Au revoir crazy european.., p.1
Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick, page 1
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
To C. Again. Forever.
Copyright © 2011 by Joe Schreiber
All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Houghton Mifflin is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
The text of this book is set in Adobe Garamond.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Schreiber, Joe, 1969—
Au revoir, crazy European chick / by Joe Schreiber.
Summary: Perry's parents insist that he take Gobi, their quiet, Lithuanian exchange student, to senior
prom but after an incident at the dance he learns that Gobi is actually a trained assassin who needs him
as a henchman, behind the wheel of his father's precious Jaguar, on a mission in Manhattan.
[1. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction. 2. Assassins—Fiction. 3. Family life—New York (State)—
New York—Fiction. 4. Foreign study—Fiction. 5. Lithuanians—United States—Fiction.
6. Coming of age—Fiction. 7. New York (N.Y.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
Manufactured in the United States of America
DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Writing a novel isn't quite as unnerving as answering college essay questions, but I had a lot of help along the way. Thanks to Rob Swartwood, who read the first draft and went through it with me page by page over a massive plate of rhino fries. Thank you to Phyllis Westberg and Don Laventhall, and to my brilliant and utterly charming editor, Margaret Raymo. On the West Coast, I want to thank Lis Rowinski, Josh Schwartz, and Stephanie Savage, along with Irene Yeung and Roy Lee, for their continued enthusiasm and vision. Ultimately, finally and always, I owe everything good in my life to my wife, Christina, who read the manuscript in one sitting and refused to ever let me give up on the cockeyed ideas that sent me down to the basement every day with nothing but a cup of coffee and a prayer. As myliu, tave mano brangioji.
Describe a significant experience or achievement and the effect that it had on you. (Harvard)
"You shot me," I said.
I was lying on my stomach, wondering if I was going to pass out from the pain. Twenty feet away, she stood with the machine pistol in one hand and the sawed-off shotgun in the other, wiping the blood out of her eyes. It was three a.m. We were in my father's law office on the forty-seventh floor of 855 Third Avenue, or what was left of it. The cops were taking cover behind the couch.
She was talking but I couldn't hear anything. The gunfire had left me temporarily deaf
I thought about my father.
I took a breath and watched the room wobble at the edges. I was going into shock. The pain wasn't getting any better, and I thought that I would probably black out before I found out how this was going to end. Just as well—I was never particularly good at finishing things.
She walked over, knelt down, and wrapped her arms around me. She pressed her lips to my ear, close enough that I could make out the words.
"Perry," she said, "I had a very nice time tonight. "
Explain how your experiences as a teenager significantly differ from those of your friends. Include comparisons. (University of Puget Sound)
Gobi was my mom's idea.
Not that I blamed her. What happened wasn't anybody's fault. I'm not exactly religious, but there is something sort of Catholic about the way guilt gets handed out when blood starts spilling—some for you, some for me, pass it on. Don't forget that guy in the corner—did he get his share?
I guess you could hold Gobi herself responsible, but that's like blaming God for making it rain, or the earthquake in some third world country where half the buildings are still made out of clay. It happened, that's all. Human beings are like the screwed-up children of alcoholic parents in that way, picking up the pieces afterward and trying to make up reasons why. You could argue that's what makes us interesting, and maybe it is to some alien race studying us from a million miles away. From where I sit it just seems pathetic and sad.
Anyway, it all started because my mom's family once hosted a foreign exchange student from Germany back when she was my age. They'd all gotten along famously and Mom still kept in touch with this woman, who was now a family therapist living outside of Berlin. Mom and Dad visited them whenever they went to Europe, and my understanding is that they all had a high old time together, laughing and joking and rehashing the good old days. Just before my senior year of high school Mom thought it would be culturally enriching if our family hosted someone. Dad went along with it in his usual autopilot way—I'm not even sure he was listening to her, to be honest with you.
That's how we got Gobi.
Mom made me and Annie write her name down twenty times each and we looked up the phonetic pronunciation on a Lithuanian website to make sure we were saying it right. I don't think she would've corrected us anyway. From the moment we picked her up outside the International Terminal at JFK, the most I ever heard her say about it was "Call me Gobi," so we did, and that was all.
Back at the house she got the guest room at the end of the hallway with a private bathroom and her own laptop so she could Skype her family back home. My room was next to hers and at night as I'd sit there memorizing SAT words or banging my head against a college application, I'd hear her voice through the wall, talking in low bursts of consonant-heavy syllables I didn't understand, communicating with family members half a world away.
At least, that's what I thought.
Say "female foreign exchange student" to any group of high school guys and you'll get the exact same look. It's like every single one of the dogs playing poker simultaneously catching wind of the same exotic new Milk-Bone. I'd certainly joked with Chow and the other guys enough about it beforehand, all of us picturing some chic Mediterranean lioness with half-lidded eyes, fully upholstered lips, curves like a European sports car, and legs of a swimsuit model who would tutor me with her feminine wiles before I went off to college.
That's not even funny to me now.
Gobi wasn't much taller than my kid sister, with oily dark hair that she always tucked back in a fat bun behind her head, where it usually escaped to stick stubbornly out, shiny and angular on either side, like flippers on a penguin. Her face all but disappeared behind the massive industrial-grade black horn-rims, their lenses so thic
Her one facial expression—a startled combination of hesitation and uneasy befuddlement—might have made her a target for bullying in some high schools, but in the halls of Upper Thayer it made her literally invisible, a shadow always hovering somewhere near the lockers with an armload of books clutched against her chest. Her wardrobe tended toward heavy wool sweaters, smocklike shirts, and dense brown skirts that tumbled down below the knee, avalanching over whatever shape of body might have been hiding under there. The only jewelry she ever wore was a plain silver chain with half a heart dangling from it, halfway down the slope of her chest. In the evenings she sat down to dinner with us, silverware clinking, politely participating in the conversation in her low, formal English, answering Mom's questions about sports or current events until we could all reasonably find an excuse to escape to our separate lives.
One day, six weeks into her visit, she collapsed in the lunch room, passed out in a tray of Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes. I was on the other side of the cafeteria when I heard the screams—Susan Monahan was sure she was dead—and by the time Gobi woke up in the school nurse's office, she'd managed to explain her condition.
"I have spells sometimes," she said. "Is nothing serious." When my parents asked her later why she'd never told us about it, Gobi only shrugged. "Is under control" was all she said.
Except that it wasn't, not really, and from that point she had at least a dozen similar "spells"—they seemed to come in clusters, stress-related—and we were never sure when the next one would come. Eventually we found the technical term was temporal lobe epilepsy—basically a short circuit in the brain's electrical activity, either genetic or brought on by some form of head trauma. Dostoyevsky had it, and Van Gogh, and maybe Saint Paul, too, when he got knocked off his donkey on the road to Damascus, if you believe that sort of thing. All I know is that she wasn't allowed to drive. Once I found her sitting straight up at the dining room table with her eyes half open, staring at nothing. When I touched her shoulder, she didn't even look at me.
In spite of all this, or maybe because of it, I always smiled and said hi to her in the halls. I helped her with her English Lit homework and practically did her PowerPoint presentation on the New York Stock Exchange on the morning that it was due. Even so, whenever she saw me coming, she always looked away, like she knew how much crap people gave me about it—not my real friends; I'm talking about world-class losers like Dean Whittaker and Shep Monroe, rich jerks whose Fortune 500 dads swam the icy seas of international finance looking for their next meal. None of that bothered me. The guys that I hung out with and played music with, the guys in Inchworm and one or two friends who hadn't abandoned me when Dad made me quit the swim team to join the debate team, they seemed to understand, or at least commiserate. Tough luck, Stormaire, you caught a raw deal there.
Yeah, well, I'd say, it's not so bad.
And it wasn't, until my mom asked me to take Gobi to the prom.
What member of your family has most influenced your identity and aspirations? (Dartmouth)
Prom was two weeks away, and I didn't have tickets. That was my first excuse. Mom said she'd already taken care of that; she had friends on the Steering Committee and there were always a few tickets left over.
I wasn't a prom-type guy; none of us was except Chow, whose girlfriend basically made it clear that they were breaking up if he didn't take her. We ragged him about it pitilessly, of course, but secretly Chow seemed to kind of like the attention. He even made an appointment with a hairstylist in Manhattan beforehand and had the guts to tell us about it. The guy had a masochistic streak—there was no other rational explanation.
When it became clear that the ticket gambit wouldn't work, I played my trump card and reminded my mom that my band, Inchworm, was playing a show that night: not just any show, but our first real gig in New York, at Monty's down on Avenue A. Mom's reaction—"Oh, I didn't realize that"—was enough to make me hope that I might still get off the hook. She'd seen us play locally a few times here and there, but she knew this was different.
Then Dad got involved.
It happened the way it always did, when I least expected it. That's how Dad works. It's probably what makes him such a good litigator, which makes it all the more appropriate that the hour of reckoning happened at his office.
Dad's office was on Third Avenue in midtown, up on the forty-seventh floor, "halfway between God and Broadway," as he liked to say, although that always made me think of someone jumping out a window and screaming all the way down to the sidewalk—splat. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, I walked straight from school to the train station and caught the New Haven line for the hourlong ride into Grand Central, walked eight blocks north and two blocks over to the offices of Harriet, Statham, and Fripp.
The lobby was huge, with a gigantic fountain and tons of steel and glass. I swiped my personalized magnetic key-card to get in and passed through the turnstile, headed for the bank of elevators on the far side of the security desk. Up on forty-seven, the secretaries usually had a mountain of stuff waiting for me—copying, binding, filing, along with the international satchel that didn't come in until later in the day. As far as part-time jobs went, it paid better than McDonald's, and Dad said that a letter of recommendation from one of the senior partners, maybe even Valerie Statham herself, would ultimately pole-vault me off the waitlist at Columbia, where I was currently stuck, landing me safely into the yes pile. I'd already been accepted at UConn and Trinity, but Columbia was the Grail.
"It's already May," my mom pointed out. "How do we know they haven't already made up their minds?"
"They haven't rejected him yet," Dad said, "all the more reason to get that letter of recommendation. It's not too late."
I was in the copy room up on forty-seven, up to my neck in Xeroxed depositions, when Dad came in and said, "Your mom tells me you're in the market for a tuxedo."
One thing about the man: you always know when he's sucker-punched you. I put down the stack of pages and turned around to face him directly, just as he'd always taught me to do once I realized I was in for a fight. It was closing in on six o'clock, half the partners were already gone for the day, but Dad's blue eyes shone merrily, his tie was still crisply cinched, and it looked as though he might have just finished shaving. It was a predator/prey relationship straight out of Animal Planet.
"I can't do it," I said. "We have a show that night here in the city."
"There will be other shows, Perry."
"Not like this. It took us three months to line up this gig. We're actually paying to play there."
His pupils tightened into rivets, like he had little muscles in his pupils and was actually flexing them. "I'd lower my voice if you plan on whining like that. Reputations get ruined for less around here."
"Whose idea was this anyway—Gobi's or Mom's?"
"She's flying home next week," Dad said. "Your mother thinks it would be a good sendoff." He leaned a little closer, and I could smell his cologne, something subtle and expensive. "Look, we all know things didn't turn out exactly the way we'd hoped for her this year. It might be nice to end things on an up-note."
"You still haven't answered my question," I said.
Dad nodded. I understood that I was entitled to such confrontational tactics—it honed the skills for the future Masai warrior of tortious interference that I would no doubt become.
"My understanding," Dad said, "is that Gobi was the one who raised the topic to your mother."
"Wait, you mean she actually wants me to take her to the prom?" This was, to say the least, implausible; yet somehow hearing my dad say it out loud with the hum
"But you look at her. You smile at her and say hello. You've helped her with her assignments. In a word, you treat her with a modicum of decency and civility, which from what I gather is more than a lot of your classmates can muster up. Who else would she ask to take her?"
I shook my head. "Look, Dad, if it was happening on any other night—"
"But it's not. It's that Saturday night." He waited, but it wasn't the pause of someone anticipating an answer. He was merely allowing his words a chance to sink in. "Your mother will take you out tomorrow to get fitted for the tuxedo. I'm aware that you're making a personal sacrifice, so to sweeten the pot"—I heard the jingle of car keys coming out of his pocket, the stylized Jaguar logo glinting off the copier's green glow as he dangled them in front of me—"...I'll provide transportation."
I barely looked at the keys. He'd let me drive the Jag only twice in my life, backing it out of the driveway to wash it, and sometimes he let me go out to the garage and sit in it while I studied for my college boards. I already grasped from his tone of voice that this wasn't a negotiating tactic. It was a bone, pure and simple, and he was throwing it because he could. In his mind the deal was done. Whatever happened next was merely lubrication.
"Dad, I don't want to."
"A man has obligations beyond himself, Perry."
"Which means I don't get a choice."
"It means in this case you need to put aside your own selfish motives and consider other people for a change."
For a change: that was what got me. Looking back, I think I could've gone along with it if he hadn't said that. But he did, and I blew my top. Before I knew it, I snatched the keys off the copier and chucked them across the room, where they bounced off a cabinet and landed on the floor next to several boxes of white bond copy paper.
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