A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
The late afternoon was wet and chilly and Emily, tucked into her bulk- knit sweater and fat hygge socks, was half asleep when the telephone rang. At first, she didn’t understand: no one had ever called the land line before. But then she recognized the sound and swung her legs off the sofa. She put her book down and slip stepped across the smooth hardwood floor to the kitchen wall. The mid ring stopped when she picked up the receiver.
“We need to talk. Tonight at eight.”
There was an electric hum.
And an audible click.
Emily looked at the telephone as if it was its fault.
“Shit!” she said, and placed the receiver back on the wall. She stood there for moment. This was the problem with Dreyfus Sinclair: you couldn’t ever plan anything. Her night of lamb kebab takeaway and naughty Greek wine by the fire had suddenly disappeared. She went to the counter and filled the kettle. (Never mind, my darling. Have a nice cup of tea.)
For a second she contemplated just going back to her own apartment, but it was rainy and grey and eventually Sinclair would come home, so …. But, the evening was ruined. She knew Sinclair well enough to know he wasn’t going to dump the voice on the phone to curl up on the sofa with her, no matter how attractive she made it. Oddly enough, that was one of the many things she loved about the guy. He came when he was called – every time, without fail. This was important to her, and she wasn’t about to abuse it for a one night stand of kebabs and wine. Besides, Emily appreciated the clear lines between the two of them. She had a life and she liked it, and she expected Sinclair to respect that, so it was only fair that she do the same. Still, it made the two of them together difficult at times. As the water heated, she went back to the sofa and picked up her phone. Normally, they didn’t trade texts but Emily wasn’t interested in Sinclair coming home, hanging around for an hour or two and leaving again. That was not enough time to do anything (certainly not what she had in mind) but too much time to do nothing. She tapped the message, sent it and went back to the kettle. She made tea, put the pot, a cup and a big bag of ginger snaps on a tray and took it back to the sofa. Her phone buzzed and she read, “thanks see you later.” She picked up her book, a twisting trail of dead Scandinavians. The interesting thing was Emily had been around Dreyfus Sinclair long enough that a cryptic telephone call in the late afternoon was not the least bit unusual.
Despite what spy novels and bad movies will tell you, lonely park benches and deserted warehouses are not the best places for secret meetings. Professionals prefer busy places. Actually, most clandestine business is conducted in plain sight under the floating cloak of a shifting crowd. Universities are good, or large office buildings but one of the best places for covert conversations is a hospital. It’s very close to the perfect cover. The assumption is anyone who is at a hospital is supposed to be there, and the people who are there are almost completely focused on themselves. That’s why no one noticed a very ordinary, somewhat rumpled Dreyfus Sinclair come through the main entrance at St. Thomas Hospital off Westminster Bridge. He looked like a college professor uncomfortable outside the classroom, and when he walked up to the information kiosk, the volunteers were eager to help. He asked for directions to the cafeteria, followed the pointed fingers to the elevator and left without anybody really seeing him. In the basement, he stood at the cafeteria entrance until he saw who he was looking for. Then he bought a coffee in a paper cup from the long serve-yourself line. He walked around several open spaces and sat down opposite an older man at an out of the way, round, made for four, table.
“You’re looking good, Simon,” he said, tearing open the paper sugar envelope.
“You finally got a girlfriend.”
Dreyfus smiled and stirred the sugar into his coffee. “You in London now?” he asked.
“No, I came down to see you.”
“Okay,” Dreyfus answered, content to let the old man play it out his way.
“I need your help.”
Dreyfus tilted his head and opened his palm in a helpless gesture.
“They arrested Marta.”
Dreyfus straightened in his chair. “When?”
“A week ago, in Paris.”
“She and Jenna went shopping, and she got caught at some shop with a bunch of makeup. Saffron or something. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Jenna ran and security called the cops.”
“Why was she stealing makeup?” It was an accusation.
“Hell, I don’t know. Old habits I guess.” Simon raised his shoulders in frustration, “But they took her in, ran her prints and …”
Dreyfus stared into the distance over the old man’s shoulder, trying to out-manoeuver the French justice system.
“That’s not it,” Simon said, reading Sinclair’s mind. “When they ran her prints, the boys back home got a hit — and they were in there like ugly on an ape. They’re squeezing the gendarmes to make a trade — her for me.”
“Don’t trust them,” Dreyfus said, reaching for his coffee.
“You’re singing to the choir. But the bait is if I don’t come in, they’re going to extradite her back to Egypt on the old Zamalek conviction.”
“She had nothing to do with any of that.”
“I know — but she was named, and if they send her back to Cairo, they’ll hang her.”
“Lawyer up. You can twist them into knots for years.”
“Not this time. They want me bad. It’s a closed hearing. And besides, even if I could get the legals to do something, how many years do Marta and I have left? She’s got enough paper on her to throw away the key.”
“The Hague, Human Rights?”
“That’s where I’m at now, but it’s only a stall. I need some time.”
Dreyfus took another sip of his coffee and thought about it.
“You’re going to break her out of prison? A French prison?”
“No, but I have a plan and I need your help.”