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Payment Due

Underby chuckled, reading about the food poisonings at the Bucket, in the evening edition of the local newspaper.  Folding up the paper, he dropped it on his desk, ready to pour himself a glass of Inverness Batwing.  As he was about to congratulate himself for having the presence of mind to pop open the floorboard and take it last time he had been at the public house he noticed an envelope on his desktop which had not been there previously.  

The envelope said only “underby” on it.

Underby stood and looked about his office, then out into the hallway.  Damn that Dorchester, always skulking around.  Hadn’t seen him around the office all day, and then here he is leaving envelopes without announcing so.

Underby ripped open the envelope.  Only two words were scrawled on letter inside: MIDNIGHT, and CEMETARY.

The bald man looked up.  Which cemetery?


Four hours later, Underby stood in the crisp cold blackness of the Babbage Cemetery, having gambled.  No moon had turned the cemetery into a mine field of shin-shattering foes.  He moved slowly, cursing to himself sharply with each collision; the words bounced around him, off the surrounding buildings.  

The city was as quiet as a tomb with the canals frozen.

Waiting impatiently, Underby took his long-stem pipe from a coat pocket, and bag of shag from another.  Matches were more of a trial, and once found, proved pointless: just as he lit, a soft whispering voice broke the silence above his head.

“No fire, acting mayor.”

Underby looked up, a deeply shadowed figure crouched atop a nearby tomb.  A few stray strands of what looked like straw stood up from what he thought to be a head.  A cold breeze stirred the strands into dance macabre. The Straw Man.

Underby dropped the match into the snow with a sharp hiss.

“Good evening.” he said, lacking anything more substantial to offer in conversational openings.

“The bridge fell.”

“It certainly did.” Underby agreed.

“Payment due.”

Underby nodded.  “Of course.” he said.  “Obviously I didn’t bring anything on me, on these streets, surely you-“

“Here is what I ask…” the voice cut in.

Underby’s mouth snapped shut into a frown; he disliked being interrupted.

A long empty pause, and then a scratchy voice said: “Topple the Faulkner Scrapyard Tower.”

Underby’s head tilted slightly.  “The…?”

“Faulkner Scrapyard Tower.”

He blinked, then nodded.  “Certainly.  Yes, certainly, I shall put my best men on it immedi-“


Another blink.  “No?”

“No men, Underby.  No goons.  Personal.  You.  You topple the tower.”

“Me?” he asked.  “I?  Why… I have no idea how to deal in explosives… it is not my field of study, sir.  Surely putting the best person for the-“

“No.” came the reply.  “It must be you.”

“But why?” Underby asked, only to be met by a long and crippling silence.  After five minutes had passed he decided no answer was forthcoming, and turned, slowly making his way back out of the cemetery.

When he re-entered City Hall he built a fire on the west side of the building and looked out toward Wheatstone.   

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One Comment

  1. Avariel Falcon Avariel Falcon January 9, 2013

    Who is more scary, the Straw Man or Mr Underby?

    Somehow I feel the Straw Man is winning on points at the moment. *nods*

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