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Mexico City, MexicoAugust seventeenth
Oscar Clayborne Spencer died today at the age of seventy-seven after a decade-long bout with lung cancer.
The multiple award-winning film director, who won an Academy Award for his last film, Silent Witness, also earned more than a dozen awards from the Cannes, Venice, and Sundance Film Festivals during his illustrious thirty-five-year movie career.
Spencer is survived by his wife, Regina Spencer, and son, Dr. Aaron Spencer, of Bahia, Brazil.
Funeral arrangements will be private.
Regina Cole-Spencer's left hand trembled noticeably as she reached for the telephone on her bedside table. She loathed having to make the call. It would have been easier if she had called Aaron when his father was first diagnosed with the illness that had laid claim to his life second by second, minute by minute, and day by day for a decade.
Her fingers curved around the receiver. She knew the telephone number without glancing at the yellowing, frayed business card lying atop the highly waxed surface of the table; she had picked up the receiver and dialed the South American country's international code more than a dozen times over the past week, only to replace it in its cradle before the impending connection. But this time the call would be completed.
Oscar had issued an explicit order for her not to contact Aaron until after his death. Now was that time.
Her husband died quietly in his sleep, slipping away from their life together and into the next with the aid of the potent narcotic the doctor prescribed to make Oscar's pain more tolerable toward the end.
Pressing the buttons, she punched in the numbers and then closed her eyes and listened to the sound of the steady, measured ringing.
"Ola. Sao Tome Instituto de Medico Pesquisa."
Regina heard the feminine voice speaking Portuguese, and was instantly reminded that Brazil was the only South American country whose official language was not Spanish.
"Hola," she responded in Spanish, a language she had learned from her Cuban-born grandmother and had perfected since living in Mexico for nearly a decade. "I would like to speak to Dr. Aaron Spencer."
"Lo siento," the receptionist replied in the same language, "Dr. Spencer is not scheduled to work at the institute today."
There was a long silence. It was obvious the receptionist wasn't going to be forthcoming with any information regarding Oscar's son's whereabouts.
"It is imperative that I reach him. This is a family emergency," Regina added.
"I can page him and have him return your call."
She let out an audible sigh. "Thank you." She gave the woman her name and the telephone number to her house in a remote town nearly a hundred miles south of Mexico City, and hung up.
Rising from a tapestry-covered armchair, she walked over to the French doors and stared out at the lush property surrounding El Cielo. An expression of profound sadness settled into her delicate features as she opened the doors. The cloudless summer sky made the Sierra Madre Del Sur mountain range seem close enough for her to reach out and touch. She had lost count of how often she had awakened to stare at the jagged peaks blending with the sky. The first time she stood on the veranda staring down at the valley she had felt as if she had come to heaven. The mountain peaks had appeared to pierce the verdant, rolling hills of the valley to rise heavenward like spires on a Gothic cathedral, prompting her to call the property El Cielo. It had become heaven and a safe haven for her, as it was to become a final resting place for Oscar Spencer.
For eight years she did not have to concern herself about whether someone recognized her as Regina Cole, the actress who at seventeen had been nominated as Best Actress in her first film. No one had ever stared at her or whispered behind their fingers whenever she and Oscar dined out or shopped in town. They were allowed their privacy as private citizens, to share their lives uncensored as a married couple.
The telephone chimed softly, and she returned to the bedroom to answer the call. "Hola."
"This is Dr. Spencer," came a deep, powerful voice speaking fluent Spanish.
Regina inhaled, then let out her breath slowly. "Dr. Spencer," she continued, switching to English, "I'm Regina Spencer. I called you because I want to inform you that your father passed away earlier today." Her eyes filled with tears. "He did not suffer."
There was an interminable silence before Aaron Spencer spoke again. "What was the cause of death?"
"Lung cancer." Tears she had kept at bay now overflowed and stained her cheeks.
"When was he diagnosed with cancer?"
"His doctor discovered it ten years ago."
"Ten years! You waited ten years, and for my father to die, to call me, Miss"
"I was just following his wishes, Dr. Spencer," she countered, interrupting him. "He forbade me to call you until after he'd died." She felt a rush of heat suffuse her face. He had no right to yell at her, and he had no right to accuse her of something he knew nothing about.
"What do you mean, he forbade you? Just who the hell are you, anyway?"
Her fingers tightened on the receiver. "I was your father's wife."
A soft curse came through the wire as Aaron Spencer mumbled angrily under his breath. "And now you're his widow." He had not bothered to hide his sarcasm. "Have you made funeral arrangements?"
Sitting down on the armchair, Regina pressed her back against the cushion, closing her eyes. She hadn't realized how tired she was, or how great a strain she had been under for more years than she could count.
"No, I haven't. I waited because I wanted to call you. If you intend to come to Mexico, then I'll hold off until you arrive. If not, then I'll proceed with my original plans."
"Don't do anything until I get there."
Nodding, she opened her eyes. "When shall I expect you?"
"I'll try to be there sometime tomorrow. Give me the address where you're staying."
She blotted her cheeks with the back of her right hand as she gave her late husband's son the directions to the sprawling property she had occupied with Oscar since they fled Southern California.
He repeated the information she had given him, and without offering the ubiquitous "goodbye" or "have a safe flight" she hung up.
All she had shared with Oscar swept over her as she left the chair and lay down on the large bed where she had slept alone since becoming Regina Spencer. She thought she had prepared herself for this moment. She had thought she would welcome the time when Oscar would slip away from her to a place where he would never feel pain, or see the sadness she valiantly tried to conceal from him.
She'd thought she had a lot of time to get used to the day when she would eventually become a widow, but she was wrong. She was wrong, because when she married a man fifty years her senior she never thought she would come to love him as much as she did.
Aaron Spencer sat in the dark long after he'd called a carrier which would take him from Salvador to Mexico, numbed by the news that his father was dead. It had been twelve years since he last saw or had spoken to Oscar, and despite their estrangement he had never envisioned him not being alive.
There had been one time when he picked up the telephone to call Oscar and set things right between them, but it had been too late. His father's telephone had been disconnected, and the recorded message indicated no forwarding number.
The anger he had carried for years diminished with time, but the pain hadn't. And now, with Oscar's death, there would never be peace between them. He could have forgiven Oscar for anything, but not for marrying the only woman he had ever loved.
A heavy sadness descended upon him like a leaden blanket, and he was swallowed up in a morass of despondency. He sat motionless in the sanctuary of his study, staring into nothingness, until a light knock on the door pulled him from his self-pitying reverie. "Yes."
"Senhor Spencer, Miss Elena is here to see you." Aaron scowled, squeezing his eyes tightly. He should've told his housekeeper that he wouldn't be receiving guests. "Tell her I can't see her now."
There was a whisper of soft feminine voices, then a rapid tapping on the solid mahogany door. "Aaron. Please open the door."
He groaned audibly. At any other time he would've opened the door for Elena Carvalho, but not now. He wanted to be alone, alone to reexamine his life over the past twelve years.
"I'll call you, Elena."
"When, Aaron?" came the soft, pleading voice on the other side of the door. "Tomorrow."
There was a pregnant silence before Elena spoke again. '"Boa noite, Aaron."
He counted off the seconds until he heard movement in the alcove outside his study, indicating Elena Carvalho had left, then he let out his breath. He lost track of time before he left the chair to lie down on a chaise, sleeping fitfully until he rose to prepare himself to leave Salvador for his flight to Mexico City.
"Senora Spencer. El abogado esta aqui."
Regina Cole-Spencer registered her housekeeper's softly modulated voice. She did not know how long she had stood at the window, staring at the undulating landscape.
"Thank you, Rosa. Please send him in."
The solid oaken door closed quietly, only to open again within minutes. Ernesto Morales stepped into the large, richly appointed room, waiting until his vision adjusted to the dimly lit space. All of the drapes had been drawn across the expanse of one wall except for six inches, and it was at these six inches that Regina Spencer stood at the wall-to-wall window, peering through sand-beige silk at the verdant property she had owned with her late husband.
His admiring gaze swept over the tall, slender figure of the young widow clad in a pair of black linen slacks with a matching, short-sleeved blouse. Her trademark waist-length, curly, black hair was secured in a chignon on the nape of her long neck. A slight smile touched Ernesto's mouth. Even in mourning she was beautiful and very elegant.
When word had reached him that Oscar Spencer had finally succumbed to the disease laying waste to his frail body, he had experienced an uncharacteristic emotion of forgiveness. Now, with Oscar Spencer's death, he no longer had to experience guilt about coveting the man's young wife.
"jBuenas tardes! Senora Spencer."
Turning slowly, Regina stared across the room at her late husband's attorney. She smiled at hima sad smile.
"¡Buenas tardes! Thank you for coming so quickly."
Ernesto crossed the room, his footsteps silent on the priceless handwoven rug. "I came as soon as I could. I was scheduled to appear in court this morning, and unfortunately I couldn't postpone it."
He stood inches from her, his dark gaze measuring the undisguised pain in her large eyes, the tension ringing her full, generous mouth, and the resignation in her stance that indicated she had done all she could do for Oscar Spencer, that she had honored her marriage vow to love him in sickness and in health. And now her husband was dead, but she was alivealive and breathtakingly beautiful at twenty-seven.
His hands went to her shoulders, tightening, as he lowered his head and placed a kiss on both cheeks. "Lo siento mucho, Regina."
"Gracias, Ernesto," she returned, lapsing easily into Spanish. She wondered how many more times she would have to hear the I'm sorry phrase before she left Mexico to return to the States. As soon as the doctor confirmed Oscar's passing, the household staff had come to her, one by one, offering their condolences. And now it would be Oscar's business associates.
"Please sit down. Can I have Rosa bring you something to drink?"
Ernesto waved a hand. "No, thank you." He waited for Regina to sit before he took a comfortable armchair near hers, staring intently at her as she closed her eyes and pressed her head against the cushioned back.
"I've placed a call to Aaron Spencer to let him know about his father." She opened her eyes and met Ernesto's steady gaze.
"What did he say?"
"He said he'll arrive here today." She smiled again, this time indicating a weighted fatigue. "Oscar gave me my instructions, and I've followed them. What did he tell you?"
Ernesto nodded slowly. It was apparent Regina had known her late husband very well. Even on his deathbed Oscar Spencer continued to direct. He had given him specific instructions as to how he wanted his estate divided.
"You'll have to wait for Dr. Spencer's arrival before I make the conditions of the will known. I can assure you that you will be adequately provided for."
Sitting up straighter, Regina glared at the attorney. "You think I married Oscar for his money?"
"No! Oh, no," he apologized. "I happen to know that you've never needed your husband's money."
Visibly relaxing, she nodded, her frown disappearing as quickly as it had appeared. Ernesto was right. She did not need Oscar's money, or for that matter any man's. She was a Cole, and the name symbolized wealth and prestige, not only in the United States but throughout the Caribbean and in many Latin American countries.
Ernesto also relaxed. He had made a grievous faux pas. If he hoped to court the young widow, he was not beginning well. Like many others who met Regina Spencer for the first time, he had found it hard to believe she had married a man whose age eclipsed hers by fifty years, but during the years he had observed them together he realized she truly did love him. There also were times when he thought her youth, beauty and repressed passion had been wasted on the elderly man.
How many times had he fantasized running his fingers through her long, curly hair? Feasting on her perfectly formed, full, lush mouth? Caressing her slim curves and full breasts? Too many for him to count.
"I'd like to ask you a question," he began slowly, softly. "And if you choose not to answer it, I will respect your decision." She inclined her head. "I've been your husband's attorney since he moved from California to Mexico, and we've discussed many things. Many, many personal things. But not once did he ever disclose why you married him."
A slight frown marred Regina's high, smooth forehead. Ernesto was asking what so many had asked over the years. Her answer was always the same.
"My reason for marrying Oscar will remain my secret."
What she did not tell him or the others was that she and Oscar had promised each other that only their families would know the real reason behind their union.