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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
Sometimes you know right away your life is falling apart. Sometimes it takes a little while longer.
When Braun Saxon's wife threw him out of the house for having an affair with a teenager, when he moved into the Cozy Cot motel, when he rekindled his affair with the problematic teenager -- none of these indicated to Braun that things might be more seriously out of whack than in the position of being, say, a mere temporary setback. Not that he wasn't aware that he wasn't exactly on the smoothest patch of his existence to date, but these were simply things that were happening in a long series of things that happen, and they were not to be taken too seriously. Even the breakup of his marriage was not greeted with the appropriate solemnity. Marriages break up; why should his be any different?
It wasn't until he spent a day trapped at the Blessed Moly High School surrounded by students roughly the same age as that problematic teenager that he finally faced the fact that his life was becoming, well, problematic. The lures of sybaritism notwithstanding -- and there was no question but that Mrs. Bridges was perhaps the greatest chef in the known universe -- the time has come to take charge of his life and put it back on track.
As he sits looking out the window of his office at the traffic below, the purposeful Manhattan stew of buses and taxis and pedestrians and bicycle messengers, he wonders how he will go about doing this.
The telephone rings.
"Braun, it's Jack. I've got a new account I want you to check out. Come on down."
Jack Rubicon is Braun's boss at the advertising agency usually referred to as C&R, short for Cross and Rubicon. Jack is not the Rubicon, but rather the leader of the third generation of the family that established the corporation. Jack's father, Alea Cross Rubicon, the nephew and son respectively of the two original founders, is still at the helm of the company. But there is no question that Jack will take over sooner or later.
Braun immediately leaves his office -- and his muddled thinking -- and walks down the corridor to the end, nodding a silent greeting to Rubicon's wise-looking assistant as he enters the open door to Jack's office.
"You know Reno's?" Jack asks without preamble. Rubicon is about a decade older than Braun's twenty-four years, with that same chiseled, too-apollonian-for-the-room look. He is wearing a gray suit that costs about as much as an entry-level Korean hatchback. He is a rainmaker for the company, bringing in new business by a mixture of charm and luck and commercial creativity, and Braun is his chief young protégé. They are the ones who go into the boardrooms of corporations to convince the Ps-that-B to give C&R a whirl on their next major advertising campaign. The bigger the company, the bigger the account and the greater the billing, and therefore the more there is at stake. When Coca-Cola switches advertising agencies, all of Madison Avenue is shaken by the seismic shift of money and resources. When Vito's Auto Wrecking in Poughkeepsie, New York, switches advertising agencies, Vito is lucky to get a free calendar.
Braun takes a seat in front of Jack's desk, which in true executive style is completely bare of any accoutrements that might indicate that some sort of work being done anywhere near it, save for a telephone, a short stack of index cards and a Montbatten pen. Rubicon is twisting back and forth on the other side of the desk in his high-backed chair.
Braun begins reeling off possibilities. "Reno," he says. "Club, monologist, city--"
"Boutique," Jack interrupts.
"Trendy clothes, extremely expensive. Up on Madison, in the Sixties."
"I guess I've heard of it," Braun says. It does ring a bell. Marginally. "I'm not big on boutiques. I like places like Brooks. You walk in, and they immediately recognize that what you really want to do is walk out as quickly as possible. I look for that in a clothier."
"You're not a clothes person."
"You've got style, though."
Braun shrugs. "You've gotta have some style, but you can buy it. You don't have to come pre-equipped with it."
Jack nods. "True." He thinks for a minute. "But when you do pay a lot for clothes, it shows. And it makes a statement."
"That it does."
"When you dress up for something, it says that you care about that thing. And that you care about yourself."
"Are you asking me to look into taking on a boutique account?" Braun adds.
"Not quite. Not that you couldn't, I mean, not that you're a slob or something, but that's not what we're talking about here. Listen. Reno's is mostly a front operation for a designer whose name is Reno, but he's backed by LOL."
Braun's eyes widen. "Long Olympus Limited."
"Exactly. The conglomerate run by Profiro Profumo, the Argentine beef magnate."
"I didn't know Profumo was into designer clothes."
"What isn't LOL into? Anyhow, Reno's is expanding their line into, of all things, designer cigars."
"Aren't cigars a little passé? Last year's rage sort of thing?"
"You might think so. Cigars got very popular, the boom fizzled, and there's been a shakedown in the industry, but people still smoke them. You smoke, don't you?"
"I've been known to indulge."
"There you are. The thing is, a decent cigar can easily cost ten, twenty, thirty dollars, but the average schlimazel is a little reluctant to plunk down that kind of money for a stogie without some guarantee that he's getting his money's worth. So a designer's name helps insure that our young Wall Street trader celebrating his annual bonus is getting what is his due. Anyhow, Reno's is about to open a cigar boutique upstairs from the clothing store, and they want to publicize it, of course, and they want to do some advertising."
"And the reason we're going after this is not to get a cigar store account…"
"Exactly. There isn't a person within five miles of this office that wouldn't kill their mother to get a crack into LOL. When he has to advertise, Profumo bites the bullet and advertises, but he has no central agency to handle his accounts around the world, or to bring together all the different brands of the conglomerate. I'm not saying we could get everything, but at the moment, we have nothing. Squat. We don't bill one single penny of LOL money anywhere. I want to change that. Reno's is the wedge."
"But there's more to it, Braun. I mean, not that I wouldn't necessarily pick you for this account anyhow, but the thing is, they asked for you."
Braun's eyes narrow. "Me?"
Jack nods. "You specifically. Somebody at LOL knows who you are, and they want you." He picks up an index card. "A woman named Margaret Habanera."
"Habanera. Don't know her. Argentine?"
"Probably. I've set you up to see her this afternoon at three, up at Reno's. Not a problem, right?"
"Not a problem at all."
Jack Rubicon gives Braun a thumbs up. "Go for it, man. This is a big one."
Braun smiles. He is no longer worried about getting his life back on track. Fate seems to have taken care of that for him, by completely distracting him from the need to think about it.
Give that man a cigar…
Reno's on Madison Avenue is marked by a quietly tasteful sign painted on the front window that gives no indication what exactly Reno's is or does. Even looking through the window does not help the uninitiated. A black overcoat is tossed hastily on the floor, and one would as easily surmise that its owner has recently run off on an unexpected errand somewhere within the building and dropped it behind willy nilly as that there might be other wares like this coat for sale within. If you are not already aware that Reno's is a label that you want to see on the inside of your clothes, nothing about this shop would convince you of it.
Braun Saxon enters through the front door. A young woman and a young man of dubious vitality, as well as a meaningfully dubious interest in waiting on the customers, pay no attention to his entrance as they continue to fold black cashmere sweaters on a table in the rear of the showroom. There are no other customers, and Braun takes a quick survey of the goods for sale. It is as if he has stepped into a black-and-white film, Pleasantville come to life, except incredibly haut. There is no color anywhere except the faintest hint of sepia in the hardwood floors. He fingers a jacket on a rack. It is soft and cool to the touch. There is no price tag.
"I'm here to see Margaret Habanera," he says loudly to the two clerks. "My name is Saxon."
They look at each other, than at Braun. "She is up in the vault," the young man says. He points toward the rear of the store, where Braun notices for the first time that there is a metal spiral staircase leading upward.
Braun nods his acknowledgment, heads over to the stairs and climbs up. The stairs are more solid than they look. There is a massive wooden door at the top. Braun hesitates for a moment wondering whether to knock, decides against it, and pulls open the door.
He is hit immediately by coolness, the sort of wet coolness one associates with a subterranean cave. The room that he enters is faintly lighted by two lamps next to a long red leather couch. There are other leather chairs in the room, scattered around in the studied casual aspect of an ancient men's club. The smell of tobacco, rich and ripe and earthy, permeates the air, but there is no sense of smoke. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, he realizes that the walls of the room are lined with cigar boxes, and that the entire room is a giant, walk-in humidor.
A door opens on the other side of the room, and then there is another, contrary smell. A smell of flowers, of rare flowers, very faintly drifting toward him. A woman enters across from him, and Braun's heart stops.
It is Margaret. Apparently Margaret Habanera. And also the Margaret who is Cartier Diamond's stepmother.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Saxon."
That same voice, that same look, that same everything except older and, somehow, better.
Braun manages to muster all his natural Don Juan capabilities. "Hi," he peeps.
The woman comes up to him, standing directly in front of him, a hair's breadth too close. She is wearing a black dress that shows off her long white neck and her very long legs. "My stepdaughter told me you worked for C&R. Very convenient for us, as we're looking for representation for Reno's in America." She rests a finger on the back of his hand. "And very nice for me, too. It makes things very easy." She motions toward the couch. "Have a seat."
He drops down onto the couch. Margaret Habanera slowly sits down next to him, barely at the edge of the seat. That smell of rare flowers is coming from her soft yellow hair. "Do you smoke, Braun?"
"Uh, sometimes. Margaret."
She smiles and stands up. "Try this." She walks to the wall and returns with a cigar, thin, maybe five inches long. She sits back on the coach and from somewhere produces a small tool the size of her thumb with which she snips off the cigar's end. She then produces a long match, which she lights and holds just below the other end of the cigar, slowly twisting the cigar around to light it evenly. Finally she puts the cigar into her mouth, blowing a couple of times to bring a large flame up from the match. Then she blows out the match and hands Braun the cigar.
"A panatela is the best choice for the afternoon, don't you agree?"
When he puts the cigar into his own mouth, he can taste a hint of Margaret's lipstick. He takes in some smoke, then exhales. "Definitely," he says.
"It's Dominican. A little light. You don't want to overdo it with a big Honduran, for instance. Not at this time of day. Just something to hold you until, I don't know, tea time? Or your first cocktail of the afternoon? Definitely, that's what we need."
She rises again and goes to the wall. Braun hears a liquid being poured and a moment later Margaret is back with two wine glasses.
"It's a small Haut Brion I opened about an hour ago. It should be drinkable now, and it should go very well with that Dominican."
She puts the glass on the table in front of him, then holds her hand expectantly next the Braun's hand, the one in which he is holding the cigar. He looks at her quizzically, she nods, and he lets her take the cigar from his hand. She puts it in her mouth again and takes a small draw.
"Perfect," she says, handing it back to him.
"This is a Reno cigar?" Braun asks, floundering to come up with something to say.
"Oh, yes," she says, sipping her wine.
"And I guess you want C&R to come up with some sort of campaign for the Reno cigars."
"Are we conducting business now, Braun?"
He takes a sip of his own wine. "Isn't that why I'm here?"
She rises again, and goes to the door through which he entered the room. Braun hears a snap. "We could do business in your office," she says, returning to the couch. "Here, I thought we could just get acquainted. You are, after all, dating my stepdaughter."
Her laughter stops him. It is a strange laugh, perhaps a little cruel, and Braun has no idea whether she is laughing at him, or herself, or Cartier, or something completely unrelated. But it is also a mirthful, contagious laugh, and in a second, Braun is laughing along with her.
"I am a woman who can see things," Margaret says, still smiling. "I am a woman who knows things. And when I first saw you, I knew about…" She pauses, and sips a little more wine. "I knew about us."
"Us. You know about us, don't you, Braun?"
She puts down her glass and leans closer to him. At the moment, Braun doesn't know about anything.
"Can I have the cigar again?"
He hands it to her, and she puts it into a large crystal ashtray.
"That's better," she says, and then her arms are around Braun's neck.
"Your husband--" Braun begins.
"Is a rich old idiot."
And there is nothing left for Braun to do but either cut and run or submit. And it is not in him to cut and run.
It is not in any Don Jose to cut and run.
When Braun returns to his office there are four phone mail messages awaiting him.
"Hi. It's me. I didn't want to leave the country without talking to you. I don't think that's right. We are married, after all. We owe each other more than that. I'll be at home tonight. Give me a call."
"Hi. It's me. I just wanted to talk, see what was new with you, see maybe if we could get together tonight. Daddy just went into town to be with Margaret, so I have the Boxter. We could go, I don't know, somewhere. Give me a call."
"Hi. It's me. I just wanted to tell you, C&R has the account. You convinced me completely of your … suitability. You can come by tomorrow and we can work out the details. Say about three again? Give me a call."
"Braun? It's me. Mom. Your mother. Are you too busy to call me anymore? What's going on with you these days, anyhow? How's Brett? Why don't you two come over one of these days and keep your poor old mother company before she goes out the door toes up? Give me a call."
Braun hangs up the phone, turns around in his chair, and once again returns to looking out the window of his office at the traffic below, at that purposeful Manhattan stew of buses and taxis and pedestrians and bicycle messengers.
Welcome to the Bahamas.
Will Braun get back with Brett?
Will Braun get back with Cartier?
Will Braun get back with Margaret?
Will Braun get back with Mom?
Did we really need the last two episodes for this measly payoff?
Your guess is worth your weight in gerbils in our next episode: "Rats to You, but they're Pets to me!"
Go to the next episode Oct 27, 1999.