One afternoon, in a quaint (there is no better word) bedroom community on Long Island, emptied of commuters to NYC in the morning and refilled again each afternoon, a small crime wave begins. When financial adviser Walter Lasher returns from the city, he disembarks the LIRR and heads to his car in the station parking lot. Unexpectedly and without cause, a man in a trenchcoat approaches him, slaps him on the cheek, and disappears amongst the SUVs in the lot. Had a client’s portfolio gone in the crapper? Did he know the man from some other place? Or was this a random act of violence? Embarrassed and confused, he says nothing.
The next day, Robert Sutliff , ad exec, suffers the same fate, but reports it to the local precinct.
Day three: Charles Kraut, marketeer.
What is the root of this assault on the good citizens of our town? Surely, it must be political, the financial state of the world being what it is. Three businessmen attacked equals someone angry about the economy. Until Ray Sorenson, cable repairman; and Sharon Hands, high school senior.
Millhauser unwinds the polite paranoia of the wealthy suburbs. First, the men surrender their coats to closets and coatracks. Then they view their neighbors with suspicion. Then comes the speculation of motive, the town meetings, the sign-carriers, the conspiracy theorists and more. He shows a small town’s smug detente with the outside world unfurled by a handful of minor incidents, demasked.
“The Slap” is the first story in Steven Millhauser’s forthcoming book, We Others: New and Selected Stories, which will be in stores on 8/23/11.