The sun was nearing the horizon when Mr Penrose opened the door to the office of the New Babbage Free Press. Stepping inside hat in hand, he froze, staring at the figure sitting at his desk, feet up.
“Ah… Mr Underby.” Penrose said. “What an unexpected, though joyous, surprise.”
Underby lowered the newspaper he had been reading. “Oh, Mr Penrose, just reading some of your penned prose.”
Penrose tittered nervously. He could see several dark shapes looming out on the back porch of the office, smoking.
Standing, Underby strode toward the reporter, looking out the nearby windows at the gathering gloom of the gloaming. “Just made it in before curfew, hm?” he said, smiling slightly. Though Penrose had been considered an extremely tall man for Falun, Underby now loomed over him, almost a full head taller.
Penrose’s eyes flicked to the windows, then back to Underby. “Ah yes, heh.”
“Not a very popular act, that curfew, hm?”
“Ah, well… the people are wont to lapse hyperbolic when it comes to matters of… eh… liberty?” he swallowed.
The acting mayor nodded thoughtlfully. “Indeed.” he said. “Sometimes it’s as if they don’t know what’s best for themselves, hm?”
Underby walked toward a large portrait of the Emperor hanging on the wall. “Certainly a learned man of letters, such as your own good self, fully ascertains the thought process behind such a bold decision?”
Penrose scratched his head. “Safety?” he ventured. “Public safety?”
Underby turned, smiling. “Precisely!” he laughed. Walking closer, he towered over the reporter again. “This town can be dreadfully dangerous, Mr Penrose.”
“Yes.” Penrose agreed. “All large cities can be.”
Underby nodded. “Oh yes.” he said. “But this city more than others.” He moved closer, and Penrose retreated slightly.
“Ah, wuh-well. It it duh-does, mm, have suh-somthing of a reputation.”
“Indeed.” Underby said, stepping closer.
Penrose backed up. “Puh-puh-poss-suss-ibly nuh-not the suh-same as, oooh, say say Ruh-ruh-ruh-ravila.” He swallowed. “Ravila.”
“We’re not in Ravila.” Underby said softly, taking a step closer.
Penrose swallowed again, looking over to the shapes standing on the back porch. The wall bumped into him from behind. “No.” was all he could think to say.
“So it’s the danger in the city he lives which one must take precautions against, is that not so, sir?” Underby asked, cocking his head a little to one side.
Penrose opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He nodded.
“Accidents. Murders. Beatings. Robberies.” Underby said, words spitting out one by one. “Why, Mr Penrose, people go missing in this city every day. Were you aware of that?”
Penrose blinked. “Nuh-nuh-no. No. I wasn’t. I was not. I shall, eh, I shall stick that into my fuh-files, for future…. eh… for future… something.”
Underby nodded. “See that you do.” He walked toward the back door, placing his bowler hat onto his shining bald cranium, looking around the office. “You do the city such a service… I do cherish your hard work.”
Penrose still stood against the wall. He nodded.
“Curfew time.” Underby said gently. “Do enjoy your evening in.” He stepped out onto the porch and was quickly lost in the inky blackness of night.
Penrose slid down the wall, and sat on the floor. He stayed that way for some time.