I thought it might be mildly diverting to present some of the material that didn’t make it into the final draft of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, either for length reasons or because it just didn’t work. This first excerpt falls into the latter category – when the main cast meets up in London and are searching for information about the Rhodopis pyramid, the location where John Reed went missing, Aloysius Bent has a bright idea… in the end, I thought this sequence was too much of the “real” world invading the narrative, so it was chopped.
Over a breakfast of eggs and bacon provided by Mrs Cadwallader, who evidently had a black mood on her because of the disruption to her usual routine, Bent spat a mouthful of food over the table and bellowed, “Of course! God, I’m so fucking – sorry, Trigger, I mean effing – stupid, sometimes.”
“You have an insight, Bent?” asked Trigger.
“Not me, but I know where to get one,” he said with a broad smile. “Don’t know why I didn’t think of it last night. You must have right thrown me off my stroke with all that talk of mummies and pyramids. If you want to find out something, do what we do in the newspaper trade. Gogol it.”
“Gogol it?” said Gideon.
“Trough up, we’re going out,” said Bent, shovelling bacon into his mouth. He pointed with his fork at Maria’s plate. “You eating that egg, love, or not?”
It was another fine day in London, the smog not yet having strangled the blue sky away, and they took a hansom cab to Spitalfields, which Bent demanded pull up outside a squat red-brick warehouse. Above the doors, in letters each painted a different colour, was the word Gogol.
“In here,” said Bent, leading them through the doors and into a small dusty reception area, behind which a tall man in black frock coat stood, his moustache drooping over his mouth. “That’s Gogol. Russian, or Ukrainian, or somesuch. You want to know something, he’s your man. Calls what he’s got here a living searching engine. Ho! Gogol! Got a bit of work for you.”
The Russian bent forward in a stiff bow and said in clipped English, “Always a pleasure to serve Her Majesty’s Press, Mr Bent. How will you be paying?”
“Oh, stick it on the Argus tab,” sniffed Bent.
“Very good, Mr Bent,” said Gogol. “If you and your colleagues would care to follow me to the search room, they can perhaps see my amazing living engine at work.”
“He’s very proud of it,” whispered Bent as Gogol allowed them behind the reception and led them through a closed door into a huge hall which was alive with the sounds of rustling, clattering and ringing telephones. There were rows and rows of desks ranged to the far brick wall, each one staffed by a smartly-dressed operative, many of who had stacks of books on their tables or were speaking urgently into telephone mouthpieces. Others were typing furiously or calling to each other across the room. The Russian smiled proudly. “My patented Gogol living engine. All human knowledge is at the fingertips of my trained staff. Whatever you wish to know, we can find it for you. Experts we have here on every subject under the sun, and more besides, and what we do not know we can find out. Beyond this room is a library more vast than any you have seen before. With what can I help you?”
“We’re after information about a pyramid in Egypt. Rhodopis, they call it,” said Bent, spelling it out as Gogol carefully printed the word in a leather-backed notebook. “It’s a lost pyramid, by all accounts. We want to know where it is, how to get to it and -” he paused and lowered his voice “- what’s in it, in terms of jewels and gold, and the like.”
Gogol tore off the page from his notebook with a flourish and presented it to one of his waiting staff, who spelled it out in loud, strong tones to another employee, who in turn clambered up a ladder and wrote it in large, bold letters on a blackboard that took up most of the wall behind them.
“How long?” asked Bent.
Gogol shrugged his immaculately tailored shoulders. “That depends on the level of knowledge available, and how many of my searchers I can divert to the cause.” He spread his hand at the blackboard, which was littered with all manner of seemingly-random words and phrases. “We are rather busy today. Of course, you could avail yourselves of our express search facility…”
“Put it on the tab,” nodded Bent. He glanced at his battered pocket watch. “I’ll come back in an hour or so. That should just give us time to go over to Highgate and see this flying wagtail of yours. What did you say her name was again?”