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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 16


Sunday it rained.

It began after five, drops of sleet pelting their bedroom window like distant shots ricocheting. Inside the darkened room, a boy and a girl lay next to one another under covers, their body heat irradiating each other against the outer cold.

She reached over, turning on the light. “You still haven’t slept any, have you?”

He stared blankly up at the ceiling. No.

“You think talking about it would help any?”

“It might make me feel better. That’s all.”

“That’s all?”

“I wouldn’t be any closer to solving the problem.

She reached over to the bed table, got a cigarette, and lit it. “How do you know? You don’t have a monopoly on brains.”

“I don’t have the right to lay it on you.

“It would break a confidence?”

“No, that’s not it,” he said.

“Then feel better. Tell me.”

“It’s not your problem.”

“For Christ’s sake, you’re keeping me up, aren’t you. It fucking well is my problem.”

Elliot did not say anything.

“Look,” she said, “I’ll trade you problems.

He smiled slightly. “I have a feeling you’d be making a bum deal.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t. As a matter of fact, we still don’t know the first thing about each other.”

She tickled behind his ear. “The first thing?”

“Well, yes, there’s that. But you can’t fuck all the time.”

“Why not?”

He smiled slightly. “Okay, we’ll trade. You start.”

“Don’t you trust me?”

“Sure I trust you. You start.”

“Bastard.” She took a puff. “All right, I guess you won’t turn me in. I ran away from home.”

“Definitely a firing-squad offense,” Elliot said, only slightly sarcastically.

“Quite possible. I took some microfilm with me.”

“Getting more interesting.”

“The FBI file on the Cadre and other subversives. The only complete copy left in existence after the firebombings of Bureau offices.”

Elliot was slightly awed. “And it was just laying around home?”

“Well, not exactly lying around,” she corrected him. “It was in a safe I saw being opened once. By my father. I was hiding at the time.”

“What was this file doing in your father’s safe?”

“My father is Lawrence Powers, director of the FBI.”

Elliot turned over onto his elbow and examined her face closely. “You’re not bullshitting?”

She drew a cross between her breasts.

“Why’d you do it?”

She hesitated a moment. “Why does anyone defect? Ideological reasons.”

“But your own father?”

“I didn’t shoot the motherfucker. I just stole his film. He’ll live.”

Elliot shook his head. “All right, don’t tell me, then. But don’t give me any crap about ‘ideological reasons.'”

Lorimer hesitated a long moment, took a drag on her cigarette, then answered flatly, unemotionally, as if what she was reporting had happened many years before. But Elliot could hear an undertone of great tension and much bitterness. “My father,” she began. “My father committed my mother to a mental institution. My mother was a saint whose only insanity was telling members of the press that she thought my father was a monster– which he is. Last week, after a shock treatment, my mother killed herself. She had been saving up sleeping pills. She knew my father had the connections to keep her in there forever. I stole the film while my father was at her funeral. A political showcase–I wouldn’t have let my face be seen with him there anyway.”

Elliot had listened closely, worried that he had bullied her into relating too-painful events. Lorimer was silent for a moment, then looked up and said, “Your turn,” then added softly, “Prick.”

Elliot answered quietly, “My mother and sister are locked up at a nice little prison in Massachusetts. Code name Utopia.”

“My father’s personal dungeon,” said Lorimer. “Why do they rate?”

“I think it’s because they can prove that my father did not die of natural causes.”

She looked puzzled.

“My father was Dr. Martin Vreeland.”

It was her turn to be shocked.

“Might as well start calling me Romeo, Juliet. By the way, not-Lorimer, what is your name?”

“Deanne Powers.” She pronounced her first name in one syllable.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said. “I’m Elliot Vreeland.”

“Charmed,” she replied.

Elliot extended his hand formally. They shook.

“Listen, Deanne–No, on second thought we’d better not break the habit of using our code names.” She nodded. “Okay, then. Lor, we’re teaming up for a while, right?”

“Right, Joe.”

Elliot winced. “Okay. My problem is this. All I have to do is spring my mother and sister from your father’s personal dungeon. The Cadre says they can’t do it, but on Monday I start checking out other possibilities. There’s also the slightest chance that my father is still alive– although I don’t believe it anymore–but if he is, then the Cadre will give me their best shot at finding him, and if my father is dead . . . well, dead is dead.” He paused. “I know that may sound pretty coldblooded but I can’t afford the luxury of feeling for a while.”

“Feeling is a luxury?”

“When the only thing stopping your ass from getting caught–or shot off–is your being able to think clearly, then feeling is a luxury, yes. It’s been pretty marginal for me lately. And for you, too, judging by what I’ve seen.”

“You mean that bastard commandant?”

“Lor, much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think the commandant was being a bastard. Or at least not much of one. A real bastard would’ve tried getting us locked up for six months–and seeing as how I don’t know the way these arbitration hearings turn out, he might’ve made a good case of it. As it was, all he was going to do was evacuate us separately, and now that we know how Cadre communications work, we probably could’ve gotten in touch on the outside.”

“Maybe not. The computer station in my room said I was going to Montreal.”

“If we’d tried paying for the trouble instead of your silly-ass stunt of pulling a gun, he might’ve been more cooperative.”

“That’s not very complimentary,” said Lorimer. “Actually, I thought it was rather machisma.”

“Great. I could have paid tribute in the morgue. By the way, as long as we’re laying it on the line, why did you proposition me? I may be egotistical but I’m no Don Juan.”

“You may not be Don Juan but you’re not Quasimodo, either.”

“You’re evading again.”

“Okay, I can be blunt, too! I wanted to lose my virginity.”

Elliot remained silent for a half-moment, then said, “But there was no . . .”

“I haven’t had a cherry since I was thirteen. Gymnastics.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you couldn’t manage to get laid before you ran into me? Are the guys in Washington all eunuchs?”

“Not Washington. Alexandria, Virginia. And usually not. But could you get it up with the daughter of the chief pig in the country?”

Elliot smiled. “It seems I did.”

“That doesn’t count. You didn’t have to put up with an FBI agent tailing you on dates.”

“Uh–I’ll take the point under consideration.”

“We’ve gotten way off the point,” said Lorimer. “You were telling me about your problem.”

“No, I finished. Tell me yours.”

“Nothing like yours. All I have to do is remain at large with my picture soon to be in every post office in the country.”

“That’s easy,” said Elliot. “Just put stamps on the posters and mail them. They’ll never be seen again.”

“Mmm. Well, neither of us is going to be in any shape to solve anything if we don’t get some sleep. We have to be up for breakfast in under five hours.” Lorimer reached over, crushed her cigarette into its ashtray, and shut off the light.

They were ten minutes late to breakfast.

Mr. Ferrer met them at the door saying, “Come in, join us.”

“Awfully sorry we’re late,” Elliot said sheepishly.

“We overslept,” Lorimer lied.

Ferrer led them to the table. “Nonsense, you can’t oversleep.”

Elliot’s heart skipped a beat.

“If you slept longer, you needed it. Besides, we’re just sitting down.”

Breakfast was unusually plentiful for a private table: oatmeal, bacon, eggs, orange juice, and coffee, the only exception to standard American cuisine being Mrs. Ferrer’s homemade Spanish churros–rolled flat fritters sprinkled with sugar–which she said she had learned to make from Mr. Ferrer’s mother. Elliot decided that if these were the imitations, the originals would have enslaved him for life. He consumed his fill, washing them down with plenty of dark-roast coffee.

Afterward, Carla left to meet a girl friend while her brother drew kitchen duty. The two senior Ferrers invited the “Rabinowitzes” into their living room.

Mr. Ferrer walked over to the window, pulling aside the drapes, and looked out to the street. “Is it still so dreary out?” Elliot asked him.

“It’s still raining,” Ferrer replied. He paused an instant, then added softly, “It washed the garbage off the street.”

“I didn’t see any garbage on the street,” said Lorimer. “Unless you mean the cans–”

“No, no,” he interrupted, letting go the curtain, “not anymore. This was, oh, six years ago. You must have seen the slums just a few blocks from here. Six years ago this block was also a slum.”

“What happened?” Lorimer asked. “Urban renewal?”

Elliot almost choked.

Ferrer said to him, “I see you understand.” He took a seat on the couch, taking a cigarette out of a silver box on the coffee table and lighting up. “No, not urban renewal as you mean it. That only traded flat slums for higher ones.”

“Why?”

“The way the housing projects were rented. The only people who got in were the unworthy poor. Welfare mothers with children they had only to get a bigger check. Drug addicts who had been cured–now they only took methadone. Friends of the politicians.”

“Emmanuel, is no good to think about this after so long.”

“It will not hurt, Francesca, for me to tell it once more.” Ferrer took another puff on his cigarette. “Mrs. Rabinowitz, six years ago I owned a small printing and copy store near New York University. I was not rich from it but it kept food on the table and paid the tuition for my children’s parochial school. Then one day in March, without any warning or reason, the Internal Revenue Service seized my business, my bank accounts, and everything in my apartment.”

“You don’t have to explain any further,” said Lorimer. “I know exactly how that works.”

“Very well. You know then that no matter how I tried, I could not find out why they did this, and that it would have taken years before I got a day in court. In the meantime, I had no job, no belongings, no money. I applied for unemployment insurance and was turned down. I applied for an apartment in a city housing project and was put on a two-year waiting list. I applied for welfare; it was denied.”

“What did you do?” Lorimer asked.

Ferrer snuffed out his cigarette. “I took a messenger job and moved my family into this building–the one we’re now in. It was abandoned. Every building on this street for three blocks was abandoned. Between inflation, taxes, and rent controls, the landlords–slumlords?—all had gone broke. When we moved in, this building was without electricity, running water, heat–”

“But plenty of rats and roaches,” said Raphael, entering from the kitchen. “Of course there was a balanced ecology between them.”

“The rats ate the roaches?” asked Lorimer.

Raphael shook his head. “The other way around.”

“Pay no attention to him,” Mr; Ferrer said. “He’s heard me tell this so many times that he wishes it was only a story.”

“Is the crossword puzzle around here somewhere?” Raphael asked.

“The magazine section is in the bathroom,” said Mrs. Ferrer.

“To continue,” Mr. Ferrer said, “we were the last family living in this building when a man visited us asking who owned it. I told him as far as I knew nobody did and started pleading with him not to make us leave. I thought he was from the government.”

“He wasn’t?”

Ferrer shook his head. “He told me not to worry, that he was just checking up. He had been to the city hall and the last owner had stopped paying taxes and disappeared two years before. Then he asked us how long we were living here–it was seven months–and said that as far as he was concerned we owned this building by possession and was I interested in making a deal to fix it up?”

“And you took him up on it?”

“Of course,” Ferrer said. “He told me he owned a construction company that would do all the renovation work, and he knew a man that would put up the money, splitting the ownership and profits with me fifty-fifty. All I had to do was remain here and manage the building for another six and a half years to maintain continuous possession.”

“Excuse me,” asked Elliot, “but was this man very tall and black? A glass eye?”

Ferrer nodded; Elliot and Lorimer exchanged pointed glances. Guerdon.

“There’s not much more to tell,” Ferrer continued. “He made the same offer to people left in buildings all along this block. We eventually got together, forming the Community Association to split the costs of garbage collection, police and fire protection, and the food cooperative to buy in bulk–later to buy on the countereconomy to avoid shortages and rationing. We do not receive–or want–any government services, and we pay no taxes.”

“Haven’t you had any problems with tax officials, building inspectors, and the like?”

“Our construction friend said he would handle this and he has. Only one city official–housing, I believe–came by with a court order to make us leave. I told our friend about it and never saw the official or his court order again. Police detectives were around this block asking about the man a few days later, but then they gave up and left. This was three years ago, and we have not been bothered since.”

Before they left, Mr. Ferrer remembered to give Elliot and Lorimer the food cooperative’s order form, telling them to return it by that evening if they wished to catch the Monday morning delivery. Lorimer and he thanked the Ferrers for their hospitality, then returned upstairs.

Shortly after their apartment door closed, Elliot asked Lorimer if she had anything to keep herself busy awhile.

“I suppose I could watch some TV.”

“You said that to make me ill, didn’t you?” Elliot’s face then brightened; he found in his coat pocket the Heinlein paperback he had reread half a week before, tossing it to her. “Try this instead.”

Lorimer stuck out her tongue at him. “Snob. I bet I’ve read more science fiction than you.” She retired to the living room with the book.

For the next hour, Elliot brought himself up to date, the Times spread over the dining table, the kitchen radio tuned to WINS, an all-news station.

What he thought most significant was what was not mentioned. There was no news of an FBI raid on a Cadre base (which should have hit the air by now, though missing his paper’s deadline), there was no news concerning the weekend arrest of any dissidents. Had the dragnet his father had been fleeing never materialized–perhaps aborted by Lorimer’s microfilm theft–or had it proceeded silently to capture the Grosses?

Later, Elliot told Lorimer that he was going out to buy a few items. “Anything you want me to bring back?”

“Something to eat later. I don’t much feel like going out in this weather.”

“Okay. How’s the book so far?”

“Not bad,” she said. “Almost as good as Hello, Joe– Whadd’ya Know?

Elliot shook his head sadly and started for the door.

A very wet ten-minute walk brought him to nonvideo pay phones at the corner of First Avenue and Fourteenth Street. Elliot inserted a vendy and punched in the number Chin had given him to telephone the Cadre. The phone answered on the second ring, a recorded female voice saying, “You have reached 800-326-0996. After the tone, please record your message.”

After the tone Elliot said, ” ‘Queen takes pawn, Mate,'” and read off the pay phone’s number, hanging up immediately. Then he followed the seconds on his watch.

Sixty-seven seconds later the telephone rang; Elliot picked up immediately. Another voice, now male, said, “Joseph Rabinowitz?”

“Yes,” said Elliot. “I can talk freely?”

“We believe this line secure. How can we help you?”

“Would there be any difficulty in putting me through to Chin?”

“Please hold while I try to relay you.”

Elliot turned up his collar uselessly; rain still ran down his neck.

In about another minute, a familiar voice came on and said, “Joseph?”

“Hello, Chin.”

“When did you last see me?”

“Yesterday afternoon,” said Elliot.

“Oh, yes. Our private chat.”

“No, I was with Lorimer.”

“How’s your health?”

Elliot pondered this last query for a moment, then replied, “Not bad. But–do you have anything for clogged sinuses?”

“What can I do for you, Joseph?” Chin asked.

“Information. Are you sure we’re secure?”

“Relax. What’s on your mind?”

“First,” said Elliot, “I need an identity check. Lorimer.”

“I can’t give you her name without her permission. The best I can do is confirm or deny a name you give me.”

“Check this, then. Deanne Powers.”

“It checks,” Chin said.

“She’s really the FBI chief’s daughter?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re sure she’s on your side?”

Elliot could hear Chin’s dry chuckle. “My friend, she has a higher psychometric loyalty rating than you.”

“I don’t recall taking any tests,” said Elliot.

“What do you think your entire visit to Aurora was?”

“Uh–never mind. Next point. I want to find out if the friends–the allies–who arranged my visit to Aurora are okay. I don’t know their Cadre names. Should I give you their real names?”

“No,” Chin said. “They’re listed in your file as your sureties. Wait a moment.” In a little while, Chin said, “Stay away from their apartment. It’s been captured.”

“But are they okay?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t tell you anything over this line.”

Elliot swallowed a lump that had been building since yesterday. The Grosses were dead–they had to be dead.

“All right,” Elliot said slowly. “Okay. Has there been any progress about my–family?”

Chin’s voice was even gentler. “There have been no new entries in your file since you left, Joseph.”

“Okay.”

“Are you staying at the place I recommended?” Chin asked.

“Yes. Very nice people.”

“Fine. I’ll record that in your file so if we lose relay prematurely we can get word to you there. Laissez-faire.”

On the way back, Elliot stopped at a grocery store, picking up a supply of cold cuts, sandwich makings, fruit, soft drinks, and a tube of toothpaste. He paid for them with vendies and the few remaining ration tickets he had in his wallet. A little farther east on Fourteenth Street he stepped into another store for a few minutes, again paying with vendies, walking out with a smaller purchase.

When he got back to the apartment, drenched to the bone, Lorimer was still on the couch, reading. After hanging his overcoat on the showerhead to dry, Elliot brought the second bag into the living room. “Catch,” he said, tossing Lorimer a strange-looking roll.

She caught it. “What’s this?”

“A hot bialy,” he said.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XVII.

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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