37. Ambrosian Waste Disposal Squad

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Neither the next morning, nor the next few days after that did Lieutenant Ellingham put in an appearance. He did not write, he did not send a message through a friend, he did nothing. It was as though he had vanished from the face of the earth.

Lucky earth! In my opinion, her face was a lot prettier now.

I was still worrying about what exactly had happened to him, and especially if it was something from which he would return alive and in one piece. But with time, my worry eased. You can't worry too much about problems that apparently have disappeared by themselves when you have ones to deal with that are still very much present. And I had one of those every single day of the week from eight o'clock onwards.

If I had thought Mr Ambrose had been demanding and short with me before, he was reaching new heights now. He was pressuring me so hard, I was almost surprised I wasn't squashed and turned into Lilly-puree. From having me bring him single files, he went to have me bring him entire boxes, and let me tell you, those are heavy!

Did he have any helpful suggestions? Oh yes.

Mr Linton, start working on your musculature so you can carry several boxes at once. That would be far less time-consuming.

Mr Linton, walk faster.

Mr Linton, learn to open doors more quickly.

Mr Linton, I'm not paying you for tardiness! Get a move on!

I was absolutely sure now that me hearing him call me "lovely" had been my imagination. Maybe he had said "puffy". That seemed a far more likely explanation.

As time went by, I noticed that all the files I carried into his office dated from the same year as the one that had been hidden in his safe. Slowly, I realized: He was reading up on something. Preparing. Had Simmons spilled the beans yet, or the potatoes or artichokes, whatever secret vegetables he was hiding from Mr Ambrose?

Finally, I resolved to ask him about it. In person. This was actually possible now. The file boxes being too thick to be shoved under a closed door, the connecting door between his and my office was open all the time now.

I knocked.

"Yes. What do you want?"

The customary friendly greeting. Oh, what a joy it was to have a kind and warm-hearted employer.

I entered.

"Mr Ambrose, I was just wondering..."

He listened to my question and took his watch out as he did so. When I was finished, he stated:

"You have just wasted 31 seconds of my valuable time with unnecessary speech, Mr Linton. Simmons has divulged nothing yet. Now bring me the file box I asked for."

"But what's the sense in keeping to question Simmons?" I persisted. "It's been days since the theft. Whoever has it must long have made use of the information it contained."

Which you still haven't deigned to share with me...

Mr Ambrose dark eyes flashed menacingly.

"Do you think I am a half-wit, Mr Linton? I'm sure they would have made use of it, if they could. However, the information is heavily encrypted. We have some time left yet."

"Encrypted? You mean... you invented your own secret language?"

"It is normally referred to as a 'code' by specialists of cryptology, but yes, a secret language, if you wish to put it that way."

I looked down on the files at the desk. "Do you do this for all your papers?" I asked, knowing the answer.

"No. The file was a... special case. Now get me the file box I want!"

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