FROM THE penthouse of 15 Central Park West, Henry Walker watched the sun come up from an insomniac sprawl on the floor of his bedroom. He suspected there was a Henry-shaped body indent in the plush white carpet, from all the nights he’d spent watching the New York City skyline blink over the tops of the Central Park trees. Without looking Henry knew his alarm would begin its shrill insistence in less than two minutes and his day as Norman Walker’s heir would begin.
The sheets were wrapped around him, pulled off the bed when he gave up staring at the ceiling at around three. Henry timed the twist and turn, arching one long arm to slap the alarm just before it clicked to six.
Practice makes perfect.
Henry unraveled himself from the covers, rolling until he was lying in an undignified, naked, starfished heap in the middle of his bedroom floor. Not exactly the next cover of New York Business Weekly, but pushing back into the rug, letting himself sink a bit deeper….
… imagining sinking all the way down into the floor and hiding….
His backup alarm—all the way in the kitchen, so he had to get up—began chirping, chasing away the weirdness of his thoughts.
And so began his Tuesday, like every Tuesday before it. The cogs in the wheel of his life were turning and he had a schedule to keep.
Shower time. If he skipped conditioner, he might just have time to jerk off.
TUESDAY MEANT his father was in the office. Tuesday meant the navy Hugo Boss with a vest and boring dove gray tie, wingtips and a pocket square that “wasn’t too flashy.” He ate four waffles—multigrain, no syrup, God his life was so depressing—as he stood over the sink, ignoring his beeping phone. Norman didn’t text, his assistant Kit would be on the subway and the particular chime didn’t signal anyone he really wanted to talk to. Jackson DeForrest III was far too much to handle before caffeine.
And that was also sad, because his act of defiance involved hiding from his own damn phone.
IN THE elevator he checked his watch (7:01) and then his office Blackberry, his iPhone cooling in his pocket, still on ignore “Jackson the insufferable bore” mode. Even with the glut of traffic plaguing Manhattan at this time of the morning, they should be able to make it across town to the office on time.
The doors opened as the elevator car reached the lobby; Henry locked his spine, lifted his chin and became Norman Henry Walker III as he stepped onto the black marble floor.
“Mr. Walker,” the doorman said, tipping his ornately decorated red hat in Henry’s direction.
“Good morning Carlos,” Henry murmured, adjusting the strap of his leather computer bag over his shoulder.
“Car’s outside sir.” Carlos opened the heavy glass doors of 15 CPW onto the sidewalk.
Henry pulled his sunglasses from his pocket and snapped them on, affecting his bored rich executive look as he stepped into the May sunlight.
“Weather looks good today sir.” Carlos’s deference gave way to Roman’s baritone as he walked alongside Henry to the end of the magically pristine carpet that led from the front door to the sidewalk.
“Glad to hear that, Roman.”
An obnoxious black Hummer, washed and waxed to showroom perfection, sat at the curb as his driver walked around to open the door. The monster resembled a tank, tricked out to pretend to be appropriate for city living.
“Sir,” Archie said dryly, his Ray-Bans and heavy black-suit-capped broad shoulders giving him an air of danger as he pulled on the handle.
“Archie,” Henry said, politely formal. “Good day, Roman.”
Archie slammed the door behind him and Henry took a second in the darkness, hidden behind bullet proof glass and tinted windows, to blow out a breath. A performance so artificial he expected to stumble over a director and cameras one day.
Archie got in the front seat and flicked on the overhead light in the back seat.
“Ready sir?” he asked in his monotone chauffeur “Lurch” voice, and Henry shot him the finger.
Laughing, Archie checked the mirrors and pulled into traffic, heading for the offices of WalkCom International.
His morning drink waited in the holder, a giant-cupped fragrant fruity blend from the deli near Archie’s apartment in the Village that Henry had taken a shine to. A warm feeling flared in his chest as Henry sipped his tea, reading the morning business dispatches as they slipped through the city.
WalkCom is reportedly aiming to post record earnings this year, despite the financial climate. The manufacturing conglomerate with energy and steel interests around the world weathered the recession in ways that can only be described as miraculous.
WalkCom CEO Norman Walker recently returned from an extended honeymoon in the Maldives with fourth wife Liberty Frank Walker. Walker is still reportedly recovering from his second heart attack last November and said to be contemplating retirement.
“When did New York Business Weekly become The Enquirer?” Henry asked, tossing the small glossy paper to the floor in disgust. The preoccupation of the press with his father’s health brought all sorts of uncomfortable feelings to Henry’s chest. He dusted imaginary lint off his trousers, crossing and recrossing his legs.
“Another story about the old man’s ticker?” Henry could feel Archie watching him in the rearview mirror but he didn’t look up.
“Yes. And more mention of that and Libby than our numbers,” he grumbled. “The society pages covered the wedding—we don’t need a recap every time they do a story.”
“They can’t figure out why you’re still in business while everyone else is scrambling.” Archie effortlessly changed lanes, honking at a drifting cab as he turned blew through a yellow light.
Henry blew out a breath, his slightly-too-long bangs ruffling above his eyes. “The reason is my father and they should show some respect.”
“Drink your tea and relax. His majesty is in the office today and I’m sure you’re wearing the wrong tie.”
Archie laughed at his own joke; he laughed harder when Henry kicked his seat. Like he could feel it. Like Henry could kick hard enough to rattle the brick house that was his driver.
“You should show some respect too,” he said halfheartedly.
Archie flipped him the bird for the second time.
All too soon, they pulled to the front of the pre-war Upper East Side building that housed his father’s company and the only faintly relaxing part of Henry’s day was over.
“Have a good day, sir,” Archie murmured as Henry slid out of the back seat. “Be a good boy.”
Henry twitched to sock him in the stomach but he refrained. Roughhousing in front of the guards would be—awkward.
THE GUARDS threw him routine smiles as he walked to the private elevator bank that would take him to the penthouse floor.
“Morning,” he called politely, eyes quickly drifting back to the gossip rag clutched in his hand. Of course he could have just left it on the floor, let Archie toss it out, but he felt guilty any time his—friend/lover/Archie—had to clean up after him.
The crap about retirement continued to sit ill with him as he waited for the elevator to arrive. His father had only just turned sixty-two. He avoided thinking too much about the second heart attack and the implications of it—because ignoring the odds was what Norman did and Henry couldn’t imagine a world his father didn’t storm and bluster his way through to a successful outcome.
The elevator door slid open and the attendant—a very nice, very elderly man named Neil—nodded as he stepped inside the small cage.
“Mr. Walker,” he wheezed, closing the doors and hitting the button.
“Neil,” Henry said loudly, tucking the newspaper into his leather satchel. He pulled his phone from his suit pocket, checking for messages that might have piled up in the three minutes from car to office.
Can we get together tonight?
Henry scowled at the phone. It was entirely within his power to text back and let Jackson know he had no interest in seeing him. As a matter of fact, Henry would like Jackson to lose his number and forget he existed.
Of course, he didn’t do that.
Impulsively, Henry hit Send and heard the connection, ringing, the pickup. A booming voice speaking over the roar of New York City traffic and Pantera blaring from the speakers.
“You realize you were just in the car. Miss me already?”
“Hardly.” Which was a lie.
Neil turned around and gave him a rheumy grin.
“David is trying to fix me up with someone….” he started, only to be cut off by Archie’s snorting laughter.
“Shut up,” he mumbled, ignoring another text coming through as well as the rumble of his Blackberry.
“I’m trying to imagine who David Silver, King of the Fuddyduddies, would fix you up with,” Archie said. “Tax attorney? Owner of a professional lacrosse team? The human equivalent of the color beige?”
Henry tried not to snicker. “He does public relations for the Lambert Polo Club.”
“I have to go out with him at least once, don’t I? We talked on the phone and he’s very… enthusiastic.” Henry wanted to erase Jackson’s fawning from his brain—along with a solid ten days of texts. “I don’t want to be rude.”
Henry heard Archie cursing another driver out then an aggressive series of honks.
“But—maybe you could do it for me.”
The horn died away. “Invite him to dinner. I’ll drive you. He’ll be pissing himself in fear before we get to the restaurant.” Archie’s voice oozed smooth and sexy through the line. It reminded Henry entirely too much of when they were teenagers and his cohort-in-crime would convince him to do something against the rules. He made it all sound so delightful and so worth the consequences.
“Are you going to lay your gun on the front seat?” It sounded dirty or, at least, Henry wanted it to.
“And flex. So much flexing. That all might backfire, though. Once Beige McPolo gets a look at my… packages… you might have to beat him off. Me.”
“You’re an idiot. Remind me to fire you later.”
The mocking laughter ended when Henry shut off his phone but he felt himself relax a hitch as the elevator dinged.