A story about a girl who meets a stranger and becomes engaged to him,
by Mary Faderan
Madeline peered ahead at the street fair as she walked, her cell phone next to her ear. "I'm going to find it - I know I will find it here, Mom." She said into the phone. "No, it's a street fair. They have it every year. Just getting to it now. Where?" She stepped forward, scanning the rows of street vendors that adorned the East side of Central Park. It was a sunny Saturday morning. Milling about were dozens of shoppers and onlookers. Several couples went arm in arm looking with mild interest at the tables as they strolled by.
"Oh, it's right at Central Park. Right by the entrance on the side. I have to go." She made a move to hang up but the voice on the other side bellowed. "What?" Madeline asked. "Oh, ok. I'll let you know. Maybe I'll take a picture and send it. It's going to look great over my mantelpiece!"
She rang off and hastily shoved the cell phone into her shoulder bag. Madeline, or Maddie as she was called by friends, became more excited at the prospect of finding this piece of art – a reproduction of her favorite painting by Seurat – Study for "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. It seemed to be a popular piece in many art fairs and she was fairly sure she was going to find it here.
Maddie saw it almost immediately. Her heart was high with happiness. "Oh, there it is!" She half-ran towards the vendor's table and then she saw the vendor, a swarthy young man, dislodge the framed Seurat reproduction from its niche and show it to the tall gentleman in a tan jacket. Maddie's mouth formed an O and then she realized that the man was going to buy the piece. "Oh no!" She reached the vendor's table and held out her hand. "No, please don't sell this to him!"
The gentleman, looking puzzled at her, asked, "Say what?"
Maddie ignored his comment and told the vendor "Whatever he's paying you for it, I'll double it."
The vendor shrugged. "Ok, he was going to pay twenty bucks for it."
The man in the tan Burberry jacket looked at her with a frown. She couldn't ignore that he looked very attractive, despite his obvious irritation at her presence. "No, I want this and I got here first. Please find another painting." He glanced at her face and looked again. A shadow of a smile touched his lips.
Maddie fished in her purse for the cash. "Here, here's fifty dollars. I'll take it please."
"Look," The man held her outstretched arm. Maddie tried to hold her temper.
"I'm buying it. Just be a good sport, Miss – er - "
"Maddie Hanay,” She answered, then became aware of his gentle touch on her arm. Maddie lost her ability to speak. Finally, she said shyly, "I'm sorry. It's just that I always wanted this artwork. I love Seurat."
"So do I. My name's Stephen.” He gave the money to the vendor and steered Maddie away from the stall with the painting under his arm. "Why don't we just agree to have visitation rights to this painting? Would you like to have a cup of coffee somewhere?"
His smile was engaging and Maddie became aware of smiling back at him. She was not sure what made her feel this way – almost as though she had met someone who was a kindred spirit. "Visitation rights? Well --" Maddie's step faltered as they made their way through the crowds. "You mean, you keep the painting for one week and then I keep it the next week?" Her words made no sense to her but she was happy that they were walking arm in arm, just like the other couples they passed.
Stephen nodded patiently. "It's like this. You and I are now co-owners of this painting. I will keep it in my apartment – by the way, are you single? So am I. You are always welcome to visit our painting. Do you like Italian food?"
They hailed a cab and Stephen directed the cab driver to his apartment.
Once they arrived he immediately put the painting on the wall over the mantelpiece. “How about that?” He asked Maddie. “Looks good, doesn’t it?”
Maddie sniffed. “It would look better on my wall at home.”
“Look, you can come and visit it if you like. Just call me and I’ll be here to let you see it.”
“I don’t know if I want to visit it now.” Maddie crossed her arms and frowned, prettily. “I’ll be satisfied that it is in good hands.”
“Of course it’s in good hands,” Stephen replied, affronted in a mock-face.
“I guess that’s all I need to know.”
“How about going for a cup of coffee or a snack? There’s a bistro here in my neighborhood,” Asked Stephen.
“I guess I could. I’m feeling hungry,” she agreed. Maddie thought of having something French.
“How does Italian food strike you?” Stephen asked.
“I guess you don’t like Italian food,” he surmised, a wry look on his amiable face.
“I would like a brioche and some cafe au lait,” Maddie insisted.
“Ok, there’s a French pastry next door.”
They trooped on down his front staircase and left his building. The sun was dappling the leaves on the trees near Stephen’s apartment. It was a windy day. The wind carried fallen leaves across their path. They went along to the French pastry shop. They spoke little while they walked. Stephen liked how she felt next to him along the walk. “You’re very restful to me,” he casually said in his clipped accented voice.
“I like how you feel to me too.”
“I’d like to know what you do for a living,” he said.
“I don’t do anything lately. I would like to be a writer someday,” Maddie replied dreamily.
“I think writers are bored easily, don’t you?”
“Writers are great. They have a big imagination. That’s why I wanted that painting. To inspire me as a writer,” Maddie claimed.
“I’d suggest to you to come and see it every so often,” Stephen said.
“I love to do it. If you’ll let me come to see it on Mondays and Fridays,” she said.
“I’d be happy to be here on Mondays and Fridays for you to see it,” Stephen solemnly replied.
“What about this time of the day?”
“On Mondays and Fridays?” He replied. “Surely I can be here for you this time of day on Mondays and Fridays.” It was like talking to a baby, he thought. He obliged her. Mostly, he hoped she’d forget.
They arrived at the French bistro called Le Duq Orange in ten minutes’ time. They were seated by the window. It was lovely view of the outside. The Fall leaves on the ground across the window from them. It was still sunny. The sun blazed into the window and warmed them. The Fall weather creeped into the bistro when people arrived, sweeping in the wind with them. Some of the leaves escaped into the bistro. The waiter would shoo it away and sweep them out of the door when he had a moment. It made Maddie wrinkle her nose. She thought waiters ought not to do housekeeping while they’re doing their job as waiters sending plates of food to their customers. It wasn’t done too do housekeeping while on the job as waiters, that’s what she thought.
There was a waiter who was taking their orders. “Would you like an orange juice with your order?” Asked Stephen.
“I’d love it,” she replied. “Thank you very much!”
“Orange juice for the lady, please,” he told the waiter who nodded and bowed slightly at both of them before he departed for the kitchen to place their order of brioche and eggs scrambled with orange juice for the lady and for the gent he wanted coffee with milk, or cafe au lait with her Ladyship. The waiter liked them both. He thought they made a good pair - a good looking couple.
And that’s what Stephen thought himself. He could fall for Maddie in a heartbeat. She was a beauty. Her blonde hair fell to her shoulders like a golden cloud, and her brown eyes were a deep brown, with fringes of lashes that framed them innocently when she would stare at him with a look that seemed like she longed to hear what he had to say. Her lips were full and lovely to look at, with a cupid’s bow on her upper lip. She had a lovely figure, that strained her shirt and made him feel happy and sad to think about. Maddie was a heart-stopping blonde woman. That’s the statement he had in his mind. He beheld her like a groupie. I think this woman is a dangerous woman to me, he thought in conclusion. Better not think of her this way, he thought prudently. “I can’t see her anymore,” he muttered to himself sadly.
“What did you say?” Asked Maddie, absently.
“Nothing,” he replied, adding, “in particular.”
“I thought you said you can’t see her anymore,” Maddie replied patiently. “Why can’t you see me anymore? What have I done?”
“Nothing, nothing, nothing,” Stephen replied sadly. HIs thoughtful face made her look worriedly at him. “I just can’t see you anymore, that’s all I said.”
“Why can’t you see me anymore?”
“Because you’re a dangerous woman,” he said casually, thinking it best to tell her straight what he thought of her. It would be a test to her abilities. As a woman who could fall for him. It was what they called in Spy school, judging a temptation, like a woman who might fall for him. Was she in love with already? He wondered.
“I’m a dangerous woman?” She echoed, wonderingly. Her eyes looked at him staring. “Why do you say that?”
“Because you’re a distraction to me with my work,” he replied.
“What do you do for your job? Where do you work?”
“I work for the government, I work for my government, I mean,” he stammered aloud, and wished she didn’t ask him that question.
“Oh, you’re from England, from your lovely accent, aren’t you?” She asked, with a clearing of her brow, her face.
“I am from there,” he replied.
“I see, your work you English government, are you a spy for them?? Is that why you think I’m a dangerous woman to you?”
“Got it in one,” he replied. He unfurrowed his brow. “I think you’ve got it.”
She leaned back. By the time she did this, their brunch was being served. She waited for their waiter to leave them alone before she whispered to Stephen: “I think your secret’s safe with me, I won’t bother you being someone who’s like that!” Maddie looked at her food as though the subject was a fait accompli to her. “The food looks good to me, shall we start eating?”
They dug into the food, she offered him some of her eggs. He tasted them and said “Lovely to eat it.”
“It’s lovely how they fixed the scrambled eggs. So vividly lovely to eat and the texture is divine, just fluffy and filled with body and happiness,” She
“You think scrambled eggs are filled with body and happiness?” He repeated.
“Yes, if they are made by French hands, they are filled with body and happiness. French cooks are always happy, I found. I love French food.”
“You can have a French chef when we - “ he paused at what he was saying. He was going to say: “When we get married and I have you every day,” but he balked at that. His thoughts scrambled to get him to stop saying this. He wasn’t the marrying kind, was he? He asked himself. He hadn’t thought of it when he met other women like Maddie. He was getting involved with her. Why did he offer to ask her to visit the painting every Monday and Friday around eleven o’clock in the mornings?
He put his face in his hand as a gesture of giving up to her charms. “You amaze me, you say what’s on your mind always,” Stephen replied. “I’m afraid of what to tell you if you asked.”
“Let’s see, what do you do exactly for your government?” She came out and asked point blank.
“I work with the UN for England’s work for them,” he replied.
“You’re their representative, is that it?”
Maddie insisted on taking the subway home from his house. “I have to stop at Bloomie’s to pick up something for my Stepmother.”
“Who’s your stepmother?”
“Sophie Frost. She’s a known person in social circles here in New York city,” Maddie explained.
“That’s nice. What are you going pick up for your Stepmother Sophie, Maddie?”
“A pair of stockings for her outfit tonight. There’s an opening of a Show she wants to attend,” She replied.
“Oh, what Show is this called?”
“It’s a reprise of Les Mis. They’re having a re-do of the play. Have you seen it?”
“No, I’m not one for Broadway,” A thought occurred to him to ask, “If you had a real mother, would you know who she was? Or were you adopted as a baby and they told you your adopted?”
“Yes, I was a baby when they adopted me. My stepmother and her first husband, John Hanay.”
“So your Stepmother is married to someone else now?”
“Yes, my first Stepfather was taken away by a heart attack. It was what broke my Stepmother’s heart.” Her face looked sad when she said this.
“That’s too bad. I’m sorry for your losses.”
“Your real Mum and your first stepfather,” he explained.
“I’m sorry too. I never knew much about my real Mother. I heard only that she was from England.”
“Is that true?”
“Yes, she - my Stepmother - told me this,”
“How did they adopt you? Surely you were on English soil when you were adopted?”
“I don’t know the details.” Maddie shook her head. “It makes me sad to think of when I was adopted as a baby. I can’t deal with. I can’t think of it too much. It gives me a splitting headache when I think of my becoming Sophie Hanay’s daughter as an adopted child.” She looked pale as a ghost when she said this to Stephen. He sensed a troubled woman in her past. And she was bearing the pain on her own, perhaps, he said to himself.
“Ok, I won’t press you for more about it.”
“Thanks, you’re a good friend for saying that to me.”
Her lips trembled with a smile.
They parted at the No. 6 station and Stephen walked back to his brownstone and when he arrived there, he stared at the Seurat painting and thought about how he got it. He had this thought to buy it as soon as he saw it today.
Maddie stepped into Bloomingdale’s and marched up to their hosiery department. She was immediately distracted by the place - bright lights and varied displays tempted her to go and shop for other things. There was a place she loved to visit at Bloomie’s - their shoe department. Slowly she moved through their escalators and stopped over the display of shoes. So many of them to choose from.
But she realized she was being watched and she wondered about it. A shadow moved behind her, and Maddie felt a sudden creeping fear. “Why?” She asked herself.
The shadow followed her through the store and then disappeared from her consciousness when she decided to return to the hosiery to pick up a pair of stockings for her Stepmother.
It was eerie, but made her more aware of her surroundings.
The shadow never came back that day, but she suspected that she would be followed home.
And she was followed home. The subway car had a sparse attendance. The shadow came back and she caught a glimpse of her. She was a young woman with a hat on her head, hiding the colour of her hair. Maddie tried to ignore her and shoo her away from her consciousness. But the shadow kept ghosting her.
Maddie took off at the next stop and decided to walk all the way home. It shook her that she would be followed. She looked behind her back to see if the shadow was still following her. She didn’t see her anymore.
Relieved, Maddie took a cab that brought her to her Stepmother’s doorstep.
Sophy Hanay reclined in her red plush sofa reading her favorite Magazines when Maddie arrived. She saw Maddie’s flushed face as she entered the living room. “Hello, Maddie. What have you got up to today?”
“I met a man,”
“Was he gorgeous?”
“He was but not really.”
“His name is Stephen Rossiter. He works for the UN. He’s English.”
“That sounds delicious,” remarked her Stepmother. “How did you meet?”
“At the Park. I - He - we both wanted to buy a print from the market stall. We haggled, then we agreed we’d let him buy it and I’d visit his print from time to time.”
“What a way to meet women,” Sophie said with a laugh. “So what happened next?”
“He asked me to go somewhere to eat. We went to his apartment first to hang the picture on the wall, then we went to a French bistro and had a meal. The place was scrumptious. I really enjoyed the meal. Scrambled eggs, yum, with a brioche.”
“When will you see him again?”
Maddie looked puzzled. “You know we never said when I’d see him again. I think I’ve lost the chance to see him again, Mom.”
“Did he give you his phone number or you give him yours?”
“No,” replied Maddie sadly.
“Never mind. He knows your full name. If he’s resourceful, he’ll find you again.”
“Yes,” she said doubtfully. Then she added, “I bought you the stockings you wanted.”
“Oh, lovely.” Her stepmother reached for the sack Maddie handed her. “I think I wanted that in a Nude. Is that what you bought?”
“Yes, it’s a Nude colour.”
“And something else,” Maddie said as she rose to leave. “I was followed in BLoomie’s. It was a girl. I don’t know why someone would follow me.”
“Oh?” Sophie asked, her curiosity piqued.
“Yes,” Maddie replied. “She followed me all over Bloomie’s. I don’t know why.”
“And it was after you left this Stephen’s apartment?”
“We didn’t go back to his apartment after we were at the bistro.”
“So he and you parted from the bistro?”
“No, he took me to the train station.”
“That’s not good. Someone following you after you’ve met a stranger. I’d forget about him.” Sophie said dismissively.
“I guess so,” Maddie replied, feeling let down.
Stephen received a phone call from his colleague, Paul Javez. “Hey, man, I’ve been tracking someone. It looks like she’s interested in you.”
“Who may that be?”
“It’s a girl - she’s one of the people that we suspect is dealing with secrets and trading secrets with the Reds.”
“When did you know she’s interested in me?”
“I tracked her after you and that woman you met in Central Park parted ways. She went and followed that woman you met.”
“Oh my, that’s not good. I don’t want Maddie to be mixed up with these people.”
“Who’s the woman you took to that bistro anyway?”
“She’s Maddie Hanay. Someone who wanted to buy a print at the Park. We met there and I offered to take her for a snack.”
“I see. Just an innocent meeting?”
“Yes. You can call it that.”
“You need to check on her and see if she’s alright.”
“I will. But I have to do some digging. I don’t have her phone number,” Stephen said, feeling regretful. “I didn’t intend to ask her for it. I figured she’s someone who’s not that important in my life. She’s a fetching girl, but I can’t get involved with her.”
“No, but you need to make sure she’s ok. Now that the Reds have her in their sights, there’s no telling what they’ll do to her.”
“No, if she doesn’t do anything else, she’ll be dropped.”
“No, you’ve got to talk to her. I’ve got her name so I can run a check on her now.”
“Ok, tell me what her number is. Can you do that now?”
“I’ll do it. Hold on a minute. Maddie Hanay, did you say? Maddie is short for what?”
There was a sound of keys on the keyboard crunching, then Javez said, “Here’s her phone number. Looks like she’s clean.”
“Good.” Stephen was relieved that Maddie was an innocent. “Thanks for keeping tabs on me. I appreciate it.”
“I’d be careful of that bistro, too.”
“Is that right?”
“That’s where the woman who followed Maddie came out of.”
“I don’t think I remember anyone following us out of there,”
“You’re getting old.”
“You tell me,” Stephen replied wryly. “Seems I need to retire from this job.”
“You will when you’re ready,”
“I’m working on this print. I think it will give us a few nuggets of information.”
“Good to hear,” Javez said approvingly.
“I’ll tell you when I have something.”
“Ok, call Maddie.”
Stephen dialed Maddie’s phone number and got her. “Hi, this is Stephen,” he said when she answered.
“Oh,” she sounded shy.
“How are you?”
“Did you get home ok?”
“I did. Thanks for asking.”
“I wasn’t sure. I thought I’d call and make sure you were ok.”
“Well, it was strange going to Bloomie’s and going home.”
“What do you mean by strange?”
“Someone followed me - a woman, a young woman. She had a hat on so I couldn’t make her out.”
“Well, she stopped following after I got back on the subway and then I took a cab home.”
“I see.” He said again.
“Is that something strange?”
“Yes. Don’t worry about it. They won’t bother you again.”
“Are you sure? It’s really odd.”
“Maybe they weren’t really following you,”
“I suppose,” Maddie replied with some rising hope in her voice. “I don’t like the feeling she gave me.”
“Don’t worry,” he repeated. Despite his feelings he added, “Look, do you want to go out later today? I’d like to see you again.”
“I’d be happy to go out with you again, Stephen.”
“Good. Meet me at my apartment. Say six o’clock?”
Stephen rang off and sat back. Now, he asked himself, why did he ask her out when it would have been prudent to leave her alone? It would have kept her from being followed again, not seeing her, he thought. But he wanted to make sure she was ok. Tonight would be the time to make sure. And then he’d tell her it wasn’t good to keep seeing her. He’d be doing her a favor. His job wasn’t good for long term relationships. This one would be a short one, he reassured himself. But this time, he was going to take her home to her door. He didn’t like her being followed.
That evening, they found themselves sitting in a pub where the service was authentic to the English pubs in London and elsewhere in the UK. Stephen went to order their dinner and then came back with two pints of beer. “You like beer, don’t you? I should have asked,” he said to her.
Maddie looked nice in her casual wear. “Yes, I do,” she replied with a smile.
“Tell me,” he said as he settled down beside her. “Are you looking for a job these days?”
“I’m looking but I haven’t settled on any. I think these jobs are too hard for me.”
“Why are they too hard?”
“They want me to have the midnight beat on a story.”
“Oh, that wouldn’t do at all.”
“No,” She sipped her beer and liked it. It had a sweet taste to it. “This beer is good,”
“Good,” he remarked, “I want to know more about the woman who followed you yesterday.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What did she look like. Could you tell about her face?”
“Not really. She had regular features. I think her eyes were dark. She was of a medium build. She was in a coat that was of an indeterminate colour, possibly black. I think she carried a duffle bag. She could be a student.”
“And you’ve not seen her before or after?”
“No.” She shook her head.
“Was she white or belong to another ethnic group?”
“She was white.”
“How tall was she?”
“Not tall. Somewhere around five feet two or so. She was shorter than me,”
“I see,” Stephen said.
They were interrupted by the barkeep who shouted that their order was in. Stephen went to fetch it and came back. “I hope you enjoy this. It’s one of my favorites.”
“Lovely,” she commented before she dug into her food.
“Look, I know an artist who can sketch this woman from what you recall of her. Would you want to talk to him and describe her to him?”
“Is it important?” She stared at him. “Are you the police?”
“Not quite.” He replied, reluctant to tell her, but he realized he’d become involved.
“I could talk to him. That makes me feel scared.”
“I can’t tell you more but this woman could be dangerous to you and me,” Stephen said.
“What do you do? Are you someone important?”
“I am.” Stephen replied. It was a simple fact. “I work for the Government of England, and I’m someone big in the UN. I’ve got to protect you from these characters. So if you want to help identify this woman, meet me tomorrow.”
“Ok, I will.”
She went back to her food and marveled at this man beside her. He was important to the English government, she echoed to herself.
They finished their meals in due time and he took her home. They were silent on the way back. They took a cab and she stared at his profile as they at in the cab. The trip wasn’t a short one. Stephen wondered what questions she might have in her mind. “Do you have any questions for me?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“What is it?”
“What makes you important?”
“I happen to know state secrets,” he replied. “That’s all you need to know.”
“Ok, I get it.” Maddie said. “I’m feeling scared.”
“Don’t be scared.”
“I can’t believe that this woman is someone dangerous,” she said timidly.
“She can and she might. We need to nip it in the bud.”
“I see,” she said quietly.
“I’ll call them tomorrow and arrange for you and me to see them. We’ll be there for as long as they want. I hope this will help. The least I could do for you. I don’t want you to be in danger.”
“Thank you. I didn’t know you were important. I hope we get that woman.”
At breakfast the next day, Maddie came down looking fresh. Her step-parents were already halfway through their breakfast. Her stepfather, Charles Frost, was looking at his Wall Street Journal when Maddie sat down. Her stepmother, Sophie, looked at her daughter speculatively and asked, “How did your date go last night?”
“A date?” Charles asked. “Who is the lucky guy, Maddie?”
“A man named Stephen Rossiter. I met him in Central Park two days ago.”
“Sounds interesting,” Charles said, folding his newspaper. “What’s he do?”
“He works for the UN. He’s English.”
“Even more interesting.”
“Well, how did the date go? I’m raring to know,” Sophie said with an insistent ring to her voice.
“It went well.” Maddie wanted to sound nonchalant. “I’m meeting him again today. He wants to ask me some questions about this person who was following me at Bloomie’s yesterday.”
Charles scowled. “Someone was following you? What’s this?”
“Yes, she was following me.”
“And so what will this Stephen person do for you?”
“He’s an important man. He thinks this woman can be identified. Then they’ll probably take her in and question her, so she won’t do it anymore,” answered Maddie.
“Good thing,” Sophie said approvingly. “My gosh, you can’t trust anyone anymore around here.”
“I’d say this Stephen owes you this much. I hope you catch that woman,” Charles said coolly. “Well, I’m off. I have things to do. You tell us what happened when he asks you questions about this follower of yours.” He paused. “Where did she follow you to?”
“To the subway again. So I got off and took a cab home,” Maddie replied.
“Good girl,” spoke Charles. He rose and walked out of the room.
“Now that we’re alone,” Sophie said. “Tell me, is this a new romance, Maddie?”
“I don’t think so. Stephen is a man who concentrates on his work. I don’t sense him feeling romantic with me.”
“Oh. So I won’t meet him anytime soon?”
“You can meet him - he’s coming to pick me up today.”
“I’d be happy to meet him. He sounds like a gentleman.”
“He is one.”
Sophie got her wish that day as she met Stephen when he arrived to take Maddie to his office. Sophie looked at him approvingly. Her face was wreathed in smiles. “So happy to meet you, Mr Rossiter,” Sophie said with an admiring look on her face. The glance she favored her stepdaughter was winning.
“So glad to meet you too, Mrs. Frost,” Stephen replied politely. He turned to Maddie and asked, “Shall we go?”
“Yes, let’s go.”
“Take your time, dear Maddie,” sang out Sophie as they headed out the door.
A cab was waiting for them when they stepped outside. “I think you’ll feel better soon about all this. I didn’t know you’d be followed by someone when we had a meal together,” Stephen said as they settled in the back of the cab.
“Don’t be concerned.”
“I am concerned. I don’t like my friends to feel bad about being friends with me,” Stephen said waving a hand dismissively.
“You are a good man,” Maddie said, appreciatively. “Surely this is being too careful, though.”
“I am careful. And you’re an innocent girl. I would be sad if you came into harm’s way.”
“I hope never to get into harm’s way.”
“Then we’ll do it this way.”
That seemed to be his conclusion. They arrived at the offices of Jacobs and Wise, solicitors. The offices were situated a block away from the United Nations. The weather was fine and the Fall colors were good. There was a swift wind that whipped around their legs as they alighted from the cab.
Stephen paid the cab fare and then ushered her inside the building. He took her up a span of ten floors and then they stepped into hushed hallway where the offices of the solicitors were.
“This is your office?”
“Yes, I have an office here.”
A man of indeterminate age waited for them inside Jacob and Wise. His name was Derek Champion, a man with a suitcase that he brought with him to Stephen’s office. The suitcase was a collection of drawing supplies. He took out his sketch pad and once they were all seated, went to work.
“Just tell me what she looked like. I’ll let you see what I’m doing so you can add or detract from what I have put down,” Derek said amiably.
“Ok.” Maddie leaned slightly forward and started describing the woman who followed her.
What ensued was a slightly dizzying exchange of conversation with Derek, somewhat stilted, somewhat haphazard, as she tried to describe the woman’s face. But she was amazed at how well Derek applied what she said to the sketchpad. The woman’s face materialised before Maddie and she began to feel confident that she remembered the face. Stephen was sitting watching Maddie as she watched Derek draw on the sketchpad. Stephen looked at how excited Maddie became and he smiled to himself.
He reached for the telephone and dialed a number. “Javez, we have a picture of the woman,” said Stephen.
“I’ll be right over,” Javez said and hung up abruptly.
Presently, a knock sounded on the door of Stephen’s office. “Come in,” Stephen called out.
Javez entered and walked over to the desk where the three were huddled. “I’m Paul Javez,” he told Maddie. “Is that the woman’s sketch?”
“Yes, that’s her,” Stephen replied. “Funny, I don’t remember seeing her at the bistro.”
“I think that’s her, too,” Javez said, nodding at the sketch. “I’ll take that sketch now and run it through our databases of faces.”
Derek surrendered the page from his sketchbook and Javez disappeared with it out into the hall.
“That was short work,” Derek said with a smile. “We’ve accomplished something, Miss Hanay.”
“Yes, we have,” Maddie said with a smile on her face. She met Stephen’s gaze and blushed.
Stephen leaned forward and squeezed Maddie’s hand. “You’re good. I think we could use you.”
“Me? Work for you?” She asked, feeling bothered.
“No, not really, I can tell you don’t feel comfortable working for an unknown outfit like ours,” Stephen chuckled. “I’m looking for anyone who can be ears and eyes. We’ll go around the city and enjoy the ambience, take in the coffee shops, pubs, bars and clubs and restaurants.”
“And all we’ll do is take in who we see there?”
“Got it in one,” Stephen replied. “You and I will be bait. I’ll talk about my work for the UN and we’ll watch and see who likes to listen to me. Will you take the job?”
“I don’t know. Won’t that be dangerous?”
“I’ve got support with me, Javez is a watcher of mine.”
“I see,” she digested all this, “Ok, I’m in.”
“Good girl,” Stephen said with a smile. “We’ll start tomorrow. I’ll pick you up at eleven and we’ll have lunch somewhere.”
The next day, they went to Zabar’s for lunch. Zabar’s is a trendy spot to take lunch in. The place was already crowded with customers when they arrived. They found a seat close to the back where it was cosy. They ordered from the menu on the board and settled down with their drinks.
“I’m not satisfied with our seats,” Stephen said to her. “Let’s eat and run. We’ll have to find some other place to park ourselves.”
“That’s fine with me.”
Maddie was famished. She skipped breakfast knowing they would be eating out today. She wore a new outfit, something she picked up at Lord & Taylor’s. They looked like a pretty pair, and Stephen knew it. He could get used to Maddie as his girl. He decided to hire her based on her looks but she was a savvy girl from what she knew was happening to her when someone followed her through the subway and the store.
Stephen had the Thai chicken and Maddie had the beef bourginonne. It was delicious. Both of them were silent while eating. They treated food with respect, and Zabar’s was delicious and by far the best place to eat in Maddie’s opinion. It was too bad that they had a cramped space in the cafe but it was just as well.
“Oh, this is delicious!” Maddie exclaimed. “The beef is so tender.. And the rice perfect.”
“I agree. The Thai chicken is just good that’s all.
“What about work?” She asked, ready to work.
“No, let’s not talk about work.” Stephen said dismissively.
“Ok, let’s not. What do we talk about?”
“You. What more do you know about being adopted?”
“I know very little. I was a baby. About three months old. And my real mother put me up for adoption. My stepmother and stepfather were living in London at the time.” Maddie said shrugging. “I think that the adoption went smoothly. Soon after they and I moved to the USA.”
“I see, so it went smoothly. Have you ever thought of reaching out for your real mother?”
“No - well, no.”
“I sense hesitation in you. I could help you. I might be able to find someone in the government to help you.”
“If you can, that would be lovely. I’d love to know if she was still alive.”
“I can do that for you.”
They leaned back after their meals and relaxed. The crowds had gone and only a few stragglers were left to talk in a desultory way with each other.
“Then,” spoke Stephen, “I’m going to talk to someone in Whitehall. They should know where to point me and direct me in my inquiries..”
“If that’s what you have to do,” Maddie concurred.
“Are you happy, Maddie?”
“I am - happy.”
“I’m glad. I want you to be happy.” He leaned forward and looked at her earnestly, “I devised this way of going out with you to make sure you were happy and no one was following you, and that you weren’t in danger. Is that ok with you?”
Maddie looked at him, “I think so. So it’s merely a ruse to keep an eye on me?”
“Sort of.” He said, looking away. “I still need help. I want to see you every day. If only for a few minutes. I want to make sure you’re safe. With me you’ll be safe.”
“I feel safe with you, Stephen,” Maddie admitted.
After a while, Stephen said, “I’m taking a trip back to Europe. Will you come with me?”
“Why do you want me with you?”
“I’ll be certain you’re safe.”
“I’ll be alright here. How long will you be gone?”
“I’ll be gone for the weekend, it will be nice to spend the weekend with you in Europe.”
“Where in Europe?”
“In London That’s where they’ll station me,” Stephen replied. “I’m leaving the US after I have everything settled in London where I will live.”
“How long will you live there?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s sad. I will miss you,” she said, her lips downturned. She realized how much she had looked forward to seeing him every day since they met. “I’ve never lived anywhere else before. What would I do there?”
“You could work there for England.”
“I could.” She sounded as though she was convinced.
“I’m not sure, Stephen,” she said with a sad voice. “I’m not sure.”
“You have a few days to make up your mind,” Stephen said reassuringly. “I’ll arrange everything. You’ll live with me. Would you like that, Maddie?”
She looked at him wide-eyed. “I’d like that, Stephen,” she answered.
“That’s fine then. It’s arranged. You and I are going to England this weekend.” He smiled widely. “I’ll show you the sights - Big Ben, Parliament, St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey - everything. We’ll have fun.”
Maddie looked at him as if dazzled. “That would be fine, Stephen.”
Stephen leaned forward, all of a sudden, and declared, “I want to marry you someday, Maddie. Will you marry me?”
Maddie took in a breath in surprise. Then she said in a stammer, “Yes, I want to.”
“That’s fine. We’ll marry each other someday - soon,” Stephen smiled brightly at her. “This calls for a celebration. I’ll buy you a coffee. What sort of coffee do you like?”
“I’ll have a cafe au lait.” Maddie smiled widely at him. “I can’t believe it, can you?”
“I can’t believe it either. But I wanted to marry you when we first met.”
“That’s lovely,” she smiled at him.
The next day, at breakfast, Maddie announced to her shocked parents that she was engaged to Stephen and would be moving to London to live with him.
“How can you be engaged? Asked her mother. “You barely know him.”
“I know him enough,’ Maddie said defensively.
“You’re only twenty three and have had no serious relationships. Why not put this off and let booth of you think about it? How old is he anyway?”
“I don’t know.”
“You have to be careful, Maddie. You’re a beautiful girl. Many men want to have you and this man is one of them.”
Her father weighed in. “I forbid this marriage, You must tell him to find someone else to marry. And go back to London where he came from.”
Maddie frowned and sulked. “I can’t turn him down.” She lifted her eyes to her father’s face. “Can I?”
“Of course you can. You don’t know him and he doesn’t know you. You’re a young woman with many flirty ways. I think you deserve someone else who’s serious and guides you in your life.”
“But Stephen -”
“Stephen is a foreigner, He could be in a bad job. Where does he work?”
“He says he works for England and works at the United Nations.”
“Damn, he could be a spy!” Her father said in a thunderous voice, “Absolutely not, no we don’t want you marrying him. If you defy us you’ll lose your inheritance. And you’ll have to move out of this house. And let all reason fly out the window when you marry this man.”
“Oh, my God, my Father!”
“Yes, oh my God indeed.”
Maddie moped all day and didn’t accept any calls from Stephen. She texted him and said she can’t marry him and can’t go to London with him. He didn’t text back immediately. It didn’t seem to be an urgent thing to him from the delay in his response.
Then later on he called ad she answered him. “What’s this I hear? You don’t want to marry me anymore?”
“No, I’ve been told marrying a complete stranger would be bad for me. We don’t know each other well. I’m not going to marry impulsively.”
“I see,” Stephen sighed and took some time to add to his response. “I’m leaving for England for good this month - in two weeks. I hope you have a good life, Maddie. I know that I’m in love with you. If you think that there’s a chance of going with me, call me and tell me,” Stephen said in a lowvoice. He hung up and Maddie shed tears of regret. It was too soon to think about Marriage, and he was impulsive too.