The trim little man did the thing he always did with the palm of his hand, running it over his yellow hair to flatten it down. He inched his chair a little closer to the microphone. The BBC people were still adjusting whatever they adjusted in the minute before a broadcast, giving the King just enough time to reconsider his words. He smoothed the typewritten page on the desk with the flat of his hand just as he had done with his hair. He put his right hand in his trouser pocket and scratched his leg through the material. Of all the things that had happened to him up to now, all the things he had been given and all the things he was now giving away, trouser pockets suddenly seemed immensely important. His father had had all of David's pockets sewn up when he was a boy, to teach him to keep his hands out of them. If only Father had been a little more understanding.
Ten...nine...eight...The man on the other side of the desk was counting down from ten with his fingers. How had the poem gone? "Give crowns and pounds and guineas, but not your heart away." The man had run out of fingers.
"At long last I am able to say a few words of my own. I have never wanted to withhold anything, but until now it has not been constitutionally possible for me to speak. A few hours ago I discharged my last duty as King and Emperor, and now that I have been succeeded by my brother, the Duke of York, my first words must be to declare my allegiance to him. This I do with all my heart."
The words poured out of the sleek new Bakelite radio in the darkened drawing room of the Villa Lou Viei. The villa's owner, the tall, patrician American Herman Rogers, stood at the window, smoking. It was ten o'clock, too dark to make out the Mediterranean on a moonless night. His wife, Katherine, sat on the sofa, holding her houseguest's hand.
"I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the Empire which as Prince of Wales, and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve. But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."
With that, Wallis Simpson let go of Katherine Rogers's hand and picked up one of the little Ming figurines from the table next to the radio. Calmly, she dropped it on the stone floor. Herman Rogers turned back from the window at the sound. Without looking up, Wallis said, "I'll pay for it, of course."
Meanwhile, in New York, a group of men was gathered around the large mahogany DuMont radio in the place they called The Room, at 34 East Sixty-second Street. They were dressed in evening clothes, though it was only four in the afternoon local time. The voice speaking from the Augusta Tower in Windsor Castle was a familiar one. Many had golfed or ridden or sailed with him.
"I want you to know that the decision I have made has been mine and mine alone. This was a thing I had to judge entirely for myself. The other person most nearly concerned has tried up to the last to persuade me to take a different course. I have made this, the most serious decision of my life, only upon the single thought of what would in the end be best for all."
Vincent Astor, the old-money New York financier, poured the Krug '28 for his fellow members of The Room: Winthrop W. Aldrich, president of the Chase National Bank; Nelson Doubleday, publisher; William Rhinelander Stewart, philanthropist heir to a department store fortune; Marshall Field, journalist, whose family had even bigger department stores; David K. E. Bruce, sometime diplomat; and Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore's son, among others. They raised their glasses.
"I now quit altogether public affairs, and I lay down my burden. It may be some time before I return to my native land, but I shall always follow the fortunes of the British race and Empire with profound interest, and if at any time in the future I can be found of service to His Majesty in a private station, I shall not fail. And now we all have a new King. I wish him, and you, his people, happiness and prosperity with all my heart. God bless you all. God save the King."
Astor proposed the toast. "God save the King! And...to hell with the Duke!" The men laughed and clinked their glasses and congratulated one another on a job well done.
It had been a beautiful summer day, but now it was after midnight and the well-known couple just wanted to get back to the apartment for a few hours of sleep before returning to London.
The paparazzi were waiting in front of the hotel on the Place Vendôme, so they hurried out the back, she in light-colored trousers and a dark blazer, he in jeans and a leather shirt. Instead of their usual limousine they were bundled into a less conspicuous Mercedes 280S. The security man from the hotel drove the car. The bodyguard, a former member of the Parachute Regiment who had done two stints in Northern Ireland, got in next to him and fastened his seat belt.
As always, time was of the essence. A couple of photographers on motorbikes were already alerting their colleagues to join the chase. The driver quickly pulled out into the rue de Rivoli but found a car stalled in the lane for the Champs-Élysées. So he made for the Seine and the tunnel under the Place de l'Alma, just as the men who had blocked the exit knew he would.
Nothing had been left to chance. The closed-circuit video cameras en route and the speed-enforcement ones in the Alma tunnel had all suddenly "malfunctioned" at the stroke of midnight. The man with the brake box was waiting behind the tunnel's ninth concrete post for his cue, the moment when the Kawasaki motorcycle would come into view.
At exactly twenty-five minutes after midnight, the two stuntmen on the Kawasaki came tearing through the concrete maze ahead of the Mercedes and the recently painted white car, weighted down with cement blocks in the trunk, that was poking along in the right-hand lane. When the driver of the white car suddenly turned his wheel full to the left and rammed the Mercedes, the piercing screech of shearing sheet metal filled the tunnel as the two cars went door to door. The driver of the Mercedes was fighting to regain control when the man on the back of the Kawasaki the one wearing the special goggles turned in his seat and aimed his weapon. The American-made SureFire Dominator high-intensity light flashed its 460 blue-white lumens directly into the driver's eyes, forcing the reflex known as optic shutdown. Later, the first paparazzo to reach the scene would report a blinding light coming from the tunnel half a mile ahead of him.
Now the man crouching behind the pillar hit the switch on his "Boston Brakes" box a misnomer, really, as it was the drivetrain and steering wheel on the Mercedes he was now controlling, not the brakes and moved the joystick violently left, then right, then left again. The 280S jerked to the left, crossed to the right ahead of the white car, and then came back across the road toward oncoming traffic, smashing into the thirteenth concrete pillar and coming to a stop, facing the way it had come.
In the back seat of the wreck, the boyfriend was dead and the woman who knew too much would soon be joining him. It was simply a question of injecting the dying driver with the syringe of alcohol and chemicals, detaching the shortwave receiver from the Mercedes drivetrain, and, to sell the white car story, salting the crash scene with a few broken Fiat Uno parts. The white car had already driven away, followed into the night by the men on the motorcycle. Another car that had been traveling behind the Mercedes now slowed just enough so the man with the brake box could get in. Then it too sped away before the first of the photographers reached the crash. Copyright © 2007 by Mitch Silver
Mr. Raymond Greenberg, or his assigns
88 Edgewood Avenue New Haven, CT 06511 USA
4 April 2005
Dear Mr. Greenberg,
Our information shows you are the holder of record of Box 1007, Ansbacher Bank, 33 Shelbourne Road, Dublin 4, Eire. Pursuant to the recent sale and impending closure of the Ansbacher Bank, we are requesting non-Resident holders of safety deposit boxes to remove all goods and valuables from said boxes by 15 May 2005.
We regret that failure to do so will result in public auction of said valuables, the proceeds, if any, to be credited to the holder's account after payment of required sales and transfer taxes.
Please advise soonest.
Vice-President of Private Banking, Rand Bank Group, Cayman Islands, Dublin, Johannesburg,
London, Munich, New York, Paris, Zurich
Dear Mr. Greenberg,
I regret to inform you that recent adverse decisions of the Irish Tax Courts have forced us to liquidate all assets of the Ansbacher Bank. Permit me to express the holding company's deep regret for any inconvenience this has caused our customers, especially one of such long standing as yourself.
Permit me to add my personal regret that we have never met. If you are coming over, please call on me personally at the bank so I may assist you in any way I can.
Amy Greenberg folded the letter and let it drop into the soft-sided black computer bag that doubled as her briefcase. The cab had already jolted her over several thousand of Dublin's finest cobblestones, and the driver, in his effort to take the longest, most expensive route from her hotel, seemed determined to leave no stone untouched. Amy didn't mind. The city on this morning in early May was just as she had remembered it from fifteen years before, that wonderful two months she'd spent researching her dissertation on the Book of Kells.
The cab ride had even taken her past the rundown youth hostel on Bride Road, now even shabbier. She'd made the driver stop there while she'd hurriedly sketched it in the converted day planner she always carried in her handbag, drawing a circle around the third-floor window. She would impatiently spend her nights in the room on the other side of that window, counting the hours until the moment the doors to Trinity College Library would reopen in the morning allowing her back into the presence of the most beautiful illuminated manuscript in the world. She could see it as if it were in front of her now: the four Gospels of the New Testament, painstakingly transcribed by hand onto 680 pages of calfskin in a spectacularly Celtic version of Latin script, the insular majuscule, all elongated letter forms, exaggerated serifs and ligatures. And that was just the calligraphy. Virtually every page was inked in as many as ten colors, with no symbol, illuminated initial, or Celtic knot ever repeated.
If God is in the details, He is in every page of the Book of Kells. When her dissertation had been published as The Book of Kells and the Magical Power of the Truth, Amy had asked the publisher to enlarge one square inch from a single initial ornate capital letter that contained over 180 delicately inked interlacings. Sure, the Lindisfarne Gospels had its fans, but for Amy's money those silent and anonymous men living on the island of Iona had knocked one out of the park when they'd finished the Book 1,200 years ago.
The cab came to a stop in front of a Late Georgian edifice where a yard sale seemed to be in progress. People were coming and going with shopping bags and satchels. One woman walking down the steps lugged a big cardboard box overflowing with a mink coat. Amy dug into her wallet for the euros her dollars had bought at the airport and handed a wad of them to the self-satisfied driver.
No heads turned that Monday morning when the American stepped out of the cab. Not that she wasn't perfectly nice to look at, she was possessing her family's olive skin and the dark, tightly curled hair she liked to think of as "electric." But Amy knew hers was the body type people call "angular" as opposed to the head-turning "womanly." Speeding past forty, she realized she'd spent most of her adult mental life in the Middle Ages. It hit her now that "middle age" was taking on a new, and unwelcome, meaning.
Making her way up the front steps of the bank, Amy thought back on what a strange couple ofweeks it had been. She had felt a sort of seismic shift the moment she'd picked up the mail at her Yale post office box and had seen the Irish stamps on the envelope. Her grandfather Raymond's will had made no mention of a Dublin safe deposit box. As his only surviving relative and executor, she was in a position to know. What's more, this Milo Macken person obviously had no idea that Chief had died almost ten years before.
And the letter wasn't even the week's big event. Scott had finally proposed! She was picturing him now, down on bended knee in the middle of the restaurant like some swain of yore, with the borrowed ring in his hand, telling her he loved her in the quaint remnants of an upper-class English accent. He was awfully gangly was there a height limit on swains? but cute-gangly, kneeling there even as the waiter was serving the tiramisu.
She'd said yes, of course. Who could turn down an ardent lover in front of all those smiling faces at the other tables, strangers looking on in hushed amusement as they waited for your answer? He'd slipped the ring on her finger and they'd kissed and the place had burst into applause. She took a quick peek at it on her finger now. The jeweler had given the ring to Scott to propose with while hers was being engraved. It had taken every ounce of her discipline not to wave it in every shop clerk's face during the weekend.
Amy pushed on the bank's oversized revolving door and for a moment she could see her reflection in the glass. What did he see in her, anyway? Too tall, too flat. It was a lot easier to understand what she saw in him. On the surface, Scott Harcourt Brown had everything Amy had always wanted. Smarts. A sense of humor. And a shared interest in art. In his case, he'd got it from his mother, Margaret Harcourt Brown, who'd made a name for herself in European bronzes and was still going strong doing art history in London. Scott had come over to the States to do his graduate work with Amy's grandfather, the man everyone called Chief. The gawky young Englishman became the star pupil who eventually moved in, renting the spare room on the third floor. He had stayed on after his old professor's death, and now he was really moving in. A rising star in Yale's Renaissance department, Scott was already tenured at age thirtysix much to Amy's untenured chagrin. Oh, he was a charmer, all right.
And yet. There was something about the way he'd popped the question in public so she couldn't say no on the very evening she'd told him about the letter from the Irish bank. She should have known something was up. Galileo's was way too pricey for a couple of teachers. And the way Scott had peppered her with questions on the walk over. He'd started with, "What did they say was in the safe deposit box?"
"And what's the deadline again for picking it up, whatever it is?"
"And your grandfather never mentioned storing something valuable in Ireland?"
"Scott, sweetheart, I told you all this. I showed you the letter. You read the letter. You know everything I know."
"You're sure Chief never discussed "
"Never. Why all the questions?"
He mumbled something like "Curiosity, that's all," and let the subject drop.
The Ansbacher Bank, now that Amy was standing in the vast lobby, was in its death throes. A century ago it must have been an awe-inspiring cathedral of commerce, reassuring the depositor with its marble and granite permanence. Now it was a mostly empty way station for hundreds of cardboard storage boxes full of valuables or files, Amy couldn't tell which.
Amy's mind's eye was picturing another lobby, though, the one in the Omni Hotel in New Haven. Galileo's, with its romantic nighttime view of the New Haven Green, is on the hotel's nineteenth floor. But Scott was so preoccupied the night he proposed, he forgot to press the button for the elevator. He'd just stood there, waiting. And then, on the way up, Amy had had to take Scott's hand in hers, giving it an extra squeeze every couple of floors to try to bring his thoughts back to her. To them.
The whole proposal must have been an unsettling thing for him. It certainly was spontaneous: he said he'd picked out the ring that very afternoon. Amy didn't know whether to feel good or put off by that. Who the hell buys a ring these days without asking the woman what she wants? So many questions...Wasn't marrying the man in your life supposed to put an end to questions? Or was she just having the jitters, a slight case of buyer's remorse? This was one of those times when a girl really needed her mother.
Scott's mother had seemed awfully nice on the phone. He had insisted on waking her up in the middle of the London night to tell her their good news. Then and there Mrs. Brown had volunteered to help Amy "with all the motherly, busybody details" of the wedding. As if she had already known Amy's story, about the death of her parents. Amy smiled. Scott must have been planning it with her all along.
She was already more than halfway across the marble floor of the old-fashioned bank, her rubber-soled shoes making little squelching sounds with every step. Amy could have chosen the perfectly presentable, and quieter, black flats. But no, she had to wear the not particularly comfortable low heels with their red leather lining her own secret red battle flag in the cause of individuality. She wished Scott was here with her, despite her misgivings. But he had two final exams to grade and couldn't get away. Her classes had ended earlier than his, so they'd agreed she would come to Ireland alone. And then, when the History of Art Department had asked her to run an errand for them "as long as you're in Dublin anyway" and agreed to pay for her flight and only her flight her going solo was a done deal.
Nearly everyone else on the plane was coming over for the grand finale of Dublin's yearlong celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday. She had seen many of her fellow passengers again and again that weekend, wearing their ReJoyce buttons as they fanned out from the Irish National Library on Kildare Street, crossing and recrossing the River Liffey as they retraced the fictional steps of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus. Amy had seen them as she looked out the windows of the lace and dress shops on O'Connell and Grafton Streets. She had decided on the plane that walking down the aisle in a wedding dress of Irish linen was the only way to go. After all, Dublin was a long way to come for what might be an empty safe deposit box, and now she was glad she had found the dress for her big day. A sort of Gibson Girl number, it was trimmed in handmade Irish crochet lace on the high collar, bodice, back, and sleeves, with little bows on the skirt along with hundreds of tiny tucks. Maybe it was already on its way to the States.
Within moments, Amy was shown into the office of the vice-president of private banking. After examining her paperwork, the young but hardly youthful Mr. Milo Macken led her to the elevator. "It's a sad day. A sad couple of weeks, actually." He pressed the down arrow. "For ninety-two years we've been our own little Swiss canton right here in the Republic. Numbered accounts, client confidentiality, and, of course, our little offshore wrinkle. Funds deposited here could be invested in the Caymans without so much as a by-your-leave to the Irish Inland Revenue."
He led her into the elevator and pressed Vault. "Was your grandfather a singer or dancer?"
"A college professor."
Macken sighed. "Pity. We were very popular with your glam entertainers and tax-averse professionals. Until the courts barged in."
The elevator opened onto a reception area of stiff leather chairs and mahogany end tables and, beyond it, a barred grille through which Amy could see rows of safe deposit boxes. A fortyish woman with unfashionably long, coal black hair sat at a desk across from the elevator.
Macken did the honors. "Miss Greenberg, this is our Mrs. O'Beirne." Amy had thought of piping up with a politically correct "Ms. Greenberg," or even "Dr. Greenberg" (she did have her PhD), but well, when in Dublin...Mrs. O'Beirne wore one of those skirt-and-jacket business outfits that had been out of style with American women for years. She produced a file of papers and a separate, yellowed envelope. Clearing her throat, she read aloud from the file.
" 'Amy M. Greenberg, born 22 February 1963, parents deceased. Sole surviving relation to Grandfather Raymond Greenberg, died 12 December 1995.' " She looked up at Amy. "Thank you for faxing the testamentary documents to us."
"Colleen O'Beirne wears two hats here," Macken put in. "She manages our private client facility, and in her professional capacity as solicitor is empowered to produce certain articles which have been entrusted to the bank's care."
On cue, Mrs. O'Beirne picked up a letter opener and slit open the envelope, allowing a little silver key to fall into her palm. "All I am in a position to tell you is this: In 1964, someone other than your grandfather paid for a long-term lease on box 1007 and put it in the name of Raymond Greenberg of New Haven, Connecticut. He or she left the key in the bank's keeping with the stipulation that the box not be opened until fifty years after the purchaser's death. Had the bank not been liquidated" at this, she glanced fiercely over at Macken "we would not be having this conversation for another decade." Mrs. O'Beirne handed Amy the key. "All right, Martin," she said. "We're ready."
A man Amy had taken for another customer got up from one of the chairs and smiled at her with a collection of mismatched teeth. "Pleased to be of service, miss."
Macken turned to go. "I'll leave you here," he said. "Unfortunately, I have a flight to catch. Martin will witness the opening of the box with Mrs. O'Beirne and will certify that it's empty once you have removed your goods. It's been a pleasure having you as a customer, Miss Greenberg."
As Macken walked away, the man named Martin pressed a code into an electronic box and opened the grille. Then he led them through narrow corridors to number 1007. Hers was one of the smaller boxes. So much for gold bullion, Amy thought. Martin inserted a key into the box. Amy put the one she had just been given in right below it and pulled on the handle. Thinking it might be heavy, Martin braced his hands under the box as it slid away from the others. No such luck. Amy easily carried it over to a high wooden table nearby. Inside, nothing gleamed or twinkled. All she saw was a thick pile of papers kept in place by two straining rubber bands. Amy glanced up at Mrs. O'Beirne, who was discreetly looking away from the box and its contents. "I should have known," Amy said. "What do you give a college professor? Papers."
Eager to discover if anything of more fungible value was lurking at the bottom of the box, Amy picked up the three-inch sheaf of papers by their forty-year-old rubber bands, one of which immediately snapped, stinging her hand like a scorpion. Amy lost her grip, scattering her inheritance all over the floor.
Right away, Martin knelt down and started to retrieve the papers. "Let me help you, miss." Soon he and Mrs. O'Beirne were handing her fistfuls of what appeared to be a manuscript, with a few handwritten letters thrown in along with official-looking documents in different languages. Mrs. O'Beirne looked up from the pages in her hand. "The typed ones seem to be numbered, at least. That should be of some help." Martin came out from under the wooden table, holding what appeared to be the title page.
It said, "Provenance, by I. Fleming." Copyright © 2007 by Mitch Silver