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The Loo Sanction


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Доступ к книге ограничен фрагменом по требованию правообладателя.

"...well, if you ask me, it was a blatant act of defiance—a challenge to the police. To impale a man on a wooden stake right in the belfry of St Martin's-In-The-Fields! Have you had your martini, love?"

The minute Jonathan Hemlock stepped into the crowded reception room, he was sorry he had come. He looked over heads, but he didn't find the woman he was supposed to meet, so he began slowly to ease toward the door, juggling his glass adroitly and nodding to the empty-eyed models who hung impatiently on the arms of older men, and who smiled at him as he passed. But just as he made the door, David Tomlinson caught him by the arm, directed him to the center of the room, and jumped up on a pouf.

"Listen, everybody! Everybody?" (Silence rippled reluctantly from the center outward.) "I have the very great honor to introduce you to Dr. Jonathan Hemlock who's come all the way from America to set us all straight on art and all that." (Titters and one "hear-hear.") "All sorts of people have consorted to get him over here: the Guggenheim, the Arts Council—all that benevolent lot. And we must make good use of him. No comments from you, Andrew!" (Titters.) "Now you'll all have to watch yourselves because Dr. Hemlock actually knows something about art." (Groans and one giggle.) "I'm sure you've all read his books, and now he's here in the flesh, as it were. And remember this! You saw him first at Tomlinson's." (Laughter and light applause.)

Tomlinson stepped down from the pouf and spoke with such sincerity that he appeared to be in pain. "I am truly delighted that Van was able to persuade you to come. You've made the evening. May I call you Jonathan?"

"No. Look, you haven't seen Van, have you?"

"In point of fact, I haven't"

Jonathan grunted and slipped away to the bar where he ordered a double Laphroaig. He didn't notice fforbes-Ffitch's approach in time to avoid it.

"Heard you were going to be here, Jon. Thought I'd drop around for the event." fforbes-Ffitch spoke with the crisp, busier-than-thou accents of the academic hustler. He had taken his doctorate in the United States, where apparently he had majored in grantsmanship, which training he applied with such industry that he became the youngest head of department at the Royal College of Art and had recently been made a trustee of the National Gallery.

"Say, Jon. Tell me, did you receive my memo?"

Jonathan never used fforbes-Ffitch's first name. He didn't even know what it was. "What memo?"

fforbes-Ffitch preened his drooping moustache by pressing it down with his thumb and cleared his throat to speak importantly. "That one about your doing a lecture series for us in Scandinavia."

Jonathan had received it weeks before and had dismissed it as an attempt by f-F to brighten his reputation as a man who knows important people and gets things done. "No, I never received it."

"How does the idea sound to you?"

"Terrible."

"Oh? Oh? I see. Well, that is too bad. Ah—quite a gathering here this evening, don't you think?"

"No."

"Well, yes. I agree with you. Not real scholars, of course. But... important people. Well! I have to be going. Desk piled with work crying out to be done."

"You'd better get to it."

"Right. Cheers."

Jonathan felt great social fatigue as he watched f-F depart through the crowd, shaking hands with all the "names," studiously ignoring the others. No doubting it, f-F was a man on his way to a knighthood.

Jonathan had just finished his whiskey and was ready to get out when Vanessa Dyke appeared at his side.

"Having fun, love?" she asked evilly.

He smiled blandly out onto the throng and spoke to her out of the side of his mouth. "Where have you been? You told me it wouldn't be another of these."

She waved at someone across the room. "The truth is, I lied. Simple as that."

"One of these days, Van..."

"I look forward to it." She tapped out a Gauloise on her thumbnail and lit it, cupping the match like a sailor on a windy deck, then she squinted through the curling acrid smoke to find a handy ashtray, failing which, she tossed the match onto the thick carpeting. One fist on her hip, she looked disdainfully over the party, the pungent French cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth, the hard, intelligent eyes examining and dismissing the guests. An expatriate American, Vanessa wrote the leanest, most penetrating art criticism current in England under the name of Van Dyke, which the uninitiated took to be an alias. Jonathan had known her for years and had always admired and liked her, even during the flamboyant stage of her life when she had turned up at parties with a young whore on either arm, flaunting her homosexuality with defensive vigor. They disagreed totally about art, and had great battles in private, but should someone less informed join in, they united to destroy him.

Jonathan looked at her profile and noticed with surprise that age was making rapid inroads on her. Still thin as a reed under the black slacks and turtlenecked sweater that were her trademark, she had short tousled hair shot with gray, and the alert, nervous movements of her expressive hands revealed nails bitten to the quick.

"Have you met the Struggling Young Person?" she asked, leaning against the bar with her elbows and surveying the gathering without sympathy.

"No. Why did you ask me to come here?"

Vanessa avoided the question. "Have you seen his shit?"

"I glanced around when I came in."

"That's him over there." She gestured with her pointed chin.

Jonathan looked through the milling bodies to a dour young man with a shaggy beard and a corduroy hunting jacket, flaunting his nonclass by drinking beer. He was surrounded by people so eager to be seen in his company that they were willing to pay the price of listening to him. Hovering in the background was a sere, uncertain girl in a long dress of madras, her nose sharp between falls of long oily hair. She had the intense look of a graduate student's wife concerned with social injustice, and Jonathan took her to be the painter's mistress.

Christ, they all look alike!

Knowing that the tenor of his thoughts would be identical to her own, Vanessa shrugged, saying, "Well, at least he's fairly unassuming."

Jonathan looked again over the modern daubs on the carpeted walls. "What are his options?"

A couple were pushing their way through the crowd toward Jonathan. "Oh, Christ," he said from between teeth clenched in a smile.

"Come on," Vanessa said, drawing her arm through his and guiding him away, leaning against him in a masque of romantic conversation. But as they turned the first corner they ran smack into a conversational group of three that blocked their passage.

"Van, you harlot!" greeted a young man in a pale blue suede jacket with metal-tipped fringe. "You've just taken our much-touted art expert here all for yourself and you're gobbling him all up!" He looked at Jonathan, his eyebrows arched in anticipation of an introduction.

Vanessa ignored him, turning to a middle-aged man wearing heavy clothes and an open, eager expression that had a canine flavor. "Sir Wilfred Pyles, Jonathan Hemlock. I believe your commission had something to do with getting him here."

"Good to see you here, Jon."

"You mean at this party, Fred?"

"Well, no. I meant in the country actually."

"Ah-ha!" Vanessa said. "I had no idea you two knew one another."

"Yes indeed," Sir Wilfred explained. "I've been an admirer of Jon's for years. But not as an art critic. I'm afraid I'm only one of those chaps who know what they like. No, my acquaintance with Jonathan Hemlock was under rather a different heading. I used to be an enthusiastic amateur mountaineer, don't you know. Just puffing about and hill bashing, really. But I read all the journals and became familiar with this fellow's exploits. And, when I had a chance to meet him, I grabbed it. That was—how long ago was it, Jon?"

Jonathan smiled, uncomfortable as he always was when talking about climbing. "I haven't climbed for years."

"Well, I shouldn't wonder. I mean—that must have been a nasty business on the Eiger. Three men, wasn't it?"

Jonathan cleared his throat "I don't climb seriously anymore."

"Not only that," Vanessa said, squeezing his arm, realizing that he wanted to change the subject, "he's given up serious criticism as well. Or haven't you read his latest bag of garbage?" She turned to the crisp, beautiful woman of uncertain years who stood beside Sir Wilfred. "And you are...?"

"Oh, yes. Sorry," Sir Wilfred said. "Mrs. Amelia Farquahar. A friend of mine, actually."

"No one's introduced me yet," the suede jacket said.

Vanessa patted his cheek. "That's because no one's noticed you yet, darling boy."

"Oh, I doubt that. I doubt that." But his peeve lasted only a second. "Actually, we were having a lively conversation when you broke in. Lively and a little naughty."

"Oh?" Vanessa asked Mrs. Farquahar.

"Yes. We were, in fact, discussing the myth of vaginal climax." Mrs. Farquahar turned to Jonathan. "What are your opinions on that, Dr. Hemlock?"

"As an art critic?"

"As a mountain climber, if you'd rather."

Sir Wilfred grunted. "All part of women's liberation, I shouldn't wonder. I hear you've been having quite a lot of that in your country."

"Mostly among the losers," Jonathan said, smiling.

Vanessa smiled back. "You turd."

Доступ к книге ограничен фрагменом по требованию правообладателя.

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