Everyone believed the worst of times had passed when the economy stabilized after the stock market crash. The country had gone back to its familiar habits of oblivious spending. Adults once again lived like children staring at a spinning mobile, disillusioned from the realities of life. For many it was a wonderful time.
Edie Esposito came of age during America’s golden age of spending which included the belief that all dreams were possible for a price. And even if you couldn’t afford a dream, someone would sell one to you at a bargain price.
Growing up in Brooklyn, she witnessed both sides—rich and poor, young and old, old world and new. Sometimes these worlds collided, but most of the time they all lived together in harmony, as long as there was lots of money to go around.
From a young age Edie was enchanted by people's stories—the truths they ignored and the fantasies they convinced themselves to be reality. Edie saw it all so clearly—real-life characters performing real-life dramas. Days were spent writing about her family and neighbors, turning them into heroes and villains. She had a gift for documenting human behavior in a way few people could even fathom. But like the characters she created, she too lived with a dream of becoming a famous novelist.
Years later when she moved to Manhattan, Edie learned quickly that dreams were not always easily achieved. Life was harder to maintain than she had anticipated. She found a one-room, cockroach-invested apartment with a bathroom she had to share with her neighbors—Betsy, Stew, and Stanley. Betsy, the shy girl, always left the bathroom smelling like gardenias; Stew, the degenerate, caused an aroma of cinnamon mouthwash to waft through after his use; and Stanley, the old fart, didn’t care how he left the bathroom smelling.
Edie never minded the smells, the roaches, or the occasional mouse or rat that outsmarted the trap; it was her first apartment. And it was here that she was going to create her masterpiece—the great American novel. She felt inspired even when looking through her barred windows at a trash-lined street outside—paradise.
At the time, the only employment she could find was waiting tables at a midtown diner. It wasn’t so bad. In fact, Edie actually enjoyed her ‘starving writer’ status, working herself to the bone during afternoons and evenings. Late nights and mornings were the perfect time for writing anyway.
She threw herself into her writing, taking advantage of every inspiring moment, whether it was writing in the park, at her desk by the barred window on a rainy night, or even at the local diner where she waited tables. Every situation gave her new insight to her characters and story. The words surged from her mind and through her fingertips on the keyboard like an electric charge. All she had to do was plug in her
imagination, and she was free.
One day a group of businessmen began to frequent the diner, and on several occasions they sat at Edie’s table. Soon the businessmen were regulars and always sat in the same corner booth by the window. If other customers were seated at their table, the businessmen would ask them to move with the help of financial incentive—sometimes they offered to buy the other customers’ meal, and other times they just gave the customers cash. It soon became clear that the businessmen owned that booth.
It was a businessman named Jonathon Spade who caught Edie’s attention. One day, as Edie put on a new pot of coffee to brew, she took the opportunity to study him. He actually did look like a playing card spade—jet-black hair, a heart-shaped face, thin lips, and narrow, gray eyes like a snake—but it was his genuine-looking smile and a twinkle in his eye that made him so dangerous to the naïve and vulnerable.
Edie carried the pot of freshly brewed coffee to Spade’s corner booth and topped off his cup. Spade narrowed his snakelike eyes as he glanced up at Edie and gave her an eerie, uncomfortable grin. “I appreciate your servitude.” He took tiny sip of his coffee and held the cup out to Edie for more.
She glanced down at the nearly overflowing cup of coffee. There was barely room left for a tiny drop, but this man wanted more. Then she realized the truth of the matter. He didn’t want more coffee; he was showing her who was boss. She wanted desperately to dump the entire hot, scalding contents of the pot into the man’s lap. Instead she poured one more drop of coffee into his cup.
“Good work, sweetheart.” Spade slipped a quarter into her apron pocket and then patted her on the behind. “I’ll have to let the new manager keep you on after I buy this place.”
“You’re buying the diner?” Edie’s heart skipped a beat. “Thanks for the tip; now I can begin my search for new employment.”
The other businessmen at the table laughed, but it was Spade that laughed the loudest—a strange laugh that sounded like an echo from a cave. “Very funny. You must be a comedienne.
Edie wanted to lash out and prove to the Spade that she was more than just a waitress; she was a writer. She held her pride, however, and went to the customers seated at the next table to top off their coffee. “Refill?”
That evening, Edie walked home through the dark streets of midtown Manhattan. Usually the sights and sounds of the city inspired her, but tonight her mind was filled with aches and pains caused by an uncaring and self-centered world. It was too much for an idealist like her to take.
The grim reality about Spade and the other businessmen was that Edie could find nothing good in men who existed solely on greed, while the rest of humanity went happily along its way, unaware of the danger lurking behind. Personal greed was the great villain that none would suspect or anticipate as it silently swallowed up everything.
The doom Edie could foresee would not come from any major destruction or disease, famine or foe; it was something else—a silent, slithering serpent that would engulf the entire nation, and yet this slithering serpent would not frighten, it would thrill. People would be more than willing to ride the serpent, like a roller coaster that would take them to extreme heights, along fast and furious turns, and through gravity-defying loops. It would dangerously turn people and their views upside down.
She looked upward at the bright neon lights of New York City skyline and could almost imagine a large rollercoaster weaving through the city. Suddenly a large, inspiring grin spread across her face.
The next day, Edie spent her entire break seated at the restaurant counter, scribbling her novel onto pieces of notebook paper. The story flowed faster than she could write—pages of indecipherable scribble. She really didn’t care too much; the idea was there—and in Edie’s mind, it was brilliant.
Uncharacteristically, Spade turned his attention from talking money to watching Edie churning out words before his eyes. He was curious, jealous, and even a little fearful of the thoughts Edie was spilling onto the page. Although a money man by nature, he was intrigued by the imagination of others. The problem with artists was that they lacked the ability to sell their grandiose visions. As Edie feverishly wrote, Spade became increasingly interested in the contents.
Spade rose from his booth and approached Edie. “Looks like you’re creating a masterpiece. Are you represented?”
Edie studied Spade, suspicious of his interest. “Not yet, no.”
Spade leaned against the counter and tried to peek at her writing. “Do you have a market plan for your book?”
“No. I am a writer, not a salesman,” said Edie pulling back her pages from Spade’s view.
“What’s the point of writing if no one reads?” asked Spade, lowering his gaze to meet her eyes.
Edie avoided making eye contact. “Because it is what I do. I write, therefore I am.”
“Seems a shame to let such brilliance go unread.” said Spade, releasing a slimy grin. “Just think what the world could be missing.”
It was those words that struck Edie. She knew that a writer’s words had the power to change the world, but she didn’t trust Spade. “I’m not quite ready to show anyone yet.”
“Well, okay, but just remember there is always a buyer. You just have to convince them they need to have something they don't want. Everyone has their price. Everyone. And so do you. I could offer you financial independence to allow you to write for the rest of your life. All you would have to give in return, is to share your world with me.”
Edie folded her arms defiantly. “Why?”
“Because every business leader needs an architect. You write of building dreams and I can bring those dreams to the people,” said Spade.
Edie looked up and, this time, bravely made eye contact with Spade. “You mean sell dreams.”
“Do you want to sell books?”
“Not at other people's expense.”
“Businesses have expenses.”
Edie collected her papers. “I have to get back to work.”
Spade grinned. “So it's a ‘maybe.’”
“Not even if I was penniless and didn't have a street corner to call my own.”
Spade returned to his seat and grinned as Edie went back to work. “That can be arranged.”
After her shift was over, Edie walked home. She gazed upward at the towering skyscrapers and the slightly overcast, dark sky. The cold wind blew smells of curry and peppered spices from nearby restaurants that wet her appetite. She stopped by a bank machine for some cash. After she inserted her debit card, however, the machine declined and ate her card. “Oh, come on!” she exclaimed.
A policeman appeared from nowhere. “Is there a problem?”
“Sorry, officer. The ATM ate my debit card for no reason. It’s all just a mistake.”
The police officer shook his baton at Edie. “Banks don’t make mistakes; people do.”
Edie backed away. “I’ll call the bank tomorrow and take care of any error.”
Be sure you do!” scolded the police officer.
She continued down the street and dialed her cell phone. It took her a second to realize that her phone was not working. “What the . . . ?”
After arriving home to her one-bedroom, cockroach-infested apartment, she turned on the light and it didn’t come on. “What’s going on?” She then checked the electrical outlets and found that none of them was working. Scratching her head, she thought about checking with her neighbors to see if they had electricity.
Shy Betsey opened the door only enough for Edie to see her one eye. “No, I don’t want any.” She closed the door on Edie.
Old Fart Stanley’s apartment was next. Edie rapped on the door. “Stanley, is your electricity working?” She heard the sound of the dead bolt and chain lock.
She turned around and stared at Degenerate Stew’s door. She immediately saw the light above, illuminating the hallway. It was only her apartment. She returned home, lit some candles and removed all perishable foods from the refrigerator.
Not wanting to have to deal with any more things gone wrong, Edie collapsed on her bed. When she awoke, she glanced at her dark, lifeless alarm clock. She checked her wristwatch. There was plenty of time to get her life back in order.
It was a cold, blustery day. Edie wrapped her arms tightly around her chest to protect herself from the wind as she paced outside the bank. She watched as polished and polite tellers casually walked and talked with each other inside, while she froze outside. She saw the interior clock tick one minute past the hour, yet no one hurried to let in customers.
Soon the manager came with the key. “Patience, young lady; you must learn patience.”
Edie nodded numbly and then proceeded to the nearest teller.
A middle-aged teller with rosy cheeks and a dimpled smile greeted her at the counter. “What can I do for you today?”
Edie leaned on the counter. “Something is wrong with my account. Last night the ATM on Fourteenth Street ate me card. I know there is money in my account.”
The teller cocked her head to one side with a smile. “Well, let's take a look . . . social and score?”
“Your credit score. It’s that little three digit number.”
“I don't know my credit score. Can’t I just give you my name and address?”
“Ma’am, you haven't read your bank statement. We will only able to give out your personal information with your social and score. Names can be misspelled and identities can be confused. You know, there are over four hundred David Smiths in Manhattan alone. Names can be very messy.” She grinned happily.
“That’s why we assign everyone a number.”
Edie leaned over the counter toward her. “Isn’t there anything you can do to help me now?”
She pulled back away from Edie. “You can wait for your next statement which comes out in two weeks.”
“I can't wait that long; I have to eat.”
“I can only help those who have the responsibility to help themselves.”
Edie tapped the counter, discouraged. “Thank you.”
She left the bank and rushed to the restaurant, straight the employee lounge. After catching her breath, she regained her composure and tied her apron around her waist. She saw her boss exiting the office. “Phil, you wouldn’t believe the problems I’m having.”
Phil breathed deeply. “I think I would.”
Edie looked at him curiously.
“Edie, I need to speak with you in my office.”
She followed him into the manager's office and collapsed into a chair. “What is this world coming to?”
Her boss sat heavily in his chair and reclined back. “It's changing, for sure. Things aren't what they use to be.” He sat forward in his chair and leaned toward Edie, folding his hands. “That's why I have to let you go.”
“What?! You can't!”
“I was bought out by Spade. He now owns the restaurant, and you’re fired.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Go home and look for another job with a company that is not owned by Jonathon Spade.”
“I don’t have any electricity; they turned off my power. I have no heat. I have no food.”
“I’d like to help you, but if I do, I could get in trouble for harboring a debtor.”
Edie turned her head, disgusted. “This is insane.”
Later as Edie lumbered up the three flights of stairs to her apartment, her heart skipped a beat as she saw a pink slip taped to her door. “Shit,” she muttered. She had guessed correctly—it was an eviction notice. To make matters worse, her landlords had changed the locks. “Shit!” she shouted.
She peeled the pink slip off the door and walked down to the basement where the super lived. She knocked on the door. “Walker, are you in there?”
The door opened. A burley man with a buzz cut greeted Edie with a serious, grim face. “Edie, sweetheart . . . wha’ happen’ ?”
“It's all a mistake. My life is falling apart all because of some computer glitch.”
“It’s all the Man, you know. The Man is in everyone’s business these days. They watch you on the computer, they read your emails, listen to your phone calls, and I bet they even spy on you through the window. That’s why I live in the basement. Things are harder to trace underground.”
Edie sighed. “Right. Would you mind letting me in? I just want to collect my stuff.”
“Sure, sweetheart.” Walker grabbed the keys and headed up the steps.
Edie followed, wondering where she should go afterwards. She could just pack up and head back to Brooklyn. Yeah, sure. Nothing beats heading back to your roots, even if it is across the river. They reached Edie's door. When Walker opened it, they were both surprised to find the apartment completely empty. It had been cleaned and freshly painted.
“Where's all my stuff?” Edie circled the apartment. “Where’re my laptop and all my writing?” She looked at Walker as if he knew the answer. “Where is my novel?”
Walker shrugged. “Sorry, sweetheart. My job was on the line if I didn’t let him in.”
“A man named Spade.”
Edie stood in the center of the naked room, her entire life—mind and soul—stolen. “Crap!”