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"Umm, thank you," Henri said rather perfunctorily, not the least because he suddenly felt unable to breathe. The young man had walked up to the panelists' rostrum as the seminar was breaking up and colleagues were making quick, brief comments to each other before they rushed off to their next session. Henri-reluctantly-moved to turn away and join the departing crowd, but the young man placed a hand on his forearm, and Henri felt the electricity of the touch race up his arm. With resolution mixed with an almost sensual forbidden and forbidding pleasure, he turned back to the young man.
"I'm sorry, if you are in a hurry, Herr Bragger, but I wanted to meet you. My name is Salim. Salim Maalouf, and I work at the U.S Department of the Treasury and saw your name on the list of attendees."
Henri hadn't really heard anything beyond the "Maalouf" part.
"Yes, that Maalouf. The writer, Sa'eed Maalouf. He was my father. I know about you. That's why I wanted to meet you."
Knew about him? Henri's brain was bursting. What context was there in that? What did this young man know about what transpired between him and his father all those years ago. Was the young man going to denounce him on the basis of family honor? Or was it something else altogether that he knew-Henri's connection with the Palestinian organizations purpose perhaps? Henri was doing everything he was being asked to do; why would they be sending someone to Washington, D.C., to contact him directly? But, hadn't the young man said he worked for the U.S. government? Was Henri's complicity with Mideast terrorist groups-something that had now become quite an international crime-being exposed? Or was it both family honor and criminal activity? Or something else altogether?
"Listen, I don't have a seminar scheduled now," the young man said. "Do you? Perhaps we could go somewhere quiet for lunch?"
Did Henri really have a choice? The sudden shock of it left him almost speechless-and without choices.
They lunched in a dimly lit alcove at a discrete little restaurant in Georgetown, and Henri was both relieved and aroused that Salim seemed to only know of his relationship with Sa'eed as being lovers; nothing was mentioned of Henri's business with secret Palestinian bank accounts and Sa'eed's possible connection with that.
"I never could forget what my father said of his love for you and the consummation of that love," Salim said.
"He told you of that?" Henri asked. "Weren't you rather-?"
"My father was a very special man; and we were a very special family. He spoke of everything. And he lived life deeply, even with his own family. He wrote of you and let me read it."
"He wrote of me?" Henri asked, feeling a bit breathless.
"Yes, my father had much love to give," Salim answered. He reached over and took Henri's hand and traced the lifeline on Henri's palm with his forefinger. Henri began to tremble. The young man was beautiful and sultry. He had his father's voice, rich and with unexpected, exciting rhythms. Henri had cut himself off so completely from the past, that it was like a flood of memories when the dike was breached.
"His favorite story he read to me before . . . well it was of you. Did you read any of the writings about you that have been published?"
"Yes," Henri answered in a small voice. "Or at least I hoped they were about me-that our couplings meant as much to him as they did to me."
"And to me also." Salim reached up and cupped Henri's chin with his hand so that Henri had to stare him in the face. "I want the same things with you as you had with my father."
Both men had rooms at the Willard hotel, and Salim made the practical suggestion that they use his room rather than Henri's, as there were European colleagues of Henri's with rooms on the same floor as his.
* * * *
I was his from the moment we entered the room, he made that perfectly clear. The shades were drawn and one light was on, at the side of the bed.
We stood just inside the door, facing each other, close.