Prologue

The Veterans’ Club was on King Street, a respectable façade among respectable façades, with a brass plaque that nobody had looked at in decades: if you had to stop to check the address, you were clearly in the wrong place.

This was St. James. Pall Mall. "Clubland." The men traversing these streets walked with that air of self-assurance that comes from belonging to a privileged "set." Here, for example, was one gentleman in a disreputably Bohemian coat and a scarf long enough for three: surely he belonged, or he wouldn’t have been here. Perhaps he was showing his Anglo-Chinese friend the sights. The year was 1924, after all, and a fellow whose mixed heritage showed so plainly in the Asian cast of his features was almost certainly an outsider, even if he was more respectably dressed than his unquestionably English companion.

The pair stopped in front of the Veterans’ Club. The Anglo-Chinese gentleman—a short, wiry fellow with unusually heavy eyebrows, a long, curling moustache, and the boyishly eager manner of one who’d never quite grown up—mounted the first step and turned around. This brought him eye-to-eye with his friend, who let out a sigh and said:

"One of these days, Eric, you are going to have to invite me in for lunch. I’m simply eaten up with curiosity as to what goes on behind those doors."

Oh. Oh.

Well, it appears we had the positions of these two reversed, and it was the Anglo-Chinese gentleman—Eric—who belonged, and the Englishman who did not.

"It’s nothing interesting, Avery," said Eric. "The Vet is just a lot of men sitting around and smoking. It’s nothing you don’t see yourself everyday at the Arabica coffee house."

"And yet you maintain your membership."

"It’s a family tradition, like going into the Army. It’s bad enough I didn’t make a permanent go of it after I was demobbed; Dad would throw a fit if I dropped this as well."

Avery chuckled. "Better you than me, mate," he responded, affecting a bad Cockney accent. He continued, "I’m glad to have been stuck in Buenos Aires the whole time: the thought of going to war scares me to bits. But you just ran headlong into it, didn’t you?"

"For all the good it did me. I told you, didn’t I, that Dad wouldn’t hear of me lying about my age to enlist, even if that’s how half the family got into famous wars and battles? I had to wait ... and thank goodness a month in the trenches was all it took to qualify as a veteran of the War."

"Anything to justify a seat at the round table, eh, Sir Palomides?"

Eric brushed away the comparison to King Arthur’s Saracen knight. He wasn’t a Saracen, though he got the implication of being the one honourable member with a less-than-European origin. "Come off it," he said. "The Vet’s not Camelot. It’s convenient. That’s all."

"So’s the Arabica, and that doesn’t cost me more than a shilling for a cup of coffee. If your club isn’t Camelot, then ... is it the opposite?  Is it dreadfully depraved? Is there a murder every week and a dastardly plan to rule the Empire from the shadows?"

"Get on with you," Eric laughed. "I’d hardly say so if there were."

"Hah! Yes, I really had better be getting on. Enjoy the rest of your day, Eric, and be sure to let me know of any interesting conspiracies."

Eric gave his friend a jaunty wave goodbye, then turned and skipped up the rest of the steps. He seemed especially small next to the oversized front doors, which cracked open just the width of his shoulders that he might slip inside, before swinging silently shut behind him.

Next Chapter: Chapter One