by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Part 1 and Part 2
appear in this issue.
Chapter 7: Go West, Young Man
Salvatore had a pleasant enough breakfast, then packed his bags, posted the unused kroner bills off to his parents, and left for the station. By ten-thirty he was in the fast-moving check-in queue for his flight, and soon afterwards was relaxing in the departure lounge, enjoying his final Danish pastry and coffee and studying a newly-purchased New York City pocket guide.
Lucia had kept him closely in her unseen sights, all morning. She didn’t want to follow the wrong plane, especially since the Mater would be on the move itself today. For the first time since their arrival in geostationary orbit over Africa, the crew of the vast craft would need to perform a doubly-complex operation.
They would as usual be carefully tracking Salvatore’s flight, with the radimote sphere nestled snugly in the underbelly of the Airbus, or even, if things went as planned and circumstances allowed, enjoying the luxury of the cabin itself. And as their Illuminator set his watch back a full six hours, to reflect U.S Eastern Daylight Time, so would they re-set their own on-board Earth clock.
But throughout the trip, they would also be steadily edging the Mater westwards along the Equator, aiming eventually to re-position it on the Earth’s 90-degree longitude line, directly over the Galapagos Islands. This new vantage point would afford a clear and efficient “view” of the entire United States, as well as Southern Canada and, for good measure, all of South America too.
The star-craft’s “stealth” systems, hugely more sophisticated than those of the Earth, would of course continue to allow them to conduct this delicate manoeuvre with the utmost discretion.
* * *
After dispensing with the services of Marie-Anne the previous afternoon, the Chief Surveyor had later spotted an opportunity for a little recompense for Salvatore, to make up for the disappointment of his ex-girlfriend’s very cool reception.
So the Chief had engineered a further little engagement, courtesy of the irresistible hulk Fritz, while Ms Holden was busy getting ready for bed. And before leaving for work in the morning, she had dutifully followed the Mater’s simple additional instructions and phoned an old university pal, who (the Chief had been quick to spot from the start) now worked in administration at SAS. That young man had been happy to deliver on a longstanding favour due to Marie-Anne, and had put an important little note against a particular name on the Newark flight’s passenger manifest.
* * *
Salvatore had consequently been in his economy class seat for less than ten minutes when the Purser approached him with a very respectful smile, and invited him forward to take up a luxury reclining bed-chair in business class, with the promise also of an empty window position to his left throughout the long flight, and thick aisle-side curtains for quiet privacy.
As Handlers go, Lucia was slightly more of a risk-taker than Carla. So while her colleague might well have considered this situation insufficiently secluded for a discreet tête-à-tête with her own protégé, Lucia tended towards a little bravado. Once the evening meal had been served, consumed, and cleared away, and Salvatore was consulting his guide book with eyes largely closed, she re-made smoothly in the window seat and greeted him with her usual sweet ‘Ciao.’
They chatted for several minutes, and Lucia inserted an occasional little giggle for added stimulation, but as far as she was concerned the conversation never reached any great depths. In fact, it remained solidly fixed on the subject of airport hotels, taxis and jazz clubs. She continued to wonder whether Salvi would ever make any inquiries about her. Carla had often recalled Toni’s persistent interest in her life back at Dome!
And after all, this was the first time in her life that Lucia had ever had anything to do with a male. Surely she deserved a bit of attention? She was trying her best with what she felt was a very inviting form of dress and use of make-up. She’d have liked to try blowing gently in his ear, but there are some things a radimote just doesn’t do. Hmm ... maybe Salvi’s approach, or lack of it, was the norm, at least in Italy? Not as far as she’d observed, though. Perhaps she just needed to give him a lot more time ...
In conformance with a wide range of modern and essential Health and Safety Regulations, for which every passenger on board was profoundly grateful, the expensive business class privacy curtains could not in fact be fully closed at either end. So as Lucia listened and laughed quietly with Salvatore, a passing senior flight attendant just happened to notice her through one of those little gaps.
He knew, with hardly a shadow of doubt, that there was no woman dressed like that anywhere on board, and especially in business class. But years of experience made him hesitate before acting. Was he seeing things? Was his memory failing? Perhaps he was sickening for something? He’d be crazy to risk making an utter fool of himself by telling the Purser at once about the young Italian’s mystery companion; he might end up being suspended, or even fired, on grounds of possible insanity. No: he would get himself a little drink of water first, before doing anything silly.
Fortunately for all of them, Lucia, like every radimote, had eyes in the back of her head, and had registered this near-exposure with a level of self-control equal to that of the very cool steward.
‘Ah, it looks like it’s time for me to disappear, Salvi. Close your eyes ... I’ll see you in your hotel room.’ And she blew him a little farewell kiss.
Five minutes later, the attendant plucked up his courage and peeked in on The Upgrade once again. Absolutely no-one in the vacant seat; just the taciturn, obviously very important Signor Pirone, vaguely reading his guidebook as before. He breathed a long sigh of relief, very glad he’d exercised his usually selfless discretion in an unusually selfish cause. Trouble was, that just left the insanity option, with nobody to consult about it ...
* * *
Salvatore took his place in the long, multi-server immigration queue at Newark soon after three o’clock local time, but it was laboriously slow-moving, and a full hour elapsed before he was presenting his passport and green form for inspection.
The polite but poker-faced official accepted without argument his promise that he was visiting the States for a holiday and a bit of self-education, and that he would be leaving within three months on his open air ticket. Satisfied too with evidence of his wisely pre-booked hotel room, she ceremoniously stamped his papers, and he was duly granted conditional entry to the United States of America. His suitcase, patiently waiting for him on the carousel, had made it through a lot more quickly.
His body was telling him it was already ten-thirty in the evening, but he emerged into the full light of a cloudy Spring afternoon. The queue for the dozens of waiting cabs was mercifully short, but his hotel was only a few hundred yards away and the driver he landed up with tried to insist he couldn’t possibly make such a short trip. Salvatore fixed that problem with a handful of ten-dollar bills.
Reception was a model of American traveller-centred efficiency, and he was soon rapidly elevated to a smart but uninspiring stop-over room.
He went straight to the bathroom for a quick wash and brush-up. He was really feeling quite tired, but this very long day was still very young, and he wanted to do something in Manhattan, while he was so tantalisingly near, and with only a few hours to spare.
He wasn’t considering sightseeing. It was getting too late to do any of that right now, except maybe wander around Central Park or go to Times Square and gawp at the big screens. No, he’d rather have some proper relaxation a little later. He’d done his research on the plane, and had tried to get his companion interested in it ... yes, he was definitely going to hit one of the best Jazz Clubs in the city — the Blue Note!
‘Lucia?’ he called out tentatively, as he dried his face.
‘Over here,’ she replied.
He turned to find her sitting on the edge of the king-size bed.
‘Another club tonight? Your chance to see New York! OK? Meet me outside at eight-thirty?’
Lucia saw little point in arguing. He nodded and turned back to the mirror, and she left him alone under the watchful eye of Carla, her stand-in guardian angel for that day.
Salvatore set his alarm clock and had a long, invigorating nap. Then he dressed up in the smartest clothes he had packed, and Lucia, herself refreshed from her own welcome break, joined him out front as promised. They jumped into a taxi — he remembered at the last minute to open and close the door for his un-muscled lady friend — and they headed out across Newark Bay and then up towards the Hudson River.
They were only able to admire the Manhattan city skyline properly for a few minutes before they left the New Jersey bank to burrow down into the Holland Tunnel. Emerging on the west side of SoHo, they pressed on north for a few blocks and were soon approaching Washington Square.
The cab dropped them off at West 3rd and MacDougal, and they strolled down towards the Blue Note. But the doorman was already giving Lucia a disapproving look, and as Salvatore approached, he at once had a quiet word in the young man’s ear.
‘Oh dear, Lucia — I’m afraid he doesn’t like the way you’re dressed.’
‘That’s OK, Salvi ... I’ll sort it out. Wait for me here, will you?’ She hurried back to MacDougal Street and disappeared round the corner.
‘You’ll have a long wait, sir,’ remarked the doorman, already losing interest in his latest potential customers.
‘I don’t think so,’ said Salvatore, suddenly inspired. ‘She’s always one step ahead of the next big fashion, as you’ll probably notice next autumn. But she has a large wardrobe in the back of the limo, for situations such as this, and our stylist should be able to do something with her hair quite quickly ...’
The doorman decided he had a real nutcase on his hands, and resolved to ignore him and to wait only another five minutes before asking him to move swiftly along.
But within two minutes, Salvatore’s escort was gliding back down West 3rd Street wearing the smartest little black dress she’d been able to hurriedly observe in the store windows of Fifth Avenue. Her make-up was pure English Rose, and her hair was piled up in an elegant bouffant lifted straight from the display of one of the city’s finest salons.
So in they went, with an appropriate thank-you tip from Salvatore to the utterly bewildered doorman.
For a while they managed to keep out of the way of other patrons. But the band and the singer had an excellent reputation, and soon the club began to fill up worryingly. Lucia did not want to cause any stir on their very first day in the United States. So, after making her apologies to her escort and promising to meet up with him the next day, she chose her moment carefully, leaned down below the level of their table, and quietly un-made.
Salvatore continued to enjoy the rest of the evening’s entertainment, hardly noticing she had gone. And when he finally emerged from the club, all on his own, the doorman showed some honest concern.
‘But where’s the young lady, sir?’
‘Oh, she just vanished. I’m used to it. It’s that sort of relationship. Goodnight, pal.’
And he handed over another hundred dollars. The doorman shook his head in grateful disbelief, and later considered biting on the bill to check that it was real.
Salvatore Pirone was back in his room soon after midnight, and up early in the morning for a relaxed breakfast before taking the hotel shuttle bus to the airport terminal. At eight-thirty he boarded Continental flight 3128 for Columbia, and settled down in his left-side window seat, looking forward to a good birds-eye view of several east coast states, and confident that Lucia would be out there somewhere with a similar plan.
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd