September 4, 1998
Joel Cohen, the disheveled assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, was a world-class bastard with a degenerate slouch. When I was arraigned the following day, he tried to convince the female magistrate to deny me bail on the grounds that I was a born liar, a compulsive cheater, a habitual whoremonger, a hopeless drug addict, a serial witness-tamperer, and, above all things, the greatest flight risk since Amelia Earhart.
It was a helluva mouthful, although the only things that bothered me were that he had called me a drug addict and a whoremonger. After all, I had been sober for almost eighteen months now, and I had sworn off hookers accordingly. Whatever the case, the magistrate set my bail at $10 million, and within twenty-four hours my wife and my attorney had made all the necessary arrangements for my release.
At this particular moment, I was walking down the courthouse steps into the loving arms of my wife. It was a sunny Friday afternoon, and she was waiting for me on the sidewalk, wearing a tiny yellow sundress and matching high-heeled sandals that made her look as fresh as a daisy. At this time of summer, in this part of Brooklyn, by four o'clock the sun was at just the right angle to bring every last drop of her into view: her shimmering blond hair, those brilliant blue eyes, her perfect cover-girl features, those surgically enhanced breasts, her glorious shanks and flanks, so succulent above the knee and so slender at the ankle. She was thirty years old now and absolutely gorgeous. The moment I reached her, I literally fell into her arms.
"You're a sight for sore eyes," I said, embracing her on the sidewalk. "I missed you so much, honey."
"Get the fuck away from me!" she sputtered. "I want a divorce."
I felt a second-wife alarm go off in my central nervous system. "What are you talking about, honey? You're being ridiculous!"
"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" And she recoiled from my embrace and started marching toward a blue Lincoln limousine parked at the edge of the curb of 225 Cadman Plaza, the main thoroughfare in the courthouse section of Brooklyn Heights. Waiting by the limo's rear door was Monsoir, our babbling Pakistani driver. He opened it on cue, and I watched her disappear into a sea of sumptuous black leather and burled walnut, taking her tiny yellow sundress and shimmering blond hair with her.
I wanted to follow, but I was too stunned. My feet seemed to be rooted into the earth, as if I were a tree. Beyond the limousine, on the other side of the street, I could see a dreary little park adorned with green-slat benches, undernourished trees, and a small field covered by a thin layer of dirt and crabgrass. The park looked as sumptuous as a graveyard. My misery made my eye hang on it for a moment.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Christ, I needed to grab hold of myself! I looked at my watch . . . didn't have one . . . I had taken it off before they slapped the cuffs on me. Suddenly I felt terribly conscious of my appearance. I looked down at my abdomen. I was one giant wrinkle, from my tan golf pants to my white silk polo shirt to my leather boating moccasins. I hadn't slept in how many days? Three? Four? Hard to say—I never slept much anyway. My blue eyes burned like hot coals. My mouth was dry as a bone. My breath was—wait a minute! Was it my breath? Maybe I scared her off! After three days of eating grade-D bratwurst I had the worst case of dragon breath since—didn't know when. But, still, how could she leave me now? What kind of woman was she? That bitch! Gold-digger—
These thoughts roaring through my head were completely crazy. My wife wasn't going anywhere. She was just shell-shocked. Besides, it was common knowledge that second wives didn't bail on their husbands the moment they got indicted; they waited a bit so it wasn't so obvious! It couldn't be possible—
—just then I saw Monsoir smiling at me and nodding his head.
Fucking terrorist! I thought.
Monsoir had been working for us for almost six months now, and the jury was still out on him. He was one of those unnerving foreigners who wore a perpetual grin on his face. In Monsoir's case, I figured it was because his next stop was to a local bomb factory, to mix explosives. Either way, he was thin, balding, caramel-colored, medium height, and had a narrow skull shaped like a shoe box. When he spoke, he sounded like the Road Runner, his words coming out in tiny beeps and bops. And unlike my old driver, George, Monsoir couldn't shut up.
I walked to the limousine in a zombielike state, making a mental note to thrash him if he tried to make small talk. And my wife, well, I would just have to humor her. And if that didn't work, then I would start a fight with her. After all, ours was the sort of wildly rocky, dysfunctional romance where knock-down, drag-out brawls brought us closer together.
"How are you, boss?" asked Monsoir. "It is berry, berry good to have you back. What was it like inside the—"
I cut him off with a raised palm: "Don't—fucking—speak, Monsoir. Not now. Not ever," and I climbed into the back of the limousine and took a seat across from Nadine. She was sitting with her long, bare legs crossed, staring out the window into the rancid gullet of Brooklyn.
I smiled and said, "Taking in your old stomping ground, Duchess?"
No response. She just stared out the window, a gorgeous ice sculpture.
Christ—this was absurd! How could the Duchess of Bay Ridge turn her back on me in my hour of need? The Duchess of Bay Ridge was my wife's nickname, and depending on her mood it could cause her to either flash you a smile or tell you to go fuck yourself. The nickname had to do with her blond hair, British citizenship, over-the-top beauty, and Brooklyn upbringing. Her British citizenship, which she was very quick to remind you of, created a rather royal and refined mystique about her; the Brooklyn upbringing, in the gloomy groin of Bay Ridge, caused words like shit, prick, cocksucker, and motherfucker to roll off her tongue like the finest poetry; and the extreme beauty allowed her to get away with it all. At five-seven, the Duchess and I were pretty much the same size, although she had the temper of Mount Vesuvius and the strength of a grizzly bear. Back in my younger and wilder days, she was pretty quick to take a swing at me or pour boiling water over my head, when the need arose. And, as odd as it seemed, I loved it.
I took a deep breath and said in a joking tone, "Come on, Duchess! I'm very upset right now and I need a bit of compassion. Please?"
Now she looked at me. Her blue eyes blazed away above her high cheekbones. "Don't fucking call me that," she snarled, and then she looked back out the window, resuming her ice-sculpture pose.
"Jesus Christ!" I muttered. "What the hell has gotten into you?"
Still looking out the window, she said, "I can't be with you anymore. I'm not in love with you." Then, twisting the knife in deeper: "I haven't been for a long time."
Such despicable words! The audacity! Yet for some reason her words made me want her even more. "You're being ridiculous, Nae. Everything will be fine." My throat was so dry I could barely get the words out. "We've got more than enough money, so you can relax. Please don't do this now."
Still staring out the window: "It's too late."
As the limousine headed toward the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a combination of fear, love, desperation, and betrayal overtook me all at once. There was a sense of loss that I had never experienced before. I felt completely empty, utterly hollow. I couldn't just sit across from her like this—it was absolute torture! I needed to either kiss her or hug her or make love to her or strangle her to death. It was time for strategy number two: the knock-down, drag-out brawl.
With a healthy dose of venom, I said, "So let me get this fucking straight, Nadine: Now you want a divorce? Now that I'm under fucking indictment? Now that I'm under house arrest?" I pulled up the left leg of my pants, exposing an electronic monitoring bracelet on my ankle. It looked like a beeper. "What kind of fucking person are you? Tell me! Are you trying to set a world record for lack of compassion?"
She looked at me with dead eyes. "I'm a good woman, Jordan; everyone knows that. But you mistreated me for years. I've been done with this marriage for a long time now—ever since you kicked me down the stairs. This has nothing to do with you going to jail."
What a bunch of horseshit! Yes, I had raised a hand to her once—that terrible struggle on the stairs, eighteen months ago, that de_spicable moment, the day before I got sober—and if she had left me then, she would have been justified. But she didn't leave; she stayed; and I did get sober. It was only now—with financial ruin lingering in the air—that she wanted out. Unbelievable!
By now we were on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, approaching the Brooklyn-Queens border. Off to my left was the glittering island of Manhattan, where seven million people would dance and sing their weekend away, unconcerned with my plight. I found that wholly depressing. Off to my immediate left was the armpit of Williamsburg, a flat swath of land loaded with dilapidated warehouses, ramshackle apartments, and people who spoke Polish. Just why all those Poles had settled there, I hadn't the slightest idea.
Ahhh, a brainstorm! I would change the subject to the kids. This, after all, was the common bond we shared. "Are the kids okay?" I asked softly.
"They're fine," she answered, in a rather cheery tone. Then: "They'll be fine no matter ...
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