A memorable affaire in Rouen is one thing. But is Theo an earthquake, or simply a shock?
This chapter includes explicit content.
The Voynich Affair: Chapter 14
The next day, Lynn decided to return to Paris and spend the remainder of her vacation at the Louvre and the Musée D’Orsay. She had a lot of thinking to do, and after the revelation about Mazarin’s murderous nature, she didn’t want to stay in Rouen. Theo accepted this gracefully, escorted her to the train station, and gently kissed her goodbye. Nothing was said about when, or whether they would see each other again.
After a couple of weeks back home, the whole episode had begun to feel like a strange dream. Lynn chuckled to herself whenever she imagined telling the story: a strange man had invaded her room and drugged her, and then she had slept with him repeatedly and had the best sex of her life. It made her sound like a madwoman.
She did tell Laura a highly abbreviated version, over lunch at Revels. “I met someone and had a fling. It was… enlightening. Primal lust, really. I’ve never experienced that before. I always thought Richard was sexy, but this was completely different.”
Laura smiled dreamily. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“He said he did graduate work at CUNY,” continued Lynn. “Too bad he got his Master’s degree in Annoying Asshole Studies. He has a vaguely European accent, and if I didn’t know better, I’d have said he read Great Bastards at Oxford, or did a course of study at the Sorbonne in Études Connardises.”
“You’re falling for him, aren’t you?” said Laura. “Is it West?”
Lynn nodded miserably. She hadn’t heard a word from him.
Meanwhile, the Voynich listserv was buzzing with discussion of the symposium. Mazarin had chosen Van Leeuwen as the scholar who would publish his pages, proudly announced the news on the last day of the symposium, and then inexplicably changed his mind, citing concerns about the potentially negative effects of too much publicity on his aged mother’s health. Now it seemed that Voynich scholars were no better off than before. True, they’d had a chance to meet and discuss the document. And West has the pages. He would study them privately, and even if he could never publish them, they might provide the key that ultimately unlocked the mystery of the Voynich manuscript. She was the only one who knew West’s secret. If she ever saw him again, would he show her the precious pages?
If I ever see him again. This, more than the new Voynich material, was the issue that preoccupied Lynn. She’d been the one to leave Rouen. Had he taken that as a rejection? She agonized for another week over whether to reach out to him, and finally wrote a message to the list, as though thanking all the members of the symposium: I regret having to leave your delightful company early. I am grateful for the chance to have met you. As a matter of fact, the experience meant a great deal to me. I hope there will be more opportunities to meet in the near future for discussion of our mutual interests.
The next day, she received a message from West inviting her to have dinner with him in New York on Saturday. She made the drive in the late afternoon, and packed an overnight bag. If things didn’t work out, she had a hotel or two in mind as her Plan B.
West owned a nice apartment in Morningside Heights. The kitchen was tiny and there appeared to be only one bedroom, but the main living space was roomy and high-ceilinged, with huge windows overlooking the Upper West Side cityscape, and a grand piano. The apartment was filled with books, mostly older ones with rich leather bindings, but she also noticed some modern fiction and science writing. She set down her overnight bag and they left for the restaurant, a local Italian place called Pisticci. As they perused the menu over cocktails, West seemed closer to his old, argumentative, rude self than he had in Rouen, especially whenever they got on the subject of Voynich. After a couple of pointed remarks from him about the foolishness of Kennedy and Churchill’s glossolalia theory, which had close correspondences to her own views, she decided to avoid the topic or anything resembling it.
She ordered the insalata tre colori followed by the broccoli rabe pasta shells, and he asked whether she was a vegetarian.
“No, not yet, but my friend Laura has almost convinced me. I’m working more or less in that direction.”
He snorted. “Does she also wear Birkenstocks, celebrate the Goddess within, and think the stars are God’s daisy chain?”
“That’s completely unfair, West. Even if you’re not a sentimental Wiccan, there are plenty of serious, rational reasons not to eat meat. Such as the fact that the rain forests are being ravaged so they can run more cattle to make cheap hamburgers. And besides, she’s nothing like that.”
“She harangues you with lectures at the dinner table, doesn’t she? And serves you brown rice, yam fries and kelp.”
“No, she never talks about it at meals, and I’d be willing to bet a substantial sum that she’s a better cook than you are.” Lynn was beginning to be angry with him.
“She’s probably anemic,” he persisted. “And low on B-12. Essential nutrients.”
“Not as far as I know.”
“I bet she has eight cats, and tries to force them to be vegans,” he said sarcastically, and than added in a tone of mock pathos, “Little meowing, virtuous vegans…”
“West, shut up! Why are you being such an asshole?” she said in exasperation. “Are you trying to drive me away because our month is nearly up?”
He looked surprised. “Our month? What do you mean?”
“You said that if you date a woman for a month, she thinks it’s a relationship, so you stop calling. You seem to be perfecting an alternative breakup method.”
He looked down, scowling. “No. That’s not what I’m doing. Though to tell you the truth, I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing.”
They finished the rest of the dinner in relative peace, and he even made her laugh with a couple of preposterous stories about his disasters in the kitchen— the time he’d used powdered sugar instead of cornstarch to thicken a sauce before serving it to the Hopkins Foundation board members tasked with deciding whether to hire him, and the gallon jug of homemade plum wine that exploded in his closet, where he kept it because of the instructions to “store in a warm place, out of the light.”
“Did it ruin your clothes?” she asked, amused.
“Oh yes. Every last rag. I had to wear a pair of jeans and a T-shirt from my bureau drawer to work the next day. The T-shirt was the only clean shirt I had, one I used to wear to bars as a medical student, and it said Force Fluids on the front. My closet stank for months afterwards.”
When they got back to his apartment, he poured them a couple of glasses of Calvados brought back from Normandy, and she went to look out the window at the city lights, then turned to the piano. “This is beautiful,” she said, running a hand along the sinuous curve of the case. “Do you play much? I took lessons as a kid, but they didn’t stick.”
In answer, he sat down at the piano and started to play the jazz classic “Linus and Lucy” from A Charlie Brown Christmas. She listened for a few minutes, smiling, and as he trailed off, she told him, “I adore that music. I watched the special religiously every year when I was a kid.” She sat down next to him on the bench. “I think you’re an American at heart, even if you lived all over the rest of the world when you were growing up.”
“Yes, I suppose so. Maman wanted me to play Classical, of course, but I was only interested in jazz, which is about as American as you can get. This was my first ‘grown up’ sheet music.”
Lynn was perplexed. He has a personality like Jekyll and Hyde. One moment he incensed her with his sarcasm and rudeness, and then West disappeared, to be replaced by Theo— the side of him that was private and vulnerable. He seemed shy of commitment and ambivalent about his “one-month rule.” For her part, she had to decide whether this was a man she wanted to spend more time with. His story was unusual, even bizarre. His personality was prickly, at best. And there was the anesthesia incident to consider. She still hadn’t told Laura about that, knowing how shocking it would sound. In fact, she had to censor herself rather severely every time she talked about West, since his life was so full of secrets.
She got up from the piano to look at his books; a section of poetry had caught her eye. He followed, and stood close behind her, enveloping her upper arms in his warm hands, and moving her hair aside with his chin so he could kiss her neck. The nearness of him began to excite her again. When he lowered his hands to her hips and pressed her to him, she felt an overwhelming surge of arousal, just as she had in the garden of the abbey at Rouen. It forced a little moan from her, and she said, “Make love to me from behind.”
“Are you sure? That requires a lot of trust between the partners,” he said, sounding reluctant. “The man is in a very dominant position. I’m not sure it’s a good idea. You already think I’m an asshole.” But even as he spoke, he was grasping her hips and testing himself against her, as though checking to see whether their relative heights would be compatible. Her three-inch heels raised her bottom just enough to make it a perfect match, and as she felt the insistent pressure of his erection, another wave of desperate need crashed over her.
“My God, West, do it. Now!” She began frantically pulling up her skirt while he unzipped his trousers, and as she lowered her panties she could hear the rip of a condom packet. Several agonizing seconds ticked by before he placed one large hand on her back to bend her over, saying in an amused voice, “I thought there would be more foreplay.” She braced herself against the bookshelf, aching for him. As he guided himself into her he gasped, “Here… uunh… I had laid such careful plans to teach you… all about lock-licking.”
Lynn didn’t answer except to moan feverishly each time his hips met hers. She could scarcely believe that it felt this good. Is it true what they say about women in their forties? Or did West’s huge frame exude some magic pheromones that drove her crazy? She stopped thinking and became a well of pure, rhythmic sensation. His first, tentative strokes gave way to sharp, powerful thrusts, and they both cried out.
Afterward, he took her to his bed, silently finished undressing her, and buried his face between her legs. She gave no thought to how many minutes it took before she was wrapped in the aura of a shuddering climax that touched every muscle in her body. Before West, Lynn had no inkling that sex could induce an altered state of consciousness. She lay quietly beside him, feeling the high of whatever hormones were flooding into her arteries. Eventually she spoke.
“West, there’s something I have to ask you.”
“Call me Theo. What about?”
“When you came into my room. At the chateau.”
This got his attention and he turned to face her, frowning.
“Would you do the same thing, if you had it to do over again?”
“I think about that a lot. I’m ashamed of myself. Very much so. And yet, I can’t bring myself to regret it. I can’t wish it undone. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed in me,” he added. She could hear no sarcasm in his voice, and his large brown eyes looked sadly back at her.
“Would you ever do it again? To someone else?”
He laughed. “There’s only one Voynich manuscript. There’s only one Mazarin, and one symposium. He’ll not be hosting another. And there’s only one woman in the world feather-headed enough to steal my key at the crucial moment, and store it between her tits. So, no. You needn’t worry that I’ll ever do it again.”
She drew a deep breath. “In that case, Theo, I forgive you.”
He said nothing, but took her hand and held it in his, over his heart.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Pisticci is a real restaurant in Morningside Heights. I’ve not been there… yet. “The stars are God’s daisy chain” alludes to Madelyn Bassett, the loopy and sentimental object of Gussie Fink-Nottle’s affection in the stories of P. G. Wodehouse. “Linus and Lucy” is one of my favorite songs by the immortal Vince Guaraldi, the man with the gentle touch.