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Authors: Sebastian Stuart

The Mentor

BOOK: The Mentor
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The author wishes to thank Ann Collette, Helen Rees, Joan Mazmanian, Audrey Schulman, and Stephen McCauley. And especially my editor, Beverly Lewis.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.

THE MENTOR

A Bantam Book / November 1999

All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1999 by Sebastian Stuart.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address: Bantam Books.

Library of congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Stuart, Sebastian.
The mentor / Sebastian Stuart.
p.   cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-79921-0
I. Title.
PS3569.T827M46    1999

813′.54—dc21                                98-51447

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

v3.1

Contents

N
EW
Y
ORK IS
E
MMA’S
obsession. And so when she gets off work she decides to walk back to the YMCA on West Twenty-third Street where, since her arrival in the city a month earlier, she’s been living in a dingy little room that smells faintly of mildew. She walks across Fifty-fourth Street to Seventh Avenue and turns south—up ahead she can see Times Square’s neon bazaar beckoning like a fun house barker.

It’s a warm, cloudy evening; the sky is low and a darkening gray; the humid air seems to leach the smells out of the city: food, humanity, concrete, a heady, seductive brew laced with a trace of the sea. Emma thought she knew everything about New York, but the smells surprise and tantalize her. She’s read everyone from Edith Wharton to Tom Wolfe, and weekly visits to her local library to pore over the latest issues of the
New York Times
and the
New Yorker
were one of her childhood’s few comforting rituals. Finding a copy of the
Post
was a special pleasure—its lurid stories of crime, depravity, and glamour made her yearn for the city. In addition to
the abstract expressionists, the Actors Studio, Warhol and the Factory, she knows all about Son of Sam and Kitty Genovese, sex clubs and Hedda Nussbaum.

Emma has spent much of the last month walking, just walking from one end of town to the other until she reaches the point of sensory overload and straggles back to her room to collapse on the narrow, lumpy bed. The sounds, the lights, the people, the motion—she finds the cacophony both soothing and thrilling. It’s the anonymity that comforts her most, the sense that she can move about unnoticed, released at last from the scrutiny of evil minds. Sick evil minds. She’s free: her destiny might be waiting just up ahead, around the next corner.

It’s getting dark out, a darkness that seems to enclose the city. The lights from the stores bathe Broadway in a warm glow. People stroll along, laughing and relaxed. Emma passes a hotel tower that looks as if it’s been airlifted in from Las Vegas. Snazzy and brazen, it’s fronted by a circular glass-walled lounge the size of a bus depot that’s filled with tourists enjoying their first drink of the evening. With a touch of smugness Emma realizes that she isn’t a tourist. She lives here. She has a job. And it isn’t some boring automaton job in some fluorescent-lit office, but a job working for a famous businesswoman—Anne Turner—in an office that hums with creativity. Ha-ha! Fuck all those pieces of shit back in Munsonville. And her good fortune is no accident. No way. Emma researched the city’s best employment agencies. She took a computer course at Allegheny Junior College. Knowing she would need a reference, she worked diligently all summer at that insurance agency. She prepared herself. And when the job at
Home
—Anne Turner’s chic catalog—came along, she grabbed it, and now she stays late every night, poking around the office, taking care of tiny details, organizing computer files. Even though the job is officially only temporary, it may well pay off. One thing leads to another.

Now Emma can take the money she saved over the summer and start to hunt for an apartment, a real apartment. She looks around
her at the teeming avenue and feels as if she’s where she belongs, in this city where she has no past. Where nobody knows.

“Hello!”

Emma turns. A woman wearing a dark business suit takes her wrist. Emma tries to pull away but the woman holds fast.

“I know you,” the woman says, tilting her head and examining Emma with huge brown eyes. Emma notices the suit has a food stain on it and the collar is frayed. The woman leans in and Emma smells something foul—a mix of sour whiskey, ancient sweat, and madness. Emma knows that smell. She shudders and tries to pull away. The woman tightens her grip. Emma looks around wildly. No one is paying any attention; people are walking, walking so quickly. Are they trying to get away?

“I know you. Don’t pretend you don’t know me.”

“Let go, please.”

“Why should I? I know you.” The woman twists Emma’s wrist and all the people stream by and the woman’s mouth is open and she flicks her tongue like a lizard and Emma takes a step backward and the woman twists her wrist harder and just keeps coming at her.

Then Emma shoves her, hard, just shoves that filthy, horrible woman back, hard, and it’s the last thing the woman is expecting and her mouth flies open in shock and she lets go of Emma’s wrist and loses her balance and falls down on the sidewalk. She starts to say something—something vile and inhuman and evil—and Emma takes a step toward her and the woman shuts up, but she lifts her chin and smooths her filthy hair as if she’s Jackie fucking Onassis and Emma is beneath her station.

Emma wants to bring her foot up under that filthy chin and kick that jaw shut and teach that woman to go around grabbing people who’re minding their own business. She wants to hurt her. Emma is frightened by what she wants. She mumbles “I’m sorry” and rushes away—and the memory comes back, the memory always comes back. BadGirlSickGirl. As Emma hurries down the
street, away from the memory, she feels the sidewalk drop out from beneath her, she feels the city suddenly grow flat, she feels the rage and hopelessness that dwell—covered, caged, denied—at the core of her being. She only wants to go back, back to her room.

Emma sits by the grimy window in the grimy room, looking out at the air shaft. All her lights are out and she can see into other rooms across the way. They’re all empty. Emma hates herself for pushing that woman. She lost her cool—she can’t lose her cool, not here, not in New York. This is her new life. It’s going to work out for her here. It has to, it
has
to. BadGirlSickGirl. Emma holds out her arm and looks at the expanse of pale flesh. She opens her secret box, the tiny tin box painted with flowers long faded. Inside is the worn red velvet she loves so much. She lifts the velvet and there it is—her friend. She runs her fingertip over the smooth metal of the single-edge razor blade. So cool and soothing.

There’s a loud knock on her door.

Emma freezes.

“Jo-ey!” a drunken voice calls.

Emma sits absolutely still.

“Open up, ya dumb fuck!”

The drunk rattles the door handle. He slams his palm against the door and mutters, “Asshole.”

Emma listens as the footfalls retreat. She switches on the light. She isn’t going to end up like that, lurching down hallways in depressing old rooming houses. Fuck that shit. She picks up her box and for a moment considers throwing it out the window. She folds the red velvet over the razor blade and puts the box in her top drawer. Then she sits down at the small desk and gets to work.

1

Charles is running. Usually he runs around the reservoir once, maybe twice, but today he doesn’t want to stop, he wants to push himself. After his second time around, he jogs down the path and onto West Drive and keeps running. It’s early afternoon, the day is chilly, it looks as if it’s going to rain. He can’t remember the last time he ran this far, he’s sweating heavily in spite of the chill and his lungs burn as he sucks down oxygen, but he doesn’t want to stop, he wants to run, high on hope.

He thinks of Anne. They’ve been so distant lately, both preoccupied with their careers. Even their lovemaking is perfunctory. They shouldn’t have bought the apartment. They overreached and they know it. Land mines of resentment dot the marriage. He hasn’t been pulling his weight financially, has been distracted, irritable. Yes, envious. But that’s all about to change.

Charles runs past a playground. In the distance he can hear faint strains of the carousel’s calliope music. He grimaces as a sudden stitch knots his side. Age—it scares him. That low back pain that
flares up after a long drive, the eyestrain after an hour at the computer, the inexorable retreat of his hairline—there’s no doubt his body is starting to betray him. He picks up his pace.

The party for
Capitol Offense
is on Wednesday. The book has been in the stores for a week. He has a good feeling about this one. The publishing world has been ignoring him lately. It’s all cyclical, though, and after the last two disappointments, he’s due for a measure of the success and respect his earlier books received. He’s earned it. Through some confluence of good fortune, DeLillo, Banks, and Ford are all absent from this fall’s lists. There’s room for him at the top. Again, after all these years.

He nears the northern end of the park, where Harlem begins. A few heavy raindrops start to fall. The park is emptying out quickly. A wind comes up, damp and cold. He runs past a wide green lawn interrupted by outcroppings of gray bedrock, like whales rising from the sea. Charles tries to ignore the blister he feels opening on his left foot. He’s in great shape. Isn’t he? How many forty-nine-year-old men can run like this, just keep running? He has stamina, staying power. His best years are yet to come. After things settle down, he’ll lavish attention on Anne, make amends for his recent moodiness. She’s been so understanding.

The rain picks up, the drops coming quicker. When he was in his twenties, he loved to run in the rain. He can still handle it. It’s wilder up in the northern reaches of the park; there are patches of trees that look like deep woods. He passes two black girls huddled under an overpass, making out, their passion stoked by the veil of rain. It’s coming down steadily now, blown by gusts of wind. Charles’s sweatshirt is soaked.

BOOK: The Mentor
10.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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