Ch. 15 – What Happened Last Time (1)

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The first time Zach had arrived in New York City—the real first time, not the second first time that’d been triggered by being alone with Donald Todd in the liquor storeroom—Zach had thought completely different thoughts:

What a grand businessman Mr. Shevlin must be. He wanted to hire a piano player for his bookstore. (Which Zach found odd, but hey, this was New York City, the place where all art, music, culture, fashion, and even business mashed up and became something new, better, and wondrous.) Not just that, Mr. Shevlin had just emerged from a place called The Underwater Grille.

Clearly, he owned that restaurant. Otherwise, how could he waltz across the street in broad daylight to greet a piano player for his other business, the new bookstore?

Besides, if Mr. Shevlin weren’t the owner, he wouldn’t be the one talking to the police officers, whatever their business at the Grille may be. Must be an important businessman, Mr. Shevlin, talking to police officers. A pillar of the local community, a shield. Ever since Mr. Shevlin had taken his position in front of Zach, none of the piercing wind slapped Zach’s face. This must be why people worked for great men such as Mr. Shevlin, an important businessman, one who associated himself with police officers.

Back home, restaurant owners had no business talking to police officers, unless the officers visited the restaurant as patrons and spoke to the owners as patrons. But that happened rarely, because back home, restaurant owners had little business in general, and even less police-officer-patron business. They weren’t really business people, the restaurant owners back home, not compared to the real business folks here in New York City.

New York City. New York City. New York City.

Those three words repeated endlessly in Zach’s head, making him grin like a fool, making it impossible to respond to Mr. Shevlin like a proper, functioning human being would. And the smoke from the cars, they burned Zach’s throat and made his eyes water, but everything was fine, everything was amazing, everything was splendid! The sun, this crisp coldness, the honking, the commuters—the world!

“Son, are you all right?” Mr. Shevlin asked.

By now, the good man looked concerned for Zach, and also concerned about his decision to invite someone like Zach to audition. “Someone like Zach,” meaning, someone who’d lost his bag on the train because he’d been too busy sleeping soundly like a fool, and couldn’t answer a question as simple as: “Are you here for the audition? For the bookstore?”

Zach cleared his throat. He clutched his cap in one hand, his briefcase in the other. He’d better answer quickly or Mr. Shevlin might send him right home, and he’d be right to do so.

“I’m quite all right, sir,” Zach said, “I was just, I am, I meant to say— I am here for the audition, sir, for the bookstore.”

Mr. Shevlin clapped his hands together. “Well, that’s great to hear,” he said. “Say, what’s your name again?”

“Zacharias Steele, sir.”

“Zacharias! Nice to meet you. I’m Gus Shevlin. Come right this way.”

Just for good measure—and no wonder, because Zach had reacted so slowly earlier—Mr. Shevlin made big hand gestures to signal Follow me this way! Right this way! He led the way toward the dressmakers’ and jeweler’s shop, and eventually, into the vacated, sign-less shop that stood between those two.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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