Authors: Danielle Steel
He put his robe on before the breakfast came, and he thought of going swimming again, but it seemed so decadent during working hours. He took out his computer instead, and sat working with it, while munching a croissant and sipping his coffee, but it was impossible to concentrate, and by noon, he showered and dressed and gave up any hope of working.
It took him a long moment to decide what to do. He wanted to do something frivolous, and truly Parisian. A walk along the Seine, or in the Septième, down the rue du Bac, or just sitting in the Latin Quarter, drinking and watching the passersby. He wanted to do anything but work and think of Vicotec. He just wanted to get out of his room and become part of the city.
He put on a dark business suit, and one of his perfectly tailored white shirts. He wasn't meeting anyone, but he hadn't brought anything else, and as he walked out into the brilliant June sun on the Place Vendome, he hailed a cab and asked the driver to take him to the Bois de Boulogne. He had forgotten how much he loved being there, and he sat for hours, in the warm sun, on a bench, eating ice cream, and watching the children. It was a long way from the laboratories wrestling with Vicotec, farther still from Greenwich, Connecticut, and as he sat there lost in his own thoughts in the Paris sun, it even seemed a long way from the mysterious young wife of Senator Thatcher.
When Peter left the Bois de Boulogne that afternoon, he took a cab to the Louvre, and strolled briefly through it. It was beautifully organized, and the statues in the courtyard were so powerful that he stood and stared at them for a long time, mesmerized, feeling a silent communion with them. He didn't even mind the glass pyramid that had been put right in front of the Louvre, which had caused so much controversy among both foreigners and Parisians. He walked for a while, and then finally took a cab home. He had been out for hours, and he felt human again, and suddenly more hopeful. Even if the tests didn't go well, they would somehow salvage what they already knew, and then press forward. He wasn't going to let an important project like this die because of a few problems. The FDA hearings were not the end of the world, he'd been through them before over the years, and if it took five years instead of four, or even six eventually, then so be it.
He was feeling relaxed and philosophical when he walked back into the Ritz again. It was late afternoon, and there were no messages for him. He stopped and bought a newspaper, and made a point of going to the girl in charge of the vitrines, and bought the gold bracelet for Katie. It was a solid, handsome chain, with a single large gold heart dangling from it. She loved hearts, and he knew she'd wear it. Her father bought her really expensive things, like diamond necklaces and rings, and knowing he couldn't compete with him, Peter usually kept his gifts to the kind of thing he knew she'd wear, or that would have special meaning.
And when he went upstairs, he glanced around the empty room, and felt suddenly anxious. The temptation to call Suchard was great again, but this time he resisted. He called Katie instead, but when he dialed, all he got was the answering machine again. It was noon in Connecticut, and he figured she was out to lunch, and God only knew where the boys were.
Mike and Paul should have been home from school by then, Patrick had never left, and in another week or so, Katie would be moving everyone to the Vineyard. Peter would stay in town and work, and join them on weekends, as he always did, and then he'd spend his four-week vacation with them in August. Frank was taking July and August off that year, and Katie was planning a big Fourth of July barbecue to open the season.
“Sorry I missed you,” he said to the machine, feeling foolish. He hated talking to electronics. “The time difference makes it difficult. Ill call you later…bye …oh …it's Peter.” He grinned, and hung up, wishing he hadn't sounded so stupid. The answering machine always made him feel awkward. “Captain of industry unable to speak to answering machine,” he said, making fun of himself, as he sprawled across the settee in the peach satin room and looked around him, trying to decide what to do for dinner. He had the option to go to a bistro nearby, or to stay at the hotel and eat in the dining room, or stay in his room, order room service, watch CNN, and work on his computer. In the end, he opted for the last choice. It was the simplest.
He took off his jacket and his tie, and rolled his immaculate shirtsleeves up. He was one of those people who still looked impeccable at the end of the day, not just at the beginning. His sons teased him about it, and claimed he had been born wearing a tie, which made him laugh, remembering his youth in Wisconsin. He would have liked some of that for them, and a little less Greenwich, Connecticut, and Martha's Vineyard. But Wisconsin was far, far behind him. With both his parents and his sister long gone, he had no reason to go there. He still thought of Muriel's children in Montana at times, but somehow, by now it seemed too late to try to make contact. They were almost grown up, and they wouldn't even know him. Katie was right. It was too late now.
There was nothing interesting on the news that night, and he got engrossed in his work as the night wore on. He was surprised by how good the dinner was, but much to the waiter's chagrin, he didn't pay much attention. They set it up beautifully, but he set the laptop on the table next to him, and went right on working.
'Yous devriez sortir, monsieur”
the waiter said. “You should go out.” It was a beautiful night, and the city looked exquisite beneath a full moon, but Peter forced himself not to pay attention.
He promised himself another late night swim, as a reward, when he was through, and he was just thinking about it at eleven o'clock when he heard a persistent beeping sound, and wondered if it was the radio, or the television, or perhaps something had gone wrong in the computer next to his bedside. There was a nagging bell and a high-pitched whine, and finally, confused about what it was, he opened the door into the hall, and discovered instantly that with the door open, it grew louder. Other guests were looking into the hall as well, and some of them looked worried and frightened.
“Fire?” he asked a bellboy hurrying by, and he looked back at Peter with uncertainty, and barely stopped to answer.
“C'est peut-être une incendie, monsieur,”
which told Peter that it could be. No one seemed to be sure, but it was definitely an alarm of some kind, and more and more people began emptying into the hallways. And then suddenly it seemed as though the entire staff of the hotel sprang into action. Bellmen, captains, waiters, maids, the
for their floor, housekeepers of all kinds walked sedately but quickly through the floors, knocking on doors, ringing bells, and urging everyone to come outside as quickly as possible, and
non, non, madame
, please do not change your gown, that will be fine. The
was handing out robes, and bellboys were carrying small bags, and helping women with their dogs. No explanation had been offered yet, but they were all told that everyone had to evacuate at once, without delaying for an instant.
Peter hesitated, wondering if he should take his laptop with him, but then just as quickly decided to leave it. He had no company secrets on it, just a lot of notes and information and correspondence that he needed to take care of. In a way, it was almost a relief to leave it. He didn't even bother to put his jacket back on, he just put his wallet and his passport into his pants pocket, and took his room key, and then hurried downstairs between Japanese ladies in hastily donned Gucci and Dior, a huge American family “escaping” from the second floor, several Arab women in extraordinary jewels, a handful of handsome Germans pushing ahead of everyone down the stairs, and a flock of miniature Yorkshire terriers and French poodles.
There was something wonderfully comical about all of it, and Peter couldn't help smiling to himself as he made his way quietly downstairs, trying not to think of the comparison with the
The Ritz was hardly sinking.
And all along their path they were met by personnel of the hotel, helping, reassuring, giving a hand where necessary, greeting everyone, and apologizing for the inconvenience. But still no one had mentioned exactly why all of it had occurred, if it was due to a fire, a false alarm, or some other grave threat to the guests of the hotel. But once they made their way past the well-filled vitrines, through the lobby, and out into the street, Peter saw that the CRS troops were there, fully dressed and armed and shielded. They were roughly the equivalent of an American SWAT team, and seeing King Khaled and his group quickly spirited away in government cars suggested to Peter that it was perhaps a bomb scare. There were two well-known French actresses there as well, with “friends,” an amazing assortment of older men with young girls, and Clint Eastwood was there in jeans and a T-shirt, having just come in from shooting. By the time the entire hotel had vacated all its rooms, it was nearly midnight. But it was impressive to see how quickly it had been done, how sanely, and how safely. The hotel staff had done a masterful job of shepherding its guests into the Place Vendome and now, at a safe distance, they were setting up rolling tables with little pastries and coffee, and for those who felt in need of it, there was stronger drink too. It would have been almost fun, if it hadn't been so late and wasn't so inconvenient, and there wasn't the faint aura of danger around them.
“There goes my late night swim,” Peter said to Clint Eastwood as they stood side by side, looking up at the hotel, checking for smoke, but there was none. The CRS had gone inside ten minutes before to look for bombs. Apparently, the management had gotten a call that there was a live one.
“There goes my sleep,” the actor said mournfully. “I have a four
call tomorrow. This could take a long time, if they're looking for a bomb.” He was thinking of sleeping on the set, but the other guests did not have that option. They just stood on the street, still somewhat amazed, as they clutched their pets, their friends, and their little leather cases filled with jewelry.
And as Peter watched another wave of CRS troops go in, and followed the order himself to move farther back from the hotel, he turned and suddenly saw her. He spotted Andy Thatcher, surrounded, as usual, by hangers-on and bodyguards, and looking completely unconcerned by the commotion. He was continuing an animated conversation with the people around him, all, save one, were men, and the lone woman in the group looked like a political bulldog. She was smoking furiously, and Thatcher looked engrossed in what she was saying. But Peter noticed that Olivia was standing just beyond the group, and no one was speaking to her. They paid no attention to her at all, as he watched her with his customary fascination. She stood off to one side, ignored even by the bodyguards, as she sipped a cup of the hotel's coffee. She was wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, and he thought that she looked like a kid in a pair of penny loafers, and the eyes that had so mesmerized him seemed to be taking in the whole scene, as her husband and his group moved slowly forward. Thatcher and one of his men talked to several of the CRS troops, but they only shook their heads. They had not yet found what they had come for. Someone brought out folding chairs, and waiters offered them to the guests, as wine was brought out too, and people stayed in surprisingly good temper about the inconvenience. It was slowly becoming a late night street party in the Place Vendome. And in spite of himself, Peter continued to watch Olivia Thatcher with interest.
She seemed to have drifted even farther from her group after a while, and even the bodyguards seemed to have lost track of her and paid no attention whatsoever to her. And the senator had had his back to her ever since they'd come out of the hotel, he never spoke to her once, as he and his entourage settled into chairs, and Olivia moved even farther to the rear of the several hundred guests in the Place Vendome to get another cup of coffee. She looked quite peaceful standing there, and didn't seem in the least bothered that her husband's entire party ignored her. And as he looked at her, standing there, Peter was more and more fascinated, and couldn't help staring.
She offered an elderly American woman a chair, and patted a little dog, and eventually set her empty cup back on a table. A waiter offered Olivia another cup, but she smiled and shook her head graciously as she declined it. There was something wonderfully gentle and luminous about her, as though she had just drifted to earth and were really an angel. It was hard for Peter to accept the fact now that she was just a woman. She looked too peaceful, too gentle, too perfect, too mysterious, and when people came too close to her, too frightened. She was obviously ill at ease under close scrutiny, and she seemed happiest when no one was paying attention to her, which no one was that night. She was so unpretentiously dressed, and so unassuming standing there, that even the Americans in the crowd didn't recognize her, although they had seen her hundreds of times in every newspaper and magazine in the country. She had been every paparazzi's dream for years, as they leapt out at her, and caught her unprepared, particularly in the years when she had been with her sick and dying child. But even now, she intrigued them, as something of a legend, and a kind of martyr.
And as Peter watched her continually, he couldn't help noticing that she was drifting farther and farther back, behind the other guests, and he actually had to strain now to see her. He wondered if there was a reason for it, or if she had just moved back there without thinking. She was far from her husband and his entourage by then, and they couldn't have seen her at all, unless they moved back themselves and tried to find her. More guests had returned to the hotel, from late night restaurants or nightclubs like Chez Castel, or simply from dinners with friends, or the theater. And gawkers had come to see what was happening. The whispers in the crowd blamed it all on King Khaled. There was an important British minister in the hotel too, and there had been a rumor that it could have been the IRA, but someone had supposedly planted a bomb, or said they had, and by order of the police, no one was going back into the hotel until the CRS found it.