Set post-Diggers, and then post-Baker's Dozen.
It is with no small amount of trepidation that Junior Watch Undersecretary Hawkins taps on the sleek oak panels of the door to Councillor Cargan-Graves’ office. He has, after all, heard the stories - ranging from the hushed anecdotes of assistants scorned for failing to purchase the appropriate brand of blue ink (“what kind of fucking philistine orders indigo and pretends to possess basic humanity, Henslowe?”), to the outraged claims of cleaners rebuked for having the barefaced temerity to apply a duster to an inconveniently situated pile of paper. If time and proximity to Acryn’s finest political minds has taught Hawkins anything, it is that when people speak in scandalised tones of the Councillor’s oft-remarked eccentricity, they make no exaggeration.
On entering the office - at the behest of a brusque “come in, would you?” - it is easy to see how the servants might have baulked at the prospect of tidying this particular wing of the Council building. The room is a veritable cornucopia of half-ruined stationary. Scattered all the way across the floor like an uneven snowfall are what must be literally hundreds of balled-up pieces of paper, each liberally adorned with scratchy royal-blue handwriting. Stacks of books form vast, teetering blockades at every corner. Then, sitting at the centre of it all, eyes narrowed to hostile, interrogative slits, is the man himself: pen suspended mid-air in a fashion wholly judgemental. Steadily, it drips onto the blank page before him.
“Careful,” he says, blandly. “You’re stepping on G through H.”
Hawkins blinks. Looks down. Then, slowly, removes his foot from the edge of a nearby paper pyramid.
“Apologies, Councillor,” he says. “I - I’ve brought, erm. More paper.”
A single, perplexed wrinkle appears between his brows. “The provenance of which is…?”
“The provenance -? Oh! It’s from the Watch office, Councillor. They told me you were the best person to consult.”
The wrinkle deepens. Still, he reaches across to take the file, and begins to peruse.
He pauses at the bottom of the first page. Looks up. Hawkins flinches.
“I’m sorry,” he says, with supreme lack of apology. “Would you please clarify what precisely is it that I am looking at?”
Hawkins perks up. That question is easy. “You are looking at the most recent report on the nefarious acts of dread pirate Hugh March, whose horrifying misdeeds have finally culminated in the one thing we have been missing to date: actual unlawful activity!” A pause. The resultant silence is chilling. “… Hooray?”
“No, Hawkins,” says the Councillor, damningly. “What I am looking at appears to be a report on boat traffic violations. So do tell me, if you would be so kind - what particular chain of events lead to a glorified parking ticket being hand-delivered to my desk?”
“I. Ah. Not just a parking ticket, Lord Cargan-Graves! This contains crucial information on the current whereabouts of wanted criminal Tabitha Terrec -!” At the Councillor’s pained groan, he quickly switches tack. “Oh, and also a large number of Watch representatives are also heading over here in a little while in order to discuss something important to do with the safe passage of ships remaining unimpeded. Not sure what that’s about, but I was assured it was of the utmost urgency. Anyway, everyone says just to send all the Hugh March stuff to you. Because you’re an expert on the case, sir!”
The Councillor’s eyes actually widen further at that - half derision, half shock. It is almost impressive. “Everyone sayswhat?”
“They - they say you take a personal interest?” says Hawkins. Increasingly unsure. “Because you used to adventure with him?”
The pen drops. It leaves a bright, asymmetrical splatter on the desk. “Oh no,” says the Councillor, standing. “No, Hawkins. I did not claw my way up the perilous godsdamned political acclivity in order to be left trailing after Hugh freaking Branch’s nebulously illegal fucking trivia.” He takes a breath. Seems to consider stopping there. Doesn’t. “I mean, do you understand the sheer depth of political change I am attempting to achieve here? The number of bills drafted? The number rejected? I have literally climbed onto tables, Hawkins - climbed there and made speeches until the Mayor of Acryn told me to get off the furniture. Everything I can do to raise the profile of the welfare crisis threatening this city, I’ve done - whilst seemingly, the only things the papers can discuss are the increasingly farcical exploits of March and his vapid, self-publicising embarrassment of an accomplice. And in the midst of all this, you tell me now that ‘people’ have decided I have nothing better to do than pour through pages of inconsequential dreck detailing the miscellaneous idiocies of the Crimson Mother and its deranged progeny?”
“No. Do not tell me this, Hawkins. Just. Please. Be merciful and forward it on to a bigger pushover, like Skye. The only report I wish to see in future bearing the name ‘Hugh March’ - or any variation thereupon, or any other member of that godsforsaken vessel - is a certificate documenting his grisly demise. Can you get the Watch to remember that, do you think?”
“Yes, sir,” says Hawkins. Honestly, there is very little else to say.
“Good. I’m getting back to actual work. I strongly suggest that you do too.”
And with that, he is dismissed.
The second time Hawkins knocks on the same door it is with new self-assurance, to say nothing of a certain amount of cheer. This time, not even that same, brusque “come in” is capable of denting his spirits - for this time, he has news of absolutely unquestionable value.
“Councillor Cargan-Graves!” he declares, cheerfully skirting another mound of screwed-up pieces of paper. “I have something excellent to tell you!”
Councillor Cargan-Graves peers at him over the dusty cover of a large volume on Acryn case law. “You have something excellent to tell me,” he repeats. Toneless, but in that inimical way of his that involves not even bothering to convey the kind of neutrality or calm that ‘toneless’ would conventionally entail.
Hawkins continues, blissfully unperturbed. “I do indeed, sir. In fact, I have precisely the news you asked for not several weeks ago to this day!”
The Councillor raises his eyebrows. “The Wayfinders’ Guild has finally agreed to submit to my list of a hundred and thirty-seven proposed regulations? No, wait - Councillor Hoskins has resigned, upon declaring his intention to live out the rest of his days in silent hermitic retreat?”
“Ah, no sir. Even better than that, sir!”
“Very well,” says the Councillor. Is that a trace of amusement? “Out with it.”
“The pirate Hugh March is dead!”
There is - dead silence.
Hawkins has not always found reason to pride himself on his people skills, but he is willing to bet that even the most adept of physiognomists would find the look on Councillor Cargan-Graves’ face absolutely unreadable. Or, at the very least, nonsensical. Not one whit of even the most subdued form of triumph appears to grace his features! It is odd in the extreme.
After a pause that has just begun erring on the side of painful, the Councillor speaks. It is a choky, abrupt sort of sound. “You are - sure about that, Hawkins?”
“Oh, quite sure, Councillor! There’s no possible way he could have survived what that group of adventurers told us had happened. But you can see for yourself - as requested, I’ve drawn up a full report!”
All the blood appears to have drained from the Councillor’s face, as he reaches across to take the file from Hawkin’s hands. Minutes pass, as he thumbs through the pages.
“Is it all - quite in order, sir?” asks Hawkins. Doubt is once more beginning to cross his mind.
The Councillor’s head jerks up, quite suddenly, as though he had entirely forgotten that Hawkins was still in the room.
“I… ah, yes. Yes, Hawkins. It… appears to be entirely, um. In order.” There is another long pause, in which the Councillor bites his lip. For no more than a moment, his eyes grown wide with what resembles but surely cannot under any reasonable circumstances be alarm, he suddenly looks quite frightfully - young.
“Sir -” begins Hawkins. Uncertain as to how he might follow this up, but nonetheless ready to give it his best effort.
“Thank you, Hawkins,” says the Councillor, in the strangest voice that Hawkins has ever heard. “… You did a good thing, bringing this to me. Ah. Well done.” Then: “You’d - best be getting back to the Watch, I think.”
Once again, Hawkins finds himself making his exit with a certain amount of relief. The gods alone know what was bothering the Councillor. Still, he is almost (although not entirely) certain that this meeting could be judged a reasonable success.
For one thing, he'd said well done.