Home > Neverwhere(4)

Author: Neil Gaiman

“You have confirmed our reservation, haven’t you, Richard.”

“Yes,” lied Richard earnestly. The other line on his phone had begun to ring. “Jessica, look, I . . . “

“Good,” said Jessica, and she broke the connection. He picked up the other line.

“Hi Dick. It’s me, Gary.” Gary sat a few desks down from Richard. He waved. “Are we still on for drinks? You said we could go over the Merstham account.”

“Get off the bloody phone, Gary. Of course we are.” Richard put down the phone. There was a telephone number at the bottom of the Post-it note; Richard had written the Post-it note to himself, several weeks earlier. And he had made the reservation: he was almost certain of that. But he had not confirmed it. He had kept meaning to, but there had been so much to do and Richard had known that there was plenty of time. But events run in packs . . .

Sylvia was now standing next to him. “Dick? The Wandsworth report?”

“Almost ready, Sylvia. Look, just hold on a sec, can you?”

He finished punching in the number, breathed a sigh of relief when somebody answered, “Ma Maison. Can I help you?”

“Yes,” said Richard. “A table for three, for tonight. I think I booked it. And if I did I’m confirming the reservation. And if I didn’t, I wondered if I could book it. Please.” No, they had no record of a table for tonight in the name of Mayhew. Or Stockton. Or Bartram—Jessica’s surname. And as for booking a table . . .

It wasn’t the words that Richard found so unpleasant: it was the tone of voice in which the information was transmitted. A table for tonight should certainly have been booked years before—perhaps, it was implied, by Richard’s parents. A table for tonight was impossible: if the pope, the prime minister, and the president of France arrived this evening without a confirmed reservation, even they would be turned out into the street with a continental jeer. “But it’s for my fiancee’s boss. I know I should have phoned before. There are only three of us, can’t you please . . . “

They had put down the phone.

“Richard?” said Sylvia. “The MD’s waiting.”

“Do you think,” asked Richard, “they’d give me a table if I phoned back and offered them extra money?”

In her dream they were all together in the house. Her parents, her brother, her baby sister. They were standing together in the ballroom, staring at her. They were all so pale, so grave. Portia, her mother, touched her cheek and told her that she was in danger. In her dream, Door laughed, and said she knew. Her mother shook her head: no, no—now she was in danger. Now.

Door opened her eyes. The door was opening, quietly, quietly; she held her breath. Footsteps, quiet on the stone. Perhaps he won’t notice me, she thought. Perhaps he’ll go away. And then she thought, desperately, I’m hungry.

The footsteps hesitated. She was well hidden, she knew, under a pile of newspapers and rags. And it was possible that the intruder meant her no harm. Can’t he hear my heartbeat? she thought. And then the footsteps came closer, and she knew what she had to do, and it scared her. A hand pulled the covers off her, and she looked up into a blank, utterly hairless face, which creased into a vicious smile. She rolled, then, and twisted, and the knife blade, aimed at her chest, caught her in the upper arm.

Until that moment, she had never thought she could do it. Never thought she would be brave enough, or scared enough, or desperate enough to dare. But she reached up one hand to his chest, and she opened . . .

He gasped, and tumbled onto her. It was wet and warm and slippery, and she slithered and staggered out from under the man, and she stumbled out of the room.

She caught her breath in the tunnel outside, narrow and low, as she fell against the wall, breathing in gasps and sobs. That had taken the last of her strength; now she was spent. Her shoulder was beginning to throb. The knife, she thought. But she was safe.

“My, oh my,” said a voice from the darkness on her right. “She survived Mister Ross. Well I never, Mister Vandemar.” The voice oozed. It sounded like gray slime.

“Well I never either, Mister Croup,” said a flat voice on her left.

A light was kindled and flickered. “Still,” said Mr. Croup, his eyes gleaming in the dark beneath the earth, “she won’t survive us.”

Door kneed him, hard, in the groin: and then she pushed herself forward, her right hand holding her left shoulder.

And she ran.


Richard waved away the interruption. Life was almost under his control, now. Just a little more time . . .

Gary said his name again. “Dick? It’s six-thirty.”

“It’s what?” Papers and pens and spreadsheets and trolls were tumbled into Richard’s briefcase. He snapped it shut and ran.

He pulled his coat on as he went. Gary was following. “Are we going to have that drink, then?”

Richard paused for a moment. If ever, he decided, they made disorganization an Olympic sport, he could be disorganized for Britain. “Gary,” he said, “I’m sorry. I blew it. I have to see Jessica tonight. We’re taking her boss out to dinner.”

“Mister Stockton? Of Stocktons? The Stockton?” Richard nodded. They hurried down the stairs. “I’m sure you’ll have fun,” said Gary, insincerely. “And how is the Creature from the Black Lagoon?”

“Jessica’s from Ilford, actually, Gary. And she remains the light and love of my life, thank you very much for asking.” They reached the lobby, and Richard made a dash for the automatic doors, which spectacularly failed to open.

“It’s after six, Mister Mayhew,” said Mr. Figgis, the building’s security guard. “You have to sign out.”

“I don’t need this,” said Richard to no one in particular, “I really don’t.”

Mr. Figgis smelled vaguely of medicinal liniment and was widely rumored to have an encyclopedic collection of soft-core  p**n ography. He guarded the doors with a diligence that bordered upon madness, never quite having lived down the evening when an entire floor’s worth of computer equipment upped and left, along with two potted palms and the managing director’s Axminster carpet.

“So our drink’s off, then?”

“I’m sorry, Gary. Is Monday okay for you?”

“Sure. Monday’s fine. See you Monday.”

Mr. Figgis inspected their signatures and satisfied himself they had no computers, potted palms, or carpets about their persons, then he pressed a button under his desk, and the door slid open.

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