‘It is exactly what you think it is.’
‘I’d like to buy it.’
‘It’s not for sale.’
‘I am prepared to pay more, far more than the price the others would stop at.’
‘It’s not for sale,’ Vann repeats tightly and curling his fingers around my upper arm starts to turn away.
‘Three hundred thousand.’ His voice is loud. I realize for the first time that he is drunk.
Vann is already walking away with me in tow when another voice, a thin, reedy one, farther away, says, ‘One point five million.’
There is a gasp.
Vann stops and turns around to look at the owner of the voice. Everyone else does the same. A small, slim man. From head to toe he is dressed entirely in black. His face is thin, pointy and deathly pale, and his eyes are deeply sunken and glitter like dark gems. He is tiny and insignificant, but I am suddenly frightened of him. I cannot explain the immediate and instinctive fear. I feel Vann stiffen beside me. For a long, tense minute there is pure silence. That old cliché, you could have heard a pin drop, became true.
Then the air around me moves and Blake is standing next to me. From him come waves of antagonism for the newcomer and a rock-like, unshakable support for Vann. I feel Vann relax and some of my fear sloughs off like old skin. It is the most amazing feeling, having someone like Blake in your corner. You know that, no matter what happens, he is going to come out the victor.
‘Monfort,’ Blake says coldly.
Monfort acknowledges the greeting with a slight, silent bow of his head. His mouth curls at the end. And there is something evil about that grotesque curl. I shiver.
‘Congratulations. It is a fine painting Mr…Wolfe. It does us proud.’ The hesitation is deliberate. He knows. He knows that Vann is a Barrington.
‘You have my offer if you do decide to sell.’
He turns his attention to Blake. ‘Your father would have been pleased with you. Come and see me in the cigar room.’
‘If time permits.’
At that moment I know it is absolutely true what Vann told Lana: The brotherhood will carry on holding their great balls for El. You will not be invited. Neither will I, but Blake will always be invited as an honored guest.
The man called Monfort moves the tip of his mouth into a cruel curl. His dark eyes settle on me. ‘I bid you goodnight, Miss Sugar.’ Then he turns and slips away, a silent, black shadow.
‘Well done, Vann.’ A look passes through them and Blake smiles at his younger brother. There is so much in that smile. Vann visibly relaxes and around us the crowd starts whispering and moving and everything becomes normal again. Lana pushes through the crowd. Her brow is creased with worry and fear.
‘Is everything all right?’
Blake catches her by the waist and playfully growls, ‘Of course. Except for the fact that you are not by my side. Where have you been?’
‘I got waylaid by this woman who wanted to talk about CHILD.’
‘The penalty of success is to be bored by the people who used to snub you,’ he replies with a low laugh.
For a moment Lana looks from Blake to Vann to me, and back to Blake. Vann shrugs, I shake my head, and Blake grins innocently.
‘Fine,’ Lana says with a laugh. ‘Don’t tell me, then.’
‘Are you cold?’
I shake my head. I am burning up.
He releases my hand. ‘Let me call you a cab.’
‘Take me home with you.’
‘It’s over, Julie.’ His voice is flat, final. He never calls me Julie. I am Sugar to him. But you know me. I don’t give up easy. No one can accuse me of not trying.
‘Can we have sex one last time?’
He starts to shake his head.
‘Then why did you do what you did in there?’
‘Because he would have destroyed you.’
‘What makes you think he wanted me? I am white trash from the council estate.’
‘Snoop Dogg is not black. He’s Snoop Dogg. You are not Julie from the sticks but Eve from the painting.’
It gets suddenly colder. A cold that eats into bone. I hug myself. The sickness of my need for him grows, like moss on my skin. ‘Do we always remain who we are, no matter how much we try to be someone else?’
He looks at me sadly. The realization is swift. He has already walked away from me. But I won’t give up. The gypsy woman said not to. ‘Why is Adam & Eve not for sale?’
‘Because it’s yours,’ he says simply.
‘Don’t you want it?’
‘No. I want no memories of you. You can sell it. Buy a little flat like Billie’s.’
I just about stop myself from wailing. But I don’t want a little flat like Billie’s. I want to live with you in a garret in Paris or wherever. Is this how it ends? The thought is impossible to comprehend. The pain spreads from my chest outwards.
‘You’re leaving. What harm can it do for us to spend one last night together? I came to your exhibition. Don’t you want to see my dance? I practiced hard.’
He says nothing.
I wrestle with the entirely futile desire to reach a hand back into the past and change it. If only I had not been so obstinate. So hateful. ‘Please.’
‘If you keep the story going long enough, it will always end badly for all the characters,’ he says.
I know I am begging, but I don’t care. I touch his arm. ‘It will be my goodbye dance. You can’t deny me that…’
He takes his jacket off and drapes it over my shoulders. ‘All right.’ The jacket is full of the delicious warmth of his body and I snuggle into it. It is another expensive gift from Blake. We don’t speak at all during the walk to the car, in the car and on the way to the front door. He puts the car keys on the table. Smith comes to greet Vann. His fur sticks on the black material of his trouser legs. He bends and rubs his head affectionately. I walk on ahead, take his jacket off and carefully drape it over the back of a dining chair. The flat smells of flowers. There are baskets of flowers everywhere, the congratulatory envelopes still unopened.
‘Want a drink?’
‘I have green chartreuse.’
My eyes open wide. What? When did he buy that? It can only be a good sign. I let my lips stretch in a smile. I’m in love with a handsome devil. ‘In that case, I’ll have a glass.’
I go and sit on the sofa and watch him pour the drink out for me. His shoulders are tense. Hardly meeting my eyes, he approaches with a glass of something amber and my drink.