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"The infant mortality rate in Central Harlem and the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn is almost double the city rate, and twice as high as the national rate, according to a recent report.
"The report . . . showed that of every 1,000 babies born in 1980, 27.8 in Central Harlem died and 26.6 in Fort Greene died. The citywide infant mortality rate was 16.1 per 1,000 births compared with 12.5 per 1,000 births nationwide. . . .
"The infant mortality rate for minorities here in 1979 was 68% greater than the rate among white New Yorkers, the report indicated.
"The infant mortality rate is an indicator used to measure the quality of life . . ."

—Esther Ross, New York Amsterdam News,
August 21, 1982
"In the first years after the [First World] War, 70 black Americans were lynched, many of them still in uniform. Fourteen were burned publicly by white citizens; 11 of them were burned alive. During the 'Red Summer' of 1919, there were no fewer than 25 race riots across the country. A riot in the nation's capitol lasted 3 days; in Chicago, 38 people were killed and 537 injured during 13 days of mob rule."

—C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America 
"The white man need expect no more Negro blood to be shed on his behalf . . . the dying to be done by the black man in the future will be done to make himself free."

—Marcus Garvey, 1920
"There's a shitstorm coming."

—Norman Mailer, The White Negro 


It was, of course, just after they had passed the last exit from the New England Thruway that the car cleared its throat apologetically.

"Ahem. Excuse me," it said with its usual irritating diffidence. "I will be needing fuel within the next fifty klicks."

Russell Grant groaned silently; had traffic permitted, he would have rolled his eyes skyward.

"Oh, good,"fourteen-year-old Jennifer said from her niche in the back seat, confirming his worst fear. "I've been needing a bathroom for simply klicks."

"Me too," Dena agreed before he could speak, and Russell's dismay increased.

"Sorry, ladies," he said to both of his passengers and the car. "We just left the land of rest-stops behind. The next toilet you see will be called New York." And we'll be lucky to find proper fuel there, he thought to himself; I'll probably have to leave the carburetor set for gasoline.

"Dad-ee," Jennifer cried in horror. "Why didn't you tell me before we passed the exit?"

"For the same reason you didn't ask me, princess," he said as patiently as he could. Jennifer required him to explain the obvious considerably less often than might most fourteen-year-olds; consequently he tried to bear her occasional lapses. "Because I didn't think of it. Sorry."

"Can't be helped," his wife said at once. "We'll survive, Jennifer. Hang on to it—it's good exercise."

Russell almost glanced at Dena, wondering if she meant what he thought she meant. But he preferred not to find out. Besides, the road demanded his full attention. "Get the map for me, would you, hon?"

Dena keyed it to display on her side of the windshield. "We want the Bruckner Expressway, I think. It'll say either that or 'Route 278.'"

"Got it." He liked the way his wife gave directions. Short, clear, accurate. It was one of several thousand things about her that he liked.

They came to a toll booth. Dena got out the coins, and he fed them to the hopper when they reached it. "Welcome to the Empire State," Jennifer read aloud.

It was as though the invisible border between Connecticut and the State of New York had real, tangible existence; things changed. It began subliminally. The traffic seemed no heavier or more aggressive than it had been since Boston—but the individual cars were older, shabbier, more battle-scarred. Potholes became worse, then more frequent. The sky itself seemed to darken just perceptibly.

But the first change that Russell Grant consciously noticed was the sound. It grew from a hum to a distant rumble, audible even over the sound of traffic and the rush of air through his open window.

The realization of what he was hearing struck him all at once. It was the approach of New York City. The three days' drive from Halifax, Nova Scotia was nearly over.

Russell was more than ready for the trip to end: his whole body was one large cramp. Above and beyond the physical discomforts, he had been, for the last eight hundred klicks or so, an uneasy combination of bored silly and scared to death, with absolutely nothing to do except meditate, chat with his wife and daughter, listen to music, watch yellow and white lines whiz at him, and foil the occasional and unpredictable attempt of a homicidal psychopath to kill them all.

But as he realized now how eager he was for this journey to end, Russell realized simultaneously, and for the first time, how little prepared he was to reach his destination. A small voice in his head whispered, you have not thought this thing through. Somehow in the last umptyhundred klicks of highway narcosis, of jumbled thoughts and boredom, he had neglected to get ready for New York.

It rumbled now on his horizon, approaching at over 100 kph, and heaven help him if he slowed down.

"Damn," he said, trying to sound cheerful. "I can actually hear the city coming."

"I can smell it," Jennifer said grumpily. She was not ready for New York either.

Russell raised the car windows and put the air conditioning on low. "Nonsense. That's the East River you're smelling. The smell of the city itself could never penetrate that."

But his attempt at light humour fell through, because by then they were barreling through the South Bronx, and what was visible to their right struck them all speechless.

"Harsh!" Jennifer was the first of the three to regain her powers of speech. She was a prodigiously bright and imaginative child; both her father and stepmother had laboured mightily—and successfully—to develop her faculty of empathy; nonetheless, she was fourteen years old. The horror of the South Bronx in the year of Our Lord 1996 was, to her, primarily an aesthetic offense.

"Fuck," Russell breathed finally. He ordinarily made a point of cussing creatively, but on this occasion invention failed him. "It's worse than I remember. It's worse than I read. It's worse than I imagined."

Russell was forty-eight years old. He had been born in New York, but had not lived there since early adolescence; he had been living in Canada, in the pleasant seaport city of Halifax, for the last twenty-odd years. Aesthetic dismay was a strong component of his own reaction. He was a designer; this was obscenity. But human empathy for the pain implicit in what he was seeing shocked him just as badly.

And there was a third component to his emotional turmoil, represented by the foreground past which he saw the South Bronx. In the background, the burned out cars were black; the burned out buildings were black; the glassless, curtainless windows opened onto a deeper black; the doomed faces seen in some of those windows were mostly black; the few doomed people visible on the streets were black. He saw all this past the hair, the nape and part of the left cheek of his wife, all of which were also black.

Dena's curly hair was the kind of black that is sometimes called blue black. Her complexion was very close to true black, the deep, glowing black of lightly burnished obsidian, and as she turned her face forward Russell saw that it might as well have been carved out of that volcanic glass.

What must it be like for her? he wondered. His designer's mind groped for an analogy. Perhaps an American Jew driving past Dachau in a brand new Ford, while the ovens were still in operation? That made him the Nazi behind the wheel. Dena had been born and raised in Halifax—not in the North Preston ghetto outside Dartmouth, or in the tiny slum district around Gottingen Street, but in the South End of the city. Both of her parents full professors at Dalhousie University, she had been one of the comparative handful of Haligonian blacks who grew up in, and were fully accepted into, white society. Poor blacks were as despised and feared in Halifax as in any other city (although some met with great tolerance in rural Nova Scotia, where everyone was poor), but middle-class blacks fitted in well. Halifax was one of the few remaining cities in North America in which interracial couples—such as Russell and Dena—could walk together anywhere without the slightest paranoia. While no black person grew up anywhere without a deep awareness of racism, Dena had throughout her life been subjected to about the absolute minimum of personal contact with it.

Now they were racing together toward the Big Apple.

Tell me again, he said to himself, why this is necessary. Remind me, please.

Okay. Dena is a dancer. Not, Dena dances sometimes, or Dena has done a lot of dancing, or even Dena dearly loves to dance. Dena is a dancer, a Modern dancer. Not a choreographer, a dance maker. Not a particularly good teacher. A dancer. Give her some choreography, put a dance on her, and she will go out there and dance it better than almost anyone on earth, make it live and sing. Dena is a gifted dancer, gifted by God. And God is an Indian giver.

Dena is a thirty-seven-year-old dancer . . .

The injuries have been coming more frequently, taking longer to heal, healing imperfectly. A normal human being would probably envy Dena her physical conditioning; nonetheless she has no more than one or two good years left. If that long: tomorrow an ankle or a knee could let go, just like that, or that fourth lumbar could decide to start chewing on her sciatic again—and not let up this time.

And her old friend Lisa Dann has offered her a chance—one last chance—to dance in New York, and not just in New York but at the Joyce Theatre, the showcase, the worldwide Mecca of Modern dance. The opportunity cannot be passed up . . . and so the Grant family is entering the combat zone.

Only temporarily, Russell reminded himself. Only for three months. A quick smash-and-grab; hopefully we'll be in and out before the city notices we're there.

As if on cue, the skyline of Manhattan appeared on the port bow, shimmering in the heat.

"There it is," Russell said a little too jovially, glad to end the uneasy silence in the car. "La Grande Pomme."

"Gee." Jennifer was impressed. Child-geniuses were even harder to impress than normal fourteen-year-olds—but this was New York. 

"Sure looks pretty," Dena said quietly. (Was there the slightest hint of emphasis on the second word?)

"Just look at the energy being thrown away," Russell said. "One day they're going to have to put a Fuller Dome over that town."

"Yuck," Dena said as politely as that syllable can be said. "New York is dark enough already."

"Transparent dome."

"And how long would it stay transparent over that smog?"

"Hmmm. Touché. But dammit, look at that thing. You couldn't design a more efficient energy waster—all those hot spires sticking out into ocean breeze, like the biggest radiator in the world. The only thing I can think of that has that much built-in waste is . . ." His voice trailed off.

Dena waited, then said softly, "Something?"

"Huh. It just came to me. The two most energy-wasteful appliances in the world. Just as stupid, in their own way, as that skyline. Two of the most common appliances in the world—naturally."

"The stereo and the TV," Jennifer said at once.

Russell chuckled. "No, princess. The refrigerator and the stove. A fridge spills money on the floor every time you open it. And an oven spills money on the ceiling the same way. Now, if you designed a fridge to lay on its back, like a freezer, and moved the heat-sucker so it wouldn't be underneath . . . or if you designed an oven door to roll up like a garage door . . ."

"The fridge would take up too much room," Dena said argumentatively. "And it'd be too hard to get at stuff in it."

"Well, maybe . . . but suppose you combined the two, the fridge and the stove? Silly to have a heat-maker and a heat-loser side by side, unconnected."

"I don't see it. Connect them how?"

He did not answer. He went instead into something as near to a warm creative fog as is possible for a man driving on a New York highway. His women left him alone in it; he did not see the glance they exchanged. The fog lasted through several successive toll booths, all the way through the Bronx and across the Triboro Bridge.

And then he heard Dena's cry, and looked to his left. "Creeping Jesus!"

The overpass that led to the FDR Drive was down. Russell knew just enough about municipal construction to be certain that it had been dynamited, recently, by a freelancer. That shocked him, but not as badly as the secondary realization that he was now committed to driving his family through Harlem, with a near-empty fuel tank.

Dena was already reading the map display. "Left on Second Avenue." Traffic was slowing drastically.

"No good. Look." Second Avenue was sealed off by what looked like police barricades. "I'll try Third."

"That's no good either—it's one-way uptown."

"Slithering mother of shitcakes and syrup." Traffic came to a halt, then began a spasmodic crawl.

Jennifer picked up on the sudden increase of tension. "What is it? What's wrong, Daddy?"

"Nothing, honey," Dena said. "Just a detour."

Russell glanced around: no other white motorists were visible anywhere. Belatedly he remembered that the prudent New York driver monitors the radio traffic bulletins. "What's the next entrance to the FDR south of here?" he asked.

"This map doesn't say."


At the beginning of their trip, Russell had, over Jennifer's protests, tossed the car phone into the trunk. The symbolic gesture now seemed excessive . . .

They left the bridge, heading west at an average speed of perhaps twenty kph, stop and go. The squalor of East 125th Street was indescribable, on the verge of incomprehensible. Those buildings still standing should not have been. Garbage lined the street on both sides. Russell noted one abandoned building which seemed to be entirely filled with trash from sidewalk to rooftop. An incredible swarm of people surged on all sides, the summer sun boiling them in their pitiful clothes. Some were in uniform; Russell reminded himself that this country, unlike his own, was at war. (A jungle war—in Africa. What must that be like for a black G.I.?) The sound, the chaos, defied belief, and the smell penetrated into the air-conditioned car. Russell had once spent a few days in Bombay, on the edge of a slum district: this was worse.

The same question kept occurring to him as he drove, searching feverishly for a way—any way—off 125th Street. The question was: Why aren't they killing me? What is preventing these people from opening my car like a can of deviled ham and pulling me out and killing me with their hands and teeth? If I had to live here, and I saw a man driving through who obviously did not have to live here, I'd kill him. And it can't help, having Dena in the car . . .

He kept recoiling from the last thought.

Traffic came to a complete halt as they reached Third Avenue. A tomato struck Russell's window, burst like a red blossom. He decided that his most pressing need was to remain in motion at all costs; he turned uptown, shutting down the air-conditioning. It was powered by a solar collector on the roof—one of his many design modifications to his car—and its energy could give him a few more blocks if his alcohol fuel tanks ran completely dry. He was up to 128th Street before he saw his chance, turned left and got the car up to forty kph. But when he turned south on Lexington, he learned what had been holding up traffic on 125th: the street was torn up from Lexington to Park for sewer repair. He was forced to dogleg again, and again, which brought him up against Marcus Garvey Park—where his luck ran out.

A red light immobilized him at a T-intersection, near an entrance to the Park. Four youths saw him, grinned at each other, and left the Park to approach the car.

His fumbling fingers could not identify the lock-all-doors button on the armrest, and he did not want to take his eyes off the youths. "Jennifer, are both your doors locked?" he asked, trying to sound calm.

"Daddy, I'm scared."

"Are both doors locked?"


"Then sit tight and shut up. We're okay; they can't get in."

Three of the youths were pragmatists. Ignoring the occupants of the car, they methodically began stripping it. The first got the antenna, the second the windshield wipers, the third popped off a front hubcap. Russell, blocked in front and in back, was helpless. The fourth and last to arrive looked over the Grant family and acquired a ferocious expression. He came around to Russell's side, banged on the window, and made an open-it gesture. Russell glared back at him. The young man produced a spray-can of what seemed to be orange paint, and aimed it theatrically at the windshield. Russell got the message and cracked his window a careful ten millimeters.

"You losin' more than your car now, motherfucker," the young man said. He might have been fifteen. "Be your ass for sure."

"Why?" Russell asked him.

"Shade come uptown for pussy, he gotta die," the boy said. He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. "That's all it is to it." He looked Dena over and licked his lips. "You shoulda stuck wit' the teeny in the back."

"We're from Canada," Russell said, trying not to let the desperation show, trying to maintain some sense of sanity, of civilization. "These are my wife and daughter. We're just passing through."

"Wife?" boy said, astounded. "Then you die twice, asshole. Your 'wife' die too, prob'ly . . . after a while." He shifted his gaze to Dena. "Don't worry, sugarlips, your little pale-enough-to-pass daughter won't die. Ain't her fault." He glanced at Jennifer appraisingly. "She can work for me."

Both license plates and all four hubcaps were gone; one of the busy boys was working on the nuts with a tire jack that had appeared from nowhere. He was cursing; his jack was not metric. Russell was prepared to run the light and force his way into traffic, but he did not expect to succeed, and even if he did, the traffic was moving too slowly to afford any real protection.

Time had stopped for him. He was conscious of everything happening around him, flooded with details. The young man threatening him had a scar on the left cheek and two missing front teeth. The trees in the Park ahead of him were mostly elm and ash. The smell of fried food was in the air, and somewhere a radio with excellent bass response was predicting continued sunshine through Thursday. A mosquito bite on Russell's left forearm itched unbearably. One of the cars passing by in front of him caught his attention. It was a blue and white police cruiser. Both officers were black. They saw the situation; the shotgun man met Russell's eye briefly.

"You comin' out?" the youth asked, shaking his paint can so that the ball inside rattled. "Or we comin' in?"

The police car went by without so much as pausing. Russell was numb. He heard a sound from the back seat which he absently identified as Jennifer hyperventilating. And Dena screamed past his ear.

"GET AWAY FROM THIS CAR," she screamed, with more volume and more rage than he had ever heard from her before. "You son of a bitch, get away from us!"

The boy grinned even wider.

Russell knew that he had a maximum of five seconds of paralysis left; then he would do something. Time to decide what. He took inventory of the car's contents: incredibly, among the several hundred items which had cramped them all so badly on their journey, there was nothing more deadly than a thermos of lukewarm Mr. Donut coffee. The man with the tire jack was trying to pry open the trunk now; he was seeking a metric jack, but would find the trunk packed to absolute capacity with pawnable objects. Let's see, Russell thought. I can panic, throw her in reverse, crush that guy back there, put her in drive, bounce off the passing traffic, reverse again, and keep that up until I smash something vital and the car stops. Or I can just get out and die right now. Is there a third alternative?

One came to him. He could turn right, gun the car onto the sidewalk and parallel all the traffic, cut back in whenever convenient. This would kill many pedestrians . . . people who were either watching, or ignoring, his plight, the hell with them all. He began cutting the wheel—and saw three small children, about Jennifer's age or younger, directly in his planned path. Back to the first two choices. He had just decided on Plan A, since it would take out at least one of his opponents, when the situation changed again.

The young man with the paint-can now had a brick in his other hand. He pulled it back, plainly intending to smash in the window and gain access to the door-unlock system. He paused with his arm all the way back, picking his spot—and the brick was plucked from his hand just as he was whipping it forward. The sudden loss of weight cost him his balance, and he fell heavily against the car and went to his knees.

The hand which had snatched the brick was considerably blacker than the hand from which it was grabbed. Past the startled and angry face of his assailant, Russell saw his rescuer. The newcomer was well on the way to seven feet tall. He was barefoot, his only garment a vivid red robe that fell to his ankles. He was bald and cleanshaven. He might have been anywhere between forty and a vigorous sixty-five years old. Russell did not believe in auras, but this man had an aura. His face was magnificent sculpture, and at the moment it held an expression of deep, ancient sorrow. All at once Russell realized where he had last seen such an expression. As a child, he had been taken to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington . . .

"Brothers," the man said, "I am disappointed." His voice was a splendid instrument, deep and resonant and edged, like a baritone sax. "Is this measured?"

The four thugs were wearing crestfallen, hangdog expressions. They looked as though they wanted to look sullen but did not dare. Russell was sure that countless parents, girlfriends, teachers, preachers, and policemen had tried hard to elicit just such expressions from them in the past—and that all had failed. "Shit, Michael," the spokesman protested feebly, "we measured this right from the jump. A shade with a sister, in this hood—he was askin'. I mean shit, the raise seen it an' just drove on by. They was hip, it's a righteous rip."

The man called Michael looked even sadder. "You measure better than me, brother? Lickety-Split, that's your name, right? You saying you measure better than me, right out here on the street, Lickety-Split?"

Many people were watching. Lickety-Split went one shade lighter in complexion, and his three companions flinched away from him. "Hey, Michael, listen," he said urgently, "I ain't dissin' you. I know who the egg man be. I know who the lily o' the valley. Don't be hangin' no sign on me."

Michael held the boy's eyes a few seconds longer, and his terrible sorrow seemed to affect Lickety-Split like a heavy yoke. Then he nodded. "Nobody gonna hang a sign on you, son." A corner of his mouth twitched. "You're too fast on your feet, way I hear."

Absolved, Lickety-Split smiled sheepishly. "I ain't slow."

"Be digging you later, all right?"

"What about the loot, Michael?" asked the jack-wielder.

"Nothing wrong with a toll booth, son, long as the levy ain't too heavy. But give back those plates; they can't get Canada plates here."

The four went back to the park, bearing Russell's hubcaps and antenna, and the crowd began to disperse. Michael approached the car, and Russell powered his window down with a hand that felt like a paw.

He was as disoriented and traumatized as he had ever been in his life, and he wanted badly to babble. But there was something about Michael which held him in check. He felt somehow reluctant to waste this man's time with unnecessary words. "Thank you, cousin," he heard himself say, and was silent.

Michael smiled, and if his face in repose was sad, his smile was sorrow insupportable. "Son," he said, "you picked a bad time to visit the Apple. I'm sorry for your trouble." He bent his long frame without effort and glanced past Russell at Dena and Jennifer, who were embracing over the seat. He met each of their gazes in turn, and nodded. "You are all nice people, and I'm sorry. How long are you planning to be in the city?"

"Three months."

He winced. "Got to be? Yes, I see it does. I'm sorry," he said again. He straightened to his full height. "Now, how am I going to get you downtown alive? Guess there ain't but the one way. Would you open your sunroof, please?" Russell obeyed without thinking—then stared as Michael placed one foot on the door handle and vaulted into the car. He landed on the seat between Russell and Dena without jostling either of them, and stood between them, the upper half of his long body sticking out the open sunroof. He glanced down at Russell. "Keep a constant speed," he directed.

The light had changed during all this—Russell was too numb to be surprised that no drivers behind had interrupted Michael by honking—and was already going red again. But the cross-traffic waited for him to pull out, and when he did the traffic before him melted magically away, as though his family sedan were an ambulance or a fire engine. He took it gradually up to nearly 40 kph. Michael kept his balance easily. Occasional pedestrians called respectful greetings to Michael, and he acknowledged each, often by name.

Inside the car, the Grants were speechless.

After a time, Russell began to notice something. The people they drove past, the throngs of beaten people who lined the sidewalks, all stood straighter, walked prouder, held their heads higher if they caught sight of Michael. Where Russell had sensed hostility from pedestrians before, he now sensed curiosity. The reaction was not universal: one or two people glared at Michael, and one shook an angry fist—but these were a distinct minority. Russell drove with extreme care, following Michael's directions, and was soon heading downtown on Madison Avenue. They passed one side street which had been abandoned utterly: it was filled from side to side, from end to end, to about second- or third-story height, with garbage. Things grew in the garbage; things scuttled. Half a block later they passed a sidewalk knife-fight; it broke up under Michael's stare. Russell saw it resume in his rear-view mirror. Dena took his hand silently. Central Park came up on the right.

Russell's designer's eye was programmed to notice incongruities; storefront signs caught his eye. "Sister Venis. Palms red. We'll tell you're fate" was located next door to "East Harlem MENSA," and just beyond that was a restaurant called "Chez Swill." One especially ornate sign announced "The East Side Social Club and Massage Center: Home of Discount Around The World." Several signs frankly advertised the services of unlicensed physicians ("Three years Bellevue E.R.—why pay more?"); others just as candidly offered unlicensed bodyguard service ("CYA Protection Bureau: not much to pay to C.Y.A."). Just as Russell was wondering if there were formal law enforcement of any sort in Harlem any more, he saw a commotion ahead on the right. Two black policemen had a large man down on the sidewalk; they were methodically kicking the piss out of him, while a small crowd watched. Michael gestured Russell to pull over and stop. The policemen paused in their work when a bystander drew their attention to Michael. The larger of the two touched his cap. "Good day, Michael."

"Good day, Brother Raise. What it is?"

The shorter officer was holding a black leather shoulderbag. He opened it. "Homeboy had this on him, Brother Michael." He took out a handful of crack-packs. "Rock collection."

Michael nodded slowly. "Yeah. Commercial weight."

The man on the sidewalk spasmed and mewed, a piteous sound.

"Yeah," Michael said again, "well, I can see he's continuing to resist arrest, so happen I'd best be goin' along while you two raise finish subduing him. I only hope you don't have to kill him to bring him under control. You know, it always seemed to me that they are the best example to the community when they are still on the street, ain't it?"

The first cop nodded. "I was just sayin' to my man Bobby here, Michael, that if this skell didn't stop resistin' arrest pretty soon, maybe we'd be best off if we just broke his elbows."

"Well, if that should prove necessary," Michael said, "I only hope that young man has someone in this world who loves him enough to put the food into his mouth for the rest of his days."

"That'd be a comfort, at that."

"You men are good raise, Brother."

Both policemen smiled for the first time, pride evident in their faces. "Thank you, Michael," they chorused.

Michael looked down at Russell. "Ready when you are, sir," he said politely, and Russell pulled away from the curb. He was trying to remember the last time he had seen a proud policeman.

The rest of the trip downtown was comparatively uneventful. Eventually they reached 90th Street and Michael waved them over to the curb again. He vaulted from the car, landed easily on his feet.

Russell leaned out his open window. "Thank you, Michael—for all of us."

Michael smiled, and the smile made Russell want to burst into tears. "Don't say that. I don't know that I've done you any favor at all."

"I do!"

Michael surveyed the three of them. His gaze lingered longest on Jennifer. He reached in through the car window and she took his hand. His smile changed subtly, became less hurtful to see.

He stood back then. "Hear my words. You three have a strong connection going. Don't let it go, no matter what. Don't let it go, and happen you'll be okay." His eyes seemed to bore into Russell. "Don't you let it go."

"I won't," all three Grants said at once.

"Too bad you didn't get to see West Hundred-Twenty-fifth. It's right pretty this time of year." And with that Michael turned on his bare heel and strode off back uptown, a Masai warrior somehow transported halfway round the world to a deadlier jungle.

Russell and Dena both began speaking at once, both to Jennifer.

"I'm all right, Daddy," she said solemnly. "Truly. I'm not a child any more, you know."

Russell opened his mouth and then closed it. He saw Jennifer's dead mother in her very plainly, the strength and courage, and his eyes stung. "I'm sorry, princess."

"Why? Because you didn't get out and get killed like some guy in the movies? It's all right, Daddy." Suddenly she was fourteen again. "Except I really have to pee now."

Russell and Dena laughed immoderately, and all three embraced tearily.

He drove another few blocks, until they were indisputably in safe territory, then he double-parked and reconnected the car phone while the ladies used a tavern toilet. As he was waiting for them to return, a police cruiser pulled up. Both cops were white. They listened with absolute indifference to his account, took down the numbers of the Nova Scotia plates he showed them, told him that he was lucky the big red nigger hadn't killed them all himself and eaten them, and gave him tickets for illegal parking and failure to display license plates. Russell felt he should be furious, but he accepted the tickets without argument and put them away. Welcome to New York, he thought to himself. If the right one don't get you . . .

Dena had managed to buy two fifths of vodka; he reset the carburetor, poured the vodka into the fuel tank, and was able to restart the car and get them to a service station.

Dena snuggled close to him all the way down to 23rd Street, squeezing his upper arm tightly while he drove. Occasionally she would point out a landmark to Jennifer, or a place where she had lived or worked on previous visits to New York. She had been here three times before she married Russell, and she remembered the city better than he. Russell had not been back since his move to Canada over twenty years ago. He saw too few things he remembered; he was shocked to find the Scribner's building torn down, and Grand Central Station was all wrong. Nonetheless, nostalgia gripped him hard. There is a smell to New York, unlike that of any other city in the world, and it did not seem to have changed a bit.

Again he found himself noticing how many young men and women were in uniform, how many military vehicles were on the streets. It is, he thought, almost exactly like a re-run of Viet Nam. Once again the United States is heavily and hopelessly involved in an undeclared, unwinnable, unpopular jungle war, complete with destruction, demonstrations and the draft, and once again it all seems unreal and theatrical to a Canadian. The significant differences are, this war is in Africa rather than Asia . . . and Canada isn't accepting draft dodgers this time. A pressure-vessel with no relief valve. . . .

While musing thus, Russell phoned ahead on the car phone; the rental agent was waiting to meet them on the corner of 23rd Street. A short thin fussy man with a phony British accent, who had obviously had a few drinks recently, he greeted them with a harassed air and directed them back uptown to 31st between First and Second.

"Really, you're quite fortunate, Mr. Grant," he said as they drove. "It's donkey's years since I've had an apartment as nice as this one to let. I think you'll be pleased."

At the price I was quoted, Russell thought, I'd better be. "So my father tells me, Mr. Shaw. He refused to describe the flat, but he insisted that if I didn't like it he'd refund my money. I must admit I'm intrigued."

When they reached 31st, Russell could not find a parking space anywhere near the address he wanted.

"Oh good luck," Shaw cried, adjusting an invisible monocle. "Look there: a parking space."


"There. A good omen, what?"

"But that's a fire hydrant."

Shaw looked uncomprehending—then suddenly laughed, just a bit too loudly to be polite. "Mr. Grant, you obviously have been away from New York for some time. This city stopped chasing down unpaid tickets a year or two ago. I use my own for bookmarks."

Russell involuntarily touched his jacket over the inside pocket which held his own tickets. "But won't they tow me away?"

"They haven't the trucks or drivers. Those they have they tend to concentrate in business districts. I can't guarantee you'll be safe—but I would park there. Of course, my nephew is a detective."

Russell parked there. "Why do they still give out tickets?"

"You know, there's been considerable speculation about that. My nephew's theory is that the police officials want to keep their men from more serious mischief. But the prevailing theory is that the Borough President's brother-in-law owns the company that prints the tickets."

The neighborhood seemed okay, Russell saw as he locked up the car. Pedestrians were well-dressed; the buildings were, for New York, in excellent shape—which was to say that they would probably have been tolerated in Halifax's worst slum areas. He adjusted his expectations for the new apartment accordingly—and was therefore pleasantly startled when Shaw led them inside.

In the first place, it was on the ground floor. Such treasures are rare in New York, and out-of-towners seldom get a crack at one. Second, he saw when Shaw unsnapped the third lock and let them in, it was enormous—fully the size of the living room of the Grants' Halifax home. So big, that is, that he began to believe that a family of three could really live there for three months without going insane. There were indeed two bedrooms, and the master bedroom actually had space for a bureau and a small night-table in addition to the bed. The apartment was furnished adequately if tastelessly, in a style which Russell immediately dubbed Space-Age Public Washroom.

The location and size were enough to persuade him that the rent was a good deal—with the dollar conversion it was only twice the amount of his monthly mortgage bite back home. But then Shaw, with the air of a runty pseudo-British Santa Claus, unlocked and opened a door at the far end of the room which served as living room, dining room, kitchen and study, and Russell's jaw dropped. Dena and Jennifer both cried out.

There was a garden out there.

All three Grants clustered round while Shaw unlocked the security-gate and slid it back, then hurried outside together. "By the chamber-pot of the Buddha," Russell breathed.

"Jennifer," Dena said, "tell me what you see."

"Like a garden."

"Thank God. If you see it too, it must be there. I thought my CPU had crashed."

"As you can see," Shaw said smugly, "it wants tending. But I think you'll find it agreeable on hot nights."

Anywhere else in the world, the garden—qua garden—would have been a bad joke. It comprised three brick lined islands of earth defining a T-shaped path which led from the concrete patio on which they stood. The soil was sandy and miserable; it supported assorted knee-high weeds and three twisted, forlorn and self-conscious looking trees of a species that Russell, an experienced woodsman, could not identify.

But it existed. It contained as much square footage as the apartment itself, and the sun shone on it, and cool breezes blew through it, and green things lived in it. It was well fenced off from similar courtyards on all three sides, and better than half of it could not be observed from the balconies of the apartments stacked above this one.

Russell murmured, "Dena, remind me to tell Dad the apartment is adequate." He turned to the agent. "Mr. Shaw, remind me not to play poker with you. I never saw this coming." Shaw preened. "What immortal fool gave this place up?"

The little neat man coughed discreetly. "The previous tenant was a gentleman of Peruvian extraction. He, uh, paid the first six months' rent in advance, in cash, if you follow my drift. That was the last I ever saw of him. When the rent had gone two weeks unpaid and my letters and calls elicited no response, I entered the premises. He had been gone for at least a month by then, I estimate. I have no idea how to locate him. I had to leave it for two more weeks before listing it—applying his security deposit against the rent, you see, in case he should return—but that was used up three days ago. I happen to owe a friend of your father's a number of favours, and when he mentioned your situation to me . . ."

Russell smiled and shook his head. Given the rent asked, Shaw must owe Russell's father's friend some large favours indeed.

"You'll be requiring the place for three months, am I right? Mrs. Grant, I understand you'll be dancing here in New York?"

"Dena. Yes, at the Joyce, with Lisa Dann's company."

His right eyebrow rose, and his manner became subtly more respectful. "With Lisa Dann? Oh, I say? Really." He squinted suddenly. "By God? May I ask, Mrs.—Dena—do you by any chance perform under the name 'Dena St. Claire'?"

"Why yes, Mr. Shaw. My maiden name."

"Oh do please call me David. Why then, I've heard of you. You worked with Miss Dann in the past, did you not?"

"A long time ago, yes," Dena said, plainly tickled to death. "We studied together at Julliard."

"I look forward to the opportunity to see you perform," Shaw told her, and she thanked him.

Russell noticed that Jennifer looked just as proud as he was.

"Well," Shaw said, "I expect that the first priority is to remove Mr. Figueroa's belongings and have them put into storage." The doorbell rang. "Oh good, that will be José. I told him to meet us. He's your super—a very competent man."

José turned out to be a short dark handsome seventeen year-old Puerto Rican with long unruly curls and an air of cynical amusement. He measured Russell as they shook hands, and plainly decided to reserve judgment. His eyes went from Dena to Jennifer and back to Russell. "Please' to make your acquaintance, Mist' Grant."

"Russell, José. Good to know you. Do you live in the building?"

"Up the street, I'll give you the number. During the day I work in a discount place around the corner."

They began packing up the previous occupant's gear, while Shaw looked on and made helpful noises. Dena tackled the worst part, a fridge full of fungal cultures which had once been Peruvian foodstuffs. Jennifer attacked the bathroom, while José and Russell took the bedrooms.

"Nice clothes this bastid had," José said, opening a closet and shaking out a large garbage sack. Russell glanced over; everything in the closet looked hideous to him. José seemed to be waiting for something. Suddenly Russell twigged. "Looks like he was about your size."


"The place where you're going to store all this—"

"The basement."

"—yeah. Junkies ever break in there, steal things?"

José grinned broadly. "All the time, man."

"I can dig it." Fascinating, Russell thought, the street talk, the inflections, all come back effortlessly. I sound like I never left the city. "I'll decoy Shaw when you leave with the stuff."

"Solid, man. You all right."

"No sweat." He began boxing up small items, radios and books and such. "You could maybe help me unload my ride?"

"You got it."

Russell opened the top dresser drawer, and froze. José sensed it and came over. In the drawer, amid the expected items, was a Smith & Wesson 9mm semiautomatic pistol, complete with a hundred rounds of ammunition.

"Motherfucker," José whispered.

"Peruvian, you say he was."

"Bet your fuckin' A, man!? José was so excited he could barely keep his voice down. "Hey, that's the steel-frame 559! That's a good fuckin' piece, man! Look here, he's loadin' hunner'twenny-fi' grain hollow points in this bastid."

"Heavy ammo?"

"Hey man, like it's only nine millimeter, you know, but wit' that hollow point you hit a stud and the slug blows up to about 70 fucking caliber, dig? Look he had this fucker customized, see here? Hey, wit' this piece you could kill a Cadillac down on the corner, no shit."

"My." Russell was not sure what to do.

"You found it, man, it's your piece as far as I'm concerned. You want to sell it? I'll give you five hundred cash, tonight."

Russell owned no gun, had never expected to want to.

But his drive through Harlem was on his mind. "No, José. I think I'll hang on to it awhile."

"That's what I'd do, man." José paused, undecided. Then: "Hey man, can I say something to you?"

Russell braced himself. "Go ahead."

"Look, your wife, she's black. I'm part black, all right? What I'm trying to say, there's black people and there's niggers, you understand me?"

"I understand."

"I can see that little girl of yours is offa some other lady. But niggers see you walk by wit' a black lady and a white kid, an' it don't look like she's your housekeeper or somethin', you gonna need that cannon, fuckin' A."

"Is it really that bad now, José? Last time I lived in New York, it was okay downtown anyway."

"Some places, fine. Right on this block, no problem. A couple blocks in either direction, maybe. But you wanna see a play, maybe you better go there in a cab, all right? You wanna walk careful. This is a town full of angry niggers. They didn't bust all of them Mau Maus, you know what I mean?"

"I'm hip." Russell briefly narrated the story of his day's events in Harlem.

"Woo-eee,"José said when he finished. "That Michael, he's somethin' else, you know?"

"You've heard of him."

"Man, everybody that ain't white is heard of that stud. You don't see him on TV, he ain't in the papers, but since he showed up, niggers don't take no shit no more. Even black people don't. You must be okay if Michael passed you. Man, you got shit-lucky, an' that's fuckin' A." He shook his head. "You better hide that piece before Shaw Nuff comes in."

Russell barely had time to comply when Shaw did open the door. "Find anything interesting?"

"Yes," Russell said, sifting through the rest of the top drawer. "Two passports in different names. Each with the same picture. A confirmation for a flight to Lima in a third name, two months ago." He palmed the ammo box while Shaw was examining these. "Business cards for three different massage parlors." He opened a bottom drawer. "Bingo."

An attaché case, strong enough to withstand sledge or ax or even airport baggage handler, triple-locked.

José's eyes lit up. Shaw blinked rapidly.

"José," Shaw said, "that case had better not be missing from storage the next time I look for it."

José tried to look wounded, and sensibly gave it up. "Mist' Shaw—that guy prob'ly got himself shot down there. You know them Peruvians."

Shaw looked tempted, but Russell's presence clearly inhibited him. "No. What if he comes back?"

"Ah, shit. All right," he added hastily. "You the boss."

"Perhaps I'd better take charge of it personally. Junkies sometimes steal things from that cellar, don't they?"

José shot Russell a disgusted look which Shaw did not see. "Yeah, well, you know, it been known to happen."

"Yes. I'd better, uh . . ." He held out his hand, and reluctantly José gave him the case. He left the room with it.

José was angry. "Motherfucker gonna rip off what's in there," he whispered. "Then if the stud does come back he'll lay it on me, you watch. I know him, man."

Russell reached a decision. "José, look," he murmured. "You've treated me right, and I'm driving Shaw home when we're done here. In ten or fifteen minutes, could you come up with a case just like that one?"

José looked puzzled, and then his face split in a broad grin. "I told you, I work in a discount place. Lemme see, I gotta put something inside it for weight . . ."

"Epsom salts," Russell said, and José's grin got even bigger. "Maybe he'll try and sell it," he added, and the youth laughed out loud.

"You're my man, Russell. You need anything, you got trouble, you come see me. I got a lot of friends."

"You've got three more than you thought you had."

After José had left, Russell examined his decision with mild astonishment. What in hell had possessed him to enter into a conspiracy to steal something of great value, probably drugs, with a Puerto Rican teenager he had known for less than an hour? Russell was a law-abiding citizen of a law-abiding country. He did not so much as smoke pot. He filed honest tax returns. The most significant item he had stolen since adolescence was a kiss. It was not as though he had any reason to dislike Shaw. The man was a phony and a closet lush, but those were not grounds to steal what looked like being a sizable sum of money from the man. Why, Shaw had been particularly gracious to Dena, made her smile. And God knew that Russell, eight years retired at age forty-eight, did not need or especially want the money.

It was exactly the sort of puzzle which should have fascinated Russell; the inexplicable was, for him, one of life's greatest delights. Whenever he caught himself behaving inexplicably, it was his custom to sit down and play with the mystery until he had it solved, like a child with a new Rubik's Cube.

Got to get moving if I'm going to have a bed to sleep in tonight, he thought, and had forgotten his puzzle within ten seconds.


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