William Fitzgerald Turns Freelance

William Fitzgerald is there when they teargas the mayor, just as he was there when they teargassed the mothers, just as he was there when the crowd was only a few dozen people and no one was paying attention. Not in the crowd, mind; well off to the side, an anonymous hunched shadow next to a trashcan, bearing witness, such as it is.

It’s been a lean few years for William Fitzgerald, his secrets worthless, his clients gone; the office is shut and he’s living in an unheated, windowless basement, sleeping on concrete. He’s desperate, and worse, he’s sober, too skint for even the six dollar scotch he prefers. He loathes the openness of this violence, but he is long familiar with the glee and the fear glittering behind the blunt snouts of the gas masks, the safety they think their power and anonymity give them. His fingers twitch with acquisitive fury.

He prowls behind them, a lion after hyenas, remembering faces, conversations, license plates, names. When they slip out in the grey light of morning, legs shaky from a night’s worth of license, he is there, another piece of litter blown against the sidewalk. When they go home, he is there, with his camera and a new little book, piecing together identities. What is hidden is valuable; what is buried must be unearthed.

William Fitzgerald Tidies Up

He didn’t like to do it, but he knew the practice: William Fitzgerald braced his legs and drew the sharp edge of the knife against the soft throat of the man sitting in his office. His legs jerked and his eyes rolled back toward him but whatever he wanted to say puffed out of the broad gash in his throat and was lost in the deepening twilight.

William Fitzgerald stripped the gloves from his hands and tossed them into his former client’s lap. Later, he’d burn them separately: one in an incinerator and one in a bonfire, trash in a trash disposal and careless loss in the other. He tipped the man’s chair back and onto the small rug he kept in the center of the room, levered him out and rolled him tightly enough into the rug. It made a suspicious-looking package, but William Fitzgerald was a suspicious-looking man; humping a body-shaped rug down the stairs wouldn’t make him any more noticeable.

He was out of sorts by the time he tipped the remains over the bridge railing and into the rush of the strait. It was far past his working hours, and he resented the additional and necessary sobriety. The murder itself bothered him not at all; some men deserved to die, but all men were doomed to it regardless.

William Fitzgerald Becomes A Reluctant Optimist

Work’s been dry lately. Not so much that people are better—in William Fitzgerald’s experience people never change much for the better or the worse—but that no one seems to care about the old things one way or the other. He calls the people in his little book and they laugh at him. Go ahead, they say, let it out. Who cares? Take out an ad in the paper. He tries, he does, but none of the journalists he knows can be bothered. Corruption, incest, addiction, who cares. That stuff won’t even make the back pages.

He’s got money stashed away, so it isn’t like he’s going hungry, but it puts him out of sorts. The time is suddenly in joint with him, and for William Fitzgerald that’s deeply uncomfortable. People are beaten in the street, the wealthy roll through poor neighborhoods with long guns poking out the windows hunting sport, and no one cares. His storehouse of sins is suddenly worthless, common goods, after a life spent collecting vileness.

He is at the corner of 12th and Broadway when traffic stops and a crowd comes growling up towards him, armed with bats and manhole covers, glass bottles and cigarettes. There is blood in their voices, old blood, blood of the old world, and William Fitzgerald, dry old vampire that he is, shudders at the scent of it. He does not join them, but as they pass he picks a stone up off the street and follows.

William Fitzgerald Finds His Way

You are short and straight as a kitchen knife. You have been, at one time, keen and deadly, but these days you are comfortably dull, nicked with long use and experience.

So you mythologize yourself.

You paint a liar’s face in the mirror, hangdog honest as inveterate liars always are. You remember — it was a day like this, sunny and dry like they all are — when the scales washed away from your eyes and you found yourself standing on the weedy steps of your office, ankledeep in cigarette ends and fallen leaves, the key already in your hand and in the lock, with no clear memory of walking there or leaving the apartment.

You have always been home again.

The key still works. The stairs are just as you remember them, though perhaps just that much narrower. The late afternoon light is the color of weak beer pouring in through your windows. Even the picture of the angel over the safe is still just the same, the same ball of fire and eyes and wings against a windswept and overcast moor.

You sigh happily and settle into your chair, lungs full of the nearly-forgotten tang of charred coffee. There’s still a half-bottle of cheap Midwestern scotch in the bottom desk drawer. The weak-beer light reflects from chimneys, airducts, high-rise windows from downtown, the bright metal of the cars in the street. You spread your arms wide, in ownership. Your city. Yours.

William Fitzgerald Attends A Funeral

There was no body; in its place was an unadorned block of bronze with a name laser-etched into the side. William Fitzgerald passed in front of it without seeing. Dead people held no interest for him except as the living gave them value. Whatever secrets and old shames the name represented, they weren’t to be found in this collection of ashes and bones fragments. He had known the man as a hypocrite and a murderer, but he passed no judgments; the man had paid fully and punctually until he died, and in his blackmailer’s soul, that was the only virtue that mattered.

No one spoke to him, of course. Here, as at all gatherings, he was a human nullity, one more mourner unremarkable in his ugliness. Half the family were clients of his in one manner or another, not that any of them recognized him outside the familiar squalor of his office. These big families, these big old families, they were his bread and butter. There was always something they wanted, always some further degradation, and William Fitzgerald was a born pander.

In his own way he mourned the corpse. It may have been a monster made human only through unassailable wealth, but there had been blood there. The survivors, for all they paid him the tribute that vice owed to virtue, were alien in their cold and abstracted cruelty. They saw people as he saw people — resources to be mined down to the bedrock and abandoned — and William Fitzgerald looked on the world of which he was the true inheritor and mourned.