The Devil's Breath

The Devil's Breath by Graham Hurley Read Free Book Online

Book: The Devil's Breath by Graham Hurley Read Free Book Online
Authors: Graham Hurley
for the company on the sixty-fifth floor and found it almost at once. Impex (Beirut), it read. It looked new, cleaner than the rest, handsome lettering, white on blue.
    Minutes later, calmer now, he sat in a corner office on the sixty-fifth floor stirring tiny pellets of saccharine into a cup of black coffee. Until now, he’d never tasted saccharine in his life, never dreamed that so much sweetness could come from such a tiny thing. It was an astonishment to him, a real discovery, one of the thousands of toys with which this strange, rich, eager society had overwhelmed him. Saccharine. Sweeteners. One hundred and fifty in a box, and less than a dollar fifty.
    The man across the desk, Mr Aramoun, finished writing on the pad before him. He looked up, pocketing the pen. The two men had already shaken hands, a light, dry touch, a scent of after-shave, the smell of lemons. He spoke in Arabic, with a Lebanese accent. He smiled. ‘You like New York?’
    ‘Very much.’
    Mr Aramoun looked at him, the smile widening. ‘Not like Ramallah, eh?’
    ‘No.’
    Mr Aramoun eased back in the chair, turning it slightly, favouring the long chasm of 18th Street with a slightly proprietorial glance, the busy, successful New Yorker with the city at his feet. ‘Very hot today. Stinking hot. Horrible month, August …’
    The old man nodded, aware already of the role in which he had been cast, the recently arrived immigrant, one of the stateless brothers, the
dafawim
, orphans from the West Bank, victims of the Zionist storm, derided by Arabs and Israelis alike. Trash, thought the old man. He thinks I’m trash, just like theboy back in New Jersey thinks. He thinks I’m good for the janitor’s job, good with the plumbing and the cable runs and mopping up the office spills. But not much else.
    The old man put his hands together in his lap, aware of how big they were, how clumsy they must look in this huge office with its wall-to-wall carpet and its big pictures and its low crescent of padded leather sofa. Mr Aramoun bent briefly to a form on the desk, reaching for his pen again. Looking at the form, screwing up his eyes, the old man could just recognize his own writing.
    ‘You’ve been here three months?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘You have a place to live?’
    ‘Yes. In Newark.’
    ‘Good place? Comfortable?’
    The old man nodded, eager to please, thinking of the corner tenement, the plastic bags of refuse on the street outside, savaged by the neighbourhood cats, the endless flights of broken stairs, the smell of the place.
    ‘It’s fine,’ he said. ‘It’s all I need.’
    ‘And you plan to stay around? Put in some time with us?’
    ‘Yes.’ The old man did his best to smile. ‘Yes, of course.’
    Mr Aramoun nodded, making notes on the pad. The pen paused. He looked up. ‘We have the whole floor here. That’s twenty-three offices. We may expand some more. There’s the place to be kept clean, there’s help with security, there’s help in the mail-room, there’s help for the folk who take care of the catering operation, coffees, teas, all kinds of beverage.’ He leaned forward. ‘You think you can handle that?’
    ‘Yes.’
    Mr Aramoun nodded slowly. The old man waited. This was where the interview would lead. Ask about the money, they’d said. Complain a little. Haggle. He’ll want you for nothing, so do it the New York way. Show him what you’ve learned in your three brief months. Don’t make it too easy for him.
    The old man coughed, already embarrassed. ‘The money …’ he began.
    Mr Aramoun lifted a finger, cutting him short. ‘It’s low,’ he said quickly, ‘very low. I know that. But do a good job for us, and it’ll get better …’ He smiled. ‘Much better.’
    He got up and held out his hand, and the old man looked up at him, blinking, ready with his little speech, realizing suddenly that the interview was over, and the job was his, and his coffee was only half-finished.
    The old man got up and shook the

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