Chapter One of So Long, Son of Zorro
Somewhere between the first and eleventh floors of 600 Madison Avenue, Rev. Rom Soriano became the Son of Zorro.
As the elevator doors closed he quickly tied a black scarf onto his head and donned a black felt mask. His companion, Cassandra Lopez, handed him the black shirt from the shopping bag they'd brought with them. "We were lucky to get an empty elevator," she said, watching the floor-indicator light bounce up the panel.
Rom finished buttoning his shirt and stood back against the wood paneling. "Yo, How do I look?"
She moved back a pace and regarded him: the black outfit, the cheesy smile beneath the trim mustache, the bruises, the black eye behind the mask. Yes, her friend had all the charm of an aging hooker. Now he had been summoned -- over the air -- to be interviewed by Harmon Ford, the city's hottest morning radio guy and a dangerously loose cannon. If the cops didn't nab Rom first for horse theft.
"Well, how do I look?"
"Like a 40-year-old mental case."
Rom opened his mouth to protest. The elevator stopped, and Cassandra whipped her sunglasses on as the door opened. Before them, in a milling tangle of black clothes and furtive gestures, stood at least a dozen Sons of Zorro. The two looked at each other, then back at the assemblage in the WBLT-FM reception area. Rom spoke first. "What do you think?"
Cassandra shook her head. "Welcome to New York."
While Rom spoke with a harried young man who yielded a clipboard like a shield, Cassandra regarded the impostors in the room. Most wore outfits that obviously had been thrown together hurriedly. In one corner of the room a slouching figure in black Levis, a black Western-style shirt and a black felt mask looked at Cassandra, and for an uneasy moment she caught his gaze. Rom came back over and looked into her sunglasses. "I wish you'd take off those things."
"No way, pal. I'm surprised they aren't here already."
"The news crews, Einstein."
"So what did the guy say?"
Rom nodded toward the studio door. "He says there's about 10 guys ahead of me but they won't last long. "
"Listen, maybe this wasn't a good idea."
"Let's get outta here. We can get an elevator and you can change again on the way down."
Rom sighed. "Listen. We talked about this. We're here."
"What if the cops show up while you're in there?"
Rom smiled. "Send out for donuts. I don't know. Is my mask on straight?"
Cassandra had to smile at this man who had just dropped back into her life after 22 years. "OK, Custer, make your stand." She reached up and undid his second button to make it look less like a priest's shirt.
Rom smiled back at Cassandra. She had grown into a beautiful, bright, warm-hearted woman who carried herself with a confidence, almost an aggressiveness, that Rom found magnetic. She was strong, smart and sexy. And Rom was in love with her.
"Listen," she said, "I think I'd better wait for you downstairs. You don't want people connecting us after they find out you're the real McCoy."
Rom took a deep breath. "OK. I think I'm getting a little nervous."
"If you can take on a gunman in Central Park at night, you can talk to Harmon Ford for ten minutes. Just don't tell him your secret identity."
Behind the mask Rom shut his eyes in mock concentration. "Secret identity, right."
Cassandra looked around the room. "Another thing. See that guy in the corner? Act casual."
"Um, the one with the bad posture?"
"Yes. This may sound weird, but he looks familiar."
Rom scrutinized the figure in black. "Hmmm. Well, what are the chances you'd know two people in this mob?"
She sighed. "I guess you're right" She faced him again, drew closer. "Listen, when you're finished here, I'll be by the front door waiting for you, OK?"
"OK. Don't get lost. Hey, how will you hear the show?"
Cassandra yanked a tiny Walkman from her bag. "Never leave home without it."
"Wish me luck."
Cassandra kissed him on the cheek. "Good luck. And don't let Harmon get to you." She looked through his mask into his dark brown eyes and smiled, then turned and maneuvered through the crowded reception area to the elevators. When one came, she looked back and gave a thumbs-up before she got in. He returned the gesture.
When the elevator doors closed, Rom casually made his way to the hall. He found the men's room and went inside. He entered a stall, closed the door, squatted before the toilet and threw up.
(c)2001 John F. Crowley
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