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Authors: Lee Carroll

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BOOK: Black Swan Rising
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I got dressed in black slacks, a crisp white cotton shirt, and a green cashmere sweater—comfortable clothes that looked smart enough in case I had to talk to the police or reporters at the hospital. Before I went back downstairs I sat on my bed and read the whole article about Will Hughes.


Will Hughes reports that his fund, Black Swan Partners LP, is up +14% ytd despite the dramatic declines in all market indices this year. “My strategy is based on historical equity patterns,” Hughes told this reporter, “and I suspect I go back further and in more detail through stock market records than most managers do.” When asked to elaborate Hughes said only that he has a long family history in the stock market, and thus access to private financial records that are not available
to the investing public. Hughes’s favorable results have resulted in an influx of capital this year; Hughes would not give specifics but he is reputed to manage in excess of five billion dollars and he said the additional funds are “significant.” “I’m being contacted by so many investors that I’m giving thought to starting a second fund, Green Hills Partners, which would have a socially conscious, environmental orientation that Black Swan lacks,” Hughes revealed. “Maybe some concern for animal protection issues too. That’s long been a dream of mine.” Asked about the frequent criticism of socially conscious investing for being less lucrative than the mainstream variety, Hughes responded wryly that he wouldn’t call investing in today’s market “lucrative.” “An investor needs a quality manager who learns from the past and studies the future, not one who fantasizes about it by taking foolish risks. That’s all that matters.”


I put the newspaper article down and reached for my pendant, which I’d left on my night table last night. Instead of finding the pendant, though, I picked up the silver seal that had come off the box. I’d left it on my night table two nights ago after I opened the silver box, along with the one sizable scrap of paper with Will Hughes’s name on it. I picked that up now and tried to read the lines above the signature and the seal, but the letters were so tiny I couldn’t make them out. It was as if the writer had wanted to encode his message.

I took the paper out into the studio, retrieved my jeweler’s loupe from my bag, and, laying the paper on the worktable in a pool of bright sunlight, looked through the magnifying glass.
The words were larger, but they still didn’t make any sense. I picked up the fragment and the delicate paper turned transparent in the sunlight, the black writing hovering in the air like winged words. Still indecipherable, but . . . I turned the paper over and the enigmatic script resolved itself into English words. Holding the reversed paper up to the loupe, I read what appeared to be two lines of poetry.


Then swan in sudden flight startles, distracts,

And dominates the sky with wings of black.


The image was eerily like the one in my dreams, the black swan rising from the silver lake. For a moment I seemed to hear the sound of those wings again, but I shook my head and the sound vanished. Instead I heard the beating of my own heart. Could it be that this man, Will Hughes, who ran a hedge fund called Black Swan Partners and posed under a coat of arms identical to the seal on the box, was somehow connected to whoever wrote these lines? I shook my head again, this time because I had a strange and claustrophobic sense of things closing in on me. There were too many coincidences . . . too many connections. And yet . . . if Will Hughes was connected to the box, he might be able to help me find it again.

I went downstairs feeling curiously buoyed. The sun was shining, my father was going to be all right, and I had a lead that could possibly prove his innocence. When I saw the shocked looks on Jay’s and Becky’s faces, though, I was afraid that something awful had happened, but it wasn’t awful, just surprising.

“Will Hughes called ten minutes ago—,” Jay began, but Becky, writhing in her seat, cut in.

“He’s sending a car for you at three. He said to bring the ring.”

My good mood lasted through the walk to the hospital. The day was crisp and clear, mild for mid-December—all signs of last night’s malodorous rain and fog swept from the clean blue sky. The only remnants of last night’s freakish weather were the puddles of dirty water that the shopkeepers on Greenwich were sweeping out into the streets. I waved at the couple who ran Tea & Sympathy and said good morning just for the joy of hearing their British accents and getting called “love.” I gave a couple of dollars to a homeless woman who was sitting cross-legged on the curb conversing intently with a plume of steam rising from a manhole cover. She raised her nut-brown face to me, then lowered it, spit in her hand, and waved to me as I continued up Greenwich. I passed the hospital on Seventh and continued on Greenwich to the Lafayette French bakery, which made an apple strudel my father said reminded him of one his mother used to make.

On the way to the bakery I passed Tibet Kailash, a Tibetan clothing store where I often bought gifts. The window was full of bright silks that reminded me of the head-scarf Obie Smith had been wearing last night. The store didn’t usually open this early, but when he saw me peering through the window, the owner buzzed me in. The shop smelled deliciously of sandalwood and rose water. I picked out a multicolored silk scarf with silver and gold threads running through it and brought it up to the counter.

“I don’t think I’ve smelled this incense before,” I commented as the owner wrapped the scarf in purple paper and
slipped it into a small orange bag (one of the reasons I loved buying gifts here was for the pretty packaging, which often came with a poem from the Dalai Lama).

“The street had a peculiar smell this morning,” he said. “This takes it away. Here.” He added a few cones of incense to the bag. “Burn these if there’s another fog like that.”

“Sure, thanks. I hope we don’t have weather like that again, though. It gave me a migraine.”

He shook his head. “I think we’re in for a lot more like that—and worse.” He added three prayer cards to my package.

I left, trying to shake off the Tibetan man’s words, my mood beginning to dampen. The smells of the bakery revived me a little and I felt better when I entered my father’s room and found him sitting upright in bed, his color good, his eyes alert.

“Margaret,” he crooned when he saw me. “You’ll never guess who visited me last night!”

“Last night? I was here until the end of visiting hours.”

He waved away the strudel I offered him and grabbed my hand. “Santé Leone!”

“Santé Leone?” I repeated the name, sitting down on the edge of his bed.

“You remember him, don’t you? He was from Haiti and he did those enormous canvases full of tropical colors . . .”

“Yes, I remember him, Dad. It’s just—”

“It was wonderful to see him again! And the best thing of all”—he drew me toward him and whispered—“he’s painting again! His clothes were splattered with fresh paint in every color of the rainbow. He told me he had a dozen new paintings for me. You know what people would pay for a new Santé Leone?”

“Millions, Dad. I’m sure they’d pay millions.”

“You bet! See, I told you something would turn up. Our financial troubles are over.” He released my hand and fell back against his pillows.

“Okay, Dad,” I said, running my hand over his forehead. His brow was a little warm to the touch but not feverish. “That’s great. You just lie back for a moment. I’m going to go find your doctor.”

He closed his eyes and fell immediately to sleep, snoring softly.

“He’s been waiting up since four in the morning to tell you about his visit from Saint Lion.” The voice came from a man leaning in the doorway. It took me a moment to recognize Obie Smith out of his nurse scrubs. He was wearing a long black leather coat over black jeans and an orange silk shirt. His long dreadlocks, which had been covered by a bandanna last night, hung loose down his back.

“Saint Lion,” I repeated. “I haven’t heard anyone call him that in years.” Santé Leone—Saint Lion—had come from Haiti in the early eighties on a scholarship to Pratt. He’d dropped out and started painting luminous murals all over Manhattan, always signed with his trademark: a stylized lion with one raised paw and a halo above his head. Saint Lion. My father had tracked him down to the burned-out tenement building on the Lower East Side where he was living—camping out, really—and bought six of his paintings. He’d nurtured his career, brought him to the town house for meals, introduced him to the art world, and gave him his first show. The night before his work was to appear at the Whitney Biennial, Santé died of a heroin overdose.

“My dad always thought he could have done something to save him,” I said, getting up and joining Obie Smith in the
doorway. “I hope that thinking about him now doesn’t mean he’s reliving that guilt.”

Obie Smith shook his head. “He said Santé came to show him there were no hard feelings.”

I ducked my head to hide the tears that had sprung to my eyes. “Here.” I held out the orange bag for him. It matched his shirt. “You’ve been so kind, I wanted to—”

“Don’t thank me,” he said, taking the bag from me. “I’m just doing what I do.” He opened the package and smiled at the multicolored scarf, then whisked it out of its wrapping paper so that it floated on the air like an exotic butterfly, then settled around his neck.

“It suits you.”

“I do believe it does,” he said, grinning at me. Then he gave me a courtly bow and swirled around, his black coat billowing around him like a cape, and walked away. He had a spring in his step that made me feel he was listening to music only he could hear. I watched him all the way down the long hall, and then just before he reached the corner, he turned back to face me and gave me another huge smile.

I blushed to be caught watching him and quickly turned away . . . only to run into Detective Joe Kiernan.

“Oh good, I’m glad you’re here,” he said, taking my elbow and steering me toward the waiting room.

“I’m here to see my father, Detective.” I shook my arm free of his and started back toward my father’s room, but Kiernan caught up with me and blocked the doorway. “What? Is it about something my father said? You know I don’t think anything he says under the influence of the drugs he’s taking is admissible—”

“It’s not something your father said. It’s what the men who robbed your house are saying.”

“Really? You caught them?” I asked genuinely surprised and delighted at this turn of events. Now there’d be no question of my father having been involved in the burglary and we’d get our paintings back. “That’s great! Did they have the silver box?”

Kiernan gave me a strange look. “They had your Pissarros, Miss James. No sign of a silver box.”

“Oh . . . that’s too bad . . . but, thank God the Pissarros have been recovered. That’s really good news.”

“I’m afraid it’s not all good news. The two men have both confessed, separately, that your father hired them to commit the burglary.”

You’re not allowed to use cell phones in St. Vincent’s, so after I finished talking to Detective Kiernan, I went outside to call Chuck Chennery.

“I simply cannot believe that of your father,” Chuck said in his reassuringly plummy drawl. “Someone is setting him up. I’m going to have a talk with Dave Reiss in our criminal division and then we’ll be down to see you at the hospital later this morning.”

I thanked him and went back inside to see my father. He had woken up and was arguing with the nurse about eating his breakfast.

“I’ll take it from here,” I told the nurse.

When she was gone, I took away the tray of congealing eggs and runny Jell-O and presented him with the apple strudel
from Lafayette’s. He didn’t seem to have any memory of me bringing it earlier—or, in fact, of seeing me earlier—so I didn’t bring up his “visit” from Santé Leone. Instead, when he had finished the strudel and I had brushed the crumbs from his bedsheet, I told him I had to ask him a question.

“I want you to promise me not to get upset,” I said. “I’ll only ask it this one time and I’ll accept whatever you tell me.” I took a deep breath. “The police have caught the men who robbed the gallery—”

“That’s great news—”

“—and they’re saying you hired them to do it.”

All the color drained from my father’s face and his hands knotted the hem of his bedsheet. I regretted having to tell him this, but it was better he heard it from me and not from a police officer. “Margaret,” he said—he only ever used my full name when something serious or momentous had happened—“do you think I would bring . . .
like that into our home?”

“I’ll believe whatever you tell me, Dad. Did you?”

“On your mother’s memory, I swear I had nothing to do with it.”

I squeezed his hand, easing his grip off the crumpled sheets. “Okay, Dad, that’s good enough for me. Chuck Chennery is coming over here and he’s bringing a criminal defense lawyer from the firm. We’ll take care of this. You’re not to talk to anyone about it but me and Chuck and the other lawyer. Okay?”

My father held up one finger, a gesture he made when he had a point to make. “And your mother, of course.”

“What about Mom?”

“I can talk to her about it, can’t I?”

I patted his hand. At least he hadn’t asked if he could talk to
Santé Leone about it. “Sure, Dad. You can talk to Mom.” Then I smoothed down his sheets and tucked the ends back under the mattress. My hands brushed something rough on the fabric, as if something had spilled on the bed. I looked down and saw a spray of paint on the sheets—lime green, coral, sun-washed yellow, and aquamarine. The colors Santé Leone had favored.

BOOK: Black Swan Rising
6.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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