by Pat Nolan
Chapter Thirty Two
I felt something touch my arm at the elbow. It was cold and hot at the same time. Then I lost consciousness. When I came to, my hands were tied behind my back and I had that horrible feeling of déjà vu. The last time I’d been in a similar situation, I had been found face down on the floor of my cell at Sabbia Negru by Mohamed el-Ipir of the Prince’s security force, the purple swelling of a bruise under one eye.
In that instance, everything had to be made to appear as if I had been mistreated. I had been recognized and word of my whereabouts revealed. The women of SAPHO had no choice but to clear out. Besides, I had served my purpose. My captors, if it was up to me, would remain anonymous, a mystery to the world at large.
I had been smeared with dirt and Xuxann had reluctantly, though forcefully, poked a fist in my face. Then I had been fitted with a gag but not so tight that I couldn’t swallow or breathe. Hours later I heard the churning rotors of a helicopter and felt the tiny cell shake with the nearby vibrations as it touched down. I had been rescued, I realized then, by the very men who wished to keep me prisoner.
This time I wasn’t gagged and my cheek was resting on the cool black leather of a couch in a dimly lit room. From the ornate desk at one end, it appeared to be some kind of executive office suite. As my eyes blinked and found focus, the circumstances that had landed me in this fix overtook me in a rush of detail.
I had been standing on the balcony off the mezzanine of the faux castle admiring the view and accepting that I would soon be bathed in a chemical stew altering my perception with heightened awareness. Already the edges of the landscape had become noticeably vibrant. The live oaks shimmered with golden intensity as day waned. In the distance I made out a metal sided warehouse encircled by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire, and, barely visible just above the roofline, the gridded arc of a satellite dish. I had seen a similar one at the Prince’s chateau outside Paris. Again my curiosity led me down the speculative path. Why would a warehouse have a satellite dish and be surrounded by such a barbed wire perimeter? Why were limousines arriving with what appeared to be a scheduled regularity and its occupants ushered, not into the charity event in the castle, but into the warehouse? Why were they all men? I imagined Tommy Perro alias Tommy Montague holding a high stakes poker game to recoup his contribution to charity.
I was in a wondering mood. I wondered why I was looking for the exit that would take me out to the rear of the castle. And when I found it and walked out to the edge of the grassy terrace, I wondered how close I could get to the warehouse without appearing conspicuous. The rows of vines luxuriant with early August foliage ran parallel to the warehouse and looked like they might provide adequate cover. I wondered if the posted signs that read Warning, Grounds Patrolled by Security Dogs really meant what they said.
Barefoot is not always the best way to walk through a vineyard, but engulfed by the lushness of the vines, the tart aroma of the ripening clusters, and the organic breath of the warm tilled earth, my feet didn’t seem to be touching the ground.
As I suspected, the chain link fence blocked closer access. The warehouse was a formidable structure, no mere storage facility. I heard a succession of sharp barks around the back and voices yelling at the dogs to shut up. Ducking under a few vine rows I saw two men in dark suits. They were chauffeurs if most of my life spent in limos was any judge. And they were taking a smoke break. Two large Dobermans in the nearby kennel, alert to their presence, snapped out challenges. A door opened at the back of the building and a man in what appeared to be a uniform stepped out and added his authority to the demands that they be quiet. The dogs dropped obediently to their haunches. When the men finished smoking, they crushed their cigarette ends with the soles of their polished shoes and reentered the warehouse.
Normally cautious, though some would dispute that claim, I felt a fierce recklessness surge within me. I made a dash for the door as soon as it closed behind the drivers. The dogs raised a howl as I suspected they would. I crouched down on the hinge side of the door, my back pressed against the metal siding. The door swung open and the voice of authority in black military-style boots stepped down onto the concrete pad and shouted them into submission. The dogs returned to their haunches but reluctantly. They could see me behind the door but he couldn’t. As the door swung slowly shut on its pneumatic hinge, I picked up a chunk of oak twig from the ground litter and jammed it into the closing gap. It was just enough to keep the latch from catching. I gave myself time to take a couple of deep breaths and then cracked the door open a few inches. Once my eyes adjusted to the dim light inside, I made out a long corridor that ended in wide auditorium double doors. I heard muffled voices and laughter coming from the security post, a closed sliding glass window over a half wall, the door to the small office also closed, just inside the entrance. Like a white mouse in a maze I crouched low and hugged the wall making my way to where I thought there might be cheese. There was a burst of hearty laughter and then a low voice of accented English with East European intonations spoke. Bulgarian immediately popped into my ultra-conscious mind.
When I reached the double doors, I discovered stairways flanking them and leading up to a balcony. I heard the sound of music, the kind with a grinding backbeat. I padded up the carpeted stairway on all fours keeping my head low. I peered into the near dark of the empty balcony. Bright light splashed over the railing from below. I gazed down onto a small amphitheater with a runway jutting out from the proscenium. A young Asian woman in high spiked heels and little else did her version of the model-strut. Shortly she was followed by a tall leggy blonde in an outfit that consisted of fringe draped from her broad shoulders. A man in a tuxedo at the back of the stage called out a name and a number, first in English, then in Arabic, and then in Japanese. My gaze widened to take in the men in the shadows seated along the edge of the runway. Their attention was not a leering lust, but the focused appraisal reserved for merchandise.
I’d seen that look myself many times before as I had swung my hips to the end of the runway, haughty and saucy, decked out in the latest fashion in New York, Paris, Milan, and Budapest. What I was witnessing was a parody of my life as a model. Only a few select men could have me, and only on my terms. The male fantasies of the world turned to surrogates, women who would serve their desires while I remained pure and unattainable.
I felt something touch my arm at the elbow. It was cold and hot at the same time and I lost consciousness. I moaned involuntarily as I came to and tried to make sense of my surroundings. My moan was greeted by a growl and I was suddenly aware of the bared dripping canines of a guard dog staring me in the face. My instinct was to play dead, close my eyes and let my head drop back against the leather couch. I tried to keep my breathing shallow but my heart was pounding like a runaway piston. Then it took a leap.
Overhead lights blazed on. I heard men’s voices approaching. I cautiously opened one eye to a pitiless glare of bright artificial white. They were standing over me. I recognized one face immediately. I should have guessed. It was Blackie.
Chapter Thirty Three
A BURST OF POWER
The scowl on Blackie’s face said he wasn’t happy to see me. I almost burst out laughing. Not because I didn’t grasp the tight spot I was in, but because of the absolute hilarity of what had just occurred to me. It was that delicious line once spoken by Mae West: “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” The gun wasn’t in Blackie’s pocket, it was in his back. He stumbled forward, pushed from behind. The gun was in Tommy Junior’s hand. His lips were stretched across his teeth in a smile. It wasn’t a happy smile.
I’ve been told that a woman with a sense of humor is dangerous. Men consider laughter, the only emotion they dare express, to be their inviolable domain. Once again I was where I wasn’t supposed to be, doing what I wasn’t supposed to be doing. And I was surrounded by men, all bristling with ambiguous hostility. Behind young Tommy, a limp withered figure glared from a wheelchair. Behind the wheelchair stood Preston Carmichael. The wizened apparition’s right hand moved, bringing a pale plastic wand to its throat. It wasn’t much of a leap, but I knew immediately that I was looking at old man Montague, aka Tommy Perro. A metallic sound crackled from the wand and shaped into words, “Must be my lucky day.”
Tommy Perro’s hard eyes had no intention of smiling. The skin beneath his cavernous eyes hung like folds of mottled vinyl. “My old pal, Blackie, come to visit me, and he brought his girlfriend, the most beautiful woman in the world.” His laugh sounded like static.
Tommy Junior managed a sneer, “Once the most beautiful, don’t you mean? You have to admit she’s got a few miles on her.”
“A woman is not an automobile.” Preston spoke in his measured tone, his wan cheeks slack but his amber eyes calculating. “Like a fine wine, certain vintages will age to perfection. And this one will bring a price to rival anything on four wheels.”
The old cripple wheeled closer to the couch where I no longer pretended to be unconscious. My heightened awareness enlarged my vision. My eyes felt like they were the size of dinner plates. I was one beat ahead of everything going down. It seemed all so very predictable. Except for the Doberman, tensed, ready to lunge at a word, and incidentally, the only other female in the room.
“I get payback, from my old buddy Blackie for ripping my family apart, and as a bonus, something that will be the prize of some sultan’s collection. It’s my lucky day.”
“I’m afraid she’s already spoken for.” Preston’s tone was firm. “I have an exclusive contract with a certain party for the finest of Caucasian flesh, particularly of Circassian ancestry.”
The old man turned in his wheelchair in a way that looked both painful and menacing. It was a demand for explanation.
“In the late seventies, I had been asked to arrange to have a certain fashion model with a notorious reputation entertain a very wealthy and politically powerful man at his villa on the Caspian Sea. Enroute to this assignment she was intercepted and kidnapped by a gang of terrorists. Lee Malone, once the highly sought-after international beauty, Leeann, is still very much a prize. This is my opportunity to restore credibility with my client.” Preston pulled a small pistol from under his dinner jacket and pointed it at Junior. “I’m afraid I shall have to take possession of her. You can deal with your friend as you must.” Being a lawyer, Carmichael relied heavily on the bluff.
Tommy Perro had gone to a different law school. The old man rasped a noise through his wand and the Doberman launched like a brown projectile at the dapper lawyer. Preston fired, hitting the dog in midflight. At the same time, Junior fired his pistol.
For a minute I thought I was on the set of the Maltese Falcon: men in dinner jackets with gats. And it happened instantly, inexorably, no close ups, no wide angles, overhead or tracking shots, just bang, bang, bang, one, two, three, by the numbers, the last round fired in reflex as Preston dropped like an expensive Pelure Cochon leather sack, fashionable but empty. One dead dog and one dead man. Tommy Junior spun and pointed his gun at Blackie who looked like he might be contemplating something gallant but stupid.
The old man may have been constrained by his physical condition but his barked electronic commands were dispatched with authority. He had some very valuable property and he was certain that there were those who would pay a tidy sum to acquire it.
I was hustled down to the auditorium and taken backstage by the security muscle, a scowling ape with a shaved head and glowing red eyes. I should have been frightened. Instead I felt fearless, as if I was inhabited by another entity, a truly powerful being bursting with supernatural energy.
The ringmaster reappeared to adjust the lighting and check the sound system. He asked with a grin if I was having a good time. Then he asked me if there was any particular music I preferred for my walk down the plank. He indicated the row of cassette tapes next to the stereo console. I didn’t hesitate. My eyes were drawn to it and my finger pointed at it. The Pipes of Pan, music by tribesmen from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. I’d been poolside at Brian Jones’s mansion outside of London when I first heard it. It was exactly what I wanted. After all, Pan is the root of the word panic.
I watched from the wings as old Tommy was positioned in his wheelchair at the foot of the runway. Tommy Junior came up and glowered at me. He yanked the front of my blouse down to expose my breasts. “Let them see what they’re getting for their money.”
“I was just about to do that myself,” I said, raking him with a fierce look that clawed his eyes and made him flinch. The ringmaster started the music, spoke my name and stated the opening bid. Shades of county fairs and the beginnings of my conquests as the queen of beauty. They could have at least started the bidding a little higher. I stepped out onto the runway accompanied by the cacophony of fifes and drums. I was in my element.
It was all very clear to me. I had become Treyann, the embodiment of the three secret aspects of womanhood: the ancient, the beautiful, and the powerful. As I swayed and whirled in dance, clapping my hands in rhythm over my head, proud of my firm uplifted breasts, nipples triumphant, I knew that all eyes were on me and soon they would be under my spell. They might have thought that their dreams were within their grasp. I was about to become their worst nightmare.
There was no doubt as to exactly who I was. I spoke to myself the words I had always known. I am Leeann, paramount in my sphere, far beyond competition in my beauty, in my power to enchant men. I am, in a word, irresistible, Aphrodite in human form, the face that launched a thousand shipwrecks. I am supreme, above the best. Over the currency of my flesh wars are fought, yet in my name peace is invoked.
A physical transformation took hold of me. My supple roundness acquired a hard muscular edge. The skin of my cheeks grew taut, my eyes narrowed to gun slits. I bared my teeth, canines extruded like those of a cat or viper. I knew then that I had their undivided attention. And I knew that they realized, perhaps not in so many words and with the same depth of understanding, that from the beginning of time they, as men, have struggled with the threat of female dominance, against her strength, her complexity and impenetrability, her dreadful omnipresence. No man has yet been born who is not spun from a pitiful gob of refuse to a conscious being on the secret loom deep within the cave of a woman’s body, the body that is a nurturing cradle but also the inevitable pitiless fatality of nature. As every woman I control all of creation. What I bring into this world I can take out. I am the beginning. I am the end.
I stopped in my tracks and thunder clapped thrice, swaying like an axe about to fall. The air crackled with a faint blue intensity. I heard a collective gasp. I concentrated all my energy directly at the old goat in the wheelchair. He burst like a paper bag full of wet sand.