A few days later, Short met Allen at the bottom end of Barnes. It was a Saturday morning, with the sky wide open above the Chiswick shore, more like early spring than summer. Tim presented as vaguely as ever, the sleeves of his yellowish cotton-corduroy jacket rolled to the elbow. The black eye had healed, but now he had done something that left him with a mild rash on the same side. He was staring into the display window of an estate agent, one of the crocodile of a dozen or so that slithers its way up High Street from the river. He had encumbered himself with a couple of damp-looking carrier bags, which he held up for Shaw to see. They were heavy enough to have left red marks across the palms of his hands.
“Always get to the fishmonger early,” he advised.
Then, as though he might buy something if only the property market would act a little more sensibly: “Look at these fucking joke prices.”
Short joined him at the window and they talked for a bit. Then Allen said he had to be in Hammersmith and they walked up as far as Barnes Pond together. Sunlight glittered on the traffic sawing its way round from Church Road into Station Road. Mallards could be heard squabbling on the little island in the middle of the pond, while over in the Essex House car park the Farmers’ Market busied itself inevitably towards lunch–anxious bankers from France and Scandinavia vying for the last of the handmade pasta, free range meats from Somerset doing as well as ever. The Green was full of strolling luvvies, their children and identical chocolate labradors turned out for a walk in the Cotswolds; toddlers crowded out the margins of the pond, shyly offering ends of artisan sourdough to the geese and seagulls in the shallows. “Darling,” someone called, “please don’t let them bully you like that!” Allen eyed this bustle with barely suppressed irritation, a silent tension which expressed itself in sudden small movements of his shoulders or the corners of his mouth.
“The Mort Lake!” he said. “If they knew anything about the history– If they knew the thing John Dee knew about this pool– They’d keep their bloody children at home.”