Is it safe to walk through Central Park at night? Most New Yorkers will tell you that it is perfectly safe now (especially as compared to the 80s or 90s), but in the same breath they will advise you to use common sense, stay near other people, and not wander off into dark, wooded corners of the park where crimes of opportunity might happen. City dwellers have a different definition of “safety” from people who live in small towns where doors are left unlocked. And wherever you are in the world, a park at night is not the safest place for a woman alone…
23. My Town
It was Monday noon, and Laura took Tabitha out for a sandwich at a tiny place around the corner. Pat’s Deli was famous for its thick corned beef sandwiches and Dr. Brown’s sodas. Laura was partial to the cracked-pepper potato chips.
“Cissy’s in the hospital,” Laura told her. “She was walking across Central Park after dark to have dinner at Jean-Georges with Galen, and someone mugged her.”
“My God, is she okay?” asked Tabitha.
“Yes, she’s going to be fine, but it was a very harrowing experience. These men seem like misogynist bastards. She gave them her purse right away, but they called her horrid names and attacked her. They hurt her.”
“They didn’t…” Tabitha’s voice trailed off.
“No, they didn’t rape her, thank goodness. But it was almost as bad.”
“Is this going to be in the papers?” asked Tabitha, thinking of how displeased Galen would be.
“Yes, a few brief pieces have appeared already.” Laura must have read her mind, because she said, “Nothing in the Messenger. And I told Galen not to get himself worked up if something did appear. It might be helpful to the police, if anyone saw the men in the vicinity.”
“Galen strikes me as the kind of man who won’t rest until he gets to the bottom of this,” said Tabitha.
“Oh, you can be sure of that. When I talked to him, he was beside himself. He hides it well, but he can’t fool me. Anyway,” said Laura after sampling her veggie club sandwich, “I’m going to visit Cissy at Lenox Hill after work. She asked if you could come along. She’d like to see you.”
“Of course.” Tabitha was surprised that Cissy even remembered her. “I’d be glad to. I’m having dinner with Mark, but I’ll let him know we need to move it up an hour.” She called Mark and asked him to meet her in the reception area of Lenox Hill Hospital at 7:00.
When they arrived, Cissy was sitting up in bed, wearing an expensive-looking cream satin nightgown with a charming lace bed jacket that modestly covered her cleavage. Her hair was styled, but one eye was blackened, and she hadn’t tried to hide it with makeup. Galen perched beside her, his back to them, and Tabitha could see that he was holding Cissy’s hand to his lips. She looked away, ashamed to have intruded at such an intimate moment, but Cissy greeted them both calmly, and Galen shook hands on his way out, favoring each of them with his enigmatic half-smile.
Cissy graciously accepted the book Laura had brought her —Wuthering Heights— and Tabitha’s flowers. They talked for a few minutes about the attack. “The worst part is that I lost my iPhone,” said Cissy. “It feels like an amputation. And the case had sentimental value. A friend of mine painted it with Hello Kitty as a bride. It was a wedding gift.”
“Oh, that’s too awful!” exclaimed Laura. “I adore Hello Kitty. I loved the miniature stationery they had when I was a kid. Tiny pencils and erasers and notepads in these darling little boxes.”
“I’ve got a major Hello Kitty collection,” replied Cissy enthusiastically. “The crown jewel is my Hello Kitty tiara with Swarovski crystals.” She lowered her voice. “I’ve even got a Hello Kitty vibrator!” They laughed, and she went on, suddenly serious, “Central Park used to be much worse when I was growing up. It was horrendous in the seventies and eighties. I thought it was safe these days. This is my town, and I always think I can go wherever I want. But I guess it’s still a bit dicey after dark, for a woman alone.”
“I’m surprised Galen let you go by yourself,” said Laura.
“Oh, he didn’t know. He thought I was taking a taxi, but I decided to walk. It was a beautiful night, probably one of the last warm ones we’ll be seeing for a while.” Tabitha was glad to see that Cissy seemed to be bouncing back, and amazed that such a beautiful woman was so lacking in vanity as to invite friends to see her in that state.
Lilting male voices were heard from the hallway, and suddenly James Whelan walked in, with Rúairí Lafferty right behind. Both looked surprised but pleased to find Tabitha there. James bent to give Cissy a kiss, while Rúairí greeted Tabitha. “What luck that we’ve crossed paths again,” he said softly. “I’ve got news for you about Scivius.”
“Hello Rúairí,” called Cissy from the bed. “You’re looking fit as usual. How’s your business partner” —she paused, trying to remember the name— “Snoggi?” At this, James began to laugh. Snogging, Tabitha gathered, was British slang for smooching or petting.
“You mean Snorri,” said Rúairí to Cissy. “He’s good. He sends you his best wishes.”
Cissy’s eyes had been moving back and forth between Rúairí and Tabitha. “So you two already know each other?”
“Yes,” answered Tabitha. “We met at the Farmer’s Market in Brooklyn, and then Nigel asked me to call him. An amazing set of coincidences.” She raised an eyebrow. “Three in a row now.”
“Yes, quite amazing,” said Rúairí, looking at Cissy quizzically. She assumed an innocent expression, and began a conversation with Laura and James about Sunnier Futures.
“How did you come to know Cissy?” Tabitha asked Rúairí, as they moved off to a corner of the room to speak privately.
“Snorri and I donated seeds to her after-school programs for Sunnier Futures. The kids are doing urban gardening now. But listen, I found Scivius in Freeman Gibson’s notes. It was in one of his earliest notebooks, from 1970,” Rúairí explained. “There’s a medieval compendium in the British Library. It was an acquisition made after 1950, so it’s not in the Index. He says one of the items is a prose epic about a hero named Scivius! It’s incomplete, and of Carolingian date.”
Tabitha was so excited that she almost hugged him, but awkwardly dropped her arms at the last second. “Thank you so much! Our manuscript is a fragment. I bet it matches the British Library piece. We can reconstruct the whole story now. I’m going to ask Laura if I can fly there next week and take a look.”
“Do you mind if I tag along? I’d really like to see this, because Freeman said it was one of the most interesting things he’d ever found, but he didn’t live to see it through,” said Rúairí. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to scoop your publication. It’s more a personal thing to me. Freeman was my mentor, and a good friend.” His eyes seemed to darken as he said this, turning from green-gold to brown.
“Sure, that’s fine,” said Tabitha. “I’ll send you an email about the flights. But if the text matches, and it’s unpublished, I think you should be a co-author. That would only be fair. What’s your schedule like?”
“A long weekend would be best. I don’t teach on Fridays or Mondays.”
“We’re taking off, you two,” interrupted Laura, leading James toward the door. “Come on, Snoggi,” she heard Laura say to him as they left the room. “I’ve got plans for you.” After they turned the corner, a muffled giggle was heard from the hallway.
Someone appeared at the door, a slender woman with blue eyes and long red hair in a thick braid that reached to her waist. She was carrying two cups of Starbucks coffee.
“Oh, there you are, Rúairí,” she said. “It took me ages to find the Starbucks.”
Rúairí looked a little sheepishly at Tabitha as he accepted one of the cups. “Tabitha, Cissy, this is my girlfriend Finoola.”
“Hi,” said Tabitha, and shook hands. What is it with men and long hair? she thought in exasperation. “How do you spell your name?”
“F-i-n-n-u-a-l-a,” was the reply. Finnuala had an American accent, though she looked Irish, with fair skin and lightly freckled cheeks. She didn’t come any further into the room, but nodded pleasantly and said to Rúairí, “We’d better go now. You know how my mother gets upset if people are late for dinner. Hope you feel better, Mrs. Porteous.”
Tabitha was suddenly left alone with Cissy. “Well!” said Cissy, sounding disgruntled. “I was reliably informed —or so I thought— that Rúairí was unattached at the moment.”
“Were you trying to set me up with him?” Tabitha tried to make her voice sound stern, but she couldn’t be angry at Cissy, who was lying there with a black eye and a comical expression of disappointment.
“Well, yes,” admitted Cissy. “I told James to bring him along, and Laura to bring you. You see, your grandmother Guinevere and I have known each other for some time. She’s on the board of Sunnier Futures. And when I mentioned that I’d met you, she asked if I knew any eligible men…”
Copyright 2017 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Hello Kitty is an amazingly durable brand. I used to buy their diminutive stationery supplies when I was a girl. They were hard to find, back then, and highly desirable.