The sun had risen like a swollen globe, a diffuse pink and orange glow spilling over the Clockhaven skyline sending elongated shadows on a westward flight. Joseph had neither slept nor eaten since his meeting with Pizarro and Moonwall yesterday morning.
This past week had taken its toll upon him both physically and emotionally. He felt old for the first time ever. The world had changed since he was a young man. The very pillars of order and respect upon which society rested were crumbling at the base, threatening an implosion of values, leaving nothing but the dust and rubble of an uneducated anarchy to choke the life out of the few enlightened survivors.
A kaleidoscopic torment taunted him with transformations of a most ill-design. Rather than ponder the meaning of his long existence or meditate over a peaceful exit from this world, he was obsessing over matters of money, enduring a ravenous anxiety that tirelessly gnawed upon his nerves. A deep hatred soured his breath. Moonwall, Pizarro and Crumb would pay for their insults! They had stimulated his intellect with false promises then cruelly held back when he’d needed them the most.
Joseph reached into his vest to find his watch. Nefertiti should be arriving presently. With no money they would have no choice but to try and board the train without tickets. Joseph would count on Nefertiti’s abilities of persuasion to convince the ticket checkers to look the other way.
“You can’t send an unattended parcel ma’am,” Joseph overheard the teen-age teller behind the ticket window explaining to a well dressed lady holding a medium sized box. “Either you mail it proper post or you have someone deliver it for you. Parcels left unattended will be distributed among the employees of the transit authority upon arrival at the final destination.”
“Oh dear,” said the blonde-haired woman with just a hint of stress. “I promised Mr. Rugbottom, proprietor of the Falun Hotel, I’d get this final shipment to him as early as possible. The postal service has been so unreliable with all the rains to the north and no airship has been able to fly for two days due to electrical storms. The train is the only possibility.”
“All I can say then is you better find a reliable passenger to take care of it for you.” The ticket booth teller then returned to her morning crossword thus ending any further negotiation with the woman.
“You’ll get no help from that one,” Joseph called over. “I had unpleasant dealings with her the other day. She is insolent and knows not the meaning of manners.”
“It appears today is not to be my lucky day.” The woman turned and smiled at Joseph. “I have been trying to send this rare import tea to a dear customer in Falun, but with the storms up north the train is the only thing getting through. I really don’t want to travel all the way to Falun myself, but the gentleman has already paid in advance. I feel horrible not doing all I can to get it to him.”
“I would offer to deliver it on your behalf personally,” Joseph bowed to the woman. “Only I have fallen on hard times myself. My daughter and I are in desperate need to get to Falun and I find I am short of funds.”
“Are you from Falun sir?” the woman asked, her eyes meeting his.
“Don’t worry,” replied Joseph shaking his head. “I’m not polluted with that rural element.” Joseph removed his hat. “My name is Joseph Foehammer, recently returned to New Babbage, after decades toiling over the blueprints to power.”
Garnet furrowed her brow but it was fleeting. “Pleased to meet you Mr. Foehammer,” the lady responded holding out her hand. “My name is Garnet Psaltery.”
“Enchanted, my dear,” replied Joseph, taking Miss Psaltery’s hand in his. “And it is ‘Doctor’ Foehammer,” he added without any hint of insult.
Garnet suppressed a laugh. “Well, doctor, I should have guessed. New Babbage seems to have a ready stock of doctors on hand these days.”
“Have you lived long in New Babbage?” Joseph asked, letting her hand go.
“I have been in the Port about a year, sir.”
“I have recently discovered I have a relative in town,” said Joseph. “I would assume with the surname of Foehammer.”
“I don’t know any Foehammers personally,” replied Garnet. “Though I have heard tales of an Elvira Foehammer. I don’t know the details but I believe she had quite a notorious history in this city; something about burning down bars.”
“Was Foehammer her married name?” asked Joseph. “Martha and I only had a son.”
“I really don’t know, I’m sorry,” replied Garnet. “ Although, considering the stories I have heard about what happens to bar burners in this City, there is the possibility one might have no wish to carry that name for one’s safety or personal reputation. Perhaps your relative goes by another name.”
“It seems I have returned just in time to return the name Foehammer to it’s rightful position of honour.”
“Doctor,” Garnet began brightly, changing the track of the darkening conversation. “Perhaps we could do one another a favour.”
“Miss Psaltery, you have my undivided attention.”
“I would be happy to purchase a ticket to Falun on behalf of you and your daughter, I would even buy you sandwiches and peanuts for your travels…” she hesitated. “If you would be willing to care for this box of tea and ensure it reaches Mr. Rugbottom at the Falun Hotel.”
“Miss Psaltery,” Joseph bowed, caught somewhere between humility and relief. “You have my word I will reimburse you for your expense upon my return.”
“That is unnecessary Dr. Foehammer.” Garnet smiled, then returned to the ticket window to impose upon the teen-age teller once more.
“Your daughter is very commanding.” Garnet commented, glancing nervously again at the tall woman in the black hooded robe who stood apart from them by at least twenty yards.
“She suffers from a skin condition,” explained Joseph. “The sun hurts her so she must not expose herself to its rays.”
“How unfortunate.” Garnet replied then glanced further down the line as the distant sound of a whistle began to call. “I believe I hear your train arriving now.”
“It was a pleasure, Miss Psaltery,” said Joseph, turning on the steps of the train. Under his arm was tucked the box of tea. “Thank you for seeing me off. It was such pleasing company.”
“Bon Voyage,” said Miss Psaltery taking Joseph’s hand once more. “I hope it is a restful ride to Falun for both you and your daughter.”
“I’m sure it will be.” Joseph replied. “I’m quite looking forward to the hours of relaxation ahead on this ride to Falun.”