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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 2


The New York wind was damply chill as Elliot and Denise Vreeland left Ansonia’s five-story brownstone at 90 Central Park West, but Elliot’s thoughts were not with his surroundings. That his father was not alive seemed impossibly foreign to his entire orientation, to his entire life. Certainly he had expected that Martin Vreeland would die someday — but someday, not when Elliot still needed him.

At once he felt like slapping himself: Was that all he thought of his father? Just someone he “needed”? Somebody to provide him with the material artifacts of life: a bed, binoculars, books, camera, typewriter, trip to Europe? No. His needs were for things less tangible but nonetheless real. Teaching him to defend himself. Staying up with him one night when he was vomiting. Answering any question openly and intelligently. Or just being the kind of man who took time to teach him viable principles, living them himself without evasion.

Even though his father had not been stingy with the free time he had had, there had never been enough of it, so far as Elliot was concerned. During the academic year, Dr. Vreeland had worked a demanding teaching schedule, while his summers — spent with his family at their New Hampshire lodge — resultantly became his only chance for research, contemplation, and fulfilling publishing commitments.

Elliot reflected that the two of them had not been close in the stereotypical father-son sense. They had never gone camping together, played touch football in Central Park, or eaten hot dogs at Shea Stadium. Moreover, his father’s Viennese upbringing had restrained him from any open displays of affection. But Elliot now recalled sharply that, in Boston four years earlier, Dr. Vreeland had been dissatisfied with every preparatory school to which he had considered sending him. Then, while addressing a monetary symposium in New Orleans, he had met Dr. Fischer and found her adhering to an academic philosophy identical to his own. After returning north and visiting Ansonia, Dr. Vreeland — a department head at Harvard who had not yet won his Nobel Prize — accepted a less rich professorship at Columbia and moved his family to New York.

Elliot found himself taking deep gulps of cold air into his lungs as if they were oxygen-starved. He wondered what the crushing, closed-in sensation was. He wondered if what he felt was what a son was supposed to feel upon learning of his father’s death. He wondered whether he should cry — or why he was not crying — although he felt so physically wrenched apart. He wondered whether he loved his father. He felt helpless even to define the components of such a love.

This he knew: he wanted desperately to tell his father that he appreciated what he had been to him.

They were just passing the bricked-up entrance to the perpetually unfinished Central Park Shuttle, a subway that was to have linked eastside and westside IRT lines as Sixty-ninth Street, when Denise tugged at Elliot’s arm, stopping him. Behind them, unnoticed among years’ worth of graffiti and handbills, was a recently put-up poster announcing Dr. Vreeland’s appearance at a Citizens for a Free Society rally the next morning.

“Elliot, I’m sorry but I had to,” said Denise.

“Well, you didn’t have to pull off my arm. I would’ve –”

“That’s not it,” she interrupted. She paused, biting on her lower lip. “Daddy’s not dead.”

Elliot’s expressions changed from confusion, through relief, to anger as cold as the wind whipping through his hair.

“Ell, it’s not what you think. Mom told me to tell you that. She called me out of Juilliard.”

Elliot regarded his sister as though she might still be lying. Her habitual truthfulness stilled this thought. “Then what the –”

“No time to explain now. We have to get home. Fast. Which is our first problem.” Denise referred to a total transit strike in the city that encompassed not only all subways and busses but medallion taxis as well.

Elliot thought a moment, considering and rejecting an illegal walk across Central park, then motioned Denise to follow.

It took only a few minutes to walk Sixty-ninth Street the two blocks over to Broadway. They crossed to the west side, stood at the curb and waited. They waited five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes later they were still unable to find anything resembling a gypsy cab.

“Are you sure you know what a tzigane looks like?” asked Denise.

“No,” Elliot admitted. “That’s a problem. When you’re cruising illegally, you try not to look like anything in particular. A dozen might have passed us already.”

“Then how do we find one?”

“We don’t. We wait for one to find us.”

To prove his point, within a minute a black sedan stopped at the traffic light they were opposite. The tzigane — a heavyset black man — waved out the window. Elliot waved back to the driver, then told Denise in a low voice. “I’ll parley the price.”

Presently the light changed, the sedan pulling alongside. The tzigane reached back, opening the rear curbside door. “Climb in.”

Elliot shook his head just enough for Denise to catch, then walked around to the driver’s side. “First,” he said, “how much?”

The tzigane twirled a plain gold band on his right hand — a nervous habit, Elliot supposed. “Where you headed?”

“Park Avenue between Seventy-fourth and Seventy-fifth.”

“Two thousand blues — up front.” Elliot winced. The price was four times what a medallion taxi had charged for the same run several weeks earlier. The tzigane continued twirling his ring back and forth. Elliot walked around the car, gesturing Denise to get in, and a moment later followed her; the car remained motionless. The tzigane turned to him and said, “Blues first.”

Elliot removed his wallet and handed bills forward. They were blue-colored notes, no engraving on one side, on the other side hasty engraving proclaiming them “legal tender of the United States of America for all debts, public and private.” More than anything else, it resembled Monopoly money.

“This is a thousand,” said the tzigane.

“That’s right,” Elliot replied. “You’ll get the other thousand when we arrive.” The tzigane shrugged, revved his turbine, and with a jolt the sedan started down Broadway.

Not a minute later, when the car passed Sixty-fifth Street, Elliot suddenly leaned forward. “Hey! You missed the turnoff to the park.”

“Relax, there ain’t no meter runnin’.”

Elliot began contemplating ways for Denise and himself to jump from the car. “But why aren’t you taking the shortcut?”

“Only medallions and busses allowed through — and this is a private car, right?”

“Sorry.”

“That’s okay, bro.”

Elliot did not relax, however, until the sedan pulled up in front of his address, a luxury high-rise. A uniformed doorman, Jim, came out of the building to open the car door for them. After paying his balance — with an extra three hundred New Dollars as tip — Denise and he got out. “Thanks,” Elliot said.

“Any time, my man.” The tzigane smiled then added, “Next time maybe you won’t be so tight. Laissez-faire.”

Elliot began to greet Jim with his usual smile, but Denise nudged her brother, who remembered himself at a point appropriate to someone wishing to appear pleasant under trying circumstances. As Jim opened the building door, he nodded in the direction of a half-dozen reporters — some with videotape cameras, others cassette recorders, still others with only notebooks — sitting at the far end of the lobby. “Your mother said you shouldn’t talk to them,” Jim whispered to the couple.

It was too late, though. The reporters looked up as they entered then literally pounced. “Hey, you’re the Vreeland kids, aren’t you?” one man shouted, rushing forward with his camera.

Jim blocked him. “Mrs. Vreeland said no interviews.”

A newspaper woman managed to block Elliot. “Please,” she said, “just tell us the cause of death.”

Elliot glanced at Denise helplessly. “A heart attack late this morning,” Denise told the woman.

Immediately the others began throwing out more questions, but Jim held them back as Elliot and Denise fled the lobby to the elevators. Luckily, one was waiting for them. They rode it up to the fiftieth floor and walked to their apartment, a gray steel door at the corridor’s far end with the number 50L and the Vreeland name.

It was a warm, luxurious apartment with oriental rugs, many fine antiques, body-sensing climate control, and numerous paintings — mostly acrylic gouache by their mother, Cathryn Vreeland, who had a moderate artistic following. In typical New York fashion, the windows — and a door to the apartment terrace — were covered with Venetian blinds, now lowered to darken the apartment from the afternoon sun.

As Elliot and Denise entered the apartment, they heard the muffled sound of voices coming from the master bedroom. ” . . . political suicide, sheer madness,” Elliot overheard a hushed whisper. They continued through an L-shaped hallway into the master bedroom, where Dr. and Mrs. Vreeland were bending over a large FerroFoam suitcase on the bed, trying with noticeable difficulty to close it.

Whatever doubts remained in Elliot’s mind vanished in shocking relief.

The elder Vreelands did not immediately notice their offsprings’ entrance, engaged as they were with their discussion emphasizing each attempt on the suitcase. Dr. Vreeland said, “You would think they would at least be bright enough to follow EUCOMTO’s policy, rather than this regression to further insanity.” His speech retained only a trace of his native Vienna.

“They’re trapped by their own logic,” said Mrs. Vreeland, pressing hard on the suitcase. “You predicted this and prepared for it, so stop berating yourself about something you couldn’t control.”

“I didn’t take the possibility seriously enough, Cathryn. I had no business risking my family –” Dr. Vreeland looked up. “Thank God you’re finally home. Did they give you any trouble at school?”

Denise shook her head. Elliot said with some difficulty, “No.”

Dr. Vreeland looked at his son with sudden compassion. “I’m terribly sorry, Ell. We had to catch you off guard to make my cover story credible. You know I wouldn’t have done this if it weren’t necessary.”

Elliot forced a smile. “Uh — that’s okay, Dad.”

His father smiled back. “Good. Now,” he said briskly, “do you two think you can help us get his damned suitcase closed?”

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter III.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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