Underby finished the last of the paperwork, dabbed the went ink with a blotter, grabbed his coat and hat and exited the office. Murg stood outside the door, bulging watery eyes quivering as if on the verge of tears… as always.
“You called Mr Underby?” he asked.
Underby continued to walk, and Murg trotted beside him. “Wexhome, do you know him?”
“Mmm…” Murg mused aloud.
“Fancies himself a swashbuckler. He’s been sending me ridiculous amounts of paperwork to read through, sort, and sign. Well, have the clockwinder sign. Anyway. It’s become increasingly idiotic. He is obviously up to something… attempting to bog me down with red tape. He can’t play the filibuster card with me forever and think I won’t notice.”
“Of course not sir.”
Underby stopped. Murg stopped as well. “Find out what people think of him.”
“Nothing obvious. Try not to bring him up yourself, if possible. Steer conversation the way I showed you.”
Underby looked at the small man. “It is completely impossible to tell if you are comprehending a word I say sometimes.”
“Find out what people think of Wexhome without bringing him up.”
Underby nodded, still sizing Murg up. “Alright, piss off, you. I have other matters to attend to.”
Murg shuffled off, mumbling under his breath once he had stepped ten feet away. Underby watched him leave, deciding to have someone follow Murg himself around to see what he did with his time. Should have done that from the start, Underby thought as he felt a tug on his coat.
A small round urchin was pulling on his coat. “Missa Undap-uh-bee… I hearded that you was gettin married!”
Underby looked down on the revolting child. “Rather rotund for an urchin, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Rotund?” the child repeated, puzzled.
The child looked surprised and hurt.
“I’m a… it’s a… the Church… giveses out free food, sir, I can’t help it.”
“Ah yes, the Church… but tell me boy, have you ever stopped to wonder what it is they serve to the poor?” Underby asked with a malicious smile, some voice in the back of his mind telling him to stop, he needed these kids. It was too amusing to see the child’s face work while he struggled to think, though.
“I… I… well… what would they serve?”
Underby shrugged, with a small smile. “Now… what was the news you had to tell me?”
“That you was getting married.”
Underby sighed softly. “Yes. I am. What else did you have to tell me?”
The urchin shuffled his feet. “That was it, sir, I hearded that and came to tell you right away. Like you said to.”
Underby looked at the boy. “You heard I was getting married…”
“And, so you rushed right over here to tell me that I was getting married.”
“Despite the quite obvious fact that I am the one getting married, and therefor would already be well aware of this alleged news.”
“Do I have that right?”
“Yes sir, for the seven dollars.”
“Yes sir. Two ifs it was a rumor, and five extra ifs its true. It is true, ain’t it Missa Under…bee?”
Underby scowled. The little bastard. The insidious little bastard. He fished into his pocket and dropped some coins on the cobbles. “Here. And don’t spend it on any goddam food, boy, one more chocolate bickie for you and you shall be the newest amuse-bouche on the menus of Bump.” he stalked off, angrily.
After a few steps he jerked to a halt. Underby turned back to the urchin.
The urchin looked up from collecting the coins on the ground.
“Do you know who Byron Wexhome is?”
The urchin beamed. “Course I do, sir!”
Underby made an effort to control his face. “Excellent. Here’s a chance for a lazy boy to make even more of my hard-earned money… poke around and find out what people think of him… how well he is liked, whether he has any skeletons in his closet… got that?”
The boy nodded, a little uncertainly.
Heh heh heh. Rotund.
dang! he beat me to it!
Sky wrapped some tape tightly around her knuckles and then flexed her hand a few times as she pondered the question of the urchin behind her. Turning around casually, her hand naturally fell to rest on the hilt of her sword a moment before clasping both of her hands behind her back.
“Well, I know he’s a nice fella. Perhaps a bit…distant at times, but you can trust he’s a good sort,” Sky gave a decisive nod as she looked down at the small kid.
Both Scottie and Sky watched as the urchin waddled off quickly, then exchanged glances between each other.
From his perch atop the fireplace Scottie chuckled, “Is that what you tell everyone when they ask about him?”
“Something like that, yes,” Sky responded, cracking a grin. Her expression quickly fell as she lowered her voice, “But, no one has asked in quite some time…”
Lia sat at the kitchen table, idly parsing through the pages of A Journey to the Center of the Earth as Juan furiously pounded dough on the table. She pondered the question once more.
“By– umm Mr Wexhome, er, yes,” she gulped, fading into a haze as she heard an odd ticking keeping pace in her head, smiling in an odd melancholy way. After a moment, she shut her book, blinked her eyes a few times and looked at the urchin. “I wouldn’t call him pleasant but there is something alluring about him, is there not?”
She squinted her eyes, noticing the bulges in the urchins cheeks and the crumbs sprinkled around his mouth. Looking from the pie dish down on the table and back up towards the urchin, Lia’s mouth morphed into a frown. “I’ll consider that your meager payment, boy. Now out of my sight before I send Juan after you.”
” I think I came across him in the lab, nice enough person, died in Armada, the weather didn’t agree with him, bit of a putrecence problem *listens to a pengi wark* “sorry, that was Homewex, you wanted to know about Wexhome? well he is certiantly not a zombie.”
Mr. Underby’s getting married?
“Let me understand you correctly.” Byron closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. At this rate, soon he’d have no bridge there at all. “You want to know if I know anything about ‘Byron Wexhome’?”
The corpulent little urchin smiled awkwardly and returned his attention to the sweet-cakes set next to Byron’s tea. His piggy eyes lingered there.
“Have one, why don’t you?” Byron feigned a smile and waited for the chubby-bugger to answer his question. That took some time, as the urchin rounded out the sweet-cakes with the remainder of Byron’s tea, and topped that with two more requests for something to tie off his “empty tum”.
Smearing the remains of the banquet across his face and sleeve, the urchin gave Byron a rather confounded look. “Ain’t ya suppose’ ta tell meh summin’, missa?”
Byron narrowed his eyes; he flashed a glance to the window and silently wagered a guess on what price the child would fetch in Bump. No, that wouldn’t do…you’re the good-guy, remember? His solitary slate orb, accompanied by its brass companion, moved back to the boy’s face.
“Never met the man, but I understand he is quite the bureaucr..,” two round cheeks scrunched up, “…eh…he’s fond of paperwork.” Somewhere a dim flame of understanding flickered in the young face; Byron pondered the child’s ability to have survived so long and with so much success. “Yes…he loves his paperwork very much, almost as much as he loves having company. Do you think Mr. Underby should like to pay Mr. Wexhome a visit?”
“Mmm…but eh don’t tink Missa Wex’ome should like it much.” The boy gave a look as if he’d eaten something that didn’t agree. Byron wondered what the odds were that he’d ever made THAT face before. “ ‘ave ya anymore sweet-cakes, missa?”
It was like watching a great, fat candle melt before his eyes.
“Do invite Mr. Underby to call on Mr. Wexhome, so he might make his inquiries in person. Alright?” The boy gave a sullen nod and dragged himself toward the door. A small grin cut the corner of Byron’s cruel lips.
“Chins up, Lad…there will be more sweets after you’ve delivered this message.”
As she sat reading in the park, Junie could hear shuffling footsteps approaching from behind. Turning slightly to see who was coming near, she took in a sharp breath at the sorry sight before her.
A fattish lad, filthy to begin with by the looks of it, face covered with crumbs and sticky sugar, eyes glazed and laboring to breathe.
“Boy!” she cried as she leapt up and hurried toward him. “Are you quite alright? You look dreadful!”
She wondered if there was some sort of charity that could care for sick urchins, and she remembered hearing about a hospital.
“Did you hear me?” she asked. “What’s the matter? What do you need?”
The boy didn’t answer. He simply looked up at her with a pained, pitiful expression on his face. As she watched, his skin took on a deathly pallor, before turning slightly green, and then…
It was too late.
Whatever the lad had been eating was now set to return to the earth, after first falling in a heap upon her shoes.
The boy’s face regained a ruddy color. His eyes focused as he looked up at her and smiled, and then ran away.
Bianca sat there and blinked wide eyed at the child, her delicate palm over her nose as she tried to fight back the stench of vomit with a wave.
“You want to know about who?” she asked solomnly, sitting up a bit more as she looked the arena over, her nerves causing her to begin rocking slightly. Her mind elsewhere returned as the child blurted out the name again this time causing her to sigh.
“You have better luck asking me what’s inside Pandora’s box my little friend. I know little of Wexhome and what little I do–” she stopped herself, something lacing her words as she took time to say them clearly. “I’ll forget soon enough…As should you, and whoever sent you. Leave ‘Wexi’ to tend to his own devices and…demons. It is for your best.”
The boy nodded as if he understood, finger second knuckle up his nose as he asked her another question,”Missus…what’s wrong with your voice?”
“You sound funny… didya get somtin’ cot in your throat?”
Bianca clinched her fist, and did her best to rememebr that this little potbelly of a child was just that…a child, and one she actually gave a prayer for wasn’t caught in any dangerous games. She smile far too sweetly, leaning down almost level with his gaze, heaving slightly at the stench, but bodly redirecting the question;
“Perhaps…now how about a bath my friend? You seem to be of need of one!”
The child stared up at her as if she just said she was going to eat him. He took a step back, her a small step forward and the words that came next from her mouth sent the poor kid over the edge…
“With. Soap. And. Water…”
That was it. That was the threat of all threats!
As quickly as he appeared, he disappeared screaming bloody murder at the top of his lungs out of the warehouse.
Bianca chuckled and turned to look the arena over once more, her lips curled into a scowl as she kicked a bucket hard, watching it slam into the wall with the might of her anger.
“Wexhome…az sad taa ‘aqrab-o maar badtare…fil.” she cursed.
Ceejay slipped into town on the last train of the night and hopped lightly onto a local trolley, patting the metal sides of the transport with a wry smile. “Hello old nemesis. Off to the CocoaJava, then, there’s a good beastie.” Well past the social hour, she nonetheless found the coffee pot and sank into a couch to savor the brew.
She didn’t expect the ‘rotund’ child who was suddenly looking at her inquiringly. His question was even more surprising, and truth be told, wrenched at her gut more than she wished it would.
“Yes, I knew Byron. It was a long time ago, and I’m sure my memories are not of the least importance to you, young lad. Now shoo. Yes SHOO.”
He ran off into the shadows. Ceejay sighed and turned the coffee cup around and around on its saucer, sighing…. then realizing she was making porcelean-scraping noises and dramatic breathing sounds in order to fill the empty air. “Right, then, on the count of three, we listen.” One… Two… Three. She set the saucer and cup down, and held her breath. The air was still, save for distant factories keeping late night shifts.
It was then that she heard it. The sound of absolute silence in the CocoaJava.
She nodded grimly, a well-bent page in the book of her life finally turning, then stood, left a few coins for the new owner, and trodded off in the night air towards Palisade.
Tepic began to hear rumours of direct questions being asked, and large quantities of cakes being consumed, with no thought about the market forces involved….. information was like voles, you catch and use the big healthy males, and let the little uns and mums go, so there would always be voles for tomorrow…. well, when he caught up with this daft interloper, there would be a reckoning – including a strict programme of exercise, after all, a fat urchin would get them all a bad name!
Christine paused in the arranging of new goods on the shelves of the grocers to think of who this “Missa Wexhome” was that the portly child was asking her about. She watched his gaze wander over to the jams, jellies and boxes of biscuits but she pretended not to notice. “Ah yes, I believe I have met the man, just once in City Hall. Seemed to be alright, if a tad dishevelled in his attire. Beyond that, I really cannot speculate on either his personal habits or his reputation.” After handing the child a carrot she shoo’ed him out the door and went back to her work.
“Mr. Wexhome?” Bookworm Hienrichs looked at the corpulant urchin with surprise. “No, I’m afraid I don’t know much about him, really. Mr. and Mrs. Somerset could have told you more, were they still here in New Babbage.” Her gaze drifted above the boy’s head, and she sighed, missing her friends.
A sound from the boy brought her gaze back to him. He was looking at her, with trusting hope shining in his eyes. Not hard to guess what he was wanting, but the Militia headquarters were decidedly lacking in sweets. Finally, Bookworm rummaged in her bag, and brought out a paper-wrapped, wafer-thin candy.
((Late to the party, I know, but when this popped into my head, I couldn’t resist. *grin*))
((better get a bucket.))
Underby sat at the end of the bar, in front of the glass-covered skull. He drank from a glass a dark liquid and smoked a cigar. They bar was mostly quiet, save the singers in the corner, back onto “Sam Hall”, and Rufus the drunk barely holding onto the last shreds of his consciousness.
Maggie walked lightly down the steps behind the bar, and nodded at Underby. “Evening Mr U.” she said. “This urchin turn cheek mighta not been the best idea… think yer were right from the start to be booting up their arses.”
Underby grunted. His moneybag agreed with her whole-heartedly.
“I means it. Didjer ask some tub ta ask around about Wexy fer ya?”
Underby spat his cigar behind the bar with a cough.
“Yeh, I thought as much. Yer slippin, Ozzie. That kid’s mouth be bigger’n his tum, sure, an he’s been askin people straight out, and sayin the information is fer you.”
Underby wiped a hand slowly down his face, eyes closed, exhaling loudly through his nostrils. He remained impassive for many moments, then slowly opened his eyes and looked at Maggie.
“Fetch the boy.” he said.
Oh, dear. Poor Tubby’s not long for this world, is he?
Scottie and Sky snapped their attention to the open wall of ‘Cuffs once they heard some commotion heading their direction. Lucky, the one-eyed, three-legged, one-and-a-half-eared dog darted inside with Frankie not far behind. Both were panting.
Hopping from their spots, the Melniks waited somewhat impatiently for Frankie to catch his breath. “What’s the news?” Scottie directed at the young man. Sky listened as she knelt to pet the dog, muttering, “Good boy…”
Hands still on his knees, Frankie sputtered a bit, “Ya know Tubby? The only urchin who waddles?”
Scottie just nodded, waiting.
“Well he was actin’ funny, walkin’ around a lot today so Lucky and I decided to chase after him fer a game,” he slowly straightened, looking at the couple who was now paying him their full attention. “An’ we just saw some short girl take him to the Bucket. That don’t make sense, right? Heh, I’m not even allowed in there yet.”
Shaking his head, Scottie responded, “No, you’re right. That’s definitely something to report.” He glanced at Sky as he thought quickly, Sky offered him a nod. Looking back to Frankie, Scottie said, “How about you go back around that area and keep a lookout for him, hm? Run back here if you hear anything odd.”
“Keep your knife and Lucky with you. Be safe,” Sky instructed as she fished a few coins out of her pocket and put them in Frankie’s hand.
Frankie shoved the money into his pocket and whirled around, bolting out of the door with Lucky quickly limping behind him, “Sure thing!”
((Also, probably my favourite thread in a long, long time.))
((Hee, definitely involved and a fun read!))
I was walking down the street leaving my house to meet with some associates when this fat little boy begins to aproach me in a much too familiar manner. I turned and looked him square in the eyes. He froze, turned and ran the other direction.
I shrugged and continued to my destination.
Tepic slipped in behind the stacked barrels and bent to pet the little dog sitting there…
“Hello Lucky, watcha Frankie, he in there?”
The other boy nodded, still keeping his eyes on the back door, intent on his mission.
“me an some of the others wants a word with him, when he comes out, he’s messing stuff up fer all of us…… i’ll keep an eye out front,” the fox-tailed boys brow darkened slightly before he continued “an if he don’t come out, well, we gotta look after each other, don’t we…”
Frankie glanced at Tepic, nodded again, and returned to his watching. Tepic slid out from behind the barrels, carefully making his way to the front of the building, settling down in a shady corner. He pulled a pair of dice from his pocket, and began to roll them, noting down the results on a ragged tally sheet, a common sight for the people of New Babbage…..
((Lord, I love Babbage. Thank you all for making this place as enjoyable as it is))
((Indeed! This is certainly turning into a grand experience…I’m most thankful to have been invited to be a part of it.))
Maggie brought the boy in, already visibly frightened. Since Underby had seen him last there was a new addition to his filthy ensemble… drying on his front, and become increasingly fragrant.
“Good lord, bring him in the back, this bloody pong will be in the furniture for weeks if he stays out here.” he said, walking to the dartboard and clicking open the wall. Maggie walked the boy to the back room, Bianca trailed in behind.
“This is the boy?” she asked.
Underby stared grimly at the lad as he closed the door behind him. The automatic lock was particularly loud on this side of the wall. “This is the boy indeed.” he said.
Bianca turned to Underby, as if about to say something, but didn’t. She continued to stare coldly at his profile, though he was fully immersed in thoughts of shutting this child up. Permanently.
“Did I so sumfin wrong, Missa Undaby?” the child asked, visibly frightened. “I did whatcha asked me to… asked everybody about that guy Wexhome.” He added in again: “Just, just like ya told me to.”
“What’s your name, lad?” Underby asked, nonchalantly.
“Kids call me Tubby.”
Maggie showed emotion for the first time, smothering a giggle behind her fist.
“Surely that can’t be your birth name. You must have been at least slightly smaller at some point. What did your parents name you?”
The child swallowed. “Muh-Max.”
“Well, Muh-Max, allow me to make a value judgement on your personal character if I might be so bold… you’re not a terrifically intelligent child, are you?”
“Uh…” the child said, thinking.
Underby nodded. “Exactly my point. And the thing is this, Muh-Max… I feel rather sheepish at the moment because it should have been remarkably clear from the first that the only thing small about you was your mental capacity. And yet I asked you to assist me. So you see, the fault is not truly with yourself… the fault is entirely mine.”
The boy was unsure of what exactly was transpiring. He thought it sounded like Underby took the blame for whatever it was he was angry about. “It’s ok Missa Undaby.”
“No… no, I am afraid it is not ok. You see despite the fact that I was so exhausted from the constant paperwork I have been doing that I wasn’t thinking straight when I gave you that job to perform, the simple truth is a mistake was made. A grand mistake was made, but it must be corrected.”
The boy nodded. “I can help ya correct it Missa Undaby.”
Underby smiled a rattlesnake grin. “I know you can, Muh-Max.” He pulled a knife from his boot, and the boy tried to bolt up the ladder, but Maggie’s grip was very firm.
Bianca blinked away the thoughts which had consumed her mind for the last two minutes with the sound of the blade unsheathing. “Osgoode?! What do you think you are doing?”
“Correcting the mistake, of course.”
“Osgoode, you can’t! He’s a child!”
Underby glared at her. The boy had begun to sob, clearing tracks on his flighty round cheeks. “Bianca, do you truly think it wise to tell me what I can or cannot do in my own place?”
“Osgoode.” she said firmly. “He is a child, you cannot. You simply cannot.”
Underby scowled. “I told you. I made it very clear what sort of a person you were getting yourself involved with.”
“You never said children. I understand the shedding of blood when necessary, but… this is… this a different matter entirely.”
Clenching his teeth tightly, Underby breathed in and out through his nose. The boy blinked repeatedly, still squirming in Maggie’s grip.
Underby pointed at the boy with his knife. “You are a exceedingly lucky little ball of flesh, my boy. Do you know that?”
The boy nodded, sniffling.
“I ought to cut your bloody tongue right out. At the very least.”
Maggie’s eyes gleamed suddenly. The boy began to sob again. Bianca narrowed her eyes, but said nothing.
Underby moved the knife up against the boy’s throat. “If you ever… ever… speak about this, what transpired here today, or about your tour of the city, or even Wexhome himself… I will hunt you down and cut you into small pieces. Does that make its way through to that peach-pit of a brain?”
The boy nodded quickly.
“And, if any of the other children ever asks about me…”
The boy waited, listening.
“If any of the other children ever asks about me, I am the nicest man you have ever ever met in your life. Understand?”
The boy nodded again.
“Next time we meet with a knife between us, nothing will stop me. Not even that beautiful woman who just saved your life.” Underby nodded as punctuation. The boy nodded as well.
Underby looked at Maggie, and she let go of the boy. He looked around for a moment, uncertain, then ran up the ladder and out the trap door.
Underby stared at Bianca; she stared back, unblinking.
((Phew! Lucky escape for Tubby!
Having, apparently, christened the little butterball, naturally I feel a bit of proprietary interest. *grin*))
((blows on her nails and rubs them against her shirt. “Aren’t I just too sweet?”))
The terrified boy bolted out from the pub door, fearfully looking over his shoulder in case he was being followed, then, as he passed the corner, he tripped, falling full length on the cobbles. Before he could rise, another small figure leapt astride him, pinning him to the ground.
“Well Tubby, looks like youse in one piece, which is a wonder if’n you crossed old Underpants! Whatte’d he do to yer, beat you, or maybe he’s poisoned you, or a spell perhaps?” Tepic growled in the fat boy’s ear.
“Naw, he let me go, he’s a nice bloke, best yer can find!” the trapped boy cried, “Let me up!”
“Ha! Got you right scared, ain’t he…. an who took yer in, weren’t Miss Maggie were it, she’s always been a decent lass, tain’t right her being with his sort…” he shook Tubby a couple of times for emphasis, then frowned as his captive indicated it was the small lady as had taken him. “Hmmm…. that ain’t good, somethin ain’t right there… anyhow Tubby me old fatty, me an some of the others think it’s time you learnt a few things, an not how ter stuff yer belly neither!”
Tepic hauled the much larger boy to his feet, “You’se coming with me, yer under the Gang’s protection now, so’s you gotta do what yer told an learn some stuff, an first off yer gonna learn how to exercise! We gonna make yer a lean, tough urchin, Tubby, or kill yer trying!”
He pushed the boy ahead of him, cowed and aquescent, vanishing into the foggy streets……
Cadmus looked from the tubby child, to the Beluga whale laying on the dock, back to the child. The resemblance was uncanny. The child looked around in dismay, probably looking for something to eat and only seeing whale guts and blubber.
Cadmus scratched his nose with the flensing knife.
“Wexhome, you say?” Remembering the little incident involving Lady Strathern.
“Well he likes his snuff, and lace. Punches like a …” Thinks about getting hit by Jed.
“like a pudgy urchin and can’t sail a ship to save his life.”
The grubby child continued to look around for something to eat.
Cadmus put his foot on the child’s vast rear and slowly pushed the child toward the edge of the dock. The child got the hint and ran away.
((oooh good fun everyone–a lovely distraction while on a business trip!))
Mrs. Rossini looked up from her spot outside the Excelsior, drinking a cup of tea and barely reading through the folder of estate matters her solicitor had left her. She heard the huffing and puffing before she saw it’s source, a rotund urchin with another, smaller one marching several steps behind, prodding him forward with a crooked stick. The smaller boy whacked the cobblestones with his stick as though he were herding cattle or taming a beast.
“C’mon Tubby, git a move on, move that arse o’yers”, the boy urged.
The chubby urchin’s cheeks were a furious red and his hair stringy wet from sweating. His breathing was labored and he looked about ready to pass out. He was muttering something repetitively as though in prayer or trying to memorize something important, she strained slightly to hear as they passed, “Missa undabee is a right nice bloke, missa undabee is duh nicest missa ’round”