Two years ago, like a modern day Noah, Nicholas Jacinto arrived at the townhouse of billionaire Phillip Falcone with a menagerie of exotic animals. He carted a sloth, a king snake, a lemur, a marmocet, a hedgehog and a Brazilian aardvark into the hedge fund king’s $50 million Upper East Side home to set up for a birthday party. Jacinto had been hired to provide the entertainment, displaying the rare critters to gawking guests. But before the show could start, city Health Department inspectors swooped in. They ticketed Jacinto, a state and federally licensed wildlife expert, for not having a city permit for the animals, and sent him packing back to his Long Island farm with his tail between his legs. “It was a huge embarrassment what the department did to me,” he recalled. —DNAinfo New York, January 21, 2014
Wilbur adjusted the towel around her head. She took a long drag off her Lucky Strike and stared out onto East 67th Street. Phil hated when she smoked in the house, so she’d cracked the bathroom window and had the fan going. But honestly, she didn’t much care what Phil thought right now.
Had she wanted to perform at the children’s birthday? No. Of course not. She wasn’t their monkey and she didn’t do children’s birthdays. But the fact that he’d made the call immediately after their fight felt especially cruel. Things weren’t great with them but she never thought he’d go out of his way to hurt her.
She flicked the rest of her cigarette out the window and stared at her pores in the mirror. Phil used to tease her for spending hours scrutinizing her skin. Lately, though, he hadn’t said anything. Maybe he was no longer paying attention. Maybe he’d noticed the fine lines where things were once smooth, and hoped she would, too. She knew it was ridiculous, but she couldn’t help but feeling like he was trading her in for a new model.
There was a knock at the door. “Wilbur, can I come in?” Phil asked from the other side.
After all of their fights, the big ones and the small ones, no matter what had been said, no matter how many objects were thrown (Wilbur) or how many tears were shed (Phil), they’d always found their way back to each other eventually. Wilbur was still hurting, but she was ready to hear what Phil had to say, ready to move on. In a couple hours the guests would be arriving, and a little while after that they’d sing Happy Birthday and eat cake, and Wilbur would do her standard, “Are you one, are you two, are you three…” In spite of herself, she was actually looking a little bit forward to the animal display.
She opened the door, ready to reconcile. But Phil didn’t come in. He stood at the threshold, without a hint on contrition on his face or in his bearing. There was no sign that he’d been crying at all.
He looked Wilbur directly in her eyes, coldly, efficiently. “Wilbur, we’ve got a lot of people coming soon, so get your stuff out of the living room?”
Wilbur felt like she’d been punched in the stomach. Expecting a rapprochement, her pugilistic impulse failed her. She just stared at him as he turned around and headed back down the hall, back towards the party she wasn’t welcome at.
Now, it was her turn to cry. As her ducts opened, she flew past Phil, attempting to hide her face, a face that had never so much as felt the weight of one salty tear. Grabbing her things, she raced towards the stairs, to exile in her bedroom suite. But as she rounded the corner into the parlor, she paused: There were chafing dishes on the piano. On her piano. The piano where she’d entertained the family for years, sharing the bench with Phil for the occasional duet. The piano where she’d assumed she’d be banging out “Happy Birthday” in just a few hours.
The dam broke and tears streamed down her face, into the wrinkles that she had though just moments ago were her biggest problem. The doorbell chimed, and Wilbur could see the men removing cages from the back of a truck, cages full of her replacements. Her knees buckled and she stumbled briefly. But she wasn’t about to give them or anyone else the satisfaction. It took an incredible effort, a feat of will and strength and endurance, but Wilbur Falcone steadied herself and, without so much as even wiping her face, calmly trudged up the stairs, before the first marmocet could scurry across the marble floor.
The ordeal had stilled her–steeled her, really. She wasn’t sad, or self-pitying, anymore. She felt the blood rush into her cheeks: Wilbur was herself again. And she was in high, spiteful fury. This house was her stage, not some fucking rented lemur’s. She hadn’t spent all those nights with Lisa and Phil at Bottom’s Up so someone else could call the shots.
That’s when it hit her: If Phil could play so fast and loose with all of the other rules, what about this one? She remembered with a shudder that humiliating trip, all those years ago, to the city health department, when Phil first came into her life. She had earned her right to be there; had these intruders done the same?
She reached over for her iPhone–in the rhinestone-encrusted case she had had to buy for herself, despite dropping all of those hints in the weeks and months before Christmas. It didn’t take her long to find the number.
“Hello. There’s something strange happening on East 67th Street…”
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