Going East

Going East

by Matthew D'Ancona


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Mia Taylor’s life is enviable: she has a high-profile career, a glamorous, powerful family, and feels trust and love for the world that surrounds her. And then a terrorist bomb destroys it all in one night. Struggling to comprehend the loss of everything she once took for granted, she exchanges Bond Street shopping trips and lavish galas for long hours working at a dilapidated health center in London's gritty East End. As she starts to emerge from grief, she begins to piece together what may have been a cover-up for her family’s destruction. Politics and corruption, poverty and decadence, bigotry and class warfare converge in what is at once a mystery, a love story, and a testament to the resilience that can only be born in the wake of turbulent times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400076031
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/03/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.87(d)

About the Author

MATTHEW d’ANCONA is the deputy editor and political columnist of The Sunday Telegraph in his native London. He lives in the East End with his wife and their two sons. Going East is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Dark thoughts coursed through the mind of Jeremy Taylor: It was a time to kill. He stretched and flexed his body, calculating the precise force and trajectory required for the strike to be fatal, the blow to administer justice. He began his lethal swing. But just as he was about to send his son Ben's green croquet ball singing into oblivion, his murderous reverie was punctured by his wife's voice. A hundred feet from the wicket and cluster of balls over which he loomed stood Jenny Taylor, clasping a gingham cloth in one hand and a box of something in the other. No second summons was necessary. And even at a distance, he could tell from her very posture—the position of her left leg in respect to her right, as it happened—that no such summons would be forthcoming.

Thirty-five years had taught him what each such configuration meant. He was an expert in the private semaphore of her body language and gestures. In her mauve cardigan and white shirt, she communicated the simmering impatience which was rarely given the chance to boil into fury. All was ready with the feast, he knew, but the croquet game was not over. The timing of the Taylor family, as ever, was just a little askew, and he wished, with a moment's flash of irritation, that, for once, this were not so.

"Come on, Dad," said Ben. "If you're going to kill me, kill me."

Closing in on their father, and swinging their mallets high above their heads, the twins approached to see what he would do. The green ball touched the blue and was ripe for vicious despatch. Though the turf of the park was shockingly uneven and offended Jeremy Taylor's deep love of a game he had mastered on the lawns of his father's Oxford college, there was no doubting his opportunity. Even his son could see this and, with the suicidal impulse that sometimes overtakes a player in a match he knows he has lost, longed to see his own murder carried out with beauty. His father began to swing and then, looking over to the copse of ferns, planted his mallet in the grass.

"No," he said. "I want to make you suffer. Afterwards."

"Afterwards?" said Ben. "It's five o'clock already. It'll be too dark when we're done eating. Come on, Dad. Don't be wet."

"Kill him, Dad," said Caitlin. "You know you want to."

"For God's sake, Dad," her sister Lara said. "This is it. Kill him before he turns thirty. It's too old anyway. Put him it out of his misery before he's an old man."

"No. Tempting as it is, I think we should eat. We can postpone the slaughter of Benjamin Taylor, aged twenty-nine, till after the feast. And I don't want to be slaughtered by your mother. She would make an unconvincing single mum."

He stretched his arms high, still an impressive figure of a man at sixty-two. He remained a trim six feet and, though his fair hair was now thinning fast, his features had hardened into a look of timeless Roman distinction. Jeremy Taylor was, by common consent, an imposing individual, whose gangly frame had settled over many years into a physique tinged with patrician menace. Distracted for a moment by the late-afternoon sky and its first streaks of apple pink, he noticed for the first time that there was a small hole in the elbow of his cashmere jumper. He looked out at the road beyond the park railings and watched a woman in a translucent windbreaker walking a little dog, which led her along at a furious pace. The woman's face, he could see, was etched with unfathomable fury as she made her way along the pavement towards the pub, where young people sat outside, smoking and chattering into their mobiles. The pub, formerly known as the George, was now called @Organic: Ben had explained that this was a mark of the area's creeping gentrification rather than, as his father suggested, the decline and fall of Western civilisation. What Jeremy meant by this was something of which he had begun to feel intimations in the past few years: that this was no longer his world. I am a guest now, he thought, and a landlord no longer. A new age has come, and one which acknowledges no debt to me.

Leaving the wickets and stakes in place, the four Taylors made their way over to the little oasis of shade and opulence which Jenny had been constructing for the past hour from the contents of three wicker baskets. The sun, though low in the sky, was still beating powerfully upon the parkland and wearing down the jaundiced sports pitch beyond their picnic site. A handful of die-hard sunbathers lay scattered on this bleak football field, the puce markings of sunburn crisscrossing their skin like strange tattoos. A mother and three young children argued by the far goalposts, apparently over a push chair which the smallest was crashing repeatedly to the ground with impressive force. Undisturbed, only a few yards from them, a man wearing only khaki shorts, socks, sandals, and a porkpie hat slept. His eyes were concealed by a newspaper whose pages fluttered hectically.

On the Taylors' right shimmered a pond of blackish green, barely worthy of the name lake but described as such on boards emblazoned in gold lettering on flaking blue paint. By its edge, the detritus of park life mingled with the reeds and the fronds of parched vegetation: cans, wrappers, leaflets advertising closing-down sales. A few hungry ducks quivered optimistically as they passed by, hoping for food, their paddling just visible below the ripples caused by the easterly breeze. The twins, clad in matching denim jackets, skipped as they now did only on such family occasions. In their Hammersmith basement flat, with their set of school and university friends, such unself-conscious behaviour would have been inconceivable. But here, a return to the habits of childhood was permissible. Lara's hair was short now, styled in a bob, while Caitlin had stuck with the long blond tresses which had been their shared hallmark for so long. It made their father laugh, as he watched the two young women cackling hand in hand, that their occasional efforts to cut the umbilical which had linked them for twenty years only emphasised its resilience.

"At last, Jeremy," said Jenny as they reached the blankets she had set on the ground. "At bloody last. I do wonder about you sometimes." She reached over to pick up a little pot of gentleman's relish, which she offered to him absentmindedly, before reaching for a canteen of cutlery.

"Only sometimes, darling? That's progress. I shall have to call our marriage counsellor at once with this exciting news."

She chuckled. "Don't bother. I bloody well sacked him while you were playing."

"Oh, really? And doubtless paid the severance money from the joint account."

Ben Taylor smiled at this exchange as he foraged in one of the baskets for the first bottle of champagne. As far back as he could recall, such badinage had been the warp and weft of his parents' relationship. It comforted them both, for sure: It was their way of making safe—in the sturdy encasement of English irony—the accumulated tensions of three and a half decades of life together. But it was primarily, Ben also knew, for their children's benefit, a well-honed means of signalling to the four young Taylors that all was well, even when it was not.

He remembered that tone of voice from the past. It returned to him like a pebble dancing across the surface of a limpid pool, the inflexions in his father's voice whenever he reassured his son. It reminded Ben of long afternoons in Jeremy's study and the private magic of that room at the end of the corridor on the second floor. On his father's knee, he had learned the rudiments of chess and listened to the Narnia stories. He had discovered how to do crosswords and what a Welsh rarebit was. Sometimes, on Sundays, Jeremy would let him sit and read a comic as he worked or completed correspondence. At the end of the day, as dusk fell, he might even be allowed to play a game of darts with his father, lobbing the red-and-blue arrows high up at the board which Jeremy had screwed to the back of the door against Jenny's protestations. Naughtiest of all—astonishingly so, Ben now thought, with the clarity of hindsight—his father would very occasionally show him and his sister the little collection of guns, some of them antique, which he had inherited from his uncle. There was a musket, a wartime revolver, and a few more modern pieces, some of them quite valuable. He explained to them how these firearms worked, how to dismantle them, clean them, and respect them. He said that they would never have to use guns, as his own father's generation had been forced to, but should know about them. Ben and his sister were speechless with reverence during these rare sessions, which they regarded, correctly, as a ritual of trust rather than as a reckless form of playtime. In other circumstances, their father's demonstrations might have seemed psychotic. But they were evidence of his confidence in them—their mother could not possibly be allowed to know—and his belief that they should be aware of everything about their family's past and its role in their present. It taught both of them, too, that their father was capable of keeping secrets. This was the basis of the covenant between Jeremy Taylor and his two older children.

In those days, Ben remembered, the walls of the den were lined with "Spy" cartoons and pictures of his father posing with eminent men, the financiers he worked with and the politicians whom he had befriended when they were undergraduates together. A medical skeleton, a Christmas present from his surgeon brother, Gus, grinned manically in the corner, wearing a homburg given to him by his children but never really worn. Behind was an old notice board, with the warning PROPERTY OF ORIEL COLLEGE: KEEP OUT, a memento of a drunken evening more than four decades ago now. The shelves told the story of Jeremy's life as a literary pilgrimage, from the volumes of Walter Scott, Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis of his childhood, via the Cyril Connolly and Orwell of his teens, to the first editions which he prized above all else and could now afford to collect. Above the desk hung an old print of Constantinian Jerusalem, bearing the motto Hierosolyma Urbs Sancta. On the desk was an old-fashioned green reading light and a beautiful piece of Russian amber given to him by Jenny when she was a diplomat and they were courting.

The champagne was good, Ben noticed. A vintage Krug, one his father drew from the cellar only when he was feeling exceptionally well disposed towards life in general or someone in particular. In this case, the imminent passing of his eldest child into his fourth decade had evidently prompted a flush of generosity. He opened the first bottle with a tea towel, losing only a little liquid as the gas seeped out. He poured into five plastic flutes, leaving his own till last.

"Did your sister call?" asked Jenny.

"Yes," snorted Ben. "This morning. You know she said she was going to take the day off work? You know, definitely, absolutely, for sure? So she could be here on time? Well . . ."

"Mia wouldn't take a day off work just for someone's thirtieth," said Caitlin. "Even if they were her brother. Far too grand these days."

"Just because she's short," said her twin. "And never has sex with anyone."

"Oh God, La," her father said. "Do shut up. Just because your sister doesn't lead the life of feckless hedonism which you and Cai have chosen for yourselves doesn't mean she isn't normal."

"It's true, though. She lives in the office. She's such a bloody spinster. I got her a ticket to this club the other day and—"

"Yeah," said Lara. "Cai got her a ticket, twenty quid, all-night gig in Clerkenwell, and we all went. There were even a couple of single guys we lined up, just in case she got faced and decided to behave like a normal human being for once. And she called two hours before we left and said she couldn't make it after all. Work. Work? It was bloody seven o'clock on a Saturday night." Lara shook her head in sincere bafflement. This was truly incredible behaviour, a mutilation of the most basic opportunities life offered.

Jeremy Taylor sipped his Krug and laughed inwardly. The twins ought to have been his burden, the late, unplanned-for children who had raised hell and rebelled throughout the middle age which he had set aside for quiet enjoyment. They had kept him up at night in his forties, got drunk in his late fifties, and forced him into a disagreeable round of chauffeuring around London, often very late at night. Caitlin and Lara had rampaged through adolescence, in constant need of collection from some middle-class home or other, deserted by unfortunate parents who would return after the weekend to find it desecrated by hormones and vodka. And yet Jeremy had derived only joy from the twins, not least because their worldview was so spectacularly at odds with his own, one which he shared with his two elder children. Ben and Mia sought out dragons to slay and crusades to fight. They had their father's gnawing ambition secreted in their marrow, and they competed passionately with each other to match his example. The twins' symbiosis, on the other hand, was of a completely different order: Their intimacy only reenforced their shared sense of complacency and their scepticism of unnecessary effort. From time to time, a smitten man would threaten rivalry between the two girls: One impossibly handsome suitor had pined for both twins for a full year before retreating in total defeat. But Lara spoke for her sister as well as herself when she sneered at the very notion that "some poxy bloke," even a twenty-five-year-old foreign exchange banker on a million a year, should come between them.

In Hammersmith, down the stairs behind the black railings, they had created a menage of apparent disorder, although it was actually one founded on strict rules and regulations. "No dogs, no Italians, no cheap white wine" was one of the more explicit bylaws of the flat, as Caitlin had once explained to him. There were things which she and Lara would permit, and things they would not. Jenny and the two other children worried that the flat, with its clothes strewn everywhere, unemptied ashtrays, and resemblance on a Monday morning to a pub at closing time, would be the undoing of the pair. They would sink into untidy immobility, their lives an increasingly barren round of partying, idleness, and lost opportunity. But Jeremy knew better. He could see that the twins had wit and resolve on their side and that, while the paths of their lives would be utterly unpredictable and must, of sad necessity, include more heartache in the years ahead than either bargained upon now, they would both be all right. He felt sure of that as he watched Lara doing a merciless and brilliant impersonation of her elder sister dancing, badly and sadly, at a ball two years before.

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