October 16, 1906
John Kehoe House
221 W. Cervantes Street
The old man had a nice setup here, that’s for sure.
I’m staying John Kehoe’s old room with Minnie and Fannie Kehoe. Even as the Kehoes were mourning their father, it all seemed serendipitous — at least that’s what Fannie said — their father died, they want to keep their family home as long as they can, but they weren’t comfortable without a male presence in the house…
I take a deep drag on one of Kehoe’s cigars that he kept in an antique humidor in his room. Good stuff, definitely not something I could afford otherwise.
…and I happened to be looking for a good room to rent, in a respectable home, in the best neighborhood in Pensacola. Minnie and Fannie have known my family for decades — me since I was an infant. They offered me their father’s room, which at first seemed a bit macabre since Kehoe died in the room, but it’s a nice place.
I had nowhere else to go, the Kehoe women needed the help, and the price was right: Free. They refused payment of any kind of rent, for which I am grateful. Although I had a generous severance from Nick Van Sant, it dwindled to less than half in my first month back in Florida. Expenses, you know: New suits, the best in men’s furnishings, and of course, the occasional treating of colleagues I’m trying to impress. I have an image to cultivate.
The house is quiet, empty, actually. The Kehoe sisters are dining with their brother Walter at his home. I was invited, but I declined, wanting to spend the evening in solitude. I’ve been around groups of people every single day since I moved into town on September 26 — parading myself, making connections, putting forth the image of an earnest, but quiet, hardworking, slightly humble young man with plans for the future.
That effort has exhausted me, honestly.
I’m in a rocking chair, with feet propped up on the second floor railing of the porch outside the bedroom of John Kehoe’s former bedroom. I close my eyes, the smoke of the cigar wafting lazily up towards the ceiling. I can hear people’s footsteps as they pass on the sidewalk in front of the house, the occasional horse-and-wagon slowly clopping and rattling along the dirt street.
I think back to August, when I met with my friend Tommie Crawford in Tallahassee — he’s Billy Crawford’s younger brother, a good friend from Stetson Law days (Billy was now Editor and Manager of the Pensacola Evening News) — and I told him exactly what happened in Sterling. He’s one of the few I can trust with that information; he’s also refreshingly blunt. I don’t always want to hear what he has to say, but this time, I really wanted his advice, and I was willing to hear it.
True enough, Tommie didn’t mince words.
“You’re starting over, Em. Good that Van Sant holds no grudges. But the real work starts with managing that new image. It’s means always being aware of yourself and planning one or two steps ahead for different contingencies, like, what do you say when someone asks why you are home after only six months?”
“I tell them that I had some success in Sterling, but I missed my family and friends; not to mention the warm weather.”
Tommie said that sounded reasonable. “Don’t elaborate; or, change the subject right away. In time, people won’t ask anymore. Plus, it will help to have something in the paper announcing you’re back, with no mention of Sterling if possible. Ask Billy to help you with that. He’ll know what to do.”
“Emmett, if you want this to work, you need a plan, a grand scheme, if you will. What do you ultimately want to do? Think about where you want to be, say, in another decade. What do you think?”
“That’s easy. All I’ve ever wanted, really, was be someone like Grandfather Maxwell. Respected. Well-to-do. Sought-out for opinions, or social events, or the random quote in The Pensacola Journal or the Evening News.“
“So,” Tommie said. “A judge? Or a congressman?”
“Why can’t I be both, like Grandfather?”
Tommie nodded, thoughtfully. “Sure. It’s ambitious. I think you could. But this will require lots of working the rooms at any and all gatherings. Something you don’t particularly like, Em.”
I didn’t reply. I reflected that Grandfather Maxwell wasn’t fond of the small talk and socializing required in politics — he told me this when I was younger — but he was able to do it; why couldn’t I?
“Even though your family’s well known, you aren’t known on your own, if you see what I mean. That means doing something you think disingenuous to make your way in this town, for months, more likely years. Kinda hard for a guy who’s impatient.”
I didn’t reply.
“Look. I know what you want, and surely, I think you’d be good either as a judge or legislator down the road. Hell, you could do both. I don’t doubt that. But getting there it won’t be as easy as you think, especially if you want to keep what happened in Sterling from ever getting out. Not that it will, if you’ve kept it quiet,” Tommie said. “But if anything happens in Pensacola like what happened there…..” he said, not finishing the sentence.
“It won’t. Pensacola’s not Illinois,” I snapped back. “You have no idea what it was like there. I tell you, it’s different here.”
“Yeah, well,” Tommie sat back in his chair, gazing at me.
“I don’t have a problem with booze. I stopped it back when I left Sterling. I made a promise to Nick, and to myself. I can stay away from it if I want to. And I do.”
I don’t know if he believes me or not but saying that out loud made me feel like I did when I saw Paul Carter in Washington right after I’d left Sterling — owning it out loud made me feel accountable — and now that Paul was back in Washington with Congressman Lamar, something in me needed to do that.
So far, I have been keeping that promise to I made to Nick, and to Paul, and to myself.
My life, since June, has been about staying accountable and making progress on this, my Grand Scheme. I didn’t think it was going to be such hard work, this reinventing of myself. As I sit here, I think this is a fairly nice way to unwind.
But it sure is boring. I’m going to have to find another way to let go of the stress, to escape the stress of this scheme of mine. Someone might ask, if it’s such a pain, is it worth it?
It is to me. It is the means to an end. For now, the price seems to be to stay away from the booze, for a little while, anyway. I probably can have a drink or two sometime in the future. It’s been almost four months since I’ve had anything to drink. That ought to prove that I can handle it, on occasion, just like anyone else.
Just thinking about a possible drink in my future calms me.
Yes. Maybe next week.
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