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    Geron Kees
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The Thief of Small Things - 4. Chapter 4

In the morning, the first thing we did was go on granddad's laptop and find some cameras to buy. The four we bought were small, unobtrusive, that ran on batteries and could be placed just about anywhere. They connected by wi-fi to a small box that plugged into a USB port and which, along with some software that came with the package, managed the streams from each camera, to be recorded on the hard drive. The cameras stayed dormant unless something moving set them off, so that they wouldn't be storage or power hogs.

Granddad was right: overnight shipping cost a pretty penny, so we settled on two-day express at one third of the cost. Once the cameras arrived, we'd figure out where to hide them. There were plenty of places among the statues and knickknacks where the tiny eyes could keep a watch on things.

Over a late breakfast, we discussed what to do with the day. A city like New York has a lot of attractions, but most all of them require some traveling about, either on foot, by cab, or by subway. And some things are just not available in the middle of the week, being reserved for weekends, when more people had the days off.

There was also the fact that I was not new to the city, and had seen an awful lot of what it had to offer. The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial, most of the tours, most of the cool buildings, and most of what granddad called 'the sucker stuff'. These were things that could be fun, but which were fairly expensive, and which you could do mostly on your own for free. Like the Central Park Tour, a 45-minute ride around the park in a horse-drawn carriage. You could do the same thing on a bicycle for the price of a little physical energy, and while you didn't get the charm of the clip-clop, clip-clop, you saved a pretty good chunk of change that could be used for something else.

"It's probably fun if you're with a special someone," granddad had said, a little wistfully. "Romantic, even. Maybe just after sunset on a cool spring evening." But then he laughed. "But for you and me it would just be sightseeing."

We'd just about decided to go back to the park when granddad smiled. "I know something we could do. And it would be in keeping with the weird things that have been going on here."

That intrigued me right off. "What?"

"We could go to church."

I think I gaped at him, because his eyes filled with laughter.

"Church," I repeated, a little disbelievingly.

"Well, not just any church. I was thinking about The Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. They have a tour of the catacombs underneath that's pretty cool, actually." He grinned. "It's a candlelight tour."

I considered that. "That's a pretty famous place, isn't it?"

"Well...I think you're thinking of St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown. The one with the huge twin spires. That's the one that's more widely known. This is St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, in lower Manhattan."

"Oh." I smiled. "Catacombs?"

"Yep. People are actually interred there. It's not terribly creepy, but it's interesting, for sure. The candlelight gives it a kind of eerie quality that seems in keeping with everything else that's been happening. And the church itself is quite beautiful and interesting, too."

"Could we get in? I mean, last minute and all?" I knew how such things were in the city. People booked ahead for weeks or months at a time.

Granddad turned and looked at the clock on the wall. "As I remember, the next tour would be at one o'clock. When I went, they just said to show up by 12:30, and everyone would probably be accommodated. It's just not that busy during the week, and walk ups are fine."

It wasn't even eleven yet. "Where do we have to go?"

He smiled. "It's a few blocks south and east of The Village. A little beyond Washington Square Park. It's not terribly far."

I shrugged. "If you think it's fun, I'm sure I will, too. I'm game."

We finished eating, straightened up the table and the counter, and went to get dressed. This time I made a careful note of where I left everything in my room, so that I could be certain if anything was moved. I was just glad it wasn't my own bedroom at home, which had too much stuff in it to keep track of. I had only brought a few things with me here, so I had a reasonable hope of noticing if anything was disturbed while we were out.

Granddad called a cab, and about noon we took a fifteen-minute trip through traffic and were deposited on Prince Street, at the tour agency's visitor's kiosk. It was just a small canopy labeled 'Catacombs By Candlelight', but there were about a half-dozen people there already, talking to a man who introduced himself as the guide. While the guide was handing out the basics on what to expect, I gave our group a casual examination, on the theory that it's always wise to know who you're going to be groping about in the dark with.

There were two old ladies, obviously together, happily smiling, one holding a small camera at the ready. They had an out-of-town look to them that couldn't be missed. There was a man and woman with a young girl with them, dressed like they were heading for the park, and just as obviously city folk. I figured them to be a married couple. The girl was maybe eight years old, and already looked bored without having even set foot inside the church.

There was another man, maybe granddad's age, but bald on top with gray to the sides, who was reading a book while the guide spoke. The last member of our group was also male, but had his back to me. But he was wearing a pair of nice cargo shorts and a tee-shirt, and running shoes, had very appealing legs, and I could see sunglasses pushed back up into his thick, curly blond hair. Even as I made my inspection he turned and our eyes touched, and I felt a small tingle of shock at the contact.

He was young, like my age. His eyes were a fierce green, and when they met mine, they widened a little, and he smiled. Wow! The guy was cute. Maybe not gorgeous, but certainly worth looking at. I found myself smiling in return, and that only seemed to please him. He nodded, and then turned to listen to what the guide was saying. I did, too, not wanting to seem to be gawking, but I watched the guy out of the side of my eye, and noticed that he seemed to be doing the same to me.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and turned to find granddad smiling at me. "Aren't you glad you came?"

Somehow, I knew he had noticed me and the blond guy trading looks. Granddad didn't miss a lot, especially when it came to guys. I tried not to grin like an idiot, and nodded. He squeezed my shoulder another time, and then went back to listening to the guide. But his smile stayed in place.

And then we were off. The first part of the tour was a look inside the church, which was very beautiful. Some scenes in the old movie, The Godfather, had been filmed in the basilica. I'd never seen the film, but granddad had, and he said he remembered the scenes in the church. There was a pretty awesome old pipe organ there, built in 1868, and we got to look inside at the guts, which I thought was pretty cool. There was a huge wheel that someone had once had to turn to power the original organ, before electricity came into use. I tried to imagine that job, continually turning the big wheel through a long Sunday of multiple services. It had probably produced big arms and a strong back, and only paid enough to replenish the calories burned.

I couldn't help turning every now and then to see where the blond guy was standing, and a few times I found him looking my way. He smiled, I smiled, and I felt a little stupid while enjoying the hell out of the whole thing. I missed a lot of what the guide said, but I just couldn't help it.

Next came the walk down to the catacombs, which were behind large wooden doors banded with iron. They looked like castle doors taken right out of one of my fantasy novels, and I felt a kind of delicious chill as we passed through them. The catacombs themselves were lit in red, with small yellow accent lights before each crypt. There was a timeless sense to the place, and a solemn one as well. We were each given a small light, which we could use to look more closely at the plaques on each vault. It wasn't a real candle like I'd been expecting, but it was easy to see why they did it this way. Real candles blew out, and of course they could start fires. The effect of the small lights was close enough not to matter.

A couple of times I found myself standing near the blond guy, who seemed to be doing his best to look at the vaults and not me. But his eyes kept straying, and he kept smiling, easy enough to see even in the poor light. I was becoming slightly enchanted by his presence, and wondering what to do next. Should I talk to him? Maybe ask what he thought of the tour?

He solved my dilemma for me. I was looking at the plaque on a vault that held the name of someone who had died a century before I was born when I turned my head, and there he was beside me.

"Kind of weird, to think there's a person behind there, huh?"

I swallowed, and nodded. "Um, yeah. Especially one who died so long ago." I looked around at the dimly-lit chamber, and gave a little shudder. "I was just thinking that I'd rather be buried out in the sunlight, myself."

He crinkled his nose. "I don't really want to be buried at all. I don't like the idea of being in the ground, all covered up."

I gave a little smile. "I don't think you'd know...you know?"

His eyes settled on me, and he smiled. "I guess not. Hi."

I smiled back. "Hi."

"I'm Mark," he said, sticking out a hand.

"David." I clasped his hand and gave it a quick shake, not missing at all the brief thrill that ran throughout my body at the touch.

He leaned closer. "Who's that you're with?"

"My granddad. It was his idea to take the tour."

Mark smiled. "Yeah? I owe him one, then."

I grinned at that, feeling a little stupid, but also pleased. He seemed to be saying that he was happy it worked out that way, so that we could meet.

"Um...you come here often?" It was a stupid line from the movies, but I was kidding, and he saw that right away.

"Only when there's something to see."

I laughed, delighted that we were playing this game. It was fun, and thrilling, too. "No, really. Is this your first time here?"

"Yeah. I was just bored today, and looking for something to do. I heard someone mention this place, and here I am."

"Cool so far, huh?"

"Definitely." He smiled at me, and I could see a little bit of nerves in his eyes, and I guessed that he wasn't exactly a pro at this meeting guys stuff, either. That made me feel better, and allowed me to relax.

"You're a city guy," I said. "I can tell."

He nodded. "What about you?"

"Burbs. I live with my dad. My folks are separated."

"Sorry." He looked sad a moment then, but immediately brightened. "Let's keep walking. We're being left behind."

We rejoined granddad, and I introduced them. They shook hands, and granddad smiled at me. "You find the most interesting things in the dark, sometimes."

Mark and I both laughed, and I could tell he was delighted at the comment.

The rest of the tour was kind of a blur for me, spent mostly talking with Mark as we walked along. He was interesting and smart, and I felt at ease with him right away. That I sensed he felt the same way with me was just plain amazing. I liked him immediately, and was very aware of him as he moved along next to me. He was an inch taller than me, but otherwise we were very close in size, and a few times our arms brushed together, and neither of us moved away. I could also sense granddad, being unobtrusive nearby, but also that he seemed happy for me, even if he knew this could only be for a day.

That thought was sobering. Only a day. Soon the tour would be over, and Mark would go his way, and I would go mine.

But...I was here for two weeks. It might be fun to share the time with someone while granddad was at work. Mark had to live somewhere fairly close, or he wouldn't be here now. Was it possible we could make this last longer than a day?

Maybe granddad was thinking the same thing, after all. We finally returned to where we had begun, and our group began to disperse.

Mark looked at me, winced, and scratched his head. "I had a good time."

I nodded. "Me, too."

Granddad looked at each of us, and gave a little sigh. "I'm hungry. There are a couple of little places around here that have pretty good food. What do you guys say?"

Mark looked uncertain, and patted his back pocket. "Um...I really didn't think about eating. I'm not sure I have enough cash for that."

"My treat," granddad added, smiling at me.

Mark looked like he hated the idea of taking someone's money; but then his eyes found me, and he smiled. "That's really nice of you. Sure, if it's okay with David."

"Hey, I'm great with it!" I said, trying play down my eagerness. But I think he saw it, anyway, and I could see it made him happy.

We walked down the block to a small hole-in-the-wall place, but granddad said the food was good, and when we went inside, it was clean and bright. And fairly crowded, actually, another sign that the food was good. We were shown to a table, and sat down.

"I never noticed this place before," Mark said. "How'd you find it?"

Granddad gave a small smile. "Oh, I hear things."

"He's a chef," I explained, at Mark's slightly confused look. "At Ludie's, uptown."

Mark's eyebrows did a bounce. "Really? That's a pretty hot place."

I nodded, and patted granddad's arm. "Here's why. He's the head chef."

Mark looked impressed, but I suddenly had the feeling he was not all that surprised. "That's very cool. Food is...well, cool."

He seemed suddenly a little nervous, and granddad filled the void by nodding. "I think so. Everyone has to eat. Might as well make it worth the effort."

Mark relaxed again, and granddad eyed him a moment, but didn't say more. We dived into our menus, and I immediately noted the prices. Mark did, too, and looked a little pale.

"This place isn't cheap," I said then, for the both of us.

Granddad laughed. "Good is seldom cheap. Don't worry about it. I'll put it on the company card. Ludie gives me a little extra each month to try the competition when I'm out, to compare and test, and to steal the best ideas...er, borrow select offerings...when I find them. That sort of thing. Look at it as a business expense."

That put me at ease, and Mark looked relieved. He smiled then. "I may still need you to translate, though."

Granddad helped us select. Mark and I decided we liked the same salad, arugula with warm roasted pears, toasted walnuts, shaved Parmesan, and a white balsamic vinaigrette, dotted with grilled baby shrimp. Granddad selected one with roasted ruby beets, Cara Cara oranges and a goat cheese fritter, over arugula, with blood orange shallot vinaigrette. He also chose the grilled Atlantic salmon with lemon risotto, Swiss chard, and hollandaise sauce.

I thought the spaghetti looked good. It came with roasted veal meatballs, San Marzano tomato, and basil. Mark chose what I would have called a breakfast dish: an omelet made with spicy sausage, Holland peppers, Vidalia onions, goat cheese, grated Parmesan, and fresh herbs.

The salads came first, and were excellent. The main courses, when they arrived, had me gawking. "I hope I can eat all that."

"I predict you will, even if it makes you uncomfortable," Granddad said, smiling.

He was right. The food was magnificent, and when I at last sat back, I was stuffed. "Man. I love Italian."

"I know. " Granddad took a last bite of his own, and then patted his mouth carefully with the linen serviette. "That's why I picked this place."

"It was awfully good," Mark said, sighing. "Best meal I've had in...well, a long time. I really want to say thanks."

"It was my pleasure." Granddad looked happy, himself. "It's one of the reasons I do what I do. Even the crankiest person on earth can smile after a good meal."

We left the restaurant, returning to a mildly crowded sidewalk baking just a little in the warm midday sun. Mark said he planned to walk home from there. He said he lived off West End Avenue at 64th Street, which was south of where the Boltfort stood, but in the same direction we would have to go to reach home. Granddad smiled at that, and said to me that we could easily do the same thing. It wasn't that far, really, and granddad figured it would take us about an hour or so to make the walk, including what he called 'dawdling time'. It was a pretty day, though warm, and I was thinking that a walk would give me a chance to talk with Mark some more. I think that was what granddad was thinking, too, which was why he suggested it. I was so glad of that, because it frightened me now to think this sweet guy was going to walk right out of my life in a matter of minutes.

We set off, easily able to walk three-abreast on the sidewalk. There is almost always foot traffic anywhere you go in the city, but except for peak hours when people are going back and forth to their jobs, it's mostly easily navigable. There was a hint of a breeze, enough to take the burning edge off the afternoon, and we kept a moderate pace, talking all the way. We cut over to Broadway, for that would be the most direct route back to our part of town, and soon passed through Union Square and Madison Square. The Empire State Building grew off to our right, separating from the skyline as only that massive giant can do. We passed it only a block away, more than close enough to marvel at its majestic reach for the sky.

Broadway doesn't really become the considerable thoroughfare that everyone recognizes until you pass through Columbus Circle, after which it becomes a whole different experience. Even there the traffic was manageable, and Mark seemed to be having as much fun as I was. Granddad walked along beside us as we talked, adding a comment here and there, but mostly just smiling and listening to us, and admiring the day. It was one of the most enjoyable walks I'd had in a long time, certainly since all the stuff with mom and dad and Edward had started. I felt relaxed and happy, and I didn't want it to end.

I was thinking that Mark would leave us when we got to West 65th street, as that was the best shortcut to West End he could take to get back to 64th Street. I felt my anxiety level start to go up as we neared where he would have to turn off, and my conversation faltered a little as my brain sought ways to not have this all end there. But when we arrived at that corner and stopped, Mark looked off down West 65th Street, and then turned and smiled at me. "So. I'd love to see where you live."

"It's just another five minutes or so," Granddad put in quickly, smiling. "Then you can just head back down West End for home."

"See?" Mark said, looking at me. "We're almost neighbors!"

I laughed at that, a small sense of relief at the reprieve washing over me, and we resumed walking and talking, and the afternoon continued in its bright and cheery tone. But that that would end soon enough was still uppermost in my mind. And I didn't want it to end!

Yet all too soon, The Boltfort loomed ahead of us. I felt a hollow feeling in my stomach as we walked up to the front entrance. I didn't want to part with Mark. But even the afternoon sun seemed to know that here was the point where it all ended, and dived behind a cloud for cover.

"It was awfully nice to meet you, Mark," granddad said, extending his hand. "I'm going on into the lobby while you two talk."

They shook, and granddad smiled, first at Mark, and then at me. "I'll be inside."

I nodded, and he went on into the lobby.

"I really like your grandfather," Mark said, giving a little sigh. "He's cool. He seems to know a lot about a lot of things." He smiled. "He dresses nice, too."

We looked at each other in silence a moment, and there was a lot I wanted to say, but I just couldn't find my voice. Mark pulled out his cell phone and looked at the screen. "Well, I guess I'd better get going." He licked his lips then, and leaned closer. "Can I have your number?"

I was stunned, and then thrilled. "Yes. Can I have yours?"

He grinned. "Hell, yeah."

I grabbed my phone from my pocket, and we made the exchange. I was elated, knowing this meant that the day would not end yet, not here, not now. "Is there a good time to call you?"

He shrugged. "I'll be home all evening. Some company would be nice, even if it's just your voice on the phone."

I nodded. "Okay."

Mark turned and looked towards the lobby, then returned his eyes to me. "I have to ask...is your grandfather...is he --?"

"Gay?" I supplied, seeing he was stuck. "Uh huh."

He nodded. "And...you?"

"Uh huh. Is that okay?"

His face bloomed into a smile. "Yeah. Misery loves company, you know."

I could barely contain myself. "So you're --"

He laughed. "Miserable? Yeah."

I closed my eyes a moment, wondering if this was just too good to be true. This kind of luck just didn't happen to me!

I opened my eyes, and sighed. "I'll call you later, okay?"

He bit his lip a moment, and I got the most surprising impression that he was going to say no. But his gaze held on mine, and the sudden intensity in his face melted away, and he smiled. "Can't wait." He canted his head towards the door of The Boltfort. "Better go on in. Thank your granddad again for the lunch, okay?"

"I will."

He nodded, smiled a last time, and headed off up the walk. I watched for a moment to see if he would look back, and he did. He laughed when he saw me standing there, and waved. I waved, and watched until he was out of sight.

Granddad was sitting in a chair in the lobby, and smiled when I came in. I went and sat next to him, and sighed.

"I take that to mean you got his phone number," granddad said, laughing.

I smiled at him. "Yeah. I gave him mine, too."

He nodded. "I like him. He reminds me of someone, but I don't know who."

I could see Mark's face in my mind, and nodded. "He's cute. And I love his personality."

"He's very likable," granddad agreed. "And there seems to be a lot going on inside his head." He turned and looked towards the outer doorway. "He's very...comfortable, too. I almost had the impression I'd met him before."

I smiled at that. "He's very easy to talk to. And fun to be with."

Granddad turned his gaze back to me, and patted my arm. "Let's go on upstairs. I feel a need for a shower after that long walk."

We rode the elevator up to the top floor, and went inside the condo. I listened as we closed the front doors, to see if I heard that strange bird call sound; but nothing came to my ears.

Granddad saw me listening, and smiled. "I was doing the same thing."

I closed my bedroom door, kicked my shoes off, and got undressed. I could still see Mark's smile in my mind's eye, and I had to wonder then what it would have been like to kiss that smile. That led to other thoughts, other imaginings; and soon I had to close my eyes and try to relax beneath the warm flow of the shower. I was going too fast, and I was bound to get my feelings hurt if I didn't be reasonable. I was here for two weeks, and nothing much could happen in two weeks. I kept telling myself that there was just no way this could work as a real relationship, that I should just relax, enjoy Mark's company while I was here, and then move on. Right?

I would need to let him know right away that my stay in the city was temporary. It was only fair, after all. It would be nice to have a friend while I was here, someone to talk to, maybe hang out with while granddad was working. Someone that was on the same channel that I was.

Almost, I convinced myself. I managed to sit on some of the excitement I was feeling, some of the hope. Enough to feel slightly let down, even. Afterwards, as I dried myself, I felt a little less giddy, but no less enchanted.

And no less hopeful that a way would be found for this new friendship to go on.

Copyright © 2020 Geron Kees; All Rights Reserved.
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So much for thinking that David would be falling in love with a ghost… Unless Mark and the ghost are somehow the same person! I’m a little surprised they didn’t invite Mark up to see the apartment though. Maybe for some of that juice or something.
;–)

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5 hours ago, mikedup said:

Interesting developments, an awesome chapter I hope that things go well 

Thank you. Hope counts for a lot! :)

 

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1 hour ago, Headstall said:

And 'fierce green' eyes... might have to steal... er... borrow that. :)

Just call it an homage (be sure to use the pretentious French pronunciation [Oh mahzzzzh] when you do that).
;–)

Edited by droughtquake
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