Authors: Christopher Reich
A bearded, shaggy-haired man in a black cable-knit sweater and tortoiseshell glasses glanced up from his desk. “We’re officially closed,” he called gruffly. “Office hours are Monday and Friday from ten to eleven. They’re posted on the window and on your syllabus, if you haven’t had a chance to take a look at it.”
“Professor Walsh, it’s Jennifer Dance. Senior seminar . . . the historical society.”
Behind the pebble lenses, watery blue eyes stirred. “Jennifer? Jennifer Dance? That you?”
Jenny stepped tentatively into the office. “Hello, Professor. Sorry to disturb you. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t important.”
Walsh stood and gestured for her to enter. “Nonsense. Come in, come in. I thought you were another one of my geniuses carping about their grades. The kids these days . . . either it’s an ‘A’ or you’re jeopardizing their future. Ingrates is what they are.” Turning to the side, he slipped past a bookcase filled to overflowing. He was broad-shouldered and burly, more a mountain man than a tenured professor of American history and the president of the New-York Historical Society. “Still giving tours of the city?”
Jenny closed the door behind her. “Not for a while. Actually, I’m teaching. High-risk teens at the Kraft School.”
“Teaching? Bully for you. Remember my motto: ‘Those that can, teach . . . and the hell with the rest of ’em.’ My God, look at you. It’s been too long.”
Walsh spread his arms and Jenny accepted the hug. “Eight years.”
“Shhh,” he said, putting a finger to his lips. “That makes me sixty. Don’t tell a soul. The cult of youth. It’s everywhere. New department chair is forty.
Can you imagine? I was still growing my sideburns at forty.”
Jenny smiled. As a student, she’d spent considerable time in this office. After taking four classes with Professor Harrison Walsh, she’d served as his teaching assistant senior year while he supervised her thesis. Professors fell into three categories. Those you hated, those you tolerated, and those you worshiped. Walsh counted among the last. He was loud, long-winded, and wildly passionate about his subject. God help you if you hadn’t done your reading. It was either a one-way ticket out of the class or an hour of sheer hell in the hot seat.
“Take a seat, kiddo,” said Walsh. “You look pale. Coffee? Hot chocolate? Something stronger?”
“I’m fine,” said Jenny. “Just a little cold.”
She glanced out the window. Walsh’s office overlooked the main quad, Low Library, and the statue of Alma Mater, which every Columbia University student knows means “nourishing mother.” The sky had fused into a pearl gray dome that pressed lower and lower, crushing the city beneath it. A light snow danced in the air, whipped about by contrary winds, never seeming to fall to the ground.
Harrison Walsh clapped his hands together. “So what brings you back to school on a day like this?”
“A question, actually. Something about the past.”
“Last I checked, this was still the history department. You’ve come to the right place.”
Jenny set her purse on her lap, trying to keep from wincing as she settled into the chair. “It’s about a club,” she began. “An old club. I mean, very old. Dating from the beginning of the country. Something like the Masons, but different, more secretive even, made up of government officials, big wheels in industry, important people. They might call themselves the committee, or something like that.”
“And what does ‘the committee’ do when they’re not practicing their secret handshakes?”
Jenny recalled Bobby Stillman’s words. “They spy, they listen, they interfere. They help the government get things done without the people’s consent.”
“Not them again,” Walsh complained.
Jenny sat forward. “You mean you know who they are?”
“Sure, but I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong room. You need Conspiracy 101: Introduction to Fruitcakes. Jenny, you’re talking about everyone from the Trilateral Commission to the fellows at Bohemian Grove, with a spice of the Council on Foreign Relations thrown in. They all fit the bill. The invisible hand that rocks the cradle.”
“This isn’t a conspiracy, Professor,” said Jenny soberly. “It’s a real group of men who are trying to shape government policy for their own ends.”
“And this club is still around?”
Walsh narrowed his eyes. After a moment, he picked up a paperweight made from an old World War I shell casing and tossed it back and forth from hand to hand. “Okay, then,” he said finally. “The first thing that comes to mind is a group led by Vincent Astor that called themselves ‘the Room.’ They helped out Wild Bill Donovan during the thirties when he was setting up the Office of Strategic Services. Strictly volunteers. Businessmen, mostly rich New Yorkers, who’d meet on Astor’s yacht upon returning from their world travels and trade gossip while getting silly on bourbon. Sound like who you have in mind?”
“No. These guys are concerned about what’s going on in the country. With affecting the course the nation takes. They kill people who don’t agree with them.”
“Not good guys.”
“No,” said Jenny stonily. “Not good guys.”
Walsh put the shell casing down and plonked his elbows onto the desk. “Come on, Jenny, is this for real?”
Jenny nodded, but added nothing. She didn’t want to go into it any further. At the moment, she was feeling very shaky.
Walsh studied her closely. “Are you in any kind of trouble?”
“No,” she said. “Of course not. Just curious.”
Jenny forced a smile. “Can I take you up on that coffee now?”
“Sure thing.” Walsh stood up and moved to a cluttered sideboard. Finding a Styrofoam cup, he poured some coffee from a warming pot.
Jenny took a sip. “I see you haven’t upgraded.”
“Good old Maxwell House. Starbucks will have to make do without me.” He sat back and let her drink in peace. After a minute, he wrinkled his brow and said, “What else can you tell me about this ‘real club’?”
Jenny searched her mind for anything else Bobby Stillman might have said. “One more thing,” she said. “One of their phrases was
Scientia est potentia
“ ‘Knowledge is power.’ Good motto for a bunch of spies.” He banged his palm on the table, and said, “Can’t help you, Jen. This one goes right over my head. Me, I’m a twentieth-century man. T. R. to the present. Not my area, I’m afraid.”
“It was a long shot. I’m sorry to have taken your—”
“Not mine,” Walsh went on. “But Ken Gladden might be able to give you a hand. He’s our resident Founding Fathers freak. You might even find him in his office if you hurry.”
The daily exodus was in full swing, the ninety minutes of madness when New York’s working masses trudged from office to subway, train, and ferry, and headed home. The slope from Broadway to Vesey Street was packed with commuters as tightly as sardines in a can. Everyone leaving early to beat the storm.
“Just keep walking,” said Bolden as he drew up alongside Althea Jackson. “Keep looking straight ahead. I can hear you just fine.”
“Why, Tom, what in the . . .”
“Eyes to the front!”
“What is this, the army?” Althea demanded.
Bolden checked over his shoulder. He had shadowed Althea for several blocks. If he hadn’t known her so well—her clothing, her hairstyle, the way she walked carrying her feed bag of a purse and listing ten degrees to port—he would have lost her five times over. If she was being followed, he couldn’t tell.
“Did you find her?” he asked.
“She’s at NYU Hospital. ‘Currently being treated’ is what they said.”
“Being treated? What does that mean? How is she? Is she in surgery? What condition is she in?”
“ ‘Currently being treated.’ That’s all they said. I asked them all those questions and didn’t get a single answer.”
Bolden swallowed his worry and frustration. “Did you speak with the doctor?”
“I didn’t speak with anyone except the operator.”
“Come on, you could have said you were family.”
“I tried, Thomas, but that was as far as I got.”
“Okay. Take it easy.”
They walked a few more steps, bumping against a group waiting for a signal to turn. Pedestrians pushed into them, forcing them to step forward. Bolden felt caged. He had to resist the instinct to turn around and check the faces behind him. The light turned. After a few seconds, the pressure lessened. Lodged in the human thicket, the two crossed the street.
“I’m scared,” said Althea. “There are men all over your office. They took out your computer, boxed your files.”
“Lord, no. Police left at two. Right after I saw you. They had manners. These ones?” Althea shook her head with distaste.
“Who are they?” Bolden asked. “Guys from the firm? Tech support? Maintenance?”
“I’ve never seen any of them. I tried to watch over them, make sure they didn’t take anything personal, but they kicked me out. Put down the blinds. They’re saying you shot him. They’re calling you a murderer. I said you most certainly did not. I told everyone who’d listen that it was some kind of accident. No one believes me. Everyone keeps telling me to watch that tape on the television.”
“That’s something, isn’t it?”
“Thomas . . . you didn’t shoot him, did you?”
“You were there. You saw what happened.”
“I know. I thought that it was the guard who fired, but since I’ve seen that tape on the television . . .” She shook her head, as if mystified.
“No, Althea, I did not shoot Sol Weiss. I loved Sol. Everybody loved Sol. It was the guard who shot him.”
But in his topsy-turvy world, he was beginning to wonder about that, too.
“And you didn’t go hitting little Diana Chambers?”
“No, Althea, I didn’t.”
“Then why are they—”
“I don’t know,” said Bolden, too forcefully. “I’m trying to figure it out.”
He considered telling Althea to take her son, Bobby, and leave town for a few days. God knows he was endangering her by asking for her help. He decided against issuing any kind of warning. The safest thing for her would be to show up for work the next day, and the day after that. He gave her a month before they found a justifiable reason to fire her. Probably after the Trendrite deal closed.
“What did you get on Scanlon?” he asked.
Althea frowned. “Not much. A few mentions in the late seventies about some military work. Training troops and the like. Scanlon Corporation was bought out by Defense Associates in 1980. No price given. It was a private transaction.”
“Defense Associates. Never heard of them. Did you run a search on them, too?”
“Defense Associates went bankrupt nine months after they bought Scanlon. That’s all I was able to find out.”
“Did you dig up the bankruptcy filing?”
“The bankruptcy filing.”
“Oh, you mean the one that lists Mickey Schiff as a company director?”
Bolden darted a glance at Althea. “Schiff? He was still in the marines in eighty.”
“No, child. According to the filing, Lieutenant Colonel Michael T. Schiff
was a director of Defense Associates when it went belly-up. That other man you wanted to know about. Russell Kuy . . . I’m not even going to try to pronounce
name . . . well, he was its president.”
Bolden digested the information. He wouldn’t exactly call it good news, but it was a start. The question was, what had happened to Scanlon in the interim? If Defense Associates had gone belly-up, why were there civilian military contractors with the Scanlon logo tattooed on their breastbone chasing him all over Manhattan?
“Small world, isn’t it?” she said.
“You mean about Schiff working for Defense Associates? I guess so.”
“No, I mean about Mr. Jacklin working for them, too.”
“Excuse me? Do you mean James Jacklin?” If Bolden’s thoughts had been elsewhere, the mention of Jefferson’s chairman and founder brought him back to the here and now.
“I never knew Mickey Schiff had worked with Mr. Jacklin. At least, I know why you had me looking at Scanlon. You being in charge of Jefferson Partners for the firm and all.”
“I’m sorry, Althea. It’s been a tough day. I’m not following you.”
“James Jacklin was chairman of Defense Associates. Thomas, you okay? You’re even whiter than usual.”
In 1980, James Jacklin had just finished his four-year tour of duty as secretary of defense. Bolden hadn’t known that he’d left a failed business venture behind him. He suspected few others did, either.
“I’m fine, Althea. I hadn’t been expecting to hear about Jacklin, that’s all.”
“I did a search on him, too. Got too many articles to print. I just brought the ones about Scanlon and Defense Associates.” She paused. “One other thing. You know who got left holding most of the worthless debt? We did. Harrington Weiss. HW was listed as Defense Associates’ largest creditor.”
Bolden whistled long and low.
The crowd slowed and grew more frenetic as they approached the entry to the PATH terminal at the WTC. Through the tall mesh fence, dump trucks, cranes, earthmovers, and backhoes dotted the escarpment. From where Bolden stood, they looked like Tonka toys. As usual, Ground Zero provoked a complicated and transient mix of emotions. One moment he felt angry, the next forlorn, and the next ornery and begging for a fight. Mostly, though, the memory of all that once had been—the ghost of the towers—left him feeling a little less human.
“You still interested in that list of companies your clients bought and sold?”
“Scanlon anywhere there?”
“Might as well take a look at it,” said Bolden. “I don’t want you to think you did all that hard work for nothing.”
Althea slowed and took hold of his arm. “Thomas, you’re not coming back, are you?”
Bolden put his hand on top of hers. “I’d say my days at HW are pretty much finished.”
“What about me?”
“Just stay. Do your job. When I get out of this, I’ll look you up. We’re a team.”
“I got my Bobby.”
“He’s a good boy.”
“Yes, he is. He deserves better.”
They walked a hundred yards without speaking.
“See that trash bin?” Bolden said, lifting his head and indicating a square container a few yards ahead. “Drop the papers in there. I’ll be along a minute later to pick them up. Go home and don’t tell anyone you’ve seen or heard from me.”
“Okay, boss.” Althea extended a hand down low. “I’ve got something else for you. Made a pit stop on the way.” Bolden grasped her hand and felt the crisply folded bills. He looked at her and she returned his gaze. “Be careful, child,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll tell my Bobby if something happens to you.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“You do better than that. You’re saying they changed that man’s face on the videotape and put yours in his place. Those people are rewriting the past. Better watch out or they’ll rewrite you and me.”