84. Bifurcated

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I nearly had to run to keep up with Mr Ambrose as we passed through the dark streets of Chinatown. We circumvented number 97, always keeping a great distance between us and the wall. Not once did he or Karim slow down, his long legs swinging as regularly as a pendulum, the strange mottled cloak fluttering around his shoulders.

"Why... are we... in such a hurry?" I gasped, out of breath.

His voice as he answered was of course perfectly calm and collected. "Your unexpected appearance and the necessity for an explanation of our plans has cost us time. Time we do not have. The distraction for the guards is scheduled to occur in exactly..." Fishing his watch out of his pocket, he let it snap open. For a moment, I saw the coat of arms on the lid shining in the moonlight. "...six minutes and thirty-seven seconds."

"What is this distraction?" I panted.

"Wait and see."

Apparently, he was not in a talkative mood. What a great surprise.

By the time we stopped behind a cart parked on the side of the street that ran along the eastern side of number 97, my lungs felt fit to burst. I leaned against the cart, and for the next few minutes concentrated fully on getting my breathing under control again. I really had to find some way of building up my stamina if this sort of thing would come up regularly in this job.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Mr Ambrose glancing around the cart. My lungs feeling normal enough by now to allow some movement, I followed his example and saw the bright red figures of Presidency Army soldiers, parading on the walls. Decoys only, as I now knew. The real guards were hiding in the shadows.

"We can thank God this cart is standing here," I whispered. "Or else we would be clearly visible—perfect target practise for Lord Dalgliesh's personal team of pheasant hunters."

"Thank me instead of God," Mr Ambrose told me without taking his eyes off the roof of number 97. "I had one of my men park the cart here this morning."

"Hm." It had been a clever idea. But if he expected a compliment from me, he would have to wait for a long time. Besides, I was much too interested in something else. "What is this mysterious distraction you keep not talking about? How will it direct the attention of Lord Dalgliesh's guards away from us?"

Retreating behind the cart again, he let his watch snap open a second time.

"You shall find out in exactly two minutes and fourteen seconds, Mr Linton."

"Why not tell me now? Are you absolutely sure it will get the attention of all the guards?" I persisted. "I'm not anxious to get my head perforated, you know. What if your distraction isn't distracting enough?"

"I am certain that they will not have eyes – or ears for that matter – for anything else. We will have about a minute before they focus their attention back on the street again."

Once more, I opened my mouth to ask what was going to happen. But before I could speak, he pointed around the cart towards the corner of number 97's outer wall.

"When the distraction occurs, we will head for the corner, understand? I suspect that the gunmen aren't actually sitting on the roof. More likely, they are looking out through dormers or even lifted roofing tiles. This will mean they will have a blind spot at the corner, where the sides of the roof meet. Once we are across the street and at the wall, they should not be able to see us, and won't shoot."

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