An unusually striking man joins me on vacation -- but what will develop?
| In the shadowy backstage, the approach of his call to the podium causes no anxiety for the guest speaker. Waiting causes more stress for the petite Theatre major trapped with him. Robert Josephs shifts his focus only minutely to take in the humor of the interaction, as his young escort is clearly nervous in her hastily assigned role. He disallows the distraction and returns to a nagging role of his own; a kind of inside joke, he labels it for himself: a true mystery man trying on the Public Life, and causing discomfort wherever he lands. He knows tonight he must captivate a monster. That's the main problem with this approach, he thinks, private moments taken to public arenas may prove a great risk.
The only plausible solution for the tender stagehand's nervous energy is decided. His gaze, softened by practiced smile lines, allows the karmic inlet for a moderate, but imperceptible energy transfer. He smiles appreciatively at her attempt at conversation, and his smile cools her fluster. Finally, she resorts just to emphatic nodding and waving him forward when it is time to take the stage. To make sure he is on his way, she follows with a restrained step, and she is impressed at the quick shift in his energy level as he bounds off, leaving her nearly soundless claps of applause behind.
Dr. Robert Josephs steps with such quickness and confidence, upon his introduction to the room, that in just a few steps his Italian shoes are at the edge of the auditorium stage. Several of the college girls behind Marlina Black gasp. Marlina is equal in looks to this college-aged crowd, despite the mature woman she is, looking to be in her late thirties. Yet, for her, the full auditorium has a buzz to it that reminds her of a different age. Dr. Josephs is a beautiful man – everyone is likely taking note of the widely-set hazel eyes under sandy-haired good looks – yet, Marlina finds something unique in him to admire. It is only a sense. It is not a distinctive scar or great bone structure that makes his face a focal point – his aura is simply dazzling. It is surprising to her to be picking up on a personal aura so readily, in so public a place.
There is an interpreter on stage already, stationed just to the right of the podium. Almost immediately, Robert paces in the opposite direction, remaining beyond the podium and closer than most guest lecturers stray. Marlina has a perfect vantage point from which to stare. Her spiky heels give her some advantage over the bobbing and weaving girls in the chunky shoes in the few rows ahead of her. With an adamant thrust of both arms, he begs all to sit. Then he begins the lecture, and for those that were unaware, the unique quality of his own speech and his powerful command of sign language captivate the room. He uses his hands in his day-to-day communication with the same zip a seasoned comic can bounce one-liners off a partner. His whole manner attracts: from his solid body stance on one end of the spectrum, to the vibrancy and spontaneity of his facial expressions on the other. His press agents make note of his advancing deafness, but his talk is not diminished. The voice interpreter only steps in as the doctor turns a questioning eye to him.
Dr. Josephs is a noted, albeit reclusive, Romance Languages scholar with a knack for topping the bestseller’s list with his edited collections despite the common-man’s enmity toward the genre. His latest book speaks of how he cloisters himself away with ancient manuscripts and associates with the remnants of ancient secret societies throughout Europe for unread material. Marlina, in her research, has been reading between the lines of his work and has her own theory. He’s a romantic looking for romance. Now he’s lecturing and performing his own sonnets on stage. This is his calling, Marlina Black muses while rapt with the full crowd, could this mean it will be easier or harder to tell him the Consul requires him to report back to Rome? He is confident and involved when he speaks and so, he makes his points easily. The energy of those hands in motion flows like added stage lights upon his face. Even with the pauses for clarification by the voice interpreter throughout, the lecture is over remarkably fast. Maybe I’m the romantic? Marlina thinks.
She catches sight of him shortly after the hall has emptied, alone at a lighted but sheltered café table, and he has not taken note of her approach. She senses with surprise how his face is still and meditative. Besides the main purpose of Marlina's arrival in Manhattan, she already is feeling excited to approach him for a conversation. I am glad to be able to communicate at an intelligent level thanks to my study of sign language while in college out West. These details about herself are the formalities she tosses his way first. Soon, however, the shared conversation is pleasantly forward. This suddenly becomes playful and personal.
We talk more directly than I find in most conversations with men. Is it his penetrating eye contact?
I introduce myself formally and welcome him to New York. He asks three things, rapid-fire, as if starved for information. Am I from New York? Do I prefer The New Yorker or The Paris Review? And which bridge is easier to jump from…if I turn him down for dinner? Studying the articulations of the past has given him an irresistible basis for the modern come-on, I muse to myself. I really have to read more.
I answer easily and with charm. I’m on vacation. I indicate my camera, hanging tourist-style, for emphasis of the point. The Paris Review published him, so I like it best. And, if he needs a view of the Hudson, I know just the place. I smile demurely and offer my hand. He stares up at me, pausing hungry for more conversation, or is it something else? I am surprised at the passion in the kiss he places then upon the teasing hand. Most men don’t go for that bait.
He speaks to me with his voice, and so I focus my attention to decoding his slightly mixed dialect and edge of tonal flatness. I work to listen raptly, yet I am drawn into his eyes -- something beyond the eyes. A slice of poetic inspiration, full-formed, crosses my mind:
I follow - the winged demon shelters a pale moon/All love crumbles to dust.
Where did that come from? I shake off a chill up my back and try to refocus.
His eyes are on me intently. I've dropped the conversation unapologetically. I ask for a moment to write something down. I pull out my recent notebook, already showing frayed corners, and quickly pen the line. I get a slight replay of the chilling feeling momentarily; I don't get such queer feelings usually. But it is like that snippet popped-in suddenly from outside my own mind.
The restaurant has forced a line for late dinner entry. I've been frequenting this hidden gem night after night of my Manhattan visit. The sweet olive-skinned busboy rises up from his hunkered-down smoking break upon seeing me jockeying for position in the line. He motions us immediately through an alley doorway. So, I've earned a little clout, I think. I turn and wink at the Doctor. He smiles, and from the look on his face, he seems impressed. I patiently follow my restaurant friend, Chamaro. I trust his instincts to place us somewhere semi-private. I note Dr. Julcre looking off longingly at the window seats framing the skyline, but I can't impose that wish on the gracious favor-dealing already being accomplished. The restaurant serves Mediterranean dishes and an associated ambiance. Suddenly, we are passing through a single door to a patio. There are two-person table arrangements specifically for hooka smoking. But for now, the space and the view are ours alone. Upon settling us there, I quickly order Shish-ke-bob plus order from the wine list. I tease my friend for accepting the "promotion" to Maitre d' and waiter, but he just shoots me a shy wave and a thumbs-up. Chamaro seems pleased that I have finally found someone to accompany me for dinner.
The wine glasses accompany the two of us back and forth from the table to the patio railing. Bob gives up signing to better nurse his wine glass. He pulls in close and whispers deeply enthralling to raunchy tales most of the hour and a half we remain in hiding. As we get drunk, in my head I wonder, Are you hearing half the outrageous things coming from you? and I stifle a giggle. The plates of food come late. Once other patrons begin populating the patio for quiet smoking, the two of us have lost a good deal of inhibition. The desire to explore more of New York is his excuse to leave. I sense that he will be up for a great deal more adventure before the night is over.
"You are too slow, this way...short walk now," my companion signs, walking backwards in front of me down the sumptuous hotel hallway. He is happy I'll join him for more conversation in his suite. What else he might expect, and then some, I will provide. Right now, I'm tired of walking -- he's got some great stamina to test. The thought lifts me out of my temporary malaise.
As if he's reading my mind, he then grins at me. We both tear-off down the remainder of the hall. I am aware of mirrors on either wall blurring past in our abandon. Quickly we slam, with a shared gasp, into the solid penthouse suite door. We are only partially hidden at the room's entry vestibule from any other foot traffic in the perpendicular hallway. He steals a kiss at my shoulder and I ruffle his sweet-smelling hair. He teases me with a feigned losing of the key card somewhere on his person. I do not ignore the prompt to pat down all the usual pocket areas. When he is satisfied I've searched thoroughly, he pulls the old sleight of hand, and the shiny card appears from my ear. So child-like; it is an unexpected pleasure.
In the room, it is like we are bathed in golden light. We both allow a moment to be dazzled. It is deep into the night past the windows, but here in this modern Versailles recreation hall, it's a day in the park. The golden coverlet of the spacious bed makes a likely sandbox. I sit and pull off my heels, curling my toes and then settling onto the mattress. I pull my legs in under my thighs and motion to my sweet scholar.
He lies down, tired, although not fully breaking a sweat. I smile gently as he rolls over and turns his face up to look at me. He seems out of breath, and so, relies fully on his sign language skills, not his voice, for a few minutes. He draws me easily into the deep silence. His words are translating in my mind without my feeling I’ve really seen his hands make the signs. I’m not answering easily, as I find myself struck by his deep amber eyes and his tousled brown hair, lightening golden from the sun-like chandelier in the suite. He is noticing my hair too.
“Your hair…what color is it?”
“Auburn,” I fingerspell awkwardly, grimacing at my double-jointed difficulty forming the “R.”
He smiles and makes a single nod, then glances out to Central Park's widespread tree branches only minimally lit by the streetlights outside. He then returns a piercing gaze at my face, and his hands fill the silence with, “Like trees in the fall, red and yellow shimmering together in the sun, after the rain.”
Beautiful, cryptic words once again alter my usual course. I'm intoxicated with the desire to glimpse his life-force again. It is an almost imperceptible intrusion, a need that is peeling my mask away, and I'm allowing it. There is a heat build-up I am not accustomed to, seemingly penetrating my body. I once again allow my feeding senses to break through for a moment. That dazzling aura has had me following this man's varied path blindly. I do not know why I've decided to reveal myself now. Everything feels alien, yet familiar. Our faces appear to pulse warm and red-fleshed, despite everything I know. The cool marble interior reflecting the central air back on us tickles at my subconsciousness' ignored query. I imagine the safety that could be felt in a warm, lasting kiss. He is coaxing me into it now, too. I am thankful for my eyes and ears, but wish for a moment’s deafness, knowing this moment will not end tenderly for him.
I'm still pondering...and thus I drag it out. He murmurs deeply, exhaling a perfect sigh, as I press my lips firmly along his neck. I reach outward for his wrists, to keep him settled. I am groping, for this feeling when I close on him is disorienting in the most pleasurable way. My eyes are set shut in unusual enjoyment. I swiftly creep my fingers along his right arm and press my hand hard down onto his right palm and wrist. His left arm's location is a puzzle in the moment I've locked my eyelids shut.
Before I sense even a muscle twitch, he is free from me -- never entranced. A wrenching blow tears through, just under my slightly bending left shoulder blade. My cold, hardened orb of heart muscle is punctured by a kind of twisted mesquite skewer. My last played-out thought is how I let myself disregard the signs of magic all about him. Perhaps the council members will concede, upon noting my disappearance -- a romantic magician makes a formidable hunter of our kind.
Brother Aubrus Xavier Enbrus moves from his guarding position in the hidden tech room of the mocked-up suite, to offer a hand, and a dust rag, to his fellow Brother. It is not unusual for the younger, dark-haired member of this team to have a look of detailed worry playing across his face, even after the tensest moment is past.
"I think you brought that about as close to the wire as humanly possible, eh mon frere?" he scolds.
Dr. Josephs wanted to scold back, but instead, still finds himself held in a tremor of shock. A quick prayer, a moment recasting a protection spell to himself, and a slight touch to the soiled bed, and he is brought back. Here lay remains to study, to extract power from and, finally, to bless - leaving them only dust.
"'Dust to dust' only true god-made part of a vampiress," the magician muses to his backup. "'Tis God's work," he signs mostly to himself. He picks up the belongings of his poetic past prey and deftly hands them to Enbrus. "Find out what captured images are on the camera," he adds. "What she cherished enough in her travels to record will map our next path."
Next Chapters: Seeking Certain Assurances -- CHAPTER 4: Il pubblico secreto