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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover

Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 9

Phillip was every bit as good a chef as he declared.

Elliot was treated royally to a dinner that started with grapefruit halves and tossed green salad, proceeded through filets of coconut-orange chicken, green beans with almonds, and candied yams, then was topped off by Southern pecan pie served with chickoried café au lait. Elliot complimented Phillip, among other things, on his abilities in matching up ration points.

After dinner, over cognac and cigars (Elliot accepted the former only), Elliot repeated his story for Mr. Gross: how his father’s name had been on a secret arrest list, the plan to leave the country, his trip to find the gold and what he had learned upon his arrival home — even his theory about the possible link between Al and the tzigane cabdriver. He retold the events after his escape from the apartment, finishing up this time by including what he had learned about his part in precipitating a riot. Several times Mr. Gross asked for clarification of a point or for additional information.

Mr. Gross puffed on his cigar one last time, then snuffed it into his ashtray. Elliot noticed himself holding his breath and consciously took in air. Finally, Mr. Gross said, “Have you considered the possibility that your family may already be dead? I don’t ask this to be cruel. When I was your age, I lost my entire family except for one brother — Phillip’s father, whom we lost later — to the Nazis.”

Elliot swallowed, about to answer in the affirmative, then suddenly changed his mind. “I’ve thought about it, Mr. Gross, but I find it inconceivable that the authorities would just kill three private citizens in cold blood.”

“It was inconceivable in 1943, too. But it happened.” Mr. Gross allowed Elliot to digest the thought for several seconds, then added, “But, to be honest, I think it is likely that all three are still alive at the moment. This is not wishful thinking; there are a number of sound reasons why this should be true. Even so, while we must proceed on the assumption that your family can still be helped, I want you to face the possibility that it may be too late.”

“I understand.”

“All right.”

“Maybe,” said Elliot, “it would be best to try forcing the authorities into the open. Possibly hire a lawyer to get a writ of habeas corpus. Or maybe I should just march into the offices of The New York Times and tell them the entire story.”

“I can see your point, and if that’s what you decide to do, I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. But I advise against it.”


“Call it intuition if you like,” said Mr. Gross, “but it is my belief that, if your family is still alive, you’d be running the risk that exposing their kidnaping — and I use the term advisedly — might make certain you would never see them alive again.”

“Then what are you saying? That I should sit tight and not do anything?”

“No, action must be taken — quietly.”

“Are you telling me to hire a detective?”

“This would be beyond any normal investigators. They would have their licenses revoked if they stepped on any political toes.”

“Then what are you suggesting?”

Mr. Gross took a sip of cognac and paused a moment. “In the jewelry business one meets many people. Some of them tell me that almost anything can be obtained — for a price. You told me that you have the means. The question remains how much you are willing to spend.”

“All of it,” said Elliot firmly. “All the gold I’ve got. I figured that out yesterday.”

“Then, if you like,” Mr. Gross continued, “I’ll ask some of my associates what is possible. I can’t do anything until tomorrow, so you’ll spend the night here. Phillip will make up the couch.”

“Mr. Gross, you’re a real lifesaver.”

“I hope to be.”

At that instant, the grandfather clock in the dining room began striking eight o’clock. Mr. Gross rose. “Five minutes slow, Phillip. Your turn to wind.”

Mr. Gross retired to his bedroom to read, and Phillip, having finished his kitchen duties, asked Elliot if he were up to a game of chess. Elliot was, and Phillip set up on the dining table.

After picking the white pawn out of Phillip’s clenched fists, Elliot opened with pawn to king’s fourth. Phillip responded king’s pawn to fourth rank also. Elliot played king’s bishop to queen’s bishop fourth, then said, “By the way, how did you know that Mrs. Tobias was being fired?”

Phillip grinned. “Let’s leave it that the ventilation shaft between the second floor men’s room and the headmaster’s office directly below is a useful source of information. And she wasn’t fired.” He moved his king’s bishop likewise.

White queen moved to king’s bishop third. “Why did she quit?”

“A power play,” said Phillip. Black queen’s knight’s pawn to fourth, threatening white bishop. “Mrs. Tobias wanted to teach her political views, Dr. Fischer said she was hired to teach, not to propagandize.”

Elliot’s queen took the pawn at king’s bishop seventh. “Don’t you think that’s a rather nasty violation of her academic freedom? She was a bitch — granted — but fair is fair.”

“Nonsense,” said Phillip, taking Elliot’s bishop with the knight’s pawn. “It’s no more a violation of her freedom than refusing to charter a plane to Los Angeles when you want to go to Miami. What she did on her own time was her own business.”

“You can’t take that bishop, Phil.”

“Huh? Why the hell not?”

“Because I mated you last move.”

Phillip stared at the board, then said softly, “Shit.”

Elliot grinned fiendishly.

Bright sunlight awakened him. After a few minutes trying to keep it out, he gave up, pulling himself into a sitting-up position. A few moments rubbing his eyes, several seconds to remember where he was. He rubbed his calves, removing the kinks — the couch had been too short for him — then came wide awake, hearing that the apartment was absolutely silent except for the ticking from the grandfather clock was a note on the dining table impaled on the white king, the night’s battlefield still displaying his victory. He padded over.

We didn’t want to wake you because you seemed to need the sleep. There’s hot coffee in the percolator and you can feel free to rustle up anything you want to eat. Suggest you stay put. My uncle and I will return by mid-afternoon.
Keep your powder dry,

It seemed to Elliot, after he had performed the usual morning rituals, that no day had ever passed so slowly. He felt that there was an immense pressure compelling him to action . . . but he could not move. He felt as if some great achievement was demanded of him . . . but that he did not have the strength to perform it.

He tried reading a novel chosen from Phillip’s shelves: he was unable to read more than a few pages before his mind began to wander. He turned on the television. The games seemed impossibly insipid, and he turned the set off angrily.

Finally, he selected a holosonic cassette and put it on Phillip’s music system; it was the Reiner-Chicago Symphony recording of Brahms’ Third Symphony. Finding it soothing, he was able to sit for the first time in hours. Elliot sank into Phillip’s recliner, and when the second movement began, he closed his eyes.

The Grosses returned home together at about four o’clock. “It’s all set,” Phillip’s uncle said as soon as the door closed. “The chairman doesn’t like to take this sort of case, but — knowing your father was at stake — decided to help.”

“The chairman?” Elliot asked anxiously.

“Merce Rampart,” said Mr. Gross. “Chairman of the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre.”

“Elliot stood stunned, as if again hit by the tire wrench. His mind was a jumble of conflicting imagery. All in the same instant he felt betrayed, vulnerable. “These are your ‘associates’?”

“Yes,” Mr. Gross said.

“You approve of what they do?”


“Phil? How do you feel about all this?”

“I don’t know much more than you do, Ell.”

Elliot stood there a moment, weighing the lives of his family against political considerations he was not yet fully competent to weigh. At present the government was on one side, and he — along with his family and an “unholy alliance between the Mafia and anarchist-terrorists” — was on the other. But what if loyalty to his family required him to choose the wrong side?

His father’s words came back to him: “It’s much too late for me to impart values to you; but if you don’t have them, then I’m not much of a father.”

“All right,” said Elliot. “I’ll see this Rampart. What do I have to do?”


Next in Alongside Night is Chapter X.

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

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