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At four minutes to four o’clock, Jacob presses blotting paper over the
page on his desk in Warehouse Eik. He drinks another cup of water of
which he shall sweat every last drop. The clerk then lifts the blotter and
reads the title: Sixteenth Addendum: True Quantities of Japanned Lacquer-
ware exported from Dejima to Batavia Not Declared on the Bills of Lading
submitted between the Years 1793 and 1799. He closes the black book,
fastens its ties, and puts it into his portfolio. ‘We stop now, Hanzaburo.
Chief Vorstenbosch summoned me to the State Room for a meeting at
four o’clock. Please take these papers to Mr Ouwehand in the Clerks’
Office.’ Hanzaburo sighs, takes the files, and drifts disconsolately away.
Jacob follows, locking the warehouse. Floating seeds fill the sticky air.
The sunburnt Dutchman thinks of a Zeeland winter’s first snowflakes.
Go via Short Street, he tells himself. You may catch sight of her.
The Dutch flag on Flag Square twitches, very nearly lifeless.
If you mean to betray Anna, Jacob thinks, why chase the unobtainable?
At the Land-Gate, a frisker sifts a handcart of fodder for contraband.
Marinus is right. Hire a courtesan. You have the money, now . . .
Jacob walks up Short Street to the Crossroads, where Ignatius is
sweeping.
The slave tells the clerk that the doctor’s students left some time ago.
One glance, Jacob knows, would tell me if the fan charmed or offended her.
He stands where she passed, maybe. A couple of spies are watching
him.
When he reaches the Chief’s Residence he is accosted by Peter Fischer
who appears from the under way. ‘Well, well, aren’t you just the dog
who mounted the bitch today?’ The Prussian’s breath smells of rum.
Jacob can only suppose Fischer is referring to this morning’s fans.
‘Three years in this God-forlorn gaol . . . Snitker swore I would be van
Cleef’s deputy when he left. He swore it! Then you, you and your damn
mercury, you come ashore, in his silk-lined pocket . . .’ Fischer looks
up the stairs to the Chief’s Residence, swaying uncertainly. ‘You forget,
de Zoet, I am not a weak and common clerk. You forget—’

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‘That you were a rifleman in Surinam? You remind us all daily.’
‘Rob me of my rightful promotion and I shall break all your bones.’
‘I bid you a soberer evening than your afternoon, Mr Fischer.’
‘Jacob de Zoet! I break my enemy’s bones, one by one . . .’

Vorstenbosch ushers Jacob into his bureau with a conviviality not


shown for days. ‘Mr van Cleef reports you ran the gauntlet of Mr
Fischer’s displeasure.’
‘Unfortunately, Mr Fischer is convinced that I devote my every
waking minute to the frustration of his interests.’
Van Cleef pours a rich and ruby port into three fluted glasses.
‘. . . but it might have been Mr Grote’s rum making the accusation.’
‘There’s no denying,’ says Vorstenbosch, ‘that Kobayashi’s interests
were frustrated today.’
‘I never saw his tail,’ agrees van Cleef, ‘so far back between his stumpy
legs.’
Birds scrat, thud and issue dire warnings on the roof above.
‘His own greed trapped him, sir,’ says Jacob. ‘I just . . . nudged him.’
‘He’ll not,’ van Cleef laughs into his beard, ‘see it that way!’
‘When I met you, de Zoet,’ begins Vorstenbosch, ‘I knew. Here is
an honest soul in a human swamp of back-stabbers, a sharp quill
amongst blunt nibs, and a man who, with a little guidance, shall be a
chief resident by his thirtieth year! Your resourcefulness this morn-
ing saved the Company’s money and honour. Governor-General van
Overstraten shall hear about it, I give my word.’
Jacob bows. Am I summoned here, he wonders, to be made head clerk?
‘To your future,’ says the Chief. He, his deputy and the clerk touch
glasses.
Perhaps his recent coolness, Jacob thinks, was to avert charges of favouritism.
‘Kobayashi’s punishment was to be made to tell Edo,’ gloats van
Cleef, ‘that ordering goods from a trading factory that may expire in
fifty days for want of copper is premature and injudicious. We’ll scare
more concessions out of him, besides.’
Light skitters off the Almelo Clock’s bearings like splinters of stars.
‘We have,’ Vorstenbosch’s voice shifts, ‘a further assignment for you,
de Zoet. Mr van Cleef shall explain.’
Van Cleef drains his glass of port. ‘Before breakfast, come rain or
shine, Mr Grote receives a visitor: a provedore, who enters with a full
bag, in plain view.’

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‘Bigger than a pouch,’ says Vorstenbosch, ‘smaller than a pillowcase.’
‘One minute later he leaves with the same bag, still full, in plain view.’
‘What,’ Jacob banishes his disappointment that he is not to be
promoted on the spot, ‘is Mr Grote’s story?’
‘A “story”,’ says Vorstenbosch, ‘is precisely what he would regale van
Cleef or me with. High office, as you shall one day discover, distances
one from one’s men. But this morning proves beyond doubt that yours
is the nose to smoke out a rascal. You hesitate. You think, Nobody loves
an informer, and, alas, you are right. But he who is destined for high
office, de Zoet, as van Cleef and I divine you are, must not fear a little
clambering and elbowing. Pay Mr Grote a call tonight . . .’
This is a test, Jacob divines, of my willingness to get dirty hands.
‘I shall redeem a long-standing invitation to the cook’s card table.’
‘You see, van Cleef ? De Zoet never says, “Must I?”, only “How may
I?”
Jacob indulges in thoughts of Anna reading news of his promotion.

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