The Tides of Memory by Sidney Sheldon

Summer Meyer held his hand, stroking each limp finger like a child caressing a favorite doll.

“I’m here, Michael,” she murmured, over and over. “I’m here.”

I’m here, but where are you, my darling? That’s the question. Everyone tells me you’ve gone. But I feel you here, with me. Don’t leave me, Michael. Please, please don’t leave me.

She would find out the secret.

She would find out the truth.

Then, if she had to, she would let him go.

Chapter Twenty-seven

Alexia De Vere flipped grimly through the Telegraph’s three-page spread.

“I’ve seen worse.”

“So have I.” Sir Edward Manning handed her the remainder of the morning’s newspapers in a thick stack. “The Sun’s calling you a lame duck. The Guardian predicts you’ll be out of a job by Christmas. And the Mirror likens you to a gestapo agent.”

“Isn’t that actionable?”

“Probably. But a lawsuit won’t help you keep your job, or win back voters. Much more of this and the prime minister will announce he’s giving you his ‘full support.’ Then you’re really done for.”

In normal circumstances, Alexia would have laughed at that. But the strain of the last month had really taken its toll. Her honeymoon period as home secretary was well and truly over. Public criticism of her perceived lack of grief over Michael’s accident had been relentless and quite poisonous. Last night, against her better judgment, Alexia had appeared on a popular television talk show to discuss it, a move central office had dreamed up to help soften her image. Unfortunately the program had the opposite effect, with viewers and critics universally branding Alexia “cold” and “unfeeling.” Remorseless was a word that had come up more than once, which really made Alexia’s blood boil.

“I wish someone would explain to me what exactly it is that I’m supposed to be sorry for,” Alexia complained to Edward. “Not being sorry enough, I suppose?”

Most of this morning’s pieces eviscerating her character had focused on her answer to the talk-show host’s question “What is your biggest regret?” To which Alexia had replied pithily: “I don’t do regret, David. I don’t have time,” a sound bite that had alienated what few supporters she had left.

“If I were a man, people would be praising my for my strength.”

“Very possibly, Home Secretary. Unfortunately, you are not a man.”

“No, Edward. I’m not.”

“Conservative voters expect their female politicians to display certain maternal instincts.”

“Oh, for God’s sake. What nonsense!”

“Unfortunately, Home Secretary, it’s the sort of nonsense that wins votes, not to mention friends within the party. It wouldn’t have killed you to tone your responses down a little,” Sir Edward Manning admonished. “Especially given today’s significance.”

Alexia rubbed her eyes wearily. “What significance?”

“The anniversary of Sanjay Patel’s suicide, Home Secretary. Surely you haven’t forgotten?”

Oh, shit. Alexia had completely forgotten. Distracted by the furor over her public image, and desperate to think about anything but Michael, she’d been spending every waking moment not devoted to Home Office business researching Jennifer Hamlin’s murder. The New York police had all but given up on the case. As with Billy’s murder in London a year earlier, it seemed to Alexia that remarkably little effort had been made. Nobody was arrested in either case, let alone charged. Surely it wasn’t right that such wanton brutality should go unpunished? But while nobody cared about the Hamlin murders, it seemed that the damn Patel case refused to die.

The anniversary of his death was always a bad day for Alexia. There were bound to be crowds of protesters outside her Westminster office later, and probably a fair few at her Chelsea home as well. This year, no doubt, they’d be even more vociferous, sensing that her political star was on the wane.

If they think they’re going to bully me into quitting my job, or admitting some sort of guilt, they’re in for a rude awakening. Bastards.

Alexia knew her approval ratings were at an all-time low, and that her cabinet colleagues wanted to be rid of her. It wasn’t just the embittered trade and industry secretary and his cronies anymore. It was all of them. Henry Whitman had protected her so far, but his support would not stretch indefinitely. Alexia tried hard to put the malicious whispers out of her mind and focus on the job. Contrary to popular opinion, she did have feelings. The criticisms, pressure, and above all the isolation were beginning to get to her.

If only Teddy could stay with her in London, perhaps things might be easier. But he insisted on spending at least half his time at Kingsmere (“The estate won’t run itself, you know, darling”) with Roxie attached to him like a limpet. Last week she’d received another threatening phone call at Cheyne Walk, the same Bible-bashing lunatic who’d called the last time. She’d told Edward Manning about it, but refused to alert her security, in case the story leaked and people thought she was trying to garner sympathy for herself. If there was one thing Alexia objected to more than being unfairly hated, it was being pitied.

Sir Edward Manning’s voice fought its way through the fog in Alexia’s brain. “Perhaps you should take a holiday, Home Secretary?” Sir Edward’s was an archetypally English voice, clipped and brittle and staccato, like Teddy’s. A voice that commanded authority without even trying.

“A holiday?” Alexia looked at him disbelievingly.

“A sabbatical, if you prefer. On compassionate grounds.”

“Have you been talking to Number Ten?”

Sir Edward Manning looked suitably offended. “Of course not, Home Secretary.”

“Henry Whitman said exactly the same thing to me last week. He’s trying to get rid of me, you know.”

“Perhaps he’s trying to help you.”

“By sacking me?”

“You can’t keep carrying on as if nothing has happened, Home Secretary.”

“Can’t I, Edward? Why not?”

“Because”—Sir Edward pointed exasperatedly to the newspapers—“much more of this coverage will finish your political career completely. Go on as you are and Whitman will dump you in the next reshuffle anyway. I’m sorry to be so brutal, but one must face facts.”

Alexia stared blankly out of the window. “Yes,” she murmured, to no one in particular. “I suppose one must.”

An hour later, alone in a nondescript Italian restaurant in Chelsea, Alexia forced herself to eat lunch. She’d lost too much weight since Michael’s accident. Since her trip to Paris, in fact, when she first heard about Jenny Hamlin’s murder, her appetite had deserted her. As for sleep, she was lucky if she got more than three hours a night, so relentless were the dark thoughts dancing through her mind. Plowing on with her job at the Home Office, fueled on coffee and adrenaline and a desperate fear of stopping, Alexia knew that the moment she did stop, the dark thoughts would rush in like floodwaters and drown her. When she did sleep, the drowning dreams were back with a vengeance: rising waves, riptides sucking her in, pulling her under, starving her lungs of air.

“Your cioppino, Mrs. De Vere. Enjoy.”

Alexia stared down at the lumps of monkfish and squid bobbing grotesquely in the saffron-scented soup and felt sick. Pushing the bowl aside, she tried to eat some bread, but she felt weak and nauseous with stress.

Maybe Edward’s right. Maybe I do need a break. I’m so desperately worried about Michael and paranoid about being pushed out of my job. But maybe the PM really is trying to help me.

Suddenly an image of Martha’s Vineyard and the Gables floated into her mind. She pictured the wisteria trailing over the trellis in her backyard; the pitch-black night sky full of dazzling stars; the low, growly croak of the bullfrogs, lazily mating.

That’s where I should go. I feel safe on the island. Safe and sane and rested.

It would mean leaving Michael. But Alexia was no good to her son at the moment. If she didn’t take some sort of a mental and physical break soon, she’d be no good to anyone. I’ll wind up in hospital myself.

Lucy Meyer was in Washington with Arnie at the moment, but Alexia wondered if she could persuade her friend to fly out and join her? It wasn’t as if Lucy had a job or any real commitments at home, especially now, with Summer away. How wonderful it would be to talk to Lucy, with no husbands or children around to distract them!

The two women had spoken by phone about Michael’s accident. Unlike the rest of the world, Lucy had understood instinctively why Alexia had to work afterward. Why she had to keep going. Why she couldn’t break down and be the weak, hair-tearing mother the British public seemed to demand she be. Alexia had even confided in Lucy about Jenny Hamlin’s murder, and her fears of being the target of some sort of bizarre conspiracy, some nameless evil that she couldn’t put her finger on. Colleagues would have laughed, or thought she was losing her mind. But Lucy didn’t judge her, any more than she had judged her when Alexia told her about her dark past. She simply listened, as silent and patient and unchanging as a stone.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon