Authors: Evelyn Anthony
âMoscow's demanding more and more from us,' Arthur went on. âThey're making us pay through the nose for this agreement. You know I had to give a personal guarantee â I showed it to you. It's unheard of â it's practically blackmail!'
âMore or less,' Fuller agreed.
âBut Julius is insisting I go ahead. He doesn't care that I've had to put my reputation and my position on the line.'
Arthur knew that Hugh Fuller didn't like Julius Heyderman. He looked on him as a bumptious South African. The lie he had just told would enlist his sympathy.
âHe's landed me with an impossible situation because he knows that if the whole thing turns out to be a financial disaster, I shall be held responsible!'
âWell, my dear chap, you tell me how I can help and I'll do my best.'
âI've had to tie myself hand and foot to the de-pollution of this Baikal lake area. That means spending millions over an unspecified time â an open-ended drain on our resources! And Julius insisted that I accept this ultimatum. So I had no alternative to writing that letter and sending it back to Russia with Ray Andrews. Bring us two brandies, will you, George, and some cigars?'
Hugh said, âYou should never have agreed to it without talking to me first. Tell me, apart from your guarantee, how firm must this new agreement be?'
He turned to the boxes of cigars the club servant had brought them and began opening the boxes and feeling a cigar here and there between his fingers; he held one or two to his ear to test them for dryness and finally settled on a large Ramon Allone.
Arthur said, âI'll have one, too, please, George. Thank you. The agreement? Well, it's got to satisfy the Russian government that we can't get out of it.'
âI see.' Fuller lit his cigar and drew hard to get it going. âNow, Arthur, we've been friends for a hell of a long time. Tell me what you want me to do.'
âI want an agreement that lets me out of that commitment to Baikal. That's the bottom line. The rest can be as watertight as you like. It may not prove to be the problem I anticipate. Then there won't be any need to take advantage of any loophole. Quite the reverse. But I must have an escape route. Otherwise I could be ruined. What can you do about it, Hugh?'
âI don't know yet; that letter you wrote is not binding on D.E. It
a test of your credibility and good faith. I'll have to look into the actual contract. It'll take me a few days. But I'll try to think of some way round it.'
âIt's got to look all right to them,' Arthur said. âAnd their lawyers are not fools.'
âNo,' Fuller agreed. âI don't suppose they are. But then by the time our department has drawn up the full commercial agreement with some new clauses â¦ which I shall suggest â I think you can trust me to look after your interests. How urgent is it?'
âAndrews is pressing for the final document to be ready for signature within a week,' Arthur said, âif you can manage that?'
Fuller coughed for a moment on his cigar. âIt's pushing it, but I'll get it done. Even if I have to draw it up myself, don't worry.'
âI'm very grateful to you,' Arthur said. âI've taken the blame for a lot of bad debts in this business, and I don't want to be shipwrecked by this one. All Julius takes into account is success.'
âI know,' Fuller said. âHe's too ruthless for my taste. You've got to have some ethics â even in business. Forcing you like this isn't fair. You leave this to me. I'll find a way out! Now tell me, how's Christa?'
An hour later they left the club, or rather Fuller left it and went home in a taxi. He had a firm conviction that running a car in London was a waste of time and money; he had a large, sedate Daimler, which was ten years old, and when he and his wife went down to the country at the weekend, they drove that.
Arthur had arranged to stay the night in his club; it was well past twelve and he was tired. Also he felt disinclined to go back to the house and put up with Christa demanding to know where he had been and what he was doing. It was ironical and annoying that after all these years she should suddenly become jealous and accuse him of having a mistress. When he thought about it in cold blood, it amused him. She was quite powerless to hurt him now, and the knowledge drove her to absurd lengths in spite and undignified outbursts. She had rationalized his rejection of her that night by assuming that he was involved with another woman.
He hadn't had a mistress for a very long time, and the more she accused him, the more the idea appealed to him. He felt like a nice woman, not a girl, he hadn't that kind of taste at all, but a woman, somewhere in her thirties, with a good figure and a pleasant disposition who would go to bed with him and be a companion to him as well. He thought once or twice of some of their friends, and then decided against looking near home. Besides, he was too busy to take on a woman at the moment. Afterwards, when this Russian business was all tied up, he would take a good look round and find himself somebody nice. After years of living with his wife, nice was the adjective that appealed to him most when he thought of a woman. He felt confident with the way the evening had gone. Hugh was a good friend; Arthur had enlisted his sympathy, he knew what was needed. He looked and sounded like a blimpish old fool, but he was one of the sharpest solicitors in practice.
Reece brushed the chair seat before he sat down. He looked across at Stella Heyderman and said, âMiss Heyderman, why don't you get this place cleaned up? What would your father say if he could see this?'
He gestured primly at the mess surrounding them. There were old newspapers on the floor, dirty glasses, dust thick enough to write on, some of Stella's clothes flung on a chair with a pair of shoes kicked off and left lying. The room smelt. Of stale alcohol and cigarette smoke. She looked a wreck. Drunk for days, he suspected, but finally sober and willing to see him. The money had run out. He knew the scenario. He thought she was the most dreadful, disgusting woman, sitting there, red eyed and sluttish, glaring at him. She was always rude to him. He didn't mind; he despised her, so nothing she could say or do to insult him made any difference. Poor Mr Julius, he thought. To be cursed with a degenerate daughter. But then the mother was mad. It obviously ran in the family. Such a pity she hadn't gone back to Soweto with her black husband. They might have been rid of both of them.
âI've told you,' Stella shouted at him. âI'm Mrs Yakumi. You call me by my name or you can get out of here!'
Reece shrugged. âAnd then what would you do for money?'
She had kept him hanging around, refusing to speak to him, or answer his calls. He felt she deserved to be humiliated.
âI've spoken to the solicitors,' he said, âand they won't release your allowance until they have my authority. You might as well know that your father has given me the power to cut off all funds.'
Stella looked at him with loathing. Her credit was gone; she owed money for everything. Desperation had made her agree to see him. Her father couldn't have given him power over her. He'd never treated her like that before.
âI don't believe you,' she said. âHe wouldn't. He wouldn't let a little creep like you tell me what to do.'
She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them defensively. It was a childish posture that made her look vulnerable. Jacob used to tease her. âYou're such a little girl, Suki â¦ you're like my little child â¦' He had comforted and reassured her as if, as well as her lover, he was the father she had never known in that mode.
Reece answered coldly, âI have the paperwork with me if you want to see it.'
He reached into his briefcase and brought the power of attorney out.
âHe's not trying to be unkind,' he insisted. âAll he wants is what's best for you. He wants you to stop playing this stupid game and come back to the real world. He wants you to come home.'
âThen he should have protected Jacob! He knew he was going back, I wrote and told him â¦ I asked him to get police protection â¦'
The tears were overflowing now. Reece listened unmoved. He had heard it all before. The bitter reproaches against someone he knew was blameless, the self-pity, the tears. He waited till she paused.
âHe was murdered by his own kind,' he said. He had never discussed it with her on previous encounters. Just sat till she'd exhausted herself and spewed out her spite against her long-suffering father. This time he changed tactics. He had Julius's authority behind him, and the last-resort instructions.
Whatever has to be done to make her come home. Whatever it takes â¦
âThe ANC murdered him,' he went on, raising his voice as she began to interrupt. âSavages,' Reece said. âDirty savages. They cut him to pieces. And these are the people you want to see running our country. Just think what they did to Yakumi â¦ one of their own. It was all good fun to march and demonstrate when it was a way of getting under your father's skin and upsetting him going off with a black â but this is for real now. You've got your way, you and all the rest of the Commie Liberals â¦ I hope you like it.'
Stella took a deep breath. She was trembling. How dare he! How dare the white-livered little rat talk to her, Stella Heyderman, like that!
âBy Christ!' she spat at him. âWait till I tell my father what you've said. I'll have you fired!'
Reece smiled at her. âThat's better,' he said. âYou sound like a Heyderman for a change. It's only skin deep, isn't it, all this posing about equal rights for black and white? You were just play-acting, getting attention; well,' he drew out the word, âthe act's over, Miss Stella. There's no Yakumi here to keep up the pretence for you. Just a lot of freeloaders and bums taking Heyderman money. Mr Julius sent me over to tell you, it's got to stop. Your debts will be paid off â and I mean the legal ones, bills, rent arrears, nothing else. And I'm instructing the solicitors to give notice that your lease here won't be renewed next January. You know I mean it, don't you?'
Stella got up. âYou shouldn't threaten me, Reece. Maybe I am my father's daughter. You'll be sorry for this.'
Reece got up slowly, unhurried. He wasn't going to be dismissed. Instinct detected fear in her, in spite of the attempts at bluster.
âNo I won't,' he said. âAll I want is your father to have some peace of mind. He's a great man and he doesn't deserve what you've done to him. I'm going back home before Christmas. Either you fly back with me, or you'll be out on the street. I don't think Yakumi's friends will pay your booze bills for long. Please think about it. I'll let myself out.'
Stella said loudly, âI'll never go back. Jacob's friends will take me in. I'll tell them the truth. I'll tell them who I really am!'
He paused and shook his head as if he pitied her. âIf they knew that,' he said, âthey'd spit on you for not going with him. They'd say, she could have protected him, with all that money and power. Just like you say about your father. But nobody could stop what happened. He was a marked man. I'll be in touch in a few days. Think about Christmas in the sun, instead of in this dump!'
Stella looked round wildly for something to throw at the closed door. Her shoe thudded against the panel and then rolled across the floor. The trembling had become a violent shivering fit. She didn't bother going to the back of the sofa where she kept a bottle, just for emergencies, because she'd already looked and it was empty. As empty as her purse.
âJacob!' She cried his name out loud. âOh Jacob â¦ why did you do it? Why did you go and leave me?' The cry of self-pity and despair became a burst of hysterical weeping.
Nobody could stop what happened. He was a marked man
She had fought her family off since his death. She'd abused and insulted her stepmother Sylvia and as good as accused her father of complicity in Jacob's murder. It had seemed as if she could go on striking out at them to relieve her own agony indefinitely. But it was the end, and she knew it. Never, ever, would that despicable little shit have dared to trash her like that, unless he had her father's blessing. Come home or sink into the gutter. Slowly Stella wiped her wet face with a grubby tissue found in her sleeve. Christmas in the sun! Did they really think that mattered to her now? Was it their idea of a bribe? She laughed in fury at the idea. Didn't they know that when Jacob Yakumi fell under the machete blows of his killers, the sun went down on her for the rest of her life â¦? Better the gutter. Better to die and shame them one last time. She had so often thought of it. But Jacob wouldn't let her. He was in her mind, in her heart, refusing to let her take the coward's option. He was very strong in his insistence; his voice reproached her in her head when she gave way to weakness like thoughts of suicide. He would want her to fight back. Never to surrender, either, and go tamely back to the environment that was responsible for his death. She remembered Paul Mkoza, his great friend, a fellow lawyer and activist in the black community in London. A scholarly, serious man who had left South Africa long before she and Jacob fled to England. He had been the first to come and break the news of his death. And the last to abandon her when she abandoned herself to days of alcohol abuse. It had taken a long time, but in the end he had given up because he realized there was nothing he could do. It was more than a year since she had spoken to him. He had a dedicated young wife; Stella had felt she disapproved and influenced him. Sober as she was, Stella didn't blame her.
She knew the number so well. She dialled. He was her last hope. He might be able to advise her. At least she could assure him she was sober.
When he answered, she spoke quickly, stumbling over the words, assuring him that she hadn't been drinking, that she needed his help. Just one more time for Jacob's sake.