The morning after the great Biltmore extravaganza found everyone in their typical place at Diehl’s. The newspapers were filled with photos and stories including one headline that read, “Medallion d’Oro Inquiry Ordered” with a sub-heading, “Winner May Be Disqualified”. Paco clipped some pictures showing himself with a jubilant Chef Printise and Penny accepting the Copper Medal to send to Madonna at Mio Cuore. He included the story about the inquiry and a long note telling her of his fears, describing what he witnessed, and that the intruder who was fiddling around in the icebox looked like the ones who held them captive. His Mother knew Chef Velly very well since he came on occasions to the Quien Sabe to cook for famous guests and he disclosed that the great man appeared to be in grave danger.
Paco was thinking back over recent events and the shocking experience he had the night before. ‘I could talk to the Captain about all this and not worry Madonna? After all, if my suspicions are right and the Tong or some part of the Chinese underground sabotaged Chef Oscar and possibly the others, Oakley would know how to find out. Just putting two and two together I know that the one person who would benefit from the disqualification of the leading contenders would naturally be Chef Wan. As a matter of fact it was Wan’, Paco reasoned, ‘who was talking to the reporters in the parking lot. Was he so desperate to win that he paid the Chinese syndicate to rig the outcome? Should I involve the Captain?’ Paco asked himself this question because a part of him, even now, doubted the complete integrity of his Father.
On the night before, Paco only waited moments before Charmaine in her sexy little yellow roadster swooped by to pick him up. Vaulting into the seat he could see that her brilliant golden eyes were red rimmed and swollen apparently from crying so he held her darling face in his big hands and tenderly kissed each one. “What has happened? Are you crying because Velly is in the Hospital? Is it so serious?”
“Yes Paco it is serious but I’m heartsick over something else. You know how much I love to be with you? It is really the only thing that makes my life bearable and now it’s coming to an end. Paco, Edwin, my monster of a husband ordered me to pack. We are leaving tomorrow for New York and then to live in Bermuda, permanently?” She began to weep uncontrollably, “We are shipping everything there? He says he is closing up Il Brolino? He may even sell it? Oh Paco, I hate Bermuda!”
The two drove to St. Francis Hospital, really speechless, and found Chef Velly unconscious, attended to by a nurse and hooked up to medical monitors. It was shocking to see. They asked about his condition without any response. The look of Velly’s face, so still and white, was completely unlike him. The deep scar that reminded him every day of the terrible wrong committed by his vicious brother was minimized. All this gave him a strangely serene presence. They sat quietly for a long time, hopeful to have a chance to see the Doctor, then without any success Charmaine kissed him gently on the forehead and they left, not knowing what else to do.
In the corridor, on the way out, the looming figure of Chef Fredo came anxiously toward them. Paco explained they knew nothing about Velly’s condition and that it looked very grave. This fired off a vicious tirade from the big crazy Austrian who now fostered a deep hatred for the entire Medallion d’Oro event that had embarrassed him to the core. Fredo, clearly overwrought with worry over his close friend Velly, who provided the unending creative hostility he loved so much, intended to make it his business to track down the truth. Fredo ended with, “And Paco, oh my Gott! Chef Maurice Grevillet, the one from the Ambassador is dead! When I asked for the Chef at the front desk they sent me to Grevillet’s room by mistake and the man’s wife said it was poison! Paco! He was murdered! And now Chef Velly? Oh my dear man.” He was becoming frantic, “Get the authorities! Paco we must save Velly and see he keeps his gold medal! Call the police!” This last demand brought forth a man who was sitting on a chair until now unnoticed at the door to Chef Velly’s room.
Showing his badge the detective asked, “ What do you know about the incidents at the cooking contest?” Chef Fredo, with his heavy German accent, went into a long breathless re-telling of the facts, as he knew them, with plenty of wild accusations thrown in, whereupon the Officer said. “May I have your name? I will give you my card and ask that you call to make an appointment to come in and give a statement.” Then he turned to Paco and Charmaine. “Do you know anything about this situation?” And Paco, thinking quickly it was best to stay out of the picture for now, shook his head. The two walked on leaving Fredo to revisit all his suspicions, way up in the face of a weary Policeman, who was by now trying hard to get rid of him.
The two lovers sat in the car in front of Val Verde’s big iron gates. There was such a defeated view of things now on both their parts that they couldn’t find much left to say. She was leaving the next day maybe never to return and he was hoping to be in Florence, Italy by January. Although they had been in a playful physical relationship for months, their affair had only turned consciously intimate recently. Now it was love wanting to bloom. They only parted with tenderness, heavyhearted victims of circumstance, vowing over and over to meet in an unimaginable future time.
It was quite a walk back to his little cottage on the other side of the estate. Passing the mansion he could hear that the party inside was still raging. Moving along he came to the large Persian water garden. Along side was the guesthouse with a tower, the place where he had experienced the vivid hallucination, brought on, he thought, by the contents of Printise’s little pipe. Turning a corner and taking another look he was dumbfounded! It was like his dream. There was Lillian standing on the same balcony glowing like an angel in the moonlight. ‘I’m not smoking anything right now’ He thought. ‘Could this be true? Was it really her?’ Paco found a good vantage point and just sat down on the ground looking up for a long time. She was singing, really chanting? Floating in and out of the curtains in a kind of dance, her Indian Sari wrapping then unwrapping around her. She would bow with palms together, saluting some unseen source and then with arms outstretched she called out over and over, “Oh my Beloved, Oh my Beloved.” Paco was mesmerized and just remained seated in utter disbelief. He dared not let her know he was there, fearing discovery would scare her off. Her hair was so long and the color so light it gleamed as she whirled around adding drama to her graceful motions. Finally after one last bow she disappeared into the room behind the curtains and the night sounds came back to nudge Paco into reality. Still astonished he raced to the mansion and finding Ludington talking art with a guest he waited his turn and then declared, “I have seen Lillian Hoover in you guesthouse tower. Do you know about this? Do you know she is here? I though at first I was dreaming but I am sure it was really Lillian!”
Motioning to the bar, Ludington said, not knowing anything of the young man’s involvement with the girl, “Have a drink and have a seat. I’ve wanted to warn you about this and I would also like to plan your studio. Whatever you need I will get it for you. The time is almost here to send the portfolio to Florence.” Paco barely heard the last part he was so anxious to know about Lillian. And when Ludington told the whole story including the fact that it was the Captain who saved her, he gained new respect, reassured a little more that his Father was really a good man at heart. After making plans with Jasper to help him move from his garden shed studio at the Quien Sabe to the garage next to the Val Verde cottage and finding his big iron bed already filled with a snoring collie, thoroughly wiped out he lost consciousness.
It was very early on Sunday morning and Ranger was poking Paco with his long nose, wanting to go outside. Wrapping in the sheet they walked out to the front porch where Sorush, at Paco’s insistence had created a little pallet and lay sleeping under his turban turned cover. The air was warm but crisp and clean as he followed the big dog down to the stream. He sat on a large rock situated in a strong shaft of sunlight at the waters edge. Lowering the sheet he began soaking up the rays feeling lazy.
After minutes Paco suddenly felt the presence of someone bending over him, blocking the sun. Opening his eyes he was stunned to see her. She was right over him with her long hair draping down almost touching his chest. Lillian’s gaze was curious, almost childlike, looking at him, fascinated, as if he was a rare animal. If she had a stick she might have poked him with it just to get his response. Sensing she might bolt and run if he moved, he just laid there as she came very close to his face, hovering only inches away from his lips and then moving down over his body she took a very deep breath, as if trying to inhale his essence. He slowly began to rise and she withdrew with matching speed. There was a change in her expression, possibly recognizing him for an instant and then returning to her strange state that was guileless, wide-eyed like a primitive. Now looking confused she started to move away with Ranger following, tail wagging. Paco called after him but he would not turn back and the two disappeared into the trees heading toward the tower house. He was only wrapped in a sheet so he hurried back to the cottage to dress and then dashed on to find them cavorting together with pleasure around the Persian pool. When she saw him across the water she slowly unwound her sari and showing her splendid lithe ivory body for moments entered the water and floated there appearing weightless.
Paco carefully edged his way around the turquoise pool getting closer and closer without her attempting to flee. All along she was eyeing him suspiciously. In seconds the door to the tower house opened and it was Perichercher who broke the stand off. “Paco, Paco my fine gentleman, you have found us? This is the beautiful lady Aredvi Sura Ana that I told you about. She has made a very good friend of your big dog. They really do love each other. You can see how they play and it is the only thing that has brought her to speak. She calls him Pasha and when he comes to her she caresses him and kisses his forehead. This is a little miracle Paco. She was unable to talk to anyone. We have taken her to the great Teacher, Krishnamurti in Ojai for an awakening of her spirit. She is being reborn right now and one day she will be whole.” He was wordless watching Lillian striding out of the water to Peri who was holding her sari and wrapping her up they disappeared inside with Ranger right behind.
Walking in wonder all the way back to the cottage he found Ludington with Jasper in the garage where they intended to create a studio. The garden staff was on the way to remove some stored items and then give the space a good cleaning. Ludington and Paco discussed the things that he would need. Soon he found Sorush and Jasper drove the three of them to the Quien Sabe. He needed to collect all of the paintings, drawings and supplies from the green house deep in the lush gardens. It seemed like a long time since he had been home. Still a little dreary with out Madonna he checked his quarters and then directed the two men down to the studio. Finally done, the big touring car packed, Paco saw Oneda working with something on his tiny front porch. “I will be living nearby at Val Verde for awhile so I want you to have the phone number there. I’ll be taking all my work with me to prepare a portfolio that will go to Italy. I’m hoping to study there. Is everyone all right? I think you know Madonna is living near San Francisco and I’m not sure when she may return.”
The old sage turned a wise eye on the young man telling him in his soft Japanese accented English, “We are very sorry to see you leave Paco-san, I know about your Mother and we are hearing sad news that the most respected owners of the Quien Sabe will not return this season so it is not necessary to find a new cook. We will be here, Rosalita and her little family and me with mine waiting for your return.” Paco smiled at him and looked deep into his eyes that seemed to reflect the Universe. Even though it felt unaccustomed, a little stiff, he hugged the old man, tenderly whispering, “If you need anything from the market just call me. You can count on me. I am coming back.”
It was mid September. Paco was showing up early every morning at Diehl’s and working all day, visiting Lillian each evening, and working on his drawings and paintings every night until very late. The tremors that would eventually almost destroy the country’s financial institutions made their first rumblings. The stock market dropped sharply at the beginning of the month but rose again only to drop and rise again. Paco began to realize there was more to Charmaine’s sudden move to Bermuda than he thought. He also imagined that the owners of the Quien Sabe cancelled their annual move to California because they were worried about the cost. Other signs kept cropping up, forewarning that hard times were on the way. The orders from all his ultra wealthy clientele at Diehl’s were strangely tapering off when actually they usually should be picking up, many of the Hill Barons coming to warmer weather for the fall and winter. Even the phone orders were slowing down. Oren Star read the headlines and stories, giving everyone the jitters, predicting a monumental collapse but no one wanted to believe it.
Chef Velly made a miraculous recovery, having teetered on the brink of death for days. The investigation into the Medallion d’Oro, exposing a mysterious disqualification of the two top contenders and the question of murder by poison filled the Newspapers too. Developments sat in limbo for several weeks and then while Paco called Mio Cuore to talk to his Mother he summoned the courage to speak with the Captain and discuss his fear that the entire ordeal had been caused by Chef Wan. He asked if there was any way to know if the Tong had anything to do with it? He voiced his worry that they could still try to eliminate Chef Velly since he was the declared winner and would be sent to France in November for the Internationale competition in Paris. He explained that Chef Wan who was in second place would be the one to go if anything should happen to Velly. Oakley just remarked, “I will see to it Paco”, and it was only a matter of days when the news broke. Wan was arrested along with a trio of known members from the Chinese underground. The case was blown wide open and Chef Velly was again established as the winner, the greatest Chef in America.
The significant day came when Ludington, who had hired a private courier, would complete the selection of Paco’s pieces for the portfolio, now planned to arrive in Florence within about two weeks time. The work as a whole made a powerful package. Notable were a number of extremely sensitive anatomical drawings in sepia, umber, charcoal and white Conte crayon done on fine Arches handmade paper that should convince anyone the young man was fully prepared to take on any challenges the Academia would bring. They included three canvases done early on in the little Quien Sabe garden studio depicting the exotic cactus, bird of paradise and flora in the surrounding landscape. His color pallet was exceptional with many variations of gray, green and blue, from Celadon to icy shades of Cerulean and French Aquamarine. There were bright blue patches of sky peeking through and the brilliant touches of crimson and Cadmium orange that described the lilies and bird-like flowers that caused the pictures to vibrate with excitement. As the man took the large package away Ludington said, “Well Paco we will see what we will see. Soon there should be an answer and in any event please understand my man, you deserve to go.”
The stock market’s rollercoaster ride continued into October as the beginning of the month saw another drop followed by another burst of strength. Then came a day labeled by reporters as “Black Thursday” when a huge dip in stock prices triggered a burst of panic selling so frantic that it overwhelmed the Stock Exchange's ability to keep track of the transactions. The little group at Diehl’s, sitting by the big marble fountain without even one customer, was glued to the radio, trying to understand what exactly was going on. Wall Street financers were able to reverse the downward plunge only by buying as many shares of stock as they could over the next two days. It was a temporary victory. Monday's opening bell unleashed a frenzy of selling that soon turned into an uncontrolled panic that continued for the rest of the trading day. The following day, later called “Black Tuesday”, October 29th, saw the previous day's panic turn into a disaster of historic proportions.
Oren Star, having read every word the Wall Street Journal could provide, sat on the glorious patio of the Biltmore getting drunk on shots of Macallan. When Penny arrived she sat across from him with her dazzling smile, shiny deep auburn hair, in a lime organdy blouse under a navy suit jacket with smart gold buttons and a white accordion pleated skirt finished by spectators. She ordered the first in a succession of frothy peach daiquiris. Both nursing the fact they had probably lost their small but prized nest eggs, it was not long before the drinks made them both sentimental and exceedingly romantic, culminating in the specter of Oren, down on one knee, asking Penny to marry. For a fleeting instant she thought about the fact that she was already married and upon following through with this it would mean bigamy? It flashed by her consciousness, but she secretly told herself, ‘All that was years ago and a continent away’. Happy and glowing she simply lowered her eyes and kissing his hand she murmured, “Oh yes, Darling, yes.”
The economy after that night went from bad to worse. Scandalous tragic stories were passed around and reported daily, vividly describing the loss of fortunes and property, even suicides, as a result of the Stock Market’s crash. In the month that followed, absurd though it seemed, Diehl’s was forced to close, their cash flow having come to a fatal halt. Paco made one last round of deliveries in the wonderful midnight blue truck with the gold lettering that marked the most famous culinary market in the West. He lovingly polished it for the last time and then packed to the gills with all the orders he drove off on his customary route through Montecito. It may have been the artist in him that found such profound pleasure in just looking at the details of the different shaped leaves on a multitude of trees. He noted and memorized the richness of the dense foliage always interspersed with brilliant colored flowers. He daily passed the flashy oranges and fuchsias, and shades thereof, from thousands of bougainvillea that cascaded over rooftops and walls. All along the way he found bright expressions of crimson, cerise, salmon and gold from the roses. An outpouring of annuals like petunias, geraniums and sunflowers formed drifts between breaks in the tall dark green hedgerows. Long passages of lavender or soft purple lantana, with tiny yellow petals and black anthers in each center, graced the by ways.
Twinkling and floating around all this profusion of bewitching botany, besides a grand array of birds, were the bands of butterflies and moths. Paco took great delight in identifying each type, a skill he picked up during a short stint in The Boy Scouts. He could always see little hyperactive swarms of tiger moths and skippers, orange with black markings or yellow with dark umber edges on their wings. He had caught a wealth of these as a boy, keeping them in a big Mason jar with wholes in the lid until his heart told him to set them free. It was a rare day when he spied a bright iridescent aquamarine blue Morpho Menelaus, resisting the urge to catch and kill it for pinning to his corkboard with mementos. The Painted Ladies flickered, wings splashed by tones like sepia and burnt orange, aqua and ochre, then outlined in black. From time to time the giant Yellow and black Tiger Swallowtail or the white and black Zebra version would fly by radiating a kind of majesty, proclaiming itself King of the gardens. But his favorites had to be the Monarchs with their magical bi-annual flight that migrated right through Santa Barbara. They selected certain groves of eucalyptus as spots for resting between segments of their mysterious journeys from points above Northern California down to Baja, Mexico. There were a number of these places in Montecito, one on the Quien Sabe in a windbreak of ultra tall Eucalyptus always wearing peels of pastel colored bark on their huge trunks. During the height of the butterflies’ travels he could see the leaves on these giants heavily laden with thousands of sleeping Monarchs, so many in fact that the limbs actually bent down from the unnatural weight.
The cactus became a passion for him. Paco thought of them as ancient tribes from a strange planet. Grateful for his education provided by Oneda in the landmark succulent gardens of the Quien Sabe, he recognized each one and called them by name.
The sight of a certain congregation of magnificent blue agaves always thrilled him as he climbed the hills to Cima Del Mundo. Walking into Mama Genet’s long kitchen, always scented with delicious sultry southern herbs and spices, Fayola ran by hysterical as he put their big order on the sideboard. She was waving around a hammer and hollering, “Somebody get the saw, Miss Latrice is trapped in her room! Paco, we don’t hear her cry‘in no more? We was having our breakfast and heard the boom! Twas like a little bomb went off. She is jus nutty as a pet coon, that girl! She’s got so many cans and boxes of food in there she aint got a place to put her po ole head. Oh you gotta get the girl outta there.”
Paco shook the big woman a little, getting her attention, and then ordered, “Go get the gardeners or Gunnar, find Gunnar!” When he rushed down the hallway to find Latrice’s room he could hear Mama Genet, begging her to open up the door. “Jus come on over to the door an turn the lock. You can do that for Mama. Jus talk to Mama.” The dear roly-poly little cook was wringing her big hands and wiping her brow with a delicate lace hankie she always had tucked into her ample cleavage. “Mama loves you so much. Please, Tricey, pleeeeease be easy darlin, jus open the door.” Paco banged on the door wanting to sound authoritative, hoping that might work. There was no answer and soon Gunnar, giant Swedish wrestler of a man, arrived and once understanding the issue just bashed the door in with brute strength.
Expecting to find Latrice possibly unconscious, there was a gasp when all they could see were stacks of tin cans, every kind of food imaginable, that filled the entryway from floor to ceiling. They attempted to push some of this aside but any access was filled up making it impossible to gain entrance this way. “Go to the window, we gotta go to the window.” Mama screamed. So while Paco slowly tried to remove the cans, stacking them along the corridor, the others, Gunnar leading, now with hammer in hand, circled around the house and finding the window broke in. Anxious voices wanting to hear good news were a little relieved when the big Swed announced, “I can see her Mama. She is just sitting on her bed.” Back in the hallway Paco had almost cleared a small tunnel that would be expanded and allow Mama in to nurse Latrice back to sanity. Sometime later Lora Knight insisted on psychiatric treatment after hearing the whole story. They discovered that it was the crash and threat of financial disaster that caused an already traumatized Latrice to take such drastic action for self-preservation.
On his way out of the estate Paco passed the pool where Corliss, bounding over to the truck, told him about her plans to travel through Europe in the months ahead finishing with, “I will always remember the things you did, taking me home on the terrible night of my break-up with Renny. You are a true friend and I am yours always.”
The next stop was at his own Quien Sabe where he intended to leave a generous box of canned goods and special jars of pickled seafood that he knew Mrs. Oneda would make into a myriad of Japanese specialties. Rosalita hurried out of the kitchen beckoning him to come in. With a very serious face she presented a Western Union telegram that read as follows.
QUIEN SABE RANCH
To all interested parties and the staff of the Quien Sabe Ranch
This is to inform you that the property will be sold. You may stay on unpaid until the final sale. We expect you to find employment elsewhere as soon as possible. Thank you for all your kind services for so many years.
And that was all he needed to drop the paper and fall into Rosalita’s big arms, overcome momentarily by yet another bombshell. Vowing to think of way to help he drove the short distance to Il Brolino. Just knowing that Charmaine was gone made the grand mansion look deserted. With the Chef’s usual order in the estate’s special monogrammed baskets, he entered the kitchen that stood empty, something he had never seen before. In seconds one of the cooks emerged and directed him to the swimming pool. Paco was still dazed by the telegram and thinking, ‘What else can happen’, inside he was still worried about Velly’s health, after all he almost died from the poisoning. Easily finding the remarkable oval turquoise waters, still and shimmering in the sunlight, Paco could see two figures sitting under an umbrella beside the Palladian style cabana. There a very fit looking Chef Velly relaxed, playing chess, sipping the Master’s best champagne, with Chef Fredo who looked anxious, fiercely concentrating on his options to win. Both men brightened by the smiling vision of Paco, they urged him to take a seat.
“Bonjour mon petit frère, sa va? We play chess and drink all the best champagne in the cellar. First, L’ Pommard, c’est complete, and now Veuve Clicquot”. Chef Velly, waving the familiar orange-labeled bottle around, was obviously inebriated, something Paco never expected to see since he had once been an alcoholic. “Next we drink the Roger Desivry. Join us cher ami, we have le petit celebration, the buse feroce, the huge old dirty bird is gone and he is not coming back! ” Velly was referring to the fact that Edwin Ballingford, the mighty Hill Baron and Charmaine’s abusive husband, had decided to escape the impending financial disaster by leaving the country, protecting as much money and many assets as possible, finding a safe hideout in Bermuda.
Chef Fredo burst in, complaining in his signature German-English style. Both men often sounded ambiguous, the meaning of their conversation unclear, so Paco depended on body language and today he could see there was big trouble. “Das stinktier, an affenschwanz, that bastard! He leaves Chef Velly here with not one cent! He will eat everything and drink everything and go swimming every day and then sleep in the old fettsact’s bed! And he will wear all die kleidung, all his fine suits and der shoes too.”
Pouring more champagne Velly was smiling with eyes at half-mast until Fredo came to the part about the suits and shoes at which point he stood abruptly and shouted, “sa shoes? Jamais! Et sa vestements? Jamais! Va te faire voir? What do I care? I leave for Paris in two weeks! Le vestments c’est merde! I go for Medallion d’Oro and I kill my brother! Fils de pute!” Chef Velly was really getting worked up. And now, Fredo, eyes gleaming with excitement, was immediately offended by the Frenchman’s negative turn on his effort to champion the cause. He also felt a sharp pain in his heart just hearing the words, “Medallion d’Oro”, so, delightfully energized by this he gleefully put on his verbal battle gear and went to work. “Schlafend! Sleeping, you are sleeping my friend. This dumpfback has done you! You should punch him in die eier! Are you stupid? You will wear the suits! You will wear the shoes! You arschkriecher!” All six foot four of the Austrian was up now and pointing at Velly, demanding even threatening, that he go get the shoes and put them on instantly. At least that is what Paco could surmise given the small amount of words spoken in English.
Something about the word “arschkriecher” ignited a vision so detestable in Chef Velly that he lunged forward and grabbing the huge Chef around the knees that were, on the short Frenchman, about waist high, he forced him backward taking the two of them straight into the pool. Paco could see the water churning with wild flailing of arms as he turned to leave, then walking to the truck, the crazy bellowing insults slowly drifted out of earshot. A warm feeling entered his mind knowing full well the potty old Chefs were happily berserk and completely back to normal.
Casa Bienvenidas, an enormous estate under construction, was always a point of interest on his way to Il Fureidis and Val Verde, his next two stops. Alfred E. Dieterich apparently not affected by the crash had hired a famous architect named Mizner to create a masterpiece. Having lived in Guatemala and traveled Europe his designs were romantic with references to several styles, mixing Spanish elements with Italian and medieval features. The mansion was large with 40 rooms totaling more than 17,000 square feet. The living room alone was more than 1,400 square feet, and a vaulted ceiling was 20 feet tall. Paco knew several men who were carpenters and some cousin’s who were completing a long passage of fine stone wall. They told him about a secret passageway constructed behind a bookcase that led to a wine cellar and he thought how silly the idea of Prohibition was. Everyone one he knew had a secret stash of alcohol making it not a secret at all. There was a big movement to put an end to the madness, so many thousands of citizens breaking the law. He thought for a moment of Mio Cuore and how much in love with the beautiful vineyards he really was. He flashed on sitting in the dark wine cellar with the Captain and his heart melted a little more. All this passed through his mind as he drove the delivery truck on it’s last round.
The Persians and the Indians who formulated the staff had created a veritable farm on the grounds of Il Fureidis, making it impossible to suffer any of the effects of a plunging economy. They came from regions in the world were this was a way of life and with the continuously running stream that cut across the property, the sublime estate was totally self-contained. Paco really was not filling an order but taking some specialties, his favorite Lokrum from Turkey with plenty of exotic spices, that he knew Java Sir would enjoy, and telling him about the closure of Diehl’s in person.
The old man sat on a cushion in a corner of the kitchen garden seemingly in meditation. Sitting down cross-legged in front of him, then returning the hand gesture that meant, “the spirit in me embraces the spirit in you”, he began, “Java Sir, I am here to say that Diehl’s is closing it’s doors because there are no longer enough customers.” Paco looked down tracing a circle in the dirt, “So much has changed in my life. It is also very sad to know that the Quien Sabe, my home for many years will be sold. I have sent my artwork to a school in Italy and if accepted I’ll be going there to study. The kind gentleman, your neighbor, who owns Val Verde has promised to pay for this? It is difficult to take so much from him and never be able to pay it back.” It was always so easy to pour out his heart to this rare man who seemed to understand eternity.
Java Sir was silent then in his soft voice that was something like singing, “Paco it is possible to give up trying to pay back the people in this world who have given us gifts so precious. A wise man surrenders to the miraculous, saying “thank you”, over and over for as long as we live. The great and gracious owner of Il Fureidis has deeded this property to me. It was so astounding that I spent many days searching for a way to repay his generosity but you see there is only my gratitude and I silently tell him “Thank you” everyday, over and over.”
Paco considered this for minutes then admitted, “I am so worried about leaving my home and the people I love.”
The old Chef replied, “The ones you have attracted in your life today, are precisely the ones you need in your life at this moment but you see, Paco, today is always changing. Hidden signs are behind all events and if you watch for them they will serve your own flowering. You must find the place inside yourself where not one desire is impossible. Ask for nothing more than inspiration and your path will be blessed.”
Standing to leave Paco whispered “Thank you” over and over, and then moved on to Val Verde. He carried the big order brimming with delicacies that Chef Printise requested, knowing it would be the last. Today the Chef had made his eyes up to look something like Cleopatra, black kohl liner and deep blue shadow along with perfectly arched eyebrows, transforming him into his favored alter ego, the Diva. It was always astonishing to see his handsome ultra masculine features changed into the stunning female he created with a little paint and powder. Printise, from the neck up, could have been a leading lady had it not been for his big burly body with muscular calves that looked ridiculous in the mammoth high heels he loved to wear. His voice was high and outrageously affected, becoming decidedly British in tone.
“Paco Darling you may put that on the table. I want to properly inspect this order”, he said, grabbing at a big tin of caviar and like lightening twisting off the lid. Slowly savoring several heaping teaspoons full, he heaved a giant sigh of relief as if the salty little eggs were a lifesaver, then washed it down with some champagne he had handy on the sideboard. All this time Paco was putting things away and complaining bitterly to Printise about the newest turns of fate that were causing a sharp pain in his head. “Now I have the news that they are selling the Quien Sabe! I no longer have a job! I have no idea where I will find the money for a new place and it is difficult to think that I must ask Ludington put me up and pay for everything if I go to Italy.”
Chef Printise, voice lowering to his natural tone, bellowed out, “Are you completely stupid? Are you unconscious? You cannot be serious Darling. You are one of the wealthiest people in the world! Do you really not understand that? An illegal fortune possibly, but nonetheless, you are heir to a gold mine. You little twit! Your Father supplies a thirsty Nation with all the forms of wine and liquor that it craves and that will never stop! I know the Captain will send funds to Ludington for anything you may need, and as for the Quien Sabe? You must call Madonna right now and let her know! She may want to buy it?” Paco stood transfixed and then, a fleeting issue of entitlement passing through his brain, he walked to the little office off of the kitchen and placed a call to Mio Cuore.
All the way to Arcady just remembering the conversation with his Mother and then the Captain lifted his spirits. They promised to come very soon and, “discuss his future” as his Father put it. Paco pulled up to Joannah Prang’s large two-story cottage. He brought a big basket of her personal favorites. Expensive luxuries like saffron, cinnamon from Madagascar, and mahlebi, powder from the pit of an African cherry with a hint of almond and rose. She also loved the Indian spices like kalajeera with it’s rich nutty flavor, slightly grassy to flavor rice and meat dishes. He included the rose and violet syrups from France that made her delicious cookies so distinctive. With no answer he walked to the back of the house and found her singing out in her splendid vegetable garden that was for Paco a picture to contemplate. The rows of textures and many shades of green, some lettuces and cabbage touched with pale orange and rust, beet tops with a lavender tinge, then a long lacy row of carrots and stiff onion stems that looped over on the ends. Tall bamboo sticks formed teepees that supported luscious fat tomatoes.
Down the wide center aisle was a brick walkway that ended in a little wicker teahouse. Over this path she made a series of large arches from willow forming a French style alley that were now, in November, still vine covered with peas and squash. In the summer when she had her famous parties these arches were hung with Japanese paper lanterns and the gazebo’s center table was laden with an array of appetizers. Delicious tid-bits like a slice of prosciutto wrapped around a crunchy, slim bread stick or a fresh, slender asparagus spear. Fresh pea pesto slathered on toasted baguettes. Marinated roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, gherkins, sliced hearts of palm, pickled baby onions, and mushrooms all served from her wonderful hand made pottery in rich deep colors like indigo, forest green, tomato red and mustard yellow.
Joannah’s goat Minnie, who always attended her festivities wearing a lei of flowers, also provided the tangy cheese that was shaped into small cylinders then rolled with chives, thyme, dill, black pepper, cumin, paprika, pecans, walnuts, or pistachios. These trays were garnished with all the blooms that dotted her verdant garden. Bright orange calendula and marigolds, little bunches of chamomile and daisies, sweet pepper scented nasturtium and sometimes small beds of clover. To go with this she became notorious for a wicked punch that was mostly citrus juices and ginger beer spiked with mescal.
It was sad for him to think about missing out on the visits with Joannah that in some ways changed his life. She was the one who knew he was an artist for sure. They shared so much visual richness in her books and esthetic knowledge during their conversations. Explaining this would be his last trip, she laughed with her strong arms around him and said, “This is not the last I will see of you!” He kissed her cheek and left for his next stop at Piranhurst. He simply carried the crates that Chef Fredo had ordered into a spotless kitchen, knowing he was somewhere drying out from the little scuffle in the pool with Chef Velly at Il Brolino, Paco muttering, ‘absurd, absurd absurd!’
Arriving at El Mirador, it was a huge surprise to find Chef Victore back in the kitchen working on a grand evening meal with Dulcina, Adiva, and Trella. It was known that The Montecito Inn, Charlie Chaplin’s folly, was up for sale and threatening to close, so Victore had no choice but return to his old job. He told Paco of the wild circumstances that caused Chef Pulga to pack up and leave the great estate overnight. The Mistress of the mansion was entertaining guests from Valencia Spain, the region that Juan Pulga always distinguished as his homeland. They discussed in Spanish the specialties from that area exclaiming the Chef’s dishes were very different. They made innuendos regarding his accent that they confidently knew was not like theirs. Finally at the dinner table one pompous Spanish gentleman declared after a bite of Chef Pulga’s signature tamales, “This cook is from Mexico! I recognize the dish from Barbachano’s new Rosarita Beach Hotel.” Fearing that his Mistress would know he really was a fake, the Chef paced back and forth in the kitchen. Sulking and in truth psychologically unstable, Pulga burst out of the kitchen and running to the offending guest with a heavy silver tray, bashed him on the head then fled not to be seen again.
Two more stops and Paco’s rounds would be finished for the last time. He left a big basket in the kitchen at Miraflores, the glorious estate that was the Country Club until a new grand development left it vacant. Elegantly transformed into a private residence it was now radiant with handsome details and lovely gardens. These days since John Jefferson was in banking and totally immersed in the crash, Paco could not help but tarry unseen near the terrace where Mary, his refined wife, and all her lady friends were having tea and sharing juicy gossip. One woman was bemoaning the fact that many of their friends who normally arrived from Eastern cities were not coming this year. “What will we do about the Christmas Tea without Margaret and Susannah?” Someone mentioned the strange death of an esteemed city politician, who was found at the bottom of east beach cliffs. They all chimed in on how many of their favorite stores were closing on State Street.
Shaken by the seriousness of all these negative circumstances, Paco made one last stop at Casa Dorinda, enjoying a warm chat with Mrs. Bliss who could cheer up a fence post with her bubbling chatter that promised a better day ahead. A little heartened he drove the fine Diehl’s Truck to it’s place in the back of the store, sadly imagining it would be sold any day now. Hopping on the Indian, speeding toward Val Verde, his thoughts turned to Lillian. These days he, along with Peri and Sorush, cooked tasty little dinners in the tower house kitchen. They dined on a fresh collection of vegetables from the magnificent gardens in neighboring Il Fureidis and it was here that Paco learned so much about creating magical Indian curries.
Paco would play little games with Lillian, encouraging her to take bites while watching her wonderful plump silky lips glisten with a cinnamon and cardamom scented buttery sauce. He desperately wanted to just lick it off, kissing her passionately, loving her deeply but he knew it was taboo. At this point in her recovery from the disastrous kidnap, rape and drugs that changed her life, she imagined herself to be about twelve years old and so innocent and vulnerable Paco was constantly careful not to betray his feelings. They played chase with Ranger and sat on the big rocks flanking the stream, tossing pebbles and giggling over squirrels that scampered through the trees. These moments were sweet relief from a dangerous world for both of them. Lillian’s eyes bewitched him, pale grey with dazzling gold and green flecks that gleamed with a rare purity of spirit. This together with her light form and blondness gave her the presence of an angel, opalescent and shimmering in the semi dark. It was pure pleasure for him to simply watch her move. He said good night, leaving Ranger with her as she wanted, then with Sorush went to the cottage. There, for the first time in weeks he forgot his studio work, just bathing and falling into bed he slipped into a soothing blackness.
After the terrible last week of auctions that cleared out the entire store making the interior, once filled to the brim with extravagant goodies from around the world, look small and unimportant, they staged an emotional goodbye party. Saving plenty of libations and expensive gourmet delicacies for the evening, the night unfolded with many stories told of the ridiculous crazy goings-on in the market, leaving them weak with laughter. Salvadore revealed the strange special orders he prepared and secretly delivered to a famous starlet. Val & Paget, Taj and Paula with Esperanza and Chef Victore danced in a circle and then formed a conga line with many of Paco’s favorite customers plus more including Chefs Velly and Fredo, Joannah Prang, Gunnar, even Corliss and boyfriend. He stood by as Charlie Chaplin’s crowd along with a very drunk Penny and Oren said goodnight. Ludington, Printise and Jasper had waited to take him home. Paco took one long heartsick look back and then letting loose of all the sorrow he dropped his head back on the car’s luxurious leather seat, closing his eyes he whispered, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’, over and over.
Events moved on rapidly after this. Paco received word of his acceptance in the Academia del Arte, an admission that he learned much later was never really in question given his money and family status in Italy. Madonna and Oakley arrived shortly after that to celebrate his accomplishment, plan for his move to Florence and a final miracle that left him dazed with joy. Oakley bought the Quien Sabe as a gift for Madonna! On Christmas Day Miss Penny and Oren Star wed in the sublime wood paneled music room with its magnificent vaulted ceiling and remarkable furnishings decorated with fresh pine boughs and a twelve-foot tree. Paco and Chef Printise prepared the buffet. The Quien Sabe was never more beautiful that night. It was a brilliant moment treasured for a lifetime by each member of the party, not one of them imagining what the future had in store.
Several weeks later after his Mother and Father returned to Mio Cuore, leaving him with ardent blessings, plenty of money and important papers of introduction signed by the old Don himself. Paco was busy packing his suitcases with only a few clothes, thinking he would buy more in Florence. He enclosed his favorite sable brushes and a few toiletries. Just as he collapsed on the big iron bed a dark figure entered the room followed by a grave Sorush who whispered, “Sahib, Paco Sir, the great Teacher Krishnamurdi wishes to reclaim his books and journals.” The soft light of a single lamp revealed the face of this spiritual guide that so many followed. He was very dark skinned and had enormous black eyes with strong expressive brows that were now furrowed in concentration as he pulled out all the volumes he wanted from the bookcase. A pure white stiff collarless shirt peeked out of his perfectly tailored black suit. Paco, feeling shy yet not wanting to waste an opportunity to speak with the man who wrote much of the literature that had given him immense pleasure and insight to read over the past months, quietly said, “I have been so pleased to be able to go through your work, especially the journals.” With that their eyes met for the first time. Krishnamurti’s expression was fierce with eyes flashing possibly with anger, Paco could not tell, thinking maybe he always looked that way? Realizing he should never have admitted to reading the private manuscripts and not knowing what to say next, he sat waiting for some harsh reprimand but nothing developed. The two men worked for almost an hour, packing up everything in silence. Paco watched from under his cover and in the end they simply left, the revered mentor of many never speaking a single word. Disappointed and weary he fell asleep knowing tomorrow would be his final day and Ludington had planed a small party.
Waking and bathing, looking at himself in the mirror, Paco crinkled his eyes and smiling ran his fingers through the short dark wet curls that he left natural ever since his job at Diehl’s ended. He noticed how mature he looked and there definitely was an emergence of the Captain’s classic profile. His eyes clouded over and looking down he asked himself, “What am I doing here? Should I be leaving?” In moments, walking by the book case on his way out he discovered that a single journal was left behind so he took it to his suitcase and tucked it into the large inside pocket.
The night was festive and the dinner a spectacular recreation of Chef Printise’s winning meat platter with his remarkable Duck a la Greco, rich in a sauce of plumbs, Grand Marnier Brandy and black olives, kissed with rosemary and finished with pine nuts. There was white asparagus, this time of year from a tin, with mellow orange curls of melted aged mimolette. A bitter lettuce salad with chives and sautéed sweet onions in honey beside the Chef’s Greek cousin’s legendary Chaniotiko Boureki potaoes with mint and Caprino a goat's milk cheese. For desert Perichercher had created a luscious mound of sweet scented nut filled rice decorated with many kinds of candied fruits and sparkling dots of pure gold leaf. The atmosphere was loving and affable, really an intimate sharing of good will and Godspeed to one they all held so dear. Lillian sat happily on Paco’s lap arms draped around his neck, while the others toasted him over and over with Ludington’s best vintage Mumms. And so, drunk but happy he bid them all a fine farewell and walked to his little cottage alone.
Epilog: Paco was packed and standing with Ludington in the forecourt of Val Verde on a warm yet crisp January morning. Jasper and the big Pierce Arrow Touring car were waiting to take him away. This day would see him travel by train all the way across the country to New York Harbor where he had a ticket for crossing the Atlantic, first class, on Cunard’s flag ship The Aquitania. There would be another ship to take him from Southampton in England to Genoa, Italy. From there Oakley arranged to have the old Don’s partner, Fillipo Mazzei’s grandson Alessandro, meet him. Traveling together to Florence they would find his new studio and he could sign into the Academia. Paco needed plenty of help with his Italian even though he had heard it spoken all his life. This was the plan that thrilled him just moments before and now gave him a pain in the bottom of his belly. Shaking hands with Ludington who appeared uncharacteristically sentimental, he boarded the great automobile. Rolling by the astounding beauty of Val Verde’s gardens, ancient sculptures peeking through manicured foliage and tree lined partiers creating mammoth rooms, now dappled with sunshine, he looked out to his right where he could see Ranger dancing along with Lillian. She was waving and innocently throwing kisses, following along side the car like a child, her long blond hair glimmering with highlights, never realizing he would not be back for a long time. Soon they disappeared from sight. Pulling out of the big front gates, Paco, with head lowered placed one hand over his moist eyes blocking out the last precious images of the Montecito hills he loved so much.