The inside of Mr. Underby’s office, at first glance, may have appeared cluttered—but that would have been a superficial analysis. The care with which the items were placed bespoke of impeccable order. In addition to the files and plans one would expect to find inside a city official’s office, the large corner room was filled with curios from around the world; it was a veritable museum of the bizarre.
The Count paused by a dressmaker’s dummy adorned with a peach-coloured ball gown; on the floor beside it was a rider’s crop and a jug of molasses. He looked over at Emerson with a smirk then carried on.
“Look, Underby left a candle burning inside that skull,” Emerson said, pointing toward the desk, indicating a skull that had clearly been employed as a candle holder for quite some time. “Do you think that means he intends to come back before daybreak?”
“Who knows,” the Count shrugged. He opened one of the corner windows and looked up. “Miss Faulkner should be overhead in a few minutes. We must find the Brazen Head at once,”
“Right,” Emerson snapped. “You case that side of the room, I’ll case this one.” As Emerson crossed the office, he noticed at once the three small boxes stamped with the royal insignia of the Archipelago of Quixano. “Don’t tell me.” He stopped before the boxes and knelt. “This is too good to be true…” Emerson fumbled with one of the boxes until he found the catch. “Sagrada Lucias! These babies are like three and a half thousand quats—a piece.” He quickly removed two of the overpriced cigars from their protective wrapping, put one in his mouth and casually tossed the other to Count Bologna before depositing all three boxes into his shoulder bag.
“Perhaps we should save the celebratory smoke until after we have found the Brazen Head.”
“I’ve never been very good at delayed gratification,” said Emerson, biting the end off his cigar. “Got a light? Oh wait, never mind,” he suddenly recalled the skull with the candle sitting on the corner of Mr. Underby’s desk. “This is perfect,” he said, after crossing the room and sticking the cigar through the empty eye socket. “The skull protects the flame from drafts and heats the foot so evenly.” He removed the cigar with a satisfied smile and began puffing. It was in exhaling his first satisfied plume of purple smoke that his eyes came to rest upon a small collection of files neatly piled upon the desktop.
“Oh hello,” said Emerson, eyes wide beneath his mask as he reached for the file on top; he then quickly took the next and the next… “These are gold! Underby’s personal files on Victor, Edward, Moonwall… there must be dossiers on a dozen citizens at least.” He quickly shoved the files into his bag. “Any luck on the Head?”
“I believe so,” said Count Bologna, standing before a large covered bird cage. With a wink and a flourish, Count Bologna whipped the covering from the cage. Emerson threw up his hands and turned his head, in disgust. “That’s so foul.”
The Count looked, his smile evaporating at once. Inside the cage was a large, stuffed raven. “How dreary,” the Count wrinkled his nose. “the raven is gagged and has a broken neck.”
“Cover it up again,” said Emerson. It was when he was turning away from the grotesque caged raven that he noticed a wall cabinet,almost hidden as it was situated between two bookcases. “well, well, well,” said Emerson, his Sagrada Lucia securely clenched between his teeth. He reached over and opened the cabinet. After taking a second to process the bonanza before him, Emerson let out a whoop of triumph. “Check out Underby’s stash of herbal remedies!” With all the excitement of a child on Christmas morning, Emerson started shaking jars filled with dried mushrooms, poking bags of curious white powders, sniffing a multitude of unidentifiable tinctures and ointments. Upon discovering a particularly curious looking vial, he pulled the cork and gave the contents a sniff.
“SWEET BUILDER, LEVEL BE THY PLANE!” Emerson nearly fell over. “Here!” He tossed Count Bologna the vial. “You have to try this.”
The Count, perhaps bored with his whiskey, gave the contents of the vial a sniff then grinned like the Chesire cat. “Oh yes, that is delightful.”
A muffled thump from behind a door across the room had them both turn at once.
“Do you hear what I hear?” Emerson sang out. He wasn’t sure if the thump had been real or merely an effect of the vial’s contents on his senses.
“How can I know? What is it you hear?” the Count replied rather guardedly.
“Why are you asking so many questions?”
“I am trying to ascertain the specifics on what it was you heard.”
Emerson started to laugh one of those laughs that won’t stop. He pointed at the Count. “I think you sniffed too much of whatever Underby had in that vial.”
A shadow passed from outside. Emerson glanced over toward the window. “That must be Kaylee overhead.”
“Hurry, we must find the Head” replied Count Bologna, opening the window. “I need a light to signal Miss Faulkner.” He looked about the office, his eyes coming to rest on the candle and skull. “Ah!” he ran over to the skull and picked it up. “DAMMIT!” The Count dropped the skull with a scream and a curse. “THAT’S HOT!” The skull, now fallen to the floor, had tipped on its side, melted wax flowing from the eye-socket.
Emerson laughed even harder. “Swift move.” He tossed over another of Mr. Underby’s vials. “Here, this will make you feel better about being a klutz.” Unfortunately Emerson’s aim was short. The bottle smashed squarely upon the now broken, but still burning skull. In a flash an intense blue flame spread in all directions, igniting a large—and growing—patch of hardwood floor.