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Authors: Christopher Reich

Tags: #Fiction

The Patriots Club

BOOK: The Patriots Club
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title Page

Dedication

Past

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Other Books by Christopher Reich

Copyright Page

To Richard S. Pine,
with gratitude

PAST

A warm wind blew off the East River, gathering dust, dander, and droppings off the street and swirling the noxious mix into the air. The two men turned their faces from the gust, before resuming their conversation.

“As always, you exaggerate,” the general was saying. “Really, you must calm down. Your temper will be the end of you.”

“I hardly think so,” replied his colleague, shorter by a head. “Look around you. The country’s being torn apart. Gangs of ruffians storming courthouses in the West. Farmers in Pennsylvania lobbying day and night to cut taxes, and King Cotton in the South wanting nothing to do with us at all. We’re being drawn and quartered.”

“With time, we’ll sort out their grievances.”

“With time, the republic will cease to exist! The country’s already grown so large, so diverse. Walk up Broadway and all you hear are foreign tongues—German, Russian, Spanish. Everywhere you look, there’s another immigrant. I’ll give you a dollar for every native English speaker you can find.”

“I do recall something about your being from abroad.”

The shorter man had long ago learned to ignore the ugly facts of his parentage. He was a lawyer by trade, trim and compact with a Roman senator’s nose and pale blue eyes. “We’ve lost our sense of purpose. The war brought us together. These days, it’s every man for himself. I won’t stand for it. Not after all we’ve sacrificed. We need a firm hand to set things right. One voice. One vision.”

“We have the people’s voice to guide us.”

“Precisely the problem! The vox populi cannot be trusted. They’re a rabble.”

“They are Americans!” protested the general.

“My point exactly,” came the disgusted reply. “Have you ever known a more quarrelsome bunch?”

The general began to pace, his gaze fleeing down Wall Street and landing on the busy docks. Every day more ships arrived. More new souls treaded down the gangway to populate this boundless land, each with his own customs, his own prejudices, his own traditions. Each with his own priorities; priorities that were, by nature, selfish. What could they bring but discord? “And so?”

The lawyer beckoned him closer. “I have an idea,” he whispered. “Something to help you.”

“To help
me
?”

“The Executive. The country.” He laid a hand on the general’s arm. “A way to get around the vox populi. To maintain order. To see your will be done.”

The general gazed down on his associate. They had been friends for nearly twenty years. The younger man had served as his aide during the war. He had shown himself to be courageous under fire; his counsel wise. He was to be trusted. “And what might that be?”

“A club, sir.”

“What kind of club?”

The lawyer’s eyes flickered. “A patriots club.”

1

Thomas Bolden checked over his shoulder. The two men were still a half block behind. They’d kept the same distance since he’d noticed them soon after coming out of the hotel. He wasn’t sure why they bothered him. Both were tall and clean-cut, about his age. They were respectably dressed in dark slacks and overcoats. At a glance, they appeared unthreatening. They could be bankers headed home after a late night at the office. College buddies hurrying to the Princeton Club for a last round before closing. More likely, they were two of the approximately three hundred guests who had suffered through the dinner given in his honor.

And yet
. . . they disturbed him.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” said Bolden. “What were you saying?”

“Where are you going to put it?” Jennifer Dance asked. “You know . . . in your apartment?”

“Put it?” Bolden glanced at the large sterling-silver plate cradled in Jenny’s arms. “You mean I’m supposed to keep it on display?”

The plate looked like the one awarded to the women’s singles champion at Wimbledon. This one, however, was engraved with the words “Thomas F. Bolden. Harlem Boys Club Man of the Year.” He’d won plaques, medals, scrolls, and trophies, but never a plate. He wondered what joker at the club had thought it up. Curling an arm over Jenny’s shoulders, he drew her close and said, “No, no, no. This beautifully crafted hunk of lead is going straight into the closet.”

“You should be proud of it,” Jenny protested.

“I am proud of it, but it’s still going in the closet.”

“It doesn’t have to be the first thing you see when you walk in. We’ll put it someplace discreet. Maybe on the side table in the hall leading from your bedroom to the bathroom. You worked hard for this. You deserve to feel good about yourself.”

Bolden looked at Jenny and grinned. “I feel fine about myself,” he said. “I just don’t want to be reminded how great I am every time I go take a leak. It’s so . . . I don’t know . . . so
New York
.”

“ ‘It ain’t bragging if you can do it,’ ” Jenny said. “Those are your words.”

“I was talking about dunking a basketball. Now, that’s an accomplishment for a thirty-two-year-old white male who fudges about being six feet tall. Next time get a picture of that, and I’ll put it on the table leading to the bathroom. Framed even.”

Nearing midnight on a Tuesday in mid-January, the narrow streets of the city’s financial district were deserted. The night sky hung low, gray clouds scudding between the skyscrapers like fast-moving ships. The temperature hovered at forty degrees, unseasonably warm for this time of year. There was talk of a major storm system hitting the Eastern seaboard, but the meteorologists looked to have it wrong this time.

The annual gala benefiting the Harlem Boys Club had ended thirty minutes earlier. It had been a ritzy affair: white tablecloths, champagne cocktails, a four-course meal with fresh seafood instead of chicken. Bolden had been too nervous about giving his speech to enjoy the event. Besides, it wasn’t his style. Too much backslapping. Too many hands to shake. All that forced laughter. His cheeks felt like a punching bag from all the busses he’d gotten.

All in all, the event raised an even three hundred thousand dollars. His cheeks could take a little roughing up for that kind of change.

A drop of rain hit his nose. Bolden looked up, waiting for the next, but nothing followed. He pulled Jenny closer and nuzzled her neck. From the corner of his eye, he saw that the two men were still there, maybe a little farther back, walking side by side, talking animatedly. It wasn’t the first time lately that he’d had the sensation of being followed. There’d been a night last week when he’d felt certain someone had been trailing him near his apartment on Sutton Place. And just today at lunch, he’d been aware of a presence hovering nearby. A nagging feeling that someone was eyeing him. On neither occasion, however, had he been able to put a face to his fears.

And now there were these two.

He glanced at Jenny and caught her staring at him. “What?”

“That’s my Tommy,” she said with her all-knowing smile. “You’re so afraid of letting it go.”

“Letting what go?”

“The past. The whole ‘Tommy B. from the wrong side of the tracks’ thing. You still walk as if you’re on the mean streets of the Windy City. Like a mobster on the lam or something, afraid someone’s going to recognize you.”

“I do not,” he said, then forced himself to push his shoulders back and stand a little straighter. “Anyway, that’s who I am. It’s where I come from.”

“And this is where you are now. This is your world, too. Look at yourself. You’re a director at the snobbiest investment bank on Wall Street. You have dinner all the time with politicians and big shots. All those people didn’t show up tonight for me . . . they came for you. What you’ve achieved is pretty damned impressive, mister.”

Bolden dug his hands deep into his pockets. “Not bad for a gutter rat.”

She tugged at his sleeve. “I’m serious, Thomas.”

“I guess you must be if you’re calling me Thomas.”

They walked a few steps, and she said, “Come on, Tommy. I’m not saying it’s time to join the Four Hundred. I’m just saying it’s time to let the past go. This is your world now.”

Bolden shook his head. “Naw, I’m just passing through.”

Jenny raised her eyes, exasperated. “You’ve been passing through for seven years. That’s long enough for someone from Swaziland to become an American citizen. Don’t you think it’s enough to make you a New Yorker? Besides, it’s not such a bad place. Why don’t you stay awhile?”

Bolden stopped. Taking both of Jenny’s hands in his, he turned to face her. “I love it here, too. But you know me . . . I like to keep my distance. I just don’t want to get too close to them. All the guys at work. The stuffed shirts. You gotta keep your distance, or else they suck you in. Like body snatchers.”

Jenny put her head back and laughed. “They’re your friends.”

“Associates, yes. Colleagues, maybe. But friends? I don’t recall getting too many invitations to dine at my
friends’
homes. Though that may very well change after the looks I caught a couple of those sleazebags giving you tonight.”

“You jealous?”

“Damn straight.”

“Really?” Jenny smiled disarmingly.

She was tall and blond, with an athlete’s toned body, and the best skyhook since Kareem. Her face was open and honest, given to determined stares and crooked smiles. She taught seventh, eighth, and ninth grade at a special ed school in the Village. She liked to say that it was just like the school in
Little House on the Prairie,
all the kids in one classroom, except that her kids were what the system labeled high-risk teens. High-risk teens were the bad eggs: the boys and girls who’d been expelled from their ordinary schools and were doing time with Jenny until they could be reformed, remolded, and reassigned to a public school that would take them. They were quite a bunch. Drug dealers, thieves, hustlers, and hookers, and not one over the age of fifteen. She wasn’t a teacher, so much as a lion tamer.

“By the way,” she said nonchalantly. “Dinner’s been over awhile and you still have your tie on.”

“Do I?” Bolden’s hand shot to his neck. “It’s begun. The body snatchers have me. Pretty soon, I’ll be wearing pink shirts and white loafers and putting on tight black bicycle shorts when I hit the gym. I’ll start listening to opera and
o-pining
about wine. I may even join a country club.”

“They’re not so bad. Our kids would love it.”

“Kids!” Bolden stared at her, aghast. “You’re one of them, too! I’m done for.”

They walked in silence for a while. Jenny tilted her head on his shoulder and laced her fingers through his. Bolden caught their reflection in a window. He was hardly a match for her. His neck was too thick, his jaw too wide, and his dark hair receding quickly at the temples. What remained was thick and peppered with gray and cut close to the scalp. Thirty-two was definitely not young in his business. His face was stern, with steadfast brown eyes, and a directness of gaze that some men found intimidating. His lips were thin, rigid. His chin split by a hatchet. He looked like a man on equal terms with uncertainty. A reliable man. A man to have at your side in the lurch. He was surprised how natural the tux looked on him. Scarier was the fact that he almost felt natural wearing it. Immediately, he yanked off his bow tie and stuffed it in his pocket.

A New Yorker,
he said to himself.
Mr. Big Shot with a silver plate on the way to the pisser.

No. That wasn’t him.

He was just Tom Bolden, a kid from the Midwest with neither birthright nor pedigree, and no illusions. His mother had left when he was six. He never knew his father. He grew up as a ward of the state of Illinois, a survivor of too many foster families to count, a graduate of Illinois’ most notorious reform school, and at seventeen, a felon. The conviction was sealed under court order. Even Jenny didn’t know about it.

Arm in arm, they continued up Wall Street. Past number 23 Wall, the old headquarters of J. P. Morgan when they were the world’s most powerful bankers. Not ten feet away, an anarchist’s bomb had gone off in 1920, killing three dozen employees and bystanders, and upending a Model T. The chinks in the wall from the shrapnel had never been repaired and were still visible. Across the street stood the New York Stock Exchange, a huge American flag draped across the Corinthian columns, nothing less than a temple to capitalism. To their right, a steep flight of stairs led to Federal Hall, the seat of government when the nation’s capital had been situated in New York City.

“You know what today is?” he asked.

“Tuesday the eighteenth?”

“Yes, it’s Tuesday the eighteenth. And . . . ? You mean you don’t remember?”

“Oh, my God,” gasped Jenny. “I’m so sorry. It’s just that with the dinner and finding a dress and everything else . . .”

Just then, Bolden dropped her hand and vaulted up a few stairs. “Follow me,” he said.

“What are you doing?”

“Come on. Up here. Sit down.” Turning, he indicated to Jenny to take a seat.

“It’s cold.” She eyed him curiously, then climbed the stairs and sat. He grinned, loving this part. The
before
. The wind blew stronger, tousling her hair around her face. She had wonderful hair, thick, naturally curly, as many colors as a field of summer wheat. He remembered seeing her for the first time. It was on the basketball court at the Y. She pulled off a between-the-legs dribble followed by a twenty-foot jumper that hit nothing but net. She’d been wearing red athletic shorts, a baggy tank top, and Air Jordans. He looked at her now, wrapped in a black overcoat, collar turned up, her makeup just so, and felt his breath catch. Miss Jennifer Dance cleaned up nice.

“What’s the world coming to when the man’s got to remember the big dates?” Delving into an inside pocket, he pulled out a slim rectangular box wrapped in royal maroon paper and handed it to her. It took him a second or two to find his voice. “Three years. You’ve made them the best of my life.”

Jenny looked between him and the box. Slowly, she unwrapped it. She hadn’t even cracked the thing, and she was already getting teary. Bolden blinked rapidly and looked away. “Go on,” he said.

Jenny held her breath and opened the box. “Tommy, this is . . .” She held up the Cartier wristwatch, her expression stranded between awe and disbelief.

“I know. It’s vulgar. It’s gauche. It’s—”

“It’s beautiful,” she said, pulling him down to sit beside her. “Thank you.”

“It’s inscribed,” he said. “I didn’t want you to feel bad that I was the only one getting something tonight.”

Jenny turned the watch over, and he watched the play of her features as she read the words. The dollar-size eyes, the bold, chiseled nose still hiding a few freckles across its bridge, the wide, expressive mouth curling into a smile. Lying close to her at night, he often studied her face, asking himself how it was that he, a man who had never depended on anyone in his entire life, had grown to depend so entirely on her.

“I love you, too,” she said, reaching a hand to touch his cheek. “Forever.”

Bolden nodded, finding it impossible, as ever, to say the words. He’d written them, that was a start.

“Does this mean you’re not scared any longer?” Jenny asked.

“No,” he answered solemnly. “It means I’m scared, but I’m getting ready. Don’t you go running anyplace.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

They kissed for a long time like a couple of teenagers going at it.

“I think this calls for a drink,” he said afterward.

“I want something silly with an umbrella,” said Jenny.

“I want something serious without one.” He hugged Jenny. The two of them laughed, and he laughed louder when he saw that the men were no longer behind them. So much for his sixth sense.

Holding hands, they walked up the street to Broadway. It was a night to celebrate. A night to cherish with the woman he loved. It wasn’t a night to allow distrust, worry, and suspicion—the dependable, hard-earned habits of his youth—to ruin. Jenny was right. It was a night to bury his past once and for all.

“Taxi,” he yelled, because he was feeling happy and full of himself, even though there wasn’t a yellow cab in sight. “Where should we go?”

“Let’s go dancing,” Jenny suggested.

“Dancing it is!”

Spotting a cab, he put his fingers in the corners of his mouth and whistled. It was a five-alarm whistle, capable of spooking visiting sluggers from the upper deck at Yankee Stadium. Bolden stepped into the street to hail the cab. The taxi flashed its brights and slid over a lane. Turning, he stretched out an arm to Jenny.

It was then that he saw them. At first, they were a blur. Figures moving fast, approaching aggressively along the sidewalk. Two men running. He recognized them at once. The two that had followed them from the hotel. He rushed toward Jenny, jumping onto the sidewalk to shield her with his body. “Get back!” he shouted.

“Tommy, what is it?”

“Watch it! Run!” Before he could get the words out, the larger of the two men collided with him, a shoulder to the sternum knocking him into the street. Bolden’s head struck the concrete. Stunned, he looked up to see the taxi bearing down on him. It braked hard, tires squealing as he rolled toward the curb.

BOOK: The Patriots Club
10.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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