Sunday, 2 November 2008

Can a leopard change it moustache?

Doctor Oblensky local hero, good citizen and provider of many public amenities, started his time here in Babbage with a much more evil intent. He began as the personification of evil, always striving to be recognised for his evil. There are many philosophers and doctor's who could expound for hours upon the background to such a yearning for recognition, to be identified as not being part of the human race. Yet we find that he has had a change of heart, there is no doubting that he is a changed man. Great public works, like the lifting tower and bell in the Vernian Sea, the many bridges in the canals are all of his creation. We should all embrace and recognise this outstanding achievement, the reformation of this man and surely he is to be supported in all his endeavours.

However, something is nagging at my mind. Even before he turned over his new leaf I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, evil is as evil does after all. So it irks me to be throwing stones into this millpond, but it is not right there is something afoot.

Earlier today I was pottering about inside my home in the palisade, polishing the tables and generally cleaning up, it was in a pitiful mess having been neglected during the recent busy times. I was startled by sounds of screaming and crying from outside. I moved out onto my balcony to see that two young urchins were brawling in the street. One of them I recognised as young Patch who I'd met a week or so earlier at Juliana's graveside. The other, larger boy, seemed familiar but at the time I did not recognise him.

As I emerged the larger of the two was holding the smaller one by the wrists, trying in vain to stop the flailing arms.
"I'm the closest thing ya got!", cried the larger boy, as the smaller tripped in his anger a fell to the ground. The larger fell upon him like a beast pinning him down against the street and growling into his face, his teeth clearly bared. "Yer as dumb as a pigeon i swear!"

"Hey!, what's all the noise?", I shouted from the balcony hoping to distract the young bully, and frowning at them sternly.

Young Patch looked up angrily and scoffed, still red in the face as he lay prone beneath the larger boy. The larger boy grabbed Patch by the scarf, pulling him up before pushing him away. "Ya know, ya wanna go get yer skin ripped off be my guest!".

I had heard enough, there was something going on this wasn't a simple brawl over who'd get the largest share of a recent dipping, there was real emotion beneath this. The "bully" seemed to be trying to look after the Patch, prevent him from doing something. After all "Ripping off of skin" is hardly a common threat even here in Babbage.

I ran down the stairs and out into the street. To see Patch fall back to the ground once again, spitting with fury.
"Maybe I will! never asked you to be around anyways ya mongrel!"
"What is going on here? Brawling in the streets.", I wagged my finger at them in about as patronising a way as I could imagine, probably not the best way to get to the bottom of this in hindsight.

I stepped between the two, keeping them from blows. The larger boy ignored me, snarling. "Fine! See how long ya last without me 'round! Admitted ya'self ya get lonely!"

"Calm down both of you, what has gotten into you both?"
Patch Reina huffed up, a slight sign of tears building in his eyes, "Its his fault! havin no company is better company then the likes o' him!"
The larger boy stood up straight, eye twitching. "Protectin' pigeon head 'ere and get no respect at all!"
"Protecting from what?", I asked.
"Them circus freaks.", he snarled crossing his arms.
Patch followed suit, adopting the same definat stance, his arms crossed as well, "I don need no protectin!"
"The circus is certainly no place for young children to hang around."
The large boy stepped forward again, evidently ignoring my attempts to appease things. "Fine then! I'll leave ya ass for other strays ta devour! Maybe ol' blood face will come and eat ya tonight!"
"blood face?", I asked, the children are wont to exagerate and give unusual names to the residents but I had never heard this one before. "You children really do have the strangest names for people."
Patch stomped his foot and squeezed his eyes shut in a vain attempt to hide the tears that welled there, "FINE! Just bugger off ya mutt!". With this he turned and ran for all he was worth."
The larger boy stood, looking out towards the vanishing shape of his friend, for this is clearly what they were. He mumbled a response to my question.
"Guy tha' came after us had blood all o'er 'is face..."
"A guy from the circus?",
He nodded and sighed, staring unfocused into the distance where his friend was quickly vanishing from sight. "Dammit'..."

The poor child was clearly upset, I wanted to help him, he needed comforting but there was little I could do. "where do you think he'll go?", I said, indicating in the direction of young Patch. The boy shrugged. "Pie shoppe... hideout.. the island.."
I nodded, he would run to whatever fragile comfort he had in this world.
"there'll be no blood face then, I am sure he'll be safe."
The boy shrugged again. "Pissed the guy off pre'y bad.."
"You are really worried about him aren't you?", he nodded a little, his eyes falling toward the ground. "Shouldn' O' gone tha' far.."
"Perhaps you should go find him. Make amends. If you are worried about blood face, I would happily go and see him for you. What exactly did you do that is so bad?"
The boy mumbled, kicking idly at the pavement, and reaching down the back of his trousers pulled on the base of the tail that fell out.
"Spy.. Gonna run off now, dun' worry bou' the tail ma'am, faster with it out."

That was when I recognised him, though recognise is used loosely. This was the stray dog that was running around in the café a few hours earlier. Monte was his name, the young lady in the shoppe had called him Mr. Monte. How peculiar this was all turning out to be though I don't know how any of this surprises me any longer. I tried not to stare or even seem surprised.

"take care. If you get any trouble please let me know. I would hate anything to hurt either of you."
The boy, Monte, smiled, for the first time. "Lots O' thanks miss!" then turned, falling onto all fours and ran off in the direction that his friend had vanished.

I considered the name "blood face" and the circus and a little concerned that there was more to this than a child's imagination I headed directly to the Circus beyond the walls of the old city.

It all seemed rather quiet as I approached from the city walls, I could hear voices around the back of the Circus caravan and headed round to see who was there. There I met Mr Ichabod String, the clown, and Miss Jezebelle his partner and a silent lady whose name I do not know. It was then that I was reminded of the tale circulating the taverns, a tale that I had heard from Mr String himself, though in the gloom and across the smoke filled bar I had not observed his blood stained makeup. The String had been victim of quite awful circumstances and to avoid starvation resorted to murder and cannibalism. It is not clear whether this is part of the man's renowned theatricals, a bold attempt to raise the profile of the circus or whether therein lies a nugget of truth. It is fair to say however that in broad daylight he carries a ghastly air about him. Upon seeing his makeup, it was clear to me that this was indeed "blood face".

Miss Jezebelle was the first to greet me.
"Good afternoon," I replied, "Have you by any chance been troubled by a couple of young urchins recently?"
"Yes we have, actually." His voice gravelly and stern.
"I just caught them brawling in the street outside my house."
"Ah yes, well they have been warned not to come by here unless on good terms"
"They were spying on us, for what I assume would be Doctor O."
"You certainly seemed to scare them, I replied frowning a little.
Jezebelle String grinned at her partner who reached out to hold her hand.
"Yes well, ", he continued, "threats of showing them how their skins stays on would keep small children away"

So it was clear, this was blood-face and the threats had been all too real for the poor children. I was furious.
"Really! Mr. String that is no way to talk to young children, they were petrified".
"They are under terrible influence", said Mr. String , as if by some means excusing his behaviour. "and children who fall into the clutches of Doctor O, deserve such things.". He paused, adding, "I don't take kindly to spies".
I was surprised to hear such an attack on the good Doctor. "What part does Doctor O have to play in this matter?"
"He told them to spy on us miss.", The clown fidgeted, twitching nervously.
"He is a fine upstanding citizen by all accounts"
"For unknown reasons.", sneered String, "He is an evil genius.". I looked puzzled at this. "Truly not a good man."
I shook my head as if to refute the allegations, "He was an evil genius, everybody says that he has reformed. Though to be frank, I have never known a leopard to change its spots even in a circus."
Ichabod String nodded "I don't quite believe that one can leave their habits behind so easily", then with a sinister twitch, he leered, "I know I can't.....".
"I see.", I was not going to pander to his theatrics, none of this justified his behaviour. "I would like you to assure me that no harm will come to the children. I have told them already that this is no place for them to play."
Jezebelle String looked up at Ichabod, "I think we were quite justified saying that to them; They indeed asked for it.", quite unapologetic, she seemed convinced that they were in the right. Ichabod String seemed more repentent
"I say big words miss, in all reality I would have just put them in the cage over there for a few hours and let them calm down. But, to people who truly mean harm to me and my loved ones....they had better never spy, or come around here with intent of sabotage."
"I will see to it that these children are warned"
"Thank you ma'am." replied Jezebelle
"Indeed thank you.", added Ichabod. I continued, I needed to be sure that they understood, that their threats will not be tolerated by me.
"but, mark my words, nothing should allow you to bring violence upon them. Nothing.". There was something in the back of my mind, these people were perhaps as much victims as the children themselves. It is not uncommon in our society for those outsiders to become a
focus of attention and blamed for many of our own home grown ills.
There was more to this but before I could probe any further a strange voice came from behind me.
"Hallo". It was deep, gruff and had a heavy accent.
"Hello...sir?", responded Mr String, clearly also surprised at his second perhaps third or fourth, if we count the boys, unexpected guest in less than an hour.
"Yah", the new comer responded.
"Very well then.", confirmed Ichabod. "I don't think I have ever seen you around here..."
I looked back over my shoulder, to find the hulking form of a large man/beast, dressed as if he had been travelling a long time.

"Iz zirque hier? Nu, hy neffer been heir bevore", the things command of language was basic and heavily accented. Another freak seeking shelter in the circus I presumed. Either way, I was not going to get any more from Ichabod String for the time being.
"Thank you for your time. I will leave you to your work."
"Very well miss Janus"

I walked back toward the square and the café hoping that I might find young Patch and Monte. However I instead met Mr Merricks, Doctor Oblensky's head of security, half way up the steps from the canal front to the park outside the town hall, evidently, out walking.

"Oh evening.", he greeted me, roused from somewhat of a daydream by my approach.
"good evening"
"How are you today?"
"I am well, how are you?"
"Travelling. That's how I am.", hr grinned slightly.
"I see.", I lied, "I will not hold you up, but I have a question if you don't mind".
"By all means."
"Earlier today, I saw you chasing a dog."
"Did you now? Well he must have been the one who I was trying to give to the pound. Stray pets do need to be watched over."
"I agree, though I believe he is being cared for by young Myrtil."
"Then I will tell her to be wary about leaving the gate open. Wouldn't want anything to happen to a pet.". This man/cat manages to twist everything to an evil way, if his master has indeed changed, it seems to have done little for the demeanor of his henchman.

"My point is, that I believe I just saw the same creature, but in different form. He was a boy."
Zebrati Merricks made a face which showed quite clearly that he didn't believe me.
"Yes well I'll inform her that her...mystical transforming boy dog is lose then.", he smirked unbecomingly.
"I know, I know. It sounds crazy.".
"Quite so."
"But it gets more strange by the hour."
"You live here my dear. I'm surprised anything catches you off guard.". I chose to ignore his attempts to annoy me.
"I have since been told that he/it is working for your employer and is spying on people."
"The doctor is a reformed man. He would never spy on people."
"Indeed so. At least that is what they say, and surely if a boy can become a dog then a leopard must be able to change its spots eh?"
"Then again you have no idea if this boy becomes a dog or if you saw a boy and then a dog.", was he cryptically confirming my veiled accusation? If the boy had not become a dog the the leopard had not changed it spots?
"hmmm, I saw a boy with a tail if that helps, I replied.
Merricks reached behind him and twirled his own tail. "You don't say."
With that I smiled, the quirkiness of Babbage...

"Anyway, I am keeping you from your business."
"Travelling is no business."
"Please send my regards to Doctor O"
"The rails will be there if I am not...However I will do the second bit."
"Good day Mr Merricks"

We parted, heading off in the same direction briefly, descending the steps into the canal side he had presumably changed his mind since our meeting and was heading elsewhere. He turned to the right, heading down the alleyway between the absinthe house and Ordinal's factory outlet. I carried on toward the café, turning right by the theatre.

As I entered the café I noticed through the side window, the distinctive shape of Merricks standing in the garden. What was he up to? Watching, waiting for the boys? Was he following up on my discussion or simply waiting to collect the information gleaned by the children when spying.

The children were nowhere to be found, a gust of wind brought what seemed like a sigh to me, but I could see noone. I headed home my mind full of new questions. Was Doctor O behind this? Why would the children being doing his work? There was after all no love between the urchins of Babbage and the residents of ClockSpire cove.

It was not until later that evening as I relaxed in the music room back home, that I recalled the incident on the jetty a week or more ago. The Doctor before his reformation, angry and spitting feathers, raged at the taunts of the children. At one point I recall that he fired upon us with what he called a HypnoRay gun, and commanded us to assault poor Poopdeck. Luckily his weapon seemed to have no power over us but, I have begun to wonder, if he had managed to perfect the weapon and somehow to develop an even larger version thereof, could he not be bringing the entire population under his control. Convincing us that he is now a man of good deeds and at the same time exacting a revenge upon the children by using them as his slaves towards whatever devious plan he has.

Am I now so mistrusting? Does such a weapon exist? If so, what is it that he is after?

In defence of my wits, if he should attempt to soften my brain and dilute my resolve I have written at length this account to ensure that I maximise my recall.

No comments: