A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
That evening, the dinner was a disaster. Simon LaMonta was clearly tired, too many activities for an old man; Dreyfus had already put on his work face and Emily was too nervous to notice she was playing with her Inner Duchess. Finally, they quit trying and struggled along in silence, each one slightly angry with the other two. After the fish, Emily decided to end it early.
“I met some friends today. Antony and Beth. You remember?’
“They’ve brought a crowd over for the Steeplechase. We’re going to Le Meurice for drinks. Do you want to come?”
This was lover’s code for ‘you weren’t invited,’ and that was fine with Dreyfus. Generally, he liked Emily’s friends and might have ignored the escape hatch, but tonight was not the night.
“No, I’ll pass. I’ve got things to do tomorrow.”
“Alright, then. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave you two to your coffee and dessert.” Emily stood up, “I shouldn’t be too late.”
She touched Dreyfus on the shoulder and raised her fingers to Simon.
“Night,” she said, turning.
Dreyfus tilted his head to look up, but she was already walking away.
At the hotel, Emily changed into the too-short, too-tight party dress and the shoes she’d bought that afternoon. She loaded the oversized handbag with the other things she needed, turned her telephone off and kicked her purse under the bed. She took the stairs to get used to the high heels, wondering what she was going to do for the next five hours, dressed like this. But, as she crossed the lobby:
“Excusez? Lady Weldon? An envelope for you.”
Emily took the envelope. It was keys.
“Problem solved,” she thought, “Thank you, Sydney.”
Outside, the motor bike was exactly what she needed. “Thank you, Sydney.” Unfortunately, her dress was far too short to ride it with any dignity. “Oh, well!” Emily pushed it halfway down the street, pulled her dress up to the point of indecency, climbed on and drove off into the night.
Somewhere around 3 in the morning, Emily left the motorcycle in the trees on Avenue de New York. She casually walked up the wide stairs and along the balustrade of the gallery to the red line of graffiti she’d marked two days before. She stopped. She could hear the white noise of distant traffic, but the gray electric light night was deserted. On that exact spot, she knew she was hidden from everything — including the security cameras. She was invisible, and it made her feel very alone. This was the last point when she could turn around and go back to the hotel, tell Sinclair what she’d discovered and, if he was so damned determined, let him do it. She turned around and looked out at the river. It would be easy: just get on the motorbike and ride across the bridge; she could be home in twenty minutes. And then what? Wait for the axe to fall? She trusted Sinclair, and any other time, she would probably just shut up and get out of the way, but … A car drove by. Emily instinctively twitched. It didn’t stop. It didn’t even slow down. If this was going to work, she had to do it now. She turned back to the gallery, slipped her shoes off, knelt down and smashed one against the curb. The heel snapped off cleanly. She put her hand on the pieces, leaned forward, and balanced, scraped her knee sideways across the rough concrete. Goddamn it hurt! She tightened the muscles in her leg and clenched her eyes against the pain. She crouched there until the moment passed, stood up and, barefoot, walked the eight steps to the gallery window in a precise straight line. She dropped the broken heel on the ground and put on her other shoe. Then she reached into her handbag and, by feel, found the solvent from the DIY store. There were six screws in the window, and she carefully sprayed each one. She put the can back into her bag and turned to face the street. This was the hard part, waiting, listening, feeling the pulse in her stomach, rehearsing her broken heel story, willing the world not to interfere. In the soundless night, she heard every sound — tried to distinguish them, identify them, find them in the darkness. She flexed her fingers against the tension in her hands; then she put on her gloves and took the electric screwdriver from her bag. She fitted it to the first screw and pressed the button. Even with her gloves, the noise seemed to cut into the night like a jet engine. But it worked perfectly, just like the clerk showed her. The first screw twisted out almost instantly. It wobbled. Emily caught it just before it fell, and tightened it back into the hole just a bit. The rest were easier to gauge and, in less than a minute, all the screws were loose. Emily jiggled the window open until it rested on the ends of the screws. She reached behind the window to the lock on the wire grate and, with her other hand, took the bolt cutter from her bag. She lined everything up and pushed … nothing happened. She pushed again — and again. Still nothing. She pushed again. No matter what she did, she just wasn’t strong enough to break the lock. She could feel the panic rising. Any second now, some drunk would stagger by, the guards would hear her, a car would stop. “For God sake, c’mon!” She lined the cutters up with the wall and pushed with both hands. Still nothing. Finally, almost overwhelmed with terror, she adjusted the angle, pulled up her dress and kicked the handle with the flat of her foot. It gave. There was a snap. The lock broke and the bolt cutters fell rattling onto the sidewalk. In a mad rush, Emily pushed the window back into place. She tightened all six screws, threw everything back into her bag, grabbed her broken shoe and scrabbled back to the concrete balustrade. She was invisible again. She leaned down heavily, breathing through her mouth. As soon as she could, she took off her gloves, put them in her bag, took off her shoes again and walked around the corner. Under the street light, she stopped and looked at her watch. It was 3:15. She made sure her bag was closed, then ran up the street to the gallery’s service entrance.
“Hello! Excusez? Hello!” She shouted, pounding her fist against the door, “Hello! Can you help me? Please! Hello!” She pounded again.
The door opened.
“Thank God! Uh – Jesus! – S’il vous plait – uh – um …”
“I speak English.”
“Oh, fantastic. I was robbed. I was phoning for a taxi, and a kid on a bike just came out of nowhere and stole my wallet and my phone. I was there. Here. I don’t know where I was. I’m … My boyfriend left me here. I – uh – the kid just came out of nowhere. I chased him, but I fell.” Emily rubbed her knee.
“Alright, Madame. One minute,’ the security guard said, holding his hands in the air. “I will call the police. One minute.”
“No, please. All I want is to go back to the hotel. Can you call me a taxi? The police will take all night. I just want to go home. Could you …”
“Yes. Alright. One minute.” The guard took his telephone out of his pocket, tapped a number and spoke.
“Thank you so much.” Emily was calmer now, “Could I ask you to wait with me ‘til he gets here?”
“Of course. Are you hurt? Come in and sit down for a minute.”
“No. Thank you. I’m fine. I just … I’ll report it in the morning. I just want to go home.”
“We have a medical kit. For your knee?”
“Oh, no! It’s nothing. You’ve done enough, really, just waiting with me. Thank you so much. Can I offer you … oh, I don’t have any money.”
“No, Madame. It’s good.”
“Are you here all the time? Do you work here?”
“Yes. We are the night guards for the museum.”
The taxi came.
“Thank you again. Will you be here tomorrow night?” Emily smiled.
“Yes, every night.”
“I’ll see what I can do for you. I’m Sandy, by the way.”
Emily got into the taxi and loudly gave the name of a hotel. After a couple of streets, she pulled 20 Euros out of her bra and told the driver to let her out. She walked back to her motorbike, and twenty minutes later, she was at her hotel — barefoot, dirty, with a ripped dress and a bloody knee.
“Good morning,” she said at the reception desk, “Any chance I could get a drink at the bar?”