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Authors: John Lawton

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A Little White Death

BOOK: A Little White Death
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A Little White Death
Frederick Troy [3]
John Lawton
UK (1997)

It is 1963. Fighting ill-health, Troy finds his past catching up with him following a British traitor's defection to Moscow from Beirut and investigates just how far the English are prepared to go to silence a scandal.


John Lawton
is the director of over forty television programmes, author of a dozen screenplays, several children’s books and seven
inspector Troy novels. Lawton’s work has earned him comparisons to John le Carré and Alan Furst. Lawton lives in a remote hilltop village in Derbyshire.


Black Out

Old Flames

A Little White Death


Blue Rondo

Second Violin

A Lily of the Field


First published in 1998 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, England

This ebook edition published in 2012 by Grove Press UK, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic Inc.

Copyright ©John Lawton, 1998

The moral right of John Lawton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of the book.

‘Ode on Celestial Music’ is quoted by kind permission of Brian Patten

Every effort has been made to trace or contact all copyright-holders. The publishers will be pleased to make good any omissions or rectify any mistakes brought to their
attention at the earliest opportunity.

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978 1 61185 990 4

Printed in Great Britain

Grove Press, UK
Ormond House
26–27 Boswell Street



Sarah Teale

‘An Englishwoman in New York’


To Said Aburish, who read and corrected the Beirut chapters.

To Carole Holden, Curator at the British Library, Bloomsbury, without whom several writers would vanish without trace into the BL index.

To Diana Norman, who reads everything I write in typescript and offers good advice.

To Ion Trewin, the editor who has ‘sat through’ these last three novels from start to finish, and lost nothing more than his pencil sharpener.

To Sheena McDonald, who offered me a cool, Cape Cod bolt-hole just when I needed one.

Ode on Celestial Music
(or It’s the Girl in the Bathroom Singing)

It’s not celestial music it’s the girl in the bathroom singing.

You can tell. Although it’s winter

the trees outside her window have grown leaves,

all manner of flowers push up through the floorboards.

I think – ‘what a filthy trick that is to play on me,’

I snip them with my scissors shouting

I want only bona fide celestial music!

Hearing this she stops singing.

Out of her bath now the girl knocks on my door,

‘Is my singing disturbing you?’ she smiles entering,

‘did you say it was licentious or sensual?

And excuse me, my bath towel’s slipping.’

A warm and blonde creature

I slam the door on her breasts shouting

I want only bona fide celestial music!

Much later on in life I wear my hearing-aid.

What have I done to my body, ignoring it,

splitting things into so many pieces my hands

cannot mend anything? The stars, the buggers, remained silent.

Down in the bathroom now her daughter is singing.

Turning my hearing-aid full volume

I bend close to the floorboards hoping

for at least one song to get through.

Brian Patten,
Notes to the Hurrying Man


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Not once had it occurred to her to think of him as the kind of man who would bring down a government and close off an era. But at that time – in those days – to
whom had it occurred? If she had thought about it, then, of course, he was no revolutionary – he was a sybarite. She knew revolutionaries. Short men, serious men, men who marked their
seriousness physically by being bald or mustachioed, or both. She knew. She’d been introduced to Lenin before she was ten years old – in much the same way the devout took their children
to be blessed by the Pope. She’d been blessed by Lenin. Fat lot of good it did her.

He was heading for her now. Picking his way through this well-heeled Park Avenue party crowd, intent on her, smiling, charming, exchanging the odd word, the odder kiss, with half a dozen
socialites en route to her.

‘Signora Troy!’

Always addressed her in Italian.

‘Bella, bella.’

Then he kissed her.

‘Dr Fitzpatrick. What brings you back so soon?’

He’d been over in August, or was it July?

‘The war, m’dear. The war. Had to see if the pavements of New York had cracked or its buildings crumbled.’

‘What war?’


‘You mean October? You call that a war?’

‘Missiles piling up among the sugar cane, battleships squaring off in the Atlantic, half England in tears because the world is about to end before they’ve even lost their virginity.
What would you call it?’

‘I’d call it diplomacy. I’d call it politics.’

‘Well you know what Churchill said about politics and war.’

‘War is politics by other means, and I think it was Thucydides.’

‘I meant the other way around. Politics is war by other means.’

‘No, that we call brinkmanship.’

‘Can I get you another drink?’

When he got back with her Martini, she’d make damn sure they changed the subject. She’d all but ignored Cuba. It could not scare her. The panic that had seemed to grip everyone she
knew had passed her by. She’d spent her whole life trapped between the USA and the USSR. Bound to get her one day.

‘What really brings you here?’

‘Can you keep a secret?’

‘Absolutely not.’



‘I treated the American ambassador in Harley Street last spring. He was kind enough to recommend me to the President.’

‘Jack Kennedy’s flying in doctors from England?’

‘I’d keep it quiet. It’s hardly a vote-winner, is it?’

‘Is he that ill?’

‘Addison’s is very wearing. In that sense it’s deadly. If he wins next November don’t bank on there not being a President Johnson by 1966 or thereabouts.’

Now, that did scare her.

‘You know,’ Fitzpatrick said, ‘we took it very seriously in England.’

‘We back on Cuba?’

‘We’re sort of in the middle. I don’t just mean geographically. We none of us, none of the English, think of the Russians as bogeymen. I know some of the London Russians.
Perfectly decent people.’

So did she. She’d married one.

‘I have a friend works at the embassy. Thoroughly decent chap. Matter of fact I tried telling the powers that be that the Russians are human just like you or I. I wrote to one of the
rising lights of the Labour Party to say as much during the Missile Crisis. If I can talk to the Russians, why can’t they?’

She could scarcely keep the incredulity out of her voice. ‘You didn’t write to my brother-in-law?’

‘What? To Rod Troy? Good Lord, no. Rod’s not rising, he’s risen. He’s got as far as he’ll ever get while Gaitskell’s still alive. No, I wrote to Harold
Wilson. He might be Prime Minister in nine or ten years’ time. Just wanted to drop the thought.’

‘Did he catch it?’

Fitzpatrick shrugged.

‘Politicians,’ he said simply.

Half an hour later she found herself on the front steps of the building watching packed cabs flash by – up and down Park Avenue. Fitzpatrick followed only minutes later, turning up his
collar against the cold, looking up at the rich cobalt blue of a cloudless New York night sky.

‘Share a cab?’ she said, hoping he would dash out into the throng and find the last free cab in the city. He pointed down the street towards Grand Central.

‘I’m at the Waldorf,’ he said. ‘It’s only a short walk. Look, I’m in town for a couple of days. Why don’t you give me a call?’

‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Sure.’

He walked off down Park Avenue. She looked again for the elusive yellow cab. Then a voice behind her, calling her name.

‘Clarissa. Clarissa.’

She usually had to remind herself that this meant her. She’d added the C years ago as the simplest way of changing her name – Tosca by marriage to Troy, Larissa to Clarissa, a name
she’d found on a bogus passport she’d used years ago – but it still sounded odd on anyone else’s lips.

BOOK: A Little White Death
10.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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