The Door That Led to Where (6 page)

BOOK: The Door That Led to Where
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Chapter Twelve

AJ felt grubby and decided he would have a wash and shave before he went to work. It was a choice between two evils: he turned up for work on time looking like a scruffball or he turned up for work late, washed and shaved. Either way Morton's disapproval would fall on him like a ton of bricks.

‘Where've you been?' said Leon.

‘Out,' said AJ as he walked into the lounge of Leon's flat. Dr Jinx was sitting surrounded by beer cans and empty pizza cartons. He looked as if he had been gradually simmering into the sofa over a long period of time. As far as AJ was concerned Jinx was the rat of the neighbourhood. A rat with a Glaswegian accent so thick that you could cut off its tail with a carving knife. Both his cheeks were tattooed with skulls, his eyebrows, nose and upper lip were all pierced. Since he'd become a father seven years before, he had started to take his business a tad more seriously and these days he dressed with attitude to show the punters he was doing all right: a red tartan suit with drainpipe trousers, a small pork pie hat on the top of his spiky, green-dyed hair.

‘I am unforgettable,' he would say. ‘So unforgettable that no one can remember me.'

AJ didn't like Dr Jinx one little bit.

‘What‘s he doing here, bro?' he asked Leon.

‘Now that's not a nice way to talk about Dr Jinx, is it, wee man?'

‘Do you deserve nice? I don‘t think so,' said AJ. ‘I can‘t imagine that nice and you have ever met.'

‘Wee cocky bastard. You‘d better watch that tongue of yours, laddie. Now piss off. I have business with Leon.' His words drifted away in a long exhale of smoke. He stubbed out his fag on a half-eaten pizza. ‘Been to a fancy dress party? You look a right plonker.'

He stood up to leave and Leon followed him into the hall. AJ heard Dr Jinx say, ‘Don't let me down. Six at Blues.'

Blues was a billiards club that none of them had ever bothered with. It was where all trouble started.

‘What are you up to?' asked AJ when Leon came back into the lounge.

‘Making a living, bro,' said Leon, flopping down into a chair. ‘Paying the rent, that kind of shit.'

‘I said I'd help.'

‘Yeah. But I want more, bro.'

‘Don't we all,' said AJ. He moved the pizza cartons and opened the window to let out the stink of Jinx's cheap aftershave.

‘You know that's your mum's dealer – the one who sold her the smack in the first place. What are you doing?'

‘Shut it. You sound like a nagging girl. I do my stuff, you do yours. Live and let live, OK?' said Leon. ‘Anyway, why are you dressed like that? You escaped from some TV drama?'

AJ had been so surprised to find himself on the other side of the door that he hadn‘t given a thought to what he was wearing. He'd made his way out of the car park back to Mount Pleasant, clutching his second-hand suit and brogues, where he'd caught a bus back to Stokey. He'd sat on the top, huddled in the corner at the front, and, staring blankly out of the window, thought about the young girl and the dying man.

AJ felt for the key, checked that he still had the snuffbox, and decided that, come the weekend, he'd go back and have a recce by himself.

‘So where have you been?' asked Leon. ‘And where did you find those clothes?'

‘You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Tea?' said AJ, going into the kitchen and putting on the kettle.

Leon followed him.

‘Have you seem Slim?' he asked.

‘No. Why?'

‘He came round last night. Said he was in
lo-ove
and his girl
lo-oved
him so much that she wanted him to give up skateboarding.'

AJ found two cups without mould growing in the bottom and put the tea bags in them.

‘Has to be black,' he said. ‘The milk's off.'

‘Whatever,' said Leon.

‘Who is she?' asked AJ.

‘Sicknote.'

‘What?' said AJ. ‘You are joking, man. Sicknote? No, she'll use him and abuse him.'

‘I know that, you know that. The only person who doesn't know it is Slim. She's Moses' girl. Slim doesn't want to go crossing Moses. Moses will eat him for breakfast and Sicknote won't give a monkeys. Didn't he text you?'

AJ took his mobile out of his pocket and saw he had one missed call and two texts. He also saw the time – it was nearly nine-thirty.

‘Bollocks. I should have been in work an hour ago.'

One text was from Slim, the other from work; the call was from his mum.

He read the text from Morton.

‘You are not needed in chambers until ten o'clock.'

There was still time. He might just make it without being too late. He rushed into the bathroom to shave and brush his teeth. In his bedroom he pulled his office suit over the cambric shirt and waistcoat and put the key in the pocket of his jacket.

‘Forget Dr Jinx,' he said, poking his head round the lounge door. ‘He's nothing but trouble. Here, see if you can do something with this.'

He threw Leon the snuffbox .

‘Sweet,' said Leon, examining it. ‘Where did you get it?'

‘Later,' shouted AJ as he closed the front door behind him.

The voicemail from his mum was typical. He couldn't just walk out on her like that. She needed his rent whether he was there or not. The message ended with, ‘Frank says so.'

The text from Slim was a mess. He had changed his Facebook page to say that he and Sicknote were an item.

If his two best friends had been looking for trouble they had been unbelievably successful in finding it.

It was ten past ten when he arrived at Raymond Buildings. A half-exposed photograph of another century overlayed Gray's Inn.

‘Late!' shouted Morton from the clerk's office.

‘Sorry,' said AJ. ‘The bus  … '

‘Don't let it happen again.'

‘It won't.'

‘Good. Detective Poilaine wants to see you.'

‘Why?' said AJ, feeling as if he was wading into a sea of panic and would probably drown there.

‘The hospital tests confirmed that Mr Baldwin was poisoned. Everyone in chambers has been interviewed except you. Just answer the questions, then you'll be going back to the Old Bailey. Ms Finch wants you, she – what are you wearing, Mr Jobey? It is an eccentric look and one not altogether suitable for a baby clerk in these chambers. And where is your tie?'

Detective Poilaine wore a sharp grey suit, high heels and had a turned-up nose. She didn't look as if she belonged in the police at all. The interview took place in the Museum and AJ feared that at any moment the files would start talking of their own accord and he would be busted. He just hoped that he wouldn't have to tell too many lies. Fortunately, he was able to say truthfully that he'd last seen Mr Baldwin on Friday morning. It was the longest ten minutes of his life.

‘Interesting waistcoat, Mr Jobey,' said the detective as he left the room.

Morton handed him a file.

‘There's a taxi downstairs waiting to take you to the Old Bailey. Give this to Ms Finch immediately.'

AJ was out of Raymond Buildings as fast as a dog from a trap. In the back of the cab, trying to catch his breath, he wondered if he should have told the truth. What truth? He would have thought he'd dreamed the whole thing if it wasn't for the waistcoat and shirt he was wearing. When he thought about it, daydreaming had been a big problem at school. It did him no favours, so his teacher had told him.

‘You can't let dreams rule your life,' she'd said.

He'd answered back, which was never wise.

‘Reality sucks.'

He'd spent the rest of the class standing in the corridor.

His mobile rang. It was Slim.

‘Hi, bro,' said Slim. ‘Where are you?'

‘Working. Where are you?'

‘In Topshop, waiting for my girl. I'm buying her a party dress.'

‘Slim, man, what are you doing? Sicknote is nothing but trouble and Moses will kill you if he finds out you are with his girl.'

‘She broke up with him. This is serious.'

‘Yeah, seriously unwise.'

It was then that AJ saw that a photo had fallen from the file.

‘Have to go,' said AJ, reaching down to pick it up. ‘Look, I'll call you later, all right?'

AJ blinked. He was tired, he was imagining things, it was all too much. His two best friends were losing the plot and he had lied to the police. Life felt like a road accident. He looked again at the photo. Apart from the clothes, the only difference between the man in the photo and the dying man he had seen that morning was that the man in the photo looked well. He turned it over. On the back was written ‘Samuel Dalton, April 2008'.

Chapter Thirteen

It struck AJ as he got out of the cab that he was in a very sticky place. Six weeks ago he was just another sixteen-year-old who had failed his exams and was about to join the long list of the unemployable. By a fluke he'd been given a job and with it had come a pile up of unanswered question. And a house with a front door.

‘Aiden,' said Ms Finch. ‘The file?'

He had been so wrapped in his thoughts that he hadn't noticed her standing by the entrance to the Old Bailey.

‘Yes,' he said, handing it over. ‘Here.'

‘Thank you,' she said. ‘Not that it's needed now. Mr Purcell was taken ill last night. The case has been adjourned for two weeks. Coffee?'

A croissant and a hot chocolate with whipped cream helped to fill the gargantuan hole in AJ's stomach.

‘How did Mr Purcell know the man in the photograph, Samuel Dalton?' asked AJ, licking the cream off his spoon.

‘He claims that Samuel Dalton and he were business partners, but unfortunately for our client we have been unable to trace any record of the existence of this Samuel Dalton. Mr Purcell insists that he knew Mr Dalton, hence the photo, which was taken outside his flat. He also insists that he saw documentation showing the snuffboxes were genuine. Unfortunately, according to Mr Purcell, those documents are with Samuel Dalton. We go round and round in circles.' Ms Finch sighed. ‘Mr Baldwin said he wasn't worried about the documentation. He said that he would have it by the end of this week. Now he is in hospital and we have a missing witness and a hell of a lot of unexplained original eighteenth-century snuffboxes. So where does it all lead us?'

‘I would say,' said AJ, ‘up shit creek.'

It was five o'clock when Morton asked to see AJ in his office. Once again AJ's stomach started its unhelpful roller-coaster ride. He was sure that Detective Poilaine had spotted a lie and Morton was going to say he should tell the truth if he wanted to keep his job. He even thought that the key in his pocket might be obvious and Morton had sussed out that he had it. Thinking through all the possible ramifications, he was completely unprepared for what Morton did have to say.

‘Do you get on well with Mr Baldwin?'

AJ was puzzled.

‘I make him his coffee, that's all.'

Morton wrote something on his notepad, tore out the page and handed it to AJ.

‘Room 27, The London Clinic.'

‘What's this?' asked AJ.

‘It's where Mr Baldwin is being treated and, strange as it may seem – and believe me it seems strange to me – he has asked to see you. So you are to take a taxi and go there now. That's all.'

‘Do I take flowers?'

‘No,' said Morton.

‘Mr Jobey,' said a nurse. ‘You may go in.'

Mr Baldwin was in intensive care in a smallish room that you weren't allowed in until you had washed your hands and were wearing a plastic apron. This and the morning visit to Samuel Dalton couldn't have been at further ends of two worlds. To AJ, both felt as unreal as the other. The cold light and the endless blip-bleep of the monitors had more life in them than the patient. The place was as hot as a lizards' aquarium. Mr Baldwin was tubed and wired, his mouth covered in a plastic mask. Two nurses were reading charts and checking the monitors. For all that, his condition looked not unlike Mr Dalton's.

AJ had never visited anyone in hospital before and had no idea what he was supposed to do. He stood awkwardly at the end of the bed.

‘Hello, Mr Baldwin. You sent for me.'

The QC's eyes were closed and he didn't appear to be up for any profound conversation.

‘Why don't you sit down,' said a nurse kindly.

AJ did and a tidal wave of tiredness overtook him. He hadn't slept in so long and the atmosphere in the room wasn't exactly conducive to being alert. He must have nodded off, but he woke with a start as soon as he heard his name. The mask that had been on Mr Baldwin's face had been taken off.

‘You have five minutes and no longer, Mr Baldwin,' said the nurse, looking anxiously at her patient.

Mr Baldwin waved her away.

‘Listen to me and listen carefully,' he said to AJ, his tight words held together by a lack of emotion. ‘This is important. The documentation that authenticates the snuffboxes in the Purcell case is at Samuel Dalton's house in Clerkenwell. Do you know where that is?'

Lying seemed pointless. AJ nodded.

‘I take it Ingleby found you?'

AJ nodded again.

Baldwin's tongue flicked in and out of his mouth.

‘It is imperative that you find the papers and give them to Ms Finch. They are vital to the defence of our client. Do you understand?'

‘Yes, sir,' said AJ.

‘Good. I am fighting this sickness and I will win. I am not going to die, Aiden – neither am I going to lose the case or my reputation.' A hand with a drip attached to it grabbed hold of AJ's arm with unexpected strength. ‘Have you locked the door?'

‘No, sir.'

‘So you have the key, then. Whatever you do, do not lock the door. When you've found the papers you will return the key to me. And you will mention it to no one, no one. It will be our secret and I will take the matter of your stealing it no further. Your job – your future – will be secure. Do I make myself clear?'

AJ nodded.

Baldwin closed his eyes.

The nurse came back and fitted the mask over the lawyer's mouth. The visit was over.

Outside, the toxic fumes of Marylebone Road smelled good and AJ took deep gulps. Everything had gone tits up. Perhaps the professor would be able to put him straight about a few things. He should be at the café at Rosebery Avenue by now.

AJ fell asleep on the bus. His phone woke him up and he was relieved to see Slim's familiar number. The sky exploded with rockets trailing stars of light. AJ had forgotten it was Guy Fawkes' Night.

‘Where are you?' Slim said.

‘On my way back from work. What's up? Is everything all right?'

There was silence at the other end. Another firework roared into the sky.

‘Slim,' said AJ. ‘Is it Moses?'

‘No, nothing like that. Look my phone is about to crash. I've something to  … '

Slim's phone died. AJ tried to call him back but couldn't get through. By the time he had arrived at Mount Pleasant he had put Slim's call out of his mind.

AJ found the café the professor had taken him to. He had the change from the taxi fare and he went in, sat down at a table by the window, and used it to fund a feast.

‘May I join you?'

‘Bloody hell! Where did you spring from?' said AJ.

‘A nice waistcoat and a shirt of the finest cambric,' said the professor, sitting down. ‘Have your wages gone up, AJ?'

‘No.'

‘Then you now know the answer to the riddle of my pocket watch.'

AJ drank his tea.

‘I now have several riddles, all of which have one thing in common: a key. It seems that I have the only key to a door, and I am the only person who can lock it but at this moment it's open to anyone who knows about it. Mr Baldwin said that unless I return the key to him he is going to bust me, and Mr Stone with four eyes said I must lock the door and post the key back.'

The professor interrupted him.

‘But you haven't, have you, AJ?'

‘Haven't what?'

‘Haven't locked the door and posted the key through the letterbox?'

The professor's eyes never left AJ's.

‘No. I still have it on me.'

The professor sighed.

‘I am glad to hear that. Another pot of tea, please,' he called to the man behind the counter.

‘Coming up, professor.'

‘Now, tell me slowly and precisely what has happened and where you have been.'

AJ told him about meeting Ingleby and Stone, and being taken to Samuel Dalton's house, and about his recent interview with Mr Baldwin.

‘I tell you, some weird shit is going on. Now I don't know who to trust or even how many people know about the door. This is far more complicated than anything Beanstalk Jack ever had to deal with.'

At that moment AJ's phone rang. It was Slim.

‘Hi, bro. Phone ran out of juice.'

‘Later,' said AJ.

‘No,' said Slim. ‘This is important. You need to come back.'

‘Why? I'm busy.'

There was a pause and for a moment AJ thought Slim's phone was dropping out again. He could hardly hear him for the whizz-bangs. One lone spectacular wheel illuminated the sky with falling diamonds.

‘Because,' said Slim, ‘Leon's mum is dead.'

BOOK: The Door That Led to Where
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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