“A suite? Very swanky!”
“It was all they had left.” Phil moved to the window, opened it, and lit a cigarette. This place was always a bit mad in the season.”
“Asleep.” Phil jerked her head towards the closed bedroom door. “Whose bright idea was it to show her the films?”
“Felicity’s. I don’t think it was a bad idea, myself.”
“Oh no, her in floods of tears was obviously…”
“For pity’s sake, Phil, don’t you think she’d rather have an emotional connection to Marie than not? And she didn’t. Marie was just a name to her – hardly surprising. I think that was why she was so upset – because suddenly she was real.” Phil hunched her shoulders.
“I s’pose.” There was an awkward silence. Con broke it, sitting herself down with a sigh.
“This is silly. It’s nice to see you again, Phil.”
“Yeah. It’s been a while.”
“Mmm. What, ten years? That party in New York, remember? The one my publishers made me go to.”
“I remember. I take it you think I’m a bit of a rotter, abandoning the family?”
“Well, it’s a bit rubbish when one of your sisters decides that she doesn’t like you very much, but I can see why. Under the circs.”
“Oh, Con! It’s not that I didn’t like *you*, it’s just…”
“That you couldn’t stand Mamma?” At Phil’s uncomfortable expression, Con rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t be so coy about it now! It’s been perfectly obvious; it’s not like you made any secret out of it.”
“I guess.” With an effort, Phil turned to her sister and smiled. “Anyway, what’ve you been up to recently?”
“Oh, this and that. Roger’s retired now, of course. We’ve got a house in Surrey, potter about, filling our time. I’m still writing. The kids are grown up now; Jenny and Theo are married, Robert’s still moping after breaking up with his girlfriend, Simon’s gay. What about you? I’ve seen all the articles. And that film whatshisname made about you.”
Phil laughed. “Claude! Bless him! He was quite obsessed, for a while. He got over it.”
“So, all in all, taking the art world by storm?”
“So it would seem. I have paintings in a number of major galleries. And one sold last week for a quite shocking amount of money.”
“Well, get you.” Con gestured towards the wheelchair. “Is that--”
“Permanent? Polio-related? No. Should be out of it, really, only with International Travel on the horizon, I thought I’d better hang on to it. Car drove into me. Drink driver – the bastard. It could have been worse, though.”
“Haven’t you heard, darling? Pain and suffering make for a better artist.”
“I doubt being knocked over by a car was what they had in mind. Anyway, I should probably get back. Mamma will be wondering where I am.” She rose to go, but Phil flicked the end of cigarette onto the balcony and moved back into the room.
“No, wait… how did this happen? You didn’t say. Carey, I mean.”
“Someone sent her a photograph of Marie, and of Freudesheim. She was… intrigued… and started to investigate. Hooked up with a couple of prees at the school here, and ended up in Switzerland. Meg e-mailed the photo of Marie to Mamma, and she came post haste. That’s pretty much it. David Entwistle did a DNA test, and it was positive.”
“Someone just *sent* her a photo of Marie?” Con studiously picked some lint off her skirt.
“Yes. I suppose they must have seen her somewhere, and recognised Marie in her. Quite a coincidence.”
“I’ll say.” Phil’s tone was wry. “You, was it?” Con had the grace to blush.
“Where did you see her?”
“Streatham Library, of all places. A friend of mine is the librarian there; she asked me to run a discussion of my books. There I was, talking away about ‘how to write in the Tudor vernacular’, and there she was. Marie to the life. Of course, I thought I was imagining it. Carey doesn’t exactly look like Marie, not obviously, she just, I don’t know…”
“*Is* like Marie.”
“Yes. Exactly. Anyway, I got Sheila to look up her library record for me, and I saw her date of birth and the timing was just right. And I just knew. I got her address as well. I was going to go and see her, but… well, what would I say? What if I was completely wrong?”
“So, next time I went to Mamma’s, I pinched a couple of photos: one of Marie, and one of Freudesheim. Oh, I don’t know. I’ve probably spent too long writing fiendishly plotted books – I couldn’t do it in a straightforward way! I thought: if she’s interested, she’ll find us, although, frankly, looking back, it’s a miracle she did! I think I suffer from the old family problem in just assuming that everyone will recognise us and Freudesheim and all that. Idiotish, really. But, yes, I packaged them up and sent them to her. Turns out, that was how she tracked us down. I just used an old box file up in the attic, but it was one from the mining people. You know, the ones who took over Auntie Madge and Uncle Dick’s house in Cornwall? They came across some Bettany papers years later and forwarded them on. But their details were still in the box when I put the photos in, and that’s how Carey tracked us down. Bit miraculous, really.”