The Lloyd Saga

2. Lloyd Gets Out

It was a very fine day, notwithstanding. Clouds sprayed a bit of spume now and then, but the rest of the time it was quite pleasant; sunny, even, between the more extended periods of what would have to be called ... murk.

Lloyd felt terrible. There were no other people on the streets. Except, now he noticed, a man moving very slowly down the wide main thoroughfare, talking in a guttural snarl to himself about matters in which Lloyd was sure he had no interest.

The PPG building reared above his head, an ugly spire of glass and steel that was meant to look modern and grand, Lloyd supposed. The crazy dude had noticed him across the open square and was sort of heaving sideways toward him with a menacing, determined expression. Lloyd sped up as best he could, but it seemed he by no means could summon the fortitude necessary to pick up his tempo beyond that of a common street whack.

Before he was halfway to his destination-a corner deli that seemed to recede as he hove closer to it-the beggar descended on him, murmuring something that could have been "Help me out help me out," except it had no consonants in it. "Here," said Lloyd, thrusting a handful of coins in the bum's open mitt.

"Hey!" The guy smelled like a wet dog. "This is a quarter, man!" The bum was working himself up, spinning and weaving. "Get out of my face, man!" Lloyd screamed at the top of his lungs. He was clenching his teeth so tightly, his larynx hurt.

The bum hurtled backward. "Big time," he said. "No problem. God bless you, man, getting right, and Jesus talks to strangers," or some damn thing that Lloyd found not only incomprehensible but very annoying. "Here, man, I'm sorry, take a dollar," he said, holding out a piece of paper to the guy, who now appeared more like a classic harmless village idiot than a dangerous madman.

"Wow, man, yeah," said the bum. He took the paper and left. Lloyd was freezing-cold and sweating profusely at the same time. He went into the deli.

In the Deli

The soft-drink refrigerator area was nearly as long as a football field. In the case, there was Coke, Pepsi, diet Coke, diet Pepsi, twenty-four different kinds of Snapple (some appalling), Orange Slice, Fresca (light and regular), Yoo-Hoo, a rainbow of cranberry derivatives, root beer, eight or nine different kinds of water-orange, prune, apple, grape-and, finally, grapefruit juice. Lloyd reached into the depths of the storage space and found that the beverage he wanted was just a hair farther than the last molecule on the end of his longest finger. "God," he said, and leaned farther in. For a moment, his fingers stuck on the metal of the freezing rack inside, then, at last, closed on an eight-ounce container. He reeled it back in, tore open the paper top on the side that said "Open other side," and drank until he had to pause to catch his breath. "Better. Ah. Ah," said Lloyd. A piercing stab of bright yellow pain had riveted the soft brain tissue behind his left eye.

He was thinking about how the loss of limited partnership deductions had put a massive, killing dent in the value of their commercial real estate portfolio. It was frightening. Why, if the entire load was for one reason or another called in, the exposure to the corporation could top out at $11 billion. Lloyd figured that at least two-thirds of it was bad. That, of course, would never come out. Rather, for that fact to be known, or, indeed, to make a difference, everything would have to conspire against the company in so many different ways, it didn't pay to think about it. It would be the end of everything.

Lloyd made his way to the front of the store. At the counter, he asked the Indian guy for some Advil. Lloyd ripped open the miniature bottle, thrust the cotton batting onto the countertop, poured three tidy little brown pellets into his palm, threw them down his gullet, and washed them down with an enormous bolt of grapefruit juice. "That's better," he said.

His face suddenly tightened, as if a sardine key had been placed behind his right ear and twisted, hard. He had once stood behind Frank Sinatra on line at a dry cleaners in Van Nuys, California. Behind each of Sinatra's ears was a hard-boiled egg of meaty tissue left over from the excess face he didn't need after the most recent of his facelifts. Lloyd had at the time imagined those knobs being tightened to refresh Frank's looks. But nobody was tightening his ears. He knew that.

Lloyd's knees, never the greatest, had begun to wobble.

"Buddy, you okay?" said the clerk. "You look sick."

"I'm fine," said Lloyd, and lost all control of his legs. He would have slumped down like a large boneless sardine, but he had the presence of mind to grab the countertop.

"Come sit," said the clerk. He took Lloyd by the arm and led him behind the counter. Tucked in one tiny corner of the space was a comfortable armchair, blue once, maybe, now a torn, ratty thing that looked more like a pile of hay. Lloyd sat down in it and felt the coarse retro fabric of it under his forearms.

"Thanks," said Lloyd. 

Lloyd sat in the convenience store and thought about things. He didn't want to go to the meeting. It wasn't the first time he had been asked to do something he didn't want to do and had complied because it was easier to do so than to resist. Still, on some level, he was always resisting. That was his punishment for being a hypocrite, for wanting to be comfortable all the time. He was never all that comfortable, either.

At the age of eight, Lloyd had joined Little League. One of his clearest remembrances from childhood was the feeling that swept over him when, on a Saturday morning, the sun had sequestered itself behind a cascade of clouds and rain, thick, relentless walls of rain, came pounding down, a black greasy cascade that eradicated all hopes of an outdoor day. No baseball that day! He recalled the humiliation of running toward an infinitely distant first base as the softball he had socked almost to the parking lot of the Sunset Supermarket was retrieved by the deep center fielder, thrown to the kid playing short center, from thence to the second baseman, and then over to first, where Lloyd was either caught straining to force his foot to reach the bag in time or, having misjudged the whereabouts of the ball, had rounded first and was thundering toward second, only to be nabbed in a rundown ... Lloyd was slow.

"I've got to get up now and walk over to the Royalton," Lloyd said to the proprietor.

"The Royalton?"

"The hotel. Where is it?"

"You sure you don't mean the Windsor Court?"

Lloyd wasn't sure at all. What was the name of the hotel? He plunged deep into his pockets and hauled out quite a few minuscule scraps of paper with notes to himself on them. There was a parking stub, lint, a ball of aluminum gum wrapping, eight pennies, and a tiny ad for a 678-megabyte hard drive. No information about the hotel. "What do I owe you?" Lloyd said.

"Make it five bucks and we can call it even, my sorry friend." This seemed low to Lloyd for the amount of grapefruit juice and Pepto-Bismol he had drunk, and the gum he was chewing.

"Thanks, man," said Lloyd. "I feel better. You have no idea where this hotel I am looking for is?"

"No, man. What was its name again?"

Lloyd went out into the street and took a huge lungful of some of the crispest air he had ever hauled into his lungs. Around the corner, Lloyd found a huge hotel with a circular driveway and a gang of odd-shaped guys, mostly with big guts, in brown livery who were there to park cars or usher guests inside. They had gold buttons on their uniforms and looked basically pretty unfriendly.

Lloyd went straight to the reception desk and inquired if Walt was, in fact, there. He was. "Thank you, God," Lloyd said as he sat down in one of the comfy lobby chairs. He was hurting still, yes, but a fine crust of equilibrium had spread over his discomfort like rivulets of ice on a slowly freezing pond. If not jostled, it might serve. 

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