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Authors: Christopher Reich

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The Patriots Club (5 page)

BOOK: The Patriots Club
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The elevator arrived. Bolden rode down in darkness. Guilfoyle was gone. He knew that much. There was no reason for him to stick around. Not when he had someone like Wolf to finish the job. But what about Irish? Irish would be waiting for the body to fall. He would be waiting for his partner.

Through the mesh grate, Bolden peered at the ground below. Because the elevator ran up the side of the building, and because there was only a cage and no doors, he had a good view of the entire construction site. The Town Car was parked inside the gates. No sign of the driver. He spotted Irish standing near a forklift at the opposite side of the site. The ember of his cigarette glowed and dimmed like a firefly. As the elevator approached the ground, he didn’t move. The elevator was quiet, but Irish had to be wearing headphones or earbuds not to hear it come to a halt.

Bolden slid open the grate and ran across the dirt, dodging stacks of plywood. The fence surrounding the work site was ten feet high and topped by a coil of barbed wire. The gate at the vehicle entrance was lower—maybe six feet—but there was still the barbed wire to contend with. He checked behind him, seeing Irish’s blond head begin to turn. Just then the front door of the Town Car swung open. A head rose from the driver’s seat.

“You! Stop!”

Bolden threw an upraised palm into the driver’s jaw, snapping his head ferociously. The driver hit the door and fell backward across the seat, one foot inside the car. Bolden heard steps coming from behind. He shoved the driver across the seat and squeezed in next to him. A keychain dangled from the ignition. Door still open, he turned over the motor and threw the car into drive.

The gate didn’t stand a chance.

7

Jennifer Dance stood from the examining table and gingerly probed the latticework of stitches running along the top of her left forearm. “How long do they have to stay in?”

“Seven days,” answered Dr. Satyen Patel. “Provided there is no infection. It looked to be a clean cut. Very easy to stitch. Can you flex your fingers? Everything feel all right?”

Jenny curled the fingers of her left hand. Thankfully, the blade hadn’t damaged any nerves. “Just fine.”

“I’m going to bandage it now. I want you to keep the arm dry for five days. Rub Iamin gel on the wound twice a day. No sports, no strenuous activity until you come back to have the sutures out. Expect some soreness, but that should be it. Do as I say, and there’s a good chance you won’t even have a scar. I do first-rate work.”

And you’re modest, too,
added Jenny silently. She stood still as the doctor wrapped the forearm in gauze and applied a length of tape. Her last visit to a hospital had taken place a year ago. Her mother was suffering from terminal lung cancer and Jenny had flown to Kansas City for a final good-bye. There were no bruises to patch up, no long-simmering grudges. It was just a daughter’s chance to say thank you. I love you.

Instead of driving directly to the hospital after landing, she’d stopped at her brother’s house first. It was on the way, and frankly, she was scared of seeing her mom. The two drank a beer, and finally, she felt ready. When she arrived at the hospital, she found a priest leaving the room. Her mother had died ten minutes before she’d arrived.

“All finished,” said Dr. Patel, cutting the tape.

“Thank you.” Jenny grabbed her purse and headed to the door.

“One moment!” Dr. Patel finished scribbling on a sheet and ripped the paper from its pad. “Go to room three fifteen and give this to the nurse. You’ll need a tetanus shot.” He groped in the pocket of his jacket and came out with a smaller prescription pad. “Take this to the pharmacy afterward and have it filled. Antibiotics. Infection is our worst enemy. You’re not taking anything else, are you?”

“Antivert. Just one a day for the last two months.”

“There should be no problem, then. Off you go.”

The police officer who had escorted Jenny to the hospital was waiting to take a description of her assailants. “Do you have any word from Thomas, uh . . . Mr. Bolden?” she asked afterward, as the policeman folded up his notepad.

“As of ten minutes ago, no one of Mr. Bolden’s description has come by the crime scene or the precinct house. I’m sorry.”

She took a step down the hall, then came back. “Why didn’t they take my purse?”

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Why didn’t they take my purse? It was just dangling there. He didn’t need a knife. He could have just grabbed it.”

The officer shrugged. “I guess they only wanted the watch. You never know with these guys. What’s important is that you’re all right.”

But Jenny was unconvinced. She knew a little about thieves. She had a half dozen of them as students. Not one of them would have left the purse behind.

Jenny thanked the officer, then made her way to the waiting room. It was a calm night and half the chairs were empty. Besides the legitimate cases, she was quick to pick up the usual lost souls. People with no place else to go who congregated in any heated room during the winter. She scanned the room for Thomas, but he wasn’t there. She caught an older woman wearing a Yankees jacket and cap giving her a long look. Jenny smiled, and the woman averted her eyes.

The admitting nurse was no help, either. No one had been in asking about her.

The clock on the wall read 2:15. Over two hours had passed since Jenny had been mugged, or assaulted, or whatever you wanted to call it. She told herself not to worry. If there was anyone who could take care of himself in the big bad city, it was Tommy. Still, she couldn’t help but be concerned. She had seen something in his eyes that scared her. Something vicious. Something from the part of him he kept hidden from her. She felt certain that he’d been hurt. She took Tommy’s phone from her purse and began to dial, then saw that the batteries were dead. She’d already left a half dozen messages for him. That would have to do.

 

There was a line running out the door of room 315. A young Puerto Rican mother stood in front of Jenny, cradling an infant in her arms, singing to him sweetly. Jenny recognized the song. “Drume Negrita.” In front of her stood an elderly African-American man clad in a dashiki, sporting a leopard-skin Shriner’s hat. All he was missing was the royal flyswatter and he could have passed for Mobutu Sese Seko.

Farther down the corridor, she spied the woman in the Yankees cap again, loitering at a water fountain. Was she following her? Jenny tried not to stare, but there was no doubt that the woman was staring right back at her. The gaze was frightening. Dark, accusing, and utterly paranoid.

New York City certainly didn’t lack for variety.

Jennifer Dance had moved to the city ten years ago, a junior transfer from the University of Kansas to Columbia University, an English major hoping to become the next Christiane Amanpour. And, if that didn’t work out, Katie Couric. She had all the qualities to succeed. She was a decent writer, curious, willful, attractive, with a yen to travel. Hardship didn’t scare her. She had no qualms about living in faraway places without running water, regular electricity, or indoor plumbing. She enjoyed spicy food.

She was also polite. Ruthlessly, unfailingly, sickeningly polite. Jenny was congenitally unable to be rude. She wasn’t meek. God, no. The bruised knuckles on her right hand attested to that. But when someone told her, “No, dammit, I have no comment,” she could not bring herself to ask again or to demand that they change their answer. The thought of having to stick a microphone in someone’s face and scream your questions at them made her ill.

She left Columbia with a degree in American history and few job prospects. She spent a year giving private tours around the city and working as a docent at the Museum of Natural History. Every few months, her parents would call and ask when she was coming home. The thought of returning to Kansas City—of Saturday afternoons quilting with Mom, and Sunday church suppers, of babysitting her brother’s twins and a job at Daddy’s bank (“We’ll start you in the trust department at twenty-eight thousand a year. Buy you a little Ford to get around town. How’s that sound, sugarplum?”)—was too much. She did not want a life that had already been decided for her, with rites and rituals carved in stone, obligatory friendships, and prescribed duties. She was through with Hardee’s, the Chiefs, and
A Prairie Home Companion
. The only things she liked about home were crisp green apples sprinkled with salt, and pork tenderloin sandwiches with a dollop of mustard and a slice of raw onion on top.

She earned her teaching credential from Columbia a year later.

Her first job was at St. Agnes, a parochial school in Greenwich Village. In those days, she’d still been a good Catholic, and the small classes and promise of order appealed to her. But a twenty-three-year-old with a zest for life didn’t last long at St. Agnes. The sisters did not approve of Jenny’s fast lifestyle—“fast” being defined as missing Friday-morning mass, drinking margaritas after work, repelling Father Bernadin’s all too frequent passes.

She was not asked back for a second year.

With no savings, no recommendation, and no thought of returning to Mom and Dad in Kansas City, Jenny took the first job she could find. She’d been at the Kraft School ever since.

Officially, the job called for Jenny to provide instruction in math, science, and the arts. Given her students’ variance in schooling and abilities, that was impossible. Jenny saw it as her job simply to show the kids that following the rules wasn’t such a bad thing. That if you just gave the system a chance, it might work for you. That meant showing up on time, dressing appropriately, and looking someone in the eye when you shook their hand.

One day in five, bedlam ruled in the classroom. Students argued with one another. Rulers were thrown like boomerangs. A bong had been reported seen, and yes, marijuana had been smoked on the premises. It wasn’t exactly the high school from
Fame
. But on those days when the classroom grew quiet, and the eyes that weren’t too red actually focused on Miss Dance, Jenny felt as if she was getting through. Making a difference even. Corny, maybe, but it felt good.

“Miss Dance,” came an authoritative voice.

“Yes.” Jenny stepped forward, her heart catching a beat. She craned her neck, hoping it might be news of Thomas. A nurse stood at the entrance to room 315, waving a clipboard high in the air. “We’re ready for you, hon.”

She was out three minutes later with a Band-Aid and a stick of licorice to cheer her up. The elevator arrived. Jenny got in and pressed the button for one.
What kind of mugger leaves a purse?
The question refused to go away. If he could use a knife to snatch a watch, why not take an extra second and grab the purse, too? And that question begged another. Why wasn’t Thomas at the hospital? Why hadn’t he, at least, found a phone to call? It had been two hours, for Pete’s sake!

She remembered the look in Thomas’s eyes. It wasn’t anger. It was something beyond anger. A bloodlust. She rubbed at her own aching eyes.
Don’t be hurt, Thomas,
she prayed silently. There was so much she didn’t know about him. So much he refused to tell her.

 

They had been introduced at a Y-League basketball game, and afterward had gone to dinner with a whole crew of friends—some his, some hers—at a Mexican cantina uptown. All of them had sidled up to the bar and ordered margaritas—except for Thomas, who ordered a shot of tequila and a Budweiser. Half the group were attorneys. Fearing a barrage of lawyer talk, Jenny changed her order to the same and grabbed a stool next to him.

She would never forget their first conversation. She wasn’t sure how they got on the subject of nature versus nurture, but Thomas began preaching about how everything in life is hereditary. Nature over nurture. You were either born with it or not. All the practice in the world couldn’t make him a pro ballplayer, he said. And it wasn’t just limited to sports. People, he argued, are born who they are. It didn’t matter a lick where you were brought up, in the city or the country, rich or poor, you couldn’t escape who you were at birth. You were branded.

Jenny was horrified by his words. As a teacher, she witnessed on a daily basis how environment shaped character. It was her job to help kids overcome the obstacles of their birth. Thomas said she was wasting her time. What she did was no different from painting a car. Only by looking under the hood could you see what someone was really made of. Sure, she might help the kids in the short run—spiff ’em up, polish ’em a little—but in the long run, they would revert to their true selves. You couldn’t upgrade from four cylinders to eight.

“I’m sorry, but you’re wrong,” she said.

“Oh yeah?” he’d responded, full of himself. “How many kids have you saved? How many have you gotten back into a regular school?”

“Well . . . none, but that’s beside the point,” Jenny answered. The kids had already been adversely affected by their home lives, their families, the whole oppressive blight that came with growing up poor in New York City. You couldn’t just give up on them!

His answer was a sigh and a shrug.

Incensed, but willing to let the topic slide, Jenny had bought them a second round and moved on to a more pleasant topic. Basketball. She said she played a little, too. He asked if she played, or if she
played
. To this day, she was proud of herself for not slapping that smug look off his face. Instead, she answered that a hundred bucks was his if he could beat her in a three-point shoot-out. He accepted, if he could set the rules. Each would take ten consecutive shots from anywhere behind the line. He’d spot her a three-basket advantage. Hating him more by the minute, Jenny declined.

The group moved to the table. Happily, Jenny found herself seated at the end opposite Thomas. But try as she might, she couldn’t keep from looking at him. He was handsome in his way, hardly her version of Mr. Right, yet there was something undeniably compelling about him. When she caught his gaze, his wine black eyes seemed to lock onto her. For lack of a better word, he was magnetic. A raging, sexist egomaniac. But magnetic.

And when he insisted that the lawyer seated next to her change places with him—he’d practically picked him up out of his chair and deposited him on his feet—she was flattered and decided to give him a second chance. Mesmer had nothing on those eyes.

But the evening didn’t really fall apart until she informed him that the ’84 Lakers were the best team in NBA history. Magic. Kareem. The Coop-a-Loop thunderdunk. And don’t forget James Worthy! The ’84 Lakers ruled.

His look could have turned her to stone.

“Ninety-five Chicago Bulls,” he said, offering no further explanation.

When she tried to get into it with him, he held up a hand and looked away. Case closed.

That was when the fireworks started. No one . . .
absolutely no one
. . . held up his hand in Jennifer Dance’s face. She called him every four-letter word in the book, then told him he could go to hell in a four-horse carriage, for all she cared. As for his three-point contest, he could take it and . . .

It was then that Peter, Thomas’s friend, interceded and asked Jenny if Bolden had told her about his work at the Boys Club. He explained that Thomas was setting up a gang-intervention unit in coordination with the NYPD to offer the kids something else to do other than hang out on street corners and get into trouble. He was up there three nights a week, and on weekends. Maybe Jenny could tell him some stories about her kids. Give him a few pointers.

Peter left, and an awkward silence filled the air between them.

“Why do you do it, if you’re so sure they haven’t got a chance?” Jenny asked finally, leaning closer to see if it was all bullshit, or if there was something there.

“I’m an idealist. Screwed up, I know, but it’s the way I was born.”

BOOK: The Patriots Club
6.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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