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It was about midnight, the night sky shrouded by the turbulent clouds brought on by the late February. Downtown, the streetlights had been on for hours, bathing the pavement and worn-down buildings with their phosphorus glow. The streets were quiet though, the occasional siren in the distance cutting through the absence of sound. Everyone had left the street by now, they’d closed shop, turned off the lights, and headed home.

Save one.

A desk lamp illuminated the upstairs window of a building slowly being overtaken by urban detritus, the brickwork around it occasionally leaking a trickle of crumbling mortar. Inside the building, the plasterboard was slowly coming away, leaving exposed holes that the cold draught whipped through. Dry rot was spreading through the floorboards like a plague, and at the end of the corridor on the top floor, where a solitary wooden door was, the letters that were once etched into it had worn away to mere dents.

Through the door, the room beyond had the air of being owned by an old untidy college professor. There were several shabby bookcases, packed with moth-eaten journals and old newspapers. Two filing cabinets lined the opposite wall, looking like they’d not been used for some time. At the centre of the room, and old desk stood untidily, a small mound of paper on one side, a bottle of amber coloured liquid on the other, and a small name plaque in the middle with faded letters. The most important thing about it though, was the man sat down behind it.

My name is Bart Frost. It says so on that plaque there. Well, it says Bartimaeus Frost anyway. I’ve been meaning to get that changed…

The man had a slightly gaunt appearance to him, the look of a man who’d not seen a bed in a few days. His bloodshot eyes appeared sunken, making the sockets appear almost hollow. His coarse black hair was flecked with silvery strands, and grew down and around the contours of his head, meeting a rough line of stubble that traced along the jaw of his narrow face.

I’ve been meaning to shave, I keep telling myself that I’ll have a client come through any day now, and I’ll be glad I’m looking presentable. I’m only kidding myself though, there’s not much call for a detective in these parts. I’m getting to the point where I’m thinking I could fake my own disappearance, just so I could investigate it…

He looked up from the desk, his eyes fixing on a small clock just above the door. He sighed, and reached for the bottle again. He took a belt from it, and grimaced as the foul-tasting liquid burned its way down his gullet. His eyes glazed over, and he blinked the fluid from them.

It’s sad that this is the only way I’ve had to pass the time recently. I seem to have a bad reputation about myself. I don’t see why though, I’ve managed to close all the cases brought to me. My methods can be a little…unorthodox occasionally, but they always do the job. People always seem to be interested in how you find things out when there are no leads to go on, no evidence left behind, which makes for some awkward questions. The thing is though, I see more clearly than other people. I don’t only look with my eyes, but with my mind, and that can point me in the right direction easier than a set of tyre tracks…

The clock was ticking monotonously away, each stroke like the fall of a sledgehammer to his brain. Then, the sounds were interrupted by the gentle falls of footsteps in the corridor…

You see, it’s quite appropriate my name, even though I keep shortening it. Bartimaeus was the name of the blind man in the Bible, who Jesus made see again. That’s how I feel sometimes, like most of my life I was blind, but then, I could see again, and now, I’m not going to squander what I was given.

The footsteps were growing closer, their steady rhythm against the wooden flooring growing louder, a falter in the step, and a speeding up of the pace…

Like now, I can hear someone coming. But I can also see something coming with them.

There was a knock at the door.

Fear.

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