The Love and Existential Tumult of a Man called Theo (Four-Part Memoir currently in progress)
“Life is a slaughterhouse. Once you discover it has no meaning, you finally start living.” – Theo
Transformational events have punctuated Theo’s life in 18-year cycles. Having discovered a baffling correspondence between them, and the 18-year ‘Saros’ cycles that chart the eclipses of the Sun and Moon, he’s on a journey to chronicle his life in four books:
SAROS I: The Age of Baku (Years 0-18, in progress)
Baku, otherwise known as the ‘Dream Eater’, is the mythological being or spirit in Chinese and Japanese folklore which is said to devour nightmares. The Baku cannot be summoned without caution, the legend warns, for if the Baku is not satisfied after consuming the nightmare, he may also devour one’s hopes and dreams. Theo’s Baku was not satisfied, and went on to devour his childhood, dreams and all.
SAROS II: The Age of Icarus (Years 19-36)
In Greek mythology, Icarus, son of Daedalus, dared to fly too near the sun on wings of feathers and wax. His father cautioned him that flying too near the sun would cause the wax to melt (Theo’s father did warn him, but not until he was thirty). Icarus became ecstatic with the ability to fly and forgot his father’s warning. The feathers came loose and Icarus plunged to his death in the sea. Like him, Theo also dared to fly too high on wings of envy, greed, and away from myself.
Book III: The Age of the Fisher King (Years 37-54)
In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King is crippled by a magical wound, and as a result, his lands are desolate, and infertile – a barren waste land. All he is able to do, is fish in the river near his castle, and wait for someone who might be able to heal him. Healing involves the use of magic. Knights travel from many lands to heal the Fisher King, but only the chosen can accomplish the feat.
SAROS IV: The Age of Nahualli (Years 55-72)
The Fourth Saros begins with Theo’s search for a ‘Querencia’ that in Spanish describes the place on a ring an exhausted bull with seek to gather his energies before another charge. Once – and if he finds it – Theo is determined to finally do what he believes he was meant to do all his life.
The Deadly Dalliances of Braxton Figglehorn (Novel, shelved)
“Figgy”, as he is known in his sleepy hometown of Shelbyville, is a sunny, naive, overprotected, and awkward young man who is thrust into defining what it is to be a man when drafted to serve in the Vietnam War, leaving behind his overbearing mother, emasculated father, and the two women that will take him on a roller-coaster ride punctuated by jealousy, sex, and betrayal, giving him a firsthand feel of the wrath of a woman scorned.
Only one thing was more intense than Agatha’s scorn toward her husband Chester. It was the way she pampered and protected Braxton.
“Figgy”, as his only friend chose to call him, was the only boy his age you would see wearing protective gear while riding his bicycle (Agatha had refused to remove its training wheels until Figgy was almost eleven). By protective gear don’t think I mean those sleek, aerodynamic ones worn today by hardcore cyclists dressed like harlequins in skin-tight outfits pedaling up dauntingly-steep hills on gorgeous Sunday mornings . Rather, Figgy’s was a Brodie helmet, the ones that look like a rotten sunnyside egg. It was a gift from his Grandpa Wilbur who wore it while serving in the British Army at the Battle of St. Eloi in 1916. Constructed of a single piece of steel, its wide rim was still sharp to the touch, and though its shallow circular crown had several dents, the entire piece still had clear traces of the original mottled light green, blue, and orange camouflage paint. The helmet’s original leather strap had ripped, so in its stead, Agatha replaced it with a cutting of an old kitchen rag that Figgy had to tie under his chin in a bulky knot before allowed to ride.
While the other boys raced up and down the small hills that dotted the field next to the railroad track, hooting and hollering like marauding, dwarf barbarians, Figgy trudged behind, sweat dripping from the Brodie, pedaling his heavy, black iron bike.
Always waiting for him by the front door were a clean rag and a toothbrush. Before allowed to come in, his mother expected Figgy to wipe his bike spotless, using the toothbrush to clean the mud off the spokes.
Among the boys, Figgy was the only one who returned to school every summer with the ghostly pallor of wood-ash to his skin, shadowed as he was most of the time by the wide-brim straw hat his mother insisted he wear whenever they went out (the sun is dangerous, she would declare). Never Figgy the one to swallow a penny and be held upside down by his feet until he spit it out; nor for him the thrilling rush from the tug of a rainbow trout on the other end of a fishing line (there were too many snakes by the river, his mother warned); neither the excitement of decapitating a hummingbird with a BB gun, nor the pride in a well-crafted bow and arrow (certainly could pluck out someone’s eye). Thus shielded, Figgy never learned to sense the propinquity of danger.
Hearts in Insurrection (Historical Novel. Completed, edited, and pending re-write)
What happens when lust overpowers conscience? When the thirst for revenge blinds us to the redeeming power of love? And what kind of woman is capable of arousing such unbridled desire in a young man to make him first, a witless spectator to murder, then an accessory, and finally and assassin himself? In Hearts in Insurrection, the young protagonist falls under the spell of Niandi’s female power as he comes of age in a Banana Republic.
International conspiracy, vengeful prostitutes, corporate greed, and sinister seduction pack this 330 page historical novel. The story traces the origin and expansion of the banana empires which dominated Central America from the late 1800’s, to the CIA-led overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954. The book culminates in a string of murders committed by the protagonist, and Niandi, the fictional granddaughter of Jacobo Arbenz, the deposed president.
Sample Chapter: Art of the Prostitute
While for most young girls in Latin America, the advent of womanhood is cause for shame, followed by stern warnings laced with stories of hell and damnation, Niandi’s first menstruation was a joyous occasion at Club 45. The bloodstain on her sheets had torn such terrifying screams from her throat that they awoke every girl shortly after they had just gone to bed. With dark rings around their puffed eyes, they congregated like a gaze of raccoons around Niandi’s bed to welcome her into their fold. La Luki sat next to Niandi, waiting for her to swallow the steaming infusion of passionflower leaves and anise seeds she had prepared to soothe her cramps. Arms around her knees squeezing her legs against her chest, Niandi’s emerald eyes darted from one girl to the next as they speculated which of the Club’s patrons would be fortunate and wealthy enough to be her first.
Barely fourteen, resembling a young mare, Niandi’s impatient body had burst into a tempting ensemble that could drive even the most pious to sin. By then, generously paid for by my father, she was also attending an all-girls catholic school. Now, every morning on their way to the bus stop, La Luki was forced to engage in heated verbal tussles with bricklayers and carpenters showering Niandi with lewd catcalls. La Luki’s heart would tighten every time she saw Niandi’s dejected stare as she watched other girls being dropped off by their mothers.
Julie, the Madam, entrusted Claudia with Niandi’s initiation into the erotic lore of the beguiling prostitute. At the top of her game, Claudia was the most desired prize for those able to afford her. At first, she refused Julie, guarding her supremacy with feline viciousness. Ofelia, an arresting Venezuelan girl of incredible talent, had left the Club just four months after her arrival, carrying the imprint of Claudia’s sharp fingernails forever carved on her tender cheeks. Claudia didn’t stand out for being unusually attractive. Rather petite and slim – although well proportioned – with narrow gray eyes and a tiny puckered mouth, she was sought more for the extremes to which she would allow herself to be taken. Reassured by Julie that experience counted far more in their trade than youth, Claudia finally acquiesced.
“Have her ready in three months,” was Julie’s parting command.
The living room where both of them sat every afternoon after Niandi had finished her homework was always dark. To conceal its presence, Julie had planted several trees in front of the Club, which had grown tall and leafy, blocking its stately facade from the street, and shrouding the Club’s interior in penumbra.
“Now that you’ve become a woman, realize that you hold a power which is greater than anything on earth; an allure that can force men to do anything you want them to.” Claudia began Niandi’s education. “You are the guardian of an enduring legacy of women who refined the art of seduction: Bathsheba from the Old Testament, Helen of Troy and my favorite, Cleopatra.”
Club 45 was no ordinary brothel. An erudite woman herself, Julie insisted that her girls be more like courtesans than common whores.
“Seduction begins with the mind,” Julie would lecture them. “The female body only completes the snare.”
“So men are weak?” Niandi questioned Claudia with the same zeal that oftentimes drove her schoolteachers crazy.
“Not necessarily. But all suffer from two major weaknesses: vanity and a constant need for someone to bolster their self esteem.”
Still wearing her school uniform, Niandi pressed the pleats of her green and white checkered skirt and giggled, remembering conversations she’d overhead in the girls bathroom. “You mean,” she cleared her throat. “We should always exaggerate about the size of their –”
“Well, yes, that of course. Always too big. Don’t forget to subtly let them know that. However, it’s not only about their virility. It’s about creating the illusion that through you, they will live out their wildest fantasies and unleash their repressed desires. Offer your clients a complete escape from the boundaries that constrain their lives. Be like a siren Niandi, whose song lures men into losing control over themselves.”
“Will I get to choose my men?”
“Not initially, but eventually you must become more and more elusive. Dangle the prize before their eyes but postpone deliverance. Do you remember how you felt when your mother put candy out of your reach?”
The despondent shadow dulling Niandi’s eyes and evaporating her giddiness, reminded Claudia of Arabella’s letter and the newspaper article reporting Niandi’s mother’s suicide.
“Never mind that,” Claudia quickly added. “Just remember that the thing men can’t have, makes them want it even more.”
“How will I know what they want me to do? Should I just ask them?” Niandi leaned forward.
“Never outright. Leave that to common streetwalkers. Discipline yourself to listen carefully to what they say while you’re in the Club.” Claudia fanned her arm across the different sitting rooms. “You’ll learn to separate your prey by what they say is missing in their ordinary lives: wife nags all day, or doesn’t know how to listen to his heart, possibly too prudish, unadventurous in the bedroom, perhaps she remains stiff during intercourse, making her husband feel like a necrophiliac. Or maybe they just desire oral sex…”
Niandi grimaced and shuddered.
“…or crave the untainted virgin.” Claudia fell silent, admiring Niandi top to bottom: the natural sheen of her amber curls, unblemished skin and delicate hands, straight shoulders, upright breasts bursting like ripening peaches against her white cotton shirt, the firm tone of her sculptural legs covered with soft hair, hued like the first light of dawn. Claudia’s eyes softened with desire, then narrowed, as a flush of icy anxiety coursed inside her, swiftly congealing into red jealousy as she pictured her clients moving away from her like lustful moths, toward the radiance of Niandi’s exotic beauty.
Intimidated by Claudia’s hawkish gaze, Niandi recoiled against the sofa.
“Enough for today!” Claudia curtly dismissed her pupil.
“I’m scared Luki,” Niandi confessed one morning as she was having her hair brushed.
“What about mi niña.”
“My first time. They say it hurts.”
La Luki stared at Niandi’s anxious reflection. “A loveless fuck always hurts nena, but right here,” she pointed at her heart with the hairbrush. “I wouldn’t worry about the pain between the legs though. I know of a special remedy for that too. Besides, La Bruja in Antigua prophesied you won’t be doing this for long. Someone, the old crone said fanning the cards across the table…someone will soon take the girl away from here.”
Niandi got up and held La Luki’s hands looking up to her with plaintive anticipation.
Niandi did not know whether it was always guilt, or fear, that made La Luki’s left eye gyrate wildly. She turned around and began to stuff Niandi’s books in her satchel lying on the bed. “The old hag couldn’t tell me who it was. She said she needed to see you to be sure. Let’s hurry up, the bus is about to arrive.”
“The most effective way to conceal your art is to appear vulnerable, weak and helpless. Men want to feel superior and strong. Let them have their wish. Your weakness will rouse their sympathy making them want to protect and help you. Appear bashful and modest; tempt them with your innocence. As soon as you suspect they’ve taken the bait, change direction.”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean, change direction?” Niandi prodded Claudia during the second month of her training.
“Don’t overwhelm your suitors with sweet innocence. Keep them guessing. Show them at times that you also possess a cruel and heartless streak. Appear suddenly uninterested. Taunt them by surrounding yourself with a crowd of admirers. They will never resist the challenge of becoming the sole center of your attraction. Be careful though. Choose only those who you sense will fall for your charms.”
“How will I know? What if make a mistake?” Niandi lifted her upturned hands.
Claudia slowly pulled up her blouse. Niandi’s eyes widened as she stared at the fresh wound on Claudia’s right breast, the tooth marks still visible through the black and blue.
“Even someone with my experience, every now and then, gets it wrong.” Claudia covered herself. “There are men with a sadistic bent who only come here to unleash their pent-up anger on our flesh.”
Niandi leaned against the sofa placing her hands over her mouth. “Who did it?”
“Jaime Chinchilla, the Manager of United Fruit.”
Niandi shook her head. “Why does Julie allow him to keep coming back?”
“The banana company is our biggest client. Without them, and the army, this place would’ve shut down years ago. Julie lets Chinchilla enjoy our services without paying – that’s how important United Fruit is to this joint. Never mind that. Come upstairs with me.”
This would be the first time Niandi wound her way up the staircase to the upstairs bedrooms. A cold sweat broke on her palms. Everyone knew of Claudia’s occasional appetite for girls. Her stride lightened as she saw La Luki vacuuming the corridor running in front of the bedroom doors. Following Claudia, she stepped into the room with the large round bed in the middle, careful not to close the door behind her. Niandi marveled at all the evening dresses, high-heeled shoes, silk stockings, white lingerie, jewelry and makeup, scattered over the bedspread, multiplied on the ceiling’s mirror.
“These are you new uniforms,” Claudia declared, her voice betraying the swell of bile consuming her entrails. “Julie chose them herself…asked me to make sure you try everything on.”
Niandi jumped excitedly on the bed, moving her hands across sequins, lace and silk. She shuffled through the delicate bodices, camisoles, garters, and panties.
“Why is all the underwear white?”
“They will embody the longed-for fantasy that every man – especially older ones – harbors for the eternal virgin, for the young temptress. You must tease a man’s imagination to stir not only their lust for sex, but also for the chance to possess an idealized figure. These here,” she lifted a stack of evening gowns and draped them over a coat rack next to the bed, “these are reserved for the times when you will be taken out of the Club by customers.”
Niandi dropped a sheer teddy of the floor. “Taken where? Where do they take us?”
Claudia kept one of the ankle-length gowns held against her body, twirling side to side, admiring her reflection in the full-size mirror next to the mahogany dresser.
“Cocktail parties, galas, dances, elegant dinners – places where they much rather be seen with someone like me, than their ugly, boring, and nagging wives.” A half turn and she faced Niandi. “Your job will not only be making them look good in front of their acquaintances but to collect secrets.” Claudia’s glare forced Niandi to lower her eyes.
“Secrets?” Niandi whispered, perplexed.
“Yes, secrets. You have no idea what you will learn about their private lives, who everyone’s sleeping with, or plotting against – who they plan to betray, torture, or even murder.” A blunt smile surfaced on Claudia’s countenance as she relished in the fear gripping Niandi. “You might not remember this, but three years ago…yes I think it was in seventy-one, Adolfo Mijangos, the opposition Congressmen, was pushing himself on his wheelchair out of his downtown office. Reporters used to ask him if he feared for his life because of all the death threats he’d received. The fool replied that given his crippled condition, he didn’t think anyone was capable of murdering him. Anyway, he comes out of his office and was about to board his vehicle, assisted by his chauffeur, when three men walked toward him and shot him twelve times in the back. I was at the apartment of the Minister of Defense that night – he must’ve thought I was still asleep. I overheard when they called to report the murder. Good job, he said. Make sure they’re rewarded properly, and hung up. The things you find out Niandi, might one day save your life. Now hurry up and try all of this on.”
Niandi picked up an indigo messaline dress, a translucent camisole, lace panties and bra, and with a pair of black stilettos dangling from her fingers, walked into the bathroom. Claudia followed behind.
“Before you change, there is something I need to teach you. Do you need to pee?”
Niandi furrowed her brow and shrugged her shoulders. “A little maybe, why?”
“Then hurry up, I don’t have all day!”
An uncomfortable silence enveloped both women. Realizing Claudia was not going to leave, Niandi lay the clothes on the floor, pulled down her underwear, lifted her skirt and sat on the toilet. A shy trickle flowed almost inaudibly. It was followed by a louder, unbroken gush.
“Now make it stop!” Claudia ordered.
“The piss. Make the piss stop! No-no ishta burra, not like that. Don’t squeeze your legs. Use the muscles inside your vagina, here, in the pelvis.” Claudia pointed to herself.
Tiny drops continued escaping Niandi’s grip.
“Okay. You feel those muscles? Now relax them for ten seconds and do it again. I want you to repeat this exercise at least twenty times, three or five times a day. Then practice with something inside you; maybe you can have one of your school friends insert two fingers and slowly pull them out while you try to hold them inside.”
“What for?” Niandi ignored her sordid insinuation.
A foxy smile narrowed Claudia’s eyes as she walked out of the bathroom. “When your time comes, you’ll know.” The door closed behind her.
Changing out of her school uniform, Niandi was amazed at the difference in size between her cotton bloomers and the bikini that exposed almost half of her pronounced buttocks. The cold, black and white tile floor under her naked feet, made her shiver. She squeezed into the tiny dress, slipped on her shoes and struggled for a while trying to figure out how to lace them across her shin and behind her calf.
“I can’t walk in these shoes, they hurt,” she called out to Claudia. “And this dress is so tight, I can hardly breathe!”
“That’s the way it should fit.” Claudia replied from the other side. “Let me see you.”
With precarious balance, Niandi teetered out of the bathroom. Speechless for some time in the presence of such exquisiteness, Claudia regained her steely composure and remarked brusquely, “Looks fine. Here, let me put this on you.” With a strand of black pearls held with both hands, Claudia approached from behind as Niandi inspected herself in the mirror. The dress was bare almost to the bottom of her spine, exposing Niandi’s smooth, freckled back and deep indentations above her buttocks. Claudia raised the necklace above her head. Niandi lifted her hair to one side and felt Claudia’s body press uncomfortably against hers, hardened nipples jabbing at her naked skin. Unable to move, Niandi felt Claudia’s hot breath flowing in her ear as she whispered, “When you become weary of men, and of their calloused hands scraping your delicate flesh–”
The hoarse din of the vacuum cleaner weaving its course into the room startled Claudia and slackened Niandi’s tense body. Over the raucous noise, Claudia growled at La Luki in a shrill voice. “Puta maldita! Don’t you have other rooms to clean?”
In the mirror, Niandi caught la Luki’s reflection and smiled in relief. Shaking her head and pointing at her ear, la Luki continued working her way into the room.
Claudia yanked hard on Niandi’s hair pulling her head back. “I warn you of one thing. Stay away from Carlos Montero. He’s mine, and my ticket out of this life!” Clasping the pearl necklace around her own neck, Claudia stormed out.
Tears welling in her eyes, Niandi rushed to embrace La Luki who had turned the machine off.
“Ya-ya mi niña, ya pasó,” she comforted her with gentle pats on her back. “Get used to this life of disenchantment. Just keep away from Claudia and her lover.”
Between sobs, Niandi asked: “Quien es Montero?”
“Montero is the Army’s Chief of Staff. He and Byron Garcia run the G-2, los Orejas – the army’s secret intelligent service. Real bad men. Claudia is Montero’s favorite piece of ass. He comes here every week, on Tuesday, when it’s quiet. Sits for a while, has a few drinks with Claudia, and then they both leave. Claudia usually returns on Wednesday night. You should see the presents Montero’s given her. Dios mío! The clothes, the jewelry, que daría yo! Claudia says that he’s promised to set her up in an apartment, that he plans to leave his wife and live with her.”
“Is she ready?” Julie asked Claudia one morning while both sat for breakfast at the dining table by the kitchen. “It’s been ten weeks already.”
In her mid-fifties, with a thick head of hair woven in silver and umber tumbling down to her shoulders, straight thin nose, hands and fingers like a piano virtuoso and a royal gleam in her charcoal eyes, Julie retained her once imperial beauty and deportment. It was rumored she had been the lover of General Jorge Ubico in the late thirties, just before Jacobo Arbenz and Francisco Arana ousted him from power.
La Luki shuffled back and forth with generous servings of huevos rancheros, black beans with sour cream sprinkled with fresh cheese, pan dulce and coffee. Every morning after dropping Niandi at the bus station, the kitchen was her province. There she would spend almost two hours feeding twenty ravenous whores in different shifts. Next, like the Stations of the Cross, she would head outside to the pila to scrub the girls’ dresses, lingerie and the soiled sheets, hanging them all out to dry on the clotheslines in the open patio. The remainder of her day would be spent cleaning the entire Club for that evening. La Luki lowered the volume of her plastic radio to overhear Claudia’s response.
“I don’t think she’s going to work out Julie. Esa niña es muy loca. She’s willful. Careless too. Can you believe she’s already lost the black pearl necklace you bought her? Ah, and the other day I was instructing her on proper table manners and what do you think?” Claudia took her fork and began stabbing at the yolk of her eggs. “This is what she does! Disgraceful! I tell you, she spends way too much time with that cross-eyed sow Luki.”
Fuming, La Luki slammed the frying pan on the chipped enamel surface of the stove.
“Maybe we should have her godfather take her away, Julie. He’s rich. Let him handle her.”
“I don’t give a damn how indomitable she is. This Club has supported her for fourteen years now – it’s time for her to earn her keep. Whether she’s ready or not, I will introduce her to our clientele two weeks from today!”
“But Julie, please, that’s Tuesday. Tuesday is when–”
“You heard me, you have only two weeks!” Julie pushed her chair back and rose from the table.
A lively whistle could be heard coming from the kitchen.
La Luki walked into the bathroom carrying a large glass pitcher in her hand. Julie had allowed Niandi to soak in the only bathtub in the Club.
“What is that?” Niandi asked as she watched the filmy liquid cascading onto the steaming water.
“This will make your skin feel like a baby’s butt. It’s made of powdered skim milk, honey, a few drops of raspberry oil and crushed elm tree leaves.”
“Please stay with me for a while. Sing me a song Luki.”
“No time for foolishness, nena. Tonight’s your night. I have to get you ready by seven.”
A somber pallor washed over Niandi’s face. She stared down, gliding her hand through the water.
“No te preocupes mi reina. Everything will be alright.”
“Si mi amor?”
“You think my mother is as kind and beautiful as you are? You think she’ll hate me when she knows what I am about to become? And what if she never comes back.”
“Shh, don’t talk nonsense. Ten more minutes. Then come out and I’ll dress you.”
Julie had arranged to have her best and most assiduous clients stop by the Club that Tuesday night. ‘COME CELEBRATE OUR ANNIVERSARY’ was the occasion blazoned in the clandestine notes she had sent out. ‘FIRST TWO DRINKS COURTESY OF THE HOUSE’.
Pressing the towel against her chest, Niandi lifted the stretch-Lycra silver dress high off the round bed, perhaps hoping that it would grow longer the higher she reached up. She threw it back down and stared at the white fishnet stockings and garter belt next to the gossamer lace G-string. Paddling through the clothes, she panicked when she could not find a bra. Incessantly, the buzz from the front doorbell kept jolting Niandi, sitting listless on the edge of the bed. As the minutes passed, the cacophony of deep male voices, female cackles and clinking glasses, grew louder, pounding her ears. The heavy knock on the door made her open her eyes.
“Nena, ya esta lista? Apurese criatura. Doña Julie ordena que baje ahoritita mismo!”
“Coming Luki. Tell Julie I’ll be down in a few minutes.
“You need help?”
“No thanks, I’m fine.” Niandi heard La Luki’s weighty footsteps fading away. It took her a while to figure out how to snap the garters on the thigh-high stockings. Then she had to squeeze her legs tight for the dress to slide up. With both hands, she tugged down at the hem and wiggled, trying to cover more of her thighs, now halfway exposed, but that just made the already low V-cut, afford a more generous view of her breasts. She pulled the thick straps above her shoulders and twisted sideways. As if she were not showing enough flesh already, the shiny dress had laced-up sides and flirty sheer inserts. This doesn’t look right, she thought to herself. Because it was almost painted onto her skin, she could see the bulging lines of the garter belt under the dress, so she removed the belt, leaving just the white stockings with stretch-lace tops. Niandi walked over to the bathroom to begin the scrupulous process of making up her face.
Downstairs, Colonel Montero was tiring of Claudia’s insistence on leaving the Club right away. Deja de joder chula! What’s the rush? I haven’t ordered my second free drink for God’s sake, relax.”
The warped silhouette of his bodyguard, standing across the room, reflected itself on Montero’s dark shades. Claudia kept looking up to the top of the stairs praying that Niandi would not make her appearance.
Some say that when a crowd becomes suddenly quiet, it is because an angel is flying overhead. Like a colony of Meerkats sensing danger, one by one, the heads of the men downstairs, tilted upward. In this case, it was an Angel of Seduction, incarnate, looking down from the top of the stairs that threw the room into stillness. With one hand delicately placed over the mahogany banister, Niandi floated down the carpeted stairs in professional control of her high heels. She had added at least five years on her face by the thick black liner that made her eyes look almost turquoise, and the flush of wild cherry on her lips. Her twin effigies reflected themselves on the panes of Colonel Montero’s dark shades as he held her with his lustful glance. Claudia’s eyes darted from Niandi to Montero, and back again. Leaning against the frame of the arched doorway to the bar, Julie scanned the crowd of mesmerized customers, speculating on who the highest bidder would be, while checking off in her mind all the things she would purchase on her next shopping trip to Miami. In her bedroom, La Luki lit another orange votive candle in front of the print of Jesus of the Sacred Heart, and elevated a prayer for Niandi. The metallic clatter of two Quarters tumbling inside the jukebox followed by Barry White’s deep voice rendering ‘Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Babe’ brought the Club back to life.
Claudia felt relieved when she saw Montero gesture at his bodyguard to approach; she believed he would ask him to get his men and motorcade ready to leave. The brawny man leaned over, bringing his ear next to his boss’ face to receive his instructions. “Si, mi coronel? Lo que usted mande, mi coronel.” When the bodyguard finally pushed his way across the room and into the bar looking for Julie, he was forced to wait, while Jaime Chinchilla, the Manager of the United Fruit Company, negotiated for Niandi with the Madam.
“Gringos de mierda!” the outbid Montero cursed through clenched teeth as he stormed out of the Club with an overjoyed Claudia right behind him.
Along with her hymen, Niandi’s illusions of a man’s tenderness, patience and kindness were shattered that night by Chinchilla’s forceful thrusts, which she received impassively. Within a few minutes, his sweaty, shuddering body collapsed on hers. Niandi’s stomach roiled with the stench of his cologne, acrid breath, and the thick Vaseline on his hair.
That night, Niandi vowed that while men could use or abuse her body, she would manipulate their hearts, minds, and lustful appetites, perfecting every seductive trick she had learned, and exploiting their weaknesses to free herself from the life of a prostitute.
Road of Ashes (Novel – Shelved)
A man survives the attack on the World Trade Center and decides to take that opportunity to start a new life with a clean slate, leaving his wife, and son Billy behind. Convinced that the CIA recruited his dad to lead a covert operation in the Middle East, Billy sets out to find him and discovers the truth.
Sample Chapter: The Rainy Day has Come
Somehow, I would have to find a way to enter the apartment while Helen and Billy were out. My quirky habit of nestling hundred-dollar bills (when I still had them to spare) between the pages of my favorite books, now seemed prescient; that rainy day had finally come. Furthermore, I needed at least one change of clothing, the most inelegant; one they would never notice was removed.
The afternoon sun glowed eerily orange through the thick cloud of dust and ash as I headed on West Broadway toward the Canal Street station hoping that Giuliani’s reassurances proved correct; that the M-line train to Queens was indeed operating.
It was pointless for me to continue worrying about whether someone I knew had seen me walking out of the twin towers, or if one of my co-workers also survived and recognized me in the crowd. I simply had to press on. My mind was more preoccupied with where I would spend the night – or the next few nights, as I concluded no ships would be allowed to sail from New York for a while. The idea of a ship unscrolled a world map inside my head. Tahiti I recalled, lay halfway on the Pacific Ocean between South America and Australia. I began to wonder if any ship would even sail from an Atlantic seaport around Cape Horn to the Pacific. Would I have to travel to the West Coast to embark? Or sail to Europe and then find my way to Tahiti. All I was certain of was that the longer I remained in the U.S. – especially in New York – the greater the risk of someone identifying me. I needed to move, and quickly.
Despite the throng filling the Canal Street train station, there was an unfamiliar civility in every New Yorker gathered there wanting to get back home to their loved ones, to escape the chaos engulfing the streets of Manhattan. No one pushed, shoved or cursed, but lined up somberly for his or her turn to board. I arrived at the Forest Ave. & 67th Ave. station at around 7:00 P.M. There was no reason they would be stepping out of the apartment at that hour. Billy would be sitting by the phone, his pale-blue eyes unblinking, glued to the newscast, waiting to hear from me. My daily excursion to Juniper Valley Park and eccentric behavior in front of the Pullis Farm Cemetery couldn’t have gone unnoticed, so I discarded spending the night there, walking instead down Fairview, toward Linden Hills Cemetery.
For the first time since we moved to Queens, it felt safe to walk its almost empty streets. A shared enemy was now the locus of Americans’ hatred. Never since World War II had the country experienced such fellowship, such fused allegiance. The few people I met on the street melted away their previous indifference with warm smiles expressing solidarity in the face of shared grief. But rather than cuddling under the warm, secure blanket of this supreme patriotism, for some reason, my mind kept repeating the title of a Pogo book I once read when I was ten years old: ‘We have met the enemy and the enemy is us”.
After I’d lost my job at the bank, I sometimes used to gaze enviously at the homeless, idealizing their freedom, thinking that only they possessed the poetry of continual danger and thus knew not of boredom. Just that one night spent sleeping on a granite burial slab, cured me of such folly. Thankfully, the temperature was mild on the morning of September 12 when I woke up. Otherwise, my already stiff bones would’ve certainly cracked and joined those of Joe N. and Alice P. Rainwater buried underneath me.
That day, I also acquired a greater respect for those shrunken ascetics one sees on photographs of India, their pencil-thin, ashen legs entwined, begging bowl by their calloused feet, subsisting on just a few grains of rice every day. My groaning stomach was demanding bacon and eggs, pancakes, toast, orange juice, bangers and coffee. Hunger, I said to myself, has a cruel way of taming the adventurous. My stomach would have to wait though; I had spent four dollars on the train ride, leaving just four quarters jingling gloomily inside my pocket.
The sun was about to break the horizon. The terrorists had knocked out Manhattan’s two front teeth. Between the Empire State Building and the other skyscrapers to the north, all I could see was a gaping hole filled with gray-white smoke. I felt strangely exultant. Could this be the moment I had sometimes yearned for? A cataclysmic wake-up call to humanity to cease all its feverish activity and ask itself where it was going in such a blind rush. I stretched as far as my limbs would allow, passed a soiled hand over my oily hair, and made the reeking mistake of checking my breath inside my cupped hands. I winced, pushed up my tie knot, brushed off the dry leaves that had alighted on my suit during the night, and started walking home.
I have always been loath to stereotype but didn’t doubt for one second that the Jewish bakery, cater-cornered from the apartment building on which we lived, would be open that day. Whether they would sell me a cup of coffee for a buck, and allow me to sit by the window looking out on 58th avenue for as long as I needed, that I did not know. I was dizzy that morning, not so much because of hunger, but by staring so long at the sidewalk, trying not to look into anyone’s eyes to avoid being recognized. Dizzier still while staring at the speckled linoleum floor of the bakery as I sat by the window. It took every remaining ounce of strength left in me not to spring off my chair and run across the street to embrace Billy as he walked behind Helen through the building’s glass doors.
I could tell he had not slept at all the previous night. Short for his age, he looked even tinier because of the way he hunched, and although far, I could see his face was haggard, like one who has suffered unspeakable torments. My troubled glance shifted to Helen. Did I really expect to detect remorse or sadness in her face? Her ice-cold stare was definitively unaffected. Her resolute stride had the spring that could only be described as elated, or at least, one of joyous relief. My sense of guilt was not strong enough to suppress the memory of what she had said the night when we dined with Vicky and Todd back when we were still living at East 18th and Broadway.
Helen was visibly drunk that night, which made her even more combative and cruel. It was during one of those winter nights in New York when no one ventures out, so we decided to stay indoors and cook together. I had just recently been let go by the bank, but the troubles between Helen and I had started months before. Vicky asked Helen if we could turn on the gas fireplace in the living room so that it would be cozy when we moved in there for dessert. Helen turned to look at me; her attractive face marred by a sardonic smile, and without taking her burning eyes off me responded calmly: “We certainly do have a fireplace Vicky, but lately, there just hasn’t been a man around this house capable of kindling a fire.”
I got up and followed Helen and Billy from a safe distance. I needed to find out where they were headed to know how much time I could spend inside the apartment. Was I capable of murder? A dead man can’t be suspected, can he? They turned right on 74th Street. That would require I return to the World Trade Center to hide part of my suit in the rubble; a clump of hair would help the forensic geneticists. Maybe knock out a few teeth and cut myself, spreading blood on the ground. I spun around quickly as Billy suddenly glanced behind him as they were turning left on Caldwell. I waited a few seconds and quickened my pace. With my face and hands pressed against the wall on the corner of 74th and Caldwell, I peered down the street and saw Helen’s Fendi red handbag as it disappeared into the Stop & Shop.
I leaned against the entrance door to catch my breath after having run up the five flights of stairs to the apartment. The TV was blaring; surely even burglars had the decency to not break into a house full of deaf people, I used to quip with Billy when Helen reminded us to leave the set at full volume whenever we went out. There was no official count, but President Bush was telling us that thousands had perished in the worst and most audacious terror attack in American history.
In all, twenty-two hundred dollar bills fluttered down onto the floor as I released them, one by one, from the pressing hold of my favorite books: Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, Melville’s Typee, Miller’s Air Conditioned Nightmare, Tillich’s The Courage to Be. I forgave Buddha’s biography for not containing any money. I remember I smiled as I looked up at the top shelf and saw the bronze sculpture of the chimpanzee sitting on a pile of books scratching its head, bewildered, while looking at the human skull he was holding with the other hand.
Like in a fast-motion film, I darted into our room and took a pair of jeans, a shirt, sweatshirt, socks and underwear, plus my oldest sneakers, out of my tiny closet, and proceeded to rearrange my clothing to erase any trace of disturbance. Something to carry my clothes in. A plastic garbage bag would make me look like the hobo my father accused me of wanting to become. That meant I would have to open the storage closet downstairs and find a Duffel bag.
Before I left, I walked over to the living room one last time and pressed my lips against the glass of Billy’s five-year-old photograph hanging on the wall.