t h e w a l l a c e m a n e u v e r
S T E P H E N J O N E S
Shane kicks the car door open with his foot, drags Yvonne out his side, holding her by the upper arm so that the ball of his thumb is pressing into the inside of her humerus, where there’s no muscle to take the pressure. She follows, their steps out of sync. Her face is tear-streaked, one of her shoes missing. The crowd at the restaurant doesn’t part for them, though. Shane scowls, reaches into his waistband for the gun, presses it into the base of Yvonne’s skull and approaches the maître’d.
‘I’ll do it,’ he says, teeth properly clenched. ‘By God the top of her head’ll open like a goddamn flower here in the street.’
Behind them, someone in line claps.
A limousine pulls up.
‘It’s loaded, I presume?’ the maître’d asks, scanning his list.
Yvonne nods, pleading with her eyes.
A bored flashbulb strobes the scene.
Shane realizes he’s said god twice alreadyused it upbut he does it anyway: rolls the hammer back, exaggerating the click, Yvonne tiptoeing away from it.
The maître’d looks from him to her. At this thing happening.
‘Two,’ Shane says to him, ‘anywhere.’
The lips of the maître’d are impossibly thin.
‘Right this way,’ he says, stepping aside for the menus.
On the way to their table they pass a women draped with dynamite the same shade as her lipstick.
She watches them pass and doesn’t smile.
Six months earlier four men were standing in the Halloween aisle of the all-night discount store, trying on masks. When they chanced on the proper theme (yesterday’s divas) they stormed into a downtown bank made of glass. Rita Hayworth ran across the marble floor of the lobby and leaped onto a table, deposit slips swirling down all around her. She had a gun on a strap. She told everyone they knew the drill. They did.
Two hours later the FBI arrived.
Marilyn Monroe smiled, put her cigarette out in a planter.
‘Well,’ she said, looking back to Judy Garland, ‘what do we want?’
They had twenty-two hostages.
Judy Garland wasn’t really a diva, but she was close enough for a bank job.
They wanted money and buses and planes and pizza and the power turned back on. Please.
Wallace, the lead man for the FBI, clicked his headset off, turned to his crew, and said the federal equivalent of ham and eggs over easy, to go.
He didn’t mean it, though.
By nightfall they had traded one elderly bank patron for carry-out Chinese. Because the old lady reminded Mae West of her grandmother.
‘Say that again,’ Wallace said into the headset.
‘My grandmother,’ Mae said, ‘so what?’
Three intense hours later, Wallace himself stepped off the curb in front of the bank. His reflection was in every window. Street theater.
In front of him his men marched, dragged, and manhandled four women in varying states of dress. Pushed them crying to their knees.
The diva’s wives and girlfriends.
Wallace held his pistol to the backs of all of their heads at once, looked at the wall of glass.
‘Don’t think I won’t,’ he whispered into the headset.
Two minutes later Judy Garland touched her heels together three times, walked out with her fingers laced behind her head. She knew the drill. So did the rest. It was in all the papers.
Two months after that the market crashed hard. The city sky rained people, their ties flapping by their ears. Somebody cleaned them up, but the market remained sluggish, became a joke you were supposed to laugh at. The hollow laughter of executives forced its way down the halls, spilled out into the streets. The game was to pretend you had seen it coming, that it hadn’t hit you that hard. To continue making the good restaurants, the opening nights of all the shows. It was a compulsion.
Cut to Milton Toole, self-made magnate, reckless developer, venture capitalist extraordinaire. Darling of the media, trendsetter for the well-to-do.
He still has his limousine, just not as many drivers.
But nobody knows.
And it’s time for dinner.
‘Your name?’ the maître’d says.
Milton Toole glares at him.
‘My name,’ he says.
This place is new.
Temporary, he mentally corrects.
A camera goes off prematurely.
His date for the evening shifts around in her dress. Knows enough not to say his name when he won’t. But it’s cold.
‘My name,’ Milton Toole says again.
He used to own the building this new restaurant’s in.
He laughs, holds a gloved hand out for the people behind him, apologizing with a gesture. He’s perhaps the most elegant man out tonight.
He didn’t get to where he is today by demeaning himself, though. By not being able to make the best of a situation. He watches the news, for Christ’s sake. Eighteen programs at once, all on one remote, one wall, each screen a window of the divas’ glass bank, reflecting the FBI, the gamble.
Milton Toole smiles.
A late night courier is picking through the lobby, invisible.
Milton Toole collars him with a gloved hand. His other hand is in his pocket, a gun now.
‘My name’s not important here,’ he says to the maître’d, pressing his gun hand into the courier’s ribs. ‘What is is whether a table is worth this young man’s life tonight.’
The people in the lobby with him gasp, knot up at the door, then one person claps, slowly, and they all fall in.
Milton Toole beams and glitters in the spotlight, lets his hostage go with a flourish, and as he’s led to his table six of the fourteen people in the lobby behind him have their hands in their pockets, their fingers extended into guns.
‘Who needs money anymore, right?’ the weekend news anchor reads the month before Shane and Yvonne’s big date. ‘Who needs money when you have people. Human life is the currency of the New Economy, accepted at all the finer restaurants, in spite of the FBI’s fears that this is going to escalatethat, according to their models, it has to escalate.’
Enter Jack Lamaar, drinking his way through the market slump in the back of his limousine. Just trying to keep up.
Sitting across from him is his wife of fourteen years and three extramarital affairs.
What she said earlier was that she was tired of eating in. That she wanted to be seen.
Jack Lamaar had glared at her across the living room.
‘Okay, already,’ he said.
Sitting by his wife, as far from her as possible, is Nona Thurmond, mother of three. Their reservation.
There’s as little eye contact as possible between the three of them.
The FBI would call this a dynamic.
Jack Lamaar calls it another Thursday evening on the town.
Samsonne’s is the restaurant in question. The New Delhi bistro on Seventh.
Jack Lamaar walks into the seating area with his gun pressed into Nona Thurmond’s back. Nona Thurmond’s hair is unkempt, her eyes large and pleading. It’s part of the package.
‘She doesn’t mean anything to me,’ Jack Lamaar says to the maître’d.
The maître’d looks from Nona Thurmond to Mrs. Lamaar.
‘I’m sure she doesn’t,’ he says.
All around them people have guns in their mouths. One man who wants to eat alone is even threatening a public suicide.
Jack Lamaar nods to him.
He should have thought of that.
Too late now, though.
He forces Nona Thurmond to her knees.
‘Three,’ he says to the maître’d. ‘By the window.’
Which makes the maître’d grin in spite of himself.
Every hostage in the lobby is on their knees, now. One large party even has theirs handcuffed together.
‘Our window is only so big,’ the maître’d says.
‘You don’t understand,’ Jack Lamaar says. ‘I’ll fucking do it.’
The maître’d holds his hands up, steps back.
‘I’m sure you will, sir.’
Nona Thurmond closes her eyes.
Three hours later Samsonne’s is splattered across the news.
The weekend anchor shuffles his papers.
‘Though we’ve yet to confirm whether Lamaar contracted Thurmond’s services through a hostage pool or via a classified ad, sources verify that when Thurmond was shot in the back of the head she had five hundred dollars in the front pocket of her pants, leaving one to wonder what the not-so-wealthy are paying for their dinners with this season. Each other?’
Shane slides the action back, looks down the barrel of his brother’s gun at the limousine in front of them.
Yvonne has the vanity mirror down for her lipstick.
‘How do I look?’ she asks.
‘Helpless,’ Shane says, still telescoping the limousine. ‘A victim of circumstance.’
‘Wrong place, wrong time,’ Yvonne says.
On their tires are twelve minutes’ worth of chalk marks, courtesy of the meter maid who isn’t. Is FBI.
That’s the least of their concerns, though.
This is their big date.
Shane promised Yvonne somewhere good. The world, the moon. A whole mouthful of dessert options: Mr. Claudette’s. Milton Toole eats there. Jack Lamaar used to.
Shane lowers the pistol when the limo’s dome light glows on.
Under it a white haired gentleman is pasting letters to a sheet of paper. His wife is cutting them out with a pair of children’s scissors.
The compulsory ransom note.
Like the market, the white-haired couple are waiting this out too. Folding bills in with the note, nodding to the maître’d.
‘Are you sure?’ Shane asks, and Yvonne takes his hand in hers.
‘Say bloomed, if you can,’ she says, wiping her mouth, smearing her lipstick on purpose.
‘It’s from some movie, I don’t remember. Or novel, I think: ‘the top of her head bloomed in the streetlight and Marvin knew he had lost her forever.’
As she spoke she stepped out of her right shoe.
The couple in the limousine are still cutting and pasting.
‘That’s us,’ Yvonne says.
Shane closes his eyes and sucks his stomach in for the gun.
‘I know,’ he says. ‘How do I look?’
The gun in his waistband. The layer of sweat on his face.
‘Criminal,’ Yvonne says, biting her lower lip, and then the single headlight of the meter maid is washing through their windshield and Shane’s thumb is sliding up the inside of her arm for the warm bundle of nerves there.
When he presses it, dragging her across the console into the night, the heat washes over her and she knows exactly what they’re going to order, their eyes locked across the linen tablecloth, the gun there by the candle, within reach. Perhaps they’ll even feed each with it, stuffing the barrel with fine cheese and hors’doeuvres, the dining room hushed around them, Shane’s finger caressing the trigger, Yvonne guiding his hand with both of hers, the white haired couple holding their napkins over their mouthsembarrassed, terrified.
‘We’re in love,’ Yvonne says to them, around the gun, and a woman’s head isn’t a flowera rosebut for an impossible second no one captures on film, it is, and Yvonne gives it to Shane, to the whole restaurant.
This is escalation. The moon.
On it Shane taps his heels together until Special Agent Wallace appears in the doorway, his meter maid disguise billowing around him. He gets a table immediately, but then prefers to stand as still as possible for as long as he can.