Thursday, March 3, 2011

“The Tower”: A Pop Novel


"The Tower" in the Tarot deck is the most striking card in a line-up of striking cards. Visualize a black tower against a blood red backdrop. A sudden bolt of yellow lightning crashes into the haughty structure at its top. The depiction of an instantaneous event.

The Tower card represents obstacle, civilization, corruption, that which must be overcome. Inherited knowledge. Power. The pretentions of man. Chaos. Collapse. Perhaps, America.

The Tarot is a pagan relic of an ancient philosophy. As such, it's a fitting tool for understanding a paganistic age, the hectic barbaric world we live in now.


This story about an illustrated card takes place in a fictional city between New York and Baltimore on America's east coast. A city of neighborhoods around a tops-down center, of gaudy wealth alongside sweeping shambles of decay. A metropolis being tied together by idealists at the same time it’s flying apart.


The voice broke on radio airwaves like a thunderbolt from the sky. A voice of authority. A woman's voice, but no soft wimpy woman's voice. Instead: throaty, aggressive, laughing, mocking. Challenging and inviting. A resonantly unique voice which reached into the inner core of those listening.

"Broadcasting across the globe from the 99th floor of the Tower, I am the voice of direction for oppressed peoples, freeing imprisoned minds from corrupt governments and monster corporations, bringing YOU the news in new ways. I am Lara Vox, your goddess of tomorrow, your voice of today."

A pause. Silence.

"What is this strange word, ‘radio’? What does it represent? What does it mean? Why isn't this medium completely archaic? Newspapers are dead, but you unclued-in people are still listening to your radios. WHY?!

"It's because you listen in darkness. You listen in your cars. In your bedrooms. In your nightmares. Radio is the voice of the submerged conscience. The disembodied voice. The literary voice. The voice of civilization, language, culture, communication-- of humankind's first awakenings, first storytellers-- b.s. tellings around campfires-- history's first Homeric poetry readings.

"Homer didn't need sight, and you don't need to see me. YOU. I'm speaking directly to you. You're getting with my words the real me. The inner me. The personal me. I'm your closest friend. I want you to envision me. Picture me. Please. What do you see?

"I am the fulfillment of your dreams."


The unfinished skyscraper stood near the west edge of downtown, within view of everyone in the city and for miles around. It'd been part of a construction boom fueled by a misguided tax policy. Fences surrounded it. Hard hats could occasionally be seen on the ground around the entrance, but no one did any work. It violated every safety rule in the book. According to news reports it'd changed owners seven times. It was always in receivership. Funding to complete the project always fell apart.

The silver skyscraper protruded like a glittering knife into the sky. It stood in its incomplete state as an embarrassment to the local populace, but also as a symbol of ambition, the city's brazen desire or need to top all others. At least to match any other. Such a projection could be meant only to match an equal void.

The looming structure stood empty until an enterprising Lefty radio star from out of nowhere began nesting in its uppermost floor.
Who owned the skyscraper? Who was building it?

No one was sure when the office building would be finished, where it'd end, how high it'd climb.


The unfinished tower stood as a mighty looking empty shell. Outside, it seemed a reflective impressive beacon wonder of technology. A silvery representation of wealth. Inside: an echoing hulk.

Through secretive effort Lara Vox had put together a radio station. This took many furtive journeys inside and out, dragging equipment, traveling up and down the sole working elevator marked by a green door. The door to another elevator shaft, one never completed, was painted red. Many trips taking the long ride to the 99th floor with radio consoles, or carpeting, or chairs. She'd brought other furnishings onto the high floor to create a cozy den she could live in-- paint, drapery, space heaters, a bed. Either she was a strong and inexhaustible woman or she'd had help.

The signal she'd adopted had once belonged to a nonprofit. At night, if you looked closely at the tower, toward its very top, you could see amid the wall of silent darkness, the purple sky beyond, a single glowing yellow light marking where Lara Vox conducted her broadcast.

First: music played. Hours of it. Lara wasn't a fan of jazz but she used cool pieces of jazz as interludes for her show. Cool jazz fit the nightworld mood of the Tower. Coltrane, Brubeck, and beyond. No singers-- hers the only voice. She wanted dots of random notes which fit the chaos of the city around her-- no minimalist classical junk either. She needed humanity present among the jumble. Nothing "hot." She was the heat on her show. Background notes only of blue.

Then: A sudden Introduction. This was always a surprise. Her voice was on the station a great deal-- as much as half a twenty-four hour period-- but there was no schedule. When Lara wasn't on, the listener had to wait. With anticipation. Frustration. Longing.


Had the music stopped? The husky, magical voice reaching inside your soul.

"Corruption breeds on all sides. You know it but you don't want to admit it, you want me to say it.

"So hello! This is the kick-butt creator of the Stay Awake Radio Rebellion: ME! Lara Vox. Herself. The One and Only. Not an imitation.

"Rants, reflections, information, guests, questions, commentary-- unapproved unADULTerated DIY for your listening reawakening. Furthering your deprogramming education."

Next came the body of the show when she told true stories of city mismanagement, cop beatings, and questionable private business dealings. Her research was eye-opening. Her targets were many.

At the top of the list, after the bumbling mayor, was billionaire Arthur Tychon, owner of the city's richest sports team. "The Temple of Greed," she labelled the team's newly built stadium.

"How many poor people in downtrodden neighborhoods were sacrificed for the Temple of Greed? How many homeless kicked into the street? How many laid-off teachers? What was the price of the palace of privilege, playground of fatcats engorging themselves to levels of burst with food and drink in skybox suites which are paid for by you the taxpayer? We don't want welfare for anybody so we certainly shouldn't have it for grabby men like Tychon!

"Who built that stadium? YOU did. With your tax money and license fees. When's the last time you were able to buy a ticket to see the game? What? They're all taken, you say? Handed out to corporations who deduct the cost as business expense for entertaining clients. I know, football's a ridiculous made-up game anyway. A billionaire's moneymaking scheme. . . ."

The show went late into the deepest part of the night, ending not when she grew tired-- Lara Vox never tired; she was energy personified-- but more likely, bored. She gave hints of sign-off time. She wanted you listening again, whenever she reappeared-- wanted you parked near a radio with expectation.

"You will listen to me every day. You will be shaken awake. You will go to bed dreaming only of me."


"It's fiscal insanity," the man said in the room's dim light. "Tychon owes the city millions. He's not the only one. Instance after instance. The city's being raped."

He was an accountant who worked for the city. They'd met at a downtown bistro with motifs of silver and blue. The meticulous man gave Lara info on tax abatements for luxury condos along the river, and details on the stadium agreement and other issues.

"I know there are political concerns," the man continued while carefully touching the veggie burger on his plate. "The mayor's a good man. But I see us giving away the store unnecessarily and I ask myself, why is this happening?"

They sat across from each other in a back room. The accountant glanced around himself through his slim eyeglasses.

"The woman who owns this restaurant in fact is one of the more notorious real estate developers, known for using scab labor while obtaining, somehow, city kickbacks. The help no doubt are mostly underpaid illegals."

The tiny brown-skinned young woman refilling their water glasses didn't seem to know English.

"Note the mediocrity of the food," the man added.

Lara put the rolls of printed data into her purse.

"What can I do for you for this?" she asked.

"Nothing! I want nothing," the man insisted. "I'm giving you this to relieve my conscience. It's criminal. The city's being raped. Criminal."

He was a fussy, ultra-organized man with a tinny voice, as if unused to speaking. A Bartleby locked in his office. Unspoken words inside himself which now couldn't be stopped, like an opened faucet. Lara listened to them.

"I can't see you very well-- you're in shadow, and my eyes are poor. Accountant's eyes. I recognize you by your voice. There's no mistaking it. I've been listening to your radio program. I thought, 'Aha! An honest person.'"

"Quite a compliment," Lara replied seductively. "I hope I can live up to it."


Lara was not beyond promoting her radio show. A large billboard with spotlights on it appeared downtown, showing huge black letters against a red background: "I WANT VOX."


Among those who heard the radio broadcasts of Lara Vox were the scattered clans of white radicals in the city known collectively as the West Side Anarchists.

The radicals were of two kinds.

First, nose-to-the-grounders who naively thought they could separate from larger society, like a religious cult, or the Amish. They were more interested in the trappings of anarchism than in actively making it happen. Food coops, boho clothes, looks, music: slumming. Behind the posturing, at the back of their minds was an awareness of the reality of dominant society, which they feared to confront in any fashion.
For the other, less numerous but more vocal kind of radical, the awareness-- the fear-- of power was at the forefront of their consciousness, so that it stood ominously in front of them, starkly visible at all times. They believed those who questioned society to be under a death sentence. They had nothing to lose by activism. They had everything to gain-- their freedom-- from the collapse of the mighty power of civilization.

Miles Milbank was the unoffical but generally acknowledged leader of the west side radicals-- leader because of his benign charisma and the need for group consensus. Miles took few stands, was in neither anarchist camp-- he angered neither camp-- but instead, with his calming words and detached attitude, floated above the mass.

Three whites sat in an African-American lounge in a west side neighborhood known as "The Bottom." The bar had a name like "The African Lion." A neighborhood spot. Its denizens drank cheap bottled beer and select mixed drinks made with rum or brandy. An array of plastic promotional beer company signs surrounded the lone uneven pool table. The three anarchists plotted at a white formica-topped table nearby. They played the odds that by taking a table at the back, discussing their projects and dreams under cover of the noise of billiard balls, they were safe.

Miles Milbank huddled with two of the area's more vociferous radicals, Mary Dreads and Top Hat, whose names were descriptive.

"Heard this Vox?" Top Hat asked.

"Indeed," Miles answered.

"Yes!" Mary said. "She's amazing."

Mary Dreads was a cute white girl dressed to look tough, carrying the affectations of piercings as well as her long hair. She wore shabby blue stockings with holes in them, too-tight pink shorts over that, and a faded yellow leather coat.

"You've got to find a way to meet with her," Top Hat advised the defacto leader of the city's underground.

Top Hat was an antedeluvian creature with yellow whiskers bursting out of every part of his face.

The three peered carefully about themselves, clutching tightly their beer bottles.

"Maybe someone should first call into her radio show," Miles suggested.

"I already have!" bragged Mary.

At her enthusiasm a small animal on the barroom floor beneath her chair looked up. Parker, her dog.

"Really?" Top Hat said to Mary, trying to focus on her with bleary eyes.

They pondered options as the dusky hum of the room in which they were notably out of place became, like an adopted cloak, familiar and alien.


In daytime, young revolutionary Miles Milbank stood with hands in his pockets on a streetcorner on the crowded west side university campus, invisible in his stillness like a jungle animal hiding from, or scanning for, predators and prey.

He'd started his involvement in DIY radicalism as an alienated freshman at this very school, before dropping out altogether. Miles was recognized here now as the local radical. He encountered professors he'd sparred with as a student. They'd wryly nod, or smile, and in their innate caution, their trained wariness of disagreement, walk fast and maintain significant space.

Miles Milbank was tall and angular, with a tragic air about him. Hamlet in a local production of a Shakespearean play. He carried a sense of displacement. Adrift out of time. His forebears in east coast cities like this one had run this country. There was a sense about Miles of wanting to be in step with the times, yet everything about his being-- his pace, attitude, bearing-- was better suited for the colonial era.

Miles well knew his situation, knew his life was without direction, one of marking time. He blamed his mother who'd raised him. He sighed and touched on his cellphone to see if she'd called today. He wondered if he should visit her later.

His elderly mother lived in a decaying enclave just outside town known as the Old Line. Home of the area's old money aristocracy. Mrs. Milbank was of an obsolete class and generation. Miles felt that way himself, by extension. The impetus for his activism was to prove his relevance in a world that held for him no place.

His parents had Miles, their only child, at an advanced age. This added to his feeling of aloneness and isolation.

At least she casually slipped him bills when he'd visit. Twenties or fifties. She was happy to do so, despite her hints that stock market reverses and bank failures had cut into her legacy. For a free lunch at a pricey Old Line restaurant, Miles endured lectures on the theme of himself as disappointment and failure.

His mother's saving grace was that she was an intelligent woman capable of informed conversation. His father, who'd died when Miles was seven, had been a rather crude and moderately unsuccessful dollars-and-cents businessman. He'd read publications like Barrons, the Economist, and Business Week. His disappointment in Miles would've surely been greater.

Horizontal gray clouds in the sky above threatened rain. This increased his melancholy. Should he move out of the area? He didn't want to become like Top Hat, a local character unwilling to leave the university neighborhood, hanging around campus into his thirties, or later.

Instead of moving, Miles had been toying with a plan, a way to energize the local movement. The arrival of a personality like Lara Vox could be a way to turn that plan into reality.

Without realizing it he'd moved up the street. Bookstores, diners, shops, on all sides. Cars of students and staff lined up at a jammed parking lot. Horns. A clogged street. Red, yellow, green glass steel or stone academic buildings rising like fortress walls. Oppressing barriers. A man peddling peanuts. Steel cart selling hot dogs. Another: falfalel; gyros. Rumbling trucks. To the east, in the near distance downtown, the rising Tower overseeing everything.

A local hooker wearing too-heavy lipstick and a black vinyl jacket squeezed between the impatiently waiting vehicles. Miles smiled at her. Two very young and very pretty coeds with books, exiting a car, smiled his way. He smiled more at them.


In the southern part of the city amid mass rowhouse neighborhoods, surrounded by displays of lights, sat the gleaming new sports stadium. Tychon Stadium. It looked like a giant circular spaceship about to elevate. Huge steel pillars rose on all sides, covered with banners.

The entrance at the front of the complex appeared enormous. Spectators entering beneath polished girders received the illusion of a vast canyon. Inside waited a glowing green field. Electronic digital viewing screens shimmered with electric colors. Replays of famous games. Depictions of clashing violence.

On the side of the green field at the fifty yard line spread several levels of office suites punctuated by skyboxes. The suites contained team headquarters. Billionaire team owner Arthur Tychon ran other enterprises, those which had made his fortune, but the football team was his love. At a mammoth desk inside the highest row of offices sat the great Tychon.


Every year Tychon purchased a new one at a large salary and fired him midseason if the team wasn't likely to make the playoffs. He kept the coach the full year if it did, then fired him. The only thing Tychon wanted was a championship. For a man who'd won at almost everything he'd attempted in his life, this was appropriate.

Tychon's arbitrary handling of head coaches was an exhibition of Tychon's power, his bottomless wealth, and his ability to dominate the brightest minds. The most brilliant strategists were slow-thinking compared to him. He'd already gone through the most talented, most legendary coaching names, two who'd been lured from easy retirement by the salary Tychon paid, before having their stellar reputations destroyed by failure.

Tychon's thinking, as with all he did, came from pure logic. He paid better than any other owner. Should he not expect a commensurate performance? Did he not have the right to expect the best?

"There's never an excuse for failure," he stated in final briefings in his office, when the once-hopeful coach, now broken like a knocked-out fighter, was let go.

Tychon's extreme confidence came from his knowledge of himself. He knew, better than anyone, the deep reservoir of his talents.

In fact, despite the team's often dismal performance on the field, Tychon proved his ability in every other aspect of the franchise. The team, once the worst performer in the league, with scanty attendance at the rusted inadequate prior stadium, had become a money-making machine. Its name, logo, colors, were everywhere, assaulting city residents from each view of town, and through every form of media. The "branding," the foundation and uniting thread of team marketing, was superb. Every aspect worked, fabulously. Except one-- the team on the field. Every employee performed the best. Except the coach! Coaches! Supposed geniuses. Hyped by nonstop sports media as geniuses. Did Tychon ask too much by demanding a winning coach?

Lately Tychon had begun recruiting his head coach candidates from college ranks. There was sincerity on his part to this. Tychon wanted a coach of his own genius, an advocate not of caution but of extreme innovation. A master who could revolutionize the game, who in a season or two could remake the team to easily win the entire season. He asked from his coach the impossible. He lived to see, on the glowing green football field before him, displays of total dominance.

Eventually he'd find the person who could give him this experience.


"Why aren't they practicing?" Tychon asked Anna, a production assistant.

Tychon stood gazing at the green field below, from behind glass, in the plush lobby outside his private office. Anna joined him at the window while nibbling a grape. Behind them a lavish buffet spread through the center of the big room, the buffet always there day and night, its trays of every kind of food and cuisine for every taste continually replenished by small white-coated servers, who adeptly switched serving trays, not-so-fresh to fresh, with unobtrusive dexterity.

On the field below, the team mascot did somersaults. No players anywhere to be seen.

"Get the cheerleaders rehearsing at least. This is a tourist attraction. I want constant activity."

Anna talked quietly on her phone. Within minutes the cheerleaders, who Tychon wasn't satisfied with anyway, appeared. She noted the time shown on her phone. Tychon had a meeting scheduled with a player and his agent in four minutes. She was tempted to remind him, but knew he'd know it. He wore no watch, carried no cellphone, required no log. The man had the uncanny ability to carry every point of needed data, including the current time, in the banks of his brain.

She saw now through a glass door Rick Romeo striding down a corridor toward them. Romeo was the boss's security chief. Twenty seconds behind on the thick carpeting followed the current head coach.

Tychon made no effort to step into his office. He'd conduct the meeting here-- a sign of the low priority he gave the request for negotiation.

Rick Romeo positioned himself next to the boss, on Tychon's right. The football coach by contrast sat in a nearby armchair, between two large plants. His lined gray face looked exhausted. He worked 19 hours a day, well over a hundred hours a week. His age was forty-three.

"They have one minute," Romeo said.

"They won't be late," Tychon stated.

The Destroyer's agent knew enough not to be late. Sure enough, the Samson of the Gridiron and his agent appeared on the corridor runway. The tall player in a three-piece blue suit looked younger than when playing.

"Who is she?" Tychon asked about the agent, a lean young black woman.

Like a detective, Romeo flipped open a small notebook and read from it in a low voice.

"Cassandra Lang. Columbia law school. Yale before that. Was on the volleyball team."

Rick gave other details then closed the notebook. The large gladiator limped into the lobby, the trim agent behind him. A ten-year veteran of the game, the Destroyer was the team's best player. His contract expired at the end of the season. He and his new agent wanted an extension at a large sum of money. The impromptu meeting was their idea.

"Good afternoon, Boss," the Destroyer said with an accommodating smile.

"Hello, Destroyer," Arthur Tychon replied pleasantly.

The Destroyer disliked corporate whites, but enjoyed playing up to them, feeding their egos. He appreciated Tychon because the ego was naked. He noted the billionaire's squat form, silver hair, and sunburned face, the quality of his tailored silver-gray suit, his small, slightly hooked nose and blue eyes. Tychon gave the impression of power. He was America's hierarchies-- to Destroyer, its racism-- personified. The Destroyer basked in the man's presence.

Behind Tychon stood a handsome, thick-necked white man about six feet tall in a burgundy suit with a white silk shirt and a black tie, with short cut black hair and a swarthy, chiseled face. Rick Romeo. Ex-Marine, ex-cop. Factotum. Hatchetman. Bodyguard. At the sight of Rick the Destroyer's smile turned into a scowl.

"As my assistant explained, Ms. Lang," Tychon said to the agent, "I have only a few spare minutes, but I wanted to show my respect for Destroyer and what he's meant to this franchise. We're immensely proud of the job he does on the field. We know no one works harder."

The Destroyer, whose real name was Herb, smiled again. He was proud of his work. He'd worked his way out of a north side neighborhood of extreme poverty. Of a high school class of over 800 students, four had gone to college. He'd been one of them.

In truth, he loved his job. The Destroyer pulverized good-looking white quarterbacks for a living. For Herb, it'd always been a game of "Get the white guy." He hated black quarterbacks also, of course, but could never encourage in himself toward them quite the same animosity.

The agent said to Tychon, "I know you'll want to demonstrate your respect and appreciation by rewarding the Destroyer for his work and the sacrifices he's made, including his many injuries-- shattered knees, back, concussions--"

Tychon put his hand up.

"We're not here to negotiate, Ms. Lang. I'll readily concede your argument. The Destroyer will be amply compensated, one way or the other-- at the end of the season."

The lawyer opened her mouth to say more, but Tychon raised his hand again.

"I assure you, Ms. Lang. I'm second to none in my admiration for your client. I respect efficiency. He's devoted his life to performing a task extremely well. Better than anyone has."

He turned his attention to the player.

"You were born with athletic ability, sure. You've multiplied that ability many times over through sheer effort."

Tychon meant what he said. Life had given the Destroyer few opportunities. He'd grabbed one offered. A sign of the man's instinctive intelligence, which he exhibited time and again on the playing field. For his one task of rushing the quarterback he'd imbibed every trick and nuance. Complete focus. Total efficiency.

"So what do you think, Destroyer?" Tychon shifted the discussion. "Will we win the big game in a few weeks against the Champions? Will you sack the Laser?"

"The Laser" was the nickname of an opposing team's renowned quarterback; the ultimate model athlete and cover boy.

"I'll crush him!" Herb said, looking at Rick Romeo as he did.

Rick's hazel eyes silently noted Tychon's question. Just another fan.

After the player and the agent departed, Tychon turned to the head coach, who'd sat quietly in the armchair.

"Is the Destroyer obsolete?"

The coach nodded affirmatively.


The color scheme of his office matched Tychon himself: silver and orange. A chrome wall dotted with small square mirrors behind a large blue-silver chair behind a massive orange wood desk. Tychon touched a buttom which activated silent environmental fans taking away every odor. Then he used an orange-flame chrome lighter on a swiftly produced cigar. Smoking was illegal here, of course, but Tychon followed the philosophy of submersion. Floating beneath the surface. Doing whatever you wished as long as no one knew about it.

At a side bar stoic and obedient Rick Romeo made a drink for Tychon and one for himself. Scotch and sodas. He handed one to Tychon. The silver-haired man sat back comfortably in his blue-silver armchair, enraptured by the cigar. Rick took a standing position to the side, sipping carefully from his glass, a watching guard dog waiting to hear sounds from his boss. He allowed Tychon to relax. He knew the man presented the image of unflinching steeliness, but had weaknesses. The constant talk of perfection in part was bluff.

"Perfection," Tychon said as if cued, not knowing or caring how well Rick knew him. "Destroyer has given us perfection, up til now. We've paid him very well for it. In a just world he'd be further rewarded. But the world isn't just. Or rather, he'll be rewarded, but next year, by another team that'll stupidly take what's left of his broken body."

Tychon puffed on a large cigar and watched smoke from it quickly disappear. The hidden environmental filters. Amazing how fascinated such an intelligent man could become over toys. But then, the football team was a toy, just a very large one.

Tychon downed his drink with a flick of the wrist. He allowed himself one drink at the conclusion of business. When he arrived home later, in his limo, to a secluded new section of the Old Line, he'd undoubtedly have more. Now he stretched his arms and straightened himself behind his desk, thrusting out his jaw. He sat tall in the chair-- was as tall in it as when standing out of it, so that there was no change when he stood up. Disconcerting, the first time you noticed this. The prerogative of a height-challenged man.

Nevertheless, Tychon was impressive. The wide theater of props and tricks backing him, including the team and the stadium, were designed to impress. His piercing eyes and strong countenance, the Roman cast to his head, his vigorous form, the rings on his manicured hands, most of all, his words and the knowledge behind the words, were simply other parts of this. Not a performance. Not even a presentation. A full production.

"Everything in life is sales," Tychon spoke, reading Rick's thoughts. "Marketing. The veneer we show to the world. The world is show."

Tychon puffed on the cigar. He'd given this speech many times, Rick realized.

"People mistake my confidence for arrogance. One has to be confident to achieve. They don't see what I'm doing-- that I'm putting essential pieces in place that will benefit not just me, but everyone in the city. It'll benefit me also, of course. Benefit me most. That's unavoidable.

"Only the builder contains the entire picture inside his brain. One doesn't put up a plywood stand and begin selling. You need a machine to compete against other machines."

Jabbing the polished desk with a stubby finger, Tychon enumerated the changes he'd made to distinguish the team from the rest of the league. To make it the newest model against which all others appeared obsolete. This included more colorful uniforms with horizontal stripes at the shoulders to further accentuate the players' wide tapered bodies. New players were drafted and signed for their speed. It wasn't the best team, yet, but it was the most colorful and exciting team. High scoring games were guaranteed.

Tychon put out the thick cigar in a glass tray on the orange desk and stood up. Opening a drawer, Rick vanished all trace of the cigar. He left the glasses for a Mexican cleaning lady who'd be in shortly. They touched off the lights and stepped into the lobby.

At the long table of food in the reception area, the team's colorful mascot Bobo could be seen sneaking bread, fruit, and slices of beef. At the sight of Tychon he jumped in the air and went scampering away.

"Don't we pay the guy?" Tychon asked.

The door to Anna's office behind the buffet tables stood open, the lights on. Anna worked late as always. A radio in her office played. A talking voice could be heard on it. Anna appeared in her office doorway. Her face looked angry.

"Did you hear what that woman on the radio is saying about us?" she asked.


Behind the radio station on the 89th floor, down a long hallway, waited a back bedroom. Lara's sanctuary. Colors of red and black. A scarlet bed sat at the center of the circular room.

Lara relaxed on the large bed while a taped two-hour interview played on the station. She loved the feeling of height, of weightlessness. The feeling of being above the clouds.

A rainy night. Weather assaulted the glassy heights of the lofty edifice. Too wet to go out. Lara punched in a number on her phone and ordered an xtra-large pizza from a renowned pizza shop toward the south of town, verging on Tychon's territory.

"I'm at the Tower," she instructed the person. "Will you be the one delivering it? Good. I'll buzz you in when you arrive. Take the green elevator to the 89th floor."


On the recording Lara Vox cut the hapless mayor into pizza slices.

"Though of course some of this occurred during the previous administration, I'm completely aware of the fiduciary responsibility I hold as Mayor of this fine metropolis!" the Mayor said in a surprised, high-pitched voice.

He'd not been prepared for Lara's revelations.

"Please. Cut the double-talk, Mr. Mayor. I have the figures in front of me. Tychon has been 'raping the city.' That's a direct quote from my source."

"I don't know where you've obtained your information. . . ."

"Do you doubt the numbers, Mr. Mayor? You question them? Truthfully?"

"I, er, please be aware that I'm not on the witness stand, Miss Vox."

He said this with a weak chuckle, a failed dry empty attempt at a hearty laugh. The Mayor wanted to dial up his hearty political persona, but in the midst of her surprises, couldn't.

"That's MS. Vox," Lara said.

"Sorry, sorry. I apologize to my women, er, female, er, constituents."

"The data, Mr. Mayor," she prodded. "Tychon has owed the city millions of dollars for three years. You paid for his palace--"

"The stadium--" the Mayor corrected.

"Billion dollar stadium," she added. "Paid for by we the taxpayers for the benefit of the team's billionaire owner, with future tax breaks thrown in. Welfare for the rich I call it, and yet it wasn't enough. Tychon's weaseled out of coming up with his trifling end of it."

"A very necessary stadium, MIZ Vox, when you thin k of the construction jobs, the, er, concession workers and the like, the spur to business, er, you know--"

"And the schools and neighborhoods and streets and services be damned!" her voice mocked.

A fresh assault of rain attacked the upper windows of the Tower as the Mayor's responses became more fumbled.


The green elevator hurried the pizza delivery boy ever higher. The doors hushed open. His eyes adjusted to scant light as he stepped out with the warm box. To his side: the radio studio, scattered lights of the city visible through floor-to-ceiling windows beyond. The structure swayed this high. His feet felt uncertain on the moving floor.

Before him, a dark hallway with a red glow at the end of it. Like a loyal slave he carried the precious gift. The young man stepped carefully down the corridor, on thick carpeting as the red glow moved closer.

Suddenly, a dark-walled room. Drapes, not walls. A beautiful woman sat on a scarlet bed. Sheets of white paper with words on them lay scattered around her.

"Oh. Hi!" she said, her striking eyes looking up, their intensity knocking him back a step. "Pizza! You're the greatest."

The large eyes studied the young man, undressed him, made him feel vulnerable as she handed him a too-large bill and told him to keep the change.

"Bye," she said in a husky voice, dismissing him.

The young man laid the hot pizza box before her. The penetrating eyes never left him as he turned and fled.

The image of the woman high in the skyscraper tower stayed with him as he continued his pizza deliveries into the night.


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