. . . though it may not make the cut because it is not from Peter’s POV, which has been the standard for the first two books. Still, fun to play around with ideas.
Simeon gazed up at the stonework façade of the house to where the peak of the roof stabbed the clear June sky. Though he couldn’t have said what, exactly, he’d expected, it decidedly had not been this—a large house on a broad expanse of land in the hills of Derbyshire. It wasn’t a mansion or anything, but it was definitely bigger than the through terrace house Simeon had grown up in.
He glanced back at the car and wondered, not for the first time, whether he’d got it wrong somehow. There was only one way to know for certain. With a deep breath, Simeon stepped up and rang the bell.
The man who answered was tall, somber, cadaverous in his coloring so as to suggest he never went outside nor came within shouting distance of a sunbeam. Simeon backed away involuntarily, sure now he had made a mistake. But because the man was staring at him, Simeon felt he at least had to say something, and so ventured, “I’m looking for Mr. Stoller?”
“Mr. Stoller is dead.”
A jolt ran through Simeon, as though a plug had been inserted into the sole of his foot. “What? When? How?” he stammered. Could the news have crossed him going in the opposite direction even as he’d been on the long drive to Derbyshire?
“Who is it, Mr. Wirth?” A woman Simeon knew must be Peter’s mother—same cheekbones and fine eyes taken twenty or thirty years further—appeared, though she had to stretch her neck to see over Mr. Wirth’s arm; it was that or duck down and look under, which Simeon could see she was too elegant to do. Peter wouldn’t have done it either.
“He’s looking for Mr. Stoller,” Mr. Wirth intoned.
“Well, there’s only one of those left,” Mrs. Stoller said, and before Simeon could begin to comprehend that maybe his boss wasn’t dead after all, she’d turned and yelled into the depths of the house, “Peter! Another one of your boyfriends is here!”
Simeon felt the heat rush up the back of his neck and into his face. Mrs. Stoller was shooing Mr. Wirth away and motioning Simeon inside. He obligingly stepped into the entry, which was dim and oddly humid, more so once the heavy door swung closed. It gave Simeon the unpleasant feeling the house was breathing on him. From somewhere—in the echoing space, Simeon could not pinpoint the immediate direction—he heard Peter say, “I only do one boyfriend at a time, Mother.” And as Simeon’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, Peter materialized beside him as though conjured out of dust motes and heavy air.
It struck Simeon that even away from the office his boss dressed attentively. Today it was a collared shirt under a lightweight jumper coupled with neatly pressed trousers. Shoes, too, which was interesting; in Simeon’s house they would never wear shoes unless on their way in or out.
Simeon snuck a look at Mrs. Stoller’s feet. Yes, shoes there, too, though they were moving away from him. She had turned away in evident disgust at her son’s remark. “I don’t want to know what you do.”
Peter ignored her, seemingly engrossed in straightening his watch. “Mr. Martin, to what do I owe this pleasure?”
The thing about Peter Stoller, Simeon reflected, was a person could never be sure whether he was joking. Taking in Peter’s sharp features, his bland expression, Simeon couldn’t tell if he was bored or annoyed or curious. Well, and they hadn’t worked together long, so maybe understanding would come with more exposure.
“Mr. Gamby couldn’t get away himself, so . . .” Simeon shrugged a shoulder and lifted a palm as if the remainder of the sentence were written on the thick atmosphere around them.
Peter gave a curt nod then paused to eye Simeon. “You’re working for Gamby now?”
There was a gleeful second when Simeon thought Peter might actually be upset at the idea, though of course it was truly impossible to discern; Peter might only be interested in learning things at the office had changed again while he was away. “No, sir,” Simeon assured him. “He’s got a new girl. Evelyn. She—”
But Peter had lifted his brows.
“Anyway,” Simeon went on, “you’re needed. Sorry to cut your holiday short.”