Dustcover: Alongside Night

J. Neil Schulman's
ALONGSIDE NIGHT

Dust Jacket Edition Info Dedication Acknowledgements
Author's Note Poem Contents










Alongside Night
Copyright © 1979 by J. Neil Schulman.
All rights reserved.

"Are We Alongside Night?"
Copyright © 1979 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.

"How Far Alongside Night?"
Copyright © 1987 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.

"Pulling Alongside Night?"
Copyright © 1996 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner except in the case of quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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Cover illustration by Lydia Rosier.

Author's photo by Kevin Merrill.
1979 Author's photo by Victor Koman.







To Samuel Edward Konkin III
Mentor, Co-conspirator, and Friend













Acknowledgements

I would like to thank those who generously lent me ideas, criticisms, reactions, technical expertise, encouragement, discouragement, and other valuable considerations throughout the various stages of this effort. A listing of this kind can never be quite complete, but particular thanks go to Steven Axelrod, Don Balluck, Nikki Carlino, Oscar Collier, Charles Curley, Dan Deckert, John Douglas, David Friedman, Milton Friedman, Joel Gotler, Drew Hart, David Hartwell, Virginia Heinlein, Victor Koman, Sam Konkin, Robert LeFevre, Mark Merlino, John J. Pierce, Jerry Pournelle, Murray Rothbard, Gloria Rotunno, Thomas Scozzafava, Thomas Szasz, Andy Thornton, and my sister, Marggy.

Most of all, I thank the most generous Mr. and Mrs. Herman Geller; and with love, my parents.

The final product is, of course, solely my responsibility.

J.N.S.













Author's Note

The Independent Arbitration Group is an actual organization founded by attorney Ralph Fucetola, and the author thanks him for permission to quote from his organization's General Submission to Arbitration agreement. Though the Independent Arbitration Group pioneered the General Submission service contract, all other references to the organization within the body of this novel, or to its clients, are purely fictional.

"God Here And Now: An Introduction to Gloamingerism" by Reverend Virgil Moore; and "The Last, True Hope" by Bishop Alam Kimar Whyte are included with the Pulpless.Comtm edition courtesy of the Church of the Human God.

Excepting the above, the characters, organizations, and firms portrayed in this novel are fictional, any similarity to actual persons, organizations, or firms, past or present, being purely coincidental. Though the names of some actual locations, institutions, and businesses have been included as cultural referents, this should not be construed as reflecting in any way upon past or present owners or management.

In particular, let me make clear that there is no correspondence between the Dr. Martin Vreeland of my novel and the real-life Milton Friedman, though Dr. Friedman was kind enough to read my novel's manuscript to critique it for me. In fact the first draft manuscript of my novel awarded the Nobel Prize in economics to Dr. Vreeland over a year before Dr. Friedman well-deservedly received his . . .

Any reference to actual government bureaus, agencies, departments, or protectees is purely malicious.

J.N.S.













Alongside Night
Parallel day
By fearful flight
In garish gray
Will dawn alight
And not decay
Alongside night?













Table of Contents

"Pulling Alongside Night:
The Enabling Technology is Here"
by J. Kent Hastings

PART ONE

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine

PART TWO

Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen

PART THREE

Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven

About the Author

"Are We Alongside Night?"
by J. Neil Schulman (1979)

"How Far Alongside Night?"
by Samuel Edward Konkin III (1987)

Remarks Upon Acceptance into the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman (1989)

"God Here And Now: An Introduction to Gloamingerism" by Reverend Virgil Moore; and "The Last, True Hope" by Bishop Alam Kimar Whyte, Church of the Human God.

Begin Reading Part One.













PART ONE

The result was that on February 28, 1793, at eight o'clock in the evening, a mob of men and women in disguise began plundering the stores and shops of Paris. At first they demanded only bread; soon they insisted on coffee and rice and sugar; at last they seized everything on which they could lay their hands -- cloth, clothing, groceries, and luxuries of every kind. Two hundred such places were plundered. This was endured for six hours, and finally order was restored only by a grant of seven million francs to buy off the mob. The new political economy was beginning to bear its fruits luxuriantly.
- ANDREW DICKSON WHITE
Fiat Money Inflation in France

The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.
- KARL MARX
Manifesto of the Communist Party

Tzigane
- MAURICE RAVEL






CHAPTER ONE

Elliot Vreeland felt uneasy the moment he entered his classroom.

Everything seemed perfectly normal. Though in an old brownstone building, the classroom held several late-model teaching systems including a video wallscreen that was also used as an intercom, but it also contained a traditional chalkboard, teacher's front desk, and a dozen tablet armchairs. All but one of Elliot's seven classmates had attended Ansonia Preparatory with him since freshman year; by this February in his final semester their faces were loathsomely familiar.

The exception was at the window, gazing out to Central Park West, New York.

The two did not look as if they should have had anything in common -- at least by the standards of previous generations. Son of the Nobel-laureate economist, Elliot Vreeland was archetypically Aryan -- tall, blond, and blue-eyed -- though with the slightest facial softening that precluded stereotyped Aryan imperiousness. Phillip Gross, shorter than Elliot, wirier, with black hair and silent eyes, had emigrated to Israel from the United States as an infant, being shipped back to an uncle in New York when four years later his parents had been machine-gunned by Palestinian guerrillas. The two boys had been close friends since Phillip had enrolled at Ansonia in their junior year.

Phillip spoke without turning as soon as Elliot drew near. "You didn't do it, did you, Ell?"

"I told you I wouldn't."

Phillip faced his friend. "Well, you just may get away with it."

Before Elliot could inquire further, the assistant headmaster entered the room.

Benjamin Harper dropped an attaché case onto the teacher's desk, then began erasing the chalkboard while the students, for lack of any other ideas, took their seats. "Tobias is out sick?" Elliot whispered to Phillip as they took seats in the back. Phillip smiled secretively but did not answer.

"I have several announcements to make," said Harper, shelving the eraser. He was a thin-boned, impeccably attired black man in his late thirties, sporting mustache, short au naturel hair, and glasses. Waiting for the students to quiet, he continued: "First. Mrs. Tobias has left Ansonia permanently. Consequently, she will no longer be teaching Contemporary Civilization."

Elliot glanced at Phillip sharply. "You saw her walking out?" he whispered. Phillip shrugged noncommittally.

"Second," the assistant head went on," as it is too late in the term for Dr. Fischer and me to hire a replacement, I personally will be taking over this class."

"I'll bet Tobias was canned," Elliot stage-whispered to Phillip. Several students giggled.

Mr. Harper eyed Elliot sharply. "'Dismissed,' 'discharged,' 'fired,' 'removed,' 'let go' -- perhaps even 'ousted.' But not 'canned,' Mr. Vreeland. I dislike hearing the language maltreated." Elliot flushed slightly. "Shall we continue?"

Mason Langley, the one-in-every-class teacher's pet, raised his hand. Harper recognized him. "Mrs. Tobias assigned us a three-hundred-word essay last week," he said in a nasal voice. "It's due today. Do you want it turned in?"

Several students groaned, looked disgusted, and blew raspberries at Langley, who seemed to gain great satisfaction from all this negative attention. Elliot glared at Langley and thought, I'll kill him. Harper looked as if he shared the students' opinions but seemed to control his feelings. "What was the assigned topic?" he asked.

"The Self-Destruction of the Capitalist System," said Langley.

Harper unsuccessfully concealed his disgust at the propagandistic title. "Very well. Pass them forward."

As each student -- with the single exception of Elliot -- passed forward a composition, it became evident to Harper why Elliot had looked more angrily at Langley than had all the others.

After collecting seven essays, Harper said, "Your essay, Mr. Vreeland?" Elliot answered resignedly, "I didn't do one, Mr. Harper."

"Surely you must have some feelings on the topic?"

Elliot nodded. "I disagree with the premise."

"Did you express this disagreement to Mrs. Tobias when she assigned the topic?" Elliot nodded again. "What was her reply?"

"She said that I can start handing out the topics when I become a teacher."

"I see," Harper said slowly. "All right. You may present your rebuttal in a composition due the day after tomorrow -- this Friday. Let's make it a thousand words. Is that satisfactory?"

"I guess so. If I can manage a thousand words."

"I myself have that problem," Harper said brightly. "Few editorial pages will buy anything longer."

Releasing spring latches, Harper opened his attaché case and removed a New York Times, which he waved in front of the class. "Enough time wasted," he continued. "We have few enough weeks until graduation and -- heaven help you -- you'll need them. I assume you're all expecting to start college this fall?" He did not wait for replies. "Of course you are, or you wouldn't be here. Well, here's some advance warning: Don't count on it. There's the extreme possibility that there won't even be necessities this fall, much less operating colleges."

All of the students -- with the exception of an attractive friend of Elliot's, Marilyn Danforth -- were now turning their eyes intently forward. Harper was a good dramatist, a good teacher.

Harper waved the newspaper again. "Top of page one, today's paper. Let's just see what we find.

"WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 -- The President today vowed, in a televised address at 8:30 E.T. this evening that he will order the Federal Reserve Bank to keep the printing presses running day and night, if necessary, to ease the shortage of New Dollars.
"The President further stated that the country's present economic difficulties are well within the government's ability to control, charging, 'They stem from loss of confidence in our governmental institutions due to the reckless predictions of socially irresponsible, doomsday economists.'"

Elliot noticed several students looking at him pointedly, during the reference to economists, but he pretended not to notice. Harper did notice, however, and quickly discarded the first section of the newspaper. "All right, on to the financial page," he continued. "This dateline is official from the Office of Public Information:

"WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, (OPI) -- The cost-of-living index rose 2012 percent in the final quarter of last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed today."

Mr. Harper chuckled. "Good of them to let us in on the secret." He set the paper down. "Now, I realize this must sound rather dry, but I cannot stress too strongly how such events affect your daily lives. We are looking at a crisis that will make the Great Depression look tame by comparison. I assume Mrs. Tobias had started discussing this in class?" There were several murmured affirmatives and a nod or two. "Good. Marilyn Danforth."

"Huh?" The class joined in laughter as the pretty brunette was roused from her daydream.

"Please describe for us the antecedents of inflation."

"Uh -- do you mean what Mrs. Tobias told us?"

"If you have nothing original to say," Harper said backhandedly, "yes."

"Well," she started hesitantly. "Uh -- inflation -- you know, -- has a lot of different causes, depending, you know, on just when you're talking about. F'rinstance, you might have a war somewhere and that will cause inflation, and just when you're expecting it's over, there might be a crop failure, you know?" She looked thoughtful for a moment. "At least I think that's what she said."

"I'm certain you remembered it perfectly. Does anyone wish to add anything?"

He recognized Mason Langley. "She left out about the greedy businessmen."

"We mustn't miss that, Mr. Langley. Proceed."

"Inflation," Langley said, drawing himself up, "is caused by greedy businessmen who force higher prices by producing less than consumer demand. They also create artificial demand by planning obsolescence into their manufactured goods so they have to be prematurely replaced." He smiled smugly.

Harper ignored him and answered politely. "Thank you. Anyone else?"

Cal Ackerman, the class yahoo, raised his hand. Harper called on him. Looking backward directly at Elliot, Ackerman made each word a deliberate insult: "I agree with what the President said last night. All our troubles are caused by brownies" -- he almost tasted the word -- "following economists like Elliot Vreeland's old man."

Elliot's eyes flared at Ackerman. Mr. Harper intervened quickly before a fight could start. "I think you owe Elliot an apology, Cal. Dr Vreeland's views -- while admittedly radical -- are respected in many quarters. Aside from that, I do not allow name-calling in my classes."

Ackerman stayed mute.

Elliot said, "That's okay, Mr. Harper. Ackerman is much too fascistic to have read any of my father's books."

"Now stop this, both of you," Harper said. "Elliot, do you have anything constructive to add?"

"Nothing I haven't said a million times before."

"Very well." Harper noticed -- gratefully -- Bernard Rothman's hand was raised. "Yes, Mr. Rothman?"

"I don't understand any of this, Mr. Harper."

Before Harper could reply, the video wallscreen activated with its speaker crackling. A petite but imposing woman in her sixties -- silver-haired with large, piercing eyes -- appeared on the screen. "Excuse me, Mr. Harper." She spoke with a polyglot European accent. "Is Elliot Vreeland there?"

Elliot raised his head as he heard his name.

"Yes, Dr. Fischer," Harper answered the screen.

"Would you please have him report to my office immediately?"

"He's on his way."

The screen cleared. Mr. Harper waved Elliot to the door with an underhand gesture.

Elliot picked up his books -- nodding to Phillip Gross and Marilyn Danforth on his way out -- and traced the 45-degree bend around the still-busy school cafeteria on his route to the stairs; the headmaster's office was on the first floor, a flight down. He wondered what could be important enough for Dr. Fischer to pull him out of class. Perhaps his college applications?

He did not have to wait long before finding out. When Elliot entered the headmaster's reception area, he found his sister seated inside with Dr. Fischer. Denise Vreeland was sixteen, a year younger than Elliot, with a strong resemblance, only at the moment she looked even younger and extremely vulnerable. Her strawberry-blonde hair was disarrayed; she looked as if she had been crying. Dr. Fischer was sitting next to her -- frowning.

"Denise, what's wrong? What are you doing here? Why aren't you at school?"

Dr. Fischer stood. "Elliot," she said softly, "you must leave with your sister immediately."

"What for?" he asked. "What's all this about?"

Denise took a sharp intake of breath, looked Elliot straight in the eye, then whispered:

"Daddy's dead."






CHAPTER 2

The New York wind was damply chill as Elliot and Denise Vreeland left Ansonia's five-story brownstone at 90 Central Park West, but Elliot's thoughts were not with his surroundings. That his father was not alive seemed impossibly foreign to his entire orientation, to his entire life. Certainly he had expected that Martin Vreeland would die someday -- but someday, not when Elliot still needed him.

At once he felt like slapping himself: Was that all he thought of his father? Just someone he "needed"? Somebody to provide him with the material artifacts of life: a bed, binoculars, books, camera, typewriter, trip to Europe? No. His needs were for things less tangible but nonetheless real. Teaching him to defend himself. Staying up with him one night when he was vomiting. Answering any question openly and intelligently. Or just being the kind of man who took time to teach him viable principles, living them himself without evasion.

Even though his father had not been stingy with the free time he had had, there had never been enough of it, so far as Elliot was concerned. During the academic year, Dr. Vreeland had worked a demanding teaching schedule, while his summers -- spent with his family at their New Hampshire lodge -- resultantly became his only chance for research, contemplation, and fulfilling publishing commitments.

Elliot reflected that the two of them had not been close in the stereotypical father-son sense. They had never gone camping together, played touch football in Central Park, or eaten hot dogs at Shea Stadium. Moreover, his father's Viennese upbringing had restrained him from any open displays of affection. But Elliot now recalled sharply that, in Boston four years earlier, Dr. Vreeland had been dissatisfied with every preparatory school to which he had considered sending him. Then, while addressing a monetary symposium in New Orleans, he had met Dr. Fischer and found her adhering to an academic philosophy identical to his own. After returning north and visiting Ansonia, Dr. Vreeland -- a department head at Harvard who had not yet won his Nobel Prize -- accepted a less rich professorship at Columbia and moved his family to New York.

Elliot found himself taking deep gulps of cold air into his lungs as if they were oxygen-starved. He wondered what the crushing, closed-in sensation was. He wondered if what he felt was what a son was supposed to feel upon learning of his father's death. He wondered whether he should cry -- or why he was not crying -- although he felt so physically wrenched apart. He wondered whether he loved his father. He felt helpless even to define the components of such a love.

This he knew: he wanted desperately to tell his father that he appreciated what he had been to him.

They were just passing the bricked-up entrance to the perpetually unfinished Central Park Shuttle, a subway that was to have linked eastside and westside IRT lines as Sixty-ninth Street, when Denise tugged at Elliot's arm, stopping him. Behind them, unnoticed among years' worth of graffiti and handbills, was a recently put-up poster announcing Dr. Vreeland's appearance at a Citizens for a Free Society rally the next morning.

"Elliot, I'm sorry but I had to," said Denise.

"Well, you didn't have to pull off my arm. I would've --"

"That's not it," she interrupted. She paused, biting on her lower lip. "Daddy's not dead."

Elliot's expressions changed from confusion, through relief, to anger as cold as the wind whipping through his hair.

"Ell, it's not what you think. Mom told me to tell you that. She called me out of Juilliard."

Elliot regarded his sister as though she might still be lying. Her habitual truthfulness stilled this thought. "Then what the --"

"No time to explain now. We have to get home. Fast. Which is our first problem." Denise referred to a total transit strike in the city that encompassed not only all subways and busses but medallion taxis as well.

Elliot thought a moment, considering and rejecting an illegal walk across Central park, then motioned Denise to follow.

It took only a few minutes to walk Sixty-ninth Street the two blocks over to Broadway. They crossed to the west side, stood at the curb and waited. They waited five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes later they were still unable to find anything resembling a gypsy cab.

"Are you sure you know what a tzigane looks like?" asked Denise.

"No," Elliot admitted. "That's a problem. When you're cruising illegally, you try not to look like anything in particular. A dozen might have passed us already."

"Then how do we find one?"

"We don't. We wait for one to find us."

To prove his point, within a minute a black sedan stopped at the traffic light they were opposite. The tzigane -- a heavyset black man -- waved out the window. Elliot waved back to the driver, then told Denise in a low voice. "I'll parley the price."

Presently the light changed, the sedan pulling alongside. The tzigane reached back, opening the rear curbside door. "Climb in."

Elliot shook his head just enough for Denise to catch, then walked around to the driver's side. "First," he said, "how much?"

The tzigane twirled a plain gold band on his right hand -- a nervous habit, Elliot supposed. "Where you headed?"

"Park Avenue between Seventy-fourth and Seventy-fifth."

"Two thousand blues -- up front." Elliot winced. The price was four times what a medallion taxi had charged for the same run several weeks earlier. The tzigane continued twirling his ring back and forth. Elliot walked around the car, gesturing Denise to get in, and a moment later followed her; the car remained motionless. The tzigane turned to him and said, "Blues first."

Elliot removed his wallet and handed bills forward. They were blue-colored notes, no engraving on one side, on the other side hasty engraving proclaiming them "legal tender of the United States of America for all debts, public and private." More than anything else, it resembled Monopoly money.

"This is a thousand," said the tzigane.

"That's right," Elliot replied. "You'll get the other thousand when we arrive." The tzigane shrugged, revved his turbine, and with a jolt the sedan started down Broadway.

Not a minute later, when the car passed Sixty-fifth Street, Elliot suddenly leaned forward. "Hey! You missed the turnoff to the park."

"Relax, there ain't no meter runnin'."

Elliot began contemplating ways for Denise and himself to jump from the car. "But why aren't you taking the shortcut?"

"Only medallions and busses allowed through -- and this is a private car, right?"

"Sorry."

"That's okay, bro."

Elliot did not relax, however, until the sedan pulled up in front of his address, a luxury high-rise. A uniformed doorman, Jim, came out of the building to open the car door for them. After paying his balance -- with an extra three hundred New Dollars as tip -- Denise and he got out. "Thanks," Elliot said.

"Any time, my man." The tzigane smiled then added, "Next time maybe you won't be so tight. Laissez-faire."

Elliot began to greet Jim with his usual smile, but Denise nudged her brother, who remembered himself at a point appropriate to someone wishing to appear pleasant under trying circumstances. As Jim opened the building door, he nodded in the direction of a half-dozen reporters -- some with videotape cameras, others cassette recorders, still others with only notebooks -- sitting at the far end of the lobby. "Your mother said you shouldn't talk to them," Jim whispered to the couple.

It was too late, though. The reporters looked up as they entered then literally pounced. "Hey, you're the Vreeland kids, aren't you?" one man shouted, rushing forward with his camera.

Jim blocked him. "Mrs. Vreeland said no interviews."

A newspaper woman managed to block Elliot. "Please," she said, "just tell us the cause of death."

Elliot glanced at Denise helplessly. "A heart attack late this morning," Denise told the woman.

Immediately the others began throwing out more questions, but Jim held them back as Elliot and Denise fled the lobby to the elevators. Luckily, one was waiting for them. They rode it up to the fiftieth floor and walked to their apartment, a gray steel door at the corridor's far end with the number 50L and the Vreeland name.

It was a warm, luxurious apartment with oriental rugs, many fine antiques, body-sensing climate control, and numerous paintings -- mostly acrylic gouache by their mother, Cathryn Vreeland, who had a moderate artistic following. In typical New York fashion, the windows -- and a door to the apartment terrace -- were covered with Venetian blinds, now lowered to darken the apartment from the afternoon sun.

As Elliot and Denise entered the apartment, they heard the muffled sound of voices coming from the master bedroom. " . . . political suicide, sheer madness," Elliot overheard a hushed whisper. They continued through an L-shaped hallway into the master bedroom, where Dr. and Mrs. Vreeland were bending over a large FerroFoam suitcase on the bed, trying with noticeable difficulty to close it.

Whatever doubts remained in Elliot's mind vanished in shocking relief.

The elder Vreelands did not immediately notice their offsprings' entrance, engaged as they were with their discussion emphasizing each attempt on the suitcase. Dr. Vreeland said, "You would think they would at least be bright enough to follow EUCOMTO's policy, rather than this regression to further insanity." His speech retained only a trace of his native Vienna.

"They're trapped by their own logic," said Mrs. Vreeland, pressing hard on the suitcase. "You predicted this and prepared for it, so stop berating yourself about something you couldn't control."

"I didn't take the possibility seriously enough, Cathryn. I had no business risking my family --" Dr. Vreeland looked up. "Thank God you're finally home. Did they give you any trouble at school?"

Denise shook her head. Elliot said with some difficulty, "No."

Dr. Vreeland looked at his son with sudden compassion. "I'm terribly sorry, Ell. We had to catch you off guard to make my cover story credible. You know I wouldn't have done this if it weren't necessary."

Elliot forced a smile. "Uh -- that's okay, Dad."

His father smiled back. "Good. Now," he said briskly, "do you two think you can help us get his damned suitcase closed?"






CHAPTER 3

Perhaps the single most important element guiding Martin Vreeland was a meticulous study of history.

He had learned the lessons of politics well, therefore harboring few illusions regarding to what extent those with power would go to maintain it -- and fewer illusions respecting by whomand for whose gain political power was always exercised.

Had he not believed the incorruptible were statistically insignificant, he would have been an anarchist.

His latest bestseller, Not Worth a Continental, stated his views on the current crisis clearly:

The true cause of the general rise in prices that is usually called inflation is one of history's best-kept secrets: it is known to almost everybody but its victims. To listen to most political debates on the phenomenon, one would think that it was some malarious fever -- still incurable -- which is to be treated with the quinines of joint sacrifice, Maoist self- criticism, and liberal doses of governmental controls. Yet, even today, one can look up "inflation" in most dictionaries and find in its definition a proper diagnosis of the disease and by that diagnosis an implied cure.

Inflation is the process whereby the central bankers in collusion with politicians -- to mutual benefit -- have counterfeited warehouse receipts for a commodity the public have chosen as a medium of exchange, and traded those counterfeits to those they have defrauded and forced them into accepting them.

By doing this they gain something for nothing.

Those who accepted the counterfeits, on the other hand, have taken nothing for something, but not realizing this, they calculate their own future spending as if they had received more something.

The primary effect of all this nothing being passed around is a discounting of the medium of exchange -- seen by everybody as a rise in prices of everything else -- as people lose the ability to distinguish between something and nothing.

The most important secondary effect is mass- scale malinvestment caused by the general false sense of prosperity.

By the point at which there is more nothing being traded than something -- our current situation -- a hedonistic inversion is so rampant that even the bankers and politicians are losing.

But by then it is much too late for them to save themselves -- and they see little profit in saving us.

The cure for inflation is to stop inflating.

Elliot had known his father was under fire from high places for incessant -- and widely reported -- attacks on government economic policies, but Dr. Vreeland had told him that direct reprisals were relatively unlikely. A Nobel prize afforded some protection; the high public profile of a bestselling author, more; popularity among the million members of the radical Citizens for a Free Society, still more; and perhaps most important was his wide repute among the fiscally conservative delegates -- and personal friendship with the current chancellor -- of EUCOMTO, the European Common Market Treaty Organization.

What Dr. Vreeland now told Elliot was that while he had considered reprisals unlikely, he had not considered them out of the question -- especially as a prelude to a major political upheaval of some sort -- thus he had taken various precautionary measures. Among these were preparing secret caches and asylums for emergency retreat, with extensive contingency plans for each. He had also found it advisable to cultivate, through timely gifts to "underpaid officials," loyalties that might be useful during uncomfortable periods.

Earlier that day this last had paid off: one of his friends in the Federal Bureau of Investigation had transmitted him a message that the Vreeland name had been found on a list of persons to be secretly arrested that coming weekend. "We leave tonight," said Dr. Vreeland. "All of us. And probably from a country now a dictatorship."

This simple proclamation shook Elliot's sense of securityalmost as much as the earlier one declaring his father dead. While he had been aware of current political-economic developments -- been steeped in them -- he had never accepted emotionally that they might have personal consequences. Mr. Harper's classroom warning was driven home as Elliot's father explained what his sudden "death" was all about.

"We have little time and a lot to accomplish," said Dr. Vreeland to Elliot and Denise. The three were at the dining table while Cathryn Vreeland prepared a long overdue lunch for herself and her husband. "Each of us has necessary tasks to perform with no room for error. One slip -- even one you might think insignificant -- may prove our downfall."

"Any choice about what we have to do?"

Dr. Vreeland looked at Elliot seriously. "Certainly," he replied, then paused several extended moments. "Listen, you two. You're both old enough to make any crucial decisions about your lives. It's much too late for me to impart values to you; but if you don't have them, then I'm not much of a father. Ell, there are only two choices my situation allows me to offer you: either you leave now before you hear my plans -- in which case you're completely on your own as of now -- or you accept my authority with out reservations until we're safely out of the country."

Ten seconds passed. No one spoke. Finally, Denise broke the silence: "Where are we going, Daddy?"

"Everything in due time, honey. Just let me proceed at my own pace." Dr. Vreeland faced Elliot again. "You didn't answer me." Elliot answered slowly, deliberately. "You know what my answer is, Dad."

Dr. Vreeland nodded. "Denise?"

"I'm in," she said cheerfully. "Give my regards to Broadway."

"Good. For the official record, then ..."

Martin Vreeland, Ph.D (so the story would go), had died of a heart attack brought on by overwork and the tensions of his public position. The official death certificate would confirm this, and his personal physician's records would document a nonexistent previous attack. Preceded by an immediate-family- only funeral service the next afternoon, the body was to be immediately cremated. The neighbors had been told that Cathryn Vreeland and her children would be staying that night with her sister-in-law; since she did not have a sister-in-law, this could not be swiftly followed up.

"If you find yourselves unable to avoid the press," said Dr. Vreeland, "then say nothing factual. Make only generalized, emotional statements about me" -- he smiled -- "preferably laudatory. I will be leaving the apartment in disguise as soon after five as possible."

Denise asked, "Won't Jim think it unusual that a stranger he didn't let in is leaving the building?"

"No. First, Dominic will be on by the time I leave, and if he sees me, will simply assume that this 'stranger' came in before his shift. Second, I don't intend leaving through the lobby. I'll use the fire exit out to Seventy-fourth Street."

Cathryn Vreeland brought a plate of sandwiches from the kitchen, joining her family at the table. "Spam," she said. "It was all the Shopwell had left yesterday that I had ration tickets for."

Dr. Vreeland picked up a sandwich, bit into it with a grimace, then continued to talk and to eat intermittently: "The three of you will leave this apartment at 7 p.m., and will rendezvous with me on the west side of Park at Seventieth Street, where I'll be waiting with a rental car -- and to anticipate any questions, all arrangements have already been made. From the moment we get in that car, we will no longer be in the Vreeland family. We will all be carrying full identification, including passports, exit permits, and visas -- each with our new names -- and we'll continue using them until we legally identify ourselves in our country of final destination."

"You still haven't said where that is," said Denise.

"To be perfectly candid, I don't know yet. We will be driving to International Airport, taking, at 10:05 tonight, Air Quebec Flight 757 to Montreal -- on of the cities in which I have emergency assets and a number of friends. We might be there just a few days, but if much longer, you'll have a chance to practice your French."

"Et ensuite?" asked Elliot.

"Trop compliqué," replied Dr. Vreeland, referring both to variables involved in choosing their next destination and to his inability to say all that in French. Dr. Vreeland paused several seconds, then managed to regain his original train of thought. "In packing your belongings, anything with our real names on it -- or any pictures of me -- must be left behind, no matter how treasured, no matter how valuable."

"We're going to have to leave almost everything behind, aren't we?" Denise asked wistfully.

"I'm afraid so. There's very little here that can't be replaced, nor would I, in any case, consider personal possessions to be worth risking my family 's imprisonment. Even if your mother considers me excessively paranoid."

"I'll say," Mrs. Vreeland confirmed.

Everyone turned to her. Cathryn Vreeland rarely ventured unsolicited opinions; when she did, they commanded full attention. She would have commanded it anyway: the flame-haired woman could easily have been a top commercial model, and though she was thirty-nine, bartenders still demanded her proof-of-age. "When Marty first told me his plan, I suggested that he leave alone, while we three stay behind long enough to close out affairs here normally. He wouldn't hear of it."

"And still won't," Dr. Vreeland said. "I am not about to flee the country, leaving my family behind to answer FBI questions. There will be too many discrepancies in my story within twenty-four hours. If we were leaving the country under normal circumstances, we'd be selling and giving away most of our belongings anyway."

"One set of items we will risk taking," continued Dr. Vreeland, "is twenty-five Mexican fifty-peso gold pieces -- at today's European exchange worth about eleven and a half million New Dollars." Elliot whistled. "Don't be too impressed. When I bought them back in 1979, I only paid nine thousand old dollars for them, and they'll buy about four times that in real goods today. But, Ell -- this concerns you personally -- I don't want its value to cloud your thinking. If by 'losing' it or paying it as a bribe I can improve our escape chances one iota, I won't hesitate to do so for one second."

"Are they here?" Elliot asked.

"No, that's just where you come in. You're going downtown for me to get them."

Elliot's eyes widened.

A few minutes later, Dr. Vreeland drew Elliot alone into the master bedroom. "You'll be going to an -- uh -- 'exotic' bookstore off Times Square," said Dr. Vreeland. He wrote the address on a piece of paper.

Elliot took the paper, studied it a moment, then crumpled it up. "Do I have to eat this?"

"Not necessary," said his father. "Your contact is a bald, bearded man -- somewhat overweight -- called 'Al.' As a sign you're to ask him for a copy of Not Worth a Continental -- be sure to mention my name as author. His countersign is, 'I may sell dirty books but I don't carry trash like that.' Your counter-countersign is, 'What do you recommend instead?' He will invite you into a back room and give you a package. The coins will be inside. Got all that?" Elliot nodded.

Dr. Vreeland went to his dresser, returning with a small box, which he opened. Inside was a .38 caliber Peking revolver that he and Elliot had practiced with in New Hampshire. "Can you use it?" Dr. Vreeland asked.

Elliot picked up the pistol, swung out the cylinder -- noting all six chambers loaded -- and swung the cylinder back. "I can use it."

"Good. Only, don't."

"What if I'm stopped by a cop?"

Dr. Vreeland took a deep breath. "Under our present situation, a police officer must be regarded in the same manner as any other potential attacker. You can't afford to be caught with either a firearm or gold bullion. If you can talk your way free, do so: New York police must pass periodic shooting exams. But if your only chance of making rendezvous is using this gun, so be it."

"Terrific chance I'd have."

"The Keynesian Cops are understaffed at the moment" -- Elliot winced at the pun -- "Consider themselves underpaid and overworked, and are on the verge of striking again. If they're seen making an arrest openly, they're as likely as not to start a riot. They are not looking for trouble. Anything else?"

Elliot made a wry face. "Do you have any more ammunition?"






CHAPTER 4

After ducking through the fire exit to avoid reporters still in the lobby, Elliot started briskly down Park Avenue, the boulevard busy even with out its usual flow of yellow taxicabs. He walked toward the thirty-block-distant Pan Am Building -- though it was no longer owned by that airline -- passing seedy hotel after seedy hotel, passing a derelict structure at Sixty-eighth Street, once Hunter College. He turned west on to Fifty-ninth Street -- past Burger King, past Madison Avenue, past the plywood and soaped plate glass at General Motors Plaza -- and continued down Fifth Avenue.

Tourists from EUCOMTO states were abundant on the avenue, buying up bargains to the bewilderment of proudly nationalistic Americans and to the delight of proprietors eager for the illegal, gold-backed eurofrancs. Where once exclusive stores had displayed apparel of quiet taste, the latest rage among the fashionable was the Genghis Khan: coats of metallic-silver leather trimmed with long, black monkey fur.

A sign was posted on a lamppost at the corner of Forty-ninth Street; Elliot passed by hardly noticing it.

WARNING!

to LOOTERS, VANDALS, MUGGERS, SHOPLIFTERS, PICKPOCKETS, and other assorted CRIMINALS. This area is heavily patrolled by ARMED GUARDS with orders to protect our businesses and customers from you BY ANY MEANS POSSIBLE.

BEWARE FOR YOUR LIVES!

- Fifth Avenue Merchant Alliance

About fifty minutes after he had left home, Elliot entered a small bookstore at 204 West Forty-second Street, just outside the Federal Renovation Zone. It was crossways to the edifice at One Times Square originally the New York Times building, most famous as the Allied Chemical Tower, now a federal building called, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the Oracle Tower. The Rabelais bookstore was without customers when Elliot arrived; a man was seated on a stool behind the counter, a sign in back of him declaring in large black lettering, "BE 21 OR BE GONE." On one wall were such classic titles as A Pilgrim of Passion, Suburban Souls, Professional Lovers, and Saucer Sluts; the other wall offered more pedestrian titles by Salinger, Hemingway, and Joyce.

If the man seated behind the cash register was "Al," thought Elliot, then his father had been polite as an ambassador. He was not "somewhat overweight." He was grossly fat, perhaps tipping the scale at three hundred pounds. His triple chin -- one had to presume -- was well hidden beneath a thick, black beard, contrasted by his bald pate. He was chewing what Elliot first thought was gum but soon realized was tobacco and was reading Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea, which matched Elliot's first reaction to the man.

Elliot approached him with caution. "I'd like a copy of Not Worth a Continental by Martin Vreeland," he said, according to plan.

The man lowered his book, spat tobacco -- into a cuspidor, Elliot was relieved to see -- and inspected Elliot carefully. "You his kid?" he asked finally. Not according to plan.

Elliot nodded hesitantly. "Are you Al?"

"Yeah," he said, lifting himself off the stool with considerable difficulty. "C'mon, it's in the back."

Elliot's face fell. "But don't you need my countersign?" he blurted.

"Nah. You look just like your old man."

Al led Elliot through a draped door to a corner of his back room and gestured toward a large carton on the floor filled with books. "Gimme a hand with this." Elliot got a grip on one of the corners, then the two of them lifted it aside, revealing a hole in the linoleum. Al lifted out a package sealed into a black Pliofilm bag, handing it to him. "The coins are in here," he said. "Count 'em if you want. I gotta get out front. Need me, just call."

Elliot looked at Al curiously. "Uh -- mind if I ask a personal question?"

"Don't know till you ask the question."

"Well ... if you knew what's in here, then why didn't you just take it and run? Gold ownership is illegal. We couldn't have reported you."

Al laughed heartily. "I thought you were gonna ask how much I eat or somethin'. I didn't steal the gold 'cause it don't belong to me." He turned and went out front.

After placing the plastic on a nearby table, Elliot broke the sealed plastic, opening it. Inside was a specially designed leather belt -- forty-odd inches long, two inches high -- with no tongue or eyelets but a slide-buckle instead. At the bottom was a zipper concealed between two layers of leather. Elliot slid the buckle out of the way, unzipped the belt, and peeled apart the leather.

Inside were the twenty-five Mexican fifty-peso gold pieces, built into matching cutouts in the leather that extended most of the belt's length. They were beautifully extended most of the belt's length. They were beautifully struck, in virtual mint condition, and even in the back room's dim light reflected considerable luster.

Each coin was about one and a half inches in diameter. The traditional eagle with a serpent in its mouth embellished the obverse of each coin; on the reverse was a winged Nike -- goddess of victory -- bearing a wreath, to her right the 50 PESOS mark, to her left the legend 37.5 grams ORO PURO. Elliot removed his own belt, replacing it with the new one, which he had to thread through several belt loops twice as it was too long for his thirty-four inch waist. Then he replaced his jacket and overcoat.

Al was busy with a customer when Elliot came front; he stood away a polite distance, awaiting an opportunity to take his leave. Repressing a desire -- more out of embarrassment than anything else -- to spend his time examining Al's erotica, he instead alternated between observing Al's conversation -- impossible to eavesdrop on because of Al's radio playing loudly -- and watching the OPI News Summary streaming across the Oracle Tower.

ARMY GUARD IS WITHDRAWN FROM FORT KNOX, KY. ONE YEAR AFTER ANNOUNCEMENT THAT U.S. GOLD RESERVES ARE DEPLETED. . .

Elliot was suddenly struck by the strangest feeling of deja vu. He could see that Al was doing something with his hands, but could not have told exactly what.

PRESIDENT LAUNCHES PHASE 7 OF ECONOMIC POLICY EXPANDING WAGE-PRICE CONTROLS AND RATIONING.

Al's customer purchased a book but Elliot could not shake the feeling that he had noticed something significant that he had failed to comprehend.

FBI CHIEF POWERS ATTRIBUTES LAST NIGHT'S FIREBOMBINGS OF BUREAU OFFICES TO OUTLAW "REVOLUTIONARY AGORIST CADRE" . . .

It was almost dusk when a moment later Al's customer left; Elliot walked forward to the counter and thanked Al for his help. "Don't mention it," said Al. "The least I can do under the circumstances -- your old man being dead and all."

"How did you --?"

"It was on the radio while you're in the back," Al interrupted.

Elliot felt somewhat awkward about keeping up the pretense with a man whom his father -- by his actions -- regarded as a confidant; nevertheless he interpreted his father's instructions to mean that no one outside the family should know the truth. "Well, I'd better get moving."

"Keep your eyes open," replied Al. "This is a lousy area to be alone at night. Laissez-faire."

Everything suddenly fell into place: Al was wearing a plain gold band on his right hand and during his parley with his customer had twirled it back and forth -- the same manner as the tzigane.

Elliot briefly considered asking Al if the ring twirling meant anything but felt another question would be prying. Besides, it was silly -- and he had better get home quickly if he wanted a decent amount of time to pack. "Laissez-faire," he replied.

Al just smiled.


At almost ten to six, Elliot once again entered his apartment building. The reporters were gone from the lobby. At the door this time was Dominic, a small Puerto Rican man, whom he greeted on his way to the elevators. He waited several minutes before an elevator arrived, then rode it up to the fiftieth floor and fumbled for his keys while walking down the corridor to his apartment. After inserting the correct keys in the correct order, he opened the door and shouted, "I'm home!" There was no answer. Elliot looked into his parents' bedroom, but no one was there, so he tried Denise's room. It was also unoccupied. Elliot then looked into his own bedroom, the guest room, the bathrooms, and even the storage closets; there was no sign of anybody, and all the suitcases were gone.

He started over again, thinking that there must have been a sudden change in plans, and there would be a note somewhere. He checked from the bathroom mirrors to the bulletin board in the kitchen. It was only then that Elliot Vreeland understood that he was alone.

There was no note.






CHAPTER 5

On his third time around the apartment -- still wearing his coat -- Elliot noticed signs of visitors who must have come before his family had left. Several ashtrays held cigarette butts, and no none in his family smoked. No one except Denise -- Elliot amended -- and she only when their parents could not see her. Whoever it was must have stayed more than a few minutes, too, otherwise there would not have been time for more than one or two smokes.

But who was it, and what could he -- or she -- or they -- have said to make his family leave without even writing a note?

Elliot approached the problem systematically. He first went over to the video intercom and buzzed the lobby. The doorman appeared on the small screen, answering with a thick Puerto Rican accent, "Dominic here." Elliot Vreeland, 50L. Had he sent up any visitors in the past couple of hours? "No, sir. Nobody." What time had he come on duty? "Five o'clock." Had he been at the door all the time since five? Dominic looked as if he had been accused of desertion during wartime. "Yes, sir." Elliot thanked him, then cleared the screen.

Next, he checked across the hall with Mrs. Allen, his mother's closest friend. She was a rather plump, jolly widow in her seventies, but when she saw Elliot, she was not very jolly. "Oh, my dear boy. What a tragic day this is! I know how hard this must be on you. When I lost my poor Gustav --"

Before she could tell him about her poor Gustav, Elliot said, "Mrs. Allen, do you know where my mother and sister have gone?" He maintained the cover, just in case.

"Why, certainly, dear."

"Where?" he asked anxiously.

"They've gone to your mother's sister-in-law. My dear, didn't they tell you?"

"Uh -- yes," Elliot replied as his stomach sank. "I guess in the confusion I forgot." "Oh, you poor thing. Perhaps you'd come in for a cup of hot cocoa to settle your nerves."

Elliot thanked her warmly but declined, saying that he had better go over there before they worried about him.

He returned to his apartment and, after looking up the listing for Air Quebec, went to the Picturephone in his parents' bedroom, calling to ask if there were any messages for him. He used the family code name his father had given him, saying they were supposed to leave for Montreal that evening on Flight 757 and were accidentally separated. An attractive Air Quebec reservation hostess told him with a Quebecois accent that company policy prevented accepting personal messages between passengers. However, she could have the airport page them. "Uh -- no thanks." Then, a flash of inspiration. "Is the reservation still intact?"

She punched data into a computer console, then turned back to the video camera. "Yes, the reservation is still intact. Do you wish to change it?"

"No, thank you," Elliot answered, delighted. "Thank you very much."

The reservation was intact; it had not been changed or canceled. Whatever had necessitated leaving the apartment so early, his family had to be expecting him to rendezvous with them on Park Avenue as scheduled at seven o'clock. He checked his watch. It was only half past six. He had wasted thirty minutes but still had time to pack and meet them on time -- if he hurried.

Elliot was just about to start back to his own room when he heard the apartment's front door open.

It could only have been his mother or Denise.

He was about to call out but stopped himself. He heard voices. Unfamiliar, male voices. His reaction now raised to full alert, Elliot backed again into his parents' bedroom in time to hear one voice say, "Better check the master bedroom."

Quickly, Elliot slipped into the bedroom's storage closet and shut the door. He waited in pitch blackness, listening to his heart race, as footsteps passed by the closet, checked in the bathroom, then left the bedroom again. When he was certain whoever it was had left the room again, Elliot slipped back out of the closet, shut the bedroom door until just two inches remained, then pressed his ear close enough to pick up conversation.

After a half-minute pause, another voice -- a lighter voice belonging to a young-sounding man -- asked, "How long d'ja think we have to wait?"

"Don't know," said the first -- heavier, gruffer -- voice. "He could come any time."

That narrowed it down somewhat. They were -- most probably, at least -- waiting either for himself or his father.

The younger voice spoke again, "Jesus, I've never seen the chief so pissed before."

"We'll be seeing a damn sight more if you let the kid slip through your fingers again."

"My fingers? How the hell was I supposed to know you hadn't --"

"Shut up."

Elliot sensed how the cards had been dealt. But what did "the chief" want with him?

The logical answers were discouraging. His father's cover story might have been broken, the authorities -- most probably the FBI -- wanting Elliot as bait to catch him. They might have wanted Elliot to answer questions about his father's political activities -- especially if they did still think him dead. They even might have found out Elliot was carrying a fortune in gold.

This last preyed upon his mind. How might the authorities know? So far as he had been told, the only person outside his family with knowledge of the gold was Al. But if Al had been so inclined, he could have informed any previous time, or simply have invented some reason not to have turned over the belt. Besides, Elliot had been careful not to let slip to Al that he was heading home . . . although if he were important enough to go after in the first place, they might have sent men to his apartment as a matter of course.

Nonetheless, the important question had been answered. The men outside were enemies, and he had to escape.

Armed confrontation was just too risky. What other way out of the apartment was there? The only door out to the apartment house hallway was in the living room. Wait a second. There was also that window right over there. He could easily fit through, but he was still on the fiftieth floor, and even jumping terrace to terrace, there was no way he could rappel himself down that far. But if he could find a rope, perhaps he could lower himself down to the terrace below, break in, escape through that living room. If the neighbors were away . . . 50L, 49L . . . That would be the Herberts. Only the Herberts had moved out last month when Mr. Herbert's realty company went under. The apartment was still vacant.

Elliot returned to the bedroom's storage closet, flipped on the light, and began scratching around. First he needed a strong rope -- at least twenty feet -- and he began searching for the nylon rope used to tie up the family's speedboat on Lake Winnipesaukee. They always took it home for the winter after having had two such ropes disappear from the boathouse. He did not find it. Damn! His father must have forgotten, and by now somebody else would have stolen it, too. Elliot smiled to himself as he realized that it did not matter anymore.

A few additional minutes provided nothing more promising than twenty-five feet of plastic clothesline that he found on top of a carton filled with copies of Not Worth a Continental. Elliot measured out the line to a bit over four arm spans, then tested it. The line would stretch like all hell, but perhaps if he were to double it over, it might support his weight. If he swore off sex and hard liquor for the rest of his life . . . and there were a full moon for good measure.

Wasting no time, Elliot went over to the terrace window. He had opened it only an inch when he heard a loud thud from behind. Elliot whirled around, but no one was there. Then he realized what had happened. The change in air pressure from opening a high-rise window had caused the slightly ajar bedroom door to slam.

Immediately Elliot drew his gun, then dropped automatically into a one-knee shooting stance, aiming directly at the door. He was breathing very heavily -- nervous, sharp breaths.

No one entered.

He waited in that position but still no one entered. Then he quietly crept to the door, pressing his ear against it. He heard -- just barely -- the two men still talking in the living room. Either they had not heard anything, or they had discounted it.

Relaxing enough to reholster his gun, Elliot returned to the window, now opening it without difficulty.

It seemed somewhat colder than during daylight hours. As he climbed out, he could see his breath illuminated by the bedroom lights.

The moon was about as far from full as it could get.

The terrace faced Park Avenue, extending half the apartment's length; the bedroom window was at the far end away from the living room. Nothing short of a small explosion could be heard by anyone there. Closing the window to prevent invading cold air from eventually betraying him, he glanced across the street to the opposite highrise and suddenly realized what a foolish risk he had taken. If anyone had been watching his apartment, the watcher would have seen his figure silhouetted against the window. Nonetheless, this was no time for recriminations, and there were no observers Elliot could detect.

After doubling over the clothesline, Elliot looped it around the bottom of the railing; this was not only to maximize the usefulness of his now only twelve-odd feet of rope, but also to minimize leverage on the rail. Now he tested the hookup by pulling against the line. It held. He wished there were a way to secure the rope around his waist but there just wasn't enough for that. He satisfied himself with wrapping the line several times around his right wrist.

The terraces were stacked directly on top of one another so there would be nothing but air between himself and the ground, six hundred feet below, while he was lowering himself. He would also have to swing himself out several feet, once he was lowered, so he would have enough momentum to drop into the terrace underneath.

Swearing not to look down, Elliot climbed over the railing, supporting himself with his left hand, until he was standing with his back to the air and his toes wedged into the slim space between bottom rail and terrace concrete. He took a deep breath. Now came the tricky part -- gradually transferring support to the line without dropping onto it like a hanged man. He did not think the plastic line would stand such a sudden jolt.

No point delaying.

Holding tight onto the line with his right hand and the railing itself with his left, Elliot began lowering himself to his knees until he was precariously balanced with his legs sticking out and his kneecaps tight against the bottom rail. Then, still holding the railing, he lowered his knees off the concrete and began transferring his weight to the clothesline.

The rail began pulling out of the concrete.

The next few moments blurred in Elliot's mind. All he knew was that he was suddenly hanging in midair with his legs flailing. There was a sharp pain in his right wrist as the rope bit into it. And there was no way he could lower himself any farther without letting go of the thin line that was between him and the ground.

Don't look down, he told himself again, then slowly -- excruciatingly -- he began pulling himself up.

The rail moved out another half an inch.

He succeeded in raising himself high enough to grab the rail directly again and, in an endless moment he was never able to recall clearly, managed to pull himself -- one knee at a time -- back onto the concrete. In another few moments he climbed back onto his toes again and from there over the railing onto the terrace. He lay there for several minutes, almost unconscious.

When he was able to, he examined his wrist where the line had burned it; aside from a deep red mark and a stinging, it seemed all right. He examined the line. It was also undamaged. He looked at the posts holding the railing and learned that only the first was loose. If he anchored the line farther down -- and this time looped the line so it would slip along -- he could try it again.

But he knew he wouldn't. It was not that he was a coward -- though at the moment he could see the merits of being one -- but climbing down a plastic clothesline on a rail with at least one loose post was not Elliot's notion of heroism. It was his notion of death. His luck had held out once, but he didn't feel like pressing it. He would have preferred to take his chances with shoot-out any day. Moreover, he was willing at the moment to defy anyone in his position to try climbing that line again.

There had to be another option. There had to be.

Elliot belly-crawled across the terrace until he was in front of the door and could see into the living room from under the lowered Venetian blind. This gave him a first sighting on his adversaries. There were only two. Both men were plain- clothed. One looked in his thirties, the other was middle-aged. The older man had his jacket off, revealing a shoulder holster and pistol . . . and this man was muscular enough that Elliot had no desire to tangle with him. In any case, both were still in the living room, which is what he had crawled over to confirm.

Sliding back to concealment, Elliot hooked the rope over the top of the railing, letting the ends hang directly down to the terrace below. He then reopened the window, climbing back in, but this time he left the window open. By no means was he certain his brainstorm would work. But it felt a good deal less uneasy than the alternatives.

Drawing his revolver, Elliot aimed out the window toward the empty sky and fired. Though expected, the reverberating explosion startled him. Elliot made a dash for the bedroom door, went through, then closed it from the other side, now pressed against the wall that cornered the living room.

Had they fallen for it? Elliot risked a look around the corner. Yes! Both men had rushed out to the terrace to learn what the explosion had been; the older man was just dashing onto the terrace when Elliot checked.

Waiting a split second more, Elliot darted through the living room and escaped to the hall.

It would be only a few seconds before they concluded that someone had just climbed the rope, rushing out to search the apartment below. Thinking quickly, Elliot ran into the laundry room, shutting the door.

A few seconds later he heard running in the hallway. The two voices seemed to pause just outside the laundry room. "He's armed," the older voice said. "Probably went off accidentally while he climbed down."

"Think he knows we have his family?"

Elliot was too stunned to notice whether there had been any response; perhaps the older man had shrugged or shaken his head. "But he knows we want him. I'll take the lower apartment. You phone the chief. Now move."

Elliot heard the fire door open and slam, then a softer slam seconds later as his apartment door was used again.

His ears were ringing as he tried to regain his composure. He had escaped with the intention of rendezvous with his family.

They would not be there.

He knew who the earlier visitors had been.

He knew why there had been no note -- why the flight reservation had been undisturbed.

His father's plan had been brilliant. What could have gone wrong? Dr. Vreeland's words echoed back at him. "One slip -- even one you might think insignificant -- may prove our downfall."

Was it his fault? Had he caused his family's arrest by failing to secure a proper countersign from Al?

Elliot found himself shaking and got angry with himself. This was no time to lose control. He had to get out fast. The stairs? No, the older man would be down there.

He stuck his head out into the hall, followed it, then pressed for the elevator, withdrawing into the laundry room until it arrived. An endless minute later it showed up. Empty.

Elliot got on -- riding it straight down -- ran out through the Seventy-forth Street fire exit, and from there to the dead chill of the city.

End of Sampler!

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