GW Recaps–The Hanged Man, Chapter One, Two, and Three
The Hanged Man became the title of the first book because of the mysteriousness of the card. The Hanged Man card features a man hanging from a tree, by his foot. He is not being hanged as in execution, but rather as a metaphor of suspension in the cosmos–indecision, or being on the cusp of a difficult situation. The Hanged Man as book title refers mainly to a character who shows up later in the story, but it is applicable to Gabriel as well–for the life or death choice he must make, and the situation Gabriel is in at the beginning of the book–severe financial straits.
The framework for The Hanged Man is the divination of Tarot cards. A Tarot deck has around 78 cards, but numbers vary. The decks are usually divided into major and minor arcana. Major Arcana are larger overarching ideas and symbolism, such as the cards reflecting the book title and Chapter One. The minor arcana is divided into cups (emotions), swords (intellectual), pentacles (business) and wands (energies).
Chapter One has The Magician. Usually this is Card 1 in a tarot deck. Gabriel is the Magician, of course, because of his intellectual and physical capabilities, and that extra something that makes him a hero–a strong confidence and belief in himself that helps break tough cases. People can make their own luck through their experiences and confidence.
Let’s begin the Gabriel’s World Journey:
Chapter One: The Magician:
Gabriel Ross is a 36-year old gay private investigator who lives in NYC. As the book opens, he is being released from an arrest in the small town of Buckston, New Jersey. He was arrested for punching out a bigoted preacher, who set up a protest of Gabriel’s friend’s funeral.
Now Gabriel is facing some bad press, but he has a new client–Raymond Booth, a well-to-do art attorney. Raymond hires Gabriel because of Gabriel’s actions in Buckston. Now Raymond explains that he is on the board of a respected cultural institution in Manhattan. A fellow board member, Eleanor, had confided in Raymond that she overheard another board member speak of his close relationship to a former Nazi. Raymond wants Gabriel to find out more about the connection between the (unnamed) board member and the Nazi. Gabriel is psyched to begin the case–his finances and his reputation are hurting. Raymond drives Gabriel back to the East Village, where Gabriel lives.
However, Raymond doesn’t email Gabriel the retainer as promised. Gabriel’s alarm grows over the weekend; then finally the phone rings. However, it’s Raymond’s sister Antoinette (Toni.) She demands to know what Gabriel has done with Raymond.
Chapter Two: The Queen of Swords
Toni Booth tells Gabriel that she was supposed to meet with Raymond this weekend. However, he’s not in his apartment and doesn’t respond to her calls. She’s anxious, as Raymond was going to write her a much-needed check from the family trust fund. Toni knows why Raymond hired Gabriel, and she’s suspicious that Gabriel may have said something to scare Raymond into disappearing. Gabriel convinces her this is not the case. He meets with Toni the next day while he is working another case. Gabriel’s working for a man trying to prove his wife’s infidelity. Because Toni showed up late, she has to go along with him when he follows the wife’s lover. Toni even boldly provides cover for Gabriel by kissing him when the mark checks for tails.
Although Toni has a difficult and and sometimes petulant personality, she likes Gabriel, and Gabriel has empathy for her and her situation as a single mother. Her adolescent son Adam has a relationship with Raymond much like Gabriel’s with his late uncle Dominic. Gabriel and Toni talk in a park. Toni wants to hire him, although she says she has no money. She attempts to sweet-talk Gabriel to taking the case for free. When Gabriel declines, Toni gets angry with him and leaves.
Gabriel returns to his apartment, emotionally exhausted. Suddenly there’s a knock on the door. Toni is there, with the fee to start his case.
Chapter Three: The Seven of Swords
Toni signs the retainer agreement, and gives Gabriel the keys to Raymond’s apartment–she trusts him implicitly. Gabriel looks for clues in the apartment, and finds a lead about Raymond’s cell phone, which is still in the area at a coffee shop nearby. The barista gives Gabriel Raymond’s phone. Gabriel then finds out that a man had met with Raymond on the day he met Gabriel, and apparently Raymond got sick and left with the man. The barista, Nicolas, shows Gabriel security footage of the incident.
Gabriel informs Toni of what happened, and they plan to go the area precinct to update the police on what’s happened to Raymond. The next morning, Gabriel stops by Raymond’s apartment one last time to check. The apartment feels very cold. Gabriel finds Raymond’s body naked and bound in the bedroom.
Between the Pages:
- Gabriel is excellent at his work as a private investigator, and successful, but having money problems. I was feeling the wrath of the recession of 00’s into the 10’s myself, and I could feel how difficult having a small business can be, and Gabriel has the added burden of bad press. Gabriel is struggling against his motives being questioned by the media, courtesy of a former boss who has badmouthed Gabriel to local reporters. Bad press becomes a theme in this story, whether established media or nasty commenters on YouTube. Ever been in one of those financial states where you seriously worry over how the rent will be met next month? Gabriel is so there. Not due to lack of skills, but lack of clients–it’s a bad time for the country for those who aren’t one-percenters. Pressure in his life due to trying to simply keep his head above water no doubt contributed to his loss of temper in Buckston. It’s certainly the major reason he’s near panic over not hearing from Raymond regarding the retainer. Gabriel has a some clients on retainer (the type of cases can range from background checks, to investigating insurance fraud, to working for attorneys). Some clients aren’t bothered by Gabriel’s notoriety, but some cancel their arrangement with him. He accepts his own responsibility for this.And yet, while Gabriel is in these dire straits, the fact remains that Gabriel was able to work magic in obtaining an important new client and case through an act that could have easily ruined his career. Gabriel is not a morally ambiguous magician; he is one who works his magic on principle.
- Gabriel’s Badassery is absolutely intended, from his training in boxing/baguazhang, his superb ability to shoot, his capability to withstand pain, and his intelligence that helps him outwit far more powerful people. He is the keystone of a new hero, as we do not at this time have mainstream gay Jason Bourne/Bond in the movies. Gabriel is a man who often gets too close to his cases. The passion he has for his work makes him good at it, but when he’s drawn in too far, his judgment can get skewed. That can lead to him getting himself in trouble, as we’ll see.
- Other things learned in Chapter One: Gabriel has a second job writing articles for an online magazine, NYCultcha; Gabriel lives in Alphabet City; he has a black and white tuxedo cat, Archie; Gabriel apparently has a bad relationship with his father. Gabriel would have gladly been a Nazi hunter if he could, as his mother wishes she had been.Gabriel is a man who is deeply disturbed by bigotry, and has a bit of a temper. Everything in the books has potential to be called back at a later time; the YouTube videos of Gabriel’s incident are a primary example of this. Gabriel finds that people may love what he did or disapprove of it, but they recognize him as that guy who punched out the preacher. It may seem like a punishment to carry that with him, but it is actually part of his being a magician. His striking back set in motion his new case, his formidable nemesis, as well as a major change in his personal life. However, it is also an understanding of accountability. Gabriel lost his temper in a way he regrets. He has to think about how to avoid that happening again, or worse.Metaphorically, Gabriel took a risky step for a principle, which set him on a different course. It was the right thing, to him, and the tagline for this book is, What would you sacrifice to do the right thing?
- Toni Booth is the Queen of Swords. Toni is quite the hot mess. And yet, I hope there is something sympathetic to her. Toni is a person who has made very bad decisions in her life, and is not thinking too well when her needs overcome her. And yet, she does love her son and her brother, genuinely. A very tricky personality–the person who manipulates by nature, yet has genuine feelings. Toni is not a sociopath.I think Toni’s methodology is summed when after her first attempt to persuade Gabriel fails, she says, “Don’t you feel any responsibility?” That’s the thing–Gabriel does. Too much, if anything. He’s already offered her a discounted retainer, and been very courteous about it. But Toni isn’t having that. She’s pushed her limits again, taking a cigarette out Gabriel’s mouth for her own needs, and gone from trying to paint a frightening picture of what’s possibly happened to Raymond (“maybe he lost his memory”) to being brattish (“What would that be?”). Now she works on an area she’s instinctively felt is Gabriel’s vulnerability. This is what manipulators do. I give credit to Gabriel for holding his own. If she had kept at him, though…
- No Sense of Personal Space with Toni. She’s not malicious about it, she just doesn’t have a sense of boundaries. People who find manipulation a necessity for survival become good at pushing boundaries. Gabriel’s empathy leaves him vulnerable to allowing his boundaries to be overstepped. Toni just researched where Gabriel lived (there’s paid databases with that information) and showed up rather than simply call and ask to meet him.
- Toni is a person of heavy scents–Marlboro and Opium; Gabriel doesn’t wear a watch due to a fight in the subway years before (referenced again in Two-Faced Woman) that ground the watch glass into his wrist and left a scar. We also find out more music Gabriel likes: U2, Matchbox Twenty, Erasure. If you don’t like Erasure, your Queer card is officially revoked.
- Certain touches are unique to Gabriel’s World, the details that make up the world and the characters, so to speak. Restaurants with weird names is one of those. The coffee shop is called Cafétière Maléfice. It translates to something like “evil coffeemaker.” Also, people getting into buildings (Toni again) without using the buzzer.
- Trivia: Gabriel wears a shirt with Phoenix Sun forward Grant Hill’s number, 33. Grant Hill had participated in an anti-homophobia PSA in 2011.
- Death is almost always a story element. Everything changes with death. Raymond can no longer be a client, he can only be a victim. Gabriel’s case, already interesting to him, takes a dive into horror.
Beyond the Pages:
- I’m a huge fan of the site TV Tropes, which is great to read about well-done and awfully-done elements/tropes (devices, conventions, archetypes, and so on) of all kinds. If any trope sums up Gabriel, it’s Badass Gay. As TT describes it, Badass is “an adjective used to describe a character who gets away with outright insane stunts.” Yes, this is Gabriel. I’d throw in that a Badass has characteristics of a Jason Bourne or James Bond, but isn’t necessarily a spy. Angst is another trope. A couple of reader reviews have referenced Gabriel’s angsty character. He also has a tendency toward Collateral Angst, feeling guilty and haunted over what happens to others.
- The real extent of Odessa is hard to determine. Gabriel is going on the information he has at the moment. The fact is many Nazis did manage to avoid capture, extradition, and prosecution. These persons were assisted by various means and networks. It may not have been The Boys from Brazil or The Odessa File, but it was there. In some cases, these persons were helped by means of covering their past–Operation Paperclip, in order to recruit them to the US for intelligence and science organizations, such as NASA. A good book to read on the topic is Uki Goñi’s The Real Odessa.
Playlist: I have three songs that sum up the first three chapters. For Chapter One, David Gray’s First Chance I Get. Gabriel is a huge David Gray fan. Gray is absolutely breathtaking in his music. This song, which I saw live, with such power, has a sense of knowing the world is breathing down your neck, and you’re sacking up to deal with it.
Over Lake Superior
And the Arctic Sea
Through the dark interior
The stolen territory
For Chapter Two, Rob Thomas, Her Diamonds. This is a beautiful song about trying to take some of the pain from a partner who is in pain. It fits Toni and the inner pain she has, that is only alluded to in the book. Gabriel has a connection with her (as seen in Two-Faced Woman) and would take away her furious pain if he could. Sometimes, we have no idea how to help another person in distress, and the only thing that can be given is empathy.
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
Cause I can’t help her now
She’s down in it
She tried her best but now she can’t win it
For Chapter Three, Coldplay, The Scientist. This choice is based both upon the melancholy tone of the song and the video, in which a tragedy is viewed in reverse time. The singer/protagonist says, “Let’s go back to the start.” Gabriel in his mind is going back to the start, when he first saw Raymond, as it’s incomprehensible that Raymond is now dead.
Tell me your secrets
And ask me your questions
Oh, let’s go back to the start
- If you haven’t seen before, below is the layout of Gabriel’s apartment. I created this from floorplanner.com
Some years before The Hanged Man was the definitive Gabriel’s World first story, Gabriel was in another manuscript with a story that was the beginnings of the story in THM. The old story began with a passage even more angsty than Gabriel is now. Read more below for the beginning to that story and Gabriel’s conflict between his actions and his ethics.
My road to Hell is paved with good intentions. My good deeds do not go unpunished. My deeds and intentions are the little details I consider as I choose to complete a task that will irrevocably change my life, my destiny, my karma. Buddhism calls for “right action,” and if you have undergone enough study and training, you will automatically know what that right action should be. I know I’m about to do the opposite.
New York City at dusk; the sky melts from amber to purple, depending upon the chemical makeup of the air. Each city’s character is reflected in its own unique sunset, its own unique way that the light refracts through the atmosphere, as if the personalities of the inhabitants activate a giant aura that collects in a ring around the metropolis. New York City has an outer ring of a luminescent purple that flows up and down the skyline like the wax in a lava lamp. It is the streetlight that simultaneously illuminates and reflects our activities below.
I am watching the sunset from my apartment window; I have time to kill before I leave. I am lucky to live in a corner apartment, which gives me more windows. My apartment faces west towards the Hudson River, which means I always get to see the sunset when I’m home. The city could conceivably be divided into those who see the sunrise, facing east, those who see the sunset, facing west, and those who see neither. I’m a sunset person, waiting as the color shift rolls back the protective ceiling of daytime sky, and allows the demons of night free reign.
My apartment is on Greenwich Avenue, between Horatio and Gansevoort Streets. It’s fifteen hundred a month for a one-bedroom, and worth it. The bedroom and kitchen are small, but extra windows make up for everything in Manhattan. My windows are wide and tall, rising from about a foot off the floor, and extending nearly to the ceiling. I leave the shades open most of the time; I have to have as much light as possible.
New York is one of the most magnificent cities in the world. The sheer energy and possibilities of the City consequently draws some of the best and worst people in the world. It generates victims for those people. The thought of what kind of human darkness may be materializing in the City at any one time is overwhelming. Vulnerability hangs in the air like the patina of residue of grease from a diner’s exhaust; the predators move in at that unseen, unheard signal. On this night while I am contemplating the different paths I could take in life, a Manhattan liquor store is robbed before closing, the owner held hostage for four hours. In the Bronx, a man acting out of some incessant irresistible urge, builds a fire in an empty warehouse that spreads to an apartment building next door. A drug deal goes bad in Washington Square Park, leaving a man knifed and screaming in the gutter, scaring the passing NYU students. A Brooklyn accountant who can’t take the sheer responsibility of being alive anymore allows himself to fall in front of a subway train. Another man who is only partly in this world deals with the voices tearing him apart by shoving a woman off the platform in front of another train at Grand Central Station. A rejected lover breaks into his ex’s apartment in Queens and waits for her to come home and repent before him; his vengeance becomes unspeakable. Human emotions do not want to let go. They are the residues that attach to the buildings, the sidewalks, the gutters, the doors and windows of the City. The collective fragility of feelings in humans who were once victims, reverses and strikes out against others. People are left crumpled in a heap of pain at the feet of those who become the victimizers.
And meanwhile, a man who likes to believe he has scruples and a conscience prepares to leave his domicile, which is a little crowded with books and CDs and movies and a black and white cat named Archie, to break into a bad man’s apartment on behalf of a sweet little old lady.
The bad man’s apartment is in Alphabet City, across town from where I live. Right now, he happens to be working as a stage technician in some Disney musical extravaganza on Broadway. He would be there at least past midnight. In preparation for the unannounced visit, I pack my own state of the art lock pick that resembles a little gun. Just pull the trigger, work the helper pick, and you’re in. It’s illegal for anyone but police to have, as are many things citizens commonly carry around, like tear gas and stun guns. I’m not going to reflect on the moral problems of that at the moment.
The bad man currently hoisting plastic goblins and singing cutlery across a stage has been trying to blackmail my client, Anna. I have already done an extensive background check on him. He has a minor police record, some complaints of harassment and assault. I have talked surreptitiously with neighbors and coworkers, most of whom didn’t like the bad man, and they are legion. He is a grifter, with behavioral traits of backstabbing, double-dealing, petty thievery. He plays loud thrash metal music in his apartment, and threatens anyone who complains. He sexually harasses female tenants. The landlord does nothing because if the bad man drives tenants away from the rent-controlled building, the landlord can then rent the apartment for double or triple the rate. He also pulls slip-and-falls in supermarkets for quick personal injury settlements, and sells bootleg cartoon character t-shirts and pirated movies at flea markets. His big hobby is buying the contents of self-storage lockers put up for auction due to non-payment of rent, a little known unpleasant practice in the city, but only objectionable if you’re not a capitalist. If the contents were good, and the original owners couldn’t or wouldn’t pay extortion for their stuff, he would then sell their lives for a large profit on Ebay. Caveat Emptor.
Get the idea he isn’t a nice person? My mom said actions, not words, are what shows your character. In his case, both are fucked up. What makes him relevant to my life is this: In an unfortunate coincidence his most recent acquisition was a locker full of old photographs, including a large amount of old erotica from the turn of the century to the late fifties. It so happened some of those photos featured Anna in Betty Page-style poses, along with postcards that had her name and old New York address. Anna is a society matron near seventy, well off and spending her winter years being active on various boards of opera councils, museums and other things rich people do to spend their time. She hangs out with the kind of people whose names are dropped in New York Magazine. She has long retired from her friskier days as a would-be family rebel in Europe to quiet New York respectability.
The bad man researched Anna’s name as a matter of course and discovered her societal vulnerability. He approached her with a contrived story about how he was acting as a charitable middleman to an unscrupulous antiques dealer, one who wanted to extort from her large sums of money. Of course, our bad man was working to knock down the price for her, out of the sheer goodness of his heart.
Anna came to me, after receiving a recommendation from a lawyer I have worked for and not pissed off in the process. Admittedly I wasn’t very impressed with her problem. I usually don’t feel much sympathy for the peccadilloes of the wealthy, which don’t differ from those of the poor, except the wealthy can afford to cover it up better. And who gave a damn in this millennium what she had done fifty years ago on another continent?
But Anna did not want her society buds to receive email attachments along with their morning orange juice. Seems this kind of thing can get one kicked off those opera and museum boards and society party A-lists.
So I check it out and soon discover Mr. Bad Man is both the unscrupulous dealer and the middleman. Since Anna did not want the police involved, I couldn’t shut him down legally. And he isn’t the type to be threatened by physical intimidation, having gotten his ass kicked many times before and living to tell about it. I have been thinking about an elaborate plan to convince him I was a sociopathic contract killer, to whom he’d better turn over the photos or be eviscerated. But I was nagged by a sixth sense that he had the photos in his apartment, I could just break in and get them.
Insert warning here: kids, don’t try this at home. Breaking and entering is not good citizenship.
Rex Stout’s great fictional detective Nero Wolfe would have come up with a fantastically elaborate plan to make him confess, but I’m not that clever. On the other hand Nero’s sidekick, Archie would have had few qualms over breaking into the domicile. Although I was a big admirer of the literary Archie, I wasn’t reassured by his constant fictional success, or by his lack of qualms over B&E statutes. Even if the bad man was a truly rotten son of a bitch, I had no desire to go to prison and find out just how accurate prison television shows really are. Yet there is really no other way to end this case satisfactorily. No cops, no elaborate scams. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones is confronted with this guy who whips around some knives in preparation for a fancy fight, and Indiana just takes out his gun and shoots him. Sometimes to get on with life, you have to take out your gun and just shoot the sonsofbitches. After contemplating this factor again, I leave my apartment.
I am in a profession—private investigations, to break the suspense—which has a reputation for an unethical nature and scurrilous practitioners. I am really, on Earth II, the alternate reality of the way life is supposed to be, a semiotician. If I had been born in Renaissance Italy, or even modern day England, in a “good” family, I could have had extended education, maybe been a professor in semiotics…studying signs, communication systems, the meaning of culture as portrayed through symbols. Instead I have a B.A. from the State University of New York, psych and history major, art history minor. I wanted to be private investigator because I loved the novels of Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler. My father hated the idea. That made being one even better in my eyes. Never mind how difficult getting a foothold in the business in for someone who isn’t an ex-cop. I busted my ass to get career going, creaking along like an ungreased metal cogwheel.
I also have a quixotic idea there is actually some kind of honor to this profession. Mostly because at the core, it is a search for the truth…like semiotics. In the lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency, the phrase “know the truth and the truth shall set ye free,” is inscribed with no apparent irony. But perhaps theirs is a different truth. You find out as you mature there are many different truths in life, different versions of reality. Over ten years out of college I am a man of principle, character, and, of course, truth. To prove it I am about to break into a blackmailer’s apartment to swipe some softcore pictures of a society dowager. If that isn’t a bright and shining example of principle, character, etc., etc., I don’t know what is.
My mother died eight years ago and I still haven’t really dealt with it. I do know she was never thrilled with my choice of career, afraid every day I would be shot. She would not be pleased by my moral compromise. I imagine her watching from somewhere in the hoary netherworld as I approach the bad man’s building, and I silently ask her forgiveness. I’m so sorry, Mom. I don’t want to go on this moralistic dive. I know the next time (And there will be a next time, won’t there? Isn’t that what being at a crossroads is all about?) it will be easier, and then easier still. Soon there may be a time where I won’t pause to consider what may occur if I do or do not act. It would have never happened if I hadn’t gotten into this business, but I swear originally wanted to do good. I still do. So if you have any influence up there, Mom, cover my ass.
I feel darker and darker internally, like a shroud covers my soul, as I actually open his door and go inside. It’s so damn easy, to accomplish, as if the world is laughing at my “pure” intentions. Nothing is black and white, Gabriel. The darkness in the corner of my eyes is nasty and all encompassing; I feel as if I have the Mark of Cain, as if I should never again be around decent people. Yet there is an underlying freedom that I could never explain to another person, especially as I move around his apartment as though it’s mine. I do not want to work for anyone but myself. I do not want to do a different kind of job. This is what I chose to do, and I have to accept what comes with it. If you don’t lie down with the safety of the pack, you have to make do with what bed you can find.
The dark feeling lasts as I search the place until, as I suspected, I find the photos in a file folder near his computer. As a smile unconsciously comes to my face, I realize in some way I can’t explain or understand justice has been suddenly balanced, despite the temporary breakdown of my ethics. It makes me happy. This is what it feels like to cross the line.
The photos are scanned into his computer, but easily deleted. Actually, the whole computer is deleted. In order not to have to worry about what he may have on file, I helpfully install the latest Windows software to his computer, which has the effect of wiping out everything on his hard drive. Then I take the photos and leave. Bad guy — 0, psychologically tortured detective who thinks too much, — 1.
Copyright Alex Fiano 2012-2016
Page corrected, edited, and updated 7/22/2017