What does Dizelle use to make this tea? thought Underby as a soft knock on his office door drew his attention. Bib peered inside. “Hey boss, better come downstairs, that quack from across the street is here t’ see ya.”
Underby glanced at his pocket watch. Not even ten in the morning. He licked his lips and tugged down on his waistcoat. “Ok.” he said, and followed Bib downstairs into the pub.
Dr. Berithos stood near the corner of the bar, fidgeting with a button on his coat when Underby stepped down the stairs. “Good morning Giles,” he said with less formality than was his custom. “a tad early for someone in your line of work, hmm?”
Berithos moved forward quickly, and spoke as if reciting a memorized speech. “Mr Underby, I have a proposal to offer which I think may be beneficial to both of us.”
“Oh?” asked Underby, looking around for his pipe. “I very much doubt that, but please continue.”
Berithos continued, undaunted: “I would like to suggest an offer to you, to end all this.”
Underby, having found his pipe, paused before lighting it. “On offer?”
Bib pretended not to be listening while he wiped the bar top.
“How amusing that you believe you have anything to offer which I might desire, Giles. It was my understanding that your inventory consisted largely of second-hand goods.”
Bib piped in: “Second hand goods which weren’t too good t’ begin with.”
Underby’s gaze turned on Bib, who lowered his head and scrubbed at a particularly troublesome spot. The owner of the Bucket of Blood turned back to the doctor.
Giles took a deep breath. “Mr Underby, I wish to offer myself.”
Underby blinked, his second attempt at lighting his pipe now effectively stymied. “I’m afraid I misheard you, Giles. It sounded to my ears as if you offered yourself.”
“Me too.” said Bib.
Berithos took another breath, puffing up his chest slightly, and pulling himself to his full height. “My priority is the health and safety of the woman I love. That woman happens to be your soon to be ex-wife. I would do anything to spare her, up to and including giving my own life.”
Bib raised his eyebrows. Underby sucked on the insides of his lips, narrowing his eyes. “You poor deluded fool. What has she done to you, man?”
Berithos looked simply at Underby. “I … love her.” The doctor’s eyes were mostly hidden behind his dark glasses, but Underby could see he meant what he said. He felt a slight catch in his throat, for just a moment, but swallowed it.
Underby lit his pipe and shook out the match. “I see. Well. It is a most interesting offer, Giles. I shall need to consider it, of course.”
Berithos stood uneasily at the end of the bar, as if he had something else he wanted to say, or something further he wished to do. Underby stared at him. “You may run along now, Giles, I have a rather important appointment imminent.”
Berithos hesitated a moment longer, his hand moving under his coat slightly, then he straightened up sharply, nodded, and exited the bar. His footsteps could be heard climbing the outside stairs. Bib let out a breath.
Underby took a haul from his pipe and looked at Bib. Bib smirked. “Weren’tcha already plannin t’kill that Dr Giles, boss? T’make up fer Miss Dizelle?”
Underby blew a smoke ring into the air. “Yes, Bib. Yes, I was.”
“This makes it easier, then.”
Underby watched the smoke ring grow larger and larger, losing shape and strength as it did so. “Yes, Bib. Yes, it does.”
Bib flicked his rag at the end of the bar, finished. He wiped his hands on his trousers, then looked at Underby. “D’ya really have an appointment this early?”
“Yes,” said Underby. “Dizelle is scheduled to rub my feet.”