12 March 2010
The Bloody Baffling Buckingham Bluff, Part Two
“I BEG your pardon?” I spluttered in disbelief. “What did you say?”
“That is your name, is it not?” the conjurer smiled as he straightened his tie, and smoothed down his grey locks. “Lord Ouranos Likely?”
I eyed the man suspiciously, trying to fathom what sort of confounded trickery he was deploying, but his countenance gave away nothing. His was the very epitome of the poker face; to whit, I very much desired to bash it in with a poker.
“Not necessarily,” I bluffed. “It is a secret I shall carry to my grave!”
“I know it,” piped up Botter, rather unhelpfully.
“It is no use trying to bluff me, sir,” the magician replied, slowly circling me. “As a master of my trade, there is much that I am aware of. if there’s one thing that I excel at, it’s being able to know all there is to know about my audience. Your true name screams out to me from every one of your pores, and is etched firmly into your very aura.” He stopped short in front of my face, and paused. “Not to mention the label sewn into the collar of your coat.”
“Pah, I knew it!” I spat. “Mindless trickery.”
“Trickery?” The cove ground his teeth upon my words. “I hate that term. It’s one step shy of fraud, and I am no fraud, Likely!”
“Well, congratulations on being able to read, sir. Yes, my first name is Ouranos, and a very fine, and noble name it is too. It comes from the name of one of the Greek Gods, you know? Fathered the Titans, so I’m told.”
“I know my Greek mythology,” the conjurer beamed. “He was also castrated by one of his sons, was he not?”
I was taking an even deeper disliking to this blaggard with every word he spoke. “And so what is your name, sir? ’Reginald, the Reader of Labels?’ ‘Orlov the Observant’? ‘Samuel, the Stater of the Bloody Obvious?’”
“Pick a card,” said the man, flourishing a deck of cards before me. I hesitated, then decided to humour the trickster, and drew a card out from near the bottom of the deck. “Thank you,” the fellow nodded. “And what does it say on that card?”
I turned the card over and read the words upon it. “Cornelius Quaint, proprietor,Dr. Marvello’s Travelling Circus.”
“At your service,” Quaint bowed.
“Very good,” I said, distinctly unimpressed at this overly-elaborate answer to a perfectly simple question.
“And this is Butter,” Quaint continued.
“Botter,” I replied.
“No, Botter. Heavens, your powers are fading, you old buffoon. I know the name of my own man-servant, thank you very much.
“Ah! I see,” Quaint replied, chuckling to himself. “I was referring to the name of deputy,” he said, motioning toward the little Eskimo fellow hovering behind him. “This is Butter.”
“Oh, I see. And why do you call him that? Easily spread, is he?” I smirked.
“I would have thought that someone with an accomplice called ‘Botter’ is hardly in a position to make lewd aspersions,” Quaint smirked. God, how I hated him and his instance on having the last word, and a salient point.
“Well, marvellous,” I exclaimed. “So now we all know one another, let us be on our separate ways and ne’er talk of this again…”
Cornelius Quaint stepped into my path. “Where are you off to? Is that it? Just throw a punch, doff your hat and take your leave? Aren’t you even a little bit curious as to why I went to the bother of setting you free?”
“Not really. Maybe you just wished to show-off some more, I do not know, nor do I care.”
“I relieved you of your incarceration not as an act of charity, Likely…I believe we may have a common foe,” Quaint intoned, his face darkening. “This Silas Surprise chap…I suspect him of foul play, and I also suspect that you fear the same. What do you know of him?”
“I know that he can pack out the largest theatre in the land, and not have to travel about from city to city like some sort of gypsy,” I quipped. Quaint’s face failed to register any signs of displeasure. Those dark eyes of his remained fixed on me, unblinking. “Oh, very well!” I relented. “Silas Surprise is an absolute arse-belch of the highest order. I have seen him kill men with playing cards, resurrect the dead, and even attempt to saw me in half without the use of trickery.”
“I’m warming to him already,” Quaint muttered.
I ignored the magician’s mumblings, and carried on. “I believed that I had taken care of this cove before, and that he would trouble no one further. But now, like a guff into the wind, he has returned, to spread his foul stench across the land. And that being the case, I’d wager my man-servant’s lungs on the fact that he is up to no good whatsoever.”
Quaint had listened attentively throughout my exposition, and nodded sharply as I finished. “Then it is as I feared. I knew there was something awry about him, and his ludicrous claims that he could make Buckingham Palace ‘disappear’. It is decided, then! We should set aside our differences and -”
“…team-up and try to outwit the fiend, Quaint?” I interjected triumphantly. “Of course, we could join forces, provided you could keep up with me. You’re not exactly as fresh as a goose, if you get my meaning.’
“I don’t like it, but I get it,” retorted the steely-eyed conjurer. “But I rather think it’s you and your manservant that will have a job keeping up with me!”
“I don’t believe you’ve ever seen my manservant in action,” said I, my retort as quick as a whip. “In full effect it really is quite something to behold.”
Botter giggled excitedly. “Oh! Thank you, sir!”
“Shut your cakehole, Botter, I wasn’t referring to you,” I told the loathsome cretin, putting him right back in his place. “Well then, taking into consideration what both our parties know – and because I don’t want you to slow me down – why don’t we go our separate ways, with you and your squire returning to the stage outside Buckingham Palace, whilst Botter and I begin the search for Silas Surprise himself?’
If only the conjurer’s skills extended to seeing within my mind, he might have witnessed several cogs working away. But then again, considering some of ribald stuff that’s in my mind, perhaps he might have been otherwise engaged, the voyeuristic bounder! He looked like he could do with a good thrill. “What do you say, Mr Quaint?” I watched his expression intently. He was a conjurer, after all. His eyes always spun a different coloured yarn than his mouth.
“I say you’ve got yourself a deal, Likely,” Quaint replied, thrusting out his hand. “And whichever of us gets to Silas first takes him down. May the best man win!”
Cornelius Quaint, although clearly an able man, had played right into my corner and it had just had a fresh lick of paint. “Oh, I intend to,” I chuckled to myself. “Botter! Say goodbye to the nice gentlemen, I’ve got a madman to catch!”
“Don’t you mean I’ve got a madman to catch?” tested Quaint. “Butter! With me!”
CORNELIUS QUAINT strode as fast and as far away from Lord Likely’s company as was humanly possible, his temper still boiling at the Lord’s words. “The nerve of the man, Butter! We go to all those lengths to spring him from the custody of the police, and all he does is punch me out! Typical! I swear the man must be one brain cell short of a pair!”
Quaint barely heard the meek voice by his side. “Yes, but there’s-”
“I mean, what did I do to deserve it, Butter?” Quaint continued, “I knew that Silas chap was bad news, but I didn’t realise just how bad. At least Likely was good for something. He’s just proved my gut instinct right! At least his manservant seemed possessed of some intelligence!”
“Yes, and about that-“
“I haven’t risked my neck on numerous occasions in the service of Her Majesty to watch a joker like Silas Surprise scupper my efforts! The man picked a really bad day to tick me off! Him, and Likely both! What did you make of him, Butter? The Lord, I mean.”
“You took the words right out of my mouth!” raged Quaint. “Spineless time-waster.”
“Actually, I was going to say-“
“And did you smell his breath?” railed Quaint. “A combination of vomit-inducing cologne and alcohol! And the man calls himself a Lord! And his manservant…I feel sorry for that poor chap. He’s obviously Likely’s whipping boy.”
“More often than I care to admit, actually, and not always when I’ve done something wrong. The master seems to think I like it,” said a voice that was unfamiliar to the conjurer, and so he stopped dead in the street and turned on his heel.
“You’re not Butter!” Quaint exclaimed.
Botter shrugged sheepishly, not exactly sure why the tall man’s black stare made him feel so guilty. ‘I know.’
“You’re Likely’s manservant!”
“You’ve been following me!”
Quaint had a knack of making one word speak an entire conversation. “Why?”
“I’m not all that sure, to be honest.” Botter’s shoulders seemed to develop some sort of nervous tic. “It all seemed to happen so fast! One minute you were fighting with the master, the next there was all sorts of banter coming at me to and fro, and then you stormed off. Years of service sort of kicked in, and before I knew what I was doing, I was tagging along. I’ve learned to follow whomever shouts the loudest.”
“So…if you’re with me…where’s Butter?” Quaint demanded.
Botter looked over his shoulder sheepishly. “It would seem, sir…that your friend and I have both followed the wrong master - which means that-”
“Butter is with Likely.” Quaint kneaded his knuckles into the furrows of his scowl.
“So it would seem, sir.”
“Oh, that’s not going to be good news,” said Quaint. “Sorry, but…who are you?”
Quaint jolted. “Botter? What sort of ridiculous name is that?”
“Says the man whose friend is called ‘Butter’?”
“Point taken,’ said Quaint. ‘Righto, so here’s the plan. We’re going to snoop about a little bit under the stage where Silas Surprise is due to perform his so-called illusion. There’s something about that platform that doesn’t sit right with me. The angles of the wooden structure is all wrong and I’m sure I saw what looked suspiciously like wire coil under one of the struts. Keep your eyes open, Mr Botter, I don’t much fancy getting nabbed by the law like your imbecilic employer was. Any questions?”
Botter’s tic seemed to make dramatic headway towards his mouth. “You…you mean…you’ve actually got a plan?”
“And you’ve no intention of thrashing me within an inch of my life?”
“Oh?” asked Quaint. “Why does that sound suspiciously like a bad ‘Oh’?”
“Well, sir, to tell you the truth, this is all a bit new to me,” Botter replied. “You see, I’m not used to accompanying someone that knows what they’re doing, and doesn’t seem hellbent on putting not just his life in danger but my own as well. I’m actually feeling a little bit out of sorts, if I’m being truthful.”
“Would it make you feel any better if I punched you?” Quaint asked.
To the conjurer’s dismay, Botter clearly considered his jest. “Possibly, but as long as there’s an extreme likelihood that you might do me physical harm, perhaps I can learn to compromise.”
Quaint slapped Botter’s shoulder (hard). “That’s the spirit! You’ve got yourself a deal.”
Botter clasped Quaint’s hand as if the manservant was clinging onto it for dear life. “So…is this what you usually do on your adventures, Mr Quaint?”
“Not quite. Usually I just make things up as I go along.”
Botter’s face dropped.
“Chin up, man!’ cheered Quaint. “This’ll be fun!”
“Fun,” said Botter. “Yes, I seem to have a vague recollection of such a thing.”
Discreetly, Quaint led Botter around the side of the platform outside the high fence surrounding Buckingham Palace. The illustrious Silas Surprise was still nowhere to be found, yet the gathering crowd had swelled waiting for the main event. Quaint was actually quite thankful for Botter’s company, for it occurred to him that he didn’t have a clue what Silas Surprise looked like.
“Keep your eyes sharp, Mr Botter,” said Quaint, on his knees, lifting the flap of canvas around the stage.
“Oh, I do like you, sir! I never get called ‘Mister’ by the master!”
“Yes, well I think you’ll find that many of my methods are somewhat different than you’re used to,” said Quaint. “But that extreme likelihood that I might do you physical harm is going to intensify if you don’t stop staring at me like some sort of affected imbecile and keep your bloody eyes open!”
Botter sighed. “There. Right there. That’s what I’m used to. Thank you for being so accommodating, Mr Quaint.”
“Hmm. As I suspected,” said Quaint plucking a thin coil of copper wire between his thumb and forefinger. “This stage is wired! The questions are; where and what exactly does it lead to?”
“Um, Mr Quaint, sir?” said Botter. “Am I to take it that when you said to keep my bloody eyes open that you weren’t solely referring to the constabulary?”
“Spot on, Botter,” confirmed Quaint. “Why do you ask?”
A gang of surly looking ruffians surrounded Quaint and Botter, the looks in their steeled gaze inferring that they intended to commit several crimes of gross indecency to their fellow man/men.
“Oh…just because of them,” said Botter.
“BAH! I have ne’er seen such an insolent and ill-mannered buffoon as that Quaint fellow in all of my life, Botter,” I fumed as we pushed our way through the growing crowd outside the palace. “Conjurer? Con-artist, more like!”
“Botter, how many times do I have to tell you? The correct form of address is ‘milord’, not ‘boss’. It makes me sound like a bloody businessman…”
“But boss – “
“Botter, do not think for a moment that just because I spent some time battering that tiresome trickster earlier, that I do not have enough energy to pummel you senseless as well.”
“But boss – “
“RIGHT!” I yelled, as we finally emerged from the gawking throng of Silas’ spectators. “That tears it! I shall bludgeon you into next week, you wretched little – ” However, as I turned, my fist raised, I found myself not looking at my miserable man-servant, but at another little blighter altogether. “You…you aren’t Botter!”
“No, I am Butter,” replied the small chap in front of me.
“Ah, yes…you’re Quaint’s little Eskimo friend, aren’t you?”
“I’m sure he did, the crafty bugger. Probably thought it’d be a right old wheeze to lumber you upon me. Well, ’tis too late to turn back now. Just try not to irritate me, and I am sure we shall get on famously,” I said. “Now, we need to figure out where that sod Silas will be….” I pondered, stroking my luxurious moustache as I surveyed our surroundings.
“Mr. Surprise…he is star of show, yes?” Butter piped up.
“Mr. Surprise…he is star?”
“Well, I suppose so, yes…”
“Then maybe Mr. Surprise is inside there,” Butter pointed, indicating toward a caravan with a large, yellow star painted ‘pon its door.
“Good heavens, you may be right! Good work, my Eskimo chum!”
“Alright, there is no need to get cocky,” I replied, as we slowly strode up to the caravan in question. Taking great pain to ensure that we were not being watched, I sneaked up to the door and gently tried the handle. It was locked. “Hmm, seems our friend isn’t in….still, it may well be worth getting inside…we could snoop about a bit, see if we can’t find any incriminating evidence…hmmm, yes. But we shall need to find a way of opening the door, some sort of lock-pick should do the trick and then – “
All of a sudden, a small figure blurred past me, and crashed into the door, bringing it crashing down with him.
“We are now inside, Boss!” grinned Butter, gently rubbing his shoulder.
“I like your style, Butter!” I grinned. “Nothing quite like a rough entry, eh? Ha! Now you keep a look-out, whilst I have a snoop around inside, eh?”
Butter rose to his feet and assumed his position at the door, while I stepped inside the caravan and began my search. There was nothing that immediately struck me as being indicative of any crime being planned – unless one counted vanity as a crime, in which case Silas was most definitely guilty, given the amount of posters of himself plastered about the walls. I nodded sadly and walked up to a small table laden with various tawdry tricks and tools; a pack of playing cards, a coin with the Queen’s head on both sides, some sort of knife…I sighed loudly and brushed them aside, then began to leaf through a pile of papers underneath. Most of them seemed to be contracts and official documents, but one piece caught my eye, headed as it was ‘Plot to Blow Up the Palace’. That would certainly make interesting reading for the police…
“I have it, Butter!” I beamed triumphantly, spinning around only to see the Eskimo being held captive by a rather burly chap, with another advancing toward me. I slowly moved back against the table, and allowed my hand to rummage behind me, until it rested on the smooth blade of the knife. I grinned, and waited for the other man to step up to me, at which point I leapt forward and plunged the knife into the brute’s chest.
“Ha-ha!” I cried. “Take that, you devil!”
The man completely failed to react in the manner one would expect of a fellow who had just been fatally stabbed, and simply grinned at me, took hold of my wrist, and pushed my hand back toward me, revealing a distinctly unbloodied blade on the knife. He then pulled my hand back into him, then out again, until I realised, with horror, that this was in fact a blasted trick knife.
“Bloody magicians!” I exclaimed, and then I was knocked unconscious.
- To Be Furthered…
His lordship and Mr. Fanton would like to thank Mr. Craske for joining them in chronicling this most astonishing of adventures. Huzzah!
Darren Craske is the author of the Cornelius Quaint Chronicles amongst other things, and lives in Hampshire with his wife and two children. His first published work was ‘The Equivoque Principle’ now followed by its sequel, ‘The Eleventh Plague’. His website can be found at www.darrencraske.com and he is on twitter as@DarrenCraske.
‘The Eleventh Plague’ (book 2 of the Cornelius Quaint Chronicles) – is released in paperback by The Friday Project, an imprint of HarperCollins on March 4th 2010 and can be bought (amongst other fine retailers) here, and ‘The Equivoque Principle’ (book 1 of the Cornelius Quaint Chronicles) can be bought here.
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