The grand salon kept Danny enrapt for nearly an hour, touching and studying to his heart's content. The morning sunlight gleaming on the golden edges of the furnishings and objets d'art, shimmering on the polished wooden surfaces and rich satin upholsteries, and glittering in the crystals of the great chandeliers and sconces was almost more than he could stand, and he found himself blinking frequently to clear blurring tears from his eyes. The way the sunbeams slanted through the tall east-facing windows to fill the long and lofty room with warm soft light made him wish he had the skill of painting or photography with which to capture the magic of that space.
The other rooms Danny encountered were equally as beautiful, but they were considerably smaller in scale than the salon and bedroom, spacious but not cavernous... a gorgeous yellow-and-cream Louis XV dining room and a little jewel of a library or study encased in glossy intricate marquetry paneling completed the enfilade of front rooms flanked at each end by linen-canopied terraces crowded with brilliant potted flowers and airy white wicker furniture. At the opposite end of the apartment was another beautiful bedroom, deliciously feminine in the Louis XVI style with embroidered pink roses and little porcelain shepherdesses everywhere, reminiscent of Marie Antoinette's bedroom in the Petit Trianon.
Finishing his circuit of the apartment in a broad corridor connecting these smaller rooms to the salon, Danny stopped in his tracks at the ambrosial smell of coffee coming from one of the service doors (which were small and plain, painted the same color as the wall so as to escape notice, easily differentiated from the very grand doors with gilded curlicues and inlaid heraldic crests that led into the public rooms); Danny tentatively pushed the door open and was greeted by a barrage of French profanities as well as a stronger smell of fresh coffee. Someone in the kitchen was screaming a blue streak at someone else, using words that Danny only recognized as French by the accent, and the other person only groaned weakly in defense.
Danny hovered outside the door, caught between two strong warring desires: a caffeine-addict's need for morning coffee and a pacifist's need to avoid screaming Frenchmen. Eventually, though, a third desire came to outbalance these two, Danny's desire to continue wandering alone from delight to delight like Beauty exploring the Beast's enchanted castle. Good servants would be unlikely to allow him, a stranger as well as a guest, to drift unaccompanied through the apartment; they would hover over him, anchoring him to a chair and a table with kind offers of refreshment and entertainment. Danny wished to relish his solitary freedom for a little while longer, so he regretfully and silently closed the service door and continued his explorations.
Returning the way he'd come, Danny did the circuit again in reverse, only studying the paintings on the walls. There were a few antiques scattered around, so-so still-lifes and the occasional portrait of an unimpressive ancestor; but almost all of the pictures were by Jacky Alvarado, and had not been included in the artist's shows or catalogs.
Danny was enchanted by the paintings, they appealed to him on so many different levels: on one level they were pure beefcake, merely decorative and titillating representations of male beauty, which he (and his burgeoning cock) appreciated immediately; but beyond this surface beauty, there lurked thought-provoking arguments — some of the pictures were so perfectly rendered in the style of the artist they were meant to imitate that they trod a fine line between homage and forgery, and seemed to question the validity of "real" paintings as better art than copies or photographs of those paintings... forcing the viewer to ask himself why an original Van Dyck portrait of an English nobleman posed as John the Baptist is better than Alvarado's Van Dyck-styled portrait of an Australian underwear model posed as John the Baptist. The pictures allowed the viewer to consider the real meanings of art and of beauty — but did not force, or even try to suggest, any definitive answer.
There were also sly little anachronisms hidden in most of the pictures, particularly in the portrait of Marquesa that hung over the fireplace at the south end of the grand salon. Though the composition and colors were a direct copy of Boucher's portrait of Madame de Pompadour seated at a little writing-table and dressed in a pale green court gown festooned with peach-colored roses and ribbons, and Boucher's brushstrokes and telling mechanisms were faithfully reproduced, a focused study of the painting yielded a number of surprises: for example, the furnishings in the picture were not eighteenth-century as they initially appeared, they were modern pieces shaped like the extravagant Louis XV pieces of the original but smoothed and simplified in the Art Deco manner; the jewels were also modern, Cartier diamond brooches and timeless pearls with Deco diamond clasps, and the peach-satin slippers peeping from under the hem of the gown were diamond-studded Stuart Weitzmans.
There was also a kind of commentary in many of the portraits, a sort of encrypted opinion or analysis that let the astute viewer understand the artist's feelings about the sitter without giving away too much on the surface. In Marquesa's portrait, there was a suggestion of coldness that puzzled Danny... in Boucher's original, Pompadour appeared to made of sugar and rose-petals, a sex-warmed confection of a woman; but in Alvarado's portrait, Marquesa appeared to be made of snow, or perhaps a palate-cleansing sorbet, glacially forbidding and a little acerbic. Even the vibrant red of the elegantly brushed-back hair had a chilly mauve gloss to it, and the brilliant blue eyes regarded the middle distance with just the tiniest hint of disdain. Without making the picture unpleasant in any way, the artist expressed a certain fear and dislike of the subject's strength and distance.
Despite the artist's veiled warning, Danny fell even further in love with Marquesa while studying this portrait. That coldness excited Danny, presented him with a delicious challenge, urged him to do everything in his power to melt that frosty reserve... he wanted to press his skin against that coldness to cool his own fevered senses, as well as to imbue it with his own life. And that same strength that Danny fell in love with was there in the picture, an indomitable if icy sense of self that would not and could not be compromised.
"Good morning," Valerien called out from across the room, wending his way through the clusters of chairs and tables to Danny's side. His hair was damp and his skin fresh, as if he'd just showered, and he was again wearing the terry-lined scarlet silk robe.
"Good morning," Danny replied, resting his arms on the young baron's shoulders and looking down into his wonderful upturned face. After Marquesa's characterization of Valerien's 'Big Purple Stare,' Danny could see the truth of the statement: there was real love and real trust in those great violet eyes, but it didn't mean anything, didn't promise anything; it was merely a trick of his beauty and his open, warm, charming personality.
"I am beginning to think you suffer from chronic priapism," Valerien laughed, pushing his hip against Danny's once-again-erect cock.
"No, I promise it will go down... eventually," Danny decided not to tell Valerien about the Viagra episode, preferring to not dwell again on his own foolishness; he wriggled out of his towel and poked his erection between the folds of Valerien's robe, "But there's so much to excite it here. Even before you came in, these pictures were making me horny."
"They have been known to produce that effect," Valerien let his robe drop and pulled Danny down onto the nearest sofa, "I'll have to send you over to Jacky's studio, he'd love to paint you. But in what pose and style?"
"I've always had an affinity for Carravaggio's 'Young Bacchus,'" Danny said between kisses, "but you already have one in your dining-room."
"One can never have too many Caravaggios," Valerien said thoughtfully, as if considering the suggestion seriously, "But Jacky will know how best to pose you. He has a skill for showing people to themselves, the mark of a great portraitist."
Danny wasn't sure he wanted to be shown his own true self, but he was pleased by the implication that Valerien intended to add him to his walls, that Danny was going to become part of the Baron's life, if only for long enough to get a portrait painted. Making out with him on the couch this morning was as comfortable and enjoyable as making love with him in the big bed had been the night before; and without Marquesa's presence to add a sense of challenge and his more acute passion to the mix, Danny felt himself falling into a casual and pleasant kind of puppy-love with Valerien.
He was so caught up in the sensuous pleasure of Valerien's rich soft skin and luscious plump mouth that he didn't notice for quite some time that Marquesa had entered the room and was watching them. He had come quite close without Danny hearing him, consciously or unconsciously reproducing the pose of the portrait that hung over his head... lounging comfortably at three-quarter profile in a bergère beside the fireplace, his hair pulled back in a casual chignon, his long hard body loosely draped in an extravagant platinum satin dressing-gown with enormous fluttering ostrich cuffs.
"Don't mind me," Marquesa smiled when Danny and Valerien stopped what they were doing and turned to look at him, "Just enjoying the view. You make me think again of puppies frolicking."
"Join us?" Danny asked, turned on by the audience but sensing that Valerien was losing the mood.
"I'll sit this one out, so long as you promise me the next dance. Val, darling, do you mind if I give orders to your servants? If I don't get coffee soon I will have to tear someone's throat out."
"I'll have coffee served on the north terrace," Valerien said, squirming out from under Danny and retrieving his robe, apparently not put out over the interruption, "there are cigarettes out there, your brand is in the nacre box."
"Let them know that Danvers is coming with the car and a change of clothes, I phoned him from your room and he'll be here in twenty minutes or so. Don't forget the coffee, I'm dying," Marquesa sailed across the room to the terrace doors, then turned to yell back into the room before disappearing in a flutter of satin and feathers "Dying, I tell you!"
"I'm sorry to leave you hanging like this," Valerien pulled Danny to his feet and handed him his towel, "...but then, you're not hanging, are you? I'm sorry to leave you hard and quivering like this, but now that she's mentioned it, I absolutely have to have some breakfast. We can pick up where we left off after we eat."
"Whatever you wish," Danny answered with a smile, planting a little brotherly kiss on Valerien's forehead and turning to tie his towel around his waist.
"What I wish is that Marquesa hadn't interrupted us," Valerien turned to the fireplace and yanked on a long embroidered bell-pull that hung next to the portrait, "But I'll get what I want eventually, I always do. Would you like a dressing-gown or robe or something besides that towel to wear?"
"Do you have another sassy feathered number like Marquesa's?"
"No, that's her own; she keeps overnight things here in case she spends the night, and I keep a few things at her place as well. We're together a lot of the time, and some nights you don't want to go home alone. Anwyay, I'm sure I have a kimono or a bathrobe that's big enough for you."
"I'm perfectly comfortable, unless you want me to cover up more?"
"I wouldn't cover you up for the world, but the servants are accustomed to a certain degree of decency. The towel will do fine. I like looking at you in it almost as much as I like looking at you out of it."
"Keep talking like that and I'm going to have to give your servants a scare," Danny joked, but nevertheless hitched his towel more securely around his waist and retreated to a discreet distance when the little monkey-faced valet appeared to receive orders from the Baron.
From the middle of the room, Danny watched Valerien talking to his servant, giving very concise instructions in French for a coffee tray with toast and fruit to be followed by a perfectly enormous breakfast, and felt an overwhelming admiration as well as a protective attraction that he was not accustomed to feeling at the same time... he was used to well-bred authoritative men, and he was used to beautiful fragile youths, but never before had he encountered the two in one person. He was mightily enamored of Valerien's combination of seigneurial command and ephebic appeal, and wanted not only to be with him, but to be like him.
"I'm sorry that took so long," Valerien came over to where Danny was standing after dismissing the servant, "but Henri is in a pet this morning. Apparently Gaston... that's my cook and houseman, he was out all night getting drunk, and is practically useless with a hangover this morning."
"I make an excellent omelette if he needs help," Danny offered.
"Oh, no, Gaston wouldn't like that," Valerien laughed and hugged Danny impulsively, delighted by the unexpected offer, "He's so jealous of his pans. I really like you, Danny Vandervere. We are going to be very good friends."
"I'd like that very much," Danny choked back another little tear of happiness.
"Good. Let's go join Marquesa, shall we? She's probably clawing through the seat-cushions by now."
Detective Varajian's headache got continously worse, which he hadn't thought possible, while trying to make sense of the concierge's patois ramblings. Tuan could speak quite clearly in English when he was calm, but he couldn't be kept calm for more than one or two sentences... he could tell them about the crazy homeless man who tried to come into the lobby, the elevator that broke down, the dripping faucet and the insomniac old lady in 5B, the morning concierge not showing up on time, and a host of other events of the previous night, but every mention of Marshall or the beautiful boy he'd brought home set the little man to gibbering again in Vietnamese and French.
"Just ask him when the boy in the black jacket left," Varajian massaged the space between his eyes and counted backward from ten, "What time did he leave?"
Officer Tran put this question to the hysterical older man, three times, in French and Vietnamese and English, one after the other, in hopes that the repetion might perhaps sink in.
Tuan Nguyen was not a particularly astute man at the best of times, and this was by no means the best of times — he was exhausted from a long night on duty, with one minor crisis after another for almost eighteen hours, followed by the taxing horror of seeing his tenant's murdered corpse in the oily playpen — and his mind was so disordered that he was ashamed of himself. But the last question, repeated so carefully in all three languages, planted itself in the front of his mind and started the wheels to turning.
"He did not leave," Tuan told the nice young policemen who'd been talking to him so kindly all morning, then retreated back into himself to figure out what it was that he should be remembering, what connection he should be making between Mr. Marshall's guest and some other event of the evening.
"You mean he's still here in the building?" Varajian pressed.
"No," Tuan answered distractedly, "He didn't leave."
"If he didn't leave, he has to still be in the building," Varajian pointed out testily, further irritated that all of the personnel in the apartment were now clustered in the foyer, forming a tight pressing circle around the rattled concierge.
"Oh my God!" Tuan's mind came clear all at once: he remembered that the Baron de Seguemont and Miss Willard-Wilkes had come in from a party and got stuck in the elevator, but when the Baron called to be rescued, he'd mentioned two friends in the elevator. The departing firemen had also mentioned three people in the broken elevator instead of two. Was that extra friend the beautiful boy who'd come in with Mr. Marshall? Could Mr. Marshall's murderer have gone up to the top floor with the Baron?
Tuan tried to relate all these fragments of possibility to the police officers, but his excitement set him to gibbering again, and Officer Tran found it impossible to sort out all of the polyglot phrases and names. His inability to make the policemen understand him only made Tuan gibber all the more, and his sleep-deprived mind devolved again into chaos. Finally, his frustration became too much, and he grabbed Detective Varajian by the lapels and screamed, not knowing what language he was speaking:
"The Baron! He's killing the Baron!" With that, Tuan pushed wildly through the circle of cops and went bounding down the hall toward the stairwell, determined to rescue the great and wonderful Baron from whatever danger the beautiful boy posed.
After a moment of electrified silence, all four of the uniformed officers, the two evidence technicians, and Detective Spevik took off after the screaming little man like a pack of hounds after a fox. Detective Varajian and Dr. Griggs followed close behind, the former reluctantly and the latter with glee, while only Dr. Grigg's sleekly-dressed trainee had the sense to remain on the scene to secure the evidence and keep an eye on Mrs. Esposito, who sat weeping on a chair in the foyer.
The plump middle-aged concierge moved up the steep stairs faster than Detective Varajian would have thought possible, with seven police personnel clamoring idiotically after him like a gaggle of Keystone Kops; Varajian called out repeatedly to make them stop, but he couldn't be heard over the cacophany of the concierge's continuous screeching and all of the hard-soled shoes pounding the concrete steps in the echoing stairwell... still, as the senior officer, he felt it necessary to at least be on the scene of whatever happened, even if he couldn't control all of these people, so he followed after them as best he could.
Varajian could smell disaster ahead: the concierge's unexpected flight had activated the hunter-instinct in the cops, and whenever otherwise steady and methodical police officers acted in a headlong and impetuous mob fashion like this, it always ended in disaster. His only hope was to somehow minimize the disaster by being on the scene; his only satisfaction was that Griggs pooped out after the first flight of stairs and abandoned the chase to take an elevator instead.
As the unruly crowd spilled out of the stairwell into a large and beautiful hall, Varajian once again tried to call the group to order, but to no avail. The impetus of the chase could not be reined in, and the clattering mess of bodies went crashing toward a pair of ornate double-doors at one end of the hall, where the hysterical Tuan was battering at the panels and screaming at the top of his lungs for "M'sieur le Baron."
Pushing the screeching little man aside, Detective Spevik pounded in a more orderly fashion on the door, and Varajian could see even from his place at the back of the seething crowd that the young detective was denting the fragile wood.
"Open up! Police!" Spevik shouted through the door, and this announcement was greeted by an epic crash from somewhere beyond that startled everyone into further action; Spevik drew his weapon and stepped back, motioning for the uniformed officers to break down the door.
Henri was struggling across the grand salon under the weight of an overloaded breakfast tray, cursing the hungover Gaston, whose job it ordinarily was to carry food trays. But Gaston couldn't be seen by the Baron or his guests in his disheveled and smelly state, so Henri was forced to carry the trays for him... which the brandy-addled chef had loaded up with china serving-dishes instead of much lighter silver, and added two heavy cut-glass pitchers of fruit-juice at the last moment, creating a weight under which tiny Henri could barely stagger.
When the banging and screaming at the door commenced, Henri paused for a moment to decide where he could set down the tray in order to answer the door; seeing no clear surfaces any nearer than the big circular table in the foyer, he headed toward it. He saw out of the corner of his eye that the Baron and his two guests had come in off the terrace, drawn toward the curious and unaccustomed noise. Under such scrutiny, and alarmed by the sudden noise of even louder rhytmic hammering on the door, Henri faltered when he reached the steps up into the foyer.
And when he heard the frightening announcement that it was the police at the door, he unwisely turned to the Baron for directions... overbalancing the heavy tray as he turned, which hit the floor in a deafening cataclysm of shattering crystal and porcelain.
Henri barely had time to pick himself up off the floor before the front doors burst open, spraying chips of ancient wood and gold leaf across the foyer; the pack of police came tumbling through the door into the apartment, and at the head of this melee was the concierge from downstairs, who stopped at the top of the steps and very dramatically pointed at the dark-haired young man in the towel and screamed out in the high-pitched tone of a fire-alarm:
"There he is! Get him!"
After a stunned moment of disbelief, Danny reacted to this inexplicable accusation, and to the fearsome sight of so many people bursting into the peaceful beauty of Valerien's apartment and racing toward him, by doing the worst possible thing: he backed up and tried to run away. By backing up, he separated himself from any flanking protection that Valerien and Marquesa might have offered, and by taking a few running steps toward the south end of the room, he brought the entire quartet of uniformed police officers crashing down on him, overturning two chairs and a vase of flowers in their pursuit, leaping on him to prevent his escape.
The four officers bore him down to the floor while the sharp-looking detective in the black suit cuffed his hands behind his back. Miraculously, his towel remained tied as the sharp-suited detective hoisted him painfully to his feet by his cuffed wrists.
"Marcus Daniel Vandervere the Fourth," the detective pronounced the name rather sneeringly, "You are under arrest for the murder of Drayton Marshall. You have the right to remain silent..."
"I killed him?" Danny asked in disbelief, interrupting the reading of his Miranda rights; but as he was being led out of the apartment and into the elevator, he saw how it might have happened: if Marshall had lost conciousness after Danny slapped him and threw him across the pen, he might have slipped down into the oil and drowned. Had he hit Marshall hard enough to knock him out? Probably so, he'd been angry enough that he could easily have knocked him cold without knowing it.
Danny was filled with horror that he could have done such a thing, to strike another human being so violently, and then go off without stopping to see if he was all right, or at least conscious. The thought that he had done such a horrible thing as cause another man's death made him utterly miserable, and he wept inconsolably.
"I didn't mean to do it!" was the only defense Danny could offer, and he kept babbling that useless little phrase over and over again as he was hustled through the lobby of the building, past a gauntlet of flashing cameras and shouting news-reporters, and into the back of a squad car, "I didn't mean to!"
Floor plan of Valerien's Apartment
Boucher's Portrait of Madame de Pompadour