Books - Washington Shadow

Mullins and Cotton considered how they were going to get Mrs Ayrtoun into the Humber. Cotton saw Mullins had a blood blister on one knuckle of his right hand. He was carrying Mrs Ayrtoun’s spangly evening bag in his left hand.
‘Difficult to do this elegantly,’ said Mullins, tossing the bag on to the front passenger seat.
‘Jesus Christ!’ said Cotton. ‘How much did you have to pay that man?’
‘That would be twenty-one in all, sir’
‘What? Because that's what he needed?'
Mullins shrugged. ‘Norman said blackjack.’
Irritated, Cotton adjusted his grip on Mrs Ayrtoun and failed by a whisker to hide that she was wearing stockings but not underwear. He lifted a knee to free up his arm, hefted her up and tugged at her dress. Mrs Ayrtoun started, rolled her eyes but lapsed again.
He nodded and looked at Mullins. Between them they came to a silent agreement to maintain what they could of the modesty of a drunk female while transferring her like a limp, slack-limbed package into the car.
‘Better if you get in the back with her, sir.’ Mullins sounded apologetic.
Cotton groaned and got in. He got her legs round on to the floor and let her slump back and to the side. Her legs felt puffy and soft, the only fleshy part of her.
‘Perhaps a restraining arm at the ready, sir?’
‘I’ve got it!’ snapped Cotton. ‘Can we get out of here?’
‘Just one moment more, sir.’
Mullins opened the lady’s bag. A little later he handed Cotton fifteen dollars.
‘You’ll need to get a taxi later,’ he said. ‘And this way we don’t get into expenses.’
Cotton nodded and took the money. ‘Where do we go now?’
‘California Street. In the Kalorama Triangle.’
‘Not very close,’ said Mullins.
‘Where is ...’
‘He’s normally at the Chancery around this time. It’s nearly nine a.m. in London.’
They rumbled off through night-time Washington. The Ayrtouns lived in a grand apartment building. Mullins had to wake the Negro maid and had her bring down a shawl so they could wrap it round Mrs Ayrtoun. Then with Mullins on one side and Cotton on the other they each took an arm and carried her inside, the maid handling doors. Nobody said a word in the elevator. At the door to the apartment Mullins took over and carried Mrs Ayrtoun directly to her room. Presumably this meant he had been there before.
Cotton thanked the maid. She shrugged. Mullins came back.
‘I’d put some aspirin and water by her,’ he said.
‘I normally do.’
Mullins used the hall telephone to call Cotton a cab. They went downstairs.
‘You go home,’ said Cotton.
‘I’ll wait for the cab, sir.’
They waited.
‘It’s a shame,’ said Mullins after a while.
‘Yes,’ said Cotton.
Mullins cleared his throat. ‘She has a private income, I believe,’ he said.
'I'm sure she does,' said Cotton.
The two men waited. It was still warm. In Spain there is a kind of exhaustion to the end of summer, something like old bones. Washington was still clammy. An early-rising bird was fluting monotonously somewhere.
Mullins cleared his throat again. 'It can look raw,' he said, 'but there is a kind of honesty in America.'
'You really want to live here?'
'Yes, I do. It's more personable. It's not the Labour Party exactly but we've just got what we wanted, Norman got what he wanted and Captain Bob got a little fucked.'
Cotton smiled. 'It was a trade at any rate.'
'That's it. Look! Here's your cab, sir.'
Cotton got back to P Street a little after six in the morning. He went directly upstairs to his room but found the bathroom occupied.
‘I have an early start, you know,’ called Tibbets from behind the door.
‘Me too, you know. Stop hogging.'