Challenge : Language
Fandom: Crossing Lines
Characters: Carl Hickman, original characters
Summary: What Carl does to forget about the hardships of his work or why he so likes The Hague’s morning light, all of a sudden.
I’d been thinking about Jan for some time now. I hadn’t told him I lived here, knowing he would keep pestering me until I agreed to have diner, chess or to come visit his precious museum. Not that I didn’t want to, I liked him and his keen mind. I didn’t really know why I kept postponing, maybe it was some twisted way to punish myself, denying myself the simple pleasure of his company. Losing Ann-Marie however, had painfully reminded me how short life could be and I decided to get in touch with him sooner rather than later so I called and we arranged to have diner.
The next Friday, I entered De Eetkamer van Scheveningen at seven sharp and spotted Jan at a corner table. As he welcomed me, there was the usual awkward moment when he raised his hand and I had to shake his right with my left. He had the good grace not to comment or ask, for which I was grateful.
“Detective Carl Hickman, it’s so good to see you!”
“Jan Hesse, it’s been too long!”
“I took the liberty to order some wine, I hope you don’t mind?”
“Côte de Beaune? Now that’s a treat!”
“Not at all, you deserve it my friend. What brings you to Den Haag? I hope you’re not chasing another art thief!”
“No, you can rest easy, as far as I know, your collections are safe. I work here now, for the ICC.”
“The ICC? I never thought you’d leave New York.”
“Nor did I but I wasn’t given much of a choice.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. What about your partner… Amanda?”
“What about her?”
“Did she come with you?”
“No. Why would she?”
“I’m sorry, I thought you were, you know, involved.”
“No, no we’re not. She stayed in New York. Got promoted.”
“Really? Good for her. So you don’t mind if I take her to diner next time I go to the Metropolitan Museum?”
“Diner? You don’t know what you’re getting into. She can be quite picky.”
“All the better! I like a woman with good taste!”
We exchanged chitchat, enjoying the food and the company, catching up on each other’s lives. Jan was the curator of the Mauritshuis and had been a suspect in a case I investigated back in New York. He would have been convicted if I hadn’t broken the case and even though we’d become friends, he still behaved as if he owed me. I took advantage of the feeling to coerce him into playing chess with me every now and then. Worthy partners were hard to come by and Jan had proven to pose quite a challenge.
As the evening came to an end, he renewed his invite to visit the collections of his museum whenever I felt like it, knowing full well it was a soft spot of mine. And sure enough, a few days later, as we wrapped a case that had been particularly gruesome, I felt the need to leave the grit and ruthlessness behind, to remember that the work of men could be inspiring and beautiful.
I strolled leisurely the distance to the museum, enjoying the chill evening air, letting the sounds of the city wash over me. Noise usually tired me quickly but tonight the sound of human lives was comforting as I knew that the team and I stood between the blissful innocents and the wicked criminals, shielding the first from harm and dealing the latter with just punishment. It was never that easy to tell black from white of course, but it was nice to pretend for a few seconds that life was as simple as a chessboard.
I arrived at the main entrance of the Mauritshuis as the gates were about to close. None too sure what to do, I gave my name to the security guard that was herding people out and much to my surprise, he ushered me in, even giving me directions to the personnel’s entrance for next time. It seemed Jan had thought of everything. I asked the guard to point me towards Meisje met de parel which was my favorite and slowly made my way through the deserted halls to the serene painting. It stood in a smallish room, the intimate setting fitting the composition. I sat there, letting the subtle light cleanse my soul, the frank colors washing out details. It felt simple yet not simplistic and it helped quiet the din of my ever spinning mind. I slowly floated away into a clear world of bright hues and subtle tones, abandoning the blood and chaos behind without a care.
Seeing someone else beside the guards surprised me enough to snap me out of my light trance. A woman walked in like she owned the place and stopped short in her tracks when she spotted me. She seemed young but was most likely in her early thirties, with startling blue eyes and a crop of golden untamed hair that sorely needed styling. She seemed as surprised as I was but refrained the questions I could see on her lips and just quietly came to sit by my side. I scooted a little on the bench to make room for her and we sat companionably until my aching hand reminded me I should get some rest.
I rose, sore from sitting too long and tried not to wince as my spine popped. She laid her intense eyes on me and seemed completely unaware of the impression those blue pools made. I bowed my head in a futile attempt to escape from her spell and left. That night in my trailer, sleep was long to come as my mind looped through images of a pearl shining and blue irises then back to cobalt turban and golden strands endlessly. When sleep finally came, my dreams were a whirlwind of sun gold and sky blue.
A few days later, I found myself wandering through the empty halls of the Mauritshuis again. I hadn’t meant to come here, in fact I was supposed to be joining the rest of the team for a drink but I needed the art like a drowning man needed air.
I found her in a different room, lost in thought in front of another Vermeer. I approached her boldly but my witty remark died on my tongue as I noticed her unfocused gaze. She looked like she was breathing in the silent colors from the canvas, her enraptured expression akin to worshiping. I was close enough that I could feel the heat from her body and I let all my senses partake to the feast the moment offered. Even her scent was nice, clean and flowery and I suddenly ached to touch her delicately toned skin, to turn the unattainable statue to a real woman shivering under my fingers. I usually disliked close proximity, it was half the reason why I never came during opening hours. I simply couldn’t bear the throng of people jostling and the children running and crying. Art was a total experience to me, one that couldn’t be enjoyed but in loneliness and silence. Her presence should have been annoying but much to my surprise, it actually added to the joy I felt. I smiled and started observing her more closely. Soon, I noticed her doing the same, eying me appreciatively while she believed I focused on something else.
I don’t know what I thought she’d do when she realized I’d made her, maybe blush? She was so much younger after all, but I didn’t expect her total lack of self consciousness, the way she smiled as if she was glad I’d noticed her appreciation. She seemed confident, in a way that made me forget the twenty odd years that separated us. I knew the picture I had of her couldn’t be accurate but I couldn’t help the feeling that we didn’t need words to understand each other, that we never had and never would because we both spoke the purest language of art that allowed one soul to connect to another in an unadulterated way that only lovers and artists knew about.
I increased my nightly visits without being aware I did, sometimes going in the dead of night when a case held my attention after hours but whatever time I arrived, she was there and I fantasized that she was waiting for me. Her almond eyes on me felt like a caress and it was increasingly difficult not to let my hand wander on the soft curve of her arm or her plump hip. We stood too close to each other and I knew she felt my breath on her neck by the little shudders and the slightest tilt of her head that offered more flesh for me to kiss at, if I so chose. I still pretended to admire the paintings but I wouldn’t have noticed if it had been replaced with one of those ugly Warhol pictures.
I wondered of course, I was still very much an investigator and blue to the bone. A mysterious woman wandering freely the Mauritshuis at night was bound to make my hunter’s feelers twitch but I was nowhere near as feverish as I would normally have been. Or rather I was but for entirely different reasons and I was aware it ought to worry me. I only told myself that Jan wouldn’t let just anyone into his sanctuary and this line of thought made me realize the similarities between their features. They were family and since I knew for a fact that Jan didn’t have any children, she was probably a niece or something. Anyway, if she was trustworthy enough for him to let her roam the corridors, it was good enough for me. I would learn more in due time if it was meant to be and meanwhile I enjoyed the freedom of the weird relationship. It was peaceful and undemanding and thousands of miles from what my usual interactions with women were like. It felt wonderful.
In the few weeks since our first encounter, we still hadn’t exchanged a word but however much I craved to know the sound of her voice, to hear her moans and to have her cry my name as she reached her climax, breaking our tacit vow of silence now seemed petty. Besides, nothing that could be said held the slightest importance.
We reluctantly parted ways every night and I went back to my trailer wondering if it was foolish of me to imagine that she could be attracted to an older man like me. I was well aware of my shortcomings, of my crippled hand, of the lines etched on my face and of my graying hair while she had the plump flesh of the full bloom on her, her pale skin smooth and looking as soft as a baby’s. Somehow none of it seemed to bother her and I had marveled at the sad look on her face when she caught my winces as the pain in my hand shot sharper. Sad but not pitying or disgusted, like she cared but it didn’t really change the way she looked at me. Every time we met, her beautiful eyes sought mine with genuine joy in them, taking in my wrinkles and gray strands, looking as if she liked me all the more for them and I dared to hope.
One night like any other, she shook her head in refusal as I bowed my leave. It was a surprise and it wasn’t. I had made my decision some time ago and I knew already it was only a question of time before she did too. So I held out my good hand and she took it, lacing our fingers together. My heart jumped and I smiled, knowing I would soon hear what she sounded like when passion made her lose control.
I woke up the next morning disoriented not by the unfamiliarity of the place I was in, quite the contrary. I felt unnerved that her room, where I’d never been before, felt like home already. She was hot and mellow in my arms and I combed her hair, willing her to open her mesmerizing eyes. She awoke slowly, groaning. Looked like she didn’t like morning much.
“Good morning, I’m Carl.” She still wouldn’t open her eyes.
“Hello Carl. I’m Mélisande.” She yawned and cuddled closer to me, careful to avoid bumping into my hand and resting her head on my chest. She was half splayed over me and I basked in her warmth.
“Mélisande? That’s not Dutch.”
“My mother was French.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
She laughed lightly and raised her head to study me, finally lifting her eyelids. “You’re sorry my mum was French?”
“No, I’m sorry you use past tense about her.” I kicked myself when I saw her face sober. So much for good morning.
“It’s…” It felt like she wanted to say it was okay, only it wasn’t really and she couldn’t lie. “It was some time ago.” Then she smiled and added “And I still have Uncle Jan of course.”
This time I didn’t ask but cupped her face and thumb-stroked her lips. She nipped at it gently then bent to kiss me. The kiss deepened and got somewhat out of hand. That seemed to wake her fully at least. When we were finally sated, I badly needed to use the bathroom.
I was ravenous suddenly, my last meal might had been a sandwich of some sort on the chopper, heading back yesterday afternoon. Whatever it had been was long forgotten. She made flavorful coffee and drowned hers in milk then quickly threw together sliced fruits and nuts, added a drop of lemon juice. It surprised me that she added macadamia nut oil and salt and pepper as well as a measure of cool cooked barley. It was ridiculously delicious, the perfect counterpoint to the quiet evening and the wild night.
I was still half in a world of subtle light and clear blue eyes when I got to the ICC offices. I knew I was being uncharacteristically cheerful as I commented about the morning light and even Louis’s surprise that I would know Vermeer didn’t dent my good mood. Somewhere, the pale light of morning played through the most beautiful eyes on earth and in their depth was a haven, where I was safe from the ugliness of men.