The sun was rising later now, Tenk noted to himself as he headed east across the city after a long night of clockwinding. He had a mind to check on the relentless progress of the steam shovel as it had worked its way across the slums that had huddled on the eastern end of Abney Parkway like a brick borne cancer. Work crews and carted the rubble away or hammered it into the dust, until only four buildings remained, standing defiant on the far end of the cobbled plains: The Bucket of Blood Public House; the brown brick house that had once had red windows that no one to this day could bear to live in without going mad; Mr. Bones’ butcher shop; and the laboratory of the mysterious Professor Parx, hidden behind a secure enclosure of copper gated brick walls.
The Professor must have been in rare form that night, for the air was sharp with the taint of ozone, and bluish white light still flashed from the windows in the dim dawn light. Tenk watched the compound for a while, wondering if whatever was going on behind those walls was something he should be concerned about. It was such a bother to be mayor sometimes. He wondered if Parx knew that his home had been saved by the position of a public house. No one would dare let the wrecking ball fall against the hallowed wall of a bar, and besides, the proprietor of that public house also happened to be the Mayor’s Personal Assistant, who had, no doubt, wound five leagues of precautionary red tape around the permits that would have been required to do such a thing in the first place.
It was only a coincidence, Mr. Underby said to himself. Only a coincidence that he had opened the door of the Bucket of Blood to release the residues of cigars and whiskey which accumulated over a night’s business, right at the same moment that Mr. Tenk was descending the stairs to the pub. Mr. Underby sighed, then retreated up an interior staircase before returning to greet the Mayor. Soon some angry clatter of crockery was heard somewhere in the building, followed by the appearance of a disheveled young woman with a cold breakfast board. Underby gave her the enameled metal jug from under the bar along with a coin and gestured for her to go out and buy milk, then settled in for his morning session with the mayor.
Tenk was unusually personable today. He and Underby found themselves as foxhole brothers against the combined might of the Ladies’ Civic League For All That Is Proper, which had Great Plans for the rebuilding of this neighborhood, and they wanted to be sure that the Mayor and his Personal Assistant were made aware of such plans. In every detail. Frankly, the two men were running out of dodges as more and more women were recruited to join in the dragnet. They commiserated together, interrupted by the arcing and popping from the laboratory down the street, and made idle talk while picking at their breakfast and waiting for the girl to return.
“What the hell is Parx up to this time, do you think,” asked Tenk.
“I have no idea, but it he has been at it all night,” replied Mr. Underby. “That hum is going to shake the panes right out of the windows if he does not stop soon.”
Tenk winced, annoyed that there would be windows to reglaze this late in the year, and wiped the sweat from his brow. It was just then that Mr. Underby noticed an unmistakable scent in the air, as if a fresh vein of cinnamon had just been unearthed from a peat bog. Underby would know that odor anywhere. He looked around the room for Pip, the little bastard could hide anywhere. It was seasonably cool, Underby was wearing his winter overcoat loosely as a robe, and Tenk was sweating. Another crack of artificial lightning sounded out in the street, starling both men and bringing Underby’s attention back to Tenk.
That smell. It was coming off Tenk. The gears of his wile began to turn. Perhaps Tenk had received the plague vaccination? It was rumored to be making people sick, but then again, Underby doubted that Tenk would let a doctor anywhere near him, knowing what he did know about him.
A muffled explosion came from the street, followed by silence. Both men turned towards the entrance wondering why the sounds had stopped. They heard instead the sound of Underby’s girl returning, her heeled shoes clopping down the metal steps to the sunken entrance. She came around the corner into the main bar and gasped, followed by the jug with the milk she had just bought hitting the floor. Tenk swore at Underby for his taste in help, Underby swore at the girl, then turned to Tenk to apologize. Underby’s voice caught in his throat as he caught sight of Tenk’s weathered skin stretched tight over his face, and those eyes, now shining large and yellow.
It is an easy thing to know that something is true. But to see it right in front of you, that is another thing entirely.