Home > Overseas(9)

Overseas(9)
Beatriz Williams

“Very well,” Warwick said to Julian, ignoring me. “Don’t forget we’re engaged with McGregor and Collins from ten o’clock.”

“I shan’t be that long, I assure you.” Julian turned to the doctor, who still stood there, looking expectant, and addressed some low-voiced question to him.

“Please,” I said hastily, reaching for my coat, “I’m not at all destitute…”

But Julian had already pressed something into the doctor’s hand, and was gathering our coats and ushering us through the door; past Hamilton, who stood back respectfully; past Warwick, who fixed me with a spiteful glare. I returned it in full. I’d worked on Wall Street for three years; I could do the alpha stare.

Plainly, Geoffrey Warwick didn’t like me.

But then, he never had.

3.

Julian’s townhouse wasn’t quite what I was expecting. In the ruthless arithmetic of Manhattan real estate, you bought the finest you could possibly afford; the hierarchy of property aligned neatly with the hierarchy of wealth. A legendary Wall Street investor should inhabit the pinnacle of all: a wide pearl-white mansion just off Fifth Avenue, perhaps, with a ballroom inside and a service entrance below; or else a cavernous floor or two atop some monumental Park Avenue apartment building.

This house was neither. It stood midway between Madison and Park, on a quiet street lined with trees, subdued and anonymous. It looked exactly like its neighbors on either side: twenty-odd feet wide; plain elegant Greek Revival lines; faced half with limestone, half with brick; entrance raised a few steps from street level. The number 52 was carved into the lintel above the front door.

I raised my hand to press the doorbell and paused. I thought I could hear the sound of a piano drifting through the walls, something lilting and complex and faintly melancholy. Chopin? I closed my eyes. When I was young, my father had played a lot of Chopin on the old turntable he’d refused to give up. I hadn’t heard it in years; I couldn’t even name the piece, but the notes were as familiar to me as my childhood bedroom.

A dark-clad figure approached, shuffling down the sidewalk. I shook off my reverie and pressed my finger against the doorbell. The music cut off.

I heard footsteps, growing louder, and the door opened in a rush of warm air against my cheeks. I was half-expecting to see a butler of some kind, but it was Julian himself, unmistakably and devastatingly Julian, wearing a dark-blue turtleneck sweater over a pair of tan corduroys.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hello, there,” he answered. “Come on in.”

“Oh, that’s okay. I just wanted to hand this off to you.” I held out a copy of the revised pitch book, bound together by David Doyle half an hour ago.

“Thanks,” he said, taking it. “I appreciate your taking the trouble to bring it round.” He hesitated.

“Um, well, I’d better get going,” I said. “Let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be checking my e-mail.” I began to turn.

“Wait,” he said. “Do you mind coming in a moment, while I look it over?” He unleashed his smile, flattening me. “I should hate to have to interrupt your Christmas with any tedious e-mails.”

“Oh, I don’t mind that. Goes with the territory, right?” I tried to smile back. “But yes, I have a couple of minutes, if you want me to wait.”

“If it’s not too much trouble.”

“Of course not.”

He stood back, allowing me past him into the hallway. “Oh,” I said, under my breath. I’d expected to find the usual stripped-down bachelor interior, with all the walls knocked out and everything painted in bright stark white. But this was something else entirely. A flight of stairs stretched in front of me, at the end of an entrance hall tiled in worn checkerboard marble. To the right, a broad archway opened to the living room, a spacious high-ceilinged rectangle in which a fire burned invitingly beneath a pale marble mantel, flanked by two plump sofas. The walls, lit by a scattering of lamps, had been painted a warm goldenrod; the abundant trim work a creamy off-white. Books sat everywhere: on shelves, primarily, but also in haphazard stacks, on the floor, on the furniture. It was comfortable. Homelike.

Julian stepped forward hastily and began removing the volumes from one of the sofas. “Sorry,” he said, setting them down on the floor. “I don’t know how they accumulate like that. They’re part rabbit, I think. Please sit down. Can I get you something? Let me take your coat.”

He was nervous, I realized. The knowledge hit me like a bludgeon, shocking and rather paralyzing. Julian Laurence, nervous? Around me? I felt his hands on my arms, removing my coat; he laid it over the top of the sofa.

“I’m fine,” I said. “I didn’t mean to drop by like this. It was Banner’s suggestion. I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you.”

“Not at all. Sit. You’re sure I can’t get you something?”

“No, really. I can only stay a minute.”

He smiled, a small faint smile, and picked up the pitch book from a side table. “Then let’s get to it, shall we?” he suggested, sitting down on the sofa opposite me. He wore soft old moccasin slippers, curving about his feet with well-worn comfort.

We were quiet for a moment. He bent over the pitch book and began flipping through the pages, leaning against the back of the sofa. I glanced down at the stack of books at my feet and squinted, trying to make out the titles.

“Oh, I see what you’ve done,” he said after a moment or two. “Interesting. So you’ve broken it down into two scenarios…”

“Yes,” I said. “The assumptions are in the footnotes.”

“But look here,” he said. “If sales are going to be growing that much in the best-case scenario… Hold on a moment; I’ll get my laptop.” He rose and padded to the rear of the room, sliding open a pair of pocket doors to reveal what looked like a library, lined with still more bookshelves. I craned my neck to watch him. He went to a desk near the rear window, unplugged a MacBook, and carried it back into the living room. “Do you mind?” he asked.

“No, of course not,” I said.

“I was trying to put together a proper model. I don’t usually do them anymore, frankly don’t find it that useful except as an exercise, but I thought… Let me just…” His voice drifted off. He frowned into the computer screen, tapping away at his model. He was so deep in concentration I felt, at last, it was safe to study him. I indulged shamelessly, staring at the squared-off tip of his chin, at the elegant line of his nose, at the full arc of his lips, all glowing in the light from the computer screen. His cheeks wore a faint pink stain, starting high on his cheekbones and then fading away into the tiny pinpricks of his beard. I wanted to reach out my hand and touch it.

“Look here a moment.” He motioned to me. “This is what I’ve done.”

I got up slowly, almost trancelike, and stepped to the other sofa. He didn’t look up. “Look.” He pointed at the screen. “Don’t you think that’s more reasonable? Here, sit down. Hold the book a moment. Now if we look at year four…”

I eased myself down next to him on the cushion, trying not to place myself too close, but it was no use. I could feel the slight warmth drifting from his body, smell the clean scent of his skin, hear the faint rush of his breath into the intimacy of the air between us. He was still holding out the presentation; I took it, folding back the previous pages with deliberate care.

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