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Black Ice: Chapter 19

Spymen meet over a game of table cricket in a Reykjavik bar...

Colin Dunne continues his exhiliratingly well-written Cold War tale. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

'What gets me,' I said again, 'is why she'd want to marry someone like that.'

'Oh, I don't know,' Ivan replied, as he shook the dice. 'I think there's quite a lot to be said for a dumb brute. What surprises me is that you haven't tried to claim he's a refugee from the Russian weight-lifting team. Your turn, I think, Christopher.'

Early evening, and the eighth-floor bar of the Saga was still empty. Reykjavik night-life doesn't get into first gear until eleven. By twelve it's a tin-hat job and after that it's every man for himself: or, with a bit of luck, herself.

Right now it was nice and quiet. Sun was streaming through the windows and glancing off the copper top of the horse-shoe bar. Behind it, a young woman in a scarlet waistcoat examined her finger-nails. For a gin and two martinis, she'd just taken the equivalent of a small pools win.

I looked at Ivan and Christopher with the sort of warm glow a mother must feel when she brings home a little playmate for her son and it works. Any minute now they'd be nicking their thumbs with a penknife and becoming blood brothers. I was glad. It wasn't often we had a chance to pick up a new recruit for our rich gallery of English eccentrics, but Christopher Bell was a definite candidate.
He was even winding Ivan up. My old chum had brought out some wretched cricket game that I vaguely remember from schooldays. You each picked a team, and then rolled dice to decide the progress of the game. It went on for hours if you were sufficiently masochistic to let it - rather like the real thing, I suppose. Anyway, Christopher had annoyed him by choosing a side that consisted of luminaries through the ages. At the moment, Meryl Streep was 38 not out, although Honore de Balzac had been something of a disappointment earlier. He was vulnerable to the rising ball, apparently.

'Another four,' Christopher chortled.

'It reduces the whole thing to a farce,' Ivan protested. 'Meryl Streep can't play cricket.'

'She's batting rather well, I thought.' Christopher fired a sly wink in my direction.

Ivan was also a bit miffed that I'd asked him about the Russian ship in the harbour. 'How do I know what a trawler is doing there? Trawling, I assume.'

He didn't like being appointed champion for his country. At least if he was British, he said with a roll of those expressive brown eyes, he could say Queen and Country. Particularly Queen.

'Wouldn't you ever want to live in Moscow?' Christopher asked. I'd heard his answer before, but I still listened with interest.

He pushed back the wings of grey hair with both hands first of all, so that his face looked even leaner and more aristocratic.

'In Moscow,' he said, with a deliberate shudder, 'I would simply dry up and die. It's an awfully grey place full of awfully grey people. I wouldn't wish to embarrass anyone but Russia simply isn't the place for someone with my somewhat colourful tastes. And of course this is greatly to the convenience of my employers. They know I will do anything — absolutely anything — to stay in the West, and they also know that my own preferences do take me to some rather interesting places. You'd be amazed who one bumps into in some of those rather maley clubs.'

'Gosh, you really are a spy then?' Christopher was wide-eyed at this revelation.

'Oh, I shouldn't think so, dear. What would you say, Sam? No, no, my little pieces of tittle-tattle help to keep the computers busy in Moscow but I don't suppose for a moment they tip the balance in the great conflict between right and wrong — whatever they may be. Isn't that so?'

'I wouldn't know,' I said. I didn't either. You couldn't be sure with Ivan. He always seemed to be telling you too much until you thought about it later and realised he'd told you nothing. I was even less sure since my talk with Batty. Perhaps we were both spies. Perhaps that's all there was to espionage: tittle-tattle and words in ears, games of table-cricket in empty cocktail bars. Perhaps spies were ordinary people with ordinary lives.

'By the way,' he said, fishing out his silver-backed notebook again, 'I have some news for you about your chamois-wearing friend.'

Now that did surprise me. I had to be careful what I told Ivan: even as a friend, I was always aware of the fact that he must have other loyalties. I hadn't told him about the badge with the winged AC and I hadn't told him about the second man in the kitchen. On the other hand, I had mentioned the trawler and the man in the photograph because of the possible Russian connections. Even so, I was surprised when he opened his notebook and began reading.

'His name is Kirillina. Nikolai Kirillina. He's one of the naval people at the embassy, although they don't have proper military attaches because Iceland doesn't have any military.'

Ivan could only be telling me this because someone wanted me to know. Why? 'You traced him through the sputnik?'

He put his fleshless hand to his forehead. 'Ghastly, isn't it? Apparently he has this wonderful flat with a gorgeous display cabinet bursting with silver and porcelain. Bang in the middle of it he puts one of those horrid little plastic sputniks. Not unlike the sort of artifact you might sell, Christopher.'

Christopher grinned up. Then his grin vanished. 'Oh damn, Meryl's out.'

'Thank God. Well bowled.' Ivan kissed the dice. 'Who's in next?'

'Al Jolson.' He slipped me another wink. 'I've heard he's rather useful with the bat. A lot of these coloured chaps are, you know.'

'You see,' Ivan continued. 'What can you do with these people? They have every opportunity, education, money, everything, and they go and put on display a vulgar memento like that.' He reached over and touched my arm. 'I do hope this isn't hurtful in any way, but I am told he was something of a hand with the ladies.'

'Be a waste if he wasn't. He hasn't disappeared then?'

'Apparently not. Drinkiepoohs, anyone?'

As the waitress got the glasses clinking, I walked over to the window and looked out. Poor Solrun. Even by her reckless standards, this was quite a mess. For reasons well beyond my imagination, she'd got married to an Icelandic Hell's Angel who already appeared to be the proud possessor of woman and child. And she was also playing around with a Russian diplomat. It was beginning to sound crazier than the casting for Christopher's cricket team. Who'd she run off with now— King Kong?

The girl came round with the booze and Ivan told her to put it on his bill. I was wondering why Batty thought I could do anything about all this — let alone why I'd want to — when I heard Ivan ask Christopher if he was married.

'Oh, yes, Bella and I have got a lovely little place out at Braintree. I've asked her to think about moving up to Iceland but she isn't terribly keen. At the moment, that is.'

'Would you take out Icelandic citizenship?' I'd been wondering about that.

'Hope to, naturally. Course it's not easy. You have to speak the lingo, of course, and take a local name.'

'After your father?'

'That's right. And since my old man was called Christopher too.I'd have one of these names with a built-in echo. A bit much, I think. How about you, Sam? What was your father's name?'

'Oddly enough, I don't know.'

I'm so used to it that I forget it sometimes makes other people uncomfortable. After a second's silence, Christopher decided not to pursue that one, and started talking about his plans for a sales drive in the morning. I was sorry to hear that. I'd been hoping he might come as interpreter when I went to see Solrun's mother.

'I'll come,' Ivan volunteered. 'It will be just like being a real reporter. I shall wear a Burberry and look terribly louche.'

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