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Black Ice: Chapter 6

...She was slim, the handy, tuck-under-your-arm size, and she was composed entirely of lovely round pieces which were joined up with lovely slim pieces. What she meant to me personally was friendship and sex. It's a much-neglected combination. Without absurd hopes and false promises, like love for instance, you can keep a clear head to enjoy what's going on. It can lead to all sorts of unfashionable abstractions, like trust and respect, and they don't weather too well when love's around...

Sam Craven, a journalist who has relunctantly become a spy, recalls his first meeting with the Icelandic beauty, Solrun.

To read earlier chapters of Colin Dunne’s exuberant novel please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

That's the time to arrive in Iceland — bang in the middle of a summer night.

Then the sun doesn't set. It just slips off-stage for an hour or two. I gave the other two a lift into town in a Daihatsu jeep I'd hired, and we sat in silence as the narrow strip of tarmac led over the cold grey lava fields, set like forgotten porridge or boiled-over toffee. The first American astronauts practised there: they say they found the moon quite homey after that.

Soon we saw the red and green roofs of Reykjavik and I dropped them in the town and set off for Thingvellir. If she wanted to see me, that's where she'd be.

Out over the lava field I went. A cold blade of a wind fleeced a sheep foraging gamely among the green knobbly rocks and pinned a lone gull to the sky. A herd of ponies truffling for salt in the dust of the road parked reluctantly to let me pass.

Thingvellir was just as I remembered it. Which wasn't all that surprising when you think it's been like that since the world was premiered.

It's a vast plain of lava stretching for miles from the foot of an eighty-foot escarpment of rock. It's the prototype for the House

of Commons. The world's first politicians, around the year nine hundred, used to stand with their backs to the cliff to use it as a sound-box while they lied about the budget. Even then they liked the sound of their own voices.

If a country can have a soul, Iceland's is there. And it was there that Solrun and I had together whatever it was we had together. That's why she should be there.

But I wasn't sure. As I drove I remembered what Batty had said about her dangerous friends. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that he wouldn't go to all this trouble to get me out there unless there was something going on. What was she up to? And was she okay? Tension tightened me like a banjo as I parked and climbed the steep slope up the back of the cliff-top.

Either the slope had got steeper or I'd got older in the past two years because I had to stoop to climb it, and I found my face only a couple of feet away from the lava, the bare bones of the earth. At the top, I stopped and straightened. The sky was the colour of old jeans. Ten miles away, a line of mountains was a snow-stained smudge on the horizon. Below me, fingers of lava ran out into the wide bright lake.

I'm not a scenery man myself, but if you are given to having your breath took, that's the place for it.

I might've known where she'd be sitting. Right on the edge of the cliff, her legs dangling over the long drop, facing out into the void between earth and sky.

'In that river down there,' she said, pointing, 'they used to tie rocks to unfaithful women and throw them in to drown.'

'That explains it,' I answered.

'What?'

'Why your hair's always wet. How are you, little kiddo?'

What does the name Solrun mean to me, Mr Batty? Well, I'll tell you.

It means a girl who can't see a cliff without wanting to hang her legs over it. It means a girl who's wild and wonderful and wayward.

You know those Scandinavian filmstars like Britt Ekland? They left home because they were sick of being the plainest girls in town, and went to Hollywood where the competition was

thinner. And in northern Europe, the Icelandic girls make all the others look sort of dowdy. Even in that aristocratic company, Solrun was something special.

In a race where hair varies from daffodil to snowdrop, hers was about narcissus, cropped short and half-curly in a style that might have looked boyish on anyone else. On her it looked sexy. On her, bald would have looked sexy.

She was slim, the handy, tuck-under-your-arm size, and she was composed entirely of lovely round pieces which were joined up with lovely slim pieces. What she meant to me personally was friendship and sex. It's a much-neglected combination. Without absurd hopes and false promises, like love for instance, you can keep a clear head to enjoy what's going on. It can lead to all sorts of unfashionable abstractions, like trust and respect, and they don't weather too well when love's around.

It happened like this. I was on an official public-relations tour of the country for a magazine. Solrun, who was modelling then but also did some front jobs for things like this, was shepherding us around.

Now anyone who works for a newspaper is by definition a person in whom hope outruns intelligence and this lot — thirty-odd of them — were offering her everything from money to marriage by coffee-break on the first morning. She stood up to it pretty well. But by mid-afternoon, standing here on the cliff-top at Thingvellir, she was almost getting a heat rash from the non-stop battery of leers.

'Make your decision now,' said one smoothie, 'and put the rest of us out of our misery.'

To their surprise, she thought about it for a minute, then she agreed. 'I choose Sam.'

She hit me with a smile that almost knocked me off the cliff, and continued: 'Now, gentlemen, perhaps I can ask you to look at Almannagja, which means All Men's Chasm, which is where the common people used to gather in the days of the ancient assemblies . . .'

I didn't believe her, of course. Not then. I didn't even believe her that night when she came along to my room.

I took a bit of convincing, believe me.

Solrun. Does it ring a bell? One or two, Mr Batty, one or two.
Solrun was Iceland. The wild strangeness of the place burned in her. Fire and ice. Ice and fire. That's what made her what she was — ice-hot.

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