44 Scotland Street: A trap is about to be sprung

Volume 10, Episode 50: PAT replaced the telephone ­receiver on the hook and immediately sunk her head in her hands.

Illustration: Iain McIntosh
Illustration: Iain McIntosh

She felt terrible. She had made the call to her father, inviting him to dinner at her flat, with Anichka, and he had sounded pleased; he had sounded cheerful and trusting as he walked right into her trap. How could she have done it? How could she have deceived her father, of all people, the man who had stood by her all her life, who had supported and encouraged her, who would never – in any circumstances – mislead or betray her? Now she had done precisely that to him.

But then she thought of the alternative. If she did nothing, then he would marry Anichka, who would make off with as much of his money as she could get her hands on, and he would find himself deserted and considerably the poorer. If she were letting him down now, it was as nothing to what Anichka was planning to do.

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“What a nice idea,” he said over he telephone. “Friday? Yes, we’re free as it happens. And Anichka will be very interested to see your flat.”

Pat closed her eyes. Yes, Anichka would be very interested to see her flat – and to ask how much it cost, which is what she always asked about everything.

“Can we bring anything?” asked her father. “Wine? My cellar’s a bit depleted at the moment, but I could find something no doubt.”

Pat opened her eyes – wide. Why, she wondered, was his cellar depleted? Her father was a modest drinker and he usually replaced bottles as he used them. Had he been entertaining more than usual, or had Anichka been working her way through them? Or stealing them, perhaps?

“Sorry to hear that the cupboard’s almost bare,” she said, trying to sound light-hearted. “Old Mother Hubbard and all that …”

“Oh, there are a couple of bottles,” said her father. “Don’t worry.”

“How’s it happening?” asked Pat. “Having lots of parties?”

There was a moment’s hesitation at the other end of the line. “Oh, you know how it is,” said Dr Macgregor.

Pat felt her heart pounding with her. “Does Anichka like a glass of wine?” she asked.

“Now and then,” replied her father.

She did not pursue the point, but Pat was sure that her suspicions were well-founded. The conversation was concluded and she rang off.

Now, more than ever, she was determined to foil this woman, but she was not prepared for the flood of guilt that overcame her. “Be strong,’ she whispered to herself. “Just do it.”

Her next phone call was to Bruce, to tell him that the dinner had been arranged. “I’ll be there, Pat baby,” he said. “What would you like me to wear? Something seductive?” He laughed.

Pat gritted her teeth. “You’re the one with the experience,” she said. “You’re the professional.”

For a few moments Bruce was silent. “Are you suggesting I’m a gigolo?”

“Of course not,” said Pat quickly. “What I meant to say is that you’re the one who knows what turns women on – clothes-wise, I mean.”

The note of resentment left Bruce’s voice. “You’re right there,” he said. ‘I think I’m going to wear black. Black is it this year. And a bit of grey. Women are heavily into grey these days, you know. It’s that book they’ve all been reading. You read it yet, Patsy?”

“No. Definitely not.”

“Come on,” said Bruce. “You can admit it. You’ve read it, Pat. I know.”

“I have not read it,” she said, chiselling out the words. “I have not.”

“Well, I bet this Polish woman will have read it. Totally sure.”

“She’s Czech.”

“Same difference. They’re all reading that book. Poles, Czechs, Russians. It’s answering a need that all women have – obviously. They’re not reading Winnie the Pooh, they’re reading the book.”

“Let’s get back to what you’re going to wear,” said Pat.

“Okay: black and grey. Jeans and a Jermyn Street shirt – grey. Linen jacket with two buttons in the front, both undone. Friendship bracelet – elephant hair. That’s should do the business for this old Czech chick.”

Pat winced. “I hope so. But look, Bruce, don’t overdo it. Be subtle.”

“Have I ever been anything but?

“Well …”

“See you,” he said breezily. “Got to go.”

That conversation took place on a Monday and the dinner party was due to be held the following Saturday. Pat asked Matthew and Elspeth to the ­dinner as well; this was better than inviting people who would not be parties to the plot.

“I suppose it means having dinner with Bruce,” said Matthew, “and that is not exactly appealing, but duty calls – so the answer is yes, we’ll come along.”

Now, with the guest list complete, Pat planned her meal. She would serve borsch as the first course, a vague nod in the direction of Eastern Europe (they did eat borsch, she imagined, or was it an exclusively Russian soup?) That would be followed by salmon steaks, broccoli, Puy lentils and potatoes. The final course – by which time she hoped Bruce’s magic would have had its effect – would be a lemon sorbet made in the ice-cream maker her father had given her for Christmas.

By six o’clock on Saturday evening she had the borsch and the sorbet prepared, the wine in the fridge, and the table laid for six. She had planned the placement carefully; she would sit at the head of the table, with Bruce on her right and Anichka on the other side of him. Her father would be at the other end of the table, so that if Bruce were to be indiscreet in his flirting he would not see it: it was not part of the plan that Dr Macgregor should suspect anything at this stage. It was to be on the ­discovery of the two of them in the Canny Man’s that the scales would fall from his eyes.

Poor Daddy, she thought; to have scales on your eyes at fifty-eight was extremely unfortunate; how lucky, though, he was to have a daughter who could see those scales and who was prepared to do something about it. That slightly self-congratulatory thought made her feel a great deal better – as slightly self-congratulatory thoughts so often do.