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August 16, 2006

A Night in Cuba

Part 1

I arrived at the St. Martin's Lane Hotel near Piccadilly Circus, entering through the inconspicuous, green-tinted, continually-revolving door. The lobby walls were white with different colored lights shining across them from hidden recesses. A row of large, gold teeth served as coffee tables before a long, buttoned, velvet bench. This hotel was designed by Philippe Starck.

The Light Bar was behind frosted glass doors that parted on hidden runners; I slid them open and peeked inside. The host greeted me with a clip-board and a black-and-white dress which followed her around like a chihuahua.

"Are you a member, or are you staying here?" she said, slightly aloof, her eyes darting back towards her male colleague as if they had been in the middle of a conversation.

"I'm the guest of a member; her name is Kate Appleby." I said, trying to peer over the top of her clipboard.

"Here you are, sir." She said while sliding the door open with the palm of her hand. "Would you like to sit at the front or the back?"

"The front." I said, and placed my laptop down. "Please will you take my coat and my bag?" I removed my laptop from its case and continued to write my novel: Up on the Downs.

"Would you like something to drink sir?" I looked up at the square column where the ceiling should have been. On the side opposite me was a fifteen-foot high picture of a boy's face with his tongue partly protruding from his lips.

"I'll have a glass of champagne and the ahi tuna please." I said, and watched as Liam Gallagher handed his coat to the host.

"Medium rare, or rare?" An older, very tanned couple walked in.

"Rare." I said.

Kate arrived, we hugged, and sat down again, "How are things?" I asked.

"It's really hectic, it seems to be ninety-percent about getting the books to be selected for Richard and Judy's Book Club. It doesn't matter what crap it is, if it gets selected, it becomes a best-seller." Starting on her kitchen table, Kate had built a billion-pound publishing empire.

"Why are you worrying about that Kate? Don't you have someone to do it for you?" I said.

"It's the most important thing; I have to keep on top of it." She said, shrugging her shoulders and looking exhausted.

I looked up at the bar, a strange combination of frosted glass panels. I didn't understand how it worked. "Shouldn't you delegate the most important thing so that you can be sure that there's enough resources being put on it, and so that you can keep an eye on everything else?"

"I guess you're right, it's just really hard to let go. I feel that I've got to do it. In fact, it seems to me like even though I have five-thousand employees, I'm still selling my services, that I'm the commodity that's producing the money." She said.

I responded, "What you've done, and what so many other business people fail to do, is to create an organization which reflects your ideals and your principles; it reflects you: your passion, taste, intelligence, and love. You've created something which is a powerful extension of yourself. You've done this so well, but then I see you getting caught up in these details and it worries me Kate."

At thirty-five, the rigors of business did not seem to have marred Kate's appearance. She sat before me, perched delicately on a stool, her long, dark-brown hair partially obscuring her slim and perfectly formed cheeks. The line of her chest and waist, tracing the path of her straight back and sweeping down to voluptuous buttocks, could be clearly determined through her tight-fitting, and very expensive, dress.

She was approaching thirty-seven; Ian Kerner said in She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, that this is the age, when in his experience, women's interest in sex begins to overtake that of men's.

I took another sip of my champagne and caught the attention of the waitress. "What would you like to drink?" I asked Kate.

"A mohito please." She said, looking up.

Part 2

We walked along St. Martin's Lane, looking for a ride.

"The inside of that Kitch bag is more elaborate than the outside!" I said, looking in at the leopard-skin-patterned inner lining of the paper bag which Kate had used to carry the dress she was now wearing back home from Kitch Clothing in Tunbridge Wells.

"There are normally rickshaws along here." She sounded frustrated as we passed an empty bicycle rickshaw parked outside McDonalds.

"Shall we wait for him, or are you going to go in?" I asked Kate, teasing her.

"Let's keep going." She responded and we continued, her hips swaying beside and slightly in front of me, towards the junction of Long Acre and Garrick Street. Kate hated me calling her a prima donna, and I had seen her sleep in a tent once, but the thought of entering McDonalds was clearly beyond distasteful.

Kate had grown up very poor. She lived with her mother and step-father in an old caravan in a field in Kent. The land they lived on belonged to her father's uncle and he let them stay there if they kept an eye on the three old nags in the field and deterred the gypsies. Her step-father, Mike, had been a bit of a hard-man; a bare-knuckle boxer to earn some extra money; he always kept his shotgun within easy reach.

She used to sleep on a small mattress at the end of the caravan blocked in by her parent's double-bed which folded down and out of the wall. How many nights had she spent listening to her parents making love and wishing that she could have been with her mother? The rejection she felt when her mother turned her out of her bed at age seven was overwhelming; and for what? So that horrible man could sleep with her. The grunts and groans rung in her ears and the aching in her heart always brought tears of to her eyes.

She married at sixteen; anything to get away, to get her own life. Her husband, Jim Appleby, had been in the import business. He could get luxury cars into the United States and sell them for far less than the American dealers. He shipped in lots of Mercedes and Rolls-Royce's; he made a killing. They were very wealthy, until the Federal Government changed the law and closed the loophole. Jim took out loans against all their assets and then defaulted. Kate got out before the bailiffs came, taking only a suitcase; she had been twenty-five years old.

"There's some over there." She said.

We walked over to the first one; a big red fiberglass chariot pulled by a black bike. We sat down in the back. "Where are you going?" the driver asked.

"Sketch in Conduit Street." Kate told him. The driver asked a man standing next to him where it was and they talked for a few moments.

"How much?" I asked.

"Six pounds." He said, and set off, his legs pedaling rapidly.

"Does this thing have gears?" Kate asked.

"Yeah, it's got gears. But I keep it in a low gear when I'm setting off or going up a hill. I think it's all uphill to Conduit Street; all through Soho."

"This must keep you fit." Kate said.

"It would do except I don't give my body time to recover. I work six days a week and I only have Sundays off."

"What do you do on your days off?" Kate asked him.

"Let my body recover as much as it can; sleep mostly."

"That must be how burn-out works;" I said to Kate, "you exercise your body but don't give it time to recover. I recon that's what used to happen with me and my writing; I used to write for eleven hours a day and I never had a break. I suppose there's mental burn-out and physical burn-out."

"Definitely." replied Kate, "I find that I need to take a break and recharge, do something different. Then I come back fresh with new ideas. Otherwise it's like I get blocked."

"If only more people realized that," I said, "there must be such a massive amount of wasted effort because people are operating on the edge of burn-out."

"Maybe you need to balance your life out a bit." I called to the driver over the traffic noise of Regent Street, "You could be a stock-broker by day and a cycle-rickshaw driver by night."

"Very funny!" He shouted back, "I used to be a teacher. I used to teach Physical Education. But I can earn so much more doing this."

"There it is!" said Kate loudly, pointing at an open door in a sandstone building with a small sign next to it that read Sketch.

Part 3

On my left were two armchairs, the kind you would find in a French chateau, Louis the fourteenth I think, but each was pushing through a sheet of white latex rubber as if it belonged in a room adjacent to the lobby. Absentmindedly, I reached my arm out to place my laptop on one of them and stopped just short of it rebounding back and landing on the floor.

Kate and I entered the front bar, a twenty-foot-tall room with dark wooden paneling to the ceiling, enormous dark brown curtains with patterns on them reminiscent of the 1960s, and a bar like you'd find in a Wild West brothel.

Stephanie was sitting in a soft leather arm chair, her back to the curtains, beneath an old standing lamp with a skull-and-cross-bones printed on the shade. The satin sheen on her long, crossed legs was outdone only by her glossy lips. Looking more like a famous musician than a professor, her long blonde-and-brown hair was tied back, exposing her high cheek bones and exquisite ears adorned with large diamonds.

Stephanie stood and we all took turns hugging. As Stephanie hugged me, she nestled her face into my chest like I was a pillow and breathed deeply and very audibly several times. "It sounds like you're trying to inhale me!" I said.

"Mmmm," She said and looked up at me with a broad smile and a look of adoration in her eyes. "I am inhaling you." I felt flattered but a little embarrassed and looked over at Kate, who was now sitting down and getting something out of her bag.

"What could I get you guys?" The waiter asked, looking around our little group. He was wearing a black polo-shirt and his hair was unkempt and held in place with some sort of grease; he looked and behaved more casual than most waiters.

"Please will you get me something, I need the toilet." I said and walked back out into the lobby. Everyone seemed to be French; I felt disoriented amidst the guttural considerations of a nation of art-lovers. I passed a four-foot-diameter parabolic mirror, placed in the corner of the room, the focal point of which had been retro-fitted with an electric bar-heater.

Attached to the wall of the corridor, near the massive heater, was a moving sculpture. Approximating a six-foot-wide rectangle, the warped steel frame swept out an elliptical path as it was rotated endlessly on the end of two cam-shafts embedded in the blue plaster.

The spot-lit darkness opened into a circular room as bright, white, and clinical as I might have expected had I been abducted by extra-terrestrials. Flashes of bright-red lipstick and black eye shadow fell in stark contract against white leather seating and tables.

An upholstered bench ran around the outside of the room, before which were placed a dozen round tables, each seating five or six people. In the middle was an island around which more people were arrayed. It was a restaurant.

I looked around, wondering where the toilet was. To my right were some twenty-foot-wide steps which rose and swept to their left gradually, flanked by solid white walls, into an open mezzanine. A small brushed stainless steel plaque on the front of the right wall indicated that the toilets were up the steps.

"Pick any one." The maid said in a thick French accent. I looked around at the white, elongated eggs which were equally distributed about the room, balanced on their ends. I picked one and stepped inside.

Part 4

"How d'ya like the bathroom?" asked Stephanie in her Californian accent, looking up at me past long eyelashes.

"Totally crazy!" I responded and sat down heavily in an armchair.

"I got you one of these avocado cocktails." Said Kate pointing at a martini glass filled to the brim with something thick and light-green.

I wasn't sure what to say. I didn't want it but I really appreciated that she'd picked that drink for me; she knew that I loved avocado.

"What's in it?" I asked.

"Avocado and white rum I think." Kate said picking up the drinks menu and scanning it.

After a few moments I said, "I really don't want it Kate. I really appreciate you choosing it for me but I'd rather have champagne."

"That's fine." Said Stephanie. "We'll share it, won't we Kate?"

"Sure." Said Kate.

I felt relieved and also surprised that she didn't seem to be upset by me not wanting it.

After a brief pause, Kate continued, "I had the weirdest dream last night. It seemed really important and I wrote a note about it when I woke up. You were in it, Bill."

"Well that's cool; what happened?" I said.

"I was in this room that was like the bedroom of a princess; you know, with a four poster bed with a silk roof on it and silk draping down the sides of it. The walls were really ornate with lots of depth and patterns made from plaster coated with gold-leaf."

"Sounds like a nice dream." Said Stephanie.

"Sound like your bedroom Stephanie." I said. Stephanie looked embarrassed. I wondered if I'd made a mistake to mention it.

Kate continued, "I entered through the door. It's was a really big, heavy wooden door with black wrought-iron hinges. There were some thick, red velvet curtains on the other side of the room and the weird thing is that as I entered through the door, this dog entered by pushing out from behind the curtains, like it walked in through the window."

Something caught my attention from the corner of my eye and I turned to see a man wearing a brown T-shirt juggling three balls. The balls had lights inside of them which glowed red, green and blue. He was clowning around and entertaining a small group of his friends. One of the balls dropped on the floor and his entourage let out a cheer and started to clap.

I had only turned my head for an instant and when my attention returned to Kate she was still telling Stephanie about the dream, "The dog entered at exactly the same time as me. And Bill was sitting on the bed except he was wearing this weird head-dress that was attached to his shoulders and came up and over his head like a cobra. He was sitting there and staring at the wall like he was in a trance." She looked at me, "And the dog was green." She said, as if there was nothing particularly unusual about a green dog.

"Yeah but why was the dream so important?" I asked.

"I don't know." Kate said, looking a little puzzled. "I don't usually remember my dreams and this one seemed prophetic somehow. There was a really strong energy to it."

"Maybe you were experiencing a pop-through." Said Stephanie after looking to her right and downward slightly, bringing her thumb and middle finger together slowly across her bottom lip.

"A pop-through?" I asked incredulously. "What's that?"

"Oh," Stephanie said, "Bringing herself back from a deep thought." Stephanie was a professor in the Psychology Department of Stanford University. She was a true polymath, an expert in physics, biology, decision theory, learning theory, and behaviorism, to list only a few. At twenty-five, it seemed almost impossible that could have amassed so much expertise. "It's um, it's a long story."

"Well you've got us hooked now, why don't you tell us?" Kate said in an frustrated tone.

Pop-through, what's pop-through, I thought.

Stephanie picked up the avocadino and placed it to her lips. She was displaying a cheeky grin, and she tilted her head forward shyly as she took a sip.

To be continued.

"I really enjoyed this story. It kept me fully involved and interested." — Charley

"Oh, oh, and do tell me, as I imagine myself in Kate's dress: what is a mohito?" — Rosie

"Hey Duncan! This story is so exciting, you do have fun don't you! This is so exciting and oh so familiar! I seem to have heard this story before somewhere, ha ha. Cannot wait for the climax and the night in cuba to be revealed!" — Carol


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