Dont worry about picking me up, Ill get a cab. Just tell me your address. (And dont do the seven different e-mail/dead drop/is this line secure?/smoke signal bullshit.) Just hit "Reply" and tell me where you live. NOBODYS WATCHING, ALEC. Youre not Kim Philby.
Anyway, really looking forward to seeing you.
So hes finally coming. The keeper of the secrets. After six years, my oldest friend is on his way to Spain. Saul, who married a girl he barely knew just two summers ago and already lies on the brink of divorce. Saul, who holds a signed affidavit recounting in detail my relationship with MI5 and SIS, to be released to the press in the event of any "accident." Saul, who was so angry with me in the aftermath of what happened that we did not speak to each other for three and a half years.
Theres a knock at the door, a soft, rapid tap. I switch off the TV, close the computer, quickly check my reflection in the mirror, and cross the room.
Sofía is wearing her hair up and has a sly, knowing look on her face. Giving off an air of mischief as she glances over my shoulder.
"Hola," she says, touching my cheek. The tips of her fingers are soft and cold. She must have returned home after work, taken a shower, and then changed into a new set of clothesthe jeans she knows I like, a black turtleneck sweater, shoes with two-inch heels. She is holding a long winter coat in her left hand, and the smell of her as she passes me is intoxicating. "What a room," she says, dropping the coat on the bed and crossing to the balcony. "What a view." She turns and heads to the bathroom, mapping out the territory, touching the bottles of shower gel and tiny parcels of soap lining the sink. I come in behind her and kiss her neck. Both of us can see our reflections in the mirror, her eyes watching mine, my hand encircling her waist.
"You look beautiful," I tell her.
I suppose these first heady moments are what its all about: skin contact, reaction. She closes her eyes and turns her body into mine, kissing me, but just as soon she is breaking off. Moving back into the room she scans the bed, the armchairs, the fake Picasso prints on the wall, and seems to frown at something in the corner.
"Why have you brought a suitcase?"
The porter had put it near the window, half hidden by curtains and leaning up against the wall.
"Oh, that. Its just full of old newspapers."
"I didnt want the receptionist to think that we were renting the room by the hour. So I brought some luggage. To make things look more normal."
Sofías face is a picture of consternation. She is married to an Englishman, yet our behavior continues to baffle her.
"Its so sweet," she says, shaking her head, "so British and polite. You are always considerate, Alec. Always thinking of other people."
"You didnt feel awkward yourself? You didnt feel strange when you were crossing the lobby?"
The question clearly strikes her as absurd.
"Of course not. I felt wonderful."
Outside, in the corridor, a man shouts, "Alejandro! Ven!" as Sofía begins to undress. Slipping out of her shoes and coming toward me on bare feet, letting the sweater fall to the floor and nothing beneath it but the cool dark paradise of her skin. She starts to unbutton my shirt.
"So maybe you booked the room under a false name. And maybe my uncle is staying next door. And maybe somebody will see me when I go home across the lobby at 3 a.m. tonight. And maybe I dont care." She unclips her hair, letting it fall free, whispering, "Relax, Alec. Tranquilo. Nobody in the whole world cares about us. Nobody cares about us at all."
Excerpted from Spanish Game by Charles Cumming. Copyright © 2008 by Charles Cumming. Excerpted by permission of St Martin's Press. 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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