by Bill Bowler
|Chapter 6: Subsequent Developments|
Two days later, I was sitting in Washington Square Park beside the statue of Garibaldi drawing his sword. Some disco skaters were dancing in the volleyball court. Two rock bands were playing, each with its own crowd of listeners. Drug dealers were hustling. The rastas were kicking a soccer ball around by the fountain. Cops were strolling through. Bums were lounging. Mamas were watching their babies. Joggers circled continuously the perimeter of the park.
My failing spirit was noticed by no one. Each pursued his own ends, caught up in the drama of his own desires, and my life seemed as ephemeral as the wisps of smoke drifting from the rooftop chimneys.
I was gripped by a pang of anxiety. A familiar figure was hurrying across the park, clutching a briefcase. He was wearing a wrinkled suit and a bow tie. His gray hair was brushed straight back and his face was clouded, deep in concentration, fixed on some unpleasant thought known only to himself. There were deep lines along his brow. He passed me without looking up and, without really thinking, I rose and followed.
It was Mrak. He crossed the street and entered the NYU Silver Center. I followed a moment later and saw him going into one of the large drab lecture halls. He left the door ajar. I peeked in and saw him down at the front of the class, taking his notes out of his briefcase and arranging them on the podium.
The Fates wove another thread, and I could not help but see Cynthia sitting in the back of the hall. I slipped quietly into the classroom, grinning sheepishly and keeping my head down like a tardy student, and sat in the back row near Cynthia. She was pretending not to notice me and giving me the cold shoulder.
I endured Mrak’s lecture for an eternity of forty minutes, as brutally boring as any I could remember from before I quit. I tried smiling and signaling Cynthia, but she feigned no interest. After class, the students filed out. Cynthia was right behind me, but Professor Mrak detained her and closed the door.
I waited in the hall. I could hear their voices but I had to lean towards the door and kind of put my ear next to it to make out the words.
“I think you should move out of that hole,” Mrak’s voice was saying. “It’s dirty. It’s not the safest neighborhood. There’s no reason for you to stay there. Don’t be obstinate.”
“You’re being ridiculous. I like it there.”
“I get very angry when you talk like that.”
“Like what? What’s your problem?”
“We’ve been through this before. You want to have an argument? Here? Now?”
“You’re the one that’s arguing!” Cynthia was raising her voice now. “Where do you get off telling me where to live?”
“Please, Cyn.” The Professor lowered his voice. “Come here for a minute. Let’s not fight like this, please.”
The classroom door swung open unexpectedly. Cynthia was dabbing her eyes. Professor Mrak glared at me.
“What is it?”
I cleared my throat. “Um, excuse me, Professor, I, uh...”
“Can it wait?”
“Well, ahem, I uh...”
The Professor’s eyes narrowed. He began to examine me more closely.
I turned to go. “I’ll come back some other time when you’re not so busy.”
The Professor nodded and turned to Cynthia, having dismissed me. “Tomorrow evening, then, around eight.”
Cynthia passed me, walking rapidly down the corridor, past the Political Science Dept., down the steps, and out to the sidewalk. I ran behind.
“Hey! Whatsa matter?”
“You’re starting to get annoying, Walter! You can’t just barge into my classes like that! And now eavesdropping and spying on me! You have no right. I was embarrassed because of you. Don’t ask me why.”
“What’s tomorrow at eight?”
“None of your business.”
“Professor Mrak is having a party.”
“What kind of party?”
“It’s for faculty and students only. He’ll serve beer and wine and hors d’oeuvres. The stuffy ones leave early.”
“Sounds like fun. Where does he live?”
“In a beautiful brownstone on 10th Street. It’s not far from here. But why do you care? You’re not invited.”
We had reached the bottom of the park.
“Where are you going now?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
She crossed 4th Street, heading towards Bleecker. I turned back. A dealer approached me.
“Bags. Loose J’s. Mesc.”
I waved him off. “Nah, nah.”
I walked back across the park and through the arch. I stood at the bottom of Fifth Avenue and looked up at the statue of Washington as Statesman. Time had eroded his face so he looked like he had an awful, pockmarked complexion. I turned and gazed up Fifth, the city’s aorta, pulsing with the strength and vitality of the metropolis. The traffic was jammed up, a touch of sclerosis. People were scurrying home from work, off to play, out to shop, sightseeing.
Professor Mrak came into view, walking across the top of the park, clutching his briefcase. He turned onto Fifth, headed up the avenue, and entered the swank bar at One Fifth. I hesitated one second, and followed him in.
It was Happy Hour. A mob of singles, young and not so young professionals, was mingling at the bar. Through the din of a hundred conversations, a juke box blaring, and the stinging haze of countless cigarettes, an imposing sign at the door read, “Proper Attire Required.”
With no bouncer in sight at the moment, I slipped past and grabbed an empty seat at the bar, hoping my ratty sneakers and torn jeans would not draw attention.
I discovered Mrak in a booth not far from where I sat. He was speaking to a blond man in a gray suit and dark glasses. I strained my ears to hear.
The blond man was saying, “So, have you thought about our offer?”
“Yes.” The Professor unlocked his briefcase and drew out a sheaf of papers. “Here is a list of names, a partial list. There are others.”
The blond man took the papers and examined them. “Some of these are, of course, already familiar to us from other sources.”
The blond man pocketed the list and left the bar. Professor Mrak dallied, nursing his drink. He rose to leave a moment later, which was fortunate for me as the busy bartender was finally coming in my direction and I could not afford to finance even one beer in a joint like that.
I followed the Professor out to the street, maintaining a discrete distance. The sun had set by now. The nocturnal beast had awakened and opened its thousand eyes. The city at night is not the same city as the city by day. At night, even the brightest lights are surrounded by shadows. And the beast was restless tonight, on the prowl. You could feel it in the air. It could get ugly.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2009 by Bill Bowler