Even The Wicked Page 47

One afternoon we stopped in at a reception at Chance Coulter\s art gallery on upper Madison Avenue, then had dinner with Ray Gruliow and his wife. We ended the night at Danny Boy Bell\s table at a new cellar jazz club in the west nineties, listening to a young man who\d listened a lot to Coltrane when he wasn\ listening to Sonny Rollins. The following afternoon Mick called to say someone had given him a good pair of seats for the Knicks game, and could Elaine and I use them? Elaine, who feels about basketball the way Mick feels about ballet, insisted that I go with Mick. We watched them lose to the Hornets in overtime, and she met the two of us afterward for dinner at Paris Green.

The night before Christmas we had dinner at home. She made pasta and a salad and we thought about having a fire in the fireplace and decided it was more trouble than it\s worth. Besides, she said, Santa might sue. During the evening the phone rang a few times, with the usual round of holiday greetings. One of the callers was Tom Havlicek, telling me I\d once again managed to miss the opening day of deer season. ’’Damn,’’ I said. ’’I\d marked it on my calendar, too.’’ He asked for an update on Havemeyer, and I filled him in and told him his fellow Ohioan had a good lawyer and would probably wind up with a relatively light sentence.

Jason would be interested, he said. The boy had been buying the New York papers and clipping the stories. And he\d spent a long afternoon with Tom in Massillon, getting a little career advice. He was talking about taking a couple of undergraduate courses in police science, then getting his law degree and passing the bar exam, and then going into some form of police work.

’’My guess is he\ll land in the DA\s office,’’ he said, ’’but the way he\s talking now he wants to wear blue and carry a badge. You ever hear of a working cop with a law school diploma on his wall?’’ I said he\d probably wind up being Massillon\s next chief of police, and Tom made a rude noise. ’’For that,’’ he said, ’’you need two things I hope he\ll never have, a fat ass and a foul disposition. And you never heard me say that.’’

Shortly before midnight the two of us walked up to St. Paul\s. It was a clear night, and not too cold, and it looked as though they were having a decent turnout for midnight mass. Our destination, however, was not the sanctuary but the basement, where my AA group was having our annual midnight meeting. It\s an open meeting, not limited to self-declared alcoholics, so Elaine was welcome. For the occasion, candles provided the illumination, and there was a better-than-usual selection of cookies laid out by the coffee urns, but in every other respect it was a typical meeting, with the speaker\s drinking story taking up the first twenty minutes or so and round-robin sharing filling out the hour.

At one o\clock we said the serenity prayer and put the chairs away and walked home, and by the time we got there we decided not to wait until morning to open our presents. I got a cardigan sweater from Barney\s and a silk shirt from Bergdorf\s, along with firm instructions to take them back and exchange them if I didn\ think I was likely to wear them. I also got a hat from Worth &Worth-’’because you got the hat trick,’’ she said, ’’so I figured you earned it.’’

’’It\s a different style for me.’’

’’It\s a homburg. Does it fit? It should, it\s the same size as your fedora. Try it on. What do you think?’’

’’Well, it fits. I think I like it. It\s dressier than the fedora, isn\ it?’’

’’A little bit. Let\s see. Oh, I really like it.’’

’’It\s me, huh?’’

’’Not every man could wear a hat like that.’’

’’But I can?’’

’’They should use you in their ads,’’ she said. ’’You old bear.’’

She seemed to like her presents. I made her open the earrings last, and the light that came into her eyes told me I\d chosen well. ’’You wait here,’’ she said. ’’I want to try them on. Give me the homburg.’’

’’What for?’’

’’Just gimme.’’

She went into the bathroom and emerged a few minutes later wearing the hat and the earrings and nothing else. ’’Well?’’ she said. ’’What do you think?’’

’’I think the earrings really make the outfit.’’

’’Yeah? What else do you think?’’

’’Come here,’’ I said, ’’and I\ll show you.’’

* * *

We slept late Christmas morning, and were in the middle of breakfast when the doorman called on the intercom to tell us we had a visitor who gave his name as TJ. Send him up, I said.

’’I gave my name as TJ,’’ he said, ’’ \cause that be who I am, Sam.’’

He\d brought presents, wrapped and tied with ribbon. Elaine\s was an antique dresser set, a brush and comb and hand mirror and scissors, all backed in mother of pearl. ’’This is beautiful,’’ she said. ’’How did you know to buy me this?’’

’’Saw you lookin\ at one the time we went to the Twenty-sixth Street flea market. Only it wasn\ in good shape so you put it back. So I figured I might could find one in better condition.’’

’’You\ e amazing,’’ she said.

’’Yeah, well, Merry Christmas, you know?’’

’’Merry Christmas, TJ.’’

To me he said, ’’What you waitin\ for? Ain\ you gonna open yours?’’

It was a card case covered in ostrich skin. It was quite elegant, and I told him so.

’’Figured you could use it. For your business cards, you know? Open it up, this here\s the best part. See? Two compartments. What They say is one\s for your cards and one\s for cards people give to you, but what I figured is one\s for your cards and the other\s for the fake ones you use when you\s representin\ yourself to be somebody you ain\ .’’

’’The perfect gift,’’ Elaine said, ’’for the man who has everything except integrity.’’

He unwrapped his presents, which included a sweater she\d picked out for Jiim and a new wallet. ’’ \Cause yours was lookin\ a little shabby, Abby,’’ she said, and he rolled his eyes. She told him to look inside, and he found the gift certificate.

’’Because it\s bad luck to give a wallet with nothing in it,’’ she explained.

’’Brooks Brothers,’’ he said. ’’Buy me somethin\ slick to wear on the Deuce.’’

’’God help the Deuce,’’ I said, and stood up and stretched. ’’Well, so much for Christmas.’’

’’It be over already?’’

’’Just about. Right now there\s something I need your help with across the street.’’

’’What, in the hotel? Can\ be movin\ furniture. You ain\ hardly got none.’’

’’No heavy lifting,’’ I said. ’’That\s a promise.’’

* * *

TJ\s face is expressive, but only when he wants it to be. I guess you learn to mask your emotions on the street. I\ve seen him receive information that astounded him without any of his surprise showing in his eyes.

But when I opened the door to my hotel room I was able to get a good look at his face, and the mask slipped. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped.

’’You got one,’’ he said, approaching the desk reverently. ’’Never thought you would. Told you an\ told you, but I never thought you would. Elaine bought it for you, didn\ she?’’

I shook my head. ’’I picked it out myself.’’

’’It\s a Mac,’’ he announced. ’’They easier to learn, what everybody says. That girl helped me learn all that shit about cyanide? She\s got a Mac. Probably teach me how to use it. Not to do like the Kongs can do, but regular stuff. An\ there\s courses I can take, an\ other people can teach me things. Shit, you got everything here. Got a printer, got a modem. Don\ tell me you hooked this up all by yourself?’’

’’The fellow who sold it to me helped set it up. He also installed all the software he assured me I couldn\ live without. The disks and boxes are in the closet, and there\s a stack of manuals on the chair.’’

’’Takes up space,’’ he said. ’’That why you set it up here \stead of \cross the street?’’

’’That\s one reason.’’

He picked up a thick instruction manual, riffled the pages, returned it to the stack. ’’Keep us both readin\ for months,’’ he said. ’’Man, you really did it. Bought yourself a real present.’’



’’It s for you,’’ I said. ’’Merry Christmas.’’

’’It\s for me?’’

’’That\s right.’’

’’No it ain\ ,’’ he said. ’’I likely to be the one uses it the most, but that don\ make it mine.’’

’’I bought it for you,’’ I said, ’’and I\m giving it to you. That\s what makes it yours.’’

’’You serious?’’

’’Of course I\m serious,’’ I said. ’’Merry Christmas.’’

He was a moment taking it all in. ’’That be why it\s over here,’’ he said. ’’So I can fool with it an\ not be disturbin\ you an\ Elaine. You be able to fix it up with them downstairs so I can come up anytime I want?’’

’’How could they stop you?’’

’’What you mean? They own the hotel, they stop anybody they want.’’

’’Not if it\s your room.’’

’’Say what?’’

I tossed him the key and he snatched it out of the air. I said, ’’I\ve had this place for twenty years, and the rent\s so low I\d be crazy to give it up. But I never use it. I come here maybe once a month to sulk and make free phone calls. What do I need it for?’’

’’So you givin\ it to me?’’

’’I\ll go on paying the rent,’’ I said, ’’and I\ll be the tenant of record, so that it stays rent-controlled. But they\ll know at the desk that I\m letting you stay here, and Santa Claus was nice enough to them this year so that they won\ give you a hard time.’’ I shrugged. ’’I may drop by now and then to make long-distance calls, or to watch you perform miracles on the computer, but I won\ show up without calling first. Because it\s your place now.’’

He turned toward the computer, rested his fingers on the keyboard. ’’Guess you figure I ain\ got no place of my own,’’ he said.

’’As a matter of fact,’’ I said, ’’I\m personally convinced you\ve got six homes of your own, including a penthouse on Sutton Place and a beachfront cottage in Barbados. But I\m a selfish son of a bitch, and I wanted to manipulate you into living right across the street from us.’’

’’Figured you had a reason.’’ He was still looking at the computer. He was silent for a moment, and then he said, ’’You know, I ain\ cried in years. Last time was when my grandmother came home from the doctor\s an\ said she was gonna die. Then when she did die I was real sad, you know, but I was cool with it. I didn\ part with no tears. An\ I ain\ cried since.’’

I didn\ say anything.

’’An\ I don\ want to cry,’’ he said. ’’So there\s stuff I\d be sayin\ now, \out you an\ Elaine, an\ how, you know, how I feel an\ all. But I ain\ gonna say it.’’

’’I understand.’’

’’ \Cause if I was to try to say it...’’

’’I understand.’’

’’But that don\ mean it don\ be real, \cause it do.’’

’’I understand that, too.’’

’’Yeah, well you real understanding Brandon.’’ He turned toward me, under control now. ’’Merry Christmas,’’ he said.

’’Merry Christmas.’’

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