The 13th Floor

I WAS MORE THAN A LITTLE disoriented when I woke up. The last thing I remembered was turning left onto Clarence Street when I heard the sound of a horn of a truck, a very loud horn of what I imagine—I didn’t have time to look—dopplering to me. Now things were bright and it took a minute to realize I was in a hospital bed. Everything was very white and to my left I could see a monitor reflecting my heartbeat. That seemed steady.

On my right, I heard a “Mr. Eustace. I’m glad you can rejoin us.”

I turned to look at the speaker, and if he wasn’t a lawyer he sure was dressed like one. He stood.

“Yes, Mr. Eustace,” he said. “My name is William Pressler. I do odd legal jobs and one of those jobs is to apprise people like yourself of their entitlement to bequests from wills of sometimes unknown relatives.”

“Nice to meet you Mr….”

“Pressler. William Pressler. Esquire.”

He shook my hand before reaching down and lifting a quite nice leather briefcase, which he placed delicately on my hospital table. He opened it, and as far as I could tell it contained just a single document and a large, manilla envelope, both of which he lifted.

“Yes, Mr. Eustace here we are.”

He took a pair of reading glasses that was dangling around his neck and placed it on his nose, though he seemed far too young to require them. He read, and my mind glazed over shortly after the “being of sound mind” part. Mr. Pressler stopped when he finished that paragraph.

“Ah, Mr. Eustace. I see that you are not quite up to what we lawyers like to call the ‘legal mumbo jumbo’ so I will tell you what it says. Your Uncle Jeffrey Owens has bequeathed to you a co-op apartment at”—here he lifted the page closer—“at 1060 Fifth Avenue. That’s New York, of course. It is the penthouse unit and, Mr. Eustace, I took the liberty of looking it up and it overlooks the Central Park Reservoir. It has…well it has more bedrooms and bathrooms and kitchens than you could ever use so I’ll say it has ‘enough’ for you.”

“But,” I said as I was processing this, “I have no Uncle Jeffrey Owens. If I had an uncle of any name who owned a penthouse apartment in New York, I’m pretty sure I’d know about it.”

“Oh, Mr. Eustace. You don’t want to know how frequently I hear that in my line of work. I’ve learned, though, that not only do rich people have poor relations come out of the woodwork but poor relations sometimes have an angel appear out of the blue, as it were. I should not, sir, look a gift horse in the mouth. Perhaps we should wait until the painkillers have vanished from your bloodstream to continue this. I do sometimes jump the gun.”

It didn’t take me long to get a hold of myself.

“No, no. I’m sure he was simply a relative no one bothered to mention. No, Mr….”

“Pressler, sir.”

“No, Mr. Pressler. I’ll sign whatever I need to sign and take the next flight east.”

“Ah, Mr. Eustace. I can fairly say that you yourself are of quite sound mind, indeed. Now let me open the envelope.”

MY RECOVERY WAS astonishing, perhaps aided by my anticipation of owning an apartment that overlooked the Central Park Reservoir. A penthouse at that. Within a week of my meeting Mr. Pressler, I was in a first-class seat heading to JFK. A limo awaited me there, and the driver told me that my “new wardrobe” was already at the apartment.

As we moved quickly along, he said, “It’s not everyday that traffic actually moves on the Van Wyck, Mr. Eustace. You must live a charmed life and if you get a Lotto ticket I’d be much obliged if you share the numbers with me,” and we laughed as the car turned and I could see the New York skyline.

We pulled up and the doorman opened the door for me and the man at reception smiled at me, both referring to me by name, and the concierge led me to the apartment, refusing a tip. “Just remember me at Christmas,” he said as he left.

I noticed on the elevator that there was no 13th floor. “That’s something of a New York tradition,” he said.

It was a Friday and early in the evening. I was still on Chicago time. I called to the front desk and asked for restaurant recommendations. Seeing as that manilla envelope contained a note that I had a prepaid credit card with $100,000—to be replenished whenever it fell to $20,000, tax free—I wasn’t worried about paying a premium for a nice steak dinner on my first night in the Big Apple!

“If you’d prefer, sir, seeing as you just flew in, we can have your dinner brought to you. You can have it on your patio overlooking the Park. There’s a menu in the drawer of the table in the front foyer.”

I hurried there and called back down and asked for New York Steak—when in Rome and all—with all the fixin’s and a half bottle of a top-of-the-line Bordeaux.

Within two hours I was finished what was easily the finest meal I’d ever had, sitting on the patio looking at the lights reflected in the Reservoir like pearls all around it and the buildings across the Park, sipping cognac from a snifter, which I raised to thank my Uncle Jeffrey Owens, whoever he was.

I spent Saturday walking around the Park after selecting something from the closets—yes plural—overloaded with perfectly fitted clothes. When I came back in, the concierge told me there was a pair of orchestra seats for Hamilton in my Apartment “and should you need company we can of course accommodate you.”

While I might take the latter part of that offer up down the road, for tonight it was enough for me to go to the musical alone and offer the extra ticket to an attractive woman who might be hoping for one.

Alas, there was none so I gave the ticket to an older gentleman who I saw with a single ticket way up and honestly I quite enjoyed his company, though he vanished into the crowd as we left the theatre.

It was just as well, as I was tired. When I returned to the building, though, the doorman didn’t look happy. The concierge approached me in the lobby.

“A thousand pardons, Mr. Eustace. It happens sometimes in these old buildings. The elevators are broken. I’m afraid you will have to walk though I must say that you seem quite in good enough shape to scale double the eighteen floors to the penthouse.”

Oh, yes, I’d be remembering him at Christmas. I bid him good night and, feeling in an alliterative mood, I commenced my climb. The stairs were wide and marbled and the air was circulating quite well so it was not as oppressive as I feared, with subtle lighting. As floor after floor passed, I was suddenly at the…13th floor. It was, I must say, quite the surprise. Feeling adventurous, I decided to open it, “because it was there,” I laughed to myself.

The knob turned easily and I was inside. It looked like a gentleman’s club, at least from what I’d seen in the movies. A man in a tuxedo stepped up to me.

“Welcome, Mr. Eustace,” he said with a bow. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

He put his arm to his right side, directing me deeper into the “club.” There I found groupings of burgundy leather chairs with small tables and reading material. Porters were walking around with small trays holding glasses of various concoctions and men and some women were chattering here and there.

The maître d’, as the man in the tuxedo clearly was, directed me to a cluster of three chairs not far from the bar.

“Your guest has arrived,” he said, and the two men already there got up.

“I did quite enjoy that show,” one said, “though I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Always a treat with someone there for the first.” He was the gentleman who sat with me at the show. He shook my hand.

“Michael Taylor. I’m the last point of contact till folks like you join us at the club.”

The other man stepped closer. “I am your Uncle Jeffrey Owens. I am a pure fiction as to being related to you, of course. But we like to have our fun.” We shook on it.

The other two sat, and I joined them. Just as I was comfortable, a porter brought over a tray with three cognacs, and we each took one.

“Now,” my “uncle” said, “let me tell you about our club activities.”