“The back room is full now, boss.” Bib said as Underby entered the Bucket of Blood. “Can’t fit another lump of coal.” The large man’s face and arms were darkened by his constant shoveling, attempting to fit as much of the wanted commodity as humanly possible; the return on this haul was bound to be incredible. Falun had already sent official enquiries to New Babbage, concerning the robberies, but Underby had simply sent back stark form responses expressing official condolences in these tight and troubled times. Writing up formal kiss-offs was one of the man’s favored pastimes, he was thrilled to be able to use one to cover his own misdeeds.
“Excellent.” he said, as Bucketheed the Fool waddled up and handed him a form to sign. The small madman had taken it upon himself earlier in the week to run contracts for him, apparently all over the city – without complaint; he wished Dorchester was as obsequious a servant. He signed the form without reading it, then turned back to Bib. “Have you been sniffing around for buyers?” he asked.
Bib nodded. “Got a couple tugs on the line. But, uh, Boss…”
Underby did not care for that tone. “What.”
“Been hearing talk that Miss Psaltery is sending for coal by airship…”
“Then we must simply sell ours off first.” he said, as Buckeheed approached with another form. Underby signed it. The small man ran off out of the bar.
Bib nodded, looking over at the wall which slid back to reveal the back room.
Mr Underby was pleased with himself. His new project with the clockwinder was proceeding nicely ever since the Brewery party; business was good at the Bucket since they always had a roaring fire and people were wont to gather, if only for the warmth; the amount of coal the taheen from Ravila was able to gather was double what had been promised; and he suddenly had a servant who didn’t offer sass back when spoken to. Life was good.
Soon after, Bib left to set up some coal deals, just as Bucketheed returned. The new, and necessary, motley coat Medusa had sewn for the lad was both resplendent and grotesque – it was, however, unfortunate she had used a good portion of his own wardrobe to create the piece, without asking. Ravilans.
“You look rather smart in your new clothing, Bucketheed.” Underby said, as he walked into the bar, looking unduly pleased with himself.
“I feel smart, Mr Underby.” said the small man, in his patchwork coat and bucket helmet. “Now kindly vacate the premises, I feel the need for solitude.”
Underby blinked. “Sorry, what?”
Bucketheed put his hands on his hips, defiant. “I said, vacate the premises.”
“I heard what you said, but are you ma-” he slapped his forehead, had he been truly about to ask that? “What are you going on about, Bucketheed? This establishment belongs to me.”
“Not anymore.” the small man said, and produced a rolled up sheet from the sleeve of his coat. He presented it, rather regally, to Underby, who snatched it up and unrolled. It was an ownership contract. For the Bucket of Blood. Signed to Bucketheed, FROM HIMSELF. He stared at his own signature. His mouth was dry.
“But, I never…” he started, then seeing how it had happened.
“Oh but you DID!” the small man said, rocking playfully back and forth on the balls of his bare feet.
Underby tore the sheet down the centre, and tossed the pieces into the fire. “Easily fixed, you tiny fool.”
“Tut tut. Not so easily fixed, that was a copy. The original is with the clock winder at City Hall at this very moment.”
Underby’s eyes suddenly felt like hard boiled eggs. And the room was dark. Had all sound in the city suddenly ceased? Why was he suddenly sitting? What day was it?
“Now,” said Bucketheed again, to Medusa Jones as she entered the bar from upstairs. “Kindly see this man out.”
Underby turned to Medusa, who was laughing. “Can that laughter woman, and toss this little fool out into the snowbanks.”
The woman’s one eye widened in surprise. “But, Ozzie, what about the bad luck? You said-”
“FORGET WHAT I SAID, I CANNOT BE TRUSTED!” he said, jumping to his feet. “Ignore everything this little monster says and toss him out on his ear, I will suffer the bad luck with relish.”
She still hesitated, but something in Underby’s look must have stirred her to action, as she picked up Bucketheed by his motley coat and ran with him to the door. He could hear her climbing the stairs and grunting with the effort of tossing him.
Her return to the bar was accompanied by a loud pealing of bells outside. Medusa looked around the room, seemingly wondering if the noise was emanating from some hidden corner. “What was that all about?” she asked, Underby opened his mouth to respond when the bar door was flung open again. He thought it must be the fool returning, but was surprised to see Bib, face white as a ghost.
“Boss… boss…” was all he could stutter.
Underby rubbed a hand across his forehead. “Ignore what the little fool said, I still very much own-”
“Boss!” Bib interrupted. “The coal… the COAL.” His mouth snapped open and closed.
“Yes. The coal, what is it?”
Bib simply grabbed him by the arm, pulling him to the front door. The bells were much louder here, almost as if they were ringing right above the bar.
And then he saw it. A gigantic black pile of coal sitting in the road. Another across the street at the Sonnerstein house. Turning, he saw another gigantic pile at the butcher shop, and another farther down by the Parx house. The world swam before his eyes. Coal. Coal. Coal.
Underby sat down in a snow bank, and still the bells rang.