Felix the portraiture is aware that he is being followed but he does not dare to stop, or even to glance around and look. He keeps his gaze downwards, focussing on the grey stone in front of him, not looking up at the faces of the dark, thick-coated crowd around him. The mist is growing thicker, the dim light of the streets barely bolstered by the lamp-lighters casting their little balls into the air, carrying the little touch of magic to the cheap crystals threaded on wire across the street.
In his mind two tasks fight for attention, each thought jumping from one to the next refusing him any progression with either problem. The first is where to go, where can he get to on foot from here where he can be safe. This is not a part of the city that he knows well, returning from the commission with the old woman; his only paying customer and even she has paid less this week, promising the full amount later. He cannot afford to take a cab. He regrets blowing what little he had over the past couple of nights of drink, blue and gambling. The other skein of thought is working through the pitiful list of his past and present clients to determine what the purpose of his being followed might be. His headache beats out a tattoo of frustration and pain.
He moves to step around a figure stood still in front of him but the figure moves to intercept. he nearly screams but looks up into the grey eyes of a pretty, slight woman, close-cropped red hair and a sense of deep magics. A small, tarnished badge is fixed to her coat. Police, he realises, and he wonders if he can tell her about the his tail.
"Felix Ovgorod?" She says.
He nods, sagging with a wearied fear.
A carriage pulls up, the thick, rubber-masked driver turning to the woman for instruction. She opens the door and pushes Felix in, then follows him. The carriage rolls off with a whine.
"What is this? Am I in trouble?"
"Probably. But that's not my business with you. I need you to identify a body for me."
"A body? What makes you think I would know someone? Who do you suppose him to be?"
With a shock he wonders if a friend of his has been murdered.
"We found this card in his pocket. We've been looking for you for a while. You haven't been home for a couple of days."
He shows him one of his own business cards. A crude printing, cheap, edge-worn card.
"I. I've been on commission." Not completely a lie.
Within a few minutes they are walking down the dark, sullen corridor of the police precinct, heading downwards into the cool of the morgues. Doors are opened for them by uniformed officers keen to show respect to the woman whose name he has been too afraid to ask. They look at Felix, take in the dirty jacket, grease and paint worn into its fabric, into his skin, the grimy smear of beard over his face, and they offer an almost imperceptible sneer.
In the green painted room where they stop the woman points to the table at the centre where there is a sheet laid over a body. Felix has seen the dead before and thinks he knows what to expect. But when the sheet is moved down from the body's head he sees something he does not expect. The face has been torn away leaving only red muscle and the white of tendons and fat. Felix feels himself want to be sick, his stomach heaving, trying to release whatever pitiful morsels remain from a breakfast finished too long ago. He turns away.
"Do you recognise him?" The woman asks.
"Recognise him?" Felix says, spitting and coughing. "How am I supposed to recognise him?"
"I understood you are a portraiture. You should know him even in this condition, if you are of any little skill at all."
The dig at his ability annoys him. He knows she is right but he has no desire to look at the faceless body again. The one glance will be enough to sear the image into his mind. He calls it back up, lets himself reconstruct it.
"I'm sorry." He says. "You are right. But I do not know him. I don't know how he came upon one of my cards."
The woman looks disappointed but motions the medic to lower the sheet again.
"Does the name Elias Smith mean anything to you?"
"Yes, he was my client. I finished a commission for him a few weeks ago. He still owes me money."
"I am reliably informed that this is his body. That is why I was hoping you might be able to identify him."
Felx shakes his head.
"No. No, that's not him. Really. You've got the wrong man."
The woman turns and beckons him to leave. She had seemed so certain that the body was that of Elias. Felix was sure that it was not. Someone wanted the police to think that Elias was dead when maybe he was not. That's why he was being followed. Those people must have known that Felix could have be used as proof that Elias was not dead. Likely he really was in danger. His thoughts suddenly come together as he tries to think of something to say that can convince this woman that he cannot be let go, that she must look after him.