I'll Keep You Safe, page 1
ALSO BY PETER MAY
The Lewis Trilogy
The Lewis Man
The China Thrillers
The Fourth Sacrifice
The Killing Room
The Enzo Files
Hebrides (with David Wilson)
New York • London
© 2018 by Peter May
Jacket design: www.headdesign.co.uk
Jacket photograph © David Wilson
First published in the United States by Quercus in 2018
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2017960493
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Danielle Dastugue
Harris Tweed is the only cloth in the world to be defined by an Act of Parliament and is described in the 1993 Act as follows: “Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”
(“ch” as in “loch”)
Taigh ’an Fiosaich
All she can hear is the ringing in her ears. A high-pitched tinnitus drowning out all other sounds. The chaos around her has no real form. Flaming fragments from the blast still falling from the night sky, bodies lying on the concrete. The shadows of figures fleeing the flames extend towards her across the square, flickering like monochrome images on a screen.
She can make out the skeleton of the car beyond the blaze, imagining that she sees the silhouettes of the driver and passenger still strapped in their seats. But how could anyone have survived such an explosion intact?
Bizarrely, traffic continues to move along the Boulevard de Magenta, but slowly, like a river of coagulating blood. Neon lights still glow in the dark, the final moments of normality frozen in time. But the hope that she might save her marriage is gone. Because she knows, with a deep, hollowing sadness, and beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he is dead.
The last hours of their life together replayed themselves through a thick fog of painful recollection. Did people really change, or was it just your perception of them? And if that was true, had you ever really known them in the first place?
The change in a relationship happens slowly, without you really noticing at first. Like the transition between spring and summer, or summer and autumn. And suddenly it’s winter, and you wonder how that dead time managed to creep up on you so quickly.
It wasn’t winter yet. Relations between them hadn’t got quite that cold. But there was a chill in the air which seemed to presage the plunge of Arctic air to come, and as they moved with the flow of the crowds leaving the Parc des Expositions, Niamh shivered, even though the air of this September evening was still soft and warm. Only the fading light betrayed the changing season.
It was standing room only on the RER, and the train rattled and clattered its way through the north-eastern banlieues of Paris. Villepinte, Sevran Beaudottes, Aulnay-sous-Bois, where no one got on or off. She was uncomfortable, bodies pressing in all around her, male and female. The smell of garlic on sour breath, of sweat on man-made fabric, faded perfume, hair gel. Her knuckles glowed white, fingers clutching the chrome upright to keep her from falling as the train decelerated and accelerated, in and out of stations, and she tried to hold her breath.
Ruairidh was sandwiched between a tall man with an orange face who painted his eyebrows and wore lipstick, and a girl with tattoos engraved on every visible area of skin. Her dyed black hair and facial piercings seemed dated. Goth. Retro. Niamh saw Ruairidh force a hand into his pocket to retrieve his iPhone. The glow of its screen reflecte
There was an exodus of passengers at the Gare du Nord, but a fresh influx of bodies from a crowded platform, and it was not until they got off at Châtelet les Halles that she was able to ask him about it. “Bad news?”
He glanced at her as they climbed the steps to the street, and the same frown regrouped around the bridge of his nose. “Bad news?”
“Your email. Or was it a text?”
“Oh. That. No. Nothing.” He shrugged an uncomfortable indifference. “Shall we get a taxi?”
The Whisky Shop Paris threw light out across the Place de la Madeleine, casting shadows among the trees in the gathering gloom. Inside it seemed unnaturally bright, hanging globes reflecting light from white walls, whisky bottles glowing amber on lines of glass shelves. The sweet smell of it permeated the air like perfume. A girl took their coats at the foot of the stairs, and they climbed to the reception room on the first floor.
Harris Tweed Hebrides had imported two young island lads to provide the Celtic entertainment, and they stood in a corner, accordion and violin infusing the atmosphere, like the whisky, with a sense of home. Incongruous here in the heart of the French capital.
Ruairidh accepted his whisky cocktail, but Niamh was not in the mood for alcohol and they stood self-consciously amidst the buyers and designers and agents, feeling oddly alien. Their hosts, after all, were really the competition, though they clearly didn’t see themselves as such, and were happy to share a stand with Ranish Tweed at Première Vision. They were all Scots, weren’t they? Islanders. Selling the Hebrides as much as their cloth.
Different markets anyway.
Ruairidh was examining his phone again. “I’m going to have to go to the offices of YSL after we get back to the hotel.”
“Why?” Niamh felt a cold mist close around her heart.
“Forgot to initial the contracts,” he said. “Head office won’t process them until we do. And there’s no time tomorrow. We’ve got an early flight.” As if she didn’t know. In any case, she didn’t believe a word of it. Ruairidh had lunched with the buyer from Yves Saint Laurent earlier that day, or so he said, while she manned the stand. It was an important order. One of several they had secured at this year’s Paris textile fair. Forgot to initial the contracts? She decided to test him.
“Want me to come with you?”
“No.” His response came just a little too fast. He tried to take the curse off it. “Won’t take long. I’ll be back in no time.”
They were on the stairs to go, having stayed for what they deemed a respectable period of time, when the PR man called them back. “You can’t go yet, folks,” he said. “We’re just about to draw the raffle.” They had been given tickets when they arrived. The winning number, drawn from a hat, would secure Ian Lawson’s extraordinary photo book, From the Land Comes the Cloth, a visual evocation of how the colours and patterns of Harris Tweed have drawn their inspiration from the landscape since the time islanders first began weaving it. A huge and weighty tome, it sold in special editions for around two hundred euros. Harris Tweed Hebrides were clearly keen that it should end up in the hands of a favoured customer, but politeness had demanded that all their guests be included.
And so smiles were fixed when it was Ruairidh’s number that was drawn from the hat. Niamh masked her embarrassment by suggesting they forgo their good fortune and offer the book back for another draw. But no one would hear of it, and now they sat either side of it in the taxi, where it had morphed into a physical manifestation of the barrier that seemed to have materialized between them. Ruairidh said, “I’m glad they wouldn’t take it back. I’ve always wanted that book.” He could have bought it a hundred times over, but somehow had never got around to it. In the end it was luck that had delivered it into his hands. The same luck that would desert him in less than an hour.
When their taxi dropped them outside the Crowne Plaza in the Place de la République, darkness had fallen, and the nightly gathering of police trucks and vans was already lining itself up along the pavement. Armed officers in flak jackets stood around in groups cradling automatic weapons and drawing on cigarettes. You could smell the smoke in the cool of the night, and sense the conflicting emotions of boredom and fear that stalked them, like the ghosts of both the terrorists and their victims whose blood had stained the streets all around this quartier. You just never knew when something might happen. The reality, these days, of life in the City of Light.
They took the lift to the second floor in silence. Niamh stole a glance at her man, but he was somewhere else. Somewhere, it seemed, that she was no longer welcome. He appeared older, suddenly, than his forty-two years. Short dark curls greying around the temples, shadows beneath blue eyes that had spent much of their time avoiding hers these last weeks. And she ached with a sense of loss. What had happened to them? A lifetime of love, ten years of marriage, evaporating before her eyes like rain on hot tarmac. It didn’t seem possible. Any of it. And it made her all the more determined to guard the secret she had been keeping from him.
As he held the door of their club room open for her she saw the slim package in its brown paper wrapping lying on the dressing table where she had left it. She hurried across the room and slipped it into her bag before he could see it and ask what it was. “I’m going to take a shower,” he said, and he threw his jacket on the bed and went straight into the bathroom.
She heard the water running, and it only emphasized the silence in the room and her sense of loneliness. So she turned on the TV, just to create the illusion of life. Of normality. And walked to the window to gaze down into the courtyard below. Guests sat around tables beneath large, square parasols, eating and drinking, their chatter animated, laughter reaching her on the gentle night air, as if in rebuke for her unhappiness.
She didn’t turn when Ruairidh came out, wrapped in a towelling robe, and she heard him rummaging in his case for a clean top and underwear. Then he was in the bathroom again, and she heard the spray of his deodorant and the slap of palms on cheeks applying aftershave. This time, when he emerged, she smelled him. When finally she turned, he was pulling on a black polo shirt and running his fingers back through still damp hair. “Making yourself beautiful for your girlfriend?” She couldn’t help herself.
He stopped, with his hands still raised. The frown again. “What are you talking about?”
“What?” His incredulity was almost convincing.
“Oh, come on, Ruairidh. Irina Vetrov. You’ve been having an affair with her ever since you came to Paris last spring to seal that deal to provide Ranish for her next collection.”
He almost laughed. But there was something not wholly convincing about it. “Irina Vetrov? You think I’m having an affair with her?”
Niamh knew that people often repeated an accusation to play for time, to compose a response. But she didn’t want to hear it. Instead, she walked briskly across the room to the wardrobe, throwing open the door and crouching to unlock the safe. She really hadn’t meant to confront him, but somehow there was no avoiding it any longer. She took out her iPad and flicked open the cover. A four-digit code brought up the welcome screen, and a couple of swipes opened her mailer. She stabbed a finger at the screen and held it out towards him.
He took a step towards her, consternation now in his eyes, and took the iPad, glancing down at the screen. She knew what he was reading. Words engraved in her memory. Read, and reread, and read again. Your husband is having an affair with Irina Vetrov. Ask him about it. She watched closely for his reaction. He looked up. His frown had become a scowl.
“Jesus Christ, what the hell’s this?”
“Self-explanatory, I think.” Her certainty already wavering.
He lowered his eyes to the screen again, and read, “firstname.lastname@example.org?” Then raised t
“You tell me.” Which immediately struck her as a stupid thing to say, since he clearly didn’t know. He threw her iPad dismissively on to the bed.
“It’s crap, Niamh. Just not true. I can’t believe you think it is.”
“Well, what am I supposed to think? You’ve been so secretive recently. Meetings and rendezvous without me. The little wife left to keep shop.”
“Oh, for God’s sake!”
“Do you deny it?” She could hear herself getting shrill.
“That I’m having an affair with Irina?”
“I think I just did.”
“So why would someone write and tell me you were?”
“I think you’d have to ask them that, but I haven’t got the first idea.” He seemed genuinely hurt. A glance at his watch and he said, “I have to go.”
“Where?” She turned, catching his arm as he walked past her. He pulled it free.
“I told you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
He stared at her long and hard. “They say that when trust is gone, love is dead. Don’t wait up.”
He slammed the door behind him and she stood, a cauldron of mixed emotions bubbling inside her. Now she felt guilty. As if it were her fault. As if the lack of trust she had just so clearly demonstrated was without cause. But it was justified, wasn’t it? The way things had changed between them recently. His strange, guilty behaviour.
She perched on the edge of the bed resisting the urge to weep. She wouldn’t give him that satisfaction. Then realized he would never know if she did. But she would. And she was determined not to.
To her left the screen of her iPad, still lying on the bed, had dimmed a little, but the words of the email remained clear and legible. Your husband is having an affair with Irina Vetrov. Ask him about it. Well, she just had, and all it had brought was pain and confusion. Don’t wait up, he had said. But how could he even imagine she could go to bed with everything that had just happened between them left unresolved?
Other author's books:
- The Man With No FaceThe RunnerThe Runner tct-5The Lewis ManExtraordinary PeopleThe Chessmen l-3Lewis 01 - The BlackhouseBlacklight Blue
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