I never knew quite what to do when she kissed me on the lips the moment the giant glass ball began to drop in the midst of Times Square. Her lips were warm and I could taste the champagne that had momentarily lingered there, before flowing down her throat. I could feel her lips envelope mine as my hands instinctively went around her waist, clasping her closer to me. The champagne flute in my hand tipped and spilled a bit of liquid on the floor, but I found myself beyond caring.
I never even realized she had been there all along, didn’t even know that the dark haired woman with the long curly hair, was her. But here she was, kissing me on the lips as all around us, everyone yelled and cheered and screamed drunkenly, “Happy new year!”
One minute she had her back to me, standing next to me I presumed, and the next, she was in front of me, with a look that meant she was not taking no for an answer. I knew that look so well.
As she had turned to face me, I didn’t even realize there had been a question.
From one part of the room, someone began singing that song, Aud lang syne. I barely heard it as her mouth opened and she slipped her tongue into mine, soft and warm. All I heard was the deafening roar inside my head, louder than the subway trains that coursed beneath the heart of New York, as if I were flanked on both sides by some unknown force, blaring away at my numbed senses.
Suddenly I felt a tug on my arm and a yell right by my ear as Elsa yanked me away from the woman I had always pretended not to know. As I took a step backwards, expecting a slap from the red faced Elsa, the curly haired woman only smiled at us, as she brought a glass flute to her lips carelessly, almost drunkenly.
“Happy New Year, Doctor,” was all she said to me and to Elsa, whom she bestowed a cursory nod to, before turning around and walking away. I thought I saw her walk wobble, suspecting she was indeed drunk, but when an older gray haired man met her halfway the room, his eyes narrowed in slits towards her , I knew it was all an act.
She was not drunk. I was sure of that.
But as for Elsa, it was another matter. She was not only drunk, but furious, her hands on her hips and balled into fists. But as I smiled, shrugging my shoulders, she slowly began to smile, the edges of her thin lips lifting. Elsa always loved a challenge, thinking she had snagged the most eligible bachelor of Manhattan and now was the envy of all the women.
“Women just can’t get their hands off my handsome boyfriend,” she said in a high-pitched voice and kissed me on the lips, wishing me a Happy New Year. All around us, everyone was celebrating as down below, the throngs of people occupying Times Square were rushing to leave the vicinity, like a stampede of bison one saw on those nature channels. And as I watched them, my thoughts returned to that new year’s kiss once again, wishing that it would have gone on forever.
The party began in earnest now, the music loud and obnoxious as people began to dance and gyrate all over the dance floor. Alcohol was flowing freely, as was the pot and on occasion, the cocaine. Within seconds, Elsa was gone from my side again, pulled aside by some gossipy friend who undeniably would probably have asked who that mysterious woman was.
Everyone around me wore red, for this party was simply called that. Red. That’s what the invitation said. And everyone did wear red, in one form or another, although the only red thing I wore was a tie the same strange woman who had kissed me earlier had left atop my bureau one morning two years ago. That was the last time that I had seen her then.
But the strange woman hadn’t even worn red to this party. She wore a clingy black dress down to her mid thigh, her long legs swathed in smoky stockings that were neither red nor any shade close to it. The only red thing on her were her lips, and her well manicured nails.
Those things I remembered, although when the police eventually questioned me about it, I suddenly had no recollection.
I scanned the room but did not see her, nor the gray haired man. He was tall and slim, with a sophisticated look about him, and it was difficult to miss him even in this crowded place. I could see from the cut of his dark suit which also bore no sign of red, that he was also a man of wealth, and I felt a tinge of envy within my bones. Not because he was rich, which of no concern to me, but because he had her.
Not even my wealth could have made her stay with me. God knows how many times I had tried to seduce her with the comfort and security of a home and a love that proved undying with each passing time that I saw her. I would have given her half my portfolio, and everything I owned for just a promise that she’d stay with me.
To that extent, she had power over me. And I barely even knew her real name, knew her only by the name she told me to call her by.
Not Alexa, or Alexandra. Simply Alex. For fear of losing her again, I dared not ask.
From the corner of my eyes, I saw a man walking stiffly towards the far end of the hall, heading towards the guestroom. It was Maximillian Rizzoli, an accountant. I could tell who he was from his large and stocky build and bright purple suit. He never did have any fashion sense, Elsa used to tell me, although he was an excellent accountant.
However last week I had overheard Elsa talking to one of her friends about changing accountants. She had just finished saying that she had finally hired a firm downtown to handle her finances when I had entered the room.
“I hear he’s involved with…” she had whispered over the phone as she blew a kiss in my direction. “you know…money laundering, stuff like that.” I had pretended not to have heard then.
I turned away and began searching for Elsa when I saw them. My heart skipped a beat and my hands began to shake with excitement.
But there was nothing. Shadows. That’s what they were. I saw the shadows in the far end of the hall—two people entering a room and closing the door behind them. While everyone celebrated, I put down my drink and began walking towards the direction of the guestroom where they had disappeared to. Even Elsa, caught in the middle of gossip-ville, didn’t notice I was gone.
When I entered the room, I saw them looking down at a figure lying on the floor, and when I closed the door, the tall gray-haired man looked up, his face registering anger at my intrusion. On the floor, another man lay gasping for breath, his eyes wide with fear as his one hand clawed at his throat helplessly.
Alex had one high heeled shoe pinned on the dying man’s other hand against the floor. And right next to his open hand, there lay a pistol with a silencer attachment. My heart began to hammer against my chest, and I took a deep breath, wishing I had never followed her in here.
She looked at me, then at the tall man who began walking towards me, his eyes never wavering as he glared at me. In the semi-darkness, I could only imagine his intent. I took a step backwards and reached for the doorknob but he only rushed towards me and slammed the door shut before I could get away, standing between me and the promise of long life.
“It’s alright, Sam,” she suddenly spoke and I could feel the color return to my face. “The good man is a doctor, and he’s here to help Mr. Rizzoli with his heart problem.” She glanced at the writhing man on the floor, his face turning a sickly shade of blue. “Or should I say, a breathing problem.”
Picking up the gun on the floor, she held it in her hand and I allowed myself to breathe quietly. I watched her flick the safety, and toss the weapon at my direction. Her friend Sam caught it, for he was right behind me.
She took her foot off the man’s stiffening hand and began walking towards me.
“Alex…” I began to say, but she brought a finger to my lips, silencing me. She allowed her finger to linger there and I found myself closing my eyes as I took a deep breath, inhaling her perfume and relishing her touch.
“It’s been a long time,” she whispered. “As you can see, doctor, I’ve healed quite well.” She brought my other hand to her side where she had once sustained a bullet wound before stumbling into my office almost two years ago. My hands ached to hold her, even for just a minute longer. I could not believe she was standing right in front of me, her skin smooth, her breath warm against my face.
As the dying man on the floor stilled his writhing, I grabbed her wrist with both hands and kissed it. Behind me, the man called Sam had opened the door a crack, and now called her name urgently. I held on to her hand but it was no use. She slipped her hand from mine and walked away, joining the intoxicated and rowdy crowd outside as silently as she had left it earlier.
What was left of her was the scent of her perfume—tropical flowers she had once told me symbolized Death in some country she once lived in. And as I knelt on one knee to check on the still form on the floor, I knew long before I felt for a pulse that he was already dead.
I did not know what killed him, for he had no wounds nor bruises on his body, no bullet holes in his clothing. Not a drop of blood, and yet there he lay on the carpet, blue faced and still. The autopsy would later indicate that although Mr. Rizzoli had suffocated to death, carbon monoxide gas had been the culprit. In such concentrated form, the gas had disabled the breathing capability in his central nervous system, and the poor man never even knew what had hit him.
I picked up the phone and called 911, not daring to touch the body nor offer any answers when the police came, weary and unhappy to have their new year celebrations cut short at the precinct. Elsa, who had not been too happy to have her annual party interrupted by the police, only glared at me the entire time as the police asked their questions.
“You were with her, weren’t you?” Was all she had to say again and again. “I saw you looking at her. I bet you and that bitch did it while I wasn’t looking.”
It was then, after the police had left and the Crime Scene Unit had sealed the guest room where the former accountant to the Columbian cartel had died an unfortunate death, that I hit her across the face to silence her stupid accusations. Then I ravaged her on the bare carpet, never quite making it to her large leopard print bed in time to feel myself explode from the rage that burned inside of me. She clung to me the entire time, excitement and fear proving to be such a delirious mix for her, never having seen me in such a rage, never having me treat her with such roughness.
And though she clung to me, I was not with Elsa that night.
I was remembering the taste of another woman’s lips, the feel of her tongue inside my mouth, caressing me. I was yearning for another time, one last time, with the woman who had mysteriously entered my life two years ago, wishing I could touch her and hold her and know her soul.
Although I had thought I had long forgotten Alex, I found myself grossly mistaken. And as I closed my eyes, pushing Elsa away, I found myself smiling as I remembered the kiss on new years eve that had once again, it seemed, sealed my fate.
Velvet Madrid © 1999-2018.