23. Little Ifrit

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All right, so I did it. So what? He was my employer, after all, and he could order me to do anything he wanted. The fact that I was fuming and fantasized about choking him didn't really count as an excuse to shirk my duties.

By the light of the small gas lamp Mr Ambrose had given me, I started to sort files.

Soon, I found that while the work itself was deathly boring, being positioned in the safe room had unsuspected advantages. Once I had pushed open the door, which Mr Ambrose had shut, I could hear everything that was going on in my office – which was quite a lot, let me tell you.

There was a knock on the door.

"Enter," Mr Ambrose's curt voice called.

"Mr Ambrose? Good morning, Sir," a quiet, respectful voice said in answer. Several pairs of feet shuffled into my office. Apparently, it had been selected as official HQ for the thief hunt. "I came as soon as you called. What is the matter? Karim didn't say."

"Warren." No "good morning" from Mr Stoneface Ambrose of course, and certainly no "How nice to see you." He got right to the point. "Have you seen Simmons?"

"Simmons, Sir? I thought you gave me to understand that he suddenly gave up his post."

"He did. And he took something of mine along with him, it appears."

There was a short, heavy silence. It wasn't hard for me to imagine the merciless ice in Mr Ambrose eyes right then. Just from the feel of the air I got the impression that the people in my office experienced a twinge of pity for Simmons.

"I see. What can we do, Sir?"

"First answer my question, Warren. Have you seen him since he left?"

"No, Sir."

"Has he come back to pick up his belongings?"

"I can send someone and check, Sir."

"Do that. Now."

Footsteps hurried off. There were a few more minutes of silence, which nobody made even the slightest attempt to fill. Apparently, Mr Ambrose didn't think much of small talk. What a surprise.

The moment the footsteps returned, he asked: "And?"

"His things are gone," said a third voice. "I asked Mr Garfield down at the lockers, and he said that Simmons took them with him on the same day he disappeared."

"That settles it," declared Mr Ambrose. "He's the thief. He has been planning this."

"It appears so, Sir," agreed the man called Warren. "May I ask what was stolen?"

"No."

What was this? No? Just like that? No? Mr Ambrose didn't even trust his own people? Well, I shouldn't be surprised that I was stuck in here sorting files then, instead of being out there where the real work was being done.

"You are looking for a folder with the inscription 'S39XX300'," Mr Ambrose told them, icily. "That is all you need to know."

"Yes, Mr Ambrose Sir."

"First you will search this office. I have some urgent business and will leave you to it. If you have any questions, ask Karim."

"Yes, Sir."

His footsteps receded, and the noises from the other room indicated that Mr Warren and his cronies had begun their search. I returned my attention to my work.

Quite a good idea, it appeared: I had been so distracted that I hadn't noticed I had tried to stuff a bunch of files into the open mouth of some wooden African totem. Hurriedly I removed them and started looking for their proper container.

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