continued from http://cityofnewbabbage.online/reader/node/6081
“Plague!” screamed the barmaid, backing away from the spilled milk.
“Glamor,” mouthed Underby, waving his fingers towards his own face.
“Get rid of her!” hissed Tenk, as he turned his back to the barmaid.
Underby made soothing noises at his bargirl, urging her to stay in her room and talk to no one until the outbreak was over, then sent her up the stairs with a firm pat on her ample rump. Mr. Tenk retreated to the far corner of the barroom and looked for all the world as if he was trying to stuff his excess beard back into his face. A few oddly angled twists of the arms and voiceless curses later, he turned his attention back to Mr. Underby.
“Go to my forge,” Tenk ordered curtly. “There’s a hidden shelf up on the left wall as you face the hearth. Take down the bundle that looks like an old winter coat and bring it to me!”
Before either could commit to an action, they heard the front door open, followed by the tripping clack of women’s shoes on old wood floorboard.
Tenk backed against the wall, locking eyes with Underby. “They can’t see me like this,” he whispered. Underby looked on as impassively as a scientist, but secretly enjoying seeing Tenk, for once, not in control of the situation. Tenk tried the hidden door behind the bookcase, but Underby shook his head slightly. It was locked from the other side. Underby looked to the hearth, but Tenk hesitated, Tenk seemed to have a taboo regarding that particular hearth since the man in the red room was evicted.
“Oh Mister Underby!” A woman sang out in trills of schooled eloqution.
The women were just about to turn corner into the barroom proper, when Tenk darted across the floor and dove behind the bar, with all the speed of a cat escaping a bathtub. It was all Mr. Underby could do not to laugh aloud. Of course! he thought to himself. How it all comes together now! Only now did the full extent of the charade Tenk played dawn on Mr. Underby’s understanding. That slow deliberate way he walked. He never moved fast at all, never once did a motion or gesture that would betray his true nature. In fact, his entire manner was a study of those he was attempting to hide from. It would have taken Underby years longer to catch onto Tenk’s game if one of his own had not informed on him.
And so it was with a genuinely pleasant smile that Mr. Underby greeted the delegation of women of the self appointed neighborhood beautification and improvement committee that morning, and his smile grew even broader as he put his knee into Mr. Tenk’s back while leaning over his bar to fill extra teacups for the women who were now seated expectantly upon the red velvet couch.