Ordinary Man is a work in progress. I’ve decided to share some of it here with my readers. This is a new, edited version of what was shared previously.
* Chapter 1
My wife was sitting on the wooden porch swing I’d bought her on our first anniversary. She waved away a random mosquito that was encroaching, hoping for a quick drink. Her eyes were red and swollen, and she clutched a ball of tissue in her hand. Her lips formed a straight, inexpressive line.
Diana suspected infidelity for most of our marriage. It’s not easy being the spouse of a rock star. And although she would never believe it, I was faithful- that is, until I met Victoria.
Devil May Care was touring Europe, and Victoria worked at a venue we played in Vienna. She was the only American at the place who was not a member of our crew. She knew nothing about me, and we hit it off right away.
I was sitting alone in the dressing room perusing an Austrian travel guide when the click-clack of high-heels distracted me from my reading. The sound resonated off the wooden floors, and I counted the steps. Click one. Clack two. Click one. Clack two.
I looked up from my magazine when the sound stopped with a click at the doorway. There stood the most attractive dark-haired woman, brown eyes, long legs, and hips I imagined myself holding onto. She seemed so out of place in her suit; I knew right away she wasn’t some vagrant fan wandering around backstage. I would have mistaken her for a reporter maybe, except that she had no idea who I was. It’s true I didn’t seem to belong in the dressing room of Frankie Nightingale.
We’d just finished a sound check, and it was hours before show time. I was hardly stage-ready with my oversized and overly worn Jolly Roger’s Tavern of New Orleans tee shirt reading, Don’t Forget To Get Your Jollies Off In The Crow’s Nest-The Crow’s Nest being a bar located above Jolly Roger’s Tavern owned by the same proprietor. My hair, damp from sweat, was stuffed into an orange and white trucker’s cap which bore its own immodest slogan for Schapht brand fishing equipment: Because So Much Is Riding On Your Rod. I was nursing a miserable hangover with a glass of Cutty Sark on the rocks, the half-full bottle sat open on the counter, not far from reach. And I needed a shower.
She noticed me watching her, readjusted her jacket, and placed a few long strands of dark hair behind one ear, renegades broken free from their tightly wound confinement.
“I’m looking for Mr. Nightingale.”
“Have you ever been to the House of Music?” I asked her.
“I have a couple of days off, and I was hoping to do some sight seeing in this City of Music.” I waved my hands in an all-encompassing gesture. “What about The Vienna State Opera Museum? Been there?”
“They’re both lovely,” she replied. “But I’m really looking for Mr. Nightingale.”
“What about the Mozarthaus? I love classical music. Most people don’t know that. Do you live in Vienna? You do live in Vienna, right?”
“Yes,” she sighed.
“Good,” I said standing from my chair. With one hand I hiked up my jeans that hung a little loose in the waist. “Because I would really like to have someone with experience to show me around.”
“That is if you’re interested, of course.”
“I really just need to find Mr. Nightingale and see if he needs anything.”
“He needs someone to show him around tomorrow. Is noon-ish okay? I’d suggest breakfast, but I don’t usually get to bed until at least three.”
She smiled. It was a good sign. I wasn’t so sure my come-on approach was still sound after a decade of non-use.
“Franklin Rossignol,” I said holding my hand out to her.
“I suppose you’re used to getting whatever you want?” she asked looking up at me.
“Sometimes,” I smiled.
“Anything in particular you need today, Mr. Nightingale?”
“Okay,” she said taking a pen from inside a thick leather planner. “What do you need?”
“I need to know if you want me to pick you up, or should we meet at the hotel, or at the restaurant? Any suggestions?”
She pressed her sepia stained lips together and inhaled, her dark eyes fixed on mine. She exhaled, opened her planner, and scribbled something on a small piece of paper. She then handed it to me. It read, Victoria Wilson. Café Drechsler. Linke Wienzeile 22 1060 Wien. I didn’t have the first clue what it meant.
“Noon,” she said.
“All right,” I said.
“See you then,” she said and left the room, the click-clack of her heels growing faint as she walked down the hall.
“Armand,” I said on the phone with my assistant once one Miss Victoria Wilson was gone, “I need you to find an address.”
* Chapter 2
“So, you’re leaving me for that Viennese tramp?”
“She’s American, and she’s not a tramp,” I said.
She huffed in response.
“We both knew this was coming,” I said.
She used a crumpled tissue to wipe her cheeks. Tears mixed with mascara, and dark eyeliner striated the too-dark concealer she used to hide the darkened half moons beneath her eyes. I didn’t reply. The katydids filled the silence.
“How long have you been seeing her?”
“Two years,” I answered. It was a hard thing to admit. Although Diana had been less than friendly toward me during those two years, I felt guilty for my deceitfulness.
“You’ve been sleeping with her for two years?” Diana’s lower lip trembled.
I nodded and looked out over the yard listening to the toads that had joined the katydids’ chorus. It felt like rain. I thought the toads felt it, too.
“I guess it was only a matter of time before you fell for one of your groupies.”
“She’s not a groupie,” I said. I don’t know why Diana treated the news of my relationship with Victoria as unexpected. She’d accused me of adultery since the beginning, when photos of Victoria and I appeared in the gossip rags. I’d convinced Diana that Victoria was an interviewer and nothing more.
“I love her the way you love Andrew,” I said.
Diana’s head spun so fast I thought she’d give herself whiplash.
“Don’t talk about Andrew.”
“I’ve been living in his shadow for ten years. His ghost is always present in our home, in our bedroom.”
“Andrew was sick,” she wept. “I cared for him.”
“I know,” I said. “And when you left me to be with him, I waited for you. Because I loved you. But you never stopped loving Andrew more than you love me.”
“That’s not true,” she said.
“Yes, it is,” I said. “Victoria is my Andrew. I love her that way.”
Diana covered her face. I was sad. Our marriage wasn’t all bad. We had our memories, but memories couldn’t repair the deteriorating bond our matrimony had become. For the first time I was thankful Diana had refused me children.
“I already talked to Gerald. I want you to have the house. And the one in St. Vincent.”
Diana and I were good friends with my then lawyer, Gerald, and his wife. He didn’t speak to me for weeks when he learned of my affair.
“I don’t want it,” Diana wept. “I don’t even like St. Vincent.”
“You love St. Vincent,” I said.
She fidgeted with the balled up tissue paper in her hands.
“I’m going to pay you alimony, too.” An act of contrition to redeem me of my malfeasance.
“What am I supposed to tell my friends?”
“That we’re divorcing. They’re all divorced,” I said. “They’ll understand.”
“I’m just going to get a few things and leave,” I said.
The wooden planks of the porch swing creaked when I stood and relieved them some of their load. Diana’s bare feet hung beneath the swing, almost flat to the ground but not quite.
She was still on the swing when I came out of the house a few minutes later. I walked to the black Mercedes sedan in the driveway, a rental, and put my bags in the trunk. Then I went back to tell her goodbye. I felt I owed her that much.
“I’m leaving,” I said.
“You’re a bastard,” she said not looking at me.
“I don’t mean to be,” I said.
“Is this your way of trying to get back at me?”
“No. It’s about my being in love with someone else.”
“Well, go then. Go to your other woman. I won’t be here when you get tired of her.”
“I won’t get tired of her,” I said.
“Goodbye, Franklin,” she said.
“Goodbye, Diana,” I said, and I walked to the car.
The band had just released a new single, a song inspired by Victoria but that Diana mistook as being written for her. Every rock station was playing it with nauseating frequency. I didn’t want to hear it. I clicked the CD button on the console and slid my favorite CD into the disc changer.
Large raindrops struck the windshield. The wipers swiped at the pools of moisture, smearing them across the glass. I was anxious. Once I see her, I will feel better, I thought.
I pulled the car to the curb in front of the hotel’s main entrance on Royal St. In the rearview mirror I saw the driver of an airport shuttle throw his hands up in frustration. Parking is scarce on French Quarter streets. A valet came to the car, and I handed him the keys. I didn’t even bother to take my bags out of the trunk.
Victoria was waiting for me in the bar. She was wearing the silk navy-blue dress I’d bought her in Paris while we were on our last tour. Her right leg crossed her left, and she had one heel of her beige stilettos hooked on the bottom of the barstool. Her brown hair fell over her shoulders and down her exposed back. She stabbed a toothpick into a lone olive inside an empty Martini glass.
I sat on the stool beside her and ordered us both a drink. We didn’t speak for a few minutes. A fan approached me for an autograph, and I obliged with a smile, like always.
“How did it go?” Victoria whispered.
“Badly,” I said.
She covered my hand with hers. Later, when we’re alone together, I’ll feel better, I thought.
We had an early dinner in our room. I hardly had an appetite. We hadn’t spoken much since I’d returned. Victoria made light conversation, but didn’t discuss my pending divorce.
“We have an early day tomorrow,” she said sliding under the covers.
“Yes,” I said. Our flight to Montreux was leaving at six. I hated early morning flights. I could never sleep on a plane, ever. Most folks get used to flying after so long, and God knows I should have. But flying remained my least favorite mode of travel. I’d prefer to take the bus any day.
I stayed awake much of the night thinking of what Diana was doing. Was she awake, crying, and desperately trying to understand what she’d done wrong? Did she know? Was she with her girl friends, drinking and badmouthing me to them? Or maybe she was with another man. I wouldn’t have felt so bad if she were.
“Hey, you okay?” Victoria whispered sitting up in bed.
“Can I do anything for you?” she asked stroking the bare skin of my back and shoulders.
“Yes,” I said, and I turned to kiss her
* Chapter 3
My cab arrived outside Café Drechsler at exactly twelve-thirty in the afternoon. Victoria stalked out of the front doors and toward the corner. I wanted to curse the cab driver for taking so long to pick me up at the hotel and for driving with such a lack of urgency. Instead I tossed a handful of bills at him and bolted from the car.
“Wait! Please wait!”
I ran after Victoria who ignored my plea and crossed the street. I kept my eyes on Victoria and not on traffic, which proved to be a mistake as I was struck hard in the side and was sent tumbling to the ground. Thankfully it was just a slow moving Peugeot.
“Franklin!” Victoria ran into the street and knelt down in front of me, her black heels inches from my face. “Are you all right?”
“You’re standing on my tie,” I groaned.
“Oh!” she said and moved her foot.
My eyes traced Victoria’s bare legs to the shady area where the shadow of her skirt obscured the view of anything improper. The driver of the Peugeot was out of his vehicle cursing me in French, until I sat up and he recognized my face or thought he did.
“Bon Dieu, you’re Samson Avalon. I just finished your last book.”
Victoria looked at me with a curious expression.
“I’m not him,” I replied, also in French. I struggled to my feet and dusted off my pants.
“No,” said one spectator. “That’s Christof Shaw. I just saw his new movie.”
I sighed and adjusted my jacket, pulling my sleeves straight.
“You’re both wrong,” said someone else. “It’s Frankie Nightingale.”
“I’m not him either,” I said checking my pockets to make sure I hadn’t lost anything important. “I’m just a guy who got hit by a car because he’s too stupid to look before crossing the street.” Cameras and cell phones emerged from backpacks and pockets. Pseudo-shutters snapped and flashes lit up the shady side street. “We should go,” I said to Victoria.
“You should go to the hospital,” she said as we made our way back to the sidewalk.
“Nah,” I said. “It’s just a Peugeot.”
I can’t lie and say I wasn’t somewhat impeded by the injury during the Mozart tour we made on foot and when we visited the Beethoven memorials. At the Zentralfriedhof, I leaned against the black iron railing surrounding Mozart’s memorial while Victoria read the inscription on Beethoven’s obelisk-shaped tomb with its golden lyre and many gifts left by other visitors. Even after some years of study my Deutsch was nicht so gut, as my German tutor might say. Although most of the time she would admit it was gut genug, which kept my mother satisfied, anyway.
My side throbbed, and I had a sharp, stabbing pain in my pancreas, or some other random organ. The road rash on my hands and knees was becoming inflamed, but I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to woo Victoria, so I suggested we get a cab to the restaurant of her choice where we could enjoy a relaxed, comfortable dining experience-preferably one that would require a lot of sitting and wine. She asked me again to seek medical attention, but I assured her I’d had worse.
“Why don’t we go back to my apartment and order take-out? I can fix you up, and you can rest,” Victoria suggested once we were in the cab.
Victoria’s flat was located in central Vienna. We walked into the living room on the entry level, and I hung my jacket over a chair at the bar and went for the bathroom.
“Come into the bathroom upstairs. I have a first-aid kit there,” Victoria said from the kitchen. She removed a few rectangular paper menus from a drawer beside the sink and placed them on the black granite countertop. We went upstairs, and she led me through her bedroom into the master bath. It was spacious with a large porcelain tub and a separate shower enclosed in glass. The shower walls were covered in black and white tiles, and the countertops were the same black granite as the kitchen. The floors were a light ceramic tile. My eyes traced the dark colored grout surrounding each square.
“Don’t look at my floors. They’re dirty,” she laughed and opened a medicine cabinet made of bamboo on the wall above the toilet.
“I wasn’t,” I said hoping it was the appropriate response since I’d lost all ability to form thought when Victoria took my hand in hers to clean my palm with hydrogen peroxide.
“You okay?” she asked.
I nodded, staring at the clear liquid forming its white foam against my irritated skin. I was thinking of how Diana reacted the time I’d lost control of my bike in the rain and injured myself sliding across the asphalt at fifty-five miles per hour before coming to a stop in the wet, cold grass on the median.
“I told you that you shouldn’t have been riding in the rain,” she said as she drove me home from the hospital.
I might have put my hands around her neck and strangled her right then, but they were wrapped tight in gauze.
“You seem to be deep in thought,” Victoria observed.
“Oh, um, no,” I said. “I guess I just had a bit of a rough day is all.”
“I’ll say,” she said taking more cotton balls from a glass container in the cabinet. “All right lift your pant legs so we can see how bad those knees look.”
The sky was clear. I sat on the rooftop terrace that overlooked the opera house smoking a cigarette and stargazing while Victoria was in the kitchen preparing to serve our delivered dinner. I thought I recognized a few constellations, but I was never much of an amateur astronomer, and I can only ever pick out the Big and Little Dippers. Traffic moved on the street below. Opera patrons lingered outside and walked into and out of the historic building.
“Sushi?” Victoria placed a large serving tray in the center of the table along with a bottle of Schloss Gobelsburg and two glasses.
“Nothing like visiting Europe to enjoy Japanese cuisine,” I said.
She smiled and placed a pair of black plastic chopsticks on the folded napkin beside my plate. “I know this isn’t your first time in Europe. Besides I thought we’d have something more familiar since your lunch didn’t seem to sit well.”
“I’d never really known what was in goulash,” I said picking up the chopsticks. I arranged the rolls on my plate in short rows of four, placing all the same rolls in the same row. Dipping the end of one chopstick in a glob of wasabi Victoria had spooned onto the tray, I gingerly placed a small amount on each roll with the tip of the chopstick. Victoria was watching me. I tried to seem nonchalant. It seemed a little early in our relationship to discuss mental disorders.
I plucked a tuna roll from its row and dipped it in the thick, tar-like eel sauce before putting it in my mouth. The tuna was spicier than I’d anticipated, and I coughed while reaching for my glass and swallowing a mouthful of sweet white wine.
“I promise I’m really not this much of a disaster in real life,” I said refilling my glass.
“You’re a mess,” she replied, chuckling.
It was a good sound. I felt confident she was having a good time even though our date had been flecked with mishaps. My phone rang. I peeked at the screen and saw it was Francesca. Victoria looked at me over the rim of her glass.
“It’s just my stupid sister,” I said pressing the ignore button.
“Maybe it’s important,” said Victoria.
“I doubt it,” I said, but the phone rang again. And again it was Francesca.
“Maybe you should take that.”
“Sorry,” I said to Victoria before taking my phone into the apartment and answering. “What?”
“You got hit by a car today?”
“No. What? Yeah, but not really.”
“It was on Entertainment News Watch,” said my sister.
“You being hit by a car. Were you chasing after some woman?”
“Shit,” I whispered.
“Who is she?”
“Nobody,” I said.
“Well you might want to call Ma, because she’s like freaking out right now.”
“It was just a Peugeot!” I sighed and rubbed my temples. “Does Diana know about it?”
“How could she not? Once Entertainment News Watch broadcasted it, it was everywhere.”
I wondered why then would my supposed loving wife not call when she learned I’d been struck down by a car. Maybe because the media reported I was with another woman.
“Is everything all right?” Victoria asked coming inside.
“Ooh, is that her?” Francesca asked, having heard Victoria’s voice.
“Shut up,” I said.
“What?” Victoria asked.
“Oh no, not you,” I said.
Francesca laughed in my ear.
“Goodbye,” I said into the phone and hung it up. “I apologize about that. Apparently some stupid tabloids reported about the accident today. My sister saw it on television.”
“I imagine she’s very worried,” Victoria said moving some pieces of hair out of my face.
“She’s an idiot,” I said.
“Watch what you say. I’m somebody’s idiot sister, too,” she smiled.
“If you knew her you’d understand,” I said.
“Maybe one day I will,” she said.
I considered her statement, exhilarated to think Victoria expected more than just a chance encounter. But then I remembered Diana.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“For now I’d like to get to know you a little better,” Victoria said, and she slid her arms around my waist.
I leaned down to kiss her but was stopped by the pain erupting in my left side. I groaned and swayed backward. “Ouch, that hurts.”
“That’s it. You have internal injuries. Let’s go.” Victoria turned to walk away but I caught hold of her hand and held her there.
“I’m fine,” I said. “It’s probably just a bruise. Just be gentle.”
And it was a bruise. Victoria later removed my clothes to reveal an enormous black, brown, and purple contusion encompassing my entire side from the bottom of my hip to nearly the pit of my arm. It extended horizontally from my left nipple to the middle of my back.
“Oh God, that looks bad, Franklin,” she breathed in my ear.
I touched the inner part of her smooth thigh. She moaned as my fingers probed the warm, moist flesh between her legs. “Like I said, just be gentle.”
My phone chimed. It was loud enough to disturb my sleep, and I rolled over in bed and reached down to get it from my pants pocket. Victoria inhaled a deep breath and opened her eyes. “Someone’s texting you at four in the morning?”
“It’s Leo,” I said as I typed a reply to his question and put the phone on the nightstand beside the bed.
“He’s the drummer, right?”
I laughed. “And also my best-friend since kindergarten and a huge pain in my ass most of the time.”
She chuckled and rolled onto her side, propping herself up on her elbow. The blanket shifted exposing her to the waist. “When do you have to go back?”
“Tomorrow sometime. Well, today.” I looked at the time on my watch. “We’re not leaving until tonight.”
“Good. Let’s go back to sleep.”
With the back of my fingers, I stroked the area of her belly between her breasts and her navel. “I’m not really tired.”
Later we lay close beneath the covers. I held her hands in mine. Her eyes were closed, but she wasn’t asleep. I leaned over and kissed her forehead. She smiled.
“Victoria,” I whispered.
“Yes?” She opened her eyes. I closed mine because I didn’t want to see her reaction to what I wanted to say.
“I have to tell you something,” I said. “I know it’s going to sound ridiculous.”
“Don’t say it,” she said.
“Don’t say what?” I opened my eyes.
“Don’t say anything ridiculous.”
We stared at one another for a minute. I closed my eyes again. “I was just going to say that . . . I’d like this to be more than a once in a lifetime thing, you know? I’d like to do this with you, you know, again.”
“Open your eyes,” she said.
I opened them. Her face was millimeters from mine. “I would really like that,” she said and pressed her mouth against mine.
We were woken again by the sound of my phone. I turned my head and squinted against the fragments of light being diffused by the sheer white drapes, delicately embroidered with vines and blooms. Victoria stretched and got out of bed. She went into the bathroom. My intestines rolled into knots when I picked up the phone from the nightstand and saw Diana had called. I sat up, wondering why she’d call. It was two a.m. in New Orleans, and Diana was never up past midnight. I was worried it was something serious.
I pulled on my pants and went outside on the terrace. I stared at the phone in my hand trying to decide if I should call back. I decided I’d never forgive myself if there were an emergency and I didn’t. My cigarettes still laid on the round concrete-top dining table where I’d left them the night before. I lit one while the phone rang Diana’s number. Through the sliding glass doors, I could see Victoria was still in the bathroom, and I hoped Diana’s conversation would be short.
“What happened? Why are you calling so late?”
“What time is it there? I thought it was morning.”
“It is here. But not there?”
“I called Leo because I thought you’d be together, but he said he didn’t know where you were. Where are you?”
“I had to go . . . do something.” I saw that Victoria was out of the bathroom and walking into her closet. “Is there something wrong? Because I’m really busy right now, actually.” I walked anxious oblong patterns on the terrace.
“No, nothing is wrong. I just wanted to talk to you. You were in an accident yesterday, and you didn’t even call me.”
“Diana, I don’t call you. You call me. If you see that I’ve been in an accident, you call me.”
“Excuse me,” she said.
I completed my third full oval when I saw Victoria was standing in the open doorway. She wore a long white satin robe trimmed with lace. A hardy gust caught the hem of it and swept it away from her body, revealing her thighs and petite white panties that matched the robe. Her eyes threw invisible spears of contempt. “I got to go.” I hung up on Diana.
“I thought you said your sister’s name was Francesca.” Victoria’s expression and posture spoke more than her words. Her arms were crossed, her long fingers rolled into fists.
“It wasn’t my sister,” I said looking down at the phone in my hands.
“Then who was it?” she asked, her tone saturated in ire.
“My wife,” I admitted.
“Get out,” she said.
“Please, Victoria. I can explain. I can.” I followed her into the apartment.
“Take your things and get out,” she said.
There was no yelling. No shrieks. No tears. Just a threatening calm intensity that made me uneasy.
“Can I please state my case, at least?” I asked as I pulled on my shoes.
Victoria turned around. I could almost see the images her mind was creating, images of bad things happening to me. “Let me guess.” She put her hands together as if in prayer. “You’re separated?”
“You’re together, but you don’t love her. You’re just staying with her because of the kids? Or for some reason for which there is no real explanation?”
“My wife doesn’t love me,” I said. It was the first time I’d admitted it to anyone, and suddenly the truth was very concrete.
“Shut up, and get out,” she said and left the room.
I finished dressing and walked downstairs. Victoria was in the kitchen cleaning dishes from the night before. She didn’t acknowledge my presence when I stood by watching her.
“Victoria?” I whispered.
“What?” She didn’t look at me and continued disposing of all evidence that we’d ever known one another.
“I just want you to know I meant what I said to you. I want you to know that I respect you, and I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t feel like I made a mistake, except that I hurt you.”
“Goodbye,” she said still not looking at me.
“Goodbye,” I said and walked out of the door.
In the elevator I called Armand. He was grocery shopping and said it might be a while. I thought of calling a cab, but I was too miserable to care about finding a number. And I didn’t feel like sharing public transportation.
Forty-five minutes passed and still no sign of Armand’s rented blue Audi Roadster. Irritated, I thought I should remind him of the reason I’d even rented the car for him to drive while we were in Vienna. I sent him a text message.
“Stuck at Bobby’s Foodstore. Peter wanted Cherry Coke.” Came the reply.
So glad Peter is so important, I thought. “Get a bottle of Glenlivet.” I typed. “Two bottles.” I added.
I sighed and put the phone in my pocket. I’d been sitting in the same place for so long my injured hip and back were hurting. People were starting to look at me with suspicion, and I was concerned someone might take me for a vagrant. I tried to ignore all that and focused on a line of tiny black ants running through a crevasse in the sidewalk. Some of them carried huge crumbs many times their size, and I watched them toil with a sort of respect. Then I heard the familiar click-clack of a certain pair of brown leather pumps.
“What are you still doing here?”
“Waiting on my ride,” I answered.
“Who is coming to get you?” Victoria asked with an annoyed sigh.
“My assistant,” I answered taking my phone from my pocket as if he would contact me on cue simply because of my looking at it.
“Where do you have to go?”
“The Intercontinental Hotel,” I said.
“That’s five minutes from here.”
“Oh,” I said looking down at my phone again. I stood up and walked past her. “I guess I can call Armand and tell him never mind then.”
“It’s the other way,” she said.
I didn’t answer but turned around and walked in the other direction mentally cursing myself.
“Doesn’t your phone have a GPS?” she laughed as I walked past.
I stopped and turned to face her. “I couldn’t get a good signal, okay?” I turned back around and started walking before I had to concede to my emotional nature.
“What?” I didn’t turn to face her. I wanted to get away from her. I wanted to get back to my room where I could sit alone with my bottles of scotch and my Dunhills and forget what a debacle I’d made of the whole experience.
“Let me drop you off. I’m going that way,” Victoria offered. “It’s only right down the road there.”
“I can get there on my own,” I said and started walking again.
“I’m afraid of what might happen to you once you turn that corner,” she chuckled.
“What do you care?” I turned back around.
“I shouldn’t after you deceived me,” she said.
I looked away at the cars passing on the street. I hadn’t lied to her. When she asked with whom I was speaking, I told her the truth. I didn’t realize she didn’t know I was married. It was no secret. Everyone else on the planet knew.
As I was about to tell Victoria all of this a yellow Volkswagen Polo with two young women inside stopped at the corner. The passenger glanced out of her window, and her eyes widened in recognition. She turned and smacked her friend’s arm, and the other girl leaned forward to see what had excited her friend. Her expression changed, too, and then they were both pointing and waving. I gave an unenthusiastic smile and raised my hand to show my acknowledgement. The driver held one finger up and looked down, apparently searching for something. She produced a small digital camera, and her friend rolled down her window and asked if they could get a photo. I nodded and asked them to hurry. The driver pulled her car to the side and put on the hazard lights. The two girls ran to my side. The passenger was the taller of the two, and she held the camera at arm’s length while we all smiled at the fisheye lens of the palm-sized Nikon. The girls both produced some writing material for me to sign, and I did. They said they were on holiday from Nice, and we made brief conversation about our shared homeland. They thanked me and I them, and then they ran back to their vehicle and sped away while other motorists honked and made disgruntled faces at the three of us.
“You’re French?” Victoria asked.
“I was born in Toulouse. My family moved to the U.S. when Francesca and I were five. My father returned when my mother divorced him. He still lives there.”
“Francesca and you were both five when you moved to the U.S.?”
“Yes. We’re twins.”
Victoria looked up at me, examining my face as if she were trying to decode some ancient riddle. She shook her head and told me to follow her. We walked to an orange Mini Cooper parked on the street. I got into the passenger seat and felt like Gulliver inside of her Lilliputian automobile.
“You can move the seat back,” she said.
I pulled the lever to move the seat, but instead of gradually rolling on its track, the seat was hurled backward and came to a jolting halt with a loud clanking sound. Victoria looked at me as if I were a brainless moron, but I ignored her and buckled my seatbelt and looked out of the window.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Yep,” I said still gazing out of the passenger side window.
Victoria wasn’t exaggerating when she’d said the hotel was just up the road. We barely turned the corner and there it was, a looming testament to my stupidity. We pulled up to the front entrance, and the valet came toward the vehicle. Victoria told him she was just dropping off, and he walked away to another vehicle that pulled in behind us.
“Thank you,” I said and opened the door.
“Wait,” Victoria said.
I stopped and looked back to her.
“You know what you did me was wrong,” she said. “But I believe what you said, that you’d never been with another woman before. I would imagine someone with more experience would be less sophomoric about the whole situation.”
“That’s the crappiest compliment I’ve ever heard,” I said and started to get out.
“Wait a minute,” she said. “If you really feel like your wife doesn’t care about you, then maybe you should reconsider being married to her.”
“I don’t know what it is, but something about you just makes me want to . . . I don’t know.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Maybe it’s this shaggy black hair and those big blue eyes,” she said, and she ran her hand in my hair. “Maybe it’s because you remind me of the Australian Shepherd we had when I was a kid.”
“Okay,” I said. “Just so you know, I didn’t lie to you. I thought you knew I was married.”
Victoria’s expression hardened. She took a breath, and relaxed again. “I wouldn’t have slept with you if I’d known,” she said. “But I realize there are a lot of women who will and that you can’t tell the difference.”
It sounded like an insult, but I let it go.
“Why don’t you call me if you need someone to talk to. I’ve been known to be a pretty good listener,” she handed me a piece of paper with her phone number on it. “Don’t call me for anything else, though. That is unless you decide to leave your wife. I’m no man’s mistress.”
* Chapter 4
Like many folks with money, I had my own private jet waiting for me at the airport. It was easier that way. Victoria and I boarded with Armand. We settled in, and once the plane was in the air, I asked the flight attendant for a vodka tonic.
“Don’t you think you should have breakfast first?” Victoria asked.
“I’ll eat the lemon slice,” I said.
One thing about Victoria then, she never haggled me about my drinking. Diana would always harass me about it. So what? It didn’t matter anymore what Diana would do.
We landed in Montreux at around one a.m. I had the worse case of jet lag ever. Victoria, Armand, and I went directly to the hotel. They weren’t the least bit tired because they’d both slept during the flight, and they decided to stay up and watch television in the living room of our two-bedroom suite. I went to bed.
I woke about three or four hours later. Victoria wasn’t in bed with me.
I got up to get a drink from the refrigerator. The glass doors to the balcony were open, and I looked through the curtain, but only saw two empty wine glasses and two empty bottles of the chardonnay we’d brought with us. Then I heard voices coming from Armand’s room.
I went to the door and pressed my ear against it. They were whispering, and I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I wanted to knock, but I didn’t. As I stood there trying to figure out the best way to catch my assistant and my girlfriend in the act, the door swung open.
“Franklin!” Victoria shouted in surprise. “You scared the hell out of me.”
“What’s going on?” I asked glaring past Victoria at Armand who was sitting on the bed. They were both fully clothed and the bed was still made.
“Armand was doing my make-up,” she said showing me her eyelids. “What do you think?”
“Armand was showing me how to do my eyes,” she said. “Didn’t you know he went to school to be a make-up artist?”
Armand stood from the bed and came to the door where Victoria and I stood.
“I guess I didn’t know,” I said.
“What did you think was going on?” Armand asked.
“I guess I thought something else,” I answered.
“Don’t you trust me?” asked Victoria.
“Of course I do, I just . . . I don’t know,” I said.
“You don’t have to worry about me stealing your woman,” said Armand. “She’s beautiful, but she’s not my type.”
I must have looked confused because Armand then sighed and said, “I’m gay.”
“Oh,” I said. “Did I know that?” My brain was still hazy from the jet lag and the vodka tonics.
“No,” he said.
“Right. Well, carry on, then,” I said turning to leave. I made a mental note to learn more about my assistant. In those two minutes I’d learned more about him than in the seven years we’d worked together.
“Hold on. I’m coming with you,” Victoria said taking me by the arm.
Gerald met us at the real estate agent’s office the next morning for the closing on the house in Montreux. He was less than warm toward Victoria and me. We went through all of the paper work and signed the necessary forms.
“I talked to your wife,” Gerald said as we stood outside waiting for the car to bring us to the house.
“Yeah,” I said. I wanted to ask how she was doing, but then again I didn’t want to know.
“She wants the villa in Marseilles,” he said.
I smirked. Vengeance, I thought. “She can have it,” I said.
“And she wants the Cadillac,” he said.
“It’s hers,” I answered.
“And the Maserati,” he said.
“Give it to her,” I said.
I’d already told her I would pay alimony. I guess she decided she’d wanted more once her emotional state changed from despair to anger. What did I care? We had three multi-platinum albums, three gold, and one that was shit in the U.S. and still went silver in the United Kingdom. I wrote two books that were nonfiction best sellers. Devil May Care had four live concert CD’s, as well as three DVD’s of us live in concert. That’s not even all of it. So, she wanted her revenge? Who gave a shit?
“You ready to go?” Victoria asked taking my hand when the car arrived.
The five of us got into the car – Gerald, Victoria, Armand, the real estate agent, and myself. It was a rather long ride to the house, and we rode mostly in silence except for Armand and Victoria who chatted. Gerald wouldn’t look at me.
“Oh my God, it’s beautiful,” said Victoria when we arrived and she got out of the car. “Oh Franklin, you picked it out for me?” She took my face in her hands and gave me a kiss.
Gerald gave me a dirty look out of the corner of his eye. He remembered Diana saying the same thing when I bought her the house in St. Vincent. I tried to ignore him and took Victoria by the hand to show her the inside of the house.
“I hope you’re happy with it,” said the real estate agent.
“Yes, very,” I said.
Victoria was smiling like an ecstatic child as she skipped from room to room, Armand trailing behind her. They went upstairs, and I could hear Victoria’s voice and she described to Armand how she intended to decorate the master bedroom.
“There’s something I didn’t get to tell you at the office,” Gerald said to me when Victoria and Armand were well out of hearing range.
“What? What does she want now? My soul?” I asked.
“She’s contesting the divorce,” he said.
“What!” I shouted.
“Franklin?” Victoria called looking down from the balcony. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, darling,” I said. “Everything’s fine.”
“Diana is contesting the divorce,” Gerald said once Victoria was gone again.
I sighed running my hands through my hair. “Why?”
“She’s convinced you’re going to change your mind and come back.”
“Why?” I asked. “Did she say why?”
“She said it’s what she did.”
“Come on,” I seethed. “This is insane. I’m calling her.”
“No,” Gerald said. “You can’t do that.”
“Why?” I asked.
“She has a temporary restraining order,” he said.
“On what grounds?” I demanded.
“None. A lot of times a judge will order a TRO when a wife files for divorce,” he said.
“She didn’t file for divorce. I did. What do I have to do?”
“Find another lawyer,” Gerald said.
“I’m representing Diana,” he said.
“Well, fuck me.”
Our furniture hadn’t been delivered yet, and Victoria, Armand, and I ate take-out on the floor in front of the fireplace. I explained to them about Diana.
“My cousin, Denis, is a divorce lawyer,” Armand said. “He works mainly out of L.A., though. I can call him.”
“Thank you but I think I’ll try Gerald’s partner. He represented me before,” I said.
“Will he do it?” asked Victoria.
“I don’t know,” I said.
That night Victoria and I made love on an air mattress in our otherwise empty bedroom. I let all of my frustration out on her, and we were both spent and exhausted. I fought to ignore my nagging bladder, but found it impossible after awhile, and was forced to leave the warmth of the blankets and Victoria’s body.
Victoria came into the bathroom right after me; she was carrying my phone. She looked annoyed. I took the phone from her, curious as to who would be calling at the late hour.
“Franklin,” said my wife.
“You have a restraining order,” I said.
“I know,” she said. She sounded terrible. “Please come home.”
“No,” I said.
“I need you,” she said.
“No, you don’t,” I said. I was angry with her for contesting the divorce and for swiping Gerald.
“Give me a chance,” she said.
“You didn’t want me before, and you don’t need me now. I have to go,” I said and hung up. “What?” I asked Victoria who was standing by glaring at me.
“I liked it better when she didn’t know about us,” she said and walked away.
Victoria was quiet the next morning over breakfast. She sat on a stool at the counter poking a fork into chunks of green and orange melon while I stood on the other side of the counter devouring a bowl of cereal. When she decided she was finished her meal, she took her plate to the sink and walked out of the kitchen without speaking to me.
I found her later sketching, sitting on a concrete bench in the back garden. She didn’t look up when I approached, and I wasn’t sure if she didn’t realize I was there or if she were still ignoring me.
“Hey,” I said after a few minutes.
“Why are you angry?” I asked sitting beside her.
“I’m not,” she said, still sketching and not looking at me.
“Okay, then why are you ignoring me?” I asked.
“I’m not,” she said.
“Right,” I said. “Well do you mind if I hang out and watch you sketch?”
“Whatever,” she said.
I watched for a while. She drew an illustration of a woman on the beach. The woman appeared to be a hybrid of human and some sort of sea creature. Her legs were wrapped in thick tentacles, her hair made up of long coiling strands of kelp. The sea woman’s arms lay by her sides, her hands lost somewhere in the sand. Her eyelids were squeezed tight, and her mouth was slightly open, almost with a look of ecstasy. Or distress. I thought how odd those two things could produce a similar expression.
“That’s very good,” I said to Victoria.
She didn’t respond at first, but then she started to talk. “Why is she still calling you?” asked Victoria.
“I didn’t ask her to,” I said.
“But she did,” she said, still not looking up from her sketching.
“I can’t really control who calls me and when, Victoria,” I said.
“Well, change your phone number,” she said.
“I can’t,” I said.
“Because. A lot of people have my number. People important to my career.”
“So, give them your new number,” she said.
“It’s not that easy.”
“Why not? Because maybe you don’t want to change your number so that she can still call?” she looked up from her sketchpad finally.
“This is ridiculous,” I sighed. “I left the woman to be with you.”
“After two years,” she said.
“It’s not enough that I have her down my throat. I have to have you down it, too?”
“Why not? You’ve been down both of our throats for the past two years,” Victoria said.
“That’s not true,” I said.
“Really? You’re telling me that for the past two years you weren’t still intimate with her?”
“Hardly,” I admitted.
“Ugh!” Victoria threw her sketchbook at me and walked away.
Later that day I called Gerald’s partner, Jon. He was familiar with our situation, and explained he didn’t want to take the case because Gerald was representing Diana.
“You can always call Denis,” Armand suggested.
“Does he know Louisiana divorce law?” I asked.
“He can learn it,” Armand said. “He’s a good lawyer, and he represents a lot of celebrities.”
“Really? Like who?” I asked.
“He represented the actor Carson O’Neil in his divorce,” answered Armand.
“And Jimmy Fortune,” he said.
Now there was a name I recognized. I knew Jimmy because our bands used the same studio a few times. He was a cool guy, and I had his phone number. I decided to call him and see what he thought about Armand’s cousin. But meanwhile I continued searching the Internet for a Louisiana divorce lawyer. Victoria came in during our conversation, and I explained what Jon had said.
“Isn’t that convenient,” she said and walked out of the room.
“What’s the matter with her?” Armand asked.
“She’s still angry because my wife called last night,” I said.
“So what did you do when she called? Did you talk to her?”
“Only as much as I had to,” I said. “But Victoria’s still angry.”
“You should get her some jewelry,” he said.
“Yeah, I don’t know. She’s not easily bought,” I said.
Armand’s suggestion did bring to mind an idea, though. I gave up searching for lawyers for the moment and began searching for something else. I found some phone numbers and called around until I found what I wanted. An hour later, there were two deliverymen at the door. I let them in and showed them where I wanted them to place the purchase. But while I was waiting on them to arrive, I’d made another important call.
The delivery men brought in the new addition to our home and put it where I’d asked, in the living room just beside the staircase. Victoria was in our bedroom with the door closed, but I hoped she would hear me playing when I sat down. The bedroom door opened and Victoria came out onto the landing, looking down as I played Tristesse, Chopin’s Étude Op. 10 No. 3. I pretended not to notice as she descended the stairs and came to stand beside me.
“What’s this about?” she asked.
I stood from the piano and took her by the hand, persuading her to sit down.
“For you, my dear,” I said.
“So you think you can buy my forgiveness?” she asked.
“I just hoped you would play for me.”
She looked down at the keys.
“I love you, Victoria,” I said.
She looked at me again but didn’t respond.
“Here,” I said handing her a piece of paper.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“My new phone number. I thought you might want it.”
“You changed your phone number for me?”
“If my soon to be ex-wife wants to reach me, her lawyer can contact my lawyer.”
“I thought Jon wasn’t taking your case,” she said.
“He isn’t. I decided to go with Armand’s cousin Denis. He seems competent, and he’s experienced with handling high profile cases.”
“Couldn’t find anyone else to take your case, huh?”
“Nope,” I replied sitting beside her on the bench. “But we’ll be fine. Denis is a good lawyer. He has a good track record. He’s already contacted Gerald and explained that I am only communicating through him.”
“Is your wife still contesting the divorce?”
“Yes,” I answered. “But Denis is hoping we can convince her to give in.”
“How’s he going to do that?”
“If she gives in and agrees to the divorce, she’ll get whatever she wants without any problem. If she doesn’t agree, we’re going to fight her. Hopefully she’ll just take the money-and everything else.”
“You’re not giving her the villa in Marseilles,” Victoria said frowning.
“We’ll get another one. It’ll be ours, mine and yours.”
“I’d like that,” Victoria said.
* Chapter 5
With some online research, I discovered more about one Miss Victoria Wilson. For instance, her birthday fell during a month with an astrological sign compatible with mine. She was only one year my junior, as oppose to Diana who was some years younger than me. She was from a small town in Minnesota, was the youngest of five, and she was an amateur photographer. Victoria had profiles on a handful of social networks, but I couldn’t access any of her information because of her privacy settings I did discover, however, that she was quite the avid blogger. I registered to follow her blog and received each new post to my phone via email.
I learned through reading her existing entries that she’d moved to Vienna to attend the University of Music and Performing Arts, and that she-like me-held degrees in both music and voice study. She’d also completed the master’s program in opera and musical drama.
I wanted to know more about why with all of her education and apparent musical ability would she be working as an event coordinator at a convention center. What deterred her from her original path, I wondered. None of her entries addressed or even mentioned it. She did write often about playing, but only for her own enjoyment. I wanted to hear her play. More than that, I wanted to hear her sing.
Diana and I sat in a secluded booth at a restaurant we visited too often. I sipped a Crown and Coke while Diana glared at me over the rim of her glass containing iced water with lemon. Her best-friend’s husband had just abandoned the family for his assistant, and her friend responded by using his alimony to pay for aggressive plastic surgery. As a result, Diana had become more self-conscious about her own appearance, and had sworn off any type of sugary, carbonated, or otherwise tasty beverage. Although she was already too thin, Diana joined her friend in an apparent contest of which of them could lose the most weight in the least amount of time.
“You know that’s gong to kill you,” she sneered as I placed a considerable chunk of medium-rare sirloin into my mouth.
“Good,” I said chewing the meat. ‘Till death do us part, I thought. That was the deal.
Diana gave me a look of disapproval and jabbed her fork into her green leaf salad. The waiter came to the table, and I ordered another drink.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” asked Diana. “I don’t want to be stuck taking care of you after you suffer a stroke from all the drinking and smoking and eating all that meat.”
“Just let me die,” I said. It was a plea, really.
We continued our meal in silence. I looked around at the other tables and imagined the other diners were engaged in stimulating discussion, or intimate conversation. A couple at a table near us smiled at one another, refilling their glasses and sharing a dessert. An attractive young woman fed her companion from her spoon. I turned and looked at Diana, scowling at her salad.
“What?” she asked with a mouth full of baby spinach.
I want a divorce. I met someone else. “Nothing,” I said.
“Oh,” she said sipping her lemon water. “I thought maybe you were thinking of your girlfriend.”
It was a frequent discussion, and her accusations had no basis in truth, usually.
“I sure was,” I answered.
Diana’s eyes narrowed. She wasn’t accustomed to that response. Typically I’d have denied her allegation and gone on for several minutes assuring her there were no other women, that I was attracted to none but she, and that I’d never so much as glance at another woman with indecent intent.
“I guess it’s your little Viennese tramp. The one you were chasing after when you got hit by a car, like an idiot,” she said, goading me, luring me into her web.
“She’s not a tramp,” I snapped, betraying myself.
My wife sat back in her chair and grinned. I could almost read her thoughts. I got you now, you bastard. “So it’s true?” she asked. I envisioned her mind calculating the divorce settlement, a mental adding machine ticking and grinding out its long ribbon of paper detailing her compensation.
“I’m tired of having these arguments with you,” I said standing from the table. “If you’re going to accuse me of being disloyal to you all the time then maybe we should just end it.” I removed my wallet from my back pocket, took out one of my credit cards, and tossed the card onto the table. “When the bill comes pay it and let’s go.”
“Where are you going?” she demanded.
“I’m going outside to increase my chances of an early death,” I replied. “Every cigarette I smoke is eleven minutes less I have to spend with you.”
Diana stared at me, aghast at my brusqueness. Her spinach-filled mouth hung open. I took my jacket off the back of the chair and left the table. Outside I sat on a bench beside the cylindrical upright aluminum ashtray designed to blend in with the décor and in no way resemble an actual ashtray. I removed my cigarettes and my phone from the inside pocket of my jacket. After lighting one of the former, I checked my messages and email on the latter. With a ding, my phone indicated just one email had been downloaded to my inbox. It was an automated alert sent from Victoria’s web log’s host site.
Madame Music Maker posted a new entry, it read. To read Madame Music Maker’s entry click here.
I did click the link and was taken to Victoria’s blog. Her latest post titled “The Songstress and the Nightingale” was featured on the opening page. I held my breath as I read Victoria’s account of our first date. She didn’t mention my name and kept to ambiguous details, but I was concerned she’d already given her readers too much information.
She wrote in part:
“I saw in a man who is quite the opposite of what everyone else sees. I marveled at how he could be so charismatic and dynamic in one setting yet so awkward and uncomfortable when taken out of his element. It was apparent that his natural environment is the stage, intimately connected yet removed from the audience. Just the night before I’d seen him hold thousands of spectators in the palm of his hand, but he is a man more comfortable standing before twenty-thousand people than dining alone with one other person.”
“That’s not true,” I said out loud to the phone in my hand.
“What are you reading?” asked Diana who’d come out of the restaurant and had been standing beside me for an unknown length of time. I hadn’t noticed her, as I was so intent on reading Victoria’s review of our evening together.
“Just some crazy review of . . . my last performance,” I said dropping my cigarette into the ashtray and standing from the bench. I slid the phone back into my jacket’s inside pocket.
“Oh,” she said. “Franklin, I’m sorry. You just got back, and we’re already fighting.” She pushed a lock of hair behind my ear. “Let’s just go home, okay.”
“I don’t want to fight,” I said.
Awkward? I thought as Diana drove us home. The nerve of Victoria writing that about me. Frankie Nightingale was not awkward. I wasn’t exactly in top form after having been struck by a car. So we had to seek out a drug store to purchase antacids during the Beethoven memorial walking tour because the goulash aggravated my reflux, and I nearly choked on the spicy tuna, and I got lost five blocks from my hotel. These things didn’t make me awkward. I was perfectly comfortable in intimate social settings. I just had bad luck.
Victoria’s blog post was the latest in a series of slights against me perpetrated by her. She hadn’t accepted any of my friend requests. My phone calls went ignored. I sent her text messages and emails that went unanswered. I’d sent her flowers as an apology for assuming she knew I was married. When I didn’t hear anything from her, I decided flowers were cliché and I sent her three-dozen chocolate dipped strawberries with a bottle of champagne. Still she didn’t call, and I thought maybe a simple card was best. Over the course of two months, I’d sent three, but I’d heard nothing from Victoria.
Diana and I lazed on the couch watching late night reruns. I lay my head on a decorative throw pillow, a small maroon square embroidered with rectangles, circles, and squares of various colors. My wife would’ve normally admonished my using the pillows claiming they were to be seen only, but this night she said nothing about it. I watched the television through the narrow opening between my eyelids and was very near sleep when Diana elongated herself beside me and whispered into my ear that we should go to bed.
“Let’s stay here,” I replied, recalling how Victoria and I had occupied her contemporary-style sectional sofa, imprinting on the tuft fabric.
“We can’t. There are too many exposed windows,” Diana insisted.
“No one can see in those windows,” I said putting my hands under her shirt and cupping her petite warm breasts.
“Still. I just don’t feel comfortable here,” she admitted.