Don’t you like the food?” Katrina, my wife of
twenty- three years, asked.
“It’s delicious,” I said. “Whatever you
make is always great.” In the corner there sat a walnut
cabinet that used to contain our first stereo record player. Now it
held Katrina’s cherished Blue Danube china collection, which
she inherited from her favorite aunt, Bergit. On top of the chest
was an old quart pickle jar— the makeshift vase for an
arrangement of tiny wildflowers of every color from scarlet to
cornflower blue to white.
“But you’re frowning,” my beautiful
Scandinavian wife said. “What were you thinking
I looked up from the filet mignon and Gorgonzola blue cheese
salad to gaze at the flowers. My thoughts were not the kind of
dinner conversation one had with one’s wife and family.
I have a boyfriend now, Aura Ullman had told me that
morning. I wanted to tell you. I didn’t want to feel like
I’m hiding anything from you.
“Where’d you get those flowers, Mom?” Shelly
His name is George, Aura told me, the sad empathy in
the words making its way to her face.
I had no reason to be jealous. Aura and I had been lovers over
the eight months Katrina abandoned me for the investment banker
Andre Zool. I loved Aura but gave her up because when Katrina came
back, after Andre was indicted for fraud, I felt that she, Katrina,
was my sentence for the wrong I had done in a long life of
“I saw them at the deli and thought they might brighten up
our dinner,” Katrina told her daughter.
Shelly had been trying to forgive her mother for leaving me. She
was a sophomore at CCNY and another man’s daughter, though
she didn’t know it. Two of my children were fathered out of
wedlock; only the eldest, sour and taciturn Dimitri, who always sat
as far away from me as possible, was of my blood.
Do you love him? I hadn’t meant to ask Aura that.
I didn’t want to know the answer or to show
He’s very good company . . . and I get
“Well?” Katrina asked.
Something about those flowers and the echo of Aura’s voice
in my mind made me want to curse, or maybe to slam my fist down on
“Hey, everybody,” Twill said. He was standing in the
doorway to the dining room; dark and slender, handsome and flawless
except for a small crescent scar on his chin.
“You’re late,” Katrina scolded my
“You know it, Moms,” the seventeen- year- old man
replied. “I’m lucky to get home at all with everything
I got to do. My PO got me workin’ this after- school job at
the supermarket. Says it’ll keep me outta trouble.”
“He’s not a parole officer. He’s a juvenile
offender social worker,” I said.
Just seeing Twill brought levity into the room.
“It’s not a he,” Twill said as he slid into
the chair next to me.
“Ms. Melinda Tarris says that she wants me workin’
three afternoons a week.”
“And she’s right, too,” I added. “You
need something to occupy your mind and keep you out of
“It’s not people like me that get in trouble,
Pops,” Twill sang. “I talk so much and know so many
people that I can’t get away with nuthin’ somebody
don’t see it. It’s the quiet ones that get in the most
trouble. Ain’t that right, Bulldog?”
“Can’t you be quiet sometimes?” dour Dimitri
Twill’s pet name for his older brother was an apt one.
Like me Dimitri was short and big- boned, powerful even though he
rarely exercised. His skin was not quite as dark brown as mine but
you could see me in every part of him. I wondered why he was so
angry at his brother’s chiding. Even though Dimitri never
liked me much he loved his siblings. And he had a special bond with
Twill, who was so outgoing all he had to do was sit down in a room
for five minutes and a party was likely to break out.
“Are you all right?”
Even though we’d drifted apart like the continents
had— long ago— Katrina could still read my moods. We
had a kind of subterranean connection that allowed my wife to see,
at least partly, into my state of mind. It wasn’t just
Aura’s decision to move on that bothered me. It was my life
at that table, Dimitri’s uncharacteristic anger at his
brother, and even those delicate flowers sitting where I had never
seen a bouquet before.
There was a feeling at the back of my mind, something that was
burgeoning into consciousness like a vibrating moth pressing out
from its cocoon.
The phone rang and Katrina started. When I looked into her gray-
blue eyes some kind of wordless knowledge seemed to pass between
“I’ll get it,” Shelly shouted. She hurried
from the room into the hall, where the cordless unit sat on its
Katrina smiled at me. Even this made me wonder. She’d been
back home for nearly a year. In that time her smile had been
tentative, contrite. She wanted me to know that she was there for
the long run, that she was sorry for her transgressions and wanted
to make our life together work. But that evening her smile was
confident. Even the way she sat was regal and self- assured.
“Dad, it’s for you.”
Standing up from my chair and moving into the hallway, I felt as
if I were displaced, another man, or maybe the same man in a
similar but vastly different world: the working- poor lottery
winner who suddenly one day realizes that riches have turned his
blood to vinegar.
“Hello?” I said into the receiver.
I was expecting an acquaintance or maybe a credit- card company
asking about a suspect charge. No one who I did business with had
my home number. The kind of business I was in couldn’t be
addressed by an innocent.
“Leonid,” a man’s voice said, “this is
“Why are you calling me at my home?” I asked,
because though Strange was the legman for Alphonse Rinaldo, one of
the secret pillars of New York’s political and economic
systems, I couldn’t allow even him to infringe on my domestic
life, such as it was.
“The Big Man called and said it was an emergency,”
Sam worked for the seemingly self- appointed Special Assistant
to the City of New York. I say seemingly, because even though
Alphonse Rinaldo was definitely attached to City Hall, no one knew
his job description or the extent of his power.
I had done a few questionable jobs for the man before I decided
to go straight. And while I was no longer engaging in criminal
activities I couldn’t afford to turn him down without a
“What is it you want?” I asked.
“There’s a young woman named Tara Lear that he wants
you to make contact with.”
Sam rarely, if ever, spoke Rinaldo’s name. He had an
internal censor like those of old- time printers who replaced
“God” with “ G- d” in books.
“He just wants you to speak to her and to make sure
everything’s all right. He told me to tell you that he would
consider this a great favor.”
Being able to do a favor for Special Assistant Rinaldo was like
winning six lotteries rolled into one. My blood might turn into
high- octane rocket fuel if I wasn’t careful.
Not for the first time I wondered if I would ever get out from
under my iniquitous past.
“Leonid,” Sam Strange said.
“When am I supposed to find this young woman?”
“Now . . . tonight. And you don’t have to find her,
I can tell you exactly where she is.”
“If you know where she is why don’t you just tell
him and he can go talk to her himself?”
“This is the way he wants it.”
“Why don’t you go?” I asked.
“He wants you, Leonid.”
I heard Twill say something in the dining room but
couldn’t make out the words. His mother and Shelly
“Leonid,” Sam Strange said again.
“You know I’m trying to be aboveboard nowadays,
“He’s just asking you to go and speak to this Lear
woman. To make sure that she’s all right. There’s
nothing illegal about that.”
“And I’m supposed to tell her that Mr. Rinaldo is
concerned about her but can’t come himself?”
“Do not mention his name or refer to him in any way. The
meeting should be casual. She shouldn’t have any idea that
you’re a detective or that you’re working for someone
looking after her welfare.”
“You know the drill,” Strange said, trying to
enforce his personal sense of hierarchy on me. “Orders come
down and we do as we’re told.”
“No,” I said. “That’s you. You do what
you’re told. Me— I got ground rules.”
“And what are they?”
“First,” I said, “I will not put this
Tara’s physical or mental well- being into jeopardy. Second,
I will only report on her state of mind and security. I will not
convey information that might make her vulnerable to you or your
boss. And, finally, I will not be a party to making her do anything
against her will or whim.”
“That’s not how it works and you know it,” Sam
“Then go on down to the next name on the list and
don’t ever call this number again.”
“There is no other name.”
“If you want me you got to play by my rules.”
“I’ll have to report this conversation.”
“Of course you do.”
“He won’t like it.”
“I’ll make a note of that.”
He gave me an address on West Sixtieth and an apartment
“I’ll be staying at the Oxford Arms Club on Eighty-
fourth until this situation is resolved,” he said.
“You can call me there anytime, day or night.”
I hung up. There was no reason to continue the conversation, or
to wish him well, for that matter. I never liked the green- eyed
agent of the city’s Special Assistant.
Alphonse had two conduits to the outside world. Sam was the
errand boy. Christian Latour, who sat in the chamber outside
Alphonse’s office, was the Big Man’s gatekeeper and
crystal ball combined. I liked Christian, even though he had no use
I stood there in the hall, trying to connect the past fifteen
minutes. Dimitri’s uncharacteristic barking at his brother
and their mother’s newfound confidence, the crude vase and
its lovely flowers, and, of course, the memory of Aura in her
heartfelt concern and almost callous betrayal.
I went to the closet in our bedroom, looking to find one of my
three identical dark- blue suits. The first thing I noticed was
that the clothes had been rearranged. I didn’t know exactly
what had been where before, but things were neater and imposed-
upon with some kind of strict order. My suits were nowhere in
“What are you doing?” Katrina asked from the
“Looking for my blue suit.”
“I sent two of your blue suits to the cleaners. You
haven’t had them cleaned in a month.”
“What am I supposed to wear?” I said, turning to
Sometimes when Katrina smiled I remembered falling in love with
her. It lasted long enough to get married and make Dimitri.
After that things went sour. We never had sex and rarely even
“You have the ochre one,” she said.
“Where’s the one I wore home tonight?”
“In the hamper. The lapels were all spotted. Wear the
“I hate that suit.”
“Then why did you buy it?