Sirius Chronicles, continued.
- All that remained on the table was a crystal vase from which sprung
the long-stemmed rose; the tapered candle stick had been
extinguished, and was issuing a thin line of smoke. It was thirty
minutes past eleven. The restaurant, by this time of night, was
empty, save for a young couple sipping coffee at a corner table, and
a buss boy sweeping the floor. Elizabeth remained inside the
restaurant for some time, still obsessed by the Ed MacIntosh
painting. The sublime brown hues touched her deeply. To her, they
conveyed an emotion which she could only attribute to an inner
quality: Faith. After visiting the lady's room, she approached the
hostess who was standing behind a podium at the threshold dividing
the waiting room from the dining room.
`Is Manny working tonight?' she asked the hostess.
`He is, in fact. Would you like to see him?'
`If it wouldn't be too much trouble.'
`No trouble, Elizabeth. I'll get him for you.'
The coat room attendant helped Elizabeth slip on a jacket
that matched the color of her black, formal dress. The restaurant
was near empty, but it was not quiet. Most everyone had moved to the
lounge; and their low murmurs could be heard above the un-meticulous,
free-flowing notes of an improvisational jazz piano. The executive
chef emerged from the kitchen minutes later, and walked up to her
with a smooth, effeminate grace. His voice was drawling and exuded
an obsequious desire to please.
`How was your meal, darling?' he asked after kissing her
cheek. `Was it good?'
`Exceptional, as always, Manny. You are the best chef in
`You're too sweet. Where's Giovanni?'
`He's pulling the car around.'
`Was the chicken to his taste?' the man asked. `Did he enjoy
`He loved it all. Every last bit. I hope he isn't a burden
on your waiters. He can be a bully sometimes.'
`That is true.' But the flippant gesture of his limp wrist,
occasioned by the rolling of his eyes, showed her that he found it
all rather amusing. `Gio demands good service,' he said with a sassy
smirk. `He has all the red-blooded manner of a bull. Eats like one,
`I'm afraid we both have a little Taurus in us.'
`Hah! Two Tauruses. No, that will never do. That's why the
two you are always butting horns. You see, what you need is a
hungry, deft-of-foot Capricorn. They're not so argumentative.'
`Maybe so, Manny. . . Say, I was admiring a painting of
`Which one darling? Point it out.'
`The one hanging over our table.'
`Oh! Dreamer. I bought it last week. Marvelous, isn't it?'
`I'm crazy about it, Manny.'
`Well, if you should know, the artist goes by the name Ed
`That much I know. He signs his name like an egotist.'
`I was told he's a local artist, a Vietnam Vet., and a bit of
a recluse. I bought his painting at the Seventh Street Gallery.'
`Where is that?' She removed a slip of paper from her
purse. `Is that in the Village?'
`Yes. Here. I'll doodle down the address for you, sweet
heart. You look lovely tonight by the way.'
He laid the slip of paper on the guest list lying on the
hostess' podium. His pen moved quickly and erratically; and hardly a
moment passed before he handed back the slip of paper. To her
surprise the handwriting was clear and legible.
`I'll probably see you next week some time. Have a nice
`You too darling. Send your grandfather my best wishes.'
Elizabeth wove through the crowd of people who occupied the
lounge. A negro musician was performing Maple Leaf Rag on a baby
grand piano and was swaying side to side in the rhythm with the
beat. Elizabeth made a waving gesture in passing, after which his
smile revealed a white row of upper teeth; then she pushed the door
open and walked outside into the cool, Spring air.
The night was windless and damp, rather lonely; the soft
piano melodies drifted out onto the streets, merging with the sound
of traffic and the slosh of tires through puddles. Underneath the
overhang she watched the cars go by. East 89th was wet and
glistening; and the puddles on the sidewalk reflected the hazy street
lamps overhead and the vague glimmer of the moon appearing and
disappearing from behind a banner of broken clouds. Intermixed with
the stone smell, which the city emitted in the rain, there was the
salty, sea-smelling air blowing in from the Atlantic.
The traffic passed for less than a minute before a
firecracker-red Porsche double parked in front of the restaurant's
overhang. She climbed inside and settled into the low bucket seat
next to Giovanni. On the floorboard, next to her feet, there was a
metal briefcase that she lifted onto her lap.
Giovanni slipped the motor into gear and eased upon the
`Did Manny set you up all right?' he asked, with one hand
`Manny was very accommodating,' she answered, feeling the
aspersion being cast. `He helped me get in touch with the artist.'
`Good for you.'
When the tires hydroplaned over a puddle Elizabeth felt the
burst of water splash against the floorboards. In the briefcase were
classified documents obtained from a political sub-group linked with
the world intelligence community. But that did not concern her now.
All this time she was wondering how she could tell him, with as much
tact as possible, her continued unwillingness to commit to a long
`I hope you're not getting jealous.'
`Don't be silly,' he said, smirking.
`You seem jealous.'
`Maybe a little. But that's all. Who wouldn't be?'
Elizabeth contemplated his chiseled profile, over which
shadows moved, the shadows crawling through the car and over their
faces as they made their way through dense mid-town traffic.
Although he was speeding, his facial expression remained relaxed,
stern and un-moved by excessive degree of hurt and jealousy. This
made her feel better. His control over his emotions meant that they
could enjoy the night for what it was.
`Do you still want to go with me to Father Nicholas's place?'
`Of course. That's where we're going, aren't we?'
`Yeah. If you want to leave early I can take a cab home. I
know we bore you with our discussions.'
`I don't think that will be necessary.'
They were now on the Lower East Side completing a half-turn
past the VA Medical Center, where a small gathering of protestors
were amassed on the sidewalk bordering Roosevelt Drive. The
protestors were wet from the rain, lifting soggy, cardboard peace
signs in the air, and chanting: We shall overcome. Gio accelerated
out of the turn only to be slowed down by a Roosevelt Drive bogged by
heavy traffic; moving vehicles surrounded them, the latest of which
was a new 1969 Ford Mustang; twice they encountered construction
zones between 13th Street and the Queensboro Bridge, whose black iron
frame stood out in relief against the sky's dark receding depth.
After they crossed the bridge, and drove a mile into Queens,
a road led them through a deserted, industrial neighborhood lined
with numerous old warehouses, among them several barricaded buildings
marred by graffiti, a bar and an auto parts shop that was closed for
the night; its barred-up windows brightened in the Porsche's
headlights. Elizabeth sat in the passengers seat, keeping an eye on
the side view mirrors, looking for any sign that may suggest they had
been followed. Even though the street was empty, she remained
attentive if not a little paranoid. There was always the chance that
somebody knew what was contained within the briefcase and had placed
a trail on them.
Across the street from where they parked was Saint Mark's
Cathedral. In the silence of the car, but for the clicking of the
cooling motor, they stared at each other. A tooth pick protruded
from his mouth. He asked:
`I imagine you brought the Red Files?'
`Yes, and they may interest you intensely. They mention
He looked surprised. `Vince, the Mafioso?'
`The same,' she answered and un-buckled her seat belt.
`Why didn't you say so earlier?'
`You know I don't like talking about these kind of matters in
`What? Are you scared of being bugged?'
Elizabeth blushed. `A little, I guess.'
Giovanni laughed. `You would make an excellent boy! Look at
you. I feel as if we should be carrying walkie-talkie's and speaking
in secret codes. What do the files say?'
`Let's just say, they prove Vince is a little more than a
crime boss. He's doing some extracarricular work on the side. These
documents show he's involved in a Black Shirt terrorist group out of
Italy. He's a fascist thug.'
`Are you sure?'
Elizabeth cracked open her door. `Positive. Now let's go.
Nicholas is waiting.'
With the briefcase in hand, they walked towards the
cathedral; its small, well-kept front lawn glistened in the rain,
from which came the chirp of a solitary cricket. The cathedral
looked Gothic at night, with its eerie stone fascade, its embellished
curves, the gargoyles and devils; a decorative iron gate surrounded
the church yard; moon light
illumined the stained glass windows; its spired bell tower rung
overhead; while below a weathered stone statue of Mary stood on its
elevated pedestal overlooking Baker Street. They did not enter by
the front door. They surpassed the lawn and turned into an alley
running lengthwise between the cathedral and the neighboring
building. In the darkness of the alley, the cathedral's jagged rock
facade emitted the sweet, stone smell of saturated granite.
`This is a shock,' Gio was saying as they went down the
alley. 'I had no idea Vince was a terrorist.'
`It's all right here,' she said, thumping the
briefcase. `Vince funded a terrorist attack on a Red hideout in
Venice. Can you believe that? Fifteen college students died. I
don't know how you can bear to associate with the likes of him.'
`I don't bother him and he doesn't bother me. Rest assured,
I despise Vince, and the Mafia, as much as you do.'
They walked in silence, and the dripping water, the
moonlight, and their footsteps made it seem ever more quiet.
Elizabeth heard him gasp, as if he wanted to add something.
`What are you thinking of?' she asked.
`Oh, I don't know. You used to think my life was risky and
exciting, not immoral. You used to be such a terribly immoral girl.
Now you're a Catholic. What a shame.'
`Sorry to disappoint you but I was sixteen when we first
met. That was a long time ago.'
`How you've changed since then,' he said. `Does my
relationship with Vince bother you?'
`You know our relationship is strictly business.'
`Yes, I do.'
`Then tell me. Because I don't think you see the higher
ideal. It's not about the money.'
`I know it isn't. It's about stopping Communism. In the
jungles of Vietnam there is no industry, and without industry there
are no equitable resources besides poppy to buy the required weapons
the Vietnam government needs to arm their guerilla troops. All they
have is heroin. You channel it. Vince puts it on the street. And
the sale of drugs-for-arms is stopping the spread of Communism in the
jungles of Southeast Asia.'
They descended the concrete stairwell. At the bottom was a
black, steel-plated fire door. Elizabeth pushed it open and led the
way into the cathedral's dark, subterranean basement.
It was the height of the Vietnam War, April 3, 1969.
To be continued. . .
Chapter one of "The Sirius Chronicles," copyright 2002. Mathew