Kenneth Thorne held the cuddly guardsman bear in two hands, feeling its weight.
“What’s its range, a hundred metres?”
The shop assistant shook his head.
“More like a hundred and fifty. Four channel FM frequency. Penetrates obstacles better than AM.”
Thorne nodded, turning the furry toy to study its back.
“Wireless transmission to monitor?”
The assistant smiled.
“Of course. And to a disc recorder or hard drive if you want. Cot Cam is the perfect surveillance of your newborn, round the clock. Watch and listen to your baby from another room. Watch the telly with your missus then switch over to check on the baby. Peace of mind for two hundred pounds. Cheap really, eh?”
Thorne produced his envelope.
“Cash. Save your bag, I won’t need it.”
He counted out the new notes and left the shop.
The Victorian slate window sills of number sixty, Penscroft Mansions, Camberwell, had provided ledgings for generations of London pigeons, their legacy evident in the stained, blackening red brick etched by the city’s pollution on the seven-storey building. The cheap apartments were frequently let, as each resident lived their lives in the suburbs of London then moved on. Now it had bunting and flags in the windows as the residents prepared for the royal wedding.
Mrs O’Neill, the widow who owned it, had aged with the building. Her gaunt, stretched skin, the papery texture of garlic, spoke volumes of lack of sun and love. Only her eyes betrayed a fire still alight in the basement of her heart as she greeted the man at her front door.
“Hello, dear. What can I do for you, then?”
Thorne forced a smile.
“I’m looking for lodgings. I believe you have a vacancy?”
“Well, wherever did you hear that?”
The landlady crossed her thin arms and they vanished into the floral fabric of her housecoat.
“From a man I met. Said Mrs O’Neill ran a nice house and I should be lucky to get a place with you.”
He told the lie easily, listening to the sound of a radio playing deep in the house. He wondered if it was Matt Milton’s.
Dora O’Neill pursed her lips like an ancient cherub, eyeing him.
“Well, that’s nice to hear. I do have number seven that’s just come up vacant, dear. Poor man who lived in it suddenly had to go home. Asian gentleman. Very sudden, too. Got a letter and whoosh! He was gone.”
Her eyes opened wide with the amazement of it. She shrugged her thin shoulders, causing her housecoat to waver like flowers in a field.
He gave her his concerned look, creasing his brow.
“So that’s my good fortune then?”
She cocked her head, still studying him.
“Well, it could be, dear. Depends. Have you any references or the like?”
“I’m new here. We lived in our own house until my wife, well, you know, moved on. I’m here in London to see the royal wedding. See some good British history first hand, if you see what I mean.”
“It’s a month’s key money in advance, dear. Strict about that.”
She struck a pose she thought was businesslike.
“In cash as well.”
Thorne produced his roll of new notes and placed some in her hand.
“No trouble, Mrs O’Neill. I know you to be an honest lady. It will be a pleasure to live under your roof, I’m sure of that. Number seven, you said?”
The money disappeared into a pouch in the front of her housecoat and she turned on the step to whisper.
“Sorry about your wife, dear. We’re all very excited about the wedding. We’re watching it on my telly in my parlour if you want to come down.”
They moved into the brown-painted hallway that smelled of beeswax and linseed oil and crossed a threadbare, maroon Indian carpet, crushed flat by time and traffic.
“There’s a kettle in your kitchenette. I’ll bring you up some teabags and milk.”
Thorne hesitated. On the stairway he rubbed his hands together.
“Thanks, Dora. Mr Milton still live here?”
“Why, yes, dear. He lives right next door to you. In number eight. It’s nice that you know him.”
“Well, I don’t actually know him. More know of him.”
“I see, dear. Quiet man.” She swayed closer to lower her voice again.
“Bit preoccupied, if you know what I mean..”
She raised both her veined hands and waggled them in the air.
“Just single minded about certain things. You’ll see.”
“I’m sure he’s a very nice gentleman, Dora. We’ll get along fine.”