Cicely Denfeld placed the thin book she had been reading on the nightstand by her bed and turned the clock radio on. She listened for a moment to the BBC’s weather forecast for England and Wales, then set the alarm. She pulled out the tortoiseshell pin holding her coiled up hair and placed the ornament on top of the book. Her blond hair fell to her shoulders, framing a pleasant face that seemed to waver between plainness and beauty.
Cicely switched off the bedside lamp, pulled up the bed cover and laid her head back against her pillow. A gas fire cast its dim glow into the room. Drowsily, she recalled a fragment of the poem she had been reading: You are today what yesterday you were—tomorrow you shall not be less. It brought a smile to her lips as she fell asleep.
She opened her eyes and surveyed a room she had never seen before. It was quiet, but periodically she heard a rushing sound. Waves. She rose from the bed. Beyond the tall open windows was a beach. A warm breeze brought in the sharp scent of the sea. An uneasy, disorienting feeling crept over her. In the pale light of sunset she could see the foamy outline of the ocean. Not far away there was a small pier, and moored to it, gently rocked by the waves, was a trim blue and white cabin cruiser.
The phone rang with the compelling vividness of reality, but in a detached way Cicely knew this couldn’t really be happening. She walked across the bedroom and sat on the small hard chair. An airline ticket holder and a man’s wristwatch and wallet lay beside the American style telephone on the coffee table. She picked up the receiver.
“Mr. Ryder?” said the pleasantly mellow female voice at the other end. Then Cicely heard herself say “Yes, who is this?” in a baritone voice. A man’s voice.
“I’m Vivian Venables, Mr. Robinson’s associate,” the caller replied. “I hope you’re over your jet lag. Do you need anything?”
“I am fine,” the man said.
“Do you have a cell phone with you?”
“No,” he answered. “I was instructed not to bring it with me.”
“Good. Mr. Robinson does not allow us to carry cell phones or satellite phones. They can easily be tracked or monitored.”
Cicely thought she must be dreaming, and she had a vague remembrance of recent dreams, as oddly disturbing as this one. Reflexively, she tried to withdraw, as if, mistakenly, she had walked into someone else’s room.
“Mr. Robinson is free to see you now,” said Vivian. “He is in the library. Downstairs to the right. The last room. Just walk in, he’ll be expecting you.”
A gust of wind blew in through the window, carrying the sound of birds angrily twittering and fluttering their wings. Against the darkening sky, Cicely saw darting seagulls made pink by the gleam of dusk.
“I’ll be down in about ten minutes,” Cicely heard herself say in the man’s outwardly calm voice. She shared his feeling about the upcoming meeting—a mixture of excitement and apprehension. There was risk in what Robinson wanted him to do.
Cicely woke in a cold sweat. Her breathing was rapid, irregular. What was happening to her? She dug her fingers into the bed sheets. She lay on her own bed. In the semidarkness across the room she saw the outlines of her little dresser and of a Matterhorn poster, both familiar features of her bedroom. The rushing sound of waves was gone, replaced by the well-known hiss of the gas fire. She touched her face. She was herself again.
A dream! How strange. What a vivid clarity for a dream!
Cicely Denfeld drove over the hill, away from the town of Chesham. Aylesbend Manor could be seen a mile ahead, lying peacefully in the bright autumn sunlight, amid the varying green of oak, beech, and elm. So close to London, Cicely thought, and yet so remote and untouched.
Cicely found the wrought iron gate easily and drove her MG down the twisting road through the grounds until she came to the large, sober Queen Anne house. She wore a brown blazer over a white silk shirt and a beige wool skirt. As she walked past a precisely pruned laurel hedge to the door she made a concerted effort to collect her thoughts. She would tell Angie her troubles and maybe in the telling they would lose their oppressiveness and go away.
She rang the doorbell, her legs feeling the chill of a sudden blast of wind. A moment later, the door opened and she was greeted by the butler, a man neat but forbidding in appearance. Cicely stepped into the big square hall. As the butler closed the door behind her, Cicely saw Angie, just coming out of the drawing room.
“Well, look who’s here!” said Angie, rushing toward Cicely with a look of delight.
Soon they were alone in the large bookcase-lined chamber Angie’s uncle called his music room. Each girl held a cocktail in her hand. They were both in their mid-twenties. Cicely had a long, pale, delicate face, with straw-blond hair softly framing it. Her friend’s face was angular, a study in planes, alert, with ironic black brows.
They listened quietly to the Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil and then Angie pressed a button recessed in the arm of her chair and the music stopped.
They talked of their friends from Cambridge. It was Angie who had the most to say. Since the death of her parents, Cicely had gradually lost touch with most of her schoolmates. Not because they snubbed her—Cicely was too well-liked for that—but because Cicely’s reduced financial condition prevented her from frequenting most of the clubs and social functions that brought the rest of them together. Only Angie, among her best friends, had remained close.
“How’s school?” Angie crossed long, nicely molded legs. She wore gray pants and a blue and pink striped shirt.
“Fine.” Cicely would rather not talk about work. She looked about the room, at the polished paneling and the heavy Victorian furniture. “This place is sumptuous.”
“We are not quite certain how Uncle Harold is able to afford it. He’s away for the weekend, at Antibes.”
“Lucky he.” Cicely looked into her friend’s eyes. “Angie...”
“The oddest things have been happening to me. I found a key in my purse the other day. It’s not one of mine. I have no idea of how I got it.”
Angie looked into her glass. She dipped a finger in her Rum Collins and made the ice spin. “Someone played a trick on you.”
Cicely took a sip from her drink and then put it down. She brought her hands together on her lap. “I’m beginning to think I’m going out of my mind.”
Angie cocked a dark eyebrow.
“I’ve been having these dreams...”
“Are they nasty? Do you get ravished?”
“Don’t be silly. These are not ordinary dreams.” Cicely spoke softly, almost in a whisper. “There is something bizarre about them. Often they are about a woman. And then, last night...” She looked pleadingly at her friend. “Angie, I’m worried. It’s all so odd. I need to tell someone.”
“Then tell me.”
“The woman’s name is Vivian. It’s been going on for a week. Always foreign places. And I’m someone else. In the dreams I’m someone else. I can’t make it stop.” Cicely bowed her head, her eyes brimming with tears.
“Easy, girl.” Angie moved to the couch and sat next to her.
“Last night I saw myself. I was in a strange room, a bedroom. Upstairs, with windows facing a beach. I opened a pale blue door and walked into an adjoining private bath—plush, with gold fittings. I started to comb my hair. There was a gold-framed mirror and I looked up at myself—I had wary gray eyes and a thin straight nose and dark hair...”
“I was a man!”
“A man? Well, at least you were dark and handsome.”
“Everybody has spooky dreams sometimes, Cicely,” Angie said, taking a sip from her drink.
Cicely bit her lip. How could she make Angie understand? She made one more attempt.
“My dreams are usually fuzzy, and I forget them right away. These are so clear—so lifelike. No one I know appears in these dreams. And I never used to dream of being other people. My dreams usually centered on me.”
“How selfish of you, dear.”
“Oh, Angie, listen. I’m nowhere in these dreams. At least not as I know myself.”
Cicely picked up her glass and then nervously placed it back on the inlaid leather cocktail table without drinking from it. She looked across the room and absently fixed her gaze upon a portrait of a young Edwardian couple. “The dreams about this girl...sometimes I think I might be turning a bit peculiar.”
Angie glanced at Cicely and put down her glass. “I’m not going to let you ruin a perfectly beautiful weekend with talk about weird dreams.”
Cicely felt let down. She wished her friend took her problem more seriously.
Angie stood up. “I’m going to get dressed and go riding. And you,” she said, pointing at Cicely, “are coming with me.”
“But, Angie, I just got here and—”
“No but’s, Cicely.” Angie’s tone was imperious, and she talked rapidly. “If you keep having the weirdies, call me next week or whenever, and I’ll give you the name of Aunt Jane’s Harley Street witch doctor. Charges a hundred quid an hour. But right now, get your rear moving, girl. I’ll help you unpack; the maid has gone to Chesham already. The weather is perfect and we’re going riding!”
It was a vague, unsettling dream.
Uneasiness. A motion like unsteady tumbling. A slight nausea. Moving, definitely moving. Rhythmic bumps. Spinning, and from far away, noises. Closer then, soft sounds. Voices.
“...up, Charles. Wake up...”
A woman’s soft voice, very faint, but urgent.
“Charles, please!” It was a familiar voice, but Cicely could not place it. It was all very confusing. She felt groggy, at the edge of consciousness.
“Maybe,” someone said, “you should let him rest longer. He may be in shock.”
Strange. It sounded like a man’s voice now. Cicely felt a cold panic enter her numbed mind. This was not her.
A hand touched her forehead lightly. “Please wake up, Charles.”
This can’t really be happening, thought Cicely. Oh God, not really. Surely all she had to do was open her eyes and see...
Dark hair framing a good-looking, resolute face. Cobalt blue eyes. Cicely’s head rested on Vivian’s lap. She tried to sit up, but the dark-haired girl stopped her. The effort to rise made Cicely dizzier.
“Can you hear me? Are you all right?”
“I think so,” Cicely murmured.
“Just rest now. Don’t move.” Vivian’s voice was light and gentle.
Cicely realized she was lying on the back seat of a car. It seemed to be afternoon. She could see quite well now that her mind was clearing. They were moving. It was warm and humid, a place in the tropics.
“You have the lives of a cat, Ryder,” the driver said, taking his eyes briefly from the road. He was a balding, round-faced man with a walrus mustache.
“Where are we going?” Cicely heard herself ask weakly in a man’s voice.
“We are driving to Matanzas,” the driver answered. Somehow Cicely knew that the man’s name was Guisa. They were in Cuba. Cicely shook her head, bumping lightly against Vivian’s thighs. She had to clear her mind of this. If she only could figure out a way to snap out of it. Maybe she could will the dream away.
The sound of Vivian’s voice drifted over the noise from the road. “...thought at first you were dead, Charles. The place was such a mess...”
She felt very lightheaded again and everything spun about her. She blinked hard and rubbed her eyes, then tried to sit up. But Vivian still wouldn’t let her.
Cicely saw a blur of green as the car sped under a canopy of lush vegetation. The fragrance of jasmine wafted in through the open windows.
“And Arteaga, how is he?” The words just formed in her mouth. Charles’ words.
“He was dying when we arrived,” said Vivian. “We had to leave right away, the police were near.”
In her mind Cicely repeated, go away, go away. The voices receded for a while, and she became drowsy.
A thought rushed to her mind. “Did I kill him?” she said with Charles’ voice.
“Arteaga?” Vivian asked.
“No, the other, the big man. I think I shot him. I must have hit him. He fired at Arteaga. Then everything went blank.”
Her hand went to her side. The pistol was gone, but she could feel the film canister still there, in her pocket. Part of the document was recorded on the film. Oh, God!
Someone shook her shoulder. Cicely woke, breathless, within the reassuring confines of an Aylesbend guest bedroom. Angie, in a white silk nightgown, leaned over her.
“You screamed, Cicely.”