Small Town

Page 32



He called back and got a machine with a canned message, not even Galvin’s voice, and he left his name and number and forgot about it, and he was trying to decide where to go for dinner when the phone rang, and it was Galvin. They exchanged pleasantries, and he scanned his memory for the name of Galvin’s wife and came up empty. If he’d ever known it, he didn’t know it now.

“How’s Mrs. G.?” he asked.

“Well, there you go,” Galvin said. “I retired a little over three years ago, figuring I’d get to spend a little more time around the house, and it turned out she liked me better when I wasn’t around so much. So she went and got herself a divorce, and I’m living in Alphabet City in a coat closet that I can’t afford.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “I’d heard you retired, but I hadn’t heard about the divorce.”

“It’s not so bad, Fran. I have to do my own wash and fix my own meals, but you get used to that. The hard part is now I have to break my own balls.”

“Trust me,” he said. “You get used to that, too.” They talked a little about being divorced and learning to be single again. Galvin said he figured it would be easier if he had a real job. He was working on a private license, and the dough was okay, what with the pension he got from the city. But the work was irregular, with long stretches of nothing to do, and the inactivity got to him.

“I don’t know, Fran. I was thinking, but you probably got things you have to do. I mean, you had the top job, you’re an important guy . . .”

“Jim, I was important for fifteen minutes. Now all I am is out of work.”

“Yeah? What I was thinking, you feel like getting together for a drink?”

Just what he needed, a boozy evening with a cop who put in his papers just in time to see his life disintegrate. But he found himself saying that might work, that he’d enjoy it.

“There’s this place,” he said. “I been dropping in there, you might like it . . .”

He thought, Jesus, not a cop bar. He tried to think of an alternative to suggest, but Galvin surprised him.

“It’s called Stelli’s,” he said. “Up on Second Avenue in the Eighties. The food’s Italian, if you want to have dinner, or we could meet afterward. Entirely your call.”

What the hell, he’d been trying to figure out what to do about dinner. “Dinner sounds good,” he said. “Say eight o’clock?”

“Perfect. I’m trying to remember the cross street, Fran. It’s in the Eighties, and above Eighty-sixth, I know that much—”

“I know the place,” he said. “We’d better have a reservation.”

“I guess we’ll need one, if we’re gonna have dinner.”

“I’ll make the call, Jim. Stelli’s at eight. I’ll look forward to it.”

H E W A S O U T T H E door at six-forty-five and caught a cab right away. This time the driver was a black man with a French name.

Haitian, he supposed, or possibly West African. Wherever he’d come from, the guy’d been doing this long enough to know the city. He didn’t have to be told where Stelli’s was. The name was enough. He drove right to it.

thirteen

GREGORY SCHUYLER WASa dear man, and, as chairman of the board of the Museum of Contemporary Folk Art, an important frog in the small pond Pomerance Gallery swam in. Whenever Susan suggested lunch he was quick to select an impeccable restaurant, and wouldn’t hear of her picking up the check, or even splitting it. And there was no question of the museum reimbursing him.

Not only did he volunteer no end of unpaid hours to the museum, but he also gave them an annual donation in the $50,000–$100,000

range, depending upon the fortunes of the Schuyler family trust of which he was the principal beneficiary.

He’d taken her to Correggio and insisted they have the Chilean sea bass. Because it may be our last chance, you know. The Aus-tralians say it’s being fished out and want everyone to observe a moratorium. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t order it this afternoon. Ours have already been caught, haven’t they?

He was going on now about some really exciting quilts, and she smiled and nodded in the right places without paying a great deal of attention to the words. Had she ever seen what she would regard as an exciting quilt? She understood quilts, she could tell the outstanding from the merely expert, and she could appreciate the whole folk tradition of quilting. She responded to the better examples of a wide variety of quilts, from the pure Amish work (geometrically precise blocks of unpatterned fabric) through the various complex patterns of American folk tradition, to the sometimes astonishing painterly works of appliqué and embroidery produced by sophisticated contemporary artists.

The quilt that had come closest to stirring her was a crazy quilt, entirely handmade, by an unknown Pennsylvania quilter. Odd shapes of discordant fabrics overlapped one another in no pattern at all, held together by oversize stitching in a vivid orange that clashed with everything. Sometimes the woman’s needle seemed to have gone out of control, piling up whirls of orange as though trying to spin itself into the ground.

She didn’t like the quilt, didn’t see how anyone could like it, really, but it had that touch of inner turmoil that had changed her life the day she saw it in Lausanne. The woman had surely been mad, but madness in and of itself was no guarantee of artistry.

Lunatics could produce perfectly predictable and pedestrian paintings, they could turn out smears as devoid of interest and excitement as the fingerpainting of a dull child. Not every spoiled grape had been touched by the noble rot that could produce a Trockenbeerenauslese; not every deranged artist blossomed into a Jeffcoate Walker, an Aleesha MacReady, an Emory Allgood.

Was it time to let Gregory Schuyler know about Emory Allgood?

She waited for a conversational opening, then eased into it.

“Have you been traveling, Gregory? So many people seem to have lost their appetite for it.”

“Oh, I know,” he said. “Friends of ours were planning on a camel trek across Jordan earlier this year. In March, it must have been. Is that when you trek across Jordan?”

“A cold day in hell,” she said, “is when I trek across Jordan.”

“My sentiments exactly, my dear, but these friends of ours are intrepid travelers. Leif and Rachel Halvorsen, do you know them?

They go everywhere, they sleep in places one wouldn’t want to drive past. After last September, they decided that this might not be the year to go trekking anywhere in the Middle East. Jordan is supposed to be better than most, but still.”

“Where did they go instead?”

“That’s the whole point, they stayed home. Rachel told Caroline there was no end of places they’d have been comfortable going, but they just wanted to be in New York right now. And I must say I can relate to that. We were going on a South Seas cruise this win-

ter, we had it booked and mostly paid for, and we didn’t go. Now that was because it was one of the cruise lines that went out of business, but we could have rebooked on another line and gone some where. And instead we stayed home.”

“And this summer?”

“Well, next month is Mostly Mozart, and Beverly would have my head if I wasn’t here for it.” He was on the festival board. “But we’ll go somewhere in September, I think, or the beginning of October. I wonder what the anniversary will be like.”

“Of—?”

“Of the bombing. I’m sure there’ll be ceremonies, and something awful on television, but I wonder if . . .”

“If something will happen?”

“It’s funny, I didn’t want to speak the words. Let’s get off that subject, shall we? I do think we’ll travel in the early fall, but I really don’t know where. Caroline always wants to go to London, and that’s certainly a possibility, but I find myself drawn to Scan-dinavia.”

“Just so you’re home the beginning of November.”

“Oh, I’m certain we will be. But why?”

“Or even late October, so you can have an early look. I’ve got a show coming up that I’m over the moon about.”

“Oh, how exciting! New work by one of my favorites?” He was mad about Jeffcoate Walker, buying for his own collection as well as the museum’s, which had led Susan to speculate that he had depths no one suspected. As it was, Gregory Schuyler was an enigma, married for years to a beautiful woman but fitted out with the sensibilities and refined elegance of a homosexual.

His manner was distinctly gay, but his energy was not, and she’d often caught him looking at women in a way she’d never seen him look at men.

The common wisdom with such men was that they were so deep in the closet they didn’t even know it themselves, and she supposed it was possible, and how could you disprove a premise like that, anyway? Until they invented an instrument to read a man’s unconscious mind, the argument would remain moot.

“New work,” she said, “by an artist I know you haven’t seen before, because no one has. He’s my own discovery, Gregory, and I’m sure he’s mad as a hatter, but what he’s done with it is absolutely incredible.”

“That is exciting. A painter?”

“A sculptor. An assembler, really, and unlike anyone you’ve ever seen.”

“African-American?”

“Yes.”

“I won’t say they seem to have a gift for it, that’s as patronizing as prattling about a natural sense of rhythm, but much of the best work in that vein is African-American, isn’t it? How ever did you find him, Susan? Did you go down to Mississippi and poke around little black towns in the Delta?”

“He’s local.”

“He’s a New Yorker?”

She nodded.

“Oh, I almost wish you hadn’t told me. Now I can’t wait until the fall. Do I absolutely have to wait, Susan? Can’t I have a sneak preview?”

“You can have an early look,” she said, “but not this early.

Nobody’s seen the work yet, and nobody’s going to see it for at least three months.”

“That’s what? The middle of October?”

“As soon as I finish with jury duty.”

“Oh, dear. Suppose you get on a case?”

“I won’t. Maury Winters told me how to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ll just have to spend three days sitting around a court-house and being bored.”

“Knowing you,” he said, “you’ll run into somebody who does paintings on black velvet of Elvis Presley turning into a werewolf.

Does your new discovery have a name?”

“He does, and I just wish I could remember it.”

“Susan, Susan, Susan. You’re an impossible tease. I hope you know that.”

“I know,” she said, “and it’s completely unintentional. I wasn’t going to mention him at all, but—”

“Oh, please. That’s why you wanted to have lunch in the first place.”