Dinner, in the freighter's wardroom, had gone on forever. The diplomat, Labonniere, a dry man with a fair mustache, labored away in university Russian--the weather, quite changeable in fall. Or the tasty Black Sea carp, often baked, but sometimes broiled. The Bulgarian captain did not make life easy for him. Yes, very tasty.
It had been left to Serebin to converse with Madame. Was this on purpose? He wondered. The wife was amusing, had that particular ability, found in Parisian women, to make table talk out of thin air. Serebin listened, spoke when he had to, picked at a plate of boiled food. Still, what could any of them say? Half of France was occupied by Germany, Poland enslaved, London in flames. So, all that aside, the carp. Madame Labonniere wore a cameo on a velvet ribbon at her throat, from time to time she touched it with her fingers.
On a shelf in the wardroom was a green steel radio with a wire mesh speaker at the center shaped like a daisy. It produced the transmissions of a dozen stations, which wandered on and off the air like restless cats. Sometimes a few minutes of news on Soviet dairy production, now and then a string quartet, from somewhere on the continent. Once a shouting politician, in Serbo-Croatian, who disappeared into crackling static, then a station in Turkey, whining string instruments and a throbbing drum. To Serebin, a pleasant anarchy. Nobody owned the air above the sea. Suddenly, the Turkish music vanished, replaced by an American swing band with a woman singer. For a long moment, nobody at the dinner table spoke, then, ghostlike, it faded away into the night.
"Now where did that come from?" Marie-Galante said to Serebin.
He had no idea.
"London? Is it possible?"
"A mystery," Serebin said.
"In Odessa, one never hears such things."
"In Odessa, one plays records. Do you live there?"
"For the moment, at the French consulate. And you, monsieur? Where do you live?"
"In Paris, since '38."
"Quelle chance." What luck. For him? Them? "And before that?"
"I am Russian by birth. From Odessa, as it happens."
"Really!" She was delighted. "Then you must know its secrets."
"A few, maybe. Nobody knows them all."
She laughed, in a way that meant she liked him. "Now tell me," she said, leaning forward, confidential. "Do you find your present hosts, congenial?"
What was this? Serebin shrugged. "An occupied city." He left the rest to her.
7:20. Serebin lay on his back, Marie-Galante dozed beside him. The world winked at the cinq-a-sept amour, the twilight love affair, but there was another five-to-seven, the ante meridiem version, which Serebin found equally to his taste. In this life, he thought, there is only one thing worth waking up for in the morning, and it isn't getting out of bed and facing the world.
From Marie-Galante a sigh, then a stretch. Fragrant as melon, warm as toast. She rolled over, slid a leg across his waist, then sat up, shook her hair back, and wriggled to get comfortable. For a time she gazed down at him, put a hand under his chin, tilted his head one way, then the other. "You are quite pretty, you know."
He laughed, made a face.
"No, it's true. What are you?"
"Oh? Spaniel and hound, perhaps. Is that it?"
"Half Russian aristocrat, half Bolshevik Jew. A dog of our times, apparently. And you?"
"Burgundian, mon ours, dark and passionate. We love money and cook everything in butter." She leaned down and kissed him softly on the forehead, then got out of bed. "And go home in the morning."
She gathered up her coat, put it on, held the front closed. "Are you staying in the city?"
"A week. Maybe ten days. At the Beyoglu, on Istiklal Caddesi."
She rested her hand on the doorknob. "Au revoir, then," she said. Said it beautifully, sweet, and a little melancholy.
Excerpted from Blood of Victory by Alan Furst. Copyright 2002 by Alan Furst. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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