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Authors: Nick Harkaway

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Edie Investigates

BOOK: Edie Investigates
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The Gone-Away World


There has been a strange death in the quiet village of Shrewton: old Donny Caspian has lost his head. In the Copper Kettle tea rooms, Tom Rice, a junior nobody from the Treasury, puzzles over the details of the case. He has been sent by his superiors to oversee the investigation, but is he supposed to help or hinder? At the next table, octogenarian superspy Edie Banister nibbles a slice of cake and struggles not to become Miss Marple. But what is the connection between the two? Who killed Donny Caspian, and why?

Taking in Rice’s present and Edie’s daring past, from duels on shipboard to death in back alleys, “Edie Investigates” is a superb short story from the incomparable Nick Harkaway.

Also included with this short, the first chapter of Nick Harkaway’s long-awaited new novel


Copyright © 2012 Nick Harkaway

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

eISBN: 978-0-307-96167-9

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by Jason Booher


For Jenn and Stephanie

booksellers of consequence


Old Mr Caspian was the right sort, they said, the good sort from back before bankers came to see themselves as privateers. He was churchy; not in the way of sandwiches and the vicar’s sherry, but in the way of good works and alms for the poor and a brief silent grace before he ate, even or especially when he ate alone. Not that he ate alone often, the clerk Fitzgibbon added hastily, because he was not a loner. Not antisocial. Not a quiet man, not in that modern sense which meant that he had some poor girl chained up in his cellar. He was not that sort of quiet man at all, but the other sort, the sort who had plenty to say if they cared to but did not wish to boast. The sort who enjoyed wine and the company of his friends, but did not choose to advertise his wealth or intelligence to the casual passer-by. Old Mr Caspian, Fitzgibbon said, possessed the most English of virtues. He did not like to put himself forward. But there was no reason to read into his reticence any sinister motive, any untidy secret. Tom Rice could hear Fitzgibbon through the doorway to the other room, where he was giving the benefit of all this opinion to the detective in charge.

“Mr Caspian would have been most upset to be murdered,” Fitzgibbon declared defensively, and then—seeming to hear the sentence in the air—turned deservedly sheepish. “I mean, he would have been upset to die in a fashion which was so garish. I’m sure he would have wanted to go gently, as we all would, but I mean to go in such a way as to leave those behind him with as little as possible to worry about on his behalf. And he would not have wished to go at this moment in the tax year, with submissions and so on to be done. April is a difficult time for any bank. He would not have approved of … this.”

That this left a great deal to be desired was certainly true. Rice looked down at his feet and shifted his left shoe a little further away from a piece of debris, hoping against hope that it was brick and not a piece of Caspian’s skull.

“Pop down and see what the fuss is about, please, Tommy,” the man from the Legacy Board had told him in London. “Donny was our banker in some particulars, so we can’t have any fuss. I wish he’d been as bloody careful with our money as he was with everyone else’s, but that’s by the by. Draw a chalk line around the corpse, tell the coroner it was natural causes, and come home for tea and medals, all right?” And Tom Rice, recently appointed Under-Nobody in charge of sod all, had recognised in the immediate assent of his immediate superior at the Treasury the footstep of a giant, and said he’d leave without delay.

“Indeed, you will, Tommy,” the Legacy man agreed, and those were all the instructions he gave, or needed to. When Tom Rice let himself out of the briefing room,
he found a stern woman awaiting him with documents.

Sheer propinquity made him quietly suspicious. He had been attending the monthly Legacy meeting as a stand-in for a colleague who had called in sick. He had been able to attend because another meeting had been cancelled. At the time, he had seen it as a chance to show some class and get noticed, but now the happy smoothness of it all had put him on alert. Granted, happy smoothness was a naturally occurring phenomenon. Coincidence was not always contrivance. But Rice had a naturally painstaking bent, and as he considered the chain of events leading to this opportunity, he found he did not absolutely believe in them.

“Sign this,” the stern woman said, but when he started to look the paper over, she tutted.

“You’re not cleared to read it,” she said, “until you’ve signed it. If you read it and then refuse to sign it, that’s an offence. And when you’ve read it, you will sign it, because that’s what everyone does. So you can read it in the car.”

“I can’t,” Rice said. “I get sick.”

She peered at him for a moment, apparently wondering why he would share this information and what on earth to do with it, and then abruptly lost interest. “Sign,” she said, tapping the paper, and Rice, seeing no alternative which did not involve dismissal, signed.

“I’m Gravesend,” the woman said. “And you’re Lizard.”

Tom Rice shook her hand and asked her what sort of lizard he might be.

“It’s a callsign, Tommy. When you get on the phone to report, you ask to speak to Gravesend and you say it’s Lizard. I’ll ask you how your wife is and you’ll say she’s got La Grippe. Not the flu, not the dreaded lurgy. La Grippe. Okay? And then we talk. We’ll supply the phone and it’s the only one you use while you’re down there. If you say she’s got food poisoning I’ll call out the cavalry and I do actually mean the cavalry and these days they have tanks, so don’t unless you mean it. Don’t tell anyone you’re with the Legacy Board, either.”

“Am I?”

“Are you what?”

“Am I with the Legacy Board? Are you?”

“No. And no. But from time to time that gentleman in there asks for the assistance of Treasury in matters pertaining to the exercise of such business as he is authorised and required to conduct in the name of Her Majesty’s Government, and that assistance is speedily rendered.”


She stopped walking and stared at him again. “Because otherwise we’d have to deal with whatever appalling shit it is that he deals with,” she said, “and it must be appalling because of the things he is allowed to do to stop it happening. You have no idea.”

“Would I know if I’d read that?” He pointed at the paperwork.

“Yes. So it’s probably a good thing you didn’t. You might have decided not to sign it. And then I’d have had to have you shot.”

He laughed, and then stopped because she didn’t. After a moment, she nodded.

“You’re right. I was joking.”

But he was no longer at all sure, and felt enormously relieved when she deposited him in a car with a uniformed driver and said: “Gravesend.”

“Oh, yes.” He pantomimed raising a handset to his ear. “Hullo. It’s Lizard here.”

She rolled her eyes, but nodded. “How’s your wife?”

“Not so good, actually, I’m afraid she’s coming down with something. La Grippe, you know. Nothing too bad. Certainly not food poisoning, I’m glad to say, we ate all the same things last night. In fact we shared a portion. Scampi,” he added, getting into the swing of it, “with chips. You eat it in your fingers. Anyway, she’s got La Grippe.”

“Perfect. Except don’t fucking extemporise.” She handed him a modern, ugly phone and walked away without saying goodbye.

“I’m Lizard,” Tom Rice said to the driver.

“I know you are, Tommy,” the driver said, “but we’ll just let that be your little secret, all right?”

And now here he was, and the notion of drawing a chalk outline around anything was laughable, except that actually he wasn’t sure he’d ever laugh again. He sure as hell would not be persuading the local coroner, a retired military doctor with a Liverpool accent, that this was natural causes. Tom Rice had never seen anything so blatantly unnatural in his life.

Old Man Caspian lay flat on his back. This was clear because he was wearing only a shirt, a pair of cotton boxer shorts in blue-and-white stripes, and socks and shoes. Either he had been in the habit of pulling on his trousers over his shoes or he had thrown them on in response to some external stimulus, such as the broken window at the far end of the room. His knees and hips made obvious the attitude of his body: his head was to some extent missing and for the rest distended and twisted on the neck. However this had been done, it had been done thoroughly.

Rice was congratulating himself on not throwing up when he realised abruptly that he was going to, and ran.

One hundred years after a primitive missile composed of wood and goosefeathers and capped with a metallic blade transfixed the brain of Harold Godwinson and announced the success of the Norman Conquest—but five hundred years before a young bisexual man obsessed with witches and demons acceded to the thrones of England and Scotland and commissioned a bible which (all evidence to the contrary) many still insist is the
unaltered word of God—a hunter named Simon Sharrow was struck by a bolt of lightning and rendered unconscious for nine days.

Three being God’s number, symbolising the Trinity, and nine being three times three and thus a number of enormous holiness—superseded in contemporary Christian numerological significance only by twenty-seven (three times three times three) and nineteen-thousand-six-hundred-and-eighty-three (the cube of twenty-seven) and a series of numbers whose nature will already be clear but which at that time escaped the realm of most mortal mathematicians—Simon Sharrow was closely watched and well-tended in his convalescence. It may have helped that he was a youth of striking countenance, and the son of a local landowner whose decision to wed a Norman bride had closed a certain unpleasant chapter in local ethnic politics.

In whatever case, though Simon Sharrow healed and grew strong again, he did not speak. He made himself understood in signs, and gave every indication of comprehending all that was said to him, and from time to time he drew breath or cleared his throat, and his father and mother and their servants and serfs waited for him to say “Hullo,” or “I need to pee,” or even “What happened?”

But Simon Sharrow said nothing, and the whispers began: that he was made an idiot or possessed by a devil; that he had died and was a walking corpse and dared not speak lest his soul escape; that the man who returned from the hunt was not Simon Sharrow but an escaped knave from the stocks of Cirencester. The feeling was very strong that Cedric Sharrow must look to his bride for another heir. Cedric Sharrow (who greatly loved his foreign invader wife, and knew too well the chancy business of childbirth) grew frantic to provide a cure. Simon was bled, heated, chilled, exorcised, surrounded by magicians, baptised, touched with holy relics and with talismans more dubious, and even treated by an actual doctor in the modern sense whose reasoned approach was quite enlightened but who alas lacked the necessary diagnostic framework or tools to be of any concrete use. And still Simon Sharrow said nothing, until one morning a stable boy, touched by the sun and fresh with simple, unconsidered pleasure in the fine horse he was brushing and the love of a girl in the local inn, sang a song in a high, confident voice beneath the window where Simon Sharrow gazed silently out upon the world.

BOOK: Edie Investigates
5.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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