Farewell, Conch Republic
AbeBooks Mitglied seit 1996
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AbeBooks Mitglied seit 1996
Titel: Farewell, Conch Republic
Einband: Trade Paperback
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The museum security guard never noticed the rosary. It was old and almost grossly sensual, a relic of an austere Spanish faith that had sustained itself on transferring the excesses of the flesh to the spirit, the fervent consecration of the vital principle to sadistic appetites, to grave indulgence in sensuous cruelty, to obsessive physical degradation--an intemperate distortion of another consummation: el abuso Pentecostal.
Now the rosary lay against the smoothly sanded white wood of a parabolic hollow, open to the steady, dying radiance of the sun. The alternating beads of ruddy garnet and vibrant Sicilian-red coral glowed against the wood in the deep warm light of sundown. Their bloody color was endowed with a vitreous luster by the departing fires in the west, beyond the long windows; the chain glinted with dull gold insistence. And on the heavy crucifix itself, in grotesquely ornate detail, the golden tortured form of the Christ writhed in a deliberately savage, bared-teeth, and nearly obscene carnal excess. The warm metal collected the sanguine fire of both the beads and the sunset, crimson streaks of reflected light dripping down the arms and legs, a twisted concentration of the Passion. The tiny, delicate countenance of the figure was an intricate study in the solid geometry of agony, the planes of the cheeks buckled and wrenched with a miniature, anguished craftsmanship--and with a faith that had fed on the contemplation of pain.
Milady de Vargas sifted the ring of beads through her long white fingers and drew the red rosary from the concealed compartment at the foot of the staircase in the Ernest Hemingway Museum. In Hemingway's day the compartment had been called the children's cellar; a true cellar was a rarity in Key West, a city built on solid coral rock, and the word had come to mean "peculiar place."
As Millie lifted the coral sacramental above the newel's grooved wooden depository, its brass cover in her left hand, the last sunlight of the day touched the crucifix in her right hand, and a bright burst of color shot from the small torment forged in a smithy of Spanish pietism, striking across the entrance foyer and brushing intense red-gold pinpricks--concentrated splinters of fire--on the slim glass window panels in the vast double door and on the passing shadow of the guard.
With quiet firmness she replaced the brass cover and screwed it onto the top of the painted wooden post, listening for the metallic click of the secret lock against the silence of the mansion. She had begun hiding the rosary in the post's bowl-like hollow two months earlier, but the time had come to relinquish the red beads--the Madonna's Crown of Roses--to their final owner.
Millie's stewardship had been tense and clandestine and careful, exacting a devastating toll on her emotions. She faced the double door and elevated the chain of scarlet beads in the sunset's bloody light and kissed the feet of the tortured golden Christ, not with pious humility and patient reverence but with an aching greed.
The rosary was priceless, a seventeenth-century Spanish religious artifact that had lain at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for almost four hundred years, caressed by the shifting gray sands--a red and gold masterpiece of piety and material wealth--while its stern original owner was incrementally and surely obliterated by the indifferent, hungry procession of time and carrion fish.
Salvage teams had labored sporadically over the centuries, and divers had dreamed of locating the sunken riches of the Nuestra Senora de Antorcha, and had been teased by occasional silver pieces and muskets scattered widely over the ocean floor, but the mother lode of the Spanish treasure galleon had kept her resting-place and her sacred opulence from the grasping scrutinies of those who would ravish her out of the sleeping centuries.
Until Millie had found it.
And Millie, a modern daughter of the faith and the greed that had ravaged the Americas for Spain, had brought the rosary to this house as proof of the modern reality of this nearly incalculable sunken ecclesiastical wealth. The bulk of the treasure still lay on the gray, sandy floor of the Gulf, but she had brought this one coral-and-garnet rosary ashore, hiding it in the Hemingway Museum to have it nearby: a token to touch, to fondle; to absorb and to inhale the permanent spiritual value that must still cling to its beads--like a fragrance of sanctity--blessed and indulgenced so many centuries ago; and finally to offer to its rightful owner as a costly inducement to intercede for her trespasses.
But her time of secret enjoyment, her private communion with the intangible wisps of antique, austere virtue, a holiness from a more faithful age, must now end. She had been careful about wearing the rosary, touching it, holding it, but it must not become a liability, a threat to her, a temptation to others.
This evening Millie pulled the rosary over her head for the last time, her white linen business suit bathed in the dying glow of the departing day, her short, silky black hair taking on a vague red outline, her feet spread slightly apart in spike heels on the thinly carpeted floor, her breath exhaling slowly. The 17 and inches of gold chain allowed the antique cross to fall just between her breasts.
The mansion seemed to breathe around her. Soft murmuring breezes from the Gulf swept across the island city and through the screened windows of the narrow formal dining room to the right of the foyer. She could hear the whisper of the chalice vines swaying outside against the veranda that encircled the house, their heavy shadows falling through the dining room windows and over the six leather chairs chained to the long Spanish walnut table.
She smoothed the rosary against the collar of her white silk blouse, stepped to the tall, central double door with its half-oval transom, and twisted the small brass knobs. They were reassuringly unresponsive. She had remembered to lock the doors.
She turned left, into the dark and spacious living room, her heels echoing briefly on the luminous wooden floor that framed the scarlet oriental rugs. She glanced distastefully at a small white china figure of a naked woodland girl in a window nook--a gift to Hemingway from Marlene Dietrich--that seemed to absorb the fading colors of the sunset, and pulled the two sets of French doors together firmly and locked them. A blue-shirted security guard passed quietly by on the veranda, saluted her with a casual wave, and nodded when she returned his greeting with a perfunctory stiffening of her hand.
The security guard was not especially fond of Millie de Vargas; none of them were, she reflected. They thought her cold, and distant, but she knew her regular habits made their jobs simpler as they made their rounds, securing the estate after the tourists had gone for the night. This one, after a quick glance around the veranda, headed for the front gate, which he would close and lock.
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