Fruit from the Silver Tree

Friday 22 April 2016 by

Johann Wilhelm Preyer, Painting, Oysters, Champagne, Grapes

Johann Wilhelm Preyer

He spent his last £30 on a plate of oysters and a glass of champagne. It was a small plate of oysters and cheap champagne, but Joe knew it was better to go to his meeting broke. He shuffled out of the oyster bar and walked to Silvertree’s club. His clothes were shabby enough but along the way he added grime and the smells of rubbish and stale urine. He knew he’d got it right by the way the doorman’s nose wrinkled.

‘Here to see Silvertree,’ he said. ‘Name’s Joe.’

‘Do you have identification?’

Joe raised his eyebrow, ‘Do I look like I have identification? Silvertree is expecting me.’

The doorman stepped into his office off the lobby. Joe couldn’t make out the words of the conversation, but could guess how it was going. Silvertree would agree to see him no matter what state he was in.

The doorman reappeared and opened the door into the club. ‘Someone will show you to him.’ As the door closed he could hear the doorman spraying air freshener.

A waiter appeared in the club’s livery and led him across the room. It was the same as ever, dark wood-panelled walls, abstract stained-glass windows so the public couldn’t see in, brass chandeliers with green lampshades and leather armchairs in deep autumnal tones. Silvertree was sitting in his usual nook, pouring coffee from a silver pot. The chair opposite him was wood. Joe wondered how they’d managed to find it so quickly as he sat down.

‘Afternoon, Mr Silvertree.’

‘You smell like death,’ Silvertree said.

Joe shrugged. ‘Been a long time since you last sent for me.’

‘If you were more careful with what I pay you that wouldn’t matter.’

‘No one likes a homeless man with money.’

Silvertree grunted. Joe watched him sip his coffee. Silvertree was the sort of man you expected to be broad and overfed, with pudgy little fingers. Joe liked to imagine him that way, a transparent fat-suit surrounding the bony man.

‘When was the last time you ate?’

‘Convinced a sandwich shop to give me two brown bananas this morning,’ Joe said.

‘Order something before you leave, put it on my tab.’

‘That’s generous.’

‘If you finish the job I have in mind for you, it’ll be worth it.’

Joe smiled. ‘Let’s see then.’

Silvertree lifted a satchel and handed it to Joe. He glanced inside, cash as usual, and could tell by the weight it was his usual £10,000, or near enough. He nodded and tucked the satchel between his feet.

‘The target?’

Silvertree pushed a photo, face down, across the table. Joe picked it up and studied the couple intently.

‘You certain?’

‘Absolutely. Can you do it?’

Joe nodded, concentrated. ‘Done. Or it will be. Before midnight.’ He put the photo in his pocket.

Silvertree stood. ‘Try not to spend it all in one place,’ he said, walking away.

Joe ordered soup-of-the-day and beef wellington and a chocolate soufflé with a glass of Dalmore Constellation 1981. He nodded to the waiters and the doorman as he left, satchel slung over his shoulder. He walked back to his hotel, a little, out-of-the-way place in Soho. In his room he dropped the satchel on the bed and placed the photograph next to it. He took off his shabby, dirty clothes and put them in a plastic bag. He showered, took a long bath and then another shower before shaving and trimming his hair. Joe opened the wardrobe and took out his crisp white shirt, perfectly pressed cashmere suit and polished Italian leather shoes. He dressed carefully and then from the safe he took his gold watch, signet ring and wallet. He put a few notes from the satchel into his wallet, the rest into a briefcase, and the photograph into his jacket pocket.

On the pavement outside Joe caught a taxi to Mayfair. He used the silver, tree-shaped knocker on the familiar door and Clarissa answered in tears.

‘He’s dead, Joe,’ she said, hugging him. ‘The police just left. A mugging, they think, he was stabbed. Geoffrey is dead.’

Joe stroked her hair and made comforting noises. He made her a drink. Later, when she was calmer, he made love to her.

In the morning, Clarissa took his suit jacket and went to hang it. She checked the pockets out of habit, as she had for her husband.

‘Joe,’ she called to him in the bathroom. ‘Why do you have a photograph of Geoffrey and I in your pocket?’

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