Robert is standing, binoculars in hand, at the windowed wall of the swank Upper West Side apartment he shares with Ernesto, parting the thick velvet curtains just enough so he can see out but no one can see in. It’s Sunday morning; he’s wearing his maroon smoking-jacket with the gold family crest. On a small, ornately carved table beside him is a round white mug filled with coffee and rum, an open bag of wheat-free bread, an ashtray, a pad of paper and a digital SLR with 600mm zoom lens. He watches the joggers trek endlessly by in the park fifteen storeys below.
Ernesto should be there with him, but is in his bedroom, trying to sleep off a hangover. A sudden wind snaps against the curtains and Ernie’s sure the morning sun creeping through the bedroom window like a cat burglar is someone sneaking around his room. He’s a bit paranoid, didn’t have much privacy growing up. Even though he’ll be thirty this year, Ernesto Cavallo only just moved out of his dad’s fortress into his own place. Well, he’s not completely on his own; Bert’s there. Living alone was awesome at first – so unexpectedly liberating. Even through his twenties he had been woken every morning by Lupe coming into his room; he’d lie there embarrassed in his underwear as she walked around, hunched over, putting away his clean laundry, collecting used glasses and muttering in Portuguese; or by his father’s voice barking down the intercom: ‘Rise and shine, Son. We’ll have breakfast by 0800 hours, so we can get out to the range by 0900.’ But after the first few days alone in his new place he started acting like an in-patient, paralysed by his solitude. Hours would pass and he’d just sit in his plush Lay-Z-Boy, staring blankly at the flat-panel widescreen whether it was on or not.
Bert answered his ad, and Ernesto is grateful for his contribution of constant noise to their life. Now he can hear the pounding techno beat from Bert’s stereo in the next room; notices that it is making the golfing trophies on his dresser vibrate. He reaches for his bedside walkie-talkie as he climbs to his knees, parts the curtains and reaches for the monocular that hangs from the cord.
‘Red Eagle to Blue Panther. Red Eagle to Blue Panther.’ He drops the radio amongst his pillows.
Is she there yet? Has he overslept? Desperation gallops across his face as he nervously scans the park for the object of his obsession. His crush, the love of his life, the woman about whom he keeps a detailed log of sightings and activities, is nowhere to be seen. She jogs on a strict schedule. He searches his room in vain for the time – a watch, a clock. Does he own either of these? It looks as if it’s rained all night, but the warm autumn sun, muddy jogging paths and glorious smell of wet asphalt never fail to pack the park with leisuresuits and take-away coffee cups. When he doesn’t immediately see her he panics and rushes into the den where he knows Bert will already be in position, binoculars in hand, taking notes.