returned, favored us all with a bow, placed his silk hat atop his head, and walked out with a droll smile on his face.

'Llewelyn,' the bored man behind the desk announced, consulting his list. It was my turn in the lion's den. I wiped my hands on my trousers, swallowed, and walked through the door.

The chamber I entered was well furnished and dominated by a large desk and chair. Bookshelves lined most of the walls, but the heavy tomes shared the space with vases, statues, and objets d'art, most of them oriental in style. As I came in, the tall chair swiveled around to face me, and its occupant stood and pointed to a place on the Persian carpet in front of the desk. I moved to the spot and stood.

My prospective employer came from behind the desk, without bothering to offer his hand, and began to walk in a slow, clockwise circle around me, as one does when considering a horse. The light streaming in from the bow window behind me served to illuminate any patches, repairs, or weaknesses in my apparel and boots. He came about in front of me, having completed his circuit, and I was prepared for my immediate dismissal. Instead, still silent, he began a second revolution, counterclockwise this time. I had a different sensation now, as if we were two boxers in a prize ring. I would not have been surprised if he had shied a blow at my head.

'You're a black little fellow,' he said at last, in a deep, raspy voice. 'Welsh, I take it?'

It was true, but I took offense anyway. I am not tall (the fellow was a head taller than I), and I do have the black hair and swarthy skin of my once great race, the true Celts of Britain, but I didn't care for the way he phrased it. I could see only too easily what had put so many of my competitors in a lather. I was desperate, however, and inured to hardship, and so I merely nodded.

He held out a hand, palm upward, and I gave him my entire history laid bare in print. I waited for the eye popping. Here it goes, I thought. I shall be out in the dustbin with my suitcase in ten seconds.

'Thomas Llewelyn. Read at Magdalen College, Oxford, in Classics, and at Oxford Castle, picking oakum,' the man rumbled. Or was that a chuckle?

He walked around behind the desk again and, turning his chair away from me, he sat. That was it. I was dismissed. At least his eyes hadn't popped, or perhaps they had. I couldn't see them. I gathered the papers, which he had tossed on the desk, thinking the Thames must be cold this time of year.

'Describe me, Mr. Llewelyn.' This came from the depths of the chair.


'I'm still speaking English, am I not? I haven't switched to Mandarin or Javanese, have I? I said, 'Describe me!'†'

I marshaled my thoughts. 'Yes, sir. You are about forty years of age, I believe, stand six foot two inches tall, and weigh about fifteen stone. You have a large mustache which extends down to your jawline and are wearing a pair of round, smoky spectacles with sidepieces. There is a scar dividing your right eyebrow. Your hair is black and combed to one side, the right side, I believe. Your face is pitted and seamed by what I assume was smallpox.'

'Boils. Do not theorize. Continue.'

'You are dressed in a dark gray morning coat, as I recall. Your trousers are striped in shades of gray, and your black pumps are highly polished. Oh, and your accent is Scottish, but it is not very thick. Lowland, perhaps.'

I thought I had acquitted myself rather well, but the man turned his chair back to me without expression or remark. He reached into a desk drawer and slid a small notebook and pencil toward me.

'Take a letter, Mr. Llewelyn:

Cyrus Barker

7 Craig's Court

Whitehall, London

13 March 1884

Mr. Wilhelm Koehler

The Albany

Dear Mr. Koehler:

Have received your letter of the eleventh. My client has met with me regarding the conditions therein. I have encouraged him to publish the document in your possession, which he has reconstructed with my aid, and it shall appear in this evening's edition of the Standard. Any further attempts at blackmail shall be similarly declined. Should you feel it necessary to meet with my client in person, please be advised that he is now accompanied by Mr. James 'Bully Boy' Briggs, and that your face would no longer be your entrйe into society's drawing rooms after such an encounter.

Your humble servant,

Cyrus Barker, etc.'

Mr. Barker reached down behind the desk, and came up with a small typewriting machine in his hands, and placed it on the blotter. It was a Hammond and just new. He pulled back his large leather chair and offered me a seat in front of the machine. Typing and shorthand required, indeed.

'Paper?' I asked, as I sat down on the edge of the chair.

'First drawer left.'

I put a piece of paper into the machine and began to type the letter he had dictated. I am not fast, but I am competent and careful. I made no mistakes. As I was typing his name at the bottom, Barker took an envelope from the drawer and placed it beside the machine. I pulled the freshly typed letter from the roller, returned the machine to its former place on the floor, and reached for the inkstand. He was testing my penmanship as well as getting some business done, not a bad trick with dozens of applicants. I set down the addresses in my best hand, then pulled open the middle drawer and retrieved a stamp, which, I admit it was luck, happened to be there. I licked the stamp and affixed it, then waited for my next instruction. Barker's brows disappeared in a frown beneath the disks, then he opened another drawer and removed a small sponge, which sat in a shallow dish of water there. He sealed the envelope and placed it on the right-hand corner of the desk. I noted that it was exactly half an inch from the front edge and the same distance from the side. Coupled with his scrupulously neat appearance, his fastidiousness made me think that he would make someone a most exacting employer.

Again, Barker made no comment but turned and opened a door on the opposite side of the chamber from the entrance, beckoning for me to follow. We walked down a rather featureless corridor of yellow doors until we came to the end. Barker opened the last and led me into a small, bare outdoor courtyard, surrounded by brick walls and covered in ancient paving stones. The icy March wind toyed with the dead leaves in the corners of the little square. He directed me to a bare wall, while he himself walked in the opposite direction, to where an open wicker basket stood against the brick. As I neared the wall, I recognized it as the other side of the one I had sheltered against while waiting to get in. I ducked just in time, as the first ball struck the wall an inch from my head.

He hadn't given me any instructions, but I assumed the object of Barker's little game was not to be struck by the ball. The basket was full of them, small, black spheres of hard India rubber, and I was determined not only that would I not be struck, but also that none would get by me. Barker proved himself a wicked hurler. I had been a competent goaltender on the football team in my village in Wales, and I caught or batted away every ball that came in my direction. Barker went through the entire basket. As I slapped what I assumed was the last one back at him, I saw one more missile coming my way. I was reaching for it when I realized it was not a ball at all. By the telltale glint of silver, it was a knife heading straight for my breast. I barely dodged out of the way as it flew past and struck the wall with a loud smack. It, too, was made of India rubber, cunningly painted.

We stood and looked at each other. I was breathing heavily, creating clouds of vapor in the cold spring air. Barker did not appear to be taxed in any way by his exertions and stood immobile, contemplating me. For a moment, I thought of repeating the words of the angry applicant who had slammed the door, with a few choice ones of my own thrown in. I mastered myself, however, and said, 'I presume you shall inform me when the situation is filled. Good morning, sir.' Then, with as much dignity as my five-foot-four-inch frame could muster, I bowed and marched from the courtyard.

I stalked through the empty corridor, past the blind doors, through Barker's chambers, and into the waiting room. All the applicants stared at me apprehensively. I opened the outer door and was considering a hearty slam that would rattle the door frame, when I heard a voice over my shoulder. Barker's voice.

'The situation is filled. You gentlemen may go. Jenkins, mind the office until I return.' With a nudge in the

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