Wherever There Is Light Chapter 1
SOUTH ORANGE, NEW JERSEY
DECEMBER 14, 1965
Julian Rose was about to have his life upended again, but he didn’t know it, not as he hurried through South Orange Village. The Christmas lights strung above the sidewalks and in the store windows transformed the snowflakes into sparks of red, green, yellow, and blue and emblazoned the crowds of shoppers with a pastel glow, which gave Julian the impression, as he walked toward Gruning’s Ice Cream Parlor, that the magic of the season had dropped him inside a painting.
Julian rarely missed an afternoon at Gruning’s after visiting the cemetery. He ordered a scoop of coffee chip with hot fudge and whipped cream. The bill always came to under two dollars, but he left a five-spot for a tip. Understandably, some waitresses hoped that he would take a different table instead of the one in back facing the doors. He never did. That was because Gruning’s was located between Columbia High School and South Orange Junior High, and by three thirty it was loaded with teenagers. Julian loved watching them burst through the doors in bright, noisy packs and imagining that his daughter, Holly, was among them. The kids would walk toward him, then turn up the stairs to a side room, and the blend of their voices, laughter, and the rock and roll they played on the jukebox soothed Julian in a way he found difficult to explain and impossible to give up. All he knew was that while Holly had been deprived of her future, these children would one day start families of their own, and that reality was enough to temper, for a blessed moment, his heartache.
When Julian finished his ice cream, he walked up front and stood in line at the register, which was behind the glass cases of homemade candies. A Negro woman with a maroon kerchief over her head and clutching a black pocketbook to her chest was talking to the cashier. Beside her was a slender brown stalk of a boy holding a battered valise. The Negro woman was speaking too softly for Julian to hear her, but he could hear the older couple ahead of him, a bald man in a Chesterfield topcoat and his blue-haired wife in a mink stole—three dead animals attached head to tail.
The man said, “Darling, do we really need to wait for chocolate cherries?”
“Yes,” she replied, turning and nodding back toward the Negro woman and the boy. “Don’t blame me. I didn’t know the candy stores closed in Newark.”
The most generous interpretation of her comment, Julian thought, was that she disliked waiting behind colored people. He wished the minks would spring to life and bite her. Since that was unlikely, he glared at the woman. In his younger days, Julian had been a regular at the Stork Club and other stops on Manhattan’s party circuit, and pictures of him, tall, broad-shouldered with dark, wavy hair alongside actresses and high-society girls in pursuit of pleasures unavailable at cotillions, filled the tabloids. More than one gossip columnist had noted that Julian had the rugged good looks and easy grace of a movie star, complete with a strong jawline and cleft chin. But clichés didn’t do justice to his presence or explain why people in general and women in particular frequently stared at him when he entered a room. His face seldom registered emotion, and it was his stillness, combined with his steady, blue-eyed gaze, that made him so magnetic and gave him a vaguely menacing air.
The woman didn’t seem taken with, or intimidated by, Julian. She glared back at him, obviously believing that she had nothing to fear from this overage Ivy Leaguer in a muddy-patterned tweed sport coat, a hideous pink shirt, and a silly tie dotted with red-and-white dice—the last gift his daughter had given him.
Swiveling around to see the object of his wife’s disdain, the bald man had a different reaction. Perhaps it was because someone had once pointed out Julian to him or because he remembered his picture from the newspapers and the stories he’d read about the prince of bootlegger royalty in Newark, the late Longy Zwillman’s boy wonder, who unlike Longy had dodged every government investigation and parlayed the lucre that sprouted in those illegal bottles of spirits into a real-estate empire.
“Let’s go,” the man said to his wife and pulled her toward the doors, the wife walking backward, keeping her angry eyes on Julian.
He ignored her and paid the cashier. The Negro woman and boy were gone, and he didn’t see them out on South Orange Avenue, where gas lamps shone in the snow-flecked light. Julian considered walking up a block to his broker’s office and saying hello to his money, but that bored him. Better to go home and read the Newark Evening News and watch a little TV.
“?’Scuse me, suh,” a woman said, and Julian looked down and saw the Negro woman shivering next to him in her raincoat. The hair visible under her kerchief was white and her face was as furrowed as a walnut shell. “You Mr. Julian Rose?”
Julian nodded, and the woman said, “I’m Lucinda Watkins. Friend of Kenni-Ann Wakefield. Y’all know Kenni-Ann?”
It was a shock hearing her name. “Kendall, yes. How is she?”
“Sorry to say, suh. She dead.”
The wind was blowing the snow against his face, but Julian couldn’t feel the cold. He heard himself say, “Dead?”
“Yes, suh. And she make me promise to come find you if somethin’ happen. I get change to call yoah house and the cleanin’ girl say y’all most likely be heah. A waitress tell me you jist left.”
“Where’s the boy?”
“He gettin’ a ice-cream cone.”
“Is he Kendall’s son?”
“Yes, suh. Bobby be Kenni-Ann’s son and . . .”
“And?” Julian asked.
“And he be yoah son too.”