(four weeks ago)
Tenk did not look up as the elevator to his rickety office affixed to the clocktower atop city hall opened and expelled little Maggie and Mr. Underby.
“Mr. Tenk!” Mr. Underby commanded in his most important voice.
Tenk continued to stare intently at the recently reassembled trumpeter clock on his workbench.
“There, you see Maggie? He will not even acknowledge me. He will not even…”
Somewhere inside a mahogany case, a lever lifted softly. Underby clamped his lips together and rolled his eyes to the ceiling as the first clock began to chime. Then another, and another, then even the great tower clock adding its own deafening tone. There was no talking to Tenk at the top of the hour.
Maggie’s high little voice pierced the din. “That’s not how you get his attention!” Expertly, she pitched a penny into the clocktower proper such that it lodged in the wheels of the ponderous tower movement, bringing the great clock to a halt.
Tenk jumped off his stool. “How dare you!” He pushed back on the third chime wheel of the movement, relieving the pressure enough to dislodge the penny, fussing a bit over the metal as he inspected the teeth for damage, before turning back to the trumpeter clock. The doors at the clock’s base had just shut on the trumpeter, signalling the end of its chime cycle.
“You made me miss it,” scowled Tenk. “Now I will have to do it again.” He hopped onto his stool and turned the trumpeter clock around to access its workings.
Maggie tugged on Underby’s coat. “Now Ozzy.”
Underby pulled a bottle from the deep pockets of his coat, a capped jar of milk, freshly bought, and plunked it down hard on the table next to the trumpeter clock. Tenk took the jar and put it to the side without looking up from his work. Maggie slapped her knees and laughed.
“Yer a farmer now, are ye, Ozzy?”
Underby gave Maggie a withering look, and, after a hesitant pause, pulled another bottle from the other pocket of his coat, a heavy bottomed captain’s decanter, half full of a dark amber liquor. Not just any liquor, but the 40 year old Inverness Batwing Scotch Whiskey that Mr. Underby kept under the board in the floor behind the bar at the Bucket of Blood. And this was his last bottle. Underby placed the bottle gingerly on the table next to the trumpeter clock.
Tenk looked at the bottle, then straightened from his work. “Well?” Tenk said to Underby.
“Mr. Tenk,” started Mr. Underby, smoothing the front of his coat. “It is Mr. Mornington. I have reason to think he is attempting to control all the coal coming into the city. And those harpies and their committee are railing over the indecency of a tawdry entertainment complex being built across the street from City Hall. And the air kraken…”
“KRAKEN!” Tenk yelled as he scrambled back into the depths of the tower clock machinery room, Maggie quickly following. A double row of translucent circles pressed flatly on the window behind Mr. Underby, followed by a sticky looking tentacle curling into the open door of the office. Tenk looked out from his hiding place behind the sharp metals of the tower movement, and saw the tentacle had wrapped itself around Mr. Underby, pinning his arms to his gaunt torso. Mr. Underby may have screamed, but his pride was saved by the sticky mass which covered his mouth and nose.
Tenk leapt back into the office as Underby was dragged out the doorway. He uncorked the bottle of the Inverness Batwing and flung the whiskey onto the rubbery arm holding his old antagonist, much as a priest would expel a demon with holy water.
“Those are my bones,” Tenk cursed at the air kraken, in a language only he and Maggie could understand. The air kraken recoiled from the alcohol, loosening its grip on its prey, and fell away from the tower. Underby had enough presence of mind to grip the door frame as his arm was freed to keep himself from tumbling over the edge of the balcony and into the glass ceilings on the south wing of City Hall below.
Tenk grabbed Underby’s forearms and helped him back into the office, holding onto him carefully until he had regained his balance, with all the manner of someone that had just saved a valuable knick-nack from falling off the mantel. He looked the tall man up and down. Satisfied, he let it pass before Underby could notice.
“Maggie,” called Tenk. “You know the handle I would never let you touch before? You can turn it now. Turn it as fast as you can.”
Maggie turned the crank as fast as she could. The siren sounded from the tower, letting the people below know that low flying air kraken had been spotted. The small woman laughed with glee as the wail became louder and higher. Underby looked at his empty bottle of scotch and looked at Tenk, and back again. And again.
An important thought was coalescing in his mind.
Tenk had saved him.