Metamorphosis (Part 2)
Grateful to be out of the chill, I rub my cold hands together and head for the staircase to Rizzoli’s mezzanine, where Kate said she’d meet me. At the top of the carpeted marble stairs, books are arrayed on shelves around the edge of the mezzanine. The chandelier I’d seen from below hangs over the open center. On the other side, I see Kate sitting on a bench in front of the window overlooking 57th, flipping through a glossy coffee table art book. The two-story arched window that frames the front door downstairs now also frames Kate. She is dressed in a charcoal gray knit dress, and colorful silk scarf flows around her neck like molten Chihuly glass. Her chestnut hair is shorter now and slightly curly, but she’s as beautiful as I remember.
She looks up as I approach, and a smile welcomes me. I can’t help but notice that it never quite reaches her brown eyes.
“Marty.” She stands and wraps me in a hug. “It’s so good to see you. Thanks for coming. I knew I could count on you.”
After a quick peck on the cheek, she steps away.
“When could I ever resist you, Kate? Oh, wait, that would be around the last time pigs could fly. How could I forget?”
I’m pleased to see the smile climb into her eyes at last.
“You haven’t changed a bit. Same old Marty.” Taking a small step back, she looks me up and down. “Actually, you haven’t changed. You look great. A bit older and wiser perhaps, but it looks good on you.”
“Well, you’re right about the older part,” I chuckle, “but I’m not so sure I’m any wiser. But you? You don’t look a minute older.”
“You always were a slick talking rascal.” I think I catch a tinge of sadness in her voice.
“So, what’s up? I’ve been going crazy. You call and drop that bombshell on me, and then just let it hang?”
“I’ll tell you everything, but can we go somewhere else?” Her eyes scan the mezzanine, which has begun to fill with after-work browsers.
“Sure. I’ve been fantasizing about a martini all afternoon. The Plaza is just around the block. Let’s go get a drink.”
Kate slips on a black cashmere coat and we make our way downstairs and out onto 57th, which is more crowded than I left it. As we retrace my steps back to Fifth and hang a left, Kate tucks her arm through mine. It feels just right. I think back to the many times we explored the streets of New York just like this 17 years ago.
Without prompting, Kate begins talking.
“After school, I completely lost track of you, Marty. I had no idea that you’d moved out west. I tried calling your mom and dad once, but got a recording that the number was disconnected.”
“Dad died a few years ago, Kate. Heart attack. Mom moved out to California to be near me. She has a small place in Santa Monica.”
“Oh, I'm sorry to hear about your dad. I liked him a lot." She gives my arm a small squeeze. "Why California, Marty? I always thought you’d go into your dad’s business.”
“Actually, I did for a while. But you know how much I love movies, Kate. I opened a branch of Tremaine & Co in LA.”
We cross 58th Street and walk past the Pulitzer Fountain to the entrance of the Plaza.
As we climb the few red-carpeted steps beneath the gilded marquee sheltering the doorway, Kate stops short.
“Remember that time we came here and they had those live mannequins in the windows?”
“Yes!” I laugh. “I remember standing in front of the windows trying to get a reaction out of them. They were like the palace guards in England. They never even twitched. I don’t know how they resisted my charm.”
Kate rolls her eyes. “You acted like a maniac. I’m surprised they didn’t run away in horror. God, that was a long time ago, another lifetime. It was my 21st birthday, remember? We came to celebrate with my first legal drink.”
“I’m glad you qualified that.” I say as we head into the marble lobby. It's like walking into Versailles, grander than I remembered it.
We find the Oak Bar and settle in at a small table in a quiet corner. When the waiter appears, I order my martini and Kate asks for a Cosmo.
While we wait for our drinks, I ask, “So how did you find me? I’m really glad you did, by the way. I’ve missed you, Kate.”
Kate smiles. “I saw a note in the NYU Alumni magazine a couple of years ago announcing that you’d opened a detective agency in LA. You and Harry. Still the Dynamic Duo, I see.”
“Yep. He went out to LA when I did. We were going to take Hollywood by storm.”
“And did you?”
“Ha, not even close. Turned out the studios and Hollywood types already had accountants. Who knew?”
Kate gives me a well, duh look.
“Yeah, I know. Harry got closer than I did. You remember that he was a computer whiz, right?” She nods. “Well, most of the studios have gone digital, and our Harry got in on that pretty early. Before so many guys opened their own computer graphics shops, the studios dabbled in it, and Harry was there.”
The waiter sets down a bowl of peanuts and two frosty stemmed glasses, mine clear as crystal and Kate’s a rosy pink. We touch glasses.
“I’m really glad to see you, Marty,” Kate says as the glasses clink softly.
“And I, you,” I respond. “You have no idea.”
We both sip and almost simultaneously make an appreciative “mmm” sound.
“So, anyway, I saw in the alumni update thing that you guys had opened this detective agency. A detective agency? What happened to accounting?”
I swallow the peanut I’ve been chewing. “Well, I guess I was bored. Instead of signing on exciting clients from Hollywood, I ended up with plumbers and electricians from Van Nuys. When Dad died and the business was mine, I sold out. I made enough to give me a little cushion while I tried to decide what I wanted to be when I grow up. My fantasy of being ‘Accountant to the Stars’ had failed, so I turned to another fantasy. Got my PI ticket and a really neat hat, and sure as Bob’s your uncle, I’m Marty Tremaine, Private Eye, at your service.”
As I say the last few words, I reach into my pocket and pull out a business card, which I present to Kate with a flourish.
She accepts my card with a smile. “It is a nice hat.”
“You should see the real one. Now, what’s up? I know you didn’t call me out of the blue just to say hi. Though I’ve got to admit, ‘I think I might have killed someone’ is one hell of an opening.”
Kate takes a swallow of her drink. “For the past ten years, I’ve been living with a man named Alex DuBois.”
“I didn’t know you were married, Kate.”
“Oh, I’m not.” She gives a slight snort of derision. “Not that there is much difference. Not to me, anyway. Practically from the moment we met, he was 100% in my life: in my job, my home, my bed, and worst of all, my head.”
“I’m not sure I follow, Kate.”
“No, I can see where you wouldn’t, Marty. You’re a nice guy. But there are men out there, guys like Alex, who are not so nice.” She pauses to take another sip of her drink.
I can see this is hard for her. She actually seems… I don’t know, a little less somehow. Definitely not the strong, self-confident Kate I remember.
I reach across the table and take her hand. “It’s okay. Go on.”
“Maybe I should start at the beginning. After school, my first job was at Rizzoli Bookstore.”
“You majored in art history, right? Don’t I remember that you wanted to work at the Met?”
“Good memory.” Kate smiles. “I couldn’t get in. Openings at the Met are pretty scarce. Rizzoli is known for its Arts department. I was lucky to snag a job as a buyer. You were probably wondering why I suggested we meet at Rizzoli.”
“Not really,” I say, shaking my head slightly. “I figured it was just convenient for you.”
“Yes, it was,” she answers. “But it was also where this whole ugly saga began. I thought it would be a fitting place to begin to write its ending.”
I notice her fingers drawing in the condensation on the side of her glass. It looks a bit like a woman with wings. Then she gives the image a swipe with her thumb, obliterating it, and looks up at me.
“Marty, do you know the story of Pygmalion and Galatea?”
Continued in Part 3.
Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.