Ever since he was 14, just a pinfeather, preened on the darkly wet streets of Piccadilly, he had been opening doors, toting bags and tipping his cockade-pinned bowler to the lodgers of the Stable Cross Arms. He had watched a thousand gentlemen walk through those doors, women on their arms, some their wives, some not. Doctors, barristers, clergy, each as capable as the next of ignoring the irony of their hemmablind moralities. It didn’t matter to him. There business was their own and Lucky could keep a secret.
Every week, he slogged toward his paycheck and the weekend frivolity it subsidized, one held door at a time. Now, silver in the eyebrows and stooped in the back, he left the younger lads the heavy lifting, but he still kept his weekly appointments with that emerald edifice from Berry Bros. and Rudd on James Street. Saying his offs to the staff and concierge, tipping his hat to the young lady in marigold that had just completed her last set in the lounge, he scurried in half steps down the stairs to the Tube, rocketed under Buckingham Palace and popped out under Trafalgar Square, reentering the boggy, summer air of Westminster, just east of St. James Street. His chest felt weighted, as if he were walking underwater. He stopped for a moment, gathering his breath while leaning against a brick wall, like Tiny Tim’s crutch. Eventually, he entered the opaque, green-glass door of the distillery and purchased his weekend spirits. “Don’t forget to look under the cap, Pops,” the young clerk commented as he bagged the doorman’s quality gin. “500 quid times a thousand. That’s what it’s worth, you find that gold token.” Berry Bros. and Rudd had their annual treasure hunt under way. Every bottle purchased had the potential to bestow a fortune. The single cap with a golden nail placed in its underside and engraved with a coded message (to make it difficult to falsify) would reveal the winner. “Good luck to you, Lucky.”
He scurried home, started some porridge simmering on the stove and sat down to the table – an able, functional piece of new world mahogany. He grasped the smooth, green bottle in his chapped and mottled hands. He peeled the sealing foil slowly, sliver by sliver, until the final shred fell away, releasing the cap. He pulled the cork stopper straight up and it broke free loudly, with the “pop” of an index finger being pulled from puckered lips. He had to draw a breath, and then one more, before slowly turning the cap over …
Another Monday, his dress the same, his manner perhaps just a liter lighter. He opened the door for a wealthy couple that could barely be pestered to acknowledge his existence. The decorous lady stepped forward toward the London mist, demanding an umbrella be held over her head. The gentleman looked toward Lucky, snapping his fingers tersely, as if addressing a beast of burden. He had an urge to inform the pair that he could buy and sell them twice over and still have enough coin in his pocket to enjoy tea and cricket at Lord’s, but instead he remained silently deferential, all while picking at the remnants of cod between his teeth with his newly acquired gold nail. Lucky could keep a secret.