THE AFTERNOON OF THE DAY following the assassin’s appearance at Marlin’s apartment a blizzard descended upon New York with no little ferocity, conspiring with the inevitable seasonal rush to make finding a flight back to England difficult. But Jude was not easily denied anything, especially when she’d set her mind firmly on an objective; and she was certain—despite Marlin’s protestations—that leaving Manhattan was the most sensible thing to do.
She had reason on her side. The assassin had made two attempts upon her life. He was still at large. As long as she stayed in New York she would be under threat. But even if this had not been the case (and there was a part of her that still believed that he’d come that second time to explain, or apologize), she would have found an excuse for returning to England, just to be out of Marlin’s company. He had become too cloying in his affections, his talk as saccharine as the dialogue from the Christmas classics on the television, his every gaze mawkish. He’d had this sickness all along, of course, but he’d worsened since the assassin’s visit, and her tolerance for its symptoms, braced as she’d been by her encounter with Gentle, had dropped to zero. Once she’d put the phone down on him the previous night she’d regretted her skittish way with him, and after a heart-to-heart with Marlin in which she’d told him she wanted to go back to England, and he’d replied that it would all seem different in the morning and why didn’t she just take a pill and lie down, she’d decided to call him back. By this time, Marlin was sound asleep. She’d left her bed, gone through to the living room, put on a single lamp, and made the call. It felt covert, which in a way it was. Marlin had not been pleased to know that one of her ex-lovers had attempted to play hero in his own apartment, and he wouldn’t have been happy to find her making contact with Gentle at two in the morning. She still didn’t know what had happened when she’d been put through to the room. The receiver had been picked up and then dropped, leaving her to listen with increasing fury and frustration to the sound of Gentle making love. Instead of putting the phone down there and then she’d listened, half wishing she could have joined the escapade. Eventually, after failing to distract Gentle from his labors, she’d hung up and traipsed back to her cold bed in a foul humor.
He’d called the next day, and Marlin had answered. She let him tell Gentle that if he ever saw hide or hair of Gentle in the building again he’d have him arrested as an accomplice to attempted murder.
“What did he say?” she’d asked when the conversation was done.
“Not very much. He sounded drunk.”
She had not discussed the matter any further. Marlin was already sullen enough, after her breakfast announcement that she still intended to return to England that day. He’d asked her over and over: why? Was there something he could do to make her stay more comfortable? Extra locks on the doors? A promise that he wouldn’t leave her side? None of these, of course, filling her with renewed enthusiasm for staying. If she told him once she told him two dozen times that he was quite the perfect host, and that he wasn’t to take this personally, but she wanted to be back in her own house, her own city, where she would feel most protected from the assassin. He’d then offered to come back with her, so she wasn’t returning to an empty house alone, at which point—running out of soothing phrases and patience—she’d told him that alone was exactly what she wanted to be.
And so here she was, one snail crawl through the blizzard to Kennedy, a five-hour delay, and a flight in which she was wedged between a nun who prayed aloud every time they hit an air pocket and a child in need of worming, later. Her own sole possessor, in an empty flat on Christmas Eve.
The painting in four contrary modes was there to greet Gentle when he got back to the studio. His return had been delayed by the same blizzard that had almost prevented Judith from leaving Manhattan, and put him beyond the deadline Klein had set. But his thoughts had not turned to his business dealings with Klein more than once during the journey. They’d revolved almost entirely around the encounter with the assassin. Whatever mischief Pie ‘oh’ pah had worked upon his system it had cleared by the following morning—his eyes were operating normally, and he was lucid enough to deal with the practicalities of departure— but the echoes of what he’d experienced still reverberated. Dozing on the plane he felt the smoothness of the assassin’s face in his fingertips, the tumble of hair he’d taken to be Jude’s over the back of his hands. He could still smell the scent of wet skin and feel the weight of Pie ‘oh’ pah’s body on his hips, this so persuasive he had an erection apparent enough to draw a stare from one of the flight attendants. He reasoned that perhaps he would have to put fresh sensation between these echoes and their origins: fuck them out, sweat himself clean. The thought comforted him. When he dozed again, and the memories returned, he didn’t fight them, knowing he had a means of scouring them from his system once he got back to England.