The Last Witness

The Last Witness by K. J. Parker Read Free Book Online

Book: The Last Witness by K. J. Parker Read Free Book Online
Authors: K. J. Parker
Moesia province, including the charcoal levy. But he dresses like trash and lives in a coal cellar. Beats me what he spends it all on.
    Fortunately he’d done no irreparable visible damage. I dusted myself off and limped the rest of the way as quickly as I could manage. I’m proud to say I was on time for my appointment, in spite of everything.
    * * *
    My victim was a fine-looking man, about forty years old, tall and broad-shouldered, with a farmer’s tan. He was reclining on a couch, with a silver goblet at his elbow and a plate of those minced-up fish nibbles in wafer-thin crispy pastry shells. He didn’t stand up when I entered the room, but there was a sort of involuntary movement which told me he’d considered it before deciding it wouldn’t be appropriate.
    The young man was wearing one of those fashionable silk robes; it was far too big for him and, in a moment of inspiration, I realised it was one of his father’s hand-me-downs. The old man was wearing quilted wool (in summer, dear God) with frayed cuffs and elbows. The rich, bless them.
    “This is the man I was telling you about,” the old man said. “It won’t take two minutes, and it doesn’t hurt.”
    My victim frowned beautifully. “And he won’t remember anything?”
    I cleared my throat, but the old man answered for me. “He remembers all right,” he said, “but he won’t say anything. And besides, look at him. Who’d believe him?”
    Uncalled for; I was wearing my good shirt, which fortunately hadn’t come to harm to anything like the same extent as I had. “I take my clients’ confidences very seriously,” I said. I don’t think anybody heard me.
    “Up to you,” my victim said. “It’s your risk, after all.”
    The young man pulled a miserable face, which got him a scowl from his father. “We might as well get on with it,” the old man said.
    My victim shrugged. “What do I do?”
    “Nothing,” the old man said. “Just sit there.”
    I knew exactly what to look for, so it was a nice, easy job, in and out; I confess, my mind wasn’t really on it, preoccupied as I was with the job I had to do on the old man and his son immediately afterwards, which would be much harder. I remembered to wipe the memory of the pain I’d caused him—he actually yelled out loud, with his eyes shut—and then straight on to do the old man and his son, while he was recovering from the shock.
    * * *
    By now you should have a pretty good idea of how I operate, so I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow; we can get a bit ahead of ourselves, to the point where I was shown out into the street (not the same one I’d come in by; the servants’ entrance opened onto the stable yard, which led to a long mews, which opened into a winding high-walled alley that led eventually to Haymarket). I was in a pretty good mood. I’d done a pretty spectacularly impressive job on the old man and his son, professionally speaking, one of the highlights of my career so far—if my profession had learned journals and more than one practitioner, I could have written it up in a paper and been invited to speak at seminars. I’d got out of there in one piece. And I had money. I had a draft on the Diocesan Loan from the old man, and an escrow note from my other customer which I was now clear to cash in; a vast amount of money, enough for a new beginning, a clean slate, the wherewithal to be born again, washed in the blood of the Invincible Sun. It made me smile to think I’d been beaten up only an hour earlier for a tenth of one per cent of what I now possessed. If there’d been a puddle in the alley, I’d have walked on its surface without wetting my boots.
    It was bleachingly hot in Haymarket, with the sunlight reflected off the broad white marble frontages. I walked up as far as the Stooping Victory, turned left into Palace Yard, called in at the Diocesan Loan, who settled my note without giving any indication that I was visible. Then down the steps opposite the Mercury

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