The Web Chapter 6

  More of John Malcolm’s increasingly odd life






   They sat in one of the many bars that Cyril knew. He was the kind of man who knew the quirkiest bars and special interest places in every city probably in the world. He loved Berlin, called it every thinking man’s spiritual home, and thought that anyone who didn’t love it should be condemned to live in Brussels.
   It should not have surprised Malcolm that he would come here and indeed the fact that it was this city he chose for their meeting was no surprise, what did however not surprise as much as disturb him was that Cyril wanted to meet at all. There was obviously something on his mind and he felt better dropping his bombshell here than anywhere else.
   “So,” Cyril said. “how was Roma?”
   “Roman. Cyril, why are you here?”
   “That’s a bit esoteric.”
   “Just answer the question, please.”
   “Just come to see how my boyo’s doing.”
   “I was doing all right but now I feel nervous. You shouldn’t make me feel nervous, Cyril, it isn’t good for me.”
   “There’s nothing to be nervous about. A minor change to the itinerary, that’s all.” He smiled expansively.”
   “How minor?”
   “An additional city.”
   “Amsterdam. Nice, flat, get on your bike.”
   Cyril fished around in his pockets. “I made a note of it somewhere. Ah,” he took a folded paper from his pocket. “The itinerary is now Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid and then home in time to do your pre-my birthday shopping.”
   “I’m not interested in birthday shopping, Cyril.”
   “You’ve become mean, you have.”
   “Oh, it doesn’t matter.” And he knew that it shouldn’t matter, that his career, and despite his flip attitude Cyril Livingstone did have an eye to his career, if only to safe guard his ten-per-cent, should matter at least as much to him.
   Cyril looked across at him and half smiled. “You’ll be doing me more than a big one, Johnnie. Some shiksa bitch was supposed to do something in Amsterdam, she let me down, this I’ll admit to you but I’m not flattering, and I’m not bull shitting when I tell you that I’ll be telling the people they’re getting some one better.”
    Malcolm disliked it when Cyril got honest. It made you feel guilty, like you had already cost him by making him tell the truth. He thought about Laura looking at the posters that said he had already been and gone. She wouldn’t be that disappointed. She was a fun lady and she treated her men as fun men or at least that was the impression she had left him with. Any way there was no guarantee that she would even be there. Her husband had looked and sounded fairly pissed off with her. He nodded. “All right.”
   “Don’t sound so enthusiastic.”
   “I was supposed to be seeing someone in Paris.”
   “Ah,” Cyril intoned. “A bit of rumpy-pumpy. My dear Johnnie have you any idea how much rumpy pumpy is on offer in the streets of fair Amsterdam?”
   “This was free, Cyril.”
   Cyril grinned. “I’ll treat you.”
   “So, she was someone special?”
   Malcolm considered that. Laura wasn’t that special. She was beautiful, she seemed intelligent, but he wouldn’t call her special, and she was married and in all kinds of emotional trouble which he didn’t need. “Nah.” He shook his head and raised the mighty stein of good German brew. “Not special.”
   “So, were the Romans appreciative?”
   “Yeah.” He grinned. “They didn’t throw anything at me, or me to any lions.”
   “Well that’s something I suppose. Oh, I meant to tell you, I saw Jenny the other day, well three days ago actually.”
   “Yes. In Marks and Spencer’s would you believe,” he almost blushed. “In the ladies’ underwear department. For my wife I’m buying. Any way she wanted to know about you, Jenny, wanted to know how you were, what you were up to, when you would be going back to the States.”
   “Not for a good long time, I hope.” He looked straight at Cyril. “Not even as a big favour to you.”
   “You don’t ask about her, about how she is doing.”
   “Maybe I don’t want to know.”
   “She looked very well, very attractive. She’s had something done to her hair.”
   “Cyril,” Malcolm leaned forward as a young woman began to belt out ‘Those Were The Days’ in German. “Stay out of it.”
   “I said I would tell…”
   “Please, as a favour to me, just stay out of it.”
   “Of course, Johnnie, consider that I didn’t say anything.”
   They sat back to drink their beer and listen to the music, the volume of the young woman’s voice making anything else impossible.




   It had never happened this publicly before. He knew that he didn’t feel right the moment he entered the building and by the time he got to the small theatre where the assembled worthies were waiting he felt positively sick with apprehension. His hands were clammy, his throat tight, his mouth dry. It was not the best way to begin.
   He had managed about ten minutes, was saying something about the importance of research, even for a writer of fiction and then the theatre and the audience weren’t there any more, dissolved away, to be replaced by the terrace, and the moon light and the scent of late roses.
   She was sitting alone at the wrought iron table, a glass of something orange in front of her. She looked like she was in very deep thought, had something of momentous importance on her mind. What, he wondered vaguely could be so critical to a kid her age.
The man came out and slipped a shawl around her shoulders, bent, and kissed the top of her head. He whispered something, and the girl turned and hugged in to him. She was crying. He could see the tenderness in the old man’s face as the girl looked up at him, he could feel the warmth of his arms tight around the girl and he felt the thrill as the man inclined his head and kissed her mouth very softly.
   It lasted perhaps ten seconds, long enough for his audience to start to fidget. Somehow, he managed to make light of it, passed some bland little quip about inspiration striking anywhere and at the party afterwards there seemed to be no untoward reaction. Only he seemed to know enough to be afraid, to be very afraid.


   He rang Suzanne from his hotel room, it was gone midnight, but he needed help. There was a delay and then the phone was answered by a voice that didn’t belong to Julian Suzanne. The voice gave the number and then waited.
   “Hello, could I speak to Dr Suzanne, please?”
   “Who’s calling?”
   “My name is John Malcolm.”
   “Just a second.”
   Malcolm shifted the phone and tried to work out what he was going to say and then Suzanne was there saying; “John. What’s the problem?”
   “Look, I’m sorry I’ve disturbed you…”
   “We were only watching T V. What’s wrong?”
    It all came tumbling out over several minutes and Suzanne listened almost without comment until there was silence from Malcolm’s end of the phone.
   “What concerns you most, that this happened in public or that the girl was crying?”
    “I’m not sure. Dr Suzanne, I’m beginning to believe that she’s real, that she is someone real, with real problems.”
   “When do you get back?
   “Two weeks.”
   “We’ll make an appointment as soon as you get back. Mean time you have to do your relaxation routines and if you feel that maybe something is going to happen, you concentrate on her, on Lilly, that is what you call her?
   “You have to try and control the circumstances, bring her to you. It isn’t unusual for you to develop an aura, a warning, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least she can’t sneak up on you. Don’t be passive, John. Try to influence what you’re seeing. Just the way you do in lucid dreaming, get in there and make things happen.
   “I’ll try.”
   “Good and you’re going to come and see me just as soon as you get back, right?
   “I’m glad about your real-life lady. She sounds like something else.”
   “She was.”
   “Maybe she’ll be in touch.
   “Maybe. Look, I’ll let you get back to your tele.”
   “There’s no rush.”
   “I want to try and get some sleep any way.”
   “O.K. but I’m here if you need me.
   “Thanks. Good night.”
   “Good night, John.


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