She stepped out of a shadow at the far end of the lobby, and began the long walk to the front door.
Later, as viewed in footage from a security camera, her walk would seem like a slow parade, taking on a dreamy, Felliniesque quality, time-marked by the click of her heels on the marble floor.
She was earthtones that day, colors of the fall. Sun-streaked brown hair and an oval face with wide brown eyes, set off by a brown suit that looked hand-tailored but was off-the-rack Bergdorf. The 1947 rack, that is. The skirt was snug against her thighs and the fitted jacket emphasized her figure. Not that emphasis was needed.
The concierge, who watched her every step of the way from his desk at the front of the lobby, would attest to that. So would the two college girls in flip-flops though they rolled their eyes at her dated couture. Still, each would have swapped a year of Daddy’s tuition money for her figure.
Jamie Trent was her name and her outfit came from the Spence-Chapin Thrift Shop on New York’s Upper East Side, that area of town being to collectors of pre-owned clothing what Florence is to art lovers. While some combed the thrifts for almost-new designer castoffs that could be had for a fraction of their boutique prices, Jamie sought the discards of society’s grande dames of the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, whose closets passed to the neighborhood shops when they passed on.
As she passed the concierge desk, she stopped abruptly.
“Oh, hello, Miss Trent,” the man said, as though noticing her for the first time.
“Orlando, I almost forgot. Put these in the lockbox. They’re for 9H.” She stepped over and handed him a set of keys with a tag on them.
“One of Mr. Hall’s units. Yes, ma’am.”
“I should leave him a note.” She reached into her calfskin bag, a Chanel 2.55 from the late Fifties, and removed a small leather folio that held monogrammed notepaper and envelopes. She uncapped a 1943 fountain pen and wrote
I need to talk to you, seriously. I regret this didn’t work for us although I really tried. It would have been wonderful, but as we both know, some things are meant to be, others are not. See you at lunch. Ask for Babie, Baby.
She glanced at her watch.
“This is silly. He’ll be on his way to meet me when he gets this.” She recapped her pen, a Parker supposedly like Hemingway’s, and stuck it in her purse.
She wadded the notepaper. Orlando extended a hand to take it, but Jamie tossed it over his shoulder. It banked off the wall and landed in a wastebasket. She winked at him.
“Two,” he said, and smiled.
“If you see Porter, please tell him I’m at the restaurant.”
She half-turned, then looked back at Orlando, who had started toward the room where the lockbox was kept. “Wait, Orlando. I’m going to keep those. I’ve got a meeting with…” She looked briefly toward the front door, deep concern visible even in the mediocre resolution of the security camera. “I’ll drop them off later.”
He handed the keys back. She slipped them in the side pocket of her jacket and walked out the revolving door into the calm October light of East Twenty-second Street. Camera Three, an exterior camera, showed her heading west toward Fifth Avenue. She looked as good from the back as she did from the front. That was at 11:17 a.m.
Later, the shot from an interior camera would show another man exiting the curtained door behind the concierge desk. He reached into the wastebasket, removed the wadded notepaper, opened it, and read it. He said something to the concierge, which was unclear because the two girls were passing by and their chatter muddled the sound.
The man re-crumpled the paper, dropped it back into the wastebasket, and followed them. He removed a cell phone from his pocket, punched a button, held it to his ear, and fell in behind the young women, his eyes affixed to their rear ends as though he were assigned to count the stitches on their jeans.
On the other side of Broadway, Jamie used a pay phone. She was the only real estate agent in Manhattan who didn’t own a cell phone, maybe the only one in the universe. She checked in with her office, told them she had a two o’clock meeting. She didn’t say with whom. She also asked her assistant to confirm a three o’clock showing at a condo in Chelsea.
She reached the restaurant, Kates, at 11:35, where she was greeted with kisses on both cheeks by Tall Kate, a pretty, mocha-skinned African-American woman who was one of the owners. Kate told her that her table, in the back room against the Hepburn wall, would be ready in a few minutes.
The restaurant was owned by Tall Kate Masters, who wasn’t all that tall except when compared to her co-owner, Just Kate O’Meara. “Short Kate” was a more obvious nickname, but O’Meara, at five-two, disliked it.
The décor was all “Kates,” floor-to-ceiling with photos and memorabilia of the famous: Kate Hepburn, Kate (Katherine) the Great, k.d. lang, Katie Couric, Kate Winslett, Cate Blanchett, others.
But it was Kate Hepburn that Jamie Trent worshipped, having once seen her on Third Avenue as the icon pushed heavy snow into the gutter in front of her townhouse. Jamie stared for a few moments until Hepburn looked at her. Her head had a slight tremor, but her eyes were clear and steady, piercing. Hepburn smiled. Jamie smiled back, flushed, and started across the street, almost stepping into the path of an oncoming taxi.
The actress once dubbed “The Most Powerful Woman in Hollywood” returned to clearing her walk.
Jamie thanked Tall Kate and took a seat at the bar. She removed a book, Ship of Fools, from her bag and began to read. Just Kate was behind the massive oak-front bar, which, along with the mirrored back bar, had been extracted from her grandfather’s defunct Irish pub in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She looked at the cover. “Oh, my. Another Kate.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Jamie, looking at Katherine Ann Porter’s name across the top.
“We should make a place for her,” said Tall Kate.
By 12:15, Porter still wasn’t there. Jamie went outside and stood, looking toward Fifth Avenue, the direction from which he would likely come. She went back inside to a pay phone near the restrooms. At 12:19, the records would show, she placed a call to his home, and a minute later to his cell phone. She left messages both places saying she was at Kates, and leaving the number.
At 12:30, Jamie was still at the bar and growing concerned. Porter might be ten minutes late, but beyond that he would call. She had known him for ten years, and dated him for one, long ago, before he’d met Laurie. He would call. Something bad had happened. She was sure of it. A waitress working the sidewalk tables came in and said a man outside was asking for her, saying Porter Hall wanted to see her. Jamie slid off the stool, took two steps toward the door, went back and grabbed her purse. She left her second Perrier, her book, and unpaid tab on the bar.
At one o’clock, Just Kate noticed Jamie’s book, check, and Perrier still on the bar. She picked them up and headed to the back room to take them to her. Two other women were at the table. She found Tall Kate and asked if she had seen Jamie.
“I guess something came up.”
Kate O’Meara shook her head. “She left these.”
“In the book.”
Tall Kate opened the book and saw the unpaid check for two small bottles of Perrier. “Oh, my God,” she said, her face going a shade paler. “We better call.”
They went to their tight windowless office, where Just Kate picked up the phone, called the Thirteenth Precinct on East Twenty-first Street, and explained the situation to a sergeant.
“Some chick walked a six dollar check? Hold on. I’ll put out a BOLO, an APB, an Amber Alert. Want a SWAT team, maybe National Guard, too?”
“You don’t get it, officer. Jamie wouldn’t walk a six-cent check and we don’t care about that anyway, and she wouldn’t leave her book. She’s the most…”
“No, you don’t get it, lady. I got a stack of files on my desk, domestic violence, sexual assault, grand theft auto, breaking and entering, two murders, you name it, and you want me to go after some gal who beat a six buck check a half hour ago? Keep the book and call it even.”
Just Kate’s freckled Irish face turned a brilliant red and she screamed at the phone. “Not go after her, find her. And it’s not the money. She stayed until four in the morning helping us clean up after a broken pipe and wouldn’t even let us give her lunch the next day. If you…”
“Well, la-ti-da, call me heartless, call me lazy, call me in two days and file a report.” said the officer, “If she don’t show up.”
Her head dropped and tears burned her eyes. She looked at Tall Kate. “They don’t know. They don’t care.” Her hands were trembling.
“What can we do?”
How could they explain that the pope was more likely to rob a bank than Jamie Trent was to walk a check? Her ethics were as stubborn and old-fashioned as her wardrobe, and to Jamie right was right, wrong was wrong, and things were just that simple.
The inescapable conclusion is that had Porter Hall left his place at the Medora condominium when he was supposed to, Jamie Trent would not have disappeared. But he got caught up in some crisis of his own, and it wasn’t until the three-story clock on the Met Life tower outside his window began to gong noon that he realized the time. He grabbed his jacket and cell phone, found his sunglasses, which had mysteriously made their way to his daughter’s vanity, hurried to the elevators, and pushed the call button. The elevator came in thirty seconds and stopped five times on the way down.
When he reached the lobby, he checked the time: 12:04. He stepped out of the elevator and almost bumped into Marvin Plockman, who worked for the management company. Plockman was on his phone.
He said, “Marvin, hey. I need to talk to you.”
Plockman raised a finger, nodded over his shoulder, and kept walking. He went through a metal door marked STAFF ONLY, which led to a service corridor.
“Marvin, it’s important,” Porter called. The door thunked shut behind him.
Porter shrugged. “Yeah, call me later. That’s fine.”
Just then Orlando, the concierge, appeared carrying a Styrofoam cup and a paper bag with the logo of a neighborhood sandwich shop. He was on his way to the break room, accessed by the same door Marvin Plockman had disappeared into.
“Oh, Mr. Hall. Miss Trent said to tell you she’s waiting at the restaurant. She still has the keys to 9H. That’s the only set.”
“Thanks. And if you see Plockman back there, tell him to call me.”
Porter turned into the long lobby, a faux-1890s concoction with oak-paneled walls, period furniture, imitation Bierstadt, Eakins and Durant nature scenes, and copper compact-fluorescent fixtures made to look like the gas sconces you might find in a Victorian theater.
At that moment two men in bad suits entered the front door. Two minutes earlier, even one minute earlier, and Porter would have missed them. He would have been gone, out the glass doors, walking briskly toward Kates, where he would have arrived at 12:10. He would have gone to Jamie at the bar, put his hand on her shoulder, kissed her cheek, and said, “Hi, Babie.” They would have walked to the table that awaited them beneath framed original posters of Bringing Up Baby, Adam’s Rib, and The Philadelphia Story.
But that Wednesday, Porter Hall wasn’t a minute earlier, so she was gone. By 12:30, when she really needed him to be there, he was blocks away, cuffed to a metal bench in the local precinct. His eyes were closed, and a song about a candy-colored clown they call the sandman was playing in his head.
Jamie Trent is gone and Porter Hall is the reason. He failed her. It’s just that simple.
He believes that.
I believe that.
I’m Porter Hall.