JULY 31, 2018
THIS IS PART XIII 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.
After the hospital visit Jay considered going to the office, but the sight of Dag’s prostrate, unconscious, intubated body wired to all of those beeping devices combined with the unexpected Nicole encounter to create an effect so disconcerting that he beat a tactical retreat to the apartment. His primary goal for the day: To ensure Dag would receive the best care available. From having served on hospital boards, Jay’s list of contacts was formidable. He determined that two of the finest brain trauma specialists were in Geneva and Toronto. After ample donations were promised to their institutions, both agreed to fly in for consultations the following day. Private jets were dispatched to collect them.
It was late afternoon when Jay called his club and asked them to send over an order of Dover sole. While he waited for the food to arrive, he poured himself a glass of scotch and returned phone calls. Given that the last exchange with Franklin, at Passover, had been inauspicious, he hesitated before calling him back but decided it would better serve his purpose to not act like anything between them was amiss. Franklin expressed sympathy, asked if there was anything he could do to help, and did not mention the potential audit Jay had alluded to when they last spoke. He next called Bebe, who wanted to visit him at the apartment and bring soup. Jay declined the offer and said he would see her in the office the next day. Mayor House was thrilled to hear from him, asked how he was doing and whether the media reports about Dag’s condition were accurate. After Jay briefed the politician, he suggested the deal on the new arena be expedited and requested that the city’s lawyers review the contract so they could get it signed. The team had a home game against the Miami Heat Saturday night, and Jay invited the mayor to join him there.
Although everyone he spoke to expressed sympathy at his predicament, talking on the phone further exhausted him. He knew if he went to bed now he would pass out for several hours, wake up, and not be able to get back to sleep. The food still hadn’t arrived. He needed to eat. He considered turning on the television but did not want to watch the news and knew he wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else. He lay down on the sofa in the living room and thought about whether he should work what had happened to him into the Tate commencement address. “Taking responsibility,” “overcoming adversity,” “doing for others”—these were universal themes.
Ten minutes later his phone rang. It was Aviva.
“Mom asked me to check in and see how you’re doing.”
The two had not spoken since she and Imani fled the Seder table. Despite the distance in her voice, he was relieved to get the call. Aviva planned to be in the city tomorrow and asked if they could meet for lunch. When Jay suggested the Paladin Club, she countered with a Vietnamese restaurant on Ninth Avenue where “no one knows the Gladstones.”
They agreed to meet there.
Jay ate dinner, took a sleeping pill, and thought about what lay ahead. His relationship with the team he owned would be affected, but other than that he clung to the wild hope that his business life would proceed without too many obstacles. In the moments when he was not consumed with Dag’s condition, thoughts about his own fate crept in (the man, after all, was not a saint). The political appointment he had been gunning for was in jeopardy. Could the ambassadorship to Germany or Austria (and, frankly, at this point, he’d be willing to accept a posting anywhere without a war going on) be awarded to someone involved in this kind of nastiness? There must be some precedent. But what did it matter? None of this held the same meaning that it did a week earlier. Jay would gladly have traded any future opportunity for Dag’s full return to health.
Why had he gotten in the car that night? How could he have done something so deranged?
He comforted himself: People made mistakes, terrible things occurred.
He encouraged himself: Dag would recover, rehabilitate his injuries and, with the help of another marquee free agent signing, lead the team to a title.
He reassured himself: In two years, he would return from a diplomatic posting—perhaps a remote Pacific Island nation—to attend the championship round.
Yet he could not fall asleep. Because he worried he might be kidding himself.
Like many of his brethren, Jay took pride in visible Jewish achievement. One of the first ballplayers his father told him about was Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers slugger from the 1940s. He reveled in the Bob Dylans and Norman Mailers of the world, the Golda Meirs and Felix Frankfurters. But the binary of these superstars were the villains: the gangsters, the notorious insider traders, the Bernard Madoffs. Bernie Madoff! The gonif to end all gonifs! That gift to anti-Semites! (Jay personally knew people he had capsized.) He thought of his cousin Marat Reznikov, whom he had watched commit murder in the Bronx.
At summer camp, Jay and his bunkmates would lie awake at night and make lists of The Greatest Jews of All Time, and that is what he did now. He began with the Bible, and after he ticked off Abraham, Moses, Kings David and Solomon, Sarah, Rachel, and Leah, he remembered Jesus was a Jew, and his disciples. From there his mind leaped to Maimonides and Gustav Mahler, the poet Heinrich Heine (anyone who converted because of societal pressure still counted as a member of the tribe for Jay’s purposes), then alighted on Benjamin Disraeli, before winging off to Sigmund Freud, the Gershwins, and Anne Frank. Back and forth he ranged over Jewish history, through artists and athletes, public servants and philanthropists, totting up numbers until his laurel circle swelled to a hundred. This was the group of super achievers he aspired to join. Tormented by the thought that he was sinking into the underworld and somehow his image would come to be linked with the tiny handful of high-profile Jews who had horrified the world, Jay strove to keep hopelessness at bay.
He considered whether it was a Jewish instinct to think in these terms. Did Baptists keep a tally of their fellow adherents, the ones that best represented the faith or the miscreants that brought shame upon it? Did Hindus or Buddhists? Was the position of the Jews in the universe so precarious that they had to prove their worth to themselves with recitations like this one? Was life a perpetual trial and this tendency the presenting of evidence to the world that was once ready to believe Jews used the blood of Christian children to make matzo? And what was making his mind work this way? Matzo and the blood of Christian children? That was demented! This was America in 2012. Jay was assimilated, married (at least for now) to a non-Jew, had never even traveled to Israel. He had other, more personal things to worry about than the public image of his co-religionists. While Jay was thinking about this, Baruch Spinoza peeked out from behind a curtain in his unconscious. Had he remembered to put him on his list? Spinoza made him think of Nicole because before Jay’s entire life began to fall apart, she had been plowing through a biography of the Dutch philosopher. His thoughts quickly slipped from his wife’s reading habits to her physical presence, the smoothness of her skin as he ran his hand along the curve of her hip, the faint lemon scent of her shampoo, the memory of her pungent taste on his fingers, and to his surprise an entirely unwelcome erotic longing consumed him. What does it mean to want to have sex with someone who just reached down your throat and ripped your insides out? Jay did not want to think about it. Since they were married, he had imagined it was she who would watch him die. He had envisioned decades of companionship.
Was the physicist Niels Bohr Jewish? Jay added him to the record.
And so, he rattled through the night.
He woke up, not even sure he had slept. Showered, ate a bowl of bran, donned his office armor of suit and tie, and walked to work. The surgeons were due to fly in from Switzerland and Canada today, and this prospect raised his spirits. It was a chilly, bright morning and the air further invigorated him. The dead-eyed faces of pedestrians came to life when they recognized Jay Gladstone. Several asked how he was doing. The driver of a delivery truck called out, “Hang in there, brother!” and Jay waved to him in gratitude. At the office, after having accepted the felicitations of the support staff, and explained that, no, he was not hurt badly and they all should say a prayer for Dag, he called the hospital to check on the patient’s condition.
It remained unchanged.
Because this was the day he had planned to return from Africa, there was nothing on his schedule. He presented himself to Bebe, and his intact condition allayed her immediate concern. She closed the door to the office and turned to her brother.
“What happened in Bedford?”
He could reveal everything to his sister now, unburden himself and risk the loss of her esteem. Or he could be discreet and hope the details would remain cloudy. He realized he still did not know the story he was going to tell to the world, his version of events. Herman Doomer had not even asked what had transpired.
“I’m not sure,” he began.
“What do you mean you’re not sure?”
“Dag was on the road. I was going to give him a ride—”
“What was he doing on the road?”
“His car—” Jay remembered that he had not seen Dag’s car and immediately reversed himself before he was deep into a lie. And why was he going to lie? This was his sister, the person to whom he was closest in the world. “Bebe, you know what? I’m not exactly sure what happened. I was jet-lagged, I’d had a few drinks, I was taking painkillers.”
“Were you driving drunk?”
“No. At least I don’t think so. I don’t know. Look, this is all extremely upsetting, and the worst of it is what I did to Dag. We’ll have lots of time to talk about this going forward, but right now, I don’t appreciate the third degree. I could just use your support.”
“You have it, Jay. But I want you to be straight with me.”
“Where was Nicole?”
“At the house.”
“She was there when this happened?”
“Bebe, what did I just say? Nicole was at the house, Dag is in the hospital. There’s nothing else to tell you at this point.”
“At this point?”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to help you but I can’t if you won’t tell me what’s going on.”
Jay stiffened his back. He was going to need to draw on resources he was not sure he had. Hers was friendly questioning. Unlike his sister, the world would not come toward him from a position of love.
“Please. Don’t ask me any more questions right now.”
“I understand,” she said. “Just remember, I’m someone who wants to help you.”
To change the subject, Bebe informed him that their family foundation was doing a Gladstone Scholar Awards presentation in Newark that afternoon and suggested he make an appearance. Jay demurred and told her he needed to take it easy for a few days.
“Seeing that Dag receives the best care in the world has to be my priority.”
“You’re a mensch,” she said. No matter how his world shook, Bebe’s sense of familial devotion was immutable and eternal.
Next, he stuck his head in his cousin’s office. Franklin was on the phone and covered the mouthpiece when he warmly greeted Jay.
In the voice of John Wayne, he said, “You don’t look too bad, pilgrim.” Franklin wanted to be filled in, and Jay obliged, providing a brief and sanitized version. Now was not the optimum time to press the Asian matter.
He spent the rest of the morning drafting a letter to the chairman of the New York City Planning Commission regarding their consideration of the Sapphire project.
Jay always liked to arrive at a restaurant early since he believed it lent him a proprietary air and at five minutes to one he was seated against the wall at a back table reading the New York Times on his phone. The Vietnamese eatery was simple, bare tables and framed travel posters. A young couple sat near the front, the only other patrons. In addition to the news of the accident and his arraignment on criminal charges, a columnist in the sports section ruminated at length on the fate of the team without Dag. With a little luck and the passage of time, Jay believed, the public would move on to the next garish spectacle.
He was reading an article about Christine Lupo, who was about to announce whether she was running for governor, when he heard a familiar voice saying, “Thank God you’re all right!” and looked up to see his ex-wife, Jude Feldman Gladstone, standing next to their daughter Aviva.
“Jude, hello!” he exclaimed, quickly rising from his chair. “What are you doing here?”
“I invited her,” Aviva said. His daughter made no move to hug him or in any way show affection. Jay stepped around the table and folded her into a clumsy embrace.
Now in her early fifties, Jude’s dark hair was a mane of styled ringlets. Fashionable pumps, black leggings, and a loose maroon sweater. A quartz crystal pendant, three inches long, hung on her neck, a purple stone the size of a walnut on her forefinger. Since when did Jude wear such bold jewelry? She looked better than she had in years. Whatever she was doing with the lavish divorce settlement, it agreed with her. Rather than initiate physical contact, she inspected him and said, “I am so relieved.” He thanked her and indicated that they should sit.
“So,” he said to his ex-wife, unable to think of anything else. “You look beautiful.”
“I’m glad you’re alive,” she said.
“How was jail?” his daughter asked, taking a seat next to her mother.
Jay wondered if that was a taunt. “You can imagine,” he said.
Aviva wore her early spring uniform of Chucks, jeans, and a pea coat. Jude asked how Dag was doing and Jay gave the report.
“Must be pretty awkward for you,” Aviva said.
She leaned back in her chair, creating maximum distance between them. Jay tried not to be bothered by this. As an enlightened parent, he was responsible for maintaining a safe environment in which his daughter was able to express whatever it was she needed to communicate.
“That would be putting it mildly,” he said. To make this seem like an average family lunch, Jay opened the menu and observed, “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten in a Vietnamese restaurant before.”
“They aren’t fancy enough,” Aviva said.
“No, but I don’t associate Vietnam with their cuisine,” Jay said.
“Just the imperialist war,” Aviva said.
“Which your father marched against,” Jude informed her.
“I was fourteen,” Jay said.
“Yay for you,” Aviva said to Jay, who was making every effort to not respond to his daughter’s provocations. “Champion of the oppressed.”
“I didn’t want to get drafted,” he said, examining the menu.
The waitress approached. When they had all ordered, Jude placed her elbows on the table, fingers intertwined. The purple ring was genuinely impressive.
She said, “You’re probably wondering why I’m here.”
“That’s fair,” Jay said. “I am.”
“I didn’t feel safe when we were together the last time,” Aviva said.
Her remark puzzled Jay. “What does that mean?”
“I would have brought Imani today, but I know how much you hate her.”
“I don’t hate Imani. I’m not a hater. I’m not sure she’s the best person for you, but that’s another conversation.”
“You don’t know her,” Aviva said.
“We’re getting off track here,” Jude said to her daughter. Then, to Jay: “She has something to talk to you about.”
“I don’t want you to yell at me,” Aviva told her father.
Jay leaned forward and tried to disarm her with a gentle smile. “I’m such a yeller?”
“You were yelling like a banshee at the Seder.”
Jay tried to laugh it off. “First of all, I would hardly say that’s an accurate description.”
“Aviva told me what happened,” Jude said.
“Did she tell you I was provoked?” he asked, no longer smiling. “Did she tell you how obnoxious her friend was?”
Aviva turned to her mother. “See? He’s attacking.”
Jude held up her hands in a gesture of peace. “I’m not sure that qualifies as an attack. My therapist offered to do a session with the three of us. Maybe that’s the best way to handle this.”
“I’m not going to talk to your therapist,” Jay said.
“I just wanted to put it out there,” Jude said.
Jay tried to plead his case. “Her friend Imani was needlessly provocative. She offended everyone there, Franklin, Marcy, the twins—everyone.”
“She didn’t offend me,” Aviva said.
“Well, I don’t know what it would take to offend you,” Jay said. “Maybe you’d be offended if someone said something bad about Muslims.”
“Imani supports a free Palestine. What’s the big whoop? So do I.”
“It was a Seder,” Jay said. “Not a conference.”
To Aviva, this was deeply unfair. “Franklin and Marcy can make all their right-wing speeches about the Middle East and Imani isn’t allowed to have an opinion?”
Jay asked his ex-wife if she had met their daughter’s girlfriend.
“I have, and I think she’s kind of cool.”
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” Jay said. “Imani is obviously an intelligent young woman.”
“You’re always telling us Passover is about freedom,” Aviva said. “Every year you give that speech, don’t you?”
Jay sat back in his chair, pressed his fingers to his temples, and let his eyelids drop. Yes, he did give that speech because he was trying to inject life into an ancient ceremony. Now his efforts were being thrown in his face. Was the restaurant unusually warm? He could feel his body temperature rising. There was a bitter taste in his mouth, discomfort in his gut. He had taken a painkiller when he woke up, but its effects were starting to dissipate. When he opened his eyes, they were staring at him. Jude asked if he was all right.
“Never better,” he said. “Look, I’m not here to relitigate Passover. I’m sorry I lost my cool, and I apologize to you for that.”
“You should apologize to Imani, too,” Aviva said.
“I’ll write her a note.”
The waitress brought the food out. Jay looked at the bowl of pho, but his appetite was gone. He requested a ginger ale. Perhaps the carbonation would help pacify his churning stomach. He watched Aviva deftly maneuver her chopsticks around the noodles and lift them to her mouth.
“As I was telling you,” Jude said, “Our daughter has something she would like to discuss.”
Aviva held up a finger to indicate she would tell him when she was finished chewing. Jay remembered teaching her to use chopsticks as a ten-year-old at a Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side after a matinee of The Music Man.
“You can’t speak at my commencement,” she said.
“You mean you don’t want me to.”
“This is your daughter,” Jude said.
“I know that. Ordinarily, I would just say ‘fine.’ I’d call the president of the college and bow out. But I’m in an unusual position.”
“So am I. I’m graduating.”
“I’m proud of you,” Jay said.
“I only do it once.”
“I am well aware of that, believe me. But my image is taking a beating right now.”
“You’re worried about your image?” Jude asked.
“I am, and I make no apologies.”
“Of course not,” Aviva said. “Why would Harold Jay Gladstone ever apologize for anything?”
Jay chose to ignore the dig. He didn’t want to steamroll his daughter. In a measured tone, he said, “I’m a public figure, and my ability to do business is affected by how I’m perceived. I got hauled into court yesterday morning after spending the night in jail. You can’t possibly have any idea what that was like, either of you.” He paused to see if his daughter would come at him again, but she held fire. “I’m being accused of a crime that was entirely unintentional. The media is flaying me. To have the chance to make a speech, which the press will cover—”
“You can’t talk about your situation at Aviva’s graduation.”
“Would you let me finish, please?”
“Fine. Finish.” Jude said.
Distant, long-forgotten arguments with Jude burbled up. He would not allow himself to reenact the dynamic that contributed to their schism. The steaming pho reminded him of an outdoor hot tub at a ski resort in the Rockies twenty years earlier where they had frolicked after a day on the slopes, twinned futures assured. The distant scene was nearly unimaginable to him. Then Nicole and Dag detonated in his consciousness, a perversely timed depth charge. As far as he knew, Jude had never betrayed him. He felt a new generosity toward her.
“Of course, I’m not going to discuss my situation. But if I give a talk that resonates with the values of the graduates it might get into the ether, then maybe the potential jury pool has a better opinion of me. If there’s no plea bargain, and I have to go to trial, that’s going to make me appear more sympathetic.” He looked toward Jude to see how this was going over. The expression on her face gave nothing away. Since his remarriage, he had often thought that his daughter and ex-wife presented a united front against him that, regardless of what he did—emotionally, financially, it did not matter—was indivisible. “Don’t worry, Aviva. You’ll be proud of me.”
This claim was too much for her. “Are you joking?”
Jay looked into his daughter’s livid eyes and thought of Sonia Trachtenberg, the woman who spat in his face after the Planning Commission hearing. Aviva reminded him of that little ball of self-righteous anger. Jay would never understand how she turned out like this after having been showered with so much love. He assured her he wasn’t joking.
“Do you not get that you’re going to embarrass me if you do that?”
“I understand that you don’t want me to do it,” Jay said. “But I’m trying to have a rational discussion.”
“Please put yourself in my position, okay? How do you think I’m going to feel if my father, the master builder, gets up in front of my classmates and uses their graduation to rehabilitate his image?”
“I know I’m asking a lot.”
“I get that you’re in an uncomfortable position.”
“It’s more than uncomfortable,” he said.
“You’re not faultless or anything,” Aviva continued, “but you’re more or less an ethical person.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I appreciate that.”
“So why can’t you understand what I’m telling you? I only graduate one time.” Aviva pushed herself away from the table and crossed her arms. Jay tried to make eye contact, but she would not look at him. Why wouldn’t Jude help mollify her?
“I do understand, Aviva,” Jay said. “I do.”
“You need to listen to your daughter,” Jude said.
Quietly, he said, “Perhaps I haven’t made myself clear.”
“You can’t put your own needs first,” Jude said.
“Would you for godsakes let me finish?” That came out less quietly. Aviva stared at her lap. “I know it’s an outlandish request. I get that, yes. But I don’t know what else to do.”
“Why don’t you hold a press conference?” Jude asked.
“I don’t want to take questions.”
“Then just make a statement,” his ex-wife said.
“They want to bury me,” he said. “My lawyer’s trying to get the charges dismissed but I need to move forward assuming that’s not going to happen. There’s a genuine possibility I could go to prison. Do you want that?”
Now Aviva looked directly at him. “Of course not,” she said.
“No one wants that, Jay.”
“They could pack me off to one of those upstate hellholes near the Canadian border where I’d be serving time with rapists and murderers. I’m not the kind of person who would thrive in that environment.”
“It sucks to be in your situation,” Aviva said. “I feel so sorry for you. If I had accidentally run someone over with my car, I can’t even—”
“I’m glad you understand,” Jay said.
“But for you to get up in front of my graduating class to serve your own needs—”
“Your needs can’t be the priority here, Jay,” Jude said to her ex-husband.
Jay nodded in an attempt to convey the depth with which their concerns resonated. He was affected by the ache his daughter expressed and was loath to be the cause. But it was essential to him that the complexity of his predicament be acknowledged.
“I believe myself to be a good person,” he said.
“I basically said that,” Aviva reminded him.
“And you are, too,” he assured her.
“Something the two of you agree on,” Jude said, attempting to lighten the mood.
“I have flaws,” Jay continued, “Lots of them. But if I can speak at Tate, and convey who I am, perhaps then I’ll be understood if not forgiven. I’d like to give it a shot. Please.”
“If you do that,” Aviva said, “they can send me my degree.”
His daughter’s obstinacy was unacceptable. She showed bottomless sympathy for the downtrodden, but there appeared little of it left for her father. It was incomprehensible to him that, given what he was facing, she could not connect with the agony in front of her.
“For someone who has benefitted as clearly as you have from our family’s position, your lack of loyalty baffles me,” Jay said. Aviva turned away. Was she reacting to his perceived obtuseness, or disagreeing with the ungenerous assessment of her fealty? Jay could not tell and, moreover, did not care. He fought to keep the tremor out of his voice. “My father, who came from the streets, who broke his ass working for us, knew a little bit about how tough life on this planet could be. He taught me that family was the most important thing on Earth, the only thing you could depend on when the world was chewing you up. Your family, Aviva. Those words were sacred to him, and they are to me.” Jay awaited a response, but none was forthcoming. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Aviva said. “Everybody’s sorry.”
Jay looked at Jude, who was rubbing her daughter’s back. He had the urge to perform the same act of comfort but sensed it would not be welcome.
“I remember when you put half of the city’s homeless population in winter coats for your bat mitzvah project,” Jay said. “I admire you for that. But it kills me that you’re more interested in helping a bunch of homeless people you don’t know than your father.”
“You still think you’re going to speak at my graduation,” Aviva said.
The sympathy he felt for his daughter mingled with the incipient terror his invocation of prison time had awakened. Jay’s world was spinning. Aviva had ceased to be his daughter and was now a force he needed to subdue to reassert the ability to control his fate.
“Your Aunt Bebe is visiting Newark today to give awards to the Gladstone Scholars. You should go with her. You’ll see kids who haven’t had any of the advantages that you’ve had. We help them.”
“With money,” Aviva said.
“Yes, with money. We give these kids scholarships. What’s wrong with that?”
Aviva stared at her cuticles.
Jay resumed, “I’m trying not to be unreasonable. Right now, I’m scared. I don’t like admitting it. You know the situation. But I’ll tell you what. Even though the president of the college personally asked me to speak at the commencement, I’m willing to turn down the honor. If you think about it, if you’re willing to put yourself in my position and imagine how badly things could go from a legal perspective, and you still don’t want me to do it, then I won’t.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You said my friends were welcome at the Seder. Well, look what happened.”
“Aviva, I told you I would reconsider, and I mean it.”
Fear overwhelmed him. He gripped the edge of the table and rose from his chair. He reflexively threw down some bills and walked out. Jude called after him, but he did not turn around. On the sidewalk, Jay tried to remember if he had paid for the lunch. He did not want to stick his daughter and ex-wife with the check, but he certainly wasn’t going back into the restaurant. To reach for his wallet was reflexive behavior for a Gladstone father. Hailing a cab Jay thought of Bingo, all of the restaurant tabs he had picked up, the grabbing of the check as if his father wanted to host the world, and the sense of isolation that came over him was lunar.
The media herd was gone, and Jay entered the hospital unnoticed. There he met with the doctors he had flown in from Switzerland and Canada. Both had extensive experience treating the kind of brain trauma Dag had suffered. They examined the patient, reviewed the charts and X-rays. They consulted with Dr. Bannister and informed Jay that they concurred with the treatment. They would remain available in both diagnostic and advisory capacities and would fly in again if necessary.
Aviva was in a window seat on the evening train to Schuylkill. After the altercation with her father, Jude, to Aviva’s displeasure, assumed a neutral position.
“Your father has every right to be upset,” she said. “He’s in a terrible situation.”
Aviva recognized that she loved her father in some undefinable way that probably had to do with biology. And when the heat of their encounter abated, and a vision of him in prison took shape—the disgrace, confinement, and loneliness, all over a period of years—it was impossible not to feel a degree of sympathetic dread. And yet. She experienced their disagreements as wounds and, on a deeper level, as a denial of her essence, something rooted in Aviva’s psyche, a permanent side effect of being Jay Gladstone’a daughter.
But just because Aviva was born into prosperity and comfort did not mean she had to be a prisoner of her class. She had recently devoured a film about Che Guevara in her Revolutionary Motifs in World Cinema course. He was the son of a well-to-do family who took up arms, led a revolution, and wound up on a million dorm room walls. She wondered what Che would have done if Jay had been his father. Che would not have let his parent speak at a ceremony where he wasn’t wanted, of that she was certain. Aviva thought about Jay’s offer to withdraw but still refused to believe he would do it. She was not going to beg him. If he failed to arrive at the correct decision on his own, she would blow off the ceremony. What was a graduation anyway? Nothing more than a costume party that only served to codify the separation of an educated elite from the rest of society. If her father wanted to spoil it, that was his business.
She reached into her backpack and removed the copy of The Wretched of the Earth that Axel had given her, opened it to where she had left off, and began to read. Ten minutes later she put it down. In her view, Fanon’s thesis could be boiled down to the world was unfair. Aviva already knew that.
The blowback from Christine Lupo’s decision to not convene a grand jury when the white Officer Russell Plesko killed the African-American John Eagle was substantial. Eloquent displeasure expressed by religious leaders, vitriolic emails to her office, censorious editorials. Al Sharpton had, in tandem with Imam Ibrahim Muhammad, led a demonstration attended by several hundred people where he called for the DA’s resignation. Her colleague, Vere Olmstead, with whom she had recently shared a furtive cigarette, gave her the stink eye every time they crossed paths. Most unfortunately, the governor of New York publically questioned her decision. He was a Democrat, but that did not soften the blow. The subtext of all of this was that Christine Lupo was at best racially insensitive, at worst, straight-up racist. Now she could reverse the perception that had begun to crystallize and demonstrate that the law treats all citizens equally. She would be doing a great deal of this demonstrating on television. Jay Gladstone was going to be a national story. No, strike national; this story was going to erupt worldwide.
The secretary signaled Russell Plesko. He rose from his seat in the waiting area of the DA’s office and followed her down the hallway. He was back in uniform. It was his lunch hour and he had hustled over for an appointment he had requested. As soon as Christine Lupo revealed her decision, the White Plains Police Department had informed him he was no longer on administrative leave and placed him on desk duty. He had other ideas. The secretary stopped in front of an office and gestured for Russell to enter.
Lou Pagano stood up from behind his desk and stuck out his hand. Russell pumped it.
“Congratulations,” Pagano said. Russell was nervous and waited to see if Pagano would say anything else. He didn’t. But the deputy DA indicated he should sit down.
When they were both seated, Russell said, “I wanted to say thanks in person for shutting down the grand jury.”
“Hey,” Pagano said, with a sharpness that caught Russell by surprise. “No one shut anything down. The facts were the facts. I talked to everyone who was there. I made my recommendation and the DA made her decision.”
“Right, right,” Russell said. “I didn’t mean to imply anything.”
“Okay. So. Officer Plesko.” Russell waited. He had the distinct impression Pagano was sizing him up. “Are you talking to a counselor?”
“I met with a psychologist. The department mandates it.”
“I know it’s mandated. I’m not implying you’re screwy. You had a traumatic experience is all I’m saying.”
“I’m handling it okay.”
“How’s it going out in the world? Any problems?”
“It’s not too bad. Someone smashed my windshield.”
“Were you in the car at the time?”
“Then it could’ve been worse. You’re back at work.”
“How’s it going?”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about.”
After lunch, Pagano walked into the office kitchen for his usual black coffee, two sugars. Christine Lupo was rinsing her cup in the sink. Pagano told her he wanted to discuss Russell Plesko. She did not appear happy to hear this.
“Aren’t we done with that guy?”
“He wanted to see me. They’ve got him stuck at headquarters pushing paper around.”
“That’s standard after what he was involved in.”
“Yeah, well, the guy wants to be reassigned,” Pagano informed her.
Lupo dried her cup with a towel and placed it in the cabinet. She had no idea where Pagano was going with this and little interest. She had hoped not to hear the name Russell Plesko for a while.
“Shouldn’t he talk to his supervisor?”
“He’d like to be detailed to our office,” Pagano said. “He’s interested in becoming a lawyer. For what it’s worth, my opinion—he’s all right.”
She thought about what her political consultant had said at the Parkway Diner: Voters have more respect for balls than integrity. The DA had to admire Plesko’s balls. The most controversial police officer on the force and he had the nerve for an ask like this? It was impressive. Hiring Russell Plesko—an unlucky cop who deserved a break—could only solidify her support with the police. But to bring him into her world would be to embrace him and that might further enrage the black community. Wait a minute, though. She was about to throw the black community Jay Gladstone, and that was going to improve her standing significantly. With Gladstone in a courtroom, no one would care who worked in her office.
“You want to help him out,” the DA said, “go ahead.”
For two days, Trey had been at the hospital without a break. Lourawls and Babatunde returned to the mansion in New Jersey at night, but Trey slept in a chair in Dag’s room. He had not changed his clothes and was self-conscious about it when he met the pair of eminent doctors Gladstone had produced. He was exhausted and his back ached. He was scared his brother was going to die and didn’t know what he would do if that happened. Dag was his anchor. He had never had a real job. Being Dag’s brother was Trey’s job, and it was more than a job, it was a purpose, the warp and woof of his life, the boundary that defined his existence. As much as Trey thought about the future—not a great deal, admittedly—it involved his sibling. Dag World was multi-tiered, and as long as Dag was alive, there would always be a place for Trey. If Dag were not alive, there was going to be a problem. As the coma persisted (Didn’t matter if it was “medically induced.” It was still a damn coma.) fear crept into Trey’s consciousness, spreading out, making itself at home. He was not religious, but he prayed. From the chair across from Dag’s bed, he prayed to whatever deity might be tuned in. He prayed for healing. He prayed for healthy brain function. He prayed for Dag to miraculously recover and lead his team to victory in the playoffs. He knew the last request was unlikely to be granted, but he also believed miracles could occur. He prayed for a miracle.
Trey had kicked a pack-a-day habit a few years earlier, but in times of stress he would reach for a cigarette, and after Dag’s first day in the hospital he had bought a pack at a nearby bodega. It was around dinnertime, but he wasn’t hungry. Lourawls and Babatunde had gone out to eat. Their positive chatter had begun to grate. There had been no improvement and listening to those two was getting on his nerves. Trey was intent on remaining upbeat, but he knew the situation could go either way.
His friends would be back in an hour. It was hard to stare at Dag all day, prostrate in bed, hooked up to all of those machines, and try to remain hopeful when what he wanted to do was cry. The room was stuffy and he needed a break, so he rode the elevator down to the lobby. In the twilight, Trey stood on First Avenue smoking a cigarette. The media had vanished. Pedestrians streamed by, no one paying attention. Cars and taxis crawled uptown in the molasses of rush hour. The temperature was in the forties, and Trey hunched his shoulders as he inhaled, letting the smoke expand inside him. He wished he had worn his coat.
A black man approached. The stranger, who had a beard and wore a white skullcap, introduced himself and told Trey how upset he was about what had happened to his brother, how much Dag’s accomplishments meant to him and the entire community, what an important figure he was. He told Trey how it was their responsibility—his, Trey’s, and that of the community—to hold Jay Gladstone’s feet to the fire and see that justice was done. Trey agreed with all of this. The man informed Trey that he ran an organization and had contacts in the media. The man asked, “Who’s going to speak for D’Angelo? Who will give him his voice? Will it be you, my brother?” Trey wished he could provide a voice for Dag, but extemporaneous speaking in front of television cameras was not one of his talents.
From the river of pedestrians emerged Lourawls and Babatunde, who handed Trey a tuna sandwich they had purchased for him at a nearby Korean market.
“Fellas, say hello to—sorry, what’d you say your name was?”
“Imam Ibrahim Muhammad.”
The imam’s inviting smile shone in the gloom.
It would have been so much better if the situation with your daughter didn’t play out in the public sphere,” Herman Doomer said. “People misinterpret.”
“And now every schmuck in New York has a camera.”
They were in the attorney’s Midtown office, the lawyer in a wing chair, Jay across from him on the sofa. Between them on the coffee table rested the day’s edition of the New York Post. On the front page, above a picture of Jay, Aviva, and Jude at the Vietnamese restaurant, the headline screamed: GLADSTONE FAMILY FEUD. Someone in the restaurant had a phone with a camera. The accompanying article was short on details since neither of the principals spoke to the reporter who wrote it, but there was speculation that a family argument had boiled over and father and daughter were estranged.
“Why is it so important to you to give that commencement address?”
Jay had been asking himself that question. His conversation with Aviva gnawed at him and, given all the angst the possibility stirred up, he was beginning to doubt whether it was worth it. To what degree could a speech to a bunch of liberal arts kids penetrate the zeitgeist if the speaker wasn’t someone like Steve Jobs? Jay had planned to talk about the role of the builder in society and how the graduates were “the builders of their own lives,” but given his self-inflicted wound this no longer seemed wise.
“I’ve been having second thoughts about it.”
“For the time being, I don’t think any public appearances are prudent. Perhaps you should consider the idea of managed seclusion.”
“Like Einstein in New Jersey?”
“What’s the difference?”
“You wouldn’t have to disappear, exactly, but choose your spots carefully.”
“I’m not going away, Herman. That’s not going to happen.”
Doomer pointed to the copy of the Post. “This complicates my task.” He was spread out in the chair, spidery limbs barely filling his gray suit. He pressed his palms together and touched the tips of his fingers to his thin lips as he contemplated his client.
“I’m sorry, Herman. I don’t know what’s going on with her.”
“You two should probably stay away from each other for the time being.”
“That won’t be a problem.”
“All of it is prejudicial to a jury. You want the jurors to like you. They can’t think you have a pattern of conflict.”
Doomer picked up the copy of the Post and waved it at Jay. “You need help with this stuff. I want you to think about hiring Robert Tackman. He specializes in crisis communications. Do you know him?”
“Why would I?”
“No reason. Robert’s a behind-the-scenes operator. He’s the fellow British Petroleum calls when one of their tankers spills oil in some pristine body of water, and the whole world wants to burn down their headquarters. The Republican Party hired him when Iran-Contra happened. He worked with Michael Jackson who, let me remind you, never served a single day in jail.”
“I don’t like the idea of bringing in someone I don’t know.”
“You need a strategy, Jay.”
“There won’t be any more problems. Let’s just deal with what’s in front of us. I don’t want to work with a P.R. team to rehabilitate my image.”
“You don’t want to take my advice, don’t take it. Now, what do you want to do about Nicole?”
Jay had spared Doomer the details of what occurred in the pool house, only hinting that the marriage was not thriving. The lawyer listened with his usual equanimity, and upon receipt of the information merely nodded. He had been married to the same woman for fifty-two years and whatever opinions he had in this area he kept to himself.
Jay asked, “How enforceable is the prenup?”
“I reviewed it this morning, and it’s airtight. But look, you should think about whether you want to be going through a divorce if the criminal case goes to trial. Either one is highly stressful. And there’s the matter of the Sapphire, isn’t there? We haven’t even touched on that. The Planning Commission haven’t given their approval yet, have they?”
“Well, until they do, I would advise you to keep your name out of the headlines to the degree that you can, and after your accident, and the incident with Aviva, you’re not off to a flying start.”
Three days had passed since Nicole left the house in Bedford and set up camp on the tenth floor of the Pierre Hotel. Her suite overlooked Central Park, but she was too distracted to enjoy the view. The flowers she’d ordered to cheer herself up had started to wilt. Since encountering her husband at the hospital she had kept a low profile, only venturing out to have lunch with the newly pregnant Audrey, who she had not seen since before that dreadful Seder. She couldn’t bring herself to tell her friend what had happened and so had to listen as the loquacious former model filled the time describing the nursery she was designing and ruminating on where the child would be enrolled in preschool. It was all Nicole could do to keep from breaking into wracking sobs.
Although Jay’s situation was international news, Nicole had not heard from either her parents or siblings. Dressed in leggings and a cashmere V-neck, she swanned around the suite swilling copious amounts of champagne (in a vain attempt to make circumstances slightly less appalling she had switched from the usual chardonnay), and picked at a succession of egg-white omelets from room service while trying to tame her extravagant emotions. She composed a series of self-excoriating emails to Jay but did not send them and continually refreshed her browser for news of Dag’s condition. If only meditation were possible, she thought, but just the idea of attempting to tame her whirling mind was risible. On the morning of the second day, she parked on a sofa cushion she had arranged on the floor of her living room to give it a try, but after thirty seconds felt too upset to continue. Desperate to find some peace, she practiced walking across the suite with the Spinoza biography balanced on her head. This feat was achieved on the third try, and she celebrated by weeping so uncontrollably it took four Advil to get rid of the headache that ensued.
In the aftermath, she tried to read the book, which she was only able to do in fits and starts. Despite the painfully slow pace, Nicole was able to assemble scraps of Spinoza’s life and found that she connected to the Dutch philosopher. Contemplating her potential exile from the bosom of the Jews, she reflected on the excommunication endured by Spinoza. Yes, he may have been a brilliant thinker who fomented an intellectual revolution in seventeenth-century Europe, and she only a model turned congressional aide turned tycoon’s repentant wife, but the unmooring suffered by Spinoza at the hands of his brethren felt unnervingly familiar to her. She was cut off from her family of origin and her suburban Virginia background. Two careers had not left her with a surfeit of people who qualified as friends. Spinoza’s parents named him Baruch, but as a result of all he had undergone he came to be known as Benedict, a moniker of popes. Baruch Spinoza, Jew of Amsterdam, had become someone new. She had been Nicole Pflueger, then McGrory, and Gladstone. To be Nicole Gladstone, wife of Jay Gladstone, had felt like the realization of an essential, irreducible self. That was where the similarity ended, where she conveniently stopped thinking about what happened to Spinoza and turned her focus inward. No metaphysician, Nicole’s fate was inextricably tied to that of her marriage. She could rebuild her life if she had to, of course. People did.
It occurred to her to reach out to D’Angelo’s wife, but she had no idea how to frame the conversation so quickly abandoned the notion. Visiting the hospital again seemed like the right thing to do, but she did not want to risk calling attention to herself. Every idea only seemed to generate more negativity, and the overall effect compounded her lassitude.
She hoped that Jay would decide to remain in the marriage, but was subject to paroxysms of self-loathing for putting her fate in his hands. In her befuddled state, she allowed herself to believe that Jay might agree to renegotiate the prenup. Every time she ran through what to ask for in the divorce—he could keep the house in Aspen, but she wanted the one in East Hampton, he could hang on to the New York apartment, but she wanted the Bedford place with its stables, paddock, and riding trails—she chastised herself for negative ideation. Adultery on so impressive a scale was a shocking thing, but her remorse had not gone unexpressed. Nicole was far more than a standard-issue trophy wife, trotted out like a royal consort to smile and wave. Educated and accomplished, she was still young (ish), gorgeous, and charming, in all ways an enviable mate for someone like Jay. If he chose not to reveal what had happened, she certainly was not going to. As for D’Angelo, it was not clear he would even survive his injuries. Or how compromised he would be if he did. If he lived, and was sentient, and decided to divulge the events of that evening, all Jay and Nicole had to do was deny everything. Given that he had suffered brain damage, who would believe him? Any information D’Angelo Maxwell might offer—assuming he roused from the coma—would be unreliable. She recognized how cold and calculated this was and added it to the list of things over which she was berating herself. But feelings for Dag—in her view they had forged a genuine connection—were beside the point. If she had anything to say about it, the events of that night in Bedford would forever remain between Mr. and Mrs. Jay Gladstone.
One afternoon Nicole read an item on a website about Jay and Aviva. Although distressed at this news, and the way it had burst into public view, she resisted the impulse to call him and commiserate. She did, however, send a text:
So sorry to see that stuff with you and Aviva in the media!
Thinking about you and hope you’re okay!
Jay did not text back. She consoled herself with the thought that he had more than enough on his mind, but a darker interpretation was unavoidable. More champagne. She hadn’t showered in several days. A peek in the bathroom mirror revealed a dog’s breakfast. She was too depressed to care. Her svelte frame had begun to wither. Would her appetite return? The trees in Central Park were performing their annual sun salutations, but Nicole did not notice. How long could she remain hidden in the Pierre?
On Friday morning, hungover, ignoring a room service omelet, and trying to read the complimentary New York Times for the first time since the accident, she received a text from Jay:
Please meet me at my office.
This invitation—and the crapulous Nicole chose to read it as an invitation rather than an order—sent her into a tizzy. She quickly made an appointment to have her hair blown out. She peeled off her clothes and showered. Her pores sang as the steaming water coursed over her naked body. Her face was puffy from all the weeping but years spent strutting the runway had gifted her with a professional knowledge of powder and paint. She applied her makeup as if the brush belonged to Vermeer, who was on her mind because of his countryman Spinoza. The two were almost exact contemporaries. Delicately shading her eyes, she wondered if the painter and the philosopher were acquainted. Jay had just recently told her about a paper he had written in college linking them. How she missed talking to him. He once asked her who she would invite to a fantasy dinner party. She had so loved the question. What a fine thing it would be to have Spinoza and Vermeer to dinner. If she and Jay lived in Amsterdam four centuries ago, she would have put that together. If they remained married, she vowed to use her position to arrange dinners like that in the future. When Jay received the anticipated ambassadorship, she would establish the couple in whatever European capital President Obama saw fit to post them. They would be magnets for the international glitterati, their embassy a nexus of American glory. She would devote the rest of her life to the platonic ideal of their marriage.
On the cab ride to the Gladstone offices, Nicole took out her phone and ordered a biography of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis from Amazon. That legendary dervish of the social whirl would be her new role model. But despite the enthusiasm to reclaim her life and direct it to new heights, all the while Nicole recognized the element of wishful thinking she was engaged in. The fact remained, it was highly likely Jay would divorce her. In his position, she suspected that is what she would do. Yet she did not feel hopeless because she was not going into the situation unarmed. If a divorce was what Jay wanted, Nicole had certain information to impart that might get him to reconsider. Her pulse quickened as the cab turned on to Park Avenue.
When a life-changing event occurs, say, a dire health diagnosis, or the death of a close relative or the dissolution of one’s marriage, the physical world can take on a different aspect. To Nicole’s relief, the lobby of the Gladstone building, with its immaculately waxed floors, gleaming gold elevator doors, and uniformed attendants who nodded in deferential recognition, was as reassuringly mundane as a favorite childhood meal.
In the elevator, she breathed deeply to steady her nerves. The young female receptionist offered a friendly welcome and instantly waved her toward the inner sanctum. On the walls of the hallway leading to the executive offices were brilliantly colored paintings of Gladstone buildings Bingo commissioned from a famous artist known for his portraits of sports figures. Although she found the work a little kitschy, Nicole always enjoyed seeing it. Franklin’s twin sons looked up from an architectural blueprint they were reviewing and greeted her as she passed. Bebe appeared from around a corner with a cell phone to her ear. She mouthed, “How are you?” Nicole gave a little wave and dearly hoped Jay had not revealed anything to his sister.
It was the previous autumn when Nicole last visited the office, and she had not seen the Renzo Piano model of the Sapphire, so when Jay rose from behind his desk but did not move toward her, she tried to defuse the awkwardness of the moment by effusively admiring the design.
“It’s just stunning,” she said.
“We’re hoping the Planning Commission approves it in the next week or two,” he said. There was an undeniable stiffness to his manner. She knew it was unrealistic to expect that their initial post-Bedford interaction would be anything other than prickly. “I spoke at the hearing before I went to Africa.”
“I’m sure you’ll get to build it.”
All the nervousness had been for naught, she reflected. Whatever the upshot, Jay did not seem angry or guarded. He thanked her for coming, rounded the desk, and indicated she should take a seat on the couch against the wall. She sat, but he remained standing.
“Should we order a drink?” she said.
He laughed and offered her coffee, which she declined. The first time Nicole visited Jay at his office confirmed her impression of him as a modern King Herod. The design and furnishing reflected an amalgamation of authority and taste and when she thought of her husband it was often in this majestic setting. Today Jay seemed less robust than usual. Although the bruises under his eyes had begun to heal, he still looked tired and drawn. She thought about asking after Aviva but realized that could set a negative tone and chose to let Jay take the lead.
Then he sat next to her on the couch. Nicole had expected him to take a seat in one of the guest chairs opposite, but here he was, nearby. She tried to tamp down the optimism his proximity engendered.
“How’ve you been?” he asked.
“Terrible,” she said. Rather than embellish the story with a description of her forlorn, self-loathing, and semi-inebriated interlude at the Pierre, she allowed that one word to sit there and gather force. She thought about apologizing again, but knew there was nothing to be gained. He already knew how she felt. Then something remarkable occurred. Jay took her hand in his. She had not touched his flesh since they were standing at Dag’s bedside in the hospital. His hand was warm. She unspooled her fingers into his palm, and he caressed them. Her heart fluttered.
“How is D’Angelo?” she asked. “All I know is what I see on the Internet.”
Jay told her he had gone back to the hospital that morning, about the team of doctors he assembled, how they confirmed the uncertainty of the initial prognosis; they were all just waiting to see how the patient responded. She listened attentively.
“The doctors are cautiously optimistic,” he said.
For several moments, neither of them spoke. Nicole would wait. She didn’t want to fill the stillness with chatter.
“I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting,” Jay began. I have, too, she wanted to say but did not. “I’ve examined this from every angle, tried to take my ego out of it, and considered everything we’ve experienced together, all the things we’ve shared.” He stopped. She bit her upper lip. “And I think we should get a divorce.”
Like a guillotine, the cut was quick and final.
Removing her hand from his, she said, “All right.” Nicole had already decided not to argue if this was the outcome of their meeting. To push back would be unbecoming and she wanted to maintain decorum insofar as it was possible. To her relief, she did not have a visible physical reaction.
She said: “I understand.”
It felt as if her chest had collapsed.
“I’m going to have the prenuptial agreement voided.”
Nicole was dumbstruck. The contract was already generous and after what she had done, Jay was going to offer her more in the settlement? Beatific gratitude coursed through her. It was a relief to know that he valued their years together as much as she did.
“Thank you.” It seemed like the best response.
His eyes betrayed a flicker of amusement. “I’m going to write you a check for two million dollars.”
She wasn’t sure she understood. “And then what?”
“And then that’s it. Herman Doomer is going to send you papers to sign, and the records will be sealed. If you contest it, you’ll get nothing.”
This turnabout confounded Nicole. Reeling from his declaration that the marriage was over, she absorbed the deathblow of his intent to void their agreement. It felt like an assault.
“Two million dollars? Jay, that’s preposterous,” she said as if he was offering her a loaf of bread and a glass of water. “What am I supposed to do with two million dollars?”
“Under the circumstances, it’s generous.”
Searing heat moved through her body, veins burning. She felt lightheaded. Nausea stirred in her stomach. Everything began to implode.
“You can’t do that,” she managed to whisper.
“Read the agreement,” Jay said. “There’s a moral turpitude clause.”
Nicole rummaged through her memory bank and tripped over a vague recollection of the detail Jay was recalling. The lawyer who reviewed the contract on her behalf had advised getting the offending paragraph excised, but she assumed there would never be a need to invoke it and blithely signed the document.
Jay rose from the couch—he can’t be near me, she thought—and sat on the edge of his desk. For a full minute, neither of them uttered a word. When she recovered from the news he had delivered, her calculations were not about contrition because that was now a failed strategy.
“There’s something you should know about, darling.”
Darling? It was more of an incision than an endearment. Whatever she planned to sling in his direction, Jay was ready. Affecting boredom, he said, “You and Dag were carrying on for months.”
“No, we weren’t,” she said. “I never lied to you.”
He sighed. “What is it you’d like to tell me?”
“I made a tape that night,” she said. “Dag never knew. We were drunk, and it was stupid, but now I think maybe it wasn’t so stupid.”
“Nicole, this is so beneath you.”
“Your voice is on it.”
“And you said something you might not want out there.”
He stared in disbelief then turned his head away from her until it rested at an oblique angle. She could see him scouring his brain, trying to recollect details of the scene. Wondering what he had said. Did he think she was bluffing? Did he remember the sex videos they made early in their marriage? The one she had mentioned to Marcy. This memory made Nicole recall the Seder and the way Jay had erupted at Imani. Would there be an explosion in the office? He had never interacted with her in that way, but the situation between them had only now degenerated to this point. Who knew what he might do? She wondered if perhaps it would have been wiser to conduct this business over the phone. Going toe to toe with Jay Gladstone was not easy for people far harder-edged than she. For all his congeniality, everyone knew Jay could play rough. The fierceness of the glare he fixed her with was unsettling.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Even if it’s true, if you’re threatening me and your threat involves you releasing some sordid tape, then I don’t know what to tell you. You’ll look a lot worse than I will.”
“Actually,” she said, getting up from the couch, “I’m not sure that’s accurate. Now listen, I want you to rethink what you said. Let’s not go nuclear. You’ll honor the prenup, and I won’t release the tape.”
“Be glad I’m not going to say what I think of you right now.”
“I’m not going to put it out there, Jay.” She pulled on her coat. “You just need to do the honorable thing. It’s Friday, so you have until Monday at the end of the day.”
Before leaving the office, she walked over to the model of the Sapphire. The building represented the world from which she was being cast out, and in her bitterness, it seemed like a relic of a lost civilization, a monument to vanity and arrogance. She turned to her husband and said, “I only want what’s fair for the both of us.”
He did not reply.
When she exited his office, every repressed emotion began to bubble to the surface. Nicole fumed past the paintings of Gladstone buildings, and the friendly receptionist. How dare he attempt to undercut their legally binding agreement? Yes, her behavior had been reprehensible—she acknowledged there was no excuse—but they were civilized people, and his idea of sentencing her to penury was simply not going to fly. Jay would learn that soon enough. Two million dollars in New York? A cruel jape. A spiteful insult! Any co-op she would be willing to live in required liquidity of at least three times the purchase price. A two bedroom on Fifth with park views would be a pipe dream, a one bedroom at an acceptable address out of reach. Did he expect her to live in some horrid nondescript high-rise rental on Second Avenue? What did he think she was going to do once she blew through the pittance he offered? Resume her Washington career as a subcommittee worker bee? Take up modeling again? Forty was hurtling toward her like a meteor! Nicole’s jaw stiffened as she prepared for battle. Her ability to not debase herself in Jay’s office with some shameful display of emotion was the quality of which she was most proud. As she rode the elevator to the lobby for what was certainly the last time, she congratulated herself on an admirable performance.
Ten minutes later her fury had not cooled, and she was in Central Park near the carousel. Having no particular place to go, she sat on a bench. Nearby, young mothers and nannies kept vigil while children rode the brightly painted wooden horses. The smells of the thawing earth and the reawakening trees, the sounds of the carousel and shouts of the children, and the sun’s rays, which had become exceedingly warm, were nearly overwhelming. Purchasing bottled water from a vendor, she returned to the bench and sipped it. To calm herself, she closed her eyes and performed visualization exercises. Swimming in turquoise waters off the white sand beach in St. Kitts, riding her horse on a trail near the house she and Jay owned in Aspen. And so on.
After she had been there for a few minutes, her mind began to unclutter. And it was then Nicole was seized by a thought: She did not want to get divorced. When she and Jay were married, she truly had meant it to last until one of them died. Why had she so readily agreed to his pronouncement? He was under unimaginable stress. It was nearly impossible to conceive what it was like for a man like Jay to face such punishing charges. She needed to be patient and let time pass. Perhaps he would begin to realize the benefits of their union. Marriages survived infidelity. After a spasm of self-laceration, it occurred to her to visit the hospital to see Dag. Given what had passed between them, that would be the humane thing to do. But Nicole had no idea whether she would be observed and didn’t want to risk doing anything to undermine her new plan. She was going to win her husband back.
Although he was glad to be rid of his wife, her departure left him morose. One of the benefits of marriage was to have someone at your side when life became difficult, but when those difficulties were caused by the person meant to assuage them, it threw the entire calculation into chaos. He would never have run Dag over if Nicole had not brought him to their home. Jay dealt with problems by isolating them from each other, prioritizing their severity, and attacking the most challenging one first. He had to euthanize the reeling Gladstone marriage, and now that was done. Doomer would handle the district attorney’s office. He called Dr. Bannister’s private number to check on Dag. The doctor informed Jay that the patient’s condition remained critical and he would contact him if anything changed. Had he been in touch with the medical team Jay had brought in? Yes, yes, they’re in the loop.
Jay and Bebe agreed to file a lawsuit against Franklin and ask for an injunction barring their cousin from participating in the day-to-day operations of the business. Jay suggested a plan for dealing with the aftermath of this move, a restructuring that would elevate Bebe to Franklin’s position, and she readily acceded. Boris would serve as her deputy, a position that would place him above Franklin’s sons. When Jay returned, he called Boris into his office and demanded to know whether there was any word from the Planning Commission. There was not. Jay asked Boris to remain in the office and indicated he should sit on the couch so recently occupied by Nicole. Had Boris seen Franklin today?
“About an hour ago. He was headed out.”
“Do you know where?”
“He doesn’t share his schedule with me.”
“I’ve held off on telling you this.” Jay felt like a skydiver about to leap from a plane. Boris regarded him expectantly. “I’m going to try and have Franklin removed from his position in the organization.”
Boris was aghast and when he asked the reason why, Jay quickly led him through what had occurred.
“Can you do that?”
“It’s in the company bylaws.”
“What about Ari and Ezra?”
“They’ll report to Bebe.” Jay leaned back in his desk chair, contented with his plan. Boris couldn’t believe it. “When it happens, you and Bebe are going to fly to Asia and meet with all the executives over there.” Jay was not certain that Boris had absorbed all of this. His cousin was staring at the wall, rhythmically drumming his fingers on the couch cushion. “Say something.”
He stopped drumming and looked Jay directly in the eye. “Are you sure?”
“You’ve been shadowing me nearly ten years. You’re ready, and you’re going to be reporting to my sister. I didn’t make you the head of the company.”
“She’s down with this?”
“Happy to have the help. You’ll have to spend a lot of time in Asia, which isn’t something she wants to do.”
“When’s it going to happen?”
“Monday.” The look of amazement and gratitude on Boris’s face lifted Jay’s spirits. It pleased him to reward someone for their honest work. “Enjoy the weekend.”
The team had won their only game in Dag’s absence, beating the Portland Trailblazers, and were now on the cusp of qualifying for the eighth and final seed in the playoffs. The Miami Heat were currently the best team in the league, and they were visiting Sanitary Solutions Arena on Saturday night. If the home team won, they were in. Jay envisioned ecstatic fans, the manna of playoff revenues, and a significant bump in the valuation of the team. Whatever was going on in his personal life, he intended to be in his courtside seats.
Managed seclusion didn’t mean vanishing.
Jay and Boris drove to Bedford that evening. He wanted company on the ride to and from the arena the next night so he invited Boris to stay at the house for the weekend. Jay sold it by saying they could talk about the complexities of running the Asian operation but the fact was he did not want to be alone. Boris made himself at home in a guest room overlooking the paddock while Jay ordered dinner from a local restaurant. Boris could not understand why someone as wealthy as his cousin had so few servants—there was a maid who did not live on the premises, and a groom who cared for the stables—but the one time he asked about it Jay explained that he simply didn’t like people who were not family members lurking around.
The next morning, Jay saddled Mingus up and cantered out of the barn toward a trail. The animal snorted, pleased to be free of his stall. There was no snow on the ground and the morning sun caressed the grass. Old-growth trees revealed their spring line of buds. Crocuses and daffodils had started to appear. Jay turned his face toward the azure sky. A westerly wind chased strands of cirrus clouds. As he followed the trail into the woods, his problems seemed far away. Jay rode for an hour, and his mind ranged lightly over recent events. He thought about the speech he would deliver at the Tate College commencement in May. Aviva would come around. It was in her interest to have a father not viewed as a criminal. She could not have been happy that their family argument had become public. Perhaps he would use the platform to announce the endowment of a scholarship fund at the college for students committed to careers in social justice. By the time Jay returned to the house his mood had improved considerably.
Boris was standing in the kitchen drinking coffee and staring at his phone.
“You’re not going to like this,” Boris said, handing Jay the device.
Jay handed it back. “I don’t have my reading glasses.”
“It’s personal. You’re sure you want me to—”
“Read the damn thing, Boris.”
Boris took a deep breath and read, “Dag and Gladstones In Racist Sex Romp.”
Jay grabbed the phone from his cousin’s hand. He left the room and went upstairs. On the nightstand, next to his copy of Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider, was a pair of reading glasses. He put them on and looked at Boris’s phone. From the brief article, he determined the tape to which Nicole alluded had been distributed to several media outlets late last night. And there it was, the pull quote, the quote the person who edited this slag heap of a website believed most conveyed the tenor of the piece:
Why does everyone in this family want to have sex with black people?
When he got over the initial kick in the teeth, he noticed that the site had linked to the actual tape. He pressed play. And there, like a recurring nightmare rising from the murky depths of his consciousness, was his naked wife in the half-lit pool house pumping like a piston. One, two, three seconds elapsed, her orgasmic groans emanating from the tiny cell phone speaker with surprising clarity. At the peak of her ride, she turned and looked over her shoulder. Jay heard her bleat of distress when she saw him. Then the sound of what was unmistakably his voice: “Why does everyone in this family want to have sex with black people?” The feigned nonchalance, the slight slur of his words, the way sex sounded almost like shex. It was horrifying.
Sunshine saturated the room in mustard light. Outside the windows, birds laughed. It was not yet eight o’clock. The landline on the bedside table began to ring. Jay checked the caller ID: Herman Doomer. He composed himself and picked up the phone. Perfunctory greetings, then the lawyer said:
“This will cause difficulties in your case.”
Doomer was rusticating at his weekend house in South Salem, and they arranged to meet there. Over the next hour, there were texts from several reporters that went unanswered. He considered contacting Nicole but what would that accomplish? She must be reveling in her hollow triumph. He wondered how many more times she could betray him.
With the scent of the stable still on his clothes, Jay showered and changed into clean jeans and a chamois shirt. Boris refrained from asking about what was going on when Jay said he would drive himself to Doomer’s house.
The northern Westchester roads were winding and wooded, large homes set far back on lawns framed by towering trees. The overall effect was one of timelessness. The feeling of remove it provided was a quality that Jay cherished. Only the other cars that passed him in the opposite direction hinted at the year.
The phrase Racist Sex Romp kept recurring. What had he said or done that was racist? How was it possible for anyone to believe him to be a bigot? His liberal credentials were impeccable. He thought about asking Church Scott to make a statement on his behalf but realized that, since he was an employee, it would not have the optical purity the situation required. He needed black friends to speak up. The problem: He did not have any. Growing up in Scarsdale, the only black people of whom he was conscious (other than Claudie, the maid) were the athletes, authors, and musicians he venerated. In his current life, he knew plenty of black people but had no close friends who were African-American.
As the road rose and fell through the tree-stippled hills, Jay kept thinking about Nicole and how she could have done something so utterly self-destructive. She was an intelligent woman, and although Jay had blustered during their last meeting, he expected a negotiation to evolve. Instead, she had not only violated all bounds of decorum but destroyed whatever leverage she possessed. What incomprehensible strategy was this? No longer able to contain the impulse, he called her from the car. Nicole picked up immediately.
Before he could utter a word of condemnation, she said, “I have no idea how that got out there.” This denial brought him up short. “Jay, I swear.” Nicole sounded shaken. Could she possibly be telling the truth? It seemed unlikely.
“You said you would wait until Monday.”
“I promise you; I have no fucking idea how this happened.”
“You had nothing to do with it?”
“Someone must have hacked my phone.”
“Who would have wanted to do that?”
“How am I supposed to know? I’m not a public person. I don’t have enemies.”
“I have enemies who would want to destroy me?”
“The tape is of me, Jay! Me!”
“YOU THREATENED TO RELEASE IT!” He was shouting now. The trees on either side of the road were a blur. His foot was heavy on the gas pedal, the car going over sixty on the country road.
“I never would have done that.” Her voice was tremulous, threaded with pain. “I don’t want a divorce, Jay. I know how this sounds right now, but I want to reconcile. I haven’t given up. Why would I release that tape?”
Jay took a corner and felt the centrifugal force of the Mercedes loaner pull him hard to his right. Only then did he realize the vehicle was nearly out of control. He pressed the brake and slowed down.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Look in the mirror, Jay. Don’t blame me for this.”
He hung up, uncertain whether Nicole was dissembling or this was just part of some larger more sinister plan to undo him. She had left his office in a rage—her unruffled demeanor did not fool him—and he knew she wanted to advocate for her interests, but his wife was not one to wage total war. She was more strategic in her thinking. Yet who else could have been responsible? From the plaintive notes she just now sounded, he again considered the possibility of her innocence. Nicole was not that good an actress. But it was impossible to know. His phone rang. He geared himself up to deal with Nicole once more, but it was his sister Bebe. He hesitated before answering but realized he would have to talk to her eventually.
“I assume you heard about the tape,” he said.
“How are you holding up?”
“It was bad. Now it’s worse.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Not unless you can wave a wand and make it all go away.”
Jay thanked his sister for checking in with him and said he would speak with her soon. He concentrated on maintaining the speed limit, gripped the steering wheel tightly, and thought about what he would say to Doomer.
The Doomers lived in a country contemporary up a long driveway on a bluff of land overlooking a lake. Jay parked his car in the circular driveway and rang the doorbell. Doomer answered wearing khakis and a fleece. As Jay followed him into the open-plan house, he could not recall ever having seen him in anything other than a business suit. The matriarchal Mrs. Doomer waved hello from the kitchen and went back to her crossword puzzle. In a knee-length skirt and down vest, glasses on the end of her nose, she was a model of constancy and rectitude. Was she aware of the perverse circus Jay’s life had become? Did she believe his racial attitudes were suspect? As a lifelong Democrat, she would have taken a dim view of anything illiberal, so he was unsure how to interpret her aloofness.
Through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the sunny living room a lone canoeist could be seen paddling in the distance. Several pieces of modern art hung on the walls. Family photographs arranged on tables. A man who appeared to be in his mid-sixties was leafing through an art book. Slightly overweight, gray hair cut short, he wore a maroon cardigan over a white shirt with a paisley ascot, dark pants, and oxblood cordovan shoes. He closed the book and looked Jay over.
“Jay, meet Robert Tackman,” Doomer said.
“Bobby,” Tackman said, extending his hand, which Jay shook. “I should probably tell you, old boy—I’m a Knicks season ticket holder.”
Jay could only manage a wan smile. Ordinarily, he would have offered his standard riposte of “My condolences,” but he was not in a jocular mood. And what was with the “old boy”? The Tackman accent was indeterminate, a mid-Atlantic mélange typical in movies of the 1940s.
“Where are you from?” Jay asked.
“Originally? Rhode Island.”
The tea and crumpets attitude affected by Tackman reminded Jay of the time his uncle Jerry came up with the name “Windsor Village.”
“I invited Bobby here today,” Doomer said, “because we’re going to hire him.”
Jay looked from his lawyer to Tackman, unsure how to react. In his world, he was the one who did all critical hiring. Doomer’s assuming this function was a breach of protocol but these were uncharted waters. “All right,” he finally managed.
The men faced each other on two leather sofas arranged perpendicularly on a thick rug, Jay and Doomer next to each other, Tackman alone on his. A fire crackled in the stone fireplace.
Tackman asked, “Is that your voice on the tape?”
“Then we’re not going to bother with a denial?” Before Jay could answer, Tackman continued, “Because voice recognition software is still dodgy.”
“I think we should skip the denial phase,” Jay said. He proceeded to outline his dealings with Nicole leading up to their recent phone call. Doomer asked Jay who he thought leaked the tape to the media.
“I have absolutely no idea,” Jay said.
Doomer liked Jay’s wife and, to him, something about the situation did not compute. It was not as if there was a history of erratic behavior. “Could it have been Nicole?”
“She swears it wasn’t her and told me she doesn’t want a divorce, so I don’t know. Someone who intends to ruin the two of us, perhaps. Nowadays, personal destruction is a sport.”
“It could be some pimply teenager living in his parents’ basement,” Tackman said. “But at this point how it got out there doesn’t particularly matter.”
Doomer leaned back and crossed an ankle over his knee. He picked a piece of lint off his sleeve and rolled it between his fingers.
“Here’s the problem,” the lawyer said. “It gives the prosecution a motive.”
Although this was obvious, the dissemination of the tape had so derailed Jay that he had not given any thought to the legal ramifications. He felt his weight sinking into the soft leather.
“What do we do?” His voice was lifeless.
“Just because they have a motive doesn’t mean they’ll convict you,” Doomer said. “They can only present it as a theory. The prosecution still has to convince a jury.”
Jay shifted uneasily. An awful word: Prosecution. He was going to be hearing it a lot. He wished he had never divorced Jude. None of this would be happening if he had followed his father’s path and stayed in one long marriage.
“I’m going to survive this, Herman.”
“For heaven’s sake, you’re a model citizen. Accidents happen. We’ll convince them, don’t worry. And I think we should hold off on trying to lower the boom on your cousin. At least until this latest thing blows over.” Jay reluctantly agreed. “Robert?”
Tackman leaned forward and focused on his new client. “First thing,” he began.
“I’ll keep out of trouble, don’t worry.”
“I know you will. It’s not that. I don’t think you should go out in public without a bodyguard.” This advice did not sit well with Jay, who squinted dismissively at his new adviser. “Not permanently, of course, but for the time being. Herman tells me you pride yourself on having the common touch, but there are a lot of unbalanced people out there.”
After some back and forth, Jay acceded to this request.
Tackman asked, “When do you next expect to be at a public event?”
“I’m going to the game tonight.”
“Really?” The news surprised Tackman. “You’re a brave man, Jay. So soon?”
“I’m not going to hide.”
“All right, that’s admirable. Kooky, but admirable.”
Jay did not appreciate Tackman’s familiarity.
“I’m a public man.”
“Where do you sit?”
“Not tonight,” Tackman informed him. “You have a skybox? Obviously, you do, you’re the owner. Tonight, that’s where you’re going to sit, above the crowd.” Jay agreed to do that. “Have you talked to any press today?” Jay reported that he had not spoken with anyone other than his sister, his wife, and Boris. Tackman was pleased. “Media strategy is vital. I know you have a lot of relationships with reporters and you get positive coverage in the press, but right now you’re not going to talk to anyone, no radio, newspapers, or websites. I want to give someone a television exclusive. Either Diane Sawyer or Anderson Cooper.”
Jay glanced at Doomer, who indicated that he thought this was a superb idea.
“You get a chance to introduce your character to the world,” Tackman said.
“The likable chap who caught his wife cheating and deserves everyone’s sympathy.”
“Oh, god,” Jay said. Each time he was reminded of the particulars was like absorbing another kill shot. “I can’t talk about that on television. You expect me to discuss the tape with Anderson Cooper?”
“Or Diane Sawyer, yes,” Tackman said. “It’ll help you, I promise.”
“Let me understand this,” Jay said. “I’m supposed to go in front of an audience on national television and convince the world my racial attitudes pass muster?”
Tackman looked at Doomer like a dog unsure of his master’s intent. Did the worldly Jay Gladstone not understand his role?
“I agree with what Bobby is suggesting,” Doomer said.
Jay gazed beyond Tackman toward the backyard where a deer was peacefully feeding on the leaves of a bush. Jay noticed the fragile limbs, muscles twitching barely perceptibly as she chewed, ever alert to peril.
“All right,” he said.
Tackman wanted to be familiar with Jay the man and Jay did his best to oblige the request. They talked for the next hour. Despite the friendliness he affected, Jay was not the kind of person who revealed himself to strangers but Doomer’s endorsement of Tackman eased his mind on this account, and the consultant seemed to like him personally, a factor that always weighed heavily with Jay.
“If the television interview goes well,” Tackman said, “and I’m sure it will, you’re going to visit the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.” This idea alarmed Jay. It was one thing to stare down a television camera in an antiseptic studio. A sea of disapproving black faces in a Harlem church was a different matter. Tackman was sensitive to his reluctance. “One thing at a time, I know. But the reverend is a friend.”
“Let’s not get carried away, Bobby,” Doomer said on his client’s behalf. Tackman agreed that a church visit would only be used to build on a positive television appearance.
Fatigue began to overtake Jay. He had not slept well the night before and wanted to rest before going to the game. Although he valued Doomer’s counsel and was beginning to accept Tackman’s presence, the two men had exceeded their client’s capacity for taking advice. As he had so many times in his life as an executive, Jay adjourned the meeting. Tackman said he would write a memo outlining the plan. They would meet for lunch on Monday. When Doomer retrieved Jay’s coat from the closet by the front door, Mrs. Doomer asked if he would like to stay for the meal she had prepared. Pleased to be invited, he could not imagine that this lifelong liberal did not know what he had done and the invitation indicated that she did not consider him a pariah. Perhaps there was hope. But he had no appetite so politely declined.
When Jay returned to his house, Boris was in the kitchen.
“I drove back to my place and got something for you.”
“What is it?”
With a nod, Boris gestured to the countertop. Next to a bowl of fruit was a Smith and Wesson handgun. Jay started to laugh.
“What am I supposed to do with that?”
“Get it out of here.”
“Just keep it in the house. You’re here alone sometimes. Can’t hurt to have it.”
Although it was painful to admit, Jay knew his cousin was correct. Who knew from what direction harm might come? No one could predict anything. Jay put the gun in an upstairs safe behind a picture of him and Nicole at the Parthenon in Athens. Something else would have to go there. He did not want to be reminded of Aristotle when reaching for his gun. Nor did he want to be reminded of Nicole.
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.