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Authors: Jeffrey Archer

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Mightier Than the Sword (6 page)

BOOK: Mightier Than the Sword
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“That’s a crime in Russia?”

“It is if you decide to tell the truth about your employer, especially if your employer was Josef Stalin.”


Uncle Joe,
I remember,” said Guinzburg, “but the book was never published.”

“It was published but Babakov was arrested long before a copy reached the bookshelves, and after a show trial he was sentenced to twenty years in prison, with no right of appeal.”

“Which only makes one wonder what can be in that book to make the Soviets so determined that no one should ever get to read it.”

“I’ve no idea,” said Harry. “But I do know that every copy of
Uncle Joe
was removed from the bookshelves within hours of publication. The publisher was shut down, Babakov was arrested, and he hasn’t been seen since his trial. If there’s a copy out there I intend to find it when I go to the international book conference in Moscow in May.”

“If you do lay your hands on a copy, I’d love to have it translated and publish it over here, because I can guarantee that not only would it be a runaway best seller but also it would finally expose Stalin as a man every bit as evil as Hitler. Mind you, Russia’s a pretty big haystack in which to be searching for that particular needle.”

“True, but I’m determined to find out what Babakov has to say. Don’t forget, he was Stalin’s personal interpreter for thirteen years, so few people would have had a better insight into the regime—although even he didn’t anticipate how the KGB would react when he decided to publish his version of what he witnessed firsthand.”

“And now that Stalin’s old allies have removed Khrushchev and are back in power, no doubt some of them have things they’d prefer to keep hidden.”

“Like the truth about Stalin’s death,” said Harry.

“I’ve never seen you so worked up about anything,” said Guinzburg. “But it might not be wise for you to poke a stick at the big bear. The new hard-line regime there seems to have little regard for human rights, whichever country you come from.”

“What’s the point of being president of PEN if I can’t express my views?”

The carriage clock on the bookshelf behind Guinzburg’s desk struck twelve.

“Why don’t we go and have lunch at my club, and we can discuss less contentious matters, like what Sebastian’s been up to.”

“I think he’s about to propose to an American girl.”

“I always knew that boy was smart,” said Guinzburg.

*   *   *

While Samantha and Seb were admiring the shopwindows on Fifth Avenue, and Harry was enjoying a rib-eye steak at the Harvard Club with his publisher, a yellow cab came to a halt outside a smart brownstone on 64th and Park.

Emma stepped out, carrying a shoebox with “Crockett & Jones” emblazoned on the lid. Inside was a pair of size nine, made-to-measure black brogues, which she knew would fit her cousin Alistair perfectly, because he always had his shoes made in Jermyn Street.

As Emma looked up at the shiny brass knocker on the front door, she recalled the first time she had climbed those steps. A young woman, barely out of her teens, she’d been shaking like a leaf and had wanted to run away. But she’d spent all her money to get to America, and didn’t know who else to turn to in New York if she was to find Harry, who was locked up in an American prison for a murder he hadn’t committed. Once she’d met Great-aunt Phyllis, Emma didn’t return to England for over a year—until she found out Harry was no longer in America.

This time she climbed the steps more confidently, rapped firmly with the brass knocker, stood back, and waited. She hadn’t made an appointment to see her cousin because she had no doubt he’d be in residence. Although he’d recently retired as the senior partner of Simpson, Albion & Stuart, he was not a country animal, even at weekends. Alistair was quintessentially a New Yorker. He’d been born on 64th and Park, and that, undoubtedly, was where he would die.

When the door opened a few moments later, Emma was surprised to see a man she immediately recognized, although it must have been more than twenty years since she had last seen him. He was dressed in a black morning coat, striped trousers, white shirt, and gray tie. Some things never change.

“How nice to see you, Mrs. Clifton,” he said as if she dropped by every day.

Emma felt embarrassed as she wrestled to recall his name, knowing that Harry would never have forgotten it. “And it’s so nice to see you,” she ventured. “I was rather hoping to catch up with my cousin Alistair, if he’s at home.”

“I fear not, madam,” said the butler. “Mr. Stuart is attending the funeral of Mr. Benjamin Rutledge, a former partner of the firm, and isn’t expected back from Connecticut until tomorrow evening.”

Emma couldn’t hide her disappointment.

“Perhaps you’d care to come inside and I could make you a cup of tea—Earl Grey, if I remember correctly?”

“That’s very kind of you,” said Emma, “but I ought to be getting back to the ship.”

“Of course. I do hope the
Buckingham
’s maiden voyage was a success?”

“Better than I might have hoped for,” she admitted. “Would you be kind enough to pass on my best wishes to Alistair, and say how sorry I was to miss him?”

“I’d be delighted to do so, Mrs. Clifton.” The butler gave a slight bow before closing the door.

Emma made her way back down the steps and began searching for a cab, when she suddenly realized she was still clutching the shoebox. Feeling embarrassed, she climbed the steps a second time and rapped the door with the brass knocker a little more tentatively.

Moments later the door opened a second time and the butler reappeared. “Madam?” he said, giving her the same warm smile.

“I’m so sorry, but I quite forgot to give you this gift for Alistair.”

“How thoughtful of you to remember Mr. Stuart’s favorite shoe shop,” he said as Emma handed over the box. “I know he’ll appreciate your kindness.”

Emma stood there, still helplessly trying to recall his name.

“I do hope, Mrs. Clifton, that the return voyage to Avonmouth will be equally successful.”

Once again he bowed and closed the door quietly behind him.

“Thank you, Parker,” she said.

 

5

O
NCE
B
OB
B
INGHAM
had finished dressing, he checked himself in the long mirror inside the wardrobe door. His double-breasted, wide-lapelled dinner jacket was unlikely to come back into fashion in the near future, as his wife regularly reminded him. He’d pointed out to her that the suit had been good enough for his father when he was chairman of Bingham’s Fish Paste, and therefore should be good enough for him.

Priscilla didn’t agree, but then they hadn’t agreed on much lately. Bob still blamed her close friend, Lady Virginia Fenwick, for Jessica Clifton’s untimely death, and the fact that their son Clive—who had been engaged to Jessica at the time—hadn’t been back to Mablethorpe Hall since that fateful day. His wife was naïve and overawed when it came to Virginia, but he still lived in the hope that Priscilla would finally come to her senses and see the damned woman for what she was, which would allow them to once again come together as a family. But that, he feared, would not be for some time, and in any case Bob had more immediate problems on his mind. Tonight, they would be on public display, as guests at the chairman’s table. He wasn’t at all confident that Priscilla would be able to remain on her best behavior for more than a few minutes. He just hoped they’d get back to their cabin unscathed.

Bob admired Emma Clifton, “the Boadicea of Bristol” as she was known by friend and foe alike. He suspected that if she had been aware of the nickname, she would have worn it as a badge of honor.

Emma had slipped a
pour mémoire
under their cabin door earlier that day, suggesting they meet in the Queen’s Lounge around 7:30 p.m., before going into dinner. Bob checked his watch. It was already ten to eight, and there was still no sign of his wife, although he could hear the sound of running water coming from the bathroom. He began to pace around the cabin, barely able to hide his irritation.

Bob was well aware that Lady Virginia had brought a libel suit against the chairman, not something he was likely to forget as he was sitting just behind her when the exchange took place. During question time at this year’s AGM, Lady Virginia had asked from the floor if it was true that one of the directors of Barrington’s had sold all his shares with the intention of bringing down the company. She was of course referring to Cedric Hardcastle’s little ploy to save the company from a hostile takeover by Don Pedro Martinez.

Emma had responded robustly, reminding Lady Virginia that it was Major Fisher, her representative on the board, who had sold her shares and then bought them back a fortnight later in order to damage the company’s reputation, while making a handsome profit for his client.

“You’ll be hearing from my solicitor” was all Virginia had to say on the subject, and a week later Emma did. Bob wasn’t in any doubt which camp his wife would be supporting if the action ever came to court. Were Priscilla to pick up any useful ammunition during dinner that might assist her friend’s cause, he was sure it would be passed on to Virginia’s legal team within moments of them stepping ashore in Avonmouth. And both sides were well aware that if Emma were to lose the case, it wouldn’t be simply her reputation that would be in tatters, but she would also undoubtedly have to resign as chairman of Barrington’s.

He hadn’t told Priscilla anything about the IRA or what had been discussed during the emergency board meeting on that first morning of the voyage, other than to repeat the story about the Home Fleet, and although she clearly didn’t believe him, Priscilla learned nothing other than that Sebastian had been appointed to the board.

After a day’s shopping in New York which would cost Bob several crates of fish paste, she didn’t mention it again. However, Bob was afraid she might raise it with Emma over dinner, and if she did, he would have to deftly change the subject. Thank God Lady Virginia hadn’t carried out her threat to join them on the voyage, because if she had, she wouldn’t have rested until she’d found out exactly what had happened in the early hours of that first night.

Priscilla eventually emerged from the bathroom, but not until ten past eight.

*   *   *

“Perhaps we should go through to dinner,” Emma suggested.

“But aren’t the Binghams meant to be joining us?” said Harry.

“Yes,” said Emma, checking her watch. “More than half an hour ago.”

“Don’t rise, darling,” said Harry firmly. “You’re the chairman of the company, and you mustn’t let Priscilla see that she’s annoyed you, because that’s exactly what she’s hoping for.” Emma was about to protest when he added, “And be sure you don’t say anything over dinner that Virginia could use in court, because there’s no doubt which side Priscilla Bingham is on.”

With all the other problems Emma had faced during the past week, she’d put aside the possible court case, and as she hadn’t heard from Virginia’s solicitors for several months, she’d even begun to wonder if she’d quietly dropped the action. The problem was, Virginia didn’t do anything quietly.

Emma was about to place her order with the head waiter when Harry stood up.

“I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting,” said Priscilla, “but I lost all track of time.”

“Not a problem,” said Harry as he pulled back her chair and waited until she was comfortably seated.

“Perhaps we should order,” said Emma, clearly wishing to remind her guest how long they had been kept waiting.

Priscilla took her time as she turned the pages of the leather-bound menu, and changed her mind several times before she finally made her choice. Once the waiter had taken her order, Harry asked her if she’d enjoyed her day in New York.

“Oh yes, there are so many wonderful shops on Fifth Avenue that have so much more to offer than London, although I did find the whole experience quite exhausting. In fact, when I got back to the ship, I simply collapsed on the bed and fell asleep. And you, Mr. Clifton, did you manage to do any shopping?”

“No, I had an appointment with my publishers, while Emma went in search of a long-lost cousin.”

“Of course, I’d quite forgotten you’re the one who writes novels. I just don’t find the time to read books,” said Priscilla as a bowl of piping hot tomato soup was placed in front of her. “I didn’t order soup,” she said, looking up at the waiter. “I asked for the smoked salmon.”

“I’m sorry, madam,” said the waiter, who removed the soup. While he was still in earshot, Priscilla said, “I suppose it must be quite difficult to recruit experienced staff for a cruise ship.”

“I hope you won’t mind if we start,” said Emma as she picked up her soup spoon.

“Did you catch up with your cousin?” asked Bob.

“Unfortunately not. He was visiting Connecticut, so I joined Harry later, and we were lucky enough to get a couple of tickets for an afternoon concert at Lincoln Center.”

“Who was performing?” asked Bob as a plate of smoked salmon was placed in front of Priscilla.

“Leonard Bernstein, who was conducting his
Candide
overture, before he played a Mozart piano concerto.”

“I just don’t know how you find the time,” said Priscilla between mouthfuls.

Emma was about to say she didn’t spend her life shopping, but looked up to see Harry frowning at her.

“I once saw Bernstein conducting the LSO at the Royal Festival Hall,” said Bob. “Brahms. Quite magnificent.”

“And did you accompany Priscilla on her exhausting shopping trip up and down Fifth Avenue?” asked Emma.

“No, I checked out the lower East Side, to see if there was any point in trying to break into the American market.”

“And your conclusion?” asked Harry.

“The Americans aren’t quite ready for Bingham’s fish paste.”

“So which countries are ready?” asked Harry.

“Only Russia and India, if the truth be known. And they come with their own problems.”

“Like what?” asked Emma, sounding genuinely interested.

“The Russians don’t like paying their bills, and the Indians often can’t.”

BOOK: Mightier Than the Sword
5.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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