The man sitting in front of his desk was a shapeless mass of wet paper and bad teeth. His badge, which William Fitzgerald assumed was forged, sat neatly squared to the edge of the blotter. The man’s eyes were mouse-grey, dove-grey, with pupils so small as to be nonexistent. He wanted William Fitzgerald’s services, he explained; specifically he wanted William Fitzgerald’s services in gathering a little, how to say, extralegal evidence against a crime boss.
The wet paper globbered at him, in fake comraderie. He was a clever man, the crime boss, clever and wily and dangerous. Too clever to leave evidence around where it could find him, too clever to draw his crimes into his home. Too clever for a family. Too clever for the safety of the citizens, for the safety of the city. He needed to be stopped.
How did he, William Fitzgerald, fit into all this, William Fitzgerald wanted to know.
It was simple, the man explained. He had here (he pulled a fat manila envelope from inside his wet paper coat) ‘evidence’; things that, if found within the house of the crime boss, would send him to jail for a long, long time.
William Fitzgerald’s back stiffened. He did not change his customary slouch, but there was a tension running through him.
And, said William Fitzgerald, and waited.
And also in the envelope was three thousand dollars, said the man. Faceless. Nonsequential. Untraceable. Nonincriminating.
William Fitzgerald looked at him and his loathing for the wet paper man was clear in his eyes. He had his scruples, he said, low and evenly, and he had his limits. Investigation, extortion, blackmail, ruination were fine and good but honestly. He did not fabricate the venality of humanity, and he would thank the wet paper man to leave.
The wet paper man gave a horrible scream and turned himself inside out. From his fluttery remains poured out winged black things in the millions, a dense cloud of activity and toothy gnashing. The scream continued, and then the things were gone. His office smelled like burning garbage. William Fitzgerald cut open the manila envelope. Inside were mouldering leaves, and the smell of the forest.