Authors: Graham Masterton
There was a Door to which I found no key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Edward Fitzgerald
The Ruba'yÃ¡t of Omar Khayyam
Six doors they stand in London Town
Six doors they stand in London, too
Yet who's to know which way they face?
And who's to know which face is true?
Traditional nursery rhyme
Yours in anticipation, F.G. Mordant,
and tugged the letter out of her typewriter. She slipped the letter into Mr Mordant's red signing folder and dropped the pink and yellow copies into the box file next to her. She returned the carbon paper to her second drawer down.
It was five thirty-two p.m. and the office was bright with the last marmalade-colored light of the day. Julia put the lid on her typewriter, not knowing that this was the very last time she would do it, and that once the sun had sunk below the rooftops of the factories opposite, she would never see it come up again.
Alexandra put her head round the office door and blinked at her through owlish glasses. “Haven't you finished yet? David's offered to give us a lift to Hammersmith.”
“David? Oh, yes please! Just give me a minute, will you? I have to take these letters into Mr Mordant.”
you know. He's always keeping you late.”
Julia gave her a dismissive
The idea of complaining to Mr Mordant was out of the question: especially if you wanted to keep your job. Alexandra had told her that it was highly unusual if any of his secretaries survived for more than six months. Some of them had stayed for only a week.
Julia opened her oak-paneled filing cupboard. There was a mirror on the back of the door and she gave her hair a quick brush. She pushed her tongue under her upper lip. She wasn't sure if she was getting a cold sore or not.
She was a pretty girl, a little plumpish, with a heart-shaped face that made her look much younger than twenty-three.
She had short blonde-streaked hair with a fringe, and wide brown eyes. She had been living in England for ten months now. She had lost all but the faintest ghost of her California tan, and acquired a pale blue twinset, but her accent had hardly changed. Everybody at Wheatstone Electrics called her “Yankee Doodle”. Americans were a rarity, except in films, and her friends never tired of hearing her talk about luxuries like washing machines and supermarkets.
She walked along the echoing linoleum-floored corridor to Mr Mordant's office. All through the building she could hear doors slamming and people calling out “g'night” and clattering downstairs. Mr Mordant's door was open but she still gave a little knock. He was sitting at his desk, talking on the phone and cat's-cradling elastic bands between his fingers as he did so.
“Well, I'm sorry, Ronald, you'll just have to buck your bloody ideas up, won't you?” His accent was clipped, like a BBC wireless announcer. “If you can't let me have those insulators by the end of the month, we'll have to start looking for a new supplier. No, Ronald, I don't care tuppence how long you've been dealing with us.
is what counts.”
He noisily cradled the phone and said, “Idiot. He couldn't organize a beetle-drive.” Then he looked up at Julia and gave her an unexpected smile. “Well, Julia, what have you got for me?”
Frank Mordant was handsome in a sharp, slightly Brylcreemy way. He had a finely chiseled forehead and a straight, thin nose, and his eyes were piercing blue and hooded like a hawk's. His brown hair was brushed straight back, and he sported a thin, clipped moustache. He was always immaculately dressed in gray three-piece suits and starched white shirts with double cuffs and a separate collar. Wheatstone's kept their offices warm and by the end of the day he always smelled faintly of body odor.
Julia put his signing folder down in front of him. He unscrewed his fountain pen, but before he opened his folder he leaned back in his chair. “How long have you been with me now, Julia?”
“Ten months next Wednesday. I started here May eleventh.”
“Doesn't time fly! But let me tell you something, Julia, no word of a lie â I've never had a secretary anything like as good as you. Not even a secretary from â¦ well, where
“Thank you,” she said. “I wonder if you could sign your letters now, please. Some of my friends are giving me a ride home.”
Frank Mordant opened the folder and wrinkled up his nose at the letters inside. “These aren't all that desperate, are they? There's only this prospectus to the Air Ministry, isn't there? And if they want that in a hurry you can send it up to Whitehall by taxicab.”
“Well, if it's OK with you, Mr Mordant â¦”
He screwed the cap back on his pen. “Of course it's âOK' with me. But listen, instead of going into town with your friends, why don't you let me take you? I'm going that way myself. I'd enjoy a chinwag.”
Julia couldn't think of anything less appealing than driving into Hammersmith with Mr Mordant, especially since she had a severe crush on David and hadn't seen him since Tuesday lunchtime. But Mr Mordant was her boss and it was very difficult to say no.
“Fine! That's settled then! Why don't you go and fetch your coat and I'll meet you in the lobby in five minutes.”
Alexandra was waiting for her in her office. “Come
Julia! We're going to be late! We're all going to go to the Corner House for tea and cream cakes!”
“Sorry,” said Julia. “I'm going to have to take a raincheck. Darth Vader wants to drive me home.”
“Mr Mordant. He says he feels like a chinwag.”
“Oh, God. You poor thing! Can't you faint? Can't you stick your finger down your throat and pretend that you're sick?”
C'est la vie.
You can still meet us at the Corner House later.”
“I'll try. But if I can't, look, I'll see you tomorrow, OK?”
“All right,” said Alexandra. “But just you be careful. You know what they say about accepting lifts from strange men, and you couldn't find anybody stranger than Frank Mordant, could you?”
He was waiting for her in the gloomy hexagonal lobby, with its pale-faced illuminated clock and its polished marble floor and its bronze statue of the goddess Electra. He was wearing a Homburg hat and a long black overcoat, and was buttoning up his black leather motoring gloves when she entered the room.
“Goodnight, Sheila,” called Julia to the receptionist, a curly redhead with a high, silly laugh. The lobby rattled with the footsteps of Wheatstone employees going home.
Frank Mordant gave Julia a slanted smile. “You look â¦
he complimented her, looking approvingly at the dark brown hooded coat she had bought in Bloomingdale's on her stopover from Los Angeles. “I suppose it would be more circumspect of me
to ask where you got it.”
They pushed their way through the bronze and glass art deco doors. The sun had set and although the sky was still light there was a nip in the late-February air. Their breath smoked as they walked across the forecourt to Frank Mordant's long navy-blue Armstrong-Siddeley. He opened the passenger door for her, and she climbed into a black leather interior. It smelled of cold cigars and motor oil. Frank Mordant settled himself beside her, turned the keys, and pushed the starter button.
“So, Julia, how do you see your future?” he asked, as he nosed the car out into the rush-hour traffic along the Great West Road. “You're not going to stay a secretary for ever, are you?”
“Actually I was hoping to get into television production.”
“Television production?” he said, with obvious surprise.
“What's wrong with that?”
“Well, quite frankly, we don't have much room for women on the television side. Not unless you want to sit on the production line all day, plugging in valves. I suppose I could always have a word with Bill Harvey down at our Bristol plant.”
“I was talking about television
not television sets.”
“Oh, I see,” he nodded, and thought about that for a while. Then he said, “So that's it, you're thinking of spreading your wings. Goodbye Wheatstone's, hallo fame and fortune?”
“I've had a great time at Wheatstone's, don't get me wrong. It's really helped me to get my head together.”
“Well, good. Good. I'm glad about that. I wouldn't like to think of your head being â¦ you know. Apart.”
They stopped at a red traffic signal and he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “Here, do you think, or
he asked her.
of course. I mean, what do you have here? Black-and-white, seven-inch screens, and less than three-quarters of a million viewers in the whole country. Back there, whole series get canceled if they can only attract an audience of three-quarters of a million.”
“I suppose you're right,” said Frank Mordant. He pulled out and overtook a crowded double-decker bus. “Still â¦ there's a lot to be said for staying here, isn't there? It would be very much easier for you to make your mark in television here, knowing what you know. Having that â¦ background, as it were. I mean, look at me. I only got a âD' in physics, but look at me now. Production director of the second-largest electrical company in Britain. Four thousand pounds a year. Plus perks.”
They crawled at two to three miles per hour through the tangle of traffic that would take them in to the Chiswick roundabout. It didn't help that a baby Austin had broken down in the outside lane, and a young man in his shirtsleeves was frantically cranking the starting-handle. Up above them, autogiros swarmed through the evening sky like fireflies, their engines droning, carrying scores of wealthy businessmen home to Windsor and Lightwater and Sunbury-on-Thames.
“Look,” said Frank Mordant, “why don't we stop for a quick drink? There's a jolly little pub just along here.”
“Really, Mr Mordant, I have to be getting back.”
“Come on, one drink won't hurt! You deserve it, after
everything you've done today. All that filing. I know you think I'm a slavedriver, but your efforts don't go unnoticed, you know.”
Julia felt desperate, but she couldn't say no. She had refused Frank Mordant's offer of a mint humbug once and he seemed to have taken it as a personal affront, keeping her working till well past six o'clock. “OK, then,” she agreed. “Just one drink.”
“That's the ticket!” He steered the Armstrong-Siddeley into a side street and did some very complicated parking behind a rusty Wolseley. On the corner stood a small Victorian pub, The Sir Oswald Mosley, with cream-painted walls and maroon woodwork. Frank Mordant ushered Julia in through the engraved glass doors into the saloon bar. It was thick with cigarette smoke but it was almost empty, except for a spotty youth in a green tweed sports jacket playing the fruit machine and an elderly man with a beetroot-colored face and a mournful Staffordshire bull terrier lying by his feet.