It had been a few weeks since the Maestro’s run-in with Sir Sir Emerson. Urgent Ministry business had pulled him away from New Babbage, but he was back with some new leads on where the painting might be hidden. He walked into the Gangplank, expecting to find Emerson behind the bar. Instead, he walked into an empty bar. “Hello?” he called out. “Hello, is anyone there?”
Before anyone could answer him, he felt the earth give out from under him. He screamed out of instinct. “Was this an earthquake?” he thought to himself. “Am I going to die?” It soon became apparent that it was not an earthquake. The ground had not given out from under him. Instead, he found himself floating near the ceiling, as if gravity had momentarily ceased functioning.
Suddenly, as quickly as it started, it was over. The Maestro found the ground hurtling towards him as he crashed into a table, shattering it and knocking a large hookah onto the ground. The Maestro picked himself up and brushed the dirt off his jacket. A voice from around the corner called out.
“You all right out there?”
The Maestro walked through the pub to the adjoining bakery and saw Emerson and Junie talking. Behind them, the Maestro could just barely make out a stack of crates.
“That wasn’t cavorite that did that. It was some strange sewage gas that has been afflicting us lately. We don’t have any cavorite here,” explained a nervous looking Emerson.
“Us?” interjected Junie. “Speak for yourself my dear. Ladies aren’t afflicted in such a manner.”
The Maestro looked at the two of them. They clearly hadn’t been affected. “I apologize, but I was busy with the hookah.”
Emerson looked at the man, a glimmer in his eye. “Oh Maestro, you enjoy the hookah?
“You have to be careful with that hookah, it’s a bit tricky,” Junie added, pushing Emerson’s chest playfully.
“I don’t much care for hookahs actually. Especially not when they come two inches from impaling me,” explained the Maestro. “Apparently, the hookah is not the only thing that’s tricky. Gravity seemed to momentarily cease. You have pockets of anti-gravity forming in the pub. I suspect someone…” the Maestro continued, glaring at Emerson, “has been tinkering with cavorite.”
Emerson spent the next few minutes trying to convince the Maestro that they had no cavorite on the premises and that there was nothing illegal in the crates behind him. Clearly there must be gas pockets from the sewers causing the anti-gravity pockets. Possibly some subterranean creature.
The Maestro changed the topic to Emerson’s rocket. He knew that Emerson was lying. He may be a renowned traveler, but when it came to lying, he wasn’t very good at it. He had practically told the Maestro to check over by the crates. He wasn’t listening as Emerson talked about the trip to Mars he “wasn’t” taking. The Maestro filled the gaps in conversation goading Emerson by claiming he knew the someone who worked for the Martian agricultural
department, and that they would be destroying a large percentage of the mushroom surplus.
“Maybe I need to hit up Victor for a loan to get me to Mars…errrr…. Caledon, a bit quicker,” said Emerson. The Maestro’s ears perked up. Emerson continued, “Good thing I have that… uhhh…. You know… thing; the one that Victor might want. You know, the thing that is not a portrait… for insurance.”
The Maestro spoke up. “I know about the portrait. In fact, that is why I am here. My employers have sent me to retrieve it.”
Emerson looked at the Maestro. “There’s a portrait? What portrait? No portraits here.”
The Maestro looked back at Emerson and Junie, who had both gotten very quiet. Suspiciously quiet in fact. “That’s a shame. The Ministry has authorized me to offer a tidy sum to acquire it. I don’t know the significance of it, but it must be important for that kind of offer. Too bad you don’t have any portraits here.”
He turned to leave as he heard Emerson start to ask about what kind of offer. Then Emerson began to claim that the portrait might be hidden in the rocket. The Maestro said he would check it out, knowing full well that that was the last place Emerson would hide it. He was probably planning on knocking him out and sending him to Mars to keep him away from the portrait. If the portrait was to be acquired, it would have to be soon. The Maestro walked down the street to his secret hideout.
Later that night, the Maestro spoke with the Warehouse Operators. They agreed that time was running out on acquiring the portrait. Other individuals were also aware of the portrait’s presence and would be after it as well. It was crucial that the Warehouse acquire it. The Maestro was informed that he must go back tonight and steal it.
The Maestro suited up for the nighttime mission. He replaced his normal military jacket with a dark black jacket, ideal for keeping him hidden in the darkness. He strapped on a Cavorite Oppositional Guard, or C.O.G, to suppress any effects of cavorite left lying about. Once he grabbed his Sonic Screwdriver and smeared his face with some coal dust, he departed.
Despite the late hour, the pub was locked when he arrived. The locked door was no match for his Sonic, and the Maestro quietly made his way in.
He hid behind the bar to make sure the coast was clear, and then made his way next door. The fires in the ovens roared loudly, but there was no sign that anyone was around. The Maestro made his way down the steps near the back of the room to where the stack of crates was piled. Most of the crates seemed to be normal supplies for the Gangplank, but one of the crates emitted a strange glow.
“That’s strange,” whispered the Maestro. He read the label. “NOT CAVORITE” it read. “Typical Lighthouse misdirection,” he laughed. He noticed something else. Behind the crates was a rectangular parcel, draped by a horribly tacky sheet.
He began to lift the sheet away when he heard footsteps coming from above. Not wanting to explain what he was doing sneaking around the Gangplank basement; he ducked behind a curtained alcove.
He listened and thought he heard the voices of Emerson and a few ladies who he could not make out. The Maestro began to worry that he would be trapped here when he noticed a door at the rear of the alcove. He pulled it open with a loud squeal. To his surprise, the commotion up above did not stop; they had not heard it. He jumped down into the sewers that ran below the streets of Clockhaven, pulling the door shut behind him.
As he made his way through the myriad of tunnels, he heard voices in front of him. Surely Emerson had not discovered his incursion and gotten ahead of him. He ducked into a side passage just as two people, a man and an urchin, passed. He did not recognize the child, but the Maestro knew the man to be Petharic, Emerson’s arch nemesis. He did not know what business the man had in the sewers, but he would rather not stick around and find out.
After what seemed like hours, the Maestro realized he was hopelessly lost. Petharic had had the right idea bringing a guide down here. Finally, after going down countless tunnels,
the Maestro saw a beam of light. As he approached, he heard… could that be sea birds? He pulled himself through a narrow hole onto what turned out to be an ice shelf. He looked around and saw himself surrounded by penguins.
He was in the aquarium! He climbed out of the bird enclosure and was glad to be on solid ground again. He would try again to retrieve the portrait, but for now he would have to wait. At least he knew where it was hidden.