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Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep 15


  Once he was inside me, he did the opposite of what I expected. He didn’t close his eyes and flail away. He went very slowly and looked right into my eyes, pure rapture on his face. Part of that, I realized, was his belief that the girl he had put on a pedestal for three years was finally giving herself totally to him. I wanted to stop then, but there was no graceful way to do it. Instead, I tried to make it end faster. As I did, he looked down with a strange light in his eyes and said, “You’re not Jane, are you?”

  It was the most chilling moment of my life. He knew. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have risked saying that.

  “No,” I said, terrified that he would jump up and start screaming to the trees that I was a slut. I should have known better. I learned a lesson about men that day. There was hardly a hitch in his rhythm. His eyes got bigger, he groaned in ecstasy, and enjoyed it twice as much. It was the biggest ego trip of his young life, and I was a fool to think for an instant that he would be able to keep quiet about it. He didn’t tell his friends, which would have been bad enough. He did something infinitely worse.

  The next time he was with Jane, he acted as though she had made love with him the last time they were together, and insisted that she do it again. She flew into a rage and demanded an explanation, and he let her figure it out for herself. She didn’t speak more than ten words a month to me for three years afterward. I tried to explain why I’d done it, and what had really happened, but it was useless. For Jane to accept the truth about Bobby’s actions would have made the betrayal complete, and thus unbearable. Two months later, my relationship with David Gresham went public, and I left for New Orleans.

  The obvious rancor slowly faded. Bobby Evans was consigned to the past with the other trappings of high school. (He now sells residential real estate in Oxford.) I continued to help Jane financially until her junior year of college, when she found some other source of money. I next saw her at her wedding, though I was not invited to be maid of honor (that office went to Marc Lacour’s sister). But in the twenty years since, we slowly but surely made overtures that bridged the chasm that once divided us. In the three years before she disappeared, we were closer than at any time in our lives, thanks to Jane’s efforts more than mine, and I came to believe that the bond we shared—formed in the face of paternal abandonment and maternal incapacity—was stronger than a break over any man. And perhaps it was. Perhaps she revealed my betrayal in the early days of her marriage to Marc.

  Looking back now, it’s easy to see Jane’s entire life as a flight from the family fate had handed her. All her efforts to reach out, to join, to belong—to the cheerleaders, school clubs, church groups, sororities—all seemed part of a desperate attempt to find a surrogate family, to become part of the Brady Bunch perfection so prevalent on the television of our youth, which our home environment resembled not at all. In that context, my one-day fling with Bobby Evans was no simple sexual betrayal; it was an arrow in the heart of Jane’s illusions of progress. And since our illusions are always our most precious possessions, how could she ever forgive me?

  But the final, terrible irony of her life was worse. Having succeeded in her impossible quest, having attained a rich and handsome husband, a mansion, and two beautiful children—all the hallmarks of gentility and security—she was plucked from the heart of her fantasy by some tortured soul undoubtedly born into a family even more dysfunctional than ours. If Jane is dead, I cannot imagine what her last thoughts must have been. If she’s alive—

  “Are you sleeping?”

  I blink from my trance and look across the narrow aisle at John Kaiser, who is studying me with a worried gaze. He’s wearing navy slacks, a polo shirt, and a tan suede jacket that perfectly fits his shoulders. I dressed for this trip myself, in tailored black silk pants and a matching jacket, with a linen blouse cut low enough to reveal a swell of cleavage. A kinky old Frenchman might just respond to some tasteful décolletage.

  “Hey,” he says. “You in a trance?”

  “No. Just thinking.”

  “What about?”

  “We don’t know each other well enough for you to ask that question.”

  He gives me a tight smile. “You’re right. Sorry.”

  I straighten up in my seat. “You probably have some grand plan for this meeting, right? A strategy?”

  “Nope. Doctor Lenz would have one. But I go on instinct a lot of the time. We’re going to play it by ear.”

  “You must have some idea about what de Becque wants with me.”

  “Either de Becque’s been behind this whole thing from day one—every disappearance—or it’s some sort of diversion for him. A rich man’s game. If it’s a game, I figure he knows you’re a double for one of the Sleeping Women. Maybe he saw Jane’s portrait when Wingate put it up for sale. Then when he heard about what happened in Hong Kong—a twin of one of the Sleeping Women showing up—he put two and two together.”

  “But how? Unless he had prior knowledge, how could he make the leap from one of the faces on the paintings in Hong Kong to me? To knowing my name?”

  “You’re a celebrity of sorts. If he had a print of Jane’s painting, he could have scanned it and e-mailed it around. Asked if anyone recognized you.”

  “There are no prints of the Sleeping Women. Wingate told me. No photos, nothing.”

  “Then maybe someone in Hong Kong recognized you. Knew you were in town.”

  “I wasn’t there on assignment. I’m doing a book. I go where I want, and only a few friends ever know where I am.”

  “Then maybe he did have prior knowledge. If that’s the case, we’re walking into something complicated.”

  “Like?”

  Kaiser bites his lip and looks at the seat back ahead of him.

  “What is it?”

  “I wasn’t going to say anything before the meeting, but this might help prepare you for what we could encounter.”

  “What?”

  “The Vietnam connections are starting to bother me.”

  “How so?”

  “Your father disappeared in Vietnam in 1972, right?”

  “On the Cambodian border.”

  “Same thing. And de Becque lived in Vietnam for years.”

  “And?”

  “The Sleeping Women are sold exclusively in the East. And your mystery call came from Thailand, which is practically next door to Vietnam. I did R-and-R there myself in 1970.”

  “Catch any embarrassing diseases?”

  “No, but not for lack of trying.”

  “How could Vietnam play into this?”

  “I don’t know. But the coincidences are starting to build. You thought you might have heard your father’s voice during that Thailand phone call, right?”

  A strange and disturbing buzz has started in the back of my head. “What are you saying, Agent Kaiser?”

  “I’m just pulling threads together.”

  “Are you suggesting my father could have taken Jane? And the others too?”

  “You believe he’s still alive, right?”

  “I’m the only person who does. But even if he is, he wouldn’t . . .”

  “Wouldn’t what? Go on, say it. If he’s still alive, he wouldn’t take Jane to be with him. Right? He would take you.”

  “I guess that’s what I was thinking. Hoping. But how could that even be possible? He’d have to be in the U.S.”

  “There’s a plane every day. If he is alive, you have to accept two things. One, he’s chosen not to contact you for almost thirty years. Two, you know nothing about him, other than what a twelve-year-old girl knew about her young father.”

  “I can’t believe what you’re suggesting. My father was an award-winning photojournalist. What motive could he possibly have to get involved in some sick situation like this?”

  Kaiser sighs and lays his hands on his knees. “Look, all this is speculation. It’s almost certain that your father’s dead.”

  “I know that.” Though I feel an irrational anger toward Kaiser in this
moment, I can’t dismiss his ideas. “But I’m sitting here trying to remember if my father ever painted anything.”

  He watches me for a few moments. “Did he?”

  “No. Only photography.”

  “Good. Because the connoisseurs studying the Sleeping Women say they were painted by someone with enormous ability and classical training.”

  Thank God.

  “How old was your father when he disappeared?”

  “Thirty-six.”

  “And he’d never painted anything. I’d say that lets him off the hook right there.”

  I nod agreement, but new fears aren’t so easily banished. The Vietnam coincidences are indeed starting to build, and the image of a conspiracy has been taking shape almost from the beginning. What ties the Sleeping Women to Asia? There’s really no use trying to puzzle it out now. But perhaps Marcel de Becque, the colonial French tea planter and black market trader, can shed some light on the question.

  GRAND CAYMAN LIES 150 miles south of Cuba. Fifteen years ago, it was an unspoiled paradise. Now it’s not much different from Cancún—heavily commercialized and functionally Americanized—though it is more up-scale. Parts of the island are still undeveloped, but to get the flavor of the old Caymans, you have to fly a puddle-jumper east to the smaller, more primitive island of Cayman Brac.

  Our FBI pilot swings once around North Bay to show us de Becque’s estate, a gated compound that stands on a jutting point of land near the marina. The Frenchman is apparently unconcerned with keeping a low profile, or he would have settled in the more discreet community of Cayman Kai, near Rum Point. Looking down at the emerald water, white beaches, and stunning homes, I expect to hear the voice of Robin Leach in my ear, but instead I hear our pilot instructing us to belt in for landing at the airport near Georgetown.

  A white Range Rover awaits us on the runway, and the small matter of customs has been taken care of in advance by the Justice Department. The British governor of the islands knows we are here, and should anything questionable happen during our stay, there will be no doubt as to who was at fault. A Caucasian driver and his Caymanian associate load my camera and lighting equipment into the back of the Rover, and after leaving the airport, we swing northward.

  “How far to Monsieur de Becque’s estate?” I ask.

  “A few minutes,” the driver replies in a French accent.

  Kaiser says nothing.

  In the Caymans, as in the United Kingdom, all traffic proceeds on the left. Every few seconds, our driver wheels into the right lane to pass colorful jeeps, vans, and scooters, all driving at a leisurely vacation speed. Mixed with the tourist vehicles is a healthy contingent of Mercedeses and BMWs. The Cayman Islands have been wealthy ever since King George III absolved their citizens from taxation, for their heroism during the tragic Wreck of the Ten Sails. This status—along with airtight banking secrecy laws—has made the Caymans an international tax haven, and the fifth-largest financial center in the world. Unlike the rest of the Caribbean, where beggars can be a nuisance, the Caymans boast natives richer than many tourists.

  A high wall surrounds de Becque’s estate, but when our driver opens an iron gate with a coded remote, I see a larger version of what I saw from the air: a British colonial mansion that, like some embassies, gives the impression of a fortress. The driver pulls the Rover into a crescent drive and stops before wide marble steps. His assistant gets out, opens our doors, then motions us upward.

  The massive door opens before we ring the bell, and I find myself facing one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. With fine black hair, light-brown skin, and almond eyes, she possesses that rare combination of Asian and European features that makes it impossible for me to guess her age. She could be thirty or fifty, and her self-possession is remarkable. She stands utterly still, and gives the impression that she could remain so for an hour or a day. It’s almost a surprise when she speaks.

  “Bonjour, Mademoiselle Glass.”

  “Hello.”

  “I am Li. Please come in.”

  I step inside, followed by Kaiser, who with the driver brings in the aluminum flight cases. After they set them down in the granite-floored foyer, Li says, “I must ask that you leave any weapons with these gentlemen.”

  She says this as easily as another hostess would ask for our coats.

  “I’m not armed,” says Kaiser.

  “Me either.”

  “Please forgive this imposition.”

  The driver’s Caymanian assistant walks in with a black wand and sweeps it over the length of Kaiser’s body. Then he scans mine and nods to Li, who smiles at us.

  “If you will follow me, s’il vous plaît? Your equipment will be taken to the proper room.”

  Kaiser shrugs and follows the soft-spoken apparition.

  Our journey through de Becque’s mansion is an education in understated elegance. There’s a Zen-like simplicity to the spaces and to the furniture that adorns them. All lighting is indirect, and the few visible beams fall upon paintings spaced at tasteful intervals. I don’t know enough about art to recognize the works, but I have a feeling that someone who knew what she was looking at would be suitably shocked.

  Our destination is a large, high-ceilinged room with a massive wall of glass facing the harbor. It’s furnished with pieces of Southeast Asian provenance, but the theme isn’t overdone. Beyond the glass wall lies an infinity lap pool, one of those indigo things, which seems to bleed right into the sea beyond it. In the distance, a dozen boats ply the waters of North Bay, and as I watch them I realize a man is standing at the lower right edge of the glass, watching me. I didn’t notice him at first because he stands with the same stillness and self-possession exhibited by the woman who met us at the door. Of medium height and deeply tanned, he has piercing blue eyes and a full head of close-cropped silver hair.

  “Bonjour,” he says in a soft but masculine voice. “I am Marcel de Becque. I was just recalling happier days. I trust your trip was not too bumpy?”

  “It was fine.”

  He walks forward and, before I know what he’s doing, takes my hand, bends, and kisses it with courtly grace. “You are far more beautiful in person, ma chérie. I thank you for coming.”

  Despite the strangeness of the situation, I feel my face flush. “This is my assistant, John Kaiser.”

  De Becque smiles in a way that lets us know he will play along with this fiction, but also that he recognizes it as such. Then he waves his hand toward the wall to my right, which holds a large display of black-and-white photographs. Most of them appear to date from various phases of the Vietnam War, and each is clearly the work of a master photographer.

  “Do you like them?” de Becque asks.

  “They’re remarkable. Where did you get them?”

  “I knew many journalists during the war. Many photographers as well. They were kind enough to give me prints from time to time.”

  Not all the photos are of military subjects. Several are studies of Vietnamese men, women, or children; others show temples and statuary; still others groups of khaki-clad men with the stateless look of war correspondents. On closer inspection, I recognize several photographers: Sean Flynn, Dixie Reese, Dana Stone, Larry Burrows. The best of the best. Capa is there too, the archetype of them all, his rakish grin giving him a youthful glow even in middle age. As I move to the next photo, my blood goes cold in my veins. Standing alone by a stone Buddha is my father. Jonathan Glass.

  10

  UNABLE TO FIND my voice, I lean closer to the photograph on the French expatriate’s wall. My father is wearing a Leica on a neck strap and carrying a Nikon F2 in his hand, the same camera I own today. That means the photo was shot in 1972, the year that camera was released and also the year he supposedly died.

  “Where did you get this?” I finally whisper, pointing with a shaking finger.

  “Terry Reynolds shot that in seventy-two,” says de Becque. “Before he himself disappeared in Cambodia. I knew your father well, Jordan.”


  He says my name with a soft “J.” I straighten up and try to maintain my composure as I speak. “You did?”

  De Becque takes me by the elbow and leads me to a table, where a bottle of wine and three glasses have been placed. He pours a glass of white wine, which I drink in two swallows, then offers one to Kaiser, who declines. De Becque pours for himself and takes a small sip.

  “Only in moderation,” he says. “My liver is trying to tell me something.”

  “Monsieur—”

  He stops me with an upraised hand. “I’m sure you have a thousand questions. Why don’t you photograph my paintings first? Then you may return here and satisfy your curiosity.”

  My face feels hot, my throat unable to open.

  “Please,” says de Becque. “There is time.”

  “Tell me one thing first. Is my sister alive or dead?”

  He shakes his head. “Je ne sais pas, ma chérie. That I do not know.”

  PHOTOGRAPHING DE BECQUE’S paintings is a simple exercise, technically speaking. Before we left New Orleans, I made a list of equipment, which Baxter sent FBI agents out to procure. The main piece was a Mamiya medium-format camera shooting 5 × 5 film negatives, which gives superior image quality without compromising portability. The difficulty is the human factor. Kaiser does his best to follow my orders in setting up the lighting, but it’s clear to Li—whom de Becque sent along to make sure we don’t get too close to the canvases—that my “assistant” has never handled a softbox or barn door in his life.

  I’m not in top form myself. The prospect of picking de Becque’s brain about my father is so tantalizing that it pushes my concern for Jane almost out of my mind, and makes the simplest tasks—like attaching strobe heads to poles—difficult. Kaiser is soon distracted by other things. The bulk of de Becque’s art collection is displayed in three large museum-style rooms, and his Sleeping Women are merely part of it. The rest date from several different periods, according to Kaiser, who has apparently given himself a crash course in art history over the past two days. The majority date from about 1870 to the present, and include several pieces by the Nabis. Kaiser moves methodically through the rooms, memorizing what he can, once returning to me to whisper that some of the paintings might have been stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War. He asks Li if we can photograph the entire collection, but she demurs, saying that de Becque specifically restricted our activities to the Sleeping Women.