"Karl . . . ?"
"Ah yes. The collector. I've read about him. What sort of help would that be?"
She paused. She had never liked talking over the phone.
"Not now. Wait for tomorrow. But I promise you'll be interested, Fitz. It's about the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta."
She was right, of course. I was interested. In all sorts of ways. Abandoning the owl to the darkness, I climbed the stairs to the room where I did most of my living. It was an untidy, comfortable room, warmly lit and smelling of old paper. The bed was permanently unmade and the desk was littered with notes for a book I wasn't really writing. Some of the notes were noticeably dusty. One whole wall was taken up with shelves of carefully ordered books, but I didn't need to look anything up to know that Gabby wasn't being melodramatic. Despite its name, the bird was real enough, or it had been once. I'd even made some notes about it for an article, back in the days when I was going to be famous.
And now, all these years later, she wanted to ask me about it. She and her friend Karl Anderson. I'd seen a picture of them together once, taken by a mutual friend about three years earlier at one of the big summer lectures in Salzburg. She was leaning very lightly on his arm, still dark and slim and calm, still with that familiar, half-questioning smile.
I settled down on the bed and looked thoughtfully at the small trunk in the corner of the room. What they wanted to know was probably in there along with everything else--the dodo, the heath hen, the passenger pigeon, the lost and the forgotten, all mixed together--years of jotted notes and observations still waiting to be given a shape.
But instead of thinking about them, I thought about Gabby and the man she wanted me to meet. I'd read a lot about him over the years, but everything I knew really came down to three things. That Karl Anderson was a man with a reputation for finding things. That he was used to getting what he wanted. And that nowadays he was far too successful to do his searching in person unless the stakes were very high indeed.
I wasn't sure I liked the sound of him.
I checked my watch and realized I could still just catch the pub.
Journeys begin in many different ways. It was Cook, a man experienced in preparations for a long sea expedition, who persuaded Joseph Banks to return to Revesby before they sailed--so that in the summer of 1768, two months before they were due to depart, he made the journey back to Lincolnshire, back to the woods and fields that for the next three years were what he thought of when he thought of home.
The summers before the Endeavour set sail seemed lonelier to her than the winters. Each summer day she spent alone was haunted by a sense of joy wasted. And against the uncertainty of her future she began to paint, as if she might trap and keep each day by its details. The transit of Venus, which he traveled so far to observe, was less to her than the passing of the seasons in the Revesby woods.
Friday At The Mecklenburg
It was raining heavily by the time I reached the Mecklenburg Hotel. By
abandoning the bus at Oxford Circus I arrived wet and out of breath, but at
least I was on time. The hotel turned out to be an ugly building, concrete on
the outside and expensively mock-Edwardian beyond the revolving doors. I stood
for a moment in the lobby, dripping on the carpet, slightly disappointed. Then,
suddenly self-conscious, I followed a sign to the gents, where I dried my hair
and pushed it into some sort of order. When I'd finished I looked better but I
still looked underdressed. Among academics I considered myself reasonably
stylish. Here I just looked like someone who might steal the towels.
Excerpted from The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies Copyright © 2005 by Martin Davies. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, 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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