Pandora Hammond is a contented married mother. Contented, that is, until she has a random and wildly passionate encounter with a complete stranger in an exclusive Los Angeles hotel. Far away in the Arizona desert, Pandora's husband Alec is at work on a movie, when a young woman - a girl he has been having an affair with - a dies on set during a stunt. These two events are connected by enigmatic daredevil Charles Wildman, who crashes into their world. Cars, terror tactics, sensory deprivation and guns - all are deployed in the war to win Pandora, body and soul of Pandora.
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He had been there on Tuesday morning sitting alone at the same table in the dining room. After the game Pandora had a late breakfast with her tennis partner, Beverly, who was the mother of a school friend of her daughter. She liked the room in the Bel Air Hotel. It was old-fashioned, luxurious, a large dining room in pale green and pink. Apple and salmon were two of her favorite colors.
Today was Friday and she was back with Beverly. The man looked at her frequently. When she looked back at him she had to smile. It was acceptable as a conventional smile of recognition. The fact was she liked the look of him. He seemed to epitomize the cool Californian man. He had a tanned, bland intelligence. Pandora came from New Hampshire. She had married a young architect, Alec Hammond, thirteen years ago.
They had moved out to Los Angeles. Their daughter Paulette had been born here twelve years ago, and they had stayed.
More than her marriage, the birth of Paulette had changed Pandora, turned her into the stable woman she now was. Her father, Alfred Harten, was a nineteenth century man. He inherited wealth which allowed him to pursue his private interest in classical Greek and Roman culture. After the death of her mother when she was six, Harten retreated into a world of his own. Little Pandora grew up privileged, in a large old farm-house, alone except for a succession of English nannies and her pony, Smoky. At school she had been a rebel. In college she had had a few brushes with the law over drugs. Wayward, was her father’s word for her.
Glancing again at the man across the dining room Pandora remembered her early troubles with men, escapades that had upset her father. She had been promiscuous. She had taken risks, but for some reason had never gotten pregnant. For a time she thought she never would. She was relieved. But it worried her that she might die childless.
Pandora met Alec Hammond when her father hired a firm of architects to convert two barns into a guesthouse on the Harten estate. She had liked him immediately. He was a serious young man, different from the men in her crowd. He was not sarcastic. He was mature. He had goals in life. He had had to struggle. He didn’t have a chip on his shoulder. But above all he had an innocent air. He was clean and fresh. She liked that. Alec Hammond lifted what she saw as the curse of sterility from her life. He made her pregnant. He gave her Paulette. For that she loved him. He made her happy. She became content.
The man was still in the dining room at eleven thirty when Beverly had to go. The place was empty apart from him. The waiters had already set the tables for lunch. Crystal wine goblets on the apple green cloths. Like the rooms in the hotel the tables were waiting for new occupants. She signed her Diner’s slip and waited.
He was looking at her again when a tall, dark-haired woman came running into the dining room. She was looking for him. She came up to his table, opened her purse, pulled out a gun and aimed it at the man’s head.
‘I’m going to blow you away,’ she said. Her voice was husky and shaky.
‘No, you’re not,’ the man said evenly.
Pandora was scared. She wondered whether to call for help or intervene.
The dark-haired woman’s finger tightened on the trigger.
‘Put it away,’ he said.
The waiter came back with the credit card and receipt inside a green leather folder. He saw the gun.
‘Hey!’ The waiter called out.
The woman jerked around. The man coolly snatched the gun from her hand. She burst into tears.
‘Sorry about this,’ the man said to the waiter. ‘It’s not loaded.’
The dark-haired woman ran out of the dining room.
‘Shall I get the manager?’ asked the waiter.
‘No, no. Just forget it. Thank you.’ He handed the waiter a fifty dollar bill.
‘That’s not necessary.’
‘Please take it. Then you can give that lady over there her receipt.’
‘Thank you sir.’
The waiter came up to Pandora. He shrugged. She thanked him and gave him a five dollar bill. The man came over to her as the waiter left.
‘Sorry about that. Were you scared?’
‘Yes, I was a bit.’
‘The gun wasn’t loaded.’
‘No, not really.’
He put his hand on her quivering arm. It didn’t stop, her quivering.
‘Let’s move out of here. Enough excitement for the moment, don’t you think?’
‘I guess so.’ Pandora was still shaking.
They left the main building of the hotel. They walked together along the curving path towards the bungalow area. It was a walk through a miniature jungle, a beautifully kept jungle of sweating greenery and single flowers, aflame like daytime candles.
Pandora had no idea why she was walking with this man. Perhaps he was going to tell her what the incident had been about. Perhaps he wanted to ask her to keep quiet about it, like the waiter. Perhaps he was going to offer her a drink to steady her nerves. Well, she could use a drink.
‘My shack’s over there,’ he said pleasantly.
They walked over the little bridge towards a group of terracotta colored bungalows, each with its own palm tree and garden. Hardly shacks. The most expensive hotel accomodation in Los Angeles.
Suddenly Pandora stopped with a cry. The man turned and saw that her high heel had stuck between two wooden slats in the bridge. She laughed. She wiggled her shoe.
‘Take your foot out.’
He bent down and with both hands removed her foot from the shoe. He noticed the pale freckles on her skin that went naturally with her sandy blonde hair. She hopped.
He twisted the shoe heel around to try and release it. It was difficult. She watched as he gave the shoe a jerk. The heel snapped.
‘I’m sorry.’ He looked up at her apologetically.
‘That’s all right,’ she said.
It wasn’t all right really. It was a nuisance.
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