AT THE HOUSE OF THE CLERKENWELL KID
Inside the house, the golden light surrounding us gradually dims. We are standing in a short passageway which leads to one room and then to another. We walk on through doorways into a hall with panels and paintings and a large and very strange chandelier. We stop, a bell is rung and in a moment a middle aged man in black jacket appears.
“Rudge, my young friend here seems to have got into a spot of bother. Have we such a thing as a spare pair of trousers?”
The man in the black jacket looks me quizzically with one eyebrow raised, grins and says
“Of course sir. I’ll bring a pair”
My companion looks to me and points towards another door.
“Maybe you can pop in there old sport and Rudge will sort it all out for you in an instant”
The room he indicates is a cloakroom with heavy Edwardian sanitaryware and a large red leather chair. I run hot water in the sink, get out of my clothes and proceed to clean myself up. After a few minutes, there is a soft tap on the door. It opens slightly and a black clothed arm appears holding shorts and a pair of black evening trousers.
It is Rudge. I take the proffered clothes.
The arm withdraws
“Drinks are served in the red drawing room when you are ready. First door on the right.”
I pull the trousers on and step back into my own socks and shoes. In the mirror, my face is bleach white with dark and dilated pupils. I look in a state of shock and indeed I am – not just from my flight and pursuit or from the averted terror of expected violence, but from the circumstances of my rescue and my presence in this strange house. There is something very peculiar here and I feel a sensation which is like fear but is not fear – a state of acute heightened awareness combined with a dizzy disorientation.
In the red drawing room I find my host standing with his back to a large fireplace. The room is beautiful – filled with books and old maps, a piano, taxidermy, curiosities. In the corner stands a large decorated globe in an oak stand. The deep blue of its seas sparkle against the deep red curtains behind. On a table are what look like antique navigational devices – an astrolabe, a sextant and a pair of compasses.
“Feeling better old sport?”
He is a smiling youngish man in a dark cut lounge suit. He is impeccable in dress, hair and stance. He is tall and has the poised look of a dancer. I nod.
“Well you have been having some adventures haven’t you! Must have given you quite a turn?”
“Yes – thank you again for helping”
“Not at all old sport – pleased to be of service. I won’t tolerate that sort round my neighbourhood”
“You know them?”
“Well, you could say we are, er, aquainted”
“We should report them to the police”
He smiles and waves a hand airily
“Well I suppose we could do – although I don’t think that would help much do you? You know the police these days – awfully busy with financial scandals and terrorists and the like. But let’s hear all about it – what on earth were you doing with a couple of brutes like that on your tail?”
“I have absolutely no idea. They followed me from the pub – from the Jerusalem. I didn’t realise what was going on until I came up into the square and and they made a move on me. I ran into the back streets and got cornered in your alley”
He is listening intently but I have the strangest impression it is not only to my words. He says quietly:
“How strange you should find yourself there of all places”
“Well, I just ran randomly – I know the streets round here but I’ve never noticed that turning before. It was bloody good luck.”
He seems oddly unsatisfied with this but offers me a drink. I take the whisky in a heavy cut glass tumbler and sip.
“And you’ve never seen them before?”
“.. I don’t think so. I guess they were chancers out to rob me”
Even as I said this I knew it didn’t ring true. Not here. Not in Clerkenwell. Something much more sinister had been going on but I had no idea what.
“And do you know what they hoped to steal?”
“Phone, wallet, my watch perhaps?”
Suddenly, he reaches out, seizes my hand, pushes up my sleeve and looks at my watch for a moment.
“Not much of a prize – it doesn’t appear to be working!”
It is true. The watch has stopped – but it has stopped forty minutes ago when I would have still been in the Jerusalem. Suddenly I feel nervous again – and this time nervous of my new companion and his abilities. He, however, seems more at ease and lets my arm go. I look at him
“What happened out there? What did you do to frighten them off?”
“Oh, I know how to handle that type old sport. Just a bit of assertiveness is all it usually takes. But don’t you worry about that – why don’t you take a chair and relax?”
He seems to want to change the subject and goes over to ring a bell by the side of the fire. I sit and look around the room. On one side the books, which are from many periods, seem geographically related – atlases, travelogues, itineraries and so on . On the other, there are historical publications – textbooks, periodicals and a leather bound archive relating to London.
“How rude, I don’t even know your name!”
I introduce myself. He sits and leans back in the chair opposite, sips his drink and looks at me curiously:
“Well, I shall call you ‘Pilgrim’ in honour of the way we met – what with you on your knees and all that!”