ALL THOSE WHITE TEETH flashing at him, different scents of perfume, a couple of the Luci Palmas taking his arm and rubbing against him. At some other time in his life, not too long ago, Moran would have asked them more than how old they were, might have staged a mini-Miss D.R. pageant and chosen a winner.
Going into the lounge he was thinking of something to tell Mary-that he was getting out of the motel business to become a movie producer; at least a casting director. He saw Mary’s hair and a guy in a white Dominican dress-up shirt and took it a little easier going over to the table. The Dominican guy saw him now and was getting up.
Mary said, pleasantly enough, “How did it go?”
“Well, it was different.”
“If you’re through casting…”
It amazed him, how well she knew him already.
“… this is Rafi. I’m sorry I didn’t hear your last name.”
“Rafi Amado. I’m very pleased to meet you.” Extending his hand across the table. “I’m honored.”
Mary was looking up at him. “Really?… And this is Jorge Mor'on, Rafi. The infamous Marine.”
Moran glanced at her, taking the Dominican’s slender hand, the grip not too firm.
“What did I do?”
“On your last trip it seems you shot somebody on the roof of a building,” Mary said. “Well, Rafi’s the one you shot.”
Moran stared at him now, not sure what to say, the Dominican giving him sort of a guarded look, like he wasn’t sure what to expect.
Moran said, “You’re the one?” He seemed awed now.
“I believe so,” Rafi said. “A house on Padre Billini near Carreras? Up on the roof? I was with Luci Palma.”
Moran said, “Boy…” He moved his hand over his beard, still not sure what to do in this situation. He said, quickly then, “Sit down, please. What’re you drinking?”
“I have one. Thank you.”
They sat down and Moran ordered a beer. It gave him something to do, time to settle, get used to the idea that he was looking at a man he had once tried to kill.
“You had an automatic weapon. Like a grease gun.”
Rafi was nodding. “Yes, I forgot what kind. They gave out all types of guns the first day of the revolution, in the park. I had different weapons.”
“You tried for me first,” Moran said. He held up his hand. “I don’t mean that the way it sounds. But I remember you fired a burst. I was in a window across the street.”
“I believe so,” Rafi said, “but I don’t shoot too straight. Which is good for you.”
“Listen, I’m really sorry,” Moran said. “Were you hurt bad?”
“No, not seriously. You like to see it?” Rafi leaned forward unbuttoning his shirt, pulling it open now and thrusting out his chest, giving Mary a sly glance. He brushed at the hair covering his left breast to reveal several inches of white scar tissue. “The bullet went this way, across me, instead of into me, which was good, uh? It took off the nipple,” Rafi said, “but I wasn’t using it, so it doesn’t matter.”
He chuckled and Mary smiled, seeing him glance over again. Mary said, “You’re a good sport, Rafi.”
Moran said, “I thought I hit you lower and more in the side. Down around the belt.”
Rafi pressed his chin to his chest looking down, feeling his mid section as though to make sure.
“No, I don’t think so. It seems all right.”
“We went up on that roof,” Moran said. “You were gone.”
“Yes, I hope so. Luci help me to get down. Maybe without her, I don’t know, I may not be here. She was the one take me to the hospital.”
The waitress brought Moran’s beer, half the bottle poured in a glass with a foamy head. He said, “Thanks,” still looking at Rafi and let the glass stand on the table.
“You know where she is?”
Mary’s eyes, mildly curious, moved to Moran and waited for his reaction as she heard Rafi say, “Luci? I didn’t see her after that war. But, I didn’t hear anything happen to her either.”
Moran seemed to accept this calmly enough. Mary had thought he’d be sitting on the edge of his chair. He said, “You knew I was taken prisoner.”
Rafi hesitated, somewhat surprised. “Is that so? No, I didn’t know that. And they release you?”
“The same day,” Moran said. “I found out later a guy from the Peace Corps worked it out.”
“Ah, that was good.”
“But I got a chance to talk to her. It’s funny, I remember I asked about you.”
“She said you were alive and would be okay. She told me your name…”
“But I forgot it. She brought me a beer…”
Rafi seemed to relax. “Yes, she was very thoughtful of people. And very brave.” He sipped his drink, placed it on the table again as though in slow motion, a thoughtful expression on his face. “You come all the way here to find Luci Palma?”
“No, not really,” Moran said. “I wanted to see Santo Domingo again. As a tourist this time.”
“It’s much bigger now,” Rafi said. “You live where, in what state?”
“Florida. Pompano Beach. It’s about fifty miles north of Miami.”
“Pompano,” Rafi said. “Is a nice place?”
“George owns the Coconut Palms,” Mary said, “a very exclusive resort.”
“Yes?” Rafi appeared thoughtful again, nodding. “I think I heard of it. Like the Fontainebleu in Miami? Very big place, uh?”
“Not as big,” Mary said, ignoring the look Moran was giving her, “but much classier, if you know what I mean.”
Rafi brightened. “A swanky place, uh?”
“That’s it,” Mary said. “It’s got a lot of swank.” She gave Moran, shaking his head slowly, a look of wide-eyed innocence.
Rafi was saying, “Perhaps I can be of help.” It brought them back. “Find out for you where Luci Palma is.”
“Well, I doubt if she’s still here,” Moran said.
“Yes, if she’s still here in Santo Domingo she must know about you. Everyone seems to,” Rafi said. “So I think she live someplace else. La Romana, Puerto Plata… There isn’t much mobility among the Dominican people. I can find out for you.”
“I don’t want you to go to a lot of trouble though,” Moran said. “I’m curious about her, that’s all. She seemed like a nice girl. Very eager, you know, full of life. I hope nothing happened to her.”
Rafi looked at his watch. “Let me make phone calls, see what I can do.”
As he finished his drink and got up Moran said, “Really, it’s not that important to me.”
Rafi said, “Put it in my hands,” gesturing, glancing at his watch again. “Now I have business to do. I’ll call you later.” He gave Mary the hint of a bow. “And I hope to see the buddy of the Marine again. It was a pleasure.”
He was walking off. Moran rose. He said on impulse, “How about dinner later? If you’re free…”
Rafi made a circle with his thumb and index finger. He waved and was gone.
Moran sat down.
Mary said, “I’m surprised he didn’t click his heels.”
“Your Dominicans are very polite people,” Moran said.
Mary gave him a look. “Tell me about it.”
“That’s right, you have one at home, don’t you? You see his Rolex?”
“He’d like you to think it’s a Rolex, but it’s not.”
“How do you know?”
“I know gold, George. I have some of that at home too.”
He sipped at his beer in silence.
“If she’s in Santo Domingo, fine. But I don’t want to go chasing all over the country.”
“Yeah but, what if he busts his ass, goes to a lot of trouble, finds out she’s in Puerto Plata… I don’t want to go to Puerto Plata. I’m really not that hot about taking him to dinner.”
“But you don’t want to seem ungrateful.”
“You shoot a guy’s left nipple off,” Moran said, “I think you ought to buy him dinner, at least. Especially if you’re the owner of a swank resort.”
“I couldn’t help it,” Mary said. “Are you mad at me?”
“The Fontainebleu. Jesus, can you see me running a place like the Fontainebleu?”
“You can’t say he wasn’t impressed.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. I’m his new buddy.”
Mary waited a moment.
“You don’t seem to be as anxious about finding Luci. What happened?”
“Nothing. It was an idea, that’s all,” Moran said. “Something that happened a long time ago. Sixteen years.” He looked at Mary. “What were you doing sixteen years ago?… What were you doing last week? The week before?… What’re we doing sitting here?”
Rafi said to the desk clerk in English, “Let me see it again. The woman’s.”
The clerk looked past him at the lobby before taking out the registration card and laying it on the counter.
Rafi studied the card without picking it up. “I don’t know if that’s a one or a seven, in the address.”
“Siete,” the clerk said.
“All right, take it. I’ll fix it up when you want to score, man. Let me know the room and what time.”
“Speak so I can understand,” the clerk said.
“I’m practicing my American,” Rafi said.
He walked past the uniformed guard into the hotel casino where there were players at the first roulette table and at several of the blackjack tables, though not much of a crowd this early in the evening. Rafi nodded to the young American in the three-piece gray suit, pointed to the telephone on the stand by the entrance and the young American, the casino assistant manager, gave him the sign, okay, though he seemed to hesitate and have doubts. Rafi picked up the phone and told the hotel operator the number he wanted, then turned his back to the room, hunching over the stand that was like a podium.
“It’s Rafi again.” He spoke in Spanish now. “Mary Delaney. Seven hundred Collins Avenue, Miami Beach.”
The woman’s voice on the phone said, “Wait.”
Rafi turned to look over the room, though with little interest; he drum-rolled his fingernails on the polished wood of the stand. The woman’s voice came on. “Rafi?”
“Yes.” He turned his back to the room again.
“It’s a jewelry store, that address, and there is no Mary Delaney in Miami Beach.”
“Hiding something,” Rafi said, pleased. “Can you look her up some other way?”
The woman’s voice said, “I have directories-what do you think I am, the FBI?”
He could see the woman, imagine her sitting in her room that was like a gallery of photographs of important people: some of the pictures framed and enscribed, “To La Perla, with love,” or “fondest regards,” though most of the pictures, the ones in color, had been cut from magazines twenty or thirty years ago. La Perla had written about parties and scandals and was said to have been an intimate of Porfirio Rubirosa, the world’s greatest lover. Now she sold pieces of her past and somehow remained alive.
“You have to see this one,” Rafi said. “Anyone who looks like she does has to be somebody. I think I’ve seen her picture, but I’m not sure. I don’t have your memory, like a recording machine.”
“What does she look like?”
“An ice cream. I had a spoon I would have eaten her,” Rafi said. “Listen. Be at Mes'on de la Cava, nine o’clock, you’ll see her.”
“You’re taking me to dinner?”
“Sit at the bar. Look at her and tell me who she is.”
“I have to take a taxi there, five pesos,” the woman said, “for you to buy me a drink?”
“I’ll pay for the taxi,” Rafi said. “You can have two drinks.”
“I hope I don’t become drunk,” the woman said.
“Tell me what would make you happy,” Rafi said.
“I want three daiquiris, at least,” the woman said, “and I want the large shrimp cocktail.”
“If she’s somebody, you can have a flan, too. Nine o’clock,” Rafi said, looking at his watch. He hung up and walked over to a blackjack table where the dealer, a light-skinned Dominican who wore the casino’s gold jacket and vacant expression, stood alone waiting for players. Rafi hooked his leg over a stool and gave the dealer a ten-peso note for ten pink chips. As they began to play Rafi touched his chin and worked his jaw from side to side.
“My face hurts from smiling.”
“All the sweetness gone out of it,” the dealer said. “You want a hit?”
“Hit me… That’s good.” He watched the dealer turn over his cards, totaling fifteen. “Take one yourself.”
“I know how to play,” the dealer said, putting a card down. He went over twenty-one and paid Rafi his chips.
“I’m letting it ride,” Rafi said. “Deal.” They continued to play, Rafi winning again. “You think of her husband’s name?”
“Who have we been talking about? Luci Palma.”
“I still don’t remember it,” the dealer said. “They live in Sosua. That’s all I know.”
“I don’t like her having a husband,” Rafi said. “She have a good-looking sister?”
“Pay me again. I’m letting it ride,” Rafi said. “I know she has brothers. Hit me. It was a brother I talked to. He knew the one who was with her that the Marine shot. I think I need a younger sister if I don’t find a good Luci Palma.”
“You’re crazy,” the dealer said, paying him for the third straight time.
“How do you know? Have I told you anything?”
“I don’t want to know,” the dealer said.
“Hit me,” Rafi said. “Does the Marine come in here?”
“I haven’t seen him.”
“Again… What about the woman that’s with him?”
“I don’t know his woman.”
“You haven’t seen her? Once more. You’re missing it. She’s an ice cream. Butter almond. I look at her…”
“You wish you had a spoon,” the dealer said.
“I think I need a girl about twenty. Very beautiful, very innocent. I mean with the appearance of innocence. I don’t have that in my stable right now.”
“Your girls look like the hotel maids,” the dealer said, paying Rafi for the fourth straight time.
“I’m riding one hundred and… seventy pesos,” Rafi said, holding out his original ten. “If I win this one then I’m going to win something else very big, maybe the jackpot of my life… Come on, give it to me.”
The dealer gave him an ace and a queen. Blackjack.
“There,” Rafi said, like there was nothing to it.
He watched the dealer turn up his own cards. Another ace, another queen. The dealer raised his eyes.
“The thing about it is,” Rafi said, “you have to know what is a sign and what isn’t. You can be wrong about signs, sometimes interpret them the opposite of what they mean.”
“You’re still crazy,” the dealer said.
Rafi used restraint. He said, “Am I?” and left the dealer with that, a secret smile that told nothing because it had nothing to tell. At least for the time being.
He would have to be more attentive in reading signs.
The Cat Chaser’s notice in the paper and the business about it on the radio had alerted Rafi, immediately captured his interest. He talked to people who referred him to others who had taken an active part in the rebellion and there it was, once he put the pieces of the story together: an approach, a way to play a feature role in this, using an old knife scar to represent a bullet wound. He saw in his mind a crude scenario that went:
RAFI: I’m the one you shot sixteen years ago.
MARINE: Oh, I’m so sorry. What can I do to make amends?
RAFI: Please, nothing.
MARINE: I insist.
RAFI: Well, as one businessman to another (assuming the marine was now a businessman), I could tell you about a most unusual investment opportunity…
Something, in essence, like that. Make it up, get his check; gone. But now the mystery woman had entered the picture and the scenario was changing before Rafi’s eyes, the woman the Marine called Mary emerging to become, possibly, the key figure. So far it was only a feeling Rafi had. But to a man who lived by signs and instinct, what else was there?