Home > Neverwhere(14)

Author: Neil Gaiman

“I’m sorry I’m late,” said Richard, to no one in particular in the crowded office. The clock on the office wall said that it was 10:30. He dropped his briefcase on his chair, wiped the sweat from his face with his handkerchief. “You wouldn’t believe what it was like getting here,” he continued. “It was a nightmare.”

He looked down at his desktop. There was something missing. Or, more precisely, there was everything missing. “Where are my things?” he asked the room, a little more loudly. “Where is my telephone? Where are my trolls?”

He checked the desk drawers. They were empty too: not even a Mars bar wrapper or a twisted paper clip to show that Richard had ever been there. Sylvia was coming toward him, in conversation with two rather hefty gentlemen. Richard walked over to her. “Sylvia? What’s going on?”

“I’m sorry?” said Sylvia, politely. She pointed the desk out to the hefty gentlemen, who each took an end of it, and began to carry it out of the office. “Careful now,” she told them.

“My desk. Where are they taking it?”

Sylvia stared at him, gently puzzled. “And you are . . . ?”

/ don’t need this shit, thought Richard. “Richard,” he said, sarcastically. “Richard Mayhew.”

“Ah,” said Sylvia. Then her attention slid off Richard, like water off an oiled duck, and she said, “No, not over there. For heaven’s sakes,” to the removal men, and hurried after them as they carried off Richard’s desk.

Richard watched her go. Then he walked through the office until he got to Gary’s workstation. Gary was answering e-mail. Richard looked at the screen: the e-mail Gary seemed to be writing was both sexually explicit and addressed to someone who was not Gary’s girlfriend. Embarrassed, Richard moved around to the other side of the desk.

“Gary. What’s going on? Is this a joke or something?”

Gary looked around, as if he had heard something. He flicked the keyboard, activating a screen-saver of dancing hippopotami, then he shook his head as if to clear it, picked up the telephone, and began to dial. Richard slammed his hand down on the phone, cutting Gary off.

“Look, this isn’t funny. I don’t know what everyone’s playing at.” Finally, to his enormous relief, Gary looked up at him. Richard continued, “If I’ve been fired then just tell me I’ve been fired, but all this pretending I’m not here . . . “

And then Gary smiled and said, “Hi. Yeah. I’m Gary Perunu. Can I help you?”

“I don’t think so,” said Richard, coldly, and he walked out of the office, leaving his briefcase behind him.

Richard’s offices were on the third floor of a big, old, drafty building, just off the Strand. Jessica worked about halfway up a large crystalline, mirrored structure in the City of London, fifteen minutes’ walk up the road.

Richard jogged up that road. He got to the Stockton building in ten minutes, walked straight past the uniformed security guards on duty on the ground floor, stepped into the elevator, and went up. The inside of the elevator was mirrored, and he stared at himself as he went up. His tie was half-undone and askew, his coat was ripped, his pants torn, his hair was a sweaty mess . . . God, he looked awful.

There was a fluting tone, and the elevator door opened. Jessica’s floor was quite opulent, in an underdecorated sort of way. There was a receptionist by the elevator, a poised and elegant creature who looked like her take-home pay beat Richard’s hands down. She was reading Cosmopolitan. She did not look up as Richard came over.

“I need to talk to Jessica Bartram,” said Richard. “It’s important. I have to speak with her.”

The receptionist ignored him, intent upon examining her nails. Richard walked down the corridor until he got to Jessica’s office. He opened the door and went in. She was standing in front of three large posters, each advertising “Angels over England—A Traveling Exhibition,” each with a different image of an angel on it. She turned as he came in, and she smiled warmly at him.

“Jessica. Thank God. Listen, I think I’m going mad or something. It started when I couldn’t get a taxi this morning, and then the office and the Tube and—” He showed her his ragged sleeve. “It’s like I’ve become some kind of non-person.” She smiled at him some more, reassuringly. “Look,” said Richard. “I’m sorry about the other night. Well, not about what I did, but about upsetting you, and . . . look, I’m sorry, and it’s all crazy, and I don’t honestly know what to do.”

And Jessica nodded, and continued to smile sympathetically, and then she said, “You’re going to think I’m absolutely awful, but I have a really dreadful memory for faces. Give me a second, and I know I’ll get it.”

And at that point, Richard knew that it was real, and a heavy dread settled in the pit of his stomach. Whatever madness was happening that day was really happening. It was no joke, no trick or prank. “It’s okay,” he said, dully. “Forget it.”

And he walked away, out the door and down the corridor. He was almost at the lift when she called his name.


He turned. It had been a joke. Some kind of petty revenge. Something he could explain. “Richard . . . Maybury?” She seemed proud of herself for remembering that much.

“Mayhew,” said Richard, and he got into the elevator, and the doors sang a sad fluting downward trill as they closed behind him.

Richard walked back to his flat, upset and confused and angry. Sometimes he would wave at taxis, but never with any real hope that they would stop, and none of them did. His feet hurt, and his eyes stung, and he knew that soon enough he would wake up from today and a proper Monday, a sensible Monday, a decent, honest Monday would begin.

When he reached the apartment, he filled the bathtub with hot water, abandoned his clothes on the bed, and, naked, walked through the hall and climbed into the relaxing waters. He had almost dozed off when he heard a key turn, a door open and close, and a smooth male voice say, “Of course, you’re the first I’ve shown around today, but I’ve got a list of people as long as your arm who are interested.”

“It’s not as large as I imagined, from the details your office sent us,” said a woman.

“It’s compact, yes. But I like to think of that as a virtue.”

Richard had not bothered locking the bathroom door. He was, after all, the only person there.

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