Exhausted by emotion Paco stood and charged out heading down to the estate’s rambling gardens with Ranger innocently excited to be on an evening walk. He came across Oneida, the Japanese head gardener, who possessed some secret power to convert everything in his sight, apparently transforming all to a higher level of order. His black eyes were softened with a grey caste and appeared limitless when his gaze locked onto another’s. Now he had Paco in his sight. The anger vanished with a sudden burst of wind taking away the hatred too. As if stepping out of a nightmare he ambled gently with the old man discussing the different exotic plants and admiring the luminous creamy cactus flowers that only emerged at night.
Soon the crickets were playing. The underbrush squeaked and rustled when Ranger nosed too close. They came upon a dark green shed and Paco asked if it was in use explaining he needed a place to paint, a studio where he could work on his portfolio. Oneda nodded approval and they opened the door to see a long open space with one side all windows and the other side windowless. How perfect! He found stacks of smooth shingles that he would prepare with gesso and paint with his oils. There was even a row of windows on the ceiling that created a long narrow skylight so even at dusk there was enough illumination to work. Almost invisible, the Japanese gentleman stood aside resting on his tall staff and watched Paco brush off all the pieces of wood. Using old nails and the heel of a long forgotten boot he constructed a shelf that would act as an easel along the windowless wall. Time passed and darkness forced the two men out to walk silently through the moonlit paths to the house where the big collie bounded ahead to have his fill of water from an old algae clad tub that was continually filled by a tiny drip of the Fawcett above. Oneda held Paco’s hands firmly as if blessing them and then bowing slightly left him with his spirit mystically revived.
Feeling helpless knowing his poor Mother lay inconsolable in her room, he made a quick call and stepped into the shower where he washed away the sins of his Father with some milky lavender soap, feeling his body slip by his big hands with a sensual rub down. He was soothing himself with the caresses he needed to mend. He dried and splashed Vetiver on his handsome chest. Tingling now, wonderful curls naturally arose and for once he left them alone to encircle his head like a Renaissance sculpture. The night was warm and he walked from the house in a pair of shorts, a shirt that he left unbuttoned, and hopped on the Indian barefooted. He rode only a short way down the road to the beginning of a very tall hedgerow and jumping off hid the bike in some low-layered foliage. He slipped through the bush to arrive on the green velvet lawns of Il Brolino, possibly the greatest estate of them all. The proud manor house loomed in the distance its brilliant architecture perfectly expressing Tuscan simplicity.
Paco raced toward the pool house passing an ancient marble well acting as a centerpiece for the partier style gardens that unfolded in tiered sections. One level was all roses while others were ornamented with perfectly shaped topiaries. He could see a giant sea horse and a dolphin. Moving on he arrived at the pool, glowing pale turquoise, disturbed only by small rivulets that came from a hand of the beautiful woman he knew so well now floating bare in the moonlight at the far end. Paco tossed his clothes on a chaise and joined her. She was dazzling in the rippling water her delicate rosy nipples rising up as he stroked her body. Then, drawing her into him, they were entwined and kissing deeply. The lovers languished in the shallow waters feasting on each other’s silky wet skin. Slowly, savoring each moment, they were moving closer and closer to ecstasy.
The next morning Paco and Sal set about preparing the boxes of provisions for the party. The orders were placed for many of the exotic ingredients. They planned to make the deliveries to the ship in several trips. All along Paco scanned the news for warnings of an impending attack on the Portafortuna. One article caught his eye. There had been a sensational robbery of San Francisco’s de Young Museum. The theft included a number of paintings by Manet that were on special exhibit and the two magnificent El Grecos, worth a fortune and considered the jewels of the institution’s permanent collection. Some images of the pieces were pictured and the mystified guards were shown embarrassed and possibly implicated in the break-in. Something about this story rang a remote bell in Paco’s mind. Was Ludington talking about the Manet exhibit? Was he saying I should study the style of this artist?
He began to concentrate on the work he needed to produce the portfolio for submission to the Accademia dell'Arte in Florence. He knew they would want to see his drawings of hands in many positions and drapery. He needed a live model and fabric to work with. Maybe the bronze skinned Rosalita with her big curvy body that always fascinated him. Her hands were so pleasing, he thought, as he remembered how nimble and esthetic they were when she performed her housekeeping duties. Just seeing her take down the laundry from the line, rhythmically folding each piece was a treat to him.
Now he was on fire with ideas and it carried him up and out of his fears to a new place where he felt happiness never experienced before. He could not wait to get home to his studio deep in the Quien Sabe gardens. There he brought all his materials and beautiful sable brushes that he cared for like babies, washing them in pure castile soap after each use, giving them perfect points with his mouth. They were standing in a chipped crystal vase to dry next to several white porcelain plates he used for palettes. Little mounds of each color circled a center where the delicate blending process took place. The paints were mixed to the right consistency with damar varnish, big crystals kept in a jar of thinner producing a powerful odor. Paco thought of the way Chef Velly created his magnificent sauces. He used this same careful regard for each nuance of color, using a trace of this and a touch of that, creating the hues and tints needed to forge an exquisite complexity. He experimented with the thin transparent layers of paint brushing one on top of another to make a new color of wondrous depth and quality. The overlays had an uncanny glow created by the millions of oil molecules, each transporting a tiny fleck of color that caught the light creating a singular eminence. Paco knew this was how the world’s greatest Masters created the art of illusion and he ached to know their secrets.
It was the day of the huge event on the Portafortuna. All the orders were filled and delivered to the ship. Paco had been to Val Verde the night before showing Ludington some of his new work. They talked about the process of oil painting and how it varied so completely from watercolor. Generally, Ludington, who studied fine art and was a painter himself, approved the pieces. The discussion went on at length covering many areas of the basic process and color mixing.
Chef Printise appeared at the doorway off and on, growing more and more weary of all the attention now on Paco. Ludington’s back was turned to the crazy antics that began to flow from Printise in the form of outrageous body language and hand signals. Paco was having a hard time pretending not to notice. This loony Chef, with white blond hair festooned out from a gold headband, big blue eyes heavy with make up, flaunted his gestures that mimicked Ludington’s long-winded lecture. When all this failed to get some attention Printise just barged in and blurted out his request to have Paco and Salvador come to assist him cooking for the Portafortuna extravaganza and that is how early in the evening a fast skiff brought all four men to the boarding deck of the giant ship.
Paco was wearing a caftan over his clothes and a turban with a scarf across his face as he passed by the same two bouncers he recognized from the time they bodily threw him out. Sal also had a caftan and Printise wore a classic white Chef’s jacket with his King Tut headdress. Completing the party, Ludington appeared as a proper British archeologist, sophisticated in khaki jodhpurs, boots, a fine tailored tan jacket with epaulets and an Ascott tie. He carried a pith helmet that had nearly blown off during the trip over a rather choppy channel. Chef Printise with Paco and Sal headed for the kitchen but Ludington mounted the grand staircase, climbing past the lower decks already crowded with players at the gaming tables for Black Jack and Craps. Poker tables filled one entire deck including a popular venue that offered sporting wagers with an elaborate mechanical horseracing track. He continued on to the top deck and the ballroom that now was turned into a fantasy Kasbah. Romantic striped Berber tents filled with fineries and mysteries were erected around the perimeter of the dance floor. The giant room was beginning to swell with excitement. Java Sir’s entire caftan clad staff, tonight directed by the grand old Chef’s noted assistant, Handeep Perupuran, called Handy, was gracefully attending to the guests, filling drink orders and beginning the food service that started with palm leaf lined baskets of candied fruits, stuffed dates and nuts. An odd assortment of musicians bearing a resemblance to the El Paseo Mariachi band began to play a sultry “Bolero” which seemed oddly appropriate. Ludington could see Miss Penny fluttering around in her steamy harem costume, layered with golden bangles, issuing demands softened by her song-like voice, sweetly drenched with honeyed French tones.
From behind a screen at the far end of the room, Captain Oakley, looking impressive in his deceptively authentic uniform that even sported a row of medals and bars of unknown origin. He walked directly to Ludington taking him aside and the two entered a small unused tent that was furnished with only an oriental carpet and large tasseled pillows for lounging. There was a low octagonal brass candlelit table in the center that the gentlemen now sat around cross-legged in native style. Rapidly they were served with a fine bottle of Macallan Whiskey and a silver bowl with ice. Two cut crystal tumblers were prepared and the men began to drink and talk about intense issues that were curiously common to both. First, surprising a nosey fly on the wall, was the subject of Paco. The Captain appeared ardently concerned about his wellbeing so Ludington took a long time describing the pathway to the art academy in Florence that the young artist now traveled and how really gifted he was considered. This pleased Oakley who lit a cigar and drew his head back, blowing a wispy train of smoke that drew attention to his remarkable profile.
“Anytime I can provide funds for him, anonymously of course, you have only to indicate a bank account and the money will be there”, asserted the Captain. “Sadly, it is all I can do to be a Father for him.” Now Ludington nodded with some sympathy seeming to understand the complex set of circumstances that made his parenting impossible. “ And how is Lillian? I am still not clear about your interest in her.”
Ludington looked away with a distant view and said, “It isn’t what you might think. No, not a love interest at all. As you possibly know, Printise and I have been together for some years now. No, I care for Lillian because she is the daughter of my Nanny Francis who was like a Mother to me. When I left for schooling she was given a pension and soon married an upstanding bank teller, Armand Hoover. They had Lillian who I have know throughout the years. Francis called when she was found missing and that is how I came to connect with you. Her family is enormously grateful for your rescue and her safe return to me. She is a very beautiful woman who now is deeply traumatized by her torture. She does not speak and lives a half-life, seldom even acknowledging her surroundings. We are committed to keep her whereabouts secret thinking it possible that her captors, the Tong syndicate undoubtedly, would want to steal her back.” The Captain was nodding thoughtfully. “She occupies the tower suite in one of my guesthouses that we keep guarded and there is a young woman companion, the daughter of the steward from Il Fureidis, who comes each day. We are hoping that with time she will mend.”
The Captain and Ludington shared even more and sipping the silky liquor became jovial. After a time the subject turned to art and collecting, something that engaged them intensely. The recent theft of many great pieces from the de Young in San Francisco came up. They speculated that it must be an inside job since the marketing of such spectacular paintings would be impossible. “So it was done for a private collector. If you run across any Manets that may need a home call me”, said Ludington with a big smile. “I’ll do it”, promised Oakley. And with that he rose, shaking hands, then quickly leaving the tent he walked straight into Miss Penny who was delighted to hold onto him if only for a moment.
“Chef Printise and I will come by your cabin to collect our money whenever you like”, she said, her lovely arms expressing the delicate issue of payment with a jingling of bangles. “I have a complete accounting all ready for you”, she said, making it sound like something exceedingly pleasurable. Checking his watch he agreed to meet them at nine and so it was set. “Ta ta, see you then”, Penny danced in pretty circles for him as he walked away.
By now the huge ballroom was becoming crowded with guests. Most of the men were in tuxedos but the women appeared clearly delighted to dress in theme. “Naughty Arabian Nights” produced a profusion of exotic costumes seemingly interpreted loosely since there were Chinese maidens in silk pajamas, Cleopatras and Arabian dancing girls right along side elegantly coifed ladies in Grecian togas. It was the spirit of the event that gained brilliance as Chef Printise proudly presented his dishes, each carried by the Persian staff and placed on a long palm leaf covered buffet table with grace. There was gaiety, ample drinking, some dancing and plenty of gambling in the tents that offered all forms of gaming.
Shortly after nine, as the night wore on and the food service was completing, Paco took off the caftan and set his plan to confront the Captain in action. He searched around the decks for him and then after some careful inquiries found the corridor to his cabin. Paco calmed his fast beating heart and knocked on the door. At first it was unresponsive but then opened wide and rough hands grabbed his shoulders pulling him into the lighted room as another black-garbed man slammed the door behind him. Dazed by the treatment and brilliance of the quarters he stood astonished as one from behind pulled his wrists to his back and tied them harshly together. He could focus now on the others around him. Captain Oakley was seated at his desk tied to the arms of his chair a binding over his mouth that prevented his speech. His eyes told immediately how fearful he was when he recognized his son as the new captive. Chef Printise, his big muscular body now wrapped tightly with layers of red silk rope that covered him from chest to knees, was crying softly into a blindfold that had become blotched with big circles of mascara tinted tears over each eye and his mouth was stuffed with a kerchief.
Looking around, Paco detected possibly five or six small men dressed in black wearing strangely ornamented facemasks that only revealed an awesome viciousness radiating from their eyes. Then, failing to see it before now because of it’s shocking specter, seated on a chair in the middle of the room, was the bound, gagged and blindfolded Miss Penny, her sultry harem dress pulled aside showing her fine shapely legs. Her bodice was ripped, the gold coins hanging in strips, shamefully revealing one of her breasts. He saw a gun pointed directly at her head held by the leader who Paco inwardly identified from news photos of the Tong. In a sinister Chinese accent the man whispered, pinning his evil eyes on the young man. “What is your name?” Further threatening, “If you wish to see her undamaged you must answer swiftly”.
Just as Paco began to speak there was the sound of sirens blaring with a loud speaker warning that caused the Tong leader to force him to the wall and there he was gaged with a binding over his mouth. Coming from somewhere outside, blaring from a Coast Guard loud speaker came a continuous demand for the passengers of the Portafortuna to carefully evacuate the ship. Alarms began to go off throughout the corridors and the thousands of guests on all three gaming decks began to panic. Those that could boarded many lifeboats that were filling up fast. A small fleet of water taxis that always hovered around the loading platform took on as many as possible and one large cargo ship was standing by to receive the fleeing guests. A multitude of searchlights were scanning the gambling ship now and the warnings continued over the speaker to evacuate with caution. This was coming from a large Government vessel moving in closer and closer to the Portafortuna.
Through the bedlam the Tongs forced the Captain, Printise, Paco and Miss Penny down to a tiny utility deck that connected to a fishing boat, bouncing on the water below, with a chain ladder. Each prisoner was handled by a gunman and the warning that Penny would be dead if they disobeyed commands kept them cooperating. The climb down was perilous but each one finally hit the deck hard. As the ship pulled away one of the Chinese lobbed a firebomb into the corridor behind the deck creating a brilliant orange explosion. Now Paco could see an awesome catastrophe from a vantage point that revealed the massive proportions of a tragedy unfolding. He was forced to sit while the captors chained him along with the others to a bench. It was clear now that they were leaving the channel, gaining power and heading for the open sea. As they continued on the vision of the Portafortuna now glowing red with flames was continually appearing smaller in the distance. Paco could not really see the condition of Miss Penny since she was still held tightly by one of the gunmen but he heard her whimpers along with Printise who was having a hard time breathing. The Captain, his ankles shackled to the bench, remained strangely composed even though in serious pain from the handcuffs that now made his hands white with lack of blood flow. Paco’s mind was speeding through the many potential damages they may incur and all the ones who would think they drowned. What about his poor Madonna? Would anyone look for them? Where were they going anyway? Out to sea in this tiny boat?
Paco remembered a small detail but something important. When they were forced out of the Captain’s cabin one man, maybe a crewmember was left behind. The leader struck him hard on the head and then stuffed an envelope into his jacket pocket. What was that? Were they being kidnapped for a ransom? And who would care to pay the demand? Maybe Ludington would do it to save Printise? No one I know of would care that much for me, he thought, and probably not for Penny either. The Captain seemed to be a worthless criminal to Paco. So why were they valuable? Thinking through all this he felt sick and dazed as he looked up to see the black outline of an enormous sail, a shape so huge he could not imagine anything that big at sea. It was also silent and surprisingly close. He recognized it now as monstrous Chinese junk and they were about to be forced aboard.
The morning after the great Portafortuna catastrophe was just a continuation of a horrible ordeal. Families seeking information about missing relatives and friends had the phone lines hopelessly jammed. An ugly debacle had erupted at the wharf. Small boats, still lined up to unload the last of the passengers and crew from the ship, were jammed with angry confrontations flaring. The Portafortuna was still afloat but damaged by the fire and without power was headed toward open waters followed by an odd assortment of small vessels attempting to salvage valuables. Only a portion of the lower deck was seriously harmed and parts of the engine were crippled. Now the eerie remnants of “Naughty Arabian Nights” rocked helplessly, along with the giant casino areas, chips and cards scattered, as the ship left the channel and entered the rugged Pacific Ocean. The last small ship carried some of the crew on a mission to find the most important papers and the contents of the ships safe from the Captain’s quarters. There they found Carmino, Captain Oakley’s first mate, unconscious with a bleeding gash to his head. They brought him with the valuables to the little boat waiting below and made their way to shore. Only hours later Madonna who sat desperate for news of Paco opened her screen door to find a strange gaunt man with a bandaged head covered by his hat that now appeared too small for his head. Carmino’s large black eyes looked soft and weepy. He asked to come in explaining there was an important message that she must hear.
Once inside he sat down across from her and started in his heavy Italian accent, “First dear lady I must say that I believe your son and husband are both alive.” She exhaled with a little sigh. “We were in Captain Oakley’s Cabin with the woman who planned our event and her Chef when the Fong Twins broke in and held us at gunpoint. They tied everyone up threatening to kill the lady. Suddenly your son entered the doorway where he was cuffed and gagged as well. We heard the sirens and a demand to evacuate the ship. That made the Chinese force everyone to leave, all but me who they hit in the head”. He motioned to the wounded area with his hand holding it away not daring to even touch this still throbbing source of acute pain. “They left this note in my pocket.”
He produced a wrinkled and stained paper that Madonna seized and read out loud. “The Captain and his associates are captives and the demand is for $100,000 to be paid in currency at a meeting that will be arranged in San Francisco. Contact our representative there immediately.” She looked up bewildered. “Where is Paco now? How can we pay this? Is he hurt? Did they beat him too?”
Carmino, looking even more yellow and waxy by the minute, said he believed he was the only one injured, skipping over the dirty details of the abuse to Miss Penny. He was using all his strength now to bring this message, pleading with her not to worry about the money and the negotiations for release. He absolutely pronounced, as if relaying a verbal pledge from a higher authority, that the Captain’s Syndicate was handling all this. “They will return lady, you can be assured. We are very powerful and the Fong twins, who have your loved ones, know we can kill them off anytime we need to.” Standing to leave with Madonna, huge beautiful eyes glassy, following him to the door, he turned with a fierce warning. “Please lady do not tell anyone about this. If you do the boy and his father may die.” And then summoning the last of his energy he delivered a similar message to Ludington at Val Verde.
Down town at Diehl’s it was Salvador who, surviving it all, stood describing the disaster from his soda fountain now crowded around like a pulpit with many craving news. Oren Starr was there, breathless from racing to see if the paper had arrived. It was late coming but finally came. He grabbed a copy and saw that the entire issue was filled with pictures and stories. One headline read, “Six dead, hundreds injured and missing.” The Governor was being pressed for answers as to why this horrendous event was clearly caused by the Coast Guard’s unreasonable demand for immediate evacuation. Another story told of the overwhelmed St. Francis Hospital that had never cared for an emergency of this size since the earthquake and that some patients were taken to facilities in Los Angeles. Further eye-witness reports detailed the moments when a small party of Government agents with a photographer appeared in the casino and began, axes in hand, chopping down the big roulette wheel and several crap tables, then smashed all the liquor in a the big bar, all with flash bulbs blazing, then left.
Oren walked over to Sal and grabbing his hands begged him to remember if he saw Penny and if she was able to get into a boat. He was hanging onto any little shed of information that might help his search for her. With a disappointing negative shake of his head Sal described how he did see her earlier in the evening during the banquet and the last he remembered she and Chef Printice were going to the Captain’s office to get the money for all the services. “She promised to pass out our pay but then I never saw her again.” Oren now knew where he might begin his inquiries. He was off to call Ludington who must also be searching for Printise.
Meanwhile, sitting at the Cima Del Mundo kitchen table piled with recipes and cook books, Mama Genet and Fayola, crisp as always in their starched pink and brown uniforms, argued gently over the exact composition of the dishes they intended to present for the Medallion d’Oro Culinary competition coming up at the Biltmore in only two weeks. The Fish platter was settled since Mama’s version of “Truite Pontchatrain” was her signature dish of perfectly crusted trout with crabmeat sautéed in brown butter and secret spices. This would be served with four mandatory side dishes including her beloved Pommes de Terre Soufflés, the large puffed balls of deep fried whipped potatoes, crunchy outside and an inside that literally melted in the mouth, a verdant creamed spinach, a savory cooked slaw with just the right balance of piquant flavors and her delicious little cakes made from grits and cheese formed into shell shapes using madeleine tins. Mama and Fayola felt confident they would win with this but the meat platter was worrisome. The women knew that their competition would be highly skilled with fowl also the beef and lamb entrées would be hard to beat.
They poured over the options like Antoine’s “Poulet Rochambeau” a deep chocolate brown roux laden breast of hen stuffed with sliver’s of Virginia ham or the choice center cuts of lamb chops grilled and finally brushed with thick mint jelly but these may be to common for the event. They thought of the popular tips de filet of beef en brochette with the Marchand Sauce or maybe just a steak with a Demi-Bordelaise? All this sounded too ordinary to be a winner. With the two cook’s noses buried in recipes, Latrice ambled by, carrying six cans of sweetened condensed milk, surly on her way to the thick wall of supplies that lined her room, and said, “Why don’t ch’all make the Chateaubriand with them skinny fried potatoes and the three sauces, Marchand, Bernaise and Bordelaise, then do some caramel carrots and the duchess peas with a braised celery in remoulade?
And in another corner of Montecito, ferociously fussing over lists and meticulously hand printed outlines with charming little drawings of his two platter entries planned for the competition, stood Chef Wilfredo Henriques of Piranhust, known as Fredo, index finger tweaking his ample nose, eyes unfocused in deep thought. His latest version of the fish course featured a fancy carved and dressed marinated herring in the center, an Austrian classic, surrounded by lovely round towers of sour apple compote, white bean soufflé, pickled baby vegetables and a floret of hard boiled egg segments decorated with tiny violets. ‘It does look gorgeous’ he thought, first romancing the idea, then having a huge argument with himself, ‘you are such an imbecile, the eggs look like a farmer’s breakfast. You are never, never going to win with that one’. Then talking back to himself in his native language an elegant German, ‘that is a perfect compliment to the herring! What else would you put there?’ Then countering himself with, ‘this is just not working. This is trash, manure, you need to start all over’. And the mental wrangling went on for hours hitting a crescendo over the Sautéed Calves Livers wrapped in very thin streaky bacon accompanied by truffled champignons as opposed to the venison with rowan berries and chestnut pears for the meat selection. Finally slapping himself briskly on the cheeks he ran to the sink and removing his tall toc put his entire head under the cold water.
During that week other contenders for the coveted honor to compete in Paris among the greatest Chefs in America were working out their dishes. Chef Pulga, Lolita Armour’s darling little dragon in his fine El Mirador kitchen, paced pompously back and forth in front of a captive staff dictating his ideas that were copied down word for word, an exercise that caused great confusion later when the notes were read back. Half Spanish, half English as was the Chef’s habit, when written out made no sense at all. Infuriated by this painful reality Pulga ran toward the closest cook and stomped hard on his foot causing a fast brutal scuffle that ended with both men running outside disappearing into the enormous estate gardens. It would take Chef Victore, now heading the line at the Montecito Inn, who graciously agreed to assist Pulga at the Biltmore, to sort out the plans and recipes for each platter.
The highly acclaimed Phillbert Omeyer, loveable Chef Bertie, now years past retirement age, hired to open the Santa Barbara Biltmore, would be a favorite going into the event. Spies, when sent from several competitors’ kitchens, were appalled to discover no menus at all. Their mission was unsuccessful simply because the old Chef just planned to get up and search the markets early the day he intended to cook, then prepare what came to him naturally, and that is exactly why he was so great.
Also imagining his platters for the competition was Chef De Vielmond, called Velly, who stood working with a large slab of beef, beautifully butchering the meat with his favorite skinning knife and occasionally bringing out the saw or massive cleaver to expertly cut the desired sections apart. This was a skill he mastered as a boy in the kitchens of his Father’s legendary Parisian restaurant, “L’Essence”. He had been forced to leave France when his older brother, who took over after his Father died, found out that there was a secret romance raging under his nose. Velly and the bodacious Elodie where found together in a pantry and a horrendous battle royal broke out between the brothers. They fought, seemingly to the death, with their butcher’s knives leaving scars that would last a lifetime. The hatred was so deep it transcended the indiscretions of a lover and evidently exposed the deeper wound. All through his life Velly was the gifted one, the one who amazed with his culinary capabilities and the one who was most beloved by the Father.
Loosing the deadly conflict, bleeding from several wounds about his head, face and chest, Velly was hidden for some time by friends and then secreted out of the country to America where he began his distinguished career in the kitchen of Master Chef de cuisine, Maurice La Mer, who was sent to open the New York version of Maxims’ de Paris. When some years later members of the famed Russian Imperial Ballet fled to America from the Bolshevik Revolution and set up The Russian Tea Room, it was Velly, now Master Chef De Vielmond, who was selected to head the line. He became a sensation for his sublime dishes and a kind of bon vivant with a wild nightlife in the company of dancers and artists who taught him many things especially the art of drinking massive quantities of vodka. A short time later spent from excess he was hired by the millionaire tycoon Edwin Ballingford and brought him out to California to his newly acquired Montecito estate, Il Brolino. There, with all the pleasure of creating his best work yet, he healed. His fine tanned olive skin began to glow. A new happiness enhanced Velly’s noble face. He was charismatic now, his fascinating darkest brown eyes danced with excitement over any subject that might delight him at the moment. For Paco his spirit was irresistible and living at the Quien Sabe Ranch just up the road, he spent as much time as he could watching him work, taking in the rapture of cooking as art.
This morning, sitting on a stool at the end of the kitchen in a floating negligée was Charmaine the devastatingly beautiful twenty six year old blond wife of the aging Ballingford, Baron of Il Brolino. Little whimpers and sobs punctuated her reactions to Velly’s chopping as she tried again to make a call to Diehl’s and connect with Paco who now was on the formal list of missing from the Portafortuna disaster along with Miss Penny, Printise and many others.
“He’s not there Velly”, she swooned, “Could he be in Los Angeles? Maybe in a hospital down there with bandages over his face”, she fanaticized, “maybe he can’t speak? No one would know who he is? Do you think Salvador will go down and check?” Velly looked at her bewildered and bit his lip with head down, the large scar that marred the left side of his face turning red. Pulling out his largest cleaver and making a ferocious chop at the carcass, he was sick with worry but carried on, insides now fully exposed. Flouncing out dissatisfied with his response she announced in a stubborn tone, “If the Master comes home, tell him I went to Los Angeles to visit my Mother. I’m calling the chauffeur and going to find Paco myself.” Storming out the front door and looking up Charmaine saw her husband’s car pulling in and fearing trouble cancelled her plans but secretly carried her yearning to verify Paco’s wellbeing deep in her heart.