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Destiny awaits them all in Beauregard House at London's Lancaster Gate.
John becomes involved in the tangled affairs of Madeline Claiborne, a professional model preparing to model Marallon's newest products at London's major department stores. They travel to Cambridge to visit Madeline's grandmother-later tour London's sights, but their growing affection for each other is interrupted by his consulting engagement in Tokyo for Marallon Cosmetics. They promise to meet again at the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square after his work in Japan is completed. Will they meet again or will John return to his previous life?
Kinya Arakawa, managing director of Marallon Japan, glanced down at the notes on his desk, took off his reading glasses, and looked around at his executive staff, seated in chairs in front of him.
Speaking quietly, he said, "The Mainichi police have finished their investigation of the murder of the Star Bright Cosmetics store owner. The report will be released to the press tomorrow, but since Star Bright was a major distributor of Marallon cosmetics, Inspector Matsumoto released an early copy to me today. It's taken quite a while, and they've done a very thorough job. But again-as in the previous two murders of cosmetic store owners-they have found no clues to the murder of Mr. Hirata at the Star Bright. The case is considered to be closed."
He hesitated, looked over at his secretary, who was taking notes of the meeting, and then continued. "The case will be carried as an open, unsolved murder, of course. The police investigated the family situation and found no reason to suspect anyone. Competitive retail stores are not of a size for the owners to have had any reason to want Mr. Hirata murdered. Robbery was not a factor. This crime was committed by stabbing, not strangulation with a Marallon scarf as were the prior two killings, as you recall."
He glanced around the group and said to the Tokyo sales manager, "Fukamiya-san, you'll be glad to hear that the police confirm your assessment that our salesman calling on the account was not in the vicinity of the store at the time of the murder and had absolutely nothing more than a casual business relationship with the owner of the Star Bright shop."
Turning to the marketing director, he noted, "Manufacturers of other cosmetics products sold in the Star Bright store cooperated fully with the investigation, and no reason to suspect implication of any of them was found."
Pausing, he sat back in his chair and then said, "This is the third time we've dealt with the murder of a major Marallon retail store owner in the past two years."
Glancing toward the personnel manager, he said, "None of our personnel files have revealed even a hint that anyone in our employ could be associated with these or any other crimes, but it seems to me that it's too much of a coincidence."
Standing up, he paced a few steps back and forth beside the desk. Running his fingers through his gray hair, he said, "From the facts as we've found them to date, it may be true that no one in our organization is implicated in any way, but I'm not convinced. Marallon has not had a situation like this anywhere else in the world. We conducted our own in-house reviews after each of the first two murders, with London's management assistance, and we've completed our own recent review since the third murder."
He paused, and his eyes swept across the faces of his staff. He continued, "But I'm still not satisfied. I've decided to ask Marallon U.S. to work out an arrangement for the London office to send an independent consultant to study our methods of operation. Perhaps an unbiased overview of the way that we do business, our everyday procedures, may reveal something that we've overlooked."
Sitting down in his chair again, he said, "I'll recommend that the consultant be given a thorough training course in UK operations and then come here to study us, to make sure that our methods are consistent with those of our London parent company, and to assure that we get an unbiased opinion."
Summing up, he continued, "The goal is not to find the murderer. The police have tried that three times and failed. The goal is to have an independent examination of our operations to see if there's anything that we're doing that contributed to the deaths of our three retailers and, if possible, to make sure there will be no way for any one of our people to become involved in such a tragedy in the future."
Looking at each individual in turn, he said, "That's all I have at the moment. If anyone has any questions, please wait. I'll try to answer them."
On a train from Ramsgate, in the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, John McKay, a British consultant working for the London office of Worldwide Consultants, took a puff from his cigarette and ran an interested eye over the business news in the Financial Times. He laid the paper aside and glanced out of the window. His eye caught his reflection in the glass: the lightly tanned, well-shaved face of a thirty-year-old Englishman with light hair and somewhat shaggy eyebrows. They were slowing down for the stop at Canterbury. He looked at his watch-another two hours to go.
He thought again about what he'd been told had happened in the chairman's office at Worldwide Consultants headquarters one rainy May morning in Chicago. A vice president from the New York office of Marallon Cosmetics, having responsibility for the Japanese subsidiary, had discussed the murders of the retail store owners in Tokyo.
There was no direct relationship between the victims and the Marallon Company. Internal audits had found no connection with the murders, but the managing director was not satisfied.
Worldwide's chairman, Archie McClanahan's recommendation to detail a consultant from one of Worldwide's offices in Britain for an intensive course in Marallon UK operations, as a first step in reaching a satisfactory answer, was accepted by the U.S. company.
The first phase of the job had gone well. John had reported to Marallon's Ramsgate office, settled in at a temporary desk, and during the week met with headquarters' marketing and financial groups.
After information-packed working days, evening walks getting acquainted with the seafront toward Margate and then turning south toward Deal and the White Cliffs had been pleasant. Temporary lodging in the company flat at Broadstairs had been convenient, and the beach environment had been ideal for the hardworking bachelor, who had been detailed from Birmingham and was more than willing to brave the chilly breezes barreling in from the Channel.
It was stuffy in the smoking carriage. He unbuttoned his vest, ran a hand through his blond, wavy hair, and pulled down the knot of his tie, wishing he hadn't worn it since he was only on his way to a hotel.
From his jacket pocket, John took out a letter. The directions were clear.
New Bond St.
During your stay in London, you are to reside at a residential hotel near the company's Bond Street office. A reservation has been made for you at Beauregard House, on Gloucester Terrace, at Lancaster Gate. You are to report to Mr. Tim Campbell, our marketing director, at Marallon House at the top of New Bond Street on Monday, 17 June 2002, at 0900 hours.
John McKay looked up from the letter and tried to remember when exactly he had been to the West End. It must have been seven-no, eight years ago. He had visited London during his last year at graduate school in Birmingham and vaguely remembered Marble Arch, Speakers Corner, and Hyde Park with the lake in the center-was it the Serpentine?
It was Friday afternoon. He had the weekend to renew his acquaintance with that part of London. Refolding the letter, nodding his head in gentle approval of his recollection, John McKay allowed his eyes to close. He dozed.
Madeline Claiborne, on a train from Brighton in a third-class carriage with three other travelers in it, leaned her head back and shut her eyes. She thought, How pleasant it is traveling by train today! It'll be nice to get to London. Really a great piece of luck getting this job.
When you wanted a photo modeling assignment it nearly always meant beach scenes at Brighton in a bikini, or posing with a new automobile or vacuum cleaner. For the professional model, cosmetics photo assignments were difficult to get, and landing one that involved a stay in London for an extended period of time seemed almost impossible. Even the agency hadn't held out much hope.
And then the letter had arrived.
New Bond St.
As discussed during your interview, we have received your photo portfolio from the International Beauty Institute, which included the samples of your work with competitive beauty products. It is understood that you are available to stay in London for approximately one month while we complete photo sessions for a new product line introduction and a series of personal appearances in cosmetics sections at Harrods, Selfridges, and similar locations. Please report to Mr. Tim Campbell, marketing director, at Marallon House on Friday, 14 June 2002 at 0900 hours.
As agreed, reservations have been made for you at Beauregard House on Gloucester Terrace, at Lancaster Gate. Please take Thursday's 1240 train from Oakbridge station. You will be met at Paddington.
Assistant to Mr. Campbell
Suddenly, in spite of the pleasant temperature in the carriage, a warm flush crossed her face, and she wished she wasn't going on a close-up photo assignment. A picture rose clearly in her mind. Aaron, lying where he had fallen when the ladder tipped over, his arm and his smashed camera engulfed in flames beside the overturned oil lamps, and Madeline struggling to pull him back out of the flames but knowing, only too surely, that she wouldn't be able to save him.
She shuddered, put both hands to her forehead, covering her eyes, and took a deep breath. She dropped her hands back into her lap. She turned her head, opened her eyes, and frowned at the man sitting opposite her. He was an older man with a pale face, gray hair, and dark eyes fixed on her. Visibly concerned and with his mouth breaking into a slow smile as he looked into her eyes, he asked, "Are you alright, miss?"
Smiling, she said, "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you."
Recovering quickly and turning to look out of the window, she thought to herself, He looks French. Probably just came in on the ferry from Dieppe.
Pierre Duval, sitting across from the woman he had just spoken to, thought to himself, Quite attractive. Reminds me of Nicole just about the time we married, just after receiving my PhD from MIT.
He frowned. His mind drifted back to his research project. He wished in a way that he hadn't agreed to do it now that he'd retired, but his work on nuclear instrumentation and radiation effects had established him as an authority, and he felt obligated to some of those who had known him at the Department of Energy.
Looking out the window at the English countryside, he thought that, as usual, it had been pleasant during the two weeks visiting his brother, who still lived in Dieppe, remembering his early teen years running messages for the underground and old times with other members of the Resistance right at the end of the war. He liked going back for the reunions every three years, and it was far easier making the trip since he'd become an American citizen, but the remaining members were getting fewer every time they met.
He didn't like being away from Nicole for two weeks, and the Channel crossing had not been smooth. Now the train was slowing for his stop at Haywards Heath. He had just two more days with Nicole at her sister's home not far from the station, and then they'd get back to Beauregard House at Lancaster Gate.
He'd be glad when he could sit down and move ahead with some new ideas. It was certainly fortunate that the terrorist attack on the Pentagon had not caused more damage.
He stood up, reached up to the overhead rack, put on his hat, and took hold of his briefcase and suitcase as the train rolled to a stop.
At Beauregard House, Susanna Brice, the hotel manager, stood casually at the reception desk and smiled to herself as Mrs. Brent moved slowly through the revolving door into the lobby.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" she asked the guest.
"Yes, I did find some brown shoes at Selfridges, but the prices are frightfully high," she replied as Susanna nodded.
It had been only a few days since Mrs. Brent had arrived from America with those four suitcases and her stated intention to stay indefinitely until she could decide where to retire. Actually, she was much too young to really retire. Her inheritance from Frank's estate had left her enough investments that she could stop working anytime; she really wasn't dependent on her salary. She had continued to work after Frank's death, primarily because she liked the work but also to keep her mind occupied and to close out the idea of a future without him.
She had been delighted when Susanna had thrown open a door at the end of a passage and led her into a pleasant bedroom with a big window that opened wide onto the rooftops of Bayswater, reminding her of the rooftops of Paris. She had known many Brits during her years in Morocco with the American Peace Corps and had decided that London's climate would be more tolerable than those years of unbearable summer heat in Rabat. And she hoped residing in the UK would be more secure than living in a Muslim country
As Susanna turned to go, Mrs. Brent said, "I've been meaning to ask why you have so many small tables in the dining room."
Turning back, Susanna replied, "We try to assure our guests of personal privacy. You've probably noticed each of our single guests has a tendency to sit at the same individual table at every meal. It seems to help residents feel they're enjoying the privacy of their own homes but are free to engage the other guests in conversation, should they so choose."
With a smile and a nod, Mrs. Brent started toward the lift. In her room, she placed her packages on the dresser, laid her hat alongside them, and then walked into the bathroom, turning on the light. Looking into the mirror, she ran her fingers through her dark brown hair, wincing at the gray streaks starting to show.
Reaching into her purse for her comb, she ran it briskly through her rumpled, wavy hair; she reached for a washcloth, dampening it with cold water. Removing her green-framed glasses, she sighed as she felt the water's coolness on her eyelids. She reached for a towel and then turned off the light and walked to the window. She was still tired from clearing her possessions out of her office in Rabat, her plane trip to Cleveland, and the flight from Chicago, and also a bit foot-weary from the morning's shopping but pleased to be settled in London.
John McKay stepped out of the first carat Lancaster Gate, the third tube stop from Oxford Circus on London's Central underground line. He rode the lift to the surface and stepped out into the West End's Bayswater section, north of Hyde Park. He looked across the street and saw he was very close to Victoria Gate, the entrance to the park near the top end of the Serpentine.
Shifting his suitcase to the other hand, he walked to Gloucester Terrace and Sussex Gardens, where the two streets connected with Bayswater Road. Walking along Gloucester Terrace, he passed a tobacconist shop and a small boutique, not really a shopping area but just a few houses in which the ground floors had been converted to businesses. He passed a small Italian restaurant, a trattoria that had a number of tables and chairs out on the sidewalk. Past Craven Road, a few of the houses had been transformed into bed-and-breakfast hotels, and toward the middle of the block stood the long terrace of Beauregard House.
In a rocking chair on the terrace, an older man sat reading a newspaper. He looked up with a faint smile and a friendly nod as John walked up the stairs. The man looked vaguely familiar to John McKay, but on second thought, he decided it was the man's smiling face, like that of a friendly salesman, that made him seem familiar. With an answering nod, he passed on through the revolving door to the lobby and stepped up to the registration desk. Standing there was Susanna Brice, smiling and looking casual but businesslike in her high-necked white blouse; she placed the phone back in its cradle and said, "Good afternoon, sir."
Excerpted from Lancaster Gate by William Lyster Copyright © 2009 by William Lyster. Excerpted by permission.
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