Peter has kindly submitted a piece for us to read. It would be great if as many as possible could read and comment on it, as suggestions and observations, especially on the opening pages of a book, are invaluable to a writer. It’s pretty nerve-wracking putting your work up for others to crit, so thank you, Peter.
The piece is called ‘Morris has a spot of bother’ and it is one of two possible openings to his book, which has a working title of ‘The Impossible City’.
Morris dabbed his brow with a white cotton handkerchief and exhaled in the heat. Acre in July was intolerably hot and the nearby Mediterranean failed to generate enough cooling sea breeze to ease his discomfort. The only movement in the thick air came from hot eddies of dust that swirled up from the incessant stream of carts, horses and people thronging the streets. The dust created a thin film of grime that settled and permeated into each fold in a man’s skin especially hot sweaty European skin unused to the stifling heat. He pushed his handkerchief back into the breast pocket of his linen jacket and squinted through his round spectacles at the nameplate on the door. His eyes were tired and the sunlight made it difficult for him to focus on the door. He peered at the brass plaque which was in desperate need of a polish; he could just make out the name Pierre Lafarge engraved there. This must be the correct address; there was surely only one Pierre Lafarge in Acre.
He glanced around for a bell or some type of door knocker, the heavy wooden door looked more like the ones he had seen in an English castle and looked strong enough to withstand a battering from without and from within. He shuddered at the thought of being trapped inside some dusty building and then let the thought pass from his mind, he had to remain focused but it was difficult, his temperament was strained from the heat and the crowds jostling him as he stood in the street were pushing his patience to the limit, overheated and overcrowded were unbearable combination for Morris. He then noticed that the door handle lifted up to serve as a door knocker, he pulled it up and slammed it down as hard as he could a couple of times. The next few minutes seemed like an age but there was no answer and he wondered how anyone could hear anything inside the building over the tumult in the streets around him. A feeling of irritation grew as he stood wondering what to do next. Morris shrugged and was about to reach for the door knocker again vowing to keep hitting the door until someone came for him when it was very carefully opened.
An old man’s face appeared in the thin gap between the door and the frame; the man’s face was dominated by his eyes which were sunk into their sockets and looked virtually as if they could fall out and roll into the dust at the slightest jolt. The old man sighed at the sight of his visitor and gave the impression of having been rudely awoken from a deep slumber. The hallway behind him was pitch black, the light from the street making no impact on its depths and giving no indication of what lay inside.
Presently the old man spoke.
His voice was dry and barely audible it was only the old man’s lips parting slightly that meant Morris could be sure he had spoken at all.
“Urgg…ahhh eh hum…”
Morris tried to speak; unfortunately his throat was full of phlegm and dust. The old man started to close the door again.
Morris shouted and at the same time inadvertently hacked a piece of green phlegm from his throat which landed on the step in front of the door. The old man hesitated and raised his eyebrows as he looked down at the splat next to his slipper. Morris smiled.
“Ever so sorry, it’s the climate don’t you know, just doesn’t agree with me.”
He spoke quickly anticipating the door to be slammed in his face but the old man’s eyes opened wide and his mouth dropped open revealing a set of unpleasantly decaying teeth his lips pulling back into something that Morris could only think looked like a snarl, he took a step back and found he could speak again.
“My…my name is Goodview. Morris Goodview. I have a meeting with Monsieur Lafarge. I believe he is expecting me.”
Morris wondered if there could be two Lafarge’s in Acre and that he had found the wrong one. The old man’s snarl changed a little at the corners of his mouth; to Morris it looked like he was trying to force a smile.
The words hissed like reluctant steam from the old man’s mouth and he stood back opening the heavy wooden door just far enough for Morris to squeeze through. The corridor beyond was dingy and had a damp feeling to and for a moment Morris imagined himself walking back into the street and back to his old life in London as a shipping clerk away from the heat, noise and saw-toothed old men with maleficent eyes. The moment passed and Morris decided that he should be glad to be out of the heat and away from the noise of the souk; Lord Draxmere was counting on him to follow through with his task and bring the artifact back to England. The old man shut the wooden door and they were left in perfect darkness, Morris sighed with relief he would not feel the burn of the sun on the nape of his neck for a while. Morris sensed the old man move effortlessly past him, and as Morris’s eyes became adjusted to the gloom he could just see that they were stood on a narrow landing and just ahead of him there was a flight of stairs leading upwards. By the time his eyes had registered them the old man had already quietly ascended most of the way to the top. Morris followed, climbing the stairs carefully, his shoes registering heavily on the wood which groaned easily with each footfall. Morris mused that the old man must have a very light step as he had not made a sound.
At the top of the staircase there was a single corridor leading away from them along which were a series of doors all of which were shut. The corridor was empty apart from a threadbare rug which ran its entire length; at the far end was a narrow window which let in a bright shaft of light. Morris considered how long it would take him to run back down the staircase in an emergency or if he could go through the narrow window and if it came to that would he even care what was on the other side or how high from the ground he was. Morris’s hand dropped to the pocket of his linen jacket, the small revolver he had bought in a London pawnbroker was still there his fingers were reassured by the smooth cool barrel and the thought of the six small rounds that it had chambered. Despite the revolver’s comforting presence his hands were shaking, perhaps too greatly for him to use the revolver effectively if it came to that, he gripped the revolver tighter. This was Morris’ first task for Lord Draxmere and all he had to do was to meet with Lafarge, collect the artifact and return to England, that was all; he told himself there was nothing to fear; his fingers relaxed their grip on the revolver’s barrel. The old man stopped outside the penultimate door from the window on the right hand side of the corridor. The door which he presumed must be Pierre Lafarge’s office had a small brass nameplate on the outside, Morris looked at it closely, it did not display Pierre’s name as he expected but merely the phrase ‘La Gloire.’
The old man was about to knock on the door when Morris noticed beads of sweat had formed on the man’s skin and were gently forming thin rivulets that tricked down the side of his face following the lines there, skin canals thought Morris. The old man knocked sharply on the door and then opened it slightly.
“Enter please” a voice from inside said.
The old man opened the door and ushered Morris into the room, he stepped in and his mouth dropped. Sat in a high backed leather chair behind a grotesquely large desk was Pierre Lafarge. The old man shut the door gently behind Morris, he flinched at the sound and stepped forward into the dimly lit room there was a light scent of patchouli oil in the air. He breathed the aroma and it struck a chord in his memory of some advice that he had been given before leaving London but whatever wisdom that was he had now forgotten it. He inwardly cursed the heat in this country it was now affecting his memory as well as his mood. The only light in the room came from an array of candles lined up on the desk and a further line of candles set up to the left on some filing cabinets, the tiny dancing flames created disjointed patterns on Lafarge and on the wall behind him creating a murky tableau of shifting lines. Morris stood in silence, he had been told that Lafarge had a reputation for eccentricity and so he stood and waited for him to acknowledge his presence. Morris could not make out any particular features on Lafarge’s face as he was wearing a heavy cloak with a hood that entirely covered his head. Morris coughed gently.
“It’s a bit dark in here old boy. I say do…you mind if we brighten things up a bit?”
Lafarge did not respond.
“Am I disturbing you? It’s just that I believe that you were expecting me? It is about the…err… the artifact?”
Morris squinted trying to make out some acknowledgement, he began to think that this was some type of test that he had to pass, was there some code word he was expected to give to Lafarge and if he failed to provide it he would subsequently be thrown out of the room down the stairs and back out into the dusty street. This whole affair was ridiculous he mused and tried to concentrate on his breathing which had become irregular as the feeling of claustrophobia he experienced in the souk returned. Morris began to take air in short gulps.
Lafarge slowly lifted his head to reveal the jagged outline of a long black beard, and a prominent nose his dark eyes reflected the candle light while his smile displayed a row of perfect ivory teeth. Morris managed a thin smile back and desperately attempted to keep his bowels under control. Lafarge started to laugh a deep belly laugh that rocked his body from side to side, the noise splintered the quiet of the office and he held up his hands in mock surrender to Morris his palms facing outwards. Morris smiled and then slowly began to laugh along with the hairy Frenchman struggling internally to keep calm. Then Lafarge abruptly stopped.
“Enough, enough please. I see they have sent me an Englishman, you people are always so hard to understand and so very serious, where is your sense of humour. Please forgive me my indulgence, I like to meditate, it clears the senses.”
He pulled back his cowl to display long curly black hair to match his beard.
“Let us have some light, and then we can talk.”
Lafarge ambled to the heavy wooden shutters clasped over the window and with a deft movement flung them open deluging the room with searing light from the afternoon sun. Morris shielded his eyes from the glare and when he opened them Lafarge had thrown off his cowl, he was a heavily built man in his late thirties wearing a simple white shirt and brown corduroy trousers. He plucked a pair of gold rimmed glasses from his shirt pocket and placed them on his nose.
“See we both wear glasses I believe that it is the sign of a learned man, someone who has spent many hours reading. Now please sit Mr. Goodview, please sit.”
There was a wicker chair in front of Lafarge’s desk Morris eased himself into it.
“Will you have a drink? Coffee perhaps? Aziz will make it for you.” Morris did not reply.
“No, not coffee. Then will you join me in a glass of Pernod? This is a better option in my opinion.”
Lafarge eased himself back into his leather chair behind the desk, brushed some papers aside and took a dusty bottle of Pernod and two chipped glasses from a draw and placed them on the desk next to the candles which were still flickering their meagre light neutralised by the sunlight flooding the room.
“I would be delighted.” Morris’s eyes widened at the sight of the bottle. Lafarge poured two glasses of Pernod and pushed one toward Morris then he leant back in his leather chair which groaned quietly under his weight and drained his glass in one mouthful, he then poured himself a second glass and scrutinised Morris.
“So, I think we should get straight to the heart of things, grasp the nettle you could say?”
Morris sipped his Pernod, it was revolting. Morris hated Aniseed almost as much as he hated the heat and yet here he was drinking it warm in this wretched country, he coughed.
“Is it too strong for you?”
“Err…no just about right. Well, to business as you say.”
Morris placed his glass on the table took a manila envelope from his inside jacket pocket and handed it to Lafarge. The French man sighed and took the envelope as he reached over the desk he belched Aniseed in Morris’s direction.
Morris’s was repelled by the sweet alcohol aroma that assaulted now him across the table, he tried hard not to gag but Lafarge was really quite repugnant, vulgar. The Frenchman deftly sliced open the envelope with a silver knife that had been lying on the desk; a slip of white notepaper fell out.
“It is the authorisation. I trust that it is everything you need?”
Morris had no idea what the paper said and less idea of what reward had been promised to Lafarge, he had been given no instruction on this count when he had left London. Instead he had been explicitly told to avoid the subject if it ever came up in conversation. Lafarge studied the note without acknowledging the question, he merely grunted from deep within his beard suddenly lost in thought.
“Well, I see that your employer is true to his word. I am a happy man Mr. Goodview. With this final payment I will finally be able to get out of this city and retire to a place far from the noise and stench of other people and of course items such as this one.”
Lafarge reached down and opened a draw in the desk taking out a large rusty key.
“Aziz! Aziz! Quickly!”
He bellowed the words with such violence that Morris felt another wave of aniseed breath flow over him; he could feel the gag reflex rising in his throat at the taste of the second hand alcohol on the roof of his mouth and the foul mix of garlic and onions that had unfortunately accompanied it.
“Dam that old fool, AZIZ!” He leant forward over the desk toward Morris.
“The last servant I had here, his name was Tolo he worked for me for seven years and not one moment of trouble. But this Aziz, he is a lazy old snake, still what can you do eh?”
He slammed the key on the desk.
“Certainly good help is hard to find even in England but here…” Morris replied.
His voice trailed away, and cleared this throat. There always seemed to be something stuck his throat here, some phlegm no doubt wedged there because of all the filth that hung above this city like a shroud.
“What, what happened to Tolo?”
Morris was nervous at the mention of the man he had never met and now never would. For reasons that he could not fathom he expected that the end of Tolo had been an unpleasant one. Lafarge rolled his eyes at the mention of the name and threw his hands in the air.
“Dead? Gone? Vanished God alone knows where. He just left you know, after all those years he ran out on me, never came back, there’s loyalty for you. All that time and then POF!” He threw his hands in the air again as though Tolo had been some magician’s trick of the light and had one day returned to the ether from where he had originally come.
“Pof?” Morris said.
“Yes, that is right, gone; you never will know the mind of an Asiatic Mr. Goodview, never. Trust what I tell you I have lived in the Levant for many years and they are still a mystery to me as I surely am to them. After Tolo left I placed an advert and the next morning Aziz knocked on my door looking for work it was perfect timing, such perfect timing.”
Lafarge pushed back from the desk and stood up to his full height he was over six feet tall and wider than Morris due to his expansive belly, the Frenchman stretched and yawned.
“Yes, indeed, perfect timing.” Morris repeated softly to himself.
“Aziz? Are you there?” Lafarge strode to the door and yanked it open. Aziz was standing there in the hallway and Morris wondered if he had been listening at the door but this observation did not seem to occur to Lafarge, if it had done he gave no indication.
“Ah there you are I need you to get the package for Mr. Goodview.”
Aziz mumbled something to Lafarge that Morris could not hear but it was clearly not to the Frenchman’s liking as he thundered.
“I NEED IT NOW THANK YOU, THE GIFT…”
He pushed the door closed but it caught on the rug and stayed ajar Lafarge strode over to Morris and clapped him on the shoulder.
“So you think I would let you go back to London empty handed? I have bought you a magnificent gift my friend.”
He smiled and held up his giant hands; Morris wondered if those hands had killed anyone, they would easily crush a windpipe, he quickly dismissed the thought.
“I have another gift for your employer, one that he has paid for handsomely.” At once his face clouded and the amicable smile was gone, replaced by anger.
“I hope it was worth it, I lost some good friends finding this thing and I will be glad to be rid of it.”
He took the key from the top of the desk and ambled over to the far wall, pausing to pull the shutters back across the window sending the room back into darkness; so that was why Lafarge had kept the candles lit Morris thought. Lafarge carefully lit an oil lamp and placed it on top of the long row of filing cabinets that stretched along the wall behind the desk. The lamplight cast uneasy patterns on the maps hung on the wall. Lafarge then pulled a stack of the cabinets out away from the wall their steel juddering on the wood underneath.
“You see, it has been kept safe for you.”
He laughed in a deep guttural roar that did nothing for Morris’s growing sense of unease.
“It is a joke you understand?”
“Yes, very good, very droll.” Morris replied.
“Please excuse the darkness but this artifact is very delicate.” Lafarge continued.
“I am going to show it to you and then you must put it away until you are safely in England.”
He turned the key in a lock and with a grunt and a wrench the safe door squeaked open.
“You see Mr. Goodview it is all very secure.”
“No Mr. Goodview I want you to do more than agree, I need you to be very clear about this I need you to swear to me that this artifact will stay sealed until your return to England. I tell you this as your life depends on you following my instructions.”
Lafarge reached into the safe, stopped and turned to Morris.
“You must promise me Mr. Goodview. This is no joking matter now; it is a matter of your life I am sure you value that. I sense that you view my behaviour as some theatre to amuse you however I am not in the business of amusement. This is the only advice I can give you, once we have opened the artifact, you must not open it again until safely back with your employer.”
In the dim light Morris could see Lafarge carrying what resembled a wooden box no different in dimensions to a small telescope or military spyglass. Morris stood up and was about to ask a question when the door to the hallway slowly began to swing open unnoticed by either Morris or Lafarge who was busy unscrewing the cap of the case. All that Lafarge took from inside the case was a small roll of silvery parchment it was bound by a single purple ribbon.
“Here, take it.” Lafarge muttered.
“Thank you.” Morris replied.
Morris took the scroll; it was hard to tell how old it was in the half light of the room, the oil lamp and the few candles cast a poor light. The feel of the material was smooth and yet had a fine grain to it overall the parchment had a slightly waxy texture that reminded Morris of vellum. He began to untie the ribbon that held the parchments together and was about to unroll them but stopped just as he pulled the ribbon clear.
“The light in here is too low for me to see clearly, I will not be able to read them.” Morris said.
“It is all you can have, anymore than this and…Well, let us just say that is better for our health if we leave things as they are. You do not need to read them Mr. Goodview, you are not qualified to understand them and ill equipped to deal with the consequences.”
Lafarge’s teeth gleamed in the lamp light; they reminded Morris of the keys of his piano back at his London flat the thought of which gave him a pang of homesickness.
“Look Lafarge this is really quite ridiculous you know. It is just an old parchment I cannot believe that I have been sent all this way on some fool’s errand to collect an item that could quite easily have been sent to England with a courier, It’s all so intolerable. I then have to stand here in the dark for this charade like a school boy involved in a Halloween prank…”
Morris’s voice trailed off as Lafarge’s eyes widened and his mouth opened ready to emit a roar that would shake the dead from their graves. Lafarge was not looking at Morris though; he had seen something else. Morris turned around, the office door was opening and as the gap widened daylight began to infiltrate in a broad yellow band across the office floor. Morris’s eyes had become used to the gloom and the light was so bright it hurt his eyes as it shone into the office.
“No…..you fool… NOOOO…!”
Lafarge bellowed and lunged forward as Aziz deftly stepped into the office carrying a small curved dagger in his left hand, his face was completely deadpan and his eyes appeared half shut as though he has just woken from a deep sleep. Lafarge took another step towards Aziz just as the door swung far enough that a shaft of daylight covered Morris’s hands and the parchments in its easy warmth, and then he stopped for a moment his face creased with fear. Morris glanced at his hands and at the scrolls but nothing happened.
“Now you have killed us all.” Lafarge said.
He lunged forward at Aziz, arms in front of him hands open and ready to grab the old man and wring his neck. Despite his age Aziz was quicker and lightly side stepped the lumbering Frenchman. However as Aziz darted to the side he managed to jab Lafarge in the gut with his dagger. Lafarge grunted as the blade sliced a crimson gash across his shirt, he stopped and looked down at the blood rapidly staining though the material.
“You miserable swine, you’ll pay for that. That rusty toothpick will not save your skin; it will take more than that Aziz.”
He patted his stomach where the knife had slashed him, blood pouring through his shirt onto his hands. Morris was transfixed by the parchments his hands shaking, he had now let them unravel, his grip loosened partly out of shock at Aziz’s attack but mainly due to the parchments becoming physically hotter since the sunlight had touched them. He could now see some writing and drawings on them; it looked like these markings were becoming brighter. Morris tried to dismiss the thought from his mind.
“It must surely be a trick of the light.” He muttered.
Then he snapped out of his trance and back to events in the room. Morris could see that Lafarge was bleeding severely and in the few seconds since Aziz had cut him with his dagger the flow of blood had increased at an alarming rate; Aziz must have caught him more deeply than it looked. But Lafarge did not seem to notice the rate he was now shedding blood onto the wooden floor, he was transfixed by the parchments that Morris held that were now becoming unbearably hot in hands. Morris opened his mouth and at that moment Lafarge lunged forward toward Aziz, who stood quite still, his dagger ready, unconcerned. Morris ducked out of the way pressing up against Lafarge’s desk as the Frenchman blundered past him; Aziz was again ready for him and this time managed to slash him across his chest. Morris could not tell if the blow struck home as Lafarge had his back to him. Aziz’s movements were quick, he had anticipated the Frenchman’s attack but time he was not quite as fast, Lafarge managed to grab Aziz’s arm and twist him around so that he had one arm around his throat, the other gripping Aziz’s hand in which he held the dagger, trying to keep it stretched out in front of them both. Morris managed to utter a couple of words.
He dropped the scrolls on the wooden office floor as they were now too hot to hold in his hands, he could see that the writing on them was now glowing fiercely with a bright blue light that was starting to rise up and outwards from the paper and was slowly spreading along the floor of the room. Morris’s words were lost on Lafarge who staggered backward gripping Aziz who was proving to be a tougher prospect than he had looked, as the two men struggled Lafarge caught site of the scrolls and the blue light emitting from them.
“STOP IT… STOP IT…you fool.”
Lafarge screamed, his voice sounded strained from the pain his wounds were causing him. He struggled to find his voice a second time.
“Kick it…into…the shadow, out of the light…you will kill us all.”
Lafarge’s attention momentarily strayed from Aziz and so allowed the old man the brief moment that he needed to flick his knife arm free of Lafarge’s grip and plunge his dagger deep into the Frenchman’s neck gashing a bloody hole in the thick muscles. Lafarge immediately emitted a choking sound his body arched backwards and careered into the filing cabinets pulling Aziz with him. The two men collapsed into the cabinets knocking an oil lamp over onto the papers that were stacked around it. Immediately the oil ignited and in a sharp burst of oxygen the flames took hold of the papers and the maps on the wall. Morris kicked the scrolls out of the sunlight with the tip of his shoe sending them skidding under Lafarge’s desk.
“Darn it…” Morris hissed.
He dropped to his knees and desperately began to reach for the scrolls. He peered under the desk and was startled to see that they had stopped emitting their curious blue light now they were out of the sun but surprisingly still too hot to touch. Morris just managed to pull the scrolls toward him with the tips of his fingers trying to ignore the burning pain as he touched them. He pulled the scrolls free and looked desperately around for the leather case. As Morris scrabbled on the floor he was aware of the two men’s struggle behind him and the flames billowing up the walls of the office, then he saw the case; it had rolled over to the door and was just within reach. Taking care to keep the scrolls out of the sunlight he grasped it and quickly stuffed the scrolls back inside. He was about to click the case shut when he saw Aziz coming for him dagger in hand and literally soaking in Lafarge’s blood.
“Give me the papyri.”
His voice sounded like the hiss of a reptile and was barely coherent; but all Morris could focus on was the dagger in Aziz’s hand. He held up the wooden box to shield himself, the thought of the dagger’s blade on his skin flooded his senses; he had no intention of suffering the same fate as Lafarge. Aziz closed in on Morris to snatch the box from him and at that moment Morris brought it into the sunlight and pointed the open end of the box toward Aziz like a crude pistol, the blue light and heat returned and surged forth from the scrolls. Aziz screamed in pain as the light pulsed onto him, he dropped the dagger and clutched at his face with both hands. Morris flicked the box shut and backed out of the door into the corridor still on his hands and knees. He tried to scramble to his feet but his legs refused to obey him. Before leaving London he had he had joked at his club how his legs would be the last thing to desert him if there was any danger while his bowels would be the first item to lose their grip on reality, indeed the opposite was true. He balanced himself against the wall as a gust of flame erupted from the office pumping thick smoke out into the corridor. He needed to get out of the building now or face suffocation. He could not see any movement in the office and thankfully no sign of Aziz, the occupants of the other rooms had now been alarmed to the smoke and fire and were emerging from their rooms to run down the corridor and out toward the front door and safety. Morris did not notice if any of them shouted at him or took any interest in helping him, he was trying to stuff the wooden box into his jacket pocket with his shaking and burnt hands when a familiar figure emerged from the smoke. It was Aziz now horribly injured and stumbling from the office bearing the effects of the blue light on his face. Morris retched as he took in the damage it had wrought. Aziz’s face had been burnt by the light and was now a shrivelled black mask, his eyes bulged out of their sockets, two black balls of weeping mucus. He screamed through charred lips and although he had been blinded his hand still clutched the dagger sweeping it from side to side desperately trying to find Morris and almost succeeding but for the merest whisker as the blade slashed past the edges of his linen jacket. Morris backed away down the corridor unfortunately he had managed to go in the wrong direction and now Aziz blocked the way to the stairs and the exit, Morris was trapped. Aziz began to close in on him; Morris kept his eyes on the dagger, conscious that he had no weapon of his own. Then he remembered he had his revolver and so drew it from his pocket and squeezing the trigger in one surprisingly fluid motion. The retort jerked the muzzle upwards, the bullet missed Aziz hitting the wall behind him. He fired again and this time he aimed at Aziz’s chest, there was a small puff of material as the bullet entered his body but there was no blood. Aziz’s blackened mouth curled open to show jagged yellow teeth which looked suspiciously like a smile. Morris fired repeatedly, all the while retreating up the corridor as each round hit Aziz in the chest, making no more impression on the Arab then a small hole in his shirt, but still he came closer, dagger ready. Morris backed into a small table promptly lost his footing and fell over in a heap. He lay on the floor and fired again this time hitting Aziz in the leg, he fired again but there was only a click. He had used his six rounds, the revolver was spent and with it his first and only defence. Aziz closed in on him and raised his dagger to strike; Morris covered his face with his arm clutching the useless gun and anticipating the dagger’s blow. Now Aziz stood over him framed by the smoke billowing from the office when in a shower of burning embers the office door flew off its hinges and Lafarge emerged. Aziz turned toward around as Lafarge’s huge bulk careered out of the room wreathed in flames looking the very image of Lucifer himself. He staggered down the corridor and lunged into Aziz with flaming hands pulling him to the floor next to Morris, the Arab virtually disappearing beneath the Frenchman’s torso. Morris dropped his revolver and scuttled away from them desperate to reach the end of the corridor, retching from the smoke which now completely filled the space. He turned, expecting to see Aziz again but all he could see was Lafarge laying still, the area around him on fire and presumably with Aziz still trapped under him. The flames were rapidly moving along the wooden corridor and it was clear to Morris that unless he took drastic action he would be staying there with Aziz and Lafarge to be burnt alive. He was already feeling incredibly weak and the increasing heat and smoke made every breath a struggle, bile and saliva were quickly rising up in his throat. He wiped his face on his sleeve and looked at the window. He mustered his strength and grabbed a chair and hit the cheap brittle glass which shattered instantly. Quickly knocking the largest shards of glass from the frame he gulped at the afternoon air trying to clear his lungs. He was two floors up but if it had been four floors his choice would still have been the same, jump or burn. He clambered up onto the frame and clumsily jumped through it into the air expecting the next sensation to be multiple broken bones. He had an impression of plunging forward and away into nothing with sunlight and black smoke whirling in front of him as he tumbled through the window. The next sensation was of icy water and soft vegetation. Morris floundered, panicked and fought the tangle of lilies to reach the surface. Coughing up dirty water Morris fumbled his way to the edge of the pond pulling himself up and out onto the hot paving stone of the courtyard. He lay there and watched black smoke billow from the window and orange tongues of flame lick the surrounding wall. Forcing himself to get up he stood swaying, his head swimming; thankfully the wooden box was still inside his jacket he could feel its weight there. For a moment Morris wondered if the water would ruin the scrolls and then realised that it would probably take much more than some dirty pond water to destroy them. He snapped out of his daydream, he had to get away from there before something else went wrong and in case Aziz had any accomplices, there was no Lafarge to come to his rescue now. Morris scanned the courtyard for an exit. There was a doorway opposite him; he shuffled over to it leaving a trail of damp footprints behind him, the door was unlocked so he pushed it open and was through into the souk’s narrow lanes. In the distance he could hear the shouts and confusion that fire brings in a crowded place. Pushing his way through the crowd who neither noticed nor cared for the half drowned Englishmen stumbling past them. Now all he had to do was to find his way back to London and to Lord Draxmere.