Story — From the April 2014 issue

Coup de Foudre

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If you’ve taken an interest in the particulars of your own legal case (and you may not have), you will know that on the Thursday night before our encounter I attended what the papers have termed a “libertine party” in a suite at Washington’s W hotel with three of my friends and a few women. After the women left, we returned to the suite’s dining room, where the dinner dishes were not yet cleared, and compared notes over a rare bottle of Calvados, distilled in 1865 and bottled in 1912. The brandy, which had crossed the Atlantic three times, was a postcoital custom, a token of our friendship and our common pursuit. We spoke little, making mostly quiet comments about what we had shared. We raised glasses to the distinct qualities of the women we had been with — the infectious laugh of one, the globular behind of another. With good humor, alacrity, and sometimes astounding invention, the women had performed several preliminary sex acts with us and among themselves before accepting us as lovers somewhere within the suite’s tenebrous rooms and alcoves. More than a hundred apples had gone into the wide-hipped brown bottle; the apples tasted as fresh as if they had just been picked.

My friend Philippe, a regional police commissioner in France, tilted his empty glass toward the bottle, which remained on the table in front of the sofa, and said, “We should finish it now.”

Another friend, Marc, objected. “There’s enough for Rio.”

Philippe allowed Marc’s point to stand, but I guessed his baleful meaning. I rose from the couch, tightened the hotel robe around my girth, and walked to the window that looked out onto the memorial to General Washington. I wished Philippe hadn’t said anything. Despite the expense (mostly Marc’s) and the intricate arrangements (especially after we moved the party to D.C.), the thousands of miles several of us had flown to come here, the fineness of the meal, and the fabulousness of the women, these evenings were like delicate flowers, every petal trembling before the ardent touch.

Later, after Marc and our other friend, Josef, were gone, Philippe remained in the corner wing chair, bare-chested, an empty glass in hand. “You have too many enemies,” he said. “You’re about to have many more.”

I went again to the window. I wanted to throw it open, lean out, and get a lungful of American air, but it was sealed.

“They’re watching you, David. Whatever you do, whomever you’re with. Once you declare, it’ll be worse.”

“I know, they’re already digging under every rock. Le Figaro. Le Point.

“The press is a nuisance, but you should worry about Sarkozy. He’s looking for every edge. I hear he has people in the DCRI, or the DCRI has people it can call on for him. It’s becoming dangerous, and not only for you. Everything’s at stake now. We have to stop.”

The DCRI is the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur, the French domestic-intelligence service. As a former government minister, I was aware of the agency’s surveillance capabilities, and I also knew the strict legal prohibitions against using them for political purposes. But Sarkozy was another Nixon. Those prohibitions would mean nothing to him.

I gazed down at the illuminated pink-and-white chessboard plaza in front of the Department of the Treasury, across from the hotel. I had passed over these tiles only a few hours before, en route to my appointment with the undersecretary. We had commiserated over the grim European numbers, aware that several lines of power ran, crackling, through his office, which looked out on a garden in which the geraniums and roses were in full bloom, and that this power was at our disposal if only we had the courage to use it. The power was still there tonight. I had sent a preliminary proposal to Timothy Geithner.

“It was a lovely evening, though, wasn’t it, Philippe? Those new girls were splendid. I won’t ask you where you found them. Very compassionate. Giselle has this little maneuver, a flick of the pelvis at the right moment . . . Exquisite. How does one learn that move? How is the technique transmitted from one generation of chicks to the next? I presume they don’t get it from their mothers. And the kitchen was very decent tonight, even if they had to be instructed.”

“Yes,” Philippe said, knowing he would get no further with me now. He had already told me that he came three times with Lucy, the miracle girl. Whatever was going to happen, in the next month or the following year, this was a very fine moment. Of course, I haven’t seen Philippe since then, and probably never will again.

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