My thirtieth birthday arrived a great deal sooner than I had anticipated.
I do not know how it happened. One night I went to sleep, aged twenty-nine years, and when I awoke I was an entire year older and my mother was standing over me, waving a stolen frying pan about and shouting, "Alfred Kilduff, you great lazy bum, get out of bed and get a job!"
Unfortunately for me, she was not as forgiving this day as she had been in the past. I soon found myself out on the street, locked out of my childhood home with naught to my name but a box of bonbons and 100 pounds in the bank. 100 pounds was quite a bit of money in those days, but it wouldn't have lasted forever, and the bonbons I knew would be gone before the day was out. I looked up from my place on the stoop and saw my mother, the scrawny, sharp old woman, watching me from the window. As she brandished her frying pan lovingly, my eyes began to well, for I knew that she had given me two options, one leading to a position in secretarial work, possibly accounting, one leading to a life of mooching off friends and an eventual lethargic decline in a cardboard box off in the East End, and in Mother's eyes I saw that she was really telling me, you are my son, and I know in my heart that you will make the honorable decision.
Smith told me his mother would never allow me to stay for any extended period of time, and Daniels gave me a similar excuse. My supplies of qualified hosts thus exhausted, I turned to the past.
Of my old college chums, thirty-four were married, twenty-five were employed in undignified and/or illegal fields of business, four were serving our nation in Afghanistan, and one was dead following an unfortunate accident involving a runaway shilling and a dog cart. The rest were either living in foreign lands or too broke to take me in.
As I sat in the café, bemoaning my fate and nibbling a bonbon, I was stumbling along the brink of surrender. This is the end of life as I know it, I thought miserably, so miserably that I hadn't the energy to laugh at the stubby butcher across the way, who had just dropped a rather large side of beef onto himself and was now squalling that his ribs were being crushed. No more staying up til all hours and sleeping until tea. No more tea at all, actually, as I would no doubt return to my shoddy little dwelling so utterly exhausted from my work in the fields that I would collapse across the stoop and lie prostrate and aching, cold and agonizingly weary, until sweet death swooped down to carry my bones over the sea to the afterlife.
But as I despaired, my eye fell upon an article in the newspaper at my elbow. "Earlsgate Detective Solves Baffling Murder," I read. "Calk Apprehends Sinclair's Killer."
I vaguely remembered the case—something to do with a German spy or an Austrian flamenco dancer or a Ukrainian Bell Carol, something of that sort—but it was the detective who intrigued me, some out-of-town bloke name of Matthias Calk. I vaguely remembered a Mathias Calk from my class at the university, a little shy fellow who'd spent more time in the chemistry lab than out. Yes, that was it, the child prodigy, maybe fifteen at best, and there on an academic scholarship. We'd called him "Mad Matt," and we'd hated his bloody guts—thanks to him, the grading curve had all but disappeared. I'd had to change my major to philosophy just to get by. I noticed that "no photographs were taken of the event, by request of Mr. Calk." Mad Matt didn't want his photo taken! I had to laugh. I hoped sincerely that he was losing his hair.
And at that time I began to get a smidgen of an idea.
Matthias Calk was my classmate, I thought, setting aside my tea and gazing beyond the wriggling butcher. He was a detective. He had to be a fairly upstanding one, to be trusted in matters of international espionage, and, corollary to that, he had to be fairly wealthy. He wasn't married as far as the papers showed.
I put my bonbon back into its box. I'd need something to eat on the train to Earlsgate.