“In El Dorado-town there is a great bullfighter.
His hair is red as blood,
His eyes are screamin’ blue.
And when the gate goes up,
The crowd gets so excited.
Then he comes dancin’ out,
Dressed in gold lame’.
He kills the bull
And lives another day.”
-- Neil Young, Eldorado
In Arizona, the power of precious metal has shaped the people and the land. My mother grew up in a town called Morenci, that once had the world’s largest open pit copper mine. We went there only once. The town was a big hole in the ground, with tiny trucks maneuvering down a spiraling road into a huge, flat pit. We drove past the few buildings that lined the perimeter road ringing the enormous hole. I asked my mom where her house was, and she gestured toward the center of the gaping chasm, laughingly responding with only a single phrase, “Oh, it was out there, honey.” We never discussed it again.
People have seen mirages of great wealth in the desert. As a child I learned of Pizarro, who went seeking a utopia and ended by kidnapping the Inca God-King and ransoming him back to his people for a roomful of gold. After accepting the gold, Pizarro killed the Inca king anyway, ending the life of a man known to his people as “The Son of the Sun.” Pizarro himself was murdered a few years later by his co-venturers, who thought, heaven knows why, that he was too greedy. I heard other tales of gold, like the story of the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix and Mesa, where a goodly number of folks have died inserting their lives into a puzzle of their own making.
I was most affected by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, by B. Traven. It was the first novel I ever read, at the tender age of four, and my unforeseen choice of reading material caused some concern among the grownups. The cover of the paperback edition I’d found on my father’s bookshelf showed a gang of grizzled miners wearing clothing worn out from hard labor, battling each other amid the ruins of their mining camp, each one clutching a gun and a bag of gold. From rents in several of the bags, precious gold spilled in long thin triangles. As I read the story and understood the plot, it broke my heart to see the bright dust piling up in mounds on the desert soil. The men had extracted it through months of backbreaking labor that had, nevertheless, been filled with the joy of mutual effort. I wanted to end the madness that had caused these men, flush with the fruits of their labors, to unleash hatred and violence upon each other, when all they had to do was share. I wanted to stop the gold from spilling on the ground, or catch at least a little of it in my own cup. Perhaps I was pained so deeply by the story because of that very love for gold that destroyed the miners in B. Traven’s book.
Like a poisoned arrow, my email went straight to Gary’s heart. He was on the phone to me within seconds. It was not the sort of thing he liked to receive. I did not know what to tell him except that I hadn’t intended to send it, and argued that the contents were not that inflammatory after all. In truth, I had somehow obscured from myself how gravely I had injured myself. A bizarre twist of fate had revealed me out of uniform, less than perfectly loyal in spirit. I now have no clear memory of that time period, when the magic I was handling exploded in my face. I only know that I went on, because the damage had been done and the only way was forward.
There were two dedicated intercessors -- Sue Whatley and Phil Father, who now held a nominal two percent interest in Sex.Com, Gary’s gift to Phil for being his partner in Kremen, Father & Partners (there were no partners). It now seemed like a good thing I had decided to attend the Internext trade show in Vegas during the dawning days of January 2001. At first I thought I’d skip it, and leave it to Gary, Sue, and Phil. But after hanging out with the Python and Orgasm people, and spending quality time with Yishai, I thought perhaps I should show my face at the trade show.
Gary had given Sue Whatley the job of exploring the big players in the online porn business. She had identified the usual suspects -- Luke Ford, the gossip columnist, Ron Levy, the King of CyberErotica, Jonathan Silverstein, a perennial player, Serge Birbrair, and various others. The goings-on at Internext were apparently somewhat risqué, or so I was lead to believe, which is why I at first thought it would be more lawyerly to not attend. When I changed my mind, and decided to go, Gary was grumpy about it, and said he would allow me to come. And that had been before he got my draft email. Now that Microsoft Outlook Express had spilled the beans about my discontent with the new regime, Gary simmered on medium high all the time. He ignored my emails or replied so tersely it was clear he was freezing me out. Still, I figured I’d make the trip, and Sue rearranged our flight and room plans easily. Gary and Phil had booked rooms at the Hard Rock Hotel, where ostensibly there were more chicks. Sue and I would share a suite at the Venetian, the convention venue.
So there I was, in the lobby of the Venetian Hotel and Casino, with its huge, curving portico, and doormen in pseudo-Italian outfits, equipped with wireless mikes that enabled some of them to sing operatic airs while hailing cabs. It was all dissonant and dazzling, in that offhand way Vegas has of jumbling megalithic glitter into a supposedly cool thing -- the Strip! In this glamorous environment, Sue and I were short on glitz. A tall woman, Sue wore big, black, platform-soled boots, and concealed her entire person under a full-length pink flannel coat that looked a lot like a housecoat. Wearing Dan Post boots, black Levis, and a tired leather motorcycle jacket, I didn’t look like I needed to change companions. She was dowdy and I was scruffy. We were perfect for each other. As we stood in the long line snaking up to the desk, we observed crowds of young men in leather sport-coats, wearing jewelry, occasionally looking up from absorption in their cell-phone conversation to hail the person they were talking to. They seemed to be there for “the Show,” as industry-types refer to the yearly Internext bash. There were geeky types, gothish people, and occasional gaggles of chicks who looked like they might be passing out literature or adorning a trade-show booth.
Sue and I checked into the room, which wasn’t a suite, but was a split-level big enough to appease my desire for a small slice of luxury. After freshening up, we headed back downstairs to face my first post-email meeting with Gary. Extremely stressed is how I would describe my condition. On the elevator ride to the casino floor, a young man and woman, both impeccably attired, were going down with their bags. The woman was a breathtaking brunette around twenty-four, with hair like chestnut-colored silk falling to well below her shoulders. The young man had sandy brown hair, wore clothing that was casually high-class, and looked like he belonged behind the wheel of a Porsche.
The brunette asked us “Checking in?”
“Yep,” I answered, with a smile.
With a slightly rueful expression, she said, “We’re checking out.” She paused, then supplemented this with an explanation, “We’ve been here a long time.” Silence. The gentleman was reasonably handsome, but seemed drained of virility. What was this sad story all about? A dentist who had left wife and kids, being jerked back to reality? An oil scion who’d just run through his trust fund, responding to a warning call from his accountant? Something had turned out badly, probably at the gaming tables. The elevator doors opened, and the sounds of the casino flooded in -- batteries of slot machines chiming out the promise of abundant returns for those eager to achieve the unlikely goal of instant riches. We crossed the gaming floor to the Grand Lux Restaurant, where Gary and Phil were waiting. On the way, we saw scores of the young industry players dressed identically in black-on-black, leaning against craps and roulette tables, looking slightly bored with what they hoped seemed like big bets.
Inside the Grand Lux, we found Gary and Phil in a booth. Phil rose to meet us solicitously, while Gary remained seated, his clenched right fist planted firmly on a hardcopy of my excessively candid email. He had grown a goatee, and someone had joined it to a comb-over that accentuated his bald spot. He looked like maybe he had hired a stylist, so I complimented him on the look. He responded with an acid smile that suggested I did not mean it. Shallow breaths heaved his shoulders, as if stoking a fire in his chest. In the booth that seated four, I sat diagonally to Gary, maximizing the available distance between us, in an effort to avoid spontaneous combustion.
Into this situation, Sue and Phil maneuvered expertly like a couple of bomb squad vehicles covered with blast cushions, spraying foam everywhere. Both were extremely obsequious to both Gary and myself. Phil asked me to reconsider my decision not to join the company as an employee, which was of course flattering, because I wasn’t sure Gary wanted me as a Grant Media employee, anyway. It seemed that Phil had prepared the ground well, though, because he was focused on getting me back into the company. I had to be okay with that, because I was sure Gary would not make it easy for an absentee partner. Within twenty minutes, the atmosphere had cooled considerably. The igneous heat that had suffused Gary’s body retreated into a tiny point of nuclear heat, gleaming in the recesses of his eyes. In my heart, I fervently hoped that I could withdraw the sudden mis-step that had abruptly landed me on the wrong side of the Rubicon.
We finished our dinner, and with rising spirits, headed up to our room for more refreshments. We were putting the past behind us, and Sue was now in control of our agenda. The first stop. she informed us, was Yishai’s party, on the upper level in a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant Yishai had rented at a reputed cost of $50,000. Not bad for a business expense, and less than a month of his share of Sex.Com revenue. It was so nice knowing we were helping him stay afloat. As Gary and I strode through the Venetian mall under the big, fake sky they’ve painted on the ceiling, past the landlocked gondoliers in their marble-lined canals, he threw his arm around me and looked into my eyes, enthusing, unbelievably, “Isn’t this great?” To which I was only able to agree. Hoo-ya! We were team Sex.com.
Yishai’s party was just like Yishai -- so upscale and lavish that you could mistake the guests for actual rich people. Polished silverware, white table cloths, spreads of higher-quality fare, and plenty of good-quality wine and champagne. It was not much of a surprise to see Joel Dichter. But when my eyes focused on his conversation partner, and I realized he was talking to Katie Diemer, it was dejavu all over again. Since they were the only people I knew there, I said hi to Joel and Katie. Joel seemed amused at my presence at the party, and Katie said, “Well, this must be quite a feather in your cap.” Ah yes, the feather in my cap. I had almost forgotten about it, worried as I was about the color of the cap itself, which I was certain had started out white, but was looking increasingly grey, or even darker. I acknowledged her compliment and took my leave of the compromised pair.
Then came another bizarre exchange, as our host Yishai importuned me by seeking amnesty on behalf of Jordan Levinson, Cohen’s Sex.Com bagman. Jordan, who had been scarfing up a percentage of advertising sales, was blameless, Yishai explained. Hardly. I knew Jordan was one of the younger members of a family of seasoned fraudsters with their roots in phone-sex (euphemistically called “audiotext” in the industry) and phone-fraud. His uncle, I believe, was one of the celebrated rate-gougers at Crown Communications, a company that the FTC had taken down a few years back. I wanted to go to the bathroom and see if someone had written “DUMBASS” on my forehead, because why would I want to keep doing business with Cohen’s confederate? Nevertheless, Jordan now stood before me, impeccably garbed in black-on-black, beseeching me to please understand that he had never been in sympathy with Cohen, and really wanted to keep buying traffic. Jordan had been buying less than $10,000 per month of traffic through small text links that reputedly converted at a very high rate, so there was plenty of money still on the branch for him, waiting to be plucked, even though he was already stuffed with stolen Sex.Com money. He asked me to please not sue him. I was disoriented. Yishai was our partner now, and being a turncoat seemed to be the way of things around him. I looked around. Where was Gary? Sue sidled up to tell me that Gary was, at this very moment, telling Katie Diemer that he would sue her. Accordingly, the fight with Levinson would still be on as well. Levinson’s peace overtures were poorly timed, and left me feeling as confused as a field commander receiving a call that should have been routed to the spy guys.
I felt completely out of place wearing a tattered motorcycle jacket amongst all these well-dressed desperadoes. I stood alone, looking listlessly at the little round tables covered with wineglasses and plates bearing abandoned wedges of brie, cut veggies, and fractured water crackers. I felt like I had lost my sleek profile. My black jeans were crumpling down, bagging about the knees, and the heels of my boots felt big and heavy. Gary was still sporting the rumpled sweatshirt that gave him his Michelin Man profile, but it wasn’t radiating any Silicon Valley geek cachet. It just looked like he was cheap and clueless, especially with the new hairdo and goatee. Sue was humbly moving about in the midst of all the refined vampires with downcast eyes. Christ, I thought, Gary should have bought her a coat. Phil Father was elegant in his own black-on-black outfit, but was obviously just window dressing. I had to face it -- in this crowd, the Sex.Com crew was nikulturni. The experience must have depressed Gary, too, because when we left, he and Phil headed back to the Hardrock Café, ostensibly to look for chicks.
As night turned to morning in the sunless caverns of the Venetian, I stuck with Sue, whose ever-accommodating shy smile, knowing eyes, blond curls, baby-like features, and throaty laugh increasingly reminded me how nice big German girls can look. She was playing a lowbrow, supersized ingénue, and managing to draw more favorable attention than I would have expected. She was blossoming in the scene, making connections in person with people she’d been gabbing with for months on the Net. She didn’t look like a model, which was a plus, because we avoided awkward exchanges and were able to answer inquiries by jointly presenting ourselves as the Sex.Com lawyers. Besides which, she was comfortable in an environment where sex, sex toys, fetishes, bestiality, and other marginal subjects fed bottom line. Sue was quickly becoming one of the boys, mixing easily with important players, and I was very thankful for her knowledge of the business, about which I was still fundamentally clueless.
Industry insiders usually turned adoring when we said we were the Sex.Com lawyers who had beheaded Cohen, the old dragon. It had been an upset victory, because no one in the industry thought Gary had a chance of knocking Cohen off the throne. Paul Wolfowitz should’ve been there to see what it’s like to be received as liberators, because we were the toast of the night. We were receiving accolades for making the world safe for ordinary, decent smut peddlers. I got a sloppy kiss from a porn star. We were the new face of Sex.Com, and a kinder, gentler face it seemed, no doubt, as long as you were looking at me or Sue.
Left to ourselves, Sue and I wandered through hotel lobbies, across gambling floors, into restaurants and bars, collecting kudos, networking and passing out Sex.com business cards that Tara had printed for us back in Oregon. They had vintage erotica pictures on them and looked humorous and light, but a little ambiguous. Eventually we made it back to our room and turned in for the night. The next morning, Sue had arranged a big meeting with Ron Levy, at his request. We were supposed to hook up with Ron’s people on the show floor for directions.
The next morning, Sue and I were up, taking care of business. The trade show exhibition floor was enormous. About three hundred booths vied for attention in a room big enough to store a couple of jumbo jets. Above us hung thirty foot banners displaying enhanced blondes overprinted with logos in blue, pink, yellow and silver rendered in visual perfection with high-tech printing. Website logos were everywhere, notable for the extreme obviousness of their appeal -- “Hardcoremoney” -- “Silvercash.com” -- “Cyber Erotica” -- “Porn Profits” -- “Babenet” -- all rendered in bright colors and dynamic characters. The air was shimmering with skin tones, bright colors and metallic sheen. Precise, crisp images of idealized females are the product, and they received pride of place at this exhibition.
Visually, the scene was titillating, but the audio track was tedious. The theme music for the sex industry is a blend of featureless beats that demonstrates disrespect for all legitimate musical forms. At the CyberErotica booth, you couldn’t get away from the tired sounds, because Ron had hired a half-dozen slightly past-prime Barbies to bump and grind to the rhythmic dreck that oozed from banks of black loudspeakers. The exhibition of tired hip-swiveling, listless shoulder-rotation, arrogant chin-pointing, and bored pouting would sap anyone’s enthusiasm for the sex business. Where, I wondered, had they found these women? They lacked funk, spunk and everything else that would have enlivened their presentation of God’s basic handiwork. No wonder Viagra was so much in demand.
The desultory dancers adorning the CyberErotica booth were appropriate, though, because Ron Levy is oblivious to everything about sex except its ability to generate conversions. Call it professional focus. And Ron had a proposal he wanted to present to Gary in the secluded comfort of his hotel room. We approached a member of the scurrying posse of Ron-worshipers clustered around his trade show booth, the largest on the floor. We met Ron’s Canadian lawyer, and he gave us the room number and directions to Ron’s extremely expensive room, which was off in some exclusive wing of the hotel. Ron was ready, so I called Gary and Phil to request their presence at the Venetian. Phil said he’d be getting Gary moving, but it might be tough.
I think Phil had to use a winch or other device to get Gary out of bed, because he looked about as bad as he did when Dorband asked him if he ever took drugs that might affect his memory. Whatever he’d ingested, it seemed to have obliterated all memories, going back to childhood. I felt his pain. He could barely talk, and I was sure that whatever he was hearing, he wasn’t understanding. He looked like a sick dog that might have to be put down, because it was just suffering too much. Gary had always gotten sweaty palms when he thought how it would go with Ron. It was by now part of the lore of the case that Ron had invested $150,000 in Joel Dichter’s representation of Gary. Rumor had it that Ron felt some sense of entitlement based on that investment, even though Gary had fired Dichter and Diemer years before, declaring the whole deal a dead letter.
I wasn’t worried at all. We owned Sex.Com. If Ron wanted to make a deal, we could evaluate his offer just like Yishai’s or NOOF’s or anybody else’s. It would have been nice to have Gary’s brain operational that morning, but for the moment, it wasn’t taking calls. Gary was going where he was led, up the elevator and down the long halls of the Venetian to the wide double doors of a suite that Sue told us Ron was renting for $4,500 per night.
Admitted to the suite by a black-T-shirted CyberErotica servitor, we walked into a large white room where Ron was sitting at the head of a conference table a short walk from the entryway. Two packs of Marlboro Lights were stacked to his left, and he occasionally adjusted their position with his left hand, squaring them up parallel with the edge of the large, white table. We sat at a comfortable distance from the great man, Gary and Phil on one side, Sue and I on the other. After getting Gary’s approval in the form of a light nod, I took over as the speaker for Sex.Com. This wasn’t difficult, because Ron made what seemed like a reasonable proposal -- CyberErotica would license the Sex.Com name for $400,000 per month, and would pay us 40% of all the money over that amount that CE brought in from the website. It was a one-year deal, renewable. Ron had no paperwork to review, but if we were interested, he’d have his lawyer write it up. I said sure, write it up, and with that, the interview was over. We finished our coffee -- way too strong -- and were back out in the hall. For me, it was just one more experience with astronomical numbers and blasé pornographers. I was getting used to this. Gary, relieved simply to have a stressful meeting behind him, caught a cab back to the Hard Rock with Phil.
I accompanied Sue out to the front of the Venetian so she could have a smoke, and there we met a balding, sixty-ish English guy, puffing his unfiltered cigarette with earnest enjoyment. Sue introduced the fellow, who was dressed as unstylishly as we were. His name was Mike Sweet, aka, “The Dirty Old Man,” a Canadian porn star. Mike had the laconic style of a fellow who has no real point of connection with the social aspect of the industry, claims he knows zip about chicks, money transfer, etcetera. His partner, Steve Sweet, he said, had brought him to Vegas for the show. He didn’t know what it was about, didn’t care. Mike droned on stylishly, exuding grandfatherly amusement for the whole affair. Within six months, I would be working for Mike, and I would be privy to his true name, his true passions and just how difficult a job it is to be an aging porn star. Mike has a fascination with military history, and an extensive knowledge of many of the more frightening arts of persuasion. He has, on occasion, paid pain-resistant models one-dollar-per needle-insertion. That’s Canadian dollars. The top earner took home $200 bucks. When I got to know him, Mike became scary -- not like Yishai, or Ron, or Gary. Scary in his own way, because his mind went into places that I feared I was never meant to go. But at the time, he seemed like a sweet old porno grandpa, involved in some kind of bizarre and profitable family enterprise.
At a lunch meeting later that day, Sue and I met with Fernando, Ben and Mike from Wired Solutions, which had been buying $150,000 of traffic from Cohen’s Sex.Com and had maintained that level of buying after Gary took over. These were, by definition, customers, so we wanted to treat them well, and show an interest in their business. Fernando was a moderately obese young man of Latino ancestry, who at that time owned a place in Barbados, which he said got very claustrophobic after a few days. Ben was a Massachusetts prep with a yen for ecstasy that some said might be available from a certain blonde Sex.Com team member. He and Sue made fast friends. I hit it off with Mike, a wiry techie who worked at the Wired Solutions headquarters in Santa Fe. He had a lot of questions about the lawsuit we’d just won, and volunteered plenty of information about Wired’s business. Fernando gushed about the conversion rates for Sex.Com “type-ins,” clicks that originated from direct requests for the domain, typed directly into the address bar of the surfer’s web browser. Unlike search engine clicks, Fernando explained, type-ins to Sex.Com were coming from very young people, who had just figured out how to navigate using a web browser, and were therefore highly susceptible to backbrain stimulation induced by the sexual imagery flashing on the website twenty-four hours of every worldwide day. Suddenly, I started to worry all over again about the ethics of the present condition of the website. It was looking smarter and smarter to consider a partnership with some established player to manage Sex.Com, someone other than Yishai and Richard Martino, perhaps like Ron or Fernando, who knew how to make a bundle without getting in trouble. I wished that Gary were there to hear some of these things, so we could discuss them together, but I was beginning to intuit that Gary didn’t want to be my partner in this business.
After meeting with the Wired Solutions guys, Sue and I cruised the showroom floor one last time. Sue was assiduous in collecting all the VIP passes and free drink cards we would need to assume our properly exalted place in the hierarchy of porn magnates during the last night’s blowout. As it winds down, the three-day sextravaganza debouches into a swirling vortex of obscene self-love, the aptly named “Pimp and Ho Ball.” Staged in a huge ballroom, powered by expensive light shows and computerized beats, populated with skinny young men and hired women, the scene is well lubricated with a healthy injection of free drinks, available of course to those with free drink cards. I had a pocketful that Sue had provided, and stuck to a diet of cranberry vodkas and the occasional Red Bull.
The real fun at the Pimp and Ho Ball isn’t the music, the dancing, the achievement awards for excellence in smut distribution, or the drably scripted stage patter between the porn industry leaders and the crowd of sycophantic webmasters. The fun is about getting things sorted by pecking order. There are three kinds of free tickets given out. The regular ticket will get you in the door. A VIP ticket will get you up one set of stairs. A special VIP ticket will get you to the third floor balcony area, where private rooms have been rented by the majors. And in an extremely elevated location, were no one gets in without an invitation from a true skin-trade tycoon, there is a room where it is rumored you can smoke a joint with Ron. But Sue was the only Sex.Commer to allegedly get into that room, and it’s still a rumor to me.
That night, I spent most of my time with Ben, the Wired Solutions ecstasy-head, who seemed to enjoy my company, after Gary drifted away and Sue went looking for Ron’s secret hideaway. Up in a private room I met the most intelligent, genuinely attractive woman I’d discovered at the show -- Jamie Sweet. She was Steve Sweet’s girlfriend, and therefore obscurely related to Mike Sweet, aka The Dirty Old Man. Jamie and Steve were dressed in pajamas, and were fun and easy to talk to. It’s strangely cosmopolitan to stand, casually talking with a woman in her pajamas, while leaning against a bar where an anatomically correct, flesh-colored simulacrum of a female ass has two Corona bottles stuck into it, one protruding from the simulated anus, the other from the snug, rubber vagina. I delicately removed the beverage containers from the sex toy as an act of politeness, which Jamie acknowledged with a little laugh. We had a nice chat about sexual freedom and the liberating power of erotica. She introduced me to Steve, over six feet, probably a hundred and eighty pounds, dressed in a leopard print bathrobe and silk pajamas. Steve’s shark-like grin, military-style buzzcut, and impressive build bespoke a powerful man with abundant personal charisma and ready access to large sums. I liked him immediately, although I knew nothing about him. He briefly expressed admiration for my litigation prowess, then left me to chat with Jamie, which I kept right on doing for the next half-hour, until Ben and I decided to drift on to some other place.
I found Sue, who had been up in the ganja den with Ron, so she said. We parted company with Ben, who went in quest of a new source of serotonin to heal his overstimulated dopamine receptors. The hours drained away like dark water, leaving us on the faintly brightening shores of a Las Vegas dawn. Susanne and I had checked out of our hotel already, because in some sort of half-assed cost-saving, Gary had only booked his room for the last night. So on the last night of the fun, Sue and I were the homeless Sex.Commers. My plane was leaving sometime that morning, so with our luggage in tow, we caught a cab to the Hard Rock Hotel, there to enjoy what remained of Gary’s meager hospitality.
Gary’s room at the Hard Rock was much smaller than what Sue and I had at the Venetian. She and I showed up with our luggage at around 4:30 in the morning. Gary was wadded up in the bedclothes like a hundred-and-ninety-pound infant with a comb-over. He looked tortured. Phil was exhausted, and offered us the couch and mini bar. My boss, my partner, my client, snored, snorted and shifted his body repeatedly in the room, which was slowly brightening.
I stood on the balcony and looked toward the bright lights of the Vegas Strip. My brain felt tenderized from lack of sleep and all of the yelling I had done to make myself heard while conversing in smoke-filled rooms drowned in hip-hop noise. The lights ringing the profiles of the hotels and casinos seemed to shimmer with beauty, with hope. In the dusty dawn, the colored lights twinkled brightly in a world where I had membership in the upper crust of low occupations.
The six-letter mantra that had fueled my obsession for nearly two years was still overbearing in my mind, but now, it seemed to exude fulfillment. It was the gleaming sun of morning that was about to rise over the summertime of my life. I had made it. I had done something in the world of money, power, and influence. I had mounted the heights. Standing in my heavy boots, which I hadn’t removed from my feet in at least twenty hours, I felt well able to move ahead into the new world I had helped to conquer. I would get on with some of the white hat stuff. We would change Sex.Com for the better.
As I turned these thoughts over in my mind, they began to turn me over. I felt divorced from the earth as persistent thoughts of self-importance lifted my spirits. Nevertheless, after three days of outshining Gary with the people who were responsible for making Sex.Com valuable, I had a strange presentiment. As glamorous as it was to be a warrior, I might be a liability in time of peace.
Looking out over the Vegas skyline, hearing Gary thrashing his sheets in an effort to find a niche of unconsciousness in which to stuff his mind, I remembered the way the fire in his eyes had retreated, but not disappeared. Taking refuge in sleep and intoxication, he had hidden from me ever since the brief reconciliation in the Grand Lux. Hearing him snort and convulse his way through fitful dreams, it did not, frankly, look good for me. I knew what I dared not tell myself. Gary had come to mistrust me. His pain was breeding inside him, darkening his mind with suspicion, jealousy and hatred. He suspected me because I’d expressed secret thoughts. He was jealous of me because I had a wife, kids, a house, and now, money too. He hated me because I was starting to enjoy my new position as a principal in Sex.Com, and he hadn’t approved my ascent to that role.
Whether it was preordained or not, I knew from that moment forward that soon we would be adversaries. Lying there, lost in the darkness of a fitful sleep, Gary was hiding from his power, from the terrifying adulation of an amoral crowd, but even as he did, the power of Sex.Com was filling him up like water fills a hollow space underground. The power of Sex.Com had no love for me or anyone. No longer the slave girl whom we had liberated, she now appeared like the whore of Babylon, bestower of all earthly pleasures, enslaver of her devotees. She had Gary completely in her power, and was seducing him utterly with her most powerful, one-syllable mantra, the mantra known only to one person, now pounding away in Gary’s heart over and over again -- mine... mine... mine... and every now and then... all mine.
The sun was rising on a new world, filled with gold and its power. It was my first morning in El Dorado. Outwardly dressed in crumpled black clothes, stinking with cigarette smoke, inwardly I looked up to behold a golden sun at its zenith, blazing in a cobalt sky. I heard the crowd’s cheer as the barred gate across the arena slowly rose. The bull charged through the gate on pounding hooves, tossed his horns this way and that, then found me. When the bull charges, I remembered, the bullfighter stands his ground. The bull, not the man, must move. The bull trotted up to face me from a near distance. He lowered his head, scuffed the sand, and looked up at me. I saw the red coals hidden deep in eyes that did not recognize me. I gripped my sword and planted my feet.