Monday, January 07, 2008

EXPOSURES: CHAPTER 32 & 33

Chapter 32

“She’s so miserable, David.” Lizzie had stopped by her brother’s office on her way home from GNSN.

David pushed back his chair from the oval glass desk, got up, and walked over to the corner, where an enormous Calder mobile hovered. It was suspended from the ceiling by nearly invisible wires and it shimmied, almost imperceptibly lulled into motion by the natural air currents in the room. With his fingertips he gave the section shaped like Saturn a slight push and the entire animated sculpture was called to action. Some of the spheres revolved clockwise, while others rotated in their own orbit, and boomerang-like elbows moved up and down like pump handles. David watched intently for a few seconds.

He turned to his sister. “I didn’t know, Lizzie. I had no idea—none at all. I thought she had finally found the happiness that she deserves.”

It was almost May, and Lizzie hadn’t seen David since Christmas dinner. He had lost several pounds. The frown lines on his brow had deepened, and the twinkle was missing from his usually merry brown eyes. He had spent most of January in California, and then had gone on to Korea to finalize the start-up of operations over there. When he had returned, he phoned regularly and dropped by to see Emma and Cameron, but still, only when she and Joe weren’t at home.

Lizzie knew David was going through a rough time with the business, and she also knew he hadn’t been the same since his breakup with Brett. David had refused to discuss the end of their affair, and for once, Lizzie resolved to stay out of the whole mess. She sensed that her brother was suffering from some unknown torment. She hadn’t seen him so miserable since Kate died, but she had allowed him to dismiss her offers of help and a friendly ear. Today she decided that she wouldn’t give him the chance to put her off or claim he was too busy for a chat. If he didn’t want to talk to her, she would talk to him.

Brett had been heartbroken after David had stopped seeing her, but her recovery had been quick—too quick for Lizzie—and the next thing she knew, Brett had married Jeffrey Underwood. She felt Brett had made a horrible mistake when she married Jeffrey, but she had said nothing. Now, after her friend’s confession that all was not right in her marriage, Lizzie had to know what had precipitated all that had happened between Brett and David. And since Brett didn’t know, she hoped that hearing about Brett’s troubles would prompt David to tell her something. Lizzie wasn’t naïve enough to believe it would change anything—she just wanted to know and maybe find a shred of redeeming evidence to take back to Brett.

One of the things that worried Lizzie most about Brett was her willingness to shoulder the blame for things that went wrong in her life. When they were little, she remembered trying to convince Brett that it was Barbara who was wrong because she didn’t act like a mother. Then she watched Brett berate herself for not catching on to Lawrence, and it seemed that David had finally convinced her that she was just unlovable, until Jeffrey came along and picked up the pieces.

David walked around to where Lizzie sat in one of the black leather and steel Wassily chairs facing his desk. “Let’s sit over there. It’s more comfortable,” he said, pointing to the sleek sofa, upholstered in black silk parachute fabric.

Today Lizzie’s cool, unruffled appearance was that of a television journalist, not a harried mother of eleven months old twins. Her hair was tamed smoothly away from her face and she wore a royal blue, silk shantung suit with a mandarin neckline. She looked like a News professional in search of a story. Because she was. Using the time-honored technique of giving information in order to get some, she continued. “And not only is her marriage to Jeffrey awful, her work life is a shambles, too.” She told him about the two unexplained episodes at the studio. “The police can’t turn up anything—no fingerprints, nothing! She’s worried sick, and can’t figure who would be out to get her.”

“You’re right. That is awful. I’m sorry,” David said.

“You’re sorry? Is that all you have to say?” Lizzie edged forward on the sofa and swiveled to face her brother.

“What do you want me to say?” he asked quietly.

“I want to know how this happened.” Lizzie rose and stood in front of her brother.

“I don’t know who’s out to get Brett.”

“That’s not what I mean! I want you to tell me what sent her straight into the arms of that cold, self-righteous creep.” David started to get up. “No! You stay right where you are, David Powell! I’m not going to have you towering over me while I talk to your chin. You’re my brother and I love you, but I love Brett, too, and you have to tell me what went wrong.” By now Lizzie was shouting and David was glad his office was soundproof.

“I can’t, Lizzie—I just can’t.” He stared down at the Hands On logo woven into the cobalt-blue carpet. The two hands holding a geodesic globe emblazoned with a computer terminal and keyboard seemed to mock him. He had not held on to what had been so trustingly placed in his hands.

“You mean you won’t.” Lizzie stood, arms akimbo, and announced “well, I’m not leaving until you tell me something!”

David had never seen his sister so vehemently defiant, and he knew from her stance that he would have to bodily remove her or tell her what she wanted to know. But he had
never given voice to his grief, his guilt, or his feelings of unworthiness. And even now that he had finally found the places where those feelings fit into the matrix of his life, he didn’t know if he could tell anyone about them. He looked at Lizzie’s face and could see the jut of her jawbone as she clenched her teeth tightly together, waiting for him to speak.

“I don’t know where to begin, Lizzie. But it would be a lot easier if you sat down.”

She dropped her arms and sat on the sofa next to him again. But once she had settled herself, she folded her arms across her chest, her body language clearly letting David know that just because she had sat down didn’t mean she had weakened her position.

“I still love her, Lizzie. But . . .” He paused.

“Then, why did you drop her cold? That’s not the way a person treats someone he loves.”

“I did it because I loved her and she deserved a better man than me.”

“For a genius, you certainly are stupid! You’re a fine man, David. You’re sweet and honest and . . .”

“Don’t start a list of my exemplary qualities. Yeah, I know, good old David, he’s really a great guy. Well, he’s a great guy who’s had a lot of problems he couldn’t handle. I’ve gotten over most of that now, though. For years I blamed myself for Kate’s death. But what I found out was that it was easier to make myself feel guilty than to admit the hurt and pain that was tearing me apart. I never let myself mourn for her because I didn’t think I had the right to indulge my own sorrow for something I made happen.” He crossed his leg over his knee and began to fiddle with the lace of his wing tip shoe.

“How could you blame yourself? It was an accident.” Lizzie unfolded her arms and reached out to still David’s fidgety hand.

“I thought I should have been able to make her wear the life vest. But I finally realized that Kate was a seasoned sailor, and she was at least as responsible for her own safety as I was. By the time Brett and I . . . well, you know . . . I thought I was pretty much over it. Then Emma and Cameron came along, and at the christening, I realized how much you trusted me by having me as their godfather. All the uncertainties came rushing back in a flood. I loved Brett, but I couldn’t saddle her with my baggage, especially when the contents were spilling out all over the place, so I walked out of her life.”

“And you never told her any of this?” Lizzie asked, astonished by her brother’s story.

“No, and by the time I figured out I was a jerk, and that life did give you second chances, it was too late—she had married Underwood. I don’t know about you, but I could use a beer.” David got up and walked over to the gleaming chrome cube that sat between the chairs in front of his desk. He pressed a small button on the side and the front swung open, revealing a small refrigerator.
“I never would have guessed,” Lizzie said, and smiled for the first time since she had arrived.

“I got the idea from Brett’s kitchen. You know how her refrigerator looks just like the cabinets? So I had this one designed.” He removed two bottles. “Glass?” he asked his sister. She shook her head and reached for the frosty bottle. “I’m actually glad you made me talk. I can feel the spring inside me unwinding.”

“Good, then I’m glad, too. But what are we going to do about Brett?”

“Do? We can’t do anything about her marriage. That’s between her and Jeffrey.” David thought for a moment. “But maybe I can help with the business end of her problems.”

“How?” Lizzie asked hopefully.

“Well, her computer may have some answers she hasn’t known how to look for. It has a built-in modem that’s linked directly to her phone system. Maybe somebody has been pirating information.”

“Yeah, like that weird husband of hers.”

“Don’t be silly, Lizzie. He’s her husband. Just because they aren’t getting along right now doesn’t mean he’s sabotaging her career. He’s a lawyer, not James Bond. Besides, you told me yourself that he’s trying to help her, and he even hired an investigator.”

“Maybe I’ve seen too many late movies. I just don’t like him—I never have. But it would be wonderful if you could do something, David. You can still be friends. She’ll understand, I know she will. She’s going crazy getting ready for a trip to Tahiti right now. Why don’t you call when she gets back?” Lizzie stood and gave her brother a hug. “So, why don’t you come home with me? We could have dinner. You look like you could use a good meal, and you could change a few diapers, maybe give your niece and nephew lessons on that crazy computer you gave them, and find out if they’re geniuses, too.”

“Sure, Lizzie, I’d like that.”

* * *

American Voila! had captured the hearts of American women, just as Nathalie planned, from the first issue, and each subsequent edition of the innovative magazine continued to embrace more readers. Nathalie borrowed French Voila!s location scout, intending to send him on a quest for the ultimate paradise in which to shoot the summer swimsuit issue. But the instant he heard her request, he said, “French Polynesia—the Society Islands, to be exact.” He told her that of all the places he had been in the world, the archipelagoes of the South Pacific were the lushest and most beautiful.

After an eight-hour flight from Los Angeles, Nathalie, Brett, two assistants, two stylists, two hair and makeup artists, five models, and AV!’s travel editor, Marie Reynard, landed at Tahiti-Faa’a Airport in Papeete. There they would transfer to Air Tahiti and continue on to Bora Bora, a fifty-minute plane ride from Tahiti and the first stop on the three island, five-day junket. The trip had been coordinated by Marie, so transportation, lodging, and meals were all comped for mentions in the magazine. Only AV! would contain the swimsuit layout, but both the French and American editions would run a vacationer’s guide to the South Pacific, written by Marie.

They had a breathtaking view of the majestic peaks of Bora Bora, which soared more than twenty-five hundred feet above a large multi-blue lagoon. The island itself was too small for an airstrip so they landed offshore on a coral islet, and a launch took them to their final destination. The crew was overwhelmed by the glorious mountains, green with dense tropical vegetation, and the clear water, inhabited by fish of every color in the visible spectrum.

Work began the next morning at dawn. Brett was energized by the beauty around her. They started the day with two models on the slopes of Otemanu, the island’s highest peak. The girls, in gauzy white sundresses, looked like two long-stemmed calla lilies as they cavorted in the midst of a green so dark and intense that it was almost black. The wind blew in the right direction and the sun reached its zenith at just the right moment to make shadows that were interesting, not intrusive. Brett worked her assistants and the models hard—the morning’s shots had to be completed before the sun became to glaring and harsh.

They toured the island in the afternoon, had lunch at Bloody Mary’s, a Bora Bora institution, and resumed work at sunset. The models, standing ankle deep in a lagoon dressed in floral sarongs, were the subject of the photograph, but the spindly coconut palms and orange-purple sky peeking through low-hanging cotton candy clouds provided an awesome background. Brett knew it was one of the best photographs she had ever taken. If she had been in New York, the clip tests would have proven her intuition right in a matter of hours.

Exhausted by the day’s efforts and needing to go over Marie’s notes before their flight to Huahine at seven the next morning, Brett left the others in the hotel lounge. As she passed by the desk, the clerk handed her a message slip. Jeffrey had called. Realizing that it was four in the morning in New York, Brett decided to wait and call him tomorrow. They didn’t talk at home, so she couldn’t imagine what he wanted to talk about now that she was halfway around the world. But there was no time the next morning, either.

Tonya, one of the models, awakened with a fever, and they had to find a doctor before they could leave for Huahine. The doctor couldn’t pinpoint the girl’s malady, but gave her antibiotics and pronounced her well enough to travel. According to Brett’s schedule, they should have completed at least two shots on Huahine by the time they left Bora Bora, but when they arrived, it was midday, and the strong light made it impossible t0 photograph the girls. So as not to waste time, Brett and Marie set out on bicycles to photograph the extensive open-air museum that housed ancient Polynesian maraes. Pictures of the shrines, grouped along the shore of Lake Fuana, would accompany the travel article.

By the time they returned around four, Nathalie had all the models, including the girl who had been ill, ready for their short jaunt across the bridge to Huahine Iti, the miniature sister island known for its beaches. The five girls frolicked in the gentle surf. White flecks of sand and glistening beads of water dotted their lithe, shimmering, oiled bodies. As an apparently recovered Tonya, clad in a sun yellow maillot, sailed off a rocky embankment, Brett captured her perfect swan dive midair. The girl was happy to repeat the dive but Brett knew she had gotten it with the first shot.

Like most of the natives and visitors, Brett had taken to wearing pareus when she wasn’t in her safari shorts and tank tops, and when she joined the others for dinner that night, she wore the brilliantly hand-painted turquoise and shocking pink cloth as a dress, draped over one shoulder, then wrapped tightly about her waist. Her hair was adorned with a single tiara, its blossoms emitting the same sweet fragrance as its cousin, the gardenia. As soon as she sat, she was called to the phone. She knew it was Jeffrey. She hadn’t returned his call from yesterday.

“Yes, I’m fine, Jeffrey.” She waited for the echoed delay before she spoke again. “No, there are no problems at all on this trip.” “I Didn’t mean to have worried you—we’ve just been really busy.” “Yes, it’s beautiful here.” But when Jeffrey suggested they might vacation there, she tried with all her might to imagine him lying on the sand or swimming in the sea, and couldn’t. We’d probably have separate rooms in the most romantic place in the world, and be chauffeured to the beach, she thought as she listened to him. “All right. I’ll see you soon. ‘Bye.”

Their relationship hadn’t improved, and as much as she hated to admit it, she now didn’t believe her marriage would ever work out. When she rejoined the others, they were consuming tall pink drinks called Erupting Volcanoes and thoroughly enjoyed their working vacation.

They landed on Moorea the next day, and Brett was convinced she had died and gone to heaven. Her fare—a mat-walled, thatched-roof bungalow built over a lagoon—had a lanai deck with a ladder that led directly to the sea. She wanted to stay there forever. There had been little time for fun in the sun on this trip, but after witnessing a spellbinding sunrise on the second day, she vowed to return.

The Tiare Moorea was a new hotel, anxious for publicity, and its staff had gone to great lengths to ensure that the American magazine crew had whatever it needed. The hotel arranged for the crew to use a three-masted ship to sail around the Sea of the Moon, the stretch of water between Moorea and the big island of Tahiti, provided air-conditioned Land Rovers for exploring and shooting in the back country, and guides to show them the best lagoons on Cook’s and Opunohu bays.

They were three perfect days, and Brett finished the layout with an extraordinary sense of confidence and accomplishment. She felt she had done some of her best work, and everything had gone without incident. So, worries behind her, she boarded the plane home, ready to take on her problem marriage.

* * *

“There has to be a mistake—that’s not possible!” Brett’s hands shook as she held the phone and blind rage overshadowed reason.

“Well, you’d better do something!”

She had just checked the lab to find out when the AV! Film would be sent over, and had been informed that all one hundred twenty rolls were streaked and splotchy, as though exposed to excessive radiation. Leaving the phone dangling from the set on the wall, Brett walked into the reception room and sat, staring into space.

This can’t be happening to me. It can’t! she thought. But she knew Duggal was reliable. Somebody had deliberately destroyed her film. She had randomly shot rolls from each brick, or thirty-six rolls, of film, and had had the photos developed before the trip to make sure the film was fresh and the proper emulsion. At airport security checkpoints she had the film hand searched, so someone had tampered with it after she had tested it. Who would do such a vicious thing?

She got up from the chair and began to pace. Her palms were clammy and coated with sweat, and a dewy film covered her brow and upper lip. I have to call Nathalie, she thought in horror. A reshoot is impossible . . . but they can’t lose fifteen editorial pages. After the Tyler and Hackford debacle and the nearly disastrous Vogue booking, this was the final nail in the coffin someone had been so painstakingly building.

Panic mounted, then receded. The good news was that they wouldn’t shoot her—but that was also the bad news, she thought.

Brett wanted to talk to someone, anyone. She needed to vent her fear and frustration, but Jeffrey had already gone to the office, and she wasn’t in the mood for his “you should quit this silly business” speech. Therese was coming in late. Why me? She asked herself as the studio buzzer sounded.

It’s Duggal, Brett thought as she ran to answer it. They made a mistake before and now they’ve found my film. But when she threw open the door, it was not a messenger standing there, but David.

“What are you doing here?” Brett snapped. She felt like a metal band encircling her head was being pulled tighter and tighter and she gripped the doorknob with such force that her arm quaked.

All of David’s rehearsals for this meeting had still left him unprepared for the torrent of feelings unleashed by the sight of her. The back of his neck tingled, and for an instant, his voice hung in his throat. He wanted to hold her, to feel the warmth and softness of her body, and to hear joy and laughter in her voice again. But what he wanted had nothing to do with what he could have or what he must do. Finding his tongue, he said, “I’ve wanted to talk to you for some time now, and I hoped you would hear me out.”

“So you just appear and I’m supposed to drop everything and listen to you!” She stood squarely in the entryway, as though blocking the path of an intruder.

“Please . . . this won’t take long, and you deserve an explanation.” She has every right to slam the door in my face, he thought. That was what he had done to her, but he hoped she would let him set the record straight. It was too late to change anything, but at least she would know what had happened.

“Honestly, you couldn’t have picked a worse time,” she said, trying to control the trembling in her voice. “I’ve got a really big problem on my hands at the moment.”

“I know you just got back from Tahiti. Did something go wrong over there? Noting the look of surprise on her face, he added, “Lizzie told me what’s been going on. Could I come in?”

She looked past him, focusing on two boys racing along the sidewalk. Their arms, pumping rhythmically, helped to propel them faster, and their whoops and laughter lingered after they disappeared around the corner. She should just tell him no. She had enough problems, and nothing he had to say could make a difference now anyway. Without knowing why, she said, “Okay, Come in,” and walked abruptly away, leaving him to close the door and follow her into the dining room.

“Brett, what happened?”

She ached to tell him. Unburdening herself to David used to be so natural. But he had abandoned her without whys or goodbyes. Now her marriage was a sham and her career
was unraveling right in front of her eyes. Why should she expose her failures to the light of his scrutiny? She wheeled around and leaned against the cold brick. “You came here to talk to me, so why don’t you tell me what happened?” Her hostility showed, but she didn’t care.

David made no attempt to deflect her scorn. He pulled one of the Shaker chairs from the table and sat down heavily, bracing his elbows on his knees. He sighed deeply, then said, “I made a mistake, a stupid mistake—one that I’ll probably regret for the rest of my life.” He hung his head, as though exhausted by the weight of his load.

Brett, fighting the impulse to come to his side and comfort him, kept her post at the fireplace. She listened without interruption as he revealed the same things he had told his sister. Each detail brought her sadness and understanding in equal measure.

“I’m really sorry, Brett. I blew it, and there’s no way I can make it up to you,” he finished quietly.

As if released from a spell, Brett finally sat down beside him. “I don’t know what to say. David, if only you had told me . . . well, I guess you’re right. It happened and it’s over.” They were the right words to say, but deep inside she felt heavy with sorrow, like a sponge filled to saturation with spilled hopes and wasted longing.

“Okay, case closed,” David said firmly. “Would you like to talk about whatever happened this morning?”

Jarred back to the situation at hand, Brett started with the news from the lab and, over coffee, backtracked to the first incident, with the canceled models. When she finished, David agreed with her assessment that someone had done these things deliberately.

“Maybe I can help you get to the bottom of this,” he said.

“You couldn’t possibly make it any worse.”

“Let’s start with the computer.” They headed for Therese’s office. First, he duplicated Brett’s entire mailing list of clients, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances onto a blank disk. As he worked, Brett came and perched on the desk beside him. The crisp, delicate scent of sandalwood, her favorite soap, surprised him and triggered a flood of memories of their time together. He forced them from his mind. “I’ll take this with me and have it printed at the office. Our machines are much faster than this one. Then we’ll go over the names, one by one. You’ll have to remember as much as you can about every one of them—anything at all that might make a person a potential enemy,” David said, slipping the disk in his pocket. “Someone may be pirating information, so I’m going to change the access code for your modem. No one except me, you, and Therese will be able to get into your system—at least, not for a while. If that’s what’s happening, whoever’s doing it will eventually figure out the new code, but it will give us some time.”

“Can someone really do that? Break into my computer, I mean?”

“If they know what they’re doing, it’s easy.”

They were so absorbed, they didn’t hear Therese come in. “Good morning, Brett. Mr. Powell, what a surprise to see you here. It has been quite a long time,” she said pleasantly.

“How are you, Therese? We’ll be out of your way in a second,” David said.

“Are we through?” Brett asked.

“That’s about it, for now. I have to get going. Walk me to the door?” Once they reached the hall, he whispered, “It may be better if no one knows what I’m doing. You have no idea who it may be. There is something else I’m going to do. I have a buddy from Stanford who’s a computer specialist with the phone company. He can get a printout of all the calls made from your phone—even the local ones. I’ll ask him to go back as far as November, since the first incident happened in January. It’s not exactly aboveboard, but he owes me a couple of favors. The only problem is that he’s on vacation, but as soon as he’s back I’ll get him started. It may take some time, even then.”

“You sound like one of those spy novels. But call me when you’re ready to go over my mailing list. And David, thank you. Jeffrey hired an investigator, but he didn’t turn up anything. I’m not even sure what he did. I really appreciate this.”

They looked at each other, and suddenly the foyer seemed tiny. Their closeness made them uneasy. David opened the door and nodded. “I’ll call you soon,” he said. Brett closed the door behind him and went back to Therese’s office.

“This person is probably mad. It sounds to me as if you should be very careful,” Therese said after Brett told her what happened to her AV! film.

“I know, it all seems so cloak-and-dagger that it’s hard to believe it’s real. I’m going back to my office. I have to call Nathalie. Don’t put through anyone until I let you know. I feel like shit, Therese.”

“Merde!” Nathalie shouted when she heard the news. “I can’t believe it! A reshoot is impossible, Brett—you know that.” Brett tried to explain, but there was nothing she could offer that would make the situation better. Even if she could gather all the personnel and make the trip again, it would be too late to meet AV!’s deadline. “This is going to cost me more than half a million dollars in ad money!” In her heart, Nathalie believed that someone was out to get Brett, but that would not be a satisfactory explanation to her publishers. She hung up, dreading the transatlantic call she would have to make.

As soon as she saw the light on Brett’s line, Therese called Jeffrey and told him that David had been there when she arrived but that she did not know what they had been talking about.

Jeffrey stalked the perimeter of his seventeenth-floor office at Larsen Enterprises like a caged lion. His quarry was within his grasp but out of his reach. He had returned to his wife’s bed, finally realizing that he could not make her want to get pregnant if he did not make an attempt to appear loving. But it wasn’t working. She either was asleep when he came to bed, or stayed up until she thought he was. This was his third attempt at sabotaging a job, in hopes that she would quit and that the resulting idle hours would inch her toward the decision he required. But now David Powell was back in the picture, and Jeffrey didn’t know why.

He stopped his trek around the office and stared out the window at the Pan Am Building down the block. He really had to watch her. Why had David been at the studio? He wondered as the intercom sounded.

“I told you I was not to be disturbed,” Jeffrey shouted at his secretary.

“She insists that you will see her, Mr. Underwood. It’s a Mrs. North.”

Barbara floated into the room in one of the vivid floral dresses Jeffrey hated. “What in the hell are you doing here?” he growled as she closed the door behind her.

“You haven’t been to see me in three weeks. I can’t call you at home, I can’t call you at the office, so I decided to drop by. I miss you, darling. I know you’ve been busy, but I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Aren’t you even going to kiss me hello?”

“Here? Of course not. This is my office. There are people in the other room. You have to leave. What if your father found out you’d been here?” Jeffrey said.

“How could he find out? I haven’t seen anyone but you and your secretary, and she has no idea who I am.” Barbara flounced over to the charcoal-gray sofa, sat down, and crossed her legs, revealing more of her than Jeffrey wanted to see. “Should I have told her that I’m your mother-in-law?” she asked, smiling at him.

“That’s not funny, Barbara. Coming here was insane!”

“I’m tired of waiting, Jeffrey. This is taking much longer than you promised. My father still isn’t dead and you’re still married to Brett. I need you, Jeffrey. If you divorce her, can’t you get half of her money? My husbands always tried to, and you’re a lawyer. We could live on that.”

“I’ve told you before, Barbara, it isn’t enough. You deserve more than that. But we shouldn’t be talking about this here. You have to go. Now!”

“You can’t throw me out, Jeffrey. You wouldn’t dare! How would you like your wife to know you’re sleeping with her mother?” she asked.

He had to get rid of her. He was infuriated by her effrontery. Barbara was no longer merely a loathsome presence in his life—she had just become a red flag, and he wanted to charge at her. Trying to suppress his wrath, he said, with all the control he could muster. “I’ll come by your place tomorrow and we can talk then.”

“Don’t disappoint me, Jeffrey,” she said and sailed from the room.

He stood stock still for a moment, then his heart began to pound in a thunderous rhythm. His eyes burned with hate, that like a laser, bored through the air seeking a target. Slowly, as though moved by marionette strings, he walked over to the credenza, picked up a lead crystal tumbler and squeezed it until it shattered in his hand. Oblivious to the blood dripping onto the carpet he continued to stare into the raging abyss of his own personal hell.




Chapter 33

Brett Larsen stories and jokes ran rampant in the fashion industry. She had become known as a jinx, a moniker that was taken very seriously in a business where almost everybody’s time was booked by the hour and paid at rates that could take a healthy chunk out of the national debt. As a result, Brett’s work had virtually come to a stop. She gave Therese the summer off with pay and encouraged her to travel and see something of America. Therese protested, saying there must be some work for her to do, but Brett insisted.

Jeffrey wasn’t pleased when Brett told him that she had seen David, even though she explained that he was only being friendly and helpful. In order not to make her home life any more stressful than it already was, she and David worked mostly at the Hands On office or his apartment.

They combed through her mailing list, but found no one with an obvious motive for trying to ruin her career. There were several photographers with whom she had competed for jobs, but their reputations were solid and Brett assured David that their competitive edge was a friendly one. He was inclined to trust her judgment. His friend at the phone company had proven helpful and supplied the necessary records of outgoing calls, but before David could tackle the pages and pages of computer printouts and feed the data into his own Outreach system, he had to make another trip to the Sunnyvale plant in California.

When David returned, he asked Brett to photocopy her appointment calendar so that it could be input and merged with the phone company list to find possibly correlated information. She left the copies at his office on her way out of the city. David hadn’t been there and she was glad. Brett didn’t want to talk about lists and data retrieval—she needed time to think.

When she had awakened that morning, she had decided to go out to Cox Cove. Lillian was in England visiting friends, so Brett could have some time alone. Suddenly, her whole world had become an unfamiliar place, as if she were living someone else’s life. To get through all this, she had to get her bearings, and no one could help her do that. Jeffrey agreed with her decision, saying she should take all the time she needed, and that he would feel more at ease if she were safe in the country.

Brett stopped the car and inserted her key into the box in the red brick post. The massive wrought-iron gates swung open with only the slight creaking that always welcomed arrivals at Cox Cove. She drove through, repeated the process, and continued up the wooded drive. The paved expanse was lined with stately poplars and bordered with beds of zinnias, petunias, cock’s comb and impatiens that Lillian lovingly tended. A grounds-man came only to mow the lawn, prune trees when necessary, and trim the privet hedge that camouflaged the fence that surrounded the property.

The atmosphere was close and humid in the sprawling Georgian manor. Everything was pristine and spotless, but the house was badly in need of fresh air. She put down her overnight bag and began to open windows.

Retrieving her bag from the foyer, Brett smiled as she remembered how Rush used to laze on the cool black and white tiles in the summer. It all seemed a lifetime ago.

She changed into cutoff jeans and a bright red T-shirt, took a peach from the refrigerator, and headed for the beach. The noontime sun was high in the sky and as she passed the tennis courts she could hear Aunt Lillian admonishing her as a child for playing in the hottest part of the day. “Only mad dogs and Englishmen . . .”

Just as she reached the plank steps that led to the ocean, a tiger swallowtail landed on the railing. For a moment she watched the butterfly. It perched tentatively, its yellow-and-black-striped wings opening and closing, then glided effortlessly away. That’s what I want to do, Brett thought. She wanted to fly away and leave this whole mess behind her. But as she padded barefoot down the stairs, she considered that the butterfly’s carefree existence, feeding on nectar and following the wind, was its trade-off for so brief a life.

She shuffled her feet through the sun-warmed sand, thinking. It might take some time to find out who was trying to ruin her professionally. But she was responsible for her own personal happiness and she had known for a long time that she had married Jeffrey for the wrong reasons. He had always been there for her; he was kind and helpful, and he loved her, or so she thought. Now she wasn’t sure if Jeffrey knew what love was. Brett had also discovered that she would never learn to love him—not in the way that a woman should love her husband. She hated the surge of relief she felt when he was not around.

By now she had reached Turtleback Rock, the place that had been her childhood favorite at Cox cove, and the place to which she had been unable to return for years after Carson Gallagher’s shooting. The route to the top was natural and familiar, as though she had climbed the huge boulder only yesterday. Her feet instinctively knew the right nooks and her hands the right crevices to ease her ascent.

She sat with her knees pulled to her chest, and the breeze from the sea cooled and evaporated the perspiration generated by the heat of the sun. Peach juice dribbled down her chin as she took a bite and she wiped it away with the back of her hand. For a while she was transfixed by the gentle lapping of the surf and calmed by the assured constancy of the ebb and flow of the ocean. Then she spotted a lone sea gull hovering gracefully above the water. Suddenly it dove into the sea, emerging with a fish wriggling in its bill. The bird flapped its great wings and disappeared in the distance. And Brett realized that her life had veered too far off course and that she too would disappear in the distance if she allowed things to continue as they were. When she finished the peach she clambered to her feet and tossed the pit as far as she could. It didn’t even make a splash in the ocean. She knew what she had to do.

That night she made a ham and Swiss sandwich for dinner and sat on the fieldstone terrace, sipping lemonade and listening to the insistent chirp of crickets until the sky was black as pitch and spangled with winking stars. Relieved by her decision and certain that Jeffrey would agree, she slept soundly for the first time in months.

For the next two days she did laps in the pool, practiced her tennis serve, and lay in the sun, evening out the tan she had inadvertently begun on Turtleback Rock. By the end of the week she felt rejuvenated and ready to talk to Jeffrey. The only thing she hadn’t figured out was what to do about what was left of her career. But before she reached Manhattan, she had an answer for that, too.

When Jeffrey arrived home from work, she had showered and changed into white linen slacks and matching shirt. “I’m in here,” she called. He walked into the living room, leaving his briefcase on the console table in the hall. “I’ve mixed martinis. Would you like one?”

Jeffrey was surprised by her radiant glow, and he sensed the calm confidence that Brett used to exude. “Yes, thank you.” He took the frosty stemmed glass and sat in a velvet wing chair. “Are you going to join me?”

“I have a glass of wine,” she said, indicating the goblet on the coffee table as she took a seat opposite him on the sofa. “We have to talk, Jeffrey. I want a divorce. I’m sorry—truly, I am—but I’m not in love with you. I never have been. Somehow I thought I could learn—that with time, I would grow to care for you in that way—but it hasn’t happened.”

Jeffrey put the martini glass to his lips and downed it in one swallow. He continued to hold the glass with one hand, but the other gripped the arm of the chair so tightly his knuckles whitened. “But we . . .”

“Let me finish, please. I was wrong and unfair. I had just come out of a relationship that ended badly, and I wanted someone to want me. You were that person. It was a terrible thing to do, but I want to make it right. I know you aren’t happy, either. We don’t have many common interests, and a family is more important to you than it is to me right now. You should have that. I also think you should have grandfather’s wedding present—all of it—and if I know you, and I think I do, you’ve probably invested it so that it’s well on its way to doubling.” She smiled. “I really am sorry, Jeffrey, but it’s what I have to do.”

“This is quite a shock,” Jeffrey said. The sweat rolled down the center of his back. He felt dazed, as though he had run headlong into a brick wall. Is it David Powell?” he asked as he placed his empty glass on the table.

“No, Jeffrey, it’s me. David has nothing to do with it. I just can’t go on like this. Polite conversation, polite dinners, and good manners don’t make a marriage.”

Jeffrey’s brain slipped into overdrive. “But, what will you do? These incidents have put a damper on your career, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.” Now both his hands were free to grip the chair arms.

“No, it’s not going to change by itself. I’m going to change it. I’m going to start doing work on spec.”

“Isn’t that what photographers do when they’re trying to get started? You have a reputation to consider.” His fingers started to numb from the pressure he applied to the chair.

“Not anymore, I don’t. Things are so bad that I may as well be starting from scratch. But I can do it. I’m going to scout a few locations—really interesting places—then pick out the clothes, models, and crew. We shoot, and once I have the film edited I send the chromes, along with my story ideas, to the magazine. If they like the shots, they buy them. I get a credit line and the opportunity to start building again. Spanish and Brazilian Vogue get about half of their editorials that way.”

“Well, it sounds as if you have it all planned. I can’t get you to change your mind?” Jeffrey wondered if the perspiration would stain his clothes as it continued its steady stream down his back.

“It’s best this way.”

“When would you like me to move out?” His head began to pound.

“As soon as it’s convenient. And you can have this back.” She slipped the huge diamond ring off her finger.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t consider it. It was a gift.” He had just refused almost half a million dollars. Jeffrey felt his lungs constrict as he struggled to breathe normally. “We can still be friends, can’t we?”

“I hoped you would feel that way. It’s the way we started . . .and probably should have remained.”

“I could help you with finding locations for your spec shoots.” The hammering in his head wouldn’t stop. “Larsen has some interests in a small Central American country on the Caribbean called Santa Verde. It’s a brand new resort area that would probably welcome publicity.”

“Jeffrey, you’ve already done more than enough to help me. I couldn’t possibly ask for anything more.”

“You didn’t ask—I volunteered. I’m still employed by you, or I will be one day. Consider it a favor for the boss.” He forced a smile and wondered how long it would take Sven to find out. “It’s no problem. I can take care of everything you would need in a phone call. When would you like to go?”

“The sooner the better, but I’ll let you know.”

“I’ll just pack a bag and go. I’ll send for the rest of my things.” Jeffrey got up and headed for the stairs. He packed without regard to neatness or order and went back downstairs to the living room. Brett had refilled her glass and sat on the sofa with her hands calmly folded in her lap. She’s tougher than I thought. It’s probably the Sven in her. “I’ll be going now, but will you allow me to tell your grandfather?”

Brett nodded. She had no desire to have a conversation about her marriage with Sven.

“Call me as soon as you decide when you want to go to Santa Verde.” He closed the door, trying to suppress the bile rising in his throat.

Jeffrey approached the familiar phone booth at Seventeenth and Park Avenue South and, hands trembling, searched frantically for a quarter. Finding none he pushed aside the two people at the fruit cart on the corner and demanded to know the price of an apple. He handed the vendor a twenty-dollar bill and when he received two quarters back in change he ran back to the phone booth, leaving the apple and nineteen dollars.

“Senor Cissaro, we met at the Santa Verdian Consulate several months ago. I think we might be able to do some business.

* * *

“It must take a long time to count to a million on one of these,” Brett called as she moved the top row of smooth ivory beads from left to right on the antique abacus. Next to it, on the black ash wall unit in David’s apartment, sat the multicolored wooden abacus with chipped paint and tooth marks that had helped David learn to count.

“Yeah, and by the time you finished counting whatever it was, there probably weren’t a million of them anymore.” David answered, entering the room and handing Brett the seltzer and orange juice she had requested.

The bridge divided the living room, with its charcoal gray glazed walls and ebony stained wood floors, into a main seating area and smaller music room, dominated by the black baby grand.

Brett sat in the bend of the L-shaped, black polished cotton sofa which was littered with geometric shaped pillows in colors from a child’s crayon box. She removed a smoky Lucite box from the fawn leather shopping bag that sat next to her on the floor. David sank into the far end of the couch, placing his iced tea on the glass topped, marble “V” which balanced on its apex to form a coffee table.

“The phone numbers of every person I know, every company I do business with or hope to do business with, and every deli and restaurant in the vicinity of the studio that delivers should be in this box.” Brett said, handing the file to David.

“Good, I can have this back to you in two days, and the telephone readout and your appointment information should be merged by the end of the week. Then we can see if anything significant shows up,” David said.

“Part of me wants it to give me the answer and part of me doesn’t want to know, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

“How was your respite at Cox Cove?”

“Productive.”

“Productive? I was expecting restful or invigorating, but not productive.” David leaned back and pushed some buttons in a wall-mounted console behind him, adjusting the room’s recessed lighting to replace the rapidly fading sunlight and activating the stereo in the music room. The sliding clarinet glissando that begins “Rhapsody in Blue” came from the tiny but powerful speakers suspended unobtrusively at the corners of the room.

“I decided some important things.”

“Such as?”

“I really need to work again, and I’m willing to start at the bottom, if that’s necessary.” Brett explained working on spec, her story ideas and detailed her location-scouting trip to Santa Verde.

“Good for you. I think it’s great that you’ve got so much fight, but you will be careful, won’t you? You still don’t know who’s been sabotaging your work,” David said.

I’ll be fine. Jeffrey’s got some contacts down there at a new resort, and he’s handling all the details.” Brett rose and wandered over to a powder blue, marbleized bowling ball, mounted in a wrought-iron stand, like a piece of sculpture. She fit her fingers in the holes, lifted it as if to aim down the alley, then returned it to its cradle. “I made another big decision.”

“And what was that?”

“Jeffrey and I are getting divorced,” she said in the most neutral voice she could manage. She had admitted to herself that marrying Jeffrey had been a way of saying to David, ‘See, I don’t need you. Somebody else loves me.’ She had proved her point, but it was childish, it hadn’t made David’s abrupt departure any less painful and she had hurt Jeffrey in the process. Now, telling the person who had prompted that lapse in judgment was hard. “I married him for the wrong reasons,” she added honestly.

The music spiraled through the room, filling the momentary silence.

“I’m sorry that it didn’t work out. This must be very difficult for you.” And David was sorry. But inside, he wondered if it was crazy to hope that Brett could forgive him and care for him again.

They talked for a while longer about Cox Cove and the further adventures of Emma and Cameron, then Brett left.

David wandered aimlessly through the apartment. He pulled some technical journals from his briefcase and attempted to read, but the words did not compute. Then he changed into gym shorts and a Stanford tee shirt and headed for the mini spa that was off the master bathroom. He set the Lifecycle to the most arduous terrain and rode until the sweat drenched his clothes, then he did strokes on the rowing machine until it seemed he had paddled at least once around Manhattan. The smooth rhythmic motion usually relaxed him, but it wasn’t helping now. Draping a white towel around his neck he grabbed a handful of M&M’s from the etched crystal globe that rested on a fire engine red lacquered Parson’s table in the foyer and headed for the music room. Popping candy in his mouth with his right hand, he aimlessly played scales with his left.

He loved Brett, in a way that was as natural and irrepressible as breathing, and he had never stopped, even after he had left her. He knew that he had to tell her—that even if she laughed at him, he had to say what his heart could no longer keep secret.

* * *

“Come on in, David.” Brett answered the door wearing a violet sleeveless cotton Jersey jumpsuit. Her thick braid was slung over one shoulder and she carried an eight-inch utility knife in her hand.

“Do you always answer the door so well armed?” David asked.

Brett looked at the knife and laughed. “I was slicing zucchini when the bell rang. I guess I forgot to put it down.”

David followed her upstairs, aware of how much he had missed this house. Brett swung open the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of zinfandel. “Want some?”

“Sure,” David said. “I brought your file box back. I’ll start running everything tomorrow.”

“That’s great.” Brett gave him a glass of wine. Their hands touched briefly in the exchange, but neither acknowledged the spark that passed between them. Brett took a sip from her own glass. “I was just starting dinner. Would you like some?”

After Jeffrey’s departure, Brett was happy for the first time in months. She had learned that being true to herself was more important than anything else in the world.

And she was glad she finally understood why David had bolted. What had hurt as much as his abrupt departure was the feeling that she had been so totally wrong about the kind of person he was. It had shaken her faith in human nature and her ability to judge it. She was glad that he had silenced his personal demons and that she had her friend back again.

When she reflected on the bliss they had known together it no longer made her sad. It had taught her what love was like and she could never settle for less again.

“Sounds like a good deal. Lunch was the other half of my breakfast bagel, and that wore off, hours ago. What’s on the menu?” David asked, not really caring. The only thing that mattered was that she had asked him to stay.

“Today we have capellini primavera, made with a delicate garlic butter sauce,” she replied like a waiter reciting the house specials.

“How would you feel about a chef’s assistant?” David offered, reversing their former roles. He unbuttoned the cuffs of his tattersall shirt and rolled his sleeves to just below his elbows.

She looked at his sun-bronzed arms and tried to dismiss the memory of how they had felt when they had circled her waist or gripped her shoulders. Pulling a second knife from the block, she said as lightly as she could, “Go for it!”

They talked and whittled vegetables as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Having plunged the fine straws of pasta into rolling water, she sauteed the vegetables until they were tender and finally, arranging all of the ingredients in a white pottery bowl, she said, “Dinner is served.”

They ate with relish, enjoying the faint scent of herbs that lingered in the air. After the meal, Brett squeezed lemons and made citron presse, then suggested they go downstairs to enjoy the unusually breezy summer evening in the garden.

“I’ll show you the best spot,” Brett said once they stepped outside. She led him to the lacy white gazebo that was centered toward the back of the yard.

All evening, David had fought the urge to stroke her face and hold her. They were privileges he had relinquished, and he had to be granted the right to enjoy them again.

In his mind, he thought it was too soon to let her know the way he felt. But then, while standing next to her in the kitchen, talking during dinner he had been possessed by the feeling that his declaration was really a year late and that he could not spare one more day.

“I think I’d like a birdbath by the walkway,” Brett said, turning to face David. She was taken aback by the intensity of his gaze and the way it seemed to look into her soul.

“Brett, there’s something I have to tell you. I’m not sure you’re ready to hear it now, or if you’ll ever be ready, but it’s something I should have told you long ago.”

“Then, tell me now,” she said quietly.

David took her glass and placed it on a low wood table, then took both her hands in his. “I love you, Brett—so much that it frightened me before. I have no right to expect that you feel the same. I just want the chance to prove my love to you—to prove that I’ll never run away again. Will you give me that chance?”

Brett felt dizzy from the sudden rush of emotions. She looked down at her hands in his, as if to steady herself, then up into his eyes. “Yes, she whispered.

David cradled Brett in his arms like a lost treasure that he had never hoped he would retrieve. Lovingly his fingers traced her eyebrows, her cheek, her chin and Brett felt as if he cleared pathways overgrown from neglect. Then their lips met, and speaking in a language that needed no translation, expressed the joy for which neither could find words.

David stood and pulled her close, his hands gratefully reacquainting themselves with her soft skin, her firm roundness. Soon their bodies began to undulate as though dancing to some well remembered music and Brett felt a place deep within her open wide and a powerful need for him to fill it. She took his hand and led him inside, but as soon as they crossed the threshold, she turned and threw her arms around his neck.

“I’ve missed you so much,” David murmured.

In a rush of hands anxiously tugging at buttons and sleeves they undressed and he began to bathe her with kisses. Each caress awakened a new pleasure center in Brett. She closed her eyes and buried her fingers in his hair, basking in the sensations.

He traced lazy circles around her breasts, saving her stiff, reddened nipples for last. Brett's insides began to liquefy.

He fell to his knees and traced a line down her stomach, past her navel, finally reaching her perfect triangle of curly dark hair. He parted it at the crest with his tongue, and Brett gasped as his kiss found her sensual core. When the currents of pleasure threatened to overtake her, she whispered, “David, I want you.” He stood, carried her into the reception area, placed her on the sofa, then covered her with his body and slowly eased himself inside her, as if afraid that the resulting explosion would be too strong for either of then to bear. “Yes,” Brett murmured, and their bodies guided them to the sweet release they had been seeking.

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