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For Want of a Washing

Parked in front of Rutherford House in Academy of Industry, Martin Malus watched impatiently as Mumsy Abigail Sharp settled herself into the supple leather passenger seat of the steam carriage. The young man tapped his fingers on the burl wood paneling as she fussed and fidgeted, smoothed and straightened, finally letting out a sigh to indicate his displeasure.

“Such drama,” she scolded. “One would almost believe you had better places to be.”

He ignored the barb. He’d heard Junie’s frequent grumbling about her aunt and was determined to not let her get under his skin. “Where am I taking you today, Mumsy Abigail?”

“I need a bath!” she blurted inelegantly.

“A bath.” Malus regarded her with an expression typically reserved for a bit of unidentifiable detritus stuck to the bottom of one’s boot. “You can’t be serious. Emerson did not say anything about bathing you.”

Mumsy narrowed her eyes. “Oh? Is that so? Should I assume Sir Sir Doctor whatever-he-is-today has always been completely candid and forthcoming in vital details?”

Malus froze. She had him there. He clenched his jaw tightly even as his eyes grew wide, terrified by the prospect of being the one responsible for relieving Mumsy of that unbearable camphor and mothball old lady smell, and furious that she had so quickly taken the upper hand.

Time seemed to stretch indefinitely as they sat idling in the steam carriage. Malus furrowed his brow, desperately attempting to formulate an escape plan. She watched him much as a cat watches a rodent scrambling toward freedom only to be snatched up again in ruthless play. Today, however, she had more interesting things to do than torment the young and imperious.

“Well, son, what will it be? Are you taking me to the baths? Or will I be informing Mr. Lighthouse that you’ve rejected your assigned duties?”

“Wait…the baths?” He cocked his head.

“Great Builder’s plumbline, boy, I thought you’d be sharper than this,” Mumsy said, fully aware of the scare she’d just given him. “I hear there are Turkish baths tucked away somewhere in this maze of filthy bricks. Take me there.”

He paused as the relief of his reprieve sank in.

She waved her hands vaguely at the steering apparatus of the carriage. “Now!”

Malus gave a mighty sigh of relief and quickly engaged the engine, steering the vehicle deftly along Academy Downs toward the city center. The carriage handled beautifully, responding to the slightest pressure on the stick, its steam engine chugging merrily, an angled column of coal smoke from the furnace rising out behind them. He played at the control, weaving down the cobblestone street, pleased by the power and agility afforded by such a conveyance. In spite of present company, he found himself enjoying the experience as he did every time Emerson gave him the keys. Surely this would be the future of transportation.

“This will never catch on, you know,” Mumsy commented, as if reading his thoughts. “It’s too slow. I could walk as fast.”

Malus sneered. “Shall I drop you at the corner then?” He closed the throttle slightly to punctuate the threat.

“Oh, no,” she responded. “I’ve been promised your devoted attention, Slim, and I intend to take full advantage of it.” She chortled with satisfaction as he rolled his eyes and swallowed hard.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Outside the Turkish baths on Perdido Street, not far from the Church of the Builder, a wayward novice basked in the attention of two blossoming young ladies.

“I had it going so fast,” he boasted, continuing a story begun several minutes prior, “that when the carriage crested the hillock, I felt air beneath the wheels. Of course it was nothing compared to the fevered rush of battle.” Malus glanced at his audience with cool detachment as he regaled them with his automotive adventures. His words were met by coy giggling as the two girls looked at each other and then back to him.

“But Martin, isn’t it terribly fearful, going so fast?” The girl in a pink ruffled bonnet blinked several times as she looked up at him.

Folding his arms across his chest and leaning casually against the carriage, he scoffed haughtily. “Not really. You see it’s only a matter of calculating the –“

His discourse was cut short by a litany of high volume, colorful curses coming from within the bathhouse. Malus and the two girls turned toward the sound as Mumsy appeared at the entrance wearing a white robe and slippers, struggling to carry her awkwardly stuffed carpet bag. “MARTIN!” she shrieked. “MARTIN MALUS!”

“Oh, you have got to be joking,” he muttered under his breath. “I have to go,” he said, holding his index finger up for the girls to indicate that he would return shortly to further entrance them. He jogged to Mumsy’s side, relieved her of the carpet bag and helped her to the street.

“Hurry, hurry,” she said breathlessly as they made for the carriage. The girls watched with amusement as Malus assisted the shriveled old woman into the carriage and then vaulted athletically into the driver’s seat, engaging the engine quickly. Squealing with indignant protest as he steered away, the young ladies waved nonetheless as Malus held up his hand in a farewell.

As the carriage rounded the corner, a bath attendant appeared in the doorway, shaking his fist and continuing to shout obscenities. “No more baths for you! I know who you are, you old crow! I’ll find your niece!”

Mumsy cackled with glee, her face lit with excitement. She shouted to be heard over the noisy engine and wind as they raced up Jefferson Way. “Don’t worry about those little tarts, my boy, they’ll find you soon enough! Always leave them wanting more!”

Although mildly amused by the old woman’s change in countenance, he simply shook his head with disdain. Glancing over at her he asked, “what in Newton’s name was that about?”

She grinned at him, mischief in her eyes, and pulled several fluffy white towels from her bag. Triumphantly, she held them aloft and exclaimed, “Egyptian cotton!”

Martin Malus, now an accomplice in crime, kept his eyes on the road and his hand on the steering of what was now a getaway vehicle. He wasn’t worried about being condemned, given this was New Babbage after all, but it did occur to him that life outside the walls of the monastery just kept getting more peculiar.

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  1. Erica Fairywren Erica Fairywren July 29, 2012

    ((chuckles, oh this is a fun read))

  2. Kristos Sonnerstein Kristos Sonnerstein July 31, 2012

    ::dying of laughter:: Oh, that was wonderfully fun! Well done, you two!

  3. Emerson Lighthouse Emerson Lighthouse August 1, 2012

    “They’ve been gone quite awhile.” said Emerson, tapping a pencil against the bar.

    “I’m sure they are okay.” said Junie, though she sounded less than convinced.

    “I mean she’s old right… what kind of trouble could the two of them get in?” Emerson glanced at the door again.

    Junie scratched the back of her neck and just shrugged her shoulders.

    “I should have put a curfew on how late that kid can keep the car out at night.” said Emerson shaking his head.

  4. Junie Ginsburg Junie Ginsburg August 1, 2012

    The next day, the bathhouse manager towered over Junie as she sat at a table in the Gangplank.

    “Five, you say?” she asked.

    He scowled and nodded.

    “Five towels…” she muttered under her breath. Letting out a deep sigh, she signed the cheque with a flourish and handed it to him.

    “That ought to cover it, with a bit extra for your trouble. I’m ever so sorry for the inconvenience, sir.”

    “As well you should be!” He grabbed the bank draft from her hand and turned to leave.

    As the door slammed behind him, Emerson, who had been looking on from the couch in the corner, was silent for a few moments before breaking into a grin.

    “Think he noticed?” he asked.

    Junie smirked and turned to wipe the bar with a fresh, white towel.  “Nope. Not at all.”

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