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By Tim Green
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ALSO BY TIM GREEN
The Red Zone
The Letter of the Law
The Fourth Perimeter
The Fifth Angel
The First 48
The Dark Side of the Game
A Man and His Mother: An Adopted Son's Search
because the brilliant light of your life warms even the deepest shadows of ours.
As with every book I have written, there are people throughout the process who are invaluable. Each contribution, whether great or small, helps make the whole and for that I thank you all: Esther Newberg, my agent and friend, whose honesty exceeds all things. Ace Atkins, a brilliant writer and my good friend. Jamie Raab, my publisher, who spent her valuable time, creativity, and mental energy to make this book shine. The other people at Warner Books who have made me a part of their family, starting with our fearless leader, Larry Kirshbaum, and my editor, Rick Wolff, along with Maureen Egen, Chris Barba, Ivan Held, Tina Andreadis, Dan Ambrosio, Paul Kirschner, Jason Pinter, Jim Spivey and designer Ralph Fowler, and the special editorial assistance I received from Frances Jalet-Miller, Mari Okuda, and Roland Ottewell.
My parents, Dick and Judy Green, who not only taught me a love for books but for their inexhaustible reading of my manuscripts to give them their final polish.
Besides being the best lacrosse coach in the country, Ron Doctor was my expert on Native American lore, and I thank him for his many hours talking patiently to me. Dick Madigan was my expert on my characters' financial maneuvering.
Probably the most fascinating aspect of writing this book was spending time in and around Auburn Prison, and I could never have done that without the generous time of Captain John "Hoddie" Rourke and his wife Debbie, Lieutenant Mike Vazquez, and my expert up on the wall who took my calls day and night, Officer Clarence Van Ostrand.
A bitter laugh burst from the count's lips; as in a dream, he had just seen his father being taken to the grave, and Mercedes walking to the altar.
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
THERE WAS A TIME when people wished that they were me. The only boundaries I had were the limits of my imagination. Now my world is six feet wide, eight feet long, and eight and a half feet high. It's less than you think. The only thing between the concrete floor and me is a narrow three-inch mattress. I don't need blankets or sheets because it's always warm. My shirt and pants were once gray. Now they are the color of oatmeal. They are no longer stiff with sweat and I can't smell them even though the guards angle their faces away whenever they try to let me out.
My days are full. They last one hour. It is the hour that they give me light. There are pests to be hunted and killed. Cracks in the walls need to be filled with a mortar I compose from loose pebbles and sand. My body needs inspection. My nails need to be filed down against the block wall. An ingrown hair scraped clean. Small ways that bring some order to my life.
When my work is through, I allow myself to languish and think about the times when I was a boy. I like to tilt my face to the light and close my eyes. I can feel the heat of the sunlight then and hear the swish of waves lapping the stones and the trees whispering secrets. I can feel the planks of wood beneath my towel. I hang my arm over the edge of the dock and press just the tips of my fingers into the water's pliant skin without breaking its surface.
I can smell the woodsmoke from the cobblestone fireplace in our small cabin and an occasional whiff of balsam. I can hear the bang of aluminum against the dock and my father asking me to go for a canoe ride. I say yes so as not to disappoint him even though I don't want to leave my mother's side. Her fingertips slide down the back of her page and her thumb snaps its edge as she turns to the next. I can hear the rattle and clang of the dinner bell.
Then my day ends.
I begin by allowing myself to vent, having somehow latched on to the notion that it's good for me. I have screamed myself mute. I have cried myself dry. I have laughed until my stomach convulses in painful knots. I have jabbered insanely to myself, reasoning with, arguing, begging, scolding, and mocking God. Eventually, I grow tired and I am ready to behave. Then I'm like everyone else, struggling to stay busy enough with what I have so I won't think about all the things I don't.
I still take pride in the long hard muscles, taut beneath the bronze skin of my six-foot frame. I have more positions for push-ups than a sex manual has for copulation. Push-ups on my fingertips. Push-ups upside down. Push-ups with my feet braced halfway up the wall. There is a thin metal seam above the door casing. I have calluses on my fingertips that fit nicely into that groove. I do pull-ups four different ways. Frontward with a narrow grip. Frontward with a wide grip. Same thing backward.
I can do five thousand sit-ups. I can run in place. I can jump on one leg and jump on two. I can shuffle from side to side the length of my world six thousand times without stopping. I know eighteen katas from Okinawa and I can do them all, ten times in succession without stopping. Then I sleep.
When I wake up, it's still night. Always. If I can, I go back to sleep. If I can't, I exercise my mind to keep from thinking of her. The velvety handfuls of dark hair in a curtain over my bare chest. The smooth pencil-line scar on her hip.
I can multiply and divide seven-digit numbers in my head. I can integrate and differentiate formulas I make up at random. I can regurgitate the meaning behind every mnemonic device from Pieper's New York State Bar Review.
I need to be strong.
Every sixty days, they come for me. Sixty days is as long as they can put someone into solitary confinement without giving him the opportunity to show that he is ready to behave. When they come for me, I will attack the first person I can get my hands on. I will do as much damage to him as I can because I know I'll get it all back and then some whether I spit in someone's face or tear out an eyeball.
At first, they try to beat it out of you. One at a time, the meanest guards get a chance to claim you from the hole. Then, when they realize that you are strong and that you will never stop, they begin to send the rookies. They will watch from behind the bars and laugh until they've had enough or until they get nervous. It takes six years to work through the digestive system of a maximum-security prison in New York. I am in my third different prison. After today, I believe they will send me to a fourth.
My life didn't used to be like this. There was a time when I had everything.
THE MIND IS LIKE a screen in a water pipe. It collects the impurities of the past in random ways, a fragment of conversation, a snippet of color. A smell. I smelled like money that day in the cab when I passed through the tunnel into New Jersey to see Congressman Williamson at Valley Hospital. He smelled like death, old copper pennies, and bleached bedsheets.
I was the youngest partner at Parsons & Trout, with a suite at Donald Trump's Plaza Hotel and on the verge of a multimillion-dollar deal that would save my firm. It was the height of the Reagan era. There was a war on drugs. Russia was still an evil nation, and there was no shame in wanting to be rich.
But Roger Williamson only wanted to talk about duck hunting. He talked about the first double he ever shot with those tubes coming out of his nose, coughing into the air, like somehow he was handing me a small wooden box filled with life's secrets.
Then, I knew how to nod my head, respect my elders. But I didn't listen. Only fragments remain.
Roger had come from Syracuse and attended Princeton like me, only about forty years earlier. He lettered in basketball. I lettered in soccer. After he graduated, he went to Albany to work for Nelson Rockefeller. I went to law school to try to be Nelson Rockefeller.
I remember looking at the lines in his face. Road maps for my own future. Yes, I saw them. I recognized them without a thought.
It took Roger thirty years of kissing other people's asses before he was elected to Congress. At twenty-five, I hadn't even patted an ass and people were talking about having me be his replacement. That must not have seemed fair to Roger. But that's only if he was aware of it.
I was surprised that none of Roger's family was there. Two men in three-piece suits were. They didn't talk to me and I didn't really care. Roger had other tubes besides the one coming out of his nose. There was one in his stomach and another down below, collecting his urine in a clear plastic bag that was hooked to the stainless steel rail of his bed. There was a heart monitor beeping pleasantly and clear liquid dripped from an IV bottle.
"You aren't smiling," Roger said. His voice was strained and it came from the far reaches of his throat. "Every day you have your health is a good day. You should smile."
His skin had a blue cast to it and was sunken around the eye sockets and into the other depressions of his skull. His hair was wispy and gray. Only the very tips were still dark from dye. I thought I smelled the contents of the plastic bag and I cleared my throat.
"They say you might be the one to replace me. I'm glad. I wish they asked me, but I'm glad anyway."
I nodded and reached out to touch the back of his hand. The veins were pale and green and riddled with scabbed-over needle holes. His skin was cool, but dry. I regretted touching him anyway. The men in suits were watching.
"Hey," I said, "this might be like the '82 election. Remember that bounce-back?"
He started to laugh, but it ended in a painful-sounding choke that set the monitor off like a small guard dog. When he recovered, he turned his hand over and clutched my fingers in his own with an awkward grip. His nails needed a trim.
"My family left me two days after the first time I was elected," he said. "That was my second wife."
I shook my head.
"Duck hunting," he said, again. "Standing in those cattails, remember? The sun not even up. The birds swarming in on us like insects. Clear your head, Raymond. As often as you can. You grow cobwebs inside you until you die. They only clear for those last few weeks? Why would He do that to us?"
His lips kept moving, but little sound came out. I leaned closer.
". . . promise . . ."
"You want me to promise?" I asked.
He nodded and I moved even closer.
"You take this," he said, squeezing tight. "Only you. I wrote it myself. Here. In New Jersey. Remember that. You give it to her. As soon as you get back. Right away, Raymond. No one else. You tell no one. Will you promise me that?"
In his other hand was a legal-size envelope. He held it out to me. A woman's name and address were scrawled on the front: Celeste Oliver. I looked into his milky green eyes, red-rimmed and brimming with moisture, and took it from him. His eyes closed and his head went back into the pillow. The men in suits seemed to be oblivious to our arrangement, so I said good-bye to Roger, even though he was already asleep.
AT ELEVEN IN THE MORNING on Friday, the directors from Iroquois National Bank signed a seven-year retainer agreement for Parsons & Trout to be both their national and regional counsel in twenty-two different states. I threw my suit coat over my arm and jogged back to the Plaza. I threw everything into a suitcase, checked out, and left New York City for the first time in over four weeks.
The drive home took me just over four hours with a stop for gas and a drive-thru burger. The door of my black wedge-shaped Celica Supra stayed open when I jumped out into the brick flagpole circle in front of Parsons & Trout. Sunshine glared down from between the clouds. The agreement was clutched between my fingers and it ruffled in the warm breeze. I skipped the steps, leaping right to the threshold between the thick soaring columns that supported the pediment of the old post office.
Parsons & Trout bought the building cheap in the late seventies, then renovated it as a historical site with tax-free dollars all through the coming years. Now it was the most impressive office space in the state outside New York City. Inside, as I climbed the marble steps to the second floor, I realized that the firm would be able to keep it now. The brass banisters. The oriental rugs. The Tiffany fixtures.
Dan Parsons was my mentor, and I loved him almost as much as my own dad. He was tall and husky with curly white hair and a round florid face that changed colors easily. Three years without a cigarette had left him with a small potbelly. His nose was bulbous, but not big, and his eyes had crow's feet from smiling so much. He was the kind of man who smiled even when he was raving mad. He had two kids my age whom he didn't speak to and a young son with his second wife. She was a former Miss New York with false breasts and eyelashes and great muscular legs. But she also laughed at Dan's jokes and stood by him in the worst of financial times.
Dan's office was just off the old courtroom. His secretary kept people out, but I sprinted right past. I made a hard left and pushed through the leather-upholstered doors into the old courtroom. Fluted columns rose twenty feet to the ceiling. Gilt molding shone down on the crystal chandeliers and the parquet floors. Dan sat at the head of the long burl wood table at the other end of the room, under the shadow of the old mahogany judge's bench. Next to Dan sat Bob Rangle, only twenty-seven but already the chairman of the Onondaga County Republican Party.
Rangle could be a twit, but he was so damn ingratiating that I couldn't bring myself to dislike him, even though a lot of other people did. He was a thin man with big beetle-black eyes set close to a sharp little nose and well below the receding brown hair that he liked to slick back. His fingers were long and narrow and he liked to grasp all four with his other hand and crank his hand back and forth as if he were throttling a motorcycle or winding himself up. When he smiled, the pointed tips of his small white teeth made him look even more like a weasel. He wore a dark suit with padded shoulders, an electric blue tie, and a white shirt with big silver cuff links. A conservative Huey Lewis.
The two of them looked up at me like I'd forgotten my pants.
"Hey," Rangle said, "Raymond."
"I got the deal," I said, waving the agreement in the air.
Dan jumped out of his seat and snatched the papers from my hand, scrutinizing the signatures as if he suspected a fake. He wore yellow suspenders and his blue shirtsleeves were unbuttoned and rolled up to his elbows. He plopped down into one of the leather swivel chairs, laughing, with his thumb and index finger spread across his forehead.
"He did it," Dan said to Rangle, looking up.
"You did it," Dan said again, this time to me.
The corners of my face were beginning to hurt.
"This is thirty million a year," Dan said, snapping his fingernails against the paper. "Minimum. Your bonus will be over two . . . closer to three if I get my way. How's that?"
"I'll take it," I said.
Dan stood and put his arms around me. He clapped me on the back before holding me at arm's length to grin some more. Rangle sat looking at us with his head bouncing around like it was attached by a spring. He said "Congratulations" with that toothy smile of his.
"Goddamn, you're cool. Cool under pressure. You know what I'm going to do?" Dan said. "Make you a congressman."
"I just saw Roger on Monday," I said, subduing my voice to a level I thought appropriate for a man who had just died.
I looked at Rangle. His smile thawed and he blinked at us.
"What about experience?" he said, cranking up his fingers.
"We were just talking about it," Dan said to me. "Bob thinks it should be him."
Rangle's face turned blotchy. He folded his arms across his chest and shifted in his seat.
"Experience is going to be crucial," he said. "Politics is my world. It was my father's world."
"That's what's perfect about Raymond," Dan said, raising his hands into the air like a five-year-old, palms up, fingers splayed. "People don't necessarily want insiders. They want an everyman. Like Jimmy Stewart . . . The governor agrees."
"The governor?" Rangle asked.
"I talked to him," Dan said. "You know how much money I've given him. He wants to announce it tomorrow night."
Rangle's mouth fell open and his head tilted at an odd angle.
"The committee will have to vote on it," Dan said. "That's why I wanted to see you. You'll have to call an emergency meeting."
"The governor?" Rangle asked, his eyes drifting off toward the beam of sunlight poking through the tall arched window by the old judge's bench. "Of course, and Raymond's an Indian . . ."
"Being part Native American isn't the reason," Dan said. "It doesn't hurt, but that's not why."
Rangle recovered his wits, rose, and walked down along the conference table. His breathing was shallow, but he extended his hand. I took it.
"Congratulations, Raymond," he said, wrapping those long fingers around my hand.
The leather doors swung behind him. Dan picked up a Mont Blanc pen off the table and twisted it open and shut. He shook his head.
"What are you going to do?" he said. "His old man was an asshole."
"Dan," I said, "we like to do favors for people who help us, right?"
"The world is round," he said. "We both know that."
"Dan, you know me," I said. "Do I want this? Of course I do. It would be incredible. Part of me knows I don't even deserve it, but if I do it, I want to be careful."
"Careful? Of course."
"I mean, I can't just run around making decisions based on favors," I said. "I have to represent the area. Do what I think is best."
"Well, there are two sides to every issue," he said.
"Exactly," I said. "And I don't want to choose the wrong side just because someone did me a favor."
"You can't forget your friends," Dan said. His smile was big now, but in an angry way.
"I don't mean that," I said. "I just want to be my own man."
The smile stayed, but the scowl left.
"You'll be fine," he said. "We both will. Go see that girl and get her a new dress or something for tomorrow night, will you? I've got a conference call with the Chicago office, and if you don't mind, I want to be the one to tell them about Iroquois. Trout's been all over my ass for sending a kid. That's what he calls you. But I told him. The hotter it is, the cooler you get."
Outside, Rangle sat on the low wall by the entrance to the circle. His long legs were crossed and his arms were folded. A half-smoked cigarette dangled from his lips as he squinted at the fountain and the reflecting pool across the street. The fingers of his left hand were clutched in the right. I eased shut the door of my Supra and took Roger Williamson's letter out of the inside pocket of my blazer. Pretending to study it, I walked quickly for the front of the circle. If I could make it to the sidewalk, I could lose myself in the swarm of office workers milling their way toward the bars. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rangle jump up.
"Raymond," he said, pitching the cigarette to the ground and pumping his arms to catch up. "Wait up."
The light was against me. I had to wait. Rangle grinned and held out his hand again.
"I meant it," he said.
"Thanks, Bob. I appreciate it."
The light changed and I started to walk, feigning interest in the envelope.
"Celeste Oliver?" Rangle said, his nose poking around my shoulder, his big close-set eyes blinking.
"It's for a friend," I said, stuffing the envelope back into my jacket. "Do you know what end of Lodi Street is 1870?"
"The wrong end," Rangle said. "I'm meeting Paul Russo at the Tusk. Have a drink with us."
"Maybe later. I have someone I have to see first."
"Before the wrong end?"
He smiled back in that sharp-toothed smile.
THE DOOR THAT LED up to the second-floor condo complex where Lexis lived was just down the wide brick alley that bordered one side of the Tusk. I stepped into the shadow of the alleyway, leaving Rangle to search the crowd that had spilled out from the bar and into the railed-off section of tables and chairs.
The condos were high-rent, and I had to punch in a code just to get into the common area. As I started up the steps, my heart began to thump. I hadn't seen Lexis in four weeks. We hadn't even spoken on the phone.
On New Year's Eve, she threw a drink in the face of a partner's wife. The next day we took a long walk and I tried to hint around that maybe she should get some help to stop drinking.
When she figured where it was I was going, she got hot and started to yell. I tried to keep cool, but pretty soon we both said some things we shouldn't have. Stupid things neither of us meant. Then I got tabbed to go down to the city and salvage the Iroquois deal and we agreed to take a break and see how we really felt about each other. A test.
I knew how I felt. I felt like shit. Going up those steps, I suddenly didn't care about the Iroquois deal. I didn't even care about the United States Congress.
I stood there thinking about how to say I was sorry. Then I heard a voice through the door, deep and rumbling. My gut knotted up. It was her old boyfriend. A guy I knew whose dad was head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. No surprise he was the youngest detective in the department.
My hands clenched into fists and I hammered on the door.
"Son of a bitch," I said between my teeth.
There was a pause, then footsteps, and the door swung open.
It was Lexis. I wanted to punch my fist through the wall. My face burned and my stomach felt sick.
Her dark hair hung in long smooth sheets that only made her blue eyes more striking. Her skin was from another age, a Victorian painting. China skin with a straight nose and high cheekbones. The hair around the fringes of her face was damp.
She wore a white cotton dress with a blue flower print that matched those eyes. Her legs were long and lean. Her waist was narrow.
"What are you doing?" she said.
I said, "What are you doing?"
"I didn't even know you were back," she said. "Frank is here. His mother is sick."
"Right," I said. My hands were jammed in my pockets and I stood glowering at her with my attention fixed on the interior of the apartment.
Lexis stepped toward me. She put a hand on my cheek and kissed me lightly on the lips. Her lips were full and soft, she smelled of strawberries.
"Missed you," she said. Her voice was hushed, tender.
I didn't kiss her back.
She sighed as if to say it was nothing more than she expected out of me and said, "Come in here."
She turned and walked down a narrow hallway into the towering loft that served as both living room and studio. Frank was standing by the glass doors next to an unfinished canvas. Outside was a balcony overlooking the hickory trees that lined the street below. The sunlight streaming in through the leaves dappled the scarlet silk of his shirt. It hung loose around his waist, but I could still see the bulge of his police-issued Smith & Wesson.
I despised him. He was like a giant from a children's story, with a mop of dark curly hair, flaring nostrils, and hands like slabs of meat. Most women thought he was handsome. So did Frank. He had this shiny olive skin, small fat red lips, and pale blue eyes with lashes like a girl.
"Sorry to hear about your mom," I said. "What's wrong?"
"Heart attack," he said. "She'll be okay. She's pretty tough."
"Yeah," I said, "they say those aren't as serious as they used to be."
I circled toward the kitchen, keeping my body sideways to him the way I did when I was sparring.
"Still working on that kung-fu stuff, Big Chief?" he said.
"Some people might be offended by a stupid comment like that," I said. "But they might not understand about people who are mentally challenged."
"You gotta be careful out there," he said. "It's a dangerous world."
"Same for you, Frank. Don't try to walk and chew gum at the same time."
"Tell your mom I send my best," Lexis said, taking Frank by the arm.
He looked up at me and, showing his teeth, said, "Make sure you treat this girl right."
I forced a smile.
When he was finally gone, Lexis closed the door and came back into the living room. Almost every flat surface was covered with photos of her and me in delicate silver and wood frames. Us at Disney in front of the castle. Her sister's wedding in L.A. Camping. Our first-anniversary dinner. She moved slowly across the room, stopping to straighten the picture frames as she came.
"Oh, Frank," I said. "I'm so glad you could console his delicate spirit."
"But he'll be back," I said. "An asshole boomerang."
"He's nothing," she said. "Don't waste your time."
I smelled the musky sweetness of Oriental lilies and looked for the source. In a glass vase beside the couch was a fresh-cut flower arrangement. The paintings on the high brick walls were the same as they'd been a month ago. Surreal, with electric blue skies and inanimate objects with bloody teeth. No new work. Even the canvas on her easel had seen little progress. I couldn't help feeling glad.
Across the room was the door that led to her bedroom. I studied the big king-size sleigh bed in the middle of the wood floor. It was neatly made.
Lexis was in front of me now. In her hands was an inlaid mahogany frame that held a picture of just me. My neck, shoulders, and chest were bare and tan, the lines of muscle and bone clearly drawn. My hair was a dark tangle. My eyes were half shut, but you could still see the yellow slivers set deep in their brown.
"Remember when I took this?" she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
I did remember. A seaside cottage on Cape Cod. She said after sex was the only time I ever really relaxed. She said she liked me that way.
"Yes," I said in a raspy tone.
She traced a fingertip up the front of my thigh.
"I'm sorry," she said softly.
- On Sale
- May 1, 2005
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing