My baby’s gonna pay for me.
Dateline The Jazz Club: November 5th, 17:54
The thin man met Grey in the lobby as promised where Grey handed him several hundred Euros as well as some American dollars. “Just in case we get separated,” Grey said. The thin man could take care of himself ok at a poolside party in Singapore, however tonight’s action already felt a little different. He wondered if Grey was carrying a gun. Happy as he was to have the cash, the thin man hoped Grey would not stray too far afield. The driver had the car ready, and they drove the 20 minutes to the jazz club.
Once inside (the doors had actually soft-opened sometime before 18:00) the thin man takes the place in. It’s a pretty large club with a stage area in front, a bar to the left, and a sound booth in the middle with aisles on each side so that patrons could feed back into a lobby area where another bar is set-up, as well as space for the “merch table.”
There are already 20 or 30 people inside, drinking, talking, smoking. The thin man decides to buy a pack of cigarettes–cigarettes are a great ice breaker and the thin man will need to break some ice later on. He asks for American Spirits, yellow, and the bartender hands them over.
“Who’s playing tonight?” asks the thin man in English.
“The Peter Andreessen Trio,” replies the bartender in the same language. “They are pretty popular, and a little far out.”
Far out, thinks the thin man. Far out is good. I can work with far out. He sees Grey across the room, sitting with two younger men. Neither of these looks much like a senior vice-president. The thin man starts to move toward the group but Grey shakes his head, almost imperceptibly. Guess we don’t know each other, thinks the thin man. Makes sense. He recalibrates mentally for a second–he’s just here to take in a little jazz and maybe hit on some women. Or one particular woman perhaps.
He orders a white lady, gin and Cointreau, on the rocks. The thin man is a dabbler, in life and in alcohol, and white ladies are there to be dabbled in. He starts to circulate, moving easily, just looking to make conversation. One of the men Grey had been talking to is at the back bar and the thin man approaches.
“Hi, I’m Jack.”
“Hey Jack,” says the man, “I’m Philip. You here for some jazz?” Philip has what sounds like an American accent, and the thin man guesses he works for Company X in some capacity.
“Sure am,” says the thin man. “I’m a big jazz fan, but I don’t know these guys tonight. Do you know anything about them?”
“Yeah, I saw them play before here in town. They’re from Norway and they’re pretty far out.”
“Cool,” says the thin man, “sounds like fun. Where are you from Philip?”
“From the USA man, Kentucky originally. But I’ve been living here in Rome for about two years.”
“What do you do?”
“I work for a company called Company X. I’m in the marketing department, and I report directly to a vice-president over here. It’s a pretty good gig.”
“Company X huh? I think I’ve heard of them. Aren’t they in talks to buy the Green Group or something?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” replies Philip. “You’re up to speed on the business news.”
“I dabble,” says the thin man, “but I don’t know much more than that. Is anyone else from your company going to be here tonight?”
“There should be a few of us, yeah. I think my boss is coming too, with his new girlfriend.” Philip leans closer to the thin man and says quietly “you gotta check this chick out man. She’s got it all going on. She’s called Maya and she just arrived in town like three weeks ago. My fuckin’ boss moves fast man.”
“It’s good to be the boss I guess,” says the thin man.
“Yeah man,” says Philip. “What ya drinking?”
“It’s called a white lady. You should order one too.”
“Maya’s a white lady too I think. Not really sure. I think she was in Eastern Europe before somewhere. Anyway, I should stop talking about Maya, it’s bad form I guess.”
The thin man laughed. “Not bad form at all. I’m interested. What does she do here in Rome?”
“I’m not really sure. She’s living at the Plaza, probably on my boss’ dime. I think she’s in corporate in some way. You can ask her yourself, she should be here soon.”
“I’d like to meet her,” said the thin man. “If you would be kind enough to make an introduction.”
“Sure thing. I’m not sure you’re her type but you never know. She likes action, and money.”
“Well I don’t have any money,” replies the thin man, “but maybe I can generate a little action. Let’s see how things go.”
The thin man and his new friend chat a little more, before a woman who looks to be in her early thirties comes in with an older man in a suit with no necktie. The suit looks sharp, maybe not as sharp as our driver’s outfit, but sharp, however the man inside it looks like he’s got some things going on. His hair is slightly out of place and he looks around the club rapidly. He’s a little jumpy. The woman is dressed in a stunning black dress with a fur coat on top, low-cut heels, and a necklace with a ruby inside. Philip waves at them and they wave back. This must be Maya, thinks the thin man. Very intriguing.
As Maya checks her coat, the VP approaches the bar.
“Good to see you Philip,” he says. “Maya was running a little late as usual and I was afraid we’d miss the first part of the show. What are you drinking?”
“It’s called a white lady,” says Philip, “he turned me on to it.” Philip gestures toward the thin man who has already turned slightly to face the duo. The VP offers his hand to the thin man.
“Alan McKnight,” he says, “white ladies eh?”
“Jack Bishop,” says the thin man. “Yes sir, there is nothing more satisfying than a white lady after a long day.”
“I have no doubt,” says McKnight, “but I think I’ll just have a beer. Maya might try one of those though, she like her fancy cocktails.”
His beer arrives as Maya comes over to join the group. She glances at the thin man before turning to McKnight.
“Buy me a martini darling. Two olives.” She speaks with the absolute assurance of someone who never has to pay her own way.
As the bartender is mixing her martini a few notes from a saxophone drift back from the area of the stage. The band is setting up, testing instruments.
“I won’t even have time to enjoy my beer before the show starts,” complains McKnight. “I wish you didn’t take so long to get ready honey.”
Maya turns up her nose–McKnight’s salvo doesn’t even merit a reply. The thin man still hasn’t been introduced to Maya, so he comes one step closer and says “hi I’m Jack. I was just chatting with Philip before you guys came in. Philip says you’re new to Rome?”
“This time around, yes,” she says. “I used to live here though, so I know the city.”
“How long will you be staying?” asks the thin man.
“As long as he’ll have me,” she replies, turning to McKnight. “Right darling?”
McKnight is not paying attention. “Uh, right, uh huh.”
“I said you’re going to keep me around aren’t you?”
“Of course I am.” McKnight has regained his focus. “You know how much I treasure you honey.”
The thin man finds all this talk pretty banal, but it does provide some insight into Maya and McKnight’s relationship. McKnight might well treasure her, however he is also clearly unhappy with certain aspects of their relationship. In addition, he is continuing to look around as if he was expecting someone or something. The thin man wonders if McKnight has a suspicion that all was not what it seemed with Maya. He might realize this on an instinctual level without guessing, for example, that she might be a corporate spy.
“Shall we go up front? The show’s about to start,” says Philip.
The group takes their drinks and moves past the sound booth to get a good view of the stage. The thin man looks around surreptitiously but sees no sign of Grey. He does see the driver however, leaning against the inside bar and smoking a cigarette. The thin man makes a strategic decision to separate temporary from the Company X crew. If he’s going to make a move on Maya tonight it’s better that he approaches from a more oblique angle anyway.
The thin man walks across to the bar and stands next to the driver. Although Grey had indicated that the he should act like a stranger, the room is filling up and he feels like a little chat can’t hurt anything. He keeps his voice low though, just as a matter of tradecraft.
“I didn’t get your name before,” says the thin man. “Mine’s Jack.”
“Ali,” says the man. “Making any progress?” He is apparently entirely up to speed with this evening’s operation.
“Hard to say. I’ll need more time. Do you work for Company X as well?”
“Not I,” says Ali in perfectly inflected English. “Grey doesn’t either, really. We’re contractors.”
“I see. Have you worked together long?”
Ali looks at the thin man and pauses. For just a second the thin man sees something flash in the man’s eyes, something close to sadness. Then it’s gone, and the man says matter of factly, “I’ve known Grey for thirty years. We’re partners.”
All of the sudden a tallish women comes on stage and, without a word, begins playing what looks to the thin man like a mini-theremin. The keening notes of this unusual instrument fill the room, and Ali looks at the thin man with a slight smile and shrugs. Mini-theremin may or may be not be Ali’s cup of tea, but he’s a gamer, and the thin man feels warmly toward him. The theremin player starts ramping things up and a second musician joins her on stage and, again without a word, begins playing the saxophone, loudly and erratically. The show has begun.