Bianca would always remember her first kiss with Baldur. To get it, she had religiously observed her grandfather's instructions, given on her sixth birthday:
"Bianchina, with my fortune and your brain, you will always be in a position of absolute privilege – the position to take what you want and have everyone respect your right. Mark my words: never allow an instant of doubt, never let anyone question your privilege!"
Bianca met Baldur at a party and blithely laid siege to him.
After the party he walked her out into the street. I was checking out your ass, he claimed later, and she had flirted it off: Please! All her life she had walked in front of people, certain that they would follow, and they always had. But that night when they reached her chauffeured car and she waited for the obligatory door holding, she turned around to find the sidewalk empty. Baldur was gone – he was not the first person to rebel, to antagonize her, and as always when it happened, past the initial shock, she liked it. Savored it, this tingling elicited by the prospect of someone trying to break her rules. She badly wanted Baldur's kiss, but she ended up working for that kiss, more work and maneuvering than she had bargained for. But then Bianca would never have seriously considered a man who didn't make stark counter demands. Baldur Thoroddsen demanded stark honesty.
"If you are with me, you are with me, you don't fuck around."
"Don't be so dramatic Baldur, we Italians are practical thinking people – we say one thing and do another and no one minds. It's more pleasant that way."
"Well, I like people who speak their minds. If you have something to say, say it, don't beat around the bakery."
Bianca thought Baldur a fascinating man, the way he came strolling into her Milanese palazzo, oblivious to its magnificence. Your city cottage, he called it. He sat with casually whipping foot, while she posed below lacquered portraits and priceless chandeliers, pointing out all the grandness to him. He mostly looked amused. You don't know what grand is, he eventually informed her, rather tactfully, as if to soften the blow. And again Bianca experienced that pleasant tingling, a tingling that only intensified when he took her to Iceland and presented its cosmic landscape with a grunt of satisfaction.
"This is grandness. This is my palazzo, where I grew up." He grinned: "And I don't bring many guests."
After that, there was no doubt he loved her, at least not in Bianca's mind. She began to arrange their marriage, and when the day came, he showed up the way he had shown up for everything else: offhand, amused. He didn't spare a single glance for the five hundred guests lining the benches of the Duomo, none for the fifty-person choir, the gold and crimson robes of the portly archbishop. Only Bianca in her cream gown, triumphant smile daring him to put up resistance – only she was worthy of his eyes. Baldur wasn't planning to run anywhere. He thought Bianca irresistible, especially when she hungered to impose her will. He didn't mind letting her have her way, not when both of them knew who had really set the terms.
"First you marry me, woman," he had challenged back in Iceland, his lips a breath from hers. "Then maybe you get to kiss me."
They exchanged their first kiss in church, in front of five hundred guests. It went on for minutes, all lips and tongue, and her body in his grip. They spent the first year in a haze of sex, the next twenty in shouting matches. He drank his brains out and ranted about his wife's rotten family and business.
"You are a bunch of lying bloodsuckers! Keeping existential prisoners! I am going to put a fucking label on every piece of your fucking jewelry: made by people who live and shit and sleep in ghost factories, run by your maniac peasant friends! Don't you think you have enough fucking money? You need to squeeze out just a little more, so you can get just a little richer?"
"Baldur caro, you are always so emotional. Didn't I warn you, didn't I tell you so many times, we Italians are down to earth. We don't get primitive and drunk, we look reality in the face and we accept it. And sometimes, yes, reality is not so pleasant. And so? I don't see why you are making such a casino about it."
"Because I don't like to associate with killers, directly or indirectly! You realize your collaborators, as you call them, they have a day job and it's blowing people's brains out? Why do you think they call them the Tomatoes? You don't think that's worth making a fuss about?"
"Please, you are an artist caro, and this is business. Leave it to me! The Contis have been makers of jewelry for centuries, we have learned to stay afloat, one way or another, we cannot be so picky! We supplied the Medici, don't forget, and by the way, they were also murderers, with very good taste, this yes, but all the same, murderers. And anyway, what would you know about global competition? About pricing and distribution? About commercial survival?"
But their love was flexible, an acrobat. It always resurfaced in some odd shape, even when nearly distorted to hate.