Authors: Neil Gordon
This book is dedicated to the memory of Ghassan Kanafani, murdered in Beirut on July 8, 1973.
The fact is that our Constitution was written in a spirit of cynicism, suspicion and distrust, and every clause reflects those attitudes, every clause reflects the attitudes
that humans in authority and power cannot be trusted to become angels by virtue of their office; cannot be trusted at all, as a matter of fact, and need to be set watching each other.
addressing Senate Hearings,
May 17, 1973
Nobody ever uses my first name—nobody except my business partner, who is pleased to address me occasionally, and in private, as “The American Formerly Known as
Peter.” The American. No one knows I am American either.
That is why when I finally met Rosenthal’s daughter it surprised me that she called me by my first name. She could not have known that no one ever uses it. And yet, she said it with
something like a smile, not on her mouth but in the green of her eyes.
As I had thought I would, I liked her immensely.
We met early in the winter of 1995. By then I had talked to her on two occasions, both long-distance. The first was in October of 1994; the second a week previous to our
Between the first and the second conversation, then, some two and a half months had passed. During this time I had come to know a great deal about her. I was not alone in this: she had been, by
then, on the front page of every newspaper in the States, a major figure in the Ronaldgate Affair, as some pundits had named it after her father. There was, however, a big difference between myself
and the millions who had read about her with that salacious mixture of envy and blame her Puritan country reserves for those in the public eye. I was the only one to offer her a job.
You see, criminality is no disqualification to me. And as I’d watched her government, that fall of 1994, shudder through a series of scandals that resulted in the resignation of both a
senator and attorney general, I had begun to suspect that the investigative prowess of the American media was not even close to understanding her role.
And that made me think: this is a person I have got to meet.
She was twenty-seven, five-six or -seven, slim and strong, very well made. That did not surprise me: beauty is a prerequisite for what she had done—or what I thought she
had done. Coming down the corridor from the plane, she wore a short tan dress and stockings, a brown tortured-leather jacket. Her hair was up, her long neck backed by an upturned collar. Her step,
on heels, was balanced, confident, athletic. That disturbed me suddenly, and as she came closer, I understood why. It was the walk of a teenager.
Then I saw her eyes, which were green, and I was entirely reassured.
Her eyes are hard to describe. Very interesting indeed.
It was a day of thin sun and ice-dry air. I took her straight to lunch at Le Quattro Stagioni, where she ordered and consumed a plate of pasta, a
with roast potatoes, and a salad. I did not talk to her while she ate, nor did my silent observation disturb her appetite: she was ravenous. Later I learned that she was then, and would be for some
time afterward, always so.
Only when she was drinking coffee did I speak.
“Well, Ms. Rosenthal, let me get you settled. You have a suite at my house in the hills. It is very private, quite separate. This evening there is a cocktail at the Accademia, and then I
have dinner reservations. Do you know Florence?”
She wiped cream from her upper lip, and answered directly in her oddly soft voice. “I’m already booked at a hotel, thank you. And I’ll be happy for a drink this evening. As for
Florence, I know it fine. Shall we skip the tour and get to work?”
“Usually we rest during the afternoons in Italy, Ms. Rosenthal.”
That was when I saw the smile come into her eyes, as all the while her mouth sat still, lips slightly open, savoring my reaction.
“Then that must account for your success here, Peter. The tireless American, working while the city sleeps.”
While the rest of Florence napped, or read, or had sex, or lay staring out the window at the far blue of winter sky, across the river at my office I explained to her what the
job was. She would be building a network of incorporations in Paris, Switzerland, Germany, and London. For some of them, front-end operations were required. We had made a preliminary identification
of some targets: an antiques store, an importer with branches in the former Soviet Union, a small shipping company with Liberian registry. The final purchases would be at her discretion.
She listened, asked no questions, and when I had finished, spoke with decision. “Okay. I’d suggest staggering incorporations in small towns and over borders. You could indemnify
locally also. You’d want to find brokers who keep paper records: E.C. filings are sure to be electronic. I’ll need a Paris lawyer to front for me. That won’t be hard. Now
I’d like to go to my hotel. I need to shower and change before cocktails.”
Natalie volunteered to accompany her. And as they went out the door, for all the world like two girls going to a party, I spoke.
“Ms. Rosenthal. Now that you know all about us, when do I get to hear about you?”
She answered without turning around. “When I have decided whether I want your job.”
At the cocktail she stayed close to me, greeting newcomers with an easy smile. When she was drawn away, as happened often, she disengaged herself and returned to my side as
quickly as possible. At first I was not sure what to make of that. Then I saw that she was using the party as a chance to observe me in action.
She had changed to a black dress, Versace I thought, very tight over her small breasts and thin waist. Over her shoulders was a red mohair cardigan, smelling faintly of wood smoke and matching
her lipstick, which was the only makeup she wore. Her hair was up, and at the base of her long neck was a gold Georg Jensen chain, which lowered a heavy Star of David just into her breasts. That
made the colors she exhibited four: black, red, gold, and the gemlike brilliance of her eyes.
Over dinner, our conversation was all interrogative: she questioning as she finished each of her courses, me answering as I ignored mine. Her skin luminous, her raised blond eyebrows, her thin
lips moving, pursing, then moving again, the sleek weight of her hair: she was leonine in her personality and avian in her physicality, a strange and powerful combination. I concentrated on her
eyes, alive by the near candlelight, and by the last course was able to read her precise emotion by them, at least until she caught on and put the candle out. Those eyes, she clearly knew, were a
liability to her.
I told her more than I meant to, that night. I like to think it was a manipulation, bringing me to the moment when I could ask and she would have to answer.
That was a point for which I was growing increasingly anxious.
After dinner I drove her up to my place in Fiesole. In my living room, from the other side of a coal fire, she watched me from a pool of lamplight, her glassine Tiffany eyes
like two jewels set in shadow. Then she asked yet another question.
“How well do you know my father?”
“Well enough. We’ve done business for about ten years.”
“And how well do you know his business?”
“I know he represents the Falcon Corporation in the States. I know he’s a joint Israeli-American citizen, and that he has ties to the Israeli Labor and American Republican parties. I
know that last summer he was arrested for arms export violations.”
That made her nod, once. “What did you think when he was arrested?”
This was tiring me. But I answered, as she wanted me to. “Ms. Rosenthal, it’s always hard for us, in Europe, to understand when one part of your government acts against another. Our
lawmakers do not do that here. It strikes us as very inefficient.”
“I see.” Her gaze abstracted for a moment, like a switch turning off her eye. Then she was back. “This may take some time.”
“And why is that?”
“You’ve been away too long, Chevejon. You don’t know how it works over there anymore.”
I considered this for a while, watching her, wondering what it would be like to be her lover. At the same time, I knew I would not be, no more than with the other young women who work for me.
The thought made me feel old: nearly twenty years senior to her twenty-seven. Perhaps it is time that I marry: it seems that I have become the confessor of children. Don’t laugh: that happens
to criminals, as well as to teachers.
It is just a different kind of child that comes to us.
Finally, I said: “Allison. I admit that. I don’t understand what happened. I just know that neither did anyone else.”
She nodded. “That’s right.”
“Will you tell me?”
She leaned forward in her chair, hands resting on crossed knees. This brought her face into the light, bisected by one strand of glimmering hair. Like this she held me in the light of her
depthless emerald eyes.
And then Allison Rosenthal, née Esther, that is, the courtesan who during the Babylonian exile sacrificed herself to save the Jews, began to talk.
And when she did, I knew that I had been right to help this woman come to Europe, then bring her south and offer her a job. I knew I had been right to humor her, to offer her a virtual tour of
my private business. And I knew I would be wise to do everything and anything I could to convince her to stay in my little world. For when Allison Rosenthal began to speak, I knew I was listening
to the story of a very brilliant person, in fact, a peer.
After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman . . . and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. And all the king’s servants,
that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence. . . .
And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.
And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had shewed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the
whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.
ESTHER 3:1-2, 5-6