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Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Song of the Past: Installment Seven

(Previous installment.)

Tuesday, Oct. 21, 8:00 AM
Tuesday morning she dressed hurriedly, left her apartment, and, cutting through the parking lot of Connecticut National Bank, came out onto Whalley Avenue and arrived at the restaurant. Strangely, although the sign in the front window read “Hy’s Village Restaurant,” “Hy’s” wasn’t lit up. Pulling open the door her momentum was halted by the complete absence of anything but wood paneling where she had expected to see the symbol. What had happened? There had been Masonic degrees, pictures of Hy in a clown outfit, newspaper clippings. She sat at the counter and caught the eye of Rema, one of the waitresses. “What happened? Did Hy sell the place?”



“Oh, yeah. A few months ago.”

“Do you know how to get a hold of him?”

“No. He’s in Munich right now. He has a relative there who he’s visiting for a month.”

“There’s no one at his house?”

“I don’t think so.”

But Deirdre felt she was holding back something. “Look, I’m the police, not some customer who has a crush on him.”

The woman looked at her skeptically. Deirdre pulled out her badge and discreetly showed it to her.

“Well, the new owner might be able to help you. He’ll be in tomorrow morning.”

“Do you have his home number?”

“Well, we’re not supposed to give it out, but seeing that you’re the police... “

She took a slip of paper from behind the counter and jotted the name—Herb Mastriani—and number down. Deirdre thanked her, then ordered a cheese omelet and home fries. When she finished eating she took out her mobile phone and called the number she had been given, but Mastriani wasn’t home. She was frustrated. Trails grow cold fast, and she felt she could afford no more delays. She had to find a place to begin.

Well, if a connection with Masonry was the only thing she knew about the tack, then she would start with Masonry. She had to check in at headquarters, but then she could head to the library at Yale.
She hurried through some paperwork, which had never her strong point anyway, and told the Captain that she was going to check out a car and follow up some leads downtown. She let him assume that this meant something along the lines of questioning suspects or friends of the deceased. She didn’t even want to imagine his reaction had he known she was heading out to read about secret fraternities.
She parked the unmarked department car on a side street in the midst of the Yale campus. Parking was another thing that was not a strong point. Given the choice, she would always opt for parking on an empty street several blocks from where she was going, rather than struggling to get a closer space. Even more so, she preferred not to drive herself at all, which is why she didn’t own a car. Anyway, her memory of which building housed the main library was vague. She headed up a block to Temple Street and turned left. She stopped to look at a plaque on the brick wall of a Georgian building:

Here stood the house of
NOAH WEBSTER
Class of 1778
Author of The American
Spelling Book and An American
Dictionary of the English Language

She turned right at the next block… it's up here somewhere. She passed a modern rectangular building with a surface like a honeycomb. In the pavilion beside it five teenagers skateboarded across the tiled stones and up and down the steps of an older building that bore a large inscription commemorating the dead of World War I.

Between the brick and stone colleges she peered down tunnels into sun-sparkled spaces: private gardens, twisted courtyards, passages that disappeared from view as they neared some secret sanctuary. Looking at them from behind locked gates, she was Alice with her eye against the keyhole of the queen’s garden, wondering if there was a bit of cake she could eat to fit in.

But exploring Yale’s architecture was certainly even less to the point than reading about Masonry, and she decided to ask the next person she saw for directions. It turned out the main library was half a block away, and the young man she asked walked her down to the main entrance.

She drank in the details of the front of the building. Carved in stone to the side of the wooden front doors was the name—Sterling Memorial Library. Above the doors an octet of stone bas-reliefs--a caveman carving animals in stone, an Egyptian chipping at hieroglyphs, a Babylonian creating a cuneiform text, and scribes working on texts Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Chinese, and Aztec—were grouped in pairs, separated by stones carved with various icons—a eagle holding two snakes, an owl, a wolf suckling Romulus and Remus—and, in the middle, by a large statue of a scribe working on a manuscript.

Deirdre wandered on inside, taking note of a sign which granted admittance only to Yale students, warning that visitors would be required to show ID’s upon request. The first room of the building was a wide, high hallway, lit by chandeliers and stained glass windows, filled with expensive wooden furniture. Down the sides of the hall stretched a series of arches, beyond which she could see card catalogues and computer terminals. At the far end was what looked to be the checkout desk.
Deirdre turned her attention to the walls of the hall to her left and right, where, at a height of about ten feet, were carved two friezes, each a series of vignettes. She moved to study them. There were no explanations except for a date inscribed beneath each scene and whatever story the picture itself told, so Deirdre invented her own tale for many of them. 1714. Some men packing a trunk. Heading to Cancun for spring break, no doubt. 1718. A man in a chair with a group of men around him. 1742. Several men putting books on shelves. First time in school’s history they’d tidied up. 1768. Men signing a document. 1865. Again, men around table, this time with dog. First dog to sit on Board of Trustees. Beat first Irishman by a year. 1779. Revolutionary War scene. 1753. At the table again, and again in 1732. 1718. Some men with guns confronting men with books. Early Yale sporting event. 1701. Men placing books on table. The books tidied up in 1742, no doubt.

She moved through one of the arches and began to poke around in the card catalog, jotting down the titles and authors of about ten works that looked interesting, and then moved back into the main part of the hall.

She wandered toward the wall opposite where she had come in. Behind the checkout desk was a large mural. It looked to be the Virgin Mary holding a large blue beach ball, surrounded by a strange collection of naked women, supplicant men, leaves, a Hebrew text, and some fruits. What, she wondered, could it possibly mean? An open room to her left beckoned, and, entering it, she fortuitously came upon the reference room.

She placed her notebook on one of the large wooden tables and began to wander the perimeter of the room, where the books were shelved. She soon found the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Religion, and she brought the ‘F’ volume back to her seat.

She found her thoughts roaming back eight years, to when she had last been in school. All around her students flipped through texts or reference works, scratched in notebooks, or stared up at the mullioned windows or a passing fellow student who caught their fancy.

Deirdre was lead to a couple of other volumes by her reading. The next time she looked at her watch it was after noon, and she realized that there was far too much information on these subjects for her to do all her research in the library. She supposed she could buy some of the other titles. But where? She thought of Whitlock’s, over on Broadway. It was only a few blocks away, and they specialized in the obscure, the historical, and the local—just the combination she needed. She placed her notebook back in her shoulder bag and headed off toward Broadway.

In a few minutes she stood on Broadway, puzzled mightily. Where had that store gone? Never, in her life, had she met a shop so successful at eluding the public’s eye. She walked back up the block until she got to Cutler’s. She knew it wasn’t further up the block. Slowly, slowly, she moved down the block. There was no way it could get away this time. When she got to the corner of York and Broadway she gave up. She asked at the pizza place on the corner. No, ma’am, it hasn’t moved. Right above Pete’s Barbershop, just like always. She turned and headed back towards Cutler’s. There was the striped pole, and . . . there it was! She would have been willing to testify that it hadn’t been there a minute ago. She pushed open the door and proceeded up the narrow stairs.

A man in his seventies, lean, balding, sun-spotted, stood behind the checkout counter. “How may I help you?” His accent was heavy New England.

“Did you know your store is quite difficult to find? I bet a lot of people don’t know it’s here.”

“Well, we’ve been here [heeyah] since 1929, when my father [fathah] moved the store [sto-ah] from Grove Street. We’d been there since 1916.”

“Ah, I guess you’re doing fine then?”

“Yep, we have our regular customers who keep us going.”

“Perhaps you can help me. I’m looking for books from this list.” Deirdre handed him the page she had torn from her notebook.

The man took a chained pair of reading glasses between his thumb and forefinger and lifted them from his chest to be placed on the bridge of his nose. Peering at the list, which he held at arm’s length, he said, “Well, I don’t think we have many of these in stock. I’ll look them up to see if they’re still in print.”

When the third book that he located in his reference, Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut, turned out to be 52 dollars, Deirdre stopped the search.

“I think that’ll be enough for today. You can go ahead and order those.”

“Well, it just occurs to me that I have another book, one I just got in, that might interest you as well. It’s a rare one, or at least I had never seen it before. Let me get it for you.”

He shuffled into the back room, emerging a moment later with prize held aloft. “This here is a 1908 printing of a book first published in 1680.”

He handed it to Deirdre. Atop a royal-blue cover was the gold-lettered title. “The Betraiyal of The New Haven Colony.” In smaller letters underneath was printed, “Or How the Enemies of Godlinesse and the Puritan Way of Life Did Suborn Our Holie Purpose in This New Jerusalem.”

“How much for this?”

“Well, the funny thing is, someone just left this outside my door in a box with several other books. Since you’re already spending quite a bit, why don’t you take this one free.”

“Thank-you very much. I appreciate it.”

Deirdre put half down on the rest of the books she had ordered and left the shop. Back outside on Broadway the sun shone brightly and the wind had picked up. She headed back to her car through swirling debris and dead leaves, lofted again tree-ward.

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