I watched my employer's large hands pour tea from a tiny pot into a cup and saucer. We were grown men playing 'tea party.' The tea was passable, I suppose. I wondered what he'd say if he knew there was a coffee drinker under his roof.

'How were your errands? Did you find everything?'

'Fine, yes, sir. No problems at all.'

'And did you study the books I placed on your table?'

'I spent the evening reading the Japanese tales. Fascinating they were, too.'

'Excellent,' he pronounced, standing and exchanging his dressing gown for a frock coat. 'I'm going to the office. I want you to spend the day studying the rest of the books. We'll discuss them thoroughly after dinner.' He tucked the dog under his arm like a book and preceded me down the staircase.

My day was spent in hard study. It reminded me of my time at university. Mac brought me several cups of green tea, no doubt at the insistence of my employer. I thought there was a sardonic gleam in the young butler's eye. Lunch proved to be a rather tasteless stew and a hard roll. Later, dinner was even worse, a Scottish feast of mutton, mashed turnips, and potatoes. Not that I was grumbling, but I would have preferred a plate of jellied eel over this lot. Barker didn't seem to notice. It was my own fault for hiring myself out to a Scotsman.

My employer called me up to his eyrie after supper. He was standing in one of the gables, looking out over his garden.

'Fog's coming up,' he noted. 'Are you prepared for our little chat?'

'I am, sir.'

Oral examinations were the dread of most students during my university days. One needed to be thoroughly grounded in the subject and able to think on one's feet. Luckily for me, Barker questioned in a straightforward and logical way. I found myself answering almost conversationally. He expounded after some of my answers, and it was evident that he was well informed on all of the subjects in the books. Far from the torture I expected, I found I was almost enjoying myself. The gentleman in his own home was far removed from the tyrant in his chambers at 7 Craig's Court.

'That's enough, then,' he said, finally. 'You've proven to me that you now have a rudimentary grounding in the subjects I desired.'

'May I ask a question?' I hazarded. 'I understand the need for logic and ratiocination, but why all the oriental studies?'

'The Foreign Office considers me an authority on the subject and frequently calls me in for casework and interpreting. I'm something of an orientalist, though my knowledge was acquired firsthand, rather than out of books.'

'Firsthand, sir? You've lived in the East, then?'

'I was raised there. Foochow, Shanghai, Canton, Kyoto, Manila. All over, really. That's enough now, lad. Get some rest. Be ready for your first day tomorrow.'

I wanted to question him further, but I had been dismissed.


The next thing I knew, Barker was bellowing my name. It was not an ideal way to start one's first day of employment.

'Sir!' I answered, sitting up in bed.

'It is time you were about, lad. It's nearly seven.' The voice was over my head, vibrating down from his garret.

Mac had failed to wake me. 'Where is Mr. Maccabee?'

'It is the Shabbat,' he answered. 'Mac's day off.'

I rubbed a hand over my face vigorously, then just to show it who was in charge, I climbed out of bed and threw some cold water on it. I put on one of my predecessor's suits and prepared myself for my first day at work. I wanted to make a good impression.

Barker was all hustle and bustle as he came down the stairs, dressed in a spotless double-breasted black morning coat. He inspected my suit critically, then led me out to the curb. Raising his stick, he brought the first cab to our feet.

Barker's residence was just off the circle known as Elephant and Castle. The street was named for the well-known public house, which, if you believe the guidebooks, was corrupted from L'enfant de Castille, after a Spanish noble's child that stayed in London some time in the city's obscure past. If one were to look at a map of London, one would note that the E and C is a kind of hub around which lie the spokes of major thoroughfares, leading to all the famous bridges of the city: Lambeth, Westminster, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Southwark, London, and the Tower. All of them could be reached from Barker's residence in a matter of minutes. It was this fortunate placement, I think, that made Barker choose a home on the unfashionable Lambeth side of London.

It was Waterloo we were crossing this time, before turning south. I was to work in Whitehall, one of the most famous streets in the world. Rattling down Whitehall Street in the hansom, I could look directly ahead and see the Parliament clock tower containing the bell called Big Ben. Over my shoulder were Trafalgar Square and Nelson's Column, and down the street was the prime minister's residence, and the Home and Foreign Offices. Everywhere you turned there was a monument, a statue, a famous landmark.

Craig's Court is a quiet little cul-de-sac backing up against Great Scotland Yard and the police headquarters that have appropriated the name. Despite its abbreviated length, Craig's Court has a reputation, for it is where most of the enquiry agents in town keep their offices.

Inside the agency, the antechamber, the scene of such trepidation two days ago, now seemed dull and vacant. The clerk was still there, buried behind another Police Gazette. Barker continued on, but I stopped to introduce myself.

'†'Lo. You're the new assistant. Welsh fella.'

'Yes, Llewelyn.'

Jenkins didn't improve on second glance. He was in his early thirties, sprawled in his chair as loose-limbed as a marionette, and was so nearsighted he almost used his chin for a paperweight while copying down my name.

'You just had to have a long name,' he complained. 'Last one was named Quong. Nice and short.'

'What happened to him?' I asked. Jenkins raised a hand and formed his fingers into a gun. He brought his index finger to a spot between his eyes and squeezed the trigger. My predecessor was dead. That was what I had been afraid of.

'Here,' he said, pulling himself up, as if an inspiration had hit him. 'Jones is a Welsh name, init? That's not long.'

'Are you proposing I change my name to Jones so you'll have less work to do?'

He shrugged his bony shoulders. 'Just a thought. Have you got a cigarette?'

'I fear not.'

'I need a cigarette. Tell Mr. B. I shall return directly.'

He left. It was a wonder Barker got any work done, taking on charity cases like us. I went into the inner chambers.

If I was fearful of being shot at on that first day, I needn't have worried. I spent part of the morning taking shorthand notes for my employer and the rest typing them up. Aside from the odd hint of blackmail or other crimes in the letters he dictated, I might just as well have been working in a bank or a government office. The only excitement of the morning was trying to make sense of Barker's notes. His personal handwriting was almost indecipherable.

There is no need to wonder what time it is in Craig's Court when Big Ben peals noon. We had a ploughman's lunch at a pub around the corner, called the Rising Sun. I've never been able to abide pickled onions, but Barker polished off a plateful with his lunch, washing them down with abstemious sips of his stout. I ate fresh bread and cheese and drank a half-pint of bitters, all of which was excellent.

'What shall be our itinerary for the rest of the day, sir?' I asked. I hoped I had the rest of Saturday free, but with Barker as an employer, it was not good to presume.

'I'm going out of town this afternoon. You may have the rest of the day off. It is a beautiful day, and I

Вы читаете Some Danger Involved
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату