CHAPTER 8. The Many-Angled Some (Part 1).

The once rich carpet in the landing outside Aunt Matilda's condo had aged. Unit 21A's doors stood shut and were far too thick to leak any sound from the occupant: Troy Adams, Esquire, associate partner at Goldemar, Hinzelman, and Hodekin. The drooping calla lilies in the corner vases sat unchanged due to the holiday. Bill frowned. The Mertroy Tower's monthly dues were in the thousands.

He waited on the sole elevator. It served only five floors, and for Bill, its descent was express. He checked his hair in the baroque mirror. The key ring around his index finger flipping, again and again, its contents away and back into his palm. Twenty-first floor, express elevators. His face smoothed from its usual focus. Two years, an eternity, since university days; not communal living, no academic housing, with the Plantation history he'd share no roof again...

Instead, above the fifth story of a ninety-year-old apartment building—never an elevator to begin with—nestled inside the mansard roof, Bill made his collegiate home in a spartan attic loft. Two of the walls creeping in over you as they climbed higher. It was a bedroom with afterthought "kitchenette" and a microscopic bathroom, no closet: his clothes stored in a battered, antique armoire, which was where he learned to make use of a sachet. From the corner of a spare bookcase, the ouroboros talisman from the gypsy fortune-teller dangled. Beneath it, the slim desk held the laptop stealing wifi from the cougar downstairs, the password (her dead son's birthday) Bill guessed after a chaste afternoon of tea and conversation. It was his mechanic-friend Cecil's first visit. They were waiting to arrive fashionably late to a winter kegger. He wandered around poking at record albums, staring at an Ann Hawksley original hanging on the bare brick wall.

"You're like a fish outta water," Cecil said, "but eh? not really. Half-and-half, what they call those weird fish? A mudskipper. This's like mud, you're a mudskipper."

"Your critique of my decorating is rather pointed."

"Hell, Ken, you know what I'm meaning."

"The hero's journey starts base and grows to greatness. Thirteen more months until my twenty-second birthday."

"Then you'll be thinkin' on paying me back these hundred hours of labor on the GTV?"

"Why Cecil, I have never known you to be uncharitable. We are doing it together, male-bonding," and Bill opened another Stella Artois from the mini-fridge and handed it to his friend. He sipped a Finlandia gimlet to prepare for the night out.

"Yeah, yeah. I'd prefer you just gave me savings bonds." The mechanic peaked into the armoire filled with Fendi and Burberry shirts; this was still when young Bill wore tight leather jackets and limited-edition sneakers in ridiculous colors. "Jesus, you got more clothes than my mother. No wonder we're tiptoeing through junkyards stealing shit to rebuild this car. You're broke, Ken," to which Bill turned his empty pockets inside out. Cecil sought to change the topic, "What are you majoring this semester?"


Cecil choked on his beer, his spittle missing the rug and landing on the bare floorboards. He threw his head back and laughed in the way you imagined could go with a thigh slap, though none came. Bill chuckled with him.

"How many that make now?!"

"Seven," Bill answered, "depending on how generous you wish to be with my Pre-Med phase. To be honest, there are courses required I am unlikely to take. But what to do? Go into the Humanities, never. They are a screechy joke."

Cecil collapsed into the cheap rattan chair where Bill only sat to dawn his socks. He waved the Stella around, gesturing to the other unslanted wall where two framed posters hung, Bill explaining them as anti-fascist propaganda from the Spanish Civil War (they, along with the sachet, the only things he took to the Mertroy). Bill liked them because they were Art Deco. He also could use them to instruct the socially charged college girls he brought home in their romantic tragedy, and if they were on the fence before about fucking, it put them in the mood. Cecil laughed, "Always playing angles..."

The doors across the landing opened and fractured the memory. Troy Adams emerged with two long-legged women in Givenchy minidresses still wrinkled from last night. He was saying to them, "A whole generation of kids who saw Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and thought it was instructional instead of cautionary—Oh, hey there, neighbor."

Bill nodded to them, his smile tight-lipped. Unfortunately, they rode down to the parking garage together, and so Bill sought to amuse himself:

"Shame what happened to Goldemar at the Kobald Club last Thursday," he said. Howell Goldemar was Troy's mentor. "A very strong constitution indeed to hide epilepsy all these years. I am sure his court cases are sound."

Troy slouched against the wall and sucked on a bottle of Evian, shirt untucked, tie undone. He smacked and gasped. He said, "Didn't think you'd have heard that."

"I was present. I am a member."

Troy nodded and gave a lop-sided grin, "Yes, you certainly are..."

The women snickered, one before the other. Despite their ablutions, they still stuck of sex.

By necessity they parted in the subterranean garage, each blinded by the 3000-lumen bulbs—stepping out onto the surface of the sun. Troy and his escorts, holding hands, ran over to the hulking shadow of limousine bound for God-knows-what debauchery. Bill shielded his eyes with Cuttler and Gross sunglasses and took the leftmost parking aisle. He ignored the Rolls Royce Ghost in space 21B1 because hidden behind it was the 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV. Compact, round, fast and loud, and in battleship gray with a red interior, it was one of the most perfect cars ever built. The trust fund only doled out an allowance while Bill was in college, and his tastes soon outpaced his means. After stumbling upon his love of driving, Bill befriended young Cecil, and they spent the semesters rebuilding it on the cheap. In between greasy labor and hunting junkyards for parts, they haunted dingy pool halls, and Bill exposed the townie to university parties, and they pursued every lewd woman of legal age in that distant frozen city. Their work finished around the time Bill turned twenty-two and entered the fullness of his inheritance. He took possession of the refurbished automobile and had it shipped the nine-hundred miles home, changed his phone number, and left for his second European excursion without graduating. Cecil still believed he went by Ken.

The Alfa roared to life and shot up the Mertroy's garage ramp and flew upon the westward interstate. A Dave Brubeck album played: jazz for people who preferred the predictable.


The Plantation sat forty miles inland from the city. Over one-hundred-seventy years old, it sprawled across six thousand acres, the pastures and fields long overgrown into fey meadows and dusky timberland; coquina structures at the edge of the house grounds held slaves before the Civil War and remained empty for a century until Skip put up a fence and used them for kennels. Otherwise, the estate was a green, dewy Eden in the middle of a wasteland. The three surrounding villages rationed their water supplies as their yards dried up and blew away and their once famous lakes evaporated leaving ugly basins with useless peers jutting into the parched air. The Plantation drained their aquifer, and Callahan money ensured the researchers' silence.

Bill took the service driveway which led to his father's workshop and warehouses over the bluff from the family compound. There the road was narrow with the enjoyable curves of a dancer. Where the asphalt ended on either side, the ground sloped into deep ditches, the kind which yearned for a corpse. Unlike the main drive, there was no view. Claustrophobic woods clawed inward at the lane of precious sunshine. At night, when he departs, only the headlamps of his car would light the trail, black as an old train tunnel; a dread place the likes of which waited beyond the campfires of Prehistoric Man. Now, the Alfa screamed through the forest, throwing up a cyclone of pine needles as it passed, and Bill was as content as he could be on his family's estate. This was Bill's childhood home. He could not wait to flee.

A panel van idled in the auto court before the prefabricated metal buildings of Skip's studio. The vehicle groaned under a nervous internal movement. Black-suited clones with earpieces and sunglasses shooed away any wandering guests. One caught the keys Bill tossed it, while another mumbled into a cufflink microphone.

A pleasant vindication relaxed him as he climbed the flagstone steps and looked out over the driveway crammed with the press of so many European cars. A helicopter idled upon the west lawn. Bill carried a bottle of Chartreuse V.E.P. Yellow stuffed in a bag of ice he discovered in the back of his Liebherr refrigerator. He rejected themed beverages as a principle—always imbalanced and oversweet.

Bill adopted a pace of practiced aplomb and mingled into the crowd entering through the front door. Discreet builders transplanted the sprawling foyer marble slab by marble slab from an Italian palazzo in Florence, under cover of night. Paintings, expensive and not, dominated every inch of wall space. The Matron Barker-Callahan loved to have overnight guests paint for her. Few remember doing so because Skip enjoyed making them drink Ayahuasca before they started, gleaning soul-insight from their hallucinogen-induced artwork. People returned and stared at a picture for an hour, wondering why it should make them cry. Bill had found disturbing a dour marionette sitting by a dry fountain in a cubist garden but had since seen to its destruction while his parents were touring the Hindu Kush. An original Roy Lichtenstein, Yellow Brushstroke 1985, hung in its place and neither his mother nor Skip ever noticed.

The floor of broken glass boiled with ensemble guests swaying to Skip's gaudy contemporary music; they spilled into the red salon where they gyrated and crowed and disrobed in overheated fits. Just to look at them didn't show it, but these were Tom Wolfe's "Masters of the Universe." A merchant of death talked shop with the heroic captain of a Barker Mercantile container ship, North Korean spies debated Star Wars (the 1983 Reagan program, not the films) with NSA liquidators, New Yorker cartoonists and Formula One drivers played Quarters on a Chippendale side table, and a Right Wing analyst zipped through the crowd in his motorized wheelchair chasing skirt. The whole scene was a fantasy: geopolitical fan fiction.

Bill made for a servant's door after only dispensing scant "Hello's" to guests and fewer "Howdy's" to a trio of Oklahoma frackers. His pace increased while ignoring, "What ho there, Billy!" from a dentist he knew to be the only boring big-game hunter.

To the kitchen where old Duval, marshaling a catering crew of thirty, dispensed bite-sized delicacies from this eye-of-storm command center. For five decades he had supplied Mary Barker's gourmet tastes for Jamón ibérico, Tartufo Bianco di Alba, Limfjord oysters, and masquerading as a respected university ornithologist, Duval had even purchased ortolan buntings (prepared in such a cruel manner that when eaten diners placed a napkin over their head to hide from God). He stood over the second island, pudgy fingers assembling a platter of delicate snapper crudo with chiles and sesame, and toweled off the steady sweat staining his ruddy cheeks. When he saw Bill, a smile stretched his salt and pepper mustache wide.

"Look, Master William is here!" Duval slapped Horatio on the back. The cancerous, patchy-haired gardener swiveled his owl eyes across the kitchen, said nothing and returned to watching Beef Wellington bites crisp in the oven. "Dashing as always. The spitting image of a young Peter O'Toole, I tell you." Duval had been making that comparison for the past decade, and despite the... undertones, Bill accepted the compliment. Duval nodded to the other guests lounging in the room until they acknowledged his flattery. "He's brought ice, too. That's forward thinking, son."

"Actually—Hello, hello everyone. I have something else." Bill produced the wet bottle of Chartreuse and handed it to Duval who inspected the label with an intense sincerity. The great smile returned.

"Server! Yes, you! What other servers can I see? Take this, I want a round of Alaska Cocktails for these kitchen-bound kindreds." Duval nodded to Bill with a solemn surety. The boy stood with the bottle in hand, trying to form his question. "Young people..." Duval commiserated with Bill. "Two parts gin—Hendricks, if you please—one part this Chartreuse, one, count them, one dash of orange bitters, garnish with lemon peel... Don't make me repeat myself!" and the server darted to the nearest wet bar. "Just you wait, Master William, old Duval will never steer you wrong."

"SO! What's new with you?" said Mrs. McKenzie-Walsh, parroting the stalest conversation starter left to the English language. She touched Bill, rubbed his shoulder, and continued, "They say nothing of you, your parents. You're their special secret or something. I mean, they know everything my Haddie's up to, but your mother is soooo tight-lipped with what's going on with you. Are you working somewhere? I'd not be surprised a'tall if you go into advertising like your daddy. Oh honey, don't you think Billy'd do great in advertising? always so well-spoken."

"Yep." Alderman Walsh stole another endive spear with artichoke pesto from the hors d'oeuvre platter under assembly. Duval giving the politician a vicious side-eye.

"I haven't seen them clogs in ages," said Miss Odell inspecting Bill's saddle shoes. She had been the maid and nanny in the house of seven state governors and long fed gossip to his mother after a "chance" meeting at a book club. "When I was a little'un in Savannah, I had a pair myself."

"Fashion is cyclical," said Bill, and for the Walshes, "I always have a place with Connelly-Grimstone-Treadwell, my father's old firm where the trust holds a board seat, but I am exploring many opportunities in public work. To give back to the community." Alderman Walsh's head cocked, and he glanced at Bill with a rheumy eye. "Respectable private sector jobs for graduates these days are... I just read a study saying underemployment among graduates is at forty—"

The Alderman cut in, "Don't remember hearing you graduat—"

"Ah! Here we are," rang Duval. He passed out the delicate crystal from the silver tray. "A toast to old friends, new friends, and those wonderful people who keep forcing us together! Ah-haha!"

A room filled with knowing smiles, save the gardener Horatio who held his drink high behind him and continued to monitor the oven. As the collective came close, Dr. Burnes, the urologist, wandered into the kitchen, and scanning the contents of their beverages against the ceiling lights, joked, "That's not a healthy specimen."

The guests half-heartedly clinked their glasses. None took a sip.