Authors: Art Bourgeau
Most times she was more tolerant. It even amused her
to see him involved in one of these flirtations, knowing his secret:
he had almost no self-control—a fact he felt ashamed of, but one
that pleased her no end. She used this knowledge to replace
conventional, prosaic coitus with blitzkreig-like encounters in
hallways, bathrooms, kitchens, taxis—anywhere but bedrooms. She
liked to keep him on the edge, usually with her hand, occasionally
with her mouth, until he would whimper and even beg like a child.
Something she was certain his little pieces were incapable of
But tonight she was in no need to indulge him.
Tonight she was still reeling from her father's death, and she needed
a role reversal, needed Carl to be the strong one for a change and
look after her.
Justin was the first to see her and stood to greet
her with a flirtatious smile. The unknown man next to him also stood,
and for a moment Missy's eyes were drawn to him. He was a shade under
six feet, darkly handsome with a neatly trimmed beard and the lean
body of a runner. He was wearing a double-breasted suit of Italian
cut, a white shirt with collar pin, and a red-and-gold club tie. No
question, he reeked of poise, but there was something about him that
made him seem considerably more than a pretty male in a pretentious
whiskey ad. There was something very . . . physical . . . in the way
he looked at her that both unsettled and attracted her. Like her
father . . .
Carl was on his feet, too, and for a moment she
compared him with the stranger. Both were dark and slim, had beards,
but there it ended. There was something obviously soft, pliant in
Carl—none of that in this new man.
She kissed Carl lightly on the lips, Justin on the
cheek, and shook hands with the stranger who was introduced as Felix
Ducroit, a friend of Justin's from New Orleans.
A waiter brought her a chair, and only then did she
acknowledge the presence of the other woman across from her. She was
in her mid-thirties, with reddish-blonde hair of that in-between
length that meant she was letting it grow out. Her skin was soft and
delicate, the kind that begged floppy hats and cool shade, but the
tracery of wrinkles around her eyes indicated a careless disregard of
its delicacy. Her eyes were clear and deep blue, but underneath were
dark shadows that made her look tired and drawn.
Carl introduced them. "Laura Ramsey, this is
Missy Wakefield," and Missy was irritated even more. By
introducing Missy to the other woman, rather than vice versa, he made
it seem as if Missy were the intruder, and not, as of course it was,
the other way around.
Missy smiled through cocaine-clenched teeth and
managed a perfunctory "Hello."
"Would you like a-" Carl started, but
before he could say "drink," Violet, a pretty waitress with
a gentle look and flowing hair of a sixties flower child, appeared at
her shoulder with a Stolichnaya and soda.
It gave her a small sense of satisfaction when Violet
leaned over to say, "We missed you, but your tan looks great.
Did you have a good time?"
"Yes, but it's good to be back."
"Where were you?" she heard Laura Ramsey
Missy let the question hang for a moment while she
settled back and lit a cigarette. lf there was one thing a lifetime
of breeding and manners had taught her, it was how to keep everyone
Finally she said, "St. Martin."
"Did you stay on the French side or the Dutch?"
"The French. The Dutch is too much like a bad
weekend in Atlantic City."
"It's a great island. I managed to get there two
years ago for a few days. How long were you there?"
"Only a week this time, unfortunately."
"What she means, Laura, is that the reason she
was there was unfortunate," Carl said. "Missy's father just
died, and she was at their family place down there recovering from
the shock . . ."
In fact, she hadn't intended to mention her father's
death, at least not in front of two strangers, and she resented the
way Carl seemed to be, deliberately, asserting himself by stepping on
"I'm sorry to hear that. Were you close?"
Laura asked, the sympathy in her voice sounding sincere but too near
pity for Missy's comfort.
"Yes," she said flatly and then hurried to
change the subject.
"Now, folks, bring me up to date on what's been
going on around here."
"To be honest," said Justin, "when you
arrived we were talking about the South Philly runaways."
"The what?" said Missy.
"I guess you haven't seen the papers,"
Justin went on. "Yesterday one of them, I forgot which, had an
article about it. It seems that teenage girls have been disappearing
without a trace from South Philly. Almost a dozen of them . . ."
Carl put in, "it wasn't that many, more like a
"Half a dozen, a dozen," said Justin.
"People are beginning to take some notice."
"Well, South Philly seems like a good place to
disappear from," said Missy with an edge in her voice. This
wasn't what she wanted to talk about now.
"They ran pictures of the girls, and they were
all quite pretty, so young and fresh—"
"And Justin has been trying to get me to admit I
know something about it," said Carl, smiling nervously.
Missy smiled back. You'd better be nervous, she
thought. Making me sit here like this with another woman at the same
table, right here in front of everyone. . . Still looking directly at
Carl, she said to Justin,
"If it has anything to do with teenage girls in
white panties, Carl could just be your man . . . Sorry, darling,"
she said and leaned over to give him a proprietary peck. "Just
Carl clearly didn't appreciate the joke.
"It's supposed to be a classic fetish,"
said Justin, sounding unaccustomably pontifical.
"Thank you, Dr. Freud," said Missy, still
looking at Carl and enjoying the way he looked away from her. "But
surely South Philly strays aren't why you're all gathered here
tonight," she said, this time shifting her attention to Laura,
Carl's new one. Laura said nothing.
There was a silence at the table as attention shifted
to Carl. Finally he said, "We're having a . . . little
"What are we celebrating?" Missy asked, as
if any birthday cake within sight would surely conceal a ticking
Again silence, and then in a voice, for him,
remarkably cold and strong, Carl said, "We're celebrating my
moving to New York."
The shock of that, combined with the cocaine, gave
her a heart palpitation so strong that it felt as though someone had
jabbed her in the chest with a thumb. For a moment the shapes and
colors in the room seemed to shift out of sync, and her skin broke
out in droplets of sweat.
She took a drag on her cigarette to calm herself and
tried to ignore the trickle of sweat between her breasts.
"I think I must have come in on the middle of
this movie. Now tell me again, slowly. You're doing what?"
"I'm moving to New York, Missy . . . Laura has
been helping me to set up a show there—"
"And just how has Laura been doing that?"
"Laura works for a paper here. She was on
assignment up in SoHo and met the gallery owner. She was good enough
to mention me. He'd heard of me and agreed to look at my work. I
guess he liked the idea I was from Denver . . . a rustic American
from the hinterlands . . ."
"Which paper?" said Missy, zeroing in on
the heart of the matter.
"The Globe," Laura told her.
"How did you two meet? In a museum, I just bet."
"Yes, as a matter of fact, we met at the
Philadelphia Art Museum when they were having that exhibition of
Texas art and culture. I was covering it for the paper."
Turning back to Carl, Missy said, "I believe
that was last year . . ."
When she got nothing from him, she turned back to
"Then you're the art critic for the
Globe?"—knowing full well that she wasn't, since she already
knew the Globe's art critic.
"No, I do features—"
"But you just happened to be in New York on
assignment where you met a gallery owner who just happened to be
interested in Carl's work—"
"There's a bit more to it than that, but I guess
that's pretty much it."
The damn woman was too cool, and she, Missy realized,
had been losing hers. "Well, Carl, you said he looked at your
work and liked it. What does that mean? Is he going to give you your
own show or just take a couple of canvases on consignment and maybe
never pay you?"
"I thought you understood, Miss, he's giving me
my own show, and it's a good gallery so I know he's not going to
cheat me—at least not any more than any other gallery owner
Missy squashed out her cigarette and immediately
reached for another. Anything to keep her mouth busy, to keep her
from turning geek and leaping across the table to bite the head off
that meddling bitch.
As she fumbled for a light she heard a calm voice
say, "May I?"
For a moment the words didn't register. Then, turning
slightly, she found herself looking into the eyes of the newcomer,
Felix Ducroit. Now the resemblance to her late father seemed
stronger, and it first startled her, then quieted her. She put the
cigarette between her lips and he lit it with a silver Dunhill
Forcing a more cheerful note, she said, "I think
it's good about the show." With the possible "I" she
tried to reassert herself. "We've thought a lot about getting a
New York show. I'm really happy about it, but I don't understand this
business about moving there."
"It's not immediate. The show's not until spring
so I won't be going for about a month . . ."
"But, darling, I don't understand why you need
to go at all. Here you've got friends, an established career, a good
life, a nice loft. Why don't you do the show but stay here?"
"Missy, I can't. This is my chance to move up.
I've done all I can here. If I want to make a bigger name for myself
I have to go to New York. It's the same for actors. If you want to be
in the theater, it's New York. Movies, it's Hollywood. For an artist,
no question, you have to go to New York."
"Thank you for the lecture. I'm not exactly a
stranger in the art business-"
"Then please don't act like one. I wish for once
you'd think of somebody besides yourself and be happy for me."
"Like Miss Laura here?"
"I think it's time for a bottle of celebratory
champagne," Justin cut in, ever the diplomatic mein host.
Missy ignored him. "I still don't see why it's
necessary to move there so soon for a spring show. Couldn't you wait
and move there, say, in March?" She knew she was pushing it,
losing control but couldn't stop herself—and she hated this fucking
Laura for being responsible . . .
"The gallery owner," Carl said, now trying
to calm matters, "wants me there through the holidays, for
parties and so forth. It's a bore but he says if I'm a no-show there
will be no show."
Nicely put, he thought.
"I think some champagne would be just right,"
said Laura enjoying the byplay even though it did make her uneasy.
Actually there was nothing between her and Carl, not the way Missy
Wakefield thought. But it was up to Carl to enlighten her.
So you're just going to pick up and run out on
your friends like you've done with everything else in your life."
"Whoa, time out. You're understandably upset,
Missy, but enough is enough," said Justin, raising both hands.
He hated scenes in his establishment, bad for business.
Missy looked at him. "You're right, Justin,
enough is enough," and she picked up her purse and headed for
the ladies room. Moving away from the table, she thought she had
never felt more alone and betrayed. Goddamn them all.
She slammed the door of the ladies room behind her.
She needed some privacy to regain her composure, but instead found
Lois Fortier, Justin's wife, a striking redhead in a simple, black
Halston. She was standing at the sink touching up her makeup and
didn't glance in Missy's direction at the sound of the door; she let
the mirror do the work for her.
"From- the look on your face I'd say you've
heard the news," said Lois not unkindly.
Missy locked the door and walked toward the sink.
"About Carl moving to New York?"
"Oh, that," she said as she fumbled in her
purse. "Yes, I've heard about it and I think it's very exciting.
This is the break we've been waiting for all along."
Lois turned and looked at her.
Missy took out her compact, opened it, and laid it on
the edge of the sink.
"Of course, there's nothing I want more than to
see Carl become the biggest and most famous artist in the world—"
. . .And move in with Laura, Lois thought but didn't
say as she smoothed her dress over her hips and leaned forward to
make sure there was no lipstick on her teeth.