« Spaghetti | Main | Hot Weather »

Black Ice: Chapter 46

Reluctant journalist/spy Sam Craven is warned that the Russians are coming for him.

Colin Dunne's thrilling Cold War spy novel set in Iceland moves towards a dramatic conclusion.

To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

'There's only two ways you can hold a fork,' Dempsie was saying. 'There's the logical way and there's upside down. How do the Brits hold it? Upside down. Perverse? They are the most perverse nation on God's earth.'

He gave one of his deep-belly chuckles.

I was finishing off a light meal that Hulda had knocked up for me when the two of them, Dempsie and Petursson, came round. The first thing I noticed was that the American had eased back into his mood of effortless charm as though it was an old sofa. Petursson didn't attempt to hide his concern.

Ostensibly they'd called to tell me about the Pushkin. Between the lines of the Russian protest and their own inquiries, it looked as though Palli and Oscar had raided the fishing-boat looking for Solrun the previous night. There'd been a hell of a set-to, by all accounts, and Oscar had escaped. They'd stuck Palli in the deep-freeze and transferred him to the lake later in the hope it would look like a drowning.

By way of trade, I told them about Solrun's visit the night before. That brought them upright and shoulders-back in their chairs. There was a pause while they restrained themselves from laying me on the floor and jumping up and down on me for letting her go.

They listened quietly while I told them, as well as I could recall it, what she'd said.

'I don't get it,' Dempsie said. 'She said she was scared of Oscar but he was her first choice?'

'That's how I understood it.' In daylight, before witnesses, it did sound ambiguous to say the least.

'Her next choice is the Russian. Don't forget.' Petursson frowned at the American.

I thought of offering some cheerful comment on the fascinating unpredictability of women, but decided against it.

'What advice did you offer?' Dempsie asked. He was leaning forward, his arms resting on his knees, and the hard intelligence shone in his eyes.

'None.'

'None.' He repeated it. What he left unsaid was more interesting: it was a long explosive rant about how I do nothing to restrain the one woman the whole island is looking for, and then decline the chance to advise her.

But he didn't say it, and he didn't say it for the same reason he'd put his charm on full-beam. He needed me.

'Sam,' he said. He stopped there, leaning forward with his hands dangling between his knees and his face turned up towards me for maximum sincerity. 'You know they're going to come for you again?'

'I think so,' said Petursson, anxious to put in his two-penn'orth.

'Why?'

'Let's talk it through,' the American said, although it was obvious he and Pete had done plenty of talking through and that's why they were here. 'The Soviets see you as neutral. No disrespect, you're entitled to your views, but they see you as an uncommitted sort of guy. Is that it?'

'I don't see why that should interest them.'

He looked up at Petursson who was leaning with his elbow on the mantlepiece. I didn't know how he'd found room between the photographs.

'You can influence her, right? She listens to you. That's why she came here last night, which - though don't take this as a knock - you should've reported to us. That's by the way.'

'I think he's right,' Petursson put in. 'They are planning some sort of major coup. They think it's possible she will turn to you for guidance.'

They were probably right. That was why Batty wanted me near her - to use my influence. And I was still left with the question I'd put to Batty.

'What makes them think I'll give her the advice they want?'

Petursson gave an embarrassed shrug. 'You say yourself that you're not on anyone's team . . .'

'I'm not. I never have been. If Solrun wants to advertise package holidays in the Lubianka, let her.'

Petursson stood there shaking his head. 'The bell only tolls for someone else, isn't that it?'

I was a bit peeved at being quoted back at myself but I wasn't going to back out of it. 'That's about it, yes.'

From behind the ramparts of his face, his eyes were on me. 'And you meant it when you said you don't go to that address in Chelmsford?' Then added: 'To see your grandmother?' - as if I needed any explanation about an address I'd carried round in my memory since I was a child.

'I don't see the connection, but yes, actually, I did mean it.'

'I don't think I'm too interested in your grandmother . . .' Dempsie began to say, but he fell silent again as Petursson continued.

'No loyalties, then, Sam?'

'Except the ones I choose. Personal ones.'

'Like?'

I tried to lighten it. 'I could be personal to anyone who could arrange to look like Solrun. Or even someone who could make a good pepper steak.'

'What we want to know,' Dempsie cut in, 'is what advice you give her if she's asked to defect?'

That's a heavy word - 'defect'. When she'd talked about going with Kirillina, somehow I hadn't seen it like that.

'It's not as though she's exactly a nuclear physicist . . .' I began.

'Nuclear physicists rate one paragraph in The Times,' Dempsie said.

Of course, he was right. In terms of newsprint and television time, outside of Hollywood a top model was the best you could hope for. If anyone should've seen that, it was me - up to my ears in Sexy Eskie stories. But I'd been too close to see Solrun as anything other than a woman.

I sauntered over to the window. In the street, the man in overalls was still under his jacked-up car. It was Hulda who'd noticed him earlier and said that it was just like an American to carry overalls in case he broke down. Didn't he live there? I asked. Oh no, she knew everyone who lived in the street. She'd never seen him before. And you could always tell Americans: they had happy faces.

'No one's going to approach me if you have your sneakies crawling all over the place.'

Dempsie began to deny it but my smile and Petursson's frown were too much for him.

'There's a lot at stake,' he said, flinging his arms wide to show how honest he was.

'Your men have no business on our streets,' the Icelander said. 'We will do whatever is necessary.'

'Look, both of you,' I said, turning round and resting on the back of Hulda's head-teacher's chair. 'Stop playing games. If you're right and they do want me, you'll have to let them come. You're going to have to trust me whether you like it or not.'

I saw Petursson confirm it with a nod, and I watched the American shake his head in doubt as he rose to his feet.

'What's he going to tell her?' he said out loud, as he made for the door. 'We still don't know what he's, going to tell her.'

'Neither does he,' Petursson said quietly to me. 'Does he?'

Half an hour after they'd gone I went for a stroll around town. It was late afternoon, warm and pleasant now. I got a bag of dried fish from a stall and sat and nibbled at it.

One of the Vietnamese kids came round, the clanging northern words sounding hard and wrong coming from a face you instantly linked with sunshine and suffering. He paused in front of me and held out a newspaper. I shook my head.

'Hallgrimskirkja,' he said. 'Midnight.'

I remembered. It was Palli who said they used to send them with grenades. Nothing changed.

When I got back, the roadside mechanic had gone.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.