The Disappearance of Anna Popov; Chapter 7; London, 14 January

London, 14 January
Barely awake, Jack reached for the mobile ringing on his bedside table. ‘What time did you get in last night?’ Rebecca asked. ‘I was looking for you.’
‘I had to put my flight back …’
‘Any luck with Popov?’
‘More than you can imagine. I’ll tell you at breakfast. What time is it?’
‘Time to go shopping, remember? Mayfair, here we come!’

‘Oh God, I forgot! Do we have to?’
‘Absolutely! Your wardrobe’s appalling, Jack. You can’t keep turning up in jeans and checked shirts all the time. And that infernal bomber jacket! The country-boy-from-Oz image is wearing thin, believe me.’
‘It is? I hadn’t noticed.’

‘Remember the BBC yesterday morning? The interviewer was joking about it …’
‘The guy with the bowtie? Poncy little … Who cares?’
‘Don’t sound so glum. Just bring your credit card and leave the rest to me. You missed breakfast by the way. See you downstairs in half an hour. Can you manage that?’
‘Jeans and checked shirt it is. I’ll be down in a flash.’
‘Enjoy it while you can.’
‘Is that a threat?’
‘No. A promise. See you in the foyer.’
‘Professor Popov was quite a bit older than I expected,’ said Jack, ‘and very reserved. He wasn’t really that interested until I showed him the bracelet. Then everything changed. He became emotional and rather strange …’
‘So he recognised it, you think?’ interrupted Rebecca. ‘Here we are. Bond Street. Stop please, driver!’
Jack paid the cabbie and they got out. ‘Not sure. It was all very odd.’
‘In what way?’
‘It was as if the bracelet had triggered something … A recollection; a memory. Something disturbing …’
‘Did you ask him?’
‘Sure. But he was noncommittal. He avoided the question and suggested I speak to his wife instead. His former wife that is. And one more thing … He didn’t touch the bracelet, which I found most unusual.’
‘How weird.’
‘And then he wrote down a phone number and excused himself.’

‘In here, Jack,’ said Rebecca, taking Jack by the hand. ‘Armani. That’s you.’
‘I feel like a five-year-old getting his first sailor suit.’
‘For goodness’ sake, Jack! Just for once, do as you’re told!’

Rebecca was in her element. She seemed to know the entire Armani collection. ‘Stop complaining and try these on,’ she ordered, handing a large pile of clothes to Jack.
She was an experienced shopper with a good eye and excellent taste. The clothes looked great on Jack and suited his athletic build to perfection.

‘I don’t need all this stuff.’
‘Keep quiet! You’re taking the lot. Clothes maketh the man, remember?’

i thought it took a little more than that,’ Jack suggested meekly.
There was no reply.
He paled when he was handed the bill by the smiling shop assistant, but wisely held his tongue.
‘One good thing about all this gear, I suppose,’ said Jack, pointing to the Armani bags on the footpath, ‘I should fit in rather well …’
‘Fit in where?’ asked Rebecca, trying in vain to flag down a cab in the crowded street.
‘When we meet the countess …’
‘What on earth are you talking about?’
‘Anna Popov’s mother is a Russian countess,’ answered Jack.
‘What?’
‘You heard. Not only that, she runs a boutique hotel just outside Paris. We’re going to stay there on Saturday,’ he added, casually.
‘We can’t do that!’ Rebecca almost shouted. ‘You have commitments!’
‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’ replied Jack, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper – his list of UK engagements – and pointed to a particular entry. ‘It says here – in black and white, I might add – “weekend free”.’
‘Yes, but …’ protested Rebecca.
Jack held up the piece of paper and shrugged.
‘The weekend’s on me, by the way. I booked the best suite in the chateau. It’ll do you good, you’ll see. Especially after all this shopping. Look, here comes an empty one,’ said Jack. Stepping off the curb, he whistled like a coachman pulling up a brewery horse. The cab stopped and Jack opened the door for Rebecca. ‘Après vu, mademoiselle. Don’t forget the bags.’
‘You are incorrigible,’ said Rebecca, clenching her fists in mock frustration. ‘I don’t know why I bother!’
‘What’s wrong? I’m just practising my French for our little weekend away.’

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