Vapor, page 19
“I did. Right then I got a bit angry and said, ‘Why are you toying with me this way? Is this your last request?’
“ ‘Yes,’ he said.
“ ‘And you’ll love me?’
“ ‘Okay, I’ll do it, if you assure me that it’s a token of love, and not a whim.’
“ ‘It’s not a whim,’ he said.
“So I had it done, but he still seemed unable to love me.”
“And did he again ask you to alter yourself?” I asked.
“No. He was going to give up trying to love me. I’m the one who finally asked him to feel free to tell me if there was any other alteration I could make that might have the slightest chance of arousing his feelings. After begging him to tell me, he did. It was some other triviality involving my nose. I had it done. Needless to say, it happened again and again. Each time he told me there was only one more alteration before he could love me. In short, I ended up going through fifteen operations that altered my face ever so slightly, but crucially. The alterations were mind-boggling in their subtlety. And each one made me more successful as a model. Please don’t tell anybody about this. It’s not something I’m proud of. It was great for my career, but it never did win me Nathaniel’s love.”
I promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone.
“After I became the most highly paid model in the world, I started suspecting that my appearance had nothing to do with whether Nathaniel could love me. I knew there had to be something else, which apparently you have. That’s what I so desperately wanted to find out when I met you.”
I could not imagine what that thing might be.
Needless to say, Chriskate’s story made it extremely easy for me to break up with Nathaniel, which I did that same afternoon, by phone, after expressing my horror to him over what he had done. He tried in vain to apologize and explain his vile act.
“I was unable to love anybody,” he said. “I desperately wanted to love someone, and I was convinced it had to do with their appearance, but now I know I was wrong. I know I was sick to think that way. And anyway, it wasn’t so horrible what I did to her, was it? She got to become very successful and she can now get any man she wants.”
“That’s true. But please forgive me, I’m not like that anymore. I realize it was terrible to prolong her agony. I’m sorry, but I was in agony too. I had never been in love. That was agony. I thought I was incapable of being in love with anyone. I thought there was something wrong with me.”
“Please don’t break up with me over this. I’m a totally different person now. If you break up with me over this, I don’t know what I’ll do to myself.”
“Don’t worry, I was going to break up with you anyway, but I was holding off out of guilt. I don’t have the guilt now. That’s the only difference.”
“I still want us to be friends, at least.”
“I don’t see how it’s possible now that I know what you did to her.”
“If you need anything from me, any favors, please ask. After all, I perhaps owe you my life.”
“I ask for your friendship.”
“Well, that’s asking a lot.”
“Well, I gave you a lot.”
“That’s true. Okay, I can try to be friends with you sometimes. But you must know I’ll feel differently about you from now on.”
“Okay, I’ll accept that for now. But I hope you’ll change your mind. I hope you’ll see I’m a different person. I’m who you thought I was before she told you all that.”
The filming of my big-budget movie began. Luckily, most of it was to be filmed in New York.
When I came home each day, I’d tell Damon all about the filming, and he seemed to relish every detail. He couldn’t get enough of them, down to the hair color, shoe color, and smallest gestures of anyone on the set, be it the director or the gofer. He also wanted to know my feelings: every nuance of my happiness, all my surges of excitement, little racings of my heart, swellings of pride, or blushings, or whatever. We would talk about these things for hours, until either he or I would bring up the importance of being rested for the next day of filming, and then I would go to bed.
The day came when I had to leave my pet alone for two weeks, to go on location for a small section of the movie. I bought a small fridge, which I placed right outside Damon’s cage, within his reach. I bought him lots of cans of tuna, of spaghetti, of fruits, of vegetables, mini cartons of long-lasting milk, cereal, crackers, olive oil. Unlike him, I didn’t have the heartlessness to leave my victim without chocolate, so I left him nine bars of dark Lindt chocolate, and boxes of cookies, and hard candies.
I wanted to buy him a few clothes, since he only had what he was wearing, but I had no success in finding men’s clothes made of translucent white silk. So instead, I bought him a roll of silk fabric with which he could sew himself some clothes if he needed them. I left him a sewing kit that didn’t have more than one needle, and whose pair of scissors was tiny, very blunt, and round-tipped, to prevent any possibility of escape.
“I don’t know how to make clothes,” he said.
“Neither do I, but it can’t be that complicated. I’m sure you can figure it out if you feel like it.”
Before I left, I set up a video camera hidden from Damon’s sight by the one-way mirror. I programmed the camera to start filming him every day at 1:30, while he watched his soap. By placing another mirror at the other end of the room, I was able to get a shot of both his face and the TV screen at the same time.
The last thing I did before leaving was give Damon a custom-made telephone that had no keypad, no numbers that could be pressed. I, and only I, could call him, because I, and only I, had his phone number. There was, of course, the risk that a stranger might dial his number by accident. Damon could then ask for help and be rescued, and I might get arrested. But he had kidnapped me first, so how much trouble would I really be in?
The risk had to be taken anyway. I left Damon in the cage, with his phone, and I went on my trip.
I called him every day. It was fun, having a pet to call. One time he didn’t answer, which worried me, but I tried to convince myself he was doing it for just that reason. A day later he did answer. The cello music was playing in the background, as almost always.
“Why didn’t you answer the phone yesterday?” I asked.
“Oh, did you call? I was out shopping.”
For a second I was alarmed, but then said, “For what?”
“More silk. I’ve made myself three costumes already, and I was getting bored again.”
“I’m glad you’re keeping yourself busy and you haven’t lost your sense of humor. How are the bold and the beautiful ones doing?”
“Fine,” he said, at once sullen.
At some point I would have to figure out what it was all about. I called him once at 1:45 P.M., in the middle of his soapie, to see what he would do. He picked up and immediately hung up, without saying hello.
Another time I called him at 2:00 P.M., right after his soapie.
“Hello?” he said, sounding all stuffed up and nasal.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” I asked, feigning surprise and innocence.
He sighed. “What is it?”
“Are you crying? Why are you crying?”
“I just watched The Bold and the Beautiful.”
“Why do you find it sad?” I asked, hoping this was a turn of phrase I hadn’t used before and that he might respond to it. I couldn’t help but feel that all I needed was to discover the magic words, the magic phrasing of the sentence, and I’d get an answer.
But this phrasing was not the right one, for he just sighed and was silent until I changed the subject.
We chatted about my work. He was supportive, saying he was sure I was doing a great job, the best they had ever seen.
Finally, the trip came to an end, and I returned to my apartment. Before going into Damon’s room, I looked at him through the one-way mirror. He was lying on the floor of his cage, on his side, wearing a long white gown, and watching TV. As he watched, he was raising and lowering his top leg like a ballet dancer, causing his gown to bunch up around his thighs. After a few reps of this, he lowered his leg and rested it on the nearby toilet seat.
I entered the room only after having donned my fencing armor in case he threw things at me. He had so much to throw, and he did throw, immediately: cans, the sewing scissors, more cans. I took everything away. I counted the cans; the empty ones and their lids, as well as the full ones, to make sure he was rid of all of them—lids could be used for cutting me.
“So, you made yourself a dress,” I said, as I took off my fencing gear.
“Yes,” he said, raising his arms and modeling it for me. “It’s A-shaped. It flares out at the bottom to provide me with freedom of movement. Do you like it?”
I shrugged and made a neutral sound. It was indeed A-shaped and flared out at the bottom. It was also coarsely cut and sewn. It was sleeveless, horrid, and looked like a costume from an abusive insane asylum. I’m proud to say it was better than anything I could have made.
When I handed him dinner, he stabbed my hand with the sewing needle I had forgotten to take away. This brought back memories of the ice shards he used to shoot at me. He now held the needle between his thumb and forefinger, ready to stab me with it again.
“Give it back,” I said, and he threw his dinner at me.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked.
“I’m in the cage. And I’ve been in here for two weeks, alone. It is appropriate for me to do this.”
I sat on the easy chair and ate my dinner on a tray. We talked about how my filming had gone. Two hours later, when he was getting hungry, I gave him a sandwich in exchange for the needle.
I didn’t leave the apartment for three solid days, to compensate for having been away so long. At night, I carried my TV back into my living room, to secretly watch the tapes of Damon watching The Bold and the Beautiful during my absence. I got the results I had hoped for. Not knowing he was being filmed, he was less inhibited than he had been in my presence, and I was finally able to detect a pattern to his crying.
It had to do with the legless character, Stem. When Stem would come on the scene, Damon would cry a little more. This also happened when Stem left the scene. I had a feeling Damon’s grief over The Bold and the Beautiful had to do with his past, with that terrible thing he sometimes alluded to having done.
To catch him off-guard and witness a genuine reaction, I confronted him with an extravagant guess, out of the blue: “You cut off Stem’s legs, didn’t you?”
He stiffened. He wouldn’t speak to me for the rest of the day.
So I did some research. I called an acquaintance of mine, Jeremy Acidophilus, who did menial labor at Screen, a magazine on movies and celebrities. He had just gotten his job back after having lost if for a few months when he had asked for a raise.
He was able to find out for me the name of the agency that represented Stem, or Philip Jessen, as was his real name.
I called it and left a message saying I needed to speak to Philip Jessen urgently about someone he knew, whose name may or may not be Damon Wetly.
I kept the phone at my side at all times that day and evening. The next day, while I was chatting with Damon, I got the call from Philip Jessen. Without asking me any questions about my reason for calling, he asked if I could visit him in person. I said I would fly there on the next plane out.
When I told Damon I was leaving again, he got mad and asked for how long. I said it wouldn’t be long.
I arrived in L.A. that evening and went straight to Philip’s house in Beverly Hills. A housekeeper opened the door and led me to a den where Philip was waiting in his wheelchair. I sat down, was served tea, and got straight to the point.
“Who is Damon?”
I let this sink in, and asked, “Why does he cry when he watches you on TV?”
“Yes. He does.”
“It’s a long story. Who are you?” he asked, and then quickly added, “I mean, I know who you are, from your films, but you only recently came on the scene. Who are you in relation to my brother? How do you know him?”
“Damon kidnapped me.”
“To thank me for having saved his life in the subway.” I explained that Damon had decided to make me happy by making my dream of becoming an actor come true. Then I abruptly asked, “Did he cut off your legs?”
“He often referred to something terrible he did in his past. And I thought it might have to do with you.”
“No, he didn’t cut off my legs, although he probably feels he did.”
I begged him to tell me what happened. I claimed it would help me cope better with my kidnapping. After looking thoughtful for a while, he agreed. But first, he asked:
“Do you know where he is now?”
“I think in New York.”
“Are you in touch with him?”
“How? Letters, phone, meetings?”
“Meetings, I guess. He drives up to me in the street and asks me if I’m happy.”
“Oh, how unpleasant. I had no idea he was so imbalanced. Next time he does that, you can tell him his brother wants to resume contact. That might help him regain some of his sanity. Did you try to have him arrested?”
“Yes. But they didn’t find him.”
Philip then told me the story of his past with Damon, which turned out to be stranger than the most melodramatic plot lines of any soap opera, including The Bold and the Beautiful.
Philip said that before he was an actor, and before he became legless, he was a plastic surgeon. His story revolved around a third man, a former friend of his, who was also a plastic surgeon, named Ben. Ben was apparently extremely talented and ambitious, as well as extremely unethical and unhinged. One day he performed plastic surgery on a young girl without the authorization of her parents. Later, he actually kidnapped two children and worked on them as well, without the authorization of their parents, nor their own. The police searched for the criminal. Philip found out by chance that it was Ben. Ben begged Philip not to report him, and Philip agreed, but Philip’s brother, Damon, who hated Ben, sent an anonymous letter to the authorities revealing the culprit, and Ben was arrested and released on bail while awaiting trial.
At that point in the story, Philip paused, and softly said, “And that’s when Ben came …”
He was then silent for a long time, and I said, “He came where?”
“That’s where the story really begins. Or ends. Could you please stop drinking your tea while I tell you this. It’s very hard for me.”
I put down my cup.
“Ben came to my house one evening while I was having dinner with my daughter and Damon, who happened to have stopped by earlier. Ben had a gun. He handcuffed us, gagged us, and drove us to his house. He took us to the basement, which was divided into two rooms. He left Damon in the first room, tied down, and brought my daughter and me into the second room. Two heavy chairs were bolted to the floor, facing each other, ten feet apart. He sat my daughter and me down, and tied us up. Soldered to the arm of my chair was a gun, aimed at my daughter in the opposite chair. Ben tied my hand around the gun’s handle. He ungagged my daughter, but not me. She screamed and cried.
“Ben then talked to me, said absurdities like, ‘You had to turn me in, didn’t you. Making someone beautiful; there could not be a more atrocious crime. I should have left these girls to their happy lives of ugly duckli
Philip paused. My breathing seemed loud to me in the silent room. So I stopped breathing.
“And he did what he said,” Philip went on, staring at some point behind me, squinting a little as he spoke. “He first disfigured her, cutting off pieces of her face. She was screaming. He burned her in various places, punched her, cut off some of her fingers, and then an ear, and then her tongue, her lips. I didn’t shoot her. He continued torturing her, bringing her closer to death, until she had stopped crying, and all you could hear was her pained breathing, her wheezing. And finally the sound of her breathing stopped. Ben felt her pulse and said, ‘Okay, that’s done. I won’t reproach you for not having spared her the slow death. Everyone makes their own choices. Although, I should have known that about you and spared myself the trouble of soldering the gun to the chair.’ ”
Philip was quiet for a moment, staring at me intently before going on: “Then Ben dragged me into the room where Damon was, and ungagged me. I was in shock and didn’t speak. Ben said, ‘You may think I’m kidding, but I don’t think that what happened in there was quite enough of a punishment. I will also cut off your legs. This may seem a bit anticlimactic, but I don’t care; I think it’s a good idea, especially in the long run, when the pain of your daughter’s death fades a little and you try to start your life over again. The missing legs will be a good, vivid reminder that it’s not so easy to turn over a new leaf.’ Damon was thrashing, screaming through his gag. He wanted to tell Philip that he was the one who sent the letter, not me. But he never got a chance. And I certainly wasn’t about to correct the misunderstanding. I didn’t need to lose my brother now too. As Damon kept thrashing, Philip looked at him and said, ‘You don’t need to see this,’ and he whacked him in the head with his gun, knocking him out. The blow sent Damon into a coma that he came out of only a month later.