‘It looks more like a movie set than real life don’t you think, old boy?’
Jack Conrad looked round to see who had spoken.
‘Hmm, I see what you mean,’ he replied to the bespectacled, florid-faced man on his right.
The two of them were standing with a number of other guests outside the British Embassy, waiting to gain entry to the evening’s reception. The imposing entrance at the top end of a sloping cobbled cul-de-sac, located in the shadow of Prague Castle, comprised two impressively huge and, he presumed, old gates. He could imagine horse-drawn carriages clattering through them in days gone by. They were set in ancient stone walls that blended into rounded balustrades on either side, which in turn extended into high walls that curved round and bordered the road on which he and his fellow guests stood. The effect was of an impenetrable fortress. He understood his companion’s comparison to a movie set; the whole edifice had an irregular beauty that somehow placed it more in the realms of fantasy than reality. He was just wondering if the gates were going to open and let them in when, from an unobtrusive door in the right hand balustrade, Lenka Horakova appeared.
‘Good evening and welcome,’ she addressed the assembled guests, ‘you have to come this way for security check.’
Of course, thought Conrad, in past centuries the gates may have opened for invited guests, but in these terrorist-scarred days passing through a metal detector took priority. Falling into a queue with the others, he gradually made his way up the steps to the door where Lenka stood ushering everyone towards the security apparatus.
‘Good evening Mr Conrad,’ she greeted him, ‘you had an interesting day?’
Her innocent question seemed to hold the promise of future possibility rather than the mere enquiry of recent past, or so it seemed to Conrad. He hoped it were so.
‘Yes, quite, thank you. Every day spent in Prague is interesting,’ he replied, diplomatically.
Lenka bowed her head slightly at the perceived compliment to her city and Conrad moved on. He passed through the metal detector without incident before walking out into a courtyard on the other side of the gates. A straggly line of guests were crossing the open space ahead of him to a door on the far side. He followed the line through the door into an entrance hall where temporary racks had been placed for coats. As he paused to find a spare coat hanger, the man who spoke to him earlier appeared at his side again.
‘Didn’t notice you at the conference,’ he said.
‘No, I’m not a delegate. I’m in Prague on other business. I think they just invited me to make up the numbers.’
‘I’m sure that can’t be true,’ he slapped Conrad genially on the shoulder before extending his hand.
‘Jack Conrad, how do you do?’
They finished hanging their coats and joined other guests making their way up a grand staircase. Progress was slow as there seemed to be a queue.
‘So what brings you to Prague, Jack?’ Moffatt asked.
‘I’m a music journalist, here to interview a Czech band. And you?’
‘Oh, I’m a television director,’ Moffatt replied grandly, causing Conrad to suspect that the man had just been waiting for the opportunity to talk about himself.
‘…with the BBC,’ Moffatt was still talking, slightly too loudly, ‘although I’m currently on secondment to the UN. I follow these weapons inspector chaps around and film them and then supply the world’s media with all the footage they need…saves having a whole load of camera crews traipsing around the desert.’
Moffatt looked around as they stood on the stairway surrounded by other guests. Clearly, not shy about what he does, Conrad thought.
‘Really? I would have thought that every broadcaster would want to have their own, exclusive pictures.’
‘Quite possibly,’ Moffatt returned, expansively, ‘but it’s just not practical. Some of these locations can be pretty hard to get to and, anyway it’s all a bit sensitive.’
‘I suppose so,’ Conrad agreed before asking, ‘isn’t it dangerous?’
‘Sometimes, old man, sometimes,’ Moffatt replied pompously, shuffling up a couple of steps, ‘but not always for the reasons you might think.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘That would be telling,’ Moffatt tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger, ‘just let’s say you never know who your friends are.’
He pointed his finger meaningfully at Conrad, peering over the top of his glasses as he did so, before pressing it to his lips for a moment in an exaggerated and, in Conrad’s view, misplaced gesture of discretion.
‘Anyway, old man, let’s prepare ourselves to sample of some of Her Majesty’s hospitality.’
From his well-nourished frame and rubicund complexion, it appeared that sampling hospitality was something John Moffatt did on a regular basis. Mercifully, the man fell silent allowing Conrad to appreciate his surroundings. Thick stone walls were hung with large and impressive paintings depicting battles from Czech history. Conrad had been struck by the evident connection Prague had to its often turbulent history and how the past and present now lived side by side in the parts of the city he had visited.
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