“Dammit!” Emerson cursed. “We are supposed to meet Rugbottom and Pennybags in twenty minutes. Where the Hell are Malus and Lottie?” He looked at his pocket watch yet again as he paced about the room in nervous agitation. Yet despite all the stress he found himself surprisingly comfortable in the full dress kilt cut from the McAndrews tartan.
“Might I suggest a shot of Chivas to calm the nerves?” suggested Vernal Vorpal, who without warning picked up a bottle from the table beside him and tossed it across the room.
“Woah there, Padre!” Emerson shouted. “This could have smashed on the floor. Word of warning: I’m rarely paying enough attention to catch anything thrown unexpectedly.” Despite his protest Emerson popped the cork and took a healthy swig straight from the bottle. He then looked about, considering everyone in turn.
On the bed sat Junie, adorned in the provocative, if not outright risque, style of the femme fatale, Miss Manuka Honey.
With Junie on the bed were Daisy O’Reetus and Maude Ibbs, both dressed as city maintenance workers. All three women were smoking Fells-grown cigars, the pungent smoke choking the air with a dense purple haze.
Leaning against a wall next to the liquor table, Father Vernal Vorpal swirled his red wine inside a silver goblet. To his left stood Petra Flax, Cleetus O’Reatus, and Walden the bellhop, all three disguised as nuns. That was all of them; Malus and Lottie had still not returned.
“Em,” Junie said quietly. “It’s Martin and Lottie.” She paused as if this statement were enough – but then added: “We can’t leave them behind in Falun.”
He looked at her a moment, her beautiful features framed in a swirl of of smoky violet. He seemed at a loss as to how to proceed.
“We’ll have to start without them,” said Emerson, “hopefully they’ll get back before we have to make any tough decisions. But until they do it’s time for a little improvisation.” He looked about the room. “Petra, you might want to lose the beard, at least until after you sneak into the church.”
“Can’t, Sir Sir,” Petra replied smartly. “After Snottsinham ripped off the last one I put this one on proper.” She nodded. “With superglue. It ain’t going nowhere.”
“Facial hirsutism is not uncommon amongst Falunian women,” Father Vorpal reassured. “It shouldn’t raise any eyebrows.”
Emerson nodded. He was so lost in concentration he hadn’t even been aware of the fact that he was fiddling with his sporran.
“Hey,” called Maude Ibbs from the bed trying to get Emerson’s attention. “Watch yer fidgeting. That be a delicate piece of equipment yer handling and there ain’t no replacements.”
“Yes, of course,” said Emerson, letting the sporran go. “I guess I’m just trying to release a little nervous tension.”
“I have an idea to help ease that nervous tension,” said Junie.
“You do?” replied Emerson with a hopeful tone.
“Yes. We should review the plan one more time.” Junie suggested. “Just so we’re sure about what to do. That should alleviate the nerves”
“Good idea,” said Emerson. He went to the fireplace and retrieved a piece of charcoal; he then went to the wall and drew a box with an arrow pointing to it. “The operation will begin here, in Falun’s Church of the Builder.” Emerson drew the symbol of a hammer above the box then labeled it. He next drew a tunnel beginning from beneath the box that extended from the church and carried on to the left.
“The catacombs of the church are extensive, stretching for several blocks below street level. It is a fortunate coincidence the church’s catacombs happen to be one street level above the mines’ main transfer station.” Emerson glanced at Father Vorpal. “And we have an in with the church.”
Emerson sketched in the transfer station just under the end of the catacombs. “This is where trains are filled with whatever ore has been mined this week. Nine times out of ten the train is loaded with coal but there are currently two trains in the station;” Emerson paused. “One indeed is a coal train but the other is loaded with gold ore. The coal train is scheduled to leave at two this afternoon,“ Emerson looked at his watch again, “roughly three hours from now.”
Emerson then drew a picture of what looked like a lumpy cupcake with scary eyes. “Petra and Cleetus are going to wheel that crate containing the worm – “
“That ain’t no worm, you fool!” called out Maude Ibbs. “Everyone knows worms don’t tunnel through rock.”
“Right,” said Emerson, “the rock-slug thing in the crate – “
“It be a Falunian mountain horta, if ya wants ta git yer taxonomy right,” announced an indignant Maude Ibbs.
“Right,” said Emerson again. “Why don’t you explain how this part of the plan works?”
“The Falunian mountain horta be a small critter relative to other horta species.” Maude spoke with the authority of an expert. “It also be a bit lazy. This old girl won’t go nowhere ‘til she knows where it is she’s ta go to. The only way to do that is to signal her with a thumper. Once ye do that she’ll tunnel right fer it even through solid rock.”
“We will be able to get inside the main transfer station,” said Junie, who smiled as Emerson continued to draw his diagram by adding a little train inside a locked chamber. “Pennybags will be showing us this station personally as part of the tour. I just have to find some way to distract everybody while you set the thumper that’s been disguised as a sporran.”
“Thank you, Miss Ginsburg.” Once again, as if unconsciously, Emerson began to handle his sporran. “When we leave the transfer station it will then be locked. The horta will continue to tunnel until it reaches the thumper. Petra, Cleetus and Walden will use the horta tunnel to gain access to the transfer station.
“When we’re in there,” said Petra, taking up the narrative, “we cover the gold ore in the open topped train cars with the black funeral sheets Walden got us from The Rugbottom Home for the Recently Deceased.”
“Exactly,” Emerson felt as though this might work. “Meanwhile, Daisy and Maude Ibbs break into the Falun Civil Works Maintenance Centre and replace the liquid nutrient in the lamps steam reserve with the white cane we got from Cleetus’s still. That stuff ought to put those little glowworms to sleep for a couple of hours. It will be so dark in here everybody will be on edge.
“The coal train is scheduled to depart at two. Daisy and Maude will take care of the locomotive engineers while Petra and Cleetus drive the gold train out of the transfer station. They will be in disguise, so no one will notice they are not the regular engineers – especially with it being so dark.
“On the way out we blow up the tunnel leading back to the church as a diversion, pick everyone up and off we go, into an early retirement.” Emerson smiled. “What could possibly go wrong?”
“Miss Hacker,” Milburn Pennybags waved away cigarette smoke as he leaned in close to his longtime secretary. “Anything I should know about Mr. Mornington?”
“Try not to stare at his legs,” Selma Hacker said in her well-seasoned voice as the Mornington party was being shown into the building. “Apparently he has goat legs.”
“Interesting,” replied Pennybags, “that would be hard to miss.”