We sat at a dark table at the back of the the bar and drank whiskey sours.  Stormy ordered hers eggless on account of the pain suffering hens endure producing 275 eggs a year in tiny cages, the thought of which further soured the drink.She hesitated a while, like she had something to say but didn’t quite know how to present it. So I waited, hoping she’d select something as elegant as her dress.I had gotten around to wondering if a porn star saw more dicks in a year than battery hen’s lay eggs and whether or not experiencing one and caring about the other were related, when she threw out her first pitch: “Mister Degas,“ she said brushing her golden mane back with her right hand, reaching over to touchy-feely my right bicep with her left.“Elia’s fine — And let’s  skip the whole hackneyed you met Kunt at the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in July 2006 a few months into his third marriage and a few months after his son Duke was born saga.”“And  I spanked him with a magazine,” she giggled.“And, I teased him with a strap—on and screwed him without a condom on that first date because he said he wanted to get straight to the dessert.”“And, I laid there and prayed for death!”“And my affair with Kunt (lasted a little more than a year) included the occasional romp on the marital bed.  I’ve wondered if Nadiya caught us on the closed circuit. Who the fuck knows?”  She shrugged and her breast heaved their silicon load.

“Yes, its a soiled and sordid tale and it’s not why you’re here. So, why are you here?”“Because,” she said quietly, as if she’s been judged far worse by far better, “Monica said you were a decent attorney and I need a decent attorney.”I was restless.The wafer-thin leatherette seat-cushion no longer protected my butt from the hard bench underneath or flattery so I barked: “Look Stormy, this DECENT attorney dosen’t know too much about the porn business but I’m pretty sure your economics and my economics are similar — we both get paid for our time. I was on the way to meet my Mami when I was redirected to meet you. So, let’s make this meeting productive.”

Her response was to slip off the top of her ballgown and suffocate Jay-B in her breasts.I’m guessing that her purpose was to show what productive looked like in her business, but I never got around to asking because moments later she released Jay-B, tucked her breasts back in the ballgown and carried on in spite, regardless, “MISTER Degas, a few weeks before the Presidential election, Kunt’s attorney, Michael Cohn, offered to pay $130,000 for my silence. I took the money because the Adult industry is for eighteen year old kids and I’m knocking on forty. I signed a Non Disclosure Agreement with Essential Consultants LLC., in October 2016. In the agreement I’m identified as Peggy Peterson and Kunt is David Dennison. The thing is that Kunt AKA Dennison didn’t sign the agreement, and when the story broke through no fault of mine, he denied the affair.”“Which pissed you off?”“Stars don’t like to be invisible. Ask Sirius!” She said smiling, pointing to the heavens and the brightest star of them all that lay beyond the nicotine stained false ceiling. “And now I’m being followed!”“How do you know?”“It’s always the same matte-black BMW X5 trailing me.”  She said to me looking at Monica who already knew how the plots converged. “And then, a few days ago a nice looking man in an Harvard hoodie approached me and my daughter, Calm in the Nordstrom lot and told me that if I wanted keep Calm, I should back-off Kunt.”“There’s a few more questions I could and could ask, like whether or not the handsome man in the hoodie was pink, light or dark brown, yellow or a blend?  But tonight has become tomorrow morning and I’ve still got one more stop to make.  So let’s leave it like this. From what you’ve told me so far, this case of yours doesn’t sound too promising. You signed an agreement, took Kunt’s cash and now you want a do-over BUT, somewhere on a green hill far away a bell’s chiming as if to tell me that our stories are converging. “So—” I shrugged, handing her my card, “—I’ll see you at my office at 10 AM on Monday morning. Bring the Non Disclosure Agreement and copies of your messages back and forth with Kunt and his people and a check made out to Elia Degas Esquire for $5,000 to cover my retainer and out-of-pocket expenses. Meanwhile, I’m sure that Jay-B will help you find a cab home.“She kissed-kissed Monica, shook my hand and took a small square glass bottle from a Prada purse as she left and sprayed a little. She was thanking me and she was saying it with flowers.“Acqua Di Parma,” I sniffed, “I followed it to Bergdorfs once. It was on a bitch who was blackmailing a bitch — It ended badly for both bitches.”

“A bitches brew,” Monica said at the mirror in a faraway whisper that was related to her and yet not her own. And then she recited a variety pack of bitches by rote:“Biatch,” then:“Beyatch,” then:“Biyatch,” then:“Beyotch,” then:  “Biyotch,” then:“This bad biatch, beyatch, biyatch, beyotch, biyotch, biiiiiiiiiiitch has got you a brand-new burner,” she said from far, far away pulling an Alcatel A206 phone from her trick-bag she said she’d preprogrammed with her number.I shrugged and dropped the burner in my jacket pocket where it rubbed up against Shangó’s ring-box.

I thought about asking her how much she cared?(for me). But the black ice in her eyes and not wanting to know the answer rubbished the idea, so I picked the baby blue Tiffany box from my jacket pocket and laid it on the table like a Trump card. “Shangó wants the rock back,” I explained pigging out on sarcasm until I could taste its bitterness. “He was quite insistent” I added, twisting it. “He had my grill redecorated to make the point.”“Yeah,” she said tugging the ring off. “It’s too bad you had to get involved.”“Why does he want that ring back so badly?”She retreated behind a suffocating stone gaze. Her tone was flat and cold and lifeless. “Because I aborted HIS Golden Shangó junior because I couldn’t imagine bringing another monster into the world” she said hesitantly, as if she were considering the concept afresh.

I paused a very hot second, to take a sip of ice water and stock simultaneously.Her whole face was clenched around her mouth, like she was burning up inside. She popped the ring in the box and gave it back to me with her left hand, which was the first time I’d noticed she was a southpaw which confused me as attention to that kind of detail is second nature to me.   So, I wondered if it was or had previously been affected.And then she caught herself and grabbed her Whiskey Sour with the right, tapping on the table with the forefinger of her left hand like I was keeping her from something more important.Her indifference and the thin band of lighter skin where the ring had squatted were a warning that I was the piggy in the middle of a multi-sided game between her, a God and his Gods, and that I was a quick-step from being spurned or worse.And that pissed me off:I snapped the box shut like a crocodile snap and cleared out my throat:“I’m involved because YOU MADE ME THE STORY!  I’m involved because YOU BLUE-BALLED ME AT SALSA CON FUEGO — ME DEJÓ PLANTADO. And the next time I see you it’s on TV flirteadorrrr with my half-bother’s or is he my fucking Papi’s wife?  I’m involved alright. The only question is, who am I involved with? Is she right-handed or a southpaw and whose side is she on?”She turned her black onyx on me. She had never needed the rock to sparkle, and let rip:“Degas,” she purred extending “ass” as far as it would go. “Did you ever look in the fucking looking glass?”

Then she giggled and changed tack and, in an instant, became a hurt little girl: “Mirror, mirror on the on the wall who is the most delusional of all? MÁS DELIRANTE DE TODOS?”

It was a command performance, the question being who was in command?For a beat she was silent and then she rose and leaned over me:

“You are the most delusional of all Degas, the mirror said. You are in your FIFTIES. Monica is in her EARLY-THIRTIES. Why would she choose to live your life and cut short her own? SHE wants to wake up in the morning next to extra smooth young skin like hers, dance dances that are not a hundred years old, tener hijos con un padre y no con un abuelo, que los deje solos. Degas, your many vanities cloud your vision. You confuse incorruptible with uncorrupted. You may well be incorruptible behind that irony fortified defensive line, but you are certainly corrupted in that you believe pleasure is a marketable security to be traded, bought and sold and that experience, sarcasm and PATRONAGE are somehow related. Degas, you are good wine that has corked and gives off the smell of a dank moldy basement, a damp newspaper or a wet dog. Whereas Monica is youthful and timeless at every age.”

Monica sat back down exhausted. Rested her arms on the table-top and discarded the mirror. She was done with the little girl. “This bad biatch, beyatch, biyatch, beyotch, biyotch, biiiiiiiiiiitch has been poorly treated by men,” She said., FYI. Adding FYI: “I was assaulted by Diaz when I was thirteen and by Shangó two decades later. But it was through adversity that I found my saving graces. Sometimes they came from unexpected sources — a song, a challenge, or a friend, o donde el diablo tiró las tres voces. It is my responsibility to make the most of them, apply them to my life, act on them, and rise to every occasion,”[ii] she said to herself, resolutely, reciting a mantra she’d paid $300 an hour or more to learn.However she came by the script, it was quite a show, and Jay-B showed his appreciation with a few loose handclaps, while cradling a large cloth doll in his arms.The barmaid contributed hugs.Then Jay-B held up the voodoo doll and waved it at us to grab our attention.It was made of black cotton, wore a Shangó colored red and white dress and a Celia Cruz inspired headscarf that was cut from Mami’s cloth.It’s fat red lips were zippered tight.Long pins pierced its heart, mind and vagina.

“The doll was on the back seat,” Jay-B shrugged as if finding voodoo dolls in his truck was an everyday occurrence. “It was belted in, sitting up derecho. At first glance I thought it was a niño pequeño” he said amusedly like he’d seen a friendly ghost or witnessed one of the comings and goings of Jesus Christ.“And where was José “Pin Cushion” Vásquez while all this was going on?” I asked to ground the tale.“Lying on the sidewalk with a needle in his arm.  As high as you can be living. So, his lips were blue, he was breathing but very slow y él estaba vomitando –– like a fucking volcano. When I left an EMT crew was trying to extend his life by pumping him with Naloxone and Father Flynn was reading last rites. The thing is Degas, José doesn’t do smack. Esa es la droga de un Yankee!”      Jay-B shook his head, touched his cap and then threw down two STI GL300 Real-Time Vehicle Trackers, raising the game. “Nothing feels right about esta noche so I bug-swept the Rover and found one tracker underneath the dashboard behind the break and another behind the rear-axle under the hood. I sweep the concho and the Roach on the regular, and this morning they were clean.  So, it must be that the trackers, the needle in José’s arm and the doll are connected.”  He said touching his cap again like a pitcher leaving the field to a standing ovation.

The doll’s message was clear —Mami had done something treacherous with her reproductive organs.She needed to keep her trap shut.Or else!It was the pin to the heart that contained the threat.What was less clear was who the message was from, as the doll and the fanciful imagery of Shangó as a harmful spell-caster zombifying people and the whole idea of using voodoo as a threat does not exist in Santeria or any African Traditional Religion, which any quasi-Shangó would have known.  So, it had to be someone else. [v]

And I don’t like sentences with “someone’ in them because no-one takes responsibility.

Monica stood, took the doll from Jay-B and plucked out the pins one by one as if that would reduce the threat level from red to orange to yellow.

She seemed to know exactly who was responsible for the doll, “Black Caviar,” and why, “Degas, the doll is a threat to Beatriz, but it is intended to silence me.”

“Beluga, Sterlet, Kalugam, Ossetra, or Sevruga?” I asked knowing I wasn’t going to like the answer.

“Black Caviar is dirty money from Vladimir and the subject line of an email Charles Mancastle received in July 2016 from an associate in Kiev, Ukraine, promising him great riches if he could turn the 2016 election in Vladimir’s favor by getting Kunt elected. To earn his Black Caviar, Charley-boy employed a team of 100 mostly Russian trolls including crack teams of GRU sponsored Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear hackers to steer millions of voters Kunt’s way. They set up more than fifty thousand imposter Twitter accounts and their five hundred fake Facebook pumped content that was shared more than three hundred and forty million times. By scaring people to their worst prejudices, peores prejuicios, with fake sites like Blacktivist, which posted graphic videos of police violence against African-Americans and got more hits than Black Lives Matter they won the first Cyberwar and pulled off the first digital coup d'état.” [vi]

Monica stood, took the doll from Jay-B and plucked out the pins one by one as if that would reduce the threat level from red to orange to yellow.

On paper, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a man of modest means. As he tells it, he made 38.5 million rubles ($676,000) over the past six years from his presidential salary, his military pension and interest on his savings, has $243,000 spread across 13 different bank accounts, owns an 800 square foot apartment in St. Petersburg, along with two Soviet-era cars and an off-road truck.And a car trailer in a pear tree.Yet Vlad has a watch collection worth over $500,000;  a palace on the Black Sea valued at a billion dollars; 60-planes, and he sails around in Olympia, his $35 million yacht, which was quid pro quo for services rendered in rigging an auction so that his bestie, Chelsea football club ownerRoman Abramovich, and Boris Berezovsky, a former car-dealer, could steal state owned Siberian oil giant Sibneft for less than $200 million (£148 million).In fact, Vlad, is probably the richest person on earth with a fortune greater than $200 billion.According to Bill Browder, the CEO and co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management (an investment fund that was once the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia before Bill was blacklisted as a threat to national security after he exposed Vlad’s corruption), Vlad made his money the Mafia way, “There isn’t going to be a shares certificate with Putin’s name on it, or a bank account linked to him  — You have a godfather (Vlad) who does favors for his underlings and at some point in the future, his underlings return the favor.“Underling cronies like Gennady Timchenko, who owns an estimated 23% stake in natural gas producer, Novatek; construction titan and some-time judo sparring partner, Arkady Rotenberg, who was given the $3.7 billion contract to build a bridge connecting Russia to Crimea (the Black Sea peninsula that Russia snatched in 2014); Vlad’s personal banker, Yuri Kovalchuk; Oil tycoon, Vagit Alekperov, a former Soviet deputy minister; aluminum titan, Oleg Deripaska, who was a BFL of Kunt’s campaign manager; steel magnates Alexey Mordashov and Vladimir Lisin, whose fortune jumped  $830 million in the three days after Kunt’s victory; and real estate tycoon Aras Agalarov — who along with his son Emin, had hopes to build a Kunt Tower in Russia even before Kunt ran for President.All of the above, along with bestie Roman, media mogul Len Blavatnik, and Mikhail Maratovich Fridman  a robber baron and “philanthropist,” owe Vlad big time as the value of all of their fortunes increased in the aftermath of Kunt’s victory in the expectation of more quid pro quo, at the expense of factory workers that have not been paid for months, pensioners that cannot afford to buy food, and an infrastructure that is starved of investment, which is why Russia’s housing, roads, railways and airports look like the Third World. Vlad has turned Russia into Bangladesh with nuclear missiles. [vii] [viii] [ix]And those that get in Vlad’s way are shot four times in the back by  unknown assailants within view of the Kremlin (opposition leader Boris Nemtsov); found dead inside locked bathrooms with a noose around their neck (oligarch Boris Berezovsky who was instrumental in Vlad’s rise to power and funded a media campaign that smeared Nemtsov); shot by a masked gunman near the Kremlin (human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov); beaten to death in police custody (Sergei Magnitsky, William Browder’s attorney); kidnapped outside their homes and shot several times, including a point-blank shot in the head, and dumped in the nearby woods (Natalia Estemirova, a journalist investigating abductions and murders in Chechnya); shot at point-blank range in an elevator (Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta whose book, “Putin’s Russia,” accused the Kremlin leader of turning the country into a police state); poisoned drinking cups of tea laced with deadly polonium-210 (Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who became a vocal critic of the agency, who he accused of orchestrating a series of apartment bombings that left hundreds dead); gunned down outside their home in Moscow (Sergei Yushenkov a former army colonel and leader of the Liberal Party who was gathering evidence he believed proved that Vlad’s goons were behind the apartment bombings); die from mysterious illnesses (Yuri Shchekochikhin, a journalist who was also investigating the 1999 apartment bombings for Novaya Gazeta).That we might be in Vlad’s way was unsettling.

“The extremes screamed while the majority whispered?” I borrowed, rage rising, the penny having dropped.Monica shrugged and gazing back at her reflection in the mirror intently: “I guess that’s one way of looking at it. Either way, Kunt owes Vladimir big-time.  And then there’s the tape.”

“AND THE MIRROR SAID we’re in the way of Vladimir, Charley-boy and their Beluga,“  I growled, floating one in off the glass: “AND THE FUCKING MIRROR SAID you put Beatriz in the line of fire.”[x]She emptied her glass in a hurry and brushed me off: “Beatriz put herself there the day she took the first cent from Kunt.”“You really are a heartless —, “ I spat.AND I STOPPED MYSELF.BUT THE DAMAGE WAS DONE.“Biatch, beyatch, biyatch, beyotch, biyotch, biiiiiiiiiiitch,” she taunted herself and me.I looked away and called Mami to let her know we were stopping by.She didn’t pickupSo, I tried again.Same result.Third time was the charm, except that the Cabrón who picked up said something that sounded like po’shyol ‘na which means fuck off in Russian and slammed down the phone.

Jay-B wrapped his arms around us, “Mi Panä, we gotta go! El que no se puede tirar, se jondea.”And we left, Monica’s fright suggested we were running late.