I like it quiet. Very quiet.
I find noise, especially the kind spouting out of the mouths of lesser minds, unimaginably irritating and contributes little to mankind’s precarious future.
So obviously, and with very few exceptions, I don’t like people. They’re a vastly overrated, self-indulgent species constitutionally driven to excess and self-interest.
And my ankles were itching. Usually a sign of oncoming danger or swarms of pigeons were approaching. The doorbell rang. I didn’t want to get up. It was too much of a commitment for so early on this dreary October morning.
I remembered my appointment with Lieutenant Christopher McClellan, the bulky balding head of British Ultra Intelligence Service, also referred to as Ultra, or Martha. And sometimes Uncle Sydney.
Voices from another world as Levlin, my butler, let McClellan in. He’s a good cop. Smart. Clever. Droll. Patient. And has a record of being involved in more convictions than arrests. I meant to ask him how that math works but usually forget.
A culture aficionado, he was on the board of the Tate Modern and the Royal Opera House and as a rabid foodie it was rumored he had more influence over the menu at Harrods than I did.
I got up and greeted him warmly. “Yes, yes, McClellan, please come in, take off that cumbersome coat, and take a seat over there,” I said pointing to the furthest spot in the solarium of my modestly palatial four-story Knightsbridge townhouse, “and tell me what your problem is and why I should help you rather than continuing to indulge myself in a life of quiet rectitude and reflection.”
Christopher McClellan knew my past and grasped the rationale for my current state. I trusted him in spite of the fact that he knew I had once been the greatest assassin in Europe, and in much of Northern California. Once, meaning not long ago.
“Sir Martin Hamlish of the South African Hamlishes has been murdered. Yesterday, in his St. Alban’s retreat an hour north of London. Two 9mm gunshot wounds to the back of his head, a serrated, first-issue, MI6 combat knife wound in his gut, and evidence of repeated blunt force trauma on the left side of his head. There is some evidence the killer might also have used a garrote, but we can’t be certain this early in the investigation.”
“Could he have fallen out of bed?”
“Yes. Clever of you to see through the other wounds as diversions. The exact point I was going to bring up.”
The itching on my right ankle was growing painful. The complete files and faces of all the most likely potential suspects, 947 of them, flashed by in my mind. “Even retired, I’m very busy. I have two new cases to solve, and there is a very pretty brunette involved in one of them.”
“I see. If I had known there was a pretty brunette involved, I wouldn’t have come this far to distract you.”
“Yes. I appreciate that, but how could you have known?”
“I could have called first to make sure a pretty brunette wasn’t involved so I wouldn’t waste my and Uncle Sydney’s time.”
“She is deliciously curvy too.”
“Then I’ll be going, as your time is priceless and I prefer not to waste it.”
I paused, thoughtfully. Two cases weren’t exactly going to keep me busy, and my commitment to retiring was already wearing thin after a week. Three cases might. Four most definitely would be a worthy distraction, considering I usually solve even the most gruesome, opaque crimes lacking any credible evidence in less than a day. My record, which still stands in Reilly’s British Book of Remarkable Records, is twenty-four seconds.
“I’ll take it, assuming I can solve the crime by this afternoon.”
“Then you’re not retired? Excellent news. So, what I’ve heard about the scum of the city rising up like a swarming phoenix of evil now that you’re not on the side of the just and good is a falsehood?”
“Falsehoods are one of my specialties. Tools of the trade. They are immensely valuable in my line of work, as they are in yours.”
“But certainly you are the master of falsehoods?”
“I prefer to refer to myself as the prince of falsehoods.”
“I much prefer that title too. It has more authority. More embedded symbolism and a degree of savagery that does you justice.”