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Wellington's

Wellington's

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Wellington's

Lungime:
477 pages
7 hours
Lansat:
Jul 17, 2012
ISBN:
9781453261002
Format:
Carte

Descriere

At Wellington’s, it’s OK to break hearts, but never break your reservation

Seven nights a week, the most beautiful people in Manhattan crowd around the bar at a dimly lit restaurant on Second Avenue. Fueled by drugs, liquor, and jealousy, the singles crowd has made Wellington’s the hottest spot in town. Its gorgeous young patrons can go through several partners just before closing time, and the spectacle of “the hunt” ensures that the restaurant’s tables are never empty. People don’t come to Wellington’s for the food, but for a close-up view of romantic blood sport.

David James, owner and operator, runs the show. Around him swirls a hurricane of swingers, players, and tramps, but David stays cool. In this bar, the only rule is to never sleep with someone who’s got more troubles than you. But the people who crowd around at last call have so many problems, it’s impossible to keep count.

Lansat:
Jul 17, 2012
ISBN:
9781453261002
Format:
Carte

Despre autor

Marc Olden (1933–2003) was the author of forty mystery and suspense novels. Born in Baltimore, he began writing while working in New York as a Broadway publicist. His first book, Angela Davis (1973), was a nonfiction study of the controversial Black Panther. In 1973 he also published Narc, under the name Robert Hawke, beginning a hard-boiled nine-book series about a federal narcotics agent. A year later, Black Samurai introduced Robert Sand, a martial arts expert who becomes the first non-Japanese student of a samurai master. Based on Olden’s own interest in martial arts, which led him to the advanced ranks of karate and aikido, the novel spawned a successful eight-book series. Olden continued writing for the next three decades, often drawing on his fascination with Japanese culture and history. 

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Wellington's - Marc Olden

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PART I

September—October

1

DURING HER AFFAIR WITH France’s third-most-popular actor, Iona Raymond had developed a taste for French cigarettes, and tonight she stood under the beige-and-gold canopy of the Hotel Pierre on Fifth Avenue at Sixty-first Street, nervously lighting her third Gauloise in less than five minutes. She’d taken only two puffs on the last one. Her hands shook. Nerves.

Her tongue found a loose strand of tobacco near the cracked tooth on the left side of her mouth, another souvenir from Paris and Jean-Paul after Iona had told him that the end of filming also meant the end of their affair.

Tonight, as she stood on the sidewalk, listening to her director tell her what she had again done wrong, she leaned her head back, blew smoke up at the hotel canopy, and remembered her first thought after Jean-Paul had punched her in the face: You’ve broken the unwritten rule among actors, Jean-Paul. Never hit each other in the face during an argument. Professional courtesy. An actor’s face is his cash register.

He’d struck her—not exactly a surprise, coming from a man so totally French in his arrogance and self-love. Iona’s reaction to that slice of Parisian charm had been to give in to her anger and fear and break Jean-Paul’s nose with a half-filled bottle of white wine, then run terrified out of her trailer dressing room, bare-breasted in January snow, a bleeding, cursing Jean-Paul chasing her through the extras and camera crew shivering in the Bois de Boulogne.

Monumental ego. Jean-Paul’s big problem, besides remembering his lines. Iona Raymond, thirty-two, English, an internationally acclaimed actress, a woman, had kicked him in that ego by telling him it was over between them. Jean-Paul couldn’t stand that. Had he been allowed to walk out on her, that little scene in the trailer two years ago never would have happened. Left to his own self-centered whims, the bastard would have ended their affair in his own good time ten minutes later or ten months later. He wanted to be the one to close the book of love.

In Iona Raymond’s life, she did the leaving, no matter who the man was. She picked him, she stayed with him until she tired of it, and then she left.

French cigarettes and unwanted lovers. Two years ago, and tonight.

Tonight she stood in Manhattan’s September chill, smoking too much and being eyed by a camera crew bored with watching her fluff nine takes of a simple scene. Extras hired for crossovers, hungry and edgy at eleven on a Friday night, couldn’t wait to tell friends how overrated Iona Raymond was. The great Miss Raymond, of the London stage and prizewinning European films, couldn’t walk through a hotel door properly. Nine times she’d tried, and nine times she’d done it wrong. That’s what, Don, her director was telling her. Again. He was losing patience.

Too fast, he said. The building’s not on fire. Don’t come through that door as if your underwear’s in flames. Pause, pause, pause, like we agreed. Give me a count of three, then push the door open slowly, slowly. I need to see your face. I don’t know where you are tonight, but I don’t think it’s here. He stopped, giving her time to deal with what he’d just said.

Sieg heil, she thought, you are correct, mein Führer. I’m not concentrating. Nerves. Blame it on the man waiting for me in the back seat of my luxurious limousine. I’ve no wish to see him again, but he won’t take no for an answer.

The man waited for her directly across the street, just a few feet from Central Park. She looked over Don’s shoulder, past the camera, and saw the car, not the man. But she knew he was there. That upset her, reminding her of Jean-Paul and taking away energy and concentration needed to work, resulting in nine takes of a scene she should have done in one.

The man was forcing himself into her life, intruding, refusing to be politely dropped and ignored. She’d met him ten days ago, at her first New York press conference on arriving from London, slept with him twice, then lost interest, something the man now refused to accept. That was the problem. His taking it on himself to show up on tonight’s location, plant himself in the back seat of her limousine, and wait until she came to him was very much on her mind.

Time to get control of herself. She was English, after all. And a professional, aware that bedroom follies did not belong on a set or onstage. Acting was her life’s work, something she’d fought to perfect, and the more she thought of some man believing himself more important to her than acting, the angrier she got.

With a successful career on the London stage and in European films going for her, Iona Raymond had accepted this movie, her first in America, and even though she was doing it primarily to pay back taxes, she owed it to her own standards to do her best. In this film she was the wife of an ambitious English delegate to the United Nations, sleeping around, and encouraged to do so by her husband, in the belief that it would help his career.

Tonight’s scene called for her to rush from the Hotel Pierre in tears, pained by a lover’s betrayal. Go through the door, pause, wipe tears from her eyes with her fingertips, look in vain for a cab before rushing tearfully into Fifth Avenue traffic to the sound of screeching brakes and cursing motorists. Simple. Or it should have been.

But Jason Codd was waiting for her. Jason Codd, twenty-seven-year-old wonder boy of Manhattan film critics. Good-looking in that man-boy American way. Long, unsmiling face, intellectually vain, and unable to stop talking about films, even in bed. God, were critics a bore, always spouting witty phrases and looking at you out of the corner of their eye to see if you got the point. Dear Jason, so young, so cynical, so critical of anything in the world that displeased him, which seemed to be everything between earth and sky. Small wonder he’d been divorced twice. Another monstrous ego, which was always the driving force behind persistent pursuers. Constantly telephoning her hotel, her agent, the film company’s production office on Fifth Avenue, her hairdresser, even the British consulate. Jason Codd, who did not like his telephone calls to women going unreturned. Determined little bastard.

Don Pardon, thirty-one, was the first American director she’d ever worked with. He had that same American intensity as Jason, but their relationship was strictly business, though strained at the moment. Don had done only two major films, but both were interesting and highly acclaimed, with one of his actresses winning an Oscar for best performance. He worked well with women—that’s what had interested Iona. Don listened to his actresses, occasionally accepting a suggestion from one without allowing her to take over completely. Iona liked that.

However, at the moment she could feel his apprehension at telling her for the tenth time that she wasn’t giving him what he wanted, what the scene called for. Iona Raymond was an important star, and English, two facts that would intimidate any American director. Don, lean, in faded red sneakers, jeans, gray Beethoven sweatshirt, and bearded, like his idols Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola, was now speaking softly to her, trying to avoid a temper flare-up on either side. Nine takes meant people were getting tired and irritable. Don wanted to come away with usable film tonight if he could.

That was another reason Iona blew smoke up at the canopy. No need to blow it in Don’s face. Things hadn’t come to that, yet.

She knew what he was doing: talking to her to calm her down, giving her a chance to rest, to find out what the scene was supposed to accomplish. She knew that. Now she had to do it.

Around them on the sidewalk and in the street in front of the hotel, a thirty-man crew reset lights, checked lighting cables to see that they were connected to two small generators, checked props, positioned twenty-five extras, and ignored jokes and dumb questions from the giggling, chattering night crowd surrounding them on three sides. A script girl near the camera shivered in a low canvas director’s chair, sipped lukewarm coffee, and marked her script, wondering if she’d finish before midnight and if Don would sleep with her tonight or with that young guy he kept using as an extra. As far as the script girl was concerned, Iona Raymond was a crock.

Extras allowed themselves to be positioned by the first assistant director. They were to cross over just as Iona Raymond came through the door, something they were tired of doing tonight. The $47.50-per-day SAG minimum wasn’t money, but when you had to pay rent and buy cat food, you couldn’t complain. So extras yawned, smoked, chewed gum, and felt superior to the civilians, the crowd watching and waiting for something to happen.

Don chewed a corner of his mouth, hoping he was getting through to Iona. This was an important film for him, and no matter how right he was, he couldn’t afford to antagonize a star as important as Iona Raymond. Directors always had to walk a tightrope between being in charge and losing control. No matter how independent a director might be starting out in the business, sooner or later he’d compromise on anything to be allowed to make pictures. That had been Iona Raymond’s experience.

Don’s smile, while not entirely sincere, was now wider. Lovely English visitor that you are, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we’ve still got film in the camera. The bad news is that we’ve got to use it all up before we leave tonight. He had a slight lisp, nothing too faggy, she thought, though you could never tell these days. His brown eyes were extraordinarily bright, like those of a genius or an ax murderer.

She dropped the unfinished Gauloise to the pavement, grinding it out. Mucking it up, aren’t I? Can’t seem to get the handle on it, I’m afraid.

She watched Don sigh, knowing he was grateful for her taking the blame. Iona wasn’t being charitable, just honest. Don took her hands, as the crowd watched the two of them with deep interest. Three policemen herded the crowd back out of camera range. The crowd—white, black, young, old—were the only ones enjoying themselves. The professionals had had enough, they wanted to go home as soon as possible. Traffic on Fifth Avenue had been blocked off and diverted along a side street to Madison Avenue, except for three hired cars that were to come speeding down Fifth Avenue at Iona two seconds after she stepped from the curb, braking ten feet away from her.

Tempers were growing short among the professionals. Fifteen-hour days could do that. Which is why Don had to get a take soon that he could use, or he’d have trouble. Iona knew that, too. She longed to hear those words: Cut! That’s a take! Print it!

Crew, extras, policemen, Manhattan crowd. Except for the crowd, all had had enough of show business for the time being.

Don frowned, still squeezing her hands. Something bothering you?

She shivered, eyes on the limousine, mind on Jean-Paul. God, don’t let it happen again.

Iona had a chauffeured limousine, as did Don and the production manager, all three cars courtesy of the producer and Teamsters Local 817. It was in Iona’s contract, to be furnished during her eight weeks of filming in New York, plus forty thousand dollars a week and two thousand weekly living expenses. Plus first-star billing over the title, and in all ads her billing to be 100 percent of the title size. Time for her to start earning all of that.

Anything I can do? Don squeezed harder.

Yes. Get me a bloody masseuse for my fingers, you’re squeezing the life out of them.

They both smiled. Why not? The producer was paying for it, forty-five thousand per shooting day in hopes of getting at least two minutes of usable film daily.

Well, love of my life, said Don in his slight lisp, it’s once more into the breech. Look, what I’m not getting is that feeling of hurt, of pain. That bastard up there in the penthouse has busted your chops, and—

Busted my chops? What in heaven’s name are my chops, or shouldn’t I ask?

Uh, Jesus, I don’t know, can’t think. Look, the second you hit that door, you’ve got to show me that it’s been hard times back there, that you’re bleeding emotionally inside and carrying one heavy load. Honey, if you don’t give me that, then that next scene with your husband—

I know. God, do I ever. She pulled her hands free, rubbing them. She was chilly. Hadn’t eaten much today, either.

Two teenage girls in the crowd continued to shriek her name until a policeman ordered them to shut up or move on. Americans. Always energetic, always loud.

She wanted to be free of Jason Codd. Wouldn’t it be nice if he took a trip somewhere?

Suddenly she knew what she had to do.

She drew herself up, excited and smiling, eyes on Don’s worried, bearded face. At five-feet-ten barefoot, she could almost look most men in the eye. Tonight, in heels, she was over six feet tall, placing her almost eye-to-eye with Don, who was six-three and broom-handle-thin, with bony hands now nervously toying with the viewfinder hanging from his neck on a brown leather cord.

Don noticed the sudden change in her and wondered if he should be concerned for himself.

Don? She eyed the limousine more carefully now. People walked in front of and behind the camera, slowing down to stare at her. She was going to solve her problem immediately.

Yes? Don frowned, stroking his nose with a finger the length of a kitchen knife.

She leaned toward him. I don’t know much about these things, being a stranger to your America. Tell me, don’t those limousines have door locks controlled by the driver?

Uh, yeah, yeah, I guess so.

And Central Park—that is it just across the way, isn’t it?

Yeah, yeah … hey, what’s going on in that foreign head of yours?

A corner of her wide mouth lifted in something like a smile. Iona Raymond wasn’t pretty. Skin too pale. Eyes too small and too close together. Raisins in a pudding, wrote one critic. Her red hair needed touching up to keep out the gray, and in times of prolonged stress her skin broke out. Her wide mouth had been called a ravine with teeth, among other cruel descriptions by critics who knew the value of an eye-catching phrase. No, Iona Raymond wasn’t pretty, but she had the talent to make anyone believe she was beautiful.

That talent was being applied to Don Pardon, making him unsure of himself because he didn’t know why she was doing it. He was being hit with Iona Raymond’s force of will, the same force of will that had transformed her from a tall, gawky child into an actress of such skill that Olivier had twice selected her to appear with him at the National Theatre. Olivier’s note in his own handwriting, praising her work in Macbeth and Long Day’s Journey into Night, the two plays they had done together, was framed and taken with her wherever she went. It was that Iona Raymond who was about to take care of Jason Codd.

"Don, we’re going to finish tonight’s work. We’re going to earn our pay, but first have one of the AD’s come over here. Don’t look at me like that. I am in my right mind. Honestly. Just humor me briefly, then we shall return to earning our daily bread, dear boy. This concerns a personal matter, which in true English fashion I do not wish to discuss. Believe me, it will not affect the film in an adverse way. Now, find us an assistant director who can remember his name. Go on, love, go. After that we shall commence, dear boy. Please?"

She stroked his bearded cheek. Poor dear. Frowning and creasing his forehead as he sought to solve the eternal riddle of woman. No such luck, love.

The AD was Kirk, a young, round-faced, pudgy, bearded Italian wearing a New York Mets baseball jacket and maroon-colored pants. Iona drew him aside as everyone watched, whispering slowly in his ear, having him repeat to her what she’d just said, then watching as he hurried through the crowd and across the street to her limousine.

She watched, heart pounding. This will work. It has to. Don came over to her, started to say something, then thought better of it. They both stared as Kirk ran around to the driver’s side and opened the door. Ralph, her driver, stepped out, and after listening to Kirk, he turned toward Iona. She waved and nodded to show that Kirk was telling the truth, that the pudgy one was her trusted emissary bearing only her most exact instructions. Waving once more, Ralph slipped behind the wheel, slammed the door, and seconds later the long black car had pulled away from the curb and turned right into Central Park.

Jason Codd’s perseverance was to be rewarded. With a trip through Central Park, with Ralph locking the doors automatically from the front, keeping Jason a prisoner during a thirty-minute ride.

Simple. So very simple, and so very satisfying. Iona could throw her arms into the air and sing at the thought of it.

She turned to Don. She felt confident and anxious to work. Magic time, dear one. Shall we?

She did the scene perfectly in the next take, pausing exactly as long as Don had demanded, crying on cue, adding her own touches, and bringing Don to his feet with excitement. She crossed the lobby, pressed her face against the glass, wept, clawed the glass door, then ran through it, face in her hands, body shaking with sobs. She hesitated just long enough on the sidewalk, threw her head back, her face wet and red, breathed deeply, wrung her hands, and ran out into the traffic. Brakes shrieked, drivers shouted. On cue.

When Don excitedly yelled, Print, goddammit! We have got ourselves one hell of a take! the crowd exploded with applause, prolonged cheers, and whistles. The three cops controlling the crowd slipped their clubs under their armpits and applauded. The crew and extras had not planned to applaud—their way of showing their resentment at being kept so late, and also their way of proving they knew more than civilians did. The extras, who could see what she’d done, clapped, caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowd and of that rare moment of seeing a great artist do what she could do better than anyone else. The crew didn’t applaud. But some of them nodded and smiled small smiles. The tall broad could cut loose when she had to.

Don, pleased at what he’d just seen, twice pleased because tonight was over, hugged her. Booze is on me. Anywhere special? Christ, that was un-fucking-believable. That bit back there with the door, scratching it, how’d you think of it?

She smiled. I didn’t. It just came.

Wow. Nice, real nice. And that business with looking up, I mean, we didn’t work out any of that, and you … you just … Christ, I am knocked out, really knocked out by you. He hugged her, squeezing her tightly.

Nothing like being appreciated, she thought, as they drew back from each other. The script girl, silent and sullen, handed Don her marked script and stood back a few feet, waiting. She didn’t smile at Iona or congratulate her.

Wellington’s, said Don, still smiling and holding her hands.

Thought he was dead. Is his widow receiving these days?

He rubbed noses with her. His was cold. Around them, Iona heard the sounds of people talking, cops shouting, men dragging cables across the pavement, men now working fast because they were working to go home.

Don still had that big smile. The widow Wellington. High-larious, Miss Raymond. Wellington’s is an East Side restaurant of stunning beauty and reputation. Good food, freaky folks, and I can sign the check there.

I could see some unwinding after tonight. It’s been a hard week. You don’t mind if I ride with you, do you? My car’s on a trip of sorts.

So I noticed. Want to tell me what’s going on?

No.

That’s what I said: you don’t have to tell me what’s going on. Let’s go see the widow.

Let’s.

They walked through the crowd and crew with their arms around each other, Don waving to the production manager that he’d see him at the restaurant. He ignored the script girl.

Dear Jason, thought Iona, we all fornicate to a different drummer.

David James didn’t want to talk to Barbara, so he stood squeezing the telephone receiver tightly, one hand over the mouthpiece as if to keep her quiet and out of his life. Barbara, born in Stockholm and now living in Rome, exhausted him with her emotional extremes, shrieking and tearstained with happiness one minute, silent and hostile with depression the next. Whatever she said or did somehow managed to skirt the edge of danger. In the six months he’d known her, David had found Barbara quick to say or do the first thing that came into her head, and to hell with the consequences.

No amount of thick, shoulder-length, dark-brown hair, sky-blue eyes, smooth tanned skin, and long legs could erase the fact that Barbara was a twenty-six-year-old child, self-centered and moody. She was sexually ravenous, quick to tell anyone who’d listen what she could and would do in bed. Life with her was the same as walking barefoot on a razor blade, something David hadn’t learned until after he’d gone to bed with her. The woman was unpredictable.

With a quick, forced motion, he brought the receiver to his ear, closing his eyes. He wasn’t going to like this.

Meesta Daveeda Jims?

Yes, yes, can you speak up, please, I can hardly hear you.

Meesta Jims? Roma operator calling, one moment please?

Yes, operator, I’ll wait. Don’t ask why. That’s what I get for not remembering what my uncle told me years ago. Uncle Robby said never go to bed with anybody who’s got more problems than you, and Uncle Robby was right.

Who else but Barbara Stromberg would call him at the restaurant, eleven-thirty on a Friday night, busiest night of the week for any restaurant, singles bar, discotheque or movie theater on Manhattan’s East Side. Wellington’s, located on the corner of Sixty-first Street and Second Avenue in the heart of New York City’s singles scene, was owned and operated by David. A partner owned a one-third interest, but David James ran Wellington’s, which consistently drew the largest crowd of singles on the East Side, its bar crowded seven nights a week until closing.

A hundred and seventy singles packing a bar every night, no matter how many drinks they bought at two dollars apiece, wasn’t enough to pay staff overhead and electricity bills. Wellington’s six-million-dollar gross last year, making it number one among Manhattan’s top five money-making restaurants, had come mostly from the three hundred seats at the tables. They were never empty, totally reserved for daily lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch. But credit the singles with that, too, for the diners came to watch the action at the bar.

Tonight, Friday, the bar would stay open late, with singles jammed against each other in pursuit of The Hunt, and patrons eagerly watching from the tables, until the six bartenders stopped serving drinks at four A.M.

A large restaurant filled to capacity with almost five hundred people, with its front door locked against a Friday-night crowd out on the sidewalk waiting patiently to get in, with more than one hundred employees adding to the mob scene and wall of sound around David, was no place to receive one of Barbara’s strange telephone calls. Her calls were too personal, telling you more about herself—and you—than you’d care to hear. Barbara Stromberg wasn’t honest, she just didn’t give a damn. All David had wanted from her was sex. She had ended up taunting him, annoying him.

The telephone call from Rome had come in at the reservations desk, where David now stood listening to transatlantic silence, crackling static, and what seemed to be a shrill police whistle. Turning his back on the dozen or so people waiting just inside the front door for tables, David eyed the patches of orange, red, yellow, and green on six Tiffany lampshades hanging over the crowded, huge rectangle of a bar. Barbara, after too many cognacs one night, had threatened to throw an ashtray at those lampshades, which had been appraised at forty thousand each.

The chest-high reservations desk, hand-carved from dark brown wood, was between David and Richard, the night maitre d’, who was working five other telephones with computer efficiency. Richard, slim, blond, tanned, clean-shaven in a brown suit, brown tie, brown shirt, pressed each blinking button with a manicured finger, maintaining the same brisk semi-politeness in a voice that was basically neither friendly nor unfriendly.

Wellington’s, good evening, may I help you? Very good, sir. You realize of course, there’ll be a thirty-minute wait for tables, and we’re no longer admitting people to the bar. From now until closing, we’re taking only reservations for couples. Yes, yes, I quite understand. Press another button and begin again.

Don’t blame Richard for Barbara. He wasn’t being paid to screen David’s personal calls. Richard worked the phones at the front desk, directing waiting customers to the bar until a table was ready, or if a table was ready, Richard turned the customer over to one of three hosts who did the seating. Barbara was David’s problem.

Hello, hello, David?

Yes, Barbara.

"David, darling, how are you?"

I’m fine. He placed his right hand over his ear to shut out the noise around him.

Ah, yes, Mr. James is fine. Mr. James is fine. David, do you know why I’m calling? No, you wouldn’t, would you, because I haven’t told you yet, but I shall, I shall tell you. It was as though she were alone talking to herself, a child playing a private game, with perhaps only a doll to keep her company.

Barbara, why did you call? It’s almost midnight.

David, you sound annoyed with me. Don’t be cross, please. It’s … let me see, it’s twenty-five minutes to five here in Roma. I never say ‘Rome,’ the Italians have me saying ‘Roma.’ Roma, Roma, Roma. Say it fast, and it sounds like a motorbike. Come on, David, say ‘Roma, Roma, Roma.’ She laughed, a high-pitched sound that made him cringe. Crazy bitch.

Barbara, I’ve got a restaurant full of people, I’ve got a table of friends waiting for me, what the hell’s on your mind?

David’s friends, David’s friends. Tell me, one of the friends waiting for you, is she the woman you betray so frequently? Is Lynda waiting for you, David? She always waits, doesn’t she? She …

He inhaled, anger making him squeeze the receiver until his knuckles threatened to push through the skin. He was living with Lynda, loved her very much. Yes, he screwed other women he met in Wellington’s, but goddamn it, that wasn’t Barbara’s business.

He almost shouted before remembering where he was. When he did speak, his voice was a hard hiss. Barbara, I don’t know why you called, I really don’t give a shit, but you keep out of my private life, you hear me? He wanted to hurt her, to get back at her for that crack about Lynda. He brought the receiver closer to his mouth. "If you had a dime for every guy you balled, you could retire. Don’t come on like the Vatican with me—"

She interrupted him, her voice pleasant, comfortable with English as well as with four other languages. It was as though she hadn’t said anything to hurt him. Her shift in moods, in tone, made her appear to be an entirely different person.

David, I went to a party the other day. You are famous even in Europe. Someone there had been to your restaurant. He loved Wellington’s, thought it was one of the most beautiful restaurants he’d ever seen. Tiffany lamps, stained-glass ceiling, paintings on the wall, souvenirs—he said you are to be congratulated. You must know, darling, the Arabs throw the best parties in Roma. Why not, they do have the money, right? You—

Barbara, I’m hanging up. You high or something? She admitted doing coke, a habit she’d picked up in Rome, where she worked in a Swedish travel agency, handling tours for Swedes tired of snow and twenty-below weather and anxious to come south for some Mediterranean sun. David had met her when she’d flown to New York for a travel agents’ convention.

High? No, darling, not high. I am pregnant, you know, but I do not wish you to worry. Oh, please don’t worry, David, please. You—

Pregnant? He closed his eyes and shook his head. Was she blaming him? God, could he use a drink. Barbara pregnant. She was dumb enough, crazy enough, to do anything. Why the hell hadn’t he stayed away from her? Uncle Robby said you paid for everything. As usual, Uncle Robby was right.

Barbara began to sing. Lullaby and good night, da da da da da da da. Lullaby and good night. … David, are you there, love? She sounded pleased, delighted.

Yes, yes, I’m here. You sure? He’d screwed her over a month ago when she was in town.

Yes, I’m sure, but not to worry. I’m having it taken care of.

Taken ca … You mean—

"I mean. That’s right, David, I mean, I mean! She was shouting, an inch away from hysteria, from losing complete control. I mean, I mean, goddamn it! I’m having it killed tomorrow, or I should say later this morning. ‘Scraped,’ I think, is the term. Oh, I’m not sure it’s yours. There were others, many others, as you have just reminded me." She was crying, which only added to David’s confusion and guilt. What the hell was going on? What could he do? Did she want money?

Barbara, do you need anything?

From you? Oh, that’s a laugh, a real laugh. You know something, David, you are … oh, I don’t know what you are. You pretend to be smart, in control of your life. You live with one woman, you sleep with many others, and I know you think I am crazy, I know this. Maybe I am, but I am not a hypocrite like you, you know that? You pretend to be moral, to be good, but you use women. Yes, I know that. You think your life is perfect. You have money, a nice restaurant in New York, and you are a handsome—yes, this is so, you are handsome. You have gray hair and a nice ass, and you are handsome, but you use women, I want you to know that I don’t feel so good, I feel sick.

Barbara? Barbara?

Silence. People pushed past David, laughing, talking, smelling of perfume and liquor, faces relaxed from eating well. He saw them all in a blur, heard them all as though from a distance. Barbara pregnant. And he could be the father. Jesus.

Barbara, can I help?

She sniffed into the phone several times before answering. No. I just wanted you to know, that’s all. It will be over soon—not to worry, as the English say. I feel … I feel alone, that’s all. I once thought you could help me, you seemed so wise, so understanding, but you could not help me, you cannot help yourself. Maybe I am crazy sometimes, I don’t know. Sometimes I feel normal, everything is nice—very, very nice. Other times, I feel like there is nothing for me, I think I am ugly, stupid—

You’re beautiful. She was. But her emotions were a mess. She was going to flip out totally one day.

David, do you know what? An Arab offered me money to go to Morocco with him. Swiss francs or American dollars. Said he would pay my fare and hotel if I went with him to some oil conference for one week. Maybe I get some free oil, huh?

Are you going?

Mmmm, I don’t know. What do you think?

He sighed. She took a lot out of him. I don’t think I’m the one to tell you what to do, Barbara.

Maybe you’re right. You have to learn, David, that just because you are a success with women does not mean you know them.

He wasn’t annoyed anymore; he just wanted the conversation to end.

Maybe you’re right.

I am right, David. You have a nice business, and people take orders from you. Your problem is, you think success has made you perfect, and that is wrong. Oh, David, you could have helped me, you know? You could have.

How? I don’t see how.

I’ll be all right, don’t worry about me. The Arab is taking care of everything, paying for everything. I’ve had abortions before. Know something, David? Every time I have an abortion, I always get a kitten.

A kitten?

"Yes, yes. Somebody sends me a kitten, or I get my friends to give me one, or I pick up one. But I have a kitten. Oh, sorry, I mean I get a kitten."

I understand. How many kittens do you have now?

Counting this one, six.

Oh.

Well, David, say hello to everybody for me, and I may get to New York the end of this year. We’re thinking of opening a branch office there. Americans love Sweden, you know, especially Swedish women, don’t they, David?

He looked over at Richard, who was writing a name in the reservations book, acting as though he was hearing nothing but pleas for tables. Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn’t.

Barbara, can I send you money?

No, Mustapha will take care of everything. Shall I send you a photograph of my kitten, the new one?

If you’d like.

David? I still like you, you know. Really, I do.

That’s nice.

I know you don’t like me, so I won’t ask you if you do. Do you like anybody, David?

He wanted to hang up, slam down the phone and get back to Lynda, to someone he knew and felt comfortable with. Barbara always managed to hit home, whether or not she knew it.

David, I’d better go now. I’m tired, must get some sleep. Mustapha’s chauffeur is coming to pick me up and take me to the clinic in a couple of hours. I’ll send you a picture of the new kitten. I’m thinking of calling him Wellington. What do you think of that?

Great idea. Like hell.

Good. I’ll do that. Good night, David.

Good night, Barbara. He was confused. Should he feel guilty? Relieved?

Women like Barbara were the fruits of victory for David James, who took them as his due for having succeeded in New York. When he was through with them, which was usually quite quickly, he discarded them with polite indifference, replacing them when he felt the need. Lynda was different. He cared for her, liked her, though he remained aware that he rarely if ever used the word love to her.

Lynda had lasted longer than the others, including

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