Magda is walking on air. Paris runs before her like a magic carpet bringing her to the land of plenty. Since she left Hungary only good things have happened. And she would be a fool not to make the best of them. Not that she was miserable in Budapest. With her rather mediocre talent she succeeded to enrol at the School of Fine Arts, an achievement that many others, much more artistic than her, failed due to the politically motivated admission. Being a painter has never been Magda’s dream of dreams but it was an acceptable way how to avoid a boring job. The Fine Arts were not only fun but also a place where her eccentric clothes and her Bohemian manner of life, at odds anywhere else, were tolerated. Her generous body made her tutors blind to her other insufficiencies and, once she offered to pose for them in nude and even more if need be, they corrected willingly her mediocre paintings. Even if it was practically certain that she would get her Art School degree and, subsequently, the post of a curator in an art institution, Magda’s castles were not to be built on socialist soil. Staking all her hopes on carnal attraction she landed herself as an informer with the state police which enabled her to a free access in the trendy night clubs visited by the moneyed foreigners. This is where she met Elijah and started her career as a decoy in Alex’s spy ring, a job that she considered as a platform to better things.
Magda gets Norton’s card out of her fake Vuitton’s handbag, dials and holds her breath. Her life as future Mrs.Norton depends on an impeccable kick off. Modulating her voice to an accent of a well-born young lady she peeps out:
“Here’s Magda Horvath speaking. I don’t know if you still remember the girl you met at Fouquet’s. Sorry to disturb you but I have got something of yours that I’d like to give you back.”
“How could I have forgotten you, Magda? What I find amazing is that YOU haven’t forgotten me! May I have the pleasure to invite you for luncheon at a place of your choice?”
“Your choice!” Magda coos charmingly.
“Then what do you think about the Drugstore at the Champs? Unfortunately I won’t have as much time as I’d like to spend in your charming company but this can be seen to some other time. Alas, I have to leave you as I have a meeting shortly. Thanks for calling, Magda!”
Reassured by his enchanted voice Magda takes a deep breath of the Parisian air. Everything is going according to her plans and she will do her impossible to hold Norton with an iron hand in a velvet glove. What will she do until her date? She reaches after her purse. How much can she spend on preening herself to open the gambit at her best? If she returns these hundred euros to Norton a visit to a hairdresser’s is out of the question. And there is still another problem: how will she get on her vertiginously high strappy sandals from here to the Champs? Why not ring Elijah and ask for help? Did she not land in Paris because of him? Should he not consequently take care of her?”
“How are you, Eli? I hope you can find some time to give a girl a lift. What about driving me to the Champs?” Magda coos pleasantly. Her voice is bright, her intentions are dark.
“I’m sort of busy, sorry, Magda. Take the metro or a bus. Buy a book of tickets at a metro station or at the nearest tobacconist’s.”
“Don’t make me angry, Eli! Have you forgotten how nice I was to you in Budapest?”
“No need poking in our past, Magda! OK, just for this once! Let’s meet at Shakespeare and Company, it’s a couple of steps from your place, a distance you can easily manage even perched on your stilettos, right?”
“You don’t know where it is and how to read a map? Then ask someone! OK, Magda, I surrender. I’ll pick you up in half an hour.”
She walks slowly down the steps. To think she has to be grateful to stay in this dump without an elevator! Beggars are no choosers. The truth is she has nowhere else to go. This could change this very night if she handled Norton wrongly. Her mama’s warnings have not fallen on deaf ears: ’My dear Magda, if you go to bed with a man you intend to marry you shall never hear the wedding bells ringing for you.’ And her mama was a wise woman bettering her social position with every new husband until she made it to the Budapest upper crust.
She asks the first passer-by for the direction. Elijah was right. It is really not too far. She enters hesitantly the bookshop and stays by the entrance repelled by the smell of old paper. Books are everywhere, on the shelves, on the rickety tables and chairs, scattered about the floor. With the exception of glossies reading has never been Magda’s favourite pass time.
”May I help you, Miss?”
“Thanks, but no. I’m waiting for a friend.” She rebukes the young man visibly interested in chatting her up. A fool! She glares disgustedly at his ancient jeans, clunky sneakers and a dated T-shirt. Does he not know hippies went out eons ago? OK, to be fair to him she has to admit that, as a man, he is not too bad: big, lean, muscular, long black shiny hair falling over his broad shoulders, pitch-black smouldering eyes, and a broad, highly kissable mouth. Why not, once in her better future, being an overworked executive’s spouse with loads of free time on her hands? For just now she is taking one careful step after the other, each one leading her up.
“May I offer you a cup of coffee?” The voice with a seductive rasp calls her towards the back shop.
“A propos, my name is John.”
“Here you are, Magda! Get a move! I’m double parked.” Elijah cuts short the budding flirt.
“I have to leave now, John, some other time, maybe!” She promises flirtatiously. Does a girl ever know?
“As I see you manage quite well on your own, my little Magda! What will Alex say seeing you all lolled up raiding shamelessly Nathalie’s closet?”
“Not your worry, my little Elijah! Though if you have to know, Nathalie offered me to take anything I wish and make good use of it.”
“I see. Not a very bright idea, the clothes are bursting on you at the seams! I wonder if she can ever put them on. I can imagine the impression your overflowing boobs will make on that poor bloke you are angling.”
“Shut up, Elijah, and concentrate on the driving. All I ask you for is to get me in one piece to the Drugstore.” Magda says dryly shifting closer to let him have his share of the precarious tightness of her dress.
“Don’t you want to know how Vince is? No, evidently not! All you are interested in is your precious little self! What’s the object of your visit to the Drugstore, prey? Enlighten your cabbie, Magda dear.”
“It’s no concern of yours, Eli, mind your own business and drive on!”
She takes her glasses and the pocket mirror out of her purse and starts to polish her look.
“What are you doing, you idiot? You made me smudge my lipstick!” She hollers when Elijah slams on the brakes abruptly stopping on a red light.
“That’s enough! I warn you, Magda, one more insult and I will throw you out!”
“No need being so touchy. I apologize. You’re the brightest guy in the universe!” Magda sooths him rubbing her hand against his thigh.
“Don’t worry, Eli, there’s enough for all!” She coos squeezing him hard.
They stop by the entrance of the Drugstore on best terms again and Magda’s hot mouth on Elijah’s needy lips is shimmering with promise.
After an additional thorough work on her face Magda leaves the ladies’ room readying for an eventful luncheon. She asks for a table for two by the window and drapes herself over a chair putting her assets on display.
“I’m waiting for a friend; just a glass of water, please.” She sends away the waiter and gets absorbed in the view on the Champs noting with satisfaction she rivals with any Parisian wench.
“So sorry to have let you wait!” Frank Norton bows over her hand.
“You are not late. I am early. I couldn’t wait seeing you! OH! That’s something a girl should never say!” Magda puts her hand over her mouth making her mascara enhanced lashes flutter like startled butterflies.
“My sweet little girl, of course she should if it makes a man so absolutely happy!” Norton takes hold of Magda’s hands and presses them against his heart.
“Hear how madly it beats! How could I have ever hoped to meet one day a girl that would turn me into a teenage boy for whom love is yet to start? I don’t know how to thank you for it, sweetheart! Now let’s turn to prosaic things: what will you have for luncheon, Magda?”
“Choose for me…, Frank!” She breathes out his name after a well timed pause.
“Though first things first: I have something to give you back.”
She removes an envelope from her purse and hands it to Norton.
“I hope you wrote me a love letter!” He cries out happily tearing the envelope open.
“I don’t quite understand!” He stares at the banknote, his face blank.
“Why you are giving me money, Magda?”
“Don’t you really know? You left it at the Fouquet’s rushing away not to be late for your meeting. You should be more careful with your money, Mr. Norton. Such a big sum could easily lead an unscrupulous person into temptation. I secured it for you.”
He watches her, speechless with emotion.
“Magda, you wonderful child, don’t you know it was meant for the little extras? Excuse me to be that blunt but this kind of money is nothing for me. I wanted you to use it for a treat, going to the movies, buying chocolates, spending it on anything that makes a girl happy.” He explains meltingly.
“I still remember how difficult it was getting off the ground professionally and Paris is one of the dearest cities in the world. Please, do accept my little contribution!” He puts the money back into the envelope and hands it to Magda.
“NO, and it’s a definitive NO, Mr. Norton, Frank! I have all I need! I have no use for your contribution, and even if I had no young lady from the social circles I belong to would accept money from a man who is not her husband! ” Magda says righteously.
“Don’t worry about my well-being, Frank; I share the apartment with a Czech girl, my friend that you met at the Fouquet’s. She puts me up out of kindness of her heart and I can easily make the ends meet cleaning the offices in the morning and waitressing at night. I intend to continue my studies at the Beaux Arts and earn my living as a painter, one day. As you see, I can cope.”
“I won’t allow you to soil your beautiful hands cleaning the offices nor to be exposed to the arrogance of men when serving them their meals! No, Magda, I can’t accept your doing a work unworthy of you! Let me provide you with an allowance and dedicate yourself to your studies, I beg you, Magda! Do it for me! Consider it a loan that you will pay me back when you become famous and start selling your paintings.”
“I’m sorry but it cannot be done. Taking money from a man I am not married to would put me in an awkward situation. I asked for a grant and I am reasonably certain to get it with the backing of my professors from my Budapest School of Fine Arts. The discussion is closed. Let’s order,” Magda says charmingly.
“Choose for me, please. In this one case I am willing to put myself completely and unconditionally into your hands, Frank!”
They leave after she had promised to see him tonight at his home and get acquainted with his collection of art works. She gives him her address to pick her up. At this occasion he will see her place and verify how irreproachable she is.
After he is safely out of sight she dials Elijah’s number.
“What is it now, Magda?” He grumbles in quite an unfriendly way and, even more so when she asks him to lend her some money.”
“You will get it back with interest, Elijah, I swear, it’s only a short time loan. I am on a kill and must be at my best tonight. I need to have my hair done. Can you come the soonest possible, pick me up in front of the Drugstore and take me to the hairdresser’s who fixed Nathalie’s hair?”
“Don’t be a louse, Eli! I’ll stop at your place after. Do it for the old times sake, be a sport, Eli!”
“That’s a boy! You won’t regret it!” She says using her most exciting cooing voice.