Now


Dancers_Sergey Sukhovey

Living in the past leads only to regrets.
Living in the future leads to worry.
Living must be embraced in the now.

The meadowlarks have returned, singing.

I may not be able to leap as high as before,
Nor run as far, or as fast….
But…
Let’s dance.

______

I’ve been away for eye surgery (all better now) and have begun working on new pieces, planning the next book and generally resuming my plan to go exploring for the next 60 years or so. Republishing this one from last year because it taps something that’s still true. 

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Vacation


With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program

IMG_2251

After 60 years of work, more or less,
I’ve decided to take a working vacation.
I’m booking a cruise and extended
train travels for the next 60 years
To go exploring along the coasts,
Poking my canoe up the inlets and rivers,
Probing the veins and wires and memories of
Some unfamiliar parts of me, and some
I’ve been missing for a while, to
See whether there’s anything
Worth saving, or maybe just toss it all out.

Continue reading “Vacation”

On Acatenango


Eruption and snowfall, April, 2017. Acatenango, Guatemala.

Note: republishing one from a couple of years ago. My friend Pete sent a new picture of the mountain where my favorite coffee comes from, the slopes of Acatenango in Guatemala. The volcano is active, and there has been an unusual snow in the tropics.

I awoke early.  Too early.
Before the light came, before the day.
This is happening often these days.
I set the water to bubble, the grinder releases aroma.
My eyes barely see.
Continue reading “On Acatenango”

Helen and the Swan*


Photo by Richard Calmes
Photo by Richard Calme

The night of the full moon
calls her to the water,
this daughter of Leda and Zeus.
She feels it in her neck and belly,
and in the prickles on her back
where the wings hide
under her skin.

Long ago, her mother
sheltered a swan fleeing an eagle.
It was that lecherous old liar, Zeus,
In disguise and guile.
He devised a ruse to
Force himself on her.

Continue reading “Helen and the Swan*”

Like Each Is Your Last


When the sun comes up like thunder
When the sun comes up like thunder

“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones

Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.

Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.

Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.

Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.

Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).

It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.

And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
must cross.

Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.

When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.

That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.

Maybe It Is Time


aurora-canero_-sculptures-13
Sculpture by Aurora Canero

Maybe it is time to forgive God
For the hundreds of women
who have rejected me over the years,
Starting in third grade,
(theoretically, of course, 
whether they knew it or not.
And for the one or two who 
didn’t, but should have).

I’ve reached the point in life
too late where I
Would actually be of some
use to them,

Could gently walk forward with them without harm,
And be remembered, I trust, with generosity and a little fondness.
But I have reached the age
of their fathers,
And so, instead, have become,
regrettably, invisible.

And over there on the coasts, maybe it’s time to give hip irony the
last rites and heave-ho,
And just admit that it is as
empty and useless as
Yet another beer or Viagra
marketing campaign.

Continue reading “Maybe It Is Time”

The Girls of Winter


 December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016
Jim Harrison   1937 – 2016
Out the window of the bar I’m watching
a circle of girls stretching and yawning
across the street. It’s late January and 74
degrees. They love the heat because
they are a moist heat. Heat loves
heat and today is a tease for what comes
with spring around here when the glorious birds
funnel back up from Mexico. The girls
don’t care about birds because they are birds.
I recall in high school a half dozen
cheerleaders resting on a wrestling mat
in short shorts in the gym, me beside them
with a silly groin ache. What were they?
Living, lovely, warm meat as we all are
reaching out of our bodies for someone else.
–Jim Harrison

Spillwords: “What It Is Not”


It’s a rant. A rant about poetry. But I guess it hit a nerve. @Spillwords made it a featured post this morning…AND put a trigger warning on it. 🙂 That made me smile. But be warned: it might bruise your peaches.

I think you can handle it, though.  (Photo: Pat Mansell)

http://spillwords.com/what-it-is-not/

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-8-27-47-am

 

Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you don’t mind.
Some things have been bugging me. I’ve been reading…

So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Continue reading “Spillwords: “What It Is Not””

A Street


I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
Luck was all we ever had
You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
You looked so good I didn’t care
What side you’re fighting for

It wasn’t all that easy
When you up and walked away
But I’ll save that little story
For another rainy day
I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light

You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
You’re tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage
You always said we’re equal
So let me march with you
Just an extra in the sequel
To the old red white and blue

Baby don’t ignore me
We were smokers we were friends
Forget that tired story
Of betrayal and revenge
I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed

I cried for you this morning
And I’ll cry for you again
But I’m not in charge of sorrow
So please don’t ask me when
There may be wine and roses
And magnums of champagne
But we’ll never no we’ll never
Ever be that drunk again

The party’s over
But I’ve landed on my feet
I’ll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

–Leonard Cohen

What If?


Dancer on Dock

What if we weren’t the responsible ones, for a change?

What if we weren’t the ones who let someone else screw up and

Kept on doing the right things?

What if we … could just run away for a while—just for a while—

To some anonymous, peaceful place where email was banned, the phone

Didn’t ring, the air was warm and we were all alone for an afternoon?

Where my heart didn’t ache,

Where there weren’t the old problems and worries,

Where we could be carefree children again, with no grownup cares?

Continue reading “What If?”

Something Primal


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Dusk in August under a crescent moon.

People in the neighborhood walk their dogs,

Hurrying, because they have work tomorrow.

But the air has that special kind of softness that

Makes people stir inside, think alarming thoughts.

Her house in the woods is empty tonight.
No kids, no neighbors, no husband, no plans.

So, after the dishes are put away, and a few emails read,
She looks out and sees the moon over the dark woods.

She steps out of her clothes and onto the deck,
Opens her arms and lets the pale light electrify her skin,

Feels a movement in her womb, just as in ancient times,
And she makes of herself an offering, in freedom—

An exhausted suburban wife with laundry to do—
To something primal that she had thought was dead.

A Woman’s Mind


surreal-self-portraits-blended-with-landscape-photos-by-antonio-mora
surreal-self-portraits-blended-with-landscape-photos-by-antonio-mora

I won’t lie.

We like the slope of a shoulder, the lips, the eyes, the breast, the neck, the legs. We like the way your hips flare and grab our attention as you walk away with that special, unconscious sway. The glance, the flush of emotion, including anger or pain, the smile, the look that says “You’re full of it,” but doesn’t wound.

The elegant, subtle variety of the female form is intoxicating. There is no one perfect one; each is her own expression of the grand design. And…. Ah, what a grand design it is, too.

But there is more, when you let us see it. It can be frustrating, or enchanting—or both. …That surprising way your mind works, the way you see things we don’t—which is sometimes inconvenient, sometimes infuriating, but never boring.

When you live from a confident core, when this is all natural and unforced, it is the most enchanting thing of all.

You Know Exactly What To Do


Happened across this this morning. Isn’t this exactly how young love feels? Yeah.

Wendy Cope
Wendy Cope

“From June to December Summer Villanelle”
by Wendy Cope

You know exactly what to do—
Your kiss, your fingers on my thigh—
I think of little else but you.

It’s bliss to have a lover who,
Touching one shoulder, makes me sigh—
You know exactly what to do.

You make me happy through and through,
The way the sun lights up the sky—
1 think of little else but you.

I hardly sleep-an hour or two;
I can’t eat much and this is why—
You know exactly what to do.

The movie in my mind is blue—
As June runs into warm July
I think of little else but you.

But is it love? And is it true?
Who cares? This much I can’t deny:
You know exactly what to do;
I think of little else but you.

“From June to December Summer Villanelle” by Wendy Cope from Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. © Faber & Faber, 1986.  (buy now)

Not Naked on the Bed 


surreal-self-portraits-blended-with-landscape-photos-by-antonio-mora
surreal-self-portraits-blended-with-landscape-photos-by-antonio-mora

by Timothy Young

Your beauty, nude
not naked on the bed,
is far more a gift
than I ever expected.
I watch languor recline
1n your wise grey eyes
while slate hummingbirds
carved as earrings
dangle from golden hooks.
I quiver in your breath
and the ceiling fan halts
in that instant.
We look at one another
with both eyes open and close.
An intimate wind,
the cause of auroras,
moves north and south,
east and west,
then we swim
into one another.

“Not Naked on the Bed” by Timothy Young from Building in Deeper Water. © The Thousands Press, 2003.  (buy now)

Straddling the Wind


sailing

Pushed hard to starboard,

Her gunn’l kisses the vast wet,

Shuddering in orgasmic fervor

Along her keel, thrumming into the deep,

Bow digging in, shaking it off, spray flying.

She’s a thoroughbred running for the joy of it

Heart of teak and sail aching for the horizon.

Blue-green foam hisses past her hull,

Tackle creaks and groans,

Pushed taut and dangerous by a hectoring,

Keening wind rising on our stern quarter.

The rudder bucks but holds true to sou’-southeast and home.

She rises on the nearside swell and swoops down the backside of

Waves stirred and provoked to 20 feet by a restless air.

She’s caught a scent of

Something dark and thrilling in the lowering clouds ahead,

And I either ride her or die.

©Hemmingplay 2016

Voyage

Venice Moments


Venice  by Evgeny Lushpin
Venice
by Evgeny Lushpin

Sometimes a picture will ping a part of me,  and capture a feeling I didn’t know I had. As I get older, I realize that most of what passed for desire or ambition or striving earlier in life has left little trace. Maybe it was necessary to go through it all, to raise a family, to satisfy whatever seemed to be the urgency of the day, but I can’t remember most of it now. It just seems not to matter. I do remember feeling that it did, once, but some mysterious process of living has worn it all away. It’s like reading a story about a battle in the Boer War. I know it all happened, but I don’t recognize the people and cannot touch their lives any longer.

Thank God.

Now, what seems most important is to find spots like this, in the gathering night with people who matter, and focus on the moment. To listen to the waters bubbling past, savor the way candles glow in the windows, and watch how the flickering light plays over the face of loved ones, leaned in to taste the food, leaned back to sip the wine and laughing. Those moments have an immortality that means more with each passing, precious day. Why did I not see this before?

 

On Giving It All


img_1308_stylized

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

– Louise Erdrich, from The Painted Drum.

 

 

CLICK!


tumblr_mm3wyfBtHY1qb4acho1_500

There are these moments every January
Like the one that hit at 4:42 PM
East Coast time today,
Usually after a string of crappy, cold,
Grey days with a Nor-easter in the forecast.

>Click!<

On the weather channel,
They’re having impressive,
Technology-enhanced, porn-film-quality
Fully clothed group orgasms, apparently stimulated by
A couple of winter storms…
Doing what storms do.
(You can check if you want to.
Their stamina is truly amazing.)

Meh.

>Click!<

Now to an electrician working outside—
It’s a “This Old House” segment,
Where a guy is Putting in a new outside light pole—

That flipped a switch in my head.
I kind of got emotional after that.
T-shirts, tool belts. Jeans, warm weather work gear.
Fixing stuff....Green grass, trees swaying in a breeze.

>Click<

It was the sunlight—I felt the warmth—
That hit with a surprising flash of longing.
And the shadows, too.
The shadows jumping and playing across
Everyone and everything, transmitting the dance
Of  Maple leaves in the warm breezes,
Of another, distant July in New England.

The shadows danced over the scene in that
Careless way the world’s wonders do.
They perform effortlessly for us, for free,
And we don’t see them at the time,
Focused as we are on
Getting the job done.

Yes


MilkyWay_Java_justin Ng

Yes to the unknown, the tears, the sweat.
Yes to the ‘morrow-rise and sunset.
Yes to the voices, young and strong,
Yes to the children learning right from wrong.

Yes to the starlight, high and cold,
Yes to the mists, and the mysteries they hold.
Yes to the hard road, traveled alone,
Yes to the love that reaches the bone.

Yes to the losses that each must bear,
Yes to the life sources, sea and air,
Yes to the pains that teach us strength,
Yes to the spirit that wins at length

Yes to the people, yes to their backs,
Yes to their yokes and labor and acts.
Yes to the toilers, loafers and apes,
Yes to the tillers of history’s landscapes.

Yes to the dawn, arms spread wide,
Yes to the rains and winds and tide,
Yes to the future, right or wrong,
Yes to the others, who rise in  song.

*inspired by
https://erinsandlin0.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/the-adventure-in-a-little-yes/

Dancer #6: Going All Blue


Dancer 7 Blue Exlosion
Photo: Alexander Yakovlev. (I took some liberties with the blue filter in Photoshop)

Like an explosion of elemental particles,
Thrusting up with grace and power;
With arms cocked and balanced, ready to strain to Heaven;
Tender curves coiled, tensed, aligned, ready to fill the void with creation.
The eye pulls my spirit into the fertile chaos of life.
Courage, at last.
I step out into the fog, put the first foot on the dusty road, lightly, risking everything.

 

Sounds Lonely: The Path of Aloneness


How difficult this would be, especially in our consumerist culture that fetishisizes instant gratification: 

1. Accept everything just the way it is220px-Musashi_ts_pic
2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
20. You may abandon your own body but you must
preserve your honour.
21. Never stray from the Way.
― Miyamoto Musshi

Finish What You Start



finish

I’m dealing with three things at once. I’m feeling a little guilty about it, too.

One is that we’re getting ready for a party tomorrow. Superficially, it’s to celebrate a wedding anniversary and a retirement (her’s, not mine yet, dammit) and an excuse to go to the wine store. But really, it’s just a big ol’ wet kiss to the fact that we’re both still alive. It always comes down to that for all of us in the end, you know.

But the advice to finish what you start applies to the writing work. I am working on the book. I haven’t been talking about it, because i found out that if I was talking, I wasn’t writing. But I haven’t done much yesterday and won’t today.

Yesterday was due to the third thing, which is the aftermath of that annoying little blood clot in a tiny part of my brain that is still making itself felt. Yesterday was a day it was making itself felt, and I wasn’t able to get out of the chair much. Today I feel great. It seems to go like that. So today is party prep, tomorrow is the party, and then “Running Girl” is going to feel my hands all over her again.

Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t wait.  🙂

 

 

Ch. 4, part 2: Rose.. A Little About Rose


tardis_rose
Rose Tyler (Dr. Who)

But who, intact,
would Venus [de Milo] be?
Some standard-issue
ingénue. Give me
a woman who’s lived
a little, who’s wrapped
her arms around the ages
and come up lacking: that’s
the stone that can move me.
—“Truth in Advertising,” Andrea Cohen

Ted’s doorbell, which sounded like Big Ben, rang at 9 p.m. precisely two days, seven hours and 23 minutes after he left the old Mill’s bar floating on the updrafts of new love.

He had music playing and had cleaned things up as much as one can in a house that’s full of carpenter’s tools and stepladders, the smell of fresh paint and polish.

Rose stood outside on the porch with her hair down on her shoulders, and breathtaking in a low-cut but still modest black dress that ended just above the knees, a silver necklace and playful eyes. She fairly glistened under the light.

To say that she was well put together would be like saying Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” was just an OK little sketch.

And never in the history of little black dresses had there been such a little black dress.

His heart fluttered a bit and then flopped over. His mouth went dry. She was overloading his nervous system. He liked it.

Her hair glowed in the light of late evening and the porch lamp. She must have done some fairy magic with makeup, because all he saw were her eyes and lips, a hint of swelling bosom…and felt something break loose in his chest.  Everything about her looked understated and expensive, and he forgot his own name.

Rose looked a little worried at first that he wasn’t saying anything. It had taken a lot of work to look like this, after all. But then she looked more closely and saw the wordless appreciation in his face and then blushed at what she saw behind it, and felt a thrill run through her at what that look did to her. She laughed, held up the bottle of wine she had in her right hand, and waggled it at him.

“Are you going to invite me in, or do I have to find another guy to share this with?”

That shook the spell off, and opened the door wide.
“Hi, Rose. I’m sorry. You … . You’re so gorgeous, I forgot how to speak there for a minute. Please…. Come on in.” She smiled up at him warmly and stepped across the threshold, presenting the wine bottle.

Their fingers brushed lightly as he took the bottle.

“You look beautiful, too,” she said, a little shyly, almost too softly to hear. “What say we get started on that wine?”

He took the wine and led her back to the kitchen, opened it and filled two glasses. Then, even though they both knew they were delaying the inevitable, he played tour guide to his pride and joy renovation/rescue project, all three floors. It took the better part of 40 minutes. Back in the kitchen, he refilled their glasses, pulled a tray of cheeses and olives and meats and crackers from the refrigerator, and tried to tuck another bottle of wine under his arm. She held up a hand, took the wine from him, picked up the open one and a cork screw with her other hand and he grabbed the food tray and led her up the winding staircase to the tower room with its 360-degree view of town and treetops, where he’d earlier put some candles.

The summer sun was just touching the top of the mountain to the west, filling the room with a golden glow. They had had a spell of clear, dry air settling down from Canada over the valley, with sunny days and cool nights, so the windows were open and a slight breeze moved through.

He sat on one of the couches as she took her time inspecting this last space, sipping wine without saying much. She took in the view of town below, of the mountains to the west and north, and the tree tops of the old neighborhood stretching to the east toward the gigantic old limestone open mine a couple of miles out in the forests that surrounded them. It was just getting dark enough that the glow of the university town 10 miles away over a ridge to the south could be seen blotting out the first stars. The street lights and the yellow glow of the lights below in the downtown looked more inviting. He took in her presence, smiling at how lovely she was, how she moved so effortlessly. She’d chosen the dress well, too, and he watched her body move under it, enjoying the swish and sway of the fabric falling from shoulder, and breast and hip, but stopping at two of the finest pair of legs he’d seen in a long time, bare, with no stockings.

After she paused back at the beginning, looking pensively toward the glow of the western sky, he cleared his throat.

“What’s your story, Rose Tyler?” he finally asked, breaking the silence. She turned at the question, eyes dark and serious. He indicated the tray of food and offered to refill her glass. He stammered… “You know a lot about me — God knows I’ve been doing nothing but talking about myself all evening — but now it’s your turn.”

She didn’t answer right away, but took another sip of wine and held it to her lips for a few seconds, looking at him over the rim of the glass with unfathomable eyes. She moved to the seat opposite, but close enough that he could have touched her knee if he had just leaned forward a bit.

She held the stem of the wine glass with both hands in her lap with knees together and ankles crossed.

“Let’s eat first. I’m starving, and much more wine on an empty stomach and I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said. “But then you’ll get the whole sad story.”

Later, after the food and after they shared some more of their personal stories, they sat in silence for a while, sipping wine, neither knowing exactly what to say.

He put his wine glass down and leaned forward. Might as well be blunt, Ted thought.

“I’ve been thinking about you almost non-stop since the other day at lunch,” he said. “Truth be told, I’ve been thinking about you a lot even before that. And I want to kiss you,” he said. “Almost more than anything I can think of right now.”

She put her glass down on the side table and looked at him with a frank invitation in her eyes. “If you hadn’t said that pretty soon, I was going to,” she said, her voice a little husky. “And then I want to see more of that bedroom.”

Somehow– he later couldn’t remember moving– he was next to her and the room was lit only by a candle by the time they  broke away. The sun’s glow was gone from the sky and the moon was rising, but it seemed as though no time had passed for the two of them.

They were both breathing hard. She put her head against his chest and ran her hand up and down, then back inside where buttons had been opened before. Her touch seemed infused with fire.

“Oh, my,” she said, voice husky and hushed. “Oh, my.”

He kissed the top of her head and stood, then moved around blowing out each candle. The moon was rising, filling the room with blue light, enough for them to see now. He took her hand and drew her up from the couch to him, kissed her once, touching her tongue with his. Without another word, he led her down the stairs.

The next week was a rushing memory. Rose left at mid-morning the next day and went to the restaurant. Ted met with a decorator and a plumber and some other tradespeople finishing up the upper rooms, and felt like he had a grin plastered on his face the whole time.

When he was alone he found himself whistling, something he hadn’t done for years. He also realized he wasn’t very good at whistling, but didn’t care.

Rose came back that night and brought some samplings from the restaurant, and also had a snack of cheeses at the big table in the kitchen. They washed it down with some German beer, and talked again for an hour about their lives and their losses.

She grew quiet after a while, and he could tell she wanted to say something. He waited.

“I like you, Ted,” she said. “I really do. Last night was unbelievable. But I need to be clear about something.”

“Um, Ok,” he said, wondering what was coming, fearing the worst.

“We’re both grownups,” she started again. “We know what we like, and what we don’t, and neither of us has time for games any more. That’s for kids. I’ve got issues. You’ve got issues. But I do love the way you use your hands,” she said.

“I know, I know,” he said, waving modestly. “My hands should be insured. I’m gong to call Lloyds tomorrow,” he said. “You certainly were vocal on that point last night.”

“Very funny,” she said, dipping a finger in her beer and flicking it at him. “But I’m not looking for anything permanent here. It might happen. I like being with you. We’re two people who need each other right now, who can make each other laugh. But it’s too soon for either of us to get too serious. I’m too scared about something bad happening again. The divorce was brutal. But I should warn you, I could very easily fall for you, and if that happens, it will be very hard for you to get away.”

“But let’s try to keep it loose for the time being, OK?”

As she said this, she reached over and took his hand and squeezed it.

“I get it,” he said, choosing to make light of it for now. He was feeling much the same. “You just want me for my body. And… “ he gestured at the shirt with a few cracker crumbs and the remnants of a spare tire under it…”I can’t really blame you. This is… well, it’s just irresistible.”

“Let’s just say that with the lights out, I can forget the cracker crumbs,” she said, rising and patting his stomach.

She led him toward the bedroom, although they didn’t make it all the way up the stairs on the first try.

The next hours were memorable. They dozed and then found each other again and again. At the last, she held him with arms and thighs, whispered urgently in his ear, made herself the safe habor into which the storms of his buried selves burst and were forgiven. At the final moment all of the grief and pain and doubt and anger stored inside from all those hard years of loss and disappointment left him.

Afterward, she lay quietly, fingers moving languidly over his skin, a feeling of deep contentment filling her.

They lay side by side, not speaking in the dimness of the giant old room. He let himself drift and wondered at what was gone from the day before— a darkness in his gut that he had felt so long that it seemed normal. He had a brief sensation of sliding down a warm slope. In an instant, he was deep asleep for the first time in months.

She pulled the sheet up over them and settled in under his chin, her head on his chest and one leg and arm thrown possessively over him. He stirred and murmmered something unintelligible and put his arm around her shoulder and then was still again, breathing deeply. With a strand of hair across her face and enigmatic smile at the corners of her mouth, she closed her eyes and followed him into oblivion.

  1. “Mohana Das”

  2. “Captured”

  3. “Dream Girl”

  4. “Attack in the Family Room”

  5. “Fingers”

  6. A Little About Rose

  7. The Next Morning

  8. “What will be, Shall Be”

  9. “To the Death”

Running Girl, Ch. 6 excerpt: What Will Be, Shall Be


Part 2: “To the Death”

In the silence, Rose walked into the room. She had been standing in a side doorway and neither of them had noticed. She’d heard most of what they’d said, enough to scare her. Walking over to Ted, she put a hand on his arm and left it there.

She looked back and forth between Miriam and him, frowning.

“What does all of this mean?”, she said. Ted felt a quiver go through her body and he pulled her to him.

“It’ll be OK, Rose. Miriam here is a federal agent, and she’s got enough artillery in the back there to take down anything,” he said. But we may have to leave soon. It might be safer that way.”

She straightened and looked up at him, then at Miriam.

“If it’s that bad, then let’s go,” she said. Calm. He looked at her for a second, and then laughed.

“You are one interesting woman,” he said.

“I’ve got to get something from my car first, and then we can go,” she said.

She would deal with whatever had happened, would happen between Miriam and Ted. She at least knew her own mind and heart, now. What his choices would be would be his.

But this other thing was much more frightening, what she overheard about the woman that was after Miriam to kill her. And maybe Ted.

“What will be, shall be,” she said to both of them.

Che sarà sarà. ‘What will be, shall be. 

She’d heard it a number of times from an elderly Italian diplomat at the UN, where she had worked for a few years as a translator. He was in his 70s, but had charmingly tried to seduce her with attention and invitations to quiet conversations with wine and walks and talk of the world and of books and music. 

He was generous and courtly and gentle, and showed genuine appreciation for her beauty and brains. Or, at least, that’s how he made her feel. She ate it up, but always turned  down his gentle propositions to come to his bed with blushing good humor. The old rogue graciously accepted her refusals, sighing as he kissed her hand, invariably murmering “che sarà sarà”

“You have broken my heart, but I am only delayed, not deterred,” he would say, every time. She adored him, but never relented. The last time they met, she asked him why he made such an effort when he knew she would say no.

“Ah, mia cara Rosa,” his mellow, deep voice slipped back forth from English to Italian. “—A name never blessed another so well as it does you, and I mean that most sincerely.

“A woman is always a woman first. She is a woman before she is a mother or wife. And there is nothing more beautiful, no matter her physical gifts, than a woman who is loved for her truth.

“It is only then that she blooms like the rose and spreads light and happiness all around her. Women are wonderful beings, and I do what I do so that the world has more love in it, not less. I do what I can…’ and with this, he always finished with a shrug and a very Italian palms-up gesture of resignation.

She remembered clasping his thin hands in both of hers and kissing him on the cheek with great feeling. He was a hopeless chauvinist and still saw women as best suited for motherhood, but it was hard to resist the charm and genuine admiration and desire he projected.

The last image of him was as she walked away and looked back. He stood in a doorway, tall and thin, impeccably tailored as always in a $4,000 grey suit, blowing her one last kiss, waving with a rueful smile. If she did not have a ticket for the train, she might have turned back.

The memory warmed her still, and she found herself wryly hoping he was still up to his own tricks. She was sure he would be, even with his nurses on his death bed.

What will be, shall be. She felt herself smiling, wistful.

Time enough to sort this out later. She had a business to run, and with a last glance and a smile back at Ted, she turned, nodded slightly to Miriam, and headed down the hall to the kitchen and the back where her car was parked. Her purse. She’d left it there last night. She found herself humming the old Doris Day song, based on the phrase as she went.

“Wait.” Miriam’s voice called from behind her. “I’ll go with you.” Rose paused and Miriam was soon beside her, the Glock in her hand.

“I’ll explain it all to you later, but I need to go with you. And this—“ she raised the gun and showed it to Rose —“is necessary.”

Ted was standing in the hallway, just outside the door to the study by the front entry, the Lab by his leg. He just nodded to Rose and the two women walked down the long hallway toward the kitchen. The sight distracted him and he was full of conflicting emotions all of a sudden.

When Ted tried to remember what happened next, he always had the feeling that it was happening to someone else.

Add this…


eyes

For women out there who talk about “bad hair days”, I’ve got another for slightly better days:

It’s the “I look pretty good from afar” day.

In case you missed it, that was a joke. Seriously, we think you look fabulous even when stumbling to the bathroom in that ridiculous flannel shirt in the morning. Do you really think we judge you as harshly as you do yourselves?

Correct answer: Nope.

No Guarantees, No Buses


I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,

I don’t know if someone amazing will cross my path,

Or the proverbial bus takes me out, instead.

There are no guarantees; life is a crazy ride,

A moving surprise. Yet despite the fear of this,

Despite a strong desire to give up and lie down,

I’m beginning, after all these years,

To lean into it more and more,

I feel it in my chest, a bubbling laughter that’s

Finding its way out, and it’s there more and more.

Somehow it means being

Open to amazing people and avoiding buses,

Doing things that used to scare me,

And wondering if you can surprise me

And make me glad we are

Both alive in this place, in this time,

To laugh and feast on life and love forever.

Well, can you? Surprise me?

Let’s dance.

I’ll Buy You A Beer


Hello sweet Miss,
That empty chair there…
Mind if I join you?
Maybe buy you a beer?

Now, before you say no…
I’ve haven’t a plan,
Besides soaking my troubles
‘Til they don’t seem so bad,
But it’s sadder just drinking
Without company.
Let’s hoist a few pints,
Get stupid and free.

Oh, I see…
You’re not talking,
You’re here to forget?
A man’s in the picture,
I’d be willing to bet.

I sure know the feeling,
The guts turned to goo,
So if it’s silence you need,
Well, I need that, too.

But your sad, sad beauty
It touches my soul.
There’s a smile to be found there,
Let’s make that our goal

Seems both of us crave
Something stronger than beer.
Maybe vodka? Or whiskey?
“Hey Barkeep! Two drinks over here.”

But look into my eyes–
It burns in your’s, too–
That we’re here in the City
And it hasn’t been kind.
We’ve come up against it,
Bruised in body and mind.

So only if you agree,
I’ve got no big plan–
Not looking for love,
Or to stand in for your man.
We’ll just share a drink–
In silence; we must.

Let’s keep out the cold,
And let the pain pass,
Good company, simple,
Just a lad and a lass.

©Hemmingplay 2014, revised 3/21/14

Running Girl: “Fingers” (excerpt)


  1. “Mohana Das”

  2. “Captured”

  3. “Dream Girl”

  4. “Attack in the Family Room”

  5. “Fingers”

_______________________
Fingers

Her name was Rose Tyler, like the 10th Dr. Who’s  traveling companion.

This Rose was from New Jersey, though, and was part owner of a bar and restaurant in the old mill. She moved to Mossy Creek from a working-class neighborhood after a bad marriage ended. She’d worked as a translator at the UN. No one could learn more than that. Several had tried.

She had the air of someone who had been let down too many times. While she was friendly and exchanged sometimes vulgar banter with regulars, her eyes were always a little watchful and wary behind the smile.

Ted read her that life had not been one that lent itself to easy fantasies. More than one half-drunk male customer had learned some choice New Jersey words, too, if he laid a hand on her.

He met her the first day he was in town, listened to her conversation and quickly placed her origins and attitude. He kept his distance at first, but found that he ended up there a few nights a week after working on the house. He didn’t share much of himself, either, and resisted enough of the ways the locals had of prying without being rude. He and Rose had both been let down too many times, and each had learned to value their privacy. They circled one another, closer and closer, without words.

After a week of almost daily visits and neutral pleasantries, though, he hurried to lunch more than he used to, and she looked up and smiled when he came in, a little more than was really required. That made him happy.

On a sleepy late April afternoon, he was later than usual, held up by an argument with a painter about an estimate that had ballooned out of control. By the time he got to the Mill, he was hungry and grumpy.

The parking lot was empty, as was the bar. Rose had her back to the door and was cleaning glasses, listening to music on a stereo and obviously lost in some private thoughts. Ted recognized the song she had on, one of his favorites, “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash. The lyrics at the beginning were wafting around the dark corners of the old room:

It’s getting to the point
Where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly
I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
You make it hard….

She was somewhere in her early 40s, but was fit and curvy, and her partner in the business was the chef. Ted discovered eventually, and to his delight, that Ronald already was involved with Elliot. Elliot lived in Pittsburgh where he was a TV producer, and commuted on weekends.

Rose wore a simple black skirt that flattered her hips and legs, and a starched white blouse. Her sandy-blond hair was tied up in a bun and held with a carved wooden pin, but some hair escaped confinement in a borderline wild way that he thought was charming. As she turned to put the wine glasses into the overhead rack, she turned slightly and her breasts strained against the fabric in a way that he approved of completely. He noticed she wore a plain gold chain necklace with a small cross that rested in some cleavage that was showing. He noticed that more this day because the second button was undone more than usual. He smiled to himself. Not that he hadn’t noticed her before, but that day he realized that his interest in her was something that needed to be admitted. He realized that he had stopped just inside the bar’s door and was staring, just as she caught him out of the corner of her eye, saw how he was looking at her and slowly lowered her arm smiled.

At that moment, the song slid into the next to the last stanza —

What have you got to lose?
Chestnut brown canary
Ruby throated sparrow
Sing the song, don’t be long
Thrill me to the marrow
Voices of the angels, ring around the moonlight
Asking me, said she so free
How can you catch the sparrow?
Lacy, lilting, leery, losing love, lamenting
Change my life, make it right
Be my lady

They both laughed at the same time. And then did what two people do at times like that: they pretended the moment hadn’t happened.

“Hey there,” she said, a little too brightly, “I was wondering if you were going to be in today. The usual? ”
Ted tried to move, but only managed to bump into one of the chairs at a table near the door, nearly knocking it over. He fumbled it back upright, feeling as clumsy as a teenager at his first prom. Rose seemed amused.
“Um, yes. Let’s start with an Ayinger. And could you ask Ronald to whip up a corned beef platter?”
“Of course,” she said, slight color tinging her cheeks, fumbling a bit herself as she put the order through on the computer to the kitchen and filled a frosted glass with the Bavarian wheat beer.

She slid the beer across the counter and leaned in against the inside edge with both hands.
He caught a whiff of her perfume and noticed a strand of hair dangling by one ear. It suddenly got a little harder to breathe.

“How’s the work on the house going? Still fighting with Harold about the painting bill?”
Nothing was secret in this town, especially if you were a barber or bartender.

“Harold’s been sniffing paint fumes too long,” Ted said with a wry smile, gratefully sipping the ice-cold liquid and wiping the foam from his lip with the napkin she’d put by the glass. “But I think we’ve finally got it settled. That’s what I was just finishing up. He says he’ll be done with the upstairs bedrooms in a couple of days, and that’s about all there is to do. He’d better be, too. The decorators are coming Monday to hang curtains, put the carpets down and make it all pretty and such.”

“I’ve been waiting to get an invitation to see the place, and I’m tired of waiting,” Rose said. “When can I come over and see if I approve?”

He was very aware of her proximity, and his hands felt like he was wearing boxing gloves. Picking that sandwich up was going to be a problem.

“Harold just had his deadline moved up. Give me two days. How does Thursday night sound, around 7 for a dinner? I’ve learned to be a pretty good chef since living alone.”

“I’d love that. But it’ll have to be a little later, after nine. Ronald closes up Thursdays for me anyway. Would that work? I’ll bring the wine. We just got a very nice Sirrah in from California, and I’ve been wanting to try it out.”

They talked for a bit about a wine and cheese tasting in the restaurant later in the week, and about the house. The feeling between then had subtly shifted, and both were aware of it and felt comfortable, and excited, although neither said it out loud.

Other customers came in and they broke off the conversation while she took their orders. He ate his sandwich. The dim, aged stone and wood atmosphere of the bar was comforting. It had been absorbing such moments for nearly 200 years.
Another old song was playing, a quiet instrumental he couldn’t quite place. He was tired, but found he was thinking about Thursday night with anticipation. He leaned on the bar and watched the bubbles rise in the liquid in his glass, bits of foam clinging to the sides. He took another sip.

He felt Rose’s presence return from the other side of the bar, which was in a “U” shape around a central wooden support beam and cash register. His awareness of her was of a rustling sound of cotton, a sensation of heat and a fragrance both subtle and disturbing. Rose was looking at him with an expression he hadn’t seen in a while. A nice one, one that hit him right in the male part of his brain. She was resting her hands on the bar, and moved one hand with a bar towel in a slow, back and forth motion. The surface was already spotless.

Her fingers drew his eyes for some reason. Part of his brain registered mild surprise at that. His heart beat a tune he hadn’t heard in a while. There were many things about Rose that he liked looking at, but what he looked at just then were her fingers. He was a connoisseur of such things.

It’s just like you can never mistake a girl’s knees for a woman’s. Young girls might have perfect skin and no signs of wear and tear, but experience in life is underrated when it comes to beauty. For one thing, there’s the confidence. That’s a real plus. That and no giggling.

And their knees aren’t as nice as a woman’s. These things matter to a man after a while, if he’s paying attention.

Rose’s fingers….  were not pudgy, young-girl fingers, but …womanly. The kind that comes after living a little. The kind that know what to touch, when to touch, and how long to touch; when to grab and hold on, and when to let go. Long and slender, with well-trimmed nails with a clear coating. Languid, graceful, with the beginnings of a few wrinkles. Hands that had seen hard work, but would just as naturally cradle a baby or slide beer across a bar.

Details matter.

All of this flashed through his fatigue and beer-mellowed mind in less than two seconds. Her fingers absolutely mesmerized him.

God, the raunchy truth of it was that he loved women and women’s bodies. The whole and the parts. They fascinated him. And it had been a long time since he’d thought much about that. Too long.

He reached out without thinking about it and took her hands up in his, and held them.

“You have lovely hands,” he said.

Wow, he thought. How original.

She appreciated the impulse, if not the dumb delivery. She laughed and flushed. That was a good sign, wasn’t it?
She stammered a little and managed an “oh, they’re so dry”. But she didn’t pull away. After a second’s hesitation, she rubbed her fingertips on the palm of his hand and moved her hands inside his, and then clasped his hands with an intensity that surprised him and stole any words he might have uttered.

“I’m feeling warm,” she said with a nervous laugh, and looked a little unsure. But in a flash, her body was still and her large, dark brown eyes looked right into his with a serious, but twinkly look. He had the giddy feeling that he was falling into them.

“I wonder why?,” she said.

“I’m feeling pretty warm myself.”

He actually blushed, probably for the first time since he bumped into Linda Vogel’s new boobs in the sixth grade. But he wasn’t in the sixth grade any longer, he knew what he wanted to do and, what’s more, that Rose wanted the same thing. The realization sent an electric shock clear down to his toes. She smiled a little at the corners of her mouth and tilted her head to the side a little, watching him.

Without quite realizing he was doing it, he found his fingertip gliding over the fine hair of her forearm, on the way to other things. He didn’t care who else was in the bar, even though they were alone. The feeling of her was electric to his fingers and he was aware of every detail. She leaned closer, her eyes closing a little.

Then the phone rang. Her eyes opened slowly, regretfully and she gave a little shrug that said ‘what are you going to do?’.

No more for now.

But soon. Soon.

They smiled at each other knowingly as she answered the phone, which was right behind the bar next to the cash register. He softly kissed the back of her free hand, which he still held, gathered his things and stood to go. Her throat flushed and her eyes darkened and softened. She stopped listening to whoever was on the phone.

At the door, he paused, half-turned and looked back, and pantomimed that he would call. She nodded and her smile lit up her face. Her eyes lingered on him, shining, but a little troubled, too. Then they cleared. Her lips mouthed the word “Yes.”

Outside, he felt like a schoolboy again, lighter than air. The sun was a little brighter and the birds were singing. He could feel the stock market rise, except it wasn’t the stock market.

Ah, life, he thought, giddy as a 17-year-old after his first kiss. What a grand thing it is.

Running Girl Ch. 1 Excerpt: “Mohana Das”


This is another bit from the book, “Running Girl,” introducing the assassin Mohana Das. She plays a recurring role.

  1. “Mohana Das”

  2. “Captured”
  3. “Dream Girl”
  4. “Attack in the Family Room”
  5. “Fingers”
  6. A Little About Rose
  7. The Next Morning
  8. “What will be, Shall Be”
  9. “To the Death”_______________________________

Mohana Das

The brutal sun churned Karachi’s open sewers, diesel fumes, rotting trash, bubbling asphalt and smoke from a million charcoal cooking fires into a exotic, noxious stew that spread 50 miles downwind, into the great Sind Desert. The monsoon season was brewing in the warming waters of the Arabian Sea. It was only mid-morning, but thermometers shimmered. They could hit 115F by early afternoon.

The city would bake like a rock on a grill, day after day, until the monsoons brought drenching rain that could drown a child, bring insane winds and monstrous, otherworldly clouds. For a while, this was better than the heat. It filled reservoirs, flooded rice and wheat fields, refilled the aquifers, ran in sheets from the mountains to flush new life into rivers, flushing the filth of the city out to sea. They also brought misery and death with drownings and malaria and cholera when slum sewage was flushed into hovels of the destitute, of whom there were millions.

In April, though, from early morning through the muezzin’s call to evening prayer, nothing moved outside by choice unless driven by greed or hunger or bad intent. Only the insane or the criminal or the desperate slipped from shadow to shadow when Sol hurled death onto the unprotected below. But when the he wearied of the game and moved away over the edge of the ocean in the west and onshore breezes carried cooler, saltier air over the city, the city’s millions emerged to celebrate. Cafes filled with the sounds of jangled chatter and shouts of greeting, of  street vendors singing of fresh vegetables for sale, playing children and all the complicated noise of  life in all of its joy and brutality.

A man and a woman made love in a darkened bedroom. A window air conditioning unit rattled softly. The woman straddled him, hands on either side of his head and pumped her hips faster and faster with him inside. Her café au lait skin glowed with a light sweat from the exertion, small breasts swaying, nipples hard. The man, flushed and breathing loudly, grabbed a breast and squeezed it roughly. She didn’t seem to notice except for eyes that flashed briefly in anger at the sudden pain, a look he did not see.

She finished with short whimpers, sighs and finally a long, shuddering moan. After a pause with closed eyes and mouth slightly opened and smiling, she lowered herself  and lay still. He pushed himself into her hard a few more times and she tensed again to receive him, ignoring his grunting, looking bored. After a moment, she rolled off. He turned away with no more notice of her and was almost instantly asleep.

Mohana Das’ black eyes flicked with contempt and frank appraisal, even as a small smile played across her lips. She sat up and straightened the silk scarf that was wrapped tightly around her short-cropped hair. Then, utterly still, she watched him until she was sure he was asleep. Slipping slender legs over the side of the bed, she moved into the shower to bathe his smell away and flush all traces of him down the drain.

Upon return, still naked and damp, she pulled a long, thin blade of black carbon steel in its leather sheath from hiding under the bed. A rush of heat flashed down her abdomen and up to her breasts, as it always did at moments like this. She closed her eyes and relished the tremor of a second orgasm, feeling her legs go weak for a moment.

The blade, honed so finely that the edge reflected no light, resembled a long, deadly letter opener. Tiny parallel lines were etched down the middle, forming a channel for lubricating fluids. The raised metal sides were polished to a mirror finish. But the true genius of it was the purity of the edges and the hypodermic tip. A custom-made Rosewood grip, inlayed with a cat’s head made of ivory, nestled perfectly in the palm of her hand.

It was the creature of a Japanese master. His handiwork was known only to a small and exclusive clientele willing to pay the price of a modest house for such a weapon. It was said he worked on only one blade at a time, and sometimes took weeks to complete it. He didn’t take orders, so much as listen to a visitor and decide whether he felt the person was worthy of perfection. Das had sat with him daily for two weeks, sharing tea and silences, the first time. She waited on his judgement, willing herself to utter calm and acceptance. Then one day, he handed the blade he’d been working on to her, along with a custom scabbard.

A year later, she returned, with the same result. And again a third year.

The master’s wizened old wife waited in the outer room of the house, bowing as Das left. She took the cash Das offered with many mutual bows and smiles, tucking it quickly away in the folds of her kimono.

One blade was hidden in London. The third was her gift to someone who had trained her, loved her and, finally, betrayed her.

Das gently pulled the sheet down from her bedmate’s neck, looking with detachment at the structure of his spinal bones. He stirred in his sleep and his hand reached blindly for her bare thigh. She moved his hand away with a shushing sound, and murmured ‘No. Later.” She waited motionless a few minutes until his breathing slowed.

She finally moved one finger until it barely rested on his skin. The other hand positioned the point of the blade in the slight hollow between the bones, palm on the rounded silver inlay of the handle. She pushed it in, the movement of the blade barely perceptible as it slipped though his skin and ligaments as though moving through damp gauze, and cut the spinal chord between the 3rd and 4th cervical vertebrae. He woke, but too late. A quick flick of her wrist killed all motor control below that point and stopped his diaphragm. His brain would die quickly, starved of oxygen. He was paralyzed and powerless, but aware he was dying, only able to stare at the wall. He could hear her behind him, but was paralyzed and bewildered. His eyes darted wildly and his mouth made soundless screams.

She examined her work. There was very little blood, just seepage from the sliver of a wound. With any luck, he would not be found for days. The more time zones between her and this spot the better. It wasn’t absolutely necessary, but professional caution was the rule. Disappearance without leaving a trace was one of her specialties.

But she could take a moment. She slid to the floor and moved languidly around the bed where he could see her. She stood and watched without expression as his eyes flickered around in fear, slowly clouded and became still as his worthless spirit floated away.

She washed and dried the blade and slipped it into its sheath.

She glanced around and with quick, practiced movements, wiped down every surface she had touched with a hand towel. She switched off the air conditioner and sealed the windows tight, knowing the aggressive heat of April would soon turn this room into an oven and speed the decomposition of the man’s body, obscuring what few clues she’d left. Not that the police in this slum had the tools or competence or even interest in solving this crime, of course.

The man in the bed was a smalltime crook and occasional drug dealer, smuggler and pimp who lived on the underbelly of society. In the complicated world of Karachi’s poor neighborhoods— which is to say, most of them— he also dealt stolen weapons to whomever had the cash. He didn’t care what they did with them. Unfortunately, he had cheated the wrong person, a person with connections— the details were not her concern. Word had been sent through a cutout that her services were needed.

In short, she knew the police would not investigate this man’s passing very enthusiastically. His death simply removed one more vermin from the streets, and any hint that his exit was expedited by powerful people would further discourage inquiry.

Besides, the same Hawala bosses that had hired her also paid bribes which purchased official blindness. It was a very efficient system, if corrupt. If you were the one with the cash.

Her brief passage through this man’s life, for all practical purposes, would be as if it had never really happened. It was the natural order of things since ancient times in her land. Though not from Karachi, her ancestors were here to meet Alexander, and many still showed the blue eyes and hair coloring of the Greek and Macedonian and Persian genes deposited in the wombs of women in the valley of the Indus. Babies survived, even if their fathers had their throats slit by the brothers of the women they raped. Like all invaders since, the Greeks left only the results of couplings, either voluntary or forced. But they all left eventually.

The assassin slipped on light cotton pants and pulled tight the drawstring at the waist, shrugged on a blouse and stepped into open sandals. After tying a small pouch around her waist, she slipped the sheathed blade and the rest of her effects into it, threw a black chador over her head and pulled the floor-length semicircle of fabric together in front. She fastened a dark ruband veil on her ears and over her nose, which left only her eyes exposed. She was now, to any prying male eyes, a married, conservative Muslim woman: invisible and untouchable.

Das glided into the glare of the day, breathed in the stench of the city born on superheated air, and stepped delicately through a partially open wrought-iron gate in the wall of the compound.

Across the empty street, she opened the rear door of a battered yellow and black taxi and folded herself inside. The driver had been pretending to sleep in the afternoon heat, then started the engine as soon as she left the gate. He had the old car in motion before she closed the door.

They did not speak. In seconds, the taxi pulled onto a main street, trailed by a cloud of blue smoke. Their first destination was a small, poor-looking mosque, tucked in a side street nearby. She would slip a coded message through a slot in the door, word that the mission was compete. Payment would appear in one of several numbered bank accounts in Switzerland. Then she would pack a small bag and board a flight to London, and from there on to America for her next assignment.

Belching a cloud of fumes, the car soon blended in with dozens of others just like it, with trucks and cars and scooters in the vast honking chaos of the city of 15 million. In seconds, it was lost in the crowded, churning haze.