To sit quietly and take in the view was unusual for Alexander Seymionovitch. His tall French windows flung wide open were like an extension of his arms warmly embracing the air of a new world which at least to him seemed astonishingly peaceful. Even though his thoughts circled like a pack of Siberian wolves, he felt his heart was full to overflowing with very positive vibrations. He watched the sea’s reflection of sprinkled sunlight dance above him on the ceiling and marveled at how it dappled the walls of his palatial home in celebration of his happiness. I love her. I love her. I love her. Perhaps he was being foolish to suddenly behave like a teenager. A man in his prime, armed with infinite power and unlimited money. A man used to calling the shots. At the ripe old age of sixty Alexander had fallen in love.
He found himself under a spell, and in that sense of powerlessness, he discovered fragility and fear, but also savored a sweetness. Until now he’d been content with his life. He was fine. Just fine. He hadn’t asked for this to happen. But now that it had, he couldn’t see any other way to live.
For the last ten years Seymionovitch had been a resident of Monaco. His seaside mansion with all the trimmings was in every way the sort of residence you would expect of a Russian billionaire. But only now did he notice something that even to the poorest of paupers cost nothing, if only they had one good eye. That the Mediterranean was indeed so beautiful. So blue.
Alexander was not unattractive, but muscular. Of medium build, he kept himself in good shape, believing that physical fitness kept him mentally sharp and gave him an edge in business.
Without meaning to, his gaze could be intimidating. His brown eyes radiated intelligence. And often people speaking to him felt compelled to avert their own eyes, for fear that he could read their thoughts. When he smiled, which occurred often because he was heavily invested in appreciating the absurdity of life, he displayed deep dimples which made him irresistible to women and men alike. In business he was famed for being brilliant, charming and brutal.
But now, he heard a rustle behind him and the faint sound of footsteps running on tip toes. Without even turning around to see who it was, because he knew, Alexander beamed. Slender silky arms clasped him from behind, and a soft cheek nuzzled his neck.
“Here you are!” she exclaimed. He pulled her over to sit on his lap.
“Let me have a look at you.” His wife of one month was approaching her twenty-first birthday.
“Did you notice how blue the sea is today?”
“Of course, but what is so special about that?”
“I’ve just never taken the time to absorb the fullness of its beauty before.”
“Oh Papa, everything is beautiful here!” She called him Papa, because she said he was not only her husband and her lover, but also the father she’d never had. Alexander harbored no doubt about how much Anna adored him, but he remained mystified as to why she didn’t consider their age gap an obstacle. “I could be your grandfather,” he reminded her.
“Don’t say that!”
When they met, he didn’t even register that she was a woman. To him she was a child. One who should be left to play with children her own age. This initial meeting occurred where she was working as a waitress in a Moscow café. Seymionovitch was preoccupied, dining there with a few young executives. Although she was striking, Alexander didn’t even see her. But the younger men couldn’t take their eyes off of her, and furthermore they said as much to her. Without acknowledging the compliment, Anna took their order with a blank stare.
When one day, he sat down at a table on his own, the woman in question didn’t waste any time.
“Mr Seymionovitch,” she said, “I’m scared of your young executives.”
He looked at her with surprise. “Why would you say that?”
“Because that’s just it. They’re young.”
Alexander was bemused. “But you are young too. It’s normal. There’s no reason to be afraid.”
“I don’t like the way they look at me.”
Now Alexander appraised her for the first time. He surveyed her for a solid minute and realized that those green eyes and high cheekbones pointed to a specific and highly desirable genetic marker. Must be some Mongolian blood in the mix.
“You shouldn’t be working in a cafe if you fear the gaze of young men.”
“But I have no choice.”
“You always have a choice,” said Seymionovitch, leaving her a generous tip and the salient memory of what no one in Monaco disputed was indeed a dazzling smile.
Seymionovitch didn’t give it another thought. Beauty was beauty, and where there is such a concentration of wealth, beautiful women will always be a dime a dozen. They came, married well, and then they went away. Where? Who cares! He wasn’t looking for anything. Business was a game that took him to faraway places. And when he wasn’t traveling, he spent most of his time in Monaco, where all the other oligarchs also found it convenient to base themselves.
Anna still marveled at the fact that she was married to Alexander Seymionovitch. It was like a dream come true, and she still enjoyed recalling the moment when fate reunited them. It was springtime and he gave a large party at his Moscow mansion. An army of waiters and waitresses had been hired for the event, and she was one of them. Anna waited until he was alone to approach him. She was carrying a tray laden with glasses of Champagne, and said in a clear voice, “Mr Seymionovitch, you were right!”
Giggling, she recalled his confused expression which seemed to say: “A waitress dares address me so directly? Who are you and what do you want?”
“Remember that moment?” She asked.
“I didn’t know who you were, let alone what you were talking about. Now, Anna, tell me the truth, you were after my money, you little gold digger.”
“Not so little.” Said Anna, cupping both of her cashmere covered breasts in two exquisitely manicured hands.
Anna grew up with her mother, Irina and grandmother, Natasha. She’d never known her father. She told Seymionovitch that men were a mystery to her. She was fascinated by them, but had always feared young boys. They were so cruel, brash, and never serious. When their hands weren’t chasing her, their eyes told her it wasn’t a question of if, but when.
“You know the way someone looks at you, and you’re certain what they really want is to use up your body and take your soul away?”
“No, I don’t know. Tell me!”
Anna laughed, “It’s hard to describe.”
“What about me?” asked Alexander, “What do you feel when I look at you?”
“I feel safe. I feel that I’m at home and everything is good.”
He pushed her gently away from his chest, so that he could examine her face.
“Now, it’s your birthday soon. Your twenty-first! I would like to do something special.”
“Do you have an idea of what you would you like to do?”
“I don’t know. But not a party. I don’t like parties.”
“I already know that.”
“You know everything about me!” cried Anna, kissing him behind his ear.
“Not everything,” said Alexander, overcome by a disturbing thought. This was too much happiness. It can’t last. Spinning around, she clocked the contemplative expression before Alexander could resume his legendary poker face.
“What are you thinking?” Without answering, he held her closer, in silence, and after a while, she said, “Surprise me!”
“Yes, Baby. I will.”
“We’ve got a gig,” said Jeffrey. “Good pay. But we don’t know nothing about it.”
“Whatever,” said Sebastian, “Just pay me. Where is it?”
“In the morning?”
“Have to be there at 9.30.”
“At the train station there. We’re signing a confidentiality contract. None of us can ever talk about it.”
“Our instructions are to arrive by train.”
“I wonder why.”
“I don’t even know their nationality. That would influence what songs we prepare.”
“This kind of secrecy smells Russian.”
“A driver will meet us at the station. Oh, and they want a saxophone player.”
“A bit last minute isn’t it? Maybe Rich is available. He’s a decent sax player.”
“That’s not a bad idea. Hang on…” Jeffrey makes a call.
“Hey Rich, are you around? Will you pop into the cafe? Yes, something to discuss.”
“Does Raffi know?”
“Yes, and you know Raffi. He’s already busy getting his beauty sleep.”
The following morning the band boarded a train hurtling toward Monaco. Sebastian’s red curls cascaded down the shoulders of his fancy shirt. Holding his guitar, Jeffrey stretched his skinny legs to rest on the seat facing him. Raffi’s sunglasses blended almost imperceptibly into his long dark locks, as he regarded a Cajon lodged between his feet. Next to him leaned a saxophone case steadied by Rich’s right hand.
“Well,” said Jeffrey, “People are strange. You just have to go with the flow. We don’t know what kind of crowd will be there. But we will wing it as we always do. At least we don’t have to put up with a girl singer. Sometimes people ask for a girl singer, and that’s a pain in the butt. No matter how nice a girl is, it’s going to cause more problems than it’s worth.”
“I didn’t realize how sexist you are,” said Raffi under his breath.
“No, no, no,” exclaimed Jeffrey. “Don’t get me wrong. I love women. But it’s hard to work with them.”
“I wouldn’t mind being in a girl band,” said Sebastian, which brought the house down. Even Rich, who was half asleep, shook off his snooze and smiled.
“Blindfolded?” Perplexed, the musicians stared at the demure PA, whose slicked back obsidian hair nearly distracted them from her hasty clarification that for the inconvenience, Mr Seymionovitch was happy to pay each of them the tidy sum of €5000.
“That’ll be fine,” said Jeffrey, stifling his excitement.
Ms. Abramovitch seemed relieved as she indicated for them to follow her up a grand staircase and enter into the master bedroom.
“This must be a surprise birthday party. It’s pretty quiet.”
Ms Abranovitch looked past Jeffrey and his unfiltered assumption, in anticipation of Seymionovitch’s entrance via a terrace door. His PA wasted no time introducing the motley crew of musicians to their generous patron.
“It’s my wife’s 21st birthday, and she’s asked me to surprise her,” explained Alexander.
As the musicians nodded, their eyes darted around the room. No bedroom could’ve been larger or more tastefully decorated, mixing modern paintings with antique furniture. There was an atmosphere of opulence and luxury, yet one could still call it cosy.
“Ms. Abromovitch mentioned the blindfold, did she not?”
“Yes,” answered Sebastian, who had to stop himself from asking Seymiononovitch to explain why the blindfold was required.
“It’s no problem at all,” assured Jeffrey.
“Well, just now, she is in the bath.”
“Oh, Papa! Where are you?” A youthful voice filtered in from somewhere in the next room.
“It’s a surprise!” said Alexander, “I want you to make her cry!”
“Wait. If it’s her birthday, aren’t we supposed to make her laugh?”
“But she is happier when she cries.”
“Papa! Where are you?”
“I come now Baby, I come to you!” and with that, he hurried into the other room.
“What will we sing to make her cry? It’s impossible to know what we should play.” Befuddled, the band huddled together, whispering potential strategies worthy of a football team.
“No, not yet,” said Alexander.
“But I’m bored,” said Anna. Alexander sat at the edge of the bath.
“I have a surprise for you, so soak a bit longer.” Anna was covered in soapy bubbles.
“Shall I close my eyes?” she asked. Hearing the saxophone’s initial notes, she looked at Alexander.
“What was that?” And at that moment four blindfolded men entered her extensive bathroom. Anna nearly jumped out of her bath.
“Alex, I’m scared.”
“But Baby, they can’t see you.”
“Get them out!” Anna was crying.
Blindfolded, the band stood there, confused by the rapid conversation in Russian.
“It’s going wrong,” whispered Jeffrey to Sebastian.
“Get them out!” Not knowing what else to do the band started a song.
“Stop!” shouted Seymionovitch.
“Please wait for me in the bedroom.”
Being blindfolded meant they had to feel their way out of one unfamiliar room into another. Sebastian nearly fell over his double base as Jeffrey felt strong arms grip his shoulders and push him roughly out into the bedroom.
“Can we take our blindfolds off?” he asked. Seymionovitch snapped back at him in Russian.
Raffi whispered, “I’m not fluent but that sounded distinctly like Russian for Fuck you, Man.”
“I hope we’re still getting our 5K.”
“Don’t take the blindfolds off.” As Alexander was helping Anna out of the bath, a cloud of doves exploded into the air outside her bay windows followed by scores of red balloons, and Seymionovitch felt like someone had punched him in the stomach.
The band began to play, and Raffi sang “I’m So in Love with You,” his voice so clear, sweet and grave all at once, was carried by the acoustics in the high-ceilinged room to waft like a cloud of sound through the open French doors. At this point, Anna burst into tears.
“That’s it?” asked Jeffrey in surprise, when Ms. Abramovitch handed each of them an envelope, before ushering them out onto the driveway, where a uniformed driver was waiting to chauffeur them away.
“What the hell happened back there?” said Jeffrey.
“It’s all in here,” said Sebastian, recounting the cash in his envelope.
Rich stuffed his pay into the sax case without even checking it.
“She must be exceptionally beautiful,” said Raffi, who was the last musician to climb into the Rolls Royce Phantom, before the chauffeur shut the door behind him with that hushed thump reserved only for those who can effortlessly afford it. The Phantom then pulled away from Alexander’s sea side palace and coasted down his longest of private lanes, to turn toward the train station, after a discreet exit through the slowly closing Monegasque gates of an oligarch’s estate.