I raise my head to look around. Iím lying naked in the middle of a large stone platform raised no more than a foot from the ground. There is a ruby red silk robe with elaborate gold embroidery spread out underneath me like a sheet. And my arms are half in and half out of each arm of the robe. And stretching out from the platform in every direction, as far as the eye can see, are rows of empty bleachers.
I start to feel dizzy so I rest my head again look up at the sky and I feel like Iím flying, like Iím soaring through the atmosphere with the birds. I feel something catch in my throat, something like a feather. It tickles my throat and blocks it at the same time. I canít breathe and I start to panic. I choke myself to try and dislodge it. Nothing comes out of my mouth, but whatever was there has gone now and I gasp for air, as if itís the first breath Iíve ever taken. As if Iíve died and been reborn. With that gasp comes a searing pain that shoots across my throat, down into my chest and through my lungs, as if Iím breathing in fire.
And I think I hear Jack whisper, ĎYouíve arrived.í
I open my eyes to greet him.
I wait for my eyes to focus and realize itís not Jack, but Bob whoís looming over me, his face clouded by shadow. It was Bob Ė Bob was the man in the mask. And I donít know why but Iím not at all surprised.
I see him draw back his arm. And I feel a sharp sting on my cheek as he slaps me. My head shoots to the side as if itís spring‑loaded.
He grabs my chin, turns it towards him and slaps my face again. Harder this time.
ĎWake up,í he shouts. ĎNot time to die.í
I look at him and I only see his face for a split‑second before everything becomes blurry as the tears well up in my eyes.
He reaches for my wrists, not so he can stop me from striking him again, but to pull them down. Towards his neck.
He says, ĎLetís switch. Choke me.í
His hands are on mine. My hands are on his neck.
He says, ĎHarderí.
And I squeeze.
He says it again.
My hard is evidently not hard enough.
He says it again and heís shouting it now, over and over and over. Like a sports coach trying to make his athletes burn. And Iím incensed.
Iím acting without thinking.
I squeeze tighter.
His hands loosen their grip on mine and fall by his side. I keep applying the pressure.
It feels as if Iím turning a screw thatís already tight to the wall. But I want to give it one more twist, just to make sure, and it takes all my strength just to turn the screwdriver.
I see his face blush and redden.
I tighten my grip.
His lips are moving and no sound is coming out.
Iím bearing down on him with all my weight now, with strength I never knew I had, and his face is beet red. His eyes wide, the pupils dilated. His body absolutely still and rigid.
Then I catch sight of his mouth and itís curled at the corners into this little smile thatís positively evil. Like he knows exactly what heís doing to me. Or maybe itís because heís in excruciating pain. I canít tell, because itís almost impossible to differentiate between a grimace and a smile.
And I really hope itís the former, because I get it now. I understand what this whole thingís about. This sick little gathering. The power to hold life and death in their grasp. And this is how they get their kicks.
This is Bobís kick.
Taking the ultimate risk.
I can feel his pulse weaken under my fingertips. I can see him slipping away. I can end this all now. He wouldnít fight back. I can squeeze the life out of him. Right here, right now. I can take his life, the way he took it from those girls, how he took it from Anna. Because thatís what I figure has happened. I can even the score. I can stop this from happening again. No more victims.
And although he might enjoy it, the sick fuck, it wouldnít be for long. By then it would be too late for second thoughts.
This is what he wants. He knows he canít lose.
If I kill him, he dies safe in the knowledge that my life is over too.
If I kill him, it would be far too easy.
I can see the life ebb out of him. So I pull my hands away.
He doesnít move. The color drains from his face.
The bastardís dead. I know it. Heís fucking dead.
I scream his name Ė ĎBob!í Ė over and over. I slap his face. Pound on his chest.
Iím starting to panic. Thereís no way Iím taking the rap for this.
I do it all again. Harder.
Iím about to give up when I see a flicker behind his eyeballs.
So I slap him. Once on each cheek.
He gasps for life, drawing air into his lungs. Itís accompanied by a hideous rasping sound.
Iím staring at him in desperation, dumbfounded. I want him to live. I need him to live. Not for his sake.
It takes three or four goes and it looks as if heís going to make it. Heís coming back from the brink now. Heís going to pull through.
I can see his lips moving but I canít make out what heís saying. His voice is barely a whisper. I move my head down level with his.
I hear him say:
ĎGenaÖ which tieÖ which tie shall I wear.í
The twisted fuck. Still obsessed with appearances. If only Gena knew.
And I wonder if she does and just lets it lie. Is she just deluded and blind? Does she close her eyes to the indiscretions? Or doesnít she see the signs? I canít help but think Gena suspects and thatís the story of her corkscrew smile.
Bobís coming round now, but Iím not about to sit here, cradle him in my arms, stroke his head and nurse him back to health. And Iíll be damned if Iím going to stick around to watch. I have to leave before he remembers where he is, who I am and what just happened.
This partyís already got way too old for me. Iíve seen enough and I know exactly when itís time to go. So I walk out while heís still lying there on that slab, still gurgling, half‑conscious and incoherent.
I donít turn around.
I donít look back.
Iím blessed to be alive.
Itís election night. Iím home alone watching the results come in live on TV. And when they cut to Bob DeVille, heís already triumphant. Heís ahead by a clear margin, smashing his opponent, and he knows heís going to take this election. He already knows heís going to win and you can see it on his face.
Name me a politician that doesnít get away with murder.
Itís almost a perk of the profession. And DeVilleís got it down to an art.
To me, heís DeVille now. Not Bob. That just feels too familiar. A little too cosy for comfort. Now that I know what I know. It changes everything. Calling him Bob, that would be a bit like being on first‑name terms with the Hillside Strangler.
DeVille is standing at the podium flashing a victory sign and a Colgate grin with his arm around Genaís waist as he prepares to make his victory speech. He looks so suave and so self‑satisfied. And heís wearing a fucking cravat. I must be the only person watching this who knows why. Heís wearing it to hide his fuck bruises. To protect his dirty little secret.
Gena is pointing at random people in the crowd, doing that same thing with her mouth that Hillary Clinton does at campaign rallies. Gawping in surprise, incredulously, and frantically waving at random people in the crowd as if sheís just seen a long lost family member Ė and pretending that she knows them. Genaís doing it because sheís convinced sheís one step closer to First Lady and she better start looking the part.
The DeVilles are performing for an exuberant crowd who have been bussed in from miles around to fill out the numbers and make it look as if the Senator‑in‑waiting has his finger on the pulse of an electorate giddy for change, when heís probably just polled the lowest numbers in the history of the State.
And theyíre putting on a good show. Youíd never know that they were anything other than what they present themselves as. The all‑American couple. Loving, faithful and shining with good health.
When it cuts to a wide shot that shows the whole stage, I can see Jack standing there off to the side with the rest of DeVilleís team. Nothing could spoil this moment for me. Because Iím so proud of Jack, I really am.
Even though pride comes with a caveat because I know the real DeVille now, not the cardboard cut‑out politician on TV who says he wants to show people Ďthe real meí. I know what heís capable of. I know what heís a part of.
I ask myself the same questions again. What is experience worth? And what does it cost?
This is what my experience is worth. I understand things now about sex and power and how they connect and interact that some people never get to discover during the course of their entire lives. And Iím still so young. But Iím also going to have to live with this my entire life. I canít say that makes me happy. If Iím really honest, it makes me feel uncomfortable. Because I know that Iím only a step away from DeVille.
I could tell Jack what happened. I could blow the whole thing wide open if I wanted to. But we only have one life to live and I dream and fantasize like everybody else about the things that everybody wants: security, family, happiness, love. And I donít know what the future holds, but I do know one thing thatís not in the future I see for myself. A whistleblower.
My instinct for survival is a lot stronger than my desire to save the world. So I could play the hero if I wanted to, but do I want to be known as that person for the rest of my life? Do I want to live with the consequences? Where would that leave Jack? What would it do to us?
By doing that Iíd have to tell Jack everything. And Iím not ready to take that step yet. Some things should remain left unsaid. Secrets are best kept, not revealed. This one has to stay with me. At least for now. But Iíll reserve the right to change my mind at any time.
What would you do in my position?
Think about it. Itís not so easy, is it? Thereís no simple solution or obvious exit plan.
This isnít like one of those Hollywood movies where everything gets tied up neatly in the final reel. Where the bad guys get their comeuppance, the forces of chaos and evil are defeated, order is restored. And the hero or heroine gets to live another day and return to their regular lives. Their home, their wives, their children, their dog. And I really donít need to tell you this, but real life isnít like that. Hollywood endings only happen in the movies.
The way this story ends is more like that long tracking shot that leads to the end of Godardís À Bout de Souffle where Jean‑Paul Belmondoís character, a petty criminal called Michel, is resigned to his fate, after his American girlfriend, whoís played by Jean Seberg, has just told him that she doesnít love him and sheís informed on him to the cops. And she does it just to get his attention. She does it out of spite.
Being a gangster in a gangster movie, and aware of that fact and smarter than most, Michel already knows where all this is going to end up. And we know too.
Remember what I said?
Plot subservient to character.
So Michel, heís been shot in the back and heís stumbling down the street, stumbling towards oblivion. He makes it to the crossroads and then he falls. And this is really it, the end he envisioned for himself. But more banal, because he looks more like the victim of a minor traffic accident than a dangerous criminal shot down in a hail of gunfire by law enforcement.
The last words to come out of his mouth before he succumbs to his fatality: ĎMakes me want to pukeí. Thatís his sardonic parting shot to a world that never loved him and he never loved back. Thatís his ĎRosebudí moment. But rather than leaving some grand revelation as he makes his final exit, his words are misheard, misconstrued, reinterpreted Ė we never find out which Ė as, ĎYou make me want to pukeí. A rejoinder, not to the world but to the woman he loved, who betrayed him Ė his Achilles heel, the femme fatale standing over him as heís making a travesty of his big death scene.
But when this is relayed to Jean Seberg, her command of French which, up to this point in the movie, seems to have been estimable for a young American girl, suddenly fails her. She doesnít understand the French wordĖ dégueulasse Ė and has to ask what it means.
And thatís where the movie ends.
Sheís left not only realizing the enormity of the events sheís set into motion through an act of casual self‑regard, but also faced with the prospect of laboring under a misapprehension for the rest of her life.
That he died hating her guts.
If only all movies could end that way. If only all movies could end like life.
Because, beginning from the day we are bornÖ no, before that, beginning from the moment we are conceived, our lives are nothing if not a series of loose ends. Romantic, sexual, professional, familial, and probably a few others besides. And it takes every iota of our being to stop from getting tangled up in them.
Some people spend their lives obsessed by the loose ends, the what‑ifs, could‑have‑beens and what‑will‑happens.
But not me.
Technically, at this precise moment, Iím a loose end. And DeVille knows that. He could get rid of me if he so desired. He has the power. He could just click his fingers and make me disappear. Like Anna. He could pay someone to do away with me, and cover it up the way I figure he did with Daisy and those other girls. And heíd never have to suffer the consequences, never have to pay the price. Heíd carry on flashing that Colgate grin on TV and no one would be any the wiser.
But he wonít lay a finger on me, Iím pretty certain of that. And Iím not about to spend the rest of my days looking over my shoulder, watching and waiting for that person to arrive. Iím not afraid. Iím sure DeVilleís assessed the risks and decided that Iím a loose end he can afford to live with.
Why do you think Iím so sure?
Well, you know what they say.
Knowledge is power.
DeVille made a promise to Jack. He said if they won the election, heíd give Jack a role in his administration. Jack has no reason to think that obligation wonít be met. I intend to see DeVille follows through. And Iím sure he will, because DeVille needs smart guys like Jack on his team to make him look good.
And who am I to deny Jack that opportunity? Who am I to put the brakes on his ambition?
Anyway, itís not me DeVille has to fear.
How heíd react if he found out.
This is how these things work. You need to know that. No one has any incentive to go public. Itís not in anybodyís vested interest.
Thatís the true nature of power. The occult nature of power.
Itís hidden. And it remains hidden.
So the Juliette Society, it just carries on.
Girls like Anna will continue to disappear. Or turn up dead.
And some poor sap like Bundy gets to take the rap. Because heís disposable and doesnít know enough about the bigger picture to take anybody else down with him. Ultimately, Bundyís one link in the chain that can easily be replaced. There will always be girls who are willing to pander and guys who are eager to assist. Itís always been that way and it will always be that way.
Weíre tied together now Ė Jack, DeVille and me. Like the Mexican standoff in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly . An eternal triangle. Weíre standing within a stone circle, diametrically opposed. Itís a game of looks now, watching and waiting to see who makes the first move. All I know is, I have no intention of ending up in an unmarked grave. And mutually assured destruction benefits nobody.
Or itís like the end of The Italian Job , where the gold is at the front of the bus, the people are all in the back and the vehicle is balanced on a precipice. One wrong move and the whole shebang will tip over the edge.
Thatís what this is.
And this is what Iím taking away from this whole little adventure.