24. The Beauty and the Vegetables

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Following Mr Ambrose out of the safe, I saw that he had crossed my office and was standing at the connecting door to his own. He thrust it open and we followed him inside the large, bare and empty room.

A room which was no longer bare and empty. I had been mistaken, thinking that my office was the thief hunter HQ. It had just been a temporary space until things were set up in here.

People were standing all around: men with nondescript faces, in nondescript clothes. On the desk lay a gigantic map, larger than any I had seen before, even in the British Museum. It detailed not the world, but to judge from the web of jagged lines, some vast city in fine detail.

Immediately I knew what it had to be. A map of London. A map for the hunters.

What in heaven's name could have been stolen that Mr Ambrose was so desperate to discover? And why wouldn't he tell anyone what it was? Why wouldn't he tell me?

"Gather round." Mr Ambrose took up his position at the desk and gestured for Karim, Warren and me to do likewise. The two dozen or so men whom Warren had brought with him posted themselves at either entrance to the room.

Some of the men, including Warren, but excluding Mr Ambrose, took out cigars and lit them. Not used to the smell, I wrinkled my nose – but I would have to get used to this if I really intended to work among men.

"We have to come up with a strategy to track Simmons," Mr Ambrose said. "Suggestions, gentlemen."

And Ladies, I thought, but didn't say it. Instead, I said: "Well... maybe we should start by thinking about motive. Why did he steal the file?"

"Because he wanted it, obviously," said Mr Ambrose. "I should perhaps have clarified: Intelligent suggestions."

"That is not what I meant," I snapped. "I meant... what does the file contain? Why exactly did he want it for himself?"

"None of you are to know what the file contains, Mr Linton. Nor do I see that it is in any way necessary."

"It is necessary if we want to know where he will go next and what he will do," I persisted. God, he really had trust issues. "For example – if it simply is a folder containing banknotes, he'll just flee the city. If it is some important document, he might try to sell it. If it is a letter from one of your secret lady friends, he will try to blackmail you."

Mr Warren almost swallowed his cigar. Slowly, Mr Ambrose, who had been staring down at the table, looked up at me and fixed me with his cold gaze. I tried my best to meet his eyes without flinching.

"Well, I can guarantee you, Mr Linton, that it is not a letter from one of my secret lady friends. They would not waste their time writing letters to me they know I would not read."

Now it was my turn to stare. Was he being serious? Did he really have a secret lady friend, or God forbid, several? For heaven's sake, I had been trying to make a joke!

Perhaps not the best of ideas, where he was concerned.

"Well," I said as steadily as possible, "that leaves two of the possibilities I have outlined. Which is it?"

He remained silent.

"Just a general indication," I coaxed. "Come on. You have got to give us something."

Warren cleared his throat, taking this opportunity to rid himself of the bitten off pieces of his cigar that were still stuck there.

"I think I must agree with Mr Linton, Sir. Without any idea of what the document in question is, we have little hope of catching the thief."

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