Politics & Policy

Night Sweats

Editors note: This is an excerpt from the new novel Banquo’s Ghosts.

Dinner was a lonely, desultory buffet of chicken, tabouli, and tahini in a nearly empty dining room. The high spot of the buffet table was the large chilled bowl of caviar, surrounded by limp toast, hardboiled egg whites, egg yolks, chopped onions, and sour cream. Iran was the last place on earth still swimming in cheap and plentiful beluga, ossetra, or the even more rare sevruga. Johnson, an unapologetic Roe Ho, loaded up his plate.

A group of four middle-aged upper-class women in full chador ate silently in a far off corner, covering and uncovering their faces as their forks went first to their plates, then to their mouths. They exchanged the occasional word, then quietly went back to their meal, as if at a funeral. Johnson ignored them.

#ad#Opposing tables of Chinese and Russian trade-representative types squared off across the room. The Russians were sober and agitated. A Russian-made Tu-154 commercial jetliner of Iran AirTour had crashed at Meshed Airport that very afternoon, with thirty or so dead. After the spectacular crash and burn of Karl Marx, crappy planes doing the same just added insult to injury. One of the Russians was talking nonstop and using his hands as “wings” trying to explain what happened. Russian commercial aircraft had been crashing all over the world since the end of the Cold War, so this wasn’t exactly “news” — but being sober didn’t make it any better.

From his table seat Johnson thought the Chinese, for their part, seemed pleased with themselves. As representatives of the new master race, they had come to conquer and were deep in the process, drunk on power, the true nectar of the gods. Sales of Red Chinese missile parts to the Iranian Ministry of Defense: $1.3 billion. Import guarantees of light crude from a newly renovated Kharg Island: $750 million. A twentyfive-year bargain to develop natural gas: $100 billion.

On top of all that, a table full of grumpy Russians spilling caviar onto their ties and trying to explain why Soviet-designed planes kept falling out of the skies — priceless.

Johnson finished and headed upstairs. When he opened his suite door and flipped on the light, the first thing he saw was the set-up on the table. A large silver bucket of ice, a bowl of limes, a wooden cutting block, a knife, a bottle of Schweppes Tonic, and a blessed liter of Tanqueray. The green bottle smiled at him like a long lost friend. He reached out to touch it, savoring its sexy emerald curves. The little white note said, “Compliments of Al Jazeera.” Compliments indeed, Praise Allah. He was saved.

And then from around the world Banquo’s schoolmaster’s voice warned, Go easy, Peter . . . It took a full moment to get the insistent voice out of his head and back to its proper place in the old man’s spartan Rockefeller Center office.

The room smelled of must and rosewater but soon filled with the aroma of gin and tonics. He stood at the window overlooking the city, idly sucked the lime juice from a rind, and stared across the hot expanse of air dotted with those Scheherazade fairy lights, but this time with the traffic moving. Miles and miles of snaking cars, white lights coming and red lights, blinking brighter on and off, going the other way. The muezzins were calling the faithful to prayer. Someone somewhere was always praying in this country. He took a long draught that went down without complaint, stringent and quenching. Looking across the city at night, he felt as if he were standing on a great precipice, the immensity in front of him prompting the sort of contemplative reverie you get on a mountaintop or looking out over the ocean.

Knowing that for better or ill he was stepping off into some irrevocable chain of events from which there was no way back. He thought of God, or the idea of God, and suddenly wished that for once in his life he believed. How he might have given the gift of faith to his daughter. Even faked it for Giselle’s sake. Let her grow up and decide for herself, whether to believe or not. Instead of breaking the notion of God like every other childhood fantasy — leprechauns, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy — no, Giselle, there is no Santa Claus. The thousand little ways adults wring the magic out of a child’s life.

He looked down at the ice cubes, marooned, and stacked one on another at the bottom of his empty glass. Chances were excellent he was going to drink too much.

No, not tonight. One more, a stiff one, but not four more. Empty out most of the bottle just for show. With the taste of grit in his mouth and a touch of sadness, the better part of the liter vanished down the toilet and into the Euphrates River as Crocodile Cocktails. Cheers.

#page#

An hour of pacing, of looking at his sad reflection, jowls and drinker’s veins, in the glass window, of wishing he could find a woman here to share his loneliness with, if just for one night, of finally imagining the incredible piece he’d really write if ever given the chance, about what was really going on now. All the ice had melted, the second glass long finished, and the bed found him.

As he lay there with the lights dimmed, love handles spilling over his boxers, something nagged him. Nagged him like the embarrassing regrets that usually splintered through his drunken hazes back home, over a rude pass at a woman too young for him, or a cruel remark to some slovenly sot as liquored up as himself in a forgotten dinner table debate. Something the clever Sheik had said, something knocking at the back door of his brain.

“Do you know why we are going to win, Mr. Johnson, ‘daring reporter’? I shall tell you. The Jews and weaklings of the West love life. So that is what we shall take away from them.”

#ad#It wasn’t the fact that the imperious snob had actually said it — the sentiment was common enough out here — but because Johnson had heard it before, in other terms. Something much like it . . . long ago at a fancy New York dinner party. Dinner hosted by Jo von H. Years had passed between that party and tonight’s meeting, as he methodically drank so many of his old memories out of his mind. But that night stood out. As clear and cool a September evening as you could ask for, the lights going on in all the apartment buildings, the traffic moving elegantly along the trees of Central Park, and Tavern on the Green bejeweled in white lights against the growing darkness of the park.

Josephine Parker von Hildebrand’s apartment overlooked Central Park West, Number 151, The Kenilworth, a French Second Empire–style building with a magisterial entrance flanked by banded columns.

Past the liveried doorman, he met Neville Poore, former theater critic at the Times, in the marble lobby, and they took the elevator together. Poore had recently strayed from the Great White Way, haughtily gliding onto the national scene.

Lately, he had written three straight columns about a Republican embroiled in a sex scandal after getting caught having affairs with both young men and women staffers in his congressional office. “I’m a bi American,” the politician declared at an August press conference, at the end of which a cameraman accidentally knocked him over in the media crush. Neville Poore excoriated the country for its supposed fixation with the flap, even though he had written about nothing else since it happened and read the broadest possible meanings into it, like in today’s number: “Democrats were quick to maneuver for advantage in the scandal, making it truly an exercise in bipartisanship. But the real story is Red State America’s repressed obsession with sex that lashes out at any departure from an Ozzie and Harriet dream world at the same time it forces the desires of its own representatives into the shattering contortions entailed by the closet. Perhaps the nation will finally wake up: polymorphous perversity now, polymorphous perversity forever — for the sake of our emotional, political, and spiritual health, if nothing else.”

And so it went. Neville lived the editorialist’s dream, gassing on in blissful ignorance, seemingly unable to learn from the spectacularly extensive corrections buried near the front of the paper days after his columns ran.

“CORRECTION: Spiro Agnew was governor of Maryland, not Mississippi, prior to becoming the vice president of the United States. He resigned in a scandal related to bribes taken as governor, not over the outrage after the bombing of Cambodia. He was Greek, not Italian.”

Details, details.

“Nice bi-line today,” Johnson said, relishing his pun, though Neville couldn’t see it. He and the columnist still locked eyes, anticipating something fun and the taste of that first drink. Jo’s parties always had that effect. As the elevator man opened the gated door, Johnson waved the exalted Nevillian out ahead of him, smiling, “It’s just a simple supper party, but let’s not keep the little woman waiting. She’s been slaving all day.”

Poore laughed. “If I had your ex-wives, I wouldn’t have to work.”

#page#

Johnson caught a glimpse of himself in the gilt-edged hallway mirror: the dapper drake with a receding hairline, in standard pinstripe blue and open collar, smiled gravely back. They heard the sounds of the party, the staccato clinking of glasses like a monstrous wind chime, then the sonorous murmuring of a gossipy theater crowd during an intermission at a Broadway opening. A long, tall, and narrow hall like the entranceway to a cathedral marched off ahead. The walls lined with paintings: a Caravaggio, a Dürer woodblock print — both darkly lush and worth more than $10 million; framed covers of Crusader issues; and black-and-white news file photos of Jo von H in various Edward R. Murrow poses. There’d been a lot of water under the bridge since those Oxford days, the briefest of marriages, a short detour on Josephine’s march to glory. Vanity, thy name is suffragette. And to make it all perfect, one portrait, an oil painting, lit from above: the late Mr. Josephine Parker von Hildebrand. Her second Ex.

Also known on the oilfields of Texas as Big Joe Hill. No relation whatsoever to the Wobbly legend of Woody Guthrie fame. Josephine’s great conquest and now dead ex-husband. A trim black bit of crepe crossed the corner of the portrait. The likeness showed the hard, unrelenting face of an oilman, emphasis on the man, many years older than his pretty wife.

#ad#Sure, she divorced him. Who wouldn’t? Sure, she took him for everything — what was wrong with that? But it was pure Josephine to honor the old wildcatter’s memory with a serious, sympathetic, and heroic likeness. She took his money, despised his Texas ways, and fled to more sophisticated climes, but damned if she didn’t make him the poster boy of that long elegant hallway and every luxury that followed. After all, in every sense of the word, he was the founder of the feast.

Still, you couldn’t feel too sorry for the old geezer. After Josephine put the touch on him, others lined up for the same treatment. She wasn’t beautiful, but people thought she was. Tall, in as good shape as a fifty-year-old could be, with platinum blonde–dyed hair and the best breasts money could buy; Johnson had nicknamed her lesser charms from those Oxford days “our little secrets.”

Her wardrobe took up closets that four or five families from Queens would be happy to live in. No one noticed her plain features. The force of her personality overwhelmed all else. Witty, shrewd, magnetic, and kind when she wanted to be, Josephine had practically every desirable personal characteristic, except wisdom and mercy. She was always dating very wealthy men fifteen years younger than herself, who adored her and eagerly did her bidding. She called them her “Lancelots.”

The von Hildebrand hallway opened up into a grand oval foyer with rooms radiating from its center and a staircase rising to fainting heights. Every catered affair had its tone, some informal, some black-tie, but Josephine preferred the starched white blouse and gray apron types, a uniform commonly seen in the 1950s on pale Irish maidservants and reserved Spanish butlers fresh from Cuba.

Large silver platters of hors d’oeuvres circulated among the privileged, and Johnson never doubted his place among them: the hors d’oeuvres and the exalted both. In those days, he knew what he was supposed to think and duly thought it, although not without a dollop of ironic detachment. Whether he was chatting up the famous director of the Zyklon-B movie trilogy or whether he stopped and admired the footwear of a frail but winsomely vulnerable young woman wearing finely crafted wooden boxes on her feet instead of pumps to accessorize her little black cocktail dress. Yes, he knew how to ooze approval.

The boxes were about the size of women’s cardboard shoeboxes, but fitted together with finely carpentered slats, plain and unvarnished. Her ankles emerged from their little sarcophagi through circular holes that rubbed her skin raw as she wore them. Like Hindu or Christian ascetics mortifying their flesh with metal collars or shackles. But what was she punishing herself for? A mystery.

The wooden boxes on the frail woman’s feet turned out to have something to do with urban poverty or the rain forest, but as Johnson was on his third Knob Creek, the difference between the two causes had become immaterial to him. He just knew to nod at whatever she said and be sure to get her number. Rain forests or poor yobbos, it was all the same to him.

Then something even more curious happened. He overheard two men holding forth to a half circle of admirers. The word “Jews” said with a particular twist, veiled condescension. He knew the men, and he listened as each academic trumpeted his pedigree. One from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, a Belfer Professor of International Affairs. The other academic was from the Institute for Policy Studies, a Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science at Chicago.

#page#

Professors Deerwood and Lenzheimer had recently worked together on a foreign policy white paper of some note, the thrust being that U.S. foreign policy was twisted on the fingers of . . . well, you know. What struck Johnson was the use of the phrase “the Jewish question” — those exact words, with an academic’s sneer, bringing him up short.

Knowing he was too tight to join the magic circle of admirers he listened from afar until Professor Deerwood said, “Look at the numbers, 1.5 billion Muslims, 5 million Jews in the Holy Land — yet we dance along to their every whim.”

Johnson felt a surge of anger crawl up into his throat. Yes, he could admit, he was a little dishonest, a little greedy, and even a little corrupt. Add to that a lush, a womanizer, and three times divorced. You could even throw in manipulative and selfish for good measure.

#ad#But he could honestly hate a thing as well as any saint or sinner. And the thing he reviled more than any other thing — honest to God — were Jew-haters. Jew-haters in every form and guise, from the toothless rube to the well-heeled WASP. But of all the Jew-haters he despised — more than any neo-Nazi skinhead — were the pointy-headed intellectuals, the sophisticated, sleight-of-hand Jew-haters, the let’s-adopt-the-Saudipeace-plan, and gosh-aren’t-these-people-awfully-pushy-and-greedyfor-such-a-little-country? Jew-haters. The covert Jew-haters, covering their slimy tracks with position papers for think tanks and “peace” conferences in Belgium. “Look at the numbers, 1.5 billion Muslims, 5 million Jews.” Yeah. That said it all. Never again?

Johnson decided to join the circle, spouting a bit of poetry at them, knowing the chances of making an ass out of himself ranged from quite high to near certain. He felt a good stab of regret coming on for later, but what he had to say came out coherently enough:

“As the journalist and good Commie William Norman Ewer said back in the 19th century,

‘How odd of God

To Choose

The Jews.’ ”

He got a few nervous smiles. No one was quite sure where he was going with this. They didn’t know the reference to Ewer-The-Obscure. At least Johnson had broken their moment. And so out of sheer spite he kicked the shards across the room:

“But many feel Norman Ewer lost the poetry battle to Cecil Browne, who replied,

‘But not so odd

As those who choose

A Jewish God

But spurn the Jews.’ ”

This got a general chuckle, and suddenly, drunk as he was, Johnson realized that not one person in this circle, including himself, believed in God at all. That the idea was as foreign to them as a plague of frogs falling from the sky. It wasn’t piety they despised, but sheer pluck. And the power of belief. Any race that had survived five thousand years was an insult. Any race that survived five thousand years and thrived — after being scattered to the four winds by Caesar, raped by Cossacks, and nearly liquidated by Germans — was to be reviled. Such history shattered that myth called “equality of man,” and anything that threatened the common safety of common failure was to be repelled at all costs. Along with the God Who chose them. What was despicable wasn’t that the Jews had made the ten common rules for living in a civilized society, but that they had the audacity to still expect the world to adhere to them.

One professor attempted to bring the conversation back along the lines he intended. “It’s not like Jews have a monopoly on suffering, but they play it like a violin at Dachau, and the world is tired of that concerto — ”

Johnson knew full well that might have been the fellow’s drink talking, but he had an urge to toss the remainder of his Knob Creek at that filthy mouth. He raised his glass–

But a hand restrained him, drawing him away from the circle. He was looking into a pair of very sober gray eyes. A strong and handsome fellow, mid-thirties, not the type to be at this kind of party at all. Such a Boy Scout. Former military? And something else about the man — Johnson glimpsed the sharp edge of a human dagger. A ruthlessness narrowed the corners of his eyes. The kind of man who could take a punch and give one back, stick an ice pick in your eye just to leave it there.

#page#

“Orwell said, ‘Only an intellectual could say something so stupid.’ ”

And that made Johnson smile. He looked into the tough gray eyes, then down at his half-finished drink. “You’re right. And maybe I’m too tight to suffer intellectuals gladly tonight. Let me know who wins.” And with that he went home to Brooklyn.

Nobody missed him.

But that very next morning after the party, Johnson discovered who won. Nobody. Instead, everyone lost. He awoke on the living room couch about 9:30 with the fish hook of a moderate hangover under one eye, still wearing his suit jacket but no pants, and the phone ringing in his ear. He picked it up.

#ad#“Look out the window, Mr. Johnson.”

“Who the hell is this?” But he went to the window anyway. His Brooklyn Heights condo faced straight across the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge, and there he saw what everyone saw that morning. World Trade Tower One was burning, and there came another plane.

At first he couldn’t grasp what he was seeing. “Who the hell is this?”

Then, “What the . . . ?” into the phone, having no idea who he was talking to, and not caring as he watched the second jetliner from a mile away sail silently into the side of Tower Two. A gleaming missile sailing purposefully into a building, almost floating on its irrevocable glide path to hell. “What the . . . ? What?” he kept on saying, until it came back to him that he was still on the phone with the mystery caller.

“Who the hell is this?”

“We met last night.” A vague memory began to surface in his brain: Yeah, the voice with the sober gray eyes. But that meant nothing.

Not now.

He hung up, tossing the telephone onto the couch, transfixed by the shimmering towers — so otherworldly even on a normal day, now with plumes of smoke pouring into the unbelievable blue of that September sky.

Then he remembered yet another nagging thought — his life a long, haphazard habit of forgetting and regretting. Giselle. She worked at Salomon Smith Barney right beside the towers. The ice pick under his eye went from crappy hangover to mortal wound, slid sideways, and then dipped toward his heart. Fear. He dialed her cell. No signal. Work number? In his Blackberry. Where was his Blackberry?

And then the plume of smoke across the river widened and began to spread downward, and the whole building cascaded toward the ground in a grainy gray umbrella of smithereens, and nothing was left but a lighter colored smoke, air and empty space. The Tower was gone. Gone?

Where was Giselle?

The coffee pot was plugged in, the way Giselle always left it for him when she went to work. Where the hell was the damn Blackberry? He got down on his knees and tore at the sagging cushions of the couch. The stupid thing was lodged down a crack. He searched for G and dialed the work number. Busy signal. Bizzy-bizzy-bizzy.

He didn’t know what to do.

One last hope. Maybe she didn’t go to work today. Maybe she was still in bed. He stumbled to her room. Of course, he let her live with him. What father wouldn’t? Monstrous New York rents, taxes, food, taxis — besides loving to see her every day. He yanked her bedroom door open, desperate to see the lump in bed, the tousled head. He almost shouted, Giselle! But the G died on his lips.

An empty unmade bed, no Giselle. In his frightful state he pawed the covers. No Giselle. He knocked on the bathroom door, no answer, then yanked it open. The empty tub and toilet sneered at him.

#page#

Out the apartment window the Single Tower was barely visible through the smoke and seemed to be beginning to tilt. The hallway quiet and still, but the chaos across the river ran riot in his mind, the screams, the sirens, the sinister patter of falling debris. He started to weep. Tears of pure bourbon coming, the whole of last night running from his head. Nostrils, eyes, from his slobbering mouth. He threw the phone on the couch, disconnecting it. He’d have to go find her. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Now. He clutched his slept-in suit jacket, stared down at his boxers. Find your pants. Your pants.

The sound of the key in the door made his heart stop, and for a brief moment he didn’t grasp its significance. The door opened, and relief flooded through him. Giselle padded into the room in her pajamas, carrying a laundry basket with a Vogue magazine stuffed under her arm: “I didn’t feel well, but couldn’t sleep. I was downstairs in the laundry room. I’m going back to bed.” She passed her hand across her tummy clearly uncomfortable. Her hair matted in a sleepy-head rat’s nest. “Can you call Mitch at the office for me?” She was in her poodle jammies, elegant women walking high-nosed poodles. They always made him laugh. Now it made him cry again.

#ad#“Dad, what’s wrong?”

He led her to the window, to the terrible sight. They stood there, and she clung to his shoulder, and he let her cling. Then wrapped his arms about her and desperately pressed her to him with every fiber of his being. The second Tower collapsed into itself, and a great plume stood in its stead, reaching to the sky.

“I don’t understand.” Giselle said.

Johnson’s relief gave way to horror again. Johnson realized there might not be an office to telephone anymore. And something worse. No more Mitch. God, he’d never even met the man. Just heard the gracious timbre of his voice, the occasional work-related call, asking kindly for Giselle. He really seemed to like his daughter. What else did he know about him? Lived in Jersey. Married. Wife with early signs of Parkinson’s.

The clean white toilet in his bathroom beckoned him, and he offered up his guts to the holy sewers of New York. But nothing came, a poor offering, just retching and a little blood.

After a while he caught his breath, and the bathroom mirror gazed at him. That magnificent specimen of British-American manhood: the sodden eyes, the belly pouch, the stringy legs of a fifty-year-old who sat on his ass too long, the rumpled but expensive Brooks Brothers’ suit jacket and once-starched white shirt. He wiped his mouth on the sleeve. Let the dry cleaners have it. Then he remembered: he used the same one as Giselle, Fleur de Lys French Dry Cleaners on Liberty Street right by Tower Two.

He should really take a shower and get dressed — get it together.

People would be trying to reach him. When he emptied his pockets and tossed his apartment keys on the washbasin shelf, a business card came out with them. Ah, yes, the Boy Scout with the sober gray eyes:

Banquo & Duncan

Robert Wallets, Vice President

30 Rockefeller Plaza

After the shower, a shave, and three aspirin, he came out of the bathroom in his robe and slippers. The TV droned. Giselle was standing at the window looking at the blotted city. Without turning she spoke to the window.

“Why did they do this? Why?

He didn’t trust himself to speak out loud. The answer too ugly for words. Then they did what so many other people did that day. They watched it up close. They watched it on the news.

The rest of the day proceeded in a blur. The best thing about it — besides Giselle feeling under the weather — the hangover vanished before noon. Jo von H, chipper and crystalline as always, finally reached him. The woman’s voice dripped honey.

“I want 750 words from you for the website. ‘Why We Are So Hateable.’”

“All right. Tell me again, Jo. Why are we so hate-able?”

#page#

“Peter,” she replied with a touch of impatience in her voice. He knew that tone from way back, as though speaking to a simpleton. “The rampant commercialism. Santa Claus before Halloween. The arrogance and self-delusional imperialism. Teeth-whitening for the middle class. Disposable diapers manufactured on the burnt ruins of rain forests. The parasitic hegemony masked as do-goodism. You’ve written it a hundred times, and the chickens have come home to roost. We practically learned it from you,” her voice rising, angry at the end.

He felt very quiet inside. Everything had changed. Couldn’t she see that? God, if she’d only ask him to write something new. Fat chance.

“Don’t go all flag-wavy on me, Peter,” she continued. “And listen carefully . . . I want this piece from you. And I want it posted before the day is out.”

He paused and thought, what Jo von H wants, Jo von H gets. . . .

#ad#“I’m on it.”

His practiced fingers found the laptop keys; while a knot grew in his stomach, growing worse all day as he watched replays of people flinging themselves out of buildings on TV. Soon he’d be watching firefighters pulling body parts, a leg, a femur out of dusty rubble. Still, he typed on, what Jo von H wants . . .

Evening came, and the glow outside the window cast light inside the apartment; an island of smoke drifted over Brooklyn. Giselle and he hadn’t moved from the couch all day. They’d ordered Indian takeout, but for some reason everything tasted sandy, bitter. The Styrofoam platters lay on the coffee table, lamb vindaloo growing cold. Johnson felt claustrophobic and went to the window and with a sudden impulse opened it; ugly streaks lashed the glass. He wanted to feel what the air was like.

“Dad, don’t open it,” Giselle warned him. “I can smell the outside from here already.”

And indeed, it did smell, a sour reek. The odor of gas and metals and chemicals and probably something worse.

What people smelled like when you cooked them. Mutton.

He was going to close the window as Giselle wanted — when he stopped. The sill, the outside sill. He looked closer and closer and closer, leaning over. It looked like a piece of . . . He didn’t know what it looked like. And then it hit him — it was a finger. A woman’s finger with a manicured fingernail and a wedding ring attached. How? Fallen from the sky?

Without thinking he flicked the thing from the sill with a jerk of his hand, and it fell off into invisible depths. No! That was the absolute wrong thing to do. He should have taken it. He should have gotten a plastic ziplock baggie from the kitchen. My God, somebody would want to know! He grabbed the phone again, dialed 911 to tell them there was a finger on my sill, on the sidewalk, below the window, a finger in the bushes on Hicks Street between Montague and F*** Me Street! A finger. But of course 911 was busy-busy-busy, and who was going to rush out for a reported finger? Was he crazy? Johnson slowly slid the window shut.

He was going to scream, not a human word, but some primal howl without any conscious thought. Yes, he was going to scream right now, but he could feel the finger that belonged to that poor woman, the burnt finger going down his throat, going down his throat making him gag and bring up vindaloo.

***

Azadi Grand Hotel, Tehran.

Nothing grand about it. A cramped couple of rooms with a view. The call of the dawn muezzin out the slightly open window drifted across the city. Somewhere in this country someone was always praying. He should have closed the stupid thing and let the air conditioning do its work. He had fallen asleep with his clothes on again, his clothes damp from his sweat. A soft knock came to the suite door. Room service. Breakfast. The usual, surely. Yogurt, fresh figs. Black coffee. Even sober, the thought of eating anything right now wasn’t enticing. Maybe if he closed the window, took a shower, let the air-conditioning do its work, he might get his appetite back.

The near-empty bottle on the table looked like he’d made a significant dent in the Tanqueray, but he knew the truth. If they thought he’d drunk himself stupid, all the better. The soft, insistent knock came again. Johnson knew he’d have to clean up good today. It was back with Jazril the Jazz Man and maybe even the Big Mullah — maybe this time the Big Mullah would deign to speak to him directly. The Jazz Man, the Sheik, the Big Mullah, and finally Dr. Proton. The object of all his desire.

“Hold on. Be right there.”

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