I stop staring at the empty space across from me and finish my burger. I’ve been picking at the fries with my fingers and am almost finished up with them. The burger consumed, I stare at the last few fries. Something is missing. I laugh to myself: mayonnaise. I’m so used to eating frites with mayo. I pick one up. There’s plenty of sauce on my plate. I dunk it in. I taste. Okay, but, no. It’s not right.

            There’re a few sips left of The Last Word. I’m thinking: It’s become dessert. I sit back. There’s no hurry. Bill needs time alone with René.

            And then, I suddenly think, I’m going to pay the bill! Whoa! I’m again laughing to myself. Nice that I’m left to pay the bill in a place I can afford. And then I panic. The tip. I have no American money. Of course, people nowadays add the tip onto the credit card form. But are there still slips to sign? No. No, I think I’ve seen people just scanning, using a card, using their smartphone.

            Okay. I think. I think I can just deal with this little dilemma.

            I don’t have a key card, or whatever Bill uses, so I need to deal with the desk. They smile, recognize me, and escort me to the elevator. “You’re expected.” Elegant smile, inexplicably Asian: Korean, I suppose, in this case. Japanese, and she would have given a nod of a bow at least.

            Alone in the elevator on its way up, my gut begins to churn, nerves go sharp and tight. This is not going to be good.

            The elevator door opens to Bill. His face breaks into a great smile that looks like relief. He steps forward and grabs me and kisses me on both cheeks. I don’t think he’s ever done that before. Did he do that off the Eurostar? Don’t remember. I’m sure I’m looking startled, but I’m smiling. “Thanks.” For what? “René is okay. He’s amazing. He’s had a terrible… night… and day.” Bill puts an arm around my shoulder and leads me into the living room. René is sitting on a couch, bent over a smartphone. It looks large and expensive. “He’s going online with my phone to block his bankcard and his credit cards.”

            René looks up. There’s no smile. His mouth looks tense, his eyes are dull as they look at me from darkened sockets. “Hi.” His lower lip is swollen and looks like it has scabbed over a cut.

            Bill goes and sits down beside René. Bill motions for me to sit cattycorner. “Bushwick. They took him to Bushwick.” Bill says this as if I know what this means. I don’t really. He puts an arm around René’s shoulder and kisses his ear and then his left temple. Silence. I watch this show of affection and concern with no embarrassment. I can see that something horrific has happened to René. I pull my smartphone out of my pocket and google Bushwick. I add photos to the search. Up comes what to me are terrifying pics of graffiti cover tenements, boarded up brick townhouses, elevated subway structures. I read further. Ah, Bushwick is being gentrified. It has a “vibrant arts scene.” Pulling up a map, I see that it’s southeast of where we were last night in Brooklyn, at the House of Yes.

            I think it was around midnight when Julio pulled up in front of what looked like a large warehouse with a painted front. I remember a row of painted lips, stacked up, in various expressions from laughing to half-open to closed to pouting – all this very quickly as Hany ushered us into the club. It was dark, night: I’m now seeing colors and graffiti-style painting on the outside that I never really noticed either when we arrived or when we left in the Uber. I can rotate the pic. It’s a neighborhood of warehouses, nothing taller than three stories. Industrial. Ugly, I’m thinking, the sort of utilitarian, poorly upkept ugliness so typical of vast swathes of American cities. I remember pictures of abandoned parts of Detroit: iconic images of urban abandonment, deindustrialized, vast empty factories with broken windows and slowly collapsing walkways. I look at my smartphone. Bushwick is not on that scale. The club was in a former industrial neighborhood. Actually, so was Soho and Tribeca, once upon a time, but those late nineteenth-century buildings were built with a certain pride of appearance, touches of Beaux-Arts everywhere in their cast-iron façades. They were built to have a certain nobility of look from the outside, a vaunting of the pride of the owners of these sweatshop factories. The area around House of Yes has none of that.

            I look up. Bill is staring at me. “What are you doing?” I explain. “Right. When I lived here, we never went anywhere near these areas. I mean, Manhattan was dangerous enough.” He chuckles. Yes, I remember his constant warnings; I never walked around either during the day or at night without Bill. I remember the Anvil.  The backroom sex. I remember the Meat-packing District. I remember the transvestite hookers on the Westside Highway, but always feeling safe with Bill. We never left the island of Manhattan, ever. Bill showed me amazing places, clubs. I understood why he loved living here. We would go to the new galleries in SoHo. This was the cutting edge of modern art. Leo Castelli Gallery. Hugely famous art-world names and new, startling, ground-breaking art: It was as if we were in Paris in the Belle Époque, or in the twenties and thirties. The art scene in my Paris was now barely an off-shoot of this; we went to shows of art imported from New York. My Paris was safe and quite comfortable, but it totally lacked this excitement. Still, I was never tempted then to move here back then. For many reasons.

            “That’s done.” I look up; René is handing Bill back his smartphone. René emits this crazy laugh: “Lucky I forgot and left my passport here.”

            I put my phone away and sit back. I’m waiting for René to say more. Instead, he cuddles into Bill. I sit and watch. Are they a true-love couple now? Am I off the hook? Bill has someone to share the rest of his life with?

            I sit. And then I think I should be somewhere else. I start to get up. “No, sit down.” Bill has looked up at me. “You need to hear the story. René?”

            René detaches from Bill and sits back on the couch. He looks me directly in the eye; I don’t flinch. I’m ready. I watch his eyes swim for a second; I suppose he’s recollecting.

            “I saw this hot guy eyeing me from the dancefloor. Maryse and Hany were making out? Do you still say that? I mean, tongues down throats.” He giggles then. “So, I thought, yes. I joined the guy on the dancefloor. So fit, this guy. And then he grabbed my hand and pushed it against his dick. Next thing, he’d switched me around and was grinding against my butt. I looked over to the table. Hany and Maryse were still going at it. Is Hany gay?” René looks at Bill.

Bill shrugs and takes his eyes off René to look to me: “Hany should be over here in a half hour, he said. I’ve got some questions.”

René grins at that. It’s a quick spasm of his mouth, a kind of grin, but ghoulish. “Okay. And then I think it’s poppers the guy is giving me to snort. Nope. And then he’s got his arms around me and he’s pushing me off the dance floor. I think, okay, sex in the toilet. But no. We’re leaving. I start to say, no, but then I feel I can’t talk. I can move with the guy, but I’m like this zombie. Outside we get into the backseat of this car. And then…” René has turned to look out the windows into the vast glare of Manhattan sky and the tips of spires. “I think he may have fucked me in the backseat of the car. I can’t remember anything after that.” René turns back to me. “I woke up, well, half woke up. My hands were tied together at the wrists. I was on this bare mattress on the floor. I was alone. I was in this warehouse with broken windows. And then I started remember things. The guy had me pinned down on the mattress. There were two other guys standing behind him, grinning down at me. One of them said: Hany. I thought: Oh, I’m good. These guys know Hany. And then one of them said: ‘Let’s not get too fucking greedy. Five hundred grand?’ And then this inhaler was up my nose.”

He pauses. In fact, his lower lip is not just cut and scabbed over a bit but swollen. I can’t help wondering how that happened. I’m sitting, frozen. I hate stories like this. My gut is not happy. But this is no story, no piece of fiction, no TV series.

“Next time I opened my eyes, there was light outside. I was alone on the floor, okay, on this mattress. My wrists were tied together. It took a while, but I got it loose with my teeth. I looked around for my clothes. Nothing. I jumped up. I walked around the space. My head was hurting. And then, in a corner near an open door onto a staircase was my stuff. Wallet? Smartphone? Gone.”

Bill has been quiet. His face looks old. The “hot daddy” is gone. “Typical pieces of shit. Just saw a chance. They knew who Hany was. Right? But then they got cold feet.” I listen to Bill saying this. Is he crazy? I immediately say, Thank the gawds. Bill looks at me, startled. “Of course.”

“One guy had a knife. I guess I’m lucky there were no guns around. Knives? We have knife crime in Antwerp, but guns are pretty rare. Just drug dealers. But guns are everywhere in American, right?” Who is going to answer that? Bill just turns away to look sightlessly out the window; he doesn’t want to think of that, and I agree. But I then answer that I guess René was lucky.


The word causes everything to stop. We must all still be breathing, but I can’t hear anything.

“Okay.” Abruptly René’s eyes glisten. I think he’s going to cry. And then he doesn’t. He makes that grin again. “I got the fuck out of that building. On the street I had no clue where I was. It was a run-down warehouse area. I started walking. I wasn’t going to just stand there. The guys could come back. I got the fuck away from there. I walked and walked, and then I was on a street where I could see that some people might live. Way up ahead I saw this black guy skip down some stairs. I wanted to yell to him, but then I got scared. I’m not racist or anything, but…” He paused; he was thinking that over. “This street, if he lived in this street, which he did, it was, like, nothing I’ve ever seen, never seen people living in buildings like this, graffiti all over the brick. So, I slowed down. He must be going somewhere, maybe to buy some milk or something. I’d go in the direction he went. And I was right.” He smiled then; it was not that grin. I’m hoping he was feeling proud of himself.

“And so fast, there I was on this busy street, full of stores. Lots of signs in Spanish. And then I saw Bushwick everywhere. Bushwick Drugs. Bushwick Bodega. I went into the bodega and asked the way to the Brooklyn Bridge. You know, we flew over the Brooklyn Bridge. I figured I could walk over it. The man just smiles, he says it’s very far, a long walk. But he took me outside and pointed down the street and said I should just walk on this street. And then I’d see it.”

A smartphone is ringing. It’s not mine. Bill smiles as he answers, “Thank you.” He puts the phone back in his pocket. “Hany should be here in a minute.” Bill gets up and heads toward the elevator. I smile at René. He smiles back. I almost say, you had a close call. But I don’t. “I’m so thirsty,” René stands up. I tell him to sit down, and get up and go to the kitchen. I know there’s mineral water in the fridge. “Thanks,” he says to my back.

Bonjour!” Hany comes up to me and gives me the bisous on both cheeks. “Oh!” He looks beyond me to René sitting on the couch. “There you are!” Bill is standing in the doorway. His hands are on his hips. He doesn’t bother looking at me. I head on to the kitchen.

There’s a couple of bottles of Perrier in the fridge, single drink size. I take one and look in a drawer for a bottle opener until I realize it’s a screw cap. It’s been years since I bought Perrier. This is a surprise. I find a glass in a cabinet. I’m thinking that it’s awfully fizzy for someone who’s thirsty. Tap water would be better. But I’m thinking René would appreciate the Perrier more. Anyway, I want to get back to the living room.

René seems to have retold his tale almost verbatim. He’s back saying how he felt when he first saw the Brooklyn Bridge. “I’m kinda strung out, but I just start yelling and I’m crying. Luckily there’s no one close by. I shut up and find the way to get up on the bridge and cross.”

Bill puts his arm around René. Hany is sitting in an armchair across from them. He watches as René once again lets his head fall onto Bill’s shoulder. I cross quickly, and give René the Perrier and the glass. He sits up and thanks me. He starts drinking like crazy and then makes a large burp. We all burst out laughing. “Sorry,” says René, which makes us laugh harder. Relief.

And then silence: No one speaks as René finishes his glass.

“So, I think you’ve had a walking tour of New York.” Hany says this but makes no eye contact with any of us. René breaks the awkward silence that follows with a laugh. It’s a great laugh, a big, generous laugh of relief. And then we all join in.

“I haven’t had anything to eat yet today,” René announces. Bill whips out his phone.

“Are you hungry, Hany? We took a little walk down to my old neighborhood and then got lunch. I had two Martinis. I know it’s early, but what if I order a bottle of whatever good champagne they have and some tapas. They do tapas here in Manhattan, right?”

“They do. They do tapas everywhere. It’s all the rage, has been for a few years now.” Hany directs this at Bill, but I can tell he wants us all to know and maybe celebrate how European savvy Manhattan is. Bill just smiles and calls. I hear him ask for Krug, but he settles for Dom Perignon.

René stands up. “I need a shower.” Bill has just hung up and now looks up at him. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that Bill would love to hop in that shower with him: That process crosses his face in sequence, ending in resignation. And then René just leaves the room and heads up the spiraling staircase.

“We need to get you a smartphone,” Bill calls after him.

René pauses and turns. “I can wait until we get back to Paris or until I get home.” And he’s gone.

The living room takes over. The two-story ceiling and expanse of windows to match situate the three of us on a stage. The sky is autumn blue and sunny. The tops of buildings are at our feet. I’m thinking: The outcome for René could have been very bad; he’s a lucky devil.

“Hany, you heard. The little fuckers were going to hold René for ransom. From you.”

“But they didn’t.”

“René must have told them that he barely knew you or something. They thought twice and realized that their plan was too complicated. Luckily, they didn’t torture him or kill him. One of them had a knife.”

“I’m not aware that the House of Yes attracts that kind of crowd. It’s an art-scene crowd. Young. Crazy enough to live in Bushwick. In your day, people lived in the East Village; that’s where you lived on the edge so you could do your art, right?” Bill nods for him. “Now it’s Bushwick. See? New York is still a hot art scene.”

“No. No, it’s not. Crime and risking your life don’t make art. The art scene in New York is the old dudes. And they’re all millionaires. I feel sorry for these kids.”

Hany grins at Bill. “You’re so wrong, Bill.”

“My point is that it’s you, Hany, that put René in jeopardy. You’re a fat cat. You show off. You get this table. People know who you are.”

Hany’s eyes harden. “I’m sorry. That’s who I am. I’m very successful.” He looks like he might add to that but doesn’t.

There’s noise in the entryway. Bill jumps up. “Dining room? Nah. Let’s do it here in the living room. In all this grandeur.” He waves his arm around and heads toward the two waiters wheeling in the trolley.

René descends the staircase. We all turn. He’s changed his clothes. He sees us all watching him and makes an entrance, grinning from ear to ear. It’s amazing how he’s just snapped right back. I think, that’s being twenty, and then I think further that all twenty-year-olds were not like René. He was a force. He passes. He’s put on some cologne, a different one. It smells French, but I don’t recognize it. “All this champagne for me? You’ll join me, won’t you?” We all laugh. He sits on the edge of the couch and grabs a tapa of Serrano ham. Bill stands up and fills four flûtes.  Hany stands up and goes over to the coffee table. I stand up. René doesn’t need to stand up.

“Life triumphs over death!” Bill is staring out the windows. I think, this is really so over the top I’m surprised one of us doesn’t laugh. But no one does. I sit back down. Hany returns to his armchair. Bill sits down next to René. René attacks another Serrano tapa. And then a jazzy-looking egg one. And then there’s smoked salmon. He’s starving like only a kid his age is. None of us are remotely hungry. But we are thirsty. We’re all thirsty. Bill is soon up again filling our glasses, this time coming to me and Hany. He stops in the middle of the room. Oh gawds, another toast is coming on. “To René. You are one hell of a sharp dude!” René freezes. I’m thinking he might blush, but he doesn’t. He raises his glass.

“Thanks, Bill.”

I can see that Hany is impressed by René’s poise. “I think I need to apologize.”

“Why?” René grins; he knows exactly why. And then I realize finally that we don’t know even half the story of what happened with René.

“Let’s say that I’m not just a VIP at the House of Yes.” René grins back at him as if he knows that. I can see Bill is surprised.

The sound of a smartphone ringing. Hany jumps up so he can extricate his from his pocket. “Maryse. Yes, he’s fine.” Hany looks toward René. René gives him a smile back worthy of the Mona Lisa. “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask.” He turns to all of us. “Maryse insists that we all go to dinner tonight at Per Se.” I have nothing to say in this: All is good. Bill looks startled and then turns to René.

“It’s your call. Are you up to more fine dining?” Bill sounds sarcastic.

“Why not? I think my appetite is back. I’ve survived a New York adventure.” I think: adventure? Kid, you have no idea.

“It would be our pleasure, Maryse.” Maryse is treating us all? And then I remember Qatar. Hany cracks up – now so all-American – and laughs: “Right. Later.” He ends the call and turns to us. “She says they owe her.”

“What does that mean?” Bill squirms on the sofa and crosses his legs. René takes another egg tapa and then a sip of the Dom Perignon.

“I have no idea.” Hany grins at Bill: a salacious grin, I would call it.

And then it dawns on me that the sex games of yore, the S&M scenarios of the Mineshaft, are now, excluding the actual sex, the template for the games the millionaires and billionaires of New York play with each other and the world. I wonder if Bill has had the same thought. Of course, he has: He practically said as much before we went out for lunch. Money is god. It is worshipped every second of the day. No money, and you are a plaything of the gods of money. Something like that. I’m sounding over-the-top dramatic to myself. And yet. In New York, if you’re not rich, life is cheap. Life is cheap. They’d say that about Manchu China. People say that still about India. Basta!

René has devoured all the tapas. He sits back on the sofa with his champagne in one hand and takes a sip. “Do I have time for a nap?”

“Maryse has a table for us at eight.” Hany waves his glass in the air as if he were singing this information.

René stands up, empties the glass, sets it down on the coffee table. “See you all later.” Bill watches him leave the room and then ascend the staircase. I’m surprised to see a trace of fear in his eyes. For once, I don’t understand.

Hany stands up. “I should peek in at the office. Maryse has the sale documents for me to take a look at.”

“You’ve sold my Emperor of New York perch?” Hany isn’t sure if Bill is joking. “Sit back down for a minute. I’ve got a few questions.” Hany does as told. Bill’s command is not to be trifled with. Have I ever heard that voice come out of him? I think not. Bill is growing into the commanding role that billionaire status has bequeathed him, an odd sternness, not so much threatening as expecting compliance. “I’m curious why a thug or a couple of thugs would grab René and plan on holding him for a ransom paid by you. Any ideas? Because, you know, if this worse-case scenario had happened, it would have been me that paid up.”

“I would have paid up. I was the one they knew.”


“I’m known. I always do a table. Of course, I’m not the only one. You do a table, you’re a VIP. I’m a VIP.”


“I don’t usually, I never have anyone like René in my entourage. This is no doubt why this sort of thing has never happened before. And the thugs ended up running scared, just because it was this impromptu thing.”

“Not drugs?” I watch a sly smile take over Bill’s face as he says this. I’m not following what he’s driving at.

“Sure. Drugs. The thugs are druggies. They gave René something to snort, right?”

“Right. Case closed, I guess. That was René’s choice.”

Hany stands up. “Reservation is for eight o’clock. It’s at Columbus Circle. You could even walk there from here. Can you find it?”

“We can find it.” Bill stands. Hany is heading toward the hallway. I stand up and accompany Bill who is following Hany. We do some goodbye bisous, Bill calls the elevator – It snaps open, still there – and Hany is off. “There’s more to last night, I just feel it. And René has stuff he’s not telling us.” I note that maybe he will tell Bill. I shouldn’t be in the loop. “Okay.” Bill pauses. “I’m going upstairs. I could use a little ‘feet-up’ time. Can you fend for yourself?” Of course, I can. Bill is off up the staircase.

I stand there, letting today’s events percolate a bit. I’m not tired. A good two hours to kill. I think I’d like a walk around Midtown on my own, seeing things from my perspective and not René’s. The walk after lunch brought back memories. Visually, not that much has changed I was surprised to see. Yes, big, healthy trees now in front of Bill’s old brownstone. But there were still local shops.

I get the elevator back up and then go down.

I decide to walk a block crosstown and go up Fifth Avenue. Let’s look at the Plaza where Eloise used to hang out.

Fifth Avenue is full of tourists. You can always tell tourists; they’re dressed as if they’re going on a hike. So many backpacks with water bottles hanging from them and lots of window shopping.

I’ve never wanted to live in New York City, even when it was a gay sex circus and I’d visit Bill. So, now even less. My impression is that New Yorkers want things European without living in Europe, where I guess they feel they couldn’t make their millions. They’re right there. European Union countries make millionaires pay high taxes. But, then, doesn’t New York City have its own taxes on millionaires and billionaires? I think so. Still, it doesn’t discourage them. Anyway, for me what I see is that New York is now about having and spending large sums of money. I suppose it’s also about high-flying jobs, but I’m not exposed to that directly. I’m a tourist.

Bill doesn’t want to live in this New York. I can’t blame him.

Off one of the side streets, I see a place selling pizza slices. Okay, it’s Midtown. A slice is five dollars. I use my Dutch debit card. It works. A slice of pepperoni. Only in New York! I’m transported back thirty years.

I’m recognized and let up in the elevator. I step out and see, as I’m heading toward the living room, that René and Bill are up and sitting on the couch. They are quiet, not talking. I feel something has occurred.

“Hey, you took a little walk?” Yes, I did. “We’ve got news. I’ve gotten a plane for tomorrow evening. Time to get back to the Dalí Suite.” I sit down in the armchair earlier occupied by Hany. I can see Hany’s perspective on Bill and René on the couch. “And when we walk to Per Se, we can show René Times Square.” René chuckles and bobs his head. His lower lip is less swollen, but the small scab is still there. No one has asked and he hasn’t said how he got that. Did he fight with the thugs? Maybe Bill knows.

This room is truly magnificent now as the sun starts to set over Manhattan. There is a glow of sublime comfort, a subtle gilding of the white walls. The buildings beyond the windows are lighting up, practicing for the glitter of Manhattan-by-night.

Are they a couple? They are poised opposite me as if they are. I can assume that René’s brush with New York crime has brought them closer. This would be pretty standard. To be the proverbial fly-on-the-wall listening in on their pillow talk. I am curious. I have grown to like René. I wish Bill the best with him. I want to feel off the hook.

But there’s something wrong with this picture. Bill has the fortune to pay for this suite and therefore inhabit it, but he’s no more a fit for it than he was for the Billionaire Row penthouse. And I don’t know why.

It looks to me like the same plane. How many of this kind does the company own after all? But of course, it’s the presence of Bérénice and her chirpy, “Bonsoir, Messieurs.”

I wonder how dinner tonight will compare with the feast at Per Se. But that’s silly. And, personally, I’m a bit sated with Michelin-star cuisine.

We walked across town on Fifty-first Street. Suddenly, we were at Broadway, no traffic, pedestrianized. I knew about this, but it still came as a shock. No traffic on Broadway? We looked down. It was this long mall, at the end of which was Times Square. To René, this was normal. His face lit up. “I wish I had my phone.” No, problem, Bill would take the selfie. We walked down the mall. At Times Square, Bill first took a selfie of René and himself, and then a second one including me. What a thrill, me backed up with the Disneyland version of New York/New York, Broadway theater marquees glowing, flashing news circling around the Times tower. No traffic. Tourists. People going to shows. The so-called Naked Cowboy in a white Speedo, strumming his guitar. He tried to butt in for his tip, but Bill told him he had no cash. True. None of us had one single dollar in his pocket.

As René gawked, so did I. But feeling different things. Bill smiled; he’d seen this Times Square before. I had not. It struck me as an erasure of the past. No sane person could regret the seventies version with its row after row of porn stores, porn movie theaters smelling of old jizz, brazen daylight muggers, the desperate hookers that had wandered over from Eighth Avenue, the sheer shabbiness with many storefronts empty, not even bothering to be boarded up. No. But this? Little sidewalk cafés in the middle of Broadway. All the selfie-takers like us? Are we supposed to be glad of this pedestrianized space. I looked down. It looked like all of Broadway was a strip mall, well, a long strip of a stroller’s boulevard right down to the Cast Iron Building. I felt a sudden sorrow for the loss of that always-exciting taxi ride down Broadway from Columbus Circle. It was the shortcut to downtown; it was the Manhattan of the movies; it was the Broadway of the movies and hundreds if not thousands of songs from Tin Pan Alley, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland. Were there still Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall? I mentioned Radio City Music Hall. René had never heard of it. Bill made a long sighing sound and rolled his eyes. I had not been suggesting a visit.

I googled before going to sleep yesterday: Yes, the Rockettes still kicked; René didn’t know what he had missed. The Christmas show for families? More than eighty dollars a pop! Who are these American families? Not those of Father Knows Best or How Much Is That Doggie in the Window. And then I remember that tickets to the Opéra Bastille could easily be two-hundred euros, the fifteen-euro seats were never available. Reserving far enough in advance for not-so-popular operas gave you a chance at fifty-euro seats. Oh well. The Rockettes and their show were not grand opera. How much was a Broadway show? I picked The Book of Mormon and found a “cheap” seat at $122. What about Tix? Ah, Harry Potter for $38? But that’s Herald Square, not Broadway. The Book of Mormon is not available at all. I chuckled, glad I wasn’t interested in any of them.

Bill had cleverly waited until after dinner at Per Se to announce our departure the next day. We were on our second bottle of champagne, French, chosen by Maryse, because today they would also celebrate the sale to Qatar and their first hundred-million-dollar year in business. The bottle was of course Krug – Maryse’s Swiss education was showing – but I couldn’t see if it was a vintage. It was not Clos du Mesnil. As spoiled as I’ve become, I would have recognized that. She rose to her feet, all in pearl-gray elegance, in a sheath from head to ankle with a very open decolletage that gave pride-of-place to ample breasts I had not previously noticed. “Bon voyage à vous tous. And, Bill, there will be a penthouse in Manhattan in your future. You can count on me!” An extra little hoist of her glass towards Bill as she added that. Bill at that point, with us all looking at him, more resembled the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights than a billionaire being singled out for VIP treatment by a beautiful woman. Hany had gone pale but quickly recovered to follow Maryse to his feet and add his own silent toast to hers.

“And perhaps Christmas in Cairo?” As Maryse sat down, Hany had added that with an eye toward René. René seemed to squirm. Was it the Cairo idea or Hany singling him out?

“Why not? That sounds like a plan.” Where did Bill get this Generation X thing? “René has never seen the Pyramids.” I studied René’s face for a reaction: There was none. He took a longish sip of his champagne. I wasn’t the only one eyeing him, but his ploy worked. We looked away.

“Thank you, Maryse, for this very memorable dinner. Ole Monsieur Michelin is quite right.” Why this jocularity? But Maryse smiles at Bill and toasts him.

The dinner was superb. Not being a millionaire, I acknowledge that this was the dinner of a lifetime, but then I could say that about all my experiences with the New Bill. No, this is not true. This is not a New Bill; this is the old Bill I’ve known for decades who just happens to now be a billionaire. Maybe he will change; he hasn’t much yet. The good thing is that he knows how to spend his money. His parents didn’t, according to Bill. Sad.

Come to think of it, Bill hasn’t paid for any of these sumptuous meals in New York, which also fits the old adage that the rich are rich because they let others pay. Or something like that.

Memorable always will be the oysters with a sabayon of tapioca and white sturgeon caviar. It was served in a small concave bowl centered in a large white china dish. I assumed all three products were from the Americas, if not USA itself. Tapioca? I remember tapioca pudding as a kid. I think the restaurant vaunts New American Cuisine.

There was cod with clams and fennel. There was quail. There was Nova Scotia lobster. And more. It was a tasting menu. I forget. Oh, and the surprise: Île Flottante. How is that American?

In retrospect, I think it quite brilliant of Maryse to have us drink champagne from start to finish. Tasting menus are otherworldly tapas. Although tapas or pintxos can be pretty otherworldly in San Sebastián at a fraction of the price. Money? Who’s counting? Fortunately, not me. I wonder when this travel with Bill is over whether I’ll suffer from withdrawal.

Back in the plane, belted up for take-off. “I thought it would be fun to do that American surf ‘n’ turf thing.” Bill announces the menu. He is beaming at me.

“I know surf ‘n’ turf. We do that in Antwerp. Flanders loves lobsters.” I grin at René. He’s right, of course. There’s a restaurant in Ghent that always seems to be offering a lobster feast.

“Oh?” Bill looks incredulously at René. I set Bill right with my experience. “Then you’ll feel right at home, René.” I’m I catching a homesick look in René’s eyes. No, couldn’t be. He’s having the time of his life. I picture him cuddling up to Bill on the sofa: They’re a couple.

Correction: I want them to be a couple.

Time to back off. I reassess René’s remark about Antwerp as a desire to go home. René also has passed up Bill’s offer to take him to the Manhattan Apple Store and get him a new phone. Better back home, did he say?

We’re sitting in the same configuration as we were when the plan left Paris. Bérénice arrives with three Dry Martinis straight-up. “I thought this appropriate,” states Bill raising his glass. We raise ours. Ah, cold deliciousness.

A second sip – the plane is taking off – and I tell them what I’ve googled about New York. Around eighteen percent of the population live below the poverty line. To live in Manhattan, one should make at least one-hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year. Out go the freelancers, the writers, the artists.

“I did see signs of art in Bushwick. Fucking graffiti all over everything. Shit graffiti,” adds René. Bill chuckles at this and looks surprised. This is the first time René has given his opinion about anything New York. I look at his glass. He’s done half of it. Bill? Maybe two sips. I interpret this as René’s wish to get home fast. “Bill, so, you’re a billionaire? Then maybe Manhattan is for you?”

“I don’t know what I am. Manhattan is not for me.”

Whoa! He told me off the Eurostar, didn’t he, that he was a billionaire? I’m now a little vague on when or even where, but this has been a given about Bill since Rotterdam. Bill sees the look in my eyes. “I hate epithets. I’m told I have enough money to never think about money ever. How’s that? These Manhattan billionaire types? They had to have practically killed to get that much money. I’m not one of them.” He sees what I’m thinking. “I don’t care what Maryse says.” I give a quick laugh to clear the air between us. Bill is going at his Martini now. I’ve only had two sips. Two sips that loosened my tongue a bit too much. Maybe.

René looks like he might be trying to remember what Maryse said. But I’ve misjudged; he’s composing a quote: “We learned that Balzac wrote that behind every great fortune lies a crime.”

“Balzac was right. Balzac knew.” Bill grins at René. René grins back. “Probably our family fortune goes back to some slavery biz.” So much for the glory of American Old Money. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t disagree. Bill finishes his Martini. “Should we have another round?” Bill looks at me, not René. I’m lagging. I take two large sips. Whack! Let’s do this, I say to Bill. He roars with laughter that segues into a call for Bérénice. She must already have made another round. She arrives with three fresh Martinis and a cerulean-blue bowl of cashews. I take a cashew. Oh, they’re slightly truffled!