In Part 1, the Hook, I wrote of how I came to be involved with Tamara, the smart, successful beauty of Eastern Europe heritage and New York upbringing.
Tolstoy wrote “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As it’s the same with love affairs, I’ll try to keep the good part brief.
The early days were exciting. We had to be clandestine because of our employer’s no-fraternization policy and the growing jealousy of my old friend Chuck. One after work dinner had to be timed so that Chuck was sure to be at home as Tamara left hers. Sometimes he’d take the walk from the Left Bank to stroll around le Marais where she had a fine apartment. We met at a Right Bank restaurant that was far from Chuck and Marcel’s (my boss, who Chuck had recruited and promoted) usual stomping grounds.
Paris is an ideal setting for romance. The beautiful, ancient (by North American standards) architecture, the fancy shops, the stylish citizenry and the sense that everyone there wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else. We enjoyed walks through the Luxembourg Gardens and Montmartre. Neighborhoods such as the Latin Quarter, Ile St-Louis, Le Marais and the Champs-Elysees were off limits. Too much of a chance of running into Chuck, Marcel or Priscilla, a co-worker who sometimes hung out with Marcel.
I was falling in love, or so I thought. Tamara and I conversed easily. She was widely read and loved debate. She was beautiful and had an exquisite sense of unostentatious fashion. She’d surprise me with a passionate kiss in a restaurant or on a street corner. There were the phone calls where her greeting was “I love you and I want you”. Or “Are you going to marry me or not?” I once observed that the width of her living room was narrower at the front than at the back. “Good thing the room’s not any larger or it would be a triangle” she replied.
But all was not well. I was working in Zurich and we were to meet for a weekend in Geneva. She cancelled, not just at the last minute but after it. I got the message when I arrived at the Geneva hotel. The excuse was plausible. Her stuff from the U.S. had arrived that day so the weekend was spent unpacking. But I didn’t like that Chuck was there helping the whole time.
One weekend I was visiting from Zurich when Chuck called from his place. It was a little after 11:00. Marcel was with him and they proposed coming over to visit. She was rattled. Put the phone down a few times. Told them she wasn’t feeling well. They called back. We’re coming over regardless. Putting the phone down again, she suggested I could hide out in the guest/storage room. I refused. They didn’t come but she was overwrought and the rest of the evening was, disappointing. That Monday when I was taking the early flight back to Zurich, Chuck was there at the airport. I knew he wasn’t flying and he knew I knew. I couldn’t let on anything and he didn’t need to.
Over Easter I was back working in Paris so we mostly lived to the pretence that we were work friends and nothing more. Tamara invited us for Easter brunch. I arrived with some flowers. Chuck arrived a bit later with a huge bunch, or several bunches, that would have been ostentatious at a Mafia funeral. Tamara’s reaction seemed to hover between disconcertment at the excess and satisfaction that she could induce someone to that extreme.
I sometimes got importuned into helping Tamara with her work. Not at the office of course. She’d bring papers back to her apartment. I’d be reviewing some of my colleagues’ expense claims and their statutory filings. At first I didn’t mind. After all, I was expected to be doing the same in the near future and I was flattered at the apparent confidence shown. But I came to gather that this was a standard modus operandi. I knew that Chuck was helping her a lot at the office. Who was manipulating whom was something I was only slowly catching on to.
We were all due back for meetings in New York. Tamara and I had booked the same flight to sit together and had unconfirmed (by her) plans to go to Rio for a few days afterwards. We got to the airport to find that Chuck was booked on the same flight. Not only that, he had called Pan Am, convinced them that he was Tamara’s and my boss, and that he was supposed to be seated with me. Tamara wound up in the row in front of us. Now Chuck was renowned for getting his way. He’d once bullied a host city hotel into finding him a room during a Super Bowl weekend. And he bragged about how he’d gotten the Pan Am agent to do what he wanted. I guess that him sitting with Tamara would have been too obvious. On arrival I took a taxi to my hotel. Tamara, who was to have spent the night with me before we relocated upstate for the meeting, wound up going to New Jersey to stay with her family. Chuck rented a car and drove her. Stayed for dinner too.
Of course the Rio trip never came off. Chuck hovered over her the whole week.
Back in Paris she seemed to be trying to make it up to me. We managed a couple of surreptitious dates though Chuck was getting ever edgier. He complained that she’d changed. He’d make allusive accusations.
“I don’t know how you can look at yourself in the mirror.”
“Do you need to have a house drop on your head?”
“I don’t know what’s made you change. If I knew I’d destroy it. If it was (sic) this plant, I’d destroy it.”
I was only mildly alarmed. Bluster. Plus I reckoned they valued my work too much for anything to happen.
A couple of things about Tamara began to nag at me. Things I’d logically tell myself were red flags. But I’d set them aside owing to the uniqueness of the situation and what I saw as the uniqueness of Tamara. She didn’t seem to have any friends except for work colleagues from the past couple of years. Guys behaved insanely around her. Like the one whom she’d met on a course who just decided to drop in to see her while on a Paris stopover. Uninvited and unannounced?!? And with all his luggage?!? Or the sleazebag she’d recently worked with (my replacement in Latin America) who kept egging her on for IM sex on the company’s internal network. Or the late boyfriend who’d ended it all by driving unbraked into a tree.
She didn’t discuss her politics much though she was a libertarian sort of Republican and a foreign policy hawk who liked Cuomo. Her favorite movie was Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf. She had a fur coat that I told myself was not so uncommon for wealthier East Europeans.
Once we were looking out her window and noticed a guy leaning on a post, taking in the scene. She was alarmed that he might be, what? Spying on her? Casing the joint? She insisted I go out and tell him to move along. I lost several macho points when I refused. And Tamara loved macho. Another time in the Metro some guy took a picture. She was convinced it must have been of her and wanted me to seize his camera, or at least pay for the film. More macho points scratched off.
She told me of a time some director in one of our European offices kept her waiting for over an hour for a scheduled meeting. Eventually cancelled it. A couple of hours earlier an Eastern European bigwig had just been assassinated in that city. Allegedly in retaliation for similar misdeeds. He had the same last name as Tamara’s. She figured the director was afraid that there was a connection and they’d be coming after her too. Years later she was still angry about it. I’d been in Europe on vacation at that time and had read about it. I’d been meaning to ask if there was any relation but after hearing this I chickened out. Though I continued to wonder.
I’d mentioned before about the statutory filings. We had to prepare them upon the completion of each project. I was a bit behind in mine but that was normal. Everybody I knew was and if they were ever reviewed, it was perfunctorily. But when the next promotion came, it was Priscilla who got it. Marcel explained that they couldn’t promote me with my Italian filings unsubmitted. What in hell? I suspected an utterly different reason but who was I going to tell. Tamara was shocked. She disliked Priscilla and had counted on my taking up full-time residence in Paris. But in the coming days if she knew any more, she didn’t let on to me.
Still, the romance had its moments. She visited me in London (she told Chuck she was in Amsterdam on her project) where we had a wonderful weekend. At least till Sunday afternoon. Walking through St. James Park we ran into a couple from our New York office. We both knew them well. And I knew both were gossips. Once we bade our farewells Tamara freaked out. She didn’t buy my assurances a bit. Couldn’t blame her really. I didn’t either. Though there was just the possibility that the NY couple were trying to keep their romance a secret too.
A week later Chuck came to the UK to review our work. It should have been Marcel but he was helping Priscilla get acclimatized. Chuck and I now only spoke in the office and only on business matters. He never came for after office drinks and never had dinner with us. He even took a different hotel and flew back to Paris a day before the rest of us.
I stayed with Tamara the night I returned. When I awoke I noticed a couple of British coins on the floor at my side of the bed.
Any normal man would have put two and two together. Would have confronted Tamara, had a stormy argument and walked out. Would not have reasoned that it beggared belief that she could be playing us both, let alone possibly be preferring him to me. Would not have accepted Tamara’s stuttering half-excuse that it was an utter mystery as to how they got there, or that possibly they’d fallen out of her purse from her own visit a couple of weeks ago. Would not have incoherently rationalized that possibly Chuck had to stay over fully clothed in a drunken stupor. All the above describe a normal man's reactions. But I wasn’t that guy.
I was back for a week in Paris when we had to move offices. Everything got packed up. When I settled in to the new digs, I vowed to put a drive on to bring my filings up to date. Except that large chunks of the Italian documents were missing. This could be trouble.
Of all the loves I have won or have lost
There is one love I should never have crossed
She was a girl in a million, my friend
I should have known she would win in the end