Fanshawe stood in the street looking at the business card in his hand. It was seven 0'clock in the morning. The sky was clear and a pale grey, almost white. Beside an empty plot where sandy earth and scrubby plants grew a barely standing wooden fence leaned. At the back of the plot, trees and shrubby plants seem to have taken over. And there was the blue house, one storey at the side and two storeys in the centre with a higher single storey at the other side. The house looked worn out and weary, despite the fresh paintwork.
Fanshawe took a breath and tugged at his collar. Even this early, the humidity was high and the air felt cold and greasy. He was glad he had come out without a hat and almost felt the greasy sweaty feeling at his forehead just thinking of it. Further along the street a dog barked and a child yelled. There were a few cars on the street and at the end of the street, he heard the low hum of traffic. Once again he looked at the business card and read the legend,
Fitzroy & Hilton
Consultants & Elegance Commissioners.
The Blue House,
Signal Street, Eaton Vale.
Consultants & Elegance Commissioners.
The Blue House,
Signal Street, Eaton Vale.
Below this was a telephone and fax number and an email address. Fanshawe glanced up from the card at the house and for a moment considered calling the number on his cellphone. He slipped the business card into the pocket of his jacket and the handle of his gun slipped easily into his hand. He pushed open the gate and as he strode up the path his thumb slid over the silencer button. He felt the barrel of the gun moving into place as the silencer was activated. He knocked at the door and stood to the side of the spyhole. He listened to the footsteps and his jaw tightened briefly. The footsteps paused and he sneered. The door was opened and a short man with half-moon glasses peered up at him.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"Fitzroy or Hilton?" Fanshawe asked dryly.
"I'm Mr Fitzroy, Mr Hilton is busy at the moment, but I can help you," the man replied.
"That would be useful. The name's - Fanshawe. Cameron Fanshawe. What's an Elegance Commissioner do?" Fanshawe asked, stepping forward through the door forcing Fitzroy to step aside and let him in.
"We Commission the forms for Elegance Ordinances in the City," Fitzroy answered,
"Are you having a Elegance problems, Mr Fanshawe?" Fitzroy asked neutrally.
"Oh I'm as elegant as they come," Fanshawe answered with a smile.
It was a smile full of indifference. For the first time, Fitzroy noticed the taller man's blue eyes. They were like stones in a skull. They had no feeling in them and Fitzroy felt a brief shiver of fear at the back of his neck. He put his hand up and rubbed his neck as if to smooth down the raised hairs. Fanshawe looked along a wooden corridor with the walls painted with white gloss paint. Two large prints of old landscape paintings in gold plastic frames tried and failed to give an air of distinguished finesse. The hall was narrow and dark with only the fanlight to let any of the outside sunlight through the grimy glass. The two men's shadows fell upon the floor, faint and still. A staircase that was trying to be grander than it was led up to a dark landing.
Fanshawe's gun hand stayed in his pocket. With his free hand he gestured along the corridor and asked if that was the way to the office. Fitzroy nodded and gestured for him to go along ahead of him. Fanshawe did so, wary nonetheless. He knew that either Fitzroy or Hilton had been Beyond and his hand tightened on the gun. His finger slipped over the trigger and he walked slowly along the corridor aware of the short man behind him.
At the end of the corridor there were two rooms with their doors open. Through one door Fanshawe saw a man leaning over a desk writing. He took in the bent back of Hilton and the heavy bull-necked head. Hilton looked a little like a heavy and suddenly Fanshawe knew that he had been careless coming here alone. The hand in his pocket let go of his gun and he reached up as if to straighten his jacket. As he did so he pressed the little stud on the underside of his lapel. At least Central Control would know what was going on. Fitzroy offered him a chair and he sat, pushing the chair back and sideways on to the owlish man's desk.
Fanshawe watched as Fitzroy sat and made himself comfortable. He peered at Fanshawe through his spectacles and suddenly Fanshawe saw the almost keen foxlike intelligence in the man's eyes. He might have underestimated him. Then the look was gone and Fitzroy was just a rumpled man sitting behind a desk full of paperwork. But, Fanshawe promised himself, he would not underestimate Fitzroy now.
"Now, what can I do for you, Mr Fanshawe?" Fitzroy asked him.
"Somebody in this office went somewhere they really shouldn't have. I've been sent out to deal with it," Fanshawe answered quietly.
He gazed at Fitzroy's desk and saw the small mirror behind the man, balanced on a small cabinet. Hilton had stopped writing and had sat up as if he were listening. Fanshawe, sitting on the edge of the chair slipped both hands into his jacket pockets and leaned forward slightly. He watched Fitzroy raise an eyebrow and sit up straight.
"Are you from the Council, Mr Fanshawe?" he asked bullishly; "Because we have no intention of being intimidated by the Council or anyone else," he added.
Fanshawe smiled. He admired the man and shook his head.
"No, I'm not from the Council. I'm from a - another place entirely," he answered slowly and still quietly.
A clock faintly ticked and through the window the thick air seemed to swirl making the leaves on the trees, stir gently. Fanshawe gazed at the mirror and saw Hilton bow his head again and continue writing. Had he heard, Fanshawe wondered?
He looked back to Fitzroy's face and found it suddenly unreadable. Then he was staring at a small gun in Fitzroy's hand, awkwardly held, but pointed at him.
"I am not about to be threatened sir," he hissed at Fanshawe.
Now Fanshawe's gaze was distracted by Hilton's movement reflected in the mirror. The big blond man had got up and stood at the small window listening. He reached into his pocket and drew out a cigarette, lighting it very slowly. Fanshawe looked around the office and then he saw the small Probability Cannon on the cabinet by the window. So it was Fitzroy who had been Beyond and stolen the Cannon. It looked almost inconsequential, yet alien in these surroundings. Fanshawe slowly raised his hands out of his pockets and threw himself to the floor. Fitzroy fired and as the bullet moved forward, Fanshawe time-shifted. He was suddenly by the cabinet and grabbing the Cannon, threw himself at the window. Somebody threw themselves into him and he twisted, firing his gun through his pocket as he went through the glass, shattering it. He heard a grunt and then he was out into the cold, greasy air. He fell over the wooden fence and into the empty plot, rolling to his feet on the sandy earth. Now his gun was out of his pocket in his hand and he darted forwards crouching by the fence. He caught a glimpse of Hilton standing by the window the cigarette in his hand as if nothing had happened and frowned. When it dawned on him that Hilton was a Pretence Doll it was almost too late.
"Drop it Chronomaniac, or I'll drop you," a voice snapped. He turned very slowly and found himself looking at the real Hilton who was holding a gun.
Fanshawe flicked the timer switch on the gun, standard for all agents and let it drop. Before it hit the earth it vanished. The Probability Cannon was still in his pocket, but he dared not use it. He said quietly,
"Somehow I didn't think Fitzroy had the nerve. Still, your mistake Hilton. I'm located and monitored right now."
Hilton sneered and whistled. The Blue House seemed to shimmer. Very suddenly it seemed to develop a tendril that snaked out and snapped Fanshawe's neck smartly. Then it slowly drew the limp body into itself and Hilton shuddered. Through the window of his office he could see the Pretence Doll still smoking the cigarette. He put his gun back in his pocket and glanced at his watch. It would take the house fifteen minutes to consume and digest the Chrono-Cop and everything on it. Hilton did not realise that the Probability Cannon was still in Fanshawe's pocket until very suddenly there was a large 'Whumpf' sound and the Blue House collapsed in on itself and dragged him into the implosion.
An hour later, Fanshawe, the real Fanshawe and not the highly programmed Pretence Doll switched on his car engine and drove away to Hill View and the Outpost Control. He was already reporting the incident to his boss.