A Stranger In The Mirror Chapter 37

David's private jet plane flew Jill to New York, where a limousine was waiting to drive her to the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. The manager himself ushered Jill to an enormous penthouse suite.

’’The hotel is completely at your service, Mrs. Temple,’’ he said. ’’Mr. Kenyon instructed us to see that you have everything you need.’’

Ten minutes after Jill checked in, David telephoned from Texas. ’’Comfortable?’’ he asked.

’’It's a little crowded.’’ Jill laughed. ’’It has five bedrooms, David. What am I going to do with them all?’’

’’If I were there, I'd show you,’’ he said.

’’Promises, promises,’’ she teased. ’’When am I going to see you?’’

’’The Bretagne sails at noon tomorrow. I have some business to wind up here. I'll meet you aboard the ship. I've reserved the honeymoon suite. Happy, darling?’’

’’I've never been happier,’’ Jill said. And it was true. Everything that had gone before, all the pain and the agony, it had all been worth it. It seemed remote and dim, now, like a half-forgotten dream.

’’A car will pick you up in the morning. The driver will have your boat ticket.’’

’’I'll be ready,’’ Jill said.

Tomorrow.

It could have started with the photograph of Jill and David Kenyon that had been taken at Toby's funeral and sold to a newspaper chain. It could have been a careless remark dropped by an employee of the hotel where Jill was staying or by a member of the crew of the Bretagne. In any case, there was no way that the wedding plans of someone as famous as Jill Temple could have been kept secret. The first item about her impending marriage appeared in an Associated Press bulletin. After that, it was a front-page story in newspapers across the country and in Europe.

The story was also carried in the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety.

The limousine arrived at the hotel precisely on the dot of ten o'clock. A doorman and three bellboys loaded Jill's luggage into the car. The morning traffic was light and the drive to Pier 90 took less than half an hour.

A senior ship's officer was waiting for Jill at the gangplank. ’’We're honored to have you aboard, Mrs. Temple,’’ he said. ’’Everything's ready for you. If you would come this way, please.’’

He escorted Jill to the Promenade Deck and ushered her into a large, airy suite with its own private terrace. The rooms were filled with fresh flowers.

’’The captain asked me to give you his compliments. He will see you at dinner this evening. He said to tell you how much he's looking forward to performing the wedding ceremony.’’

’’Thank you,’’ Jill said. ’’Do you know whether Mr. Kenyon is on board yet?’’

’’We just received a telephone message. He's on his way from the airport. His luggage is already here. If there is anything you need, please let me know.’’

’’Thank you,’’ Jill replied. ’’There's nothing.’’ And it was true. There was not one single thing that she needed that she did not have. She was the happiest person in the world.

There was a knock at the cabin door and a steward entered, carrying more flowers. Jill looked at the card. They were from the President of the United States. Memories. She pushed them out of her mind and began to unpack.

He was standing at the railing on the Main Deck, studying the passengers as they came aboard. Everyone was in a festive mood, preparing for a holiday or joining loved ones aboard. A few of them smiled at him, but the man paid no attention to them. He was watching the gangplank.

At eleven-forty A.M., twenty minutes before sailing time, a chauffeur-driven Silver Shadow raced up to Pier 90 and stopped. David Kenyon jumped out of the car, looked at his watch and said to the chauffeur, ’’Perfect timing, Otto.’’

’’Thank you, sir. And may I wish you and Mrs. Kenyon a very happy honeymoon.’’

’’Thanks.’’ David Kenyon hurried toward the gangplank, where he presented his ticket. He was escorted aboard by the ship's officer who had taken care of Jill.

’’Mrs. Temple is in your cabin, Mr. Kenyon.’’

’’Thank you.’’

David could visualize her in the bridal suite, waiting for him, and his heart quickened. As David started to move away, a voice called, ’’Mr. Kenyon...’’

David turned. The man who had been standing near the railing walked over to him, a smile on his face. David had never seen him before. David had the millionaire's instinctive distrust of friendly strangers. Almost invariably, they wanted something.

The man held out his hand, and David shook it cautiously. ’’Do we know each other?’’ David asked.

’’I'm an old friend of Jill's,’’ the man said, and David relaxed. ’’My name is Lawrence. Clifton Lawrence.’’

’’How do you do, Mr. Lawrence.’’ He was impatient to leave.

’’Jill asked me to come up and meet you,’’ Clifton said. ’’She's planned a little surprise for you.’’

David looked at him. ’’What kind of surprise?’’

’’Come along, and I'll show you.’’

David hesitated a moment. ’’All right. Will it take long?’’

Clifton Lawrence looked up at him and smiled. ’’I don't think so.’’

They took an elevator down to C deck, moving past the throngs of embarking passengers and visitors. They walked down a corridor to a large set of double doors. Clifton opened them and ushered David in. David found himself in a large, empty theater. He looked around, puzzled. ’’In here?’’

’’In here.’’ Clifton smiled.

He turned and looked up at the projectionist in the booth and nodded. The projectionist was greedy. Clifton had had to give him two hundred dollars before he would agree to assist him. ’’If they ever found out, I would lose my job,’’ he had grumbled.

’’No one will ever know,’’ Clifton had assured him. ’’It's just a practical joke. All you have to do is lock the doors when I come in with my friend, and start running the film. We'll be out of there in ten minutes.’’

In the end, the projectionist had agreed.

Now David was looking at Clifton, puzzled. ’’Movies?’’ David asked.

’’Just sit down, Mr. Kenyon.’’

David took a seat on the aisle, his long legs stretched out. Clifton took a seat across from him. He was watching David's face as the lights went down and the bright images started to flicker on the large screen.

It felt as though someone was pounding him in the solar plexus with iron hammers. David stared up at the obscene images on the screen and his brain refused to accept what his eyes were seeing. Jill, a young Jill, the way she had looked when he had first fallen in love with her, was naked on a bed. He could see every feature clearly. He watched, mute with disbelief, as a man got astride the girl on the screen and rammed his pen** into her mouth. She began sucking it lovingly, caressingly, and another girl came into the scene and spread Jill's legs apart and put her tongue deep inside her. David thought he was going to be sick. For one wild, hopeful instant, he thought that this might be trick photography, a fake, but the camera covered every movement that Jill made. Then the Mexican came into the scene and got on top of Jill, and a hazy red curtain descended in front of David's eyes. He was fifteen years old again, and it was his sister Beth he was watching up there, his sister sitting on top of the naked Mexican gardener in her bed, saying, Oh, God, I love you, Juan. Keep f*king me. Don't stop! and David standing in the doorway, unbelievingly, watching his beloved sister. He had been seized with a blind, overpowering rage, and had snatched up a steel letter opener from the desk and had run over to the bed and knocked his sister aside and plunged the opener into the gardener's chest, again and again, until the walls were covered with blood, and Beth was screaming, Oh, God, no! Stop it, David! I love him. We're going to be married! There was blood everywhere. David's mother had come running into the room and had sent David away. But he learned later that his mother had telephoned the district attorney, a close friend of the Kenyon family. They had had a long talk in the study, and the Mexican's body had been taken to the jail. The next morning, it was announced that he had committed suicide in his cell. Three weeks later, Beth had been placed in an institution for the insane.

It all flooded back into David now, the unbearable guilt for what he had done, and he went berserk. He picked up the man sitting across from him and smashed his fist into his face, pounding at him, screaming meaningless, senseless words, attacking him for Beth and for Jill, and for his own shame. Clifton Lawrence tried to defend himself, but there was no way that he could stop the blows. A fist smashed into his nose and he felt something break. A fist cannoned into his mouth and the blood started running like a river. He stood there helplessly, waiting for the next blow to strike him. But suddenly there were no more. There was no sound in the room but his tortured, stertorous breathing and the sensuous sounds coming from the screen.

Clifton pulled out a handkerchief to try to stem the bleeding. He stumbed out of the theater, covering his nose and mouth with his handkerchief, and started toward Jill's cabin. As he passed the dining room, the swinging kitchen door opened for a moment, and he walked into the kitchen, past the bustling chefs and stewards and waiters. He found an ice-making machine and scooped up chunks of ice into a cloth and put them over his nose and mouth. He started out. In front of him was an enormous wedding cake with little spun-sugar figures of the bride and groom on top. Clifton reached out and twisted off the bride's head and crushed it in his fingers.

Then he went to find Jill.

The ship was under way. Jill could feel the movement as the fifty-five-thousand-ton liner began to slide away from the pier. She wondered what was keeping David.

As Jill was finishing her unpacking, there was a knock at the cabin door. Jill hurried over to the door and called out, ’’David!’’ She opened it, her arms outstretched.

Clifton Lawrence stood there, his face battered and bloody. Jill dropped her arms and stared at him. ’’What are you doing here? What - what happened to you?’’

’’I just dropped by to say hello, Jill.’’

She could hardly understand him.

’’And to give you a message from David.’’

Jill looked at him, uncomprehendingly. ’’From David?’’

Clifton walked into the cabin.

He was making Jill nervous. ’’Where is David?’’

Clifton turned to her and said, ’’Remember what movies used to be like in the old days? There were the good guys in the white hats and the bad guys in the black hats and in the end, you always knew the bad guys were going to get their just deserts. I grew up on those movies, Jill. I grew up believing that life was really like that, that the boys in the white hats always won.’’

’’I don't know what you're talking about.’’

’’It's nice to know that once in a while life works out like those old movies.’’ He smiled at her through battered, bleeding lips and said, ’’David's gone. For good.’’

She stared at him in disbelief.

And at that moment, they both felt the motion of the ship come to a stop. Clifton walked out to the veranda and looked down over the side of the ship. ’’Come here.’’

Jill hesitated a moment, then followed him, filled with some nameless, growing dread. She peered over the railing. Far below on the water, she could see David getting on the pilot tug, leaving the Bretagne. She clutched the railing for support. ’’Why?’’ she demanded unbelievingly. ’’What happened?’’

Clifton Lawrence turned to her and said, ’’I ran your picture for him.’’

And she instantly knew what he meant and she moaned, ’’Oh, my God. No! Please, no! You've killed me!’’

’’Then we're even.’’

’’Get out!’’ she screamed. ’’Get out of here!’’ She flung herself at him and her nails caught his cheeks and ripped deep gashes down the side. Clifton swung and hit her hard across the face. She fell to her knees, clutching her head in agony.

Clifton stood looking at her for a long moment. This was how he wanted to remember her. ’’So long, Josephine Czinski,’’ he said.

Clifton left Jill's cabin and walked up to the boat deck, keeping the lower half of his face covered with the handkerchief. He walked slowly, studying the faces of the passengers, looking for a fresh face, an unusual type. You never knew when you might stumble across some new talent. He felt ready to go back to work again.

Who could tell? Maybe he would get lucky and discover another Toby Temple.

Shortly after Clifton left, Claude Dessard walked up to Jill's cabin and knocked at the door. There was no response, but the chief purser could hear sounds inside the room. He waited a moment, then raised his voice and said, ’’Mrs. Temple, this is Claude Dessard, the chief purser. I was wondering if I might be of service?’’

There was no answer. By now Dessard's internal warning system was screaming. His instincts told him that there was something terribly wrong, and he had a premonition that it centered, somehow, around this woman. A series of wild, outrageous thoughts danced through his brain. She had been murdered or kidnaped or - He tried the handle of the door. It was unlocked. Slowly, Dessard pushed the door open. Jill Temple was standing at the far end of the cabin, looking out the porthole, her back to him. Dessard opened his mouth to speak, but something in the frozen rigidity of the figure stopped him. He stood there awkwardly for a moment, debating whether to quietly withdraw, when suddenly the cabin was filled with an unearthly, keening sound, like an animal in pain. Helpless before such a deep private agony, Dessard withdrew, carefully closing the door behind him.

Dessard stood outside the cabin a moment, listening to the wordless cry from within, then, deeply disturbed, turned and headed for the theater on the main deck.

At dinner that evening, there were two empty seats at the captain's table. Halfway through the meal, the captain signaled to Dessard, who was hosting a party of less important passengers two tables away. Dessard excused himself and hurried over to the captain's table.

’’Ah, Dessard,’’ the captain said, genially. He lowered his voice and his tone changed. ’’What happened with Mrs. Temple and Mr. Kenyon?’’

Dessard looked around at the other guests and whispered, ’’As you know, Mr. Kenyon left with the pilot at the Ambrose Lightship. Mrs. Temple is in her cabin.’’

The captain swore under his breath. He was a methodical man who did not like to have his routine interfered with. ’’Merde! All the wedding arrangements have been made,’’ he said.

’’I know, Captain.’’ Dessard shrugged and rolled his eyes upward. ’’Americans,’’ he said.

Jill sat alone in the darkened cabin, huddled in a chair, her knees pulled up to her chest, staring into nothingness. She was grieving, but it was not for David Kenyon or Toby Temple or even for herself. She was grieving for a little girl named Josephine Czinski. Jill had wanted to do so much for that little girl, and now all the wonderful magical dreams she had had for her were finished.

Jill sat there, unseeing, numbed by a defeat that was beyond comprehension. Only a few hours ago she had owned the world, she had had everything she ever wanted, and now she had nothing. She became slowly aware that her headache had returned. She had not noticed it before because of the other pain, the agonizing pain that was tearing deep into her bowels. But now she could feel the band around her forehead tightening. She pulled her knees up closer against her chest, in the fetal position, trying to shut out everything. She was so tired, so terribly tired. All she wanted to do was to sit here forever and not have to think. Then maybe the pain would stop, at least for a little while.

Jill dragged herself over to the bed and lay down and closed her eyes.

Then she felt it. A wave of cold, foul-smelling air moving toward her, surrounding her, caressing her. And she heard his voice, calling her name. Yes, she thought, yes. Slowly, almost in a trance, Jill got to her feet and walked out of her cabin, following the beckoning voice in her head.

It was two o'clock in the morning and the decks were deserted when Jill emerged from her cabin. She stared down at the sea, watching the gentle splashing of the waves against the ship as it cut through the water, listening to the voice. Jill's headache was worse now, a tight vise of agony. But the voice was telling her not to worry, telling her that everything was going to be fine. Look down, the voice said.

Jill looked down into the water and saw something floating there. It was a face. Toby's face, smiling at her, the drowned blue eyes looking up at her. The icy breeze began to blow, gently pushing her closer to the rail.

’’I had to do it, Toby,’’ she whispered. ’’You see that, don't you?’’

The head in the water was nodding, bobbing, inviting her to come and join it. The wind grew colder and Jill's body began trembling. Don't be afraid, the voice told her. The water is deep and warm.... You'll be here with me.... Forever. Come, Jill.

She closed her eyes a moment, but when she opened them, the smiling face was still there, keeping pace with the ship, the mutilated limbs dangling in the water. Come to me, the voice said.

She leaned over to explain to Toby, so that he would leave her in peace, and the icy wind pushed against her, and suddenly she was floating in the soft velvet night air, pirouetting in space. Toby's face was coming closer, coming to meet her, and she felt the paralyzed arms go around her body, holding her. And they were together, forever and ever.

Then there was only the soft night wind and the timeless sea.

And the stars above, where it had all been written.


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