Read an Excerpt
Saddle Valley, New Jersey, is a Village.
At least real estate developers, hearing alarm signals from a decaying upper-middle-class Manhattan, found a Village when they invaded its wooded acres in the late 1930’s.
The white, shield-shaped sign on Valley Road reads
VILLAGE INCORPORATED 1862
The “Welcome” is in smaller lettering than any of the words preceding it, for Saddle Valley does not really welcome outsiders, those Sunday afternoon drivers who like to watch the Villagers at play. Two Saddle Valley police cars patrol the roads on Sunday afternoon.
It might also be noted that the sign on Valley Road does not read
SADDLE VALLEY, NEW JERSEY
SADDLE VALLEY, N.J.
The Village does not acknowledge a higher authority; it is its own master. Isolated, secure, inviolate.
On a recent July Sunday afternoon, one of the two Saddle Valley patrol cars seemed to be extraordinarily thorough. The white car with blue lines roamed the roads just a bit faster than usual. It went from one end of the Village to the other--cruising into the residential areas--in front of, behind, and to the sides of the spacious, tastefully landscaped one-acre lots.
This particular patrol car on this particular Sunday afternoon was noticed by several residents of Saddle Valley.
It was meant to be.
It was part of the plan.
John Tanner, in old tennis shorts and yesterday’s shirt, sneakers and no socks, was clearing out his two-car garage with half an ear cocked to the sounds coming from his pool. His twelve-year-old son, Raymond, had friends over, and periodically Tanner walked far enough out on the driveway so he could see past the backyard patio to the pool and make sure the children were all right. Actually, he only walked out when the level of shouting was reduced to conversation--or periods of silence.
Tanner’s wife, Alice, with irritating regularity, came into the garage through the laundry-room entrance to tell her husband what to throw out next. John hated getting rid of things, and the resulting accumulation of junk exasperated her. This time she motioned toward a broken lawn spreader which had lain for weeks at the back of the garage.
John noticed her gesture. “I could mount it on a piece of wrought iron and sell it to the Museum of Modern Art,” he said. “Remnants of past inequities. Pre-gardener period.”
Alice Tanner laughed. Her husband noted once again, as he had for so many years, that it was a nice laugh.
“I’ll haul it to the curb. They pick up Mondays.” Alice reached for the relic.
“That’s okay. I’ll do it.”
“No, you won’t. You’ll change your mind halfway down.”
Her husband lifted the spreader over a Briggs and Stratton rotary lawn mower while Alice sidled past the small Triumph she proudly referred to as her “status symbol.” As she started pushing the spreader down the driveway, the right wheel fell off. Both of them laughed.
“That’d clinch the deal with the museum. It’s irresistible.”
Alice looked up and stopped laughing. Forty yards away, in front of their house on Orchard Drive, the white patrol car was slowly cruising.
“The gestapo’s screening the peasants this afternoon,” she said.
“What?” Tanner picked up the wheel and threw it into the well of the spreader.
“Saddle Valley’s finest is on the job. That’s the second or third time they’ve gone down Orchard.”
Tanner glanced at the passing patrol car. The driver, Officer Jenkins, returned his stare. There was no wave, no gesture of greeting. No acknowledgment. Yet they were acquaintances, if not friends.
“Maybe the dog barked too much last night.”
“The babysitter didn’t say anything.”
“A dollar fifty an hour is hush money.”
“You’d better get this down, darling.” Alice’s thoughts turned from the police car. “Without a wheel it becomes father’s job. I’ll check the kids.”
Tanner, pulling the spreader behind him, went down the driveway to the curb, his eyes drawn to a bright light about sixty yards away. Orchard Drive, going west, bore to the left around a cluster of trees. Several hundred feet beyond the midpoint of the bend were Tanner’s nearest neighbors, the Scanlans.
The light was the reflection of sun off the patrol car. It was parked by the side of the road.
The two policemen were turned around in their seats, staring out the rear window, staring, he was sure, at him. For a second or two, he remained motionless. Then he started to walk toward the car. The two officers turned, started the engine and sped off.
Tanner looked after it, puzzled, then walked slowly back toward his house.
The Saddle Valley police car raced out toward Peachtree Lane; there it slowed and resumed cruising speed.
Richard Tremayne sat in his air-conditioned living room watching the Mets blow a six-run lead. The curtains of the large bay window were open.
Suddenly Tremayne rose from his chair and went to the window. The patrol car was there again. Only now it was hardly moving.
“Hey, Ginny!” he called to his wife. “Come here a minute.”
Virginia Tremayne walked gracefully down the three steps into the living room. “What is it? Now you didn’t call me to tell me your Mets or Jets hit something?”
“When John and Alice were over last night . . . were he and I . . . all right? I mean, we weren’t too loud or anything, were we?”
“You were both plastered. But pleasant. Why?”
“I know we were drunk. It was a lousy week. But we didn’t do anything outlandish?”
“Of course not. Attorneys and newsmen are models of decorum. Why do you ask?”
“Goddamn police car’s gone by the house for the fifth time.”
“Oh.” Virginia felt a knot in the pit of her stomach. “Are you sure?”
“You can’t miss that car in the sunlight.”
“No, I guess you can’t. . . . You said it was a rotten week. Would that awful man be trying to . . .”
“Oh, Jesus, no! I told you to forget that. He’s a loudmouth. He took the case too personally.” Tremayne continued looking out the window. The police car was leaving.
“He did threaten you, though. You said he did. He said he had connections. . . .”
Tremayne turned slowly and faced his wife. “We all have connections, don’t we? Some as far away as Switzerland?”
“Dick, please. That’s absurd.”
“Of course it is. Car’s gone now . . . probably nothing. They’re due for another raise in October. Probably checking out houses to buy. The bastards! They make more than I did five years out of law school.”
“I think you’re a little edgy with a bad head. That’s what I think.”
“I think you’re probably right.”
Virginia watched her husband. He kept staring out the window. “The maid wants Wednesday off. We’ll eat out, all right?”
“Sure.” He did not turn around.
His wife started up into the hall. She looked back at her husband; he was now looking at her. Beads of perspiration had formed on his forehead. And the room was cool.