Press "Enter" to skip to content

Paid Attention – 2 of 2

continued from:


Petra dashed off immediately from where she had collided with the old acting mayor, toward the messenger depot.  She had signed up to be a city messenger early on in her time in New Babbage, and though she had rolled dice for Mayor Tenk on a few occaisions, she had never actually delivered a single message: all the same, she had a bag and cap hanging up at the depot, in her name.

Petra happened to fancy herself a master of disguise.  She planned to make the most of the innattention of the old acting mayor.  Now… what was his name again?  Undertone?  Underbone?

Inside the depot she took out an envelope, looked at a pen, chewing her lip.  It seemed to her that messenges usually had some name written on them; that proved a problem.  She grabbed the pen, dipped it in the inkwell, and scribbled a twisted line onto the envelope.  Blowing on the ink, she peered at the scribble: looked like words to her.  

She stuffed a change of clothing the church provided the messengers into the satchel, threw it over her shoulder while snapping the cap onto her head, then dashed back out toward City Hall.  She had seen him head back inside there, and hoped the place wouldn’t prove too large for her to find him easily.

Entering through the west door, Petra skidded to a halt, surprised to see the old acting mayor standing with a small man she assumed was from Falun, though she didn’t recognize him, and Miss Lottie.

“Ah, scuse me sor.” Petra said, lowering the pitch of her voice, and clicking the heels of her boots together.  She thought she sounded quite a lot like Cyrus whatshisname.

Underby sighed dramatically.  “What is it?” he snapped.

“Message fer ya, sor!” she said, pulling the envelope out and waving it so he wouldn’t see the writing clearly.

“Who’s it from, hmm?” he asked, stepping toward her.

“Dey dun tellus nuffin, sor! Jes runs em, we does.” she said, squinting one eye and talking from one side of her mouth.

Underby nodded, and grabbed for the envelope.  Petra held it back out of his reach.  “Afore ya grabs dat, sor, I hearded yer was payin dose oo servt on der Babbich Urchin Milishy, mm? Dat true like?”

Underby sighed.  Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out a small bag of coins.  “Yes. Here.”

“How many of them you carrying, anyway?” the small fellow asked in a shrill scratchy voice.

“More than I care to think about.” said Underby, handing her the bag as she handed over the envelople, which hid inside a blank slip of paper.  Before he could open it, she ran off around a corner, found a secluded area and began to change.  She twisted her hair into two miniscule buns, one on each side of her head, then wandered over to look for the old acting mayor.

She found Mr Underby not far from where she had left him, and hid behind a corner until he strode toward the front doors of City Hall by himself, then -heart beating loudly in her ears- she walked out boldly to meet him.

“Mr Underbone.” she said, waving.

The tall bald man looked rather annoyed.  “Underby.” he corrected, stiffy.

She nodded, not about to let anything he said shake her.  “That’s what I said.”

He clucked his tongue.  “I suppose you’re here for your pay.”

Petra cocked her head. The innocent routine.  “My…?”

Underby rolled his eyes.  “Did you serve on the Babbage Urchin Militia?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah.” she responded, then continued: “I was one of-“

“Here.” he said, tossing a bag toward her face.  “I don’t need your autobiography.”

Gasping, she caught the bag with one hand, just inches from her face.  Underby was already walking up the stairs toward the second floor.

Slightly shaken by having narrowly missed having her nose broken, Petra retired to her small home, the House of Flax, and stored her ill-gotten booty.  On her way home she had decided to consider the adventure a success, and retire before she pushed it too far… like she usually did.  Perhaps, she mused to herself, this is what growing up was all about.  But now, sitting in her small abode, looking at the old top hat she had found a month earlier… the top hat she had been slowly sewing straw into… she smiled.

She found him exiting City Hall.  

“Och, goot ofternoon Herr Onterpee, Hy hef heard hyu or lookink fa cheeldren who ver servink on der Bobboge Oorshin Meleesha.  Iz true, ya?” she asked in a scratchy voice, not entirely unlike the voice of the small man earlier in the day.  The straw from the hat scratched at the back of her neck.

Underby stopped, gritting his teeth.  “How many of you little goblins are there?” he said through a clenched jaw.

“Ho me?” she asked.  “Der iz beink only vun.”

Underby narrowed his eyes, one corner of his mouth twitching slightly.  Petra chewed the inside of her mouth, afraid she might burst into laughter at any moment.

“Here.” he said, tossing another bag.  She was ready for this one.  “Just get away from me.” Underby said, walking off toward the Academy.

She cupped her hands around her mouth: “Oll de sheeldren loff hyu!” she called out, though she couldn’t quite make out what it was he called back.

Giggling, she pulled the straw wig hat off her head and scratched at her still tied-back hair.  She was juiced up with adrenaline, snickering to herself, hands shaking slightly.  One more.  Just one more.  Biting her bottom lip, she tried to think of another costume… she had her Dr von Hoopla look, but she thought the beard might work against the whole urchin militia thing…

In the distance, she could hear Gaston’s singing.  Apparently he had decided to continue working anyway, even with the pay.  Petra giggled again.  

All she needed was his hat… for just a little while…

She found Underby in a barber shop.  He was resting, head back, with a steaming towel on his face.  

Petra cleared her throat.  “Er, scuse me, guvna…” she said, in a voice which she thought sounded a bit like Tubby’s.

Underby slowly leaned forward, without removing the towel from his face, and began to reach around on the counter in front of himself.  Petra watched, eyebrows cocked.  Only when he laid his hands on the straight razor did the bald man begin to growl, but Petra had already bolted.

Spread the love


  1. Emerson Lighthouse Emerson Lighthouse March 18, 2013

    Emerson looked up from the crossword he was doing in the New Babbage Free Press.

    “Another tough one?” Junie asked when she noticed Emerson’s vacant stare.

    “Sorry, I just got distracted by a tangential thought.” He  replied. “I haven’t seen Petra for a couple of days.”

    “Well,” said Junie,  “she strikes me as the sort who would keep busy.”

  2. Mr Underby Mr Underby March 19, 2013

    Underby stormed through City Hall until he reached Dorchester’s desk on the second floor.  The small man sat writing, but raised his spectacles to the top of his head as the tall bald man approached.  He was walking his “this means business” walk.

    “Dorchester.” said Underby.

    “Underby.” said Dorchester.

    “Stop that.” he responded.  “I want you to get me Mrs. Foxhouse.  Immediately.”

    “And wha-“

    “NOW.” Underby cried out, slamming his office door behind him.  The door opened back up immediately.  “And, if any children come looking for payment… box their bloody ears!”

    He slammed the door again.

    Dorchester looked at the door for a moment, then took out a notepad and wrote:

    1. cut off children’s ears.
    2. place ears in box.
    3. laugh.

    He pushed the notepad away, then reached for his book of addresses.

  3. Mack Blackwell Mack Blackwell March 19, 2013

    He was due. **rolls around laughing uncontrollably.

Leave a Reply