His blood reaches out to me across the polished flagstones, pooling in luxuriance half a centimetre from the toes of my new Belle Vivier pumps, as if about to kiss them. A perfect match for their patent sheen, the colour of a good Burgundy too, what a waste.
“Excuse me–” a man in a dark suit touches my arm and I step back.
“Do you know this person?” asks the suit. There is a wire leading to his ear. A woman behind him screams, dropping her chic carrier bag.
“No–” I glance at the broken head, the dark hair greying at the temples. I know nothing about this mannequin of flesh and bone that hurtled down here out of the blue, coat tails flapping like the wings of an eagle. Crashing into the narrow space where moments earlier, I had been browsing the perfume display. For once I am an innocent bystander and almost shiver in delight.
The aroma of heliotrope and citrus are now blotted out by a heavier, more all pervading sweetness. Such a shame. He could have dined with me and things might have ended on a different note.
I check the restaurants listed on Tripadvisor, clicking at random. I have another date. He sounds promising, if a little cagey. Probably married, it is coming up to Valentine’s Day after all. I like Tripadvisor and occasionally post reviews if the evening has ended well. I’ve even earned a badge, so they inform me. I think of my family’s coat of arms on the blackened shield which used to hang over the cavernous fireplace. A wolf’s head baring its teeth at some lesser beast rampant, on a field of gules. I smile at the memory.
The restaurant I select is French and very discreet– off Marylebone High Street. I tend to avoid the noisy Italian ones. The table linen looks nice. I browse the customer photos. There is a very graphic picture of steak tartare presented on a stark white plate. I am satisfied but there is just one more thing, I need to change my hair colour. I decide to go blonde, or to be precise, bombshell blonde. Hitchcock would approve.
My date is slurping his soup and I want to kill him now, this minute. A blob of Vichyssoise glistens at the corner of his leering mouth. His perspiring brow seems to go on forever until it reaches an eroded coastline of sandy hair crowning the top of his head. He looks nothing like his photograph, but I have come to expect that.
He starts extolling the attractions of the family au pair from Slovenia. His wife isn’t mentioned of course. I wonder if she is a high powered business woman, working abroad a lot of the time. Uh, now he’s telling me he’s some kind of hedge fund manager. He asks me what I do, as always. This time I am the director of an interior decoration consultancy with an exclusive portfolio of wealthy clients based in Dubai.
Waiting for our main course to arrive, he asks if I’m interested in a threesome with him and the Slovenian girl. I laugh, politely. I might have taken up his offer at one time. Selecting village maidens like sweet Muscat grapes fresh off the vine and taking them to the castle dungeon in Moravia was a serious hobby of mine, along with my late husband, God rest his soul.
Hedge Fund Man interrupts my reverie by attempting to play footsie with me under the table. I am having none of it. No one touches the Belle Viviers.
However, initial perceptions are promising and I am in need of replenishing, so I place my elegantly manicured hand over his sausage fingers.
The concierge is late, so I phone again. This is getting annoying and I tap my foot, which makes a dainty sound on the laminate.
The subject has been sitting on my sofa, bolt upright, mouth gaping open, for a good hour. He needs to be removed. I no longer take any pleasure looking over my kills. I used to, when I was younger. Now I leave the scene and go run a bath.
I don’t have any hobbies to speak of. The only thing I take pleasure in, worthy of this shallow century in which I dwell, is my collection of Roger Vivier shoes. They are mostly Belle Viviers with the slant heel, hardly worn. Occasionally, I like to polish the leather soles with a lathe made of rhinoceros horn.
The concierge finally arrives with an accomplice, muttering various excuses. Barely a word is exchanged as they lift the stiffening body into the black bag and zip it up. He hands me a letter from the managing agents. They are putting up the ground rent.
My dear friend Theodore is on the phone again. Weary of desert life, he wants to meet up. He is one of a small circle of survivors, shall we say. Someone I see now and again. He gets me. I even consider wearing a pair of stilettos for the occasion.
He will be in London on the 11th. I book a table at Zedel, near Piccadilly Circus. A recently restored Belle Époque style brasserie in the bowels of what once was the Regent Palace Hotel. A little noisy and always busy, but I’m off duty and have recently replenished. My hair is left alone, my natural shade of luminous blue-black..
I normally dress chic and understated for my dates, as I do not want to draw attention to myself, but with Theodore, I can afford to be a little more eye-catching. I unearth my only pair of stilettos, examining them carefully. One of the heels is somewhat worn down. I sigh and put them back in the box. Perhaps not.
I decide on a garnet coloured stretch knit top with three quarter sleeves and sweetheart neckline and an Azzedine Alaïa black python mini skirt with a pair of gossamer fine ten denier Wolfords–no one can spin hosiery like the Austrians.
I examine the top, last worn at a late supper with Rudolf Nureyev at his apartment on the Quai Voltaire. I used to advise him on his antiques purchases in the late eighties. He also asked for other information, or shall I say insights, which I refused to give. Rudi liked attractive women–the feistier the better. He once said I had ‘edible legs’.
Theodore is seated opposite me, scanning the menu. The waiters pass to and fro, a parade of owls’ heads turned towards me, rather a comical sight. I’m amazed they don’t bump into each other.
I tear off some bread. “There is no crab bisque by the way– and if you’re having soup, you’d better tie a serviette over your beard.” I unfold my napkin and smooth it over my lap. His beard is as silky as angel hair and I adore stroking it.
He gives me a sharp look. “Who says I’m having soup?”
A waiter comes over. We order a bottle of Gevrey Chambertin and my companion orders the paté de foie gras.
“That’s a cruel choice,” I say.
“Like you, my lovely Justine,” Theodore replies, buttering his bread. He is the only one who knows my real name.
I scan him. I have perceptions, highly developed due to centuries of habit. His filter comes across as ruby red, only a slight tinge of blue around the edges. ‘Who would have thought the old man would have so much blood in him?’ Perhaps one day–
The wine arrives and soon the talk flows. He likes my tales of old Europe. I can go way back, to forgotten empires and beyond. I begin an anecdote about Catherine the Great, but am interrupted by the arrival of our entrées.
He walks me home. Outside the tube station at Embankment, I notice a young man begging. I throw a few coins from my purse into his lap. He looks up at me and smiles.
“He’ll regret that,” says Theodore.
Outside the door of my apartment, my dear friend bids me goodbye. We kiss. I have to go on tiptoe to do this.
“Why do you insist on wearing those darn pumps?” Theodore grumbled.
“I can’t wear four inch stiletto heels, even for you. I’d just look absurd.” I reply “Anyway, they aren’t just any old pumps, they are Belle Viviers.”
I do not invite Theodore into the apartment. It would mean the end of him. I think he knows that.
The next evening I stroll along the Embankment. I look for my young vagrant outside the underground station. But he has moved on. His pitch has been taken over by two shabby grey-haired winos. I enter the station in a hurry to catch the train home.
The following afternoon, I drop into the Victoria and Albert Museum and gaze for hours at a display of 17thc Moravian pottery until closing time. In the pedestrian subway near the museum, a busker is playing a violin at the end of the tunnel. I recognise the theme from quite a distance away, Lehár’s ‘You are my heart’s desire’.
I smile and take out my purse, looking for coins. As I approach, there is a pause in the music. The musician, a young man, is talking to a fair-haired girl, carrying an oblong case. Perhaps she is a clarinet player, both of them music students. I walk past, she has a pretty ruby filter, but his is shrouded with black. I pause to fling some small change into the open violin case and walk away at a brisk pace. They barely notice me and I can hear the girl laughing. Well, he hasn’t long, I muse to myself. Let them enjoy life while they can.
Tomorrow is the 14th of February and I am dining with a mysterious poet. I am intrigued. We met online and he’s already sent poems to my inbox. I wonder what his day job is. Few make money from poetry these days. He sends me a document which turns out to be a spreadsheet crowded with tiny figures and he apologises for the error. Perhaps he is an actuary. I have always fantasised about that profession. They seem to know the value of risk, after all.
I like his turn of phrase. The poems are a little unusual. I knew a poet once, many years ago. But he died young, of consumption. He expired in my arms and I slashed his carotid to drink the last of his haemorrhage. He begged me to. ‘The vaults and the lees to brag of.’ I must stop quoting Macbeth.
This one is different. His themes are darker, more tortured. I wonder about the poems, are they exclusive to me or does he send them out to other women? Like a round robin. It is the internet after all and you never really know. I hope I inspire him. I’ve always yearned to be a muse, stirring the life blood, not merely draining it. I do wonder about the point of my existence at times.
We meet in a small family run Italian diner in South Kensington. His choice. Actually quite close to where I live. He is a little younger than I expected, which makes a change. He is also wearing a pinstripe double-breasted suit.
“Polanski filmed ‘Repulsion’ here in the mid sixties. Catherine Deneuve eating fish and chips. Or rather, not– she leaves her meal untouched. They always do in films,” he smiled and took a sip of wine. His glass has a tiny crack on the lip. I tell him to get the waitress to change it.
“No, it’s fine. Anyway, Deneuve could have drunk out of this one. It looks vintage enough. You never know–” his thumb caresses the rim of the glass.
I am now wondering whether his mind can be pulled away from the subject of Ms Deneuve. Just my luck, as I have gone a rather subdued medium copper brunette for the occasion.
His filter is fine, but it troubles me. There is a violet aura. Unusual. I ponder this. I have not come across it before. My perceptions may be corrupted, I’m not sure. Throughout the meal I cannot take my eyes off him. I kick off one pump and place my stockinged foot on his. He does not react, merely smiles as if I’d contributed some pleasantry.
“Catherine Deneuve wore Roger Vivier Pilgrim pumps in ‘Belle de Jour’, did you know that? Also she isn’t, never has been, a natural blonde–”
His pupils dilate as he takes this in. Grey irises fringed with black, they remind me of my late husband’s.
We are outside my apartment. I am not sure about inviting him in. He kisses me, a lingering kiss.
I extricate myself from his embrace and press the key into the lock and turn it.
“Go– please. I beg you, go away now. Do not look at me. Just go–”
His arm comes up and he pushes the door open.
I am reclining on the sofa in a state of undress. He is kissing my breasts. And I am overcome, weeping real tears, the first in centuries, like those miraculous statues of saints.
My talons emerge and scrape across his chest. Then I feel something sharp, turning inside me like a shard of glass and soon there is blood everywhere. Mine, mixed with his. The violet sheen is unmistakable. There are deep ragged claw marks across his chest. Did I do that? He is holding up one of my Belle Vivier pumps, drinking from it, in such a greedy fashion, the blood trickles over his chin. Imbibing my centuries old poison for inspiration, perhaps. My body sinks towards the floor. Tomorrow, they will find two corpses, two rivers of coagulated blood, in twisted confluence. A murder-suicide? I will leave them to ponder that one.
Everyone will read about it in the Metro free-sheet tomorrow morning on their way to work. Our joint demise will supplant the story of the suffocated ex-politician found in a studio flat in Pimlico or the oligarch’s wife found drowned in the swimming pool of a Candy brothers’ duplex in Knightsbridge and almost certainly that depressed entrepreneur who threw himself off the escalator at Selfridge’s. Mysterious deaths in four star surroundings. Forlorn and messy questions with no answers.
They barely mention the hedge fund manager who went missing the other week and the others, for that matter. Perhaps I will join a list of my own victims, that would be rather neat.
My bloodied Belle Vivier pumps will become a conversation piece and the hoi polloi will browse my Tripadvisor reviews, looking for clues, trying to seek the truth, but I will remain an eternal mystery.
Now you’re wondering why I’m divulging all this when I’m supposed to be dead. Well, I’m not–dying is actually quite a complex feat for the undead. I am merely at rest. I sent an alert in advance to the concierge. He removed both bodies and cleaned the place up. So no scandal sheet headlines, alas. That was pure wishful thinking on my part.
The concierge has buried our remains in the earth basement, side by side. I am curious to see what will happen next.
Banner Image: By Sheila Thomson from London, England (Floating Rosebud Shoes) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons