“Where’s Jorge?” I asked Jorge.
I was speaking to one of three Jorges who worked in our São Paulo offices. The one on the phone was Jorge the 3rd. I called him that because he seemed a touch mad and was always extremely happy or in actual tears. He once sulked and cried at a desk in a corner about a feature he wanted us to add to the software we were working on. When we agreed, he clapped his hands and danced around. Now he sobbed again on the other end of the line.
“Jorge is stolen,” he managed to say.
The Jorge I asked about was Jorge the 1st. He was the opposite of Jorge the 3rd, stable and aloof, and he was the lead salesman in the São Paulo office.
“Sim…yes,” Jorge the 3rd sniffed. “Gone.”
As it turned out, Jorge the 1st had been abducted from an ATM by a gang of thieves, taken into the forest, persuaded to divulge all his PINs, and then left there while they emptied out his accounts. Jorge the 2nd called me two days later.
“Jorge is return-ed,” he announced.
Jorge the 2nd was an acolyte of Jorge the 1st. He copied his mannerisms and moved with him like an anxious shadow. When Jorge the 1st was stolen, Jorge the 2nd was distraught, leaving us to wonder whether he was merely bewildered or upset that he hadn’t been stolen too.
“Is he OK?” I asked.
“Yes. See when you come.”
I was due in São Paolo in two weeks to visit a prospective client with the three Jorges. As a requirement before travelling to Brazil, I had to get a yellow fever shot. A few days later, I saw a doctor.
“Some people have a reaction to this,” he said as he withdrew the needle. “About ten, eleven days later.”
“That’s when I’m in Brazil,” I winced. “What do you mean, reaction?”
“Well,” the doctor said as he disposed of the needle, “a little bout of yellow fever, actually—headaches, fatigue, the chills—that sort of thing.”
The headache started on the flight over. By the time we descended into the vast concrete forest of São Paulo, I was pouring with sweat and felt like dying. At the hotel was a note to call Jorge the 1st.
“Ah,” he conceded. “You here.”
“I think I’m dying,” I whimpered.
“Nonsense,” he soothed.
“It’s the shot they gave me. I’ve got yellow fever.”
“Nonsense,” Jorge the 1st insisted. “We will discuss of tomorrow. We come get you.”
“No, you’re busy, don’t—”
But he’d hung up.
The three Jorges arrived in a golden Jaguar.
“Get in,” Jorge the 1st said.
I swayed where I stood on the curb outside the hotel, dizzy with nausea and an indescribable urge to be back in my room.
“You look sheet,” Jorge the 3rd observed as we drove off.
“You feel better soon,” Jorge the 1st predicted. “We go churrascaria.”
“Yes,” Jorge the 2nd agreed.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Barbecue churrascaria,” Jorge the 3rd said. “All you want.”
The idea of eating turned my stomach.
“I don’t want to eat,” I wheezed.
“Nonsense,” Jorge the 1st soothed.
“Yes,” Jorge the 2nd agreed.
At the churrascaria we sat at a private table Jorge the 1st had arranged. The three Jorges beamed at me but I couldn’t smile back. Inside my skull was a screw prying it open. I was agitated by the waiters who rushed about with skewers of meat as people at other tables put up little green flags to signal that they wanted more. I wanted to throw up and die, but I couldn’t decide which to do first.
“Don’t worry,” Jorge the 1st said. “Tomorrow better.”
“I’m not going to make tomorrow,” I said.
“No,” Jorge the 1st explained, “tomorrow we sell client. Now discuss.”
My desire to discuss business was not large. I wanted to lie down and sweat into a soft cushion.
“Let’s not,” I said.
“Eat,” Jorge the 3rd suggested and held out a ball of unidentifiable meat on a small skewer.
“Coração de galinha frito,” Jorge the 1st said and made a small circle with his thumb and index finger. “Veery special.”
“Veery special,” Jorge the 2nd confirmed and popped one into his mouth.
I tried it warily. It tasted odd and bounced around inside my mouth before I managed to swallow it.
“What is that?”
“Heart of chicken!” Jorge the 3rd exclaimed and clapped his hands.
“I don’t feel so good,” I whimpered.
“Nonsense,” Jorge the 1st soothed. “We go somewhere veery special.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere,” I said. “I want to sleep.”
“Veery special,” Jorge the 2nd said and made a small circle with his fingers.
The Jorges smiled.
“You see,” Jorge the 1st said. “Finish eat.”
Half an hour later, Jorge the 1st swung his Jaguar up a small alley and stopped in front of a door beside which many girls loitered in extremely short dresses.
“I want to go back to the hotel,” I begged.
“Nonsense,” Jorge the 1st soothed as they marched me inside.
“Jorge!” an older woman called and stepped from behind a gilded desk in the foyer.
“Carmen,” Jorge the 1st purred as they embraced.
Then he turned to me and said a long sentence in Portuguese. Carmen looked me up and down and nodded grimly while he spoke.
“Perdão,” she said and collared me.
While Carmen inspected me, a pretty girl handed the Jorges name tags that read Jorge.
“You’ve been here before?” I asked sideways of Jorge the 3rd.
“VIP,” Carmen announced and pinned a tag to my shirt.
She released me and patted my chest the way mothers do with their grownup sons.
“Veery special,” Jorge the 2nd said and made a small circle with his fingers. “V-I-P.”
“I want to—” I began.
“Nonsense,” Jorge the 1st soothed and guided me through a dark doorway.
By then it was clear that we were at a strip club. I’d hoped that we weren’t, but it seemed to be so. I’d been dragged to strip clubs twice before, and had hated it. I simply had no interest in naked women I didn’t know. I did want to see naked women, to be clear, but only if I knew them and had talked them into that condition. I loved the playful subterfuge of women too much to start out with the bare essentials. Now we were going to see a lot of naked women and I was in no condition to do so. My head throbbed and I desperately wanted to barf a single coração de galinha.
Beyond the door, things were not as bad as I’d feared. There was only one naked woman, a rather fat and tanned one who turned lazily around a pole like a grilled chicken. She was on a little stage. The rest of the club was a dark atrium, with low tables and deep chairs, surrounded by a balcony and rooms a floor above. It took only a few seconds to realise that things were in fact a lot worse than they would have been had we been at a strip club. As we sat down at a table Jorge the 1st had reserved, four skimpily dressed girls took up their positions on the armrests of our chairs. The one perched on my chair had pendulous, large breasts. I remember them now because I cannot remember her face. She said something in Portuguese to the Jorges, slid her hand absently into my crotch and began to knead me. In the chair across from me, Jorge the 2nd made a small circle with his fingers and grinned. He too was being palpated, as were the other Jorges. For a fleeting moment I was reminded of a nightmare I once had, a nightmare in which I was propelled through a medley of inadequacies and left naked, cowering in a public place, wondering how I’d got there.
“I don’t think—” I began.
“Don’t think,” Jorge the 1st soothed and waved aside my complaints. “That is Sabrina.”
“Hello,” I said and tried to shift away from her probing hand.
Sabrina leaned in and put her lips inside my ear.
“Fuck,” she declared.
Even if I’d wanted to, there was going to be no fucking.
“I’m sorry—” I tried again.
She grabbed me a little harder.
“Sex,” she mouthed hotly.
Across from me, Jorge the 1st was engulfed by a wide-bottomed girl with even larger breasts than Sabrina. Jorge the 3rd looked like he was being tickled. Jorge the 2nd had gotten up and was being led away by a tall girl, presumably to the rooms upstairs, where he would no doubt be devoured like a male spider. With some effort I rose from my seat.
“I can’t do this,” I croaked.
“Sit down,” Jorge the 1st said from amid a tangle of limbs.
“I need to sleep,” I blurted and sat down again.
Sabrina had my neck in a lock and darted her tongue into my ear. She said something in Portuguese.
“What?” I asked as I managed to pull away.
She repeated it to the Jorges.
“Sabrina says,” Jorge the 1st replied, having surfaced from underneath the girl at his chair, “for just a leettle money, she will make you veery happy.”
He made a small circle with his fingers.
“I don’t want to be happy,” I spluttered. “I want to sleep.”
“Sabrina bootiful!” Jorge the 3rd cried archly. “Look!”
I looked at Sabrina but her breasts were in the way.
“I know,” I said, “but she’s not for me…really.”
While Jorge the 3rd shook his head in sad astonishment, Jorge the 1st summoned a large man to our table. The man wore a shiny, open-collared shirt, and had a bouncy mattress of chest hair on which rested an outsized crucifix. He was clearly the owner. Jorge the 1st explained something to him in Portuguese. The owner nodded, shot me a dark look, and took Sabrina away.
“You like Maria better,” Jorge the 1st explained.
“No,” I whined. “I won’t like Maria, I promise. I just want to go home.”
There were stabbing pains in my eyes and my head throbbed so badly that I could hear my pulse. Maria arrived promptly and appeared to be everything Sabrina was not. She was very tall, and her breasts were smaller. She was also a man. Before she could take up her position on the arm of my chair I jumped up again.
“You no like any womans?” Jorge the 1st asked as he picked up his keys from the table and waved Mario away.
“I do,” I stuttered.
“Yes?” he mused as he got up to go. “You married, não?”
Before I could answer, he held up his hand in stipulation.
“With a woman?”
“Of course I am,” I sighed.
“Por quê?” he murmured as he led me outside.
“Where’s Jorge?” I asked Jorge.