In this year-long serialized novel set on the Vineyard in real time, a native Islander (“Call me Becca”) returns home after two decades to help her eccentric Uncle Abe keep his landscaping business, Pequot, afloat. Abe fears and detests Richard Moby, the CEO of an off-Island wholesale nursery, Broadway. Convinced that Moby wants to destroy Abe personally, and all Island-based landscaping/nursery businesses generally, Abe is obsessed with “taking down” Moby. A series of disastrous attacks and an ineffectual “smear campaign” did nothing to dissuade Abe. Becca and other Pequot staff did not believe Abe’s perception of Moby — until they recently learned Moby had unscrupulously taken over one Island landscaping business and undercut 5 other ones. Quincas, a Brazilian immigrant who works for Pequot, is Becca’s love-interest.
How’s this for life imitating art: a local kid made a movie about rival landscape companies beating up on each other, and it’s screening tomorrow! I think it’s two companies of comparable size pulling vengeful adolescent tricks on each other, but frankly I’d take that fiction over the facts of wild and crazy Abe.
And now to make things more awful, Quincas and I have broken up over it. Life sucks.
Forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but I am so distracted and distressed these days that it’s really hard to keep track of what I’ve already told you. I’ve been here for a year come Memorial Day, and if you’ll recall, Abe’s monomania about Richard Moby was already at a fever pitch back then; it’s been festering ever since and clearly something awful is destined to happen soon, because he’s been far too well-behaved lately, just as Moby has been revealing himself to actually be the bad guy Abe always ranted about.
So Quincas and I agreed that Abe had some secret, nefarious plan to Do Something Very Naughty to Moby. We also agreed we had to stop him. I don’t like Moby, so it puts a bad taste in my mouth to feel like I must somehow be his secret guardian angel — but I’m doing it for Abe’s sake, not Moby’s.
Unfortunately, Quincas and I could not be farther apart in how we want to proceed.
Quincas thinks we need to “cure” Abe ourselves, and his idea on how to do this is mind-boggling. I can only classify it as the unholy commingling of naivete, Carl Jung, Frasier Crane, and Gregory House, MD.
Quincas’s thinking goes like this: Abe acts as if he thinks Moby is evil incarnate; Moby acts as if he considers Abe trivial and inconsequential. Neither of them, however, is being sincere (according to Quincas). Abe is actually desperate for evidence that Moby isn’t really such a bad guy, because he knows that he’s stuck with Moby in his life forever — as a business competitor and as a stepfather to Abe’s own sons. His fear and loathing is just a big cover, and all he really wants is to know that Moby can be a decent guy.
Moby, according to this same theory (and let me repeat, this is Quincas’ take, not mine), is actually far more threatened and jealous of Abe than Abe is of Moby. If Moby really considered Abe inconsequential, he would not have spent the past year trying to one-up and belittle him. Abe in fact plays an iconic role in Moby’s mind, as the local patriarch whose integrity, legacy and all-around cultural significance will always make Moby look like a cheap fake.
Let us pause for a moment and marvel that a Latin American male came up with this interpretation of two WASPS trying to savage each other.
It gets worse. For, according to Quincas, the only way to stop them from trying to harm each other is to eradicate the fear that each of them has about the other. (I admit I was impressed that he used the word “eradicate.”)
“And how do we eradicate their fear?” I asked, trying not to sound too sardonic. We were sitting in a café in Vineyard Haven after work, wishing it would stop raining already.
Quincas smiled. “We reassure Moby that Abe is really a nobody. We reassure Abe that Moby is really a nice guy.” Seeing my disbelieving expression, he asked, “What?”
I hardly knew where to start. “Well, first of all, neither of those things are true. Abe is not a nobody, and Moby is not a nice guy.”
“Yes, I know that,” said Quincas. “I did not say we were going to be honest. But we are going to be very effective.”
“What are you talking about?” I demanded. “You sound like you’re in some conceptual experimental psych class! These are real people who can really hurt each other. I thought you cared about Abe — and about me.”
“Of course I do, Becca,” he insisted, looking surprised.
“Then help me,” I said. “Keep it real, keep it simple. Help me. I’m going to talk to the cops.” (I know half the cops on the Island because I grew up with them; “talking to the cops” is not the melodrama it sounds like.)
He went pale. “I cannot do that, Becca,” he said. “You know that. I have to stay away from the police. How can you ask me to be helpful to your situation if you are not going to be helpful to mine?”
“You don’t have to come with me,” I said quickly, feeling stupid and wanting to soothe him.
He shook his head. “If you tell the police they must keep an eye on Abe, they will also be keeping an eye on you and if you are around me, then they will be keeping an eye on me. And that means I will get deported to Brazil. Go to the police if you think it’s the right thing. But then I have to say goodbye to you. And to Abe. But do what is right for your uncle. Go with God.”
Before I could form a response, he leaned across the table, kissed me on the forehead, got up and left the café. It was pouring outside; he walked slowly as if he did not notice the rain.
I wanted to leap up and run after him ... but something about his sudden, severe change of attitude convinced me I’d be wasting my time. So I just sat there feeling very alone and very sad. I flipped through my cell phone address book, looking for the numbers of a couple of cops I know. I picked one. I was about to call him. Instead I stared at my phone for a good minute or two, then set it down on the table.
I don’t know what to do.
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Vineyard novelist Nicole Galland’s critically-acclaimed works include Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade. Visit her Web site, nicolegalland.com, or find her on Facebook.