Prose Header

Observation Two

Standing Divided

by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents
Chapter 11 part 1
Chapter 11 part 2
Chapter 12
appeared in issue 230.

Chapter 13: New York, New York

Carla followed Toni effortlessly out of the Kennedy terminal, re-made discreetly in the late-evening shadows, and joined up with him as he approached the cabs.

Hola, Toni. That wasn’t a very pleasant experience. How are you feeling?’

‘I don’t really know, Carla. A bit numb ...’

‘Well, I’m sure you’ll soon get over it. There’s plenty to look forward to, and you’re finally here!’

‘That’s what’s giving me strength, I think!’

‘Good. Now, I’ll need to finish our briefing before we meet Jeff Dean. But I don’t want the taxi driver to overhear it. So let’s just enjoy the ride, and I’ll tell you the plan when we get out ...’

Toni opened the cab door for his intangible colleague, as he had been told he always must, and she slid in. He followed her and closed the door behind him.

‘West 74th Street, please.’


* * *

Toni was very quiet during the drive up through Queens, and only came to life as the lights of Manhattan began to fill the view ahead.

‘Isn’t that amazing, Carla?’

‘Yes, it is. A very big city.’

‘A very tall one, too. You’ll see, tomorrow ...’

They crossed the East River at the Queensboro Bridge, covered the full width of Manhattan, and pulled up outside a huge apartment block sited between Central Park and the Hudson Riverside.

Once Toni had paid the driver, Carla took command again.

‘Now listen carefully, Toni. Jeff’s expecting you, but he’s going to bump into me first. We’ll have a quiet word with him, and after that he will simply welcome you as exactly what you told the Immigration agents you are: a friend of a friend. Neither of you will have any sense of having met before. OK?’

‘Whatever you say. But why am I staying here? Why not just in a smart hotel?’

‘Two reasons. We may want to take advantage of Jeff’s hospitality or other services again, in the future. You can never have too many friends to call on. So it’s best to arrange his solid support here and now. And secondly — we’d like to persuade him to take you straight out for a drink and some good music. I’m sure that would be more effective than leaving you to sort something out for yourself, at this hour in such a big new city ...’

‘That sounds good. Thank you!’

‘Right. I’ll make myself scarce for a while, then I’ll follow you up, unseen. Press all the buttons you need to, tell him it’s you if he speaks on any intercom systems, and by the time you reach his door, I’ll be with you again. Then ring his bell or whatever, stand to one side, and start whistling some really famous jazz tune. Got it?’

‘Got it.’

Jeff Dean opened his door to an attractive young woman and the offset strains of a passable rendition of Joe Zawinul’s inimitable Birdland.

‘Hey, Jeff! I’m with Toni. Good to meet you!’

Carla took the startled New Yorker’s head in her hands before he had time to think of reacting to his potential intruder, and Quo spent a few seconds putting his mind at ease, cancelling any previous personal acquaintance with their young assistant Toni, and encouraging some late evening entertainment for them both.

Then Carla let him be, motioned Toni to take her place on the threshold, walked behind him, whispered ‘Have fun — I’ll catch up with you tomorrow,’ and disappeared.

Jeff was back in the real world, and smiling at the new arrival.

‘Good evening, Mr Dean. I’m Toni Murano.’

‘Hi, Toni. Right on time! Come on in! And call me Jeff ...’

‘Thanks, Jeff!’

‘You can sleep in here, OK? The couch is quite comfortable. But I’ll probably have to disturb you at about eight in the morning.’

‘Oh, I think I’ll get up a lot earlier than that. There’s a lot I want to see.’

‘Of course! Hey, have you got a street map?’

‘Not yet.’

‘Here, you can have this one. Now, have you eaten?’

‘Yes, I had plenty on the plane, thanks. But I am a bit thirsty ...’

‘Good. Get yourself changed — we’re going out!’

Cleo’s was less than twenty blocks to the north, and Jeff usually walked there and back for the exercise. But tonight they would take a cab in both directions, and save the tired traveller’s energy and an hour of his precious time in the city.

The drive up West End Avenue took less than five minutes.

‘You’ll love this place, Toni. Jam session every Monday night, fine leader, open till one o’clock. Just right, eh!’

‘Just right, Jeff!’

To Toni’s wilting but appreciative ears the music was just sublime. Jeff Dean, who had been so friendly when he and Toni had had their brief but now eradicated encounter in the club in Venice, was even finer company on his home ground, and they listened to the music, drank the beer, and chatted contentedly for nearly three hours. At one point, Jeff tried to persuade Toni to join the jam on keyboards, but he pleaded exhaustion and his host generously let it go.

By the time they left the club and dived into another taxi, Toni was not only very well-versed in the current New York music scene, but also over-supplied with recommendations on what to visit the following day. And as they walked back into the apartment block lobby, Jeff introduced Toni to the night doorman.

‘Phil, my pal here will be leaving his case with you for a few hours tomorrow morning, OK?’

‘No problem, Mr Dean. Goodnight now, gentlemen.’

* * *

At five-thirty Toni awoke, well before his alarm sounded, to find himself refreshed and totally alert. With his flight from Newark not due to depart until three-fifteen, he had plenty of time, will and energy for a solid chunk of Big Apple sightseeing and photography. Half an hour later he was dressed, fully packed, and pulling the apartment door closed behind his still-sleeping host and the hundred dollar bill he had gratefully left on the coffee table.

He deposited his suitcase with Phil the ever-respectful doorman, took a quick peek at Jeff’s street map, and walked in the crisp early daylight along the three blocks of West 74th Street separating the apartments from Central Park. There was a park entrance only two streets to the south, and he soon found himself standing close to the Lake, which shimmered in curvy silence as four or five intent young joggers pounded its tree-shrouded banks before heading down to their hi-powered jobs in the Financial District.

He followed the paths of the park down towards the eastern corner, passed between the deserted playground and the friendly little Pond, and emerged back in the City near the subway station on Fifth Avenue.

Then he consulted his map again: properly, this time. Hmm ... he would have to buy a mini guidebook as soon as he could! He wanted to get a good look at the Empire State Building, but if he forged ahead to the south right now, he would miss lots of other interesting sights. So he turned east instead, crossed Madison and Park, and then took a right.

His seven o’clock stroll down a stunningly quiet Lexington Avenue, photographing the early morning skyline with the proud and shiny Chrysler Building as the main landmark, would be one of his fondest memories for as long as Quo allowed it.

He reached 42nd Street a good twelve hours ahead of the nightlife crowds, and wandered along to Grand Central Station, to take a great photo of its imposing façade and five yellow cabs lined up perfectly in front. Then he carried on towards Times Square.

Soon after eight he found an early-opening bookshop, and bought the little pocket guide he’d been yearning for. He dived into a classic New York City diner, and devoured the book’s highlights and a fine American breakfast. There was a lot more to see in the next few hours, and most of it was to the south. So he wouldn’t be able to fit in a visit to the Metropolitan Museum, and that was a real pity. But he must count his blessings ...

With his body and soul primed for the next few hours, he wandered happily around the extensive “Square” purposefully not trying to achieve anything for a good half-hour, just enjoying the brash allure of it all, and persuading himself that it would not look all that much better at night.

Then he pressed on down Broadway until he was standing in awe beside the towering grandeur of the Empire State Building.

It was nine-thirty. Time to change location and mood. He hurried to the 34th Street subway station, and took the fast train south to Chambers Street. From there he followed a set of complicated, temporary footpaths until he reached the site of the devastated World Trade Centre.

He spent a long time just looking. He took several photos of the immensity of the space and the rebuilding that was just beginning. He felt both shame and supreme defiance as he asked a passing lady tourist to photograph him standing before that scene of utter destruction. Because at that moment, he felt it was the only way he could identify himself with those who had suffered so much from that world-changing event.

And then he saw the police cars. Four of them, in a range of colours and markings, clearly all from different “departments” and all parked up — just like those yellow cabs — in a tranquil row on Church Street, their officers standing quietly beside them or seated inside in equally dignified silence. But it took Toni another twenty seconds to register the crucial feature of the scene. It was their faces! They didn’t look like the tough New York cops he had seen so often on TV. They looked like strangled, very human souls. And then he discovered a better way to demonstrate his empathy.

He threw his natural shyness aside, walked slowly up to one of those policemen, and carefully said ‘Hello.’ He was greeted with equally measured respect and an obvious gratitude for the simple fact of his approach.

And then Toni talked briefly with that very ordinary, very special man, who revealed, in response to a delicately phrased question, that yes ... like all the officers around him today, he had been there. But he seemed unwilling to say any more.

The young visitor reached out, shook a very strong hand, and thanked its owner and his colleagues for everything they had done on those awful days. The officer’s eyes at once glazed over, and he barely managed to utter a quiet but sincere ‘Thank you, sir.’

Toni crossed the street, entered the humble and resolute St. Paul’s Church, and soon discovered the huge role it had played in the 9-11 rescue efforts. He made a substantial cash donation in recognition and respect, and took two more photographs: one of its beautiful interior, the other of the quiet, sunlit front churchyard, with Ground Zero waiting patiently beyond.

He finally tore himself away, walked off up Church Street, and came upon a small precinct fire house, just as they were getting ready to depart on a call. After the fire-engine had noisily left, he spoke to one of the men left behind, and asked if he could make a small donation to the rescue workers’ fund. The answer was ‘Yes, of course, sir.’ Toni handed over several ten dollar bills, and again passed on his thanks, this time to the fireman and all his colleagues. And this time he was better prepared for the man’s reaction. It was identical to that of the policeman ...

He continued north, and soon came upon the reason for the call-out. Several huge fire trucks, as well as ambulances and police cars, had converged on a side-street night club entrance, where an internal alarm lamp was flashing brightly. There were no signs of smoke or anything worse, but there must have been at least thirty men at the scene, and the fire-fighters were clearly preparing to break in through the club’s expensive glass doors.

‘Hmm,’ thought Toni. ‘This city takes its emergencies very seriously ...’

He checked his watch. Eleven-thirty. He decided he had time for a detour from his northward track. He turned to the east and aimed towards Chinatown. He was getting rather hungry again, but he would use his time here wisely, and have his lunch at the airport. But maybe he’d stop for just a small beer ...

He found the perfect pub for an American Guinness and some peanuts. Once again he felt strangely compelled to mention the events of 9-11, this time to the friendly but no-nonsense bartender. Then he listened to a fuller personal story. And that thick-skinned man too showed himself surprisingly moved by Toni’s sincere interest and sympathy.

As he emerged from the bar and picked up his route, a voice behind him called ‘A penny for your thoughts, Toni!’

‘Oh, hello Carla! Nice to see you. Have you been with me all day?’

She had caught up with him by now. ‘Yes, I have. That’s why I asked ...’

‘Well, I was thinking about the policeman, and the fireman and the bartender. Three hard, tough guys — but each of them was almost in tears as they spoke, and each of them gave me a warm handshake of gratitude as I left them. So much for the idea that modern New Yorkers are cold, self-centred people.’

‘Why did you think that?’

‘Oh, I’ve had that image in my head for a long time. Partly from one of my favourite Janis Ian songs. It’s called Here In The City. She wrote it way back in 1974. It paints a sorry picture of a new urban coldness, after the famous “village friendliness” of New York that she’d known in the sixties. But it looks as if people here have recently grown up very quickly. You only have to listen to two songs she wrote in 2001, Heart Of A City and Save Somebody, to complete the picture ...’

‘Can I do that some time, Toni?’

‘Of course you can. I’ve got the CDs with me. You won’t be able to wear my player’s earphones! But I’ll buy some small external speakers as soon as I can.’

‘That would be great.’

They pressed on with Toni’s circular route. It took them through the colour of Chinatown and the noisy charm of Little Italy, then across into Bleecker Street and along to Washington Square. They passed close by the Blue Note club, but Carla chose not to mention Salvatore’s visit there with Lucia the previous week. Then they continued westward, and took in the unique atmosphere of Greenwich Village. Toni tried hard to imagine himself hanging out there with the freethinkers of forty years earlier, but he did not succeed.

It was just after one o’clock. Reluctantly he decided it was finally time to leave — and he was getting very hungry now. They grabbed a cab and it hurried them back up Eighth Avenue to Jeff’s apartment block. The driver waited while Toni picked up his case from the day doorman, then set off again for the short, midday-traffic run to Newark Airport.

Carla split off from Toni as he walked towards the terminal entrance. ‘I’ll see you later this evening, amigo.’

‘OK, chiquita!’

By two-thirty he had checked in and was enjoying a giant burger and fries in the departures area. Twenty minutes later he boarded Continental flight 3039.

* * *

Once she was sure the plane had left the tarmac, the anonymous Homeland Security agent who had tailed Antonio Felipe Murano from Kennedy Airport to Jeff Dean’s apartment and on to the nightclub, and had been close behind him throughout his tour of the city, telephoned her opposite number in Columbia, South Carolina, handed over control, and gratefully ended her eighteen-hour surveillance.

Carla the Handler, by contrast, stayed on observation duty and established the radimote in close formation beside the elegant regional jet. And up on the Mater, Quo and the Chief Surveyor were each thinking identical thoughts: ‘OK, young Toni. You’ve had your sightseeing. Now you have some real work to do ...’

Proceed to chapter 14, part 1 ...

Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd

Home Page