Chapter Four - He Fades Away


. . . While Magda was wondering if escape was possible, Vance had spent a lifetime disappearing from view.
. . . During college, Vance had been fond of custom shirts and tailored suits from small, elite men’s stores whose names and labels only Ivy Leaguers would recognize, but as he moved into his late twenties, he began to cultivate a studied disorder and an almost rumpled look. He started buying from more generic chains and worked harder at blending in rather than standing out.
. . . Despite his efforts, a trained eye might still pick up signs of class, money and privilege in his ongoing preference for cashmere, Egyptian cotton and rich leathers, but most people shuffling past him on the sidewalk would hardly notice his passing. He allowed himself subtle luxuries easily masked by his indifference to bold style statements.
. . . His short collar might be frayed. His pants might be unpressed. But it was good cotton. Good khaki.
. . . In some ways he was fooling only himself. The very people he hoped to deceive were the first to see past his disguises. His efforts at blending were typical of his generation. Their gestures toward bland and democratic dressing had spawned a whole new industry - a khaki and oxford cloth mantra that was just as much a mark of class as the Brooks Brothers suits and ties of earlier generations.
. . . In college he had bought English cigarettes, brandished a silver lighter and blew smoke with a rehearsed elegance that seemed drawn from a Cole Porter song. In mid life, he shed these gestures and gimmicks in favor of a simpler manner. He avoided affectations and distinctive movements. It was almost as if he were playing cards and maintaining a poker face throughout his daily routines.
. . . His ex had been fond of teasing him about his car because its stylish exuberance stood in such bold contrast with the rest of his reserve and blandness. His BMW, while not gaudy or extreme in any way, was still a head turner. Sleek, silver grey, yet understated, his convertible drew the attention of mothers pushing baby carriages, seniors out for a stroll and young children tossing balls on front lawns.
. . . They all noticed the car but not Vance, the driver.
. . . But he had been a head turner himself at one time, during his teens and twenties. Walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, he would sometimes blush at the naked interest he saw in the eyes of secretaries, models and career women. They might begin at eye level, but they usually went on to check out the rest of his body. They usually smiled in ways that made him wonder. He imagined bold conversations . . .
. . . “Darling . . . “
. . . “Hey, Beautiful!”
. . . In these fantasies, the women were always friendly, encouraging and eager. They would take his elbow and accompany him down the boulevard as if it were Paris, not New York.
. . . But he never tried it. As the years passed and his clothing changed, the looks came with less and less frequency. As he climbed the corporate ladder, made good money and moved to the suburbs, he attracted very few looks at all, and he had fewer fantasies of speaking to any beautiful women passing him by.
. . . All the same, Vance was handsome. He might have been a model. Tall, dark and commanding, he had the sharp, aristocratic features of a French count.
. . . Nicole noticed right off. But that was back when Vance was in his twenties and still wore slightly fancy, stylish clothes . . back when he had a rakish sparkle in his eyes.
. . . She passed him on a sidewalk along Central Park South and almost stopped in her tracks. Even though she was headed for a drink with a friend from work, she wheeled about to follow Vance for two blocks until he ducked into a piano bar near the Essex House. She grabbed the door and found a seat at his elbow.
. . . “Do they make a good martini here?” she asked, fulfilling his longstanding fantasy without his having to do a thing.
. . . They were married within three months.