Copyright is held by the author.
HAROLD FLINCHED when Alicia tossed the envelope on his desk. He looked at it, folded his hands over the keyboard, and stared at his wife.
“Open it. It’s from your Gabrielle.”
“I do not know any Gabrielle!”
“Then there’s no problem, my little monk.”
He rubbed his hands through thinning hair, sighed and tore the envelope open. A scent of lilac wafted up. Darling Harold (or would you prefer to be called Cash?). He got no farther than the salutation. “This has been going on for weeks, goddammit! Mash letters, flowers, invitations to do . . . funny things.”
Alicia exhaled loudly and left his study. It was no use, Harold thought. His train of thought was broken, and he needed to get a thousand words written today. His publisher was looking for a sequel to Death in Tunisia and he wanted it now. Tunisia had almost hit the best seller list. Redemption in Alexandria would surely crack the barrier, with its plot of world domination, terrorists, duplicitous politicians.
“I do not know this woman!” he shouted, hoping his voice would carry downstairs.
“Go back to your computer. I’m late getting to the office.”
Bernstein at the publishing house suggested there was no privacy left in the world. “This Gabrielle probably found you in the phone book. Everyone knows Cash McCready is just your pen name, your tough guy literary voice.”
“Alicia and I have unlisted numbers.” Harold expected some sympathy from the frowzy man behind the cluttered desk.
“Real estate records on your brownstone in Park Slope maybe.”
“The mortgage is in Alicia’s dad’s name.”
“I don’t know, Harold. You’re the one writing thrillers,” Bernstein said. “Figure it out. Some woman sees your photo on the book jacket and says you’re hot. Thinks ‘I’ll get him to go out for a drink and roll in the hay.’ She tracks you down. Listen, you’re going to be another Clive Cussler, James Patterson, David Baldacci. You’ll have to live with your fame. You think those authors don’t have women crawling all over them?”
On the F Train back to Brooklyn, Harold pondered whether someone really could be infatuated with a slightly overweight, vertically challenged man in his late 40s. He wasn’t bad looking, just that his passion was dedicated to creating inventive thrillers.
Over an espresso on Seventh Avenue he dialed Mazzotti’s number. Harold regularly bounced research questions off the former New York police captain who now worked for an international security firm. Mazzotti was a Wikipedia of wizardry when it came to how much Semtex was required to blow up a truck (less than one pound), how to forge a passport (bribe someone at the State Department), or whether a submarine could make it up the Gowanus Canal (not really).
“Help me, Cap. The problem is back. It’s going to destroy my marriage.”
“Your stalker?” Mazzotti growled in a basso profundo voice. “Wish I was lucky enough to have a babe suggest if she was pregnant she’d name the kid after me.”
“Stop with the jokes. This identity theft is driving me crazy.”
“Harold, it’s not identity theft. She hasn’t emptied your bank account or tapped your credit card. The bank hasn’t called with any questions, has it? Someone is bird dogging you. This babe’s in love with the secretive writer of bone-chilling mayhem.”
“Cap, there has to be a law. I couldn’t harass any woman who catches my eye.”
“You’re a man. Cops are more forgiving of the fair sex.” Mazzotti hung up with a laugh.
Harold’s phone rang almost immediately. A 718 Brooklyn area code appeared on the screen and a solicitous voice cooed, “Harold, I hope you got my letter. It’s Gabrielle.”
“Why are you calling me?” he pleaded. “I don’t know you. You’re destroying my marriage. I’m facing a deadline and my writing is shot to hell because I can’t concentrate!”
“Harold, dear, there’s a solution. We must meet and talk this out. Simply converse like civilized humans.”
“I can’t meet you. I’m married.”
“You’re a sexy, handsome man. Let’s not quibble about marital arrangements. Just resolve the situation. This evening.”
Harold wished he hadn’t given up drinking. He desperately wanted a whiskey instead of an empty coffee cup. “Will you promise to leave me alone? No more letters? No more flowers? The florist winked at me when he delivered your bouquet last week.”
Her laughter was a little bird that trilled. “Promise. But it must be tonight. On East 44th Street and First Avenue. By the UN Plaza.”
He scrunched up his brows. “Why tonight? I just got back from Manhattan.”
“Because tonight is Manhattanhenge.
“Twice a year the sun sets in perfect alignment with the cross streets of Manhattan. July 11 and tonight. Astronomical, like Stonehenge.”
“I didn’t know that,” he said in wonder.
“Be there. Precisely at 8:15. Southwest corner of 44th Street and First Avenue, my star-crossed lover. All will be revealed.”
He agreed, feeling both exhilarated and exhausted. His watch said 6:45, giving him 90 minutes. “Alicia,” he phoned his wife, “Bernstein just rang and said I forgot to sign something. I have to rush back to the city.”
“Must you? Oh, Harold, I just got in the door. The office was so hectic and I was hoping we could have a quiet . . .”
“We can, we can. It’ll just be a bit later, my darling, my pet.”
Harold arrived, breathless, a few minutes after eight. The streets were on fire with the sun setting over New Jersey between a perfect alley of skyscrapers. His head turned, he wheeled in a circle among the few pedestrians, he raised his arms in supplication hoping to find this Gabrielle.
“Right here, darling,” a voice said and a woman stepped out of the shadows.
“I’m Gabrielle.” A smile crawled over her face. “And she is me, my alter ego.”
Harold stepped back and his mouth opened like a beached dolphin.
“I sent you the flowers last week. A friend from the office made the calls. And she wrote the letters from Gabrielle.”
The world went into deep freeze. Time stopped in a Manhattan bathed in scarlet light. “But, why would you want to think I’m some playboy on Viagra?”
“Harold, darling, you’re the writer.” She gave him a look he hadn’t recognized in a long time. A slinky look. “Figure it out. Why would a woman want to believe her husband was the greatest lover in the world? Perhaps one who left his cave occasionally to reclaim a fictional reputation.”
Harold felt his heart racing, his wet brow cooling in the evening breeze. Was this a mating call or the plot of a new thriller? He’d have to work this one out, but in the meantime he slowly put his arms around his wife and drew her to him. She had never looked more ravishing in the glow of sunset.
“Life itself can be a page-turner,” she whispered in his ear.