On Love, Doubles, and Supermodels
by Anselmo J. Alliegro
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The atmosphere was romantic and the lighting soft. Linden sat alone with a beer on the candle-lit table. When he caught sight of Marty, Linden was suddenly beaming and waving at him.
“Ah, Marty, so glad you came. A bit late. You’re never late. Sit down,” Linden said.
Marty forced a smile which faded instantly. He sat, reluctantly. “Is this one of your new places? Never told me about this one.”
“Thought you knew,” Linden replied, without revealing anything. “You’re the expert on wining and dining. Have a beer.”
Linden held up his bottle to the waitress. She looked and headed off.
“Not locked away at the office tonight. Why the change?” Marty inquired.
“That’s the operative word: change. Someone else can replace me when I leave. Poor schmuck.” Linden looked at his watch. He glanced at the entrance door.
“Did I hear you say ‘leave’? After all the hours, the years...” Marty said with genuine surprise.
“A sort of sabbatical. I’m worn out.”
“The workaholic taking time off? Is this the Linden I know?”
“I’m sick of it, Marty. I’m sick of billing hours and calling clients. I feel like a corporate whore.”
“I’ve never been more sober.” Linden’s eyes lit up. He saw Doris at the entrance and beckoned her.
Doris smiled and lunged towards the table. At once she slowed to a stifled pace when Marty turned her way.
Marty and Doris fell silent for a suspended moment. As if wakened from a stupor, they shared greetings.
“Marty, it’s been a long time,” said Doris.
“Nice to see you, Doris,” returned Marty.
Doris maneuvered to sit by Linden.
“No, no, don’t sit next to me,” protested Linden with a smirk. “Next to Marty, please.”
“Why?” asked Doris. “I want to sit next to you.”
“Don’t argue with me, Doris dearest.”
Doris took a seat by Marty. Meanwhile, Marty sat poker-faced and rigid.
Linden watched them, quite satisfied with himself. The stage was set. He read it on their faces, the anticipation of a shocking disclosure.
“Last night, Doris,” began Linden, “you remember — when I held you at gunpoint — I smelled men’s cologne on you. The same cologne, Doris—” He turned to Marty. “No offense, that crap smells like gardenias gone sour.” Back to Doris: “That’s what you smelled like: Marty’s cologne. The same one he’s wearing right now.”
“I can’t believe this,” said Marty irritably.
“And I never doubted it,” shot back Linden. “I never doubted seeing both of you here last Saturday night.”
“I’m leaving,” said Doris, and began to rise.
“Stay put, sweetheart,” said Linden firmly.
“Thought it amusing; asking us to meet you here, for this,” protested Marty, displaying an air of righteous indignation. “I’m not giving you a goddamned explanation, Linden.”
“Reserve that for your wife,” replied Linden.
Doris appeared angry and on the verge of tears.
“Perhaps you think this is funny,” Marty said, staring at Linden, and determined to keep his composure. “He can’t love you, Doris. If he did, he’d find time for you.”
“It’s all true, Doris. I mistook you for someone else,” said Linden. He noticed her eyes were not the right shade of blue; not like that bygone stormy sea, with that tinge of gray. This came as a fleeting, barely conscious thought that, nonetheless, found its way into his dialogue. “I guess your eyes reminded me of her. No, her eyes had depth and warmth. They spoke more in a wink than you can speak in a lifetime.”
“You’re the most selfish, ungrateful son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met,” said Doris, her voice shaking, and rising to leave.
Marty stood and glared at Linden, spewing, “You self-righteous prick! I know the mob’s got you in their pocket. You’re as corrupt as your old man.”
Linden leapt to his feet. He faced Marty defiantly. But Marty turned his back on him and followed Doris out of the restaurant.
“You deserve each other,” shouted Linden, and he didn’t care about the public.
* * *
On his way home, Linden saw the ubiquitous supermodel again, riding past him on a bus advertisement, on behalf of Calvin Klein; on a telephone booth, the half-nude reclining model stared seductively. On Times Square, Linden froze before traffic, looking up at her, several stories high and glowing in neon, on behalf of Ellen Tracy.
Linden entered a Barnes & Noble bookstore, and lo and behold — she graced the cover of Vogue. Inscribed near her was a name and primer to her soul: Marina Arington. Linden’s face turned warm when he read it. He dropped the magazine, or it simply fell from his hands.
He ran outside to the wintry wind. Through the existential darkness cut a glimmer... a beam... a bursting sun! He recalled Marina, the beautiful equestrian who came trotting to his rescue. “Are you okay?” came her voice, from that keepsake spring of his childhood in Martha’s Vineyard.
He saw the stormy, gray-blue afternoon sky coloring the swelling sea. Could it truly be you? he thought. Back into the bookstore he raced, to devour, read, and match her eyes to the stormy sea.
Forlenze required the services of a former partner, an expert in the field of surveillance. Although Tobin had always been a bit eccentric, Forlenza was shocked to find him in a dark, cluttered apartment, littered with mechanical gadgets — short wave radios, scanners, debugging devices, etc.
Tobin picked up a radio frequency detector and started up and down Forlenza’s body. “Gotta sniff you. Sniff ‘em bugs out,” said Tobin. Then he began raving, “Seeing Red. The Reds. The Red Chinese... brainwashing... recruiting spooks... collecting data to build a world-conquering, demonic nuclear arsenal...”
Tobin’s mind seemed splintered into a million pieces. Forlenza worried that this man, who had performed brilliantly in the past, would be rendered ineffectual by his paranoid delusions.
Forlenza was facing off against the People’s Liberation Army. He needed to put this Humpty Dumpty back together again. However, Tobin’s analysis of China’s economy, to surpass that of the U.S. and the rest of the world, and the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program to put communists on the moon with their Death Rays — Death Rays aside, Forlenza found his analysis to be reasonable enough.
Forlenza tried an unconventional approach. He dragged Tobin to Cha Kuan, his favorite Chinese restaurant. A test to gauge Tobin’s breaking point. Forlenza needed to rely on him for the job. The place was quiet with roasted ducks hanging by the kitchen. Tobin sat across the table from Forlenza with candlelight, dinner, and a tea kettle. Tobin appeared sedated, not prone to rave as before. His hair was badly combed and face unshaven. He wore a clean suit and overcoat he had worn on better days.
“You sadistic bastard,” said Tobin, with his eyes fixed on the tablecloth, ignoring the Kung Pao chicken Forlenza ordered for him.
“I’m integrating you. Be thankful,” Forlenza said, with a mouthful of lo mein. “There’s more to this than some jealous caller. This guy wants something. Her husband is a hedge fund analyst; he gathers inside info on various companies. Perhaps this guy has shares of stock to trade...”
“Probably a case of extortion,” added Tobin. “But he’s got some technical know-how, and isn’t just listening; he’s tracking too. He modified the cell phone and wired it to the car’s battery. Makes for a good RF transmitter, and can broadcast your exact GPS location.”
“If I’m right about this, and I think I am, we can charge this guy with illegal trespass,” said Forlenza.
“Simple room bugs don’t cut it,” explained Tobin. “Have a short range. With a relay transmitter — half a mile, max. They send out radio signals on a standard eighty-eight to one-oh-eight megahertz FM band. Carrier current bugs? Don’t think so.”
“You talkin’ Chinese over here,” complained Forlenza. “What’s this carrier bug?”
Tobin glared at him, and then returned his gaze to the tablecloth. “Spooks put them in the electrical system, inside a wall outlet. They hide somewhere with a radio and tune in. You get static with bugs like that, plus they amplify room noise. Not my first choice.”
“A standard phone tap?” suggested Forlenza.
“Nah, short range, short life. Unless...”
The waiter interrupted, arriving with tea and fortune cookies.
Forlenza began where Tobin left off. “Unless?”
“Infinity transmitter. Potent little things. Work off the telephone or electrical current. Uses the telephone line as a transmitter, and works at an infinite distance.” Tobin began to come alive, describing the gadgets.
“So that’s your guess?”
“That’s one of my theories.”
“Does it involve China in any way?”
Tobin glared at Forlenza again.
“Just checking. You didn’t touch your food. Eat your fortune cookie,” said Forlenza.
“I don’t want it.”
“Don’t you wanna know your fortune?”
“Is that a trick question?”
That night Forlenza, along with Tobin and his gadgets, visited Mrs. Magovern. Forlenza guided Mrs. Magovern by the arm, away from her house into the front yard.
“Your husband’s away,” said Forlenza.
Mrs. Magovern rolled her eyes. “A business trip, he said. How original.”
“It’s true. I checked,” Forlenza assured her.
Tobin neared them carrying an RF Detector. The instrument was about the size of a hand-held radio, equipped with signal strength indicator lights, meters, and headphones. Tobin came uncomfortably close to Mrs. Magovern.
“What are you doing?” asked Mrs. Magovern, watching Tobin circle her like a shark with his RF Detector.
Tobin turned to Forlenza. “Is she always cranky like this?”
“Check the house,” ordered Forlenza, frowning at Tobin.
Tobin went to the house. Forlenza offered Mrs. Magovern a cigarette; he lit it and they started puffing.
“What the hell’s going on?” asked Mrs. Magovern.
“I failed to mention something,” revealed Forlenza. “I thought it would jeopardize my investigation. I suspect your house has been bugged.”
“My God, you mean microphones?”
Mrs. Magovern’s eyes widened, she placed a hand on her chest. “You mean someone’s been listening—”
“To everything we’ve said?”
“Let’s see if Tobin finds anything first,” Forlenza said very calmly, trying to assure her. “I told him to deactivate them and leave them there. That way we got evidence to prosecute this guy.”
“Who’s the girl,” asked Mrs. Magovern suddenly.
“Mrs. Magovern, let’s not bring the girl into it.”
“I have a right to know who my husband is sleeping with.”
“She’s Marina Arington. She models. Nice girl.”
“You must be joking. Marina Arington, the supermodel?”
“It sure looks that way.”
“How can I compete with that!”
“It’s not hopeless, Mrs. Magovern.”
“Call me Jen.”
“You see, Jen, Marina found out he’s married. She refused to let him into her apartment.”
“What apartment? Tell me where she lives.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Mrs.... Jen, a step at a time, please. This girl is... she’s just such an angel. She gives money to the poor, to so many charities. I did a routine background check — spotless. Solid citizen all the way. She’s in school. Totally dedicated. Not the bimbo you’d expect; not riding limos and sniffing coke and partying the night away.”
“You say that with admiration. Almost as if... oh, not you too.”
“I don’t get it. You’re saying...”
“I’m not saying anything, Mr. Forlenza. Forget about it,” said Mrs. Magovern, and tactfully changed the subject. “They tell me you’re good.”
“The best,” said Forlenza proudly.
“Like being a private dick?”
“Jen Jen, you make that sound obscene. I think the job chose me. My father once said to me...” Forlenza broke off, blocking the painful memory. He threw his cigarette on the ground and stomped it out. “My mother was young and beautiful. She worked with the homeless. Always giving and giving.
“One night, as she walked home carrying a bag of groceries, she got stabbed in the back — senselessly, brutally stabbed in the back. They never found the... animal who did it. I searched the streets, just ten years old, to find the killer. ‘It could’ve been anyone’ my father said. I’m still looking,” Forlenza disclosed. Pain and bitterness tainted his face.
At that moment Tobin emerged from the house. He gave a thumbs up to Forlenza.
“He’s found the bugs. We’re getting closer,” said Forlenza.
After a rigorous investigation, Linden’s inquiries left him thunderstruck. Marina, the supermodel, had lived in Martha’s Vineyard. Like the Marina he once knew, she rode horses after school and trained for competitions. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Museum of Art commissioned 120 castings of her face to replace the heads of their mannequins. Most wonderful of all, she lived in New York City, and had enrolled to finish her education at New York University.
How incredulous he had been of that whispering truth. Those gray-blue gems belonged to her! And when she gazed at him in compassion, eighteen years ago when he was twelve years old, they belonged to him.
Linden turned to art. Sketches and paintings followed. He found inspiration after years of fax machines and defending mobsters. The most meaningful work was a painting of Marina, Expressionist-like with bright colors. She wears a white spring dress, and on her flowing hair a wreath of foliage and flowers. She is surrounded by a vernal paradise, opulent with many and varied blossoms and birds.
Far off, waiting on a bridge under which flows a sinuous river, stands a man cloaked in silhouette. Near the horizon, her white paneled, two-story childhood home looks from a hill onto a fertile valley on the Vineyard, incandescent in sunlight: a depiction of their colorful utopia and everlasting spring.
The object of his inspiration appeared on the sidewalk near Astor Place and Broadway. Linden observed a tall, rather striking young woman advancing and passing him, headed in the opposite direction. She glanced at him from behind large, rounded dark glasses. She had Marina’s lips, her finely chiseled nose, and all of her features.
He stopped amid the intense flow of pedestrians. Linden’s face turned flush and heart wakened. Marina had sailed past him! He pursued her with a joy he had long forgotten.
She kept her sparkly brown hair in a ponytail; the tail swung as she walked. She wore a black pea jacket and skin-tight black trousers. Carrying a dark-green backpack, Linden surmised she had left school. He followed her down 8th Street, lagging far behind to remain inconspicuous. The pursuit was postponed when she entered a health food market called LifeThyme. The pursuit continued when she exited the store.
All along, Linden had the marginal hope she would blaze a path for him to her home. Although he expected a secret rendezvous with a limo or a vanishing act into an agency or the like. Still, that serendipitous day, altogether sunny and mild for this harshest of winters, had in store one last thrilling surprise. His porcelain doll sprang up the steps of an apartment, not far from where he lived.
Using keys she drew from her pocket, she opened the door and disappeared into the building. Knocking on her door could invite danger into her life. Given the recent threats and related problems, his life was barely sustainable.
Linden noticed a man watching him, sitting in an old Mustang, parked at the curb. Perhaps the man had noticed him gawking at the girl. Linden continued casually on his way home.
His mind drifted to the Vineyard eighteen years ago. He recalled Marina as a young girl, with a cute English rider’s cap and shiny boots, coming to rescue him on her white horse.
“Are you okay?” she asked, in her heavenly and melodious voice.
“I think so,” he said, looking silly, prostrate and dirt-faced, having been thrown from his horse.
She jumped from her horse and replaced the sun. Linden struggled to rise and saw her wearing a halo of sunlight. She stood over him, poised between heaven and Earth.
“I tried to jump the hurdles. But the horse stopped and threw me over his head,” explained Linden, wiping sand from his body.
“You were afraid,” she returned, with a prescribed solution at hand. “Don’t be afraid. The horse knows when you’re afraid.”
Why didn’t he listen to her wisdom? Hindsight makes us foolish. There he stood, ignorant of the fact, at a fork in the road. One path led to a career in law, which his father was vehement he follow, as he had done, and his father before him: a coat of arms he nailed into Linden’s head. The right and desired path led to visual art. I should have listened to her wisdom, thought Linden.
Marina moved away at spring’s end. She looked at Linden, wiping tears, and confessed her affection. Marina’s possessive father, thought Linden in retrospect, likely prevented her from contacting him after she left, since he had given her his phone number. According to Marina, her father worked for the government; the CIA she said, and was prone to spy on her.
Linden was full of grief as she drove off with her parents. He watched as she receded and vanished. She took spring and part of his heart from the Vineyard that forlorn day.
Copyright © 2016 by Anselmo J. Alliegro