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8

THEY DESCENDED a spiral iron stairway fifty feet into the ground to dine in a cave, a network of rooms and niches like catacombs where tables were set with candles and white linen and Dominican couples danced to the percussion sounds of merengues. The old city and this place, no Coca-Cola or Texaco signs, Rafi said. This is Santo Domingo.

He told them he had begun to make inquiries about Luci Palma, but so far had learned nothing. It might take a little more time.

Moran tried to convince him it wasnt important, but Rafi insisted; he was curious about Luci now himself. What could have happened to her? He ventured the possibility she had become a full-time revolutionary and fled the country. Like Caama~no, who had led the revolt in 65; he left the country, returned and was shot. It happened.

They talked about that time sixteen years ago, the situation. Moran said it had been impossible to understand, being here in the middle of it. The rebels kept saying to them, Cant you tell your government we arent Communists? It didnt begin to make sense. Almost all the people were friendly; still, guys he knew were getting killed. He read about the situation later and decided they had helped the wrong side-just as theyd been helping the wrong side in Latin America for eighty years. Like Nicaragua, helping that asshole Somoza against the Sandinistas, the good guys. Except look at the good guys now. They just shut down a newspaper for criticizing them; they were doing the same thing Somoza did. What happens to good guys once they get control?

Mary said they have the right to make mistakes like anyone else. Dont assume anything; dont label people. She said, What if a skid-row bum asks you for a handout? Are you going to qualify him, give him the money only if he promises not to spend it on booze? No. Once you give him the money-and its your choice whether you do or not-then its his, with no strings. He can spend it on anything he wants. He can screw up or not screw up, thats his choice. Unless youre buying him. Thats something else.

Wine with dinner conversation: a bottle of red with the sopa Dominicana that was like beef stew with noodles; white wine with the sea bass simmered in a peppery tomato sauce Rafi hanging on every word: Morans basic sympathy with the underdog, the revolutionary, maybe with a few minor doubts; while the womans analogy said dont expect too much, dont be surprised. Interesting; what Rafi considered the usual man-woman positions reversed. The woman using reason-at least, he assumed, until one got inside her pants. The man asking questions of what hes learned-but essentially, typically, an American bleeding heart.

Yes, it looked good.

Rafi excused himself. He visited the mens room, came out and entered the bar area that was set apart, like a passageway in the cave, only a few couples here having drinks. At the far end of the bar was La Perla with her daiquiri, holding the big snifter glass in both hands beneath a pink glow, staring into the glass, an old woman in theatrical makeup, amber costume jewelry; a gypsy fortune-teller, a magic act waiting to go on.

Tell me, Rafi said, tense now, expectant.

Yes, I have her picture.

I knew it! Who is she?

You dont know anything, the woman, La Perla, said. We have to negotiate this some more. The shrimp cocktail isnt going to do it.

Now Rafi had to decide whether to give in to his impatience or play with the old woman, croon a few false notes to her, put his hand on the curve of her narrow back. But he was tired and he didnt care to feel old bones. He said, Buy your own rum, and started away.

She comes to Casa de Campo

He paused. Yes?

for the polo. But without her husband.

Ah, shes married; I knew it. And hes rich, uh?

Im starving, La Perla said. I want the entrecote, asparagus with hollandaise

Rafi raised a hip to the empty stool next to her, her perfume overpowering him as he leaned close.

Why dont you order whatever you like.

I still want the large shrimp cocktail.

You should have it, Rafi said. Whos her husband?

You wont believe it when I tell you.

I promise I will, Rafi said.

Hes Dominican.

There was a pause between them; silence.

But he cant come here with her, La Perla said.

Why is that, if hes Dominican?

Somebody would shoot him. Many people would shoot him if they could.

It was a game. Rafi tried to think of names-expatriates, political villains-anxious now, trying too hard, as though a buzzer were about to go off and hed lose.

Hes rich, isnt he? He has to be, with an American wife who likes the polo.

You wont believe it when I tell you, the woman said again. I think I want a bottle of wine also. A full bottle of Margaux.

When you tell me who it is, Rafi said, have whatever you like. With my love.

The woman tapped the bar, rings rapping on the varnished wood. Put the money here for my taxi and my dinner, she said. But keep your love. I dont want to destroy my appetite.

There was not a noticeable change in Rafi when he returned to the table; they talked about Reaganomics and taxes and the price of automobiles. In Rafis own mind, though, he was at once more cautious, even more observant. If the woman had turned out to be a film star or an international jet-setter he would be coming on to her now with subtle masculine moves, signs that he was available, a man who viewed pleasure as a way of life; far more sensitive than this former Marine who wiped his salad plate with his bread. Take him on mano a mano and go for the woman with nothing to lose.

But this woman was a celebrity in a much different light. Married to a man who was at the same time rich and a son of a bitch, accredited in both areas; a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, perhaps thousands. (How many were thrown from the cliffs during Trujillos time? The sharks still came to Boca Chica.) Married to the butcher and having a love affair with the bleeding heart.

Rafi was quiet now, cautious, because he saw himself in the presence of his future, the opportunity of a lifetime. Here you are. What can you do with this situation? The obvious, of course. But wait and see.

Though not for long. The conversation wound down and the woman covered yawns, smiling at the Marine with sleepy bedroom eyes, the idiot Marine sitting there fooling with his coffee spoon. In these moments, in the Mes'on de la Cava, Rafi began to feel contempt for the Marine; he should take the woman away from him. A lovely woman wasted on a man like this was a mortal sin. Move in Shell buy you gifts.

But on the other hand

It was an either-or dilemma. Go for the woman, get her to turn those eyes on him and have her. Or, use the affair with the Marine to score far more in the long run.

Or do both. Was that possible? Bleed the bleeding heart. Yes? And then take the woman? It was a shame she wasnt married to the Marine and having the affair with de Boya. As it was there were interesting possibilities to think about.

Rafi cautioned himself again to go slowly and said, I think I should see you two back to your hotel. There was no argument. Ill call you tomorrow if I learn anything, all right?

What else? It seemed enough for now. Dont be eager. At least dont appear eager.

They got into bed in Marys suite and held each other in silence, tired and wanting nothing more than this closeness, until Mary said, Its coming to an end. I can feel it.

He said, Are you a worrier?

She said, No, not usually.

He said, in a soothing way, You know whats coming to an end and what isnt. I dont think we have a choice, were stuck with each other. But its gonna be a lot harder for you than it is for me. I mean if we plan to see each other.

We have to, Mary said.

Good.

She said, Ive never done anything like this before. Have you?

When I was married? No.

Did you ever have an affair with a married woman?

No.

Then youve never done it either. Were amateurs. Ive never even thought about it. She paused. No, thats a lie. I used to look at you and think about it a lot.

I did too.

I used to stare at you and when youd look over Id say lets get out of here and go somewhere, be together.

I would have gone.

Would you?

I wanted to.

Boy, weve come a long way. She said then, Where will we meet?

You can always come to the Coconuts. Andress sister and her boyfriend love it.

Were not like that, are we?

I was kidding.

Were not shacking up Are we?

No, theres a big difference.

God, Moran, Im gonna have trouble handling this Sneaking around, not telling anybody. Ive got to get it settled with Andres, but I dont want to involve you.

He was suspicious before he even had a reason.

Hes not dumb. But Ive got to make him understand why Im leaving and that its got nothing to do with you.

He said, What about your friends at Casa de Campo?

She said, Oh, my God.

You forgot to call them.

I havent even thought about them. When I left the embassy party I said I might change my plans and Marilyn, one of the girls, gave me a look-ah-ha, have fun. Im pretty sure they have an idea whats going on, but youre right, I ought to call, get our stories straight.

Are they close friends?

Not really, but we get along, play tennis a few times a week.

They wouldnt call your home-I mean to see if youre there.

No, but Id better let them know where I am. Mary said then, Shit. They went home today.

Is that a problem?

I dont know. I hope not.

Call one of them tomorrow, at home.

Id better. How long are we staying?

You mean its up to me? You dont sound too worried.

I am though. Im starting to get nervous. And this is just the beginning, isnt it?

Moran went to sleep; maybe for only a few minutes, he wasnt sure. Lying on his side he held Marys back curled into him, his knees fitting into the bend of hers. He said, Mary?

What? She was close to sleep.

Rafis left-handed. You said tonight you were sitting with two southpaws and he didnt know what a southpaw was.

Remember?

She didnt answer.



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