- Author: A. Decker
Book online «The Dark Frontier A. Decker (i like reading TXT) 📖». Author A. Decker
The Dark Frontier
To my wife Penelope
for her patience
It was a sunny afternoon in early spring. 1972. On any normal day at this hour in late March, Ellen would have been hurrying home across Putney Bridge. Still wrapped in her winter coat against the North Sea chill blowing off the Thames. But this was not London. And Ellen had not known normal for a good twelve months or more.
The sun that was doing its best to embrace Ellen on this particular afternoon shone over Locarno, Switzerland. And it was only now, sitting here on the Piazza Grande, that it finally sank in. She was never going to see Frank again. And the knowledge was driven home with an exquisite sting by the words of Vicky Leandros: ‘Aprés toi je ne serai que l’ombre’. The words wafted out from the café behind her. They sang of a cold dark solitude. A vast pitch-black shadow, made all the murkier by the light and convivial warmth on the piazza around her.
Those lyrics were all she had heard since Marthe first played her the song. Every radio in every café seemed to be playing it now. They kept intruding on Ellen’s mind wherever she went – from the moment she saw the last hint of his existence vanish for all eternity. That was last Friday. Ever since then, the song had been a constant companion on her journey.
It was already a good three weeks since she had last seen Frank himself. Neatly draped on the slab. In truth, the shock of seeing what had become of him after the long intervening months following his sudden disappearance was tempered by his prolonged absence beforehand. An absence that had gnawed deep gaping wounds in her knowledge and understanding of him. And she wondered now whether she had ever known him at all in any real sense of the word. For it had been a whirlwind romance. Barely three months into bliss before they married and then a few more months before he vanished.
Had he really been living a double life all the time, as events seemed to suggest?
The eyes that fixed their gaze on Ellen as she mulled over this history went unnoticed. It was a slightly furtive gaze. And carried a hint of trepidation. Sitting at the table next to Ellen, the elegantly dressed lady opened a large Louis Vuitton bag on her lap. And as if to calm her nerves with a little distraction, she spent the next few minutes busily burrowing inside it. Like a nesting bird.
It was this activity that eventually broke Ellen’s concentration. When she turned her head, the burrowing stopped for a moment. She caught sight of a brief glance in her direction before the elegant lady quickly resumed the search of her bag. Relieved to have some distraction from her own dark thoughts, Ellen watched, wondering what precious object lay hidden inside. And whether it would ever be revealed. She judged the woman to be late fifties to early sixties. Her thick grey hair still showed strong hints of a jet-black mane from years gone by that perfectly matched her black twinset with cream trim. Ellen had seen something very like it in a fashion magazine at Marthe’s place. She fancied it was probably from Chanel. Over the woman’s shoulders there draped a large scarf that hindered her search. And eventually she gave up.
She closed the Louis Vuitton bag, revealing the letters P.R. embossed in gold on the tongue, looked over at Ellen and smiled.
“I saw you in Basel recently. On the bridge in the centre of town,” she said. There was a conspiratorial edge to her words.
Ellen smiled back, unsure she was ready for any kind of conversation.
“You were with a friend and looked a little agitated,” the woman continued. “But it was the boots that really caught my eye.”
She cast a glance down at Ellen’s feet under the table next to hers. Ellen was still wearing the same high-heeled boots with thick platform soles that she had been wearing ever since she arrived in Switzerland. She had bought them at Biba in Kensington High Street just over a year ago. It was the weekend before Frank had flown out to Switzerland. He had been busy working on an assignment all weekend, so she had taken herself off shopping.
“I do admire girls these days. I’m sure I could never have worn boots like that in my day.”
By now, the mournful words of Vicky Leandros had been swapped for the catchy T. Rex melody ‘Ride a White Swan’. It seemed oddly out of place for a quiet Ticinese piazza. And the strikingly beautiful warble of Marc Bolan’s voice did nothing to lighten her mood, but reminded her of Frank with even greater poignancy.
“Is this your first time in Switzerland?” the P.R. lady persevered. Ellen was jolted from her thoughts, and for an instant she gave in.
“Yes. Well no, not really.”
“You don’t seem too sure.”
“I was here last year.” Ellen was conscious of sounding abrupt, but she was in no mood for further explanation and changed tack. “You speak very good English.”
“I had a very good teacher.” The words came with a wistful look that plainly held an entire chronicle of special memories.
Raising her left hand as she smiled across to the woman, Ellen attracted the waiter’s attention. She really had no wish to be drawn any further into conversation and, placing three francs on the table to cover any tip, she got up to leave.
“I have to get back to my hotel,” she said, and continued smiling politely across the table. “It was very nice talking to you.”
With a look of strangely knowing curiosity, the mysterious lady watched Ellen stride across the piazza