The seat next to her is taken. Her neighbor stands up to let her pass, acknowledges her presence with a bow and returns to his computer. She sips her glass of champagne trying to guess who will meet her at the airport hoping it would be Vincent who disappeared without saying her good-bye.
When the airplane jolts on the runway she spills her drink on her neighbor’s computer.
“So sorry!” She cries out mopping it furtively off with her napkin.
“No harm done! You like champagne, don’t you? In Paris I’ll treat you to the best: “La vieille cave de Bollinger.” A propos, my name is Marc Ferrer,” he says nearing his lips to her hand.
She knows she should cut their conversation short, take Chandler’s ‘Long Goodbye’ out of her handbag and pretend to be absorbed in her reading.
“It’s so very unusual to get acquainted with someone by christening his computer!” He chuckles watching her with growing interest.
He leans towards her pendant.
“I assure you my interest is purely professional!” He explains acknowledging her stunned regard.
“No offence meant, Miss. My only excuse is that, being a professional jeweler, I can’t hold back my hands from a fine piece of art. My shop is at Place Vendome, I hope you’ll honor me with your visit. I’ll show you my personal treasures and seeing them sparkling on your perfect skin would be a rare pleasure for me. Do accept my invitation! You won’t regret it, Nathalie!” Her name in his mouth is a kiss.
“I’ll think about it.” She says evasively putting his business card into her handbag.
“How may I contact you; will you give me your telephone number? I won’t abuse it, I promise! Forgive my insistence but I must see you again!”
“I don’t give my telephone number to strangers! Now would you excuse me?” She opens the “Long Goodbye” and tries to lose herself in it.
When lunch is served he mutters ‘Bon appetit’ and carries on with his work. Yet his presence irritates her like a too bright light.
He sets down her luggage after landing and takes leave of her in a most mannerly way. She remains seated until he is safely gone, suppressing her urge to rush towards the exit and see who is waiting for her.
She tries not to be disappointed spotting Elijah giving her a cheerful wave from behind the glass partition.
“How was the flight?” He takes her in his arms in an embrace that tries to be brotherly. And when they board a taxi a few minutes later he gets hold of her hand as if by chance.
“As Alex isn’t in Paris I thought you’d feel more at home here.” He explains when they get out off the taxi at Rue de la Huchette.
“It’s perfect with me!” She assures him sweetly.
“I’ll go to freshen up. Will you treat me to a lovely dinner by candlelight?”
“With pleasure!” He accepts blushing with joy.
“Haven’t you something to pass on me?” His voice is strained as if he hated what he was doing.
“But of course! Let me take it off.”
She lifts her hands to unfasten the pendant and turns to stone. The pendant is gone!
“Is something wrong, Nathalie?” He asks surprised at her change of mood.
“All is OK, don’t worry, it must be the flight. May I have a private moment now?” She asks him out of breath.
He watches her anxiously but stops short from asking for the pendant.
“I apologize for my lack of manners. I should have let you have some rest. I’ll be waiting for you in the car in front of the house. Give me a ring when you are ready.”
She collapses on the sofa thinking feverishly what might have happened. She is positive she had the pendant on during the flight. Either the chain broke and it fell down or the man stole it when pretending to admire it on her skin. She was a fool to let him touch it! Maybe he didn’t steal it but merely took it as a token. In this case she could negotiate with him a prize to get it back. She can call herself lucky she didn’t throw his card away as she intended to do on first impulse. Where is her handbag? Has she left it behind in the cab? Misfortunes never come singly! Thanks God for Elijah! He picked it up in the cab and put it on the chest of drawers well in sight.
Too impatient to seek through its contents she turns the handbag upside down. Here is the card! She has to dial the number several times. Holding her breath she listens to the ringing tone fearing to hit the answering machine.
“Ferrer,” answers a refined voice.
“Nathalie, your flight neighbor.”
“What a lovely surprise! When shall I see you?”
“Now, if there is something you want to return to me.”
”I have all you’ll ask for!” He answers his voice full of promise.
“Even my pendant?”
“Oh, that! A propos, my chauffeured car is waiting in front of your house. There is just a speck of bother. The guy who was waiting for you at the airport is there too! Get rid of him!”
She swallows hard. Though, has she a choice?
“I’ll see what I can do.”
She dials Elijah’s number and pleads with him in a choked voice: “I am sick! Elijah, I need your help! I have horrid bouts of nausea and I can hardly keep on my feet. It must be the flight. Is there a homeopathic pharmacy near by? I have to take some medicine. Can you fetch it for me, please?”
“I am coming up!”
“It would be great, can you bring me the medicine at the same time?”
“Very well, Nathalie. I’ll do it.” He gives in hesitantly.
She runs down the staircase, jumps into the waiting car which speeds forward bringing her to an adventure she could have done without.
The door of the jewelry shop opens wide inviting her into the world of discreet luxury. Ferrer appears before her, somehow too athletic for the subdued sophistication of the surroundings.
He bows upon her hand with a long kiss and his thick jet-black hair, resisting the best stylist, reminds her a black panther readying for a jump.
“That’s enough!” She snatches her hand from his lips and wipes it upon her skirt.
“Look what you have done!” She shows him the red bruises after his sharp teeth.
“This isn’t how a gentleman behaves!”
“Maybe I am not a gentleman!” His black eyes sparkle with malice.
“It’s my privilege to be the first male of the species in your menagerie of spayed tom cats.”
She watches him attentively. He is really not her kind of man: too physical, too coarse-grained, too over-sexed.
“May I offer you a glass of champagne? With me you can be sure to get only the best of the best.” He removes “La vieille cave de Bollinger” out of the cooler ready to serve her.
“I don’t doubt it. But no, thanks, maybe later; let’s do the first things first. May I get my pendant back?”
“But of course! I can’t wait to get rid of this disgrace from my selection of art-pieces. How could have someone put this trinket on a gorgeous woman like you? Do you wish to disgrace yourself with it? You do? Then let me perform this misalliance.”
Sighing theatrically he leans over her and fastens the pendant on her neck. She slackens under his breath burning her like hell’s flames.
“Thank you!” She whispers backing away from the lure.
“How did my pendant get into your hands?”
“When I returned to recover the file I left behind I noticed it on the floor where it must have slipped when the chain broke. I rescued it before the cleaning staff got in and kept it for you not daring to disturb your sleep. It is as simple as that, see?” He explains and she loses all hope to find the truth out.
“That’s very kind of you! How can I pay you back?”
“That depends only on you, Gorgeous!” He says playfully.
It seems inevitable to follow him into the back shop, get limp in his arms and let him take what she is longing to give.
“May I have the pleasure to give you a guided tour of my kingdom?” He flashes her a radiant smile.
She watches him puzzled. Isn’t he aware she is ready to give in to any of his demands? Doesn’t he feel she is smitten with him?
“That would be most interesting, thank you!” She accepts without batting an eyelid.
“We won’t lose time with trivialities, let me show you my prize items” He touches a panel in the wall, they enter.
“Be seated!” He says with a magician’s gesture. She drapes herself over a settee covered in white velvet. He enters a code, the safe opens; he sorts out the receptacles, sinks down on his knees in front of her and brings the jewels out, one after the other, touching them with the ultimate reverence of a lesser mortal.
“It took me eternity to collect them!” He whispers, luminous with pride.
“See how perfect they are!”
Even if jewels don’t appeal to her she can’t remain blind to their perfection.
“Once we have known each other better you put on any one of them and let them compete with your radiant beauty.”
Shall his knowing her better be understood in its biblical sense? She muses.
“That would be great! I am afraid I must now thank you for your guidance and leave. I have many things to do after my absence and I am certain you are short of time as well.”
“My time has no limits if it concerns you!” He gets up, puts the jewels back in the safe and leads her back into the boutique. She declines his invitation for refreshments and he escorts her to the waiting car. He hands her the pendant wrapped in an elegant jewel box. His hand kiss is reverend, his suggestion to come and visit anytime is cordial.
She walks up to the apartment. The door opens before she had time to put the key into the lock.
“I was worried! Thanks God you are back! I brought you your medicine. I hope that’s the one you asked for.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry to have bothered you, Elijah. By the way, here is the pendant.”
She puts it into his hands and goes to change for their outing not giving Elijah any opportunity to probe into her disappearance.