20. Threats and Secrets

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The moment I saw him I knew I had been wrong. Wrong about two things, to be exact:

Firstly, the missing file box was important.

And secondly, seeing his profile might actually be worth losing your job over.

There he stood: a lean figure, his arms crossed tightly in front of his chest, revealing taut muscles in his upper arms. In his black tailcoat, trousers and shirt he looked like some menacing manifestation of the night, come to banish the day before it was time. The fact that he had a face that seemed to have been cut from a mountain by some ancient master didn't hurt either. I was paralysed in my chair – not with fear exactly. No, certainly not! I would never be afraid! Rather with... oh, I didn't know! Whatever it was, I had to get a grip, and fast!

"Mr Linton." His voice was just as I remembered it. Cold and clipped. He nodded at me, but before I could even open my mouth or think of a reply, he had marched past me. I stared after him until he vanished between the shelves at the other end of my office.

Mister Linton? Mister Linton? So he was still going to keep that up, even now he was forced to talk to me again?

My paralysis suddenly lifted, and I jumped to my feet. I'd show him! I'd show that son of a bachelor!

With three quick steps I was between the shelves. There was no sign of him there, but the door to the safe still stood open. He was in there.

For one moment I was tempted to shove the door closed and lock it – but no. If I ever did choke him, I wanted my hands around his throat. Letting him suffocate in an airtight safe was much too impersonal.

Taking a deep, relaxing breath, I stepped in after him – and stopped in my tracks.

The inside of the safe room was a mess. Files were scattered everywhere on the floor. Standing before the shelves containing the boxes, Mr Ambrose was thoroughly busy dismantling and examining every part of every file box he could find, and once he was done with them, throwing them over his shoulder onto the floor. He was like a ravenous animal burrowing through the carcass of a deer. The only difference was: while a ravenous animal might have found what it needed to still its hunger in a carcass, he appeared to come up blank.

"It must be here," he muttered. "It must be!"

"What must be here?" I asked. He completely ignored me. By Jove,[1] what a surprise!

Why did I even bother to ask? I knew what he was looking for, didn't I? File S39XX300. But what was so bloody important about that file?

"It must be here. It must be." He didn't say it angrily as such – but the determination in his words was like iron. Hundreds of files, which before had been in impeccable order, now lay scattered all over the metal floor of the safe, and still he continued his wild hunt.

I stood mute at the door and watched him. Even I had known how to help, I wouldn't have dared get in his way. It took him about half an hour to turn the orderly file boxes into a monumental mess. Finally, the very last file was in his hand. He looked at the number, and let it drop to the floor with a clatter.

He stood like that for a moment, rock-still.

Then he whirled around. The look in his dark eyes made me retreat a step.

"You!" he hissed, coldly. He didn't say anything more. He didn't need too. I knew it was an accusation. My breathing sped up.

Dear God! He suspected me of stealing the file! Me! Sweet little me!

What was he going to do? Call the police? Looking into his eyes, somehow I doubted that. I remembered Karim, and the huge sabre, and my heart sped up some more.

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