“The Luncheon” Jeffrey Archer She waved at me across a crowded room at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. I waved back, realizing I knew the face but unable to place it. She squeezed past waiters and guests and had reached me before I had the chance to ask anyone who she was. I racked that section of my brain that is meant to store people, but it transmitted no reply. I realized I would have to resort to the old party trick of carefully worded questions until her answers jogged my memory. “How are you, darling?” she cried, and threw her arms around me, an opening that didn’t help, since we were at a Literary Guild cocktail party, and anyone will throw their arms around you on such occasions, even the directors of the Book-of-the-Month Club. From her accent she was clearly American, and she looked to be approaching forty but thanks to the genius of modern make-up may even have overtaken it. She wore a long white cocktail dress and her blonde hair was done up in one of those buns that looks like a brioche. The overall effect made her appear somewhat like a chess queen. Not that the cottage loaf helped, because she might have had dark hair flowing to her shoulders when we last met. I do wish women would realize that when they change their hairstyle they often achieve exactly what they set out to do: look completely different to any unsuspecting male. “I’m well, thank you,” I said to the white queen. “And you?” I inquired as my opening gambit. “I’m just fine, darling,” she replied, taking a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. “And how’s the family,” I asked, not sure if she even had one. “They’re all well,” she replied. No help there. “And how is Louise?” she inquired. “Blooming,” I said. So she knew my wife. But then, not necessarily, I thought. Most American women are experts at remembering men’s wives. They have to be, when on the New York circuit they change so often it becomes a greater challenge than the Times crossword. “Have you been to London lately?” I roared above the babble. A brave question, as she may never have been to Europe. “Only once since we had lunch together.” She looked at me quizzically. “You don’t remember who I am, do you?” she asked as she devoured a cocktail sausage. I smiled. “Don’t be silly, Susan,” I said. “How could I ever forget?” She smiled. I confess that I remembered the white queen’s name in the nick of time. Although I still only had vague recollections of the lady, I certainly would never forget the lunch. I had just had my first book published, and the critics on both sides of the Atlantic had been complimentary, even if the checks from my publishers were less so. My agent had told me on several occasions that I shouldn’t write if I wanted to make money. This created a dilemma, because I couldn’t see how to make money if I didn’t write. It was around this time that the lady who was now facing me and chattering on, oblivious to my silence, telephoned from New York to heap lavish praise on my novel.
There is no writer who does enjoy receiving such calls, although I confess to having been less captivated by an eleven-year-old girl who called me collect from California to say she had found a spelling mistake on page 47 and warned that she would call again if she found another. However, this particular lady might have ended her transatlantic congratulations with nothing more than good-bye if she had not dropped her own name. It was one of those names that can, on the spur of the moment, always book a table at a chic restaurant or a seat at the opera, which mere mortals like myself would have found impossible to attain given a months notice. To be fair, it was her husband’s name that had achieved the reputation, as one of the world’s most distinguished film producers. “When I’m next in London you must have lunch with me,” came crackling down the phone. “No,” said I gallantly, “you must have lunch with me.” “How perfectly charming you English always are,” she said. I have often wondered...
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