Friday, September 18, 2015

Four years a tragic event occurred in the city of Los Angeles: the sudden departure of the famous old Clifton's Cafeteria in Downtown. In a city not known for its cherishing of historically significant buildings, Cliftons' demise struck more than a few Angelenos as the harbinger for a time when everything older and significant in L.A. architecture would simply be displaced by super sleek contemporary design. The roots of Los Angeles would go the way of all those famous old hotels that have been replaced by newer, more "functional" buildings. You know, the ones that look like airline terminals.
     So it was with no great expectations that I heard about plans to "revisit" the old Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway. The project, which would take four years, promised a more contemporary take on the old standard (and favorite of 170 million Angelenos over the past 80 years). Right. I had come to understand what "more contemporary" meant and my expectations were low, bordering on resigned.
     A few days ago, I visited the newly "restored" Clifton's and what I saw made my heart soar.
     The developers had spend nearly fifteen million dollar to restore the old cafeteria, to bring it back, as they had promised, to it's old form. And much to my shock and awe, they had succeeded beyond any crazy expectations. The new Clifton's is as charming and wonderful as the old Clifton's-and, in fact, it's even better. Much better. The old designs have been preserved but a myriad of stunning new touches have been added. When Clifton's becomes fully operational in the next few weeks, it will offer the first floor cafeteria with a combination of old reliables like jello and mac and cheese, as well as a variety of nouvelle cuisine. Also there will be a panoply of bars, restaurants and night spots, all under one amazing roof.
     In a downtown that's undergoing a lot of "modernization," the new Clifton's cafeteria offers a lesson in civics and architecture for a new generation of city rehabs. Are the new developers of downtown listening?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

60 seconds, chapters 45-60

Forty-fifth Second
The walk back to the cafe seemed to take forever. Crowds were thinning as the late afternoon moved in to twilight and I found myself struggling with a muddle of thoughts and possibilities.
     As I made my way toward the cafe, I squinted into the distance hoping to see Denise and this mystery man, Maris. The crowds that had thinned out along the walkway had found their way onto the pier, waiting for sundown.
     A few further yards down the walkway, I thought I spotted Denise sitting with a man I didn’t recognize. He was thin and short. This couldn’t have been Maris, who had been described to me as very tall and angular. Where was he? What was he doing? Where was my daughter?
    The man stood with Denise and they began walking toward the southern end of the park.
     I tried to keep up–a crowd had come between me and this man.  I pushed the people aside but Denise and Maris were gone. I looked up at the ramp leading to the street. I didn’t see them. I looked farther to the long, empty stair.
     When I got to the cafe I searched every face. The last light of the afternoon had cast a long reddish shadow over the café, and people were beginning to gather their things.

                                                                        Forty-sixth Second
“I don’t want to come here anymore,” Denise had said, a week earlier. She’d given this a lot of thought.
     Janey understood; she’d always known how to pick up snippets of truth from the barrels of bullshit. She knew her mother could no longer be swayed by logic, or little girl pleading. It was too late for any of that. She understood that this would be our last time together in the cafe, at the park, pretending to be a nice, happy family. 
     “Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.
     “Janey, go buy us three sodas,” Denise said, taking a ten dollar bill out of her purse and sending her on her way.
     “I’m tired of this charade,” Denise said, waving her hands as if this had all been decided long ago. “No one wants to come here anymore. We’re not doing Janey any favors.”
     “It’s just a Sunday at the park,” I said.
      “We don’t need to do this every weekend, like robots. Janey should get used to doing things on her own, anyway. She can go to the park by herself. She’s old enough for that.”
     “Do we have to decide this now?” I said.
     She shrugged. “You do whatever you want.”
     Janey returned with the sodas.
     “Are we coming back to the park, Daddy?”

                                                                        Forty-seventh Second
The crowds at the cafe had further thinned out. I had no trouble finding a table. The orange tint from the remains of daylight covered the cafe, printing a soft glow over the tables. Soon, the place would be deserted, a patient lull between the lazy afternoon and the evening hours when the evening crowds would come again.
     My eyes continued to search for Denise and Janey. The familiar pangs of desperation were peeling against my nervous skin. I didn’t know what to do anymore; I had run out of places to go, pages to turn, people to question. I had no plan because I didn’t know what the setup was, or even what I was supposed to think the setup was. Why had Rogers bothered to lay out a scenario for me when there was no scenario? Had he expected me to to run away?
     I knew those bodies I’d left in the boat would come to life soon; they’d probably already managed to communicate with the others-the others who were really controlling the game, the others who had my wife and daughter and were going to do anything necessary to bring me down.

                                                                        Forty-eighth Second
The pier stretched out almost a city block into the Hudson. I fixed my gaze on the far end of it, where a lone man was hunched over the cement and stone parapet, dangling what appeared to be a crudely fashioned fishing pole. The last light of day was settling and it was still possible to make out the faces of the people as they moved back in toward the cafe.
     A few years earlier, I’d run into someone from the old days, a Langley guy, right at the tip of that pier. I recalled him now, crystal clear as if the years had disappeared in a blur.
     He spotted me as I walked past without noticing him. I heard him turn on his heels.
     “Pal,” he said from behind.
     I turned quickly.
     Talbot was his name and we’d worked side by side, in London in the Stone Age. Side by side means something different when its for the Agency. It means two ends of the same string. We were working the mission but we’d never actually met, never been in the same room. I knew what Talbot looked like. I knew what everyone looked like. There was always the chance we might cross; you never knew when you might need to send out a call for help. You always had to understand what the guy looked like in casual clothes.
     “Talbot,” I said.
     Talbot shook his head. “It’s Randall,” he said, chuckling in a pleasant, friendly, old Comrade way.
     “Nickname,” I said, nodding.
     “You got it,” he said.
     “What brings you to the dirtiest city on earth?” I said, recalling that Talbot had ended up in London because he hated New York and had petitioned to be transferred to what he’d called, “the European theater.”
     “I live here,” he said, as if I should have known.
     “Bullshit,” I said.
     “I love the city,” he said. “I have a new girlfriend, a new life, a few dollars in my pocket. I’m doing consulting work for a security firm. We’re qualified, right?”
     “Good for you, and pretty much the same with me,” I said, before he asked. “Biding my time till America needs me again.” Like that was going to happen. It might have been on the table for someone like Talbot, who I guessed had probably retired with a killer pension. But I was the other side of that dreary coin.
     “That could happen,” he said, his voice more serious, like he had something in mind.
     “Oh yeah?” I said, looking past him to a big cruise ship leaving the midtown ship terminal.
     “Never know, right?” he said.
     “I think I know when I’m finished,” I said.
     He leaned in a little. “You know what? I just may be in line for something.”
     “Really,” I said. “Good for you again.”
     “Civilian life bores the crap out of me, if you want to know the truth.”
     It was late and I was getting hungry.
     “There may be something in the offing,” he went on. “Something involving training. Some document is missing that they’re all going crazy about in Langley. They want someone who knows how to get things back, if you see what I’m saying.”
     I didn’t see and I didn’t want to. “That’s good for you,” I said.
     Talbot glanced at his watch and told me he was late for dinner with his relatives in Midtown. He gave me a big, phony smile and walked away, light as a feather.
     I was put off by something he’d said. That comment about a document missing from Langley. But I got it out of my head; I didn’t want to think much about it.
     In fact, I forgot about Talbot, altogether.
     Now that comment came back to me in a big way; it was personal.
     “Some document is missing that they’re all going crazy about in Langley.”
     The sound of that rang like a hundred bells.

            `                                                           Forty-Ninth Second
The Agency was a funny place to work. So much of what we did was unrecorded and “free-floating;  a lot of what went down was just that–invisible to the civilian eye, never known, forgotten, washed away, erased from the record, official or otherwise. It helped move things along because information was sometimes more complicated than it needed to be. If you saved the critical details, that’s all anyone needed. The ball kept rolling along.
   The truth was that, from the perspective of their lofty bird’s nest, I’d crossed the Agency in a way that was unpardonable, even treasonous. From my own vantage it was a case of saving my hide, preserving myself for another day. You always tried to do what was best for yourself.
     It came back to me in a flash now–every peculiar movement, every little thought. I was supposed to go to see a courier in Brussels. I checked my bag, boarded the plane and seven hours later I got a cab to my little hotel off the Grand Place. It was the middle of the unseasonably warm Summer and Brussels was teeming with tourists from the Continent.
     In my hotel, a contact from the Agency had left a parcel, tucked between two copies of the International Herald Tribune, which were tucked beneath two large pillows on the bed. The parcel was two pages long and it was encoded. It was a simple code that took me about three minutes to figure out. This wasn’t an assignment high on anyone’s ledger. It was a pick-up for a friend of the Agency, a courtesy call for someone I didn’t know much about.
     The retrieval spot was an Italian restaurant off the Grand Place. I walked from the hotel that afternoon, still jet-lagged. The plan was to pick up the envelope and deliver it to a contact that same afternoon. I was not to open the envelope–this concerned an operation I wasn’t directly involved with. I had agreed to do the job as a favor,  and to make an impression on officials who’d been keeping an eye on me. At the time I was in line for a more desirable posting in Bombay.
     As I moved through the cramped streets around the Grand Place I saw the man I was supposed to contact. It was Keeler, the slime who had nearly cost me my life two years before, when he’d disappeared for no apparent reason, in the middle of a simple operation in Sevilla. He left me alone in the field with a predicament complicated enough to send me to a thousand graves. He knew what he was doing. He blinked, I heard later through a friend of his; he got the shits, got paranoid, fled for safer climes.
     I barely got through that operation with my limbs intact and it came to a quiet close–mission apparently accomplished to the relief and satisfaction of Langley. No marks on my record, except for a couple of hurtful bruises on my face, chest and back. A bit of physical discomfort in the extremis never hurt anyone, they assured me from the air conditioned safety of their  suburban Virginia offices.
     And my friend, the gutless bastard who left me to my own devices? From what I could gather he’d continued running through the maze, disappeared eventually  into the freezing cold and was never heard from again. I concluded that he’d either gone off the  map or someone had given the order for him to be dispatched to that secret cemetery for covert scumbags.
     And now, here he was, in the flesh, looking disturbingly healthy. He smiled when he saw me, gave me one of those great big, toothy smiles that make you want to resort to your unfriendlier  instincts. I didn’t get the feeling that he was surprised as I was. He shook my hand with some enthusiasm and told me he was glad to see me. I couldn’t figure out why.
     “Nice day in the little town, huh?” he said, looking at the parcel like it was a plate of fresh lobster from Maine.
     “I would have thought the maggots would have digested you by now,” I said, looking around the street for friends who might have come with him.
     “I’m semi-retired,” he said and then burst out into laughter. “Who would have thought that in a million or two years?”
     He reached for the parcel but I held it back. All I could think about were those pincers nipping at my balls. I remembered thinking at that time that I’d wished it was his balls.
     “We want to get this done,” he said.
     Fuck yourself, I thought. I nodded. “I need to take a leak,” I said.
     “Now?” he said.
     “Right now,” I said.
     “You wouldn’t be planning on taking off, would you?” he said vaguely.
     I sensed troops gathering. “Of course not,” I said. “I don’t like to leave people hanging.” I laughed at that. I wanted to see him hanging.
     “I’ll wait here,” he said.
     I walked across the street to a trattoria and asked the manager for the bathroom key.
     Inside the bathroom, I locked the door. Then I sat on the toilet seat and unsealed the envelope. I knew what I was about to do was against every protocol. I didn’t give a shit.
     There was just a single page inside the envelope and it was un-encoded,  plain English.
     The instructions on that page didn’t take up the whole page–they took up a single paragraph. A short paragraph.
     Kill the agents in place at 345 and 369. The disposal will be taken care of later by sweepers in the area. Leave Belgium as quickly as possible and report to V.
     The dossier contained a kill order and I was the messenger. I knew who 345 and 369 were. I had worked with them at times over the years and they were stand-up people then, dependable, honest, predictable. I had no idea what they had done to bring on kill orders but I was sure it had been unnecessary. A kill order on operational agents was strictly forbidden by Agency rules, American law and common decency.
     I couldn’t possibly carry through with this now but I knew what the consequences would be. Certainly, my relations with the Agency, whatever they were, would never be the same after that.
     I had built up plenty of enmities at Langley but so had many others whose histories were a lot worse than mine.
     This was someone’s personal vendetta, for sure; it belonged to someone who had bothered to hoist schoolyard quarrels to an altogether paranoid and singular level. It was useless to try to guess who might have been behind it. I didn’t have time for that. The assassin was waiting on the other side of that restaurant door and I had come to this delivery without so much as a slingshot.
     There was no way out of that restaurant except through the front door;  no windows, no escape ducts in the ceiling. I had to move  into the light of day, completely exposed.
       I walked out of the restaurant, holding the resealed envelope.
     “Nice piss?” the bastard asked, looking at my hand.
     “Nice piss,” I said.
     “It’s always pleasant to take a nice one,” he said, his hand pushing toward the envelope.
     “Wait a second,” I said. “You’re not going to believe what I found in that toilet.”
     “You’re right,” he said. “I’m not real gullible.”
     “Did you know that prostitution is allowed in this district?” I said.
     “No,” he said in a harried voice, “I don’t care about it, either.” He looked at his watch. “I’m in a hurry as you can imagine.”
     “There’s a hooker in the Men’s Room,” I said, smiling at the absurdity. “About twenty years old. She’s offering herself for thirty-five dollars. Right in the bathroom. What’s the world coming to?”
     “You’re full of shit,” he said, but he sounded like he might have believed me.
     “Whatever,” I said. “Let’s get this done.”
     He looked across the street to the restaurant, as if he could see all the way to the stalls in the Men’s Room. “You’re saying there’s a piece of ass in the little boy’s room.”
      “Yeah,” I said. “Who cares. Just an interesting bit of local color, I guess.”
     “I want to see,” he said, sounding suddenly very determined.
     “Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “She’s just a skank. She’ll end up getting that thirty-five out of your wallet and you won’t even know you were screwed. I’ll have to stand around staring into space, while you get your rocks off. Those girls are a dime a dozen.”
     He was pushing beside me. “I want to see,” he said.
     He was already crossing the street. “Show me,” he said, looking behind him.
     We walked to the back of the restaurant. The Men’s Room door was open a crack and I was able to see the light was off. I walked in, flipped the light on and he followed behind.
      “Hello?” I said, loudly. Then, “She must be in one of the stalls.”
      He moved toward the closed booths, and I pivoted to lock the door behind us.
     When he turned back to me, I smashed him hard in the face and he fell to the floor. I grabbed the pistol as he was reaching for it, and smashed him again with the butt.
     “I’m not in the mood to get killed today,”  I said.
     He opened his eyes with some effort and mouthed the word don’t.
     I needed to get a message to whomever had dispatched this amateur. For one thing, I was embarrassed and surprised by how easily the idiot had been played. Is this what things were like these days? He must have been interning. The message would be as terse as the one that had been delivered to him.
     I aimed the pistol at his shoulder and fired twice. He screamed, then passed out. In a few hours he would come to, and tell whoever would listen that he had run into something unexpected in the Men’s Room of a Brussels restaurant.
     I took the document with the Agency seal hidden beneath three layers of ink, and stuffed it into my shirt pocket. I knew that from that day on, if the paper ever left my hand, I would be worse than finished. That document would be the only thing standing between me and the final page of a well constructed story, now obviously preferred by the assholes in Langley.

                                                                        Fiftieth Second
I was back to reality.
     I am back to reality.
     I looked at my watch closely. I’d been sitting at the table for fifty-four seconds.
     I was running out of ideas.  Denise and Janey were no doubt in more peril than I could have imagined. I still had no idea where they’d gone or what was happening to them–or worse, what had already happened to them. I was sitting in that uncomfortable plastic city-issued chair, trying to appear calm and confident to passing strangers, but I was terrified and helpless and immersed, drowning in my own patchy reality.
     I heard a child scream and my head bolted quickly to the right. The child was chasing a balloon. I followed him as he ran down the walkway, heading toward my table. He was just a year or two younger than my daughter. The father, trailing quickly behind couldn’t know how fortunate he was to have his child right there in his sight, in his control.
     The wind was beginning to pick up off the Hudson. I pulled my shirt collar closer, clipped the top button.
     I was reaching the depths of desperation.

                                                                        Fifty-first Second
I reflected on the gun. I thought about the men and what their condition might be. Had enough time passed for them to call for backup?
     I’d hit the wall that concealed a truth I didn’t want to know. That wall that was coming down on all of us in a few seconds. I couldn’t think straight.
     The pistol was a G2 series–antiquated now, once common in the field. Half a decade was half a lifetime in intelligence–technology was dated from the moment it was introduced. No one was able to keep up with the changes. Certainly, not me.
     I was worried about its capacity and range, always limited in the best of circumstances. I had three shots left and no idea how many I might need.
     I looked around one last time, then ran my fingers over the contours of its barrel, the shape of its nose and base. It felt heavier than before. That told me I was losing my confidence–reason to worry. If there was one chance to make a statement, I would not have a second one.

                                                                        Fifty-second Second
When I was twenty-three I decided to become a teacher–Yale, undergraduate studies, post graduate life at Harvard. In those days, achievement was measured in incremental steps. There was a simple measurement to movement–I’d been successful at more small steps than my classmates. I didn’t go out at night, I didn’t throw keg parties or stag parties or hazing rituals. I studied night and day, committed myself to becoming one of those instructors who made it to the covers of professional magazines. Teacher of the Month.
     I got my Masters degree in History and sent out feelers to East Coast universities. I got rejections from all of them. I continued looking for academic positions but I was getting nowhere.
     I did attract interest from a source I hadn’t expected.
     Langley came calling in the person of a short, stout man named Weathers, an elegantly postured, impeccably attired black man who informed me, upon our meeting in a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan, that he “represented” the Central Intelligence Agency. Weathers seemed frankly weathered. He was dour and gloomy and carried his weight as if it had long ago enveloped him in professional fatigue he could no longer abide.
     “I never even got a parking ticket,” I told him, hoping to lighten his dreary mood. He didn’t smile.
     He took out a folder from his briefcase and announced that this was a “contract” and a “guide through the rules and regulations of the Agency.” He said this in a disapproving tone of voice but I didn’t ask.
     “Why are you interested in me?” I said. He told me that Langley is always interested in “bright, young virgins.”I was surprised he’d approached me.  I’d shown no particular political inclinations. This was during the Vietnam War. I hadn’t been photographed at the frontlines of antiwar or civil rights protests. I kept my opinions to myself.
     “Are you a Democrat or a Republican,” Weathers asked dully, checking boxes on a short form.
     “Neither,” I answered truthfully.
     “You have to be one or the other,” he said.
     “No,” I said.
     “The Agency has looked at your record here. They’ve concluded that you may be the type they’re looking for. Have you ever been interested in intelligence work?”
     He clearly didn’t care if I was interested in intelligence or bird watching.
     “I have an interest in getting a job,” I said.
     “We’re looking for young people who are interested in this particular type of work,” he said.
     “I’ve seen James Bond movies,” I said.
     “You’re good with numbers,” he said.
     “You’re good with analytics?
     “Yes,” I said, top in my class.
     “You’re good with authority and leadership,” Weathers said, hesitating for a second. “You ran the campus information booth, three years in a row.”
     “Yes, I did that.”   
     He’d done his due diligence. He paused for a long moment.
     “What’s your opinion on killing,” he said in the same tone of voice, He didn’t look at me.
     I thought about that. “I’m against it,” I said, as flat as Weathers.
     “Are you a pacifist?” he asked.
     “Are you against the war in Vietnam?”
     I assumed he already knew the answer.
     “You don’t seem to have a big history of protesting,” he said.
     “I keep to myself. I like to study.”
     Weathers nodded and a pleased smile finally moved across his face. “Would you consider working for U.S. intelligence?”
      “It might be interesting,” I said. “What kind of work would I be doing and would it be here in New York?”
     “Is that a consideration for you?” he asked. “Where the job is located?”
     “Not necessarily,” I said.
     “The work would probably be based in New York,” he said, “but there’s a lot of travelling.”
     “I can imagine,” I said.
     “How do you feel about travelling,” he asked.
     “I might be interested,” I said.
     Actually, I was interested. My prospects for going on with my education were looking dim and so was the idea of standing in front of a room full of apathetic college kids.
     Weathers pushed the contract book across the table. “Read through this at your leisure,” he said. “It will tell you everything you need to know about what we do, why we do it and who we do it on behalf of–that would be the American people.”
     I reminded myself not to wince but I must have smiled.
     “Did I say something amusing?” Weathers asked.
     “No, I...never mind.”
     “What we do is important to the safety and security of the American people,” Weathers said. “Please read thoroughly and if you have any questions feel free to call me.” He handed me a business card. “I’m your official contact so everything concerning this goes through me directly. You understand that. Our correspondence will be considered confidential from this point on.”
     “I see,” I said. “Can I tell anyone that I’m considering this work?” I asked.
     “Absolutely not,” he replied, putting away his checklist. “For the time being, we’d prefer that you keep your correspondence private.”
     “Can I ask how many others you’ve approached with this offer?” I asked.
     “I can’t tell you that,” he said, predictably.
     We talked for a few minutes more, drank our coffees and said our goodbyes. Weathers disappeared into a waiting car and sped away. I went back to my apartment to think about what I had just been told and to consider if I was about to make the best or worst decision of my life.

                                                                        Fifty-third Second
I’d run out of ideas.

                                                                        Fifty-fourth Second
Now there was a larger group of people moving out toward the end of the Pier. I was becoming even more paranoid about everything. Why not?
     A heaviness descended on me. For the moment I forgot what I was doing in that place or why I was there. It was easy to remember details, to juggle facts, remake them so they formed a new coherent story, a convenient story, something I could handle. And it was just as easy to turn those details into a jumble that led nowhere.
     I checked out for a few seconds, thought of nothing, heard nothing, wondered nothing.
     Then I returned to the moment and saw something  I had, and had not been expecting to see.

                                                                        Fifty-fifth Second
I saw Denise. I saw Janey.
     Standing together at the end of the pier.
     I’d been wrong before when I thought I’d seen them. I’d been confused, seeing things that couldn’t possible have been there. That worried me. I was much off the game and that was the wrong place to be for so many reasons.
     I saw two men in suits and insipid, yellow ties. Out of place, out of time. Specialists. Assassins.
     They were standing on either side of Janey and Denise.
     There was nothing obvious about them.

                                                                        Fifty-sixth Second
Every nerve in my body was on high alert, screeching a thousand miles and hour. I was sure I knew what the next few seconds would bring. It was time to forget the past and bring the day to its end. One way or the other.

                                                                        Fifty-seventh Second
I began moving. Moving had taken on a special meaning for me that afternoon. I’d been moving for hours that seemed like days. I’d gone from one end of the Upper West Side to the other and back, North, South, East, West. I wanted to lie down and close my eyes and forget any of this had happened.
      I wanted to make it end. I was ready for that.
     And then, there they were.
     The four of them. My wife, my daughter, the killers.
     And here, I was, waiting, struggling to keep my thoughts clear. I’d have only one chance to make a difference; there was no time left to polish the plan.                                                                                                                   
                                                                        Fifty-eighth Second
I started walking toward the middle of the pier, looking in all directions to see if I was being followed.
     My eyes were fixed on the narrow end. Denise and Janey were looking out at the water. The two men hovered close but didn’t seem to threaten them.
     Was it possible that these were just two uninvolved bystanders?
     I walked more quickly; the activity of the pier disappeared in a blur.

                                                                        Fifty-ninth Second
The tourists who had been standing by drifted away to the opposite side of the pier or back to the café.
     The four of them were alone now; Janey was transfixed by something out on the river. She didn’t seem upset or nervous. Denise was facing one of the men but I couldn’t tell what was going on. The men were stationary, their eyes fixed, waiting–waiting for what?
     I had the sense that this scene was being played out for my benefit.
     I moved along a straight line.
     Denise started talking to the men. She was agitated; something had been said.
     Janey pressed up against Denise, gripping her hand.
     This was no casual conversation at the end of a pleasant Summer day. My wife and daughter had gone missing for a good reason and that reason had everything to do with the dossier. Wherever it was, whoever had it.
     The seconds moved faster than before. The end of the day coming closer and closer.
     I reached into my pocket and took out the gun. It didn’t matter if anyone saw me. Nothing mattered; it was too late to worry about things like that.
     Then it hit me. Attention in this circumstance was a good thing. Attention to myself. Attention to others. Loud and clear, and broadcast as far as the message needed to be broadcast.
     My eyes were on one of the men who had moved a step behind my daughter. What was he doing? I could see Denise’s face more clearly now. I was a hundred feet away. The crowd had thinned out. The other man was standing aside now, making room for the main event.
     Janey tried to move away from the man but he grabbed her shoulder roughly, pulling her next to him. The other man had a relaxed look on his face, too relaxed. He knew what was going to happen. I knew. That certainty was all I had left.
     The gun felt warm in my hand, cradled in my palm. What was the conversation between Denise and the men? What had she told them? What had she refused to tell them?
     The wind blew stronger out on the pier.
     Then I saw it.
     The man reached his heavy hand around Janey’s neck and held it firmly. Denise didn’t speak; the other man was holding a gun to her spine.
     The clock stopped. The world stopped. My thinking settled on a single idea, a single move, a final possibility.
      I ran numbers in my head. Distance to the men from where I stood. Time for the bullet to reach its target. Possibility of missing target. Possibility of hitting Denise or Janey. Possibility. Error. Possibility. Error. Bystanders. Screaming. Running. Running towards me. Running toward the men. Freedom for the men to do whatever they needed to do– focus was on me, on my gun, on my mistake. Time. Time out. Time gone.
     The man whose hand was on my daughter’s neck looked up, in all directions, as if he knew I was watching him, waiting.
     The numbers and chances slipped through my brain, haywire on haywire. Everything on automatic. Nothing straight, nothing serious, nothing careful. Thoughts.
     I no longer recognized these ideas flying across my synapses.
     I raised the gun. My hand wasn’t shaking. That surprised me. I centered on the target, a little closer. I’d stopped moving, partly to center the site of the gun, partly to prevent the men from seeing me.
     The man who had taken charge of my daughter was closer to her now, his hand secure around her neck, squeezing fingers against her clavicle. I looked around. The men were on either side of Denise and Janey. If I fired at the man and missed, he would take my daughter’s life. Same with Denise. There were guns there. Trigger fingers. Motivations. Plenty of motivations.
     There was no time to think things out, to weigh scenarios.
     Only time to act. One shot and it had to be a perfect shot, aimed, timed, focused to perfection. Deadly perfection. No guessing. Clock out.
     The gun felt cold in my hand. Forget that, forget about that, forget about everything. You’re thinking; you need to stop thinking. Aim. Aim high enough to center the shot but not too high.
     Then I knew what the target was.
     I should have seen it sooner. It was crystal clear. Time to move.
     I breathed deeply.
     I focused.
     I raised the G2.
     I didn’t think about what I was about to do. I checked one last time in the sights. I was perfect. I had a perfect shot. I couldn’t miss.
     My finger gently squeezed the trigger and one bullet flew out with absolute precision.
     In the smallest fraction of a second my daughter went down to the hard pavement, hit precisely where I’d aimed the bullet–in her leg, two inches above her knee.
     A shrieking scream echoed around the west end of the pier.
     A moment later the two men ran back along the edge of the railing, to the café, north, along the walkway leading into Riverside Park.
     A few of the bystanders rushed over to help; by that time I was there, holding Janey in my arms. Denise was bent over, weeping.
     “Daddy, are they gone,” my daughter said, then closed her eyes.
     “For now,” I said, mostly to myself.
     In the distance I heard the siren of a police car, moving down the pier.

                                                                        Sixtieth Second
Now it’s over; if it’s ever over. Denise and Janey are back at home where they believe they belong, and I’m back with them. The police have asked their questions; Denise and Janey have asked theirs. I’ve asked a few questions, myself, of course, but the people I ask these questions, have nothing much to say to me. I am a nonperson, as far as they’re concerned. I will remain that way, if I’m lucky.
     The dossier is still missing; Denise will not discuss the subject. I don’t press her. There’s no point. We each come from backgrounds and we know the score. The score never changes over time, even when the circumstances do.
     It’s all about possibilities and we’re a part of that world, whether we think we’ve gotten out or not.
     Our lives in New York continue, much as they have all these years.
     Is someone watching? Are they close by? Will they be coming round any time soon?
     That could be.
     Denise knows it.
     Janey knows it.
     I know it. 
     We’re ready for them.