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Authors: Stephen; Birmingham

The Wrong Kind of Money

BOOK: The Wrong Kind of Money
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF STEPHEN BIRMINGHAM

The Auerbach Will

A New York Times Bestseller

“Has the magic word ‘bestseller' written all over it … Birmingham's narrative drive never falters and his characters are utterly convincing.” —John Barkham Reviews

“Delicious secrets—scandals, blackmail, affairs, adultery … the gossipy Uptown/Downtown milieu Birmingham knows so well.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“An engrossing family saga.” —
USA Today

“Colorful, riveting, bubbling like champagne.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Poignant and engrossing … Has all the ingredients for a bestseller.” —
Publishers Weekly

The Rest of Us

A New York Times Bestseller

“Breezy and entertaining, full of gossip and spice!” —
The Washington Post

“Rich anecdotal and dramatic material … Prime social-vaudeville entertainment.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“Wonderful stories … All are interesting and many are truly inspirational.” —
The Dallas Morning News

“Entertaining from first page to last … Those who read it will be better for the experience.” —
Chattanooga Times Free Press

“Birmingham writes with a deft pen and insightful researcher's eye.” —
The Cincinnati Enquirer

“Mixing facts, gossip, and insight … The narrative is engaging.” —
Library Journal

“Immensely readable … Told with a narrative flair certain to win many readers.” —
Publishers Weekly

The Right People

A New York Times Bestseller

“Platinum mounted … The mind boggles.” —
San Francisco Examiner

“To those who say society is dead, Stephen Birmingham offers evidence that it is alive and well.” —
Newsweek

“The games some people play … manners among the moneyed WASPs of America … The best book of its kind.” —
Look

“The beautiful people of
le beau monde
… Mrs. Adolf Spreckels with her twenty-five bathrooms … Dorothy Spreckels Munn's chinchilla bedspread … the ‘St. Grottlesex Set' of the New England prep schools, sockless in blazers … the clubs … the social sports … love and marriage—which seem to be the only aspect which might get grubbier. It's all entertaining.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“It glitters and sparkles.… You'll love
The Right People
.” —
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A ‘fun' book about America's snobocracy … Rich in curiosa … More entertaining than
Our Crowd
… Stephen Birmingham has done a masterly job.” —
Saturday Review

“Take a look at some of his topics: the right prep schools, the coming out party, the social rankings of the various colleges, the Junior League, the ultra-exclusive clubs, the places to live, the places to play, why the rich marry the rich, how they raise their children.… This is an ‘inside' book.” —
The Washington Star

“All the creamy people … The taboo delight of a hidden American aristocracy with all its camouflages stripped away.” —Tom Wolfe,
Chicago Sun-Times

The Wrong Kind of Money

“Fast and wonderful. Something for everyone.” —
The Cincinnati Enquirer

“Dark doings in Manhattan castles, done with juicy excess. A titillating novel that reads like a dream. Stunning.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“Birmingham … certainly keeps the pages turning. Fans will feel at home.” —
The Baltimore Sun

The Wrong Kind of Money

A Novel

Stephen Birmingham

For Caitlin

P
ART
O
NE

River House, 1994

1

Nine Lives

Unless you happened to be a spectator at the trial, you probably have no idea what Hannah Liebling looks like. And it's unlikely that you were among the spectators. Because of the prominence of the individuals involved, it would have been easy enough to have turned that trial into a national sensation. But, thanks to the shrewd public-relations work of Miss Bathy Sachs—of whom you'll hear more later—the more sensational aspects of the case were played down, and spectators were kept to an absolute minimum. It was no coincidence that Judge Ida Kaminsky, who heard the case, was assigned the smallest courtroom in New York County, with very limited seating. The right to a jury trial was waived because, as Bathy correctly put it, “When you've got a defendant who might be guilty, you want a jury. But when you have a defendant you know is innocent, it's better to let a judge decide.” And it was no coincidence that, throughout the proceedings, the matter was referred to as a homicide and not a murder. As Bathy said, “All murders are homicides. But not all homicides are murders.” Was it a coincidence that the judge assigned to the case was a woman? You decide.

Television or other cameras were not allowed in Judge Kaminsky's courtroom. Of course, the press and public could not be completely excluded, and courtroom sketch artists were able to capture Hannah Liebling's bulk, but not much else. They were not able to capture the fiery iciness in her blue eyes. They were not able to capture her commanding presence, though the few reporters who managed to find seating space tried to describe it for their readers. They were not able to capture what can only be called Hannah's heroic
poise,
her sense of self.

When the county prosecutor produced, for a second time, the lethal weapon, she did not flinch. When he showed—
again!—
the photographs of the bloodied corpse blown up, in color, on the screen, many people averted their eyes. Not Hannah. She gazed expressionlessly at the screen, her face a mask. Has she no heart? people asked. Is she a woman devoid of human feelings?

Judge Kaminsky kindly set aside a small room adjacent to her courtroom for the use of family members during some of the more troubling parts of the testimony, and some members of the family repaired to this room from time to time. But Hannah—never. She was there day after day, calmly, collectedly, sitting in the seat that had been assigned to her, taking in every word, occasionally scribbling short notes to herself on a pad of paper. She had made a point, in the trial, of not being represented by any legal counsel. And when it came to her turn to testify she strode, almost regally, to the witness box, in her hat, her gloves, in her long mink coat, with her reticule slung over her left arm. She removed her right glove to be sworn in, and repeated her oath in a clear, strong voice. And when she began to testify, she did so in an accent that immediately caused the prosecutor to appear deferential, even shy, in her presence. He addressed her as “ma'am.”

“In whose name is this weapon licensed, ma'am?” he asked her.

“Mine.”

“And who gave this weapon to the defendant, ma'am?”

“I did.”

No sketch artist could ever replicate that voice.

“May-huhn.”

Mrs. Hannah Liebling speaks with the kind of Old New York accent that has almost disappeared from the Manhattan scene. It is an accent that is a product both of Hannah's generation and social class, and as a result, it is spoken nowadays mostly by dowagers and grandes dames, both of which she is qualified to label herself, though she never would. (“Well, I
have
been called a doyenne,” she once told a reporter.)

This accent, peculiar to New York City, where it evolved after the Civil War, involves a flattening and protracting of certain vowel sounds, turning short vowels into diphthongs. Take the word
bird,
or the word
word.
These become
buh-uhd
and
wuh-uhd.
There is a perceptible hint of what we call Brooklynese here, and also an echo of the Old South, as well as something that might have been borrowed from the German in that invisible umlaut. Hannah, it might be added, comes by all these influences naturally. Her great-grandfather, the first Marcus Sachs, emigrated to these shores from the Rhenish Palatinate and settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where he became a cotton broker before moving his family north after the war. The first Marcus Sachs actually kept slaves—not many, but three or four—and, following the principles of Deuteronomy, these were always manumitted after seven years of servitude, as Hannah Liebling is always careful to point out whenever the subject comes up, though it rarely does. As for Brooklyn, Hannah was born in one of those fine old houses on Prospect Park, a neighborhood that is now almost entirely black. But let's go back to last January, before all the trouble, before the trial.

Hannah Liebling is sitting now in the backseat of her Lincoln Town Car as it moves slowly down Park Avenue in heavy traffic. The rainy street ahead of them is a glittery sea of red brake lights refracted by the Lincoln's wiper blades. “Perhaps, Mr. Nelson,” she says to her chauffeur, “it would have been better if we'd gone down Third.”
Thuh-uhd.

“Perhaps, Mrs. Liebling,” he agrees. He does not point out to her that Third Avenue is, and has been for many years, a one-way uptown thoroughfare. After all, Hannah Liebling can remember when all the avenues in New York were two-way. The other two passengers in the Lincoln's backseat do not point this out to her, either.

These are Hannah Liebling's older son, Cyril—pronounced “Kyril”—and her granddaughter, Anne, who is just eighteen. Anne is the daughter of Hannah's younger son, Noah. Hannah often calls Anne her Little Bird.
Littuhl buh-uhd.
It is an accent that surely, in another generation's time, will have disappeared altogether.

“Sit up straight, Cyril dear,” Hannah Liebling says now, tapping him sharply on the knee with a white-gloved fingertip. “Don't slouch. Good posture is so important. It keeps the internal organs in alignment, and it's so easy to do. All it requires is practice.”

BOOK: The Wrong Kind of Money
11.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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