John McEvoy

Count no glory in beginnings and ends

Count the glory that I have had such friends

— William Butler Yeats

Chapter 1

Jack Doyle became a fixer of horse races shortly after his fortieth birthday when he realized, with a thumping finality, that Life sure as hell did have his Number and was crunching it.

He’d sparred with this realization for several years, using his old AAU middleweight footwork to evade and dazzle while dancing through a succession of hype-laden, mid-level marketing and advertising jobs and two surprisingly, at least to him, dismal marriages.

A free spirit, full of himself and liberal with usually unwanted advice for others, Doyle had suffered an occasional deep cut here, a bad bruise there, but his pound-for-pound world-class ego had always brought him back into the center of the ring, defiant grin in place, ready for another round. Then they caught him with his guard down.

It was an early April morning in Chicago, clear and clean and sunny in the Loop, and Jack had strolled into the office jaunty as ever, issuing greetings to co-workers as he headed for his desk. It was not there.

Ralph Olegaard, Doyle’s immediate superior in marketing at Serafin Ltd., stood looking at the vacated space, hands behind his back. Doyle looked around the large room. His was the only desk missing. A look of delight flashed across his face.

“Hey, Swede,” Doyle said, “is this the day? They’ve finally come to their senses and moved me upstairs to the big time?”

Olegaard said, “They’ve taken your desk away because they say you don’t work here anymore. Why didn’t you tell me you were going to quit?”

“I didn’t quit,” Doyle said.

After saying a hurried goodbye to Olegaard, Doyle had confronted his Serafin Ltd. Team Leader, Rance Coffey, who assured Doyle that there had been no mistake made.

“We’re in the process of doing some right-sizing here. And you were among those chosen for termination.

“You just don’t fit in here,” Coffey had told Doyle. “I’ve had mucho bad feedback. Your account management record is pretty strong, but you rub a lot of people the wrong way.” Coffey looked pained as he ran a hand through hair that appeared to have been slicked back with W2 motor oil.

“Actually,” Coffey continued, “Ralph Olegaard likes you.” Coffey chuckled as he scanned the personnel file in front of him. “In one of his reports on you, Olegaard wrote, and I quote, ‘It could be said of Mr. Doyle what was first said of George Washington-that he was kind to his inferiors, civil to his equals, and insolent to his superiors.’”

Coffey’s smile disappeared as he closed the file folder. “What I’ve seen more than anything from you, Jack, is insolence. I’m not going to put up with it anymore. Olegaard may like you, but I don’t. Case closed.”

Doyle felt his face flush as he looked directly at Coffey’s shifting eyes. He said, “Maybe I’m just tired of doing more spinning than a presidential press spokesman. Maybe I should never have gotten into this bullshit business in the first place,” Doyle added as he departed Coffey’s office. He had heard this sort of assessment of his work before, although no traces of it ever had appeared on Doyle’s sanitized job resumes.

Still in shock later that day, Doyle went to his health club, Fit City, membership in which was paid for by Serafin Ltd. as a corporate perk. Doyle tried to shake off the hurt he felt in the club’s boxing room, a place where had worked off the effects of previous disappointments. His blue eyes narrowed and his sandy hair darkened with sweat as he first rattled the speed bag, then rocked the heavy one.

Out of the corner of his eye, Doyle noticed Moe Kellman come through the door. Kellman was a diminutive man in his mid-sixties who affected a white, electrified-looking haircut like Don King and who worked out daily at Fit City with ferocious dedication. To Doyle, he looked like a tough old dandelion.

Doyle and Kellman were often the only two Fit City members to use the boxing room, which was tucked away in a corner of the basement of this temple of cardiovascular modernism, far removed from the space-age equipment areas populated by glistening yuppies.

Doyle liked Moe Kellman-he was among the very few Fit Cityites Doyle could bring himself to talk to on a regular basis-but he ignored Kellman that afternoon. Moe shrugged off the rebuff and launched his workout, occasionally glancing over as Doyle hammered the heavy bag. Moe could hear Doyle muttering, “The bastards…the bastards.” Doyle pounded away until he could lift his arms no more.

Doyle had never before been fired, though he had dodged a few bullets via anticipatory early departure. “Sorry, friends, I’ve sold enough gas guzzlers, I’m off to the lite beer league,” Doyle would announce in his practiced farewell and landing-on-his-feet style. Footwork-he’d always had it, always would…or so he had believed.

But this dismissal from Serafin Ltd. Doyle found to be a crusher. He spent days reviewing his blotchy career, his sorry marriages. His initial foray into matrimony was made with a fellow public relations major at the University of Illinois. Two years of declining ardor and interest preceded Marla’s declaration that “I realize now that I fell in love with the idea of you. But I wound up marrying you. Big mistake.” Now, he confronted this question: was he really the “azzhole” he had been judged to be by his second wife, Erma the German?

“Ven vil you VAKE OP?” He could still hear Erma asking that. They had been wed only a few months, but this statuesque au pair he had rescued from domestic service in a Lake Forest mansion was onto his perceived failings in a hurry. Stormy marital months they were. Only Doyle’s clever footwork-he had never struck a woman in his life, and wasn’t about to start-saved him from a number of late night Final Solutions when the War Bride of the Nineties advanced. Erma was a big girl with a matching appetite for progress, which she equated with eventually being ensconced in a home the likes of which she used to work in. Doyle had no way of getting her there.

“Honey,” he would say to Erma, “I’m doing the best I can. Nobody said it would be easy, even in America. If you can’t laugh at the script,” he once advised her, “the curtain will come down and smother you.”

Sometimes Doyle would issue these pronouncements face to face, other times he would grunt them into the heavy bag as he pounded away in the gym, hoping that somehow such fervently issued truisms would zip through space into Erma’s suddenly receptive consciousness. He was very fond of Erma. He was also very sure that he was doomed to disappoint her. Erma proved immune to the reality about their lives he was attempting to convey. Doyle concluded that the problem was the language barrier, the one between him and most women he had known.

Their marriage ended when Erma learned that even the promise of parenthood had been denied her by Doyle.

“God gave me a natural vasectomy when I was sixteen,” Doyle confessed to Erma one night. “It was called the mumps.”

“Vil you adopt?” she inquired tearfully.

“My life is already second-rate,” Doyle replied. “I won’t add any more second-hand stuff to it, I just can’t.”

Erma was gone for good the next day.

Two weeks after his desk and job had been concurrently removed at Serafin Ltd., Doyle finished a workout at Fit City feeling sharp, in form. He had been spending four hours a day in the gym and had pared six pounds off his

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