Glitch was worried.
He'd never stolen anything in his life. Well, maybe technically he had. If you counted the occasional piece of fruit, or an ear of ripening corn. Out in the wide world, without a platinum to his name and no one to help him, it had been that or starve. But that was for survival purposes. That wasn't theft, it was... foraging.
Cain had Views on theft. He was a Tin Man (almost three years after he'd watched Cain lay down his badge on Adora's grave, he was still, would always be, a Tin Man to Glitch). But that would be okay; sometimes it was hard to fathom the workings of Cain's mind, but Glitch had been studying him for a while and harboured a tentative theory that Cain's View of theft carried the rider 'unless there's a damn good reason'.
Well, then. There was a d... there was a verygood reason for this.
Glitch sat in the archive, bent over his workbench with an expression of abstracted determination. He hadn't connected himself to the column at the centre of the room, where the other half of his brain resided - he didn't want to think too deeply about the thing in front of him. It was too unpleasant. The wall in front of him, panelled in dark, glossy wood, was punctuated by various clips and props in which a mystifying assortment of tools nestled, lovingly maintained, every hinge and joint lubricated, every blade oiled and guarded. A sign at the centre of the array warned THESE THINGS BITE! in large red letters, and Glitch was careful - very careful, in selecting a small screwdriver and a pair of needle-nosed pliers.
The box, more of a deep picture frame, really, was held closed by four brass screws; Glitch extracted each methodically and lined them up on the bench, dismay at the awful item itself in no way lessening the small, absurd pleasure at the delicate threading of the screws or the answering grooves they had left in the wood. Carefully, he slid the flat of the screwdriver behind the wooden panel that sealed the back of the display case and pried it free. Free... well, almost. The outer frame was easy to lift away, heavy with its window of glass, bevelled and scalloped and far too solid for the fragile things that lay beneath.
Butterflies. Glitch stared at them unhappily, his eyes following the vivid whorls and freckles of brilliant, delicate colour, tracing the wingtips, borders of powdery black or gorgeous, vibrant green. Here, between the wing and body of one, a glimpse of jointed leg, the unimaginable, magnificent engineering of microscopic articulations. And then the pin. Bright steel, plunging through the velvet thorax. He swallowed, feeling his stomach clench, and looked away from the baize-covered board.
He'd never intended to go into the offices of Thaddeus Milton, Registered Dental Practitioner, in the first place. He and Cain hadn't seen much of the man himself, but it hadn't taken either of them long to realise that they didn't like him. Cain, in fact, had warned Glitch to stay well away from the surgery, muttering darkly that the dentist was a nasty piece of work and Glitch had been happy to comply. But this afternoon he'd found a small silk pocketbook on the floor outside the door to the office, and after he'd finished admiring the red and gold pattern of exotic-looking figures on the outside, he'd thought to glance within and discovered that it belonged to Milton's receptionist, Candice. "The only Candy you'll find in mypremises," he'd overheard Milton comment to a fellow passenger, on one of the rare occasions they'd shared the lift.
The Goldstraw and Cain Detective Agency (and how grand that sounded! Glitch couldn't look at the words on the frosted glass door without a thrill of pride and just a hint of awe) was one of four establishments occupying the seventh floor of 131 Anapolis Square. The offices of Newton Vire, occupying the corner of the building diagonally across from the agency, bustled with the quiet chatter of typewriters and adding machines. Glitch had loitered in the foyer outside the elevators, admiring the decorative bronze panels along each wall, just so that he could listen to the friendly, busy sound. Vire, a stooping, willowy man with a permanently runny nose, had called in to welcome the newcomers to the building a week ago. The previous tenants, he'd told them between sneezes, had vanished in a hurry - Glitch was still puzzling that one out. Maybe they were worried about catching his cold...One of the inhabitants had certainly been sick - they'd found no end of syringes and packets of interesting powder in the empty offices when they'd started moving in their belongings.
In the apartment across the scuffed geometric complexity of the parquet hallway lived Mrs Hilda Hindemann, Reader of Futures, Spiritualist, Medium and keeper of two of the largest parrots Glitch had ever seen. The apartment was patronised by a sporadic flow of interesting people - veiled women, men with their hats pulled down low over their faces, nervous couples in the dead of night. Glitch was fascinated by this stealthy stream of customers and the way that they left looking different from how they'd arrived - relieved, or thoughtful, or troubled. Sometimes laughter or weeping filtered under the panelled door, sometimes shouts of anger or dismay, though these seldom lasted for long before metamorphosing into resignation. Once, only a couple of nights after they'd moved into their own little apartment, they'd been woken by a scream, and Glitch had clung to Cain, torn between going to check that the old lady was okay and hiding under the blanket. Cain had been the one to drag on some clothes and go across the hall, his gun tucked beneath the tail of his shirt. After a few tense minutes, he'd returned and slithered back between the sheets, giving Glitch a soothing pat on the shoulder.
"She's in the business of unexpected news, Sweetheart. Sometimes that scares people," he'd murmured. "She's okay." Comforted, Glitch had gone back to sleep.
Glitch had closed the pocketbook and stroked the smooth cover while he thought, enjoying the feel of the silk under his fingers. It couldn't hurt just to go across and take it back, could it? It wasn't as if he needed to talk to the dentist. And the surgery was just over there, across the hall on the other side of the elevators. So off he'd gone, hat wedged firmly down over his curls, expecting the errand to take thirty seconds - he'd planned to spend the afternoon looking at maps Cain had bought, learning more about the City. And there was so much to learn! He was determined to read the maps and plans, and pore over the city statutes and regulations, and hope that some small part of it sank in...
Candy had been on the telephone when he'd warily opened the door, and hadn't seem to notice him as he'd sidled into the reception. She was almost as off-putting as the dentist himself, blonde hair gleaming like polished brass, bright red nails curled around the phone in glossy, lacquered hooks. Glitch was generally in favour of shiny things, but there was something predatory about those nails, and he'd been relieved to see that she was engrossed in her conversation. Perhaps he could simply leave the pocketbook on the edge of her desk and make his escape to the sparse, safe territory of the office... He'd ventured a little closer, then froze as Candy's penetrating whisper cut the air.
Didn't what? Who was she talking about? Glitch had opened his mouth, trying to frame a suitable reply, then saw that the receptionist was still in communion with the phone, tangling the fingers of her free hand in the braided cord. That was okay, then - the cryptic remark wasn't addressed to him; there was no need to puzzle his brain over it any longer. Smiling now, he'd allowed himself to come within clawing distance and delivered the silk-bound wallet onto the desk.
Candy's reaction had been perplexing, to say the least. At the sight of the pocketbook, her lips - red to match her nails - had curved prettily, and she'd looked up from the telephone at Glitch. And then, while her smile had remained fixed in place, it had taken on an odd, glassy quality, as if it had been constructed elsewhere and then placed on an otherwise unfriendly face, like a decorative red bow pinned to a court summons.
"I'll call you back," she'd muttered through her smile - Glitch had said nothing, confident, this time, that the remark wasn't directed his way. The handset clicked back into place in its cradle, and he'd had to shove his hands in his pockets to keep himself from reaching out to touch the device, a squat black obelisk trimmed with silver. We're gonna have one of those, he'd told himself excitedly. And a Telex. Messages, flying back and forth along bright wires, beneath the feet of the oblivious populace, the buzz and chime of signal and countersignal and the excitable clatter of letters tumbling onto the paper roll of the teletype machine. A typewriter, too... Cain had been lingering over a particular machine, admiring the sleek lines, the round, brass-edged keys...
He'd become aware that Candy was looking at him expectantly.
"Oh! I-I-I... did you say something? I was thinking about typewriters." The red bow had grown a little smaller. Apparently, when people encountered Candy Hubble, they weren't meant to think about typewriters.
"I just asked you how Mr Cain was..."
Glitch had given her a sunny grin - Cain could be a little on the surly side with people he didn't know, so it was always nice to see that he'd made a good impression.
"Ohhh Cain's out and about. Licences and paperwork and licences and paperwork and li... official stuff. I'll tell him you asked after him, though." Had he glitched? He couldn't always tell, but Candy's expression - that wary bemusement he'd come to recognise from those who didn't know him well - suggested that he had. Don't explain. That had been Cain's advice. You just get yourself flustered, and you know you glitch worse when you're het up. Good advice. They'd successfully kept his zipper hidden so far and if he got strange looks for keeping his hat on indoors, it was still better than losing business because of the Outer Zone's seemingly ubiquitous mistrust of the 'surgically re-educated'.
"He's a busy man," the receptionist had pressed, absently stroking a long nail along the telephone receiver. "It's a wonder he has any time to relax... what does he do to unwind?" And Glitch, who could quite easily have told her, had remembered that his relationship with the Tin Man was something else he had to keep under his hat, so to speak. He'd floundered, suspecting that talk of hot baths and other such soothing delights might be a little too intimate to share.
The telephone's abrupt jangle had rescued him. Candy, bending over her appointments book, had been unaware of Glitch's hasty move towards the door, or his equally sudden halt as he saw the glass-fronted display case on the wall to the right of the doorframe. And the butterflies...
Shouldn't have taken them. But what else could he have done? They were meant to fly, little scraps of brightly-coloured freedom, and instead they had been trapped, reduced and fixed for the petty delight of a man who had probably never dreamed of flying in his whole lousy life. Glitch forced himself to look at the board, the half-dozen sad little exhibits, unaware that the hand that wasn't still gripping the screwdriver had drifted up to worry at the fine corrugations of the zipper.
"Well now you got 'em, genius, what're you going to do with them?" Take out the pins - if he could do nothing else, he could do that. Glitch exchanged screwdriver for pliers and took a deep breath before bending over the fragile creatures, sure that even an overzealous exhalation could be enough to reduce the poor things to so much colourful dust. It was slow, squeamish work - he could imagine the fine slivers of metal sliding through the inert forms with an almost painful clarity - but at last he was left with six un-pinned butterflies. Or five, if you didn't count the one whose wing had dropped off during the delicate procedure. Would glue help?
He'd got as far as finding the box containing the jar of glue - DON'T STICK YOURSELF TO ANYTHING - when he heard the rattle of Cain's key in the lock.
"Hey Glitch - you busy? Want to see our new business licence? We are official!"
Glitch looked up, his heart lifting at the jubilant note in the Tin Man's voice. Our official licence. We can get it framed...Which drew his attention back down to the stolen frame and scatter of bright shapes on the workbench.
Even though there were very good reasons for it, Cain had Views on theft.
Glitch was worried.