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Black Ice: Chapter 42

...The first I knew was the ice-hard touch of her cheek against my burning flesh, the cold marble of her hands against mine. I dragged my eyes half-open...

At last the elusive Icelandic beauty Solrun puts in an appearance.

Colin Dunne's Cold War spy thriller is an exciting read and a literary treat. To catch up with earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

As they say in the Bible, she came to me in a dream.

The first I knew was the ice-hard touch of her cheek against my burning flesh, the cold marble of her hands against mine. I dragged my eyes half-open.

She was beside me, sitting on the bed. She was wearing - I think - a padded white jacket and a loose white scarf. I hardly noticed because I was fascinated by the way the lifeless light of the night had drawn all the colour and vigour from her, so that she was blanched to a bloodless beauty. She was the Ice Maiden.

Yet at the same time I knew that it was only the gruelling ordeal I had been through, together with the doctor's drugs, that freed my imagination to see her in this form. I was back in the car boot, locked inside my own skull. I was pounded under the waterfall. I was rocking to the rhythms of Doris, the horse. Whether she was real or not was of no importance. She was here, at least in my mind she was here, and that was all that mattered.

'I had to come.'

'Thanks. I'm glad.'

'You know about my baby now.'

'Yes.'

'Asta. She is called Asta. My mother's name was Asta.'

'Have you been in hiding?'

In the half-light I saw her give a quick sharp nod. 'It was Oscar. I was afraid what he might do.'

'He thought you were going to join him in the States. You know, because of marrying Palli and the stamp money.'

'Maybe I was. Maybe I still am. Isn't that where everyone wants to go America? In any case, I had to have the money for a new life.'

'So that was it. The two men. Oscar and Nikolai. America and Russia.'

I could feel her cold fingers tightening and slackening around my hand. I felt there was more meaning in that than in the words which were echoing like gongs in my head.

'Or London,' she said, in a whisper so low it hardly rippled the night's quiet surface.

'London?'

She moved so that she bent down a little towards me. 'Yes. That was why I had to make sure you knew about the child.'

Then I remembered. I remembered what she'd said that first night, when she'd asked me if I would take her away. But she knew how useless I was with my own kid, let alone other people's, so she was making it quite clear.

'If you want to get out of this mess, then come to London.' I was sorry I couldn't drive my enthusiasm into my words. But I was tired and, perhaps, a little afraid. Then, weakly, I added: 'While you work out what you want.'

'I want a home and a father for my daughter.'

I didn't know what to say to that. A silence like a wall stood between us. 'What does Nikolai say?'

I felt more than saw her shoulders slump a fraction and thought I could hear defeat in her voice. 'Kolai? He said he was going to defect to live in Europe with me. Now he says it is not possible. I must go to Moscow.'

'And Asta?'

'He is a kind man. He says he will be her father. I think he means it. But if I go with him I will have to do certain things.'

'What things?'

She rose and walked over to the window and I saw the light, pale on her hair and the planes of her face. She looked out of the window, speaking at the same time. 'Propaganda things. There will be a ceremony. A public ceremony. They want you to come. Will you?'

'Why me?'

'They want a neutral observer. A journalist to write about it. Will you?'


'Yes, of course.'
'You understand?' She turned towards me again. 'That is the price I have to pay to go there. I have to say certain things. You do understand?'

'Don't worry.'

'It is all arranged. They have been ready for days now.'

'Weren't you sure what you wanted?'

She came back down the room towards me and took my hand again. 'No. I knew what I wanted. Asta's father.'

I thought of the big crazy man running around the island on his desert-bike waving his Colt .45, and there didn't seem much I could say. Anyway, it was her decision. It had to be hers. So I said nothing.

'Will you come to me, if I send a message?'

'Yes, I'll come.'

'I may need a friend.'

'I'm your friend.'

I lay there like a dreaming corpse. She sat like a colourless ghost. After some more time had died, she burned me with her iced lips. I had drifted back to sleep again when I heard her last word . . .

'Bless.'

As the door closed, a thin shaft of light swung across the room. It caught one evil eye, mocking me from the table-top. Stuffed puffins never sleep.

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