“Hello,” greeted Jake modestly, stepping outside onto the porch. “The Great Manhattan Exodus?”
Neil strummed a chord on his guitar and looked up curiously at Jake. “You’ve never heard of the Great Manhattan Exodus? Where are you from?”
“Wis . . . Queens,” Jake replied, a little too quickly.
“Wisteria, Queens,” interjected Liza.
Neil sat upright. “If you lived in Queens, how could you not have heard of the Great Manhattan Exodus?”
Liza spun toward Jake and gave him a serious look to play along. “You remember—after Spade bought Manhattan, he evicted all the citizens to the outer boroughs.”
Jake stared at Liza. I have never heard such a story, he thought, but he didn’t dare contradict Liza in front of the guests. He shoved his hands into his pockets. “All I know is, Spade may not be the most virtuous of men, but you have to give him credit for all his accomplishments. All I’m saying is that Spade, whether you like him or not, is a very successful man. Take his Chincoteague Beachside resorts. Who doesn’t like a good pony parade?”
“Those ponies once ran free before Spade got there,” argued Audrey. “Now Spade houses them in tiny stables and feeds them corn chips that are delivered straight from the Spade corn chip factory.”
Jake laughed and then looked around to see that no one was laughing. “You don’t actually believe . . . I mean look at the financial incentive there is in having such a magnificent place across the river, not counting the jobs he creates.”
Neil glared harshly at Jake. “You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, do you?” Jake swallowed and said nothing. “I think somebody here needs a history lesson,” said Neil. He leaned forward and sat up to fully face Jake. “Spade slowly evicted all the residents by raising rents so high, no one could afford to live there. Businesses could not afford to operate. And for those who still didn’t leave, he turned off all their utilities and set rats free in all the buildings. You should have heard about this from your parents, unless you’re a Spade spy—or are you one of those Spade wannabees?”
“He lived in a very reclusive part of Queens, protected by the harsh realities of Spade’s real world,” explained Liza. She rose and took Jake by the arm. “We’d better be going now, pal.” She turned back to Neil and Audrey. “I’ll talk to you guys later.”
“I’m playing tonight. You and your pal should come,” Neil called to her as they left.
“Sure,” said Liza. She led Jake through the back door of the Esposito’s house and took him outside to the front stoop, where she gave him a good reprimanding. “You’re gonna have to shut your trap about Spade!”
“What was all that talk back there?” questioned Jake.
Liza strode quickly up the cracked sidewalk, not allowing Jake to catch up. “What—about the Great Manhattan Exodus?”
He quickened his pace. “No, about you giving up singing!”
She shrugged casually, continuing to walk at a brisk pace. “I was fired. No more streetwalker for me.”
Jake picked up speed. “But that shouldn’t mean you have to give up singing.”
Liza marched onward. “You tourists . . . you all think this is just fun and games—making fun of our lives for your entertainment. You think it’s so easy to come here and pretend to be something for a day or a week, but it’s hard work!”
“I never pretended to be anyone. Heck, I don’t even know who I’m supposed to be.” He stopped, not being able to keep up with her. “Liza, I just don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t see the issue of me going back and saying I made a mistake.”
Liza stopped abruptly and sighed. She turned to Jake, discouraged. “You don’t get it. Your little mistake will affect a big investment made by a really powerful jerk. What’s going to happen when you go back to Wasteland, USA and tell people that Spade’s Manhattan isn’t a magical place where dreams come true in a heartbeat?” Liza looked deeply into Jake’s eyes with earnest sincerity. “What will people say when they find out real dreams take a lot of blood, sweat, and tears? What will they do, once they learn that they can’t buy their dreams? What will happen when everyone finds out Spade’s Manhattan is a crock of shit and lies?”