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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover

Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 15

The headline on The New York Times Sunday edition–just then hitting the street–read: “PRESIDENT URGES DIPLOMATIC RECOGNITION OF TEXAN REPUBLIC.”

Elliot handed the Forty-fifth Street newsdealer two quarter vendies, checking the Times to ensure all sections present. “Well, it’s Saturday night, all right,” he told Lorimer, then checking his watch against the newsdealer’s, determined that it was seven fifteen by all accounts.

“You’re really gonna lug that entire paper around?” Lorimer asked him.

“This, my dear, is for research.”

“You’re carrying it,” said Lorimer. “Okay, where to?”

Elliot thought a moment, then smiled devilishly. “I know just the place,” he said, tucking the paper under his left arm, taking Lorimer’s hand with his right.

Fifth Avenue on a Saturday night was like Fifth Avenue any night–only more so. As they were just entering the enclave, they were brushed aside by a pickpocket being chased by two FAMAS guards. As he ran, the pickpocket scattered a wad of blues into the wind. He kept the wallet, though.

A four-block walk uptown brought the couple to a small club several doors from the Swissair office; the sign on the door said, “Ye Ole Rich Place,” and below it, “Welcome Darwin and Huxley Students.”

The maitre d’ met them at the door, wearing a huge set of eyebrows, wire-rimmed glasses, false nose with mustache, and carrying a banana-sized cigar. “What’s the password?” he asked.

Lorimer gave Elliot a dirty look. “You fink.”

“You better give him the password, or we won’t get in,” said Elliot.

“I’ll give you a clue,” said the maitre d’. “It’s–”

“Swordfish, swordfish!”

“True Marxists,” the maitre d’ said. “Table for two?” Elliot nodded; the man grabbed two menus. “Walk this way,” he said, imitating the Groucho stride all the way to their table. Elliot and Lorimer both did their best, but it was no contest.

While the maitre d’ was leading them to their table, the real Groucho, as Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup, was on the wallscreen singing:

“These are the laws of my administration.
No one’s allowed to smoke
Or tell a dirty joke
And whistling is forbidden.”

Lorimer handed the maitre d’ a one-eurofranc note and whispered. “Do you take this credit card?” He looked at the bill, holding it up close in the dim light, then with sleight-of-hand made it disappear. He himself then disappeared with the menus. Before Elliot could say anything, Lorimer told him, “You bought me lunch, I’ll buy you dinner.”

“If any form of pleasure is exhibited,
Report to me and it will be prohibited.”

The maitre d’ returned with new menus; the prices were in eurofrancs. Elliot nodded to Lorimer admiringly.

“I’ll put my foot down,
So shall it be.
This is the land of the free!”

After studying the menu and deciding on the “Zeppo,” Elliot asked Lorimer to order for him, telling her he wanted to phone the rooming house and the friends he had mentioned.

He walked to the telephone in the rear next to the rest rooms, closing the booth and punching in the first of the numbers Chin had given him. On the fourth ring a female voice said hello. “Mrs. Ferrer?” Elliot asked.

“No, hold on a second.” There was a muffled shout of “Mama, it’s for you,” and in a moment another voice took over–just the barest trace of an Italian accent:

“Yes, who is speaking?”

“Mrs. Ferrer, my name is Joseph Rabinowitz–you don’t know me. I just came into New York and was told you might have rooms available.”

“Who tells you to call me?”

Elliot hesitated the slightest moment. Chin had not said to use his name. But either she knew the name or she did not; it would not hurt Chin in either case. Any risk was his and Lorimer’s. “Mr. Chin.”

“I have rooms for friends of Mr. Chin. We go to bed here at ten thirty: I expect you before then. Good-bye.”

She hung up.

Elliot inserted another vendy, punching in Phillip’s number from memory. A strange male voice said hello on the second ring; Elliot considered the thought that voices change over the telephone. “Mr. Gross?”

“No, Morris stepped out for a moment. This is his brother Abe. Who’s calling?”

Elliot hung up, then sat in the booth a moment, shaking.

Was it a Cadre recognition signal he had not been given? Was there the slightest possibility that one of Mr. Gross’s brothers had somehow survived–to appear after locating his brother so many years later? Or was it what it sounded like: Mr. Gross and Phillip had been arrested– possibly killed– and their apartment turned into a trap?

Chin’s words suddenly surfaced in his mind. Elliot held his breath, picking up the receiver again as silently as possible. He listened a moment.

The telephone had not disconnected.

Elliot noiselessly cradled the receiver and left the booth.

In a moment he was back to the table, whispering into Lorimer’s ear, “We’re leaving. Now.”

“But I already ordered.”

“Emergency. I walked into a trap.”

She nodded. Elliot helped her with her Genghis Khan, then donned his own overcoat. “Don’t forget the Times,” she reminded him, lifting her travel bag. He slipped on his gloves and took it.

At the door Lorimer stopped to cancel their order. “Is anything wrong?” the maitre d’ asked.

“We were never here, eh, comrade?” she said softly.

He nodded. “Good luck, tovarishchi.

Lorimer stuffed a bill into his hand. “For the workers . . .”

Elliot and Lorimer pushed out onto the crowded street, starting downtown at a moderate clip. “How did you know he was red?” Elliot asked.

“I have a sixth sense about it,” she said. “I get it from my father. Well, where to now?”

“If you don’t mind, to the rooming house. I seem to have lost my appetite.”

“The rooming house? Wasn’t that the trap?”

Elliot shook his head. “My friends.”

“Oh! I’m sorry.”

“Let’s not even think about it,” he said.

After a few minutes’ conversation, Lorimer convinced him that starving would not do either of them any good. Elliot was forced to agree with her logic. In ten minutes they were in front of Grand Central Station, where almost two dozen cars were lined up — some undistinguished, others carrying the insignia of telephone taxi services unlicensed for street pickups. Removing his gloves, Elliot handed Lorimer the Times, approaching the first driver seated at the wheel of a red Nissan electric compact. “How much to West Eleventh Street?” Elliot asked while giving him the ring banner, the Morse Code letter A.

Though he wore a gold wedding band, the driver did not touch it. “Seven thousand blues, buddy. Hop in.”

“No thanks.”

They bypassed the second car entirely; the driver was wearing gloves.

A full-sized Checker, black and unmarked, was in the third position; the driver was female and ringed. Elliot twirled his ring once forward and once back, repeating his question. The driver twirled twice toward Elliot and once back — the correct response, U — and said, “That depends on what you’re payin’ with.”

Elliot and Lorimer climbed into the car, shutting the door. “Do you take euros?” Elliot asked.

“Sure do. One’ll cover it. What’s the street number?”

“I’m not certain,” said Elliot. “A restaurant — Manrico and Pagliacci.”

“Got it.” She stuck her hand out the window, flooring the accelerator, then picked up the microphone to her transceiver and in code gave her coordinates and destination to a base station known as Egotripper.

While they held on for dear life, the Checker turned left onto Fifth Avenue, hit green lights all the way down, turned right on Eleventh Street, and within a scant five minutes deposited them in front of the restaurant.

Manrico and Pagliacci’s specialized in Italian cuisine set to operatic videodiscs — though not exclusively Italian opera. After they had again ordered — once more from eurofranc menus — Elliot directed his attention to the screen, in a moment recognizing it as the Metropolitan Opera recording of the modern masterpiece Die Achselnzucken des Atlas. It was the final act of the seven-hour-long opera, in which Johann, the unseen hero, was singing his fifty-eight-minute Radiorede aria.

After two orders of antipasto, manicotti, cappuccino, and pastry — the last two accompanied by the grande finale — the couple started walking east to the rooming house.

Elliot’s left arm held both the newspaper and Lorimer’s arm, his right was in his coat pocket holding his revolver. Though they were passing through slum and semislum neighborhoods — their obviously affluent appearance drawing a hostile stare or two — they were unmolested. Elliot wondered if perhaps the local predators had moved uptown or west in search of choicer game.

The buildings on Eleventh Street east of First Avenue were old but not dilapidated; most were sandblast-clean, the street in front of them unlittered, garbage tightly in cans. They passed several armed private guards patrolling the street and an open storefront with a sign, repeated in four other languages, that said, “TOMPKINS SQUARE PARK COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION–Security Officer on Duty.” If Elliot had not known better, he could have mistaken the block for one in the West Eighties off Riverside Drive.

Between Avenues B and C was a building numbered 635 East Eleventh Street, several steps up to a door with another sign, reading, “ROOMS FOR RENT — No Dogs or Welfare Parasites.” Elliot pressed the door buzzer; in a short while a man’s voice asked over an intercom who was there.

“Rabinowitz,” Elliot said. “I called earlier about a room.”

In a few moments, a man opened a peephole. “I’m Emmanuel Ferrer. You spoke to my son?”

“No, sir. To Mrs. Ferrer.”

He opened the door and let them in.

The building’s interior was not luxurious but was well appointed with wood-paneled walls and carpeted floors. Ferrer, a thin-haired man with a small paunch, led them up a twisting staircase to his second-floor apartment; a delicious mixture of cooking odors floated out the door.

Inside his living room, in front of a video wall screen, were a thin woman about forty, a boy about Elliot’s age, and a girl whom Elliot guessed thirteen. Mrs. Ferrer turned to her son and said, “Turn off the record, Raphael. Company.” Raphael got up and disengaged the videodisc.

“This is my wife, Francesca,” said Ferrer, “my daughter Carla, and — as you heard — my son Raphael. Please sit down.” Elliot and Lorimer took seats near the couch, where the family was sitting. “Did you have a nice dinner?”

“Very nice,” said Lorimer.

“Good, good. Would you like some coffee?”

“No, thank you. I’m still pretty full.” Elliot shook his head also.

“My wife tells me that you were sent to us by Mr. Chin?”

“That’s correct, sir,” Elliot answered.

“Please forgive me if I sound suspicious but these are terrible times. Could you describe what Mr. Chin looks like to me?”

Elliot considered it a moment, then replied, “Yes, sir, but I don’t think it would be discreet for me to do so.”

Ferrer nodded; Elliot had evaded his trap. “How long were you planning to stay with us?”

“Well, that’s sort of up in the air. We’d be interested in a weekly rate — starting off with one week.”

“You’d want to do your own cooking?”

Elliot looked over to Lorimer. She nodded.

“And I should mention before we get too far along,” Elliot continued, “that all I have to pay with is gold or eurofrancs.”

Mr. Ferrer’s attitude shifted visibly from cautious to respectful. “Let me show you the apartment we have available. If you like it, we can discuss price. Raphael, the key to 3A.”

Ferrer led Elliot and Lorimer up another flight, taking them into a front apartment. Elliot decided at first glance that he liked it. Light and airy — as much as any apartment could be at night — it was decorated with Spanish modern furnishings. A good-sized living room with a picture window facing the street, a dinette off a small kitchen, and a bedroom with queen-size bed — full bath adjoining — were all spotlessly clean and carpeted throughout. All appliances, with the exception of a ten-year-old Sony portable television, were fairly new; the kitchen was fully equipped with cooking gear, utensils, and dishes.

Elliot caught Lorimer’s eyes, receiving nonverbal confirmation that she liked the apartment as much as he did, and he asked Ferrer how much he had in mind.

“The price on this apartment is three grams of gold a week, or thirty eurofrancs.”

Elliot nodded.

“Come downstairs again while my daughter brings up towels and makes up the bed.”

“She doesn’t have to go to all that trouble. I can take

“I wouldn’t hear of it,” said Ferrer. “It’s how she earns her allowance.”

After they had returned downstairs, Ferrer directed Carla to her preparations, Elliot then paying him thirty eurofrancs cash. Mrs. Ferrer wrote out a receipt for one week’s rent, a fabricated price in New Dollars written in.

“Is there anyone around here who sells ration books?” Elliot asked. “Or a grocery store not too fussy about regulations?”

“We have a food cooperative here that doesn’t bother with such nonsense,” said Ferrer. “If you like, we can have groceries delivered while you’re here. I’ll give you the order form.”

They chatted about nothing in particular until Carla returned, then Mrs. Ferrer mentioned to her husband that it was ten thirty. “Yes,” said Mr. Ferrer, rising, “early Mass tomorrow.”

“Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Rabinowitz would like to join us?” chimed in Raphael. His sister directed a dirty look at him.

Elliot was pondering Lorimer’s religious orientation — his own was militant solipsism — when Lorimer saved him by cutting in, “Thank you, but we’re Jewish.”

“Would you eat breakfast with us?” Mrs. Ferrer asked. “There is nothing to eat in your refrigerator and there are no food deliveries until Monday.”

“Unless your dietary laws–” began Mr. Ferrer.

“We don’t observe them,” said Lorimer. “We’d be delighted to join you.”

“Good. We usually eat when we get back — ten o’clock.”

After good nights were said, Elliot and Lorimer were given keys and returned upstairs, Elliot removing overcoat, jacket, and shoes, then collapsing on the living-room couch. Lorimer got her travel bag and took out a purse, presenting fifteen eurofrancs to Elliot. “What’s this for?” he asked.

“My half of the rent.”

“I didn’t ask you to split it.”

“I’d be paying one way or another. This limits my obligation.” Elliot shrugged, a difficult motion while supine, and took the bills, returning several to Lorimer. “I don’t understand,” she said.

“You paid for dinner. The least I can do is pick up the bribes.”

She shrugged and took the bills.

“You know,” said Elliot, “you have a lot of chutzpah for a goy.”

She grinned. “If you’re going to play a role, you might as well play it to the hilt.”

“Maybe you can. But ‘to the hilt’ is exactly how I can’t play it.”

“Why not? You speak the idiom better than I do.”

Elliot paused for a moment. Interesting, he thought. “Uh — never mind. Let’s just hope Mr. Ferrer doesn’t invite me to a steam bath.”

She shrugged again. “Coming to bed?”

“Soon,” he said. “I just want to scan the paper for a few minutes.”


Elliot remained on the couch for another moment then dragged himself over to the dining table, pulling off the first section of the Times. After reading the article on the Texas-secession issue up to the continuation notice, he flipped to the bottom half of the front page for the first time.

There was a story headlined:



Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XVI.

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

Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

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