The New Girl Page 2

“Propriété privée!” he shouted in heavily accented French.

“Excusez-moi,” murmured Beatrice, and walked quickly away.

The next phase of her inquiry commenced the following Monday morning, when she embarked on three days of close observation of her mysterious new student. She noted that Jihan, when called upon in class, was sometimes slow in responding. She noted, too, that Jihan had formed no friendships since her arrival at the school, and had made no attempt to do so. Beatrice also established, while purporting to lavish praise on a lackluster essay, that Jihan had only a passing familiarity with Egypt. She knew that Cairo was a large city and that a river ran through it, but little else. Her father, she said, was very rich. He built high-rise apartment houses and office towers. Because he was a friend of the Egyptian president, the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t like him, which was why they were living in Geneva.

“Sounds perfectly reasonable to me,” said Cecelia.

“It sounds,” answered Beatrice, “like something someone made up. I doubt she’s ever set foot in Cairo. In fact, I’m not sure she’s even Egyptian.”

Beatrice next focused her attention on the mother. She viewed her mainly through the tinted, bulletproof windows of the limousine, or on those rare occasions when she alighted from the car’s backseat to greet Jihan in the courtyard. She was fairer complected than Jihan and lighter haired—attractive, thought Beatrice, but not quite in Jihan’s league. Indeed, Beatrice was hard-pressed to find any familial resemblance whatsoever. There was a conspicuous coldness in their physical relationship. Not once did she witness a kiss or warm embrace. She also detected a distinct imbalance of power. It was Jihan, not the mother, who held the upper hand.

As November turned to December, and the winter break loomed, Beatrice conspired to arrange a meeting with the aloof mother of her mysterious pupil. The pretext was Jihan’s performance on an English spelling and vocabulary test—the bottom third of the class but much better than young Callahan, the son of an American foreign service officer and, purportedly, a native speaker of the language. Beatrice drafted an e-mail requesting a consultation at Mrs. Tantawi’s convenience and dispatched it to the address she found in the admissions file. When several days passed with no reply, she sent it again. At which point she received a mild rebuke from David Millar, the headmaster. It seemed Mrs. Tantawi wished to have no direct contact with Jihan’s teachers. Beatrice was to state her concerns in an e-mail to David, and David would address the matter with Mrs. Tantawi. Beatrice suspected he was aware of Jihan’s real identity, but she knew better than to raise the subject, even obliquely. It was easier to pry secrets from a Swiss banker than Geneva International’s discreet headmaster.

Which left only Lucien Villard, the school’s French-born head of security. Beatrice called on him on a Friday afternoon during her free period. His office was in the basement of the château, next door to the broom closet occupied by the shifty little Russian who made the computers work. Lucien was lean and sturdy and more youthful-looking than his forty-eight years. Half the female members of the staff lusted after him, including Cecelia Halifax, who had made an unsuccessful run at Lucien before bedding her sandaled Teutonic math genius.

“I was wondering,” said Beatrice, leaning with feigned nonchalance against the frame of Lucien’s open door, “whether I might have a word with you about the new girl.”

Lucien regarded her coolly over his desk. “Jihan? Why?”

“Because I’m worried about her.”

Lucien placed a stack of papers atop the mobile phone that lay on his blotter. Beatrice couldn’t be sure, but she thought it was a different model than the one he usually carried. “It’s my job to worry about Jihan, Miss Kenton. Not yours.”

“It’s not her real name, is it?”

“Wherever did you get an idea like that?”

“I’m her teacher. Teachers see things.”

“Perhaps you didn’t read the note in Jihan’s file regarding loose talk and gossip. I would advise you to follow those instructions. Otherwise, I will be obliged to bring this matter to the attention of Monsieur Millar.”

“Forgive me, I meant no—”

Lucien held up a hand. “Don’t worry, Miss Kenton. It is entre nous.”

Two hours later, as the hatchlings of the global diplomatic elite waddled across the courtyard of the château, Beatrice was watching from the leaded window of the staff room. As usual, Jihan was among the last to leave. No, thought Beatrice, not Jihan. The new girl . . . She was skipping lightly across the cobbles and swinging her book bag, seemingly oblivious to the presence of Lucien Villard at her side. The woman was waiting next to the open door of the limousine. The new girl passed her with scarcely a glance and tumbled into the backseat. It was the last time Beatrice would ever see her.


New York

Sarah Bancroft knew she had made a dreadful mistake the instant Brady Boswell ordered a second Belvedere martini. They were dining at Casa Lever, an upscale Italian restaurant on Park Avenue decorated with a small portion of the owner’s collection of Warhol prints. Brady Boswell had chosen it. The director of a modest but well-regarded museum in St. Louis, he came to New York twice each year to attend the major auctions and sample the city’s gastronomic delights, usually at the expense of others. Sarah was the perfect victim. Forty-three, blond, blue eyed, brilliant, and unmarried. More important, it was common knowledge in the incestuous New York art world that she had access to a bottomless pit of money.

“Are you sure you won’t join me?” asked Boswell as he raised the fresh glass to his damp lips. He had the pallor of roasted salmon, medium well, and a meticulous gray comb-over. His bow tie was askew, as were his tortoiseshell spectacles. Behind them blinked a pair of rheumy eyes. “I really do hate to drink alone.”

“It’s one in the afternoon.”

“You don’t drink at lunch?”

Not anymore, but she was sorely tempted to renounce her vow of daytime abstinence.

“I’m going to London,” blurted Boswell.

“Really? When?”

“Tomorrow evening.”

Not soon enough, thought Sarah.

“You studied there, didn’t you?”

“The Courtauld,” said Sarah with a defensive nod. She had no desire to spend lunch reviewing her curriculum vitae. It was, like the size of her expense account, well known within the New York art world. At least a portion of it.

A graduate of Dartmouth College, Sarah Bancroft had studied art history at the famed Courtauld Institute of Art in London before earning her PhD from Harvard. Her costly education, funded exclusively by her father, an investment banker from Citigroup, won her a curator’s position at the Phillips Collection in Washington, for which she was paid next to nothing. She left the Phillips under ambiguous circumstances and, like a Picasso purchased at auction by a mysterious Japanese buyer, disappeared from public view. During this period she worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and undertook a pair of dangerous undercover assignments on behalf of a legendary Israeli operative named Gabriel Allon. She was now nominally employed by the Museum of Modern Art, where she oversaw the museum’s primary attraction—an astonishing $5 billion collection of Modern and Impressionist works from the estate of the late Nadia al-Bakari, daughter of the fabulously wealthy Saudi investor Zizi al-Bakari.

Prev page Next page