62. I Mash and Bend Myself

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"This is it?" I stared at the building down the road which Karim had pointed out, incredulously. "This is where the wealthiest men of the British Empire keeps a document that is so important he has killed people for it?"

"Second-wealthiest," Mr Ambrose commented, coolly. "I am the wealthiest man of the British Empire, not that reprehensible individual who calls himself a Lord."

"Oh, who cares!"

"I do."

Rolling my eyes, I turned to Karim, ignoring my employer. "This is it?"

With both hands, I gestured towards the house. It was a two-story brick-building, slightly slanted, with dark stains on the front wall. The noise of cheap piano music came from inside, and over the door hung a sign which designated the establishment to be The Plough and Anchor.

Karim simply shrugged. Lord, I just had it up to here with men who couldn't open their mouths to give me a straight answer!

Looking around again, I got a fuller impression of my surroundings. The place might not look like what I expected Lord Dalgliesh's fancy headquarters to look like, but it certainly seemed evil enough to be the lair of a Lord of the criminal underworld. The houses around us were dilapidated. Black smoke hung over the area, although none of it actually came from the houses' chimneys, which were cold empty. Washing-lines criss-crossed between the roofs, or at least I assumed they were washing lines. The things that hung from them didn't look much like clothes to me, but I didn't think anybody would bother hanging old rags up to dry.

In a doorway not too far down the street sat a thing figure, wrapped in just such rags. It didn't move. I shivered.

"Where are we?"

My voice wasn't nearly as forceful as before.

Mr Ambrose looked around, his eyes coolly assessing the neighbourhood. Nobody's eyes were better for cool assessment than his.

"Norfolk Street," he said finally, pointing to a dirty street sign I couldn't for the life of me decipher.

"Where's that, Sir? I've never heard of such a street before."

"It's only natural that you wouldn't have. It's near the docks – in the East End."

The East End.

Every child in London knew that name. The worst fear of every wealthy citizen of London was to get lost and end up right here: in the stinking, rotting liver of London, where all the refuse its heart didn't want to deal with was dumped until further notice. It was a labyrinth of small streets and dirty houses where poor people crowded together because they had no money to go anywhere else. They looked for work at the docks or at one of the numerous factories. The smoke, unending hard labour and poisonous food slowly killed them off, one by one.

And when they happened to stumble across some unlucky member of the upper classes in their home territory, they weren't shy about expressing their displeasure at these circumstances. Sometimes with the help of knifes and cudgels.

Shuddering, I took in my bleak surroundings once more, than looked back the way we had come. Maybe...

"Do you wish to return to Empire House?" Mr Ambrose asked, curtly. "Karim can drive you back, Mr Linton."

I hesitated. A scream sounded in the distance. It wasn't the kind of harmless little scream that came from a sleepwalker just having put his foot in a puddle of water, either. Wind howled through the street, driving the fog past us. It seemed thicker, here, somehow, than in the rest of the city. Darker. As if a thousand sinister things were hiding in its depth.

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