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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 8


“I can’t serve you without proof-of-age,” the bartender said, not without kindness. “Sorry.”

Elliot placed a thousand blues on the counter. “Just coffee. In the back, please.” The bartender took the bills, nodding.

Rick’s Café Américain was now on Columbus Avenue near Seventy-first Street.

The proliferation of videodiscs and wall screens — combined with an ever-increasing nostalgia mania — had caused a revolution in nightlife. Gone were most stand-up comics, mimes, dance bands, and dinner theatres; they had been replaced by cinema cabarets. On weekends the cafe was the domain of Ansonia students, who came to watch continuously run Humphrey Bogart films. Elliot had been there with Marilyn and Phillip on several occasions; a few minutes ago he had remembered it as an intimate place with secluded rear booths where a person could be undisturbed a long while.

Not very much after Elliot had settled himself in, the bartender brought Elliot his cup. Elliot took a sip, suppressing a choke. “There’s whiskey in here,” he said hoarsely.

The barkeep looked surprised. “Irish coffee. Isn’t that what you ordered?”

Elliot was about to tell him that when he said coffee he just meant coffee, but cut himself off. “Not exactly, but this will do fine. Thanks.” The bartender left, shaking his head slowly, leaving Elliot with the thought that this might just give the man incentive to divert any nosy police.

Soon Elliot felt more collected than he had been in a day. Even his shoulder did not hurt quite as much. He got down to some serious thinking.

One. Each time he was now seen in public would be at the risk of impromptu arrest. As inefficient as the police were, the long-term odds were stacked in their favor.

Two. It seemed to Elliot that the possibility of proceeding through legal channels was, if not closed entirely, at least sharply restricted. Especially since he did not even know what charge he was being sought on. What if it were for his father’s murder? In any event, he knew no lawyer he was willing to trust at the moment.

Three. Unless he could make trustworthy countereconomic contacts, the gold would remain of no use to him. And he was running out of blues frightfully fast.

Finally, four. Even if his resources were unlimited, he still had no idea of how to proceed with getting his family free. He did not even know of anyone who did.

Conclusions. He had to hide out with someone who could be trusted — someone who could act as a business agent for him. Hobson’s choice: the only person whom he was at all inclined to trust was Phillip Gross. Elliot checked his watch; it was coming up on noon. Phillip and he were both scheduled for first lunch; he decided to walk over to Ansonia and catch him before Contemporary Civilization.

He never made it to Ansonia’s second floor. Elliot had just climbed the stairs past the first floor when he ran into Dr. Fischer on her way down. They both stopped, staring at each other for several heartbeats. Then Dr. Fischer said softly, “Come into my office, please.”

He thought about running. He knew that if he ran, nobody could catch him. But there was something about the way Dr. Fischer seemed to be looking right through him that made him decide not to run. He followed her past the reception area into her office.

Dr. Fischer closed the inner door. “There were police here this morning asking about you,” she said, “asking if anyone knew where you were. They said they were making inquiries for your mother, that you had gone on a rampage when you learned your father was dead.” She paused a moment. “They mentioned that you had taken one of your father’s guns.”

Elliot nodded. “I was wondering what story they’d come up with.”

“It’s true? The Administration has murdered your father?”

Elliot turned white. “How much have you heard? What’s your source?”

“Only rumors,” Dr. Fischer said quickly, calming him. “It is being said in many places that your father did not die of natural causes.”

Elliot took a deep breath. “As far as I know, ma’am, my father is still alive. At least he was yesterday afternoon when –”

“Afternoon?” she interrupted. “But your sister said –”

He waved it away. “My sister was acting. My mother’s orders.”

“But she was so convincing,” Dr. Fischer said.

“She’s a drama student at Juilliard.”

Dr. Fischer went to her desk, pulled out a cigarette which she inserted into a holder, and lighted it. After taking a deep drag, she said, “It’s dangerous for you here, Elliot. The police will return — next time, I fear, with a search warrant.”

“I was planning to see if maybe Phillip Gross could put me up.”

She looked as if the idea surprised her, then smiled slightly. “Yes. Very good. But you should not be seen together, even here. You may stay here until shortly before Phillip’s class is out, then walk to his apartment. I’ll tell him that you’ll be waiting for him nearby.” Elliot nodded. Dr. Fischer relaxed slightly, took another drag on her cigarette, and smiled again. “Have you eaten lunch?”

After two cheeseburgers, apple brown Betty, and milk, which Dr. Fischer brought down to him from the cafeteria, Elliot resigned himself to a wait while Dr. Fischer sat at her desk doing paperwork. He got out his Paris Match and began struggling through an article questioning whether EUCOMTO should sell its new hypersonic transports to the People’s Republic of Taiwan.

At two thirty, Dr. Fischer told Elliot that the coast was clear, and he left Ansonia. It was set up that he would meet Phillip on the approach to his Lincoln Towers apartment. Elliot walked west on Seventieth Street to the junction of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, then, after checking for police, he crossed over to Amsterdam. He walked down a block to the Lincoln Towers driveway, leaned against he wall of the now-empty public library — out of sight of the Lincoln Towers guardhouse — and covered his face with the Paris Match. Periodically, he glanced over the top.

At a quarter past three, Phillip showed up. Elliot lowered the magazine, allowing Phillip to spot him, then waited for the traffic light to change. Several moments later Phillip crossed Amsterdam and joined him. “Fancy meeting you here,” Elliot said dryly from behind the magazine.

Phillip assumed an habitual sardonic expression. “Come on,” he said tapping Elliot on the shoulder. “We’re exposed out here.”

They started into the complex, Phillip nodding to the security guard as they passed, and to the German doorman as 180 West End Avenue when they entered the building. A few minutes later they entered his seventh-floor apartment, furnished in the eternal New-York-Jewish-Upper-West-Side mode. Phillip told Elliot to wait, then disappeared a few moments into one of the bedrooms. “I had to reset the burglar alarm,” he explained when he returned.

They took off their outer coats, Phillip hanging them up, then he suggested Elliot make himself more comfortable by removing his jacket as well. Elliot hesitated a moment, then took it off, revealing his holstered revolver. Philip looked at Elliot queerly. “You know how to use that thing?” he asked.

“It saved my life yesterday. Twice.”

“Did you shoot anybody?”

“No. I missed.”

“Accidentally or on purpose?”

Phillip never received an answer to the question for at that moment his uncle walked into the apartment.

Morris Gross was a thin, Semitic-looking man in his early seventies with sparse white hair and wire-rimmed spectacles. Still standing in the entrance alcove, he removed an overcoat, scarf, and a Russian fur hat. Elliot started wondering how he could explain his gun when Phillip, noticing his friend’s expression, leaned over, whispering, “Easy, you’re among friends.”

“Hello, hello,” said Mr. Gross as he entered the living room. He spoke with a Yiddish accent.

Elliot stood up along with Phillip. “Uncle Morris,” Phillip said, “you remember Elliot Vreeland.”

“Yes, of course.” Mr. Gross approached Elliot, and they shook hands. “I’m deeply sorry to hear of your father’s passing. He was a man of rare courage.”

Elliot felt mixed emotions — embarrassment about the cover story, worried hope that his father’s death was only a cover story. “Uh, thank you, Mr. Gross.” Elliot glanced over to Phillip for guidance; his friend nodded reassurance. “I’d like to explain about the gun.”

“No need,” said Mr. Gross. “I’ve had to carry them on occasion myself. I manufacture jewelry, you know.”

“You’re home early,” Phillip said. “Your stomach acting up again?”

Mr. Gross nodded. “Gold went up another 31 percent today. I can’t stockpile it fast enough. I left Nikki to close the office.” He turned to Elliot. “Will you join us for dinner tonight? Or do you have family responsibilities?”

“Of course you will,” said Phillip, taking Elliot off the spot. “We won’t take no for an answer, Ell.”

“Thank you,” said Elliot. “But do you have someplace where I can hang my holster, first?”

A few minutes later, the boys were alone in Phillip’s bedroom, Elliot settled into a leather recliner, Phillip prone on his bed. Over the next hour Elliot gave a chronological and fairly complete account of the events leading up to his current dilemma. Phillip listened attentively, without interrupting. When finished, Elliot asked his friend whether he would help. “Of course,” Phillip said simply. “What do you want me to do?”

“To be honest, I don’t know. I suppose I should get a lawyer, eh?”

“I’m not a legal expert, Ell. I don’t know, either.”

“Well, the two of us can’t go up against the entire U.S. government single-handedly, can we?”

Phillip barely cracked a smile. “I don’t think so.”

“Then what do you think I should do?”

“You’re asking my advice?”

Elliot cocked a brow. “You’re getting at something.”

Phillip remained silent.

“Yes, I’m asking your advice.”

“Then,” said Phillip, “I think you should repeat your story for my uncle and ask his advice.”

Elliot considered this for a long moment. “Phil, I don’t know your uncle. Do you really think he’d help me?”

“He might. You can ask.”

“But how will he take this? There are a lot of legal and political overtones he might not like.”

“I guarantee you a safe conduct out of here whether he likes them or not.”

“But does he know anything about this sort of business?”

Phillip smiled again. “I think so. When he was fourteen, he fought for the Irgun in the founding of Israel.”

Elliot shut up.

Phillip glanced over at the wall clock, then got up. “I’d better start on dinner.”

“You’re cooking?”

“Why not? I’m quite a chef.”

Elliot grinned widely. “Can I watch?”

“Absolutely not.” Phillip switched his television wall screen from disc playback to live reception and touched it on. “Rot your mind a bit,” he said, then left.

Elliot caught most of a drama called Presidential Healer, a series about a United States President who cured his subjects by laying on of hands, then Dr. Witch, a comedy about an African witch doctor who had attended medical school and was now practicing in Long Beach, California. After being chased out of the kitchen by Phillip, he turned to Hello, Joe — Whadd’ya Know? It concerned the adventures of an intellectual gorilla named Joe — the product of primate educational research — who was a philosophy professor and resident sage at Gazpacho College. This episode concerned the problems that arose when Joe found himself scheduled for both a cello recital and the finals of an international chess competition on the same night.

There were no commercials. There were, however, a number of public-service announcements, leading into the six o’clock news.

A man and a woman — two well-known TV-series actors — were sitting in a shooting set on canvas chairs. “Remember,” said the male actor, talking sincerely to the cameras, “That just one little ounce of gold bullion can put you away in a federal penitentiary for up to twenty years.”

This made Elliot’s day.

“And the FBI,” said the actress, “now has a twenty-four-hour free hotline to report anyone engaging in black-market speculation. Black-marketeers steal from all of us, and prolong this economic crisis. Don’t help a brownie. If you know of any, remember your patriotic duty and call now.”

An 800 series inward-WATS telephone number was superimposed on the screen; in disgust, Elliot changed channels in time to hear the promo for another station’s evening news: “–tape of a mass demonstration on Broadway that ended with violence. This story and others in one minute!”

“Dinner is on!” Phillip called from the dining room. At that moment, however, Elliot would not have budged if the gods had personally offered him ambrosia and nectar.

A teletype machine soloed in an overture, then: “Good evening,” said a sandy-haired newsman. “I’m Monahan Scott with the news.”

“This morning’s anti-wage/price control march down Broadway by an estimated sixty thousand members of Citizens for a Free Society ended in violence soon after it began when a New York City policeman — apparently without provocation — attacked one of the marchers. Neither the identity of the officer nor that of the demonstrator is known. Frieda Sandwell was there and spoke to one of the demonstrators.”

The picture zoomed in to Columbus Circle with clouds of tear gas chasing demonstrators, one of them retching on the street. Another marcher was seen being clubbed by two policemen. There was a shot of a policeman being kicked in the groin by a woman marcher. The screen then cut to a teen-age boy with a bloody gash over his black head-kerchief, being interviewed by the flawlessly groomed Frieda Sandwell. “Well, we was just goin’ along peacefully,” the boy said, “when this crazy pig yells somethin’, charges into the march, and grabs one of our people.”

“Did you hear what the officer shouted?” asked Frieda Sandwell, shoving a microphone in his mouth.

“It sounded like, ‘Let’s tear the freedom boys!’”

“Hey,” said Phillip, entering the bedroom. “Your dinner’s getting cold.”

Elliot switched off the television and without saying a word followed his friend to supper.

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter IX.

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


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