An extract from The Ghostwriter’s Notebook

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Dubinsky’s front door opened and a girl came out, turning to say something to the doorman before trotting down the steps. I saw her the other day, leaving the house as I was going in: pale, red hair. Andy called out to her. “Sally! Come and say hello sweetheart!”
“Sally Dunbar,” she said, holding her hand out. “You must be the writer.” She smiled. “The biographer! I’ve been hearing about you, he’s very excited about it.”
“Do you want taking somewhere?” Andy asked her. “I’m free far as I know.”
“And Fabienne likes you,” she said. “That’s important around here, you’ve probably noticed.”
“Sally’s an actress,” Andy said. “She’s done theatre up West, haven’t you sweetheart – Shakespeare? Macbeth?”
“Othello, actually,” Sally said. “Thanks Andy, better not. Fabienne might want you; she’s been threatening Fortnums.”
“Othello?”
“Lenny Henry,” she said. “My big break-through. It’s getting to be rather a long time ago.”
“You’ve got a good billet here, mind you,” Andy said. “He thinks the world of you, he does.”
“I’m a sort of dialogue coach,” she said, answering my look. “I’m teaching him the rhythms of idiomatic English, the nuances. Don’t laugh!”
“Why choose white shoes?” I said.
“Exactly! Affricates, voiced and unvoiced; dental fricatives: thin clothes. He wants to blend in.”
“And is he making progress?”
“It’s driving him nuts!” she said. “He has to learn a whole new way of articulating; he has to use his lips and his tongue the way a native-speaker uses theirs.” A black cab pulled in to the kerb a couple of doors down, rattling and shuddering.
“White shoes and thin clothes,” I said. “Very elegant, very Bowie. How long have you been working here Sally?”
“Me, I’ve been with him two years,” Andy said. “Best boss I’ve had since the Army, and I had a few.”
“I do a couple of sessions a week,” Sally said. “Yes, I like him, he’s fun. How are you finding him? How’s the book going?”
“He’s a gentleman,” Andy said. “Not sure about fun though, sweetheart. I’ve seen some things the last couple of years you wouldn’t want to know about. Nothing against him mind, he’s as good as gold; but some of the people he deals with are no fun at all, believe me.”
I pictured Dubinsky’s catalogue of victims, dead faces lined up as though for an identification parade, a slide-show of crime-scenes: brutal, grainy blow-ups of crashed cars and dead bodies and gunshot wounds, pools and rivulets of blood mapping the dirty ground of the back streets.
“Andy likes to be mysterious,” Sally said.
The Protection Group were stepping back off the road onto the pavement, making way for a black Mercedes as it turned out of Connaught Square into the Court, a Range Rover following it; both cars had tinted windows. They passed us almost silently, just the faint creak of tyres on tarmac; they absorbed the sunlight, letting nothing back.
“You know who that is, don’t you,” Andy said. “Not him, mind, he’s in New York; it’ll be madam on one of her shopping trips.” His phone was ringing. “Yes sir,” he said. “I’m right here.” Dubinsky hurried across the road, stooping into the limousine; he lowered the window and leaned out.
“Stephen, so sorry, come tomorrow! We work all day tomorrow! Chao Sally!” We watched the Bentley accelerate away with a short bip on the horn as they passed the Protection Squad, a flurry of pink and white cherry blossom dancing in the slipstream like confetti.
“Everybody’s in a hurry today,” Sally said. “Perhaps they’re all going shopping. Can’t you see them, queue-jumping each other at Fortnums? Wasn’t that a beautiful coat? I’m sure it was vicuña, so elegant.”
“I’m not sure he was going shopping,” I said.
“Do you know that’s one of his ambitions, meeting them?” she said. “Tony and Cherie? Has he talked about them?” She adjusted her expression, dropping her chin, lowering the timbre of her voice: “But Sally, they are my neighbours, I will invite them for English tea!”
“That’s really good. You have very Russian lips.”
“Only when I choose to,” she said.

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