story by michael j. solender
They were leaving for San Diego in the morning. Bern was a meticulous planner always sketching out every agonizing detail. His current scheme, however, was born spontaneously to take full advantage of Natasha’s declaration of their travels.
He kept his passport current, a requirement of his position as personal escort, confidant, lover, and protector of Ms. Natasha Pendant, widow of Sir Francis Pendant. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his philanthropic work with Great Britain’s most impoverished, Pendant had made his fortune as a financier to many of Europe’s royalty. He was loaded. But all the money in the world couldn’t stop the black cab from running the intersection in front of his London club and flattening Sir Francis, crushing his skull, instantly killing him, some 10 years earlier.
His death placed Natasha near the top of the world’s most wealthy women (or men, for that matter) listing. After Sir Francis’ death, she quickly got over her grief and was content to be squired and attended to by much younger, more handsome and more virile companions than Sir Francis. Upon meeting Bern, he quickly became her favorite and, soon, exclusive companion.
Bern’s command of Italian, French, German and English augmented his art history knowledge, society upbringing and eye for life’s finer pleasures. His perpetual tan, flawless jaw-line, beryl-green eyes, whiter-than-white teeth, six-foot frame and 180 pounds of chiseled physique made him the perfect bauble for Natasha’s arm and the envy of many in her circle. Bern was careful never to cast even the most discreet glances towards women or men he found attractive or exciting while in Natasha’s company. Her situation demanded his complete attention, ego-stroking and physical nourishment. He knew it. She knew he knew it, and he was not about to have her cut off the generous purse strings, even though he had grown weary of his role as her paramour after eight years.
San Diego was giving him a perfect way to end the arrangement. He was being given a way to walk away from Natasha complete with a multi-million dollar completion bonus, courtesy of an innocuous insurance policy. Actually, it was Natasha who had insisted they both have policies on each other when they formed that limited partnership cum tax dodge years ago. Natasha was forever surprising him with last minute arrangements to this exotic locale or the other. They hadn’t been to the States in years and it would be a homecoming for Bern, but Natasha couldn’t possibly know that. He was conveniently and most deliberately a man without a past for her.
25 years earlier, Bern had studied abroad at the University of California at San Diego and resided in La Jolla. The trails at the Torrey Pines Reserve offered spectacular sunset views of the Pacific, juxtaposed against the rugged bluffs and shear rock-faced cliffs. He often hiked there after class and remembered well the remote Razorback trail that presented hikers with the most dramatic elevation drops that were both alluring and dangerous if one got too close to the edge.
Natasha would readily accommodate his hiking interest after arriving at the Four Seasons for some sunset trekking at the famous reserve. Her vanity and eagerness to be photographed in a position to generate maximum envy for her friends would allow Bern to frame her right along the most precarious cliff.
48 hours later, they were on the exact bluff where Bern had hiked those many years earlier. If anything, the view was more breathtaking than he had remembered, and Natasha was speechless at the beauty that was California on her first and, as planned by Bern, soon-to-be last visit.
Camera in hand, he placed her within a foot of the ledge for the money shot. He counted on the bright setting sun to temporarily blind her as he simply walked up to her and offered the slightest shove. The gravel was loose, there would be nothing to break her fall and he would explain to the park rangers she simply fell.
The drop was over two hundred feet and it took the rangers and park personnel over three hours to get to the body. The victim’s face was mangled against craggy rocks and was broken and battered, coming to its final resting place in a most unnatural and twisted position. “Ok, just one more time to confirm your earlier account.” The police sergeant was recording the conversation in a handheld Dictaphone.
“I felt faint from the heat, and somewhat dehydrated from the long hike. We wanted a photo and, as we were taking it along the bluff, I fell forward. Bern lunged at me, I guess to break my fall and he just slipped over the edge. It was awful, just awful!” Natasha sobbed softly.
photography by stefan giftthaler
fashion editor: luca termine.
make up + hair: bonnie caria at green apple.
featuring diana rudenok from elite models