“Sheldon, how’re ya doing?” Karl Rove said, shaking hands with Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas mogul who was almost single-handedly keeping Newt Gingrich afloat in his bid for the Republican nomination for president. Rove hated Adelson doing this and thereby extending the internecine warfare that was the Republican campaign, but he loved Adelson’s money and his access to even more money in foreign climes, specifically, China.
“We are doing just super, Mr. Rove,” Adelson said. His statement was reinforced by Adelson’s posh office, to say nothing of the ostentatious Venetian Hotel and Casino that served as the headquarters of Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” Adelson didn’t beat around the bush, especially with someone like Karl Rove, who in the few times they’d spoken, had never failed to bring up money and politics. The fact that Rove had flown out to Las Vegas to meet with Adelson indicated it wasn’t a social call.
“How’s your new casino doing there in Singapore?” Rove asked. He already knew Adelson was making another fortune on the $8 billion enterprise, despite early start-up troubles.
“Give it time, Mr. Rove, give it time,” Adelson said.
“Yeah, good, good,” Rove said. He knew Adelson would be noncommittal when it came to how much fucking money he was hauling in. Hell, Adelson had made back his $265 million investment in the Sands Macao in one year, Rove recalled.
“Listen Sheldon, the party needs some help--”
Adelson interrupted, “The party? Not the communists, you don’t mean, boychick,” he said, chuckling, his jowly face jiggling like cherry jello.
“The Republican Party, Sheldon,” Rove said, adding, you prick, in his mind. He hurried on before Adelson could make some other smart-ass remark. “I know you’ve personally given generously to Newt’s campaign, and we’re grateful for that, but--”
“I doubt that, Karl,” Adelson said, more serious now. He knew Rove was doing everything he could to get Romney the Republican nomination. Even at close to 80, Adelson was sharp and plugged in. He had to be in order to prosper in the gaming industry.
“Nevertheless, Rove said, “You’re a strong supporter of Republican causes, and defeating the Democrats at the polls in 2012 is a cause célèbre.” Rove thought he might throw in a foreign phrase to impress Adelson, but he unknowingly mispronounced the term.
Adelson picked up on Rove’s mispronunciation and not one to let an opportunity to gain a psychological advantage pass him by, he not-so-subtly corrected Rove by saying, “Of course it is, Karl. It is THE cause célèbre,” emphasizing the correct pronunciation of the French phrase.
Rove was unfazed. In fact, Adelson’s attempt to belittle Rove played right into Rove’s hands. Scooting forward in his chair and moving his shoulders like a feint, Rove pressed the issue. “I knew you’d see it that way, Sheldon, that’s why I know you’ll be willing to help funnel some Chinese money to the RNC.”
“But, Mr. Rove--” Adelson said. This idiot will put me in jail, if I let him, he thought.
Rove cut him off. “Sheldon, surely you can work it out so that the Chinese invest a few hundred million yuan in one of your schemes, ‘er projects, and once the money turns green, you shuttle it to Winning the Future, and they put it into RNC targeted initiatives.”
“American Solutions for Winning the Future is not my organization, Mr. Rove. It is a free and independent advocacy group.”
Oh yeah, sure, Rove thought. Adelson founded and funded the super PAC.
“I have no control over how it chooses to spend its money,” Adelson went on. “Besides, what makes you think the Chinese would be willing to contribute to an American political campaign, not to speak of it being against the law?” Adelson shifted his short, endomorphic body in his over sized ergonomic chair and peered at Rove sideways.
“Well, Sheldon, I think the Chinese feel that they owe you for supporting their bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics.”
“Well--,” Adelson said, scratching what little was left of his reddish hair.
“Plus, they have a lot of money invested in your enterprises, and your enterprises thrive under a Republican Administration. Not so much under another four years of Obama, especially given his penchant for raising corporate taxes and supporting the fucking unions.” Rove glanced at the photograph just behind Adelson of he and George W. Bush together in Israel. Adelson was another ‘Bush Pioneer,’ but he marched to his own drummer.
Rove knew that Adelson was a staunch supporter of Israel, strongly opposed to the division of Jerusalem, and a sworn enemy of unions. He’d done everything he could to break the back of Las Vegas gaming unions. When he tore down the old Sands and put up the Venetian, he froze out the unions that had represented workers at the Sands. And like every other billionaire Rove knew, Adelson was also stridently anti-tax, and a strong supporter of the ‘corporations are people’ dogma of the Republican Party, and, thanks to Rove, the Supreme Court.
Adelson had been quiet for too long. Rove wanted to seal the deal and he threw out his trump card. “Look, Sheldon, you know I’m a supporter of Mitt. I think he has the best chance against Obama in 2012, but I know you support Newt. I’m willing to let the whole damned thing ride until the convention and then see where the chips fall. But in return, we need to ramp up spending on some of our key initiatives. And to do that, we need a big influx of money. What do you say?” Of course Rove had no intention of keeping this pledge. Hell, Adelson will have no way of knowing how I’m spending my money, thought Rove.
“What initiatives?” Adelson asked. Thinking to himself that Rove was pretty damned full of himself.
Rove started with his ace. “Well for one, we’re fighting the Scott Walker recall in Wisconsin. The fucking unions are generating a lot of energy behind that and he needs our help.”
“I’m one hundred percent in front on that and have already contributed money to Scott’s organization to help fight that,” Adelson said, with some energy of his own.
“Good, good,” said Rove, manufacturing a smile. “We’re also working with Walker and other Republican governors to push the requirement for voter identification. Anyone attempting to register will have to have government approved photo ID.”
“Damned right!” Adelson said. “And why shouldn’t they.” It wasn’t a question.
“And get this, Sheldon,” Rove said, with enthusiasm, “Mostly people get their photo IDs at the DMV and we’re using the budget crisis to shut down a bunch of DMV offices, and guess where we’re shutting ‘em down?” Rove answered his own question. “In predominately Democratic areas.”
“Good idea,” said Adelson. “The Democrats derive a lot of their support from the poor and minorities. The photo ID thing will impact them the most.”
“Damned right,” said Rove. “But all this takes money, so what about it Sheldon -- can you help us?”
“Karl, you know as well as I do that the law prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to our political campaigns, in any way, shape, or form,” Adelson said. “We can’t be caught doing this. Do you understand?”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
When I arrived at the train station the first thing I thought of were Jenny’s bags. I went to the lockers and looked in my ticket envelop for the small plastic locker key. Not there. I dug through my pockets. Not there, but it could be in the pants I’d packed. No it couldn’t. I was wearing the pants in which I’d arrived. It had to be in one of these pockets. It wasn’t.
I stood there thinking what to do next. I didn’t even remember the locker number. What could I tell the person who managed the lockers? Who did manage the lockers?
The hell with it. Jenny wasn’t ever going to need the things in her luggage. She was now just a cat in Florence.
I boarded the train, showed the porter my ticket, was shown to my compartment, and sat on the bunk with a sigh, holding my head in my hands. Good god, what a terrible trip!
A few minutes into the trip the porter brought me a menu for the evening meal and asked if I wanted anything. I asked for a bottle of beer, and then quickly changed the order to two beers. The porter looked around the compartment briefly and said, “Due persona, Signore?
“No,” I said. “Uno. The two beers are for me.”
“Si, Signore. Due bira.” He looked around briefly, no doubt wondering why I had a compartment for two. Let him wonder. He’d never believe me if I told him.
I opened my suitcase to get out my pajamas and robe. I’d jammed everything in helter-skelter and when I started pulling things out two shoes fell out. They were the loafers I thought I’d left, one in the woman’s house, and the other in the trash outside the hotel. What the hell?
I picked up up the shoes and stared at them. They looked okay, not like they’d been in a dumpster. Looking closer, I saw that one had what looked like claw marks all along one side, from heel to toe. Three marks, one deeper than the others. I dropped the shoes beside the bunk and fell back with just my feet hanging over the side of the bunk. I didn’t have the energy, physical or emotional to ponder how the hell these shoes had reappeared in my luggage.
I’d been about to fall asleep when the porter returned with my two beers and a bag of nuts. I finished the beers one right after the other and ate the nuts in big handfuls. Then I fell back on the bunk again and almost immediately felt myself drifting off on the rumble of the train wheels.
And there she was, Jenny. Just as I remembered her; standing besides the Ponte Vecchio, her green eyes following me as I approached, tossing her auburn hair, smiling that seductive smile she had. I was so relieved. I rushed to embrace her, but she kept moving away from me, not walking, but just seeming to be further and further away. And then the bridge started falling into the Arno River brick by brick, faster and faster, until the bridge was cascading into the river and Jenny, calling out to me, disappeared into the river with the bricks, until all that remained was her scream.
I woke to the scream of the train whistle and sat bolt upright, hitting my hit on the top bunk. I sat on the edge of the bunk and rubbed my head. I had to pee.
I got up and shuffled to the door, opened it and started to step out into the corridor. Then I realized that I was barefoot, and I remembered what the floor of the train toilet was like. I left the door ajar and went back and pushed my feet into the shoes, and then went out and down the corridor towards the toilet.
When I got to the toilet I stood and looked up at the door handle; up and up at the door handle. Had I fallen? I looked down and saw that I was on all fours. But all the four feet I was standing on were paws. One paw hurt and I picked it up and looked at it, and then sat on my haunches and licked it. Then I turned my head sharply and began licking the fur on my back. Once I started with the licking it became hypnotic and I licked my other paw and ran it over my face, licked it again, and ran it over my face again, and then did it a few more times until I was satisfied. Then I peed next to the door to the toilet, turned and started to scratch with my back feet. There was nothing around to bury the urine with, but I did it by force of habit.
What?! What the hell?! I’m not a fucking cat. What am I doing. Panic gripped me so hard it squeezed the breath out of me. I arched my back and hissed. Spun in a circle swatting at my tail. My tail?!
I tried to slow my breathing. Calm down, I told myself. You’re still dreaming. I closed my eyes and tried to wait it out. Then I heard footsteps. I opened my eyes. The porter was coming down the corridor. I watched him approach. He saw me and stopped dead, narrowing his eyes. I heard him hiss, “Un gatto!”
I stood and hissed back, “I’m not a fucking cat!”
The porter started towards me, moving slowly, calling me a ‘kitty,’ and making a clicking sound with his tongue against his palate, “Tchk, tchk, tchk.”
I watched him approach, putting my ears back and widening my eyes. When he got within a few feet, he lunged at me, but I was ready. I scooted between his legs and raced down the corridor towards my compartment. The porter, swearing under his breath chased after me, but I left him behind quickly and reached my compartment. But I couldn’t turn the door handle. I leaped up at the handle several times, but it was hopeless. I had to find someplace to hide until I woke up from this stupid dream. __________________________________________ To find out what happens next, you'll have to spend ninety-nine cents ($0.99) and buy the story at the Kindle Store.
I’d like to say that I spent the next several days scouring the back alleys of Florence for Jenny, but the truth is, after I spent the afternoon in a desultory sort of meander down to the Ponte Vecchio and back, I went to a trattoria. Was it Mama Gina’s? I don’t remember. I drank too much wine, and then I staggered through one alley after another trying to find the alley that led to the courtyard behind my hotel; the courtyard where the woman lived.
I don’t know how she knew I was coming, but there she was in her doorway, as before, only this time, as I approached, she uncovered her breast, and as I staggered towards her, mouth open, panting, she cupped her hand under it and offered it up to me.
I woke several times during the night, and each time the woman embraced me, her hot breath on my neck, her kisses covering my face and mouth, her body pressed hard to mine. At times I felt as if she sucked the life from me, and by morning I lay collapsed on her rumpled sheets, too exhausted to move.
Finally, I struggled up and stood looking around the dark, cramped room. The only furnishings were the the narrow bed -- no wonder the woman had been all over me -- a single, wooden chair, and a small dresser, with a wash basin on it. There were no windows. I picked up my pants and shirt from the floor and put them on.
My shoes were no where in sight. I shuffled around the small room looking in corners, and finally got down on my hands and knees, lifted the overhanging bed sheet, and looked under the bed. A jet black cat lifted it’s head and yellow eyes flashing, hissed at me with bared fangs. I jumped back, but too late. Lightening fast, it swiped its clawed paw across my face, just missing my eyes. “Jesus!”
I reared back and, holding my stinging face, staggered to the wash basin and dipped water into my hand and on to my face. Then, avoiding the bed, walked out of the room into the front room. I spotted one my shoes just inside the front door. I pushed my foot into it, and then straightened up and looked around. The room was dimly lit by its one window. An old iron potbellied stove stood in one corner, next to it a rough wooden table and chair. An ancient-looking Persian carpet lay on the floor. Otherwise, the room was bare.
I plodded to the door in my one shoe, the other one was probably under the bed being guarded by the damned cat, and took one last look into the house, then walked out. The late morning sun was flooding the courtyard with a white hot light.
Everything was still; the leaves on the trees didn’t rustle, the clothes on the lines didn’t sway, the birds didn’t sing, the Italians didn’t holler. It was as if time had been suspended.
Before I went in the hotel, I threw my orphaned shoe in the trash. I kept my head down and turned away from the desk as I entered the hotel. For some reason, I didn’t want the receptionist to see the scratch across my face. When I got to the room, I checked it in the mirror. The scratch started at my right ear and fell down across my cheek to my chin. There were three scratch lines, one far deeper and redder than the others. It was an angry, ugly wound, that washing and smearing with Neosporin did little to resolve.
After showering, I packed my things. I was going to make one last circuit of the inner city to look for Jenny, and then head to Santa Maria Novella Stazione. But I was dead tired. Maybe a little nap before I went out?
When I woke, the light was fading. My watch told me I had to hustle to catch the night train to Vienna. I had no hope of finding Jenny, anyway, I thought.
I put on my sneakers, grabbed my bags, went down stairs, and walked up to the reception desk. There was no one there. I rang the bell on the counter, and an old man, rubbing his eyes, appeared from the office. He mumbled something, hardly looking at me. I told him I was checking out, passed my room key across to him, and waited for him to process the information and settle the bill.
He pulled my room charges, studied them as if the document were a math proof, and then looked up at me. “Boun Dio! Il tuo volto.”
After a brief exchange, during which I’m afraid I was less than patient, I settled my bill, climbed in a taxi, and headed off at breakneck speed, not at my request, I might add, to the train station.
The taxi driver, a guy who looked as if he might have been in a few knife fights himself, kept glancing at me in the rear view mirror. Finally he raised his hand to his cheek and said, “You girlfriend, she get mad?”
The light streaming through the window made it seem as if the room were a movie set illuminated by klieg lights. I sat up rubbing my eyes, and then sat on the edge of the bed and held my head in my hands. “Jenny?” I called. There was no answer.
I leaned over and looked under the bed. Nothing but dust motes. I shuffled to the bathroom. She wasn’t there. “Jenny!” Suddenly I felt panic. What had I done? What had I said?
I turned and went to the open window. As I leaned on the sill a few tufts of cat fur wafted slowly up, glowing red in the late morning light. “Oh my god,” I said. "Oh my god.”
If you've ever wondered what separates creative non-fiction from fiction, please listen to this broadcast by This American Life on the retraction of a story they broadcast January 6, 2012, titled, "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory." I want you to pay attention particularly to the agonizing prologue by Ira Glass, and then the even more agonizing exchange with Mike Daisey, the man who wrote the story and then "performed it" on stage.
I was lying on the bed with my arm over my eyes when I heard the howl of animal fury from the bathroom. The next thing I knew Jenny jumped up next to me and hissed, “You bastard!”
“You’ve been with another cat! A female. And she’s in heat. What the hell?!”
I was stunned. I’d been sure Jenny was going to detect the smell of sex with the woman I’d met in the courtyard. A woman whose name I didn’t even know. A woman with whom I’d just had mind-blowing sex. But instead, Jenny had mistaken the scent for another cat. My mind was racing.
“Jenny, I can’t help it if some stray started trailing me,” I said, removing my arm from my eyes and giving her my most sincere look of innocence.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, “And how did her scent get all over your crotch?”
“The damned thing jumped in my lap when I sat down to rest a minute,” I said. “And I didn’t know it was a female cat. I can’t even tell the gender of a cat, let alone whether it’s in heat or not.” I feigned being indignant. The best defense is a good offense, I told myself. “Give me a break!” I rolled over on my side with my back to Jenny.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” Jenny said.
I turned my head to look at her. She was looking at the open window. “Well try this,” I said. “I’m headed to Florence, Italy, to enjoy a romantic holiday with my girlfriend and she suddenly turns into a cat,” I said, with exaggerated vehemence.
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” she moaned.
“Whatever,” I said, and turned away.
That night, or what remained of it, I dreamt that I was being hunted. I didn’t know what was after me; something without shape or form, an amorphous, black cloud chasing me down the narrow alleys of Florence, its hot breath blowing on my neck. I ran onto the Ponte Vecchio, moving with leaden feet on the slippery cobblestones. Behind me I heard a demonic howling.
You can’t sneak into a room hoping that your cat won’t sense your entry, your presence. I mean, forget about it.
There was no sign of Jenny when I entered the room. The window was still open, the way I’d left it, and the curtain was swaying gently in the breeze.
I had one arm out of my shirt when Jenny appeared from under the bed and stretched casually. “Where have you been?” she said.
“Uh, just walking.”
“Until two in the morning?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” I said, heading for the bathroom.
I closed the door behind me as I entered the bathroom and heard Jenny say, “Hey!”
“Give me a minute,” I said.
I used the toilet, quickly stripped, and got in the shower. I scrubbed everywhere very vigorously, including places where scrubbing vigorously was a bit uncomfortable. I worked quickly.
After I got through and dried off, I rubbed some of the complimentary moisturizing lotion on here and there, especially there. I stood at the sink and combed my hair, and then just stood there staring at my face staring back at me, guilt written all over it.
When I opened the door, Jenny was sitting in front of it with her tail wrapped around her haunches staring at the wall. “Sorry to take so long, but I felt all sweaty and grimy, and needed a quick shower.” Too much explaining, I thought.
Jenny didn’t say anything, and I started towards the bed. As I did I saw her pad into the bathroom and head right for my clothes, which lay crumbled on the floor where I’d left them. “Oh, no,” I whispered, involuntarily.
We didn’t talk much on the way back to the hotel after dinner. I was more than a little drunk, and Jenny was put out with me because, as she put it, I’d been “boorish.”
“And why is that,” I slurred.
“About the rabbit,” she said.
“What about it?”
“When I remarked that I thought it was overdone, you said something like, ‘You want it to hop up on the table so you can leap on it,’ or some smart ass remark like that.”
I tried to pet her head, but she pulled away.
When we got to our room Jenny curled up under the bed.
I used the bathroom, washed my face, and then went to the window and opened it to let in some fresh air. I stood looking down into the courtyard.
I turned, said I was going for a walk to clear my head, and started for the door. Jenny didn’t say anything.
I left the hotel and went back to the alley where I’d seen the woman that morning. It was a dark, narrow alley that led between tall buildings to the courtyard. I stood at the entrance to the courtyard and looked around. It was just a little past sunset and the pastel colors on the buildings; robin’s egg blue, pink, lavender, gold, took on a magical glow.
Lights were coming on in the windows, and as I looked around I noticed a woman silhouetted in a doorway about a hundred meters across the courtyard. I strained to make out if it was her; the woman I’d seen this morning. I couldn’t tell. So I walk across the courtyard towards her. She stood, leaning against the door frame, watching me approach.
When I was within a few meters I was able to make out her long, black hair, and see that her shoulders were bare. I couldn’t quite make out her features. I’m sure I was staring.
I heard her say, very softly, “Buona sera. Una bella serata, no?”
I stepped closer. I said, “Uh.”
She smiled, and I stood open-mouthed, in some sort of trance. She was even more beautiful than I remembered; large, brown eyes, set far apart, slightly slanted, a generous mouth defined by a full sensuous lower lip, high cheek bones.
“You are so beautiful,” I said, awestruck.
“Si,” she said, moving her head slightly, so that a ray of light moved across her face and flecks of gold glittered in her eyes.
She stood away from the stone door casing and reached her hand out to me.
Her movements were slow and measured, her look vulpine.
I took her hand and she pulled me to her.
She took my face in her two hands and moved her face to mine, looking into my eyes the whole time. Her mouth on my mouth was warm and tasted of grapes, and blackberries, and... And tuna?
On the way out of the hotel we passed by a woman hurrying into the narrow alley leading to the courtyard in back of our hotel. She was wearing a low-cut peasant dress, with a shawl over her shoulders. She glanced our way and smiled at me, and then was gone. I stopped in my tracks. The woman was gorgeous.
“You’re not going to whistle, are you?” Jenny said.
“No,” I said. And started walking, a little chagrined to be caught gawking.
“You better not. Just because you have Italian ancestry doesn’t mean you have to start acting like these jerks down here.”
“Uh huh,” I said, wondering if the woman we passed lived in one of the places that bordered the courtyard behind our hotel.
We headed to the Uffizi Galleries, hoping to spend the afternoon there, and then return in the morning, but the line to get in was daunting, and I didn’t look forward to holding my gym bag with my heavy cat in it.
We crossed the Arno over the Ponte Vecchio, pausing once again to look at all the gold in the windows of the little shops that line the bridge.
We walked through the streets towards the hills and up to the Pitti Place, once occupied by the Medici family. I was starting to sweat in the afternoon sun as we walked further up into the Boboli Gardens. I found a bench in the shade and sat, placing the gym bag besides me on the ground.
“Hey! Put me on the bench,” Jenny said.
We spent the afternoon in a desultory manner, wandering the gardens and then down into the city and back across the Ponte Vecchio again. Jenny napped most of the time, while I sweated. I found myself on another narrow alley the Italians insist on calling a street, this one called Via delle Terme. There, right in front of me was the Trattoria Nella. Since my mother’s name had been Nella, I decided this was destiny. In any case, I was hungry, and dying of thirst.
The sign said this was a family run restaurant, and the owner, a man who clearly enjoyed his own cuisine, told me I was welcome to bring in my cat. I told him in my fractured Italian that my mother's name had been Nella --"mia mama, lei chiama Nella."
He answered in much better English than my Italian, "Well my mama's name is Nella, too!”
He thought this was amusing, and went over to tell his wife, who was trying to finish food prep before things got busy. She told him "basta, basta," and went back to stirring the ragout.
He went over and sopped up some of the rich red sauce with a piece of bread and told his wife, “Va bene!” and she slapped him on the butt.
As before, I read Jenny the menu as best I could; the restaurant had no English language version. The owner kept glancing over -- it was a small place -- and finally came over, told me his name was Sergio, and asked if he could help translate the menu for me, apparently thinking that my reading it out loud was a cry for help.
“What is Coniglio?” I asked.
“The rabbit,” Sergio said.
“That sounds good,” Jenny said. “Tell him not to cook it.”
“What!” I said.
“Rabbit,” Sergio said, thinking I was speaking to him. “You know?” And he did a little imitation of a rabbit hopping.
“Yes, yes, gotcha,” I said. Then I asked about the Tegamino di trippa alla Fiorentina.
“That’s a local favorite,” Sergio said, with a smile.
“Uh, and it’s what?” I said.
“Cow’s stomach,” Sergio said. “Fried nice, with rosemary. Very good.”
“That sounds good,” Jenny said. “Tell him I want it just a little warmed up.”
“That’s disgusting!” I said.
“Oh, no Signore, very good. I guarantee you like.”
“No, I’m sure it’s good. But I think I’ll have the Lasagne.”
“Si, Signore. And what would you like to begin... An antipasti?” Sergio said.
“The rabbit,” Jenny said. “Rare.”
I raised my eyebrows. “The Coniglio alla cacciatora,” I said. I was familiar with chicken cacciatora -- I made it myself sometimes -- so thought it was a safe choice.
“Rare,” Jenny repeated.
“Okay, rare,” I said.
This time Sergio raised his eyebrows. “You want the Coniglio as an appetizer?”
“No, a main dish,” I said.
“Rare,” Jenny said.
“I heard you,” I said.
Sergio looked puzzled. “You want the rabbit, or the Lasagne, he said, clearly running out of patience.
“Both,” I said. I held a hand high above the table. “And a big carafe of your house wine.”