A dry sharp tap on the town hall door turned into a long slow scratch; Underby looked up, at first simply seeing a man-size shadow, but soon realizing it was -in fact- tar black feathers he gazed upon. The large taheen loomed in the doorway of his office, blocking out most light from the hall. Underbuy put down his quill. “Who let you in?” he asked casually.
“A small man sporting robust sideburns.” came the quivering whisper response.
Underby exhaled, then stood. He did not want to be sitting for this exchange. “Well, how may I help you? I believe our business is done with.”
“Nay, sai, our business very much continues. It continues until I receive payment.”
“Payment?” Underby laughed. “I think not.”
The raven observed him with wet inky eyes, betraying no emotion. “We had a deal, sai Underby.”
Underby nodded. “Yes. The operative word in your statement is “had”, Mr Kalfoo.”
“You received your coal, did you not?”
“Then payment is now due. That is how the deal works.”
Underby slipped a cigar into his mouth and snapped a match, lighting it. He cracked his knuckles. “Ah, but Kalfoo, you see, your deal was with the Bucket of Blood. And I no longer am the deed holder for that establishment. You must take up the matter of your payment with he who holds the coal, correct?”
The taheen’s head tilted. “Who is deed holder to the Bucket of Blood?”
Underby smiled around his cigar. “Small man, about yea high, wears a bucket on his head and a horrid patchwork coat. Answers to Bucketheed. You will find he is the deed holder now.” Underby frowned dramatically. “I am but a simple civil servant now, sir.”
Kalfoo o’ Fedic stood very still in the doorway of Underby’s office. “I will inquire, sai. If I do not find the answers satisfactory, I will be back here to receive payment. In gold or blood. It is your choice.”
Underby laughed. “In the middle of a government building? In broad daylight?” he exhaled smoke toward the taheen. “Stiff chance.”
“You must leave some time.”
“Must I?” he asked, cigar clenched in his teeth. Turning slightly, he swept a hand across the room. “You will note that the clockwinder, though infamously tight-fisted, has proven himself generous enough to supply me with an over-stuffed sofa, which is supremely comfortable. Many a night it has been, well, almost like a bed to me.”
“You are a coward, sai.” Kalfoo said.
Underby tapped an ash onto the floor. “I am a survivor.” He over-enunciated the last word.
The taheen turned on one taloned foot, and exited the office silently. The assistant to the mayor closed the door, and stood leaning one hand against it for some time. He then turned, exhaled smoke into the air above himself, and said: “Fool.”