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Black Ice: Chapter 1

...Then it struck me. If this was my debut in international espionage, I wasn't doing too well. I mean, how would it look on my c.v.? 'On his first operation, Craven actually lost the subject of his surveillance while she was in bed with him.' Roger Moore never seemed to have these problems...

Journalist Sam Craven makes the worst of all stumbling starts in his new career as a spy.

This is the first episode of Colin Dunne’s brilliant cold war novel which, appropriately, is set in Iceland.

Colin, a master wordsmith, wrote features for Britain’s leading newspapers and magazines. An irrepressible sense of humour elevates his taut and exciting novels to the top of the premier writers’ league.

Look out for further episodes of Black Ice on forthcoming Tuesdays.

If you've never come to in the middle of the night to find yourself approximately halfway between New York and Moscow, right up on top of the world, standing outside a block of flats wearing nothing other than a ladies' silk dressing-robe — and that decorated with large scarlet kisses — allow me to describe the sensation.

Confused. That's the word, I think. Confused, and cold around the knees.

I shivered, yawned and did a few push-ups with my eyelids while I applied my brain to some basic questions: like was it night or day? That isn't quite as easy as it sounds. In the summer, about the only way you can tell is by the life in the city. From where I was standing, outside the flats high up on Vesturbrun, the place looked like early-closing day on the Marie Celeste.

That made it night. Still.

I looked and listened. Nothing. Only, in the distance, a car chugging and spluttering. An early worker. Or, here in Reykjavik, more likely a late reveller.

I called out her name, then stood there feeling silly. Solrun isn't the sort of name you can go round shouting, not unless you've strayed into one of those operas where all the women look like sixteen-stone milkmaids. In any case, my cry fell into that damp silence like a stone down a well.

Then it struck me. If this was my debut in international espionage, I wasn't doing too well. I mean, how would it look on my c.v.? 'On his first operation, Craven actually lost the subject of his surveillance while she was in bed with him.' Roger Moore never seemed to have these problems.

Once more I called out her name. The wind whipped it away and then frisked me with cold and cheeky fingers. Even with the scarlet kisses, the silk robe wasn't much protection against a breeze that had trained in the Arctic.

Dammit. What the hell was she playing at? Baffled? Oh yes, I was baffled all right. But I wasn't too worried because I knew Solrun. She was a twenty-four carat madcap, that one. Alongside her, other women were prisoners of iron logic. She was governed entirely by inexplicable whim.

Otherwise — let me say it first — what would she be doing in bed with me?

Anyway, at that point I wasn't too serious about my career as a spy. For one thing — as I'd said to Batty — those international organisations who were known by a deadly trio of initials always sounded like television stations to me. 'There's nothing on the KGB tonight, shall we watch the news on CIA?'

Come to that, no one had mentioned spying. 'Give history a bit of a nudge', was the expression Batty had used. From his prissy mouth, it sounded about as strenuous as stamp-collecting.

Right now it was either too early or too late to do anything significant by way of history-nudging. I gave one last shout, one last yawn, one last shiver, and shot back indoors with as much dignity as man can muster when he's dressed like something from a boudoir catalogue. Which wasn't much.

As I waited for the lift, I recalled what she'd said about the two men. Perhaps they'd kill her, she'd said. For a moment, I felt uneasy, until I realised it was a minor attack of those just-before-dawn doubts. She was always saying things like that. That was Solrun, living life downhill without brakes. Death threats, either real or imaginary, probably played the same part in her life as parking tickets in mine. So I shrugged the thought off and hopped into the lift.

That was my first day there. I didn't know what it was all about. Then it was just a good laugh spiced up with a bit of mystery.

Later, the spicing sort of outweighed the laughs.

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