It was still a while before the gastropubs opened and offered their wares to the unwary. Hugo thought, therefore, that he would take a trip to the place where the match would be played.
To say that Hugo was worried that somebody might recognise him in the harsh light of day, following his escapades last night, was neither entirely true nor untrue. Hugo Gubbins was bricking it, to use the common vernacular. Hugo Wright wasn’t overly concerned: he’d not seen many sets of peeping eyes as he went, and he was quite good at watching things. If he wasn’t, he’d have missed several of the things he’d been asked to acquire as they snuck past.
This made things hard for Hugo Wright, who very much wanted Hugo Gubbins to take them to the cricket ground. Hugo Wright looked altogether different to Hugo Gubbins, who people had already met/talked to/tried to punch, and at the same time identical. Questions about twins were the last things he needed now. However, Hugo Gubbins was in no mood to walk the streets of Pierstree.
The next morning, the door to Julia’s centre of operations was locked. Yawning and still in pyjamas, Hugo knocked on it.
A panel opened in the door. On the other side was not his landlady’s face, but a flashing light.
‘Er, good morning?’ said Hugo.
The only response was the drone’s hovering noise.
‘No no, here’s fine, thanks!’ said Hugo Gubbins, getting on for three days earlier.
‘The Centipede?’ said the cab driver. ‘You’re not staying here, are you?’
‘No no, but…’ Hugo Gubbins scanned the vicinity. ‘It’s just down that road, right? On Google Maps, anyway.’
‘Good luck getting Google Maps to work out here,’ said the driver, getting his suitcase out of the boot. ‘Twelve pounds forty please.’
Hugo paid the woman. ‘No problem, I have a print-out of the village. Always useful for world-building.’
‘I’m writing a novella, you know. Fifty thousand words in a month. I was thinking here could stand a crystal tower, that moves on a hundred legs when it’s threatened…’
The car drove off.
‘Hugo? Where are you? Why can’t I see you? Why can’t I hear footsteps?’
The person in the stairwell was… nondescript. Neither too short nor too tall, neither stocky nor wiry, skin tone neither pale nor dark, and that was pretty much all that you could say given the light. Not even the gender, or lack thereof, was detectable. The hair was kept under a hood, the clothes were on the dark side, and presumably shoes were being worn somewhere.
‘We told you before, did we not?’ said the person. ‘We will not stand by and be benevolent while you ruin things. Here you are, ruining them. What are we to do?’
Hugo saw the knife. Not because it glinted: there wasn’t enough light for it to glint. Rather, because it was a massive great knife. It was held in the only distinguishing feature: one of two long gloves.
He took a deep shuddering breath.
‘This is an absolutely terrible idea,’ whispered Hugo.
‘It is,’ agreed the voice in his ear, ‘and if you can think up another one then I am all for that.’
That settled the matter.
Hugo didn’t know whether to be surprised or not. On the one hand, a room filled wall-to-wall with computer units and monitors, the only light coming from the glowing screens, wasn’t one he would have expected to see anywhere in Pierstree. On the other hand, if he’d expected to see it anywhere, it would have been in one of the rooms in Julia’s house he hadn’t been allowed to enter.
Nigel Larrix lived – had lived, when he was alive – opposite the road from the Centipede. Therefore it was opposite the road too from a large duckpond, which was next to the pub. Occasionally the ducks would cross the usually empty road and mill around on Nigel’s front lawn. Occasionally this would have disastrous and feathery results.
There was no danger of that today though. Today the ducks, and coots, and moorhens were staying in the shade on the far side of the pond, putting as much space between themselves and the commotion opposite as possible.
By the time Hugo got there, around ten, the initial hubbub had died down somewhat. There were still police cars and ambulances, and a small crowd of people in shock or in tears, and ‘POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS’ everywhere; but it was muted.