Excerpt of Lehrter Station by David Downing
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'Mama?' he said anxiously.
'It's nothing,' she said quickly, sitting beside him and stroking his hair. 'Go back to sleep.'
He reached up an arm but obediently closed his eyes. Tomorrow she would need an explanation, she realised. Not for the man, who might have got off, but for the damage to his favourite toy.
The Men From Moscow
John Russell reached across and rubbed the tea shop window with his sleeve to get a better view of what was happening on the pavement outside. A middle-aged man in uniform was hectoring two boys of around twelve, jabbing his finger at first one and then the other to emphasise his indignation. The boys wore suitably downcast expressions, but one was still clutching a fearsome-looking catapult behind his back. Once the adult had run out of useful advice and stalked haughtily away, the two youngsters raced off in the opposite direction, giggling fit to bust. Russell somehow doubted that they had seen the error of their ways.
He took another sip of the still-scalding tea, and went back to his News Chronicle. Like most of the newspapers, it was filled with evidence of Britain's newly split personality. While half the writers explored, with varying degrees of eagerness, the socialist future promised by the new Labour government, the other half was busily lamenting those myriad challenges to Empire that the war's end had conjured into being. Palestine, Java, India, Egypt... the outbreaks of violent disaffection seemed never-ending, and thoroughly inconvenient. The British press, like the British public, might want a new world at home, but they were in no mood to relinquish the old one abroad.
The sports page was still full of the Moscow Dynamo tour, which had begun so inauspiciously the previous weekend. A fellow-journalist had told Russell the story of the Football Association reception committee's dash to Croydon Airport, and the subsequent rush back across London when it transpired that the Russians' plane was about to land at Northolt. The FA's choice of Wellington Barracks as a hotel had gone down badly with the tourists, particularly when their arrival coincided with the drilling of a punishment detail. Several of the Soviet players had concluded that they were being imprisoned, and had refused to leave their bus. It seemed as if things had improved since then - yesterday the visitors had been taken to the White City dog-track, where only the Magic Eye photo machine had denied them a rouble-earning win.
Russell looked at his watch - as usual, Effi was late. Clearing a new patch in the condensation he could see the queue outside the cinema already receding up Park Street. He gulped down the rest of his tea and went to join it, hurrying to beat the crowd pouring off a pair of trolleybuses. The visibility on Camden High Street was worse than it had been twenty minutes earlier, and the air seemed twice as cold and damp.
Several people in the queue were stamping their feet and clapping their hands, but most seemed in surprisingly high spirits. Only six months had passed since the end of the war in Europe, and perhaps the novelty of peace had not quite worn off. Or maybe they were just happy to be out of their overcrowded houses. Russell hoped they weren't expecting an uplift from the film they were about to see, which the same journalist friend had warned him was a sure-fire wrist-slitter. But then Effi had chosen it, and it was her turn. She still hadn't forgiven him for West of the Pecos.
The queue was beginning to move. He looked at his watch again, and felt the first stirrings of anxiety - Effi's English was improving, but still a long way from fluent, and frustration always seemed to render her German accent even more pronounced. Locals with grudges had no way of knowing that she was a heroine of the anti-Nazi resistance.
He was almost at the door when she appeared at his side. 'The trolleybus broke down,' she explained in German, leaving Russell conscious of the sudden silence around them. She noticed it too. 'I have to walk half way,' she added in English. 'How is your day?' she asked, taking his arm.
Excerpted from Lehrter Station
by David Downing. Copyright © 2012 by David Downing.
Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.