When Peggy Gimmel decides to sell the apartment she bought decades ago for a few thousand dollars, she's thrilled to discover that it's worth almost $2 million. But her sudden windfall triggers a cascade of unexpected events and plunges her into the dizzying orbit of Lucinda Wells, one of Manhattan's most successful and ruthless real estate agents. Peggy's not the only one at Lucinda's mercy. There's the technology entrepreneur struggling to salvage his sinking company while gut-renovating his home. The socialite exiled from Park Avenue to the pull-out sofa of her parents' West Side apartment. The illegal immigrant amassing a fortune printing money. The clueless widow trying to unload a world-class collection of fake artwork. These are just some of the characters whose lives intersect in unlikely ways, all of them nearly overwhelmed by the rocketing real estate market and the hard-charging broker who holds the keys to their futures.
As he interweaves these often suspenseful and frequently comical stories, Margolis captures the zeitgeist of a cultural moment, keeping us turning the pages with the rise and fall of his characters' fortunes.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Seth Margolis is the author of several mysteries and thrillers, which have been translated into ten languages. His novel Losing Isaiah was made into a movie starring Jessica Lange and Halle Berry. Seth writes frequently for The New York Times on travel and entertainment. He lives in New York City with his wife and their two teenage children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"It's time to sell," Peggy Gimmel announced to her husband, Monroe, at the kitchen table on the second Tuesday morning in May.
"Not in this market," he said without looking up from the stock tables in the Times. "We're about to hit bottom. This is a buying opportunity."
"The apartment, Monroe," she said with slow emphasis. "It's time...to sell...the apartment."
He grunted and slowly moved the magnifying glass down the column of stock prices. Luckily their kitchen faced the sunless courtyard or he'd start a fire.
Monroe was obsessed with the stock market. All the financial experts on cable talked about needing a long-term outlook to make money in the market. But what kind of long-term outlook could a man of eighty-two have? Listen, at my age I don't buy green bananas. How many times a week did she hear that line at the bridge table or supermarket? Now Monroe was buying stocks in companies with unpronounceable names stuffed with x's and z's. Companies that could use a few more vowels, in Peggy's opinion. Who knew what these outfits did for a living, other than take investors' hard-earned money? True, for a few years there he was actually making money---on paper, of course; God forbid he should sell anything. There was no talking to him, really, he was so full of himself and his fancy investing skills. "I made more this week from Z-linq than I made in a year selling blouses," he'd say. What the hell was Z-linq, she wanted to ask, and what's with that q, anyway? Then the markets turned sour and so did Monroe. He rarely spoke anymore, and when he did he sounded angry and resentful. All day he watched the stock prices march across the bottom of the TV screen as if it were an EKG reading. His EKG.
"Sonia at the bridge club thinks we could get nine-fifty."
He didn't react---what was a million dollars to a Wall Street macher like Monroe? But $950,000 was exactly $925,000 more than they'd paid thirty-six years earlier, when the apartment went co-op. Back then everyone told them they were crazy to buy an apartment in Manhattan. A piece of paper, that's what you'll own, they told her. Co-op, schmo-op, get yourself a real house with some ground if you want to throw your money away on real estate. But it was buy or move out---an eviction plan, they called it; the term nearly gave her a coronary, even back then when she was young (well, younger)---so they borrowed from Peggy's brother and took the plunge. Oh, how she wished she could tell those people what the place was worth now. Monroe's parents. The Fishmans, who had rented next door but moved to Bayside rather than throw their money away on a piece of paper. Her friend Frieda Brand, who thought the whole world was out to swindle her and every other Jew on the planet. Even her brother, who lent her the money after hocking her to China about what a mistake they were making. But they were all gone, them and half the people she knew. It was like crossing the finish line of some long, exhausting race, then turning around, ready for the applause, only to find that all the contestants and all the spectators had already left the field. Old age isn't for wimps---who was the genius who said that?
"Lily recommended the broker she used to buy her place," she told Monroe.
Still no reaction.
Their daughter's apartment on Park Avenue was roughly three times the size of their place, but Lily said the broker she'd used wouldn't mind. Her actual words, "wouldn't mind." Some world, when people wouldn't mind collecting the commission on a million dollars. Then again, Lily's husband, Barnett, probably earned that much in one day on Wall Street.
"Who needs three bedrooms, anyway? When was the last time we had overnight visitors?" The grandchildren never spent the night, probably thought you needed a passport to come to the West Side. Or shots. "We'll buy a smaller place, or we'll rent." Monroe had put down the magnifying glass and picked up a pen. He circled something, his hand trembling as it always did. He'd probably circle the wrong stock, she thought, and maybe then they'd make some money.
"We'll invest the difference," she said to get his attention.
"Invest?" He glanced at her. His blue eyes had faded in the fifty-two years they'd been married, but they were still the youngest thing about him, like the sequins on that Anne Klein II cocktail dress she'd paid a fortune for that still glittered like diamonds every time she opened her closet even though the dress itself was faded and limp. His eyes still glittered like diamonds, at least for her.
"In Treasury bonds, Monroe. Think of the income."
He frowned and turned back to his portfolio. She'd call the real-estate broker at nine-thirty; she certainly didn't need Monroe's permission for something as unimportant as selling their home! Peggy smiled and got up for a second cup of decaf. Sometimes she wanted to tell Lily not to worry so much about what Barnett did or said. She was a strong, intelligent woman who danced around him like a geisha. Maybe she was grateful for the big apartment and the trainer and the drapes in the living room that cost $750 a yard, but Don't overdo the gratitude, she wanted to say, just wait until you're both old like us. Then you'll see that the women always get the upper hand in the end. And it's worth the wait, she'd say, getting last licks in life. They get terrified you'll die before them, these husbands, that's why when the wife goes first, they either remarry in a hurry or drop dead in six months. But her women friends, when their husbands went they threw a nice funeral at Riverside Chapel, settled the estate lickety-split, and then hit the road. Package tours to Europe first, to get their feet wet, then Asia and Africa and even the Galapagos, for God's sake, with bridge games and theater subscriptions and concerts at Lincoln Center to keep them occupied between cab rides to JFK.
Relax, she wished she could tell Lily, relax and wait. But the last thing her daughter wanted from her was advice. She sat down with her coffee, took the phone from its cradle, and dialed her daughter's number.
Lily Grantham heard the phone ring from the bathroom, where she was toweling off after her morning shower. Barnett had long since left for his office downtown.
"Let it ring!" she shouted. But her voice died somewhere in the long hallway that connected the master bedroom suite to the nine other rooms in the apartment. After two rings someone picked up.
"I'm not here!" she shouted, again futilely. Only one person ever called her before nine o'clock.
Awaiting the inevitable summons to the phone, she tossed the wet towel in a corner and began her daily appraisal before the mirror. Face: almost wrinkle free, thanks to a bit of work around the eyes (her high forehead had always been smooth). Breasts: she wouldn't pass the pencil test, but they hadn't hit her navel yet, and in the right bra they still looked great. Tummy: flat, as well it should be, thanks to the tightly regulated diet prescribed by her nutritionist, Lori LaChant, and the eight million sit-ups a day with D'Arcy, her trainer, who'd lately added a dash of sadism to her regimen by hurling a medicine ball at her abdomen mid--sit-up. Legs: long as ever, incipient saddlebags taken care of by Dr. Nabaladan last year. The battle won another day, she thought with the usual surge of anxious relief.
"Mrs. Grantham, it's your mother." Nanny's nasally British voice had no trouble finding its way through the bedroom and into her bathroom.
"Tell her I'll be right there."
"I'll finish up the children's breakfast," Nanny said unnecessarily. She never missed an opportunity to remind Lily that she handled most of the child-related chores on the ninth floor at 913 Park Avenue.
She slipped on a white, floor-length terry-robe and went to the phone on her side of the bed.
"Did I wake you up?" Peggy Gimmel asked, as she always did when calling before noon. Lily sighed. That made two people with censure in their voices, and it wasn't even nine o'clock.
"I'm just getting out of the shower."
"Listen, sweetie, you said you knew a real-estate broker."
"Good, give me her number."
"Are you sure about this? You've lived there so long, and it's not as if you have a mortgage to pay."
"It's just too big. The other day I found dust on the radiator in the guest room. Dust!"
Her mother had always looked on dust as something animate, an Anschluss of tiny living creatures who invaded her home the moment her back was turned.
"You could get a cleaning lady."
"Or I could move."
"I just think you should give it some more thought. Lucinda's very aggressive. Once you get her involved, you'll find it hard to turn back."
She couldn't explain it even to herself, but the thought of her parents moving made Lily very uneasy.
"I know it's hard to think of us selling the home you grew up in."
"That's not it," she said quickly, but she felt a shiver of vulnerability. They lived in two different worlds now, but Peggy could still read her mind. The truth was, she found her childhood home depressing, from the half-century of accumulated cooking odors that greeted her on the elevator landing to the thirty-year-old rust-colored shag carpet on the living-room floor---she always half expected to see John Travolta disco into the room in a white suit. And yet the idea of someone else living in 6D brought on something that felt close to panic.
"Listen, you don't have to pretend with me."
"Mother, I don't---"
"What's her phone number?"
Lily tossed the phone onto the unmade bed and went to get her address book.
Rosemary Pierce opened the door to her apartment and let in a tornado. Lucinda Wells blew past her into the tiny foyer, its floor all but obliterated by the twins' baby paraphernalia: double stroller, car seats, diaper bag, toys. Rosemary had meant to clean up. She was always meaning to clean u...
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