Love and Other Murders

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Chapter 58

Cannes dwindles in the pouring rain, the inevitable bad joke of its Film Festivals. Nick shelters her under a huge umbrella that the doorman of the Hotel Martinez makes available to those destined to walk up the red carpet of the Festival Theater. The feel of Nick’s smooth skin on her cheek, as she leans closer to him to protect herself from the gusts of rain, is reassuring. Now she can be certain that deciding for Nick against Alex was right as it was her only way to stay alive.

Leaning on Nick’s arm she balances on her excessively high Manolo Blahnicks as noblesse oblige for the ultimate fan of “Sex and the City”. Her dangerously tight Armani black and white silk sheath turns her every step into a contortionist’s stunt. Tonight, their spy romance “Love and Other Murders,” their labor of love, Nick’s as the film’s director, hers as the scenarist has made it to the Awards’ Ceremony.

“What really matters is that we have cut mercilessly into our own flesh not minding the blood spattering over us.”

“There was no other way! And then: we were in it together.”

She will never forger the frenzied applause mixed with furious boos during the screening of their film, the violent confrontation of its admirers and contestants stopping short from bodily aggression. The heinous shrieks ‘Closet romantics!’ ‘Pompous art house garbage!’ ‘Shameless kitsch!’ mixed with similarly passionate ’Revolutionary! ‘Exquisite!’ Unforgettable!’ ‘Dazzling!’ ‘A great achievement!’

Which clan will have the upper hand, the members of the Jury most of them actors pandering to their protectors or the president, a Hollywood big shot with a rebellious chip in his heart, one of those who convert movies into films?

Waiting for the announcement of the awards hand in hand gives them strength. At the Ceremony Night their bodies slippery with sweat they grow closer with every minute of the tension. Looking at her for support he finds out that award or no award being at Cannes with her is more than he has ever dreamt about and that the recognition of his talent is second to shooting “Love and Other Murders” together that was his way of making love to her.

“And the “Prix de la Critique” goes to”… the Master of the Ceremonies announces after a blood chilling pause: “Love and Other Murders.”

After a moment of stunned silence the hell breaks loose, the thundering applause and earsplitting bravos are cut through by the violent boos of the over-excited audience tearing each other apart.

He helps Nathalie to get up, grabs her hand and drags her along the row of seats stepping over feet, loosing balance and straightening up until they arrive at the podium.

The very moment their joined hands are reaching after the statuette the shrill ringing of the phone tears her dream to shreds. She buries her head under the pillow refusing the brutal assault on her right to be herself.

“Yes!” She stutters out.

“Alex was rushed to the hospital. I am in front of your house. Hurry up!”

She is starting a migraine. The only effect which Elijah’s disaster report has on her is a deep frustration due to the disruption of her dream.

The night is dark. There is no moon. She sinks into the numb silence of the empty street. She gets into Elijah’s car. There is no escape. She has to face her duty. It isn’t just the matter of a guilty conscience. It goes about her moral obligation towards Alex to whom she owes not only her freedom but everything that goes with it.

“What happened, Eli? Alex seemed to get better every day, recovering his forces and looking forward the return to his work.”

“We don’t know yet, Nathalie. There is something strange in Alex’s relapse. He sent me on an errand and ordered me not to come back until he would give me a ring. Instead of him it was Katia who called and begged me to come as fast as I can; which I did. I’ll spare you the details though I think you have the right to know Alex got problems with his respiration while he was in bed with Katia doing drugs and god knows what else. There may be also another explanation for Alex’s “accident.” Katia noticed a strange man leaving hastily the house when she arrived on her date. When he noticed her he covered his face with a handkerchief, faking a fit of cough. That’s, at least, what I was able to understand from Katia’s inadequate French. I’d appreciate it if you could ask her what exactly happened.”

The very moment they step out from the elevator into the intensive care ward, a panicked Katia throws herself upon Nathalie and starts to tell her sobbingly her version of what happened.

“It was awful, Nathalie! I feel so guilty. But of course I did just what he asked me for, wishing to make the poor man happy and to let him forget his handicap. Before making love we did some coke to get in the mood. It was nothing excessive, just a couple of lines, much less than I am used to do with Vince. Alex eased up, it seemed like I succeeded to give him pleasure. He enjoyed having sex with me. Then suddenly he convulsed, his tongue slipped out from me, his nose was bleeding. First, I didn’t panic. I thought there was nothing to be scared of; it was just the normal thing after having taken to much coke. Suddenly he started to over-ventilate and choke. I gave him the mouth-to-mouth as I learned at the Young Communists’ Summer Camp. Because it had no effect I called Eli and explained him the situation. He immediately came and called the ambulance. I know Alex is your man and to make you suffer is the last thing I wish, Nathalie. Believe me I have not the least intention to steal him from you. I love Vince and I just did what he asked me to do.”

“It’s all right, Katia; I am not jealous. I doubt whether living with Vince is good for you. Pretending he cares about you is just his cynical manner to make you do anything he asks you for.”

“Oh no, Nathalie, Vince isn’t like that at all! In comparison with the men in Siberia Vince is an angel. They rape you, most often sharing you with their friends and don’t give a damn whether they made you pregnant. They do it like dogs, pushing into you one after the other fulfilling their beastly needs. Vince does care about me! He accompanied me to a gynecologist who put me on the pill, makes me examined after every job I do for him and gives me a lovely present afterwards.”

“You do love Vince, don’t you, Katia!”

“Oh yes, I love him body and soul!” She sighs, tears welling in her huge blue eyes.

“Alex has woken up and is asking for you, Nathalie.” Eli comes in mighty relieved.

Alex looks up at her from the corset of the hospital machinery, his cracked lips curled in a timid attempt on a smile.

“Nathalie, I…” he starts his apology.

“Hush up, Alex, don’t explain. Love is made from what we can find. Where we are looking for the missing pieces is everyone’s own business. All that counts is that you are getting better. Katia is a lovely girl and if she can make you relaxed let her do her best.”

“Does the same apply to you, Nathalie?”

“What do you think, Alex?”

“I suppose it does. A writer is also looking for missing pieces to put an art work together and it’s only fair to give you every chance for it. I only need some time to reconcile myself with the idea of sharing you with other men. That of course has nothing to do with a bit of recreational sex with Katia which assures me of my capacity to make you happy in the future in spite of my momentary handicap. It was a full success. I made Katia come and not just once and believe an expert, she didn’t fake her orgasm. It is Vince’s clever schooling. He is quite an expert if it goes about sex. When I sent you on the Stockholm job with Vince I ran the risk you might fall for his velvety hair, straight Roman nose and chiseled chin not to mention his rapier wit, irresistible to any woman of intellect and even if Vince swore to me he would stay away from you for the sake of our partnership I knew him much too well not to be practically certain his promise won’t be honored. Yet I didn’t stop you in your tracks. This was at the very beginning of our relationship and I had no other choice if I had to have the job done. Since then I’ve understood many things including what love is – a sensation in which I was an absolute beginner notwithstanding my numerous one-night-stands. So, please, wait until you have tried me before letting any other men take my place, will you, Nathalie?”

“Do not precipitate things, Alex. The most important is your recovery. A propos Katia told me she saw a strange looking man coming out from your house. Was he your guest? Has he anything to do with your accident? “

“I don’t think so. He is an old associate of mine, a very nice and reliable person. We discussed a couple of problems and then tasted an excellent whiskey he brought me from Scotland. He poured it out under my eyes and we enjoyed it greatly. He was very impressed with Katia whom he had met at Vince’s and asked me to lend her to him for a short-term job. He is leaving for Scotland and would like to take her with him. As I have to discuss it with Vince first I gave him no definite answer. He is a very rich and influential man ready to pay a substantial sum to Vince. I think Vince will agree to this deal.

“I am leaving the clinic on the morrow. May I hope for your company, at least at the beginning of my convalescence? Of course, don’t feel in any way obliged to live with me, Nathalie. I know you have to give your full attention to your studies.”

“It will be my pleasure, Alex.” She tries her best not to show him her true feeling.

“How very kind of you, Nathalie, I’ll try not to burden you. Please, can you send Eli in?”

She leaves him on an airy kiss avoiding his arms reaching after her. He pretends not to notice her reticence.

Elijah comes back puzzled.

“As improbable as it may seem, Alex is released from the hospital. His paralysis is on the mend and his surgeon believes that his recent collapse was due to overstraining. He recommends a series of “physiotherapist” sessions with Katia that will put Alex back on his feet. Sorry to be direct, Nathalie, but Katia’s body is endowed with a healing force of nature that will do wonders to his psyche – and to his business endeavor.”

“Of course, Eli, I do understand and have no grudge against Katia. Please tell him I’ll get my over night bag ready and join him at his place.”

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