Come See About Me
I guess that this must be a pretty close approximation of what hell is going to be like. I don't remember a whole lot about what I have taken to calling the Battle of New Orleans. As best as I can tell, it was about four years ago when I passed out in a hotel room in New Orleans while sampling cocaine, champagne and four of the freakiest bitches that New Orleans had to offer.
I have had a lot of time to think. In fact, all I have had is time to think. My newfound friend Ray Beard was in the hotel room with me, and I'll be damned if I know what happened after I felt something like an elephant kick me in the chest before I fell face first into the carpet. I do remember Ray making what sounded like a bubbling, gurgling-type noise before he collapsed and fell down next to me.
I could not move a muscle, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see Ray mumbling and drooling with his eyes rolling around in his head like jet-propelled pinballs. I also remember hearing glasses breaking, champagne buckets being knocked over and the unmistakable hiss of cocaine being snorted and scraped into various bags and other highly mobile receptacles. And I will never forget seeing two of those bitches arguing over the contents of my wallet: probably four or five thousand dollars and a few credit cards.
It was one hell of a way for a celebration to come to an end. After all, Ray and I were on top of the world. He had helped me engineer the sweet, sweet, sweetest, sweet double-cross of Diedre Douglas, Jerome Hardaway and Paul Taylor. Smart-ass Paul had encouraged Diedre, Jerome and me to merge our firms and start up something called Morningstar Financial Services. One of the first projects that my new partners and I were to announce to the public was our support of the incumbent mayor of New Orleans, Prince Lodrig, in his quest for reelection.
But Diedre, Jerome and Paul hadn't counted on the sweet backdoor move that I engineered, with a little bit of help from Jerome's former protégé, Ray Beard. We secretly supported the challenger, a manipulating, pliant and totally corrupt knucklehead by the name of Percy Broussard. By raising money through Ray's new firm and getting some outright lies about Lodrig published in the Times-Picayune, New Orleans's leading newspaper, Broussard won the primary in an upset.
I sometimes spend entire days thinking about what Paul's face must have looked like when he saw Ray and me standing behind Broussard on the stage at the victory celebration that night. I bet his eyes popped out like they do in the cartoons—replete with springs and that "boing" sound effect.
I thought that I had thought of everything. I had moved funds from my former firm, G.S. Perkins, out of the reach of my Morningstar "partners." I also made sure that there was no way that my scheming bitch of a wife, Kenitra, would be able to get anywhere near the Bahamian bank where my funds were located—at least, where I had put a good amount of my money. I never have believed in having just one backup plan.
But that night, in the Presidential Suite of the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, Ray Beard and I decided we owed ourselves a private party of epic proportions. So I arranged for the cocaine and the champagne and the women. Actually, Ray had to be persuaded to join in, and I remember wondering if his hesitancy was due to guilt—he had recently married a New York City television reporter, Monique Jefferson—or to an aversion to being around too many women, or women at all.
Frankly, I could care less, but lying in a hospital bed for God knows how long gives a person time to think about damn near everything. Like I think about the fact that I can see and hear everything going on around me, but I cannot speak or move a muscle. I feel like I have been suspended in amber.
And because I must seem like I am in some type of goddamn coma, people walk and talk around me like I am just a piece of furniture. Nobody looks at me except as some kind of clinical experiment. I have tubes and wires stuck into every part of me, and every day, someone comes in and washes me, changes my bed linen and moves my arms and legs so that my muscles don't atrophy completely. I have to say that the care is pretty good. The staff here even lifts me up and moves me around so that I don't get bedsores or infections.
I pay special attention when the doctors come in the room, trying to listen for a clue, a hint, a shred of information, that will let me know when I am going to get back to being myself. I have heard words like "catatonic" and "long-term coma" and "suspended animation," but I have not heard a syllable that lets me know when I can get up out of this bed and start kicking some ass again. And there are some asses that will be kicked, that's for sure.
I just can't wait to get started. I have a lot of plans and bright ideas that I am only too happy to share with all of my so-called friends and my lovely, faithful, loyal wife, Kenitra.
Standing in the Shadows of Love
Since I came to America, romance has been a somewhat elusive element in my life. I have had my fun, flings—amorous adventures that make me smile as hints of their memories cross the horizon of my mind. It's pretty hard to be young and single and not have fun in New York City. When you are involved with running a place like Dorothy's By the Sea, it's almost impossible to avoid having fun.
But romance ... that has been more elusive. I have thought that I have fallen in love on more than one occasion. But I have always found that the woman that I loved was not the person who I thought she was, and reality has come crashing over my head like some persistent, eternal wave that has been intent on beating some sense into my head.
This state of affairs—no pun intended—has not had a melancholy effect on me. I have seen too many good people do too many bad things in the name of love. While I have been curious about immersing myself in the experience of true romance, true life has made me something of a cynic when it comes to the sometimes-opposing axes of love and happiness.
Of course, the reason that I mention any of this is that I am now officially, truly and absolutely in love. I tried to deny it to myself. I tried to deny it to Kenitra. And we tried to deny it to each other. But I now know what those love songs are all talking about—the power of love is an undeniable power, and I am loving every minute of it. I am particularly enjoying the delicious improbability of it all.
After all, I had seen Kenitra with Gordon, and with Gordon's driver Alex, over the past few years, and I was witness to the misery and the contrived passion that seemed to form an imprisoning web that she no longer tried to escape. It would be hard to miss the signs of degradation of her body and spirit, and it was hard to believe that she could ever find her way back to herself.
After all, Kenitra Perkins used to be Kenitra, the media star, supermodel, fashion icon and internationally adored personality. Born Kenitra Simpson in a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago, she combined beauty, ambition and a disarming personality into a formidable arsenal that left men helpless and women growling with envy. She became famous, wealthy and worshipped. She also became one of those one-name icons like Madonna and Michael and Cher and Naomi and Aretha. You would be foolish to inquire as to her last name.
I just cannot begin to remember when I fell in love with Kenitra. But I know that during one of her infrequent visits to check on Gordon, she stopped at Dorothy's and asked me to sit with her, as she didn't want to drink alone.
Like it was yesterday, I can remember when I sat down on the banquette where she was sitting, delicately sipping from a flute of champagne and then licking her lips like some kind of impossibly beautiful fairy whore. Working at Dorothy's, I was used to maintaining my composure in all kinds of impossibly bizarre situations. But there was something about Kenitra's subtle but obvious tongue, flicking its tip my way, that turned my mind in the direction of twisted, sweaty sheets and moans that echoed into the universe. And up to that point, she had not said a word.
"How have you been, Mrs. Perkins?"
"Sture, please, call me Kenitra. And I'm fine."
It was amazing how a few innocuous words could hold such power and inference that they carried my very soul to the far corners of the universe of passion and longing. What was even more amazing was that I had seen and spoken to Kenitra Perkins for years and had never felt even a tremor of desire or passion.
But when she focused her golden eyes of love on me, I was simply helpless. From that moment, I was putty in her hands. I was her slave for life. A sledgehammer would have been less subtle.
I tried to pretend that I still had some control over the situation—and myself. Of course, I didn't. I remember wondering what it was about Gordon Perkins that he could so totally dominate a woman who seemed to have the power to control any being on the planet that she chose for her own. It was a mystery then, and it remains a mystery to this very day.
"You look lovely, as always. How long are you in town this time?"
"How long would you like for me to stay in New York, Sture? And please, be honest."
Before I could think, my heart overruled my head. And then I spoke. But it was as if this wondrous world of love and lust beckoned me, and her words and her eyes and her tongue extended to me a very special one-time-only invitation to go to heaven.
"If you could stay for one week, Kenitra, and I saw you for one hour, it would be the most wonderful week of my life."
She smiled. I thought I might have blushed. I certainly had shocked myself.
"In that case, Sture, I will stay for a week. But you have to make me a promise."
"Promise me that you will let me be your friend and your lover for one week. After that ... we'll see."
"It's an offer I can't refuse ... Kenitra." I had such a collision of feelings and emotions that I could barely choke out the words. In my dreams, I might have been desired by Kenitra Perkins, but not in my life, not in my lifetime. And now, here she was, wanting to be my friend and lover.
"What time are you finished at Dorothy's tonight, Sture?"
"I'm at the Waldorf. Can I expect you to knock on the door of room thirty-two thirty-two at one-thirty?"
"The hounds of hell couldn't stop me" was the best riposte I could offer. After all, my heart was alternately threatening to stop and to burst out of my chest. My hands were sweating, and my loins—well, let's just say that my loin area was just about out of control.
And so, she left Dorothy's a few minutes later and I started to count the milliseconds until it was one o'clock. In the story of my life, the best, and the worst, was yet to come.
Just Ask the Lonely
After my wife Charmaine died, it amazed me how lonely a person could be in a city of eight million people. And, I personally knew thousands of those millions, and thousands more of those millions knew me.
Yet, when Charmaine passed away, it was like I was cast into a personal dungeon of loneliness. Nothing was the same without her. The movies, the cafés, the restaurants, the plays, the concerts, the very streets of the city—they all reminded me of the times that we had spent together, the moments that we had shared. And those reminders just plunged me into depths of depression and loneliness that made me feel as if some primordial monster was sitting on my chest, making my every breath an ordeal.
Every step, every breath, every moment, everything, reminded me of Charmaine, and everything ripped open the wounds in my very soul. She and I had been together for so long that I had stopped imagining being without her. And now, I was incomplete. I was off balance, all the time.
A thousand times a day, I turned expecting to see her smile. A thousand times, I heard the phone ring and expected to hear her voice. A thousand times, I reached for her hand and grasped nothing but air. And it seemed as if a thousand times a day, tears came to my eyes for no reason except that she was gone from my life.
Our sons needed me, now more than ever. Morningstar and my partners depended on me, now more than ever. And so, after Charmaine's death, after her funeral, after placing an urn with her ashes on a special shelf in our living room, I knew that life had to go on. But knowing it and doing it were two entirely different things. And I found myself suffering more than I ever did when I knew that she was dying.
I thought of myself as living in a special kind of hell. A hell that I didn't deserve. A hell that would last forever. A hell from which there was no escape. I wished for relief from this awful misery. I prayed for relief from this awful misery. And there was no relief, no answer to my prayers. Or so it seemed at the time.
Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide
It occurs to me that it might be a good idea for me to let everyone know who's who in this story. My name is Sture Jorgensen, I was born in Norway and came to New York City to find a better life than what I knew in Bergen, and, like those of many immigrants to America, so many of my dreams have come true.
I started out living in Queens on the couch of my sister, Ilse, washing so many dishes in so many restaurants that I lost count of both a long, long time ago. And then I got my big break.
While working at the Water Club, one of the great restaurants in New York City, I filled in for a waiter friend who had a date with a double-jointed contortionist that just couldn't wait. I guess I impressed the owner, Buzzy O'Keefe, and from that night on, my life was different.
I became a full-time waiter, and then a host and maitre d' of the entire restaurant. During this dizzying rise to the heights of the restaurant universe, I met Paul Taylor, and in the process, I was introduced to a fascinating part of New York City and America, The Pride.
Paul is a tall, elegant and profoundly brilliant black attorney who is a part of this informal grouping called The Pride. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, but you would be hard-pressed to ever remember him telling anybody about his many credentials.
Paul has worked pretty much his entire professional life as an attorney, managing an eclectic practice that has included movie stars, investment banks and countries in the Caribbean and Africa. He has lived a life that most of us only dream about, traveling the world, dining in the best restaurants and staying in the best hotels on the planet. Loving and being loved by some of the most beautiful women on the planet as well.
But even with Paul Hiawatha Taylor, all is not what it seems. Along with all the glamour and pleasure and outright opulence, he has his private pain. A few years before we met, his father died suddenly in the hospital after a "routine surgery" was botched in some unfathomable, unknowable manner. A few months later, his younger brother died in a hang gliding accident in the mountains of Northern California.
And then, the woman whom I heard Paul de scribe as the love of his life, the beautiful lounge singer Samantha Gideon, died of throat cancer a few years after he and I met. It was an awful event that was simultaneously devastating and transforming for Paul.
After Samantha's death, Paul seemed to be more serious about his work than he had ever been. Most of us didn't think Paul could be more driven or obsessed with work ... and we were wrong. He was the driving force behind the Morningstar deal that merged the firms owned by Diedre, Jerome and Gordon. And after Gordon's sabotage fiasco in New Orleans, Paul was the one who kept everyone on course so that the firm was able to become the successful enterprise that he had envisioned in the first place.
As interestingly, he reunited with his ex-wife, Diedre, and soon after the Morningstar deal was closed and the firm had recovered from Gordon's broadside, they remarried, and now they have a young son. Paul calls their son, Paul Jr. or P.J., the Last Gasp of the Baby Boom. Paul always has had a talent for truly surprising his friends and adversaries, and this was just one more example of this quirky talent of his.
Excerpted from What You Sow by WALLACE FORD Copyright © 2006 by Wallace Ford. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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