Since I’m filing this just before Christmas, let me tie up this bundle of Upstate Journals in a neat little bow. (And it’s the ONLY present you’ll be getting from me! They used to LOVE me at Murray’s Cheese for all the gift boxes I sent out on Si’s dime, but now I’m persona non gratin.)
My previous journal left off with Louise Deeds—for it was indeed she, very much alive—aquiver in my arms, shocked to find a stranger addressing her by name in the Palm Beach house where she had been held prisoner for 25 years. “My name is Lansy,” I said. I was all set to tenderly show her a photo of her son, Haven, as a grown man, but I couldn’t get the Face ID on my iPhone to recognize me and shouted, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, come ON!” at it—not a good look given the context—and then I had to type in my numerical code, which slightly killed the drama of the moment.
But finally, after some trouble, I was able to pull up the picture I’d taken of Haven in his apron at the A-OK supermarket in Slattern. When I cooed to Louise, “There’s your boy—he cuts meat now,” she held her hand over her mouth and convulsed with sobs. Then she looked up at me and said, “I … I didn’t kill my husband, if that’s what you’re here for. Are you F.B.I.?”
I’m not proud to say that I took minor umbrage at this. I smoothed a hand over my Steven Stolman sheath and said, “Really? F.B.I.? In this dress?”
Then, remembering that I was supposed to be compassionate, I gently led her to one of the Gabriella Crespi rattan pencil-reed “ear” chairs in the impeccably curated living room of her captors, Ty and Vegan Conroy. There, huddled against me, Louise began to talk—well, tried to, except that every 30 seconds one or the other of us kept TUMBLING off of the chair! Fond as I was of Gabriella, she never WAS good at practicality.
So we settled ourselves on the floor. And there, Louise unspooled a tale as twisted and bendy as the pattern on the Conroys’ Gio Ponti rug.
Walt and Louise were childhood sweethearts, born and raised in Slattern. He was a carpenter, she cleaned houses. They were used to dealing with weekender loonies of our tribe, having both worked for Ismail Merchant and Jim Ivory at their place in Claverack and witnessed the likes of Simon Callow, Vanessa Redgrave, and Wally Shawn playing nude badminton while Ismail looked on, grilling his Sarson-walla prawns.
Things Got Strange
But the Conroys were another thing entirely. They bought the old Tippety Top Dairy, renamed it Vandal Farm (?!?), and spent a fortune replanting, rebuilding, and redecorating it. Walt made good money doing some of the renovations, but when the Conroys actually moved in, in ’94, things got strange. Louise, who cleaned their house twice a week, witnessed violent fights between Ty and Vegan. “They always wore these real tight riding clothes and tall boots, and their fights seemed to turn them on,” she told me. “After one of their throwdowns, I just wanted to cheer up Mrs. Conroy, so I told her how much I liked the tea set that I was polishing. It was real pretty, made of shiny bronze. And Mrs. Conroy, she just screamed at me, ‘Then take it! TAKE IT, Louise! I don’t like that old 70s shit anyway.’
“Then we started hearing crazy stuff about their private life—that they liked to be in threesomes, foursomes, six-somes. Folks around our area were always looking to earn extra money, and I know some milkers and herdsmen and barn-builders who spent the night at Vandal Farm. After a while, the Conroys got one of the local guys to work as a recruiter for them, passing around pictures of the Cushman’s fruit stand and saying there was good winter work in South Florida in the citrus groves, and you can’t beat the weather. Mr. and Mrs. Conroy would pay for their travel, and maybe for a few other things, if you catch my drift. A few people took them up on their offer, but not us.
“That’s where it turned bad, actually. Walt was picking me up from Vandal Farm one day because my truck was in the shop, and Mr. C asked us to stay for a minute. He and Mrs. C put out some wine and brie and, basically, they indecent-proposal’d us. That was the name of a big movie at the time, I don’t know if you know it. It didn’t get particularly good reviews, but I always liked anything with Woody Harrelson in it, even Doc Hollywood, and—”
“The STORY, Louise!” I said. “Get ON with it!”
He and Mrs. C put out some wine and brie and, basically, they indecent-proposal’d us.
“Yes, ma’am, sorry. So Walt, he could get hotheaded, right? And he says to Mr. Conroy, ‘We ain’t no pervs like you sicko 212s—the act of sexual intercourse is for one woman and one man!’ And Mrs. Conroy says, ‘Well, then, give me back my tea set!’ And then Mr. Conroy, he goes nuts on Mrs. Conroy and says, ‘THAT’s where the tea service went? How could you give it to these dumb yokels? That set is worth 20 grand!’”
“And this was the Crespi tea service, Louise?” I asked.
“I don’t know Crespi from Pepsi, ma’am,” she said. “But when Walt heard ‘20 grand,’ he said to Mr. Conroy, ‘You can have that damned tea set back if you buy it back.’ Mr. Conroy, he liked Walt’s guts for saying that. He said, ‘You got a pair-a balls on you, kid. You might of been able to work for me … if you’d finished high school.’ Well, that got Walt red in the face. He up and tackled Mr. Conroy, and I screamed and tried to separate them while Mrs. Conroy just stood there watching them, stroking her inner leg with a riding crop. Walt had Mr. Conroy pinned when Mr. Conroy said, ‘O.K., it’s a deal. Tomorrow, we’ll meet at the far side of Leech Pond. You bring the tea service. I’ll bring $20,000. In cash. Let’s keep this off the books.’
“After that, Walt and I drove to the Slattern Ridge Tavern to cool off. Walt felt like he’d won. He said that that kind of money would set us free, and we’d never have to worry about how to support our son. But it didn’t feel right to me, and I told him so. Before I knew it, we were hollering at each other, and we’d gotten the attention of the whole tavern. I was so embarrassed that I ran out, and Walt followed, promising me that it would all be O.K.
“The next morning, we left little Haven with my cousin Taystee”—Graydon, I’m spelling that out phonetically, Lord knows how it is actually spelled—“and we set out in our boat to the far side of Leech Pond, with the tea set tied to the bow in a dry bag. I was a mess. The far side of the pond had always been a happy place for us, where Walt and I would take Haven skinny-dipping on summer nights. Haven loved it when we held him close in the water, skin to skin. He used to say, ‘Mommy, Daddy, look at us—we’re Love People!’
“We set out in our boat to the far side of Leech Pond, with the tea set tied to the bow in a dry bag. I was a mess.”
“We got to the far side, and there were the Conroys, waiting in front of their Land Rover with their stuck-up smiles on their faces. I got out of the boat first and handed over the dry bag to Mrs. Conroy. Then Mr. Conroy unzipped an old canvas duffle bag that said DREXEL BURNHAM something-or-other on it to show us the cash inside. He said to Walt, ‘Don’t spend it all in Beverly Hills, Jed Clampett.’
“That got Walt’s temper up all over again, and he took a swing at Mr. C. They got to rassling on the ground, just like the last time, right down to Mrs. C stroking her inner thigh with the riding crop. Only this time, it was Walt who got pinned. Before I knew what was happening, Mr. C. grabbed the crop from his wife and held it over Walt’s neck, saying, ‘Take it, backwoods boy’ over and over in this low-pitched devil voice. And then Walt went limp, dead. Mrs. C got mad, saying, ‘Damn it, Ty, you killed another one! You can’t go this hard!’ He got all angry and said, ‘Baby, I was in the moment!’ Me, I just screamed and rained fists on Mr. C’s back. That’s when they duct-taped me and threw me into the back of the Rover. Then they loaded Walt into our boat and pushed it adrift.”
Graydon, they drove Louise all the way down to their Palm Beach place in a straight shot, telling her that they’d kill her too if she tried to get help. By the time they were approaching the Southern Boulevard Causeway, it was mid-morning the next day. Vegan abruptly insisted that they detour to John G’s for breakfast because she was starving. “Mr. C got angry at this, and then they were all caught up in another one of their fights,” Louise said. “So at a stoplight in Lake Worth, I ripped the duct tape off of my wrists and ankles and made a run for a Walgreens. I still had my ATM card, so I took out $200 for a bus ticket. I needed to get home to my boy. But the Conroys came in, grabbed me, and hauled me back out. I guess, Florida being Florida, no one thought anything of two rich people in riding gear dragging a barefoot woman in a dirty sundress along a sidewalk.”
“At a stoplight in Lake Worth, I ripped the duct tape off of my wrists and ankles and made a run for a Walgreens.”
Thereafter, Louise became their prisoner and servant, too frightened and brainwashed to flee, even after the Season ended each April. Winter weekends, she said, were the worst: endlessly cleaning up after the Conroys’ house parties, at which, she said, “they did some disgusting things with them Cushman’s Honeybells that I can’t even talk to you about.”
So transfixed was I by Louise’s grisly tale that I’d forgotten that my mission was to hustle her out of the house as soon as possible and into the car where Patrick Lyonnais, my co-conspirator and lookout, was waiting. The spell was interrupted by the sound of commotion and car doors slamming, followed by Patrick’s voice shouting “LANNN-ZEEEE, get her OUT!”
Louise and I made haste out the front door into the yard, but it was too late. Ty and Vegan had returned early from the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue gala—after getting into another of their violent fights, I was later to learn—and now Ty was advancing toward me.
“Unhand her, lady!” he said, pulling a bowie knife from a phallic black-leather sheath that hung from his belt. My mind was a blur of thoughts: We are about to get killed. His facial work looks less impressive up close—more Larry Ellison than Sandy Gallin. What kind of monster wears a knife to a BENEFIT?
Louise broke free and made a beeline for the gate. I wasn’t so lucky. Ty Conroy raised his knife to stab me, end me.
Two Bullets in His Rear End
And then there was a sudden POP-POP, and he fell to the ground, the tip of his knife grazing my face above my left eye, opening up a cut. He was yowling in pain, having taken two bullets in his rear end. Behind him, holding a revolver, stood my savior: Fulgencio, my little man from Chez Jean-Pierre, the keenest-eared of busboys! He had overheard the ENTIRE conversation that Patrick and I had had with Simon Doonan, Jonny Adler, Steven Stolman, and Rich Wilkie about saving Louise from her prison on Inlet Drive!
“I could no take the chance that you get hurt, so I follow you,” said Fulgencio.
“And you came … packing heat?” I said, gasping with relief.
“This is Florida, Miss Lansy,” he said. “We got the stand-your-ground law.”
Louise Deeds received a hero’s welcome in Slattern Ridge when we got back last week, Graydon. And she and Haven’s reunion was a SIGHT to behold: an embrace that lasted as long as the villagers’ sing-along of Neil Diamond’s “Hey Louise.” And when Louise saw her son’s paintings—of his “Love People” going about their business naked, the only state in which Haven could ever remember being happy in Slattern—she was overcome with joy.
So was David Zwirner, whom Patrick had dragged up from the city to view Haven’s work. “Lansy, dis gives me da feels,” said David. Next year, he’s putting Haven in a group show at his gallery with two other low-information regional primitivists.
A Quiet New Life in Slattern
The Conroys long ago sold their farm in Hillsdale, but the Feds have raided their places on 68th Street and in Palm Beach, and the couple face multiple counts of second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, and possession of Schedule I drugs. Plus, Simon has charged them in the court of public opinion for being “disappointingly normcore given their sexual deviance.”
As for me, I’m just trying to get back to my quiet new life in Slattern, in my little flat on Main Street above the tattoo parlor. Haven and Louise are coming over for Boxing Day supper: rotisserie chicken and Kirkland Rioja courtesy of Costco, and, for dessert a crate of Cushman’s Honeybells. Harry & David, their current corporate parent, sent it to me with their compliments for exposing “wanton conduct that runs counter to the wholesome values that the late Ed Cushman held dear.”
Early this morning, I took my Kia Soul to the Kwik Fill for gas. Even in the cold, the Duck Dynasty boys were out front of the station at dawn, sitting on crates, drinking the weak urn coffee and smoking their ciggies. Dyer Dwyer, the very first member of the local gentry with whom I struck up a conversation when I moved here, motioned for me to pull up a crate. “Coffee and a cruller’s on me, Miss Jessica Fletcher,” he said.
I pulled up the collar of my Prada puffer, sat down, bummed a Pall Mall off of Dyer, and used his to light mine. His brother, J.D., brought me a cup of Kwik Fill swill, heavy on the Cremora and sugar.
“Look at you, sittin’ here with us hillbillies, all nicked up from a knife fight,” Dyer said, pointing to the six stitches above my eyebrow that I’ve yet to have removed. “You fit right in. It’s like you’ve always been here, Lansy.”
Get a load of me, Graydon: I am now a LOCAL!
Read Lansy’s previous episodes here