I had a chapter or two in editing, and although I haven't written much more yet, I wanted to post this. I realized that I left Stef and Brad stuck in an elevator.
August 14, 2003
New York, NY
Stef and I sat in the elevator, and even though it was getting warmer, it wasn’t overly unpleasant. “Have you talked to Buzz about Triton yet?” he asked.
“I laid out the situation for him briefly over the phone,” I explained. “I think he understood the gist of what was going on, and he seemed more than willing to help out.”
“That is a good thing,” Stef said.
“He’s going to meet us in Palo Alto this weekend, assuming we can get out of here,” I grumbled. “I invited him to the big dinner on Sunday.”
“I think it will be nice to have him there, and I do not think there will be anything too controversial to spoil his time,” Stef said cryptically. It was bugging the shit out of me that we were having this big dinner on Sunday and I had no idea what it was about.
“It almost bothers me that I can trust him so easily,” I said.
Stef nodded. “I do not think he is free of issues, as one would surmise from the fact that he has had three failed marriages already, but I sense that when it comes to business, he is honest.”
“So do I,” I agreed. “Then again, I’d be willing to trust him based on your instincts alone.”
He gave me his gentle smile. “Your instincts can be just as good, as long as you are on an emotionally even keel.” That got him a frown, which he ignored. “Look at how much better you have been doing over these past few weeks.”
“You mean since I dumped Marc,” I groused. He raised his eyebrow to challenge me to expand on that. “I feel bad that I hurt him, and he’s a nice guy, but I know now what kind of guy I don’t need to be with.”
“I think that discovery is worth the pain you may have endured, and I would have to believe that he will evolve as a person even more than you because of your relationship with him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I would guess that he will find a new man shortly, as that is his way,” he said. I tried not to let that bother me, and found that I was remarkably free of jealousy where he was concerned. “But I think that perhaps he will keep more of himself, be his own person more, this time around.”
“That would be good for him,” I said.
“Have you given any thought to how you are going to handle these issues with Elizabeth Danfield?” he asked, changing the subject.
“It’s occupied most of my time,” I said. “I’m going to fight.”
“Indeed?” he asked curiously.
I sighed. “I know that Wade and JP think that we can smooth this over, and that Nana and the Duke can bring pressure to bear on people to not pull out the nuclear bombs, but I don’t think it’s going to work.”
“I do not disagree with you, but I am curious as to why you think they will be unsuccessful.”
“I don’t think that’s Elizabeth’s modus operandi,” I told him. “I think she’s a power junkie, like Wade said, but he doesn’t really get what that means.”
“And you do?”
“I do,” I said. “It comes with my control-freak personality.”
“I suspect they are somewhat correlated,” he said with a smile, getting a smarmy look from me.
“I think that developing a plan and putting it into play, and watching all the pins fall down just like she planned, is as much fun for her as actually winning the battle,” I explained. “She likes to see her power at work.”
He paused for a minute, and then smiled. “That is a very astute observation. I had not been able to put it so succinctly, either in words or in my mind.”
“Thanks,” I said, basking in his praise. “In some ways, it reminds me of the situation before World War I. Once armies are mobilized, it’s hard to get them to stand down. In her case, once she makes the threat, I think she faces enormous pressure from herself to see it through.” Having a father who was a history professor filled my brain with those kinds of analogies.
“Why do you say that?”
“Let’s take one example,” I pointed out. “Think of the situation with Zach. She had him right where she wanted him. She got him to do and act according to plan. But she still fucked him up by having his drinks spiked with meth, and setting him up for that drug test.”
“That was indeed a ruthless move on her part,” he said, his anger coming through clearly.
“So now that she’s tossed that grenade at me, I don’t think there’s any chance she’ll back down,” I concluded. “I think she’ll smile, say anything she has to, to get everyone to believe she’s buried the hatchet, but then, when the time is right, that missile will come flying at me.”
“I am sorry this is coming back to haunt you, especially since you have gone through so much to get yourself back.”
“Get myself back?” I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“The past few years, you have been so emotionally traumatized; it has clouded not just your decision-making, but your true personality. It clearly started before 9-11, but it has only gotten worse since then.”
I thought about what he said, and tried not to let the whole thing annoy me too much. “So you think I’ve recovered?”
“I do,” he confirmed. “I remember when you first came to work for me, and how your mind and intuitive abilities were so sharp they were like a razor. You lost that edge for a while, but you have it back.”
“I can see that,” I agreed.
“Personally, I think your conflicts with Will are a very good barometer of your relative mental equilibrium.”
That did bother me. “So when we don’t get along, that means I’m fucked up?”
“Or he is,” he said. “Or perhaps you both are.”
“Something else to think about,” I said in a mildly bitchy way, even though I appreciated his insights, and even though I knew he was probably right. “You should share that with Will.”
“I do not have to,” he said. “He already knows.”
“What do you mean?” Had he said something about this to Stef?
“I can tell by the way he acts. When you are fucked up, he will do whatever it takes to bring you back to your senses.”
“It bothers me that he reads me so much better than I read him,” I said, a major admission on my part.
“I think that now that you are your old self again, so to speak, you will find that your perceptive abilities are more equal.”
I nodded. “You are such a sage. This is why Buzz wants to work with us.”
“You flatter me,” Stef said. Just then, we heard noises in the elevator shaft, and heard footsteps on the roof above us.
“Mr. Schluter, this is the New York Fire Department. We’re going to unlock the hatch, lower a ladder, and get you out of the elevator,” a voice said.
“Excellent,” I said.
There were some mechanical sounds, probably as they worked the locks, and then they pulled the hatch open. “Stand back,” the voice said. Then a ladder was lowered, and a guy dressed in full fireman’s garb came down it. “Steve Cooley,” he said, introducing himself.
“Brad Schluter,” I said, and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.” I introduced him to Stefan, and then he told us to climb out of the elevator. I went first, with Stef behind me. Once we were on the top of the elevator, we saw that they’d opened the door to the floor right above us. We had but a small step to climb over to get out of the elevator shaft.
“The bad news is that you’ve got forty five flights of stairs to walk down,” he said with a smile. After our escape from the north tower during 9-11, this was child’s play.
“That is a paltry price to pay for escaping from the elevator,” Stef observed.
“What’s going on?” I asked him.
“Power’s out all over the Northeast,” he said in a clipped way. “Looks like some massive screw up, and it looks like the Canadians did it, but at least it’s not a terror attack.”
“That is good news,” I said obliquely.
“No one knows what caused the grid to go down, and they sure as hell don’t know when it’s going to be back up again, so in the meantime, we’ve got millions of people in a city with no electricity, and a heat wave. Not good.”
“No, it is not,” I agreed.
“Well, I’ve got some more people to rescue. Supposed to be a packed elevator around the 23rd floor,” he said.
“Thank you very much,” I said to him sincerely. It was nice of them to make sure we were released first.
“Just doing my job,” he said, then strode off with his colleague, carrying their ladder with them.
“Let us get out of here,” Stef said. We found the stairs and started walking down. We’d spent an hour or so in the elevator, so the building must have been mostly evacuated in the meantime. There was no traffic in the stairwells, a nice contrast to 9-11, when we’d been stuck in a long line of people trying to escape. “I am beginning to detest tall buildings.”
I laughed. “This, I can handle.” We finally got to the lobby and found a small delegation waiting for us, which was very thoughtful.
“Mr. Schluter, I’m Jason,” a large security guard said.
“You’re the guy that talked to us in the elevator?” I said.
“I am,” he said.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a $100 bill and handed it to him. “Thank you for keeping us so well informed. You made what could have been a very traumatic experience almost pleasant.”
“Thanks,” he said, and was slightly stunned.
“Now we need to determine how we are going to get back to Tribeca,” Stef said.
“Streets are a mess,” Jason said. “Subways aren’t running. Your best bet is to walk. It’s about five miles.”
“I do not want to walk across Manhattan alone,” Stef said firmly. He was very conscious about security.
“I’ll be with you,” I said, just to give him shit.
“And as I noted, in that situation, I will be virtually alone,” he said. I gave him a fake dirty look.
“Um, I could probably get a few guys to escort you,” Jason said.
“Would these be big, strong, strapping young men like you?” Stef asked flirtatiously. Jason blushed, which was adorable.
“They will be,” he said.
“And how many of these big, strong, strapping young men would you need to feel comfortable walking through Manhattan?” I asked Stef acidly.
“I would think three to four,” Stef said vapidly.
“I think I can do that,” Jason said. “If you gentlemen will have a seat over there, I’ll put together an escort.”
“Thank you,” Stef said pleasantly. We went over to a seating area in the lobby and both of us tried to use our cell phones, but to no avail.
“Service is out,” I said. Stef gave me a reproving look for stating the obvious. We took that opportunity to remove our ties and cufflinks, and to roll up our shirtsleeves. The last thing I needed to do as we walked through Manhattan was to flash my expensive jewelry around. In no more than ten minutes, four hulking guys appeared. Jason was one of them.
“We’re ready when you are,” he said. We walked out of the building and began heading toward Times Square, with Jason and one of the guys in front of us, and the other two behind us.
“Have you read the recent reports from the foundation?” he asked. He was referring to the Schluter Foundation, one that had initially been funded by Tonto, but had been augmented by Stef, Claire, and me.
“They’ve got the endowment up to almost $2 billion,” I noted.
“I am not sure the foundation deserves credit for that,” Stef said. We’d been the ones to stuff money into it, and to manage that money.
“Well, it’s pretty big as it is,” I said. “Not sure that we’re achieving our goal.” The mission of the foundation was ‘to make the world a better place.’ It was vague, but optimistic, which seemed to be the basic criterion for a mission statement.
“Let us not be negative, let us remain focused on what we have achieved,” he said curtly.
“We’re walking through a city of millions with no power,” I joked, as if to indicate that civilization was eroding around us.
“And for the most part, they seem quite content,” Stef noted. He was right. It was like trauma united and fired up these weird people that were New Yorkers. He got back to our original conversation. “Wallace Pevely resigned from the foundation board.”
“When did that happen?” I hadn’t heard about that.
“I got a fax just prior to that meeting,” Stef said. “He objected to the amount of money we contributed to Planned Parenthood.”
“He never bitched about that before,” I said. Pevely was an attorney in Ohio, one who’d been a family friend for years, and he’d served on the board for quite a while.
“I think he is considering a run for public office,” Stef noted. “He is a Republican, so he must kowtow to the social crusaders that are part of their party.”
“And our causes are just a bit too liberal?” I asked, chuckling.
“Evidently funding women’s health and gay missions is a bit too much for him,” Stef said.
“You’re the chairman. You get to pick the person to replace him. Maybe this is something you can tap Buzz for? Maybe he’ll be willing to contribute some money too. Might be good for the foundation.”
“An interesting suggestion,” Stef mused. We walked on, and just observed the city around us.
“I feel like I’m in my own little world,” I said to Stef.
Stef looked at me, then looked around, and got resolved. “Then it’s time to change that.”
“What are you talking about?”
And with that Stef paused and made a point to walk next to each guard and find out a bit about him. I mirrored his moves. As we got to know our guards, I looked around at the people on the streets. It was interesting to see how they adapted in this situation. The hotels were the worst: we’d see people lying on blankets on the street, because it was just too hot inside. We walked by a bar, and they’d brought all their perishable food and drinks out to the sidewalk. They were giving away all the stuff that would spoil, so it turned that section of the sidewalk into an instant party.
“Let us stop and grab a drink,” Stef said. We got beers and some chips. I gave the guy a C-note, and that got a big smile, then we continued on our walk. After that, it was one, long party, with us stopping and drinking all along the way home. I didn’t even notice that it had gotten dark somewhere along the way. We finally got back to Tribeca, very tired and very drunk.
“Thank you so much for walking us home,” I slurred to Jason. I gave each of them $1000, and they seemed happy with that. We walked into the condo and Stef frowned.
“It is very hot,” he said.
“And stuffy,” I agreed. We walked up onto the rooftop patio and the sight that greeted me made me start laughing. JJ had brought up a mattress pad, sheets, a blanket, and two pillows and set them up on the lawn.
JJ gave us dirty looks. “You made it back.”
“We did,” Stef said. “I am sorry we disturbed your sleep.”
“And what is so funny?” JJ demanded.
“It looked like you were some Egyptian or Roman princess being carried around on a mobile bed,” I said, or at least I tried to. Normally that would piss JJ off, but he smiled, and then chuckled.
“I need someone here to fan me,” he said, and that made all of us laugh.
“I think we should get similar bedding and sleep up here as well,” Stef said. JJ helped us get that together, although I had the feeling he did that more for Stef than for me. If it were just me, he’d probably let me get it ready by myself.
“JJ is another candidate,” I said to Stef, a propos of nothing. Stef knew I was talking about the foundation board, but JJ had no clue what I was talking about.
“Another excellent suggestion,” Stef said.
August 17, 2003
Las Vegas, NV
I sat in the limo in a foul mood. This entire trip had been stressful. The flight out had been pretty intense. Bellona had been in a particularly bad mood, complaining on and on about how she’d gotten stuck in that building in an elevator when the power went out. Her story was similar to my father’s and Stef’s, except she’d already been near the 23rd floor, so she had fewer stairs to descend. On the other hand, she’d been stuck in that cube with eight other people, most of whom were, according to her, absolutely boorish.
The show had been interesting, but not interesting enough to warrant the effort of coming out to see it. I was annoyed by that, but I was nowhere near as annoyed as Bellona. She’d ripped into everyone but me about what a complete waste of time it was. I thought for the millionth time how glad I was that I didn’t work for her.
But this whole whirlwind had thrown my normal organization off. I really needed to get a personal assistant. I’d forgotten to book a flight to the Bay Area, and by the time I realized that, it was too late to charter a plane. It would have been so easy to blow the whole thing off and just go back to New York, but if I did that, I’d disappoint Stef, and I’d get an endless ration of crap from Will. I caved to the inevitable and resolved to get myself to Escorial in time for our big dinner. The concierge at the hotel had finally found me a seat on a flight to Oakland. I wasn’t happy about that, but it would have to do.
The limo driver rang me on the phone. “What airline?”
“Southwest,” I said, even as I looked at the strange printout. I had no idea what the big “C” on the paper meant. Customer? Client?
“Got it,” he said, and hung up.
I sat back and thought about the other issue that had come up. My father had evidently told Stef that I’d be an ideal candidate to serve on the board of our foundation. I don’t know why he seemed to think I needed more work and more responsibilities. I had no desire to spend a bunch of time in boring meetings, listening to people talk about fund raising targets and other shit like that. It was flattering that he’d think of me, but I wished he’d just leave me alone. I was doing just fine with the shit that was already on my plate.
We pulled up to the curbside and I deigned to open the door myself. I emerged into an environment that seemed panicked, with people trying to get all their suitcases checked with the airport porters. I paid the driver and took my rolling bag and my satchel bag, relieved that I didn’t have to worry about checking luggage.
I walked up to the counter and looked for the first class check in line, but there didn’t seem to be one. That was one big demerit for this airline. I resigned myself to standing in line and got sandwiched between a rather boring couple from Minnesota and a businesswoman. I didn’t talk to anyone; I just went with the line. I got up to the counter and the agent looked at my ticket and freaked out. “You only have twenty minutes until the door closes!”
“Why is that a problem?” I asked. I mean, I had no bags. I just had to get to the gate.
“You’ll need to clear security,” he said. “I’ll let the gate know you’re on your way, but you have to hurry.”
“Alright,” I said, rather surprised. I followed his directions to the security line. Once again, there was no line for first class passengers, yet another annoyance. It took me fifteen minutes to get through that nightmare, mostly due to the idiocy of the other passengers trying to get through security. Had these people never flown before? Didn’t they know you had to take off your shoes and put your laptop in a separate bin? I was surprised that none of them were carrying their chickens along with them, they were such bumpkins.
I started walking toward the gate. I could see it, about ten gates away, but the agent was staring at me, motioning me to speed up. That was intensely irritating, to have to run with a rolling bag, and it certainly made me look pretty ridiculous, but I did it. “You just made it,” he said with relief, like I’d saved the world by running. He acted like this was my fault. If their security line hadn’t been so long, I’d have been on time.
“Which seat?” I asked.
“Pick one that’s open,” he said. I stared at him blankly. “We’ll have to check your bag.”
“I only have this,” I said, gesturing at my rolling bag.
“All the overheads are full, and it won’t fit under the seat,” he said. He took my bag and handed me a claim check. “It will be waiting for you when you get off the plane, on the jetway in Oakland.”
“OK,” I said, hoping nothing got stolen. I walked onto the plane and it looked completely full to me.
“There are two seats open in the back,” the flight attendant said in her perky way, with an accent that was some dialect of southern. “We’re ready to leave as soon as you get settled in and get your seatbelt buckled.” The passengers glared at me, as if it was my fault we weren’t already in the air.
I strode to the back of the plane, and eyeballed my two potential seats. Both were middle seats. One seat was flanked by a couple that looked like they were in their late 50’s. They wore tacky clothing, and each of them was at least 50 pounds overweight. They glared at me, trying to tell me that there was no way I should sit next to them. The other option was the seat in between two black women. They were chatting with each other even as they gave me unpleasant looks. It was like they were saying that if I sat there, they’d talk across me for the entire flight. But one of the women had a really nice outfit on, and I was pretty sure her shoes were Jimmy Choo. I decided to sit with them. “Do you mind if I sit here?” I asked them.
“It’s an open seat,” one of the women said with a shrug.
I took my seat, and then spoke to the lady near the window. “Those are really nice shoes.”
That got a huge smile. “Thank you.”
“Too damned expensive,” her friend growled.
“They make me look good, and attract attention,” she responded in a slightly slutty way.
“All they do is attract pretty white boys,” the other said, looking at me.
“Just because you have to spend all your money taking care of your kids…” the other one began.
“That’s because I’m a good mother,” she shot back.
“Then what were you doing in Vegas, blowing your money?” the other one said.
The woman near the aisle said nothing; she just folded her arms and turned away from her friend. They didn’t have time to argue anymore, because the flight attendants started talking about the exits and doing their safety spiel, even as the plane began to taxi. I ignored them, and took out some stuff to read. Evidently the people on board found their jokes funny, and laughed. I just thought their goofiness made them seem unprofessional. My row mates were quiet as the plane took off; even though the lady by the aisle was gripping the seat rests so hard her knuckles were white.
As soon as the plane leveled out, the two women started talking again. “How much did you lose, Taquisha?” window lady asked.
“All of it,” Taquisha said gloomily.
“You lost a thousand dollars?” window woman asked. Taquisha nodded. “What are you going to do?”
Their panic was a little strange. I mean, it was only a thousand dollars. “I don’t know. Hope they don’t kick me out.”
“You’ve never been behind on your rent before,” window woman said. “Maybe they’ll cut you some slack.”
“Right,” Taquisha said dubiously. “That was my one big chance. My one big chance to win something and make our lives better.” I had no idea why that was her only chance, but I wasn’t involved in the conversation. I just pretended to ignore them while I read the latest issue of Vogue. They both got frustrated with their conversation, evidently, and decided to sleep, or pretend to. I thought that was weird on such a short flight.
I felt sorry for Taquisha, so I rummaged around in my satchel bag until I found the envelope with my cash in it. There was about $4000 in there. I folded it up and made to put my satchel under my seat. While I was doing that, I slipped the envelope into Taquisha’s purse. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for being so sly until I sat up and saw window woman staring at me. “Why are you messing with her purse?”
“I wasn’t messing with her purse,” I objected.
“Taquisha, this guy was rummaging through your purse,” window woman said loudly, waking Taquisha up.
“I was not,” I asserted.
“Ain’t nothin’ in there to steal,” she said, even as she picked her purse up. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” These women apparently had no volume control, and they were loud, so they’d attracted the attention of the people around us. The guy in the aisle seat in front of us turned around and gave me a dirty look. Before he could do anything, the flight attendant showed up.
“Is there a problem?” she asked, with her perky, idiotic accent.
“This man was going through her purse,” window woman accused.
“I was not,” I said.
“Is anything missing?” the flight attendant asked.
“What’s this?” Taquisha mused, as she pulled the envelope out. She looked in it and saw the money. “It’s money!”
“What?” window woman asked.
“Did you put this money in my purse?” Taquisha asked me, even as her eyes bored into mine.
“Yes,” I admitted.
She shuffled through the cash. “There’s $4000 here.”
There were a couple of ‘dings’, and the flight attendant decided our drama was over and hurried off to get us ready to land.
“Why’d you do this?” Taquisha asked.
“I thought maybe it would help you out,” I said lamely.
“What are you, some rich dude?” window woman asked somewhat belligerently. She seemed jealous, more than anything.
“Yes,” I said. This is what I got for trying to do a good deed. If my brothers do that, it turns out great, and everyone loves them. I do it, and I almost get arrested for purse snatching.
“Then why are you flying on this airline?” the guy in front of us asked, even as he turned around to say it.