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Alongside Night
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Alongside Night

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Author: J. Neil Schulman
Publisher: Avon, 1987
Ace Books, 1982
Crown Publishers, 1979
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Synopsis

The American economy is in freefall. Markets are crashing. Inflation is soaring. Bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment are up, and even defense contracts are going overseas. Foreigners are buying up everything in America at firesale prices while gloating over the fall of a once great nation. Homeless people and gangs own the streets. Smugglers use the latest technology to operate bold enterprises that the government is powerless to stop, even with totalitarian spying on private communications. Anyone declared a terrorist by the administration is being sent to a secret federal prison where constitutional rights don't exist.

And caught in the middle of it all are the brilliant 17-year-old son of a missing Nobel-prizewinning economist, his best friend from prep school whose uncle was once a guerrilla fighter, and the beautiful but mysterious 17-year-old girl he meets in a secret underground... a girl who carries a pistol with a silencer.


Excerpt

After ducking through the fire exit to avoid reporters still in the lobby, Elliot started briskly down Park Avenue, the boulevard busy even with out its usual flow of yellow taxicabs. He walked toward the thirty-block-distant Pan Am Building -- though it was no longer owned by that airline -- passing seedy hotel after seedy hotel, passing a derelict structure at Sixty-eighth Street, once Hunter College. He turned west on to Fifty-ninth Street -- past Burger King, past Madison Avenue, past the plywood and soaped plate glass at General Motors Plaza -- and continued down Fifth Avenue.
Tourists from EUCOMTO states were abundant on the avenue, buying up bargains to the bewilderment of proudly nationalistic Americans and to the delight of proprietors eager for the illegal, gold-backed eurofrancs. Where once exclusive stores had displayed apparel of quiet taste, the latest rage among the fashionable was the Genghis Khan: coats of metallic-silver leather trimmed with long, black monkey fur.

A sign was posted on a lamppost at the corner of Forty-ninth Street; Elliot passed by hardly noticing it.

to LOOTERS, VANDALS, MUGGERS, SHOPLIFTERS, PICKPOCKETS, and other assorted CRIMINALS. This area is heavily patrolled by ARMED GUARDS with orders to protect our businesses and customers from you BY ANY MEANS POSSIBLE.

BEWARE FOR YOUR LIVES!

- Fifth Avenue Merchant Alliance

About fifty minutes after he had left home, Elliot entered a small bookstore at 204 West Forty-second Street, just outside the Federal Renovation Zone. It was crossways to the edifice at One Times Square, originally the New York Times building, most famous as the Allied Chemical Tower, now a federal building called, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the Oracle Tower. The Rabelais bookstore was without customers when Elliot arrived; a man was seated on a stool behind the counter, a sign in back of him declaring in large black lettering, "BE 21 OR BE GONE." On one wall were such classic titles as A Pilgrim of Passion, Suburban Souls, Professional Lovers, and Saucer Sluts; the other wall offered more pedestrian titles by Salinger, Hemingway, and Joyce.

If the man seated behind the cash register was "Al," thought Elliot, then his father had been polite as an ambassador. He was not "somewhat overweight." He was grossly fat, perhaps tipping the scale at three hundred pounds. His triple chin -- one had to presume -- was well hidden beneath a thick, black beard, contrasted by his bald pate. He was chewing what Elliot first thought was gum but soon realized was tobacco and was reading Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea, which matched Elliot's first reaction to the man.

Elliot approached him with caution. "I'd like a copy of Not Worth a Continental by Martin Vreeland," he said, according to plan.

The man lowered his book, spat tobacco -- into a cuspidor, Elliot was relieved to see -- and inspected Elliot carefully. "You his kid?" he asked finally. Not according to plan.

Elliot nodded hesitantly. "Are you Al?"

"Yeah," he said, lifting himself off the stool with considerable difficulty. "C'mon, it's in the back."

Elliot's face fell. "But don't you need my countersign?" he blurted.

"Nah. You look just like your old man."

Al led Elliot through a draped door to a corner of his back room and gestured toward a large carton on the floor filled with books. "Gimme a hand with this." Elliot got a grip on one of the corners, then the two of them lifted it aside, revealing a hole in the linoleum. Al lifted out a package sealed into a black Pliofilm bag, handing it to him. "The coins are in here," he said. "Count 'em if you want. I gotta get out front. Need me, just call."

Elliot looked at Al curiously. "Uh -- mind if I ask a personal question?"

"Don't know till you ask the question."

"Well ... if you knew what's in here, then why didn't you just take it and run? Gold ownership is illegal. We couldn't have reported you."

Al laughed heartily. "I thought you were gonna ask how much I eat or somethin'. I didn't steal the gold 'cause it don't belong to me." He turned and went out front.

After placing the plastic on a nearby table, Elliot broke the sealed plastic, opening it. Inside was a specially designed leather belt -- forty-odd inches long, two inches high -- with no tongue or eyelets but a slide-buckle instead. At the bottom was a zipper concealed between two layers of leather. Elliot slid the buckle out of the way, unzipped the belt, and peeled apart the leather.

Inside were the twenty-five Mexican fifty-peso gold pieces, built into matching cutouts in the leather that extended most of the belt's length. They were beautifully extended most of the belt's length. They were beautifully struck, in virtual mint condition, and even in the back room's dim light reflected considerable luster.

Each coin was about one and a half inches in diameter. The traditional eagle with a serpent in its mouth embellished the obverse of each coin; on the reverse was a winged Nike -- goddess of victory -- bearing a wreath, to her right the 50 PESOS mark, to her left the legend 37.5 grams ORO PURO. Elliot removed his own belt, replacing it with the new one, which he had to thread through several belt loops twice as it was too long for his thirty-four inch waist. Then he replaced his jacket and overcoat.

Al was busy with a customer when Elliot came front; he stood away a polite distance, awaiting an opportunity to take his leave. Repressing a desire -- more out of embarrassment than anything else -- to spend his time examining Al's erotica, he instead alternated between observing Al's conversation -- impossible to eavesdrop on because of Al's radio playing loudly -- and watching the OPI News Summary streaming across the Oracle Tower.

Copyright © 1979 by J. Neil Schulman


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