Book Excerpt: 'Palace Council'

The author's latest novel follows a Harlem high society writer's search for his missing sister during the Nixon era.


Prologue: "The Council"

The lawyer was nervous, and that was odd. His hands trembled on the steering wheel, and that was odder still. He had learned in the war that there was no sin in being afraid as long as the others never knew. He understood that courage was a discipline. As was confidence. In the marble caverns of Wall Street, the lawyer intimidated all around him with his breadth of knowledge and speed of mind. In the boardrooms of his clients, he had no equal. On his rare forays into the courtroom, he charmed the judges with his wit and persuaded them with his force. He had commanded a company of Rangers in North Africa and Europe. He provided his adoring wife and children with a house in the suburbs, equipped with every modern convenience. It was the summer of 1952, the era of such men as himself. The United States was about to elect a military man its President. The nation's steelmakers had just crushed a nationwide strike. The Congress was about to add the words "Under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. American science had invented a way to phone from California to New York without using an operator. Some people insisted on calling attention to the nation's imperfections. But the lawyer believed in quiet progress. Quiet, gradual progress. The nation would move forward in its good time. So calm down, he commanded himself, annoyed to discover that he was drumming his fingers on the dash.

He tightened his grip on the wheel.

The driveway was full of cars. The house was long and low. Golden light spilled invitingly from the windows. Still the lawyer hesitated. August air, loamy and rich, drifted into the car. Clouds hid the moon, but the forecasted rain had yet to arrive. The lawyer glanced at the glowering sky and endured a shivering premonition of death. Fighting his growing unease, the lawyer focused his mind on the image of his wife's glowing face. He shut his eyes and listened to her teasing South Carolina drawl. Calmer now, he reminded himself why he was here.

Dinner and conversation, his host had said, smiling, over coffee in Manhattan. And stag only. No wives.

Why no wives? the lawyer had asked, not unreasonably.

Trust me.

The lawyer had been too savvy to press. His host knew people, and the kind of people he knew, knew other people. Then, too, his host had raised the return of favors to an art form. Everyone wanted to be in his good graces. As successful as the lawyer's career might have been so far, there were always higher rungs on the ladder. Courtesy and curiosity pushed him forward. When his host mentioned the name of some of the others who were expected to attend, the lawyer was hooked.

He climbed out of the car.