Picture by oxborrow: Close up of the tiles
I had left my office for lunch, hoping that a leisurely walk in the park might set my mind at ease. Instead the brisk wind and the burr of the traffic left me all the more agitated. It was perhaps for this reason that, on my return, I failed to note that the door had been been unlocked during my brief absence.
My oblivion was short-lived. There, in my own chair, was a tall young man with dark hair and a large, hawk-like nose.
“Doctor,” he said. “I have a question for you.”
At first I thought him one of the neighbours, or perhaps a local stallholder come to seek assistance with some small digestive difficulty. My title has on occasion caused confusion.
“I fear,” I told him, “you are under a misapprehension. I am not a medical doctor. My speciality is—”
“Yes,” said he, “I’m aware you are no medical doctor. From the pattern of wear on the keyboard of your desktop computer I can see that you type most habitually in English, and that you make generous use of the semi-colon. A doctor of English or History, then, perhaps? But no historian nowadays can afford to ignore the impact of economic considerations upon the period of his investigations, and both the pound and dollar sign on your keyboard are all but untouched. English, then, I should say late Victorian.”
It was an extraordinary guess, but it did nothing to mollify my concern at his presence.
“I’m afraid,” I said curtly as he pulled out a pipe, “that this is a no-smoking building.”
“And polite, too,” the young man continued, “unwilling to ask me not to smoke on your own behalf; yet the ashes on the ground outside indicate that you have a smoker in the room below, and the Neighbourhood Watch adhesive notice on his window suggests that he would not flout the rules. I am quite willing to refrain from smoking, but I pray you not to disguise personal preference as your landlord’s regulations.”
My astonishment at the accuracy of his perceptions vied with distaste for his familiarity and his unauthorised entry. “If you are not here for medical advice,” I said sharply, “perhaps you would tell me just what it is that you want.”
“Why, a job!” he said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “From the trappings of your office I can see that your business is a profitable one — consulting on costume dramas, I should guess from the pattern of dust on the shelves and the knot of your tie. Yet you derive no delight from the task. There are no personal possessions along your mantel, no kettle on the sideboard. This office is, to you, simply a place in which to carry out your day’s tasks, a place in addition which you long to leave behind. Surely this indicates an overburdened mind, an excess of work pressing upon your spirit; and yet I can tell from the thick grime on the windows and your restraint in the face of an intruder that you will go to no lengths to find an assistant yourself. It is for these reasons, Doctor, that I offer myself to you. I can see that you doubt, but I promise you, I have made a close study of your character in these last few minutes, and when you have had time to think it through you will be sure to accept.”
I stared, dumbstruck. The impudence! And yet… the acuity!
“On the understanding that this is the case,” the young man continued, “my question is this: how much can you pay me, and when would you like me to begin? From your expression I can see that the answer to both is a satisfactory one. I shall therefore see you on Monday. I require only a small desk; I will bring my own chair.”