'All right, let's go and have a look at your sister.' Bryant clambered
wearily to his feet. Tortoise-like, scarf-wrapped, argumentative to the
point of rudeness, myopic and decrepit, Bryant appeared even more
dishevelled than usual, owing to the current upheavals in his life. A
waft of white hair rose in a horseshoe above his ears, as if he'd been
touching static globes at the Science Museum. Behind his watery sapphire
eyes, though, was a spirit as robust and spiky as winter earth. He had
been described as 'independent to the point of vexation and individual
to the level of eccentricity', which seemed accurate enough. John May,
his dapper partner, was younger by three years, an attractive senior of
considerable charisma, modern in outlook and gregarious by nature.
Bryant was a loner, literate and secretive, with a sidelong, crafty mind
that operated in opposition to May's level-headed thinking.
'Janice, when John finally deigns to turn up, would you send him around
to join us? Where are we going?'
'Number 5, Balaklava Street,' said Mr Singh. 'It's between Inkerman Road
and Alma Street.'
'Ah, your sister's house was built in the 1850s, then. The roads are all
named after battles of the Crimean War. Victorian town councils were
fond of such gestures.' Bryant knew historical facts like that. It was a
pity he couldn't remember anything that had happened in the last twenty
years. Recent events were his partner's speciality. John May remembered
everyone's birthdays. Bryant barely recalled anyone's names. May
exhibited a natural charm that disarmed the toughest opponents. Bryant
could make a nun bristle. May had girlfriends and relatives, parties and
friends. Bryant had his work. May would smile in blossoming sunlight.
Bryant would frown and step back into darkness. Each corresponding jag
and trough in their characters was a further indication of the symbiosis
they had developed over the years. They fitted together like old jigsaw
Longbright waited for Bryant to leave the office, then opened all the
windows to clear the overpowering smell of paint. She set about
unpacking the new computers, thankful that the old man could occupy his
mind with the unit's activities once more; he had been driving everyone
mad for the past month, acting like a housebound child on a rainy day.
Arthur's sudden decision to move house had been uncharacteristic.
Furthermore, he had chosen to leave behind his landlady, the woman who
had tolerated his dreadful behaviour for more than forty years. Alma
Sorrowbridge had been shocked and hurt by her tenant's determination to
abandon her in Battersea as he moved alone to the workshop of a
converted false-teeth factory in Chalk Farm. As she unbattened boxes and
uncoiled cables, Longbright wondered at his motive. Perhaps Arthur felt
that time was running short, and was preparing to distance himself from
those closest to him. Perversely, his morbidity always increased when he
was removed from death. Proximity to a fresh tragedy concentrated his
mind wonderfully. Truly ghastly events took years off him.
Longbright caught herself humming as she worked, and realized that she
was happy again.
'So you and Mr May still have the Peculiar Crimes Unit.' Mr Singh made
conversation as he drove his little blue Nissan from Mornington Crescent
to Kentish Town. Bryant had given the unit his Mini Cooper, a sixties
relic with a history of rust and electrical faults, and as it was away
being repaired he was forced to rely on getting lifts, which at least
allowed the pedestrian population of north London to breathe a
collective sigh of relief.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...