SURPRISINGLY THE AFTERNOON WAS warm, and the sun brilliant, and Alexandra Jamieson was looking hard at the front of what might have been a private house except that it was in the City of London and only a short walk from the Bank of England. The terrace was handsome, and some of the houses had window boxes containing tiny regimented evergreen shrubs, and one had two splendid bay trees guarding the front door. All the houses had brass plates, rows and lines of brass plates, and those she was now scanning were glitteringly clean, though some were virtually indecipherable. Alexandra found Manningham and Partners, Manningham Holdings, Manningham Tree, then Jonas Manningham, Fourth Floor.
Alexandra went up the steps. In the narrow hallway there were mahogany doors but if there was a lift she didn't see it, and from the number of stairs she had to climb from floor to floor the rooms certainly had exceptionally high ceilings. She'd been in London anyway, in a library, and she intended to go back to the reading room to spend the rest of the day completing the work she'd begun that morning. Tramp, tramp, up we go, she thought as she climbed.
At the reception desk on the fourth floor she said only, 'I'm here to see Jonas Manningham about Stephen Canford.' It was at that point that she noticed the duplicate of what downstairs she'd taken to be the door to a locked box room. 'I suppose,' she conjectured, 'that that's the lift.' The receptionist nodded without looking up. She was to go straight in.
The north facing room, unlit except for a green lamp on a very large desk, looked out on to the brick wall of an adjoining property, and Alexandra thought the gloom rather charming.
She'd taken a single step when a cool voice said, 'Perhaps you wouldn't mind putting on the main light,' quite as though she had no choice but to obey. It was only when she turned from the switch near the door that she saw a tall man standing at one of the high windows.
There was what seemed to be the briefest possible moment of mutual astonishment and Alexandra, who'd been expecting him to say thank you, somewhat hesitantly did as she was told; though his voice was quiet, the tone had been peremptory, and there was something in his expression which told her that he was capable of being quite effortlessly disagreeable.
'You're about to say that you have no idea why I asked to see you.' He'd spoken as though he were wondering at the exact nature of some bizarre phenomenon, but not wondering to the extent of being concerned with her reply.
Alexandra, conscious of his physical presence, felt her awkwardness was showing. 'I was told that it was about Stephen Canford. Other than that I know nothing.'
'You're what, his cousin?'
It seemed to her that her shadow reached towards him. 'He's my half-brother.' Her mother had married twice; her second husband, a widower, had a son by his first wife. Simon would now have been twenty eight; she thought Jonas Manningham older, perhaps thirty-five, and without any of Simon's rather web-like charm. She found the comparison disturbing. She said slowly, 'In fact Stephen's my only living relative.'
'Then, Miss Canford, it's not altogether clear to me what this has to do with you and before things go any further I'm going to suggest that you talk to him.'
She'd stopped, stood up, because he didn't seem to have any interest in what or indeed who she actually was, or what she was saying. He seemed more concerned with her appearance, which he was studying as though somehow she were at a greater distance from him than she really was. And she, Alexandra Jamieson, chose to take it that she'd been very plainly dismissed. She turned abruptly and left the room.