Authors: Edward Lazellari
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To my dad, whom I miss …
for giving New York its passion
Thanks and cheers to the folks who help me look better than I have any right to.
Paul Stevens, Seth Kramer, Chris Cooper, Evan Gunter, Rayna Bourke, Tom Doherty, Ron Gwiazda, Amy Wagner, Alexis Nixon, Patty Garcia, Irene Gallo, Christian McGrath, Seth Lerner, John McClure.
No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.
—E. B. White,
Here Is New York
ONE FATEFUL NIGHT
Malcolm sped his Porsche through the downpour in the dead of night, obsessed like a zealot in the midst of sacrilege. The sky was black. Drops of hard cold rain battered the windshield and the wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge. Every few seconds, the car hydroplaned, sliding along a kinetic sheen of water before it found asphalt again. The herky-jerky gusts buffeted the tiny roadster, threatening to slap it from the road. That Malcolm’s window was cracked slightly open, letting the storm in, only added to Scott’s anxiety.
Mal pushed the car to 120 miles per hour at times, far from its maximum, but wholly unjustified for these conditions. The Long Island Expressway was not made for this kind of driving even on the best of days. Scott had never seen him like this: Was he hurrying toward something … or running away? A hard gust and a slide would jerk them back to eighty miles per hour, a virtual slow crawl, and then Mal would push it up all over again. Scott was certain he’d be sick all over the leather before they made it to their destination—assuming they didn’t crack up in a fiery jumble first.
“Want to slow it down?” Scott asked. Malcolm ignored him just as he had since they left the mansion.
The craziness began earlier that night. They were reading reports in their East Hampton home, dogs napping by a lit hearth against the backdrop of a dark ocean breaking on the shore. It was the type of moment they both cherished, private, peaceful, the type of serenity purchased by power and wealth. Scott was going over the coming week’s schedule—meetings with congressmen, senators, generals, parts suppliers, and anyone else who could expand Malcolm’s vast industrial empire. Then the seizure hit.
Mal fell to his knees, clutching at his skull. His eyes rolled back and he collapsed. Scott grabbed a riding crop and jammed it in Malcolm’s mouth to keep him from swallowing his tongue. Their live-in maid, Rosita, rushed into the room to check—Scott told her to call an ambulance, then asked her to go back to her room … he didn’t want anyone to see Mal this way. The spasm subsided as quickly as it came on. Scott stroked his partner’s face. He removed the crop once he deemed it safe. White froth dotted Mal’s copper-hued beard like drops of cream; he feverishly mumbled the same phrase over and over.
“And or what?” Scott asked him.
Malcolm recovered quickly, brushed himself off, and took stock of the damage. He had a slight nosebleed and he rubbed the elbow that had taken the brunt of his fall.
“Good thing you’re so close to the ground already,” Scott said, to lighten the mood. “Might have injured yourself, otherwise.”
Malcolm stared at him as though seeing Scott for the first time. He walked away from his partner and locked himself in the study. Scott regretted his joke. The humor was more for his frazzled nerves than his partner, but that was no excuse for callousness. Here the man had nearly died and he cracked smart about his diminutive stature. But Mal had never been sensitive about his height; seldom had Scott met a person as comfortable in his or her own skin. Scott himself had only two inches on Mal, and their height had always been a good source of humor between them. Through the door, he heard his partner canceling the paramedics. Scott tried repeatedly to gain entrance to the study, but the door was solid mahogany, with solid brass knobs. That didn’t stop him from shouting that Mal should see a doctor and that he wouldn’t be able to help from
side of the door if Mal had another attack. The muffled tapping on the computer keyboard implied that Mal was on one of his obsessive streaks, tackling some new idea that had come to his brilliant mind … like the ideas that had made Malcolm Robbe America’s greatest weapons builder.
“And or” had become Mal’s new mantra as he drove. It was something from his partner’s past, and they were hurtling toward it at breakneck speed.
Two-thirds of Malcolm’s life was a complete mystery to him. He’d seen neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and every other quack between Washington, DC, and Boston. He’d even resorted to the arcane, much to Scott’s disapproval. One charlatan explained that he was a former Christian missionary whose sins among native peoples were so heinous, he had blocked them from his memory. A gypsy woman claimed that he was not of this world, and that the memories he sought were from
plane of existence. The wealthier Malcolm had become, the more those con artists charged, but neither doctors or hacks had cracked his amnesia. The wall around his mind was as thick as the armor Malcolm built for America’s tanks.
Scott had been sleeping on the leather couch outside the study when Mal finally emerged hours later.
“I’m going into the city,” Malcolm said.
“In this weather? Can’t it wait until morning?”
“I’ll be at our suite at the Waldorf.”
“What about tomorrow’s appointments?”
“Cancel everything for the next few days. Tell them I’m not feeling well.”
well,” Scott stressed. “You just had a grand mal seizure. Pun intended.”
A smile cracked the industrialist’s dour veneer, and dissipated just as quickly. He put a hand on Scott’s shoulder indicating his thanks for Scott’s solidarity.
Mal grabbed the car keys and his coat.
“You’re not going alone,” Scott said, grabbing his jacket as well.
The billionaire considered it a moment, and just when Scott thought he would argue the point, Mal said, “Suit yourself. But you’ve no idea what you’re getting into.”
“Malcolm, what’s going on?”
Leading toward the Porsche in the driveway, he said, “The gypsy was right.” It was the last thing Mal had said to Scott that night.
Ahead loomed the Midtown Tunnel. Beyond it, the diffused lights of Manhattan eked through the dark, rainy mist.
Michelle calculated the tithes in the back office as her husband pounded the pulpit out front with fervent oratory. The office’s hollow pine door was no match for the reverend’s passionate deep tenor. His voice commanded attention—he was, after all, God’s proxy on earth. Allyn worked his special appeal late into the night to help find two children who had gone missing from their community.
Michelle clicked away at the adding machine under the watchful portrait of Jesus on the wall; the strip of paper snaked across the table and off the edge to the floor. She breathed a sigh of relief because the First Community Baptist Church of Raleigh, which was technically located in Garner, would be able to keep the heat and power on for another month. Not so certain were roof repairs, new tires for the church van, or the monthly donation to the regional NAACP chapter. Her husband had promised her a new computer and accounting program, but money was tight, with more parishioners unemployed each week and asking for help instead of donating funds. There was always someone in the community in desperate need.
Michelle worried about their daughter, Rosemarie. Her college savings were underfunded relative to her scholastic aptitude. She knew the reverend loved his daughter, but it often seemed as though her needs came second to starving families or those who’d lost their homes.
The Lord will provide,
the reverend told his wife. Allyn Grey was as confident of that as he was that gravity would not let him fly off the earth.
The reverend’s passion swept all before him into his fold. He had a resounding conviction that there was more to this universe than what they could see, such as his uncanny ability to heal people by laying on hands and praying. He succeeded often enough that many came from miles just for the chance at curing their diabetes, gout, or cancer. Allyn took his failures hard, blaming himself when he could not cure an ailment.
“We are all connected,” Allyn’s voice boomed through the office walls. He told the story of old Agatha Crowe from their former congregation, who awoke in the middle of the night at the exact moment her son had been shot dead in Afghanistan. Her son came to her in a dream and said he was in a place surrounded by their ancestors. “A link that binds us all,” the reverend drove on. And it was in the spirit of that connectivity that he worked so hard on his parishioners’ behalf. Two of them, the Taylors, were in the midst of a tragedy—despondent over their children.
The family had been carjacked that morning by robbers at the Piggly Wiggly, and the thieves took the children as insurance. The police retrieved the car at the edge of the Uwharrie National Forest and captured one of the men, but the children, a six-year-old boy and his younger sister, had run into the largest and most secluded part of the forest trying to escape. One of the thieves went after them, no doubt to retrieve his bargaining chip with the authorities. They were still lost in those woods. The reverend said that if the Taylor kids had been white, the media would be all over the story and the amount of help overwhelming.
Allyn was trying to get the community to put pressure on the governor and the local stations to increase resources for the search. The sheriff and the state police were good men, but money and people were stretched tight all over. A hint of racism was still the best way to stir politicians to action—and it would be for as long as those who remembered segregation still lived. Rosemarie’s generation would know a different, better South. Michelle had just finished her calculations when Rosemarie rushed into the office.