Geneva. City of sunlight and bright reflections. Of billowing white sails on the lake—sturdy, irregular buildings above, their rippling images on the water below. Of myriad flowers surrounding blue-green pools of fountains—duets of exploding colors. Of small quaint bridges arching over the glassy surfaces of man-made ponds to tiny man-made islands, sanctuaries for lovers and friends and quiet negotiators. Reflections.
Geneva, the old and the new. City of high medieval walls and glistening tinted glass, of sacred cathedrals and less holy institutions. Of sidewalk cafés and lakeside concerts, of miniature piers and gaily painted boats that chug around the vast shoreline, the guides extolling the virtues—and the estimated value—of the lakefront estates that surely belong to another time.
Geneva. City of purpose, dedicated to the necessity of dedication, frivolity tolerated only when intrinsic to the agenda or the deal. Laughter is measured, controlled—glances conveying approval of sufficiency or admonishing excess. The canton by the lake knows its soul. Its beauty coexists with industry, the balance not only accepted but jealously guarded.
Geneva. City also of the unexpected, of predictability in conflict with sudden unwanted revelation, the violence of the mind struck by bolts of personal lightning.
Cracks of thunder follow; the skies grow dark and the rains come. A deluge, pounding the angry waters taken by surprise, distorting vision, crashing down on the giant spray, Geneva’s trademark on the lake, the jet d’eau, that geyser designed by man to dazzle man. When sudden revelations come, the gigantic fountain dies. All the fountains die and without the sunlight the flowers wither. The bright reflections are gone and the mind is frozen.
Geneva. City of inconstancy.
Joel Converse, attorney-at-law, walked out of the hotel Richemond into the blinding morning sunlight on the Jardin Brunswick. Squinting, he turned left, shifting his attaché case to his right hand, conscious of the value of its contents but thinking primarily about the man he was to meet for coffee and croissants at Le Chat Botté, a sidewalk café across from the waterfront. “Re-meet” was more accurate, thought Converse, if the man had not confused him with someone else.
A. Preston Halliday was Joel’s American adversary in the current negotiations, the finalizing of last-minute details for a Swiss-American merger that had brought both men to Geneva. Although the remaining work was minimal—formalities, really, research having established that the agreements were in accord with the laws of both countries and acceptable to the International Court in The Hague—Halliday was an odd choice. He had not been part of the American legal team fielded by the Swiss to keep tabs on Joel’s firm. That in itself would not have excluded him—fresh observation was frequently an asset—but to elevate him to the position of point, or chief spokesman, was, to say the least, unorthodox. It was also unsettling.
Halliday’s reputation—what little Converse knew of it—was as a troubleshooter, a legal mechanic from San Francisco who could spot a loose wire, rip it out and short an engine. Negotiations covering months and costing hundreds of thousands had been aborted by his presence, that much Converse recalled about A. Preston Halliday. But that was all he recalled. Yet Halliday said they knew each other.
“It’s Press Halliday,” the voice had announced over the hotel phone. “I’m pointing for Rosen in the Comm Tech–Bern merger.”
“What happened?” Joel had asked, a muted electric razor in his left hand, his mind trying to locate the name; it had come to him by the time Halliday replied.
“The poor bastard had a stroke, so his partners called me in.” The lawyer had paused. “You must have been mean, counselor.”
“We rarely argued, counselor. Christ, I’m sorry, I like Aaron. How is he?”
“He’ll make it. They’ve got him in bed and on a dozen versions of chicken soup. He told me to tell you he’s going to check your finals for invisible ink.”
“Which means you’re going to check because I don’t have any and neither did Aaron. This marriage is based on pure greed, and if you’ve studied the papers you know that as well as I do.”
“The larceny of investment write-offs,” agreed Halliday, “combined with a large chunk of a technological market. No invisible ink. But since I’m the new boy on the block, I’ve got a couple of questions. Let’s have breakfast.”
“I was about to order room service.”
“It’s a nice morning, why not get some air? I’m at the President, so let’s split the distance. Do you know the Chat Botté?”
“American coffee and croissants. Quai du Mont Blanc.”
“You know it. How about twenty minutes?”
“Make it a half hour, okay?”
“Sure.” Halliday had paused again. “It’ll be good to see you again, Joel.”
“You may not remember. A lot’s happened since those days . . . more to you than to me, I’m afraid.”
“I’m not following you.”
“Well, there was Vietnam and you were a prisoner for a pretty long time.”
“That’s not what I meant, and it was years ago. How do we know each other? What case?”
“No case, no business. We were classmates.”
“Duke? It’s a large law school.”
“Further back. Maybe you’ll remember when we see each other. If you don’t, I’ll remind you.”
“You must like games. . . . Half an hour. Chat Botté.”
As Converse walked toward the Quai du Mont Blanc, the vibrant boulevard fronting the lake, he tried to fit Halliday’s name into a time frame, the years to a school, a forgotten face to match an unremembered classmate. None came, and Halliday was not a common name, the short form “Press” even less so . . . unique, actually. If he had known someone named Press Halliday, he could not imagine forgetting it. Yet the tone of voice had implied familiarity, even closeness.
It’ll be good to see you again, Joel. He had spoken the words warmly, as he had the gratuitous reference to Joel’s POW status. But then, those words were always spoken softly to imply sympathy if not to express it overtly. Too, Converse understood why under the circumstances Halliday felt he had to bring up the subject of Vietnam, even fleetingly. The uninitiated assumed that all men imprisoned in the North Vietnamese camps for any length of time had been mentally damaged, per se, that a part of their minds had been altered by the experience, their recollections muddled. To a degree, some of these assumptions were undeniable, but not with respect to memory. Memories were sharpened because they were searched compulsively, often mercilessly. The accumulated years, the layers of experience . . . faces with eyes and voices, bodies of all sizes and shapes; scenes flashing across the inner screen, the sights and sounds, images and smells—touching and the desire to touch . . . nothing of the past was too inconsequential to peel away and explore. Frequently it was all they had, especially at night—always at night, with the cold, penetrating dampness stiffening the body and the infinitely colder fear paralyzing the mind—memories were everything. They helped mute the sharp reports of small-arms fire, which were gratuitously explained in the mornings as necessary executions of the uncooperative and unrepentant. Or they blocked out the distant screams in the dark, of even more unfortunate prisoners forced to play games, too obscene to describe, demanded by their captors in search of amusement.
Like most men kept isolated for the greater part of their imprisonment, Converse had examined and reexamined every stage of his life, trying to understand . . . to like . . . the cohesive whole. There was much that he did not understand—or like—but he could live with the product of those intensive investigations. Die with it, if he had to; that was the peace he had to reach for himself. Without it the fear was intolerable.
And because these self-examinations went on night after night and required the discipline of accuracy, Converse found it easier than most men to remember whole segments of his life. Like a spinning disk attached to a computer that suddenly stops, his mind, given only basic information, could isolate a place or a person or a name. Repetition had simplified and accelerated the process, and that was what bewildered him now. Unless Halliday was referring to a time so far back as to have been only a brief, forgotten childhood acquaintance, no one of that name belonged to his past.
It’ll be good to see you again, Joel. Were the words a ruse, a lawyer’s trick?
Converse rounded the corner, the brass railing of Le Chat Botté glistening, hurling back tiny explosions of sunlight. The boulevard was alive with gleaming small cars and spotless buses; the pavements were washed clean, the strollers in various stages of hurried but orderly progress. Morning was a time for benign energy in Geneva. Even the newspapers above the tables in the sidewalk cafés were snapped with precision, not crushed or mutilated into legible positions. And vehicles and pedestrians were not at war; combat was supplanted by looks and nods, stops and gestures of acknowledgment. As Joel walked through the open brass gate of Le Chat Botté he wondered briefly if Geneva could export its mornings to New York. But then the City Council would vote the import down, he concluded—the citizens of New York could not stand the civility.
A newspaper was snapped directly below him on his left, and when it was lowered Converse saw a face he knew. It was a coordinated face, not unlike his own, the features compatible and in place. The hair was straight and dark, neatly parted and brushed, the nose sharp, above well-defined lips. The face belonged to his past, thought Joel, but the name he remembered did not belong to the face.
The familiar-looking man raised his head; their eyes met and A. Preston Halliday rose, his short compact body obviously muscular under the expensive suit.
“Joel, how are you?” said the now familiar voice, a hand outstretched above the table.
“Hello . . . Avery,” replied Converse, staring, awkwardly shifting his attaché case to grip the hand. “It is Avery, isn’t it? Avery Fowler. Taft, early sixties. You never came back for the senior year, and no one knew why; we all talked about it. You were a wrestler.”
“Twice All New England,” said the attorney, laughing, gesturing at the chair across from his own. “Sit down and we’ll catch up. I guess it’s sort of a surprise for you. That’s why I wanted us to meet before the conference this morning. I mean, it’d be a hell of a note for you to get up and scream ‘Impostor!’ when I walked in, wouldn’t it?”
“I’m still not sure I won’t.” Converse sat down, attaché case at his feet, studying his legal opponent. “What’s this Halliday routine? Why didn’t you say something on the phone?”
“Oh, come on, what was I going to say? ‘By the way, old sport, you used to know me as Tinkerbell Jones.’ You never would have showed up.”
“Is Fowler in jail somewhere?”
“He would have been if he hadn’t blown his head off,” answered Halliday, not laughing.
“You’re full of surprises. Are you a clone?”
“No, the son.”
Converse paused. “Maybe I should apologize.”
“No need to, you couldn’t have known. It’s why I never came back for the senior year . . . and, goddamn it, I wanted that trophy. I would have been the only mat jock to win it three years in a row.”
“I’m sorry. What happened . . . or is it privileged information, counselor? I’ll accept that.”
“Not for you, counselor. Remember when you and I broke out to New Haven and picked up those pigs at the bus station?”
“We said we were Yalies—”
“And only got taken, never got laid.”
“Our eyebrows were working overtime.”
“Preppies,” said Halliday. “They wrote a book about us. Are we really that emasculated?”
“Reduced in stature, but we’ll come back. We’re the last minority, so we’ll end up getting sympathy. . . . What happened, Avery?”
A waiter approached; the moment was broken. Both men ordered American coffee and croissants, no deviation from the accepted norm. The waiter folded two red napkins into cones and placed one in front of each.
“What happened?” said Halliday quietly, rhetorically, after the waiter left. “The beautiful son of a bitch who was my father embezzled four hundred thousand from the Chase Manhattan while he was a trust officer, and when he was caught, went bang. Who was to know a respected, if transplanted, commuter from Greenwich, Connecticut, had two women in the city, one on the Upper East Side, the other on Bank Street? He was beautiful.”
“He was busy. I still don’t understand the Halliday.”
“After it happened—the suicide was covered up—Mother raced back to San Francisco with a vengeance. We were from California, you know . . . but then, why would you? With even more vengeance she married my stepfather, John Halliday, and all traces of Fowler were assiduously removed during the next few months.”
“Even to your first name?”
“No, I was always ‘Press’ back in San Francisco. We Californians come up with catchy names. Tab, Troy, Crotch—the 1950’s Beverly Hills syndrome. At Taft, my student ID read ‘Avery Preston Fowler,’ so you all just started calling me Avery or that awful ‘Ave.’ Being a transfer student, I never bothered to say anything. When in Connecticut, follow the gospel according to Holden Caulfield.”
“That’s all well and good,” said Converse, “but what happens when you run into someone like me? It’s bound to happen.”
“You’d be surprised how rarely. After all, it was a long time ago, and the people I grew up with in California understood. Kids out there have their names changed according to matrimonial whim, and I was in the East for only a couple of years, just long enough for the fourth and fifth forms at school. I didn’t know anyone in Greenwich to speak of, and I was hardly part of the old Taft crowd.”
“You had friends there. We were friends.”
“I didn’t have many. Let’s face it, I was an outsider and you weren’t particular. I kept a pretty low profile.”
“Not on the mats, you didn’t.”
Halliday laughed. “Not very many wrestlers become lawyers, something about mat burns on the brain. Anyway, to answer your question, only maybe five or six times over the past ten years has anyone said to me, ‘Hey, aren’t you so-and-so and not whatever you said your name was?’ When somebody did, I told them the truth. ‘My mother remarried when I was sixteen.’ ”
The coffee and croissants arrived. Joel broke his pastry in half. “And you thought I’d ask the question at the wrong time, specifically when I saw you at the conference. Is that it?”
“Professional courtesy. I didn’t want you dwelling on it—or me—when you should be thinking about your client. After all, we tried to lose our virginity together that night in New Haven.”
“Speak for yourself.” Joel smiled.
Halliday grinned. “We got pissed and both admitted it, don’t you remember? Incidentally, we swore each other to secrecy while throwing up in the can.”
“Just testing you, counselor. I remember. So you left the gray-flannel crowd for orange shirts and gold medallions?”
“All the way. Berkeley, then across the street to Stanford.”
“Good school. . . . How come the international field?”
“I liked traveling and figured it was the best way of paying for it. That’s how it started, really. How about you? I’d think you would have had all the traveling you ever wanted.”
“I had delusions about the foreign service, diplomatic corps, legal section. That’s how it started.”
“After all that traveling you did?”
Converse leveled his pale blue eyes at Halliday, conscious of the coldness in his look. It was unavoidable, if misplaced—as it usually was. “Yes, after all that traveling. There were too many lies and no one told us about them until it was too late. We were conned and it shouldn’t have happened.”
Halliday leaned forward, his elbows on the table, hands clasped, his gaze returning Joel’s. “I couldn’t figure it,” he began softly. “When I read your name in the papers, then saw you paraded on television, I felt awful. I didn’t really know you that well, but I liked you.”
“It was a natural reaction. I’d have felt the same way if it had been you.”
“I’m not sure you would. You see, I was one of the honchos of the protest movement.”
“You burned your draft card while flaunting the Yippie label,” said Converse gently, the ice gone from his eyes. “I wasn’t that brave.”
“Neither was I. It was an out-of-state library card.”
“So was I—in myself. But I was visible.” Halliday leaned back in his chair and reached for his coffee. “How did you get so visible, Joel? I didn’t think you were the type.”
“I wasn’t. I was squeezed.”
“I thought you said ‘conned.’ ”
“That came later.” Converse raised his cup and sipped his black coffee, uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken. He did not like discussing those years, and all too frequently he was called upon to do so. They had made him out to be someone he was not. “I was a sophomore at Amherst and not much of a student. . . . Not much, hell, I was borderline-negative, and whatever deferment I had was about to go down the tube. But I’d been flying since I was fourteen.”
“I didn’t know that,” interrupted Halliday.
“My father wasn’t beautiful and he didn’t have the benefit of concubines, but he was an airline pilot, later an executive for Pan Am. It was standard in the Converse household to fly a plane before you got your driver’s license.”
“Brothers and sisters?”
“A younger sister. She soloed before I did and she’s never let me forget it.”
“I remember. She was interviewed on television.”
“Only twice,” Joel broke in, smiling. “She was on your turf and didn’t give a damn who knew it. The White House bunker put the word out to stay away from her. ‘Don’t tarnish the cause, and check her mail while you’re at it.’ ”
“That’s why I remember her,” said Halliday. “So a lousy student left college and the Navy gained a hot pilot.”
“Not very hot, none of us was. There wasn’t that much to be hot against. Mostly we burned.”
“Still, you must have hated people like me back in the States. Not your sister, of course.”
“Her, too,” corrected Converse. “Hated, loathed, despised—furious. But only when someone was killed, or went crazy in the camps. Not for what you were saying—we all knew Saigon—but because you said it without any real fear. You were safe, and you made us feel like assholes. Dumb, frightened assholes.”
“I can understand that.”
“So nice of you.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”
“How did it sound, counselor?”
Halliday frowned. “Condescending, I guess.”
“No guess,” said Joel. “Right on.”
“You’re still angry.”
“Not at you, only the dredging. I hate the subject and it keeps coming back up.”
“Blame the Pentagon PR. For a while you were a bona fide hero on the nightly news. What was it, three escapes? On the first two you got caught and put on the racks, but on the last one you made it all by yourself, didn’t you? You crawled through a couple of hundred miles of enemy jungle before you reached the lines.”
“It was barely a hundred and I was goddamned lucky. With the first two tries I was responsible for killing eight men. I’m not very proud of that. Can we get to the Comm Tech–Bern business?”
“Give me a few minutes,” said Halliday, shoving the croissant aside. “Please. I’m not trying to dredge. There’s a point in the back of my mind, if you’ll grant I’ve got a mind.”
“Preston Halliday has one, his rep confirms it. You’re a shark, if my colleagues are accurate. But I knew someone named Avery, not Press.”
“Then it’s Fowler talking, you’re more comfortable with him.”
“What’s the point?”
“A couple of questions first. You see, I want to be accurate because you’ve got a reputation too. They say you’re one of the best on the international scene, but the people I’ve talked to can’t understand why Joel Converse stays with a relatively small if entrenched firm when he’s good enough to get flashier. Or even go out on his own.”
“Are you hiring?”
“Not me, I don’t take partners. Courtesy of John Halliday, attorney-at-law, San Francisco.”
Converse looked at the second half of the croissant and decided against it. “What was the question, counselor?”
“Why are you where you’re at?”
“I’m paid well and literally run the department; no one sits on my shoulder. Also I don’t care to take chances. There’s a little matter of alimony, amiable but demanding.”
Excerpted from The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum. Copyright © 2014 by Robert Ludlum. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.