“I believe in corporal punishment for disobedient children. And by that I mean I feel I have the right to whack my boyfriend with a ruler when he’s pissing me off.”
--Death Of The Party
My anger was blurring my vision. I could feel its vibrating pulse as it filled me up and then oozed out, consuming the room. I know my boyfriend, Anatoly, felt it too. Or perhaps I should say my soon to be ex-boyfriend. It was all a bit surreal. This was me, Sophie Katz, breaking up with the man who I had whispered words of love to only hours ago. Well at least I planned to break up with him. There was a small chance that I might actually kill him before I got around to making the break-up official.
“I was going to talk to you about this,” he said. His dark brown hair was a tiny bit longer than he normally wore it and was slightly ruffled giving him a roughish appearance. He leaned back against the leather cushions of our couch…my couch, not ours anymore. I couldn’t share anything with him now. Not my furniture, not my beautiful San Franciscan Victorian…not my life.
“You were going to talk to me about this?” I repeated my voice was so low it sounded like a purr. Mr. Katz, my feline pet, stirred from his position on the window seat. “Did I not give you enough time?”
“After all, we’ve only known each other…how long has it been now, six years? Was that not enough TIME Anatoly?”
“I know this sounds like an excuse,” he said slowly, his dark eyes trained on my own, “but this wasn’t a typical situation. Your safety was an issue.”
“Ah, so you had to lie to protect me. You’re right, that’s not typical at all.” I walked away from the edge of the couch and over to the built in mahogany bookcases. They were so solid and steady…unlike anything else in my life, really. In front of me the titles of my own published novels were lined up like oversized dominos. Words To Die By, C’est La Mort, Fatally Yours and my most recent release Death Of The Party, and so many more. Proof that all my professional accomplishments had done nothing to make my personal life any easier.
“I never loved her, Sophie.”
I exhaled loudly, observing how my breath unsettled thousands of little bits of dust from the bookshelves in front of me. “So you were married to a woman you didn’t love. And I found out about it from a sociopath.” I turned around. “A convicted felon who happens to be a hell of a lot more honest than the man who I’ve been fucking for the last six years!”
“We may have known each other for six years but to be fair, we didn’t actually start sleeping together until—“
“Shut up!” An invisible hammer beating against the inside of my head. It was making me dizzy. “When did you get divorced?”
There was a long pause. His eyes stayed on mine but I saw something in them that I had never seen before…was he afraid? Anatoly, the man who had served first in the Russian army, then the Israeli army, only to then come to the States to become a private detective…HE was afraid?
“Oh my God,” I whispered.
“Sophie,” he said again, now rising to his feet. “It’s not as bad as it appears.”
“No!” I raised my hands as if to ward him off. “You’re still married?”
“I married for citizenship. I wanted to come to America. That was all. And the woman I married knew that.”
“So you got married in order to break our immigration laws?”
Anatoly’s mouth curved into a humorless smile. “You’re not upset about my breaking the immigration laws.”
“No, I’m upset because you’re a liar! How many times have you accused me of holding back on you? How many times have you berated me for not telling you about every detail of my life? And all this time—”
“I’ve never asked for all the details of your past.” His voice was steady and patient…I wanted to reach down his throat and tear his vocal cords out. “I’ve only asked you to share the present and I’ve done that for you,” he went on. “You know who I am now. Who I was and what I did before I met you…it’s not relevant.”
“Yeah? Well I hate to point out the obvious but you are presently married!” I broke eye contact and stared angrily at the wall behind him. There were pictures of my friends and family…my Eastern European, Jewish mother kissing my African American father on their tenth anniversary. Anatoly and I weren’t married but still, I had expected to eventually have a ten-year anniversary with him with or without a wedding ring. I had expected a twentieth and thirtieth too. But now? What on earth was I allowed to expect now?
“So that also means that I am presently your mistress,” I pressed on, “and in case you haven’t heard, mistresses are not en vogue on this side of the Atlantic! So in the PRESENT you suck!”
Anatoly sighed and turned toward the window giving me a perfect view of his profile. The illumination of the floor lamp cast a glow against his fair skin. He was beautiful and suddenly I hated him for it. Hated him for all the times I had told him I loved him, all the times I had touched his face, ran my fingers through his dark hair and asked him to make love to me.
This morning when I had woken up everything had been different. I had been tucked into the crook of his arm, my hand, light brown and in perfect contrast to his lighter complexion, had been resting on his chest. This morning the world had been exactly how I wanted it to be and now everything was a mess, destroyed by one little revelation that was now snowballing into an avalanche of revealed betrayals.
“Have you heard of the mafiya? Otherwise known as just the Russian Mafia?”
“I can’t even begin to imagine how that’s pertinent and I’m not at all sure I want to find out,” I said. “You’re married to somebody else. Perhaps we should just leave it at that and call it a day.”
“Sophie, the woman I married—”
“Your wife,” I snapped. “That’s her proper title so you might as well use it.” Mr. Katz shifted his position so as to better observe the fireworks.
“The woman I married,” Anatoly repeated stubbornly, “is the daughter of someone who is very high up in that particular crime organization.”
“Your wife’s a mafia princess,” I said flatly. I had never known Anatoly to make up elaborate stories but then again he had never had to. This was clearly new territory for him. My ex-husband, Scott, used to make up elaborate lies all the time. He was much better at it. He really knew when to rein it in. For instance the first time I caught Scott in the hands of another woman he told me she was his chiropractor and was simply giving him an adjustment. Even then I knew it was bullshit but I appreciated his creativity. But the daughter of a mob boss? Please. The man could at least respect my intelligence enough to come up with a story better than that.
“I told you before that I had gotten involved in some criminal activity while living in Russia. Nothing big. I didn’t threaten merchants or kill the family members of people who were being uncooperative.”
“Oh, so you’re not a homicidal extortionist? Well that’s reassuring. I guess there’s not a problem then, huh?”
“Sophie, just listen to me. The things I did…arranging for the sale of certain things on the black market, surveillance, gathering information on rival criminal organizations, acting as a body guard…I was good at it. And so once they found out that I wanted to go further than Israel, that I wanted to come to the States, they made me a deal. I had to do one job. That’s all. In exchange I would be allowed to marry Natasha.”
“You married Natasha, the Russian criminal mastermind?” I sneered. “But whatever happened to poor Boris? And did you try to blow up moose and squirrel?”
“In addition to getting citizenship,” he went on, ignoring my sarcastic interruption, “there was also the promise that upon my completion of this job she would be allowed to be free of the criminal world of her family. I wanted to do that for her almost as much as I wanted citizenship here.”
“Why?” I snapped. “You just told me you never loved her.”
“I don’t have to love someone to want to help them. My motives weren’t entirely selfish.”
“Just mostly selfish.”
“Exactly,’ he said with wry smile. “I was young and I had been through a lot and…and America is the land of opportunity,” he said quietly. “I’ve always been opportunistic. And although I honestly didn’t love Natasha I did like her. Our relationship wasn’t entirely platonic. But our sexual chemistry aside--”
“Oh for God’s sake you really stink at this, you know that?” I slammed my hand against the bookshelf for emphasis. “When you make up a lie to cover up a betrayal you’re supposed to do two things, make the person you’re lying to feel better about everything and give them a story believable enough to latch onto!”
“No one can do denial like me like me, Anatoly,” I said, cutting him off. “I’m the girl who chooses to believe that I need ice cream for calcium and nightly cocktails to channel the creative genius of Hemingway. But even I can‘t buy this bullshit. And just so you know, imagining you having sexual chemistry with a woman you’ve been hiding from me DOES NOT MAKE ME FEEL BETTER ABOUT THINGS!”
In the silence that followed I could feel the tears threatening to come but I managed to push them back. I wouldn’t cry in front of a stranger.
And that’s what this man was. This man who I thought I was going to spend my entire life with. When I had married Scott I had been so young, only nineteen. In the two brief years we had been married Scott had screwed me over big time but it hadn’t really come as a shock. Scott had been fun and he distracted me from what had been a truly difficult period in my life. He showed me a good time and our impromptu Vegas wedding had seemed wild, impulsive and romantic. But did I ever think he was an upright, loyal and dependable guy? Even at nineteen I hadn’t been that naive.
But Anatoly…he was a different story. It’s true that I hadn’t trusted him when we first met. In fact I had thought that he was a serial killer and he had suspected the same of me. Not an auspicious beginning. But eventually it became clear that neither of us were the Jeffrey Dahmer type and Anatoly and I had started to get to know each other…intimately. It took a while for us to move from casual-fling to life partners. There had been break-ups and arguments aplenty but in the end we had found each other irresistible. I learned to trust him. I didn’t think he would ever hurt me…not like this. Not by lying about who he was.
But that’s exactly what he had done. The man before me wasn’t just a Russian-immigrant bachelor who made his living as a PI. According to him he was a married mafia thug who had more secrets than I could ever guess at. It didn’t matter so much what part of the story was a lie and what was the truth. What mattered was that the man I thought I knew would never have needed to say any of this. The man I thought I knew wouldn’t have had anything to lie about! This morning I had kissed a stranger. Hell, last night I had gone down on a stranger. That made him a liar and me a slut and now I wanted the stranger out of my home so I could stand in the shower until this dirty feeling was washed away.
And maybe I could wash some other feelings away too. Like love, and longing…but mostly pain. I would stand in the shower for ten hours straight if I thought it could make this pain go away.
“I want you to go now.”
“No. I mean it.” My voice was so quiet it was amazing that he could hear me. Then again, maybe he couldn’t. Maybe all he had to do was look at my face to understand what I was saying.
“I’m going,” he said quietly. “I’ll be out of town for a few days taking care of some....some business. But I’ll be back. I am going to fix this.”
He turned and started for the door.
“You can come back for your things but not for me,” I called after him.
“Ah,” he said as he opened the door to leave, “but you’re the only thing I want.”
I managed to hold back the tears until the door was closed behind him.