Monday, 3 October 2011

Book of Miracles III

I returned to my office before I went home.  I'd escorted Isabella out of the bar, and she'd hailed a taxi before I could even ask her if she wanted one.  As she opened the rear door to get in, she'd paused for a moment and laid a hand on my chest.
"Saturday," she said.  "You know where to find me, so you may pick me up at ten-thirty.  Wear something appropriate."
I went to lay my hand on top of hers, but she'd already taken it back.  I went to close the taxi door for her, but she beat me to that as well.  Then as I leant in to the window to ask what she meant by appropriate, the taxi pulled away, and I was left with the distinct feeling that I looked like the guy whose date just dumped him for a quiet evening with her toys and magazines.
"Taxi for you, Sir?" asked the bouncer at the door, and I could almost hear the snigger in his voice.


The office was quiet; I rent out a floor of a skyscraper, but it's near the bottom – low enough to be able to be rescued in the event of a fire – and all the desk-jockeys go home at five, pretty much on the dot.  There were lights on in two of the offices, but they'd been left on, probably by the cleaners.  I turned them off and swiped my card to let myself into my own office.  Then I swiped my card again inside the office to reveal a coded panel, tapped my entry-code, and let myself into the library hidden behind my office.  As I came in, Judith looked up.
"Is that any way to speak to the guy who pays you?"  I was joking, Judith and I have been working on this thing for seven years now, and we've grown close.  Not as close as I'd hoped, but there was still time.
"Depends on how much he's paying me."  She smiled, her lips turning upwards and crow's-feet running suddenly from the corners of her eyes, animating her face.  She's been talking more and more about getting Botox, but I'm trying to dissuade her; some lines and wrinkles are just there to make us look human.
"I spoke to Mx Bonfontaine," I said, hoping I'd got the salutation right.  "She identified it as a Book of Miracles straight away."
"A book of miracles?"  Judith laid down the magnifying glass she'd been using to study a document on the table in front her and looked directly at me now.  Her auburn hair framed her face, and the soft light from the green-shaded banker's lamp on the desk made me think of portraits I'd studied in the Muzeul National.
"Yes.  It turns out there's a few of them, and she's being cagey about where they are, too.  She's going to take me to see one of them on Saturday, and, get this: her price goes up if she thinks I'm going to try and steal it!"
"That's it?  She just puts the price up?"
"Yeah.  What do you make of that?"
"She sounds like an honest woman.  What's she doing with a thief like you then?"
I snorted, and crossed the room to sit in a chair at a second desk.  There was probably room for a third desk, but it would have made the room feel crowded, and I wanted to keep some space to exhibit special works, works not yet... acquired.
"She said that we're probably going to Europe," I said, now watching Judith carefully, gaugeing her reaction.
"We?  You told her about me?"
"No, we as in me and her.  I haven't said anything that says I'm not doing this alone."
"This isn't just a Saturday jaunt, then, is it?"
I shrugged, my hands held out expressively.  "I haven't a clue.  If the flight's three hours say, then possibly, depends where the book's stashed.  But if it were that easy to find...."
"So let's say it's a weekend jaunt.  Either way... I think James had better tag along, don't you?"
James was Judith's nephew by her elder sister, and I'd been expecting this.  I wasn't averse to the idea, for all I was sure that Judith was really just protecting her investment in our little project by having me watched, because James's fascination with Mixed Martial Arts makes him an excellent bodyguard.  His other obsession is comic books, so he's also not that hard to get away from for fifteen minutes here and there.
"Sounds like a good idea to me," I said.  Judith relaxed, her shoulders sitting back just fractionally, an almost imperceptible tension in her arms fading away like shadows at dawn.  "As I say, I don't know where we're going yet–" there, the tension came back, "–so he'll have to follow me and stay close.  I'll try and text him the destination when I know it, but if he can overhear it then there's less of a trail."  The tension eased away again.
"Ok," she said.  "Well and good.  So that's your weekend sorted, what are we doing for the rest of the week?"
"Well," I said.  "If James isn't too busy, I'd quite like him to follow Isabella for a little bit, see if we can't find out something more about her."

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