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Begging with Threats

 

I LOCKED THE KITCHEN door – Ilse and Ludger were out, but somewhere in Oxford, and I didn't want any surprises. It was lunchtime and I had an hour before Hamid arrived. I felt strange pushing open the door to Ludger and Ilse's room – my dining room, I reminded myself – and I reminded myself again that I hadn't set foot in there since Ludger had arrived.

The place looked as if refugees had been holed up there for a month or so. It smelt of old clothes, cigarettes and joss sticks. There were two inflatable mattresses on the floor with unzipped sleeping-bags on them – ancient, khaki, army issue, creased, almost like something once living, a cast-off skin, a decomposing giant limb – that served as beds. There were small stashes of food and drink here and there – tins of tuna and sardines, cans of beer and cider, chocolate bars and biscuits – as if the occupants were expecting to undergo a short siege of some kind. The table and chairs had been pushed against the wall and served as a form of open wardrobe – jeans, shirts, smocks, underwear were hung or laid flat on every edge, chair back or level surface. In another corner I saw the grip that Ludger had arrived with and a bulky rucksack – ex-army – that I supposed was Ilse's.

I very carefully noticed its position against the wall and just before I opened the main flap the thought came to me that she might have placed some snares. 'Snares,' I said out loud, and forced an ironic chuckle: I was spending too much time in my mother's past, I thought to myself – and yet had to admit that here I was indulging in a clandestine search of my lodgers' room. I undid the buckle and rummaged inside – I found a few dogeared paperbacks (in German – two Stefan Zweigs), an Instamatic camera, a tattered teddy-bear mascot with the name 'Uli' stitched on to it and something the size of a half-brick wrapped in kitchen foil. I knew what this was and smelt it: dope, marijuana. I unpeeled a corner of the foil and saw a dense dark-chocolate mass. I took a tiny pinch of it between forefinger and thumb and tasted it – I don't know why: was I some kind of drug connoisseur who could identify its provenance? No, not at all, even though I enjoyed a joint from time to time, but it seemed the sort of thing to do when one was secretly investigating other people's belongings. I folded the foil shut again and put everything away. I searched the other pockets of the rucksack and found nothing interesting. I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for: a weapon? A gun? A hand-grenade? I closed the door behind me and went to make myself a sandwich.

When Hamid arrived for his lesson, he handed me an envelope and a flyer. The flyer was to announce a demonstration outside Wadham College to protest at the official visit of the Shah of Iran's sister, Ashraf. In the envelope was a xeroxed invitation to a party in the upstairs room at the Captain Bligh pub on the Cowley Road on Friday night.

'Who's having the party?' I asked.



'I am,' Hamid said. 'To say goodbye. I go to Indonesia the next day.'

 

That evening when Jochen was in bed and Ludger and Ilse had gone to the pub – they always asked me; I always said no – I rang Detective Constable Frobisher.

'I've had a phone call from this Ilse girl,' I said. 'She must have been given my number by mistake – she was asking for someone I didn't know – some "James". I think it was from London.'

'No, she's now definitely in Oxford, Miss Gilmartin.'

'Oh.' This threw me. 'What's she meant to have done?' There was a pause. 'I shouldn't really tell you this but she was living in a squat in Tooting Bec. We think she might have been selling drugs but the complaints made about her were to do with aggressive begging. Begging with threats, if you know what I mean.'

'Oh right. So she's not some kind of anarchist terrorist, then.'

'What makes you say that?' There was new interest in his voice.

'No reason. Just all this stuff in the papers, you know.'

'Right, yeah… Well, the Met just want us to pick her up. We don't want her type in Oxford,' he added a bit priggishly and foolishly, I thought: Oxford was full of all sorts of types – as odd and deranged and as unpleasant as they came: one Ilse more or less wouldn't make any difference.

'I'll be sure to call if she makes contact again,' I said, dutifully.

'Much obliged, Miss Gilmartin.'

I hung up and thought of thin, moody, grubby Ilse and wondered how aggressively she could beg. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake calling Frobisher – he was very keen – and what had made me mention terrorism? That was a blunder, really stupid. Here I was thinking I might be inadvertently harbouring the second generation of the Baader-Meinhof gang but had discovered that they were just the usual sad sacks and losers.

 

The demonstration outside Wadham College was billed for 6.00 p.m., when the Shah's sister was due to arrive for a reception to declare open the new library that the Shah's money had paid for. I picked up Jochen from Grindle's and we caught a bus into town. We had time for a pizza and a coke in the St Michael's street pizzeria before we wandered hand in hand along the Broad towards Wadham.

'What's a demonstration, Mummy?' he asked.

'We're protesting. Protesting that the University of Oxford should take money from a tyrant and a dictator, a man called the Shah of Iran.'

'The Shah of Iran,' he repeated, liking the sounds of the words. 'Will Hamid be there?'

'Definitely, I would say.'

'He comes from Iran as well, doesn't he?'

'Indeed he does, my clever lad…'

I stopped, astonished – there seemed to be about 500 people gathered in two groups on either side of the main entrance to the college. I had been expecting the usual small quorum of earnest lefties and some punks looking for fun but here were dozens of police, arms linked, keeping the entrance to the college as wide and as clear as possible. Others stood in the street on their walkie-talkies, impatiently waving cars on. There were banners – saying DICTATOR, TRAITOR, MURDERER and OXFORD 'S SHAME and (more wittily) THE SHAM OF IRAN – and orchestrated chanting in Farsi led by a masked man with a megaphone. Yet the mood was strangely festive – perhaps because it was a beautiful warm summer evening, perhaps because it was a decorous Oxford demonstration, or perhaps because it seemed hard to be really outraged and revolutionary about the opening of a new library. There was a lot of grins, laughter, banter – still, I was impressed: it was the largest political demonstration I had seen in Oxford. It reminded me of my Hamburg days and, thinking of Hamburg, I was reminded of Karl-Heinz and all the fervent, angry marches and demonstrations we had been on together. My mood collapsed somewhat.

I spotted Hamid with a group of other Iranians, chanting along with the megaphone man, and pointing their fingers in emphatic unison. The larking English students, in their combat jackets and keffiyehs, looked like amateurs; for them this protest was a kind of extra-curricular luxury, nothing was really at stake – a bit of fun on a sunny evening.

I looked around at the crowd and at the sweating, harassed policemen holding back the protestors' half-hearted surges. I saw another two dozen coppers coming down the road from vans parked outside Keble – the Shah's sister must be due. Then I spotted Frobisher – he was standing on a low wall with other journalists and press photographers – snapping away with a camera at the crowd of demonstrators. I turned my back on him quickly and almost bumped into Ludger and Ilse.

'Hey, Ruth,' Ludger said with a wide smile, seemingly pleased to see me. 'And Jochen too. Great! Have an egg.'

He and Ilse each had two boxes of a dozen eggs that they were handing out to the crowd.

Jochen took one carefully. 'What do I do with this?' he said, uneasily – he had never really warmed to Ludger, despite Ludger's ceaseless, amiable jocularity, but he liked Ilse. I reached out and took an egg as well, to encourage him.

'When you see the rich lady getting out of the limousine you throw it at her,' Ludger said.

'Why?' Jochen asked – reasonably enough, I thought – but before anyone could give him a cogent answer Hamid had picked him up and set him on his shoulders.

'Now you can have a good view,' he said.

I wondered if I should be playing the responsible mother but decided not to – it was never too early in your life to try to destroy the myth of the all-powerful system. What the hell, I thought: the counter-culture dies hard, and in any event it might be good for Jochen Gilmartin to throw an egg at a Persian princess, I reckoned. As Jochen surveyed the scene from Hamid's shoulders I turned to Ilse. 'You see that photographer in the denim jacket – on the wall with the others, the journalists?' I said.

'Yes. And so?'

'He's a policeman. He's looking for you.'

She turned away at once and fished in the pockets of her jacket for a hat – a pale blue bush hat with a floppy brim – that she pulled on low on her head, and added a pair of sun-glasses. She whispered something to Ludger and they slipped away into the crowd.

Suddenly the police started to call and gesture to each other. All traffic was stopped and a motorcade of cars led by two outriders with flashing lights came at some speed down Broad Street. The noise of the jeering and the shouting became shrill as the cars stopped and the bodyguards stepped out, shielding a small figure in a silk turquoise dress and short jacket. I saw dark, lacquered bouffant hair, big sun-glasses and, as she was ushered quickly towards the porters' lodge and the nervous dons in the welcome committee, the eggs began to fly. I thought that the sound of their cracking open as they hit was like distant gunshots.

'Throw, Jochen!' I shouted spontaneously – and saw him hurl his egg. Hamid let him stay up a second longer and then slid him down his front to the ground.

'I hit a man on the shoulder,' Jochen said, 'one of the men in sun-glasses.'

'Good boy,' I said. 'Now let's go home. That's enough excitement for the day.'

We said our goodbyes and walked away from the demonstration up Broad Street and on to the Banbury Road. After a minute or two we were joined, surprisingly, by Ludger and Ilse. Jochen began at once to explain to them that he had deliberately not aimed at the lady because her dress looked pretty – and expensive.

'Hey, Ruth,' Ludger said stepping in beside me, 'thanks for the warning about the pig.'

I saw Ilse had taken Jochen's hand; she was talking to him in German.

'I thought she was in more serious trouble,' I said. 'I think they just want to warn her.'

'No, no,' Ludger said, with a nervous laugh. He lowered his voice. 'Her head is a bit fucked-up. A bit crazy. Nothing heavy, you know.'

'Fine,' I said. 'Just like the rest of us, then.'

Jochen reached for Ludger's hand. 'Give me a swing, Ludger.'

So Ludger and Ilse between them began to swing Jochen off his feet as we walked homewards, Jochen laughing with uncontrolled pleasure, calling at every swing to be launched higher, higher.

I dropped back a little, bent down to adjust the strap on my shoe, and didn't spot the police car until it had pulled up alongside me. Through the open window Detective Constable Frobisher smiled at me.

'Miss Gilmartin – I thought it was you. Could I have a quick word?' He stepped out of the car, the driver remaining inside. I sensed Ludger, Ilse and Jochen continuing on their way regardless and managed not to look at them.

'I just wanted you to know,' Frobisher said. 'The German girl – seems she's back in London again.'

'Oh, right.'

'Did you see the demo?'

'Yes, I was in Broad Street. Some of my students were participating. Iranians, you know.'

'Yeah, that was what I was wanting to talk to you about,' he said, stepping away from the car. 'You move, I take it, among the foreign-student community.'

'I wouldn't say "move", exactly – but I do teach foreign students all year round, pretty much.' I flicked my hair back out of my eyes and used the gesture to glance up the road. Ludger, Ilse and Jochen were about a hundred yards off, standing still now, looking back at me, Ilse holding Jochen's hand.

'Let me put it this way, Miss Gilmartin,' Frobisher said, making his voice confidential, semi-urgent. 'We'd be very interested if you saw and heard anything unusual – political, like: anarchists, radicals. The Italians, the Germans, the Arabs… Anything that strikes you – just give us a call, let us know.' He smiled, genuinely, not politely, and I suddenly saw the real Frobisher for an instant, saw his serious zeal. Under the formulaic pleasantries and the air of earnest dullness, was someone shrewder, cleverer, more ambitious. 'You can get closer to these people than we can, you hear things we'd never hear,' he said, letting his guard drop again, 'and if you gave us a call from time to time – doesn't matter if it's just a hunch – we'd really appreciate it.'

Is this how it begins? I thought. Is this how your life as a spy begins?

'Sure,' I said. 'If I ever heard anything. But they're fairly innocuous and ordinary – all trying to learn English.'

'I know. Ninety-nine point nine per cent. But you've seen the graffiti,' he said. 'We're talking Italian far right, German far left. They must be here if they're writing that stuff on the walls.' It was true: Oxford was more and more spattered with meaningless Euro-agitprop slogans – Ordine Nuevo, das Volk wird dich rachen, Caca-pipi-talisme – meaningless to the English, that is. 'I understand,' I said. 'If I hear anything I'll give you a call. No problem: I've got your number.'

He thanked me again, said he'd be in touch, told me to 'take care', shook my hand and climbed back into his car, which did a swift U-turn and headed back down the road towards the city centre.

I rejoined the waiting trio.

'Why did that policeman want you, Mummy?'

'He said he was looking for a boy who threw an egg.' The adults all laughed but Jochen wasn't amused.

'You've used that joke before. It's still not funny.'

As we headed off, I drew Ilse back a pace or two.

'They think you're back in London, for some reason. So I suppose you're safe here.'

'Thank you for this, Ruth. I'm very grateful.'

'Why are you begging? They said you were begging aggressively – with threats.'

She sighed. 'Only at the beginning I was begging. Yeah. But not anymore.' She shrugged. 'On the streets there is much indifference, you know. It was making me angry.'

'What were you doing in London, anyway?'

'I left my home – in Dusseldorf. My best friend from school started to fuck my father. It was impossible, I had to leave.'

'Yes,' I said, 'yes, I can see how you might have had to… What're you going to do now?'

Ilse thought for a while, made a vague gesture with her hand. 'I think Ludger and I will find a flat in Oxford. We can squat, maybe. I like Oxford. Ludger says maybe we can do some porno.'

'In Oxford?'

'No, in Amsterdam. Ludger says he knows a guy who's making videos.'

I glanced at the skinny blonde girl walking along beside me as she rummaged in her bag for a cigarette – almost pretty, just something blunt and rounded about her features keeping her ordinary. An ordinary girl.

'I wouldn't do porno, Ilse,' I said.

'Yeah…' She thought a bit. 'You're right. I rather selling drugs.'

We caught up with Ludger and Jochen and wandered homewards, chatting about the demo and Jochen's bull's-eye with the egg, first throw. But I found I was thinking of Frobisher's offer, for some reason: anything you hear, even a hunch – we'd really appreciate it.

 

The Story of Eva Delectorskaya

Ottawa , Canada . 1941

 

EVA DELECTORSKAYA LOOKED OUT of the bus window at the coloured lights and the Christmas decorations in the windows of Ottawa 's department stores. She was on her way to work and had managed to find a seat close to the front, as usual, not far from the driver, so she could more easily monitor who stepped aboard and who stepped off. She opened her novel and pretended to read. She was headed for Somerset Street in downtown Ottawa but she tended to get off either a few stops before her destination or a few stops after and, wherever she chose to disembark, she would take a different, roundabout route before she arrived at the Ministry of Supply. Such precautions added about twenty minutes to her journey to work but she felt calmer and more at ease during the day, knowing she had carried them out.

She was sure, almost 100 per cent sure, as sure as anyone could be, that no one had ever followed her during these few days she'd been living and working in Ottawa, but the constant routine checks were a part of her life now: it was almost two weeks since she had flown from New York – two weeks tomorrow, she realised – but she could still take nothing for granted.

She had walked into Sainte-Justine as the village was beginning to wake and stir and had ordered a coffee and doughnut with the first customers at the drugstore before catching the early bus to Montreal. There, she had had her long hair cut short and dyed a chestnut brown and spent that night in a small hotel near the station. She had taken to her bed at eight and slept through twelve hours. It wasn't until the next morning, the Monday, that she bought a newspaper and read about Sunday's attack on Pearl Harbor. She skimmed the story quickly, incredulously, and then reread it more slowly: eight battleships sunk, hundreds dead and missing, a date which will live in infamy, war declared on Japan. And she thought, buoyantly, simply: we've won. This is what we had wanted and now we will win – not next week, not next year, but we will win. She became almost tearful because she knew how important it was, trying to imagine how the news was being received at BSC, and had a sudden crazy urge – immediately rejected – to telephone Sylvia. What would Lucas Romer be feeling, she wondered? Was she more secure now? Would they call off the search?

Somehow she doubted it, she said to herself, as she walked up the steps to the new annexe of the Ministry of Supply and took the elevator to the typing pool on the third floor. She was early, the first of the four women who acted as shorthand typists for the half-dozen civil servants who occupied this floor of this division of the ministry. She began to relax, somewhat: she always felt safer at work because of the anonymity provided by the number of people in the building and because she could cover herself journeying there and homeward. It was during her time off that the caution and the constant suspicion re-established itself – as if she became an individual once she left the office, an individual who might attract attention. Here on the third floor she was just a member of a typing pool amongst innumerable typing pools.

She took the cover off her typewriter and leafed through the documents in her in-tray. She was quite happy with her work: it made no demands on her and it was going to provide her with a ticket home, or so she hoped.

Eva knew there were only two ways for a single woman to obtain passage to England from Canada: either in uniform – the Red Cross, nursing, or signals – or in government. She considered government the swiftest route and so had travelled to Ottawa from Montreal on Monday 8 December and had registered with a secretarial agency specialising in providing secretaries for government departments and Parliament. Her shorthand, her fluent French and her typing speed were more than adequate qualifications and within twenty-four hours she had been sent for interview at the new annexe of the Ministry of Supply on Somerset Street, a solid unadorned office block of grey stone, the colour of old snow.

On her first night in Montreal, in her hotel, she had spent an hour with a powerful magnifying glass, a needle and some black Indian ink diluted with a little milk, painstakingly altering her passport name from 'Allerdice' to 'Atterdine'. There was nothing she could do about 'Margery' but decided to call herself 'Mary' as if it were a preferred diminutive. The passport would not survive inspection by an expert with a microscope but it would certainly pass muster beneath the hurried glance of an immigration official. Eva Delectorskaya became Eve Dalton became Margery Allerdice became Mary Atterdine – her tracks, she hoped, were slowly being erased.

After a few days at her job she began asking around the women and girls in the ministry's canteen what the chances were of being posted to the London embassy. She discovered there was a fairly regular traffic of staff to and fro: every month or two some went out, some came back. She had to go to personnel and fill in a form; the fact that she was British might make the whole process easier. The story she grudgingly, shyly, told to any who asked was that she had come to Canada to be married and had been grievously let down by her Canadian fiancé. She had moved to Vancouver to be with him but as the marriage plans remained suspiciously vague she realised she had been cruelly misled and misused. Alone and adrift in Vancouver, she had travelled east to seek passage home, one way or another. Anyone who asked her more precise questions – Who was the man? Where had she lived? – prompted sniffles or genuine tears: she was still raw and humiliated, it was all too upsetting to talk about. Sympathetic questioners understood and tended not to probe further.

She had found a boarding-house on a quiet street – Bradley Street – in the bourgeois suburb of Westboro, run by Mr and Mrs Maddox Richmond, all of whose clients were young ladies. Bed and breakfast was offered at ten dollars a week; half board at fifteen, rates by the week or the month. 'Open fires on chilly days' it said on the small sign attached to the gatepost. Most of their 'paying guests' were immigrants: two Czech sisters, a Swedish woman, a country girl from Alberta, and Eva. Family prayers were held in the downstairs parlour at 6.00 p.m. for those who wished to attend and from time to time Eva duly and with unostentatious piety did. She ate out, choosing diners and restaurants near the ministry, anonymous places, busy, where the turnover of hungry clients was swift. She found a public library that opened late where some nights she could read undisturbed until 9.00 p.m. and, on her first weekend off, travelled to Quebec City, simply to be away. She really only used the Richmond Guest House to sleep in and she never came to know the other paying guests better than as nodding acquaintances.

This quiet life, this regular routine suited her and she found she came to enjoy living in Ottawa almost without effort: its wide boulevards, its well-kept parks, its solid, Gothically grandiose public buildings, its tranquil streets and civic cleanliness were exactly what she needed, she realised, as she pondered her next move.

But all the while she was there she covered herself. In a notebook she logged the registration of every car parked in the street and learned to which household they belonged. She noted down the names of the owners of the twenty-three houses on Bradley Street, opposite and on either side of the Richmonds, and kept track of the comings and goings in casual chats with Mrs Richmond: Valerie Kominski had a new boyfriend, Mr and Mrs Doubleday were on vacation, Fielding Bauer had just been 'let go' from the building firm he worked for. She wrote everything down, adding new facts, crossing out redundant or outdated ones, looking all the time for the anomaly that would alert her. With her first weekly salary check she had purchased some sensible items of clothing and dipped into her dollar supply to buy a bulky beaver coat against the cold that was growing as Christmas approached.

She tried to analyse and second-guess what might be going on at BSC. Despite the euphoria of Pearl Harbor and the arrival of the USA as the long-awaited ally, she imagined that they would still be investigating, digging deep, following up leads. Morris Devereux dies and Eve Dalton disappears that very night – not events that can be casually ignored. She was sure that everything that Morris had suspected of Romer would now be laid at his door: if there were Abwehr ghosts in BSC did anyone need to look any further than Devereux and Dalton? But she also knew – and this gave her satisfaction, made her more determined – that her continued disappearance, her invisibility, would be a persistent, annoying worry and goad to Romer. If anyone would be urging that the search be maintained at its highest level it would be he. She would never be complacent or relax, she told herself: Margery – 'call me Mary' – Atterdine would continue to lead her life as unobtrusively and as cautiously as she could.

'Miss Atterdine?'

She looked up from her typewriter. It was Mr Comeau, one of the under-secretaries in the ministry, a neat middle-aged man with a trimmed moustache and a nervous manner that was at once shy and punctilious. He asked her to come into his office.

He sat at his desk and searched through his papers.

'Please sit.'

She did so. He was a proper man, Mr Comeau, never acting in a superior or dismissive manner – as some of the other undersecretaries did as they thrust their documents at the typists and issued their instructions as if they were talking to automata – but there was something melancholy about him, too, about his neatness, his propriety, as if it were his guard against a hostile world.

'We have your application for the London posting here. It's been approved.'

'Oh, good.' She felt a heart-thud of pleasure: something would happen now, she sensed her life taking a new direction again, but she kept her face expressionless.

Comeau told her there was a new draft of five 'young women' from the Ottawa ministries leaving St John on 18 January for Gourock in Scotland.

'I'm very pleased,' she said, thinking she must make some comment. 'It's very important to me-'

'Unless…' he interrupted, trying for a playful smile and failed.

'Unless what?' Her voice was more sharp and abrupt than she meant it to be.

'Unless we can persuade you to stay. You've fitted in very well here. We're very pleased with your diligence and ability. We're talking about promotion, Miss Atterdine.'

She was flattered, she said, indeed she was surprised and overwhelmed, but nothing could persuade her otherwise. She alluded, discreetly, to the unhappy experiences in British Columbia, how all that was behind her and she wished simply to go back home now, home to her widowed father, she added, throwing in this new biographical information spontaneously.

Mr Comeau listened, nodded sympathetically, said he understood, and told her that he too was a widow, that Mrs Comeau had died two years ago and that he also knew that loneliness her father must be experiencing. She realised now where his air of melancholia originated.

'But think again, Miss Atterdine,' he said. 'These Atlantic crossings are dangerous, there's risk involved. They're still bombing London. Wouldn't you rather be here in Ottawa?'

'I think my father wants me back,' Eva said. 'But thank you for your concern.'

Comeau raised himself from his chair and went to look out of the window. A small rain was spitting on the glass and he traced the squirming fall of a raindrop on the pane with his forefinger. And Eva was instantly back in Ostend, in Romer's office, the day after Prenslo, and she felt a giddiness overcome her. How many times a day did she think of Lucas Romer? She thought of him deliberately, wilfully all the time, thought of him organising the search for her, thought of him thinking about her, wondering where she was and how to find her, but these inadvertent moments when memories pounced on her took her unawares and were overwhelming.

Comeau was saying something.

'I'm sorry?'

'I was wondering if you had plans for the Christmas holiday,' he said, a little shyly.

'Yes, I'm staying with friends,' she said, instantly.

'I go to my brother's, you see,' he continued as if he hadn't heard her. 'He has a house near North Bay, on the lake.'

'Sounds wonderful, unfortunately –'

Comeau was determined to make this invitation, overriding all interruptions. 'He has three sons, one of them married, a very nice family, eager, friendly young people. I wondered if you'd like to join us for a night or two, as my guest. It's very relaxed and informal – log fires, fishing on the lake, home cooking.' 'You're very kind, Mr Comeau,' she said, 'but I've already made all the arrangements with my friends. It wouldn't be fair on them to cancel at such short notice.' She put on a frustrated smile to console him a little, sorry to let him down.

The sadness crossed his face again – he had had his hopes high, she realised. The lonely young English woman who worked in the typing pool – so attractive, leading such a drab, quiet life. The London transfer would have galvanised him, she knew, made him act.

'Yes, well, of course,' Comeau said. 'Perhaps I should've asked you earlier.' He spread his hands abjectly and Eva felt sorry for him. 'But I had no idea you would be leaving us so soon.'

 

It was three days later when Eva saw the car for the second time, a moss-green '38 Ford parked outside the Pepperdines' house. Before that it had been outside Miss Knox's and Eva knew the car belonged to neither Miss Knox (an elderly spinster with three terriers) nor the Pepperdines. She walked quickly past it, glancing inside. There was a newspaper and a map on the passenger seat and what looked like a thermos flask in the door pocket on the driver's side. A thermos flask, she thought: someone spends a lot of time in that car.

Two hours later she went out 'for a stroll' and it was gone.

She thought long and hard that night, telling herself initially that if she saw the car a third time she would move out. But she knew that was wrong, remembering her Lyne training: when the anomaly appears react to it immediately was the rule – a Romer rule. If she saw it for a third time it would almost definitely be sinister and by then perhaps too late, as far as she was concerned. That night she packed her small grip and looked out of her dormer window at the houses opposite and wondered if there was a BSC team already installed there waiting for her. She put her grip by the door, thinking how light it weighs, how few possessions I have. She did not sleep that night.

In the morning she told Mr and Mrs Richmond that she had to leave urgently – a family matter – and was going back to Vancouver. They were sorry to see her go, they said, but she had to understand that at such short notice they couldn't possibly reimburse the residue of her month's rent paid in advance. Eva said she understood, completely, and apologised for any inconvenience.

'By the way,' she asked, pausing at the door, 'has anyone left any messages for me?'

The Richmonds looked at each other, consulting silently, before Mrs Richmond said, 'No, I don't think so. No, dear.'

'No one's called round to see me?'

Mr Richmond chuckled. 'We had a young man drop by yesterday asking to rent a room. We told him it was ladies only – he seemed very surprised.'

Eva thought: it's probably nothing, a coincidence, but she suddenly wanted to be away from Bradley Street.

'If anyone does call say I've gone back to Vancouver.'

'Of course, dear. Take care now, it's been lovely knowing you.'

Eva left the house, turned left instead of her usual right, and briskly walked a meandering, convoluted mile to a different bus stop.

She moved into the Franklin Hotel on Bank Street, one of Ottawa's largest, a functional, modest establishment with over 300 rooms 'completely fireproof and all with shower and phone' but no restaurant or coffee shop. However, even with her single room at three dollars a night, she realised she was going to run out of money. There were no doubt cheaper hotels and more frugal lodgings to be had in Ottawa but she required the security and anonymity of a large central hotel. She had a little over three weeks to go until her voyage back to Britain: she just needed to bury herself away.

Her room was small, plain and on the seventh floor and through a gap in the buildings opposite she could see the green expanse of the Exhibition Grounds and a swerve of the Rideau River. She unpacked and hung her few clothes in the wardrobe. The one advantage of the move was that she could at least walk to work and save on bus fares.

But she kept wondering if she had done the right thing, if she had been too jumpy, and that the very suddenness of her move from the Richmonds might have signalled something itself… A strange car in a suburban street – what could be so alarming about that? But she reminded herself that she had chosen Bradley Street and the Richmond Guest House precisely because its location made it easy to spot anything unusual occurring. Everybody knew everyone and knew everyone's business on Bradley Street – it was that kind of neighbourhood. And who was the young man who had failed to read the 'Ladies Only' rubric on the guest-house sign? A careless traveller? Not a policeman, she thought, for a policeman would have simply identified himself and asked to see the register. Someone from BSC, then, instructed to check out the hotels and guest-houses in Ottawa. Why Ottawa, she reasoned further, why not Toronto? How could anyone guess or deduce she had gone to Ottawa? And so the questions continued, badgering her, sapping her energy. She went to work as usual, typed letters and documents in the typing pool and came home to her room. She barely inhabited the city. She bought sandwiches on her way home from work, stayed in her room with its view of the Exhibition Grounds and the Rideau River and listened to the radio, waiting for Christmas and 1942 to arrive.

The Ministry of Supply offices closed on Christmas Eve and opened again on 27 December. She chose not to go to the ministry's staff Christmas party. On Christmas Day she slipped out of the hotel early and bought some turkey roll, a loaf of bread, butter and two bottles of beer. She sat on her bed, eating her sandwich, drinking her beer and listening to music on the radio and managed not to cry for an hour or so. Then she allowed herself to weep for ten minutes, thinking she had never been so alone in her life, disturbed by the thought that not one person in the entire world knew where she was. She found herself thinking of her father, an old sick man, living in Bordeaux, and she remembered his encouragement and his zeal when Romer came to recruit her. Who would have thought it would end like this? she said to herself, alone in a hotel room in Ottowa… But no, she thought: no self-pity, she angrily reminded herself, wiping her eyes and steeling herself anew. She cursed Lucas Romer for his cruelty and his betrayal. Then she slept for an hour or so and woke more determined, more composed and calculating, stronger. Now she had an ambition, a purpose: to defeat the worst intentions of Lucas Romer became her mission and she began to wonder, in her solitude, if he had been manipulating her from the very beginning of her recruitment; if he had been observing and honing her habits, her cast of mind and her particular diligence – trying her out in Prenslo and in Washington, waiting for the day when she would become suddenly very useful indeed… It was futile stuff, she knew, and to think like that would drive her to madness. The simple fact that he could not find her was her hold over him – her little portion of power. While Eva Delectorskaya was at large in the world, Lucas Romer could never truly relax.

And then she wondered if this was what her life would always be like, from now on: covert, fearful, always watchful, always restless, always watching, suspecting. It was something she didn't particularly want to contemplate or consider. Forget that, she ordered herself: one step at a time. Get home, first, then see what happens. She went back to work on the 27th only to be faced with another holiday looming at the New Year. But having survived Christmas she felt she could cope with welcoming in 1942. German forces were retreating from Moscow but the Japanese had taken Hong Kong: this was the way it would go, she thought, for a long time to come. She bought a pint of whisky and woke to discover that she had managed to construct a presentable hangover for herself on the morning of I January. The year began with a persistent day-long headache – but there was another headache approaching that she knew could not be avoided.

On her second day back at work, just before the office closed for the evening, she asked if she could see Mr Comeau. He was free and she knocked on his door and was admitted. Comeau was visibly pleased to see her – he had been keeping his distance since she had turned down his holiday invitation, but now he was up and around from his side of the desk, drawing out a chair for her and sitting himself rakishly on the edge of his desk, a leg dangling, an unfortunate inch of hirsute shin exposed below his trouser cuff. He offered her a cigarette and the small ceremony of lighting took place, Eva being careful not to touch his hand as he held his lighter tremblingly in place.

'Second thoughts, Miss Atterdine?' he asked. 'Or is that too much to hope for?'

'I have to ask you an enormous favour,' she said.

'Oh, I see.' The dying fall of the words expressed his huge disappointment eloquently. 'What can I do for you? A reference? A letter of introduction?'

'I need to borrow a hundred dollars,' she said. Unforeseen expenses, she explained; she couldn't wait until her salary started in England.

'Go to your bank,' he said, a little stiffly, offended. 'I'm sure they'll listen to you.'

'I don't have a bank account,' she said. 'I'll pay you back from England. It's just that I need the money now, here, before I go.'

'Are you in some kind of trouble, as they say?' His cynicism didn't suit him, and she could see he knew it.

'No. I just need the money. Urgently.'

'It's a considerable sum. Don't you think I'm entitled to an explanation?'

'I can't explain.'

His eyes fixed on her and she knew he was telling her that there was an easier way – stay in Ottawa, get to know me, we're both lonely. But she gave him no comforting answer in her gaze.

'I'll think it over,' he said, and stood up, buttoning his jacket, the state functionary once more faced with a recalcitrant subordinate.

The next morning there was an envelope on her desk with five twenty-dollar bills inside. She felt a strange rush of emotion: gratitude, relief, shame, comfort, humbleness. Never trust anyone, never trust a soul on this earth – except, she thought, the Witoldskis and the Comeaus of this world.

She moved hotel, again, twice before 18 January, collected her ticket and documentation from the travel bureau in the ministry – ticket and documents made out in the name of 'Mary Atterdine' – and she allowed herself to think of the future for the first time, really, of what she would do when she made landfall, where she would go, what she would do, who she would become. England – London – was hardly her home, but where else could she go? 'Lily Fitzroy' awaited her in Battersea. She could hardly travel to France to try and find her father and stepmother, whatever had become of them. The war would have to end first and it showed no sign of doing that. No, London and Lily Fitzroy were her only options, for the short term at least.


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 1148


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