“The Peculiar Circumstances Surrounding the (Previously) Super-Secret Travels of Geraldo Rivera Following the Taping of The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault”
by Thomas Mundt
Geraldo Rivera was beat.
His fatigue was attributable not to the day’s infinite hours at the Lexington Hotel- the waiting and the waiting and the waiting, the meeting with the engineers to discuss the structural integrity of the tunnel network, the rap session with the medical examiner concerning what he could reasonably expect a room full of decomposed gangsters from the 1930’s to look and smell like, the jokes with the IRS representative about where and to whom a tax refund on all the dough he was going to find will be sent, the application and re-application of make-up to his oily t-zone, the lights, the camera, the action- but to the complete and irrevocable expulsion of hope from his heart.
His nadir came when, after proffering to a TV nation of millions the incontrovertible evidence of Big Al’s bootlegging activities in the form of the broken-bottle potpourri carpeting the floor of the vault, Walt the Boom Mic Operator farted, contorting his face when the sour cloud of his flatulence climbed into his nostrils.
It was all just too much for him.
And so, exhausted and alone in his condo, in desperate need of a repose from what had most assuredly been The Longest Day of His Life to Date, Geraldo loosened his tie knot and eased into the buttery leather of his prized turquoise sectional sofa, his eyes fixed on the framed Nagel print hanging on the wall directly across from him, not more than five meters away.
And as he gazed upon the angular beauty before him, the jagged vixen he’d made love to a thousand times, at the Waldorf-Astoria, in the back seats of taxis, in the dugout of Shea Stadium, any locale the bricks and mortar of his imagination could construct- he slowly began to sink.
At first, Geraldo found nothing unusual in the sinking, savoring the cool embrace of the compliant, air-conditioned cushion beneath him. But when the sinking continued, when the Nagel was no longer at eye-level but now at a forty-five degree angle and climbing, this gave him pause. Before he knew it, both he and the sectional had drifted through the floor and were descending upon the Futtermans in the unit below, assembled in their dining room to enjoy yet another Judy Futterman culinary masterpiece.
Man, when it’s not your day, it’s really not your day, Geraldo quipped to the sectional.
Charlie Futterman, age nine, was the first of the Futtermans to herald Geraldo’s arrival. Without a trace of alarm, he abandoned his chicken marsala with snow peas, waved, and said, Hey there, Mr. Rivera! Tough break today! Everybody I know thought there’d be tons and tons of treasure in that old vault!
Geraldo could barely muster a nod of acknowledgment, his head too heavy with the permutations of the possibilities of what should have been in that vault, the myriad of trinkets and persons and contraband and more hidden passages and a hero’s welcome and a congratulatory letter from President Reagan and a down payment on an Aspen chalet and ….
As his mind typed out mile after mile of the exhaustive inventory of The Vault That Wasn’t, the sinking continued, with Geraldo and the sectional bidding farewell to the Futtermans’ unit and now greeting Prashant Patel’s, where Prashant sat at the glossy, oak desk in his study with his tweezers and magnifying glass, delicately adding a mast to the bottled Chinese junk ship before him. When he looked up from his handiwork to see Geraldo and the sectional floating there by the bookcase, the one he used to catalog his back issues of Miniatures Aficionado, he could only offer a wry smile and say, Well done, Mr. Rivera. You solved a great mystery today. You should hold your head up high.
Below Preshant’s unit, Geraldo and the sectional greeted Mrs. Kennelworth in the bathtub, a visit ending in Mrs. K, as the Condo Association called her, splashing soapy water at him and shouting, You brute! How dare you invade my privacy in this manner! My deepest sympathy regarding the vault!
And so it was that Geraldo and the sectional, relieved of their individual identities by these most peculiar of circumstances, continued their conjoined descent, absorbing the condo building’s words of condolence and praise and bewilderment as they passed through all one-hundred and twenty-five floors. When they finally found themselves in the basement, the tiny wooden legs of the sectional coming to rest on the concrete floor with the feather-touch of a lunar landing, Geraldo removed his corduroy blazer, its armpits soaked through with perspiration. He neatly folded its arms in, first the right and then the left, before laying it to rest on the unoccupied cushion beside him. Then, with a calm that only visits a man who has relinquished all attachment to rationality, to order, Geraldo crossed his arms and corrected his posture so that he sat perfectly upright, his spine flush against the back of the sectional.
Then he waited. He waited and waited and waited until he was no longer conscious of the waiting, until it became as automated as his breathing, his eyes affixed to a blank concrete wall across the room. When a sliver of white light appeared in the top left corner of the wall and began to trace its perimeter, cutting the concrete like safety scissors through construction paper, Geraldo knew It was there, just beyond his reach.
The outline complete, the chiseled-out section of the wall toppled, shattering into millions of pieces upon hitting the floor and fogging the entire basement with its chalky particulate. When the dust settled and he could again make out the scene around him- the storage lockers and their decaying ten-speeds and tennis rackets and yellowed high school yearbooks stacked in neat piles- he finally saw It, behind where the now-demolished wall once stood.
He saw gold bricks. He saw gangsters in silk, razor-creased suits playing hearts at a folding table, their hairy paws wrapped around half-filled tumblers of scotch. He saw barrel after barrel of bootleg whiskey, stacked high to the ceiling and stamped with their destination cities (“Mobile,” “Baltimore,” “Walla Walla”). He saw dancing girls pulling nylons all the way up their never-ending gams, their skirts hiked, winking. He saw Mr. Capone himself, who in his customary gentlemanly manner removed his hat upon making eye contact with Geraldo, mouthing a silent, Hiya, pal. Ya got me!
He saw What Should Have Been. What his producers had demanded but fate could not produce.
Resigned to misery, Geraldo buried his face in his hands, warm saline pooling in his eyes. He sat doubled over on the sectional for several silent minutes, crippled by the basement’s revelation, the cruelty of it all. He felt like Jerry Rivers, that despicable fiction of a man that before today existed only in the carious hearts of men, a villainous asymptote of a self that only became more invisible, more unrecognizable, the closer he approached it. Geraldo’s despondency breathed life into Jerry, however, bloated his lungs and inflamed his capillaries until he respired on his own, until Jerry was as real as he.Â Refusing to allow his grief to play midwife to this most unsavory doppelganger any longer, Geraldo conceded to anger, permitted it to bloom inside him and pollinate his adrenal glands. He clenched his fists with all his might, his rage cascading over and crashing down upon him, until his knuckles whitened and his fingernails cut into his sweaty palms, drawing faint trickles of blood.
Is it not a journalist’s duty to unearth the truth, no matter its size? He howled, snapping his reticence in two like a dead branch over his knee.
It was then that he heard a bottomless, placid voice call out to him, Geraldo, fear not. I shall show you a better way.
What? Who goes there?
Undiluted terror flooded his system, his bladder prepared to empty itself in his slacks. When his eyelids snapped and rolled up like retractible blinds, a majestic winged unicorn materialized before him, its coat the most brilliant, blinding white he had ever seen.
Geraldo, my name is Gregory. I was sent to retrieve you. Please, climb atop my back so that we may exit this dreary environs.
Why? Where will you take me? queried Geraldo, reluctant to part with the allegiant sectional.
All will be explained, and in due time. Please, Geraldo. Time is of the essence.
Without further protest, Geraldo bid adieu to the sectional, dragging the tip of his index finger along its leather epidermis as one would a lover’s forearm, as he rose to his feet. How could things get any worse? he reasoned. I have nothing to lose in complying with the demands of this beast. As he mounted Gregory he noted his plush exterior, how his downy coat enveloped his limbs as he braced himself on the equine’s broad chassis. Without a saddle for ballast, Geraldo wrapped his arms around Gregory’s long neck, could feel his sharp Adam’s apple.
Away we go, Gregory hummed.
And with a great thwap! of his wings Gregory began his ascent, leaving errant feathers behind to pirouette in the empty basement air. Geraldo’s grip grew tighter around Gregory’s neck, resting his head on its dorsal side as the two went up up up up up, retracing Geraldo’s steps as they scaled the condo building floor by floor. Mrs. K, Preshant, The Futtermans- all remained as Geraldo had found them earlier, insects in amber. They failed to acknowledge him as he and Gregory soared past them, however, too lost in their routines for courtesies. This saddened Geraldo, who believed his neighbors would take delight in witnessing him commandeer such a magnificent creature as Gregory. Charlie, in particular.
It was of no import, however, as Gregory pierced the invisible seal of the penthouse suite’s ceiling and Geraldo found himself unmoored amidst the vast, purple sea of night. He floated along the city skyline, the constellations of streetlights and turn signals blinking below, the stratospheric gusts making waves in his salt and pepper mustache. He watched as fighter jets in the distance broke formation, scrambling upon their receipt of a single stern look from Gregory. As he and the august steed continued to climb the heavens, Geraldo saw his heroes perched atop invisible clouds, silhouetted against the cavernous black of night:
Edward R. Murrow.
The Bay City Rollers.
All proffered sweet smiles and waves, in recognition of the day’s frustrations and in the sincere hope that they not destroy Geraldo, further reduce him to rubble. The gestures warmed him, his heart mummified in the soft fleece of their benevolence.
Relishing the liberation Gregory had unexpectedly afforded him, Geraldo grew curious about the trip’s duration, hoping against hope that it be infinite.
How much further do we have to go, Gregory? When will I know we’ve reached our destination?
Gregory smiled, pleased.
You have many questions, Geraldo. Many questions, indeed.