His words struck like the sting of a scorpion. Nothing he said could have hurt her more. Anger welled up in her throat so that she thought she would hurl his champagne at him. Her face must have shown how she felt because he came to stand by her side and looked straight into her eyes.
“It would not be prudent to offend the one person who can help you find your darling,” he told her.
Now tears pricked at Isabel’s eyes. She felt entirely at his mercy. More so than ever before. And he knew it. He handed her the glass and she drank it down. He poured another and she drank that one, too. A third disappeared in short order. He poured until the bottle was empty and then he led her to the door.
“We will eat in the dining room where Manuel has set out our dinner,” he said.
He served her and they sat, he at the head of the grand table, she at his right side, poking at her food, although everything was prepared to perfection.
“I know you are anxious to hear of Estrellita, so here is what I know,” he began, as he broke off a handful of fresh warm bread from a long loaf in a basket before him. He poured a glass of white wine and tasted it, satisfied with its bouquet, nodding as he drank some and then put his glass down, to pour a glass for Isabel.
“She is on her way to New York to join her young man. At least she hopes to join him. She doesn’t know it, but the man she paid to take her across the border in the back of his truck is one of many people in my employ. You see, Isabellita, while you are sequestering yourself in your studio thinking of nothing but the color blue and how the sun hits the top of a wave, others are struggling in any way they can to put food on their tables and shoes on the feet of their children. In this world,” and here he took a forkful of ceviche and pulled off another chunk of bread, “people will do almost anything for money. And there are some who will stop at nothing.”
“I am not a child, Señor,” Isabel told him. “I know the ways of the world. I know you have supported my work since I was a child. I know you have made a large investment in seeing that I make a success. I think we have both profited from this arrangement. You are the sole owner of my output, to do with as you wish. We both know I cannot escape this arrangement, that it has gone too far and is too deeply rooted. For my part I will continue working within these boundaries. My only concern is to get my daughter back.” Isabel hoped by saying this directly she could establish where she was not willing to extend the relationship.
She looked at him now as he put his fork down and sipped at his wine, even as she picked up her own glass and drank its contents, feeling as she did, slightly light-headed. It occurred to her that perhaps she was having too much to drink, that the champagne and the wine were loosening her tongue more than she had anticipated. Yet she felt, also, that she must say these things to him, to let him know where she was not willing to give in.
He pulled his napkin from his lap and wiped his mouth, dabbing at the corners of his lips in an almost dainty display. Before he spoke he again filled their glasses with the remaining wine.
“Why would you, a beautiful and desirable woman, with such a deep talent – a gift that God gives to so very few – wish to limit herself in this way?” he asked. But before Isabel could answer he went on. “I see greatness for both of us. Perhaps I can show you the way I see the future, and then you will agree that to limit ourselves at this time would be a grave mistake.”