A SUITABLE VENGEANCE
A certain amount of research goes into the creation of any novel, but I am particularly indebted to several people who assisted me with background information for this book.
Dr Daniel Vallera, Professor and Director of the Section of Experimental Cancer Immunology, Department of Therapeutic Radiology, at the University of Minnesota, fielded countless lengthy telephone calls on countless aspects of medical research. I deeply appreciate his good-humoured ability to explain the inexplicable in a hundred different and creative ways.
Dr L.L. Houston of CETUS Corporation in San Francisco, California, spent a patient and thorough conversation walking me through all the steps of the development of a drug, from its initial 'discovery' to its final marketing.
Inspector Michael Stephany generously provided me with information from the Orange County Narcotics Squad.
And Virginia Bergman first made me aware of the potential uses of a drug called ergotamine.
Beyond those people, I thank Julie Mayer, my finest and most devoted critic; Vivienne Schuster, Tony Mott, and Georgina Morley, who make valiant attempts to keep me true to my subject; Deborah Schneider, the most supportive literary agent I could possibly hope for; and Kate Miciak, my editor and advocate at Bantam.
Part One. SOHO NIGHTS
Tina Cogin knew how to make the most of what little she had. She liked to believe it was a natural talent.
Some floors above the rumble of night-time traffic, her naked silhouette gargoyled against the wall of her half-darkened room, and she smiled as her movements made the shadow shift, creating ever new forms of black upon white like a Rorschach test. And what a test, she thought, practising a gesture of come-hither quality. What a sight for some psycho!
Chuckling at her talent for self-deprecation, she went to the chest of drawers and affectionately appraised her collection of underwear. She pretended hesitation to prolong her enjoyment before reaching for an appealing arrangement of black silk and lace. Bra and briefs, they'd been made in France, cleverly designed with unobtrusive padding. She donned them both. Her fingers felt clumsy, largely unused to such delicate clothing.
She began to hum quietly, a throaty sound without identifiable melody. It served as a paean to the evening, to three days and nights of unrestricted freedom, to the excitement of venturing out into the streets of London without knowing precisely what would come out of the night's mild summer-time promise. She slid a long, painted fingernail under the sealed flap of a package of stockings, but when she shook them out they caught against skin that was more work-hardened than she liked to admit. The material snagged. She allowed herself a single-word curse, freed the stocking from her skin, and examined the damage, an incipient ladder high on the inner thigh. She would have to be more careful.
As she pulled on the stockings, her eyelids lowered, and she sighed with pleasure. The material slid so easily against her skin. She savoured the sensation — it felt just like a lover's caress — and heightened her own pleasure by running her hands from ankles to calves to thighs to hips. Firm, she thought, nice. And she paused to admire her shape in the cheval glass before removing a black silk petticoat from the chest of drawers.
The gown that she took from the wardrobe was black. The neck high, the sleeves long, she had purchased it solely for the manner in which it clung to her body like a midnight liquid. A belt cinched in its waist; a profusion of jet beadwork decorated its bodice. It was a Knightsbridge creation whose cost — mounting on all the other calls upon her finances — had finally precluded the indulgence of travel by taxi for the rest of the summer. But that inconvenience was no matter really. Tina knew that some things ultimately pay for themselves.
She slid her feet into black high-heeled pumps before finally switching on the lamp next to the daybed to illuminate a simple bed-sitting-room with the sole delicious luxury of a private bath. On her first trip to London all those months ago — newly married and looking for a haven of escape — she had made the mistake of taking a room in the Edgware Road where she'd shared the bath with a floor of smiling Greeks, all eager to observe the ins and outs of her personal hygiene. After that experience, sharing so much as a washbasin with another human being had been inconceivable to her, and although the additional cost of a private bath had presented something of a challenge at first she had managed to surmount it in a competent fashion.
She made a final assessment of her make-up and gave approval to eyes correctly shadowed in order to accentuate their colour and correct their shape, to brows darkened and brushed into an arch, to cheekbones shaded artfully to soften what would otherwise be a rectangular face, to lips defined by both pencil and colour to express sensuality and invite attention. She shook back her hair — as black as her dress — and fingered the wispy fringe that fell across her brow. She smiled. She would do.
With a final glance round the room, she picked up the black handbag she had tossed on the bed, checking to make sure she carried only money, her keys, and two small plastic bags which contained the drug. That done, her preparations complete, she left.
A few moments in the lift and she was out of the building, breathing in the mixed perfumes of the city night, that teeming blend of machinery and humanity peculiar to this corner of London. As always, before heading towards Praed Street, she glanced fondly at the smooth stone exterior of her own building, her eyes gliding over the words Shrewsbury Court Apartments which served as epigraph above the double front doors. They opened upon her hideaway and harbour, the only place on earth where she could be herself.
She turned away, walking towards the lights of Paddington Station where she took the Circle Line to Notting