Chapter 38: Party at Nikola's
Two days later, on Wednesday night, Nikola and Eddie arrived at Nikola's apartment to a very festive atmosphere. News of Martha's arrest had spread quickly amongst the gallery artists, and now they were all anxious to hear the details. Nikola's apartment became the natural gathering place since it had been Alex's home base.
Donna jumped on Nikola as she walked through the door, and threw her arms around her in a hug. "Nikki, this is absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for setting this up. I feel like I've been vindicated. Now everyone can see that Marty was murdered."
Nikola couldn't help but laugh at Donna's enthusiasm. "But Marty wasn't even mentioned."
"It doesn't matter. It's the logical next step. At least the police won't laugh at me now. Besides, even if his murder is never solved, at least they're being punished for something. Thank you so much for getting Alex involved with this."
"You should thank Alex, he was the one who pushed it."
"Oh, believe me, I did. And I made him tell me all about it a zillion times."
Nikola laughed again as she disengaged herself from Donna and wandered towards the crowd. She hadn't planned this party, it just spontaneously appeared. Nikola had been working at Eddie's apartment when she got the call from Alex earlier in the afternoon, describing Martha's arrest. She hadn't been terribly surprised at the news - she had almost expected it after hearing the tape segments. At the time, she was consumed with questions about her family, so she didn't think much about it.
Nikola accepted the glass of champagne that Donna handed her and settled down on a chair in her studio. While she observed the party going on around her, Nikola's thoughts returned to her discoveries about her family. For the past few days, she had been working on a series of watercolors based on her nightmares. Now that she knew there were elements of lost memories in them, her goal was to separate out the memory components and piece them all together.
Nikola glanced at the series of finished and unfinished canvasses that leaned against the far wall of the studio. In those, she had been trying to depict the feel of an entire nightmare in one tableau; in the watercolors she had been working on more recently, which were much smaller, she tried to do several for every dream - to document every detail. On each one, she painted a different scene: a room, hallway, or other location, or, in the few instances where she actually saw one, a face. Nikola saw herself creating the components of a play - watercolors representing the sets and characters were building up around her - but the plot that tied them together still remained illusive. She had been so completely absorbed in her project, that it blocked out everything else. She had almost forgotten about Alex's phone call until several hours afterwards, when Eddie came bursting in, bubbling over with the news.
"Have you heard what's happened?" Eddie asked upon entering.
"Oh, hi. No, what?"
"Martha's been arrested!"
"Oh, yeah. Alex called a little while ago." Nikola had turned back to her watercolor work after greeting Eddie.
"Well, how can you just sit there? This is big! This is what we've been working towards!"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Nikola, forget your so-called family for a little while and enjoy this. Ever since you moved in here, you've been totally obsessing about it. That can't be healthy. Take a night off. Relax. Celebrate for a while."
"That's easy for you to say, you grew up with your parents. I've been searching all my life for mine, and now that I find a few clues, all it does is open up more questions. This is not trivial stuff, Eddie. This is my life!"
"I know Nikola, and I'm sorry. I never meant to trivialize what you're going through, I only wanted to cheer you up a bit. I know it's important, but you can't totally obsess about it either. You're an amazing woman, Nikola. You've built an incredible life and career without all that family stuff. Don't forget that."
Nikola finally looked away from her watercolors and up at Eddie. "Okay, perhaps I do obsess a little, but I think I have a right to. But I guess I could use some time off. Are we really going to celebrate?"
"I'm going to call Donna and let her know the good news. I know she's going to be thrilled about it and she's going to want to hear all the details. I was wondering if we could all get together at your place."
"It's fine with me, but you should probably check with Alex also. After all, he's the one who's going to have to tell the story."
"I'm right on it." Eddie proceeded to make numerous phone calls, while Nikola sorted through her watercolors and made a list of others she planned to do. Shortly afterwards, they headed over to Nikola's apartment, and found that the party had already begun without them.
Nikola turned her attention back to the party and noticed that Alex had an entourage, led by Donna, which was physically surrounding him and hanging off his every word. He carefully described what he did and how the arrest was made, and compared it to other cases of his. The fact that he was a real private investigator fascinated the group, as well as his history working with the police. They continued to question him like disciples as Nikola watched and listened.
The past few days had changed Nikola's perspective on Alex yet again. Hearing about his police connections increased her confidence in him, and made her more inclined to trust him again. So far, since the revelations in his apartment less than a week ago, he had lived up to his word, and even exceeded his obligations with respect to the gallery case. She only hoped he would do as well unraveling the secrets of her family.
Despite her new confidence in him, however, emotionally she was still afraid. Between his betrayal and the uncertainty of her family, she felt very vulnerable. Much as she wanted someone to be close to, someone to stand beside her during this ordeal, she knew she would not be ready to let anyone in for a long time, especially Alex.
People continued to pour into the apartment, for all hours of the evening and into the night. Nikola had noticed that in the past many of the younger artists in Soho seemed somehow connected and knew each other's business, but she had never realized how fast word could spread. She had often noted the irony of this community of urban artists, who gossiped about each other with as much vigor as the suburbanites they loved to make fun of. At the moment, Martha was the focus of their attention. This was the biggest thing that had happened in their community since Marty's death. Nikola heard Martha's name coming from every corner of the room.
Later on that evening, Nikola felt a hand on her shoulder and whirled around to find Alex standing beside her. "Hi, Nikki. How's everything?" he asked gently.
"I'm okay. I see you stirred up some serious excitement with your story there."
"Yeah, the crowd seemed to want to hear it."
"Do you always get this kind of reaction to your work?"
"It happens more often than you'd expect. I guess it's a high profile field, what with all the publicity it gets on TV and all."
"I guess. I know I haven't said much, but I do appreciate what you've done." Nikola looked up at him, searching his eyes.
"Thanks, but you really didn't have to thank me. Donna and Eddie already heaped it on. They were both very excited about it."
"Donna really had something to prove. And Eddie, well I think Eddie kind of took on the case, fancied herself a detective too, a bit. Now that you've established that there was something really going on, she's part of something."
"There was definitely something going on. I wasn't sure at first, but once I planted that bug, the evidence was unavoidable. I don't think that Martha had been doing it for very long, or I imagine she'd have been more careful. It'll be interesting to see what happens when this hits the papers."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, she was selling forgeries, and claiming they were stolen. From a legal standpoint, she's in a better position than if they were real, because she has no connection with the thefts, and isn't dealing in stolen goods. But there are probably a number of powerful, or at least wealthy, people out there who thought they were buying the real thing. They won't be happy when they find out they're fakes."
"Oh yeah. I never even thought of that. Did they catch Alan, too?"
"Not directly, but last I heard, Martha was more than willing to tell them whatever they wanted to know to reduce her penalties, so I imagine she'll be more than happy to implicate Alan."
"When I saw his studio I suspected something like that. He had all these unusual art supplies, and quite a varied assortment. He was clearly painting to order," Nikola said as she stared at he bubbles rising in her champagne.
"I never met him. What's he like?"
"I'm sure you've seen him. If nowhere else, than at that party I took you to. I didn't really know him that well, I just went over there once for brunch. It was actually an excuse to try and figure out what was going on. Marty had mentioned him in his journal."
"That sounds dangerous. He could have been a violent criminal. You never know who you're dealing with in this field. You've got to be more careful." Alex crouched down to be at eye level with Nikola.
"It was no big deal. The worst thing I had to deal with was an unwanted pass." Nikola blushed and had trouble keeping eye contact with Alex.
"You should be more careful in the future."
"Since when are you my guardian?"
"Regardless of how you feel, I still care about you a lot. I know I've said it many times, but it's true. I worry about you." Alex touched her hair lightly and tentatively.
"Well, hopefully the situation won't come up again. Between this and my family, it's more excitement than I care to deal with."
"Is your family on your mind a lot?"
"I'll do my best, and my track record's not too bad, so you shouldn't worry. I'll figure your family out. The motivation of making you happy will keep me persevering." Alex smiled, and Nikola looked away, not sure how to take him. When Donna interrupted them a moment later, she was almost relieved.
"Nikki, this is so wonderful. Alex has been a godsend. That's what we really needed from the start - a real detective. I'll bet he'll even be able to prove that Marty was murdered."
"Well, I don't know. There's really no evidence..." Alex objected, but it fell on deaf ears.
Eddie joined the group with a man that Nikola did not recognize, but he was of a type that she had seen Eddie go for before: tall, thin, with long hair and a lackadaisical, or perhaps arrogant, posture. Eddie introduced him to the group as Randy.
"Great story, man," Randy said to Alex, "it was a real kick to listen to. It's great to hear a detective story firsthand..."
Nikola stood up to be level with the crowd and Eddie took the opportunity to pull her aside. Eddie asked in a low voice, "Do you think it would be all right if you stayed here tonight? Randy and I are getting along really well, and... Well, you know... And he has roommates..."
Nikola thought about the question and realized that she was no longer afraid of Alex, and trusted him enough to spend a night in the same apartment with him. In addition, she had missed having her own bed and studio. "Sure. That's no problem. I think Alex has proven that he's reasonably trustworthy."
"I'll say. He really helped out a lot. And you've got to trust anyone with that many friends in the police..."
"So you really like Randy?"
"Yeah, definitely. He's a poet, but he's really more of a philosopher. He was telling me all about his theories on life. I guess they're a kind of variations of existentialism, but they're really interesting..."
"He doesn't look old enough to have theories on life," Nikola commented while looking over Eddie's newest conquest.
"He's not that young. I guess some of his theories are a little naive, now that I think about it, but, hey, he looks great telling them. Don't ruin the moment, okay?"
"I won't say a word."
"So, now that you trust Alex again, are you going to pick up where you left off?" Eddie asked with a playful nudge.
"Don't even think about it. Seriously, though, I'm not ready for anything like that. I mean, I trust him as a person, but I don't know if I can ever trust him emotionally again. He is awfully good looking, though, isn't he?"
"Let me go rescue Randy from the swarm."
"Okay. I'll come and pick up my stuff tomorrow."
"Hey, I didn't mean to throw you out for good, it's just for tonight," Eddie said with a pout.
"Yeah I understood, but the emergency is over. I'm looking forward to working in my own studio again, anyway."
"Oh. Okay, sure. I should be around all day tomorrow."
"Thanks again for letting me stay."
"No problem. It was fun."
Nikola got more involved in the party as time passed. She had expected it to die down early, since she knew she had only a meager supply of liquor and the champagne Donna brought ran out quickly, but other people must have brought a lot, because the liquor supply seemed never-ending. Half-way through the party a pizza collection was taken up and four pies appeared about thirty minutes later. The party went on until well past midnight, by which time Nikola was so tired that she was forced to kick out the people that remained. Eddie and Randy were among them, planning to continue the festivities at the Maple. Nikola admired their perseverance but refused to join, and collapsed into bed minutes later. Alex joined the Maple bar crowd, promising to return to his post on the couch shortly afterwards.