Teaser 340: Rebekka and a Paradox
AVAP put up those flying in from Europe for the premiere, Rebekka, Jan, who worked on the soundtrack, Jeremy, David—both still living in Munich, though each had a separate residence and neither, fortunately, were at the AVAP building the night of the bombing—Conrad, who asked if Anna could accompany him and I assented, the remaining seven wiz kids because I wanted them all out of Munich for a few days, especially while the building was being repaired, and Tanya, who, while not on a formal diplomatic visit, brought her security contingent and flew to Los Angeles and back at the expense of the German government, though I provided their room and board. I invited one other person, Jeanette from the New York show. Since the show I had received several offers for her, mostly in the New York area in Broadway and off-Broadway productions, but she also made a brief appearance in a movie produced, in part, by Robert DeNiro and his movie contingent. She was married now, also to an actor, and had long ago changed her professional surname, now known as Jeanette MacDougall. She was proud of her heritage, a crazy Scots woman all the way. I still performed agent duties for her and though she was doing well in her preferred occupation I had yet to insist she find her own agent. It wasn't difficult, I always liked her, she was always appreciative, and this trip gave her an opportunity to mingle with entertainment people from Los Angeles and the movie business in general.
Many who performed some role, either producing or acting, weren't going to make it to the premiere. There are only so many one can fit in a theater and you have to reserve a large number of seats for the media and critics or one will suffer on the publicity side. I couldn't make room for any of the accomplished and well-known actors who only appeared as extras and all expected it. As Jeff explained it to me, “I don't want to arrive at the premiere and go through all of that. I did practically nothing in your movie.”
“Except everyone will forever talk about the chair thrown in the background, you big Lebowski.”
“John told me he's still upset with you for not considering him, but he assures me if you put him in the next one, he'll throw a chair twice as far as I threw it.”
“And I would expect no less from a man his size. I would only hope he doesn't kill anyone.”
Everyone flying in for the premiere or the party following would have an entire day and night to rest before the premiere. I wanted everyone to recover from jet lag or some other malediction. I had my hands full with everything swirling around the big night, so I wouldn't have time to meet with any, other than those who managed to catch up with me. This was normal. A movie premiere is a big event, with millions of dollars at stake. Nobody really takes it lightly in the business, no matter what you might hear. When you do hear someone seeming to take it lightly, it's their way of deflecting the tension. Movie careers have been crushed when a premiere didn't turn out the way many had hoped, let alone expected. You have to look good, you have to pose and you have to play nice with the media, and often it's not enough. You don't take it lightly and you, especially, do not avoid your duties.
The morning of the premiere all the major stars and top producers including John were scheduled for a local TV appearance, a very modest pseudo-press conference I had arranged. All the major stars were supposed to be there, but Rebekka never arrived. I had spoken to her the day before, she knew it was scheduled and she was expected to appear, and I was perturbed at her failure to arrive, since I hadn't heard from her at all. I expected at least that, a call to apologize with some reasonable excuse. Since I received neither I wasn't very happy about her failure to perform in a professional manner. No one disagreed but she wouldn't answer her phone. I made some excuse to the media folks in attendance and we got through it, while I had already asked the hotel if they would check on her. After and back stage in the green room I got the call from the hotel about what they discovered in their check on Rebekka.
“Mister Al-Barrak?” the female manager asked when I answered. I confirmed. She continued. “We found Ms. Dietrich in her room, sir, but...she's...well...she's dead, sir.”
“Have you called the police?”
“They're on their way, sir.”
“I'm on my way there. Thank you.”
John asked me what was going on. “We can't talk about it here, not right now. Come with me to the hotel.”
“What is going on?” Serena demanded.
“We can't talk about it here, not in this building. We should all go to the hotel and we'll talk about it there.” I watched Serena start to say something and I knew what it was. “Don't say it! Don't! We'll all talk about it privately!”
Fortunately there wasn't a huge swarm of police at the hotel but those who were there welcomed us since they, of course, had questions. I wanted to know what they had discovered. When I was met with the usual explanation of an ongoing investigation, I asked the lead investigator emphatically, “Are you telling me you have no real idea whether you're investigating a homicide or a suicide?”
Though he was initially flustered with my direct manner, he drew himself up professionally, and responded, “At this time, all the evidence points to suicide, primarily because she left a note and preliminary examination of the body seems to indicate death by drug overdose.”
I immediately thought about Marilyn Monroe and I've heard or read the blather from people spouting off the similarities and the differences. I never knew Rebekka's personal history, especially when she was a young girl. She never shared it with me and I never asked. What people tend to ignore is that, despite whatever anyone may have claimed about our relationship, I welcomed Rebekka into my life because she had a genuine interest, a longing, to perform on stage what I was actively trying to arrange, but our relationship evolved to practically nothing beyond the professional one. While she had a very strong desire to expand our relationship beyond a professional and personal one and I rejected her intrusion does not indicate I am unfeeling, ungrateful, unappreciative, even cruel. The only human beings who knew all the interaction and conversation I conducted with Rebekka were my wives, except for Jinpa, being the newest. Each one knew exactly what Rebekka had demanded from me in past conversations. They knew I could not accept them as proposed. The lack of honor would be insurmountable. Al-Barrak would cease to exist. No can do.
The hotel, discreetly and with our immense gratitude, provided a private room for all of us while we waited for the police investigation to conclude, along with their endless questions. No one had yet shared with any of us the note apparently left by Rebekka herself, until Jan came into the room, having been questioned at length. He didn't get right to it. He was, very obviously, shaken, but he asked to sit next to me, since Serena, Tanya, Lena and Jinpa all surrounded me. Lena stood up and offered her seat and after a few minutes of gathering himself, including explaining about the many questions, Jan spilled every thought and feeling he had hidden so well about Rebekka for years. We all sat in the room stunned, because Jan was revealing something of himself not one of us had considered. We knew both liked and appreciated each other, Jan and Rebekka. We had no idea how deeply in love with Rebekka Jan truly was and had been for years. Suddenly, Jan stared straight into my eyes directly and asked, “Do you know, Al-Barrak, who I have considered my main rival for Rebekka's affection, love and desire for years now? Do you?”
I knew who he would name. “Is it why you hate me now, Jan, that my actions, or inactions, have led to the death of the one you love and desire above all others?”
It took him a few moments until he shook his head lightly. “I cannot hate you, Al-Barrak. You have done nothing to me, to anyone including Rebekka, to deserve it.” Jan bowed his head to the floor and shook it several times. Instantly he sat up straight and stared in my eyes. “She left a note, what I imagine was the last thought she ever wanted to say. Did the police tell you about the note?”
I simply replied softly, “Yes.”
“Did they tell you what it read?”
“No. Have you read it?”
“It was written in German. They didn't have anyone to translate so they asked me...” Jan clasped his hands together, leaned on his arms propped on his knees, and stared at the floor. He would not look up from the floor until he was through but he spoke slowly, a very measured tone. “She addressed this note 'To no one in particular...I loved you from the beginning...I was in love with you from the first moment I saw you...You never loved me for who I am. You only loved me for what I could do for you. SO,' in capital letters, 'how do you feel NOW?' The last word also in capitals.”
My first instinct, as it might be yours, was to defend myself, but I knew there was no defense and it would be disingenuous. I sat back in the chair but ignored everyone else except Jan. I softly asked, “Look at me, please, Jan, just look at me.” I waited until he sat up and placed his clasped hands in his lap, focused on me and I leaned forward. “I failed Rebekka, Jan. I admit it because it's true...Long ago, at the time we released the web tease, I escorted her back to her hotel and we held each other in our arms for minutes. I told her I worried about her, about her unquenchable desire for me, it could lead to me pushing her out of my life forever and I didn't want it to end that way. She said, 'Then, teach me what you know.' I said, 'It will take a long time. You have a lot to learn, Professor.' She replied, 'Then take the time. Don't I deserve it?' Of course she deserved it. She always deserved it, but I wouldn't take the time. Several times she reminded me and I would tell her I've had a lot of work to do but they were only excuses. I kept putting it off because I knew what she wanted more than anyone or anything and she would have brought it up, Jan, if I had taken the time, because she wanted me all to herself, to share with no one else. I tried to instruct her, to help her see her mistake, that what she wanted would not lead to honor, quite the opposite, but I failed her then, too. And when we finished she promised me, 'I will punish you, Al-Barrak,' and she will succeed in doing so.”
I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms, glancing around the room. “In hours we will show a movie about mutual surrender, what it means, what it entails. My ex-wife and I surrendered mutually but something interfered and destroyed it. Since, I have surrendered five more times and each one of those five precious, living human beings have surrendered to me in turn.” I focused on Drake. “When you stand in the middle between two who you know will surrender mutually while you have never surrendered to either, Drake, what do you do? What is the only honorable path to take, even if your honor suffers?”
“I'm going to tell you the one thought which I cannot discard, Al-Barrak, since we had the discussion by phone while you were still in India. In my entire life I had never considered surrender in the manner you have managed to convey until this movie. Discipline and trust, yes, but they are merely facets of the whole term, surrender. You have literally opened my eyes and I have truly surrendered to Andrea, as I know she has surrendered to me...So, here's my answer. If one cannot truly understand surrender, there is no honorable path to take, and that one will strangle the life out of everyone affected. Once you do understand surrender, you will take the honorable path and step aside in surrender and do so in a manner which allows the other two to unite in mutual surrender and with their honor intact, whether you destroy yours or not.”
I turned back to Jan, who focused on my face, his eyes very liquid. “So I did fail Rebekka, Jan, because I could have convinced her to understand surrender and honor, but I kept putting it off, delaying to some more opportune time, and this is my failure, that she wouldn't wait any more and I didn't recognize her desperation. Rebekka will punish me as she promised, if for no other reason than to always remind me time is precious, a promise doesn't last forever, one must fulfill the promise, regardless of how much one fears taking the steps to fulfill it. Because of that, her light is extinguished, and I can't bring it back. It's gone forever and I know who's responsible.”
Lena remarked, “This is not your doing, Al-Barrak. You didn't kill Rebekka. She killed herself. You can't put this on you because it's not your doing.”
I turned to her and smiled and Lena's expression became curious. “But I can, my beloved, and I will, and I will carry it and you will eventually think nothing of it. It will never be a burden, merely a lesson I must never forget. Often, the most important lessons in life are those which hurt the most, even in recollection. This is a lesson I shall never forget and it will be painful, but life is pain and you can't escape it. You must rise above it, as Serena has taught the entire world only weeks ago. Life is pain, you can't escape it, but you can use it to lift yourself higher or let it pull you down. Your choice.”
We spent the next hour or so mingling with everyone staying at the hotel for the premiere or the party. I advised all I was certain everyone will receive some question from the media about Rebekka and the suicide. Jacob had already received nearly fifty calls on this subject alone. “I can't tell you what to say about Rebekka, but I strongly suggest you keep your comments to your interactions and memories of her, and refuse comment about the suicide or the implications to the movie premiere. Let me answer those two questions, please. Both are my responsibility to explain.”
During this time, trying to keep everyone together, since so many were emotionally devastated, Jan told us, at various times, some of his many conversations and discussions with Rebekka. If anything, Rebekka considered Jan a worthy confidant, though not one who engendered any romantic attraction to her, and this would become true once her journal was discovered some months later. What Jan shared with us, and not only me, was what he learned from Rebekka's own lips. Rebekka had been raped, she claimed, at a very young age, in the household of foster parents, she and her younger brother surviving the passing of their parents when Rebekka was six years old. Her claim could never be proven, unless the perpetrator himself confessed and this was unlikely since the foster father in question was deceased. The wife was alive but she dismissed any such contention as “young and rebellious rubbish.” The rape contention, though, brought Marilyn Monroe back into it.
There were endless questions, all deferred to me, about the suicide and the information the police had discovered a note left by Rebekka. I was asked if I knew what the note read to which I often responded, “I will not comment on it.” The police would not comment either due to their ongoing investigation. When one particularly feisty reporter kept at it, I responded, “One should respect the privacy and the rights of the deceased and a written note is the property of the deceased. When one dies the property of the deceased belongs to the heirs and no one else, not even the police. They won't tell you what it read because they have no right to share it. Their only interest in such a note is to determine the proper outcome of their investigation and nothing more. If the heir wishes to share it, it is the right of the heir to do so. Am I getting through to you?” I got through to him, but the heir turned out to be Rebekka's brother, and he exercised his right to share it and did so. Once the contents of the note became known to everyone, there wasn't much debate concerning to whom “no one in particular” referred. It put me on the hot seat for a while because Jan eventually admitted he had shared the contents of the note with me the day of the movie premiere, but I managed to squirm away relatively unscathed when I reminded all what I had told the feisty reporter. Trying to keep a sense of humor, morbidly I confess and never sharing it with anyone, I thought with all the blather circulating at least Rebekka never sang to me, “Happy birthday, Mister President.” There were times she could have.
With this event now hanging like an ugly, dark cloud over the premiere, I fully expected the worst. The vast majority of written or spoken media and critical reaction always included some reference to one of the major stars not being able to attend the premiere because she was dead. I always expected such reaction, since most columnists have a very certain number of words to produce and no more by publication agreement, and such inclusion required less about the movie itself. There are some who claim any publicity is good publicity. I generally ignore those idiots. In retrospect Rebekka's suicide hurt the movie at the box office, thus she was able to punish me in more ways than one. The final proclamation came from the Master himself. Through the mysterious ether of the Way, I received his last thought concerning the matter, for the Master never referred to it ever again.
You recall I warned you you would regret your musical, Al-Barrak, do you not?
I will never forget your warning, Master, and I do regret it. If I could go back I would change one thing. I would never let Rebekka perform on stage and limit her only to stage direction.
You still have a journey to complete, Al-Barrak, for this change would have made no difference. You were trapped in a snake-like coil and she has struck. Your only option was to remove the snake, delicately, gently, but placing the snake far out of harm's way, yet your musical would have suffered. Thus you have discovered your paradox, and must live with it forever.
- Just Desserts, Segment Forty-Three “Fatalities” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021
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