Authors: Evelyn Anthony
âThey were admired by the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, who persuaded the raja to sell them. He presented them to the Tsarina, the last poor lady who was murdered by the Bolsheviks. So they came home to Russia. Now, Madame, because the country has opened up to the West and all the barriers are down, they approached me to re-cut them and set them, because I am the only jeweller in the world who could do it. And to sell them, because I am the only jeweller who has clients wealthy enough to own them. Come over here, come and look at that necklace.'
He led Madeline to the big mirror on the opposite wall. There was a bright ceiling spot placed at an angle just above the glass so as to catch every reflection from diamonds and increase their brilliance.
âLet me put them on for you,' he said.
She lifted the thick curtain of blond hair and he fastened the necklace at the back.
âAh,' Ivan Karakov said, and this time it was genuine. âAh, look at that. Prince, come and look at this necklace.'
They blazed against her skin, great pools of crimson fire that seemed as if they must burn, so intense was the brilliance reflected by the mirror and the light.
She said in a voice husky as if from sexual excitement, âI must have them â¦ When His Highness sees these, I know he'll give them to me.' She turned to Karakov. âHe's not coming to Paris till next month. What can I do? Has anyone else seen them?'
Karakov didn't remove the necklace. He pulled out her chair and Titulescu filled her glass with more champagne. âNo,' Ivan said. âYou are the only one so far. But there is interest. Word has got out and I've had enquiries from Japan.'
âDon't sell them,' Madeline Luchaire said. âPromise me! Wait till I talk to His Highness. Wait till he comes over. I know I can persuade him.' Karakov pretended to consider. Her hand came out and gripped his arm. âPlease,' she insisted. âYou know how much he's bought from you. Hold them till he comes.'
Ivan said, âIf they were mine I wouldn't hesitate. But I am selling for the Russian government. I'm their agent. If I owned the diamonds it would be easy, but they are pressing me to find a buyer. They need foreign currency â¦ If you can persuade His Highness to come sooner, I can delay showing them to the Japanese. But not for two whole months, Madame.'
She drained her glass and set it down. Her expression was determined. âI'll see what I can arrange,' she said. Her tone was suddenly businesslike. âOn condition that you show them to nobody else, and hold them for his approval. If he thought you were auctioning them, believe me, you'd never make another sale to him. I'd see to it. I want those red diamonds, Monsieur Karakov. I must have them. When he sees them, whatever the price, I know His Highness will buy.'
âI'll bend the rules,' Karakov conceded, âfor you, Madame. But no more than a month. Until then they are reserved for the prince.' He came and unfastened the necklace. She slipped off the ring.
âThank you,' she said. âI'll let Prince Eugene know as soon as His Highness arrives.'
Karakov kissed her hand. âNo man could refuse you anything,' he said. âI'm sure I couldn't.'
He and Titulescu escorted her to her chauffeur-driven Rolls; then he hurried upstairs to call Laura. âLuchaire's just left, she's crazy for them! She's getting the prince over to see them. We've made the sale; I know it!'
Laura cooed down the line. âGood, good. We'll celebrate tonight. I always said you'd sell ice to the Eskimos â¦'
She loved success and money; she would flatter him and fuss over him and tell him how wonderful he was when he got home. And expect a big present when he made the sale and collected his commission.
âTell me, I want to hear everything.'
âI showed her the new Richter stone â¦ she started getting interested, but I knew I couldn't sell her that and the Romanovs, so I went into the big sales pitch right away. Eugene did his stuff, pouring the champagne, ass kissing, you know how it isâ'
âI know,' Laura interrupted. âSo? Go on, tell me.'
âI got her to try the necklace. She damned near orgasmed with excitement when she looked in the mirror. “I've got to have them, I must have them â¦” I knew I was on the home run. So we agreed on one month. I guess she's calling Riyadh right now â¦ He'll come â he won't want to lose out to the Japs, and when he does she'll fuck him blind till he buys them for her. Honey,' he said, âwhen I sell these for Moscow, I've got the red diamond concession in my pocket. The deal's as good as signed!'
âYou're a genius,' she said, echoing David Wasserman. âA real genius. Oh â¦' she wasn't a woman to get carried away even at such a moment of excitement, âwhile we're talking, I got a call today from Jean Pierre, you remember â¦ Jennie's ex? He wants us for dinner Tuesday the twenty-eighth. I have to call him back today. Is that OK?'
Karakov laughed. âThe way I feel, I'd eat with Yasser Arafat! Sure we can go â¦ you like him, he has interesting parties â¦ Say yes. And I'll be home early tonight.'
âI'll make it special for you,' Laura promised. âFor my clever husband. Love you.'
âLove you too,' Ivan said, and hung up. He was to remember that dinner party, accepted in a mood of euphoria, as one of the turning points of his life.
Elizabeth heard her father's voice on the line. It was unusual for him to answer the telephone at that hour. He was usually out on council business or sitting in the Magistrate's Court.
âDad? Hello, it's me â¦ How are you?'
âI'm fine, Lizzie. How nice to hear you. How're you getting on?' He saw his wife passing the door of the study, covered the mouthpiece with his hand and called to her. âJill? Lizzie's on the phone â¦ Oh yes, darling. I'm glad you're enjoying yourself. And how's James?' He asked the question dutifully.
âHe's fine, terribly busy,' Elizabeth answered. âDad, listen I've got some news â¦'
âWhat news â nothing wrong, is there?'
She could never understand why they were so anxious for her, forgetting that it had been a telephone call that told them of their son's death in the Falklands.
âWrong? Dad, it's the best possible news! I've missed! Nearly three weeks!'
âMissed? Missed what?' Her father belonged to a generation when monthly periods weren't mentioned, let alone the subject of advertising on TV.
His wife took the telephone out of his hand. âLiz â¦ darling â¦'
âI was overdue and did a test,' Elizabeth told her. âDo it yourself, I got the kit and followed the instructions and it's positive! Oh Mum, I'm so thrilled, I just had to ring you and tell you!'
Her mother turned quickly and said, âShe's pregnant, isn't that wonderful?'
Then to her daughter, âDarling, that's great news. Just wonderful. But you must go to a doctor and get it confirmed. Have you told James?'
âNo. I've got an appointment this afternoon. I'll tell him tonight. He'll be over the moon. I know he wants a baby as much as I do. Oh, I just wish I was near you instead of over here.'
Jill Fairfax's eyes filled and she blinked the silly tears away. âSo do we, darling. But it's not that far. You mustn't start charging about on aeroplanes, not at this early stage. You
be careful for the first three months, but we could fly over and see you. No reason why not â¦ Now, Philip, don't start mumbling, we've got nothing so important that we can't take a few days to go to Paris and see Liz â¦'
When she hung up, Elizabeth longed to pre-empt her visit to the doctor and ring James and tell him. But once before she had been late and mistaken the cause. The disappointment had been so great she wasn't going to risk it. No, she decided, I'll wait. I'll tell him tonight when I'm certain.
They'd been so busy entertaining and being entertained, going to the opera and ballet, meeting new people all the time, that the due date came and went without Elizabeth noticing until the day after she visited the MusÃ©e d'Orsay with Jean Pierre Lasalle. Four days late. Then a whole week. A wretched false alarm when she thought abdominal twinges were going to bring her hopes to nothing. But false it was, engendered by her own anxiety. Two weeks. She had to confide in someone. She called Jean Pierre and asked him round for lunch. He was so easy to talk to that she found herself admitting her frustration at being childless and how anxiety prevented her from telling James in case she was mistaken.
âHe's been so good about it,' she had told Jean Pierre. âHe'd love a family. I just couldn't bear to raise his hopes and then for everything to go wrong again.'
She hadn't noticed his expression, she was too absorbed in her own excitement. When he answered, the meaning passed her by.
âIf you were my wife,' he said gently, âI would want to share that with you. Not have you turn to someone else because you were afraid of disappointing me. Surely he must feel the same?'
Elizabeth had asked him quickly, âYou don't mind, do you, Jean Pierre? You're such a sweet friend and you've been so kind â¦ I really appreciate it, you know.'
âThere's nothing to appreciate,' he answered. âIt's a very happy friendship for me, too.'
He had given her the name and address of his own doctor and offered to take her for the appointment. Even warned her gently at being over optimistic. His daughter-in-law had been misled by a home pregnancy kit into thinking she wasn't pregnant, when properly supervised tests showed that she was.
Getting ready for the visit to the French doctor, Elizabeth had felt nauseated with nerves. It must be right. Oh please God, she almost prayed aloud, as she had done so often before without consciously addressing any higher Power. Please let it be right this time. Jean Pierre got up and came towards her when she came out of the surgery.
âI don't have to ask what the verdict is,' he said. âI can see it on your face.'
She caught hold of his hand. The doctor's receptionist stared at them and drew the wrong conclusion. She had known Monsieur Lasalle and his former wife for years. Whatever the situation, the English girl was pregnant and delighted at the news. Ah well, she said to herself, young women were so independent these days. A married woman too.
âHe says I'm about two months.' They were in the car on the way back to rue Constantine. âI must have started before we left London. Oh, it's just so marvellous. I can hardly believe it!'
âAnd there are no problems?' he enquired. âYou're in good health?'
âBlooming,' she laughed. âStrong as an ox. He just said not to do too much for the next three or four weeks since it's a first baby. Jean Pierre â¦' She turned to him, her smile so radiant that he forced himself to say it.
âYou're so happy,' he said. âI am happy for you. And for your husband. I envy him coming home to you tonight.'
As they stood on the pavement before the entrance to the apartment, she reached up and kissed him on the cheek.
âThank you,' she said. âThank you for the doctor, for taking me â¦ for everything. I'm going to tell James I want you to be godfather.'
He paused for a moment to watch her run up the few steps and open the front door. He was happy for her, he admitted. And very sad for himself. He had been in love with her since their first meeting. He could identify the very moment when it happened to him, as she stood in the flat in rue de la Perle, and he divined immediately that it wouldn't suit her husband's purpose and persuaded her against it. Not, as he told her later, because the rue Constantine was more expensive and he would reap more commission, but because he wanted the right decision for her. That was when he had fallen in love. And kept a little hope and determination to himself. He didn't know James Hastings and it wouldn't have stopped him if he had. A Frenchman doesn't balk at husbands. That's why he had offered to help them meet Ivan Karakov: to keep the contact going, to make a corner for himself in her life closer than trips to art exhibitions and afternoons spent wandering round Malmaison or Versailles. Now, he would never be more than what she had fondly called him â a good friend. In ten days' time he would meet James Hastings when he came to dinner at his house on avenue Montaigne.
It might help him to accept defeat â he doubted it â if the man was worthy of the wife. He doubted that, too.
David Wasserman was sitting in Karakov's office. He had called in for a friendly meeting, and Karakov had greeted him warmly. They had known each other for years, and they were as near friends as it was possible to be in such a competitive business. David had great respect for Ivan and admired his achievements; the posturing and play-acting amused him because there was a love of the dramatic in him. The man was a giant, why shouldn't he take centre stage? Karakov considered Wasserman the greatest expert on diamonds in the world after himself, and he respected his wife Clara too; there was a woman with a business brain, such a help to her husband â¦ she even got on with Laura, who disliked most women on principle.
âHave a cigar?' Karakov offered. He had never smoked; he didn't drink much either and he watched his weight. He and Laura were very health conscious. David pierced a big Punch and lit it, drawing with satisfaction. The rich tobacco scent wafted above them.
âClara would kill me if she saw me doing this,' he said, and laughed. âShe watches me like a baby.'
âAnd why shouldn't she? You're a good man, who'd look after her without you?'
âThat worries me,' David Wasserman agreed. âNo children, and no relatives.' He didn't need to elaborate. Ivan knew that she had lost many members of her family in the Holocaust. Even now, she woke up some nights crying. For Clara, as for so many Jewish people, that terrible wound would never heal.
They had travelled all over the world together, but nothing would induce her to step on German soil. For years Clara had devoted time and money working for the Jewish women's charity, Wizzo, helping the less fortunate. Together, David and she had worked in the cause of Israel. They were too old to emigrate themselves but their people had a homeland now; they were no longer the wandering race of the world. He had given enormous sums of money for charitable foundations in Israel and persuaded a lot of his influential friends, Ivan Karakov among them, to do the same. He was a Fellow of the prestigious Weizmann Institute, and he and Clara visited twice a year. They had bought a small apartment in Tel Aviv, more as a statement of their faith in the country's future, than because they intended to live there. As David liked saying, it was a young country for young people, with hope and life ahead of them.