MILLIE REITNER LEFT FRANKFURT Cathedral by the foyer door, and in the Domstrasse she stopped to admire a window display of tee shirts and long sleeved pullovers and knitted sweaters. The sweaters were piled according to colour: not quite cornflower blue, not really quite sage green, several shades of blueberry and raspberry, and all were silk or cotton or a silk and cotton mix. Millie, wanting several, blinked enquiringly at the prices and hesitated; caught by the breeze, for an instant her hair, reflected, was transformed into a golden halo. Admiring the tubs of what might have been forget-me-nots she continued to the junction with Braubachstrasse, where she crossed the road and went from the bright sunlight the papers were calling a heat wave into the shadows of a building which, basically triangular, might have been a carefully cut slice of a terra cotta brick cake. Well, terra cotta brick and off white something else, if such a cake were possible . . .
Inside the ground floor café every place appeared to have been taken, but there were tables on the pavement terrace and a smiling waitress pointed to the half-opened floor to ceiling windows. Millie asked for coffee then murmured excuses and begged forgiveness as she struggled to work her way out to what in the end, was the only free seat available. Already an admiring waiter was pointing to the chair and Millie halted, surprised.
Perhaps it wasn’t free at all.
The chair was one of a pair; the other was taken by a dark haired man who rose immediately to his feet. He looked at Millie and frowned.
“We know each other.” He was clearly puzzled. “Don’t we? Haven’t we met?”
He had spoken in English. Millie was staring and though on the point of a gentle but dismissive denial, she was quite aware that they had met, at least in a fashion. She’d seen him before—but not here in Frankfurt, and certainly not at a table on the pavement area of a cafeteria in a gallery of modern art. They had been in an English hospital and under a vast canopy where a new machine was being demonstrated.
“At work?” Her quiet words weren’t exactly a question.
The waiter had retreated and she put her hand out to move her chair, then stepped forward as the man who’d recognised her, also attempted to pull the chair out further. The chair collided with that of another customer who also stood up but slowly sat down again as Millie’s new acquaintance beckoned to the waiter now approaching with her coffee.
“Please,” he said. “Won’t you sit down? And have a cup of coffee?”
Millie’s expression was rueful. His tone was just a little patient.
“There’s nothing to worry about.”
Millie’s dark blue eyes widened. “I think it’s just the way I look,” she said, and smiled.
He nodded silently, sitting down again once Millie, her bag beside her and her book on the table, was safely seated. He then offered her sugar, which she declined. She still couldn’t quite believe what was happening. He looked much as he had when she’d seen him before, disquietingly formal, a business man, while she, Millie, was wearing crumpled linen; The White Company, but rather crumpled. “Who—?”
“Am I? And what am I doing here? Shouldn’t I first remind you where we met?”
“The South Oxfordshire Hospital,” Millie conceded as she stirred her coffee. She’d arrived late at the reception, and in the hushed silence in an attempt to see better what was going on, had moved carefully backwards – and had sent a loaded tea trolley clattering. “And a table fell over.” That had been even worse. “A tremendous racket.” Then, alarmed that she should seem quite so incoherent, she added, “It was—”
“Don’t tell me. Entirely your fault?” He wasn’t smiling.
Nor was she. “Entirely. A domino effect.” She was aware only that his eyes were grey, that his brow was lined with quizzical scrutiny, that his straight hair was slightly longer than it had been the first time she’d seen him.
He said, “So, I know where we met, though I’m afraid, not who you are.”
Millie registered straight white teeth, dark hair and again, slate grey eyes. Nervous, for a moment she said nothing.
“Jago Nicholson.” He held out his hand. “And you?”
Disconcerted but disarmed, she smiled. “Anna Amalia Reitner.” As she gave him her hand she added, her voice as quiet as his, “But my friends call me Millie.” She knew she was blushing and aware that she had in all probability, made a very bad mistake. She picked up her cup, only to set it down again with a plonk.