From the kitchen door, Jake watched as Neil, a long-haired man with a soul patch, reclined in a chair and casually strummed a guitar. On the porch, with their backs to the screen door, sat Liza and a svelte brunette named Audrey.
Audrey put her arm around Liza’s shoulder. “Just think—you don’t have to be one of Spade’s pawns anymore.”
Liza stretched out her legs and gazed down at her feet. “Yeah. So what am I going to do now—work for the folks, serving pizza?”
“It’s not the worst thing,” comforted Audrey. “You’ll be surrounded by people who love you.”
Neil stopped strumming and laid his fingers on the guitar strings. “You should try Brooklyn Theater where talent is truly appreciated.”
Liza dropped her chin into her palms. “It’s not the same; it’s not Broadway. Besides, it’s only a part-time gig; I want sing for the rest of my life.”
Audrey glanced at Neil, understanding Liza’s heartbreak, then spotted Jake in the doorway. “Oh, hello.”
“I’m sorry. Am I interrupting?” asked Jake.
Liza raised her eyebrows, annoyed by Jake’s eavesdropping. Mindlessly and without any care she made the introduction, “Jake, this is Neil and Audrey. They have been staying with us since the Great Manhattan Exodus. Neil used to be the leader of the famous rock band, Yellow Snow. Audrey was a model slash actress slash humanitarian. You may remember her from the Feed the Chilean Children commercials.”
“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!”