Vic had wondered what Joan would be like without Swede. Elizabeth had said that the separation was amicable, but, when he told Toni, she replied, “Amicable means that they aren’t throwing china and bottles at one another. I don’t think it’s possible to go through separation and divorce without a lot of very hurt feelings. But you said that Joan is going to continue to employ you.”
“So Elizabeth said. I haven’t spoken with Joan since.”
Toni nodded as she soaked off the dressing and inspected the wound. She said, “I hadn’t realized quite how active you are. It’s still seeping, and you really will have to take it easy.”
“There was a good deal of activity a couple of days ago.”
“You played rugby?”
“No. Actually, it was sex with Elizabeth.”
Toni laughed, and asked, “Was it good?”
“To be repeated?”
“No. She’s busy and she’ll be gone shortly. It was one-time, and partly instructional.”
“Well, then, it may have been worth a little seepage. Are you going to tell Vicki?”
“Not without thinking about it first.”
“I certainly won’t tell anyone. As per Hippocratic Oath.”
When Vic got back to Oxford, Elizabeth was gone from the breakfast room, evidently in preparation for the operation. Joan, now separated from Swede, had taken her room in the house, and was at the table, smiling and talking with people. She acted as if she had been there for months, and was speaking of going to a lecture to be given by a prominent visiting philosopher.
As they climbed the stairs from breakfast room, Joan said to Vic, “I have some information for you, if you have a few minutes.”
Vic had the minutes, and they sat down in the lounge. Joan, making sure that she wasn’t overheard, said,
“The operation will now proceed, but your job is done. We don’t want you compromised in any way. From now on, you can just be a rent collector for Billy Penderby and a general observer.”
“What should I observe?”
“We really get very little information about the attitudes of ordinary English people, particularly young people, toward America in general and our forces here in particular. By just going around in your usual way and talking with people, you can supply information that will probably be more valuable than you realize.”
Vic assented happily enough. She then continued, “I have a friend who’s a reporter for a Tory paper here, and, in a week’s time, you’ll be able to read all about the affair.”
Eager to discover Billy Penderby’s understanding of the new situation, Vic went to his shop. Finding it open but empty, he went through it to the back. He hadn’t realized that there was a large empty space there, and, to his surprise, he found some twenty men. Billy was speaking loudly to them, apparently giving an order. Vic couldn’t hear it clearly, but the men immediately sprang into action. They were shouting and doing something that looked very like fighting, but Vic could see that no blows were actually being delivered.
Seeing Vic, Billy stepped out of the turmoil and came over with a smile.
“Forget you ever saw this, my friend.”
Vic found himself escorted back through the shop into the street, and told, “Come back in about ten days, and we’ll go over the rent books.”
The next session with Ormsby was quite satisfactory. He’d never be a logician or mathematician, but he already knew more than most people. Vic had supposed that there was no point in following science or mathematics unless one was going to make discoveries. But, then, he himself enjoyed reading history without having any idea of making historical discoveries. There were moments when he thought to himself, ‘This is what must have been going on’. Ormsby seemed to be having the mathematical analogue of those moments. Indeed, Vic realized that, at this rate, he would soon be asked some question that he couldn’t answer without going to Collins.
When it happened, Collins was pleased, saying, “You see, this is the easiest way to learn. And it stops well short of conducting your education in public.”
“You publish a paper full of mistakes, and people then reply to it, pointing them out. It borders on humiliation.”
“I think I’m safe with Ormsby.”
“Quite so. You may not be quite so safe when surrounded by all the young ladies I met at the party.”
“Two of them, Elizabeth and Katarina, will shortly leave for America. Joan has just left her husband.”
“That enormous Swede chap?”
“So, to my count, that leaves four. Are they now all unattached?”
“More or less. Vicki and I are getting close to being brother and sister, but nothing beyond that.”
“Are you disappointed?”
“A bit. But it makes sense. And, this way, we can stay together without any fear of a bust-up.”
“There is that. What about the others?”
“We seem to have drifted into what amounts to a family. Vicki’s my twin sister, Toni’s my big sister, Wanda’s my cousin, and Joan’s the rich aunt. As with most families, it’s pretty clear that I’ll have to go outside for sex.”
“Very neat and tidy. I wouldn’t mind being more closely acquainted with one of the older ones.”
“You can certainly call on Joan. Then, in London, you can be accommodated. I sleep on a mat on the floor of Vicki’s apartment, and you could do the same. But Toni has a spare room, and might invite you there.”
“That would be nice.”
“She’s certainly interesting and attractive.”
“I know. Anyhow, do you have any new results for me?”
Vic did have a couple of little things.
On Monday morning, there was quite a spread in the paper. A protest demonstration at the Upper Heyford air base had turned violent with a number of people injured. The woman reporter had actually been there, and had seen some fighting. A little later, she came upon a young woman who had been injured with a cast on her arm in company with the doctor who had happened upon her and treated her. The doctor, whose difficult name the reporter had not caught, said,
“When I saw her, she had a makeshift splint on her arm. However, it was a simple break with no complications, so I got some casting material from a chemist and attended to it.”
The young woman, a Miss Wilson, had been on her way to visit a friend, the wife of an American pilot, when a mob of protesters, taking her for an ‘American war-monger’, had set on her and hit her with their wooden signs.
There was also an interview with a member of the women’s peace group, a Mrs. Alicia Byers. She said,
“Our members never engage in any violence. Unfortunately, peaceful protests are sometimes joined by groups that are not so restrained. We regret any injuries that may have taken place.”
When it was pointed out to Mrs. Byers that such side-effects were predictable, she replied only, “We can’t help that.”
The reporter, in summing up, had a little fun with that response. She suggested that some protestors, combining elitism with a degree of arrogance, hardly cared about the consequences of their actions for ordinary people. In this case, the young lady who was beaten and injured had only wanted to have tea with her friend.
It wasn’t hard for Vic to re-construct what had, or had not, happened. Billy Penderby’s little group had produced some chaos without hurting anyone. Joan, probably with Toni’s help, had gotten the cast on to Katarina. Katarina and Elizabeth would be well on their way to America with Swede, and hence unavailable for any follow-up questioning.
As Vic was thinking about getting organized to go out, there was a knock on his door. It was Joan.
Invited in, Joan sat in one of the two chairs and, pointing to the paper, said, “I see that you’re informed.”
“It sounds as if it went off perfectly.”
“I think it did. The peace protesters are still there, but I won’t be surprised if they give it up in a few weeks.”
“Our friends must be in Boston by now.”
“Oh yes. Elizabeth is with her husband, and Swede and Katarina must be having a honeymoon of sorts.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“It was inevitable. I still feel protective of Swede. I won’t go back to him, but, when things break up, I’ll do what I can to help.”
“Are you keeping the house?”
“I think I will. The lease has a while to run, and I’ll do some entertaining. You, Mr. Collins, Mr. Ormsby, and the ladies from London are welcome to come in at any time. If I’m not there, make yourselves at home. Mrs. Hudson will provide you with food and drink.”
“I’m not used to such comforts, Joan.”
“You’ll find them addictive. I’m also going to be meeting more people and sampling public opinion on my own. We can then compare notes.”
“I keep coming across pro-American attitudes where I least expect them. Both Frank Collins and Billy Penderby, despite being socialists, like America and Americans.”
“I think it goes deeper than politics. Frank and Billy are used to a British society in which the elite hold the mass of the people in contempt, and aren’t ashamed to show it. Very few Americans are like that, and ordinary English people know it.”
“Vicki and I came across two American women in a café who were fed up with England for similar reasons. They said we’d be okay because we’d be treated as foreigners, as opposed to working-class people here.”
“They were right. I’m treated as a curiosity and a special case, which is okay.”
“People have always been curious about me, and I, too, seem to be a special case. It may not matter much which country I live in.”
“I don’t think it does. It also gives you a certain useful objectivity.”
Vic had heard about expatriate American football teams, but, in the meantime, he had taken up running. Partly out of curiosity, he ran to the Thames, crossed on the ferry, and went down the tow-path. The Ship of State for the Oceanic Empire was still moored there, and, as Vic passed, Prince Todd hailed him. The words were slurred and mostly incoherent, but Vic waved and greeted him as he passed. As nearly as he could make out, the prince was quite drunk.
Vic had been under the impression that Prince Todd didn’t drink. However, he supposed that a man who had just lost Katarina could be pardoned for going on a bender.