at me furiously. Barker! That's it!

'Barker sent me!' I squeaked, hoping the charm would work one last time. It did. The man put down the gun and motioned me in, as if this happened daily.

'Ah, Assistant. Why didn't you speak up? Come in. Harm, let the man be.'

The creature stepped back and peered up at me. It was a dog, a very small dog, with the fiercest and most grotesque features I had ever seen, a creature out of an oriental nightmare. Its fur was coal black and its face looked as if it had been smashed in with a shovel. It had a mouth full of assorted cutlery and protruding eyes in danger of falling out at any moment. The little thing suddenly began emitting the most unearthly screeches, incredible sounds for so small an animal. I jumped, which angered it, and the thing froze onto my other ankle. The man turned and snatched the dog from my pant leg and lifted it so that it hung suspended by its collar, wheezing for breath, with its tongue lolling out and its eyes rolling in their sockets.

'I said, let him be, Harm,' the man warned, and tossed the creature into the outer darkness before closing the door. I heard the little fellow yapping and scratching at the door in a moment, so I assumed that he was all right.

'The dog suffers from too much dignity. It's necessary to bring him down a peg or two from time to time. Now let me get a look at you.'

The two of us regarded each other for a moment. I'm afraid I came out the lesser of the two specimens by a good margin. The man before me was perhaps the handsomest man I had ever seen. He was Michelangelo's David in a Saville Row suit. The only thing out of place was a small cap at the back of his curling black hair. With a start, I realized that the fellow was a Jew.

'I don't know how he picks you fellows,' he said, shaking his head. 'I'll give you the benefit of the doubt for now. I'm Jacob Maccabee. Everyone calls me Mac.'

'Thomas Llewelyn.'

'Set the parcels down on that table there. I'll show you to your room,' he said, leading me up some stairs. The stairwell was carpeted and the hallways varnished to a high gloss. Everything was understated but of good quality, and in excellent repair.

'Have you dined yet?' he asked. 'No, of course you haven't. I'll see about getting you something to eat from the larder. This is your room.'

He opened a door into a comfortable, though spartanly furnished chamber. The walls were plaster, there was a marble grate, and the floor was as polished as the hallway. There was a heavy wooden bed, black with age, and an equally ancient wardrobe in a corner. The only other furniture was a desk and chair, the former having seen much use, with ink spots, bottle rings, and scars from a century or more of masculine hands. If there was a word I could use to describe the room, it would be 'companionable.'

While the young Jewish man went downstairs to get my dinner, I sat on the edge of the bed and felt rather dull. A lot had happened to me since the morning. The events of the day had fair worn me out.

The door opened soundlessly and Mr. Maccabee entered with a tray. It contained a meat pie, bread and cheese, a dish of olives, and a glass of red wine. I thanked him profusely. It thawed his chilly manner a little.

'What is your position here, Mr. Maccabee?'

'Mac, please, sir. That's a difficult question. It changes from day to day. Factotum, butler, bodyguard, housekeeper, valet. Take your pick. At present, I'm also secretary, accountant, and messenger, but those are your duties. Did the Guv'nor give any indication of when he might return?'

'Mr. Barker? He said he'd been neglecting some cases while filling my post and would speak to me at breakfast.'

'That sounds like the Guv. I believe there's a spare nightshirt in the wardrobe, and some other clothing that might fit you. How are your ankles? I make an excellent liniment.'

'No, thank you. I'm fine.'

'I'll bid you good evening, then, sir.'

I like to read with my meals when I am alone, and I recalled Barker's order to study the books in my room. I picked them off the desk and read the spines. The first was called Methods of Observation and Ratiocination, followed by Implied Logic in Everyday Life, Understanding the Asiatic Mind, and Folk Tales of Old Edo. It was an instructional cramming course. I settled on the Japanese tales, which seemed the least dry reading of the lot, and perused them while eating my meal at the desk. A Welshman is always glad to add to his private store of tales.

Having finished my meal, I crossed to the bed, wincing at the pain in my ankles. At that point I noticed that the window near the bed was ajar an inch or two, and since there was no fire in the grate, I got up to shut it. It was bolted open, another of my employer's eccentricities. I changed into the nightshirt and read in bed for an hour or two, until the events of the day overtook me, and my lids grew heavy. I closed the book and turned down the gas jet over my bed. The night before I had shared a garret with five other unfortunates, waiting for them all to settle down before I packed my bag and stole out. Now I had a room all to myself, with a comfortable bed and a butler bringing me meals on a tray. A man's life can change completely in one day.

In the middle of the night I was awakened by something binding my lower limbs, and there was a strange sound in the room. I sat up and looked about, attempting to straighten my bedclothes. Something was there by my feet. It was my assailant of the previous evening, Harm. He'd stolen into my bedroom and curled up at the foot of the bed. The sound, I realized, was his snoring. I shrugged philosophically. I supposed if I had a nose so mashed against my face that my eyes protruded, I'd snore as well. I pulled the covers higher, the black bundle of fur coming with them, and went back to sleep.


I woke up stiff and sore the next morning, with the beginnings of a cold. I cursed the open window and reflected on the irony that I had escaped a frigid garret room only to catch my death because of an employer's whim. The sun was up, but low in the sky. I judged it to be about eight o'clock.

Somehow, through all the bustle of the first day, my battered old pasteboard suitcase had found its way to my room. I shaved and combed my hair with the aid of a pitcher and bowl on the nightstand. The suit I picked out of the wardrobe wasn't an exact fit, but it was better than my own. I made my bed, wondering what had happened to my predecessor that he didn't need his entire wardrobe anymore, and straightened the room before going out into the hall. I hesitated, not certain what to do next.

'Llewelyn? That you, lad?' Barker's voice came from overhead. He must have ears like a cat.

'Aye, sir!'

'Come up here, then. There's a good fellow.'

I climbed a narrow and steep staircase to the upper story. The entire top floor was one single long room going up to the roof peak, with a pair of gables on each side. The walls were a deep cardinal red. The room was dominated by a large canopied bed at the far end, with heavy curtains of the style made popular at the turn of the last century. Low bookshelves lined the walls, and every foot of the slanting wall space was hung with weapons: swords, scimitars, blowguns, harquebuses, spears. It was a fantastic collection, if a bit bloodthirsty.

A blaze was burning in the attic grate, and two chairs were set before it. Cyrus Barker was in one of the chairs. Though he wore a dressing gown of gray silk, his wing-tipped collar was crisp and his tie securely knotted and pinned. With one hand he was scratching Harm behind the ears, and in the other, he held a dainty cup and saucer containing a pallid liquid which could only be green tea. Of course, he wore those strange spectacles. I wondered if he slept in them.

'Have you settled in?'

'Yes, sir,' I responded. 'But, about that windowЕ'

'A house rule you must humor, I'm afraid. Most of the deaths in this country are due to shutting up the patient in a room full of his own noxious fumes and microbes. Fresh air was meant to flow freely about our bodies at night. To shut oneself up in overheated rooms stultifies the brain and lowers one's natural ability to fight infection. I never catch cold, Mr. Llewelyn.'

'I believe I've caught one.'

'Your body is not accustomed to fresh south London air. Give it time. Soon you'll be as a steam boiler glowing red in the chilly night. Now come, have some of this delicious tea.'

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