In the center of Union Square a statue of the City’s Founding Father stood eternally poised as though on the brink of an invisable fronteir, dwarfed among crags of phallic-monuments thrown up against the Unknown. Larger than life clasic features disdained the human flotsome washing ceaselessly at its feet, marble-eyes peering across infinity—with irises of pigeon shit…
Leaning on the pedestal he was only half aware of the carnival of costumes and skins parading by. His hand shook imperceptibly as he lit another cigarette, chain-smoking, from one already glowing. Someone he knew from the CHELSEA swept near in the noon crowd pushing through the Square and tossed at him, “What’s happening, brother…”, then vanished in the inexorable sea of clerks, secretaries, hustlers, pimps, prostitutes, and bank presidents.
“Nothin to it, man”, he responded at a pigeon that fluttered and flapped to rest on the pedestal. “What’s happening with you”—but the pigeon nearly bobbed its head then noisily ascended to the statues shoulder, where it pursued its ritual toilet.
Oddly, he resembled the statue, although a somewhat ravaged image, they were carved from the same likeness—long hair brushing once powerful, broad shoulders than balanced a large frame, prominent, austerely handsome facial lines partially concealed by a flowing beard—the one disdaining, the other cynical. His complexion, at the moment, also had the same greenish pallor as the marble.
A sign above the doorway read THE CHELSEA PLACE, in Old English scroll. It was a dim, turquoise lit basement bistro frequented by the local bohemian underground… and the occasional adventuresome straight. At one time or another every off-beat person in the city drifted through—Hash and Marijuana smoke mingling with obscure conversation—like restive figments from an opiate dream. There were Hippies, students, gypsies, barroom prophets with foam-flecked lips, junkies, the lonely; a myriad of the disenchanted, the alienated, and the angry.
He sat at the mirrored bar listening to the ramblings of “Dusty”, a local poetess of some repute. She was a Surrealist, who was, also, a Nympho, or Lisbo, depending on her mood. At the moment she was too stoned on Hash to be anything but a random stream of consciousness directed more or less at him, her words punctuated by the electric throb of a juke-box pouring Jemmi Hendrix into the room.
“If I were to trace the edge of shadows in time, and measure the shapes cast in the mind, calling them tears, disillusion, sighs, will I have collected a death-roll of butterflies…?” she challenged the air at his nose, then giggled.
He replied in playful earnest, “In the labyrinthine hollows of rhymes…”, reached out and fondled a voluptuous breast, the niple swelling rapidly at his touch. “Dusty, you are stoned out of your beautiful head—a strange, read bird with a wild mind…but, have you, or haven’t you, seen the Connection?”, he said with affectionate patience.
“No, baby. Sorry. You know how dangerous it is now—please forget it…”, she said with emphasis, imploring, holding his hand tighter to her breast.
He stopped walking at the intersection of roadway, Columbus, and Grant where Grant continued across Broadway, dipped, and became the mainstreet of Chinatown. He scaned the crowds for a while in each of the five directions flaring star-like from the teeming intersection. He saw a few people he knew, and some he had seen around, but not the man he was looking for.
He merged with the crowd diminishing up rant street, half way up the first block the sidewalk almost vacant, the atmosphere now much subdued from the raucous gawdiness of Broadway where Barkers competed with the glammor of the “Strip”, promising wonders and marvels of silicone flesh, inside, and performances of live six, as if sex were an extinct dinosaur, or a geek at some sideshow…He puffed up one more block of the hill which rose three more times, cut by cross streets, before tumbling over the crest of the skyline to roll down to the Wharf and docks of the Bay.
Turning into a recessed alcove he descended some steps and knocked at the grifitti embellished door of COFFEE AND CONFUSION, another bistro. The door was opened by a bizarre apparition with a scrubby beard, wearing swimming trunks and a black robe with “Zorro” finger-painted on its back.
“Welcome, brother. Come in, man”, Zorro uttered, quickly glancing into the street. Satisfied, he closed and re-locked the heavy wooden door, then droped a thick bar into place securing it against anything less than a charge of plastique explosive.
“Zorro—I’m looking for the Connection…”
“He’s not here, man, but I’ll make a couple phone calls for you. By the way, I heard that the PATROL almost got his ass this morning—got away in the crowd, though…And they wasted another pedestrian in the CHASE…”
“I’ll get you some coffee, or a beer. You can trip on the Recitals while I make those calls”.
“Look, man, I can’t afford to get hassled or busted right now. Maybe I better split…”.
Zorro shook his crow-black hair in the negative and assured, “No man. Not to worry. The Recitals are all from memory. Sit down man, sit down.”
He made his way along the Coffee-Beer bar, in candle light, across deep carpeting. A flamingo flight of guitar notes filled the high ceilinged ampitheater of the bistro. A young man and woman occupied two stark, wooden stools on a small stage, fingering acoustic guitars. They were half-singing, half0taking excerpts from pre SB-1-A literature. The stage was sunken fifteen carpeted levels down and away from the bar, each level like a wide step raised eight inches above the next. There were no conventional tables or chairs, only low Japanese-style tables with candles burning on them, and a few people sitting on the carpet with their legs folded. Few candles were actually aflame in the mornings—casting long spectre-like shadows.
The performers were very good, he thought, using eloquent gestures, though somehow empty, to convey a sense of dark drama—guitar, voice, and gesture in an impressionistic adagio, down-beat, with subtle undertones…reflections in a crystal candelabra disturbed by a searching wind.
The bistro Patron approached from behind the bar: “No luck, man. When the heat is on hes nearly impossible to find…Why don’t you drop by the CARAVAN, or the ALLEY? Someone might know where you can score…”
“Yeh, maybe you’re right, Zorro. What a bummer. Anyway, thanks, man”, He got up to leave.
“Look brother, you be cool—keep an eye alert for the PATROL…”, Zorro cautioned as he let him outside, glanced around again quickly, then closed and barred the door behind him.
The crowds churning through Union Square would be ebbing soon. It was the heart of the business, financial, and diplomatic hotel center of the city. At mid-day it litterally overflowed, a melting pot of people and cultures going to and from luncheon engagements, appointments, or just carried in the surge of humanity on its lunch hour.
He shifted his weight uncomfortably, the pedestal a cold slab on his back. The sky was an ominous gray tarpaulin rolled over the city, threatening to burst with rain; a sense of forboding in the air. Surrepticiously his eyes examined the crowd. The earth beneath him began to tremble, sending lettle vibrations to be recorded on the Richtor of his nervous system as a Rapid Transit Train sped below-ground on its hidden journey through the intricate maze of passages under the city. A moment later it was gone.
The blank gaze of a tourist held him for an instant, a crabed hand grasping a camera that hung by a strap about his neck, then was whipped away on the treadmill of motion.
He was thinking, that, the SB-1-A PATROL had missed the Connection this morning, but the PATROL had agents everywhere; anything could have happened in the hour since they had spoken over the phone at the CARAVAN. They arranged for a rendeavous at the statue at 12:40, the height of lunch-hour traffic in the Square. There would soon be only a moderate flow of people passing by and the transaction would be more apt to be seen…Damn the PATROL, their agents, everything—he had to make the score, his mind seethed with inner-conflict, but he would wait another ten minutes…
It was only a minute later, though, when he spoted the Connection maneuvering toward him from the Powell Street side of the Square where an old trolley car clanged and rocked its way up Nob Hill, an excess of passengers. He felt a constriction in his throat, a chill sensation spread through his body like voltage, leaving a taste of copper on the back of his tongue…a restless wind had negotiated the skyscraper canyons and arroyos converging in a mad vortex at Union Square and was now amuck, lashing at clothing, hair, chasing along the pavement, swirling and whirling, and stoping dead. There were no SB-1-A PATROL in sight.
The SB-1-A PATROL were distinct even in a crowd, something in their bearing and manner that set them apart; their faces a grimacing, or a blank ask with a vacant gaze, depending upon whether they were on a CHASE or just patrolling for dissident law breakers. They wore civilian clothing and always had cameras hung about their necks by a strap; handguns bulging under suitcoats, with authority to use them at will…Citizens no longer owned, or had access to weapons, since Senate Bill One was Amended.
The Connection detached himself from the now depleted crowd and steped over to look up at the eternally arrogant Founding Father, ostensibly to read the inscription on a bronze plate set in the marble pedestal.
“This transaction must be fast. I think the PATROL is close behind me. When I turn to split have your coat open…And be careful, man. I’ll be seeing you around—hopefully”, the last trailed off and was ripped away by the wind.
The Connection was running, running past surprised faces speeding toward him. He felt an explosion of black light rush through him, and the faces blurred, became watery…Suddenly he was back at the lake, on his vacation, his wife sunning herself, waiting for him, waiting to make uninhibited love in the warm sun—he went into a long dive, hitting the water, knifing down through the darkness, feeling it on his face like soft hands, knowing she would be waiting, knowing he would rise to the surface again soon. A smile touched his lips as he dove through the blackness waiting forever to rise and hold her in his arms…
His heart was pounding; the rain beating down now kept pace with the crazy tempo inside his chest. People were darting into doorways. Others running along the wet sidewalk under umbrellas, like colorful mushrooms in the petrified forrest of the city—Some, like himself, were soaking and apparently unconcerned. No one had time of the inclination to notice the haunted look in his eyes, or the unnatural, measured tread he stepped off, like a man pacing in a cell.
He was walking on Green Street, lined on either side with baroque tenements, here and there a vague neon innuendo gleaming in the rain. It a was dingy, forgotten quarter. He lived in a garret in one of the oldest buildings in the quarter, four stories high midway on the block.
He turned into the entrance which breathed a stale, musty odor onto his face, and a smell, strangely akin to fear, of overtaxed electricity circuitry somewhere. From the entrance he scaned the street making sure he had’nt been shadowed by anyone, then strode to an ancient, rickety elevator. It stoped at the third floor and he mounted a grim flight of stairs that lead to the attic and several small garrets. His was at the end of a shabby hallway, the walls, lurid murals of sexual fantasia and cryptic codes that defied form or description. He took out his key and unlocked a fortified, Black Walnut door.
He shut the door behind him and locked it, also securing two tempered-steel padlocks. He stood there for a long moment, the knot of his stomach loosening, his heart slowing to a distant drum-beat echoing on his abnormally attuned inner-ear.
Moving to the desk he flicked on a lamp and placed the stash lovingly into the desktop before him. His entire world was reduced to a microcosmic focus of hands unwrapping brown paper—the sound impossibly loud in the rain-silence submerging all sounds. He knew the ultimate, and inevitable penalty if he were caught—but that was in another world now. The package finally unwrapped, he added the paper into a ball and unconsciously dropped it into a wastebasket.
With hands that no longer shook he opened it, and read, “THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO”…