I had no desire to attract the attention of the two men I had seen entering the club, so I took myself in the back way, as I had done so many times before. As ever, the staff did not greet me, or even acknowledge my presence, with the notable exception of Henri and his sly wink. He obligingly turned his back as I stole a slice of bread and a rasher of bacon from the larder to break my fast. I ate while I waited and washed down my improvised meal with a cup of someone else’s coffee.
At half-past ten, Henri tapped twice on the corner of the basin, and I ascended the stairs to drift silently down the hallway. Two backs retreated ahead of me, one black and one grey, and I paused my steps long enough to let them disappear down the other stairs. When they were gone, I found my door. One knock brought forth a soft call of invitation; I slipped through.
An enormous silhouette came into view, skulking in the window as he no doubt watched the same two backs disappear into a waiting cab. He gave no sign that he was aware of my presence, but of course I knew better. Instead of interrupting his study of the street, I left my hat and coat by the door and moved back further into the apartments to avail myself of his amenities. I returned after some minutes, and he still had not moved. Despite the early hour, I helped myself to a glass of his excellent port.
“Did you have something for me?” I asked.
For several seconds more, he sat perfectly still and silent, until a whisper of doubt began to nudge at me. But then he turned, stroking his bristling sideburns.
“Not today,” he said. “And you?”
I returned to the door and drew a small packet from the interior pocket of my coat, then laid it on his desk.
“That was all I could get,” I told him. “I estimate that it’s about half of what you wanted. I’ll see about retrieving the rest in a month or so, once the furore has died down.”
His mouth twisted in displeasure, but he nodded. “Were you sufficiently diverted?”
“It wasn’t as entertaining as I had hoped, no. Still, better than the alternative. Thank you.”
He nodded again and slapped a meaty palm down on his thigh, huffing as he rose to his feet.
“Her Majesty thanks you,” he said with a shade of irony. “The cheque will be made out as usual. Will you stay for luncheon?”
© 2012 MR Graham