(1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница

She would call the studio, introduce herself – as herself – and request an appointment with Knol. If her father and what he had done were as important as she believed, Knol would surely agree to see her. And if he did refuse, she could at least ask why. Either way she felt she would find out more.

As she made her decision, an athletic-looking girl pulled up on a green Beater Bike, propped it against a tree opposite the café and went inside.

Edith glanced back at her papers, thought that she had considered everything she needed for her planned approach to (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница Knol and, stretching, wondered whether it wasn’t time to make her way back to The Blue Bridge and Stefan.

The blond man opposite got up and lolloped towards the bar door. But he didn’t get there. Instead, he glanced in, then walked back to where the girl’s beater bike was propped against the tree, mounted it and rode off, gently creaking past Edith, smiling a smile that said ‘don’t tell anyone’.

Edith’s thoughts came very slowly. Did he know the girl? Why didn’t they say hello when she arrived if he was (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница going to take her bike home? Too slowly – possibly because of the numbing effect of the heat, or possibly because she was still the naïve girl she thought she’d left in Boston – she realised she’d just witnessed the bike being stolen.

With a surge of indignation, Edith leaped up from her table and rushed inside the bar.

The girl was sitting at a table, sharing a beer with a friend. Edith stood in front of them and they both looked up quizzically.

‘Your bicycle.’ Edith said, not bothering to try to work out the Dutch (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница, ‘it’s been stolen.’ She was trying to keep calm – injustice always rattled her, made her feel that she must correct it, and if she couldn’t she felt personally wronged.

The girl frowned, stood up and walked patiently beside Edith out of the bar and over to the tree. And then, after a short sigh and a shrug, she turned and walked back inside.

‘What are you going to do?’ Edith asked, knowing her voice was shrill. Stefan had said bike theft was common – but surely it wasn’t this small a deal?

‘I’m going to have another (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница beer,’ the girl said over her shoulder. ‘Do you want one?’

Edith stared after her, a little stunned. She walked over to her own bicycle and checked the lock to make sure it was secure. Then followed the girl into the bar.

Inside the girl was bringing three tall glasses of beer to the table.

‘Please, sit down,’ she said. ‘I’m Magda.’

‘I’m Irene,’ said the other woman holding out a hand.

They were smiling and relaxed. Both had tattoos peeping out of their vests – their hair tied back in rough plaits and bunches. They (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница could have been the girls Edith saw on her first day in Amsterdam.

‘Thank you for telling me about my bike…’ Magda left a gap.

‘Edith,’ Edith replied, suddenly realising that she hadn’t introduced herself. She was feeling oddly upset. As if it were her bike that had been stolen. ‘Will you try to get it back? I saw the guy. I can describe him for you.’

‘Oh, no. Don’t worry. It’s not a problem. I can get another one.’

Edith took a long slug of beer. Perhaps it was her. Perhaps it was being American (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница. ‘I think I’d be very upset if my bike were stolen.’

‘How long have you been here?’

‘Only a few days.’

‘Stay a few months, you might feel differently. In Amsterdam, a bike is just a bike. They get stolen all the time. I don’t even bother with a chain or a lock.’

Edith nodded, trying to understand, but still struggling.

‘And now,’ continued Irene, ‘stealing people’s bicycles is a trend. It’s like a new haircut or a cool pair of must-have boots. My bike was stolen too last week. I just took another one I found (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница unlocked.’

Edith put her glass down, trying hard not to show her shock. Clearly she was unsuccessful – Magda and Irene looked at her and laughed.

‘Don’t be so worried it about it. Think of it like a joke that everyone in Amsterdam is in on. If you get the joke, you don’t get hurt.’

But Edith couldn’t get the joke. It just seemed wrong. She thought about her father on the day he died. He had stolen a bicycle, he said, he and his friends. Was that a joke? Edith didn’t think so. Her father (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница’s frown and quiet tone had been earnest, serious.

‘Look, if you don’t want your bike stolen – or you want to find it again – paint it, decorate it, so only your bike looks like that,’ said Irene.

‘It’s like someone dressing for a costume party or entering a float in a parade,’ continued Magda. ‘Paint red dots on it, or yellow flowers. Or melting clocks – like Dali. Make it something special so you stand out.’

‘That isn’t a problem for you, I’m sure,’ added Irene.

Edith frowned. ‘How do you mean?’

‘You (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница already stand out.’

Edith felt uncomfortable. She realised after these first few days that she looked ‘American’, but did she look that weird?

Magda saw her discomfort and put a hand on her arm. ‘A beautiful girl always stands out. I saw you as soon as I pulled up outside.’

Edith blinked, a little stunned. No one had spoken to her about her looks so directly before. Of course her parents had called her beautiful. But that was their job, wasn’t it?

‘We’ve embarrassed you,’ said Irene. ‘Sorry.’

‘No, no,’ hurried Edith. ‘I’m just a bit self-conscious. I (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница thought I’d made a fool of myself about the bike.’

‘No you didn’t,’ said Magda gently. Then deftly changed the subject. ‘Try to think of it differently. Perhaps your bike isn’t yours forever. The guy you saw steal mine – he’ll probably leave it somewhere and someone else will pick it up. It will be passed around the city, over and over again. And maybe I’ll get it back sometime.’

‘My bike isn’t mine really,’ Edith said, without thinking.

‘So you stole it?’

‘No – it was my father’s. He was from (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница Amsterdam. He stole it here, he said, with his friends. And I’ve brought it back.’

‘Isn’t that the same?’ said Irene. ‘Maybe you should leave it unlocked somewhere. Give it back to the city.’

No. Edith didn’t like that idea at all.

‘Think about it like your looks,’ said Magda, warming to her theme. ‘We make ourselves look our best don’t we? And if you’re pretty, it’s a pleasure for everyone to look at you.’

Edith smiled, but frowned at the same time.’

‘We’re not saying parade your looks to everyone (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница’ Irene added, ‘like you’re telling them ‘see what I’ve got that you don’t’’. She pushed her shoulders back to suggest an arrogant strut. ‘We’re saying, do what you do – show your beauty quietly, so everyone can enjoy it. It’s still yours, but all sorts of people can appreciate it.’

Edith nodded, thinking of Justine.

‘I think you’ve just described my mother,’ she said.

‘That doesn’t surprise me at all,’ said Magda, and raised her glass to Edith.

Edith clinked her glass then quickly finished off her beer. She thanked Irene and Magda (1) Prologue: ‘Be Careful in Amsterdam’ 5 страница and left them smiling after her.

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