'Oooooh... hope she wasn't wearing them at the time!'
Fractal's eyebrows arch, his head swivels toward the voice. He doesn't like the sound of that... Not at all.
Visitors are gathering at the white entrance door, feet tapping the white floor... Eyes roving the white shininess of walls, white ceiling, white furniture, everything is white.
Bald heads gleam as sunlight streams through the window; stubble beards look suitably pointillist. Clothing is black, and there's an air of dedication.
Fractal can see a man with a long rubbery neck, pale ice-cream-cone hair, and a navy club blazer - emblazoned breast pocket. Under the man's chin, he can make out the swirl of red paisley. There's more than a touch of nudge nudge, wink wink, say-no-more, about this guy. Fractal is going to have to keep an eye on him.
It was the third year he'd taken part in Open House... Couldn't resist it. The exalted praise, the tributes, looks of reverence on the faces of the design faithful... yes 8a Kensington Terrace was well on its way to becoming a shrine. Every August when particulars were posted on line he felt a thrill;
'The ultimate London apartment conversion... architecture brought to shining sliding life; sheer mechanical ballet.'
It was all worth it - even the drawer-rifling incident. Out of two hundred and fifty visitors you were bound to get the odd weirdo.
Fractal has got Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey playing on the giant HD screen, he can see heads nodding, hear murmurs of approval... Final words of introduction, hand raised - as if in benediction - and the group follows him noiselessly over poured-rubber floors, past dining alcove, food prep area, and the bar where people pause and perch on iridescent swivel chairs.
'Mr Rubberneck' seems to be saying something to two tall slender females; their hair tied Roman style, one blonde, the other brunette; one silver-clad, the other sheathed in gold. Fractal catches the words '...end of the rainbow, end of the rainbow!'
Folk are spilling into bedrooms, stroking sensor showers, worrying over waste-disposal systems, and peering into the anti-gravity toilet. Others luxuriate on soft-touch stain-free fabrics, enjoying the LEDs noiselessly playing their way through the spectrum; cerise, gold, mint, aqua, indigo; back to cerise.
'Mmmmm, suits you sir!'
Fractal is appalled to see Rubberneck fingering the black wool Nehru collar worn by another of the male guests. The man recoils, swishes his pigtail, and tugs on his sandalwood-oiled beard.
'No offence, no offence,' Rubberneck's hands touch as if in homily. This guy really doesn't fit, what's he doing here?
Visitors marvel at the winter garden. Here grow sapodilla, flaming sword, and luscious-leafed Hawaiian Ti plant. There's ylang-ylang, and glimpses of an aku aku figurine. The system is hacked to create a simulated thunderstorm every fifteen minutes. Guests have difficulty in naming plants.
'Phone a friend, phone a friend!' chants Rubberneck.
The garden was exquisite. Fractal had to thank Cassie for that - Cassandra she was really. She'd made a project of it when the twins were six. That was two years ago and Joe and Luke had loved every minute of it.
'Better than the Eden Project!' somebody purrs, 'essence of Nick Grimshaw.'
'Lovely Jubbly,' slobbers Rubberneck.
'Aponogeton!' exclaims one of the guests - remembering a plant name.
'Boom boom!' booms Rubberneck.
'Come on Jimbo!' says the girl in gold throatily, as she and her silver friend loop arms through the sleeves of the club blazer and steer him toward the entrance door.
So it's goodnight from him! Fractal breaths a sigh... He doesn't want anybody called Jimbo on his property.
'...Nice to see you, to see you nice!' Fractal can hear them climbing the Area steps outside the apartment. He was just a friendly mug, there was bound to be one.
Later, Fractal takes his car to get petrol - early start for a business trip to Norwich. As he drives down Kensington Terrace he can't help noticing a man standing under the sodium light, staring at the apartment... can't help seeing the cone of pale hair, the badge of the club blazer, and the swirl of paisley around the neck.
Because he can't see him when he returns Fractal assumes the man has gone - that is until he gets up to pee at 4:00am and notices that the figure is still standing there.
£4.1 million! Not bad for a four bed basement apartment. Fractal had it valued every year... And he hadn't paid a penny for it.
The even crazier thing was that Dad hadn't paid a brass razu for it either... Came back from travelling in Nepal, found it - dero, squatted there with friends - whole house, all six floors... Had a floor each - grew shit in the loft. Dad invented a solar heating system, had the place wrapped in silver foil. Fractal had photos... looked like Andy Warhol's Factory.
'Adverse Possession' Dad called it - that was the legal term. He said it was something that had been around since the philosopher John Locke. It was all about 'rights', you just had to know how to exploit the system.
Then Mum died, just like that; cerebral haemorrhage. Dad announced that he was going to 'retire' - sell up, and move to California, but before he put the house on the market he got separate deeds for the basement, and made a gift of it to Fractal. It was more than Fractal felt he deserved... he knew he'd been a disappointment to the old man.
Two years later Dad was dead. It was true what they said about a broken heart.
'So how was Open House?' The curiosity in Tonal's voice sounded potent as it resounded over the in-car technics. Fractal was driving south on the M11, had left the house at six am to look at farmland near Norwich... A housing development. How he hated that work, but it was bread and butter.
'Gooood...' Fractal could feel a mild irritation at the back of his neck. 'Good,' he repeated, scratching hard with left hand. 'Good attendance... Cassie thinks we should call it a day.'
'...Don't blame her, rather you than me.'
Fractal had never told Tonal about the apartment - about Dad and the house. Lots of people had hippie parents, and you didn't have to share all your thoughts with friends. Funny how you hold back with friends - find yourself opening up to strangers. Cassie said that was a bad trait, and she knew all right, because she knew more about Fractal than any other living person, even if there were lots of things he didn't tell her. Cassie and the twins; they were all Fractal had got.
It is early evening when Fractal arrives back at Kensington Terrace. He eases the car past lanky poplars, overhanging laurels; window down. He can smell freshly-mown grass... can see something in the air above the communal garden. It looks like an insect, a large dragonfly, colourful and hovering. He can hear the shouts of children, see Joe and Luke jumping, running clockwise in a circle, while the dragonfly seems to be winking with tiny lights; mint and cerise. At the centre of the circle stands a man holding what appears to be a black remote control. The man has a long neck, is wearing a club blazer, and just below his chin Fractal can see the swirl of red paisley.
What the hell is Rubberneck doing with his kids? He will go straight over and tell him to sod off! But he can hear a small voice inside him urging him to caution as he parks in his usual space, locks, tip-toes across, and peeps through the laurels. It's a drone, a tiny drone and Fractal watches as Joe and Luke bounce up and down trying to touch it, while the man manoeuvres it just out of their reach. He will ask Cassie.
'Who, Jim...?' She made it sound as if Fractal was missing a trick.
'Jim?' Fractal felt stupid, angry, but he could feel the flesh on his buttocks beginning to creep. How did Cassie know him?
'Jim who? And what the hell's he doing?'
'It's okay Fraaact, he came over to check it was all right, and Dan's there with Emmaaa... he's notta paedo or anything. Anyway, he's a friend of yours - isn't he?'
'He says he was here on Saturday.'
'He was. I forgot to mention it.' Fractal wished he had. Cassie would have been on her guard. He would go over, get rid of Jim, and that would be the end of the matter.
'Fract? Just try and chill will you. Everything's fiiiine!
Fractal races up the Area steps onto the street, pads across in his espadrilles, pauses to pull out his key for the garden gate. He can feel his heart quicken.
He moves across the grass toward the man, holding out his right hand in front of him, ready to greet.
'Good game, good game!' he can hear the man shouting.
'Good game, good game!' echo Joe and Luke - ignoring Fractal.
As Fractal gets within a yard of him the man turns his back, while the boys keep leaping and capering. Fractal dithers. Baggy grey tee furled over putty-coloured chinos, his espadrilles soaking up moisture from the grass. The man is wearing smart stout brown brogues.
'Thank you for looking after my children.' Fractal's voice sounds reedy, like a damaged wind instrument. No response. 'I said thank you for looking after my children, we have to go now.'
'All right, keep your hair on, Grandad!'
The man swings round to face Fractal, teeth cemented into the rictus of a stand-up comic.
'Keep your hair on, Grandad,' parrot the twins.
'Come on boys. I'm making supper. Remember I said I'd show you how to make a Caesar salad?'
'Ooo render unto Caesar what is due to Caesar eh? Game over, fun over, game over, fun over...' Fractal feels boring, spoil-sportish, but he needs to break the spell of this sinister pied piper.
He takes Joe's left hand, grasps Luke's right and - trying not to hurry - walks toward the gate. His buttocks are tingling inside his cotton boxers. He locks the garden gate behind him and wonders how the man got in there.
...'So I lent him my key; so he forgot to give it you back. It's not as if he's got the key to the house. Chill out Fract, you're not going to wake up and find him standing at the end of our bed!'
'I don't like the guy.'
'Well according to you, you don't even know him. Remember you invited him here.'
'Oh yes you did. Think about it Fract.'
'Oh yes you did, oh no you didn't,' parodied the twins, po-going up and down, eyes luminous, faces crimson.
'Anyway he mentioned something about Tonal... knew you'd been to look at Lambs Farm at Norwich.'
This time Fractal could feel the flesh on his entire body creeping, and his pelvis felt strangely numb.
Back at the office Fractal had meant to find out what was going on. Tonal must have been talking to Cassie. Fractal hadn't told her any details about the Lambs Farm deal. But there was a lot happening; Tonal was pressing forward with plans for a merger... not exactly merger - more buy out. '...Make us money,' Tonal insisted. 'About time we did!' There were lots of things Fractal had meant to tell Tonal and hadn't, and now didn't seem the time to start worrying him with that weirdo.
'Jim's coming round at five.' Cassie's voice sounded excited on the mobile.
'You know - the guy who helped me out with Joe and Luke... the drone man?' Fractal felt a twinge of something...'He's got tickets for the Science Museum Event; the one you were going to take the twins to but you can't because you've got a Buy-Out meeting with Tonal. Isn't that right?'
She was baiting him, ever so slightly - was making it sound as if she had no alternative, as if she was being forced to let the kids go with Jim.
'I don't trust the guy. He could be a stalker.'
'If he's a stalker love, it's you who he's stalking, not me! Look, we'll be back by 8:00... everything'll be fiiine!'
It wasn't the fact that they were all going and he wasn't that was making Fractal edgy, it was that guy Jim.
'...You're not jealous are you?' Her voice had a flirtatious giggle to it.
'Of course not...'
'...Well you should be!' It was a joke.
He rang off... hit the Cassie button again as he thought of something else.
'How did you arrange all this... I mean did he telephone you, call at the house?'
'Oh... I ran into him outside my office. It was lunchtime, he suggested we have a bite, it seemed churlish to refuse...'
'Yes of course.'
'Fraaact, just stay cool will you. There's nothing in it. Stop being paranoid, he only wants to help... Luv ya!' She'd gone.
The buy-out meeting seemed to go on forever, and it was 10:00pm before Fractal got back.
Before he opens the door he peers through the window, can see that Jim is still there. Club blazer contemptuously hanging over the edge of the white leather banquette, paisley-necked figure stretched insolently, left hand balancing wine goblet - right little finger indecently circling its rim.
Fuck you mate! Fractal closes the door behind him noisily.
'Ooo shut that door, shut that door!' lampoons Jim, swings his grey worsted trousered legs together and raises his left hand.
'Hello Love!' shouts Fractal over Jim's head, tries to ignore, struggles to sound confident but his voice seems oddly shrill. Cassie appears from the multi-coloured glow of the bar, smiling. She is wearing silver slim-cut jeans, and a matching top showing two inches of bare midriff. She looks fantastic but Chriiist!
'Hellowe love, Jimbo stayed for some supper.'
Oh so it's Jimbo now is it? Well sod you Jimbo. Fractal will deal with this right now. He embraces Cassie, turns to the man.
'Jim, I can't thank you enough for what you've done for the boys... look something's come up at work and I urgently need to be alone with my wife, so if you wouldn't mind...' Fractal takes the wine glass from Jim's hand, places it ringingly on the white table top, lifts the blazer and holds it up to the man's shoulders as he rises from the banquette. This guy has to go, for good.
'No offence, no offence.' Jim's hands move together in homily.
'Thankseverso Jimbo.' Cassie holds her hand toward Jim and gives him a chinny sort of smile.
'Not at all, pleasure all mine, how tickled I ham missus!' Jim leans forward, fondles her fingers; kisses them noisily.
'See you next week!'
Not bloody likely.
Fractal steers Jim through the front door, closes it behind them, and feels his fingers pushing at the man's worsted left elbow. He can hear brown brogues stamping grittily up the Area steps and onto the pavement.
Fractal is starving hungry. The others at the meeting all ate but he had to go into a half hour phone conversation with the Lambs Farm client and missed his chance. He's tired, his head aches, and he can feel his heart beating like a bongo.
'All's fair in love and war, all's fair in love and war.' What the hell does he mean by that? Fractal urges the man further down the terrace so that the two of them are clear of the front window.
'Look, I don't quite know how to say this. I don't wish to offend you, but I can't think of any way of saying it other than I don't want you coming here any more. I don't want you seeing my children, and I want you to stay away from my wife.' There, he's said it.
The man says nothing, looks away from him. His limbs seem to go limp, as if his feet have been lifted off the pavement and his body is dangling on invisible ropes. Oh shit! But he couldn't have done it differently. The man's head is still turned away, apparently looking toward the garden. Fractal is standing next to him, and for a moment he's worried that the man is going to crumple and collapse at his feet.
Without warning and with incomprehensible force the man swings round and brings his clenched fist into Fractal's stomach. Fractal's head goes back, can feel his top jaw lifting as his lungs try to pull in air that doesn't exist. He falls forward, knuckles and fingers scraping cement flags as he fights to support his body. His arms and legs seem to set like aggregate, and for a period which he is incapable of measuring he remains, forehead touching concrete. By the time he has prised his limbs into a standing position he notices he is alone in the street.
As Fractal sat on the Area steps he was relieved that Cassie did not come out to look for him. It would give him time to recover. He would tell her that he and Jim had been for a walk. He could not bear to tell her the truth.
Fractal was glad it was the summer holidays. Joe and Luke had gone to stay with Cassie's mum. Not that he wanted to be away from them - on the contrary; but there were things on his mind. The Jim thing had shaken him up. Nobody had ever been violent towards him. Cassie knew something was up, had tried to get it out of him, but he wouldn't give. What would have been the point? The incident was barely credible, why should she believe him? She couldn't see any harm in Jim, and even if he'd convinced her that Jim was sinister she'd say it was all Fractal's fault, 'you encouraged him love!'
There was something else troubling Fractal. Cassie had said that all he had to do was tell the doctor, but he couldn't bring himself to mention it, it made him feel inadequate. 'Lots of blokes get it Fractal; just chill will you... he'll probably just prescribe Viagra.'
Cassie had gone to see her old friend Sigrid in Kingston... Girl's night out. She was late; it was past one in the morning.
'...I've had too much to drink... I'm staying over.'
'Yes of course.' Fractal so accommodating!
On impulse he telephoned Sigrid's landline... No reply.
He was seized with an old and familiar insecurity. His stomach clenched as if he'd ingested some drug, his saliva became tangy. He put the apartment onto automatic, slammed, locked; and raced up the Area steps, still wearing his espadrilles.
The drive to Kingston took him over half an hour. He parked outside Sigrid's house, pussy-footed up-and-down the street. Cassie's car was nowhere to be seen. Of course it wasn't... because she wasn't there! Because she'd planned all this; the kids safely away at Gran's, Fractal placated, tucked up for the night - 'luv-ya!'
She was with Jim, she had to be... No doubt about it; her whole attitude; demeaning, diminishing, devaluing his feelings. 'Chill out Fract, everything'll be fiiine, you're over-reacting; you're being sooo strraight...'
When he got back he scribbled a note, 'gone away for a few days to think things out.' It was clumsy but it would let her know that he knew what she was up to - that he was no fool. It was coded of course. The wording implied that he would be doing the thinking, but the reality was that he was giving her an interlude in which to think. He packed wheeled luggage, and before 8:00 he was out of the apartment and booking into Premier Inn. He left his stuff there and went into work.
All morning he could feel the mobile vibrating in his pocket.
'Cassie'sbeenonthelandlineagaaaiin,' chanted Unproductive Andrea. 'Didn't you call'erbaack?'
Leave it, let her stew. He'd meant to tell Tonal about what was happening but the office had gone crazy. Three new projects had come in - courtesy of the prospective management. Things were looking up.
Fractal had thought he'd be back home by the end of the week but it wasn't working out. After a day and a half the telephone calls stopped. He called Cassie; no reply. The boys would be back tomorrow, ready for the start of autumn term. He rang Cassie's mum. 'I don't want to take sides.' She was right, of course. He would go round, call at the house after work.
It was dark by the time he clicked his way through the front gate and tip-toed down the Area steps. He hesitated before putting key in door, peered through the front window. My God!
His beautiful white poured rubber floor was littered with CD covers, and computer game boxes. Some of the touch-latch secret cupboard doors were hanging open, stuff spewing onto the floor, and he could see a dark red stain on the white leather banquette. They were sitting there; Joe, Luke, and Cassie, watching the eviction from The Big Brother House on his HD screen. Cassie was wearing a pair of leopard skin print dungarees!
Fractal let out a sob and moved to the front door fumbling for his key. It would only take half an hour to clear everything up. Then they could all get back to normal. But his key wouldn't fit, and when he returned to the window to tap on the glass he found himself staring at the white wood panels of closed shutters.
He tried ringing the bell, knocking softly; Cassie's mobile, the land line. Then he climbed up the Area steps and shambled back down Kensington Terrace. He would have to find a flat; he couldn't stay at the Premier for ever.
He took a studio flat in a big square block built from bright orange brick, just off Goldhawk Road. It wouldn't be for long, he'd find a way of talking to Cassie. His bank account was overdrawn and he was subsisting on the 'peanuts' he and Tonal paid themselves - but things would change, after the buy out. He'd given up his plan to tell Tonal about him and Cassie... but surely the two of them were in contact, why didn't Tonal say anything?
Fractal tried writing, no reply... Went round to Cassie's office but she was 'out with a client.' He'd heard that people often went to solicitors, but he'd never intended anything to be as serious as that.
He visited the apartment every evening; stood in the street, watching, and waiting. Sometimes he slunk down the Area steps and squinted through the window. Cassie and the twins would be watching Come Dine with Me, the boys aping the antics of the contestants. Cassie had dyed her lovely brunette hair silver blonde with pink and blue streaks.
Whenever he rang the bell or knocked, nobody seemed to hear. He considered lying in wait, waylaying the children and kidnapping them. But that was crazy, as mad as what he'd done by flouncing off like that in the first place. He only had himself to blame.
Christmas came, and Fractal was close to despair. He'd had to buy new clothes, but didn't have a washing machine, was forced to use a local laundrette. He no longer shaved properly, was sure that there were uneven patches of stubble on his face... thought that people at work were looking at him oddly.
On Christmas Eve he tries drinking gin. He's never liked alcohol but it seems to help. He drinks most of the bottle, goes round to the apartment and rings the bell boldly. At first nothing happens - it seems foolish ringing your own bell - but as the door swings inwards his heart starts to bang. It's Jim for Christ's sake, pink-shirted, grey-trousered, and blazerless.
'I want to see my wife.' Fractal's voice sounds pointless, as if some mountebank surgeon has implanted a badly-performing flute into his chest... Damp trousers cling to his legs, and he remembers he's wearing no coat - only a cheesecloth shirt, and nothing more than espadrilles on his feet. Jim looks pink and at home. His ice cream hair glows, and he exudes fake goodwill.
'I want to see my children, it's my right.' The note of the defective flute breaks as Fractal is troubled by a sob pushing its way into his mouth. He tries to inch past Jim but the man's worsted and silk-clad body fills the narrow doorway.
Fractal becomes aware of a weight pressing his espadrilles into the mat well, and as he looks down he can see that both the man's brown brogues are clamped upon his own flimsy footwear. He's locked to Jim - chin millimetres from the base of the long rubbery neck, and he's aware of the man's breath, bafflingly inoffensive - essence of Love Hearts.
Smiling ever so slightly, the man puckers his lips, and begins to sing;
'When you get in trouble, and you don't know right from wrong,
Give a little whistle - wheee whuuu,
give a little whistle - wheee whuuu.'
Fractal can smell the perfumed wheee whuuu upon his stinging liquid eyes, and for a moment he closes them in the vain hope that he will wake from the nightmare.
'It's my right,' he implores, the flute within his chest plangent, like a riverboat lost in the fog. His body is being forced backwards as the man leans forwards. Without warning the two plates of brown leather are raised, and Fractal falls onto the stone flags. He shakes his limbs into a squatting position, hears the bang of the front door, and once again he is alone.
Fractal's fingers press wet stone, rub creaking iron. He feels pain in his right knee as he involuntarily genuflects against concrete. His palms scrape gritty brick - can feel sticky fragments of mortar. He tries to hold his face up toward the dark and starless void. The air seems to have turned yellow, and his hair is wet.
He tries to run, first left, then right, on and on... Becomes conscious of a gap between upright railings, wide enough to get his head through, then his shoulders, and the remainder of his filth-caked body. Squatting, he moves forward as if swimming through invisible water... can feel spiky grass, can smell sap of yew; something stings his lips and cheek. His hands come to rest on vertical stone; fingers can trace incised inscription, and his nose rests against spongy lichen.
He gropes forward through air, arms resting against stone, through air, against stone, air; stone, air, stone. There are lines of monoliths, an opening; he leans his shoulder, can hear the groaning of old iron as he squeezes into darkness. It's a retreat with stone walls and sarcophagi where his face no longer feels wet.
Fractal lies on a slab in his cave for a period of time he can only calculate by seeing dark followed by light, followed by dark... many times. He is not alone. There are other beings in his rock asylum. He can't see or touch them, but he knows they are there.
Sometimes he leaves the security of the chamber and goes to drink from an undulation in a stone paved path. Once, during the light he looks up and sees a woman carrying flowers. When she catches sight of him kneeling, naked to the waist, and sucking rainwater she drops the flowers and runs away. Fractal gathers and places them on the slabs in his chamber. By the time he has returned to sanity and found his way back to the orange brick block on Goldhawk Road, the flowers have died.
'Fract... you okay?' It was Tonal's voice. 'We expected you yesterday - for the completion. It's all signed and sealed and we got an extra £1.2M because the Lambs Farm contract came good, and that was one of our jobs not one of Steve Salvo's. He's all set for stock market listing next year. Our financial problems are over!'
Fractal's breath felt hot; the bed sheets - wound round his body - shamefully soiled. 'Who is Steve Salvo?' he exhaled.
'Fract, are you all right? Steve's our new CEO, and its pronounced Sowvaux, remember?' Of course, Fractal had always dealt with other directors, their accountants, solicitors. He'd usually been at Lambs Farm when the head honcho had been in town.
'Tonal I need to speak to you about something, urgently.'
'Sure. Are you coming in?'
'...With you in an hour.'
Fractal dragged his body out onto the street. It was a miracle he was alive. He had a memory of drinking rainwater, a recollection of swigging gin, and an even more terrible souvenir of the man in the paisley cravat.
But Fractal hadn't just been squatting in an ancient family vault in Brompton Cemetery for nine days, drinking rain water, eating grass. He'd had lucid moments... Been thinking things out. Cassie was right. He'd been an impulsive fool to leave home. He needed to open up to those closest to him; to share, be less secretive. Cassie was a loving mother and partner, his lover and peer. She could be tough, but she was loyal. The situation wasn't irredeemable, and he would start by telling Tonal the whole story. He would see the doctor, talk to a shrink if he had to. Fractal had been to hell and back. He had faced his phantoms of guilt about the house, and his father. He'd squared up to his demons of insecurity, and the worst of them had been Jim.
Jim had been no more than a figment of his imagination... Sure that blow in the belly had felt real enough, and he was still aware of pain in his toes, but even mental disorders had their physical manifestations - ask someone who's suffered post traumatic stress! No, he could cope with Jim now, he was sure of that.
'Fraaact, good to see you...' Fractal notices that Tonal is wearing a suit, is gripping his arm, and quivering with excitement. He has the look of a man who's changed - who's been changed.
'Come and meet the CEO. Then we'll celebrate eh?' Tonal's mouth is wide open, both hands raised and vibrating like an architectural Al Jolson.
'Tonal, I need to talk to you.' Fractal follows the heels of Tonal's black Chelsea boots as they bound up the stair to the conference room. He pads over the limed wood floor, to the cream conference door, and glances through the steel-rimmed porthole. He can see the legs and feet of a man sitting in the white leather high-backed swivel chair. The man has his back to him, but Fractal has already glimpsed grey worsted cloth, seen the nutty brown finish of well-polished country brogues.
Tonal's right hand closes round the polished aluminium handle and pulls. He holds open the door.
'Fract, this is Steve Salvo... you meet at last!
Fractal stands stock still as the white leather high-backed chair creaks and swivels to face him.