City of Dreams
By William Martin
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2010 William Martin
All rights reserved.
Peter Fallon read the caller ID, pushed the Talk button, and said, "I am not moving to New York City."
"That isn't why I'm calling," said Evangeline Carrington.
"But that's where every conversation ends up."
"Listen, Peter, I'm in a bookstore."
"What are you doing in a bookstore?"
"Buying you a wedding present."
"I have enough books."
Peter was sitting in his office. Books everywhere. And in the outer office, more books. But not just any books: a Shakespeare Second Folio from 1632, a first edition of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, a signed first of Tales of the South Pacific, the rarest Michener, three million dollars worth of books, all bought, sold, and brokered from the third floor of a Boston bowfront, above an art gallery that was above a restaurant.
"If you think I'm getting you golf clubs," she said, "forget it."
"I'd love a new Callaway driver," he said. "We can play on the honeymoon. Nice golf courses in France."
"Forget France," said Evangeline. "I want you to come to New York."
"See? I told you. This is where every conversation ends up. I don't want to live in New York. And there's a wedding in ten days. In Boston. There are details."
"Name a detail that I haven't already taken care of."
"I have to put the dance tunes on my iPod. I have to shuck the oysters —"
"Peter, get serious."
He sat up straight, as if she were in the room. "Okay. I'm all ears."
"I'm in Delancey's Rarities on Fourth Avenue, in the back. I'm going through a bin of engravings, because I know how much you like them, and this bag lady comes in."
"A bag lady? In New York? There's news. Does she smell?"
"Of rum. I can smell it back here. But she doesn't sound drunk, or old, or especially derelict. That's what's got my attention."
"Eight million stories in the naked city, babe."
"She's saying how Delancey is an expert in old money, and so is she, so they should team up, because she knows where there's a lot of it, and if they work together —"
"Smart bag lady. She knows enough to go to Delancey. A major player in the scripophily market."
"Collecting old money. Antique stock certificates, bonds ... it's hot right now."
"Oh, hey, wait a minute ..."
Peter could hear Evangeline breathing. He could almost hear her listening.
While he waited, he clicked the Internet and glanced at the stock market. The Dow was dropping — and fast — in the last half hour of trading.
Then Evangeline was back. "The bag lady says she has something that'll impress Delancey. But she'll only show it to him on her turf."
"She sounds batty. Don't let her hear you or see you, or she'll make herself your pain in the ass instead of his."
"She can't see me in the back. And she can't hear me because I'm whispering, and Delancey's playing his old-timey music."
Peter could hear the music, too. "That's Benny Goodman. The term is timeless, not old-timey."
"Okay. Timeless. Now they're talking about a room papered in old money. You know, Peter, I think we should see what this is about."
"We?" Peter laughed. "Aren't you always saying, 'Peter,' in that cold, calm voice you get when you're pissed off, 'Peter, I'm just a travel writer. Don't be dragging me into your treasure hunts.'"
"Peter," she said in that cold, calm voice, "ten days from now, what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine, right?"
"You were the one who turned down the prenup. Right?"
"Right" — Peter put his feet up on the desk — "because I'm after your money."
"So if this is something big, and it pays off, it's community property. Right?"
"And it could make a helluva wedding present ... wait a minute" — her voice rose an octave — "she's showing Delancey a picture. Peter, this could be ... something."
"Right." Peter tried to control a laugh. "Something."
"I can see you smirking, Peter. Stop it. Oh, hey ... she's leaving. The bag lady's leaving. Do you think I should go after her?"
"Yeah, sure. Why not?" Peter laughed.
"Peter, screw you." And she clicked off.
Peter spun IN his chair and looked out the window.
He realized that if this marriage was going to work, he had to learn the difference between smart-ass and plain-vanilla ass.
He thought about calling her back, but that would only make things worse. So he just pictured Delancey's store.
Peter's old mentor, Orson Lunt, once said, "Whenever you're in New York, go down to Book Row. Stop in at the Strand, of course, then go to Delancey's. It's dark, it's messy, but it's a treasure trove. Look around, go through the bins, get to know Delancey, ask him as many questions as you can, but answer as few as possible, because he's sharper than Gillette, and he doesn't miss a trick. ..."
Orson was retired now, but Delancey was still going strong, the kind of guy who'd probably die in his store some day, get to heaven, and go looking for Bill Shakespeare, just to ask him where he'd buried his manuscripts. Then Delancey would figure out a way to come back to life, dig them up, and sell them to the highest bidder.
Of course, Delancey had done pretty well in this life, too. He played the poor bookseller in the dumpy shop, one of the last holdouts on Book Row, but he also owned the building, and every year or so, he sent Peter an e-mail that went like this:
Dear Pete —
Strike one: Peter hated to be called Pete.
I've been doing business with a New York stockbroker who also happens to be a major collector. Considering his interest in our field, I think you might be interested in his services. Business to business, so to speak. This is some chance. He does not take on many clients. And believe me, there's no one in Boston who can match this guy's heat.
Strike two: Peter had a Boston broker who delivered all the "heat" any investor could want, without New York's high overhead or taste for two-hundred-dollar lunches.
So give it some thought. Minimum investment, five mil.
Strike three: for Peter to come up with that much money, he'd have to sell his inventory, his condo, his car, and he'd still be scrambling.
Peter often wondered what Delancey got out of the relationship beyond a loyal customer, and he almost called Evangeline to warn her about a sales pitch. But he knew she was too smart to fall for one.
So he imagined her walking from the back of the store, past the long bookshelves, toward the afternoon light flooding the front ...
... AND SHE WAS.
She stuffed her cell phone into her purse and hurried through the American history section and up to the big windows that looked out onto Fourth Avenue.
The bag lady had left and turned south toward the Bowery. She was pushing a shopping cart full of boxes, bottles, a plastic trash bag, and a scruffy little dog.
Evangeline couldn't see her face, just a dirty raincoat and a dirty Mets hat over a mess of dirty brown hair. Should she follow?
"Find anything?" Delancey said "find" with a New York accent that made it come out foiwnd. Though it was early May, he was wearing a gray wool vest sweater over a white shirt and skinny brown tie. And his comb-over reflected — literally — his talent in the lost male art of creating something out of nearly nothing but Vitalis.
Strictly old-school. That was what Peter said about Oscar Delancey, and he meant it as a compliment.
"I didn't find any priceless engravings of Lincoln, if that's what you're asking." Evangeline craned her neck to watch the bag lady rattling away.
"The Bowling Green, eleven o'clock tonight," said Delancey.
"That's where I'm supposed to meet her."
"I heard" — hoid — "you on the phone. Did you say hi to Pete for me?"
"Of course I did, and don't call him Pete."
"Did you tell him about the crazy broad who just left?"
Busted. Evangeline stepped back from the window and gave her blond hair a little flip. She knew that he liked looking at her. To a man in his late sixties, a woman of her age was just a kid. That was why she had worn a skirt and a heel. She always made better deals if Delancey was in a good mood. She noticed his eyes flick down to her legs, so she turned her foot to give him some calf. But when his eyes stopped at her chest, she folded her arms and said, "Of course I told him. A bag lady walks into a bookstore and starts talking about a room papered in money? How in the hell could I miss that?"
"I was talking about a room papered in money. I was telling her that I hear stories like hers all the time, about old grandmothers findin' old bonds underneath old wallpaper in shitty old bathrooms on the Lower East Side, and if I go and look, I don't find anything but old cock-a-roaches." Delancey dropped into his chair and swung to his computer. "I'll bet Pete told you to leave her to me."
"He did, but if you're not interested in what that bag lady —"
"Honey, she's one of the reasons I put in a buzzer system." He pressed a button beneath his desk and the door lock gave an electric hum. "I've got one of the best inventories of rare books in Manhattan, and I never worry about the bad guys, but pain-in-the-ass old bums with b.o. drive me crazy, male or female."
"So why let her in?"
Delancey shrugged. "Eh ... I'm a soft touch. What can I tell you?"
"She showed you a picture just now."
"An old house on the West Side. It was a fancy estate in Washington's day. An eyesore in Lincoln's. Torn down in Teddy Roosevelt's. She used to come in all the time with cockamamie stories like that. Now she says if I meet her tonight, I'll learn somethin' big. I'm not bitin'."
Delancey gave a bigger shrug. "What do I look like? Stupid? I'm a businessman, for chrissakes. I'm not into cops-and-robbers stuff. Not like your boyfriend."
"So why does she bother you instead of some other dealer?"
"Eh ... she must read the papers before she sleeps in them." He looked at her over his glasses, as if trying to decide how much to tell her, and said, "I sold a couple of old bonds to an uptown buyer and it made the papers."
"Well, I wouldn't tell you except that —"
"Don't say you wouldn't tell me except that you like my legs."
Delancey chuckled. "I wouldn't tell you, except that his identity was in the papers. My stockbroker. Austin Arsenault. You heard of him?"
She shook her head.
"I sold him two Revolutionary War bonds that he's now trying to get the Treasury to honor. Gone all the way to the Supreme Court. It's a big story in the scripophily biz."
"Does this make you the scripophily stud?"
"Yeah. But the pretty girls ain't flockin'. You know any pretty girls you could send my way?"
"Maybe." Evangeline sat on the edge of his desk and swung her leg. "I also know that a room papered in money might make a pretty nice wedding gift."
Delancey watched her leg for a moment.
She was playing him, and he knew it, and she knew that he knew it.
Then he said, "If you really want to meet this bag lady, have dinner with me tonight. Then we'll see if she shows up."
"And if she does?"
"I'll split the commission. But half of nothing is still nothing."
She stopped swinging her leg and offered her hand. "Deal."
He took the hand and grinned. His teeth were stubby, mostly yellow near the roots, mostly white toward the ends, as if he only brushed halfway. "Bring a friend. And wear something that shows your ... assets."
"Good that you said 'assets.' If you'd said 'tits,' I would have been mad."
"Well, you can show them, too, if you want to humor an old man."
"You're not old," she said. "Just horny."
Peter Fallon was asleep in front of the television when the phone woke him. He saw the green of Fenway. He heard the announcer's voice: "Red Sox three, Yankees two." He grabbed the remote and pressed Mute, then he picked up the phone. "It's ten thirty. This better be good."
"I'm having dinner with Delancey," said Evangeline. "I'm in Fraunces Tavern."
Peter could think of no more incongruous sight than the little building that sat at the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets, surrounded by the giants of Lower Manhattan. In Boston, you were always stumbling across redbrick reminders of the Revolution. But a third of New York had burned to the ground in 1776, and a lot more had gone up in the 1835 fire. And the rest had fallen to progress once the concrete march from the Battery to the Bronx had begun. In the whole fourteen-mile length of Manhattan, there were only four or five buildings where the sunlight still slanted through the windowpanes of the eighteenth century. Fraunces Tavern was one of them.
The New York Sons of Liberty met there before the Revolution. British officers dined there after chasing off the Continental Army. George Washington said a teary good-bye to his officers there after the Revolution. And when the Federal government opened for business in New York, Alexander Hamilton moved his Treasury Department into one of the upper chambers. Now it was restaurant downstairs, museum upstairs.
"Eating pretty late," said Peter, "even for a New Yorker."
"Delancey and I are supposed to meet this bag lady at eleven o'clock, on the Bowling Green."
"You're still on that? Why couldn't you meet her in Battery Park at lunchtime?"
"I'm not calling about the logistics, Peter. I didn't plan this. The bag lady did."
"Good way to do business. Let crazy customers call the shots."
"Be quiet and listen. It's about Delancey. We were having a nice meal. The usual chitchat. He jokes with me about how disappointed he is that I didn't bring him a girlfriend. We order. He's telling me about the business —"
"I bet he told you it was terrible."
"He was telling me about these Revolutionary bonds he sold, and just as the food comes, he gets this funny look, like he's seen someone or ... some thing. He pops up, says he has to go to the can, and leaves."
"For the night?"
"He never comes back."
"You mean he stiffed you?"
"He sent me a goddamn text message: 'Evangeline, something has come up. Go home. I'll fill you in tomorrow.' The son of a bitch."
Peter didn't like the sound of this. Delancey was cheap, but he had never left a hot meal uneaten in any restaurant, fancy or greasy or anywhere in between. "I'd do what he's suggesting. Pay the check. Have the restaurant call you a cab. Go home."
"Like hell, Peter. I didn't come all the way downtown at this hour just to —"
"Let me try calling him, see what's going on."
"He's not answering. Like you say, he stiffed me."
Peter suddenly felt very helpless. She was two hundred and twenty miles away. She was pissed. And she'd probably had a glass of wine. He hoped she hadn't had two.
He said, "Remember what you told me last time? 'Peter, from now on, we don't go looking for trouble. Nothing dangerous.'"
"How dangerous can it be to meet some bag lady on the Bowling Green?"
"Plenty dangerous, if this is a setup."
"Peter, you're the one who's always saying to trust our instincts."
"I also tell you to trust the process, and the process is all about research, logic, and —" He knew he wasn't reaching her. He had to try something to keep her in the restaurant until she calmed down a bit. "Hey, is it busy there?"
"About half the tables are taken in this room, half in the other room, and it sounds pretty noisy in the taproom, too."
"Can you take a few pictures with your cell phone? They might show me something. But be subtle about it. Send me the pics. I'll look at them and call you back."
A few minutes later, Peter had mail. He muted the TV again, clicked the attachment on his laptop screen, and opened the file.
Three pictures appeared.
They were more shadowy than sharp. Not surprising. No flash on a cell phone. And the restaurant went for eighteenth-century ambience, which meant low-key electric candle sconces on the walls and real candles flickering on the tables.
He could tell that she was sitting by a window in the Tallmadge Room, the one with the cherrywood paneling and the working fireplace.
There was a young couple directly behind her, a group of hard-drinking businessmen at the table next to her, two old couples by the fireplace.
And sitting at the table near the doorway to the Bissel Room was a lone diner, male. Peter tried to blow up the photograph to get a look at him. But there wasn't enough light to make it worthwhile, and what was unusual about people dining alone? (Continues...)
Excerpted from City of Dreams by William Martin. Copyright © 2010 William Martin. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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