This web site is intended to display the work of the writer Lew Barton. Lew has written dozens of short stories and several novels.
You are invited to enjoy the works posted at no charge, respecting the author's copyright rights (all rights reserved).
Original web published date: February 2005. New works will be added to the site from time-to-time for your perusal.
Please send any comments by email to Lew at email@example.com
The first piece is called The Arlington Brothers. The New Yorker, in their note declining the story, said it is a "wry and interesting story".
THE ARLINGTON BROTHERS
"Edward, are you listening to me? Do you understand what I am telling you?"
"Yes, Uncle Arthur, I am listening, and I understand."
We stood there, in a remote corner of the back lawn of the estate, looking down at the small clump of musty gray flakes that were the remains of my father. My uncle spoke very harshly to me. He described a part of the family history that I had been unaware of. I needed to rest...not so much because I was weary, but rather because I was weakened from the shock of the tale he had just related. We were, after all, the Arlingtons. THE Arlingtons. I, at forty-three years of age was now the only heir to a substantial fortune as well as to a partners share of the firm of Arlington Brothers, Inc.
The firm was commonly known as ArBro, or in some circles, where the tactics of the firm were held in low regard, ArmBroke. I was aware of that reputation for toughness, but not until Uncle Arthur spoke to me today did I realize how well deserved that colorful characterization was.
"Uncle Arthur, is it possible for us to continue this conversation on the porch?"
He looked back at the house, his old eyes squinting in the sunlight. He held his palm over his bushy eyebrows to shade the descending sun from impairing his vision. I knew that this was just a tactical habit, really to delay his answer so that he could think for a moment or two. My eyes were drawn as well to the large handsome house on the slope running down towards the river. It was October. The view across the Hudson was magnificent in the full blossom of the Fall foliage. The house was constructed so as to provide for this prospect. All the property in the field on the opposite river shore was acquired as well so as to protect the vista forever. All in all it totaled something like two thousand acres.
"Yes, Edward. Come here. Take my arm. Help me up the slope. We'll go back to the house. Maybe into the library. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, Uncle Arthur, Id like that."
I helped the old man up to the house. When we entered his butler approached but Uncle Arthur shooed him away. He spoke in a gruff voice.
"Leave me alone Terrance!" He clung to my arm and we walked into the library still fully covered with our outdoor clothing. After we entered the large mahogany paneled library Uncle Arthur looked up at the shelves and racks of books, many of them antiques and valuable editions, and he let out a mournful sigh as he shrugged his outer coat off, allowing it to fall to the floor. He walked across it and let himself slump down into his favorite leather chair. I watched this from the closed door and felt I had to let him establish himself before I moved into the room any further.
"Come here Edward. Come close to me. I want to look at you."
I walked towards him.
"Stop! Stop right there Edward. Stay in that light," he said. He raised his chin just so and looked up at me with an expression on his face that I could not describe; I wasn't sure if he was happy or cross. He just sat there, holding his arm outstretched towards me, his right hand fluttering slightly and looking at me through his half drawn eyelids.
"Yes, Edward, yes, right there. That's it. I never noticed it before Edward, but I see it now, here. You do look like your father, may he rest in peace."
Satisfied with his observation he turned away and looked at another chair, facing him. He motioned with his outstretched hand for me to sit. I took my coat off as I walked across the room. I bent over, picked up his coat and placed them both across the sofa then took my seat next to him. We were looking at each other now, for a minute or two.
"Edward, be a dear boy and get me a cigar from the humidor, over there." He spoke as if I didn't know, after all these years, where his humidor was. I gathered his cigar, clipper, matches and standing ashtray and brought them to him.
"May I help you Uncle?" I asked.
"No, no, thank you. At my age it is self satisfying to be able to accomplish at least one task completely on one's own faculty."
I watched him as he prepared his cigar, carefully clipping it and then lighting it slowly, drawing the smoke deeply in, leaning back, eyes closed, and slowly exhaling. I knew this was not the moment to disturb him; I just stood there, in front of him, thinking about him. I knew that he was seventy-six years old now...seven years older than my father, his brother, had been.
There had been just the two of them, Arthur and Philip, and they had worked together all their lives to accomplish great things. Philip, my father, had taken time, albeit just a brief interlude, to have a family: me. My mother was apparently sent away very early in the marriage. Paris, I had heard, so that she would not interfere with Philip's business activities or the business of raising his son. I do not recall ever seeing her. I knew her name was Margaret; the servants had told me that much, and I knew that she was a very attractive lady. My nannies and my tutors were the adults I remembered. Once or twice a month I would be taken to a neighboring estate to socialize with other children my age. I made no friends from those encounters. My father was my closest friend from my earliest youth. My uncle was next.
On the weekends they planned grand events. Riding, ski trips, sailing, tennis and on and on. We had wonderful times together. I rarely saw my father during the week since he spent most of the time in the city, working in a business I knew very little about.
When it was time for me to go to prep school there was no question but that it would be one of the best followed by four years at Harvard and then two more years at Wharton. After that I joined the company, learning the real estate management business. That was ArBro's principal activity: managing the many properties that we owned.
After a month or two at our headquarters in New York I was sent to run the Chicago office. I returned to New York three times a year: once for our annual meeting, once for the Christmas Holidays and once for my father's birthday. In between we spoke on the phone once a week or so. I was very much divorced from my father's and my uncle's day-to-day activities.
Strange as it was, in all those years, I never had a yearning to find my mother. I was perfectly content living the lifestyle my father and uncle had provided; there was no feeling of lost self that one hears about when a mother abandons her child.
"Ahem," Uncle Arthur muttered, ready now, ready for me to enter his space.
"Yes, Uncle?" I said in response. He sat there, blowing smoke rings and looking at me, then turning away for a minute before he spoke.
"I want to be sure you understand this perfectly Edward. We did what we had to do. That's all. Back in those days, you know, things were different, see?"
It was awkward, hearing the confession now, at my age...at his age. I didnt know how to react. My uncle was still flesh and blood, I still loved him and in him I loved the memory of my father. My uncle was also my boss. He still managed the company and I, quite literally, worked for him. Even after the will was executed I would be a junior partner, my father having left a small share of his fifty percent of ArBro for Uncle Arthur and the rest for me, to assure that Uncle Arthur would remain in control. I knew, of course, after Uncle Arthur was gone it would all be left to me, but that was not up for consideration now.
"See, my boy, let me explain it to you
The party was in full swing. It was January of 1924 and Philip Arlington had just returned to New York after having been "out of town" for five years and six months. He had earned early release because of his good behavior. In his absence his brother, Arthur, had kept their bookmaking operation going. Tonight, however, was all for fun. There were friends, girls, booze, music and great food. Arthur had taken over the Twenty One Club that night, exclusively for Philip's homecoming party.
"Its been a good five years for us Philip. Im sorry you had to take the fall, but the business is good and your half is worth a fortune. But let's talk about that tomorrow. Let's just dance and eat and drink tonight."
Later that night they went home. That is, they went to the Chelsea Hotel on Twenty-Third Street. Arthur had been living there for several years and he had an adjoining room reserved for Philip.
The next morning, a little on the late side, they went together to their office on the second floor of a walk-up in Chelsea, on Twenty-Sixth Street. When they walked in Philip was surprised to see a staff of clerks answering phones, writing in books and generally looking much like a business office. "What's this?" he asked.
"Well, let me explain. Lets go into our office."
When Philip followed Arthur into their private office he saw a full-fledged partners desk. Arthur was smiling as he waved his hand around the nicely furnished room and showed Philip where they would work together.
"Well, what do you think?"
"Wow, Arthur, this is swell. I mean really swell. Whats going on?"
"Its the booze Philip. We're lending money to the bars restaurants and clubs to buy booze from bootleggers. Its better than the horses. Its great. We make ten percent...a week. They come to us and we front the cash to buy the stuff."
Arthur went behind his side of the desk and sat in his chair. He motioned for Philip to do the same. "Watch this Philip." He turned towards the door and in a raised voice called out, "Hey, Shirley, Come in here, will you?"
A beautiful blonde walked in, dressed in a snug, long dress that illustrated her impressive figure quite nicely. Arthur looked at Shirley, then at Philip, then back at Shirley.
"See, Philip. Shirley here, shes our, umm, private secretary, see? She went to school and everything just to do this, see?" Philip was entranced by her.
"Uh huh. Umm, what does she do?" Philip asked.
"Shirley, my dear, please get my brother and me a cup of coffee, okay?" Arthur instructed Shirley.
"Sure Mr. Arlington," Shirley said as she turned towards Philip and smiled alluringly. "I know how Mr. Arthur Arlington likes his coffee. How do like yours Mr. Philip Arlington?"
Philip nearly melted at the sound of her voice. "Umm, black."
When she left Philip spoke to Arthur. "What's with her?"
"Whatever you like. But you need to understand Philip. She's a lady. You have to treat her nice and she'll do the same for you. See? But first let me tell you about this new business we got for ourselves."
Arthur explained to Philip that since prohibition, the nightclub and saloon business was booming. Everybody wanted what they couldn't have. The beer and liquor business was probably bigger now than it was before and everybody had a piece of it. He went on to explain that, for the most part, the saloonkeepers were Irish and the bootleggers were Italians.
"You see, the micks and the wops don't like each other...they don't trust each other, so that's where we step in. The saloonkeepers need to buy their booze before the weekend. We front the cash. They sell everything over the weekend and then, on Mondays, they pay us back, plus ten percent interest."
"Ten percent? For a week? How the hell? But Arthur, why do they do that?" Philip asked, incredulously.
"Whats their alternative Philip? They cant go to their bank. They're dealing in illegal goods. The wops wont give them credit. They blow their profits before they accumulate. Besides, they're making so much money on their deal, a measly ten percent doesn't bother them at all."
"Okay, so were making ten percent, a week, but so what. We didn't have that kind of money that ten percent could cover the costs of all this..." Philip said after he thought about it for a minute. He waved his arm around the office and continued, "Besides, what about the ones who don't pay? I know that there are some of those. What happens then?"
"Well, Philip, this is a very interesting business and I'll explain it to you..."
Shirley came in without knocking with their two cups of coffee. She placed them on the desk and moved out, gliding and weaving slowly and glamorously. "Wow!" whispered Philip.
"Philip, I saw you last night. You took three of those girls upstairs. Aren't you worn out yet?"
"You dont know Arthur. You have no idea what its like being without for five and a half years." He swooned as Shirley walked out.
"Okay. Okay. Now let's get back to business Philip. First of all, we had accumulated over fifteen thousand dollars from our bookmaking operation when I decided to go into this business"
"What made you think of this, Arthur?"
"Oh. Remember Manny, the accountant? Well, Manny saw it coming. Very smart guy, that Manny. Manny said that when prohibition came in this was going to happen and he said we could make more money in it. He was right. He still is right"
"You mean he's still our accountant?"
"Yes, Philip. Mannys still watches our books for us. Anyway Manny introduces me to Charlie Albright over at the bank. The Central Bank, over on Sixth Avenue. Manny also brings in a big shot lawyer to see me. James Wheaters. Jimmy. Jimmy and Manny they set us up at The Arlington Brothers Company, Inc., an import-export firm. See?
"No, Arthur. I dont see," Philip said, frustrated and impatient.
Arthur waved his hands, as though he was tamping down a pile of fluff. "Okay Philip. Just listen. Jimmy and Manny take me over to the bank. Albright explains to me that I need to open a business account. They don't pay interest on a business account. If I open an account with ten thousand dollars then the bank gives me what they call a line of credit for twenty thousand dollars, at four percent interest. Thats four percent a year, see?"
"Go on Arthur."
"Well, in the meantime our expenses are adding up here because Manny the accountant and Jimmy the lawyer are both in for a small piece of the action and now Albright, at the bank, he's in too. So what ever I put into the account, the bank lends us double, at four percent. But to the bank its like eight percent because half the money is ours anyway. So we start up.
"I get twenty thousand dollars the first week. The next Monday I got back twenty two thousand dollars in cash. First I pay the bank back their twenty grand, plus about twenty bucks for their interest. Now I got almost two thousand left. Manny, Jimmy and Albright split up ten percent of the juice, that leaves me with about eighteen hundred. I put a thousand into the account and the rest I use to run the operation. Now I got eleven thousand in the account, which gives me twenty two thousand to lend out. See?"
"Yeah, but what about the collection problem Arthur?"
"No problem. We have a gang of wops from Brooklyn that are our, umm, debt counselors, see? If somebody doesn't pay us on time Mario and his boys go to visit them and explain why it's best to pay us before they pay any other bills. It works like a charm. Haven't lost a dime yet, but it costs to keep Mario on the line for us. Part of the overhead."
"So, where are we today Arthur?" Philip asked as he sat back in his chair looking at Arthur, a smile slowing curling up on his lips.
"Well, as of this week we have about three hundred Gs out on the street earning ten percent for us and everybodys happy. But as we grow so does our overhead. We have the cops on the payroll too now. Any Jimmy, the lawyer, introduced us to some of the politicians, so we have them on the payroll. Everybody's making money, so everybody's happy."
Uncle Arthur was suddenly having a violent coughing spell. He clutched both hands to his chest. The cigar fell from his lips to his lap and his body contorted into a rigidity that looked grotesque. I lurched forward, but before I could reach him Terrance, his butler, came crashing through the library door wheeling an oxygen tank. He quickly covered Uncle Arthur's face with the mask and turned the switch on. He got the lit cigar out of Uncle Arthur's lap and put it out in the ashtray. Uncle Arthur began to calm down and Terrance turned to me with an accusatory expression on his face.
"Mr. Arlington needs to retire now," Terrance said to me. At that moment Miss Spencer entered, rolling a wheelchair into place. Terrance lifted Uncle Arthur tenderly into the wheelchair and he and Miss Spencer rolled him and the oxygen tank out of the library. I watched for a moment then went over to the liquor cabinet and poured myself a snifter of Louis XIII and took it back to the chair. After a few minutes Terrance came in to tell me that Uncle Arthur was resting comfortably and that the staff was preparing to retire for the night unless I wanted anything.
"No, thank you, Terrance. You can go now. And thank you very much for your vigilance and care of my uncle."
"Not at all, sir. Good evening then."
I reviewed in my mind the family history that I knew of to see what reconciled with Uncle Arthur's story so far. I had been told that Arthur and Philip were the two sons of domestic servants of the Hills, and old and distinguished New York family. Their father, Stephen Arlington, was the senior house butler when their mother, Mary O'Donnell, arrived from Ireland at the age of eighteen to become a maid in the Hill household. Although Stephen was some fifteen years older than Mary, he fell in love with her and they soon married. Mary quit her job and they set up a home in a nearby apartment. Stephen had Sundays off and was able to come home then as well as one or two nights a week when the Hills were out. They had three children; the little girl, Eileen, died as a two year old of some undiagnosed childrens disease and the two boys were raised as good Catholics. When the boys were eighteen and eleven their mother was killed by a trolley while out shopping for groceries. Stephen had a difficult time now caring for the boys and keeping his job. The principal responsibility was raising Philip, which fell to his older brother Arthur. Arthur had taken a job as a Wall Street runner.
What I hadn't known until earlier today was that Uncle Arthur drifted into taking bets on the side. My father, Philip, continued going to school until he was sixteen at which time he joined his brother. The image they created was one of hard-working investors who accumulated their wealth by purchasing real estate during the depression.
Somehow the information about their unsavory activities during the roaring twenties was suppressed. I wanted to learn more about that as soon as Uncle Arthur was well enough to talk.
The next morning I was having my coffee on the enclosed patio when Terrance wheeled Uncle Arthur in. I got up to greet him, taking his hand in mine, as was our custom. I smiled warmly and asked about his health.
"Fine. I'm fine, my boy. Sit. Finish your coffee. Afterwards I want you to take me outside so we can continue our chat."
I could tell from his tone and manner that he was anxious to continue his confession. Some say it is good for the soul. I was beginning to doubt he had a soul.
"No, Uncle. We can go now. I'd like to."
Terrance wheeled him out the door where I helped him up from the chair. He leaned on me while he waved his arm, backwards, at Terrance, signaling him to leave us alone. Terrance looked concerned but watched us from the patio as we walked, slowly, across the lawn to the spot we had left the day before. As he looked down at the now diminished clump of gray ashes, he shook his head and muttered something.
"What? What did you say Uncle Arthur? I couldnt hear you."
"Yes, I know Edward. You couldn't hear me because the words were not meant for you," he said, lifting his face towards me and nodding. He looked up at the sky, towards the sun. Then he looked over towards the bench that was on the lawn. I understood and helped him over to the bench. I sprawled on the grass in front of him, waiting anxiously for him to begin..
"It was a good time for us, Edward. We were young and tough. We could do anything we wanted. There were a few others. I remember the White Brothers. Some called them the Wright Brothers because they invented flying. They kited checks."
I chuckled at that. Uncle Arthur looked at me, His eyes opened wider. I swear there was a sparkle there. His mouth widened into a smile and his head lifted up, almost in a defiant gesture of youthful devilishness. He seemed transported, back to a different time. He laughed.
"Yes, Edward, we were the princes of the city. We could do no wrong. And we had a hell of a good time."
Philip had taken to squiring Shirley around town every night. Arthur thought that was great.
"That's good Philip. You need to do that. Go to see all our clients. This way they see that we patronize them; its good public relations. Also, while you're out you can see who's doing well and who's not so we can evaluate our risks better. Thats very good Philip. Stay out late. Go to as many places as you can. That's a good job for you. I'll watch the office during the day and you and Shirley see the clients at night. Good!"
Shirley loved the life style. She got to go out every night. She didn't have to show up at the office until late in the day. She got paid her salary and she got laid by her boss. Actually, Shirley was reasonably well-educated, two years of City College and six months of Mrs. Peters Secretarial and Finishing School. She helped Philip to learn something of the better things in life. Philip shared his new discoveries with Arthur and they found that they actually liked the Theatre, Opera, Ballet and Concerts. Philip adored Shirley and Arthur liked her. After two months Shirley moved into the Chelsea Hotel with Philip; they changed from a room to a suite and were all but man and wife. She still showed up at the office in the afternoons and performed a few secretarial duties but her status was well known by all the players.
The Arlington Brothers, Inc. kept their money with the Central Bank. No stock market trading for them. They made more money on their own manipulations.
And so it went on for years until one day in 1929 when Arthur called Philip at the Hotel.
"Philip, Im sorry to disturb you this early..." It was noon. "But you must come into the office now. Manny needs to speak with us."
When Philip arrived Arthur, along with their accountant Manny and the lawyer, Jimmy, were waiting in his office.
"Philip, Manny and Jimmy want to talk to us about some ideas they have."
"You see, Philip, Jimmy and me, we've been watching and listening very carefully to things people have been saying. A lot of things are going on..." Manny said.
Philip had taken his seat at his desk. He came into the office with a cup of coffee and a cigarette. He was dressed in his business suit and tie, looking very much like the youthful business executive.
Arthur looked worried, his forehead knitted in a frown.
"Wait a minute," Philip said, interrupting Manny. "What's up? Is everything all right? What's the problem?" He looked around at them, worried. "Is this about some problem that I got to take a fall for again?"
"No, no, Philip," Arthur said, standing up. "Nothing like that. It's about the future of the company. We have to plan. For the future. Just listen. Okay?"
Arthur sat down, Philip relaxed, a little and Manny continued.
"I think, we think, there's going to be some changes in the future. We don't know exactly when, but some changes. Booze. Its gotten out of hand. Sooner or later the government is going to wise up and legalize it again. Theyre losing too much tax revenue. It's going to happen. We just don't know when, but probably sometime in the next five years. So we need to think about shifting our business, again."
"The stock market. That's it," Arthur said, jumping in. "Everybody's making a fortune in the market, right? We've had our money tied up in the, umm, finance business. Now we take the dough and put it in stocks, what do you say?"
"Well, that's the other part of it Arthur," said Jimmy. "The market is pretty overheated right now. I think the market's a good idea, but I think it's going to take a little dive soon, so my idea is we buy after it dives. In the meantime I'm thinking real estate. But listen, we don't have to do anything right now. I'm just saying it's time for us to start planning. We have to come up with a plan for the future, because things are changing and we have to be smart enough to change with them. That's what's important, see?"
They talked for another hour or two, deciding to meet on a weekly basis to continue discussing their plans.
Philip got back to the hotel at four and found the suite empty. He took a nap, assuming Shirley had gone out shopping or with some friends. He awoke at seven and took a shower. Shirley had not yet returned. They had a date for dinner with Harry Chassom at ten that night and Shirley should have been home by now. He turned the radio on at eight and listened to some music to calm him down. At eight-thirty the phone rang.
"Mr. Arlington, we have a message here for you. Shall we send it up?" It wasn't Shirley.
"Yes. Please. And, oh, have you seen Miss Wells this afternoon?" Philip's voice had an edge to it.
"No sir. No, Mr. Arlington."
A minute later there was a knock at the door. Philip opened the door, gave the bellhop a quarter and took the envelope. He threw it on the desk and went to the window, peering down on Twenty-Third Street. He saw the cars and taxis but not Shirley. He grabbed a cigarette and went to the desk for matches. He saw the envelope addressed to him but didn't recognize the handwriting. He picked it up and tore it open. The page was folded over. He opened it and read:
WE HAVE HER.
YOU NEED TO GET $35,000.00 TOGETHER.
WE'LL CONTACT YOU TOMORROW.
He stared at the note in disbelief. Then he picked up the phone and called Arthur in his room. Arthur came bursting in the door a few seconds later.
He was screaming and flailing his arms around, pacing back-and-forth in front of Philip.
"Somebody's gonna pay for this! What the hell...what did they think"
Philip was sitting in a chair, his sleeves rolled up, elbows on his knees, head clasped into his upright palms. When Arthur came in screaming Philip didn't know what to make of it. He looked up at Arthur, tears in his eyes.
"What Arthur? What are you talking about? Shirley's gone. They got her. Who's got her? What's this about? Why would they want her?"
"Now, just calm down a minute Philip," Arthur said as he regained his composure. Looking at his younger brother he said, "Let's think this thing through before we panic. Say, didn't you have a dinner date with Harry tonight?"
"Yeah. What of it? How can you think about that now?"
"Well, we just don't want any rumors flying around. Just call him and tell him Shirley's got a cold, okay?
Philip called Harry while Arthur stared at the letter.
"Philip, you dont understand these things." He walked over to the table and took a cigarette out of the pack and lit it. He looked at the window. "See, Philip, nobody lives with impunity. Nobody lives without danger. Not me. Not you. Now, I know, not even Shirley."
"What are you talking about?" Philip asked as he gasped and took his handkerchief out and wiped his nose and face. He was sitting in his chair, trembling and shaking.
"Okay, Philip. There's nothing we can do now. Let's wait until they call, or write. In the meantime Im going to make a few calls. Take it easy. We'll work it out."
"Work what out? Whats going on here?"
"Okay kid. Here, let me spell it out for you. This here," Arthur said as he took a drag on his cigarette and he waved the note in front of Philip. "It's a message, a warning, sort of. It says we're gonna get you, so you better get out now. You see, Philip, I've been very careful to save you from the anxiety, but we live with protection, protection from our enemies. Your driver, Sammy, he's not only your driver, he's also your bodyguard"
"Wait a minute. We have dozens of people on the payroll, here, in the hotel, at the office, traveling with us. All the time. If they got Shirley, then either somebody didn't do their job well, or, they did the job for the people that got her. See?"
"OH MY GOD! Arthur. What is it? Is she to be some kind of pawn? Taken to get at us? What about the ransom? What about the thirty-five grand? Can we pull it out of the bank right away?"
"Sure, Philip. Dont worry. Calm down. Have a drink. I'm going back to my room and make a couple of calls. I'll be back in an hour, okay?"
"Okay Arthur. But listen. You have to know something," Philip said, speaking softly now.
"What? What is it Philip?" Arthur asked as he was turning to leave Philip's room.
Arthur, I...I love her..."
"I know. So?"
"I want to marry her, Arthur."
"Arthur, I think, I think she's...pregnant."
"Uh oh. I see," Arthur said, sounding solemn. "Anybody else know?"
"No. We weren't sure. She's late. Never happened before, but she's late now, and...and she says... she feels something. She says a woman knows. I don't know what to do."
"Okay. Stay put. Let me make some calls. Stay here and wait for them to call you."
"Just come back soon."
I looked up from my spot on the grass to see that Uncle Arthur had paused and raised his head up at the sky, at the sun. He closed his eyes and let the sunlight warm his old skin. I was transfixed and wanted him to continue. I wondered if Shirley was my mother. I had to find out what happened next. Then I saw that Uncle Arthur had dosed off. Miraculously Terrance appeared. It was as if he knew that Uncle Arthur needed to be taken back. He lifted him out of the bench and looked at me with that expression again. He pursed his lips to say that I should be quiet and carried Uncle Arthur back towards the house. I got up off the lawn and followed them. He took Uncle Arthur upstairs and then returned to tell me that Uncle Arthur needed his nap.
I took my car out and went for a ride in the country to try to sort out the things I learned. My father and my uncle were criminals. They consorted with other criminals. They were involved in corruption and bribery. They were felons. How could it be that I never knew this? How could it be that nobody knew this? Then I remembered The Lowell Company. Sidney Lowell was the press agent for ArBro. Now I surmised that Sidney Lowell did more than work for the company public image. I knew that Sidney was capable of creating press releases that could make Charles Manson look like Mother Teresa, and that he could get those items published. So, it must have been Sidney that saw to it. Sidney! Sidney, the miracle man! He kept the Arlington Brothers from being exposed.
Later that afternoon, at around six, I was sitting in the library, looking through some magazines, impatient to hear more. Uncle Arthur appeared at the door, standing on his own two legs, no cane, and smiling warmly. He was dressed for dinner. Terrance stood a few feet behind him.
"Sidney Lowell," I said.
"Yes, it was Sidney," he said as he stepped forward. "Dear Sidney..." He looked around and saw Terrance standing there. He gave Terrance that swoosh of his arm again. Uncle Arthur moved into the library, closing the door behind him. He moved over to his chair and looked towards the humidor.
"Do you think it's wise Uncle Arthur? I mean after the spell you had yesterday?"
"You're probably right. Well then, fetch me a snifter of brandy, will you?"
I busied myself pouring and serving, impatiently waiting for him to resume his story.
"Your father, you see, he was in love with her, with Shirley. To me it was different, I guess. Business! That was my priority. So I thought about it, I made a few phone calls and I went back to see Philip. To explain things to him"
Philip's room was quiet and dim as the day turned to evening. He hadn't turned any lights on. He sat there, next to the phone, chain-smoking Luckies, waiting for it to ring. The outside lights cast a gloomy prospect over the furniture. Arthur stepped in and switched a lamp on. Philip looked up, startled.
"Philip, you need to remain calm about this. It's very complicated. It's the Italians, the wops. They got to some of our people"
"What? What are you talking about?" Philip asked, sounding annoyed and harsh.
"Philip..." Arthur walked over to Philip and put his hand on Philips shoulder, "this is a, a...test, see? They want us out of the booze business. They want us out, so theyre testing the waters. They know we can come up with thirty-five grand easily. They know they can have it in an hour's time. They want to see how we respond. If we pay them, then next time it's you, or me. They up the ante. Next it's a hundred grand, then two hundred grand. Ultimately they bleed us dry, or, when we can't pay, they kill us. One way or the other, they get us out of the business. Unless..."
"Unless what Arthur?" Philip asked, his voice riddled with anxiety.
"Unless we don't pay them now."
"What? How can you say that? It's Shirley! She's practically my wife. And my kid. Your little niece or nephew that she's carrying. What? How? Shit!" Philip put his head down into his hands again.
"I know Philip. But I think they're bluffing. If we show them we are not going to give in...well that's all they know. A show of strength."
Ultimately Arthur convinced Philip to do it his way. When the call came in at one in the morning Arthur took the phone.
"You bring her back here or your'e all dead men!" He slammed the phone down and the vigil began. They sat in opposite chairs, waiting, while their people came and went with coffee and cigarettes.
By five in the morning they were napping on-and-off, waiting. Sammy, startled by the knock on the door, jolted up out of his chair and drew his forty-five. He approached the door, standing at the side, and mumbled something through to the other side. Satisfied with the response, he opened the door. A large man, mid-thirties, suit and fedora walked in. Bull, thought Philip. The man walked over to Arthur's chair and bent over and whispered in Arthur's ear. Philip could see Arthur's face contort as the man spoke to him. Arthur patted the man on the side and told him he could go. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. Philip watched all of this, with an eerie sense of the serious news to come. Arthur rose, slowly, laboriously, out of his chair and came to Philip. He knelt down in front of him, taking his hands into his own. He spoke softly and slowly.
"That was Detective Kane. He's one of our boys. Philip, I got bad news."
"What? What Arthur? Where is she?" asked Philip barely above a whisper, his throat choked with pain.
"They found her, Philip. They found Shirley."
There was silence. They both knew what was coming. Arthur didn't want to say it. Philip looked at him, fear in his eyes. Arthur just nodded. Philip sobbed, then started crying, then ranted and screamed hysterically. Arthur took his brother into his arms and cradled him.
"Im sorry Philip. Im so sorry. Im sorry..." He kept repeating himself, not knowing if Philip could hear him over the sound of his own crying.
It took a few days for things to straighten out. Philip had a strange feeling for Arthur; he wondered if it was hatred. He busied himself with the arrangement for what was left of Shirley. The doctor told them that she had not been pregnant. That was some relief for both Philip and Arthur and ultimately helped to heal the rift between them. Arthur busied himself finding out who did what and meting out punishment. Two employees of the hotel disappeared. Mario and his gang were fired. Arthur thought about what happened and made an important decision. After everything settled down they met in the office.
"Well, boys," Arthur was standing and addressing Philip, Jimmy and Manny, "I been thinking. You're right. It's time. Let's get out. Let's liquidate our business and sit back to take stock. Okay?"
It took them about three months to close down the entire operation. The Italians were ecstatic. They walked right in and took over everything. Three weeks later the market crashed.
"Timing is everything!" Manny pronounced. "Now, cash is king, and we got cash. Plenty of it."
After all was said and done they had over three million dollars in cash stashed away. They decided to take it slow. They continued to live well, but didn't trust the banks too much. As the next three years unfolded, Philip and Arthur reconciled, and the plan for their future became apparent. Philip dated a few girls, one of them a cast off girlfriend of Arthurs: Manny's sister, Margaret.
"Uncle Arthur, my mother, Margaret? My mother was Manny's sister?" I nearly choked as I repeated the words I just heard.
"Margaret? She was, she was a, she was nothing! Yes, she was Manny, the accountants, kid sister. There were four of them all together, two brothers and two sisters. All their names started with M, a family thing, I think. I knew all four of them. But Margaret, oh, she was something. She had set her money-grubbing hooks for me. But I wasnt buying into it. So, out of spite she threw herself at your father. He was still melancholy over Shirley so he was easy prey. She was thrilled that she could catch him, right in front of my nose. She got him good."
"But, but, Uncle Arthur, did they marry? What happened?" I was blurting and stammering, hungry for this information about my mother.
"Yes, Edward, they married. In the church. When they found out she was pregnant, your father insisted they marry. She was thrilled. And..." my uncle looked at me with a soft, gentle smile on his face, "and then you came into the world and your father was so happy. Me too. But not Margaret. Oh no. She didn't want anything to do with you. Thats when I saw that she was no good! I persuaded your father to let me handle the situation. Soon she was gone."
"Where, Uncle Arthur? Where to? I heard Paris?"
He looked at me with a quizzical expression, as if to say how could you have heard that. I nodded as I mumbled, "The servants."
"Yes. I sent her to Paris, Edward. I promised her a show business career there. She got a job as a chorus girl in the Folies. But she bored of it soon and moved to California."
"Oh," I said, sounding like a dull thud. I realized that my mother would go to Paris and then to California, and not want to see me. It was sad. For the first time in my life I actually thought of my mother as a real person, and I became sad that she could travel around and never want to see me.
"Is she still there Uncle? Is she still alive?"
"Alive? No. Edward. She passed on a few years ago."
"You know? You knew? You kept in touch with her?" I felt myself getting angry now.
"No. It was nothing like that. I didnt keep in touch. I just heard things, thats all, from people." He spoke the words dismissively.
"Well, Manny went to California too. After Margaret went, about 1940 as I recall. Manny went there and we stayed in touch from time-to-time. That's how I heard. Let me tell you about it."
"Arthur, this is the time to start thinking about real estate. The market's sunk as far as its going to go. Roosevelt is going to win the election. It's 1932! Its been three years since The Crash. Things are going to turn around now. Theyre talking about repeal," Manny told Arthur and Philip. Jimmy was sitting on the side, nodding in agreement. They respected Manny's counsel. They had just bought the land upstate for a song and were in the process of building the house, all with Manny's advice. They had already started picking up small buildings in Manhattan and now Manny was encouraging them to move quicker, make bigger deals.
"Listen, Jimmy and me here, we feel so strongly about this we want to be partners. We don't have your kind of cash, but we figure we put in fifteen percent of each deal, let us do the negotiating, arrange the financing, do the managing and give us twenty-five percent. Fifteen for the cash and another ten for the business management. What do you say?"
Arthur looked up at the ceiling, then slowly turned towards Philip. Philip knew the cue.
"What do you think, Philip?" Arthur asked. Philip got up out of his chair and walked to the window. They both knew they needed Manny and Jimmy in their deals, but they wanted some time to think about the structure.
"I dunno Arthur. I got a pain in my shoulder right now," he rubbed his left arm with his right hand, "I think we gotta talk about it when I feel better. Maybe tomorrow."
They all knew what was going on.
"Sure, sure Arthur. Tomorrow. Jimmy and me, we'll come back tomorrow," Manny said.
The next day they struck the deal; seventeen percent cash for twenty-two percent share. They went on a buying spree. They only thing wrong was that Manny's forecast was off by a few years. Repeal didnt come until 1935 and the real estate market kept going down, but from where they were, it was so low anyway that they couldn't get hurt.
By 1940, when things were turning around, they were one of the biggest second-tier real estate holders in New York, They didnt have the money, nor did they want the notoriety, to crash into the top levels. They just wanted to hold and manage their buildings and make money, which they did, for all of them. And along the way they hired Sidney Lowell, over Mannys protest, to keep their names out of the papers.
In 1940 Manny asked out.
"Boys, we did good. There's plenty of assets here and I want to cash out. I want to move to California. I think Hollywood's going to grow even bigger than it is now and I have a chance to join one of the studios there, as a producer. I want to go. What do you say?"
They were disappointed, but they arranged the payout and Manny left New York. They stayed in touch through the years but they were never the close friends they were back in the old days. Now it was Arthur and Philip with Jimmy as a junior partner, and Sidney as a valued colleague, and still with good old Albright at the bank, although now it was another, bigger bank with him in another, bigger job. The years passed, quietly and peacefully, and they all grew richer and richer.
It was now close to ten at night and I could see that my uncle was fatigued. "Uncle Arthur, are you all right? Shall we retire for the evening now and continue tomorrow?"
"No!" He barked at me as he shifted in his chair to refresh himself. "I want to finish this story tonight. Its important that you know all this."
"Why? Why are you telling me this now? Its 1974. This is all ancient history. Why now?"
"Just listen. You see, Edward, there are more skeletons in our closet that you must know about so as to protect them."
"MORE? More skeletons?"
"Oh, just be quiet and listen"
"No! I wont! " I was getting angry now. I saw myself as being put in the position of having to be the receptacle of all this garbage, whether I wanted to or not, and then having to bear the burden of silence and suppression for the rest of my life. This was his way of relieving himself of this burden by pouring it all over me. "And anyway, what was wrong with my mother? Why didn't you fall for her the way my father did?" I practically spat the words out in anger.
He smiled that small, wry smile again. He looked down at the Persian rug on the floor and shook his head. As he lifted his head towards the ceiling he spoke, softly, "You really don't know, do you? Your father never told you?"
"Told me what?" I was practically shouting now.
"What? He never let on did he? Good boy, that Philip. You see Edward, after you were born we started thinking about your future. We wanted to make sure that you had the best opportunities. We wanted you to be free from the background that we suffered with. By the time you were born, we were out of the, the, finance business...at least for the most part, but there were still too many people around who knew us from the old days. Thats why we wanted to keep you...insulated...so that you could grow up into your own man. We decided to keep you up here, in the country. Then we bought the Chicago real estate business, knowing that by the time you were ready to take it over it would have been fully integrated into our operations so that it would fit, you, there, running that business. See?"
"Yes, I see Uncle Arthur. But why? I could have been with you, and my father. I could have handled it all. What more could there have been to worry about"
"No! It was better this way. It wasn't easy for your father and I. We loved you. But we knew that to be free from us, to be free from the possibility of slander, would be best for you. But now, there are things you must know. Things that you must keep hidden. For the sake of the family."
"What? What are you talking about Uncle?"
Uncle Arthur paused. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Looking into the blankness, he continued.
"Your father, he was a good boy, all man. He ran around with all kinds of women. I, on the other hand, I ran around with ... boys."
I could sense the words forming in his mouth a split second before they came out. I was stunned. My mouth dropped open. My knees sagged and I slumped down into the chair. I hadn't realized I was standing before that moment.
"Yes, Edward. I have always been attracted to boys. In the early days it was Manny. Then it was Sidney. Thats the real reason Manny moved to California. He couldn't bear losing me to Sidney. It was sad."
He paused again.
"And, for the last twenty years, its been Terrance."
Suddenly it all came into focus. Terrance! Always so tender and caring for him. Always there when he was needed. And Uncle Arthur, always dismisses him when he wanted to have a moment of privacy with me. Terrance!
"Wow!" Thats the only utterance I could come up with. "Wow!" I said it again.
"Wait, there's more"
"More? Just a minute Uncle Arthur. Lets talk about this a minute. I can't take any more."
"You have to Edward. Listen. Edward, here's the most important part. Edward, you have a brother."
"What? Oh, this is really too much. Don't tell me our chauffeur is my brother? Or is it the gardener?"
Uncle Arthur's lips curled into his small, wry smile again.
"No, actually, the Governor of California is your brother...half brother really." His smiled broadened into a grin, an obscene smirk now. Peter Sanchez. He's your mother's son by her third husband, Pedro Sanchez."
"Arthur, I need to go to California for my sister. Yes, I have a good job offer there, but I don't need a job. It's Margaret. She's alone, with the boy. Her husband left her, good riddance, and she can't take care of anything. You know. She's incapable. I'm going to go and help her with Peter. I've seen him a couple of times. He's a bright boy. He'll have a good future if he's got the right direction. You know Arthur, its over between us. Especially now with Sidney here. We'll stay in touch."
They were having lunch at their favorite restaurant. The booth was quiet. It looked like they were having a confidential business lunch. Sammy was outside with the car. Arthur and Manny were saying goodbye.
"Arthur, you've been good to me. And to my sister. You've been generous to her all these years. I have always appreciated that"
"Well, after all Manny, the poor girl. I can't imagine what you told her back then to make her realize that she was never going to get me into her bed." They both chuckled at that.
"Well, at least one of us got you into bed. I guess it's a victory for our family, Arthur."
"Good luck Manny. Let me know what I can do for you."
"Sure Arthur. And good luck to you to."
Manny took the limited to Los Angeles the next day and Margaret was at the station to meet him when he arrived, with Peter, who was five years old. Manny bought a mansion in Beverly Hills and moved them all in. He took personal control of Peter and guided him through the best schooling. When he realized that Peter had more than his share of charisma he hit on the idea. Peter was twelve.
"You see Margaret, someday this state will be overwhelmingly Hispanic. The Latinos will also be a big factor in our national population. Your son, he's half Hispanic. He's also a very good-looking Anglo. The best of two worlds. I'm going to be sure he learns Spanish. Were going to make him President of the U.S.A. in forty years."
Peter was a cooperative student and protege. He studied hard, got into the right schools, dated the right girls, and married well. But above all he groomed his Spanish heritage. He learned to speak the language like he was born into it. His father was found in Mexico and actually taped a few commercials for his campaigns. He was able to be completely Anglo or completely Spanish, whatever the event required. He was elected to congress at twenty-seven, to the senate at thirty-three, and now, at thirty-nine had been governor for three years and was aiming for a spot on the national ticket at the next Democrat convention.
"So you see, Edward, if we keep these family secrets well hidden, in a few years your brother will be the president. Then, imagine what you will be able to do with ArBro. Oh, how I wish I could be here to see that."