With the myriad clocks throughout the city, setting bell towers to chime, there was no mistaking the hour in New Babbage. “Eight o’clock,” Emerson observed as he and Junie Ginsburg strolled west along the Stora Canal en route to their home in Wheatstone.
Despite the fact the air was crisp with a December’s foggy freeze, it still felt as though the sun would win its battle against the clouds of soot and set the canals a shimmer with an early morning sparkle.
“Too bad we had to return that last airship,” said Junie, reflecting on their past week of test-flying various personal cruisers, spending a night in each. “I quite enjoyed our nights floating above the city.”
“I think I’m going to snap up the A-class Giffard,” said Emerson. “It had a real sporty feel.”
“I thought that one was a little gaudy.” said Junie. “Besides, it was over-priced. We can’t really afford it.”
“I could have the Squire work the books and secure us some sort of credit.” Emerson shrugged. “I could even offer the company an endorsement from Sir Sir Emerson if they’ll cut us a deal.”
“They might just give it to you outright.” Junie nodded. “But not the Giffard. What about theTissandier?
“Well, the problem with that one, it reminds me of something from way back when I was still…” Emerson paused mid-sentence.
“Look at the footprints,” said Junie. “We must have had visitors.”
“Yeah, I just saw them too,” said Emerson. “They seem to be leading away from the door.”
“They belong to an urchin by the size of them,” Junie remarked. “Probably just looking to make a little money shoveling.”
“Oh don’t tell me!”
“What is it?” asked Junie.
“Someone has been here,” Emerson looked around the outer entryway trying to find his shovel. “Damn urchins. One of them stole my new shovel. I paid seven quatloos for that.”
“Seven!” Junie shook her head. “Who charged you seven quatloos for a snow shovel?”
It was, hm…” Emerson paused. “The name has slipped my mind, but you know who I mean. It was that guy…”
“…with that funny thing he sometimes…”
“…wears on his head instead of a hat.”
“I know exactly who you mean,” said Junie. “You shouldn’t have bought from him, he is a crook.”
“Miss Ginsburg,” said Emerson. “It is almost as though you can read my mind.”
“Great Builder what happened here?” Junie exclaimed upon stepping through the door and encountering the state of disarray throughout the first floor.
“We’ve been robbed.” said Emerson, suddenly feeling a sense of nervous energy over the fact an intruder may still be inside.
“Look!” said Junie dropping her voice and taking Emerson’s arm with one hand while pointing at all the empty bottles scattered about the floor with the other. “Someone’s been drinking our wine!”
“And over there!!” said Emerson, putting an arm about Junie’s shoulder while pointing at the overturned cookie tin with its contents scattered and tramped across the floor. “Someone’s been smoking our leaf!”
Junie, crossed the room to retrieve her sweater from the back of the chair. “Someone’s been handling my clothing.”
“Someone’s been wearing my clothing,” said Emerson who had begun to retrieve items that had been strewn about the floor over by the stairs. He sniffed the collar of his shirt. “Someone has definitely been wearing my clothing.”
Emerson and Junie stood at the base of the stairs looking up. They each took a breath then nodded at one another. With careful footfalls, ensuring as little noise as possible, the Gangplank owners crept up the stairs. “Wait,” Junie whispered upon reaching the top. “Take off your shoes,”
“Good thinking,” replied Emerson slipping out of his loafers. “We don’t want grit on the new rug.”
“The bedroom door is at an odd angle,” Junie said. “I think someone is in there.”
Together they rounded the door frame and peeked inside. Emerson pointed at the large mound of covers and whispered. “Somebody’s been sleeping in our bed.”
“And he’s still there!” Junie exclaimed, forgetting to speak in a whisper.
“HEY YOU!” Emerson shouted from the door, waving the shirt and pants he still clutched in his hand, prepared to throw them if he had to. “Junie’s got a gun!”
“And I’m not afraid to use it!” called Junie who by chance was still armed as a precaution should they encounter air pirates they didn’t know during their week aloft.
The intruder moved beneath the covers then slipped over the side of the bed. It was a large man, buck naked but for his shoulder holstered Colt and a pair of black socks with holes in the toes.
“Oh my god!” Emerson exclaimed. “It’s Petharic! Shoot him quick!”
“Petharic!” Junie sounded surprised. “What are you doing in our bed?”
“I realize this may not look very professional of me,” Petharic admitted. “But I assure you I came here on business.”
“What business?” asked Junie, holding her gun steady. “You’re not still trying to kill Emerson are you? I thought you got over that.”
“I have to confess, despite what I have said in the past my duty to kill Lighthouse has never been far from the forefront,” said Petharic. “However, I wish to inform you I am putting my professional objectives aside. This time I no longer have any intention of harming him.”
“Petharic,” said Junie. “I have heard you say things like this before.”
“You break into our house, eat our food, drink our wine, smoke our leaf, and give away my new shovel,” Emerson enumerated Petharic’s crimes. “Then you just expect us to trust you? And now you are saying you don’t want to see me dead?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” said Petharic. “I never said I don’t want to see you dead, I’m just saying I won’t be the one to do it. Besides, your lifestyle will do the job for me eventually. And when that happens, Miss Ginsburg, I will be here.”
Junie lowered her gun.
“Ah, Miss Ginsburg?” said Emerson. “Shouldn’t the gun still be pointed at the killer.”
Junie took Emerson’s arm and gently led him a few paces to the side, allowing free passage to the door. “It’s okay,” she said.
Petharic, with a curt nod to the couple, strode towards the door to the bedroom, walking tall, grabbing the pants and shirt from Emerson as he passed.
“Somebody has definitely been down in the cellar.” said Emerson the morning after their encounter with Petharic. He was bent on one knee beside Miss Ginsburg examining something at the base of the cellar door.
“But it still looks locked,” Junie noted.
“They must have unscrewed the little padlock then put it back on when they were done. I always put a piece of folded paper near the hinge in such a way that it would fall if the door were opened.” Emerson held up a piece of paper to show Junie. “I found it on floor.”
“Oh dear,” said Junie.