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Authors: Sheila Simonson

skylark

Skylark

 

By

Sheila Simonson

 

 

Uncial Press       Aloha, Oregon
2012

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-128-8
ISBN 10: 1-60174-128-6

Skylark
Copyright © 1992, 2012 by Sheila Simonson

Cover design
Copyright © 2012 by Judith B. Glad

Previously published in hardcover by
St. Martin's Press,
1992
Worldwide, 1993

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in
whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or
hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the author or publisher.

Published by Uncial Press,
an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

DEDICATION
In loving memory of Louise Smith,
without whom this book
would never have got off the ground.
LONDON 1989

I simply take the side of truth against any lie...
--Vaçlav
Havel

History is an ocean. Events--the kind that make headlines--are whitecaps. Other forces
deep below the surface of awareness, tides and currents, move the mass of water at their will,
warming, shaping, destroying. We notice the waves, though.

If the events of 1989 had been presented as fiction, nobody would have believed them.
I'm a private person. As a rule, public events pass me by. I tut-tut or give a mild cheer and get on
with my own life, but in the spring of 1989, a wave of events slopped over into my private life. I
got my feet wet.

Chapter 1.

London, Spring 1989.

Ann Veryan put her tray down by mine and let the strap of her vast purse slide from her
shoulder. She hung the bag over the back of her chair and sat down. "Prawn salad?"

"Salmon," I said glumly. "Canned." I should have known better than to choose salmon
salad in a London cafeteria, or, in fact, any salad. Salad is one of those words like knickers and
napkin and bum that Americans trip over in England.

"Where's Milos?" Ann wore large pink-tinted glasses. She peered around.

"Still talking to his friend, I guess. Yes, there he is." I pointed out the window.

Ann craned. "Well, he'd better hurry if he wants to eat before six. Wasn't that a great
production?"

I took a sip from my glass. The wine was French and good, the food English. "I liked
Lady Macbeth's dress."

"Lord, yes. Blood red, wasn't it?" Ann's pasta casserole looked marginally more
interesting than my canned salmon. She babbled on about the costumes.

We had just attended a matinee of the RSC's
Macbeth
at the Barbican Centre.
The set was interesting and the acting competent, but I thought this Macbeth was a little like
Hamlet--having a hard time making up its mind what it wanted to do.

I live in northern California, within a hundred miles of the oldest Shakespeare festival in
the country, and I grew up within driving distance of the Stratford, Ontario, festival, not to
mention Broadway. Ann, poor thing, had taught
Macbeth
to high school seniors in
Purvey, Georgia, for fifteen years without once seeing the play on stage. I didn't intend to spoil
her pleasure with critical carping, so I listened to her and looked out the tall window at the
rain-swept plaza.

Red and yellow tulips made a brave show against the gray stonework, but it was nasty
out, blowing up a storm. A coachload of determined Japanese tourists were taking pictures of
each other. Milos and his friend huddled in the lee of a kiosk. Everyone else had prudently
sought shelter.

Ann was marveling over the raked stage and the set--very vertical and claustrophobic. I
watched Milos's friend hand him something. It looked like a green plastic bag of the sort Harrods
supplied with purchases. Milos gave the man's shoulder a pat as he went off, bent into the
storm.

The glass door to the cafeteria opened and shut on a gust of wind, and Milos strode over
to us, beaming. "They have tied me to the stake. I cannot fly, but bearlike I must fight the
course." He shook himself, spraying water, tossed his raincoat over the extra chair, placed his
furled umbrella and the mysterious parcel on the seat, and sat down.

Ann gave him a warm smile. "Wasn't the play wonderful?"

"Aroint thee, witch, the rump-fed runyan cries."

"The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon," Ann shot back without missing a
beat.

"Cream-faced loon," Milos repeated. "Even in tragedy, such a playful sense of
language."

"How do you remember useful quotes like that, Milos?" I asked, sipping my wine.

"Simple genius." The wind had whipped a healthy color across Milos's high cheekbones
and tousled his hair. For a moment he looked almost romantic. Then he smoothed his mustache
with one finger, took a slurp of wine, dived into the quiche I had selected for him, and became
once more himself--a middle-aged Middle European waiter who served dinner nightly at the
Hanover Hotel and studied accounting in the daytime.

Ann and I, who were sharing a flat to cut costs, had attended a booksellers' convention at
the Hanover the week before. It was an expensive hotel, and Milos was a good waiter, but
romantic? No.

The English do not strike up casual acquaintances, especially not with Americans,
whose social class they can't gauge. I had since called on two of my mother's old friends and
been welcomed kindly, but Ann knew no one in London except Milos and me, and she didn't
know me well. The booking agency for the flat had put us in touch with each other. Ann was
lonely and newly divorced--looking for diversion. She had bumped into Milos at a pub on his
night off and, on impulse, invited him to join us at the play. She liked him. So did I, but I
wondered at his motives. Was he angling for an American wife and passport?

He said, between bites, "In prison I am translating
Macbeth
into Czech to keep
myself from dying of boredom. Prison is very boring." He popped a bit of quiche into his mouth,
keeping the fork in his left hand.

European table manners were beginning to look normal to me after ten days away from
home. I raised a forkful of salmon with my left hand. The pale pink flesh fell onto my lap. I
dabbed. "Were you in prison long?" He'd told us he had been a political prisoner, a
dissident.

He shrugged. "Is a year long? I am twenty the first time--that is in '68--and it seems
forever. This time--two years ago, you understand--my mind is better fortified. I have memorized
Macbeth,
and so I amuse myself well enough."

"The mind is its own place," Ann murmured.

"What is that?"

She flushed. "Milton. 'The mind is its own place and of itself can make a heaven of hell
or hell of heaven.'"

"Ah, of course. 'Paradise Lost.' You are comparing me to Lucifer."

Ann's eyes widened.

"Devil that I am." Milos laughed. "You ask how I like this production of
Macbeth
, Ann. The scene at the end with the spears...is that the right word?"

"Lances," I murmured.

"Yes, with the lances coming through the stone wall of the castle. That is very good.
Also I like Lady Macbeth's gown."

It was my turn to laugh.

He cocked an eyebrow.

"That was my reaction, too."

He turned back to Ann. "Ah, my poor friend, it is your first time to see the play, and
Lark and I are making light of it."

A spot of color showed on Ann's cheek. "I could see that it wasn't perfect. Malcolm
fluffed one of his lines, and I didn't like the banquet scene. All the same I thought it was
wonderful."

"And so it was," Milos said. "A wonderful way to spend a rainy afternoon. Eat, ladies. I
must be at work in an hour."

We ate, gathered our belongings together, and left. Outside the complex, Milos swung
the green Harrods bag to his left hand and tried to open his large black umbrella one-handed with
his right.

"Why don't you let me tuck your sack into my handbag?" Ann asked. "There's plenty of
room." There was. Ann's purse was the size of an airline tote and covered in needlepoint. It
shouted American Tourist, Snatch Me. Milos eyed it without enthusiasm, but a gust of wind tore
at his umbrella, so he shrugged and handed Ann the plastic bag. It
was
a Harrods bag,
and rather battered as if it had been used several times.

"Not very heavy." Ann stowed it and settled her purse on her shoulder. She was wearing
one of those pleated plastic rain hats, useful but ugly.

"Just some papers," Milos muttered, wrestling his umbrella into submission.

I tied a scarf over my head. "Shall I hail a taxi?"

"Nonsense." Milos led the way. "The Tube station is not far and the Underground is
quicker than a taxi this time of day."

He set a rapid pace. Londoners, even dissident Czech Londoners, walk fast. We dashed
along in his wake.

Ann and I had passes, so we jostled through the crowd at the ticket taker's booth while
Milos zipped through the automatic turnstile. He waited for us with leashed impatience. The
station was crowded with commuters in raincoats and suits. We went with the flow and found the
right Circle Line platform. The day before, I had hopped on a train going west when I wanted to
go to Victoria from South Kensington. I was in Bayswater before I figured out what I'd
done.

There was no question of finding a seat. We squished through the double-width doors
and stood together in the middle of the car, held upright by the press of people. The doors shut,
and the car lurched into motion.

I kept my eyes on the map of the Underground above the windows. When we flashed
through the Mansion House station, I relaxed and let my gaze wander. We were going the right
way for South Kensington. Milos would get off at Gloucester Road, one stop farther along.

He was standing beside me, balancing easily as the train swayed. His damp coat gave
off a faint smoky smell. I was holding one of those skyhooks, the equivalent of straps, that are
intended to help standees keep their balance. It worked fine for me, but Ann was too short to
reach the plastic knobs without dislocating her shoulder joint.

She sidled over to the panel that separated the entry area from the seats and clung to the
metal edge. Her purse sagged, and the little plastic bonnet dripped. She looked tired. I gave her a
smile but was just too far from her to say anything without shouting. At Charing Cross, with
access to the main line station, there was a general turmoil as passengers swarmed on and off the
car. Milos and I were shoved farther along, away from Ann. She clung to her panel and
smiled.

The train rushed and rattled through the dark. The lights of our car lit up patches of
sooty stonework. The window gave back a reflection of the packed-in passengers.

A woman facing me was reading the
Evening Standard
with avid
concentration. Something about Princess Di's knees merited a screamer headline and a half-page
photo. The woman's briefcase jabbed at my hip. I inched sideways. "Sorry," she said without
looking at me.

Londoners say sorry with no inflection at all when they cross in front of you in the
theater or jostle you on the street, and sometimes when you jostle them. It isn't even a politeness,
because there's no feeling in the expression at all, not even fake feeling. They aren't sorry.
They're just letting you know Mum brought them up right.

They also avoid eye-contact. Nobody in that crammed car was looking at anyone else
unless they worked in the same office and had gone to the right schools together. Then they
murmured. Mostly they didn't say anything. They just stood there, swaying against each other,
avoiding each other's eyes by reading their tabloids or the adverts above the windows, or looking
down at their feet. Each was enclosed in a sheath of privacy. It was strange and entertaining.
When I first arrived in London I invented a game. I stared until someone met my eyes by
accident, then I smiled. My victims always looked away at once, as if I had farted.

Neat snippets of poetry were printed on placards among the commercial
messages--some ingenious civil servant bringing culture to the masses. A much anthologized
poem of my mother's had stared me right in the face on the way in from Heathrow Airport. This
car displayed Thomas Hardy's "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations.'" I read with critical attention.

"Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering
by:
War's annals will fade into night
Ere their story
die."

"Maid" and "wight." Self-consciously archaic diction by the time Hardy was writing.
The car swayed. The lights flickered.

Abruptly, the train came to a dead halt in the dark tunnel. The air-conditioner whirred,
the electric engine hummed, a few commuters murmured. Someone near me cleared his
throat.

Only that morning the
Independent
, my newspaper of choice, had given
extensive space to the inquiry into the King's Cross fire of the year before. Gruesome details
floated to the surface of my mind. Charred corpses, corpses dead of smoke inhalation, corpses
trampled by other corpses. I am not as a rule claustrophobic, but I began to sweat. I glanced at
Ann. She was pale. I grimaced at her, comically, I hoped. She smiled. Beside me, Milos clucked
his tongue.

"Did you say something?"

"Perhaps a taxi would have been faster after all. This is the third time I am delayed this
week on the Tube. They are having troubles in the electrical system."

"Wonderful."

We lapsed into silence. Apart from one or two hushed murmurs no one said anything.
We just stood there sweating in our raingear and waiting. No one looked at anyone else.

I stared at the reflection of our faces in the window and thought what fools human
beings were. I was paying our Miss Beale an outrageous sum for half a tiny flat with no shower
and a refrigerator the size of a TV set--all in order to stand below tons of English dirt, sweating
beside a hundred or so English citizens, none of whom would give me the time of day. Dumb
idea. The lady with the briefcase lowered her paper, turned the page, and began reading
something about a horse race. I wished I was at a horse race. I was willing to bet Dick Francis
didn't ride the tube.

The car shuddered and jolted about three feet forward. Right direction. It groaned to a
halt again. Tabloid Tessy read on.

Just as I was bracing myself for the next train to crash into ours, the car gave a series of
jolts and squawks and started to move. There was a soft simultaneous sigh of relief from the
commuters. They were going to live, after all. The tabloid fancier had turned to the football
scores.

At Victoria--white tile on the walls, blue edging--half the passengers got off and twice
as many pushed aboard. They were less homogenous than the City commuters--fewer pinstripes,
more jeans and sweatshirts, more women with shopping bags, fewer with briefcases, a sprinkling
of tourists in bright colors.

We were jammed in cheek by jowl by briefcase. I wriggled around so I was facing the
open door and yanked my scarf down. The door stood open, but no one else got on. The people
on the platform seemed resigned to waiting for the next train.

"Hot?" Milos and I were now facing each other, eyeball-to-eyeball. "It's stuffy, no?"

"'The mind is its own place,'" I muttered.

His mustache quirked in a grin. "Breathe lightly and think of your so-tall redwoods.
How is Ann? Can you see her?"

I peered. She had removed the plastic bonnet and shifted the bag to her left shoulder.
She gave me a wan smile.

On the platform the public address system garbled out a warning to stand clear of the
doors. They slid shut and the train began to move. I caught my reflection as we entered the
tunnel--short black hair standing up in tufts, raincoat collar askew beneath the loud scarf.
Strange, the scarf hadn't looked loud when I bought it in San Francisco.

I clung to the skyhook and swayed with the movement of the train. The lights flickered.
The train slowed, sped up again. Just a curve in the roadbed. I breathed.

I decided to distract myself by sorting out the other passengers. They were individuals,
after all, not a huge mindless organism.

The lady directly in front of me--beside Milos--had to be an upscale housewife. Hair like
Maggie Thatcher's, shopping bags from Harrods and Peter Jones. The small, intense man in the
seedy blue suit and black raincoat was an Iranian terrorist who would leave the train at High
Street Kensington to throw bombs at the headquarters of Penguin Books. Salman Rushdie, watch
out.

That was a bad thought. A shop in Charing Cross Road had been fire-bombed the week
before. I tried not to look like the proprietor of a bookstore.

I forced my mind back to the scene before me. The kid in the Oxford gray blazer was a
clerk at Lincoln's Inn. The tall woman in gray ultra-suede was a television executive, ferret-face
by the door a racetrack tout. I turned the idea over in my mind. If a bookie was a turf accountant
in English parlance, what did they call touts?

We bucketed into Sloane Square. Pea-green tiles and little white arches like lattices were
set in mosaic for the ages. Symbolizing what? The Chelsea Flower Show, probably. Half a dozen
passengers got off including the TV executive and the quondam terrorist. One man squeezed
aboard.

Ferret-face was standing in the doorway. The public address announcement crackled
out. He didn't move. Nobody said anything to him. He was looking my direction but not at me. I
noticed because he was staring so intently--rudely, in English terms. The train waited. The
automatic doors would not close, the train would not leave, until ferret-face cleared the
door.

Beside me Milos gave a grunt. I saw an arm and shoulder move. A man in a brown
pinstripe eeled out of the car. With a final stare--at Milos, I thought--the ferrety tout stepped out
onto the platform and the doors slid together. As the train began to move I saw him vanish into
the mass of waiting commuters.

"Lark..."

The train lurched and Milos fell against me. I let go of my skyhook and clutched at him,
staggering back.

"Bloody foreigners," said the woman with the
Evening Standard
.

Chapter 2.

"Stop, thief!" the Maggie Thatcher clone was shrieking. "The bugger stole my bag! Pull
the emergency lever!"

No one responded, but the murmurings grew louder. Newspapers rustled. The train sped
on.

I had regained my balance, but Milos was heavy. "Are you all right? What's the
matter?"

He said nothing at all, and he was slipping slowly to the floor.

"Somebody help me! He's fainted." I went down on one knee, and then fell to my side,
cracking my elbow, as the train rounded a curve. I fell with Milos on top of me.

"Christ, missus, he's bleeding!" A male hand assisted me to sitting position.

Various murmurs.

"Pull the lever."

"Better not, love. It'll just stop between stations. Wait for South Ken."

"Give 'em air, please."

"Back off."

I heard the chatter, but I was staring at Milos's gray face. A thin trickle of blood seeped
from one corner of his mouth. His eyes were half closed, the whites showing.

"Oh God, let me through! What's wrong, Lark?" Ann fought her way to my side and
knelt beside me. Her bag thudded to the floor. "Lordy, he's passed out."

"He's in shock," I said tightly. "Skin's clammy."

She drew in a sharp breath. Above me the Thatcher clone was telling everyone the thief
had stolen a silver trivet she had just bought for her niece's wedding and wasn't it disgraceful.
She'd had a good look at the villain, and she meant to report him to the police.

"Is he dead, lady?" the kid in the gray blazer asked me. He spoke with an American
accent. So much for Lincoln's Inn.

Ann began chafing Milos's hands. "Oh, God, tell me he's not dead."

I shifted so I could hold his head and torso in my lap,
Pietá
-fashion. "I
can't find a pulse. Is he breathing?" It was too noisy to tell.

The man who had helped me sit up was kneeling opposite me, by Milos's head. "He
looks bad, love. Trouble with his heart?"

I started to tell him I didn't have the faintest idea. Then we pulled into the South
Kensington yard, edging toward the crowded platform.

"Will somebody hold the door and call for the station master?" I looked up.

Pandemonium. The doors opened and impatient commuters were pushing on as our
lot--the uninvolved, at any rate--tried to slip away.

"Let me off! Make way!" The Thatcher woman battled out the door, followed by the
devotee of the
Evening Standard
.

"Somebody do something," I ordered in my best basketball coach voice. I coach a
women's team for the junior college at home. We had had a successful season. The helpful
man--he was fiftyish and wore the cap and tweed jacket of an older working man--began urging the
crowd to move back. The kid in the blazer stood wringing his hands.

Ann got up and used her enormous bag as a battering ram. "Get back. A man has
fainted. We need room here."

Other voices joined the chorus. The doors stayed open. At last, the waiting horde parted,
and a small white-haired man in the black London Transport uniform bustled up.

"Here, now, what's the fuss?"

The man in the tweed jacket began to explain. I concentrated on Milos. It couldn't be a
simple faint. He should have come around. And why blood? Had he bitten his tongue? He didn't
look like a heart attack victim, but I was not a paramedic, so what did I know?

"We'll have to move him, missus. The train..."

"Do you have a stretcher?"

He looked blank, and I wondered what the right word was. Hurdle? Surely not. Gurney?
"Uh, a litter to carry him on."

"Right." The official stepped back to the platform and spoke into a walkie talkie. I heard
him say something about a heart attack victim.

I hugged Milos to me, and Ann chafed his hands. Eventually two uniformed men
brought a stretcher and lifted him to it. The waiting crowd, now swollen by two trainloads from
the opposite platform, and God knows how many from the Piccadilly Line below, milled about
and murmured. No one shouted or made a fuss. They stood clear of the doors, but they had the
same ghoulish curiosity in their eyes that crowds at a disaster showed at home. A group of
uniformed schoolchildren swirled around the edge of the crowd, voices piping, until a stern
woman rounded them up and removed them from the scene. They had probably been on a field
trip to the Natural History Museum. There was a dinosaur exhibit.

The men bore Milos to the center of the platform, and the train we had ridden moved
out. Commuters eddied about us. Two trains succeeded each other on the eastbound track. At
last, the St. John Ambulance crew appeared and began to examine Milos in a thoroughly
efficient, professional way.

I had been answering questions more or less at random. No, he was not my husband. I
didn't know his medical history. I told the London Transport officer what I knew about Milos,
which wasn't much. Ann spelled his last name, Vlaçek, and a different transport officer
took it down.

Ann was very quiet, big-eyed, sad. She clutched her huge purse to her bosom and
mourned.

I was sitting on a bench by the stationmaster's little booth by then, with Ann and the
Good Samaritan in tweeds sitting beside me. His name was Bert something, and he looked
worried. The kid in the blazer was a Mormon missionary. I was too caught up in the wonder of
that to register his name.

For no reason at all, I started to think about Milos's umbrella. It must have fallen to the
floor of the carriage. And where was my purse? Small flurry of anxiety. Ah, still in my raincoat
pocket. Unlike Ann, who toted passport, traveler's checks, identification, and sundry household
supplies around with her, I wasn't carrying much of value. I stood up and brushed my coat
off--and found the bloodstain. I had opened my mouth to announce that interesting fact when one of
the St. John crew came over to the policeman who had materialized at some point in the
proceedings.

"This man has been stabbed," the paramedic said with real distaste.

All of a sudden, everyone was looking at me, Ann with her hand at her throat, as if she
might choke.

"Well, I wondered," I muttered. "He bled on my coat."

The bobby whipped out his notebook. "You're a foreigner, miss?"

"American."

All of them but Ann nodded, as if my nationality explained everything. With a last
accusatory glower, the paramedic strode back to his mates. Someone had wheeled in a gurney
from the direction of the station.

The policeman gave us a comprehensive scowl. "Stay where you are." He went over to
confer with the ambulance crew, which was busy doing something to Milos's still form.

"My bloody luck," Bert said. The kid in the blazer looked as if he was going to cry. Ann
did.

I sat back down beside her and put my arm around her shoulders.

"I just wanted to go to a play," she wailed. "It's not fair!"

Poor Milos had just wanted to go to the play, too. I didn't say that. I was trying to sort
things out.

It was all so puzzling. Where was the woman whose bag had been stolen? Had the thief
also stabbed Milos? Why stab Milos at all? Especially on a crowded Underground train during
the rush hour. It didn't make sense. Nothing made sense.

I glanced around at the crowd, which was finally beginning to thin. Trains pulled in on
one side of the platform or the other every two or three minutes, blotting up more people than
they let off. Where was the lady whose trivet had been snatched?

I patted Ann's shoulders and scanned the crowd. No sign of the woman. She had said her
bag had been stolen, not bags. Which one? She'd been carrying a large one from Peter Jones and
a smaller Harrods bag.

Memory stirred. It was the Harrods bag. "Ann, do you still have that packet you were
carrying for Milos?"

"Y-yes. I'll have to return it to him." She sobbed harder. "I don't even know where he
lives."

"Let me see it."

"What?"

I took the handbag and pulled the plastic sack out. It contained papers, all right--a rather
messy typescript of fifty or sixty pages in a cardboard folder, the kind with fabric ties. The
manuscript looked like a single document but I couldn't tell because it was in Czech.

At least I assumed the language was Czech--I would have recognized German, French,
or Italian, and Russian uses a different alphabet. Parts of it looked like a play, with names in
boldface on the left margin. Maybe it was Milos's translation of
Macbeth
. At that
thought, I teared up, blinked hard, and stuffed the bag back in Ann's purse.

The policeman returned. He was wearing one of those tall black hats and looked to be
about my age, which was thirty-three.

He came right to me. "They'll transport him to St. Botolph's."

"How is he?"

"Breathing with difficulty, madam. Pulse slow and erratic."

"But he's still alive?" I let out a long breath. I hadn't been sure. "Where's St.
Botolph's?"

"Near the Fulham Road." He told me the cross street. "You say you don't know the man
well." He sounded skeptical. "Whom should we notify?" He had a characterless accent--not BBC
and not cockney--and he persisted in addressing me rather than Ann. We had both explained that
Milos was Ann's friend and that I barely knew him.

The medics were wheeling Milos's gurney toward an elevator in the terminal building.
Ann was still crying, though not as hard as she had been. I said, "I don't know who Milos's next
of kin would be. You should call the Hanover. He works there and they probably have
records."

"Oh. Right." The constable made a squiggle in his notebook.

"Here, mate, can I leave now?" Bert interjected. "My old lady's waiting for me at the
pub. I don't know nothing, and I didn't see nothing till the bloke hit the floor."

"You can't leave, Mr. Hoskins. Not until the detectives come. Nor you, Mr. Whipple."
That to the wretched missionary who was probably composing a letter to Salt Lake City
explaining why he had been wandering around London without his partner--Mormon
missionaries are supposed to go in pairs. And how he had got himself embroiled in an assault
case.

Or would it be classified as attempted murder? I knew English law and American law
were similar but there would be some differences. According to my husband, who was a cop for
twelve years, American criminal law differs from one state to the next. Even the terminology of
British law was bound to be different from the California Penal Code.

I thought about Jay, not for the first time, with a surge of longing that almost brought me
to tears again. He would straighten everything out when he got to London, but he wasn't coming
for another week. I fumbled in my pocket for a tissue and blew my nose. The bobby was taking
the missionary through the blameless account of what he had seen--nothing--and scribbling in
the notebook. Far off the characteristic
yip
,
yip
,
yip
of a British
ambulance siren faded on the air and a District line train pulled in on our side, bound for Ealing
Broadway.

A good fifteen minutes later two plainclothes detectives showed up. Ann had regained
her composure, the missionary had lost his, and Bert Hoskins was fit to be tied. I began to feel
sorry for Constable Ryan.

I was sorry for myself. The Circle and District Line platform of the South Kensington
Tube station lies above ground in semi-daylight, not underground. Rain sheeted down on the
gleaming tracks. I was cold, my elbow ached, and I was beginning to tremble.

Ryan introduced us to Detective Inspector Cyril Thorne and Detective Sergeant Richard
Wilberforce and gave a summary of the incident couched in what sounded like official police
jargon. They seemed to be able to follow him.

Thorne was a nondescript man, fortyish--about Ann's age--with what I thought was a
faint North Country accent, though I could not have said how far north. Not Scotland.
Wilberforce was a young black man, well-tailored in a conservative way, and crisply London in
his speech. Both men wore damp raincoats and Wilberforce carried an umbrella. Was Milos's
umbrella circling London on the floor of the carriage? I wondered if Circle Line trains ever
changed directions. The case of the revolutionary umbrella, I thought, on the edge of
hysteria.

Thorne took the two men briskly through their stories, had Sgt. Wilberforce repeat their
addresses, and dismissed them. The missionary fled down the Piccadilly Line escalator. I stood
up and shook hands with Bert Hoskins. When I tried to thank him for helping he looked
embarrassed but gratified. Ann shook his hand, too, and launched into southern graciousness. A
westbound train pulled in and Bert boarded it with red ears. He was a nice man. I hoped his wife
was not the worse for waiting in the pub.

"Now, Mrs. Dodge," Thorne began.

I interrupted. "Inspector, our flat is only a few blocks away. I'm feeling shaky, and I
need a cup of coffee." I eyed him. "And a visit to the loo. Can't we go to the flat? I know you still
have questions for us."

"It's irregular..."

"If you cart us off to Scotland Yard, it will take forever. Traffic is bound to be heavy this
time of day, and I really don't feel up to par."

Thorne sighed. "Very well, but we were just going to take you to the Chelsea station, not
the Yard. We'll drive you to your flat."

I thought of mentioning the parking situation in our neighborhood. Of course they could
park an official car anywhere. "I want to walk."

Beside me, Ann squeaked.

I ignored her. "I need fresh air." I gave him the address. "It's the basement flat. Blue
door at the bottom of the stairwell. We'll meet you there in half an hour with hot coffee."

The two men exchanged glances. "If you're ill, Mrs. Dodge, happen we should drive you
to hospital." That was Thorne. Wilberforce watched me without expression.

"I just need aspirin. In fact I'll pop into the chemist's on the Old Brompton Road and buy
a bottle on the way home. Come on, Ann."

Ann started to protest, took a look at my face, and shouldered her wretched bag. Thorne
and Wilberforce escorted us past the ticket booth, which was fortunate because Ann couldn't find
her pass.

The arcade that forms the main entry to the station is a wide covered walkway, open at
both ends and crammed with vendors of flowers and newspapers. A young violinist from the
Royal Conservatory of Music poised by a florist's stand playing something baroque. Coins
littered her open instrument case. We parted from the two detectives there--they said they had
parked their car in the Exhibition Road by the French consulate. I led Ann across the wonky
traffic island to the south side of the Old Brompton Road.

"Whatever were you thinking of, Lark? It's raining pitchforks and hammer handles."
Ann was getting her second wind, and indignation sharpened her soft Georgia drawl.

I trotted past the chemist's and into the stationer's next door, pulling her inside with me.
The small shop stayed open until seven for the convenience of the thousands of tourists in the
area. There were no other customers by then, and the shopkeeper was closing up.

"Give me Milos's papers," I hissed.

"What?" She fumbled her purse open.

"Yes, madam?" The proprietor was a Pakistani man, middle aged and dapper.

"Will you please photocopy this document?" I removed the papers from the folder and
thrust them at him.

"It will take much paper."

"Fine. Do it. Fast, please. We're in a hurry." To my surprise, because London retailers
seem bent on thwarting customers whenever possible, the man didn't argue with me. Of course I
had been rolling around on the floor of a subway carriage, and my tan raincoat was smeared with
blood. I must have looked like a madwoman.

The man was back with the stack of papers within ten minutes, and he only charged me
six pounds ten. Ann and I made it to our flat, used the loo in sequence, and heated up the kettle
with five minutes to spare.

I hid the extra copy of Milos's papers in my suitcase and put the originals in the hall
closet, dashed into the bathroom, and scrubbed my face free of grime. I was running a comb
through my hair when the doorbell rang. Though I hadn't had time to change clothes, the raincoat
had absorbed the worst of the damage. There was a run in my pantyhose, but my wool suit
looked presentable.

I met Ann in the hallway. The whites of her eyes showed. The kettle was shrieking.

"I'll make the coffee," I said, "if you'll let them in. Cheer up. We're going to be open as
day, except about the photocopies."

"I'll follow your lead, Lark, but you're crazier than a coot."

I patted her arm. "Don't I know it."

Chapter 3.

I set out a tray with four cups and the
cafetière
, ignoring an ancient
percolator that had come with the furnishings. The coffee itself was the standard grind
Americans buy in cans, a short step up from the beastly powdered instant the English use. If the
water was very hot, the pressée pot made passable coffee. The percolator did not.

I could hear Ann being hospitable in the foyer. I set the cream pitcher and a bowl of
demerara sugar beside the pot and added a stack of paper napkins. Ann's voice grew louder. I
carried the tray three steps into the "parlour"--it was also Ann's bedroom--and stopped dead as
she entered, with Miss Beale trailing her and directing a vague smile my way.

The police were practically on the doorstep and here was the landlady, a woman of
exquisite, even oppressive, gentility, from whom we were renting the flat by the week. Lord love
a duck.

"Mrs. Dodge," she murmured when I had greeted her. I had asked her to call me Lark
several times, to no avail. Apparently the rulebook in her head forbade such an intimacy between
renter and rentee. What her rulebook had to say about cops in the living room I didn't dare
think.

Miss Beale--no Ms. about her--went on murmuring. She was a tall, indefinite woman
with vague gray eyes and a taste for misty tweeds. She had brought me the iron I asked for when
I discovered my linen suit had creased itself into permanent wrinkles in my suitcase. She hoped
it would be satisfactory and would we take a glass of sherry with her that evening? Nineish? Her
niece and nephew would like to meet the Americans.

I abhor sherry. I thanked her for the invitation.

Ann's eyebrows were signaling Distress. She was tired. She was sad. She wanted to go
to bed with a hot water bottle. Tough.

Without saying anything so grossly direct, Miss Beale had intimated that we were in her
house on sufferance. Ordinarily she did not let the flat to foreigners. I suspected we were paying
twice what she would have charged two Englishwomen. Even that outrageous sum was less than
the tariff at hotels with a minimal degree of comfort, however.

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" I couldn't very well avoid offering. The aroma
permeated the room.

She eyed the French device, which I had bought at Marks and Spencer, as if it were an
artifact from outer space. "Oh, dear, no. I must take Rollo walkies." Rollo was her miniature
poodle. She had lately had Rollo wormed, but her account of his sufferings was blessedly brief.
Five minutes later the coffee was brewed and the landlady gone. Ann and I looked at each
other.

"I beg your pardon," I said. "It was high-handed of me to accept the invitation, but with
Jay coming I do not want to offend Miss Beale."

Ann sighed and took the iron into the kitchen. "Do you think we should tell her about
Milos?"

"When we have to. If we pay next week's rent tonight, she'll be less apt to kick us out
when she hears of Milos's, uh, accident."

Ann's eyes narrowed, and she nodded. "
Two
weeks' rent if we can con her into
taking it."

The bell rang again. Ann made for the door, and I pressed the plunger on the coffee
pot.

There was a damp flurry as the detectives shed their rain gear in the hallway. Ann took
their coats.

Inspector Thorne entered, rubbing his hands. "Cold. You did say coffee?"

I indicated the sofa, alias Ann's bed. "I can brew a pot of tea, if you prefer."

Thorne said coffee was just the ticket, and both men sat on the sofa. Properly speaking,
it was a loveseat. A full-width Hide-A-Bed would not have fit in the niche it occupied. I let Ann
take the scaled-down armchair and pulled a straight chair from the table, only one leaf of which
we extended. Using both leaves would have shoved the table into the arm chair. It was a small
flat.

I poured coffee and creamed and sugared according to instructions. Ann took hers
black.

Inspector Thorne sipped and made an appreciative noise. Wilberforce looked less
enthusiastic. Perhaps he preferred tea.

"Now, ladies, I must take you through your statements again. This is a bad
business."

"Have you heard anything further about Milos's condition?" Ann set her cup on the wide
arm of the chair. I hoped she wouldn't knock it off.

"His heart stopped in the ambulance..." Ann gave a gasp."...but they were able to start it
again. He's alive, madam, in a critical state."

We were all silent for a moment, sipping our coffee.

Finally, Thorne took a decisive swallow and set his cup on the low coffee table. He
turned to Ann. "I don't understand your association with Mr. Vlaçek, Mrs. Veryan. Will
you explain?"

Ann bristled. "I went to a play with him in Lark's company. I don't see what's so
mysterious about that. We saw
Macbeth
at the Barbican. A matinee. We had a bite to eat
at the cafeteria there. Then we got on the subway, I mean the Underground, and rode home.
That's all there is to the relationship. I like Milos. He's a nice man. But I don't know much about
him."

"I see. How did you meet him?"

Sgt. Wilberforce had drawn out his notebook and was taking shorthand. I wondered why
he didn't just use a tape recorder.

Ann sat very straight, hands clasped in her lap. "Lark and I attended the booksellers'
convention at the Hanover Hotel last week. Milos waited on our table one night. We were having
dinner with half a dozen other booksellers. He was a good waiter--animated, bantering with us,
not all stiff like the other waiters. They never said anything but 'Yes, moddom.' I thought Milos
was witty."

Thorne kept his face blank and his eyes on Ann. No doubt he was wondering why
anyone would want an animated waiter.

Ann looked at her hands. "Yesterday evening, I ate supper at the Green Lion in Bredon
Street. I was alone because Lark was dining with a friend of her mother's. I saw Milos, who was
also eating alone, and I spoke to him. He joined me. We had a nice conversation, mostly about
the theater. He knows a lot about London theater. He hadn't seen this
Macbeth
, though,
so I asked him if he wanted to meet us at the Barbican today."