Now a Muslim’s name would torment them in a spot that, unlike a subway station, belonged not to the city but to the families of the dead. Sacred ground. Pity for his mother overwhelmed Sean, swamped his own anger. He often wondered if she wished that he, rather than Patrick, her firstborn, her favorite, had died. Today thinking that true only enlarged his compassion for her. It wasn’t his parents’ house, but the place where Patrick had fallen, that needed keeping.
“Please, Sean, don’t let this come to be,” Eileen said. The look in her gray eyes—what was it? He’d never seen it, not from her. Pleading. His steely mother admitting her need. If, at that moment, she had asked him to strap on a bomb and blow up someone or something, he probably would have. But she hadn’t asked. A plan was up to him.
So,” Paul Rubin said, “what can I do for you?”
It was eight-fifteen in a coffee shop on Madison Avenue. After repeatedly blowing Sean off, Rubin’s smarmy assistant had called to say that the chairman of the memorial jury would squeeze Sean in for breakfast, but he shouldn’t be late. So Sean arrived a few minutes early, settled into a booth in the middle of the restaurant, then waited fifteen minutes for Rubin, who peremptorily relocated them to a window table for more privacy.
The place looked ordinary to Sean, but the prices weren’t: five bucks for half a grapefruit, twelve for a bagel and cream cheese. Lots of men in fancy tracksuits, women who appeared to subsist on grapefruit halves alone.
“Yes,” Rubin said. A retired investment banker, he was, even at this hour, in his bow tie. Soft-bodied and half-bald, he still oozed confidence. It was amazing what money made up for. “Politicians love this place. So what can I do for you?”
“What you can do for me—”
“The usual,” Rubin said. The waiter had come for their order.
“Uh, three eggs, bacon, coffee, juice,” Sean said. “White toast. So, what you can do for me—”
A silver-haired man stopped by the table to shake Paul’s hand. “I have great confidence in the outcome because you’re handling this, Paul. I wouldn’t want anyone else in charge.”
“Thanks, Bruce, I appreciate that,” Rubin said. Sean was not introduced. He felt himself in the camp of the enemy—not Muslims, but the people born with silver sticks up their asses, the people who had made Manhattan into a woman too good to give Sean her phone number.
Bruce gone, Sean tilted across the table. “How the hell did this happen?”
“And you’re referring to what, exactly?”
“Come on. A Muslim winning. Mohammad Khan.”
“How did it happen? As I recall, people like you—you, the families—you wanted a competition, a democratic exercise everyone could participate in. And so everyone did.”
“That’s not who we meant by everyone.”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“But it should. You think we’ll stand for a Muslim memorial? I should have been on the jury. This never would have happened.”