The New Girl (Gabriel Allon #19) - Daniel Silva
It was Beatrice Kenton who first questioned the identity of the new girl. She did so in the staff room, at a quarter past three, on a Friday in late November. The mood was festive and faintly rebellious, as was the case most Friday afternoons. It is a truism that no profession welcomes the end of the workweek with more anticipation than teachers—even teachers at elite institutions such as the International School of Geneva. The chatter was of plans for the weekend. Beatrice abstained, for she had none, a fact she did not wish to share with her colleagues. She was fifty-two, unmarried, and with no family to speak of other than a rich old aunt who granted her refuge each summer at her estate in Norfolk. Her weekend routine consisted of a trip to the Migros and a walk along the lakeshore for the sake of her waistline, which, like the universe, was ever expanding. First period Monday was an oasis in an otherwise Empty Quarter of solitude.
Founded by a long-dead organization of multilateralism, Geneva International catered to the children of the city’s diplomatic community. The middle school, where Beatrice taught reading and composition, educated students from more than a hundred different countries. The faculty was a similarly diverse lot. The head of personnel went to great effort to promote employee bonding—cocktail parties, potluck dinners, nature outings—but in the staff room the old tribalism tended to reassert itself. Germans kept with other Germans, French with French, Spanish with Spanish. On that Friday afternoon, Miss Kenton was the only British subject present other than Cecelia Halifax from the history department. Cecelia had wild black hair and predictable politics, which she insisted on sharing with Miss Kenton at every opportunity. Cecelia also divulged to Miss Kenton details of the torrid sexual affair she was having with Kurt Schröder, the Birkenstocked math genius from Hamburg who had given up a lucrative engineering career to teach multiplication and division to eleven-year-olds.
The staff room was on the ground floor of the eighteenth-century château that served as the administration building. Its leaded windows gazed across the forecourt, where presently Geneva International’s privileged young students were clambering into the backs of German-made luxury sedans with diplomatic license plates. Loquacious Cecelia Halifax had planted herself next to Beatrice. She was prattling on about a scandal in London, something involving MI6 and a Russian spy. Beatrice was scarcely listening. She was watching the new girl.
As usual, she was at the hindmost end of the daily exodus, a wispy child of twelve, already beautiful, with liquid brown eyes and hair the color of a raven’s wing. Much to Beatrice’s dismay, the school had no uniform, only a dress code, which several of the more freethinking students flouted with no official sanction. But not the new girl. She was covered from head to toe in expensive wool and plaid, the sort of stuff one saw at the Burberry boutique in Harrods. She carried a leather book bag rather than a nylon backpack. Her patent leather ballet slippers were glossy and bright. She was proper, the new girl, modest. But there was something else about her, thought Beatrice. She was cut from different cloth. She was regal. Yes, that was the word. Regal . . .
She had arrived two weeks into the autumn term—not ideal but not unheard of at an institution like Geneva International, where the parent body came and went like the waters of the Rhône. David Millar, the headmaster, had crammed her into Beatrice’s third period, which was already two pupils on the heavy side. The copy of the admissions file he gave her was gossamer, even by the school’s standards. It stated that the new girl’s name was Jihan Tantawi, that she was of Egyptian nationality, and that her father was a businessman rather than a diplomat. Her academic record was unexceptional. She was deemed bright but in no way gifted. “A bird ready to take flight,” wrote David in a sanguine margin note. Indeed, the only noteworthy aspect of the file was the paragraph reserved for the student’s “special needs.” It seemed privacy was of grave concern to the Tantawi family. Security, wrote David, was a high priority.
Hence the presence in the courtyard that afternoon—and every afternoon, for that matter—of Lucien Villard, the school’s capable head of security. Lucien was a French import, a veteran of the Service de la Protection, the National Police unit responsible for safeguarding visiting foreign dignitaries and senior French officials. His