Read Skylark Online

Authors: Sheila Simonson

Tags: #Women Sleuths, #Mystery & Detective

Skylark

Skylark

 

By

Sheila Simonson

 

 

Uncial Press       Aloha, Oregon
2012

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-128-8
ISBN 10: 1-60174-128-6

Skylark
Copyright © 1992, 2012 by Sheila Simonson

Cover design
Copyright © 2012 by Judith B. Glad

Previously published in hardcover by
St. Martin's Press,
1992
Worldwide, 1993

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in
whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or
hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the author or publisher.

Published by Uncial Press,
an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

DEDICATION
In loving memory of Louise Smith,
without whom this book
would never have got off the ground.
LONDON 1989

I simply take the side of truth against any lie...
--Vaçlav
Havel

History is an ocean. Events--the kind that make headlines--are whitecaps. Other forces
deep below the surface of awareness, tides and currents, move the mass of water at their will,
warming, shaping, destroying. We notice the waves, though.

If the events of 1989 had been presented as fiction, nobody would have believed them.
I'm a private person. As a rule, public events pass me by. I tut-tut or give a mild cheer and get on
with my own life, but in the spring of 1989, a wave of events slopped over into my private life. I
got my feet wet.

Chapter 1.

London, Spring 1989.

Ann Veryan put her tray down by mine and let the strap of her vast purse slide from her
shoulder. She hung the bag over the back of her chair and sat down. "Prawn salad?"

"Salmon," I said glumly. "Canned." I should have known better than to choose salmon
salad in a London cafeteria, or, in fact, any salad. Salad is one of those words like knickers and
napkin and bum that Americans trip over in England.

"Where's Milos?" Ann wore large pink-tinted glasses. She peered around.

"Still talking to his friend, I guess. Yes, there he is." I pointed out the window.

Ann craned. "Well, he'd better hurry if he wants to eat before six. Wasn't that a great
production?"

I took a sip from my glass. The wine was French and good, the food English. "I liked
Lady Macbeth's dress."

"Lord, yes. Blood red, wasn't it?" Ann's pasta casserole looked marginally more
interesting than my canned salmon. She babbled on about the costumes.

We had just attended a matinee of the RSC's
Macbeth
at the Barbican Centre.
The set was interesting and the acting competent, but I thought this Macbeth was a little like
Hamlet--having a hard time making up its mind what it wanted to do.

I live in northern California, within a hundred miles of the oldest Shakespeare festival in
the country, and I grew up within driving distance of the Stratford, Ontario, festival, not to
mention Broadway. Ann, poor thing, had taught
Macbeth
to high school seniors in
Purvey, Georgia, for fifteen years without once seeing the play on stage. I didn't intend to spoil
her pleasure with critical carping, so I listened to her and looked out the tall window at the
rain-swept plaza.

Red and yellow tulips made a brave show against the gray stonework, but it was nasty
out, blowing up a storm. A coachload of determined Japanese tourists were taking pictures of
each other. Milos and his friend huddled in the lee of a kiosk. Everyone else had prudently
sought shelter.

Ann was marveling over the raked stage and the set--very vertical and claustrophobic. I
watched Milos's friend hand him something. It looked like a green plastic bag of the sort Harrods
supplied with purchases. Milos gave the man's shoulder a pat as he went off, bent into the
storm.

The glass door to the cafeteria opened and shut on a gust of wind, and Milos strode over
to us, beaming. "They have tied me to the stake. I cannot fly, but bearlike I must fight the
course." He shook himself, spraying water, tossed his raincoat over the extra chair, placed his
furled umbrella and the mysterious parcel on the seat, and sat down.

Ann gave him a warm smile. "Wasn't the play wonderful?"

"Aroint thee, witch, the rump-fed runyan cries."

"The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon," Ann shot back without missing a
beat.

"Cream-faced loon," Milos repeated. "Even in tragedy, such a playful sense of
language."

"How do you remember useful quotes like that, Milos?" I asked, sipping my wine.

"Simple genius." The wind had whipped a healthy color across Milos's high cheekbones
and tousled his hair. For a moment he looked almost romantic. Then he smoothed his mustache
with one finger, took a slurp of wine, dived into the quiche I had selected for him, and became
once more himself--a middle-aged Middle European waiter who served dinner nightly at the
Hanover Hotel and studied accounting in the daytime.

Ann and I, who were sharing a flat to cut costs, had attended a booksellers' convention at
the Hanover the week before. It was an expensive hotel, and Milos was a good waiter, but
romantic? No.

The English do not strike up casual acquaintances, especially not with Americans,
whose social class they can't gauge. I had since called on two of my mother's old friends and
been welcomed kindly, but Ann knew no one in London except Milos and me, and she didn't
know me well. The booking agency for the flat had put us in touch with each other. Ann was
lonely and newly divorced--looking for diversion. She had bumped into Milos at a pub on his
night off and, on impulse, invited him to join us at the play. She liked him. So did I, but I
wondered at his motives. Was he angling for an American wife and passport?

He said, between bites, "In prison I am translating
Macbeth
into Czech to keep
myself from dying of boredom. Prison is very boring." He popped a bit of quiche into his mouth,
keeping the fork in his left hand.

European table manners were beginning to look normal to me after ten days away from
home. I raised a forkful of salmon with my left hand. The pale pink flesh fell onto my lap. I
dabbed. "Were you in prison long?" He'd told us he had been a political prisoner, a
dissident.

He shrugged. "Is a year long? I am twenty the first time--that is in '68--and it seems
forever. This time--two years ago, you understand--my mind is better fortified. I have memorized
Macbeth,
and so I amuse myself well enough."

"The mind is its own place," Ann murmured.

"What is that?"

She flushed. "Milton. 'The mind is its own place and of itself can make a heaven of hell
or hell of heaven.'"

"Ah, of course. 'Paradise Lost.' You are comparing me to Lucifer."

Ann's eyes widened.

"Devil that I am." Milos laughed. "You ask how I like this production of
Macbeth
, Ann. The scene at the end with the spears...is that the right word?"

"Lances," I murmured.

"Yes, with the lances coming through the stone wall of the castle. That is very good.
Also I like Lady Macbeth's gown."

It was my turn to laugh.

He cocked an eyebrow.

"That was my reaction, too."

He turned back to Ann. "Ah, my poor friend, it is your first time to see the play, and
Lark and I are making light of it."

A spot of color showed on Ann's cheek. "I could see that it wasn't perfect. Malcolm
fluffed one of his lines, and I didn't like the banquet scene. All the same I thought it was
wonderful."

"And so it was," Milos said. "A wonderful way to spend a rainy afternoon. Eat, ladies. I
must be at work in an hour."

We ate, gathered our belongings together, and left. Outside the complex, Milos swung
the green Harrods bag to his left hand and tried to open his large black umbrella one-handed with
his right.

"Why don't you let me tuck your sack into my handbag?" Ann asked. "There's plenty of
room." There was. Ann's purse was the size of an airline tote and covered in needlepoint. It
shouted American Tourist, Snatch Me. Milos eyed it without enthusiasm, but a gust of wind tore
at his umbrella, so he shrugged and handed Ann the plastic bag. It
was
a Harrods bag,
and rather battered as if it had been used several times.

"Not very heavy." Ann stowed it and settled her purse on her shoulder. She was wearing
one of those pleated plastic rain hats, useful but ugly.

"Just some papers," Milos muttered, wrestling his umbrella into submission.

I tied a scarf over my head. "Shall I hail a taxi?"

"Nonsense." Milos led the way. "The Tube station is not far and the Underground is
quicker than a taxi this time of day."

He set a rapid pace. Londoners, even dissident Czech Londoners, walk fast. We dashed
along in his wake.

Ann and I had passes, so we jostled through the crowd at the ticket taker's booth while
Milos zipped through the automatic turnstile. He waited for us with leashed impatience. The
station was crowded with commuters in raincoats and suits. We went with the flow and found the
right Circle Line platform. The day before, I had hopped on a train going west when I wanted to
go to Victoria from South Kensington. I was in Bayswater before I figured out what I'd
done.

There was no question of finding a seat. We squished through the double-width doors
and stood together in the middle of the car, held upright by the press of people. The doors shut,
and the car lurched into motion.

I kept my eyes on the map of the Underground above the windows. When we flashed
through the Mansion House station, I relaxed and let my gaze wander. We were going the right
way for South Kensington. Milos would get off at Gloucester Road, one stop farther along.

He was standing beside me, balancing easily as the train swayed. His damp coat gave
off a faint smoky smell. I was holding one of those skyhooks, the equivalent of straps, that are
intended to help standees keep their balance. It worked fine for me, but Ann was too short to
reach the plastic knobs without dislocating her shoulder joint.

She sidled over to the panel that separated the entry area from the seats and clung to the
metal edge. Her purse sagged, and the little plastic bonnet dripped. She looked tired. I gave her a
smile but was just too far from her to say anything without shouting. At Charing Cross, with
access to the main line station, there was a general turmoil as passengers swarmed on and off the
car. Milos and I were shoved farther along, away from Ann. She clung to her panel and
smiled.

The train rushed and rattled through the dark. The lights of our car lit up patches of
sooty stonework. The window gave back a reflection of the packed-in passengers.

A woman facing me was reading the
Evening Standard
with avid
concentration. Something about Princess Di's knees merited a screamer headline and a half-page
photo. The woman's briefcase jabbed at my hip. I inched sideways. "Sorry," she said without
looking at me.

Londoners say sorry with no inflection at all when they cross in front of you in the
theater or jostle you on the street, and sometimes when you jostle them. It isn't even a politeness,
because there's no feeling in the expression at all, not even fake feeling. They aren't sorry.
They're just letting you know Mum brought them up right.

They also avoid eye-contact. Nobody in that crammed car was looking at anyone else
unless they worked in the same office and had gone to the right schools together. Then they
murmured. Mostly they didn't say anything. They just stood there, swaying against each other,
avoiding each other's eyes by reading their tabloids or the adverts above the windows, or looking
down at their feet. Each was enclosed in a sheath of privacy. It was strange and entertaining.
When I first arrived in London I invented a game. I stared until someone met my eyes by
accident, then I smiled. My victims always looked away at once, as if I had farted.

Neat snippets of poetry were printed on placards among the commercial
messages--some ingenious civil servant bringing culture to the masses. A much anthologized
poem of my mother's had stared me right in the face on the way in from Heathrow Airport. This
car displayed Thomas Hardy's "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations.'" I read with critical attention.

"Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering
by:
War's annals will fade into night
Ere their story
die."

"Maid" and "wight." Self-consciously archaic diction by the time Hardy was writing.
The car swayed. The lights flickered.

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