Before settling in his place, Hany wanted to show us the apartment for sale below his. “A steal at one and a half million…” He unlocked the door and Bill and I stepped in ahead of him. Bill burst out laughing. “A hippy pad, whoa! You know, I love it.” He moved in to the space ahead of me. It was all exposed brick walls and wooden beams, lots of Mexican rugs, a ceiling fan. Bill would know New York hippy better than me. “But, no, I couldn’t live here. I’m suffocating already.” He turned and marched out past Hany and René still at the doorway. “Where’s your place, Hany?”

            And here we are. All white and mirrored-wall panels set in thin black frames, a couple of Corinthian columns. A chandelier of brass sprockets like a Calder. The place is an update in minimalism. Bill walks around in the living area and plops down on a gray soft-edged sofa. “This is more like it. I always thought you had good taste.”

            “Glad you like it. It’s unique and it’s not. There are places more like mine, if you’re interested.” Bill flashes him a grin. René sits down beside Bill. I sit cattycorner on the couch. My neck goes back to rest on the heavily padded back, and I look up. The ceiling is high and with its original plaster moldings painted white so almost invisible. It is the Corinthian columns we are meant to marvel at. An architect has designed this. Good for Hany. He remains standing, the lord of the place. “Let’s have some champagne.” He announces this with a childlike delight. Sounds delicious to me. “Sorry, Bill, but it’s just Perrier-Jouët. I should have planned ahead for you and produced something from California.”

            “I’ll make an exception. It’s always been one of my favorites.” I shut up about Bill and his Clos du Mesnil as he glances towards me.

            “And you should know that you can get everything in New York that you can get in Paris.”

            “That’s reassuring.”

Hany ignores the sarcasm and heads off to the back of the loft and its kitchen area. I bet he has one of those sub-zero fridges.

            He’s fast. No, he’s set this all up. He’s preplanned. Four flûtes, a glass ice bucket with a bottle of Perrier-Jouët sticking up out of it. “I’m a sucker for those Art-Nouveau lilies.” And I think he’s paying at least twice the price for one of their bottles featuring them. Are you meant to save them? I would be tempted as a joke to stick a white lily in one as a vase. And then I see that he’s done just that, sitting on the black-marble kitchen counter. At least I think it’s marble. Seems to be a New York thing. I can make out fine grains in the black.

            Hany pops the cork, fills each glass, hands them to us, and then he takes off his suit jacket. He’s wearing a tight-fitted fine-cotton white shirt. He has a gym body! Bill smiles. René’s eyes glitter for a moment. Hany sits down on the other end of the couch opposite me.

            Bill raises his glass: “To your continued success, Hany! Cheers!” We all toast Hany. He loves it. And I think Bill means it. He’s making up for his snide remarks, barbs about living in New York.

            Outside, a fire engine passes. Hany stands up and goes to the window. “I wonder if it’s… Oh, nothing.” He turns toward us. “No one’s crashed into the Freedom Tower.”

            “There’s always a fire somewhere in New York,” says René. Hany is moving back toward us with a smile.

            “Not down here. It’s pretty quiet.” And then there’s a loud buzzer sound. “Oh, that’s Maryse.” He walks toward the elevator to buzz her in. I notice that he waits, listening at the door of the elevator, and then calls it up. “I have a key for the elevator. I want to have one made for her, but she says no. She thinks I should save it for our wedding day.” He pulls the door open as she pushes it. And there she is. She has on a silver-lamé bolero jacket, at least I think that’s what these short jackets are called. She’s wearing jeans. Hany gives her the French bisous. No lip contact. “I thought you’d wear that mini-skirt.”

            “Bonsoir!” She looks beyond him to us. “It’s a bit too chilly for that. I called an Uber because of the jacket. I always love to take the subway.”

            “She lives on the Upper West Side. Direct line.”

            I ask her if that’s safe. “I take self-defense classes at my gym. It’s the same gym Hany goes to. The subway is fast.” Her smile shines a beacon across the room. “I’ll go to the kitchen for a glass. Hany has opened his Perrier-Jouët for you, I see.” She takes off her jacket. She’s wearing a black tee-shirt. She goes to the kitchen. Hany hesitates and then comes back to sit with us. Maryse arrives with her flûte. Hany stands up again. She sits down next to me, to my right. Chanel Number Five. He pulls the bottle out and holds a white napkin to the bottom and fills her raised glass. She nudges it toward him to stop him from over-filling it and then gives the glass a nod of a toast to us all before taking a sip. “Oh! I’d forgotten how nice this is.” So, this couple don’t drink champagne on a regular basis. Somehow, I’m surprised. “There was that gentleman from Qatar, along with a retinue of New York lawyers, with an appointment to visit the penthouse I showed you?” She is looking up at Hany, but she’s including us all. “He’s put in a bid.”

            “How much?”

            “He has met the starting bid. Forty million.”

            Hany finds his glass on the brass and glass coffee table, and toasts her. Their glasses don’t meet. He sits down, now with René to his right. “The Swedes are also showing it.”

            “We’ll beat them.” She punctuates that with a Gallic shrug she must have picked up in Geneva. “My gentleman wants it. He’ll outbid anyone. That’s what one of the lawyers said on the way out. I have his card. Of course, if Bill must have it…” She takes a sip as she focuses on him.

            “You’ll betray the man from Qatar for me?”

            “Mon cher Bill, entre amis… Business is business.”

            “Fear not. I’m not about to rattle your business ethics.”

Maryse hides her reaction in another sip. “And our young man from Antwerp, what does he think of all this?”

“Oh? Me? I’m just taking it all in. I hope at some point we can, like, walk around in the city. We could go to Times Square?”

“Something for tomorrow, Bill?” Hany must know Bill hates Times Square.

“So, where did you say we’re meeting your friends for dinner?”

“Tribeca Grill. Robert De Niro…”

“You know Robert De Niro?”

“No. Not personally. The Grill is Tribeca history. You’ve heard of it, right?”

“Yes. People were just starting to do their lofts down here. It was the Wild West. They wanted a place to eat in the neighborhood.”

Maryse smiles, “You know New York history, then. This was before my time. Bill, you know that you’re a true New Yorker.”

“Ah, no, I don’t. I could tell you similar stories about London.”

The four of us could walk there. I remember Greenwich Street, but I don’t think I know it this far downtown. I certainly never walked around down here before. But Bill obviously had. He and Hany and René walked together, with Bill talking non-stop to René. Maybe this was his attempt to avoid going to Times Square with René. Walking Manhattan sidewalks, looking around, jostling other pedestrians. Although there weren’t a lot of people walking around: It was no Midtown. Maryse kept prodding me for personal information. I managed to reverse this and get more stories from her, especially when she switched into French. She let it be known that as a real-estate couple they were celebrities and had made several million already this year. The Qatari sale would top it off. I congratulated her. I bet they were a formidable couple on the scene, I added.

No one we passed batted an eyelash at her silver lamé jacket. The sun was setting. It was a bit chilly; my blazer was just barely enough. New York was already heading toward sweater weather.

And then there we were. A two-story brick warehouse building, needing a climb of two concrete stairs up to the former warehouse loading platform. And then we were in. More brick, dark wood moldings, a thick brick column, creamy lighting, quirky low chandeliers, a proper New York version of a Paris brasserie and just as large. But we went upstairs. Private dining area. The Loft.

So, here I am, fortunately still seated next to Maryse on my right and another woman, on my left, who Hany introduced me to as Anne after introducing her to Bill, who is on her left: “You might know each other already?” Bill smiles politely to Hany but shakes his head. Anne is just back in New York from Maine. I can hear them exchanging family names and close relatives. She says she’s surprised they never met. He laughs and turns his attention back to René who has attracted his own attention from several of the middle-aged men at the table, one of whom, on René’s left is regaling him with his personal impressions of Antwerp.

There must be at least twenty people at this table.

I’m thinking: awful.

On Maryse’s right sits Hany, of course. I think: the Couple. They seem often to be addressed that way. At the head of the table is not Robert De Niro, but it could be, a crusty older version of the image I have of the actor, who seems to have been the organizer of this dinner party. I quickly figure that there is a theme and that theme is that summer is over and we’re all back in Manhattan, and what fun we’re going to have this season. Season. I guess the social season. There are a few outliers like Maryse, but most of the people here seem to live in Tribeca. There are two couples who seem to have kids. Luckily, the kids are home with nannies, or so I’m thinking. For some reason, I’d thought this dinner would be pretty much gay men that Hany was eager to have Bill meet. There were gay couples, married evidently, but it’s a mixed crowd united by Tribeca residency, and a feeling of unsurpassed superiority in being Manhattanites. All about vast gobs of money? Maybe, but I also remember this was always true. I guess Parisians have the same sense of superiority. I’m glad that where I live now is not like that.

“You know Bill from Paris?” Anne is talking to me, just like that, right into my left ear. I confirm this. I ask her if Bill explained who I was this way and she says yes, punctuated with a little laugh that is short but harsh. What’s her accent called? Ah, Long Island lockjaw. Or is it? “My daughter lives in London. She refuses to move back. She loves London. I understand that Bill does not, although he still lives there, I think.” Yes, he still does, I confirm. “He wants to leave. You’re going to go with him to check out Biarritz?” I’m startled Bill has told her this, but I just nod. “Seems a bit old fogey, no? Although I do understand his aversion to the bling crowd. Even in Northeast Harbor one encounters new money.” She shrugs and gives me a pathetic look. I’m supposed to sympathize and I do. Not too hard. I think, surely not all the people at this table are old money. “Maryse insisted I come tonight to meet Bill. I haven’t even properly unpacked.” Her laugh again, but this time it’s not directly in my ear. “She thinks he definitely should take that apartment on what they’re calling Billionaires Row, her reason being that it is his duty to dominate there as a scion of old money. What do you think?” Does she think I’m old money? I pause and then say that really the apartment is way too big for Bill. “Is it? I suppose it might be. Bill has no wife and kids, no entourage.” She states this as if maybe I might counter or expand. I just laugh and say, not at all. Her face goes blank for a second. “I suppose the three of you are gay. Is the cute young guy his boyfriend?” Oh gawds, I need to think quick. I say yes. “He’s quite young, Belgian, I’m overhearing. Anne has very sharp ears. I suppose over the years she has learned to listen in on several conversations at once. This is probably a survival mechanism in her world. “Maryse!” Anne is talking through me, getting Maryse’s attention. “I think you should settle for Qatar and be grateful. It’ll hardly rock the social scene. These people are rarely in residence in New York.” Maryse laughs her delicious laugh in my right ear. Chanel Number Five. “You and Hany will throw a little party. I can’t wait!” Anne gives my left shoulder a little poke. Oh, and that perfume. It’s a bit masculine, I’m thinking: not very floral. I don’t know women’s perfumes. It’s unusual; I’ve never smelled anything quite like it. It’s not as strong as Maryse’s Chanel.

Our host interrupts and suggests we all pay some attention to our menus, but first cocktails. That immediately gets everyone ordering as a waiter moves around the table. No hesitation. These people are drinkers. I don’t dare not order a cocktail. Well, is that so bad after champagne, I think? Quick, what? My turn: I order a Dry Martini… on the rocks. I’m asked, vodka or gin? Gin. And then I think, Make that a Gibson. I’m in the mood for a little pickled onion. The waiter moves on. He knows a Gibson. I think: Well, we’re in New York. Lisa Minelli could sing. I hear Maryse saying she’ll have what I’m having. What did Anne order? I think a Manhattan. I was distracted by what I could want after champagne.

I open the menu. I tell myself to stop looking at the prices. I’m getting used to these pesos. I don’t care. I’m never paying. I see oysters. I see fried calamari. I see tuna tartare. I see Caesar salad. And then there’s pan-roasted Amish chicken. I bet that’s a specialty of the house. Amish. Isn’t that rural Pennsylvania? I should know; I don’t quite remember. I wonder if they still do the horse-and-buggy thing and no telephones. So, chickens raised by them would be as in olden days. I get it. Bill should be happy with the menu. It’s pretty American.

“Most places serve more European food,” says Anne into my ear. “This is in tune with old-time Tribeca. Nostalgic, don’t you think?” I don’t know; I agree with her. We’re surrounded by more exposed brick walls and exposed wooden beams. “In Maine, only the tourists get lobster. We usually order crabmeat. It’s very good. Do you know Maine?” I tell her I don’t, really. “When Bill finds the nest of his dreams here in Manhattan – and you know he will, because Hany and Maryse will see to that – then Bill will come up to stay with me, and I’ll insist he get your over here, too. Where do you live?” I tell her Rotterdam. She looks confused. You know, like Amsterdam? I do the question thing. She bursts out laughing. “I know. I know. They keep writing it up in the Times. It just didn’t ring a bell for a second. I see you and I think, Paris. Silly.” I remind her that I haven’t lived there in years. Remind her? No, she doesn’t know that. She is looking now at the menu. “You might as well order the chicken. It’s the best thing on the menu. What’s the food like in Rotterdam?”

Maryse whispers into my right ear: “Anne is right. Order the chicken.”

My Gibson arrives as does that of Maryse. We toast.

I’m listening in on Bill’s guided tour for René as we walk back to Hany’s place. “You’ve heard of Soho? I mean the New York Soho? It started with artists squatting these empty buildings, these huge lofts, so they could paint, do their art stuff. Some paid some rent. The buildings had been empty for years, just barely livable. Suddenly, everyone thought it was cool to live in a loft. They started converting them. Built big kitchens and bathrooms, mostly. Landlords tried to get the artists out. The city stepped in and saved them with this AIR, Artist-In-Residence thing. You still see the plaque on some Soho buildings. No one lived in Tribeca yet. It was a ghost town. Ten-story buildings vacant.” He stops and does a grand encompassing gesture. “And now you have this: chockablock with millionaires. Look at it? It’s still the same warehouse, sweatshop area. It’s fucking ugly and grimy.”

“Whoa! Bill! Don’t be insulting!” Hany is laughing, but I think he is insulted.

Maryse stumbles on the sidewalk. I catch her.

“See? My point is proven. Are you okay, Maryse.”

“I never wear high heels down here. It’s only because we’re going out.” She grabs my arm then. The pavement is a mess, uneven. You have to watch your step. I’ll be her guide dog. “To be honest, the sidewalks in my neighborhood are also not so great. This is what happens when people don’t want to pay taxes.” I’m surprised she thinks this way. “They call Switzerland a tax haven, but if you live there, you pay taxes, and the streets and sidewalks are in good repair. And clean.” I laugh and note that Switzerland is known for clean. Once I was driving on a Swiss highway with a friend and really needed to pee. There was a rest stop and a building with toilets. You could have eaten off that floor, I tell her. She bursts out laughing. I haven’t told this story in a while. It’s a true story. Maybe a bit exaggerated. And maybe I was just lucky and arrived after the cleaners had gone. Still. “The Swiss pay their taxes.” Yes, they must, I agree. And then I ask her why she’s living here? “Oh, don’t be silly. To make money! And I do like the crazy edge to things. You’ll like the House of Yes.” I ask her whether my blazer will be a problem. “Not along with me, it won’t. Hany and I go there a lot. We know the bouncer. And we always get a table.”

I wake up, because I need to pee. The bedroom is dark, but that doesn’t indicate time. It has blackout shades. I’ve only slept one night in this room, but I remember where the bathroom is. I feel my way. I don’t want to turn on any lights. I sit down so I won’t make a mess.

Back in bed. This remarkable mattress cuddles you to sleep. Could I afford one?

I remember a guy on a trapeze coming close to my head. Did that happen?

Hany is saying, we need more champagne. And Bill is saying, not for us.

Stop. I wake up. This is the moment when dreaming just turns into recent and quite boringly accurate memory: I’ve had enough sleep. I try to make out the time on my watch. It looks like the hands are somewhere before noon. When did we get back here? Not too late. Maybe two?

Bill and I left together, left the others there. In the Uber home, Bill asked me what I thought of House of Yes. I said that it was fun and that I was glad we’d gone. “Fucking derivative. You remember the Anvil?” Yes, but only vaguely. I went with him one time. I remember being in shock as we finally got in – there was a bouncer at the door, and I didn’t look quite skuzzy enough, but Bill knew him, fortunately – and suddenly I saw young guys in leather straps up on platforms, gyrating their naked asses, as if they were toys for sale. “I agree, though. I’m glad it exists. I can understand why René wanted to stay. Hany will take care of him.”

I wonder if Bill is up. I wonder what time René got back.

I get up. I poke around in my bag and find a polyester bathrobe designed to look like one of those silk paisley numbers; it’s light, and I pack it for rare circumstances when I need to deal with someone before showering and leaving my hotel room. I open the door. Light powers in, blinding. I give my eyes a second to adjust and then go out and on into my little private loggia. I look down. Bill is sitting, alone on one of the couches. Uncanny as usual, he feels my presence and looks up: “Get down here, Rapunzel. I’ll order breakfast.” He pulls his phone out of the pocket of the real silk dressing gown he found in a London thrift shop.

I leave the loggia and head down the spiral staircase to the living room. My watch says eleven-thirty. Where is René?

Bill watches me as I leave the staircase and enter the two-story living room with the spires of Midtown Manhattan out the window. I confess I might have overslept. “No. Not at all. I slept like shit.” He takes a sip of something from a mug. “Sorry, you want some coffee? There’s a kitchenette upstairs. I’ve been up for a while now. I keep calling Hany. No answer. Fucking bastard!” He seems to finish his coffee. No, I can wait for the room-service breakfast. I’m thinking first how nice a glass of juice would be. I’m thirsty. I sit down cattycorner to him on the couch. Gawds, this room is brilliant. Full of light. A bright autumn day in New York. Blue sky. Gorgeous. Ah, so Bill thinks René has gone home with Hany? What about Maryse? She was still partying with us when Bill and I left. But then she was with a girl in a leather miniskirt and halter that exposed her nipples. The girl suddenly was there at our table, out of the crowd? No, Maryse had spotted her and gone off to dance with her. René wanted to dance. Bill had laughed; I’d begged off. Hany had gone into the dance floor with him. We watched them hopping and swaying. “Nothing like the moves we used to make… back in the day,” yelled Bill into my ear, using that Brit expression. I’d laughed back. True. The DJ had segued to trance and people seemed just to be shuffling and swaying to the repetitive beat like a Sufi ceremony I’d once witnessed for a few moments in Aswan decades ago. Bill had been with me. I mentioned that. He’d brightened up and laughed.

And then Hany and René were back, and Hany ordered another bottle of champagne. We’d begged off when Hany went to order a third bottle.

“You know, really, I don’t care if Hany is fucking René.” I mention Maryse. “You aren’t that naïve, are you? Hany and Maryse aren’t fucking. Well, if they get married and want that kid, they’ll have to. Maryse knows that woman with the tits. Didn’t you see her go down on that nipple?” Bill’s laugh is hoarse. I hear a rattling sound. “Oh, finally. Breakfast!” Bill jumps up and heads to the foyer. He ushers the room service guy and the trolley into the living room. We’re not going to eat in the dining room, not the two of us. Bill lets the waiter serve us two café au laits and set them on the coffee table, well named, I’m thinking. And then he thanks him. No tipping. Of course. Bill doesn’t have any cash. None of us have dollars. I can see that the waiter is disappointed, or maybe this is my imagination. But I’ve yet to see actual cash money change hands since we’ve been in New York. Bill had paid the Uber last night when he’d ordered. He had an account. It just went off his credit card automatically.

The waiter leaves. Bill toasts me ironically with his café au lait and sits down in the same place as before. “You want juice?” He moves to get up. I stop him with a gesture and go to the trolley. There are two kinds of juice: one is reddish and one is pale yellow. No idea what they are. I ask Bill if he wants juice. No. I pour a glass of the pale yellow and have a sip. Ah, passion fruit. Perfect! And I realize I’m enjoying myself. I turn. Bill looks miserable on the couch. I ask him if he wants a croissant. He looks undecided and then nods yes. I make up two little plates, both with a croissant. “Back when I lived here, we used to eat this coffeecake called Entenmanns. It was a big deal. A Sunday thing. I wonder if it still exists?” I put the plates down on the coffee table. Bill reaches over and pulls off one end of his croissant, dips it in his coffee, and then pops it into his mouth. “Ah, better. I think I needed food. Really. Really, I don’t care if Hany and René are fucking. Maybe Hany will take René to fucking Times Square.” Hoarse laugh again from Bill. I sip and then drink down my juice. I’m not really enjoying it so much now, just thirsty. I can see now that things are a mess, this trip is now a mess, and that I have no idea what’s going to happen next.

I hear a smartphone ringing. It couldn’t be mine. I left it upstairs on the bedside table. Bill looks startled. His face turns sour. He pulls his phone out of his pocket. “Hi, Hany. Where the fuck…?” And then Bill stops. I can hear Hany’s voice yelling or maybe just talking loudly. “No. He’s not. Fuck all, Hany!” Bill listens as Hany continues. “Okay. We won’t move.” Bill hangs up. “You won’t believe this. Fucking Hany. René met this kid dancing when he joined the crowd on his own. And then Hany couldn’t find him anymore. Maryse left with the girl. Hany waited. Still couldn’t find René, and then he fucking left. He just left! He says he figured René had gotten a taxi back here. His phone had gotten switched to silent mode by mistake. He’ll be right over, he says.” He grabs the rest of the croissant, dunks it, and stuffs it into his mouth in two tries. Coffee dribbles down his chin. A big crumb of croissant lands on the floor. He jumps up and heads to the trolley with his cup. “You want another one?” He sees I’m only now just beginning mine. I’ve also taken torn off a tip of my croissant. I’m in suspended motion with it over the cup, watching him. “Okay.” He turns his back to me. There is a small pile of white napkins on the trolley. I ask him for one. I see him take two. He turns around. Coffee is still on his chin. He’s looking out the window, not at me. He throws a napkin down next to my plate of croissant. He suddenly realizes his chin is wet and mops it with a napkin. He sits back down with his fresh cup. “You know, I fucking wish Hany were fucking René.” He hears himself saying “fucking” twice in one sentence; he makes this odd laughing sound. Does he realize he’s repeating himself? “I mean. Does René even know the name of this hotel? I suppose he does. But none of us have any dollars.” No. No, we don’t. And then another, different, harsher laugh comes out of Bill. “What a fuck up! What a fucking world! Maybe René has an Uber account.” Bill’s face brightens. Before I say it, he adds, “But then where the fuck is he? He has a phone. He has my number. Why hasn’t he called?”

            Maybe his phone needs charging. Battery dead. That placates Bill for not even a minute. “So, he doesn’t need to call. He needs to get back here.” I look over at the trolley. I want another croissant. I ask him if he’d like one. He shakes his head. I get up and serve myself. Bill sits there seething. And then next I think the worst. Something has happened to René. The kid he was dancing with drugged him. He’s been robbed. He’s dead. I read a while back that there was an ongoing case of gay murders from a club in Hells Kitchen. I don’t say any of this. I shut up.

            As crumbs fall in my lap and on the floor, I think we should be in the dining room. Bill is staring at his lap. His empty mug is on the coffee table alongside his cup of café au lait, half drunk. I’ve never seen such stress on his face in all the years I’ve known him. “Brooklyn. Nothing has changed here. You don’t go to Brooklyn, not in the middle of the night.” He’s not making much sense; Brooklyn has changed beyond all recognition. I know that; he must know that. Bill looks over at me. His eyes are wet. I just say, the kid is smart; he’ll be fine. I almost add that he’s a cute little devil, but I don’t. Good. Because what I do say is loosening the creases on his face. “You’re right there. René has street smarts.” But Antwerp is not New York City: I don’t say this. “Where the fuck is Hany? He’s fucking responsible for all this.” The anger on Bill’s face comes and goes just as quickly as it appeared. “No, I’m responsible. It’s me that is responsible for René. I brought him over here.” I immediately counter that René wanted to see New York. “Yes, but I suggested it. Telling him about myself. He said he’d never been to New York. You know, bright eyed?” I tell him I know. I do. I remember, not the moment of their conversation, but the sheer excitement on René’s face about going to New York. And the incredible speed at which Bill was making his wish come true.

            Bill’s phone is lying on the coffee table next to his empty mug. It rings. He goes to grab it and knocks over the mug. “Fuck!” But only a few splashes of coffee on the phone. He wipes it off quickly with his napkin. “Where the fuck are you?” I can hear that it’s Hany’s voice.

Put it on speaker, Bill. But he doesn’t.

“Maryse can’t handle this?” Bill mouths Qatar to me. “It’s a workday. Right. What fucking day is it?” Bill’s eyes are literally rolling in his head. Are these histrionics for my benefit? “Right. You’re funny. It should be me buying. Right. Whenever.” Bill hangs up. “He has to hook up with Maryse. The Qatari wants to close the deal this morning.” Bill looks at his watch. “Well, it’s noontime. He’ll ‘catch’ me later. Catch me. And then – get this – if I’d bought the place, he’d be here right now. With Maryse.” Bill sits back in the couch. The phone on his lap slips off. I see it going between the cushions; I point that out. “Oh, thanks.”

He pulls the phone out and lays it on top of the napkin, crumpled up on the coffee table, absorbing the coffee. “He was jokey. But he was serious. I think, I don’t know this guy.” Bill is literally staring into space, that blank gaze across the room, seeing nothing. “I knew it. This is what New York is now. This is what living here does to people.” A smile comes to his face, eyes still blank. “Money is evil.” I take that in, let it sit there, somewhat enjoy the juxtaposition of Bill and his current reality, but find nothing to say. “Evil. This funny thing. Always thought it was over the top. Evil. But I sensed it. London too. There’s this evil.” His eyes are seeing something, and he turns to me. “You see it? I mean, how’s it all going to end?” I don’t know what to say. “I think there couldn’t be many ordinary, good people left living in Manhattan.” Ah, I smile and say that I think he’s probably exaggerating there. His eyes brighten. “I hope so. But then, how could you be anything but corrupted living here. I mean, who can afford these prices?”

So, he’s noticed. I start to laugh.

And then I say that we have actually been living in this millionaire bubble here in Manhattan. We have no idea what it’s like just walking around. “But where are the neighborhoods where people earning ordinary money live in Manhattan?” Is Harlem Manhattan? I guess not, not for Bill. I can’t imagine all of Harlem has been gentrified. I remind him that New York still has Rent Stabilization. “Oh, okay. So, you can afford your rent, but you can’t afford groceries, you can’t afford to eat out?” We have no idea what grocery store prices are like here. “Okay, you’re right.” He stands up. “You’re right. I need another croissant.”

I say as his back is turned to me that I think people make big salaries in New York City, that maybe it’s around a hundred thousand. As I say this, it sounds absurd. He laughs and turns toward me with a plate of croissant. “Julio, that driver, he makes a hundred thousand?” He makes a face.

I know that Bill who makes faces; he’s back, at least for this moment.

He goes back and sits down, and the expression, that ironic, comic aura around him seems to persist. “I’m not going to beat myself up about René. He’s an adult. He can handle himself.” I smile and nod. And then I don’t believe it. Not that René is not an adult, but he is a foreigner in this city which I know can be very violent and dangerous. Even now. I think it must be a city of very rich and very poor, a recipe for cruelty and crime. While I’m thinking that, Bill’s expression has darkened again. I blame myself: There is this clairvoyance between us.

            I get up from the mess of croissant crumbs and walk to the windows. Which view? I walk along them and stop at the view where I can make out the East River at the end of, I think, East Fiftieth Street. I guess that’s Long Island City on the other side of the river. No idea what that looks like. Somewhere south of that is Brooklyn and the House of Yes. I didn’t get much of an impression of the neighborhood: It was night, and New York City always looks better at night. If René left the club on foot, he’d be in a part of New York where you can see the sky, nothing like the chasms of Manhattan, with its intensity. It’s that intensity that’s exciting. Everyone feels it. You’re in this massive machine made up of buildings and people traffic, pedestrian, bus, cars, taxis, trucks. I don’t know a city that has this constant background pulse, more easily heard late at night.

René would be completely disoriented by that Brooklyn area. Is it even safe to walk around there at night? No idea.

“Yeah, somewhere over there, down there. Or maybe not.” Bill has moved in next to me. “But he went off with someone. Crazy. Why would he do that? What’s this drug they do: MDMA?” I think that’s just Ecstasy. “Okay. I’m not thinking of that one. I’ve done Ecstasy. It’s a sex-party drug, you know, where you have this non-stop sex drive and can fuck for hours.” I laugh. Bill starts laughing too. “We’re old.” Yes. I think this drug is for thirty somethings. “Oh right. I’d just moved to New York. I couldn’t get enough sex.” You were a late bloomer. That gets him laughing again.

            Bill leaves me at the window. I think he’s pacing around the living room behind me. I can hear his feet on the parquet and then muffled on the rug. “Hany doesn’t give a shit about René.” I don’t turn around. Why should Hany give a shit about René. Bill paces; he’s on parquet again. “I left René in his care.” René is an adult, Bill. “Yes, but… You know. He’s a kid.” He’s not a kid. I listen to his feet whisper on the rug.

Down below on whatever street that is, there is heavy traffic. Isn’t there always during the day, yes, pretty much. “I guess I think he’s a kid. He’s my kid.” Bill is standing right behind me now. I turn. He’s going to cry. If he cries, then I’ll cry. I poke him in the chest. I like René, but he’s no kid, Bill. He’s a smart, young adult. Bill turns away quickly and starts walking toward the dining room.

            I ask him what we’re going to do about lunch. He turns to me laughing: “You are just a walking-talking stomach.” I laugh back. I’m not at all hungry. But somehow, we have to move on. “You’re right. We can’t just sit here all day. We can get dressed and go out. Just the two of us. We could walk to my old brownstone. Couldn’t be that far away.” Memory lane, I chuckle. He chuckles back. “And then we’ll check things out. We’ll go into a supermarket and see what a steak costs.” A lot more than downtown. But, maybe not. It’s Manhattan. Everywhere must be expensive or the same price. “We don’t know that for sure.” No, we don’t. “So, we have a goal.” Yes. And then I think: What do we do after that if René still doesn’t show up? I think: Police. I turn back toward the view out the window. I hear him utter a long sigh. It’s that telepathy again, I’m sure of it, but he doesn’t want to say it, say: We’ll have to call the police.

            “Where did all these fucking trees come from?” Bill is laughing. We’re on his old street. I stayed here, in his brownstone apartment. I don’t remember these trees either, but maybe it’s because they were saplings. “I remember the block association getting the city to plant trees. Never thought they’d survive.” We both laugh. The street is spotless, the sidewalk in pretty good condition. This block is residential. The brownstones have all been renovated, that is, scoured clean, with shiny brass doorknobs and wrought-iron railings for mounting the five or six stairs up to the front doors. I doubt any of these are rentals anymore. “These are all condos.” Bill says it. I’m not bothering being unnerved by him constantly stating what I’m thinking. As they say these days: It is what it is. “And this is my building. I wonder what my apartment looks like now.” We are standing there, looking up. He had the streetside apartment on the second floor, the American second floor, so only one flight of stairs, broad and rather elegant stairs, if I remember, with a beautiful mahogany banister.

            Bill looks at his watch. “He must be hungry for fuck’s sake.” I assume he’s referring to René. As we left the hotel, Bill spoke to the Korean woman at the reception and, describing René to her, left his cellphone number. She should call him and let René upstairs to the suite. “Are you hungry?” Yes. The walk over here has worked up an appetite. “We passed a place. Looked sort of like an upscale bar and grill. Should we try it?” I can’t wait. So, we’re going to really explore. We’re going to go into a New York eatery without Michelin’s imprimatur. I say that, and he laughs. “If I remember, there was always something there. Wasn’t there an Irish bar there?” I shrug. He is off, staring at nothing, frowning. “I need a drink. I want a drink.” He looks at me. “Are we close enough to Madison Avenue to revive the three Martini lunch?” I chuckle to please him. Maybe food will help. It’s a good sign that he thinks it will. He drank too much coffee and only ate the end of a croissant.

            As we retrace our steps, I’m remembering this neighborhood. Yes, the trees now are large and amazing and give the street a bower feeling, but it was always a rather genteel street for the rough-and-ready Manhattan I visited. Not that you couldn’t get mugged on this street. Mugging happened on Park Avenue, on Sutton Place. Muggers could be anywhere and were. I don’t feel that here and now.

The sidewalk is in good repair. We aren’t beyond the machine-growl of the city. I hear a siren and then another one. There is something weird, maybe wonderful too, about the juxtaposition of the city’s dense urban roar of chaos and the bower of trees on this very gentrified street. It strikes me as unique, uniquely New York. In Manhattan there never was a chance to escape from the industrial rumble; this has not changed.

And then in the next block we are nearing the front of a pub-like bar-restaurant, a step up from one of the old Second Avenue Irish bars. It’s a block with stores and tenements upstairs. I know this New York.

            We go in. Lots of gleaming brass. Wooden booths. A long bar. Glowingly lit by globes. It’s a saloon world where day or night doesn’t matter. We’re led to a table near the back and against a wall, so, I think, a bit cozy. The place is doing a good lunchtime business. Background music that’s this skippity-skip rock rhythm, low and unobtrusive but upbeat. The young waitress hands us menus. If this were Rotterdam, she would ask us immediately what we wanted to drink. She doesn’t. She does bring us two glasses of water but backs off again. I like this. I can tell she still has her eye on us, but she’s serving other customers. She’s good. I open the menu. Okay. Salads, sandwiches, a category called “small plates,” which is pretty universal these days. Tapas have taken over the world. No complaints. And then I notice the prices. First of all, there are actual dollar signs before the numbers. A quick conversion into euros, and I realize that the prices are pretty much what I’m used to at home. I look up at Bill. I start laughing. “What’s so funny?” I tell him the prices. “Oh, right.” I see him pause to calculate. “This place is fucking cheap.” No, it’s not cheap; it’s normal restaurant prices for me, but maybe not so much for him in London? “Are you going to treat me?” I immediately say yes. “I’m joking. I told you: While you’re with me, I’m always paying. It’s the law.” I just laugh. And then I’m back in Bill’s world where money is inconsequential, just numbers. He turns to the drinks section. “I don’t see a Dry Martini here, but that’s what I want, and I see that long bar over there, so they have them. I don’t want anything fancier. I want to play fifties New York adman. But you have something else.” I don’t know yet. And then I check the wine. And then I check the beer. The prices by my standards are crazily expensive. Why is tap beer expensive? I know I’m not paying, but I refuse to feed this nonsense. The cocktails are pretty much what I’d pay for at home. And then I see it: The Last Word. It’s a gin cocktail. I tell Bill that’s what I’m ordering. He laughs and scrambles to find it on the menu. “Oh! That looks weird and wonderful. You have that. Can I have a sip? I’m sticking to my adman scenario.” Of course, he can have a sip. And then the waitress is there. But shouldn’t we order food now too? They have poutine: Is this Montreal? It’s staring at me: I have to have the ‘Smashburger.’ We’re in the US: I need my American burger. The waitress is now waiting for Bill to order something to eat. He has had no revelation like I just had. I see him anxiously scanning all three categories. The waitress is relaxed, but he looks under pressure. “I’ll have the tuna tartare.” He looks towards her but not at her, no eye contact and unsmiling.

            Bill was almost jovial when we walked into this place. It was fun seeing his old place. But that mood has changed sharply. “No one’s called.” I share that pang of anxiety. We’re just helpless, I say. Obvious as that is. “I’m not hungry.” You need a drink. I thought he might grin at that but he doesn’t. Instead of silence between us then, there is the buzz of the restaurant. I like the sound. It’s a very different timbre from that of the Modern.

Bill is looking down at the table. The menus are gone. I can’t think of anything to say. I’ve said all I could.

            The cocktails arrive. Bill awakens. He picks up his Dry Martin: “Cheers!” I think: misstep? That’s so Brit. I watch him take a sip. I pick up The Last Word. I toast wordlessly. Oh, very nice. Just what a good doctor would order. I ask him how he likes his Martini before I see he’s drunk half of it already. “Really delish.” He brightens. “This place isn’t so bad. My old street. Whoddah thunk it.” I’m thinking that there are probably lots of places like this one in Manhattan. Not everyone is a millionaire or billionaire. People here may have longish lunch hours, but I think they all work in the neighborhood. Is Madison Avenue still that adman address? No idea. I don’t ask Bill; he wouldn’t know any more than I do. “You promised me a sip.” I did. I put my glass down so he can pick it up. “Fuck. There’s chartreuse in this!” I laugh: You are very right. Congrats. “And it’s a gin drink, basically. I like it. What’s it called again?” The Last Word. “Maybe it is.” He makes a glum face. I ignore this and take my drink back. It’s maybe a bit rich for lunchtime. And I think it’s going to taste weird with a burger.

            “Your tuna tartare, sir.” She places its before him. It looks wonderful. There’re slices of watermelon, cucumber, what looks like pickled chilis, and then a few other things I don’t recognize. Our menus are gone, so I can’t check. I remember that there were some Japanese condiment things. And I do remember the puffed-rice cracker – triggering Rice Krispies from my childhood – and there it is. It reminds me of the big manioc crackers you get in Indonesian restaurants back home. And then she places my burger in front of me: a two-patty stack, oozing with dressing, melted cheese, caramelized onions, plus fries. “Enjoy,” she says and is gone.

            Bill is staring down at his plate, un-appetized, almost as if it were an enemy. I note that it looks great, delish. Bill takes a big sip of his Martini and finishes it. “I need another one.” He looks around and just raises his hand. Lordy, she’s right back. He orders another one. Off she goes. What could I say about the service in New York? Well, speedy and just a tad bit obsequious. Oh shit, I remember now: the tip. The American tip. Survival for restaurant workers. “I’m going to wait for it. Please, don’t let your burger get cold. My food is supposed to be.” He chuckles. Well, that’s sort of a good sign.

            There’s a knife and fork, but this is the USA. I pick up the bigger by the bun, with two hands, and bite into it. I’ve leaned over my plate. Good thing. Juices poor out. It all could just fall apart, but it doesn’t. And, oh, I won’t compare this to Proust’s madeleine, but it is, for some reason I can’t place, decidedly American, maybe even New York. I think it’s the cheese. The menu stated American cheese. We all know what that means: something processed. But it’s wonderful with their magic house sauce. “You look happy and hungry,” notes Bill. I nod, mouth full. He chuckles.

He chuckles where he would normally laugh. I can’t say, stop worrying about René. That would be absurd.

“Oh, thanks.” The waitress has set down before him a new ice-cold Dry Martini. He grabs it and takes too long sips. “Better.” He grins at me like a Halloween pumpkin. “I can try my tuna.” And he does. Are his eyes lighting up? Yes. I think it’s pretty good. “This is delicious. Your burger, yes, but I wouldn’t expect anything like this to be so tasty and interesting.” The foodie is back! He starts attacking it. He is suddenly ravenous. He stops and looks up at me. He picks up his Martini and takes a long sip; he’s drinking it like wine. “This is a good combination. How’s yours.”

            I’d forgotten about The Last Word. I put the burger down, wipe my hands on my cloth napkin (another thing: this place has cloth napkins!), and take a sip. Hmm. Odd, but not bad. Actually, the herbaceous touch of Chartreuse is quite wild with the burger sauce. I announce this. “So, if we could go back in time, and this place existed, this would be our canteen, dude!” Dude? I grin. He’s using the French word, cantine, really: sort of slang for a favorite, usually neighborhood, eatery. Dude! I don’t think he’s ever addressed me as dude.”

            Bill takes another big sip. His second Martini is almost gone. I take another sip of The Last Word, put it down far enough from my plate that the orgy of burger won’t sully it, and dive in. This is a mess. I love it.            

Through the background din of people who have a drink at lunch, I hear something. A phone. Is it mine? No. I look over and see Bill freeze. He half stands up and fishes his smartphone out of his pocket. “Yes?” He doesn’t know who it is. I could see there was no caller-ID on the screen. “Yes, thank you. I’ll be right there.” He slips the phone back in his pocket. He’s now up on his feet. “I’ve got to go. Now. René is back. He’s up in the room.” Without even pushing his chair halfway back in, he’s gone.