Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Enterprise - 34

As the city thawed to reveal minutely wider cracks in the walk and deeper holes in the street, we continued our obstinate and incremental labors.

Odd events took place in our periphery. There was a race riot all up and down 25th, from Fifth to Sixth. Blacks shut out of construction work, apparently. We heard the commotion from the office—sharp cries of venomous hatred, the crack of splintering bricks.

One day on our way to lunch we found twelve hundred dollars in cash. Peter saw it first. Or was the first to point it out. To put a word onto the apparition: that.

“Look at that!”

There it was: a tight, rubber-banded roll of sixty twenty-dollar bills, green against the gray cement blotched with petrifying gum. It was a dense and powerful object, exerting a dark, magnetic force. You looked at it and you just knew it was twelve hundred dollars in cash. Had to be. You wanted to touch it but you didn’t want to touch it. You wanted to grab it. But you didn’t.

Two passersby, young men from some indeterminate European country—possibly Switzerland—or maybe Belgium—saw it too. For the merest moment we all—seven of us—stood in a circle to behold the radiant thing.

Finally Peter picked it up. He unfastened the elastic and began to count.

“Whoa,” we murmured.



“Holy shit.”

The two men grimaced and gesticulated. It soon became clear that they were not laying claim per se. But they were clamoring for some kind of recognition. They had seen the money on the ground. Now here it was in this man’s hand. These were the facts. Perhaps they were due a token? A witness fee, of sorts? Peter peeled off two hundred dollars and handed it to them. They accepted the money with grandiose shrugs, Europeanly, as if to say: We’re not asking for it, you know. We’re not even really accepting it. But we’ll take it. Since you insist. They went on their way with waves and smiles.

Back in the office, we sat down to eat at the conference table. Peter had the money in the kangaroo pocket of his nylon windbreaker. He opened the discussion with a vow to respect the group’s suggestions and concerns. A subtle rift began to form between those who felt we should divvy it up right here, right now and those who felt that morality dictated some other course of action, or at least a decorous exercise in delayed gratification. I didn’t know how I felt.

“Hey Peter, keep it. Come on, you found it. Keep it,” suggested Rob, perhaps hoping to flatter Peter into sharing.

“My dad’s a minister,” answered Peter. “I should bring it to the police.”

“They’re going to put it in their pockets,” Kevin howled. “They’re cops!”

“Cops are different now,” I volunteered.

“The right thing to do is the right thing to do,” asserted Peter. “It doesn’t matter what they do.”

“You wanna give it to the cops, call the cops. Give it to them. Give it to the cops,” Kevin said. He got up and gathered his trash. “Walk over there with the money. Like a fool. Hand it over.”

Later that afternoon, by email, Peter reported that the police at the 13th Precinct barely cared. Come back in nine days, said the lady desk cop. If it’s here, it’s yours. Nine days later, Peter circulated among our desks and handed each of us $200 in cash.