The man emerged from Grand Central Station, ran through puddles reflecting city lights to the line of cabs, jerked open the door of one and jumped from the rain into its back seat. The cabbie, texting his girlfriend in Queens, jumped a bit in surprise. He got a little more startled by that sort of thing lately. Didn’t used to, but now he did. You could never be too sure about anyone anymore, he would say.
In the rear view mirror he sized up a typical out-of-town business type, probably upstate insurance or real estate, just a little wetter than usual.
“Hey, buddy, you want to quit shaking that little umbrella back there? You don’t see me blowing exhaust into your office, do you?” he said.
“Oh, sorry,” the out-of-towner said.
“Yeah, well…So where we going?” He usually didn’t have to ask. In this town people get off the train knowing they’ve got to be somewhere ten minutes or ten years ago. From the looks of this fare–late 20s, not really expensive raincoat, white shirt, red tie, phony Ivy, like maybe Syracuse or Albany–the hack figured he would say Fulton, John, or William Street, something in the insurance district. Not cool enough for Wall Street. Not flashy enough for Broadway. Not hipster enough for Chelsea. Besides, he thought, the last two types would have taken the subway and he’d have never have them dripping on the back seat.
“Um, I’m not sure, actually,” the fare said.
“Look, bud, you can’t sit back there just to get out of the rain. There’s a nice coffee shop back inside the station and another twenty in every direction you look. Unless you’ve got somewhere you know where to go, I ‘m sure I got other fares who know where they’re supposed to be delivered.”
“Actually, I’m looking for a woman.”
“Whoa, pal! I don’t know what you’ve heard, but every hack in this town ain’t got a deal with the The Emperor’s Club. You can still find a pro at any of the bars that are probably next door to all those coffee shops I told you about. Come to think of it, you could find a few semi-pros inside those coffee shops.”
“Oh, no. Not that kind of…of course, not that…I’m sure not…”
“Sir, please,” the cabbie, a part time waiter-writer named Gianetti according to his hack license, turned to the rear and said. “While you’re still fairly young? Shit or get off my pot.”
“Look, I met this girl two months ago on-line. Very pretty. Very friendly. She said she worked here in the city. I don’t work here. I’m from Albany. I know her name, but not an address. I know, I know. Really, I’m not a stalker. She said it would be great to meet someday. I thought I’d surprise her and visit the City. Call her when I got here. And then I went and left my phone on the shuttle to Beacon. That’s where I caught the Metro North to here. For all I know she’s been trying to call me, you know? And…”
“Is there some point to this poignant tale of lost love, other than you need a new phone, I need another fare, and we’re all looking to get laid in this hopeless, heartless city?” Gianetti said.
“Of course,” the young man replied. “She said she worked at a big law firm. Heather said–that’s her name, Heather, Heather Townsend–Heather said she worked for Plotkin, Webster, Something. Or Something, Taylor, Plotsky. Pinckney, Something, Something? Her Facebook page show’s she’s about 25, brown hair, gorgeous brown…”
“Buddy? Excuse me again? But there’s only about four or four and a half million women in this town. Another couple million come to work here each day. I mean I seen ’em all over the past five years, but I can’t say I’ve ever met a Heather Plotkin.”
“Townshend. Heather Townsend. She..”
“Whatever. Look, you got an address for this babe’s…this girl’s law firm?” he said.
“Oh, sure. Sorry,” he said, fumbled in the pocket of his Burberry knock-off (Gianetti could tell because, as he would tell some of his fares, “I know these things.”) and pulled out a sheet of paper folded in quarters. It looked like a leftover miniature taco, oozing black and red.
“Oh man, I must have gotten it wet running from the station to your cab. Shit!”
“You ain’t kidding, mister.”
“I’m sure it was on 6th Avenue and one of those 40-something streets, 42nd, 43rd, 47th, one of those” he said. “Look I’ll pay whatever it costs to find her.”
“Well, at least that’ll keep us out of Harlem…maybe. You’re sure it wasn’t 142nd, right? Long as you’re paying, I’ll drive.” Gianetti hit the meter and deftly pulled into traffic.
“Look, pal, I’m no romantic. I’ve seen the best and worst of people in my rear view mirror for the past five years. Seen them hug, punch, kiss, yell, sing, cry, fuck. Some nights all in the same fare. Even had one die back there. So nothing really surprises me anymore.”
Gianetti was pretty sure this guy was dopey or delusional, probably both, but it was a slow day and a fare’s a fare. Especially with his rent due Friday. At the stop light, Gianetti pulled out his phone and searched for law firms on 6th Avenue. There’s only about twelve fucking thousand, he thought.
“You don’t get outta Albany much, do you, pal?”
“No, just north and west, for the..uh, you know, business.”
“Figures,” Gianetti said under his breath.
“What say? Oh, and the name’s Michael. Michael Behan. Folks call me Mickey, though. Don’t ask,” he laughed and waved his hand at the back of Gianetti’s head like guys do when they actually want you to ask.
“Okay, I won’t,” the hack said to Mickey Behan’s disappointment.
Gianetti promised himself he wouldn’t rip this kid off. Even though he seemed as dim as the inside of a confessional, he was a fare, and he remembered when he came to this town for love from a place even more folksy than Albany, New York.
At the next stop, Gianetti scrolled down the list of law offices to the P’s.
“Why are we on Avenue of the Americas?” Mickey asked.
“Buddy, 6th Avenue and Avenue of the Americas are the same thing depending where we are. And there’s no Plotkin, no Webster, no Pinckney. There is a Day Pitney, though. But they’re on Times Square”
“Hmmm, I’m not sure. Maybe.”
“There is a Patterson Bellknap Webb & Tyler on…”
“That’s it,” Mickey cried, leaning into the between-seats plastic shield. “How far away?”
“Behind us a half-block and on this very street, actually,” Gianetti said. He pointed to the towering silver building shining in the rays of sun that had just broken through the clouds.
“That’s the Grace Building, 1114 6th. Says Patterson Bellknap’s on the 22nd and 23rd floors.”
“Aw, man. Thanks a million,” Mickey said. He reached for the door handle to exit the cab and heard Gianetti clear his throat.
“Whoa, there, Romeo. The meter says you owe me fifteen bucks. Sorry, but that’s how it is in this town.
“Wha..? Fifteen? For three blocks? Fine, fine, no problem. Here’s twenty. Keep the change.”
“I should think so,” Gianetti said.
“Thanks a million, really.”
Mickey jumped out of the cab in front of the Starbucks on the corner of 42nd and 6th and walked briskly back down the block toward Grand Central, checking his look in each store window along the way. When he reached the entrance to the Grace Building, he smoothed his hair in his reflection as he peered within. There, in the lobby, he saw a reception area and three guards between the entrance and the banks of elevators.
“Holy shit,” Mickey whispered through his teeth. “This is really some joint. Heather must be something really special.” Pushing his way through the heavy glass doors, Mickey shuffled up to the reception area and stood behind three men speaking what he thought sounded like Arabic. He scanned the marble walls with their brass fittings.
He had just about finished his reconnoiter when he heard…
“Sir? Can I help you, sir?”
On the left side of the reception desk, past the blue velvet rope, Mickey saw a 40-ish black woman peering at him over her glasses. She smiled a practiced smile and said, “How can I help you?”
Mickey scuffed up against the brass post upon which the rope was attached, giving it a bit of a half-spin totter, grabbed it and returned it to a steady position a few inches left of its original spot and walked his red face to address the receptionist with as much aplomb as he could muster.
“Uh, yes. I would like to see Ms. Townsend, please. She’s with Patterson Bellknap.”
“Yes, sir. Do you have an appointment?”
“Umm, no. But we’re good friends. Just let her know Michael Behan from Albany is here to see her.”
Dropping her chin to touch her orange and green patterned silk scarf and peering over her glasses once again, the receptionist caught the eye of the building security man standing just behind Mickey and raised her eyebrows. Mickey turned and looked over his shoulder and saw the guard sizing him up, for just what he wasn’t sure.
“Yes, sir. Let me ring Ms. Tomlinson’s assistant,” the receptionist said as Mickey and the guard exchanged glances. “Would you please take a seat over there?” She pointed to a row of benches near the left-side wall.
Mickey knew the guard was now keeping a closer eye on him as both moved to the side.
Within five minutes, a young woman exited one of the elevators and walked to the reception area and talked to the receptionist, who pointed to Mickey and then raised her chin toward the nearby guard.
The young woman slowly walked toward Mickey, who felt she was checking him for weapons or worse.
“Sir, I’m Ms. Tomlinson’s assistant’s secretary. We have no record of your having an appointment with us, nor does Ms. Tomlinson know a Michael Behan. If you would like to see…”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Tomlinson?” Mickey said. “I’ve been speaking with Ms. Townsend–Townsend–for some time now. We are very good friends. Do you understand? There must be some mistake.”
“No mistake, sir. Dealing with international clients on very detailed subjects like intellectual property, we make a point of not making mistakes.”
“Thank you, sir, but unless you have some business with Patterson Bellknap I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
Mickey sagged and was about to make another plea as the young woman turned and clicked away on the marble floor tiles in what Gianetti would recognize as Jimmy Choo pumps, definitely not knock-offs.
Mickey heard a deep, authoritative voice behind him. Startled, he turned and stared directly into the red tie of the navy-blazered security guard, who was at least a head taller than Mickey.
“If you don’t have any more business here in the Grace Building, sir, I’m going to have to ask you to please leave the premises. I’m sure you understand.” He smiled that polite kind of smile cops do that carries the inference of an impersonal dose of personal injury.
“Sure, sorry. I just don’t know why…”
“Um, yeah. Have a nice day.”
“You, too, sir,” the security man said with a bare touch of professional sincerity.
Out on 42nd Street again, Mickey, jaywalked through the stop-and-go heartbeat of the city’s vehicular circulation, pulled his raincoat beneath him and sat on one of the upper steps of the broad stairway entering Bryant Park.
“What the hell was that?” he said to himself.
Mickey counted up the front of the building 22 floors and scanned the shining section of glass facade right to left and back again on the 23rd floor.
“Wonder which is hers?” he said.
Mickey had planned to meet with Heather and maybe have lunch, but it was still only 11:00 or so. He had a return ticket for the 5:15 PM to the Beacon train station where he’d catch the shuttle to Albany. He stewed that he had nothing to do for the next six hours. He recalled the cabbie mention a coffee shop everywhere you look and the Starbucks down the block where he left the cab.
“Might as well get a cup. I’m sure that’ll cost ten bucks around here,” he mumbled as he walked along the length of the park to the corner of 6th and crossed to the Starbucks.
The smell of coffee and the sound of busy people refueling on caffeine revived his spirits a bit, even though he was tenth in line to place his order. Mickey noticed the speed and no-nonsense attitude of the crew behind the counter and the light-speed clickity-clack, whirr and milk steamer shhh of the two girls working the barrista station. He looked back toward the end of the line and saw the secretary who had just shooed him from the Grace Building entering the shop. She noticed him, too, but made a point of looking right through him to the menu board.
“Yes?” the smiling young Hispanic woman in the green apron said as the two guys in front of Mickey went to wait for their Americanos. Despite her rictus smile, there was no mistaking the tone of voice wordlessly expressing her interest in moving this line along.
Her smile turned to a thin line.
“Oh, right. Venti double hazelnut latte, please.”
“I fucking knew it,” Mickey mumbled as he handed her his card and she slid it through the reader. He tossed a buck in the near-empty left-hand tip jar that signified he supported a strict interpretation of his Second Amendment rights.
He watched the barristas crank out the capuchinos, caramel macchiatos, and another pair of lattes. When his order was completed, the barrista looked up to hand it over. Her eyes opened wide and she nearly dropped the cup.
“Michael!” she said.
Mickey looked up as he grasped the cup and saw what may have been the face of the woman he had traveled to New York to see.
He saw a name tag on her apron. Sure enough, it read: Heather. But she didn’t look exactly like the young woman whose face he’d been messaging to on Facebook for the past weeks.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Wait right there. Clarissa can I get my break soon?”
The Hispanic woman looked at the line, dwindled to seven, and three people waiting for their espresso drinks, including the secretary, who stood over by the cream and sugar station out of Mickey’s sight.
“11:30,” said the shift manager.
“Michael please wait. I’d like to explain.”
Mickey found an empty seat next to the door and sipped his latte, never looking up as the secretary scurried past his irritating annoyance. The cool air coming through the doorway as she left felt good on Mickey’s red face.
He stood up as a women in her mid-30s approached. No longer was there longish brown hair, but rather an asymmetric cut short on one side and almost buzzed off on the other. She was putting on her jacket when he noticed the tattoos stretching their flora and fauna down her arms from beneath the short sleeves of her top.
“I’ve only got ten minutes. Please walk with me outside,” she said.
Mickey stood and pushed through the door, allowing it to close on Heather. Outside, he stared across 42nd street and at the traffic.
“Michael?” Heather said.
“How dare you try to fool me like this?” Mickey said. He couldn’t look in her eyes. “I traveled all the way from Albany to see you, or who I thought was you, spent over two hundred fucking bucks, am embarrassed and tossed out on my ass by security in the Grace Building, and now I find you’re not an attorney at all. You’re a coffee girl at fucking Starbucks.”
“I didn’t think a vice president of a big dairy company would talk to me if you knew I was a wannabe theater MFA from Beekmantown. I play a lot of roles and I never thought you’d leave your office to come down here, especially on a Tuesday. I was going to tell you eventually…”
“You lied to me. My friends said, ‘Why would some lawyer from New York want to strike up a relationship with you, a…dairy guy from Albany?'”
“What difference does it make, Michael? Really. Didn’t we have that connection? You felt it, admit it.”
“How can I face everyone back home? They were right, you can’t believe anything on-line. Look, I’m sure you’re a nice, talented girl, but I can’t abide a liar. If I can’t trust you, I can’t have any sort of relationship with you?”
“Who said anything about a relationship?”
“Isn’t that where this was all heading?”
“Umm, not like that kind of relationship. I mean, I think you’re very nice and we really hit it off, but don’t you think it’s a little premature to be talking a relationship. I mean I’ve only just this week got a play…”
“Yeah, gotta play. And I gotta go. My train’s leaving in an hour and I’ve got to get over to Penn Station. Look, I’m sorry this all happened. All very embarrassing, but I think it’s best if we just forget about all this,” Mickey waved his hands back at the Grace Building, over Heather’s head at the Starbucks and then straight up in the air.
“I’m sorry, Michael. I really like you and I’d like to get to know you better. I was so surprised someone in your field knows a lot about theater and…”
“Yeah, I thought you were some Renaissance woman. Attorney, artist, traveler. Christ, what a dope! Goodbye, Heather. Is that really your name?” He extended his hand.
“Yeah, Heather’s my real name,” she said, grasping his hand and noticing its roughness and its perma-stained knuckles and nails like that of a workman’s. She shook her head and wondered why Mickey was headed east on 42nd Street toward Grand Central when Penn Station was nine blocks south on 6th Avenue.
Jenny Grandjean, following the instruction of her acting teacher to chronicle each bit of emotional and sensory experience of her life to mine and in turn inhabit in some future role, fished in the pocket of her green apron and pulled a little notebook from her pocket. She scribbled in it for a minute, looked back up 42nd Street, shrugged, sighed a contented sigh and went back into Starbucks.
On the page it read: Character study: As M left her in their hotel room for the last time, returning to his wife and her fortune, Heather lay across their bed, taking in the smell of him, recalling the effect of his rough but gentle hands upon her shivering skin, feeling the heat of their passion leave the sheets just as he left her arms, her face burned with the knowledge their love was madness, but it was a beautiful madness…
Here’s a too-long draft of a story I wrote for Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines prompt. which asked for a story revolving around the phrase, “It was a mad and beautiful thing … “ This one was struggle, not just with coming up with a story, but with wandering around New York City in the street view of Google Maps. Hopefully you didn’t need a map to find your way through my story, yourself.