Revenge Should Have No Bounds – Chapter 13: The Hooker (049-055)

[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
before proceeding.]

Prologue 001-002     Chap 1 003-005     Chap 2 006              Chap 3 007-008
Chap 4 009-010       Chap 5  011-013     Chap 6  014-017     Chap 7  018-019
Chap 8  020-023      Chap 9  024-027     Chap 10  028-031    Chap 11 032-041
Chap 12  042-048

Revenge Should Have No Bounds
Chapter 13: The Hooker (049-055)

Suddenly Abernathy was next to Roy as if he’d been launched from the red alert catapult.  He put his arm around the candidate’s shoulder and whispered something in his ear before pulling away.

“Please,” he yelled, turning to the predatory pride of reporters scenting the blood of scandal, “please, His Honor is on a tight schedule. No more question for now.  Puhleeease, ladies and gentlemen.”  He shot a snappy heads-up to the bodyguards.  They shaped themselves seamlessly into a flying trapezoid and hurriedly escorted the mayor and his wife off the podium.

Waving to the crowd and looking backwards as he was being hustled away, Rany sensed with relief that Abernathy was doing his usual magnificent job of decompressing the reporters.  A collective laugh arose from them at something Bob had quipped.  Definitely worth his money, Rany thought.

But where in hell had that thing about Michelle come from?  Hadn’t he been totally careful?  I mean, totally!  As he let his imagination run with the bimbo ball he felt his knees go loose and a hole big enough for a Mack truck open up in his stomach.

It just seemed impossible that anybody could have glommed on to his … his doings with that exquisite hooker who could turn him inside out just by looking at him.  But obviously somebody had.  Or was this just one of those media shots in the dark:  suspect the worst about people and proceed accordingly.  But if so, why the name Michelle? Too close for coincidence.

My God, he suddenly thought, does Cait know anything about this?  He gave her a hasty sideways glance as they were being hurried into a large black limousine parked in front of a fire hydrant just outside the main hotel entrance.  She was concentrating on the ground at the moment and didn’t seem overly concerned about the reporter’s question.  How am I going to explain that question to her, never mind the reporters, and Bob?  Rany knew some kind of cat was out of the bag and the media weren’t just going to let this thing drop.  Too much entertainment value, too much advertising revenue.

Two of the bodyguards took their places in the jump seats and a third one occupied the right front next to the driver.  “Let’s move it,” he said, and the car pulled out smoothly and merged into traffic behind two cops on cycles who were running interference.  “Just take it down about three blocks and then circle back to the kitchen entrance.  Stop at the mouth to the alley.”

“You got it,” the cap at the wheel said.  He was handling the big car with relaxed competence.  The man in charge turned to the back seat and spoke between the two facing the Ranys.

“Everything O.K. back there, Sir, Mrs. Rany?”

“Just fine, Jimmy,” Roy said.  “That was a pretty quick exit, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, sir.  Mr. Abernathy’s orders, sir.”

He held up his hand and wiggled the tiny receiver in his ear.  “Yes, sir,” he said, turning to peer out the front window of the limousine.  “Yes, sir.  In about ten minutes.”

He turned back the Ranys.  “Sorry, sir.  That was Mr. Abernathy’s assistant.  The man would like to see you in the suite as soon as possible.”  He nudged the driver.  “Let’s head back now, Alfred.”

“Right,” the driver said and cut into the left lane.

The man?

Wasn’t he ‘the man’? Roy wondered

He settled back in the plush seat and tentatively grabbed Cait’s hand.  There was no frosty pullback, so he gave her a squeeze.  She flashed him a quick smile and squeezed back.

Thank God for that, Roy thought.

He knew the rules of these campaigns – he’d been through enough of them to last a couple of lifetimes.  But it was modern politics, and if you were a candidate you allowed yourself to be – for lack of a better word – ‘handled’ by the experts.  There was much too much money involved and far too many private interests at stake to allow a serious player to be spontaneous.  It was, he accepted, a stage production, or a film, where you just made sure you had memorized your lines, could pick up on the right cues, and perform the way you were told to perform.  He didn’t much care for it, but he did care about staying mayor for one more term.

The car pulled to a halt at the opening of an alleyway.  The doors were opened from the outside and four large men in dark suits and darker glasses escorted the Ranys halfway down the alley and entered the hotel through the kitchen entrance.  They made their way to a freight elevator that took them up to the fifteenth floor, and there they transferred to the rooftop express.

The escorts peeled off and posted themselves at the doorway in the hall. Bob Abernathy had opened the door and ushered the Ranys into the suite.  He did not look happy.

“Mrs. Rany,” he said deferentially, “would you please excuse the mayor and me for a few minutes.  I’d like to go over some things with him in the bedroom, in private, if that’s not a problem with you.”

“No,” Caitlin said, “that’s not a problem.”

Roy, now supersensitive to all inflections, wondered if he detected a sardonic coloring in Cait’s voice.  He was probably just being paranoid.  Bob put his hand on the small of Roy’s back and propelled him into the bedroom.  He shut the door and wheeled on Rany.

“Shit, Roy.”  He shook his head and waved his arms.  “What the hell was all that Michelle stuff about?”

Roy was truly at a loss for words, and to busy his hands and buy some time he went to the little wet bar and cracked a Stoli.  He put some ice into a cut crystal glass and slowly dribbled the drink over it.

“Are you sure you need that?” Bob asked, indicating the glass Roy was twirling nervously in his hand.

“For God’s sake, Bob,” he defended himself, shooting his cuff and checking the Rolex, “it’s well after five.”  He took a big slug, sat down on a futon, and placed the glass noisily on the low-slung glass table in front of him.  “Sit down, Bob.  You’re making me nervous.”

“I’m making you nervous?”  Bob snorted.  “That’s a good one.  How do you think I feel.”

“All right, all right.  Let’s just relax a minute, shall we?”

Bob shook his head in disbelief.

“Relax?  Shit, Roy, we’re at the start of a big campaign here.  We don’t fuckin’ have time to do any relaxing.  We’ve got serious work to do.”

Roy waved his hand distractedly in the air.

Bob did seem to relax a little.  He sat down next to Roy.  He sighed histrionically and threw his own hands up in the air.

“O.K.,” he said, sounding a lot calmer.  “I’m going to tell you a little story from recent history.  A fable with a moral, O.K.  I’m sure you’ll recognize the outlines.  It’s choice time for you, my friend.”  He patted Roy on the shoulders.  Roy took a sip of the vodka and spun the cold glass in his hands.

“Now listen,” Bob got serious, “as long as I’m running things we’re simply not going to do a Gary Hart on this campaign.  We’re just not.  Because you can’t keep it zipped?  No, no way, my friend.

“Incidentally, Roy,” Bob went on, “you do remember Gary Hart, don’t you, Roy?”

Rany threw up his hands and rocked backwards, then sat forward tensely on the edge of the sofa.  “Yes, I know, Bob.  I remember.”

“Just to be sure, my friend, let’s review the matter.  Gary Hart was ahead by about twenty percent in the Democratic presidential primaries, and then he got caught with that cross-eyed honey on the Monkey Business.  Aptly named, by the way.  And their weekend in the Washington town house.  And this was a guy who kept spouting off about ethics and morality, especially his own, every time he opened his mouth.  Remember that, Roy?  And remember what happened?  Everybody turned on him and ate him alive and his campaign imploded.  Right?”

“Right,” Roy said glumly, his shoulders slumped.

“All that stuff you were orating about personal responsibility and family values at the press conference today … that was really great shit, Roy.  But think real hard about this:  Hart was operating in the swinging eighties, and look what he got.  Just imagine how the Puritanical world of 2004 is going to treat a moral hypocrite like you with this … this Michelle?”

Roy said nothing.

“Talk to me here, Roy.  This is very, very serious.  I’ve got to know what’s going on.  This is no time to be bashful.  And don’t lie to me.”  Bob was sitting next to Roy, close , wagging his finger in Roy’s face.  “I’m not blind and deaf.  I know all about Aspasia’s.  Shit,” he snorted, “who doesn’t in this town?  But they’re not running for mayor, Roy.  Like you.  See my point, Roy?”

He punched him lightly on the arm.

“Now, for God’s sake, talk to me, Roy!  What do I need to know?”

“It’s private,” Roy sulked.

“Private?  Private!”  Bob was incensed.  “You have no privacy.  Come on, Roy, you know that as well as I do.”

“It’s not right.”

“Right’s got nothing to do with anything here.  It’s not the time go into a sulk, Roy.”

Roy said nothing.  He twirled his glass some more and stared into the icy clarity of its content.  He lifted it to his mouth and swallowed the remaining liquid.  When he started to get up and go for the wet bar again, Bob laid a restraining hand on his arm.  Gently.

“Later,” he said. “Let’s get to it, Roy.  Let me make it easy for you.  I’ll ask the questions and you just answer.  O.K.?”

“O.K.,” Roy replied, with little enthusiasm.

“Are you seeing somebody?”

A affirming nod of the head.

“What was that, Roy?  I can’t hear you.  Can you speak up?”

“Yes,” I am.

“More than one?”

“Hey,” Roy bristled, “watch it!”

“Don’t go indignant on me, my friend.  It doesn’t play well right now.”

“What kind of question is that?”

“A legitimate one, I’d say, given the circumstances.”

The silence in the luxurious room was broken only by the muted tinkling of ice as Roy kept swirling his glass.

“All right.  No, just the one.”

“This is straight, right?”

“Right.”

“Yeah?  Do I hear a ‘but’ in there?”

“Well,” Roy fidgeted.  Bob made note of the fact that his candidate actually blushed.  This is not good, he thought.

“Go on.  All of it.”

“Well, right now … the past few months or so I’ve just been seeing one girl.”

“But this isn’t the first time, is it?”

“No. No, it isn’t.  But what am I supposed to do?  I have needs just like the next guy.”

“Don’t whine, Roy.  It doesn’t become you.”  The mayor gave a small shrug and donned a pained a look of self-pity.  “Listen, Roy, do you think all those guys out there you want to vote for you have needs too?  And how many of them do you think have a Michelle stashed away somewhere they can call and have her send them up a young thing to the penthouse suite?  How many Roy?”

“I don’t know.  Not … not that many I guess … I …”  His words dribbled off into incoherence.  “Hey,” he perked up, “it sounds like suddenly you know more about Michelle than you let on before.”

“Well, you got that right, on both counts.  Of course I know Michelle.  Like I said, I’m not blind and deaf.  I know what happens in this city.  But what’s more to the point here is this, do you think the guys out there, what, are going to admire you if this ever got out?”

“Probably not.”

“Probably not, Roy.  Yeah, that’s right, too.  And what do you think the wives and the old folks are going to say when Mr. Family Values has got his private little pump on the side?”

Roy shuddered.  “Don’t call her that.  It’s such a vulgar expression.”

“What should we call her, Roy?  When the reporters start flogging you with their lovely little questions.  What should we call her then?”

Roy Rany put the empty glass on the table in front of him and took his head in both hands.  And groaned.  “Jeez, Bob, I don’t know.”  He turned his head and looked at his campaign manager.  “I guess it wasn’t such a smart thing to do, was it?”

“No, it really wasn’t, Roy.  But it stops right now.  This minute.”

“What?  You mean I can’t …”

“… see the woman again.  It stops now.”

“Gee,” Roy said, something like panic filling his eyes, “gee, Bob.  That’s pretty drastic, isn’t it?”

“Let me ask you this, Mr. Mayor who wants to be a senator.  How long will it take the tabloid, or the mainline press for that matter, too, to hire teams of operatives to watch you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?  And her, too?  Roy, you’ve just became the star in every prurient imagination in the city.  People want to catch you with your pants down – so to speak.”

“But we’ve been real careful.”  Roy sat up.

“Roy, even you don’t believe that.  If that’s the case, how did that reporter find

Roy’s shoulders deflated again and he sank back into his seat, legs sprawled to the side of the table.  He sat up again and threw his arms into the air as he let out a huge sigh.  “All right, Bob.  You’ve got me.  What do I do now?”

“Besides staying away from your honey, you mean?”

“Right, right.  Besides staying away.”

“That’s number one.”  Bob got up and stretched his legs, taking a little walk around the grouping of furniture where they were sitting.  “What’s her name, Roy?”

“The woman?”

“Yes, Roy.  The woman.”

“Why?”

“You have to let me worry about the whys.  The reporters are going to find out, probably sooner than later.”

“How?” Roy was alarmed.

“They’ve got the scent, and they’ve got money to throw around.  They’ll pick up the spoor.  It won’t take much for somebody to start talking.  Maybe the girl herself, maybe somebody else at Aspasia’s.  If the ship starts to sink, you know what the rats do as well as I do.”

“But it’s protected!”

“Sure it is, Roy.  I know that.  But it’s protected from the police and the courts.  Nobody is going to get hauled up on prostitution charges.  That’s not what I’m talking about you.  You should see that.

“I’m talking about the press.  Nobody protects anybody from the press.  Too many hotdogs looking for that big break.”

Roy nodded his head slowly, letting the truth of what Abernathy was saying sink in.  “Yeah, I see what you’re getting at.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“The name, Roy.  Who’s your girlfriend.”

“Her name’s Mazarine.”

“Mazarine.  Catchy.”

“Hey,” the mayor said in sudden alarm, “you’re not thinking of … going to do … anything to her, are you?”

“Good grief, Roy.  I run political campaigns.  I’m not the mob.  Of course I’m not going to do anything to her.”

“Or have anything done to her?”

“Of course not.  Settle down.”

“So why do you need to know who she is?”

“Well,” the campaign manager said thoughtfully, “it’s may be possible to appeal to her civic sentiments.  Or pay her a little something to forget she ever met you.  Maybe buy some information?”

“What kind of information?”

“Like who she may have told about you.  And then talk to those people.  Throw a little of our own money around.”

“Campaign funds?”

“Not election rules campaign funds.”

“What are you talking about, Bob?  I run a clean campaign.  No messing with funds.  No way.”

“There are all kinds of ‘funds’, my friend.  Nothing will ever show up on any reports we file with the elections people.  Trust me on this one.”  Roy waved his hand in the air.  Out of sight, out of mind.  “This Mazarine,” Bob went on, “you say you’ve been seeing her a few months or so?  Since when, exactly?”

“August of two-thousand three.  Last fall.”

“About five months, then?”

“That’s right.  About five months.”

“O.K., O.K.” Bob repeated to himself.  “I think I can talk to Michelle about this.  Depending, it might not be so bad.”

“Depending on what?”

“How the cat got out of the bag?  Who spilled the beans?  I’ll look into it.”

He walked over to the bar and poured himself a scotch.  No ice.   “Another drink, Roy?”

Rany drained the melted water and held out his glass.  Bob poured another Stoli over the remaining ice.

“Tell me, Roy,” Bob probed, “does Caitlin know about these girlfriends of yours?”

Roy shrugged.  “I suppose she must suspect something.  How many ‘special’ meetings can I be going to at night?  And she’s … she’s turned off the tap.  No sex in over two years.”

“I see,” Bob said.  He drained the last of his scotch.  “Say, Roy, why don’t you go join your wife in the living room and give me a few minutes to make some calls, O.K.”

Roy got up.  “Sure thing.”  He turned at the door.  “So we’re all right on this thing?”

“All right, Roy,” Bob assured him.  “After dinner we need to talk some more about this.  Details and things.  See what the damages could be.  But, yes, we’re all right.  Just don’t disappoint me between now and November.”

“Right.  And I won’t.”  He closed the door behind him and left Bob alone in the bedroom.

“Shit,” Abernathy said softly to himself as he started punching the autodial on his cell.  “Shit.”  He actually stamped his foot into the soft nap of the cream carpet.

After two rings the phone was picked up at the other end.  Bob broke right in.

“Michelle?”

“Speaking,” she answered, her voice full of friendly cheer.

“This is Bob.  Bob Abernathy.”

“How are you Bob, Bob Abernathy?”  She laughed lightly.  “We haven’t heard from you for a while, have we?”

“Listen, honey,” Bob didn’t have time for social chitchat, “I’ve got a situation here, and I could sure use some help from you.  A lot of important people would be very grateful.”

“How many, when and where?”  There was light laughter in her words.

“Uh, listen, Michelle,” Bob said, “this is a little different.”

“Different?”  Wariness had crept into Michelle’s and the fizz had gone out of the bubbly voice.  “How do you mean, different?”

“This is strictly between you and me.  Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

“You’re not taping this call?”

“Bob,” she gasped histrionically, immensely amused, “that’s illegal!”

“All right, all right.”  A whore with a sense of humor was just what he didn’t need at this point.  He gazed up into the ceiling of the large bedroom as if for some kind of inspiration.  None immediately forthcoming, he plodded on.  “You have a girl working for you named Mazarine?”

“What’s this all about, Bob?” Michelle asked, no longer so amused, now definitely wary.

“Listen, as I told you, I have a situation here that’s threatening to spiral out of control.  The mayor – and remember, this is strictly between us – the mayor’s been seeing this Mazarine since September, and somebody knows something about it.  I think.”

“You think?  Can you be more specific?”

Bob sighed.  He had hoped not to have to get into this, but he knew Michelle, and he knew why the backers of Aspasia’s had put her in charge.  Behind that girlish charm there was a shrewd business woman cooler than an iced cucumber, and she wasn’t about to get pushed around.  She, too, knew why she’d been put in charge of this operation.

“Well, your name came up at a news conference His Honor held earlier today.”

After a second or two of silence, Michelle said, “That’s probably not a good thing.”

“That was kind of my thinking too?”

“So, what happened next?”

“End of news conference.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“But I had a heart-to-heart with Roy Rany.  Eventually he admitted to seeing this Mazarine.  On a pretty regular schedule, was my impression.”

“Yes, that is the case.”

“Anybody else?”

“Oh, my, no.  Certainly not that I know of.  He clicked with Mazarine the first time, and that’s all he wants when he makes appointments.”

“What can you tell me about her?  Is she likely to blabber?  Should I be worried about blackmail, here?”

“No,” Michelle answered thoughtfully, “that would surprise me.  I don’t think that’s it.  Mazarine is a lovely lady, good family, educated – B.A. and M.A. – discreet, never any complaints about her on any score.  She’s been with us since … since ninety-five, about eight years.  Steady and reliable.  And, as I said, the soul of discretion.

“I can’t imagine that she is actively involved in anything here.”

“O.K. Can you think of how this thing might spin itself.  Or unravel.”

“You know, Bob, somebody might have just tossed out a line trawling, to see if anything got hooked.”

“I’ve thought about that.  Of course.  And maybe you’re right.  But I can’t afford to take any chances.  Somebody set this thing in motion.  And after what Roy told me, there is in fact something to it.”

“Yes, I see what you mean.  You know, it happens sometimes these gentlemen turn obsessive, get hung up on a lady, start confusing sex with love, begin following his true love, stalking her, or hires an agency to keep tabs on her.  Our clients all certainly have the means to mount that kind of campaign.”

“Jesus,” Bob groaned.

“Do you believe in serendipity?  It happens in the real world.  Maybe she’s been seen once too many times going to the same hotel at the same time the mayor’s visiting.  Maybe both are seen leaving, separately, yes, but still leaving the same hotel at around the same time.  I suppose somebody could have put two and two together.  I mean, Mazarine and His Honor have been getting it on for a good five months now.  Who knows what somebody might do with that kind of information?

“But I know Mazarine.  She would not betray any confidences, she would not talk about other clients to anybody else.  She knows the rules.  Eight blameless years with us gives me a certain bed-rock confidence in her.  She’s done very well for both us and herself.  Why would she jeopardize all that?  And her and blackmail?  Oil and water, Bob.  Strictly!”

Bob reflected on what Michelle had said.  It made a kind of sense.  “Do you think you could talk to this girl?”

“And say what, Bob?”

“Well, I’m thinking you could sort of give her summary of what I told you and see if she has any ideas.  Frankly, Michelle, I’m desperate, and I don’t want things to blow up in my face.  The media smell blood, and the first question at our next news conference is going to be about Michelle et cetera.”

“Sure, Bob.  I can do that.”

“I don’t suppose you have any thoughts about new … new clients she’s seen recently.  Maybe some kind of Trojan horse, somebody who’s supposed to … I don’t know … find out things she doesn’t realize they’re trying to find out.”

“Now I think you’re being a little paranoid. Bob.”

“Yes, and that’s part of what I get paid to be.”

“But find out what?  It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know, I know.  Not on the surface.  But at some level it does.  All I’m asking is that you check it out with this Mazarine, and maybe check her appointments since the start of last August.  See if anything unusual pops up.  Can you do that?”

“I sure will, Bob.  And I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  In a day or two.”

“I really appreciate this, Michelle.  I’ll make sure the right people get to know how helpful you’ve been.”

“All right, Bob.  I’ll talk to you soon.  Ciao.”

“Later.”

Bob ended the transmission and tucked the cell into his coat pocket.  He was going to have to get to the bottom of this thing.  He didn’t want any explosions mid-campaign.

He put on a smiling face, insouciant, unperturbed.

“Everybody ready?” he asked cheerfully as he came out of the bedroom.

Roy and Caitlin Rany looked up from the futon they were sitting on.

“Dinner.  Let’s go have some dinner.”

“Why don’t we order in,” Roy suggested.

“Because then nobody can see you, Mr. Mayor.  And what we want between now and November is a lot of exposure.  A lot of the right kind of exposure,” he added, pointedly focusing his gaze on Roy.  “The mayor, the candidate eating dinner with his devoted wife, being a devoted husband, living up to all those family values he espouses so passionately.”

“Let’s go, Roy,” Caitlin said.  Rather peremptorily, Bob thought.

“I’m just going to take a quick shower and mow the lawn,” he said, stroking his five o’clock shadow.  “I’ll just be a few minutes.”

“I’ll make a reservation downstairs,” Bob said.  “An hour?”

“No,” Roy shot back as he headed for the bath room, “call that place around the corner.  The Steak.  I know La Ville has a great restaurant, but I’d like to try the other one.  It’s been a while since we’ve eaten there, and I just love their Caesar salad.  Nothing like it in the entire city.”

Bob looked questioningly at Caitlin.

“I don’t care,” she said.  Sullen.

So, Bob thinks, Roy did have his little confessional with Caitlin.  He calls and makes the reservation.

Forty-five minutes later the three of them are on the go.   “Cody and Jeeter, I’d like you to accompany the mayor and his wife to the Steak.”

The two large men both nodded, made sure their ear-pieces were secure, and formed outriggers for Roy and Caitlin.

“You’re not coming?” Roy asked.

“No,” Bob said.  “I’ve got some unfinished business that needs looking after.”  And I want your wife to have a chance to think about what you’ve just told her.  Alone, the two of you.  “Besides,” he adds in full campaign manager mode, “you and the wife should be seen alone.  Having a husband and wife night out with a quiet dinner.  And Roy, remember, no cocktails or wine!”

Roy winced, but said nothing.  Bob did catch the small twitch of a smile on Caitlin’s face.

“You kids have a good time, now,” he said, not, Roy felt, without a hint of malice.

Bob peeled off to his own suite as the others continued on down to the elevator banks.

In the lobby, which was busy at this time of the evening, people immediately took note of the mayor and his small entourage of wife and two bodyguards.  People were eager to come up and shake his hand and drop a word or two.  This was Rany’s métier.  He did not disappoint.  He pressed the flesh with a big grin and had a word for each person who came up to him, including a family with two small kids.  He bent down and shook hands with the little boy and girl, and the electronic flashes started popping.  In his mind’s eye the mayor delighted at the pictures on the front page of tomorrow’s paper:  ‘Mayor courting future voters’.  He shook hands with the mother, and Caitlin, trooper that she was, pasted on a solid smile and charmed the husband.

Their progress across the lobby was slow.  Roy made a point of saying hi to bellhops and grabbing the elbow of each of the two doormen just outside the hotel.  He waved at the crowd that had gathered and clapped as his party turned right and marched off to the Steak.  Even during the few minutes of cold walking it took them to reach the restaurant they had to stop several times to exchange pleasantries with strangers who engaged the mayor and his wife.  Cody and Jeeter were not happy, but they knew and understood this part of the gig.

As soon as they entered the subdued glow of the restaurant the officious owner was right there in person to greet them, take their coats and hand them off to an excited hat-check girl, and snap his fingers at the maître d’.  The mayor and Caitlin were seated at a conspicuous table near the center of the room and clearly visible from the street;  Cody and Jeeter had another table close nearby.

Waiters and water boys swarmed around the table.  A friendly cocktail waitress took their orders.  When Caitlin asked for a dry sherry, Roy started to object.

“Remember what Bob said,” he urged in a stage whisper.

“Fuck Bob,” she said with gritted teeth.  “Anyway,” she sneered, “that eunuch was talking to you, not me.”

Roy smiled weakly at the waitress.  “Club soda with a lime twist.  And keep it filled throughout the meal.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, a curtsy prominent in her voice.

As she walked off towards the bar Caitlin snorted.  Before Roy could comment, the head chef, decked out in white toque and white wear, emerged from the kitchen and conferred personally with the mayor about the dinner itself.   Roy ordered the same for himself and Cait.  They’d been here on a number of occasions before and he knew what they liked.

Consultation finished, Roy did spend some time looking over the wine list just out of curiosity.  He knew they had a great cellar, vertically and horizontally, and about twenty of their more popular selections were available by the glass.   But he kept Bob’s words in mind, for himself at least, and the fact was he still had a mild buzz on from the Stolis.

Like Caitlin, who was looking restlessly around the room, he rearranged the cutlery.  It was clean, as were the glasses, and the table cloth was starched and spotless.  The interior of the Steak, sporting a kind of faux-hunting motif, was a little on the darkish side, but engendered a sense of cozy hospitality.

First came the Caesar’s, which a salad chef prepared.  He rolled up a cart to the table and went to work with flamboyant efficiency.  He mixed the ingredients of the dressing right there, and then pulled out a bowl of prepared Romaine lettuce from a small cooler that stood on the bottom shelf of the cart.  He poured in the dressing, mixed the leaves, thoroughly coating them, and finished off with shaved Romano and the croutons.  With a flourish he removed their serving plates and replaced them with his creations.

His showmanship at the mayor’s table gave other diners an excuse to keep looking at Roy and Caitlin, and Roy began to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Cait wasn’t looking all that happy.

“Everything O.K., dear?” he tried.  When he went to put his hand over hers she abruptly withdrew it.

Without moving her head up she gave him a toxic look from beneath her brows.

“After what you just told me?”

“Cait!  This isn’t the place,” he said lamely.

She chewed in silence.

“Boy,” he said cheerfully, “this lettuce is really crisp and cool, and the dressing is tangy just the way I like it.  Are your croutons O.K.?”

“The croutons are just fine, Roy,” she grumbled.

“Not like those dreadful prepackaged things you get in some places.  Here they obviously make the effort in-house, and they know what they’re doing.  They really do.  Coat them in virgin olive oil and bake slowly in the oven at low heat.  The chef told me once.  Just melt in your mouth,” he confirmed, crunching down.

“The croutons, the croutons!  It’s not the fuckin’ croutons that are the problem, Roy,” Caitlin said, her voice rising somewhat.  She poked around in her salad, speared a crouton and popped it in her mouth. Then she shoved the plate away.  She put her napkin on the table and drained the last of her sherry, signaling the waitress for another.

“Cait, honey, don’t you think …”

“No, Roy.  I don’t.  I’m having another sherry.  And another after that.  Let’s not make a federal case out of it, shall we?”

Roy decides to concentrate on the meal and salvage something from the evening’s outing.  Caitlin has decided to be impossible.  It’s not going to ruin his meal.  I mean, it’s not like he’d WorldCom-ed the nation’s retirees, for Heaven’s sake!

The mayor doesn’t eat meat often, but he is no vegetarian.  And there is a reason he goes to a first-class steak place like the Steak: you simply can’t buy first-class steak at the local grocery.  The main dish is a straight-forward filet of sirloin, tender, juicy, grilled to perfection.  He knows that a request at the Steak for medium-rare will assure him of the pinkness bordering on red that he considers the best way to eat steak.  He also knows that he won’t be surprised by an adventitious wrapping of bacon, a method of preparing steak that simply appalls him.

“I mean,” he had once said to Caitlin, “when was the last time you got a wrapping of steak around your bacon at a breakfast place?”

The knife slips smoothly through the meat on the bias, and the mayor is in gustatory heaven.  He chews his slice of steak slowly and relishes its rich, venison-like flavor.  It’s that hunting motif.

The main dish comes with peeled curly-cue french-fries with which the limp, greasy sticks from the local take-out franchise are not even poor relations.  And there is a side-dish of glistening grass-green asparagus tips done as a light stir-fry in a drop of Italian olive oil – no butter, no sauces, just the crunchy stalks and tips.  The French bread is soft in the middle and hard in the crust, as it should be.  And then lots of cold butter with the bread.  And the mayor does mean butter, real butter, not margarine (good grief!) and certainly not that hideous hybrid that pretends to be neither butter nor margarine and at the same time both, and better than either.  He wants the butter cold, and chunky, not in that sad, slightly disgusting state of semi-liquefaction that leaves it looking like a shapeless yogurt floating in a slick puddle of yellow.

“No,” he had once informed Caitlin, “it has to be chunks, and it has to be cold! Got it?  I know I’m picky, but for the lordly sum this meal is costing me I don’t feel the least bit outrageous in insisting on perfection.”

For postprandial sweetness a young man with a genuine fake French accent rolls around a dessert cart, and from this delectable embarras de richesses  the mayor finally select a crumbly tarte aux noisettes filled with an airy raspberry mousse.  Simply out of this world.

Cailtlin drains her third sherry and orders a double shot of Grand Marnier in a large cognac snifter.

Finally, that concluding demitasse of espresso.  Roy is relieved to see that Caitlin, clumsily, drains hers.

Roy, totally paranoid about identity theft, never uses plastic in restaurants, and lays down three crisp one-hundred dollar bills on the table and places a spoon on top of them – enough to cover Cody and Jeeter too, as well as a good tip.

They move lazily back to the hotel, Caitlin holding on tightly to his arm and takes quick, small steps.  Thankfully, Roy notes, the lobby is not so full now.  They beat a hasty retreat to the elevators and zip up to the suite with a minimum of fuss.

“Thanks, gentlemen,” he says to the bodyguards, and Caitlin adds an appreciative nod.

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor.  And Mrs. Rany.”  They take up position in the hallway.

Roy and Cait enter the suite and before either one of them has time to notice Bob off to the side by the wet bar, Caitlin turns in an alcoholic rage on her husband.

“You lousy shit,” she screams at him.  “How could you?”

Oh, boy, Bob thinks. Their little talk while he’d been hustling Michelle had finally done its work, sunk in, poisoned.  He was going to have watch this lady.  If she got angry enough, and drunk enough, she could turn into a big problem.

“How was dinner, then?” he asked the loving couple.

They both wheeled and stared at him.

“Bob!” Roy said lamely.

“Fix me double whatever the fuck you’re having,” Cait gnashed at him.

“Cait …” Roy tried.

“Stuff it, Roy.  Bob?”

“Scotch?”

“Fine,” she muttered.  “Double!”

Suddenly Cait seemed to run out of steam and flopped down on a sofa.  She took the glass Bob handed her and unsteadily drained half of it.  “Oh, shit,” she said softly, put her head in her hands, started to cry.  Big, wracking, self-pitying sobs.

Bob indicated with a movement of his arm that Roy should help his wife into the other room and get her into bed.  “We’ve got some more talking to do,” he stage whispered.  Roy got Caitlin up on her feet and walked her into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.  She collapsed on the huge bed, and between the two of them they got her dress and shoes off.  Roy looked at her.  Her body still aroused him.

“Why in God’s name do I need to mess around with somebody like Mazarine?” he asked himself.

No good answer immediately suggested itself to him.  He tucked Cait in and gave her forehead a gentle kiss.  As he closed the door he gave her one final look.

He felt ashamed.

“I need to find out a little more about this Mazarine,” Bob began.

They were sitting on opposite sides of the glass table, Bob in a comfortable easy chair and Roy on the edge of the sofa.  He seemed to have lost his yen for drink and was sipping off and on from the beaded blue of a can of Pepsi.

“I take it,” Bob began, “that you and Caitlin had words while I was on the phone earlier.”

Roy nodded glumly.  “That probably wasn’t such a hot idea.”

“Not necessarily,” Bob says slowly.

“You think so?”

“Look at it this way:  sooner or later she’s going to find about Michelle and everything that involves.   Better that she find out from you now than go around worrying it and blowing up maybe in public at some point.”

“She wouldn’t lose it that way.”

“You don’t really know that, Roy.  Let’s face it, you’ve hurt her bad.  Her sense of herself.  As a wife and woman.  How would you feel if the tables were turned?  If it was her stepping out on you?”

Roy took a long swig of his Pepsi.

“All right,” Bob went on.  “I’ve talked to Michelle about this thing, and she’s looking into it.”

“What do you mean ‘looking into it’?”

“Roy, we have to do some anticipating here.  Two points.  First,” he said, flicking out his index finger from a closed fist and waving it in the air between them, “we’ve got to put a lid on this Mazarine.  Make sure she doesn’t talk to anybody about you … your involvement.”

“She wouldn’t do that!” Roy said indignantly.

“If she didn’t leak it, who did, do you think?  By the way, that’s the second point:  who is the leak?”

“I have no idea.  I mean, we really have been careful.  That’s the truth, Bob.  Sometimes we meet here, at La Ville.  We’ve also used the The Griffin Group and the Momiji.”

“And in what name do you make the reservation?”

“Mazarine always takes care of that.”

Bob grunted.

“People don’t recognize you?”

“It’s usually pretty late at night or early in the morning?”

Bob gave that some reflection.

“Well, we just want to make sure here, don’t we?”

“What?  What are you going to do?  How are you going to keep her quiet?”  There was an edge to Roy’s voice.

Good, Bob thought.

“Now, Roy, don’t get all worked up.  All we’re going to do is try to buy some silence from her.  I hope you don’t imagine I’m thinking rough stuff!”

“All right,” he said, mollified.  “That’s absolutely out of the question.  I mean it, Bob.”

Bob waved his hand vaguely.  “So do I, Roy.

“Now, Michelle has a high opinion of this woman and doesn’t believe there are going any problems with her.  She’s a pro.”

Roy winced.

“So, how involved are you with Mazarine?”

Roy would not look Bob in the eye.

“I … I like her a lot, Bob.”

“Like her?  Love her?  What are we talking about here, Roy?”

“I guess I kind of love her, Bob.  She does things for me, with me, things … things Caitlin won’t do …”

“I don’t need or want details, Roy.  All I want to tell you it stops right now.”

“Stops?”

“Stops!”

Roy was shaking his head.

“I don’t know …”

“… if you want to be reelected mayor and, in a few years, senator?”

The mayor twisted his hands and let out a theatrical sigh.

These sex things, Bob thought, were worst for the political romantics like Roy.  In their heads it usually turned into The Great Novel of their lives.  Or Film.  Why couldn’t he just see if for the straight-forward simple fuck it was and not complicate it with mushy illusions about love?  Well, that’s why he was a romantic, wasn’t it?

“You know I’m right on this one, don’t you?”

“I know.”  Roy sighed again.  “It’s going to be tough.”

“That’s what campaigning is all about.  Hey, what do you think Gary Hart is up to these days?”

Roy shrugged his shoulders and flipped his hand open in a gesture of resigned disappointment.

“O.K., Bob.  I get the point.”

“I hope you do, my friend.  At this stage we can manage this thing, but if you feed the flame all bets are off.  Do we understand each other?”

Unblinking, he held Roy’s gaze until Roy looked away.  “Yes, we do.”

He drank down the last of the Pepsi.  “Hey, Bob,” he said after a minute, “you’re not going to tell my sister about this, are you?”

“I’m not going to say anything, Roy, but I imagine Rae’s probably figured out something that’s not all that far from the truth.”

“I suppose you’re right,” he said glumly.

“O.K.  We’re done flogging this horse, Roy.  We both know where we stand.”

He rose and walked over to the bar.  “Get you anything, Mr. Mayor?”

Roy shook his head.  “No, I should probably be getting to bed.  It’s been a rough day.”

Bob came back with his drink and sat down again.

“How am I going to get the word to Mazarine?” Roy suddenly asked.

“What word?”

“That I can’t see her any longer?”

Bob mentally shook his head.  For a smart guy, his candidate was really pretty dumb!

“Think about it, Roy.  Was she the one who used to call you and set up meetings?”

“Well, no.”

“So, you just don’t call Aspasia’s for another date.  Right?”

“But she might wonder …”

“For her it’s all about money, Roy.  Money!  She’s a whore. She …”

“Come on, Bob,” Roy interrupted.  “That’s a harsh word.”

“For a harsh reality.  She’s not in love with you, Roy.  She’s not going to be sitting up at night waiting for you to call.  I mean, you do understand that, don’t you?”  Now Bob feigned worried expression.

“But I think she might have feelings … might love me too.”

And this guy was the mayor?

He’d obviously spent too many years with all kinds of whores sucking up to him and it must have affected his judgment.  Bob put his drink on the table and sat forward in his seat.

“No, she doesn’t.  She does not love you! That’s part of the illusion you buy when you hire her.  She doesn’t love you, Roy.”

The mayor said nothing, but Bob could tell he was deeply upset.

Unbelievable!

This Mazarine must really be some artist.

While he was pondering what to say next, his cell chirped.

“Excuse me a minute, Roy.  I think I know who that is.”  He smiled heartily.  “Michelle.”

Roy perked up.

“Hello.”

Bob listened, interjecting a ‘yes’ or ‘I see’ here and there.  “That’s certainly interesting,” he said finally.  “What do we know about her?”  He switched the phone to his other ear.  “Thanks much, Michelle.  That’s very helpful indeed.  I’ll make sure the right people learn of your cooperation on this one, Michelle.  I assure you, we all appreciate it.”  Bob’s face turned towards the ceiling and scanned the tesselated design.  “All right.  And thanks again.  Talk to you soon.”

He clicked off.

“Anything?” Roy asked eagerly.

Bob took his time before answering.  “Yes, I think so.  It’s possible we’re on to the leak.”

“The leak.”

“Yes, the leak. You’re sure Mazarine isn’t the source.  O.K., I’ll buy that for the moment.  Still, the inescapable fact is that somebody told that reporter about Michelle.  Maybe about Aspasia’s and Mazarine, too.  We have to put a lid on it.”

“What did Michelle tell you?”

“Turns out that about the time you started seeing Mazarine she had another new client.  Someone she saw only once.  And according to Michelle, that’s never happened with Mazarine.  She’s a very popular girl.”  A pained expression clouded Roy’s face.  “Sorry, Roy, but it’s like I told you.  The woman’s a pro and she’s not in it for love.  With you or anyone else.  But she is picky.  Apparently with her rep she can afford to be.

“Anyway, the only time a client stops seeing Mazarine is when he dies or decides he doesn’t need … her escort service any longer.”

“And?”

“And this other new client she saw only once, back in August, just wanted to talk.  Imagine that, paying all that money just to talk.  A shrink would be cheaper.”

“Michelle told you this?”

“Just now.  Mazarine thought it was so strange she actually mentioned it to Michelle.  Neither one of them could figure it out.”

“Do we know who the guy was?”

“It wasn’t a guy, Roy.  It was a woman.  A Japanese women named Yukiko.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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