Excerpt of The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
(Page 7 of 10)
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'Yes, but we've had a change of brief since the days when you worked
with us,' said Bryant. 'Now it's problem homicides, low-profile
investigations, cases with the potential to spark social panic, general
unrest and malaise. We get the jobs that don't lead anywhere and don't
suit Met's wide-boys. They're too busy number-crunching; the last thing
they want is the kind of investigation that hangs around for months
without producing quantifiable results. They have league tables now.'
'So you're meant to free up the regular police.'
'I suppose that's how they see it. We've had a few successes, but of
course the cases that pay off are never the ones you expect.' He wasn't
complaining. While everyone else was streamlining operations to board
the law-enforcement superhighway, the PCU remained an unreliable but
essential branch line no one dared to close down, and that was how he
liked it. 'I'm sorry you were the one who had to find your sister.'
'It's not her dying, you understand, I've been expecting that. But
something is wrong, you'll see.'
'What are you doing these days?'
'Both my daughters finally married. I said to them, "Don't wed Indian
boys, they'll make you have babies instead of careers," but they
wouldn't listen to me, so I fear there will be no more academics bearing
my name. I retired from the British Library when it moved to King's
Cross, but I'm still lecturing on pagan cults.' Benjamin had once
provided the unit with information allowing them to locate a Cornish
devil cult. 'You know, I had asked Ruth to move in with me, but she was
too independent. We never got on well with each other. I wanted her to
wear one of those things around her neck, a beeper, you know? She
refused. Now look where it's got her.' This time, Bryant noticed, Mr
Singh's tissue came away damp.
The little Nissan turned a corner and came to a stop.
Balaklava Street was a surprise. It was cobbled, for a start; few such
thoroughfares had survived the most recent invasion of property
developers, and only an EEC ruling had prevented London's councils from
ripping up the remaining streets. The pavement consisted of velvety
flagstones, the kind that were pleasurable to roller-skate over, and ran
in a dog-leg that provided the road with the appearance of a cul-de-sac.
Commuters rarely used it as a rat-run and casual pedestrians were
infrequent, so a peculiar calm had settled across the roof slates, and
it was quiet in the way that London backstreets could often be, with the
traffic fading to a distant hum and the rustling of high plane trees
foregrounded by birdsong. Deep underground, passing Tube trains could be
faintly detected, and only the proliferation of parked cars suggested
Bryant opened the car door and eased himself out with the help of the
hated walking stick that May had bought for his last birthday. He noted
that the framework of the street's original gas lamps still stood,
although they had been rewired for electric light. There were ten
terraced yellow-brick houses, five on each side, before the road skirted
a Victorian school that had been converted into an adult-education
centre. Opposite, at the end of the road, a parched patch of waste
ground was backed by the car park of a kitchen centre and a chaotic wood
joinery, the triangle forming a dark corner where youths could play
football by day and buy drugs at night.
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