“Peter, you’re whoring around—with men! What do you expect me to think, let alone feel?”
Oh my God, whom has she spoken with? Who else knows about the photographs? Why was I stupid enough to keep them?
“I know you’re in shock. I’ll, I’ll do all in my power to fix this somehow. Just, please, don’t do anything rash, Victoire. Please!” She’ll want a divorce.
“But I’m afraid I have to, Peter. I’ve trusted you, gave you space, never questioned anything.” Her voice sounded frail.
She’ll seek legal advice, and they’ll talk her into exposing me unless I agree to a huge settlement.
His palms glistened with perspiration. He longed for air to think more clearly. “Have you spoken to anybody else?”
“Do you mean have I told anybody about this or are you worried I might have seen a lawyer?” she asked accusingly. “No, Peter, how can you even think that?” She shook her head. “What do you take me for, a cold-blooded bitch?” Her hands tightened into fists. “I’m hurt, angry and scared beyond words but have been compassionate enough to keep my mouth shut!”
Peter breathed an inner sigh of relief. “Victoire, if I told you it was a one off, crazy, regretful night, would you believe me?”
She gasped. “Now you chose to insult me? Peter, please stop this, I can’t take any more of this. At least have the decency of telling me the truth!”
He couldn’t argue the point. She was an intelligent woman whom he respected and whose company he enjoyed thoroughly. He took another sip of wine, but the bouquet turned sour in his mouth.
He sat down and put his head between his hands. “Victoire, my lovely Victoire.” He sighed deeply. “I should have never married you. It wasn’t fair to you.” He looked at her with honest eyes. “At the beginning I tried to be a good husband. I swear to you, I tried.” He shook his weary head very slowly. “I have to accept all responsibility for my actions. I know I’ve let you down but I hope you’ll be forgiving, Victoire. It won’t mean much right now, but I do love you.” He did in his own way. “I’ll give you anything you want. All I ask is that we keep this secret, my secret, between ourselves.”
She had no doubt he would take good care of her. She could have struck a very lucrative deal. But she was heady with power, consumed by greed and wasn’t about to settle for anything less than the entire pie.
She walked over and knelt in front of him poised to unleash the final blow.
“You know I would have never exposed your secrets, Peter.” A tear trickled down her cheek and landed on his knee. “But I’m afraid there’s so much more at stake here. You see,” she reached for his hands, “I’m afraid it’s no longer up to me now.” Her colourless lips quivered.
He looked at her quizzically. “What are you saying?” She rose, walked back to a glass table and pulled out another envelope from her handbag.
“If this gets out, it’s going to kill your mother, Peter!” She handed it to him and burst into tears.
Spooked, his shaky fingers opened it up. She watched his expression of quiet horror as he leafed through Willy’s stash. “Where did you get you get this? What is going on here?” She never heard a grown man’s voice tremble before.
“Somebody is blackmailing us, Peter! They have the negatives and say they’re going to hang you publicly unless we pay them whatever they ask for, for as long as they ask.” She looked like a terrified doe.
“Was there a note?” he croaked. His heart had accelerated to a dangerous speed.
Victoire put both hands over her rising chest. “No! I got a call this morning after you’d left for the office. I was told to see what they’d left me on the front steps.” She pointed to the envelope. “He said something about it being your comeuppance and how he was going to make us pay for the rest of our days!” The fright in her eyes echoed in her voice. She blew her nose, and took an extra beat for a more dramatic effect.. “I tried to trace the blackmailer’s call, but I couldn’t.”
“Dear God,” Peter cried. He had lived long enough to know that in the game of blackmail victims never won. A surreal state took possession him. Time ceased to exist, and things seemed to move in slow motion. Wine laced with bile rose in his throat. He gagged and swallowed hard.
Victoire gasped. “Oh, Peter, what do we do? Tell me you didn’t kill anybody, please, tell me you didn’t!” She covered her face and leaned against his chest like a child. “Please make it all go away, I beg you!”
“No, I didn’t kill anybody, as God is my witness.” His throat constricted uncomfortably. Victoire clung to him. Stupefied, he stroked her loose hair.
The threat was no longer the exposure of his homosexuality but of being accused of murder. His brain flapped about like a fish out of water looking for solutions. No matter how this situation played out in court, he knew no lawyer in the country could save him from the humiliation.
Bitter reality stared him in the face. Peter’s head sunk into his shoulders, like an old turtle: he would be permanently disgraced, on national television no less. His mother would collapse under the pressure of the news before the callous scrutiny of the press even knocked on her door.
The damp night’s breeze brushed his stony face, and he looked up slowly. Victoire stood by the open window, her platinum hair blowing in the wind looking like a forlorn child, dejected and resigned. He hadn’t even felt her walk off. The logs in the fireplace cracked and spat angrily at the invading wind. A handful of glossies jumped up at floated about the room in a macabre dance.
Victoire held onto the door and turned to look at the thundering surf. “It’s over, Peter. You won’t survive this scandal no matter how much we fight it. God knows who else out there knows! She looked away and cried out, “I’m scared, Peter, I’m so scared!” She fell to the floor in a heap and wept.