On the glittering East End of Long Island, hidden between the jewels of Southampton and East Hampton, sat the little village of Asabogue.
You could easily drive through Asabogue and not even know you’d been there. The only indications of the village were Main Street, narrow and tree-lined, with flower boxes, an ice cream shop, a bakery, a café, and a few tiny boutiques that sold beach house paraphernalia and trinkets. There was also a triangular plot of grass on which sat Village Hall, a white clapboard house, constructed in the early eighteenth century, that creaked and groaned and drooped from age.
Even if you knew you were in Asabogue, you wouldn’t know who else was there, and that was the point of the place. When East Hampton became passé, when Southampton became too common, the next and final step had been to head for the hills, and
in this case, the hills were Billionaires Bluff. Here, several dozen summer residents of Asabogue could look down their noses at the rest of the Hamptons and, for that matter, at the entire Atlantic, which rolled placidly against their beaches, the only intrusion of the outside world on their lives by the rest of the planet. Whenever someone accidentally wandered onto the beach, it would only be a minute before a goon from a private security firm swooped down and redirected the interloper back to where he belonged—which was anyplace but Asabogue.
The joke was that Asabogue was an Indian phrase meaning “place of many assholes.” The people of Asabogue weren’t big fans of that translation.
• • •
On a glorious June morning on Billionaires Bluff, Otis Cogsworth, chairman and CEO of Cogsworth International Arms, awoke to what he thought would be another fine day.
His eyes opened upon the immense master bedroom of Trigger Happy, his summer encampment in Asabogue. He could feel a salty ocean breeze drifting through an open window, and hear seagulls squawking over the sound of softly rolling waves. He sucked in a breath and held it. Sometimes—rarely, but sometimes—Otis experienced flickering acknowledgments of what a good and enviable life he had. He was an immeasurably successful businessman. His work was something he believed in. He had a steady marriage with a loyal and loving, if boring, wife, and he had, among others, this beautiful home on the most expensive street in the greatest country on earth. This was one of those mornings when, for a few waking seconds, he took stock of his triumphs and said to himself, It is good.
Then he fumbled for the remote control on the bedside table, pressed a button, and proceeded to ruin his day before it began. From the large television above the marble fireplace, Otis heard scraps of a news broadcast: “. . . epidemic of violence . . . Chicago
overnight . . . six separate gunfights . . . seventeen fatalities . . . death toll here to over three thousand . . . Rodriguez demanding a federal ban on handguns.”
On the screen, in what must have been a press conference from the previous night, the pugilistic mayor of Chicago was barking, as if, Otis thought, he were about to take a bite out of someone’s thigh. He was standing in front of a children’s playground, now festooned with yellow crime scene tape, which some journalists had grimly taken to calling the new flag of Chicago. A kaleidoscope of police lights swirled behind him, and uniformed cops stood at his side.
“Look,” Rodriguez said to a bouquet of microphones, “our city has the strictest gun laws in America, but without federal laws, it doesn’t mean shi—squat!” He held up a black semiautomatic pistol. “The police found this on the playground behind me after last night’s shooting. It was manufactured by Cogsworth International Arms and sold by one of their distributors. My city has banned this weapon. But it came in from another city that doesn’t give a fu—a damn. Enough! I’ve had it with the gun lobby. I’ve had it with death merchants like Cogsworth International Arms. I’ve had it with fuh—freaking guns! It’s time to ban them! Ban them all!”
Behind him a crowd started cheering: “Ban! Them! All! Ban! Them! All!”
Otis mumbled at the television in a low, gravelly slur.
“Otis?” his wife murmured, next to him.
“Go back to sleep, Lucille. I’m taking breakfast in the solarium.”
“Okay,” she murmured. “Remember we have brunch at the Steeles’ later.”
Of course we do, thought Otis. As if today won’t be bad enough. He needed to deal with the crisis in Chicago, not schmooze his way through another Asabogue charity affair. Especially with Jack Steele, that awful B-list actor from those hideous movies. Jack Steele. Living just down the street. (“Down the street” on Billionaires Bluff meant several beaches away.)
Otis wrapped himself in a cotton bathrobe and shuffled out into the hallway and down the dark main stairway, passing under family portraits mounted on the mahogany walls. Every painting, across generations, captured the Cogsworth genes: heavy jowls that dropped over shirt collars, thin lips that seemed to sneer even though their intent was clearly to smile, and black, skeptical eyes set deep in ruddy faces, as if some strain of Cogsworth evolution had slowly buried the eyes deep enough for them to watch you without you watching them. All these traits had been passed on to Otis, and yet the portraits made him uncomfortable. They passed judgment on him with every step. They haunted him.
There had been great worry about Otis as a child. He was the only son of Charles and Eleanor Cogsworth, and, in his earliest years, he seemed uninterested in firearms manufacturing, which had been the family business since before the Civil War (when the family had made an acceptable profit by managing to sell to both sides). Young Otis had stared blankly at the guns he unwrapped on Christmas and birthdays. He’d seemed ambivalent when Charles would take him shooting on the estate in Connecticut. He’d spend an inordinate amount of time in his room, reading books and painting the view of the Long Island Sound from his third-floor window. But there eventually had come a day when Charles summoned Otis to the family library. He was going to have a heart-to-heart minus one heart.
Animal trophies peered sadly at Otis as he entered. Floor-to-ceiling shelves were crammed with books on hunting and hiking and sportsmanship and nature and many other subjects that bored him. A heavy cloud of cigar smoke had fouled the air, stinging his eyes.
Charles directed Otis to sit opposite him and said, “I don’t know why, but the good Lord only gave me one son, and you happen to be it, which means the future of our company and the Cogsworth name will depend on you and you alone. The company has prospered since your great-great-grandfather Adolphus Cogsworth
started it, from one generation to the next, and one day it shall fall to you.”
Otis blinked, said nothing.
“Honestly, if your sisters weren’t girls, I’d feel much better about them taking over, but we must play the hand that God gave us in His infinite mystery. So, Otis, all this will be yours, and you had better not fail.”
Otis was six when this happened.
The solarium looked out onto the reflecting pool, which looked out onto the Atlantic, a placid blue void this morning. In the middle of the pool, a dozen brass dolphins spit bullet-sized water pellets from their smiling mouths. The Cogsworths’ household assistant, Andre, had already set up a coffee service and tuned the television to CNBC.
Otis sipped his coffee and turned up the volume. On the screen, two pundits sat at a table. Empty, talking heads, he thought. One of the analysts, bearded and bespectacled, looked like he taught Econ 101 at a community college. The other was a CEO who was most famous for running six companies into the ground before becoming a cable news pundit who specialized in talking about how to grow a business.
The Cogsworth International logo flashed on a screen behind the men, stopping Otis in mid-sip.
The professor said, “My sources tell me the Department of Justice is considering an investigation because at least eight hundred semiautomatic pistols traced to crimes in Chicago have been manufactured by Cogsworth International Arms and sold by its distributors.”
The CEO nodded knowingly. “Today could be a bumpy ride for Cogsworth stocks. We’ll keep our eyes on it.”
There were some phrases Otis preferred not to hear while sipping his morning coffee, and certainly not on national television. Those phrases included, but were not limited to, “Department of Justice,” “investigation,” “bumpy ride,” and “Cogsworth stocks.”
He pulled a phone toward him and punched in a number. After a few rings he heard an inappropriately cheerful “Helloooo” from his nephew, Bruce Cogsworth Davies.
“Conference call in an hour,” Otis said brusquely. “You, me, and Sunny McCarthy.”