Marquessa was a woman so unique that as she walked down Via Regina Margherita to the subway station, each man's head rotated in her direction; eyes focused on her until she was far beyond them. Her usual oversized octagonal sunglasses, miniskirts, see-through blouses, long boa, and mesh leggings were deliberately chosen to attract that attention as if her innate beauty were not enough.
Always matching in some outrageous color: flaming red, lime green, royal purple, lemon yellow, or such, the outfits she wore used only as much fabric as required to avoid her arrest as a streetwalker. While a casual observer might well take her for a lady of the evening, those who had even a passing acquaintance of her knew better.
You see Marquessa, while a beautiful dark-haired temptress, had little use for the male species, except for use as her personal puppets, bound to do her will simply by focusing her deep brown eyes on them. Eyes so dark and penetrating that to look deeply into them sealed even the staunchest man's fate, that being a life of servitude to her until he was used up and tossed away like a wet paper towel.
Marquessa herself had been tossed away in such a manner by her stepfather, an Italian gangster who had "inherited" her to his dismay, her mother having been killed as an innocent bystander of a botched Mafia hit in Tivoli. She'd never known her American father, a U.S. Army corporal. She'd been conceived during a one-night stand he'd had with her mother before returning to the States the next week.
Marquessa's favorite day of the year was the American holiday of Halloween, which she had become acquainted with during an extensive tour of the U.S. she'd taken ten years earlier at age 18, following the Rolling Stones from city to city as they toured the largest American venues from Fenway Park to Charlotte, Miami's Orange Bowl, Chicago, and finally the L.A. Coliseum. Her main claim to fame was having successfully snuck into Mick Jagger's dressing room in Houston's Astrodome, only to have been rudely received by his girlfriend, who was not inclined to share Mick with her at all.
Nonetheless, Marquessa had made it to every one of the Stones' performances except Shea Stadium in New York. She'd finally achieved a slight bit of success when Jagger had recognized her persistence at their final stop in Los Angeles by having one of the Stones' bodyguards deliver a red scarf that matched her attire from his personal wardrobe.
Thusly rewarded, she'd returned to Rome like a conquering hero, confidently walking as if she were the most beautiful woman in the world. After all, Mick Jagger, the well-known lady killer, had recognized her beauty with his gift. Thus it was that day as she strolled to the subway station nearby, walking past the Swedish embassy that she'd visited once to get a visa to follow the Stones to Stockholm. She'd acquired a penchant for Pepsi during her extended trip to the U.S. and was none too happy to find that the drink machine in the station was out of order.
"Damn this damn Italian machine," Marquessa said, giving it a hard kick that cracked her big toe, causing an unladylike grunt. Looking around to see if anyone had noticed, she was happy to note the station was empty except for her. With a deep breath she turned to the ticket machine and got a ticket to Stazione Termini. The ride there was less than productive. Except for a handful of college-age boys obviously not holding thick wallets, only fat old men standing with fat old ladies occupied the car all the way there. Still, the scolding eyes of those old ladies brought a feeling of satisfaction to her.
Never would she allow herself to get in such condition. Never would she allow herself to be escorted by a big-bellied, penniless man, either. Upon arriving at the main train station, Marquessa made her way through the pressing crowd straight to the McDonald's that was close to the tracks. Often she trolled there for American men; often she walked away hand-in-hand with her latest conquest. The men she selected to have the honor of accompanying her were chosen not just for their handsome faces and equally handsome bankrolls, but for their hometowns.
Marquessa was addicted to American culture, and lived there vicariously through the eyes and experiences of the men. Already she'd experienced virtually every large city: Dallas; L.A.; Chicago; Boston. So many in fact, that she had become somewhat bored with their tales of life in the big city. Different big cities had different nuances and different tourist attractions, but in the end they could almost be blended into one and nobody would know the difference. Except New York City, of course. Somehow she'd failed in her passionate desire to experience the most exciting city in the world, with its 24-hour nightlife and unique atmosphere. The failure gripped her mind daily like a pit bull clamped on its opponent's throat. With the sultry June sun having begun to fall out of sight, Marquessa felt more alone than she ever had, knowing that the path she'd taken had padded her bank account and paid for many fine things in her apartment¾trips too numerous to mention¾but had not given her anything more than momentary happiness.
Love had never even crossed her mind.
As she made her entrance into the restaurant, chest thrust out to emphasize her enhanced breasts, her chartreuse blouse barely covering her nipples, her chartreuse thong underwear visible in flashes, she gleefully noted that the eyes of an average-looking man of about fifty-five were fixed upon her. He had a small backpack over his shoulders and wore an outfit that looked like one that a guide at the Coliseum might have on, including hiking boots. Of course she pretended not to notice, but out of the corner of her eye she noted that, unlike other men, he was staring at her face and not her breasts or crotch.
Marquessa dismissed him as a possibility at first, but even though another obviously wealthy American held the door open and smiled a more-than-just polite smile at her, she couldn't help looking at the other man. He had brilliant blue eyes that sparkled like the sun glinting off polished steel, a smile that sent an electric feeling through her, and a muscular, toned body that she guessed came from hard work and not from lifting weights.
The game that she played had its target, but somehow seemed different this time, more personal. He could be nothing but a momentary diversion. She sat at a table next to his, facing him and keeping her legs as far apart as her miniskirt allowed. The show was a short one, strangely making her feel shame, and she put her knees together. Normally this was when the chosen one would offer small talk and she'd be off and running, but the man in question merely smiled at her, then started reading a newspaper printed in English.
Marquessa was quite annoyed. What nerve this man had, to ignore her completely. She stood it as long as she possibly could, then stomped her foot. Finally, he looked up.
"Is something wrong with your foot?" he asked.
"Is something wrong with your head?" she responded, sparks of fire flying from her eyes.
He put his hand to his face and ran his fingers across his cheek. His brow furrowed. "I don't feel anything," he said. Only the look of exasperation Marquessa flung at him finally made him see the light.
"Uh...I must say that outfit works quite well with your figure," he said. "Your selection of color complements that beautiful hair of yours very nicely, too."
Marquessa found herself blushing as she never had. This new find had a pleasant way with words, despite the workingman-type outfit he wore, blue jeans, a well-worn Bad Company T-shirt, and a Rome Hard Rock Cafe baseball cap. She decided to bide a while with him until a more appropriate target appeared on her radar screen. She actually felt sorry for him, since he seemed to lack the money to purchase decent clothing.
"Would you like for me to buy you a Big Mac or something?" she said, shocking herself at the idea that she'd actually volunteer to spend money on someone who would never be able to provide a substantial return on her investment.
Her heart beat rapidly as he broke into a broad, infectious smile and began to chuckle.
"I've already eaten, actually," he replied, "but I mightily appreciate the thought. It's not every day that a beautiful woman offers to feed me. My name's Thomas...Thomas Boone. You look like you could use a mouthful yourself, though, Why don't I buy you something instead?"
Now Marquessa was truly embarrassed. The poor man was offering to spend what little money he had on her. How sweet he was! It would be an insult to refuse, yet she didn't want to take advantage of an obviously hardworking man.
"I'm not hungry, actually," she replied, "but I wouldn't mind having a small milkshake."
"I'll go you one better than that," the man said. "Why don't I treat you to ice cream at the Galacia...you know the Galacia, don't you?"
Marquessa's mind whirled. He hadn't money to buy decent clothes with, yet he was willing to do such a thing just for her. Normally she made discreet inquiries as to a potential benefactor's finances at this point, but it was clear to her that such questions would only embarrass him. It definitely would be impolite, however, to turn such an offer down.
"Why, I'd be delighted to take you up on that offer, kind sir." The man surely had no means of transportation, so she eliminated the threat of embarrassing him by saying, "It's such a nice day for a walk there, isn't it?"
With a nod, the stranger rose. Marquessa's hand reached for his without a conscious thought. Just as automatically, his hand grasped hers. The warmth of the touch filled her with a feeling of grandeur she'd never felt with all the rich men whose chauffeurs had carried her to whatever destination she'd chosen, and had then stood by with credit cards to pay for whatever she wanted to purchase. It was easy for those men to spend money in such a way. Another thing altogether for this Thomas Boone.
The shrill motors of Vespa mopeds and squealing horns filled the air as they made their way toward the gelateria. The air was humid and hot, but with the sun constantly hiding behind a large white cloud, it proved to be a fine day for such a jaunt.
How odd is was, she thought, to be walking hand-in-hand with this less-than-handsome American she'd just met, when she seldom did such a thing with even the richest of her patrons. As he strode confidently toward the ice cream store, she sensed that behind the casual attire was a man of confidence who was simply unconcerned with his own appearance. Never once did he seem to take note of heads turning to look at her.
Even the richest of the rich men who had wooed her with their deep pockets had shown jealousy over such constant attention to her. It had meant the end of many lucrative arrangements, though she had little control over how passing strangers behaved.
After walking a number of blocks, Marquessa regretted not having eaten when she had the chance. Hearing a sigh, Thomas stopped and looked at her, his head tilted to one side.
"You look hungry."
"Well, actually, I am," she replied. "How much further is the gelateria?"
"It's still about half a mile away, but I think a more substantial repast is what you need. I happen to know of a fine dining spot on the next street where the owner is said to be one of the nicest men in all of Rome. I also happen to know him personally, so I know we'll be well taken care of. It will be my treat, of course, Marquessa."
Surprised by his willingness to use his meager resources to pay for her meal, Marquessa smiled and nodded. Surely the place would be an inexpensive street vendor with cheap sandwiches of some sort. Anything to fill her stomach would be welcomed now.
"That sounds like a superb idea."
Thomas broke into a wide grin. "Excellent! Dining with such a beautiful woman will truly be a delight."
Marquessa found herself telling her new friend about her travels in the United States, her thoughts, desires, secrets she'd never shared with even the richest and handsomest of the men she'd known. Halloween, New York, the joy of life the way the Americans lived it. He took in every word, letting her spill her secrets until she had no more secrets to tell. Exhilarating it was, and scary. This man was in her dreams already, and not much more than a penny to his name. What a pity. Love was within sight, and yet so far away.
At the next corner he paused, pointing at a delicately engraved marble sign that stated, Ristorante di Tommio. A slight tremor shook Marquessa as she took in the obviously upscale decor of the place. How in the world would he ever be able to pay for even the humblest meal in such an establishment?
With continued trepidation, she entered the tinted-glass door as a doorman dressed in a tuxedo and top hat held it open for her. From behind her, Thomas held his finger to his lips and almost imperceptibly shook his head as the hostess approached. Her slight nod was his confirmation his message had been received.
"How are you this evening?" she asked.
"Fine, thank you," he said. "We'd like a romantic table for two, perhaps in a corner."
"Yes, of course, uh, signore. We have a cozy spot right at the back just waiting for an attractive couple like you two."
Thomas ushered Marquessa ahead of him and they followed the hostess to a very quiet area away from the entrance and from the kitchen.
Thomas pulled a chair out for Marquessa and then sat across from her. The eyes of the staff of the restaurant¾male and female alike¾were focused in their direction. She felt sorry for him, knowing that they all were wondering why a delightful creature such as she was with an average-looking man of dubious means.
One glance at the menu that the hostess had placed on the table was enough to send her almost into shock. The prices of even the most modest repast was well beyond the means of her companion. Even though well-supplied with funds to pay for the meal herself, she hadn't the slightest intention of lowering herself to such a state.
"Excuse me, Thomas, while I freshen up."
"Of course, my dear," he said, standing like a gentlemen as she went to the restroom near the entrance. As she neared it, she saw that their table was out of sight. Her forehead scrunched together as she pursed her lips, contemplating for a split-second the possibility of pursuing love instead of money. In another moment, though, she was outside and hurrying into a cab that had immediately jammed on its brakes at her hail.
Thomas, as most men are, was used to ladies taking longer than men to refresh themselves and took it upon himself to order an elaborate entree, the finest filet mignon to be had, and a host of the top items on the menu for them, including the most expensive bottle of Brunello di Montalcino to be found in the entire city.
The hostess looked around to make sure his companion couldn't hear her. "Si, Signore Boone, I see you're dressed in your tour guide disguise today. The young lady."
"Marquessa," Thomas interjected.
"Marquessa," the hostess continued, "would provide a fine escort for you at the opera, with more suitable attire, of course."
"I had quite the same thought, Susannah. You shall help me provide her a more appropriate outfit today and we'll attend Puccini tonight, then fly to New York City tomorrow in my Learjet to attend the Broadway re-opening of Cats, if she's so inclined. We can dine at my establishment across the street from the theater, then shake the town to its foundation all night. You know tomorrow is Halloween, and no place in the world does Halloween night like the Big Apple. The costume designer of Cats is a personal friend of mine who will no doubt be delighted to lend Marquessa a simply fantastic outfit from the play."
"Excellent! I'm sure she'll be the talk of Broadway and of all New York. Halloween in New York, New York will never be the same. You've done well, sir. Frank Sinatra himself would have been hard-pressed to have found a more suitable companion."
Thomas smiled as he nodded, then whispered instructions to several members of the staff, who promptly hurried to fulfill his requests. A few moments later, the doorman spoke quietly to the hostess, who then returned to the table.
"Signore Boone, I'm sorry to have to inform you that the young lady who accompanied you here left a moment ago without saying a word and got into a taxi."
"What a pity," Thomas said, sighing. "Sometimes it just doesn't pay to own the finest four-star restaurant in Rome."