Home > Neverwhere(6)

Author: Neil Gaiman

“You are honestly telling me you had to promise them an extra fifty pounds for our table tonight? You are an idiot, Richard,” said Jessica, her dark eyes flashing.

“They had lost my reservation. And they said all the tables were booked.” Their steps echoed off the high walls.

“They’ll probably have us sitting by the kitchen,” said Jessica. “Or the door. Did you tell them it was for Mister Stockton?”

“Yes,” replied Richard.

Jessica sighed. She continued to drag him along, as a door opened in the wall, a little way ahead of them. Someone stepped out and stood swaying for one long terrible moment, and then collapsed to the concrete. Richard shivered and stopped in his tracks. Jessica tugged him into motion.

“Now, when you’re talking to Mister Stockton, you must make sure you don’t interrupt him. Or disagree with him—he doesn’t like to be disagreed with. When he makes a joke, laugh. If you’re in any doubt as to whether or not he’s made a joke, look at me. I’ll . . . mm, tap my forefinger.”

They had reached the person on the sidewalk. Jessica stepped over the crumpled form. Richard hesitated. “Jessica?”

“You’re right. He might think I’m bored,” she mused. “I know,” she said brightly, “if he makes a joke, I’ll rub my earlobe.”

“Jessica?” He could hot believe that she was simply ignoring the figure at their feet.

“What?” She was not pleased to be jerked out of her reverie.


He pointed to the sidewalk. The person was face down, and enveloped in bulky clothes; Jessica took his arm and tugged him toward her. “Oh. I see. If you pay them any attention, Richard, they’ll walk all over you. They all have homes, really. Once she’s slept it off, I’m sure she’ll be fine.” She? Richard looked down. It was a girl. Jessica continued, “Now, I’ve told Mister Stockton that we . . . ” Richard was down on one knee. “Richard? What are you doing?”

“She isn’t drunk,” said Richard. “She’s hurt.” He looked at his fingertips. “She’s bleeding.”

Jessica looked down at him, nervous and puzzled. “We’re going to be late,” she pointed out.

“She’s hurt.”

Jessica looked back at the girl on the sidewalk. Priorities: Richard had no priorities. “Richard. We’re going to be late. Someone else will be along; someone else will help her.”

The girl’s face was crusted with dirt, and her clothes were wet with blood. “She’s hurt,” he said, simply. There was an expression on his face that Jessica hadn’t seen before.

“Richard,” she warned, and then she relented, a little, and offered a compromise. “Dial 999 and call an ambulance then. Quickly, now.”

Suddenly the girl’s eyes opened, white and wide in a face that was little more than a smudge of dust and blood. “Not a hospital, please. They’ll find me. Take me somewhere safe. Please.” Her voice was weak.

“You’re bleeding,” said Richard. He looked to see where she had come from, but the wall was blank and brick and unbroken. He looked back to her still form, and asked, “Why not a hospital?”

“Help me?” the girl whispered and her eyes closed.

Again he asked her, “Why don’t you want to go to the hospital?” This time there was no answer at all.

“When you call the ambulance,” said Jessica, “don’t give your name. You might have to make a statement or something, and then we’d be late . . . Richard? What are you doing?”

Richard had picked the girl up, cradling her in his arms. She was surprisingly light. “I’m taking her back to my place, Jess. I can’t just leave her. Tell Mister Stockton I’m really sorry, but it was an emergency. I’m sure he’ll understand.”

“Richard Oliver Mayhew,” said Jessica, coldly. “You put that girl down and come back here this minute. Or this engagement is at an end as of now. I’m warning you.”

Richard felt the sticky warmth of blood soaking into his shirt. Sometimes, he realized, there is nothing you can do. He walked away, leaving behind Jessica, who stood there on the sidewalk, her eyes stung with tears.

Richard did not, at any point on his walk, stop to think. It was not something over which he had any volition. Somewhere in the sensible part of his head, someone—a normal, sensible Richard Mayhew—was telling him how ridiculous he was being: that he should just have called the police, or an ambulance; that it was dangerous to lift an injured person; that he had really, seriously upset Jessica; that he was going to have to sleep on the sofa tonight; that he was ruining his only really good suit; that the girl smelled terrible . . . but Richard found himself placing one foot in front of the other, and, arms cramping and back hurting, ignoring the looks he got from passers-by, he just kept walking. And after a while he was at the ground floor door of his building, and he was stumbling up the staircase, and then he was standing in front of the door to his apartment and realizing that he had left his keys on the hall table, inside . . .

The girl reached out one filthy hand to the door, and it swung open.

Never thought I’d be pleased that the door hadn’t latched properly, thought Richard, and he carried the girl in—closing the door behind him with his foot—and put her down on his bed. His shirtfront was soaked in blood.

She seemed semiconscious; her eyes were closed, but fluttering. He peeled off her leather jacket. There was a long cut on her left upper arm and shoulder. Richard caught his breath. “Look, I’m going to call a doctor,” he said quietly. “Can you hear me?”

Her eyes opened, wide and scared. “Please, no. It’ll be fine. It’s not as bad as it looks. I just need sleep. No doctors.”

“But your arm—your shoulder—“

“I’ll be fine. Tomorrow. Please?” It was little more than a whisper.

“Um, I suppose, all right,” and with sanity beginning to assert itself, he said, “Look, can I ask—?”

But she was asleep. Richard took an old scarf from his closet and wrapped it firmly around her left upper arm and shoulder; he did not want her to bleed to death on his bed before he could get her to a doctor. And then he tiptoed out of his bedroom and shut the door behind him. He sat down on the sofa, in front of the television, and wondered what he had done.


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