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Excerpt

Excerpt

The Patriots Club

1

Thomas Bolden checked over his shoulder. The two men were still a
half block behind. They'd kept the same distance since he'd noticed
them soon after coming out of the hotel. He wasn't sure why they
bothered him. Both were tall and clean-cut, about his age. They
were respectably dressed in dark slacks and overcoats. At a glance,
they appeared unthreatening. They could be bankers headed home
after a late night at the office. College buddies hurrying to the
Princeton Club for a last round before closing. More likely, they
were two of the approximately three hundred guests who had suffered
through the dinner given in his honor.

And yet . . . they disturbed him.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," said Bolden. "What were you saying?"

"Where are you going to put it?" Jennifer Dance asked. "You know .
. . in your apartment?"

"Put it?" Bolden glanced at the large sterling-silver plate cradled
in Jenny's arms. "You mean I'm supposed to keep it on
display?"

The plate looked like the one awarded to the women's singles
champion at Wimbledon. This one, however, was engraved with the
words "Thomas F. Bolden. Harlem Boys Club Man of the Year." He'd
won plaques, medals, scrolls, and trophies, but never a plate. He
wondered what joker at the club had thought it up. Curling an arm
over Jenny's shoulders, he drew her close and said, "No, no, no.
This beautifully crafted hunk of lead is going straight into the
closet."

"You should be proud of it," Jenny protested.

"I am proud of it, but it's still going in the closet."

"It doesn't have to be the first thing you see when you walk in.
We'll put it someplace discreet. Maybe on the side table in the
hall leading from your bedroom to the bathroom. You worked hard for
this. You deserve to feel good about yourself."

Bolden looked at Jenny and grinned. "I feel fine about myself," he
said. "I just don't want to be reminded how great I am every time I
go take a leak. It's so . . . I don't know . . . so New
York."

" 'It ain't bragging if you can do it,' " Jenny said. "Those are
your words."

"I was talking about dunking a basketball. Now, that's an
accomplishment for a thirty-two-year-old white male who fudges
about being six feet tall. Next time get a picture of that, and
I'll put it on the table leading to the bathroom. Framed
even."

Nearing midnight on a Tuesday in mid-January, the narrow streets of
the city's financial district were deserted. The night sky hung
low, gray clouds scudding between the skyscrapers like fast-moving
ships. The temperature hovered at forty degrees, unseasonably warm
for this time of year. There was talk of a major storm system
hitting the Eastern seaboard, but the meteorologists looked to have
it wrong this time.

The annual gala benefiting the Harlem Boys Club had ended thirty
minutes earlier. It had been a ritzy affair: white tablecloths,
champagne cocktails, a four-course meal with fresh seafood instead
of chicken. Bolden had been too nervous about giving his speech to
enjoy the event. Besides, it wasn't his style. Too much
backslapping. Too many hands to shake. All that forced laughter.
His cheeks felt like a punching bag from all the busses he'd
gotten.

All in all, the event raised an even three hundred thousand
dollars. His cheeks could take a little roughing up for that kind
of change.

A drop of rain hit his nose. Bolden looked up, waiting for the
next, but nothing followed. He pulled Jenny closer and nuzzled her
neck. From the corner of his eye, he saw that the two men were
still there, maybe a little farther back, walking side by side,
talking animatedly. It wasn't the first time lately that he'd had
the sensation of being followed. There'd been a night last week
when he'd felt certain someone had been trailing him near his
apartment on Sutton Place. And just today at lunch, he'd been aware
of a presence hovering nearby. A nagging feeling that someone was
eyeing him. On neither occasion, however, had he been able to put a
face to his fears.

And now there were these two.

He glanced at Jenny and caught her staring at him. "What?"

"That's my Tommy," she said with her all-knowing smile. "You're so
afraid of letting it go."

"Letting what go?"

"The past. The whole 'Tommy B. from the wrong side of the tracks'
thing. You still walk as if you're on the mean streets of the Windy
City. Like a mobster on the lam or something, afraid someone's
going to recognize you."

"I do not," he said, then forced himself to push his shoulders back
and stand a little straighter. "Anyway, that's who I am. It's where
I come from."

"And this is where you are now. This is your world, too. Look at
yourself. You're a director at the snobbiest investment bank on
Wall Street. You have dinner all the time with politicians and big
shots. All those people didn't show up tonight for me . . . they
came for you. What you've achieved is pretty damned impressive,
mister."

Bolden dug his hands deep into his pockets. "Not bad for a gutter
rat."

She tugged at his sleeve. "I'm serious, Thomas."

"I guess you must be if you're calling me Thomas."

They walked a few steps, and she said, "Come on, Tommy. I'm not
saying it's time to join the Four Hundred. I'm just saying it's
time to let the past go. This is your world now."

Bolden shook his head. "Naw, I'm just passing through."

Jenny raised her eyes, exasperated. "You've been passing through
for seven years. That's long enough for someone from Swaziland to
become an American citizen. Don't you think it's enough to make you
a New Yorker? Besides, it's not such a bad place. Why don't you
stay awhile?"

Bolden stopped. Taking both of Jenny's hands in his, he turned to
face her. "I love it here, too. But you know me . . . I like to
keep my distance. I just don't want to get too close to them. All
the guys at work. The stuffed shirts. You gotta keep your distance,
or else they suck you in. Like body snatchers."

Jenny put her head back and laughed. "They're your friends."

"Associates, yes. Colleagues, maybe. But friends? I don't recall
getting too many invitations to dine at my friends' homes. Though
that may very well change after the looks I caught a couple of
those sleazebags giving you tonight."

"You jealous?"

"Damn straight."

"Really?" Jenny smiled disarmingly.

She was tall and blond, with an athlete's toned body, and the best
skyhook since Kareem. Her face was open and honest, given to
determined stares and crooked smiles. She taught seventh, eighth,
and ninth grade at a special ed school in the Village. She liked to
say that it was just like the school in Little House on the
Prairie, all the kids in one classroom, except that her kids were
what the system labeled high-risk teens. High-risk teens were the
bad eggs: the boys and girls who'd been expelled from their
ordinary schools and were doing time with Jenny until they could be
reformed, remolded, and reassigned to a public school that would
take them. They were quite a bunch. Drug dealers, thieves,
hustlers, and hookers, and not one over the age of fifteen. She
wasn't a teacher, so much as a lion tamer.

"By the way," she said nonchalantly. "Dinner's been over awhile and
you still have your tie on."

"Do I?" Bolden's hand shot to his neck. "It's begun. The body
snatchers have me. Pretty soon, I'll be wearing pink shirts and
white loafers and putting on tight black bicycle shorts when I hit
the gym. I'll start listening to opera and o-pining about wine. I
may even join a country club."

"They're not so bad. Our kids would love it."

"Kids!" Bolden stared at her, aghast. "You're one of them, too! I'm
done for."

They walked in silence for a while. Jenny tilted her head on his
shoulder and laced her fingers through his. Bolden caught their
reflection in a window. He was hardly a match for her. His neck was
too thick, his jaw too wide, and his dark hair receding quickly at
the temples. What remained was thick and peppered with gray and cut
close to the scalp. Thirty-two was definitely not young in his
business. His face was stern, with steadfast brown eyes, and a
directness of gaze that some men found intimidating. His lips were
thin, rigid. His chin split by a hatchet. He looked like a man on
equal terms with uncertainty. A reliable man. A man to have at your
side in the lurch. He was surprised how natural the tux looked on
him. Scarier was the fact that he almost felt natural wearing it.
Immediately, he yanked off his bow tie and stuffed it in his
pocket.

A New Yorker, he said to himself. Mr. Big Shot with a silver plate
on the way to the pisser.

No. That wasn't him.

He was just Tom Bolden, a kid from the Midwest with neither
birthright nor pedigree, and no illusions. His mother had left when
he was six. He never knew his father. He grew up as a ward of the
state of Illinois, a survivor of too many foster families to count,
a graduate of Illinois' most notorious reform school, and at
seventeen, a felon. The conviction was sealed under court order.
Even Jenny didn't know about it.

Arm in arm, they continued up Wall Street. Past number 23 Wall, the
old headquarters of J. P. Morgan when they were the world's most
powerful bankers. Not ten feet away, an anarchist's bomb had gone
off in 1920, killing three dozen employees and bystanders, and
upending a Model T. The chinks in the wall from the shrapnel had
never been repaired and were still visible. Across the street stood
the New York Stock Exchange, a huge American flag draped across the
Corinthian columns, nothing less than a temple to capitalism. To
their right, a steep flight of stairs led to Federal Hall, the seat
of government when the nation's capital had been situated in New
York City.

"You know what today is?" he asked.

"Tuesday the eighteenth?"

"Yes, it's Tuesday the eighteenth. And . . . ? You mean you don't
remember?"

"Oh, my God," gasped Jenny. "I'm so sorry. It's just that with the
dinner and finding a dress and everything else . . ."

Just then, Bolden dropped her hand and vaulted up a few stairs.
"Follow me," he said.

"What are you doing?"

"Come on. Up here. Sit down." Turning, he indicated to Jenny to
take a seat.

"It's cold." She eyed him curiously, then climbed the stairs and
sat. He grinned, loving this part. The before. The wind blew
stronger, tousling her hair around her face. She had wonderful
hair, thick, naturally curly, as many colors as a field of summer
wheat. He remembered seeing her for the first time. It was on the
basketball court at the Y. She pulled off a between-the-legs
dribble followed by a twenty-foot jumper that hit nothing but net.
She'd been wearing red athletic shorts, a baggy tank top, and Air
Jordans. He looked at her now, wrapped in a black overcoat, collar
turned up, her makeup just so, and felt his breath catch. Miss
Jennifer Dance cleaned up nice.

"What's the world coming to when the man's got to remember the big
dates?" Delving into an inside pocket, he pulled out a slim
rectangular box wrapped in royal maroon paper and handed it to her.
It took him a second or two to find his voice. "Three years. You've
made them the best of my life."

Jenny looked between him and the box. Slowly, she unwrapped it. She
hadn't even cracked the thing, and she was already getting teary.
Bolden blinked rapidly and looked away. "Go on," he said.

Jenny held her breath and opened the box. "Tommy, this is . . ."
She held up the Cartier wristwatch, her expression stranded between
awe and disbelief.

"I know. It's vulgar. It's gauche. It's---"

Excerpted from THE PATRIOTS CLUB © Copyright 2011 by
Christopher Reich. Reprinted with permission by Bantam, a division
of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Patriots Club
by by Christopher Reich

  • Mass Market Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 044024143X
  • ISBN-13: 9780440241430