Narcissus - Paul Sandmann - ebook

Narcissus ebook

Paul Sandmann

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Enter the financial heart of Europe – London – just before the financial crisis and meet Tristan: investment banker and celebrated playboy. Young, successful and devastatingly handsome, Tristan, one of the greatest seducers of our time, sets out to become King of the City. Men and women alike fall at his feet, captivated by his beauty. Although he has plenty of fleeting superficial attachments, ever since childhood Tristan has succeeded in keeping alive his ideal of a perfect love. On his nocturnal forays Tristan wins the heart of one beauty after another, but never has any deeper feelings for any of them. Afraid of missing the one true love, he has formed the habit of never giving a woman more than one night to cast a spell on him. But then he meets Isabella Eco and his life changes for ever...

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Contents

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

XIII

XIV

XV

XVI

The End

About the Book

Enter the financial heart of Europe – London – just before the financial crisis and meet Tristan: investment banker and celebrated playboy. Young, successful and devastatingly handsome, Tristan, one of the greatest seducers of our time, sets out to become King of the City.

About the Author

Paul Sandmann is a confirmed traveller, dreamer, and lover of classical music and the fine arts. He has been writing since he was twelve years old and in recent months has been reading his tales to his girlfriend. He has been working on this novel for six years.

Paul Sandmann is all of thirty-three years old.

www.twitter.com/paulsandmann

Paul Sandmann

Narcissus

A modern love story

Imprint

Narcissus: A modern love story

Paul Sandmann

Translated by Gordon C. Wells

Cover Design: Paul Sandmann

Cover Motif: El Ángel Rebelde by Salvatore Buemi
Published by: epubli GmbH, Berlin, www.epubli.de
Copyright of Translation: © 2012 Gordon C. Wells

ISBN 978-3-7375-2716-3

Praise for Narcissus:

“Tristan is successful, young, beautiful and in search of the perfect - in search of the one true love. After the first few sentences I was already enthralled by Paul Sandmann’s writing style. I think I have never read a more beautiful description of a kiss than in this novel. … You cannot read this book without being deeply moved by it - as I was, even if I did not fully understand Tristan: on the one hand hopelessly romantic and on the other cold as steel. But maybe that is what lends this man his attraction … he is fascinating and abhorrent at the same time.

It is a book of extremes. It is a very emotional book and it is a book full of suspense. Paul Sandmann enchanted me with the poetry of his words. It lingers over this novel like the breeze of a wonderful scent.”

- Martina Meyen, Eselöhrchen

“Tristan, a modern Dorian Gray? … The description of Tristan, especially his inner conflict and his relationship with others, is thrilling and beautiful. … This is a remarkable novel by a talented indieauthor.”

- Harald Faisst, Bücher und eBooks

“The narrative style is passionate, the characters well developed, the atmosphere and setting wonderful. Particularly interesting are the changes of narrative tone when the story shifts from Tristan’s private life to his uncompromising business life. In scenes of Tristan’s private life, the reader can’t help but notice the protagonist’s thirst for love. … I was deeply impressed by this modern Greek tragedy.”

- Elsa Rieger, ebook salon

“This is something different - a love story in which the focus is not on the female character, but on the male protagonist.”

- Monica Heidt, Leseleidenschaft

To my readers, who tweet, talk and write about this book.

Together we can change first ourselves and then the world.

Acknowledgement

I would like to thank Gordon C. Wells for his beautiful translation of “Tristan“. I feel grateful for having found such a talented man for this challenging task.

I

Sensuously undulating curves, with their taut covering of silky skin. So tender! Salmon pink, the flesh beneath shines through. Thirsty, it swells outwards. Demanding of love, greedy, insatiable. Across it flow tiny filigree lines – to the shadows of the opening, so microscopically fine that they are imperceptible to all but lovers, who immediately fall under their spell. Each individual line runs in only one direction, towards the opening. Like sirens they seize the beholder, commanding him to come closer. So close that his breath is almost grazing the skin. Then it happens: the shadows open and the breath of both of them mingles. All at once their flesh is as close as only a kiss can make it. With only a breath between them to hold back the hot blood pulsating through the body. How much closer can you get to a person than when you’re kissing, he asked himself.

He straightened his freshly knotted tie, then stepped back from the mirror. Fine, light-blue stripes ran through the pink of the Chinese silk. He slipped the jacket round his shoulders and pulled the sleeves of his white shirt, with their silver cufflinks, an inch or so out from under the black material. Then he looked at himself again and flared his nostrils, as a puff of scent from his freshly shaved neck below the prominent chin wafted up. On that particular morning, its fragrance, which gradually unfolded around him, was unable to dispel the troublesome thoughts that tormented him. His gaze was drawn back to his own broad lips.

How many mouths had they already kissed?

And how many merely for the taste, not for love? Just like last night.

Are such questions even allowed, he thought. Or could you then never kiss anyone again?

I want to kiss her, he thought to himself. Want her laughter to belong to me – when the little lines vanish as though by magic and the white teeth smile at me. Is kissing this mouth the longed-for promise? Does kissing someone mean anything any more? For someone who is as free with their kisses as I am, that would be more than I have a right to expect.

He smiled nervously.

Have I only ever kissed women I loved? Definitely not. If I had, I should probably have died of thirst. Do you let the buds of youth fade because you’re too serious about love? Should you not be content with affection, which can grow into love later? Those who keep the first kiss for their true love have bartered a passionate yesterday for a safe tomorrow. They were too fearful to risk falling. Wouldn’t follow their dreams. If they acted in this way, they could never be disappointed or hurt. Because if you let your counterpart carry on regardless, embraced by your own dreams and wishes, disappointment can be the result. Does this mean you regret the kiss when the cocoon that holds the illusion together bursts open?

At that moment the sound of water from the shower stopped and his visitor stepped out. Seconds later her naked body appeared in the mirror behind him, the white skin covered with hundreds of tiny droplets of water.

“Hi handsome, what’s all this about then? If I’d known you had to get up so early, I wouldn’t have come home with you,” said the stranger, resting her head on his shoulder and trying to make eye contact. He felt the material of his jacket soaking up the dampness of her chin.

“Yes you would,” he replied, without looking at her. He adjusted his tie once more, then he turned round and wiped a droplet of water from the tip of her nose.

“The bank calls, you can go back to bed. Just close the door behind you when you leave. There should still be some sushi in the fridge for breakfast.”

She pulled a face. Her blue eyes and pouty mouth had really affected him – yesterday. Now she looked rather tired. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then picked up his black briefcase from the chest of drawers and went out; he had almost completely shaken off the gloomy thoughts of that morning. Outside the lift they came back in force, but once he had said hello to the lady next door and the porter and entered the lift he began to wonder whether he ought to feel ashamed of that passionate yesterday. After so many disappointments, should he simply bid farewell to all hope?

No, no! Each morning, when you wake, you should hold fast to your dreams before they escape. Keep them safe till the day has fully dawned. Each day afresh. And if the world tries to destroy your dreams, hacks away at them till they bleed, then protect them with everything you’ve got. Give them the night for healing and guard their presence with you – each day anew. You must never betray them, never lose hope of love. Or your heart will die. At that moment he thought of her wonderful body, and how it had been silhouetted under the bed sheets that morning, while she was still asleep.

He sucked his cheeks in a little between his slightly parted teeth, looked up at the polished metal door of the lift, and a captivating smile crept over his face, making his elderly neighbour sigh.

II

She heard the door shut. He had gone and she was alone. But she was not overwhelmed by any feeling of loneliness or of regret that he had left her so soon. Yesterday they had got to know each other in a trendy bar. He was good-looking, in top physical form, his smile irresistible. Moreover, he had charm. Hearing him talk reminded her of one of those stars of the films she was so fond of. Every phrase had been just right. So why shouldn’t she go with him? True, she had only known him for a few hours, yet the temptation had simply been too great. She went into the kitchen to look for some juice. The apartment was smart, furnished with every facility imaginable. Over there, next to the door, was a symmetrical area let into the marble floor, filled with black pebbles, with three bamboo plants that reached right up to the ceiling. The shower-room, where, as well as the shower itself, she had been targeted by spray from all four walls. The living room with the glass front, through which the early morning sun shone – and through which there was a marvellous view on to the London streets and surrounding area. And the black leather couch, where she was now sitting cross-legged and naked, drinking her orange juice. She had left the sushi in the refrigerator untouched – she didn’t care for this exotic stuff. Her glance fell on the wall shelving filled with CDs and records. She found everything unusually neat and tidy for a man’s apartment. Not one of his dark hairs, which would have shown up on the white floor, was visible – and even the toilet seat had been down! She could not immediately put into words the feelings all this aroused in her, so she pushed the thought to one side.

Marie put the glass down. She went back into the bedroom to get dressed. As she stood at the foot of the bed the word she had been looking for suddenly came to mind: sterile. That was the word that described the atmosphere in Tristan’s living room so precisely. The apartment was not welcoming, but rather too clean and tidy – at least to her way of thinking. She could scarcely imagine how anyone could live here. Although at first sight everything looked modern and stylish, she found the coldness she sensed there frightening. She wondered who did the cleaning here – but she comforted herself with the thought: He’s a man. Men are only concerned with necessary and practical things and have no time for accessories like candles, plants and so forth. He probably has a hyperactive Mexican cleaning lady, too. Her friends were fortunate in that respect – Miranda, a small, stocky mid-forty-year-old from Puerto Angel even smoothed the bedclothes over the children after they had gone to sleep.

Then her thoughts returned to this man, who she scarcely knew and with whom everything had happened so quickly. Tristan came across as sensitive and charming; she would not have believed it possible that she would ever meet a man like that. The night had been fantastic; until yesterday she had never experienced such waves of ecstasy. He always seemed to know exactly what she was thinking and wanting. It went beyond words – he was right on her wavelength. It was as if there was a transparent connection between them, something that was completely new to her. But, it wasn’t every day that she went home with a stranger either. After dressing she picked up her handbag from the sofa and walked towards the door of the apartment. She opened it and cast a final glance back into the living room. With a satisfied smile she closed the door behind her.

The warm feeling she had experienced vanished as soon as she stepped out on to the street. One glance at her watch was enough to transform her inner calm into anxiety. It was a quarter to nine. She looked around for a taxi, but of course there was none in sight. It was as though they were all conspiring against her. She had to be at work at nine o’clock, so she hurried down the street and turned into a quiet side-road. After an eight minute walk she finally found a taxi and asked to be taken to Brompton Road. When she arrived at the store, completely exhausted, and made her way to the perfume department, she was greeted with a wink from her work-mate Angelina.

“I’ve already told them you had a doctor’s appointment and would be late. So you’re excused and there’s no need for an awkward meeting with Mr Howard.”

“You’re a sweetie, Angie. You’re always looking out for me. – Shall we have lunch together today?”

“Great idea – if you’re paying.”

They laughed.

“See you at one then. Ciao.”

Marie moved on. She started arranging new items on the shelves, then carried on stacking the rest of the shelves. Lunchtime arrived in a flash, because she kept thinking about the evening she spent with Tristan, and all the sweet nothings he had whispered in her ear. She had already forgotten those troubling thoughts about his apartment and now she just enjoyed the lovely memories of the previous night. Of course, she knew only too well that it had been no more than one single night and that he might well be flirting with another woman at this very minute. All the same, she wasn’t the type to give up so soon.

She had left him a short and open-ended note on the kitchen table, hoping that sooner or later he would contact her again. Marie was still rather old-fashioned in this way; she never made the first move, but always waited for the man to take the initiative. Consequently, many a time men had slipped through her fingers, simply because she was too passive. But old habits die hard, and she tried to convince herself that Tristan would call anyway, because he had enjoyed their night together too. She just had to believe it.

Suddenly a customer roused her from her reveries: “Where can I find a shower gel that goes with this scent?”

Tristan slammed the receiver down and typed something into his computer. He narrowed his eyes as he followed the trajectory of an insurance company that had just nose-dived.

“Whatever happened there?” he whispered to himself and switched to a different window to try to find the cause of the collapse. But none of the data could explain it.

“What’s going on here?” he called out to his colleague Marcus, who was sitting only a few feet away from him. Marcus quickly typed a few characters, pressed the Enter key and pushed his chair over to Tristan on its castors. In doing so he almost knocked over a rubbish bin crammed full of left-overs from a Chinese take-away that was positioned between them.

“Ah, Fensec. Yes, Tom was just sending his positive analysis for the next few months by video link to New York and Tokyo. As he was doing it, though, he suddenly had the mother of all nosebleeds and that put the mockers on it. The dealers switched off like a flash, and this,” Marcus pointed to the flickering line heading diagonally downwards, “is the result.”

“Congratulations!” exclaimed Tristan with a sardonic smile and shook his head. But Marcus had pushed himself away again and rolled back to his desk laughing.

At lunch in one of those little French street cafes near the City, Tristan was chatting with two colleagues about Tom’s misfortune.

“You’re an idiot, Tom,” said Steve straight out – he was a gaunt-looking man with short, cropped, fair hair.

Tom, who was visibly irritated, scratched his nose and cast a furious glance at Steve. Before the others had stopped laughing, he retorted loudly and clearly, addressing the whole group: “It could have happened to any one of you. So why don’t you just go fuck yourself?”

But his words only made the others laugh all the louder. George picked up the ketchup bottle and turned away, and when he turned back to face Tom he was sporting a thick, blood-red moustache above his upper lip.

“See, Tom, that’s how you looked in Tokyo!”

He turned away briefly and then looked back at the others. Nothing had changed. The tomato puree was still dripping from his nose.

“And that’s how you looked in New York!”

Tom went scarlet. Through half-closed eyes he shot poisoned arrows in the direction of the others. His pale-blue eyes blazed with anger. Then the blood spurted out of his nose again and on to his clean new tie.

“And that’s what you looked like in Frankfurt!” cried George and banged on the table, giving one of the waitresses a fright and making her drop a knife. Tristan bent down and picked up the knife, which had fallen near his shoe, while the noisy guffaws of the other two reduced the whole cafe to silence. As he raised his head and looked at the embarrassed waitress, a smile flickered across his lips. The girl was wearing white socks to the knee under her dark skirt. Her white shirt was adorned with a black bow tie. Her arms, projecting from her short sleeves, were a delicate pink, like fine china. His fingers brushed lightly against hers as he placed the knife in her hand.

“Look at that, it’s an absolute scream and Tris isn’t the least bit interested,” one of them shouted as the others all laughed.

“Of course I am, it’s hilarious,” said Tristan, with a wry grin. He took a look at Tom’s shirt and bit into his baguette. Tom realized that dabbing with his serviette was never going to rescue his shirt or his tie. So he put it aside and looked at Tristan.

“By the way, what was going on yesterday with you and that bird?” he asked.

Tristan looked up from his salad and allowed his gaze to rest for a moment on the expectant face of the banker.

“With us? Not a lot,” replied Tristan finally, then looked away and sampled the salmon pâté.

“Don’t bother to ask, he never talks about his affairs. He takes his pick-ups home one after another, but he’d like us to think that nothing ever actually happens.” Steve gave Tristan a slap on the back. “Tristan is a monk, didn’t you know that?”

“Me, I had a ball yesterday,” George interjected. “The little darling screeched like a harpy, but I’m telling you, my friends, it was a night to remember.” As he spoke, he made an unambiguous gesture, which left Tristan choking on his pâté. This looked like the start of one of those conversations that normally led to general fraternization, as each of them in turn, like a hunter with his kill, deposited the game on the table, raw and bleeding, and began to tell the rest of them all about his conquests. And as they gutted the prey all over again to satisfy the wide-eyed curiosity of the brothers, the cafe gradually emptied – the lunch break was nearing its end. Relieved it was all over, Tristan agreed to take care of the bill while the others went ahead to have a smoke, then said to the girl as he got up to go: “I’m sorry, mademoiselle. I hope you can forgive these yobs.”

“No problem.” She smiled shyly.

“Are you new in town?” he asked.

She nodded.

He contemplated the blonde for a moment. She didn’t seem to believe that he could possibly want to ask her any more questions. So he just smiled, nodded to the girl and opened the door of the cafe.

Tom pushed past George and Steve as he went through the door, jostled a passer-by and hurried off with an angry look on his face. He ran past the display windows of the bistros and cafes that lined the street.

Tom’s face was that of a fine-looking man. However, a persistent tension was gradually beginning to leave its mark. His jaw was permanently thrust slightly forward, and this had affected the muscular structure, strengthening the filaments at the side of his face, while weakening those in the cheeks that controlled the action of laughter. As long as the fibres of his teeth and bones were still young, these filaments had retained their shape. Now, though, his cheeks were beginning to look hollow. To the side of his mouth the skin bulged and sent vertical creases down from the corners of his mouth, bespeaking prolonged dissatisfaction. He liked to think that this was a genetic predisposition, but no face is proof against tens of thousands of hours of the same facial expressions constantly repeated, and sooner or later these inevitably leave their mark.

What was more, Tom’s skin colour seemed to be no longer as fresh as that of his colleagues of a similar age. But can the skin be expected to be radiant when the tissue underlying it is exposed to such continual stress? Tom’s face lacked spontaneity thanks to this ingrained grim determination. He regularly smiled a few seconds too late, and his laugh was never able to completely free itself of a certain mask-like rigidity.

Unconsciously reacting to this blemish in order not to alienate his conversational partners, Tom tended to support whatever it was that his interlocutor was saying by affirmative nodding or interested murmurs. This was apt to suggest insecurity, although this would have been a mistaken impression.

On the other hand, Tom’s eyes had never lost their brightness. Even if for most of the time they were focused on the other speaker, they reacted to any touch of humour with a smile. It was perhaps due to the keen intelligence of this man that his eyes revealed this reaction more quickly than was the case for other people, which meant that there was an odd mismatch between the eyes and the mouth region when the conversation took a less serious turn. All in all, Tom was self-contradiction personified. His handsome appearance, his intelligence and athleticism ought to have made him the centre of attraction in any society. But his highly strung mentality, constantly close to breaking point, and his restless nature, prevented this. In the end, this was bound to lead to his downfall.

This was also reflected in the way Tom spoke. His voice sounded distorted, like a discordant whine proceeding from the consciousness of his inner conflicts. It was as though half his vocal cords wanted to give expression to what was being said – shrill and emotionally charged – while the other half sounded dark and was intended to convey the impression of strength.

Again, Tom bumped into a pedestrian, then apologized politely, took a few more steps and disappeared into the bank’s high-rise office building.

III

Eight hours later Tristan turned the key in the lock to the door of his apartment. Half a turn was enough; the girl from the night before had evidently simply shut the door behind her. The light from the city shone dark blue through the glass walls of his apartment. He put his hand on the switch and turned on the light. He dropped his leather briefcase on the sofa, then went over to the refrigerator and opened it. The sushi was still there. He grabbed it, and dribbled a little of the black soy sauce on the little rolls, so that the rice in them immediately soaked up the liquid and changed colour. Where had he put the wasabi? He went over to the cupboard, but the green paste was not there. He knelt down on the floor and opened the waist-level wooden doors. No luck. No sign of it on the oven either.

“There’s no wasabi in the house,” he said to himself, puzzled, and went over to the cocktail table that stood in the middle of the room. There was something on it that had not been there before. He grabbed the slip of paper. On it were written a few words and a phone number in a big round hand. Marie had taken fifteen minutes to get these words down on paper as she wanted. Tristan read them, emitting a short blast of air, which sounded like a stifled burst of laughter. Then he turned the slip of paper over and in clearly legible writing for his housekeeper Marta jotted down on it the word: wasabi. He raised his head, and in thoughtful mood, as night fell, briefly looked out of the window. Then he continued to write. He urgently needed two bottles of champagne. Marta knew the small shop that stocked his favourite brand. Then Tristan attached the slip of paper to the refrigerator, undressed and went into the bathroom. He had to hurry – in an hour’s time he was due to meet two colleagues in the Sky Lounge.

The waxen moon was just rising behind the pale skyscrapers of the City as Tristan entered the bar. Flanked by his two friends he advanced slowly past the plump floor cushions to the sound of muted conversation. His still damp dark-brown hair covered his face down to his cheeks. He hadn’t had time to shave, with the result that there was a light shadow across his face that presented a fine contrast to his blue eyes. Here in the gentle breeze of the city, which was just coming back to life for the evening, the three men made their way to their reserved table. They sat down. Marcus took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, just as though he was embarking on the second part of his working day, whereas actually all he was doing was ordering a gin & tonic. The other man ordered an absinthe.

“And for you, sir?” asked the waiter, who was dressed in formal attire.

“A rum cola – Cuban rum please.”

“Very good,” said the Indian waiter and turned away. As though on rails, he glided past more guests and disappeared in the direction of the bar. Marcus started to chat to the other man, Cirrus Baker. Marcus knew him from school. Cirrus didn’t work in the City; he was a freelance artist; he had a studio in the attic of an old brick building in Carnaby Street and was making quite good money for an artist. This was due, not least, to his eccentricity, which he always flaunted, whether he happened to be in a golf club or at a fast food outlet. Marcus was just giving him an animated account of the events of the morning.

“Excellent!” snorted the dandy, “That gives me an idea.”

Tristan stayed behind, as Marcus and Cirrus went for a short toilet break. He reached for the drink the waiter had just brought him, took a sip, and directed his attention to the guests who, despite the early evening hour, were already filling up this roof terrace.

A mixed crowd of perhaps a hundred people were milling about in the silvery light of the moon. Here, not three metres away from Tristan’s table, stood two stout businessmen – or at least their expansive gestures suggested that this was what they were. In a sudden onset of false bonhomie, one of them put his hand on the shoulder of the other and addressed him earnestly. At the same time he was waving his martini glass perilously over the heads of a young couple sitting on a chunky red foam rubber cushion. The drink was threatening to spill over at any moment, with potentially disastrous consequences for the girl’s white dress.

Further away, a group of models were standing around a lanky, obviously gay youngish man. He was wearing a strangely shaped hat, which to all appearances he had probably designed himself. But he was clearly a hit with the girls. Tristan rested his gaze for a moment on this little group of lovelies. Then he took another look around and was surprised at how many of these beauties were here today. All of a sudden he saw them everywhere: There at the bar stood an ageing mid-fifty-year-old man, with a tall redhead on his arm. Not far from them, no fewer than four blondes were having fun with two broad-shouldered gentlemen on a row of seats. It looked as though these two had not done badly for themselves either, to judge by their flashing wristwatches, or the forced laughter of the four women every time one of the gentlemen so much as opened his mouth. Tristan smoothed his jacket sleeve and scrutinized the scene before him more closely. The men hardly interested him at all. The models, on the other hand, who thronged about them, made him smile. Models, he thought to himself, are in our time what dancers in the French opera were in the age of Casanova. They were a group of girls of exceptional beauty, who had the dubious honour of being made the mistresses of the wealthy men of their time. When Casanova was alive, the aristocrats went to the opera in order to hear the audience whispering their name when the ballerinas made their entrance on the stage. At that time, as members of the Royal Academy of Music, the ballerinas all belonged to the court. Despite this, their ranks were filled with the loveliest and at the same time the poorest girls in the land, who were not even remunerated for their performances. They were delighted to accept this position, however, as it gave them the chance to be seen by the French nobility and become the mistresses of the men among them. Today, too, the rich and powerful flock round the catwalk models, as once their European predecessors did around the dancers in the theatre. In every country in the world they adorn themselves with the exquisite beauty of these girls. And that, he reflected, in spite of the fact that these days their beauty is measured only by their height and the regularity of their facial features and not by their feminine curves. Thus the taste of today’s industrial and financial aristocracy apparently resembles that of artists who, as Balzac has said, prefer the sketch to the finished painting.

Tristan couldn’t help laughing quietly to himself and had to confess that these days even he was no longer so enamoured of those womanly curves. Of course, once the girl with the cute little face had slipped out of her clothes, the sight that met your eyes was not a pretty one. It was not for nothing that the majority of these sad creatures asked for the lights to be almost totally dimmed, so that their ribs would not be thrown into relief by a shaft of candlelight. By contrast, the breasts on these naked, starving child bodies appeared much larger than they actually were. But how dreadfully bony the pelvises were! You were frightened of crushing them when you made love to these girls. Tristan didn’t believe any of these men when they claimed to be really satisfied in bed. But they evidently consoled themselves with the envious glances that came their way when they appeared in society with these girls. Then their bodies were draped in the latest fashion creations, which were only – literally only – tailored for them and which lent a truly ethereal aspect to their fairylike exterior.

How big their eyes always looked, thought Tristan to himself and felt rather sorry for these creatures. They were striving to achieve an ideal that was promoted in the media. It made them go hungry all their lives. Hungry for food and perhaps also, in the end, hungry for love. Because much as they personified the state of this starving world, they could never hope to be really loved like this, either by the men, who chose them out of vanity, or even by themselves. For Tristan was in no doubt that no one who became as wraith-like as these girls could possibly love themselves. So any compliment on their beauty was worthless in their eyes.

They thirsted for something deeper. But what did they have to offer that could give them hope? Tristan had got to know many fashion models in his life. But he had not been able to pass the time in an interesting way with any of them for longer than one evening. And usually he had had to do most of the talking himself even to fill up that one evening; to a certain extent he had needed to provoke the vanity they displayed so that he could then compliment them on their intellect. This was all lies, of course. His ideal of a beautiful woman was of quite a different order. But why worry? Everyone must live in the age into which they are born. The fifties would have been more to his taste, but in this life, for good or ill, he would just have to work with whatever was in vogue at the time. And, much as he regretted it, in this decade the world loved the faces of loneliness and of hunger.

“Tristan!” a voice suddenly brayed through the crowd – and Cirrus, the artist, appeared. He had opened his arms in a theatrical gesture as he mounted the two steps to their table. The smile on his face was the most radiant imaginable; even the moon paled before it. To Tristan the pupils of the man facing him appeared dark, and he was beginning to fear that he would be swallowed up by them when Marcus approached, drew up the other chair and laid his arm on Tristan’s shoulder.

“That was fantastic,” he grinned broadly. “Well? Anything caught your eye as yet?”

“I don’t know,” replied Tristan and reached for his glass, then called the waiter and indicated that he would like another drink.

“Tristan, Tristan...” Cirrus began, still with that appealing smirk around the corners of his mouth, “Tristan, I’ve just been chatting to Marcus about you in the gents.”

Tristan glanced at his watch and cocked his head to one side: “Well, you’ve certainly taken your time about it. What did you find to say about me?”

“You’re such a handsome chap, Tristan. I like the shine on your hair, the ironic expression in your eyes. Your chin, your physique. In a word, I have never before seen such perfection in a man!”

Tristan leaned over to Marcus, who nodded in agreement.

“How much did you pay him?” he asked in a whisper.

“In cocainum veritas,” he said with a sideways grin.

“Really, Tristan. When I first saw you my soul was stirred to its depths. In that moment I knew that the personality that seems to radiate through every fibre of your being is capable of changing what I am, perhaps even my entire life. So far I have created works of beauty, but now they seem nothing more than the prelude to the great work that I can now achieve. My art must make you my own. Let me paint your portrait!”

He paused, giving Marcus the opportunity to elegantly raise his glass and, with a grand gesture, drink a toast to Tristan. However, Tristan seemed lost in thought. His finely turned eyebrows were furrowed to form a dark shadow. Thin creases appeared beneath the corners of his mouth, though they were gone in a few seconds.

“Go on, Tristan, our friend here has been fascinated by your profile for weeks. Just think, he could make your youthful beauty immortal! Your face would age, but your image would remain as fresh as it is today.”

But Tristan was unconvinced and indicated as much with a hand gesture.

“Let’s change the subject. Sorry, Cirrus, but I haven’t got time to discuss it now.”

“I cannot accept this answer! Anyone else would be ecstatic to be immortalized by me!” protested the artist with vehemence. But Tristan could not be persuaded. There was a brief pause in which Cirrus, mortified, looked up at the moon with raised eyebrows.

Finally, Marcus, ever the diplomat, said “To our wrinkles, then,” and raised his glass. “They make us more handsome by the year, while the beauty of our women fades. So I suggest you paint our girlfriends instead, Cirrus, then we shall have something to remember them by when we end up marrying their daughters!”

Cirrus, though, after his disappointment, was in no mood for jesting. With suppressed rage he had turned his chair around and was focusing entirely on the scene that surrounded them.

“Excuse me,” said Tristan, getting up, “I’m going to get a breath of fresh air.” He took his drink and walked with measured tread in the direction of a young lady who had caught his eye during the conversation. In fact, the reason for his surprisingly dark looks just now had not been the artist’s offer to paint him. He would have thought this far too trivial to bother him. No, the reason had been the young lady who had walked past them without so much as a sideways glance and who was now standing at the far end of the roof terrace. He directed his steps quite slowly towards the long-legged beauty, as the ice-cubes quietly chinked against the inside of the glass in his hand.

She looked fabulous. Her dark-brown hair lay across her right shoulder, revealing her long, delicate, swanlike neck. Her skin shone white and cool against the moonlight, while the red of her evening gown, which scarcely covered her back, played around the contours of her body like a breath of warm air. Tristan stepped up to the railing beside her and grasped the chrome of the barrier with both hands.

He looked out at the city and took a deep breath. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed her look round at him, her eyes lingering on his face for an instant. So he turned towards her and smiled. Her face was even more beautiful than he had realized at first glance, when she swept past them. She looked at him searchingly with her big chestnut-brown doe-like eyes. Her eyebrows arched delicately above them. Her forehead was high and rounded like that of a child, whilst her straight and well-formed nose divided her face into two symmetrical halves, the sensuous focus of which was formed by her lips. These were so full and alluring that she really had no need of the lipstick that she had applied. As it was, they stood out from her alabaster skin like drops of blood in the snow.

“I thought it was incredible that a young lady like you had come here unaccompanied and I wanted to offer to keep you company myself. My name’s Tristan,” he said, as he bent his head to one side and the smile faded from his features.

She stared at him for a moment in astonishment, then composed herself, shook her head hesitantly and repeated slowly: “Keep me company?”

She cast her eyes down, then looked at him again and continued: “Thank you for asking, but I’m meeting someone.”

At that point he was struck by how fragile she looked. The thin material, which flowed down her body like water, only seemed to emphasize the vulnerability that he read in her face. Her body was so soft, quite unlike those of the fashion models that were standing around her. Her truly feminine form amazed him and he felt that his prayers had been answered. At the same time, however, he recognized that the others, with their sterile toughness, were stronger than this young lady here. He was afraid that if he touched her she would shatter into a thousand white pieces and be scattered over the floor.

“In that case I’ll wait here with you and leave as soon as your companion arrives,” he replied after a short pause. “I mean, of course, if I may.”

She had turned towards the city again, but at these words she politely looked back at him. At last she said: “All right, then please stay,” and gazed out into the night once more.

“Isn’t it a pity that it never really gets dark in London?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you see, I’m from the country. To be more precise, I’m from a village on the continent. And when night falls there it’s dark. Here, though, it’s never dark.”

“You’re not from here?”

“No.”

She beamed at him as if he had just made her dearest wish come true.

“My parents come from Italy. My name is Eco, Isabella Eco.”

“Oh really? Then your parents and my parents were almost neighbours. My name is Tristan.”

“Tristan – and what comes next?”

“Nothing. It’s just Tristan.”

“Good, I shall call you Tristano,” she said, laughing.

The waiter was just passing. Tristan stopped him.

“Two glasses of champagne – you drink champagne, don’t you?” he asked her casually and put his half filled glass on the tray. The ice in it had melted.

“Hmm,” she muttered, and turned away in embarrassment.

“Please don’t be offended if I buy you a drink, but I had to get away from my two friends. Can you see them over there?” He pointed to Cirrus and Marcus, who seemed to be in the middle of a heated argument about something. She saw his friends and nodded.

“Those two guys will never forgive me for absenting myself unless they see me drinking champagne with you.” said Tristan and laughed.

“What is it about him?” This was the question the artist, some seven metres away, was asking of Marcus at this moment.

“What, about Tristan?" said Marcus.

“Yes,” replied the artist, “he’s so completely different from the people you meet these days.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I hardly know him, but I get the impression that he never really lets anyone get near him.”

“It’s not that.” Marcus contradicted him, smiling. “It’s just that he can’t stand listening to idle chatter. This superficial chit-chat about women, money and power he finds intolerable. An awful lot of it goes on in the bank, as you well know,” Marcus leaned back and looked around him, “and in places like this.”

“And the women?” said the artist with a wry smile. “If all the chatter is getting on my nerves, I go to the women. But I guess he doesn’t let any of them really get close to him.”

“Oh yes he does, and how.” Marcus laughed out loud. It was a short and meaningful burst of laughter that instantly combined both confidentiality and betrayal in one sound. “He makes them laugh, charms them, gives them hope with a look and finally wins them over. It’s as though he’s dancing with them, he knows so well how to go along with their every movement, even before they know they’re being led. I’ve never known a woman that hasn’t fallen for him.”

Marcus paused and turned thoughtfully towards Tristan, who was chatting with the woman in the red evening gown.

Then Marcus sighed and continued, with a smile:

“But h ow can he help it if the next morning he no longer fancies the woman he’s kissed?"

“Do you mean, he doesn’t like to commit himself?” asked Cirrus.

“Every man is searching for a woman he has something in common with; someone who, in a way, is a reflection of himself. Tristan is no exception. Each of the women he gets involved with and who I get to know reflects one facet of his character. It always turns out, however, that it is just that – one facet. The moment this dawns on him he drops her. Often it’s only the physical attractiveness that they share with him. If that’s all it is it probably won’t last more than one night. If it’s more than that, it could be a few weeks before he turns away in disappointment. But I’ve never known one to stay with him for longer than a month.” Marcus raised his arm and tried to beckon to Tristan and his companion to come over.

“Please take no notice of them,” whispered Tristan, as he touched Isabella seemingly inadvertently and joined her in looking out at the city.

“What do your friends do?” asked Isabella.

Tristan took the two glasses from the waiter, who had returned, pressed some money into his hand and passed Isabella her glass.

“One of them’s an artist,” he replied.

“An artist? I love art!” she exclaimed.

He raised his glass and looked deep into her eyes: “Then here’s to the fine arts!”

She repeated the toast and for a moment was transfixed. Tristan took a sip and had to make an effort not to cough. He could not believe that this stuff was from France.

“Is this really champagne?” asked Isabella, who had no way of knowing what Tristan thought of it, as he was keeping his facial muscles totally under control. This couldn’t possibly be champagne – at best it was Italian sparkling wine.

“It tastes like Prosecco!” she continued, visibly amused and chuckling quietly.

Tristan joined in her laughter and said: “There you are, you see, I tried to impress you and save money at the same time. I know that waiter. Whenever I order champagne he always pours me Prosecco instead. But you’re the first person to have caught me out. It takes a true Italian to do that!”

Abruptly she stopped laughing and narrowed her eyes.

But he just laughed and shook his head, then drank the rest of his champagne. He put the glass back on the Indian waiter’s tray and said to him: “Okay, my friend, and now bring us the right one!”

The young waiter looked surprised and hesitated for a second, then Tristan went on:

“Bring us a Prosecco, there’s a good chap.”

Now Isabella laughed out loud too, prompting some of the guests to look across to them questioningly. Speaking softly, Tristan said to them: “Whatever you do, don’t touch the champagne.”

At that moment, the onlookers fell back to make way for a tall, well-built South American, who went straight up to Isabella. She embraced him and he kissed her in a familiar way on the cheek. Then he exchanged a few words privately with Isabella. With his arm round her, he finally turned to Tristan and asked: “And you are...?”

“This is Tristan,” interjected Isabella.

“Pleased to meet you!” Tristan offered to shake hands with the swarthy giant and went on: “I’ve been keeping Isabella company, so as not to leave such a delightful young lady waiting on her own.”

The South American raised his eyebrows, but did not reply.

“Oh well, my work here is done; I’ll have the two Proseccos brought to you.” With these words, Tristan took Isabella’s hand and drew her gently but firmly to him. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and said: “See you soon!”

“See you soon,” she replied with a smile.

Tristan nodded to Isabella’s companion and went back to his friends. On the way he met the waiter, slipped him a little money and put his business card under one of the Prosecco glasses. Then he told him to serve the drinks, and returned to the table where Cirrus and Marcus were sitting. It was no surprise to find that these two were now accompanied by three fashion models, as well as three bottles of champagne. He greeted the girls, one of whom had such dark red hair that he almost envied Cirrus his choice. When Tristan joined them Marcus looked up from an animated conversation with two brunettes and called out: “Ah, we were looking for you! Meet Michelle, Sam and Sasha!”

Tristan greeted each one of them in turn and soon afterwards found himself in a conversation with Sasha, a twenty-two-year-old photographic model from Ekaterinburg. As she excitedly told him all about her latest photo-shoot in Paris, in her broken English, he was gazing at her nose, which really was a delight. She was covered with freckles and screwed up her face in such a bizarre fashion every time she laughed that Tristan brought it to her attention.

Sasha had already had two glasses and obviously couldn’t take much more, so Tristan didn’t hesitate to start counting her freckles with his finger. While doing this he gently held her neck with his other hand and ended up with his face so close to hers that she tittered nervously. But when she became aware of the envious glances she was attracting from her two friends, she stopped and pursed her lips invitingly.

Tristan noticed this, grasped her chin and turned to face the other two.

“She’s got more freckles than there are stars in the sky tonight, Marcus.”

Thereupon Cirrus burst into loud laughter and Tristan asked him to count them for himself.

“Look for yourself,” he said, then took Sasha’s hand and the redhead’s at the same time and passed one of them over to Cirrus, while carefully removing the other from the proximity of his friend. The redhead sat down next to him.

“Hello Sam,” said Tristan and glanced at the corners of her mouth, which had turned up with pleasure. Her sparkling white teeth flashed him a smile.

“You have the loveliest Botticelli curls,” he said. She laughed, without understanding him.

“May I top you up?” he asked and went to pick up her glass, which was almost empty.

At this moment Isabella appeared behind the redhead. She stood there and looked at Tristan questioningly for a moment. Her companion, clearly rather annoyed, whispered a word in her ear and went on ahead to the cloakroom to fetch her coat.

Tristan stood up and reached for Isabella’s hand, but she only made contact for a fraction of a second – just long enough to slip the business card between his fingers. Then she was gone. He stared at the card in astonishment, as doubts began to arise in his mind. But then he turned the card over and saw that on the back she had left her phone number, immediately under his own. A smile crept across his face, as he put the card in his inner pocket and sat down again to fill Sam’s glass.

“Who was that,” she asked, with an expression that was both ingenuous and unsuspecting.

“Just a friend,” he said and kissed her hand.