The antique shop was closed. Metal shutters had been pulled down over the windows and fixed at ground-level by large padlocks. The doorway was similarly blocked, except to mail, which was allowed access by a slot cut into the shutter. I bent down to peer in but the shop was dark. All I could see were the indistinct, hulking silhouettes of the wardrobes and dressers Zacharius sold. No sounds reached me, though I pressed my ear to the gap and held my breath, listening.

Was it Debbie Nash who’d ransacked my room? Or had she merely allowed others access to it? Probably she would have had no part in the actual doing, I thought, but I could easily imagine her allowing it to happen. Pretending ignorance, taking herself off somewhere so she wouldn’t have to witness the theft. Or was I misreading her entirely? Was I seeing a conspiracy where none existed? Had it happened without her knowledge – and she merely took advantage of my suspicions to be rid of me.

My laptop, a few other odds and ends – easily replaced. I’m habitually circumspect, hoarding my privacy, holding tight to my secrets like a miser with a chest full of gold. The laptop contained nothing too personal – it was a way in, not a store. I’d set it up with a program that would wipe the hard-drive, so if anyone tried meddling with it they’d be staring at a dead computer within five minutes. Unless, unless they were experts that is, because there’s no system anywhere that can’t be hacked – nothing’s a hundred percent sure - and an expert could and would hack my system. But equally likely whoever had it would just dump it. The point of it wasn’t to get at any information I might have. The point of it was to inconvenience me, another nudge, another push to get me to leave.

I touched a hand to the bruises on my face. My cheek felt rough with bristles. I wanted a shower, a shave, a sleep. I felt filthy – I was filthy after the scuffle with Ellie. Turning away, I caught sight of my reflection in the window of the shop opposite. My appearance, I decided, would have put a rough-sleeper to shame, even one who’d spent the past week living in a gutter. I made a hopeless attempt to neaten my hair.

The shop opposite Zacharius’ was a vintage clothing store. It was tiny, packed with rails which themselves were densely packed with patterned shirts, leather jackets in the styles of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, riotously colored scarves and belts, velvet and cotton dresses, bellbottoms, drainpipes and hats.

I pushed open the door and negotiated the narrow aisles between the clothes-rails, making my way to the counter.

The youth who lurked behind it had made a creditable effort to use himself as an extra clothes-rail. He had so many layers on him he’d have survived an arctic gale. He glanced up at me with weary disdain, correctly guessing I wasn’t a customer.

“The antique shop,” I said.

“It’s closed,” he told me.

“When did it close?”

“Look,” he said crossly. “How should I know? I come in this morning and it’s shut. Maybe they went on a holiday.”

“So it was open yesterday?”

“I wasn’t here yesterday,” he said. “Day off.” Two girls came in as he was speaking. They were about sixteen or seventeen and they gave both of us one curious glance before diving into the rails. “I’m busy, right,” he added. “Got customers. Just come back tomorrow – they’ll open up then I guess. Ok?”

“Have you got a number? An address?”

“No,” he said. He glared at me and I could read his next thought – if I did I wouldn’t give it to you.

“What about deliveries?”

“What about them?”

"Is there a back way?"

“Does he owe you money or something? Are you, like, a bailiff? Just come back tomorrow.”

“Do you know a place called Byrne Gate?” I asked, for the hell of it.

“No,” he said.

I left. I checked into another hotel with a driving license in the name Michael T. Quentin. No one in the hotel had heard of Byrne Gate. I should have asked Ellie Gordon. Why didn’t I? It wasn’t in the directory. It wasn’t on any map.

I considered briefly going back to Ellie’s house, but I was too tired, too discouraged. Shower, I thought. Sleep.

The End

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