Greyson sat slumped forward at the foot of his bed. Drool rolled down his chin and dampened his white crew neck T-shirt. He replayed the first half of his day in his mind, having visited the Upper West Side police precinct and St. Luke’s hospital in a world-wind three-hour walkabout.
He recalled how he had awoken to the news of his client’s debilitating shooting. Despite his overwhelming desire to go back to bed and shut out the cruel world around him, he had thrown on jeans and a sweatshirt and scurried out into the Manhattan streets for the long frigid walk to the precinct. After speaking with several detectives and passing on any details about Latrell’s life, friends and habits, a uniformed officer provided a few more details about how he had been shot right through the side of his head from 30 feet away from a passing car on the street.
After the harrowing discussion at the precinct, Greyson cabbed 30 blocks south to Saint Luke’s hospital where he tried to see Latrell but was not allowed into the room as several physicians continued to monitor and evaluate him. Through a thin window, he caught a glimpse of Latrell’s bandaged head between the shoulders of two doctors conferring about his condition. Around him, wires and tubes connected his body to two machines. The flashing, beeping buttons and lights on the face of the machine looked like some cheesy prop thrown together for a Star Wars movie.
A narrow slit in Latrell’s bandages revealed two black, shadowy, oval eyes staring out at no particular focal point without awareness or reflection of the light drenched room around him.
Greyson sat, dejectedly in the lobby next to Latrell’s three hysterical sisters and his seemingly comatose mother, who stared with dead grey eyes at the floor between her feet. Her head quivered and rocked slowly. He offered condolences and conjured meager words of hope. The sisters looked right past him unable to overcome their shared grief.
“Thanks for the nice words and your offer to help,” she said, her soft voice cracking and failing. “But there ain’t no hope for him no more.”
Along the way home, Greyson stopped to buy a couple tall Budweiser beers and a bottle of whiskey, slipping swigs as he strode back uptown to his apartment. By two hours north of noon, he already felt himself wavering around the point of losing consciousness from the binge drinking he had conducted since returning from the hospital.
He stared blankly at the TV screen. E-mails piled up in his in-box. Video voice mails remained unanswered. His cell phone buzzed in his pocket. But Greyson ignored it all. His meeting with Alonzo King came and went. Greyson didn’t call. He didn’t send notification. He just sat and drank until he felt like puking and then he drank some more until all the bottles clanked hollowly on the hard wood floor with nothing left to offer. He supplemented his bender with some even harder drinks that he kept in the cabinet above the refrigerator.
He passed the time playing solitaire on his iMac, while watching television shows and browsing the internet for You Tube videos featuring other clients of his.
He watched his siblings’ idle web cams. Mikey’s depicted little more than dust settling across his living room furniture. Greyson fixated on the marble tile in Melanie’s foyer as if waiting for something to happen. But for most of the morning, the image didn’t change until - in Greyson’s warped vision - it started to spin.
Greyson teetered around the edge of consciousness as the light slowly moved across the hard wood floor and illuminated the far corner of the apartment. He finished the last bottles of hard alcohol and slumped back against the side of his bed gazing at the strange patterns of wine that had splattered across the dirty kitchen window next to the sink.
His mind swirled. He could barely recall visions of his cousin, Cael, almost as if the defense mechanism of forgetting had already kicked in. He remembered a swing set and a seesaw in a sunny park surrounded by trees and the sound of his parents’ voices somewhere in the distance.
He thought about his parents, but not in a sentimental way. They had objected to his move to New York and refused to visit him. Even as his career blossomed, and he had felt like a big shot, they never got over their disapproval.
At first, he had a recurring role on a low rated TV sitcom as a precocious teenager. Anyone older than about 30 might remember him – or at least vaguely recognize his face. After his TV career fizzled, his growing executive image business flourished, and he conducted well paid speaking engagements at industry networking conferences and corporate meetings as well as one-on-one image building sessions with budding C-suite executives. He earned enough money to plunk down a chunk of cash on his co-op and for a brief couple of years, felt the warmth of living outside his brother’s shadow. But his parents still saw New York as a cesspool of temptation and reckless abandon. To them, Mikey had joined the “Hollywood lifestyle” and he had succumbed to the “Broadway lifestyle”. In either case the connotation implied excess and moral decay.
Instead of congratulating him for his success, they beckoned him to return to Iowa at every turn. He could run for office or work in local television, maybe in the DesMoines area as a Sportscaster or a Weatherman.
Greyson didn’t resent them like Mikey did. He harbored more apathy and pity for them for their simplistic, uninformed viewpoints and their annoying devotion to the church. So what if he got busted for smoking pot in the Little League dug out in high school. So what if he had shacked up with an older actress soon after hitting Manhattan on his own. It was his life and he wasn’t looking to chair the PTA or fill his father’s shoes as an Associate Minister. He had celebrities to date and parties to catch. And he never really saw anything wrong with it like they did.
But they had moved to Africa. His brother had his own gig in California. His sister had her own family. He was more alone than ever. He struggled to understand his purpose in life and the mystery of the afterlife. The church had ingrained in him that Heaven is this beautiful dimension where the soul goes to spend eternity. But what is the soul anyway? What does it look like? Is it an amorphous blob of light? Is it a weightless collection of thoughts, feelings and memories with no actual matter?
The idea of eternity tormented him. He sat pondering the feasibility of an unending stream of time stretching from one infinite point in the past to another never-ending point in the future. He pictured two mirrors facing each other with the repeating reflected images continuing beyond the eye’s ability to see and the mind’s ability to comprehend. He thought of times in his life when boredom and meaninglessness had completely overtaken him, such as the afternoon he had just spent. He wondered how an eternity that stretched thousands and millions of times longer than his lifespan could remain interesting and stimulating even in a Nirvana state like the Church’s “Heaven”. And what would the world look like not just a million years from now, but literally billions and trillions of years from now? The irresolvable thoughts swirled through his drunken consciousness, depressing him and sickening his stomach.
By the stroke of 3pm, the vomit could not be stopped. It ran down his white T-shirt as he finally rolled over and lay on his side with the covers to his bed sliding down over his face and into the nauseating slop across his chin and chest.
Evening fell early in Greyson’s apartment as the sun hid behind the surrounding buildings. The change in lighting perked Greyson and he crawled to his shower in his boxers and stained shirt to clean himself.
“Food,” he thought to himself as he combed back his wet hair and fumbled for his wool jacket and boots.
Henry Lucas peered into the giant mirror in the master bedroom of his 14 room, 5,600 square foot mansion in Valhalla, NY. The 12-year-old home, quite modest for the quiet, remote New York suburb, sat along the ridge to Lake Kensico, a giant reservoir that served the upper boroughs and lower Westchester County. He had built it for his younger wife soon after marrying her and well before their daughter had arrived. It featured a swimming pool with both a slide and a diving board and included three swimming lanes, a companion hot tub and a pool house out in the one-acre backyard that butted up to the wooded hillside and sloped down into the lake.
Out the 10-foot wide bay window in the bedroom, he watched the rising sun peak out from the surrounding hills. A family of swans glided listlessly along the glasslike water. Their V-shaped ripple trails sliced through the red and orange path of dancing light that dimpled the surface of the water and greeted the rising sun at the horizon. Beyond his property, just barely within his line of site, he could see the long winding outline of a highway which skirted the reservoir, elevated on tall columns above the curved edge of the pristine waterway. Cars and trucks rushed by on their journey to the city from even more remote suburbs to the north of Valhalla.
He ran his hands through his hair that had turned sufficiently white in the three years since the passing of his wife. He tightened his tie and straightened the cuffs of his jacket. He frowned at how old his face appeared and how lean and frail his body had grown. Not even 60, he could feel the pistons in his body slow down with the wear and tear of an engine well used, rarely tuned and never rested.
Everywhere he looked, signs of his wife’s touches surrounded him. The champaign and rose-colored window treatments, the burgundy and gold bedding and the complimenting off-white area rug featuring bits of each color and tying the room together in perfect balance and harmony. Henry couldn’t help but feel like another adornment in an exquisite magazine spread or as an immobile exhibit in a vaunted museum that nobody ever came to visit.
A four-foot-long picture of him and his wife, Marilu, sitting casually against the Long Island Sound in blue jeans, white T-shirts and sandals hung above a second-floor fireplace at the far end of the bedroom. Its placement aimed to reiterate the wonderful times they spent together. But too often it reminded him more heavily of the short, intense battle they waged against the wicked cancer that ravaged her brain and rendered her a helpless dependent.
Thoughts of their battles against the disease, the trips they made to experts and specialists all across the country and the time they spent studying and researching alternative medicines wore down Henry’s enthusiasm like a slow repetitive torture. The worst effect of the picture was the guilt that it brought on. By the end of their terrible struggle, they had both silently resigned themselves to the desire to just end it all. She couldn’t wait to die - not to avoid her own pain - but to free her husband from the backbreaking care he had to provide to her everyday and to allow him to move forward with his life while he still had his own health and vibrancy. At the same time, he secretly wished she could let go and give in to the disease to end her own valiant suffering.
They played out the charade of hope in each other’s presence. But contrary to the religious optimism that he projected to Marilu, he secretly wished for a soft, painless passing in the dark of night during a deep peaceful slumber. The admission, that they couldn’t beat the disease, made him feel weak and helpless. A man, who ran companies, advised Senators and influenced economic trends with an acquisition or the creation of an innovative new company, Henry struggled with the idea of giving up. Acquiescence was a foreign concept to him and he felt severe guilt for what he perceived to be tantamount to infidelity to his wife.
“Hic … hic …” Henry could hear Olivia, his 6-year-old daughter coming up the stairs. Her incessant hiccups grew in volume with each step and echoed off the 20-foot ceiling above the stairwell.
Henry straightened up, tightened his tie once again and hardened his expression. He would not weaken his resolve with his daughter. He would never again allow himself to succumb to the fatalist mentality that he was inevitably beaten into adopting with his wife’s illness. He would find a cure for Olivia if it cost him all of his wealth, each of his companies and all of the energy and health he had left in his body.
“Not until tomorrow, honey,” he replied. “We are going to see a doctor that is going to help you go to sleep. Then he is going to do some doctor magic and hopefully when you wake up, your hiccups might go away.”
“I know, I know,” she interrupted him with a smile and a playful roll of her eyes. “hic … No guarantee that he can fix my hiccups … hic … but we are going to keep trying until we find someone who can.”
Olivia’s hiccups started right after Marilu’s death. They persisted for three years running, stopping only when she finally fell asleep each night. Henry struggled after the death of his wife to find a cure and repress the annoyance he felt at the constant small noise his daughter made every 10 to 20 seconds. His blood boiled when he heard other children on the playground poking fun at her and had no problems calling out a parent and shaming them for their children’s teasing.
He had cut back his presence in his Manhattan office and worked largely out of his home, knowing that the sharks running each of his companies would set their alliances and plot his demise. But so far, his worldwide influence as a premier financier of high tech military weaponry, equipment, gear, software, intelligence and contractors for the US and its allies carried him through any controversies in his professional career and kept his corporate heirs at bay.
The cold front had set in. Snow that had previously melted in the sun, had free-fallen from the façade of the high-rise apartment building. Water had collected along the cement stairs to the lonely door of Greyson’s apartment and frozen solidly in a translucent sheet.
His first step out of the building proved treacherous as he instantly lost his footing and tumbled down the three cement steps landing face down in a slushy pile of snow and ice.
A burly passerby in a grey hooded sweatshirt stopped to help him. Inebriated, dizzy and disoriented, Greyson clutched at the man’s strong arms as if grabbing a life raft in a rough ocean. The man hoisted him up with amazing ease, pressed his face against Greyson’s ear and whispered.
“Walk with me. I will help you.”
Greyson complied. He had underestimated his own drunken helplessness and venturing out into the city in search of food suddenly seemed like a dumb idea. The man wrapped an arm around him and guided him up the street. He didn’t ask where Greyson intended to go. He simply moved him with what seemed like a purpose up 54th street toward 7th.
They stopped next to an alley by the camera store and the man propped Greyson up in front of him. Greyson could not see his eyes as the hood shaded them. His full beard blinked red and blue, reflecting the window display. His mouth looked familiar. But he possessed minimal ability to recall rational thoughts and memories.
The man looked up and down the quiet street and quickly yanked him into the dark alley. Greyson’s senses jolted at the unexpected motion and made a meager attempt to pull away. Instead, he simply fell backwards and landed in a pile of drift snow.
Wet, white powder whisked across his face and coated his hair. Frigid drops of water dripped down on him from a rusty pipe above his head.
The dark beard projected into his space and the grey hood slipped backward.
“I got nothing,” Greyson wailed. “No money. Nothing.”
“I’m not here to rob you,” the man’s deep voice filled Greyson’s head. He wiped the melted snow from Greyson’s brow with a gloved hand.
Greyson’s fear eased. The voice rang familiar. The man’s eyes soothed him. His memory jogged and he felt as though he had met the man in his past.
“Greyson,” he said in quick tones. “I am not here to hurt you. I need your help.”
Greyson stared up at the imposing figure that loomed over him in the dark alley. Lights just above his head obscured his face and cast a disorienting glare. But as the light caught the blue of his eyes, like the white ice that dripped from the pipe overhead, he instantly recognized his long lost cousin, Cael Block.
Words stumbled out of his mouth incoherently as he couldn’t decide whether to ask the “Why”, “What” or “How” questions first and blurted a combination of all three.
“No time to reminisce,” Cael spoke swiftly and efficiently. “I need your help.”
“K,” Greyson muttered. He could feel himself sober as Cael spoke in rapid fire.
“First of all, you need to stop inquiring about me,” he said. “It is complicating my mission.”
“K,” Greyson spoke with wide eyes like a child being scolded.
“I’ve thrown Winger off the track for now, but you are not helping.”
“Secondly,” he continued. “You were supposed to speak with your brother and sister about a favor we needed you to do for us,”
“I, uh.” Greyson stammered in disbelief.
“So now, I have to ask you a favor,”
“mhmm,” Greyson suddenly felt the cold in his lips and parsed them to shield them from the winter breeze.
“It is dangerous, and you don’t have to do it if you are not comfortable with it.”
Greyson pulled himself more upright and seemed to shake some of the mist from his brain.
“You need my help?”
“I’m on a unique mission. It is all my own. Well, it is not actually my mission. But I have joined a cause. I am responsible for protecting someone - someone very important. I have to change the playing field. I am hoping you can provide safe haven.”
“Safe haven?” Greyson squinted up at his cousin. He was enormous and strong. His voice, his eyes, his grip all exuded an iron-like sense of urgency.
“You still have your uncle’s car here in the city?”
“I’d like you to pick up a friend of your sister’s,” Cael continued. “I just need you to transport him from the airport to your apartment for a short period. I will be out of town, but I will come back to pick him up from there and we will be out of your way for good.”
“Is he dangerous?”
“Is Winger dangerous?” Greyson’s mind darted in different directions. “I don’t get why this is dangerous? Why are you asking me? Cael?”
“I need you to go to the NetJets terminal at Westchester County Airport,” Cael continued. “There will be a passenger named Jai. Take him to your apartment and wait for me.”
“Doesn’t sound too dangerous,”
“It isn’t,” Cael started. “Or, it shouldn’t be. I have a team on site. You will be watched the whole time.”
“Cael,” Greyson pleaded. “It’s me. Can you just talk to me normally? What is all of this about? Who am I picking up? Why is it dangerous? Why me?”
Cael paused, softened and responded in a slower, more patient cadence.
“You are going to pick someone up at the airport and put him up in your guest bedroom until I can return to New York and move him to a safe house,” he explained. “There is no imminent danger to you. He has some enemies; powerful, dangerous enemies. They don’t know where he is, but I have to get him out of Iowa to ensure that they remain in the dark as to his whereabouts. There will be no record of his arrival in New York. And we will take him off your hands as soon as possible. I have to go back to Iowa tonight. But I just need this favor from you and then we will both disappear as if we never existed in the first place.”
Greyson stared blankly at the chunk of rock with the chiseled face and bulging chest before him. He could make out the features of his childhood friend buried deep beneath the hard exterior.
“I’ll do it,” he said with an equal share of fearful dread and excitement at participating in a sort of new game with his cousin. “What have I got to lose?”