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Authors: Antonia Fraser

A Splash of Red (6 page)

BOOK: A Splash of Red

For a moment Jemima thought he meant - no, surely even he—

'I'm going to have a shower and a shave - I'm sure that' - he paused and then said in his naughty-boyish voice - 'that
has a razor somewhere about. Then I'm going out and I shall buy you the biggest bunch of flowers in the whole of London, this bitch of a city, which frightens the daylights out of your poor honest artist even on a fine summer's morn.'

'I don't want any flowers.' Her voice was low. 'I have no idea where Chloe is and now will you please go away and leave me alone.'

'Oh, you'll never be quite alone here, sweetheart. Never quite without me. I'm a match for you, darling. Look - there's my picture looking down on you. A great wonderful splash of red for you. Still, if you really don't want me further, I'll leave you. Maybe my old pal Dixie is still in London; I have an idea we were drinking somewhere together last night. I couldn't get an answer from Creeping Croesus.' He passed his hand over his head as if the recollection pained him. 'He'll give me a razor and a bath. And then I'll buy you the flowers. Splashes and splashes of them. All red. Cheer up this whited sepulchre of hers.' Jemima hated red flowers.

'You really have no need to apologize further,' she said coldly. 'You were drunk.'

'Ah, sweetheart, the flowers won't be an apology. They're to woo you, to please you, and then with your matchless wits, Miss Jemima Shore, Investigator, you'll find Miss Chloe Fontaine for me. I know you will.'

go away. Unlock the door and go away—' And then to her further surprise he did. He unlocked the door, deposited the keys carefully on the table, and left. She noticed once again the lightness with which his shambling body could move. Kevin John did not, however, shut the door behind him and she lacked the energy to get up. She heard his footsteps on the uncarpeted stairs, loud, thumping all the way to the front door. It was a long way down. The street door was opened. She did not hear it shut.

Jemima regained her energy and walked unsteadily to the balcony. She looked over. Amidst the desultory passers-by on the pavement of the huge Bloomsbury square below, Kevin John in his bright blue shirt was easy to pick out. He wove through the traffic and disappeared in the direction of the British Museum. It was not much more than twelve hours since she had looked for Chloe in the same square and missed her.

He was definitely gone. She was alone. Except for— 'Tiger!' she cried aloud. 'Tiger!' Oh no! Tiger, last heard mewing with outrage when Kevin John had precipitately pushed her inside the door and relocked it, leaving the cat either by design or mistake on the wrong side of it. She had no clear memory of hearing any further mews, but then the ensuing scene had been sufficiently violent to drown the plaints of an excluded cat. Tiger was certainly nowhere to be seen or heard now. He had not chosen to return by the balcony window. She wondered whether a cat would ascend the scaffolding of Adelaide Square all the way from the street. She must go downstairs and look for him. Perhaps he had vanished into the darkened basement area, the last lap of the long staircase.

Remembering to take the keys, and deciding it was prudent to lock the flat behind her - she wanted no more unscheduled visits - Jemima set forth rather gingerly down the first flight of stairs. After the airy brightness of the penthouse, the light was dim.

'Tiger - Puss, Puss, Puss—' Her voice echoed rather queerly in the well of the stairs, occupied by the lifeless lift cage.

There was no other sound. It was Saturday, and the rest of the building was of course quite empty. Even the noise of the traffic from Adelaide Square and its echo from the Tottenham Court Road was subdued.

It was as Jemima was passing the door of the third-floor flat - a substantial mahogany door, preserved no doubt from the original house, set incongruously into the concrete - that she heard quite distinctly the mew of a cat.


The Lion's Den

Jemima called and the cat mewed again.

She banged heavily and tried to turn the handle. It was ornamental. The cat began to cry quite plaintively, that odd infant's cry she had remarked as a curiosity before. Now it drove her frantic. She banged harder.

'Is anyone there?' she shouted.

Absolute silence from whatever lay behind the polished darkness of the mahogany. Then further mewing. This was the moment for those powers of reasoning first praised, if warily, by the nuns at her convent school, more enthusiastically by her tutors at Cambridge, finally lavishly admired by her public, as well as treasured by Megalith Television; that logical faculty, in short, incarnated in the title which Kevin John Athlone so much despised - Jemima Shore, Investigator.

But it did not in fact need supreme detective gifts to work it out. The cat could only have passed through the door it the door was open;
the door had opened. It was unimaginable that such a door should have blown open, flown open, and unlikely that it had been left open (she would certainly have noticed on her way in; Chloe on her way out, and Kevin John, lurking, could hardly have missed it). Therefore some human agency had opened it, and moreover had done so in the comparatively short time since Tiger had been shut out of the top-floor flat.

The only other possibility was that Tiger had after all tried to scale the outside of the house, and miscalculating, had entered an open window on the third floor. That raised the question of why he didn't depart by the same window on finding the flat empty - if indeed he
found it empty. In any case, if Tiger had after all already accustomed 
himself to climbing the heights of Adelaide Square, during Chloe's short tenancy of the flat, why did he not of his own accord return to his natural home in the top flat?

Nevertheless the point could be quickly established by inspecting the majestic facade of the house for an open window. It might be worth looking at the back of the building too; the third-floor flat must also be connected with the fire escape.

She called encouragingly: 'Puss, Puss, Puss' and decided to give the mahogany door one more bang, partly to keep contact with the cat inside, partly to make quite sure that it had not actually jammed. After that she foresaw a routine with the police - and firemen - if no visible window presented itself.

As a loving cat-owner of many years' standing, Jemima had had her share of such experiences. Blanche, the disdainful white cat who had preceded Colette, had had the capacity of a feckless aristocrat for getting herself into scrapes and then expecting other people to busy themselves rescuing her. Jemima had a vision of Blanche, white and fluffy like some garment which had come to rest high up in a tree, gazing at the firemen hired to rescue her with implacable condescension. Life with Blanche had been an expensive and demanding business; life with Tiger and his mistress Chloe was so far proving equally demanding. Yet unlike the erring Chloe, Tiger could not be consigned to his fate over the weekend.

Jemima gave the door one last bang and almost fell over as it swung open silently at her blow.

As Tiger, a golden streak of fur, dashed between her legs onto the staircase, Jemima found herself faced with a huge cave of a room. It was carpeted in something navy blue or even black which looked like felt, but otherwise contained no furniture whatsoever. Three of the walls were painted a shiny dark cobalt blue, a pretty colour in itself, but one which scarcely relieved the sombre floor. The third wall was in fact a vast window of darkened glass, of the sort generally seen in the windows of discreet cars; it was this smoky area which gave the room its feeling of a cave.

The contrast between the summery textures of Chloe's flat and this vault was remarkable. Even the ceiling here gave the impression of being low, whereas in reality it must be considerably higher than that of the flat above; the effect of the various blues was subterranean. Jemima could see that this flat, like Chloe's, did enjoy some form of concrete balcony, somewhere behind the smoky window. Here too, the feeling of trees and space, if untrammelled by darkened glass, would be spectacular. Jemima speculated on the weird mentality of someone who would rent a very modern flat on the third floor of a Georgian square and then deliberately exclude the view.

The proportions of this flat in general, whether because of the colours or not, seemed to lack the harmony exhibited by Chloe's above it. Perhaps Sir Richard Lionnel's architect was more accustomed to designing penthouses than third-floor flats which had to be fitted into the site of a former Georgian mansion.

Grotesquely, a marble mantelpiece of classical design was stuck into the middle of the left-hand blue wall although there was no grate within it. It had the air of an old-fashioned oasis in a very modern desert.

'Adam,' said a low voice behind her.

Jemima jumped and gave a little scream. Her heart beat loudly and unpleasantly. The word, almost whispered, sounded right in her ear. She wheeled round and found she was gazing straight into the eyes of a young man who had been standing in the angle of the door, neatly concealed by it as it swung open. He was smiling at her.

'Adam,' he said again and then with a further grin at her bewilderment pointed at the mantelpiece.

'Adam. Made for the
piano nobile
of this house, I'll be bound. Doesn't it look ghastly hoiked up here? Particularly, stuck in the middle of that hideous wall. They might just as well have papered it with PVC or even cut up some plastic macs to secure the same effect. Why bother with paint?' He was rattling on, but it seemed to be natural garrulity rather than nerves. 'Nice cat that, by the way. Matches the colour of your hair. The eyes are different, though. You do have the eyes of a cat, of course, undoubtedly you've been told that before, but it just happens to be a different cat.'

During this colloquy, Tiger, as though encouraged by the direction the conversation was taking, had ventured back into the room and was rubbing himself against Jemima's legs and purring. She was touched that their short acquaintance had made such an impression on him -considering the way he had been treated - until she was aware that the stranger was being similarly honoured.

'It wanted to come in, by the way, and as I believe in liberty of the individual I permitted it. I also gave it some milk.' He waved towards an open door, presumably the kitchen.
was worried about letting it out in case the cars would get it. Squeal, whoosh and Goldilocks is no more.'

'Tiger. Male.'

'Seventeen-eighty, the original house, to speak of loftier matters,' continued her interlocutor warmly as though she had not spoken. 'One of the finest things Adam ever did. This was named for him originally, you know, Adam Square; they changed it fifty years later for Queen Adelaide on the accession of her old man. I've got all the original drawings, I copied them in the British Museum as a matter of fact. I had the idea of blowing them up and plastering them all over the PVC walls as a kind of reproach when I leave. What do you think?' 'Aah. A squatter.'

His smile became even more friendly.

'Certainly. What are you? Though 1 detest the word, don't you? It has an unfortunate association with the position Indians adopt to perform their natural functions. I prefer to term myself a Friend of the House. Like Friends of the Earth but a bit more upright. Literally. No offence meant to the Friends of the Earth; excellent people; in fact we Friends of the House deliberately copied their title and took it further -upward. Officially we're FROTH - Friends and Re-vivifiers of the House - but I myself think there's something altogether too bubbly about that title.
hardly expresses the calm and repose which we Friends of the House aim to spread about us.'

There was something curiously relaxed about the house's self-styled friend; this, despite his loquacity. His most striking physical characteristic was an aureole of reddish-brown hair. His eyes were exactly the same colour. But the hair itself, although abundant, was not unkempt and the beard which framed his chin was neatly trimmed; the Friend of the House's looks certainly showed more recent signs of care than those of Kevin John Athlone. The Friend was also taller than she had supposed at first sight; about as tall as Jemima herself. Although he was also exceptionally thin - she could have put both hands round his hips in their worn jeans - his shoulders were broad and the arms in the white
-shirt well muscled. With his curly mouth, smiling even in repose, and pointed ears, there was something of Pan or some other sprite, Robin Goodfellow perhaps, about him, not exactly malign, but distinctly mischievous.

Jemima also observed how white and clean the stranger's feet were in their thonged sandals, and indeed his skin generally. She wondered suddenly how old he was. Like his height, his age might be deceptive. For that matter, who

'Adam. Adam Adamson.' She had the impression that the bright squirrel's eyes had read her thoughts. 'May I introduce myself since I take it we are neighbours? Adam Adamson. I know it sounds affected and maybe it is, but maybe equally it is a poor thing but mine own. In this interesting world of make-believe and make-forget in which we live, who knows or cares what I was originally called? My intense admiration for Robert Adam obviously makes my patronymic peculiarly appropriate, although I cannot claim to be descended from him. At least I am descended from Adam, straight descent all the way down, no one can question that particular aspect of my pedigree. So that Adam Adamson, whether my own legal name or not in the opinion of our literal-minded authorities, is at least a name to which I can morally lay claim. I made exactly the same point to the magistrate last time I was arrested,' he added conversationally.

'For squatting? Sorry to use that vulgar term but I can't remember exactly what it is you call it.'

'Revivifying is what we prefer. I am for example revivifying seventy-three Adelaide Square and so, I fancy, are you. How pleased Adam would be incidentally, to think that you, someone so classically beautiful as you—' He cocked an eyebrow at her. 'What is your name by the way?'

'Eve,' replied Jemima Shore in the same light tone. To tell the truth, she wasn't quite sure whether or not the request for her name was a further affectation. Jemima was too level-headed to allow her instant recognizability to affect the course of her life. On the whole she regarded her popular fame as a convenient weapon to be wielded when necessary in the cause of her serious work of television reporting. Nevertheless it was rare that she was not recognized by someone of Adam's particular television-watching age group.

'No, no, you're not,' replied Adam Adamson. 'You're not Eve at all. I know perfectly well who you are. I've known all along. You're a classical goddess. Grey-eyed Athena, found on a pillar perhaps; not nearly solid enough to support one, no caryatid you. Something to be worshipped; or a fifth-century Demeter, perhaps; with your strong straight classical lines—'

'You're talking about me as a building. And I'm generally told my eyes are green.' Jemima couldn't help smiling back at him. Something about Adam Adamson appealed to her. Besides she had made at least two major programmes over the years centred round squatters, their various ideals and projects and in most, if not all, cases, had respected them. Nor did she lump all squatters together. The Friends of the House, for example, clearly had a high standard of hygiene - not an attribute possessed by all squatters whatever their idealism - for the echoing modern cobalt blue cavern was very clean. Unless Adam Adamson had only just moved in.

'A few weeks back,' said Adam, repeating his uncanny trick of answering a question she had not yet put, 'we were demonstrating as usual outside this revolting monument to Sir Richard Lionnel's maniacal vanity, when someone tipped me the wink that a key could be had to the third floor. No questions asked. Perhaps some enlightened human being took the line that I would be a desirable tenant. Or perhaps some fellow son of Adam had conceived a violent hatred for the devouring lion's ornamentation of his own den. Oh, didn't you know?' He waved his hand. Again Jemima observed its whiteness, set off by a few red-gold hairs; the nails were clean and scrubbed-looking. 'This was to be Sir Richard Lionnel's own home.' Another wave.

'Yes, I'm squatting in the Lion's Den - and for a den I suppose the word squatting might be appropriate for once. I'm revivifying the whole house, but I doubt if much revivifying could go on in this blue hell. Cleansing fire would be more appropriate.' A further Pan-like smile.

'Still, it's the principle of the thing, and it's for the principle of bearding the lion in his den - please note the beard specially grown for the occasion - that I have deserted my previous salubrious accommodation in Chelsea. I deserted that to suffer quite dreadfully here. Oh, my aesthetic sensibilities in the excrescence of Adelaide Square!'

He showed no signs of stopping. 'The Lion is making us suffer every time we charge round Adelaide Square. Arriving at the demo in the morning causes a true ache in my heart, especially if you look at the sort of thing the Lion has recently devoured, as illustrated on the opposite side of the square. So why should he not suffer a tiny little pang at finding his own personal domain occupied? I suppose the Lion's jackal-in-chief, Judas Turpin, will let him know on Monday morning. Too late to ruin his weekend in Sussex by the sea, but a splendid sobering start to another week of swallowing houses whole in his maw. You know that he intends to devour the corner property as well? Regurgitating it as something similar to this, but worse. He's had the whole structure condemned as rotten. Ah well, he has a surprise coming.' Adam took a breath.

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