Metamorphosis (Part 3)
It was nearly ten o’clock when the last customer left the gallery. Exhaustion and an over-service of champagne left Katherine wobbly on her Jimmy Choos. She turned the locks on the front door, flipped the sign in its window to ‘Closed’ and drew the gauzy curtains across the front windows, blocking the view from Madison Avenue. She hit the button that lowered the security grate in front of the gallery and locked it in place. Longing for sleep, she turned to head for the small elevator discretely situated behind a Japanese screen at the back of the gallery and her apartment above.
As she walked across the large room, she saw the many champagne glasses and small plates left on the tables scattered through the exhibits. There were even a few glasses on the base of the large sculpture dominating the space in the center of the gallery. Slobs, she thought.
Groaning, Katherine kicked off her heels and padded back to the small kitchen behind the office to get a tray. The furniture rental company was coming first thing in the morning to pick up the tables and the mess had to be cleaned up. And she knew for damned sure the acclaimed artist honored by the exhibit wasn’t going to do it. In fact, she didn’t know where Alex was, and assumed that he had already gone upstairs. Sure, she thought. The help will take care of it.
As she began collecting the glasses, she paused to gaze at the sculpture. It mesmerized her, as it always did. There was no question that this was Alex’s best work, the piece that would make him internationally famous. And probably even more arrogant, she thought, if that’s possible.
The base was a crude, unfinished hunk of concrete. Emerging from its top, a nude woman cast in marble struggled toward freedom, small wings unfurling from her back. The contrast between the rough grey concrete and the smooth marble, which is veined in subtle colors, is breathtaking.
“It’s you,” Alex had said proudly when he unveiled it for her.
“Oh, Alex.” Katherine breathed, stunned and flattered.
“Just call me Pygmalion in reverse,” he chuckled.
Not taking her eyes from the magnificent piece, she asked, “What do you mean?”
“Pygmalion created a statue and it was transformed into the perfect woman. I transformed you into the perfect woman, then created a statue. Pygmalion in reverse, see?”
The warm glow she had been enjoying from the assumed flattery disappeared as though Alex had doused it with ice water. I should have known better, she thought.
“I call it Metamorphosis. Perfect, don’t you think, Katherine?”
Right. Perfect. She grimaced in disgust as she got back to cleaning up the mess made in his honor.
Katherine gathered the glasses from the base of Metamorphosis, and carried them to the kitchen. It was the last thing she needed, but she downed a glass of champagne and poured another, clicked off the gallery lights, and rode the elevator up to the apartment.
When the elevator doors slid open, she walked into an empty apartment. In a way, she was grateful. She was in no mood to listen to Alex sing his own praises, and she was too tired to care where he had gone or with whom. She drained the champagne glass she’d carried up with her and fell fully dressed across the bed. She was asleep in minutes.
“He ‘transformed’ you? What does that mean? I thought you were pretty much perfect right from the get-go.”
Kate leans across the small table and kisses me, sending my pulse into over-drive. “Alex is an artist. He saw me as an ‘unfinished work of art,’ he said.”
I roll my eyes. Oh, please.
“We met at Rizzoli’s when he was there to do a book signing – there's a wonderful book of his work -- and started dating. I was so flattered that a famous sculptor was interested in me. I think I was blinded by his fame. In fact, I know I was.”
Kate drains her glass and I quickly follow suit, raising a finger to catch the waiter’s eye.
“It was stupid, I know,” she continues. “But I was young and already bedazzled by the world of art. To have this successful sculptor notice me totally blew me away.”
The waiter sets down our drinks, and when he leaves, Kate continues.
“To make a long, sordid story short, after dating for several months, we moved in together. It wasn’t long before Alex started ‘fixing’ everything he saw as being wrong with me.”
“What?” I’m shocked. If there was anything wrong with Kate Bell, I’m Brad Pitt.
“Oh, he was subtle. From the beginning, he called me Katherine, saying Kate was too 'common.' Then he started changing the way I look. At first, I just thought he was buying me gifts. I kept pinching myself, wondering how I’d gotten so lucky. But in retrospect, I see it for what it was. How could I not? He even admitted it, didn’t he? ‘I transformed you into the perfect woman.’ His words. Apparently, I wasn’t good enough to be the girlfriend of the great DuBois.”
Tears well in Kate’s eyes and she impatiently swipes them away with her graceful fingers.
“He told me how to dress and went shopping with me to make sure I followed his advice. He thought my hair style was too old-fashioned and unsophisticated, so he took me to a stylist. He stood there, he actually stood there, right beside the chair, and told the guy how to cut my hair.”
I’m appalled. “How come you put up with that, Kate? I don’t remember you as being a shrinking violet.”
“I…” Kate pulls the napkin out from under her glass and wipes a tear from her cheek. “I don’t know. Bit by bit, I lost myself, somehow. I hardly recognize myself in the mirror. I look to him for approval for everything.” More tears stream from her eyes.
Seeing her like this breaks my heart. I hand her my handkerchief and wait while she wipes her face.
“Oh, and I forgot to mention… Being a buyer at a bookstore wasn’t good enough. He bought a small gallery, which I run now. We live in an apartment above it. It’s the perfect job for an artist’s girlfriend, don’t you think?” The scorn in her voice in unmistakable.
Remembering the phone call that brought me to New York, I’m starting to have a really bad feeling.
“Kate, where is Alex now?”
“She raises her eyes to meet mine, and says, “See, that’s the thing. I don’t know.”
A shaft of sunlight coming from a gap between the bedroom drapes cut across Katherine’s eyes, waking her. She opened her eyes, and immediately closed them again as a world-class headache made its presence known. Too much champagne, she thought. Before she closed her eyes against the pain, she saw the way she was dressed, and realized that she’d slept in her clothes.
Groaning, she sat up, and looked at the clock. She was relieved to see that it was just after seven o’clock. The gallery didn’t open until ten, but the rental company would be there at nine to pick up the tables from the previous night’s opening.
As she swung her legs to the floor and stood, Katherine saw that she was alone in the bedroom. Since she had fallen asleep on top of the bed, she assumed that Alex had just slept on the couch when he got home.
She walked to the bathroom, leaving a trail of clothes on the floor behind her, and got in the shower. After letting the hot water run over her head a few minutes, she felt a little better. She finished bathing and wrapped herself in a terry bathrobe.
Before getting dressed, she headed to the kitchen. She hoped that coffee would finish the job started by the shower to make her feel human again.
Rubbing her hair vigorously with a small towel, she went into the kitchen. She popped a k-cup into the coffee maker and pressed a button. A minute later, she poured milk into the steaming cup, sprinkled the contents of a Splenda packet on top, and gave it a stir. Cup and towel in hand, she left the kitchen. When she looked over at the couch, she dropped both. She jumped back as the hot coffee splashed on her bare feet, and stifled a small scream.
Kate picks up her glass in a shaking hand, and takes a decidedly unladylike gulp of the cosmo.
“What is it, Kate?” I ask. “Was Alex on the couch?”
“That’s just it, Marty. He wasn’t there.” Kate lowers her voice and leans toward me. “But what was there was blood. Not a lot but it was kind of splattered on the couch and the carpet in front of it.”
“What? What happened?”
“Marty, I don’t know.” Kate’s voice is tinged with panic now. “I was a little drunk, but I’m sure I would have noticed that blood if it had been there when I got back upstairs after the opening. The couch is white.”
I rub my hand over my eyes. “OK, think back, Kate. Did you hear anything during the night?”
“No. I went right to bed. Actually, I think passed out. I was so tired, and I’d had a lot of champagne. I never heard Alex come in or anything else. I saw the blood the next morning, but I have no idea how it got there.”
“And there was no, um… Alex wasn’t there?”
“No. I haven’t seen him since. And that was three days ago. Marty, I’m so scared.”
My mind racing in a dozen different directions, I ask, “What did you do when you found the blood?”
“I called the police. And then I called you.”
“And they came right away?”
“Yes.” Kate replied. “They asked a lot of questions: where was I the night before, when was the last time I saw Alex, that kind of thing. While they were talking to me, some other cops came and took samples of the blood. They looked around, but there was really nothing to see. Everything looked totally normal except for the blood.”
“Was the front door locked when you got up?”
“I never thought to check it. I use the elevator in the gallery to get upstairs most of the time. But the cops checked it, and said it was locked. And they said they saw no signs it was tampered with.”
“So how was all this left?”
“A couple of detectives came the next day, and asked me pretty much the same questions as the uniformed guys the night before. When they left, they told me to call them if I heard from Alex. But, Marty, they sounded… oh, I don’t know, sort of suspicious, you know? Like they thought I wasn’t going to hear from Alex. And they told me not to leave town.”
Kate took a big swallow of her drink. “Marty, there’s something else I didn’t tell the police. I had dropped my clothes on the floor when I went in to take my shower. That was before I saw the mess in the living room. The bathroom is off the bedroom and I didn’t go out to the living room until after I showered. When I went in to dress before the police got there, I just scooped the clothes up off the floor and dumped them in a basket on the closet floor. It wasn’t until later that I saw it.” Kate’s eyes bore into mine. “Marty, there was blood on my slacks.”
“Don’t worry, Kate,” I tell her. “I’ll help you get to the bottom of this. I’m not leaving until we find out what’s going on.”
Kate looks at me, tears glistening in her eyes again. “Oh, Marty, what if I…? You don’t think I killed Alex, do you?”
I take her hand again. “No, absolutely not. In the first place, if you had killed him, there would have been a body, right? But, besides that, I know you, Kate; you would never kill anyone.”
As I reassure her, I hope that I’m right. The girl I knew in college couldn't kill anyone. But this Kate? Alex’s ‘creation’ is not that girl. In addition to her appearance, I wonder what else he changed.
Continued in Part 4.
Tune in for the next muse at The Tenth Daughter of Memory.