I met Giselle on the evening of the great Victory fireworks display, a pyrotechnic show of dubious timing, considering the unusually dry conditions of the Northeast then prevailing. You remember, the night of the Dumbarton Oaks fire, with the Capitol and the New Monument as backdrop? The, terrible, lingering fire that smoked all autumn, infusing the endless dryness with the smolder of hardwood?
We hooked up at the Victory Celebration at the Malcolm-Kennedy Center. She and Senator Quarry were engaged in the retelling of an anecdote that seemed well rehearsed. Together they amused a receptive audience including a senior naval officer, Admiral Brandt, his husband Boatswain’s Mate Clive, as well as a high mucka-muck from the Department of Energy, the Honorable John Hays Gormley, and His Honor’s Vera-Wang-clad wife, Anna Paulina Clothilda von Savoy. Several other couples, presumably lobbyists, also joined in the fun. Now you can forget them, because I did.
My sights were on Giselle.
I had been occasionally visible to Giselle over the last year, on the periphery of her awareness, a young star rising rung by rung through the government services hierarchy of her department, occasionally sitting near her in presentations, as well as encountering each other in the usual run of bureaucratic fly-bys and lobbyist flesh-pressings. She had noted me. Once, even in the Department’s exercise center.
But I was more than a star. I was also a seed. A germinating seed planted near her. To a suspicious eye, I was perhaps a little too well dressed for my well-metered government salary, but who could gainsay the football hero? After all, that bottom-heavy whistler I delivered to Bobby Henry in the far corner of the Cotton Bowl–just, and I mean just–out of the would-be thieving fingers of Les Thewless is college football legend, inscribed in the All-Time Highlight Reel. You might have seen it on Central Sports, like 16 times a day? I was pretty sure Giselle hadn’t seen it. Smith College alumni have never figured prominently in the history of American College Football.
The liberal application of taxpayer-funded champagne had loosened the tongues of Madame Secretary Giselle and the Senator, its bubbles loosing still greater embellishments of their (admittedly) hilarious story, up to and including a stray cow and some recent polling data.
“A ‘polled’ Hereford!” squealed Giselle. “And it swung Nebraska!” The crowd roared. She originated in a Plains State that neighbors Nebraska. She looked at me. I moved.
“Get it?” She appraised me and stretched a hand towards my sleeve. She palpated my bicep and I obligingly flexed it a little beneath my evening coat.
“Get it?” She squeezed my arm again, forcing the laugh.
“I think you’ve perhaps told that story, before, Madame.” I like affecting an untraceable Euro accent and awkward syntax, sometimes.
She squealed with laughter again. In the amiable light of the ballroom, the legendary redhead still possessed a certain boisterous appeal, and the breast of a prima donna barely compassed by her golden gown. She hardly seemed 70. Or 69, as it was.
“Our glasses are empty,” she observed, and, clasping my arm in her strong, manicured grip, directed me ahead of her, running interference to the bar with its beautiful ice sculptures. A band rather cheekily named “The Nashville Security Agency” offered plangent mandolin, violin and occasional jug music in the background. It is my belief Giselle was observing my ass as we walked, any doubt removed when her hand traveled down my jacket to explore the shape of my buttocks.
“Oh, ho!” I allowed.
“I thought I recognized you,” she spoke from behind me. I pushed our way through the tuxedoes and gowns.
“We work together, don’t we?”
A veritable Helen Keller of ass-recognition, she traced the contours of my bum with a gentle hand, then goosed my perineum in confirmation.
She guffawed. “It’s you, all right.”
She arranged to seat me alongside her at the vast, elongated table where we sat, a good thirty seats down from the true seats of power in the middle.
She grew more and more morose from her outcaste state as the evening wore on, I could tell. She cast wistful glances to the glowing, happy insobriety near the center, where the Prime Couple sat. We sat, tracing rings around the tops of our cocktails, which occasionally sang out in notes consonant with their rapid depletion and just as rapid refill. The table near us grew gradually untenanted, the dinner crowd at our far eastern outpost thinning, drawn to the gravity of the middle.
We sat essentially alone, reclining on each other, comfortably back to back in the shadows. Physically, it was as though we had known each other for many years. For I am not repelled but attracted by the imposing, oversized woman. I like working under them, for them, over them, all around them. Tall or simply mighty, strong but breakable, delicious in their ultimate sensuality, their immense appetite for love. I liked her.
Knowing her past as an academic of stature in the field of comparative literature, I essayed to distract her by bringing up Dostoevsky, the author who had commanded the attentions of her undergraduate thesis. She’d written extensively on Demons, Dostoevsky’s brightly cheery tale foreshadowing, in provincial microcosm, the destruction of Tsarist Russia in a lurid broth of conspiracy, sex-crime, murder, riot and the eternal alienation of sons from fathers and fathers from children. But her real expertise lay as a scholar of the great, mad author’s earlier years in Siberia, after his arrest and mock execution for conspiring against the State.
Why do I tell you all this?
You must understand. I seek to give pleasure. I exist to entertain my partner, as much as possible in the cultural idioms that most please them. I do my homework. I do my roadwork. I am physically and intellectually desirable. I am a Geisha, in my way. Except, as I may have averred, I am a man.
“Esteemed Madame,” I drawled, continuing with my Euro-lampoon. “Perhaps you’ll allow that, this, er…” I pretended to search for the word… “exile you are in possesses a certain Dostoevskian aspect.”
She seemed taken by the notion.
“That you are, if you will, in a sort-of Siberia, right now.” I glanced meaningfully down the long table at the throng surrounding the leadership, a crowd aglow with self-congratulation.
Giselle laughed at my impertinence, full chested.
“You are right, Erno,”–for that’s the name I’d settled on, rather capriciously, say, six minutes before–“This way is to Moscow! V Moskvu!” She pointed, arm extended languidly, like some actress out of Chekhov, to the center. “We are in The House of the Dead!”
“Tres bonnes mots, Chere Madame,” I turned close to her, inhaling the scent of something rosy-multifoliate.
I drank her in with my eyes, as we say.
“Then we can do as we please! All is permitted.” Beneath the table, I lightly and invisibly stroked her thigh. She allowed it.
“I think you put words in the mouth of the Great Author,” she corrected, over-enunciating the words with her full lips. She adjusted her position in her seat. An octave lower, now, she continued, “Neither Dostoevsky nor his characters ever actually said that.”
She parted her thighs. As had been expected, she wore no panties.
“Not Ivan? Perhaps the author was hoping it wouldn’t be true,” I whispered, pressing home with my hand.
“But it is. All is permitted.”
“As you say.” I twisted my hand slightly and she shuddered. I pulled it back a little and joked, “I would like to put something in your mouth. And you are a Great Authoress.”
‘Struth! I had read her books on Dostoevsky, her extended essay on the Petrashevsky Circle and Dostoevsky’s foretaste of death in the vast courtyard of Lefortovo.
“Let’s find someplace else,” she commanded, and I obeyed, servile as a Smerdyakov. Or perhaps as crafty as a Peter Verhovensky! I’d loved her paper on Demons as well! I love reading.
“Someplace Else” happened to be her vast apartment, located near K Street. I reposed in her book-lined coterie, her boudoir, if you will, replete with old pictures of her at a younger age when her looks as well her wits commanded equal attention. With Senator Kerry. Smiling with the octogenarian Carter. Demonstrating in Chicago. With Arafat. A SWAPO flag crossed an Angolan standard, framed with pictures of her and African leaders beneath glass.
She poured cognac generously into snifters. Lightly tracing the outline of the erection in my trousers with her beautifully manicured fingers, Giselle disappeared somewhere into the immense darkness of the apartment to change. I passed this time of happy expectation by perusing her bookshelf. Incredible titles. Robert Graves. The White Goddess. King Jesus. Works of Jacob Bronowski, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, W. B. Yeats. I confess, I am a terrible book addict and occasional book filcher, if no obvious provenance could be immediately perceived as to ownership. An example: a tattered old hardcover from a Heathrow pub, once. Cry the Beloved Country. Another time, in Seattle, to punish what I considered to be a rather rude city, I palmed another classic, clearly placed simply for show: King Solomon’s Mines. I still possess both. Even without the thrill of petty theft, I nonetheless receive a voyeur’s jolt whenever I get unfettered access to someone’s books. I unknotted my tie.
She reappeared in a tight corset that redistributed her female wealth in most appetizing and employable fashions. She stood taller atop feathered mules that accentuated the bundled curvature of her still athletic legs. She continued to scorn panties. I fell to work on her breasts, and soon thereafter we were obliging each other with athletic energy. Her appetite was as well preserved as her physique, and like a she-bear she fell on me post-hibernation ferocious. A woman of considerable appetite! And imagination! Truly a revolutionary! Indeed, an innovator!
Afterwards, during the “Inter-Emission,” if you will, she fell back to work with such naughty and inspiring gusto that my flagging energies were soon resuscitated.
“I have some smoke,” I confided to her after this episode, as we lay in the tangled sheets.
I nodded. Her lips glistened. A new desire kindled in her blue eyes.
I retraced the path of my shed clothing to my attaché, and retrieved a small pipe.
She eagerly accepted the pipe and drew a long and practiced pull with lips that had quite recently demonstrated their expertise. She exhaled explosively, then fell back luxuriantly into the bed.
“Whew! My god, it’s been awhile. That’s really good weed.”
She was right. It was from Mendocino County.
“I’m going to put on some Zeppelin or something.” She uprighted, rising from the bedclothes to float towards the stereo, playfully waving her buttocks at me.
“No!” she overruled herself. “Pink Floyd. Oh, yeah!”
Dark Side of the Moon came on. Loud. She started to dance a lost hippie’s jig.
“I haven’t felt like this since college!”
I arose to join her. I drew her close, turning her to face the music. I stood close behind, my arms around her.
“Have you read Pamuk?” I inquired in Turkish, whispering in her still-earringed ear. I knew full well of her later, well-documented expertise in the affairs of Asia Minor sprang from post-doctorate work in Turkish Literature.
She leaned back into me, inclining her head up to me, her mascaraed eyes comfortably closed. She lazily opened them and we caught sight of ourselves in the triple mirrors of her makeup table. It was a pleasingly sensual image.
“I love Pamuk! I spent three years in Istanbul!”
“Then you know well the Harem of Tokapı Palace.” I sounded the Turkish words correctly.
“Ah. The exquisite ceramics! The designs! Such colors! The Golden Horn! It is the most beautiful place on earth!”
She looked magnificent in the mirror.
“Indeed,” I agreed. “And this is a sight that would not be unwelcome within any sultan’s seraglio. Nor this.”
She detected the slight cool of the wire moving up her thigh and shivered a bit. I cupped her breasts gently then uncrossed my arms, quite naturally drawing the garrote fully from my watch as I did so, cinching it, irrevocable, around her neck. I pulled her up and back with the wire, and pressed upward with my knee, hard.
I had chosen the moment well. What little noise she could emit was more than drowned out by the blasting alarm-clock sequence of Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd’s masterful concept album.
Her feathered shoes flapped free from her legs struggling in the air as I levered her up and backward. She soon expired, as stately as possible, capturing the light in just the right attitude, even in death.
I showered. As I emerged from the bath, my Controller sat on the ottoman, looking over dead Giselle.
“Excellent work, ‘Erno’,” came the joking play on my improvised name. “A risky play. If, by some chance, she had recognized you…” Controller let the thought complete itself. “But, certainly, your skillful employment of that Finnish name to subtly exploit its linguistic ties to Turkish enraptured her, I think. And I’m sure the Observers will agree. And then, to conjure the Golden Horn. And then the exquisite Ottoman finish, with the lute-string! A master’s touch! Better, a Vizier’s touch! Inspired! You have done us a great service.”
“An actual pleasure. A great lady,” I replied, somewhat undercutting the sincerity of this compliment by simultaneously drying off my groin. I was eager to keep this potential awkwardness on a “Just-Another-Day-On-The-Job” level.
“It was an honor to know her.” I tossed the used towel into the bathroom.
I donned my drawers. Controller continued.
“This woman, ‘Giselle’ did many great things for us. She raised our banner high. She well-enriched our coffers. This,” a slight inclination of the head, “I think, is how she would have wanted to go.”
“I think so.”
Controller appraised me, in much the same way Giselle had.
“You’re very creative, aren’t you, Comrade? A regular Com-Lad, eh?”
I laughed, struck by the term. “Comlad. That’s good. That’ll stick.” It was the closest I’d ever seen Controller smile. There was pride in it. Pride in me, a little, too.
“Well, anyway, Comlad, it’s time to get you back to the islands for a little sport and fun in the sun with all the pretty nurses. Tan you up, windsurf you, pour rum and drugs into you to flatten that overactive brainstem of yours and pep up your inner limbic simian. Get you ready for your next assignment.” Controller paused.
“Sounds gay,” I assented. “Who with?”
“Don’t be an overexcited just yet, Surfer Boy.” One eyebrow arched, Controller studied me.
“Yes. Drugs and sex and booze. We’re going to need to dumb you down, a little, Erno, for your next service.”
I thickened a little at the last word. Controller noted my reaction with a smile, then turned and examined the pictures on the wall.
“There will always be more of the faithful to retire.”
The Disposal Team chose this moment to enter, quite discreetly.
With equal discretion, I placed a rare first edition of All Quiet on the Western Front into my carryall.