Fifth Avenue: Chapter Two (Full Chapter)

10/07/2010 Posted by Admin


     George Redman left the limousine, moved to the front of The Redman International Building and was engulfed by reporters. 
     He pushed through the crowd and tried to ignore the cameras and microphones being thrust in his face.  His world was the twin glass doors ahead of him.  He would say nothing until he spoke to Celina--but that didn't stop the reporters or their cacophony of voices.
     "Can you give us a statement?”
      “Do you think this has to do with your plans to take over WestTex? The recent decline in Redman International's stock?"
     "Who's responsible for this, Mr. Redman?"
     George glanced at the reporter who asked that question and then pressed forward, thinking it was the best question yet.  Who was responsible for this?
     The crowd was still shouting questions when he entered the building.
     Celina was waiting for him beyond the doors and, as George embraced her, he thought she never looked or felt better to him.
     "Are you all right?" he asked.
     "I'm fine."  Knowing her father as well as she did, Celina said, "Really.  I'm fine."
     George looked around the lobby.  Later that evening it would be filled with some of the most influential men and women in the world as they celebrated the grand opening of his building.  He had been working toward this day for years.  And now this.
     "What happened?" he asked.
     Celina explained everything to him.  When she told him about the man who was trapped behind the spotlight, she raised her hands in apology. "I tried to keep what happened to him from the press, but it was impossible.  The reporters got wind of it before I could do anything."
     "Don't worry about it," George said. "This wasn't our fault.  If anything, they'll be congratulating you for saving that man's life.  Was anyone else hurt?"
     "The most severe cases were the two men I told you about over the phone.  A Dr. Richards from New York Hospital called twenty minutes ago to tell me that one man will need extensive skin grafting on his neck and face, the other on his hands, arms and chest."
     George shook his head.  He already was under attack by the media for his proposed takeover of WestTex Incorporated.  If this situation wasn't handled properly, he knew he would be besieged for something he wasn't even responsible for.
     "So, we’re facing lawsuits."
      "Not necessarily," Celina said.  "I sent Kate and Jim from PR to speak to the families of those who were hurt.  If all goes well, each wife will be driving a Lexus by week's end, their kids will have their college educations paid for, money will be in their bank accounts--and we'll have signed documents saying that each family has waived all rights to sue."
     Something caught her eye and she turned.  George followed her gaze.  Across the lobby, three men in dull yellow jackets were stepping into one of the elevators with two large dogs.  "Bomb squad," Celina said.  "They arrived just after the police and fire department."
     "How long will they be?"
     She checked her watch.  "A full crew is here," she said.  "They've already covered the first eighteen floors.  With the help of those dogs, I wouldn't be surprised if they're out of here in the next few hours--leaving us time to make a final statement to the press and last-minute preparations for the party."
     "If anyone shows," George pointed out.
     "They'll show," she said.  "If only because they've paid ten grand per couple, they'll show.   Besides, when have you ever known one of Mom's parties to fail?"
     George raised an eyebrow.  She had a point there.
     They moved to the bar.  "So, who did it?" Celina asked.
     "No idea.  I've been racking my brain since I got your call."
     "I phoned the company who supplied the spotlights and was told that each light was inspected before delivery.  If that's true--and I'm not saying it is--then that can only mean that someone here planted the bombs."
     "Have the police questioned the lighting crew?"
     "They're being questioned now, but what I can't figure out is why a more powerful bomb wasn't used.  The three that went off earlier were low-impact explosives.  They were designed to cause only minor damage."
     "I've been thinking the same thing."
     "So, what is this?  A prank?"
     George shrugged.  "Who knows?  Maybe someone hates the design of our building."
Somehow, her father usually managed to keep his sense of humor, even in situations as difficult as this.  "What's the word on RRK?" she asked.
     "If they were nervous about backing us before, they must be terrified now,” he said.
Roberts, Richards, and Kravins--better known as RRK--was the investment group George hired to help finance the takeover of WestTex Incorporated.  Although George had management, without RRK's $3.75 billion war chest, without their skills and the banks they had locked up, he wouldn't be able to complete this deal on his own.
     "I haven't heard a word," he said.  "But I'm sure I will by this evening.  This is probably the excuse Frank Richards has been waiting for.  He’s never been in favor of this takeover.  If he thinks someone rigged those spotlights to make a statement about our falling stock, or to protest our interest in WestTex, he won't think twice about pulling out--regardless of any deal we have with him."
     Celina knew that was true.  While there were other banks and investment groups who might be willing to take the risk her father was offering, few were as experienced as RRK when it came to LBOs.
     "Have you seen your sister today?” he asked.  “Your mother was looking for her earlier.  She was supposed to help her prepare for tonight's party."
     "And Mom thought she'd show?"  Celina tilted her head.  "Leana probably doesn't even know what happened here today."
     “I need to call your mother,” he said.  “She made me promise to call as soon as I knew something.  If you see Leana, tell her your mother needs her."
     Although she knew she wouldn't see Leana until later that evening, Celina agreed and followed her father to the door.
     The press was there, cameras and microphones raised.  "You can use one of the side entrances," she said.
     "And lose their sympathy at the very moment I need it most?  Forget it."
     And then he was gone, through the doors, swarmed by reporters and finally answering whatever questions he could.  Celina watched him for a moment, listened to the crowd's frenzied shouting, but then she stepped away and resumed her work.  There was still much to be done before the party.

*  *  *

     The sun was just beginning to set behind Manhattan's jagged horizon when Leana Redman left Washington Square.
     She had been in the park since morning, reading the latest edition of Vogue, talking with those people she knew, watching those she didn't.
     Now, as she passed the big empty fountain and neared the white arch, she watched the many children playing with their parents, hesitated when she saw a father twirl his young daughter in the air, and then kept walking, oblivious to the man taking pictures of her.
     Evening was beginning to descend, but the air was balmy and she was glad to be wearing only shorts and a T-shirt.  At twenty-five, Leana Redman had a long, thick mane of curly black hair, which, to her dismay, she had inherited from her father.  Although she wasn't considered as beautiful as her twenty-nine-year-old sister, people always looked twice at her.  There was something about her that made them look twice.
     She left the park, crossed Waverly Place and began moving up Fifth.  The sidewalks were jammed with people.  A group of five teenage boys darted past her on skateboards, screaming and shouting as they shot through the crowd in a colorful blur of red and white and brilliant shades of green.
     Leana lifted her face to the warm breeze and tried to focus on the problem ahead of her--tonight's party.  She had planned on not attending when her mother, sensing this, demanded her presence.  "Your father will be expecting your support."
     The irony almost made Leana laugh.  He's never needed me before.
     Four hours ago she was supposed to have met Elizabeth at their Connecticut estate and help her with last-minute preparations for the party.  Why her mother wanted her help was beyond Leana--especially since they both knew that Celina would take care of everything.  As she always does.
     She stopped at a crowded newspaper stand.  A man moved beside her.  Leana gave him a sidelong glance.  Tall and dark, his face lean and angular, the man wore an unseasonably warm black leather jacket that exposed a broad chest and the sophisticated, 35mm camera hanging around his neck.
     Leana sensed she'd seen him before.
     It was her turn in line.  Ignoring the many newspapers and magazines that carried front-page pictures of her father, Celina and the new building, she asked the attendant for the latest issue of Interview, paid him and then tucked the magazine into the colorful, oversized Prada handbag that hung at her side.
     She looked again at the man in black leather, saw that he was staring at her and she started up Fifth, aware that he had purchased nothing and now was following her.  It wasn't until she glimpsed his reflection in a storefront window that she realized he was taking photos of her.
     Leana stopped.  She turned and was about to ask what newspaper he worked for when she saw, tucked between the folds of his black leather jacket, the butt of a revolver.
     Startled, she looked at the man's face just as he lowered the camera.  When he smiled at her, she recognized him.  Earlier that morning, in the park, he had been sitting on the bench next to hers.  She thought then that he had been watching her.  Now, she knew that he had.
     "Tonight," the man said, "after these pictures are developed, I'm going to pin them to the wall beside my bed--with the others I have of you."  His smile broadened, revealing even white teeth.  "And soon--before you know it, really, Leana--I plan on taking you home with me and showing them to you, myself."
     She turned away from him with such speed, the magazine toppled out of her handbag and fell to the pavement.  The pages fanned open.  Ahead of her, a taxi was dropping off a fare.
     Leana rushed to it.  The man followed.
     "Wait!" she shouted, but the cab already had pulled away.  A quick glance over her shoulder confirmed the man was still there.  The shiny butt of his revolver glinted in a band of sunlight.  Leana was about to shout for help when another cab pulled to the curb. Frantic, she ran toward it, her heart pounding, and stepped inside just as an elderly couple stepped out.
     She slammed the door shut and locked it just as the man tried opening the door.  His face was only inches from the glass and he looked furious, as if he had been cheated out of a prize.  He slapped his hand against the glass and Leana recoiled.
     The cab wasn't moving.  Leana looked at the driver and saw that he was waiting for a break in traffic.  "He's got a gun!" she shouted.  "Get us out of here!"
     The cabbie looked at the man, saw the rage on his face and punched the accelerator, nearly causing an accident as he cut into traffic and raced toward Washington Square.
Leana looked out the back window.  The man was on the sidewalk, his camera hanging around his neck, his arms at his side.
     "I didn't know you were in trouble," the cabbie said.  "Are you okay?  Do you want me to take you to the police?"
     She considered it, but thought better of it.  "By the time we turn the corner, he'll be gone."  She leaned against the cab's torn vinyl seat.  "Just drop me off at the new Redman International Building on Fifth and 49th.  My car's there."
     "I wouldn't count on it." 
     "What's that supposed to mean?"
     "You've gotta be kidding me."
     "I don't know what you're talking about."
     "Doesn't anyone pay attention to the news anymore?"  He spoke slowly.  "This morning, three bombs exploded on top of the building."
     Leana's face paled.  Her father and sister were there today, preparing for tonight's party.  "Was anyone hurt?"
     "A few people.  One guy would have died if it wasn't for Celina Redman.  She saved his life."
Leana’s jaw tightened.  "How?"
     "Through quick thinking, the guy on the radio said.  She's a hero."
     "What she is is a fucking bitch."
     The cabbie stopped for a red light and glanced at her in the rearview mirror, not quite sure he heard her right.  "You know the Redmans, or something?"
     Leana wondered again why she had been so concerned for her family's safety.  After all the times her parents ignored her, after all the times they chose Celina over herself, how could she possibly have any feelings for them besides contempt?
     "No," she said.  "I don't know them at all."

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