"Why can't he lecture here?"
"I suppose because no one here would pay him a hundred thousand dollars a throw."
She pressed Mute.
"There was a time," said Kate slowly, after what felt like a very long silence, "when princes taking their countries to war were supposed to risk their lives in battle -- you know, lead by example. Now they travel around in bombproof cars with armed bodyguards and make fortunes three thousand miles away, while the rest of us are stuck with the consequences of their actions. I just don't understand you," she went on, turning to look at me properly for the first time. "All the things I've said about him over the past few years -- 'war criminal' and the rest of it -- and you've sat there nodding and agreeing. And now you're going to write his propaganda for him, and make him richer. Did none of it ever mean anything to you at all?"
"Hold on a minute," I said. "You're a fine one to talk. You've been trying to get an interview with him for months. What's the difference?"
"What's the difference? Christ!" She clenched her hands -- those slim white hands I knew so well -- and raised them in frustration, half claw, half fist. The sinews stood out in her arms. "What's the difference? We want to hold him to account -- that's the difference! To ask him proper questions! About torturing and bombing and lying! Not 'How does it feel?' Christ! This is a complete bloody waste of time."
She got up then and went into the bedroom to collect the bag she always brought on the nights she planned to stay. I heard her filling it noisily with lipstick, toothbrush, perfume spray. I knew if I went in I could retrieve the situation. She was probably expecting it; we'd had worse rows. I'd have been obliged to concede that she was right, acknowledge my unsuitability for the task, affirm her moral and intellectual superiority in this as in all things. It needn't even have been a verbal confession; a meaningful hug would probably have been enough to get me a suspended sentence. But the truth was, at that moment, given a choice between an evening of her smug left-wing moralizing and the prospect of working with a so-called war criminal, I preferred the war criminal. So I simply carried on staring at the television.
Sometimes I have a nightmare in which all the women I have ever slept with assemble together. It's a respectable rather than a huge number -- were it a drinks party, say, my living room could accommodate them quite comfortably. And if, God forbid, this gathering were ever to occur, Kate would be the undisputed guest of honor. She is the one for whom a chair would be fetched, who would have her glass refilled by sympathetic hands, who would sit at the center of a disbelieving circle as my moral and physical flaws were dissected. She was the one who had stuck it the longest.
She didn't slam the door as she left but closed it very carefully. That was stylish, I thought. On the television screen the death toll had just increased to eight.
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Harris
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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