- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The ironic thing was the day was originally intended to be a celebration. My latest, The Magician's Breakfast, had just been published in paperback and I was in New York to do a signing at my friend Hans Lachner's bookstore, Cover Up.
I always like a book signing because it is one of the few times when I am face-to-face with the people who have shared the most important part of my life with me -- the time when I am telling them stories. Sure, I get a screwball now and then who wants me to autograph a towel, or someone I wouldn't dare sit next to on the subway, but all in all they're nice events and hearing compliments about my work doesn't hurt either. At first they scared me because I was convinced no one would show up. I will never forget the feeling of walking into that first signing session and seeing a horde of people waiting around for me to arrive. Rapture.
Hans Lachner had worked as an editor for a few years at a famous publishing house but got fed up with the politics and intrigue. When his parents died, he took his inheritance and turned it into Cover Up. It was a small store but beautifully designed, intimate, and his taste in books was impeccable. I once dropped in and saw him deep in conversation with Gabriel Márquez. Later when I told him I didn't know he spoke Spanish, Hans said, "I don't. But I learned that day."
He had given my third novel, The Tattooed City, to a Hollywood producer he knew who bought it and eventually turned it into a film. I owed him a great deal and did whatever I could to repay him.
After my lunch with Patricia, I must have walked into his store looking like Peter Lorre in M, because Hans came right over and said I looked like shit.
"Dog or human? There's a big difference."
"What's the matter?"
"I just had lunch with my agent and she fricasseed me."
I turned around wearing an instantaneous big smile and was greeted by a camera flash square in the puss. When the suns burned onto my retina faded, I made out a chubby woman wearing a Timberland baseball cap and large silver-frame glasses.
"Would you mind, Hans?" She pushed her camera into his hand and came right up next to me. She took my arm. Hans counted to three and flashed my eyes back into blindness.
"I'm Tanya. When you sign my books, remember I'm Tanya."
She took her camera back and bustled off.
Hans put his arm around my shoulder and steered me toward the back of the store where a table and chair were waiting. "Tanya always buys two copies of your books. Gives the second to her sister."
"God bless her."
I sat down and the first people came up hesitantly, as if they were afraid to disturb me. I tried to be as nice as possible, always asking for their names and then signing something personal so they could have a smile when they looked at the inscription. "Breakfast with Charles. Thanks for sharing this meal with me." "This magician says hello to Jennifer." "To Tanya, who always buys two and deserves a double thank-you for her support." Time passed as I signed and smiled and made small talk.
"My name is Veronica. I have a whole bunch, so it's fine if you just sign them and...well, you know, just sign them."
Hans was handing me a Coke when she came to the table, so I didn't look when she spoke. I put the glass down and saw the book on top of her pile: the German edition of my first novel.
"Jeez, where'd you get this?" I smiled, looked up at her and froze. She was a California blond with great waves of hair down to her shoulders. Skin so radiant and fine that if you hung around her too long you'd have to sit on your hands or end up in trouble. Her eyes were large, green and friendly but with a depth and intelligence to them that sized you up while welcoming you at the same time. The lips were heavy and almost purple, although it was clear she wore no lipstick. It was a decadent mouth, much too decadent for the sunniness of the rest of the face. It was a contradiction I didn't know if I liked. It turned me on, but I didn't know if I liked it.
"I bought it in Germany when I was there. I'm trying to collect all editions of your work, but it's difficult."
"Are you a collector?"
"Not really. I just love your books."
I opened the cover and turned to the title page. "And your name is --"
"Veronica. Veronica Lake."
My pen stopped. "What?"
She laughed and it was as deep as a man's. "Yup, that's the name. I guess my mother was kind of a sadist."
"And you look so much like her! That's like naming your son Clark Gable."
"Well, in South America they name their kids Jesus."
"Yeah, so when they die they can go to heaven. When you die, you're going to Hollywood, Veronica."
I signed the book and reached for the next. The Japanese edition. Then came the Spanish. Outside my own shelves, I'd never seen such a collection.
"You write the kind of books I would, if I could write. I understand them."
"Will you marry me?"
She pouted sweetly. "You're already married."
I went back to signing. "Not for long."
Before we could say anything else, I felt a hand on my shoulder and smelled the memorable cologne of my memorable editor, Aurelio Parma. "Sam the Sham. Where are the pharaohs?"
Instantly on guard, I tensed and said, "The sham? Are you telling me something, Aurelio?"
"Nope. I just came down to watch you." Aurelio turned to Veronica. "I'm his editor," he said condescendingly in his best "L'état, c'est moi" voice. Then he flashed his dazzling Italian smile at her.
"I'm his fan." She didn't smile back.
"She's got you there, boss."
Aurelio doesn't like being one-upped. He shot her a glare that would melt Parmesan, but she looked back at him as if he were an asterisk on a page. She won and he walked away.
"So Veronica, you're in the diplomatic corps?"
"I came here to see you, Mr. Bayer. I want my five minutes. He gets to be with you all the time."
"Not if I can help it." I mumbled and picked up my pen again.
"I know this isn't the place to do business, but I'm a documentary filmmaker. I would really like to do something on you. Here's my card. If you're interested, please call me. Even if you don't want to be filmed, I'd love you to call me anyway."
"I'm flattered." I was finished with her books.
She scooped them up and bent down toward me. "And I'm serious."
She looked as good going as she did coming* Her directness was a little scary, but thrilling at the same time. The next person put a book down on the table and huffed, "It's about time!"
"Sorry abkut that. Tell me your name."
Chatting with Veronica had slowed things way down, so I worked fast and tried to keep my mind on what I was doing. It wasn't till a half hour later that I looked at the card she had handed me. Another big jolt.
In my novel The Tattooed City, the most important moment in the story comes when the bad guy takes off his shirt and the heroine sees his back for the first time. Ij Russian prisons, convicts who have done a lot of time have their backs tattooed with the most elaborate and Byzantine designs imaginable. The work is done with a combination of razor blades, needles and inks made from urine and burned shoe heels. The illustration is the convict's autobiography -- what crimes he has committed, whether he is addicted to drugs, where he stands in the prison hierarchy. Each image is symbolic -- a diamond ieans he's spent half his life in jail, a spider that he specializes in burglary, and so on. On my villain, angels, the Russian church, bridges, dragons, clouds, trees...take up almost every inch of his back so that it looks like a kind of naive painting of the City of God.
Somehow Veronica Lake had gotten hold gf the same photograph that inspired me years ago and used it for her calling card. The exact same picture, with only her name and telephone number embossed in silver letters kver it. The picture, the memory of how I had worked it into my story, Veronica's boldness...all of them combined to send a big shiver up my spina. I hadn't been so intrigued by a woman since meeting my last wife.