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 wasn’t 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, “Can’t you tell your government we aren’t Communists?” It didn’t 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 they’d 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. Don’t assume anything; don’t 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 it’s your choice whether you do or not-then it’s his, with no strings. He can spend it on anything he wants. He can screw up or not screw up, that’s his choice. Unless you’re buying him. That’s 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: Moran’s basic sympathy with the underdog, the revolutionary, maybe with a few minor doubts; while the woman’s analogy said don’t expect too much, don’t 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 he’s learned-but essentially, typically, an American bleeding heart.
Yes, it looked good.
Rafi excused himself. He visited the men’s 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 don’t know anything,” the woman, La Perla, said. “We have to negotiate this some more. The shrimp cocktail isn’t 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 didn’t 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, she’s married; I knew it. And he’s rich, uh?”
“I’m 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 don’t you order whatever you like.”
“I still want the large shrimp cocktail.”
“You should have it,” Rafi said. “Who’s her husband?”
“You won’t believe it when I tell you.”
“I promise I will,” Rafi said.
There was a pause between them; silence.
“But he can’t come here with her,” La Perla said.
“Why is that, if he’s 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 he’d lose.
“He’s rich, isn’t he? He has to be, with an American wife who likes the polo.”
“You won’t 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 don’t 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 Rafi’s 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 Trujillo’s 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… She’ll 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 wasn’t 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. “I’ll call you tomorrow if I learn anything, all right?”
What else? It seemed enough for now. Don’t be eager. At least don’t appear eager.
They got into bed in Mary’s suite and held each other in silence, tired and wanting nothing more than this closeness, until Mary said, “It’s 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 what’s coming to an end and what isn’t. I don’t think we have a choice, we’re stuck with each other. But it’s 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.
She said, “I’ve never done anything like this before. Have you?”
“When I was married? No.”
“Did you ever have an affair with a married woman?”
“Then you’ve never done it either. We’re amateurs. I’ve never even thought about it.” She paused. “No, that’s 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 you’d look over I’d say let’s get out of here and go somewhere, be together.”
“I would have gone.”
“I wanted to.”
“Boy, we’ve come a long way.” She said then, “Where will we meet?”
“You can always come to the Coconuts. Andres’s sister and her boyfriend love it.”
“We’re not like that, are we?”
“I was kidding.”
“We’re not shacking up… Are we?”
“No, there’s a big difference.”
“God, Moran, I’m gonna have trouble handling this Sneaking around, not telling anybody. I’ve got to get it settled with Andres, but I don’t want to involve you.”
“He was suspicious before he even had a reason.”
“He’s not dumb. But I’ve got to make him understand why I’m leaving and that it’s 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 haven’t 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. I’m pretty sure they have an idea what’s going on, but you’re 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 wouldn’t call your home-I mean to see if you’re there.”
“No, but I’d better let them know where I am.” Mary said then, “Shit. They went home today.”
“Is that a problem?”
“I don’t know. I hope not.”
“Call one of them tomorrow, at home.”
“I’d better. How long are we staying?”
“You mean it’s up to me? You don’t sound too worried.”
“I am though. I’m starting to get nervous. And this is just the beginning, isn’t it?”
Moran went to sleep; maybe for only a few minutes, he wasn’t sure. Lying on his side he held Mary’s back curled into him, his knees fitting into the bend of hers. He said, “Mary?”
“What?” She was close to sleep.
“Rafi’s left-handed. You said tonight you were sitting with two southpaws and he didn’t know what a southpaw was.
She didn’t answer.