“I’ve never heard of him,” I said, shaking my head.
Harper shrugged, pouring out a glass of wine for us each. “Didn’t expect you to, after I heard your accent. Ain’t hardly anyone in America who knows about him now, let alone over in England. You just seemed real interested in that paper, that’s all.”
I took the now-full glass which he held out to me. “It just caught my eye—I mean, all of them did…” I waved my free arm. “I don’t know, I just thought it was unusual—all of them, in this room… and the room itself…” it occurred to me that, although I had yet to actually consume any alcohol yet, I was making very little sense. “What I’m trying—and failing spectacularly—to say is, I didn’t expect to find a whole wall of old photographs or a room straight out of the Ritz underneath a place like this.”
“The Ritz?” he frowned, and I had to stop myself from sighing. I’d been faced with yet another cultural desert.
“Waldorf Astoria, then. But you see what I’m getting at, don’t you?”
He studied the room, and I realised, as I unconsciously did the same, that we were the only remaining patrons. The middle-aged couple had left, and the waiter was wiping down their table. He glanced occasionally in our direction.
Harper took a long sip of wine. “Well, it ain’t a run-down hellhole like the rest of this place. Which is ironic, considering it’s been here about fifty years before the rest of it.”
I scanned the room myself this time. The wallpaper, admittedly, had probably been out of fashion for about that amount of time—it wasn’t that dissimilar to that in the flat when Alexei and I first moved in—but it seemed to be of too good quality to have been there since the 1920s. The tables weren’t moving, and neither were the chairs—and I’d never encountered old furniture without a loose leg or several missing pegs.
I shook my head, smiling. “Nice try, but I don’t believe that. I’m a ‘model journalist’, remember?”
He rested his elbows on the table, closing his eyes, with the smile of one who’s convinced they’re right. “I ain’t having you on, it’s true. Used to be the place where the rich guys—you know, businessmen, politicians, that type—came…” he trailed off, watching the waiter leave through the corner of his eye. “And it was a favourite haunt of one Lucio Capaldi.”
“The mafia boss?” I asked, recognising the name immediately from somewhere—though I was unsure of the specifics of said somewhere.
He raised an eyebrow. “You know your stuff, Miss Linton…”
We stopped as the waiter arrived with a plate of what was supposed to be spaghetti bolognese. However, he paid very little attention to me—and indeed, what he was giving me—and instead kept his eyes fixed on Harper. “You are finished with your research?” he asked, not disguising the scorn in his voice.
Harper had apparently chosen to play innocent. “Pretty much, there’s less information here than I thought.”
The waiter gave a curt nod. “Just remember that the manager would be more than happy to talk to you.”
“Tell him thanks, but no. People have a habit of lying when it’d be real useful if they didn’t. That, and I don’t particularly care about anyone’s opinion except my own.”
The waiter walked away, returning to wiping down and preparing the tables. I stared down at the plate in front of me, having never seen spaghetti bolognese which looked quite like this before.
“Tastes better than it looks,” Harper commented, seeing how I observed the supposed food as one would an unknown chemical substance. I nodded, uncertainly—although, in actuality, I was less curious about what was in front of me than about the tense exchange between Harper and the waiter. I took a bite, warily, hoping he would explain simply to continue the conversation. “He caught me reading and taking notes on the papers,” he began, as I hoped he would. “So I told him I was researching Arizona, and wanted more about the Cactus Flower. There’s no way in hell I’m asking him about O’Hara.”