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"Basically I like the idea," Bet Gunning leaned across the table, her eyes, as they focused on Jo's face, intense behind the large square lenses of her glasses.
Jo was watching her intently, admiring Bet's professionalism after the relaxed lunch at Wheeler's.
Their eyes met and both women smiled appreciatively. They had been friends for five years, ever since Bet had taken over as editor of Women in Action. Jo had been on the staff then, learning the trade of journalism. She learned fast. When she left to go freelance it was because she could name her figure for the articles she was producing.
"'Anything Ethnic,' 'Medieval Medicine,' 'Cosmic Consciousness'-my God, what's that?-'Meditation and Religion'-you'll have to keep that light-" Bet was going through the list in her head. "'Regression: Is history still alive?' That's the reincarnation one, yes? I read an article about it somewhere quite recently. It was by an American woman, if I remember, and totally credulous. I must try to look it up. You will, of course, be approaching it from quite the opposite standpoint."
Jo smiled. "They tried it on me once, at the university. That's what gave me the idea. The world authority on the subject, Michael Cohen, tried to put me under-and failed. He gave me the creeps! The whole thing is rubbish."
Bet gave a mock sigh. "Okay, Jo, show me the outlines. I'm thinking in terms of a New Year or spring slot so you've got plenty of time. Now, what about illustrations? Are you fixed up or do you want them done in house?"
"I want Tim Heacham."
"You'll be lucky! He's booked solid these days. And he'd cost."
"He'll do it for me."
Bet raised an eyebrow. "Does he know that?"
"He will soon."
"And what will Nick say?"
Jo's face tightened for a moment. "Nick Franklyn can go take a running jump, Bet."
"I see. That bad?"
"He's moved out?"
"He's moved out. With cream, please." Jo smiled up at the waiter who had approached with the coffeepot.
Bet waited until he had withdrawn. "Permanently?"
"That's right. I threw his camera across the room when I found out he'd been sleeping with Judy Curzon."
Bet laughed. "You cow." She sounded admiring.
"It was insured. But my nerves aren't. I'm not possessive, Bet, but he's not going to mess me about like that. If it's off it's off. I don't run a boardinghouse. What do you think about the title of the series?"
"Nostalgia Dissected?" Bet looked up, her head a little to one side. "Not bad. I'm not totally convinced, but it certainly puts the finger on your approach." She beckoned to the waiter for the bill. "Aren't you going to tell me any more about Nick?"
Jo put down her coffee cup and pushed it away. She stared down at her hand, extending it over the tablecloth, flexing her fingers as if amazed they still worked. "It is three years, four months, and eight days since I met Sam again and he introduced me to his brother. Doesn't that surprise you?"
"It surprises me that you counted, lovie," Bet said slightly acidly, tossing her American Express card down on the waiter's tray.
"I worked it out last night in the bath. It's too long, Bet. Too long to live in someone's pocket, however well one gets on. And, as you know, we don't all that often!"
"Bullshit. You're made for each other."
Jo picked up her coffee spoon and idly drew a cross in the surface of the sugar in the earthenware bowl in the center of the table, watching the crystals impact and crumble with a concentrated frown.
"Perhaps that's it. We're so awfully alike in a lot of ways. And we are competitive. That's bad in a relationship." She stood up, the drab olive of her dress emphasizing her tanned arms with their thin gold bangles as she unslung the canvas satchel from the back of the chair and swung it onto her shoulder.
"Tim said he'd be at his studio this afternoon so I'm going up to see him now. Are you going straight back across the river?"
"'Fraid so. I've got a meeting at three." Bet was tucking the credit card back in her wallet. "I won't give you any good advice, Jo, because I know you won't listen, but don't hop straight into bed with Tim out of revenge, will you. He's a nice guy. Too nice to be used."
Jo smiled. "I didn't hear that, Miss Gunning. Besides, I'm a nice guy too, sometimes. Remember?"
She walked slowly, threading her way through the crowded streets, the June sun shining relentlessly on the exposed pavements. Here and there a restaurant had spilled umbrella-shaded tables out onto the pavement, where people dawdled over their coffee. In England, she thought affectionately, the sun makes people smile; that was good. In a hot climate it drove them to commit murder.
She ran up the dark uncarpeted staircase to Tim's studio in an old warehouse off Long Acre and let herself in without knocking. The studio was deserted, the lines of spots cold and dark as she walked in. She glanced around, wondering if Tim had forgotten, but he was there, alone, in shirt sleeves, reclining on the velvet chaise longue that was one of his favorite photographic props. There was a can of Long Life in his hand. Above him the sun, freed from the usual heavy blinds, streamed through huge open skylights. "Jo! How's life?" He managed to lever himself upright, a painfully thin man, six foot four in his bare feet, with wispy fair hair. His unbuttoned shirt swung open, revealing a heavy silver chain on which hung an engraved amulet.
"Beer or coffee, sweetheart? I'm right out of champagne."
Jo threw her bag on the floor and headed for the kitchenette next to one of the dark rooms. "Coffee, thanks. I'll make it. Are you sober, Tim?"
He raised his eyebrows, hurt. "When am I not?"
"Frequently. I've got a job for you. Six to be precise, and I want to talk about them. Then we'll go and see Bet Gunning in a week or two if you agree."
Jo reappeared with two mugs of black Nescafé, handing one to Tim. Then she pulled a sheaf of notes from her bag and peeled a copy off for him. "Take a look at the subjects, just to give you an idea."
He read down the page slowly, nodding critically, as she sipped her coffee.
"Presumably it's the approach that's going to be new, sweetie? When's the deadline?"
"I've got months. There's quite a lot of research involved. Will you do them for me?"
He glanced up at her, his clear light-green eyes intense. "Of course. Some nice posed ones, some studio stuff-whole foods and weaving-the vox pops in chiaroscuro.
Great. I like this one especially. Reincarnation. I can photograph a suburban mum under hypnosis who thinks she's Cleopatra as she has an orgasm with Antony, only Antony will be missing." He threw the notes to the floor and sipped his coffee thoughtfully. "I saw someone being hypnotized a few months back, you know. It was weird. He was talking baby talk and crying all over his suit. Then they took him back to this so-called previous life and he spouted German, fluent as a native."
Jo's eyes narrowed. "Faked, of course."
"Uh-uh. I don't think so. The guy swore he'd never learned German at all, and there's no doubt he was speaking fluently. Really fluently. I just wish there had been someone there who knew anything about Germany in the 1880s, which is when he said it was, who could have cross-questioned him. It was someone in the audience who spoke German to him. The hypnotist couldn't manage more than a few words of schoolboy stuff himself." Jo said, "Do you think it'll make a good article?"
"More like a book, love. Don't be too ready to belittle it, will you. I personally think there's a lot in it. Do you want me to introduce you to Bill Walton? That's the hypnotist."