JUNE 5, 2018
THIS IS PART V of LARB’s serialization of Seth Greenland’s forthcoming novel The Hazards of Good Fortune. Greenland’s novel follows Jay Gladstone from his basketball-loving youth to his life as a real estate developer, civic leader, philanthropist, and NBA team owner, and then to it all spiraling out of control.
A film and TV writer, playwright, and author of four previous novels, Greenland was the original host of The LARB Radio Hour and serves on LARB’s board of directors. The Hazards of Good Fortune will be published in book form by Europa Editions on August 21, 2018.
To start with installment one, click here.
The moneyed murmur in the elegant Stanford White dining room of the Paladin Club obscured the confidential nature of the lunch conversation that was taking place at a corner table between Jay Gladstone and D’Angelo Maxwell, who had dressed for the occasion in a suit so impeccably tailored it looked as if it could be removed only by molting.
When Jay became a team owner, he learned that fraternization with players was, for the most part, minimal. Although he occasionally allowed himself the indulgence of flying on the team plane, he didn’t socialize with the players unless it was a team-sponsored event, and was careful not to foist his presence upon them in unwelcome ways. Unlike many extremely wealthy individuals, Jay had a well-developed sense of how others viewed him, and he was intent on not being perceived as someone who was only in the room because he had the most money.
He had been dreading this lunch. When D’Angelo called and asked for a meeting, the club was Jay’s tactical choice. It was an environment in which he felt exceedingly comfortable. His father had been a member and had brought him to family events here, and now he was an officer.
To preserve his current waistline, Jay had ordered a Kobe beef hamburger without a bun. He sliced into the meat as he talked.
“We try to keep all of our assets in the best shape possible,” he was saying. “So, when we want to sell, should we ever want to sell, we’re not scrambling. It’s the same with horses. I treat them well because I’m a humane person, but they’re assets.” Jay stuck a forkful of the beef into his mouth and chewed. He looked forward to the lunch ending.
“Did you inherit all that real estate from your daddy?” Dag asked, cutting a piece of the asparagus next to his sea bass.
“A lot of it. But since I’ve been in charge, our company has developed several properties here in America, and we’re doing a major project in South Africa now.”
Jay was proud of his work in Africa and did not mind sharing the information with people of all races. He was familiar with the history of grandstanding white people trying to save Africa for their own reasons and was careful to not be perceived as one of them.
“I did a bunch of clinics in Africa last year,” Dag said. “With my foundation.”
“We’re developing an entire town, a small eco-friendly city actually, and if it goes well, if it’s replicable, we believe it will intrigue other developing nations.”
Dag took a sip of water and licked his lips.
“What do you get out of it?”
“Financially? Not much.” Jay chose not to elaborate. He was aware that good intentions were often regarded with suspicion and didn’t want to come off like another white intruder. “But it gets me away from my desk.”
The conversation had meandered for half an hour, and Dag was not pursuing any discernible line of inquiry. Jay expected that he wanted to talk about the contract and wished he would bring it up so they could be done with it.
“My money guy has me in a bunch of real estate investments,” Dag said, impaling a piece of sea bass and placing it in his mouth.
“What kind?” Jay asked, to keep the conversational ball in the air. Jay was thinking about his daughter, who was now in Israel. He had texted her and had not heard back.
“I’m not sure to tell you the truth. Shopping centers, condos, some golf resort down in Nicaragua—”
“A golf resort in Nicaragua?” Jay repeated, making sure he had heard correctly, as a vision of a Sandinista soldier teeing off burbled up. “Do you want me to vet any of them for you?”
“You don’t have to do that. But, listen, Mr. Gladstone, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”
At last, Jay thought, they were going to get down to business. But then a middle-aged white man in a Brooks Brothers suit approached their table. His short hair and his smile were equally crinkly. Jay made as if to stand.
“Don’t get up,” the visitor said, a trace of Canarsie in his accent. “I wanted to come over and see if I could get Mr. Maxwell to sign with the Knicks.”
“Chuck, I believe that’s called tampering,” Jay said.
“I’m not an owner,” he said. “I can’t tamper.” The friendly man chuckled and looked at Dag, who nodded uneasily.
Jay said, “Dag, have you met Senator Schumer?”
“No, I haven’t,” Dag said and extended his hand, which the politician clasped and shook.
“The Knicks could use you,” Senator Charles Schumer (D—NY) informed him, placing his other hand over the one that was already holding Dag’s.
“I have a contract with Mr. Gladstone’s team,” Dag said, pulling his hand away as Senator Schumer reluctantly released his grip. “You understand.”
“But you’re a free agent once the season’s over, am I right?”
Dag’s eyes darted around the room. He was the only black man there who was not pushing a cart or carrying a tray. Although D’Angelo Maxwell was a man of many accomplishments on and off the basketball court, it concerned him that in this context he might be unfairly viewed as just another African-American jock surrounded by two far more influential men of European descent whose ingrained sense of dispensation, and the gilded environment in which it was being exercised, rendered him a prop in the conversation. He wasn’t sure if Senator Schumer was serious or not but wanted to know why Jay didn’t just shut down the whole line of questioning. The way the politician beamed in Dag’s direction made him uneasy.
Then Senator Schumer turned his ingratiating attention to Jay. “Are you coming to the dinner for President Obama at the Waldorf?”
“I’ll be there if I’m in town,” Jay said. “The company bought a table, but I’ve been doing more traveling than Marco Polo.”
“Did you ever play that game in a swimming pool when you were a kid?” Senator Schumer asked Dag. “I say Marco; you say Polo.”
“They didn’t have that game in my neighborhood,” Dag said.
“Hey, I grew up in Brooklyn,” Schumer answered. “Before it was fancy.”
“You O.G.,” Dag said, trying to get into the jocular spirit.
“Have you met the President, Mr. Maxwell?”
Mr. Maxwell? Dag liked that. “Not yet.”
“Bring this man to the dinner, Jay,” Senator Schumer said. “I’m sure the president would enjoy meeting him. He’s a big basketball fan.” Then, to Dag: “Get your owner to take you.”
Your owner. That word again, with all of its antediluvian implications. Never mind that it was not the liberal speaker’s intention. Dag was already on edge. He didn’t like sitting across from this boundlessly privileged white man, born rich, who never had to contend with anything resembling the trials of Houston’s 5th Ward in order to ask that he be paid what he believed himself to be worth for his talent and prodigious labor. He resented the whole dance and was trying to tamp down these restive feelings. He had an agent, so these kinds of conversations should be unnecessary.
But he didn’t have an agent. Why had he fired Jamal?
To the senator’s suggestion, Dag said, “We’ll see about that.”
“And if you come to the Obama dinner,” Senator Schumer said, “I promise not to talk about the Knicks.”
Jay and Dag both feigned laughter, Jay’s the mirth of satisfaction, Dag’s the heh-heh of social obligation.
“You’re one of the great players of your generation,” Schumer gushed to Dag.
“And he’s all ours,” Jay said.
Dag seemed gratified by the owner’s declaration, knew it would give him leverage. Schumer gave Jay’s shoulder a friendly pat before strolling back to his table. Dag wondered why the encounter with the senator had made him uncomfortable.
“Knick fans are crazy,” Dag said.
“They never lose hope,” Jay said.
And then Dag wondered why he had said Knick fans are crazy when with his boys he would have said Knick fans be crazy. Why was he kowtowing to Jay Gladstone?
“But I appreciated the respect,” Dag said. He took another sip of water, swallowed, and rolled his neck. A loud crack ensued. “Mr. Gladstone, I think the Knicks would pay me.”
“Lots of teams would pay you, Dag. I hope you re-sign with us.”
“Yeah, well. I want to.”
This news delighted Jay. He waited for Dag to say what was on his mind. He knew enough to never negotiate against himself. But Dag did not elaborate on his declaration.
“How’s your fish?”
Jay noticed Dag was massaging his neck, which seemed to be causing him discomfort. Did the player have an injury he had not disclosed? It was bad enough that he was already playing on a surgically reconstructed knee. Now Dag shifted his shoulder, so a joint in his back audibly cracked. His body, imposing in so many ways, had a lot of mileage on it.
“My agent told me he had a conversation with Church about a new deal.”
“I heard something about that.”
Dag outlined the parameters of the offer Jamal had relayed. “My agent said that’s your opinion, too. No max deal.”
Jay measured his words. “You’re a great player, Dag, certainly one of the best in the league.” Dag agreed. They could have been discussing an element on the periodic table. “And as you know, we’re trying to build a contender.”
“I’m all about winning.”
“We love that about you,” Jay said. “The basketball minds in the organization, Church and his guys in the front office, they’ve made a determination. If that’s how he wants to allocate the funds allowable under the salary cap, then my job is to support him.”
“Yeah, well, we know who the best player on the team is,” Dag said, with the supreme confidence that comes with having been a star when he was ten years old, and in high school where he was the best player in Texas, and as an all-American during his one college season, and for most of his career in the pros. “And when you look around the league, I don’t care what team, the best player gets a max.”
“That’s not true. Teams get stuck with bad deals, declining productivity puts them in situations where they’re overpaying. But let’s not wander into the weeds here. This is between your agent and Church.”
“I fired my agent,” Dag said. “I’m negotiating.”
The rashness this decision indicated caused Jay to pause. It was unheard of for a player of Dag’s caliber to enter into a high stakes negotiation without representation.
“Listen, Dag. Since you’ve been on the team, we’ve gotten to know each other a little bit, and at this point, well, I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to say that I consider you a friend.”
“We’re buddies,” Dag said, in a faintly derisive tone that Jay chose to ignore.
“I know this is a business and you’re going to do whatever it is you have to do for you and your family. I respect that. But negotiating a deal like this without an agent—” Jay did not have to finish the thought, but could not help himself. “You might want to rethink that plan.”
“Like you said, I gotta do what I gotta do.”
Dag seemed entirely rational. Church had told Jay that the appetite around the league for lavishing a huge contract on him was not there which meant that they could call his bluff. But Jay was genuinely fond of Dag and wanted to keep him on the roster with no hard feelings.
“Why don’t you hire a new agent?”
Dag appeared to ponder that possibility. There was a proliferation of cutthroat agents, shrewd operators who could obtain close to max deals for players who were not necessarily worth the investment. But if he wanted to do that he wouldn’t have asked to meet for lunch. Dag was a talented offensive machine who fans forked over hundreds of dollars per ticket to see work his mojo live. And the television networks? The checks they wrote for the rights to broadcast the games had ballooned to the billions since the time he had entered the league. Sure, everyone in the NBA was a world-class player, but it was the superstars who drove the money wagon, and Dag was still undeniably a superstar. That he had seen his last gargantuan payday was, to him, beyond comprehension.
“You know we’re one game out of the playoffs right now,” Dag pointed out.
“Yes, I follow the team,” Jay said, an attempt at humor. He hoped it hadn’t veered into condescension.
“And you want to make the playoffs, right?”
The expression on Jay’s face slid from genial concern past barely concealed surprise and arrived at mild distress.
“We count on you to play your best every night,” Jay said. “Especially in a contract year.”
“Dag always delivers.”
At this juncture, Jay could have just nodded his assent. He could have corroborated Dag’s self-assessment quickly enough. Could have said Let me think about it. He did not do any of these things. Instead, he drilled down:
“To your point, we committed the maximum salary allowed to you. You’re our guy, and if the season were to end today, we wouldn’t be in the playoffs. Sorry to put it quite so bluntly, but you brought it up.”
This lightning bolt of a reality check hurled from the summit of Mount Gladstone stunned Dag. Its implication—if you were as good as you claim, no one would be wondering if the team was going to qualify for the playoffs—was, at the very least, insulting. It was also, in Dag’s estimation, rude, insolent, and, on the most basic level, emasculating (its undeniable accuracy immaterial). To Dag, who made his living asserting his potency, his physical superiority, and his iron determination over other athletic marvels, this was enraging. His right bicep, the one with 5th tattooed on it, twitched beneath the wool sleeve of his suit jacket.
“So, you’re telling me what?”
“You really should hire a new agent,” Jay said. “I’m not going to negotiate. I have too much respect for you.”
Dag underwent a brief impulse of wanting to upend the table and drive his fist into the owner’s face as payback for having dared violate the unspoken pact that prohibited anything but happy talk when discussing the career of a superstar of Dag’s magnitude with the actual superstar, but the august surroundings and the high stakes of the conversation had an inhibiting effect. Also, Dag had brought it up, so the athlete only smoldered. He recognized how undignified an outburst would have appeared to the other diners, not to mention the Internet clickbait that would have resulted—DAG DECKS OWNER IN DINING ROOM DUSTUP—and remained immobile, though no less infuriated. Then he upped the ante:
“How many black faces do you see here besides the waiter or the dude who handed me a towel in the washroom?”
“We have black members.”
Dag didn’t have the patience for an extended back-and-forth. They were playing on Jay’s home court, the owner had all the advantages. He needed to knock Jay off his game, gain some kind of competitive advantage. Dag probed: “Would you pay me if I was white?”
It was as if he had tossed a grenade. Jay absorbed the scabrous question. The only perceptible sound was the voice in his head telling him he had treated this man seated across the table from him with nothing but respect for nearly four years, had not tried to be pals in the manner of some owners. He had expressed his appreciation of everything Dag contributed to whatever success the team had known. He was bewildered that Dag would invoke race as a factor when owners paid nearly all of the top-tier salaries to black players. But wait. Was that a wry glimmer in Dag’s eye?
“Are you joking?”
“What do you think?” If this question was meant tongue in cheek, Jay couldn’t tell.
“Are you accusing me of being racist?”
“I didn’t accuse you,” Dag said. “I floated it.” He seemed to enjoy making the boss squirm.
Jay sipped ice water from the glass in front of him, felt the coolness on his fingers, in his throat. Tight-lipped, he stared at Dag. “When my father was in high school in the 1930s he fought for racial equality. That’s the kind of stock I come from. I was the Anti-Defamation League man of the year. And that’s an organization that doesn’t just fight hatred against Jews, either. They fight all kinds of prejudice, including prejudice against black people. You think my attitude to your contract negotiations comes from a position of race? Don’t be ridiculous. Race has nothing to do with it.”
Dag absorbed Jay’s lecture. He waited until he was certain his host had finished. Then said:
“I was playing with you.”
This brought Jay up short. Had he completely misread Dag’s intent? Was he actually joking? He failed to see the humor in the topic.
“But here’s the truth,” Dag continued, “Race always has something to do with it.”
“Come on, Dag. You’re better than that.”
Jay was surprised to find his own emotions riled after the implied accusation of racism, and briefly considered sharing with the player his lifelong fascination, appreciation, nothing short of love for black culture, blackness, as if that somehow inoculated him against Dag’s egregious suggestion. But then he would have been the one being ridiculous.
“You should think about it, Mr. Gladstone.”
“You know I’m not a racist,” Jay said. “You can recite all the theories about how everyone is at least a little bit racist, and I won’t argue that it isn’t on some level true. And by the way, I wouldn’t exclude you from this. And if you thought about it, you probably wouldn’t exclude yourself.”
Jay waited to see how Dag would react to the last statement. Although he appeared unconvinced, he was still listening.
“But in my behavior, both in business and in my private life,” Jay continued, “I scrupulously, and I mean scrupulously, avoid the slightest hint of ever basing any of my thinking on someone else’s race.”
“I’m no racist,” Dag said.
“Well, neither am I.” Jay was surprised to find his throat had again gone dry. Once more, he reached for his water glass. He took another sip, straining the ice with his teeth. He wondered if Dag had exposed something that festered within him. Was it possible he harbored attitudes that were on some level racist? He held the notion up to the light, scrutinized it from every conceivable angle. He dismissed the idea. “Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I’ll tell you two things. The first is that I’ll talk to Church and, while I can’t promise he’ll change his mind, I’ll get him to give the situation another look.”
“I appreciate that.”
“The second thing is that I’d like you to come as my guest to the Obama dinner.”
This was the sign that Jay viewed Dag as a social equal to the extent that he was welcome at his table for the presidential event. No other player on the team would be attending. Dag nodded, considering the proposal. He did not appear awed by the opportunity to meet the first black president.
“Church and his wife are coming as our guests.”
Dag was intrigued by the information that Church Scott, a man he esteemed, a coach who had won an NBA championship in his previous job, would attend.
“Do you know Steve Ballmer?” Jay asked. Dag did not know Steve Ballmer. “He runs a little company called Microsoft, and he loves basketball.”
“I know them,” Dag said.
“He’ll be there, too. It wouldn’t hurt to know a guy like Steve.”
They passed the remainder of the meal in an exchange of irrelevancies marked by the low-grade dyspepsia Jay suffered from having been put in such a discomfiting position and Dag’s veiled pleasure at having effectively toyed with what he perceived to be the owner’s self-regard. Dag accepted the invitation to the Obama dinner as a show of good faith.
“One more thing,” Jay said. “I know I’m a little formal around the team, but you’ve been playing with us for four seasons, you’re the main guy, I think you and I have a terrific relationship.”
“I think we do, too.”
“Well, I want you to call me Jay.”
“Okay, Jay,” Dag said, with a trace of amusement. He knew certain owners demanded that everyone address them as “Mr.” and others were all “Call-me-Bill-or-Bob-or-Stan.” He always felt strange calling Jay “Mr. Gladstone.”
The check came. Dag chatted with the manager at the front of the room while Jay, in his capacity as a club officer, briefly spoke with a couple of diners about the dues assessment levied on each member for capital improvements. He hoped to be the club president when the incumbent’s term was up and asked for their votes.
The club manager was a slender Frenchman with a fastidious air about him named Jean-Pierre. He produced a small camera and asked Dag if it was all right to take a picture with him. A waiter was pressed into service as a photographer and as Dag posed he watched Jay engage in tableside banter with the other members and marveled at how at home he seemed. Maybe Dag would ask Jay about becoming a member. Not that he wanted to be one. But he’d like to see how Jay would react to the possibility.
“Mr. Gladstone, it is such a pleasure to see Mr. Maxwell at the club,” Jean-Pierre said when Jay joined them. “Mr. Maxwell, I hope to see you again. You are my favorite player.”
Dag beamed and thanked the club manager.
“I didn’t pay you to say that, did I?” Jay asked.
“You did not pay me, Mr. Gladstone,” Jean-Pierre said with a laugh.
The player and the owner parted with a handshake in front of the club.
“We’re kings, you and me,” Jay said.
“I appreciate that.”
“Never forget how lucky we are.”
From his great height, Dag gazed directly into Jay’s eyes. He placed a large hand on the smaller man’s shoulder. “We’re real, you and me,” Dag said, situating Jay in their shared moral universe, one in which both were virtuous actors. “We do what’s right.”
Jay nodded. That was his north star. But he wasn’t sure if Dag meant it.
Trey answered his brother’s texted order and produced the McLaren two minutes later, freshly washed, waxed, and with a brimming tank. To Dag’s relief, the car did not reek of weed. He climbed behind the wheel and pointed in the direction of the team’s practice facility in New Jersey. On the ride through the Holland Tunnel Dag thought about what he had said at the club. He didn’t believe the man was an actual racist, any more than anyone in his position was an actual racist. But Dag was an intuitive enough negotiator to understand the value of destabilizing one’s counterpart. If he could get the owner to consider the slightest possibility that his thinking could be racially motivated, it might cause enough of a fissure to enable Dag to slip through and collect the riches he believed were due him. Who cared if he used gamesmanship to achieve his ends. If he could get Jay to bite on the fake, well, isn’t that what players of Dag’s caliber did? And Jay Gladstone probably was a little bit racist. Wasn’t everyone? Jay had said so himself.
When the car emerged from the darkness of the tunnel, Dag squinted in the light and reached into the glove compartment for his sunglasses. Nestled next to them was a handgun. What was it doing there?
“You got a permit for this?” Trey laughed, which Dag did not appreciate. “Dang, Trey, some cop stops you cause you’re a black man driving a McLaren, they gonna find this motherfucker, haul your ass to jail, and then it’s my name in the papers.”
“How am I supposed to protect you?”
“I didn’t say don’t have a piece, just get a damn license.”
Frustrated with the way his day was going, Dag slipped the sunglasses on. He needed to think about how he was going to hoist his team on his back and haul them into the playoffs and didn’t have time to worry about his brother’s poor judgment.
When Dag’s phone began to vibrate in his pocket his mood was so foul he nearly chose not to see who it was, but curiosity got the better of him. He looked at the screen and saw the phone number of his Los Angeles home. Why was his wife calling him? Probably to discuss some minor detail of the divorce. They had already settled all the larger ones. Dag did not particularly want to speak with Brittany but a sense of duty impelled him to press the icon that would initiate the conversation. When he said, “What’s up?” and heard the voice of his oldest child, six-year-old D’Angelo Jr., Dag’s attitude immediately improved. But his son sounded miserable.
The ring of pungent cigar smoke hung over the ship-sized desk like a billboard advertising the prosperity and influence of the hefty man from whose mouth it had disgorged. The office was capacious, the walls adorned with an impressive display of sports memorabilia: framed uniforms belonging to New York baseball legends Mickey Mantle (#7), Willie Mays (#24), and as if that wasn’t enough to humble every male who stood on the carpet, there was the jersey Jackie Robinson (#42) wore during the 1955 season. Accompanying the baseball troika was a Giants jersey worn by Y.A. Tittle (#14) and a white Jets jersey that had belonged to Joe Namath (#12). Representing the Rangers was the jersey of the player who led them to their first Stanley Cup in forty years, Mark Messier (#11). There was a Plexiglas-encased basketball used in the NBA Finals signed by Wilt Chamberlain. A vintage pinball machine with a Yankees theme was mounted on a short plinth and lit as if it were the Magna Carta. The décor reflected the taste of Jay’s cousin Franklin Gladstone, the fifty-five-year-old mogul currently blowing smoke rings from the Havana grasped in his meaty paw.
Jay stood in front of Franklin’s desk, a folder in his hand, watching as Franklin shifted in his chair. He could tell Franklin was struggling to present a serene exterior and the breeziness implied by smoke rings was feigned. Through the cigar smoke, Jay could discern the sharp scent of his cousin’s cologne. He was still smarting from his lunch with Dag and would rather have delayed talking to Franklin, but the forensic accountant had informed him that his cousin had once again moved funds in an unauthorized manner and so a confrontation was no longer avoidable.
“You’re going to have me audited?”
“I didn’t say that. Come on, Franklin.”
“That’s what you’re implying.”
“The financial reports you provided are cursory,” Jay said, waving the cigar smoke away. He dropped the folder on the desk where it landed next to a framed family photograph of Franklin, his wife Marcy, and their three children, taken on a yacht somewhere in the Mediterranean. Gazing directly at Franklin, Jay placed his forefinger on the folder. “You can’t expect me to accept these.”
Franklin tapped the end of his cigar on the rim of an ashtray commemorating one of George Foreman’s heavyweight title bouts. He appeared to consider what Jay had just told him. Franklin Gladstone’s parents named him for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who deftly exercised authority with a patrician ease the namesake’s mother and father hoped their son might learn to emulate. These hopes had not borne fruit. Since he was a kid, Franklin had been burly. Now his bulk had swelled, and his cardiologist wanted him to lose forty pounds. All of it was sheathed in a conservative gray suit custom-tailored for Franklin in London from enough material to craft a pup tent. A violet shirt with starched white cuffs and collar, and a yellow patterned tie, all accented by a pair of cuff links fashioned from tiny crossed hockey sticks rendered in forty karat gold. His fingernails were manicured and buffed to a pearly sheen, and when he ran them through his thick, curly hair, they looked like tiny fish darting beneath the surface of a stream. Placing his hands on his lap, he twisted his thick gold wedding band.
“You asked to see the reports,” Franklin said. “Those are the reports.”
“And I didn’t say I was going to have you audited. Give me a break, all right? I don’t want to do that.”
Franklin was two years younger than Jay. Their fathers had passed them the keys to the kingdom—the millions had multiplied to billions—and decreed their progeny be co-heads of what was no longer simply a real estate company called Gladstone Properties but rather, the Gladstone Group. Not satisfied with having built one of the most prominent real estate organizations in New York, the founders had diversified. As the boisterous 1980s shifted into overdrive, the elder Gladstones bought and sold companies in oil, shipping, and fast food. When the wheeling and dealing slowed down, the businesses they found most conducive to continued growth and minimal headaches, after real estate: hotels and gaming.
The fathers had been famously close, celebrating Thanksgiving every year at Jerry’s house, and Passover at Bingo’s; even vacationing together, sailing off the Maine coast, Colorado for skiing, grand tours of Europe, all with their families in tow. Jay and Franklin bonded as kids, more siblings than cousins, with Jay in the dominant role. When the boys’ families socialized, the two threw a baseball around, or played penny-ante poker, or shared purloined copies of Playboy. Summers, they attended the same sports camp in the Berkshires where counselors organized sons of Brookline, West Orange, and Great Neck into “tribes” of Iroquois, Apaches, and Mohicans. But when Jay went off to the University of Pennsylvania, the relationship shifted. He had been the superior athlete, had performed better in school, had a college girlfriend who looked like a movie star, and Franklin—who eventually escaped to Arizona State University—grew tired of dwelling in the shadow of his more athletic, taller, and better-looking cousin.
Franklin passed his college years in a haze of beer and marijuana. He stayed away from home for extended periods of time, often traveling during school vacations to the beaches of Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Reports of his cousin reached him: Jay made dean’s list, spent his junior year at Oxford, got accepted to the MBA program at Wharton—but the two rarely saw one another and when they did the easy rapport of their boyhood was gone. Franklin recognized that Jay would shine in any circumstance, but it was his unspoken fear that in the eyes of the world he was not his cousin’s equal. There were those that would not be bothered by this, would accept their good fortune and play a lot of golf. Franklin Gladstone was not one of them. When Jay was assigned to work on the development of a high-status property, Franklin viewed it as a personal slight. If someone in the organization did not show him the respect he believed was his due, Franklin would try to have that person reassigned or fired. This behavior did not go over well with Jerry and Bingo, who reminded him that they were a family business, one that treated non-family members like family. Employees of the firm preferred to work with Jay, who by the time he was thirty was developing real estate projects of his own and not paying much attention to his cousin.
Two princes of such different dispositions could not hold sway over the Gladstone realm together, and their prescient fathers determined that, in the service of family peace, they would divide the responsibilities. It was with this in mind that Jay and Bebe were tasked with managing the real estate empire—the family developed and owned projects in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle—and Franklin was to supervise the hotels and gaming.
The Gladstones owned the Omniverse Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, but the majority of their gaming interests were in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Macao. Because of this geography, it was a challenge for Jay to stay abreast of what Franklin was doing. The incriminating email that caught his attention several days earlier (sent by an employee in the Hong Kong office) reported a twenty-million-dollar loan Franklin had taken from their gambling operation, something he was required to report to his partners. No family member was allowed to use any of the businesses as a personal piggy bank. All employees of the Gladstone Group were required to sign a morals clause, and this included Jay and Franklin. In their case, a violation would result in removal from the board of directors and cessation of day-to-day involvement in the business. Jay didn’t need to remind Franklin of this.
What made Jay a virtuoso was his awareness of when to dominate overtly and when to cloak his intentions in bluff geniality. To relieve the tension, he asked, “How was Macao?” Franklin had overseen construction on a state-of-the-art casino, cantilevered over the South China Sea.
“Ahead of schedule,” Franklin said. He relit his cigar with a lighter camouflaged as a baseball, the flame reflected on the face of the chunky watch he wore. “I was on New York time the whole two days I was there. The new jet makes it a breeze.” The family had recently upgraded to the latest model Gulfstream 6, which Jay refused to fly on for ecological reasons. “Hey, tough loss against the Celtics.”
“Heartbreaking,” Jay agreed.
“They need a shake-up.”
“I’m meeting the coach to talk about the draft this afternoon,” Jay said.
“You gonna fire him if they miss the playoffs?”
“I’ll owe him eight million to not coach if I do.”
Like many American men, Jay and Franklin were most comfortable together when talking about sports. Wins and losses, records set and broken, who was the best of all time at what exalted skill formed a buoyant language that obscured the abyss between them.
“Licensed robbery,” Franklin said.
Jay thought once more about mentioning the loan but decided against it. He did not want to reveal the depths of his suspicions. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to see a more detailed report by next week, okay?”
“It’s like you don’t trust me.”
“Come on, Franklin. It’s called discharging fiduciary responsibility.”
“I’m just saying.” Franklin looked directly at Jay and made a point of holding his gaze. “We’re like Mantle and Maris, aren’t we?”
“In what way?”
“We’re both power hitters,” Franklin said. “But we’re on the same team and our team is winning.”
“Did you not hear what I said?”
“I’m flying down to Austin this afternoon. I’ll deal with it when I get back.”
This answer did not satisfy Jay, but he was not going to press further right now. Franklin was on notice. If the surreptitious loan went unremarked in the next report, Jay would consult his lawyer.
“What are you doing in Texas?”
“I’m meeting with the governor down there to talk about the casino business,” he said in the voice of Cary Grant. A tic of Franklin’s that got on Jay’s nerves was his tendency to slip into dated celebrity impressions. In the persona of the star of North By Northwest, he continued, “It’s a swell business but the old chap doesn’t like it and I’m going to change his mind.”
This tendency of Franklin’s—he also did mediocre versions of actors like James Cagney, Tony Curtis, and Bing Crosby—had a long history. After graduating from college, he moved to Los Angeles for a year to pursue a career as an impressionist. At open mic nights, he would enthusiastically perform his act, but interest in his repertoire of characters—which by then had grown to include Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Bette Davis, among other equally anachronistic points of reference (one historically-inclined heckler had shouted a request for Fiorello La Guardia)—was as limited as his skill set, so he returned to New York and his sinecure in the family business. Franklin’s lifelong interest in mimicry suggested to Jay that he lacked something essential, that his core was a ball of string whose threads were always threatening to unravel.
“Are you going to be back for Passover?”
“I w-w-w-wouldn’t miss it,” Jimmy Stewart stuttered.
The ritual of celebrating holidays together had survived the deaths of Bingo (2009), and Jerry (2004), thus Jay had inherited Passover. As often happens with the passing of the older generation, family traditions that had been in place for decades started to fray, and the gatherings had begun to feel increasingly obligatory.
“Then I’ll see you at the Seder,” Jay said.
As he turned to go, Franklin stopped him.
“One other thing.”
Jay tried to hide his impatience. “Yes?”
“I’ve been studying with the rabbi at our shul. I don’t like his politics around Israel, they’re a little too liberal, but he’s the genuine article. Anyway, I wanted to ask you if it was all right if I lead the service this year. I know you don’t take it that seriously.”
Jay was not a godly man. His parents were revolving door Jews, in at Rosh Hashanah, out at Yom Kippur, and he had inherited their secularism. Still, it was not easy for him to control the degree to which this request annoyed him. The family always celebrated Passover at Bingo’s house, and that tradition had passed to Jay.
“First, I do take it seriously, and since it’s at our house, I’m going to lead the service. But if you want to flip Passover and Thanksgiving next year, we can discuss it.”
Franklin nodded, concealing his resentment as efficiently as Jay had hidden his pique.
When Jay left the office, Franklin exhaled, a long airstream of relief. Who does that prick think he is, to come in here like some puffed up dictator and make demands? Does he think I’m one of those pituitary cases he overpays to play for him on that pathetic excuse of a basketball team?
Franklin swung around and gazed out the window. The vista took in Park Avenue up to Harlem and beyond—its median bursting with the yellows and reds of spring annuals—the greensward of Central Park to the west, and to the north the steel necklace of the George Washington Bridge. In the other direction, he could see the gray ribbon of the East River, and beyond that the apartments, warehouses, and cemeteries of Queens all the way to the airports and Jamaica Bay. Whenever Franklin felt diminished, mishandled, or not accorded the respect he believed he deserved, he liked to lean back in his ergonomic desk chair and spot the individual buildings that comprised the nucleus of the family portfolio and think yes, yes, yes, I am a Gladstone.
But when Franklin really wanted to feel like a god, he would stand on the roof of the building and take in the three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view. There he imagined himself as an heir to Howard Roark, the main character of his favorite novel, The Fountainhead (he had listened to the audiobook five times), only with higher status because he owned considerably more property than Howard Roark, a lowly architect when you got down to it. Franklin hired and fired the Howard Roarks of the world. Grabbing his phone, he called his sons Ari and Ezra and summoned them to the roof.
The April afternoon had warmed, and the sun hit Franklin’s ruddy face. When Bingo and Jerry divided the business and Franklin ascended to the leadership of the half bequeathed him, he had ordered the construction of an observation deck. From this aerie, he could make out the family holdings not just in the tonier uptown precincts, but also downtown and in Brooklyn. There were Gladstone apartment houses on the west side and the east side, both luxury buildings and structures that, in Manhattan, passed for affordable, and office buildings all over town with Fortune 500 companies as tenants. Together these holdings were as impressive a portfolio of real estate as any currently held in private hands. And then there were the less prestigious properties in Queens and Westchester, which he only thought about when there were problems. Like this week, when a police officer in White Plains had killed someone at one of their apartment houses. Franklin wasn’t going to worry about that unless it became a Gladstone issue and he couldn’t imagine how that could ever come to pass.
Since the family’s New York real estate portfolio was Jay’s responsibility, none of these impressive edifices could provide him with the electric charge he got from his successes in the glittery world of hotels and gaming. The casino in Las Vegas and the expansion of the family footprint to Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macao, these were his alone. And now he intended to move into a new area. Franklin had a dream, and that dream was to be the owner of a professional sports franchise. That his cousin Jay had managed to purchase an NBA team magnified his already finely-honed sense of grievance. For all of Franklin’s wealth, he was still capable of feeling diminished, and that was the role Jay had assumed in Franklin’s life: Diminisher-in-Chief. It wasn’t anything Jay did on purpose, but lately, his very existence riled his younger cousin. Jay had overshadowed Franklin in youth, been a better athlete, gone to a more prestigious college, and grabbed the glittering prize—presidency of the Gladstone real estate division.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, Jay had, with his fortune, made a bold and risky bet on the performance of gold in the commodity markets and Franklin, who secretly harbored a nagging belief in Jay’s superiority, had followed his shrewd cousin’s lead. Jay rode gold like a dazzling rocket, and when he liquidated his position, he poured eye-popping eight-figure profits into NBA ownership. Franklin, thinking Jay had bailed too soon, held his gold position, suffered through the precipitous crash of the gold market in 2011 that knocked his holdings down forty percent in value, and was still waiting for the recovery. This meant Jay was now significantly wealthier than Franklin, another blow to his delicate spirit.
And then there was the matter of the social realm where Jay was a sought-after member of boards and private clubs, and now had a stunningly sexy, much younger wife. These baubles had eluded Franklin, and after years of enduring this condition, he developed a degree of umbrage at the way things had turned out.
In the past decade, Franklin put together a group of investors and attempted to purchase the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts. He withdrew his NFL bid after the league commissioner informed him that he didn’t have the requisite votes on the ownership committee to be approved. (Translation: We don’t want someone like you in our club.) When his attempt to become an NFL owner did not succeed, he divested himself of partners—Franklin Gladstone could not comprehend that he was the problem—and tried to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers. He blew the Dodger deal when his nerve failed him once the price climbed to two billion. These disappointments only heightened his need to own a pro team.
Franklin turned around to see his identical twin sons, Ari and Ezra. It was Ezra who had spoken. Sometimes their voices were the only way Franklin could tell them apart, Ezra’s a slightly lower register. It was easier when they played high school hockey. Ezra was #14, and Ari was #22. Franklin wished they still wore numbered jerseys. Broad-shouldered, pumped up from the gym—the kind of physique that too much beer will quickly swell to fat—and a couple of inches taller than their father, they inhabited their tailored suits like beachwear. Ari and Ezra were so relaxed, everything they wore seemed like beachwear. They had attended the University of Miami together and exuded the country club casualness of men who had accomplished a great deal and were now savoring life, despite having accomplished nothing other than being born Gladstones. Their thick dark hair was gelled, and both sported a three-day stubble. Designer sunglasses raked their full faces. They could have been vacationing hit men from the Mossad.
“What are we doing on the roof?” Ezra asked.
“My father used to bring me up here when he wanted to talk privately.”
“You told us that, like, a million times,” Ari said.
Franklin did not appreciate his son’s tone. “What, am I interrupting something?”
“No, no,” Ezra said. “Take it easy.”
One way he was able to tell his boys apart was that Ari got lippy. Ezra never did. Sometimes he wanted to smack his son—Jerry Gladstone had belted Franklin a couple of times, always with an open hand, never a closed fist, and he didn’t suffer for it—but he could never bring himself to strike his wisenheimer son.
“I ask you to come up, you come up,” Franklin said. “And if I want to talk about Grandpa, who busted his ass for this family, you two are damn well gonna listen.”
Ari hadn’t meant to set his father off. “We’re listening,” he said. Ezra chimed in with the information that they had been on the Internet checking out potential development opportunities in Jersey City.
“You’re supposed to be researching gaming regulations in Texas,” Franklin said.
“We’re doing that, too,” Ari said.
“So, what’s with Jersey City?” Franklin was already off message. Could these two not just follow orders?
“We want to develop,” Ezra said. “Be like Grandpa and Uncle Bingo.”
“Ch-ching!” Ari said.
“I want to talk to you guys about something else.” They looked at him like a pair of spaniels waiting for their bowls to be filled. “What’s your favorite sport?”
Together, they said, “Football.”
Together again: “Cross-training.”
“Cross-training?” their father said. “What?”
“Totally,” Ari said. “It rocks.”
“What about hockey?” their father asked.
“We love hockey,” Ari said.
“Cross-training’s not even a sport,” Franklin said, shaking his head. Sometimes he wondered if his sons had what it took to succeed. “All right. Listen. I’m thinking about making a play for the Buffalo franchise in the National Hockey League.”
The mouths of the twins gaped open at the same time. When they spoke, it was to express amazement and delight. They could barely tolerate the awesomeness this heralded.
“I think we can get it for around half a billion,” Franklin told them.
“Chump change,” Ari said as if he were used to hearing these amounts every day. But he was not, the boys rarely granted access to the big-time dealing in which their father and Jay engaged.
“And if we get it,” Franklin said, “I want to move it to Miami.”
The news had traveled from great to greatest. The twins loved Miami. White sand beaches, sweet cigarette boats, tight bikinis stretched over the comeliest of female bodies! The flames gathering behind their eyes were about to morph into full-fledged conflagrations when Ari said, “Dad, wait.” He was still trying to get back on his father’s good side after pissing him off earlier. “I totally love the idea, but there’s, like, no hockey tradition down there. It’s hella Latinos. They’re into soccer and boxing, right? Hockey not so much.”
“Cause they don’t know it yet!” Ezra said. “Dude, they got a hockey team in Phoenix, and that place is all cactus and Mexicans.”
“That’s racist,” Ari said, not that he cared. He did, however, have a vague perception that invoking an ethnic group in a general way had become unacceptable—even though he had done exactly that a moment earlier when commenting on the demographics of Miami.
“How is that racist?” his less sensitive sibling asked. “There’s hella Mexicans in Arizona. It’s a fact.”
“Never mind about Arizona,” Franklin said, ending the argument. “Ezra’s right. Someone’s gonna bring hockey to South Beach—it might as well be us.”
Us? Did he say us? Was this going to be their project? All thoughts of properties in Jersey City were instantly forgotten.
“Does Jay know?” Ezra asked.
“This has nothing to do with him.” Franklin’s sons exchanged a conspiratorial glance. Something forbidden was happening, and they were thrilled at what appeared to be their inclusion. “There are other potential buyers, and our best chance of success is an all-cash bid.”
The boys were not certain how to process this information. Although both boasted the title of vice-president, neither was privy to the inner workings of any aspect of the business. They had no real idea how much cash their father was able to access.
“Dope,” Ezra said. Ari nodded.
Given their limited understanding, it most definitely sounded dope.
“If I buy the team, the three of us are going to run it.”
When Ezra heard this, his knees wobbled.
Ari let out a whoop, then: “Holy shit!”
“Now, listen. Jay? I don’t want him to get wind of this.”
Together, Ari and Ezra asked, “Why?”
“Trust me; I just don’t. The guy runs his basketball team, does he discuss it with us? No, he does not. Makes all kinds of decisions, doesn’t come into my office and ask my opinion. I’m not saying he should. That team is his business. This one? Ours!”
Franklin had never felt so convinced of his ability to escape his cousin’s shadow. Now he gazed past the twins to the city, spread out before them like a glorious banquet. He and his boys were going to grab their plates and claim a place at the table. And if the table they wound up at happened to be in Miami, at least it wasn’t Buffalo.
“Let Jay find out when he sees it on ESPN,” Franklin said. Ari and Ezra looked at one another and nodded. They could do that. “Don’t tell Bebe, don’t tell Boris. Don’t mention it to anyone.”
“We won’t,” Ari assured him.
Franklin extended his right hand, the light glinting off the diamond on his pinkie like a celestial benediction, and both sons, as they had done many times since they were boys, placed theirs on top of his. “Are you guys with me?”
Oh, they were. They certainly were.
Franklin teed them up: “We are—”
“The Gladstones!” the three men shouted, and threw their arms jubilantly in the air. A flock of seagulls wheeled below them. A cumulonimbus cloud scudded overhead propelled by the gusty spring wind. The observation platform, bathed in sunlight seconds ago, was in shadow.
“Can we get off the roof now?” Ari asked, shivering. “I’m freezing my cojones off.”
“Cojones, bro!” Ezra shouted. “You’re gonna kill it in Miami.”
The twins slapped palms as their father cradled a make-believe machine gun and in the Cuban-accented voice of Al Pacino as Scarface hollered, “Jay, say hello to my little friend.” Then Franklin sprayed Manhattan with bullets from his imaginary Uzi before realizing that if he wanted his sons to respect him the way he respected his father, perhaps waving an imaginary machine gun around the rooftop was not the best way to do it. He immediately ceased the pantomime, thumped his sons on their backs, and reminded them that the most important thing was family.
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events,
real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2018 by Seth Greenland
First Publication 2018 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.
Seth Greenland is the author of five novels. His latest, The Hazards of Good Fortune (Europa Editions), will be published in 2018. His play Jungle Rot won the Kennedy Center/American Express Fund For New American Plays Award and the American Theater Critics Association Award. He was a writer-producer on the Emmy-nominated HBO series Big Love.