New Title 1Jane Harvey-Berrick
BOOKS BY JANE HARVEY-BERRICK
The Education of Sebastian
The New Samurai
Dangerous to Know (published May 2013)
One Careful Owner (published Autumn 2013)
Dazzled (published Autumn 2013)
Jane A. C. Harvey-Berrick has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
First published in Great Britain in 2013
Harvey Berrick Publishing
Representation and Management, More & More Creations, Brisbane
Copyright © Jane A. C. Harvey-Berrick 2013
Cover design by Nicky Stott
Cover photograph by Shutterstock, with permission
Thanks for permission to EMI Music Publishing to reproduce lyrics from ‘Martha’s Harbour’, All About Eve
Acknowledgement to ‘How to avoid being killed in a war zone’ by Rosie Garthwaite and
‘One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays ofHelmand’ by Pen Farthing
‘High Flight’, John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (1922 – 1941)
To Lisa, for telling me to write this book
To Kirsten, for all her encouragement, and for falling in love with Sebastian all over again
To John Papajik, for all things military – again
To Phylly, for proofreading
To Victoria Zaleski, for her description of Long Beach, before Hurricane Sandy, sadly
To Ana Alfaro, for all things food.
To Camilla, for the Italian translation.
To my DH – you know why
When a woman turns 40 she is no longer young, but not yet old.
At least, that’s what I was told by friends who had reached that milestone some years ahead of me. I wasn’t concerned, although perhaps I should have been: my work as a freelance journalist was always uncertain, my mortgage large, my pension minute, with the future unwritten. So, yes, turning 40 should have bothered me, or at least sparked my interest a little, but you can’t force yourself to feel, can you?
I never dreamed that my past would catch up with me, and that I’d be drawn back into the erotic madness of a decade ago.
But then again, perhaps life is what happens when you least expect it.
I gazed around the table at the faces of my friends, bathing in the warmth of their love.
Nicole smiled back at me and raised her glass.
“Well, today’s the day,” she said, winking at me. “The big 4-0! Not that you look it: beotch! Happy Birthday!”
Jenna and Alice lifted their cocktail glasses and clinked across the table.
I smiled wryly.
“Well, some days I certainly feel forty. But not today – it’s so great that all you guys made it.”
“Are you kidding?” said Nicole. “Of course we made it – and I never go to Brooklyn, so you should feel really honored, Venzi!”
“Here we go,” muttered Alice, “the ‘I never leave Manhattan even to see how the peasants live’ speech.”
“Up yours, Alice,” snorted Nicole.
I laughed, happy to hear their bickering, which was as familiar and innocent as air.
These were my friends, but I thought of them as family. And they had all come to my favorite Italian restaurant in Brooklyn to celebrate with me.
“So, you’re leaving us again,” sighed Alice. “Up, up and away on your travels.”
“It’s not exactly a vacation,” retorted Nicole.
She would have raised her eyebrows except she’d been for her monthly Botox treatment, and the upper part of her face was currently immobile.
It was true: it wasn’t a vacation – I was going away for work. And I was living my dream.
I’d come a long way since arriving in New York ten years ago, penniless and unhappy, fleeing a failed marriage and a doomed affair.
It hadn’t been easy, although I doubt that moving to the Big Apple is easy for anyone. But for me, it meant living by myself, by my own efforts, for the first time in my life. I was scared and adrift in a city I didn’t understand, where I knew no one.
At first, I’d lived in a horrible, low-rent hostel, before finding a tiny apartment in Brooklyn’s Little Italy – a place that became my home for the next eight years. I cleaned people’s apartments to earn money for food and rent, while saving what I could to go back to school to study journalism and photography.
I’d been in New York for less than two months when 9/11 happened. The world changed on that day: everyone’s lives were different, as if we’d lost our innocence. The smoke and ash had hung in the air for days after; the feeling of shock and despair lasted much longer. And then came the anger: it was so strong, it was like a nightmarish creature that haunted your waking dreams. You couldn’t see it, but you could feel it, glimpsed in the faces of people around you – those expressions you caught out of the corner of your eye, that showed the rage was still there.
But there was also a sense of togetherness, maybe of shared experience. It was as if the whole city came together to care for each other. We mourned together, we tried to pick up the pieces together. It was as if we were one big family, living through a crisis together. It was just a different atmosphere. Everyone wanted to help out, everyone had some sort of connection to those buildings.
Somehow, selfishly, it fit in with my own sense of loss: not just the life I’d left behind in California, but also because I’d lost who I was.
A year passed before I opened my eyes, shook myself from my torpor and found a way to live again.
An old acquaintance from San Diego had helped get me some ad hoc work on local newspapers and, from there, I’d managed to begin my freelance writing career. At first it was just small features: a food festival in Brooklyn; a music festival in Queens; but gradually the scope of my writing became more wide-reaching, adventurous even.
It was shortly after that, when a piece I wrote called ‘The New Immigrants’ about asylum seekers, had caught the eye of a national newspaper editor and, suddenly and unexpectedly, I was on my way. For the past six years I’d been lucky enough to earn my livelihood as a foreign correspondent, working freelance for several major newspapers.
Two years ago, I’d even saved enough to put down a deposit on a tiny, 1920s bungalow in Long Beach. My mortgage was scarily large, but I wanted somewhere of my own: somewhere I could come home to as driver of my own destiny, and queen of my own castle.
I’d loved living in Brooklyn and was sorry to say goodbye to my favorite coffee shops and restaurants. There was a real sense of community in the ne
ighborhood, and the area thrummed with the vibrancy of the constantly changing wave of people that passed through.
By this time, I was working mostly from home – ‘home’ being wherever my laptop was – so the commute into the city didn’t bother me, and I was ready for another change. For much of my life I’d lived near the ocean, certainly during the most significant parts, and I loved that sense of space and peace that living by water gave me. Above all things, I loved to walk down to the shoreline when a big swell came in, and watch the surfers: like so many seals, clad in black neoprene, bobbing behind the line-up, then charging down the barreling green waves. Sometimes, in the summer, I’d take my surfboard out and join them. It brought back happy memories and I felt carefree for an hour or so.
My new home in Long Beach was a fascinating and diverse community. I loved the mix of people, and spent many happy hours just watching the world go by, often finding inspiration for new stories. My neighbors included an elderly Jewish lady, Mrs. Levenson, who used to walk side by side with her close friend, Doris, a Hispanic mother of three small children. Then there were the teenage beach bums, quietly smoking pot all day, hanging out on the boardwalk or by the mall, quiet and inoffensive. They all had their presence in the town, all part of the diverse culture, color and life.
In recent years, it had become popular with Manhattanites to come for the weekend, no doubt finding it friendlier and considerably cheaper than a few days in the Hamptons. Long Beach’s renewed popularity might have had something to do with the recession, of course, but I liked to think it was for its unique identity and sense of freedom.
My new home was surrounded by delis, bagel shops, and diners. Brunch was my favorite meal of the day, and on weekends, the colorful variety of eateries was packed with people placing orders to go, or waiting for a table to get breakfast. Even on weekdays it could be busy, but I was more likely to be able to get a table to myself and spend an hour or so staring out the window or working on my laptop. An Italian coffee shop on the boardwalk was – for all intents and purposes – my second home, the older members of the family chatting to me in strongly-accented Italian, the younger ones in English, of course.
One of the main commuter rail branches went directly from Long Beach to Manhattan, so it was handy for when I had meetings in the city, which seemed to happen with increasing frequency once I’d quit Brooklyn. Of course.
But the weekends were all about the beach. Even in the winter, when it definitely wasn’t lay-out-in-the-sun weather, people still liked to parade. The boardwalk spanned the entire town and every type of person seemed to take a Sunday stroll, although perhaps I was the only one who still enjoyed walking in the rain.
On a nice day, families mingled with the athletic-types taking a break from the overcrowded and sweaty gyms, to go for a run or bike ride in the open air. Elderly couples would sit at one the many benches, gazing out towards the water. I liked to fantasize that they were contemplating their youth and memories of earlier days, when running and jumping came as naturally as breathing, but perhaps they were just planning what to eat for lunch.
Perhaps they were thinking about their families: children who lived in different states or different countries; long-lost friends; dear, departed parents.
I had been close to my father, but my darling papa had died more than 12 years ago. I was not close to my mother. She did not like her daughter.
I didn’t like to look back that often.
My most precious memories were closely guarded secrets and I only looked at them occasionally, taking them out of my Pandora’s Box of the past, to treasure and enjoy, then carefully replace and lock away. As the years passed, I looked less and less; because, perhaps, I felt there was more to look forward to. And this was new.
As far as my friends were concerned, I barely had a past. They recognized that I preferred not to talk about it, and they respected my wishes; or else they knew better than to ask.
I’d dropped my married name the moment I’d left my husband, and I’d even hacked my Christian name into small pieces, choosing just one short syllable: a new identity for my new life. Instead of Mrs. Caroline Wilson, I was now Carolina Venzi – pronounced the Italian way – but known to my new friends as ‘Lee’.
And funnily enough, it turned out to be very handy: people often made the assumption that ‘Lee Venzi’ was a man. There was one editor who had bought my freelance features for five months before he’d discovered that it was a woman writing articles about crime in the city. I’m not sure I’d have gotten the job if he’d known the truth, but by then it was too late and, he had to admit, he’d liked the job I’d done – which was all that mattered, in my opinion.
It amused me, but it suited me very well, too. I was eager to retain a level of anonymity in my work; more particularly, some distance from my past.
And now I was forty. More confident than ever before in my life, believing in my abilities, and comfortable in my skin, I had a career that I enjoyed. True, it was an itinerant lifestyle that could take me away from home for weeks or even months, but it was one that suited me. I’d spent the first thirty years of my life dormant and static: now I liked to be on the move. Besides, there wasn’t much to go home to other than a shelf of books, and a closet full of clothes from my old life that I no longer wore.
A few men, very few, had drifted in and out over the years, but there was no significant other; there was no significant anything at all – and I was quite happy to keep it that way. I had the company of my friends, and that was more than enough.
Nicole, in particular, found my casual celibacy hard to understand. She was forever trying to set me up with ‘cute guys’ that she knew. It became something of a game between us: her vowing that one day I’d meet someone who’d sweep me off my feet, and me promising it would never happen.
What I didn’t tell her, what I had no plans for her to know, was that I had been swept off my feet once before, and that the trail of devastation I’d left behind me after that event was still too painful to examine. The memories stayed carefully locked away.
My current assignment would take me away for an unknown number of weeks – perhaps as long as two months. I’d been hired by The New York Times to write about US servicemen and women being deployed to Afghanistan.
My friends were supportive, but they didn’t really understand why I wished to take the risk. It was hard to explain. Perhaps it was about being master of my own destiny and being able to do what the hell I wanted for the first time in my life. Perhaps it was something to do with having arrived in New York with no more than a few hundred dollars, and an ancient and worn out Ford Pinto that died shortly after crossing Verrazano Bridge. Perhaps it was a need to empathize with people who took risks. I couldn’t say.
It had taken me years to afford a way of living that many women my age were able to take for granted. Maybe those were the reasons that I seemed drawn to document the lives of those who had significantly less.
My first foreign assignment came about because my agent knew a little of my background – eleven years of living on military bases had certainly given me an insight. I was sent to several camps near Mosul and Baghdad to report on the living quarters of military personnel – and, for once, a woman’s point of view was wanted.
So my latest assignment wasn’t the first time I’d been paid to go somewhere dangerous, but it was certainly going to be one of the most challenging.
“I’m going to miss you, Lee,” said Nicole, sadly. “Who am I going to hang with on the weekends?”
“You’ll cope,” I smiled, “and I’ll be back long before the summer. “Besides, you’ve got the keys to my place, so you can all go and do what you usually do – check out the cute surfer guys.”
“Yeah, but it’s not the same without you,” complained Alice, “even though you never notice any of them.”
“Maybe you’ll meet a hunky soldier,” said Nicole, with a leer. “God, I love men in uniform.”
not in them very long around you,” snarked Jenna.
Nicole just winked and threw me a challenging look.
I shuddered. My ex-husband had been in the military – I definitely wasn’t going down that particular route again.
My flight had been booked for the following morning, even though the newspaper was still fighting the bureaucrats in DC to get my visa and travel documents approved. An additional set of hurdles had been erected by the Department of Defense, in the form of requiring me to attend a ‘hostile environment’ training program for journalists, specially put on by the military, in Geneva, before traveling on to the Middle East – or South Asia, depending on your point of view or political affiliation.
I’d never been to Switzerland before, although I’d flown over it a number of times. It was something new.
Before dawn, I was ready and waiting at the front of the bungalow for the lights that would announce my taxi. I’d tucked my passport into my back pocket, packed up my small travel bag, tugged and pushed and pulled at my heavy, wheeled suitcase, and slammed shut the door to my home.