Read an Excerpt
Four of us drove together to Cheltenham races on the day that Martin Stukely died there from a fall in a steeplechase.
It was December 31, the eve of the year 2000. A cold midwinter morning. The world approaching the threshold of the future.
Martin himself, taking his place behind the steering wheel of his BMW, set off before noon without premonition, collecting, his three passengers from their Cotswold Hills bases on his way to his afternoon's work. A jockey of renown, he had confidence and a steady heart.
By the time he reached my sprawling house on the hillside above the elongated tourist-attracting village of Broadway, the air in his spacious car swirled richly full of smoke from his favorite cigar, the Montecristo No. 2, his substitute for eating. At thirty-four he was spending longer and longer in a sauna each day, but was all the same gradually losing the metabolic battle against weight.
Genes had given him a well-balanced frame in general, and an Italian mother in particular had passed on a love of cooking, and vivacity.
He quarreled incessantly with Bon-Bon, his rich, plump and talkative wife, and on the whole ignored his four small children, often frowning as he looked at them as if not sure exactly who they were. Nevertheless his skill and courage and rapport with horses took him as often as always into the winner's circle, and he drove to Cheltenham calmly discussing his mounts' chances that afternoon in two fast hurdle races and one longer 'chase. Three miles of jumping fences brought out thecontrolled recklessness that made him great.
He picked me up last on that fateful Friday morning, as I lived nearest to Cheltenham's racetrack.
Already on board, and by his side, sat Priam Jones, the trainer whose horses he regularly rode. Priam was expert at self-aggrandizement but not quite as good as he believed at knowing when a horse in his care had come to a performance peak. That day's steeplechaser, Tallahassee, was, according to my friend Martin on the telephone, as ready as he would ever be to carry off the day's gold trophy, but Priam Jones, smoothing his white late-middle-age thinning hair, told the horse's owner in a blasé voice that Tallahassee might still do better on softer ground.
Lounging back beside me on the rear seat, with the tip of one of Martin's cigars glowing symmetrically to ash, Tallahassee's owner, Lloyd Baxter, listened without noticeable pleasure, and I thought Priam Jones would have done better to keep his premature apologies in reserve.
It was unusual for Martin to be the one who drove Tallahassee's owner and trainer anywhere. Normally he took other jockeys, or me alone: but Priam Jones from arrogance had just wrecked his own car in a stupid rash of flat tires, thanks to his having tried to ignore head-on a newly installed deterrent no-parking set of rising teeth. It was the town's fault, he insisted. He would sue.
Priam had taken it for granted, Martin told me crossly, that heMartinwould do the driving, and would not only take Priam himself but would also chauffeur the horse's owner, who was staying overnight with Priam for the Cheltenham meeting, having flown down from the north of England to the local Staverton airfield in a small rented air taxi.
I disliked Lloyd Baxter as thoroughly as he disliked me. Martin had warned me of the Priam tire situation ("Keep your sarcastic tongue behind your splendid teeth") and had begged me also to swamp the grumpy, dumpy millionaire owner with anesthetizing charm in advance, in case Priam Jones's fears materialized and the horse drew a blank.
I saw Martin's face grinning at me in the rearview mirror as he listened to me sympathize with the flat tires. He more than paid any debt he owed me by ferrying me about when he could, as I'd lost my driver's license for a year through scorching at ninety-five miles an hour around the Oxford bypass (fourth ticket for speeding) to take him and his broken leg to see his point-of-death old retired gardener. The gardener's heart had then thumped away insecurely for six further weeksone of life's little ironies. My loss of license now had three months to run.
The friendship between Martin and myself, unlikely at first sight, had sprung fully grown in an instant four or more years ago, result of a smile crinkling around his eyes, echo, I gathered, of my own.
We had met in the jury room of the local crown court, chosen for jury duty to hear a fairly simple case of domestic murder. The trial lasted two and a half days. Over mineral water afterwards, I'd learned about the tyranny of weight. Though my life had nothing to do with horses, or his with the heat and chemistry of my own days, we shared, perhaps, the awareness of the physical ability that we each needed for success in our trade.
In the jury room Martin had asked with merely polite curiosity, "What do you do for a living?"
"I blow glass."
"You do what?"
"I make things of glass. Vases, ornaments, goblets. That sort of thing."
I smiled at his astonishment. "People do, you know. People have made things of glass for thousands of years."
"Yes, but ..." he considered, "you don't look like someone who makes ornaments. You look ... well ... tough."
I was four years younger than he and three inches taller, and probably equal in muscles.
"I've made horses," I said mildly. "Herds of them."
"The Crystal Stud Cup," he asked, identifying one of flat racing's more elaborate prizes. "Did you make that?"
"Not that one, no."
"Well ... Do you have a name? Like, say, Baccarat?"
I smiled lopsidedly. "Not so glamorous. It's Logan, Gerard Logan."
"Logan Glass." He nodded, no longer surprised. "You have a place on the High Street in Broadway, side by side with all those antique shops. I've seen it."
I nodded. "Sales and workshop."
He hadn't seemed to take any special notice, but a week later he'd walked into my display gallery, spent an intense and silent hour there, asked if I'd personally made all the exhibits (mostly) and offered me a ride to the races. As time went by we had become comfortably accustomed to each other's traits and faults. Bon-Bon used me as a shield in battle and the children thought me a bore because I wouldn't let them near my furnace.
For half the races that day at Cheltenham things went as normal. Martin won the two-mile hurdle race by six lengths and Priam Jones complained that six lengths was too far. It would ruin the horse's position in the handicap.
Martin shrugged, gave an amused twist to his eyebrows and went into the changing room to put on Lloyd Baxter's colors of black and white chevrons, pink sleeves and cap. I watched the three men in the parade ring, owner, trainer and jockey, as they took stock of Tallahassee walking purposefully around in the hands of his groom. Tallahassee stood at odds of six to four with the bookmakers for the Coffee Forever Gold Trophy: the clear favorite.
Lloyd Baxter (ignoring his trainer's misgivings) had put his money on the horse, and so had I.
It was at the last fence of all that Tallahassee uncharacteristically tangled his feet. Easily ahead by seven lengths, he lost his concentration, hit the roots of the unyielding birch and turned a somersault over his rider, landing his whole half-ton mass upside down with the saddle tree and his withers crushing the rib cage of the man beneath.
The horse fell at the peak of his forward-to-win acceleration and crashed down at thirty or more miles an hour. Winded, he lay across the jockey for inert moments, then rocked back and forwards vigorously in his struggle to rise again to his feet.
The fall and its aftermath looked truly terrible from where I watched on the stands. The roar of welcome for a favorite racing home to a popular win was hushed to a gasp, to cries, to an endless anxious murmur. The actual winner passed the post without his due cheers, and a thousand pairs of binoculars focused on the unmoving black and white chevrons flat on the green December grass.
The racetrack doctor, though instantly attending him from his following car, couldn't prevent the fast-gathering group of paramedics and media people from realizing that Martin Stukely, though still semi-conscious, was dying before their eyes. They glimpsed the blood sliding frothily out of the jockey's mouth, choking him as the sharp ends of broken ribs tore his lungs apart. They described it, cough by groan, in their news reports.
The doctor and paramedics loaded Martin just alive into the waiting ambulance and as they set off to the hospital they worked desperately with transfusions and oxygen, but quietly, before the journey ended, the jockey lost his race.
Priam, not normally a man of emotion, wept without shame as he later collected Martin's belongings, including his car keys, from the changing room. Sniffing, blowing his nose, accompanied by Lloyd Baxter, who looked annoyed rather than grief-stricken, Priam Jones offered to return me to my place of business in Broadway, though not to my home in the hills, as he intended to go in the opposite direction from there, to see Bon-Bon, to give her comfort.
I asked if he would take me on with him to see Bon-Bon. He refused. Bon-Bon wanted Priam alone, he said. She had said so, devastated, on the telephone.
Lloyd Baxter, Priam added, would now also be off-loaded at Broadway. Priam had got him the last available room in the hotel there, the Wychwood Dragon. It was all arranged.
Lloyd Baxter glowered at the world, at his trainer, at me, at fate. He should, he thought, have won the Cup. He had been robbed. Though his horse was unharmed, his feelings for his dead jockey seemed to be resentment, not regret.
As Priam, shoulders drooping, and Baxter, frowning heavily, set off ahead of us towards the car park, Martin's valet hurried after me, calling my name. I stopped, and turned towards him, and into my hands he thrust the lightweight racing saddle that, strapped firmly to Tallahassee's back, had helped to deal out damage and death.
The stirrups, with the leathers, were folded over the saddle plate, and were kept in place by the long girth wound around and around. The sight of the girth-wrapped piece of professional equipment, like my newly dead mother's Hasselblad camera, bleakly rammed into one's consciousness the gritty message that their owners would never come back. It was Martin's empty saddle that set me missing him painfully.
Eddie, the valet, was elderly, bald and, in Martin's estimation, hardworking and unable to do wrong. He turned to go back to the changing room but then stopped, fumbled in the deep front pocket of the apron of his trade and, producing a brown paperwrapped package, called after me to wait.
"Someone gave this to Martin to give to you," he shouted, coming back and holding it out for me to take. "Martin asked me to give it back to him when he was leaving to go home, so he could pass it on to you ... but of course ..." He swallowed, his voice breaking. "He's gone."
I asked. "Who gave it to him?"
The valet didn't know. He was sure, though, that Martin himself knew, because he had been joking about its being worth a million, and Eddie was clear that the ultimate destination of the parcel had been Gerard Logan, Martin's friend.
I took the package and, thanking him, put it into my raincoat pocket, and we spent a mutual moment of sharp sadness for the gap we already felt in our lives. I supposed, as he turned to hurry back to his chores in the changing room, and I continued into the car park, that I might have gone to the races for the last time, that without Martin's input the fun might have flown.
Priam's tears welled up again at the significance of the empty saddle, and Lloyd Baxter shook his head with disapproval. Priam recovered enough, however, to start Martin's car and drive it to Broadway, where, as he'd intended, he off-loaded both me and Lloyd Baxter outside the Wychwood Dragon and himself departed in speechless gloom towards Bon-Bon and her fatherless brood.
Lloyd Baxter paid me no attention but strode without pleasure into the hotel. During the journey from the racetrack he'd complained to Priam that his overnight bag was in Priam's house. He'd gone by hired car from Staverton airfield, intending to spend the evening at Priam's now canceled New Year's Eve party, celebrating a win in the Gold Coffee Cup before flying away the following morning to his thousand-acre estate in Northumberland. Priam's assertion that, after seeing Martin's family, he would himself ferry the bag to the hotel, left Tallahassee's owner unmollified. The whole afternoon had been a disaster, he grumbled, and in his voice one could hear undertones of an intention to change to a different trainer.
My own glass business lay a few yards away from the Wychwood Dragon on the opposite side of the road. If one looked across from outside the hotel, the gallery's windows seemed to glitter with ultra-bright light, which they did from breakfast to midnight every day of the year.
I walked across the road wishing that time could be reversed to yesterday: wishing that bright-eyed Martin would march through my door suggesting improbable glass sculptures that in fact, when I made them, won both commissions and kudos. He had become fascinated by the actual composition of glass and never seemed to tire of watching whenever I mixed the basic ingredients myself, instead of always buying it the easy wayoff the shelf.
The ready-made stuff, which came in two-hundred-kilo drums, looked like small opaque marbles, or large gray peas, half the size of the polished clear-glass toys. I used the simple option regularly, as it came pure and clean, and melted without flaws.
When he first watched me load the tank of the furnace with a week's supply of the round gray pebbles, he repeated aloud the listed ingredients, "Eighty percent of the mix is white silica sand from the Dead Sea. Ten percent is soda ash. Then add small specific amounts of antimony, barium, calcium and arsenic per fifty pounds of weight. If you want to color the glass blue, use ground lapis lazuli or cobalt. If you want yellow, use cadmium, which changes with heat to orange and red and I don't believe it."
"That's soda crystal glass." I nodded, smiling. "I use it all the time as it's safe in every way for eating or drinking from. Babies can lick it."
He gazed at me in surprise. "Isn't all glass safe to suck?"
"Well ... no. You have to be exceedingly careful making things with lead. Lead crystal. Lovely stuff. But lead is mega mega poisonous. Lead silicate, that is, that's used for glass. It's a rusty red powder and in its raw state you have to keep it strictly separate from everything else and be terribly meticulous about locking it up."
"What about cut lead crystal wineglasses?" he asked. "I mean, Bon-Bon's mother gave us some."
"Don't worry," I told him with humor. "If they haven't made you ill yet, they probably won't."
"Thanks a bunch."
I went in through my heavy gallery door of beveled glass panes already feeling an emptiness where Martin had been. And it wasn't as if I had no other friends, I had a pack of beer and wine cronies for whom fizzy water and sauna sweats were on their anathema lists. Two of those, Hickory and Irish, worked for me as assistants and apprentices, though Hickory was approximately my own age and Irish a good deal older. The desire to work with glass quite often struck late in life, as with Irish, who was forty, but sometimes, as with me, the fascination arrived like talking, too early to remember.
I had an uncle, eminent in the glassblowing trade, who was also a brilliant flameworker. He could heat solid glass rods in the flame of a gas burner until among other things he could twiddle them into a semblance of lace, and make angels and crinolines and steady flat round bases for almost anything needing precision in a science laboratory.
He was amused at first that an inquisitive kid should shadow him, but was then interested, and finally took it seriously. He taught me whenever I could dodge school, and he died about the time that my inventiveness grew to match his. I was sixteen. In his will he left me plans and instructions for the building of a basic workshop, and also, much more valuably, his priceless notebooks into which he'd detailed years of unique skill. I'd built a locked safelike bookcase to keep them in, and ever since had added my own notes on method and materials needed when I designed anything special. It stood always at the far end of the workshop between the stock shelves and a bank of four tall gray lockers, where my assistants and I kept our personal stuff.
It was he, my uncle Ron, who named his enterprise Logan Glass, and he who drilled into me an embryonic business sense and an awareness that anything made by one glassblower could in general be copied by another, and that this drastically lowered the asking price. During his last few years he sought and succeeded in making pieces of uncopyable originality, working out of my sight and then challenging me to detect and repeat his methods. Whenever I couldn't, he generously showed me how; and he laughed when I grew in ability until I could beat him at his own game.
On the afternoon of Martin's death both the gallery and showroom were crowded with people looking for ways of remembering the advent of the historic millennium day. I'd designed and made a whole multitude and variety of small good-looking calendar-bearing dishes in every color combination that I knew from experience attracted the most tourist dollars, and we had sold literally hundreds of them. I'd scratched my signature on the lot. Not yet, I thought, but by the year 2020, if I could achieve it, a signed Gerard Logan calendar dish of December 31, 1999, might be worth collecting.
The long gallery displayed the larger, unusual, one-of-a-kind and more expensive pieces, each spotlit and available: the showroom was lined by many shelves holding smaller, colorful, attractive and less expensive ornaments, which could reasonably be packed into a tourist suitcase.
One side wall of the showroom rose only to waist height, so that over it one could see into the workshop beyond, where the furnace burned day and night and the little gray pebbles melted into soda crystal at a raised heat of 2400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hickory or Irish, or their colleague Pamela Jane, took turns to work as my assistant in the workshop. One of the other two gave a running commentary of the proceedings to the customers and the third packed parcels and worked the till. Ideally the four of us took the jobs in turn, but experienced glassblowers were scarce, and my three enthusiastic assistants were still at the paperweight and penguin stage.
Christmas sales had been great but nothing like the New Year 2000. As everything sold in my place was guaranteed handmade (and mostly by me), the day I'd spent at the races had been my first respite away from the furnace for a month. I'd worked sometimes into the night, and always from eight onwards in the morning, with one of my three helpers assisting. The resulting exhaustion hadn't mattered. I was physically fit, and as Martin had said, who needed a sauna with 2400 degrees in one's face?
Hickory, twirling color into a glowing paperweight on the end of a slender five-foot-long steel rod called a punty iron, looked extremely relieved at my return from the races. Pamela Jane, smiling, earnest, thin and anxious, lost her place in her commentary and repeated instead, "He's here. He's here ..." and Irish stopped packing a cobalt blue dolphin in bright white wrapping paper and sighed, "Thank God," very heavily. They relied on me too much, I thought.
I said, "Hi guys," as usual and, walking around into the workshop and stripping off jacket, tie and shirt, gave the millennium-crazy shoppers a view of a designer-label white string singlet, my working clothes. Hickory finished his paperweight, spinning the punty iron down by his feet to cool the glass, being careful not to scorch his new bright sneakers. I made, as a frivolity, a striped hollow blue-green and purple fish with fins, a geodetic type of ornament that looked impressively difficult and had defeated me altogether at fourteen. Light shone through it in rainbows.
The customers, though, wanted proof of that day's origin. Staying open much later than usual, I made endless dated bowls, plates and vases to please them, while Pamela Jane explained that they couldn't be collected until the next morning, New Year's Day, as they had to cool slowly overnight. No one seemed deterred. Irish wrote their names and told them jokes. There were hours of good nature and celebration.
Priam Jones called in fleetingly at one point. When he had been at Martin and Bon-Bon's house he'd found my raincoat lying on the back seat in the car. I was most grateful, and thanked him with New Year fervor. He nodded, even smiled. His tears had dried.
When he'd gone I went to hang up my raincoat in my locker. Something hard banged against my knee and I remembered the package given me by Eddie, the valet. I put it on a stock shelf out of the way at the rear of the workshop and went back to satisfy the customers.
Shop-closing time was elastic but I finally locked the door behind the last customer in time for Hickory, Irish and Pamela Jane to go to parties, and for me to realize I hadn't yet opened the parcel that Priam Jones had returned in my raincoat. The parcel that had come from Martin ... he'd sat heavily on my shoulder all evening, a laughing lost spirit, urging me on.
Full of regrets I locked the furnace against vandals and checked the heat of the annealing ovens, which were full of the newly made objects slowly cooling. The furnace, which I'd built to my uncle's design, was constructed of firebricks and fueled by propane gas under pressure from a fan. It burned day and night at never less than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt most metals, let alone burn paper. We were often asked if a memento like a wedding ring could be enclosed in a glass paperweight, but the answer was sorry, no. Liquid glass would melt goldand human fleshimmediately. Molten glass, in fact, was pretty dangerous stuff.
I slowly tidied the workshop, counted and recounted and then enclosed the day's takings in their canvas bag ready to entrust to the night safe of the bank. Then I put on my discarded clothes and eventually took a closer look at my neglected parcel. The contents proved to be exactly what they felt like, an ordinary-looking videotape, a bit disappointing. The tape was wound fully back to the beginning, and the black casing bore no label of any sort. There was no protective sleeve. I stacked it casually beside the money, but the sight of it reminded me that my videotape player was at my home, that I'd sold my car, and that rising midnight on a thousand years' eve wasn't the best time to phone for a taxi.
Plans for my own midnight, with a neighborhood dance next door to my house, had disintegrated on Cheltenham racetrack. Maybe the Wychwood Dragon, I thought, not caring much, still had a broom cupboard to rent. I would beg a sandwich and a rug and sleep across the dark night into the new century, and early in the morning I would write an obituary for a jockey.
When I was ready to cross to the Wychwood Dragon someone tapped heavily on the glass-paned door, and I went to open it, intending to say it was too late, the year 2000 lay fifteen minutes ahead in Broadway, even if it had been tomorrow for hours in Australia. I unlocked the door and, prompted by inexorable courtesy, faced politely an unexpected and unwanted visitor in Lloyd Baxter, telling him with a half-smothered yawn that I simply hadn't enough energy to discuss the disaster at Cheltenham or anything else to do with horses.
He advanced into the brightest area on the threshold and I saw he was carrying a bottle of Dom Pérignon and two of the Wychwood Dragon's best champagne glasses. The heavily disapproving expression, despite these pipes of peace, was still in place.
"Mr. Logan," he said formally, "I know no one at all in this place except yourself, and don't say this isn't a time for rejoicing, as I agree with you in many ways ... not only because Martin Stukely is dead but because the next century is likely to be even more bloody than the last and I see no reason to celebrate just a change of date, particularly as there's no doubt the date is incorrect to begin with." He took a breath. "I therefore decided to spend the evening in my room ..." He stopped abruptly, and I would have finished the tale for him, but instead I merely jerked my head for him to come right in, and closed the heavy door behind him.
"I'll drink to Martin," I said.
He looked relieved at my acquiescence, even though he thought little of me and was old enough to be my father. Loneliness, though, still propelling him, he set the glasses on the table beside the till, ceremoniously popped the expensive cork and unleashed the bubbles.
"Drink to whatever you like," he said in depression. "I suppose it was a bad idea, coming here."
"No," I said.
"I could hear the music, you see ..."
Music in the distance had forced him out of his lonely room. Music powerfully attracted the gregarious human race. No one welcomed two thousand years in silence.
I looked at my watch. Only nine minutes to ring-the-bells time.
Regardless of cynical withdrawals from organized enjoyments, regardless even of thrusts of raw unprocessed grief, I found there was inescapable excitement after all in the sense of a new chance offered, a fresh beginning possible. One could forgive one's own faults.
New numbers themselves vibrated with promise.
Five minutes to ring-the-bells ... and fireworks. I drank Lloyd Baxter's champagne and still didn't like him.
Tallahassee's owner had changed, thanks to his transferred bag, into formal clothes, complete with black tie. His almost Edwardian type of grooming seemed to intensify rather than lighten his thunderous personality.
Even though I'd been introduced to him at least two years earlier, and had drunk his fizz on happier occasions, I'd never before bothered to read his face feature by feature. Rectifying that, I remembered that he'd earlier had thick strong dark hair, but as his age had advanced from fifty there were gray streaks that to my eyes had multiplied quite fast. His facial bone structure was thick and almost Cro-Magnon, with a powerful-looking brow and a similar no-nonsense jaw.
Perhaps in the past he had been lean-and-hungry, but as the twentieth century rolled away he had thickened around the neck and stomach and taken on the authoritative weight of chairmen. If he looked more like an industrialist than a landowner, it was because he'd sold his majority share in a shipping line to buy his racehorses and his acres.
He disapproved, he'd told me severely, of young men like myself who could take days off work whenever they cared to. I knew he considered me a hanger-on who sponged on Martin, regardless of Martin's insisting it was more likely to be the other way around. It seemed that when Lloyd Baxter formed a set of opinions he was slow to rearrange them.
Distantly, out in the cold night, bells in England pealed the passing of the all-important moment, celebrating the artificial date change and affirming that humankind could impose its own mathematics on the unresponsive planet. Lloyd Baxter raised his glass to drink to some private goal, and I, following his gesture, hoped merely that I would see January 2001 in safety. I added in fact, with banal courtesy, that I would drink to his health outside, if he'd forgive me my absence.
"Of course," he said, his voice in a mumble.
Pulling open the gallery door, I walked out into the street still holding my golden drink, and found that dozens of people had felt impelled in the same way. A host, myself included, had been moved by an almost supernatural instinct to breathe free new air under the stars.
The man who sold antique books in the shop next to my gallery shook my hand vigorously, and with uncomplicated goodwill wished me a happy new year. I smiled and thanked him. Smiling was easy. The village, a fairly friendly place at any time, greeted the new year and the neighbors with uncomplicated affection. Feuds could wait.
Up the hill a large group of people had linked arms and were swaying across the road singing "Auld Lang Syne" with half the words missing, and a few cars crept along slowly, headlights full on, horns blaring, with enthusiastic youths yelling from open windows. Up and down High Street local sophistication found its own level, but everywhere with a benign slant of mind.
Perhaps because of that, it was longer than I'd intended before I reluctantly decided I should return to my shop, my ready-for-the-bank takings and my unwelcome visitor, whose temper wouldn't have been improved by my absence.
Declining with regret a tot of single malt from the bookseller, I ambled along to Logan Glass feeling the first twitch of resignation for the lack of Martin. He had known always that his job might kill him, but he hadn't expected it. Falls were inevitable but they would happen "some other time." Injuries had been counted a nuisance that interfered with winning. He would "hang up his boots," he'd told me lightheartedly, the minute he was afraid to put them on.
It was the thought of fear that bothered him, he'd once said.
I pushed open the heavy door preparing my apologies and found that an entirely different sort of action was essential.
Lloyd Baxter lay facedown, unmoving and unconscious, on my showroom floor.
Dumping my empty glass rapidly on the table that held the till I knelt anxiously beside him and felt for a pulse in his neck. Even though his lips were bluish he hadn't somehow the look of someone dead, and there was to my great relief a slow perceptible thud-thud under my fingers. A stroke, perhaps? A heart attack? I knew very little medicine.
What an appallingly awkward night, I thought, sitting back on my heels, for anyone to need to call out the medics. I stood up and took a few paces to the table which held the till and all the business machines, including the telephone. I dialed the come-at-once number without much expectation, but even on such a New Year's Eve, it seemed, the emergency services would respond, and it wasn't until I'd put down the receiver on their promise of an instant stretcher that I noticed the absence beside the till of the ready-for-the-bank canvas bag. It had gone. I searched for it everywhere, but in my heart I knew where I'd left it.
I swore. I'd worked hard for every cent. I'd sweated. My arms still ached. I was depressed at that point as well as furious. I began to wonder if Lloyd Baxter had done his best, if he'd been knocked out trying to defend my property against a thief.
The black unidentified videotape had gone as well. The wave of outrage common to anyone robbed of even minor objects shook me into a deeper anger. The tape's loss was a severe aggravation, even if not on the same level as the money.
I telephoned the police without exciting them in the least. They were psyched up for bombs, not paltry theft. They said they would send a detective constable in the morning.
Lloyd Baxter stirred, moaned and lay still again. I knelt beside him, removed his tie, unfastened his belt and in general rolled him slightly onto his side so that he wasn't in danger of choking. There were flecks of blood, though, around his mouth.
The chill of the deep night seeped into my own body, let alone Baxter's. The flames of the furnace roared captive behind the trapdoor that rose and fell to make the heat available, and finally, uncomfortably cold, I went and stood on the treadle that raised the trap, and let the heat flood into the workshop to reach the showroom beyond.
Normally, even in icy winter, the furnace in constant use gave warmth enough, supplemented by an electric convection heater in the gallery, but by the time help arrived for Baxter I had wrapped him in my jacket and everything else handy, and he was still growing cold to the touch.
The ultra-efficient men who arrived in the prompt ambulance took over expertly, examining their patient, searching and emptying his pockets, making a preliminary diagnosis and wrapping him in a red warming blanket ready for transport. Baxter partially awoke during this process but couldn't swim altogether to the surface of consciousness. His gaze flickered woozily once across my face before his eyes closed again into a heavier sleep.
The paramedics did some paperwork and had me provide them with Baxter's name, address and as much as I knew (practically nothing) of his medical history. One of them was writing a list of all the things they had taken from Lloyd, starting with a Piaget gold watch and ending with the contents of a pocket of his pantsa handkerchief, a bottle of pills and a businesslike hotel room key in the shape of a ball-and-chain deterrent to forgetfulness.
I didn't even have to suggest that I should return the key myself to the hotel; the paramedics suggested it themselves. I rattled it into my own pants without delay, thinking vaguely of packing Lloyd Baxter's things into his much-traveled suitcase and more positively of sleeping in his bed, since the paramedics were adamant that he would have to stay in the hospital all night.
"What's wrong with him?" I asked. "Has he had a heart attack? Or a stroke? Has he been ... well, attacked and knocked out?"
I told them about the money and the tape.
They shook their heads. The most senior of them discounted my guesses. He said that to his experienced eyes Lloyd Baxter wasn't having a nonfatal heart attack (he would be awake, if so) nor a stroke, nor were there any lumpy bruises on his head. In his opinion, he announced authoritatively, Lloyd Baxter had had an epileptic fit.
"A fit?" I asked blankly. "He's seemed perfectly well all day."
The medics nodded knowledgeably. One of them picked up the pill bottle whose contents were listed as phenytoin and said he was certain that this was the preventative for epilepsy.
"Epilepsy"the chief medic nodded"and who'll bet that he was overdue with a dose? We have all the other symptoms here. Alcohol." He gestured to the depleted bottle of Dom. "Late night without sleep. Stress ... isn't he the one whose jockey was done for at the races today? Then there's the slow pulse and bluish lips, the blood flecks from where he's bitten his tongue ... and did you notice that his pants are wet? They urinate, you know."