Home > Neverwhere(10)

Author: Neil Gaiman

“Men?” A flash of the opal-colored eyes.

“Croup and, um, Vanderbilt.”

“Vandemar.” She mused for a moment, then nodded. “I suppose you could call them men, yes. Two legs, two arms, a head each.”

Richard kept talking. “When they came in here, before. Where were you?”

She licked her finger and turned a page. “I was here.”

“But—” He stopped talking, out of words. There wasn’t anywhere in the apartment that she could have hidden herself. But she hadn’t left the apartment. But—

There was a scratching noise, and a dark shape larger than a mouse scurried out from the mess of videotapes beneath the television. “Jesus!” said Richard, and he threw the remote control at it as hard as he could. It crashed into the videos with a bang. Of the dark shape there was no sign.

“Richard!” said Door.

“It’s okay,” he explained. “I think it was just a rat or something.”

She glared at him. “Of course it was a rat. You’ll have scared it now, poor thing.” She looked around the room, then made a low whistling noise between her front teeth. “Hello?” she called. She knelt on the floor, Mansfield Park abandoned. “Hello?”

She flashed a glance back at Richard. “If you’ve hurt it . . . ” she threatened; then, softly, to the room, “I’m sorry, he’s an idiot. Hello?”

“I’m not an idiot,” said Richard.

“Shh,” she said. “Hello?” A pink nose and two small black eyes peered out from under the sofa. The rest of the head followed, and it scrutinized its surroundings suspiciously. It was indeed much too big to be a mouse, Richard was certain of that. “Hi,” said Door, warmly. “Are you okay?” She extended her hand. The animal climbed into it, then ran up her arm, nestling in the crook of it. Door stroked its side with her finger. It was dark brown, with a long pink tail. There was something that looked like a folded piece of paper attached to its side.

“It’s a rat,” said Richard.

“Yes, it is. Are you going to apologize?”



Maybe he hadn’t heard her properly. Maybe he was the one who was going mad. “To a rat?”

Door said nothing, fairly meaningfully. “I’m sorry,” said Richard, to the rat, with dignity, “if I startled you.”

The rat looked up at Door. “No, he really does mean it,” she said. “He’s not just saying it. So what have you got for me?” She fumbled at the rat’s side, and pulled out a much-folded piece of brown paper, which had been held on with something that looked to Richard like a vivid blue rubber band.

She opened it up: a piece of ragged-edged brown paper, with spidery black handwriting on it. She read it and nodded. “Thank you,” she said, to the rat. “I appreciate all you’ve done.” It scampered down onto the couch, glared up at Richard for a moment, and then was gone in the shadows.

The girl called Door passed the paper to Richard. “Here,” she said. “Read this.”

It was late afternoon in Central London, and, with autumn drawing on, it was getting dark. Richard had taken the Tube to Tottenham Court Road and was now walking west down Oxford Street, holding the piece of paper. Oxford Street was the retail hub of London, and even now the sidewalks were packed with shoppers and tourists.

“It’s a message,” she said, when she gave it to him. “From the marquis de Carabas.”

Richard was sure he had heard the name before. “That’s nice,” he said. “Out of postcards, was he?”

“This is quicker.”

He passed the lights and the noise of the Virgin megastore, and the shop that sold souvenir London police helmets and little red London buses, and the place next door that sold individual slices of pizza, and then he turned right.

“You have to follow the directions written on here. Try not to let anyone follow you.” Then she sighed, and said, “I really shouldn’t involve you this much.”

“If I follow these directions . . . will it get you out of here faster?”


He turned into Hanway Street. Although he had taken only a few steps from the well-lit bustle of Oxford Street, he might have been in another city: Hanway Street was empty, forsaken; a narrow, dark road, little more than an alleyway, filled with gloomy record shops and closed restaurants, the only light spilling out from the secretive drinking clubs on the upper floors of buildings. He walked along it, feeling apprehensive.

” ‘ . . . turn right into Hanway Street, left into Hanway Place, then right again into Orme Passage. Stop at the first streetlight you come to . . . ‘ Are you sure this is right?”


He did not remember an Orme Passage, although he had been to Hanway Place before: there was an underground Indian restaurant there his friend Gary liked a lot. As far as Richard could remember, Hanway Place was a dead end. The Mandeer, that was the restaurant. He passed the brightly lit front door, the restaurant’s steps leading invitingly down into the underground, and then he turned left . . .

He had been wrong. There was an Orme Passage. He could see the sign for it, high on the wall.


No wonder he hadn’t noticed it before: it was scarcely more than a narrow alleyway between houses, lit by a sputtering gas-jet. You don’t see many of those anymore, thought Richard, and he held up his instructions to the gaslight, peering at them.

” ‘Then turn around thrice, widdershins’?”

“Widdershins means counterclockwise, Richard.”

He turned, three times, feeling stupid. “Look, why do I have to do all this, just to see your friend. I mean, all this nonsense . . . “

“It’s not nonsense. Really. Just—humor me on this, okay?” And she had smiled at him.

He stopped turning. Then he walked down the alley to the end. Nothing. No one. Just a metal garbage can, and beside it something that might have been a pile of rags. “Hello?” called Richard. “Is anyone here? I’m Door’s friend. Hello?”

No. There was no one there. Richard was relieved. Now he could go home and explain to the girl that nothing had happened. Then he would call in the appropriate authorities, and they would sort it all out. He crumpled the paper into a tight ball, and tossed it toward the bin.

What Richard had taken for a pile of rags unfolded, expanded, stood up in one fluid motion. A hand caught the crumpled paper in midair.

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