Chapter no 148


THE TRAFFIC WAS TERRIBLE. It was Sunday night, people were streaming back into London from their weekends in the country. Plus I had to get through Piccadilly Circus, a nightmare at the best of times. Bottlenecks, construction, accidents, gridlock, I ran into every conceivable obstacle. Again and again my bodyguards and I would come to a full stop in the road and we’d just sit. Five

minutes. Ten.

Groaning, sweating, mentally shouting at the mass of unmoving cars. Come!


Finally it couldn’t be avoided. I texted: Running a bit late, sorry.

She was already there.

I apologized: Horrible traffic.

Her reply: OK.

I told myself: She might leave.

I told my bodyguards: She’s gonna leave.

As we inched towards the restaurant I texted again: Moving, but still slow. Can’t you just get out?

How to explain? No, I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to go running through the streets of London. It would be like a llama running through the streets. It would make a scene, cause security nightmares; never mind the press it might attract. If I was spotted high-stepping towards Soho House, that would be the end of whatever privacy we might briefly enjoy.

Also, I had three bodyguards with me. I couldn’t ask them suddenly to take part in a track-and-field event.

Texting wasn’t the way to convey this, however. So I just…didn’t answer.

Which surely irritated her.

At last I arrived. Red-cheeked, puffing, sweaty, half an hour late, I ran into the restaurant, into the quiet room, and found her at a small sitting area on a low velvet sofa in front of a low coffee table.

She looked up, smiled.

I apologized. Profusely. I couldn’t imagine many people had been late for this woman.

I settled into the sofa, apologized again. She said she forgave me.

She was having a beer, some sort of IPA. I asked for a Peroni. I didn’t want beer, but it seemed easier.

Silence. We took it all in.

She was wearing a black sweater, jeans, heels. I knew nothing about clothes, but I knew she was chic. Then again, I knew she could make anything look chic. Even a bivvy bag. The main thing I noticed was the chasm between internet and reality. I’d seen so many photos of her from fashion shoots and TV sets, all glam and glossy, but here she was, in the flesh, no frills, no filter…and even more beautiful. Heart-attack beautiful. I was trying to process this, struggling to understand what was happening to my circulatory and nervous

systems, and as a result my brain couldn’t handle any more data. Conversation, pleasantries, the Queen’s English, all became a challenge.

She filled the gap. She talked about London. She was here all the time, she said. Sometimes she just left her luggage at Soho House for weeks. They stored it without question. The people there were like family.

I thought: You’re in London all the time? How have I never seen you? Never mind that nine million people lived in London, or that I rarely left my house, I felt that if she was here, I should’ve known. I should’ve been informed!

What brings you here so often? Friends. Business.

Oh? Business?

Acting was her main job, she said, the thing she was known for, but she had several careers. Lifestyle writer, travel writer, corporate spokesperson, entrepreneur, activist, model. She’d been all over the world, lived in various countries, worked for the US embassy in Argentina—her CV was dizzying.

All part of the plan, she said.


Help people, do some good, be free.

The waitress reappeared. She told us her name. Mischa. East European accent, shy smile, many tattoos. We asked about them; Mischa was more than happy to explain. She provided a needed buffer, a tapping of the brakes, a moment to take a breath, and I think she knew she was filling this role, and embraced it. I loved her for it.

Mischa left us and the conversation started to really flow. The initial awkwardness was gone, the warmth from our texting returned. We’d each had first dates on which there was nothing to talk about, and now we both felt that special thrill when there’s too much to talk about, when there isn’t enough time to say all that needs to be said.

But speaking of time…ours was up. She gathered her stuff.

Sorry, I have to go. Go? So soon?

I have dinner plans.

If I hadn’t been late, we’d have had more time. I cursed myself, got to my feet.

A brief goodbye hug.

I said I’d take care of the bill and she said in that case she’d foot the bill for thank-you flowers to Violet.

Peonies, she said.

I laughed. OK. Bye.


Poof, she was gone.

Compared to her, Cinderella was the queen of long goodbyes.

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