Chapter 31: Mr. Partridge

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The man doffed his beret and looked around, blinking. He was tall and thin with sunken cheeks and a sharp nose. His watery blue eyes glinted behind small, gold-wire spectacles. He was young, younger than Mr. Kincaid, and nearly bald, his hair cut short against his scalp where it still sprouted softly like gray and black moss.

"Good evening, Agata and, er, Agata's friend," he said. "I'm Niles Partridge, your father's assistant." He spoke with a soft British accent.

Turtle and Agata looked at him, startled. Agata turned to see if a train was coming, but the station was quiet. They were trapped. After Mr. Kincaid and his friends, there was no way they would trust another stranger.

"If you're his assistant, why don't I know you?" asked Agata.

"Your father and I worked in London together. He would visit me during the day. I kept copies of his research, out of sight. I'm a former student of his from Cambridge. May 12 will be the third anniversary of my employment—if I recall correctly. I never met you or your mother. He said it would be safer that way."

"Yeah sure," said Turtle. He balled his fists, ready to fight. "You're with Mr. Kincaid."

"I'm not. I don't know a Mr. Kincaid but if he's with Goode then I'm sorry you had to meet him. I'm also sorry that you got mixed up in this. I've just been to your home and seen the damage ... and found the directions. I was supposed to help your father and

mother if it ever came to this, and it seems you've beaten me to it." "How do we know that?" asked Agata. "You've never been to

our house."

"I have been upstairs when you weren't home. I'd come in from

the Piccadilly Circus station near my apartment and meet your father in his study. I know I can't prove it, but I know a lot about you. I gave your father the train lamp that you have in your room. I know he loves you very much and carries a picture of you as a baby in his wallet. I know your father calls you his heaven. Mi cielo."

Agata shivered. Turtle looked over at her and she nodded slightly.

Turtle looked at her, confused. "So what do you want?"

"Your father," Mr. Partridge said to Agata, "my friend, told me that if anything happened to him, I was to keep an eye on these Keys but he didn't tell me where they were. I followed you here after those men lost you. He built this place as a sort of storage space for the Conductor's Keys and kept the secret from me. He is the one who made the wall outside and the letter A from bricks. I'm glad you found your way. I'm very impressed. I was worried you'd be lost. "

"Why the code? Why do that?" asked Turtle.

"We created the code to hide the locations of stations in various cities. It's fairly simple—we just used the country as a key—but it worked. I told him we should have used computers more, but he was always afraid of hackers. Now that this has happened, I'm glad we did it his way and not mine. Do you still have the other half of the key?"

"The necklace? No, Mr. Kincaid took it," said Agata.

"Oh dear. A bother. I trust you've found your way around the Mytro well enough with his maps? They're very thorough."

"411 also helped us," said Agata. "He's waiting for us." "411?" asked Mr. Partridge.

"A Nayzun," she said.

Mr. Partridge nearly sank to his knees.

"Oh dear," he squeaked. "I see."

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