Inspired by a classic Sherlock Holmes story, Vienna by William S. Kirby is a modern mystery that focuses on two women linked to a murder as they try to prove their innocence by solving the case while also being forced to flee throughout Europe (available September 1, 2015).
It started as nothing more than a one-night stand . . .
Justine is an A-list fashion model on a photo shoot in Europe. Adored by half the world, she can have whomever she wants, but she's never met anyone like the strange English girl whose bed she wakes up in one morning.
Vienna is an autistic savant, adrift in a world of overwhelming patterns and connections only she can see. Socially awkward and inexperienced, she's never been with anyone before, let alone a glamorous supermodel enmeshed in a web of secrets and intrigue.
When Justine's current beau is murdered in the bathroom of her hotel room, she suddenly finds herself thrown into the middle of a deadly conspiracy focusing on a set of antique wooden mannikins-the same ones that are the centerpieces of the photo shoot.
What secret do the mannikins hide, and why is it worth killing over?
Drawn together by an attraction neither of them can explain, Justine and Vienna are pursued across Europe by paparazzi, tabloid headlines . . . and the mystery of Vienna's own shadowy past, which holds the key to everything.
Awake under a hollow sunrise, Justine Am sought cover behind a hangover that wasn’t there. The previous night’s drinking had consisted of two sips of vodka drowning in peach liqueur. She’d switched to tonic water well before the pink eyedropper of liquid ecstasy made its rounds. Not that she would’ve taken part. Boredom was cheaper and it unleashed the same chaos. Sprawled across a stranger’s swaybacked bed, Justine still felt the subterranean echo of house electronica pacing behind her rib cage: boom, boom, boom. She’d fallen in with a post-tribal, post-trance, post-everything crowd. World-weary gods draped over the cherry and onyx pillows of Holler. They’d offered her a sucker’s bet and she’d raised the stakes right into this bed.
Sketchy times since Prague. Pouring rain and the howl of police sirens; a lone separatist locked in the Dancing House with a vest of high explosives and a heart of rust. Security concerns caused a three-day delay, even though the standoff only lasted four hours. Local politicians didn’t want to take chances of an A-list fashion model getting splattered across the electorate.
Then a two-night shoot for the Clay to Flesh project, set in front of the Národní Muzeum. City lights doubled across wet concrete. Justine in Dory McCallister’s iconic drop-waist silks, posed next to a wooden manikin. She mimicked the statue’s skipping stance, toes pointed and fingers splayed. The photographer’s ancient camera whirred to life. Justine called up her world-famous smile, coy under lowered eyelids. Through the thin fabric across her legs, she felt the first breath of winter falling from blue-white stars.
Returning the following evening, it was bad enough Justine thought the two-hundred-year-old manikin had shifted positions overnight; worse that she’d mentioned it to her agent. Nothing good had happened in the four days since, and last night hit magnitude nine on the nothing good scale.
And yet, the wooden girl had moved between the two sessions. It’d been such a certainty at the time. A subtle swing to a more rigid stance. The manikin’s tupelo smile tightening to a sadistic leer. Justine had gone as far as calling up the previous night’s photos, but the manikin had been backlit to the point of being little more than a silhouette. She’d tried pointing out what she saw to James, but the more she spoke, the more she sounded as if she were trying to convince herself. James had been at his most patronizing. “Pinocchio aside, I doubt wooden dolls come to life.”
The episode had left Justine feeling idiotic. Fears barely controlled back in med school rattled loose chains. Echoes of children screaming at the pasty green cinder blocks of the Felton Gables Ward.
Am I becoming like them?
Justine opened her eyes. The yellowed plaster overhead was split by a lightning bolt fracture. She stared at the leading edge, anxious that her presence would somehow cause it to spread another quarter inch. After a few seconds, she realized someone had used a fine-tipped pencil to outline the crack with machine precision; as if cordoning off the defect. But sadness spilled over nonetheless, seeping down the ancient walls.
She remembered a rant from her Stanford bioethics professor: “Doctors don’t save lives. Doctors only give life a chance. Learn the difference or get out.”
The thin breeze coming through the bedside window smelled of lilac. Where would such an ambitious flower grow in Lower Town’s acres of eroded stone? Justine sat up, pulling a threadbare sheet with her. The bed springs released her 116 pounds in a chorus of squeaks.
She hunched over by the small window. Three stories down, a fairy-tale church of arches and spires overshadowed a plaza of gray cobblestone. The building’s walls were etched in soot, although a battered section of scaffolding suggested a minor restoration was underway. It looked like a hundred other churches Justine had seen, except for the doors: two massive slabs of burgundy under a Gothic arch. They told her nothing. Every other building in Brussels was a church.
The tortoiseshell glasses that had landed her here were folded on a plastic nightstand. She put them on in hopes they might allow her to read the small white-on-blue street sign posted on the church. There was no change looking through the spotless lenses.
“I need those.”
Justine turned and saw the punch line of last night’s tired joke. The girl’s cinnamon-brown hair, shoulder length and of that extreme fineness that would tangle over a whisper. Stone-washed hazel eyes above expressionless lips. The nose was better, a modestly upturned anime arc soon to be consumed by the Frankenstein glasses. Her skin was clear to the point of unhealthy pallor, accenting her wispy frame. Her name was something cringe-worthy—a place name.
Even in the morning sun, she seemed nothing more than a lesser poltergeist. Bound to her forgotten crypt with no television, no computer, no MP3 player. No phone. Only a single stack of old hardcovers, their spines tight against the wall. Justine handed Vienna the glasses. Why would anyone wear nonprescription lenses?
“Do you want breakfast?” Vienna asked. Her British accent sounded like a cheap imitation. She’d looked a timid twenty in last night’s glittering lights. Justine found herself praying for eighteen. What was the age of consent in Belgium? Followed by the most dreaded cliché in the business: Did the blogs already have pictures?
And when had Vienna drifted out of bed anyway? Justine felt the pinpricks of her flight reflex, kicking in eight hours too late. “What are you making?”
“Eggs, orange juice, strawberries, and tea.”
It sounded harmless. “Do I have time to shower?”
“Have you seen my BlackBerry?” Justine asked.
“You left it in the bathroom.”
“I need to check for messages.” Justine stood, the thin sheet falling away.
“Heather!” Vienna darted around the bed, averting her eyes and yanking the shade across the tiny window. Her movement was subtly stuttered—exaggerated in a way that suggested either phencyclidine abuse or a developmental disorder. Then she was gone, out to the small kitchen. Justine was left feeling unaccountably self-conscious.
Why did I give her my real name? She pulled the top book in the stack away from the wall enough to see the title on the spine: Methods of Political Assassination in Nazi Germany.
Justine kept her eyes open in the standing-room-only shower. As if Vienna might sneak in, wielding a knife like Anthony Perkins. It seemed fitting that the shower curtain was a perfect set piece. Flat gray, with no tropical fish, no blooming flowers, no unicorns. Justine looked closer. Not even a textural pattern in the plastic. It might have worked in modern design, but here, where a splash of color would have been blessed relief, it hung off the bar like a funeral shroud.
Water hissed against the plastic as Justine straightened. She closed her eyes and heard static pouring from her grandfather’s ancient radio. Minor league baseball wavering over Montana from somewhere in Colorado … hanging slider … out of the park … Words lost in a crescendo of pops and crackles. Lord help you if you touched the tuner. A decade gone and it felt more real than this bleak apartment.
Justine frowned. More wicked Prague karma.
That stupid manikin.
Followed by an even more dreary thought: I had sex with a woman last night.
Well, sort of. Vienna had approached lovemaking like a blind girl playing connect-the-dots: every step planned and executed with painstaking attention that was endearing for two minutes and tedious the next forty. You would at least think another woman would know what worked and what didn’t. Another myth shattered. It wasn’t as if Vienna was a virgin. Justine had felt compelled to check after the first fifteen minutes.
And that’s the extent of what I know about her. That, and the fact that Vienna didn’t smell like anything. Not perfume, or deodorant, or shampoo. And not, thank goodness, the vinegar reek cultivated by a handful of Europe’s old-school bathing deniers. Nothing. As if she had been scrubbed in an alpine lake and sealed in her black shirtdress. It didn’t fit anywhere on Justine’s organizational chart of social status.
Justine absently rubbed the sleek lizard tattoo on her left hip. A reminder of choices made, some worse than others.
Out of the shower, she took her BlackBerry from the tiny vanity. The first call had to be to her agent, still hanging on her shoulder. Making certain his prize mare wasn’t losing her head; asking every five minutes if she was okay, or if she needed rest. Or if she was seeing any other statues move.
James Hargrave was his usual triple-espresso alert. Justine described the church—it had to be near the Grand-Place de Bruxelles, as they had walked through that ancient mall with the glass ceiling. There had been a sculpture of a well-endowed cat on a bicycle along the way.
James asked her what the hell she thought she was doing.
“I’m not your daughter, James. I’m fine. Go back to New York.”
“I will when you stop seeing manikins dance around.”
“It was a joke,” Justine said.
He said he would send a car when he had the church pinned down, and that there was a surprise waiting, and she had to be in the chair by 9:30 for the second day of the Brussels Clay to Flesh shoot, and she had to give Bernoulli an answer for his winter show at Carrousel du Louvre by three at the latest as she had already put him off once, and London called for a Vogue cover and they were offering an ungodly amount of money, but Sandra Bennet just had to have Justine Am for next fall’s fashion issue and they already confirmed Smyth and Weston for hair and face, and they were going to be in London for the next stage of Clay to Flesh anyway, so why not do it?
Justine said fine and hung up; slipping into a Toni Frieze original that would pay six months’ rent on Vienna’s prêt-à-porter life.
The claustrophobic hall held the only art Vienna seemed to own. An elfish girl with jet-black hair and serrated beauty. Justine recognized it as a cover from one of Björk’s early solo efforts. The bottom tenth of the poster, which must have held a track listing, had been trimmed off. The pencil had been used here as well. A nested frame of eight concentric rectangles had been drafted onto the plaster. Justine brushed her fingers over the lines, feeling shallow grooves etched into the surface. It seemed to her that if she found the perfect tension, the furrows would play back like old vinyl. A recording of whatever madness had set the pencil in motion.
A deep breath and on to the galley kitchen.
Vienna was dressed for a ’60s Disney musical: white pinafore over a powder blue shirt. Faux mother of pearl buttons. Methodically clipping fresh chives over frying eggs. The girl looked up from her work, peering through the useless glasses. “Your hair is blond.”
Brunette, but now wasn’t the time to explain. “Yes?”
“It was blue last night.”
Justine laughed. “Soluble dye for a last-minute promo. The ads are already printed and going up today.”
“A photo shoot for high-end footwear.”
The girl’s eyes pinched together. “You dye your hair blue to photograph shoes?”
“No, silly. People take pictures of me wearing the shoes.”
“Oh. I thought it was a little odd. Sort of scary. Pretty though.”
It finally hit Justine on a visceral level that Vienna had no clue who Justine Am was. It made her feel as if she’d drifted too far from shore. Reaching down with her toes and not touching bottom. “Thank you, I think.” The involuntary gulp of mossy lake water.
Vienna nodded. “The eggs are ready, if you want.”
Justine tried to remember the exact moment when any of this had seemed like a good idea. Didn’t you always say you wanted adventure?
They sat at the table, white plates flanked by unadorned flatware. Justine was surprised how hungry the childhood smell of salt and pepper on eggs made her. Vienna served them sunny-side up, salmonella be damned. Justine didn’t have the heart to turn them down. Poison or not they were delicious, and the macerated strawberries were dead ripe. Better add an extra half hour at the gym.
Justine ate in silence; noted that Vienna placed her own berries as far as possible from the eggs. Shepherding runny yolks away. Justine had observed such behavior numerous times during her internship. Seeing it repeated in this airless apartment made her queasy.
“I’ll do dishes,” Vienna said after she finished. She reached for the plates and Justine saw the girl’s fingernails were chewed ragged. Justine had seen plenty of that back at Stanford as well.
Hurry up, James.
Vienna’s black flats whispered over the floor; a sheet of white laminate running into the narrow hallway. The same floor in the bedroom and bathroom. Justine couldn’t remember seeing a solitary seam breaking its nonreflective surface. How would such a large piece have been unrolled and installed? It must have cost a fortune. Maybe it was there before Vienna moved in?
It’s none of my business. Justine sat in awkward silence before deciding conversation was the least of evils. “You’re a student?”
“It’s just the stack of books in your room.”
Vienna paused. “I’m learning World War Two this week.”
“Hitler and Himmler. Goring, Goebbels, yeah?” She paused. “Bernie Madoff.”
Justine laughed before she realized how odd it was to hear Vienna trying to joke. Even more astounded to hear the girl exhale a single sigh of laughter. As if she had at last been given permission to act human, only to forget how.
The BlackBerry interrupted with an oldie Justine’s parents had gotten her hooked on. The world was moving, she was right there with it and she was. Vienna inhaled at the sound.
“Yes?” Justine said into the phone.
“Eglise St.-Jean-du-Béguinage,” James said.
“The church with red doors. We’re in the courtyard.”
“Be right there.” She turned off the phone. “Vienna, I have to—”
“‘And She Was,’” Vienna said. “Three minutes, thirty-nine seconds. Track number one of Little Creatures, by the Talking Heads. June 16, 1985, Sire Records. ID Number TAH-2. All songs by David Byrne unless noted.”
“Your ringtone. It’s about a girl who took LSD near a factory that made chocolate milk.”
“I didn’t know that.” Justine forced a smile. “I have to leave, honey. I have a shoot with Vincent Mathews this afternoon.”
“Is he your boyfriend?”
“Matty? Hardly. Don’t you ever watch TV?”
Vienna’s voice was almost too soft to hear. “It’s bad for me.”
“Because I’m broken.”
“I’m sorry.” What am I supposed to say? “I have to go.”
“I can walk you down.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I need to go to work.”
Justine sighed. Whatever got her out of this broken-soul corner of the universe the quickest.
Out into Brussels’s hazy October; sunlight spreading across the ash-colored city in a watery blush. A summer morning arriving three months late. The air already felt like dilute glue.
The limo was waiting, a glossy special effect projected in front of the medieval church. James would have the AC on full. Justine put on her sunglasses. “This is good-bye.”
“Take care, Vienna.” It almost sounded like an apology.
Justine was mortified when the girl followed her to the car, even more so when Grant stepped from the back. The surprise James had mentioned. Grant’s Hermès jeans and black T-shirt looked painted on his surfer boy frame. His wavy brown hair cropped short. He smiled behind Oakley wraps. Paint him white and snap off his arms and you would have a Greek statue.
“I told you not to come, silly,” Justine said. “I don’t have much free time.”
“We’ll make do.” He gave her an unhurried kiss. Nothing less than full on the lips for Grant. “Introduce your companion?”
“This is Vienna, an old friend I was visiting. Vienna? This is Grant Eriksson.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Vienna.”
Justine interrupted before Vienna could explain that a one-night stand didn’t amount to being friends. “Grant’s an old friend, too.” Well, he’d lasted more than a night, anyway.
Vienna nodded. “Where are you from, Mr. Grant?”
Justine rolled her eyes, glad they were hidden behind her sunglasses’ oil-slick lenses.
Grant smiled, he was too aware of being in public not to. “America—a small town in Nebraska.”
In a frozen heartbeat, so quickly gone Justine wasn’t sure she’d even seen it, Vienna’s lips twisted into a leer of purest loathing.
“What town?” Her voice as empty as ice on a lake.
Grant looked at Justine, who could only summon a shrug. “Kearney.”
“The elm trees there are lovely.”
Grant smiled. “Especially in autumn.” He glanced at his Breitling, reflections from the bezel skipping across the plaza. “We’re running late.” He nodded toward Vienna. “Good to meet you.”
Grant guided Justine to the car. James Hargrave sat shotgun, wearing his annoyance in a gunfighter scowl. Doors shut. Justine looked back at the girl, standing alone by the church. Motionless as a statue. Or as motionless as any statue except that idiotic manikin in Prague.
Just get me out of here.
The limo turned down a canyon etched in the gothic landscape, and Vienna was gone.
I have to call Bernoulli this afternoon. Paris in the off-season sounds perfect.
And she was alone in the courtyard of Eglise St.-Jean-du-Béguinage, her shadow fractured across worn cobbles. Why had Heather’s boyfriend lied about who he was? But then, Heather had lied, too. Vienna knew this because she’d stood outside the bathroom door after she’d heard the shower go off. Her ear to the hollow wood, the paring knife she’d used for the strawberries forgotten in her hand. Surgery syrup inching down the blade. The angry person on the phone had called Heather “Justine.”
Would it have been so hard to tell the truth about her name? So hard to pretend it mattered? So hard to stay a little longer?
Vienna walked to one of the friezes that flanked the doors of the church, if only for the sake of appearing to be doing something. Other than crying.
Christ waited there, beseeching weathered apostles. The Agony in the Garden. There were words that went with the scene, written in italic red letters: Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. Vienna had read the passage as a child, growing up near Bath. Scampering down the tomblike ruins of a Roman hypocaust when the world got too big and twisted inside her head.
Ironic to see the words here, outside a chapel dedicated to the widows of crusaders. But then, their flesh had been weak, too. Ripped apart by swords and trampled under horses, leaving behind only grieving lovers. Vienna’s own apartment housed such a widow, centuries ago.
The architectural elements of the Béguinage in Brussels are unique from the standpoint of … Vienna closed her eyes, consciously letting the words go. It’s because my mind doesn’t work right. There was nothing new in the thought. Then why cry now? She wiped the tears away.
Footsteps; a shadow next to hers.
“I meant no harm,” a man said. Vienna shied from the voice, turned, and saw a short, sandy-haired man. Jeans and a plaid shirt. Vienna’s mind slipped into the patterned fabric. Endless tunnels of squares, hypercubes that shifted perspective every time the man moved. Ratios of sides and surface areas blossomed in Vienna’s mind. It would take 172 of the large red squares to tile the uneven shape of the fabric, but some would be wasted. A better pattern would be …
She looked away, into fresh tears.
“They’re replacing them all,” the man said. “I don’t know why. There’s a good amount of gold inside, but not enough to pay my commission.” He handed her a scrap of paper. She glanced at a nearly illegible scrawl:
Au 5 gm / Ag 3 gm
Au 3 gm / Cu 18 gm
Au 7 gm / Fe 21 gm
Au 11 gm / Pb 14 gm
“I don’t understand,” Vienna said. She felt a shiver of alarm beyond the whirling geometry of his shirt.
“Show this to her.” His voice had a Scottish burr. “I was lucky to get measurements from the piece in Rome. They’re paranoid of everyone.”
“What do you mean?” she whispered. Am I in danger?
“I saw you with Justine Am last night. Your apartment was being watched—a Yank in dark glasses. I couldn’t approach while the limo was here, they would have recognized me. You have to tell her.”
“Tell her what?” Vienna kept her eyes away from the nightmare squares.
“What happened in Prague was my fault. Rush job when the first one broke—lorry smash-up on the E50. She has to forget it.” His voice grew quiet and quick. “Andries is dangerous. They say he murdered an art dealer a year ago in Munich. I’ve seen it in his eyes. She has to let it go.”
“You have to tell her!”
The rough cough of a lorry echoed from the walls. Vienna heard the man step away and then race across the plaza. She stood for over a minute, carefully focusing on the frieze. What just happened?
It’s none of my business. Vienna crumpled the paper and threw it in a rubbish bin at the side of the church.
She left the plaza by the same street Heather’s black limousine had taken—past a sign showing a car with a red slash through it. Stupid Americans. A few turns and she entered the Galleries Saint Hubert. She loved the spider web of iron and glass that covered the long plaza, hung from the heavens with spectral grace. It was so familiar by now that it rarely made her dizzy. And if it did, there were always window displays to distract her. Chocolate and shoes and watches and photographs of beautiful people in beautiful places.
The stores had yet to open for the day, and the corridor smelled faintly of bleach. Brussels had thrown its customary Saturday night party, and the Sunday morning custodians had already engaged the citywide hangover of garbage in the gutters and piss in the alleys.
Vienna wondered why she’d tried to join the festivities. Cecile had asked to meet her at Holler, though Vienna never expected her to actually show up, and of course she hadn’t. But Vienna had been too hot and too afraid of another night lost in the sad memories of widows. She’d stepped out a few times before with no harm coming from it. Only this time she was propositioned by a woman with blue hair, cut in straight bangs down to liquid emerald eyes. Vienna had thought her beautiful, but maybe her exotic appearance kept her from dating.
And she lied about her name.
As for the night, Vienna didn’t like thinking about it. Cecile had suggested sleeping with a woman might be a good tonic for Vienna’s shyness. Vienna wouldn’t have considered it back in London. Her foster father would have been horrified. But here, sinking ever lower in the city’s social strata, she didn’t see any harm to it.
Still, it had been too overwhelming and too foreign to be anything other than shameful. Vienna hadn’t known what was expected—had never been with anyone—though she knew in one respect her coworker had been right. With a woman, she at least knew the topography well enough to guess a route. The wrong one, apparently.
I should forget it happened. Now that was funny.
It was Christmas in Bath all over again. Gifts under the tree and everyone talking too loudly and eating too many sweets and lights blinking in discordant cycles and it was never anything she wanted anyway. It always passed in a blur, as if Vienna were missing some internal switch to reach out and experience it as others did. Which was true enough.
Anyway, maybe it was best to add sex to the list of useless things, because then it would be one less thing to worry about. She’d done it and now there was no reason for anyone to tease her about it. So she never had to do it again.
She cut across Rue des Bouchers, lined with cafés and salons. Briefly into the wavering sun before entering the Galerie de la Reine. There were words to go with this as well, set in the blurry ink of a manually typed dissertation. Her eyes traced across a phantom page:
The Galeries Royal Saint-Hubert comprise the Galerie du Roy, the Galerie de la Reine, and the Galerie des Princes. They were conceived in 1836 by Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer … It went on for pages. There was the barber who slit his throat over the structure’s tangled property rights. And here was the aesthetic reason for the bend in the middle of the structure. Vienna didn’t have the energy to go back to the beginning and see who wrote it. If she kept walking, the words would slip away.
Coffee steam and the yeast smell of fresh pastries rose through the air. The bells atop the massive Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudule called the faithful to Sunday mass. Maybe she would go after work.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Across Rue du Marché aux Herbes. Vienna relished the sound of the French names, the way they tasted like spring. But after four months in Brussels, she knew little French, or Flemish for that matter. She recognized the sounds and some meaning, but with no education in it she lacked any idea of syntax or grammar. Which had come as an unpleasant shock.
Into the Grote Markt—the Grand Place. Built in the twilight of the Northern Renaissance, the town square was surrounded by layers of baroque architecture. Vienna felt like a playhouse princess lost on a stage of narrow steeples and filigreed stonework. There was even an evil king, compliments of an encyclopedia entry she’d read back in London:
In 1695, King Louis XIV ordered Brussels to be bombarded with red-hot cannon balls. The resulting firestorm engulfed the entire Grand Place, with the exception of the Hotel de Ville …
The same Hotel de Ville in front of her as she crossed the plaza. Archangel Michael on the highest steeple, trampling a demon. Vienna imagined Grant Eriksson under Michael’s pitchfork and immediately crossed herself. Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
She continued across the square, letting her thoughts dance through words, even though her doctors told her never to do that. The Hotel de Ville was designed by a Flemish … The word Flemish means “that which is flooded” … The deadliest flood in history was the 1931 flooding of the Yanktze, Huang He, and Huai Rivers, in which four million people were … There was a picture there. Long rows of dead children, stiff limbs twisted in mud.
She stepped up to a lemon-yellow door on Rue du Marché au Charbon. A rustic sign, implying history where there was none, marked the Gelataria du Cygne. The store’s window sported a deco golden goose in the upper left corner, leaving room to display a rack of stainless steel gelato bins. The sunshine was warm on Vienna’s shoulders; it would be a busy day. She produced the right key from a small chain and unlocked the door.
By noon, she’d served 124 customers 186 scoops of gelato. She said the right phrases in French to collect euros, switching to English for British and American tourists. Vienna knew by late afternoon the day’s heat would drive citrus flavors to the top of the chart she kept on scrap paper. She thought a lot of inventory might be saved with the information she was collecting, but the manager was a busy man and there never seemed a chance to get a word in.
At 2:17, two men appeared at the shoe store across the street. They removed the old poster for Versace and put up a new one for Step Out. It featured a girl who was nude except for a pair of white stiletto heels, straps set with diamonds. She was seated on white-blue fur, her body turned away from the camera, but her eyes gazing back over her shoulder. Her long, smooth legs were curled under her, showing the shoes to good effect. She was positioned in such a way—her closer arm behind her bottom—to avoid being outright pornographic. But the raw sensuality of her face was intoxicating. She had blue hair and emerald eyes and a small tattoo of a lizard on her left hip. The poster said the woman’s name was Justine Am.
Pedestrians gawked at the image. Vulgar laughter over imagined bedroom scenes.
For the next four hours, Vienna served melting scoops of gelato under the poster’s sensuous gaze. Her stomach twisted around a knot of anger. Easy enough to find words for Justine: Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually.
No doubt the strange man wearing the shirt-of-squares had been a gently used article left by the wayside. He’d said something about “killer” and Vienna was certain the word was used in America to describe people of sexual prowess. “She’s a man killer,” and the like. Not that sleeping with Justine had been all that great. Or even great at all.
Everything had gone pear-shaped, and the more Vienna thought about it, the more it was her foster father’s fault. Arthur Emerson Grayfield, Earl of Idiots and Knight Commander of Nothing Anyone Had Ever Heard Of. Titles or not, he was just a miserable old git in a miserable old flat. “It’s time for you to make your own way, Vienna.” As if he knew what was best for her, even though he wasn’t really her father. “I have prepared a modest room for you in Brussels. I know you can do this.” Because he didn’t have the courage to say: “I never wanted you in the first place.” And …
Stop being petulant.
But if she was petulant, then it just proved she was right about not being ready to be alone and Grayfield was wrong. A real knight would admit his mistake, and he would come and rescue her. And …
To complete the day Cecile showed up just before closing, suspended between aluminum crutches. Long, brown-gold hair that always looked better than Vienna’s. “Sorry I didn’t make it last night,” she said. “I twisted my ankle.”
“I heard what happened, Vienna. I’m so sorry. They had no right.”
“They were paid to set you up by some wealthy perv, an American.”
“Okay.” It wasn’t, really, but she only had herself to blame.
Cecile looked as if she wanted to add something more, but she only nodded and limped from the store.
Vienna closed the shop at seven, cleaned up, and locked the door.
Night came on and she was running back to Holler. She was going to tell Justine or Heather—or whatever her real name was—that even if she wasn’t on any posters at least she wasn’t a whore. But the club was closed because it was Sunday and Justine was probably far away. Probably in another person’s bed. And that was okay, because Vienna wouldn’t have yelled at anyone. Wouldn’t have even opened the door.
She was home by nine, crying into the sheets. Her doctors said that was bad, too.
Vienna peeled herself from the bed and went to the sole dresser she owned. In the bottom drawer, buried under shirts and folded jeans she never wore, she felt the smooth edges of her Apple Air. She pulled it out and plugged it in, connecting a thin cable to the room’s phone jack. Dressed in its aluminum shell, the computer looked sleekly sinister. But it was safe to use it tonight. She didn’t work on Mondays until noon.
The log-in screen was forest green, without a single icon marring its surface. Grayfield had set it up that way. His kind voice filling his London flat, his silver hair smelling faintly of cinnamon. Vivaldi playing on a real phonograph because Grayfield said it sounded better that way. Vienna looked at the composer’s name and saw that he’d written his most famous works in a home for abandoned children. And it was just perfect, the way everything fit together.
With a theatrical sigh, Vienna pressed a key to call up hidden icons. She ordered the computer’s ghost fingers into the net. The screen filled with ads and banners. Don’t look!
A pointless reflex arriving far too late. Fix your credit now! The secret to whiter teeth! And she knew every word. Earn 2,000€ a week! Your stomach can be this flat!
Vienna closed her eyes to a squint and made certain the cursor was in the Google window. She typed out “Justine Am.”
Copyright © 2015 William S. Kirby.
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William S. Kirby has written for television, newspapers, and magazines. Kirby has traveled widely to such places as Great Britain, Fiji, New Zealand, France, Iceland, Belgium, Austria, Hawai'i, the U. S. and British Virgin Islands, Taiwan, Mexico, and the Canadian Rockies. Vienna is a direct result of his travels in Europe. Kirby lives with his wife in Denver, Colorado.