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Black Ice: Chapter 11

...'Delicious,' I lied, gagging on the last bite. I don't know what it was. I would've said it had been kicked out of a badly frightened penguin, but I could be wrong....

Reluctant “spy’’ Sam Craven tells of his solicitous landlady Hulda.

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

Maybe it's because I was brought up in dormitories that I don't like sleeping in modern hotels. I always have the feeling that the bedroom walls will fall down and I'll find myself sleeping in a vast five-star dormitory for lost American Express boys.

That's why I always stayed at Hulda's and not at the Saga. I liked a bit of a clutter around me, and there was no shortage of that at Hulda's.

She lived in a barujarns hus — one of the lovely old houses clad in corrugated iron — and the whole place was plastered with evidence of her existence for the last seven decades. There wasn't a surface, horizontal or vertical, that wasn't covered in pictures of human beings on their way from cot to coffin: children, grandchildren, and no doubt great grandchildren, in prams, playing, on bikes, in uniforms, on holidays, and then proudly holding produce of their own. And, since they all had Hulda's clear open forehead, it was like looking down a hall of mirrors.

There were other reasons for staying there, too. Hulda, as frail and perky as a sparrow, knew everything and everyone on the island.

The disadvantage was that she still considered it her duty to introduce me to Viking delicacies — and she wouldn't even let me have a blindfold. She sat there, the light from the half-shuttered windows glinting on the glass of the photographs, watching every mouthful.

'Delicious,' I lied, gagging on the last bite. I don't know what it was. I would've said it had been kicked out of a badly frightened penguin, but I could be wrong.

And Hulda said what she always says at that point in the conversation. She nodded her lovely old head, the grey hair pinned back in a tight bun: 'It is my pleasure and my duty.'

It was coming up for noon. A few hours' sleep and I was
restored, but I had a lot to do. For a start, I wished that Batty had at least given me an emergency number to ring. I'd no idea what to do about a vanishing client. And I wanted to find Ivan and see what he was doing in town. I wouldn't have thought Moscow was interested in Sexy Eskies.

And, now that I'd had more time to think about it, I was comforted by the way Bell had turned out so readily. I couldn't really believe that British intelligence services, inept as they are supposed to be, would send a bumbling amateur like me to do anything more complicated than post a letter. But they might want to use my personal influence — as Batty had said — so long as they had a trade-tested pro keeping an eye on me. As far as I was concerned, they could keep as many eyes on me as they wanted.

'You are seeing Solrun?' Hulda asked, her hawk-eyes searching my plate for signs of leftovers.

'That's the idea.' Even Hulda's information service couldn't have got hold of Solrun's disappearance so quickly.

'She is a most lovely girl.' She sighed as though for her own lost youth. Perhaps it was. Her own beauty was there to see, in the pictures on the walls.

'Is she still single?' I asked, and instantly regretted it. From the look on her face, I knew Hulda had taken it as a reflection on Solrun's desirability, and thus the desirability of all Icelandic women, and by implication the entire nation.

'She could have endless many men,' she said. 'Endless many.'

That was another of her charming idiosyncrasies: endless many.

'Oh, I know, I know.'

'But she has many opportunities for life itself. All the famous magazines wish to take her photograph because she is so beautiful. Yes, that is true. She wishes also to win this title of the most beautiful woman in the world to bring honour on us all. She has men, naturally. Women must have men. But she also has her own life, I think.'

'Quite right too. She's a gorgeous girl.'

'You should know that, Sam.'

'I do, I do. And you're the most gorgeous of them all, Hulda.'

I kissed the top of her head as I passed. 'Don't wait up.' 'And what about you?' she called after me. 'When are you
getting married again?'

'The day you say "yow", and not before.'

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