Following a long morning in the City Hall archives, Junie repaired to the bustling comfort of The Gangplank during the busy lunch rush. Longshoremen, deck hands, merchants and the usual ne’er-do-wells had gathered for hearty sustenance and even heartier brew. A couple of newcomers sat at a corner table, quietly taking in the scene and picking at their food–you could always tell the new ones by the look of utter confusion clouding their expressions. Malus manned the bar while Milo shuttled food from kitchen to table as quickly as he could.
“When are we going to get a cook, Miss Junie?” Milo asked as he hurried past her. “All I know how to do is heat up the stew you make in the evenings.”
“I think I have a blister on my little finger,” Junie complained as she inspected her hand. “And also a blister on my thumb.” She popped her pinkie into her mouth to ease the pain momentarily.
“Knock it off!” Malus shouted and slapped her hand away from her mouth, startling her.
Milo rushed past her again. “Miss Juuuuuunieeee,” he intoned as he made his way back toward the kitchen.
“Don’t yell, Martin, it will scare away the customers,” Junie said.
“No more than you sucking on your finger,” he said in a scoffing tone. “That’s unsanitary, you’ll make people sick. Disgusting!”
“But I’m not sick,” she protested. “How can I get other people sick?”
“That doesn’t matter!” He shifted into a whisper-yell, suddenly aware that he was drawing attention to their little workplace skirmish. “THEY don’t know you’re not sick!”
Junie narrowed her eyes and stood up.
“HEY, EVERYBODY!” she shouted. “LOOK! LOOK! I’M GOING TO GET YOU ALL SICK!” Then she ceremoniously licked the palm of her hand, reached behind the bar for a glass, pulled the tap to fill it with beer, and held it up. “Who wants it?”
Every hand shot up, save for those at the corner table. She turned to Malus with a triumphant grin, gave the beer to the toothless man at the closest table and sat back down at the bar. Milo gave a brief yelp from the kitchen and dishes crashed to the floor. A hush fell over the bar for a moment before it erupted in hoots and applause.
As she stopped clapping, Junie said, “Martin, we really need to find a security officer for the bar. People are leaving all sorts of creepy things at night. Look at what I found yesterday.” She held up a piece of crumpled paper for him to inspect. He snapped it from her hand and peered at it more closely. Then he sneered.
“This is without a doubt the stupidest thing I have ever seen,” he said. “It’s a child’s drawing! What is this even supposed to be?”
Junie snatched the paper back. “Look, there is a figure that looks like a bad guy, and the little one is holding something like a… I don’t know, a badminton racket or a…”
Milo rushed past them. “Do we have a broom? Where is the broom?” Junie waved him to the area behind the bar where the broom stood in the back corner.
Martin grabbed the paper again. “No, no, no, not a badminton racket. Are you serious? The big figure is obviously a bear, and the little one is holding a gun…”
“There are no bears in New Babbage, Squire!” Junie exclaimed, but then she thought for a moment. “Well, except for that one bear, but he knows how to pour beer so it’s okay.”
“IT’S A BAT, PINHEAD!”
The two turned toward the cannon which sat perpetually aimed at the door, and atop it sat Petra Flax, proprietor of Rag & Bone Junkyard, and former bouncer of the Gangplank. She was lighting a corncob pipe and glaring at the Squire through the hazy air of the great room.
The Squire sneered. “How long have you been sitting there, pipsqueak?” he asked. “And how would you know what’s in this scribble?” He squinted back down at the drawing.
“Because I drew it, dumb-dumb.” she said, blowing smoke toward him. “It’s my see-saw.”
Junie blinked. “Your… what?”
“My see-saw,” the girl repeated. “You know, shows my qualifications for the job.”
“She means CV.” Malus sighed. He looked at the drawing again. “So who is this you are supposedly hitting with your bat?”
Malus looked at the girl. “That’s supposed to be Sir Sir Emerson?”
Petra shook her head with pity. “You need yer head sharpened or something.” she said. “The name of the bat is Mr. Lightninghouse. Show some respect.”
Malus stared, stunned, and speechless for possibly the first time. Junie pressed on while he collected himself. “Who are you hitting with… Mr. Lightninghouse… in the drawing?”
“It’s Creaky Gloom, Miss Junie. I think you mighta been hanging around the Squire too long.”
“You never hit Creaky Gloom with your bat!” the Squire exclaimed, having seemingly regained his composure.
“Did so! I killed him.”
The Squire appeared close to screaming. “You certainly did not kill Creaky Gloom!”
Petra narrowed her eyes. “You seen the big goon around lately?”
A drunk sitting at the end of the bar exploded with laughter. “She’s gotcha there, Squire!”
Junie attempted to wrestle control of the conversation back to herself. “Am I right that you are applying for the security position, Petra?”
The girl chewed on the stem of her pipe. “Well. I didn’t quit or nothin,” she said.
The Squire sneered. “So where have you been? You disappeared, so I thought you went to the Home for Wayward Girls.”
Petra opened her mouth in outrage, but before she could compose a replay, Milo came around the corner balancing a tray of drinks and bowls, stopping at the cannon.
“You ordered the… stew?” he asked, handing a bowl of steaming liquid to the girl. Petra grinned with delight as she accepted it.
“You can’t serve her soup! She can’t pay for it!” Malus was beside himself.
“Can too, Pinhead!” she shouted, event as she prepared to scoop a spoonful into her mouth.
“Did someone die and leave you a fortune?” the Squire snapped back.
“People die all the time, but nobody leavin’ me nothin’. I gotta live hand to mouth, working hard like all these fine folks.” She made a sweeping gesture toward the packed bar with her spoon.
Malus rolled his eyes. “Then how? That junkyard sure doesn’t bring in any money.”
“Sometimes it does, ya lunk. People nose around in there all the time, and when they want something, they pay for it.”
The Squire scoffed. “How often does THAT happen?”
The girl shrugged. “Not much,” she admitted.
Malus smacked his forehead. “Then how in the name of the Builder do you expect to pay for that stew?!”
“Easy,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I pay with my services. Because now Miss Junie knows she don’t need to hire no other security officers, or whatever she calls them. I’ll bounce for as long as she wants to keep feeding me stew.”
Junie held up her finger as if she wanted to make a point, but then stopped and shrugged. “Welcome back, Petra,” she said.
“I ain’t gone nowhere!” she replied petulantly, pointing with a dripping spoon. Milo spied the drips on the floor and ran for a mop. “It’s you that went away, don’t mean I wasn’t here the whole time!”
Again Junie appeared to try to gather her thoughts, then just waved dismissively. “Whatever. It’s good to see you, Petra. You and Mr. Lightninghouse do a fine job, I’m sure.”
At that moment, the couple at the table in the corner stood and walked toward the door to retrieve their coats from the rack. Petra jumped to her feet in one swift movement, stew slopping over the side of her bowl. “HEY! YOU! CRUMBUM! You ain’t paid for your drinks yet, don’t think I didn’t notice you makin’ a run for it!”
Petra bounded from the cannon, spilling stew on the floor. She reached for Mr. Lightninghouse and made for the strangers. They held up their hands in protest, eyes wide with terror.
“We were just getting–”
“You were just gettin’ outta here is what you’re gettin’! And if you don’t do it right quick you’ll be gettin’ a taste of this here furious bat!”
The newcomers ran to the door and exited quickly, leaving Petra to swing Mr. Lightninghouse over her shoulder and turn back toward the bar, a smug smile on her face. “There! Whattaya think of THAT, Pinhead?”
The Squire didn’t flinch. “They were getting their coats. They would have paid us but now they won’t, and they won’t come back.”
The girl ignored him. Unshaken, she strutted toward the kitchen.
“HEY! YOU! WAITER! There’s stew all over the floor out here! Someone should clean up after these creeps….. hey, you got anymore back there?”