The Russian Oligarch Affair
An Andromeda Todd Adventure
In which Andromeda Todd takes a walk in Lambeth
Andromeda Todd was standing by a lamp post, close to Lambeth Pier, watching the entrance to Lambeth Palace, and getting nervous. She seemed to be reading something on her iPhone, but her eyes did not see anything on that small screen. She was, so far, keeping the twitching of her vulpine ears and tail under control, but anyone close enough to see the fur at the back of her neck would see it was bristling. She was not at ease. Not that she looked out of place. Her clothes, and her stance, screamed privilege to any onlooker. She stood as if she had a right to be there. She was dressed aside from the current fashion, a flash of rock-solid classical style.
Behind her, across the river, the Palace of Westminster caught the light of the setting sun, almost as if it were on fire. That was not what she was watching for. In front of her, across the road, a door opened, a rectangle of white light that never quite matched the sun. A figure stepped through, from light into ambiguous dusk, and the door closed. She watched him, seeing how the clerical garb masked his gait, but noting how he paused at the thirteenth pace and looked at his wristwatch.
In answer, she counted twelve paces, and tapped the screen of her iPhone, and a flash of colour lit the white fur running up her throat and under her jaw.
There was the streetlighting, and the vehicle headlights on Lambeth Palace Road, but she paid no more attention to the messenger. She was watching for others, for those who might be watching or following. He crossed the road, and walked towards her, and past her. A tiny icon on her iPhone screen flickered.
She didn’t make a show of looking at her watch or anything so old-fashioned. She wore a watch, one that didn’t quite fit with what she seemed to be, but she hardly needed it. She did not shrug in some pantomime of frustration. She turned, and walked towards Lambeth Pier, and made a sudden last dash as the boat was cast loose, last passenger aboard, her personal electronics paying for, and becoming, her ticket.
And the icon on the screen was no longer flickering, but it was a slightly different colour.
The world had changed while she had been in Afghanistan.
She carefully did not try to spot a clerical gentleman leaving the boat at any of the piers and herself debarked at the Canary Wharf pier. It was a short enough walk to connect with the DLR at Westferry, by train to Shadwell, and, as planned, a taxi just happened to be passing.
That was nothing to do with any app on her phone. Instead, the driver had a Welsh accent, and had been raised on the same street as Hugh Powell, in the last days of Tiger Bay. Whatever else might change, there were friendships which lasted.
And there was no real point in hiding where she was going. If anyone had noticed her, if anyone had bothered to check, they would know enough and soon.And if Hugh Powell had asked an old friend to pick up his girl at Shadwell, what of it?
That was Tiger Bay for you, and Limehouse, and a myriad other dockside slums around the world. The insiders still stuck together. They had become accustomed to standing against the world, and against those who thought themselves superior.
Shingle opened the door of New Stepney House; he could monitor the cameras from the Butler’s Pantry, but Andromeda had loaded an iPhone app which saved her the effort of knocking on a door and waiting. And Hugh Powell was leanimg over the rail of the mezzanine landing, almost in line with the notorious portrait of Andromeda’s grandmother as the Venus of the Air. You might think he was just another Old Etonian, and he wasn’t wearing his regimental tie, but there was something in the way he stood. He might have started as a Tiger Bay alley cat, but you needed more than competence or connections to get a Commission in the Welsh Guards.
“His Grace is in the Library, Miss Todd.”
She nodded acknowledgement.
“With a very special guest,” said Hugh.