Excerpt of The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
(Page 4 of 10)
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But of course, nothing at the PCU had ever been normal. Founded as an
experimental unit during the War to handle the cases no one else
understood, let alone wanted, the detectives had built a reputation for
defusing politically sensitive and socially embarrassing situations,
using unorthodox and controversial methods. Some of the more rule-bound
Met officers hated their guts, but most of the force's foot soldiers
regarded them as living legends, if only because they had repeatedly
refused promotion to keep their status as ordinary detectives.
Bryant climbed the trash-stickered steps to Waterloo Bridge and hailed a
taxi. Thirteen weeks of airless summer heat had passed without rain, but
now the warmth was fading from the yellow London brick, and there was
moisture in the rising breeze. The autumn chill stealing up the river
would bring rheumatism and new strains of influenza. Already he could
feel his joints starting to ache. The only thing that would take his
mind off the problems of old age was hard work.
He dug into a pocket and found his pewter flask, granting himself a
small nip of cherry brandy. When he was alone he thought too much. John
May was the only person who could bring calm to his sense of escalating
panic. Their fifty-year-plus partnership had the familiarity of an old
radio show. The bald head gave a little shake within its yards of musty
scarf; Bryant told himself he would never consider retiring again. The
thought of doing so made him feel ill. When the unit reopened in its
rightful office on Monday morning, he would return to his desk beside
John and Janice, and stay in harness until the day he died. After all,
it was where he was needed most. It would be important to show he could
still do the job. And he had nothing else without it.
THE FIRST DEATH OF AUTUMN
'I came to you, Mr Bryant,' said Benjamin Singh, 'because you have such
an incredible capacity to be annoying.'
'I can't imagine what you mean,' said Bryant, stuffing his bentwood pipe
with a mixture of Old Holborn and eucalyptus leaves.
'I mean you can get things done by badgering people. I don't trust the
regular police. They're distracted and complacent. I'm glad you are
still here. I thought you would have retired by now. You are so very,
very far past retirement age.'
Bryant fixed his visitor with an evil eye. Mr Singh dabbed his cheeks
with a paper handkerchief. He hadn't been crying; it was a gesture of
respect for the dead. He paused to take stock of his surroundings. 'I'm
sorry, have you been burgled?' he asked.
'Oh, no.' Bryant fanned out his match and sucked noisily on the pipe.
'The unit burned down. Well, it blew up and burned down. They're still
rebuilding it and we haven't had time to unpack anything yet. We don't
officially reopen for business until ten o'clock this morning. It's only
nine, you know. It'll be a nightmare around here later because we've got
painters, carpenters and IT bods turning up. There's no floor in the
toilet. Health and Safety said they wouldn't be responsible if we moved
in, but we couldn't stay above a barbershop. It doesn't help that I'm
also in the middle of moving house, and appear to have mislaid all my
socks. Sorry, do please go on.'
from The Water Room by Christopher Fowler Copyright © 2005 by
Christopher Fowler. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of
Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the