AlvernoINK Spring / Fall 2017 - Page 53

Kirwan turned on his heel.

The Dutchman had the sly little grin of someone who knew too much. As he neared, his increasingly familiar pockmarked face was illuminated by a shard of brass light from the shifting lamp above, displaying skin like the powdery painted remains of a cloth doll’s face. Attempting to place him from memory was about just as useful as the burdened buttons that kept his mother-of-pearl belly from bursting past the hem of his waistcoat.

‘Vous permettez?’

A pair of white hands gestured ahead to the manuscript between his palms. Kirwan nodded, but any politeness in the action was no doubt accompanied by stern unease. Reluctantly, but nevertheless desperate, he handed him the manuscript.

‘Ah.’ Said the white corpse with a strange, dough-lipped grin, as he looked over the papers, ‘I have seen you trawling the market all day. If I knew it was letters you needed, I might have shown you my private collection…’

A pause sank between himself and the Dutchman.

‘Excuse me?’ Kirwan whispered, a cold sense of wrongness lumped in the base of his throat and flopped into the hollow of his stomach. Something boiled up, a drop of mercury split. The unease he felt before seemed to manifest itself among the shelves, surrounding him. He was being blackmailed.

‘For a price, of course… For my discretion.’ The Dutchman assured, his pink hands carrying on in an almost genuflecting manner. Fear, that weird mismarriage of chemical doubts and tangible anxieties, distilled into rage.

‘Approaching your prey in bookshops, now, Jan?’

Now, the weight of authority shifted in favor of a man, or so he appeared, standing just beyond a windowed alcove in the shop. A curling grin, a flash of coquetry spread between a pair of full lips, whose voice seemed to leap like hot embers from a coal fire, landing dangerously near Kirwan’s ribcage.

Jan burnished. ‘I beg your pardon, but I—’

‘Go back to your rooms, Meneer Marot.’

Unfortunately, even alongside his name, the Dutchman was unfamiliar. If Kirwan was completely honest, he couldn’t be less interested. Seeming suddenly more human in his animal grotesqueness next to the advancing gentleman, the Dutchman faltered, cursed in his native tongue and ground his cane into the floorboards. Then, Meneer Jan Marot left them completely.