Authors: Evelyn Anthony
Tags: #Fiction, #Espionage, #Mystery & Detective, #General
“We’re nearly there,” she said.
“I think you’ll like my mother and father. My sister’s going to be there too.”
“I must remember to behave like a Pole,” he said.
“Don’t worry about that,” she said. Just be yourself. I told them you were a trade secretary at the Embassy. We met at a party in January remember that. They won’t ask questions; they’re not that sort of people. “
“Don’t they mind communists?” he asked.
“They don’t look on the Poles as communists.” She smiled a little.
“Not since the Polish Pope; that’s made them quite respectable.”
“And what is your sister like you’ve never talked about her before.”
“My sister well, you’ll see for yourself… It’s just up here;
there’s the lane. ” She didn’t realize how much her expectancy showed on her face as they turned up the country road. There was a clear, fresh scent of leaves and wild flowers, a quiver in the air that she had always associated with spring and Nature’s cycle of rebirth. They drove through a small gateway set in a wall; on either side of the narrow drive, the grass verges were a rippling wave of yellow daffodils. Sasanov was reminded suddenly of the Crimea, where the spring flowers were a carpet of colour. They rounded a slight bend and came to the front of the house. It was a beautiful Queen Anne house;
its brickwork glowed rose pink in the sunshine. A deep green magnolia climbed up one wall, its leaves like shining spears, with the pregnant buds of blossom hiding among them. A weathervane on top of the eighteenthcentury stable block stirred in the breeze. Davina glanced into the driving mirror, and exclaimed, “My God, look at my hair! It’s all over the place She found a comb in her bag and began dragging her hair back from her forehead, pinning it into place. Sasanov was going to say it suited her better loose. It was a dark red that was almost brown, and the severe up swept line from the forehead made her look older.
“There,” she said.
“That’s better.” He didn’t say anything.
“They must be round the back of the house my mother’s dog usually bounds out when he hears a car.” He took their two cases out of the boot, while Davina went and opened the front door.
“Leave them in the hall,” she said.
“We’ll go through to the garden.”
“I feel strange,” he said suddenly. She stopped and turned to him.
“Why? Why strange?”
“Because I haven’t left my cage for so long. I haven’t talked to people.” She had avoided physical contact with him before. On the few occasions when they touched, it made her nervous. Now she put her hand on his arm.
“You’re out of the cage,” she said.
“And talking to other people is just what you need. Come on.” He could see the little group out on the terrace, through the windows at the far end of the hall; and then Davina had opened a door and was walking out into the garden.
“Darling we didn’t hear you arrive.” He saw the tall, white-haired woman kiss her, and the smaller figure of a man get out of his garden chair, and give her a quick peck on the cheek.
“This is Pavel - I won’t try and pronounce the rest of it. My father, Captain Graham; my mother.” He shook hands with them, and then he heard Davina say behind him, “Hello Charley. How nice to see you… Pavel, my sister, Charlotte Ransom.” He turned round; hearing the man’s name he had expected to see a man. She was beautiful. There was no other word to describe her; pretty, attractive, glamorous, these were commonplace adjectives, applicable to many women. But she was beautiful. He shook hands with her. She smiled, and the effect was warm as sunlight. Hair like Davina’s and yet not like, because it was the vibrant colour of Spanish mahogany, heavy and shining, falling naturally to her shoulders. Enormous grey eyes, framed in eyelashes that should have been false but were her own. A face that at first sight was classical, every feature in harmony, and that changed when she smiled, becoming sensuous and challenging. She wore trousers and a shirt, with a sweater knotted round her waist by the sleeves. He noticed gold chains round her neck, and a wide gold ring on her left hand.
“Hello,” she said.
“Isn’t it a lovely evening? Let’s sit down, shall we?” He hesitated, and Davina said, “Shall we take our cases up first?”
“No dear,” Mrs. Graham said.
“You can do that later. We’re having a drink out here, before it gets too chilly. Do sit down, Pavel. What would you like?”
“I’ll get it,” Captain Graham said.
“Vodka and tonic, please.” He leaned towards Sasanov.
“I’m sorry I don’t know your proper name. But if my daughter says she can’t pron ounce it, then I’m damned sure I wouldn’t be able to! So we’ll all call you Pavel. What would you like to drink? “
“Vodka,” Sasanov said.
“No tonic, thank you.” He found himself sitting beside the sister; even in the garden he could smell the scent she wore. It was heavy and provocative; she leaned back, her hands clasped behind her head. The attitude showed off small, perfect breasts.
“What are you doing in England?”
“I’m at the Embassy,” he answered.
“I am a trade secretary.”
“Isn’t that supposed to mean you’re a spy? I thought all trade secretaries were really spies.” She laughed, and it covered an embarrassed silence.
“Really, Charley Mrs. Graham protested.
“No,” Sasanov responded.
“The commercial attaches are the spies. Not the trade secretaries. I’m very harmless.” There was a general laugh; he didn’t look at Davina.
“How long have you been in England?” Charley Ransom asked him.
“A year,” he said.
“I like England very much.”
“And are you and Davina old friends?” The beautiful grey eyes were twinkling, as if there were something risque about being a friend other sister’s. The charm was coming at him in waves, like the scent.
“Not very long,” he said. He wished that Davina would interrupt the flow of questions. But she was talking to her mother.
“Do you live near here?” He took the initiative away from her.
“I live in London,” she said.
“I’ve got a flat in Portman Place. You must come round and have a drink.”
“That’s very kind,” Sasanov said. She had begun to play with one of the gold chains round her neck; a large medallion hung on it, engraved with the Aries sign of the zodiac. She had beautiful hands, with long, painted nails. The wedding-ring was a broad band, set with a small diamond.
“Charley,” Captain Graham said, “You haven’t got a drink Sasanov glimpsed the look of excessive fondness that he exchanged with his daughter. He was glad of the interruption; it relieved him from Charley Ransom’s questions. He looked across at Davina, finished his drink quickly and stood up.
“I will take the cases upstairs,” he said.
“I’ll show you your room.” Davina’s mother walked in front of them. He heard the father and younger daughter laughing at some private joke as they went inside the house. The stairs were narrow; he followed Davina, carrying the two cases. Mrs. Graham opened a door on the landing.
“This is your room,” she said to him.
“The bathroom is across the passage there. Davina darling, you’re in your old room, of course.” Davina came up to Sasanov.
“I’ll take my case,” she said. He held on to it.
“No. It’s heavy. I’ll carry it for you.” He was surprised by her bedroom. It was a pretty room, with fresh flowers and a narrow bed; there were books and woolly toys, and a collection of small china animals arranged on a shelf. It was a child’s room. It showed no sign that its occupant had ever grown up.
“Thanks,” Davina said. Just leave it on the bed. We’ll be down later,” she said to her mother.
“Don’t hurry, darling. Dinner’s not till 8:15. I’m sure Pavel might like a bath. I’d hurry up before Charley takes all the hot water.”
“Yes,” Davina said.
“She always did, I remember. I’ll knock on your door in about half an hour,” she said to Sasanov. She turned to the bed and opened her suitcase. She dressed very simply; years ago she had recognized that she wasn’t the type who could carry off elaborate clothes, or wear a lot of make-up.
“You look much better without all that stuff on your face,” her father had said, when she began trying to improve her looks.
“Just be natural that’s what suits you.” She had given up without resistance; it was a waste of time trying to compete with a sister who was so beautiful that conversation stopped when she walked into a room. She unpacked her clothes, and hung up the long wool skirt and sweater she intended wearing that night. The dear, familiar room the haven of her childhood. She picked up the shabby tiger, minus an eye, that had been a Christmas present twenty years ago, touched the glass animals one by one, remembering the birthdays and when each one was added. As a child she had loved animals; her ambition as a teenager had been to become a vet. Running away, of course. She understood the motivation now. Seeking a substitute for the dangerous love of human beings. Animals were faithful, and uncritical. There was no risk of rejection in loving horses and dogs, and rabbits, when her sister was claiming everyone’s attention. She opened the window and looked out over the garden. Charley and her father had gone inside; the little group of chairs stood empty on the terrace below. They’d left the tray of drinks behind. Sasanov had been fascinated by her sister. She’d seen it happen so many times. She hardly needed to watch them to know that Charley was exerting her lethal brand of sex-appeal and charm, and, like every other man who met her, the Russian was responding. She left the window open and began to put out her brushes and the few articles of makeup. She let her hair hang loose and brushed it; the wind on Salisbury Plain had tangled it; brushing hurt. She saw her face in the mirror, and the reflection stared back at her with a set mouth and eyes stinging with tears. Tears from smoothing the tangles in her hair. The other kind of tears had been cried out, a long time ago. This time it didn’t hurt her to lose a man to Charley; she could sit back with grim detachment and watch her sister seduce Sasanov because this time it would work in her favour. Charley could soften him up, unravel the tension which was making him so restless and uneasy. Charley, the irresistible, who didn’t know how to stop taking other women’s men, would be used in her turn. The face in the mirror was hard and plain, the mouth turned down. It would be ironic if the sister who had wrecked her private life should help her with Sasanov. It was a touch the Brigadier would have found amusing. She changed out of her skirt and blouse, slipped into the passage in her dressing-gown, and found the bathroom locked. Charley was inside. Taking all the hot water, as usual. She washed in the basin in her room, changed into the dark-blue skirt and sweater. And with cynical bravado, she made up her face and arranged her hair in a high, smooth sweep. Charley would appear, so skilfully dishevelled that it took hours to give the impression she’d run a comb through her hair and tossed on some clothes. And Sasanov would be the object of her attention, a victim selected and pursued, with the indulgent approval of their father. He had always delighted in his beautiful daughter’s conquests;
sometimes their mother showed embarrassment, but she too had accepted Charley’s effect upon men as inevitable and not her fault. She was just too beautiful and attractive. Davina glanced at herself once more in the mirror. Too tall, too thin, too neat. And too clever. Charley’s got the beauty and Davina’s got the brains. She went down and knocked on Sasanov’s door. There was no reply and she opened it. The room was empty; he’d already gone downstairs. There was a tight little smile on her face when she went into the sitting-room and found him playing chess with her sister. The senior police officer who had lunched with the Brigadier at his club set about supplying his friend with a dead body before he went off for the weekend. He lived just outside Dartford in Kent, with wife and two sons in the final stages of advanced education. He liked to spend Saturday mornings playing golf. It relaxed him. He left instructions with his office to make inquiries round the coast, and to put a security cover on anyone recently drowned in the Thames area. His immediate subordinate did not go home at the weekends, or have time to play golf. So by Friday evening, while the Brigadier and his wife were driving to a neighbour’s house for dinner, his superior was settled in front of the television for the evening, and the Grahams with their two daughters and their guest were sitting down to dinner, four dead men of approximately correct requirements had been reported to the Special Branch. Two were identifiable and had been reported missing; both were suicides with mental histories. The third was little more than a male torso, caught in the net of a trawler fishing offskegness and, from the brief report upon it, appeared to be a murder victim. The fourth was a body that had spent some time in the sea; it was badly decomposed but carried a tattoo on one forearm which suggested that the man had been a seaman. A quick examination had showed gold dental work which was not typical of English dentistry. This dead body seemed the most likely to fit the requirements. The body was removed from the south-coast mortuary under a special authority signed by the Special Branch chief before he left on Friday afternoon, and placed in a small private mortuary under official seal. After the weekend a surgeon would amputate what remained of the left hand at the wrist, and sever the other at the elbow, removing the tattoo as well as any chance of fingerprints. In due course a dentist would perform a passable job on the teeth, duplicating as far as possible the dental work already documented on Sasanov’s teeth. The body had no other distinguishing marks; the age was approximately right, and the dead man had been of similar build and height. The cause of death could definitely be stated as drowning. The length of time the body had been in the water did not approximate to the date of Sasanov’s disappearance, but then you couldn’t have everything. It was most inadvisable to disturb the Chief at home during weekends, so the young officer made out a report for him, and left it ready for Monday morning. The dead man, a metal identity disc tagged to his left foot, stayed in the chilly darkness of his refrigerated berth over the weekend; the relatives of Per Svenson from the tiny village of Staghan on the north coast of Norway would never know more than the sad fact that he had fallen overboard during a storm. Ivan Sasanov looked round the dinner table at Marchwood. Mrs. Graham was beside him; the candlelight flattered her, as it did Davina. It gave a marvelous softness to the beautiful girl sitting on his other side; the light made her throat and the one shoulder exposed by her dress a pearly colour that reminded him of the voluptuous Rubens semi-nudes in the Hermitage. For a very slim woman she was fleshly, her skin smooth, her arms rounded, the lovely face framed by an erotic abundance of red hair. He had let her win at chess; as soon as they began to play he realized she was hopelessly limited. And yet there were flashes of cunning that surprised him, and at the end of their first game she had looked at him and said accusingly, “You let me win-you’re far too good not to have foreseen that last move.”