From Chapter 5: Aventurine and her nephew have just checked into the B & B in York
“Give me a couple of minutes.”
I went to my own room to scrub my face; for some reason, train journeys made me feel grubby, as though I’d spent the miles in a coal tender, or stoking a steam engine. I changed my clothes, then wandered, shoe in hand, to peel aside the curtain at the window. Below here, on this side of the house, the street was as lazy as it had been when we’d arrived from the station in the taxi. An elderly man in a cap and blue cardigan shuffled along the pavement, and I watched him until he disappeared at the corner, wondering what his story was. How old? I estimated his age in the seventies, though I could have been either really high or really low. So many things aged a person: tragedy, disease. My thoughts flitted to Shep and away again.
Genevieve Smithson. She had been a teenager during World War II, and here she was, in her 90s, finally agreeing to tell her story. Finally agreeing to tell it to me. I felt the familiar flutter of excitement beneath my breastbone, the one that told me I might be onto something fantastic. When she’d first reached out to me after the publication of Night Watch, suggesting we talk, I had immediately pitched the story to the big glossies. My number one choice had jumped at it, as I knew they would; they’d offered a pretty chunk of change as well, and a fairly flexible deadline. Still, I had my eyes on a bigger prize: what if Genevieve Smithson’s story could be the genesis of my next book?
She had been a spy. At sixteen, lying about her age, dropped behind the lines in France. Now, almost eighty years later. woman who had remained reclusive and secretive for her entire adult life. I thought back over my notes, the skeletal material I had been able to glean from research before setting out. It’s time to tell the story, she’d said when we’d first spoken on the telephone. I’ve heard quite a bit about you. You’re the one to do it.
I smirked to myself. Deprecatingly. She would have heard a lot more about me, and possibly a lot earlier, had my burgeoning career in investigative journalism not veered so crazily, almost into oblivion, at the get-go. Nevertheless—and I drew myself up, straightened my spine—I had persevered. The most recent three books had not only established my ability to tell a well-researched story over several hundred pages, but had cemented my earnings. I was the one to tell this story. I took a deep breath, trying to regulate my excitement, but it was no use. This was going to be big.
I put a hand out to the windowsill to steady myself as I pulled on my shoe. A movement below caught my eye. Just another pedestrian, this one a man in a dark jacket, walking briskly along the pavement on the other side of the street. Just another pedestrian. Then I looked again. Foreshortened, back to. Shoulders thrown back as though he owned the world. Dark hair maybe just a little too long, as though the conventions didn’t apply to him.
I knew the walk. I knew the shoulders.
It was the man from Westminster Bridge.
And he still looked familiar. Because he was. What the hell? Except it couldn’t be. And he couldn’t be.
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