The only movement was a single droplet of water. It formed itself slowly on the exposed pipes and then cast itself free, experienced a brief flash of freedom and then was dashed upon the unyielding concrete floor. The whole scene was lit by the dispassionate glow of a single bare, dim bulb. My world held, caught in a limbo of circumstance.
Burnt out by the predations of the night, my mind was a dilapidated room; minimal furniture, damp walls, an unpleasant and lingering odor and one occupant who desperately wanted to get out. I wondered why I had ever thought I could do this thing and where had I misplaced the conviction I had started evening with.
After an age or a moment the lock grated and the door swung open. Fuller was all swagger and confidence, suit unwrinkled and hat still straight, every inch the conquering hero. He unbuttoned his jacket and sat in the other of the two chairs, the survivors of hard times and ill-treatment, they were as battered, hard and unforgiving as their usual occupants.
“Tell me, Winterton, why?” He fixed me with his blue eyes and let their stare pummel me.
“Why? Because he was my friend.” My fingers traced the filigree of scratches the marked the surface of the room's only table, anxious for the comfort holding a cigarette or whiskey tumbler.
“That makes the kind of sense only a whiskey-sodden deadbeat would understand,” he snarled, slapping his hand flat on the table and forcing me to recoil involuntarily.
“Ever had the kind of friend who you could read at a glance and could do the same to you? The sort of person who you could not see for months at a time, but when you finally met up again the beats still matched up perfectly?” His blank gaze answered me. “No, I don't suppose you ever have. Well, last month Clancy asked me how I was feeling.”
“You killed him because he asked how you were feeling? That's madness, Donald.” He shook his head, another drip launched itself from the pipe.
“It wasn't him. It wasn't the guy who sat on the park bench and sketched the passing girls in his notebook. Gone was the man who stirred his coffee once only, in case the spoon tainted the taste. There was no sign of the friend who took in a dirty, shattered person and made him whole and clean again. Something had come and destroyed my pal, put on his body like a new suit and was parading about in his place.” I laid myself open upon that table and saw only cold, hard logic in his eyes.
“You're all kinds of crazy, Winterton. People change, they get tired of drunken old sots sponging off them, they lose faith in those who fail them time and time again, sometimes they just kick out the trash and get on with their lives!” His raised voice bounced back at me from the walls.
“Am I? And what happened to young Hank , looking so proud in that uniform that was too big for the scrawny little guy? What happened to the man who swept Doreen off her feet on a starlit June night? What happened to you, Fuller?” The light flickered momentarily and I was suddenly afraid.
“I am still me! Stronger, smarter and better, Winterton, and you just don't like it.” He was on the verge of shouting and I knew then that I was right.
“Hank Fuller is dead, you took his place but you will never be half the man he ever was! Just face it, you're just a parasite, living in a corpse!” I spat the words at him. The light flickered again as I watched the scales of his temper tip dangerously towards anger.
He leaped across the table at my throat, his fingers suddenly elongated and wickedly pointed. I lifted the front legs of my chair and let his momentum push it off balance as I attempted to fend his hands off my face. As we fell I managed to get my knee between us and pushed him off as we hit the ground.
We both rolled away and lurched to our feet. He was quick, but he was not ready for instincts honed on the dirtiest streets of this insalubrious city. I fended him away with the hastily grabbed chair and then swung it with what strength I had left. The first impact knocked him back against the wall, the second hit hard enough to nearly jar my weapon from my grasp, the third never connected, he caught the chair and ripped it from my hand. He growled at me, completely unhurt.
A night of no sleep and several whiskeys meant his lunge caught me before I had decided which way to dodge. Again we toppled to the floor, the strobing light illuminating his face is brief flashes of ugly hate and determination. He pinned me down, his sharpened digits dug painfully into my arms. From somewhere I found the energy to laugh.
“What's so funny, Winterton?” He asked, a shadow of confusion passed over his face. “You can't hurt me, all you do is prolong your fate. If I kill you here, no-one will ever find out and if I don't you're going away for so long they might as well bury you now.”
“You'll never be as good a detective as the real Henry Fuller,” I tell him with nothing left to lose. “You asked me why, but you already knew the answer to that, what you should have asked is how.”
“Then how, Winterton, how did you do it?” His face pressed close to mine contorted in a leer.
“I didn't.” I grinned back at him. “And I lied, Henry Fuller isn't dead, he's somewhere deep inside of you but only something with real power can draw him out, that's your weakness.” That was all I had, my last mote of defiance, I closed my eyes and waited for death or worse.
Death was noisy. It kicked at the door, desperate to claim me for its own, the impacts filled the room. On the forth kick I heard the door splinter and the sounds of its remains being yanked from the hinges.
“Get away from him, brute!” I was wrong, it was an angel with Phyllis's voice.
“Hank? Is there still any of you in that creature?” A host of angels, this one sounded like Doreen. Fullers weight lifted from me slowly.
“Don't do anything foolish, woman, put the gun down.” Fuller growled.
“Oh Hank, I should have said yes and we could have run away like we planned, but I just wasn't ready for it. We could have left the city, bought a small farm and none of this would never have happened. Hank...” Doreen's voice broke and petered out.
“Doreen, I'm sorry,” The voice was Fuller's, but all the pride and surety were gone. “Do it, for me, for us...”
The gunshot was shockingly loud in the enclosed space, it assaulted my ears and Fuller's weight again pressed me against the unyielding floor. I opened my eyes to see Phyllis's sweet visage framed by her perfect hair in the harsh light from the solitary bulb. She gently prised her revolver from Doreen's shaking grasp and slid it back into her purse.
“I blabbed everything out to Doreen in the car,” Phyllis explained. “She filled in the blanks and convinced Billy to turn the car around. That was a hell of a gamble you pulled, Donald.”
“I knew I could count on you.” Billy Johnson, the man-mountain helped me out from under the former body of Henry Fuller. “There was no way I could have convinced Doreen myself.”
“What do we do now?” Asked Billy, the tremble in his voice a contrast to his imposing physique. “We have to tell the chief.”
“I think we should talk to his wife first.” I sighed. “First we get out of here, then we find somewhere that serves breakfast and see how many refills of coffee we can spring before we get thrown out.”
We made our way onto the street through a back exit. Phyllis and I leaned heavily against each other as we walked, Billy supported Doreen's sobbing form. The world was just waking up, getting itself ready for another ordinary day, completely unaware of the dark places that you find between the streetlights.
“Oh, and one thing, Donald.” Phyllis spoke to me between puffs on her cigarette. “Stop looking at me like that. Its been a long, hard night and I don't think I can deal with that on top of everything else.”