Nowadays it has a broader membership, but is still heavily frequented by diplomats, politicians, and civil servants. The only true, unspoken conditions of membership are that applicants be male, British, and unquestionably upper class.
Teddy De Vere was not a member, belonging as he did to the Tory Carlton Club just across the street. The two institutions consider themselves gentlemanly rivals, and membership in both clubs is quite unheard of. Teddy was, however, a frequent guest at Brooks’s, so today’s lunch was nothing out of the ordinary.
Sir Edward Manning, Alexia’s permanent private secretary, greeted Teddy warmly. With the home secretary herself, Sir Edward maintained an appropriately formal distance. But Alexia’s husband was another matter. The two men knew each other slightly. As social equals, meeting privately, familiarity was perfectly appropriate.
“Manning. Thanks for seeing me. I’m sure your schedule must be jam-packed.”
“No more so than yours, old man.”
They ordered gin and tonics, and a pair of rare filet steaks with Brooks’s famous crispy fries. Teddy got down to business.
“It’s about Alexia.”
“I rather assumed it might be. What’s on your mind?”
“It’s a bit awkward. She alluded to me that she’d been having trouble with a chap she knew years ago.”
Not by a flicker did Sir Edward Manning betray his surprise that Alexia had chosen to confide in her husband about Billy Hamlin. The deportation order had been executed so swiftly and secretly that not even the home secretary’s own security detail had been informed of it. And at Alexia’s request! If Hamlin held a dark key to the home secretary’s past, Sir Edward imagined that the very last person she would wish to know it would be her husband, the nice but dim Teddy.
“She suggested this man has been harassing her.”
Again, Sir Edward said nothing. Teddy De Vere had not asked a question. He had made a statement. Sir Edward Manning had not risen to the highest ranks of the British Civil Service by responding to statements.
“The bugger of it is, Alexia won’t give me the fellow’s name. All she’ll say is that you’ve ‘dealt with it.’ ” Teddy sliced off a succulent bite of steak and put it in his mouth. “So what I want to know is: have you?”
“Yes,” said Sir Edward, in his usual measured tone. “As far as I’m able.”
“What does that mean?”
“Off the record?”
“The man the home secretary is referring to is an American citizen.”
“She told me. She also said he was an ex-con and a lunatic.”
Sir Edward Manning raised a laconic eyebrow. “I’m not sure I’d go that far. The point is, due to his nationality, our powers, though considerable, are limited.”
“Alexia said you deported him.”
“That is correct. He was deported and his passport’s been red-stamped so it’s impossible for him to reenter Britain legally. I had a quiet word with some of our American friends and I understand that he has also been sectioned. As far as I know he remains in a secure facility somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard.”
Teddy De Vere did not look reassured. “As far as you know? ‘Somewhere’?”
“It’s not perfect,” Sir Edward admitted. “But given that this was all done under the radar, so to speak, it’s the best we can do without putting the Home Office at risk. One always needs to think, what would one say to the press if it did get out? How far can one go? Having a schizophrenic ex-convict who harassed the home secretary deported and institutionalized would be acceptable to the majority of voters, in my view, were the story ever to leak. Especially as the man concerned is an American. Nobody likes Americans.”
“Indeed,” Teddy agreed. “Is the story likely to leak?”
“Leaks are never likely. Unfortunately they happen on a daily basis.”
Teddy nodded knowingly.
Sir Edward went on. “Your wife’s appointment upset quite a number of people, as you know. There was some unseemly briefing against her during the whole flag-burning crisis. Plenty of people are hunting feverishly for a chink in her armor. We don’t want to give them one.”
For a few minutes both men returned to their steaks. Then Teddy said, “So this nutter could still enter the country illegally?”
“Anyone can do anything illegally.” Taking a sip of Burgundy, Sir Edward dabbed his mouth daintily at the corners with a monogrammed napkin.
“And if he did? What would happen then?”
“Then we would arrest him, like any other illegal immigrant, and deport him again. Look, De Vere, I understand your concern. I’d feel the same if it were my wife.”
Teddy tried and failed to picture the utterly effete Sir Edward Manning having a wife.
“But I honestly don’t think either you or the home secretary has reason to be concerned. This man is ill. He has no source of funds. Trust me, I’ve met him and he is no criminal mastermind. He simply lacks the wherewithal to get himself back to Britain.”
They finished their meals. Teddy ordered a sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce. Sir Edward, conscious of his waistline, had a double espresso. Sergei Milescu liked him to stay in shape. Soon, Edward hoped, he would be able to give Sergei what he wanted and get him off his back forever, literally and metaphorically. Until then, dessert menus must remain resolutely closed.
Sir Edward signed the bill. Both men retrieved their coats.
Sir Edward asked Teddy, “When are you headed back to Boston? You’re still on holiday, aren’t you?”
“On and off. I’m flying back tonight actually. I want to get back to Alexia. Things are still tricky at home with our daughter and I don’t like to leave her on her own.”
For the second time in an hour, Sir Edward Manning hid his surprise. He’d understood that the bad blood between Mrs. De Vere and her daughter, Roxanne, was a taboo subject, but Teddy had just brought it up quite openly.
“Well, do give my best to the home secretary,” he said politely. “We’re looking forward to having her back.”
“I will,” said Teddy. “And many thanks for lunch. Oh, one last thing,” he added casually.
“I don’t suppose I can persuade you to give me this chap’s name, can I?”
The man came to the pub every day for the next week. Always sat at the bar, always nursed two beers, no more, and never spoke to a soul other than Simon Butler.
Simon Butler and the voice in his head.
Simon now knew a little about him. He was in London visiting a friend. He loved cars. He had a daughter. Someone had been going to marry him, but they had changed their mind. This much Simon thought was true. But a lot of what the man said was pure paranoia.
The British government was on his tail.
The home secretary was trying to silence him.
A trained killer wanted him dead and was picking off his loved ones one by one.
Every night the man told Simon Butler about “the voice.” On the telephone. In his head. In his dreams. Telling him what to do. Terrorizing him. No one believed him. But the voice was real.
He didn’t want to tell Simon his name. That was part of the paranoid delusions. No one could be trusted. But he did mention a daughter, Jennifer, over and over again.
One night after work, Simon told his landlady, “I’d like to try and find her. She’s obviously his only family and the guy needs help. She’s probably worried sick.”
The landlady looked at the young barman with affection. He was a good boy, Simon Butler. Kind. Not like her own son, Arthur. It pained her to say it but Arthur and his mates were delinquents. “It’s a nice idea, Si. But you’ve only a first name to go on. That’s not going to get you very far, is it?”
“If you’re really worried you’d be better off calling Social Services. Maybe they could help him.”
“Maybe,” said Simon. “I’d need an address, though.”
It wasn’t a hospital. It was a prison.
Yes, there were doctors, the proverbial men in white coats. But they didn’t want to help him. They wanted to control him. To trap him. All Billy Hamlin remembered was being locked in, strapped down, and doped up to the eyeballs with God knows what. Things to make him forget, to make him relax, to keep him in a permanent state of inertia.
The voice was gone. The doctors called that progress.
But Billy’s panic grew.
Time was running out.
As much as it terrified him, Billy needed the voice. He needed it to tell him what to do next. To give him another chance. Jenny’s life depended on it.
Ironically, it was Jenny who saved him. She was still safe—so far—and once she tracked him down, she came to visit every day. Billy couldn’t tell his daughter the whole truth about the voice. The truth would terrify her, and he didn’t want that. But he talked to Jenny about the drugs, about the cotton-wool clouds in his head, numbing every sense and emotion. About his longing to be free. Eventually, Jenny had convinced the doctors that she could care for him, that he would be safe at home with her. Little did she know that it was really he, Billy, keeping her safe, watching her night after night while she slept, on constant vigil at her modest Queens apartment.