4. Some Weather
…the color gray, plant life of diverse sorts, memory lapses, old books, heredity, mists, gases, whistling, whispering…
Dizzy borrows a gray overcoat and a clean charcoal suit from a cousin in Spanish Harlem. He leaves Ahab in the back room of the cousin’s flower shop, entertaining the cousin’s kids, and boards a southbound Lexington Avenue train at 110th Street.
The crowded subway car is a sea of black-haired women in flowered hats and camel coats, slim brown men in high-crowned hats, the smell of the extravagant bouquet Dizzy’s carrying as a distraction. If there’s a blonde head anywhere on the train it’s a peroxide job, and to Dizzy it feels like coming home. He allows himself to relax a little, but only a little.
Dizzy’s written ahead, with photographs enclosed; called, talked to a few more people than he’s really comfortable talking to, and made an appointment with a museum curator named Muñoz who moonlights as a buyer for Nelson Rockefeller’s art collection. He gets off the train at 77th Street, half an hour before his appointment, and walks back as far as 86th, stopping twice to check his reflection in shop windows. He doesn’t see anyone tailing him and he doesn’t really expect to, but his side is still throbbing to remind him of all the precautions he didn’t take in Montréal.
Muñoz turns out to be a pipe-smoking Spaniard of fifty or so, with an educated mid-Atlantic accent.
“You’ve been had, I’m afraid,” says Muñoz, slowly turning the pounded-bark amatl-paper pages of the ancient book. “Don’t feel bad about it. There’s a brisk market in these forgeries — I happen to know William Randolph Hearst has bought two of them.”
“Then maybe I could sell him this one,” says Dizzy. “That’s the real thing. There’s only three like it in the world.”
“If it were real, Mr. Delaguerra –” the name is the one on Dizzy’s Arizona papers — “there’d be none like it in the world,” says Muñoz. “Which is how we can be certain it isn’t.”
“Would I be here if it weren’t?” Dizzy asks, shaking a Pall Mall from a packet. “Don’t get subjunctive with me, professor. Plenty of people want what you’ve got on your desk. If you don’t, I’ll find somebody who does.”
“It’s a curiosity, at any rate,” says Muñoz, making no move to give the thing up. He examines it, puffing on his pipe. “I’ll give you five hundred dollars for it,” he says finally.
Dizzy smiles, cigarette dangling from his lips. “Sorry, professor. That’s either too much — or not near enough.” He leans back in his chair and strikes a match.
“I was afraid you’d say that.” Muñoz sighs.
Too late, Dizzy notices a characteristic smell, hidden in the sweetness of Muñoz’s odd tobacco.
“Ether,” he says, or tries to say. “You son of a bitch.”
Muñoz smiles thinly. “I am a son of Castile,” he says. “I wouldn’t expect a half-Portuguese mestizo nigger to understand that.” He holds up a brittle sheet, covered with intricate glyphs. “Any more than I’d expect him to understand the books of the Howler Monkey Gods.”
Dizzy struggles to stand, but his legs have turned to rubber.
The match is still in his hand, burning his fingers. The book seems to be whispering to him — it wants something from him, and Dizzy can almost make out what.
“Understand this,” he tells Muñoz.
With the last of his strength, he flicks the match onto the pile of dry, crackling pages.
Dizzy comes to on the sidewalk, under an FDNY blanket.
He stands up. There’s a knot of red trucks at the south end of the Museum, but nobody seems to be paying Dizzy Caetano any particular attention, and that suits him fine. He drops the blanket and crosses Fifth Avenue without looking back, heading east on 81st Street.
It’s cool, and there’s a fog rolling in off the East River. Dizzy’s hat and his overcoat are nowhere to be seen, and he can’t quite remember how he got here. Something else is missing besides the hat and coat, and he can’t quite remember what it is, but that doesn’t bother him; he’s sure that if it’s important, it’ll come to him.
He remembers his cousin’s flower shop. He remembers a dog. He remembers a tune. That seems like enough for the time being.
Dizzy turns up Lexington Avenue, whistling as he walks: “Keepin’ out of mischief now.”