Read an extract from Thief of Time

Thief of Time

‘My name ith Igor, thur. My credentialth, thur.’
A hand like an industrial accident held together with stitches thrust a sheaf of papers towards Jeremy. He recoiled instinctively, and then felt embarrassed and took them.
‘I think there has been a mistake,’ he said.
‘No, no mithtake,’ said Igor, pulling a carpet bag out of the ruins of the crate. ‘You need an athithtant. And when it cometh to athithtantth, you cannot go wrong with an Igor. Everyone knowth that. Could we go in out of the rain, thur? It maketh my kneeth rutht.’
‘But I don’t need an assist—’ Jeremy began, but that was wrong, wasn’t it? He just couldn’t keep assistants. They always left within a week.
‘Morning, sir!’ said a cheery voice.
Another cart had pulled up. This one was painted a gleaming, hygienic white and was full of milk churns, and had ‘Ronald Soak, Dairyman’ painted on the side. Distracted, Jeremy looked up at the beaming face of Mr Soak, who was holding a bottle of milk in each hand.
‘One pint, squire, as per usual. And perhaps another one if you’ve got company?’
‘Er, er, er . . . yes, thank you.’
‘And the yoghurt is particularly fine this week, squire,’ said Mr Soak encouragingly.
‘Er, er, I think not, Mr Soak.’
‘Need any eggs, cream, butter, buttermilk or cheese?’
‘Not as such, Mr Soak.’
‘Right you are, then,’ said Mr Soak, unabashed. ‘See you tomorrow, then.’
‘Er, yes,’ said Jeremy, as the cart moved on. Mr Soak was a friend, which in Jeremy’s limited social vocabulary meant ‘someone I speak to once or twice a week’. He approved of the milkman, because he was regular and punctual and had the bottles at the doorstep every morning on the stroke of 7 a.m. ‘Er, er . . . goodbye,’ he said.
He turned to Igor.
‘How did you know I needed—’ he tried. But the strange man had gone indoors, and a frantic Jeremy tracked him down in the workshop.
‘Oh yeth, very nithe,’ said Igor, who was taking it all in with the air of a connoisseur. ‘That’th a
Turnball Mk3 micro-lathe, ithn’t it? I thaw it in their catalogue. Very nithe indee—’
‘I didn’t ask anyone for an assistant!’ said Jeremy. ‘Who sent you?’
‘We are Igorth, thur.’
‘Yes, you said! Look, I don’t—’
‘No, thur. “We R Igorth”, thur. The organithathion, thur.’
‘What organization?’
‘For plathementth, thur. You thee, thur, the thing ith . . . an Igor often findth himthelf between marthterth through no fault of hith own, you thee. And on the other hand—’
‘—you have two thumbs,’ breathed Jeremy, who had just noticed and couldn’t stop himself. ‘Two on each hand!’
‘Oh, yeth, thur, very handy,’ said Igor, not even glancing down. ‘On the other hand there ith no thortage of people wanting an Igor. Tho my Aunt Igorina runth our thelect little agenthy.’
‘For . . . lots of Igors?’ said Jeremy.
‘Oh, there’th a fair number of uth. We’re a big family.’ Igor handed Jeremy a card.

He read:

We R Igors
‘A Spare Hand When Needed’
The Old Rathaus
Bad Schüschein
c-mail: Yethmarthter Uberwald

Jeremy stared at the semaphore address. His normal ignorance of anything that wasn’t to do with clocks did not apply here. He’d been quite interested in the new cross-continent semaphore system after hearing that it made quite a lot of use of clockwork mechanisms to speed up the message flow. So you could send a clacks message to hire an Igor? Well, that explained the speed, at least.
‘Rathaus,’ he said. ‘That means something like a council hall, doesn’t it?’
‘Normally, thur . . . normally,’ said Igor reassuringly.
‘Do you really have semaphore addresses in Uberwald?’
‘Oh, yeth. We are ready to grathp the future with both handth, thur.’
‘—and four thumbs—’
‘Yeth, thur. We can grathp like anything.’
‘And then you mailed yourself here?’
‘Thertainly, thur.We Igorth are no thtrangerth to dithcomfort.’
Jeremy looked down at the paperwork he’d been handed, and a name caught his eye. The top paper was signed. In a way, at least. There was a message in neat capitals, as neat as printing, and a name at the end.


He remembered. ‘Oh, Lady LeJean is behind this. She had you sent to me?’
‘That’th correct, thur.’
Feeling that Igor was expecting more of him, Jeremy made a show of reading through the rest of what turned out to be references. Some of them were written in what he could only hope was dried brown ink, one was in crayon, and several were singed around the edges. They were all fulsome. After a while, though, a certain tendency could be noted amongst the signatories.
‘This one is signed by someone called Mad Doctor Scoop,’ he said.
‘Oh, he wathn’t actually named mad, thur. It wath more like a nickname, ath it were.’
‘Was he mad, then?’
‘Who can thay, thur?’ said Igor calmly.
‘And Crazed Baron Haha? It says under Reason for Leaving that he was crushed by a burning windmill.’
‘Cathe of mithtaken identity, thur.’
‘Yeth, thur. I underthtand the mob mithtook him for Thcreaming Doctor Bertherk, thur.’
‘Oh. Ah, yes.’ Jeremy glanced down. ‘Who you also worked for, I see.’
‘Yeth, thur.’
‘And who died of blood poisoning?’
‘Yeth, thur. Cauthed by a dirty pitchfork.’
‘And . . . Nipsie the Impaler?’
‘Er, would you believe he ran a kebab thop, thur?’
‘Did he?’
‘Not conventhionally tho, thur.’


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