Thursday, January 31, 2008
TONI MORRISION'S LETTER ABOUT HOPE
we thought we'd post it...
Dear Senator Obama,
This letter represents a first for me--a public endorsement of a Presidential candidate. I feel driven to let you know why I am writing it. One reason is it may help gather other supporters; another is that this is one of those singular moments that nations ignore at their peril. I will not rehearse the multiple crises facing us, but of one thing I am certain: this opportunity for a national evolution (even revolution) will not come again soon, and I am convinced you are the person to capture it.
May I describe to you my thoughts?
I have admired Senator Clinton for years. Her knowledge always seemed to me exhaustive; her negotiation of politics expert. However I am more compelled by the quality of mind (as far as I can measure it) of a candidate. I cared little for her gender as a source of my admiration, and the little I did care was based on the fact that no liberal woman has ever ruled in America. Only conservative or "new-centrist" ones are allowed into that realm. Nor do I care very much for your race[s]. I would not support you if that was all you had to offer or because it might make me "proud."
In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it. Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace--that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom.
When, I wondered, was the last time this country was guided by such a leader? Someone whose moral center was un-embargoed? Someone with courage instead of mere ambition? Someone who truly thinks of his country's citizens as "we," not "they"? Someone who understands what it will take to help America realize the virtues it fancies about itself, what it desperately needs to become in the world?
Our future is ripe, outrageously rich in its possibilities. Yet unleashing the glory of that future will require a difficult labor, and some may be so frightened of its birth they will refuse to abandon their nostalgia for the womb.
There have been a few prescient leaders in our past, but you are the man for this time.
Good luck to you and to us.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
BOOK TOUR DIARY: JANUARY 27, 2008
Our days start with very early mornings—5 am radio talk shows, or making our way to the airport. The middle is filled with a plane ride, a car trip and/or many “drive by” book signings—where we run into a book store (already selected by our publisher and our escort), meet staff and management, deface property—oops we mean sign books (the ones you SHOULD find neatly stacked in the front of the store with the “autographed” stickers on them) then head to a signing event, followed by more drive bys and usually a local news paper and the there’s a evening signing/reading event. That’s about the time we pass out and get ready for the next day. Vitamins alone would not keep us going. It’s the folks we meet along the way who give us energy. Thanks a bunch!
We had a really terrific interview with Dominique DiPrima from the Front Page on KJLH –FM and there were lots of folks who came out because they heard us on the radio! Thanks Dominique! We’ve had a ball meeting many of you Californians who’ve come out to see us including readers of our blog and our MySpace friends!!! Who knew? San Fran, Oakland, Sacramento, Torrence, LA (where it really does rain---REALLY HARD) and today is Long Beach—and what will be a great brunch, sponsored by Tabahani Book Club (guess we should wrap this up and hit the shower), before we head to the airport and on to Atlanta. IF the plane is on time we should arrive around 1AM.
It’s all amazing. Thank you. We’re beat but happy! Pictures are coming, we promise.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
BOOK TOUR DIARY JANUARY 24, 2008
Our sad news—upon landing we found out that Karibu Books is closing.( Click here: Black Readers Are Jolted by a Chain's Demise - washingtonpost.com )We are STUNNED. We have always enjoyed visiting the stores in the DC-Maryland chain—their variety of books was impressive as was the knowledge of their staff—can’t believe we just used the past tense to describe them. We were looking forward to visiting with readers at their Bowie, MD store later in the book tour. This is quite a blow.
Meanwhile, back at San Francisco International Airport—we collected our luggage and went off to the rental car counter. Touchstone/Simon and Schuster rented us a car with GPS for our travels to Oakland (last night), then on to Sacramento (later today.) Well, they didn’t have a car with GPS so they gave us an SUV. Writers on the road in a truck—sounds like a comedy series. Virginia had the aching leg so Donna drove—she has never driven an SUV and neither of us ever used GPS. The car is talking to us, “Your turn is coming in .01 miles.” Could you tell us a little sooner!!! “You have missed your turn.” No kidding! After a few missteps we found our way out of the airport and into town.
And we had a great time at the Oakland branch of Marcus Books, with co-owner Blanche Richardson (her sister Karen is at the San Francisco store). Marcus Books is in it’s 48th year as a community fixture and is looking toward 50 years and beyond. We were honored to have been invited to be part of the 10th anniversary celebration for the Marcus Book Club. They originally formed around the publication of Tananarive Due’s My Soul to Keep, and they are still reading, opinionating and going strong. The When Sunday Comes Book Club from San Jose, CA and Turning Pages Book Club were also in the house. We had a great time—and we’ll post pics soon.
Day 2 begins!
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
ON THE ROAD AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!
BUT we have been asked by many of you if we’ll keep you updated with what’s happening while we are traveling. So we’re taking laptop, digital camera and BlackBerry— and we’re really gonna Keep Tryin’ to post. Our notes may be shorter than usual, but we’re sure they’ll be fun— anything and everything can happen along the way!
We hope to meet many of you as we visit some of our favorite cities and booksellers, and go to some places we’ve never been before—like Sacramento, CA and Columbia, SC! Our tour schedule is listed on our website--deberryandgrant.com and on myspace.com/twomindsfull.
Remember, Gotta Keep on Tryin’ is available now—in a variety of formats—Regular Ol’ book, e-Book, Kindle reader, audio tape, mp3, cd, audio digital download—and wherever—online retailer, national chain bookstores, independent booksellers, member warehouse retailers, as well as discount retailers—however you like to get your read on.!
We thank you. We love you. We especially appreciate you for supporting what we do!
Next post from California?!!!!!
Monday, January 21, 2008
SAY WHAT? IT'S KING DAY
So Virginia said, “Do you mean 4 Colored Girls Productions?”
The clerk said yes, then told her what a flurry of activity the envelope had caused, because nobody could figure out how to refer to it without saying the name. Seems it was against Postal workplace regulations to use such language.
Amazing Grace. We are both of an age when we remember it as one of the more dignified names we were called. And we in no way mean for the name to be demeaning, shuffling’ or head bowing. For us, it is a reminder of how far we’ve come, where we came from, and all that we were taught about being proud of who are and working hard to accomplish our goals. We believed it was the content of our character that counted, and that Black is beautiful. We still do. Those early lessons are always in our minds and on our hearts when we write. There is no one who expressed with more power or eloquence the necessity to treat people with the dignity and respect they are due than Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. He fought specifically for the rights of Black people—Negroes or Colored people as we called ourselves at the time—but he spoke to the humanity of all people.
The celebration of Dr. King on the anniversary of his birth is unique. It is not a memorial. The focus is on the possibilities of what we can achieve. So, we celebrate the fact that four Black women can come together as 4 Colored Girls Productions in order to produce movies, and reasonably expect to get it done. We celebrate the fact that there is a Black man running for president who can reasonably expect to win. We heard a young man on the radio this morning, talking about why he was honoring Dr. King today by participating in a program to mentor younger children instead of hanging out with friends. He said it was because Dr. King, “Knew he had to get stuff done.” Well, there is a lot of stuff left to get done. King Day is our annual reminder to keep doing it.
Have a thoughtful, inspired, and motivated King Day. Get stuff done.
EXPOSURES--CHAPTER 36 AND EPILOGUE: THE END!!
David lazily rubbed his eyes, and only when they focused did he remember where he was. He looked at his watch and realized he was supposed to be in the lobby in less than ten minutes. When he met Walker and Morgan his body ached, the result of troubled sleep.
Colonel Monterra picked them up in a green 1959 DeSoto. “We will look like everybody else,” the colonel said in response to their quizzical looks. “Do not worry, the engine is in top condition,” he assured them as they drove the two blocks to La Reina and parked a discreet distance away, behind a battered pickup truck. “We will stay in the car. There are two men on foot who will follow him for now.”
Jeffrey emerged from his hotel looking well rested and crisp in blue cotton twill trousers and a white shirt. Carrying a Mark Cross suitcase, he crossed the street and walked into the Banco Santa Verde just as the guard unlocked the doors.
Energy surged through David at the sight of Jeffrey and he fought the urge to leap from the car and pummel him right on the street.
“I know. You want to beat the shit out of him,” Morgan said, reading David’s thoughts. “This isn’t the time.” He began to whistle the “toreador aria” from Carmen.
“I could pick him off right from here,” Walker said as he peered through an imaginary gun sight on his finger.
“We have many men in the hills. They have spotted the place where we think she is being held, but they have instructions not to move in until they receive further orders. So far our blond friend has committed no crime in Santa Verde. We must wait,” said Colonel Monterra.
David felt they had waited an eternity before Jeffrey came out of the bank an hour later, suitcase in tow, and stepped into a Jeep that pulled to the curb.
“This is it,” the colonel said. “But we will not follow until they are beyond the outskirts of the city. For several miles there is only one road. My men will let us know which turnoff they take.”
* * *
Waves of nausea rolled over Brett and she tried to breathe deeply, hoping it would settle her stomach, but the dank, musty smell that permeated the shack only made her feel worse. Sweat trickled down her brow and only tossing her head from side to side kept it from accumulating in her ears.
When the nausea passed a few minutes later, she wondered if she should eat the next time the man brought her food. She had no idea what time it was, but the previous morning he had brought her the pan of water and a rag, and later he had brought fruit and rice, which she did not eat, and a small tin cup with water, from which she had taken two sips—enough to wet her lips, she had decided, but not enough to make her sick. But maybe it had—maybe it was the water. It was also time for her to be moved to the chair. It was uncomfortable and she was still tied, but she looked forward to it.
She waited, but no one came. When she heard the voices, Brett thought she was hallucinating. The man had not spoken to her since the first day and she hadn’t seen or heard anyone else. She inclined her head toward a crack in the wall and tried to quiet the beating of her heart, so she could understand what they were saying. There were only two voices to follow, and their conversation was liberally peppered with English. “. . . shoot her.” Why? She began to thrash and struggle, trying to break free. No one is going to come, she thought. Then she heard a car engine, followed by other voices, and she lay quiet again. “He just wants to make sure we uphold our part of the bargain,” said a vaguely familiar voice. “That’s right,” said a voice she recognized clearly. Why, Jeffrey? Her wrists and ankles were already raw and bruised, but as the tears began to roll down her cheeks, she tugged and twisted, oblivious to the pain.
* * *
About halfway up Mt. Drado, Monterra picked up the Jeep’s tread marks on the dirt road. When the colonel saw that they veered off through a tangle of brush and vines that almost hid a narrow trail, he said, “They are going exactly where we thought. We are in luck.” Grabbing his walkie-talkie from the dashboard, he gave instructions to his men, a dozen of whom were already in position. Farther along the trail, long-abandoned fields of sugar cane gave way to dense undergrowth and mahogany trees, and the car bounced over ropes of liana that, in its search for trees to climb, had grown across the ersatz road.
Finally, when the thick vegetation completely obscured the road, they continued on foot. Colonel Monterra and agents Walker and Morgan checked their revolvers, and David, feeling inadequately armed, hefted a fallen tree branch, carrying it like a club. Their progress was slow and the piercing calls of macaws proved the birds’ presence, even though they could not be seen. Bamboo plants, trees laden with green oranges, and huge bunches of plantains were within arm’s reach. A sudden rustling in the tall, thick grass prompted them to crouch in silence. Several feet in front of them a wild pig darted out, then disappeared again into the dense ground cover.
Monterra led, establishing a footpath with his thick-soled, high top leather boots, but fifty yards farther in the topography changed and the trail ended. Now they pushed their way through land completely claimed by vegetation.
“The place is just on the other side of this rise,” Colonel Monterra said, and then spoke into his walkie-talkie. “I will approach and identify myself. If they cooperate, stay in your positions until I signal you. If they resist, in any way, you know what to do,” he instructed his men.
Just as they reached the perimeter of a man-made clearing, David could see two ramshackle wooden structures. He lunged forward, only to be stopped by the colonel, who motioned to him to stay down and to the agents to fan out on either side of him.
Manuel Cissaro and another man, whom the colonel recognized as Manuel’s brother, squatted on the ground behind the Jeep counting packets of money. Jeffrey leaned against the side of the Jeep, cleaning his fingernails. The only other man they saw stood by the door to one of the shacks, tossing a knife at a target carved into the narrow trunk of a Castilla tree and the milky latex dribbled from the slits.
His gun drawn, the colonel stepped from cover and announced, “I am Colonel Monterra of the military police. Throw down your weapons and . . .”
Before he finished, Manuel Cissaro reached inside his jacket and pulled a gun. He was shot through the head before he could fire. For twenty seconds, the air rained bullets, then frantic birdcalls punctuated the hollow silence. David dashed across the clearing, his tree branch in hand, and burst into the cabin.
Brett lay drenched in her own sweat, sobbing hysterically.
“It’s me. It’s David. You’re going to be all right,” he said as he gently untied her. “We’re going to get you out of here.” He smoothed the wet hair away from her face, kissed her softly on the forehead, and lifted her from the bed.
Brett wanted to reach up and put her arms around his neck, but she did not have the strength. “David . . .” she whispered hoarsely right before she fainted.
“Put her in there,” the colonel said, pointing to the Jeep. “We won’t have to walk out of here now. They are all dead, except him . . . but it doesn’t look good.”
Jeffrey lay in a heap on a bare, sun-baked patch of earth. A red-brown stain marked the front of his white shirt like an insignia. Walker, still gripping his .38 automatic, crouched next to him, applying two fingers to Jeffrey’s neck to feel for a pulse, then turned to walk away.
“Wait . . . come back,” Jeffrey called. When Walker stood above him, Jeffrey said, “I have to tell you why I did this . . . in case there’s no time later.” He clawed at the hard ground with his fingernails, as if to hold on against the pain that tore through his chest. “Sven Larsen . . . you have to get Sven Larsen. I have tapes . . .”
“Who are you?” Walker asked abruptly.
“Lars Holmlund . . . the son of Karl Holmlund. That’s what this is for . . . to make Sven pay for what he did to my father.”
By this time, Morgan and Monterra had come and they formed a circle around Jeffrey.
“It was the plans. He stole the plans . . .” In gasps and spasms Jeffrey filled in the details of the Holmlund theft and his mission to avenge his father. “and there’s more. Barbara, his own daughter, told me that he had her husband killed. It’s all on the tapes. I never wanted to kill Brett. She just got in the way.” Blood now soaked his shirt and he was pale, but for the first time, a peaceful look crossed his face.
Monterra had two of his men carry Jeffrey to the car, but he died before they reached town.
* * *
“It’s all so crazy. How did he fool everyone for so long?” Brett’s voice was weak, and she looked pale and exhausted. Her wrists and ankles were swathed in gauze bandages and an IV dripped fluids into her body.
“I don’t know, Brett. It’s like he lived his whole life for revenge, and I’m not sure anyone understood but him.” David sat in a chair next to Brett’s ancient hospital bed. His eyes were red and a thick growth of stubble covered his chin. “I sensed something was wrong. I only wish I had stopped you.”
“You tried, David. It’s not your fault. I didn’t want to believe that Jeffrey could have been behind those crazy things that happened to me. His story about my grandfather having my father killed would explain why my mother hates him, but it’s so ugly. I don’t want to believe any of it.”
“You’ll have time to put everything into perspective. Right now, you’ve got to rest and get your strength back.”
“Excuse me, senora,” a doctor wearing a white lab coat interrupted them. “I have your test results. Aside from a little dehydration, you are fine. You are likely to feel lethargic, so you should get plenty of rest when you leave here, but you should feel no long-lasting physical effects from your ordeal. And do not worry. We gave you sedatives when you were admitted, but nothing that will harm your baby.”
“Baby?” Brett said hesitantly. “What baby?”
“You did not know, senora? It is the early stages, but you are very definitely pregnant. Congratulations. And to you, too, senor.” He shook David’s hand. Before he left the room he added, “We will keep you overnight, but you can leave in the morning.”
Brett remembered her nausea; it hadn’t been the water. “I didn’t know, David—honestly, I didn’t.” She looked down at her hands. “I stopped using birth control after Jeffrey and I . . .”
“You don’t have to explain.” David reached out and gently lifted her chin. “And I know you’ve been through a horrifying experience, but when I told you I love you, I meant it with all my heart. I want to be with you always.” Brett’s gaze met his; she saw the emotion in his eyes and the tears rolled down her face. “Maybe you need some time to sort out your feelings, but I want you to know that nothing could make me happier than the chance to love you and our baby.”
One of David’s hands rested on the bed and Brett lifted it, kissed his palm and cupped it to her cheek. “David, I need time to sort out a lot of things, but right now, the one thing I’m sure of is that I love you.” Brett smiled and drifted back to sleep.
* * *
Brett slept during the four-hour flight back to New York. David watched her, just as he had their first night together. He couldn’t believe that he had come so close to losing her.
When she opened her eyes, just as the plant began its descent into Kennedy, the first thing she saw was David, and she smiled. “Hi, I guess I missed the ride.”
“There wasn’t much to see. We were over the Atlantic most of the flight. Agent Morgan has arranged for us to clear customs on the plane since there’s an army of reporters waiting for you. Aunt Lillian will pick us up on the tarmac as soon as we land.”
Colonel Monterra had been more than happy to give an interview about his part in the rescue of the kidnapped American heiress, and he spared no details of the gruesome story, down to Jeffrey’s confession and his allegations against Sven Larsen. The press had become relentless in its pursuit of the story. One reporter even tried to bribe Lillian’s doorman for information, but changed his mind when the stalwart attendant threatened to break the reporter’s nose. Reports from Racine indicated that Sven was in seclusion unavailable for comment.
Lillian wept copious tears of relief when she saw her niece. “Oh, child, thank God you’re all right,” she said as she drew Brett to her bosom.
Even Albert allowed himself an uncharacteristic display of emotion, and discreetly wiped the tears from the corners of his eyes as he welcomed her.
Only when she sat in the backseat of the Bentley, between Lillian and David, was she finally certain that it was over and no more harm could come to her. The sight of the New York skyline brought tears of joy to her eyes.
As Albert approached the San Remo, they could see news vans in front of the building, so he turned the corner and let them out at the service entrance.
* * *
Brett walked through the apartment running her hands over the familiar furniture and objects, comforted by their reassuring presence. Lillian and David watched her progress silently. “I’m not going to break, you know,” she said, turning to them. “It’s just good to be home.”
Hilda had prepared a smorgasbord of Brett’s favorite foods. She downed a bowl of vegetable soup, two chicken breasts with dill sauce, an extra helping of cold new potatoes, and a dish of vanilla ice cream. David watched her ravenous zeal with amazement, and when she spied him out of the corner of her eye, she winked.
“I’m going home to shower and put on some clean clothes,” David said when they finished their meal. “Then I’m going by to see my parents. I have a feeling they’ve been a little worried.”
“I know that feeling, David, and you’re right,” Lillian said.
Before David left, Agent Morgan called to tell him that they had found the tapes Jeffrey had referred to and they did corroborate his allegations. An agent from their Milwaukee office had been sent to question Sven Larsen. He also told David that the tapes indicated that Jeffrey had been having an affair with Barbara in order to obtain information from her.
Brett had gone to lie down. David and Lillian discussed Morgan’s call, and decided they would tell Brett about it when David returned.
Lillian was standing at the window, looking out onto the park, when Hilda called her to the phone. “It’s long distance, Mrs. Cox—your brother’s housekeeper.”
A few minutes later, Lillian peeked into Brett’s room and found her awake. “May I come in?”
“Of course, Aunt Lillian. I was just thinking about everything that happened. What’s wrong?” Brett asked, sitting up in bed.
“It’s your grandfather. He died a short while ago. I guess all this was too much for him. I didn’t know whether to tell you this or not, but he called this morning. He said he knew it wouldn’t make any difference, but he wanted me to tell you that he was sorry.”
“Grandfather’s dead? I don’t know what to say. I mean, I’m sorry. But what if the things Jeffrey said are true and he did kill my father? I know he’s your brother . . .”
“Hush, child.” Lillian took Brett’s hand in her own. “My brother was a very disturbed man. Agent Morgan called while you were resting. They found the tapes.”
And the tears came, not out of a sense of loss or bereavement, but the addition of one more ponderous burden to the load she was already struggling to carry was more than she could bear.
Lillian cradled Brett in her arms and they both wept.
“When are you going out there?” Brett asked a few minutes later.
“Sven made his own arrangements years ago. There is to be no funeral and he will be cremated. I’ll go out next week and close up the house until we decide what to do with it.” Brett’s phone rang. It was Lizzie.
“Brett. Are you okay? We just got a story over the wire about your grandfather. Do you know . . .?
“Yes, Lizzie. Thanks. We got a call about half an hour ago.”
“And, one more thing. Your mother gave a statement to the press late this afternoon. I haven’t seen it, but it will be on the six o’clock news. I don’t know if you want to watch. The story of your kidnapping and Jeffrey—well, you know, it’s the lead. Brett, I love you and I’m glad you’re safe. I talked to David and I’m going to stop by tomorrow. You should be feeling better then.”
“Aunt Lillian, what time is it?” Brett asked when she hung up.
“Almost six. Why?”
“Lizzie said that Barbara gave a statement this afternoon and it’s going to be on the news.”
Lillian got up and switched on the set.
“Updating our earlier story, Barbara Larsen North, the mother of the kidnapped heiress, Brett Larsen, and the daughter of Sven Larsen, the billionaire transportation magnate who died in his home today, apparently of heart failure, made this statement just a few hours ago.”
They rolled a tape of Barbara standing amid a swarm of reporters in front of her apartment building. Deep creases marred her forehead and dark circles were evident beneath her eyes. She had made no attempt to conceal them or to prepare for television cameras, and she wrung her hands nervously. “I am ashamed that I have to admit I was involved with Jeffrey Underwood. I loved him and I thought he loved me. He promised to help me get my rightful inheritance from my father.” Barbara looked away from the camera a moment, then resumed her statement. “Everyone keeps asking me about tapes. I don’t know about any tapes, but if there are some, and if they say my father was responsible for the death of my first husband, then it’s true. I have proof of that and he admitted it to me. I should have spoken up years ago.” Her voice wavered, but she continued. “I also knew that my father did something to Karl Holmlund, but I didn’t know what until Jeffrey’s confession. I didn’t know that Jeffrey planned to kidnap and . . . kill my daughter.” Tears coursed silently down her cheeks. “My daughter deserves this explanation. For many years she has paid a debt that she didn’t owe . . .I’m sorry.”
When she finished, she pushed her way through the crowd and disappeared into her building.
The anchorman commented. “Sven Larsen died today. His debt to society and to his family will remain unpaid . . .”
Brett had been mesmerized during the segment. As soon as it was over, she got up. “Aunt Lillian, I have to see her. I have to go over there.”
“Brett, child, let it wait. You can’t be up to it now.”
“It can’t wait. Nothing can be harder than what I’ve gone through in the last few days.” She pulled on a shirt and pair of slacks. “I have to go.”
“Why don’t you wait for David?” Lillian asked, but Brett was already on her way down the hall.
“He can’t help me with this—no one can.” And she was gone.
Even though it had begun to rain, she had the cab let her off at the service entrance on Sixty-third Street. Brett huddled in the doorway, but by the time the building superintendent answered the buzzer, she was soaked. When she got upstairs, the maid informed her that Mrs. North had left strict instructions not to be disturbed.
“I’m her daughter, dammit! I have to see her!” She pushed past the startled maid and ran into the living room. “Where is she?” Brett demanded.
“She went upstairs a couple of hours ago, miss. She hasn’t been down since then.”
Brett ran up to her mother’s room and knocked on the door. “Barbara, it’s me, Brett. May I come in?” She rapped again, louder this time, then tentatively turned the knob.
Barbara lay in her bed with the white ruffled covers pulled snugly under her arms and the delicate white lace from the collar of her nightgown framing her face. At first Brett thought she was asleep, then she saw the empty pill bottle on the bedside table. She grabbed her mother’s hands. They were cold, and in her left hand, Barbara clutched a gold signet ring. “Mother, wake up!” Brett lifted Barbara by the shoulders and shook her. She put her ear to her mother’s chest and could barely hear a heartbeat, and her breathing was shallow. “Get help! Call an ambulance!” she screamed.
David burst into the waiting room, his hair and clothes were wet from the rain. “What happened? Are you all right?”
Brett recounted the horrifying discovery, the frantic efforts of the EMS crew, and the race to the hospital. “No one’s told me anything yet. David, I don’t know what I’ll do if . . .” Brett couldn’t finish the sentence.
“From what you’ve told me, she couldn’t have taken the pills more than a couple of hours before you arrived. They should be able to save her,” David reasoned as he took the chair opposite her. “Let’s try to stay calm and wait. At least the reporters can’t come in here.”
Lillian arrived a short time later and the three of them kept a vigil. After an hour, David made a trip to the vending machines in an alcove down the hall for overcooked coffee and a bag of salty popcorn. Periodically, Lillian went to the nurses’ station to see if there was word.
And throughout the long night Brett was riveted to her seat, as if by concentrating all of her energy on Barbara she could will her not to die.
It was almost dawn when a doctor came to the door.
“She’s out of the coma,” he said, “but she’ll be on a respirator for at least twelve hours, possibly the next twenty-four. She took a lot of pills, and she already had a fair amount of alcohol in her system, but it looks like she’s going to pull through.”
“Oh, thank God,” Lillian said.
“When can I see her?” Brett asked anxiously.
“She’s still pretty groggy. You can go in, but only for a few minutes. She won’t be able to talk for several hours yet.”
Brett squeezed Lillian’s hand, then David’s, and followed the physician to the intensive care unit.
She looked at Barbara through the glass for a minute. A mask covered her nose and mouth and was linked to the respirator at the head of her bed by transparent plastic tubing. Her eyes were closed and her wrists were secured to the steel bars of the bed with bands of cloth. We never had a chance until now, Brett thought as she listened to the rhythmic wheezing of the respirator. There was still so much they didn’t know about each other, but maybe they could heal their wounds together. David and Lillian tried to convince Brett to go home for a few hours, but she adamantly refused, so they waited with her.
When Brett crept into the cubicle, it was nearly five that evening. “Mother,” she whispered.
Barbara’s eyes flickered open. When she registered that her daughter stood beside her, she turned her head away. “I couldn’t face you.”
“You’ve punished yourself enough.” Brett looked at her mother and years of anger and confusion subsided.
“You should hate me.” Tears seeped from Barbara’s eyes.
“I don’t hate you . . .I never did.”
Slowly, tentatively, Barbara turned to face her daughter. “You look just like your father—you always did. He loved you, Brett, even before you were born. What day is this? It’s your birthday, isn’t it?” Barbara’s voice was weak and hoarse. “It was so hard
. . .”
“Mother, save your strength. We can talk later.” How strange that with everything going on, she remembered my birthday, Brett thought. Neither Lillian nor David had, and she herself had forgotten until she sat waiting in the hospital.
“No. I’m sorry. I wanted to be a good mother, but every time I looked at you . . .I’m sorry.”
Brett brushed the tears from her mother’s face. “You just get well. It’ll be all right.”
* * *
The October day had dawned bright, and now the afternoon sun cast a glow as warm as a blessing over Cox Cove. The garden was abloom with Japanese anemones and marigolds and the trees formed patches of red and yellow around the property. The house brimmed with bunches of autumn foliage and fragrant bouquets of white roses.
“I’m so excited I can hardly stand it,: Lizzie exclaimed as she fastened the hook at the neck of Brett’s dress. “My best friend is marrying my brother.”
“And we’re making you an auntie—don’t forget that.” Brett stood in front of the cheval mirror in her room at Cox Cove, patting her still-flat stomach. Sheer ivory silk chiffon bordered in bands of satin formed the full bishop sleeves of her dress. A satin portrait collar framed her shoulders, and the bodice tapered to a fitted waist that gave way to a full ivory satin skirt with a silk chiffon overlay. Brett’s hair, parted on the side, fell in soft waves.
Lizzie adjusted the strand of pearls around Brett’s neck. They had belonged to Lizzie’s grandmother and she had worn them on her own wedding day. “There—something old and something borrowed. You look like a princess,” Lizzie said as she stood back to survey the whole picture.
“You told me that a long time ago, right in this very room. I didn’t believe you then, and I’m not sure I believe you now.” Brett laughed. She was happier and more content than she had ever been in her life.
Her grandfather’s legacy had presented a formidable challenge, and after weeks of meeting with Larsen attorneys and division heads, she had discovered that the corporation was structured in a way that virtually ensured its perpetuity. After conferring with David and Lillian, Brett had decided to take the next six months, until the baby was born, to learn everything she could about the inner workings of her company. She had already begun the arduous task of reading her grandfather’s annual reports. At the end of that time she would select a president who would handle the day-to-day operations of Larsen Enterprises, and would then divide her time between her family and her own career. Brett knew the task was difficult and that she had assumed an awesome responsibility, but she also knew she could do it. The past, for so long a dark, shadowy blotch, had been exposed, and although it would take time for her to understand all that had been revealed, the knowledge freed her and lit the path to the future.
“Come in,” Lizzie responded to the knock on the door.
“Oh, my!” Tears welled up in Lillian’s eyes at the sight of her grandniece.
Brett put her arms around her aunt and hugged her tightly.
“I just came up to bring you this.” She handed Brett The Book of Common Prayer, bound in ivory satin ribbon, to which a tiny nosegay of white roses had been attached. “I carried it when I married Nigel. I hope that you and David will be as happy as we were.” She kissed Brett lovingly on the cheek.
Lillian turned to leave. “Wait,” Lizzie called. “Brett, I’ll be right back, but I have to see how Joe is doing with Emma and Cameron.”
She had only been alone for a moment when she heard the door open. “Can I come in?” Barbara asked.
“Of course, Mother!”
Barbara took her daughter’s hands, and when she looked at her, she saw all the years she had missed. “You’re beautiful, just beautiful?”
And for the first time in her life, Brett believed it.
“You’ll be a wonderful wife and mother . . .and I love you. I’ll see you downstairs.” She kissed Brett and left.
The living room had been cleared of its regular furnishings and several rows of chairs were now filled with family and friends. Brett had decided not to be given away. She and David were giving themselves to each other. So as the opening notes of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” filled the stately mansion, Lizzie and her father, David’s best man, took their places in front of the fireplace. David, resplendent in a navy blue suit with a single white rose in his buttonhole, waited calmly at the bottom of the sweeping staircase as Brett confidently descended. They looked into each other’s eyes, expressing in a glance the joy in their hearts. As the music swelled, Brett took his arm and they headed down the flower-lined aisle.
“We have come together to witness the union of Brett Larsen and David Powell,” the minister began. “May this marriage be a course of unconditional strength and will; a perpetual haven from strife; a tranquil reflection of connected lives, and a ribbon of bright love through all their tomorrows. . . .”
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Gotta Launch Party Photos
P.S. The AMAZING cake was a gift from our dentist!!
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
ESSENCE.COM REVIEW--JANUARY 2008
ESSENCE.com January 2008
Patrik's Picks: Move the Crowd
Our books editor, Patrik Henry Bass, has found three crowd-pleasers to warm your spirit during these chilly winter days.
BACK TOGETHER AGAIN
Remember those you-go-girl! novels of the mid-nineties? They often featured three or four friends with good jobs, great clothes and gigantic man drama. One of the best of the bunch was 1997’s Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made by real-life friends Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant. That story of blue-collar-born beauty Gayle Saunders and her brainy cut buddy Pat Reid, was a richly layered tale with twists that made this a not-to be-missed tearjerker. Though the writing duo did well with 2001’s Far From the Tree and 2004’s Better Than I Know Myself, their fans have been clamoring to know what happened with their favorite folks from Bed. At last, DeBerry and Grant are giving readers what they want with Gotta Keep on Tryin’ (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $24). This worthy sequel finds Gayle, Pat and romantic interest Marcus Carter (yes, he’s still in the picture) grappling with all kinds of plot surprises, especially involving their children—at least the ones they’re sure are theirs.
STEADY AS SHE GOES If you haven’t read the juicy Francis Ray novels, such as Any Rich Man Will Do, check out her twentieth (yes, twentieth!), and perhaps best, tale, Not Even if You Begged (St. Martins Press, $12). Like Ray’s previous tomes, Begged features a driven heroine who has all the answers at work but not so many in matters of the heart. This time around we meet lovely Traci Evans, a widowed attorney. She has mixed feelings about grieving for her husband, who met his maker when he was cheating with another woman while piloting a twin-engine plane. Traci swears off men and throws herself into her career until she meets Ryan, a man with a heart of gold who’s the hunky son of her best friend. Will Traci open herself up and allow love in, or is this honey dip too good to be true?
THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTER In 1949, when he was just 28, Go Tell It on the Mountain author James Baldwin bid farewell to the United States and went to live in Europe, off and on, for the next three decades. Baldwin, who penned such groundbreaking works as Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time, died in the south of France in 1987 at age 63, having become one of America’s best-known expatriates. But in Baldwin’s Harlem (Atria Books, $24), journalist Herb Boyd reconnects Baldwin to his sometimes-overlooked birthplace, Harlem. Boyd, editor of Autobiography of a People, painstakingly illuminates the influence Baldwin’s Harlem beginnings had on his work, an influence that would weave itself through the talented author’s career. Did you know, for instance, that Countee Cullen, the Harlem Renaissance icon who wrote the poem "Yet Do I Marvel," was one of Baldwin’s teachers? And long before Baldwin contributed to The New Yorker, he dazzled readers at Frederick Douglass High School as the editor of its student magazine. Boyd’s long-overdue look at a key aspect of Baldwin’s life is a worthy tribute to a remarkable man and the community he first called home.
Monday, January 14, 2008
EXPOSURES CHAPTER 34 & 35
Only the eerie green glow of the computer terminal illuminated the room as David entered the last date on Brett’s appointment calendar into the memory banks and followed up with a series of commands that would start the search. Glasses perched on the end of his nose, he ran his fingers through his already rumpled hair, wheeled the chair back, and put his feet up on the console. A steady crawl of phone numbers and dates rolled up the monitor. It was after ten o’clock, and thirty-eight stories below, traffic still inched its way across the glittering span of the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge.
David swiveled his seat slightly and turned his gaze just in time to catch the Goodyear Blimp floating past his windows. It’s sign flashed on and off and in between blinks the side of the aircraft displayed a series of colored light patterns which resembled psychedelic pop art. He returned his attention to the screen as the computer began its second run. Munching on the hamburger he had ordered, he thought about Brett and knew that this time it would all be right. He was finally free from his self-imposed guilt and soon she would be free from Jeffrey.
Brett had already found an attorney, the wife of one of Lizzie’s colleagues at GNSN, to handle the divorce. Jeffrey had agreed to the generous settlement she had offered, and now it was just a matter of time.
On the computer’s sixth run, David slammed his feet to the floor and bolted upright in his chair. There were at least a hundred calls to the same phone number, most of them made on days and times when Brett was out of the studio. He cross-referenced the number with Brett’s Rolodex file; the match took only seconds. “I’ll be damned,” David said aloud as he stared at the screen. He couldn’t think of any reason why Jeffrey had been called that frequently. He was a busy man, and Brett would never have instructed Therese to make those calls. Were Therese and Jeffrey having an affair? David wasn’t sure what the calls meant, but he wanted to know more about Jeffrey Underwood.
He stored the information on a floppy disk, locked it in the wall safe and erased the memory. All the way downtown to his apartment, he debated whether he should tell Brett or not. He really didn’t know anything yet.
He didn’t know much about Jeffrey Underwood—only that he was an attorney who worked for Brett’s grandfather. He hadn’t even met him. But he suspected that ace reported Liz Powell would know more.
“Hold on a minute, David,” Lizzie said the next morning. He could hear her in the background, scolding the twins for dumping their breakfasts on the floor. “Honestly, if one does something, the other has to do it, too,” she said when she returned to the phone. “What can I do for you?” She asked brightly.
David didn’t tell Lizzie of his discovery last night—he merely asked her what she knew about Jeffrey. All she remembered was that he was forty-one and he had gone to Yale Law School. David thanked her and promised to visit on Sunday.
On Saturday morning, David drove to Connecticut and parked his Saab a few blocks from the Yale campus. The university was almost deserted as David strolled toward Sterling Library. The imposing gray stone structure was as hushed as a cathedral inside, and his footsteps echoed on the tile floor. He approached the desk and asked the young, freckle-faced, red-haired girl behind the massive counter if she might tell him where yearbooks were kept. She asked him what years and directed him, with amazing accuracy, to the stack and shelf where he would find them.
David didn’t know whether Jeffrey was advanced or a late bloomer so he took the dusty yearbooks from 1965 to 1975 to a table. He worked his way back to 1968 before he hit pay dirt. He had only seen the photo Brett kept of Jeffrey in her office, but this was clearly the same man. Here he was younger, but his keen features were exactly the same; even the hairstyle was remarkably like the one he wore now.
It didn’t take him long to read the entry. Jeffrey had no club memberships or activities. His bio simply gave his name, his law review years, and his hometown of Warren’s Corners, Minnesota.
For three hours on Monday morning, David tried to track down the Warren’s Corners town clerk. It seemed that she also served as postmaster and county fire marshal, and she was conducting her semiannual fire safety seminar at the Fielding County Fair. When they finally spoke, David asked her if she could check the records for an Underwood family and if she could tell him if there were any family members still in Warren’s Corners. “I don’t have to check no records,” she informed him. “I’ve had this job since 1932, and my daddy had it before me. It was a real pity about those Underwoods—such a shame. Mama, papa, and the little boy, all killed in a wreck on the interstate in 1948. I remember because we’d just gotten the big road through here. You know, it was one of them projects after the war, to put our boys back to work.”
“All of them dead? Are you sure?” David asked, stunned.
“ ‘Course I’m sure. That funeral was one of the saddest things I ever laid eyes on.”
“Do you remember the little boy’s name? Was it Jeffrey?” David was afraid he already knew the answer.
“Yeah. That was him all right. He had the prettiest brown eyes you ever want to see.”
If Jeffrey Underwood is dead, then who is Jeffrey Underwood? He didn’t know what was going on, but something was wrong. He didn’t have enough information to go to the police and he had no evidence that Jeffrey had done anything illegal, but now he was sure Therese knew more.
He called her home number the rest of the afternoon but got no answer. At the end of the day he went to her apartment on West Twenty-first Street, and luckily met a neighbor sweeping the stoop in front of the building. “I’ve lived here forty years—I like to keep the place clean,” she said.
“It looks like you do a pretty good job,” he said. “Do you know Therese Diot? I’m a friend of hers, in from out of town. I’ll only he here a few days, and I haven’t been able to reach her.”
The elderly woman eyed him suspiciously, then, deciding he didn’t look like an ax murderer, said, “She’s away ‘til next week. She asked me to water her plants; said she was off to see the U.S.A. Nice girl, for a foreigner. At least she speaks English.”
“Thank you. I guess I’ll have to catch her next time,” David said.
He walked across town from Chelsea to Gramercy Park, trying to think of how to tell Brett what he had found out.
“David! What a nice surprise.” Brett smiled as she answered the door. She was dressed in emerald green cotton shorts and a matching shell. With her hair spilling from a ponytail on top of her head, she looked like David remembered her as a teenager. Her smile faded as she noted his dour expression. “Is something wrong? Did something turn up from the lists?” she asked as they climbed the stairs.
“Well, something surely isn’t right.” David slumped in the middle of the sofa.
Brett perched on the arm of the sofa and faced him. David looked tired and slightly disheveled. His khaki suit was wrinkled and limp, and his shirt was open at the neck. The ends of his loosened tie hung unevenly, and as a result of the August heat, his curly brown hair clung damply to his forehead and neck. “You look wiped out. Can I get you something?”
“No, I’ll be fine, but I am glad it’s cool in here.”
“All right, what is it?” Brett asked.
“How much do you know about Jeffrey?” David asked.
“The regular stuff, I suppose. He’s worked for Grandfather fourteen or fifteen years. He went through Yale Law on scholarship and insurance money. His parents were killed in a car crash when he was fifteen. He’s from a small town in Minnesota. It’s known for something odd, like—sunflower farming, that’s it!”
“And town clerks with excellent memories. It’s Warren’s Corners.”
“Yes! That’s it! What does that have to do with anything?”
“I called there today. Brett, according to their records, Jeffrey Underwood was killed in a car accident when he was two years old.”
“But that’s impossible. It must be another Jeffrey Underwood.”
“From a town of eighteen hundred people? Come on, Brett, I know it’s pretty strange, but I talked to the town clerk today and she gave me the whole story. She went on about how cute little Jeffrey was, with his big brown eyes. There’s something shady going on here, but I still don’t know what.”
“How did you find out where he was from? What made you investigate Jeffrey?”
David told her about the calls to Jeffrey’s private number at Larsen Enterprises from the studio, and the conversation with Lizzie that led him to Yale and, finally, Warren’s Corners.
“Do you really think that Therese and Jeffrey had an affair?” That might explain his sexual indifference toward me, she thought. But not why he wanted a child so badly. Brett had not confided the intimate details of her failed marriage to David, so she kept these thoughts to herself, as well.
“I don’t know. That’s the problem. I tried to see Therese this afternoon, but she’s away until next week.”
“I could just call Jeffrey and ask him. There’s probably a simple explanation.” Brett tried to convince herself that was true. Had she really known Jeffrey all this time, married him, and he was someone else? It was too implausible for her to believe.
“You can’t do that. What if he’s involved in these incidents that have been happening to you? I think you should postpone your trip to Santa Verde until we know a little more.”
“David, it’s my career. I don’t have time to waste. Santa Verde is a resort. Just because Jeffrey has some secret past doesn’t mean he’s out to harm me.”
“I still think you should put the trip off. Just until I can talk to Therese.”
“What would you say if I told you that you shouldn’t go to Sunnyvale or Seoul because there might be an earthquake or a student uprising? You would tell me that you had to go because it was your business, wouldn’t you?”
“This is different, dammit!” He wanted to convince her to take his suspicions seriously, but he did not want to alarm her unnecessarily. “What difference would another week or so make?”
“Obviously, you don’t understand how important this trip is to me. Nothing will happen. I’m only going to scout the location. There are no models to be canceled and there is no equipment, to speak of, to be sabotaged. I’m staying at a lovely new hotel right on the beach. I’ll rent a car, pick out spots that will make great photographs, swim a little, and come back. LARSair is pumping a lot of dollars into this place. It’s going to be a major resort and the Board of Tourism is helping to plan my itinerary. What could go wrong?”
“All right . . . but promise me you’ll be careful,” David said hesitantly. “I love you.”
Thick humid air still hovered over Manhattan when he left the house. I just don’t like the way this feels, David thought.
“Your visa is good for two weeks, senorita.” The immigration clerk was charming and professional, and he smiled at Brett cordially as he stamped her passport with the official seal of Santa Verde.
“I’m only planning a four-day stay this time. But if I like it, I’ll be back.” Brett returned his smile and he directed her to baggage claim and customs. She had only a carry on and her camera bag, so she proceeded directly to the customs line.
The LARSair 727 had been almost full, but most passengers were continuing on to more well known destinations. Brett stood in line with the dozen other travelers giving Santa Verde a try, noticing that more than half of them appeared to be businessmen anxious to cut deals in the new resort.
The terminal was a one-story building with pre-fab walls set on a cinder block foundation. Two gates, one for departures and one for arrivals, had large windows that looked out onto the lone runway, recently extended to accommodate big jets. There was the requisite duty free shop, gift shop and a tiny counter with a soda dispenser and packs of chips and peanut butter cheese crackers, that aspired to be a snack bar.
She cleared customs and carried her bag, bearing a chalk X, out into the bright midday sunshine. It’s cooler out here that inside, she thought, enjoying the balmy air. Squinting against the glare, Brett could see the mountains, actually very tall hills, and a rising peak to the south that had to be Mt. Drado, Santa Verde’s requisite inactive volcano.
“Miss Larsen?” inquired a mustached gentleman wearing sunglasses and a white tropical suit.
“Yes,” Brett replied.
“I am Manuel Cissaro from the Board of Tourism. Welcome to our country. The car is just this way.” He showed her to a Mercedes-Benz limousine, which looked out of place. Most of the other cars and pickup trucks appeared ready for the junkyard.
They must be pulling out all the stops, Brett thought as she settled into the air-conditioned cool of the car. Manuel Cissaro chattered on about the great future of his country, now that they had so much help from American businesses. Brett had been told that the ride to the hotel took about fifteen minutes, so she divided her attention between Senor Cissaro and the passing scenery. Children played by the side of the road and cows, each tended by its own egret, flicked their tails lazily, discouraging flies from lighting too long.
There was little traffic on the two-lane road, but the car was forced to pause several times. Once, a small herd of reluctant goats was coaxed across the road by a young boy wearing a tee shirt, gray trousers cut off to make shorts and a blue baseball cap. Then their progress was halted when a large truck with wood-slatted sides, loaded with farm workers standing shoulder to shoulder, backed across the pavement and drove off in the opposite direction. Before long a runty litter of black piglets followed their mother, whose distended teats indicated feeding time, to the other side of the two-lane highway.
Brett glanced at her watch and realized that they had been riding for over half an hour and there was no hotel in sight. “Shouldn’t we be there by now?” Brett asked.
“There has been a slight change in plans, senorita, but we should be there soon,” Senor Cissaro said.
“What change? Take me to the hotel—now!” Cissaro pushed her down across the seat and forced a chloroform-soaked handkerchief over her nose and mouth. David was right, she thought just before she lost consciousness.
When she awakened, she found herself lying in a dark room. Her head throbbed, her sweaty clothes hugged her body, her jaws ached, and her mouth was sore and dry. With a start, she realized that she was gagged. She tried to roll over and get up, but found that her wrists and ankles were bound to an old iron bedstead. She flailed and tried to free herself, but the scratchy ropes dug into her flesh, and the rusty springs creaked in protest.
The door opened and a tall lean man wearing jungle fatigues walked into the room. “So, you are awake. I will remove the cloth around your mouth, but do not bother to scream—no one will hear you. Would you like some food?” He nodded his head toward the scarred metal table by the bed. On it was a tin plate with a mound of rice and a mango.
As soon as he removed the gag, Brett screamed. He shrugged his shoulders, replaced the gag, and left the room. In the dim light, she watched as the flies enjoyed her supper.
* * *
“What do you mean, kidnapped, Jeffrey?” Sven Larsen had retired to his bedroom suite after dinner, and at eight, when the phone rang, he was already attired in bedclothes.
“Brett left this morning for Santa Verde to scout locations. When I spoke to her at six o’clock, everything was fine. She was in her room, about to change for dinner. Then, a short while ago, I got a call from a man with some kind of thick accent, maybe Spanish. He said he had Brett and she would be dead if I didn’t do as he said,” Jeffrey explained excitedly.
“How do you know he’s not bluffing?” Sven asked, a slight quiver in his slow, steady voice.
Jeffrey paused. “He let me speak to her. She was crying so hard that I could hardly understand her. She told me she had tried to get away, but they had caught her and beat her.” Jeffrey’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat and continued. “He didn’t let me talk to her long. He came back on the phone and warned me not to call the police. He said we would never find her alive if we did.”
“What does he want?” Sven asked.
“Money. He wants ten million dollars. I have five—the money you gave us as a wedding present.”
“I’ll wire you the ten million dollars, Jeffrey. Spend whatever is necessary. We have to get her back,” Sven said, the urgency apparent in his voice. Sven had lost everyone else he loved and the thought of losing Brett was unbearable.
“Thank you, sir. The man instructed me to have the money wired to myself at Banco Santa Verde tomorrow. He said he had ways of checking if it came through. I am to arrive after five tomorrow evening and check into La Raina Hotel. Someone will be in contact with me there.”
“How do you know you’re not in danger? How can he be trusted?” Sven asked.
I don’t know, but I don’t have any choice. Brett’s down there, and I have to go get her back.”
“Take one of the corporate planes. Jeffrey, just get her back. We have to . . . “ Sven’s voice dissolved. “Does Lillian know?”
“No, but I’ll take care of that. We’ll get her back, sir. I believe in my heart we will. I will be in touch in the morning, or if there are further developments.”
“Yes,” Sven said weakly, then hung up.
Jeffrey was sprawled on his imposing gothic bed. The ornately carved mahogany headboard looked like a panel ripped from the walls of a cathedral.
She left me no choice, he reasoned. Divorce was out of the question. He could never relinquish his hard won position as the grand-son-in-law of billionaire Sven Larsen and next in line to run Larsen Enterprises. If he and Brett were no longer married he was sure Sven would find a way to humiliate him.
Jeffrey sat up, opened the burled mahogany commode by his bedside and removed the locked steel box. He fished in the pocket of his robe for the key. Again he fingered the yellowed and crumbling articles. He humiliated my father, but he won'’ do it to me, Jeffrey thought. He had gathered enough information to bring Sven Larsen down, but that was no longer enough. He had to supplant him. With Brett dead, and he the grieving widower, he could succeed in doing that.
It all seemed so neat, and since Cissaro only wanted five million dollars, Jeffrey would make a profit on the deal. He replaced his mementos in the commode and settled into bed. The next day would be a long one.
* * *
“What do you mean, her reservations have been canceled? She’s there—I know she is. I saw the plane off myself,” David shouted into the phone.” Another hotel? How many are there?” His heart raced as he called the five numbers the man had given him, but when none of the hotels had a Brett Larsen registered, he knew she was in trouble.
At eleven o’clock he arrive at Therese’s building on West Twenty-first Street and found the same elderly woman out front, this time sitting on the stoop. “Oh, you’re still in town. That’s nice. I bet she’ll be happy to see you.”
Not likely, David thought as he took the stairs two at a time and pounded on Therese’s door. “Let me in, Therese. It’s David Powell.”
The door opened a crack and he shoved in the rest of the way, wrenching the security chain from its mooring. “Monsieur Powell?”
“What have you done with her?” He grabbed her by the shoulders and his fingers dug into her flesh.
“What are you talking about?” she asked, her eyes wide with fear.
“I know you and Underwood are in on this. Now, tell me where she is.” He shook her roughly. “If he’s done something to harm her, I’ll . . .”
“Oh, mon dieu! Mon dieu! What has he done?” Therese moaned.
“Come on, I know you two had something going on. Now Brett is missing. She left for a trip this morning, but she never arrived!”
“He is crazy, that one. You are right, I did work for him, but no more. He paid me to spy on is wife.”
“And the canceled models, the destroyed film—did he pay you to do that, too?”
“Yes, I did that, too, but I know nothing about this. I have been away.” The tears started to roll down her cheeks, but they only infuriated David more.
“You helped him? Why? What did Brett ever do to you?”
Therese explained that she had done it for money, nothing else, and that if Jeffrey had done something to Brett now, he had done it without her assistance.
“Okay, then, you’re coming with me.” He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward the door. “You’re going to tell the police what you know.”
Their story led them through the ranks at the police precinct, until the precinct captain closed them in his office and lectured David about the seriousness of his accusations.
“I wouldn’t be here unless I believed it was serious,” David said.
With that, the officer telephoned the local FBI office. “I’ve got something here that I think requires your attention.”
David led Therese down to the offices of the FBI where, detail by detail, they related all they knew once again. After waking the town clerk in Warren’s Corners and receiving her corroboration of the death of Jeffrey Underwood, the agent decided to put a tail on the man using that name. He also contacted the CIA, since he didn’t know whether Brett’s abduction had occurred on U.S. or foreign soil. Therese was held for additional questioning, and David left with the assurance they would keep him informed.
Although it was two in the morning, David went straight to Lillian’s. She needed to know what had taken place.
That night, the supervising agent authorized wiretaps on Jeffrey’s home and office phones, and after confirming Jeffrey’s presence in his East Sixty-eighth Street apartment, two agents were posted outside the building. Jeffrey did not leave his home until the next morning. The agents followed him to Larsen headquarters and waited by the elevator banks in the lobby, but it was the phone surveillance that paid off. They taped two conversations between Jeffrey and Sven Larsen. Sven confirmed that he had wired ten million dollars to Jeffrey at Banco Santa Verde and told Jeffrey to do whatever was necessary to get Brett back. It was the confirmation they needed. They also recorded a call to the LARSair terminal at Kennedy Airport, where Jeffrey ordered a corporate jet fueled and ready for take-off, destination Santa Verde, then verified that a flight plan had been filed. At ten-thirty, Jeffrey left Larsen and was followed back home. He emerged forty-five minutes later carrying two suitcases and entered a waiting chauffeured car, which they followed to Kennedy. Then they called David.
“What do you mean, you can’t stop him? Are you going to follow him down there? . . . His plane is scheduled for takeoff at one o’clock and you can’t go until the next regularly scheduled flight at seven tonight? You’ll lose him—we’ll never find her. What if I charter my own damn plant? . . . I’ll call you back in ten minutes.” He called back in seven. “Meet me in front of West Way Airlines at one-thirty. We leave at two-fifteen . . . Oh I’m going all right.” He called Lillian, advised her of his plans and promised to call again when they got to Santa Verde.
The Santa Verdian authorities had been faxed photographs of Jeffrey and Brett by the time David and the agents left New York. They would immediately investigate her whereabouts, and planned to follow Jeffrey upon his arrival.
Agent Walker, a tall young man about David’s age, slept on the pullout bed in the rear of the airplane cabin. David paced the length of the Lear’s center aisle, almost believing that his efforts could speed their journey. Agent Morgan had tried to engage David in conversation, hoping to ease the tension he could see in him. He was a stocky, thirty-year veteran in the service of his country, and he told David that he had learned long ago not to let his nerves get the best of him. “I’d never have survived if I hadn’t discovered that you can’t do anything until you can.” He hadn’t expected his advice to make a difference and it didn’t, so he played solitaire and whistled show tunes until he could do something.
* * *
When the sun rose the next morning, Brett had been awake all night. Sounds she couldn’t identify penetrated the darkness, and scurrying that she surmised came from rats added to her misery. Now the daylight peeked through the spaces in the windowless plank walls, and she was relieved to still be alive.
Almost immediately, as if he had been watching her, the man from last night came in and replaced her uneaten meal with a chipped enamel pan of water and a rag, then untied her right hand and left the room. She mopped her face with the water, glad it was cool. She bathed her swollen wrists and, as though awakened by the water, they hurt even worse. She desperately wanted to dribble some of the water into her mouth, but decided that it might not be safe.
He returned after ten minutes and explained that she could sit in the chair. Without ungagging her, he loosened the rest of her bindings and helped her to stand. Then Brett struck out, hitting the man’s face with all her might as she tried to get to the door. He wrestled her arm behind her back and she moaned in pain as he steered her to a splintery chair in the middle of the floor, retied her, and left, shaking his head.
When she quieted down, she surveyed her prison. It appeared to be a one-room shack with a sheet of corrugated steel for a roof. It contained only the bed, a table, the chair on which she sat, and a big pot in the corner she guessed was her bathroom.
It had to be Jeffrey, she thought. Why would he do this? She had given him plenty of money, so that wasn’t it. She had done nothing to him but be unable to return his love. There had to be something else—something she didn’t know about. David knows I’m in Santa Verde, and Aunt Lillian knows, too. They’ll find me. They have to find me, Brett thought, and gasped as an iguana scampered across her feet.
Several hours later, her limbs were almost numb and she desperately had to use the bathroom. She pounded her feet on the floor to summon her guard. Still gagged, she nodded toward the corner.
“I will untie your feet, but not your hands. Just as I warned you not to scream, I will warn you not to try to run. You are far up in the hills, in the back-country. It is treacherous, and you cannot get away.” With that, he unbound her ankles and left her alone, but he returned a short time later and secured her to the chair again.
Shortly after sunset he came back with the tin plate. This time it contained rice and breadfruit. He uncovered her mouth. She did not scream, but she did not eat.
“I am Colonel Monterra. I am sorry your visit to our country is under such unfortunate circumstances. We are really quite a friendly place.” The colonel was trim, tan, and appeared to be in his early forties. His dark hair was combed straight back from his face and it gleamed from his generous use of pomade. Since the police in Santa Verde were soldiers, he was dressed in full military regalia. They were at the Santa Verde police headquarters, a concrete barracks that had been painted pink. The colonel’s office had been freshly whitewashed and a wooden ceiling fan revolved slowly.
“Have you found out anything?” David asked anxiously. “Do you know where she is?”
“Let’s take this one step at a time,” Agent Walker interrupted. “I’m sure the colonel here will tell us everything he knows, won’t you, Colonel?”
Agent Morgan remained silent, but David began to pace.
“Mr. Underwood has arrived and he is staying at La Reina, a hotel not far from here. It is not the usual tourist spot, but it is across the street from Banco Santa Verde, where I am told the money is being wired. We have a man watching him. So far, he has done nothing out of the ordinary. We interrogated airport personnel, and the young woman in question did arrive yesterday. However, she was seen leaving the airport in the company of Manuel Cissaro. I am afraid that Senor Cissaro is, as you Americans say, bad news. He is a well-known broker of arms, ammunition, and American dollars. Usually he will sell to whoever is willing to pay, but he has a brother who is suspected of planning a military takeover of Alletia, our neighbor to the south. And lately Senor Cissaro has been unusually active.”
“So what you’re saying is that she’s in more danger than we thought. And we’re sitting around here talking about it!” David shouted.
“If he is holding her where we think he is, we can have the place surrounded by morning. We should have word soon.”
“Up in the hills would be my guess—someplace nearly inaccessible unless you know where you’re going. It’s probably laid out to make finding it easier than getting out.” Agent Morgan’s recitation was made with his eyes closed and his hands folded in his lap. He started to whistle again.
“Exactly. We have to plan this carefully, so as to minimize injury to all concerned. Unfortunately, your hotel, the Casa Verde, is in town also. It is two blocks from La Reina. What a shame you will not see our beautiful beaches. But we will meet you in the lobby at seven-thirty. The bank opens at eight, and we expect that to be Mr. Underwood’s next move.”
They left the police station and took a taxi to their hotel. “The colonel knows what he’s doing,” Morgan said as they bumped along the dusty road.
“He looks like a dandy who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.” Walker replied.
David said nothing, but he thought the colonel sounded like he worked for the chamber of commerce. David tried to imagine the terror Brett must be feeling.
They exited the taxi in front of the fading pink hacienda that was the hotel, and David registered in a daze. He presented his passport, paid for the room in advance, and was presented the key. “Be ready to roll by seven,” Walker called as David plodded up the wide center staircase.
When he entered his room the musty smell of humid air trapped in damp bed linens met his nostrils. Not bothering to turn on the light, David dropped his black bag from his shoulder and fell, face down, onto the woven spread covering the lumpy double bed. White light from a street lamp shining through the shutters fell across David’s body, striping him in alternating dark and bright bands. He reached for the phone and called Lillian to report the sketchy information he knew.
David had not slept in nearly forty hours. His eyes felt filled with grains of fine sand, the muscles in his neck and back were rigid with tension, and he could smell his own sweat.
Yanking the pillow from under the spread, he shielded his face from the light. Soon he was overwhelmed by a deep, dead sleep, but a short time later his own muffled cry awakened him. David had dreamed that he was falling, deeper and deeper into a cold, dark pit. He flailed his arms and legs, trying to catch hold of the craggy walls and stop his descent. He failed, and his wild plummeting continued.
Head pounding, sweat coating his body, David stumbled to the tiny bathroom, turned on the cold water in the tub, and stuck his head under the faucet. After several moments he turned it off, then sat on the closed top of the toilet and buried his head in his hands.
All day, David had been plagued by the aching feeling that he had seen the disaster coming, but had failed to avert it. If only Therese had been home sooner, he would have had the pieces he needed to convince Brett of the danger.
At the airport yesterday Brett had been buoyant with hope and excitement.
“I’ll bring you a surprise,” she had said playfully.
“You’re always full of surprises,” he had said.
She had kissed him and ruffled his hair, then disappeared down the jetway. And at this moment, the only thing David wanted was to see that face again.
But he couldn’t let thoughts of the peril she was in paralyze him. He had to summon all of his energy to think of how they were going to save her, and he knew that to be ready for tomorrow he had to get some rest, so he stripped off his wet shirt, returned to the bed and made himself sleep.
* * *
Jeffrey hated the tropics. The heat and dampness made him feel limp, and he could never take enough showers to feel clean. He stayed in his room, entertaining himself by imagining the torture Sven was enduring, miles away, completely unable to affect the outcome. He slumped in a bald gold velvet chair, his feet propped on the bed, tying and untying the belt of his robe. In a few hours, Sven Larsen would be sorry he had ever met Karl Holmlund. “The bastard will never even know what happened,” Jeffrey said under his breath and closed his eyes, thinking of his father and enjoying the bitter ecstasy of the moment.
Sven Larsen had known Karl Holmlund since they were boys. They were both children of hard-working Swedish immigrants who had successfully staked claims in the Midwest. Their families had been among the wealthiest in Racine.
Each grew up to head the company founded by his father. Karl, always steady and conservative, built Holmlund Metal Works into a mid-sized company, employing a hundred people. The company primarily provided precision equipment for the automotive industry, concentrated in nearby Detroit.
Sven believed that diversification was the route to success. He took his company, then known as Larsen Rail Transport, from a rail freight carrier servicing the lumber and mining industries, and expanded into air freight and eventually to passenger travel. In the process he began acquiring smaller companies—often, his suppliers. He looked for firms that were in dire financial straits but had the potential to be profitable, and among them was Michigan Tool and Die, an undercapitalized facility located in Clemens, Michigan, not far from Detroit. Larsen had pumped money into the ailing firm for five years, but it had yet to show a profit.
In the early sixties, Holmlund engineers developed a prototype for a precision gauge that Karl realized had far-reaching applications in automotive manufacturing. Seeing it as the way to expand his business, Karl poured all of his capital into refining the device. He borrowed additional money, based on projected sales increases that the equipment would generate, and put Holmlund Metal up as collateral.
Sven had been at the point of closing Michigan Tool, an uncharacteristic and bitter admission of failure, when he got wind of the developments at Holmlund Metal. He, too, saw the profit potential in the new device and recognized it as the means to salvage his investment in Michigan. By bribing a Holmlund employee, Sven was able to obtain copies of the plans for the gauge, which he filed with the U.S. Patent Office before Holmlund.
Karl was devastated. He knew that Sven had stolen the information, but had no way to provide it. Without the patent, he could not generate the capital to repay his loans. Eventually, his company was seized and the assets auctioned to repay his debts.
Lars had been fifteen at the time. He had been yanked out of the military school he had attended since he was ten years old and watched as his father dissolved into a bitter, gin-drinking recluse.
In his drunken state Karl would cry and berate himself for losing the business entrusted to him by his father. He felt ashamed and responsible to all of the people put out of work by the company’s failure. And then he would curse Sven Larsen’s treachery.
Eventually, Karl drank himself through what money he had left and they moved to Minneapolis, where they stayed with relatives, but Karl continued to deteriorate.
The winter that Lars was seventeen, his father wandered away from home and was missing for days. Lars finally found him, in an alley behind an abandoned factory, with a bottle of gin between his knees, frozen to death.
“Jeffrey, have you heard anything?” Sven asked.
Jeffrey had waited until ten at night to call Racine, allowing Sven the full day to stew. “I received a call just ten minutes ago. I am to be at the bank when it opens tomorrow and collect the money. There is a church, down a side street, a block away from there and someone will meet me and take me to Brett.”
“What can I do, Jeffrey?” Sven asked.
“Nothing but wait, sir. I’ll call you when I have her.”
Sven hung up the phone with shaking hands. He had spent the whole day waiting. For the first time in forty years he did not rise at dawn, drink a cup of black coffee and drive to his office. He lay in his bed, in the dark, thinking.
Several times before he had been forced to wait for those he loved, and it had not gone well.
He had waited in the parlor, listening to Ingrid’s moans and screams, while a doctor tended to her labor. Then he told him she was gone.
Barbara had sworn that she would return from school and he waited, but it was only through his intervention that she came home. He had not intended for anyone to die, but at least he had gotten Barbara back, and Brett.
Sven remembered how happy he had been when he first saw Brett. She looked like his Ingrid, with shiny dark hair and green eyes, but she was gone out of his life soon, too, and he could only love her from afar. But now all he could do was wait, and he was afraid.
* * *
The stagnant tropical darkness weighted Brett’s chest like a millstone. She was no longer gagged, but she felt as if she would smother under the oppressive heat. A scream rested quietly in the back of her throat, afraid that once swallowed into the black night it would be gone forever. I have to stay awake. I have to stay awake, she chanted silently. The guard had barely spoken to her, nor had he tried to harm her, but the night held unseen threats that daylight minimized. She could hear howls and calls from far away that stalked through her imagination and fed her fear. As though timed to add to her discomfort a mosquito orbited her head, its incessant whining buzz an instrument of torture that would leave her unmarked. I have to stay awake. Then she was overcome with the sensation of insects crawling across her skin. There’s nothing there, there’s nothing there, she told herself. She lay still and willed the sensation away. Tomorrow someone will come, she thought as hope timidly edged despair aside. But what if they don’t? Terror seized control once again.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Cover Girls! OK--- Cover Women...
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Post Traumatic Deadline Stress Disorder
Which though not the way we planned it, is how it turned out. Originally we scheduled a week between ending one book and celebrating the other’s debut. But you may remember that we haven’t been doing so good with the planning thing lately. We worked on Thanksgiving because we PLANNED to take off Christmas. Ha! Then we worked on CHRISTMAS because we PLANNED to take off New Years Ha! And we worked New Years because we PLANNED to be done the next day. Ha! But the one thing you can’t plan is when the words come--even with a mean ol’ deadline cracking the whip. So we ended up a week late with the manuscript—and that’s how the two books collided.
Now this may not have been as stressful, anxiety-producing, nerve-wracking, inconvenient and insane-- if we were not also having a guy coming to make a web video of us on the very same day. “We want to do a video of you,” our publisher says several weeks ago. “Great!” we say. “It’ll be on simonsays.com (on Jan 23) and YouTube!” our publisher says. “Amazing!” we say. “We’d like to shoot the book signing, the party and we’d also like to get footage of you in your regular work environment,” the publisher says. “Perfect!” we say. BECAUSE we thought we’d have a week to clean up the office. In the last stages of the writing process it starts to resemble a landfill—the cumulative effect of months of “what lands on the floor stays on the floor” have become impossible to ignore and by the very end it’s pretty close to a toxic dump. We had no intentions of making it look “picture perfect” because as we’ve said before, when you see pictures of writers in pristine offices it’s gotta be fiction. But we didn’t want it to be a hazard either. So we end up with less than 24 hours to clean up 6 months worth of writing by-products and get ourselves spiffed up too. And while we might not have been in quite as bad a shape as the office—we still had a long, long road from flat to fluffy. Not only did we have to be clean—there was hair, nails, make up, two outfits each—well you know we couldn’t possibly wear the same thing for the “at work” segment as we did for the party. OK, well Donna could. Virginia could change clothes four times a day if allowed.
It was touch and go, but we made both the office and ourselves presentable. We had a great time with the videographer and a fantastic, stupendous signing and party (we’ll post pics in a few days—if our friends remember to send them to us—at the very least they’ll end up on the video and you know we’ll tell you when that’s up.) The show of support and love was genuinely overwhelming. A friend of Virginia’s said, “A person who receives so many hugs should live forever.”
But the next day, Tuesday, we were toast—soup—zombie-like. First challenge—remembering what day it was. Sounds easy? Not when your circuits are overloaded. Somehow we managed to get through the day without setting anything on fire, but speaking in complete sentences was a huge challenge –mainly because it’s hard to talk when you 1) can’t remember any words—what they mean or how to use them, and, 2) you can’t remember what you were going to say anyway. We tried to avoid all activities where we might inadvertently cause harm to others—like driving. “What does the red light stand for again?” Bad idea. Sleep is no refuge. There are psychedelic dreams—not entirely unpleasant, but really weird.
So we survived the day, and Tuesday night, retired to our separate rooms only to get up the next day and realize we’d left the patio slider open, (not unlocked—WIDE OPEN). Granted, it had no business being 66 degrees in New Jersey in January, but still, how did whichever one of us did it (because we don’t know) manage to close the drapes while ignoring the open door? Donna has recurring concerns about “the bad man” coming in. Virginia worries about skunks.
Luckily neither were interested in two brain-dead writers. Whew!
Monday, January 07, 2008
EXPOSURES: CHAPTER 32 & 33
“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.
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? 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.”
“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.