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Observation Three

Changing Hearts

by Michael E. Lloyd


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Chapter 29: Small Slices of Big Apple Pie

Toni and Maelene soon flew beyond the range of her parents’ bitter-sweet waves of farewell. But Carla and Quo remained, as promised, in constant background attendance. And just over two hours later, a Newark Airport cab was whisking the lovers towards and then under the Hudson River, and up to 49th and Broadway.

It was well after ten before they checked in and were escorted to their elegant room. They were both already very tired, but they decided to wander down to Times Square for a couple of hours, ‘just to get the feel of it, eh, honey?’ Toni had missed it “at night” the previous month, and Maelene had simply never been to New York City.

They soon saw all they needed to see, then hurried quickly back, reinvigorated and in overwhelming anticipation of a flight of new-found freedom and abandon.

* * *

Breakfast was all they could have hoped for, and a lot more. Toni did it full justice, and Maelene made a good effort: she expected to be on her feet for most of the day.

‘Listen, honey, I need to make a quick phone call right now. It should smooth our way out of here. Quo has told me exactly what to say. After that, I’m all yours.’

‘You’re all mine already, babe.’

‘Mr Ted Ranovitz?’

‘Yes ...’

‘Guiltless Guiltless.’

The senior government official was once again immediately back in the mood for Doman business.

‘Who is this, please?’

‘My name is Antonio Felipe Murano. I’m certain you remember me ...’

‘But of course I do, sir. We interviewed you here, we pursued you across the continent, and then we realised our mistake. We tried to sort out all the databases, but I’m afraid a few things slipped through and caused you inconvenience. We’re extremely sorry. I’m confident now that all of the inaccurate records have been removed.’

Toni could not believe his ears at the change in the man’s demeanour. It felt as if he was still in Las Vegas and the numbers had come up twice in a row. So he just had to go for the Three Bells ...

‘Very well, Mr Ranovitz. I shall accept your gracious apology, and trust in your assurances. And I’d now like to request some very special arrangements for myself and my travelling companion, to ensure our trouble-free passage through JFK en route to Dublin this evening. Perhaps you could be ready to meet us there as soon as we arrive? I’ll call you from the Aer Lingus check-in area ...’

‘So, what are we going to do today, honey? We have till about five o’clock ... then we’ll really need to be in a cab. It’ll take a long time to get out to Kennedy in the rush hour.’

‘OK. Well, it’s a nice dry day. Not especially warm, though. So, perfect for shopping! I didn’t have enough time to finish that yesterday!’

‘Hmm. Anything else?’

‘Nothing special, Toni. Long as I’m with you ...’

‘Do you want to visit Ground Zero?’

‘I don’t think so. Not on my first, real short day here, and such a happy one ... oh, that does sound awful, doesn’t it? Can you understand?’

‘Of course I can. I think the City wants you to be happy here. And I don’t feel I need to go back there again myself, so soon after last time.’

‘Thanks, honey. But you know, I made a donation right after it happened, and I already decided to give some more as soon as I knew we were coming here. And now I’m getting that big lump sum from Forretan, I can make it a really good one.’

‘That’s nice thinking. I’ll chip in again too, of course.’

‘OK, that’s settled! So, Macy’s, here I come! Hey, honey, what’s wrong?’

Toni had just flipped back down to another level of his own reality, and it was clearly showing on his face.

‘You know how the Domans always try to keep their promises, Maelene?’

‘Yes ...’

‘Well, I’ve just remembered I have an outstanding promise to Carla. And at last I have a chance to fulfil it. And you can join in too ...’

‘Sounds good, Toni. But why have you waited so long?’

‘Well, the first time I was here, seeing all the famous sights, and then Ground Zero, I told her about several Janis Ian songs that are specifically about the City ... some written long before 9-11, and some soon after. She said how much she’d like to hear them, and I told her I’d need to buy some small external speakers for my portable CD player. But I never had the chance to do that in New York, and then I met you in Columbia, and we all know what happened next — and then I clean forgot about it. Rather unfair of me, eh? Too busy thinking about you! So I really owe her a little lunchtime concert, Maelene ... maybe with us all sitting together on a bench, while you rest your weary shopping legs!’

‘Nice thinking on your part this time, Toni. I’m very proud of you — yet again. But don’t let it go to your head. And I wonder if Carla was listening in to what you just said?’

‘Oh yes,’ said a very contented voice, somewhere close by. ‘I certainly was, Maelene. And I hadn’t forgotten Toni’s promise. In fact, I’ve thought about it often. And I knew he would remember, as soon as we gave him the time and space. So I’m absolutely delighted with your plan, Toni. Thank you!’

‘That’s great, Carla. But don’t let me forget to pick up the player and the CDs from our room ...’

‘Oh, I shan’t, mi amigo. Believe me, I shan’t.’

* * *

They checked out and left their bags with the concierge. Then they took a cab to 34th Street, and Maelene shopped for what was actually less than three hours but seemed more like five to her devoted lapdog-for-the-day. And she just loved it. So he did too.

And then he finally bought the speakers for his CD player, and they grabbed some sandwiches and fruit for lunch. There were no romantic street-side benches in view, but they improvised well enough. And soon afterwards Carla came striding proudly up to them, and delicately sat herself down on Toni’s right-hand side.

Then they listened together, first to Bayonne Blues as a slice of flippant sixties New York light relief, then to the new coldness of the seventies reflected in Here In The City, and finally to Heart Of A City and Save Somebody, as they captured the more recent, devastating traumas.

And as Toni stared into space, captivated as always by the intensity of Janis Ian’s lyrics and their performance, Maelene and Carla smiled silently to each other and nodded their heads in unison, as much in their fellow-musician appreciation of those haunting songs as in their renewed respect for the passion of both the writer and her devoted young admirer.

Then Maelene got her second wind and plunged back into Macy’s. Toni, happy to have nothing left on his mental checklist but that five o’clock cab from their hotel, simply followed the path of least resistance.

* * *

Ted Ranovitz had clearly been watching and waiting for them at the desks for Flight 108. Only thirty seconds after receiving Toni’s promised call, he joined them at the tail-end of the short Business Class line, and discreetly moved them across to the even shorter First Class one.

Then he personally saw them smoothly through baggage check-in (Maelene was definitely no longer travelling light), and passport control, and all the security procedures. And finally, he surprised his new best friends by escorting them directly to the VIP lounge, and had a quiet word with the receptionist. Señor Antonio Felipe Murano and Ms Maelene Bay then spent the rest of their time on U.S. soil relaxing in tranquil, well-attended luxury, with any lingering qualms about their safe “escape” now largely dissolved.

Quo, however, was taking no further chances. Toni had been fully briefed on the Domans’ closure plan for Ted Ranovitz, and the man would remain in their gentle thrall for a few more very important hours ...

Proceed to Chapter 30 ...

Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd

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