So I side-slipped and edged, making the turns as big and slow as possible, gently traversing the blackest part of the run until I came to the tree-line. The severity of the slope was something of a worry. Any fool could have seen that Dirk and Rhona were, frankly, not good enough to manage it without a great deal of falling over, and possibly even some not-getting-up-again. If I’d been Dirk, or a friend of Dirk, or even just an interested skier-by, I’d have said forget it. Take the cable-car back down again 15 страница and find something gentler.
But Francisco was confident about Dirk. He felt he knew his man. Francisco’s analysis said that Dirk was careful with money - which, I suppose, is one of the qualities you look for in a Minister of Finance - and if Dirk and Rhona decided to scratch, they’d have to pay a hefty penalty for the cable-car ride back down.
Francisco was prepared to bet my life that Dirk would ski it. Just to make sure, he’d popped Latifa into the bar of The Edelweiss the night before, while Dirk was spilling a 15 страница couple of brandies down the inside of his throat, and made her bill and coo at the bravery of any man prepared to tackle the Schilthorn. Dirk had looked a little worried at first, but Latifa’s batting eyelashes and heaving bosom had finally pulled him round, and he’d promised to buy her a drink the following evening if he made it down in one piece.
Latifa crossed her fingers behind her back, and promised to be there on the dot of nine.
Hugo had marked the spot, and he stood there now, smoking, and 15 страница grinning, and generally having a hell of a time. I skied past him and came to rest ten yards further into the trees, just to remind myself, and Hugo, that I still knew how to make decisions. I turned and looked back up at the mountain, checking the position, the angles, the cover - then jerked my head at Hugo.
He tossed his cigarette away, shrugged, and set off down the mountain, turning a tiny mogul into a needlessly spectacular jump, and then sending a plume of powder into the air as he paralleled a perfect stop on the other side 15 страница of the run, about a hundred yards further down. He turned away from me, unzipped his suit, and started to urinate against a rock.
I wanted to urinate too. But I had the feeling that if I started, I’d never stop; I’d just keep on pissing away, until there was nothing left of me but a pile of clothes.
I unhitched the lens from the front of the camera, removed the cap, and trained it on the mountain, squinting through the eyepiece. The image was thick with condensation, so I unzipped my jacket and slipped the 15 страница scope inside, trying to warm it against my body.
It was cold and quiet, and I could hear my fingers shaking as I started to assemble the rifle.
I had him now. Perhaps half-a-mile away. He was as fat as ever, with the kind of silhouette that snipers dream about. If they dream about anything.
Even at that distance, I could tell that Dirk was having a horrible time. His body language came across in short, simple sentences. I. Am. Going. To. Die. His bottom was stuck out, his chest was forward, legs rigid with fear and 15 страница exhaustion, and he was moving with glacial slowness.
Rhona was making a slightly better job of the descent, but not by much. Awkwardly, jerkily, but making progress of a kind, she trickled down the slope as slowly as she could, trying not to get too far ahead of her miserable husband.
At six hundred yards, I started to over-breathe, charging the blood with oxygen so I’d be ready to switch off the tap, and keep it switched off, from three hundred. I exhaled through the side of the mouth, gently blowing away from the scope.
At four hundred 15 страница yards, Dirk fell for about the fifteenth time, and didn’t look in any hurry to get up. As I watched him panting for breath, I pulled back on the knurled grip of the bolt, and heard the firing-pin cock with a shatteringly loud click. Jesus, this shot was going to be noisy. I suddenly found myself wondering about avalanches, and had to stop myself from spinning into a wild fantasy of being buried under a thousand tons of snow. What if my body wasn’t found for a couple of years? What if this anorak 15 страница was desperately unfashionable by the time they hauled me out? I blinked five times, trying to steady my breath, my vision, my panic. It was too cold for avalanches. For avalanches, you need a lot of snow, then a lot of sun. We had neither. Get a grip. I squinted through the scope, and saw that Dirk was on his feet again. On his feet, and looking at me.
Or at least, he was looking towards me, peering down into the trees while he scraped snow out of his goggles.
He couldn’t have seen me. It wasn’t possible. I 15 страница had buried myself behind a drift, digging out the narrowest possible channel in which to rest the rifle, and whatever shape he was trying to make out would have been disguised by the irregular jumble of trees. He couldn’t have seen me. So what was he looking at?
I gently eased my head down below the level of the drift and twisted round, checking for some solitary langlaufer, or an errant chamois, or the chorus-line of No, No Nanette - anything that might have caught Dirk’s eye. I held my breath and turned my head slowly from 15 страница left to right, sweeping the hill for sounds.
I inched back up to the top of the drift, and squinted through the scope again. Left, right, up, down.
I bobbed my head up, the way they tell you never to do, and desperately searched the stinging, blurring whiteness for some glimpse of him. My mouth suddenly seemed to taste of blood, and my heart was hammering on the inside of my chest, frantic to get out.
There. Three hundred yards. Moving faster. He was having a go at a schuss, on a flatter 15 страница part of the slope, and it had carried him over to the far side of the piste. I blinked again, settled my right eye to the scope, and closed my left.
At two hundred yards, I drew in a long, steady breath, pinched it off when my lungs reached three-quarters full, and held it.
Dirk was traversing now. Traversing the slope, and my line of fire. I held him easily in the sight - could have fired at any time - but I knew that this just had to be the surest shot of my life. I nestled my finger on the trigger 15 страница, taking up the slack of the mechanism, the slack of the flesh between my second and third joint, and waited.
He stopped at about a hundred and fifty yards. Looked up at the mountain. Down the mountain. Then turned his body towards me. He was sweating heavily, gasping with the effort, with the fear, with the knowledge. I settled the cross-hairs on the exact centre of his chest. As I’d promised Francisco. As I’d promised everyone.
Squeeze it. Never pull. Squeeze it as slowly and as lovingly as you know how.
Nineteen Good 15 страница evening. This is the nine o’clock news from the BBC. PETER SISSONS
We didn’t leave Mürren for another thirty-six hours. That was my idea.
I told Francisco that the first thing they’d do would be to check the train departures. Anybody who left, or tried to leave, within twelve hours of the shooting, would be in for a hell of a time, guilty or innocent.
Francisco had chewed his lip for a while, before gently smiling his agreement. I think that staying in the village struck him as the cooler, more daring option, and coolness 15 страница and daring were qualities that Francisco definitely hoped to see one day, attached to his name in a Newsweek profile. A moody picture, with the caption: ‘Francisco: cool and daring’. Something like that.
The real reason I wanted to stay in Mürren was so that I could get a chance to speak to Solomon, but I thought it probably best not to tell Francisco that.
So we hung about, separately, and gawped along with everyone else as the helicopters arrived. First police, then Red Cross, then, inevitably, the television crews. Word of the shooting was round the village in fifteen 15 страница minutes, but most of the tourists seemed to be too stunned to talk to each other about it. They wandered here and there, watching, frowning, keeping their children close.
The Swiss sat in bars and murmured to each other; either they were upset, or they were worried about the effect on business. It was hard to tell. They needn’t have worried, of course. By nightfall, the bars and restaurants were fuller than I’d ever seen them. Nobody wanted to miss out on an opinion, on a rumour, on any shred of interpretation they could hang on 15 страница this ghastly, terrible event.
First of all, they blamed the Iraqis, which seems to be standard procedure nowadays. The theory lasted for an hour or so, until wise heads began to suggest that Iraqis couldn’t have done it, couldn’t even have got into the village without people noticing. Accent, skin-colour, kneeling down and facing Mecca. These were things that just didn’t get past the nose of your average canny Swiss without attracting attention.
Next came an out-of-control pentathlete; exhausted after twenty miles of cross-country skiing, our man stumbles and falls, causing his .22 target 15 страница rifle to discharge, killing Herr Van Der Hoewe in an accident of astronomical unlikelihood. Weird though this theory was, it attracted a considerable amount of support; mainly because it involved no malice, and malice was something that the Swiss simply did not want to countenance in their snow-capped paradise.
For a while, the two rumours lay down with each other, giving birth, after a time, to a truly bizarre hybrid: it was an Iraqi pentathlete, said the not-at-all-wise heads. Maddened with envy at the success of the Scandinavians in the last winter Olympics 15 страница, an Iraqi pentathlete (someone knew someone who had heard the name Mustapha mentioned) had run amok; in fact, was probably still out there somewhere, stalking the mountain in search of tall, blond skiers.
And then there was a lull. The bars began to empty, the cafes closed down for the night, and the waiters found themselves exchanging mystified looks as they cleared away plate after plate of uneaten food.
It took me a while to realise what was happening too.
The tourists, finding nothing very satisfactory in most of the explanations being trafficked about the town, had retreated to their hotel 15 страница rooms to kneel, in ones and twos, before the all-powerful, all-seeing CNN, whose Man On The Spot, Tom Hamilton, was, even now, giving the world the benefit of ‘the very latest reports, just in’.
Gathered around the television in the bar of Züm Wilden Hirsch, Latifa and I, wearing a dozen slightly drunk Germans about our shoulders, heard Tom expound the idea that ‘the killing was possibly the work of activists’ - for which, I would guess, Tom gets paid around $200,000 a year. I wanted to ask him how he had managed so ruthlessly to 15 страница exclude the possibility that it was the work of passivists; in fact, I could easily have done so, since Tom was plying his trade, in a pool of flaring tungsten light, not two hundred yards from where we were trying to stand up. Only twenty minutes before, I had stood and watched while a CNN technician buttoned a radio microphone into Tom’s tie, and Tom had waved him away and said he’d do it himself, because he didn’t want anyone spoiling the knot.
The statement was due to have been released at ten o’clock, local time. If Cyrus 15 страница had done his job, and the statement had reached them as planned, then CNN were taking their time verifying it. More likely, if the rest of the staff were anything like Tom, they were taking their time reading it. Francisco had insisted on using the word ‘hegemony’, and that had probably knocked them back a bit.
It finally came on the air at twenty-five past eleven, delivered slowly and clearly, and with a hefty sub-text of ‘God these guys make me sick’ by the CNN anchorman, Doug Rose.
The Sword Of Justice.
Mum, come quick. That 15 страница’s us. The man’s talking about us. I think, if I’d wanted to, I could probably have slept with Latifa that night.
The rest of the CNN coverage consisted of a lot of library footage concerning terrorism through the ages, stretching the viewer’s memory all the way back to the beginning of last week, when a group of Basque separatists had bombed a government building in Barcelona. A man with a beard came on and tried to flog copies of a book he’d written about fanaticism, and then we were back to CNN 15 страница’s main agenda: telling people who are watching CNN that what they really ought to be doing is watching CNN. Preferably in a different fine hotel to the one they’re in.
I lay on my bed at The Eiger, alone, feeding whisky and nicotine into myself with alternate hands, and started to wonder what would happen to you if you were ever actually in the fine hotel they were advertising, at the time they advertised it. Would it mean that you had died? Or gone to a parallel universe? Or that time had started to go backwards?
I was getting drunk 15 страница, you see, which was why I didn’t hear the knock at first. Or if I did hear it at first, I just convinced myself that I didn’t, and that the knocking had been going on for ten minutes, possibly ten hours, while my brain yanked itself from its CNN torpor. I hauled myself off the bed.
‘Who is it?’ Silence.
I had no weapon, nor any particular desire to use one, so I opened the door wide and stuck my head out. What will be will be.
A very short man stood in the corridor 15 страница. Short enough to really hate someone of my height.
I had a moment of complete blankness. The kind of blankness that often descends on agents working under cover - when the plates come spinning off the poles and they lose track of who they’re supposed to be, who they really are, which hand they hold a pen with, or how door handles work. Drinking whisky, I’ve found, tends to increase the frequency of these episodes.
I was aware of him staring at me, so I pretended to cough while I struggled to get a hold of 15 страница myself. Balfour, yes or no. Balfour was a name I was using, but with whom? I was Lang to Solomon, Ricky to Francisco, Durrell to most of the Americans, and Balfour . . . that’s it. I was Balfour to the hotel; and therefore, if they so chose, and I had no doubt that they had so chosen, I was Balfour to the police, too.
‘You will come with me.’
He turned on his heel and marched off down the corridor. I grabbed my jacket and room key and followed him, because Herr Balfour was a good citizen, who abided 15 страница by every law he could find and expected others to do the same. As we walked to the lift, I looked down at his feet and saw that he was wearing platform shoes. He really was enormously short.
It was snowing outside (which, I grant you, is where it usually snows, but remember that I was only just starting to sober up) and huge discs of white were fluttering to the ground, like the debris from some celestial pillow-fight, covering everything, softening everything, making everything matter less.
We walked for about ten minutes, him taking seven paces to my 15 страница one, until we reached a small building out on the edge of the village. It was a wooden, single-storey affair, and it might have been very old, or it might not. It had loose-fitting shutters over the windows, and the marks in the snow said that a lot of people had been paying calls recently. Or perhaps it was one person, who kept forgetting something.
It was a strange experience, walking into that house, and I think it would have been just as strange if I’d been sober. I felt like I should have brought something 15 страница; gold or frankincense, at the very least. I didn’t feel so bad about the myrrh, because I’ve never been quite certain what it is.
The Very Short Man stopped at a side door, glanced over his shoulder at me, then knocked once. After what seemed like a while, a bolt was shot somewhere, then another, and another, and another, and at last the door swung open. A grey-haired woman peered at the Very Short Man for a moment, at me for three moments, nodded, and stood aside to let us through.
Dirk Van Der Hoewe 15 страница sat on the only chair in the room, polishing his glasses. He wore a heavy overcoat, with a scarf tucked in at the neck, and his fat feet bulged out of the side of his shoes. They were expensive shoes, black Oxfords with leather laces. I only noticed this because he seemed to be studying them so closely himself.
‘Minister, this is Thomas Lang,’ said Solomon, stepping out of the shadows, looking more at me than at Dirk.
Dirk took his time polishing his glasses, then stared at the floor while he slid them delicately on to 15 страница his nose. At last, he lifted his head and looked at me. Not a friendly look. He was breathing through his mouth, like a child trying hard not to taste the broccoli.
‘How do you do?’ I said, holding out my hand.
Dirk looked at Solomon, as if no one had warned him that he might have to touch me as well, and then grudgingly offered me a limp wet thing with fingers on it.
We stared at each other for a while. ‘May I go now?’ he said.
Solomon paused for a moment, sadly, as if he’d been hoping 15 страница that the three of us might stick around for a while and play some whist.
‘Of course, sir,’ he said.
It wasn’t until Dirk stood up that I saw that although he was fat - oh by golly yes, he was definitely fat - he was still nothing like the size he’d been when he arrived in Mürren. That’s the thing about Life-Tec body armour, you see. It’s wonderful stuff, and does everything you hope it will do in the line of keeping you alive. But it’s not flattering. To the figure, I 15 страница mean. Worn with skiing clothes, it can make a slightly fat man look very fat, while a man like Dirk ends up as a barrage balloon.
I couldn’t begin to guess what sort of a deal they’d struck with him. Or with the Dutch government, come to that. Certainly no one was going to put themselves out telling me. Maybe he’d been coming up for his sabbatical, or his retirement, or his sacking - or maybe they’d caught him in bed with a dozen ten-year-old girls. Or perhaps they’d just given him a lot of 15 страница money. I understand that sometimes works with people.
However they did it, Dirk was going to have to lie pretty low for the next couple of months, for his sake as well as mine. If he popped up at an international conference next week, pronouncing on the need for a flexible exchange-rate mechanism amongst the north European states, it was going to look distinctly odd, and cause questions to be asked. Even CNN might have followed that one up.
Dirk didn’t make his apologies, and left. The grey-haired woman squeezed him out through the door, and 15 страница he and the Very Short Man disappeared into the night together.
‘How are you feeling, sir?’
It was me on the chair now, and Solomon was pacing slowly round me after our de-briefing, measuring my morale, my fibre, my drunkenness. He had one finger held to his lips, and pretended not to be watching me.
‘I’m fine, thank you, David. How are you?’
‘Relieved, master. I would say. Yes. Definitely relieved.’ There was a pause. He was doing a lot more thinking than talking. ‘By the way,’ he said at last, ‘I am to congratulate you 15 страница on a very fine shot, sir. My American colleagues want you to know.’
Solomon smiled at me, in a slightly sickly way, as if he’d now reached the bottom of the Nice Things To Say Box and was about to have to open the other one.
‘Well, I’m delighted to have given satisfaction,’ I said. ‘What now?’
I lit a cigarette and tried to blow rings, but Solomon’s pacing was spoiling the playing surface. I watched the smoke drift away, streaky and misshapen, and eventually realised that Solomon hadn’t answered me.
‘Well yes 15 страница, master,’ he said, after a pause. ‘What now? That’s certainly an intelligent, pertinent question, and one that deserves the fullest kind of answer.’
Something was definitely wrong. Solomon didn’t normally talk like this. I talk like this, when I’m drunk, but Solomon never does.
‘Well?’ I said. ‘Do we wrap it up? Job done, bad guys caught with their hands in the till, scones and knighthoods all round?’
He stopped, somewhere behind my right shoulder.
‘The truth, master, is that things get a little awkward from now on.’
I turned to look at him. And tried to 15 страница smile. He didn’t smile back.
‘So what would be the adjective to describe the way things have been up to now, do you think? I mean, if trying to hit someone in the middle of a flak jacket isn’t awkward . . .’
But he wasn’t listening to me. That wasn’t like him either. ‘They want you to go on,’ he said.
Well, of course they did. I knew that. Catching terrorists was not the object of this exercise and never had been. They wanted me to go on, they wanted it all to go on 15 страница, until the setting was right for the big demonstration. CNN right there on the spot, cameras rolling - not arriving four hours after the event.
‘Master,’ said Solomon, after a while, ‘I have to ask you a question, and I need you to answer me honestly.’
I didn’t like the sound of this. This was all horribly wrong. This was red wine with fish. This was a man wearing a dinner jacket and brown shoes. This was as wrong as things get.
‘Fire away,’ I said.
He really did look worried.
‘Will you answer me honestly? I need to 15 страница know before I ask the question.’
‘David, I can’t tell you that.’ I laughed, hoping he’d drop his shoulders, relax, stop frightening me. ‘If you ask me to tell you whether or not you’ve got bad breath, I will answer you honestly. If you ask me . . . I don’t know, practically anything else, then yes, I will probably lie.’
This didn’t seem to satisfy him much. There was no reason why it should have done, of course, but what else could I say? He cleared his throat, slowly and deliberately, as if he might not get the chance 15 страница to do it again for some time.
‘What precisely is your relationship with Sarah Woolf?’
I was really thrown now. Couldn’t make head or tail of this. So I watched while Solomon walked slowly backwards and forwards, pursing his lips and frowning at the floor, like someone trying to broach the subject of masturbation with his teenage son. Not that I’ve ever been present at such a session, but I imagine that it involves a lot of blushing and fidgeting, and the discovery of microscopic specks of dust on sleeves of jackets that suddenly require 15 страница a huge amount of attention.
‘Why are you asking me, David?’
‘Please, master. just. . .’This was not Solomon’s best day, I could tell. He took a deep breath. ‘Just answer. Please.’
I watched him for a while, feeling angry with him and sorry for him in just about equal parts.
"‘For old times’ sake," were you about to say?’
‘For the sake of anything,’ he said, ‘that will make you answer the question, master. Old times, new times, just tell me.’
I lit another cigarette and looked at my hands, trying, as I’d tried many times 15 страница before, to answer the question for myself, before I answered it for him.
Sarah Woolf. Grey eyes, with a streak of green. Nice tendons. Yes, I remember her.
What did I really feel? Love? Well, I couldn’t answer that, could I? Just not familiar enough with the condition to be able to pin it on myself like that. Love is a word. A sound. Its association with a particular feeling is arbitrary, unmeasurable, and ultimately meaningless. No, I’ll have to come back to that one, if you don’t mind.
What about pity? I pity Sarah Woolf 15 страница because . . . because what? She lost her brother, then her father, and now she’s locked in the dark tower while Childe Roland fumbles about with a collapsible step-ladder. I could pity her for that, I suppose; for the fact that she gets me as a rescuer.
Friendship? For God’s sake, I hardly know the woman. Well what was it, then?
‘I’m in love with her,’ I heard someone say, and then realised it was me.
Solomon closed his eyes for a second, as if that was the wrong answer, again - then moved slowly, reluctantly, to a table 15 страница by the wall, where he picked up a small plastic box. He weighed it in his hand for a moment, as if contemplating whether to give it to me or hurl it out of the door into the snow; and then he started rummaging in his pocket. Whatever he was looking for was in the last pocket he tried, and I was just thinking how nice it was to see this happening to someone else for a change, when he produced a pencil torch. He gave me the torch and the box, then turned his back and drifted away, leaving 15 страница me to get on with it.
Well, I opened the box. Of course I did. That’s what you do with closed boxes that people give you. You open them. So I lifted the yellow plastic lid, actually and metaphorically, and straight away my heart sank a little lower still.
The box contained slide photographs, and I knew, absolutely knew, that I wasn’t going to like whatever was in them.
I plucked out the first one, and held it up in front of the torch.
Sarah Woolf. No mistake there.
A sunny day, a black dress, getting 15 страница out of a London taxi.
Good. Fair enough. Nothing wrong with that. She was smiling - a big, happy smile - but that’s allowed. That’s okay. I didn’t expect her to be sobbing into her pillow twenty-four hours a day. So. Next.
Paying the driver. Again, nothing wrong with that. You ride in a cab, you have to pay the driver. This is life. The photograph was taken with a long lens, at least a 135, probably more. And the closeness of the sequence meant a motor-drive. Why would anyone bother to take . . .
Moving away from 15 страница the cab towards the kerb, now. Laughing. The cab driver’s watching her bottom, which I would do if I was a cab driver. She’d watched the back of his neck, he was watching her bottom. A fair exchange. Well not quite fair, perhaps, but no one ever said it was a perfect world.
I glanced up at Solomon’s back. His head was bowed. And the next one, please.
A man’s arm. Arm and shoulder, in fact, in a dark-grey suit. Reaching out for her waist, while she tilts her head back, ready for a kiss 15 страница. The smile is bigger still. Again, who’s worrying? We’re not puritans. A woman can go out for lunch with somebody, can be polite, pleased to see him - doesn’t mean we have to call the police, for fuck’s sake.
Arms round each other now. Her head is camera-side, so his face is obscured, but they’re definitely hugging. A proper, full-on hug. So he’s probably not her bank manager. So what?
This one’s almost the same, but they’ve started to turn. His head lifting away from her neck.
They’re coming 15 страница towards us now, arms still round each other. Can’t see his face, because a passer-by is passing-by, close to the camera, blurred. But her face. Her face is what? Heaven? Bliss? Joy? Rapture? Or just politeness. Next and final slide.
Oh, hello, I thought to myself. This is the one. ‘Oh, hello,’ I said aloud. ‘This is the one.’ Solomon didn’t turn.
A man and a woman are coming towards us, and I know them both. I’ve just owned up to being in love with the woman, although I’m not really sure if that 15 страница’s true, and I’m getting less sure by the second, while the man . . . yeah, right.
He’s tall. He’s good-looking, in a weathered kind of a way. He’s dressed in an expensive suit. And he’s smiling too. They’re both smiling. Smiling on a big scale. Smiling so hard, it looks like the tops of their heads are about to fall off.
Of course I’d like to know what the fuck the two of them are so happy about. If it’s a joke, I’d like to hear it - judge 15 страница for myself whether it’s worth rupturing your pancreas over, whether it’s the kind of joke that would make you want to take hold of the person next to you and squeeze them like that. Or squeeze them at all.
Obviously, I don’t know the joke, I’m just sure that it wouldn’t make me laugh. Incredibly sure.
The man in the photograph, with his arm round my mistress of the dark tower, making her laugh - filling her with laughter, filling her with pleasure, filling her with bits of himself, for all I know - is Russell P Barnes.
We 15 страница’re going to take a break there. Join us after I’ve thrown the box of slides across the room.
Life is made up of sobs,
sniffles, and smiles,
with sniffles predominating.
I told Solomon everything. I had to.
Because, you see, he is a clever man, one of the cleverest I’ve ever known, and it would have been silly to try and stagger on without making use of his intellect. Until I saw these photographs, I’d been pretty much on my own, ploughing a lonely furrow, but now was the time to 15 страница admit that the plough had wobbled off at right angles and run into the side of the barn.
It was four o’clock in the morning by the time I finished, and long before then Solomon had broken open his knapsack and pulled out the kind of things that the Solomons of this world never seem to be without. We had a thermos of tea, with two plastic cups; an orange each, and a knife to peel them with; and a half-pound of Cadbury’s milk chocolate.