The double glass doors of the Academy led onto a large foyer. Pressing the doorbell, Jo could see a reception desk, with some sort of office behind, and glass-fronted cabinets in the hallway. To the left another door opened into a bigger room. To their right was a flight of stairs.
A woman came out of the office. She smiled at Jo through the glass as she unlocked the door and ushered her in.
"He's upstairs," she told Jo. "I'll tell him you're here."
She was shown to a chair in the hall.
The place was huge, the ceiling thirty feet high. Jo noticed, now, that at some time fairly recently the whole of the back of the building had been remodeled; beyond the flight of stairs the wall was glass, and a room-wide corridor led to another building, a modern block that looked like a library.
Several minutes ticked past.
Eventually she got up and walked to the cabinets that were ranged against the far wall.
She rested her hand on the sloping glass of the first. Under her palm lay a meaningless scatter of objects and a few sepia photographs. There was a silver spoon with a copper repair on the handle. The tattered remains of a small book, empty of pages, and what had once been gold initials faded on the front. A tiny piece of red tin or aluminum. A page with a drawing of some kind of engine.
She peered at the photographs. Four men in uniform, only one of them youthful. They had the very posed and rigid look of early Victorian daguerreotypes. Their names were underneath, but she barely read them. Not one was looking directly into the camera. Behind them in the case was a long and narrow map of a waterway.
She hadn't heard him approach, but a man was standing at her shoulder. He was barely her own height, not more than five foot six, and was incredibly round. He held out his hand.
She liked him on sight: he had the face of an enthusiastic schoolboy. He was overweight, probably more than two hundred twenty pounds, and breathing heavily from the exertion of walking down the stairs.
"Come far?" he asked her.
"London," she said.
"Ah," he replied, commiserating. "Come with me. I've got hot chocolate." He stopped and peered at her. "Do you drink hot chocolate?"
"Yes," she said.
They went back to his office. In this assumption, made while she was driving here, trying to visualize both him and the institute, Jo had been right. It was a typical academic's room, so much a cliché that it might have been prepared for a film set. Shelves lined the room floor to ceiling. Books lined the floor. Dust was everywhere. They could just about get in the room by pushing hard on the door, and picking their way over to two chairs marooned in a wash of files and paper.
Bolton fished a thermos from under the desk. "We have a machine here that never works, and we have Mrs. Cropp, who does. But I don't like to bother her," he said, pouring the drink into two plastic cups.
"My phone has never stopped ringing," he said.
"You must be fed up with us all."
"No, no," he replied cheerfully. "I'm very popular all of a sudden."
"Has Douglas Marshall been missing before?"
"But he's been on expeditions...."
"Oh, yes. The Antarctic, you know. Turkey. Asia. The Caribbean."
"And the Arctic?"
"I see," she said. She glanced around her. "Have you known him long?"
"Over ten years."
"Really?" she said. "I'm sorry. You must be frantic."
He nodded slightly. "Yes ... it's unlike Douglas. But ... one tries not to be frantic, exactly."
Copyright 2001, Elizabeth McGregor. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher - Dutton Books.
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