One False Move Page 59

Easiest still not to think too much about it.

Thirty years ago, when they actually made the undergarments in Newark, Dad had lots of inner-city blacks working for him. He thought that he was good to his workers. He thought that they viewed him as a benevolent leader. When the riots broke out in 1968, these same workers burned down four of his factory buildings. Dad had never looked at them the same again.

Eloise Williams had been with Dad since before the riots. “As long as I breathe,” Dad often said, “Eloise will have a job.” She was like a second wife to him. She took care of him during his workday. They argued and fought and got grumpy with each other. There was genuine affection. Mom knew all this. “Thank God Eloise is uglier than a cow living near Chernobyl,” Mom liked to say. “Or I might wonder.”

Dad’s plant used to consist of five buildings. Only this warehouse still stood. Dad used it as a storage facility for the incoming shipments from overseas. His office was smack in the middle and raised to almost the ceiling. All four walls were made of glass, giving Dad the chance to watch over his stock like a prison guard in the main tower.

Myron trotted up the metal stairs. When he reached the top, Eloise greeted him with a big hug and a cheek pinch. He half expected her to take out a little toy from her desk drawer. When he’d visit as a child, she would always be ready for him with a popgun or one of those snap-together gliders or a comic book. But Eloise just gave him a hug this time, and Myron was only mildly disappointed.

“Go right in,” Eloise said. No buzzing in. No checking with Dad first.

Through the glass Myron could see that his father was on the phone. Animated. As always. Myron stepped in. His father held up a finger to him. “Irv, I said, tomorrow. No excuses. Tomorrow, do you hear?”

Sunday and everyone was still doing business. The shrinking leisure time of the late twentieth century.

Dad hung up the phone. He looked at Myron, and his whole being just beamed. Myron came around the desk and kissed his father’s cheek. As always, his skin felt a little like sandpaper and smelled faintly like Old Spice. Just as it should.

His father was dressed like a member of the Israeli Knesset: charcoal slacks with a white dress shirt opened at the neck and a T-shirt underneath. White chest hair popped out of the space between neck and T-shirt front collar. Dad was clearly a Semite—thick dark olive skin and a nose that polite people called prominent.

“Remember Don Rico’s?” Dad asked.

“That Portuguese place we used to go?”

Dad nodded. “Gone. As of last month. Manuel ran the place beautifully for thirty-six years. He finally had to give it up.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

Dad made a scoffing noise and waved him off. “Who the hell cares? I’m just making silly small talk because I’m a little worried here. Eloise said you sounded funny on the phone.” His voice went soft. “Everything okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“You need money or something?”

“No, Dad, I don’t need money.”

“But something is wrong, no?”

Myron took the plunge. “Do you know Arthur Bradford?”

Dad’s face lost color—not slowly but all at once. He started fiddling with things on his desk. He readjusted the family photographs, taking a little extra time with the one of Myron holding aloft the NCAA trophy after leading Duke to the title. There was an empty box of Dunkin’ Donuts. He picked it up and dropped it into a wastepaper basket.

Finally Dad said, “Why would you ask that?”

“I’m tangled up in something.”

“And it involves Arthur Bradford?”

“Yes,” Myron said.

“Then get untangled. Fast.”

Dad lifted one of those traveling coffee cups to his lips and craned his neck. The cup was empty.

“Bradford told me to ask you about him,” Myron said. “He and this guy who works for him.”

Dad’s neck snapped back into place. “Sam Richards?” His tone was quiet, awe-filled. “He’s still alive?”

“Yes.”

“Jesus Christ.”

Silence. Then Myron asked, “How do you know them?”

Dad opened his drawer and fumbled about for something. Then he yelled for Eloise. She came to the door. “Where’s the Tylenol?” he asked her.

“Bottom right-hand drawer. Left side toward the back. Under the box of rubber bands.” Eloise turned to Myron. “Would you like a Yoo-Hoo?” she asked.

“Yes, please.” Stocking Yoo-Hoos. He had not been to his father’s office in almost a decade, but they still stocked his favorite drink. Dad found the bottle and played with the cap. Eloise closed the door on her way out.

“I’ve never lied to you,” Dad said.

“I know.”

“I’ve tried to protect you. That’s what parents do. They shelter their children. When they see danger coming, they try to step in the way and take the hit.”

“You can’t take this hit for me,” Myron said.

Dad nodded slowly. “Doesn’t make it any easier.”

“I’ll be okay,” Myron said. “I just need to know what I’m up against.”

“You’re up against pure evil.” Dad shook out two tablets and swallowed them without water. “You’re up against naked cruelty, against men with no conscience.”

Eloise came back in with the Yoo-Hoo. Reading their faces, she silently handed Myron the drink and slipped back out. In the distance a forklift started beeping out the backup warning.

“It was a year or so after the riots,” Dad began. “You’re probably too young to remember them, but the riots ripped this city apart. To this day the rip has never healed. Just the opposite, in fact. It’s like one of my garments.” He gestured to the boxes below. “The garment rips near the seam, and then nobody does anything so it just keeps ripping until the whole thing falls apart. That’s Newark. A shredded garment.

“Anyway, my workers finally came back, but they weren’t the same people. They were angry now. I wasn’t their employer anymore. I was their oppressor. They looked at me like I was the one who dragged their ancestors across the ocean in chains. Then troublemakers started prodding them. The writing was already on the wall, Myron. The manufacturing end of this business was going to hell. Labor costs were too high. The city was just imploding on itself. And then the hoodlums began to lead the workers. They wanted to form a union. Demanded it, actually. I was against the idea, of course.”

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