I paused in front of the mirror to collect my thoughts. It was hard to imagine what Anderson might want. The bird from Ulieta was an enigma, one of Nature's conjuring tricks--a creature that had disappeared as if with a wave of the hand. But this disappearance had been final and there would be no coming back. The audience was left looking for feathers that had long ceased to exist. Not even Anderson could do much about that.
Upstairs, in the Rosebery Bar, despite the cigarette smoke there was a smell of perfume and leather. Not the sort of desiccated leather that featured in my jacket and parts of my shoes. This leather was new and expensive and smelled soft, if that's possible. Its effect was to make me aware of the smell of rain I'd brought in with me. Among these dry, groomed people it was the odor of not quite belonging.
Gabriella was easy to spot. She was sitting in a corner under a soft lamp, framed in best cinema style by a twisting curve of smoke. She was, as before, dark and slender, so neat as to seem flawless. She was wearing a slim black dress in a 1950s style, but in her case there could be no question of being out of place. She had slipped into this time of Chanel and soft leather with the same maddening grace with which she might slip into a taxi. Beside her, behind the smoke, was a tall, blond man in his early fifties, squarely Scandinavian, constructed in straight lines. A good-looking man. He was turned to Gabby and talking quite eagerly as I edged hesitantly toward them, past a group of pre-theater Americans.
Then Gabby looked up and noticed me.
"Hello, Fitz," she said quietly as I arrived at their table, and suddenly I was annoyed with her for not having changed and annoyed with myself for noticing. And annoyed that somewhere on my right an impeccably suited arm was being advanced to shake my hand.
"Fitz, this is Karl Anderson," she said, as if that would make it all right.
I nodded at him, not caring much, and turned back to Gabriella. She was so startlingly familiar it was hard to breathe.
"Perhaps we should all sit down?" suggested Anderson calmly. "I'm sure Mr. Fitzgerald would like a drink."
He was right. A drink was exactly what I wanted.
And so I sat down at the small round table and joined in a painfully well-mannered conversation that tiptoed carefully around any awkwardness. A waiter brought me a beer and more drinks were ordered. I was aware of Gabby sitting next to me, close enough for my hand to fall on hers if I let it drop from the table. The new drinks arrived almost immediately--Anderson was drinking as quickly as I was and ordered deft refills whenever our glasses were nearly empty. I watched him while Gabriella told us about the lectures she was about to give in Edinburgh and Munich. A tall, well-proportioned man, seven or eight years older than I but not looking it--a maverick, a charmer, a big personality in a dusty discipline.
Beside him, Gabriella seemed tiny, like a bird. It was as if she'd slipped through the years without friction, her freshness and vitality untouched. She must have been ten years younger than the big man next to her, and yet they matched. They made a good-looking couple.
"So what are you doing with yourself these days, Mr. Fitzgerald? Your withdrawal from fieldwork is a great loss to us all." He was a Norwegian by birth, but his English was only very slightly accented and very perfectly pronounced.
"Oh, I keep myself busy. Teaching mostly. 'Natural History: The Historical Context'--the Greeks and Romans, early naturalists, the Darwinian controversy. That sort of thing. It's a compulsory module, so the students have to show up, even if I'm no good."
"And are you good?"
Excerpted from The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies Copyright © 2005 by Martin Davies. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, 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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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