The date was meticulously staged, with a precision that matched the exacting standards of a nineteenth century English butler. Every eventuality was catered for, from the exact tilt of the parasols over the tables on the terrace to the gleaming silver of a pristine ashtray. The view, sweeping across the great expanse of San Francisco bay from north to south and encompassing the bustling vitality of Fisherman's Wharf, was one of the world's great vistas. The setting, on the terrace of a restaurant so exclusive bookings were made months in advance and on application only, was unrivalled. The table was the best in the house. The maitre d' himself had supervised the setting. The sommelier had, reverently, brought from his cellar a vintage he kept solely for magnates and millionaires.
The man sitting at the table wore a Saville Row suit - and there was a difference between wearing a Saville Row suit and being worn by one - and a Swiss digital watch. His name was Revson. He was an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and earlier that day he had saved the life of the President of the United States with an ingenuity and efficiency which marked him as exceptional in his profession.
The kidnapping of the President, his Chief of Staff, and his two royal Arab guests, along with a number of other gentlemen whose loss would have left the United States without effective leadership, had not left San Francisco unscarred. To the south of the bay, helicopters buzzed around the massive red towers of the Golden Gate suspension bridge, for two days the scene of the world's most audacious and spectacular kidnapping. The air still smelled faintly of gunpowder, the remnants of a distraction created by the massive detonation of fireworks from an illegal Chinese factory. Smoke still rose from gigantic pyres, fires set to disguise the firing of top-secret laser weapons from the military bases on the far shore. Television crews and reporters crowded the city, feverishly fishing for news, button-holing potential eye-witnesses and picketing the sidewalks outside police station houses and courtrooms. The owner of one of the country's largest networks, a loudly suited gentleman, was dining at the far side of the restaurant terrace.
Revson was off duty. There are men who are lost without the trappings of their profession, but Revson was not one of them. He was not armed, but looked as if he could be; he was not rich, but had the assurance of a man at home in every country of the world; and he was as sharply observant of his surroundings as a court room sketch-artist. Meticulous observation was, in fact, his stock in trade.
So it was with a suppressed shiver of disquiet that he observed the woman approaching his table. She was a blonde, but to say she was a merely blonde - of a shade so pale as to approach platinum, as well groomed as if she had just left the salon - was to discount the pale beauty of her skin, almost luminous in the golden light of the early evening, and the sea-green clarity of her eyes. She wore a dress remarkable in its simplicity, exquisitely judged to compliment her slight figure, and she walked with the confidence of a woman who knew her every movement drew the eye. She called herself April Wednesday, she had described herself to him as a fashion photographer, and in the matter of the successful resolution of the President's kidnapping she had been a talented and efficient co-conspirator.
Revson, the consummate FBI Agent, had not seen April Wednesday arrive at the restaurant, which meant that either she had appeared from thin air in a manner ruled impossible by the basic laws of physics, or she had somehow disguised her appearance until unveiled by the bevy of waiters who even now ushered her to Revson's table, clearing chairs from her route, cosseting her evening wrap, and offering to relieve her of the hefty cine-camera holdall which she carried as casually as any other woman would tote a Chanel handbag.
It was not the first time they had met. The disquiet, the invisible shiver of anticipation, was familiar.
Revson stood. "You really are rather beautiful," he said.
"I'm glad to hear that the spruced up version meets your approval," said April Wednesday. "You look considerably less scruffy yourself. I'm relieved to see you retrieved your razor."
One waiter held her chair. Another brushed invisible dust from the starched table-cloth. A third proffered the ash-tray.
As April sat, Revson snapped open his cigarette case. "Cigarette?"
"No, thank you. You don't smoke?"
"High days and holidays only. I might occasionally be tempted into the pleasure of a single cigar."
"Not Cuban, of course," said April. "Should I understand your tour of duty has been extended?"
"Briefly," said Revson. He sat back in his chair. The maitre d' was almost upon them. "When one's boss's boss speaks..."
"Ah," said April, and then she was smiling up at the maitre d', accepting compliments and menu with the easy grace of the sophisticate. There was much conversation concerning the already tasted vintage, the particulars of the evening's specials, and the exactness with which madam would like her steak grilled, concluding with a final exchange of compliments that should have left all three parties in mutually self-congratulatory satisfaction.
"Not the chowder?" Revson enquired. "We are in San Francisco."
"I don't eat shellfish," said April. Her remarkable eyes were lit to emerald green by the setting sun. The waiters were a small admiring posse at the bar. The network owner had moved his seat to better appreciate the view.
"I trust a preference not formed by unfortunate experience."
April smiled. "Well, I'm not going to be eating shepherd's pie again in the near future," she said. "I can't say food poisoning was your most successful attempt at thwarting Brandon's plans to extort millions out of the US Government."
"Not one of my better ideas," Revson said quietly, checking the waiters were out of earshot.
"Better, perhaps, in conception than execution," April agreed. She lifted her wine glass and took a sip of the California white Revson and the sommelier had discussed at length. "Perfect."
"Glad it meets your approval," Revson said.
"Oh, really," said April, setting the glass down. "Paul, you carried out a remarkable mission under extreme and demanding circumstances. I know of no other operative who could have completed it with the resources you had, and with an admirably low body-count. I was impressed."
"Ah, well, I knew there was something fishy going on the moment I saw you on the journalist's coach," Revson said.
"Truly?" said April. Her eyes rested gently on the rows of schooners moored along the wharf, San Francisco's fishing fleet. "I put it down to your impeccable competency."
"You are very complimentary," Revson said, conscious again of that small flicker of unease. Perhaps April's presence was perfectly innocuous. "But I do remember Odessa."
"And what a shoot that was!" April said. "Why the KGB should be interested in the January Vogue is beyond me."
"Perhaps it was more to do with the nuclear secrets hidden in your make-up case," Revson said quietly.
April gazed at him with those innocent green eyes. "I still have no idea how those got there!" she said. "Honestly! They should have been in the film canister."
Revson was smiling, a small, tilted amusement that lit his eyes and softened his mouth. It was an expression few people had seen. "My dear," he said. "Sometimes I wonder just how devious actually you are."
April pouted. "I never did care for being a mindless puppet," she said.
"Yes. Well. Should I apologize for Dr O'Hare's intervention on the bridge? Forcing you to feign illness to get a message to command was a little high-handed."
"In point of fact, no," said April. "In fact, one could almost say...Oh, look! What beautiful hor d'oevres. Thank you. No, no dressing on the salad. These look wonderful. Please do send my compliments to the chef. Paul, we could almost be in Paris..."
Beaming, the waiters retreated. April picked up her fork. "The illness was necessary, if uncomfortable. One might as well apologize for Brandon choosing to kidnap the President and hold him hostage on the Golden Gate, an event for which neither of us can be held accountable. Rescuing him, however...would I be right in thinking that next time I see you in uniform there might be an addition to your already weighty rack of medals?" She was smiling.
Revson buttered his sough dough roll. The chowder was just as good as advertised.
"How right you are," April said, although Revson had said nothing at all. "Medals do not the man make."
Thoughtfully, Revson stirred the chowder. He took another spoonful, with pleasure.
April sighed. "I suppose you want me to tell you how I did it," she said.
"I did promise you dinner," Revson said.
Smiling, April sampled the tiny, gleaming anchovies. A jewel-bright asparagus mousse. Red caviar, translucent as rubies. The crispest of salads, every leaf looking as if it had been individually selected and polished. "Our Mr Brandon was a man of meticulous planning and resource, but limited in perception. It's remarkable how many men believe women are there to be discounted," she said.
Revson flicked a glance at her across the table.
"Oh, come now," April said. "I'm a specialist, not a spy. It would never have occurred to be to drop a message to that battleship. I prefer more...conventional methods." She was smiling.
Revson sighed. "You had the lipstick radio."
April frowned. "I had the miniaturized radio transmitter which fits into my lipstick case," she said sternly. "It's a prototype model. The field is very limited."
"Limited enough that, for example, if one was standing at the furthest edge of the bridge, watching the battleship...any transmission would not be picked up by Brandon's dammed radio tracker?" Revson asked.
"I'm not sure I should admit that," April said.
"Well, my bosses were certainly well informed about Brandon before my message in a bottle reached them," Revson said. "So someone got a message out."
"Oh, no!" April said. She looked at him fondly. "I knew there was no need to state the obvious. My dear, I do have faith in your ability to get the job done. No, I was more concerned with...well, the positioning of those lasers."
"Ah ha!" Revson exclaimed.
April innocently pursued the last slick of the asparagus mousse.
"I thought they were remarkably well sited," Revson said. "We do only have-" he stopped.
"Two of them. Indeed so," said April, and smiled again at the waiter. "That was wonderful. Thank you."
Revson manfully refrained from tapping his fingers as he waited for their table to be cleared. "More wine?" he offered.
"Yes, please. An excellent choice. Napa, I assume?"
"Chateau Montelena," said Revson, pouring, with élan. They were alone again. "So. While I was dropping my canister over the bridge, you were chatting to the battleship's captain?"
"Oh, no," April said. "Why should he listen to me?"
"Then who..." Revson's eyes widened. "General Cartwright! Of all the people to be kidnapped with the President. The Chief of Staff is the highest military authority - apart from our Commander in Chief - the United States has. And he was on your side of the bridge."
"A very gallant gentleman," April said, smiling. "And happy to hold the mirror for a lady repairing her lipstick. We were chatting at the time, perfectly innocuous. Of course, I wasn't to know that you already had a plan. One of considerable benefit to both of us."
Revson had to laugh. He was shaking his head. "I introduced you to the Vice President as well, didn't I?"
"Under the most advantageous of circumstances," April agreed. "Really, if any situation was designed to make a foreign agent appear trustworthy..."
"That's it," Revson said. "That's why you were there. I thought you were tracking our two Arab guests, but you were there for the laser tests, weren't you?"
"It's hard to evaluate a brand new weapon system when all the tests are being carried out at sea," April said. "And when one might be interested, in, for example, making an offer to the developers, one should have some idea of the potential of that weapon."
"So if Brandon had bothered to check the film in your cine camera...Oh, don't look at me like that! I know perfectly well that your camera is custom made to run any kind of film you care to put in it. Night shooting is much easier with infra-red film, isn't it? Why didn't you tell me?"
April raised an eyebrow at him, and glanced significantly at their approaching plates. It was only after their meal had been served with all the ceremony due to the best steak west of Texas that Revson could resume.
"So," he said. "You got a message through to the ship to relocate the lasers - no? What?"
"I had no idea if they would be useful at that stage," April said. "But Cartwright was very clear. A well informed gentleman. You weren't to know, but he had every weapon on the west coast on its way at that point."
"Very though preparation," Revson said. "And then of course, I arranged for your fake illness, you evacuated the bridge, and somehow found yourself in the operational command room with Dr O'Hare, the Vice-President, and the head of the FBI. I was going to thank you for that faked illness, but - should I? It was an excellent chance for you to show your credentials, but I am beginning to wonder if...well, you are, after all, not American."
"You doubt me?" said April. "I suspect I'm expected to show a high degree of chagrin."
"For what it's worth," said Revson, "I...well, in these circumstances..."
"I have no interest in compromising your president," April said, leaning forward. "Our interests do not always align. It would be foolish to assume otherwise. And I will not deny that that fortuitous chance to consult your Vice President, along with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury - the two men who control both foreign diplomacy and the country's purse strings - together with Admiral Newson and General Carter...was remarkably well timed. But the final decision is not theirs. Not even your Hagenbach - a formidable player, Paul, the head of the FBI, a pleasure to meet him at last - not even Hagenbach would dare overrule the President himself. It was in my interests and my country's interests to thwart Brandon's kidnapping effort."
"Besides," she added, "Your high command were a little preoccupied at the time."
"I guess kidnapping the president will do that for you," Revson said.
They smiled at each other over the table. Revson said, "This crab is excellent. How is your steak?"
It was so rare the steer it came from could hardly have left the pasture. April said, "Wonderful, darling," and for a few minutes they ate in silence. The sea breeze was gently scented, the sun was sinking slowly into the sea and lending the ships and warehouses of the wharf a golden tint, and even the black bulk of Alcatraz Island looked scenic in the evening light. A year ago the Indian protesters had set fire to the lighthouse, but the Island's occupiers were long gone, the land left to the infamous prison and its unfortunate inhabitants.
A tour boat steamed slowly into the harbour, back from the sea, tired tourists lining the rails. Revson, with precision, cracked open a crab claw.
"And of course, leaving the bridge was an excellent chance to retrieve at least some equipment," April said. "Dr O'Hare's ingenuity in concealment was very welcome."
"Oh, he hid yours in the sealed cardiac equipment box, too?" Revson asked. "And of course the aerospray with the knock-out gas masquerading as air freshner was a masterstroke."
"It certainly worked on the coach guards," April said. "Thank you for that."
"You were out in the storm while I disabled the detonators," Revson said. "I did wonder. How did you manage to stay dry?"
April laughed. "Borrowed a coat from the gentleman in front of me. And another one for the camera."
"You filmed the laser."
"My superiors are very interested in performance. I assumed you'd target the radio wave jammer."
"Yes," said Revson. "You know, one of these days, you really need to show me what that camera can do."
"Whatever I want it to," said April, sliding it closer under the table. "Dramatic laser performance, though. Excellent aim."
"Electronic, of course," said Revson.
"What else? And of course, a impressively small impact zone."
"Not the weapon for carpet bombing," Revson said.
"But for precision..." April sighed. "We signed the deal this afternoon."
"Well, I'd already approved performance," April said. "And all the players were in the same place. It seemed foolish not to take advantage."
"So while I was having a shower and shaving..."
"I was signing a multi-million pound arms deal on behalf of my country," April said. "Four laser weapons. Delivery next year. Really, it was utterly fortuitous."
Revson placed the miniature hammer and the crab fork, very carefully, down on his plate. "They trusted you?"
"Should I wear a sign across my bosom that reads, 'I am the agent of a foreign power'? They knew that, Paul," April said.
"But those lasers are top secret!" Revson's famous cool was evidentially shaken.
"And still are," April said. "It's hardly in my country's interests to publicize our new weapons to, say, the gulf states..."
The waiters were already approaching. Revson, taking advantage, asked for bourbon. April, indulging, ordered a sweet desert wine and petit four. Left alone, Revson was still speechless.
"Paul, I've always felt better suited to directing my own drama," April said. "I was hardly going to consult you on a secret arms deal, any more than you were going disclose your secret agent activities on the bridge to me. Did you think I didn't notice you upstaging Hagenbach? I know where your ambitions lie."
"Oh, come now," said Revson, sipping his coffee.
Avril raised an eyebrow and toyed with a gilded almond. Irritated, Revson tipped his cup, and narrowly avoided choking on the grounds.
"For what it's worth," April said, "There is no man in the world with whom I would rather be kidnapped."
Revson was watching the sea, the cup still held in his fingers. He had long, elegant fingers, suited, April thought, to the picking of locks, the dissection of secrets, the defusing of bombs...A pair of military helicopters were crossing the bay. Revson was watching them with narrowed eyes.
When he looked back at her, Revson said, "On the whole, I would prefer one of us was kidnapped and the other in pursuit." His smile was wry.
"Naturally," said April. "Thus the masculine mind. Personally, I would prefer neither of us in such a position."
"Thus the feminine mind," Revson said absently. He was looking away again, watching the maitre d' bustle into the dining room. Waiters melted into the flock wallpaper or hastened to refill glasses and wield crumb scoops, but the maitre d' bent over the table where the television network owner sat, murmuring urgently. When the owner stood, calling for his coat, he was moving so quickly he knocked over his chair.
Another helicopter sped past, heading towards the airport. There was a tension in Revson's shoulders, under the exquisite cloth of his suit, that was new and instantly recognizable.
"Paul," April said gently. "It's getting late. I have a flight to catch tomorrow."
"Of course," Revson agreed, and called for the check.
Miss Wednesday's taxi was called. Miss Wednesday was presented with flowers. Mr Revson was thanked profusely for his tip. Miss Wednesday and Mr Revson were escorted to the restaurant door, the maitre d' himself deigning to shake their hands as they left.
Revson hesitated, as the taxi drew up. "I will see you again, won't I?"
"Oh, darling," April said, and for one brief instant Revson felt the faint imprint of her soft lips on his cheek and the fascinating eddy of her scent. "Of course. Sometime. A girl must keep some secrets, after all."
They smiled at each other. Revson dropped April's wrap over her shoulders and opened the door of the taxi. "The only thing I can't work out," he said, bending over her slender fingers as he handed her into the back seat, "is how you got O'Hare in place quite so quickly."
April's eyes snapped up to his, that immense, sea-green gaze that could lure a man helplessly into their depths. Revson was not immune, he knew. He stepped back and rapped on the taxi roof before he could fall further.
Those eyes were widening as the taxi started to pull away, accelerating. Visibly, April drew in a sharp breath. Revson was reading her lips. She said, "I thought he was one of yours?"
The taxi peeled away from the sidewalk, rubber burning. The taxi driver was red-headed.
Revson started to run.