Going to the First Class bar, Hillier expected the last word in cushioned silk walls, a delicious shadowless twilight, bar-stools with arms and backs, a carpet like a fall of snow. What he found was a reproduction of the Fitzroy Tavern in Soho, London W. i, the Fitzroy as it used to be before the modernisers ravaged it. The floor had cigarette-ends opening like flowers in spilt beer; a man with long hair and ear-rings was playing an upright piano that must have cost a few quid to untune; on the smoked ceiling there were tiny chalices made out of silver paper and thrown up to stick, mouth down, by their bases. The long wooden bar-counter was set with small opaque windows which swivelled on ornate Edwardian frames, obstacles to the ordering of drinks. A job-lot of horrid art-student daubs covered the walls. There even seemed to be a hidden tape-recording of Soho street sounds, the Adriatic brutally shut out. The Tourist bar, Hillier thought, must have a very luxurious d'ecor, no fun to the decorators.
The passengers, though, were not dressed like touts, yobs, junkies and failed writers. They were dressed like First Class passengers, a dream of rich rippling textures, and some of the men had golden dinner-jackets, a new American fashion. The aroma of their smokes was heady, but some of them seemed to be drinking washy halves of mild beer. Hillier's professional nose at once divined that they were really disguised cocktails. He had not expected that he would have to fight his way to the bar, but this, to the rich, must be part of the holiday. There was, however, no paying with money and no handfuls of soaked change. That would be taking verisimilitude too far. Hillier signed for his large Gordon's and tonic. And the barman, who had got himself up to look dirty, would undoubtedly have liked to look clean.
Hillier was at once accosted by the forward youth called, he remembered, Alan Walters. He was dressed in a well-cut miniature dinner-jacket and he even had a yellow Banksia in his buttonhole. Hillier hoped, for the lad's own sake, that his glass of tomato-juice did not contain vodka. Master Walters said: 'I've found out all about you.'
'Oh, you have, have you?' said Hillier, with a pang of fear that perhaps the boy really had.
'That man Wriste told me. For thirty bob. A very mercenary type of man.' His accent was not right, not rich enough. 'Your name's Jagger and you're connected with typewriters. Tell me all about typewriters.'
'Oh no,' said Hillier, 'this is meant to be a holiday.'
'It's all nonsense about people not wanting to talk shop on holiday,' said Alan. 'Shop is all most people have to talk about.'
'How old are you?'
'That's an irrelevant question, but I'll tell you. I'm thirteen.'
'Oh, God,' murmured Hillier. The nearest group of drinkers – fat men become, with subtle tailoring, merely plump; silk-swathed desirable women – looked at Hillier with malice and pity. They knew what he was going to suffer; why had he not been here before to suffer equally with them?
'Right,' said the boy. 'Who invented the typewriter?'
'Oh, it's so long ago,' said Hillier. 'I look to the future.'
'It was in 1870. There were three men-Scholes, Glidden and Soule. It was in America. They were financed by a man named Densmore.'
'You've just been reading this up/ said Hillier, uneasy now.
'Not recently,' said Alan. 'It was when I was interested in firearms. Technically, I mean. I'm still interested practically.' The neighbour drinkers would have liked to ignore Alan, but the boy was, after all, a kind of monster. They listened, drinks poised, mouths open. 'It was the Remington Company, you see, who first took it up. A typewriter is a kind of gun.'
'The Chicago typewriter,' said a voice. 'It ties up well enough.' Hillier saw that the Indian girl, Miss Devi, had just joined the nearest group. She was holding a martini. She was very beautiful. She was dressed in a scarlet sari embossed with gold images of prancing, tongued, many-armed gods. A silver trinket embellished her nose. Her hair was traditionally arranged – middle parting, plaits on each side of it. But the remark about the Chicago typewriter had come from the man standing by her. This must be her boss, Mr Theodorescu. He was of a noble fatness; the fat of his face was part of its essential structure, not a mean gross accretion, and the vast shapely nose needed those cheek-pads and firm jowls for a proper balance. The chin was very firm. The eyes were not currants in dough but huge and lustrous lamps whose whites seemed to have been polished. He was totally bald, but the smooth scalp -from which a discreet odour of violets breathed – seemed less an affliction than an achievement, as though hair were a mere callow down to be shed in maturity. He was. Hillier thought, about fifty. His hands were richly ringed, but this did not seem vulgar: they were so big, strong and groomed that the crusting of winking stones was rather like adornment by transitory flowers of acknowledged God-given instruments of skill and power and be?^uty. His body was so huge that the wThite dinner-jacket was like a moulded expanse of royal sailcloth. He was drinking what Hillier took to be neat vodka, a whole gill of it. Hillier feared him; he also feared Miss Devi, whom he had seen nearly naked. There had been a man who had inadvertently spied a goddess bathing. Actaeon, was it? Was he the one who had been punished by being turned into a stag and then devoured by fifty dogs? This boy here would know.
This boy said: 'It was Yost who was the real expert. He was an expert mechanic. But the Yost method of inking soon became obsolete. What,' he coldly asked Hillier, 'was the Yost method of inking?'
I used to know,' said Hillier. 'I've been in this game a long time. One forgets. I look to the future.' He'd said that already.
'Yost used an inked pad instead of a ribbon,' said Alan sternly. Others looked sternly at Hillier too. 'It's my opinion,' said Alan, 'that you know nothing about typewriters. You're an impostor.'
'Look here,' bullied Hillier, 'I'm not having this, you know.' The god whom Hillier took to be Mr Theodorescu laughed in a gale that seemed to shake the bar. He said, in a voice like a sixteen-foot organ-stop: 'Apologise to the gentleman, boy. Because he does not wish to disclose his knowledge to you does not mean that he has no knowledge. Ask him questions of less purely academic interest. About the development of Chinese typewriters, for instance.'
'Five thousand four hundred ideographic type faces,' said Hillier with relief. 'A three-grouped cylinder. Forty-three keys.'
'I say he knows nothing about typewriters,' said Alan staunchly. 'I says he's an impostor. I shouldn't be surprised if he was a spy.'
Hillier, like a violinist confidently down-bowing in with the rest of the section, started to laugh. But nobody else laughed. Hillier was playing from the wrong score.
'Where's your father?' cried Mr Theodorescu. 'If I were your father I would take you over my knee and spank you hard and then make you apologise to this gentleman. Abjectly.'
'He's over there,' said Alan. 'He wouldn't do anything.' At a table just by the Fitzroy Street entrance a dim swollen man was being adjured, by a frizz-haired woman much his junior, to down that and have another.
'Well, then,' said Mr Theodorescu, veering round massively as by silent hydraulic machinery, 'let me apologise on the boy's behalf.' He shone his great lamps on Hillier. 'We know him, you see. You, I think, have just joined us. In a sense, he is all our responsibility. I believe he is sincerely sorry, Mr-'
'Mr Jagger. Theodorescu myself, though I am not Rumanian. This is Miss Devi, my secretary.'
'I regret to say,' said Hillier, 'that we have already met. It was very unfortunate. I feel like apologising, but it was not really my fault.' It had not been Actaeon's fault.
'I always forget about the locking of bathroom doors,' said Miss Devi. 'It comes of having my own private suite on land. But we are surely above these foolish taboos.'
'I hope so,' said Hillier.
'Typewriters, typewriters,' crooned Theodorescu. 'I have always felt that our house should have a distinctive typeface, very large, a sort of variant of the old black-letter. Would it be possible to write in Roman and Arabic letters on the one instrument?' he asked Hillier.
'The difficulty there would be to arrange things so that one could type from both left to right and right to left. Not insuperable. It would be cheaper to use two typewriters, though.'
'Very interesting,' said Theodorescu, searching Hillier's face, it seemed, with one eye, two eyes not being necessary. Alan Walters was now standing alone at the bar, sulking over a new tomato-juice which Hillier this time hoped contained vodka, a large one.
'He knows nothing about it,' he mumbled. It was recognised that he had been a rude boy; the grown-ups had turned their backs on him. 'Yost and Soule,' he muttered to his red glass. 'He knows nothing about them. Silly old Jagger is a Yost Soule, a lost soul, ha ha ha.' Hillier didn't like the sound of that. But Theodorescu was large enough to be able to be kind to the lad, saying: 'We have not yet seen your beautiful sister this evening. Is she still in her cabin?'
'She's a Yost Soule, like Jagger here. She reads about sex all the time, but she knows nothing about it. Just like Jagger.'
'You may have tested Mr Jagger on the history of the typewriter,' said Theodorescu urbanely, 'but you have not tested him on sex. Nor,' he added hurriedly, seeing Alan open his mouth on a deep breath, 'are you going to.'
'Jagger is a sexless spy,' said the boy. Hillier reminded himself that he was not here to be a gentleman, above such matters as impertinent and precocious brats. He went close to the not over-clean left ear of Alan and said to it, 'Look. Any more nonsense from you, you bloody young horror, and I'll repeatedly jam a very pointed shoe up your arse.'
'Up my arse, eh?' said Alan very clearly. There were conventionally shocked looks at Hillier. At that moment a white-coated steward, evidently Goanese, entered with a carillon tuned to a minor arpeggio. He walked through the Soho pub like a visitor from a neighbouring TV stageset, striking briskly the opening right-hand bars of Beethoven's 'Moonlight' Sonata.
'Ah, dinner,' said Theodorescu with relief. 'I'm starving.'
'You had a large tea,' said Miss Devi.
'I have a large frame.'
Millier remembered that he had asked for a place at Miss Devi's table, which also would mean Theodorescu's. He was not sure now whether it had really been a good idea. Sooner or later Theodorescu's sheer weight, aided by Master Walters's shrill attrition from another point, however distant, in the dining-saloon, would bruise and chip the Jagger disguise. Besides, he knew he had made himself uglier than he really was, and he couldn't help wanting to be handsome for Miss Devi. Foolish taboos, eh? That's what she'd said.