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Black Ice: Chapter 7

...'Two,' she whispered, sinking deeper into the silk. 'Two men who say they love me. Two men who want to take me away.'

'That's what free enterprise is all about — choice. And your choice not to go if you don't want to.'

Then, in a voice no louder than the soft brush of my ringers on her skin, she said: 'I think perhaps they will kill me.'...

Journalist Sam Craven, sent on a spying mission to Iceland to make contact with his beautiful former girl friend Solrun, is shocked into silence.

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

Next time you're young, rich and fashionable and in Iceland, get a flat in Vesturbrun. That's where all the rest of them live. So, naturally enough, that's where Solrun had her flat: six floors up in a tower block which hummed with discreet heat and silent lifts.

In Britain we think light is simply something you switch on. There they play around with it. In her flat, blinds and screens and clever shades sliced up the light and kept it under control. With all that natural wood, bamboo and cane you could've staged The Mikado without changing a thing. It was low-level, which is to say that most of the social life was conducted on the floor: the cushions didn't have chairs beneath them, and the two sofas were no higher than a London pavement.

'And have you been faithful to me?' I demanded, not
altogether seriously.

When she answered we both burst out laughing. I'd forgotten the way Icelanders say the word for Yes on the
in-breath — and the way Solrun liked to string them together.

'Yow yow yow yow yow yow,' she went, like a clockwork cat that needs winding up. It took us over the two-year gap without embarrassment.

We hadn't stayed long up at Thingvellir. Just long enough for me to suck in some of the magic of the place, and to see again how the pearly light swirled around the plain, as real to the eye as the water in the lake. Back home, Solrun had vanished to the sound of splashing taps and re-emerged about five seconds later, damp, pink, fresh and snug inside her silk robe liberally decorated with scarlet lips. From somewhere she'd also produced two small, strong and bitter coffees.

We were both past the pleasure-shock of seeing each other again — and the discovery that all the old feelings were warming up again. It's always nice to know you weren't mistaken. We talked the old nonsense we always did, but I couldn't help but notice the black scimitars of strain beneath her eyes. Her usual playfulness kept failing as a strange unease broke in. Inevitably it reminded me of why Batty had sent me.

'They say at the office that you wish to interview me for one of your wicked London scandal papers?'

'That's right.'

'That is terrible.' She giggled and clasped the front of the robe together to fake respectability. 'Do you think I am scandalous?'

'I was hoping you might remind me.'

She laughed again, a brittle tinkle of sound that died too soon. She slipped down on to one of her squashy cushions and curled up in a way that exposed her legs to potential frostbite.

Or, with any luck, guestbite.

'They tell me you're going to be a star.' I was perched on the edge of the sofa, by her right shoulder.

'Oh, that will not happen,' she said, shaking her head.

That surprised me. She'd gone international since I'd last seen her. She'd been picked up by one of the agencies who fix models for the top glossies. Once or twice I'd been surprised to find her staring up at me from an airport bookstall. She'd done well on the glamour circuit too, and there was talk of her having a go at the Miss World nonsense — and also a few whispers that she'd win it if she did. But she dismissed the whole thing in a way that had nothing to do with modesty.

'That's a shame,' I said. 'I was hoping one day you'd throw me a krona as your Rolls swept past.'

'Only so you could sell your story to that awful newspaper of yours,' she protested.

'You've heard of cheque-book journalism — we do joke-book journalism,' I said.

'Anyway,' she let her head slump back and closed her eyes, 'it will not happen.'

'What?' I said, trying to sustain the jokey tone. 'Not even for the honour of your country?'

I always used to tease her about the way Icelanders almost snapped to attention when you mentioned anything to do with national pride.

'No,' she sighed, not moving. 'Not even for that.'

'Serious?'

'Serious.' After a pause, she added: 'You know that if I could do something — even something as silly as a beauty contest — to help my country, I would do it. But I cannot. Honestly, Sam, it is not possible.'

'I believe you. Why not?'

She scratched her fingers deep into the carpet as though it was a rival's face. I was about to repeat my question when she opened her grey-blue eyes and, in a finish-it voice, said: 'I cannot. That is all.'

Unexpectedly, after another short pause, she asked: 'And how is your little girl? Sally? Am I right?'

Not only did she remember her name, she even knew her age, her birthday, and that she used to have her hair in bunches. At some time, I realised with growing shame, I must've hit her with a walletful of snaps and a bellyful of maudlin-dad rubbish. It was a wonder I ever saw her again.

'Do you love her and are you a good father?'

'Yes and no, in that order.'

'Why?'

'You know why. They shouldn't let people like us have kids. Hell, they shouldn't let us have goldfish. Not without passing exams first, they shouldn't.'

I looked down into her gleaming eyes. 'Don't include me in this,' she said, nipping my leg. 'I think I will be a marvellous mother. Don't you?'

'Well, you won't be short of applicants for daddy, that's for sure.'

'Swine,' she said. She patted the carpet and I slipped down beside her. 'What do you remember best about me?'

'Let me think. I know. You are the only woman I have ever met who doesn't sneak a quick look in a shop window to see how big her bum looks.'

'Do women do that? Really? You understand that all women really believe they are ugly — that's why you are so dangerous.' She nipped me again, so I had to put my palm over my coffee. 'Do you think we would have been good together?'

'We were good together.' I knew what she meant. No matter how adept you are at keeping emotions locked up in the attic, you still wonder what it would be like if you let them out to play.

'You know what I mean,' she replied. 'Properly.'

'I don't think I'm a very proper sort of person.'

'Have you found a wife then?'

'Yes.'

'You have?' Her tone was just too uncaring.

'Yep. But then her husband found me . . .'

She laughed, more naturally this time. Then she snuggled up, the low lamps buttering her legs with yellow light.

'You know I was saying how sorry I was that I cannot win those beauty titles and things for my country?'

'Yes.'

'Well. Tell me, you read books and things . . . who was the famous Englishman who said about choosing between friends and country?'

'I think it was a gent called Forster.'

'Who was he?'

'Not your type for a start.'

'Ah. And is that what he said? If you must choose between friends and country, you must choose friends?'

'About that.'

'Is he right?'

'I don't know. If I had to choose between the two, I think I'd emigrate and find new friends.'

Even as I answered, I thought it was odd. In my entire life I'd had exactly two conversations about patriotism and they'd both been in the last twenty-four hours. Statistically that was a clear concentration.

Gently, I held her to me and breathed in the subtle Solrun scents that were being funnelled out of the top of her robe. 'What's the problem? What's all this serious talk about? You're not going intellectual on me, are you?'

She gave a small sigh. 'No. Not really.'

'A man?' With her, that was always a fair guess. I felt her nod her head.

'Two,' she whispered, sinking deeper into the silk. 'Two men who say they love me. Two men who want to take me away.'

'That's what free enterprise is all about — choice. And your choice not to go if you don't want to.'

Then, in a voice no louder than the soft brush of my ringers on her skin, she said: 'I think perhaps they will kill me.'

Her pretty, sing-song voice faded and left a black chasm of silence. I didn't say a word. Even though I was sure it was Solrun overacting, the moment was still as delicate as porcelain, and I feared my own clumsiness.

Still in a whisper, still half-buried, she said: 'That was why I thought you'd come, Sam. To take me away.'

I coughed. The frightened man's mood-changer. Then I made my speech. 'You can't go away from things, Solrun, you know that. It doesn't work. You can only go towards things. And I haven't got anything to take you towards.'

Even as I said it, I hated myself.

This time the silence didn't last a second, and it was Solrun who smashed the mood. She sprang up, grabbing me by the hand and failing to hold the robe together as modestly as she might.

'You haven't? You have a very bad memory. Before you always took me towards the bedroom.'

There didn't seem much I could say to that. Not with the way that robe was falling open.

Suddenly, it was the old Solrun, outrageous, extrovert, shaking every last ounce of fun out of every day. And if that seems a bit much, you've got to remember that they were road-testing sexual freedom in Iceland when the English were still putting skirts on piano legs. And she was an exquisitely crafted specimen of the non-shaving half of the human race. And it was late. And I didn't need any excuses. That's the truth.

Later, bleary with sleep, I remember her lips touching my forehead and hearing her say 'Bless'. Funny, I thought, through the mists of sleep. 'Bless' doesn't mean goodnight. It means goodbye. Then when I woke all there was beside me was the scented dent she'd left.

The chance had gone. The chance I had to save her. There aren't any excuses to cover that. And that's the hard and bitter truth ...

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