January 21, 2008


Across town, Michael Karlinoff stood in his underwear as an older man knelt before him and ran a hand up his inner thigh. Michael ignored him; they were talking about football.

“Well, I think it will the same story as every other season. The Saints’ll lose the games they have no business losing and win the games they have no business winning.” Michael said all this with a detached air of having seen it all before, but in fact he rarely watched football. He had heard a local sportscaster say this same thing just that morning as he prepared to go downtown.

The older man cried out and made a mark on a little note pad. “Another half-inch, Michael. I suppose I could let out of few of your newer trousers, but we’ll simply have to make you a few more pairs. You’ll put your father in debtor’s prison, you continue to grow at this rate.” Having finished with Michael’s inseam, he draped his measuring tape around his neck and struggled to his feet, ignoring Michael’s outstretched hand.

This was Sam, one of Michael’s favorite tailors. Sam was Indian, and his actual first name was dauntingly long, but it had the letters s and a and m in it, more or less in that order, and so almost everyone called him Sam. Though he spoke perfect English with a beautiful British accent, Michael often heard him use a fake “tank you veddy mooch” voice with customers he didn’t like and wanted to get rid of.

“Now, as for the bloody Saints, I don’t know why they don’t let McElvoy run with the ball more. That is why we drafted him, after all.” Sam didn’t care much for football himself—his game was cricket—but he’d overheard a customer that morning say the very thing. “Left or right?”

“What?” Michael asked.

“Left or right?” Sam repeated, throwing a pointed glance at Michael’s lap.

“Oh, um…uh, right. You should know that by now.”

Sam jotted an R down on his pad. “And yet somehow I never grow tired of making you squirm by asking. Especially in front of your father.”

Michael’s father had indeed entered the fitting room, but he apparently had other things on his mind than his son’s minor embarrassment. He glanced disapprovingly at Michael being in his underwear, getting fitted for yet another pair of pants, and grunted. By the time Michael was wondering at the meaning of this particular grunt—Mr. Karlinoff had a surprisingly expressive lexicon of grunts, snorts, and harrumphs—his father was already walking through the opposite door, towards the fabric room. Whenever they were at Underhill Men’s Haberdashery, his father was always distracted.

No one at Beaumonde knew much about Michael—and not for lack of trying—except that he was as beautiful as his girlfriend Lillian, with his olive skin and dark lazy curls flawlessly complementing her fair hair and pale complexion. They knew he was born in Macedonia, a country just above Greece, but raised in America from a very early age by his strict father, a mysterious shipping magnate and a prosperous trader of...something. No one was really sure. And finally, they knew that Michael Karlinoff wasn’t a student of Proper, or even an enthusiast, but rather the living embodiment of it.

Michael’s cell phone began ringing, causing Sam to roll his eyes. “One of your girlfriends, I suppose,” he said, leaving the fitting room. Michael hated for his cell phone to ring in public, and was mad at himself for not turning it off. He finally found the phone (on the floor, inside his leather bag, covered by his pants) just as his ringtone—the Beaumonde Academy school song—was finishing.

“Hello?” Michael grabbed his trousers and, in a superfluous attempt at privacy in the already-empty fitting room, stepped into a small dressing booth and pulled the curtain closed.

On the other end, someone had just hung up.

Michael stared at his phone, wondering if he had gotten a prank call. He was just checking his Incoming Calls when the phone began chirping out the school song again. “Through the halls of Beaumonde Academy / as later so through life-”

The caller ID said Emily, but Michael didn’t answer the phone. In fact, he didn’t do anything at all for approximately three seconds, and if anyone else could have fit in the dressing booth with him, they would have watched him hold his breath and undergo the most curious transformation: suddenly, Michael’s face was contorted and twisted; his free hand curled into a tight fist; even his toes, inside his leather shoes, clamped together.

While clenching every muscle in his body, Michael quickly visualized the inside of an old book-lined study. Michael saw himself sitting in the center of the study, with one leg draped rakishly over the arm of an expensive easy chair, idly perusing a leather-bound volume as he occasionally sipped from a snifter of brandy. In this vision, his cell phone rang and, after slowly digging it from the pocket of his velvet smoking jacket with an air of disinterested curiousity, he saw that it was Emily.

Back in the real world, Michael—still in his underwear, remember—exhaled and relaxed all of his muscles. He was now in the correct frame of mind to talk to another member of the Gang.

“Hello,” he said in a bored tone. His eyes still scanned the page of the book he was reading; he swirled the brandy around with his free hand.

“Michael! Did you just pick up?”

“Of course. How else would we be talking?”

“No, before. Like, three seconds ago.”

“The first time you called? I answered just as you were hanging up.”

“Oh, thank god. I thought I heard you say ‘hello,’ so I called you back but then I wasn’t so sure and I didn’t want you to see two missed calls from me and think I was stalking you.”

Michael chuckled. “Emily, I would never accuse you of stalking me.” He slowly closed the old leather volume and glanced distractedly through the large windows of his estate’s library.

“No, I guess not,” Emily said. Then: “Oh, Michael, they’ve already left!”

“Who has? Uh, whom has? Already left, that is.”

“The twins, Michael! They’re already gone…”

The book drops to the floor, the snifter shatters in his hands, the windows cloud over with a sudden storm. “What do you mean, left?”

“I mean they’re gone! They’re in Lafayette with their mom and their grandparents.”

Michael closed and opened his eyes, then closed and opened his mouth. “For how long?”

“For how long? Michael, haven’t you talked to anyone else in The Gang? Haven’t you talked to Lillian?”

Michael hadn’t talked to anyone else in The Gang; they rarely called him about anything. As for Lillian: “I saw Lillian last night, but she didn’t say anything about going anywhere.”

Emily drew in her breath. “You saw her last night? Did you see Alexander?”

“No, she came over to my house. She wanted to give me a letter. She seemed odd, but I thought that was just because of her dad.”

“She didn’t tell you that her mom was taking them out of town for the summer? My god, she’s known about it for a week. Everyone else knows.”

Michael couldn’t think. He had to hang up, had to get his head straight. “She didn’t say anything about it…she just gave me a letter and said it explained everything and we talked for awhile about nothing and she drove home.”

“What did the letter say?” Emily asked. “I mean, if I can ask…”

“I, uh, I don’t know.”

“Okay. If it’s personal or you don’t want to tell me, I understand.”

“No…I mean, I really don’t know what it said. It’s…um. It’s in code.”

Emily was quiet. “It’s in code?”

“Yeah. It’s a thing we do; we write our letters in code, see how long it takes the other person to figure it out. She always beats me.”

“And you haven’t…you haven’t ‘cracked the code’ yet?”

Michael laughed in spite of himself. “No. God, no…her’s are tough. Ingenious. Once, she just sent me a grid with a collection of points drawn on and eventually I realized…wait. When is she leaving?”

“She’s already gone, Michael. I went over and saw them off. Well, I tried to.”

Michael cocked his head. “She’s gone. She’s in…Lafayette, you said? For how long?”

“I don’t know. I thought it was just for a few weeks or a month, but now they’re saying it’s for the whole summer. And Mrs. Budd mentioned that there’s a chance they might not even come back at all.”

“What!?” The books burst into flame, the windows shattered, the library exploded. “What? What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. She just said that, depending on where the trial was at in the fall, they might not come back. Actually, she didn’t even really say that, she just hinted at it. She implied it. But this is crazy, they’re going to come back.”

“I…I need to go. I can’t talk, I have to think about this.”

“We’re meeting at David’s tonight, seven o’clock. Do you think your dad will let you come?”

“David’s? Tonight? Yeah, I can come.”

“Do you want me to pick you up?”

“I have to go. I have to- Thank you for calling me.”

“No, wait, don’t hang up,” Emily called.

So he didn’t hang up, just held the phone to his ear as he breathed heavily and tried to think, and neither of them said anything for a long time.

“This is retarded,” Michael finally whispered. “They have to come back.”

On her end, Emily swallowed loudly. “Of course they will. Alexander wouldn’t miss his senior year at Beaumonde.”

“It’s just for a summer. We did without them last summer.” As soon as Michael said this, though, he realized that they also did without him last summer. Also, last summer Lucas Budd wasn’t facing forever in prison.

They were quiet again. Emily eventually broke the silence: “Michael?”


“I thought you knew they were leaving. If I’d known, I swear I would have called you.”

“I know. Thank you.”

“I’ll see you tonight. Call me back if you want a ride.”

Neither of them said goodbye. They were quiet for a while longer, each of them listening to the other breathe. One of them finally hung up; later, they would never remember which one.

Michael sat in the dressing booth for a long time, just staring at his phone. Eventually, he stood up and put his pants back on, mechanically tucking in and adjusting his shirt so that it was just perfect. Then he sat back down and stared at his phone some more. He thought about calling Lillian, but something wouldn’t let him.

He sat there for a long time. Even as his father passed by twice, calling for him, Michael didn’t move. Eventually, his father drew back the curtain on the dressing booth and glared at his son, unleashing a string of Macedonian that we’ll have to assume was not positive reinforcement.