Mrs Octavia Beckles knocked briskly on the door of the house in the Canals district of New Babbage, leaning back afterward and gazing at the window near the door. It was heavily draped. All the windows, in fact, were heavily draped. “Hmmf.” she said to herself, then knocked a second time, slightly louder.
The door creeked open, just slightly. A pale shape peered out.
Instinctively, she pulled back, slightly repelled. “Oh!” she hiccuped out. “Are you, um, Cyrus Forgrave?”
“I am. How may I help you?” the pale figure asked. It was a small boy. A pale boy with hair the color of dry ice, his pink eyes hidden behind smoked spectacles.
“Oh,” she said again. “I am Mrs Octavia Beckles. Um. From the, uh, N.B.L.O.S.O.W.A.R.”
The boy stared. “The what?”
“It stands for the New Babbage League of Social Welfare and Reform.”
“Alright.” he said.
“Well.” Mrs Beckles continued. “It has been brought to our attention that you have been living in this house all by yourself, for…” she consulted her notepad. “…over nine months now. Ever since your parents were—”
“I know what happened to my parents.”
She swallowed. His pale face unnerved her for some reason. “Of course. Of course you do.” she said. “Well, I—”
“The fact of the matter is, Mrs Beckles,” he interrupted her. “I am not living by myself, I live with my aunt Vanetta.”
“Oh.” she said, clearly surprised. She consulted her notebook again, her dates were slightly smudged suddenly. “My, um, records have shown nobody but yourself coming or going from the house for… well, some time.”
He stared at her through the smoked spectacles. “My aunt has a nervous condition.”
“Oh?” she asked, setting the tip of her pencil on the pad. “Nothing serious, I hope. Or infectious.” She took yet another step back.
“No. Nothing like that.” he said. “Perhaps a form of brain fever. She is acutely afraid of the outdoors.”
“Afraid of… the outdoors?” she asked. “Is that a… genuine… affliction?”
Cyrus nodded. “Apparently so. A doctor told me it is an affliction called agoraphobia.”
“Agoraphopia.” she said.
“Phobia. With a B.”
“Agoraphobia.” she repeated, writing it down. “Well then, I suppose. I suppose I have no more questions. Everything is fine here, then, is it?”
“Very fine.” he said. “Very normal.”
She swallowed again. “You could use some sun.” she said, without meaning to. That pale face. “I mean, I know this is New Babbage, but… you’re very pale.”
“It’s called alibinism.”
“Is it.” she said. “Well, I’m just… learning all sorts of… I’ll go now.” she said, and walked away quickly, the snow crunching beneath her feet.
She didn’t turn to see Cyrus follow her out into the late afternoon gloom, standing and watching which direction she walked away toward. After she was lost from sight, he stepped back inside the house and closed the door.
Inside, the house was quietly, extremely quiet.
He walked into the living room and patted his aunt on the knee. “Don’t worry about her, Aunt Netta, she won’t be back any time soon. I know how you hate visitors so.”
Vanetta Forgrave sat silently on the sofa, staring toward the draped windows. “I’ll sweep that area tomorrow, see if I can tell where that woman lives.”
“Her name?” he asked. “Oh yes, she did give it. Beckles. Mrs Octavia Beckles.”
“Yes,” he said. “yes, it is a nosey sounding name. In fact, I didn’t like her nose at all.”
“Hm? Oh yes, I’ll go see what Poppy was up to.” Cyrus said, and walked down to the cellar. He unlocked the chain from the padlock, and pulled it, Poppy following out from the shadows. The pinhead clapped at the sight of the boy. “Ga Ceeeee!” she cackled.
“Yes, it’s me Poppy. Would you like to play a game?”
The pinhead nodded. She pointed to the cards on the nearby tiny table.
“Alright.” Cyrus said, sitting down at the table and shuffling. Poppy sat down across from him, slapping the table top, and giggling. He dealt out two hands of cards. Poppy looked at hers, upside down, then said: “Ga fannan bo bleep!”
He shook his head. “No. Go fish.”
“Zorkle!” she cried, grabbing a card from the deck.
Tomorrow. He would pay Mrs Beckles a little visit tomorrow. He didn’t like that nose at all.
Albinism and morbidity… Ah, are the Forgraves related to Leban, perchance? I mean no offense, just curious.
– Dr. Henry Jekyll
There’s no place like home.
Underby had only just repacked his pipe and got it smoking, about to return to the intelligence papers, when there was another knock on his office door. He sighed, exhaling a ring into the air above his desk. “What.” he replied, blandly.
A ginger head poked around the door again. “Mr Underby? Sir? There is a woman here to see you.”
He stared at Wilhelmina. “What did I just tell you, not twenty minutes ago? Are you stunned?”
The girl cocked her head, looking at him quizzically. “Sir?” she asked.
Underby exhaled smoke, leaning back in his chair. He motioned for her to enter the office. “I just told you not to let anyone in here. Under any circumstances. I felt I made myself rather clear on the subject. These current circumstances certainly count as ‘any circumstances’.”
“Sir,” Wilhelmina said. “you said not to let that Count Bologna in, not just anyone.”
He sighed. “That madman could be anyone.” he said, leaning forward. “Tell me, Willa, pray what exactly did this woman look like? The one who wants to see me so suddenly?”
Wilhelmina’s brows knitted up slightly as she thought. “Well, sort of… tall. Stooping posture…”
Underby nodded. “If you had to describe her to a militia poster artist, would equine be a word you might use to describe her?”
“Not sure what that means, sir.”
“Horsey.” he exhaled another smoke ring.
She smiled. “Well, that’s not the exact term I might use, but…”
Underby nodded again. “You see, Wilhelmina, that monstrosity of a woman standing out there in City Hall is no woman. She is Bologna.”
Wilhelmina gasped. “Are you certain, sir?” she asked. “Certainly nobody would—”
“Oh yes.” Underby said. “He would. I once saw him dress as a dancing gorilla, to escape some, well… creditors, let us say. A dancing gorilla in a tutu, I might add. The man has no shame.”
“My word.” said Wilhelmina. “His commitment is impressive, he even had paperwork printed out about child social work and everything, he fairly had me convinced he was one of those women you refer to as the Busybody Squad.”
Underby looked at her. “Paperwork?” he asked.
Wilhelmina nodded. “Yes, for the N.B.L.O.S.O.W.A.R.”
Underby stared. “The what?”
“I believe she said it stands for the New Babbage League of Social Welfare and Reform.”
Underby deflated slightly. “Beckles.” he said.
“That’s right.” Wilhelmina said. “That’s the name she gave me.”
Underby looked at her. “Why don’t you just tell me the person’s name first then?” he asked.
“You never asked.” she said.
Underby glared at her from beneath his brows, unconsciously mimicking the mayor’s infamous ‘look’. “Send her in.” he said, then opened a desk drawer and began looking for termination slips.
Mrs Octavia Beckles marched into Underby’s office with the determined gait of an overachieving perpetual motion machine. “Mr Underby, I demand an investigation into the Forgrave estate. There is something fishy going on inside that house, I can smell it.”
Underby folded the papers he had been looking through and slipped them away. “Canning wiggyfish no longer requires a license, Mrs Beckles. It was nonsensical red tape which was gumming up paperwork at City Hall. Was there anything else?”
“Mr Underby, I was being euphemistic about it being fishy, but—”
“This is City Hall, madame. We have no time for poetry or metaphors. If you cannot conduct yourself in a manner fitting civil service work, I can find fifty others who would be willing to do so.”
The woman blanched slightly. Underby remained stoic on the outside, but purred with delight deep inside the privacy of his mind. “Was there anything else?” he repeated.
Mrs Beckles opened and closed her fists. “Mr Underby, I apologize for being facetious. I believe something highly unusual is taking place in the Forgrave estate and I believe it should be investigated immediately.”
He nodded. “Well, as you may imagine City Hall is swamped with requests for investigations of all sorts, but if you speak with my assistant Wilhelmina outside, she can help you fill out the proper paperwork. I am certain an investigation will be approved forthwith.”
He nodded at the woman when she made no move to exit his office. “Good day, Mrs Beckles.” he sneered. “Oh, yes. Yes.” she said, then stood and exited his office.
Underby relit his pipe, leaning back in his chair. “I think I would have preferred Bologna in a dress.” he mumbled to himself.
Bologna… In a dress.
Sorry, Underby, but I’ll need something stronger than what the Bucket can offer me. Bleh.
– Edward Hyde
If Bologna is the accomplished actor he appears to be, I believe he could make himself a striking woman.
why doesn’t the woman just hire a p.i? there’s certainly no shortage of them. why does she think she’s so important to have to bother city government about a domestic issue?
W-W-Why even bother about t-the family in the f-first place? They seem to be g-g-getting along just fine!