The sky was somewhat overcast, a morning mist was covering the streets and was slow to dissipate, the air was humid and cold. The fog covered the windows of Mr. Hopkins' living room while he was at the other end of the room, in his large and very comfortable armchair near the crackling chimney, a gentle fire at his end. Mr. Hopkins had electric heaters but didn't like to use them, especially not on cool mornings where he enjoyed watching the flames move and feel the warmth of the hearth. He had grown up in an old house where technology was not a thing, his father appreciated an old way of life, it was understandable this last had been raised by his grandfather and Mr. Hopkins himself had learned to appreciate it.
His eccentricities were not well seen by everyone, very little for example by Margareth, his governess and one of the people who knew him best and this for a long time and who saw there additional tasks and not the simplest ones. Besides, this one was to arrive soon.
Mr. Hopkins was sitting in his armchair in this late morning, the daily newspaper was lying on the coffee table next to a cup of tea abandoned earlier, he was reading The Tale of the Two Cities and the book, which he had just picked up two hours ago, was already well underway. He was so concentrated that he only heard Mrs. Allister as she crossed the staircase and entered the room.
‘Good day Mr. Hopkins, well as always,’ she tells him.
‘I didn't even hear you coming,’ he said without detaching his eyes from the page.
‘You look pretty focused this morning. Did you see that mist? I almost had an accident on the next street!’
‘Fortunately no such things happened,’ he said has he got up, without really carrying about his words. He approached the large windows and stared at the view for a moment.
‘I find it gives Brixton a touch of mystery’ he continues, turning to Mrs. Allister with a light smile.
‘You know me the mystery, I do without. Especially if it causes accidents’, there she answered somewhat annoyed.
‘Fortunately no such things happened,’ he repeated. ‘Tell me Margareth, do you remember the book you offered me two years ago?’
She was clearing the tray on the coffee table and stopped for a moment to think.
‘Yes, the old book, what was its name again? Ha I remember! Dead souls, a completely sordid title I thought you'd like it.’
‘Indeed it was a good book, I have read it again and again.’
‘Happy to hear it.’
‘All of this to ask you where did you found it because I would like to offer a book to a friend, but he is a connoisseur! So I need a nice antique book and so far I haven't found anything of the kind.’
‘Let me think, I may have bought it in a shop in London by some chance. It’s located next to the museum if my memory serves me well, in front of the plaza, a pretty little shop.’
‘Thank you, thank you very much Margareth, you are saving me! I will go to London this afternoon.’
She left the room with the tray in her hands and as she went down the stairs she exclaimed:
‘Anyway, with your luck you may not even need to go there, you'll leave, walk a few minutes and stumble over a perfect copy of your book. Like that in the middle of the street, by the gutter!’
And Mr. Hopkins exclaimed back:
‘Let's stop with this Margareth, I'm not as lucky as you say!’
‘You are the one who says so’ answered a distant voice.
‘Why are they all always telling me of good luck, why are they all bothering me with this? I'm lucky, yes, but no more than any other man’ did he whisper to himself, ‘it’s true, no more than anyone else.’
He had left for London some time after his lunch and he was now walking to his destination, he had not felt like taking the car or the bus but to get some fresh air, anyway when fatigue comes he will simply head to the nearest stop bus and finish the journey quietly seated.
The sky had remained unclear and Mr Hopkins, looking up at the clouds, feared a sudden shower. Despite all that, he took the time to walk peacefully and stopped to observe this and that, an intruder in this boiling crowd, in a tense flow, eager to go and accomplish some tasks that were incumbent upon her.
He had been walking for some time when a woman in an even greater hurry than the others rushed past him, he watched her pass, wondering where she was going and why the hell she was in such a hurry when she slipped on a pavement. He reacted immediately and caught her but the fall was so well engaged and she hung so well this arm came to bring her help that they were both soon half lengthened on the road. One on the other, their regards crossed, Mr Hopkins rose up quickly and helped the young woman to do the same, a little embarrassed to not have succeeded in catching her, and the crown for a gentleman, to have fallen on her as a supplement.
‘You are all right? I'm terribly sorry.’
‘Don't worry, everything's fine, and I'm the one who should apologize, you try to help me and I take you down!’ she replied with a smile.
They continued walking, this time at a gentle pace.
‘My name is Terrence, Terrence Hopkins.’
‘Claire, nice to meet you, Terrence.’
A silence set in as they kept walking, Claire was looking at the ground, she was apparently embarrassed. Mr. Hopkins was in a talkative mood, he made an effort to restart the conversation.
‘And if it's not too indiscreet, where were you running like that, Claire?’
Instantaneously she displayed an assured expression, the kind you take when you have an audience to convince during an important speech. It almost seemed to be an automatism for this woman dressed in a tailor and sneakers, with impeccable hair a couple of minutes ago.
‘I was on my way to clean and tidy up at my father's house and in the late afternoon I have an important appointment. So there's no real hurry, but I'm so used to running around. And you, where are you going?’
‘I'm looking for a book to offer to an old friend.’
‘What kind of book?’ she asked, interested.
‘To be exact one of the old editions of the Black Dwarf from...’
‘From Walter Scott, I know, I read it not long ago! Well, it's your lucky day. I'm sure I have it at my father's house, come with me there and the book is yours, to thank you for catching me up.’
‘No, I can't accept. The book is rare and must be worth a certain price and then it's your father's one.’
‘I clean the house because I sell it, my father died some time ago, his books are no longer of much use to him.’
‘I'm sorry, my condolences.’
‘Thank you.’ She regained a neutral expression for a moment but almost instantly left.
‘So, are you coming?’
‘All right, all right.’
The conversation on the way was captivating, the time had passed faster than expected and they were now in front of the gate of a more than honest Victorian-era house which included from what he saw: a rather pleasant front garden, a paved alley leading to the said house as well as a double place for cars. Claire slipped her hand into the left pocket of her coat, her fingers were looking for a precise object in vain.
‘My keys!’ she panicked.
She searched all her pockets, those of her coat, searched briefly in her bag and continued:
‘My keys, they were in the pocket of my coat, I'm sure of it!’
‘Damn, they must have fallen during our accident earlier,’ he answered sincerely annoyed.
‘You’re probably right. Goddamn it!’ she shouted, hitting the gate like a punishment for not wanting to let them in. Her shoulders collapsed, she sighed.
‘Sorry to have brought you here for nothing.’
Terrence looked her in the eye, seeking a solution:
‘Don't you have a double of the keys at home?’
‘No, it was this one and I left the original inside earlier,’ she says embarrassed. ‘I know I'm really stupid’.
‘Not at all! Don't you have someone to contact who might have a duplicate?’
She nodded with her head.
Looking into the void, he pondered on a means to enter, he resigned himself and looked her straight in the eyes and told her with an amused look…
‘I see only one way in.’
‘I'll climb the gate and get your keys!’
‘You are not going to do that!’
‘The gate is high, you could hurt yourself, a bad fall came so fast! And what would I say to the emergency services? That I let you climb my gate to get me my keys?’
‘Don't be worried you won't need to call anyone,’ he replied, feigning insurance.
She stared at him for a few seconds, squinting her eyes, evaluating the situation, then let out a small exhalation, she approved.
‘Okay, the back door should be open and the keys are normally on the commode at the entrance but are you sure you can do it?’
‘Of course I can do it!’
Terrence was perched at the top of the gate, his jacket caught in one of the peaks fixed on top of the gate had almost caused him to fall backwards, and he barely caught up and then finally his feet touched the ground.
So he went around the house and indeed found a half-opened door, then he entered into a fairly cosy little office, and headed towards the commode at the entrance where the keys were supposed to be.
Meanwhile, Claire was waiting outside the gate of the family home while a man she had not known for more than an hour was currently alone in her property.
‘What the hell am I doing,’ she panicked, grabbing her phone ready to call the police and declaring she had let a complete stranger into her house.
She had dialed the number on her phone and was about to press the call button, but after a period of hesitation she finally decided to change her mind. She felt like she could trust this Terrence Hopkins, that he was a good person, and strangely different from the others. Furthermore, with the information he told her during their discussion, he was probably quite wealthy, not the kind of person who would steal anything.
In the distance the door opened and the man appeared, she hastened to chase away these ideas and put away her telephone. Terrence proudly arrived, opened the gate and handed the keys to the woman.
‘There you go!’
‘Well, thank you. I'll get your book for you, I'll be back in a moment,’ she said abruptly, as she hurried to the door of her property.
As he replied there were no problems, and he would wait patiently, she wondered how she could have been about to call the police. He seemed so kind, so innocent, she was forced to offer him something after the trouble he had given himself to help her, so she made a volte-face:
‘Yes? Something wrong?’
‘Actually, I was thinking you could come in and maybe stay a little if you have the time? For a cup of tea or coffee at least? I will show you the place, or what you have yet to see,’ she proposed with a smile. The two laughed and went up the alley towards the house.
3 hours had passed since the invitation, they had drunk, eaten some biscuits, discussed about everything and nothing, their lives, their passions, laughed even more and found many common points. Mr. Hopkins looked at his watch :
‘It's getting late, I should go.’
They got up.
Claire held out her hand:
‘Thank you for coming, thank you for the keys, that afternoon was very enjoyable.’
Mr. Hopkins delicately grasped her:
‘Thank you very much, I really have enjoyed being with you and the Tour too. All alone was sympathetic but it was even better with such a guide.’
They both smiled.
‘I hope to see you again soon, Terrence.’
‘Soon it is promised.’ he replied, unhooking his effects from the coat rack.
He had to leave but remained stuck, contemplating the pretty smile of this delightful person.
‘You know what?’ he said. ‘Why don't we go to the restaurant together? It's still a bit early so we could go to my house first, I could show you the place, then we would go?’
‘I have my appointment in just under an hour...’
Mr. Hopkins' face first expressed a great deception and then became neutral:
‘Oh, yes, the appointment, indeed, that’s unfortunate.’
‘But it could wait.’ she finished. ‘I prepare myself, I take my car and come for 18:30? 11 Ferdene Road, right?’
‘Absolutely!’ he exclaimed, ‘it's perfect. See you soon then.’
Mr. Hopkins left delighted, delighted of that perfect afternoon and of this evening which seemed to be about the same acabit.
He was adjusting his jacket in front of his mirror when he heard a voice in his back:
‘You are finally back! You didn't even take your phone!’
‘I apologize, I hope I didn't stop you from finishing your work.’
‘I did what I had to do, it’s fine if it isn't exactly as you would have liked. Did you find the shop?’
‘I didn't go to the museum,’ he admits, ‘I'll tell you about it later.’
‘Mrs. Royer called.’
Maggie Royer was Mr. Hopkins ex concubine, they had broken up on "good terms" at least as good as a separation allowed it but for some reasons, which he had not disclosed, he had not agreed to see her again, nor to speak to her since.
‘What did she want?’ he asked dryly.
‘She said she had some papers to give you.’
‘All right, I'll text her’ he said.
‘I couldn't reach you and it sounded pretty important, so I told her to come by. She should be here soon.’ she added.
Hopkins froze, there was silence, then he turned suddenly and shouted:
‘You have done what!?’
Terrified he glanced at his watch, it was 18: 20.