Things weren't much better on the M40, where cars and lorries put up sheets of spray with which the Polo's windscreen wipers could barely keep pace. The lane markings had mostly vanished beneath the standing water, and those that could be seen seemed to alternate between writhing snakelike in Eugenie's vision and side-stepping to border an entirely different traffic lane.
It wasn't until she reached the vicinity of Wormwood Scrubs that she felt she could relax the death hold she had on the steering wheel.
Even then she didn't breathe with ease until she'd veered away from the motorway's sleek and sodden river of concrete and headed north in the vicinity of Maida Hill.
As soon as she could manage it, she pulled to the kerb at a darkened Sketchley's. There, she let out a lungful of air that felt as if it had been held back since she'd made the first turn into Duke Street in Henley.
She rooted in her handbag for the directions she'd written out for herself from the A to Z. Although she'd escaped the motorway unscathed, another quarter of the journey still had to be negotiated through London's labyrinthine streets.
The city at the best of times was a maze. At night it became a maze ill lit and in possession of a nearly laughable paucity of signposts. But at night in the rain it was Hades. Three false starts took Eugenie no farther than Paddington Recreation Ground before she got lost. Wisely, each time she returned the way she'd come, like a taxi driver determined to understand just where he'd made his first mistake.
So it was nearly twenty past eleven when she found the street she was looking for in northwest London. And she spent another maddening seven minutes circling round till she found a space to park.
She clasped the framed photo to her bosom again, took up her umbrella from the back seat of the car, and clambered out. The rain had finally abated, but the wind was still blowing. What few autumn leaves had remained on the trees were being wafted through the air to plaster themselves on the pavement, in the street, and against the parked cars.
Number Thirty-two was the house she wanted, and Eugenie saw that it would be far up the street, on the other side. She walked up the pavement for twenty-five yards. At that hour the houses she passed were mostly unlit, and if she hadn't been nervous enough about the coming interview, her state of anxiety was heightened by the darkness and by what her active imagination was telling her could be hidden there. So she decided to be careful, as a woman alone in a city on a rainy night in late autumn ought to be careful. She ventured off the pavement and proceeded on her way in the middle of the road, where she would have advance warning should anyone want to attack her.
She thought it unlikely. It was a decent neighbourhood. Still, she knew the value of caution, so she was grateful when the lights swept over her, telling her that a vehicle had turned into the street behind her. It was coming along slowly, the way she herself had come and doing what she herself had been doing, looking for that most precious of London commodities: a place to park. She turned, stepped back against the nearest vehicle, and waited for the car to pass her. But as she did so, it pulled to one side and blinked its lights, telling her that the way was hers.
Ah, she'd been mistaken, she thought, resettling her umbrella against her shoulder and going on her way. The car wasn't waiting for a parking space at all, but rather for someone to come out of the house in front of which it sat. She gave a quick glance over her shoulder when she reached this conclusion, and as if the unknown driver was reading her thoughts, the car's horn beeped once abruptly, like a parent who'd come calling for an unresponsive child.
Eugenie continued walking. She counted the house numbers as she passed. She saw Number Ten and Number Twelve. She'd gone barely six houses from her own car when the steady light behind her shifted, then went out altogether.
Excerpted from A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George Copyright 2001 by Elizabeth George. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, 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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