In a universe somehow even more like here than here seems to be, Tark entered his 12th-storey penthome with uncharacteristic timidity. His head was bowed, allowing low-flying winter sunbeams to glance off his bald pate with topspin worthy of Wimbledon.
There was only one thing in this universe Tark was healthily petrified of, and she was standing in the atrium with garden shears in her skeletal hands.
“Hello darling,” said Mara, wiping her brow with the cuff of her €13,500 Gucci silk gardening glove.
Tark frowned. “It’s rather an odd time of year for horticulture, my cutaneous chérie.”
“I’ve been thinning out the gardeners. There were far too many. They were giving me a headache.”Embed from Getty Images
Mara dropped the gardening shears to the floor with a clatter and shed her gloves on top of them. One of the maids would pick everything up later. Her eyes narrowed, taking in Tark’s hunched shoulders.
“Spit it out, husband,” she said. “Whatever it is, it’s unlikely to annoy me as much as the weeping and wailing I’ve been hearing from the newly unemployed in the past hour.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Tark. “You might want to sit down.”
“You know I never sit on Saturdays. Tell me. Did our candidate for the World Bank get caught at an anti-poverty demonstration?”
“No,” said Tark. “In fact, he confirmed receipt of the island we sent him.”
“Is our residence for tax purposes being investigated again?”
“No, my fiscal fugitive. It’s that dreadful Spurting woman.”
Mara made a noise in her throat like a regurgitating eagle. “Don’t tell me she wants her blog back.”
“Well, yes, but we’ve long outgrown it, have we not? So I don’t really care about that. No, it’s about what she’s been doing for the past month.”
“What could she possibly have been doing in a writing cave in Siberia that we’d care about?”
“That’s just the thing. She wasn’t in a writing cave, and Siberia wasn’t a euphemism. She was actually there. In Siberia, I mean.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Tark cleared his throat. “She was travelling, it seems. Apparently she didn’t declare it beforehand under some misguided apprehension that someone might take advantage, or something. How perfectly ridiculous! Who would burgle her tiny glorified shed, in a postcode of Dublin which makes us retch to even think of it?”
“She… lied to us??” A vein on Mara’s temple throbbed with violent intent. Normally prominent in any event, it was now threatening to get its own agent. “Where the hell was she?”
“On the Trans-Siberian railway, believe it or not. Russia, Mongolia, and China. And then Vietnam, although I don’t know how the hell that’s supposed to fit in.”
“Her! That sanctimonious, carb-eating, talentless harridan? Of all the… you know I always suspected her of being a socialist, Tark. But how the hell did she do it? Isn’t she supposed to be broke, not to mention an indentured slave of the banking industry?”
“She got a bit of time off, apparently. As for the rest, I don’t know.”
“Well, what did she say? About the blog? How we changed the world in her absence?”
“Nothing, actually. She seemed very… zen, or something. It was quite disconcerting. There was no anger in her at all, and she kept smiling at me. This is what I didn’t want to tell you. I’m afraid she looked–” Tark swallowed. “I’m afraid she looked happy. There was no cynicism. No bitterness. No problem.”
Mara’s jaw dropped in horror. “You cannot be serious.”
Tark’s resident frown deepened. “For one terrible moment I wondered if perhaps she’d missed the fact that we’d changed the world in November, not to mention the fact that we used her blog to do it.”
“Never,” Mara scoffed. “You’ve got to remember just how much the super-rich got away with last month alone, and indeed how much they’re getting away with at this very moment.”
Tark nodded. “Exactly. Our strategy has been a resounding success. No, I realised that her composure is entirely due to the fact that she hasn’t been living in the real world, for weeks now.”
Mara was in such a state of flux that she actually picked up her own gloves, placing them on the 16th century marble table their housekeeper had once timidly requested to be used for items which technically did not belong on the floor. “But what does this mean for us? That she lied, I mean. To be fair, you know I couldn’t really care whether she lives or dies, unless I’m getting something out of it.”
“Well, the way I see it, she thinks she used us to cover up her whereabouts in November.”
Mara’s eyes narrowed into a look of such impeccable malevolence that a passing seagull shrieked and veered off course. “I don’t like her thinking she won, Tark. I really don’t.”
“As if I’d allow that, my punitive princess,” Tark said witheringly.
Mara had the grace to look corrected, if not abashed. “Of course not, darling.”
“No, we can still turn this to our advantage. Don’t forget how vastly superior our popularity is to hers. People were begging us to take over her blog permanently, if you recall.”
“And there were all those bribes, too,” Mara agreed.
“If she’d gone to the Americas, say, or the Horn of Africa, our job would be trickier. But now that she’s been on a whistle-stop tour of Asian communism, we have her exactly where we want her.”
“Prison?” Mara said hopefully.
“All in good time, my dear. But for now, she’s lost all credibility. Nobody’s going to listen to a left-wing pinko’s views on the book business. It would be like taking advice from a taxidermist about how to look after a puppy.”
Mara’s shoulders subsided from their artillery position. “That’s true.”
“She’s played right into our hands, my lethal love. First, we take Manhattan–”
“Then we take Dublin,” Mara breathed.