Amy’s place is different every time I go there. It started as an opium den without opium – or at any rate a place where opium was only for those for whom kefir didn’t altogether do the trick. Then it became a place of more general resort. There was a bar – after a fashion. There were divans with cushions. Then food became available. When you enter through the very discrete front door you are greeted by the aroma of green tea and of Chinese and Japanese delicacies. There is nothing however so vulgar as a menu. In the front room, you can usually depend on meeting people you know and spending an agreeable half hour with them, and then there are the back rooms for more recondite pleasures, like the private rooms of a New Orleans brothel or the library of a Pall Mall club.
There is no name over the door. In one window, facing the street, there is a portrait of Amy’s provisional head of state against a red, white and blue background. It will remain there at least until the Olympics are over. Inside is a rather bigger photographic portrait of His Highness Sultan Qaboos of Oman, benevolently fingering his khanjar. That was a gift from me.
You can get anything you want, at Amy’s restaurant.
Excepting Amy, quoted the dog, showing off.
After a rocky start, things were looking up. Late one night, however, she telephoned me. I was to go straight round. It concerned the Court of Appeal judge, and Amy, who is never entirely unsettled, was clearly far from settled.
This, as will be seen shortly, is probably the man’s last appearance in these chronicles, and he deserves more than the generic description – ‘the Court of Appeal judge’ – that he has received to date. Unfortunately however the circumstances are far too delicate to admit of his being named. Professionally he would be described as ‘Lord Justice’ – followed by his surname. He was not acting professionally at the time though, so he would properly be known in this context as Sir J- K- (as it might be), having been knighted when he became a High Court judge and not yet made (indeed, as we shall see shortly, never to be made) a life peer, as would normally be appropriate on his acceding in the fullness of time to the Supreme Court. I shall call him Sir J-, like a provincial town in the stories of Chekhov.
Anyway, he was dead. Amy tried to prepare me with ineffective circumlocutions but I went straight through to the private room and the position was beyond doubt.
He choke on he own kefir.
That much could be seen. The man’s face was such as I hope never to see again, his slight body distorted with horror, his tweeds awry. The intestinal flora had got him in the end.
He can’t be found here, I said. Not just for your sake, Amy, but his family’s. We have to get him away.
How? she said. Who can help us? Aubergine Small he at sea. On Jolly Thought.
I hadn’t, I admit, thought of Aubergine Small. Brute strength was not required, but we had to get the man unseen through the streets of London to a place suitable to leave him. I had a brainwave. I called the Jibjab Woman on her mobile and fortunately she picked up.
Come at once. Amy needs you. Bring spare jibjabs.
What a star she is! She soon arrived, took in the scene with a shudder and got straight to work: off with the tweeds and on with the jibjab.
You too, Amy, I directed.
There being a fourth jibjab, I also put it on, and there we were, although mine was a little small for me, to all appearances four modest Moslem women about to go shopping; one of us increasingly less pliant than the others.
We were convincing enough, but no likely match for a London cabbie. It was then that I had my second brainwave. Our friend M, it may be recalled, does not trust public transport, and always uses a contract driver. This man – let us call him Igor – speaks no English, lacks basic familiarity with the geography of London and is of unparalleled venality. So I called him.
He’ll never tell about us. He probably won’t even notice.
There was of course a delay while Igor found us and another as he manoeuvred the Bentley down the street, which had been designed only to take two lanes of traffic. I think that he found my accent confusing – probably it was the falsetto – but I’m confident that he never guessed that I was English. I directed him, in Russian, to take us to Sir J-‘s country place, the address of which, in Hampshire, I had located, using Google.
Sir J- would be discovered, re-tweeded, among his familiar shrubs and gazebos, having passed away unexpectedly but peacefully.
We fairly bowled along. Once we hit the main roads out of London it was a smooth ride. I was very tired and I confess that I dropped off. So I believe did Amy, for whom it had been a trying day, and the Jibjab Woman must have slept as well.
I awoke too late. We were not at Sir J-‘s country seat, we were at Farnborough Airport.
Gompshire! Gompshire! shouted Igor.
Too late I realised that ‘Hampshire’ meant only one thing to him: the private airport that delivered his clients to him and bore them away again.
Across the field a Lear Jet was taking off.
She very stiff; she go at Novosibirsk, said Igor, lapsing unexpectedly into English.
It wasn’t at all what I had intended, but perhaps it was for the best. There would be puzzlement in England about Sir J-‘s disappearance but the arrival in Novosibirsk of a dead English judge dressed as a modest Moslem woman would probably go unremarked. A contract killing, they would no doubt conclude, and leave it at that.
Anyway there was no more that we could do.
The stress lifted, Amy, the Jibjab Woman and I were suddenly attacked by giggles.
I thought, These jibjabs are too good to waste.
Harrods, my man, I said to Igor in my most authoritative falsetto voice. And step on it.
I was confident that although shaky on central London and fundamentally confused as regards Hampshire, Igor would know how to find Harrods.