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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Lord Jeffrey

«Slave of Sarma», Jeffrey Lord

Chapter One

It had been misting all day and, as London's lights began to go on early, a dark brown fog crept in from the Thames. Pavements were shiny and treacherous, slimed by fallen leaves. Fog horns on the river were raucous and surly, their mood matched by that of millions of Londoners as they began the vespertine shove into tube and train and car. A dour day, in all, with Indian summer gone and the drear of winter upcoming.

At 391/2 Prince's Gate, Kensington, the mood was no less dour.

The house was tall and narrow, of early Victorian vintage. It had been in Lord Leighton's family since he could remember. But because it was at times rented, at times idle, His" Lordship was inclined, until reminded by his agents, to forget that he owned it. The district was no longer fashionable - a matter of little concern to Lord L, who was not very fashionable himself - and it was J who had seen the possibilities. J ran the affairs of MI6A, a most special branch of the Special Branch. J was also immediate superior to Richard Blade, who at the moment was at his cottage in Dorset and, with another foray into Dimension X coming up, was not alone.

J was not thinking of Blade. He sat by a glowing coal fire, a glass of scotch and soda balanced on one impeccably clad knee, and watched the two men duel. J's money was on Lord Leighton, but he had to admit that the Right Honorable Hubert Carrandish was no mean opponent. Carrandish was a Member of Parliament from the West Riding area in Yorkshire, and he reminded J of a well-dressed and articulate rodent. J, a fair man, did not go so far as to equate the MP with a rat; there were, after all, other species of rodent. As he listened, keeping out of the battle, J felt himself becoming increasingly liverish. What the Yanks called an upset stomach. This Carrandish, with his broad Yorkshire speech - surely an affectation, because the man was Oxford - was dangerous. Not in himself, perhaps, but in what he represented. Snooping.

The Right Honorable gentlemen was chairman of a committee. A House of Commons committee set up expressly to scrimp and save and cut corners and, in effect, to halt waste and preserve the Queen's Purse. He was very good at his job.

Now he said, "I have a great deal of authority, Your Lordship, and more than adequate funds and personnel. I pride myself that I work hard. I have been nearly a year on this job. I have had, I think, more than a little success in ferreting out waste and extravagance in government."

Lord L dumped cigar ash on the carpet and stared at the man with yellow bloodshot eyes. Never a patient man, and not taking to fools, so far he had been patient. J knew why. This Carrandish was no fool.

"What you manage to save," Lord L said, "will just about pay for the cost of saving it, eh? That's been my experience. You chaps organize your bloody committees to investigate other committees and the end result is that in the end nothing is saved. Or accomplished. Time and money spent and nothing to show for it, eh?"

J smiled at the fire. Lord L was trying to lay a false trail.

The MP from Yorkshire was having none of it. He was not a drinking man, or a smoking man - possibly because both cost money which could be better spent - and now he pushed away his untouched glass and an empty ashtray and leaned over the table toward His Lordship. He clasped his long bloodless fingers and his eyes, fairly close to a long nose, glinted at the old man in the ragbag suit.

"None of that, sir, is relevant. As you must know. This interview was arranged, with your very gracious permission, so that we might speak in private and without public record. I came, in fact, to ask you one specific question."

Lord Leighton brushed a wisp of white hair away from his high balding forehead. He sat a little sideways in the tall-backed chair - this eased the eternal pain in his hump - and his leonine eyes studied his inquisitor with a mingle of wariness and contempt.

J felt a moment of compassion. This was his work, really, not Lord L's. Yet he could not intervene, even if circumstances had allowed it. Lord L had warned J, in no uncertain terms, to butt out!

"Then," said Lord Leighton, sounding like a much-tried and very patient lion, "get on with it, man. Ask your bloody damned question and get it over with."

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