Graveland

A Novel

Alan Glynn

Picador

1
 

JEFF GALE LEAVES HIS BUILDING AT 8:15 A.M. It’s a Saturday morning, and Seventy-fourth Street is quiet. A taxi glides by. Across the street an old lady stands with her poodle waiting for it to take a dump.
The sun is shining, but it’s still a little chilly.
Jeff Gale limbers up. He puts in his earbuds, taps on his iPod, and takes off for Central Park, which is three blocks away. As usual, by the time he gets to Madison Avenue he has pretty much clicked into gear, running in sync with the music and staying ahead of his anxieties, none of which will make it with him as far as Fifth, let alone the entrance to the park at Seventy-second Street.
He’ll gather them up again on his way back.
One by one.
This renovation kick Felicia’s on, for instance. How unnecessary it is, and how he’s had to pass his resentment off as indifference. Simply because he hasn’t got the time or the energy to deal with it.
Or her.
Which is nothing, of course, in comparison with the next anxiety—being at the helm of Northwood Leffingwell. What a bizarre, unending fever dream that’s turned out to be, his shift from the number two position at the New York Fed not exactly proving to be the best-timed career move in Wall Street history.
What with all this supposedly long-overdue reform looming.
De-reg, re-reg.
It’s a joke.
But as for the next anxiety, don’t even go there.
He swallows.
The girls, what else? Is he spoiling them, screwing up their chances of having a normal childhood? Is Felicia? Will the girls ever have the motivation to accomplish anything in their lives, given that they’re incredibly, obscenely wealthy? They’re not out of place at Brearley, that goes without saying, but they are a bit (a lot) when they visit North Carolina, where Jeff’s originally from, and where they must seem pretty exotic to their subprime cousins.
Mean little Manhattan rich girl bitches.
It’s with the angled lens of Fifth Avenue widening just ahead of him that Jeff remembers he didn’t take his pill before coming out. It’s still sitting on the shelf of the medicine cabinet in his bathroom.
Damn.
Felicia distracted him with a catalog of marble samples for the vestibule.
Verde guatemala or nero marquina.
But what’s he supposed to do now?
The music alone’s not going to cut it. This weird, minimalist European jazz a guy at the office turned him on to isn’t working at all this morning. Without the medication, it’s just too much, too jangly, too grating.
Crossing Fifth, he tugs at his earbuds, pulls them out.
Without the medication, in fact, running itself is too much. He only does it to get out of the house. That’s because work, as excuses go, tends not to fly this early on a Saturday morning, not in normal circumstances anyway, whereas a run in the park does.
Plus, he has a gym at home that he never uses, so this is actually good for him. He just doesn’t enjoy it. That’s why before leaving the house he usually takes an anti-anxiety pill, which he then washes down with a counterintuitive triple espresso.
His secret formula.
Other guys he knows in their forties love running, and tennis, and lifting weights.
Jeff would prefer to be working.
Jeff would always prefer to be working.
But on he trots—two blocks south, then into the park, and around to the left—lumbered now with all of this unfiltered crap in his head.
As he passes the playground—which is already pretty busy, despite the hour—he imagines having Elena and Jordan at his heels, imagines them still being small enough to head in there for a quick turn on the climbing pyramid or the swings.
Ellie and Jojo.
His precious girls.
When did they get to be so big?
At a steady pace, he makes his way along East Drive, down through the Dene. Other runners flit past. Sunlight flickers through the trees to his right and reflects against high apartment-building windows to his left.
Verde guatemala or nero marquina.
It’s insane.
There’s also been talk of gold fittings for the main bathroom. She’s going to ruin the place. Make it look like the Donald Trump–inspired fuckpad of some low-rent Saudi sheik. Which he can’t allow. If only on the grounds of taste. Though actually, in these days of the deferred stock option, the twelve million dollars Felicia has penciled in for the job may well end up being needed elsewhere.
The cash bonus no longer a given.
Heading sharply downhill now, he builds a little momentum.
New structures.
For a new paradigm.
At which point he glances up and sees them. Two runners, twenty yards away and closing in.
In front of him, though.
Directly in his path.
Jeff’s not an expert or anything, but he knows there’s an etiquette here, something about—what is it?—following the counterclockwise flow of …
“Hey,” he says, almost before he thinks it, New York indignant.
But nothing.
No reaction.
He glances around, not all the way … enough, however, to realize that they’re down in a little hollow here—granite apartment buildings high to his left, okay, but very high, and not much now to his right either, just a steep clay mound leading up to some patchy dry grass.
The two runners are very close. He swerves to avoid them. They swerve, too.
And meet him head-on.
“HEY.”
The collision, the distribution of force, is uneven—they’re prepared, Jeff isn’t. He falls and hits the path, sideways, hurting his arm. He immediately swings around and looks up, trying to focus, somehow imagining that what he’ll be seeing is faces.
Recognizable, explicable.
But all he sees instead—barely recognizable, and far, far from explicable—is an extended arm, a gloved hand, and the gray barrel of a gun.
*   *   *
The delivery arrives. It comes in two pallets, fifty cartons to a pallet, two units to a carton. That’s two hundred new LudeX consoles, three-quarters of which are on pre-order, meaning they’ll have fifty units on display.
Fifty.
These will sell out within minutes, literally, which in turn means the rest of the day is going to be a living nightmare—apologizing, explaining, the two things you’re never supposed to do. But whoever said that clearly never worked in retail, because it’ll be “I’m sorry, we’re sold out,” followed by “We only got fifty units in,” all fucking day.
Frank Bishop signs for the delivery and starts hauling the cartons from the receiving area into the already overloaded stockroom. As the manager, he gets to do this—come into work early on a Saturday, before eight, and strain his back in such a way that he’ll be in pain for the rest of his shift, and probably for a lot longer than that. The two young salesguys will be in at nine, but that’s too late, the stuff has to be ready to go when the doors open—and since he was recently instructed to cut twenty hours a week from payroll there’s no one else here to do it.
It’s his responsibility.
In the loosest possible sense of the word, of course.
Because Frank Bishop knows what responsibility means, he’s had plenty of it in his day, and doing this job? Getting LudeX consoles onto the shelves of a PalEx store in a suburban mall in upstate New York in time for a 9 A.M. onslaught by an army of pimply geeks? That barely qualifies.
But Frank is happy to have the job. There’s no question about that. At forty-eight, and in the current climate, he could just as easily have landed on the scrap heap. There are days when this certainly feels like the scrap heap, but most of the time he just gets on with it.
He has bills to pay.
It’s as simple as that, his life reduced to a monthly sequence of electronic bank transfers.
College fees, allowances, rent, utilities, car, food.
Fuck.
Close his eyes for a second and Frank can be right back before any of this got started, twenty-five, thirty years ago—a different world, and one in which this degree of a financial straitjacket was something he only ever associated with his parents, with that whole generation.
It wasn’t going to happen to him, though. Not a chance.
But then who paid for him to go to college? Exactly. And arrogant little prick that he was, he took every bit of it for granted, never once imagining, for example, that his old man might have had other things he could be doing besides working his ass off holding down two jobs he more or less hated.
One of which, ironically, was not unlike this one.
Frank exhales loudly, no one around to hear him, and reaches down for another carton.
He carries it into the stockroom and adds it to the pile by the main door.
Back then, as well, it was all about possibilities opening up—relationships, career moves, the world. Now it’s the opposite, possibilities are closing down all around him. The world? Forget about it. Career moves? He’s lucky to have this job, and there aren’t any others out there waiting for him. As for relationships, well … unless it’s paid for or virtual, that ship’s sailed.
Frank exhales again, even louder this time.
Is there anything less attractive than self-pity?
Not really, but at least he knows how to bitch-slap it back into place whenever it gets out of hand. Because the truth is he doesn’t really feel sorry for himself at all. He has two kids that he adores, and even though they’re both off at college now, he is completely and utterly defined by them. The world of twenty-five years ago, for all its breathless sense of expectation, of the open road ahead, didn’t have them in it. This one does, and that’s all that matters. This one, for all its oppressive sense of disappointment, of the economic jackboot in the face, is infinitely superior.
When he has carried in the last carton, Frank rips one open. This will be his first look at the new, long-awaited LudeX upgrade.
Like he gives a crap.
He takes a unit box out and turns it over. The sight of the Paloma Electronics logo, the powder blue stripe, sets off a tiny ripple of anxiety in his brain.
Paging Dr. Pavlov.
But what does he expect? This is a Paloma store, after all. The logo is everywhere. Damn thing is even sewn into the collar of his shirt.
It’s just that he associates it with …
He was going to say defeat, but that’d be overstating things.
He puts the unit down.
Wouldn’t it?
Maybe, whatever, yes, no.
Self-pity snapping at his heels again, Frank decides to hit the accelerator. He gets on with unpacking the units and stacking them on shelves. He makes coffee and takes a couple of Excedrin for his back.
Just before nine Lance and Greg show up.
They’re nice guys, friendly, reliable, and a lot more savvy about all the tech stuff here than he is, but at the same time there’s something about them that he doesn’t get. It’s a sort of dumb, uninquiring compliance, a lack of …
He doesn’t know, but when he was their age—
Yeah, yeah.
Walking across the main floor, Lance says, “Yo, Mr. B.”
Greg points at the LudeX display and says, “Alright, let’s do this.”
The launch of Paloma’s LudeX upgrade today is a big deal. But for the real action you’d have to go to their flagship store in Times Square. That’s where the hardcore gamers will have been standing in line all night, where the cash registers and card machines will be humming steadily all day, and where staff members will be under intense pressure to exceed sales quotas and push service extras.
Up here at Winterbrook Mall it’ll be a more sedate affair, and considerably shorter. Outside in the main gallery there isn’t a line exactly, though clusters of certain usual suspects are beginning to hover. When they open the doors at nine, there’ll be a rush to get in, followed by an intense flurry of activity, but by ten o’clock it’ll all be over—thanks to that jackass at corporate who saw fit to only send him a lousy fifty units on top of the pre-orders.
What kind of a sales strategy is that supposed to be?
Frank doesn’t care, though.
By midmorning he’s on autopilot, daydreaming again—about his previous life, about Lizzie and John, about … whatever really, that Asian woman who works at the Walgreens on the lower level, the four-cheese pizza at Mario’s, local cancer services even, not that he needs them or anything, but you never know.
Just after midday his attention is diverted by something he sees on TV—sees on multiple plasma screens lining the back wall of the store. It’s a Fox News report.
He stands staring at it, reading the crawl.
Happy to be distracted.
In Central Park, a jogger has been shot dead.
In cold blood.
What gives the story a little twist, though, Frank soon sees, an extra kick—what will allow perfect strangers to make eye contact with one another throughout the day and express disbelief, shock, or even a hint of schadenfreude—is that the victim has been identified as the CEO of a big investment bank down on Wall Street.
*   *   *
“Holy shit.”
Ellen Dorsey glances from the small TV screen behind the counter to the old guy sitting next to her. She shakes her head. The old guy nods in acknowledgment. Picking up his coffee cup, he says, “Too good for the bastard.”
Ellen makes a snorting sound. She then finishes her own coffee, pays, and leaves. Out on the street—Columbus at Ninety-third—she is conflicted. The plan had been to go home and get back to work, but now she’s thinking … crime scene. It’s only twenty-five blocks away and across the park, a short cab ride. By this time, of course—what is it, almost one—the whole area will be cordoned off and there won’t be anything to see, she knows that, but her instinct tells her this is going to be a big story, and nothing beats firsthand experience of a crime scene.
Besides, it’ll be in the bank. If necessary. For later.
I was there.
You can also pick up on stuff walking around, details, vibes.
But as she throws her arm out to stop a cab, Ellen remembers just how much work there is waiting for her at home, and how soon it’s due. A five-thousand-word profile of no-hoper GOP hopeful Ratt Atkinson. To be extracted from a mountain of notes, interviews, and archive material spread out all over her desk.
For Monday morning.
The cab pulls up. She hesitates, but gets in.
You always get in.
Anyway, Ratt Atkinson? That kills her every time she hears it, or has to write it, which today and tomorrow will be plenty.
The article is one of an informal series she’s doing for Parallax magazine on the degraded nature of the modern presidential bid. It started with a bang, that piece she wrote with Jimmy Gilroy a while back on the John Rundle fiasco. Since then she’s covered a couple of other crash-and-burn candidates … but really, at this stage, is the idea wearing a little thin?
She’s just not sure.
The cab turns left at Ninetieth and heads for the park.
The point is, Ratt Atkinson, rock-solid middle-aged white-guy former governor of Ohio, hasn’t crashed or burned yet, and Ellen figures he won’t have to bother. His name will do it for him. Sooner or later. It’ll have to.
Campaigns have stumbled on less.
But is there a story in it?
The cab cruises through the park, comes out at Seventy-ninth, and heads down Fifth. Ellen gets out at Sixty-eighth.
As expected, the crime scene is a disappointment, yellow tape and surly cops blocking access at every approach. But also as expected, there is a mild carnival atmosphere on the periphery, as joggers, passersby, and tourists congregate in small improvised groups to stare and make comments—and more often than not out loud, some of them cranky, others smart-alecky, little vocal tweets posted on the thickening early afternoon air. There are a couple of OBU trucks lined along Fifth, and one camera crew can be seen wandering aimlessly around, looking—Ellen supposes—for a decent vantage point.
They’re too late, of course.
Ellen wanders aimlessly herself for a bit. She takes out her phone and does a quick check. A lot of actual tweets are being posted about Jeff Gale. This isn’t surprising, though. A murder in Central Park would be pretty unusual in itself these days, but add in a high-profile victim and you’ve got yourself an instant trend. Ellen thinks about it. The only information out there is that Gale was jogging, and that he was shot.
She looks around.
But why would anyone shoot a jogger? Not for their iPod. Not even for their wallet. Not in Central Park. Not these days.
Not shoot them.
So who did do it, and why?
Unless there’s a quick explanation forthcoming, this is a story that’s going to burn up a serious amount of media space in the next few days. There’ll be intense speculation about it, because Northwood Leffingwell is a Wall Street behemoth, one of the Too Big to Fail brigade. But even if it turns out that where Jeff Gale worked had nothing to do with why he got killed, it’s inevitable that where he worked will form a significant part of the narrative.
Anyway.
It already has.
Ellen checks the time on her phone.
Ratt fucking Atkinson.
It just annoys her that this feels like a real story, and that she’s right here, where it happened, but that for all she can do about it she might as well be one of those French tourists over there. Ellen’s not a beat reporter, and hasn’t been for many years. What she specializes in these days is longer, slow-burn investigative pieces, and mainly for Parallax. She’s also quite well known, and has a bit of a reputation, built up over years, as a polemical, potty-mouthed, uncooperative bitch. So even if she wanted to report on this, it’s unlikely that anyone—cop, city official, fellow hack—would talk to her.
But anyway, report on what? The story’s over. She’s wasting her time. Even that camera crew there seem resigned to it and are setting up a generic shot now—East Drive in the background, steady stream of joggers, fine, but not one of them laid out dead on the asphalt.
Ellen looks at her phone again. She could make it over to Central Park West, pick up a cab, and be home in fifteen, twenty minutes.
She glances around one last time, then starts walking. But at about the five-yard point someone calls out, “Hey, wait up.”
She turns back.
“Ellen?”
A guy is walking toward her, early thirties, overcoat, shades, mop of curly hair. Could be anyone. She’s actually pretty bad on people—faces, names—unless it’s someone directly related to whatever she’s working on at the time.
“Yeah?”
The guy arrives, hand extended. “Ellen, how are you?” Sensing her hesitation, he adds, “Val Brady.”
Oh.
Yeah.
The reason she didn’t recognize him immediately, apart from the fact that they haven’t met in a while, is that he’s one of the few journalists she hasn’t ended up fighting with—this guy, and Jimmy Gilroy, and maybe one or two others. It’s the ones she doesn’t get along with that she tends to remember.
“Val. What’s up?”
He nods his head back in the direction of the cordoned-off area. “Just another day at the office. You?”
“No. I’m … I’m just passing. I heard, though.”
“Pretty wild, isn’t it?”
Val Brady is a reporter for the New York Times, and a fairly reliable one. A couple of years ago they shared information on a story, some big-pharma-related thing, as she remembers. He was scrupulous about it, careful, didn’t let his ego bleed into the proceedings.
She liked him.
“Yeah. Any clue about what happened?”
Brady takes off his shades. He looks around, then looks back at Ellen. “He was shot at point-blank range, in the forehead. They didn’t take his wallet, which apparently had a couple of hundred bucks in it, or his iPod. And no witnesses.” He points up at the apartment buildings on Fifth. “The cops are going to check over there, the high floors, see if anyone was looking out of their window. But given the angle and stuff it’s a long shot.”
Ellen considers this. “Surveillance cameras?”
Brady shakes his head. “There are a few in the park, but not back there, and they’re mainly used for detecting after-hours activity.”
“What about the bigger picture, is there anything known to be going on, I mean with Northwood, or…?” She laughs. “Jesus, listen to me. I sound like your editor. Sorry.”
“You’re fine. It’s an obvious question. And to answer it, no, not that I’m aware of, not yet, anyway.” He pauses, and fiddles for a bit with his shades. “So, Ellen, what are you up to these days?”
She explains. Presidential candidates and why so many of them tend to implode.
“Okay, yeah. I read that piece you did on John Rundle a while back, the whole Congo thing, the stuff with his brother. It was amazing.”
Ellen grunts. “It was pretty spectacular material, you have to admit. Though I kind of feel like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel now with Ratt Atkinson.”
Brady laughs. “Ratt. Jesus.”
“I know.” Ellen pauses. “I actually came down here because it felt like there might be some … action. Is that pathetic?”
“No, but are you sure you’re remembering what it’s like to be a news reporter? Real action is pretty hard to come by. It’s usually like this.” He indicates behind him. “The afters, yellow tape, endless waiting around.”
Ellen nods. “Sure. Of course. I remember.” But still. “Sometimes it’s about instinct. You get a hard-on for a story and … I don’t know.”
Brady smiles. “A hard-on, huh? Nice. Well, let me look into it, ask around, and if anything interesting shows up, why don’t I give you a call?”
Is he hitting on her? She doesn’t think so. And she’s hardly his type. Small and lean, with shortish dark hair, Ellen doesn’t really think of herself as anyone’s type. But as if to clarify matters, he holds up his hands. “Look, Ellen, I’m a big admirer of yours, have been for years. All those pieces for Rolling Stone and Wired and The Nation, and then your stuff for Parallax? I mean … shit.”
It’s easy for Ellen to forget that her reputation isn’t all bad, that it can sometimes extend to beyond a roll call of character defects, that she has a body of work behind her, and stuff that someone like Val Brady here might actually hold in high regard.
“Okay,” she says, going with it, “thanks.”
In the cab a while later, she tries to do a little rearranging in her head. Ratt Atkinson she can dispose of today, at a push. It’s not a complicated story, all the details have already been fact-checked, and it’ll tell itself, really.
That’ll give her time tomorrow to read up on Jeff Gale.
And on Northwood Leffingwell.
She looks out the window of the cab, Amsterdam Avenue flickering past, and realizes something.
It’s been a while, but she’s excited.

 
Copyright © 2013 by Alan Glynn