continued from The Twelve Days of Christmas (In July)
“Happy Christmas, Mr. Underby.”
“Happy Christmas, Mr. Tenk.”
The mayor and his personal assistant were standing out on Abney Parkway, enjoying the pleasure of bright Christmas morning. Mr. Tenk, by long tradition, was on his way to the train station to take his holiday in the mountains with his kin. His luggage had gone ahead of him, leaving him carrying only a freshly braided broom he would take as a gift to his host. Mr. Underby’s eyes lingered on the broom. It seemed so absurd to him now, now that he was fluent in the power of politicians.
“There is one more thing, Mr. Tenk. The museum down the street will have its opening while you are away. Perhaps, so as not to disappoint the wealthy patrons, you shall allow me to wear the regalia of the city in your stead.
Tenk fingered the medallion of the city which he was still wearing. He was superstitious by nature, but there seemed no harm in it, considering all that had happened on the previous Christmas when he left it behind. He nodded absently and lifted the heavy golden chain from his shoulders, letting the links of it flow from his hand to Mr. Underby’s.
Suddenly, a cracking boom sounded behind them. The two men hunched over instinctively, hands to ears in the shock of the explosion, causing Mr. Underbry to let the medallion of the mayor’s office slip from his grasp and drop to the ground. When the noise subsided, they turned and saw a bright green ray of energy fading from the sky, right above where the city hall clocktower was falling off its perch. Amidst the crumbling stones could be seen the bright wheels of Tenk’s temperamental old tower movement, now partially slagged by the heat of the beam.
“MY CLOCK!” cried Mr. Tenk.
Mr. Underby too was aghast by the destruction, but there was still a good part of him which was enjoying the little man’s distress. “Well,” he sneered, reaching down to recover the mayor’s medallion. “Isn’t that a partridge in a pear tree.”
No sooner than his fingers had lifted the medallion from the sidewalk when a second explosion sounded from under the great edifice that was city hall. Civil servants streamed out from the doors, and billows of smoke soon followed. Mr. Underby blinked once, slowly, his face lengthening into an expression of mild disappointment.
“Perhaps…” he mused.
“Yes, Mr. Underby?”
Mr. Underby held out the medallion to Mr. Tenk. “Perhaps you should keep this with you.”
Mr. Tenk looked at the medallion. A singular thought crowded out all others in his mind, which he crushed down at once, for one must never acknowledge a coincidence, lest it not be one. He took the chain from Mr. Underby, running his thumb over the raised image of the crossed hammer and spanner thoughtfully.
“We will never speak of this, Mr. Underby.” Mr. Tenk said at last.
“We will never speak of this,” agreed Mr. Underby. “I am certain I can design some regalia of my own for the opening.”
“Yes, Mr. Underby. I am certain you can. I am also certain you will have this taken care of by the time I get back from my holiday.”
Mr. Underby looked back at city hall, a gnawing horror worked at his interior. He flinched as all the windows shattered simultaneoulsy from heat within.
“You can’t be serious, Mr. Tenk. Leave for a holiday at a time like this? What will people think?”
Mr. Tenk watched as the heavy curtains that had covered the windows of the upper floors of city hall wafted away, all ablaze, with the fatalism that only a Babbager could manage. “Maggie is waiting for me at the train station even as we stand here,” said Mr. Tenk, his eyes fixed on the growing conflagration. “Would you leave Maggie waiting?”
Mr. Underby looked in the direction of the train station. Little Maggie did have a temper. He looked back at city hall to see the brass doors of the upper balcony get blown off their hinges and take a limb off of one of the heavy oak trees out in front of the building. It was a coincidence, he told himself silently. And with desperate, foolish bravado, he told himself again. Only a coincidence. Then looked to the train station again and thought of Maggie and the difficulty she’d cause when she returned if she were kept waiting.
“Perhaps… Perhaps it would be best if you did not disappoint Maggie.” Mr Underby sighed heavily. “On your way, Mr. Tenk. On your way.”
And without another backwards glance, Mr. Tenk headed out on his annual holiday.