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Black Ice: Chapter 50

...'Take my advice, Craven. Have a couple of large ones and get yourself to bed. Don't dwell on it. It doesn't do. And don't sit around by yourself, if you can avoid it. Are you going to see friends?'...

Reluctant spy Sam Craven is back in England after chilly Cold War adventures in Iceland.

Colin Dunne brings his classic spy novel to a conclusion.

Black Ice is available chapter by chapter in Open Writing. Please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

'It was a bluff then?' Bottger said.

I still called him Bottger. It didn't seem worth breaking in a new name at this point. What I couldn't get used to was him having no accent. He spoke fee-paying English, like Christopher.

'Yes, apparently,' I replied.

'Of course, if you don't know any better, a bluff is every bit as effective as the real thing.' The stewardess was hovering. 'A drink? We don't want that disgusting brennivin stuff that Bell inflicted on us, do we? Let's be civilised and have a Scotch.'

I tipped all mine into the glass and I didn't wait for the water. I'd had quite a few of those in the twenty-four hours it had taken to tidy up the loose ends for Petursson before leaving.

Most of them had been necessary when I was writing my piece for Grimm. I owed him that. However you looked at it, I was representing his paper and it was a hell of a big story. But it was far from painless to do, with her death so vivid in my mind. My fingers were still sore where I'd had to scrub them to get her blood from behind my finger-nails. And having my arm in a sling didn't help much, come to that.

Anyway, one way or another I'd managed to get it written. Grimm was so overjoyed he even offered me a staffjob, at which point I became too overwhelmed to give him any answer.

Distressed as I was, I could see why he was so pleased. He'd got an exclusive on a major international story. He jibbed a little at my approach to it - I'd done it straight down the middle, emphasising the political significance and playing down Solrun's part personally - but in the end said not to worry, he'd get one of his word-mechanics to sharpen it up.

Our flight rose into the clouds almost immediately. I was glad I wasn't able to look down on that wild country. I'd never go back again.

'I'd like to think you were keeping an eye on me all the time,' I said to Bottger.

He shook his head. 'Hardly at all. It wasn't possible most of the time. And I must say you seemed to be coping admirably. Admirably.'

'It didn't feel like that.'

'I was telling Batty that this morning and he rather thought he might have some more work to put your way. Interested?'

'What nudging history again?'

He laughed. 'Did he say that to you? Nudging history? It's one of his favourite expressions. What shall I tell him?'

'Tell him I'll leave it.'

'Just as you like.' He crossed his long legs, an awkward operation with restricted knee-room. 'I can't say I came out of it with a great deal of glory.'

'You weren't to know we'd done a deal.'

'Still,' he pulled a face at the thought of it and brushed a crumb off his trousers. It was the first time I'd seen him with his legs covered. In some odd way, it made him seem younger. 'I'm sorry about the puffin, by the way.'

I had it on my knee in a carrier bag. Bottger had insisted on beheading it. Sure enough, he'd found a bug inside. That was how they knew Solrun had been to my room that night. I'd fastened the head back on with sticky tape, but it didn't look the same. I wasn't at all sure why I'd brought it with me. I wasn't planning to give it to Sally not now.

That reminded me. For about the tenth time I took the slip of paper out of my pocket. Petursson had given it to me at the airport. It was the birth certificate they'd found on Solrun.

There it was. 'Asia Samsdottir.' She'd promised it would make me laugh. It didn't, not then, but perhaps one day it would make me smile. Dear God. Daughters. Fathers. Families. What a mess!

'And your chum Ivan has gone back to Moscow?'

'So they say.'

'That hardly seems fair, does it? Getting away scot-free like that.'

'Maybe not.' I couldn't begin to explain how much Ivan would hate it. I'd die, he'd said. Dry up and die. When I thought about it, I still felt sorry for him. Emotions don't always change as quickly as experience instructs them.

Once we'd cleared customs, Bottger and I stood together, uncertain how to end it.

He checked his watch. 'I hope Ursula's cut the lawn. That's the one job I loathe. Well, Hammersmith, did you say? It's more or less on my way. A lift any use?'

'No, thanks. I'm not going straight home.'

'Not to the office, I hope. You've had a rough time, you must take it easy. How's the arm?'

I wagged the sling and immediately regretted it. 'Only a flesh thing. Not too serious, but rather painful.'

'Be careful. Any bullet wound is serious, I can assure you. It isn't like those cowboy films where they all get up and walk away afterwards, you know. The real thing is a good deal more disagreeable.'

It was disagreeable all right. People missed. They shot the wrong people. Like a knife in the heart, I had a quick vision of her face when her eyes closed. Her damp lashes lay like a brush on her cheeks.

So long, so absurd, so lovely.

'Take my advice, Craven. Have a couple of large ones and get yourself to bed. Don't dwell on it. It doesn't do. And don't sit around by yourself, if you can avoid it. Are you going to see friends?'

'Family actually. In Chelmsford.'

I left him and took a cab. The driver's paper was stuck up behind his sun visor. It was Grimm's. The headline was so big I could've read it from Reykjavik.

SEXY ESKIE - THE SPY WHO DIED FOR LOVE

Ah well. As Grimm always said, that was what the punters wanted.

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