miles away in Westchester County. If something bad happened there, we were constantly being informed, the “radioactive debris,” whatever this might be, was liable to rain down on us. (Indian Point: the earliest, most incurable apprehensions stirred in its very name.) Then there was the question of dirty bombs. Apparently any fool could build a dirty bomb and explode it in Manhattan. How likely was this? Nobody knew. Very little about anything seemed intelligible or certain, and New York itself—that ideal source of the metropolitan diversion that serves as a response to the largest futilities—took on a fearsome, monstrous nature whose reality might have befuddled Plato himself. We were trying, as I irrelevantly analyzed it, to avoid what might be termed a historic mistake. We were trying to understand, that is, whether we were in a preapocalyptic situation, like the European Jews in the thirties or the last citizens of Pompeii, or whether our situation was merely near-apocalyptic, like that of the Cold War inhabitants of New York, London, Washington, and, for that matter, Moscow. In my anxiety I phoned Rachel’s father, Charles Bolton, and asked him how he’d dealt with the threat of nuclear annihilation. I wanted to believe that this episode of history, like those old cataclysms that deposit a geologically telling layer of dust on the floors of seas, had sooted its survivors with special information.
Charles was, I believe, flummoxed—both by the substance of my inquiry and the fact that I’d chosen to pursue it with him. Many years previously, my father-in-law had been the Rolls-Royce-driving financial director of a British conglomerate that had collapsed in notorious circumstances. He had never entirely resurfaced from his consequent bankruptcy and, in the old-fashioned belief that he’d shot his bolt, he lurked about the house with a penitent, slightly mortified smile on his face. All financial and domestic powers now belonged to his wife, who, as the beneficiary of various trusts and inheritances, was charged with supporting the family, and there came into being, as the girl Rachel grew up, an axis of womanly power in the house from whose pull the sole male was excluded. From our earliest acquaintance Charles would raise a politely inquiring man-to-man eyebrow to suggest slipping off for a quiet pint, as he called it, in the local pub. He was, and remains, an immaculately dressed and most likable pipe-smoking Englishman.
“I’m not sure I can be much use to you,” he said. “One simply got on with it and hoped for the best. We weren’t building bunkers in the garden or running for the hills, if that’s what you mean.” Understanding that I needed him to say more, he added, “I actually believed in deterrence, so I suppose that helped. This lot are a different kettle of fish. One simply doesn’t know what they’re thinking.” I could hear him tapping his pipe importantly. “They’re likely to take some encouragement from what happened, don’t you think?”
In short, there was no denying the possibility that another New York calamity lay ahead and that London was probably safer. Rachel was right; or, at least, she had reason on her side, which, for the purposes of our moot—this being the structure of most arguments with Rachel—was decisive. Her mythic sense of me was that I was, as she would point out with an air of having discovered the funniest thing in the world, a rationalist. She found the quality attractive in me: my cut-and-dried Dutch manner, my conversational use of the word “ergo.” “Ergonomics,” she once answered a third party who’d asked what I did for a living.
In fact, I was an equities analyst for M——, a merchant bank with an enormous brokerage operation. The analyst business, at the time of our displacement to the hotel, had started to lose some of its sheen, certainly as the source of exaggerated status for some of its practitioners; and soon afterward, in