Bryant looked toward the jumble of outsized apartment buildings being constructed at the edge of the Thames, the yellow steel cranes clustered around them like praying mantises. After so many years in the service, he was quick to sense approaching change. Another wave of executives was colonizing the riverbank, creating a new underclass. He wondered how soon the invasion would provoke fresh forms of violence.
It's metabolizing quickly, he thought. How long before it becomes unrecognizable? How can I hope to understand it for much longer?
He turned up his collar as he passed the urban surfers of the South Bank car park. The clatter of their skateboards bounced between the concrete arcades like the noise of shunting trains. Kids always found ways to occupy ignored spaces. He emerged into daylight and paced at the river rail, studying the evolving skyline of the Thames.
Hardly anything left of my childhood memories.
The Savoy, St Paul's, the spire of St Bride's, a few low monuments palisaded by international banks as anonymous as cigarette boxes. A city in an apostasy of everything but money. Even the river had altered. The ships and barges, no longer commercially viable, had left behind an aorta of bare brown water. Eventually only vast hotels, identical from Chicago to Bangkok, would remain.
As ever, Londoners had found ways of cutting grand new structures down to human size. The 'Blade of Light' connecting St Paul's to Bankside had become known as 'The Wobbly Bridge'. The Swiss Re building had been rechristened 'The Erotic Gherkin' long before its completion. Names were a sign of affection, to be worn like guild colours. The old marks of London, from its financial institutes to its market buildings, were fading from view like vanishing coats of arms.
I've been walking this route for over half a century, Bryant thought, stepping aside for a wave of shrieking children. A Mexican band was playing in the foyer of the Festival Hall. People were queueing for an art event involving tall multi-coloured flags. He remembered walking through the black empty streets after the War, and feeling completely alone. It was hard to feel alone here now. He missed the sensation.
His fingers closed around the keys in his pocket. Sergeant Longbright had mentioned she might go into the unit today in order to get things straight for Monday. He preferred to work out of hours, when the phonelines were closed and he could leave papers all over the floor without complaint. He could join Janice, collect his thoughts, smoke his pipe, prepare himself for a fresh start. For a woman who had recently retired, Longbright showed an alarming enthusiasm for returning.
For the past month, the Peculiar Crimes Unitor rather, what was left of ithad been shunted into two sloping rooms above Sid Smith's barbershop in Camden Town, while its old offices were being rebuilt. The relocation had been forced by a disastrous explosion that had destroyed the interior of the building and years of case files. The ensuing chaos had badly affected Bryant, whose office was virtually his home. He had lost his entire collection of rare books and artefacts in the blaze. Worse than that, he had yet to recover his dignity. The sheer embarrassment of being presumed dead! At least they had uncovered a long-dormant murderer, even if their methodology had proven highly abnormal.
Excerpted 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 publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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