Non-intervention patrol

Here’s an excerpt from my new novel, Smoke.
The year is 1937. Londoners are gathering for the coronation of King George VI. On Haymarket Street, an old gentleman has just collapsed on the sidewalk. A policeman is making enquiries about the incident.

Nathan and Philip, speechless, knelt beside the stricken man, whose portly, suited body now lay motionless on the sidewalk. His eyes stared blankly upward into the morning mist. A crowd of people stood and stared. Nathan began pressing at the man’s chest in what appeared to be a vain attempt at stimulating heart operation. In a sort of desperate gesture, Nathan gently slapped the man’s joweled face as if to provoke him to attention.
Then there was a parting in the crowd; a bobby was on the spot. “Stand aside, please,” said the policeman, with accustomed authority. The two young men rose to their feet and backed off, allowing the bobby full access to this fallen gentleman’s predicament. After conducting a few more ineffective chest compressions, the policeman gingerly turned up the old fellow’s gold watch, which now lay inside his open coat on the ground, attached to the end of a gold chain that had strayed from the vest-pocket.  Philip could see that the watch showed 9:33.
The officer looked up at Nathan. “Do you know this man?” he asked, while checking the pulse at his risk.
“No sir.”
“What happened?”
“I was standing here by the window, looking in. I looked to my right. He was turning away, and slumping against the window. I took hold of him, trying to give him support. But I was in no position to bear his weight, so I let him down as gently as I could. He was, uh, blubbering, and that drool was beginning to come out of his mouth. I called for a doctor, and tried to,uh, somewhat, to stimulate his heart.”
The bobby stood up. He looked directly into Nathan’s eyes. He had a gentle, though official, demeanor. “Did he say anything?”
Nathan thought for a moment. “He did. He was going on about, uh, about the gold standard…” Nathan turned toward Philip. “Was’nt that it?” he asked.
“Yes, he said something about the gold standard, and monetary experiments,” replied Philip, looking at the policeman.
The bobby looked down again at the body. He spoke slowly, “Do you remember…what his last word was?”
Nathan and Philip looked at each other. Nathan was pursing his lips, trying to think about what had just happened. He shrugged his shoulders. “It was all so sudden.”
“Calamity,” said Philip.
“Yes, that was it, calamity.” Nathan affirmed, with relief, as if it were a matter of importance.
The bobby cast his analytical eyes around to the gathered crowd. “Does anyone here know this man?”
The only response was the din of Haymarket’s bustle as Londoners continued their pilgrimage in anticipation of coronation pageantry. .
“Have any of you people ever seen this man before, or can tell me anything about him?”
Then came a reply. “Yes. I know him. He is a member of the Travellers Club. In fact, officer, I saw him there not a half-hour ago.” The speaker was a thin gentleman, well-dressed in a blue, vested suit. His pale, gaunt face was thin, moustachioed, with spectacles.
“Step up, please, sir,” the bobby commanded, gently, gesturing with his right hand for the informer’s approach, as he retrieved, with his left, a notepad from his uniform pocket. Then, having another thought, the bobby looked upward and addressed the crowd. “You people would do well to move along now. Please make way for the medical team who will be here shortly.”
Setting his cartridge pen to the notepad, he began to quiz the man in the blue suit. “Do you know his name, sir?”
“His name was Paul Wallris.”
“How do you spell that surname?” inquired the officer, cocking his head slightly.
“Wallris. W, A, L, L, yes I think there are two L’s, R, I, S.”
“And you say you saw him at the Travellers Club just a while ago?”
“Yes, he was having breakfast there with some companions.”
“I see.” The policeman jotted for a moment, then looked up into the other man’s eyes. “And what is your name, sir?”
“Greeneglass, Itmar Greeneglass.”
Nathan and Philip were preparing to walk away. The officer, writing, glanced up at them. “I’ll need you gentlemen to remain here for a while. Just stand aside there for a moment, please.” The two younger men lit up cigarettes.
The officer directed his attention once again to the man in the blue suit. “Very well, then, Mr. Greeneglass, please describe, if you can, Mr. Wallris’ circumstance there this morning, if you can.”
“I was not privy to their conversation, of course, as I was sitting nearby in a chair, taking tea and reading the Times. Mr. Wallris and the two other members were having breakfast together at a table by the window.”
“Who were those other members?”
“I don’t know, sir. Their faces are slightly familiar, as I believe they are both fairly new members, whereas I have been there myself for about ten years now. I do,however, know this about Paul Wallris. He was rather grief-stricken. His grandson was one of those seamen killed last week in the fire aboard the HMS Hunter, on non-intervention patrol off Gibraltar.”

Smoke

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