‘That’s one suspicious cop,’ said Noah.
‘He’s suspicious of
? What did
They pulled away from the curb and headed south, back towards Los Angeles. Silja said, ‘It was on the news, on the TV, what happened. It was dreadful. I can’t understand why those men should have wanted to kill you.’
Noah turned around. They were out of San Luis Obispo now, heading south towards Pismo Beach, but he wanted to make sure that nobody was following them.
‘They wanted the medallion,’ he said. ‘In fact, they took it from me.’
‘The medallion? You mean your medallion from Gibraltar? Why did they want that?’
‘I don’t know. But they seemed to think that I knew. That was why they cut Jenna’s throat and that was why they were going to do the same to me.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Me neither. But I’m going to find out, even if it kills me.’
Silja glanced at him. ‘Don’t say that. It’s terrible enough that Jenna should be dead.’
‘That’s why I have to find out who they are, and why they wanted the medallion so badly.’
‘Don’t you think you should stay away from people like that? As far as possible?’
Noah patted his pockets for his cigarettes. ‘Maybe the medallion is like a clue to something, like sunken treasure. Maybe it’s some kind of religious talisman. Maybe they think they can use it to raise the devil, or identify the true Christ.’
‘Or maybe your imagination runs away with you like a mad person.’
‘Do you have a cigarette? Thanks. I don’t know, Silja, I can’t just sit on my hands and wait for the police to find out who killed Jenna. I’m grieving too much. I’m
I’m too fucking angry.’
‘Maybe Mo’s son has found out something about it. He was going to show that newspaper photograph to his college professor, yes? And that rubbing I made, with the candle.’
‘Yes – that’s a thought. Mind you, knowing Leon, he’s probably lost both of them.’
Noah tried calling Mo on his cellphone, but all he heard was his answerphone message: ‘
You have reached the poverty-wracked home of Moses Speller. If you are an ex-wife with a query about alimony, your call will be answered in strict rotation. If you are a representative of the IRS, or if you are trying to sell me a year’s supply of geriatric incontinence pads, please hang up now
‘Not picking up,’ Noah said. ‘He usually hits the sack early. I’ll call him tomorrow.’
They drove towards Los Angeles in silence. As they waited to turn left on to Sunset, Silja turned to Noah and took hold of his hand. ‘It doesn’t matter if you wish to cry,’ she said.
Noah wiped his tears with his fingers. ‘Goddamned bug in my eye, that’s all.’
Silja drove him back to his house, and parked outside, underneath the purple jacaranda tree.
‘Come in,’ he told her. ‘Have a drink. I don’t like to drink on my own.’
‘If I have a drink, I cannot drive.’
They went inside the house. It smelled of cedar wood and the Arabica coffee that he had filtered that morning, before he had driven to San Luis Obispo to see Jenna. He switched on two or three table lamps but he didn’t close the drapes. He wanted to see the glitter of Los Angeles spread out below. It was like a complicated puzzle, made out of millions of coloured lights.
‘Wine?’ he asked.
‘Yes, white, please. I wonder if you’re still on the TV news.’
‘If I am, I don’t want to see it.’
Silja sat down on one of the white leather couches and kicked off her wedge-heeled sandals. ‘Did you have the chance to show the medallion to Jenna? You don’t mind my asking this?’
Noah came in from the kitchen with two bowl-like glasses of Pinot Grigio, very cold. ‘Of course not, no. She said it was made out of silver and it probably came from ancient Babylon, because of the writing on it. It could have been over two and a half thousand years old.’
‘That’s amazing! And that’s also very strange, don’t you think? If it is so old, it must be very rare. Yet here was this young suicide bomber wearing one almost the same.’
Noah sat down next to her, lit two cigarettes and passed her one. ‘You know something, I was going to give up smoking after this pack. Too damned dangerous.’
‘These men are much more dangerous. If they wanted today to kill you, because of this thing you are supposed to know, who says they will not try again to kill you? I think you should stay someplace else for a while. Someplace where they can’t find you.’
‘What’s the point of that? I have script meetings all next week. Don’t tell me they won’t be able to follow me home from the studios, no matter where I go.’
‘Then cancel your meetings.’
‘I can’t afford to. Besides, I’m damned if I’m going to let them intimidate me. I’m staying here, no matter what.’
They stayed up until two thirty in the morning, talking and drinking. At first, Noah thought he was going to be too upset to sleep, but suddenly he was overtaken by a dark wave of exhaustion, both physical and emotional. He let his head drop back on to the sofa cushion.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Silja.
‘I’m totally bushed. I have to go to bed.’
‘OK. That’s OK. Some sleep will do you good. Do you want me to stay?’
‘It’s your choice. Do you have to make an early start tomorrow?’
‘I’m supposed to be meeting my sister. We were planning to go to Rodeo Drive and spend her husband’s money. But I can always make it another day.’
Noah stood up. ‘I’ll find you some clean towels.’
‘No – I can take care of myself. You just go to bed. You look terrible.’
‘Thanks for the compliment.’
She put her arms around him and held him close. ‘Get some rest. What happened to you today, you’re going to need all of your strength to get over it.’
‘Thanks, Silja. You don’t know how much I appreciate this.’
He went through to his bedroom, stripped off his polo shirt and tossed it on to the chair. Then he sat down on the end of his bed and unfastened his jeans. Like the rest of the house, the bedroom hadn’t changed since Jenna had redecorated it. The walls were a cool eau-de-Nil colour, and the cotton drapes over the head of the bed were cream with pale green lilies on them. On the walls hung splashy silk-screen prints of tulip fields by the Dutch artist Jan Cremer.
Noah crawled under the sheet and drew it over his head, to close out the world. It takes the average person seven minutes to fall asleep. It took Noah less than two.
Almost immediately, he began to dream. He was walking along a corridor with a stone-flagged floor. There were windows on either side, covered with pierced wooden screens. Through the screens he could see that it was hot and sunny outside, and that scores of people in black robes were silently gathered under large black sunshades.
‘Chaos,’ said a disembodied voice. ‘Chaos, and old Night.’
He began to feel uneasy. Something was wrong. He started to walk along the corridor more quickly, the soles of his shoes scuffing on the floor.
Jenna. Somebody was threatening Jenna . . .
He reached a door and tried the handle. It was locked.
. He rattled the handle hard but it still wouldn’t open.
He hurried to the next door. That, too, was locked.
Jenna where are you? Jenna!
He heard a click. The first door had swung open, all by itself. He stared at it, afraid to go back, afraid of what he might see. But he went, very slowly, as if the air in the corridor were as thick as warm glue.
He reached the open doorway and looked inside. The room was crowded with dozens of different chairs: some modern, some antique; some Oriental, some Western.
‘You see,’ said the disembodied voice, ‘all of these chairs are empty now. And why?’
He turned towards the window. Jenna was standing there, with her back to him, looking through the pierced screen. She was wearing a black robe like the people outside.
He started to move towards her, but as he did so she slowly turned around. At least her body turned around, but her head had been completely severed, and it tilted sideways and fell. He could see her face staring at him as it dropped to the floor. Her lips were moving as if she were trying to call out to him – trying to tell him something important.
Her head hit the floor with a spattering of bright red blood, and rolled underneath one of the chairs.
He felt long cool arms entwined around him, and he heard a woman saying, ‘Hush. Hush, Noah. It’s only a dream.’
He opened his eyes. His eyelashes were wet, as if he had been crying. He turned his head and saw that Silja was lying close beside him.
‘Hush,’ she said, stroking his forehead. ‘You were shouting in your sleep. I only came in to calm you down.’
He didn’t say anything, but allowed Silja to shush him and stroke him. She was naked apart from a tiny pair of white panties. She was so pale that her skin was almost luminous in the darkness. Her shoulders were wide and angular, but her breasts were small and rounded, with a visible tracery of blue veins, and nipples that were tinged with only the faintest of pinks.
‘You were dreaming of Jenna?’ she asked him, touching his eyelids with her fingertips.
He nodded. ‘I can’t understand why those men thought they had to kill us. Neither of us knew anything about their goddamned medallion.’
‘Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe you
know, but you just can’t see it. Maybe it has something to do with that suicide bomber. You should talk to the woman he tried to kill – what was her name? Why did they want her dead?’
‘Adeola Davis. She’s famous. She’s some kind of freelance peace ambassador – flies around the world trying to persuade the Palestinians not to blow up the Israelis and the Israelis not to shell the Syrians and the Syrians not to invade Iraq. And so on.’
‘You should try to get in touch with her. Maybe she knows what you know.’
‘OK, I’ll try, right after I’ve talked to Mo.’
Silja stayed in his bed for the rest of the night but he didn’t try to sleep any more. He was afraid to. He sat in his armchair by the window watching her. She stirred only occasionally, and once she whispered something in Finnish.
He thought she looked beautiful. Everything about her was striking and appealing. Her narrow hips, her long toes, the hollows above her collarbone. At another time, he thought, under different circumstances, they could have become lovers, if only for a few weeks. But he knew that he couldn’t have made love to Silja without seeing Jenna, and that poultry knife sliding across her throat, and that sudden rush of bright red blood.
ou had a lucky escape, then?’ asked Denis O’Connell, as he passed Adeola a cup of coffee.
‘It wasn’t luck. My bodyguard took the force of the blast, and he died.’
‘Grim business, this sectarian violence. As if we haven’t seen enough of it here. As my old father used to say – religion, I don’t believe in it.’
‘I’m not so sure this was religious. I don’t honestly know why that young man wanted to kill me. One of the inspectors from Al Ameen said he was half-Albanian and half-Greek, and that he had flown to Dubai from Athens. For the express purpose of assassinating me, it seems.’
‘Well, I suppose you never know with these Middle Eastern characters,’ said Denis O’Connell. ‘They have some very curious politics, I’d say. At least in Ireland we know where we stand. Whatever it is, we couldn’t care two monkeys about it.’
Adeola was meeting with Denis O’Connell on the last leg of her trip back to the United States. They were sitting in the gloomy, high-ceilinged lounge of the Parknasilla Hotel in County Kerry. Outside the window the sky was grey and overcast, and palm trees rustled in a strong, damp wind.
Denis O’Connell was a short, thickset man with curly black hair. His eyes were bulging and bright blue, and he had a bulbous nose that looked as if God had been left with a little too much nose-putty but blobbed it on regardless. He wore the tan pants from an expensive Italian summer suit, and a blue striped shirt by Charvet, the same French tailor who used to make shirts for the late Taoiseach Charlie Haughey. He was drinking a Beaune that retailed at 345 a bottle.
Adeola said, ‘What about Paraguay? You obviously care quite a few monkeys for what’s been going on there.’
‘I was in Ascensíon only the once, two years ago.’
‘And you said your devotions in the Cathedral Blas San de Dia.’
‘Yes, I did. And what a wonderful building that is. Very inspiring. I only wish my dear old mother had still been alive to see it.’
Adeola looked across the lounge. In the far corner, Rick and Nesta were sitting, with a tray of coffee between them, staring out of the window like a married couple who could no longer think of anything to say to each other. Adeola knew that close behind her, where the archway led through to the bar, Miko was stationed, and that Jimmy and Charles were keeping watch outside. This might be a highly respectable hotel on the south-west coast of Ireland, but her security arrangements here at Parknasilla had to be as tight as they were in Prague or Panama City.
Adeola said, ‘I wonder what your mother thought of the company you were keeping when you said your prayers that morning. Five Muslims. Strange place to meet with Muslims, the largest Roman Catholic cathedral in Paraguay . . .’
Denis O’Connell gave her a sly smile. ‘They were my hosts. They were doing nothing more than showing me the sights, so they were. And very gracious they were too.’
‘You wouldn’t have been discussing a possible trip to Paraguay by Michael Doody and Vincent O’Donovan to train the Jihadi in the making of explosive devices?’