, and after a while of lying there, just touching in the quiet dark, he drifted off. They didn’t talk any more, but neither of them was sleeping very deeply; Robby kept waking up to find Marty’s hands wandering, stroking, and then his own hands would wander and stroke, and probably about three in the morning the kissing had some intent behind it, and Robby rolled over on top of Marty.
They were dead quiet this time, and kept their eyes on each other. Marty’s fingers dug into his arms hard enough to leave bruises. When he was close to coming, Robby bent down and put his mouth by Marty’s ear, wanting only to touch more, to get closer, to crawl inside his skin if he could. Marty got their legs wrapped even tighter and their cocks in even better alignment. He dug those fingers into Robby’s ass, and that was what finally made Robby shoot. His spine curled, and he gasped his pleasure into Marty’s ear, and he was dimly aware Marty was coming too, as silent and choked as he was. Afterward they fell back asleep, and didn’t even bother to wipe or clean up, because what was the point? The next thing he knew, Marty’s hand was on his shoulder, squeezing him softly to wakefulness, and the room wasn’t quite as dark as it had been.
“Shit,” croaked Robby, and half fell out of the bed, stumbling for his clothes. He didn’t realize he had forgotten to glance back or even say anything to Marty until he was on the stairs back to his own room, but he had been so seized with panic about someone figuring out what was going on, and that Robby wasn’t in his room. Old terrors died hard, and Marty wasn’t going to fault him for a lack of eloquent farewell.
He took a quick shower and threw some clothes on, eager to get downstairs and begin his “everything is completely normal” operetta in three acts, for the benefit of Sacha and Matt and Mike. It felt like having an affair. It felt wrong and forbidden. It felt fucking fantastic.
He came downstairs whistling, and to his surprise they were all already sitting there nursing coffee – or rather, Sacha and Mike were sitting at the kitchen table, and Matt was busy whipping up some eggs and toast and some actual breakfast. “Matt is the only one of us with skills in this department,” Sacha said, and she raised tired-looking eyes to him, and her morning smile sort of froze on her face. Mike glanced over, and the swallow of coffee in his mouth didn’t make it down his throat, but was spluttered across the kitchen table in a wide graceful arc. He reached hastily for a napkin, but he kept looking at Robby. Sacha didn’t look away from Robby either, and her eyes widened in what was clearly meant to be a significant way, but he still didn’t understand, in those three seconds, what was going on, until Matt craning around the skillet with a piece of toast stuck in his mouth, stuck his head in the breakfast nook and said, “What happened to your neck?”
And he stood there blinking, because only now was it occurring to him. Only now was it occurring to him that in his haste to come downstairs he had of course not shaved, and he had not really looked in a mirror at all, because why would you if you weren’t shaving?
He resisted the impulse to reach up and slap his hand over what he had no doubt was the mother of all hickeys on his neck. Damn Marty Baron and his mouth. There was probably some beard burn thrown on there for good measure.
“I slipped in the shower,” he said through gritted teeth, but this just caused Mike further difficulties with his coffee, which Sacha tried to help by reaching over and slapping him on the back so hard Robby could hear the murderous thwack of her hand. And of course – of fucking course – that was the exact moment Marty chose to amble out and make his way to the coffee, while Robby was still standing there frozen as Sacha’s face.
“Morning, all,” Marty said, as stoically cheerful as ever, calmly drinking his coffee while pretending, apparently, that Mike was not suffering the final stages of apoplexy at the kitchen table, and Robby was not standing there looking like the side of his neck had been beaten by a barge pole. “You all right?” Marty said.
“Had a little accident in the shower,” Robby managed, though his jaw was almost too tight for speech.
“Ouch, be careful there. That’s the thing with those PVC showers in cabins, they’re slick as glass. At your age you really can’t afford a fall,” Marty said, serene as ever.
“I’m going to go back to bed,” Robby said.
“But I made breakfast!” Matt protested, over his skillet. “There’s toast!”
Butter it and stick it up your backside, Robby considered shouting down at him as he headed up the stairs, but decided to go with being an adult, for now. He couldn’t believe he had ever thought Marty Baron was an all right guy, because obviously the man was a manipulative snake in the grass whose self-effacing shyness was a cover for more vicious sadism than he had previously thought possible. He wouldn’t put it past Marty to have known exactly what he was doing to Robby’s neck, and to have done it deliberately.
Marty Baron was a Machiavellian prick, he reflected as he fell onto the bed to try for some more sleep. Funny how that only made the grin on his face wider.
The drive back later that afternoon was the opposite of the tense and tiresome drive up. There was no squabbling over the music, no carping, and no silent resentments, mainly because there was no time for silence. Mike had twisted all the way around in the front seat to talk at Sacha and Matt, who were talking just as loudly, waving their hands back and forth at each other, and they were trying to figure out who was going to work on what, and in what order, all as though their editor wasn’t sitting right beside them of course.
He listened with half an ear, but part of him was thinking: was it time to get real about this player-coach thing he kept saying? Get back in the game, Marty had said, and maybe he was a little right, but more than he knew. Maybe it was time for him to work on some writing of his own, maybe there was a thread or two he could tease out of this investigative knot they had been worrying all year.
And maybe. . . yeah, maybe there was some hay to be made by poking at what Marty had said, about how some abuse happened in the schoolroom too. Maybe he could work on a psychological/stats kind of thing, covering the ways in which pedophilia was unrelated to being gay. Maybe the Globe – maybe Spotlight – had a responsibility to make that line sharper in people’s heads. There were probably tons of Catholics and ex-Catholics out there, whose heads were just as messed up as his own.
“Because the stats work best in a sidebar!” Mike was exclaiming.
“Okay, well, respectfully, bullshit,” Matt said. “The numbers are the heart of this thing, and if we bury it in a sidebar it looks like the damn sports page, you know?”
“People like the sports page,” Sacha pointed out.
“People read the sports page.”
“Maybe if the stats we’re running are number of priests jailed,” she said.
The phone in Robby’s pocket buzzed quietly, and he answered it while they continued to wrangle stories. “Yeah,” he said.
“I’ve been thinking about this Doors fixation,” Marty’s voice said.
He tucked the grin into the corner of his mouth and shifted his phone to the other ear. They were all talking ninety miles an hour anyway, none of them were listening. “It’s not a fixation per se,” he said.
“Anything later than Strange Days, I don’t see how you turn that into sex music. The rhythm is just going to be all wrong.”
“I didn’t say anything past 68. I never said that.”
He could hear the slight exhale that was Marty’s laugh. It warmed something inside him. He didn’t want to let go of the phone. “How’s the drive?” Marty said.
“Oh, you know, not as quiet as yours I’m betting.”
“You going to go home and get yourself some of that quiet?”
“Oh, I don’t know, might get some work done. You?”
“Same. So I was thinking,” he said.
“Maybe you might feel like picking up some Chinese and coming over.”
The grin tugged at his mouth again, and the warmth enveloped his chest. “Yeah,” he said. “I might just do that.”
“We could also think about working on—hang on,” Marty said. The line went silent.
“Robby. Turn on NPR. Turn it on now.”
“Hey, everybody shut up,” Robby said, clicking off his phone and reaching for the dial. They listened in sudden silence. It took a minute to figure out what they were listening to. It was Sylvia Poggioli, interviewing a Vatican expert whose name Robby didn’t recognize – it was the weekend, it was probably hard to grab someone on short notice.
“Oh, I think definitely so,” the man was saying. “This is huge, and while from the outside it might not look like much – I know there are plenty of people out there who think Cardinal Law ought to be facing prosecution, but let’s be realistic, the laws as they currently stand aren’t such that any prosecution is going to be able to—”
“What the fuck is happening,” Mike breathed.
“But surely the Cardinal’s unprecedented resignation signals an awareness,” Poggioli said.
“Holy fuck holy fuck holy fuck,” Mike said. Robby swerved the car onto the shoulder, and they all sat there listening. And that was how they found out that they had brought down a prince of the Church, the four of them sitting in this car on the side of the road. No, the five of them. Show me it comes from the top down, Marty had said.
They had done it. They had brought down the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, one of the most powerful men in the world. Poggioli was reading a statement from Law, and it was all about reconciliation and unity. To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and my mistakes, he said. I beg forgiveness. Robby glanced in the mirror and saw Sacha with her fist to her mouth, looking out the window, and he knew she was biting back the tears.
They ought to feel jubilant, but instead it was a silent car, a solemn one. “Holy shit,” Matt murmured from the back.
I beg forgiveness, Law said. But that didn’t mean he got forgiveness. Let the piece of shit beg. His brain was a kaleidoscope of the names and faces and stories they had immersed themselves in the past year, of the wreckage of lives and decades, of confusion and pain and death. Well, let the bastard beg.
He tugged out his phone and scrolled to the contact number. No way was this live; she had to be reachable. “Who’re you calling?” Mike said.
“Hey Sylvia,” Robby said, when she picked up. “It’s Walter Robinson.”
“Robby! I was wondering when you would call. Hang on a sec.”
“Because of course he has Sylvia Poggioli on speed dial,” he heard Mike murmur.
“Okay, I’m back. So I’m betting you want that statement, and whatever else Law’s PR firm sent me?”
“I want everything you’ve got, if you can send it over.”
“Already done,” she said. “I’ve got Marty Baron on the other line. He says – hang on, I wrote it down – he says get off the phone and call him back, and let him do his job. No wait, it was damn job. For Marty that’s the equivalent of swearing like a longshoreman.”
Robby grinned. “Nice interviewing, by the way.”
“It was. I’ll send the tapes too, the studio cuts.”
“Interesting they chose to break it with you guys,” Robby said.
“Yes, isn’t that surprising, that they didn’t call up the Globe’s newsroom to give them the interview. Robby. Tell me you are aware how much this man hates you.”
“Well, that’s something. I can’t be doing everything wrong then. Okay, gotta run, thanks Sylvia.”
“You bet. And Robby?”
“Congratulations. This one’s on you.”
“Mike Rezendes,” Robby said. “Matt Carroll. Sacha Pfeiffer. That’s who it’s on.”
“Go high five your guys from me, all right?”
“You bet. Take care, Sylvia.” He clicked off, but they had all been listening in anyway. He turned the volume back up on the interview, and they listened some more in silence, and he heard the scratch of Sacha’s notepad in the back as she scribbled furiously.
“So,” Mike said solemnly after a while. “Does it destroy the moment if I ask for Sylvia Poggioli’s number?”
Robby pulled them back into traffic and merged into the southbound lane. His phone buzzed again. “Yeah,” he said.
“Okay, I’ve got the materials from Sylvia,” Marty said.
“I have a wireless fax in my car.”
“You really are a man who doesn’t know how to take a vacation.”
“Listen, the Globe’s going to be writing an editorial for tomorrow’s edition. Monday morning. We can go to press as late as 11 tonight. You guys need to get to work.”
“What, you want Spotlight to issue a statement?”
“No, we’re not going to pull focus from the editorial page. Spotlight can weigh in later. The Globe’s going to speak with one voice on this. I want you to write this one with me, is what I mean.”
“Marty,” he said, because he didn’t know what to say. The thought of standing on the sidelines for this one had been eating his insides ever since he had clicked on that radio. Getting pulled in front of the microphones like this was everything he wanted, for this story. But Marty had been under no obligation to do it. Plenty of editors wouldn’t have. Most wouldn’t have.
“So move it back to the city and let’s get to work at my place. But definitely the Chinese, okay? Mongolian beef, house fried rice.”
“House fried rice has pork, you know.”
“You can e-mail my rabbi. And extra fortune cookies. Listen, drop everyone else off at the newsroom. Get Matt on this guy Lennon, the replacement. Get Mike to dig through the case settlement files and see if there’s any mention of Lennon, if he’s had any point of contact with any former cases. Tell Sacha to—”
“Baron. I’ll let you do your job, but I’m gonna do mine, yeah?”
“Yes. Point conceded.”
“See you in an hour.”
It took less than forty-five minutes to write the thing. They were swapping off sentences, pacing the white carpet of Marty’s ridiculous penthouse, handing the laptop back and forth and editing each other’s verbs. “I swear to God,” Robby said, “I am going to get an adjective past you if it’s the last thing I do on this earth.”
“Not today,” Marty said, around the pen in his mouth. Robby leaned over for a tiny broccoli spear.
“Watershed moment sucks,” he said.
“Of all the adjectives we should use in this piece, I’m pretty sure ‘seminal’ would be one to avoid,” Robby said with a wince.
“Okay, try this.”
When it was finished, it was a thing of beauty. Matt and Mike and Sacha had been emailing him their pieces as they worked, and the whole thing was ready to go to bed by 10:15. “It’s in,” Marty said, and they both stood there watching the PDFs scroll by on the desktop he had set up in his makeshift home office. Done and done: the Globe’s response was eloquent without being gloating, comprehensive without being belabored, victorious without being triumphant.
It wasn’t victory, not really. Victory would have been the man rotting in a jail cell. Victory would have been the emptying of the church’s coffers to every family whose lives those bastards had wrecked. Victory. . . victory would look like fires blazing in the night, like the smashing of windows, like the public beating of every lying raping sick son of a bitch in the entire diocese.
But for now, Law’s humiliation would do. Justice, Of A Sort, was the headline Marty had put to their piece. Sometimes a sort of justice was the best you were going to get. Sometimes it was almost, almost enough.
They watched the last PDF flick past. Marty extended his hand to Robby, and Robby shook it, and they didn’t let go. They just stayed like that, staring at the screen, clasping each other’s hand. Marty’s grip on his hand became something a little different. “Robby,” he said. “You could stay here tonight, if you wanted to. No pressure. But if you wanted to.”
“I want to. I want—” His throat closed.
“Tell me.” Marty had pulled him in. Marty’s mouth was close to his neck, his jaw.
“You,” he said, because he didn’t know another word to use, and that was as close as he could get to talking about this strange pressure on his chest. Either he was developing heart trouble, or its opposite. The word was the right one, evidently, because Marty’s mouth was on his before the word was fully out of it. There was none of last night’s hesitation, for either of them. Robby knew what he wanted, and knew what it would feel like, and he was hungry, so hungry.
“Fuck,” he panted. “I want to fuck.”
“You got it,” Marty growled, and the fingers on him were bruising, as rough as his own on Marty. Robby pulled Marty’s mouth back to his, and this time he wanted that beard to rub against his jaw, wanted to feel all of it. He was all but shoving Marty onto the sofa. Marty was making these noises in his throat—and then he realized they could be as loud as they wanted, and he wondered what that might sound like, and he got even hungrier, to hear the sounds.
He was on top of Marty, on the sofa. He had Marty underneath him, he was straddling him. Marty was arching up underneath him. He couldn’t touch enough, taste enough. “I have a bed,” Marty was murmuring. “Little more comfortable.”
“Yeah, that’s for later,” Robby said. He had his fingers in the back of Marty’s hair, twisted in that impossibly thick hair. He pulled Marty’s face to his, his mouth. Holy fuck his kisses tasted good. Marty’s fingers were gripping the back of his neck too. Marty was turning them, shifting them. Somehow they were on the floor now. Maybe those carpets weren’t such a bad idea after all.
“Robby, there’s something I want,” Marty breathed over top of him.
“Anything,” Robby said, and he meant it. The hell of it was, he meant it. Marty’s fingers were unbuttoning his pants, unzipping him. “I—what—”
“Can I suck you,” Marty said, his voice low. “Please.”
“Oh God. Oh my fucking God,” Robby moaned. His head hit the carpet. Marty’s tongue—holy shit. He tried not to think, tried not to compare this to anyone else’s mouth on him ever, but that was easy because this was unlike anything, anyone who had ever—holy fuck, holy Christ almighty.
“Marty,” he panted, and reached for that beautiful head of hair. Marty’s mouth was so gentle, so. . . “Marty,” he said again. He just wanted to say the name, over and over. It was all the adjective he needed.
Marty was deep-throating him. Not like one or two sucks, but consistently. And in the middle of the most intense pleasure his body had ever known, in fifty-some years of inhabiting this body, it occurred to him to wonder how and where Marty had learned that particular skill. But not before he came his ever-loving brains out into Marty’s mouth, which swallowed him down, fucking swallowed him.
“Oh my. . .Jesus Christ,” Robby panted weakly.
Marty was kissing his way back up Robby’s body. And here was the thing that beat back that horrible stab of jealous hatred from before: Marty was treating his body like it was this incredibly precious thing, like it was beautiful, like it was. . .
“Still with me?” said Marty’s low bemused voice, as he was nuzzling at Robby’s jaw.
“Who taught you how to do that,” Robby managed, and that, that was not at all what he had wanted to come out of his mouth.
There were fingers brushing his hairline. Robby turned his head to find those warm peat-lake eyes watching him, on a level with him. “Robby,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Robby said. “It’s none of my business. That was a shitty thing to—”
“I thought you understood how in love with you I am.”
That strange pressure in Robby’s chest exploded, spilled warmth over his whole body. So that was the word. So words were possible. The same words he had used before, for other things, but not the same, somehow. Trust Marty to slice right to the heart of an issue like that.
“Let’s get in that bed you were talking about.”
So if last night had been more about exploring, had been slow and tentative, that was not this night, so much. Marty seemed less afraid of freaking him out, for one thing. They were both a little less afraid. Robby let himself touch whatever he wanted to. He got his mouth on Marty too, even though Marty tried to stop him. And of course it wasn’t anything like what Marty had been able to do for him. Marty’s cock was. . . okay, it wasn’t like he himself was a small guy, he was aware of that, but Marty was much taller, and he was what you would call proportionately built, so yeah, there was a lot of cock. A lot of beautiful cock, and funny that Robby could allow himself to think that now, to see how beautiful he was. So he did that thing where he used his hand on the parts his mouth couldn’t get to, and if he had thought Marty Baron naked and hard as nails was a beautiful sight, it didn’t come close to Marty clutching at the sheets and arching up and emptying his beautiful balls with a groan that shivered the window panes.
“Fucking gorgeous, you are so fucking gorgeous,” Robby panted as he crawled on top of Marty, because the whole thing had made him hard again.
“Fuck me,” Marty said, his mouth back to biting on Robby’s neck, and so he did. He totally did. Not that he knew what the hell he was doing, but Marty acted like it didn’t matter. He was buried to the balls in Marty’s body. He was stretched across Marty’s beautiful body. Marty’s beautiful arm was reaching around to hold him. His body had ached for this so long. He rode Marty so hard, their bodies moving together, Marty pushing back into him, Marty groaning into that impossibly soft mattress.
“Fuck, I won’t last,” Robby whispered in his ear. Marty was humping the mattress underneath him. Robby wanted to get his fingers around him, wanted to feel the pulse of those balls.
“Robby—Robby I—fuck,” Marty choked out, and he could feel it, he could feel the clench around his cock as Marty came, could feel each delicious wave of Marty’s orgasm, he was inside Marty’s orgasm, inside Marty. He spilled in a soundless spasm, coming inside him, he was coming inside Marty so hard. He wondered if his grip was hurting Marty, if Marty’s grip was hurting him. It felt like they were tearing each other to pieces.
Afterward, it was like it had been last night, with his inability to stop touching. It had to be like three in the morning, at least. They needed to sleep. It was going to be a hell of a day. But their hands couldn’t stop.
“I don’t want to say it,” Robby whispered, in the dark, against Marty’s face.
“Say what?” Marty’s voice was sleepy and sex-slurred. They were going to be so fucking exhausted.
“The word you said. I want to say it, but I don’t.”
“I’ve used it before. This isn’t like anything else. I don’t want the same word.”
He could see the outline of Marty’s head, raised up, looking at him. The head landed heavily on his chest. “Yeah,” he said softly. “I know.”
Robby stroked his head, and they drifted off again. Or maybe just he did. The heavy head came up with a jerk. “Just remembered something,” Marty murmured, and he slid off Robby, slid off the bed, padded over to a desk. He opened his laptop and was scrolling through something.
“What are you doing?”
“Forgot something,” Marty said, and Robby thought he meant he had forgotten something he wanted to say in the editorial, and he was opening his mouth to say are you insane, the trucks are delivering right now, when he heard the opening chord riff of Touch Me. He started laughing.
“Tell me you’re aware,” Marty said, climbing back on the bed, “that pretty much the entirety of this song is stolen from C’mon Marianne.”
“Mmm,” Robby smiled into the dark. “Don’t care. Told you it was awesome sex music.”
“It better be awesome sleep music,” Marty murmured, pulling the blankets up around them. Because he didn’t like the cold. Robby tucked the blanket around him more firmly, and held him close.
He didn’t need Marty to shake him awake this time, though it couldn’t have been more than two hours after they had finally fallen asleep. The dawn was pushing at the blinds in Marty’s now-empty bedroom, so Robby pulled on his clothes – hmm, turns out not that many of his clothes had actually made it to the bedroom – and went in search of Marty, unconcerned about being shirtless.
“Hey,” Robby said, when he found him in the kitchen. “What are you. . .”
Marty was bent over the counter. He was beside the coffee maker, but it didn’t look like he was making coffee. He was looking at something on his laptop, resting on the counter. No. He was gripping the counter, head bowed. He wasn’t looking at his laptop any more, but he had been.
“Marty,” Robby said. “Marty, what the hell’s wrong?”
Marty raised his head, turned to look at Robby, and for a second – Robby saw it there, fleeting – he looked surprised to find Robby standing in his apartment. “Santa Maria Maggiore,” was all Marty said.
“What are you talking about?”
“They gave him Santa Maria Maggiore.”
“I don’t—” Marty slid the laptop his direction, hit a few keys. The screen sprang to life.
Disgraced Cardinal Law Appointed to Prestigious Position in Rome, read the wire feed. It was straight off Reuters, released maybe an hour ago, maybe less. Robby scrolled frantically, his eyes not taking it in.
“It’s real,” Marty said. “I called a Vatican source for confirmation. They’re treating him like an injured war hero. The Pope has handed him Santa Maria Maggiore, the oldest church in Rome, as his personal fiefdom. He keeps all his positions in the Curia. He votes for the next Pope. He helps decide who gets to be a bishop. He has more power than he ever did.”
Robby could feel the blood drain from his face. Marty’s voice was curiously blank. “We handed him a promotion,” he was saying.
“This. . . can’t be,” was all Robby found to say.
“There’s more. International law grants the basilica ‘the immunity of the headquarters of the diplomatic agents of foreign states,’ per the Lateran Treaty of 1929. He’s literally in his own kingdom. No one will ever touch him.”
“They protected their own,” Robby said, through the churning nausea in his middle.
“Yes. Are you finished reading?”
“Yeah, I’m done.”
“Good.” Marty picked up the laptop, and then, in a move so sudden and startling Robby had to mask his flinch, the laptop was smashed onto the tile floor. They both stood there staring at it. And then Marty reached over and swept everything off the kitchen counter: the five-hundred dollar coffeemaker, the potteryware, the bowls of fruit, the plates and dishes from last night. It all went skittering onto the floor. The glass carafe of the coffeemaker shattered, and pieces landed on the cuff of Robby’s pants.
“GOD FUCKING DAMMIT!” Marty shouted, and with all the considerable force in his upper body he struck the kitchen faucet, knocking it off its base. Water from the pipe burbled into the sink. Robby stood there and watched him. He let him beat the faucet into submission, because even when you were Marty Baron, eventually it was going to be too much. Eventually you would break. Even Marty Baron was going to reach his limit.
Marty reached for the spice rack with deadly intent, and Robby’s hand closed on his wrist. “Enough,” he said quietly, and Marty just stood there, with head bowed, letting Robby hold his wrist. “It’s enough,” Robby whispered, and put his hand on the back of that tall, broken head. Marty’s head came to rest on his chest.
“It was never him we were going to stop,” Robby said, after a while.
“It wasn’t. It’s the next one we’ve stopped. They can do what they like with him, they can pretend it was all a persecution, a witch hunt. But the laws are changing. There are no more free rides. The next bishop, he won’t be able to do what Law did, what they all did. It was always the next ones we were going to stop.”
Marty sighed, and Robby felt those shoulders slump. He rested his head against Marty’s. “You try harder, and you do better, someone once told me,” he murmured. “You get back in that office and you make a difference.”
“What asshole told you that.”
“A wise one.” Robby lifted his head, and so did Marty, and the eyes were Marty’s again, the grave sad eyes the same—just a little graver, and a little sadder. It was never going to get any better, not ever. This was the music of the rest of their lives, this was going to be the constant background noise to everything they did, everything they were, everything they were doing here, with each other, whatever strange un-nameable thing that might be. Every fight, every win, would be undercut by the darker knowledge of futility, and by the overwhelming ability of evil to change its shape and bite you in the ass just when you thought you had it defeated forever. It was what everyone in this business knew. But still, you got out of bed. And still, they would have this.
Robby bent that head back down to his, and brushed his lips against those eyes, like a kind of benediction. It was the only thing he could think of to do. Their day was just getting started. There would be more editorials to write about this development, more profiles, more interviews. Sacha and Mike and Matt would be waiting.
“Let’s get to work,” he said.