Kevin McCarthy jogged up the subway steps with such exuberance that the few souls going in the opposite direction at 5:30 in the morning moved aside. At the top of the stairs he inhaled the scent of the city, still stale from the night before.
Under a sign marked Service Entrance, a path led past trash barrels, toward a black steel door. This was not Kevin’s first job in the brotherhood—that’s what his father called the union. When he reached for the buzzer, the rubber band twisted around his wrist, as tight as he could stand it, pulled at the hairs on his arm. The tug against his skin was to remind him of the role he was playing: a kid without experience.
Kevin extended his hand to the man who opened the steel door. Rory MacDonald wanted to be called Mackie. Gripping Kevin’s hand with a firm shake, Mackie proceeded to talk non-stop; all Kevin could do was smile.
“Don’t look them in the eyes. If you show fear, they’ll sense it. They’re the kind that will take advantage of you, but they don’t bite.” Mackie slapped Kevin on the back and started laughing like a jackhammer. He had been a doorman in the building for ten years, always willing to give advice, whether it was asked for or not. “Most of them just want to come and go unnoticed. You’ll see, it won’t take you too long to figure it out.”
“Shouldn’t I greet them, say something, or tell them to have a nice day?” Kevin touched his wrist. “Isn’t that how you get tips? I mean, you want them to like you?”
“No one tells these people what kind of day to have.” Mackie motioned Kevin to hand over his jacket. “In the beginning it’s best to wait for the tenants to speak, let them bark orders, whatever makes them happy.” Mackie looked at the tan jacket, checking the gold stitching for any mistakes in the address embroidered across the breast pocket. He nodded his head approvingly and gave it back to Kevin.
“You’ll be okay. First few weeks, we’ll be partners. Go suit up.” Mackie gestured toward the staff locker room. “I’ll teach you how I remember all the names.”
Entering the windowless room, Kevin picked out an empty locker along the wall of pale green metal cabinets. Number twenty-four showed no sign of use; he put his lunch on the top shelf and began to change. He slipped off his dress shoes, removed his tee shirt and jeans and put on the uniform with the white shirt his mother had ironed the night before.
“Forty-eight families, right, Mackie?” Kevin shouted from the next room.
“That’s right, kid: twelve floors, two apartments each floor in the front and two each floor in the back of the building.”
“You ever been in one them?”
Mackie started his rat-tat-tat laugh. “I got stories—I got lessons learned.”
Kevin came out of the small locker room with a grin on his face.
“You feel dumb?” Mackie said.
“Yeah, my uncle is a cop, but this,” Kevin looked down at the tan uniform he was wearing, “this is a little weird for a kid from Woodside.” Kevin never mentioned his father to anyone. As far as Mackie was concerned, Kevin was who he said he is: a kid settling down in a good union job.
“Summer uniform. We need whatever relief we can get, even though we’re standing inside most of the time.”
Mackie checked the clock, showed Kevin how to punch in, and took a quick look in the mirror to set his hat straight, before he opened the door to the lobby. It was six in the morning and they were relieving the night doorman, who had been on since eleven the evening before. Mackie led the way down the marble hall, past a mahogany table holding a massive vase of flowers, to the front door.
“Reporting for duty.” Mackie teased Colin who looked like he didn’t have any downtime during the night. “Any excitement?”
“Just the usual stuff. Bennington with his girlfriend at one, he slipped me a twenty and winked. Struthers lost her keys and needed to be let into her apartment at two. Kids in 12B had a party while their parents were out of town, picked up fifty just an hour ago when the last one left.” Colin looked up at Kevin and smiled. “Are you going to introduce me to this shiny penny?”
Kevin extended his hand. “Kevin McCarthy, sir.”
“Save the sir for the inmates, kid.”
Kevin checked Colin over. Fifty plus, bad teeth, another Irish doorman. Easily managed.
“Sounds like you had a profitable night, see you tomorrow.” Mackie waved Colin off. “I don’t want Campbell to catch us jaw boning.” He turned to Kevin and explained, “7B out for his jog around the reservoir every morning at 6:15 sharp.”
By the end of third day Kevin had learned the names of all of the tenants in the building. There were an equal mix of young families with children and older couples who had lived there for thirty years or more. The Wright sisters, Emma and Fern, were the exception. They had lived in 9C for eighty years, first with their parents, and later as teenagers after they were orphaned. They knew the history of the 1915 building designed by Candela, one of the many prewar edifices that face the pristinely landscaped meridians along Park Avenue.
“You’ll get to know them all, kid. Be careful of the Wrights though, they’ll want to invite you to tea. They’re eccentric. Sweet, but seriously missing a few screws. Fern calls me Roger—thinks I’m an old boyfriend.” Mackie took his index finger and made a circle motion near his head. “My advice is to stay disciplined with the line.”
“What do you mean line?”
“Never cross the line between us and them.”
Kevin considered what that might mean for him: a person who tested limits and boundaries.
Dennis McCarthy, Kevin’s father, was head of Service Union 32BJ. “Everyone owes somebody something, right?” That’s what his father always said during one of his lectures. Kevin remembered how he had ended his speech the night before. “You’ll do just fine, just stay out of other people’s business for a change.” He was giving Kevin another chance to get his life straight.
Mackie pointed his chin to the limo driver who was waiting outside to take Mr. Blake, 8A, down to Wall Street. “I could tell you a story, maybe later after the rush is over.”
Clicks of heels across the marble floor announced the approach of a tenant. Mackie choreographed the opening of the front door fifteen seconds before the woman was close enough to open it herself.
“Good morning Mac,” she said, “should have called down—I need a taxi.” She didn’t notice Kevin and kept walking to the curb.
When Mackie returned, he gave a summary. “Mrs. Bryan, 11D, divorced, two kids in college, workaholic, and a maid that comes every day.
“She never thinks I can do as good a job as she can hailing a cab. She watches every move I make. Spots them before I do. Pain in the butt. Once she whistled just like a man, fingers in her mouth.” Mackie laughed. “That only happened once with her—once was enough.”
Kevin smiled and made a mental note.
“Let me check Big Brother to see what’s happening today,” Mackie said.
In a small room, next to the front door, the security camera fed video from various parts of the building to the doormen on duty. A computer held all the vital statistics: emergency numbers, who was home and away, who was expecting visitors and what workmen and maids were scheduled. Guest keys were kept in a locked drawer.
Kevin’s dress shoes were finally broken in and he felt a little more relaxed standing for four hours at a shift. He would trade off with the elevator men if he needed a quick break.
“You’re doing great, kid. I’ll give you the keys for the tenants who are on vacation. Just put the mail inside the front door in the box on the floor,” said Mackie. “Don’t get nosey. Whatever you do, don’t go beyond the foyer—none of our business.”
The C and D apartments faced the side and rear of the building. Kevin started with 2C. When he opened the front door, it was too dark to see inside the apartment. He stood in the elevator foyer and checked the mail in his hand before dropping it into the box. Mostly junk, he thought, possible invitation; he felt the thickness of an envelope.
Exiting on the ninth floor, Kevin held the mail in one hand and the keys to 9D in the other. When he heard a noise behind him, he turned around. Fern Wright stood hiding behind the open door. She stepped into the foyer and he could see how fragile and visibly upset she was.
“This is the wrong day. My sister doesn’t know you are coming. I haven’t told her anything.” She put her finger to her lips and turned to look over her shoulder. “If you come in now, we have to be very quiet. I know it is hard for you to do that, sweetheart, but I can’t let you in unless you promise to whisper.” She reached for his hand.
As he put the keys down, Kevin tried to explain that he was delivering mail to the apartment across the hall. “I’m sorry if I have frightened you, Miss Wright.”
“Roger,” she interrupted him and peered over her reading glasses. Tapping the floor with her cane, she frowned. “This is no time for jesting.”
“I’m the new doorman, Kevin,” he said.
“Roger, you always say the most amusing things.”
“You’ve made an error Miss Wright.”
“Silly boy. I remember clearly what we talked about just last week.” She started to giggle. “It feels like you were just here, and I agreed to help you. I have a very good memory, dear. We can keep this as our little secret, just as you want it to be.” She winked. Taking his hand, she guided him into the apartment, down a long hall and into a yellow room so filled with objects that Kevin could not identify what its original purpose might have been. The faded wallpaper had started to peel near the windows and the draperies were sagging off the rods. He didn’t know where to sit and stood looking at a large portrait of a woman in an evening gown.
“Sit in Mother’s chair, dear, while I get what you asked for.”
Kevin let the charade continue. He was curious about what Mackie had been up to. Fern returned with a long black velvet box. She sat in one of the worn armchairs, looked up at Kevin, and smiled.
“You see,” she said gazing at the painting, “Mother is wearing the bracelet.” She touched the top of the box where Kevin could read the word Tiffany. “Mr. Sargent wanted her to take it off, but Mother was determined to wear it.”
“Sit down, Roger.” She pointed to the frayed armchair across from her. “Tell me again about your sister, the one who is missing.”
“Miss Wright, I’m not Roger. I’m Kevin, the new doorman. I don’t have a sister.” He waited for her to absorb what he was trying to tell her.
Fern closed her eyes for a moment. “I don’t understand,” she whispered. “Aren’t you Roger?” She opened her eyes and searched his face. “I thought you needed money to save your sister?” Fern Wright looked down at the velvet box and stroked the smooth fabric. “You don’t have a sister?”
“No, but I do have a brother. Roger is my brother.”
“Oh—I see…tell him, tell him…” She closed her eyes again.
Kevin’s cell phone vibrated; it was a text from Mackie. A chime rang in another room. There was a muffled conversation and Kevin stood up before Fern’s housekeeper walked into the room.
“The front doorman…Mackie.” The woman hesitated before looking at Fern who appeared to have fallen asleep. “He just called and wanted to know if you were finished with your visit. He needs you at the front door.”
“Yes, thank you. By the way, you might want to put that someplace safe.” Kevin looked the box that was sitting in Fern’s lap.
“Oh, the bracelet.” The woman started laughing. “It’s not real. Fern and Emma still like to play dress-up.”
“They’ve given away many of those bracelets over the years.” The housekeeper looked over Fern. “It’s always interesting to see who takes them,” she said.
“What took you so long? I saw you go into the Wright’s apartment on the cam and when you didn’t come out, well…” Mackie was agitated. “I thought I told you about them.”
“Fern was insistent. I didn’t want to offend her. Besides, she was so confused she kept calling me Roger.”
Mackie froze. “What else did she say?”
“Hey, it’s your deal, not mine.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean whatever you’re doing with the Wright sisters—it’s your business. I’m new here and I don’t want to mess up a good job. This is your con, right?”
Mackie took a breath, shifted his weight, and waited for Kevin, who was just staring at him, to speak.
“Don’t worry Mackie.” Kevin turned as a limo pulled up in front of the building. He went to the curb and opened the car door for 8A. When he returned with a tip, he stretched the new bill in the air before folding it into his pocket.
“We’re brothers.” Kevin slapped Mackie on the back.