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16

Although the two pillars upon which TUI had always stood were real estate (slums, then office buildings, then hotels) and communications (newspapers, then magazines, then cable television), the corporation had also from the beginning spread horizontally, like crabgrass, into allied businesses. In the last few years, the real estate and communications sides of the firm had grown more and more useful to one another, combining their specialties to create theme parks, buy a movie studio, and carve tourist centers from the decayed docksides and crumbled downtowns of older cities. And now, most recently and most triumphantly, they had come together to construct, house, and operate a Broadway theater.

The center of Manhattan Island is the absolute zero point of the triangulation of entertainment and real estate in the capitalist world. Here, millions of tourists a year from all around the planet are catered to in and around buildings constructed on land worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a foot.

Max Fairbanks had long wanted an obvious presence in New York City, mostly because there were already a few other prominent billionaires with obvious presences in New York City, and one doesnt become a billionaire in the first place without some certain degree of competitiveness in ones nature. The profit motive was there as well, of coursethe N-Joy complex was expected to do for New York City what Disney World had done for Orlando; put it on the mapbut merely a strong second after self-aggrandizement, which was why the name of the theater: the N-Joy Broadway, for Maxs symbol, Tui, one of the characteristics of which, in The Book, was the Joyous.

The N-Joy Broadway was a legitimate stage theater, suited most particularly for revivals of beloved musicals, but it was much much more than that. Girdling the theater was the Little Old New York Arcade, shops and boutiques recreating an earlier and cleaner version of the scary city outside; no longer would the tourists have to brave the dangers of the actual Fifty-seventh Street, farther uptown.

Above the theatera state-of-the-art extravaganza replete with spinning platforms, hydraulically lifted and lowered stages, computerized files, built-in smoke machines and Dolby sound under every seatrose a forty-nine-story granitelike tower, containing a few floors of officesshow business, architecture, a few of Max Fairbankss enterprisesand then the N-Joy Broadway Hotel, whose four-story-high lobby began on the sixteenth floor. On an average day, eighty-two percent of the twelve hundred rooms above the N-Joy Broadway Hotel lobby were occupied, but the residents of these of course were all transients, rarely remaining as long as a week. Like the Paris Opera, the N-Joy Broadway contained only one permanent resident, and her name was Lutetia.

Lutetia Fairbanks her name was, most recently, and now Lutetia Fairbanks forever. A tall and handsome woman, with striking abundant black hair, she moved with a peculiarly deliberate walk, a heavy but sensual thrusting forward and bearing down, as though she were always seeking ants to step on. The regal, if slightly Transylvanian, aspect this gave her was enhanced by her predilection for swirling gowns and turbanned headgear.

Lutetias home, for the last sixteen months and on into the foreseeable future, was a twelve-room apartment carved into the brow of the N-Joy, above the marquee and below the hotel lobby. Her parlor windows, of soundproof glass, looked out at the worlds most famous urban vista through the giant white neon O of the buildings emblazoned name. Her frequent guestsshe was quickly gaining local prominence as one of the citys premier hostesseswere whisked up to her aerie in a manned private elevator just off the theater entrance. Hotel staff serviced the apartment. The same climate control equipment that micromanaged the ambiance of both theater and hotel lobby purified and tempered the atmosphere in the apartment. The furnishings were antiques, the servants well trained in other nations, the living easy. So long as Max didnt fuck up, everything would keep on coming up roses.

It seemed to Lutetia that Max was, or had been, fucking up. He had that look in his eye, that childish glint of guilty pleasure, risking it all to throw just one spitball at teacher.

They had met here in the ballroom late on Wednesday afternoon, where Lutetia was overseeing the preparations for this Fridays dinner, at which the guests of honor were to be Jerry Gaunt, the latest superstar reporter from CNN, and the Emir of Hak-kak, an oil well near Yemen. Max had sought her out here, she having far more important things to do than chase after some errant husband.

That depending, of course, on just how errant he was being. What have you been up to? she demanded, once theyd repaired to the farther end of the ballroom, away from the busily place-setting servants.

Nothing, my darling, Max said, blinking those oh-so-innocent eyes of his. Nothing, my pet.

Youre in trouble with the bankruptcy, thats why youre back in New York.

And to see you, my sweet.

Bull, she told him. What were you doing in Carrport? Who were you there with?

Nobody, precious. I needed, I merely needed, to get away from it all, out where no phones would ring, no messengers would descend, no problems would have to be dealt with.

That last part didnt work so well, did it?

Max spread his hands, with his oh-so-sheepish smile. How was I to know some dimwit crook would choose that night to attack the place?

If hed only known you were there, Lutetia pointed out, he would surely have left you alone, if only out of professional courtesy.

You are hard, Lutetia, very hard.

Max, Lutetia said, stalking around him with that boots-of-doom stride, two things you are not permitted to bring into my house and my life. Scandal, and disease.

Pet, I wouldnt

Scandal is worse, but disease is bad enough. I will not be humiliated, and I will not be put at risk of a disgusting death. I wont have it, Max. We both know what my lawyers could do, if they wished.

But why would they wish? Love petal, why would you wish?

Im busy here, Max, she informed him. I will not have my schedule destroyed by some overgrown boy playing hooky.

Youll hardly know Im here, my sweet.

Hardly.

Will we dine together, love?

Not tonight, she said, to punish him. She knew hed had a woman out there on the Island, she could feel it in her antennae; on the other hand, she didnt really and truly want to know the miserable details, not for sure and certain, because then she would have to do something drastic, if only to satisfy her pride, as powerful and overweening as his. Im dining out tonight, she announced. With friends. Then, relenting a bit, she said, Tomorrow night we could have dinner, if you have any appetite after your meeting with the judge.

I know Ill have an appetite then, he said, and smiled his oh-so-roguish smile at her, adding, Will I see you later tonight, my lotus blossom?

She was about to refuse, just on general principles, but the gleam in his eye snagged her. He was, as she well knew, as rascally in bed as out, which was sometimes wearing but sometimes fun. Well see, she said, with half a smile, and permitted him to bite her earlobe before he scampered off and she returned to the servants, to inform them that they would be wanting the coral-colored napkins on the tables, as any fool could tell from the centerpieces, not the peach.


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