THE SHOCK OF SEEING HIM was instant, even before he called her name. She had just now arrived home. Turned from the front door to see Corky hurrying toward the blue car in the driveway, Rafi getting out, smiling-there, at that moment-knowing who it was before she saw his face clearly but recognizing something about him, Corky shoving him then, keeping him against the car, and Rafi was calling, “Mary, help me!”
Beaming then, all a joke, with a few words in Spanish for Corky and he was coming to her with outstretched hands-to do what, put his arms around her? She took his hands, managed to smile and said pleasantly, with a note of surprise, “Well…” It was the best she could do.
“Mary, Mary, it’s so wonderful to see you again!” His head darted and he kissed her, almost on the mouth, before she could pull back.
Mary said, “Well…” She said something that sounded like, “What a surprise.”
Altagracia served them chilled white wine on the sundeck. Rafi made a show of raising his to the fading sun and came close to rejoicing over the red hues reflected in his glass. He wore his tailored white Dominican shirt, the squared-off tails hanging free of his trousers.
“It’s lovely,” Rafi said then, “everything, your home, your-how should I say?-your taste in decorating, it’s as I imagine it would be.”
Mary said, “I didn’t think you knew my name.”
His gaze came away from the view, the boat dock, the sweep of lawn, smiling with that air of familiarity, confidence, she remembered from the first time they met.
He said, “Mary, a woman of your beauty begs to be identified.”
She said, “Rafi, knock it off. Get to the point.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “What?”
“Who told you my name?”
“You’re well known, Mary. The wife of a man who was once very important in our government. You come to Casa de Campo… You’re the buddy of a man who was a celebrity in Santo Domingo for a day or two, looking for his lost love.” He stopped. “I can’t imagine that, why he would look for someone else if he has you.”
“We’re friends,” Mary said.
“Yes, I notice. Very good friends.”
“Have you called him since you got here?”
“Who, Moran?” This brought a new depth of enjoyment. As his smile began to fade a trace still lingered. “You just left him, Mary, at, I believe, the Holiday Inn? Didn’t he tell you I’m staying with him?”
Mary had stopped smiling some time ago, seeing it coming. And now here we are, she thought. She was ready and said very quietly, “How much are you asking for?”
Rafi seemed hurt, furrowing his brow. He said, “Como? How much do I ask for?” Overdoing it. Then let his expression relax, though still with sensitivity, misunderstood. “You don’t believe I intend to make something of this, do you? Your affair with Moran? I think it’s beautiful. I admire both of you very much.”
Past Rafi’s shoulder, far out in the bay, a powerboat was trailing a curving wake, coming in toward shore. Mary saw it and recognized El Jefe, the de Boya sixty-foot yacht, vivid white against the darkening ocean.
She said, “why did you bring the girl?”
“Loret? He’s looking for her sister.” Innocence now in Rafi’s tone. “But she’s dead. Gave her life in a cause, and now poor Loret has no one to take care of her. I tell this to Moran because of his feeling, if he wants to give something to Loret for her future, her education, something to help the poor girl. It’s up to him.”
“And how,” Mary said, “do you put the bite on me?”
“That sounds good,” Rafi said, “whatever it means. I’d give you some nice bites, Mary, if we were more than friends. But”-he gestured, a sad smile now-”what can I do? I’m not your lover. I can only approach you as a friend. Ah, but there, perhaps I can suggest a very profitable business investment in Santo Domingo that might interest you. Something you can come down to see from time to time. I show you and we watch it grow. Maybe something like that?”
“How much?” Mary said.
“The investment? I don’t know, I have to show you the papers.”
“Would you like to show my husband?”
“He has his investment, uh?” Rafi said. “You have yours. What’s the matter with that? I wouldn’t wish to take his valuable time, a man like your husband…”
“He’s coming,” Mary said, nodding toward the bay. “Tell him about it.”
Rafi turned to see the prow of the boat approaching the dock, a heavy rumbling sound reaching them.
“I think you misunderstand me.”
They could hear the boat’s exhaust clearly as the white hull crept toward its berth and a deckhand jumped to the dock with a line.
“Really,” Mary said, “tell him about your profitable investments.”
“Well, I’d be happy to meet your husband, of course…”
“You don’t sound too sure.”
“General de Boya. Every Dominican knows of him. It would be an honor.”
“He’s not a general anymore,” Mary said. “He’s… I’m not sure what he is. Ask him.”
Rafi had lost some of his confidence. He seemed apprehensive, watching de Boya, in a business suit, coming across the lawn toward them, and looked at Mary quickly.
“I don’t want to take his time.”
“He won’t let you take his time if he doesn’t want you to,” Mary said. “Tell him whatever you like.”
She glanced at Rafi preparing himself, squaring his shoulders; then waited until her husband was mounting the steps to the sundeck. He was wearing sunglasses, his grim expression in place.
“Andres, I’d like you to meet a fellow Dominican, Rafael Amado.” And told him they had met at the Santo Domingo Country Club on her last trip. “Rafi’s in investments. You two should get along fine.”
She watched Rafi step forward and bow, eyes lowered, as he took her husband’s hand, a commoner in the presence of royalty. But it was her husband’s reaction that surprised her more. His posture seemed to be not the stiff formality he reserved for strangers, meeting someone for the first time, but the more guarded sense of suspicion he usually reserved for her. She wondered if he knew who Rafi was. They spoke in Spanish for less than a minute while Andres eyed him and Rafi looked off nodding, trying to maintain a thoughtful, interested expression; until Andres gave him a stiff nod for a bow, looked at Mary briefly as he excused himself and walked into the house.
Rafi now seemed dazed. He said, “I’ve met General Andres de Boya.”
“And he didn’t take you out and shoot you,” Mary said. “He must like you.”
It was as though Rafi took her seriously, his expression numb, a glazed look in his eyes.
“When I was little,” he said, then paused. “Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you. It might seem offensive to you.”
Mary shrugged. “No more than anything else you’ve said.”
Now he seemed wounded. “Have I hurt you?”
“When you were a little boy,” Mary began. “What?”
“My mother would threaten me,” Rafi said, “as many of the mothers of small children did at that time. She would say to me, ‘If you’re not good, General de Boya will come and take you and we’ll never see you again.’ “ Rafi gestured with a weak smile. “That’s all. As you introduced me to him I thought of it again.”
“Well, it sounds like something to keep in mind,” Mary said, “no matter how old you are.”
There had been a list of POOL RULES on a board nailed to a palm tree, put there by the previous owner. No running… No splashing… No swimming without showering first… No glass objects allowed on the patio … A list of negatives Moran never cared for. So when the palm tree died and was removed the POOL RULES went with it. He did set an example, though, and when he switched after two cans of beer to scotch he poured it into a plastic party glass with ice and took his drink outside to sit in his deck chair and wait for Rafi.
It was dark now though still early evening. He had not seen Rafi all day. When he saw him again it would be for the last time. He did not have to prepare a speech; what he had to say was simple enough. Get your ass out of here.
He told himself he shouldn’t let things get out of hand like this. He should never wait for things to happen and then have to clean up after. Maybe he should have put the pool rules up somewhere. But then he thought, no. Even if you said No glass objects people could still bring a glass out and break it; they could still cut themselves and sue you. No, rules were cold, unrelenting. You had to handle people individually, take each situation as it came. Just don’t let them talk you into something you don’t want to do.
He wished Mary were here looking at the ocean with him. Looking at the ocean at night made him think of himself in a quieting way. He felt the breeze with a smell of salt in it and thought of turning on some music. Start with Placido Domingo doing love ballads. She said he was more romantic than she’d expected and he told her he felt like he was seventeen. He did. Thinking about her now mellowed him. Start with Placido and work up to J. Geils.
So that when Rafi showed up, coming across the patio from the office, Moran waved-”Hey, I want to talk to you”-and walked toward the swimming pool where Rafi stood in the green glow of underwater lights.
“What’d you lay on Mary?”
“I’m sorry…” Rafi began, not understanding.
“I am too,” Moran said. “Never buy a guy dinner until he proves you shot him.” Rafi still looked puzzled-real or acting, it didn’t matter to Moran. “You weren’t on that roof with Luci anymore’n that little broad’s her sister. So let’s cut the shit. I don’t care if you own up or not, long as you’re out of here tomorrow.”
Rafi seemed hurt now. “George, what is it? Why you saying this?”
“You can try it out on me,” Moran said, “it was kind of interesting, see how you handle it. But you go for my friend, the fun’s over. Take your little hooker and get out of here.”
Rafi said, “My hooker?”
“Your puta. She’s over there waiting for you.” Moran nodded toward Number One, at the figure of the girl in the doorway, and it took him by surprise; the classic pose, the girl’s body outlined in a soft glow of lamplight, inviting without making a move.
Rafi said, “George, you heard her story… I swear to you on my mother’s honor…”
“You better keep your mother out of it,” Moran said, “unless you want to hear some street Spanish about where you came from. You comprende, pendejo? Let’s keep it simple. You brought the girl along so I’ll feel sorry for her and you can make a pitch. Something for poor little Loret, living down there in the slums. And if I get your meaning you don’t have to hold anything over my head. Then what? You parade her in front of Mary?… You knew who she was when we were down there, didn’t you? Must’ve lit your eyes up. What’d you say to her today?”
Rafi took his time. “George, part of what you say is true. Yes, I recognize Mary. But I don’t say anything because I don’t want to… surprise you and you think the wrong thing.”
“Bullshit, you had to come up with a scheme. You followed me today, you followed her… You tell her how much you want or you haven’t made up your mind yet?”
“George, what do you think I want?”
“Not what, how much. I know what you want. Christ, the way you do it, you might as well wear a sign. You’re a fucking lizard, Rafi, that’s all I can say.”
Rafi gave himself a little time. He sighed. “You make it sound ugly, George, I’m surprise. A man like you, run this kind of place.” Rafi looked about critically in the glow of the swimming pool, unimpressed. “You want me to believe it’s very swank. But soon as I come here I realize something, George. You see a good thing you go for it. You accuse me, but, George”-with a smile to show patience and understanding-”I’m not the one fucking General de Boya’s wife, you are.”
Moran hammered him with a straight left, aiming for the grin that vanished behind his fist and Rafi stumbled back, over the side of the pool. He landed on his back, smacking the water hard, went under and came up waving his arms, gasping. Moran stood on the tile edge watching him. Rafi was only a few feet away but struggling, fighting the water, still gasping for breath. Shit, Moran thought.
He yelled at him, “Take it easy! Hey-put your head back, you won’t sink.”
Rafi was trying to scream something in Spanish, taking in water, gagging, going under again.
“Relax, will you. Take it easy.”
Moran glanced around to see the girl, Loret, next to him now, calmly watching Rafi in the water.
“Can’t he swim?”
“I don’t know,” the girl said. “It don’t look like it.”
“Shit,” Moran said. He pulled his untied sneakers off, hesitated, took his wallet out of his pocket, dropped it behind him and jumped in the pool.
As soon as they got him in the living room of the apartment Rafi slumped into the sofa, his Dominican shirt sticking to him, transparent. Moran yelled at him, “Not on the couch!” and grabbed an arm to pull him up. Christ, the guy was making a survivor scene out of it, saved from a watery grave, the girl bringing a blanket she’d ripped from the bed. Moran held her off and pushed Rafi toward the bathroom. “Get in there. You ruin my furniture I’ll throw you back.”
Nolen was standing in the doorway holding the screen.
“Asshole fell in the swimming pool.”
“He all right?”
“Who gives a shit,” Moran said. He started out, then looked around at Loret. “Give me my wallet.”
She hesitated, then reached behind her and brought it out of the waist of her jeans. “I holding it for you.”
“Thanks,” Moran said. “Now pack. You’re going home tomorrow.” He took his wallet and left.
Nolen watched Moran cross to his bungalow and go inside. For several moments Nolen stood with his hands shoved into his back pockets, looking about idly.
“Moran hit him then save his life,” Loret said.
“Funny guy,” Nolen said. He came in now, moved through the living room to the kitchenette, snooping, looking around. “What do you and Rafael drink for fun, anything?”
“They some wine in the refrigerador.”
“I’ll be back,” Nolen said.
Loret began in Spanish and Nolen had to tell her to talk English or shut up. He listened to see if she had anything of value for him, but all she was doing was bitching at Rafi.
“I don’t know why I come here with you. I learn what you tell me, I say it perfect.”
“You don’t say it perfect,” Rafi said.
“I say it so good I begin to cry myself and he touch me. You see that. He reach over and touch me. I did it perfect. But you-you say something he push you in the piscina.” She looked at Nolen sitting forward on the sofa, pouring himself a drink from the bottle of Scotch he’d placed close by on the coffee table. “You know how much money I didn’t make since I start being with him? I’ll tell you-”
Rafi said something to her in Spanish that shut her up.
“It’s okay,” Nolen said. “How much?”
“Two hundred dollar a night-all those nights I have to spend listening to him, it come to dos mil, two thousand dollar I don’t make,” Loret said. “Maybe more than that.”
Nolen was getting up, hands on his thighs like an old man. “You’re a cute little girl,” he said to Loret, taking her by the arm, leading her to the bedroom, “but you talk too much. Stay in there and be quiet.” He pushed her into the room and closed the door. When she pounded on it and began yelling in Spanish Nolen opened the door a few inches and pointed a finger inside. “I said be quiet, you hear? Or I’ll have to get rough with you and I don’t want to do that.” He closed the door again and went back to the sofa. Easing himself down he said to Rafi, “I recited that line every night for two and a half months. ‘Be quiet now, you hear? Or I’ll have to get rough with you… ‘ Oh my, where were we? That’s right, we haven’t started yet, have we?”
Rafi sat quietly in a straight chair turned away from the desk. He seemed drained of energy after his ordeal, his hair still wet, flat to his skull, his body wrapped in the comfort of a brown velour robe.
“First, you didn’t do it right,” Nolen said. “You come rolling in like a medicine show, got your little helper with you. Fine, except every guy to her’s a trick. You see it in her eyes, she can’t wait to get your fly open. Second, you picked the wrong guy. I don’t mean because he doesn’t have any money, I’m not talking about money. And I don’t mean he’s the wrong guy in that you ever leaned on him seriously, spoke right out and tried to blackmail him, he’d beat the shit out of you. That’s nothing. You’ve been cut, you know what I mean. You get over it. No, I’m talking about you picked the wrong guy from the standpoint you didn’t pick the right one. Are you following me?”
Rafi was moving his tongue over his teeth or touching his mouth gently with the tips of his fingers.
“You paying attention?”
Rafi didn’t say. He seemed to nod.
“I’m not telling you this,” Nolen said, “because I think you need counseling. You’re no more fucked up than the rest of the pimps trying to get by, but you’re not a pimp.”
“I was never a pimp,” Rafi said, as indignant as he could sound with a sore mouth.
“I mean you don’t have the right stuff to be a good pimp,” Nolen said. “You’re not only about thirty years behind in your style you’re playing the wrong part. You come on like a young Fernando Lamas when another type entirely, today, is selling tickets.”
Rafi said, “What tickets?”
“Just listen,” Nolen said. “What’s going down in the Caribbean, in Central America, El Salvador now, ever since Cuba? Revolutions, man. They’ve always been big down there, but now they’re getting more notice because they seem closer to home. Only an hour, two hours across the friendly skies and it scares the shit out of people. It’s going on right in Miami with the Cubans, the Haitians, Colombians that come to visit-you got dope and international politics all mixed up with terrorists that use pipe bombs and automatic weapons, man, it’s real and it’s right here. You understand what I’m saying to you? You want to score today you got to get into the action that’s going down, you got to spread a little terror.”
Rafi was listening. He said, “Yes? How do I do that?”
“I’m glad you asked,” Nolen said. “You’ve got the background, the hot blood, all that shit. I think with a little direction, a good slogan, you could make a pretty fair revolutionary. Viva Libertad-you know, get excited.”
Rafi frowned. “You want to start a revolution?”
“No, you do,” Nolen said. “You want to make it look like you’re part of a wild-ass revolutionary movement. You’re an ace terrorist come here to do a job. You’re a fanatic, man, you can’t wait to blow somebody away. But, you want him to know it first. You want to make him believe he’s got this fucking movement coming down on him, not just some muggers-you know what I mean?-some real gung-hoers, man, fire-eaters.”
Rafi said, “What guy?”
“I thought so,” Nolen said. “Right there in front of you and you don’t even see it. You go after Moran and his girlfriend… what about the girl-friend’s husband? He’s the guy with the prize, not Moran. Moran’s one of the good guys.”
“Wait,” Rafi said. “You have to explain this to me.”
“In time,” Nolen said. “First we got to think of a good slogan, something to get the guy squirming-he doesn’t know what’s going on, where it’s coming from, but it looks like some pretty heavy shit coming down.”
“An eslogan? …”
“Not a slogan-how do you say it?-a grito de combate. A battle cry.”
“Yes? To say what?”
“How about Muerte a de Boya?” Nolen said. “That’s got a pretty nice ring.”
Rafi had stopped touching his sore mouth. He stared at Nolen, interested but uncertain, trying to put it together in his mind.
“You asking me to kill?”
“Would you like to?”
Rafi didn’t answer.
“I want you to think about it,” Nolen said, “get a feel for the part. You’re Rafi Amado, the man from Santo Domingo, a no-shit revolutionary full of zeal, revenge, whatever revolutionaries are full of. You understand what I mean? Get in the mood and we’ll talk about it some more.”