The Night Before

Dreyfus opened the door and turned on the light.  There were shoes under the side table.  Shoes?  And no umbrellas.  He dropped his in the stand.  And coats hanging in the hall.  And a suitcase?  One and one and one sometimes equal two.  Emily had come to London, and she’d brought a friend.  Who was apparently planning to stay?  Dreyfus shook the rain off his coat and hung it on an open hook.  He turned into the loft that was dark except for the task light over the sink.  He flipped the hall light off and waited until his eyes adjusted.  It was less than a minute before the light from the city silhouetted two women sitting on the terrace.  Curiouser and curiouser!  He walked across the room.  He didn’t know whether they’d seen the hall light or not and he didn’t want to startle them, so he made clumsy noises opening the door.  Both women, who were sitting at the table, facing the river, turned.

“Ms. Miller …” Dreyfus said, stepping outside.  He saw the teapot and swallowed the rest of the remark.  Then he sat down at arm’s length from the table so he could see them both.

“A night like tonight, you two should be sitting by the fire.”

“No, the river’s fine,” Emily said without looking at him.

There was quiet — not silence. The rain played on the water below them like low oboe murmurs.  Across the river, the city hummed and moved, slow motion lights wet with whispers. Somewhere a drifting siren, somewhere the faraway rhythm of steel on steel tracks for trains — and there and again long orphan sounds with no names, swallowed by the drizzling city lights and the night and the darkness.  It was wordless melancholy, and Dreyfus could feel it surrounding the two women.

“I should – uh – I – uh – I should go.” Janet just couldn’t anymore and fussed with her teacup.    

Emily put her hand up and shook her head.  She turned and looked at Dreyfus and sat up in her chair.

“We’ve had some bad news, today.  Terrible news.  Do you remember Monica?”

Dreyfus didn’t, but it was important, so he nodded and made a sound like agreement.

“They were here a couple of years ago.  We went for drinks and the next day we went shopping — remember?  And you met us for tea at Harrods.”

Dreyfus remembered now.  He could count on one finger the number of times he’d had tea at Harrods.  He rushed to fill in the pieces.  Attractive woman, boarding school hair, clothes off the rack and – uh – John? – no – James?  James.  And a daughter – pretty thing, knees and elbows, twelve going on twenty-five.  Practically curtsied when he held her coat for her.

“She lost her daughter.”

Janet twisted her neck and looked away, and Dreyfus could see the glisten in Emily’s eyes.  This was bad.

“The police found her in the back of a car with a needle in her arm.”

Janet moved abruptly.  Her chair pushed the table and the cups rattled on their saucers.

“I can’t do this.” Her voice was wet, “I can’t.  I have to go.   I – ah — God I can’t, really, I …”

Even in the darkness, Dreyfus could see her look was cornered, frightened, fleeing.  This wasn’t Janet Miller – not the one he knew.  It worried him.

“No, you’re not going anywhere in this.  There’s a bed upstairs.  Go up and lie down.  You’ve had a horrible shock.  We need to leave this for tonight, and you need to try get some sleep.  The bed’s there.  Go.”

Janet looked at Emily.  Emily moved her head, stood up, and offered her hand.  “Come, I’ll show you.”  Janet stood up and obediently followed her to the door.

“The stairs.  Straight up.”  And hugged her friend.  For a time, the rain fell into the river.  And sometime later, Emily came back out onto the terrace.

“I’ll take that drink, now.”

Dreyfus went in, poured two glasses and came back outside.  He handed one to Emily and sat down in Janet’s chair.  They both took a serious mouthful.  It was warm in the wet night.

“She’s very shaken.  How about you?”

“Jans was JJ’s godmother.  I am too, but it wasn’t the same.  Monica just included me because the three of us were at school.  For Jans, it was special.  She even went to see her last November . . .  yeah, left the country.  And they were talking about having her come up to Pyaridge for part of her summer holiday.”

There was more quiet.

“She wasn’t an addict, Dreyfus.”

Dreyfus didn’t answer.  One hit, two hits, twenty – it didn’t matter – the white powder didn’t care.  This JJ wasn’t the first teenager to experiment with evil and find it unforgiving.

The rain and the river continued, finding each other in the night and travelling together to the faraway sea.

“I don’t ask you for much.”

“You don’t ask me for anything.”

“I’m asking you for this.”

“Alright,” Dreyfus agreed.

“Come with us to Florence and find the men who did this to that poor little girl.   And make sure that they never do it to anyone else.”

Dreyfus looked out into the rain.  He sipped his whisky and turned to look at Emily.  She looked back at him.

“You need to be sure.  I’m not a policeman.”

Emily didn’t move her eyes.  “I don’t want a policeman.  They don’t deserve a policeman.  She was sixteen.”

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