At seven fifteen a.m., his bedroom slightly colder than the vacuum of space, Joshua Joseph Spork wears a longish leather coat and a pair of his fathers golfing socks. Papa Spork was not a natural golfer. Among other differences, natural golfers do not acquire their socks by hijacking a lorryload destined for St. Andrews. It isnt done. Golf is a religion of patience. Socks come and socks go, and the wise golfer waits, sees the pair he wants, and buys it without fuss. The notion that he might put a Thompson sub-machine gun in the face of the burly Glaswegian driver, and tell him to quit the cab or adorn it . . . well. A man who does that is never going to get his handicap down below the teens.
The upside is that Joe doesnt think of these socks as belonging to Papa Spork. Theyre just one of two thousand pairs he inherited when his father passed on to the great bunker in the sky, contents of a lock-up off Brick Lane. He returned as much of the swag as he couldit was a weird, motley collection, very appropriate to Papa Sporks somewhat eccentric life of crimeand found himself left with several suitcases of personal effects, family Bibles and albums, some bits and bobs his father apparently stole from his father, and a few pairs of socks the chairman of St. Andrews suggested he keep as a memento.
I appreciate it cant have been easy, doing this, the chairman said over the phone. Old wounds and so on.
Really, Im just embarrassed.
Good Lord, dont be. Bad enough that the sins of the fathers shall descend and all that, without feeling embarrassed about it. My father was in Bomber Command. Helped plan the firebombing of Dresden. Can you imagine? Pinching socks is rather benign, eh?
I suppose so.
Dresden was during the war, of course, so I suppose they thought it had to be done. Jolly heroic, no doubt. But Ive seen photographs. Have you?
Try not to, I should. Theyll stay with you. But if ever you do, for some godforsaken reason, it might make you feel better to be wearing a pair of lurid Argyles. Im putting a few in a parcel. If it will salve your guilt, I shall choose the absolute nastiest ones.
Oh, yes, all right. Thank you.
I fly myself, you know. Civilian. I used to love it, but recently I cant help but see firebombs falling. So Ive sort of given up. Rather a shame, really.
Yes, it is.
Theres a pause while the chairman considers the possibility that he may have revealed rather more of himself than he had intended.
Right then. Itll be the chartreuse. I quite fancy a pair of those myself, to wear next time I visit the old bugger up at Hawley Churchyard. Look here, you frightful old sod, I shall tell him, where you persuaded yourself it was absolutely vital that we immolate a city full of civilians, other mens fathers restricted themselves to stealing ugly socks. That ought to show him, eh?
I suppose so.
So on his feet now are the fruits of this curious exchange, and very welcome between his unpedicured soles and the icy floor.
The leather coat, meanwhile, is a precaution against attack. He does own a dressing gown, or rather, a toweling bathrobe, but while its more cosy to get into, its also more vulnerable. Joe Spork inhabits a warehouse space above his workshophis late grandfathers workshopin a dingy, silent bit of London down by the river. The march of progress has passed it by because the views are grey and angular and the place smells strongly of riverbank, so the whole enormous building notionally belongs to him, though it is, alas, somewhat entailed to banks and lenders. Mathewthis being the name of his lamentable dadhad a relaxed attitude to paper debt; money was something you could always steal more of.
Excerpted from Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. Copyright © 2012 by Nick Harkaway. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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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