Terrance Altham doesn’t know why he’s been arrested. He’s committed no crime and the cops aren’t talking. Sadly, the man sharing his holding cell talks too much. Known only as Ghost, he is a young grifter, apparently familiar enough with this police station to convince Terrance a break out is possible, and pushy enough to leave Terrance no choice but to follow Ghost into the underbelly of New York City.
Terrified by the unjust imprisonment and the possibility of a life behind bars, Terrance searches for proof of his innocence while Ghost seeks the elusive Butterfly King. But neither man seems in control of the weekend’s direction and the consequences of mistakes are life-changing. As Ghost’s manipulations come to an explosive head, each man must decide amid danger and street violence what kind of man will triumph, lost or found?
Narrator Vin Vanbly returns in the most revealing King Weekend yet, facing the dark side of his dangerous manipulations, and learning missteps can be deadly. Vin must confront sinister dealings from his past—and a future promising disaster—as he waltzes Terrance across Manhattan in spring, searching for the elusive and charismatic, Butterfly King.
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The year is 1993
Lying on the top bunk of this cell, facing the wall covered in years of angry scribbles, I hear them. When I lift my head, the cheap mattress crinkles. The white-painted wall feels greasy to my touch. Down the hallway I hear the metallic screech from a jail door opening and then, a few seconds later, slamming shut, a loud clanging chord, echoing finality and the irreversible truth that you are guilty. Why? Because you are here, the New York City Police Midtown North Holding Facility. You must be guilty.READ MORE
Cliff’s footsteps clip along at a brisker pace than normal, but not anything close to hurrying. Clip-clack, clip-clack. Those are his black cop shoes. He’s just a regulation New York City police officer, doing his job—clip-clack, clip-clack—getting dangerous people off the street. I cannot hear the second set of footsteps, yet I know a man in handcuffs walks at Cliff’s side. And if there’s one thing I know about my new cellmate, the Butterfly King, he’s dangerous. Men of power always are, perhaps more dangerous for ignoring that power.
The shuffle from the Butterfly King’s shoes finally reaches my ears and the sound is both satisfying and unnerving. He is here. Terrance is here. His King Weekend begins now.
My heart pounds while I lie with my back to the cell door, listening to the twisting metal in the lock. The door rattles, then opens, the metal swinging quieter than the one down the hall. I oiled this one. My plans aren’t affected if the door creaks but the sound might spook Terrance during critical seconds where a single background noise might impact his decision.
I’m probably overthinking this.
This Midtown station is one of the few remaining precincts to still use actual metal keys, which is why it works for tonight’s purpose. I’ll never know how Cliff got the clearance to make this happen, this incredible ruse. This isn’t his precinct. He must have called in a serious favor or promised one, anything to get rid of his obligation to me.
“Get up.” Officer Cliff Showalter’s words are crisp, like the clip-clack of his regulation black shoes. Clip-clack. I hate that sound, the official sound of being locked up. Long nights listening for the clip-clack of adult shoes in a juvie hallway, timing my escapes. They could never hold me for long.
I can’t make this too easy. Must not appear too agreeable.
Without moving, I imagine Cliff’s tightly drawn face, narrow, suspicious eyes and the short military buzz cut he maintains. I can’t believe how much he’s aged since the last time I saw him. Of course, that was a few years ago in Chicago. In Chicago, I informed him he owed me a favor of serious magnitude. Magnitude. What a great word, heavy and solid, like a brick you could throw through a window. I think New York aged him. That or the magnitude of what happened in Chicago.
Cliff kicks the bed frame with the side of his foot. “I said get up. Get the fuck up and stand over there where I can see you. No funny shit, Ghost.”
Without a word I roll over. I stare at them both, beholding the furious mess who will become the Butterfly King. He affords me the same unrelenting stare I give him, unsettled new cellmates trying to impress each other. I find defiance in his chocolate eyes, the slightest menacing sneer, his game face, which does not fool me. He’s terrified. Behind his furrowed brow, I see a man defeated by circumstances, hard edges worn smooth by pointless resistance. Already I visualize my fingertips brushing the side of his skull, hair cut so close to the head it’s almost a skin cap. I want to touch his luscious skin, so beautifully dark.
Jesus, Vin, lust after him later. It will be hours before he lets you near.
Terrance’s nose is thick, a big fat nose in the middle of his thick face, and I like it, the satisfying strength of width. His lips are full, so beautiful that I find myself wanting to kiss him over and over, the delicate maroon-ish color inside his lips, the color of raspberry kisses.
He sees me studying him and shoots me a lockup glare suggesting, none of your damn business, a jail salutation which also doubles as the standard New Yorker greeting. Terrance doesn’t realize I know he supervises data entry employees in corporate America and has never been to jail. He has no idea what to do, how to act. He’s working with instinct, pretending to hate me to ensure I keep my distance.
I roll off the bed. “Why do I have to move? I didn’t do anything.”
“Stand there,” Cliff says and he walks Terrance to the opposite side of the cell.
While Cliff’s back is turned I move just out of his sight.
Cliff raises Terrance’s bunched arms. “I’m taking off the handcuffs.”
I fiddle with the door, waiting for Cliff to catch me and yell. We rehearsed this with strangers a few times yesterday, random perps, until Cliff nailed the timing. If this opening gambit doesn’t go perfectly, the entire weekend is lost.
Cliff glances over his shoulder. “Damn it, Ghost, get where I can see you.”
I comply and slouch along the bars until I’m squarely within his line of vision again. Terrance angles his body enough to catch what’s happening. If his new cellie is going to try something stupid, Terrance wants to be ready. I cannot see the front of him, but I can tell he’s rubbing his wrists where the metal cuffs shackled him because I see his thick arms moving rhythmically, the lime green dress shirt ill-concealing his massive biceps. I’m going to suck on that beautiful muscle.
Terrance says, “My phone call?”
“You’ll get it.” Cliff backs up. He jerks our cell door closed, creating the strong but dull sound of metal striking metal. An involuntary panic races through me. I remind myself I am not truly arrested, that this is part of the show. But I’m locked in a cage right now, and rats hate cages.
“My brother’s a lawyer.” Terrance rubs his wrists absently. “So you’re going to tread carefully with my civil rights. I have no complaints about my treatment, officer, no problems. Just show me proper respect.”
That’s a lie. His older brother died two years ago. Interesting he would choose brother instead of father, mother, uncle, or even lover. He chose his brother.
“You’ll get your call,” Cliff says without expression. “Once you’re processed. We’re backed up right now, so cool your jets. I’ll come back for your information and statement when we get caught up.”
“How long will this take?” Terrance asks with an impatient edge. “I have plans.”
Officer Cliff retreats down the corridor that led him here. Over his shoulder, he says, “I’d cancel your plans if I were you.”
Clip-clack, clip-clack, his sharp black shoes tackle the cement. I hate that sound.
“Hey, cop, I want a phone call, too.”
Without turning he says, “Shut up, Ghost. Nobody wants to hear from you.”
I told him to say something like that, something telling me to fuck off, but wow, those words hurt, a truth like a bee sting. He’s right, nobody wants a call from me. Nobody. No foster family, no real family, no nobody. Cliff was not pleased when I appeared on his front stoop four weeks ago, explaining it was time to settle his debt.
A metal door clangs open. The same metal door clangs shut. He’s gone.
A feeling rushes through me, delight but gushing faster, more like thrilled. Malcolm would welcome a call from me. Unlike Terrance, I still have a big brother. I have to keep remembering that, reminding myself. I’m twenty-six which means we’ve been brothers for five years. I guess it’s hard to—
Jesus, focus up! Talk for god’s sakes.
“Hey,” I say. “Got any smokes?”
“You’re kidding me.” Terrance turns to face me, and his sharp, beautiful eyes reveal disdain. “Are you fucking with me?”
“What? No. I mean, yes, I was fucking with you. I don’t smoke. But it’s a nice way to say hello when you’re in prison.”
“Holding facility,” he says, appraising me. “This is not prison.”
“Holding facility,” I say. “You’re right. I’ve been here before. These eight cells are in an old branch on the first floor. The modern cells are on the second and third floors. They mostly use this for night court overflow. They haven’t updated this floor with electronic doors or fancy technology. There’s not even video. Nobody cares if you’re in here.”
He says nothing. He looks down the corridor recently vacated by Officer Showalter.
I say, “I was going for funny, asking you for smokes. I guess you didn’t think so.”
“No,” he says with clarity in his tone. That single world is an invitation for my silence.
I say, “I’m Ghost. Well, that’s the name I use. My real name is boring and this is more fun, like a fun nickname. I gave it to me myself. What’s your name? Ghost is bad-ass for a nickname, isn’t it? Kinda gangster, right?”
He turns and stares at me. I stand with my arms behind me, yanking on the jail bars. I hope I convey how bored I am. I can’t be sure how I come across. I know I look younger than I am. Standing here in my faded, red T-shirt and jeans, I bet I look like I’m twenty-one or twenty-two.
“I’m busy,” he says. “Don’t talk to me.”
“Oh yeah, okay. You’re busy. Sure, I get it. You have somewhere important to be.”
He tilts his head as if studying me, but then closes his eyes, showing me he’s so unconcerned by my presence he feels safe. He puts on a good show for a man who has never been in jail his whole life, not even once. You don’t fool me, Terrance Altham.
“Was it a date? Are you late for a sexy date?”
He says, “Be quiet.”
Already, his voice commands in a kingly way. The power in him, it’s swirling and jagged. Unfocused. But wow, up close, it’s already there and so strong.
“I’ll be quiet,” I say. “That’s not hard. Not for me.”
He turns from me and holds his own counsel.
“I can be quiet,” I announce to no one in particular. “But it’s so boring. You know? So boring to be quiet. What are you in for, running drugs?”
He flinches and his skull tightens at the neck. The thick roll at the base of his skull is his tell. That’s going to be helpful all weekend. Read the muscles on his head.
I say, “I bet you’re in here for drugs.”
He turns to face me. “Don’t talk.”
“No, okay,” I say. “I will. I mean, I won’t. Talk. I just wanted to know. Drugs?”
“Not drugs. Now shut up.”
“Because you look like a drug guy.”
“Officer,” he cries out. “Officer, I must request you process me now.”
His voice rings down the corridor. Strong, like a metal bar. His voice, wow, so solid and clean, rich baritone and with such a polish. He’s practiced, like a theater major, careful enunciation when communicating all the meanings of an intended phrase. His calling for the guard is as much of a warning to me as it reflects his great desire for his own freedom.
“Boy, you must be in a hurry.” I walk to stand next to him.
He steps back.
I must disarm him with the unending flood of my idiocy. “I’m not in a hurry. I don’t care. Which is good, because I’ve been here for three and a half hours.”
He forgets to be irritated with me. “Three hours?”
“And a half.” I walk away, back to the bottom bunk and sit on it. “Three and a half. This is your bunk. The bottom one.”
His face displays no reaction as he watches me. “You’ve been here for three and a half hours? They haven’t processed you?”
“Yeah.” I lean back and lay my head on my hands as I contemplate the springs above me. “I like the top bunk. Not only for sleeping. I like to be the top. Do you like to get fucked?”
“What?” he asks.
“I like to fuck,” I say, shrugging. “You’d have to be into it, too. I would never push myself on someone who didn’t want me, but I do like to fuck black guys. I love the beautiful color of a black man’s skin. I could go on and on about all the beautiful shades of brown. Just saying, so, you know.”
“Don’t talk to me,” Terrance says, his face tensing. “I don’t want you to talk to me. Or out loud.”
“Okay, that’s not a problem. I like quiet but you never answered my question if you’re busted for being a drug lord.”
“Yes,” he says. “I answered. Quit asking me.”
“Oh, sorry. I thought maybe you were because you give the appearance of one.”
He raises himself to full height, six foot two. Or maybe three.
With each consonant prickly, he asks, “Did you just say I looked like a drug lord?”
“Well, not your face. Your face is really handsome. I like your big, thick nose.”
He takes a breath and turns away.
“Your wallet. You still have your wallet. You’re wearing a watch. That’s what I mean. If cops think you’re a drug guy, possibly of some importance, they won’t process you until they’re absolutely sure of the charge and that they can make it stick. Every cop knows you don’t make slip-ups with a New York drug lord. Every t is dotted, every i is crossed.”
He does not speak for a moment. Finally he speaks. “T’s are crossed, i’s are dotted.”
“No, t’s are dotted. It’s a line from a television show I watch a lot. I watch British TV from the BBC. That’s the British Broadcasting Company. I said that because not everybody watches British television. Not that I assumed you’re not classy enough to watch British TV. I’m sure you are. Even drug lords like British shows. You know what they call British sitcoms? Britcoms. Cute, right?”
Studying the back of his neck, I see the subtle shift of tension. I’m pretty far under his skin already, and I’m the least of his worries.
He asks, “What are you in for?”
“Wow, now who sounds like a prison cliché?” I turn to face the wall. “You have a lot of nerve criticizing my ‘got any smokes’ joke.”
He says nothing in response, perhaps bored of conversation already.
“Nothing,” I say, turning to face him. “I didn’t even do anything. The cops are jagweeds. What did you do?”
He does not face me, but walks to the front of the cell. “Nothing. The cops are jagweeds.”
He sounds tired.
I watch him take a deep breath, raising his arms on the inhale and bringing his fingertips together on the exhale right before his chest. Some form of meditation, I’m guessing. Well, I can’t let that continue. I need him on edge.
“What time is your thing? The one you’re worried you’re late for? You’re wearing a nice dress shirt but faded jeans so it can’t be that fancy. Maybe they won’t care if you’re late.”
He does not turn or respond in any way. He repeats the breath thing and brings his fingers together again.
Damn. He’s gonna be a tough nut to crack. Men like Terrance who stand so close to their kingship represent a particular challenge. They live life within close proximity to the finish line and often feel no need to cross over. They’re happy where they are. Well, if not happy exactly, they have accustomed themselves to living as Lost Kings and see no reason to expect better. What have I gotten myself into? How do I move this mountain ten feet? This time, I guess the mountain really must come to Mohammad.
“Let’s start off better.” I leap from the bunk and cross to stand in front of him, preventing his meditation exercise with his arms. “I’m Ghost.”
He bristles and steps away. He eyes me warily. “We’re not exchanging names. I won’t be here long.”
“Okay. I don’t mind. I don’t get my feelings hurt, because, you know, that’s life in the big city. People are protective, right? Gotta be. I am. I’m real careful about who I talk to. I won’t talk to just anybody.”
The neck roll tenses up again.
I study his frame. He’s a thick man, stocky, sturdy legs like tree trunks, and a chest that is naturally robust. I don’t think he lifts weights to expand his pecs, at least not the way he works those arms. Although hidden tonight, I’ve seen his biceps and triceps—beautiful, fat muscle. Still, he’s not that chunky. He’ll fit through the sewer grate easily.
He resumes staring down the hallway. Can’t blame him. There’s nothing else to do. He takes another deep breath.
Uh oh. I don’t want him calm. I need him agitated. I need this mountain to collapse under an avalanche of bad decisions.
I better get started. I begin by whistling, a combination of a folk song and a 1970s pop hit, something I reworked so the lyrics fit. I wanted it to sound vaguely familiar to him. I memorized three stanzas, which should be more than enough. I switch to humming and then singing under my breath, words still impossible to hear.
“If we’re not going to talk, that’s fine,” I say and hesitate. “But there’s a few things you should know about me. First, I honestly didn’t do anything. Second, they haven’t processed me because they don’t know my real name. I never tell police my real name. Which means whichever cop processes me gets extra paperwork, so they sometimes keep me locked up until a new guy’s shift starts and that person has to process me. They save me for the rookie cops. But if I committed a real crime, they’d process me. I didn’t do anything.”
He says nothing, just does his meditation thing, facing away from me.
“Sometimes, it’s not a guy who’s the new guy. Sometimes it’s a woman.”
He ignores me.
“I’m not sexist, that’s what they call it. The new guy. I think that it’s a—”
He says, “Stop talking. I have to center myself. Create harmony.”
“Okay, I’ll stop talking. I’ll be like a ghost. Silent like a ghost. Which is my nickname. Although, traditionally, ghosts moan and rattle chains.”
I start humming the song again and glance up and down the hallway, more for assurance that everything is as it should be. Empty cells. No video cameras. Yup. We’re golden. I guess you’d call the walls ‘white,’ though that color seems like a distant memory, layer after layer of sweat, grease, blood and anything that can get smeared. The walls are green from the waist down, a tired, used-up green. Dozens of jagged shoe marks scuff the walls, suggesting spontaneous violence. These marks visually remind me one of the best—and worst—things about New York City is anything can happen. Anything.
I stand next to him, once again invading his personal space. “Hey. Wanna get out of here?”
He ignores me.
“I’ll let you in on a secret, which is I’m getting out of here. I’m tired of waiting to be processed. I’m going to escape.”
He steps away, moves the farthest he can, which is not far.
“I’m not kidding. I have a plan.”
Nothing. Not a single reaction. Huh.
“Where is your big party?” I ask in a casual, bored tone. “Were you going to a fancy drug lord party?”
He spins toward me, face wrinkled and snarling. “You racist piece of garbage.”
I’m surprised and I’m sure he sees it on my face. Wow, that was sudden and intense.
I say, “I was kidding. Boy, Mister Sensitive.”
His mouth snaps shut. He stands up tall to his full height. “I apologize. I apologize.”
He turns away.
Dammit, cover the moment. Don’t let him get into shame. “I don’t mind. I understand why you’d say that. A lot of people think I’m garbage.”
“I lost control,” he says, and his voice is softer. He keeps his back to me. “I am under…undue stress. This is not the way of the flexible water and I apologize.”
“Apology accepted.” I make my voice lighthearted. “No problem. What kind of water? Is that your sign? Are you an Aquarius?”
He puts his hands to his face.
I know he’s under a great deal of stress. I put him there.
After several months of correspondence through the mail with an enigmatic millionaire known as Vin Vanbly, Terrance Altham grew intrigued enough to commit to a King Weekend. He agreed to submit for one full weekend, and in return, Mr. Vanbly would restore his kingship, help Terrance remember who he was always meant to be. Mr. Vanbly instructed him to show up at the Waldorf Astoria hotel and provided a black stretch limo.
But as the limo approached its destination, the driver pulled over, gave Terrance a vague warning and drove off. Less than two minutes later, Terrance found himself arrested for reasons as yet unexplained. He hasn’t been granted his one phone call. In another two minutes, he’ll miss his Friday night, 6:00 p.m. rendezvous. The unimaginable wealth available to those who successfully complete a King Weekend will no longer be an option. If there’s one thing that’s important to Terrance Altham of Harlem, New York, it’s money.
Well, that’s not exactly true. But he thinks money is power, and in New York, well, yeah, it kinda is. But money is not his true destination. Nor is power. When I read his published article in the Atlantic Monthly last year, I saw a man in search of his kingship. A king in search of his crown, his kingdom. Through the article, his strong voice rang out, where are my people? Your loyal subjects are all around you, King Terrance. Look around.
I say, “If you want to get out of here, I could take you with me.”
He refuses the bait.
I return to the bottom bunk and lie on the crinkly mattress. I start singing again, a tad louder, loud enough for a word or two to become heard. Same song as before. After a line half-hummed, half-sung, I see his head raise straight up and he slowly turns. Wow, he is graceful. Graceful in all his movements.
“What did you say?”
“Me? Nothing. I didn’t say anything. I was singing.”
He studies me, narrowing his eyes, focusing them. He says nothing, and I swear I see the cogs in his oversized brain debating how far to push this with me.
“I was singing. It’s from a television show.”
He debates this and cautiously asks, “What show?”
“The Lost and Founds. It’s my favorite show. It’s on the BBC.”
“The Lost and Founds.” He repeats my words slowly. “Is that what you said?”
“Yeah. It’s a popular show. Probably because it’s British. Have you seen it? They broadcasted four seasons now. British television seasons are shorter, so that’s only, what, twenty-four episodes. Twenty-five. They did a Christmas episode during the third season. It was cheesy.”
I see a tremor near his temple, his jaw flexing. Every one of his gestures communicates strength whether he intends to or not. He turns from me, wrapping both of his meaty paws around the bars. His nightmare is becoming worse.
I ask, “Have you seen it? It’s my favorite show.”
He does not reply.
“I was humming the theme song. Wanna hear?”
I do not wait for a reply before singing my invented lyrics.
“When naught works out and you’re losing ground,
Who finds a man who is lost not found?
When life isn’t right and won’t turn around,
Maybe it’s time for the Lost and Founds.”
He turns back to me, and I see wariness in his eyes and behind that, fear. He’s so tired of being disappointed by life, the unfair tricks and sharp, unexpected turns. He already senses another something bad coming. And he’s right.
Slowly, he says, “Keep going.”
“Vin is the one who can find the lost,
Once you agree to make him the boss.
Secrets revealed when you’re getting tossed.
Through the Eastern Gates, despite the cost.”
Before he can comment, I add, “You have to sing ‘through the Eastern Gates’ a little faster or else the cadence is off.”
He says, “Enough. Do not sing anymore.”
“There’s a third verse.”
“No.” His voice is quiet. “No more. This is television?”
“Yeah. Vin Vanbly is the hero and he goes out and finds these guys and says, ‘Spend one weekend with me and I will help you remember your kingship. I will help you remember who you were always meant to be.’ Over an episode or two they go have adventures in London. Sometimes the country. They went to Wales, once. He also kinged a Scottish guy. That was a good episode.”
“No,” Terrance says. “No. That can’t be right.”
He puts his hands on top of his head, the most expressive expression I believe I’ve seen from him today. He stares into the dingy hallway, the empty cell across from us. I’m guessing worlds crumble inside him, plans, possibilities, dreams. He found himself cuffed and in the back of a police car while on his way to his King Weekend, which turns out is a hoax based on a British television show. This pressure cooker—the arrest, the misleading correspondence, the non-stop chattering of his own personal Ghost—it’s creating unbearable conditions in him, dragging the fear out of its shadowy corners. I hope.
Fear can blast adrenaline, pumping anyone into a state of chaotic frenzy but usually only for a few moments at a time. Fear can paralyze too, but again, it’s a moment to moment thing. But if a man spends his life fighting fear, keeping it at bay with logic and rationalizations, he doesn’t notice fear exacting its toll, draining him, preventing his ability to access true power. That’s the dark wizard’s greatest curse, not draining you enough to notice and fight back, but embedding fear so deeply, you forget to consider achieving your greatness. Tonight, we examine that fear under harsh light.
“That can’t be right,” Terrance says, and I don’t think he’s talking to me. “I never…I never heard of this television show.”
“Do you watch the BBC?”
He says, “I don’t own a television.”
I knew that. I knew inventing a fake television show would work with him. I planned on his subconscious pride in his inability to be fooled, for anyone to fuck with him, a hardened New Yorker. My deception should chisel open that hard shell, expose his vulnerability. I think. I hope.
I say, “Let’s get out of here.”
I hop off the bed and go stand behind him. “We should leave.”
“Leave,” he says. “Leave.”
“Yeah, leave. I hate this place. I got locked up here a few other times and I know how to get out.”
He holds the bars and puts his head against the space between them. His head won’t fit through, of course, but he’s weary. He does not know this is only the beginning of a bad night.
I say, “It’s not that big a deal. I stuffed paper and gum in the lock when that cop brought you in, so when the door slammed, it didn’t lock.”
I demonstrate and pull it open a few inches.
He turns his head to witness this and it surprises him. A certain energy passes through him. His whole body grows more alert. I see it in his shoulders, the stance of his legs. Everything wakes up again. He looks up at the corners of the ceiling.
He says, “For someone who didn’t do anything, you sure know a lot about jail cells.”
I ignore his comment. “These overflow cells aren’t hard to escape. I’ve done it twice before.
“You escaped. You?”
“Yes I did.” I add extra defiance for show. “It’s not hard. There’s a basement grate in a back room that leads into the sewers. But before I run to the basement, I always push open the outside fire door so they think I escaped into the street. If they knew about the sewer grate, they’d fix it. Instead, the cops go running into the street and I head into the sewers. Hilarious, right?”
Terrance seems to ponder the humor in this and shakes his head.
I say, “Fine. I don’t care. I have big plans waiting for me on the outside, more important than your stupid party. I’m going to become a millionaire finding the Butterfly King.”
He nods at the partially open door. “Close that. You’re going to get me in trouble. Close it.”
I close it carefully, making sure not to disturb any of the tumblers I manipulated yesterday afternoon. I’m not sure how much he knows about mechanical engineering. Jerry-rigging this door can’t be accomplished with a wad of gum or a cardboard insert. Hopefully he won’t ask questions or examine it too closely.
“Why are you so eager to stick around?” I make my tone pouty and hurt. “What do you care?”
He crosses the five feet necessary to sit on the bottom bunk and puts his hands together as if praying.
I ask, “Do the cops know your name? Did they take anything from you or write anything down? Do they know who you are?”
He looks up at me but does not answer.
“Okay, so they don’t know you. You could slip out with me and they’d never catch you. Unless you have a criminal record. Then they could find you easily. Did they fingerprint you? Do you have a criminal record?”
He glares at me.
“I’m gonna take that as a no. By the way, that wasn’t racist to ask if you have a criminal record. We’re both in a jail cell, making it a reasonable question, so don’t give me murder looks. But okay, no criminal record and they have no information on you. They didn’t fingerprint you obviously, because your fingers aren’t black. Well, other than, you know, being black.”
He drops his head and presses said fingers against his eyelids.
“Hey, quick question. Why do you suppose black people are called black when honestly, so few are actually, you know, black? Why aren’t black people called bronzes? Bronzes is a pretty word. It’s strong. Shiny. Like when a black man stands in the sun and his head is shiny and beautiful. That’s bronzes.”
He does not look up.
I ask, “Why were you arrested? Did you kill someone?”
“No,” he says sharply. “Not yet.”
“So why were you arrested?”
He pauses and says, “I don’t know. The cop wouldn’t say.”
Though he’s not looking at me, I nod. “Sure. That happens to a lot of bronzes men.”
His head snaps up and he affixes me with an unpleasant stare.
“I’m just saying, you must have heard of this before. Black guy gets detained or held up and isn’t told why. It’s not all that uncommon.”
I know he’s heard it before. He wrote about this phenomenon in his one and only published article. Vin Vanbly read it and was impressed enough to contact Terrance. But he doesn’t know his new cellmate read that article, the one comparing the plight of his great-grandmother, daughter of a former slave, to modern-day racism. I must give him nothing to react to. Nothing.
With great distinction, he says, “I am not a criminal. I am not involved in shady enterprises. I’m middle class. This isn’t supposed to happen to middle-class, middle-aged men.”
“You’re middle-aged? You look young to me.”
In his letters, he told me he was thirty-five. How old is he really?
He stares at me, lost in thought. I have to short-circuit his thinking. Make this urgent.
I snap my fingers. “Hello? Still there?”
He looks away.
“So they know nothing about you. They don’t have your name. I’m offering you a foolproof way out of this jail cell, a cell I’ve escaped before. I proved the cell door is unlocked, and trust me, nobody knows the New York sewers like me. I practically live down there. Let’s do it. Let’s blow this joint.”
Terrance Altham, law-abiding middle manager of data entry personnel, glares at me.
Perhaps I’ve underestimated the pressure cooker situation he’s in. I thought the imprisonment and lack of explanation would completely exacerbate his control issues, would frazzle his fear to the boiling point. I’m giving him an escape, literally, a way to take control of this situation. Consequence-free.
I say, “I can’t stay locked up. I’ve got responsibilities. I have to find the Butterfly King.”
He says, “From the show.”
“Yeah, it’s a promotional thing. It’s real. They’re offering a million pounds to the person who tracks down the Butterfly King. It’s part of their promotion for Season Five. I figure a million pounds is basically a million dollars, right?”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yeah, but it’s basically a million dollars.”
“It’s more. Wouldn’t this character live in England?”
“Maybe. Possibly. That’s the logical assumption but Season Four ended in New York. So it makes sense if the Butterfly King was here. How many American dollars is a million pounds?”
He stands. “This character, this Vin Vanbly. He’s real? He’s part of this promotional gimmick?”
“No, he’s a TV character. The actor’s name is Joe Traxinger.”
Terrance walks to the front of the cell and wraps his hands around the bars. He’s done it before but there’s not much to do in a cell except grab the bars and gaze out. I’m pleased he gave up meditating.
I’m Vin Vanbly. It’s not a television show. You weren’t an idiot to believe. I long to tell him these things, to put him out of his current misery. Unfortunately, I know something about kinging men who live in their fear. They will never submit to any other power than fear. They’ve already capitulated their dreams, their lives, their futures. Terrance Altham agreed in an email to do everything I demanded all weekend. But despite his written agreement, I already knew he could never submit, no matter what scenario I arranged. Fear’s stranglehold does not permit other options, any other surrender. The only way to free him from fear’s icy prison is the magician’s path. Trickery.
He says, “You can’t get out of here. They’ll catch you.”
“They didn’t catch me last time. That dirty green door on the opposite side there? That’s a fire door. It’s not locked but alarms go off. It opens into a small hallway, a stairwell, really. You go up a couple of stairs and push open the outside fire exit to Fifty-Seventh Street. The down-stairs lead to the basement. There’s riot gear down there, warehouse-sized evidence rooms, and sewer access in a storage room full of broken bicycles.”
“Yeah. Most old buildings like this have a floor grate. Bigger hole than modern construction. In fact, I kinda suspect that this one was big enough to dispatch police without everyone seeing them running out the front door, like maybe if you wanted to get a few quietly out there. I dunno.”
Terrance says, “It won’t work. You shouldn’t do this.”
Is he trying to convince me or convince himself?
“It worked last time. Me and three other guys. Two idiots took off into the street but me and another guy headed into the sewers. I know the sewers. I led us through Midtown and we crawled out near Bryant Park. I heard the two guys who ran outside got caught. Never saw them again, so I dunno. But the cops still don’t know about the sewer grate.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Sure I do. I broke into the basement a couple times since then. Last time was about a month ago.”
“You broke into this police station?”
“Sometimes they keep money in those basement evidence rooms. Fake twenties and stuff. I didn’t take much, about six hundred dollars. Enough for a cheap hotel room for a couple nights. It’s not exactly pleasant living in the sewers.”
He stiffens but still doesn’t glance my way.
“If you wanna stay, feel free. I have nothing to lose, so I’m going to risk it. But I bet you have lots to lose. Once your work finds out you were arrested and then your family, you’ll have lots of explanations to make. I dunno, maybe you’ll get fired or something.”
“I won’t get fired. I’m not arrested. This is a misunderstanding.”
“Yeah, sure. Yessir, I bet those cops are out there right now debating how to clear your name.”
He considers this, I can tell. He’s got a few tells, really. His eyes glaze over when he’s working something through. He puts his hands on his head. He pulls the fingers on his right hand though I’m not sure what that means. I think it means he’s working through potential solutions but I don’t know him well enough yet. His temple twitches.
“I can’t go with you,” he says, and I hear indecision in his voice. “They’ll catch us.”
He said us.
“They won’t. I know what I’m doing. How do you think I got the nickname Ghost? I get into and out of places I probably shouldn’t. I used to visit the Met after hours but they have video of my face, so I can’t show up there anymore.”
“No,” he says and his hesitation sounds like he’s losing the argument with himself.
I want to remind him that in his published article he wrote about institutional racism, the flaws in the legal and bureaucratic institutions targeting those least equipped to work the system. Those are the ones most likely to suffer the worst consequences. But I can’t bring up that article. Not until tomorrow. He has to show me the article first.
He says, “Tell me more about this television show, the one called The Lost and Founds.”
“No. I have to go. I’m not waiting for the cops to come back.”
C’mon, Terrance. It’s time to make the biggest mistake of your life.
He turns around. He wants to pace but there’s nowhere to go except right into me. He says, “I need to know about this television show. It’s connected to my arrest.”
He glances at me with exasperation. Still, he gives me the bare bones version of the limo ride, getting arrested two minutes after the drop-off before arriving at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. He explains the arrest and Cliff’s silence to every question Terrance posed all the way to this precinct. From the back seat, he heard the police dispatch announce the limo had disappeared, so he knows the driver was not captured. The police do not know his destination was the Waldorf. He does not tell me about Vin Vanbly and the agreement to go on a King Weekend. Damn.
“I don’t understand. How is your limo ride and arrest connected to the television show?”
“Ghost,” he says in a warning inflection. “This is none of your business.”
“Okay, okay. Fine. But it’s all very weird and suspicious. They arrested you for something and won’t tell you why but it may or may not be connected to a limo ride and the driver told you to ‘be careful.’ It’s messed up. And you’re being weird and secretive about it, too. Did you know you were doing something illegal?”
“No. I never did anything illegal.”
Before he says more, I race to hug him, squeeze him hard. I throw my arms around him and say, “I’m gonna miss you.”
He pushes me off him and I stumble backward.
I say, “Oh, relax. I didn’t stab you or anything.”
“We don’t hug,” he says through clenched teeth, keeping me at arm’s length. “I don’t know you.”
I shrug. “Just being friendly. Well, I should go now.”
“Wait,” he says, hesitating.
I drag open the cell door.
He eyes the door nervously and turns to me. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. It’s too risky.”
“So stay.” Silently, I will him to make the wrong choice. “But you could always come and say I forced you to chase after me.”
He looks at me warily. “Why would I chase you?”
“Because when I hugged you, I stole your wallet.”
I hold it up and dash out the cell door.COLLAPSE
Trish on Amazon wrote:
If you haven't yet read the first book in this amazing series, King Perry, don't read this review. Go find a copy of Book 1 at your favorite book retailer and take the unexpected, dazzling, warm, strange, gorgeous ride that is Vin Vanbly at the height of his powers. Then read the other books as we move backward in time, to Vin's origins. This review may contain spoilers for the first two books in the series (And believe me, this is a series where you want to be surprised, baffled and stirred as well as shaken. Not spoilered.) The HEA is going to take at least six books to achieve, and I firmly believe it will be a glorious ride all the way there, and beyond.
Among the things author Edmond Manning has done uniquely with this series is to move backward in time as the books release. In King Perry we meet Vin as the confident showman, the magician whose slight of hand is perfected and aimed straight into the psychic gold of the man he's with. Perry's King weekend is a kaleidescope of experiences that drive him where his spirit needs to be. But although we get snippets and glimpses of Vin the man, it's mainly Vin the king-maker on display.
In King Mai we see an earlier, softer Vin. The setting for that book is simpler, the variables less complex. He has moments of doubt and there are times when his plans get overset, but still he has back-ups and a process in place. In his king-candidate Mai, we see a man who is almost able to become the love of Vin's life. This is a consented kinging, and the dynamic is different. The men are warmer together from the start, the emotions more about striving and less about conflict. The language is still as lovely and sensuous, the surprises still present but less sharp, the poignancy is greater. We begin to hear more about Vin's childhood, and finish with questions and concerns for the person behind Vin Vanbly and his perplexing and quasi-magical life work.
This third novel really begins to reveal the heart of Vin, set in an earlier time when he has not yet developed his polish. We see him as a man with a mission, still fumbling to figure out why he is called and how he can fulfill the imperative that drives him. We also are let slightly further into some magical basis for the Lost and Found Kings. Although the book never quite tumbles over the threshold of urban fantasy, it hovers on the brink, giving flashes of something larger than one man's illusions and another's psychological journey. We meet men whom Vin has already kinged. The myth gains hold on reality.
After the first book, I liked Vin but I didn't love him. I was dazzled, seduced by the language, stunned by the originality and the potential of the premise, and delighted by the ride. After the second book I was fond of Vin, worried about him, caught in the question of how real Vin's obsession is, and half in love with Mai. In this book, I fell hook, line and sinker for Vin.
We see him here as a man on a mission. We watch him expend not just time and money and planning, but sweat, tears, vomit and blood in service to his goal. We learn more about his teen years and childhood, about desperate times and bullying and loneliness, dropped into the story matter-of-factly. We see Vin in his doubts, in his fears and distractions. In this book, the man he seeks to king looms larger than Vin at times, stronger and more in control. Vin has moved backwards from puppet master, to partner, to a man trying to guide a force of nature into an optimum path. This king weekend is a desperately serious thing for Vin.
The use of language in this book is once more sublime. And that language is not just lovely and playful, but evocative. There are a lot of emotions in this book. I was amused, afraid, intrigued and at times in tears for Vin. He tries so hard, and cares so much, and hovers a line between doing good and doing real evil. He puts every ounce of himself into this process, while not having the confidence we see in earlier books that he will succeed, or at least that he will do more benefit than harm.
Terrance is an interesting character. He's stronger than Perry, harder than Mai. He's a man who has done the right thing, all his life, at great sacrifice to himself. He has resentment and fear to overcome. And he reacts in unexpected ways as Vin wrecks his life for a weekend. Terrance is like the positive spirit of New York, the good parts of that big, strong, dominant, alive city. He is such a force, that as a reader I wondered how Vin for all his quicksilver trickery would be able to move him far enough. It turned out that Vin had reserves he was willing to use that hurt to watch.
The story is seeped in the feel of New York City. This is one of the joys of the series too, that each book brings the setting into play as an additional character. We saw the shores and sights of San Francisco, and Midwestern cornfields in books 1 and 2. This is New York's story. Here everything from the amazing skyline to the rat-infested sewers to the bustling streets to the monumental buildings have a part in the story. This story would not have happened this same way in any other setting.
And then I came to the end. I wiped my eyes, sighed, read back a few favorite lines (cupcakes) and scenes (the Met) and reminded myself of the things I really, really want to know about Vin. I thought about just starting over reading from the beginning. But it understandably takes Edmond awhile to write and polish these stories to their final form, so I'll have a wait for the next book. I'd better save the rereads, and space them out a bit. I'll be watching the seven posted Chapters of "King Daniel" for another installment. And when the next novel does appear, it will go to the top of my reading list. I might even call in sick to work, in the certain knowledge that it will be worth it.
How long did I sit staring at my screen trying to start my review? It was a very long time, because I had so many feels, so many thoughts, and I wanted to talk about all of them but knew I couldn’t actually do that in my review. I decided to start with this; does The Butterfly King fall into any particular tropes? Nope! Is this story in any way a traditional story? Not at all! Which puts this series in a class all by itself. It’s a journey. It’s a “life” ride with ups and downs, so buckle up, hold on and embrace it.
The Butterfly King is the third book and actually takes place a couple of years before King Perry and King Mai. This may sound odd, but the journey is about Vin Vanbly, the Kingmaker, and not necessarily about the Kings themselves, although they play a key role. In King Perry (book one), we meet Vin and all the awesomeness that he is, a confident Kingmaker. Then book two, King Mai, takes place before King Perry, and Vin is still awesome but not the completely confident Kingmaker we met during King Perry’s story. And now we have The Butterfly King. This book is a game changer in my opinion.
I could go on and on about the amazing writing style and craftsmanship of words on paper that this author creates, but I won’t. You will need to trust me when I say the writing is tight, the pacing is flawless, the world building is unique, and the multi-dimensional characters are amazingly real, funny, frustrating, heart wrenching and loveable.
The opening chapters are not for the faint of heart. Dark sewers and rats. Not just any ole rats. These are NYC rats! And this is where we meet Terrance Altham. A nice, calm, responsible man who always does the right thing. That is until he meets Vin Vanbly, aka Ghost. Terrance’s journey to Kingship is just as impressive as King Perry and King Mai. However, this one stands out from the rest. It’s one of Vin’s earlier Kingings, and sadly, you can tell how unsure Vin is about many aspects of this kingship. He questions himself constantly, he doubts his decisions, and he lacks confidence in this plan. It’s very sad to witness. I wanted to hug Vin and cuddle him and love him. I didn’t have those feelings about Vin in the prior books, which, in reality, did not take place until after Terrance Altham’s kinging. This chronological order of the books really shows the growth of Vin, and it’s a story woven perfectly by the author. I don’t go into details with my reviews, but racism is part of the storyline, as well as how it affects Terrance Altham’s daily life. There were many parts of this story that had me in tears, as I always found myself a fairly open-minded person, but even I realized a few things about myself while reading Terrance’s point of view, and for that I will be forever grateful to this author.
How badly do I want book four? You can probably guess, but I also can’t possibly read book four anytime soon (even if it was available right now). I am still digesting The Butterfly King. I want to give this book its proper due. It deserves to be cherished for a while, and I need time to get a grip with all that happened with Vin and how it ended. I also need time to try and figure out the mystery that Edmond Manning has created. 😛 There is more happening here. I feel an undercurrent, something else floating around the Lost and Found universe, and it’s in my nature to figure things out.
So as I wait for book four, I will use my time wisely and revisit all my highlighted notes from The Butterfly King, and maybe, just maybe, get a small glimpse into the unique mind of Edmond Manning. Until then, please run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore or web browser and buy The Butterfly King. 😀
The Lost and Founds series (six books) is complete.