“Why don’t you just buy the mine?” asked Junie. “That little black card of Victor’s seems bottomless and no one has questioned us once about using it.”
The two Gangplank co-owners were alone at a table in the lounge of The Rugbottom Hotel. Plumes of purple smoke emanated from the hookah, clouding the room in purple haze.
“I thought of that,” said Emerson, scratching at the fake van dyke he was wearing. “But if I bought it then Victor would own it, even though I want it. Get it?”
“Got it,” Junie smiled smartly, rolling the hookah nozzle between her thumb and finger. “By the way,” she leaned in, “Manuka Honey? What kind of alias is that?”
“I happen think Manuka Honey is an excellent alias.” Emerson smiled, almost smugly. “The perfect femme fatale name.”
“I’m just kidding, I like it too,” said Junie. “I’m just worried we’ll give ourselves away.”
“We’ll have to be careful,” agreed Emerson, distracted by a disturbance out in the lobby. “I think the trick for us will be carrying through with the ruse that you are my assistant without giving away the fact that we are in love.”
Junie dropped the hookah nozzle with a clatter. “We…what?”
Suddenly an enraged man dressed in black vestments stormed into the room, followed closely by Rugbottom. There was nothing physically intimidating about the man. He was rather short with a soft plumpness that betrayed a fondness for sweets. He was completely bald with a round face and impeccable skin. His voice was higher than one would have thought upon first seeing him and he spoke with an exaggerated affectation that seemed somewhat at odds with what he was saying. “Are you the pissant bugger trying to steal my leaf?”
“Father Vorpal, I presume.” Emerson looked remarkably calm considering Father Vorpal’s sudden appearance. “I’m guessing you’re here to discuss some sort of compensation for your perceived loss. Fair enough, I would do the same. I’m sure we can reach an accommodation. After all, I am a reasonable man.”
“You are a leaf thief with poor taste in accessories and questionable grooming habits.” The scent of whisky and cinnamon-clove perfume emanated in alternating waves from the church cleric.
“Okay, I get it,” said Emerson, removing the tartan tam and then giving his van dyke a gentle tug for good measure. “You’re drunk.”
“And if I am?” replied Vorpal. “Do you have a problem with pleasure?”
“Quite the contrary,” replied Emerson. “I am an unapologetic hedonist as a matter of fact. Please join us at the hookah as a show of good faith.”
“I would rather the leaf I paid for!” demanded Vorpal. “The entire bale.”
“Wait! The leaf you paid for?” Emerson looked quizzically at Rugbottom. “I’m confused, who paid for the bale originally?”
“Actually he did,” replied Rugbottom, indicating Father Vorpal. “I just brokered the deal, and by our laws it is now your legal obligation, as the owner of the property in dispute, to reimburse him for his loss.”
“And I want my money or we’ll call the sheriff.” added Father Vorpal. “I’m playing cards with him just down the street.”
“Right,” said Emerson. “I see what this is. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you two stink at the confidence game. First of all, neither of you gained my confidence.”
“I suppose it takes a confidence man to recognize a confidence man,” said Father Vorpal.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Emerson narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
“Would you mind telling us all your name again?”
“What are you getting at, Vernal?” said Rugbottom, with a hint of suspicion carried in his voice. “That is Mr. Mornington from New Babbage. He is considering investing in, or possibly even purchasing, the Pipco mine – particularly the gold division.”
“That’s very interesting,” said Father Vorpal, “because I met Victor Mornington when I was ordained in New Babbage several years ago.”
Rugbottom suddenly appeared to be paying close attention. Emerson shifted a little nervously in his seat.
Father Vorpal approached the table with short, very precise steps. He leaned down, his face very close to Emerson’s as he narrowed his eyes in mock scrutiny. The moment seemed interminable before the cleric spoke up again, his voice softening. “You haven’t changed a bit, Victor, so nice to see you again.”
Emerson inclined his head ever so slightly and let out his breath. He then played along with hardly a pause, saying with utter conviction, “Please, Father, you are very kind but my hair has turned almost completely grey….”
“Silver,” Junie corrected.
Emerson smiled at Junie. “My hair has turned almost entirely silver since your ordination.”
“And it suits you,” said Father Vorpal settling into a seat and picking up one of the unused hookah nozzles. “I believe I will let you buy me a drink.”
“Excellent.” Rugbottom was beaming once again. “I’ll send my boy Walden over with a bottle of Jameson’s for the table. Now, if you gentlemen – and fair lady,” he added, bowing to Junie, “will excuse me, I have business to which I must attend.”
“Okay,” said Emerson after Rugbottom was clear of the room. “You may have gained my confidence somewhat with that little play.”
“Only somewhat? My, you are a suspicious man.” said Vorpal. “So tell me, what really is your interest in the Pipco mine?”
As you heard,”replied Emerson before taking a sip of his drink. “ I may wish to purchase it, the gold mine part at least.”
“Purchase?” questioned Vorpal. “Fine, if that is how you want to play it. I speak a fluent euphemism better than most. For example: I would very much like to participate by helping to broker this purchase.”
“What makes you think we need a broker?” asked Emerson though his tone indicated a degree of openness to Father Vorpal’s suggestion.
“Let me explain something to you, Mr. Mornington. The Pipco mine has never been ‘purchased’ before.” Vorpal made quotation signs with his short, plump fingers as he said the word purchased. “In fact, in the 350 years it has been in operation there has only been one attempted purchase.”
“I’m guessing that didn’t go well,” said Emerson.
“It is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?” said Father Vorpal examining the of the hookah hose. “It happened during the mardi gras back in ‘71. Some longhair went underground dressed as a flamingo. He almost made it to fresh air too until the hounds got him. Goddamn hippie.” Vorpal put the nozzle to his lips took a long drag.
“Tsk,” said Junie, exhaling a great purple cloud. “You just can’t trust hippies.”
“You will need a guide, Mr. Mornington, during your ‘purchase’ negotiations.”
“I have a guide – my chief geologist, Dr. von Hoopla. She…”
“He,” Junie did her best to make the correction sound like a cough.
“He should be returning presently.”
“Von Hoopla,” repeated Vorpal. “Never heard of him,” he said dismissively. “Listen, the underground is not for tourists. You need a local, someone with a little influence if you expect to have any credibility. What size crew you got?”
“You trust them?”
“Somewhat,” Emerson shrugged. “More than I trust you at any rate.”
“Five – I don’t think that is quite enough,” said Vorpal, ignoring Emerson’s comment. “I can offer my half-hearted support. That should round things out.”
“I like that,” said Emerson. “Emerson’s five and a half. It has a ring to it.”
“Who is Emerson?” questioned Vorpal.
Just then Petra burst into the lounge with a shout of “MUUUURRRRRD…” Upon seeing Father Vorpal, however, she suddenly stopped short of whatever she was going to say, throwing her hands over her mouth.
“Father Vorpal,” said Emerson, gesturing to the twelve-year old girl disguised as a forty-year old German geologist. “This is Dr. von Hoopla, my esteemed academic colleague.”
“Gluten tag Herr Vorpal,” said Petra faking as deep and as guttural a voice as she could.
“You look very familiar, Dr. von Hoopla.” Father Vorpal replied. “Have we met?”
“Nine, lederhosen schnapps,” said Petra.
Father Vorpal furrowed his brow.
“Is there some problem, Herr doctor?”
“Ja,” replied Petra. “Ich!”
Emerson cocked his head to the side. “Och?”
“Nine, Ich!” Petra pointed in the back towards the lobby doors.
Before Petra could say another word a blood curdling scream from outside caused everyone’s eyes to go wide. A moment later the scream was followed by a cry of “MURDER!”