Day 64. 161 pages, 58,131 words.
For a moment I was lost in the tableau.
Creepy tended to create tableaux whenever he entered a room, apparently by complete random chance and an innate showmanship that bordered on the instinctive. It was more than just making an entrance, though. It wasn’t the same as creating a scene.
Creepy walked into high-tension situations like he was part of a television show from the ’80s, and had just frozen in place so his character name and actor credit could appear on a non-existent screen.
I glared at him, waiting for the scene to un-freezeframe and the invisible studio audience to stop applauding.
“What have I done?” I repeated.
“Have you seen the street?” he demanded with every sign of completely unfeigned incredulity. “The old Barnsley Prison Yard is seeping back to the surface, along with half of Lake Philip – which has been dry for a three quarters of a century – and about ten thousand dead convict salt miners!”
“I know this,” I said, willing my voice to stay level. “I was down there in the sub-sewer when you picked up that damn trumpet and tooted on it and yelled ‘charge!’.”
“Yes … ” Creepy said, as though talking to a half-wit, “and then instead of showing the respect due a superior officer, you said ‘put that back and stop being a twat’, and then you said something about the writing etched into the wall but by then the damage had already been done, and the wall was already oozing ‑ ”
“It’s a cookhouse trumpet,” I said. “The suitable thing for you to have done would’ve been to toot on it and then serve lunch.”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Lunch, instead of Prince Philip Street ankle-deep in plague sludge? I should think most people would like that,” I squinted. “Where’s the trumpet now?”
“This isn’t about who blew on which brass instrument to raise the old salt lake and its mass-grave of pickled convicts,” Creepy said loftily, “and it’s certainly not about who sold which brass instrument to the antique dealer on the corner of Collins Square in return for an authentic pair of X-ray specs ‑ ”
Trainee chose this moment to speak up.
“Neither of you should be up here, I’m going to have to inform security, and what’s that you’ve put on the conference table?”
“Trainee, the Myconet,” I introduced without breaking eye-contact with Creepy. “Myconet, Trainee. And I didn’t put her there, she came here on her own. Where are the X-ray specs?” I went on.
“What?” Creepy cast a guilty look at Trainee that was so very fleeting I think only I could possibly have noticed it, then drew himself up. “If you think I’m going to give such a powerful piece of technology to an irresponsible and frankly perverse character like you, Hatboy ‑ ”
“I know they didn’t work,” I said patiently, “or you’d still be wearing them because it’s one of your missions in life to see just how many office building drones actually have sticks up their ‑ ”
“Well naturally I took them off when I realised you were here,” Creepy replied. “Naturally I have no desire to see what – and let’s face it – there’s a horrible chance you might not be wearing under those trackies.”
“That’s a fair point.”
“I also wished to safeguard the purity of this young lady,” Creepy said gallantly. “I mean, she’s only just learning how to be a receptionist ‑ ”
“No, Trainee is actually my name,” Trainee said, “and I’m calling security. Also, X-ray specs? What are you, twelve?”
Creepy huffed. “Twelve dog years, maybe.”
“Creepy, I keep telling you, that’s not the way dog years work,” I said.
“Excuse me,” Creepy huffed some more. “Of the three people and one giant riddle-telling toadstool in this room, which of us have actually been a dog?”
“Me,” I said, continuing to keep my voice steady and calm, “because you hid the werewolf’s silver worm tablet in a piece of cheese and ‑ ”
“Objection!” Creepy declared. “Irrelevant.”
I sighed. “Do you still have the X-ray specs or not?”
He squinted. “Why?”
“Because our only chance at this moment is to take them back to the antique dealer and hope he’s okay with backsies,” I said. “And – point of order, by the way, you should stop making trades with people who aren’t okay with backsies.”
“But Hatboy,” Creepy said patiently, “it’s the X-ray specs we need! Have you forgotten why we were down in the sub-sewer in the first place?”
To be honest, I hadn’t forgotten – but it had dropped a few positions on my priority-list since the long-vanished lake started to make its presence known in the middle of the city.
It was … you know, sort of a long story.