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Authors: Alexandrea Weis

Recovery

BOOK: Recovery
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Copyright © 2011 Alexandrea Weis

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1-4538-7570-0

ISBN-13: 978-1453875704
E-Book ISBN: 978-1-61789-821-1

Contents

 

Title Page

Copyright Page

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Epilogue

Chapter 1

 

Tiresome carols from department store speakers extolled the
dreaded news that Christmas chaos had once again taken over the country. Newspapers would soon be filled with stories of fights breaking out among stranded air travelers at destinations where too much snow, too much wind, or too much airport security had taken its toll. Once at Grandmother’s house, loving families filled with potent eggnog concoctions would turn on each other and use dinner utensils as assault weapons, until SWAT units arrived to stop the bloodshed. Every commercial, greeting card, and holiday display was pressuring us to have the perfect holiday, which we knew did not really exist. But every year in December we once again pulled out the stale-smelling ornaments from the attic, fired up the plastic Christmas tree, and prayed that maybe this year would be better than the last.

I was suffering though my own Christmas hell, stuck in New York City, in weather far below what any decent southerner considered utterly obscene, to satisfy the expectations of my publisher.

I had originally balked at the idea of coming to New York. The only place I wanted to be during the holidays was home. But the city I called home had been erased from the modern era, wiped out by water, incompetence, and apathy. The New Orleans I had loved had been forever changed by the winds of Katrina.

Gone were the places of my past. The corner grocery that had always smelled of spicy boiled shrimp, the restaurant that had served my favorite gumbo, the home where I had gathered for the holidays, the neighborhood where I had grown up but had never left behind. How do you begin to cope with the loss of everything that has been part of you, completed you? In New Orleans it is said we are where we live, but who are we when we cannot live there anymore?

By the time I had finally gotten through to FEMA and was able to restore some semblance of order back into my life, my publisher had called with last-minute plans for a holiday book signing tour.

So there I sat in a downtown Manhattan bookstore, filled with longing for home and a line of women waiting for my signature on their copy of my book
Painting Jenny
.

“Was David Alexander really like that?” one round-faced woman asked as she cleaved a copy of my book to her chest. “The way you described him in the book?”

“He was as he is written,” I said. I always gave that response when asked about David. I wrote what I remembered about him, the good and the bad, making the character in the book almost as real as the man I had loved. Almost.

“You were his muse,” a hunched over, gray-haired diva draped in all her Tiffany finery exclaimed. “I saw some of his portraits of you, the ones he called his Jennys, last month on display at a gallery here in the city. He was very talented and his love for you was obvious. He painted you with such reverence, such awe.” She sighed and smiled weakly. “What a waste.”

I reached for the book the woman handed me with her spindly fingers and looked up into her beady gray eyes. I wondered if she had ever known love or if the cold diamonds that enveloped her body had somehow managed to work their way into her heart. I then gave her my best-practiced smile.

“He was very talented, and at least the world still has his paintings to remember him by,” I answered, keeping my voice free of the disgust churning inside of me.

The Madison Avenue maven smiled. “And your book. The world has that too. To remember you both by.”

A twinge of pain etched its way across my heart as a memory of David began to cloud my vision. We had been sitting on the floor of his studio after a frenzied night of painting. In an instant, I could smell the mix of paint and sweat on his skin. David had expressed his hope that one day his paintings and my stories would stand side-by-side declaring to the world what we had meant to each other. He had told me that he wanted nothing more than to be remembered for eternity with me. I closed my eyes and lost myself in the past.

“You must have been so devastated by his death,” a shrill voice said, tearing me away from my memories.

“Devastated?” I smiled up at a chubby, eager-looking woman standing before me.

Is that what you call this,
I thought to myself. Perhaps heartache is a word that can only be experienced, and once experienced, it becomes devoid of description.

“Yes, of course I was devastated,” I coolly explained. “He was the love of my life.”

“Then how did you go…” Her hungry brown eyes looked down for a moment. “How did you go on after…he was murdered?”

“I wrote our story,” I quickly replied. “It was my therapy,” I added as I tried to quell my growing desire to taser this overzealous fan.

“Do you want some coffee?” the fair-haired Dora spoke up beside me.

Dora O’Rourke was my representative from the publisher and my voice inside the cutthroat world of book making. She fought for me, listened to me, arranged all of my events, and made sure I had everything I needed to continue making the publisher money. She was a petite woman with a round face, small, dark eyes, and always dressed in masculine pantsuits. She kept her pale brown hair pulled back in a rather severe-looking bun that seemed to accentuate the ever-present coldness of her eyes.

“No thanks.” I shook my head, refraining from telling her that any coffee north of Baton Rouge generally tasted like horse piss to me and every other New Orleanian. Chicory was highly addictive.

Dora sat back and eyed the line in front of our table. “Not many more,” she whispered, “then we can get out of here.”

I was relieved to see only three more women waiting for their autographed copy of
Painting Jenny
. I smiled at each of the women as they approached, listened attentively to their kind words, and then heaved a sigh of relief when the last one walked away.

“Good job, kiddo,” Dora remarked as she gathered up her five-gallon purse. “I’ll get a cab out front, and we’ll head back to your hotel.” She glanced at her watch. “That will give you a few hours to relax before the big party tonight.” And without another, word she shot out of her chair and headed toward the entrance to the bookshop.

The “big party” was the annual Christmas extravaganza given by Harold Hamper Publishing. As the newest initiate into the Hamper world of writers—and promising, profitable authors—I was expected to attend.

I wearily gathered up my purse and laptop while thoughts of a night of fake smiles and inane conversations lay before me. But I checked my negativity, took a cleansing breath, and reminded myself that I was doing this for David. He had believed in my writing and would have wanted this for me. I had to endure in order to fulfill both our dreams.

“Excuse me,” a rather high-sounding voice said in front of me.

I looked up to see a short man in a white suit carrying a silver-handled cane standing before me. He had gray, slicked back hair and large brown eyes.

“You are Nicci Beauvoir, aren’t you?” He nodded his head toward me. “Of course you are. You have the same delicate porcelain features, the same long auburn hair as in the paintings. You’re Jenny.”

I frowned at the little man as his dark brown eyes took in every inch of my face. I had learned to graciously overlook the occasional stare or being mistakenly introduced as Jenny, but I had never been scrutinized in such an uncomfortable way before. Ignoring him, I stood abruptly from my chair and bent over to pick up my computer bag from the floor. When I looked up, the little man was still staring at me.

“Can I help you?” I asked, clutching my computer bag to my chest.

He held out his hand and I reluctantly took it. “I am Simon La Roy. I believe we have a mutual acquaintance,” he added, squeezing my hand firmly in his.

This should be good
, I thought to myself as I earnestly tried to fathom who among my friends or family would have associated with this Tennessee Williams look-a-like.

I quickly let go of his hand. “Really?” I then slung my computer bag over my shoulder in hopes of making a speedy exit.

“Yes,” he said as he smiled smugly. “David Alexander.”

I instantly stifled my desire to punch the little man right in the nose. Many individuals thought they knew David after having read my book. Like a character in a highly rated television series or popular movie, people seemed to think that after only a few hundred pages of paper they knew David better than anyone—even me.

“You knew David?” I asked, trying not to sound too sarcastic.

Simon La Roy proudly rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. “Knew him very well. In fact, you could say I made him,” he added, beaming.

I frowned, beginning to wonder if this was nothing more than some kind of a sick joke. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“Everything you wrote about in your book, his knowledge of wine, clothes, and women, I taught him those things.” He paused and leaned in closer to me. “That and he worked for me. I arranged things for him, if you know what I mean.” He winked at me.

Suddenly the realization of his words hit me and I felt my legs go weak. I took a seat in the chair beneath me. I swallowed hard and tried to take in a deep breath.

“You…were the one who found him his jobs?” I finally asked.

He nodded his head casually to the side. “I connected him with people who needed problems handled is probably the easiest way to say it. I must admit when he first came to me and told me he was leaving me to paint pictures, I thought him quite mad. That was until I saw his portraits of you. Then suddenly his reason for leaving became very clear.”

“He never spoke of you, but then again he never wanted to talk much about his, ah, profession.” I paused as I looked over Simon La Roy with renewed interest. “After he died I couldn’t find anything in his papers or his computer about his past. No phone numbers, no names. Nothing.” A swell of anger stirred inside me as I peered into his brown eyes. “David has been dead for over two years, Mr. La Roy. Why haven’t you contacted me before now?”

He glanced around the bookstore. “Perhaps we should talk more. There are things we need to discuss.”

An unsettling feeling arose from the pit of my stomach. “What things?”

“I’ll explain later.” He reached into his pocket and handed me a card. “My cell phone number is on the back.”

He tipped his head to me and turned away.

Simon La Roy merrily strolled out of the store, swinging his cane as he went. As the little man disappeared from view, I began to understand why David had never wanted me to know about his employer or his past. Simon La Roy appeared to be a shady man in a dangerous profession, and I had a sneaking suspicion he had contacted me for a very specific reason.

I glanced down at the little man’s plain white business card. Part of me wanted to rip it up and forget about our meeting. But another part of me wasn’t so sure.

“Nicci!” Dora yelled, coming up to my table. “Come on, the cab is waiting!”

I looked up from the business card in my hand and into Dora’s plain brown eyes.

“I heard you!” I shouted as I began to gather up my things.

She waved for me to hurry. “Well, come on! Cabs aren’t cheap, you know!”

Chapter 2

 

“Welcome to the Cuomo Towers, Ms. Beauvoir. Mr. La Roy
is expecting you,” said a sharply dressed doorman, complete with hat and white gloves, as I stepped from the long black limousine. “Go to the elevators and press twelve. Mr. La Roy’s suite is on the twelfth floor.” The man gave me a warm smile as he motioned to a pair of leaded glass doors behind him.

I gazed up at the rather austere-looking apartment building rising before me. I felt the butterflies of apprehension take flight inside of me as I pondered the possibility that I had made a mistake. What good could possibly come from meeting with Simon La Roy? But just as a moth is attracted to a porch light in the darkness, I was drawn to the little man’s high-rise apartment. I had blamed David’s death on his past, and despite my efforts to forget about the life he led before we met, I was still haunted by questions. Questions I now hoped Simon La Roy could answer.

I turned back to the doorman. “Where do I go on the twelfth floor?”

“All of floor twelve belongs to Mr. La Roy, miss,” the doorman responded with a tip of his hat.

Once inside, a heavily armed security guard standing behind a desk filled with monitors greeted me. I felt my butterflies begin to swarm as the guard smiled and motioned for me to continue forward to a pair of silver elevator doors down from his station.

When the elevator opened on the twelfth floor, I found myself staring at heavy oak doors at the end of a short, dark, paneled hallway. I walked up and reached for the doorbell, but before my fingers even touched the button, the doors magically opened.

“Ms. Beauvoir.” A bald, blue-eyed, and bulky man dressed in a casual gray suit and cream-colored tie ushered me into the suite. “Mr. La Roy is in the drawing room,” he said as he motioned down a cream-colored hall to an open door on the right. “He is expecting you. If there is anything you need, I am Gerard, the butler.”

The butler quietly closed the front door behind me and scurried away, leaving me to find my own way to the drawing room.

I walked down the hallway looking at pictures on the wall of Simon La Roy as I went. In one photo, he was standing next to a former United States president. In another, he was shaking hands with a prominent member of the British royal family. But the formal snapshots of dignitaries and presidents seemed to only add to my anxiety. If Simon La Roy were this well connected, why did he want to talk to me?

I arrived in a cypress-paneled room richly decorated with Louis XIV furniture, a green marble fireplace, and an assortment of expensive antiques. Numerous pieces, which looked ancient in origin, were scattered about, either sitting on tables or displayed in special cabinets. Scrolls, pottery jars, tablets, and some statues of old Egyptian gods gave the room a museum-like quality. But when I gazed up onto the walls I felt all my apprehension quickly fade away.

Along the paneled sections of the room surrounding the fireplace were Jennys, three in all. I did not recognize the works, but the style was definitely David’s with his trademark use of bold colors and the way he made any subject on canvas appear slightly blurred.

The first painting was one of Jenny standing in the shadows of St. Louis Cathedral admiring some paintings hanging from a black iron fence. In the second, she was seated beneath a massive oak, fishing pole in hand, before a vast lagoon of pale blue, undulating water. And in the last, Jenny was captured amid a crowd of partygoers, dressed in a black beaded gown smiling at the artist. Hers was the only image in focus in a room filled with blurred motion.

“He did those when he came back to New York,” a high-pitched voice said behind me.

I turned to find Simon La Roy standing in the corner of the room, leaning against his cane, watching me.

“Forgive me,” he gave an apologetic flourish with his hand, “but I wanted to see your reaction when you first encountered my collection. It is a rare treat to see the model admiring her likeness.”

I waved my hand toward the paintings. “I’ve never seen these before.”

“They were done after his hasty departure from New Orleans,” he explained.

“Hasty?” I thought his choice of words was more than a bit inappropriate. “He disappeared from the city overnight. No note, no number, no forwarding address.”

Simon La Roy shrugged and glanced down at his cane. “As per my instructions.”

“You?” I stopped and checked my anger, reminding myself of why I had come here. “You told him to run away that night and leave me like that?”

“I trained him to immediately leave any situation where his assignment was compromised,” he admitted as he raised his eyes to meet mine. “Later, he told me of the debacle at your cousin’s wedding. I know it must have been difficult for you to learn of his original intentions that way.”

“Difficult!” I gave a sarcastic laugh. “Hearing the man I love confess to seducing me to obtain information in order to ruin my family’s business was a hell of a lot more than difficult.” I raised my voice. “Do you know what that did to me?”

Mr. La Roy grinned. “Drove you into the arms of another man. A man you almost married until David returned to you.” He laughed, more like a high-pitched giggle. “At your engagement party, no less, to…ah…what was the doctor’s name?”

I glared at the little man. “Michael. Michael Fagles.”

Simon La Roy shook his head. “Fagles? Poor boy never stood a chance.”

I could not help but agree with Simon La Roy on that point. I remembered my doomed engagement party and the way David had returned to me that night. His boyish charm and stunning good looks had instantly erased Michael’s cold kisses from my memory.

Mr. La Roy turned from me and gazed back to the portraits on the wall. “I’ve always wondered why he painted you in these settings. What do they mean?”

I stared wide-eyed with disbelief at the paintings. “Is that why I’m here? To explain the motivation behind David’s paintings?” I asked, turning to him.

He gave a frustrated sigh. “Please indulge an old man’s curiosity, Ms. Beauvoir.”

I shook my head. I could not believe I was actually going to abide by the little man’s wishes. “He painted our time together in New Orleans,” I said as I motioned to the painting of the back of St. Louis Cathedral. “We began there. He was trying to sell his paintings and we ran into each other.” I turned to the portrait of Jenny fishing in the park and added, “He took me fishing that day.”

“And the last?” Mr. La Roy asked as he moved closer to my side.

My eyes soaked in the rich hues of gold and amber in the work. “My Aunt Val’s party at the City Park Botanical Gardens. We saw only each other that night. Everyone else at the party was a blur.”

Mr. La Roy motioned for me to take one of the rich burgundy and gold chairs across from him. “So he told me. He spoke a great deal about you when he returned from New Orleans.”

Just then, Gerard entered the room and nodded to Mr. La Roy.

Simon La Roy raised his eyes to his butler. “Would you care for coffee or tea, my dear? I do have coffee with chicory, by the way.”

I hesitated for a moment, not sure what to make of the little man’s friendly demeanor. “Then by all means coffee,” I said as I warily took a seat in the chair. “I don’t think I’ve had a decent cup since I arrived in New York,” I added.

Mr. La Roy nodded to Gerard who instantly disappeared through the doorway. He then took a seat on the burgundy chair across from me, made himself comfortable, and rested his cane against the arm of his chair.

“After our meeting earlier today,” Simon La Roy began, “I wondered how long it would take for you to call me. I’m glad to see you don’t waste any time.”

I looked over to the paintings on the wall beside me and thought of David. “Someone once told me he found it best not to waste time playing games with people.”

He gave me a warm smile. “My dear boy was always the get-down-to-brass-tacks kind of man. You are the same way.”

“David and I had many things in common.”

“Curiosity being one of them.”

I leaned back in my chair as I studied the man across from me. “I told you during our phone conversation earlier this afternoon, I have questions about David. You are the only person who can answer them for me.”

“I’m glad to see you’ve decided to trust me, Ms. Beauvoir.”

I frowned at him. “I don’t trust anybody, Mr. La Roy.”

He sighed as he sat back in his chair. “I can see why he fell in love with you.” He paused for a moment. “But please, you must call me Simon, and I will call you Nicci. We are like family, you and I.”

I tried not to laugh. “Family?”

“David was my family. He was just like a son to me.”

I watched Simon La Roy’s face soften as he spoke of his relationship with David.

“But David never mentioned you. Why?” I finally asked.

“That is what David insisted upon when he left my employ. He wanted to get a fresh start and cut all ties with the past as soon as he settled in Louisiana.”

I leaned forward and searched his beady brown eyes for the slightest glint of sincerity. “But that must have been upsetting, considering David was like a son to you. I have to admit, I find it hard to believe that you would let such a valued employee walk away so easily from your business.”

He shook his head and then gave me a reassuring smile. “Anyone who works for me is free to leave whenever they like, Nicci. As long as they keep their secrets to themselves, I am content.”

Secrets. The word had hung like a veil over me since David’s death. He had mentioned little to me about his life before our time together. But the one thing David had told me about was his vocation as a collector of secrets.

“David told me once he bought and sold secrets for a living,” I said. “Is that what you do? Broker secrets?”

Simon shook his head. “Perhaps I should start at the beginning.” He paused. “David and I had a mutual friend, his aunt, Flo Tyler.”

Flo Tyler was David’s only living relative and a wealthy widow from New York. We first met at David’s funeral and had found a common bond in our love for him. We had kept in touch over the last two years, but never once had she ever mentioned Simon La Roy or his association with David.

My apprehension quickened inside of me. “How do you know Flo?”

“Flo and I go way back. We started out together on the Broadway stage. She was a dancer and I was an actor. We became very close, like brother and sister, during those years.”

“But how did you go from being an actor to doing what you do?”

“Being male and privy to practically any show on Broadway, other men naturally sought me out to introduce them to the pretty female dancers. And, of course, being the soul of discretion, these same girls would often seek out my advice in dealing with their new boyfriends. I would hear of political secrets, family secrets, or speculative business ventures. Oh, just about anything these men had let slip between the sheets.” He reached over and traced his fingers along the silver handle of his cane. “I was making a good living off such introductions until I was approached by a man who wanted to have me arrange for a smart, attractive girl to meet a certain business rival of his. He wanted information that would help put his competitor out of business. Intrigued by the challenge, I went in search of the perfect girl for the job.” He smiled and looked over at me. “Her name was Clarissa. She was my first and, in my opinion, my best.”

I folded my arms over my chest and tried to hide my skepticism behind a placid exterior. “Going from arranging dates for dancers on Broadway to having your picture taken with former presidents and British royalty is quite a leap. How did you manage that?”

“Flo helped me in the beginning. With her society marriage to Dr. Ernie Tyler, I was introduced to a wide variety of wealthy and connected people who were in desperate need of my services. One thing led to another.” He waved his hand about the room. “And here I am.”

I narrowed my eyes on him. “And David? How did he become involved with your organization?”

Simon La Roy glanced over to his collection of Jennys on the wall beside us and smiled. “I first met David when he was five. It was right after he had come over from Ireland to live with Flo,” he explained as he turned back to me. “She would often call me for advice on how to raise the young boy. Since Ernie was dead and David’s father was always away at sea, I guess I was the only man she felt she could ask about such matters. By the time David was seventeen, he began to exhibit certain behaviors his aunt thought might be detrimental to his future.”

“You mean his painting?”

Simon chuckled. “No, I mean his women.”

I nodded and then turned my eyes down to the floor as my cheeks blushed over. “Yes, I recall David mentioning something about that.”

I remembered the way David had told me of his beginnings. At the time, I had found it more entertaining than distasteful. I guess it is not the story but the way it is told that can turn even the most sordid tale into a harmless yarn.

“At seventeen David had taken up with a much older and rather unsavory socialite,” Simon went on, “who had encouraged him to try to make a go at being an artist. Flo felt he needed a man’s guidance before he ruined his life. I soon found the young man under my care and started teaching him how to better use his talent for women.”

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