AN EXCERPT FROM THE NOVEL:
The crimson rowing shell sliced the Harlem River like a stiletto. Reflections of the city on its glassine surface were barely disturbed as he drew his knees up tight, racing forward, feathering the oars that hovered millimeters above the water, then cut into it again with a ferocious rhythm. The air was pristine and still as breath steamed out into the icy January morning. It had snowed in the night and the river ran black through the white over which people struggled against darkness.
In the distance were sirens and car horns and longings, the rumble and hum of traffic, the tangle of voices. He glided under bridges reaching over to the Manhattan side where commuters were just beginning to crowd up. A flock of wild cranes suddenly took off in a blue blaze of white water and headed south. Alabaster light peered through cracks in the clouds stroking the waves like paintbrushes of Pre-Raphaelite saints. Devlin focused through the chaos, fleeing against waves, straining every fiber to win because if he let up for a moment he would roll over in his round bottomed racing shell—like him designed to keep moving and never stop.
Rowing was his emblem; a spiritual connection gliding past Swindlers Cove where the now vanished Sherman Creek had once met the river. “Sculler’s Row” they had called it, once home to the city’s legendary rowing clubs manned by the privileged sons of East Coast Brahmins: Atlanta, Nassau, Nonpareil, Wyanoke, First Bohemian, Harlem Rowing, Lone Star, Metropolitan, Dauntless and Union. Their boathouses had lined the shore and thousands of spectators celebrated the great regattas at clubhouses festooned with twinkling lights filled to overflowing with cheers and laughter. All that ended abruptly when a mysterious inferno swept the row in 1911 devouring the wooden structures and hundreds of handmade boats like matchsticks—the fact it was coincident with an aggressive planning commission push for “waterfront improvements” somehow went unnoticed. The last boathouse disappeared in 1978, ironically consumed by fire. Devlin sculled in solidarity with the dispossessed in the same blood level intensity he pursued freewheeling global capitalists who were giving new meaning to the words “wealth management.” He wanted to eat the rich.
It was the Zen of it, he and the boat, like a single moving part, striving for the illusion of motionlessness; no jerking of the shell as he powered the oars, no telltale spray from catching carbon fiber tips, nothing that would betray the truth of human frailty; still a barrier he had yet to work through on the job, in the office, surrounded by other attorneys dedicated to big game in the commanding heights. There he had serious issues. The problem was that in only seeing numbers and patterns the human dimension was forgotten; perhaps that’s why he entered public service as a Federal Securities and Exchange Commission Investigator and not the private sector. A necessary outlet for his rage. Because when the dust cleared, it was all about money and this was the only way he could seek retribution for everything he felt was unjust and out of balance.
On the shore, a black kid was running along Harlem River Drive the hood from his sweats covering his face. Strong and agile he bounded forward like some rutting, muscular gazelle defying all odds against survival, every eight or ten strides glancing over his shoulder across the glimmer in silent challenge exuding an unwavering certainty he could best the man gripping the oars. Devlin grimaced trying to ignore him, but put his back into it gaining speed and pushing his body until the pain radiating from his solar plexus felt sweet as he raced at the top of his form, gasping for breath, icy air stinging his lungs, feathering the oars without a ripple. He loved to tell them at the office how he beat the twenty-somethings on his morning ritual. Still the runner moved off as if pursued, but he wasn’t worried yet and kept up the pace working out strategies in his head, sure that the kid would grow tired after sprinting so hard, positive he could overtake him a little further along—if he could endure the agony just enough to demonstrate the triumph of superior tactics. But it wasn’t in the cards this frosty morning.
He heard the sound before anything; then came the sudden jolt. It broke into the zone where he had retreated blind to distractions—a thick, dense thud against the bow of the ultralight, carbon fiber racing shell. Now the whole boat rolled violently to the left clambering over the deadly semi submerged obstacle and by instinct he flattened one oar skimming the waves to brace himself while he turned the other wildly in the air to keep the narrow, rounded shell upright desperate not to fall in the freezing water. The one oar slammed the craft sideways throwing up a sheet of spray while he managed to dig the other in deep and stabilize cross current. Still rocking precariously, he took a calm, deep breath and at the same time a long stroke. He had to move to keep from rolling over. The boat wasn’t designed to stop.
It was then, when he came around alone in the middle of the river, that he saw it. A man’s body floating on its back staring up at him with lifeless blue eyes and now a gash across its chest from where the boat had hit it, a distinguished looking man. The fine suit he was wearing that drifted with the current like the arms of a willowy sea anemone must have cost two thousand dollars.
After he made the call it took the police forty minutes to reach him. In the still of the waiting there were tiny breaths of wind on the water as if selkies were deciding whether to keep the man or release him back into the world of the living. Death was ethereal; he retreated from the finality of it. All around the city boiled yet he sensed the eerie divide between earth and sky and circled the weightless body resolving to keep it from going under as a last gesture of humanity. By the time New York’s finest pulled up with their sullen faces in their blue and white launch he had imagined a hundred scenarios about who the well dressed man floating in the Harlem River was. He watched as they caught hold of him with a gaffer’s pole and hauled him up. The body flopped across the deck. Then Devlin Winthrop Wolfe shoved his ID at them.
“Didn’t see him before ya hit him?”
“How fast would you say?”
“Maybe 14-16 knots?”
“How do you know?”
“There was a runner. Over there—on the drive.”
“No. Just a runner.”
“Anybody else out here?”
“No. No one…”