IN THE FULLNESS OF the moon, a solitary figure sat crossed-legged and naked in darkness, at the edge of the bed. He gently swayed from left to right, chanting and staring at a small black box, wired with cables and a timing device. The red digital numbers flashed as it counted down. When the digits hit '0:00' there was a click, but then nothing----It was only a trial run.
The moon's light streaming down from cracks in the ceiling, cast eerie shadows across his craggy face. He reached into a drawer, for a long, sharp, jagged-edge knife, and ran his index finger over the blade, drawing blood. He put his fingers to the wound, smeared the blood on his forehead in two bright red streaks. He beheld his demented image in the mirror, then lashed out wildly with his knife, "We will kill you all!" he cried out in a terrifying scream……
* * * *
SOFT BILLOWING CLOUDS OF smoke swirled aimlessly across the ship's aft-deck. On board the passenger ferry, 'Maharabatan Dream', Garth Hanson sat alone, capturing the misty landscape on a watercolour pad. As the early morning haze began to lift, the distant tropic shores appeared adrift like phantom ships over the Malabar Coast.
The scenic port of Marmagao lay dead ahead, shaded in blue and green with smudges of ochre across the dense jungle shoreline, illuminating the town harbour of Panaji. His attentive brush-strokes captured easily the swaying palms standing tall against lush green headlands, back-dropped by a powder-blue sky. The vision of the tropical terrain was hypnotic and held a lingering sense of timelessness.
Leaning over the railing, Garth surveyed the murky-blue depths of churning sea below. It reminded him of a past love, Linda Heller, whom no doubt lured many a man to his final fate. Linda was off on one of her many missions deep in Lebanon with the Israelis, on assignment again serving Mossad's deadly bidding. Even though he cared for her, he knew she was a lost cause more interested in geo-political intrigues than a serious relationship.
He loved the ladies, but in his view they took a lot of time, effort, and money -- and frankly, that was a luxury he couldn't afford at present. He was at the top of his game as an artist, and wasn't about to be side-tracked by frivolous, short-term affairs.
A light wind tugged the surface of the sea, blowing up white-caps, which in turn sprayed a fine mist of frothy water over the bow. He nestled himself comfortably in a padded deck chair, and pulled out a telegram. It was from his old pal in Goa:
"Garth, Thank you so much again for coming. The collection of Mughal paintings will be at your disposal at my villa in Calangute. You know the place. Call me when you arrive. Usual regards, Dr. Shrini Raman."
He had met Shrini Raman in India back in the late 1980s, when he went trekking in Goa for the first time; back in the early days when the hippies ventured there and found it to be a living paradise. Shrini was one of the first Indians he met in Goa, and he had gained benefaction by sketching a few portraits of him at his villa in Calangute.
Shrini was short and stout, in his late-sixties with a balding head and well manicured greying beard. He had a disarming smile and engaging brown eyes. Yet for his age, he was built like a bull, more than physically fit, and an avid sportsman regularly playing tennis and soccer within his small select group of companions. He was also well-read, highly educated and graduated with honours from Cambridge. To top it all, he was a bona-fide Prince from the languorous hilly region of the Punjab, located on the resplendent southwest border of Rajasthan, land of the intrepid Mughals and powerful Mewar kings.
India is blessed with a rich, colourful history, beginning with the Mughal Period, and as many times as Garth visited India, he still loved reading about it. After several internal wars and invasions by Persian and Afghan rulers the Mughal empire ceased to be effectual. And it was during this time the British entered and took control of India in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As in-fighting began for Mughal dynastic succession, the British consolidated their power and ruled with a firm hand up until 1857.
In India today, much of the infrastructure and governing procedures still reflect systems introduced by the British, known back then as, The Raj. In all respect the Mughal's greatest and most lasting achievements were best found in the areas of art and architecture.
Three years had passed since Shrini and Garth last met and he was looking forward to seeing his old acquaintance again. Shrini was an avid conversationalist and Garth enjoyed being in his company. Not to mention the sunset gin and tonics they had up on his circular cupola balcony, which overlooked the spectacular Goan coastline.
On the ferry, staring out at the cloudless sky, a graceful white seagull sailed into view. To Garth's mind, the all-white gull was a good omen, possibly an epistle of things to come. He eased his head back into the pillow, reflecting back, running his fingers through his hair and thinking about his life in California.
After a series of successful one-man art exhibitions in San Francisco, he had finally managed to pay back most of his debts, saving the house in Sausalito and his prized Mercedes 450 SEL. Now he was ready for a little down-time to relax and paint in India. Life in the galleries had a way of consuming people's lives and souls; The relentless pace and new exhibition set-ups, the late night parties, frazzled nerves and heavy drinking, and of course, the eventual sales and critic's art reviews were arduous. Whatever the case, he needed a reprieve, and damned if he'd end up dead like his old artist colleague, John Ralston. Poor John had gotten mixed up with the wrong people in Mykonos and found himself dead over a priceless icon he copied. The very thought of his death still haunted Garth, like a bad dream.
He reflected back to the gallery two years prior when a matronly, well-coifed woman came charging into his San Francisco studio in a huff. She was Louisa, the Curator.
"Garth, where are the new paintings you said you'd deliver?"
The loft was a jumble of open tubes of paint on a table and canvases leaning against walls. There was an easel holding a one-hundred by two-hundred inch canvas painted in blue and black, with sweeping broad strokes in homage to Franz Klein's linear abstracts. Nearby were two wilted potted plants, his laptop computer and an old oak desk with an overstuffed leather swivel chair.
"The paintings, Mr. Hanson? We have a show to run tonight. Where are they?" Louisa, asked again, irate.
"Over here," he pointed, as she looked through a stack of paintings. He had taken Kline's large free-flowing abstract-expressionist style to a different level by introducing subject into the pieces. He never believed an artist should subscribe to the idea that he should be limited to one style or medium, only. He felt art was an interpretation of any subject, whether it be internal or external, and his conviction was that some mediums or styles work better than others. Therefore, if he could offer new interpretations across a wide spectrum in a body of work, he indulged that concept.
"I thought you were going to send them over to us three days ago," the woman pressed. "You have a legal commitment to us, remember? Anyway, if someone's in trouble, it's not going to be me this time."
"Oh come on Louisa, do I look like a robot? Cover for me until I get them finished."
"No damn way, you've delayed this gallery's exhibition for the last time. I'm going to Lena to get her opinion."
After three years at New Horizon Gallery, Louisa was methodical and inflexible in every way. If ever there was a bitch, she was it. Even her squinty eyes reminded him of some voracious animal of prey.
"Fine, go running to Lena, if it makes you feel better...the hell with you!"
"All you artists are a pain in the ass." And with that Louisa did an about-turn, and darted out the door, slamming it behind her. She was a classic nut-job, an obsessed neurotic as far as he was concerned, and tended to treat all new artists like naughty little school boys. Her uncompromising demeanour was another reason he decided to take off and go to India. Otherwise, with this unrelenting harridan on his back, there could be costly legal issues with the gallery.
He'd set straight most of his financial problems and surely didn't need more! But as luck would have it, he had become involved with Lena Kramer, the lovely, elegant and affluent owner of New Horizon Galleries.
Garth was not only an artist, but a bit of a charmer, and after one successful show in Sausalito, Lena suddenly found herself between the silk-sheets in his stately Victorian house over-looking San Francisco Bay. She wasn't normally the type to jump in bed with a guy on her first date, especially an artist she represented. But she loved his act and found him engaging, which of course, also proved instrumental to his rising prosperity.
Their budding relationship had become the talk of the town, for what began as a purely lustful interlude grew into more than that. She was an older woman in her forties who appreciated his work and vigour. She was a looker too, worked out, took care of herself. Lena was real easy on the eyes. But he suspected there was a deep lingering void in her private life, and somehow she hoped he might fill it.
He remembered back: How he had pulled the silk-sheets down from his sweat-drenched body, catching his breath as Lena's cell phone buzzed from the night table. She slid out of bed, throwing on a white-silk kimono, and moved to the large bay window over-looking the Golden Gate Bridge. At eleven o'clock at night the San Francisco skyline was magnificent and alive with twinkling lights.
"What…you have Sotheby's on the line from London? They want us to show the Morgan Collection for them. They what…gave Marlborough Galleries the boot?! Well, isn't that sad news? I knew they would come round to our way of thinking. Good work." Lena looked back over her shoulder at Garth lingering, wilting under the covers. She smiled and whispered away from the receiver, "Won't be a minute, hon."
He took a sip from the last of the olive martini, frowning, "Shop's closed now, Lena…remember? Now, come back here and get your sexy ass in bed."
She shushed him with a finger to her mouth and continued talking. "Okay, fine, meeting's on Tuesday and we'll seal the agreements. Five p.m.? Fine. Okay, we'll talk later over lunch. How about Ondine's in Sausalito, great lobster bisque there...see you then."
Garth looked at her wryly. "For Christ's sake, Lena, it's always money, money, money with you. When are you going to separate your personal life from your fucking job?"
"Hey, lover-boy...somebody has to pay the bills around here. No money, no honey, right?" she quipped, crawling back under the sheets, moving up slowly kissing his stomach and chest. But he wondered if it would work because she didn't need him, and he genuinely cared for her. Her family liked him, too. They had even discussed marriage, but felt it could wait.
One wastes so much time on insignificant dramas. Then came a fateful call one morning to his studio from the gallery. It was the kind of terrible news one never expects;
Lena had been killed, instantly, in a freak car accident on the Golden Gate bridge. It had been raining at the time, and she was on her way to work. Her car swerved into an oncoming truck--His mind went blank with denial at first. She was so alive and they had the world by the tail, then she was gone in an moment, never to kiss those lips again. He was devastated.
After Lena, he quit shaving or answering the phone and was broken up for weeks about it. Worse yet, he wasn't painting. He knew it was time to flee the sorrow that tore deep within his soul-- time for a change, to slip away and try to mend his broken heart again.