She knew him at once. As soon as he stepped through the swinging glass doors.
A crowded bar serving tapas and half price martinis, noisy with screeching Europop music.
He was as wiry, dark and sorrowful looking as in his picture.
The one she’d been shown in London, at Vauxhall Cross.
Of course, he was wearing an SAS uniform in the picture. And a beret. And was a few years younger.
He was now dressed a light black wool suit and a yellow pullover. Light brown leather shoes, probably made in Spain.
She chewed the olive from her martini as he approached.
Looked, as much as it was possible for her to look, bored.
-Hello, he said. May I sit?
He pulled out a chair and sat. They were in a corner, far from the front windows.
Even the floorboards seemed to vibrate with the bass line of the pop music. But it was possible to talk almost normally. One wouldn’t be heard beyond a few steps off.
-You like places like this? he asked.
-Sometimes, she said.
-You have a winning smile, he said.
-Yes, she said. Better than losing, isn’t it?
This was the code. He seemed to relax all at once, deeply.
His gray eyes looked at her. What did he see?
An ice-blue eyed natural honey-blonde, with starkly pale skin, a thrilling beauty spot low on her left cheek just under the ear, sheathed in a clinging black knit dress. Bare armed. Bare shouldered. No wedding ring. Flush of blood high on the cheeks. Beautiful, full smiling-scowling lips. About twenty-six years old.
-That’s a beautiful suit, she said.
-And the shirt?
-Yes, I like it also.
-You like many things.
-So it seems. Do you mind?
The waiter came over carrying a dish of almonds. He set it down on the table and turned to the man. He ordered a martini. She said she’d have another. The waiter bowed and went away.
He picked up a salted almond from the dish. His fingers were long and slender. He chewed it, cracking it between his back teeth. He wiped his fingers on his napkin after unfolding it and putting the silverware to one side. She sat back smiling at him.
-Is this your first outing?
His tone was pleasant. The skin around his eyes creased slightly.
-Good. Don’t be.
Why should she be anxious? She’d already auditioned. She’d got the part.
She was going to be Mrs. David Blair.
He was going to be Mr.
-You brought the rings?
-They’ve put you through all the paces? Back story and all that? Anecdotes and so on securely in place?
-Then it seems we’re on for this evening. Ten o’clock. The roof terrace of the Hotel ____.
The waiter brought their two martinis on his cork-lined tray. He sat them down carefully. The glasses were misted from condensation. She took a sip. It was so cold it had no taste. The waiter scooped up and took away her empty glass.
-I’m going to call you Anne from the get go, if you don’t mind.
-Though Elizabeth suits you much better.
-I think so.
-I go by Alwyn sometimes, too.
-Ah. Yes. Alwyn — I recall a bloke named that. Renowned.
-I saw him sometimes at HQ. In passing. He always recognized me. Knew my name. Had a friendly way about him. Always a greeting, always an anecdote to amuse us. He is missed in the Service, you know?
-Yes. I know.
She is suddenly somber in her tone and even more starkly pale. The paleness causing her black beauty spot stand out even more thrillingly.
-Well, here’s to the grand old man, “David Blair” says.
They raise their glasses. Touch the rims. Clink.
-May he forever enjoy the splendor of that Paradise reserved for men who do their duty with ruthless passion.
They drink. Deeply.
-As for yourself, David says.
She looks up. Alert. Eyes calm and ice-gray-blue.
-I’ve seen some of your scores. In the confidential file. It’s impressive. Pistol, rifle, knife tactics, close combat. All ultra-high. You graduated at or near the top of all your classes at the Fort. And on top of that, rumor has it you’ve mastered the semi-mythical hoda kur0su school of martial arts. “Naked Kill.” Signed and certified by a real Japanese sensei. So, as it happens, it seems you’re the only woman right now in line for the fabled double O status. You’ll get it, I’m certain. And, I predict, you’ll definitely find it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
She picks the olive out of her martini, glistening, and puts it in her mouth and chews it, looking directly into the man’s eyes.
Suddenly, she shudders.
He doesn’t see it. Or does he?
Just a twitch of the bare shoulders.
She swallows the olive. Then, smiling as if to herself, at some private joke or amusing memory, she picks up the cold martini by its fragile glass stem and drinks. It’s an even bigger gulp than before.
“David Blair” smiles at her. It seems he enjoys looking at a saucy woman who enjoys her martini. In his quiet and solid way he approves. She’s not just a killer, or a Service colleague. She’s a woman.
-But this isn’t a rough stuff mission. This is just a hand off. The target is getting a briefcase. In it is a homing device. C’est tout. Your role is to play your appointed part — the alluring and vivacious young wife of the up and coming London drug lord — observe, and get into the action only if and when something goes funny. I know you’ve got it, I know. I only repeat the boring details because I’ve been instructed to do so via Control by the suits in Whitehall. All right?
-Say it then. For the benefit of the suits in Whitehall.
-Yes. All right. I mean, yes I fully understand.
-Good. Get the rings out now, and by the power vested temporarily in me by Her Majesty’s Secret Service, though without the proper pomp and circumstance, I’ll declare us man and wife. For the night only, of course.