He is a small, dapper man, an established man, a man of property and power, and he is leaving the office early. He is smiling his quick broad smile and nodding briskly in return to his employees' goodnights; he is drawing his trenchcoat over his shoulders, reaching for his hat and his full-length umbrella, and the smooth bustle of bright young people in his own employ makes way for him. They have him to thank for their own security, he is thinking as he often does, and they know it; gratitude and respect play over their faces, reverence for the man who guides these offices, who created them.
He is alone in the elevator, examining his reflections on the mirrored walls, smiling his business smile, flawless and even in the mantle of the light beard, his eyes bright and confident. He looks important and educated, cultured. How far I've come, he is thinking, still staring. Vigorous. Elegant. The elevator door eases open to the basement garage in costly silence, the clean white light splayed for a moment over the chilly concrete like an opening fan; he is stepping out, glancing around the quiet sloping vault and striding toward his own car. After one deferential moment the fan folds again and is gone, leaving the arrayed automobiles to gleam in the sallow light of the buzzing lamps that stud the low rough ceiling.
Inside his own car the colored lights glow unobtrusively on the dash and on the back of the dormant phone. The engine waits patiently, inaudibly. And then he is driving, emerging into the late afternoon street noise, navigating the traffic of the commercial district, enclosed in the sleek invulnerability of the sedan, anonymous behind its tinted windows.
This is kingship, he is telling himself, not yet ready to acknowledge the destination his hands have already chosen. This is the kingship of a modern age, and the unimpeachable vindication of my mettle: I am no helpless child, face in the dirt behind the church. His car is passing from the opulent downtown to dirtier, more vibrant neighborhoods, fussy blocks with their hole-in-the-wall shops and teeming sidewalks; the people turn their heads to watch his passing without expression; his doors are locked.
The mood is capricious at best, one day almost forgotten and the next day a shameful, irrepressible compulsion; he has never spoken it aloud even to himself. It is on him tonight, insidious, and he is on the sidewalk, pretending not to see the flicker of eyes over his clothing and his watch, sweeping past the surly bulk of younger, stronger men.
The sign above the door proclaims M Drake & Son, a shop he frequents; there are jewelers in Manhattan more wealthy and prestigious, but he takes the name as an omen. As a feeble and bookish child he read all the oldest fairy tales, and so he knows dragons; knows their power, their pleasures, their habits. He knows what can turn a man into one. He knows how to kill one, knows to dig down and lie in wait like Sigmund; even as a child with his face pushed in the dirt he thought of it, and the way he remembers it he began at that moment to dig down. All his achievement, he is thinking even now, has come in battling upward from below.
The businessman is scanning the cases smoothly, the gold glimmering in neat rows through the glass countertop. Tonight there is only an itch, no desperate hunger; no fabulous antiques, no rare coins, no collector's treasures; just a trinket, a bit of his power lying heavy in his hand, is what he wants. A ring, or a chain--something simple, without stones.
Tonight there is nothing here that will suit him, and he is leaving; driving to another store, and another, from one end of the city to the other, late into the evening, before finding a suitable piece; writing a check vouchsafed by the richness of his clothes and the vitality of his smile; allowing the gracious jeweler to assume he is buying a gift for a wife or a daughter.
It is dark and quiet inside; his hand is touching the lightswitch and hanging his hat and coat. The soft light rushes through the penthouse, the sparse, tasteful affluence that is the home of a mature bachelor. His hand is still toying with the gold chain that caught his eye with its lustrous simplicity; he is touching it to his lips; it pleases him. He is carrying it still, pacing in front of the window, not yet ready to put it away.
Behind an inconspicuous door is a dim and undecorated little room, bare of furniture. In the room's center is its only feature: a rough pile, like a low haystack on the carpet, gleaming. He is opening the door and standing quiet, hesitant, leaving the lights out; his fingers are worrying the chain unconsciously.
Slowly he is stepping forward, raising his arm; the necklace falls, clattering sharply on the unyielding heap, the years of accumulated treasures that lie cold and unseen here. He is motionless, waiting, his eyes passing again and again over the collection; and then all at once he is lying prone on the cold metal, sending precious ingots spilling and rolling. His eyes are closed tight, and his hands are groping, clumsily hugging the hard pile, and he is waiting, his own wiry form stretched to fit its shape; he is waiting, and like a child he is hoping.