“He went fishing,” wheezed the gentleman from South London. “All the way across town to the river. He was so bloody huge, he’d limp and lurch along faster than anyone else could walk.”
“He was very big, very ugly and very silent,” added Kayam. “Well, not so much ugly as disfigured. Pretty, he wasn’t.”
“Now and then he’d smell of something like meaty old boots,” said the Scotsman from behind thick dark glasses.
“He read thirteen newspapers every day and never gave no trouble,” declared their landlady.
For a long while, his fellow lodgers knew that much and no more about John Eyre. They would eye him uncomfortably through the rear window, where he stood out in the damp dark of the Calais Guest House back garden, in that hulking, misshapen stance of his, smoking pungent cigars.
His early mornings were spent looking through the classified sections in the pile of papers that he had delivered; looking, now that he was sane again, for word from a god’s priests over four thousand miles away. The rest of the day saw him sitting at a strategic spot by the Thames, a fly-fishing rod propped up beside him, scouring the small ads once more before stuffing his hands into the arms of a parka and staring out at the brown water. When he got a bite and the reel span, he wound the line in strongly and smartly, before holding it up to his good eye. It would only ever be a live, sparkling fish that splashed free of the surface, but he needed to be certain.
When he could no longer contain himself, ebbed tide or not, he would scavenge along the lower reaches of the river. He lunged and swayed as he stomped through the black, fetid mud, prowling among decayed planks, broken prams, dead birds and wasted rope, the dreary muck and trash of jetsam on the riverbank, scaring away rats and stray walkers. He observed the egrets and the herons for clues and stopped still sometimes, to listen to the water.
When a boat, swift or slow, tug or barge, went by, John would study it closely. Occasionally, the boat people waved, but he returned no greeting, only watched them until they had passed. His quarry was being transported by water to London, so this was where he had to be. It had directed him here and would be transmitting loudly along London’s river. If it came past, he would know. Even if it was gagged, if it came near enough to be within range, John had a hunch that he would sense it. They had, already, a peculiar, particular acquaintance.
He had tried renting a room at residential hotels overlooking the Thames, but each time they had taken one look at him and told him they were full. It was the same story everywhere he asked for lodgings for more than a night. That he communicated only by words scrawled on scraps paper hardly aided his cause. Only Gloria of the Calais Guest House, a good hour’s walk from the waterfront, agreed to take him in, and so there he stayed.
At day’s end, he would trudge back, taking the river’s rotten dankness home with him, to a hot dinner of liver and mash, chips and pie, or whatever Gloria, their fifty-something landlady, had ready for him and the other three gentlemen tenants. John would eat, well-mannered but unspeaking, and go upstairs to his room. He spent each day this way and each day was just like the last. And this he liked. It fine-tuned his vigil. Any small but significant variation in the tight pattern formed by these superimposed days would stand out and alert him. Sleep didn’t come to him, but neither did he tire. His bedroom looked out onto a garden that sloped up to semi-abandoned railway sidings. If cats fought there at night, they would become aware of John Eyre’s sleepless presence at the window and slink hurriedly away.