Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Crown That Seldom Kings Enjoy

     “… my crown is called content:
     A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy"
         - King Henry VI, Part III, Act III

Elliot smiled as he escorted Catherine from the luxurious, mahogany paneled suite of his corporate offices.  A warm, ingratiating smile. A businessman’s smile. This had been, after all, a business transaction: the matter of a good businessman doing his civic duty.

But the business on the agenda was not Max Avery; as far as Elliot Burch was concerned, the key matter was still pending.

“Thank you, Miss Chandler, for your assistance with this issue.” He leaned against his doorway with practiced casualness as she walked past his secretary’s desk. “If there is anything else that I can do to help the District Attorney’s office, please feel free to contact me anytime.”

With the standard polite social niceties, Catherine thanked him again and then she departed, the elevator doors closing on her reserved, professional expression. Elliot discovered that he was still staring at the space she had vacated when his secretary began listing his appointments for the rest of the day.

“Cancel them.” Ignoring her upraised eyebrows, Elliot turned on the heel of his handmade Italian Gravati loafers and slammed his office door in his wake.

He stormed past his massive antique burled walnut desk to the window and looked out across the city. There were advantages to being on the 70th floor, and this vista was one tops on his list. The Burch Building was one of the tallest in the Financial District, and how he loved to look out this window and survey this city. His city. His kingdom.

But not today.

I own more than a dozen buildings in this city alone, not to mention the companies, corporate holdings, stocks, ships, jets, golf courses, politicians, race horses, and that Pomeranian that just won Westminster … What the hell good is it owning pets that don’t even know who I am?! The damned dog would probably bite me as soon as look at me and I couldn’t very well blame him.

He looked down to the city sidewalks far beneath him where minuscule people scurried to and fro like so many drones in a hive. He imagined he could make out a tiny figure wearing a coat much like Catherine’s elegant long black wool one.  She flagged a cab and crawled in, heading in the direction of the Criminal Courts Building. His eyes followed the taxi as it wove its way through the convoluted Manhattan traffic.

“Oh, Cathy, if only…”

His thoughts wandered back to those moments before Catherine had entered his office. How he had concentrated, how he’d struggled to find the words and the way to express them that could convince Catherine to… to what? Forgive him? Accept him? Trust him? Perhaps if he…

A tentative tap sounded on his office door. Nathan, his new, young assistant vice president, poked his head in. “Mr. Burch, Morgan just told me that you’re canceling the Montgomery meeting this afternoon. But remember we can’t move forward with the…”

“Listen, Nate - if I say the meeting is canceled, the meeting is damn well canceled!” He snarled in frustration. “I’m not paying you to argue with me.  Now go reschedule with Montgomery and leave me alone!”

Nathan curtly inclined his head. “Yes, sir.” The door latched behind him.

Elliot stepped to his desk, fists clenched. I shouldn’t have to negotiate with my lackeys, damn it! I pay good money for my legion of yes-men; I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.

He wasn’t one of the bad guys, just as he’d told Catherine a few minutes ago; that much was true. But there was no denying that this was a man accustomed to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it. Having fought his way up the pecking order of the world, he was used to being treated as the alpha male he was.

He pulled his Fendi overcoat from a closet cleverly concealed within the paneling of his office and swept past his assistant’s area.  “Morgan, have my driver meet me immediately. I’ll be at the country house through the weekend.” He stepped into his private elevator without a waiting for her acknowledgment.


He turned off the ringer on the car phone and raised the privacy panel between himself and his driver. Through the tinted windows of the limousine he watched the city go by, the neighborhoods changing quickly as they sped past them on the FDR - as fast as one can speed anywhere in New York City traffic. North of Harlem construction backups and delays forced them to leave the freeway for a time and travel on the city streets.

Elliot caught glimpses of kids playing stickball on the side streets and in the alleyways. He recalled an underfed, shaggy-haired boy named Stosh dressed in hand-me-downs on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, calling to his buddies for pick up games.

What a wicked curve ball that ruffian kid could manage on his good days! He remembered how he’d picture the throw, plan out the play, see it in his mind, and concentrate so hard that he felt like he could almost manifest the curve ball into reality.

Wasn’t half bad with the stick, either! Isabel Guzman’s flowerpots were testimony to that!  He smiled remembering the long, loud, and undoubtedly colorful strings of Spanish invectives that had rained down from her third story window on more than one sweltering summer evening.

He’d been quietly buying up properties along some of those same streets where he’d once played stickball. Bought them for a song! He would single-handedly spearhead the gentrification of those areas close enough to Midtown to make them attractive to the yuppies. And I’ll make a killing!

If even half of the things Mrs. Guzman’s wished on me had come true, Stosh would have never have escaped from there. As if I’d let any mere curses stop me… Nothing stops Elliot Burch. 

Stosh occupied the majority of Elliot’s thoughts for the rest of the trip up to Westchester County and was still foremost in his mind as the chauffeur pulled up the long driveway to sprawling Tudor mansion. Inside the cavernous garage, a member of the staff was polishing one of fleet of vintage autos that he kept stored here at his country estate. Elliot couldn’t have told you the man’s name. Truth be told, he wasn’t even certain how many cars the garage held just now.

Maybe Stosh had it better than me after all; at least the kid had more friends than cars.

“Hey, buddy!” Elliot called to his nameless employee as he slipped off his Armani suit coat and rolled up the sleeves of his Turnbull and Asser custom-tailored shirt. “Bring me out the ’65 Mustang. And put the top down.”


A few hours later, the long drive in top gear with the wind in his hair and top-notch meal of Kobe beef and crème brûlée at the country club had gone way to distracting Elliot from his uncharacteristically indulgent self-reflections. Being fawned over by the attractive waitresses there hadn’t hurt, either. A boy will always love toys, after all, and this wasn’t the first time that Elliot had found that Stosh could be bought.

Elliot returned to his estate and sequestered himself in his private study with the plans for the Montgomery project. He needed to regroup and rethink the whole matter; once Avery started playing hardball, as Elliot knew he would, he would need a lot of contingency plans to be in place for this development.  Elliot Burch would be prepared for whatever curveballs got thrown his way.

With a Springbank 32-year-old Scotch on the rocks fueling his creative juices, Elliot jotted note after note for his secretaries to type up. He’d worked for some while, time having lost all meaning for him in his concentration, long enough for his neck to have begun to ache. When the phone rang, its ring indicating it was his private inside line, he was deeply annoyed at the intrusion.

“Listen, I thought I told you I didn’t…” his bark began, but then hope leapt in his chest as he heard Catherine’s name announced. “Of course I’ll see her! Send her in!”

He stood still, looking at the door, for what seemed to him a long while though it could only have been a moment or two. Perhaps this was a good sign. Just maybe it was an excellent sign. If nothing else, there would surely be something in this unlikely turn of events that he could work to his advantage.

The person who entered his den was not the Catherine Chandler he was expecting. The disheveled, dirty, and frankly sweaty woman who stepped through this door was not the one he was accustomed to seeing. She was a far cry from the elegantly appointed district attorney who had walked through his office door only this morning.

“Catherine! What’s the matter? What happened to you?” He looked at her with genuine concern.

“I need a favor.”

“You look shaky.” He reached his hand around to her back, attempting to guide her to the Louis XIV chair by the window. “Come on, sit down. We’ll get you a brandy.”

She swatted his touch away and scolded with barely contained panic in her voice, “I don’t need a brandy! What I need is your help!”

He paused only a beat, all thought of negotiating this to his advantage evaporated. “Tell me what you want.” The sincerity in his tone spoke a promise. If it was within his considerable power to give her what she wanted, he swore to himself that he would give it.

Her eyes, full of fear and desperation, fixed upon him. With some frustration at her trembling hand as it fumbled in the folds and pockets of her jacket, she extracted a small crumbled scrap of yellowish paper. Tilting his head slightly as he righted it, Elliot found himself chortling at the absurd list of construction supplies the note contained.

“Tungsten carbide drill bit?!” This had to be a gag, so he played along with it. “You’ve given up the law for hard rock mining?”

“This is no joke! My need is real and immediate! And I don’t have time to spar with you!” The words spewed from her with frantic urgency.

She’s terrified! What is this all about?! He shook his head in disbelief and shock. “I don’t get an explanation?”

Catherine looked down and away for an instant before she began to plead. “No, I’m sorry.  I’m asking you to trust me.” 

Elliot’s gaze pivoted back to fix on Catherine at the mention of trust. “That’s all I ever asked of you.”

Without another word, he strode to the opposite side of the den and began dialing. “I must have called you fifty times since our disagreement. You always so certain you’re right?”

He looked back over her shoulder at her. Is some of her fear now turning to hopefulness? Yes, I think it is.

“Hi, it’s Elliot Burch. Give me Jack - quick!” Naturally, the beckoned foreman instantly appeared at the other end of the telephone line. “Jack, I got a friend coming down, give her what she needs. Yeah. Thanks.”

Now that’s how an underling responds to his boss’s commands!

He turned from the phone, Jack already forgotten, and bent to write the address of the work site on the list beneath ‘plastic explosives.’

“He’ll be expecting you, Catherine.”

She turned and without a thank you, moved to exit the door, but then turned and promised, “Next time you call, I’ll be in.”

“Why?” His eyes narrowed, a lifetime of suspicion searching her face to wheedle out whatever ulterior motives prompted this sudden about-face.

“Because you didn’t put a price tag on this.” She indicated the note, and there was a hint of a smile, a genuine expression of friendship, which briefly eclipsed the worry on her face. And then she was gone.

A small, slow smile spread across Elliot’s lips at the same time a warm and buoyant sensation began tingling up his spine.

I haven’t felt this good since… since the last time I knocked one of Mrs. Guzman’s flowerpots right off her fire escape!!

He glanced about the lavishly appointed little room and, for perhaps the first time ever, he failed to categorize any of the furnishings, decorations or architectural embellishments it boasted. He did not even see them. Surrounded by more treasures than most people could ever imagine, he saw only a glimpse of Catherine through the window. She raced to her car and gunned it down the drive. He watched her until she rounded the curve out of sight.

All the things that I have, I don’t want. The one thing I want, I can’t have. No. I don’t have her - but that’s not the same as can’t.

Elliot began to picture it, to plan it out, to see it in his mind, and concentrate so hard that he felt like he could almost manifest his wishes into reality.

I can. And I will.  Nothing stops Elliot Burch.

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