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A Stranger Asking Questions

It was a quiet day at the Clockwork Music showroom.  Martin Day hated quiet days.  They lasted too long.

Martin’s uncle, the shop’s owner, didn’t seem to mind the quiet.  MacKnight Culdesac would spend hours or days alone in his workshop putting gears and springs together in new and unusual ways, eventually emerging with another new toy or mechanical musical instrument to put upon the shelf, where it would collect dust with all the other bits of mechanical wonder in the shop.  

Martin’s Uncle Mac didn’t get out much.  When he wasn’t in his workshop, he was in the showroom going from one machine to the next, playing music, for hours at a time.

Martin didn’t understand that at all.  Music should go with dancing and drinking.  Music without drinking and dancing was pointless, like a song without words.  But Uncle Mac liked it, and some of the customers seemed to like it too.

Such a boring day!  After dusting each music box once, sweeping the floor twice, dusting the music boxes again, and playing the mechanical horse racing game four times, Martin resigned himself to cleaning and straightening the stacks of boxes against the walls of the shop.  That is what he was doing when the stranger entered.

An odd sort, this customer:  pale skin, very pink, like he had just been scrubbed all over with a stiff brush; black hair parted in the middle, shiny as if it were still wet; a thin black line of a moustache between his narrow nose and thin pale upper lip.  His eyebrow was also a thin black line, but only over the right eye, for over the left eye in place of an eyebrow was an ugly red scar.  Martin would have remembered seeing this man before.

“Young man,” began the stranger, “I wonder if you might help me.”

The stranger sounded odd, too, the pitch of his voice fluctuating between a high tenor and a deep bass.  The stranger’s eyebrow and scar rose and fell in concert with the pitch of his voice as if conducting a musical performance.

“Sure, Mistah. Anyphin’ t’ help a customuh.”

“Yes, of course.” They eyebrow and scar slowly rose and fell, following the contours of the short phrase.  “You see, these devices in your shop remind me of the work of a … friend.”  The way the stranger said ‘friend’ made Martin shiver, as if the word tasted like pickled wiggyfish in the stranger’s mouth.

“He was always very good with his hands,” the stranger continued, “and diabolically clever.  Many of these devices exhibit a certain style, you might say, that was characteristic of my … friend’s constructions.  I wonder what you could tell me about the man who built these intriguing mechanisms.  Perhaps he could be my old … friend.”  

“They’s all made by my Uncle Mac, that’s tuh say, Mistah MacKnight Culdesac.”

The stranger snickered.  “Culdesac, is it?” The right eyebrow lifted slightly, while the scar over the left eye remained motionless.  “Dead end street.  Just how he described working with me before his rather sudden departure.  A subtle joke, which is, once again, just his style.”
Martin remained silent, puzzled by the stranger’s comment.

The stranger placed a card on the counter. “Tell your uncle, Mister ‘Culdesac’, that he had a caller.  And mention the name ‘Guilford Halliday’.  I think he will want to see me.”  The strange man turned toward the elevator. 

“I’ll tell ‘im you called for ‘im, Mistah Hallidy.”

“No, no!” said the stranger, raising his hand, his back to Martin as he stepped onto the elevator.  “My name is Pembry.  Halliday is your ‘uncle’.”

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