Читать онлайн "The Imposter" автора Dawson Mark - RuLit - Страница 4


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“How do you mean?”

He settled back against the seat. “Now we’re home––what are you looking forward to?”

Edward sighed expansively. “A chair to sit in for breakfast and the day’s paper to read––on the day it was published without people peering over my shoulder. You?”

Joseph tried to light their cigarettes. He had a beautiful silver lighter, but it did not work reliably. Edward finally produced his ugly, flaring lighter, as ugly and efficient as a piece of industrial equipment, and lighted it for him. Joseph passed one to Edward and he lit that, too. Joseph sat back and rested his legs on the bench opposite. “Proper food off a china plate,” he suggested, “and tea from a china cup with my own dose of milk and sugar.”

“Somebody else to do the washing and make my bed.”

“A shirt with a collar and tie, and shoes.”

“To go to bed when I like in a room of my own and put the light out when I want to. And no more bloody jungle.”

Joseph laughed. “No more jungle. I’ll drink to that. Another one?”

Edward proffered his cup and Joseph poured again.

“What are you going to do now?” he asked. “For work, I mean?

“I’ll take it as it comes. There’s a family business. I’ll probably end up there.”

“What do they do?”

Joseph paused, as if searching for the right words. He settled for, “A little bit of this, a little bit of that.”

“Is it successful?”

“Oh, yes. Big house in the countryside, places in London, a fleet of cars in the garage, more money rolling in than they know what to do with––at least that was what it was like before I left and I shouldn’t think much has changed.”

“What do they do?”

“Well, I’m not going into details, but let’s just say it’s the kind of thing that’s probably even more popular in an economy like this”––he gestured out at the dishevelled landscape passing by the window––“than what it was like before.”

Edward was intrigued but he decided to let it go for fear of appearing too keen.

“What about you?” Joseph said, changing the subject.

Edward’s story was well rehearsed and he relayed it naturally and easily. “I studied medicine before the war. Haven’t practiced since I graduated, though. I’m sure there’ll be refresher exams to take, that sort of thing. And Mr. Beveridge is promising all sorts of changes, isn’t he? ‘The National Health Service.’ Goodness knows how that will affect things.”

“Socialism!” Joseph snorted. “My God, we can do without that.”

The train started to slow as they drew into Waterloo station. They hoisted their packs over the shoulders and joined the queue of men in the corridor, all of them anxious to disembark. Edward felt his stomach clench as he stepped down from the train. He foresaw figures standing at the end of the platform, near to the barriers, policemen waiting for him, patiently waiting with folded arms and handcuffs hanging from their belts. He grew suddenly tense. He had hoped that seven years would have been time enough for the fear inside his stomach to have been quashed, but it was not. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. No use thinking about that now. He pulled his shoulders back. No use spoiling his return worrying about imaginary policemen. Even if there were policemen, it wouldn’t necessarily mean anything. He had to be realistic––they couldn’t still be after him, not after all this time.

As far as they were concerned, he was dead and buried.

Joseph paused on the concourse and shrugged his pack from his shoulders.

“Alright, pal,” Joseph said. “This is me. My uncle’s coming to pick me up. I’d offer you a lift, but he’s not really the friendly type––”

Edward lowered his own pack to the ground. “It’s quite alright––I’ll get the tube.”

“It’s been good to get to know you, Doc,” he said.


“Doctor? The medicine?”

Edward had almost tripped up. “Oh yes, of course,” he said, remembering to smile. “Doc––very good.”

“Listen––I reckon we ought to keep in touch. We’ve got plenty in common.” He shadow-boxed for moment, firing out a gentle combination. “The noble art and all that.”

“That’s true.”

“I’m thinking about keeping it up, doing a bit of sparring. You should come along, once your foot’s better.”

“It’s nearly better now,” he said. There had been nothing to do on the voyage home except put his feet up and read and the rest had done wonders for the wound. “I’d love to.”

“Here, hold on.” He took his travel pass and a pen from his pocket. He scribbled a number on the docket and handed it to him. “You should be able to reach me here. Give me a ring when you’re settled. We could have a spar and then go for a pint.”

“Capital idea.”

“That’s settled, then.”

Joseph pulled him in and pounded him on the back. “Good to meet you, Doc,” he said. “Enjoy being home. And call me––alright?”

Edward said that he would, and he meant it.


EDWARD TRANSFERRED ONTO THE UNDERGROUND. When he emerged from Tottenham Court Road station half an hour later it was into a warm dusk. The damage that had been done to the city since his departure was difficult to credit. Even now, with peace a year old, windows were still missing and there were holes in roofs. Some buildings had been pulverised, as if crushed by a giant’s fist. Others, the remedial work more advanced, had been removed neatly from the surrounding terrace as one would remove a slice of cake. It was as if they had never even been there, weeds already growing in their foundations. A fine film of dust thickened the city’s usual smog, coating everything with a patina of grime.

He passed into Soho. He had grown up on its exciting grill of good-time streets and he retained fond memories of it. It was like a tiny international resort with an ozone of garlic, curry, ceremonious sauces and a hundred far-flung cheeses. The war had not changed it. The carrier cans in the windows were still full of salad and cooking oil and you could still find dozens of Spanish cheeses, snails, octopus and Chinese cheesecake. There was Dijon mustard; Rajah-like Eastern dishes costing pounds or modest four-bob curries; sex books; strip-tease shows; exotic clubs and thirty-odd different kinds of bread. Edward walked towards his destination and passed a woman reverently dusting bottles of wine, adorned with a whole picture gallery of labels, handing them to her small son who squatted in the shop window arranging them for display. Outside, the father stood, both arms extended, directing the whole operation like a temperamental stage manager.

Eating was still a serious business and there remained sophisticated restaurants that laid on discreet shabbiness like a sort of make-up, knowing that serious gourmets do not bother much about decor. The Shangri-La was one such establishment. It was on Dean Street, one of the bisecting thoroughfares that ran north-to-south, connecting Oxford Street to Shaftesbury Avenue. It had twenty tables offering eighty covers and a small bar. Edward’s father had taken out a loan for a hundred pounds in 1936 and had spent it on a thorough refurbishment: wooden panels had been fitted to the walls and intricate stained-glass windows had been installed. The carpet, table clothes and curtains were all in dark colours and a fire burned in the grate. The intention had been to make something that felt exclusive, the kind of cosy clubbable charm that one might find in a Mayfair private members room. It had worked, to a point, but that was back then; now the carpets were tatty and the edges of the curtains had frayed. The room, like the city outside, looked faded and tired, like an elderly relative who had seen better days.

Edward made his way around to the kitchen entrance.

The small kitchen staff was busy. Jimmy Stern was working in front of the range, chopping vegetables, two large saucepans sending clouds of steam up to the ceiling. He was slick with sweat and his whites were slathered with blood and grime.



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