The Bukowski Agency - The Golden Tresses of the Dead Excerpt
The Golden Tresses of the Dead

a novel by Alan Bradley

EXCERPT

IT’S AMAZING WHAT A WEDDING CAN TAKE OUT OF YOU, even if it’s not your own. I had gone to my room to lie down and collect my thoughts. The past few days had been like being thrown into a millstream, tossed and buffeted by other people’s plans, like a cork in the millrace.

I must have nodded off for some time when I was awakened by a knocking at the door. I managed to work myself up onto one elbow, my head groggy with sleep.

‘Wha—’ I managed, the inside of my mouth feeling like the newspaper in the bottom of the canary’s cage.

‘It’s Dogger, Miss Flavia. May I come in?’

‘Of course,’ I said, clawing at my hair to make it look decent as I sprang up from the bed and took up a position at the window, gazing reflectively out upon the garden as if I were Olivia de Havilland.

‘Sorry to disturb you, Miss,’ Dogger said, ‘but I believe we have a client. Where would you like to receive her?’

Her? My heart began to accelerate. Would our first paying client turn out to be some mysterious woman in black? A woman who was being blackmailed by a coven of witches? But witches didn’t usually blackmail, did they? Weren’t they far more likely to seek revenge by black magic than by black-mail?

‘Show her into the drawing-room, Dogger,’ I said trying to calm my breathing. ‘I shall be down directly.’

As soon as I heard Dogger’s departing footsteps on the stair, I dashed next door into my chemical laboratory and grabbed a pair of glasses, a notebook with a professional-looking marbled cover, and one of my late Uncle Tarquin’s Waverly fountain pens, which had once been advertised everywhere with the jingle: “They come as a boon and a blessing to men, the Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley pen.”

Uncle Tar had owned several of each model.

I counted slowly to one-hundred-and-eighty and then began my leisurely descent.

‘Mrs Prill,’ Dogger said, as I entered the room, ‘I should like to introduce Miss Flavia de Luce. Miss Flavia, Mrs Anastasia Prill.’

‘Pleased to meet you,’ I said, removing my glasses and giving her a firm, business-like handshake.

With her prim grey suit and a dove-winged grey hat on her head, she looked like a cross between a Trafalgar-square fountain pigeon and the winged god, Mercury.

I was expecting her voice to be a harsh, bird-like cry, but when it came, it took me by surprise, for it was a voice like old mahogany polished with beeswax: rich, warm, and surprisingly deep. The voice of a trained vocalist. A contralto. An opera singer, perhaps?

‘I’m very happy to meet you, Flavia,’ she said, which was probably an appropriate way of addressing me, considering that she was considerably older than I was, but still, I didn’t want a too-easy familiarity to ruin our relationship. She needed to keep in mind that she was the client, and Dogger and I the consultants.

Accordingly, I kept my gob shut, and began to leaf quickly through the pages of the notebook as if seeking to remind myself of some important fact. That done, I replaced my spectacles and waved Mrs Prill to a nearby chair.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I asked. The business of Arthur Dogger and Associates would be, if nothing else, conducted in a civilised manner.

 

 

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