I took the scenic route along Crosstown Boulevard from North Side to Veterans Bridge. The Allegheny Sheriff’s department rolled out a water cannon to clear the homeless from a warren beneath the Anderson Street overpass. Maybe they’d lost their pensions when the steel mills shut down, the same as my old man. Thirty years gone—he retired with nothing and died from the shame.
Thumb through a Post-Gazette long enough and you’ll read about the Pittsburgh renaissance. Don’t believe it. Outside a bubble of money in the Golden Triangle, the only renaissance I saw was in the Strip District.
Land around here was seized by eminent domain back in the fifties. The city trashed the old Wabash train station to erect Gateway Center, four towers of glass and granite glittering on the banks of the Allegheny where it marries the Monongehela. A third river flows beneath the city, hidden from the tenements and towers, a river of silt and sand called the Wisconsin Glacial Flow. Strange to think an unsolid earth shifts deep beneath my feet, an ancient aquifer dating from the Pleistocene, the last time an ice age scraped across the land.
The fountain at The Point taps into this aquifer to spray water one hundred and fifty feet to the sky. I sat on a bench facing the city, staring past the false rainbow toward Gateway Center. I imagined I could see movement on the sixteenth floor of tower three. The square of light at the end would belong to Charles Brinker, founder and CEO of C.W. Brinker Associates, LLC.
The misted air was heavy with a pall of coke and coal rolling in across the Ohio Valley. A vestige of another time. My father at the end of his shift, his skin scorched by heat and sinter dust.
All the lobbies of Gateway Center were floored in white granite, with walls of polished Italian marble. I passed a security checkpoint at the entrance to tower three. The elevator lifted me silently from the glass atrium on the mezzanine to the sixteenth floor, where I passed another security screening. The nylon polymer gun holstered in the hollow of my back didn’t make a blip on their monitors. Five resin bullets. I only figured to use one.
Behind the glass partition of the reception area, people smiled and felt safe. I felt safe too, but I didn’t smile.
I told the woman at the desk I represented a small firm of fifty employees. To whom would I speak about benefit and pension plans? She directed me to wait on the leather sofa. A plastic bottle of water by her elbow was almost empty. I skimmed two articles about renovations at Heinz Field before she abandoned her post for a refill. That’s all I needed.
Brinker’s office was the opposite direction from her desk, a corner suite with a view of Point Park. Brinker had made his fortune managing pension funds for the steel unions, so his office was the biggest. I knew before I turned the knob there would be an oak desk the size of a luxury sedan, an Aeron chair, and European blue-chip paintings tastefully centered on each wall. If he didn't stock a private bar, I’d be disappointed. With all the money his firm stole from the unions, he could afford it.
Brinker was on the phone when I locked the door behind me. He looked up. “I’ll call you back,” he said to the receiver.
He never got the chance.