There was a sharp knock upon my door late last week. I jumped, having been on edge since landing here, and let out a breath as I set down the Soot-colored tartan I had been stitching.
“Yes, coming,” I said, shoving a pair of shears into my pocket just in case.
I opened my door, the hinges groaning mournfully. I really must find that oil can. There were some very creepy sounds coming from this building, and I didn’t need my one defense from the rest of Thunderclap Hall to complain so every time I opened the door.
There was a very distinguished middle-aged German man on the landing, his hands shoved deeply into his coat pockets.
“Herr Eel,” he said in a clipped accent. “I have need of your tayloring skills. May I commission you for a special suit?”
“Yes, please come in!” My voice was calm, in spite of the cold shiver I always got when I saw the glow of the gas lamps bathe the hallway from downstairs. The ubiquitous low muttering and rustling from below always gave me a feeling of imminent dread, though I couldn’t exactly pin down the reason. I stepped aside and swept my hand toward the single rickety work chair in the far corner. “Please, sit. How can I help you?”
The gentleman remained standing, hunched over in his great coat.
“Herr Eel, do you work with leather? I need a certain outfit made by next week for an Oktoberfest. . .no that is not the right. . .what I mean is there will be a special event for which I need Lederhosen. Can you make something for me by the day after tomorrow?”
I flinched. That didn’t leave me much time, and leather could be difficult to work with if all you have are shears and a needle.
“Of course, Mister. . .”
“Herr Drosselmeyer.” He extended a hand. It was clammy and cold as I took a firm grip and shook it.
He then pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to me. There was a crude drawing of the outfit he wanted made. It included boots, but luckily I had a pair made recently, having cobbled together a few scraps of leather and bits of metal to rivet everything together.
“Have it done in two day’s time, Herr Eel. It is very important.”
With that, he flipped me an envelope sealed in wax.
“Your payment, Herr Eel. Good day to you.”
With that, he marched out the door and down the stairs. Stunned that he hadn’t given me time to accept or decline the job, I simply stood there staring at the paper for a few minutes. The strange sounds coming from downstairs didn’t register, as I hurriedly shut the door and locked it.
I must have been working for 36 hours straight on that outfit, taking a bit of creative license off the drawing (it really was crude, almost a stick figure). There were notes scribbled in tiny, slanted cursive all over the stick figure; instructions and materials requested. He wanted a pair of goggles that would enable him to see things in a certain way, and there were a few widgets and sprockets he wanted on those boots. The Lederhosen shorts themselves were one of the easy parts to create, all things considered. I stitched and cut, cut and stitched, my fingertips becoming raw from pushing a needle through softened leather.
At long last, I finished the project. Pushing my hat back on my head, and taking off the magnifyer goggles with a sigh, I leaned back in my chair and stretched.
“Done!” I said to myself. “I’ll just package it up.”
There was an address scrawled on the drawing, and I had planned to hand-deliver the package to Herr Drosselmeyer.
Once I had the package secured with a bit of twine, I pulled on my coat and hat, and crept downstairs as quietly as I could; I didn’t want to meet whatever was lurking in the shadows of the pub.
“Good day, Mr. Eel,” a voice drawled. “Going somewhere?”
Oh God. Mr. Underby! He lounged in the corner, a malicious grin on his gaunt face. There was a strange brownish sticky looking substance on his gloves. He toyed with a small dagger, digging its point into a nearby table.
“Uhm. . .”
I must have retreated a few steps, because he leaned forward with a withering glare.
“I would stay out of the alley, Mr. Eel.”
I nodded, vaguely aware I was backing into the wall.
“No sense in sticking our noses where they don’t belong, now is there Mr. Eel?”
I shook my head and hugged the package tightly to my chest.
Mr. Underby slid the flat of the blade along his tongue and grimaced.
“I do like the taste of German, don’t you?”
Confused and oddly frightened, I said nothing.
“Be careful, Mr. Eel.” With that, I felt dismissed. So I turned on a heel and rushed out the door.
There was a bad smell coming from the alley that hadn’t been there a couple of days ago, along with a brownish and smeared handprint. I started toward the alley to take a closer look when. . .
“Mr. Eel, I wouldn’t go there.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin!
Was that blood on the cobblestones? And that tattered hat laying in a puddle seemed oddly familiar. . .