68

Washington, DC, three months later

Maggie surveyed the crowd in the Dubliner bar, trying to work out who worked for whom, which group were Republicans and which were Democrats, who worked for the administration and who on the Hill. Within a minute she had given up. The men in their buttoned-down shirts, chinos and blue jackets, the women in their regulation Ann Taylor suits – they all looked the same. And not one of them would know a real Irish pub if they walked headlong into it.

She knocked back the dregs of whisky in her glass and contemplated ordering another. Uri had texted to say he was running late, so there was no point in watching the door. But still she kept glancing up, hoping to see him come in. She pictured him, his skin warm after a day in the June sunshine. He would be in a good mood: the distributors had just told him his documentary – The Life, Times and Curiously Short Presidency of Stephen Baker – had been picked for the Toronto Film Festival.

But still she could not help feeling a little on edge. Why had Uri suggested meeting here, rather than at the apartment? You only selected a neutral venue if you thought negotiations were going to be tense and complicated, she had learned that long ago. So what choppy waters did Uri want to negotiate?

She raised the glass to her lips again, even though she knew there was nothing left in it. It was true that the last few weeks had not been great. After those lunatic final days of March, they had decided to get away, to go on holiday together. They plumped for the volcanic, Aegean islands of Santorini.

Some absurd cloak-and-dagger arrangements had followed, ensuring that their destination remained secret. At the insistence of Zoe Galfano, the Secret Service agent tasked with what was officially called ‘after-care’, the US consul in the region had been notified and a ‘discreet’ security presence arranged. When Maggie had objected, protesting that Roger Waugh and his pals were now behind bars, Zoe had shaken her head and said plainly that former President Baker had been adamant: Maggie Costello had earned the protection of the US Government.

She would like to be able to blame the guards for what followed, but it was hardly their fault. They had indeed been discreet: close enough to deter anyone planning mischief, distant enough that no regular person would even spot that they were there. What happened was nothing to do with them.

It had started off well enough, Maggie relishing the chance to catch up on sleep, food and…Uri. They would wake up late, she waving Uri off as he went for a run on the black sand, and then they would eat an unhurried breakfast together. They would make slow, tentative love in the afternoon – slightly unsure of each other after their time apart – then walk and talk until sunset before eating late. She would look at Uri, still handsome enough to make other women turn their heads, whether he was splashing in the sea or dozing in the hammock, and marvel at her luck. After a few days of the quiet and peace, though, she had found herself itching to pick up the BlackBerry. At first Uri merely rolled his eyes.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Nothing.’

‘A special kind of nothing that requires a hand-held device.’

The New York Times is running a series on Williams’s first hundred days.’

‘And you want to read it. Even though you’re on vacation.’

‘It’s nothing to do with you, Uri, so why should it bother you?’

‘It doesn’t bother me. I just don’t know why you can’t lie on a beach and relax like a normal person.’

‘I don’t like being in the sun, that’s why. I’m Irish. I burn.’

‘But you’re in the shade.’

‘That’s so I won’t burn.’

Those clouds would pass eventually, but as the week wore on they came more often.

‘What about a swim?’ Uri might suggest.

‘I’ve already had one.’

‘But that was yesterday.’

‘I think you’ll find it was today.’

‘It was definitely yesterday.’

‘I’m amazed you can tell: one day is the same as the bloody next.’

‘We’ve only been here five days, Maggie! Why don’t you read?’

‘I don’t want to read. I don’t want to swim. I don’t want to jog and I don’t want to get sunburn. I want to do something.’

She smiled about it now, recalling that Liz had always said her definition of hell would be a two-week holiday alone with her sister. She had been impossible, no doubt about it. Irritable, scratchy and bored.

Since then, Uri had been working flat-out finishing the film. She had spent some time with him in New York, and he had come down to DC for a few last-minute interviews. And now it was completed, he had needed to be in Washington for a dinner with PBS executives to discuss transmission dates. He had suggested they meet for a drink straight afterwards.

She was about to go to the bathroom to sort out her hair, now grown back to its familiar colour and length, when she saw him walk in. Those eyes – at once those of a strong, brave man and a haunted boy – melted her the way they always had. He sat down next to her at the corner table she had been zealously keeping as her own since she had arrived nearly twenty minutes earlier. But when she tried to kiss him on the lips, he offered her his cheek. That alone gave her a small shiver of anxiety.

‘So, well done on Toronto!’

‘Thanks.’

‘This film is going to be massive, Uri, I’m sure of it.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Who knows, it might go down in history as the one successful achievement of the Baker presidency.’

‘Don’t forget “Action for Sudan”. The helicopters.’

‘That’s true.’

‘Your legacy, Maggie.’

She nodded, felt a fleeting stab of guilt at what she hadn’t told him, then ordered drinks. Another whisky for her, a beer for him.

He took a swig straight from the bottle, then said, ‘Maggie, we should talk.’

‘That sounds ominous.’

‘Hear me out.’

‘That sounds even worse.’

‘Just listen. Remember that night on the beach in Santorini, when we’d finally settled in and we went for a walk by the sea? There was a full moon.’

‘Of course I remember.’ She felt her throat turn dry.

‘I had a whole speech prepared that night. I was going to tell you that I couldn’t bear being apart – which I couldn’t – and that we’re meant to be together. I was going to say that life is so short and so precious, and in life we all have to choose. At some point we just have to choose.’

Maggie nodded but said nothing.

‘I’d made my choice. I was going to say, “I want you, Maggie. You’re the one I choose.”’

She reached for his hand, but he moved it away.

‘That’s what I was going to say. I had it all planned out.’

‘And what happened?’ Her own voice sounded distant to her. She sensed what was coming.

‘You know what happened. You were itching to get away from the moment we got there.’

‘I don’t think that’s fair.’

‘You’re always so restless, Maggie. You start a job at the White House – a good job – and then, before you know it, you’re jetting around the country, dodging killers in New Orleans and the north-west and-’

‘That was an insane, crazy week, Uri.’

‘It’s always insane and crazy with you, Maggie. Something always happens. When we met in Jerusalem you were fleeing for your life. And then suddenly, here, you were doing the same thing all over again.’

‘Come on, that’s just a coincidence. When-’

‘Is it though, Maggie? Really? Because I’m not sure I believe in coincidences any more.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘It means that it can’t just be fate or bad luck or coincidence that always leaves you dead-centre in the middle of a shit-storm.’

‘So what do you think it is, Professor Guttman?’

‘I think you like it.’

‘Have you been talking to my sister?’

‘I mean it, Maggie. I think on some level you enjoy it. You need it.’

‘Oh, for God’s sake-’

‘It keeps happening. You try to come back, settle into a normal life, have a job that would have you sitting at a desk and keeping regular hours and then something always goes wrong.’

‘I was fired, Uri!’

‘For calling the Defense Secretary an asshole! Who writes that on an email, unless they want to sabotage everything they’ve got? And it worked too. The next minute – boom – you’re off nearly getting killed.’

‘Someone was out to destroy the President! And in case you didn’t notice, Uri, they succeeded.’ Her voice was getting louder: people were staring.

‘I’m not saying it’s not a good cause, Maggie. I’m just asking why it always has to be you.’

‘A good cause? A good cause?’ Now her blood was rising. ‘Do you not know the first thing about me?’

‘I know what you once told me.’

‘And what was that, Dr Freud?’

Plenty of others would have risen to her sarcasm, but Uri kept his voice low and even. ‘You said that even though the place was a dump, and there were people dying all around you, and you went to sleep to the sound of sniper fire, you were never happier than when you were in Africa.’

‘That was bloody years ago. I was young.’

‘I saw it myself, Maggie. In Jerusalem. You were that close to death every day and you know what? You were loving it. You even said it. “I’ve never felt more alive.”’

It was true. Maggie remembered it. Quieter now, she said, ‘So what are you saying?’

‘I’m saying I want you, Maggie. But I also want a life. To live in one place. To have children.’

‘But I want that too!’ She was looking at him now, her eyes reddening. ‘I really do.’

‘Maggie, I’m not sure you know what you want. But I know you’ll always want something else more. To save the world – or at least not stay in one place long enough to get bored. It’s happened too many times.’

The urge to fight back was draining away. She couldn’t say anything to change his mind, just as she could never say anything to persuade Liz. Which was because, although she had tried so hard for so long not to admit it, she knew there was an element of truth in what they were saying. Even at the worst moments, whether driven off the road in Aberdeen or coming face to face with Roger Waugh, she had felt the adrenalin thumping around her system. She was doing what she was good at and she was doing it for a good reason. What Uri said was true: she had felt alive.

She looked at him, his eyes dark and intense, his face unmoving. He had tried hard to be with her and she had wanted so much to be with him. They had tried to make it work in several cities and several different ways, full-time and part-time, working and on vacation – and they had driven into the same roadblock every time. It was just as Liz had told her in one of their countless blow-outs, though Liz had been more savage than Uri would ever be. ‘An adrenalin junkie with a Messiah complex’, that was Liz’s latest formulation to describe her sister. Maggie had slammed the phone down, telling Liz she could fuck right off, but the line had stuck. Partly because it was such a good soundbite, and partly because it sounded like a judge handing down a life sentence.

She could feel the tears building up, but she desperately didn’t want to cry: not here. Looking away, she scanned the faces around her and a sudden loathing welled up inside – for the bar, its occupants, for Washington. She couldn’t bear to stay in this city a day longer. She had been deceiving herself as much as Uri pretending that she could make it work here.

For a brief moment she remembered the call she had received – but not mentioned to Uri – from President Williams’s Chief of Staff, offering her the job of co-ordinator of the Action for Sudan plan. She could accept it on one condition: that she be on the ground, in Africa.

She had been pushing the thought of that offer away, as if it were a guilty treat she was not meant to open. She could see that now. Perhaps they were right about her, Liz and Uri; maybe they knew her better than she knew herself.

She turned to him, forcing the tears back inside. ‘You know what, Uri? I do need to know that what I’m doing matters. And yes, I do go out of my mind if I get within a hundred yards of clocking into a bloody office. And let’s say you’re right and I do get off on the thrill of danger. Let’s say all that’s true. Is it such a crime, Uri? Really? Is it such a crime to have seen such terrible things in such terrible places that I want to use every ounce of energy I’ve got to make things better? You can call it a Messiah complex if you want to-’

‘I never said anything about-’

‘-but this is who I am. And I’m sick of apologizing for it. To you, to my sister, to Magnus fucking Longley. I don’t want to be on the couch, I don’t want to be analysed. I’ve learned how to cope with danger, I’ve learned how to solve problems that apparently freak out everyone around me, and I’m good at it.’

He moved to speak but she held up her hand. ‘I can’t be like these people, Uri.’ She gestured at the lobbyists, lawyers and legislative aides in their Banana Republic uniforms. ‘I can’t keep pedaling away on my little hamster’s wheel, chasing the next promotion, never breaking the rules, never thinking of anywhere else in the entire world except this tiny little city.’

She looked into his eyes. ‘You know,’ she said. ‘I wanted to be with you, I really did. But I can’t be someone else, Uri. It’s taken me a long time to see it, but this is who I am. I’m sorry.’

She leaned across the table to kiss him long and hard on the lips. And then she stood up, quickly gathered her things and strode towards the door before the tears could fall.

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