Seahorse

The doorbell rang. It would be Gerard of course. It was Wednesday, a little before lunch, and he would turn up to say, ‘Just passing. Thought you might be hungry,’ and she would say, ‘Always hungry. Where shall we go?’ Knowing full well that it would be either La Tivoli, two streets away in the Rue de Grenelle, or Madellien’s, in Perandello. Gerard hated trying new restaurants, or even well established old restaurants if they were new to him; he liked to eat where he knew the food and the staff. More to the point, she suspected, Gerard liked to eat only where he was liked. He loved a warm welcome and light, searching banter, and fun. Fun is what Gerard is all about. He built his life around it, revelles in it, and becomes enormously depressed when he can neither find it in others or generate the stuff himself. Which is why she loved him, and stayed close to him, but of course could never live with him.

Where they took lunch mattered little in her mind – she enjoyed exploring the menu in either place – and she could count on Gerard to intervene between her and the waiter, or the owner, to guide her into his idea of what they should have for lunch in the middle of the week. ‘So important, Wednesday lunch, sweetheart,’ he would declare. ‘One needs a great big lift when one’s bogged down in the sodden turf of mid-week business.’ Then he would pause, raise his eyebrows as if to cue and wait ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty seconds before letting out a huff of frustration as once more she refused to be drawn about her occupation. Teasing Gerard, she reflected, was one of life’s finer pleasures which reminded her: the Panama hat, the one she borrowed from Fiona on a semi-permanent basis, would go nicely with the brown wool suit and the burgundy scarf from Jaquelines. Gerard hated that hat.

Only it was not Gerard, or Angelique, her travelling companion from the trip to Iceland late last summer with her frantic demands for a listening ear into which she would pour the latest of her endless frustrations; the poor woman seemed never at peace. Nor was it the ever comforting, though always testing, Fiona, to announce, ‘I have come to take my beautiful daughter to a beautiful lunch.’

It was Peter Jordan, and Myra’s heart all but stopped.

“My God, Peter. What are you doing here?” The immediate chaos that his presence, here, in Paris, on her doorstep, had detonated in her mind was already retreating back toward coherent thought as she forced herself to concentrate only on relevant factors. “No, no, don’t answer that,” she added hurriedly. “You’re here to see me. ‘Course you are. What a surprise. Gosh!” Her mind was racing as she took in the crumpled trousers heaped on his sneakers with the laces trailing and his shirt bundling over the waistband, but his hair was in place: his ponytail was neatly clamped in a pewter ring much like a serviette holder. “I was just on my way out,” she declared: her wits regained. “Lunch . . . do you mind? Gosh! Peter. Gosh! Give me a minute, we’ll go eat. Moment.” She disappeared leaving him at the door in a rare state of slack jawed silence at her reaction, and then she was back, complete with handbag, a shoulder bag, a light raincoat, and, dropping the Panama plan, a brown cashmere scarf against the damp nips of early spring. “C’mon,” she wrestled her arm into his while wheeling him down the stairs into the street. “You have to tell me all about what you’ve been doing and how you got away from ‘them’ – only over lunch. This is France,” she hustled him along the pavement, “and all good things are conducted over lunch. It’s not far, in fact very near, don’t tell me now, wait. Wait until we are seated and have ordered and our glasses are full.” She squeezed his arm harder. “Ooh. I can’t wait to hear all about you and your adventures.”

At the Café St. Jerome in the Rue Monfluer she stood as he settled at a table for four; the waiter was already hovering. “Two for lunch s’il vous plait. And a carafe of vin d’maison blanc right away monsieur,” she was ordering while unbuttoning her coat, rummaging in her purse, then sitting tentatively. “Damn. Give me a moment,” she said, rising again, “a quick phone call, sorry,” and she was off into the crowded rear of the restaurant that was chock full of coats, and hat stands, and hurrying waiters, but where there was no phone.

She slid through the kitchen unchallenged and out into a lane that took her to the Rue Carl Kauffman and the Chase Manhattan Bank. This part she had rehearsed as if her life depended upon it, and it did: hers and around five billion other lives depended upon it. It was her number one emergency plan and it took only eight minutes to access the safe deposit box, remove the waiting travel pack, smile her way back through the bank, and enter the Metro station half a block north.

Emergency plan two was for callers outside of restaurant hours; three was for chance meetings in the street; four was for encounters on the Metro. She had practiced them all, but plan one was the slickest, the simplest, and therefore the first choice.

At the Gare de Lyon she took the non-stop TGV to Cannes and was lucky to find a place in the dining car. A lonely lunch, she reflected, for her and Peter too, but it could not be helped. Peter had found her so others would follow: possibly immediately. She could have been snatched on the way to the restaurant but it was unlikely they would have enough manpower available to be certain of success. The chances are they – who could be any group from the CIA to the Muslim Brotherhood – would have one operative following Peter and others available for support when needed. Not that Tor, or Amone, would have needed any help; either one of those thugs could have picked her up in one arm and held her tight enough to stop her screaming while opening a car door and bundling her in. No one would have stopped either of them: they were so powerfully competent and so coldly devoid of all fear. Well they were gone; she had witnessed their deaths, but there would be others, and they would be just as dangerous.

The waiter coughed and shuffled his feet. She knew he was there but couldn’t drag her mind back to the menu. “The table d’hôte is still available.” She looked up. He was young, smiling, fresh faced with bright clear eyes: so different from Peter with his dark orbs jigging constantly as if trying to keep up with his mind. “Or the à la carte if you prefer.” His words failed to penetrate: bouncing off her as if from another time. She was staring through him now to the carriage full of busy diners oblivious to the suburbs flying past in the train’s gathering speed. Her whole world seemed to be gathering momentum. She had cut herself adrift, as she knew she would one day, but not now. Not before she learned more . . . understood more. She was spinning now . . . her life out of control as if she was spinning down a vast hole . . . .

She stared at the menu; her eyes were reading the words but her mind was dancing around her two short years in Paris and her lovely flat in the Rue Vesale and the friends she had made. Damn. She had some nice clothes now. Perhaps Fiona, her mother, would keep them safe, although she would certainly reclaim the Panama hat. Damn and shit. She didn’t want to give up her life as a Parisienne; it was too early. She needed more time here; there was too much to do to be running around in another master spy escape plan. It was all so childish.

“Mademoiselle?”

The waiter was back – had he ever gone away? He looked worried, poor soul. “Sorry, yes, thank you.”

“Table d’hote, merci bien,” he took the menu from her hands and hurried away.

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