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William Fitzgerald

His name was William Fitzgerald, and he was a private detective. He wasn’t a good private detective, but then he didn’t really need to be. He was a greasy, slimy little man, but those were his strengths. He was nondescriptely unpleasant; if you met him — which was likely, as he was as ubiquitous as a bill collector — you would have only a memory of an unpleasant man in a loud tie. No one remembered his face, and seldom his name. His clients would forget his name in the middle of signing their checks. It didn’t bother Fitzgerald. He hated humanity, in the mass and in the individual. He took a silent, odious, gleeful pleasure in destroying marriages, ruining careers, swamping lives, discovering the disappeared poor.

He drank a pot and a half of violent coffee in the morning, and an equal amount of cheap Midwestern scotch every evening. In this manner he kept his youth and what there were of his looks, forever poised between the haggard sharpness of the tea-addict and the veinous swelling of the alcoholic. His mental state was paranoid, confidential, brazen, sly, and wicked. He would have been just over five feet tall if he ever stood up straight. He walked with a constant slump, hunched sideways into himself. From a distance he looked like an ugly child. Sometimes that came in handy.

It was afternoon, with the sunlight the colour of weak beer pouring in through his windows. He was at equipoise, as far from his coffee as from his scotch, and he was pleased with himself. He had just displeased a senator — but displeased him in the way that meant he got paid, for he had taken several lewd and pornographic pictures of the senator’s daughter, featuring an assortment of stoned and strung-out young men and women. He’d also taken the names of the young men and women in the photographs, and was busy entering them, in code, in the little leatherette book he kept for such things. He wasn’t above a little blackmail or extortion or vicious exposure, when the mood was on him. The senator would disown his daughter, he thought, and stretched, sanguine and replete with malice. She would be thrown from the college she had gotten into on the strength of his name; maybe there would be jail time, as well. It didn’t really matter. Her life was over, in either case. It might stretch on for a few increasingly tenuous years, but he’d seen her eyes as he’d sold her the junk the senator had given him, seen the trembling fingers and the pocked and scarred arms. Without aid, without money… her life was over.

There was a picture of an angel on the wall next to the door, not a Saturday supplement angel, but a ball of fire and eyes and wings against a windswept and overcast moor. The wind from its wings had flattened the grass in a wide circle around it, like the footprint of a helicopter. He slipped the leatherette book into the back of the painting, and went to stand before the window overlooking the street. The weak-beer light was reflected from chimneys, airducts, high-rise windows from downtown, the bright metal of the cars in the street. He spread his arms wide, in ownership. His city. His.

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