Early on any afternoon the Bucket was generally empty, its sort of patron preferred to keep their business to the dark hours of night rather than the revealing light of day. Phaedra crossed the threshold and wrinkled her nose at the scent of cheap cigars and old beer and that odd, lingering odor of unwashed bodies.
Mr. Underby stood behind the bar, a cigar clenched between his teeth, counting out the money, he didn’t even look up, “So, Phaedra, Is the rumor quite true?”
She perched delicately on a stool, “Which rumor is that darling?”
He poured her a drink out of habit, “The urchins say you are asking for a divorce and, further, that you have shacked up with the new town quack.”
She stood and lifted the hem of her skirt, extracting some papers from her garter, “Goodness, they can remember a big word like that?” She sat again, spreading the papers out on the bar, “I haven’t ‘shacked up’ as you say, with anyone dear, I’m still quite content in my little cottage in Clockhaven.”
He looked dubious, “of course…”
She smiled, “And, my taking a lover should come as no shock to you, we’ve always allowed that little weakness in each other, haven’t we? But it is quite true that I’m divorcing you.”
It was his turn to smile a cruel little smile, “Very well, then I shall sue for alimony.”
Phaedra laughed, “I have proof that you were living with another woman when I returned to the city. You truly think you’ll win that case in court?”
Mr. Underby considered the papers, “I don’t need to win in court, If you do not grant me alimony. I’ll have your lover exterminated.”
There was a long silence as Phaedra gazed at him, his own eyes focused on reading the particulars of the divorce papers, “My, your injuries must have been deeper than I thought if you think you’ll harm anything which is mine.”
He didn’t even grace her with a glance, “Rejoice that I have not done so already.”
She snorted indignantly, “You can’t touch us, darling.”
He pounded his fist against the bar and leaned toward her, “Test me, I dare you!” He took a deep breath, “I can and will, I would thrill at the opportunity, believe me. And dizelle agrees.”
Phaedra narrowed her eyes, ‘Dizelle? That rotted corpse? How could she possible agree to anything? She can’t even manage breathing on her own.”
He gave a shrug, “Quid pro quo, my dearest Phaedra.”
She sneered at him, “I’ve hired a servant, has that rumor reached your withered ears yet?”
“Naturally. I saw the grave.” He took the cigar from his mouth, balancing it in an ashtray, “you really don’t want to try my patience, Phaedra. If you think I was stupid enough to teach you everything I know then I suppose I don’t actually know you very well at all.”
She gave an exasperated sigh, “Ahh, I see. You imagine that in your absence, when It was I who trapped you here in the city, mind you, I spent the time Idle and, perhaps, embroidering?”
“It wouldn’t be unlike you,” he drawled, “You’ve always been a rather lazy woman.”
Phaedra snarled at him, he smiled, enjoying the upper hand, “That’s what magic is to you, isn’t it? A shortcut?”
She stood, tugging her glove straight, “So says a simpering fool who still clings to his dead mother’s skull. Do remind me, yoyo, what did she taste like?”
He considered, “People, I think, don’t taste quite like anything else.”
“Did she, I wonder, give you the same look Pip did when he realized what you were about to do? Was it in any way similar to the look in Dizelle’s dull eyes when she realized she was about to die for you?”
He chuckled, “Does this work on other people? It’s rather feeble.”
she relaxed, “Sometimes. Just sign the papers, Yoyo. I’ll see you in hell before you touch the Wickentower fortune.”
“I rather expected better from you, I’m disappointed.” He folded the papers away and tucked them in his pocket.
She put on a sickening smile, “Perhaps I’ve softened.”
He considered her, “We shall see.” He assumed a curiously formal air, “Good day to you Miss and do say hello to Giles for me. Bib and I shall be seeing him very soon indeed.”
She paused and gave him a long look. For a strange moment he thought he almost saw her grow in size, until it seemed her and her shadow filled the whole of the pub behind her, “Do not forget, Yoyo, that I have been closer to a certain Z.Z. than you will ever be. And if you think for a moment I’d hesitate to call him down on you. You’re deadly wrong.”
He swallowed, but refused to lower his gaze before the woman, he assumed his most patronizing tone, “Well done. Now, Get the fuck out of here.”
She held his gaze just a moment too long and then turned away from him, her skirts curling elegantly around her ankles. It was an old trick that had never failed to remind him why he had married her, “See you, lover.”
It was his turn to growl softly, “Maggie says hello, by the way.”
She paused in the doorway and called over her shoulder, “Pip says hello back.”
The sound of his chuckle followed her out into the street. She walked resolutely away from The Gut, not daring to glance toward Dr. Berithos’s practice, for fear the look would be seen.
In her pocket the stone that held Pip buzzed faintly. She had considered trading it to her soon-to-be-former Husband, but now she felt her hand forced.
If he was going to threaten her with his servant, then she’d have no choice but to gain one of her own for protection. She paused at Palisade Station to purchase a pair of tickets on the first train out of the city in the morning.
The time for peaceful resolutions had passed.