– Page 4 –
—right there with an over-loud clearing of his throat, once, twice and again. So loud that the whole congregation turned and the soloist, finding her way unsteadily through Bach’s Air on a G string completely lost her place and had to start over.
‘Pardon,’ he began. ‘I must interrupt. Break your meditation because sir, I now request your return.’ He carried on like this for some time with that irritating mouse-squeak in his voice that he gets when he is tense.
His arguments were as follows.
- We have a natural bond, which should not have been broken. Obviously, we don’t, if we had it wouldn’t have.
- My absence was causing him embarrassment and discomfort. As if I cared. And, since he hadn’t written or tried to make contact in all this time could he really claim he missed me?
- We could only be happy if we were re-united. Unlikely. I knew in whose floury arms my happiness was to be found.
- He was incomplete (now we come to it) without the ‘appropriate appendage’. Even with the rubber nose, he had hardly retreated from life: he was still assistant director (acting) in the fifth division of the Ministry, he still attended Mme Orlov’s salon on alternate Tuesdays, kept up his theatre subscriptions and had now started a pointless flirtation with that air-head Alexandra and her overbearing mother.
I pointed all this out to him in an emphatic (perhaps harsh) whisper and then I left: disturbed and unabsolved.
Anything is possible in the Capital. A phone call or two, take a cheap room at the Riverside (register under an assumed name), two or three withdrawals from different ATMs on different days and it’s yours. Even if the stock is chipped, the barrel dull and scratched, the cylinder so clogged with black grease that it barely turns and there are only four bullets in this oily rag, it will do.
‘Under fifty metres, it’ll drop anything no worries.’
The Grain of Truth was unchanged: loaf-laden baskets and the early crowd lined up for their pastries, an espresso machine hissing and spitting in the corner.
On the first day he laughed. ‘But you’re not even…you’re incomplete—‘. He offered me teacake. ‘No charge. No charge at all.’
On the second day he was too busy.
On days three and four he had workers servicing the equipment. The retarder and the proover all needed work and the oven was way out: he wasn’t seeing anyone.
On day five, it rained and the shop was crowded. ‘Layabouts who buy one lousy coffee and think they’re entitled to a nice warm seat out of the weather for the entire day,’ he muttered.
On day six, he had developed a sniffle and closed the shop early.
On the seventh day, he sat down with me but as I was about to start the phone in back rang and he didn’t return.
Early on the morning of the eighth day someone had thrown a brick through the shop window and for the rest of that day he had police and forensics dusting for fingerprints and asking questions over and again.
On the ninth day, the glazier was late and then he had an appointment with the insurance assessor. ‘You’ve no idea of the paperwork those little bastards have put me through. And when they catch them there’ll be more forms.’
On the tenth day, I put the revolver on the table between us.
‘It’s like that is it?’ Jacob said.