But By Friday He Was Dead

By Anthony Steyning All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Thriller

Blurb

This is an electrifying XXI Century novella reflecting our convulsive times through 3 renegade but warm hearted Americans who run into a Reuters foreign correspondent visiting New York. Despite its close-up, rambunctious, completely in-character parts the work echoes a generation’s wider fears and worries. The riveting narrative offers deep analysis besides high voltage intrigue when it slides from a political story into a murderous thriller. It combines world-view and historical nuggets with outrageous humor; there's no good story in a cucumber salad so think Henry Miller meeting Graham Greene at a well-stocked, late night Manhattan bar,

Chapter 1

Star

But by Friday he was Dead

(working title)

A Modern Political Intrigue Drama

(subtitle: McRae’s Journey)

By

Anthony Steyning

July 24/17 definitive version

I

What’s your name, the pretty thirty-two year old with an elongated and alabaster Nefertiti neck asked, mechanically flicking the ash off her burning Camel cigarette? She took him in with long lazy lashes and tired but not bedroom eyes, uninterested as she was in applying for a missionary position or anything of the sort…

The place had a high ceiling which he liked and also went with the neck, her hair black, angular, cropped on the short side. At least something and someone of interest, he thought, the lights subdued the way the scene dished out. Her dress and stiletto steel heels intrigued him: there had been far worse starts and tarts and it wasn’t as if he didn’t have taste. Now, if only he could light up this unusual face with the permanent mocking half-smile, melt the tip and the tits of the iceberg, survive the occasion, maybe get laid! It was well after eleven, more people entering, the night scene speeding up as she spoke. A shot of single malt Scotch or two and this lounge empress talking to him setting the pace, and yes, the whole thing a cliché, corny, but hey, she started it, she set herself up this way, asking who he was, a simple out of town dude in her opaque eyes probably the token sucker of the night.

So nope this lady wasn’t for the taking, uninterested in potential toy-boys, just a tad bored and completely Bull proof, not shy and something he was about to find out. After scrutinizing her quickly concluding he could say goodbye to his promising halfie hard-on, that she was no hooker or some easy, unbearable lightweight. Just someone like him, suffering from cabin fever the way folks in sub-arctic Canada and other godforsaken places do, cooked up in some inhospitable abode for too many weeks, days and hours at one time. Yes, yes, right here in New York, why not, in some digs three floors up, sitting in front of an outdated, small-screen, black and white TV all day, ending up speaking like they did in the dozens of noir movies she had to have watched. So he chuckled and picked up the gauntlet, trading his carnal impulse for an attempt at humor despite her obvious attributes, that remarkable set of twins, the town’s most desirable pet shop owner’s more than magnificent parakeets the way the joke went and goes. Deciding to enter a celluloid and smoky dialogue with her, what the hell, the whole thing no skin off his back, like water off a duck’s ass as local parlance goes, sure of himself, believing one is casually sophisticated and well-mannered, or one is not!

- Hi! How are you? I’m McRae! Nice dress!

- You like it? Just bought it… Second hand!

- You must be Dorothy...

- Oh my God, I’m doomed! Why Dorothy?

- Because you look like...

- Dorothy Parker? You nuts? That’s eighty years ago...

- So’s the dress, eccentric, great...

- I’m Edna, if that’s all right with you!

- Hello, Edna, you’re stunning and look utterly bored!

Some women are not immediately and altogether attractive until they speak, at which point all their inner beauty comes out to conquer. Others glacially beautiful like the surface of a placid mountain lake, but also with the depth of a frying pan though Edna beat this rap on all counts; no dumb merry on high heels she, it soon became evident! Who wasn’t supposed to smoke, but didn’t give a damn, her small cigarette holder defiantly pointing at a ceiling painted black and covered with large zinc colored airducts. The olive-skinned bartender from a place where his four letter name Pepe is a diminutive for the four letter José, but where not to make things any simpler they found it necessary to call him by the four letter name Pato, Ducky, apparently waddling like one when he was young. A country where one walks slow but talks fast in an attempt to overwhelm verbally and not be questioned even though it generally turns out most don’t have much to say anyway. And where to reach that kind of speech speed colorful abbreviations come in handy, even a ‘must’ when endlessly shooting one’s mouth off. None of which prevents the flaunting of every known religious and civil law yet on shaky shoulders once a year carry the ornate, the life-size image of the mystical Virgin Mary down wobbly cobbled streets. This Virtuous Lady lifted in adoration by some who late at night will pound the living daylight out of a lover; a place therefore where one celebrates and venerates, but also fights and fights and why perhaps our guy decided to go work in New York. Far away from those who below that Holy Virgin wear a pointed medieval hat or don a mask not to get caught by the Devil, so avoiding his punishment, Paradise not lost yet. And a land where jails are filled with arrogant Mayors and Bankers who instead of remorse express arrogant, stern disapproval after having been caught ripping the public off and where debt chasers dressed like Fred Astaire in Top Hat and Tails knock on doors to collect by publicly shaming some bewildered bastard or wailing widow…! Now isn’t all that a fine dance!?

This barman therefore and not surprisingly ignoring the fact that she smoked, even though it wasn’t a rip-roaring Twenties, a Charleston dancing, flapper-dressed swinging speakeasy, a kind of tobacco Blind Pig. So, no, he wasn’t American, probably moonlighting, not naturalized, illegal, not part of the national DNA, not yet, the feeling that no matter what, you can’t or won’t leave. Something having changed you profoundly, that from now on you totally belong. Including blind loyalty to somewhat adolescent rules and attitudes, having nothing to do with your accent, or whether you hail from Poughkeepsie or Tucson.

- What’s that you’re drinking?

- A Daiquiri...

- A small Cuban lesbian?

- This one’s frozen…You’re a riot, McRae! I had to run into you!

- Ancient Egyptians believed that cats have seven lives...

- Always thought it was nine!

- Me too! But anyway, that on their seventh reincarnation, they turned into humans...

- Does this have anything to do… with anything?

- You look like Nefertiti!

- I’m no cat!

- But human?

- Ah, that’s for you to find out!

Forgetting that according to lore Schrödinger’s Cat could be dead and alive at the same time and often pretending to prefer dogs over humans just like that cranky old Diogenes, he had to admit this time he was dead wrong. She was cool and strangely distant, though she had asked him for his name, which didn’t quite jive. He had napped a couple of hours, minus commercials, so an hour and a half probably, making him feel energetic and fine, but hoping he hadn’t subliminally bought a lawn mower or thong. And a respite from what exactly, it must be asked, to which there was no immediate reply!? Suggesting he’s for someone like Edna to find and sort out and she by someone like him, the way, if carefully listening to her, she had implied.

- How come you’re alone?

- Who says I’m alone?

- Why else would you ask me my name...?

- Often I’m so much more than one person…! I dislike being me … each and every time!

- A second one doing the asking right now…?

- Something like that! Does it matter a lot?

During the day cats pretend to be domesticated, but at night they go out and assassinate, and if they were the size of a lion they would kill you on your own front lawn. Dogs the only really tame ones, come evening retiring early, if they could put pajamas on. Centuries ago and on the neurotic side Montaigne already asked when I play with my cat, how can I be sure my cat isn’t playing with me!? And while she’d said she was no kitten she sure played like one, with him as her mouse and lucky at that. The luck not only hers but also his, certain hours, certain places suddenly coughing up people like them, having to make the most of it, killing boredom with mystery, no time for regrets or pre-obtained rights. He decided not to ask her whence she hailed, probably getting some strange answer, like the Panama Canal or Alaska, at which point he would be unable to resist asking her if she was one of those frostitutes he’d read about, a street walker from Anchorage, away on a hot, off-Washington Square sojourn. Where, in this erstwhile mechanical-bull and waiters-as-rodeo-clowns saloon, they’d just met. A venue a stone’s throw from Wall Street and the New York Stock exchange, the geography where on the outside and here on the inside turbulence meets turbulence, rip tides cleverly disguised as insouciance. Those in attendance representing the times, or at least copying them, incarnating them and visibly addicted to the night in strobe light. Their cell phones muted but lit and shining onto faces bobbing to low techno sounds, that horrible substitute of the beguiling drums, horns and reeds of modern Jazz. Though Bach ain’t bad despite the near military precision, the harmonious mathematics of sound and faith, but hard to drink to and this generation ready to party forty-eight hours straight. And all from within a sense of desperation he guessed, the fear that should they stop, everything would come to an end. Immersed in something that could only be described as a gnawing melancholy for the future, the desultory becoming a way of life, plunging, diving, swimming, relentlessly in waters which regardless and at one point will sweep them far away. “Hi!“, a twilight peacock spoke to the human fawn at the edge of temptation “Want to rest on my shoulders?“. “But you have none!“, a woman replied, ” You’re like the Bird of Paradise, you hold beauty, you hold promise, but you can fly me no place!” It’s what he heard, or thought he overheard, but it was all in his mind and he wasn’t even high.

- HELLO THERE!

He’d had trouble focusing of late, tonight no different, almost certainly becoming like them, the others over there across the aisle, too damn detached, even though by the looks and sound of her not this Pharaoh’s wife, the only one to speak to him. But it’s hard to see what’s worse, the indifference he came to spot in others or that duality in him that Edna would later discover, at one point having asked him for his help. This man as it turns out a double agent of himself, a double agent onto himself, even his own mirror, mirror on the wall when asked Who’s the fairest of them all, saying… Goddammit, who is this bird!?

- HELLO! ANYBODY HOME?

- I’m sorry, my mind was inside a Brandenburg Concerto…

- Where’s that, up the street from Brighton Beach?

- Now you’re the comedian! I was only taking in the place… All these people over there, so ready….

- So ready for what? You’re strange! Perhaps the strange one! A strange stranger! Should I worry, sit somewhere else?

- What do you mean? Why worry ’bout me?

- Who else?

C’mon, he insisted, it looks like we make a difference here, starting with what we wear... But it was just that he loved loose fitting everything, and he wasn’t even big or fat, but feeling more comfortable in something ostensibly sub-tropical. Including his slicked down and dark blond hair, a Mediterranean shark tooth dangling from a gold chain below a square, a stubble chin, and a pair of red framed shades uselessly riding his wavy crown. And what happens when one tries to blend in, ending up looking like some faggoty Gino with no chest hair, and most certainly not the smartest way to project any sort of character. His upper lip not his only stiff part he’d decided to hit a gin joint, as they’re called in Casablanca but only on the silver screen. Whoever wrote this, he thought, probably claiming Bethlehem sports the oldest dairy shop in Palestine, a place called Cheeses Christ... But never mind this crap, let’s get on with it despite the heat and humidity and what that old Greek wrote, oneeven suggesting that as far as he was concerned they could throw his body to his four footed friends after he died, the ultimate gesture of love… But that’s yet another dance and one hell of a funeral!

McRae had taken a deep swig from his mickey before leaving his digs, in order to loosen up before reaching out to the perilous. Hell are the others the French toad wrote, and sounding about right. And why our man had opted for settling in that rare part of the city between stifling conformity and snide doormen falsely smiling while opening doors of washed and waxed late-model cars and that other one, one of anger, of constant violence. Because it was Tuesday, or it just didn’t make a damn difference there anymore. Many denizens on that second side making sure they felt threatened, have enemies, impossible to have one if one’s a Nobody and therefore only a Somebody packing a gun or a knife. And always at night! After it really gets dark, not during the daytime darkness of life, the late hours of deep lack of self-esteem and victimhood always shining bright. Like fluorescent phosphorus, hard to kill, impossible to wipe. A place featuring assaults as career moves, rape as a pastime. An area with no rest for the wicked, but also none for the pretty young things navigating streets pulling ugly ski caps deep down over fair hair, wearing oversized coats no matter the weather, hiding their figure not to get molested by the deplorable laureates of a lousy youth or other social mishaps.

So there he was, having rented a loft in no-man’s land, one none too easy to spot or to find, even though this is a strip of city is much, much wider than he realized. Thinking it’s the only street he can walk down into and get neither converted nor mugged, but no small part of an imagination tending to over dramatize. For there are many avenues like these, not only in New York but everywhere else, cities like Buenos Aires, Budapest, Cairo. None of them paradise, far from it, but inhabited by loyalists refusing to leave, to travel for even a day, afraid of risking their urban nest, by love attached to their neighbors, their hangouts, their corner loaf, their black coffee and schnapps during good times and bad. The uncorrupted, neither Left Wing nor of the Right, inhabiting the space between Church and State, between Black and White and Existence and Drudgery, living smack in the middle of it all, life inside the bull’s eye. And all these feelings reflected in their deeply local and melancholy Tango, Saïda and Czarda, the Blues over and over again, though here in A-train New York imported from St Louis, Missouri, by railroad. The Blues itself that train, steel wheels on iron tracks clonking, clonking an even, driving rhythm under a haunting whistle drawn out long by speed and gravity but since then emanating from a B.B. King guitar. Listened to by people at music halls as if they stood waiting at level crossings or Platform 9, watching, one day hoping to get on; all aboard! Stories sung and strummed, of loves lost, of moving on, to Chicago or Manhattan, North, East, where hope and work and better food awaited migrants leaving the South, the Black exodus that was.

Yet Blues or no Blues, there was no such song that our man could whistle or hum, a ransom paid by the rootless, free but adrift, often lost, losing. And let there be no doubt, even when nominally free of cassocks and tanks people in most places living the fear of street injustice, songs or no songs. In their hands holding newspapers ready to sensationalize, the city on Henry Hudson’s river no exception, proving Camus’ point saying a country’s only as good as its Press. Within this quandary only they themselves representing the magnificent, the ultimate truth; to hell with detractors like our visiting resident and never worthless or drab their life, charged with all the existential passion that his lacked.

Of course, it’s not easy being hip; failure instantly punished in this part of town, though his baggy pants remained a great way to hide his aroused little friend, freely sniffing the territory, just like his beloved dogs would. This dog business again, and he didn’t even own a canine, never had, but as people go too many having disappointed him, though not this gal, not her, not yet, maybe never, and anyway in general mostly the result of way too high, of naively inflated expectations on his part. Still, he would give the night a try...

- So tell me, Mr. McRae, new in town? Where’you from?

- Not so new! I’ve been coming over for years! Even rented a place not far from here, just up the road...

- But where’ you from?

- Does it matter, you did ask me a moment ago…!? The Panama Canal!

- Just curious...

- And this time, Edna, which one of you is doing all the asking..?

- The stupid, the conventional one! I hate her!

- She can’t be all bad! I remembered her name, didn’t I?

She did say she was waiting for Bernie, her Wall Street mogul friend, the one she claimed she’d met in a park while he walked his pet giraffe, the one he played Frisbee with, the two laughing their head off and she joining in. The neck thing he thought studying her like Modigliani would, but he didn’t say anything as she was making it all up, testing or making fun of him. Unless this Bernie guy was real, a man loving all things taller than him, especially a giraffe with whom he could never neck but play games, a short guy who no sooner said and done walked through the door, in his hand close to his mouth holding something that looked like a smoking turd, but must’ve been a Havana cigar.

- Hiya, Bernie!

- Hiya, Edna!

- This is McRae!

Bernie, a second to none dwarf, stood tall and had made it big in the financial world by selling short; his defiant, deeply ironic statement to the world at large. It’s what Edna soon let on and in front of him or not would not lie or even joke about, though sometimes she would play with him like she would with a talking doll… Let’s sit at a table, she said, Bernie doesn’t really like to look up, only to be looked up at. So they moved away, taking along McRae, as a foreign correspondent accepting the invitation, always ready to go the core, what he was trained to do and what he was here for. Hoping one day it would pay off and make him a media star, no wannabe or also-ran, but someone shaping opinions rather than repeating them, coming up with the goods, expertly digging for and seizing bottom lines...

How’s your proclivity? Kids all right? Need more help? Bernie asked Nefertiti, McRae almost falling off his chair, not sure if he’d heard right, wondering if he’d just met Mother Courage rather than a stunning lounge Queen. The little man puffed away on his cigar as he spoke, unmolested by management or any other naggers, in fact the two of them acting as if they were Royalty, which as it soon turned out they were though not in any conventional way. Proclivity, McRae asked? Yeah, you don’t know? She runs a shelter for special need kids, doing a great job, Bernie proudly clarified, knowing what’s like to be down though not in the same searing sense.

- Bernie donated half a gazillion! Plus a yearly endowment, nothing to do with his dick!

- I saw her bring home a hurting youngster from the window of the limo, Rufus spotting her first...

- Rufus is his driver, ten feet tall!

- The thought entered my mind to offer her some help, to assist with the child...

- Thinking it would make him feel good! But also help him get into my pants!

- Finding love’s not easy…

- You thought I’d give one away…

- Can you blame a small man?

- I give everybody everything, but never my bod!

- Your figure not public… I found out the hard way!

- Bernie, sweetie, what can I do, what can I say, I prefer Rufus…!

- I wish I’d seen you barely…

- I love you for everything… in a different way!

- Rufus saw, conquered and came!

-Vidi, vici, veni?

- He’s got a dork, longer than mine… As a matter of fact… longer than me! Brags about him all the time! Calls him Bentley…

- That’s one helluva stretch, but he makes his Bentley last… BIG time!!

So of course after this explicit exchange which seemed to be the thing with them, the inevitable question both raised was… Who the hell’s McRae? A man at the end of his own, cab-driven sex-drive, of which they weren’t aware and could only guess... For why else would anyone set foot in a setting like this, except if one’s a horny stock market speculator or a charity worker removing herself from her cause, a few well-earned night-time hours at the time?

McRae thereupon owning up to being a foreign correspondent for Reuters, sent to the USA to figure out the puzzle of the Second Amendment vs Jesus Christ, the phenomenon of a Constitution used to wreck society, corpses sprawled out everywhere, like Nouvelle Cuisine. Why you, why now, Nefertiti asking him sweetly, toying with a man she wasn’t sure she could either believe or trust!? Then going on to suggest that as long as he knew the difference between LGBT and BLT, he was probably up to the job; McRae nodding, smiling gracefully, saying tongue-in-British-cheek that yes he’d heard one of the two involved Bacon! Both actually, Nefertiti laughed, knowing she’d been drawn into a conversational chess match. After her witty interjection McRae slowly confessing that some Kansas anthropologists settled in Hawaii where they gave birth to a child, but that his own mother ended up in Gibraltar, tracing the last known habitat of the Neanderthals to its caves, a place where some are rumored to still live, employed as croupiers and surly waiters. In this way attempting to confirm his legitimacy, gaining confidence as he ranted on, not having spoken with anyone in a week departing on a verbal tear about how 5 million years ago the Atlantic burst through creating the Mediterranean, the breaking of all waters, the birth of the soon to become classical world. How Neolithic first dwellers were followed by the Phoenicians, the first ones sailing back out from as far in as the Levant, founding Carteia at the entrance of Gibraltar Bay. The Rock becoming a place of worship where sailors made sacrifices to the Gods, before venturing out into the endless, the open Atlantic, no more coast, no more shore, only high seas and a frightening horizon.

Our man going on to tell them that he lives on a nearby avenue right here in N.Y.C., not wishing to have to go far… far whence he came… and anyway usually pissed off about something or other preferring to stay in, not wasting time on encumbrances, doing his viewing and competing press reviews from home, but realizing that in the end he needed to get out, hit the streets. Edna suddenly cutting him off, saying Holy Shit, McRae, I’m breathless; you don’t stop talking, you’re taking us all over the place… But Bernie, more fascinated and always eager to broaden his Manhattan mind, enquiring…

- Reuters?!

- Yup, it’s the world’s oldest news outfit, in 1865 first to report Abraham Lincoln’s assassination!

- Sending you to take a new look at us?

- Why not? My father was a failed car thief...

- In Gibraltar?

-Doesn’t it, like… own one street?

- Precisely! And why he failed, my mother eventually having to send me off to the UK, where I studied political science and journalism, picked up by Reuters, barely nineteen...

- In other words subject of the Queen, with an American side?

- We’re pro-life and pro-gun here, Boy! If you can figure that one out: Welcome Home!

McRae reassuring them he fostered warm feelings for the land of the ostensibly equal, hard-nosed, often fair, but still widely mistrusted and despite Dale Carnegie teaching it how to sell incapable of selling itself. Concern and constant curiosity what got me here, the reason I came back to visit my mother’s land, he repeated, noting that age-old structures were breaking down propelled by hinterland revolts and the anarchic use of gadget media. The danger of a bitter Joe Blow and an emotional Jane Doe’s narrow views bringing a democracy to its knees, the accidental elevation into office of a fire-brand simpleton or a metropolitan cowboy, the new phenomenon…. The mention in one breath of street potholes and intercontinental ballistic missiles, the mixing of all migrants with crime, guns and dope the new public idiocy, the voices of nothing messing up life for everyone. All of it true, perhaps not, perhaps exaggerated, but Edna first needing to figure out if this guy was for real, frustrated and cynical or just a disapproving snob. Some show-horse insisting on Oat Cuisine, here only to jump, nights hunt a little cunt, hoping to find a mare that wouldn’t care less mainly because she couldn’t if she tried. But how to even begin judging a new stud in the corral, dressed like a Putz, speaking like a smalltime foreign President?

- Knock it off, McRae, it’s what’s going on everywhere right now, not just here!

- I’ll never get used to people, not children, wearing their beliefs on their sleeve...

- Constantly saying how much they love their Mom?

- Americans having to be accompanied by an adult, as Brits say?

- Yeah, I guess that’s us, some of us anyway, but so what!?

- Exaggerated patriotism always a dangerous shortfall of personal self-esteem…

- Yeah, maybe! But still better than tossing bombs into crowded fruit markets!

Not my markets Bernie carried on with certain pride. Money just fine with him, giving him a life and the ability to return the favor, in addition his height putting him front row at the spectacle of Edna’s crème caramel tits. Finding out she wasn’t trained for her noble mission making sure her kids were well cared for by specialized assistants reporting for work at her Bronx brownstone from early morning well into the night, so paid for by him. Kids needing love, therapy and having to learn, getting mentally and emotionally freed, a halfway house for the crippled and the hurting, probably conceived at the periphery of Rock Fests, Spring Breaks and parking lots McRae would later remark. Children staying with her for a week, ten weeks, whatever, cared for as long as required until N.Y. Child Services found a permanent arrangement for them, their young parents failing them, unable or even unwilling to cope.

Poor kids all of them, McRae spoke out loud, though not an especially compassionate man thinking What a classy broad, as the vernacular went and goes. A woman both submersed in and committed to this often painfully puerile culture of hers. The reporter one day putting it all down on paper with the sarcastic Viva la Indiferencia, one of his more sanctimonious written forays influenced by people like her, even taking advantage of, in a roundabout way using her personae as a counter force. In it loftily concluding that none of this indifference is a case of hipness, for what’s lacking is focus. That to love is to focus. Productions like massive Pop Rock concerts not progress but a progression, a lousy one at that, remembering that once upon a time he personally loved his Coltrane playing the Casino on the Rock, one of his heroes and up close, but today the young refusing to contemplate, only seeking to be overwhelmed, quickly, superficially, if possible surrounded by thousands, through massive amplification, showered by chemicals and blinding lights, out of sheer and piss-poor peer taste.

Possibly for not having been the object of such focus himself, in the article bemoaning the lack of deep love, protesting its loss, the squandering of it. Yet time would prove, while not admitting to or even being conscious of it, that McRae often would exhibit the very same sort of indifference. Out of insecurity manipulating people who were in no position to spot it, innocents like Edna, and lack of loyalty perhaps his greatest flaw of character. A guy nevertheless harping on about focus and love having been replaced by push-button passion, the explosion of brash, fast, self-serving politics, everything street, phone or stadium stamped, and everyone’s problem…. but washing and wiping his hands when it came to himself. The accusation of shallowness passing for depth, of ego-centrism for generosity, of complete indifference for friendship, but McRae denying it as applied to McRae, masterfully excluding himself under the guise of cool objective journalism. In the end even grandiosely sermonizing that ours is no longer such a brave new world, but a lonely, in the end cowering crowd and strangely uncommitted one, callously ending up producing kids like Edna’s unloved little ones. But all words, all mouth, as opposed to real people like Edna and Bernie, dealing in the flesh and as best they can, every day, proving their worth, their magnificent point.

So that there’s another question to be asked, and it goes… Really, McRae, is this how you play? We’re quickly full circle with you now, aren’t we? Here to dissect America, you said, but committed to generalities, unable to connect deeply to persons, and that Coltrane nostalgia probably all bullshit. Wanting your cake and eating it too, your anthropologist mother forgetting to insist that there comes a moment every man or woman must take full responsibility for their acts, neither blaming the past, the system nor whence they hailed. Which, while sitting in judgment on entire nations, is what you’re about to do. And fat chance trying to impress Edna with this stuff, in the end perhaps better off writing an Ode To A Woman I Never Understood, before asking her to approve your dispatches to London for accuracy. Not only because it’s where the same shit reigns, but because of her having figured you out. A reporter as it turns out ad infinitum climbing while descending an M.C. Escher staircase, setting standards he doesn’t himself live up to. And all this so everyone gets to know the man who unexpectedly walked in from nowhere, everyone wondering about him, with Edna playing it cool suddenly pulling the rug out from underneath her companions and their thoughts by blurting out…

- Bernie only reads short stories!

- Only to forget she prefers Rufus over me....

- Rufus is coming up in the world!

- Just because he owns the limousine I paid for!

- We all own things others paid for! But earned nonetheless..!

- I was tired of always walking twice the distance of anyone else, so I got myself a driver!

- What a guy....

- Also, so people would take me seriously!

- You could have hired a stalker… Without one, all others Nobodies these days!

- To help keep me in the public eye?

- That’s not the crime! The crime would be… to screw the crowd!

- Never trust a circus claiming the tallest dwarfs in town. I’m the real thing!

- You can say that again!

Edna and Bernie going at it verbally again, just before the music slipped into a louder mode. The little guy had been out sporting his signature lapel carnation at a basketball game in Madison Square Garden that night. He wasn’t crazy about all those jumping beans in numbered shirts, their ugly flying armpits, but enjoyed sitting courtside betting on slam dunks with an Italian pasta man he had acquainted, getting served by him during many a Wall Street lunch. But now it was getting late for him, he’d come in on the off chance Edna would be there alone, always hoping that one night she’d cave in, but now with this Anglo/American press character at her side, his dream becoming mighty damp on the wrong side. It was the moment Rufus arrived looking for them, wearing white gloves on black skin and a wide, almost glistening grin.

Hello, Sweetie, Nefertiti said, caressing the large hand inside the cloth glove at the end of an endlessly unfolding arm, asking if he’d come for Bernie or for her. First the King, he said; then I’ll drive you home… Take your time, she said in no mood to carouse, sugaring off her man that night. I don’t want to leave, got here late, today one of the kids had a small crisis but in the end did fine, so give me a break, I need to unwind! Besides, she added, I’m in good, safe company: Rufus, darling, this is McRae, he’s from the UK, a writer with no first name. She wasn’t going to be deprived of her night out and ready to settle in unless the substances started to pop up and kick in, people letting themselves get driven by a D.J. guiding them to their alter life, which she didn’t want to see, wanting no part of that scene. Hello McRae, Rufus said, not sitting down, appearing restless, having had something different in mind for the late evening, but no longer unloading in the Bronx it seemed, his gal not up to it, quickly thinking hard about where else to go, what else he could do without tipping over the apple cart.

I’m out of here, Rufus, if you don’t mind, Bernie interjected; help me off this fucking chair, it chafes my thighs, if that’s what you can call them… All righty, Sir, the black man spoke, saving words for another day so as not to mince them in this strange, pulsating place...

- Don’t Sir me, Rufus…

- Nice to meet you McRae, I still got work to do…!

- Call that work?

- What work?

A simultaneous reaction, Nefertiti unhappy with his remark, what it implied, jumping right over Bernie’s little sarcasm, aiming at Rufus’ frankness, symbolically kicking him in the balls followed by the two men furtively bowing out into the dark. Like David and Goliath wounded for different reasons, still brotherly, leaving the remaining couple to live out the night as long as their patience would last. Rufus, getting her mood, no longer planned on returning and pick her up, leaving her to McRae hoping to save his tryst with her for one later on that week. If he was lucky, till then sticking it out in Harlem, so to speak. Revered there not least for his limo, never stolen, never touched, a symbol of the kind of success some of his people were approaching, he and that vehicle defended to the hilt, belonging to all, the man and his super long vehicle… all theirs. A superb front guard of a community looked up to in many ways not just for his height and a man wise enough to respect his lover’s wishes, no tiffs, no words, no bile. Edna abundantly demonstrating she’s a free woman, no cruel bitch like Bovary & Gabler, something Rufus better accept and understand, which he did, having no clue to what or to whom she referred after she’d told him that one night and as far as he was concerned sounded like a foreign firm of lawyers or undertakers.

- I don’t like to be told what to do, but won’t stay late either. Those kids of mine get up early...

- I’ll see the night out in here; it seems I just got here!

- To try and pick up someone else?

- Why?

- Why not?

- I didn’t hit on you, did I!?

- I know...’twas me! Off-setting the insanity...

- Of New York?

- No! The new century!

Whereby they chatted some more, with Nefertiti fascinated less with the man than with his job. She’d never travelled overseas, not even south to Ipanema, Iguazu, Iquitos, not top drawer when it came to that, even though acquainted with Ichituat, but not right now. Only once by plane and train travelling West, flying over the big yawn between the East Coast and the Midwest plains, then passing through the Rockies by railroad, its ravines and streams, its bison and bears, the stream-crossing elk, a notion of the San Andreas Fault. Something that as a girl she’d always dreamed of doing having seen dated pictures of silver airplanes and Atchison-Topica-Santa Fé domed trains taking people to California, to Hollywood where films are made. Only to suddenly ask McRae for his informed opinion on London art, his Tate Gallery, refined cold-cut artists like Bacon and Freud even though she much preferred raw Big Apple subway car graffiti. For she would often quote articles she picked up on and had read in the Sunday section of the N.Y.Times, this time cleverly moving to show she wasn’t particularly interested in the place where he came from, his native Rock by some other sea. Not wishing to get personal asking him about his hometown and all its history, instead innocently inquiring about Rome, Berlin, tall men, great food, and whatever happened to the Guillotine. All of which made that McRae was quite intrigued, taken by this vaguely informed woman who spoke well and seemingly knew a few things, but with a mind that also drifted all over the place.

Though in the end to converse wasn’t easy in a space filled with constant sound, action, distraction, whereby in the end they left it at that. With him at one point and much later into that throbbing night leading her out to help grab a cab, only to go back in for the hunt and more drinks. But Pato his barman and Iberian neighbor failed him miserably, no great help in lining him up with some other gal so that this late night hunter called McRae slowly gave up on the scene, on his notion of conquest and love. And, Egyptian lore or not, perhaps better to dwell on a mantra that selectively had come to him, not so very long ago…

If a cat has 9 lives

And I had 7 cats,

It may be said that I had 63 lives within my own,

With these doing whichever what

None to impose, but a few to waste perhaps,

The hours of dolce-far-niente, of contemplation,

But also of frustration,

In which pain, real and imagined, wouldn’t, couldn’t stop

But here I am, at 3 a.m, 3 cats to go,

and still discovering, hoping...

For more cats and for far fewer of us,

So doors to earthly bliss

eke open

Yes, he had to admit he felt strangely attracted to the woman he just sent home and into the dark, someone he was destined to meet again, until he too got revolted by the D.J. and his screeching vinyl disks now shaking him to the core, remembering and paraphrasing Beethoven’s quote saying Never break a silence unless you can change it for something… superior. But as this was not his expertise he asked for his bill, deciding to go home still lusting after Nefertiti the way he fantasized about America. Walk the walk this time, back to his place on the avenue to calm his urges, but during the days and weeks to come likely striking out on all counts. Life on the wrong side of history, yes, his specialty and having an awful lot to do with the way in which he carried on...

II

All his people thought that Rufus by banging the shit out of Edna banged the shit out of America, evening a score, striking a blow for the downtrodden, for the humiliation of being dirt poor in the richest city in the world. Where he came from this not only his badge of honor, but something to live up to, which he did, though not in the way everyone thought. And it’s true his affair had started out as an act of subdued revenge, stealing love from a daytime vanilla-white woman, alabaster-at-night owner of a complex challenge caring for the disadvantaged, her Charity, yes, but holding on to everything she owned. When he still had next to nothing, except nominally for that limousine... t writing here…

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