Today's Reading

As it happens I agree with him, but it's probably not the time to say so. "Right," I say decisively. "Sounds like you need to turn up on my doorstep one evening very soon with a bottle of wine."

"This might be more of a bottle of whiskey type of conversation."

"You bring whatever alcohol you like and I'll cook the meal. Badly."

He laughs down the phone, a pleasant sound. "It's a deal."

It occurs to me he used to laugh more, all those years ago. But then, we were twenty-one, with no responsibilities or cares, and no one had mysteriously disappeared yet. Probably we all laughed more.

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A dead body has been found, but life goes on. For most of us, anyway—perhaps time stops for the nearest and dearest, but then again time probably stopped for them a decade ago when she went missing. For the rest of us, it's back to the same old, same old, which today means a meeting with a potential client. A very hard-hitting potential client: a contract with Haft & Weil could put my fledgling legal headhunter business firmly on the map. I stand in front of the mirror in the bathroom of my short-lease office in Bloomsbury. Smart business trouser suit: check. Tailored silk shirt,
clean and ironed: check. Thick dark hair pulled back into a tidy chignon and discreet makeup accentuating my green eyes: check. Altogether a pleasing picture of a professional businesswoman. I smile to check my teeth for poppy seeds from the bagel I had for lunch; the image of Severine's grinning skull immediately jumps into my head. In the mirror my smile drops abruptly.

My assistant, Julie, looks up from her computer as I exit the bathroom. "The cab's here," she says, passing me a folder. "All set?"

"Yes." I check the folder. Everything is there. "Where's Paul?" Paul is my associate and a very, very good headhunter. He's here because he has faith in me and even more faith in the proportion of profits he's due if all goes well. I try to keep a close eye on his diary. Paul won't stick around if the business plan fails to materialize.

Julie is checking on the computer, one hand working the mouse as the other pushes her glasses back up her nose. "He's meeting that Freshfields candidate over on Fleet Street."

"Oh yes." I check the folder again.

"Kate," Julie says, a touch of exasperation in her tone. "It's all there."

I snap the folder shut. "I know. Thank you." I take a deep breath. "Right, see you later."

"Good luck." She has already turned back to the computer, but stops suddenly. "Oh, you had a call that you might want to return when you're in the cab." She looks around for the telephone message pad. "Ah, here we are. Caroline Horridge, please call back. Didn't say what about."

Caro. Calling me. Really? "You're kidding."

Julie looks up, nonplussed. "If I am, the joke has passed me by."

I take the message slip she's holding out. "She went to university with me," I explain, grimacing. "We weren't exactly bosom buddies. The last time I saw her was about five years ago, at someone's party." I look down at the telephone number recorded under the name in Julie's neat hand. "This is a Haft & Weil number," I say, surprised. I've been dialing it enough lately that I know the switchboard number off by heart.

"Maybe she wants to jump ship."

Maybe. There isn't really any other reason for a lawyer to call a legal headhunter. But I can't imagine Caro choosing to ask for my help. I sit in the cab and think of ghosts: of poor dead Severine, her bones folded like an accordion to fit in the narrow well; of poor dead Theo, blown into disparate parts on a battlefield; of Tom-that-was, back when he laughed more; of me-that-was; of Lara; of Caro; and of Seb. Always, always of Seb.

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