Home > Neverwhere(15)

Author: Neil Gaiman

A gruffer, rougher male voice said, “Thought you said it was an unfurnished apartment. Looks pretty damned furnished to me.”

“The previous tenant must have left some of his accoutrements behind. Funny. They never told me anything about that.”

Richard stood up in the bathtub. Then, because he was naked, and the people could walk in at any moment, he sat back down. Rather desperately, he looked around the bathroom for a towel. “Oh look, George,” said the woman in the hallway. “Someone’s left a towel on this chair.”

Richard inspected and rejected as poor towel substitutes a loofah, a half-empty bottle of shampoo, and a small yellow rubber duck. “What’s the bathroom like?” asked the woman. Richard grabbed a washcloth and draped it in front of his crotch. Then he stood up, with his back to the wall, and prepared to be mortified. The door was pushed open. Three people walked into the bathroom: a young man in a camel-hair coat, and a middle-aged couple. Richard wondered if they were as embarrassed as he was.

“It’s a bit small,” said the woman.

“Compact,” corrected the camel-hair coat, smoothly. “Easy to take care of.” The woman ran her finger along the side of the sink and wrinkled her nose. “I think we’ve seen it all,” said the middle-aged man. They walked out of the bathroom.

“It would be very convenient for everything,” said the woman. A conversation continued in lower tones. Richard climbed out of the bath and edged over to the door. He spotted the towel on the chair in the hall, and he leaned out and grabbed it. “We’ll take it,” said the woman.

“You will?” said the camel-hair coat.

“It’s just what we want,” she explained. “Or it will be, once we’ve made it homey. Could it be ready for Wednesday?”

“Of course. We’ll have all of this rubbish cleaned out of here tomorrow, no problem.”

Richard, cold and dripping and wrapped in his towel, glared at them from the doorway. “It’s not rubbish,” he said. “It’s my stuff.”

“We’ll pick up the keys from your office, then.”

“Excuse me,” said Richard, plaintively. “I live here.”

They pushed past Richard on their way to the front door. “Pleasure doing business with you,” said the camel-hair coat.

“Can you . . . can any of you hear me? This is my apartment. I live here.”

“If you fax contract details to my office—” said the gruff man, then the door slammed behind them and Richard stood in the hallway of what used to be his apartment. He shivered, in the silence, from the cold. “This,” announced Richard to the world, in direct defiance of the evidence of his senses, “is not happening.” The Batphone shrilled, and its headlights flashed. Richard picked it up, warily. “Hello?”

The line hissed and crackled as if the call were coming from a long way away. The voice at the other end of the phone was unfamiliar. “Mister Mayhew?” it said. “Mister Richard Mayhew?”

“Yes,” he said. And then, delighted, “You can hear me. Oh thank God. Who is this?”

“My associate and I met you on Saturday, Mister Mayhew. I was enquiring as to the whereabouts of a certain young lady. Do you remember?” The tones were oily, nasty, foxy.

“Oh. Yes. It’s you.”

“Mister Mayhew. You said Door wasn’t with you. We have reason to believe that you were embroidering the truth more than perhaps a little.”

“Well, you said you were her brother.”

“All men are brothers, Mister Mayhew.”

“She’s not here anymore. And I don’t know where she is.”

“We know that, Mister Mayhew. We are perfectly cognizant of both of those facts. And to be magnificently frank, Mister Mayhew—and I’m sure you want me to be frank, don’t you?—were I you, I would no longer worry about the young lady. Her days are numbered, and the number in question isn’t even in the double digits.”

“Why are you calling me?”

“Mister Mayhew,” said Mr. Croup, helpfully, “do you know what your own liver tastes like?” Richard was silent. “Because Mister Vandemar has promised me that he’s personally going to cut it out and stuff it into your mouth before he slits your sad little throat. So you’ll find out, won’t you?”

“I’m calling the police. You can’t threaten me like this.”

“Mister Mayhew. You can call anyone you wish. But I’d hate you to think we were making a threat. Neither myself nor Mister Vandemar make threats, do we Mister Vandemar?”

“No? Then what the hell are you doing?”

“We’re making a promise,” said Mr. Croup through the static and the echo and the hiss. “And we do know where you live.” And he hung up.

Richard held the phone tightly, staring at it, then he stabbed the nine key three times: Fire, Police, and Ambulance. “Emergency services,” said the emergency operator. “What service do you require?”

“Can you put me through to the police, please? A man just threatened to kill me, and I don’t think he was joking.”

There was a pause. He hoped he was being put through to the police. After a few moments, the voice said, “Emergency services. Hello? Is there anyone there? Hello?” And then Richard put down the phone, went into his bedroom, and put his clothes on, because he was cold and na**d and scared, and there wasn’t really anything else he could do.

Eventually, and after some deliberation, he took the black sports bag from under the bed and put socks into it. Underpants. Some T-shirts. His passport. His wallet. He was wearing jeans, sneakers, a thick sweater. He remembered the way the girl who called herself Door had said good-bye. The way she had paused, the way she had said she was sorry . . .

“You knew,” he said to the empty apartment. “You knew this would happen.” He went into the kitchen, took some fruit from the bowl, put that into the bag. Then he zipped it up and walked out onto the darkened street.

The ATM took his card with a whirr. PLEASE ENTER YOUR PIN NUMBER, it said. Richard typed in his secret pin number (D-I-C-K). The screen went blank. PLEASE WAIT, it said, and the screen went blank. Somewhere in the depths of the machine something grumbled and growled.

THIS CARD IS NOT VALID. PLEASE CONTACT CARD ISSUER. There was a chunking noise, and the card slid out again.

“Spare any change?” said a tired voice from behind him. Richard turned: the man was short and old and balding, his scraggly beard a matted tangle of yellow and gray. The lines of his face were etched deeply in black dirt. He wore a filthy coat over the ruin of a dark gray sweater. His eyes were gray as well, and rheumy.

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