Doc Miggins crossed the tracks near the Hotel Excelsior, into the Gut, on his way to view the body which had recently been fished out of Iron Bay. Miggins liked to see the bodies where they were found, whenever possible.
As he walked down the cobbled street a shabby genteel gentleman on a tall high-wheel boneshaker pennyfarthing bicycle rode quickly past him, rather close. Miggins had always found these machines disturbing, and tried to avoid them. This was the first one he had seen in New Babbage. “Please, after you…” he mumbled, touching the brim of his hat as it drove by, then added when the driver had passed: “…you near-sighted son of a bitch.”
The bicycle rode down near the obelisk, turned left, and disappeared.
Walking and horses just were not good enough for some people.
Miggins thought he heard some squeaking behind him, and -startled- turned to see what it was. Ever since he had seen that rat the size of an English Bulldog in the neighbourhood, he was very wary of any squeaking. The rodents would no doubt be as frightened of him as he was of them, but truly, their level of fright was of little concern to him. It was his level of fright which worried him. He was no spring chicken anymore. One swift shock and, well…
The street behind him was empty.
Continuing deeper into the Gut, he twice more thought he heard squeaking behind him, only to turn and find nothing of note.
A third squeaking, and he turned quickly and angrily around. The street was mostly empty, only the pennyfarthing rider leaning on a lampposte back near the train tracks. He had clearly rode past the canal, and back around. Probably doing circuits.
Miggins turned, and twitched, something about that sight had poked at his mind. He looked back. This was not the same pennyfarthing or rider. The other rider had been sporting a bowler hat, but this gentleman wore a tall stovepipe.
Why was he just leaning on that post, watching him?
Doc Miggins turned back and began walking toward Iron Bay. The way that man had stared at him was slightly unnerving. Or, perhaps it was just that boneshaker. Unnatural, is what they were. How do they stay upright? Walk, or ride a horse or cart, that’s what Miggins said.
Then, he reached the intersection with the obelisk in the center, and he saw them all. Three or four down the road near the Pit, five or six to his right near the tobacconist shop, some leaning on a wall watching him, some riding around in small circles. All on tall bicycles.
“You oughta be careful, sir.” said someone behind him. Miggins jumped slightly and wheeled around. The man in the tall hat was riding up slowly behind him. “Dangerous neighbourhood like this, dressed as ya are, with that fancy bag, someone might try t’mug ya.” The man smiled as he said it.
“I can take care of myself.” Miggins said.
“Yeah, course he can, Dorchester, give him some credit!” called another of the men on bicycles. General laughter from the others.
“Right, he seems like a sturdy lad. At least around the waist.” More laughter.
The original rider who had cut close to him, in the bowler hat rode closer. “But, what I want to know is… what would you do sir, if someone were to do something like… this?” and took his foot off his peddle and swiftly kicked Miggins in the jaw.
Light swam back in, and he found that he was on his hands and knees on the cobbles, his bag beside him on the ground. The man had kicked him in the face!
Miggins stood back up, a little light headed and shouted out: “Alright, enough of that sort of shit, hear? You’ve had your fun, now make way, I am on city business!”
“Ooooh, hear that lads? He’s on city business.” More laughter. “Look here, govenor, we are also on city business. We like to make certain we approve of who crosses through our territory. And I don’t like the look of your face.”
“It’s his beard…” suggested one of the others, they were all riding around him now, in circles. Like sharks. “I think we oughta cut it off.”
“Naw, it’s not his beard. No need cutting that off. It’s his ears. Cut THEM off.”
Miggins made a break for it, knocking one bicycle over in doing so. He sprinted up the street, meaning to make for the Bucket of Blood. He had no warm feelings for Underby, but in a pinch… they gained on him quickly, however, he was not much used to running anymore, and he was only as far as the alley tunnel beside the Bucket as they grew near.
He cut left and ran down the alley, wheezing. The first rider banged his head on the brick ceiling of the alley and fell off, cursing. The others ducked their heads and followed him in. At the end of the alley he could hear them right behind him, and panicked slightly not knowing whether left was preferrable to right, or vice versa.
He split the difference, and leapt into the canal.
Laughter behind him, and someone called out “Lookit him, I knew he was all wet when we first saw him.” Cat calls and laughter as they rode beside him, treading water toward Iron Bay. The gentleman in the tall hat called out: “Next time ya come to the Gut, make sure ya get the permission of the Pennyfarthing Boys FIRST.”
The gang turned right at the Strife House and rode back into the Gut, still laughing.