Zachary's Wings

Zachary's Wings

by Rosemarie Robotham

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684857367
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 11/30/1999
Edition description: 1 SCRIBNER
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Rosemarie Robotham is an editor-at-large at Essence magazine. A former reporter for Life magazine, she is the coauthor of Spirits of the Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Seventeenth Century. Her story "Jesse" appeared in John Henrik Clarke's Black American Stories: One Hundred Years of the Best, and she edited the recent anthology The Bluelight Corner: Black Women Writing on Passion, Sex, and Romantic Love. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE 1983: The Seduction

Afterwards, they would agree that some instinct had angled them in each other's direction from the start. For when, finally, they stood before each other on the broken asphalt of a Philadelphia parking lot on that gentle October afternoon, the moment had held a peculiar organic force, as if some deep quiescent memory had flashed suddenly to the fore.

Neither Zachary nor Korie had suspected that this day might be any different from the hundreds that preceded it. Zach had certainly not expected a woman the color of roasted cashews to pull into the Carson Agency parking lot at the same moment he did. "I thought you'd be an earnest white girl," he told Korie much later. "It never crossed my mind you'd be black." There had been that spark of recognition between them the moment their eyes met. But Zach ransacked his memory and couldn't recall ever encountering the corkscrew-haired, sultry-eyed young woman who was opening the door of a generic blue Chrysler, clearly a rental. The young woman was dressed, on this warm Friday afternoon, in a loose denim dress belted neatly at the waist and falling to her ankles in a curtain of pleats. In one hand she held a notebook and two pens. She was rummaging inside a huge black leather tote bag with her other hand, all the while keeping her thick-lashed, rude-girl eyes unwaveringly on Zach.

Mechanically, still holding the young woman's gaze, Zach exited his car. The slam of his car door jerked him out of his trance. He crossed the parking lot to introduce himself. Not quite handsome, he was still a fine-looking man, tall as the pro-basketball player he had once dreamed of becoming, smooth and brown as sweet chocolate, his movements graceful and lithe. Although in his khaki trousers and loose short-sleeved shirt he appeared slender, his arms were ropy and muscular, and his wide shoulders strained at the material of his shirt. His greeting was friendly, but aloof.

"You're the writer from New York," he said rather than asked. "I'm the caseworker for the Paleys."

"Korie Morgan," she confirmed, extending her hand. "You must be Zachary Piper. Irv Ryan mentioned you."

Zach thought he caught a hint of an accent, or not an accent exactly, but a peculiar lack of any regional intonation. It was one of Zach's more useless skills, the ability to match an African-American accent to a specific region of the country, and often to a specific state. He had practiced it during six academically uninspired years at Howard University in Washington, D.C., from which he had graduated, just barely, with a sociology degree. If the landscape of his life had been different, he reflected now, he might have made a good linguist. He had the ear for it, and a keenness of observation that allowed him to pick up on subtle clues like gesture and demeanor. But this Korie Morgan didn't seem to fit any of his familiar categories. She didn't even sound African or West Indian. Her accent seemed — he searched for the right words — faintly lifting, yet somehow scrubbed.

He found himself trying to estimate the young woman's age as he led the way into Carson Agency's offices.

Close up, her skin had a sallow undercast in the mid-afternoon sun, so that pale greenish tracings showed at her temples. Her lips were full, unpainted; at the moment they were curved into a quizzical shape, as if a question suffered, unasked, on the crest of those lips. But it was the eyes that fascinated Zachary: Rusty brown, with a faint upward slant, they held a kind of secret radiance, a playful, even flirtatious, quality that was somehow at odds with the seriousness of her demeanor.

Early twenties, Zachary decided, but a moment later changed his mind. She was greeting Irv Ryan, Carson's hulking executive, director, with a clipped, professional assurance that made her seem much older. There was no hint of uncertainty in her manner. She was all cool business, ladylike as hell, expertly controlling the entire exchange. She had been at this a while, Zach realized.

Grant and Margie Paley were waiting for them in the agency's small conference room. Grant, dark and walleyed, huddled against Margie's reassuring girth. She was the more self-possessed of the pair, and she rose to greet Korie and Zach as they entered the room.

"Hey, Zach Man!" she said, punching his shoulder. "Afternoon, ma'am," she said, turning to Korie. Grant remained slumped in his molded plastic chair, his eyes darting from his wife to Zach, to Irv Ryan, to Korie. Korie shook Margie's hand and nodded to Grant, then concentrated on testing her tape recorder. Irv Ryan had told Zach that she would do only a preliminary interview, more to decide whether she would build her story around the Paleys than to gather actual grist for the writing of it. She had been assigned by her magazine to do a feature on mental patients who were managing their lives outside of an institution. When, on the morning of October 13, 1983, she had called the Carson Agency inquiring about subjects she might interview, Ryan, eager to promote his agency's good works in a prestigious national magazine, had thought immediately of the Paleys.

The director had made the appointment with the writer from New York for later that day, praying he'd be able to track down the Paley's caseworker at such short notice. Zach Piper was, if truth be told, Ryan's best caseworker, but Christ, he was a pain to supervise. He refused to punch a clock, declaring after only three days on the job that crises didn't conveniently happen between nine and five. It was never a case of Zach sloughing off. He racked up more total hours than any other caseworker and could be counted on to find a rapport with even the most violent or enigmatic "clients," as Ryan insisted Carson's mental patients be called. But Ryan never knew where Piper was, what he was up to, or when, and for those reasons he didn't quite trust him.

Ryan had dialed Piper's desk, cursing when voice mail intercepted the first ring. At the beep, the director barked into the phone: "Four o'clock this afternoon, at the agency. We got a reporter coming in wants to interview the Paleys. If you're late for this one, so help me, Piper, you're fired."

Throughout the afternoon, as she probed the Paleys' history, Korie grew more aware of Zach to her left, chain-smoking cigarettes, watching her. He'd pitched his chair backwards onto two legs so that his shoulders rested against the sand-colored wall where the handprints of several generations of staff and clients clapped in chorus about his head.

Korie drew a deep breath and tried to erase Zach from her peripheral vision. She needed to focus on Grant and Margie. She was struck by the naive gentleness with which they treated each other, by the selfless efforts of each to promote the other's successes. As she drew their stories from them with the reporter's practiced accommodation of curiosity and care, Zach said little. He might have said nothing at all, but Grant and Margie incessantly solicited his agreement: "Ain't that so, Zach?" one or the other would say. "Just ask Zach Man. He'll tell you."

A current seemed to express itself in the small conference room. Korie realized that she did not trust herself to address the Paleys' caseworker. Zach's squinting gaze unnerved her, and she avoided meeting it. She decided she would interview him later, without an audience, and in spite of herself, felt a peculiar thrill at the prospect of seeing him alone. She weighed her chances of piercing his professional cool.

As it turned out, that would prove easier than anticipated. It was almost nightfall when Korie switched off her tape recorder, and Ryan left the room to call an orderly to escort the Paleys back to their quarters down the street. With Ryan out of the room, Korie turned to Zach and asked if they might go for a drink together; she wanted to ask him a few questions.

In the agency parking lot after the Paleys left, they settled on a blues place Zach knew on Lombard Street downtown. Zach offered to take Korie in his car — he'd be happy to bring her back to the agency after the interview so she could pick up her own vehicle. Korie was tempted, more so than she liked to admit. Everything Grant and Margie had told her suggested that Zach Piper was a man in whose care one might choose to place oneself. Standing there opposite him in the parking lot, Korie had pretended to consider his offer, but the truth was, she couldn't find her voice for a moment. She looked away from Zach, trying to release her words from the place in her throat where they had lodged. It was then she caught sight of the moon, a full yellow orb glowing palely in the dusky sky. It was the moon, she decided, that was to blame for all this, for in some deep, newly awakening part of her, she wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and put herself in Zach Piper's care. The intensity of the feeling didn't quite make sense to her.

"No," she answered finally. "I'll drive my car." Better, she thought, to travel under her own steam. She didn't quite trust herself to enter the intimacy of Zach Piper's car, wasn't ready to relinquish her increasingly tenuous control of the situation. Besides, she knew nothing at all about Zach's drinking habits. Or his driving, for that matter.

Korie drove behind Zach, trailing his car closely as he turned through the side streets of downtown Philadelphia. Finally, she pulled up next to him and parked in the deserted lot across the street from the club. A sign announced in cursive blue neon lettering: STONY's. Korie didn't speak as Zach guided her to the door of a low-slung, shingle-walled building. Inside, a bored-looking man greeted them. But for a couple at the far corner of the bar, the club was empty of customers. "It's early, yet," Zach commented, glancing around the room. Korie, walking behind him as they followed the maître d' to their table, admired the broad symmetry of his shoulders, the supple ease of his stride. As they sat down, a waitress appeared, pencil and pad ready to take their order — a Heineken for Zach, a white wine spritzer with lime for Korie.

Korie knew she would ask Zach some question about the Paleys, but she was loath to so quickly define the mood. She said nothing, just peered through the hazy, bluish light at a quintet of musicians tuning their instruments onstage. She felt Zach observing her with a small, amused smile. But he, too, kept the silence. They sat like that for a long while, allowing the coiled energy between them to dissipate slowly, letting it drift and scatter in the air around them until their silence became almost companionable. At last, Zach leaned into the space above the scarred little table that separated them and, for the first time since that afternoon, took the conversational lead.

"So, Ms. Korie Morgan from New York," he drawled with an exaggerated southern inflection, "what's this accent I hear?"

Just then the waitress arrived with their drinks. Korie, glad for the distraction, stirred her wine spritzer slowly, the thin straw creating a tiny tornado of bubbles. Her stomach felt like those bubbles. She realized her heart was racing, quickened by the humid nearness of this man, his laughing eyes, his big, calloused hands splayed open-heartedly on the table.

"I'm Jamaican," she said. She even managed a touch of flippancy. "Born and raised. Went to college in New York City, though."

"No kidding." Zach whistled softly. "I'd never have guessed. You don't sound like the Jamaicans I've known."

"My accent gets stronger around other Jamaicans," Korie said. "People tell me that."

Zach picked up his beer and began pouring it into the frosted mug that the waitress had brought. A wide cap of foam bloomed at the top of his glass. "I went to college with a whole bunch of Jamaicans," he said. "Other West Indians, too. They all kinda kept to themselves, though."

Korie didn't answer. She knew how it could be between West Indians and American-born blacks. She had seen how, in a country that relegated most people of color to second-class status, the two groups could nevertheless fail to connect. Korie had been forced to maneuver within her own particular version of that schism in college. She didn't want to revisit the frustration and uneasiness of that time. Not with Zach. Not this night.

"So how did you come to choose social work?" she asked him instead.

Zach grinned, shaking the last of the beer into his glass. "I'll tell you a secret," he said. "This job isn't hard for me. It doesn't even feel like work. Well, maybe dealing with the boss might be work" — they both laughed a little at that — "but the rest of it? It's nothing more than helping some people get through their day." He paused to take a sip of the beer, then wiped the froth from his lips with the palm of his hand, an unconscious gesture that Korie found oddly appealing. Zach looked up and caught her eyes right then, and found them quiet and attentive, so he went on.

"After I got out of college, the job at Carson was available and, well, seems crazy folk like me." He shrugged. "They sense a kinship, you know."

"You don't seem crazy." Korie smiled. She offered it as a tidbit of small talk, but Zach didn't respond at once, and when he spoke again, his mood had grown pensive.

"Who's to say who's crazy, anyway?" he mused. "With all the drugs and the violence out here, and so many kids growing up lonely and scared, it just might be that going crazy is a very sane thing to do."

"Saner than pretending it all makes sense, anyway," Korie agreed. "When you think about it, it's the perfect paradox."

Zach was silent for a moment, considering. "'A paradox is a truth standing on its head,'" he said finally. "That's the way I learned it in school. Except it might be this particular truth is standing squarely on its feet. Crazy is just a word, you know."

"It's more than a word," Korie argued. "Once it's been officially applied, it can define a person's horizons."

"That's what's sad," Zach murmured, his expression darkening. But just as it seemed that he might veer into gloom, a mischievous light came into his eyes. "You know what?" he said. "We won't solve the world's problems this evening. And the fact is, Ms. Morgan, at this precise moment, there are a few other things I can think of that I'd prefer to do."

Korie couldn't help laughing as she met his frankly flirtatious eyes. She was impressed by his range, by the ease with which he could skip from contemplative to playful, from serious to seductive, and carry her along. As Zach laughed with her, he reached across the table and put his palm over her hand. It felt, to Korie, perfectly natural and spontaneous, and she turned her palm upwards to meet his, liking the bigness of his hand and the warm flush of his skin against her own.

What a curious man, she thought as the laughter died down, and they stared into each other's eyes. But then Zachary Piper, sitting wordlessly in the conference room while she'd interviewed the Paleys, had been a curious figure from the start. He'd seemed markedly indifferent to her reporter's perception of him, unconcerned with how she might portray him in whatever story she might write. And yet the way he leaned in to her now, the teasing intimacy of his voice, the naked fascination in his eyes — all of it told her that Zach was clearly interested in being here with her, in this tiny blues bar sipping wine spritzer and beer, and he wasn't about to pretend it was all just business. Korie had to admit she was having a hard time remembering the Paleys herself.

"What about you?" Zach asked her now. "How did you get to be a big shot journalist?"

"Oh, please," Korie said lightly, but she had the uncomfortable sense that he'd been following her thoughts.

"Hey, don't be modest. You write for a national magazine. That's a pretty big deal."

"Well," Korie said, stalling. She felt suddenly self-conscious.

What she wouldn't say to Zach, at least not right now, was that part of her attraction to journalism had to do with a deep vein of shyness in her nature, which she had learned to cover by throwing the spotlight away from herself, asking the questions rather than answering them. Whether this was fostered more by a thirst for details or merely the desire to hide, the fact was, when she couldn't take refuge behind her questions, her confidence, her bravado tended to flag. But now, in spite of her old shyness, she found herself strangely grateful for Zach's interest, and felt herself opening up to him, her natural reserve falling easily away.

"I just always wanted to write," she heard herself say. "At first, I wasn't sure how to do it and still make a living. And then I discovered journalism."

"Bet you're good, too," Zach said as he reached into his shirt pocket for a cigarette. He struck a match and held the fire to the tip of the cigarette.

"Why do you do it like that?" Korie asked him suddenly.

"What — ?" Zach stared at her, the cigarette halfway to his lips.

"The way you light your cigarettes," she said, "holding them to the fire without inhaling. I noticed it at the agency. You handle them like joints."

Zach seemed to take his time absorbing this. He drew deeply on his cigarette, then blew the smoke to one side, his slow grin as he looked back at Korie letting her know that he was on to her, that he had not mistaken her comment for something other than it was — a bold, intentional departure from safe ground.

"Well you see," he drawled finally, "I was what my mama liked to call 'precocious.' Started smoking way too young. And when I started, this was the way I saw my big brother light his sticks. I just thought it was cool. What did I know? And now, it's just a habit, I guess."

"I see." Korie nodded with mock seriousness. She could tell he was toying with her.

"So that's the story of my misguided youth," Zach quipped. "Your turn."

"Nothing to tell." Korie laughed. "I was the original good girl."

"I believe that," Zach said softly, but he wasn't teasing her now. His eyes ranged over her face, drinking in details he hadn't noticed before — the fleeting dimple in her cheek, the pale brown mole at the edge of one eye, the tiny forcep mark on her temple. Korie, uncomfortable, shifted in her chair, unable right then to summon a whimsical comeback that would keep the mood light. She decided to say nothing at all. She just sipped her white wine spritzer and looked towards the stage, where the musicians, five fiftyish black men, seemed finally ready to play.

After another moment, Zach leaned all the way across the table and put his lips to Korie's ear.

"Let's go to my house," he proposed over the sudden, haunting wail of a trumpet. "Let's be a little bit naughty."

Korie smiled slowly and held his eyes.

Suddenly, she didn't want to pretend anymore that Grant and Margie Paley had anything to do with this meeting. Had that been true, she could have interviewed Zach back at the agency. She could have sat with him right there in Irv Ryan's conference room and gotten all she needed for her file. But this Zachary Piper intrigued her far more than any story she was investigating. He was the reason she'd come to this funky little blues bar on Lombard Street in downtown Philly, where she now sat with her face so close to his that her hair brushed his cheek.

"Why not?" she said evenly.

A fidgety doberman named Ringo greeted them at Zach's front door. His apartment, the top floor of an otherwise uninhabited two-family house, was on the bare side, functional and neat except for streamers of toilet paper that Ringo had spread all over the living room. "My brother Ben's dog," Zach said, moving around the living room, gathering up the paper. "Ben used to live downstairs, but he moved to Atlanta last month. Got a good construction job. I said I'd keep Ringo till he found an apartment. He finally did, thank God. He's sending for his mongrel this week."

At last, the yards of paper crumpled to his chest, Zach bowed gallantly. "My humble abode," he said. "Make yourself comfortable. I'm going to feed Ringo and then I'm going to change. If I'd known I'd be meeting you today, Korie Morgan, I might have worn a necktie."

"And I some lipstick," she bantered. "Some heels, maybe."

Zach spooned cornmeal mash into a dish and took it and Ringo to the basement. Then he went into his bedroom and half-closed the door. Korie wandered into the kitchen while Zach changed. She saw that it looked more inhabited than his other rooms. A medley of overripe fruit spilled from a basket next to the window; brown earthenware jars labeled FLOUR, COFFEE, PASTA, and RICE were aligned on the windowsill, along with a plethora of seasonings; grease-blackened pots and several different sizes of frying and sautéing pans hung from hooks in the walls.

"So you cook," she remarked lightly. Zach had come in behind her, his fresh, white cotton shirt unbuttoned. Korie noticed the way his jeans were slung low on the hard rippled slope of his stomach.

"I'm very domesticated," he said, moving behind her and pulling her gently against him. "Does that interest you?"

Korie leaned back into him as he embraced her. His arms circled her loosely, his hips pressed forward ever so slightly, and Korie could sense more than feel the rhythmic beating of his heart against her shoulder blade. They said nothing for a while, but just stood like that, allowing the now almost familiar electricity to course through their bodies, to flow back and forth between them, charging the very air.

Zach's kitchen window looked onto a distant highway overpass, and in the gathering night the lights of cars seemed to merge on one side in a stream of receding red neon, and on the other, in a continuous flow of quicksilver white. Above this surging yet strangely tranquil scene the full moon glistened, unmoving, suspended in the very center of Zach's kitchen window, balancing the flow of light within its frame.

"They say that's a hunter's moon," Zach murmured, his face in Korie's hair. Korie pretended to study the moon, suddenly unsure how to act. They had arrived at this moment so quickly, and yet nothing had seemed rushed, unnatural, contrived. Right then, she decided the symmetry was perfect. She marveled at it and marveled, too, at the symbolic rightness of their meeting on a Friday the thirteenth by this shimmering moon.

Copyright © 1998 by Rosemarie Robotham

Table of Contents

Contents

PROLOGUE 1983

The Seduction

PART ONE 1973-1983

1: Rebel Dreams

2: Quincy Street

3: Black Power

4: The Seduction (Reprise)

PART TWO 1983-1985

5: True Love

6: Modigliani's Girl

7: Nomads

8: Smoke Signals

PART THREE 1985-1986

9: Going Home

10: The Carpenter's Shadow

11: The Rooms

12: The Secret Savior

EPILOGUE 1987

Rest

What People are Saying About This

Tina McElroy Ansa

"Zachary's Wings is a gem of a novel. Rosemarie Robotham has created a world of passion and tenderness, of fast city living and tender family moments, of tragedy and redemption. You will love the Zach Man. In this crucial character, Robotham has created a fully fleshed, tender and loving black man -- inside and out." -- Author of Ugly Ways

Diane McKinney-Whetstone

"Rosemarie Robotham writes with such intelligence and grace, with such compassion for her characters, that to read Zachary's Wings is to be swept up in beautiful storytelling." -- Author of Tumbling

Edwidge Danticat

"A beautiful first novel, Rosemarie Robotham's Zachary's Wings will stir you most inner passions and joys." -- Author of Breath, eyes, memory

James McBride

"Two individuals from different worlds connect until their secrets roar through their relationship like a tidal wave, threatening to overwhelm everything in its path. Zachary's Wings is a love story of might and power. It is full of surprises, eloquently erotic, and refreshingly deep." -- Author of The Color of Water

Introduction

PROLOGUE 1983: The Seduction Afterwards, they would agree that some instinct had angled them in each other's direction from the start. For when, finally, they stood before each other on the broken asphalt of a Philadelphia parking lot on that gentle October afternoon, the moment had held a peculiar organic force, as if some deep quiescent memory had flashed suddenly to the fore.

Neither Zachary nor Korie had suspected that this day might be any different from the hundreds that preceded it. Zach had certainly not expected a woman the color of roasted cashews to pull into the Carson Agency parking lot at the same moment he did. "I thought you'd be an earnest white girl," he told Korie much later. "It never crossed my mind you'd be black." There had been that spark of recognition between them the moment their eyes met. But Zach ransacked his memory and couldn't recall ever encountering the corkscrew-haired, sultry-eyed young woman who was opening the door of a generic blue Chrysler, clearly a rental. The young woman was dressed, on this warm Friday afternoon, in a loose denim dress belted neatly at the waist and falling to her ankles in a curtain of pleats. In one hand she held a notebook and two pens. She was rummaging inside a huge black leather tote bag with her other hand, all the while keeping her thick-lashed, rude-girl eyes unwaveringly on Zach.

Mechanically, still holding the young woman's gaze, Zach exited his car. The slam of his car door jerked him out of his trance. He crossed the parking lot to introduce himself. Not quite handsome, he was still a fine-looking man, tall as the pro-basketball player he had once dreamed of becoming, smooth and brown as sweet chocolate, his movements graceful and lithe. Although in his khaki trousers and loose short-sleeved shirt he appeared slender, his arms were ropy and muscular, and his wide shoulders strained at the material of his shirt. His greeting was friendly, but aloof.

"You're the writer from New York," he said rather than asked. "I'm the caseworker for the Paleys."

"Korie Morgan," she confirmed, extending her hand. "You must be Zachary Piper. Irv Ryan mentioned you."

Zach thought he caught a hint of an accent, or not an accent exactly, but a peculiar lack of any regional intonation. It was one of Zach's more useless skills, the ability to match an African-American accent to a specific region of the country, and often to a specific state. He had practiced it during six academically uninspired years at Howard University in Washington, D.C., from which he had graduated, just barely, with a sociology degree. If the landscape of his life had been different, he reflected now, he might have made a good linguist. He had the ear for it, and a keenness of observation that allowed him to pick up on subtle clues like gesture and demeanor. But this Korie Morgan didn't seem to fit any of his familiar categories. She didn't even sound African or West Indian. Her accent seemed -- he searched for the right words -- faintly lifting, yet somehow scrubbed.

He found himself trying to estimate the young woman's age as he led the way into Carson Agency's offices.

Close up, her skin had a sallow undercast in the mid-afternoon sun, so that pale greenish tracings showed at her temples. Her lips were full, unpainted; at the moment they were curved into a quizzical shape, as if a question suffered, unasked, on the crest of those lips. But it was the eyes that fascinated Zachary: Rusty brown, with a faint upward slant, they held a kind of secret radiance, a playful, even flirtatious, quality that was somehow at odds with the seriousness of her demeanor.

Early twenties, Zachary decided, but a moment later changed his mind. She was greeting Irv Ryan, Carson's hulking executive, director, with a clipped, professional assurance that made her seem much older. There was no hint of uncertainty in her manner. She was all cool business, ladylike as hell, expertly controlling the entire exchange. She had been at this a while, Zach realized.

Grant and Margie Paley were waiting for them in the agency's small conference room. Grant, dark and walleyed, huddled against Margie's reassuring girth. She was the more self-possessed of the pair, and she rose to greet Korie and Zach as they entered the room.

"Hey, Zach Man!" she said, punching his shoulder. "Afternoon, ma'am," she said, turning to Korie. Grant remained slumped in his molded plastic chair, his eyes darting from his wife to Zach, to Irv Ryan, to Korie. Korie shook Margie's hand and nodded to Grant, then concentrated on testing her tape recorder. Irv Ryan had told Zach that she would do only a preliminary interview, more to decide whether she would build her story around the Paleys than to gather actual grist for the writing of it. She had been assigned by her magazine to do a feature on mental patients who were managing their lives outside of an institution. When, on the morning of October 13, 1983, she had called the Carson Agency inquiring about subjects she might interview, Ryan, eager to promote his agency's good works in a prestigious national magazine, had thought immediately of the Paleys.

The director had made the appointment with the writer from New York for later that day, praying he'd be able to track down the Paley's caseworker at such short notice. Zach Piper was, if truth be told, Ryan's best caseworker, but Christ, he was a pain to supervise. He refused to punch a clock, declaring after only three days on the job that crises didn't conveniently happen between nine and five. It was never a case of Zach sloughing off. He racked up more total hours than any other caseworker and could be counted on to find a rapport with even the most violent or enigmatic "clients," as Ryan insisted Carson's mental patients be called. But Ryan never knew where Piper was, what he was up to, or when, and for those reasons he didn't quite trust him.

Ryan had dialed Piper's desk, cursing when voice mail intercepted the first ring. At the beep, the director barked into the phone: "Four o'clock this afternoon, at the agency. We got a reporter coming in wants to interview the Paleys. If you're late for this one, so help me, Piper, you're fired."


Throughout the afternoon, as she probed the Paleys' history, Korie grew more aware of Zach to her left, chain-smoking cigarettes, watching her. He'd pitched his chair backwards onto two legs so that his shoulders rested against the sand-colored wall where the handprints of several generations of staff and clients clapped in chorus about his head.

Korie drew a deep breath and tried to erase Zach from her peripheral vision. She needed to focus on Grant and Margie. She was struck by the naive gentleness with which they treated each other, by the selfless efforts of each to promote the other's successes. As she drew their stories from them with the reporter's practiced accommodation of curiosity and care, Zach said little. He might have said nothing at all, but Grant and Margie incessantly solicited his agreement: "Ain't that so, Zach?" one or the other would say. "Just ask Zach Man. He'll tell you."

A current seemed to express itself in the small conference room. Korie realized that she did not trust herself to address the Paleys' caseworker. Zach's squinting gaze unnerved her, and she avoided meeting it. She decided she would interview him later, without an audience, and in spite of herself, felt a peculiar thrill at the prospect of seeing him alone. She weighed her chances of piercing his professional cool.

As it turned out, that would prove easier than anticipated. It was almost nightfall when Korie switched off her tape recorder, and Ryan left the room to call an orderly to escort the Paleys back to their quarters down the street. With Ryan out of the room, Korie turned to Zach and asked if they might go for a drink together; she wanted to ask him a few questions.

In the agency parking lot after the Paleys left, they settled on a blues place Zach knew on Lombard Street downtown. Zach offered to take Korie in his car -- he'd be happy to bring her back to the agency after the interview so she could pick up her own vehicle. Korie was tempted, more so than she liked to admit. Everything Grant and Margie had told her suggested that Zach Piper was a man in whose care one might choose to place oneself. Standing there opposite him in the parking lot, Korie had pretended to consider his offer, but the truth was, she couldn't find her voice for a moment. She looked away from Zach, trying to release her words from the place in her throat where they had lodged. It was then she caught sight of the moon, a full yellow orb glowing palely in the dusky sky. It was the moon, she decided, that was to blame for all this, for in some deep, newly awakening part of her, she wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and put herself in Zach Piper's care. The intensity of the feeling didn't quite make sense to her.

"No," she answered finally. "I'll drive my car." Better, she thought, to travel under her own steam. She didn't quite trust herself to enter the intimacy of Zach Piper's car, wasn't ready to relinquish her increasingly tenuous control of the situation. Besides, she knew nothing at all about Zach's drinking habits. Or his driving, for that matter.

Korie drove behind Zach, trailing his car closely as he turned through the side streets of downtown Philadelphia. Finally, she pulled up next to him and parked in the deserted lot across the street from the club. A sign announced in cursive blue neon lettering: STONY's. Korie didn't speak as Zach guided her to the door of a low-slung, shingle-walled building. Inside, a bored-looking man greeted them. But for a couple at the far corner of the bar, the club was empty of customers. "It's early, yet," Zach commented, glancing around the room. Korie, walking behind him as they followed the maître d' to their table, admired the broad symmetry of his shoulders, the supple ease of his stride. As they sat down, a waitress appeared, pencil and pad ready to take their order -- a Heineken for Zach, a white wine spritzer with lime for Korie.

Korie knew she would ask Zach some question about the Paleys, but she was loath to so quickly define the mood. She said nothing, just peered through the hazy, bluish light at a quintet of musicians tuning their instruments onstage. She felt Zach observing her with a small, amused smile. But he, too, kept the silence. They sat like that for a long while, allowing the coiled energy between them to dissipate slowly, letting it drift and scatter in the air around them until their silence became almost companionable. At last, Zach leaned into the space above the scarred little table that separated them and, for the first time since that afternoon, took the conversational lead.

"So, Ms. Korie Morgan from New York," he drawled with an exaggerated southern inflection, "what's this accent I hear?"

Just then the waitress arrived with their drinks. Korie, glad for the distraction, stirred her wine spritzer slowly, the thin straw creating a tiny tornado of bubbles. Her stomach felt like those bubbles. She realized her heart was racing, quickened by the humid nearness of this man, his laughing eyes, his big, calloused hands splayed open-heartedly on the table.

"I'm Jamaican," she said. She even managed a touch of flippancy. "Born and raised. Went to college in New York City, though."

"No kidding." Zach whistled softly. "I'd never have guessed. You don't sound like the Jamaicans I've known."

"My accent gets stronger around other Jamaicans," Korie said. "People tell me that."

Zach picked up his beer and began pouring it into the frosted mug that the waitress had brought. A wide cap of foam bloomed at the top of his glass. "I went to college with a whole bunch of Jamaicans," he said. "Other West Indians, too. They all kinda kept to themselves, though."

Korie didn't answer. She knew how it could be between West Indians and American-born blacks. She had seen how, in a country that relegated most people of color to second-class status, the two groups could nevertheless fail to connect. Korie had been forced to maneuver within her own particular version of that schism in college. She didn't want to revisit the frustration and uneasiness of that time. Not with Zach. Not this night.

"So how did you come to choose social work?" she asked him instead.

Zach grinned, shaking the last of the beer into his glass. "I'll tell you a secret," he said. "This job isn't hard for me. It doesn't even feel like work. Well, maybe dealing with the boss might be work" -- they both laughed a little at that -- "but the rest of it? It's nothing more than helping some people get through their day." He paused to take a sip of the beer, then wiped the froth from his lips with the palm of his hand, an unconscious gesture that Korie found oddly appealing. Zach looked up and caught her eyes right then, and found them quiet and attentive, so he went on.

"After I got out of college, the job at Carson was available and, well, seems crazy folk like me." He shrugged. "They sense a kinship, you know."

"You don't seem crazy." Korie smiled. She offered it as a tidbit of small talk, but Zach didn't respond at once, and when he spoke again, his mood had grown pensive.

"Who's to say who's crazy, anyway?" he mused. "With all the drugs and the violence out here, and so many kids growing up lonely and scared, it just might be that going crazy is a very sane thing to do."

"Saner than pretending it all makes sense, anyway," Korie agreed. "When you think about it, it's the perfect paradox."

Zach was silent for a moment, considering. "'A paradox is a truth standing on its head,'" he said finally. "That's the way I learned it in school. Except it might be this particular truth is standing squarely on its feet. Crazy is just a word, you know."

"It's more than a word," Korie argued. "Once it's been officially applied, it can define a person's horizons."

"That's what's sad," Zach murmured, his expression darkening. But just as it seemed that he might veer into gloom, a mischievous light came into his eyes. "You know what?" he said. "We won't solve the world's problems this evening. And the fact is, Ms. Morgan, at this precise moment, there are a few other things I can think of that I'd prefer to do."

Korie couldn't help laughing as she met his frankly flirtatious eyes. She was impressed by his range, by the ease with which he could skip from contemplative to playful, from serious to seductive, and carry her along. As Zach laughed with her, he reached across the table and put his palm over her hand. It felt, to Korie, perfectly natural and spontaneous, and she turned her palm upwards to meet his, liking the bigness of his hand and the warm flush of his skin against her own.

What a curious man, she thought as the laughter died down, and they stared into each other's eyes. But then Zachary Piper, sitting wordlessly in the conference room while she'd interviewed the Paleys, had been a curious figure from the start. He'd seemed markedly indifferent to her reporter's perception of him, unconcerned with how she might portray him in whatever story she might write. And yet the way he leaned in to her now, the teasing intimacy of his voice, the naked fascination in his eyes -- all of it told her that Zach was clearly interested in being here with her, in this tiny blues bar sipping wine spritzer and beer, and he wasn't about to pretend it was all just business. Korie had to admit she was having a hard time remembering the Paleys herself.

"What about you?" Zach asked her now. "How did you get to be a big shot journalist?"

"Oh, please," Korie said lightly, but she had the uncomfortable sense that he'd been following her thoughts.

"Hey, don't be modest. You write for a national magazine. That's a pretty big deal."

"Well," Korie said, stalling. She felt suddenly self-conscious.

What she wouldn't say to Zach, at least not right now, was that part of her attraction to journalism had to do with a deep vein of shyness in her nature, which she had learned to cover by throwing the spotlight away from herself, asking the questions rather than answering them. Whether this was fostered more by a thirst for details or merely the desire to hide, the fact was, when she couldn't take refuge behind her questions, her confidence, her bravado tended to flag. But now, in spite of her old shyness, she found herself strangely grateful for Zach's interest, and felt herself opening up to him, her natural reserve falling easily away.

"I just always wanted to write," she heard herself say. "At first, I wasn't sure how to do it and still make a living. And then I discovered journalism."

"Bet you're good, too," Zach said as he reached into his shirt pocket for a cigarette. He struck a match and held the fire to the tip of the cigarette.

"Why do you do it like that?" Korie asked him suddenly.

"What -- ?" Zach stared at her, the cigarette halfway to his lips.

"The way you light your cigarettes," she said, "holding them to the fire without inhaling. I noticed it at the agency. You handle them like joints."

Zach seemed to take his time absorbing this. He drew deeply on his cigarette, then blew the smoke to one side, his slow grin as he looked back at Korie letting her know that he was on to her, that he had not mistaken her comment for something other than it was -- a bold, intentional departure from safe ground.

"Well you see," he drawled finally, "I was what my mama liked to call 'precocious.' Started smoking way too young. And when I started, this was the way I saw my big brother light his sticks. I just thought it was cool. What did I know? And now, it's just a habit, I guess."

"I see." Korie nodded with mock seriousness. She could tell he was toying with her.

"So that's the story of my misguided youth," Zach quipped. "Your turn."

"Nothing to tell." Korie laughed. "I was the original good girl."

"I believe that," Zach said softly, but he wasn't teasing her now. His eyes ranged over her face, drinking in details he hadn't noticed before -- the fleeting dimple in her cheek, the pale brown mole at the edge of one eye, the tiny forcep mark on her temple. Korie, uncomfortable, shifted in her chair, unable right then to summon a whimsical comeback that would keep the mood light. She decided to say nothing at all. She just sipped her white wine spritzer and looked towards the stage, where the musicians, five fiftyish black men, seemed finally ready to play.

After another moment, Zach leaned all the way across the table and put his lips to Korie's ear.

"Let's go to my house," he proposed over the sudden, haunting wail of a trumpet. "Let's be a little bit naughty."

Korie smiled slowly and held his eyes.

Suddenly, she didn't want to pretend anymore that Grant and Margie Paley had anything to do with this meeting. Had that been true, she could have interviewed Zach back at the agency. She could have sat with him right there in Irv Ryan's conference room and gotten all she needed for her file. But this Zachary Piper intrigued her far more than any story she was investigating. He was the reason she'd come to this funky little blues bar on Lombard Street in downtown Philly, where she now sat with her face so close to his that her hair brushed his cheek.

"Why not?" she said evenly.


A fidgety doberman named Ringo greeted them at Zach's front door. His apartment, the top floor of an otherwise uninhabited two-family house, was on the bare side, functional and neat except for streamers of toilet paper that Ringo had spread all over the living room. "My brother Ben's dog," Zach said, moving around the living room, gathering up the paper. "Ben used to live downstairs, but he moved to Atlanta last month. Got a good construction job. I said I'd keep Ringo till he found an apartment. He finally did, thank God. He's sending for his mongrel this week."

At last, the yards of paper crumpled to his chest, Zach bowed gallantly. "My humble abode," he said. "Make yourself comfortable. I'm going to feed Ringo and then I'm going to change. If I'd known I'd be meeting you today, Korie Morgan, I might have worn a necktie."

"And I some lipstick," she bantered. "Some heels, maybe."

Zach spooned cornmeal mash into a dish and took it and Ringo to the basement. Then he went into his bedroom and half-closed the door. Korie wandered into the kitchen while Zach changed. She saw that it looked more inhabited than his other rooms. A medley of overripe fruit spilled from a basket next to the window; brown earthenware jars labeled FLOUR, COFFEE, PASTA, and RICE were aligned on the windowsill, along with a plethora of seasonings; grease-blackened pots and several different sizes of frying and sautéing pans hung from hooks in the walls.

"So you cook," she remarked lightly. Zach had come in behind her, his fresh, white cotton shirt unbuttoned. Korie noticed the way his jeans were slung low on the hard rippled slope of his stomach.

"I'm very domesticated," he said, moving behind her and pulling her gently against him. "Does that interest you?"

Korie leaned back into him as he embraced her. His arms circled her loosely, his hips pressed forward ever so slightly, and Korie could sense more than feel the rhythmic beating of his heart against her shoulder blade. They said nothing for a while, but just stood like that, allowing the now almost familiar electricity to course through their bodies, to flow back and forth between them, charging the very air.

Zach's kitchen window looked onto a distant highway overpass, and in the gathering night the lights of cars seemed to merge on one side in a stream of receding red neon, and on the other, in a continuous flow of quicksilver white. Above this surging yet strangely tranquil scene the full moon glistened, unmoving, suspended in the very center of Zach's kitchen window, balancing the flow of light within its frame.

"They say that's a hunter's moon," Zach murmured, his face in Korie's hair. Korie pretended to study the moon, suddenly unsure how to act. They had arrived at this moment so quickly, and yet nothing had seemed rushed, unnatural, contrived. Right then, she decided the symmetry was perfect. She marveled at it and marveled, too, at the symbolic rightness of their meeting on a Friday the thirteenth by this shimmering moon.

Copyright © 1998 by Rosemarie Robotham

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Zachary's Wings 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I didn't see classes issues. Korie - Jamacian from a wealth family & Zach - working class. So? That didn't causes problems. To me the story was about 2 people who feel in love and the life issues that disrupted that love. Granted those issues were somewhat dramatic, but they were not the main theme of the story. What hooked me was the connection that Korie & Zach felt for one another and how that connection flowed through and shaped the story. I liked that both families were a part of the story, as it was the family dynamics that shaped Korie and Zach into the people they were. It was Kories upbringing that brought her from the brink and Zach's upbringing that allowed him to care as he did. And it was the friends & family that knew they should be together and urged them both to follow the course. Sometimes you can't help destiny.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The language of the novel is beautiful and fluid-it reads like clear Caribbean water or something of the like. The characters are compelling and complex and that makes them interesting. However, I think that the author's use of their complexities lends itself to too many issues ranging from race to sexuality (which the author glosses way too much which, I think, she should'nt have done because it is a huge part of the book) to violence and I think that it is too much for the length of the book. Also I feel that some of the details concerning Zachary's siblings could be omitted or done is a more simpler fashion. Some relationship details are left hanging as far as Korie is concerned and the 'cheesy' ending. I guess that's the romance in it. Lastly, my book had a tone of grammatical and sentence structure ERRORS! But I'd read Rosemary's work again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absoultely loved this novel!! This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.. Excuse my jargon, but this book had plenty of 'meat and potatoes', I could sink my teeth into. The characters appeared to be so up-close and personal. Zachary was truly unselfish in his approach to helping others, and Korie was a strong woman in her own right. I admire Mrs. Robotham's writing style. What a beautiful and endearing love story!!! I hope to read more of her novels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book points out the fact that there are still some good brothers out there. Zach was the epitome of a real man always putting others in front of himself. True love will surely find you if it is meant to be.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Zachary's Wings' was an outstanding novel! The author, Rosemarie Robotbam, writes the story of Korie and Zach with such poetry and passion that their experiences will remain in my memory for always. I especially enjoyed the complexity of their different backgrounds. I believe it added an element of excitement and conflict to their relationship. I also thought that the passion and sensuality of the lead characters was enticing and intoxicating! I thought that the demands placed on them (the husband's illness, for example) gave the author an opportunity to explore all the things that motivate and influence individuals to make the choice that they do.