The wake up call came at seven o’clock on Wednesday, finding Maggie struggling to adjust to the time change. Her bed linens were absolutely luxurious, the softest cotton, and she had slept so soundly that she hated to get up. She had dreamed of Ciaran during the night, several different dreams, and the best one involved having sex on the desk in her room with the flowers strewn all around her head. The last dream, though, was rather unpleasant, with Ciaran dressed in a soldier’s costume and digging up potatoes in her back yard in River Oaks. Trevor and Fabrizio were there, playing soccer with Joey, and Kay was telling her that Joey needed a father. It was a mercy that the phone rang at that precise moment, putting an end to an unsettling nightmare.
Maggie tried to clear her head as she phoned room service to order a pot of strong coffee. She was still tired, and she climbed into the shower and turned on the cold water. Once she was awake she could safely shave her legs without slicing the skin into bloody ribbons, and she found herself singing gaily as she turned the spigot and felt warm water pouring over her head. She stood in front of the gilt mirror and applied some make-up, and then she sipped her coffee while admiring the view. Her room overlooked the Thames, and she could see a corner of the Parliament Building if she stood close to the window and turned her head the right way. There was so much history all over London, ages of history in that one building alone, and she could not believe that she was actually looking at it. Somehow she would have to find a way to thank Mr. Hofmeier for his generosity. At first she had complained of the extra week tacked onto the trip, but clearly he had forced her to take some time so that she could visit some of the sites she had only seen on television. She would never ask for something like this, even if she wanted it more than anything, and Karl knew how her mind worked.
Her car was coming at nine-thirty, giving her plenty of time to stroll down to the lobby to pick up a newspaper. Mr. Towson was in his office, and she disturbed him only long enough to get directions to the nearest church. St. Audrey’s, an ancient monument to England’s Roman Catholic past, was within walking distance and worth a visit to see such an ancient church even if it were not open for Mass. Mr. Towson was more than happy to phone them for a schedule of Sunday services, and he was quite affable as he told Maggie that the first Mass began at nine. With a sly wink, he suggested that she might not make it to Sunday services, if she had a late night the previous Saturday.
Religious observances were mentally scheduled, and Maggie still had plenty of time to get back to her room and start her daily prayers. She was deep in contemplation of the fourth glorious mystery when the maid came in to tidy the room. Maeve watched for only a minute, not wanting to disturb the lady who sat on a chair with her beads sliding through her fingers in a familiar rhythm. The maid cleared her throat and knocked again on the open door.
“I didn’t mean to bother you,” the girl began when Maggie finally looked up, but Maggie’s smile told her that this was no bother at all.
“Will I be in your way over here?” she asked.
For Maeve, the question was rather unusual and sadly out of the ordinary. Strand House was one of London’s finest West End hotels, where the guests expected the staff to be practically invisible. It was the room’s resident that seemed concerned with Maeve’s convenience, a very pleasant change of pace. The way that this woman was saying her rosary reminded the girl of home, of her mother and grandmother heading off to church practically every morning for Mass and prayer. Without thinking, the young woman from Galway felt in her uniform pocket for the string of beads that she always carried.
With the linens changed and fresh towels hanging in the bathroom, Maeve was just about finished. She waited quietly while Maggie kissed the crucifix at the end of the chain and then crossed herself. Half of the hotel staff already knew that Ciaran Doyle had sent flowers to this lady, and he had phoned the night before with some kind of suggestive message. Maeve’s friend Linda had told her all about it, assuring the maid that one fine day she would be called on to change the damp sheets at two in the afternoon.
“I read the note,” Linda had whispered, “and when I gave it to Mrs. A., she said she was going to do him and Harwood, too.”
What a puzzle, Maeve thought as she watched Maggie finish her rosary. The hotel’s guest appeared to be so pious this morning, but if the rumors were true then she was planning to have two different lovers at night. American women were said to be free and easy with their charms, and this was proof enough to Maeve. Fortunately, the lady left the room so that Maeve could do dustbin duty, to report back to Linda if she found any condom wrappers in the trash. One of the other maids had counted six the last time that Ciaran Doyle had spent a night, the current record, and who knew if he had not snuck in during the night for a brief rehearsal.
Maggie still had some time to herself, and she decided to walk down Strand and Fleet Street, as far as she could go in a half-hour before turning back. The milling crowd reminded her of Chicago, with huge bustling swarms of workers hurrying to their jobs. The traffic on the street was far more chaotic than the Loop’s rush hour; London probably had more cars trying to navigate the tangle of roads and roundabouts than she had ever seen before. It was all very invigorating, as if she was absorbing energy from the rushing pedestrians that she passed. People did not walk so much as they ran, and anyone foolish enough to stop for a glance at a shop window was likely to be run over by the heavy traffic. She was sorry that she had to turn back so quickly.
A car and driver were waiting when Maggie reached the hotel, and she was whisked away to the studio for another day of script repair. Bea had found her a spot in an office used by the staff writers, and Maggie sat down with a pen, a pad of paper, and the script, and she began to work. Cindy Horlick, the script supervisor who had met Maggie the day before, rushed over spouting apologies. She was a young woman approaching thirty, with the fair features and porcelain skin that Maggie associated with British girls, and Maggie very much liked Cindy’s dry humor. When they first met, the poor girl had gushed over the welcome relief that Maggie represented, after dealing with Karl Hofmeier, and now she could not seem to do enough to make Maggie comfortable. Underneath her friendly urgency was the unspoken importance of getting the project back on track and finished in time for the planned September release.
“Please, Maggie, use my computer. I don’t know why they didn’t find a spare terminal for you,” she said, embarrassed by the lack of modern equipment.
“Thanks anyway, Cindy, but I have a laptop,” Maggie said as she filled her pen with ink, wiping the excess from the gold-plated nib. “I think in ink, I guess, so first I write and then I type.”
Cindy was fascinated with Maggie’s style, which seemed so slow by normal standards. Sometimes Maggie wrote carefully, inserting or changing a word here and there after reviewing the section in the novel. Entire conversations were re-done where everyone had reached a consensus at the previous meeting, and Maggie would write on her pad of paper, ripping up the sheet if the words did not flow in Karl Hofmeier’s style. The loose sheets were stuffed into the script, and then Maggie pulled out a laptop computer and entered the changes.
By one o’clock, Bob could scroll through the completed work on Maggie’s computer, and he found that now he liked the script. He even managed to convince himself that he had been able to sway Maggie, to have his way for the most part, and one silly scene would stay as a token of his gratitude for her speedy finish. In reality, Maggie had been true to Hofmeier’s vision, but she had been charming while being cunning. She let Bob think that he had come out on top, as if it were her gift to his male ego, because editors and writers were good with words and she used them to her best advantage.
“I’m afraid that this is as far as I can go,” Maggie said as Bob read over the changes while sitting in his office, meeting with Maggie and Cindy. “What I know about computers could fit on the head of a pin with plenty of room for the dancing angels, but there are probably dozens of computer-savvy people around this office who could transfer the data.”
“If Hofmeier had sent you earlier, this film would have been done long ago,” Bob complained as he examined the revised scenes. His opinion of Maggie had swung around completely, and he was impressed with her skills at diplomacy. “Thank you for being so reasonable, you have made my job that much easier. Why don’t you come down to the set this afternoon and watch the filming?”
“It’s dead boring,” Cindy chimed in. “We all sit around and wait for the lighting, then make-up comes in to putter around, and someone from costumes will be called just when you think things are finally getting under way. And after hours of waiting, you watch five minutes of action before it starts again.”
“I’d love to watch, even if it is only five minutes,” Maggie said with enthusiasm. For the first time in her life, she could see people say words that she had helped to put into their mouths. It would be worth the wait to have the experience, even worth the tedium just to see how a film was made. For those who lived through the monotony on a daily basis, it was hard to understand why anyone would willingly attend a taping session. For someone as curious as Maggie, all the dull details that surrounded the action seemed as exciting as listening to Karl’s words being spoken by an actor who was pretending to be Karl’s character.
“How about lunch with the stars?” Cindy offered.
She took charge of Maggie for the rest of the afternoon, escorting her to the echoing soundstage that had been decorated to look like an East End parlor typical of the war years. There must have been one hundred people milling around, with the crew and the costumed actors seeming to fill the space. The two women shared lunch from the food service tables that offered everything imaginable, with the selection changing every few hours to reflect the different meals and snacks that were provided during the working day.
“I stay off the set if I can,” Cindy said. “When I first started, I packed on the weight so fast I thought I would burst my skin.”
“Salad is always a safe choice,” Maggie observed, showing her plate of greens. “If I keep going out to dinner like I have been, I won’t be able to button my waistband.”
“Are you feeding a rabbit, Maggie?” Ciaran said from behind her. She had never called him back yesterday, and he did not know if he had been too bold. He was quite concerned that she was upset at his bluntness.
“Do you like your women fat, Mr. Doyle?” she suggested, and he saw immediately that she was giving his suggestion some serious thought. For a second, he was not so sure of himself, but only because she wrinkled her nose at his soldier’s costume. All at once, the color rose in her cheeks and Maggie averted her eyes, embarrassed by some hidden thoughts that the actor could read easily.
“Ciaran likes them any way he can get them,” Cindy said with an edge to her voice.
“I like the pretty ones,” he said as his eyes crinkled at the corners, a bright smile on his face. Cindy had reason to despise him, after their encounter at the party last summer. He lost track of the time and missed the deadline for the post-sex call, and then it slipped his mind and he let it slide. Before she could fill Maggie in on the details, he charged into a conversation that would steer clear of the topic. “Did you get my message? I should have guessed that you would be out half the night with Bea and the bachelorettes.”
“Yes, I did, thank you. I actually felt quite honored that you asked,” Maggie answered.
She was being evasive, or so Ciaran thought, as if she wanted him to pursue her with more vigor. No problem there to the amiable suitor, and if Maggie wanted him to put some effort into this affair, he would make her happy. Ciaran had every intention of coaxing her until she gave in, and he would make it worth her while to fall under his spell. In the event that he firmly decided that he wanted Maggie for his wife, he thought it best that she be properly courted and put into the most agreeable frame of mind.
A call to the set for Mr. Doyle came before he could invite Maggie to dinner at his flat on Sloane Street. He saw Bea talking to her as he stood on his mark while lighting was adjusted, and he had a feeling that the women of Argosy Productions were doing all that they could to keep him out of Maggie’s bed. He had broken a few hearts in his day, but he had no intention of hurting Maggie. Whatever the shriveled up matrons told her, he could reverse the damage with a good heart to heart talk. It would be a simple matter to explain to her how much he liked her, and to show her that he was really considering marriage and children. He could say anything to her and be perfectly candid, because Maggie was the sort of woman that a man could talk to honestly. She would never mock him or put his feelings on public display, nor would she ever be condescending.
“It has to be an early night,” Bea said as she chatted with Cindy, Maggie and Pamela. “We can eat standing up in the kitchen so all the calories slide down past our hips to our feet.”
“And you really don’t mind if I’m very nosy and I poke around in everything?” Maggie asked. She was going to join the ladies for dinner at Bea’s flat in Chelsea, and her hostess was going to show her every detail about a real London apartment, from the cracks in the plaster to the antiquated plumbing. All the ladies had noticed Maggie’s infatuation with anything even slightly old, and Bea was more than willing to satisfy Maggie’s curiosity.
Bea guided Maggie to a better spot from which to observe the actors at work. Pam’s assistant was sitting there at a table, playing cards with a very tall man who looked somewhat familiar to Maggie. Encountering well-known people was not surprising, since she had seen all these faces over the years. She did not know the names, but she could remember the film title or the television program that had brought them to public acclaim. He was wearing a Major’s uniform, playing the role of Trevor’s commanding officer in the film.
“Maggie, do you play gin rummy?” Rachel asked, relieved to find a new partner for her companion. “Pam is calling for me and Nigel needs a fresh victim.”
“Play nice, Nigel,” Bea warned.
“I do not cheat at cards, my dear,” he replied. “And I only cheated on you once.”
Maggie looked uncomfortably at Bea, who had freely lacerated her ex-husband’s memory over drinks last night. It was a peculiar way to meet the famous Nigel Parkhurst, an actor known to American audiences as the man who played aristocrats or bad guys. In his last feature, he had combined the two types with his outstanding portrayal of General Lord Cornwallis in a film adaptation of a Revolutionary War epic. The critics had raved about his performance, but the Oscar went to some weasel-like American actor who was probably playing himself in a self-indulgent and boring flick about alcoholic drug addicts in Hollywood. It was a slight that stirred up feelings of sympathy in Maggie’s heart.
Nigel was blessed with an elegant deep voice and towering height, two characteristics that set him apart from his fellow actors. His incredible talent set him apart from most of the acting world. He and Trevor were best friends since their university days, and they had remained the closest of friends through the years. It was Nigel’s encouragement that prompted Trevor to propose to Allison, and Trevor had worked on Bea to convince her that Nigel had the makings of a fine husband. Together, the four friends had lived through the struggles that characterized every actor’s formation, and through the years, they shared the joys and difficulties of raising a family.
Allison’s discovery of a lump in her breast changed all that, as if the terrible news was a death knell for the happy quartet. Even Trevor seemed to lose his way in the world, giving all his thoughts and energy to his wife with nothing left over for his closest chum. Without his friend’s conservative advice, Nigel wandered from his home as he tried to discover something that he might have missed along the way, something to be experienced before he died. Bea did not find out about the young actress until after Allison had passed away, even though Nigel’s mistress attended the memorial service. Once the pictures hit the tabloids, especially the one showing a middle-aged Nigel Parkhurst passionately kissing twenty-two year old Jenny Routledge behind the Ritz Hotel, Bea threw him out of the house.
“This is Nigel, Maggie,” she made an introduction with flames of anger shooting off her tongue. “She knows all about you, darling.”
“Only half of it is true, Maggie,” he said with a grin. “I am not the devil incarnate.”
“Help me, will you? I’m down fifty points,” Rachel said as she left. “Whatever you have to do, don’t let me lose.”
Maggie sat across the table as Nigel dealt the next hand. He was extremely witty, with a dry British humor that appealed to Maggie’s intellect. Seductively appealing, it was easy to see why Bea had fallen in love with him, and why she was still so furious at his deceit. If not for Bea’s friendship, Maggie would have flirted shamelessly with him. Judging by the way that he smiled at her, she imagined that he would have invited her to his dressing room, but something was holding him back. He paid her a compliment in a very relaxed and friendly way, chatting in a manner that promised camaraderie and bonhomie. Using his skills as an actor, Nigel was the ingratiating neighbor, as if he wanted to prove that Bea was all wrong about him.
The game began, with Nigel drawing the first card from the deck. Maggie picked up his discard and had to laugh. “I think you do cheat at cards. Gin.”
“Impossible. That’s thirty-eight points for you. And I honestly do not cheat at cards. I have suffered the consequences for my previous foray into dishonesty.”
“She won’t take you back?” Maggie asked, not wanting to be caught between two warring parties, but feeling so very sorry for Nigel.
“Tell me, as a woman, if you were unfaithful to your husband, do you think he would take you back?” Nigel said with complete comfort.
“There is no husband anymore, so I suppose I can’t really answer the question,” she said as she sorted her cards. “We were both too straight laced, anyway. Very dull couple, hopelessly suburban.”
“Bea and I split up about a year ago. When did it all end for you?” Nigel went on.
“At the end of the year,” she replied. “Right before Christmas.” But don’t ask me any more, she thought, or I will start to cry again and make a complete fool of myself.
Nigel concentrated on his cards as he digested her news. Mr. Angiolini was chalked up as a total ass for finalizing a divorce during the holiday season. No one could blame Maggie for being so receptive to Doyle, even with his rather randy reputation. It was clear to Nigel that Maggie would be likely to give herself to the first man who was the slightest bit nice to her. Her ex-husband was a heartless bastard, offensive to Nigel’s sense of decency, and he was certain that Maggie needed nothing more than a kind word to induce her to drop her knickers.
She had an expression in her eyes when she spoke of Mr. Angiolini, an ache that Nigel could remember so clearly. Bea had looked like that when she discovered his dirty little secret; the pain in her eyes was so deep that he could never forget it. He saw exactly the same ache in Maggie’s features, a reflection of the hurt that only love could inflict. From his own bitter experience he knew that this would be an important item to relate to Trevor. Maggie had a weak point that could be stroked tenderly until she issued a very much desired invitation to her room at Strand House.
Hand after hand was played as they continued to chat, while Maggie so subtly pumped Nigel for information on Trevor. The entire story of Allison’s death was told in all its detail, followed by a sad recounting of the numbing depression that led to a trip to Los Angeles to make a film and escape from the constant reminders of Ally. Nigel was captivated by Maggie’s smile and he answered her questions with all the information he possessed. For Nigel’s part, he learned little more about Maggie except for the fact that she had a son who was very athletic, and she was very interested in old houses and old architecture, historical things in general. The thread of the conversation wound back to his failed marriage.
“Men are fools,” he prattled on, trying to find a different topic, to leave the dark place in his mind where he stored the sorrow of his ridiculous affair. Jenny had dropped him after she started rehearsals at the Royal Palace Theatre, cast in the role he had gotten for her. He could see that Maggie was dragged into miserable reflection with this line of talk, and he was duty bound to cheer her up. “Why women want to marry us is one of the world’s great unsolved mysteries. But we are most grateful to you and your sisters for your kindness.”
She laughed at his witty remark. “We use you, every night in bed. To warm our feet.”
“Knocking with four points, you wicked girl,” he said happily, laying out his hand.
“There’s the ace I was waiting for,” Maggie replied as she set out the suits. She played two cards on Nigel’s hand. “Sorry, I only have two points left.”
“Two rounds, and you have beaten me every time. This has never happened before.”
“Just some lucky deals. Try again.”
Nigel shuffled the cards as he continued the interview. So far, he was comfortable in pushing Trevor into an affair. Maggie was pretty enough, but her personality was so lively that Nigel was almost wishing that he could be the recipient of her attentions. She was a very delightful lady, like Allison, but without that British reserve that made old Ally seem almost too quiet and mousy. Besides, Trevor desperately needed to get back out in the world, and Maggie would be the perfect introduction to romance. She was going back to Chicago, giving his old buddy a couple of weeks to learn how to make love to a different woman, without the added pressure of long term commitments.
Idling away the time on the fringes of the set, Trevor tried to keep an eye on the card party while also appearing completely disinterested. Even he did not know why he was suddenly so enraptured by Maggie, or why he was acting like a schoolboy with a crush on the new girl. She was so utterly unlike Allison, in the way that she talked a little too fast and was sometimes too loud, but he could not get Maggie out of his thoughts.
Nigel was laughing again, and Trevor turned to look at Maggie. Her eyes wrinkled in the corners when she laughed, with the lines and creases of a real woman with real emotions. She was not at all like the actresses he had met in Los Angeles, whose faces were smoothed by a surgeon’s knife. All those women that he ran into there were perfect, a bunch of walking skeletons with silicone implants and skin pulled tight behind their ears. Maggie had lines and imperfect teeth and curves, and at her age she very likely had lumpy thighs and she did not care.
From the time he worked in New York, he recalled some very different women, people who were more pushy and aggressive. They had the most bizarre habit of going to dinner parties, where a sumptuous feast was expected, and then they did not eat anything. The atmosphere in the city was very much like London, with all its hustle and bustle and heavy traffic, but the people were almost rude compared to the British. New York and Los Angeles were more like two different countries than two different cities, but then America was almost too big for Trevor to imagine. The nation was a vast continent with subsets of personalities, similar to the different sorts of people one found across Europe. Even the actors in the two cities were poles apart in the way they approached their work, but the ones he admired the most came out of the Brandenburg Theatre in Chicago. All Trevor knew of Chicago had come from a brief meeting at a party, when he had talked to Jim Paretsky and Tony Casorio for about fifteen minutes. Two of the finest and best-known actors in the world, and they had spoken to him as a respected colleague.
Unable to stay away any longer, Harwood wandered over to the table, trying to appear suave and casual while his palms sweated. He stood behind Maggie, watching her play her hand. It quickly became apparent that she was counting the cards, making a mental note of what had already been played and analyzing her chances of obtaining a particular queen. Suddenly she picked up an eight of hearts, discarding the two queens and adding two more eights, giving her a gin hand. Her perfume was drifting into his nose as he realized that he was leaning over her, getting perilously close to her ear.
“Trevor, my deepest apologies, but I have failed,” Nigel said as Trevor jumped back to a respectful distance. “She has beaten me, taken every match. And so cruel you are, Maggie, to let me come close to winning, only to crush me.”
“Were you supposed to humiliate me or something?” she asked archly, casting a glance over her shoulder at Trevor.
“Not at all, dear Maggie. I had placed a wager with the fair Rachel, which was transferred to you. I had hoped to beat you so that I could claim the prize,” Nigel explained with a wicked smile on his lips.
“And take all my money?” she asked, going along with Nigel’s silliness.
“Never gamble for money. As the victor I would have had Rachel, or rather you, for a night of passionate love. But Trevor needs it badly and I was going to reward him with the lovely spoils, in a most munificent gesture of friendship. And he would have taken you to dinner first, since he is more of a gentleman than I could ever hope to be. Now you have beaten me soundly,” he said, his head hanging in imitation sorrow while Trevor’s face turned three shades of red.
“Well, thank you very much,” Maggie retorted in mock anger, swatting Nigel’s arm and looking seductively at Trevor. “If I had known earlier, I would have lost on purpose.”
“A rematch, Maggie, you must give me another chance,” Nigel begged as Trevor stammered and spluttered out a denial of any knowledge of such a wager. Before he could put together a coherent sentence, they were called to the set, and Trevor hurried away in a state of profound embarrassment. Unable to resist, he gave in to an urge to look over his shoulder, to find out if she was laughing at him or cursing his head. Oddly enough, he came away with the definite impression that Maggie was doing neither. In fact, he was quite sure that she was admiring his bum.
Maggie stood next to the script girl as the scene played out, repeated eight times until Bob Hurleburt was satisfied with the outcome. It was getting late, and Bea hustled Maggie out of the studio so that they could enjoy dinner before it was time for breakfast. Nigel took it upon himself to force Trevor to accompany him to a nearby pub, to have a stern man-to-man talk with him. Trevor had been grieving for two years, but Nigel could see that the man’s heart was trying to break free, to love another woman after Allison. Without doubt it would be a hard sell to convince his best mate of the idea that it was possible to love again. They both knew that Nigel still loved Bea, he always would, and there would never be anyone else.