Count Bologna sat at the end of the bar in the Bucket of Blood, well after midnight, imbibing his fifth mug of Foggy Dew. He had been surprised to learn a few weeks earlier that the murky liquid was the only beverage offered at the dank saloon, but had since developed quite a taste for it, despite the sinister rumors which surrounded it on the streets.
“Miss Deuce.” he called out to the large bartender, over the loud din of the saloon.
“No. No “miss”. Just Deuce.” she growled, pulling an empty mug from Rufus the drunk’s dirty fingertips, his head on the bartop. “I never miss nothin.” She turned to the large man in a striped sweater loitering at the other end of the bar. “Hunk,” she said. “Go through Rufus’s pockets. If he’s skint, toss him out on his goddam ear.” She turned back to the Count. “Now, whaddya want?”
Count Bologna twirled his mustache. “I was curious as to whether you were aware of the reputation your Foggy Dew has on the streets?”
“And what reputation might that be?” she asked, watching the large man rifling through the drunk’s pockets. He produced a few marks and Deuce nodded, then looked back to Bologna.
“It is said by some that the drink is nothing more than common oil of turpentine.” he said to her.
“Oil of turpentine, is it?”
“Indeed. Used to strip paint.”
“I know what oil of turpentine is, Lunchmeat.” she said with a sneer.
“I’m told men are dragged from this bar nightly, suffering from acute delirium tremens.”
“Who tells ya that, now?” she asked.
“I’ve heard also that this drink drives men mad, and occasionally even kills.”
“That may be. That just may be. So. Tell me. Are you brave enough to down another?” she smiled at the Count, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.
The Count rummaged into his pockets, searching for any stray marks. Or perhaps even a quatloo or two. He came up empty. With a bashful grin he looked up at Deuce. “I appear to have run slightly dry. How is my credit here? Did I mention I’m old friends with Underby?”
“Hunk.” She said to the large man standing nearby, who swiftly grabbed Bologna by the shoulders and lifted him from his stool.
“I say!” he called out, kicking into empty air. “Unhand me!”
“Oh he will.” Deuce laughed. “Just be glad the canal is frozen over… so long Lunchmeat.”
The huge man carried the Count to the front door, walked him up the iron stairs, then launched him into a snowbank on the other side of the street.
Count Bologna sat up, recovering his helmet. “Second time I lost you in snow this week, old friend.” he said, dumping the snow out and replacing it on top of his head. He stood up, shakily, then began to weave down the alley between the Free Press and the Bones Butcher Shop, using the walls as support.
As he entered the courtyard behind the Free Press, he staggered slightly and stopped to regain his balance. He belched, then chuckled to himself. “Better take a small rest before you wander into the Canals, Bologna old man.” he nodded. “Capitol idea.” He responded to himself, then staggered slowly to the staircase behind the Free Press, and took a seat on one of the rickety stairs.
“Well, so what? What do I want with some old mechanical head?” came a girl’s voice floating up toward Bologna. “I don’t have the junk yard no more.”
Bologna looked around, but could see nobody. Seemingly, he was alone except for the shouting and singing still audible from the Bucket next door. “Hello?” he asked the frigid night air.
“It’s not simply a mechanical head, though.” came a monotone boy’s voice. Bologna looked around. The Free Press behind him appeared dark and empty.
“But it is mechanical.” that girl’s voice again.
Bologna turned and noticed light pouring from a crack between the stairs. He crouched down and peered into the crack: under the stairs sat a pale boy and a dark haired girl. For a moment he thought it was his little friend Trish, but then remembered her accent was different.
“Yes.” said the pale boy. “It is. But it’s also more. If you had it, you could be rich.”
“Oh, helLO.” Bologna whispered to himself.
“Rich?” the girl asked. “Why? It’s worth dough?”
“It’s called a brazen head. It’s magical.”
“So, it’s worth dough because it’s magic?”
“Possibly. But the magical property it has is the ability to accurately answer questions.”
The girl’s eyebrows wrinkled up. “Why would I care about a head that can answer questions?”
“Gambling?” asked Bologna and the girl at the same moment.
The pale boy nodded. “Of course. You ask the brazen head about each horse in a race, and it tells you which will win. You’d be rich in no time.”
“Sweet merciful Builder.” Bologna said. “But where is it?”
The girl wondered the same thing. “Ok, so where is this thing then?”
“He keeps it in his office.”
She looked to the brick wall beside herself. “In there?”
“No.” said the pale boy. “In his office in City Hall.”
Bologna’s eyes widened. “Underby!” he hissed. The pale boy looked up.
“Did you hear that?” he asked.
Bologna grimaced, freezing in place.
“Hear what?” the girl asked, following the boy’s gaze upward.
“Shh.” he said, then moved toward the door beside himself.
Bologna darted for the canal.