I push a few more buttons, chat with a couple of operators who couldn't be nicer, and finally I'm talking to my good pal Lumpke. He's in grad school, getting a Ph.D. in sculpture. Maybe it's not going too well, because Lump sounds cranky.
Of course, it's four in the morning in Paris. I batten down the Benz and slowly make my way down to the beach. I know I've already told you how outrageously beautiful this place is, but I don't think I've done it justice. Every time I'm here, it amazes me. I'm sure I appreciate it more than Barry and Campion Neubauer do.
As I get closer to the beach, I think for the first time about who might be waiting for me. It wouldn't have been hard to figure out whose voice was on the car phone. All I had to do was open the glove compartment and look at the registration, but that would have spoiled the surprise.
The thrill of the Beach House is that there's no telling. She could be fifteen or fifty-five. She could arrive alone or with a friend, or a husband.
Rose-colored stationery. Shalimar. Hmmmm. I might know who sent me the note.
I sit down in the sand about twenty yards above from where the waves are breaking. The sloppy remains of Hurricane Gwyneth, which battered Cape Hatteras for a week, just hit the Hamptons this morning. The surf is huge and loud, and sounds pissed off.
So loud that I don't hear them approaching from behind until they're on top of me. The shortest and stockiest of the three, with a shaved dome and Oakley shades, kicks me full in the chest.
The kick breaks a couple of ribs and knocks the wind out of me. I think I recognize one of them, but it's dark and I can't be sure. My panic is growing with each professionally aimed kick and punch. Then the dark realization sinks in that these guys haven't been sent here just to teach me a lesson. This is a whole lot more serious.
I start punching and kicking back with everything I've got, and I finally break free.
I'm running and screaming at the top of my lungs, hoping that someone on the beach will hear me, but the reef drowns out my cries. One of the guys catches me from behind and brings me down hard. I hear a bone snap -- mine. Then all three of them are whaling on me, one punch or kick landing on top of the next. Without stopping, one of them snorts, "Take that, Peter fucking Rabbit!"
Suddenly, about thirty yards away behind some bushes, a flash goes off. And then another. That's when I know I'm going to die. And for whatever it's worth, I even know who my killer is.
THE SUMMER ASSOCIATE
EVEN BY THE HEADY NORM of millennial boomtown Manhattan, where master craftsmen paint frescoes on subway walls, the new law offices of Nelson, Goodwin and Mickel were over the top. If the great downtown courthouses around Broadway were palaces of justice, the gleaming forty-eight-story tower at 454 Lexington Avenue was a monument to winning.
My name is Jack Mullen, and as a summer associate at Nelson, Goodwin, I guess I was winning, too. Still, it wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I entered Columbia Law School at the advanced age of twenty-six. But when a second year student with $50,000 in college loans is offered a summer position at the most prestigious firm in the city, he doesn't turn it down.
The phone started ringing the instant I stepped into my small office.
I picked up. Female operator on tape: "You have a collect call from Huntsville, Texas, from..."
Male voice, also recorded: "The Mudman." Female operator again on tape: "If you wish to accept, please say yes or push the number--"
"Yes, absolutely," I interrupted. "Mudman, how are you?" "Not bad, Jack, except maybe for the fact that the state of Texas is pissing its pants at the thought of putting me down like a dog." "Dumb question."
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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