He couldn’t take his eyes off her.
The last rays of the setting sun slanted through the stained glass window over her head, bathing her in a rainbow. He knew it was a just a trick of light, that the ancient glassmakers added copper oxide to make the green, cobalt to make the blue, and real gold to make the red. He knew all of this. But still, she was beautiful.
His mother was there in his memories suddenly. He was watching her sitting before her mirror, remembering the way the lamplight turned her white skin gold. And he could remember what she said as she painted her lips. Every woman, for just one moment in her life, should be able to be the most beautiful
woman in the room.
He stared at the girl. The sun had set and the glow had faded. Her moment was gone.
He looked away, focusing on the music before him. Vivaldi, The Four Seasons. He didn’t need to read it. He knew every note by heart. He had played it a thousand times, so much that any pleasure he had ever taken in it had long ago died. As he played, he watched the faces of the audience. Tourists, mostly, and easily amused.
A pause in the music. They had finally come to the last movement, “Winter.” Fifteen more minutes and he was free.
His eyes flicked to the violinist, then, on cue, he drew his bow across the strings in short little bursts, the notes sounding like the cold chattering of teeth. There was little for him to do now, just keep a steady background beat, so he let his mind wander, let his eyes wander.
Back to the girl. She was in the front row and though it was dim now, he could still see her clearly. She was staring right at him, her mouth moving rhythmically, as if she were trying to sing along. It took him a few seconds to realize that she was chewing gum. A surge of disgust moved through him. Why did all the American girls chew gum? Didn’t they know it made them look like cows?
He looked away. He hated it when people weren’t polite.
“So where are you taking me?”
He looked down at the girl. She laced her arm through his and snuggled closer. Her nose was red. The musicians had been warmed by the small space heaters at their feet, but there had been no such comforts for the audience in Sainte- Chapelle. And now they were scattering into the cold night, bound for their four-star hotels or the nearest bistros.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I grabbed a sandwich before the concert.
I’m not used to eating as late as people do here.”
“Then a drink?”
She smiled. “Never too late for that.”
He disentangled himself from her grasp and hoisted up his case. They started walking toward the bridge. As they crossed over to the Left Bank, a tour boat approached, its garish floodlights trained on the Seine’s stone embankments, seeking out lovers in the shadows for the tourists’ titillation. But it was too cold for anyone to be out tonight. The lights found only rats scurrying into their holes.
In a café on boulevard Saint-Michel, he steered her to a corner table. He carefully positioned the large black case out of the aisle. She pulled off her gloves and glanced around. “I guess they don’t have real booze here,” she said.
She sighed. “It’s just that I’ve been here for two weeks and I am dying for a decent martini.”
“You should have said something. We could have gone to Le Fumoir.”
She shrugged. “That’s okay. It’s just that I don’t really like wine all that much, you know? And it’s so cold and I can’t seem to get warm. No one told me Paris was going to be freezing.”
“It’s January,” he said.
“Yeah, well, maybe I should have waited. April in Paris and all that stuff, right?”
He smiled, then caught the waiter’s eye. When the man came over, he ordered for both of them. When the waiter returned with the drinks, the girl stared down at hers.
“Vin chaud. Hot wine. Try it.”
She set aside the cinnamon stick and took a sip. She smiled. “Good.”
“They add spices to it. I’m glad you like it.”
For the next half hour, he just listened. She loved to talk— about her job as a computer-something; about her six-toed cat, Toby; about her boyfriend who had emptied their bank account and run off, which is why she had decided on impulse to come to Paris; about her dream to be a tennis pro at the
Houston country club where her parents kept her on their membership so she’d meet a quality man and get her life in order.
“They never forgave me for divorcing Dean and not popping out four blond babies,” she said. This came after the third vin chaud.
He suspected she wanted him to ask her more about Dean, but he was tired of listening to her. He was even getting tired of looking at her, realizing now that whatever he had seen in her face before was gone. When he had spotted her this afternoon in the Tuileries, he had been immediately attracted to her. He had impulsively introduced himself and then invited her to be his guest at the concert.
But now, as he looked at her in the harsh light of the café, he realized she wasn’t beautiful at all. True, she was blond and blue-eyed, but whenever she opened her mouth she became plain. He looked away, out the window at the people hurrying through the cold.
“So, how old are you?”
Her voice drew him back. “Does it matter?” he asked.
“I guess not.” She finished the vin chaud and picked up the cinnamon stick. “I kind of like older guys. Especially when they look like you. Dean was blond. But I always had a thing for the tall, dark and handsome ones.” Her eyes lingered on his, then drifted toward the black case propped in the corner.
“You’ve got quite a big instrument there,” she said with a smile.
He didn’t answer.
“Is it heavy?”
“You get used to it,” he said.
She was sucking on the cinnamon stick. For a long time she just stared at him, then she said, “Take me home.”
He felt relieved. “Where are you staying?”
“No, I mean to your place.”
When he hesitated, she countered with a smile. “I mean, why the hell not? It’s my last night in Paris, right?” she said.
He knew that if he waited too long to answer, she would be insulted. A part of him didn’t care. A part of him wanted to put her in a taxi and be rid of her. But the other part, that part of him that slept just below his consciousness, was coming alive. He could feel it, a dull humming sound in his brain that soon would echo in a vibration in his groin. He could repress it. He had before.
He stared at the girl. But why?
He would not take her to his apartment on Île Saint-Louis, even though it was just across the bridge. He would take her to the other place. It was, after all, what she deserved.
She was talkative on the long ride. But as the car descended the steep hill behind Sacré-Coeur and slid into the darkness, she grew silent.
He saw her staring at the empty streets and crumbling buildings awaiting demolition, at the slashes of graffiti on the metal shutters of the Senegalese restaurant. And at the Arab men in skullcaps who sat hunched in white plastic chairs, their dark faces lit by the green fluorescent lights of the cafeteria.
They were in a neighborhood called La Goutte d’Or, far from the cafés of the Left Bank, far from any notion of what the tourists believed the city to be. Goutte d’Or. Drop of
gold. Centuries ago, the name referred to the wine grown in the local vineyards. Now it was slang for the yellow heroin sold in bars and the back rooms of luggage stores.
He parked the car. The girl didn’t move, so he got out and opened her door. She was staring at the battered steel door with the number forty-four above it.
“You live here?” she asked.
“It’s cheap,” he said.
He retrieved his black case from the backseat and held out his free hand. She hesitated, then slipped her hand in his.
He hit the switch just inside the entrance door, illuminating a sagging staircase and peeling walls. He motioned and she started up ahead of him. At the fifth floor, he set the case down to get his key. The lights went out and she gasped.
For a long moment, he didn’t move. He could hear her breathing hard next to him. In the close darkness, he could smell her, smell everything about her, the slightly sour wine on her breath, the vanilla shampoo she had used that morning, and the musky smell of her sweating body beneath the damp wool of her coat.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s just the hall light. It’s on a timer.”
He unlocked the door and led her inside. He set the case aside and watched her face as she took in the details of the room. A sagging futon, a metal bookcase holding a CD player and discs, an archway leading to a kitchen and an open door revealing the edge of a toilet.
“What’s that smell?” she asked.
“Like . . . somebody’s been cooking meat or something.”
“Oh, there’s a butcher shop downstairs,” he said, unwinding his scarf and taking off his coat. “Would you like a drink?”
“Yes . . . no. I mean, no, if it’s wine. And no water either. The water tastes weird here. You got any grass?”
“No, I’m afraid not.” On his way to the kitchen, he closed the door to the bathroom. He uncorked a bottle and poured himself a glass of Bordeaux. He took a drink and pulled off his tie, watching her as she walked slowly around the room. She leaned in to peer at the titles of the CDs, then moved toward an alcove behind the shelf.
“Hey, you have two of them,” she said as she reached into the alcove.
He was next to her in two quick strides, grabbing her arm. “Don’t touch it!”
She gave a small cry and wrenched her hand free. “Why not?”
“The grease from your hands,” he said. “It’s bad for the strings.”
She took a few steps away, rubbing her wrist. “Well, you touch it when you play. What’s the difference?”
He took a breath and carefully removed the cello from its dark corner. “I touch only the neck.”
She was still frowning, like she was trying to decide something now. But he was the one who had decided. She didn’t know this, of course. She was oblivious, not even smart enough to read this in his face. She just looked at him, like a dumb animal. Finally, she nodded toward the black case across the room, the one he had brought in from the car.
“So, why do you have two of them?”
“That one is for others,” he said. “This one is for me.”
And for her.
She was staring hard at him now. Then she shrugged off her coat and tossed it on the floor. She plopped down on the futon and looked up at him with a smile.
“Play something for me,” she said.
He stared at her, the cello resting against his chest. For the briefest moment, he considered it. He had never tried it that way before and the idea was intriguing. Would it feel different than the others? But why? She wasn’t worth it. It would be like playing for a deaf person.
“No,” he said.
“Why not?” she said.
“I don’t feel like it.” He carefully put the cello back in its corner. When he turned back, she had scooted down on the futon, and now she lay propped up on her elbows.
“So, how do you say it in French?”
“How do you say, ‘Let’s fuck’?”
He was silent, staring at her breasts, clearly outlined beneath her blouse.
“Tell me,” she said. “I bet it sounds really nice in French.”
He turned away, picking up his wineglass and taking a drink.
“Come on, how do you say it?”
He shut his eyes.
She was laughing. “God, what’s the matter? You’re all red. Am I embarrassing you? Okay, you don’t have to say it. All you have to do is just do it. Just fuck me, okay? And make it—”
He threw the glass toward the futon. It shattered against the wall, spraying her white blouse red. She gave a yelp and her eyes widened as he came toward her. But even as he straddled her hips, her fingers were working on the buttons of his shirt and her mouth was opening eagerly to accept his.
But he didn’t kiss her. He didn’t take off her blouse or touch her breasts. He didn’t even look at her face as he wrenched her skirt up over her hips, pulled the tights down her legs and wedged his knees between her thighs. At first, the roughness aroused her and she was panting as she helped him out of his clothes. She gave a half-laugh, half-cry when he entered her and she wrapped her arms around his back, pulling him deeper inside her. But the more he pushed against her, the harder he tried, the softer he became.
She pushed against his chest. “Hey, hey,” she said hoarsely. “Stop, okay? If you can’t . . . hey, it’s—”
He slapped her and she let out a sharp cry. He sensed the change in her, felt her body retreating under him. He could almost smell the fear coming off her skin. But that didn’t stop him. He kept pushing against her, ignoring her cries, waiting, waiting for the blessed release. But it did not come. It never
did. Not this way.
He felt a sudden searing pain and fell back panting, holding his neck. He was so stunned that it took him several seconds to realize what had happened. She had scratched him. And now she was inching back toward the wall, away from him.
He looked at his bloody fingers, then at the girl. She was staring at him as she pulled her skirt down.
“Look,” she said, “maybe you should just take me back to my hotel, okay?”
“No,” he said.
Her expression hardened. “Great. First you can’t even get off and now you won’t give me a fucking ride.” She stood and pulled up her tights. “So much for the French being great lovers.”
She kept talking, but he didn’t hear her. He turned and went to the cello case. He unlatched it and reached into the small pouch on the inside of the lid. He took his time as he decided which one to use. The Larsen D? No, she wasn’t worth it. The Jargar A was too thin and he had never been able to
count on it. The Spirocore C had a nice sharp attack.
Finally, he made his choice and closed the case. When he turned to face her, she was standing with her back to him, buttoning her blouse. He moved quickly, quietly. She didn’t have time to turn, to react. He looped the steel string around her neck and gave a hard tug.
Her hands came up clawing. Her scream died into a gurgle. He pulled harder, bringing her back against his chest. He pulled on the string once, twice, enjoying her fear. He was careful not to pull the string too tight because he wanted this to last. And he knew just how much pressure was needed to hold her, to make her black out. But he also knew how to keep her alive. He closed his eyes, burying his face in her vanilla hair.
Then he gave the string a sharp jerk. The steel cut into her neck and she gave a violent quiver. Blood sprayed the wall above the futon. Finally, she went limp. He caught her beneath the arms before she fell and held her against his chest.
He scooped the body up in his arms and carried it to the bathroom. He put the body in the old bathtub and took a step back to look at it. For a second—just one second—he saw
Hélène. But this one wasn’t beautiful like Hélène.
And this one wasn’t worth keeping.
He went back out, shutting the door. The spray of blood on the wall over the futon made him stop.
He had cut the carotid artery, and it had left a mess to clean. No matter. It would have to wait. Her blood was still warm on his hands and the hotness in his groin was building. He had to hurry now. If he didn’t, the moment would be gone.
The room was cold on his naked body, but he was sweating in anticipation. He went to the corner and carefully pulled out the other cello, the beautiful one, the Goffriller Rosette. More than three hundred years old. So many great hands had caressed it. But no one else would ever play it now. No one else would ever hear it now. Except him.
He picked up his bow, took the cello to a chair and sat down. Setting the cello between his bare thighs, he rested it back against his chest. He cradled the cello’s neck on his shoulder, the C-string tuning peg touching his ear. He paused, holding the bow over the strings, watching the blood drip from his neck down onto the burnished maple. He closed his eyes, imagining the molecules of his blood being absorbed into the cello’s body.
The bow came down slowly across the strings. The first notes of Elgar’s cello concerto filled the small dark room.
The ache in his groin was building and as he played, eyes closed, he could feel himself hardening again. His breathing deepened. The sweat poured from his brow. He swayed, pulling
the bow, thrusting.
He was lost in the music and the burn of anticipation. Then, suddenly, there it was. What he had been waiting for. One note. A vibration that began in his fingertips and raced down through his body to his groin. As the wolf note sounded the release came. He cried out as his body convulsed.
The bow dropped from his hand to the floor. He sat there, head down, gasping, holding the cello in his embrace.
© 2011 P. J. Parrish
The Killing Song
Matt Owens is a Pulitzer Prize–nominated journalist, but at thirty-five, he’s adrift, more inclined to hit the bottle alone than the Miami Beach club scene. But when his beloved younger sister Mandy comes to visit, Matt wants to show her a new world. It’s the trip of her dreams, but the nightmare begins when Mandy disappears from a crowded dance floor. When her lifeless body is found, one clue—a grisly rock song downloaded onto her iPod—may be the calling card of a serial killer. Shattered with grief and guilt, Matt begins a lonely journey to find Mandy’s killer, following a chain of musical clues that lead him from an abandoned London rock club to a crumbling Scottish castle and finally to the ancient bone-strewn catacombs below Paris. Only one person believes in his quest—Eve Bellamont, a dedicated French detective whose own five-year obsession to find the phantom killer has left her an outcast in her own department. Together, they race to decipher the “killing songs” that the madman leaves with each victim and stop him before another beautiful young woman dies.