“Mr. Haversham? Thank you for coming. Please, take a seat.” Francis waved to the faux-leather chair on the opposite side of the desk.
Councillor Haversham perched on the edge of the chair and brushed lint from his expensive suit. “Can this not be dealt with virtually? I’m a busy man.”
“I understand. But it is precisely because of your important role in the travel industry that we thought it best to resolve this issue in person.” Francis gave the man a smile, and was unsurprised when it was not returned. “I realise you stated the matter in your formal complaint, but I’d be interested to hear it from your own lips.”
Haversham huffed, but Francis disarmed him with a tilt of the head. And the man spoke.
Francis knew the details, of course. Haversham and his wife had ordered the premiere Seychelles week, with a time-fold of seven. That way, they would experience the full week and only be absent from work and family for a single day.
But things didn’t go totally to plan. Haversham spoke of the slums.
“And to clarify,” Francis said, “you alone experienced this?”
“Thankfully, yes. My wife would be distraught if… But is this important?”
Francis shrugged. “It is often the minor details that are the most important. I believe you mentioned a message?”
“Yes. There was a billboard, visible over that cardboard tent city or whatever it was. I dismissed it as one of those horrible ‘modern’ adverts, but now I’m not so sure.”
“Can you recall the wording?”
“Something like ‘This was brought to you by the CRT’. Does that mean anything?”
Francis bit his lower lip. “It means a great deal, sir.” Then he leaned in, conspiratorially. “The CRT are not unknown to us.”
Haversham copied Francis’ pose and leaned in too. Of course someone who traded in so many secrets would be eager to hear more. Francis suppressed his smile.
“The Campaign for Real Travel. Most of the members are over-exuberant students and the like, but the hard-core wish to return us to the uncertainty, discomfort and pollution of physical holidays.”
Haversham snorted. “A prank, then! They cannot be important, otherwise I would surely be aware of them.”
Oh, the deluded self-belief of those in power, Francis thought. If you knew only half the CRT’s activities, you’d never sleep.
But he shook his head sadly. “They grow stronger. And they have certain…skills. Their intrusions are growing increasingly subtle.” He steepled his fingers and looked stern. “I must ask you, sir, as uncomfortable as this may be, were there any further incidents during your vacation? Any other minor upsets?”
Haverham’s left eye twitched. He swallowed. “There was one thing. I dismissed it as my imagination at the time.”
“Ah, so subtle! Please, tell me.”
Haversham nodded. “We visited a cemetery. My wife finds such places interesting. While she was looking at the architecture of the stones or whatever, I wandered around reading the inscriptions. Many were in a language I could not understand, but then I came upon one that was written in English. It was intriguing, as the dates were from a few years ago. The grave of a child, not even a year old.”
Haversham paused, passing a hand across his brow.
“What was the inscription?”
Haversham swallowed. “Our daughter. May you never forget.”
He glanced down, then angled his head to meet Francis’ gaze. His eyes were empty, but Francis saw through the mask to the pain within the man.
“Hmmm. That sounds like a personal attack. You have children, I believe?”
“Just our son. I have no daughter.”
Francis nodded, waved a hand to calm the man. “Then they are simply pushing for a reaction. It is not unknown.”
“This CRT have done this before?”
“They target emotions. It might be a newspaper headline hinting at an infidelity, or a magazine article detailing a make-believe criminal transaction.” Francis stopped when he saw Haversham’s knuckles whiten and the vein in the side of his head throb. It wouldn’t do to push too far. “It’s like they’re prodding a wasp’s nest. Sooner or later, they’ll provoke a response.”
“I have no daughter,” Haversham said, firmly.
Francis nodded. “Quite.”
“It’s preposterous!” The councillor’s face reddened.
“It is. But we shall catch these troublemakers through their lies. I have an idea, sir. If the CRT deliberately targeted you, maybe we can turn the tables on them.”
That piqued his interest. “What are you suggesting?”
“Hear me out. As recompense for your ruined holiday experience, we offer you another trip. In your professional position, you say a few words to the press, something about striving to iron out even minor problems in our industry. I’m sure your wife would enjoy more time to relax, too. But you remain vigilant. You note everything.” When Haversham’s eyebrows rose in interest, Francis sat back. “Of course, we will give you training, and equip you with specialised skills.”
“Like a spy.”
“Precisely.” Because that was the kind of childish notion that would appeal to the Councillor.
There was little more to be said. They arranged a time for the training, and Francis forwarded the files detailing possible holiday destinations for the man and his poor wife to peruse. After all, she deserved the best. Losing a child so soon after birth must be terrible, to say nothing of the internal suffering in putting up with a philandering petty criminal like her husband.
Then, alone in his office, Francis planned. Only in his head, of course. He could risk no records.
He ran through possible insertions, determining the correct level of specificity. He made mental notes on which of his dark companions he could call upon. To crack Haversham would require great subtlety, but breaking such a prominent figure would be a major milestone for the Campaign for Reality and Truth.
For Blood (II)
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