I was practically comatose as the teacher went on and on about Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry, when my counselor, Mr. Reynolds, appeared at the classroom door. The teacher Interrupted her discussion and went to the door, speaking to Mr. Reynolds for a moment before turning toward me and calling out my name.
“Seth, gather up your books and backpack. You’ll be going with Mr. Reynolds.”
When I got to the door, Mr. Reynolds gently grabbed my arm and guided me down the hall. I certainly didn’t think I’d done anything wrong and he didn’t seem to be treating me as if I had. My first thought was that one of my family was hurt and maybe in the hospital — or worse.
When we got to the elevators and he pushed the button, I asked, “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“I think it would be better if we wait until we’re downstairs,” he replied. Now I was really getting worried. Sensing my nervousness, he squeezed my arm, which only made my impending sense of panic that much worse. When we got down to the administrative offices, the way everyone was staring at me had me convinced someone important to me had died. That sense was only magnified when Mr. Reynolds led me into Dr. Epstein’s office, where Gary and Asher were already seated. However, neither of them got up and hugged me or anything like that, so it seemed unlikely anyone was hurt. Nevertheless, something really serious was going on. That fact was exemplified by the way Mr. Reynolds shut the door behind him as he left.
“Seth,” Gary began, “there’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to say it. Your father has been arrested…”
“Arrested!” I practically shouted. “There must be some mistake! My dad’s as honest as they come. There’s no way he couldda been arrested. No way!”
Sighing, Gary continued, “Unfortunately, wrongdoing has little to do with it when it comes to politics. He was arrested a short while ago by Federal agents, apparently acting on the orders of the Attorney General… the Attorney General of the United States, not the Attorney General of New York. There was a brief news conference on the steps of the State House in Albany. All that was said was that your father had been under investigation for corruption by the Justice Department and that substantial evidence of corruption had been uncovered.”
“That’s preposterous!” I responded. “Dad’s probably the least corrupt politician in Albany.”
“I probably don’t need to tell you, Mr. Moore, that guilt or innocence has little to do with public perception when it comes to politics,” Dr. Epstein chimed in. “We’ve certainly seen evidence of that from as high as the Oval Office. That this was politically motivated seems pretty obvious, but to the public, it won’t really matter.
“Ordinarily, corruption in the state legislature is investigated by the state attorney general under the direction of the governor’s office. The Feds would only become involved if there were evidence of corruption in the governor’s office, and then it would be the FBI that would investigate. The State Department generally doesn’t get directly involved in cases of corruption at the state level because of the potential for claims of political influence. With this president, however, it seems he could care less about appearances or the use of his office for political purposes. Not that I’m alleging anything. Ultimately, that will be for the voters to decide, but suffice it to say, your father has become a perceived threat and the president has acted to neutralize him.”
“Holy, shit, we’re fucked,” I said as I plopped down into an empty chair, and then the ramifications finally dawned on me, and so I asked, “Is it all over the news?”
“That’s why I’m here,” Gary replied. “After your father was taken into custody by Federal marshals, your mother became preoccupied with mobilizing resources to fight this and to get your dad out of jail. Unfortunately, she can’t divide her time between dealing with a political crisis and with her family at the same time.
“Naturally, with such a public arrest and a hasty news conference afterwards, it didn’t take long for a customer to mention it to me, at which point I checked my phone and got the scoop, such as it was. I then immediately called your mother on her private cell number and reassured her I would care for you while she concentrates on more pressing matters.”
“Are my parents still up in Albany?” I asked.
Shaking his head, Gary answered, “After he was taken into custody, your father would have been taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, which is a Federal jail located right here in Manhattan. He’s probably still in-route there. In the meantime, your mother’s on her way back here. It’ll be easier for her to operate out of your father’s office in The City and to stay in your apartment.”
“When will Dad be arraigned?” I asked.
“Most likely in the morning, in the Federal Courthouse on Center Street. The charges will be read and your dad will enter a plea of not guilty, and his attorney will request he be released on his own recognizance. At least that’s what your mother said would happen.”
“But the DA will ask for bail,” I interjected.
“Not the DA, but a US Attorney, since it’ll be in Federal court. He most certainly won’t allow your dad to be released on his own recognizance,” Dr. Epstein answered. “In fact, it’s quite likely he’ll ask the judge to deny bail, citing your father’s flight risk. Most judges would simply confiscate your father’s passport and set a six- or seven-figure bail, but there’s always a possibility the judge will grant the attorney’s request. If that happens, he’d probably remain at the Metro Correctional Center, but if the judge expects him to remain in custody throughout what could be a lengthy trial, he may remand your father to a minimum-security Federal prison such as the one in Otisville.”
“Shit, Mom needs to hire the best lawyer in America,” I responded.
“At a cost of at least a grand an hour,” Asher chimed in for the first time.
“Fuck, the case could drag on for months or even years,” I replied. “We don’t have that kinda money.”
“Perhaps the Feds don’t really have anything on your father after all,” Asher suggested. “Perhaps it’s all political payback for something the president perceives your dad did or said. Perhaps this’ll all be dismissed in a matter of days.”
“Perhaps… but not likely,” I countered. “The thing is, even if this is resolved quickly, he’ll always be tainted. How’s he gonna run for governor or the Senate if people think he’s a crook. The mere allegation of corruption could kill his chances.”
“Let’s focus on keeping him out of prison, shall we?” Gary responded. “We can worry about his future in politics later.”
“I need to see him,” I stated with conviction.
Sighing deeply, Gary responded, “I understand how you feel, Seth. Not that I’ve been in a situation like this before, mind you, but you mean a lot to me. I felt much the same way when Bernice had her accident last summer, but I could still see her every day and I knew she’d be alright in the end. Unfortunately, it could be some time before you’ll be able to see your father. It’ll happen, but not right away. All things legal happen in due time.”
“This really blows,” I complained.
“Yeah, it does,” Gary agreed.
Then it suddenly dawned on me that in all the time I’d known him, I’d never heard Gary speak of his own family. Not once. I’d met some of Asher’s cousins — Bernice’s nieces and nephews, and I’d heard her speak of a brother, but never of her parents or any other siblings, aunts or uncles. I’d always had the impression that Bernice’s parents didn’t approve of her marrying Gary, but at least she was on speaking terms with her family. I couldn’t help but wonder if Gary was estranged from his family but wasn’t sure how to even bring the subject up. Perhaps I’d ask Asher about it before discussing it with Gary, if ever.
“Things could get a little rough around here,” Dr. Epstein interjected. “It’s already all over the news and I wouldn’t doubt that some of your peers already know. By the end of the day, I’d imagine the entire student body’s going to know, not to mention the store clerks and strangers you may meet around your neighborhood, but the worst of it will probably happen here. I’ll meet with all your teachers and do everything I can to prevent any overt bullying or other abuse. However, no matter how much we might remind students that your father’s innocent until proven guilty, they’re still going to talk about it behind your back. The more brazen will talk about it in front of you, and there’s not much I can do about it unless it becomes physical.
“You might be tempted to respond to everything you hear, perhaps even violently, but you could get in a lot of trouble for that. I probably don’t need to mention it, but in responding to the taunts, you’ll only be reinforcing people’s perceptions of your father’s guilt. Although it will be very difficult at times, the best thing you can do is to simply walk away.
“Do you think you can do that, Seth?”
She was right. Everyone was gonna know. Fuck, they probably already did, or would as soon as the bell rang and the texts and tweets started flying. How in fuck was I gonna handle all the attention? Could I really just walk away from it all? Did I even have a choice? Dr. Epstein was absolutely right. In reacting to the taunts, I’d only reinforce the idea that Dad was guilty. And the more I reacted, the more taunts there’d be. It wasn’t gonna be easy, but no matter what I felt, I was gonna hafta keep it to myself. At least we had friends, but would they stand by me? I had to believe that they would, and with their help, and Asher’s, I’d get through this.
Rather than answer her, I merely nodded my head.
“There’s something else we need to talk about,” Gary went on, “and it’s one of the main reasons I wanted Dr. Epstein to sit in on the discussion, as it could complicate your time here in a number of ways.
“It’s very common in cases of corruption for the Feds to seize a suspect’s assets to prevent them from moving their assets offshore. At the least, they’ll put a lean on the suspect’s property and freeze all their bank accounts once they’ve completed their initial investigation. The fact that they have not done so attests to the hasty nature of the inquiry and that they went public with arresting your father before they were ready to go to trial. Unfortunately, It’s probably only a matter of time before they take action against your family’s assets, and they’re not likely to differentiate between your parents’ assets and yours, even though you have stocks, bonds and bank accounts in your own name that reflect your own investments and more recently, your own earnings.
“So if there is to be any hope of protecting your own wealth and the roof over your head, Seth, we need to act now to protect what you have. Your mother has already asked your attorney… your personal attorney and not the criminal defense attorney they’ll be hiring to represent your father… to set in motion measures to protect your holdings and to transfer as many family assets to you as the law will allow, most importantly your apartment. We’ll be meeting with her later today. The problem is that, so long as you’re a minor, your assets are considered a part of your family’s assets and there’s only so much we can do to protect them.”
“Not that I’d want to divorce them or anything, but isn’t there a way for me to legally separate my finances from those of my family?” I asked. “Isn’t there a way to legally become an adult? Not that I feel like I’m ready to be an adult, but I think I read about a way to do it legally.”
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Gary continued. “It’s called emancipation, and it could be a way to protect you and your personal wealth from the feds. By severing your legal and financial relationship with your parents and giving you complete control over your assets, your attorney can argue that your assets represent your own personal wealth and should be considered independently from that of your parents.”
“But there must be a downside,” I countered.
Sighing, Gary responded, “There are many. Legal protections for minors are in place for a reason and emancipation removes nearly all of them. You can be questioned by the police without a parent present. You can be sued and be held legally responsible for your actions. There are still legal restrictions based on age, such as for use of tobacco products and alcohol, or the purchase of firearms, but otherwise you would have the same rights and responsibilities as an adult.
“However, there are other risks too,” Dr. Epstein interrupted. “For example, if you were to get into a fight with a fellow classmate, even if they were the one to start it, you could be brought up on charges as an adult. It would be the same as what we face when an eighteen-year-old senior becomes involved with a minor. It would be your responsibility to avoid those types of situations.
“Not that I would expect you to become involved in activities such as sexting, but if you merely are sent nude photos of a classmate, you can be charged with possession of child pornography. If you pass those images along to other students, you can be charged with distribution of child pornography. There are literally hundreds of situations in which you could unwittingly commit a crime that would not even merit a warning if you were treated as a minor.”
“So if someone wanted to cause me grief, they’d only need to send me nude pics of a classmate?” I asked, incredulous that we could be ensnarled without even being aware of it.
“It wouldn’t be hard to prove your innocence, but it could cause you considerable grief until you do,” Dr. Epstein answered. “And, of course, there’s the matter of your relationship with Asher.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Because he’s still a minor, any sexual contact between the two of you would constitute statutory rape,” Dr. Epstein explained. “You could go to jail for merely touching your boyfriend’s genitals, and that’s defined by age… not by emancipation, so even if Asher were to be emancipated as well, any sexual contact between the two of you would constitute sexual assault until he reaches the age of consent, which in New York is seventeen.”
“Fuck, that’s more than a year away,” Asher complained, earning a stare from his father, to which he responded with, “Sorry.”
“The only exception is marriage,” Dr. Epstein continued. “If the two of you were legally married, consensual sex between the two of you would be perfectly legal.”
“Yeah, like that’s even a remote possibility,” I responded. “I would have to be eighteen to get married without parental consent, and sixteen with parental consent. Asher won’t be sixteen for another few months, and I won’t be sixteen for nearly another year-and-a-half.”
“I didn’t know this until today,” Gary interjected, “but in the state of New York, one can legally marry at the age of fourteen with parental consent and a court order. That’s apparently in response to Hassidic Jews, who sometimes undergo arranged marriages in their teens. However, Civil Law judges generally don’t approve underage marriage, even with parental consent, unless at least one of the parties is sixteen or nearly sixteen.”
“I’ll be sixteen in April,” Asher pointed out, “less than three months from now.”
“Exactly,” Gary commented. “So with the formal consent from myself on Asher’s behalf and from your mother, Seth, and with a court order from a Civil Court judge, you boys can legally marry, even at such a young age. Marriage would automatically grant you emancipation from your parents and afford you due process in your own right before the Feds could take action against you. They could still seize your assets if they have reason to believe they were ill-begotten, but it would be a legal quagmire that could be tied up in Federal court for years. Hence they’d be much more likely to stick to going after your parents’ assets and leave yours alone.”
“Wait a minute,” I asked, “are you suggesting that Asher and I get married now?”
“Your attorney thinks it could help you to protect your assets,” Gary explained, “particularly since it would serve as a perfectly valid reason for your parents to give you the apartment. Your parents can simply transfer title of the apartment to the both of you as a wedding present. You’d owe a hefty tax bill, but the apartment would be jointly yours, free and clear.”
Shakin’ my head, I responded, “There might not be any tax at all. Dad set it up so the apartment’s owned by a shell corporation that has no intrinsic value. I already own a third of the shares. In giving Asher and me their shares, Mom and Dad would transfer sole control of the corporation to us, but the shares have no value, so there’d be no tax owed. At least that’s how I think it’d work.
“But in terms of marriage, I’m only fourteen,” I complained. “I’d always assumed we’d wait until we were both adults… legally.”
“Do either of you have any doubts about getting married in the future?” Gary asked, but before I could answer that I didn’t, he continued, “If you and Asher were eighteen and had met a year ago in October, would you have any reservations about getting married right now?”
Shaking his head, Asher answered, “Of course not, but that’s not the point. We’re not adults… not yet. I have absolutely no doubt that Seth is my soul mate and the one I’m meant to marry. However, being a teenager is stressful enough, and so is school. Many marriages don’t succeed and it’s often because of inexperience, particularly when it comes to dealing with someone who has their own way of doing things and their own way of coping with stress. This whole thing is so far out of left field and it’s caught both of us off-guard. I really didn’t expect to have to grow up so fast.”
“But you did it before,” Gary pointed out, “when Mom was injured just a couple of weeks before the restaurant was supposed to open. You had absolutely no experience in running a restaurant and little to fall back on other than your cooking skills and your experience in observing your mother and I manage a much smaller, takeout restaurant. But you took that experience and your skills and you ran with it, doing things that would have challenged someone twice your age, and you succeeded.”
“And I could point out that for all intents and purposes,” I chimed in, “you and I have been living as a couple for more than a year now. You already know all of my most annoying habits, and you know darn well how I handle stress… or not, and vice versa.”
“This wouldn’t be a shotgun wedding,” Gary added. “It’s strictly up to you and there are a number of other legal strategies that can be applied that hopefully should be effective. I asked your attorney that question specifically, and she assured me that there is a plan B. The reason she brought up marriage was that, once we talked about emancipation, it became a necessity if the two of you were to stay together. But if you two were married, it would make it a lot easier to shelter your assets, particularly the apartment.”
“Seth, I don’t think we have a choice,” Asher countered. “If your life is wrecked, my life is wrecked. Totally. And I’m more than willing to take on a little risk if by doing so, I can protect you and protect our future together. To me it seems a small price to pay. The thing is, if I’m reading this right, we can marry as soon as our attorney can get a civil court judge to sign off on it. It’s something we can do right away. I don’t know what’s involved with emancipation, but I suspect it could take a while…”
“It could take weeks or more likely months, just to schedule a hearing,” Dr. Epstein agreed.
“Once we’re married,” Asher continued, “your parents can transfer the deed for the apartment to us jointly, before the Feds have a chance to put a lien on the property. Then the apartment will be ours, free and clear.”
“There is one thing that concerns me,” I countered. “Dad’s day job is in investments. He’s invested in the stock market, in bond trading and to an extent, in real estate, and he’s done well. Not that we’re wealthy by any means, but with so many investments, there’s a lot to investigate. Although Dad always was careful to avoid potential conflicts of interest, there must have been cases where he unknowingly invested in something that was connected to Albany. If there’s one thing the Feds are good at, it’s following the money trail, wherever it might lead. They don’t care if the money ends up in the hands of a kid, a grandparent or a business associate. If they think it’s tainted, they’ll go after it.
“The really scary thing about getting married is that with Ashe and me being emancipated, we’d be facing the Feds as adults,” I concluded. Little did I know at the time just how prescient my assessment had been.
Everyone grows up with an idea of what their wedding will be like someday. White lace and promises. A kiss for luck and we’re on our way. I’d known for a while now that I’m gay, but even so, I expected I’d get married to a wonderful man in a church, with friends and family around me. From the moment I met Asher, I expected that he would be the one, but the dream never changed. There’d be something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. I’d always envisioned a traditional wedding with a large guest list. My dad would have insisted on inviting everyone important in the whole damn state. There’d have been a large reception with a live band and lots of dancing. And then Asher and I would have been off on our honeymoon to some exotic destination, where we’d screw our brains out all night and maybe all day too. The last thing I’d expected was a civil ceremony in front of a civil court judge, with only my father-in-law and my attorney present.
It all happened so fast and before we even had the time to think about what was happening, Asher and I were legally married. The attorney my family had been using since well before I was born urged caution. She wanted to wait until we’d had a chance to meet with the criminal defense attorney she and my Mom were seeking to represent my Dad. However, Asher’s mother had connections in Chinatown and because of that, we were able to have the case heard that afternoon. The judge agreed that Asher and I were financially independent, had demonstrated the ability to run a business independently, and were effectively living independently. With permission from both families, we were granted our request to be allowed to marry at the age of fifteen in Asher’s case, and fourteen in mine. I had thought the matter would end there and we could take some time to come to a decision regarding whether or not we actually wished to proceed, but that wasn’t what happened. After the judge banged the gavel, he congratulated us on being a legally married couple and suggested it was traditional to kiss, which of course we did. De Facto, we were now emancipated from our parents and fully responsible for our finances and our actions as if we were adults.
I could see by the look on Asher’s face as we turned to kiss each other that he was as shocked as I was. There were no vows exchanged, nor an acceptance of those vows. It wasn’t until later that we’d learn that there is no legal requirement for wedding vows. The written request to marry that was drawn up by my attorney, along with the marriage license, which was signed my both Asher and me as well as by Gary and by my mom, was all that was necessary and sufficient from a legal standpoint.
Once we had left the courthouse, I very quietly asked Asher, “Did you realize that the judge was gonna marry us today?”
“It fuckin’ blew my mind,” he replied. “I had no idea that was gonna happen. I thought this was just a hearing before the judge on our request for an early marriage. Hell, I didn’t even expect him to make his ruling today…”
“Same here,” I interrupted.
“I thought it’d be a few days before he’d make a ruling,” Ashe continued, “and that we’d have some time to plan a small ceremony. And I thought we’d be able to make a final decision before we went through with it. Not that I have any regrets…”
“Me neither,” I agreed, “and I think we can probably have a more formal ceremony in front of friends and family at some point in the future, but with us already being married, it won’t be the same.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Asher agreed.
I felt so unsettled by the whole thing, but it was more than that. Hastily arranged marriages had been a fact of life since the dawn of marriage as an institution, yet they seldom solved anything and often had unintended consequences. Deep down I knew that something just wasn’t right in all of this. I couldn’t help but feel that our ‘shotgun’ wedding would only serve to stoke suspicions about our finances, and that the result could have dire consequences far beyond what they might have ordinarily been. It was a feeling I was gonna keep to myself for now. There was no use in worrying Asher or our families until and unless something happened.
In any case, the lawyers — both my family’s and Asher’s — were going to have to work out how best to combine Asher’s and my assets, and how to handle the gifting of the apartment. Technically, the apartment was owned by a shell corporation in which I already owned a third of the shares. The use of shell corporations was a common technique my dad used to minimize the tax burden, but that could be an advantage now. Rather than transferring title, my parents could simply gift their shares in the corporation to Asher and me. There’d still be tax consequences, but those could be largely offset through a bit of financial maneuvering. Were it not for that, we could have owed, transfer taxes, a co-op flip tax and a gift tax on the entire value of the apartment, not to mention a capital gains tax on the eventual sale price in the future. That was something to be left to our attorneys.
After the wedding ceremony, such as it was, Gary took Ashe and me out to an amazing restaurant in Chinatown. The entrance was to a very non-descript ‘hole-in-the-wall’ sort of place, with furniture that looked to be maybe fifty years old if not older. There were Formica tabletops edged with stainless steel, around which were red vinyl-covered seats. Even though the place looked like a dive, it was packed, with not an empty seat to be found. Every customer was Asian too, and none of them were talking in English. It was a third-world cacophony.
In the back, a stairway led to the second floor, which was anything but noisy. We were taken to an elegant private dining room with beautiful lacquered furniture and artistic touches that were clearly not mass-produced. Silk embroideries hung on the walls and incredibly detailed wood carvings adorned a side table. Fine china was set at each place on the table, with what I feared were real ivory chopsticks.
I was surprised when Bernice joined us, as it was rare indeed that the two of them took any time off from work, much less at the same time. Although Bernice was Asian, it was Gary who ordered dinner for us, speaking in what I presumed to be fluent Mandarin. He ordered everything from memory, never once looking at a menu, nor even requesting one.
The first hint of the meal to come came surprisingly quickly and not quietly as a large tureen was brought to the table, to which was added what appeared to be a large bowl of rice, but it caused the contents of the tureen to sizzle loudly. It sounded like Rice Krispies on steroids. The server then ladled a full serving into a bowl set in front of each of us and I could clearly identify a large variety of seafood, including squid, muscles, scallops, shrimp, crab and possibly lobster, along with a variety of fish. I later learned that it was called sizzling seafood soup, which was a combination of a bouillabaisse-like soup with sizzling rice. I could have easily made a meal of the sizzling seafood soup alone, particularly with another full serving for each of us left in the tureen, but we were just getting started.
The next course was a traditional arrangement of Chinese dumplings — steamed, deep fried and sautéed — and spring rolls, stuffed with seafood, vegetables, beef, pork and chicken. Served with various sauces and with spicy mustard, they were all delicious.
Next came what I presumed to be the main course, with a variety of stir-fry dishes consisting of Chinese vegetables served with beef, chicken, seafood or no meat, representing a variety of traditional styles. Everything was delicious and Asher and I made no attempt to limit our intake, as we assumed this was the final course, save perhaps a light dessert. Needless to say, we were stunned when the server brought out four plates, each with a petit fillet and a whole lobster, served with Chinese vegetables. We drank copious amounts of Jasmine tea to settle our overstuffed stomachs, and then dove right in.
The second main course was followed by a dessert buffet, and we took our sweet time, pun intended, allowing our food to settle before sampling a little of everything on the buffet.
The wedding might not have been much to talk about, but the meal my in-laws arranged for us afterwards was truly memorable.
Our wedding night was probably the least erotic of any in history. Actually, I’ve heard it’s not uncommon for couples to fall asleep on their wedding night, due to utter exhaustion, and only realize later that they’d failed to consummate the marriage. Perhaps things were different when couples waited to have sex until then, but by the time most couples get married today, they’ve already been sexually active for some time. Besides which, who could even think of having sex after a feast like the one we’d had earlier in the evening. We did make an effort but didn’t even realize we’d gone right to sleep until we heard my mom getting ready for bed.
Pulling on our boxers, Ashe and I went to see how she was. Knocking on her door, when she opened it, I don’t think I’d ever seen her look so tired in my life. Her eyes were vacant with dark circles under them. Her face was expressionless. She was a zombie.
Cautiously at first, I reached around her and drew her into a hug. At first she didn’t seem to react, but then she threw her arms around me and hugged me more tightly than I’d ever been held in my life as she cried her eyes out. I’d never seen her like this before. It was kinda scary. Asher came up behind us and hugged us both. It was comforting to feel his support.
Finally, Mom’s tears began to subside, and she pulled away and said, “It’s been a very long day, and I don’t think I’m ready to go to sleep just yet. I know I should but I can’t, and you boys must have lots of questions. Why don’t you throw some clothes on and we’ll talk.”
No sooner had I closed our bedroom door than Asher commented, “She looks awful. I think this has affected her even more than it has us.”
“How could it not?” I replied. “Mom gave up a promising career in Medicine to run Dad’s first campaign, and after he won, she became his chief strategist and advisor as well as his chief of staff. For more than a decade, this has been her life.”
“It’s almost like they’re one person,” Asher commented, “kinda like I see us, you know?”
“Yeah, I do know,” I agreed. “It was serendipity that brought them together. Dad was a twenty-year-old, first-year law student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Mom was an intern at nearby George Washington University. She was in the first year of her Internal Medicine residency and was on an Emergency Medicine rotation, when who should come in with a fever, right-sided abdominal pain and vomiting but a dashing young law student named Frank Moore. Needless to say, it turned out to be acute appendicitis, but it was several hours… nearly a day before he was taken to the OR and so there was quite a bit of time for them to get to know each other. They started dating after Dad was released from the hospital.
“Whatever’s going on, she undoubtedly feels like she’s as much a part of it as is my father. He might be the one in jail, but she’s bound to feel responsible, even though in no way, shape or form could either of them have done anything wrong. Right now, she’s probably analyzing and re-analyzing every policy decision they’ve ever made.”
Throwing me a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, Asher got dressed in similar attire. Neither of us bothered with socks or shoes. We never did when we weren’t planning to leave our apartment. He then responded, “I’d never thought what your mother actually does before. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I’m not sure I’m cut out for politics.”
“Right now, me either,” I agreed.
Opening the bedroom door, I was shocked to find Mom sitting at the dining room table rather than in the living room, where we’d have all been more comfortable. Asher and I sat down across from her.
“This is all my fault,” Mom began. “I should have never let your father take such a big risk. He wanted to prevent the president from starting a war with Iran. We should have known the president wouldn’t stop at that if he was bound and determined. Frank should never have taken such a big risk like that.”
“Mom, what are you talking about,” I asked.
Sighing, she explained, “Do you remember before Thanksgiving, when the Air Traffic Control System went down?”
“How could I forget?” I asked. “I actually passed out when I heard about it. You and dad were on your way home from San Francisco and ended up having to land in Indianapolis. I was sick with worry until you walked in the door.”
“You may recall that the president initially fingered Iran as the culprit,” Mom reminded me, “claiming they’d hacked into Air Traffic Control. He called it a terrorist attack. It was only because of people in Homeland Security that leaked it, that the truth came out. And so much has been overshadowed by all that’s happened since then. Although we never talked about it, your father was one of the ones that orchestrated the leak.”
I was shocked. I never had an inkling that Dad could even do such a thing. Mom continued, “As one of the key players in the State Assembly, he often receives briefings from the Governor. In this case, the Governor was briefed by the Port Authority, which as you know, controls all the area airports. New York and New Jersey are unique in that regard, but with so many third parties in the loop on this one, the fact that the incident was caused by a software bug that led to a system-wide failure on one of the busiest days of the year was bound to come out. In fact, there were a number of leaks to that effect, and not just from your father. However, when it became apparent that the president was sticking to his story of an Iranian act of terrorism in spite of the revelations from Homeland Security, the Governor felt compelled to do something about it. He asked your father to arrange for it to be leaked to the press, and so your father told your grandfather, who leaked it to one of his contacts at the Times.
“I know it sounds like a round-about way for the governor’s office to leak information to the press, but it protects the Governor from ever being implicated in orchestrating such a leak.”
“But it leaves Dad vulnerable,” I pointed out.
“It does,” Mom acknowledged, “but not as much as you’d think. The governor only knows that your father will arrange the leak, but he doesn’t know exactly how he arranges it. Grandpa Paul’s contact at the Times only knows that the information came from a reputable source who has provided sound information in the past. They may suspect that the information came from your dad, but they would never ask and of course, in the event that he was ever questioned about it, the Governor would deny it.
“Your father’s willingness to put his neck out there on behalf of the governor is one of the reasons the governor trusts your father and it’s one of the reasons the governor has been willing to help your father advance politically at such a young age.”
“So the president is punishing Dad for leaking the truth about the Air Traffic meltdown to the press?” I asked.
“In a word, yes,” Mom answered, “but it’s more complicated than that. The president might never have known about Dad being the conduit for one of the many leaks, had it not been for other circumstances. You see, even after the revelations from Homeland Security became public, the president continued to press for an Iranian connection. Your father was convinced the president intended to use it as a pretext for war, and he wasn’t the only one. Something had to be done.”
“What did Dad do?” I asked.
“He obtained a copy of an internal memo, sent from the head of the FAA to the director of Homeland Security, and he leaked it to the press,” Mom answered. “He could have and should have done more to cover his tracks, but time was of the essence. Unfortunately, it was all too easy for the president to have the source of the leak traced.”
“At least it shouldn’t be too hard to exonerate Dad when it comes to charges of corruption,” I commented.
The look on Mom’s face was something I’d never seen before — kind of a mix of anxiety and disappointment — no, not disappointment. It was a look of fear. “I only wish that were true, but even if there was nothing to find, Justice would have little difficulty fabricating evidence of corruption. New York is definitely not the place for the faint-hearted and Albany has a reputation as one of the most corrupt state governments in the nation — a reputation that’s all-too-well deserved. Virtually anyone who sets foot in Albany could be tagged with corruption, no matter how clean and well-intentioned they might be.”
Then leaning forward and looking right at me, Mom continued, “Seth, you don’t get to where your dad has gotten without getting dirty. Not in this town. We went to Albany with the best of intentions, but he could have never gotten so far at such a young age without enlisting the help of some powerful allies. He never compromised his principles or resorted to the sorts of quid pro quo that our president seems to consider business as usual, but in order to get the committee assignments he wanted, and to pass the legislation that was so important, he had to wheel and deal and that meant trading political favors. Sometimes supporting legislation he might have otherwise opposed, could put him in a position to pass legislation we really cared about.”
“But that’s not really corruption,” Asher chimed in. I’d forgotten he was even in the room. “Politicians do that sort of thing all the time.”
“There’s a fine line between political maneuvering and corruption, Asher,” Mom replied, “and although we were extremely careful never to cross that line, in retrospect, we blurred the line more times than I care to think about in the name of expediency. At the time it seemed necessary, but to an outsider, it could look like we exchanged legislation for personal gain. You have to believe that that was never the intent. Still, your father’s ascent to prominence probably wouldn’t have occurred had he not helped the party and to an outsider it might appear as if we profited as a result of his actions. That is the very definition of corruption, and your father could go to jail for it. Frankly, I could too, but it’s your dad who was arrested.”
This was another side of politics I was seeing for the first time and although I knew politics had a dirty underbelly, I’d never remotely considered the possibility that my parents were involved in any of it.
“I guess what I’m saying,” Mom continued, “is that we never did anything unethical, but we might have done things that could be construed as illegal. Ordinarily, I’d say none of it would hold up in court, but there’s no telling what could happen with a president who doesn’t distinguish between personal and public interests and who doesn’t see the Justice Department or the FBI as being independent of partisanship.”
Mom just hung her head. I guess there was nothing left to say, so I asked, “The question is, where do we go from here, and what’s the strategy to keep Dad outta prison?”
“Obviously, we’ll fight this with everything we’ve got,” Mom answered, “but it could take years to clear our name. The presumption of guilt will put a strain on all of us and proving innocence in the eye of the public is a lot harder than merely discrediting whatever proof of guilt the Justice Department comes up with. We’ll hire the biggest guns we can afford to defend us. At least we have the resources to do so… for now.”
“What about our investments?” I asked. “Couldn’t they be alleged evidence of corruption?”
“No, but there could be allegations of insider trading,” Mom answered, “and there might be just enough evidence to make it stick. That is our one Achilles Heel,” she concluded.
Slumping down onto the table, I sighed and said, “What a fucking mess.”
The stares from our fellow passengers as Asher and I boarded the M22 bus said it all. A lot of the same people rode our bus every day, but they never really paid any attention to us before. We were just a couple of kids — gay kids, but most adults tended to avoid talking to teens and vice versa. Today was a whole other story, as pretty much everyone stared at us as they boarded along the route. Even the people who lived in the projects seemed to know who we were and who my dad was. In my mind, I could almost hear what people were thinking, even though they kept their thoughts to themselves. ‘There’s the kid with the crooked dad,’ seemed to echo through the bus.
When we got off the bus, it was even worse as our fellow students stared at us wherever we went. Asher and I had very few courses in common this semester, so we didn’t even have each other’s support during most of the day. Thankfully, our good friend, Clarke, shared second period with me and he made it a point to sit next to me in class.
“I know exactly what it’s like to go through what you’re goin’ through,” he said as he took his seat. “We’ll talk at lunch,” he added before the teacher began the day’s lesson.
By the time I hit third period, I felt like an automaton — a robotic shell of the person I once was. Fortunately, Asher was in my class and we had a chance to talk for a brief moment. It was little more than a minute and nothing more than acknowledging that we were okay, but it was enough to give us both strength.
Then it was time for lunch and a chance to sit with our friends. The food in the cafeteria was actually fairly decent, so none of us brought our own lunch, preferring to enjoy a hot meal. There were a lot of places to eat nearby that had way better food, but leaving the campus was frowned upon and the time lost walking to and from someplace else wasn’t worth the effort. Besides which, the restaurants nearby and the Hudson Eats food court at Brookfield place were much more expensive.
As we headed toward the cafeteria, I checked my phone and found a text from Mom. It read, ‘Dad out on bail. Long list of charges. Still interviewing lawyers. TGDH.’ It took me a bit to decipher that TGDH stood for ‘Thank God Dad’s home.’
Going through the lunch line was surreal as even the servers stared at us as we moved along and selected our lunch items. A couple of our friends, Clark and Joel, were several kids ahead of us in line, but they let those kids go ahead of them so they could drop back to be with us. They both worked part-time at the Ragin’ Cajun, so we’d gotten to know them very well over the course of the last year. They’d both met my father and had often been there for Ashe and me when we needed them.
As usual, Joel took the lead and asked, “How are you guys holding up?”
“I feel like a robot,” I answered, “just going through the motions like a good little student, but the real Seth Moore is in hibernation.”
“I can imagine,” Joel responded. “You know Clark and I have your back if you need it, don’t you?” I noticed Clark nodding his head too.
“Of course I know it,” I replied, and then nodding toward Asher, I added, “We both do, and we appreciate it.”
The seating was organized around a number of round tables, each big enough to seat eight of us in a pinch. Exiting from the cashiers, we headed to where we usually sat and spotted Freck and Kyle already seated at one of our usual tables. We were joined by Carl and Clarke, who pulled up a couple of extra chairs. Of course, all our friends were afraid to bring up the elephant in the room. The only one of them with the moxie to do it was Kyle, and he didn’t disappoint us.
Jumping right in, he began with, “Well, I’ve met your dad, Seth, and he didn’t strike me as a crook, so what’s really going on?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss all the details,” I responded. “Suffice to say that Dad did something that displeased the president, who’s directed the Justice Department to dig up dirt on Dad. You know my dad. He’s as honest as can be, but politics is still politics and Albany isn’t exactly known as a paragon of virtue.”
“Having been there and done that,” Clarke chimed in, “I know a bit about what you’re going through, although in my case, the ’rents were guilty as sin. My dad was an amateur, though. We lived well beyond our means, making it obvious my parents had other income besides their government salaries. It was all too easy for the Feds to prove racketeering. With your Dad, on the other hand, everything’s above board and if anything, you guys live below your means. Not that I’d hold it against you personally if your dad were guilty, any more than you’ve held it against me. Friends are friends, no matter what. Still, I believe in you, Seth, and I really do believe your dad’s innocent. He’s being set up.”
“That’s what we’re afraid of,” I admitted. “It’s pretty obvious from the way things were handled that the arrest was a rush job, with scant evidence submitted to a Federal grand jury. But if they’re bound and determined, they’ll get Dad, even if they have to manufacture the evidence. At least Dad’s out on bail now.”
“Really?” Asher asked. I hadn’t realized I’d not had a chance to tell him yet.
“Yeah, Mom texted me just before lunch,” I explained. “I hadn’t had a chance to tell you yet.”
Asher responded. “I’m just glad your dad’s out of the slammer.”
“For sure,” I replied.
“You know, there’s a rumor going around that the two of you got married,” Carl interjected. “Of course, there’s no way you guys could get married so young, even if you wanted to.”
“Actually, the rumors are true,” Asher responded, drawing gasps from around the table. “It certainly wasn’t something we planned,” he continued. “Seth’s lawyer recommended it and before we knew what was happening, a civil court judge had declared us legally married.”
“You make it sound like an accidental marriage,” Carl quipped.
“Why didn’t you guys tell us?” Kyle asked.
“It all happened so fast,” I answered, “and as ridiculous as the whole thing sounds, it really hasn’t been the foremost thing on our minds, you know?”
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Asher concurred. “I expect we’ll hold a formal ceremony in the future. Seth and I have talked about it. I mean it wasn’t like a shotgun wedding or anything and we both agreed to it, but it still doesn’t seem real.”
“How the fuck could you get married so young?” Kyle asked. “I mean, neither of you is sixteen yet, let alone eighteen. Don’t you hafta be sixteen with parental permission in New York?”
“New York law allows for marriage at fourteen with a court order,” I explained. “They prefer that at least one of the partners be sixteen, but Ashe is fifteen and three-quarters, which apparently was close enough. I guess Hassidic Jews sometimes marry in their teens, which is why the law’s written that way.”
“Why the fuck would you want to get married now?” Kyle asked. “I mean, I know you love each other and want to get married someday, but how could getting married now help your father’s situation?”
“For one thing, it provides a legitimate excuse to shelter our apartment from the feds by putting it in Ashe’s and my names,” I explained. “It’s not unreasonable to give a condo or a house as a wedding present, so by getting married now, we gave my parents a legitimate way to give us the apartment.
“The other thing is that it’s harder for the Feds to go after my own personal assets if I’m emancipated. However, if I were emancipated, I couldn’t legally have sex with Ashe, even if he were an emancipated minor as well. Marriage is the only way we can have a legal, sexual relationship and be treated as adults.”
“What kind of assets could a kid have anyway?” Joel asked.
Taking a deep breath, I replied, “Please don’t let it change our relationship, but my Dad’s day job is investing, and he put money into stocks and other investments for me every year, starting when I was born. Those investments have grown considerably over the years.”
“Shit, how much are you worth?” Clark asked.
When I told them, Joel responded, “Damn, all this time, I’ve been friends with a kid who’s a millionaire.”
“You probably don’t want to know what Freck’s worth,” Kyle mentioned.
“It’s not like I’d ever flaunt it,” Freck responded. “My parents would and do, but that’s just not the kind of person I want to be. They can keep their billions as far as I’m concerned. As long as I have Kyle, I have all I need.
“Not to change the subject, but won’t you hafta pay a shitload of taxes on the apartment?” Freck asked.
“We would if we owned it outright,” I answered, “but Dad’s a master at avoiding taxes… legally, that is. The apartment’s owned by a shell corporation, and that won’t change, so it turns out there are no transfer taxes or flip tax involved. I already own a third of the shares, and each of my parents owns a third. As a wedding present, they’ll each give me half their share and Asher the other half, so I’ll own two thirds, and Asher will own a third. We’ll rent the apartment from the corporation, much as my parents do now, and the corporation will pay the co-op fees using the rent, so that the corporation itself never has a significant balance or worth. We won’t pay any taxes until the apartment is sold in the future.”
“Damn, it’s really true that the rich don’t pay taxes,” Clark responded.
“We do pay taxes,” I countered. “A portion of the rent is used to pay property tax. It’s buried in the co-op fees.”
“Yeah, but no transfer taxes, no flip tax, no gift tax and deferment of capital gains until you sell?” You have to admit that it’s a sweet deal.” Freck pointed out.
“Who said I’m complaining?” I replied. “Now, we just need to find a top, high-power lawyer to keep my dad out of prison,” I added.
“You don’t have one yet?” Freck asked.
“We have the lawyer our family has been using for years,” I explained, “and she arranged for a criminal defense attorney from her firm to represent Dad temporarily, but he has no prior experience with Federal cases. We need a heavy-hitter who’s spent time in Federal court and isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the Justice Department or the White House.”
“My dad might know of someone,” Freck responded. “My biological father, that is. As the CEO of one of the largest brokerage houses in the world, he’s spent more time in Federal court than he’d care to admit. Actually, he has a whole legal team on staff, but it wouldn’t be proper for them to represent you. It might look like there’s a quid pro quo, which would only make things worse for your father.”
“You really think you can get me the name of someone good?” I asked.
“I know I can, Seth,” Freck answered. “Besides, like Clarke said, that’s what friends are for.”
“Dad!” I shouted as I threw myself into his arms. It was so unusual to see him at home when I got home from school. Like everything else, it was surreal. We hugged each other tightly and held on for dear life.
When we finally pulled apart, Dad asked, “How was school? With everything going on, did you run into any problems?”
“Well, it was obvious everyone knows about it,” I admitted. “Even the servers in the cafeteria and the janitors. Mostly, people just stared, and no one taunted me or my friends.”
“That’s good,” Dad responded, “but if it gets too rough at school, just let me know and we’ll think of a strategy together, OK?”
“Sure thing,” I agreed.
“I got a call a few minutes ago from Frank San Angelo,” Dad went on. “As I’m sure you’d expect, I’ve spoken to him on a number of occasions and we’ve met a few times, but I didn’t realize that he’s Freck’s father. Apparently, Freck texted him about how you mentioned I needed to hire top legal representation. It could be bad for both of us if the press got wind of him helping me in any way, but he did give me a couple of names of attorneys his own legal staff recommended highly. I’ve invited one of them to meet with us after dinner.
“Speaking of which, I thought we’d just order some pizza tonight, since we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. How about Scarr’s Pizza?” Dad asked.
“You wanna order from my competition?” Asher asked.
“Son, there may be a half-dozen Cajun restaurants on the Lower East Side and in the East Village, but you have no competition. No other restaurant holds a candle to you, and certainly not a pizza place. Just because they’re at the other end of Orchard Street doesn’t make them you’re competition, any more than Katz’s, or Russ and Daughters Café. But if you’re in the mood for great pizza as I am tonight, Scarr’s is on the New York Times’, top ten list of best pies in NYC.”
“Sounds good to me,” I chimed in.
“I’ll order a large eggplant and ricotta,” Dad announced. “Asher, why don’t you choose the toppings for the second pizza.”
“How about green pepper, spinach and mushroom?” Ashe suggested. I was surprised he’d gone with another vegetarian pizza, but that was fine with me. When it came to pepperoni or sausage, I could take them or leave them. Barbecue chicken, ham or shrimp were another matter, but those apparently weren’t on the menu.
“Looks like they don’t have spinach,” Dad responded as he looked at his phone. “Might I suggest garlic or cherry tomatoes?”
“Tomatoes sounds good,” Asher replied.
After tapping on his phone a few times, Dad announced, “There, I ordered it for 4:45 — Soon enough that you’ll hopefully not starve in the interim, but late enough that you won’t starve before bedtime, and it’ll give us enough time to clean up afterwards.”
“Do we need to dress up or anything?” Asher asked.
“Your school clothes are definitely overkill,” Dad answered. Although we didn’t have a school uniform or anything, the requirement for white dress shirts and dark slacks made it look like we did.
“C’mon, Ashe,” I called to my boyfriend, “let’s go change.”
At my parents’ suggestion, we’d moved into the master bedroom at the start of the school year, and they’d taken over what had been my bedroom. With my parents living in their place in Albany during the legislative session, which ran all-year, there wasn’t much point in the master bedroom being vacant all the time. Since they were home only when the Assembly was on recess, and when possible, on weekends, they didn’t need as much space. As it was, Asher and I spent most of our nights together, with Asher spending only a couple of nights a week in his own bedroom in his parents’ apartment, at their insistence. Now that we were married, even those two nights would probably disappear.
Asher and I retreated to our bedroom and as we stripped out of our school clothes, Asher remarked, “Frank sure isn’t himself.”
“Spending the night in lockup will do that to you, Ashe,” I responded. “It’d take a toll on any of us.”
“I know that,” Asher replied, “but it’s not just that. Your dad doesn’t even look like the same person, you know?” Yeah, I did know. He looked like he’d aged twenty years in the last 24 hours.
Dad was young for someone so powerful in the state government. His fortieth birthday was coming up in July, but until today, he’d still looked young. I’d heard plenty of people say he looked like a kid, not that any teenager ever thought their parents looked like kids. Dad started his political career right out of law school, at the age of 23, taking a job as a law clerk for President Clinton’s former secretary of Housing and Urban Development. When his boss ran for New York Attorney General a few years later, Dad joined him as a staffer with his campaign. Mom had just finished a fellowship in oncology at the famed Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and with Dad’s foray into politics, decided to take time off to raise her newborn son.
Dad was rewarded with a key position in the Attorney General’s office but resigned his position just a year later to run for a vacant seat in the state assembly. Mom and Dad had bought an apartment in the Seward Park co-operative on New York’s Lower East Side when they first moved to New York, and the assemblyman who, for decades had represented the district, had been convicted on charges of corruption. Dad had a clean slate and youthful energy, and he easily won the primary and went on to win the seat.
Dad’s rise in the state assembly and in the Democratic Party had been meteoric, particularly when his good friend, the state Attorney General, became the governor four years later. With the governor’s favor and an ability to wheel and deal that was unusual in someone that young, Dad got all the right committee assignments and soon became chair of powerful Ways and Means Committee. It was rumored he was in line to become the next Speaker of the Assembly, and Dad had set his sights on running for governor or even the U.S. Senate someday.
But now, Dad appeared to be an entirely different man. Gone was the youthful exuberance that made him so popular with voters. Gone was the appearance of naïveté that so often caught his rivals off-guard when he out-maneuvered them. Now, Dad looked tired, and it had me worried. Obviously, Asher had seen it too.
“Dad’s had it pretty easy in politics,” I commented, “so he’s never really faced adversity before. He’s never lost an election and rarely lost a vote for something he deemed important. This arrest is from out of left field, and it’s the biggest threat any politician can ever face in their career. It’s a career-ending event.”
We were both down to our boxers now and Asher asked, “What do you think we should wear for tonight?”
Thinking for just a second, I suggested, “A polo with khakis and dressy sneakers would look nice without being too pretentious, don’t you think?”
“Sounds good.” Asher agreed, and then added, “You should wear your dark green polo. It brings out your green eyes.”
Shrugging my shoulders, I responded, “And you should wear one of your cream-colored polos. It contrasts nicely with your skin color.”
Nodding his head, Asher responded, “I can do that,” with his killer, Tiger Woods smile. Usually I never gave it any thought that my boyfriend — now my husband — was half-black and half-Asian. What was so important about race anyway? It was all to easy to stereotype based on race, when in reality, each family had its own story to tell. Asher’s father’s family didn’t come to America as slaves to work on the plantations of the South in the days of cotton. His father’s ancestors were brought to the Caribbean as slaves to work on the sugar cane plantations, and then escaped to Louisiana with other refugees during the Haitian revolution. Settling in an area that was settled by French fur trappers and native Acadians, they became a part of the very fabric of one of America’s preeminent cities. Although never enslaved in the U.S., they certainly were victims of Jim Crow. Even so, the black Creole were a vibrant part of New Orleans’ culture that enriched all of America as I saw it. Same with his mother’s side of the family, who came to the U.S. from China, seeking their fortune during the California gold rush and ended up helping to build the nation’s rail roads.
But thinking of Asher’s family reminded me of my earlier thoughts about why I’d never met his grandparents, and so I asked him. “Hey Ashe, today it dawned on me that I’ve never met your grandparents on either side of the family. Are your parents estranged from them or something? Are your grandparents upset at your parents for marrying outside their race?”
“That’s a really good question Seth, and not something my parents like to talk about,” Asher answered. “Until about the second grade, I never really knew that other kids had grandparents, so I didn’t really miss the fact that I never saw mine or knew anything about them. As you can imagine, it came as a shock to me when I discovered that, not only was there such a thing, but that most kids had grandparents whom they saw fairly often and who spoiled them rotten. It kinda made me jealous.”
“Didn’t you ask your parents about it?” I asked.
“Sure I did, but whenever I asked, they put me off,” Asher answered. “With a lot of prodding, the way only a little kid can prod, I got Mom to tell me that she grew up in Queens and still had parents and siblings there. Well I knew where Queens was. The F train goes right there, so I asked why we never saw them and why we couldn’t visit them. Eventually I did get to meet my aunts, uncles and cousins, but she kept making excuses as to why we couldn’t see her parents.
“In the meantime, I found out that Dad grew up in New Orleans and that his father still lived there. He told me his mother had died, but it wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I could get him to explain that she’d died in childbirth when he was born, which was why he doesn’t have any brothers or sisters.
“But backing up a bit, kids always think everything involves them and I’d already had plenty of experience with kids making fun of me because of my mixed race. Black kids called me a chink and Chinese kids called me by the ‘N’ word. I grew up with that but I had friends, and maybe the racial stuff is part of the reason why I became an introvert and buried my nose in books. Anyway, for a long time I assumed my grandparents hated me too.
“The whole thing came to a head when I was ten and we were going to one of my uncles, for my cousin’s thirteenth birthday. I was just beginning to think of my parents as people and it dawned on me that my cousin was missing out on having his grandparents there on his birthday, and so I told my parents to go to the party without me, so Mom’s parents could be there too. That prompted a very frank discussion of race, and that my grandparents estrangement from Mom and Dad had nothing to do with me. Finally I learned the truth… that it was my parents’ mixed race marriage that was the issue and not their mixed race son.”
“What a shame,” I responded. “Your parents are two of the finest people I know. I already think of them as my other parents and not just my in-laws. I don’t even think of their race at all. And of course I don’t think of yours, except that the combination means I have an incredibly cute and handsome… husband.”
Asher had been blushing even before I mentioned his good looks, so I asked, “Why are you blushing, Babe? You were blushing even before I told you how incredibly cute you are.”
Asher turned even more red and he looked down, then finally he admitted, “My cousin’s thirteenth birthday was my sexual awakening. It was the summer and they have a pool, and I got to see my cousin and all of his thirteen-year-old friends wearing only their swimsuits. It was the first time I realized how much I liked looking at shirtless boys. At first I thought I wasn’t interested in the girls because I couldn’t see their nipples, but then I found online porn and by the time I started sixth grade, I knew I was gay.”
“Shit!” I exclaimed as I looked at the alarm clock by the bedside. “We’ve been away from Mom and Dad for more than an hour!”
“We’d better get back to them,” Asher responded. “Is your dad gonna be OK?” he asked.
“Sure he will,” I replied, “just as we will.” I could only hope my eyes conveyed conviction my heart didn’t feel. We rejoined my parents just as the pizza arrived.
“Leave it to a pair of teenagers to arrive just in time to eat,” Dad quipped with a smile. It was so good to see him smiling and laughing. We all laughed along with him.
Grabbing a slice of the mushroom, pepper and tomato pizza, I dug in, as did we all. The pizza was pretty good, but I didn’t think it was anywhere close to being in the top ten. Personally, I liked Stanton Pizza way better, but then I had to respect the New York Times. After all, they gave Asher’s restaurant a glowing review too. When I got to trying a slice of the eggplant and ricotta pizza, I had to admit that it was incredible. Definitely one of the best pies I’d ever tasted.
Dad was right. By the time we finished putting everything away, the doorbell was ringing. Since I was the one closest to the door, I opened it to let the attorney who might be representing Dad into the apartment. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the man on the other side of the door. I figured he’d be old — at least fifty or sixty, with graying hair and perhaps balding. Although the man who greeted me was bald, he wasn’t balding by any means. His head was shaved, and he had a mustache and goatee. He was African American, but the most surprising thing was that he was pretty young. He looked like he was around my dad’s age. He kinda reminded me of Commander Ben Cisco from Deep Space Nine, one of my beloved Star Trek series.
“Is this the Moore residence?” the man asked, which made me realize I’d been dumbly staring at him rather than inviting him in.
“Yes, it is,” I answered as I extended my hand. “My father’s Frank Moore and I’m Seth,” I said, and added, “Why don’t you come in,” as I shook his hand.
“Hello Seth,” the man responded as he entered our apartment. “I’m Dalton Fitzgerald. It’s nice to meet you. And congratulations on your marriage. We’ll talk a bit more about that later.” I must have shown how much I was taken aback by his knowing about Asher and me getting married, as he continued, “What, you seem surprised that I know you just married Asher White? I never take on representing someone as their attorney until I do my due diligence, and it would be negligent of me to come here to discuss your father’s case without having done my research.”
By then, my dad had approached the door and he reached out with his hand and said, “Hello, Mr. Fitzgerald. I’m Frank Moore.”
As they shook hands, the attorney said, “Frank, if it’s alright with you, I much prefer to be on a first-name basis with my clients. We’re going to get to be very close during the coming months… as close as any people can be when one of them is being paid $1,250 an hour to be your friend, that is,” he added with a chuckle. $1,250 and hour! Holy shit! Was anyone worth that much?
“I know that’s a lot of money, particularly for someone in your situation,” he continued, “but I never take more than a few clients at a time and you’ll get my undivided attention. You’ll also get someone who’s successfully argued cases before the Supreme Court and other Federal courts, along with a full team of legal professionals. Very few attorneys have the kind of experience I can bring to your case. I can’t guarantee to get you off, but I think there’s a good chance you’ll walk away from this, poorer only for the money you’ve paid me to represent you.”
“Mr. Fitzgerald, I’m Julie Moore,” Mom said as she approached and extended her hand.
Taking her hand, he replied, “Julie, as I just told Frank, I much prefer first names, so please call me Dalton.” Then turning to me, he added, “That goes for the rest of you too.”
“Why don’t we go inside,” Mom suggested as she led the way.
As we approached the living room, Asher stood up and extended his hand, saying, “Dalton, I’m Asher, Seth’s boyfrie… er, husband.”
Shaking Asher’s hand, Dalton responded, “It’s nice to meet you, Asher. Believe me, I remember very well what being a newlywed is like. It took me years to transition to calling Tyrone my husband rather than my boyfriend.”
“You’re gay?” I practically shouted in surprise.
“Yup,” Dalton answered. “Young, black and gay. Not exactly what you were expecting, am I Seth?”
“You certainly don’t fit the typical stereotype of a seasoned criminal defense attorney who specializes in Federal cases,” I replied.
“In my experience, there is no typical stereotype,” Dalton responded. “We come in all shapes and sizes. The best of us tend to be young though, as we’re often tapped for the Federal bench when we hit middle age.” Then looking around, he added, “This is nice. I like what you guys have done with the place.”
“A good friend of ours, a senior at Stuyvesant High School, designed the physical layout of the place when we combined this apartment with the one behind it,” Asher explained. “He thought of things none of us had considered before. He also helped us pick out the furniture. He was just a sophomore then, and not quite twelve years old. He just celebrated his thirteenth birthday, and his boyfriend, who’s also a senior, just turned eleven.”
“It sounds like you have some impressive friends,” Dalton commented. “Now, why don’t we sit down and talk about what’s going on, and our strategy.”
“Does that include us?” I asked, unsure as to whether or not we were included.
“I would have wanted you in on the discussion, regardless,” Dalton answered, “but you two bought yourselves seats at the table, so to speak, when you got married. There will be unintended consequences and we’ll need to involve your parents too Asher, but more on that later.” Fuck! What did he mean by that?
We all took our seats in the living room, Asher and I on one of the sofas, Mom and Dad across from us on the other. Dalton, rather than sitting in one of the armchairs as I thought he would, sat on the futon in front of the TV, which gave him room to spread out with his papers around him.
Before any of us could speak, Asher asked, “What do you mean by getting my parents involved?”
Chuckling, Dalton answered, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have even brought it up. There’ll be plenty of time to discuss it later without allowing the issue to distract us from our primary goal of stopping anyone from going to prison. Unfortunately, in getting married, not only did you fail to sever the relationship between Seth and his parents, but you put your own finances and those of your parents at risk.” Fuck! “There’s a strong possibility that would’ve happened anyway, given the sweetheart deal you got on your lease for the Ragin’ Cajun, but in getting married, you enhanced the atmosphere of suspicion and in all likelihood drew the attention of the Feds. This is a perfect example of why one should never rush into anything. Your attorney was well-intentioned, but the Feds have access to information and authority that state and local agencies typically do not.”
“Should we get a divorce?” I asked.
“Why would you do that?” Dalton responded. “It’d be like shouting ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theater, and then saying, ‘never mind’. The damage is already done. Besides which, I take it you planned to marry someday anyway.”
“My life wouldn’t be complete without Ashe,” I replied.
“I know high school relationships rarely last,” Asher added, “but ours is special. We’re interested in different career paths, but we share the same interests and goals.”
“So let’s talk about what’s gonna happen,” Dalton said as he turned to face us all as a group. “As much as you’d like this to be over and done with, a case like this moves at a glacial pace. Part of that’s because the legal system in general moves slowly in the interest of seeking justice, but I think a good part of it is strategic. In drawing the process out, Justice hopes to wear you down, getting you to take a plea bargain that vindicates what they’ve done. In a case like yours, however, there are usually other motives involved, be they political strategy or a form of revenge…”
“This is definitely a matter of revenge,” Dad interrupted. “I was one of several people who leaked information on the FAA’s Air Traffic Control debacle, just before Thanksgiving. When the president continued to push for an Iranian connection, I felt I had no choice but to force the issue and so I leaked a series of internal memos to the press. Unfortunately, there was no time to cover my tracks. Undoubtedly, this is payback.”
“A profile in courage to be sure,” Dalton responded, “but not one that history will likely remember. Assuming that’s what’s driving this, then we’re in for a very rough ride. Political payback’s a bitch and the primary determinant of the outcome depends only on how badly the president wants to hurt you. Sometimes the goal is only to destroy your career, in which case a quick resolution’s still possible. More often the goal’s to make you suffer, and in that case the ordeal could be long and painful. Assuming there isn’t any actual serious corruption, keeping you out of prison could come at the price of financial ruin, and not only for you, but for your entire family, and Asher’s.”
Dad visibly paled, and then asked, “Is there a possibility of avoiding that by pleading to a lesser charge?”
“Not without jailtime,” Dalton answered, “and there’d be a degree of financial loss as well, but right now, that’s a best-case scenario. I don’t know what the Feds actually have and that could determine everything. What I know about for sure is your connection to Sam Weinstein, a real estate magnate and developer with a reputation for shady dealings, and that you have an extensive portfolio of investments, some of which could undoubtedly be alleged to have involved insider trading. I know that everything you did was on the up-and-up. That much is evident from reviewing your financial records, but I don’t need to tell you that appearances are what’s important.
“As difficult as it may seem, the prudent thing is to wait,” Dalton continued. “By law, Justice has to turn over everything they have on you without exception. It’s called discovery and in and of itself, discovery could take weeks… or even months. Once we know what evidence they have and the witnesses they intend to call, we’ll be in a much better position to determine if a plea bargain is in your best interest, or even possible. We’ll also be able to plan an effective defense.”
“Are you sure about Sam?” Dad asked. “I’ve known him for years. Not only has he given generously to my campaigns, but he’s invested heavily in the community, renovating and restoring properties that others would have torn down.”
Shaking his head, Dalton responded, “I looked into his financials and used my extensive network of contacts to get the low-down on him. His investment in the Lower East Side is a sham Frank. He spends heavily on cosmetics while ignoring major problems with infrastructure. And that sweetheart deal on the lease for the Ragin’ Cajun is just that. It cost him virtually nothing and yet if it came out to your constituents, it could be highly embarrassing.”
Then turning to Asher and me, he added, “Did you know there’s a poison clause in your lease? Not only does he get to keep everything you put into the restaurant, from the tables to the napkins, but there’s a no-compete clause too. Technically, your parents’ Asian restaurant already violates that, and he could use it to put them out of business at any time. But even more, you’re forbidden from opening another restaurant anywhere in New York City for the next twenty years, and that includes both of you as well as your parents. He’s effectively locked you into a twenty-year agreement, with a lease that lets him raise the rent arbitrarily after the first five years.”
“Fuck,” I exclaimed.
Then turning to face Mom and Dad, he continued. “And Frank, he’s been setting you up for a fall since you first ran for Assembly.”
“But why?” Dad asked.
“It didn’t take much digging for me to figure out his game,” Dalton replied. “He’s transparent as hell if you know what to look for. He has big plans for the Lower East Side, but he needs air rights. Because of all the development around Essex Crossing, however, there aren’t enough air rights for sale to build the kind of super-tall tower he has in mind. He wants a variance to allow him to pool the air rights from all his properties, but the City Council has balked. He figured that when the time was right, he’d pressure you as the next Speaker of the Assembly or governor to cut a deal with the city… a quid pro quo that would let him build a series of eighty-story towers on Delancey.”
“Shit, that’d destroy the whole character of the Lower East Side,” Dad responded.
“Of course, now that you’ve been arrested, that scenario’s no longer a possibility,” Dalton went on, “but in cooperating with the Feds, he could try to cut a deal that’s just as beneficial. Like I said, though, he’s an amateur.”
“But what’s to keep him from painting Frank as a corrupt politician?” Mom asked.
“The Feds can’t protect Weinstein from the state,” Dalton answered, “and we can dig up enough dirt on him to not only put him out of business, but to put him away for decades. There’s always the possibility that he’ll sell out and accept a plea deal with the Feds that avoids jailtime,” Dalton cautioned. “Because of the rules against double jeopardy, the state couldn’t convict him of crimes for which he’s already plead guilty at the Federal level, even if he serves no time. A felony conviction would put an end to his real estate empire however, and I just don’t see him being willing to do that. I just don’t see Sam Weinstein as being a serious threat. That’s not to say the Feds won’t scrutinize your involvement in getting that sweetheart deal for your son-in-law’s family, though. In any case, I’ll get that poison clause invalidated before we’re through.”
“Is it possible there’s a window of opportunity right now?” Dad asked. “Before the Feds have the chance to dig up anything else on me, might we be able to stop the investigation in its tracks?”
“You mean to make a deal?” Dalton asked. When Dad merely nodded his head, Dalton went on to ask, “Is there anything to dig up on you that I don’t already know about?”
“Absolutely not,” Dad answered, but added, “but then I had no idea about Sam Weinstein. I always went to great pains to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but I can’t say I didn’t involve myself in the wheeling and dealing that goes on in Albany. I’d have never gotten where I am today without trading votes for the things I felt were important.”
Laughing, Dalton replied, “Frank, that’s just politics, and while some folks might question your judgement, no one would question the need to trade votes. So long as you never sold your vote, you should be safe. That doesn’t mean someone wouldn’t allege impropriety, but other than affecting public perception, that sort of thing almost never results in a conviction, and certainly not in jailtime.
“The one potential Achilles heel is your investment income, as I’m sure you already know. It’ll be pretty hard to prove you didn’t know of hidden relationships between the companies in which you invested and those doing business with the state of New York, and you can be sure there were such relationships. The one charge that might stick is insider trading, but if you’re willing to go the distance, we can win that one on appeal.
“Now as to the existence of a ‘window of opportunity’, there’s always the risk that in flashing a hundred-dollar bill at a mugger, the mugger will kill you for the several hundred more he assumes you must be hiding. If you give it up too readily Frank, the Feds are sure to think you’ve something to hide. My very strong advice is to wait and let the process of discovery go forward. Let’s see what they’ve got on you first, and then we can consider your options.
“I know you’re probably worried about what will happen if the Feds go after your assets. Don’t. The Feds can put a lien on your property, but they cannot seize your apartment so long as you’re living in it. They can freeze your bank accounts, but they can’t do anything more than put a lien on your capital assets. Whatever you do, don’t try to move assets offshore, and don’t transfer your apartment to your sons. Those are both red flags that could force the Feds to move against your other assets. You have to trust me on that and let me deal with the consequences. We’ll fight the Feds tooth and nail whenever they try to restrict your liquidity.
“What I suggest you do, because the Feds could seize the contents of a safe deposit box, is to get a heavy safe and have it professionally installed in your apartment. It doesn’t have to be hidden, but it does need to be bolted down such that it can’t be easily removed, and it should be fire-rated for electronic media for no less than two hours. It should have a pick-proof mechanical combination rather than a key lock or an electronic one, and of course you should share the combination with no one. Keep in mind that the courts can order you to give up the combination but complying should be your choice and not a matter of law enforcement hacking into it.
“I recommend you keep some cash on hand, just in case you find your accounts frozen. Keep enough cash on hand to last you at least a year… a couple hundred thousand… a million if you’re paranoid. Consider it as a rainy-day fund and don’t spend it unless you have to. An alternative, if you trust me, is to sign over responsibility for paying your bills to my office. That way, no matter what, I can make sure you never fall in arears. We’ll just add a six months’ worth of your expenses onto my retainer.
“How much of a retainer do you need?” Dad asked.
“If you choose me to represent you,” Dalton began, “I’ll need a quarter million up-front. That’s enough to cover two hundred hours of my time, which I’ll probably go through in the first two or three months. Assuming the Feds go forward with this and it goes to trial, you can expect to spend one or two million over the course of a couple of years, not including any appeals.”
“One or two million!” I exclaimed.
“Lest you think I’m pocketing all that,” Dalton countered, “consider that I pay close to a hundred grand a year in rent on my office space and six-figure and near-six figure salaries to a pair of associates, a clerk and two paralegals, and most of their time isn’t billable. Beyond that, I’m not apologizing for what I make, because I’m good at what I do and my time is worth it. I can’t guarantee we’ll win, but there’s an excellent chance I can keep you out of prison and that’s worth everything.”
“So how do we do this?” Dad asked.
“Before you decide you want to hire me, let me draw up a contract and retainer agreement and give you a chance to look it over. I’ll email it to you by the end of business tomorrow. Take your time looking it over, but let me know as soon as possible if you do intend to use my services, so that I can begin the process of discovery…”
“I definitely want to hire you,” Dad interrupted. “I trust there will be nothing untoward in the contract, and you come highly recommended by someone who’s judgement I trust more than I trust my own. I’d write you a check right now, but I don’t have a quarter million in checking,” he added with a smile.
“Few of us do,” Dalton replied with a smile of his own. “Besides which, I’d rather not have responsibility for your money until we have a signed contract.”
“I would also like to have your office take over my finances… all of them, until this whole debacle is over,” Dad added.
“I can’t take over responsibility for your investments Frank,” Dalton replied. “That’s not within the scope of my practice.”
“Is there a way we could put them into a blind trust?” Dad asked. “We could set it up to cover our basic expenses and even your retainer, and even if the Feds put a lien on it, “the trust would protect it until we either reach a plea deal or I’m convicted and go to prison.”
“There’s a risk the Feds could seize the entire trust,” Dalton countered, “but I do know someone who’s an expert on such things. If anyone can structure a trust to prevent that, she can, and if she can, I’ll have her write it up and present it to you.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Dad responded, causing me to groan inside.
“Oh, one thing you may not have considered is what would happen if you resign your seat in the State Assembly. Although the loss of income would certainly take a bite out of your finances, you’d also lose your state civil service benefits, including health insurance. You have the resources to self-pay your basic expenses, but a major illness could wipe you out. Rather than going through the health exchange, I’d recommend you set up a health savings account in conjunction with a comprehensive, catastrophic health plan. Those are relatively cheap, yet they don’t have all the restrictions typical of most regular health plans.”
“Do you think I should resign my seat?” Dad asked.
“It’s unlikely you’ll be reelected, even if we win this,” Dalton answered, “but resigning now would reinforce the public perception of guilt, which could taint a future jury. I’d hold off on doing anything rash until I complete the process of discovery.”
This was turning into one big clusterfuck, and there was no indication it was ever going to go away.
Since Dad was under arrest for corruption, even though he was out on bail, he wasn’t allowed to continue his work as a state assemblyman. He couldn’t even be paid his salary — officially, he was on an unpaid leave of absence, and there didn’t seem to be any open positions for potentially corrupt politicians being advertised at the moment. He couldn’t practice law without the risk of being disbarred either, and working as a lobbyist could inadvertently put him at greater risk of conviction. His options were somewhere between limited and nonexistent. As did many people in his position before him, Dad took to writing a book. The financial return on writing books was iffy to begin with and it could take years to realize any royalties.
Mom, on the other hand, had given up a promising career in medicine to be Dad’s campaign manager and chief of staff. She hadn’t practiced in any capacity since she completed her oncology fellowship some fourteen years ago. So much had changed in that time and most of the protocols for treating cancer back then were no longer in use. If she were to go back to practicing oncology, she’d have to relearn all of the essentials of her field, and the best way to do that would be to repeat her fellowship. She might not even get a position in New York and could have to move across the country. If that happened, I wasn’t sure what we’d do. Dad couldn’t leave the state in the midst of what was going on, and I certainly didn’t want to move and either leave Asher behind or take him away from his family.
She was already too late to apply for a position for the coming year, which began on July 1, however, as applications had been due months ago and interviews for positions were over for the year. Positions were filled through a nationwide matching program in which applicants rank the programs they’d like to attend, and programs rank the residents they’d like to have, with the results announced on Match Day, in mid-March. With the looming crisis of Covid-19, however, anything was possible.
It came as a complete surprise when Mom practically collided with Ashe and me as we entered the apartment one day in early March, just as we were returning home from school. “I have an interview at Memorial in an hour. I have to run!” she said. She was smartly dressed in a blazer over a blouse, a skirt and high heels and a dressy overcoat. She barely spoke to us, saying “Bye Sweeties, I’ll see you later,” as she disappeared into the elevator, leaving Ashe and me totally baffled. Obviously, we weren’t going to get any answers until she returned in the evening.
The one thing I could think of was that Memorial had an unexpected vacancy. Vacancies usually arise because of illness or injury, unplanned pregnancy, marriage, death of a family member or other life-changing events. By their nature, vacancies can’t be filled through the Match. However, Memorial could attract anyone they wanted, and they were a large enough program that a single missing body could be covered by a physician assistant or nurse practitioner until they could obtain someone through the Match the following year. Mom had been searching all over North America for unfilled vacancies in hematology-oncology fellowship programs, but she never expected to find one at Memorial.
“Well that was interesting,” Asher said to me as we dropped our bookbags in the dining room and got out our homework. Since Dad had taken over the den to use as his own personal study while writing his book, the only place Ashe and I could work on our homework together was the dining room table. “I thought you said it was too late to interview for the coming year.”
“It’s way too late,” I replied, “or too early, depending on how you look at it.”
“How so?” my boyfriend — oops, husband asked.
“The match results’ll be out in less than two weeks,” I explained. “There are always some applicants that fail to match with a program, and some programs that don’t fill all their positions. Mom could interview for an unmatched position once the Match is over and done with, but that won’t be for another couple of weeks. Perhaps Memorial decided to give her a shot at filling an unexpected vacancy, especially with the threat of a viral pandemic ahead of them,” I suggested. “We won’t really know until she returns and tells us what’s going on,” I added, then as an afterthought, I said, “Maybe Dad knows something.” The way Dad had retreated into working on his book, seemingly day and night, it was easy to forget he was even home in the apartment these days.
The two of us literally ran to the den, which was tucked away in a corner where the original entrance to the second apartment used to be. The door was still there as an emergency exit. A small alcove provided access to the original kitchen window as well as a window unit for air conditioning and a radiator for heat. We found him busily typing away on what had been my iMac.
“Dad?” I called out.
After a moment, he stopped typing and without even looking up, said, “Yes Seth?”
“Do you know anything about Mom’s interview today?” I asked.
“Mom has an interview today?” he responded. “She didn’t say anything to me about it.”
“Yeah, she just rushed out of here, saying she has an interview at Memorial,” I explained.
“Memorial!” he exclaimed. “I thought they’d finished their interviews for the year. That’s what she told me anyway.”
“That’s what we thought too,” I agreed, “but that’s where she said she was going.”
“Hmm,” Dad responded. “It’d be great if she got a spot there, but don’t get your hopes up.” He then went back to his typing, leaving us just standing there.
“Obviously, we’re not gonna find anything out until she gets home,” Asher said, “Let’s change our clothes, grab a snack and get started on our homework.” After stripping out of our school clothes and donning t-shirts and shorts, we headed to the kitchen.
“There’s no telling when we’ll eat dinner,” Asher commented as we entered the kitchen, “so I’ll make some grilled cheese sandwiches to hold us over.” To anyone else, a grilled cheese sandwich wouldn’t sound like much. A couple pieces of white bread and a slice of American cheese, toasted in a skillet with a little butter. Nothing that Asher made, however, was ever that simple.
Asher started by grabbing a large skillet and setting it on the stove on a low flame. He added perhaps a tablespoon of canola oil to the skillet, which immediately began to sizzle, and then added four slices of Kosher rye bread. He got out a medium onion and proceeded to chop it into fine pieces, which he then threw into the skillet, alongside the pieces of bread. He next took a clove of garlic and minced it finely, adding the garlic to the simmering onion in the skillet. Next came red and green bell peppers, which he washed, sliced, cleaned and diced, but he set the diced peppers aside for the moment and attended to the contents already in the skillet.
Removing the four slices of bread and setting them on a plate, grilled side up, he scooped up the onion and garlic mixture and spread it evenly on top of the four slices of bread. He placed the four slices of bread back in the skillet, keeping the grilled sides up, and added a slice of sharp cheddar on each of two of the slices and provolone on each of the other two slices. As the cheese started to melt, he spread a little mayo on top, followed by the peppers. On top of that went slices of Swiss cheese on two of the slices and mozzarella on the other two. As the top layers of cheese were melting, he sliced up a tomato into very fine slices. Finally, he removed two of the slices, placing them back on the plate, added the tomato slices, and then flipped the other two slices over and placed them on top, pressing down firmly and slicing each sandwich in half.
The result was a couple of sandwiches that shared about as much in common with a generic grilled cheese sandwich as a Ferrari did with a Fiat. Now that was a snack! After polishing off our sandwiches, we cleaned up and then sat down at the dining room table and got down to doing our homework. We both made quick work of the day’s assignments and then got busy working on our upcoming term papers and studying for midterms, which were coming up soon.
When it was six o’clock and we still hadn’t heard from Mom, I sent her a text asking if she knew when she’d be home for dinner. It took her nearly an hour to respond. She texted that she was being taken out for dinner by some of the faculty and we shouldn’t expect her home before ten. For the sake of expediency, Asher and I ordered a bunch of stuff from the Asian takeout restaurant his parents owned. Other than the generous tip we gave the delivery boy, the food was free and as always, delicious. My dad was right — it was the best Asian food north of Canal Street. Speaking of which, Dad was grateful when we brought him an assortment of Asian food to the den, so he didn’t have to interrupt his writing.
When ten o’clock came and went and there was still no sign of Mom, I began to get a little worried, although I understood that she probably wasn’t in a position to send a text. Surely her interviews must have finished by now, but all things were possible in the city that never sleeps. I remembered her talking about how she used to go out for drinks with the other physicians and staff after a long day of caring for patients at Memorial, back in her fellowship days. Perhaps some of the people she used to work with were still there and they invited Mom to go out with them.
Unfortunately, it was still a school night and as much as Ashe and I would have liked to have stayed up until Mom got home, Dad insisted that we go to bed by eleven. I could tell that even he was a bit concerned. Mom should’ve called or texted, but then she probably was otherwise involved and lost track of the time. In any case, Asher and I washed up and got into bed at eleven, but sleep did not come easily.
Finally, just before midnight, I heard the unmistakable sound of the front door opening. Shortly after that, just as Asher and I were pulling on our boxers, intending to get dressed and see how things went with Mom, I heard Mom and Dad talking and then the distinct sound of Dad shouting, “Fantastic!”
We forgot about getting dressed and rushed out in only our boxers to see what the shouting was all about. It was obvious Mom and Dad were ecstatic, and before I could even open my mouth to ask what about, Mom exclaimed, “They offered me a job!”
“For a fellowship?” Asher asked.
Shaking her head, she replied, “No, as a research assistant. The chair of medical oncology was one of the attending physicians I served under during my fellowship all those years ago. I thought I’d need to redo my fellowship in order to get back up to speed and to be taken seriously when applying for work, but Dr. Chaudry’s willing to give me a chance without another fellowship. I’ll need to retake my boards in Internal Medicine and Oncology before I’ll be eligible for a faculty position, which will be no mean feat, but a research assistantship will give me a chance to get back up to speed and to acquaint myself with the newer protocols while easing back into clinical practice. In a couple of years, I’ll be able to apply for a position as a clinical assistant professor, with a faculty appointment at Cornell. It’s a great opportunity.”
“Aren’t you glad I made you keep your license up-to-date?” Dad asked.
I wasn’t sure what Dad meant, so I raised my eyebrows and Mom explained, “It costs nearly a grand every two years to renew a medical license in New York State, and it isn’t even tax deductible. I just didn’t think it was worth it. On top of that, you need to complete fifty hours of continuing medical education every year, but I’d have probably done that anyway. The problem is that if you don’t renew, you have to pay back all the missed renewal fees plus a penalty, and it can take months or even a year to get your license back. Dad was right. It was better to keep paying the fees in case I decided to practice again someday.”
“Does the assistantship pay as well as a fellowship?” I asked.
“It’ll pay a bit more,” Mom answered. “Not nearly as much as I’ll get as a faculty member… not that Memorial is known for high salaries in the first place, but even in New York, we can live on it.”
“That is fantastic,” I exclaimed. Even if the Feds tried to seize our assets, they couldn’t take her salary unless they arrested her too. It would offer a financial cushion against whatever might happen in the future. It also gave Mom a sense of doing something, and we all needed that now. Just as Dad was working on his book and Asher and I were working in the restaurant, Mom would be playing a major role in helping to keep the family together during these difficult times.
Just over a week later, the President declared a national emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the city closed all the schools, as it turned out, for the remainder of the school year. Asher and I had to finish our Sophomore year of high school over the internet. Shortly after that, the entire state went into lockdown.
Before I knew it, April was upon us and Asher would soon turn sixteen. In a couple of months, I myself would turn fifteen. I was still getting used to the idea that we were married. Since Mom and Dad had been forced to rent out their place in Albany and move back in with us, it didn’t really feel like we were married but, legally, we most certainly were.
The one cloud hanging over our heads was the ongoing investigation by the Feds into Dad’s alleged corruption. Dalton kept us well-informed and the process of discovery was, for the time being, complete, but it was an ongoing investigation and without a trial date being set, the Feds were keeping their options open to file additional charges against Dad. With the state locked down, the process nearly ground to a halt and it took extra effort on Dalton’s part to keep it from stalling entirely, leaving Dad’s political career in limbo.
In the meantime, Sam Weinstein was turning out to be much more of a problem than Dalton had originally thought. The Feds were able to pin a lot of serious shit on him and the mere threat of jailtime was enough to make him sing. Worse yet, the Feds were so determined to pin crap on Dad that they were willing to cut a deal. And in pleading guilty to Federal charges, he could avoid facing charges from the State of New York. Undoubtedly, he was lying through his teeth.
The other shoe dropped a few days before Asher’s birthday, when the Feds showed up at the Ragin’ Cajun and closed the place down. We were both working there at the time and only found out afterwards that they’d closed Asher’s family’s Asian takeout restaurant on Grand Street too. Fortunately, we were only preparing meals for takeout and there weren’t patrons in either place at the time.
However, Asher’s family was completely reliant on their restaurants to pay their bills and didn’t have significant savings to fall back on, other than the money that was intended for Asher’s college fund, nor could they afford to pay the rent on either restaurant for more than a few months. Unless the situation resolved quickly, they’d have no choice but to declare bankruptcy on both restaurants and look for work elsewhere.
Worse still, Dalton warned us that we could all end up facing arrest and since Asher and I were now married, we’d be treated and tried as adults. None of us had done anything wrong, but the Feds seemed hell-bent on entrapping Dad, even if it meant fabricating charges on those he cared about, based on the most tenuous of evidence. Unfortunately, the strategy was working. Not only did Dad offer to pay Dalton for the time spent defending Asher’s family — representation they could have never afforded otherwise, but he instructed Dalton to make overtures to the Feds on reaching a plea deal. If successful, dad would go to prison.
Under the circumstances, none of us felt like celebrating Asher’s sixteenth birthday, especially Asher. We would celebrate another time, perhaps in conjunction with the celebration of our wedding, once the whole ordeal was over and the threat from the virus had resolved.
“So here’s the deal,” Dalton began. It was the middle of May and he’d been negotiating with Federal prosecutors for more than six weeks. We were in our apartment — Mom, Dad, Asher and me, and Asher’s parents were in their own apartment and videoconferencing via computer. Dalton himself was videoconferencing from his home. “The Feds aren’t willing to cut a deal that doesn’t involve a felony conviction and jailtime. With Covid-19 rampant in the prison system, believe me, you do not want to go to prison. However, you have your priorities and beyond that, all is negotiable. Clearly, they’re seeking to punish you and to send a message to all who might try to challenge the president. It’s petty and vindictive, and way out of proportion to the situation at hand, but then I’ve come to expect that from the current administration.
“I very strongly believe they have no case and we can win this thing. If we see it through, no one will go to prison and Frank, you might still have a shot at getting back into politics. My recommendation is to see it through and let me pursue either getting all the charges dropped or getting you acquitted. However, they are prepared to seek incitements of the boys from a Federal Grand Jury, and to try them as adults. Even if acquitted, they’ll likely be expelled from Stuyvesant and will probably have to delay their high school graduation. Unless convicted of a felony, getting into an Ivy League school should still be possible with their grades, but it would be much more of a challenge.
“You’ve indicated that any involvement of the boys is unacceptable to you and of course, I respect that. If I had two fine young men for sons, I’d probably feel the same way. I also understand your insistence that the White’s avoid bankruptcy and that they be able to retain their restaurants. That turned out to be more of a challenge than you might have expected. Weinstein’s in much deeper shit than you can imagine. The Feds ended up taking all of his properties and they’ll be auctioning them off, including the contents of all the retail space in his buildings.” Then addressing Asher’s parents, he said, “I know you won’t find another sweetheart deal and you’ll have to start over at another location, but with your reputation, you should have little difficulty raising the funds to do so. Just be glad you aren’t the art gallery that occupied the space next to yours, as they’ve lost everything.”
Then turning back to Dad, he continued, “Frank they’re willing to drop all of the charges of corruption and racketeering in return for a plea of no contest to insider trading. A ‘no contest’ plea is not an admission of guilt but rather an agreement not to contest the charges, and unlike with a guilty plea, you don’t need to establish guilt in front of the judge. You only need to establish that you understand the nature of the charges and the consequences. It won’t absolve you of possible charges at the state level, but your beef never was with the state and the state has no plans to investigate or indict you. They’ll also agree not to pursue investigations of your relatives, including your children and your son-in-law’s family and will put that in writing. Not that there ever was a basis for those investigations in the first place.
“The SEC will agree to recommend a sentence of one year in a minimum-security Federal correctional facility, with probation possible after six months of good behavior. The judge, however, will be free to establish a sentence of anywhere from no jail time to ten years in prison, so you’ll want to do a bang-up job at your sentencing hearing. We’ll spend some time preparing for that. We’re also going to recommend remand to the minimum-security prison camp at Otisville, New York. It’s about seventy miles north of the city. Unfortunately, much depends on the judge assigned to the case, and whether or not they were appointed by the current president. We won’t know that until just before the hearing.”
Dalton went on to explain the financial costs of the plea agreement, which were significant. Dad would have to return funds the SEC deemed to be ill-gotten and pay a substantial penalty. The good news was that my investments, even though they came from Dad, would be off-limits. Dalton explained the consequences of a felony conviction, which included disbarment, a ban on trading stocks and bonds and working as a registered lobbyist for a number of years, depending on the level of government. He wouldn’t lose his passport and would be allowed to travel, but there could be restrictions on travel in some countries. He could still buy and sell real estate, could invest in stocks and bonds so long as he used an independent broker and at least in New York, could still vote.
It was a lot to take in, but Dad didn’t even hesitate. “Go ahead and take the deal, Dalton, and I appreciate everything you’ve done for us. I know you got the best deal possible under the circumstances. My family and I know I did no wrong, but I’ll admit I’m guilty of one of the cardinal sins in politics… the appearance of impropriety. I never intentionally invested in anything that could have been affected by my activities in the Assembly, but it was incredibly naïve of me to assume that it wouldn’t be seen as otherwise by my adversaries.
“With respect to corruption, I have no regrets. The fact that the Feds are willing to drop all charges of corruption says it all. I may have blurred the line a few times as necessary and expedient, but I did nothing unethical and I’m sure a jury would agree with that. Spending six months in prison will be an interesting experience I’m sure, but necessary. Nothing is worth compromising my sons’ future, nor that of my son-in-law’s family.”
“Frank, ordinarily, I always respect my client’s wishes,” Dalton countered, “but there’s something fishy about this deal. I know the jailtime and financial penalty sound like a lot, but it’s much less than what I would’ve expected under the circumstances. They’re hiding something Frank. We’re missing a piece of the puzzle… something they should’ve handed over in discovery but didn’t. Give me until the end of the week, and then we’ll enter your plea. Let’s at least keep them off-balance until the last minute, and if we do find something, we can discuss our options.”
With the lockdown in full swing, Federal court proceedings were limited to the participants only, with all parties wearing masks and complying with social distancing. I knew Dad and Dalton had spent days videoconferencing, going over everything they would present and say, but I was privy to none of it. Much as they trusted me, Dalton insisted that absolutely no one be in the loop. The harm that could be done if any of it got out in advance of the hearing would be irreparable.
The one thing I did know was that the judge was a recent appointee of the current president. That alone made me very nervous. Asher and I had to settle for hearing about the court proceedings after the fact, but we’d been kept in the dark and were totally blown away when we heard from Dad how it all went down.
“The judge was young and appeared to be a bit nervous,” Dad began. “This was the first case he’d tried that was generating interest in the news media, according to Dalton, and it was apparent he wasn’t used to all the attention. The hearing took place in the Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse, a building frequently pictured on TV and in the movies.
“In addition to Dalton, we were represented by Cortney Jeffries, one of Dalton’s associates. After the case was introduced and the judge requested preliminaries, it was Cortney who stood and made a request that the judge recuse himself because his family had extensive real estate holdings New York, and that this represented a conflict of interest.”
“Why is that?” my boyfriend asked.
Dad explained, “As you may know, I was a co-sponsor of the recently passed tenant bill, which the Governor signed into law. It turns out the judge’s family stands to lose over thirty million dollars in rent revenue over the next ten years because of that law…”
“Woah!” Asher interrupted.
“Of course we expected the judge to reject the request, and he did,” Dad went on, “but at least we got it on record and we put him on notice. This is a high-profile case and the last thing the judge wants is for what’s probably his first big case in Federal court to be lost on appeal. By making the motion, Cortney helped ensure he’d be on his best behavior.” Dad always said that politics and the law are as much about strategy as facts, and that was sure evident now.
Dad continued, “Next, the judge asked us to confirm that I was ready to enter into a plea agreement, and Cortney replied that I was not…”
This time I was the one to interrupt. “What?” I exclaimed. “I thought the whole purpose of today’s hearing was to enter into a plea agreement.”
“It was,” Dad explained, “and I’d even signed an agreement not to contest a reduced set of charges offered by the prosecution. Needless to say the judge was not pleased. As he saw it, it was an exceptionally fair deal. There needed to be a compelling reason for to reject it, and of course we countered that there was.”
“How’s that?’ Asher asked.
Smiling, Dad answered, “This is why it pays to hire the best lawyer you can afford. Dalton and his legal team uncovered evidence that the prosecution withheld critical evidence that exonerated me. They cherry-picked their data, selectively presenting evidence of insider trading while ignoring evidence that refuted it. And by shutting down your family’s restaurants without cause, Asher, restaurants that are your only source of income, they put undue pressure on me to reach a deal, even though it wasn’t in my best interest. The prosecution acted in bad faith and the plea agreement I signed is therefore invalid.
“Cortney then presented evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.” Asher and I both gasped in response.
“I thought prosecutorial misconduct is an act of desperation that’s extremely hard to prove,” I responded. “It’s a serious allegation that’s almost never used. Prosecutors, especially U.S. Attorneys, have broad powers and judges are loath to find against them.”
“Whichever way the judge rules, it could define the rest of his career,” Dad continued. “Our motion came from out in left field and the judge’s reaction would be unpredictable, which is why we wouldn’t have made it unless the evidence we had was rock-solid.
“The prosecution’s entire case was built around the assertion that I used my political office to influence the market and to take advantage of pending legislation to inflate the value of my portfolio in what amounted to classic insider trading. To that end, they presented a long list of financial transactions and investments that increased in value as a result of contracts with the state or by other means related to legislation in the State Assembly. What the prosecution did not do was to correlate those with my legislative positions in my role as a leader in the Assembly, nor with my actual voting record. When that’s done, it can be seen that I actually opposed a majority of the legislation that ended up benefiting me personally.”
“Damn!” I exclaimed.
“Of course the U.S. Attorney objected and the objection was sustained, but then Cortney countered that the prosecution’s evidence was incomplete and one-sided. Clearly, they cherrypicked the investments that supported their position and ignored those that did not. Although we couldn’t prove intent, Cortney presented documentation that effectively proved the data were not fully represented. As she put it, it strains all sense of believability to suggest that the manipulation of the data wasn’t deliberate.
“Naturally, the prosecution tried to get the judge to reject our bringing in new data to support what they claimed were baseless allegations,” Dad continued. “They alleged that if we wished to present the data at trial, we were free to do so, but the judge agreed that if there were evidence that the plea agreement was based on faulty data, he needed to hear it. Now this is where things get interesting, because the Supreme Court long ago ruled that information used by the prosecution to obtain a confession or to pressure a defendant into taking a deal need not be truthful. Personally, I think it’s a travesty of justice… it’s a license to lie, but short of a reversal by the Supreme Court, the prosecution can do whatever they damn well please.”
“That’s insane!” my boyfriend countered.
“Yes, it is,” Dad agreed, “but it’s the reality we have to face. In any case, we countered that for a hearing, the fact that the prosecution lied was relevant and that the judge needed to hear it. Further, we pointed out that a plea deal isn’t final until agreed to by the judge, and that the defendant is free to revoke it at any time until it’s entered, as is the prosecution. The judge agreed, but reminded everyone that any new data provided must be brief. So Cortney entered into evidence a very thick binder containing a report with our evidence,” Dad quipped.
“I guess that what the law considers ‘brief’ and what I'd consider as such are two different things,” Asher responded with a laugh of his own. “What actually was in the report anyway?" "
“The report looked at my involvement with each of the companies cited by the prosecution and analyzed my activities in the legislature that might have resulted in positive or negative financial gain. It provides a statistical analysis of the data that revealed a negative correlation between my activities and my personal financial outcome. In other words, my legislative agenda actually if anything diminished the value of my portfolio, rather than increasing it. Of course, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that I invested, based on what I expected the legislature to do rather than what I wished it to do, but then, that wouldn’t have been insider trading. Certainly, the prosecution knew all of that and chose not to report it, but that in itself doesn’t constitute misconduct.
“What did constitute misconduct, however, was the way they cherrypicked the data presented, showing only those investments that profited during my tenure in the State Assembly and suppressing the evidence from investments that did not profit or that actually declined in value. To that end we took a representative, random sample of my investments and found absolutely no correlation whatsoever between those that did business with the state, which represented less than three percent of my overall portfolio, and my legislative record. Indeed, they did no better nor worse than my overall portfolio.
“The prosecution failed to provide any evidence, positive or negative, of an attempt to influence the market value of my investments, nor evidence that I used information about pending legislation, regulations or contracts to alter my investment strategy. There’s no evidence of a quid pro quo, nor that the timing of my investment transactions was in any way influenced by my legislative activities.
“In other words, the prosecution based the charge of insider trading on incomplete data. At the least, they were negligent in the methods employed to collect and analyze the data. However, that analysis strains all credibility. In truth there was a systematic, intentional misrepresentation of the data so as to pressure me into pleading ‘no contest’ to a crime they must have known I did not commit.”
“So is it over?” I asked.
“Hardly,” Dad replied. “As the judge put it, conjecture has no place in the courtroom. Cortney made a compelling case for further analysis of the data, but the judge needs time to review the contents of the report and the prosecution needs time to refute it. Therefore, he adjourned the hearing with the intent that it reconvene in not less than two weeks, at which time he’ll rule on the merit of the complaint.
“Of course, merit doesn’t imply prosecutorial misconduct, but if the judge determines there are grounds for further investigation, chances are the judge will go along with a motion to dismiss the case rather than wade into the mirky waters of prosecuting a case of misconduct against a U.S. Attorney.
“Oh, and there’s one more thing,” Dad continued. “We made a motion to return the Grand Street restaurant to your family, Asher. It has been owned and operated by your family for decades and is in a building owned by the cooperative in which your family resides. I have no financial relationship with the restaurant other than a desire to see that your family remains financially solvent. It’s one thing to apply pressure to obtain a valid plea arrangement, but quite another to deliberately harm an innocent party as a means of doing so. Without the restaurant, your family has no other means of support, and because it’s primarily a takeout restaurant, it wouldn’t be affected by the lockdown.
“Of course the prosecution tried to tie the restaurant to the criminal enterprises of Sam Weinstein, but we argued that Mr. Weinstein has yet to be convicted of any wrongdoing and your family’s connection to him is tenuous at best. Federal racketeering statutes allow for pretty broad discretion in such matters, but even the prosecution couldn’t offer any suporting evidence of a connection between the restaurant and Mr. Weinstein.
“The judge ruled in our favor. The restaurant is to be returned to your family immediately,” Dad announced.
“So your dad didn’t take the plea bargain after all?” Freck asked as we videoconferenced using Apple’s FaceTime app. We were eating our lunch, each of us in our own home, but trying to recreate the feeling of the communal lunches we used to enjoy together at Stuyvesant. Participating in the conference were Asher and me, Freck and Kyle, Clarke and Carl, and Joel and Clark.
“No, and it shocked the hell outta me,” I admitted. “I thought sure he was gonna plead no contest to insider trading, and maybe even be sentenced, but that wasn’t what happened.”
“So what did happen,” Clarke asked.
“Dad’s attorney, or rather his associate, Cortney Walters, withdrew Dad’s plea agreement and alleged prosecutorial misconduct.”
Carl actually whistled in response. “That’s a pretty serious allegation, and not one to be made lightly. You really need to be sure of yourself to allege something like that… or stupid.”
“She was awesome,” Asher responded. “She really seemed to know her shit, and she’d obviously done her homework. She presented a review of the prosecutor’s data and showed how, even though Seth’s dad benefitted financially from the associations between New York State and some of the companies whose stock he traded, his own voting record actually worked against him. Had he gotten his way in the Assembly all the time, he’d have made substantially less than he did in the end.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t rule out insider trading,” Kyle pointed out. “Sorry to bring it up, but just because a politician votes a particular way doesn’t mean they can’t make a profit from knowing how the Assembly will vote as a whole.”
“Yeah, and Cortney admitted that,” I related, “but as she pointed out, that doesn’t amount to insider trading. Anyone could have made the same trades, knowing in general how the Assembly was expected to vote.”
“And she did something really cool,” Asher chimed in. “She took a sample of Seth’s dad’s investments and compared performance of those that involved companies that did business with the state to his portfolio overall. You know what she found?”
“I assume she found no difference,” Kyle replied, “so it makes insider trading unlikely. If he really did take advantage of the relationship between the companies that do business with the state and his own position in state government, those investments should have done better than the others, and significantly so. But that still doesn’t rule out the possibility of insider trading… it just makes it extremely unlikely. There’s also the possibility he could be using shell corporations to trade without anyone being aware of it. The legitimate trades would then be just to cover his tracks. Not that I’m accusing your dad of doing such a thing Seth.”
“And if he were doing something like that,” Clarke joined in, “there should be other evidence of it. People don’t resort to shell corporations and offshore bank accounts unless they intend to make use of those funds. That’s what tripped my parents up. Seth’s family lives at or below their means, so what would be the point of taking a risk on insider trading?”
“That’s just it,” I replied. “Dad’s done very well with his investments, and they’ve all been above board. Why the fuck would he risk it all by doing illegal shit?”
“The good news is that Cortney was able to get the judge to force the prosecutor to let my parents reopen their restaurant,” Asher added.
“You mean the Ragin’ Cajun’s gonna reopen?” Kyle asked with obvious hope in his voice.
Shaking his head, Asher answered, “No, that’s not gonna happen. The guy that owned the building was a crook and is under investigation by the Feds in his own right…”
“I think the investigation of my dad is what kicked off the Federal investigation into his shit,” I interjected.
“Yeah, I guess that’s probably true,” Asher agreed, and then he went on to explain to our friends, “Seth’s dad arranged a meeting between the building’s owner, Sam Weinstein, and my dad. He had an unexpected vacancy and Dad was able to negotiate a real sweetheart deal on the space for the restaurant.”
“Except that it had a poison clause,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, that actually sucked, big time, and because of it, it’s actually a good thing the Feds closed the Ragin’ Cajun,” Asher related. “Otherwise I’d be stuck in that space until I was as old as my dad.”
Then turning back to our friends, Asher continued, “My dad negotiated to keep all the furnishings that already were in the space, which had previously housed a restaurant, and he got a five-year deal to keep the rent at what it had been too.”
“That’s epic,” Freck joined in. “Most landlords could give a shit about keeping the rent low enough that local businesses can afford it. That’s why so much retail space is vacant these days. Landlords raise the rent to what the market will bear, or so they say, and unlike with residential units, there is no rent stabilization or anything. The only businesses that can afford Manhattan rents by and large are retail chains, so the landlords hold out for a major chain to lease the space, rather than keeping the rent low enough for existing tenants to remain in place.
“It’s stupid, ’cause getting some rent’s way better than getting none, but the tax laws let them deduct the full cost of the lost revenue at the higher rent, so in some ways they come out ahead. The problem is that every time a business closes because it can’t afford the rent anymore, a little bit of New York’s character is lost.”
“I think that landlords should be required to lease their retail space at the original lease rate until they have a new tenant to rent the space,” I chimed in. “Why have vacant space when there’s already someone who wants to use it, and there’s no reason to raise the rent when the alternative is to get nothing.”
“Yeah, but the tax laws make it too easy to do just that,” Freck agreed. “When you’re the mayor of New York, Seth, and I really believe you will be the mayor someday, maybe you can change that. But getting back to what happened yesterday… so Asher, that really sounds like it was a great deal. What was wrong with it?”
“Part of the deal was that anything we purchased for the restaurant, even with our own money, became the property of the landlord,” Asher answered.
“Well that sucks,” Kyle responded.
“We thought that was OK,” Asher continued, “because we figured we’d want to buy new stuff after five years anyway. We never dreamt the restaurant would be so successful, nor did the landlord for that matter, and keeping the initial costs down was what was important. What we didn’t realize was that hidden in the fine print was a no-compete clause that would have kept me or my parents from opening another restaurant for the next twenty years. What it meant was that we would’ve had a twenty-year lease, but that the landlord could have raised the rent as high as he wanted after the first five years.”
“Shit, that’s crazy man,” Clark agreed.
“The guy pretended to do good for the community by investing and rehabilitating properties no one else wanted,” I added, “but it was all a sham. He supported Dad in his campaigns too, which was why Dad thought he was on the up-and-up. It turned out that most of his improvements were cosmetic, and that he skimped on upgrading infrastructure to the point that his buildings were almost unsafe. Some of them don’t even meet code and will hafta be torn down. All along, his only interest was in buying up air rights, planning to use his influence to get the city to allow him to consolidate them in new developments on Delancey. The trouble is there’s already a lot of development in and around Delancey, so there aren’t enough air rights to be bought for the eighty-story buildings he wants to build. He hoped to use his influence to buy his way out of the existing restrictions.”
“What a douchebag,” Kyle exclaimed. “What did you say his name was again?”
“Sam Weinstein,” I replied.
“Is he Jewish?” Kyle asked.
“He wears a yarmulke, so I guess so,” I replied. “But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Nothing,” Kyle answered, “except that there are still a lot of folks… probably half the country when you get down to it… that still believe the old stereotypes about Jews, you know? A lot of Americans think we’re money-hungry grubby cheapskate thieves, and it doesn’t help our image when one of our own turns out to be just that. Anti-Semites don’t need much of a reason to hate us as it is. You may have heard that some of the white supremacists in Charlottesville chanted, ‘The Jews will not replace us,’ as if we’d even want to replace trailer trash like them.
“A lot of successful doctors, lawyers, businesspersons and entertainers are Jewish because education is a major part of our traditions. And guilt. We’d feel too guilty if we didn’t give our mothers a chance to kvell, and they wouldn’t let us forget it either.”
“I know what you mean,” Asher responded. “Asians are much the same way… not that we face the rising antisemitism you guys are seeing these days, but there’s still a lot of resentment at our success and the way we’ve come to dominate college admissions at Ivy League schools. And of course, now there’s Covid-19. African Americans certainly know about racism and hatred. My dad is Creole and maybe that’s one of the things that makes him different. In any case, I got a strong drive to succeed from both my parents.
“But getting back to what happened yesterday, the Ragin’ Cajun won’t be reopening anytime soon, and certainly not where it was, but the judge ruled that the Feds have to release their hold on the Asian restaurant, so my parents’ll be able to reopen on Grand Street.”
“That’s great news Ashe,” Freck responded, and everyone else chimed in agreement.
“So what happens now?” Kyle asked.
“The judge is gonna review the evidence our attorneys collected, and the Feds will have a chance to review it too. We were supposed to reconvene in a couple of weeks, but we couldn’t get a court date until the middle of June. I guess the Feds’ll have a chance to challenge our evidence, and we’ll have a chance to present any additional evidence we can find in the interim, and then the judge’ll make a decision on whether or not the allegation of misconduct has merit. If not, Dad will have another chance to take the plea, but if it does have merit, I’m not sure what will happen then.”
“If the judge decides the allegation of misconduct has merit,” Carl began, “then your dad’s attorney will likely ask the judge for summary judgement. That means he’ll ask the judge to dismiss the entire case, based on the lack of evidence that your dad did anything wrong. It would be great if the judge went along with that, as it would put a quick end to the case and it would mean acquittal, so he couldn’t even be retried on the same charges.
“However, even if the judge thinks the allegation of misconduct has merit, he could decide the charges still have merit too and decline summary judgement, opting instead for a full trial by jury. But if he decides that, he’ll have to deal directly with the allegation of misconduct, which would be messy. He’d either have to resolve the allegation by conducting an independent investigation or reassign the case to another prosecutor. Either way, it would add months to the case.”
“Damn, I forgot you’re going to be a lawyer too,” I commented, but just then my dad called to me to help him with something on his computer, bringing our discussion to an end.
Gary and Bernice wasted little time in reopening their restaurant on Grand Street, and their customers quickly returned. Surprisingly, a lot of people from the neighborhood who’d never tried it before stopped in as well, not to mention people from outside the neighborhood who were curious, given all the publicity from Dad’s arrest. They had to bring in extra help, which included Asher and me, but there was a significant uptick in sales, which translated to badly needed revenue. It only took them a month to recoup their losses from the restaurant being closed for two months, and they came out well ahead by the time business settled down to the level it had been before my dad’s arrest and before the state-wide lockdown closed all the sit-down restaurants in town.
Asher and I both did well in school and were on-track to maintain our straight-A average, keeping us in the running for valedictorian in a couple of years — not that either of us expected to stay in first place as the competition heated up during our junior and senior years. Finally, Dad’s court date was again upon us but with the city still locked down, Asher and I weren’t permitted to attend. I was worried beyond belief and practically jumped out of my skin when I felt my phone vibrate surprisingly earlier than I’d expected.
Glancing down at my phone, there was a simple message from Mom. It read, ‘NOT GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS!’ My head shot up in time to see that Asher had a huge grin on his face that matched my own. He musta gotten a text from Mom too. I wasted little time in notifying all our friends, and we were soon getting congratulations from kids we didn’t even know.
It was amazing the way kids who were so quick to judge Dad when the news first broke of his arrest were now so supportive. There was little doubt that word would quickly spread of my dad’s acquittal — hell, it was probably all over the news sites by now — but the Stuyvesant rumor mill was faster, even in lockdown.
While we were busy chatting with some of our friends and attempting to eat lunch, Mom sent another text that read, ‘US Atty unable to refute our data. Dalton moved for summary judgement. Judge agreed. No evidence of insider trading. No evidence of corruption. Full acquittal. No appeal.’
Wow! I texted back, ‘Fantastic! Will Dad go back to Albany?’
Her reply came almost immediately, ‘Yes. Already talked to Gov’. Then a moment later, she continued, ‘Needs new chief of staff. I must stay at MSK. Dad may run for Gov in 2 years. GTG. News conf.’ Double wow!
When we returned to our lunchtime chatter via videoconference, Freck asked, “Rumor has it your dad was outright acquitted?”
“Acquitted on all counts,” I replied. “Carl was right, we moved for summary judgement and the judge agreed. The US Attorney was unable to refute our data and the judge found there was no evidence of insider trading, and there never had been any hard evidence of corruption. All they had was circumstantial, and the word of a sleazebag real estate mogul.”
“As expected, the judge took the easy way out,” Carl chimed in. “With summary judgement, the whole issue of prosecutorial misconduct became moot.”
“Yeah, but he was appointed by this president, who pushed for Seth’s dad’s arrest in the first place,” Asher pointed out. “I would have thought the judge felt enormous pressure to proceed with a trial.”
“I’m sure he did,” Kyle agreed. “You should see what the president’s saying on Twitter,” he added. “He’s in the midst of one of his Twitter storms right now. He keeps calling the judge a coward and says everyone knows Frank Moore’s guilty as can be.”
“Half the people in America will believe him too,” I replied.
“Not in New York, and unless your dad runs for president, nothing else matters,” Asher countered.
“There is that,” I agreed. “I’m just glad the judge didn’t cave to the pressure from the president who appointed him.”
“That wasn’t gonna happen,” Carl countered. “Elected officials are afraid to challenge the president for fear his supporters will vote them out of office, but that doesn’t apply to judges. That judge will be on the bench for the rest of his working life. He’ll see presidents come and go from both parties, but a bad decision made this early in his tenure could define the rest of his career. Better to be seen as one who’s fair than to appear partisan.”
After a minute of eating, Clarke asked, “Is your old man gonna go back to his seat in the Assembly?”
“That’s the plan,” I responded. “He never relinquished his seat, although he did have to give up his chairmanship of Ways and Means during his leave of absence, and he won’t get it back. However, he’ll likely run for governor in a couple of years anyway.”
“What if the current governor decides to run for a fourth term?” Freck asked.
“That would be unprecedented,” I noted, “but if he does, Dad’ll just have to wait. He isn’t about to challenge his benefactor.”
“Is there any chance of getting compensation for lost income and attorney’s fees?” Kyle asked.
“I don’t see how,” I replied.
“There is in most cases, but there’s no recourse with the Feds,” Carl jumped in. “You can’t sue the Federal Government and the judges know it. I’m sure your attorney made a request after the judge agreed to summary judgement, but it’s rarely approved in criminal cases.”
“What about your mom?” Clarke asked.
Sighing, I replied, “She has a commitment to Memorial Sloan Kettering, so she’ll hafta stay behind and Dad’ll hafta get a new chief of staff. It’s just as well, ’cause half the doctors at Memorial are taking care of Covid-19 patients at hospitals all over the city. Cancer patients can’t delay their treatment, so Mom’s doing double-duty, running research protocols and taking care of patients. But you know what? She loves it!”
“So they’ll have a commuter marriage?” Clarke asked and I merely nodded my head. “That’ll be tough on them,” he added.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But as busy as she is with her new job, they wouldn’t have seen much of each other anyway. And they’ve always come down to The City on weekends and during recess to see me, so that’ll be nothing new for Dad. If Dad wins the race for Governor, Mom’ll look for an oncology position in Albany. Ashe and I will be in college by then anyway.”
“I’m just glad your dad’s off the hook,” Asher responded. “Now, the White-Moores can get on with their lives.”
“Who are the Whitmores,” Freck asked.
“Not Whitmore, White-hyphen-Moore,” I explained.
“It sounded like Whitmore,” Freck insisted, “but you know, it’s kinda cool that your names combine to a real name, you know? You ought to consider using Whitmore. Maybe you could legally change your names.”
“I never thought about it, but it really is cool,” Asher responded. “What do you think, Babe?”
I’d never considered not keeping my original family name, but it did sound kinda cool, and so I replied, “I like it. We should consider it and I’ll look into it after the school year’s over.”
“So now that your dad’s in the clear, are you guys gonna celebrate your birthdays?” Kyle asked. “After all, Asher turned sixteen back in April, and that’s at least as big a deal as Freck turning thirteen back in December.”
“You just want to party,” Freck chided his boyfriend.
“Damn right I do,” Kyle responded, “and there are rumors the lockdown may even end soon.”
“I don’t see it happening before the fall,” I countered. “Probably not completely before there’s a vaccine, but who knows? Maybe with enough testing and contact tracing, there might be a partial easing of the lockdown in time for the Fourth of July. Maybe with careful planning, we could hold a joint birthday party in our apartment by then.”
“That would be awesome,” Asher agreed. “You’re always bragging about the great view you have of the fireworks from our terrace… not that I’ve gotten to see them yet, but that would be a great time to celebrate all around.”
We were probably being wildly optimistic at the idea of having any kind of party at all this year, but finally I could let out the breath I’d been holding since January, and Ashe and I could get on with our lives.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage and pre-teen boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. Although reference is made to the president of the United States, any resemblance to a particular president, past, present or future, is unintentional. As always, opinions expressed by characters in the story represent the opinions of the characters and are not representative of those of the author nor the sites to which the story has been posted. The author retains full copyright.