Chapter Six



Chapter Six

It's amazing how quickly one's impression of a place can change. Last week I was in love with London, its architecture and layout, its people, its aura. Now the buildings look old and crumbling. The people have grey, pinched faces. It feels like a city of the lost.

Three days have passed. No word from Andeanna. I still can't accustom myself to her new name. I should be working on forgetting both, wiping them from my memory. Deleena, Andeanna, what's the difference? She's poison no matter what she calls herself. A married woman who lied. Worse, a married gangster's woman. What if the Turk's henchman had seen us that night in the restaurant? What if he'd caught us kissing and run to tell his boss?

I'm furious that she sucked me in like that. I can protect myself when I have to. Mikis Menderes doesn't frighten me. But unaware of the risk, I would have been taken by surprise and left to the mercy of a man who had no cause to show me any.

She should have told me. If she'd been married to an ordinary guy, I might have been able to accept the lie. But my life was on the line and I never knew. She treated me with contempt and I don't want anything to do with a woman who plays games like that. I should blow this city, set the book elsewhere, turn my back on London without a farewell glance.

Except . . .

I feel her lips on mine every time I close my eyes. I haven't fallen in love often in my life, but whenever I have, I've fallen hard. If I could be logical about it, I'd take the view that I don't know Andeanna well enough to claim that I love her. But I know what I feel. She has me hooked. How can I leave her behind when my heart aches with every step I take without her?

Two more days pass. My ghosts are having a whale of a time. My misery has given them a new lease of life, so to speak. They circle me like sharks, darting at me when I least expect it, clawing at my face with their insubstantial fingers, mocking me, mutely urging me to end it all, to join them in their shady realm and take what I have coming for what I did in the past.

I tried immersing myself in the book, but I couldn't concentrate, and not just because of the hyperactive spirits. I'd be sitting over a pile of notes with Joe  -  he's been compassionately tight-lipped, never mentioning Deleena  -  and my mind would wander. I'd think how like a ghost she's become, gone from my life, never to return, irreclaimable, uncontactable. Except she isn't dead and she can be tracked down. I could take her in my arms again and . . .

I told Joe I needed a few days to myself. He said to ring when I felt like it and not to spare a thought for him in the meantime. I took to the countryside, chose a direction at random and drove west, into territory that was all virgin to me  -  I've rarely been outside London on any of my trips to the UK. It was difficult driving  -  the ghosts kept wrapping themselves in front of my eyes, obscuring my vision  -  but having to focus on the road helped take my mind off my troubles. I wound up in far-flung Devon, which I spent yesterday exploring, clambering over moors, pushing myself physically, ignoring my ghosts, trying to forget about Andeanna.

I tossed and turned in the back of my rented car the first night, the ghosts writhing around me, half in and half out of the car's structure. Then I booked into a cottage that has been converted into a B&B. I slept sweetly, exhausted after my hard day, and didn't dream of Andeanna. There was even a moment when I woke when she wasn't in my thoughts. Then the memories returned. I groaned, rolled over and started planning another day of harsh, demanding exercise.

That was when my phone rang. I wasn't going to answer, but nerves got the better of me and I lunged for it, only to discover it wasn't Andeanna. It was Jonathan Wood, my agent. He was in London and wanted to arrange some meetings with prospective publishers. Soul Vultures is being reprinted here, and a couple of editors have been in touch, wanting to know what I'm working on next. I asked to be excused from the negotiations, but Jonathan was adamant. He doesn't get over to England often (he's in town drumming up business for another of his clients) and he said it would be crazy to miss such a golden opportunity.

Returning to London was the last thing I wanted, but professional hunger got the better of me. I was loath to waste all those years of hard work, especially over a woman who would probably laugh with vixen delight if she found out how deeply she'd cut me. 'OK,' I sighed. 'Let's meet this evening and you can tell me more about it.'

So I'm back. Evening has come and gone. I met Jonathan in the bar of his hotel, and we passed a pleasant few hours discussing the re-release of Soul Vultures, and my new work, which I told him would be called Pillars of Fire or Spirit of the Fire. I promised to toss together a summary to present to the editors in the morning.

The ghosts have been sluggish since I got back. They feed on negative energy. When my mood improved  -  when work distracted me from my dark thoughts  -  they lost a lot of their power and had to settle back into their familiar holding pattern.

I rang Joe on my way back to the Royal Munster but got his voicemail. I left a message, then settled down to work. Joe calls an hour later when I'm in the middle of a wild oasis of notes. I growl into the mouthpiece, 'Get over here. I need you.'

'Is this about the book or . . . ?' he asks diplomatically.

'The book.'

'I'll be with you in a flash.'

I tell Joe about my morning meetings. He wants to come with me, but I say that isn't a good idea. I haven't told Jonathan about my partner and I'm not sure how he'll react. The longer we wait, the fewer objections he can make. I explain all this to Joe, but I can see he's disappointed. I'll make it up to him later, take him on tour with me, let him sit in on interviews, stuff like that.

We work until four in the morning, fine-tuning our mass of ideas, putting them in order, searching for a nice, neat way to sum up the plot. Finally I groan, push the pile of notes away and hold up the three-page plot outline, the fruit of all our endeavours, as if it was the Holy Grail.

'What about typing it up?' Joe asks.

'Screw that.' I stand and yawn. 'It'll do as it is.'

'Are you sure?'

'Yes.' Rubbing my eyelids, I ask Joe if he wants to sleep on the couch instead of making the long trek home.

'That's OK,' he says. 'I'll head back to the flat. I find it hard to sleep if I'm not in my own bed. But do you mind if I treat myself to a nightcap?'

'Help yourself,' I tell him, heading for the bedroom. 'But if you get arrested for drink-driving, don't blame me.'

In the morning I find that all the notes have been tidied away and nine sheets of A4 paper rest on top of my laptop  -  the word-processed plot outline and two copies. There's a note from Joe. Thought we should type it up all the same. Hope you don't mind. Let me know how you get on. Good luck!!!

The meetings go well. Both editors claim to be fans of my previous work, are intrigued by the plot of the new book and want to see more. I had American editors on my other books, but Jonathan thinks I should go with a Brit this time, seeing as how the story is set in London. He claps my back just before we part, tells me this could be the start of something big, then heads for the airport to catch a flight to France, leaving me behind to dream.

I spend the next week coming up with characters and exploring plot angles. I try not to think about Andeanna, but it's hard. I can forget her for brief spells but she's never far from my thoughts. All it takes is a moment of quiet reflection or a glimpse of an attractive woman and I'm off, recalling the lines of her face, the curves of her body, the sparkle of her eyes. I wish I wasn't this weak, this open, but it's an old flaw of mine.

Joe thinks I should call her. I told him the truth a few days ago, though I didn't mention that she was married to a gangster. At first he agreed that I'd done the right thing giving her the elbow, but now he's not sure. He says I'm tearing myself apart agonizing over her.

I think about phoning her, but I don't know how to start the conversation.

'Hi, Andeanna, how's the Turk?'

'Hi, Andeanna, or is it Deleena today?'

'Hello, Mrs Menderes, this is the man whose heart you broke.'

Forget it!

To distract myself, I concentrate on Spirit of the Fire (I've decided on the title), and jot down descriptive paragraphs of what the characters look like. I also start seriously mapping out the parts of London that I plan to use in the book. I wander the metropolis, notebook in hand, searching for creepy buildings and alleys. At first I explored by day, but I've switched to nights. My ghost should be a creature of the darkness, only able to brave the streets when the sun goes down. More atmospheric that way.

Because I'm out late and sleeping in, I skip the first two calls on Wednesday. I wake when the phone rings, but ignore it, and only answer shortly after midday when it rings for the third time.

'Where the hell have you been?' Jonathan roars.

'Sleeping,' I yawn.

'I've been ringing all morning,' he exaggerates.

'Sorry. I was dead to the world. Didn't hear.'

'You've got a great life,' he grumbles. Then adds brightly, 'Guess what I just sold?'

'Not Spirit of the Fire?' I snap, coming fully awake.

'Bet your skinny sleeping ass I have,' he laughs. 'Even on holiday, basking by a swimming pool in southern France, I push deals through for my ungrateful stable of would-be superstars.'

One of the editors phoned him yesterday with an offer. Jonathan batted terms back and forth, and this morning a deal was agreed subject to my approval, the first time a book of mine has been bought on the strength of a synopsis.

I tell Jonathan he's the world's best agent and promise to treat him to dinner in a restaurant of his choice the next time we meet. As soon as I'm off the phone, I punch the air with delight and grin stupidly. Then I call Joe to share the news. I get his voicemail, which frustrates me. I try leaving a message, but the words mix awkwardly on my tongue and I wind up mumbling something incoherent.

I stand in the middle of the room, mind whirling, then sit down, breathe deeply and wonder who else I could call  -  I have to share the news. Forgetting all of my anger and suspicion, I dial the number of the one person apart from Joe who might care. It rings on and on. I'm about to hang up when suddenly there's an answer. 'Hello?' Her voice, hesitant, maybe scared, as if she thinks I might be calling to curse her out.

My mouth goes dry. 'Delee -  I mean, Andeanna? It's me. Ed.'

There's a long silence. I feel my heart tightening. I think something in it will fade away for ever if she hangs up or cuts me dead with a withering wisecrack.

'Ed,' she finally murmurs, warm as sunlight. 'Hi.'

'Hi,' I reply softly.

And we take it from there.

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