Jude’s Leica was given to him eleven years ago by his rich and famous father, the composer and investment mogul who stopped providing for his firstborn when Jude finished Harvard at twenty-one.
Elton Elsevier divorced Jude’s mother years before, marrying again and cleverly investing Wife No. 2’s money to make millions. He married a third time, wrote two popular books about the relationship between atonal composition and the trading desk, and now, at seventy-three, lived in London with his fourth wife and four-year-old twins.
That’s the end of that story. But the Leica M7, made of solid titanium, carried Jude in another direction entirely. Having grown up nursing an obsession with all things French, he wasn’t surprised that his obsession culminated in a human being. That this human being was Anik, though—that made for a considerable problem.
She, too, lived in London but was in town for a couple weeks to see shows at the Met and Guggenheim and to set up her own show in a gallery near Flatiron Plaza—fair game. He staked out her hotel—the Marriott on Lexington—and then proceeded to follow her to the International Center of Photography, stopping as she stared at the SNY newscasters through enormous windows, as if they were the genetically modified zebra she had once told him about seeing in a Bulgarian zoo. After the ICP, she walked down 6½ Avenue out of curiosity and then hit two galleries on 57th. She knew without looking that he was there; that was part of the game. That he was a lusty sidewalk stalker of a woman old enough to be his mother—and had been one for eleven years—had come to seem pedestrian.
Though the year of the Leica, 2001, rolled out into epic tragedy for America, it constituted an annus mirabilis for Jude’s father. Elton’s memoir, Music Minus One—in which is described his patchy friendships with Ned Rorem, Phillip Glass, and Robert Wilson and how he spit in the coffee he was paid to fetch for luminaries like Leonard Bernstein—had become a bestseller in Britain. Jude hadn’t heard from his father in almost a year when, that May, he got an email with “what are you turning today” in the subject line. He replied that he was twenty-three, the same age he’d been since last August 12th, but that his mother was turning fifty. He wrote that for her birthday he’d contributed one hundred dollars to a family gift with his grandmother and aunts—a year of electrolysis treatments being sold on eBay by the family of a woman who had prepaid but died.
Late on Sunday afternoon one week later, Elton appeared at the apartment Jude was subletting. “I came to have a look at your face.”
“Not bad,” said Elton. “It’s a shame though. You were too pretty as a boy. I worried about you being pretty, but then you weren’t pretty anymore, by eleven or twelve, and things were OK.”
“For you they were,” said Jude. “You were remarried, rich, disappeared.”
“With that nose things are even more OK,” said his father. “Be glad you’ll never be a pretty boy.”
“Is that what you came to tell me?”
“You look rugged,” he continued, “like that French actor.”
“You hate the French.”
“Only their music.” He thought more. “Rugged, like Jack Palance.”
“I don’t look anything like Jack Palance.”
“Thematically I mean. You have the aura of Jack Palance.”
Jude tilted his head as if accepting this proposition—that he had the aura of Jack Palance with his scarred forehead and left eye and broken nose.
“Yeah, well,” his father said for the wrap-up. Never one to dawdle, he shook his son’s hand, his eyes making a wide sweep of the takeout containers covering the floor. He asked if there was anything Jude needed.
“How about fifty thousand dollars?”
“So your mother told you.”
“Told me what?”
“That I just gave her fifty grand.”
“For her birthday—a grand for every year. Thanks for the heads-up on that one. I haven’t given her a birthday gift since before you were born.”
“You were always so generous.”
“Wasn’t I though?”
“Did you at least put the money in a card?”
“I gave her stock; someone from Ed Jones called her.” He hesitated. “She was the one who sent the card. A nice thank-you note in a Fedex envelope. She remembered the last birthday gift I gave her. An ashtray, when she was pregnant and trying to quit smoking.”
“You gave her an ashtray when she was trying to quit smoking?”
“It was a ceramic frog with its mouth open. There was writing inside that said, ‘If you smoke, I might croak.’ ”
Jude was skillful at not laughing at his father’s jokes. “So did she fill up the frog with butts?”
He laughed. “Hell, yeah!”
“That’s why I was born with yellow fingernails and black lung.”
His father grinned and shook his head. “You know my policy on money, Jude.”
“You’ve never given me any even though baby you’re a rich man.”
“Me and the Harvard Club of New York—we never change our policies on the price of a ham sandwich.”
“I need a camera.”
Elton shook his head. “No one needs a camera, Jude.”
After his father left, Jude called his mother who’d recently moved from Arlington, Virginia, to Lexington, Massachusetts. She said she was doing so to be close to him, her only child, but the real reason was someone she met through online dating.
When she answered he cut to the chase: “Give me some of the fifty grand for reconstructive surgery.”
“You said you didn’t want anything fancy.”
Jude needed to have his nose re-broken at the very least. “A nose is fancy?”
Perhaps it was the intention of the ER doctors at L’Hotel-Dieu to make Jude look rugged like that French actor. He had gone to Paris on the tab of his college friend Melanie Koff, of the furrier Koffs. It was four boys who did it—thirteen years old maybe. They wanted a digital camera, and when they discovered that Jude’s was not, three of them grabbed him and the tall one who’d had the Leica used it to beat his face. It was like a vaudeville routine or a cartoon where a bunch of mice form an acrobatic pyramid to box the cat’s whiskers. It would have almost been funny if not for the violence. There was a lot of blood from Jude’s nose but also from the boy’s fist. Some of it got on Melanie; that’s all he can remember, her screaming “Jesus fucking Christ!” At least it was short. That camera was the last gift Jude’s father had given him, when he turned sixteen. By then it was clear that Jude was never going to do anything useful with a musical instrument.
“Wes thinks you should go to Cedars-Sinai,” said Jude’s mother.
Wes was her new thirty-five-year-old boyfriend from online. They’d had a one-night stand in DC and now here she was in Wes’s born-and-bred Massachusetts.
“And you’re taking the medical opinion of a floor-sander?”
“Oh, stop that. You can be very cruel, Jude, always calling Jerry a nice simple guy.”
“He was a nice simple guy.”
“He was a county court judge.”
“Compared to dad he was nice and simple.”
Jerry’s death two years earlier qualified as tragic not only because Jude and his mother were present on that ninety-two-degree day, but also because he had the heart attack while Union troops were routing the Rebels at Shiloh and people assumed that when he fell forward with such theatricality he was merely hamming it up, incredibly skillful at looking dead for the next hour of the Lost Cause.
“Jerry was a wonderful husband to me.”
“Does Mr. Sandman want to be a wonderful husband to you?”
She sighed with frustration. “I don’t know. I do know, though, that he can’t go with me to Amos Plotnikoff’s party, so it’ll be just you and me.”
This made him laugh. “How is that anything new,” he asked, “it being just you and me?”
Jude was once known as “the miracle baby”—his mother was diagnosed as infertile from endometriosis and other undiagnosable maladies. She kept going to fertility clinics and finally to a pioneer of in vitro fertilization at Northwest Memorial. Jude was named partly after the saint of hopeless causes, partly after the Beatles song, and mostly because at the time Elton was working on a never-completed oratorio for The Epistle of Jude in Twenty-five Verses. His parents would have done anything for a genetic baby at the time.
Shortly after her move to Massachusetts, his mother was excited to inform him, “That obstetrician who made and delivered you goes to my church.”
“The guy from Chicago?”
She nodded. “Your miracle doctor is now at Brigham and Women’s.”
“I don’t think he made me.”
“Well, if he’s not God himself, he’s certainly found God in a big way. After years of atheism. Don’t ask me why.”
“Do people think you found God?”
She shrugged. She only went to church in Virginia to meet men. And now that she’d bagged one, Jude didn’t know why she bothered. “I’m just happy I found Wes,” she said. “Dr. Plotnikoff was nice enough to invite me to his garden party, so I’m bringing you for show and tell. Don’t embarrass me. I don’t want them to think it wasn’t worth it.”
A few days after the call about the fifty thousand, Jude’s mother honked repeatedly in front of his building on Orchard Street.
“Miracle of miracles,” said Jude, hopping in the car with a flash of black and silver.
“Where did you get that thing that looks so absurdly expensive?”
“Elton Elsevier sent me this even though it’s not my birthday. Seven years since he gave me the one that mashed my face. This is all titanium.”
“So that means it’ll do an even better job,” she said, gassing it because they were late. “I mean the next time kids use it to mash your face.”
When Jude and his mother scuffed through the thick green grass of a stranger’s yard to get to the Plotnikoff yard—which was another stranger’s grass for all practical purposes—they found the doctor in long shorts and a plaid shirt, looking like the comedian Phil Silvers. He bent forward to study Jude’s face. “Tell me I didn’t do that.”
Dr. Plotnikoff introduced them to his first wife, who illustrated yoga-during-pregnancy books. She was obviously on good terms with the man because he had a second wife living with him in the house.
“Would you believe I’m a fifty-eight-year old grandmother?” the first wife had asked Jude’s mother.
His mother made a very charming show of surprised delight before whispering to Jude, “Doesn’t look a day over seventy-one.”
Soon Jude and his Leica had wandered off amid the middle-aged Newtonians and the Irish-looking catering girls swooshing by. The girls were moderately pretty and all the same: white on top, black on the bottom. Somehow it didn’t seem worth the effort trying to tell which was actionable. He pointed the camera at many things but didn’t click. Suddenly someone had him by the collar. “I think it’s time we had a meeting of the photographers,” said Dr. Plotnikoff, hauling Jude off to where stood the doc’s current wife.
“Anik, this is Jude, one on my miracle babies. Jude, Anik takes pictures too. I’ll let you entertain each other.”
After the doctor had plodded away to the nearest boisterous conversation, Wife No. 2 stared at Jude without cracking a smile.
“I got this face in France,” he told her in defense.
She laughed. “So did I.”
Because he found her both too pretty to be old and incredibly actionable, he nervously inspected the camera in his hands.
“Do you have a cigarette?” she asked.
“My mother has Camels,” he said, looking around.
She snagged one, plus a cagey light, off a passing girl in black and white.
“You have a pretty camera. Do you know how to use it?”
He continued to look down. “This is brand new.”
She stared at the instrument and smoked. “I’m just sick of things, you know?”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding. Then, after a moment he reconsidered. “No, I don’t know.”
“My lover is a Tunisian auto detailer.”
He changed his style of nod, as if to say I could believe that.
“So what do you shoot, Jude?”
After a moment he said, “I’d like to shoot my mother’s new boyfriend. I think he’s using her for something.”
“Go ahead—shoot him. Take photos.”
“Follow him around.”
“What, like a private detective?”
“It’s what I do for a living.”
“You really have to do anything for a living,” he said, motioning with the camera at the doctor, “as his wife?”
“Don’t be a prick,” she said, blowing out smoke. She nodded toward the same man across the lawn. “He’s semi-retired. He’s started writing a children’s book to be called Jesus and the Twelve Possums. Opossums for Apostles. He is religious now. Apparently.”
Jude looked at the happy Phil Silvers host who had made possible his membership in the world. “Why do you follow people around?”
“It’s my art—exposing secrets. I’ve been exposing secrets since 1993. I am not well-known. I’ll never be well-known.”
He considered this carefully. “Maybe that’s good if you want to keep exposing secrets.”
Soon she was whisked away by others passing by, and Jude and his camera waited for his mother to take him home.
He did, however, take Anik up on the idea she presented—to follow around his mother’s new love.
“What do you even know about this guy?” he had asked his mother when he heard about their wild night in DC.
“He owns his own business,” she replied.
“What does that mean? Ax murderers and pedophiles own their own businesses.”
“I don’t know any ax murderers and pedophiles with their own businesses.”
“Herb at Stop and Chop. Fred at Kids R Mine.”
“Why don’t you ask them for a job then? You need to take up a trade.”
She was right about the trade. He’d been given a full ride in the History of American Civ program at Harvard but had recently announced to her his intention to drop out. For the moment, however, it was her well-being that had him worried. Wes looked untrustworthy in the way that incidental crooks on eighties cop shows did. Better yet, like an incidental crook in any film of Jean-Pierre Melville, his favorite director. Wes’s business was sanding and refinishing floors, but he didn’t actually do any sanding or refinishing. He spent his day driving around giving estimates. Although he drove a white van bearing the name of his company, he owned two motorcycles, and like many people who had two of something, there was the constant desire for a third.
As Wes looked at motorcycles in a glass box, Jude waited across the street in a rented car. After thirty-five minutes he felt like a creep. He hadn’t snapped a single shot by the time he gave up the project. As he drove through Lexington Center, however, who of all people did her spy at an ATM but Anik. He immediately parked, and on foot proceeded to follow at a safe distance as she did errands in the way that Frenchwomen did—on foot. And of course he snapped photos all the while. She never once made eye contact, but he knew she knew what he was doing.
A few days later she showed up at Darwin’s, the sandwich shop where he was working. She asked him to do that again—follow and photograph her surreptitiously while she did errands. He said OK, but that he’d be out of commission for a couple weeks while some doctor at the Brigham fixed his nose. She told him that in Paris—a city she hated—she had asked her mother to hire an antiques appraiser to follow her around taking notes on her activity. She told him that the appraiser, a man now dead, had the largest but most beautifully shaped nose she’d ever seen. She also told him that she would probably never sleep with him—Jude, that is—and that she probably wouldn’t stay with Amos for long. She added that she wished the sandwich shop made hamburgers.
“Excuse me, is that someone famous?” Jude was asked near Carnegie Hall by some girl with another girl just like herself. They were looking ahead at the back of Anik.
“Excuse me!” both girls yelled in unison. “Excuse me!”
“He’s ignoring us,” said the one.
“He’s some foreign bitch,” said the other.
Jude stared at them with as much lack of understanding as Anik had for the SNY jocks through glass. His quarry had apparently overheard the conversation, because she broke through the fourth wall to approach him where he stood with his Leica.
“Do you still ride the Monster?”
He used to own a Ducati—or rather, he inherited a Ducati from Wes, after he and Jude’s mother were killed by a drunk driver.
When he had finished being mesmerized at the constancy of her smile, he replied. “I told you about that wipeout. There are still specks of pavement in my thigh. Too much going on here to ride a bike.”
She smiled even more. “Coward.”
“You called it.”
He could tell she suddenly remembered the tragic death of his mother on a motorcycle and felt bad. He suggested the Shake Shack on Eighth, where she could satisfy her hamburger fetish.
As they walked she mentioned that practically the only photos she’d seen from America in recent months were the congressman’s crotch shots that were all over the Internet. She called him disgusting.
“Really? I thought the French would be on us about that for being such puritans.”
“He’s disgusting because he’s a coward. He was caught and he lied. Little man.”
“Everyone’s a coward to you, Anik.”
“That’s true. But only because everyone lies.”
He looked down at the camera still in his hand. “I think I’m going to get out of the lying racket fairly soon.”
He could feel her face light up. “Really? You mean you’re leaving Mr. Hap?”
It was cutting the way she said it; the lightness was in the service of sarcasm.
“I’ve got to do something,” he confessed, “but I don’t know where to go.”
She didn’t say anything for a while. Then she took his hand subtly but with much affection. “Still that lost boy with the broken nose.”
He laughed. “Broken nose, broken home.”
“That boy I found in Amos’s backyard.”
Jude didn’t want to be anyone’s lost boy. But even after all these years, Anik represented to him the enormous world he missed out on by being born too late. She’d been partly born into it, but even for her it was too late.
That’s why she was always diving into the past with her work. And that’s why he was diving into the past by stalking her. Stalking with a form of image-making no one knew how to pull off anymore. It suited her, and it suited him. Beyond that, nothing else mattered.