Authors: Len Deighton
'We'll phone Southampton,' said the policeman briskly. 'They'll pick her up when the train gets there.'
'Was there anyone with her?' asked the father authoritatively.
Fiona looked at him. He was tall and athletic; in his late thirties perhaps. His moustache was full but carefully trimmed. He had doleful eyebrows and a somewhat squashed nose in a weather-beaten face. He was handsome in a seemingly uncontrived way, like the tough-guy film-stars whose photos she'd pinned above her bed at school. His clothes were expensive and too perfect, the style that foreigners selected when they wanted to look English: a magnificent camel-hair overcoat, a paisley-patterned tie, its knot supported by a gold pin through the shirt collar, and the shiny Oxford shoes. 'Yes,' she said, 'there was a man with her.'
'A black man?'
'Perhaps. I didn't notice. Yes, I believe so.'
'It makes it easier from our point of view,' said the policeman.
A gust of wind lifted discarded newspapers and other litter so that it moved enough to scare the birds. Conversation faltered as English conversations do when minds turn to the delicate and devious rituals of leave-taking.
'We have your phone number, Mr Lindner,' said the policeman. 'As soon as we hear from Southampton the desk sergeant will phone.' It ended there. The policeman had other work to do.
'If that's all?' said Fiona, moving away. 'I have to get a taxi.'
I'm going to Maida Vale,' the man said to Fiona. 'Can I drop you off anywhere?' She still couldn't recognize the accent. She decided he was a merchant seaman, or oil worker, paid off after a long contract and enjoying a spending spree.
'It's all right,' she said.
'No, please. It's pouring with rain again and I would appreciate company.'
Both men were looking at her quizzically. She resented the way that men expected women to explain themselves, as if they were second-class citizens. But she invented an explanation. 'I was seeing someone off. I live in Marylebone. I'll get a cab.'
'Marylebone: I go right through it.' And then, 'Thank you, constable, you've been most helpful.'
'Children do funny things,' said the policeman as he took his leave. 'It will be all right. You'll see.'
'It was bad luck,' said the man. 'Another fifteen minutes and we would have stopped her.' Fiona walked towards the cab rank and he fell into step alongside her. 'Will you look at that rain! You'd better ride with me.' There were about fifty people standing in line for taxis and no taxis in sight.
'Very well. Thank you.'
They walked to his car, talking about the treacherous English weather. His manner now was ultra-considerate and his voice was different in some way she could not define. She smiled at him. He opened the door for her and helped her into the seat. It was a Jaguar XJS convertible: grey, shiny and very new. 'I suppose Mrs Lindner is worried,' said Fiona. As the engine started with a throaty roar the stereo played a bar or two of a Strauss waltz before he switched it off, twisted his neck and carefully backed out of the parking place.
'There is no Mrs Lindner,' he said while craning to see behind the car. 'I was divorced five years back. And anyway this girl is not my daughter: she's my niece.'
Down the ramp and through the cars and buses he went with no hesitation: he didn't drive like a man unaccustomed to London traffic. 'Yeah, well I didn't want to say it was my niece; the cops would immediately think it was some bimbo I was shacked up with.'
'Sure they would. Cops think like that. And anyway I am a Canadian and I'm here without a work permit.' He bit his lip. 'I can't get tangled up with cops.'
'Did you give them a false name?'
He looked round at her and grinned admiringly. 'Yeah. As a matter of fact I did.'
'Oh boy! Now you are going to turn out to be a cop from the Immigration Department. That would be just my sort of lousy luck.'
'Yeah. It would.' A pause. 'You're not a cop. I mean, you're not going to turn me in, are you?'
'Are you serious?'
'You're damn right, I'm serious. I was working in Sydney, Australia, and the hall porter turned me in. Two heavies from Immigration were waiting in my suite when I got back that night. They'd gone through my mail and even cut the lining out of my suits. Those Aussies are rough. Mind you, in Uruguay in the old days it was worse. They'd shake you down for everything you had.'
'It sounds as if you make a study of illegal immigration.' She smiled.
'Hey that's better! I thought maybe you'd given up smiling for Lent. Immigration? Yeah well my cousin buys and sells airplanes. Now and again I take time off to deliver one of them. Then maybe I get tempted to take on a few local charters to make a little extra dough.'
'Is that what you are doing in London?'
'Airplanes? No, that's just my playtime. I learned to fly in the air force, and kept it up. In real life I'm a psychiatrist.'
'This niece of yours… was she another invention?' asked Fiona.
'Now, I'm not completely off my trolley. She is the daughter of my cousin Greg and I was supposed to be looking after her in London. I guess I will have to phone Winnipeg and tell Greg she's jumped ship.'
'Will he be angry?'
'Sure he'll be angry but he won't be surprised. He knows she can be a pretty wild little girl.'
'How come you…?'
'Greg was in the air force with me and he owns a big slice of the airplane brokerage outfit.'
'Because I'm a psychiatrist, he thinks that I can straighten her out. Her local quack's treatment was just to keep doping her with amitriptyline and junk like that.'
'But you can't straighten her out either?'
'Girls who…'The flippant answer he was about to give died on his lips. 'You really want to know? It could be she has a schizophrenic reaction to puberty, but it will need someone with a whole lot more specialized experience to diagnose that one.'
'Does her father know you think that?'
'I don't know what made me tell you… No, it's too early to tell Greg. It's a heavy one to lay on parents. I want to talk to someone about her. I was trying to arrange for a specialist to look at her without letting her catch on to it.' He stole another glance at Fiona. 'Now it's my turn to guess about you. I'll bet you are a student of philosophy. Am I right, Miss…?' he said with a big grin.
'Mrs Samson. I am married and I have two children.'
'No fooling? That can't be true! Two children: they must be very young. My real name is Harry Kennedy. Good to know you, Mrs Samson. Yeah, the girl will maybe come out okay. I've seen cases like this before. No call to worry her folks. It's not drugs. At least I hope to God it's not drugs. She doesn't get along very well at school. She is not the academic sort of kid. She likes parties and music and dancing: she's always been like that from the time when she was tiny. She doesn't like reading. Me, I couldn't live without books.'
'You weren't seeing anyone off, were you?' he said suddenly without looking away from the road.
'Why were you at the station then?'
'Does it matter?'
'I am being very nosy. But it was my good fortune that Patsy spoke with you. I couldn't help wondering about you.'
'I wanted to think.'
'Everything is relative. I have a good life: no complaints.'
'You need a drink.'
She laughed. 'Perhaps I do,' she said.
He drove right through Marylebone. The traffic was light. She should have said something, made him take her directly home, but she said nothing. She watched the traffic and the rain, the grim-faced drivers and the endless crowds of drenched people. He pulled into the parking lot behind a well-kept block of flats in Maida Vale. 'Come up and have a drink,' he said.
'I don't think so,' she said and didn't move.
'There is no need to be afraid. Like I told you, my name is Harry Kennedy. I have an allergic reaction to work permits but other than that I am quite harmless. I work in the psychiatric department of the St Basil Clinic in Fulham. Eventually they will get me a work permit and I will live happily ever after.'
'Or perhaps move on to pastures new?'
'And you really are a psychiatrist?'
'It's not something I'd invent, is it?'
'It's the ultimate deterrent to all social relationships. Look at the effect it's already having on you.'
'And then home to husband and children,' he promised.
'Yes,' she said, although the children were being looked after by a competent nanny and Bernard was in Berlin for a job that would take three days.
Kennedy's flat was on the second floor. She followed him up the stairs. This block had been built in the nineteen thirties and, apart from a few chunks of granite chiselled from the facade by bomb fragments, it had survived the war intact.
'I'm renting this place from a rich E.N.T. man at the clinic. He's in New York at Bellevue until next April. If they renew his contract he'll want to sell it.' The apartment was big; in the Thirties architects knew the difference between a bedroom and a cupboard. He took her damp raincoat and hung it on a bentwood rack in the hall. Then he removed his own coat and tossed his hat on to a pile of unopened mail that had been placed alongside a bowl of artificial flowers on the hallstand. 'I keep meaning to forward all that mail to him but it's mostly opportunities to purchase vacations and encyclopedias from the credit card companies.'
His three-piece suit – a chalk stripe, dark grey worsted – was cut in a boxy American style that made him look slimmer than he really was. On his waistcoat there was a gold watch-chain with some tiny gold ornament suspended from it.
He ushered her into the drawing room. It was spacious enough to take a baby grand piano, a couple of sofas and a coffee table without seeming cramped. 'Come right in. Welcome to Disneyland. Take a seat. Gin, whisky, vodka, vermouth… a Martini? Name it.' She looked around at the furnishings. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to keep everything in sympathy with the art deco that had been in style when the block was built.
'A Martini. Do you play the piano?'
He went into the kitchen and she heard him open the refrigerator. He returned with two frosted Martini glasses, chilled gin and chilled vermouth. Under his arm there was a box of snacks. He poured two drinks carefully. 'I'm fresh out of olives,' he said as he carried the drinks across to her. 'The help eats them as fast as I buy them. She's Spanish. Yeah, I play a little.'
'A quick drink and then I must go.'
'Have no fear. I will drive you home.'
'It's an attractive room.' She took the glass by its stem and held it against her face, enjoying the feel of its icy coldness.
'You like this art deco junk?' He drank some of his Martini and then put the glass down, carefully placing it on a coaster. 'The E.N.T. man inherited it. His parents were refugees from Vienna. Doctors. They got out early and brought their furniture with them. I had to take an oath about not leaving Coca-Cola glasses on the polished tables, and not smoking. He's going to ship it to New York if he stavs there.'
'He's a sentimental land of guy. It's okay I guess but I prefer something I can relate to. Have one of these.' He indicated the snacks; tiny cheesy mouthfuls in a freshly opened red box bearing a picture of an antique steamship on the Rhine.
'I'm not hungry.'
'Would it help to talk about it?'
'No, I don't think so.'
'You're a beautiful woman, Mrs Samson. Your husband is a lucky man.' He said it artlessly and was not selfconscious: no Englishman she'd met could deliver such compliments without bluster and embarrassment.
'I am lucky too,' she said quietly. She wished he wouldn't look at her: her hair was a mess and her eyes were red.
I'm sure you are. Is your drink all right? Too much gin?'
'No, it's just the way I like it.' She drank some to show him that it was true. She was uneasy. After a few minutes of small-talk – Kennedy had been discovering the pleasures of the opera – she said, 'Perhaps you could ring for a taxi? They sometimes take ages to come at this time.'
'I'll drive you.'
'You must wait for the phone call from the police.'
'You are right. But must you go so soon?'
'Yes, I must.'
'Could I see you again?'
'That would be less wise.'
'I'm delivering a Cessna to Nice next week – Friday, maybe Saturday – and collecting a Learjet. It's a sweet job: not many like that come along. There's a really good restaurant twenty minutes along the highway from Nice airport. I'll have you back in central London by six p.m. Now don't say no, right away. Maybe you'd like to bring your husband or your children. It's a four-seater.'
'I don't think so.'
'Think it over. It could make just the sort of break that would do you good.'
'Is that a medical opinion?'
'It sure is.'
'It's better not.'
'Let me give you my phone number,' said Kennedy. Without waiting to hear what she decided he gave her a printed card. 'This lousy weather keeps up and maybe you'll feel like a spot of Riviera sunshine.' She looked at the card: Dr H. R. Kennedy and the Maida Vale address and phone number. 'I had them done last month at one of these fast print shops. I was going to see patients here but I decided not to.'
'It was against the terms of the lease and I could see there would be arguments if my patients started using the car park spaces.' He went to the phone and asked for a taxi. 'They are usually very prompt,' he said. 'I have an account with them.' Then he added thoughtfully, 'And seeing patients here might have set the immigration guys on my tail.'
'I hope your niece returns soon.'
'She will be okay.'
'Do you know the man she's with?'
Kennedy paused. 'He is a patient. At the clinic. He met her when she was waiting for me one afternoon.'
'He can be violent. That's why the police were so good about it.'