1921 New York City
The Roaring Twenties. Why, of all epithets, did they have to name them 'roaring'? Perhaps a loud roar of a young lion entering maturity, finally free to brave the savannah alone and caring little what the other critters think. Symbolism aside, the 1920's were wild. Everybody suddenly felt like voicing new ideals, meanwhile the conservative became ever more conservative. World War I was to blame for this state of mind. The dread that came in its aftermath forced people to reconsider the lives they've been living. Such times brought us activism, dance, jazz, cinema, and of course, drama. Broadway flourished, despite the rise of motion pictures. With its many theatres very active, the 20's playwrights brought plenty of new pieces to the stage.
„Anne Christie“ – the name of the play that sold out that night at the Vanderbilt Theatre. It was a touching story of a former prostitute who struggled to get her life around in a cynical and existentially ambivalent world. Such motifs were simply soaked up by the avant-garde audience. The kind of audience that could afford the time to ponder and philosophize. But It's not the play that they paid to see. Nadine Bordeaux, the lead actress, and a true diva. No, the diva. The story of how she became the main attraction is rather less than epic.
Nadine was born on a freight ship when their parents, French immigrants, decided to seek better fortune in the States. Boston was the place they decided to settle down in. Unfortunately for her, their parents couldn't provide her an ideal upbringing. „Debilé sans valeur!“ – Worthless idiots, is how she described them. Nevertheless, she was blessed with stunning beauty. With silky chestnut hair, eyes ever so expressive hidden under thick and mischievous eyebrows. An oval face with perfectly chiseled contours. Her lips were so full, luscious and red that one could recognize them among a crowd of people. Her body? As if a Degas painting had come to life. As gracious as a swan in looks, but as fierce as a lioness in attitude. Eventually, Nadine figured out that a girl like her deserves a far better life. As it goes, she abandoned her parents for good and left Boston. Seducing her way through half of the East Coast, an influential Broadway agent crossed her way during one of her acts at a cheap burlesque club. It was only months before almost every wall in New York had her name plastered on it.
Nadine thrived in this environment like a predator in its natural hunting grounds. She. Was. Good. And she let everyone know it. A topic of many nasty rumours, most of which being true, Nadine grew an infamous reputation of being the most admired and, at the same time, despised person in Broadway. Humiliating stage workers, throwing rage fits at incompetent directors and sabotaging rival actresses – just a day in the life of Nadine Bordeaux. But she remained untouchable for well into her late twenties. The prime years before the inevitable decline. The time where you're old enough to be considered seasoned, but still young enough to be the contemporary face of show business.
A woman like her surely had many admirers, most of whom she easily avoided, unless, of course, they were people of interest or wealth. But none of the admirers were so ardent as one Mr.Richards, who hasn't missed a single play Nadine starred in. An imposing gentleman in his thirties, with slicked back dark hair and olive eyes that oozed success. The unusual thing was – nobody had ever heard of him. Nobody knew what he does, nor where he came from. For a man of his wealth to come from nowhere was quite a unusual thing. But the old money of New York just labelled him as another nouveau riche young man having a good time.
This night was no different. He sat down in his usual private booth – the best seats in the house. Mr.Richards locked his gaze, ever so eagerly waiting for the play to commence. Enter Nadine Bordeaux. She walked the scene like she owned it. There might have been so much gossip and rumours circling about her, but when she stepped on stage, everything went quiet. Her presence and beauty unmatched by any other actress on Broadway. Whatever the hearsay – the bitch was brilliant. She was distinctively amazing that night. Mr.Richard perceived it as a sure sign. „Tonight's the night.“ – he promised himself to finally go down and meet her.
He charmed his way into the backstage. Whoever came to do a behind-the-scenes tour of these Broadway shows more than often left the theatre with mixed feelings. Some feel like it's exactly what it takes to run show business, others feel like children who were told that Santa Claus isn't real, or a great magic trick explained so thoroughly that it annulled everything that made it so magical. Stage workers running about and performers with worn out faces, constantly bickering with each other how they messed something up – the drama there was often more entertaining than the actual plays. Even the props look different. They might contribute to making the play come alive, but in reality they are just sets of wood, cardboard and rope. Mr.Richards paid little attention to anything that wasn't Nadine Bordeaux. He saw her, at last. She was busy berating some poor worker who either wronged her or just looked funny. The worker glanced at Mr.Richards, which signaled Nadine to turn to his direction as well. Her expressive eyes inspected him from head to toe in a split second. A faint smile appeared on her face. She recognized him.
„You must be Mr.Richards. I've been expecting you here a lot sooner.“
Nadine spoke with trained enthusiasm and challenging eye contact. She looked even more enchanting in person. Mr.Richards felt that nothing could be so cold and beautiful at the same time, although he wasn't struck down.
„It is a pleasure to finally meet you. And I'm flattered that you noticed my presence.“
She was mildly impressed with his confidence.
„A gentleman like yourself surely sticks out. You watched me perform every single day for the past few months. Private automobile, private booth, days on end... Quite the expenses just to get my attention.“
The aura of vanity she emitted was so powerful, that Mr.Richards almost felt grief for the people that must put up with her. But he didn't care about that at all.
„Well, then I am glad to see that it worked.“ He expressed his smirk before continuing: „Miss Bordeaux, I was hoping we could get better acquainted over dinner.“
„Very well, then. The Ritz sounds good to me.“
Nadine winked casually, before turning around and leaving for the changing rooms.
„I'll have the driver pick us up at eight, then!“
Their date at an expensive restaurant of her choice was as plain as any other. The duo shared some old and over told stories, a couple of meaningless laughs and everything else that passed as making idle conversation. It remained uneventful until the end of the rendezvous, when Mr.Richards spiced it up with a rather peculiar topic.
„Let me ask you something. How would you like to be youthful forever? To experience... immortality.“
„Immortality? What on earth are you talking about?“
Nadine said that through a condescending chuckle, unable to make out if he's being playful or just delusional.
„You will soon be breaking into your thirties.With your beauty fading, it is only a matter of time before your delicate flower stops being so special to the big sharks of Broadway, or to anyone, really. My darling, the public is quite fickle.“
She cut through him with a stare, shocked by his audacity. But she could only react as much, because it was the cold truth – and Nadine was all too aware of it. Besides, there was something unavoidably seductive about his frankness.
„You give no quarter, Mr.Richards. I like that, so I will humour you. I assume you have a residence of your own. I want you to take me there right now and 'show me immortality'.“
Mr.Richards' eyebrows performed a curious dance. He was surprised. They lived in a time when no woman deemed honourable by society would invite herself to a man's house so freely. Luckily, Nadine was nothing of the sort.
„I was hoping you'd say that. I do have a residence of my own and I would be more than happy to oblige. Also, please, call me Dean.“
Dean Richards' house was just like any other townhouse in the Upper East Side. The cream of New York's society lived there, and he was no excuse. The inside decour was a mixture of pink and blue and quite ornate - a design surpassed decades ago. Regardless, the only thing that stood out was a trail made out of pieces of clothing, leading up the large staircase and into the master bedroom. A slight thought went through Nadine's mind: „This house doesn't look like it belongs to a bachelor such as him.“ But it didn't matter much to her. What mattered most, was being on top. And she was, indeed, on top. On top of Mr.Richards.
They were at it like this for a while now. Nadine grinded roughly with her hand pinning his chest. She used her free arm to release the pins from her hair, letting it fall fluidly and well past her shoulder blades. Dean caressed her naked breasts. In that moment he realized how much her tight corset dress robbed her curves of the freedom they needed and damn well deserved. The dominatrix kept her usual rhythm, getting equally bored by every repeated movement. „Disappointing“ - she could almost hear herself think that. In a blink of an eye, she found herself in quite a unfamiliar spot, as Mr.Richards grasped her by the waist and soft forearm then swiftly, yet smoothly switched positions. He was on top now, showing equal drive, in perfect contrast to the gentle nibbles he left on her neck. She closed her eyes in steamy pleasure – it was the rarity of the situation that had surely amplified it. But something was wrong. He was gaining an unnatural, almost beastly momentum. Pleasure quickly morphed into pain as she finally opened her eyes only to witness Dean Richards transforming into something hideous, something monstrous. Paralyzed with fear, before managing to yell for help, she felt his long and deformed fangs sink deep into her neck, bleeding her dry. Darkness soon overcame her senses - she fell unconscious within moments.
Nadine woke up abruptly. How long has passed since she had passed out was unknown to her, but by the thin ray of sunlight peering through the breaks in the drapes, she could tell that it was already dawn. A mixture of anxiety and deceit – the strange lingering feeling that encompassed her entirely was almost impossible to shake off. „How fucking idiotic of me.“ – things suddenly became very clear. Mr.Richards played her from the very beginning.
Picking up what was left of her dignity and strength, she jolted in place, noticing the same horrendous figure staring right back at her. No, that wasn't him. Just the king-sized mirror on the adjacent wall. Nadine squinted in disbelief. To her horror, the reflection in the mirror was her own. Blankly staring at the ridgy scalp that once nested her rich and chestnut-coloured hair. Sunken voids replaced her expressive black eyes while her sculpted nose, ears and cheekbones were nothing more than ugly or pointy malformations. A gaping hole for a mouth with monstrous and deformed teeth had ridden her of the ability to crack another mischievous smile. The only curve her new body possessed was the letter „C“ that arched her spine, thus deleting any resemblance to her once theatric posture. A desperate and piercing scream woke up the residents of Upper East Side that morning...
Mr.Richards? There was no Mr.Richards. The visage of an imposing gentlemen, the wealth, the champagne, this entire house that thing probably sacked from some other unlucky person. It was all a cunning act. But why? What could have possibly driven 'Dean Richards' to commit an act this vile? Was it punishment for her wretched nature? Stalking for so long... To what lengths was he ready to go to, in order to turn her into a creature as miserable as he was? Hatred or obsession, whatever the reasons were, that was the last time Nadine's ever seen or heard from him again.
A horridly cruel fate, one might argue, another might say that it was a fate most deserving - ultimately having a body to match the soul. The grandiose play that symbolized Nadine Bordeaux's life has come to a close, and she has found herself once again facing the curtains. But her curtains were black, grotesque and rimmed with human flesh and skin and unlike the velvet ones in Broadway, hers were meant to stay down – for an eternity.