SHORT STORY


Beware of Greeks

 

 

 

Three sharp knocks on the double doors prompted Manuel Cabral to walk from his office to the front of Del Mar Market, his corner grocery at 6th and “S” Streets. As he unlocked the dead bolt he heard two voices outside. Peering out, Cabral recognized Sammy the K waving goodbye to a Negro woman walking up “S” Street.

Stepping through the door, Sam cracked “Ike’s been in office only a year, and already the freeloaders are out in force, eh Manuel? Aw, what the hell, I gave her fifty cents.”

Cabral, who possessed the build (and some said the disposition) of a pro wrestler, ignored the comment. “We’re meeting in my office.” Passing the cash register, he lobbed an ice-breaker over his shoulder. “Been here before?”

Sammy the K glanced around the store, like a grifter casing the joint. “Of course. Just because I live in the Pocket doesn’t mean I don’t make it uptown.”

Cabral waved to the man seated in his office. “Sammy the K – José Ferreira.” As the two shook hands, Cabral came behind his desk and sat down. “Glass of wine?”

 

“Sure. Homemade?”

 

While pouring a half glass Cabral replied, “Absolutely. Made it myself.”

 

“Sammy the K . . .” José mused, smoothing his mustache. “What’s behind the name?”

 

“You want you should call me Kazantzakis all night?” A sleazy grin erupted from the corner of Sammy’s mouth, accentuated by his sea green eyes shining through narrow slits. “You can call me ‘the Greek’ if you prefer. I don’t give a shit.”

 

“Kazantzakis,” Cabral noted. “That name’s familiar. Any relation to the author?”

 

Sam held the wine to his lips. “Second cousins or so they tell me. Really don’t know much about him.”

 

“You haven’t read Zorba the Greek?” Cabral appeared astonished. “Kazantzakis won a Pulitzer Prize two years ago for that book. I’ll get you a copy.”

 

The Greek downed the last bit of juice in his glass. “Not much of a reader, Manuel.” His glass struck the desk like a red-headed woodpecker.

 

“Well, we should get down to business,” Cabral suggested. “For José’s benefit, why don’t you explain the nature of your call.” José knew perfectly well why he had come uptown for this unusual meeting with the O.D.E.S. leaders. Cabral wanted the Greek to explain it publicly.

 

Samuel Kazantzakis and his cohorts belonged to A.A.D.E.S. (Azorean Association of the Divine Holy Spirit), a fraternal lodge located seven miles south of Sacramento in the farming district known as the “Pocket.” In the late 1800’s Portuguese immigrated to this area principally for the rich, fertile farm land bordering the Sacramento River.

 

Most of the Riverside lodge members were first-generation Americans, whose parents had immigrated from the Azores, some as early as the 1850s.

 

By contrast, Cabral and many of the O.D.E.S. members (Order of the Divine Holy Spirit) were immigrants themselves, most arriving in California after 1900. It was well established that many of the Azoreans who settled in the Sacramento area (and across the river in Yolo County) came from the island of Pico.

 

Last year (1953), João Gomes, the A.A.D.E.S. main cook at the Riverside festa, passed away before sharing the sopas recipe with Kazantzakis, his assistant. “So, on the fly I came up with a recipe, best I could,” the Greek explained. “But it wasn’t even close to our normal flavor. There was lots of grumbling ‘sopas weren’t as good this year.’”

 

“We heard,” admitted José.

 

Sammy continued. “I figured, ‘How hard can it be: you boil beef in a pot, add a few ingredients, then pour the broth over sliced French bread and serve it with the meat’. Oh, and don’t forget the mint. Gotta cover it with mint. Right?” He waited for the laughs but all he got was a weak chuckle and a half.

“So, I’ve come to ask my fellow Portugees, would you be willing to share… not the entire recipe, ‘cause I know they guard these recipes like Fort Knox! But maybe just that special ingredient that will spice up my basic soup.”

 

José looked to Manuel Cabral, chairman of this year’s Festa do Espirito Santo, for guidance. Cabral’s expression suggested he would withhold his opinion.

“Sammy—not only are you from a rival lodge–you’re Greek! And… not only are you not from the Azores – you have no relatives from the Portuguese mainland.” Ferreira’s outstretched hands suggested this should be an obvious decision.

“Yeah, but I married into a Portugee family,” countered Sammy the K. “Hell, my wife’s father owns half the ranches in the southern county, for crissake.”

Manuel Cabral decisively slapped the desk and rose from his chair. “I think José speaks for all of us on the O.D.E.S. committee. We’re sorry, Sammy. But we can’t help you.”

Kazantzakis slowly stood up, against the desk. Despite being several inches shorter, he leaned into Cabral’s face, growling “Now, listen, Cabral. I didn’t want to play this card. But we’ve got it on the highest authority… you’ve been foolin’ around with that gal friend of yours, Adele, and have been caught in some compromising situations.”

Kazantzakis, whose curly brown locks reminded folks of a male Medusa, leaned back to gauge Cabral’s reaction. The six-foot-two inch store owner didn’t seem so dominant at this moment. Looking past his right ear, Sammy the K noted the window to the office was open. Not wide, just a few inches. It was easy to spot: the white, blistered casing contrasted against the pea-green colored wall. When he returned to the store owner’s face, the Greek found Cabral’s brown eyes impatiently waiting.

 

“Now, I could be persuaded to keep the lid on that salacious information, as a gesture of respect to your wife, Maria.” Sam rubbed his chin, ruefully. Ferreira observed the Greek’s sleazy smile under those sea green eyes and realized the “K” in Sammy’s nickname could just as well stand for ‘killer’ as the surname.

“Give me the secret ingredient for your sopas, and all that’s forgotten.”

Now controlling the agenda, the Greek relaxed. “Listen, fellas… I know the basics: you got carne, that’s like, what, six, seven cows? Tomatoes, onions, kale, celery, garlic. Leave anything out? ‘Course, we can’t forget the vino, eh?” As Cabral and Ferreira nodded affirmatively, Sammy became distracted. “Say, where do you guys get your bread?”

“Bianchi’s Paris French Bakery.” Cabral pointed through the doorway. “Right up 6th.”

 

“What, about a thousand loaves?” More nodding. Satisfied, Sammy continued. “Then you got your spices, bundled in cheesecloth: salt, coriander and cumin seed, bay leaf, sage… maybe some allspice?” Kazantzakis looked to Ferreira for confirmation. But the bald man hunched his shoulders in a non-committal gesture. “See, I know the basic recipe, fellas. Alls I’m asking is you share that one simple… secret ingredient.”

 

Cabral exhaled loudly then rested his chin firmly on his chest, as he returned to a seated position. “Alright, Kazantzakis. I’ll give ya the secret ingredient— ”

 

“—Manuel, no!”

 

Cabral’s outstretched right hand signaled for José Ferreira to cala a boca (keep quiet). “It starts… with a stick.”

 

Sammy the K appeared perplexed, while Ferreira seemed equally befuddled. “A stick?”

 

“Yes, a stick.” Cabral nodded with sincerity. “A stick of ginger root.”

“Ginger root? Pffff. What, are you pulling my fucking leg?”

Cabral’s upraised right hand demanded patience. He demonstrated, as if holding a stick of ginger root in his left hand and a knife clenched in his right. “Several downward strokes… just a hint of ginger, mind you.” The dubious look on the Greek’s puss prompted Cabral to add “The Portuguese were among the first explorers to bring some spices from India. Right?” Sam nodded. “I’m telling ya. That’s our secret ingredient.”

 

Sammy the K checked Ferreira’s reaction. He was nodding affirmatively, almost aggressively, suggesting It’s true—stick of ginger root.

 

The smile once again oozed from the left side of the Greek’s mouth. “See, Cabral? Not so hard.” Sam outstretched his right hand to seal the deal.

Manuel Cabral slicked back his hair with both hands and stood. He took the Greek’s hand and shook it firmly. “Glad we could be of service, Sammy.” Cabral leaned back. “So long as we’re assured that other matter… doesn’t ever come to light.”

The Greek pumped his handshake more firmly. “You’ve got my word on it, Manuel.”

 

“Good. Good.”

 

Sammy the K wiped his right hand on the side of his jeans and followed Cabral out of the office. Manuel unlocked the store’s front door. They exchanged ‘goodnights’ and the Greek spun left on the corner.

 

When Cabral returned to his office his massive body filled the door frame. He gleefully rubbed his palms together with an expression of ecstasy, like a guy at the blackjack table who split two tens and drew a pair of aces. “Can you believe it?”

“Oh, Manuel.” Ferreira supported his chest with his left palm, as if to prevent himself from falling over the desk. “That was priceless—ginger root! Where did you ever come up with that?”

 

“Oh, I’ve seen enough Marx Brothers movies over the years to know how to work a good con,” Cabral replied.

 

“Ginger root’ll make those sopas putrid! He thinks they were bad last year—”

 

“—in two weeks, he’ll be leaving the Pocket and moving to Gustine!”

 

Suddenly, Ferreira stopped laughing. “But, Manuel—what’s to stop him from spilling the beans about… you and Adele!”

 

Cabral struggled to restrain a growing smile. With his right elbow on the desk, he swatted at an invisible mosquito. “Me and Adele? We’re just friends, José. Been good friends since the mid-forties when I was supervisor at Swift & Company. She alerted me those guys wanted to try and set me up. I’ve known for weeks, so I’ve been playing along: slow dances with Adele, sharing drinks with her at the bar, while the wife sat on the dance hall benches with her friends. I mean, I like Adele. But it was all an act.”

Cabral reached behind him and closed and locked the window.

 

José started for the doorway, then stopped short. “An act.” Ferreira considered the concept. “They’d never catch you in an extra-marital affair, eh Manuel?”

 

Cabral slung his right arm around the shorter man’s shoulders and with a broad smile replied “That’s right, José. They’ll never catch me.”

 

The two men walked across the black-and-white, square-pattern linoleum. Cabral unlocked the dead bolt and they exited through the left front door. Cabral locked the door with his key and stood under the red and white Del Mar Market sign.

 

“So, what time Friday at the hall?” asked José. “To prepare the sopas ingredients?”

 

“About seven-thirty. My mother’ll be coming. She’s cooking again this year with Senhora Amelia,” he said.

 

“Boa noite, Manuel,” Ferreira said, before darting across a deserted “S” Street. “See you Friday.”

 

“Adeus, José.” Cabral crossed 6th Street and began the two-block walk to his home.

 

Watching from the shadows, under the grocer’s office window, Sammy the K flicked a cigarette butt past the curb onto “S” street.

 

“Ginger root, my ass.”

--

Two days later on that Friday afternoon, Kazantzakis parked in front of Tony Silva’s farm house on Pocket Road. A fellow A.A.D.E.S. committee member, he owned an 18-acre ranch; relatively small by Pocket standards.

Kazantzakis got out of his dark blue panel truck and opened the gate. As he approached the red-painted steps he heard a woman’s voice inside, belligerent and whiny. “Tonight, Tony? We were going out to look for a new television. Hales has a special on the new Columbia—”

“—Mildred, shut up.”

 

Their voices grew louder as they approached the front door. She’d been squawking at her husband all the way from the kitchen through the living room.

 

When Silva opened the screen door, Mildred lowered her voice. “What time are you gonna be home?” Silva paused while holding the screen partially opened. He looked to Sammy, who had already descended the steps.

 

Kazantzakis shrugged. “Uh… meeting should be over by 9:30. Ten tops,” he lied.

Silva closed the screen door. “Ten,” he said, climbing down the stairs.

Through the screen the woman called out “Remember–you promised. A new TV!”

When Silva reached the gate, Sammy asked, “That reminds me—remember the carrots?” Silva held out a crumpled brown paper sack and opened it.

 

“Good. The color’s blanched, just like I asked. But I said just two or three.”

“When I was digging… I didn’t want to break up the family of five,” Silva said.

--

Riding in Sammy’s panel truck they followed the sweeping curve along Pocket Road. Near the Ingleside Café Silva patted the paper sack beside him. “Why the carrots?”

“To feed the horses, Anthony.” A sly smile erupted from the left side of Sammy’s mouth, but since Silva was sitting on his right, the older Portuguese couldn’t detect it. Realizing the joke flew over Silva’s head, Kazantzakis added “A backup plan. In case this little caper doesn’t go so well.” Sammy the K winked at Silva with his right eye.

Pocket Road quickly transitioned into Riverside Boulevard, which they rode straight to Broadway. A couple of turns later Sammy the K slowed the panel truck to a crawl when he rounded the corner at 5th and “W” Streets, revealing the O.D.E.S. Hall.

--

The O.D.E.S. compound was a mass of concrete surrounding the two-story wooden hall. A cappella was attached on the west side and just south of that was another two-story addition featuring an expanded bar area on both levels. Kazantzakis stopped about fifty feet west of the entrance to the bar and turned off the engine. Three other vehicles were parked in the compound. Through the windscreen, he surveilled the situation: the side door leading to the bar revealed two men moving around inside.

 

“You wanna go over the plan one more time?” he asked Silva. “It’s just now 7:45.”

 

“No, I got it. You’ll load the cases of 7-Up on the hand truck, carry them into the bar. After the crash, I wait a minute, then slip through the rear entrance to the dining hall.”

 

“Right. I figure they got all the spices and vegetables laid out on a table. The recipe’s probably sitting there somewhere.”

 

“Then, while Cabral charges in to help clean up your mess, I wander in, nice and innocent like, and copy the recipe.”

 

“Got your notepad with ya?”

Silva patted his front pocket with his hand.

“Pencil?”

Silva’s shoulders slowly slumped in the cab. “Sammy, I’ve been farming forty years…”

“Yeah, yeah. Alright.”

When Sam opened the door and lowered his left leg to the ground Tony grabbed his right arm. “Remind me again why we’re going through all this cagada?”

“What, trying to get the recipe?”

“Yes. Last year’s sopas weren’t so bad,” the older man said. “You’ll do better this time.”

“I’m not looking for better, Anthony. I want ours to be the best in the Sacramento Valley. And these guys—their recipe came right off the boat from Pico. It’s authentic.”

Silva sat in the cab while Sammy the K opened the rear doors and loaded the four cases of 7-Up onto the hand truck. The older man murmured Four times 24… that’s… ninety six? Yeah, damn near a hundred. I wonder if I’ll live that lon… BLAM. The slamming of the panel’s back door shuttered Silva’s reverie.

In the side-view mirror he watched Sammy approach, pushing and guiding the hand truck past the right fender. The glass bottles clinked an atonal symphony. Silva joined in by humming the 7-Up slogan: You Like It – It Likes You.

When Kazantzakis disappeared through the side door of the hall, Silva exited the cab. He left the truck door slightly ajar, leaned on the fender and listened for his cue.

Inside the bar, when Kazantzakis rolled up with the four cases of soda, the first man ignored him and continued stocking. A taller man stopped and approached the Greek.

 

“What’s this?”

 

“This,” Sammy replied with his greasy smile and movieland bravado, “… is a present for Mister Cabral. And the hall.”

 

“We got all the sody pop we need,” the tall one said.

 

Anticipating a confrontation, Kazantzakis stepped in front of the cases. “Hey, friend. It’s 7-Up. You Like It – It Likes You.” A chuckle slipped through the Greek’s lopsided smile. To demonstrate his point, Sammy pulled one of the cardboard six-packs from the top case and held it out. Without provocation he thrust the six-pack into the man’s sternum like it was a medicine ball and quickly released the package. Stunned, the man failed to grasp the six-pack before the glass bottles crashed to the concrete floor.

 

“What the hell…?” The second worker rushed to the taller one’s side.

 

The Greek adroitly repositioned his body to permit a direct view of the door leading to the dining room. With his peripheral vision he saw Manuel Cabral appear with Ferreira close behind. Kazantzakis continued the charade by extending his arms like a minister pleading for peace on the altar. “I was just delivering a gift… for Mister Cabral, there.”

 

In the confusion, Tony Silva slipped through the side entrance.

As the two workers scrambled for brooms and dustpans, Manuel Cabral drew closer to inspect this act of madness. While the volunteers cleaned up the mess, the Greek directed his effusive apology in Cabral’s direction.

 

When Silva entered the dining area, as expected he saw the tables stacked with vegetables, along with cans of whole tomatoes and cartons of spices. What he had not counted on was the old woman with silver-colored hair pulled back in a bun. With glasses pitched on her nose, she stared at him with wary astonishment. She called out in Portuguese, “Quem é o Senhor? O que faz aqui?” Maria de Gloria Cabral repeated with shock and anger, Who are you? “Quem é o Senhor?

 

Partially paralyzed by the confrontation, Silva meekly replied “Antone Silva. From the Pocket, senhora,” he said, doffing his hat while scanning the room for the recipe.

The old woman stood up and demanded he leave. “Saia daqui! Saia, eu digo!

Manuel Cabral rushed into the dining hall, his eyes wide as silver dollars. When he saw the intruder he repeated his mother’s refrain “What are you doing here? Who are you?” Slowly Cabral recognized the man. “Oh, Silva. Farmer from the Pocket.”

“Yes, I’m here helping Sammy with the delivery. The soda pop.”

 

A look of realization washed over Cabral’s large moon face. “Oh, I see what’s going on, here. C’mon, c’mon. Let’s go,” said Cabral, slipping into a characterization of Ralph Cramden from the Honeymooners. “Out with ya. Get out!”

 

When Silva tried to edge past the much larger man, Cabral grabbed him by the back of the collar and marched him toward the side door. The old woman yelled to her son in Portuguese, “Dá lhe um pontapé no traseiro (Kick his ass).”

Back in the bar, Cabral barked “Sammy, take your cases of 7-Up, and you and Silva get the hell out of here. Right now! Let’s go.”

Sammy the K guided the hand truck around the wooden posts as Cabral continued his diatribe. “Come in here with this little mouse, and try to steal our sopas recipe, eh?”

 

Once Kazantzakis and Silva transitioned outside they hustled toward the midnight blue panel truck, nearly invisible in the darkness. Cabral followed them outside. “You know, the old saying is true, Kazantzakis: ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!’”

Sammy swiftly loaded the cases of soda into the back end and flung the hand truck  against the seatback. As he came around the driver’s side, Cabral continued his tongue-lashing. “I hope your sopas taste like merda, Kazantzakis. Goddamn Greek. Merda!”

As Sammy the K backed the truck out of the compound, he growled through the driver’s side window “Fuck off, Cabral.”

--

 

In silence, Sammy the K navigated the streets of the Southside district. When he turned from Broadway onto Riverside, Silva gestured toward the darkened ballpark Edmonds Field on their left. “There’s no ga…? Oh, right. Solons are out of town this week.”

 

Following the cue, Sammy the K asked “Follow baseball, Silva?”

 

The older man nodded like a fourth grader being invited to join the Knothole Gang.

“Well, back there,” Kazantzakis said, gesturing with his thumb to the rear window, “we just struck out!” He gauged the older man’s appreciation for the baseball analogy.

 

“Fortunately, for us, we’ve still got one last ups.”

Sammy the K patted the crinkled paper bag and nodded solemnly.

Silva’s solitary nod in return confirmed his awakening. “The carrots.” 

Driving home along Pocket Road Kazantzakis laid out his plan for a “top-of-the-ninth” strategy. It required the assistance of three, possibly four other conspirators who could commit to spending their Sunday afternoon at the O.D.E.S. festa.

SIDEBAR: Origin—Feast of the Holy Spirit

Queen Isabella of Portugal (1271 – 1336) is credited with conceiving the Festa do Espirito Santo (Feast of the Holy Spirit). Married to King D. Deniz of Portugal, she was canonized by the Church after a lifetime of devotion to the poor in honor of the Holy Spirit. During a terrible famine in Portugal, the queen prayed to the Holy Spirit to relieve her people’s suffering and to provide the necessities: bread and meat. Isabel frequently took food directly to the people of Lisbon. Discovering this, King Deniz forbade his wife to go out into the streets alone. But she persisted. One day in winter, Isabel left the castle carrying bread in the folds of her dress. The King followed and stopped the queen, demanding she reveal what she held in the dress. Upon lowering her garment, rose petals fell to the ground. As roses were not in season, the queen believed the Holy Spirit spared her with this miracle. In response, Queen Isabel found a special way to honor the Holy Spirit.

 

The Queen originated a feast day in which sopas e carne (bread and meat) were served to all citizens of Lisbon. In a sign of humility, she bestowed her crown and scepter on one young woman for the day, who then symbolically represented her people as Portugal’s Queen. In time, the Portuguese commemorated the sainted queen by honoring her on the Feast of the Holy Spirit, usually held seven weeks after Easter. The celebration emulates that which was started by Isabella: a young girl from the parish is selected “queen for a day,” she leads the people into church to celebrate mass and following that service she is crowned queen. The queen—wearing a silver crown with a dove on top in honor of the Holy Spirit—leads the parade into a hall where a simple meal of sopas e carne is served free of charge.

--

Just before noon Sunday, May 30, 1954 five people gathered around Sammy the K as he was sitting on the back end of the panel truck. The truck was parked on the northeast corner of 9th and “U” Streets as this location was equidistant from St. Elizabeth Church at 12th and “S” to the O.D.E.S. Hall at 6th and “W” Streets. Street parking here wasn’t a problem, whereas near the hall on the day of the festa it would be a madhouse. And from here it was a quick walk up to “S” Street where the parade originated.

Standing in a semi-circle around the Greek were Tony Silva and his red-haired wife Mildred; mustachioed Miguel Contente from Lincoln; and Richard Enos of Elk Grove. Sammy handed each man tiny packets of the blanched, yellowish carrot peelings wrapped in wax paper, then explained the plan.

Each team would take up staggered positions in the parade so they’d earn seats at different tables within the dining hall. “Miguel, since you’ve got friends from the Lincoln lodge, you’ll slide in after their flag bearer. That’ll put you close to the front, maybe the fifth table. Richard, you and I’ll go in the middle. Tony,  you and Mildred bring up the rear.”

Mildred tugged on the sleeve of her husband’s jacket and shook her head.

“Is there a problem, Tony?” Sammy asked. “No? Alright.

“Now, men: the key is to sprinkle just a few peelings into the soup, which you then must mix in with the ladle. Don’t let any of the peelings land on the bread or the couves, the kale. Okay? It’s got to look like it’s been boiling in that soup for hours. Then, with the ladle in hand, holding maybe one of the sopas aloft, you say something to the people around you, eh… well, you know what to say.”

Kazantzakis checked his watch. “Damn near noon. Any questions?”

Mildred spoke up. “Yeah, how come you wanted blanched, yellowish carrots? What’s the deal with that?”

Sammy’s smirk suggested he liked Mildred’s moxie. “So the bits look like strips of ginger. Then we can say, ‘You put ginger in the sopas?’ Or some shit like that. Okay?” Each man signaled with bobbing heads. Mildred rolled her eyes to the sky. “Okay, let’s start heading up 9th Street here. When we get to “S” we’ll spread out in our staggered positions,” the Greek said.

As the group began walking up the sidewalk, Sammy drew beside Silva. “Tony, maybe you and Mildred cross to the other side of ‘S’ Street so we’re not seen together, alright?” Tony nodded as his wife jerked his sleeve to signal her objection.

Sammy the K hadn’t told the other conspirators he’d taken the added precaution of bribing one of the O.D.E.S. servers, Amaral Jacinth, to assist in their mission. As one of the longest-running committee members, Jacinth had his pick of positions at the festa, so he could guarantee he would deliver sopas to the “big” queen’s table. Plus, he knew Cabral—as head of the parade—would be seated at that prime table. Jacinth had informed Kazantzakis he had no love lost for the event chair, as the two “got into it a couple of times” over the years.

When they reached “S” Street, the three teams dispersed according to plan. Kazant-zakis and Enos pushed their way to the curb, as folks were lined three-deep on the sidewalk. Glancing to the east, Kazantzakis saw the parade approaching, less than a block away. Leading the procession, in his midnight blue, double-breasted suit and red-striped tie, Manuel Cabral smiled and waved to the crowds with the élan of a state governor. As festa chairman he carried a stick festooned with red, white and green ribbons.

“I got your stick right here, Cabral,” Kazantzakis muttered. The Greek just as well could have spoken aloud, for the Portuguese band, still a block away, was in full volume, with the trumpets, trombones, flutes and drums collaborating on a native Portuguese song. Directly behind Cabral were the flag bearers: one man carried the U.S. flag, another the California state flag, and the middle one held the red and green Portuguese flag.

They were followed by the “big” queen, Marsha King, and her entourage: two young female attendants on either side, followed by two boys holding the ends of her cape.

“That cape’s damn near as big as some of the parachutes we used in the war,” Sammy quipped to Richard Enos. Enos shouted to Kazantzakis to repeat what he’d said, but Sammy waved it off. No sense competing with the band.

After the “little” queen and her group marched past, followed by a float, Kazantzakis and Enos watched the dozen or so other lodge delegations parade by. Each was led by a man carrying a vertical banner strung on a wooden rod indicating their fraternity, followed by their queen and her entourage. Lodges from all over the state, but principally the Central Valley, were represented. When the Lincoln flag bearer approached, Miguel Contente waved his arm at someone in that delegation, edged onto the street and joined the processors from Placer County.

Once all the lodge groups had passed, Sammy and Richard Enos merged with the parading commoners. Many of these folks couldn’t find empty seats in the high mass, so they hung around outside the church grounds until service had concluded and the queen was crowned. These people comprised the last third of the parade, with one thing fervently top of mind: the free meal of sopas.

Seeing the two men join in the parade, a middle-aged woman in a pink floral dress groused “Hey, those guys butted in. Who the hell do they think they are?” When Sammy and Richard turned around, the woman’s husband grabbed her arm and forcibly relocated her to the center of the street. “Let go of me. What are you doing?” the woman bitched, struggling to free her arm from the man’s grip.

“That’s Sammy the K, woman,” he scolded under his breath. “You want to find me in a dumpster some night?” He raised his right index finger to his lips. “Cala a boca.

Soon the parade reached 6th Street. Before making the ninety-degree left turn, Cabral pointed his ribboned stick toward the Del Mar Market sign hanging over the right corner. It was a not-so-subtle statement: That’s my store and I’m proud of it! Turning south, flag bearers, queens, attendants et.al. were awash in bright, warm sunlight. The temperature had nearly reached the high of 90 degrees forecast for this afternoon.

--

Around 12:30, Manuel Cabral led the parade onto the O.D.E.S. grounds. As the entrance to the dining hall was situated just behind the stairs, the line snaked around the cappella and wound around the rear of the compound. Walking on the wide, paved city streets had allowed the parade to proceed at a progressive speed. But it stalled to a sloth’s pace once the people attempted to funnel through the dining hall doorway.

For those familiar with the O.D.E.S. festa, the hall’s interior was a familiar site: 18 wooden tables crammed into the dining area with a low eight-foot ceiling. The tables, covered in white butcher paper, each accommodated 20 place settings that included a white paper plate (flipped upside down), situated between fork and knife.

The big queen and her aides, in their long, flowing gowns, moved with caution up the narrow, three-foot wide aisle. Upon reaching the head table closest to the kitchen they took their places on rough-hewn wooden benches. This rudimentary theme—wooden interiors, tables and benches—all may have been part of Queen Isabel’s original vision. For even royalty is humbled in service to the Holy Spirit.

Other lodge delegations followed and filled in the left side of the hall, which was exposed to the natural environs by a half-wall. The wooden panels on the exterior wall had been locked upright to facilitate bar service to patrons both inside as well on the outside of the hall. This wide opening generated fresh air that helped to compensate for the warm, humid conditions inside the dining area.

Once Sammy made his way inside he saw Contente seated amid the Lincoln delegation. They were much further back than he anticipated, almost across from the cappella door. Meantime, the open tables on the right side began to fill up. The Greek managed to claim a seat at a middle table, on the aisle. Enos sat three place settings from the end, almost assuring the platter of carne and pan of sopas would be delivered directly in front of him.

When they heard the door slam closed it signaled the dining hall was officially ‘filled,’ at least temporarily. Some folks, including Silva and his wife, milled in back as servers searched for the last few open seats at the tables. Not waiting, Mildred strolled up the aisle scanning the crowd for friendly faces and empty places. Near the kitchen, on the right, she waved at a female friend and stopped to chat. Silva then saw Mildred urgently waving at him, her red hair bouncing against her collar. He charged the aisle, skirting the crowd around the ice cart where the vendor frantically sold beer and soda.

By the time Silva arrived, his wife had scooted to the middle of the table. She lovingly patted the cramped space beside her. Before edging forward, Silva wisely pulled the wax paper packet from his jacket and clutched it in his right hand. Contorting his body like Houdini, he imagined the clearance between benches was so slim, a goose couldn’t waddle through (a “Portu-goose” the older man chuckled to himself). The moment Tony sat down, Mildred dug her fingernails into his left arm and whispered criminally “Promise me now you’ll buy me the most deluxe model, twenty-one-inch CBS-Columbia television at Hales, or I’ll blow this goddamn caper sky high.”

Silva confronted his wife’s steel blue gaze. “You’ve been listening to too many episodes of Perry Mason, dear. Yes, you’ll get your new T-V.” When the woman clawed his arm more sharply, he amended his commitment. “Tomorrow, ow-ow-ow. Right after supper.” Mildred glanced across the table and shot a saccharine smile at her friend.

Near the kitchen counter servers in white aprons formed a cue that stretched almost halfway down the aisle. Inside the kitchen, the two old women Maria de Gloria and Senhora Amelia and their helpers filled platters of carne (beef) and aluminum pans of sopas, with the beef broth poured over sliced French bread double-stacked in a circle, surrounded by the kale. The final ingredient, sprigs of mint, were layered on top.

Without fanfare or announcement, the first servers began delivering the pans of sopas and platters of beef to the queen’s table. The din in the room rose to a new level. From his vantage point, Sammy picked out the lanky Jacinth laying the food at the center of the queen’s table and then returning in line. Next came table two. Servers approached from either side of the table, edging between benches to deliver the food to the end of the table. Directly after came another platter of meat and a pan of sopas placed in the center of the table. Seconds later those seated near the aisle received their food. Servers fielded ubiquitous requests for more napkins, salt and pepper (“I’ll see if I can find some…”) and directions to the lavatory.

At his place, Sammy caught Enos’ eye and subtly craned his head backward. Enos bent behind the wooden post, allowing for a semi-private conversation. “Smells so goddamn good,” Sam said. Enos’ raised eyebrows confirmed the pungent, luxuriant smell of sopas could soothe the soul of a savage beast. “Contente’s table is up first. Then Silva, up there. Then us. Christ, I hadn’t counted on this delay,” Sam observed. “I’m going to talk with Miguel; change things up.”

When Sammy approached the Lincoln lodge table he motioned with a head tilt for Contente to meet outside. Kazantzakis proceeded unimpeded through the door until an elderly woman stationed inside the cappella stopped his momentum. She attempted to pin on his shirt the traditional red ribbon commemorating this year’s festa. Sammy deferred. “Haven’t even eaten yet, darlin’. I just came out to make a call.” Contente swept behind and scooted past the Greek before exiting the cappella. Sammy reached into his pant pocket, pulled out a dollar and dropped it in a glass jar. “Let’s get this rolling, shall we,” he said with a smile.

“Bless you,” the woman said in return.

Outside, the Greek led Contente away from the cappella. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and offered one. Contente declined. Sammy lit up, dropped the packet back in his shirt pocket and shoved his left hand into his pants, releasing the cigarette lighter. “Change of plans. Need you to hold off on your bit until closer to the time Silva’s table is served. Should be just a few minutes more. We want them to happen bang, bang one right after the other.”

“My table’s being served now,” argued Contente. “There won’t hardly be any sopas left when I return.”

“That’s alright. Works better this way anyhow,” Sammy said. “Wait until I give you this sign.” Kazantzakis cupped his right hand, touched the fingertips to his forehead and released them up and away. It was a classic move he’d seen in World War II films when fighter pilots signaled each other through their cockpits.

“Got it.”

When the Greek returned through the cappella he delayed just long enough to bullshit the older woman once more. “Called the wife. She’s running late—again. Women!” 

--

When Sam reentered the rear of the hall his momentum again came to a complete stop, as servers were delivering pans and platters to the last table on the left side. By this point, the volume in the confined space had become louder than the band parading by on “S” Street. From this position he could see sopas pans and beef platters positioned on Content’s table, with families actively serving themselves, Old World, family style.

When the Greek returned to his seat, Richard Enos bent backward to continue their private conversation. He motioned up ahead. “Silva’s table is up next.”

Sammy nodded. “The timing’s gonna work out perfectly this way. You watch.”

At Contente’s table, the man across from him had just finished serving his kids. He scooped a sopa and held it aloft, waiting for Miguel to hand over his paper plate. “Thanks. I’ll get mine in just a minute.” He saw four sopas left in the pan, sitting among the couves and mint in the broth near the bottom. Contente looked up and caught the Greek’s pilot salute and he signaled in return.

Miguel reached into his pant pocket. Squeezed between a large woman in a Kelly green dress with casaba-shaped breasts and an older man on his left, his range of mobility was extremely limited. His right arm jostled the gal, whose fork was paused at her mouth. He ignored her stern glare and concentrated on extracting the wax paper from his pocket, using two fingers like pincers. Once the tiny package was free, he smiled in the woman’s direction. “Always bring my own salt. Sometimes, the sopas are a little flat.” Under the table he opened the package and emptied the peelings in his left hand.

“These have plenty of salt.” She pointed to the pan. “You won’t need salt today.”

“How are they?”

“Sopas are good! I could eat these every Sunday for supper,” she said. “Hurry. Dig in.”

 

The man on his left side noted “The Jews had manna. The Portuguese have sopas.”

 

Contente grabbed the metal ladle with his right hand, scooped one sopa and lifted it over the pan and onto his plate. While tilting the pan toward him with his left hand he surreptitiously released the carrot peelings into the soup. “Gotta get some of this good juice, here,” he said, stirring the bits into the broth. He checked to ensure none of the peelings were caught in the sprigs of mint or the web of couves. Satisfied the pan was perfectly choreographed, Contente then ladled broth over the second sopa. Raising it to eye level with the ladle, he appraised the broth-soaked, copper-colored bread.

There on top, by a stroke of fate, were two yellowish-orange carrot strips, aligned in a “V” sign. Or, depending on which direction one looked at it, a “less than equal” sign.

“What the hell…” Contente froze in position, then said louder, “What the hell is this?” He showed the sopa to the family man across from him. “You ever seen this?” He then brought the ladle closer for the woman in the green dress to peruse. “Some kind of yellowish crap.” Contente sliced off the end of the word with the finality of a butcher’s cleaver. Seeing the father’s cross expression over his choice of words, Contente apologized to the two children seated across from him. “Sorry, kids.”

Contente lowered the sopa with the yellowish-orange “V” on his plate and stirred the broth once again, as if panning for gold in the placers. “Look, it’s all through the juice. Did you get any?” he asked the woman. “Did you?” he addressed the man.

By this point people in the middle of the table had become alarmed and were going through their broth for the strange orange material. “Nope. Not in ours,” came the reply with shoulder shrugs.

 

Contente realized he might be losing momentum. “Well, I for one am not gonna eat this crap! Sorry, kids.” Miguel tried to stand at his place, but his legs were encumbered by the limited space between the bench and table. He managed to raise up a few inches. He waved his arm and drew the attention of the short, bald man in the brown suit who’d been patrolling the aisle like a restaurant maitre d’. José Ferreira rushed right over.

“Is there a problem? Or you ready for seconds?”

Contente unobtrusively got the Greek’s attention before locking eyes with Ferreira.

“Some kind of yellowish cagada in the pan here. Look!” Ferreira tipped the pan in his direction and tried to make sense of the bits of weird stuff in the broth. By this point, Contente had repositioned his right leg over the bench while the other leg was still pinned against the table. “What the hell is that yellowish stuff in there? Could it be… turkey gizzard?” He repeated the last word loud enough to ensure it would be heard four tables over. “Is that what you guys put in the sopas—gizzard?”

Ferreira raised up with sweat beading on his forehead. “No, sir.”

While José attempted to sort out the yellow-colored confusion, the man across from Contente shoved his children’s plates forward. Other adults at the table did likewise.

 

In his moment of indecision, Ferreira felt a tug on his jacket as a male server whispered in his ear. Ferreira nodded then lowered the sopas pan to the table. “I’ll be back,” he said, edging away. “Until I do, don’t eat any more. Wait!”

Turning to leave, he repeated the command to the table in front of them. Folks seated on either side of Contente repeated Ferreira’s order: Don’t eat the sopas!

 

A man from the table behind tapped Miguel on the shoulder. “What was that you said, Mister. Gizzard?”

 

Miguel leaned back, nodded and replied over his shoulder. “Yeah, I was just sayin’ this yellowish-orange… could be ground up turkey gizzard for all we know. Same color.”

 

That comment attracted a chorus of “eewww” from three teenaged girls seated at the table behind. The woman beside the man shoved his arm. “Gizzard. Is that the gross stuff on the turkey’s neck?” With the back of her hand, she patted the underside of her neck like a society woman battling the vagaries of Time.

“No,” the man said. “That’s the wattle, not the gizzard.”

“Alright, then, Mister Science: what is the gizzard?” she demanded to know.

“It’s located down at the turkey’s…” The man started to gesture down to the animal’s intestines which are connected to the anus. Looking around, other patrons were intently listening to his spiel. He stopped mid-sentence: “—you don’t want to know.”

Ferreira had rushed to the other side of the room to quell that incident. Anthony Silva was far less creative in relating the problem. But Mildred, who had secured his promise for a new deluxe television, gladly assumed the lead role in this farce. “What’s that yellowish crap in there? That ginger root? You don’t put that in sopas, right?” Her acting was so effective, Ferreira had completely forgotten Cabral’s charade at the market.

Seeing the commotion, Manuel Cabral rose from the queen’s table. His mother’s look of confusion from the kitchen drew her son’s reply of wide eyes, open arms and hunched shoulders. He joined Ferreira. “What’s the problem—what’s going on here, José?”

As Ferreira stammered on about yellow bits of gizzard, Cabral recognized Silva sitting in the midst of this uprising. Scanning the hall his eyes quickly landed on Sammy the K showcasing that lecherous smile near the center of the hall. Just then, a man near the Greek stood and pointed to a pan, looking around for relief. “What is this yellowish crap in here?” he called out. Cabral ran his hands through his oiled hair in disbelief.

Suddenly a scream erupted from the queen’s table. Ferreira and Cabral both wheeled in panic as the queen and her attendants bolted upright at their places. Gesturing to the second pan of sopas, one yelled, “Turkey nuts—in the sopas? Oooohh, yuck!”

Standing behind the queen’s table, Amaral Jacinth couldn’t contain his wolfish smile as he crossed his arms against the white apron and braced his right boot against the wall. He signaled a long-distance salute to Kazantzakis seated across the hall.

Cabral took in the entire scene, his eyes bouncing from the queen to Jacinth and over to Sammy the K. In an instant, Cabral assessed the disparate pieces of this disaster and came to an immediate conclusion.

“José—get fresh pans of sopas over to the queen’s table, they need one here and then that table in the back, the uh, Lincoln group. Get all your people on it. Rapido, rapido!

As Ferreira dashed to the kitchen, Cabral promised Silva’s table a fresh pan would be coming. He bounded over to the queen’s entourage and assured them nothing remotely resembling turkey testicles had been put in the sopas. “Another pan—all fresh—is coming, very soon,” he said. The young ones, however, no longer wanted food; they desperately desired to go outside for fresh air. Cabral agreed and discharged them.

Once more, he scanned the hall, and seeing no sudden feinting or declarations of bubonic plague, he smoothed his hair, took a deep breath and restored his confidence.

Manuel then walked over to Sammy the K, who rose from his table. Anyone watching saw that Cabral easily towered over the shorter, slender Kazantzakis. But when the well-dressed chairman extended his arm toward the cappella, they watched a confident Greek saunter to the rear of the hall with a cocky grin, like John Garfield casually stepping up to the gallows.

Passing the Lincoln table, a man stopped Cabral. “Manuel—is it true? Turkey gizzard in the sopas?”

Cabral shook his head with disgust. “Don’t be ignorant,” he said, continuing on toward the cappella.

Outside, Cabral led Sammy the K away from the cappella out toward the foot of the stairs. “Some stunt you pulled in there, Kazantzakis. Now, what do you want?”

“Same thing I wanted when I visited you at the store—”

“–you want the secret ingredient, alright, you’ll have it—”

“Not so fast. I want the secret ingredient and the whole damn kit and kaboodle—Cabral.” He deftly pulled out the pack of cigarettes, and in his smooth gangster voice said, “You like that, the alliteration?” Sammy the K allowed the word to sail over Cabral’s head as he lit up.

“No, I want the complete recipe, written out in full. Otherwise, you’ll get more of the same at the next serving, which is—” He checked his watch. “—less than an hour away.”

Mild panic filled Cabral’s eyes while a smile oozed from the Greek’s face. “After that, nobody but train tramps and distant relatives are gonna come to your festa next year.” As Kazantzakis inhaled the cigarette, Cabral seethed. Glancing around the yard he observed more people exiting the cappella. Rumors would soon spread like wild fire.

“Alright, I’ll have Ferreira meet you upstairs by the stage. He’ll write it out for you.”

“Fine,” Sammy said.

Cabral leaned in close to the Greek’s ear. “Ya know, I didn’t have this much grief when I was Supreme President of U.P.E.C. in ’43. You’re a sick little bastardo, Kazantzakis.”

The Greek broke out laughing. “Look who’s talking! You’re leadin’ the parade, Mister Big Shot, with that ribboned fairy stick—you’re an asshole, Cabral. So, we’re even.”

Kazantzakis started climbing the concrete steps leading up to the dance hall. At the landing he sniped at the chairman below: “Hey—don’t keep me waiting up here.”

Upstairs, in the cool quiet of the dance hall Kazantzakis found five men drinking at the bar. Sammy walked toward the end and ordered a high ball.

“You eat already?” one asked. Sammy nodded. “How were the sopas this year?”

The bar tender slid the drink to within six inches of his right hand. The Greek grabbed the glass and smiled. “Oh, they’ll be talkin’ about this one for years. Mark my words.”

When he tasted the high ball, Sammy spit out the contents and slammed the glass cup down on the bar. “Jeezus… what’d you put in this drink?”

“Whiskey and soda.”

“What kind of soda?” Sammy demanded.

“Whatever they deliver. That lemon-lime stuff comes in the cannister.”

“You don’t have the good stuff—7-Up?”

“No, mister. Sorry.” The bar man left to fill a new drink order.

Seeing the two men were delighting in his misery, the Greek hummed the 7-Up slogan:

You Like It – It Likes You. And don’t forget it, boys.” He grabbed the drink and slow-walked over to the stage.

Hustling up the back steps, with a piece of paper in one hand, came Ferreira. His few strands of hair were disbursed in different directions and he was breathing hard, like a man on the verge of a heart attack. He paused at the doorway to mop his forehead with his kerchief.

“That was a very cruel trick you guys pulled back there, Kazantzakis.”

“Yeah, well you know what they say: ‘Beware of Greeks.’” Ferreira moved to the side of the stage, continuing to mop his brow. “Jot down the goddamn recipe, already, José. And don’t leave out one tiny ingredient. Otherwise, I may have to make a surprise visit to your house in the middle of the night. Start writing.”

“Keep your shirt on,” Ferreira said.

“I always do,” bragged the Greek before slugging down the rest of the high ball.

José printed the words Sopas Recipe, then rested the pencil on the tip of his tongue for two seconds.

 

“What are you waiting on?” Sammy said impatiently. “Let’s go.”

“I’m thinking—you want accuracy. Can’t recall if we had seven or eight cows donated this year.”

“Just put down eight vacas, for crissake.”

With facile penmanship, Ferreira notated the entire recipe. Within three minutes he handed the list to Sammy the K.

“Bread, onions, celery… 20 pounds of garlic, swear to God? Jeez. Well you Portugees are half Italiano anyway. But would you look at this penmanship? Damn near a work of art, José. I think I’ll frame it.”

“I hope you choke on it, Kazantzakis.”

A look of mild amusement crossed the Greek’s face as he gave the recipe one final brief glance. “Hold on a second, Joe. Looks like you forgot something.”

“Forgot… what? What’s missing?”

The Greek leaned back on his elbows, casual like. “Doesn’t this recipe include a stick?”

“A stick?”

“Yeah. At the store the other night, when I asked Cabral for the secret ingredient, first thing he said was ‘a stick.’ Remember? Then he came up with that bullshit about ginger root. But I think he was about to reveal the true secret ingredient. So what is it, José? A stick of… what?”

Ferreira grabbed the paper from Sammy, placed it back on the wooden floor of the stage and with his pencil added a final ingredient. “Oops,” he muttered, just after the pencil punched through the gap between boards, creating a small hole in the paper. He returned the recipe to the Greek.

 

When Sammy looked at the last line he did a double-take: Sticks of cinn0mon 12 ct.
A new smile spread across the Greek’s face. “I think I will frame this, Ferreira. Thanks.”

Kazantzakis folded the paper in three panels and slipped it inside his jacket.

 

He strolled the length of the floor, leisurely, as if expecting blonde bombshell Jean Harlow to come running for a last dance. He paused at the landing, then descended the concrete steps. When he reached the base, Sammy the K emerged into bright sunlight. He slapped his hands and rubbed them together with the anticipation of cooking the finest sopas e carne ever tasted, next weekend, at the Riverside picnic in the Pocket.

 

He pulled the cigarettes from his shirt pocket. Finding none left, he balled the empty pack with his right hand and flung it on the concrete.

“Beware of Greeks, my ass.”

 

-End -

Editor's Note: Kudos to Dennis Neto for his culinary contribution to this story.

© Rick Cabral, 2019
 

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