Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chapter Five

Alone at the bar, Ed N’Bro was musing over the final spaces in his crossword. The current message written on his chest claimed that “My other T-shirt is a Designer Label”.

Two figures darkened the doorway in a partial eclipse. Ed looked up to greet them with a new slogan he was testing: “Welcome to The Old Entomologist, the most haunted pub in Christchurch!”

“Allow us to introduce ourselves,” said the left-hand figure – the taller of the two – in a voice you could spread on toast. “Knuckles and Kneebone, pollinctors. That is, we are expeditors of the metabolically challenged. Funeral directors.”

“We bury stiffs!” blurted out the right-hand figure – the wider of the two – in a voice as hoarse as a crow with rigor mortis. To emphasise his words point he pulled a folding army-surplus spade from a pocket. The effect was spoiled by the failure of the spade to stay unfolded, and the blade flapped limply on its hinge as he brandished it.

Ed looked the pair over sceptically. They were certainly wearing as much black as anyone could expect from funeral directors… he could almost believe that they had parked a horse-drawn hearse outside, four horses with black plumes nodding on their heads… but the black crêpe streamers tied around their black top-hats looked suspiciously like someone’s tights, swiped from a washing line. “I’m confused,” he admitted. “No-one here has sent for funeral directors.” From her cage at the end of the bar, Polly squawked in agreement – a raspy metallic note, like a bed-spring breaking.

“We quite understand,” said the unctuous figure (pinned to his lapel, a name-tag declared Hi! I’m Mr Kneebone, and I’ll be burying you tonight!). “In their grief, naturally these practical concerns are last things that the bereaved family wants to worry about. That’s why we’re here… to take care of things, to allow you to grieve without disturbance, in a culturally-appropriate way. Put away the excavation implement, Mr Knuckles.”

“No you don’t understand!” Ed protested. “Perhaps you have the wrong address. “There is no-one dead here.”

“That can be arranged!” croaked Knuckles. He lifted the top-hat from his shaven scalp and reached into its capacious interior, perhaps for a weapon of some kind, but when his hand emerged it was clutching a flat bottle of dark green glass adorned with a skull-and-crossbones. He shrugged and raised it to his lips.

“Not now!” Kneebone cuffed Knuckles over the head with his own top-hat. “Please excuse my colleague; he’s been at the embalming fluid again. Put it away, Mr Knuckles.” Knuckles reluctantly returned the bottle to a pocket somewhere in the lining of his old-fashioned tail-coat, with a clanking of glass from various other inside pockets.

Ed sighed. “You’re not really funeral directors, are you? Are you from Petropolis?”

“That was a ploy; a feint, if you like,” Kneebone replied. “Our occupation, our actual social rôle, could perhaps be described as ‘heavy’.”

“I prefer ‘thug’,” his colleague added.

“Of course, that is a generic umbrella term; a broad rubric subsuming any number of specialities… my squat friend here specialises in breaking knuckles.”

“You have my undivided attention!” promised Ed. He poured himself a double of Old Abattoir whisky.

“Mr N’Bro, we are actually here to talk to your brother.”

“That’s not possible… he’s living in the past.”

“He must emerge from his memories, then,” insisted Kneebone. He frowned down at the hat he was still holding, finally noticing a number of dents which corresponded to the bulgy bumpy nature of his partner’s bony skull. He quickly swapped hats with Knuckles.

“I can take a message,” Ed offered.

“Mere messages are not enough. We really are most anxious to make direct contact… and you seem to be the most promising link.”

“Would this have anything to do with his clever idea of selling advertising space on the backs of $1 and $2 coins in place of the Queen’s portrait?”

“Indeed it would, Mr N’Bro. How gratifying that we are on the same wavelength.” Kneebone took off his dark glasses, in order that the lack of humour when he smiled would be more apparent. This also made it more apparent that he wore contact lenses under his shades, decorated for some reason with smiley faces.

“A man in a rather expensive suit was here yesterday on exactly the same errand,” said Ed. “Claimed to be from the Reserve Bank. He was not encouraging about this advertising idea. He was equally determined to talk to my brother directly, in order to discourage him in person. He also tried out the Menacing Mirthless Smile on me.”

Having left his own dark glasses at home, Knuckles took his cufflinks off instead and placed them on the bar. He cleared his throat, without making any perceptible difference to his voice. “Our own employers would rather preserve their incognimity… they with to remain anominito… Krrrk…”

“Mr Knuckles here represents a company known for its fine effervescent caffeinated drinks,” his colleague interrupted smoothly. “They advanced a sum of money to your brother in exchange for the promise of advertising. My own principal is a different company, who also gave your brother money to advertise their burgers. If the advertising is not forthcoming, our separate employers would like their money back. They do not care who provides it.”

Ed shrugged. “I can only tell you again that my brother is quite literally living in the past. In Prague, 1932, to be exact… it reduces his tax liability.”

“Very well,” Kneebone sighed. “Now it is time for the embalming fluid, Mr Knuckles. Feel free to work yourself into a manic frenzy of unreasoning violence.”

“Would the absence of any money in the till convince you that there is no point in violence?” Ed inquired.

“As long as people are buying kidneys and livers for transplants, money can always be obtained,” explained Kneebone (Knuckles provided glug-glug noises in the background).

“Would it reduce the chance of you inflicting bodily harm on me, if I claimed to be a Black Belt in at least one martial art? Black Braces, to be more accurate.”

“No. Allow us to express our sympathy with your sense of impending bereavement.”

“Would it help if I introduced you to the guy from the Reserve Bank in the well-tailored suit?”

“I fail to see what difference that would make,” said Kneebone, while Knuckles hiccupped in a raspy corvine way.

“Oh well, it’s worth a try anyway,” said Ed in resignation, as he pulled the far-left beer tap. This opened a trapdoor in the floor that sent Kneebone and Knuckles plummeting into one of the pub’s basements. Their top-hats hung in the air for a second, then followed.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

This also made it more apparent that he wore contact lenses under his shades, decorated for some reason with smiley faces.

That's awesome. I might almost have to get contacts for this very effect.

mikey said...

Corvine! Dammit, that's a GREAT word. Sure and I'll be working that into most everything I do - easier to spell and type than coprophagic, and even more obscure. Bravo.

Ed shrugged. “I can only tell you again that my brother is quite literally living in the past. In Prague, 1932, to be exact… it reduces his tax liability.”

This is always an option, but you need to be committed to it, as regular travel from a home in the past to the present is exhausting. Having spent my share of time in the Cretaceous, I can assure you that you don't choose to live in the past and commute regularly...

Smut Clyde said...

The earliest appearance of these two characters. Inspired by Gabbitas & Thring, obviously.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

"The only thing you never turned your hand to
Was teaching at a boarding school.
Today it's a profession that seems grand to
Those whose alternative's an office stool;
To many an unknown genius postmen bring
Typed notices from Rabbitarse and String."

-W H Auden