The wagonload of New Babbagers continued on their westward journey up the long and winding mountain road; riding from where they had briefly stopped by the sign welcoming visitors to Falun. As they rode along the main thoroughfare, which Petra had informed them was named Torbern Avenue, the tired looking, run down buildings that lined the way seemed to offer nothing but promises of a thriving mining community forever just over the next rise.
Traffic was sparse along Torbern Avenue; they had encountered perhaps a half dozen wagons carting jovial merchants who waved and called out words of welcome as they passed. Malus had been driving the asses at a steady pace when Petra suddenly slapped him on the shoulder.
“Stop here!” the girl hollered excitedly, pointing to a dilapidated roadside food-stop with the peeling signage informing the travellers they were parked before The Snicker Snack Shack. “This place makes the best bandersnatch donairs!” Petra said with a look of such reverence you’d have sworn she was facing some holy icon. “Come on!” she called, suddenly jumping over the side of the wagon.
“Bandersnatch donairs?” Malus watched Petra with interest to see where she was going. “What are those?”
“Those are bloody good eatin’ is what those are,” Petra replied looking back over her shoulder at Malus. “The old lady that owns that food stand been stickin’ spiced bandersnatch on a spit and slicin’ it up right thin to roll up in her fresh baked flatbread with diced onions, tomatoes and her special sickly sweet sauce since back when your granddaddy was still all pimply.”
“Shut up about my granddaddy!” Malus snapped.
“Lighten up pinhead.” said Petra as she ran up to the snack bar. “Oy! Mrs. Vorpal!” She hollered. “I’m plenty hungry and I brought friends.”
“Lawd! Is that Petra Flax I hear out there?” an elderly lady’s raspy voice called from inside the Snicker Snack Shack. A wooden roll-up blind was raised and a thin woman with a weather-worn, apple-doll face who looked to be anywhere from seventy to a hundred and twenty peered out.
An almost overbearing odour of a sweet and spicey grease poured forth, somehow both choking and caressing the senses. “Sweet buggering Builder, I’ll be damned!” the lady cursed. “It is you! Have you no sense child?” the lady lowered her voice as if she might be overhead. “Get in here right now before someone sees ya!”
The Gangplankers exchanged curious glances as a series of latches were released on the inside of the door next to the window. It creaked outward and old Mrs. Vorpal, after a long glance in both directions, quickly waved them all inside.
It was a feeding frenzy of the finest order. Nobody spoke a word. Breaths came in gasps. Lottie watched it all, processing the manic scene with calm regard while maintaining a safe distance from the ravening diners. Her traveling companions, with sleeves rolled up and elbows braced on the table, clutched the pungently aromatic, folded flatbread delicacy known as the bandersnatch donair.
“Lottie, its a crying shame you can’t experience this the way I do.” said Emerson. “It’s indescribable…. Junie, isn’t there a word for something you can’t describe with words?” Emerson turned to Junie.
“It’s in-effing- something.” Junie shrugged her shoulders and continued eating.
Lottie cocked her head to the side. “I am equipped to process tastes, but your assertion is that it requires biology to be fully appreciated??”
Emerson was about to reply that she had a point when half the bandersnatch meat in his donair fell out the end. But in this mishap he was not alone. Only Petra managed to keep it together. Those donairs were so large and so stuffed full that each one required two hands to hold and still, the contents overflowed and fell everywhere. Once the crew realized there was to be no avoiding a huge sticky mess no one even attempted to maintain any semblance of dignity. Without pause one and all dove forward, exultantly savouring the sweet, salty treat as orange grease and sugary white sauce ran down their chins.
“I can’t stop myself,” gushed Junie between swallows. “What kind of meat is this?”
“Don’t ruin it,” said Malus, who was well into his second donair.
“Sorry, you’re right,” said Junie. “Some mysteries are better left unsolved.” She then fell silent once again, rolling her eyes with delight as she pulled a crispy hunk of meat from the folded flatbread and chewed with audible relish.
“Ma’am,” Emerson addressed their hostess, Mrs. Vorpal, most solemnly. “I will take three dozen of these bandersnatch donairs to go. Have them sent to The Rugbottom Hotel when they are ready.”
“Three dozen!” exclaimed old Mrs. Vorpal. “Why on earth? Thats enough to feed a small army. Besides, Rugbottom’s is just across the road. You can come over whenever you want one fresh. I ain’t ever nowhere else.”
“I wish to buy three dozen right now because I am a man of means and I will exercise a little indulgence on my vacation,” said Emerson clutching a fistful of quatloos. “It is a matter of convenience if you must know. When I awaken in the middle of the night I want to know this tasty delight will be lying by my side.”
“I thought the only tasty delight he wanted lyin’ by his side has red hair.” Petra snickered leaning into Malus. The two of them chuckled, exchanging fist bumps.
“It’s not really the way I pictured it,” said Junie, looking at the hotel’s wooden edifice as she leaned back against the wagon in bloated bliss. They had finished gorging on the donairs about twenty minutes earlier. Emerson had them waiting at the wagon for a moment before going into the hotel while he and Petra attended to something.
“They must define luxurious differently in Falun from the meaning I have on record,” said Lottie.
“Why do you suppose the word ‘pool’ is painted on that water tower?” Junie mused.
Suddenly Malus started to laugh. “What’s with the dress up?” he choked out as Emerson and Petra rejoined everyone on the hotel side of the wagon. They had both changed, Petra was dressed in a light colored safari suit, pith helmet and a thick-rimmed pair of glasses that magnified her eyes to almost clownish proportions. Emerson, was sporting a fake beard and a tartan tam.
“Listen,” Emerson began. “I just want to let everybody know that given the very delicate nature of our business operation here in Falun I have taken the liberty of using an alias when booking us our rooms.” he said as he led them to the lobby doors.
“Well that makes a lot of sense, but the van dyke now, really?” Junie paused, wrinkling her nose as she reexamined Emerson’s hastily worn disguise, “And a black one too! You should at least have gone for the salt and pepper if not the out and out grey to match your hair.”
“My hair is not grey, it’s silver.” Emerson corrected as they passed through the doors and made their way through the reception area.
“Of course it is.” Junie assured him.
“Besides, I like black,” said Emerson stroking it with his fingers. “It makes me feel mephistophelian.”
“Welcome, friends! Welcome!” a booming voice interrupted from behind the reception centre. The voice belonged to a rather corpulent looking man wearing a mauve velvet smoking jacket and vest with a tremendous stovepipe hat to match. The man’s hair looked as though he had hastily donned a well used mop as its frayed ends splayed out from beneath the brim of his hat.
“How wonderful to finally meet the Mornington party of New Babbage!” the man continued his booming welcome. “And you are arriving right on schedule.” The man then turned and it looked to those watching as though he were doing a mimers impersonation of a man going down a set of steps. He then rounded the front desk and they saw that he actually had been going down a set of steps. The man couldn’t have been more than four feet tall, though what he lacked in height he compensated for with girth. “You must be Mr. Mornington,” he enthused as he extended his hand to Emerson. “After all of our correspondence I am so thrilled to finally make your acquaintance. My name is Albert Rugbottom.”
“Please,” Emerson replied with a crooked half smile as he shook the man’s hand. “Call me Victor.”