places for you to visit this afternoon. Now, listen carefully. You must follow the same procedure in each case. Locate each building, circle it, and enter through the back entrance, if there is one. Once inside, ask to speak to the manager. Tell them Barker sent you. Then, do as they ask. Is that clear?'

'Yes, sir,' I responded. 'Barker sent me.'

'Do you have any questions?'

'Only about a thousand, sir.'

'Wonderful,' he said, giving a wintry smile. 'It will give us something to discuss over breakfast. Now we have work to do. I've given Ho instructions to let you eat but to toss you into the river if you're still here in ten minutes.' He stood up to leave. 'Ah, I almost forgot. There is a stack of books on the desk by your bedЧ'

'My bed, sir?'

'Yes. Didn't I make myself plain? Lodgings and meals are included in the terms of employment. I cannot have my assistant sleeping in doorways or park commons. It is not a sound advertisement for my agency. Now the books; begin studying them tonight. We'll discuss them in the morning. I'm off, then.' And he was.

I sat there for a moment or two, trying to gather it all in. Was this all legitimate, or was Barker some sort of eccentric? Was he really a 'prominent enquiry agent,' or was this a hoax, and if so, to what end? I couldn't even credit that the room I was seated in could exist in the middle of London. In Shanghai, perhaps, or in a penny thriller, but not in good old, matronly London. Here I sat, eating God only knows what, in the employ of a complete cipher, who spoke Chinese and whose every statement seemed to spring from a disturbed mind. Perhaps, I considered, I should bolt. After all, with a full belly, I had now come out ahead. It was possible I could still find normal employment. And yetЕ

A roof over my head, three meals a day, a position with a regular salary: these were not things to throw over lightly. Who knew, perhaps this was routine for an enquiry agent's assistant on his first day. I could always resign later, if the work didn't suit me. I should stick it out and give the fellow a chance.

The burly Chinaman suddenly appeared at my elbow. His mood had not improved since we arrived. He was sharpening a wicked-looking cleaver against a whetstone in his hand.

'You go now.'

I retreated down the long tunnel, the naphtha lamp throwing weird shadows on the walls. When I was mid-distance between the two staircases, I stopped and listened. As I suspected, I heard the water coursing above the smooth ceiling overhead. I was under the Thames. I'd heard rumors that there were all sorts of tunnels, passageways, abandoned underground lines and caverns under the old town, but this was the first time I had ever been inside one.

For the second time that day I came out of a dim passageway into bright light. As I extinguished the lamp, it occurred to me that Barker had not advanced me the money for a hansom cab, and that obviously I couldn't pay for the fare myself. How was I to fulfill the instructions he had given me? This was not a propitious start.

As I came out of the alleyway, still reflecting on what to do, a cab appeared almost out of nowhere and clattered to a stop in front of me. I raised a hand to shield my eyes from the sun overhead.

'I'm sorry, I have no money to pay you!' I called, over the jingling of the harness and the nickering of the horse.

'Perhaps not,' the cabman answered back, 'but I bet you know some magic words that'll make this magic carpet fly.'

'Barker sent me?'

'A regular Ali Baba, you are,' the man observed, motioning for me to get in. I'd barely found my seat before we were off like a shot.

The trap over my head opened up and I got a view of a square face with a long red beard shining in the sun. The man's arm was thrust through.

'List!' he demanded, and I handed it up to him. He grasped my outstretched hand and gave it a brisk shake before letting go. 'Racket's the name. John Racket. Or it'll do for one. This here's Juno, best cab horse in Whitechapel.'

'Thomas Llewelyn,' I called over my head.

'Thought I smelt coal!'

'Are you Barker's personal cabman?' I asked.

'Don't I wish! No, us dogs go for whatever scraps old 'Push-Comes-To-Shove' throws our way. Best tipper in London, he is.'

The first address was in Holborn on a street which had reached its heyday during the Prince Regent's reign and had been declining ever since. Racket stopped the cab a half block away from the address, and I sauntered by casually. It was a tailor's shop: K and R Krause, Fine Gentlemen's Apparel and Alterations. Of course, I needed a new suit if I was to be Barker's assistant. It seemed silly to play the spy in front of a simple tailor shop, but I obeyed orders and passed down an alleyway, then backtracked in the next street. I judged the approximate door which might belong to the back of the shop and opened it. An elderly man looked up from his cutting table, then nodded when I gave him the words. In a few moments, he had measured me thoroughly and seen me out the door again. I had no idea what sort of clothing I had been measured for and only hoped that the establishment had standing instructions from my employer. I climbed into the cab and was borne away again.

The next few stops began to fall into a predictable pattern. First there was a cobbler, who mourned the state of my old shoes and measured my feet, but did not discuss cut or color. Next was a barber, who cut my hair without asking how I wanted it. A haberdasher provided me with a black bowler hat, and I was measured for new collars at a shop in Saville Row.

I was reduced to running errands after that. First there was a tobacconist in Oxford Street who gave me a pound of Barker's tobacco, which they blended for him specially on the premises, then I picked up a caddy of tea at an import firm in Mincing Lane, the City. According to the proprietor, a talkative Greek fellow, Cyrus Barker was a regular customer, with a strong addiction to what he called 'green gunpowder tea.' The leaves, he informed me, were not minced, but rolled into tiny pellets.

At last I reached the final place on the list, Barker's private residence. By now it was near six and growing dark, and I was exhausted. The house was on a quiet street in Newington. From what I could see in the gathering gloom, it was a three-story brick house from Regency times that looked well tended but not ostentatious. Mr. Racket, showing some familiarity with the premises, drove me around to the back and set me down in an alleyway by a round wooden gate. Tapping his tall hat with his whip, he rattled off into the night. With Barker's parcels in hand, I lifted the latch of the gate and stepped into a garden.

It was a beautiful garden even in March, an oasis in the middle of the city. A small stream bisected the courtyard, perhaps pumped from some hidden spring by a miniature windmill that turned in the breeze. Like Barker's office, the garden showed an oriental influence, with a little jewel of a bridge, and moss covered boulders, like islands, in a sea of white pebbles. The garden was awash in plants of all sorts, some budding, some still dormant, but very satisfying in arrangement as a whole. There was an anonymous outbuilding or two, and as I followed the meandering path of stepping stones, I came across what looked like an herb garden or kitchen garden by the house. I was glancing at a dark clump of brush near the end of the path, when the bush suddenly surged forward and, before I could move, attached itself to my ankle. I felt teeth break the skin, and yelled out in pain and surprise. The back door of the house opened directly in front of me, flooding the garden with light, and before I could say anything, a man stepped forward, raised a sawed-down shotgun, and set both barrels on the bridge of my nose, like a pair of spectacles. Needless to say, the peace and tranquility that had begun to set in as I wandered through the garden was doused, as if with a bucket of cold water. What also deserted me was my employer's name. Right out of my head, when I needed it most.


It is difficult to concentrate while staring down the barrel of a shotgun, and even more so when an unknown creature is shredding your trousers at the ankle. If only I could remember those three little words. The more I grasped for them mentally, the farther away they receded. The man in front of me was growing more stern with each passing moment, and the animal more manic. Just then the creature broke off his assault and began to bark

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