Episode 82: Peripatetic
Bettina, do you have a minute? Sure, Levi. What should I expect? You’re thinking about Sunday morning, she tells him. He nods. Friendly people, great singing, and an inspiring message. What shouldn’t I wear? Probably best to stay away from athleisure. And both Lana and I hate skinny jeans on men. What will you be wearing? Dresses. Any recommendations for lunch after? Bettina winces. What? We all get together at The Olive Garden and my dad buys lunch; it’s kind of a tradition. Levi gives her a look. The whole point of taking Lana to church is to get to spend some alone time with her. You have to share her, Bettina tells him. Lunch is a time of fellowship and my father wants to meet you. I don’t want to answer questions, Levi says. Consider it practice for when you meet Lana’s parents. Did Samantha tell you what happened when she introduced Jax to them…
Levi pulls up to the apartment exactly on time in a rental Chrysler 300 sedan. Lana walks out and gets in the passenger door. You look nice, she tells him. Do you know where to go? I did a dry run yesterday, Levi admits. So what should I expect? We’ll park. I’ll take your arm and we’ll walk inside together. A greeter at one of the entrances will give you a bulletin. There will be a lot of people milling around outside the sanctuary in line to get coffee. We’ll go inside and sit up front and right, four rows back. Can we sit in the back? Levi asks. We can, but that’s where I told Bettina we’d be. I don’t want her to worry. Why do you sit in front? Less distractions.
Then I’ll pull some labels out of my purse and we’ll reserve the four seats in front of us for Simon, Bettina, Jon, and Emilie, and the seat next to me for Tom, Bettina’s father. The church will start filling up with people. If you have to use the bathroom, or want to grab a coffee, that would be the time. The auditorium will go dark, and the singing will start. The production value at Sardis is off the charts. Think of it as a mashup of a concert, a movie, and an off Broadway play. Thank you, Levi tells her. Are your parents going to be there? No.
Levi parks where he’s directed by the attendant. Lana pulls out her phone and takes several pictures of the location, then puts her phone away and grabs Levi’s arm. As they walk up to the main entrance, they’re spotted by a cluster of Hasidic Jews and a Channel 5 camera crew. Do not go in there, Jew. Their leader yells at Levi. Do not forsake the tradition of the elders, my brother, another pleads, falling to his knees and clasping his hands together. Levi stops walking. Lana lets go of his arm and continues on alone, not looking back.
I’m going to kill Ortega, Levi mutters into the phone. I know he set that up. First thought is almost always the worst thought, Saul replies. Cool your head. I lost face in front of her, Levi complains. Did you say anything that you regret? No. Did you leave anything left unsaid? Of course. Then don’t come back here. I just don’t see a way forward, Saul. How many days until the campaign starts back up? Eight. Monday, we’re back on. What is she planning on doing this week? I don’t know. I wonder who could find out with a single phone call? Samantha probably gave him the idea. I had the same thought, Saul admits. She’s driving Toni’s truck to Detroit. I’ll call her, Saul says.
Levi goes into the office at Sam’s mansion and turns on the computer. He goes to the Sardis Youtube channel, and catches the tail end of the livestream. He clicks to the beginning and watches the montage of footage from Israel. A recording of the pastor baptizing Simon in the Sea of Galilee before sunrise. Then eating a simple meal of bread and fish around a campfire. Then a street market, where Jax haggles with an Arab, smacking the back of his hand to make his point. Then indoors, with Simon using an eyepiece to examine a tiny diamond, a Hasidic man looking on. Then some footage of Simon with Emilie, trying on rings at the Galleria. Then a picture of Bettina’s father in a pine paneled room with his back turned as he wipes down an over under shotgun in a gun vise. Then next picture shows a stern looking Tom, pointing at his own chest. “You want to talk to me?” is the obvious expression on his face. Levi laughs, caught up in the visual narrative. The stage goes dark, and purple lights shine on the pretty soloist, who sings “Let It Happen” while the keyboard plays. Eventually the entire worship team comes out, and song builds and builds as all the congregation stands and joins in. Suddenly there's a loud cheer and clapping from the front of the dark auditorium. The singing continues. Eventually the music fades out and the lights come on the stage and the auditorium. Everyone claps as Simon and Bettina kiss once more. Greet one another, the pastor announces. Levi watches as a deliriously happy Bettina hugs Lana, and they rock back and forth. Then Bettina hugs her father, while Lana hugs Emilie. The camera pans out, and Levi can make out the police captain and his wife coming up behind Bettina’s father to congratulate him. The camera pans away before Levi can see what happens.
The auditorium goes dark again, and the purple stage lights come back on. Levi sees a Ricky Martin look-alike with an electric guitar slung over his distressed jean jacket sing a rendition of Psalm 121, which is flashed briefly on the screen behind them. Two beautiful Hispanic women accompany him: one tall and lithe, one short and squat. The shorter one sings the refrain in an ethereal voice as the drums cut out. Then the guitars build back up and all the singers repeat the chorus. The congregation bursts into spontaneous applause as the song fades out.
The lights come on and the Pastor comes out with his Bible held high. He gets the auditorium to stand and chant after him, and then tells them to remain standing, as he reads from the Book of Esther. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another source"… and note that it reads the women were gathered, but Esther was taken. She did not want to be the consort of the despot, Xerxes. But what could she do?
Levi’s phone rings. He sees that it’s Samantha calling. He pauses the screen and answers. Hey, my uncle said you ran into a roadblock getting into Lana’s church. That’s one way of putting it. What happened? Some of the ultra-Orthodox made a scene. I stopped walking and she let go of my arm and kept right on going, not looking back. That’s Lana, Sam notes. So what are you going to do now? I don’t see a way forward, Samantha. Lana and I are at an impasse. You want my advice? I’m listening. One of the throwbacks who got in your way will have a daughter who is easy on the eyes. Marry her, build the tribe, and don’t look back.
Lana’s special, Samantha. Walk away, Levi. Lana likes and respects you. You’re going to ruin that if you keep after her. Levi doesn’t reply. I’ve asked my uncle to get PJ Secret Service coverage, so don’t plan on going back on protective detail with her. Now repeat after me - wait for it - NEXT. Levi disconnects. He changes into workout clothes, and starts doing some jumping jacks.
Two hours later, he gets an email from Saul with an audio file of the table talk at the Olive Garden.
After listening, he texts Tim. Want to grab a beer later? Levi.
The Uber drops Levi off in a seedy part of town. Levi goes into the run down building, it’s white paint peeling, and sees Tim at the bar, nursing a bottle. Tim motions the bartender for another, and he and Levi go to a table where they can talk privately. What’s on your mind, Levi? Lana. Did you hear about what happened today? Bettina and Simon got engaged. I meant about my taking Lana to church. I saw the footage, Tim replies. You made your choice. I hesitated, Levi admits. You don’t hesitate in a doorway, Tim responds coldly. Levi takes a long pull from his bottle, and empties it. Tim motions the bartender to bring over another. I want to give you a headsup. We won’t be going back out on protection detail. The Secret Service is going to take over, starting next weekend. So where does that leave you? Tim asks. Saul doesn’t want me coming back until I get things settled with Lana. That makes sense, Tim acknowledges. I’m to handle arrangements with The Syndicate for Samantha’s wedding. My instructions are simple: nothing is to mar her day. Is the old man actually going to attend? Yes. I’ll pass that along, Tim says.
What should I do about Lana? Lana is easy to talk to, Tim replies. Just talk to her. She’s not easy to get alone, Levi complains. The press is always hovering around, then there’s Bettina, who runs interference, and her silent partner, who won’t let anyone into his house. Have you ever met him? At the hospital, in passing. My instructions were to let him through, no questions. He left with some of the others in a hurry. They took the stairs. Then Lana showed up, being led by Bettina. Only Lana. I told everyone. Is that Tim? She asked when she heard my voice and I almost lost it in front of everyone. I’m ready when you are, Tim. And she let me lead her into the room. Do you know what they talked about? Levi asks. Tim shakes his head no. Kostamo and Lana are tight. He made her promise not to eat her gun, Levi says. Tim strokes the stubble on his face. That’s why he’s the boss. I never would have even thought of that, he admits.
Speaking of bosses. So Lana stayed in Samantha’s room, while she was recovering. And Saul tells me to see if she’s up for eating dinner with him. So I go upstairs and let her know that dinner will be ready in an hour, if she’d like to join us. Dinner is a formal meal in this house, I tell her. But she came downstairs at the appointed time in her sweatpants and hoodie. Sam’s dresses are cut too short for me, she told us. Come and join us anyway, Saul told her. And she doesn’t move and just looks down at the floor. Only if you’ll give me a hug, she told him. Did he? Levi grins. Tim chuckles and takes a sip of his beer, while Levi motions the bartender for another.
Do you know what a defective syllogism is? I work for a living, Tim responds. Lana and I were talking in the Tesla by ourselves. And I tried to pay her a compliment. “I didn’t tell you anything that you don’t already know”. That’s a defective syllogism, mister. So fix it, I tell her, not willing to admit my ignorance…
…what did you say? Tim asks after a long pause, while Levi downs the rest of his longneck bottle. I asked her how many kids we had. Three and one on the way. I’d shoot him in the face. And I caught her smiling as she turned her head to look out the window.
I’ve always known that Lana and Bettina are church people, Tim admits. They don’t hide it or apologize for it. When Lana and I were in Portland, we went for an evening walk while Bettina and Simon went to the grocery store…
So what should I do? I take it you watched the church service online, Tim questions. Yes. Her parents weren’t there, Tim notes, his eyebrows raised. She told me that they wouldn’t be coming. Did she say why? No. I didn’t think anything of it. My take is that they know who you are and don’t want to meet you.
So you think I should walk away? I think you’ve played a weak hand very well, Tim comments. Take your winnings and leave. My winnings? Lana considers you her friend. You’re nationally famous and recognizable thanks to Lindsey. And the future President of the United States knows your name and holds you in high regard, which will transfer over to our nation’s dealings with Israel. Considerable winnings, Tim emphasizes. Also, The Syndicate will regard you as a man of principle if you walk. A serious man, in contrast to Ortega, who is never going to be able to regain his standing. He’s Fredo now, to Raul’s Michael Corleone.
I need to take a leak, Tim says, getting up. When he comes back from the restroom, he sees Levi standing by the table. I settled up with the bartender. You mind giving me a ride back to Sam’s place? No problem. My turn, Levi says, and he heads to door that Tim just came out of. Levi comes back out to find Tim sitting at the bar, drinking another beer. Tim hands him his phone. There’s a text. NOPD is surveilling the post. They want to get me on a DUI so they can pressure Lana to stay on the force when she gets her badge back, Tim explains. Someone is coming to get us in a few.
Twenty minutes later, the cops in the unmarked car down the street see an off red Subaru Impreza pull up to the curb. Kostamo gets out of the passenger seat. I’ll call you later, he tells the woman driver. She nods and smiles up at him. He gives her his Cheshire cat grin, and backs away, refusing to turn his back on her. She laughs and drives off.
Kostamo comes out with Tim and Levi two minutes later, and gets in the driver’s seat of the vintage Ford pickup. The cops in the patrol car call off the sting operation: they called the mayor’s friend to give them a ride.
What did you say to Levi? Saul asks Sam the next day. Just the usual turning of the screw, uncle. Why? Well, he’s asked that I withdraw my stipulation that Raul give up any claim on Lana. What did he say? The indemnity was paid in full, and if Samantha wants her for a sister, then so be it. That’s really…good…news, Sam says haltingly. Is he still staying at my place? No, he’s flying home. He wants to do shuttle diplomacy to demonstrate to The Syndicate the gravity of the occasion of your wedding. Oh. And he wants me to have a matchmaker arrange a marriage for him with someone who is traditional Orthodox. No divorcees or single mothers. “Character, not characteristics” is what he told me. Do you want me to talk to him? Sam asks. Talk to the Ortega woman first, Saul says.
Tia sees that Samantha is calling. Hello, Samantha. Tia, I’ve got great news, Sam says without preamble. I just got off the phone with my uncle, and he said that since the indemnity was paid in full, I could have Lana for a sister. Tia doesn’t say anything. He’s withdrawn his stipulation upon Raul. That truly is great news, Tia says. Thank you, Samantha. I’ll let him know. Have you told Ramon? Not yet. I just got off the phone with my uncle. How are you doing? Just helping Toni settle into their new house while Mike is on the campaign trail.
Levi sees that it’s Sam calling. Hello, Samantha. Levi, we need to talk. About? Making rash decisions on the spur of the moment. That’s a defective syllogism, he replies. You mean a tautology, she corrects him. I’ll play it out for you, he tells her. Samantha is afraid to ask her husband for a hug, therefore Samantha is afraid of her husband. You’re not making any sense. If you want a hug, just ask, alright? Levi replies. Are you messing with me? Sam asks after a long pause. Just passing on some advice.
I talked to my uncle. Levi, don’t use a matchmaker. Why not? I get that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you need know if there’s chemistry beforehand. You have to find her attractive or it won’t work. He doesn’t reply. Now - why are you doing this? Are you trying to beat me to the altar? He chuckles. Not at all. Tim and I had a couple beers the other night. At my place? No, at the VFW. And he talked you down? He gave me his perspective, which I appreciated. I’m glad, Samantha says. Come to find that NOPD had the place staked out. They’re trying to get Tim on a DUI so they can have a bargaining chip with Lana. They really want her back, Samantha. So what happened? Tim got a text warning him, and then his boss came by and drove us back. How did he get there? His girlfriend dropped him off. Kostamo has a girlfriend? Lana set him up. What did he have to say about Lana? He told Tim and I the story of Lana at the coffee shop. That she was up and moving through them before he even had his gun out. He picked up the ones that came in the back way and dropped them, and it was over, just like that. And he looked across the room at her, and she gave him this big grin. And in that moment, he saw her as she really is: a hunter-killer. She loved it. Then her expression changed and she pointed back in and started shooting again, while he just dropped. Samantha doesn’t say anything. I think he’s right, Levi states. We had this talk about our future marriage, and she played out this elaborate scenario of me giving her an ultimatum based on Ezra 10. She ended it with a question, would I listen to my rabbi or to my loving and faithful wife? And I asked her how many kids we had after nine years of marriage. Three and one on the way. I told her that I’d shoot my rabbi in the face. She looked out the window, but not before I caught this big grin on her face. She loved my answer, Samantha. I think it’s why she let me take her to church.