Chapter Twenty-seven

Harry Garobedian sat behind the desk in his dingy office suite above the Olde Cock Tavern on Fleet Street. His hard brown eyes were wide now with understandable astonishment.

‘My God, Ricky boy. This… this has got everything.’

‘You wanted a human interest story… and I want to give the Germans a bad press week. So this one works for both of us.’ The attack of dizziness had subsided, leaving him with a dull headache.

Harry picked the telephone receiver off its cradle and replaced it immediately, breathing deeply through his nose, as though smelling his mother’s lamb keshkeg simmering in the pan. ‘I got to hand it to you. “Hannah Liebermann- My Story ”… When do I get the copy?’

‘Tomorrow.’

He opened a drawer and rolled a cigar across the desk to Denham.

Denham said, ‘I need this piece to go huge, Harry. To turn the heat up so high they have to release her. Her family, too.’

Harry lit his cigar from an enormous brass table lighter and leaned back in his chair, observing Denham through the fug. A rumble of barrels rose from the tavern cellar.

‘What’s happened to you?’ he asked.

Denham lit his cigar and drew on it, but did not speak.

Harry continued to watch him, then leaned forwards to tip his ash.

‘Okay, listen, I want a follow-up, too.’ He placed his fingers in the air, as if seeing Denham’s name in lights. ‘ “My Gestapo Nightmare,” by Richard Denham.’

Denham smiled. Harry had the eyebrows of a vaudeville villain. The agent lifted a cash box onto the desk, unclipped four white?5 notes, and handed Denham an advance.

‘Tomorrow then,’ Denham said.

E leanor had found some engineer’s overalls and had tied a tea towel as a scarf around her head. She had cleaned out the iron boiler, reconnected the flue with a spanner, and got the thing burning with coal she’d found in the basement, finding the whole task oddly satisfying. All morning it had helped clear her mind and set her thoughts on her future. On Richard… on Herb. ‘No electricity, no gas,’ she said, kissing him, ‘but there’s hot water. I’ll just serve notice on the spiders and the place will be almost habitable…’

He slid his hands around her lower back and pulled her towards him.

That afternoon Denham cleaned the grime off his father’s Edwardian typewriter and got down to work. The strange pain in his left shoulder was now constant, and his ribs seemed to be rubbing against needles, but he ignored it, tapping away quickly at a little escritoire in the drawing room, listening to the children playing in the street. Children without brown shirts or daggers.

By seven o’clock the rain had passed over and a sunset beckoned, sending its crimson light into the house. Eleanor was writing letters at the kitchen table. He noticed that one, already sealed, was addressed to her husband. He had a fair idea of what it said.

‘Get your hat,’ he said. ‘I’ll show you the Hill.’

Clouds parted, filling the sky with drama. A flock of sheep scattered before them as they climbed Primrose Hill, deserted apart from a few boys flying kites in the gathering breeze. At the top of the path Denham turned her round towards the city below.

‘Oh my,’ she murmured, clutching his hand.

Beyond the trees of Regent’s Park, dark with rainwater, London shone from myriad chimney pots to the cross on the dome of Saint Paul’s, ablaze with a reddish gold.

Denham pointed out the Palace of Westminster, black with soot; the distant downs of Kent, where he’d grown up; the spires of the City churches.

They stood a long while without speaking. Eventually Denham said, ‘When I was locked in that place I thought I’d never see clouds or sky again.’

‘I love you,’ she said, turning to him. ‘I want to stay here with you and Tom.’

‘Marry me, then?’

T hey had celebrated quietly that evening, and the next morning Denham delivered the Liebermann piece to Harry, who had been on the telephone for much of the night, syndicating it to newspaper groups across the United States. By the time Denham got back home, though, the dizziness and the pain in his shoulder had reached an intensity he could no longer ignore.

‘Well, isn’t that the damnedest thing?’ he said, after kissing his fiancee in the hall.

‘What?’

‘You’ve gone all blurred, old girl.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘You know, like the way they film Greta Garbo in close-ups…’

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