EIGHT – NEW CONCERNS
“Tony, you have to stop doing this,” Jenni said, more than a trace of worry showing in her voice. “You’re going to work yourself to death.”
Tony nodded sleepily and tried to focus on her pretty face.
Jenni had found him asleep in the studio again this morning, when she’d gotten up to go to work. She’d helped him up to bed then. But she found him still there when she returned to the A-frame at the end of her shift.
He didn’t look like a man who had slept all day. He looked like Hell: sallow and emaciated.
“Do you feel all right?” she asked.
“Here. Let me help you into the shower.” She expertly stripped off his clothes and led him into the master bath. She pulled off her own clothes as the water got up to temperature, then turned to find him still sitting on the toilet.
“Now I know you’re not okay,” she said. “You should be enjoying this.” She smiled at him, and he smiled back weakly.
Jenni helped Tony into the shower and began to give him a good scrubbing. “You know,” she said, “you don’t take better care of yourself and you’ll be too ripe to sleep with.”
She frowned. “Shit, Tony. I think you should see a doctor. This isn’t like you.”
“I just don’t seem to have any energy,” he muttered.
“Well, maybe the doctor can help. Let’s get you dressed and go.”
Since Tony was a Frost, the doctors of Beth Israel hospital took extra care with him. Still, after four hours of tests they could find nothing obviously wrong. Final results on some tests would take several days, and they promised to call Tony with them. Fortunately, by the time he and Jenni left the office, Tony was feeling almost his old self.
“How ‘bout dinner?” he asked, hugging her to him against the first chill of evening.
“You sure you’re up to it?”
He nodded. “Sure. Pick a spot. The pricier the better.”
“We’ll have to stop by your place and change.”
“I’ve got the time if you have.”
She smiled at him, but couldn’t entirely erase the worry from her face. “Maybe you’re anemic,” she mused. “A juicy red steak might do you good.”
“Steak it is.”
They went to the A-frame and changed with only a bit of hanky-panky. Then Tony drove them to the Golden Palm, an excellent restaurant downtown, near the library.
The maître-d showed them to a table overlooking the River Haven. Jenni smiled and adjusted the strap on her red, low-cut dress.
“Thank you, Tony,” she said.
“For what?” he asked, pulling uncomfortably on his tie. “Treating you like shit the last couple of days?”
“No. For taking the time to try and make it right.”
Tony took her hand and kissed it. “My pleasure.”
“My name is Marc, and I’ll be your waiter tonight,” said a nattily-dressed young man who appeared at their table. “Would you like cocktails before dinner?”
Jenni ordered a rum and Coke; Tony a vodka and cranberry juice. By the time Marc returned with their drinks, they’d decided what to eat.
“Broiled salmon with salad and baked potato—no butter or sour cream—for the lady” said Tony. Jenni smiled and chuckled at the formality. He knew she thought it nice to be ordered for occasionally. Tony had all the social graces, when he cared to use them.
“And I’ll have the prime rib, salad, and baked potato with the works,” he continued, paying her giggling no mind. “And a bottle of Ino rose’, please.”
Marc nodded and hurried off toward the kitchen.
Jenni leaned her elbows on the table and gazed dreamily at Tony. “I love you, you know,” she said.
He took her hand and squeezed it. “I know. I love you, too.”
She smiled. “I gotta pee.” She stood, gathering in her purse and straightening her dress as she did so. “Be back soon.”
He watched her leave the room. After she’d gone, he fished the blue velvet box out of his vest pocket. He opened it and looked at the ring.
It looked different in the light of the restaurant—less lustrous. Did he even have any right to ask her? He sighed, put the box back in his pocket and gazed out the window at the river. A moth fluttered by, banging its pale head against the windowpane.
Something in the room caught the corner of his eye, and he turned to see what it was. His jaw dropped.
Glory stood in the entryway of the restaurant, her back to him. Another man held her white fur coat for her. She slithered into the garment and smiled at the stranger. Then the two of them left.
Tony felt cold. A dagger sprang up inside him and twisted in his gut. He began to sweat.
Almost without knowing what he was doing, he rose from the table and walked quickly to the door—brushing past waiters and fellow patrons alike.
Barging through the exit, he caught a glimpse of the corner of Glory’s dress disappearing into an alleyway four blocks up the street.
Fury rose within him. He dashed across the traffic, barely avoiding being hit, and sprinted to where he’d last seen her.
Tony charged into the alley without thinking about what he was going to do or say. All he cared about was catching her, proving she was real, confronting her. At least that’s what he told himself.
What he found in the dark shadows around the corner brought him up short.
A man lay in the alleyway slumped against a garbage can, his eyes staring blankly into the night. A few small white moths fluttered in the air over the man’s head. Rats scurried away from the body and back into their holes when they spotted Tony.
Tony realized with a start that he knew the man; his name was Angel Whyte. He’d started out as a tagger—a graffiti artist. But a clever gallery owner had gotten hold of Angelo Blanco (as Angel had been known previously) and turned him into an art-world sensation.
Angel’s spray-painted canvases demanded big money—even in the galleries of New York and Chicago. The former tagger never tired of reminding people of just how much his “paintings” were worth.
Tony had never liked his work. Nor did he like the man when he’d met him at a gallery party last year.
Tony stepped over the body, not stopping to check whether Angel was alive or dead. Angel wasn’t the person he had come to find. Tony kicked a bold rat back into the corner as he passed, and batted away a moth that became entangled in his short black hair.
The other end of the alley debouched into a dimly-lit street lined with middle-class shops. A few trendy bars and nightclubs also populated the byway.
For a moment Tony paused, feeling unsure which way to go. Everything around him seemed dreamlike and unreal, though he’d been through this section of town many times before. His head felt foggy; his hands numb. Then a scent caught his attention—like a cold breeze from off the lake.
He followed his nose to a nightclub called the Screaming Meanie, featuring a snarling red cartoon character over the door. Pale white moths fluttered around the sign, their eyes glowing in the neon light. The sounds of loud music drifted out from the building’s interior.
Tony fished in his pocket, handed the cover-charge to the bouncer, and stepped into the club.
As he entered, Tony found himself assaulted by sights, sounds, and smells. Not the usual smoky club odor, but a vaguely spicy aroma. A large sign with the universal “no smoking” symbol hung near the entryway. Beyond, a pulsating dance floor dominated the room. It changed colors at seemingly random intervals having nothing to do with the music. Colored lights flashed overhead.
Beyond the dance floor a small stage writhed with musical life. The logo on the drummer’s kit read “Coffin Nails.”
As Tony passed the threshold, a familiar face greeted him.
“Hey, Tony Frost! How are you? Does Ivy know you’re here?”
Tony stopped searching the dance floor with his eyes momentarily and turned to the speaker. Grant Winslow’s handsome face smiled back at him. The Winslow heir’s green eyes sparkled in the glittering spotlights.
“Oh, hello, Grant,” Tony replied, managing a weak smile.
“C’mon,” said Grant, grabbing Tony by the elbow, “Ivy’s at a table in the corner. Lucky I spotted you. A guy could get lost in all this commotion.”
Grant led Tony across the room to a less noisy area. Tony’s cousin, Ivy Frost, rose from the table when she spotted him. A broad smile broke across her pretty face.
“Tony!” she said, beaming. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming here? Is Jenni with you?”
Tony looked around distractedly. The box in his vest pocket poked uncomfortably into his ribs. “No,” he said. “No, she’s not.”
“Well, take a seat and relax,” Grant offered, pulling out a chair for him.
Tony scanned the audience but didn’t find who he was looking for. “I can’t. I’m looking for someone,” he said distractedly.
“Is it that writer?” asked Ivy.
“Who?” said Tony, trying to shake the fog out of his brain.
“You know, that writer guy who owns the old lighthouse—the one you painted for my birthday. Grant and I ran into him earlier.”
“He wasn’t very friendly, though,” Grant added. “Didn’t seem the type to follow the Nails.”
“Neither am I,” said Ivy. “But you have to try everything once in life. How ’bout you, Tony? What do you think of the music?”
Grant chuckled. “I think that’s the point. A far cry from Bobby Darin, eh Ivy?”
She smiled at him.
“Can we get you a drink?” Grant asked.
Tony shook his head, but the fog refused to budge. “No. I need to find someone.”
“So you said,” said Ivy. “Tony, are you all right?”
“Yes. I’m fine.”
On stage, the band had finished another set and was filing off into the wings. Tony spotted a flash of white in the crowd.
“Excuse me,” he said.
Ivy and Grant glanced at each other as Tony pushed into the mass of patrons. Ivy shrugged. Tony barely noticed.
He pushed his way through the revelers and made it to the side of the stage. There, he slipped past a beefy security guard, who had stopped to admire a young coed’s chest, and went backstage.
It didn’t take him long to find Glory. She was standing in a corner with Stef Klein. The Nail’s lead singer pressed his coarse lips over her soft mouth and groped her a bit as he kissed her. Glory moaned softly as he did.
Red rage filled Tony’s soul. He charged forward and spun Klein around, intent on decking him.
But Glory put her hand on his fist. “Anthony, no.” she said firmly.
Tony’s head swam.
Klein looked confused; he took a swig from a bottle of scotch in his left hand.
“What the fuck’s your problem, man?” he asked.
Tony started to step toward Klein, but Glory fixed her eyes on the painter and held him motionless. “No problem,” she said softly. “Tony was just leaving.”
“Is that right, asshole?” Klein said, staring at Tony.
Tony tried to answer but couldn’t find his voice.
Glory gazed into his purple eyes with her black orbs. He could feel her mind stabbing into the back of his brain. Her voice was barely above a whisper, but Tony heard her clearly.
She said, “Go home, Tony.”