A sample chapter
NOVEMBER 5, 1990
Chris walked into the Bog at 11 AM. Just two customers were sitting at the bar on separate stools, far apart, one reading New York Newsday, the other hunched like a predator over his pint of beer. Johnny, who was working the morning shift, nodded, signaling to Burty the Third, sitting at a table in the dining room, the remains of a plate of bacon and eggs in front of him, that Chris had arrived. Burty rose, coming directly to Chris. He gave him a white envelope. “This brings us even. I’m paying you through the 15th and for a week’s vacation.”
Chris tore open the sealed envelope. He took out the thin packet of $20 bills along with a ten and four ones. He riffled the money with is right thumb. “Thanks for this,” he said to Burty. “So long Johnny. It’s been good to know ya,” he said to the bartender who had withdrawn as far away as he could go and still be on his station. He folded the money, put it in his pocket, turned and left. No good bye. On the street corner, he threw the crumpled envelope into a wire trash receptacle. He walked north to 59th Street, then west to the Lexington Avenue subway line. He took an uptown express, standing against the inner door of the rocking train, glancing across the mixture of passengers: fat black women in long clothe coats, a bony thin black man in a crash helmet and blue striped tights with a large canvass messenger’s wallet slung from his shoulder who was leaning on a 10-speed bicycle in the center of the car where double doors made his entry and exit easier; a pair of nuns in the medieval habits of the Dominican order; two white businessmen with leather brief cases; a Latino mother with straggly hair, an Amerindian face, two boxes from the Bargain Basement on 14th Street and her chubby little boy pressed against her.
At 86th Street, Chris got off in a stream of men and women, who climbed multiple flights of stone stairs to the grey, wide street filled with cars, pedestrians, movie theaters, shops. Chris strode the familiar street heading towards the Metropolitan Museum of Art for another look at Regnault’s Salome and the nude self-portrait of Mary Hudson. Maybe he would run into her. He decided that if he did, he would pose for her. Maybe make enough money to add to his payoff from the Bog to carry him through the holidays without having to work on Christmas Day. Always the possibility that Zelotovich could be there. He would take that chance.
The sun shone on the huge banners advertising exhibits of African art from the sub-Sahara and nineteenth century funerary sculptures in the American Wing. The Met stood in massive silence. Traffic flowed hurriedly south on the avenue, but aside from a few dog walkers and women dressed in tights and sweats for winter jogging, the sidewalk was empty of the usual pack of tourists. The only occupants of the ordinarily thronged steps was a young couple sitting midway up facing Fifth Avenue. “Jesus Christ, it’s closed,” Chris said aloud. He went up the steps to a decorative sign on a stanchion listing the hours. Closed on Mondays, January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25. He looked at his watch. A quarter to 12.
At the Madison Bar & Grill, the waiter was the gaunt little man in shirt sleeves with wide deep eyes whom he usually saw sitting at a back table with a cup of coffee reading the Daily Keys or the Post. “What’ll you have?” the waiter asked. Chris ordered a hamburger, medium rare, steak fries, and a Brooklyn Beer. He sat in the narrow, rigid-seated, wooden booth enjoying the half light of the place, the quiet talk of the regulars. No television.
The waiter fetched his Brooklyn Beer from the bar, dropping it off at the booth before going into the kitchen with Chris’ lunch order. By the time the hamburger and fries arrived with a bottle of Heinz ketchup, Chris was ready for another bottle of beer. He put the raw onion, tomato and lettuce that came on a brown dish decorated with Gaelic symbols on the hamburger and poured ketchup on top. Chris took a bite, then waited for the second bottle of beer to arrive before continuing to eat. He felt warm and content, a little sleepy by the end of the meal. Not wanting to leave, he ordered a third beer, lingering over it until the place began to fill around one o’clock.
Chris walked into Central Park at 79th Street, along a path spotted with line skaters and joggers. He stopped to watch sleek, high-masted, molded sailboats guided by electronic controls moving and looping before the stiff November wind. A man in waders with a long pole sloshed into the shallow waters of the sailboat pond to rescue a toppled boat. He had come here, perhaps 50 years ago, with the gang from 47th Street to watch the rich kids and their fathers send their teak and cherry wood yachts with flying colors across these waters. Little had changed except for electronic gadgets that gave the rich, the sons or grandsons of those whom he had watched as a boy, more control over their boats. He walked round the pond to the Hans Christen Anderson statue. That wasn’t there those many years ago. He crossed the lawn and the road to Rowboat Lake. A few geese, a pair of swans. No one rowboating today. He continued to the West Side finding a pastry shop on Columbus Avenue, where he sat for half an hour nibbling little forkfuls of tiramisu and sipping black coffee watching the women, beautiful mothers in fur-trimmed short jackets and tight jeans pushing strollers, grey-haired square bodies with wire shopping carts, nubile teenagers who should have been in school. He paid and continued his trek, going south to 50th Street, turning west to 12th Avenue and the waterfront. He kept going, the breeze picking up, chilling him under a cloudy and suddenly darkened sky. Just past the Javits Center, he found the building, Far West Fine Arts Cooperative Living Centre, a four-story, startlingly white old waterfront warehouse, converted into apartments and artists’ lofts.
Chris pulled open the towering front door, glass framed in shining stainless steel to form the outline of the Chrysler Building. A rent-a-cop wearing a peaked cap sat behind a huge, glistening steel desk against a background of bright yellow, red, orange and blue swirls interconnecting, rising in waves to the ceiling. An enormous black and white alley cat was dozing on the desktop.
He put down his magazine. “Can I help you, sir?”
“I came to see Mary Hudson.”
“Just tell her Chris.”
The guard wrote that down. He punched a keyboard. “Ms. Hudson, I’ve got a Chris down here to see you.” He nodded, listening. “Okay,” he said to Chris. “You know the way?”
“Never been here before.”
He pointed his left thumb over his shoulder. “Go around the partition. Take the north elevator. The one on the left. Go to the fourth floor. She’s Studio NW.”
Chris started towards the elevator.
“Hey buddy, could you take Sam upstairs with you. He’s Ms. Hudson’s cat.” He extended the passive cat to Chris. “Don’t worry he loves people.”