The Hazards of Good Fortune, Part X




THIS IS PART X 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.

To pre-order on Indiebound, click here; on Amazon, click here; at Barnes & Noble, click here.

¤

Part II

 

“In the struggle between you and the world,
bet on the world.”

—Franz Kafka

 

Chapter Twenty-Five

 

The year the Watergate Committee put the screws to Nixon, Jay sailed through his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. He spent the summer working in the family business, commuting from Scarsdale to Manhattan each day with Bingo in a Cadillac Eldorado. His father allowed Jay to listen to rock music on the radio for half the ride, but when they rolled past Yankee Stadium, he twirled the dial to the news station and the two of them savored the increasingly dire travails of the president, or, as Bingo referred to him: “That anti-Semitic sonofabitch.”

A Roosevelt Democrat, Bingo liked to discuss politics at the dinner table, and between bites of roast chicken or Salisbury steak he would quiz Jay and Bebe on their knowledge. Which president passed the Civil Rights Act? Who is Robert McNamara? What is the Jackson-Vanik Amendment? The last question held particular resonance for Bingo because he had a personal stake in it. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment was intended to force countries with nonmarket economies (Com­munist) to ease immigration of minority groups (Jews) in return for favorable trade status.

Although Bingo was a secular man, the fate of his coreligionists was never far from his mind. One night at dinner he told his family about the spring of 1937, his senior year in high school. He and his brother Jerry were walking along the Grand Concourse arguing about whether the Yankees would win the World Series that season, and if Joe DiMaggio could beat out Luke Appling of the Chicago White Sox for the batting title, when they noticed everyone around them craning their necks, staring at the sky. The two boys looked up to see the Hindenburg blimp looming imperially over their Bronx neighborhood. In those days, it was still rare to spot a plane, and the Nazi zeppelin was the most impressive aircraft they had ever seen. Immense and silvery with a giant swastika emblazoned on its tail, the Hindenburg seemed to have emerged directly from Hitler’s fevered psyche. To his family, Bingo said: I thought those Nazi bastards were coming to kill me.

The summer of Nixon’s agony was uneventful for Jay. He did errands for his father and Uncle Jerry, picked up lunch, delivered gifts to city officials. Occasionally he was allowed to attend meetings, but never when his father and uncle discussed anything important. The company offices were in the East Fifties and during his lunch breaks he would sit on a bench in Central Park, eat a sandwich from home, and read a paperback. His cousin Franklin spent the summer working on a kibbutz in Israel and Jay often thought he should have joined him there. He considered transferring from Penn to Berkeley. California intrigued him, and in those burning years it looked like New York had no future.

When the following summer arrived, Bingo prevailed on Jay to give the real estate business another shot. I’m going to show you how it works, he said, the guts of it. Reluctantly, Jay agreed. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment had passed, and the result was to open the spigot and allow the flow of captive Jews out of the Soviet Union. Bingo was a member of several organizations dedicated to resettling the ones who landed in America and he gave a number of them jobs. In early June of 1975, he called his son into his office. Sitting in a chair was a floor safe named Marat Reznikov.

His father said, “Say hello to our cousin.”

The man got up from his seat and smiled at Jay, revealing a gold incisor. He wore a tight suit with a black shirt and no tie. His face was pockmarked. He had thick lips and a one-inch vertical scar on his left cheek. His eyes were dark caves. He was five foot nine but looked like he could stop the F train with his elbow. When they shook hands, Jay noticed Cyrillic letters tattooed on his fingers. Jay knew no one with tattoos. To see them on someone’s fingers was unimaginable. Bingo informed his son that Marat had been a successful businessman in Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea, and would be employed by the Gladstones as a rent collector.

“Hello, cousin.” Marat’s voice had the texture of a bear’s paw.

Jay nodded mutely.

“You’re going to work together,” Bingo said.

“Your father’s grandfather and mine—brothers,” Marat said to Jay, who knew how important the idea of family was to his father. Marat grabbed Jay’s bicep and pointed at Bingo. “Your father khoroshiy chelovek, good man.” The consonants of his accent banged and clicked.

“You’ll get to use a company car,” Bingo told his son by way of inducement.

Jay did not have to be sold. He liked the idea of getting out of the office and into the field. This cousin seemed to be what his father referred to as “a character,” someone who willfully differed from the prevailing norms. At thirty-two, Marat was twelve years older than Jay. He had served in the Soviet Army, earned a degree in mathematics, and used his expertise to immerse himself in the black market where he supplied the apparatchiks with whatever sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll they required. Bingo knew about the mathematics degree and the military service but was not privy to the spicier corners of his cousin’s resume. For Bingo, the man’s identity as a Jew was the only salient fact. As for Marat, a Jew in name only who did not keep kosher, did not daven, and did not know the Ten Commandments except to violate them, his religious status was just another hustle he was happy to use to escape the bleak Ukraine for the crumbling disco inferno of 1970s New York.

In those years, the Gladstones owned over a thousand rental units in the Bronx stretched over the largely black and Latino neighborhoods of Mott Haven, Hunts Point, and East Tremont. Most of the tenants paid their rent on time, and the Gladstone brothers did not look to cause problems. If the rent was two weeks late, a letter was sent requesting payment. A month in arrears and another letter would arrive reminding the renter of his obligation. Six weeks of nonpayment resulted in a visit from a representative of the landlords, and it was this function that Marat Reznikov was hired to perform.

The Bronx that summer was no longer the borough of Bingo Gladstone. Burned husks of buildings, abandoned cars stripped to their axles, streets furrowed with potholes, medians overgrown and littered with trash, junkies on the nod, and the whole rotting body festooned with explosions of graffiti, bursts of life shouting that the venerable borough would not die gently. From the subway platform on the Jerome Avenue line, say, or the Concourse line, or the Pelham line, you watched trains surge in, every car decorated with spray-painted designs, the mobile oeuvre of taggers with names like TAKI183, Batz 4, Mitch 77. And the dogs! Heinz 57s, Rottweilers, and Dobermans, beasts on thick chains that could barely control their hellish aggression, all barking in maniacal communication. And the pop pop pop of gunfire that would occur without warning. All of this was news to Jay, whose personal experience of the city’s northern borough was confined to Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo.

The company car that Bingo provided turned out to be a 1972 brown Ford Pinto with a balky transmission that Jay nicknamed Lucille, after B.B. King’s guitar. Because Marat did not have a driver’s license, Jay piloted the Pinto around the potholes and down the battered streets with his cousin in the passenger seat chain-smoking Lucky Strikes, whose packaging, appropriately, featured a target. Although Marat lived in the Kingsbridge neighborhood, he had only resided in the borough for two months and was unfamiliar with the geography, so the two of them relied on a grubby map provided by a clerk in the office. Jay picked up Marat in front of his apartment every morning at eight, and the two of them made their humid rounds. The air conditioning in the dinged-up car was a rumor, and Jay’s clothes stuck to his skin. In the urban swelter, they toiled until four with a break for lunch. They tried to finish their rounds before people returned from work, because that reduced the chance of confrontations. The Bronx stank of uncollected garbage, but it was the scent of imminent violence that had Jay on edge all day—he wore Adidas to make running easier—while his cousin, cigarette glued to his lip and a blasé expression on his scarred face, was unconcerned.

Marat Reznikov was like no Jew Jay had ever met. His English was sparse, but he wanted to learn so he consistently engaged Jay in conversation. He talked about his years in the Soviet Army and the scams he ran after he was discharged. In Odessa, gangs controlled the rackets and Marat survived by a combination of guile and intimidation. Once, he beat a man who owed him money, then put a leash around his victim’s neck and made him walk down the street naked on all fours, like a dog. To Jay it seemed depraved, but Marat told the story like it was funny.

They parked Lucille in front of whatever Gladstone building they entered. It didn’t matter if the parking space was illegal, in those years Bronx cops didn’t write a lot of parking tickets. Then, they opened the front door with a master key and headed for the deadbeat apartments, starting on the highest floor and working their way down. The halls were dark and uninviting, and often smelled of urine. The glass of shattered lightbulbs crunched beneath their feet. Marat would pound on a door, Jay standing behind him. Less than half the time someone answered. Every apartment had more locks than Rikers Island, and the tenants would unbolt them—click click click click click, slide the chain—and open the door. Whatever the size, shape, and age of their bodies, their eyes were a blend of anger and defeat. Marat used his limited English to explain the situation, and the tenant would either pay up or Jay would hand over a legal notice informing them of the grim fate that lay ahead should they fail to honor the terms of their lease. The first few times they did this, Jay had to take deep breaths to still his rampaging heart. But Marat, despite his imperfect command of the language, seemed to frighten most of the people they encountered. When Jay realized this, he became less tense.

The first week passed without incident.

That weekend Jay played tennis with a high school friend at his parents’ country club. Afterwards, they had drinks in the bar overlooking a golf course that resembled an English landscape painting. The friend was about to leave for a summer program at the Sorbonne and planned to travel on a Eurail pass for August. Sipping his second Heineken, the sense of distance between the foundation of his family’s income and the life it provided came into sharper focus. He wanted to discuss it with his friend but lacked the vocabulary. Instead, he talked about this wild Ukrainian his father was making him work with and when he repeated the story about the naked man on the leash the two of them hooted with laughter, although Jay was still not entirely sure why it was amusing.

The following Monday, in a building with a broken elevator in East Tremont, a Puerto Rican tenant—a dissipated man in his forties gripping a quart bottle of Colt malt liquor, Guzman, three months back rent owed—shoved Marat and slammed the door in his face. Already out of sorts from climbing five flights, Marat was livid. He pounded his fist on the door and shouted curses in Russian. Thumped it with his foot. A Latina woman in curlers cuddling a crying baby stuck her head out of another apartment and told him to shut the fuck up. Marat cursed her. He thrashed the door for five minutes, but Guzman remained inside. Jay taped an eviction notice to the door and with great difficulty convinced his fulminating cousin to leave.

An hour later they were on foot in Mott Haven. It was late morning, and the temperature was already in the nineties. They had just purchased sodas at a bodega and were crossing East 139th Street, headed back to the Pinto. Marat was asking Jay if he knew anything about how bond trading worked when a gypsy cab bumped him. Marat yelled something at the driver, who blasted his horn and screamed Get your ass outta the street. Marat whipped his can of soda against the windshield of the cab, and the driver threw the door open. A pasty-faced white man in a Mets hat, waving a crowbar. His eyes were cracks as he lumbered toward Marat. Jay had never been this close to real violence, and the sight pinned him like a butterfly to where he stood. The man raised the crowbar to swing at Marat, but before he could bring it down on the Russian’s head, he froze. A smiling Marat was pointing a gun in his face. In the sunshine of the Bronx morning, his gold incisor glinted. The passenger in the cab, a black woman wearing a summer dress and a wide-brimmed straw hat, climbed out of the door and scuttled in the opposite direction.

The frightened cabbie moved away from Marat as if by centrifugal force and Jay thought that was the end of it, so he was alarmed when Marat brought the butt of his gun down on the man’s head and sent him crashing to the pavement. The fear turned to revulsion when Marat pistol-whipped him once more and then kicked him in the stomach. Jay grabbed Marat, who spun on him, hand raised, ready to strike again. He relaxed when he saw it was Jay.

“I need another soda,” Marat said.

Jay suggested they get it somewhere else and as the two of them walked quickly to the Pinto, he kept his eyes focused straight ahead. Only in the car did he glance back and see the man struggling to his feet. To Jay’s great relief, Marat had not killed him. He believed something criminal had occurred—the guy provoked Marat, certainly, but then Marat viciously assaulted him—and was ambivalent about leaving the scene. On the other hand, he did not want to be in the middle of anything that involved the police.

Marat lit a cigarette and reminded Jay to start the car.

Since it was nearly lunchtime, they drove to a diner near the Hunts Point market. There were jukeboxes on all the tables, and someone was playing “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain and Tennille. Jay ate a cheeseburger and studied Marat as he devoured a liverwurst sandwich. Marat enjoyed his lunch as if it were another day at the office. The violence did not seem to have registered. Jay marveled at this, did not know how it was possible. He wondered if Marat had ever killed anyone. It wasn’t a question you asked. Marat flirted with the Puerto Rican waitress and smoked another Lucky. He explained to his younger cousin that you could never, under any circumstances, let someone think they could fuck with you. Jay thought Marat was slightly unhinged, but what truly frightened him was how unemotional he was, both when he beat the driver and when he provided the philosophical underpinning of his behavior.

They split the check, got iced coffees to go. That afternoon, Marat held forth and told stories about Odessa. But the metallic aftertaste of the morning’s viciousness remained with Jay. The previous winter Jay had gotten into a shoving match in a fraternity league basketball game at Penn, and the tension had remained with him for hours. Violence was preverbal, stupid. He abhorred it. That night Jay thought about telling Bingo what he had witnessed, it was on the tip of his tongue, but decided against sharing the information. Marat was good at his job and the percentage of tenants behind in their rent payments was declining. Bingo liked him. If he learned about this incident, it might jeopardize Marat’s employment, and Jay did not want to be the cause of that. He did tell his father that the elevator in Mr. Guzman’s building needed to be fixed.

The next day, and the one after that, Jay dreaded a repeat performance. He worried that someone would rile Marat and that his cousin would respond criminally. But it did not happen. Marat was able to convey the kind of individual he was without saying anything, and people acted accordingly. Big, scary-looking men, white, black, Latino, treated him civilly. They might not do what he suggested, as far as paying the rent on time, but no one challenged him. It was uncanny.

The following week they were in Highbridge, a neighborhood peppered with a mix of blacks, Dominicans, and Irish. It was the end of the day, and they had one more unit to visit. A young couple lived there, Irish, rent two months overdue. Only the wife was home, a rail-thin woman with thick red hair and a bruise under her right eye. She explained to Marat that they didn’t have the money but would have it next time—Can you give us a break?

Jay saw Marat think about it. The woman leaned on the door frame. She asked them if they wanted something cold to drink. Marat told Jay to go downstairs and wait for him in the Pinto. In the Bronx, victims sat in parked cars, but he wasn’t going to contradict his cousin. Marat came down fifteen minutes later and handed Jay a beer. Jay did not ask what happened.

And so, the sweltering summer of 1975 passed. Marat’s English improved under Jay’s tutelage, and Jay absorbed some of Marat’s swagger. His fear of the streets had not entirely abated, but he was far more comfortable in the dashiki precincts of the Bronx than any kid from Scarsdale had a right to be. After work, they hit the bars on Fordham Road and drank Schaeffer on tap. Marat became a Yankee fan (his favorite player was the ornery Thurman Munson), and they even attended a couple of games together. The night they watched the Yankees beat Cleveland, flames of a tenement fire licked the sky beyond center field. On Fridays, Marat brought Jay to the Turkish baths on 10th Street where they shvitzed while being thrashed with oak branches wielded like maces by burly Russians. It was there that Jay noticed a gold Star of David nestled in Marat’s voluminous chest hair. When he remarked on it, Marat said, “Is good to be Jew in New York.” Was that true? Marat owed his immigration status to being a Jew, and his job. For this irrepressible refugee, Jews were his gang.

It was late August, and the following week Jay was scheduled to go back to college for his junior year. The city was in the middle of another heat wave, and the mixture of tropical humidity and the heightened aroma of the streets intensified everything. Marat told Jay he wanted to buy him a steak dinner as a gesture of appreciation for being his guide to New York City. Jay didn’t think he had been anyone’s guide, but Marat was sentimental and feeling expansive toward his princely relative. Jay had plans, so Marat had instead treated him to valedictory lunch at a steakhouse on Gun Hill Road near Woodlawn Cemetery.

“You are khoroshiy chelovek, boychik,” Marat said. “When you finish university, you work for me.”

Jay laughed. He said: “As a rent collector?”

“Laugh now,” Marat said.

They each had a few beers and were pleasantly buzzed when they rolled out of the restaurant and into the Pinto. The first building they would visit after lunch, Marat said, was Mr. Guzman’s. On the short ride to Mott Haven Marat sang along to the songs on the radio, his rutted voice alternately caressing and assaulting the unsuspecting melodies. To Jay’s relief, his father had taken care of the broken elevator. As they rode to the top floor, Marat joked about what he was going to do to Guzman, the beating he would deliver. Jay assumed he was kidding. He believed Marat was only returning to the apartment to check it off the list so they could begin formal eviction proceedings. The last time they had been there a week earlier the tenant had not opened the door. But when they arrived at the fifth floor, rather than going to Guzman’s apartment, Marat headed for the roof. Before disappearing into the stairwell, he told Jay to wait in front of Guzman’s door. Slightly drunk, Jay obeyed.

It was around three-thirty. He had a date that night with a girl who lived in Morningside Heights. They were going to a reggae concert at the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park. Jay was thinking about the approaching evening when he heard a shout from inside the apartment and then what sounded like glass breaking and something heavy hitting a wall. When the door opened from the inside, Jay saw Marat holding a dazed-looking Guzman, who was bleeding from his mouth. Jay immediately noticed the gun in his cousin’s hand. Without a word, Marat pushed past Jay and made for the stairwell, dragging the tenant. Guzman suddenly realized the severity of his predicament and began to resist actively. “Help me,” Marat ordered. Without realizing what he was doing, Jay was beside Guzman and, with his cousin, hustled him up the stairwell.

There was no one on the roof. Jay looked around to the other buildings, where the roofs were similarly unoccupied. He could hear the sound of traffic and the distant rumble of the IRT. Salsa blared from an open window. Guzman shook Jay off and swung at Marat. He missed.

Jay was scared of what his cousin might do. “Let’s just report the nonpayment and get out of here, okay?” Marat was not interested. He pointed his gun at Guzman who swayed backward before regaining his footing. Looked over his shoulder. The adjacent tenement was about ten feet away. There was a pigeon coop over there, and Jay could hear the birds. Guzman glanced in that direction once more. Jay thought he might try to leap between the rooftops.

“Why you not just pay?” Marat asked, as if he was going to be reasonable for Jay’s benefit.

“Porque eres un puto Judio codiciosos,” Guzman said.

“You hear what he call me?” Marat asked. Jay knew the meaning of Judio. And puto. To Guzman, Marat said, “Do I call you Puerto Rican piece of shit?” Piece of shit was a phrase he had recently learned and now used whenever possible.

“Joder tu madre,” Guzman said.

Marat charged at Guzman, who, trying to avoid being caught, found himself close to the edge of the roof. A flock of sparrows rose from the adjacent rooftop as if to get a better look. Jay had an impulse to call for help but had no idea to whom. Guzman reached into his pocket and pulled a knife. He carved the air in front of Marat.

Marat said: “I have gun, you fucking idiot.” He pronounced it “eee-dyote.” “Put down knife.”

Guzman stared at Marat dully. His pickled brain slowly adjusted. Realizing his error, he gently laid the knife down. Had he heard a note of mercy in Marat’s voice? If so, he was mistaken. Marat grabbed Guzman, spun him around, and shoved him off the roof. Then he looked at Jay and shrugged. He put two fingers to a cut on his cheek and licked the blood off.

Jay walked gingerly to the edge of the roof and peered down. Guzman was splayed in the alley between the two buildings. The sight of the body, and the height from which he observed it, dizzied him. Before losing his balance, Jay stepped away from the precipice. He turned and walked past Marat, ran down the stairs, and got into the Pinto. When Marat joined him moments later, he was nonchalant. Jay couldn’t look at him.

“Why did you do that?”

“Teach him to not fuck with Jew,” Marat explained. He stuck a cigarette in his mouth and lit it, drawing the smoke into his lungs. Jay slumped behind the wheel, but from the corner of his eye he sensed his cousin staring at him. He slowly faced Marat. Marat touched the tip of his finger to the edge of his eye socket, then pointed at Jay’s. He gently shook his head side to side. “You no see.” The semblance of a smile Marat offered combined reassurance and threat in a way that was entirely new to Jay. He felt sick. “Understand?” Jay could barely nod. All of his muscles were rigid. Marat told Jay to start the engine and drive.

Jay canceled his date for that night. He told his mother he wasn’t feeling well and spent the evening in his room. When his father arrived home, he said nothing. He barely slept, panicked that the police were going to knock on his door in the middle of the night and drag him to some precinct in the Bronx, then to court the next morning and charge him as an accessory. But the police did not come that day, or the day after, or the day after that. For a week, he bought all three daily newspapers but never saw anything. Jay did not yet understand that the fate of people like Guzman was of no interest to the tabloids, or to anyone else.

The knowledge of what he had witnessed gnawed at his gut. From the time that he brushed his teeth in the morning, and the memory of what had occurred sucker punched him, through his commute to the city, and all through the workday, it was present. When he returned home at night and, most intensely, when he lay in bed, Jay was tempted to reveal what he had seen. He would never have gone to the police but, again and again, he thought about telling his father. What made him bear the secret? On the most animal level, he was scared of what Marat would do. The man was a killer. Marat’s casual manner in the aftermath of the incident led Jay to surmise that Guzman was not his first victim. Would this Odessan gangster dare to take revenge if Jay reported what he had observed? He did not want to find out. But it was more than fear of Marat that made Jay hold his tongue. Even as a young man he had intuitively understood that if he told Bingo, he would pass the terrible burden along, hand it off, leave it to someone else. Bingo was Marat’s employer, his American sponsor—his blood relative. Jay would not put his father in the position of having to decide whether to inform the police.

Jay went back to college as if what he had seen on that rooftop in the Bronx had never occurred. He enrolled in his courses, participated in the life of his fraternity. He studied, worked out, partied. Occasionally, he would have distressing dreams, and more than once he awoke convinced he had killed someone. Along the border of sleep and wakefulness, he suffered ineffable torment and faced a hollowness so profound it seemed to negate his essential self. The feeling would persist for several hours, even days, and propel him back to that summer. He never told his father about what had happened, nor either of his wives. The melodrama of Marat killing Guzman in front of him was absurd, but overriding the absurdity of the crime was the absurdity of Jay’s having been there. This suburban boy, this twig: Eyewitness to a killing. He never wanted to believe the world worked like this. Yet now he knew, incontrovertibly, it did. Over the next several decades of his inexorable rise, there was always the thought lurking in the back of his mind that somehow, as the constellations shifted in the sky, as the planets revolved in their paths, a celestial alignment would arrive whose geometry would announce Jay Gladstone’s karmic payback.

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

 

Blood sluiced from Jay’s nose as he called 911 on his cell phone and kneeled by the unconscious Dag. He apologized, told him he had never meant to cause harm. He implored him to hang on, dear God, and wake up, please, please, wake up because the ramifications of not waking up were too horrifying to imagine. By the time the beams of the ambulance lights juddered along the dirt road, Dag had briefly returned to consciousness. Jay knew this because Dag had looked directly into his eyes. He couldn’t interpret what the player was attempting to convey, and it didn’t matter to Jay whether it was hatred (understandable), or apology (less likely, but not out of the question), or something in between. The only thing that mattered was that he had not killed the man.

A police car arrived on the scene just as the EMTs were finishing their work. The officer told Jay he would see him at the hospital to take a statement. Jay was relieved to hear this since it would give him time to decide what to say. The ambulance ride along the dark roads was nerve-racking. He crouched next to the gurney on which Dag lay, neck stabilized, oxygen mask obscuring his features, and attempted to will the big man back to consciousness. Eyes riveted to Dag’s inanimate, deeply familiar face, a face known to millions, a face Jay had seen fully embody exaltation and despair, he implored Dag not to die. With one hand, Jay held a towel to his own nose, which still had not stopped bleeding. With the other, he braced himself as the ambulance screamed down the twisty rural roads.

At least Dag was breathing.

Recognizing the limits of his own will, Jay tried talking to him: “Dag, can you hear me? Dag? Wake up, buddy.” (Buddy? Where had that come from?) But there was no response.

Across the gurney was a young Latino EMT who introduced himself as Luis. The driver was a burly white man with a small cross dangling from his ear, who immediately recognized Dag when they arrived at the scene. Luis had hooked Dag up to a monitor and was watching the lines on the screen. His jaw worked a wad of gum. Satisfied that everything appeared to be in order, he became curious.

“What happened, Mr. Gladstone?”

“I don’t know.”

He looked at the face of the EMT to gauge his reaction to the nonresponse. Jay was going to have to formulate a plausible version of events at some point, but now was not the time. The ambulance careened through a red light at an empty intersection. Luis seemed to be gauging whether or not to continue the conversation. Jay began to think about whom he would call when they reached the hospital.

“You got an NBA All-Star lying in the street, and you don’t know what happened?”

“That’s what I said.”

“You got a lawyer?”

“Excuse me?”

The impertinence! Who was this kid to speak with Jay Gladstone as if they had gone to school together? Jay had enough of his wits about him not to reveal anything. As concerned as he was with Dag’s condition, he was aware of his tenuous legal position, and anything he said to Luis would be of interest to a judge. What to tell that cop? Right before Jay tilted his head back to let the blood from his nose flow in another direction, he saw a sign that read Welcome to Mt. Kisco.

“Hey, no offense, Mr. Gladstone,” Luis said. “Sometimes I joke around ’cause of all the tension. I apologize.”

Jay was not listening. The taste of blood in his mouth, he wondered whether Dag would have had sex with his wife had more money been offered in the contract negotiation. Was Dag paying him back? Yes, he was! What else could it have been? Wait! Had they been having an affair or merely charmed each other at the Obama dinner? Had they been overtly flirting? Was an entire table of Obama donors convinced D’Angelo Maxwell was sleeping with Jay Gladstone’s wife?

Despite the confusion, the feelings of helplessness and rage that ebbed and flowed, what Jay felt most was remorse. He wanted to rewind time and tell Boris to take him to the apartment in New York rather than to Bedford.

And what of Nicole, with whom he had intended to grow old? Who he had decided, eventually and after much deliberation, would be a wonderful mother to his second—as yet imaginary—child. Now his marriage had burst into a million radioactive pieces.

The siren’s wail in the empty night seemed to mimic the dissonant drone in his head and served to distract from the pain of his physical injuries, but it did nothing to hide the psychic wounds which continued to suppurate.

The ambulance zoomed into the ER bay. Someone flung the rear doors open, and Dag was whisked into the building. Jay trailed the stretcher like an afterthought and presented himself to the on-duty nurse at the reception desk. Dag was already in the ER.

The arrival of a gravely injured person always sets off a flurry in a hospital, and when the person is a celebrity, the volume kicks up several notches. On-duty personnel summoned sleeping doctors from their beds and relegated Jay to the waiting room. Several times he tried to find out what was happening with Dag but was rebuffed.

Over the next forty-five minutes, during which Jay observed two doctors blow swiftly through the metal doors to the restricted area where Dag lay, he could only wait. He woke Bebe with a phone call and relayed a concise version of what had happened, leaving out the part about wanting to scare Dag, along with the detail about Dag and Nicole. He intended to keep that appalling, inflammatory, deeply embarrassing information private.

“Do you want me to drive up there?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Jay said.

Asking Bebe to drive up would be to admit that he needed his sister and to acknowledge that degree of vulnerability was out of character. To arrange the best care for Dag once he passed triage stage, Jay phoned a prominent surgeon he knew. The call went directly to voice mail and Jay left a message. During this time, he received two texts from Nicole, neither of which he read. When his phone vibrated and he saw that she was calling, he did not answer.

After what seemed like a week but was less than an hour, a stocky male nurse with a blond crew cut finally appeared to do an intake interview. An X-ray of Jay’s nose revealed a small fracture.

Jay perched on an examination table in one of the small side rooms in the warren that was the ER of Northern Westchester Hospital as Dr. Sunil Viswanathan, a bespectacled young resident, set the break. He had changed into a flimsy hospital gown. His bloody shirt was rolled up in a plastic bag on a nearby chair. Dr. Viswanathan was solicitous but formal and addressed Jay as Mr. Gladstone while he attempted to manipulate the bone back to where it belonged. As the doctor pushed it gently into place, Jay winced at the pressure.

“You’re lucky you didn’t do more damage,” Dr. Viswanathan said.

“Yes, I’m incredibly lucky,” Jay said, unconvinced. The tightly packed gauze in his nose made his voice sound strange to him. Although the pain radiated dully in every direction, he was barely aware of it, being utterly preoccupied by what had occurred. He had been in the ER for an hour and a half, and the last he had heard about Dag was that he was still alive. He hoped that remained true.

“Would you mind finding out how D’Angelo Maxwell is doing?”

“The hospital does not give out information to non-family members,” Dr. Viswanathan said. “As I’ve already explained to you twice.”

“These are unique circumstances,” Jay said.

“How so?” the doctor inquired, as he continued to fuss with the nose.

Jay was getting impatient. In his estimation, the manner in which circumstances were unique was proportional to the degree in which he was involved in them. The function of most people with whom he came in contact was to do his bidding, and given that he was unfailingly polite, Jay felt justified in his attitude. Dr. Viswanathan did not seem to understand this concept. Still, he rarely played the do-you-know-who-I-am card because it was almost never necessary. Jay asked the doctor if he was a sports fan.

“I like the Yankees.”

“D’Angelo Maxwell is a professional basketball player.”

“I know who he is.”

“Dag’s a colleague, and I need to call some people who are close to him and let them know what’s going on.”

“The hospital is taking care of it.”

“How does the hospital do that?” Jay’s posed the question with more vinegar than he intended. Not being able to direct the way the evening was unfolding increased his agitation. Along with concern for what had happened to Dag, he envisioned a public relations debacle. His first instinct was to control the flow of information, and the doctor was impeding this plan.

“Just let everyone do their jobs, Mr. Gladstone.”

“I’d like to do mine,” Jay said.

“Your job right now is to sit here and let me deal with your broken nose. Now hold on, this might hurt a little.” He tweaked the bone to its final place, and Jay felt a pain shoot into his skull so excruciating that his sockets seemed to swallow his eyes. After a few seconds, the ache began to subside into something more manageable, and his eyelids fluttered open.

The doctor placed a piece of plastic over Jay’s nose and bandaged it to his face. “Tomorrow you’re going to look like you went fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson,” Dr. Viswanathan said, scribbling on a pad. “Are you allergic to any medications?” Jay was not. “This is for the pain.” He tore the page from his pad and handed it to Jay, who pocketed it.

“Doctor, I wonder if there’s something else I could talk to you about.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“I had a diagnostic procedure on my prostate recently.”

“Would you like me to take a look?”

“No, no, no! But I think an infection might have developed. I was taking painkillers and—” He described the symptoms. Dr. Viswanathan prescribed a course of antibiotics and suggested Jay call his urologist if it didn’t resolve in a few days.

“Doc, is it okay if I have a word with the patient?”

Jay looked up and saw the police officer from the scene of the accident standing in the doorway. In his hand was a device the size of an electric razor. Dr. Viswanathan asked Jay if he was ready to talk to the authorities and received an affirmative answer.

“Take care, Mr. Gladstone,” Dr. Viswanathan said. He shook Jay’s hand and was gone. With that, Jay felt the thin scrim of civilization evaporate. He was now facing the elements.

The cop was in his forties and looked like he spent a lot of time at the gym. He ambled into the room and introduced himself as Officer Wysocki. With his cropped blond hair and strong jaw, Jay thought he resembled the kind of guy they recruited back in Vitebsk when a mob was needed to terrorize Jews.

“I probably shouldn’t let you know this, but I’m a fan of your team.”

That was welcome news. Perhaps this was going to go more easily than Jay had anticipated.

“I’ll make sure you get tickets to a game.”

“We’re not supposed to accept gifts.”

“Then forget what I said.”

“But for that, maybe I can make an exception.”

Jay was not in a mood to banter. He needed to start gathering facts and begin to assert command over the situation. “Have you heard anything about Dag?”

“He’s in an operating room, that’s all I know.”

Jay wished he had some idea of exactly what was transpiring, the condition, the prognosis, anything at all. The cop’s laconic demeanor did not seem to fit the situation. Jay wanted to get this over with.

“What can I do for you?”

“You can start by telling me what happened.”

Now he would have to declare his definitive version of events. Whatever story he decided to tell was the one he would be stuck with since an investigator was going to pounce on any inconsistencies. If he dissembled in any way, he was setting a trap for himself because once a discrepancy was discovered, everything he said would be called into question. Yet, could he be sure he was capable of giving a cogent version of events? What had happened? He knew his brain had not been functioning properly at the time. He could say that since he believed it to be true. But how was he supposed to convey what was going on with him neurologically to this cop? Had he blacked out? He couldn’t remember.

“Mr. Gladstone?”

“I want to consult with my attorney before I make a statement.”

“You understand you haven’t been charged with a crime?”

“I didn’t commit a crime.”

“Great. Then I’m going to need you to blow into this thing,” the cop said, displaying the gizmo. It was a Breathalyzer. “We need to check your blood alcohol concentration.”

“I’m not legally obligated to blow into that, am I?”

Officer Wysocki had heard this question many times before and had a standard answer that he proceeded to supply: “While you are not legally obligated to take the test, refusal to do so will result in loss of your driver’s license for a period of one year.”

That got Jay’s attention, although, with Boris at his disposal, he didn’t need to do a lot of driving. Still, Jay Gladstone was not the kind of man who had his license suspended. How much liquor had he consumed, anyway? Two drinks, three at the most—but the pills! Those pain pills must have interacted with the alcohol. He wasn’t going to mention the pain pills to Officer Wysocki.

“Mr. Gladstone, if I arrest you, I can make you take the test because you’ll be legally obligated. Do you want me to book you?”

Jay thought about this. He did not want to be arrested. But who knew what the Breathalyzer would reveal.

“Why would you arrest me?”

“For starters, you were in a one-car accident that resulted in a near fatality. I could take you in on suspicion of reckless endangerment.” The cop waited to see whether this would loosen Jay’s tongue. It did not. “Look, Mr. Gladstone, this is gonna be all over the news. So, you might ask yourself: Do I want the accounts to show I refused to take a breath test?”

“I certainly do not.”

“Then please blow into the Breathalyzer.”

Wysocki handed the device to Jay, who looked it over. On the front was a digital display and a mouthpiece protruded from one side. Jay clamped his lips around the mouthpiece. After five seconds passed and he had still not blown into it, he removed the Breathalyzer from his mouth and handed it back to Wysocki, who failed to hide his exasperation.

“I want to talk to my lawyer.”

“Call him.”

Jay pulled out his phone and asked for privacy. Wysocki stepped out of the room.

The Gladstone Group commanded a platoon of lawyers but when there was anything sensitive or personal, Jay sought the counsel of Herman Doomer, Esq. He had been Bingo’s attorney and had known Jay for his entire adult life. Doomer picked up on the fourth ring, having been awakened from a deep sleep.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, Herman.”

“What is it, Jay?” he asked, foggy. “Are you all right?”

Jay quickly apprised him of the situation. The lawyer advised him not to take the test and said he would meet him in court the next morning for the arraignment. The words “court” and “arraignment” jolted Jay.

“Court?”

“Yes, well, they’ll arrest you, and you’ll be taken to jail. They’ll hold you overnight and bring you to court in the morning where they’ll arraign you.”

“You can’t get me out of jail tonight?”

“That would take the intervention of a judge and judges don’t enjoy being woken up in the middle of the night.”

After thinking this over, Jay decided not to press the issue. He could handle a night in jail if he had to. Anyway, the important thing was Dag’s condition. He needed to arrange the finest medical care as quickly as possible. Locking him up would foreclose that prospect.

“What if I take the test?”

“Do you think you might have been intoxicated, Jay? Please say no.”

“I just got back from Africa,” Jay explained. “I was taking painkillers, and I had a few drinks on the plane.”

“You don’t want to take that test.”

Sliding the phone back into his pocket, Jay summoned Wysocki and informed him of his decision.

“Does your wife know where you are?”

“Don’t worry about my wife,” Jay said with more pepper than necessary.

“Someone should bring you a clean shirt.”

When Jay did not answer, the cop ordered him to place his hands in front of him since he was now under arrest.

“I’ve got a broken nose,” Jay pointed out. “I want to spend the night in the hospital.”

Jay demanded to see the doctor, and Dr. Viswanathan dutifully reappeared. He explained to Jay that his injuries were not severe enough to avoid having to do what any citizen would be compelled to do. Jay considered arguing, but recognized he was not going to win and submitted to the doctor’s decree. When Viswanathan departed, the cop again asked Jay to present his wrists. He submitted to this indignity and walked out of the examination room toward the parking lot wearing pants and an open-backed hospital gown that concealed the bracelets.

When they exited the ER and entered the reception area, Jay purposely did not make eye contact with the clerk on duty. He noticed a young black man pacing in front of two other young black men seated in chairs. The pacer spotted Jay and quickly approached. He looked vaguely familiar. Jay wondered if this guy realized he was handcuffed.

“Mr. Gladstone, I’m Trey Maxwell, Dag’s brother.”

“Yes, yes. I’m glad you’re here.”

“How’s he doing? They won’t tell us anything.”

“I wish I knew,” Jay said. “They won’t tell me anything either.”

Rather than continuing to lead Jay through the reception area, Officer Wysocki allowed the discussion to proceed.

“What happened tonight?” Trey asked. The other two young men had joined them, one short and sturdy, the other the size of a refrigerator. Jay saw the cop taking their measure. He remembered that Dag’s brother got cut when he had tried out for the team.

“There was a car accident. They brought us here. That’s all I know.”

Trey was visibly upset. “He gonna be okay?”

“I hope so,” Jay said, unable to come up with something more specific.

Wysocki informed Jay it was time to go and led him away. Before they took two steps, the electric doors slid open, and Bebe appeared. Despite his compromised condition and his mortification at the circumstances, Jay was immensely relieved to see her. An ally, a friendly face, Bebe cut a chic figure in the pitiless light of the hospital waiting area.

“You didn’t have to come,” he said.

“I wasn’t doing anything.”

“Could I have a word with my sister?” Jay asked.

Dazzled by Bebe, Wysocki acceded to this request and moved away.

She asked if Jay was all right and whether anything had changed since they last spoke, other than the fact that he was now wearing handcuffs. He updated Bebe, and when she learned he was being taken to jail she cast a disbelieving glance toward Officer Wysocki, now standing at the nurses’ station keeping a wary eye on them.

“I need you to be my advocate here,” Jay said. “Find out what’s going on.” His sister assured him she would.

Seconds later, Officer Wysocki approached. Bebe embraced her brother, and then the cop led Jay away.

A news van pulled into the hospital parking lot. To Jay’s horror, a shaggy-haired young man with a beer gut was running toward him, a video camera affixed to his shoulder. Tottering on high heels in his wake was a young Asian woman with a microphone.

“Mr. Gladstone—Mayumi Miyata, Lynx News. Could I talk to you?”

Jay turned to the cop. “Would you get me out of here, please.”

“Do you know D’Angelo Maxwell’s condition?” she asked.

Jay did not answer.

She tried again. “What happened to your face?”

Jay remained tight-lipped as Wysocki opened the rear door of the cruiser, placed his hand on Jay’s head, and guided him into the backseat. The cop closed the door and got behind the wheel.

“Are you under arrest?” the woman shouted. “Why have you been arrested?”

Wysocki backed up and cranked the steering wheel, nearly taking out the reporter and her cameraman in the process. As they sped off another news van careened into the parking lot.

In his most reasonable manner, Jay inquired whether absolutely anything could be done to avoid spending the night in jail.

“I’d like to help you out because you’re a nice guy and all,” Wysocki said, “but the same sun shines on the rich and the poor.”

To lecture the cop on the naïvete of that statement would have required more energy than Jay possessed. Instead, he miserably attended to the dryness of his mouth, the degree to which his muscles ached, the dull throb of the broken bone in his nose. Even through his clothes, the seat felt slick. What parade of lowlifes had the police crammed back here?

“You want me to call your wife and ask her to bring you some clean clothes?”

“No, thank you.”

It was the rump end of the night when they entered the Bedford police station, Wysocki’s palm pressed against Jay’s lower back. Several officers were in the bullpen drinking coffee and they stared in disbelief as one of the town’s most prominent citizens was frog-marched into their territory.

The antiseptic hallway held three cells. A young white man in work pants and a plaid shirt was curled up asleep in the first one. Wysocki unlocked the third cell and gestured for Jay to enter. He was grateful to be separated from the other inmate by an entire cell. The spartan unit held a metal bed with no mattress or blanket. Wysocki removed the handcuffs and asked whether Jay would like something to eat. He declined. The reverberant clang of the cell door intensified the clamor in his head. Jay did not turn to watch as the cop walked away. He sat down on the bunk and placed his head in his hands. This position caused the blood to rush to his nose, exacerbating the aching sensation. He straightened his back and leaned against the wall, which alleviated some of the pain. His thoughts turned to Nicole and Dag and whether Dag was still alive.

Jay Gladstone pondered the condition of his soul.

There is a gulf between those who can commit violent acts and those who cannot. Jay always believed himself to dwell on one side of the chasm, and his place on that side, he believed, was permanent. As a child, he was horrified when the family dog was struck by a car and killed. The one time he sat ringside at a prizefight, he was repulsed. Jay had never struck anyone in anger. He shied away from any violence, and the deepest part of him believed he had not meant to hit Dag with the car. But was that true? Was there not a sliver of something foul, unconscionable, hidden but leeringly present, a tinge of murderous intent inside of him that not only wanted revenge but also was prepared to act on that most savage impulse and take it to its awful conclusion? Did violence lurk in him only waiting for an impetus to be delivered so it could spring to life? Was the only difference between Jay and Marat Reznikov the circumstances into which they had been born?

Time seemed to move backward, then forward again, then stop. Jay’s mind reeled from questions about his deepest nature, to what he had gotten wrong about his marriage, to his week in South Africa, to the fortunes of his team, to whether Dag was going to survive. And how was Jay going to survive what had happened to Dag? Although scalded by guilt, the level he endured minute-to-minute rose and fell in contrary proportion to how often his thoughts turned to what Nicole had done.

In this manner, nose packed tight with gauze, disquiet spiking inversely to his diminishing energy, Jay passed the hollow night in the clutches of jet lag—remember, he had arrived home from Africa hours earlier—and intense physical discomfort, able to breathe only through his mouth, battling despair that reached inside him to separate tendon from bone.

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

 

Dag had nearly canceled. To spend several hours at a political dinner in the company of Jay Gladstone held no appeal but he was keen to meet President Obama and believed if the evening went well perhaps Church would forgive him for the Moochie Collins incident. The coach acted like he had absolved him but Dag knew it was a façade. A champion like Church Scott could not abide knucklehead behavior. Dag knew how the man thought and, despite their unequal status—in the hierarchy of professional basketball certain stars outranked the coach—Dag still craved Church’s respect.

Babatunde had taken his tuxedo to be cleaned and as Dag stood in front of the full-length mirror in his bedroom, he shot his cuffs and admired the reflection. His physique showed clothes beyond the imagining of those who designed them. Broad shoulders tapered into a trim waist and endless legs. His size sixteen feet, ensconced in patent leather slippers the size of Alaskan salmon, made a well-proportioned base. His mood was already better because practice had gone well. Dag’s shooting stroke looked smooth and, although his hand was sore, the degree to which he favored it was not readily evident. If the team scrapped its way into the playoffs, he would be at full strength. Dag posed hips rotated, an over-the-shoulder gaze. He smiled at his own vanity.

When the Maxwell brothers sailed over the George Washington Bridge in the McClaren, Trey at the wheel, Mobb Deep blasting from the speakers, Dag felt the familiar swelling in his breast as he watched the curtain rise on the lights of the Manhattan skyline. He turned up the music so its strength would better reflect his own. As Trey downshifted on to the exit ramp, Dag vowed to charm Gladstone into a larger contract, play out the deal, and then ascend the golden escalator to the elite corporate realms embodied by the glittering metropolis that unfolded before him.

Dag got out of the car at the hotel and told Trey he’d phone him when it was time to go home.

“Tell Obama I say what up,” Trey said.

“Most definitely,” Dag said, adjusting a cuff link.

“And don’t cause problems.”

Dag told his brother not to worry. “I got this,” he said.

Because the president was going to attend, security was unusually heavy. A perimeter had been set up around the Waldorf Astoria but Dag was not asked for ID. Rather, several guards welcomed him as he walked past. Wherever Dag went, there were stares because of his size but when people recognized him, commotions of varying intensity invariably ensued. Even in places like the Waldorf Astoria. After he passed through the second screening area just outside the lobby he was approached by three Asian businessmen that had seen him play an exhibition game in China the previous year. Dag signed a few autographs, allowed himself to be photographed by a white family from Georgia who arrayed themselves around him like a blanket, signed more autographs, then proceeded up the ornate staircase that led to the second-floor ballroom.

Five hundred fashionably turned out people filled the space, a mixtape of races, if not incomes. Chandeliers the size of pianos lit flocked wallpaper, gold molding, white linens. Celebrities (Missy Elliott, Samuel L. Jackson, George Clooney) and politicians (Bill de Blasio, Kirsten Gillibrand) happy to bask in the president’s reflected light. A female volunteer, young, eager, and black, utterly tickled to be in close proximity to D’Angelo Maxwell, escorted him to his table near the dais where Church Scott, his wife Sharon, a stunningly beautiful white woman to whom he’d been married twenty-five years, Nicole Gladstone, and three other white couples he did not recognize were engaged in conversation. Dag and Church were the only African-Americans at the table. Everyone was drinking wine. The people he didn’t know greeted him enthusiastically. They all looked as if they had been born at the Waldorf, comfortable and shining. Dag barely acknowledged them. He was not thrilled there were strangers at the table. Where was Jay?

The owner’s wife gestured to the empty seat next to her and indicated he should sit there. Dag had planned on showcasing D’Angelo Maxwell, Inc., for her husband this evening, to atone for his screwup and to demonstrate to Jay that he still had enough juice to be the face of a professional sports franchise, a brand name that deserved to be compensated at the highest rate. But Jay had stood him up without so much as a phone call. He thought about walking out. He did not relish an evening of small talk but was prescient enough to realize that a hasty exit would only compound his problems. If he had to spend the evening talking to Nicole, he would. Tonight, she was dressed in a mid-length, rust-colored silk wraparound dress with a plunging V-neck.

Dag lowered his frame into the chair. As soon as he did, Nicole placed her hand on his shoulder. Dag turned and saw large hazel eyes beaming in his direction. They had never been this close before so he had never noticed the flecks of gold in her irises. A tiny flake of makeup balanced on a long lash. He had the strange urge to brush it away. Before this evening, they had only exchanged a few words over the course of several encounters at team events. She leaned toward him. Her smell was intoxicating, fresh, and delicately floral. When she spoke, he felt her warm breath on his neck.

“My husband sends his apologies,” she said. “He’s in Africa.”

Dag shook his head. “Sorry to hear that,” he said.

“Don’t act so disappointed.”

He realized that she thought he was playing.

“I am a little disappointed,” Dag said.

“Well, at least the president hasn’t cancelled.”

It would have been preferable to Dag if the president had been the one to not show. Gladstone was the man with whom he needed to mend fences. He loved Obama, but right now Jay was a larger presence in his life.

A waiter appeared and filled Dag’s wine glass with red. Dag took a sip as Nicole drained what was left of hers and asked for a refill. He was glad for the red wine. It would not be easy to drink quickly. He saw Nicole eyeing his injured hand. He hoped she wasn’t going to ask him about it.

“Does your hand hurt?”

“It’s a little sore,” he said.

“What you did was chivalrous.”

“You ought to tell your husband so he doesn’t suspend me.”

“I would if I were speaking to him.”

She smiled and he couldn’t tell if she was flirting. Whatever she was doing, it was making him uncomfortable. He was attracted to her but why go there? When a waiter spoke to Nicole, Dag turned toward the coach’s wife and asked whether she had met Obama.

Sharon Scott liked to talk to him and he indulged her. She informed him she had met the president on a previous occasion and was smitten; did Dag know him? He told her that they had never met. Church leaned across his wife and confided to Dag that the second biggest reason he wanted to win another NBA championship was that it would improve his chances of getting an invitation to play golf with Obama.

“We need to get you on the links, D’Angelo,” Church said.

“So you can kick my ass?” Dag said. Church and the women laughed. “I like to dominate.”

“You’d be a heck of a golfer,” Church said.

“I’m a golf widow in the summer,” Sharon informed the table.

Dag turned to Nicole. “You play golf?”

“I ride horses,” she said.

“I don’t like horses,” Dag said.

“Because you can’t dominate them,” Nicole said.

“Exactly,” Dag said.

“You ever try polo?” Church asked Nicole.

“Not yet,” she said. “But I’m always up for a new experience.”

“Sort of like golf on a horse,” Dag observed.

“Two things you can’t do,” Nicole said.

Church lifted an eyebrow. Sharon said, “Oh ho!” amused by Nicole’s impudence.

Dag was taken aback by the remark. He did not traffic in self-deprecation and to have someone else lampoon his flaws, no matter how jocular the intent (or how irrelevant the flaws), was slightly disorienting. But she smiled when she said it, and lightly touched his bicep. When she removed her hand, she brushed his arm with the backs of her fingers. If she was trying to placate him, it worked.

“I bet I could learn both,” he said.

“I bet you could, too,” Nicole said.

“You’d probably be better at golf than polo,” Church said.

“If you ever want a riding lesson,” Nicole said, “I’ve been around horses since I was a girl, so let me know.”

Dinner was served and just as Dag was eating his dessert, Senator Schumer stopped by the table to say hello. Dag proudly introduced the politician to his tablemates. It pleased him to be on familiar terms with a U.S. senator and to see the reaction of his companions. The politician joked once again with Dag about joining the Knicks and Dag, who had consumed a couple of glasses of wine, played along this time, far more at ease than he had been during their first encounter at Jay’s club.

“I’m reporting you to the league,” Dag said and the senator cackled in delight.

Church’s wife had been looking at George Clooney all night and was thrilled when the movie star introduced the president. Church said, “My wife wants a free pass for Clooney,” and everyone laughed. Obama charmed for fifteen minutes and his remarks about the economic recovery, the Middle East, and his Republican opponents had the audience singing from the hymnal. Nicole and Dag were both enthralled and he had to resist the urge to reach for her hand. Several million dollars were raised. Before coffee was served, a Secret Service agent approached Dag and reported that the president had asked to meet him.

As Dag got out of his seat, Nicole said, “I’m coming, too.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the agent said.

“If my husband is going to meet the president,” Nicole said, indicating Dag, “Then I’m his plus one.”

Church and Sharon were trying to suppress their amusement.

The agent spoke into a microphone on his lapel. He registered the response he received in his earpiece. To Nicole, he said, “All right, let’s go.”

Nicole had met Obama previously and the president, Dag, and she shared a laugh about how she pretended to be Mrs. Maxwell. Obama wished Dag luck in making the playoffs. Nicole said she hoped she would get a chance to see him again on Martha’s Vineyard this summer. Obama thanked them for coming and turned his attention to Halle Berry.

Back at their seats Dag marveled at Nicole’s buoyancy as she described the encounter to their tablemates. The evening was far more convivial than he had anticipated. Nicole was older than he (how old was she, anyway?), but no less magnetic for it. Had she been single, he would have made it a point to take her out.

When the evening ended, they left the ballroom together. She grazed the area above his elbow with her shoulder and he felt a frisson. As they passed from the ballroom to the foyer, she sleepily murmured: “Would you like me to teach you to ride a horse?”

They had both consumed several glasses of wine so Dag wasn’t sure he had heard correctly. He glanced down and saw the diamond lights of the chandeliers flickering in her eyes. The expression on her face was enigmatic. Women hit on Dag with planetary regularity but this was an entirely singular experience. He waited for her to laugh or punch him in the arm. She did neither. Instead, Nicole’s lips curled into an enticing smile, equal parts innocence and lubricity. It acted in concert with the wine and made him more receptive to her proposition than he might have otherwise been. Dag called Trey and told him he would be playing an away game tonight and did not need a ride home.

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

 

When Jay flew from the guest house, Nicole slithered into the dress she had earlier peeled off. Then she sat down and waited for her husband to return. Although the sex with Dag had been a letdown—he was too drunk to produce an erection, and when one finally arrived he was done three seconds later (the wild bucking Jay witnessed was her attempt to remedy this)—she enjoyed his company, his tenderness, and his humor. But she had no illusions about pursuing any relationship with him. A little too much wine had led to rash behavior, and there was no doubt it would not happen again. She intended to express further contrition, ongoing contrition, endless contrition if need be, and dedicate herself to the salvation of their teetering marriage. As she waited, the feats of self-abnegation she imagined grew in intensity. Whatever prostrations Jay required, she would perform.

But as the minutes crept by with no sign of him her thoughts turned in another less charitable direction. Why had she gone to bed with Dag in the first place? It wasn’t because her marriage was going swimmingly. The last time she had seen Jay was when she stalked out of their bedroom the night before he left for Africa. Their fragile ceasefire had been negotiated over brief phone calls and emails, and had not been certified by physical proximity much less consummated with armistice sex. It didn’t exactly justify her behavior, but it was not as if Jay was blameless. Self-erasure was not her style. The longer Jay failed to return, the less inclined she was to throw herself at his mercy. Where were Jay and Dag? Had they patched things up and gone out for a drink? Unlikely, but why had her husband not reappeared? If he didn’t want to save the marriage, why should she?

With her heels dangling from two fingers over her shoulder, Nicole sashayed barefoot up the hill toward the house. How much time had passed since Jay ran off into the night? In the distance, she heard a siren wail. Probably some old duffer with a stroke, she thought. The wet grass was slippery beneath the soles of her feet. The certitude with which she held to the notion of non-surrender had already begun to abate, and she was back to the idea of begging. Her thoughts were thrown into further disarray by her inability to suppress the desire to have more sex with Dag (when he wasn’t drunk), although she understood that that was a foolish idea and tried to put it out of her mind.

Warily, she entered the house through the back door and called Jay’s name. When he did not respond, she went from the living room, to the den, to the library with its shelves of bound leather volumes, the media room, the dining room that had so recently seen the Gladstone Seder, then the kitchen she had designed to her exact specifications.

Nicole climbed the stairs, still calling, “Jay, Jaaaaaayyy—” She tried to keep the plaintive tone at bay, but it was difficult. The emptiness of the house was starting to feel creepy. She understood if he was not answering because he was angry. He had every right. She could only imagine her reaction if the situation had been reversed and she had walked in on him having sex with her friend Audrey Lindstrom. She would have been shattered. Thinking of lovely, lithe Audrey, whose husband doted on her, recalled Audrey’s pregnancy (Who cared about being lithe when you could be pregnant?), and her despondency deepened. It wasn’t as if Nicole had led a life devoid of mistakes, but she had not risen to her current position by making bad decisions. She was appalled by her behavior.

The bedroom was empty, and the master bath, and the other bedrooms, and Jay’s home office, walls lined with photographs of the two of them taken on holidays in Aspen, Nantucket, on the yacht they had chartered in the Greek islands. Where had he gone? She pulled her phone from her purse and called him. It went directly to voice mail, and she left a simple message, asking him to call her. Then she texted:

I love you so much.

After she pressed send it occurred to her that perhaps that sentiment was insufficient, so she googled forgiveness. A moment later, she texted:

“Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge.” William Shakespeare.

But that didn’t quite convey what she was feeling either and was more than a little self-serving. Back to Google. What she found was too long to text, so she furiously typed an email:

Jay, my love, Stephen Hawking wrote, “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.” I am spiritually crippled, but if you’re willing to help me, I can heal.

As soon as she hit send, she knew that it was too mawkish, but under the circumstances, it seemed justified.

 

Nicole wanted to take a shower and scrub the evening off her skin, but when she shed her gown and stood in her sheer bra and panties, her first reaction was to throw on a pair of jeans and a blouse. In the event Jay returned, she didn’t want to be naked. After waiting another fifteen minutes, she checked her phone and saw that Jay had not responded to her attempts at communication. She packed an overnight bag, pulled her Range Rover out of the garage, tuned the radio to the country station, and drove into the city. She never listened to country music when Jay was in the car. Perhaps because it hinted too strongly at her Virginia roots, the rural aroma of pastures and stables. Nicole rode English style now, but that’s not the way she had learned. As a girl, she rode like a cowboy, high in the stirrups on a big western saddle.

Had she reined herself in too much to be Mrs. Jay Gladstone?

¤

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.


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