Read an Excerpt
Escape the Night
By Richard North Patterson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Richard North Patterson
All rights reserved.
Alicia Carey cried out.
Snakes writhed on the bare walls of the labor room. The thin white gown became a straitjacket. The nurse holding the fetoscope was a withered hag.
She had been hallucinating for five hours.
She had lost dominion over her body. The scopolamine warping her senses left her numb. In lucid moments she recalled dimly the wetness of her water breaking and Charles rushing her into the cool dark. She remembered hating him more clearly than she remembered his face.
That had been twenty-six hours ago. Their driver had sped them to an emergency entrance framed by sickly cracks of light. Its doors slammed behind her. An attendant wheeled her alone to a narrow bed. The nurse shaving her pubic hair frowned at her slim hips. The doctor stabbed her with Nembutal.
Except for nausea that shot was the last thing she truly felt or perceived. The i.v. piercing her arm went unnoticed. The overhead light became the sun. She vomited.
Her makeup had run and her ash-blond hair was lank with sweat. Her legs thrashed beneath the hospital gown. Her mouth tasted bitter.
Only her eyes hadn't changed.
Since the moment of her debut, Alicia's eyes had excited and disturbed, their charged bright greenness promising intensity past reason to that man who could touch it. When Charles Carey first entered her, they had filled with tears. Carey felt as if he had lost his soul.
He sat in the waiting room with an ashtray stuffed with cigarette butts and a New York Times folded in his lap. He had shaved and changed into a windbreaker and slacks, but fatigue took the edge off his vitality. Dr. Schoenberg approached him with hesitance. This was unusual: few people had ever felt sorry for Charles Carey.
Charles rose. He seemed younger than thirty-two, a blade-slim man with an auburn shock of hair and a tactile gaze that grasped Schoenberg's pity and shot back a split second's resentment. Since childhood, Carey had hated sympathy for the fear it made him feel.
Charles Carey had seldom been afraid. He had made first-string back at Harvard by playing on an injured knee. Later, in the Air Corps, he had learned to fly and shot down twelve German planes. He took chances others would not take. When anti-aircraft fire tore through his fighter, he crash-landed in the English Channel. A cutter found Charles Carey treading water, one arm crooking the neck of the skinny tail gunner who had passed out from the cold. They gave him the Air Force Cross. The doe-eyed nurse who treated him took him home.
In bed, they laughed over his luck. Half facetiously, she asked whether he'd run for governor of New York if he managed to survive the war. Carey turned quiet, and said that he had something else to do.
Charles Carey became the only man to successfully defy his father.
In 1907, John Peter Carey had quit eighth grade to scuttle coal at Van Dreelen & Sons and take their books to the bindery in a horse-drawn wagon. When America entered World War I he was twenty-four and half the sales force had disappeared. John went to the sales manager. Thinking to discourage him, the man asked that Carey call on the firm's most recalcitrant customer. John Carey returned with a massive order. Later he took the man's job.
John Carey rose within Van Dreelen & Sons, marrying a Van Dreelen daughter and ignoring their own two sons. When there were no more Van Dreelen sons, he renamed the firm Van Dreelen & Carey and turned it into a predator. Publishing rivals called him "Black Jack," less for his saturnine looks than for the authors he stole. He fished with Hemingway for marlin, loaned Fitzgerald money, drank all night with Faulkner. By 1942 John Carey's books ruled the best-seller lists, their taloned eagle—a symbol of his own invention—staring past his shoulder from the cover of Time magazine, unprecedented for a publisher. "Which one is the eagle?" an assistant joked, then fretted for a week. His editors slaved in rabbit warrens, their doors left open on John Carey's order. From behind the Louis XIV desk that graced his own oak-paneled office, John Carey issued still more edicts, their reason less important than that they be obeyed. Part of this hunger for respect became dandyism, culminating in the iron rule that all male employees wear hats. Its darker side was a stifling paternalism: John Carey backed his staff until they opposed him. Those few who did were terminated.
In 1945, Charles Carey reported to his father's firm, without a hat.
The receptionist glanced up, startled. Within twenty minutes Charles sat in his father's office amidst the sweet, familiar pungency of thin cigars, ordered hand-rolled from Havana. John Carey leaned forward across his desk, barrel chest straining his three-piece suit, his anger—etched like scars running from his nostrils to the corner of his mouth and then to the square of his jaw—leaping from his black hawk's eyes. "Buy a hat," John Carey snapped. "Today. Otherwise you'll not set foot in this firm again."
Charles listened with the watchful stillness he had assumed in his father's presence since boyhood. "I've killed people," he answered. "And saved others. I didn't do those things to wear a hat."
John Carey stared through the smoke. "You think the war made you different. It didn't."
"Not the war. You." Charles's eyes riveted his father's. "I've watched you ever since Phillip and I were small and you were peddling books. You'd come in at the train station with that big trunk, trailing orders and neglect like some god that appeared and disappeared at will. Phillip never got over it. He still believes in God. I don't. You're just a man." Charles finished, in a soft voice, "I'm as smart as you, perhaps smarter. But if you fire me now, we'll never know."
John Carey brooded for a day, then rescinded his rule. It was the cost of learning about his own son.
Their edgy truce lasted, day by day, for seven years. Where John Carey was shrewd, Charles had taste. His dash and nerve balanced his father's toughness. He signed young writers his father could not reach—men who had returned from the war to write of things Charles knew in his bones and marrow. John Carey learned the advantage of appearing to tolerate a son: it lent him a humanizing flaw. But Charles was useful in one other way.
His brother Phillip joined the firm in 1947. As if to counter Charles's perversity, the younger Carey willed himself into an avatar of his father, affecting dark suits and an entrepreneurial flair. As a child, Phillip had clung to his mother. In his twenties he chose to become John Carey—and to inherit his firm. Charles was his only rival; for five years John Carey teased them with his choice. He knew of Phillip's need, and that Charles's indifference was feigned.
Phillip festered, became fearful of mistakes. The defiant Charles prospered under pressure. He found new authors, made money for the firm. He grew in reputation. His friends were writers, athletes, actors and intellectuals. He took part in Democratic politics, was good copy for Leonard Lyons. Women responded to his zest. He had a bright, fantastic smile that banished the wariness from his face and made them wait for it again. For a while he was seen with Audrey Hepburn, displaying the same gallant detachment that had enabled him to enjoy other women until they wanted more and, without remorse or backward glances, he would play out the end game, and gently disengage. "I'm not the tragic lover type," he once remarked.
Then he met Allie Fairvoort ...
"How is she now?" he demanded of Schoenberg.
The obstetrician shifted on the balls of his feet. "It's a difficult labor. She either can't help, or doesn't want to."
Carey felt hot. Acrid smoke rose from the ashtray to mingle with the smell of floor wax. The waiting room—worn green rug, cheap coffee table with tattered magazines—reminded him of a bad motel. Its foreignness chafed his nerves. "Is there some way I can be with her?"
Schoenberg turned away, shaking his head. Carey gripped his shoulder. "You see, she doesn't want this baby ..."
What Allie Fairvoort wanted was a perfect union with a man.
It was as if that single ambition sprang from all the others she'd never needed. Her family was wealthy and secure. She had learned to ski in St. Moritz and breezed through Wellesley without trying. She wrote poetry and burned it in tides of elation and despair. In college she had acted, living in some psychic twilight between her own life and the roles she played. But she had no desire to become more polished, and would not learn. She wanted neither career nor children. She attracted men, teasing and discarding them, and took no lovers. She was waiting to be consumed.
One cool spring evening, at a glittering East Side party, she saw Charles Carey, and learned his name.
He was standing near three other men, sipping a straight-up martini as they listened to a dark and pretty guest from Mississippi lecture on the Southern woman. "We're not like the others," she was saying. "We find our strength in submissiveness."
The three men, older than Charles, nodded and smiled. Charles watched her gravely, head slightly tilted, saying nothing. Taking in the cut-glass features and cobalt-blue eyes, Allie realized with a rush that he was more attractive than any man she'd known. But she was captured by his stillness: it was the stillness of someone in perfect control of his own thoughts.
"So," the young guest began, challenging her listeners, "how would you define the Southern woman?"
The bearded man furthest to the left gave a gallant smile and said, "Dazzling." Her head bobbed down the line as the next man announced, "Mysterious," with an air of drama, the third leaning forward to purr, "Desirable," as if hoping to top the others. Allie Fairvoort thought they were fools.
The woman turned to Charles Carey. He seemed to breathe in, as if considering whether to speak. Softly he answered, "Angry and repressed."
Ten minutes later, the woman left with him.
That night Allie twisted in her bed, hating the dark-haired woman, imagining her cries as Carey's body moved on hers, his mouth seeking her nipple ...
Two months later, lying naked under Charles Carey, Allie cried out for him to kiss her breast.
She had planned it with care. Avoiding Charles, she quietly tracked him through a mutual friend, learned that he seemed driven by things he would not reveal, tested his nerves on polo and sports cars and Black Jack Carey, dated women who were shimmering and impermanent. Quickly, she declined the offer to arrange a meeting. Instead, with the delicacy of a finely wrought drama of which she was the protagonist, Allie crept into Charles Carey's mind. A glancing smile at a party, a chance meeting at the theater, the merest hint of interest, enough for a first evening out, then another. She was planning to surprise him, just as she was planning how he would feel inside her the first time they made love.
Sensing these things, Carey still did not grasp them. He was used to women of a blithe sophistication that never surprised him, whatever form it took. Trained to coolness, he was moved by Allie's buried passion without being sure of what it meant. Instead, he began feeling that they were linked in a subtle exchange as elaborate as a minuet, and as silent. He accorded his actions new weight: quick to sleep with women, he made no move with Allie, and received no invitation. Only once did she teasingly touch the subject: in a taxicab on the way to the Stork Club she suddenly asked, "Did you ever sleep with that silly girl from Mississippi?"
Charles leaned back, curious. "I make a point of never saying. Some of the women I've known are still speaking to me."
Allie smiled in the dark. "I wonder if I will," she replied, and then was silent.
They spoke nothing more of this. Public people, they dated in public—at the ballet, opera or theater—their thoughts remaining private. They were a striking couple: Charles's look of energy without waste, Allie with the provocative air of a woman who would say what she pleased, with quicksilver movements and eyes that changed like a cat's in the light. They laughed often. He was amused by her elaborate sympathies for people she hardly knew—derelicts or writers without money—and by the way she took Manhattan personally, as if its charms and defects were meant for her. "You're laughing at me," she challenged him early on.
They had been strolling past the Pulitzer Fountain after brunch at the Plaza—Charles in a pin-stripe suit cut crisp as a knife, Allie's hair bright as champagne in sunlight as it rippled in the fresh breeze—when she abruptly knelt in front of a stranger's poodle, ruffling its ears and cooing in a happy lilt that seemed their own language. Charles and the man passed bemused smiles across the rapt pair until Allie rose and caught Charles's look in the corner of her eye. "You are laughing," she insisted. "The others never have."
"They're too scared. Beautiful women do that."
She smiled at the compliment. "And you're not frightened?"
He appraised her with that same sideways tilt of the head she had first seen directed at the dark-haired woman. Without smiling he had answered, "Perhaps when I know you better."
The night it happened they had gone to A Streetcar Named Desire and then on to the upstairs bar at Sardi's, drinking cognac and talking about everything and nothing. Carey felt her tension: her gestures were broader, and her smile, too quick to flash and vanish, seemed wired to her nerve ends. On the way to her apartment Allie unexpectedly asked him in. Once there, she moved to the sofa without speaking and sat looking up at him.
He went to her. She kissed him avidly, pulling him down until they lay pressed against each other, then pushed him away. He stood by instinct, watching mutely as she raised her dress above her fine long legs, to show him. She quivered as he undressed.
Had Charles Carey known her fantasies, he would have said that no man could ever be that shining, and left. Unseeing, he tried to match them, then loved her for the tears in her eyes, not knowing feeling from imagination.
Allie Carey felt only sweat and revulsion as they put her on the delivery table and pushed her feet and ankles through metal stirrups bolted to its end, straddling her legs. Schoenberg and the anesthesiologist sat on metal stools by her head, next to a machine with tubes and a black rubber mask. To Allie they were dwarfs who had stolen her sense of her own body.
"I have to take the baby," Schoenberg said. "Put her all the way under."
Her neck twisted as the anesthesiologist pushed the mask to her nose and mouth and turned on the ether. A nurse checked the oxygen on the baby warmer and took a pack of glistening steel instruments from a bare shelf. The forceps fell clattering to the floor. As Allie passed out she could smell the faint freshness of ozone, before it rains.
It was raining when Phillip Carey reached the hospital, perfect as a male model and trailing the faintest whiff of cologne. He fished in his pocket and produced a box of English Oval cigarettes. Charles took one, snapped his lighter, had one deep drag and asked, "How's the patriarch?"
Phillip's smile was thin. "He said he's both too young and too old for this sort of thing. "I'll wait until they produce something,' I think were his exact words."
"Ever the family man." Charles glanced at the Times, saw WEST BERLIN BORDER HOMES SEALED BY EAST GERMAN POLICE without interest or comprehension. "I wonder how much emotion he expended on our mother."
"He outlived her." Phillip shrugged. He inspected the waiting room with distaste. "Don't let you do this with much grace, do they?"
Charles looked up with a glimmer of amusement. Phillip had grown a clipped mustache to go with his tailored clothes and pearl cufflinks. His natural movements were willowy: Charles could see the military strut of Black Jack Carey in the way he held them in, discerned a tension running parallel to his own. "Childbirth is the great leveler," Charles answered. "Another Bolshevik plot for your friend Englehardt from HUAC: "I have here a list of five hundred babies ...'"
"We'll never agree on that, will we?"
"Politics, or babies?"
"Either one, I expect." Phillip carefully placed his hat on the table and sat across from Charles. "How's Allie taking to her new role? She's not generally noted for supporting parts."
Excerpted from Escape the Night by Richard North Patterson. Copyright © 1983 Richard North Patterson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.