Death and Disclosure - a London Mystery

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Naomi awoke with a start the next day, sure to have overslept and embarrassed about having missed her tutorials when she realised it was Saturday. Relieved she turned over again, only to wonder where she’d gone to sleep this time. Mm, four-poster bed, old linen of excellent quality, an antique wardrobe and dressing table covered with knick-knacks of past times, a fireplace with a Regency mantle and what looked like a Gainsborough portrait of a little boy who looked like a curly blonde version of Marcus above it. While she was still taking in her surroundings, she slowly remembered where she was and why. A look at her watch had her jumping out of bed and rushing to the bathroom. Eleven o’clock! Now she was definitely embarrassed. She rushed through her routine, then dashed to the library, where she found a note with her name attached to a vase with a single white rose on the piano:

Good morning, sleeping beauty!

Please excuse my absence; I wanted to find out what happened at your house last night. Paul will return sometime this afternoon, please stay to let him in again. You’ll find food in the kitchen (second door to the left) and a place laid for you at the dining room table, one door down. Make yourself comfortable and feel free to use the library, you might enjoy it.

Yours, Marcus

Naomi felt herself blush. Shyly she padded into the kitchen. There she took a surprised look around her: this kitchen was an antique as well, it seemed to come straight from Edwardian times, only a small modern refrigerator had been added. A hamper from Fortnum’s sat on the scrubbed wooden table. As she couldn’t see any other food and the fridge was empty except for butter eggs and cheese, she rummaged around the hamper and made herself tea and toast.

Still wondering, she took her tray to the dining room, where to her surprise she found her usual muesli in a bowl and Spode beaker with milk ready at the place set for her. Paul had apparently been eating here as well, a coffee cup and a used plate bore witness to that. This room too was furnished exclusively with antiques, good enough to belong to a stately home. Either Marcus had very rich friends or he came from old money.

A shame to stay inside on a day like this, Naomi thought, looking at the spring sun shining in the long windows. She had seen through Marcus’s rouse at once: he wanted her to stay in to open the door for Paul when he returned, but obviously he also didn’t want her to be walking about London on her own. In some ways this young man seemed to fit his antique surroundings very well. She shook her head and took the breakfast things back to the kitchen, where she washed and dried them – no dishwasher in Edwardian Britain. Now what?

Let’s take a look at what the former historian had accomplished with the chronology. She found several pages on the desk, covered in neat elegant writing that provided the dates and the events of the papers they had found, complete with quotes of the relevant passages. Marcus must have had a good teacher. She shook her head at the line of dates. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to her, apart from what Paul had already said the night before: Clearly someone had been making money by selling uranium to Iraq amongst others for years, and the British as well as the French government had known about it and – in the case of the former PM – also profited from it.

Ok, so what? Would the Secret Services really be killing people about that? After all, as far as she knew, there seemed to be more pressing problems in the Iraq war than how the whole shebang got started, and everyone who read the papers knew there were conspiracy theories galore once it came to any kind of conflict the US were involved in. Jeff had told her that he was becoming really frustrated by the way his students were taking everything the internet offered on this topic at face value. He said it made it so much harder to interest them in plain old research and analysing sources. She sighed. She didn’t want to be thinking about Jeff right now.

So she started again, sure to have missed something relevant. After another hour she gave up and decided to do what she usually did in such cases: Look for something else.

She was still examining the books in the library – that must be an ancient collection, some of those should be in museums, she thought she remembered reading about the auction prices some of these manuscripts had made in recent years – when the doorbell rang three times. That must be Paul. Relieved to be able to finally get outside, she rushed to the door and opened it.

To her surprise, it was not Paul outside but a tall ebony-coloured man with dark sunglasses, wearing sandals, faded jeans and a frilly white shirt, who looked as surprised as she was.

He caught himself first. “Bonjour,“ he started in a velvety voice. “So Marcus has changed his habits.” He flashed a very white smile at her, obviously expecting her to let him through.

Somehow Naomi did not feel comfortable with that idea. She half-closed the door again. “Marcus is not home, I’m afraid”, she said, hoping that would be enough.

The stranger looked extremely surprised. “You’re saying he’s out? In this?” He gestured vaguely at the world around him.

She nodded. “Do you want me to give him a message? Can you leave me your name?”

“Ok, then tell him Philippe called. I’ll be in London for the next two weeks. I had supposed I was staying with him, but this obviously changes things. Don’t worry, I’ll arrange something else.” He took off his sunglasses and looked closer. She had the absurd feeling he was listening to her heartbeat. “Oh no, he’s doing it again. Tell him I said ‘good luck’. I would not have his discipline.” With that he disappeared down the stairs at high speed.

She wasn’t sure if he wasn’t running away and shook her head at that: Surely she wasn’t that scary. Interesting though, what he had said about her staying at the flat. Apparently Marcus did not have women staying there regularly.

Naomi had not gotten back to the library when the doorbell rang again. When she opened the door to Paul, he started fuming at her. “Couldn’t you at least ask who it is?”

Her sarcastic retort to that was crippled by knowing he was right. “Yes,“ she agreed. “I’m sorry. But this takes some getting used to. Another friend of Marcus just came by; I just thought he’d forgotten something. You must have run into him when you came in.”

“No, I didn’t. Who was it?” Paul asked curiously.

“I don’t know, some French friend of his, who seemed to be very surprised he wasn’t here.” Something about that memory made her shudder.

“French?” Paul said with some alarm. When she nodded he whipped out a new mobile and punched in a number.

“He said his name was Philippe,“ Naomi added while Paul was already talking in a low alarmed voice. He repeated the name the stranger had given. The voice at the other end became urgent. “Yes, ok, yes, right away. I’m going this minute. Keep your hair on!” Paul said, waving to Naomi to get her coat. He clicked off the phone. “We’re going out.”

“Where?” Naomi was slightly alarmed by the hurry.

“How about Camden Market? We could get some muffins and sit by the lock? Marcus will meet us here again later.”

“You’re going to tell me what’s happening?” What was all that panicking about now?

“Of course. Do you like walnut banana muffins?” Paul tried to distract her, without much success. Marcus’ reaction at the mentioning of Philippe had been quite alarming. He had almost screamed at him to get her away from the flat to a place with lots of people around and not to let her out of his sight.

Paul filled her in on his day during the tube journey. He had been to see the Assistant Commissioner – on the golf course, where else? – with a printout of Marcus’s photo of the two impersonators (‘Her godson, young chap, amateur photographer took it through her window, fancies himself a future detective’) as well as the papers they had found last night. It had taken some time, but finally he had gotten through to his superior.

The finger prints the firemen had taken matched some unaccounted for ones in Lynd’s flat, so the Assistant Commissioner had got a warrant on the two men; they were wanted for arson, impersonating police officers and in connection with Lynd’s murder. The coincidence of different people being interested in Lynd and his papers had been too much even for him. He had been suitably impressed by Paul’s initiative and had agreed to hand back the papers to the PM’s archive himself and mention the progress at a press conference on Monday morning.

What Paul had not told him about was the set of copies he had made of the papers – just as insurance. He still wasn’t sure why he’d done that. Something his father once told him nagged at the back of his mind. He’d also conveniently forgotten to mention Clark’s presence in London. So even though Paul was by no means sure who the two men were working for or what the whole thing was actually about, he now felt that he had done something toward at least putting Lynd’s killers behind bars and Naomi out of harm’s way.

Surveillance had been reinstated at Naomi’s house since two o’clock; so she could return if she wanted. Paul had talked to Marcus about that, but Marcus had been sceptical. However he had reported that the two men had used the night to thoroughly search Naomi’s house. They had tried to be discreet about it, but had not succeeded in their ‘endeavour’, as Marcus called it. He had also assured him that the bugs had been removed and were by now ‘slumbering in the river’.

Naomi laughed at that. “So all the spooks are getting at the moment from their sophisticated technology is a constant ‘gluck-gluck’ and an occasional enraged duck?” She chuckled. “But you were still nervous about the French visitor?” she asked once they’d arrived at the market.

“Marcus was. You didn’t recognize the bloke, did you?”

“If you’re asking was he one of the detectives, definitely no. He was more … African, I guess, quite good-looking, bit of a hippie though. And he said he knew Marcus.”

“That doesn’t sound like French Secret Service to me then. Latte or Cappucchino?” They had arrived at the muffin stand.

“Latte, please, and I’m paying, you’ve been running around all week on my behalf, let me do the honours.”

“Thanks. Be sure to get one of these muffins, they’re pure heaven.”

“Ok”, she smiled and bought two of them handing one to Paul. “Do you come here often?”

He nodded. “It’s not too far from my flat, and as I don’t have a garden or a patio, it’s as good a place as any to be outside in warm weather.”

“I hope I’m not keeping you from anything on your weekend,“ Naomi said slyly, hoping to find out something about the private Paul.

Her effort was met with a wide grin. “No, I don’t have a family of five waiting for daddy to take them to the fairground on Saturday. Besides, we don’t get too many weekends off in my job.”

“Oh, I thought the boy in the picture…”

Paul snickered. “That is my godson, my sister’s oldest. I don’t have kids.”

Naomi blushed. “I suppose I really am no good at interrogation, am I?”

He smiled. “Unless you were going for the direct approach, no.” His heart was jumping though: At least she seemed interested in him as a person. Maybe…

They spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through Camden Market having a wonderful time. They found they had common interests, such as browsing flea markets and also shared a fascination for Art Deco. Naomi talked Paul into getting a nice print for his flat, and only when she asked what time they were meeting Marcus again, did Paul hit the ground with a thump. Of course, she had just been killing time with him.

“Six-ish,“ Paul checked his watch, “We’ll make it if we hurry.”

“Damn, I really wanted to buy some food so I could cook dinner tonight”, Naomi complained, “Should we dash into that Sainsbury’s over there?”

“With all that stuff sitting around in Marcus’s flat? I doubt it”, Paul cut her short. “I think we better hit the Northern line soon.” He turned silent on the way back. He really shouldn’t get his hopes up. He already found himself dreaming about her, but was reasonably sure that he was about to be disappointed again, especially with someone like Marcus nearby. What’s more: he actually liked Marcus. He was obviously highly intelligent and as nice and charming a person as one could wish for Naomi, who seemed to have had more than her share of unsuitable men. They had spent quite a long time talking that morning while Paul was having breakfast, and found they shared an interest in antique cars. Paul had almost choked on his coffee when Marcus was telling him anecdotes about driving the Hispano Suiza, and it had only been his ingrained sense of duty that had made him get up eventually to go to the Yard instead of persuading Marcus to go for a ride in the old car.

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