The brooch-cast image flickered off and the burner buzzed. Monica had Cohn dangling on the end of the line. So, she ran the audio off the brooch surveillance tape Vlad’s interpreter had recorded.

It sounded even more treasonous the second time around:

“All we need from you Kunt is chaos: withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a good first step, now we want you to fuck with NATO and NAFTA, but don’t leave. We like to keep our enemies close --- Будь близок со своими врагами. Say goodbye to the Paris Climate Agreement because we need to sell our oil, gas and coal at fair prices. And we want racial conflict and one or more Government shutdowns to stir the pot, which you can deliver by insisting on your crazy wall.And when you don’t get what you want?You can appear strong to your base by declaring a State of Emergency under your National Emergencies Act[i].”

“And my legacy?” Kunt replies tearing.

“Was fucked the day you took your first Ruble,

” Vlad replies patting Kunt’s back as you would comforting a child.

Cohn’s first defense was weak: “The tape’s not admissible in court,” he protested, which he knew was not the point, which why he made it with bluster.

“But CNN will run the fucking thing en rotación pesada. On the hour, every hour, every day until the whole world can lip-sync Kunt’s una traición,” Monica replied, as if her finger were on the trigger, which Cohn assessed it probably was as it was where his finger would have been.

“What do you want?” said with the ease of a man who’d never seen a deal he couldn’t fix.

“Every copy of the ‘Stallion’ snaps, KUNT’S RESIGNATION and $500,000,000 to put my birth-right.”Cohn laughed. It was a giant mocking-bird of laugh designed to test our certainty, which segued into a whistle, and a request for a time-out: "Are you always this realistic? The boss likes being the most powerful beast in the western world and I doubt he’ll give it up for tape that might be fake or that he can explain away as artful dealing. But right now, I can’t get hold of Kunt as he’s switched to Executive Time, which means he’s tweeting, preening, crowing or watching himself on TV.”
“And my legacy?” Kunt replies tearing.

“Was fucked the day you took your first Ruble,

” Vlad replies patting Kunt’s back as you would comforting a child.

“How many hours ahead of GMT is that?”

“It’s whatever the fuck he wants it to be!” Cohn chuckled — before he was rudely interrupted by Kunt bleeding in through Monica’s phone. He had apparently seen the Stallion snaps for the first time and was yelling at Monica and Nadiya and at us by proxy that they were “Lesbo whore slut pieces of shit.”

It was, according to Cohn, a classic “Kuntfrontation.”

And then the line went dead but the brooch came alive,

Neither lady flinched, and the First Lady snapped, “James, you’re the only cunt that’s ever treated me like a whore! I took your money because I came from nowhere and had nothing and you had everything. It was an unbalanced relationship that we rebalanced with cash. I never loved you AND I LOVE YOU A LOT LESS THAN THAT TODAY. I love Monica. And we do fuck, which may make me a lesbo whore piece of shit, but at least I’m not Vladimir Putin’s bitch.
“And my legacy?” Kunt replies tearing.

“Was fucked the day you took your first Ruble,

” Vlad replies patting Kunt’s back as you would comforting a child.

Kunt stood there a few seconds with his chin tucked into his chest like he’d been punched and then he grinned sourly, pursing his lips. “Nice speech,” he spat. “You’ve had your fun. Now let’s go home to Victor,” he said, playing their son like the ace of hearts.

“Victor’s in the car downstairs. He wouldn’t miss parasailing in Portorož with my nieces and nephews for the world,” Nadiya snarled, turning her back on Kunt, which caused him to sulk away, behind shiny elevator doors, in which I could see Monica, Nadiya and the interpreters Kuntempt.

The brooch stopped broadcasting and Joy, reading my dirty mind, drifted back towards me like a tissue blowing in the breeze, carrying the bottle of whiskey I kept by the ice-box for special occasions like these.

At the desk she slowly turned her head towards me and stroked me with a red-rag of a gaze that she’d perfected for special occasions like these, and she passed me the bottle like it was the ticket to a sold-out show.

I accepted the invite, twisted open its cap, tilted my head back and poured the hot, smoky liquid way down the hatch. The swish through my mouth was smooth and warm, and the swallow was musky and spread heat from the roof of my mouth, deep down my throat, though my chest and stomach to my extremities like Viagra or an injection of vitamin-C.

And then I hit pause to let the smoky vapors tickle my brain. It was a long time since I’d eaten anything, so the liquor took effect quickly and pretty soon I was staring at the bottle marveling at magic born of virgin white-oak barrels, charred on the inside, distilled for at least two years and sweetened, with caramel, honey, nutmeg, apple, cinnamon and other natural flavors.

A few greedy, gulps later I was hot enough to want to share. So, I handed the bottle back to her and invited her to join me. She docked it’s neck in her lips, without wiping me off, which I took as a compliment, and swallowed too quickly. And whiskey rained on her parade and over her breasts.She smiled.She didn’t mind. She didn’t mind at all.

I leaned back on my chair, closed my eyes to let my excitement fester, kneading my temples to the beat of the rain on my window to cool myself down.

The rain sounded close enough to be mine, yet distant enough not to hurt. Underneath it, the sound of traffic splashing through puddles and the wind breezing through blight laid a soft bed of white noise.

Joy made the short journey round to my side of the desk silently, like a ghost, slid her hands under mine and my temple came alive

When I opened my eyes, she smiled. It was absolutely the prettiest thing I’d seen her wear to date. But she didn’t wear it for long.

A white zipper ran from the middle of her shoulders to her ass — I noticed when she pulled it open and rolled the top of her dress down to her waist.

A white cotton belly-shirt framed a diamond studded navel ring and hugged her pushed up breasts. And the white satin of her bra-straps cut her chestnut skin like slim unbroken traffic lines. She placed her hands on her hips and spread her fingers until her pinkies pointed at her sex.

Which is when she noticed the autographed photo of Whitney Houston I kept on my desk.

And the world went snap.

Which is probably why she started to sing “One Moment in Time,” softly at first and then louder. Her point, which she made moanfully, with perfect pitch, was that her finest day was “yet unknown.”

Which took me back to Whitney; AKA Nippy, shimmering in a pencil thin white dress, opening the 1989 Grammy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, with a performance of One Moment in Time that still mesmerizes me.

She had started out cautiously, hitting notes down the middle, sticking faithfully to the melody of a song saved from slush by the precision of her diction — like it was important to her we understand that these were deeply personal truths.

The first clue to the magic to come was the true-grit she brought to “— my finest day is yet unknown.”

It came from a place way beyond optimism.

A dismissive flick of the wrist welcomed the ascent into the first chorus. It was one of a series of small gestures that forewarned the tale’s gravitas: “— I rise and fall, yet through it all, this much remains: I’VE GOT ONE MOMENT IN TIME —”

She took a few tentative steps towards the camera and us, still feeling her way, and waded into the first chorus; swaying gently from side-to-side, breaking out more boldly to race “with destiny,” before closing her eyes to feel “eternity” and bring us gently back down for the second verse.

A deep moan transported the live audience and a CBS audience of millions, to Newark’s New Hope Baptist church where Nippy started out in the junior gospel choir.

A finger pointed directly at us, let us know the song had become personal, and the caution of the first verse was replaced by searing certainty. Nobody questioned the braggadocios of “I’ve lived to be, the very best….” because the evidence was before us.

The ironic snigger that separated “I want it all,” from “no time for less”, marked the point of no return — on this glorious night she’s was going for EVERYTHING, tomorrow be damned.

Effortlessly nipping in and out of falsetto the pace of her delivery seemed to quicken as she approached the second chorus. But it was a grand illusion as she was living as all truly great singers must at the back of the beat.

She soared into the bridge and went off over the final chorus assisted by a key-change that pushed her into the upper-reaches of her range, where she delivered note after improbable note, cheered on by an audience that knew it was witnessing greatness.

And then she pulled the mic down to her waist for a moment and treated us to the startling reality of her voice acapella.

She ended the song holding “I will be free,” full voice, through a standing ovation that might have lasted forever were it not for the constraints of a network TV broadcast, because we loved her then – or did we?

If you love them, don’t you set them free.

And the tragedy of Nippy’s life was that she was never free.

And the tragedy of her death is that she is remembered more for her addiction than her greatness.

It has taken me from Nippy’s death in a tub to today, to work out why people who let their kids listen to Rihanna-beating Chris Brown and brag record collections that include classics recorded by junkies and pedophiles, have so much Whitney-hate. It’s pitiful reactionary story of race and what it takes to build a mass-market brand in America, that I will tell you soon.

Joy stopped singing well before the end of the song to float a mea culpa --- that Cohn liked it when she sung the song too. I didn’t like the association or that she proffered “Mike” with such familiarity.

As I didn’t want to be like Mike.

So, I accused: “You’ve done Mike a few favors?”

Which snapped her dark-eyes wide open and shut like she’d been slapped. And she pulled up her belly shirt to shake a breast free from its C-cup, as if to say Suck on this,’ shaking with anger, searching for my soul. I didn’t bare it for her. Shit, I didn’t show that to anybody. Instead I grabbed the breast, put it in my mouth and fed on it.

She folded into me because she would have folded into anything warm.

I spread her out over the desk to get better access.

She grabbed the handles of the desk’s drawers and massaged me without breaking sweat.

There is a special moment in all above average lovemaking where what starts out as sport, a game, or the sum total of two grand frustrations, becomes romantic. On this night we passed that point shortly after she dipped a hand between her legs and used her fingertips to gently massage my balls and my taint --- the region between balls and ass --- until we convulsed together-forever-as-one. And then we clung on, tugging on each other’s lips in a kiss that was so disturbingly romantic that I had to keep my eyes closed to shield my heart from the sight.

In the darkness my face was a drab and as gray as the dusk, but my eyes had little flames inside; fueled by the promise of an end to unrequited hopes and dreams and of better nights and days and dusks.

The kiss might have lasted forever, were it not that Jay-B his eyes burning, his reconstructed right hand wrapped in plaster and then a white bandage, burst into my office with his mind set on revenge.

His idea was that we were going to get the Stallion snaps and deliver Shango (to whom was not clear): “Y traerlo de vuelta vivo o muerto,” which means ‘dead or alive,’ which I could tell Joy thought a first-rate idea because she clapped her hands.

And then he waved a gun.

The gun, a Colt M1911, supposedly obsolete and outdated, was still the close-combat weapon of choice for Marine Special Operations shooters and the Army’s Delta force. It had been custom re-assembled at the MTU technical shop in Quantico, Virginia. Where, using a select-issue M1911A1 frame as a base, a new aftermarket slide had been fitted, a Bar-Sto drop-in match-grade stainless-steel barrel installed, and the springs replaced. A high-pro ramp front-sight had been soldered into place and a no-snag rear sight fitted. Its ejection port had been lowered and the magazine-well beveled. And the pull on the Videki trigger had been adjusted to 4.5 pounds. Add a Wilson beavertail grip, Pachmayr stocks, a Commander hammer, a Birdsong Black-T coat, and a 7 shot Wilson/Rogers magazine, and you have a dependable, killing machine.

The Colt had kept Jay-B alive in Iraq. I snatched it away from to prevent him wasting its good work on an act of revenge.

He got sullen suddenly. And his eyes dug deep into their sockets and his melancholy gaze clamped onto something sad and very far away.

His tone was soft. It had come a long way ---- from the killing fields of La Romana, by way of the killing fields of the Nadi Ali and Marja districts of central Helmand in Afghanistan, to the killing fields of urban America:“Justice can wait too long Degas. It disappears when you aren’t looking. And then the opportunity is gone --- Y entonces la oportunidad se ha ido.”