The Hazards of Good Fortune, Part II




THIS IS PART II 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.

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Chapter Three

 

The late winter weather had warmed, and most of the snow covering the riding trails in Bedford had melted so Jay, in a state of semi-wakefulness, decided he would take one of his horses out before going to the office. The bedroom windows betrayed no hint of dawn when he slipped quietly from between Egyptian cotton sheets, trying to not wake Nicole, tiptoed into his walk-in closet (they each had their own), and pulled on a pair of worn Levis and a heavy sweater. His boots were downstairs in the mudroom just off the kitchen.

Peasants had raised Harold Jay Gladstone to be an aristocrat. His Bronx born father had learned to ride in Van Cortlandt Park when other boys were playing stoop ball and the elder Gladstone believed these equestrian endeavors were a key element in rising above his origins. This he wanted to pass along to his children. When Jay was ten years old his mother, a woman who in her Brooklyn girlhood had aspired to a more sophisticated life, took him to a local stable where she arranged for riding lessons. Child Jay wanted to learn to ride western-style in the fashion of the cowboys he’d seen in the movies, but his mother had presciently insisted he learn to ride in the English manner. Although he never entered competitions (too stuffy), Jay cantered, galloped, and jumped with the natural ability of a peer of the realm riding to hounds. “You’re turning our boy into a Cossack!” his father jokingly exclaimed in a fake Yiddish accent to his mother whenever the two of them were on their way to a Saturday lesson, but the elder Gladstone secretly relished the potent image of a young Jew astride a horse. Jay didn’t know this at the time but his father’s father, born in Russia at the end of the 19th century, remembered being driven from his shtetl in the Pale of Settlement by mounted Cossacks who gave no mercy to the villagers they cruelly herded down the muddy street. To be the Jew on the horse rather than the Jew running from the horsemen was nothing less than the miraculous promise of America.

The grand, perfectly maintained house, constructed in the 1920s, was stone and shingle but through the tender ministrations of a celebrity architect (who never did private residences), impeccably updated. When Jay stepped through the French doors to the veranda that overlooked the grounds, the sun was just breaking over the tree line in the distance, painting the sky in pastel streaks of salmon and pink. His boots were knee-high. He wore a field jacket and held a mug of coffee in his hand. A diaphanous mist hung over the rolling property and the sunlight at this early hour caused it to glow, lending the entire place an enchanted quality, an effect Jay never failed to appreciate. He took a sip of the strong coffee and surveyed the lawns, the tennis court, the pool and pool house (converted to a guest cottage), the stables, the twenty-acre meadow that would soon burst with wildflowers, and the woods—elms, maples, birches—that ringed it all. His love for the land was profound, and he felt deeply rooted here, inviolable. He inhaled the crisp, loamy air. The morning was splendid; the coffee warmed his stomach, and—

“Are you going riding?” Nicole was standing in the doorway, wearing faded jeans, scuffed cowboy boots, and a sweater. Her voice was sleepy, and he could tell that she was making an effort to sound agreeable. When Jay told her yes, he was, she asked if he wanted company. Although he had been looking forward to a solitary canter through the woods, that particular pleasure would have to wait.

A short while later they were ambling on a bridle path astride a pair of Arabians that appeared hewn from marble, Nicole in front on Sugarplum, Jay behind riding Mingus. The stable hand had not yet arrived for work”, and the couple had saddled and bridled the animals themselves. They rode quietly. Only the soft percussion of the horses’ hooves on the trail broke the sylvan hush. Jay had wanted to think about the coming day—he was scheduled to appear before the Department of City Planning later in the week to speak in favor of a colossal mixed-use project he intended to build in Brooklyn (public opposition was vigorous and well-organized) and needed to draft remarks—but the sight of his wife’s gently swaying form several yards ahead turned his thoughts inevitably in her direction and how she came to occupy that saddle on this morning.

Before Nicole, he had been married to Jude Feldman, of Woodmere, Long Island, daughter of a periodontist. The marriage lasted a decade and produced one daughter, Aviva Golda (after Jude’s grandmother). At an East Hampton fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign, Mort Zuckerman introduced Nicole McGrory to his newly single friend Jay Gladstone. Vivacious where his ex-wife was dour, adventurous where Jude was tentative, and unburdened by Jude’s constant thoughts of the Jews and their lachrymose history, Nicole had an appetite for food, art, travel, horses, anything that might allow her to live her life to its furthest extreme. In her twenties, she had bungee jumped from a bridge. She wanted to try skydiving. There was something wild about Nicole and sometimes Jay wondered if that’s why he fell for her.

The daughter of a Pan Am pilot and a former stewardess, Nicole was ten when her mother and father divorced. There were an older brother and younger sister, but she was not close to them or her parents. Her family name was Pflueger, and growing up in Richmond, Virginia she was known as Nickie Pflueger. A cheerleader in high school, and an A student, she graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in political science. She married her college boyfriend, but the marriage was volatile and only lasted a year. His one enduring gift was his surname: McGrory, which she happily adopted. On a visit to New York, she was approached by a representative of the Wilhelmina Agency and paid off her college loans modeling. Nicole found the fashion world predictably vapid and, frustrated by her colleagues’ obsessing over diets and relationships when she was more intrigued by trade policy with Japan, eventually got in touch with her college economics professor, now an advisor to the speaker of the House of Representatives. Through his connections, she obtained a staff position on the House Select Committee on Ethics just as the investigation into the Clinton scandals was winding down. Doing research, writing position papers, providing background to journalists, she thrived. If politics is “show business for ugly people,” the physical plainness of its practitioners functioned as a black velvet pillow from which Nicole beamed with gemlike brilliance. Her combination of beauty and smarts caught people off guard. She quickly became a fixture on the D.C. social scene and was a sought-after guest at gatherings of every political stripe. Her co-workers marveled at her ability to appear, sparkling, in press coverage of the Gridiron Club Dinner, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, or, memorably, the Second Inaugural Ball of George W. Bush, which she attended as the date of a Republican Congressman from Georgia. Ultimately, she found the culture of Washington too stultifying and it was while in the early stages of casting about for the next thing that she attended the Long Island party where she met Jay Gladstone.

As a Jewish man, north of fifty, marrying a glamorous, considerably younger gentile, it did not escape Jay that he was personifying a longstanding cultural cliché, but this did not trouble him. His child was Jewish-identified so he had done his part in maintaining the tradition and he was hardly rabbinic. Nicole was witty and spontaneous. Through her work in government, she was friendly with Tony Blair and when she heard Jay admired him, she arranged drinks at the former prime minister’s hotel in New York that turned into a weekend at Jay’s East Hampton home and an ongoing friendship. Whenever they were together, Jay always felt like Nicole was on the verge of making something better happen.

But he was in no rush to marry again, so a year passed before he asked her to sign a prenuptial agreement. She was in her middle thirties with no significant savings, divorced, without close family relationships, and looking for a soft landing, so she readily agreed. They were married in a small ceremony on the beach in St. Kitts.

Jay had been traveling for work, and Nicole was bored with the round of yoga classes, lunches with girlfriends, gallery visits, and fundraisers that constituted her daily life. The previous summer they had flown to Ascot for the races—Jay was thinking about getting into the thoroughbred game—and with friends had chartered a yacht in the Caribbean over the holidays, but these trips felt obligatory. He had begun to harbor an inchoate malaise but was not sure if it was a function of his age—the previous week his physician described his prostate as “boggy” and performed a biopsy (results inconclusive, a wait-and-see approach)—or of something amiss in the marriage. Disinclined to blame others for his displeasure, Jay wanted to be certain of its origin before establishing a new course. Until recently, he knew he did not want to go through another divorce, but he had become less sure of this. The flush of infatuation had resolved into the familiar, and although his wife was no less captivating, the amount of attention she devoted to him had ebbed. When they drove together, she sat next to him transfixed by the latest app on her phone. In conversation, she often seemed preoccupied. These thoughts were on his mind when he stepped on to the veranda that morning, and he hoped to consider them on his ride. But it was hard to think about anything that involved his wife objectively when she was bouncing along in the saddle directly in front of him.

The bridle path led through a sycamore grove and Jay could hear the chirping of birds in the branches. He grew calm as he imagined the green buds that would appear in the next few weeks. Spring was his favorite time of year. The pink and white dogwoods were a sign of universal beneficence. As he pictured their riotous blossoming, Nicole said:

“I want to have a baby.”

“Excuse me?” He wasn’t sure he had heard correctly.

She gently pulled Sugarplum’s reins and turned to face her husband. Jay’s horse halted. “I said I want to have a baby.”

“This is new,” and not a conversation in which he wanted to engage. It then occurred to him that here was the opportunity to make the grand gesture he had been searching for while lying in bed last night. If they were drifting apart, what better way to bridge the divide before it ruptured into a chasm? Babies were glue; the means by which many battling spouses repaired nearly sundered marriages. As providers of shared experience, children were more reliable than mountains and rivers. They were Experience with a capital “E” painted in colors that were ever shifting and lifelong. But if babies represented all this, then why did Jay feel his entire body contracting?

“When I married you I didn’t know I wanted to be a mother, but things change, don’t they? I’m nearly forty and I’m not ready to put my ovaries on the shelf.”

“I have a child. One is plenty, believe me.”

“Maybe you’ll like being a parent more this time. You’re older, wiser, better looking.”

“Nicole, this was settled. I don’t want to relitigate it.”

One of the clauses in the prenup spelled out that they had mutually agreed not to have children together. Jay was not a man who believed he needed to litter the earth with offspring. He had texted Aviva yesterday—he tried to keep in touch, despite her lack of interest—and had not heard back. This was typical. His relationship with his only child brought him little satisfaction, and he did not want to roll the genetic dice again.

“I know, I know,” she said. “But that was a long time ago, and I thought we might revisit it.”

The quaver in her voice, and the vulnerability it implied, told him his wife was willing to ignore the blunt nature of their exchange to advance her point. Jay had anticipated this discussion. Over the course of the past year, he noticed that whenever they were around young children, Nicole displayed an interest new to her. Where she had disregarded their presence before, now she crouched or got on the floor to play with them. That and what he interpreted as a morbid interest in the rapid approach of her fortieth birthday, along with jokingly referring to her shriveling ovaries, were clues that led him to believe something significant was brewing. Jay knew this to be a sensitive area with many women whose ability to bear children was waning and tried to soften his tone.

“We both went into this marriage with our eyes open.”

“People change,” she said.

“Look, I’m sorry you feel this way because, well, it’s going to make things—” He stopped himself. There was no point completing this thought because it would lead to a ratcheting up of tension and all he wanted was an agreeable hour on his horse.

“Make them what?”

“You know I like to do anything I can for you, right?”

“Mostly, yes.”

“Fair enough. Almost anything. But, look—we agreed, and I’m not going to change my mind.”

“I’ll convert. I’ll become a Jew. We can raise another Jew together.”

“Nicole, come on. Be serious”

“I’m dead serious.”

“It isn’t about religion. You can convert if you’d like. If that’s your path, by all means, follow it. But this was decided before we got married and I’m not going to entertain the question.”

“You won’t even think about it?”

“I thought about it before we got married, and if you had insisted on it then—” his voice trailed off.

“What? You wouldn’t have married me?”

“I’d like to continue riding.” Jay slapped the horse’s haunch, and Mingus moved up the path.

“Would you have married me?” The rewording rendered the question a demand.

He was past her now. Jay began to trot and then canter. A full day at work lay ahead of him and as far as he was concerned this conversation had ended five years ago. What did she mean by offering to convert? That felt glib to him, a gambit rather than a sincere declaration of anything other than a desire to get him to procreate. But if Nicole were Jewish, would he be more inclined to have another child? He dismissed the thought. Jay was not that retrograde.

In the distance, he heard her voice as if emanating from the very woods that surrounded him. “You should think about it, Jay. You really should think about it.” He wasn’t sure what that meant. Then: “I’m going to ride another trail.”

Jay raised his hand over his head and waved but did not turn around.

Since Nicole had come to the marriage with little other than her looks and intelligence, theirs was not a blending of economic equals, and because, as Karl Marx put it in another context, everything is ultimately about who controls the means of production, her power was solely of the soft variety. In other words, she would not come out of a divorce with a dime more than had been contractually agreed to. Having a child might alter those prospects. Although Jay was not a lawyer, he knew that introducing children into a divorce was a wild card. Custody battles could be brutish and long. He had friends whose ex-wives used their children to vitiate “ironclad” prenups with outlandish requests for child support. Jay knew a six-year-old girl with a court mandated five-thousand-dollar-a-month clothing allowance. Often enough those conflicts found their way into a media ravenous for them. The damage two otherwise civilized people could inflict on one another in family court was grotesque.

And the words Nicole had called out to him when they parted: You really should think about it. He was not sure how to interpret that sentence. Was she saying that he should think about it because she believed it was the right course for the two of them as a couple, or were her words a veiled threat? How serious was she? Was this a whim that would pass in the manner of others (following a holiday in the Burgundy region of France, Nicole briefly intended to acquire a vineyard) or was this something that a recalcitrant husband could not wait out?

Nicole was absent when Jay came downstairs from his shower dressed for the office. As he was preparing a bowl of oatmeal, he returned a call from the president of Tate College, his daughter’s school. A biologist by training whose name was Winslow Chapin, the president told him that the college was going to try something new this year and have a parent speak at commencement. He wanted to know if, as a prominent entrepreneur and a member of the Tate College board of trustees, Jay would be willing to be the first one to do it.

“You can put a benevolent face on capitalism,” the president said. “It would be a fresh perspective for our students. Meryl Streep is going to deliver the commencement address.”

Jay was flattered. He often spoke to business groups and was occasionally quoted in the media, but had never been asked to speak at a college graduation. He realized the invitation was a precursor to being asked to make another large gift to the college but that was fair, and he admired Meryl Streep. When he hung up his mood was considerably improved.

 

Chapter Four

 

Seated in the back of a chauffeur driven town car en route from her home in Larchmont to her White Plains office, Westchester County District Attorney Christine Lupo felt a low-grade anxiety. Her son was waiting to hear from the five colleges he had applied to and later in the day she wanted to attend her high school freshman daughter’s volleyball game. To make her schedule work, she would have to move a meeting with a family court judge, which she had already rescheduled twice. Then there were the usual indictments, plea allocutions, grand jury subpoenas, sentencing recommendations, court pleadings, and scheduling orders she had to deal with every day. Her driver/bodyguard was Sean Purcell, a thirty-seven-year-old father of three. His base salary was eighty thousand dollars, and with the overtime he earned driving his ambitious boss to her constant public appearances, he nearly doubled it.

Christine listened through earbuds to the lush tones of Verdi’s La Traviata. The lofty peaks and bottomless valleys of the music, the plangent intonations of the singers, the world apart they evoked served as a distraction from her troubles. Sometimes she played it on the car’s sound system. Earbuds signaled Sean to be quiet.

As the car sped north, she noticed the bareness of the trees silhouetted against the sky and hoped it would be an early spring this year. Christine had just turned forty-eight and her winter had not been easy. Getting older was not a big issue for her, and she had learned to cope with the mudslide of work that landed on her desk each day, but there was a vexing problem in her personal life. She suspected her husband of infidelity. They had been attending couples therapy for the last six months, did exercises that involved looking into one another’s eyes, went on therapist-mandated “date nights,” and this was the result. At least she thought it was.

The office of District Attorney of Westchester County was not traditionally a launching pad for political careers, but Christine Marie Lupo intended to change that narrative. She had served as the DA for the past four years and was running for reelection against an opponent with so little chance she might as well have been unopposed. One of five kids raised by a Stella D’Oro factory foreman and a housewife in the Arthur Avenue neighborhood of the Bronx, valedictorian at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow, Notre Dame on a full scholarship (History, BA), and Fordham Law School. Although she could have gone to work for a Wall Street firm, Christine didn’t feel she would be in her element there as a working class Catholic girl, what with all the expensive, well-bred legal talent prowling the halls in tailored wardrobes and hundred dollar haircuts. Instead, she took a job as an assistant DA in the Westchester office, married an Italian-American businessman, and had a son and daughter in quick succession. Reliable and ambitious, and possessed of an offhand attractiveness, neither her wedding ring nor the small gold cross worn around her neck deterred the occasional colleague from testing how seriously the young prosecutor took her marital vows (the answer: extremely). After nearly a decade as an increasingly hardworking assistant DA, she became a judge. Four years later no one was surprised to learn she intended to run for district attorney. She locked up the usual rogues’ gallery of domestic abusers, rapists, and killers, and her dynamic personality, form-fitting wardrobe, and impressive verbal skills made her a live wire on local television news. It was an open secret that her chocolate-brown eyes were trained on the state capitol.

Her current office was located just off the Bronx River Parkway in an eighteen-story eyesore on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard that loomed in solitary ugliness, the only tall building in an otherwise undistinguished area. Sean pointed the car into the lot across the street and parked in her reserved space. Before getting out, she inspected her look in a hand mirror with the dark-eyed gaze of a warrior queen. Auburn hair styled fashionably short. Coral lipstick applied to full lips. The flawless skin beneath a subtle application of rouge. She ran a red fingernail beneath her lower lip, smoothing an imperfection in her makeup like a sculptor working a piece of clay. Christine Lupo appreciated the value of optics, particularly for women. She understood that a woman in public life was at a disadvantage and often had to pay attention to details a man could ignore. In college, she had studied Hatshepsut and Eleanor of Aquitaine, but her role model, about whom she wrote an undergraduate thesis, was Boadicea, the British queen who led an uprising against the Roman Empire. Boadicea gave no quarter.

Sean held the door open for the DA. He was six three, two twenty, a former football star at Roosevelt High in Yonkers. As much as she may have identified with Queen Boadicea, Sean’s impressive physicality was a comfort.

“Slay the dragons, Chief,” Sean said, as he did every morning.

The figure she cut in her knee-length navy wool overcoat with the cinched belt as the wind mussed her hair was not arrived at by accident. She had analyzed her appearance as if it were a legal issue. It wasn’t that she was beautiful, exactly, although she carried herself that way. But she was striking and potent, and wanted your vote.

Every week Christine led a meeting where the assistant DAs who headed bureaus joined her in the conference room around an oblong table, with their boss at the head, and described what they believed to be their most vital cases. She listened purposefully as the chiefs of Financial Crimes, Sex Crimes, Homicide, Rackets, Criminal Courts, Narcotics and Firearms, Career Criminals, Bias, Arson, and Vehicular Crimes made their presentations. Her staff gave concise accounts of how their cases were progressing (Christine calculating which ones were likeliest to land her on television) while she sipped coffee and jotted notes.

Today’s meeting had been going on for nearly an hour when she looked up and asked, “Is it a winner?” The question was directed at Vere Olmstead, a fortyish black female assistant DA who headed the Sex Crimes unit. The case in question involved a male history teacher at a private school in the town of Rye who allegedly had a sexual relationship with a sophomore, also male. The ADA told her the minor’s parents wanted to bring the hammer down on the teacher, but the accused maintained his innocence and had the aggressive backing of his union. Christine was eager to prosecute a case like this, but it was not a subject she wanted to talk about on television. She told the ADA to bring it to a grand jury.

The next hour featured a massive stock fraud in Elmsford, a heroin ring in New Rochelle, and an orthodontist suspected of fondling an unconscious patient in Ardsley. None of the cases she heard about made her want to contact Public Relations and set up a press conference. When she brought the meeting to a close, Christine returned to her office and gave an interview to a newspaper reporter who was doing a story on a recent increase in domestic violence cases and wanted to know what the District Attorney’s office was doing about it. (“We’re prosecuting it, that’s what we’re doing!”)

Despite the busy morning, Christine’s thoughts kept boomeranging back toward her husband. When they had married, she was already considering a political career, and her choice of spouse reflected her ambition. Dominic Lupo was low-key, industrious, and wanted children. His import-export business was growing, and she had believed him to be just the right helpmate for an ambitious wife. She had locked up hundreds of criminals. Her record in office was spotless. Only an unforeseen event could get in the way of the ascent she had adroitly plotted, and now it looked like that might be what was happening. Christine had made discreet inquiries and last week took the bold step of hiring a cybersecurity expert to hack Dominic Lupo’s phone in hopes of catching him in the act. She had expected to hear from the investigator by now.

Just before lunch, she looked up from the trial transcript she was notating and saw her secretary standing on the well-worn rug in front of her desk. Kelly was always starving herself on a trendy diet, and Christine had given up trying to discern whether the perpetually pained expression on her subordinate’s face was dismay or hunger. Where was the operative from Kronos Cyber Security? Surely, he would provide more impactful information than her secretary. This assessment proved wildly inaccurate because when the DA asked Kelly what she wanted the young woman took a deep breath and informed her boss that a Caucasian police officer had just shot and killed a naked black man.

 

THE ACE, W.A.C.E. AM

NEW YORK SPORTS TALK RADIO

WITH SAL D’AMICO AND THE SPORTSCHICK

 

SAL: You’re listening to the ACE, W.A.C.E., with Sal and the Sportschick. We’re talking D’Angelo Maxwell. You’re on the air.

CALLER #1: Yo, Sal, Mikey from Bayside, longtime listener, first-time caller.

SAL: Hey, Mikey, how you doing?

CALLER #1: Bayside, represent!

SAL: We all love Bayside. What’s your question?

CALLER #1: My question is I think Dag is, like, the most overpaid guy in the league.

SAL: Not a question. Sportschick, you agree? Is Dag Maxwell the most overpaid? I mean, they’re all overpaid.

SPORTSCHICK: The market determines their value, Sal.

SAL: I respect you, Sportschick, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. What kind of message do these player salaries send to kids?

SPORTSCHICK: What’re you, a socialist?

CALLER #1: Trade his lazy ass.

SPORTSCHICK: He puts up big numbers, Mikey.

CALLER #1: He’s a lazy overpaid bum. I’m not saying he doesn’t have a lot of inborn talent, but he’s a thug.

SPORTSCHICK: Why is he a thug, Mikey? Because he has a lot of tattoos?

CALLER #1: Have you watched him play? Guy’s a knucklehead!

SAL: Thanks for calling, Mikey. Tito from Staten Island, you’re on the air.

CALLER #2: Hey, I’ve been on hold for an hour.

SAL: What’s up, Tito?

CALLER #2: The team don’t make the playoffs, they got to trade Dag while he still has value.

SPORTSCHICK: Dag Maxwell on the block, Tito? In the NBA, you need a superstar to win.

CALLER #2: You see him showboating last night? He hits that last shot, then instead of getting back on D he’s firing pretend guns in the air like it’s a riot.

SAL: I don’t like the violent imagery. What’s the fascination with guns?

SPORTSCHICK: Come on, Sal. Sanitary Solutions is like the Roman coliseum. He’s a gladiator playing to the gallery.

CALLER #2: Guy has good instincts, but he doesn’t think. I’m saying Dag should be in the circus, not the NBA, and he should take Gladstone with him.

SAL: You don’t like Prince Jay?

CALLER #2: He trades away half the team to get Maxwell, and the guy’s an idiot. Gladstone knows nothing about basketball. He should stick to polo.

SAL: Prince Jay plays polo?

CALLER #2: If he doesn’t he should. It’s what rich guys do. Meanwhile, have you seen that reality show Dag’s wife is on?

SAL: Hoop Ladies! That show’s a piece of crap, but my wife’s seen every episode.

SPORTSCHICK: How’s that relevant, Tito?

CALLER #2: I’ll tell you how. Guy marries a gold digger; the man has no judgment. None!

SPORTSCHICK: Lotta hostility toward women today, Sal.

SAL: Next caller, you’re on the ACE with Sal and the Sportschick.

CALLER #3: Yeah, this is Antoine from Brooklyn.

SAL: What’s up, Antoine?

CALLER #3: My question for you two is why do you use your show as a consistent platform for casual racism?

SAL: What does that have to do with D’Angelo Maxwell?

CALLER #3: Every time a white caller wants to disparage him you hear words like “lazy” or “inborn” or “thug” which are all dog whistles that say shiftless N-word. These dudes would be dropping N-bombs on the show if you let ’em.

SAL: Whoa, whoa, whoa, let me stop you right there, pal. I am not a racist.

SPORTSCHICK: I can vouch for Sal, Antoine. He hates everyone.

 

Chapter Five

 

When Jay stepped out of his front door, he saw a Ukrainian-American man leaning against a late-model Toyota Camry, sipping take-out coffee as he scanned The Real Deal, the New York real estate industry bible. In his late twenties, Boris Reznikov was a junior executive at the Gladstone Group and Jay’s distant cousin. Tall and lanky, he wore a fashionable suit, wool scarf wrapped around his neck. With the mop of dark hair rising from his forehead and round, horn-rimmed glasses, he resembled a young Trotsky.

“When are we going to move the business to the Bahamas?” Boris asked. This was a running joke between the two of them. “I’m freezing my ass off.” Boris sniffled. Every year he had a mild cold from November until May.

“You should get a place there,” Jay said. “They need lazy Russians.”

Boris was not lazy, or Russian, although Jay used “Russian” to tease him. He had been employed by his cousin since graduating from Hunter College as a business major, worked part-time while he earned an MBA from Columbia, and purchased a condo in Stamford, Connecticut, so that he could commute to the city each day with Jay.

“I’m thinking about it,” Boris said, a memory of Queens Boulevard in his voice.

Nicole appeared, returning from the stable. While Boris greeted her familiarly, she and Jay barely acknowledged one another. Jay would have liked to share the invitation he’d just received to speak at Aviva’s commencement, to have let his wife know he would be on the platform in a cap and gown with Meryl Streep (whom Nicole loved) but the disconnect he was feeling from her stopped him from acting on the impulse. As Boris backed an imposing Mercedes sedan out of the garage, Jay watched her walk into the house. He appreciated that Boris never asked questions about Nicole. He climbed into the passenger seat and picked up the three newspapers Boris had laid out for him.

“Tough game last night,” Boris said. “I lost a hundred bucks on your guys.”

“Don’t talk to me about gambling,” Jay replied, settling in for the ride to the city as Boris tuned the radio to the all-news station. “I don’t want to get subpoenaed and have to testify that my cousin who works for me bets on games.”

Although the younger man drove, he was not technically a chauffeur. Jay was grooming Boris for an upper-echelon position in the organization. For this reason, he periodically offered to hire a driver, but Boris demurred. In his view, driving Jay was an opportunity.

When they merged into highway traffic ten minutes later, Boris asked if Jay was ready for the City Planning Commission hearing.

“Not yet.”

Although Jay did not look up from the article he was reading in the Financial Times, he knew that Boris was not happy. The company had proposed to erect what would be the tallest building in Brooklyn, and it was to be the first project where Jay had agreed to have Boris at his side from filing the permits to cutting the ribbon.

“I realize how full your plate is,” Boris said.

“In more ways than you know,” Jay said, still not looking up.

“You want me to draft remarks for you to deliver at the hearing?”

“I like your initiative, but I’ll handle it.”

Boris had a great deal riding on Jay dazzling the Planning Commission. If everything went as planned, by the time they were done Boris would be a force to be reckoned with, both in the company and in the Hobbesian world of New York real estate. This was a far cry from his origins. He was the American-born son of a Soviet émigré named Marat Reznikov, part of the first trickle of Jews allowed to leave the workers’ paradise at the dawn of detente. In New York, the Gladstone family hired the new arrival as a rent collector, a tough role that required the kind of person attuned to the possibility of violence. Boris’s father was that kind of person. He cultivated the right contacts, branched out, and eventually bought a Brooklyn nightclub that catered to other Eastern Europeans from which he ran various highly successful illegal businesses. Marat, though intelligent, was a brute. Boris was different. A reader of books, a chess player, he lacked his father’s taste for pillage. The elder Reznikov recognized this and wanted his son to make a legitimate living, so he called Jay Gladstone, who gave Boris a job. The young Ukrainian-American made the most of his opportunity. He studied the real estate industry, was familiar with its history, players, trends. Jay liked that Boris drove a Toyota when he could have purchased something flashier.

The car radio reported that a police officer in White Plains had shot and killed a tenant at Gladstone Village, a complex of apartments built in 1964, and still in the portfolio of the Gladstone Group. The circumstances of the shooting were hazy. The relevant details were that the shooter was white, the victim black and, in a strange twist, naked.

How does a cop shoot a naked black man? Jay wondered. Especially in the current environment. The Westchester County District Attorney’s office was investigating the incident and the district attorney, Christine Lupo, was expected to announce whether she would seek an indictment of the officer, some poor bastard named Russell Plesko, as soon as the following week.

Jay said, “I wish it hadn’t happened at one of our buildings. That’s not something you want associated with the family name.”

“It’s awful,” Boris agreed. “But it won’t affect the property value.”

Jay was not thinking about the fiscal ramifications. It was his perception that these heartbreaking situations unfolded predictably. There would be a certain degree of clucking on the part of the authorities, and then the DA would soberly announce that the use of lethal force was justified. The anger he felt at the uneven application of justice in America led him to make generous donations to organizations that fought to rectify the problem.

Jay asked Boris if he thought the cop would be indicted.

“I hope not.”

“Really? Why?”

“Cops do what they do so people like us can sleep at night,” Boris said. “That guy who got killed could’ve shot the cop.”

“He was naked,” Jay pointed out. “He had no weapon.”

“The guy could’ve grabbed the cop’s gun.”

“The police have an obligation to prevent tragedies, Boris, not to abet them.”

“I’m not saying he deserved it but, man, would you take off all your clothes and run at a cop?” The question was rhetorical. “No, you wouldn’t. Because you’re a responsible citizen who knows what a privilege it is to live in the greatest nation in the world. I feel sorry for the dead guy but, c’mon, what did he think would happen?”

Growing up with a Ukrainian mother and stepfather in Queens had left Boris with a dim view of humanity. Surviving hundreds of years as Jews in Eastern Europe had embedded in the family DNA a predilection to assume that the least happy conclusion of any situation was the one that would unfailingly occur. In Kiev, Boris’s stepfather was an engineer. In America, he drove a taxi until a bad back forced him to retire. His mother worked as a bookkeeper. As immigrant Jews, it was their belief that in their new country the government would protect them and police, as representatives of the state, were always afforded the benefit of the doubt (unlike in Ukraine). The family thinking: If citizens attack police, the social order will fragment, and anti-Jewish violence invariably breaks out. It didn’t matter to them that this rarely occurred in America. Anyone who reads history knew what could happen wherever Jews were in the minority. Boris’s perspective was not quite as provincial as that of his parents, but he nonetheless considered Jay’s views slightly naïve. To this end, he was the owner of two handguns.

They were driving on the Hutchinson River Parkway past Saxon Woods, a public golf course Jay and his friends frequented when they were in high school. It had been a long time since he had teed off on one of those fairways. It would’ve been enjoyable to play a round in the spring weather but he needed to get on the phone with Church Scott to discuss Dag Maxwell’s future, prepare for the appearance in front of the Planning Commission, and there was an important meeting scheduled with an official from the union that represented workers in residential buildings. It was a contract year and negotiations had ground to a halt.

Jay pulled out his phone and checked his email. There were the usual updates from the organizations on whose boards he served, an inquiry from his alma mater about whether he would be willing to fund a new building at the business school in exchange for having it named after him, and a message from someone at the accounting firm employed by the Gladstone Group. This last email contained an attachment consisting of financial documents pertaining to family interests in the gaming industry. A cursory glance at the data led him to wonder if a particular Gladstone Group executive was diverting large sums of money into a personal account. Jay’s first thought was that it could not possibly be the case since the colleague in question was his cousin Franklin, the other co-chairman of the company.

¤

[Go to Part III]

¤

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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