Thanks for Reaching Out

“You let life happen to you, Arthur. You never aimed high, took a risk or followed a passion. And who you were is who you still are.”

Two men in suits

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Grubman sipped his cappuccino, eyeing the café’s youthful crowd with their hair and tattoos and futures. They were as oblivious to life’s lessons as they were to the fat content of their drinks. At least he had that on them. He knew all about defeat.

Across the room, a young woman sat by a window. She wore a navy pea coat. Long red hair dusted her shoulders. The morning light suffused her face with a warm glow.

“She is lovely,” said a resonant male voice. It bore the slight trace of a foreign accent.

“Huh?” He squinted up at the voice and a man’s backlit silhouette.

“May I sit, Mr. Grubman?”

Groobman,” he corrected, as his pupils whirred to a focus. The man had a close-trimmed beard and skin the color of toast.

“Mr. Groobman,” he said with a slight bow of the head. He had a smooth FM-radio voice, though not from any station in this country. He wore a gray sharkskin suit, its jacket short and tight. Skinny pants stopped short of black-and-white high-tops, as if he’d had a sudden growth spurt. He dragged a chair from an empty table, scraping it along the tile floor.

“It’s close quarters here,” Arthur said in weak protest. The stranger sat. He placed his lidded cup on the tabletop. A wisp of steam snaked from its pinhole vent. Scribbled on the cup’s side in black marker was the name “Faisal.”

“Do I know you?” Grubman was sure he didn’t know any Faisals, but it seemed like the thing to ask.

“Let’s say we are friends who have not yet met.” He had the silky manner of a luxury car salesman.

“I’ll just say I don’t know you.” The name written on Arthur’s own cup was “Ramon.” He liked to order his coffee under an alias. One day he was Dmitry, the next, Santiago. A touch of intrigue in a humdrum life.

“Faisal al-Rahman bin Hussein.” The man offered his hand. Grubman took it warily, then dropped it fast.

“How do you know my name?”

“It was put forward by a colleague. A man of vision.”

Put forward?”

“I am not at liberty to say more.”

Grubman arched an eyebrow. He saw Bond do it once in a movie. “Look, I don’t know what you’re selling,” he said, “but I don’t go in for religious stuff.”

“Nor do I. I am not here to proselytize.”

“Two Chabad guys once pulled me into a van and forced me to don phylacteries. I emerged badly shaken.”

The man nodded with sympathy. “As anyone would.”

Grubman shrugged. “They meant well.” He didn’t like making common cause with this guy. A silence fell between them. “So, what’s your pitch?”

“I admire your directness, a quintessential American trait. You, how do they say, cut through the bullshit.”

“It’s been said of me before.” It hadn’t, but he saw it as a new brand he wished to cultivate.

Faisal reached into his jacket, withdrew a small journal and thumbed through it. He stopped at a page and read aloud: “Arthur Grubman. Few friends. No respect from wife and daughter. Thirty-two years an analyst with Greencastle & Franklin. Terminated unceremoniously.”

A Grubman forefinger shot up. “A modest ceremony was held in the break room,” he said. “Just to be accurate.”

The man continued. “And I see that you and your brother have not spoken in five years.” He closed the notebook and returned it to his jacket.

“Walter has country club friends now. He calls himself an equestrian.” In a consoling gesture, Faisal patted Grubman’s forearm, outstretched as it was on the table. Grubman pulled it away. “Where’d you get all this stuff? There are privacy laws, you know.”

“All publicly available intel,” the man said. It pleased Grubman to hear the mundane facts of his life referred to as “intel.” Faisal went on. “Sir, what if instead of contempt, the mention of your name brought only tears of love from your family? What if your former employer bemoaned the day he dismissed you?”

“Sure, in some parallel universe.” Arthur looked across the room. The girl in the pea coat reached behind her head, gathered her ginger hair in one hand, and brought the other around to tie it into a loose topknot.

“I see you as a heroic figure, sir.” Grubman’s mind was elsewhere. It took a moment for it to drift back.

“An invisible hero maybe,” he said. “The world cares not for a man who meets his obligations.” His random phrasing hit a Kennedyesque note.

“The world will care when we bring it to their attention.”

“What are you suggesting — a publicity campaign?”

“More or less.”

“Pick one.”

“I would call it an image makeover.”

Grubman snorted. “My life is a Gulf oil spill. And if it’s money you’re after, my income is fixed.”

“We can work within your budget.”

So, you’re in public relations?”

“More like an event planner.”

“Weddings? Bar Mitzvahs?”

“Our métier is conjuring an environment.”

“Can you put that in English? And not just the French part.”

“We set the stage for a client to act, to take charge. To allow, as it were, his inner hero to emerge. There is nothing like a brave and selfless act to alter one’s public perception.”

“Well that’s not totally out of character for me. Given half a chance, I would always help people. I’m that kind of guy. In the right situation.”

“We shall create the right situation.” He looked around for eavesdroppers, then leaned in, sotto voce: “Do you recall that pilot who fought off a hijacker? Then landed his plane in Jamaica Bay with no loss of life?”

“Sure, who doesn’t? Now that’s a hero.” Faisal turned his palms up and smiled.

“What?” said Arthur. “You did that?”

“Captain Willoughby was in need of an image realignment. His personal life was, what you call, a shit show: gambling, drugs, domestic battery.” He flicked a speck of lint from his lapel.

“Huh. He seemed like such a straight arrow on the news: tall, with that flinty little mustache, so media savvy and confident.”

“Weeks of preparation went into it. Our first client. Everything grew from that. We have learned much since.”

“Jeez. How do you pull a thing like that off?”

“There were many moving parts, a huge task.”

“So, wait, what are you saying? You got some kind of event planned for me? To make me look … heroic?”

“At this point, nothing is worked out. We have an inkling of a concept.”

“What is it?”

He shook his head. “Still in the development stage.”

“Understood. But you can give me a hint, right?”

His face was a mask of regret. “At this point, it is too embryonic.”

“Gimme a ballpark. I can work with a ballpark.”

“I would be doing us both a disservice — ”

“Look, I’ve been there — forced to do a long-range earnings forecast. They tell you they won’t hold you to it, then they hold you. I won’t.”

“I always rehearse a pitch,” said Faisal. “I am reluctant to … wing it.”

“It’s a work in progress, understood. C’mon.”

Faisal sighed as though Arthur had backed him into a corner. “You are a persuasive man, sir. Remember, this is just spit-balling.” A pained expression said it was against his better judgment. He took a breath. As he began to speak, his hands painted a picture. “Times Square. A sunny spring day. Crowded with theatergoers, tourists, children. Unnoticed by all is a man. Nondescript. Run of the mill. He ambles into their midst, drops his backpack on a bench. Sits. Removes his cap. Drinks from a water bottle. Quite normal. Nothing to see here. After a moment, he stands, puts his cap back on. Walks off. He leaves behind his backpack. Arthur Grubman is the only one to witness this.”

“Times Square? Never go there. Such a zoo with that pedestrian mall.”

“You are there on this day. And you suspect the man was not forgetful. The act seemed deliberate. Sinister. You replay it in your mind. Did you just see what you think you saw?”

“Did I?”

“You did. And, for a moment, you are frozen. A case of cognitive dissonance. You gather your wits. Stir yourself to action. You have seen something and you must say something. You, Arthur Grubman, know you must warn people.”

“Yes, I would do that. That’s me in a nutshell.”

“‘Get away! Get back!’ you yell to the mob, tentative at first. ‘Get back!’ But alas,” his brow furrowed, “this is New York.”

“Sure, they think I’m a screwball. Lunatics in this city are a dime a dozen. A dime, ten dozen.”

“You wave your arms, you point: ‘A bomb! Run!’”

“This is not a test,” I could yell. “This is happening, people!” Arthur was caught up in it.

“Yes, good. Now you have the attention of some. They begin to back away from the bench.”

“Thank God.”

“But not many, and not fast enough.” Grubman slumped. “Some think it is a sick joke. A stunt. Only you comprehend the full gravity of this moment.”

“I can size up a situation faster than most. I don’t get enough credit for that. So, I call the authorities, right?”

“No. There is no time. You must take action. Now.”

“I scream louder, wave my arms … ”

“Yes, that too. But something more drastic is needed.”

“What else can I do? I’m only one man.”

“You run to the knapsack.”

“I do?”

“Yes. And you throw your body over it.”

Arthur looked confused. “Why?”

“Because you are Arthur Grubman. And underneath that hapless exterior is a spine of forged steel.”

“Hapless? Is that how I come off?”

“A turn of phrase, disregard it. Now, people run. But you fear you may have only made a fool of yourself. Most likely the bag is filled with books or clothing.”

“Odds are.”

“Time stands still. An unearthly quiet.”

“False alarm.”

“KABOOM!!” Arthur flew back in his seat. “Huge explosion. BIG. Thick, acrid smoke. Lampposts topple. Billboards shatter. Storefronts, blown to bits. A war zone. At first, silence. Then: screams, crying. The whoop-whoop of car alarms. Police cars. Fire trucks. Shrieking sirens. Homeland Security. Hazmat suits. Rubble is searched, witnesses debriefed. All agree: it is a miracle. The selfless act of one man saved a hundred, maybe more. No tourist, no child is hurt. Your body — something to do with physics — blunted the blast’s full force. It makes news worldwide. There are candlelight vigils. Streets and schools are named after you. The Arthur Grubman International Airport. A Grubman statue is proposed for Broadway. You are an inspiration to humankind in a cold and cynical age. At the White House, Hilda and Tara — that is your wife and daughter?

“Yes.”

“They receive your posthumous Medal of Freedom. Tara’s emotional tribute to her dad logs a hundred million views online!” Faisal was clearly spent, moved by his own tale. “So. What do you think? First impression.”

Grubman stared at him for a long moment.

“What else you got?”

“No. Really? I led with my strongest one.” He seemed crushed by the response. “It was too soon, I knew it. You pushed me into it.” He pouted and studied the clear polish on his manicured nails. In a subdued voice he said: “If you have notes, we can address them.

“I got a note all right, a big one. Look, maybe you have something else? Something more like that pilot who ditched in the bay? The one who lived?”

“This is the problem with an early success. You are always urged to repeat yourself. Succumb and you stagnate creatively.” Faisal sulked for a moment. “Then again. I may have something that involves commercial travel.”

“Great. Now you’re talking.”

“Though I am shocked you passed on Times Square. When I think of the hours our team put in.”

“Look, there were a lot of good things in it, don’t get me wrong. It’s just—well, what’s the other one?”

“All right.” He took a deep breath. “Again, winging it.”

“Understood.”

“Broad strokes.”

“We can fill them in later.”

“Please reserve judgment till the end.”

“Promise.”

Faisal composed himself, and managed to summon a new enthusiasm. “Fade in: The Acela Express from Washington, D.C. With stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.”

“Good. I like it. And a train can’t fall out of the sky.”

“Friday afternoon. Packed. Senators, congressmen, lobbyists, all returning home for the weekend. And you, Arthur Grubman, everyman, are onboard as well.”

“Why?”

“Can we address motivation later?”

“A reflex. Sorry.”

“You have just toured the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, our nation’s most patriotic sights.”

“So, you’re an American citizen?”

“Pending. Then, without warning, a figure in black appears in First Class. Ski mask, assault rifle, thousands of rounds of ammunition.”

Grubman’s mood soured. “Is this the same guy from Times Square?”

“You’re killing my rhythm. He may be a lone wolf, or part of a team. He has emerged from the restroom, or down from the roof and between cars. Yes, better. We need to storyboard it. You can see my lack of preparation.”

“Not a problem, continue … ”

“The man fires an explosive round into the ceiling. A fearful hush comes over the car.”

“Can’t he just yell to get their attention? A bullet can ricochet and hurt someone. I mean, as long as we’re staging it.”

Faisal shot Grubman a look. “The passengers are frightened, whimpering. He assures them they will be freed upon arrival in New York.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“But no one is fooled. His plan is clear. At Penn Station he will open fire, mowing down hundreds of commuters as well as those present. You can smell the fear. There is weeping, praying.”

“Where do I figure in?”

“You, Arthur Grubman, will have none of it.”

“I might have some of it.”

“No. It is against every fiber of your being. You are a student of history. You know that those who do not learn from it are doomed.”

“Which history specifically?”

“The Munich Agreement, the Hitler-Stalin Pact … other things. You take a deep breath, steel yourself.”

“Don’t know what I can do, I’m unarmed.”

“You bolt from your seat and tear up the aisle.”

“Why? Why would I do that? It’s out of character.”

“Not your true character. You are a patriot. You have just paid honor to our martyred presidents: Lincoln, Kennedy. You walked among the alabaster tombs of Arlington. You know there are times when a cause is bigger than one’s self. We call it courage. We call it heroism. You go straight for the gunman.”

Grubman paled. “Can you give me a golf club, or something? Maybe I can whack him with a three-iron.”

“The militant raises his Kalashnikov.”

“No.”

“Squeezes the trigger … ”

“Stop!”

“RATATATATATATATATATAT! RATATATATATATATAT!” Grubman flinched. “Bullets rip into your flesh!”

Oh, God.

“A hundred find their mark before you hit the floor! Smoke seeps from your shredded clothing. You bleed out in the aisle.”

“How does this help anyone?”

“Aha. You created a distraction. Two beefy marines on leave see their opening. They jump the evildoer, pummel him, restrain him with belts. I know the perfect men for this, I think they are available. The assassin lies there comatose — but alive.”

“I’m glad he is.”

“Authorities debrief him. Co-conspirators are rounded up. Future tragedy averted. Homeland issues a statement: ‘Without Arthur Grubman’s heroic self-sacrifice, countless innocents would have died.’ It makes news worldwide. There are candlelight vigils. Streets and schools are named after you. The Arthur Grubman International Airport. A statue is proposed for Penn Station. When our two marines receive medals at the White House you, too, are present — in spirit. Our President declares the second Monday of every August Arthur Grubman Memorial Day.”

“Why August?”

“An open month, no national holidays. He hails you as an inspiration to humankind in an otherwise cold and cynical age. Your wife and daughter will live out their long lives with a deep pride — but a pride tinged with profound regret. For they never knew the nobility and selflessness of the father-slash-husband who lived in their midst.” Faisal, exhausted, sat, and flashed Grubman a triumphant look. “Your candid reaction?”

Grubman felt as if he’d been sucked into a tornado and spit out. He was drained of all emotion. “I can’t help but notice a certain recurring theme in these scenarios,” he said with a trace of weariness.

“And that is?”

“I die! I die!” Heads turned in his direction. He didn’t care. “The problem with all these proposals is I get dead. Look, you did a lot of nice work here. Love the whole hero concept. But I don’t need to be that big of a hero.”

“You underestimate the challenge. A big problem needs a big solution.”

“I’m not a pedophile! Not a serial killer! I’m just a guy. I’ve lived a respectable life. Can’t we modify it so I come out alive?” He thought for a moment. “Can I give you a for-instance?”

“I love people telling me how to do my job. Fine, go ahead.”

“All right, picture this. Manhattan. I’m standing at a street corner waiting for the walk signal. To my left, a bus is racing to make it through the intersection before the light turns. Behind me, on the sidewalk, I hear something approaching, something tinny, scraping, and in the corner of my eye I see a kid, maybe six years old, speeding along on a scooter. Not slowing down. He’s about to race off the curb into the path of the bus. A woman yells, “Noah, stop!” He keeps going. Without hesitation, I swing around, grab the kid and swoop him up into my arms. “Whoa, where you goin’, little guy?” I say. His scooter rolls into traffic, crushed under the monster bus wheels. The young mother runs to us. She sobs with gratitude, throws her arms around me. “How can I ever repay you?” A passerby gets it on video. It makes the five o’clock news! What do you think? Hero, but not dead hero.”

Faisal shook his head. “Won’t work.”

“Why not?”

“Too local.”

“It goes viral.”

“Any idea what you are competing with today on the internet? What it takes to break through? Your scenario is cute. You may get some small media buzz. But it has no legs.”

“I don’t need the airport, the statue, the medal.”

“You also won’t get the schadenfreude of your wife and daughter’s guilt and self-recrimination. That’s a big part of it. You want that, right?”

He did. He nodded.

“For that we need your death. Your death is the icing on the cake.”

“All right, let’s turn it up a notch. I’m waiting for a subway. A blind woman comes along, sweeping a white cane before her, feeling her way across the platform. She approaches the edge. And before anyone can stop her, she tumbles onto the tracks. We hear a train thundering toward the station. She’s out cold. People are frozen. But not me! I leap down from the platform. The train is loud, closer. No time. I roll her limp body into that shallow trench between the tracks and dive on top of her. The F Train screams in, five cars roll over us till the brakes hold. Workmen climb under with lights. Commuters on the platform wait and watch. When the two of us crawl out, alive, they’re ecstatic. Jaded New Yorkers cry tears of joy.”

“And I suppose someone gets it on video.”

“Big time. Who doesn’t have a cell phone today? We’ll have lots of coverage. I’m on the 11 o’clock news, the cover of the Post.”

Faisal spoke slowly and patiently as if to a child. “Perhaps you haven’t noticed: there is a high bar for news today. Today you need mass casualties or their potential to even qualify. You need a deceased hero. “

“You keep pushing that. The pilot in Jamaica Bay! Today he’s a living network analyst!”

“Pete Willoughby still had more to contribute, as did his 280 passengers.”

“And I don’t?”

Faisal shrugged. “Not so much.”

“Wrong. I have plenty to give. I’m thinking about volunteer work. Maybe lepers. They don’t get much play these days. And why does everything have to be a terrorist plot? It’s distasteful. There are ways to be a hero without hugging a time bomb.”

“Terrorism hits people where they live, so to speak. Visceral. Besides, I like to stick with a milieu I’m familiar with. They say ‘write what you know.’”

“What do you mean “familiar with”?

“Well, I once lived … on the dark side.”

At first Arthur did not catch his meaning. Then it dawned. “A terrorist? I’m sitting in Starbucks with a terrorist?”

“Please, use your indoor voice.” He looked around nervously. “Former terrorist. The preferred term is ‘jihadist.’ My nom de guerre was Abu Jamal. Perhaps you saw my wanted poster?”

“You don’t dress like any jihadist I know.”

“Former. Former. Can’t a man have a second act?”

“I’m glad you saw the error of your ways.”

“To be honest, it was no way to make a living. Sleeping in safe houses, on the sofas of confederates, waiting, always waiting. It is a young man’s game. One soon learns that blowing up a shopping mall is not going to fix the world.”

“I could’ve told you that. That could’ve been my heroic act. Stopping you.”

“I wanted a future, a family, a permanent cell phone number.” He nodded to his iPhone 12 on the table. “For five years I lived in this country, in a cramped flat, eating fast food, waiting to be activated. I watched as men half as clever got rich. I saw the American Dream in action. I grew intrigued by capitalism and a free market. I thought: why not me?” He buffed a smudge on the crystal of his Rolex with the opposite sleeve. “I hit on an idea, one that could only work in this great, generous country. It was this: Why not take the terrorist template and turn it on its head? Repurpose it. Monetize it.”

“This is a real Horatio Alger story.”

“Instead of the suicide bomber as hero to his cause, why not sell the hero rights?”

“That’s where I come in — the shmuck who drowns in a pool of his own blood.”

“Everything has its trade-offs, Mr. Grubman. We need your death to underline the virtue of your life. Be honest. Your passing would not be a big loss.”

“It would to me. I’m not a bad guy. I contributed. I kept Greencastle & Franklin within its fiscal limits for thirty-two years. I married, fathered a daughter.”

Faisal shrugged. “On the world stage? A bit player in a non-speaking role. But in death, ah, in death you could shine. There you could step to the footlights. Think of your grandchildren picnicking in Arthur Grubman Park. Imagine their pride.”

“Grandchildren? Have you met my daughter? A real sour puss.”

“Look, some do better in death. Take Lincoln. In life, a dour, awkward man. Size 14 shoes. His countrymen called him a monkey. In death? Ten thousand biographies, a billion pennies, a Town Car! Who knows what you could accomplish dead.” He clasped his hands together on the table and leaned forward. “Your choice is simple, Mr. Grubman. Do you want to be a live zero or a dead hero?”

“But death is the end. Finito. As long as I’m alive, I have a chance to turn things around.”

“You had decades to do that. Get real, sir. I offer you a chance to stop being a passive observer of your own life.”

“By ending it?”

“I call it proactive.”

“But doesn’t a modest life have worth? Mine is precious to me. I enjoy the little things: a fresh cup of coffee, a walk in the park, a limited crime series on cable. An unimportant life, I guess, but why throw it away? You know what they say: you only live once.”

“They also say, ‘When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.’ Speaking of which, may I ask, were you planning on burial or cremation?”

“Burial. Near my parents.”

“A mistake. Nothing is sadder than an unvisited, untended grave. Weeds, a weathered gravestone defiled by graffiti. . .”

“You’re a real ego booster.”

“Imagine, if you will, the gravesite of Arthur Grubman, national hero. Think of his memorial. Grubman’s Tomb. Built with millions in small contributions: two dollars, five dollars. The People’s Tomb. A fountain, an eternal flame. An eternal fountain! Tour buses at the curb. That Grubman will never be alone. Crowds will flock to him. His resting place will be a modern Mecca.”

“I won’t have a moment’s peace.”

“Your family will cry over you on Christmas and Father’s Day!”

“I only wish I were there to enjoy it.”

“Who is to say? Do we really know what happens after we are gone? In any case, you can enjoy it now. You can savor it now.”

So, Grubman tried it on for size. In his mind’s eye he saw Hilda and Tara trudging up a snowy slope to his crypt, a bitter wind slapping at their cheeks, if-onlys spinning in their heads. A busload of tourists part as the two women step forward to lay a holiday wreath. They bow their heads in prayer before his monument — simple, understated, solid granite, like the man himself. And engraved thereon: “The world cares not for a man who meets his obligations.”

Faisal slid a business card across the table. It was black and made of a hard laminate. A phone number in silver foil numerals seemed to float above it like a hologram.

As Grubman walked home from Starbucks, he weighed the pluses and minuses and weighed them again. His takeaway was the same. When you got down to it, it was better to be Arthur Grubman alive than Gandhi, Salk or Jackie Robinson dead. Sure, those guys have their triumphs, a toehold in history, the gratitude of mankind. But Arthur Grubman, alive, can walk into Mulligan’s for a beer. Life, he thought, still has the edge.

Grubman fumbled with his keys. He placed his computer bag on the console table in the foyer. He heard a familiar voice and the laughter of women. He turned and walked into the living room.

“There he is! The man of leisure.” Walter was sprawled on the couch. He held a tumbler of amber liquid in his bronzed hand. He was dressed as Grubman had last seen him, in dungarees, scuffed cowboy boots, a western shirt with pearl snaps. A tan felt Stetson on his head.

“What brings you in from Tombstone?” said Grubman to his brother.

“Starting already?” said Walter. He looked at Hilda and Tara on the loveseat. “See how he starts?”

“Don’t start, Arthur,” said Hilda.

“He’s from Teaneck. Who dresses like that from Teaneck?”

“What do you care how I dress?”

“You want to chase your brother away for another five years?”

“I can try.”

“I was in town for a meeting, Art. I thought I’d make the gesture.”

“He made the gesture, Arthur.”

“The problem with you is,” said Walter, “you’re a grievance collector.”

“Me? Live and let live is my motto.”

“He’s got an enemies list, Uncle Walter,” said Tara.

“Another country heard from,” said her father.

“As I was saying to the girls,” said Walter, “you ought to come to Colorado and see our spread. We’ll saddle you up.”

“Not my thing, Tex.”

“I can just picture him on the open prairie,” said Tara.

“My fan club,” said Grubman.

“You know what Ronnie Reagan said,” said Walter. “‘There’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.’”

“Reagan. You used to loathe Reagan.”

“I woke up,” said Walter. He sucked the last bit of liquid from his glass. “If you want to give your money to the rabble, go ahead.”

“Why don’t I refresh that for you,” said Hilda. She scooped up his glass with an eagerness Grubman had never seen.

“You did one smart thing, Art. You found the right girl here and stuck by her.” He winked at Hilda.

“Yes, and I’m the stuckee,” she said. The two in-laws laughed. Hilda dropped ice into the glass and topped it off with Grubman’s best scotch. She handed it back to her brother-in-law, who raised it in toast: “Stay positive, test negative.’ He downed a huge gulp. “By the way, I want to extend an invitation.”

“An invitation? Sounds exciting,” said Hilda.

“To the grand opening of the Walter and Mae-Ling Grubman Cancer Pavilion at Aspen Valley Hospital. It’s important to give back,” he said. “We’re only here for a short time.”

“Seems like you’ve been here for hours.”

“Arthur!” said Hilda.

“I’m kidding him.”

“Don’t hold it against Walter that he made something of his life.”

“And I didn’t?”

“Hey, kids, don’t get in a row over me.”

She looked at her husband. “You let life happen to you, Arthur. You never aimed high, took a risk or followed a passion. And who you were is who you still are.”

Grubman reeled. His shoulders sagged. Humiliated, he lowered his head and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. There, his right hand felt a hard, plastic business card. He ran his thumb lightly over its edge.

“Truth be told, Art” said Walter, “you found a safe little corner for yourself and spent thirty years in a defensive crouch.”

Grubman beheld the contempt of his wife, daughter, and brother. He stroked the card in his pocket. As he pressed his thumb down onto it, its sharp point dug deep, deep into his skin.

Featured image: Daroff advertisement, The Saturday Evening Post, December 6, 1958

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Comments

  1. Thanks for reading and liking this, Bob. When the iPhone 12 debuts in September, this story will be cutting edge.

  2. This story has a little bit of everything in it, including part of a mid-century print ad at the top. Jealousy, embarrassment, foreign intrigue, an unexpected homecoming, and an ending that may provide a clue as to what Art may have in mind for his brother. I’d advise Walter not to turn his back on Art, he might just find a knife in it.

    I love the writing style here as well as the story, even if the iPhone 12 hasn’t come out yet. I could especially “hear” Faisal as much as Art while reading. I love Persian/Arabic accents and am pretty good at putting one on if needed. The writing script sure is beautiful and exotic. This story definitely has the smell of success at its core, and it’s not very sweet Mr. Barrie, is it?

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