Tiger is a nineteen-year-old runaway who comes to the big city to start anew. There she meets Luther, a quirky con artist with charm to burn. Together they pull small scams and petty crimes on the populace of New York in the 1970s, making their money and falling in love. But a con artist is a con artist seven days a week, and soon Tiger finds herself wondering if Luther will ever be able to settle down and start building a life with her.
This mesmerizing, surprising novel explores two unforgettable people as they live and love in Manhattan—and enchants readers with a romance impossible to forget.
“An utterly different contemporary love story.” —Publishers Weekly
“This hustles and hypes in a very attractive fashion.” —Kirkus Reviews
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Subway people, whatever their individual identities, share three things in common: They are semihuman; they are going somewhere; and they do not speak to one another. They merely carry their isolation from one place to the next, and at the end of some mystical time period, they simply reverse the process. There are, however, a few of the species that subway folks themselves do not take to. They do not take to people who have fits, or throw up, or release their bladders, or die, or beg. The last of the aforementioned are the most burdensome in that they can cost money. Watching people die or wet or get sick — that's free. It can also be stepped over or around. But beggars — beggars are a no-no. Especially blind beggars. With guitars. And helpers.
And so, when the door at the rear end of the next to last car of the Sea Beach Express slid open, and when the tall and fairly decently dressed blind man with dark glasses groped his way in, the passengers pressed back as one and made room for him, fearing perhaps that blindness was contagious.
Behind the blind man came his helper, a pretty girl, slight, in unisex attire, her hair tucked in under her Jackie Coogan cap, her slender, almost fragile figure snugly encased in the bell-bottom trousers of the day. She closed the door, not without effort, then helped steady the tall young man who stood with spread legs until feeling her touch. The young man then rattled the coins in his tin cup — attention, please! Then he strummed his guitar and began to sing, carefully picking his way through the subway car in the manner of a faltering leper.
His style of singing and playing was barely professional. And yet there was something terribly touching about the blind man singing of his plight, in a voice that carried little anguish and less emotion. As a result, the girl in his wake captured the clink of many a coin.
Don't see nothin' but trouble,
Trouble on the dark road ahead;
Keep stubbin' my toe on the sunshine,
Thinkin' that maybe I'm dead.
Don't see nothin' but sorrow,
Sorrow on the rim of the night,
Lord, you sure threw me a curve ball,
When you went and turned off my light.
The blind man continued strumming his guitar, but it was the young girl who sang the song's release, utilizing a small and tremulous balladlike folk voice, more nearly that of a choirboy.
Does anyone know where he's going?
Does anyone here really care? If he walked himself out on the highway ...
Would the big Mack truck be there?
The blind man and the girl then sang the last chorus together, a plaintive summing up of his loneliness and fear.
Big Mack truck,
Big Mack truck,
Bearin' down on me ...
Big Mack truck on the highway,
Oh, say, can you see, can you seeeeeeeee ...
Oh, say, can you see —
Can you see?
By the last chorus the passengers were so filled with guilt at having the power of sight that they kicked in generously. The girl then led the blind man into the next car, and the next, and the next. They averaged $1.75 a subway car that morning and did six such cars before taking a urine break.
The subway men's room, like most of the genre, was not a place where one would normally hold a garden party. It was dull, dirty and graffiti. The men who frequented it were either habituÃ©s or passersby who couldn't hold out. And they all, regardless of where they came from or what their life-style was, stood up against the wall like horses in a starting gate.
Down at the end of the starting line, beyond the last urinal, the blind man stood before the grimy mirror, trying to run a comb through his tangle of coal-black hair. Three times did the comb disappear before any semblance of order took place on his thatchwork. But what was patently obvious from his actions was that the young man was not blind at all. Not the least bit. And to point that up further, he removed his dark glasses and a pair of large brown eyes went beaming at his own reflection.
The girl stood adjacent, holding the guitar as though it were a bass fiddle, while examining the coins in the cup. A few of the urinating men did double takes at the girl but wouldn't have known what to do or say if indeed there were a girl under all that boyish clothing. So they merely went on doing their duty and then got the hell out.
The girl came up with the total. "Ten dollars and fifty cents. Three Canadian dimes. Two slugs. A cuff link. And a Humphrey button."
The tall young man turned, smiled, took the guitar from her, slipped the strap over his head, and then started out of the men's room. As he passed the men who stood against the wall, he gently prodded each one in turn. "Keep up the good work ... You're doing fine ... Attaboy ... You bet."
The men looked over their shoulders at the exiting madman only to be confronted by the girl, who held the tin cup up to them while demurely lowering her eyes. None of the men contributed, mostly because it would have been inconvenient for them to drop what they were doing.
The girl followed the tall man out of the men's room as he played and sang the old favorite, "By a waterfall, I'm calling you-oo-oo-oo ... "CHAPTER 2
The two figures in the back seat of the taxicab were barely discernible within the moving vehicle, at first appearing only as demonic shadows being drawn through the night lights of New York. Only later did they appear as people. As a result there was a gathering air of the misterioso to their hushed conversation.
Up front the interested cabby drove, his head cocked over his right shoulder — thoroughly tuned in on the dialogue behind him.
The dark-visaged young man in the dinner jacket was speaking, and he was more than a trifle upset. "Annabelle, I swear, this is senseless. It proves nothing. If you have the baby, your husband is bound to find out. He's not a complete fool. And in his position with the government — I mean, really, Annabelle, the man is a Congressman."
The pretty girl with the long straight hair was distraught. She ran her hands over and over across her chic evening dress. "I know, I know! But what can we do? We have to do something!"
"Get rid of it."
The cabby almost plowed into the car ahead, which would have been unfortunate since it was a police car.
"Roland, no! I can't do that! I've told you!"
The man was displeased and hurled himself into a deep sulk. "You carry Catholicism too far."
"I'm not Catholic."
"You carry your Lutheranism too far."
"I'm not Lutheran."
He barked at her. "Then what the hell are you?"
"I'm pregnant!" And she turned all soft and sobby. "And don't snap at me. It's not my fault. God — men!"
The man made an attempt to assuage her. "Annabelle, please. Maintain your poise."
But she was very upset, and her voice rose two octaves. "Roland, I am seven months pregnant! Seven months! And you tell me to maintain my poise — "
The man pondered her last remark. "Hmmmmmmm. Seven months, you say. Are you certain?"
"Certainly I'm certain."
"Hmmmmmmmm. That's peculiar. I only know you three months."
"Oh, don't you try to wiggle out of it on a technicality." And she turned haughtily away from him, choosing instead to look out her window at the speeding streetscape.
In a few moments he spoke again, and the girl coiled up because she knew what was coming. "Annabelle, excuse me. I don't want to appear rude, but ... the responsibility, it seems, isn't mine."
"That will be up to a jury to decide, won't it?"
The man lit a cigarette, inhaled and exhaled with great self- assurance. "Have to be a pretty corrupt, graft-ridden, and cockamamie jury to hang me with the rap. Especially if I can prove that I was out of town or in jail ... or both."
She spun on him. "You're all alike, all of you. You're always so innocent. I don't know how I get to bed down with any of you — you're never around! Well, Roland, I did not come about this conception immaculately, let me tell you."
The cabby was taking it all in while risking all three of their lives in traffic. But it was worth it. He'd have another great anecdote for his book, I Hack New York.
The man in the back remained pensive for a few more minutes, during which time the cabby ran two red lights and narrowly missed a half dozen gesticulating pedestrians. "Annabelle, listen," he said, "I know what we can do."
"It's drastic, but ... I mean, if your husband or my parole officer ever found out, there'd be the devil to pay, wouldn't there?"
"Roland, what? For God's sake, what?"
"Well" — he was dramatically controlled as he outlined his plan — "we'll need some help from the Japanese, of course, but with what we have on them, plus a little pressure from the State Department in Malaysia —" He glanced out the window. "Oh. We're here."
They were indeed there, in front of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, and the cabby sat pop-eyed at the wheel of his idling car, hanging in the middle of the unfinished tale.
The tall man leaned forward and handed the cabby a bill, relying on a soft voice fraught with inner meanings. "You have children?"
"Huh?" said the cabby.
"You never saw me." It wasn't even a veiled threat. It was a blatant promise of death. The cabby sat there, immobile, choosing to not look at his two disembarking passengers, not realizing until later that what he had in his hand was not a five-dollar bill, nor even a one. It was a card from a Monopoly game and it read "You Are Assessed for Street Repairs."
The tall man and the angular girl had, by then, walked arm in arm into the hotel, sweeping in like the royal family. Others, similarly dressed, were also moving through the lobby in opulent pairings, looking three times worthy of the plush carpeting that their feet never seemed to touch. Casually they all consulted the announcement board, which, in white letters on maroon velvet, declared: UJA BANQUET. THE CRYSTAL ROOM.
The elevator was every bit as elegant as its passengers, all of whom took the ascension in hallowed silence. That is, except for the tall dark man and the pretty girl on his arm. They had another small dialogue going, new words in the air to buffet and titillate the bystanders in the vicinity.
"That's what he told me," the man said in a pseudo whisper that hit everyone's ears like a trumpet fanfare, not because it was loud, but because their radarscopes were wide open. "And he ought to know. He's been with the New York Times for over ten years."
The girl evidenced interest and surprise. "And he said that this entire hotel was alive with call girls? This hotel?"
"Not the entire hotel, Rhoda. Just one floor. And all you have to do is knock on any door. Any door."
"Which floor?" asked the girl.
And all the passengers stood there at eighteen-degree angles, Towers of Pisa leaning toward the tall man. The men, especially. But the elevator came to a climactic halt, and the door opened, and, as if on cue, all the male passengers immediately hated the elevator operator, who doltishly broke the silence with "Crystal Room. United Jewish Appeal, please."
The tall man and the pretty girl, known to a select few as Luther and Tiger, swept out of the elevator, leaving the other shoe never to drop. The other passengers followed dumbly.
The Crystal Room was appropriately large and predictably lavish. The music that played was either the "Lester Lanin Fox Trot" or the "Meyer Davis Waltz." And a few of the guests were already on the dance floor, recapturing their youth while refracturing the same vertebrae they had mutilated a year earlier at a similar fund raising.
But most of the crowd was seated at the many large round tables, in the middle of which were cardboard placards that proclaimed in huge Arabic (Arabic!) numbers, each table's numerical designation. Also, at each place setting there was a name card. And each guest whose name appeared on a card had paid, in advance, $250 for the right to wrestle with a corpulent Maryland pheasant.
Luther and Tiger hung pretty much around the checkroom until it seemed as though all who were coming had already arrived. After that they sauntered laughingly into the Crystal Room and casually surveyed the terrain. There were a few empty places, for it was not uncommon at such functions for people to pay the $250 tariff and then not show up. And so it was reasonable to assume that the chairs that were unoccupied by 9:30 P.M. would remain unoccupied for the entire evening. None of this thoughtful strategy was new to Luther. Also, if there was something he loved more than a Maryland pheasant, it had not yet flown to New York.
The diners had just about consumed their fruit salad and were well into their soup when Luther scanned the room in search of a table that had two adjacent unoccupied chairs. There were three such tables. Luther turned to Tiger and assumed the guise of a French maÃ®tre d'. "Your sélection, madame. You may 'ave Table Numbair Three, a good group, very bon. Or if you like, Numbair Nine, very close to ze dance floor if you are so inclined. Or there is Numbair Twenty-three, a bit to ze rear but very close to ze exit, which is not a bad idea either, eh?"
Tiger squinted through her imaginary lorgnette and grandly selected. "Number Nine, please, Henri. It was my number on the Sorbonne Field Hockey Team."
"But of course," said Luther, and he took her by the arm, and they ambled gaily across to Table No. Nine, which, like the other tables mentioned, had two empty side-by-side seats.
The guests looked up at them, and Luther and Tiger smiled in return. Luther then picked up and carefully examined the names on the place cards. And then, so that all could see and hear, he smiled nicely at Tiger and said, "Here we are, dear." He then addressed the guests at the table with disarming charm. "Good evening. Mr. and Mrs. Jack Bergman couldn't make it tonight. I'm their nephew, Seymour Fleischman, from St. Louis. And this is my wife, Shelda." Tiger did a sweet curtsy, and the men at the table began to rise politely. "No, no." Luther intervened with a raised hand. "Please. It's our own fault for being so late. Please, go back to your soup."
The men hovered in midair like Jewish hummingbirds, then descended gently back onto their chairs. Luther than held the chair for Tiger, and she smiled graciously, sitting down with consummate grace. Luther did likewise, and smiling at the fruit salad and then at Tiger, he lifted his spoon and said to her, "Spoons up?"
And she raised her spoon and said, "Spoons up," and they plunged into their fruit salad, for the night was sumptuous and they had some catching up to do.
And, oh, it was a fine meal, the best they had had in some time. Not even the society repast they had crashed out at East Hampton could compare with it, proving the efficacy of Luther's observation that "when you're hungry, the whole world is Jewish."
Somewhere around the baked Alaska, the fifty-five-year-old man next to Luther seemed deeply troubled. His name was Mossberg, and since the salad, he had been debating with himself whether or not to address Luther. Finally, looking and sounding like Sam Levene, he tapped Luther's arm politely and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Fleischman."
It took Luther a scant moment to realize that that was him. Then he turned and smiled. "Yes?"
"I know your uncle from way back. I'm an old friend. Therefore, may I ask, whatever became of him this evening?"
"Gallbladder," said Luther, and he tried silently to relate to Mossberg that it was too painful a subject and that he'd prefer not to discuss it.
But Mossberg was so taken aback that he didn't pick up on Luther's reluctance. "Gallbladder! Since when?"
"Oh, I'd say — since four o'clock this afternoon." And Tiger reached over and touched Luther's hand gently because she knew how difficult it was for Luther even to think about, let alone discuss.
Mossberg, in mini-shock, became sagely reflective. "You just never know, do you? A healthy man like Jack Bergman." And he turned to his wife and said, "Jack Bergman had a four o'clock gallbladder attack."
Mrs. Mossberg, a nice lady with a mouthful of dessert, was quite concerned with the medical bulletin. "Oh, tsk-tsk-tsk," she said, nodding her head on each "tsk" so that it seemed as though her neck, not her mouth, were making the clucking noise.
Mossberg turned again to Luther, hurt and disbelief on his face. "He didn't mention my name to you?"
"Well, he was in great pain."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Glimpse of Tiger"
Copyright © 1975 Herman Raucher.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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