MARTA BYRD

Summary: Marta Byrd, a struggling painter whose spectacular misjudgments about men have isolated her in upstate New York and put her into physical and emotional crisis has met an internationally recognized Hungarian photojournalist on a Washington to New York commuter train. After weeks of wary telephone conversations, she joins him in New York; they visit the Frick Museum and enjoy a romantic dinner.

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In the glow of The Crimson Poppy, they’d discovered it was too late for Marta to catch the last train. Now she was overtired and she winced as their taxi rattled violently under the tunnel at Seventy-Ninth Street. She felt hesitant about staying the night with Kornel.

“Do not worry about being with me overnight, Marta. You will be perfectly safe,” he said in his warm baritone. “Besides, there is a great, protective hound in the vicinity of this entrance to the park. The man who gave me this necktie met it here almost ten years ago.”

“A hound? On its own?” From the moment she’d noticed Kornel’s elegant, crested tie, she’d been curious. Now he was entangling it with the tale of an outsized animal.

“I was not there. I know only what my friend, Declan—Declan Downpatrick—Perhaps you have read his pieces in ‘The New York Times?”—I can tell only what Declan told me. It was at this time of the year and this time of the night. Declan said he sensed some menace; his heart hammered wildly. When he pivoted on the path, he saw only shadows among shadows. He moved faster, but felt heavy weights on his shoulders and he turned his head to find that he was face to face with a heavy-jowled dog. He shook his shoulders violently: the dog’s huge paws remained. He walked faster, and the dog kept pace—until they were both nearly running.

“From that time, they raced through the park and into the tunnel. Noises on each side grew louder, more discordant. Each time he looked behind, the dog’s golden eyes engaged his in a serious but friendly way as if to reassure him. They emerged from the tunnel in lock step. Now it was completely dark. The dog stood like a sentinel, continuing to rest its paws on Declan’s shoulders as he waited for the traffic light to change. When it turned red and my friend was able to cross into the street where other people raced along ignoring him, he said he felt lighter. And when he looked again, the dog was gone.”

They both remained silent for a minute.

“I think I’ve read that angels take the form of big dogs to protect people in danger,” said Marta finally.

Kornel nodded.

“But do you believe in it? I mean….”

Their cab had slowed to a stop in front of a building on Riverside Drive which had an Egyptian style façade. Kornel paid the driver and walked around to open Marta’s door. As they crossed the sidewalk toward the entrance, she noticed she was missing something.

“I have only one of my gloves and I know I was wearing both of them when I left the restaurant.”

“Let me…” Kornel began.

But she left him standing near one of a pair of fat columns with his half-formed sentence in his mouth and his right arm gesturing toward the cabby. The driver pretended to be writing in his log as Marta pulled open the back door, exclaiming: “Am I lucky you’re still here! I think I left…. Here it is.” She waved the found glove toward Kornel, who smiled and beckoned.

“I thought I’d heard every line in the book,” the cabby said, half-turning toward Marta and shaking his head as she ducked back out. “But that dog story beats ‘em all. Ya gotta watch out for these foreigners, Lady.”