They met on a bench in the dusky shadows, under Abraham Lincoln’s stern gaze, and Shig handed Buscemi an envelope. He looked wrung-out, listlessly flapping at the buzzing insects with an unfolded Japanese fan.
“It’s not all there. In fact, it’s just more than half. I got a loan from a couple of friends. If I tried to get more, people would get suspicious. It will take some time to collect the rest.”
“You learned a valuable lesson. That’s good. But I’m beginning to worry about you. The way your appetites race ahead of your common sense.”
Shig sniffed in the muggy Washington air.
“I love this country so much. I love the smells. Coffee and barber shops. Movie theater seats. A mowed lawn. A hamburger sizzling on a grill with onions.”
His melancholy enthusiasm for America evaporated as suddenly as it had bubbled out of him. Morosely, he studied the silk bobbin hanging off the fan.
“I warned you about Carolina. Any woman who calls herself after a state, especially a southern state, is trouble. I warned you, but you went off with her anyhow.”
Shig bowed his head. The insects were getting trapped in his greasy hair.
“She’s calling me at the embassy all the time.”
“What’s her problem?”
“What’s not? First, the dress. She claims it’s stained. She said I spilt champagne on it. It can’t be cleaned for some reason. It must be replaced. And her bag. She says she left it in the cab. She says my behavior that night got her so upset she just forgot it. She claims there was a lot of cash in it. If she doesn’t get a hundred bucks from me by lunchtime the day after tomorrow, she’s threatening to take the problem all the way to the ambassador.”
“You’re in a hole, Shig.”
“I’ve got nothing in the bank. I can’t get my hands on that kind of money.”
They brooded as the mosquitoes buzzed and the shadows lengthened. Finally, Buscemi spoke.
“There might be a way out.”
Buscemi leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees, and spoke to the ground between them.
“I know a guy in the Office of Naval Intelligence.”
“Just a guy.”
“So what’s the way out?”
“Take a couple of hours to sit down and write him out your job description.”
“What you do. What you’re told to translate from all the stuff you read in the newspapers every day. The kind of items you’re told to look out for, where the emphasis goes, who reads the stuff, the route it follows through the embassy.”
Shig stared into the distance at the clouds that were gathering along the edges of the Washington skyline.
“The ONI is always looking for information about what goes on behind the walls of the embassy of a potentially hostile nation. They’ll pay good money for it, enough to clear what you owe Carolina.”
Shig’s eyes went from the clouds down to the weeds that were sticking up around the bench.
“A one-shot deal, a couple of hours’ work. I’m just giving you a chance to get out of that hole, Shig. I’m throwing you a rope. I’m not trying to tie you up in it. Give me a call.”
He stood up.
“Or don’t give me a call. Whatever you decide.”
He went away.