The lift rattled to a brisk stop, the doors rolling back noisily to reveal the tall gaunt gentleman within. Underby peered toward the desk, expecting to find the clockwinder wheezing and sweating, as he had been since his recent arrival back in New Babbage. The desk, however, was empty.
The soft clittering of chalk on a board floated to his ears, he turned sharply, and stopped in amazement. The small mayor was writing out large equations, hopping from one end of the board to the other to make adjustments in the formulas.
“Sir, I… I…” Underby gaped.
Tenk looked back over his shoulder briefly. “How do,” he said. “did we have a game today? I don’t remember that.”
“No.” said Underby. He was still in shock. “No, we do not. I was stopping in to check on you, actually sir.”
Tenk made a sharp sound, halfway between a grunt and a snort of humor, then returned to his calculations.
Was this possible? Had Phaedra’s knot somehow unloosened by itself? That sort of thing should not be possible, however, it did not change his plan really. He could simply say he still saw a knot in Tenk’s hair, and fix that. Lying was, after all, Undebry’s strongest suit.
Stepping closer, Underby was surprised to see the knot was still there, a little looser perhaps, but still very much there, tucked under the other wild locks. This made the clockwinder’s behaviour all the more strange.
“You seem much healthier, clockwinder… what changed it? Fresh air?”
Tenk snorted again, and turned halfway toward Underby. “That new surgeon.”
“Yes. The one near your bar.”
“Ah.” Underby smiled. That would be “Doctor” Giles Bera-something, Underby surmised, the underworld surgeon. The man who, town rumour would suggest, was stupid enough to have let Phaedra sink her claws into him. She would, of course, have to pounce on a newcomer, even with the sheer glut of idiotic men in this city, nobody was quite so monumentally stupid to allow her close to them. Except perhaps for that Baroque fellow, but he is a sailor, and their tastes are of the most base type.
“What, might I ask, did he do for you?”
“He said something about having the wrong blood, so he let it out.”
Underby blinked. “He… bled… you?”
Tenk shrugged and turned back to the chalk board.
“How curious.” Underby said, unable to think of anything else to respond. It was a bizarre tactic for Phaedra to use… what could be the point?
No matter, time to proceed with what he came here for.
“Oh….” Underby said slowly. “How queer.”
Tenk stopped. “What?”
Underby stooped down closer to gaze at the back of Tenk’s head. The little man raised his hand self consciously and patted his head. “What?”
“You have a little… might I?”
“What is it?”
“It’s a little knot. A strange little knot.”
“Knot?” Tenk said, warily.
“Yes.” Underby’s long thin fingers moved in and swiftly untied the knot. He then took a few other strands and tied another knot, snugly. To cover up the second knot, he mumbled, “Tricky little thing, hard to get out.”
Underby leaned back, and said “Aha…” as he reached into his sleeve and pulled out a long black hair. He held it up for Tenk to see.
“What’s… THAT was in the knot in my hair?” the clockwinder growled.
Underby nodded. “This might have been the problem.”
“I believe, sir, that this is a strand of… his… hair.” Underby said, with a frown.
Tenk looked up at him. “His?”
“Yes. I’m afraid so.”
Tenk looked at the hair. “But… how?”
Underby’s mouth thinned out into a small line. “That is, of course, the truly disturbing part. He must have an accomplice. Somewhere in the city. Who has been paying attention to you recently?”
“Well, that surgeon…”
Underby waved it away. “That man is a quack, Clockwinder. He bleeds for lord’s sake, in this day and age. This isn’t the Regency anymore. Think.”
Tenk’s brow furrowed. “Blackberry.” he said. “Blackberry has been asking about me. And that cat in the Gangplank…”
Underby nodded. “Alright. Well, at least we have some suspects we may watch more closely. I will ask my assistant to keep watch on the both of them.”
Tenk nodded grimly, still looking at the hair.
“I should probably dispose of that strand of hair, sir. It’s dangerous to even be near you.”
Underby took the strand and began to walk to the lift. At the door, he turned back. “Mr Tenk… you should consider trying to play back up the illness…”
Tenk looked at him.
“We have an advantage if they do not know we are on to them.” he smiled thinly.
“They might see I don’t have the knot anymore.” Tenk said simply.
Underby entered the lift and pulled back the gate, locking it shut. He adjusted his hat, and looked back out at Tenk as he rested his finger on the button.
“Wear your hat.” he said, and pressed.