Chapter 1: Money Issues
The city of Kalsas, located in the heart of Hamsworth, has never been a quiet and ordinary place. Not for a moment. It was a crowded and boisterous town, where the roaring of countless steam engines, the braying of carriage-pulling beasts and the sound of joyous songs coming from street loudspeakers installed all over the place mixed together in perfect dissonance. It was no wonder that everyone seemed to be in a constant hurry when moving from one place to another, as the need for a shelter that can shield them from such a horrible noise was dire.
And one particular place stood out among those havens.
At about 7 o’clock sharp in the morning, dozens of people packed inside the Pied Piper – a local inn and the most distinguishable building in the whole city. It was a medium-sized, two-floor house made mostly out of wood, standing out from the rest of those surrounding buildings of steel and stone. It had an archaic design, with five circular windows, blue saltbox roof and a small tower on top. The inn’s sign was heavily stylized, twisted and written in yellowish color. Chimes of all size and shape and ribbons of all colors were hung all over the buildings, giving it a really weird look. When the wind blew, those chimes and ribbons flew with it, creating a fabulous scene and a merry melody.
Inside the inn, customers were listening attentively to Edward Alden, who was standing on a stage in the center of the room and playing flute. He was the Pied Piper’s owner and the inn’s namesake, whose bizarre appearance fit perfectly with the inn’s theme (or it might be the other way around). He was a blond middle-aged man with carefully trimmed chin-strapped beard, wearing an outfit no less colorful than his inn: a blue sleeveless robe with yellow stripes on the outside and a yellow shirt with green stripes on the inside. He wore a white baggy trouser and on his feet was a pair of colorful jester shoes decorated with loads of jingling chimes. He also sported a large-brimmed hat with a red feather, teal-colored scarf and an elaborate cape that features numerous long strips of cloth on one side of his shoulder and a cluster of colorful feathers on the other. His “cape” and hat were decorated with numerous ribbons and confetti of all colors, which looked as if he has just returned from a big birthday party.
He was playing a melodious song with a small flute, entrancing every presenting customer. His music was but mild tunes, yet so alluring. His left foot, which was sadly a wooden prosthesis, knocked softly onto the floor, while the ring of chimes on his belt jingled, creating an interesting mixture of sound along with his flute song. In front of him, on a small up-side-down bucket that acted as a makeshift stage, was an albino rat dressed in a miniscule flamboyant suit and top hat. It was hopping and prancing around merrily to Edward’s music, even making occasional dances while standing on its hind legs, much to the customers’ delectable delight. Several overenthusiastic kids tried to reach into the stage in an adorable attempt to pet the creature, only to be pulled back by their mother.
Finally, Edward’s song ended with a long bass note and a series of applause. As the music ceased, the rat finished its final dance and moved its front paws around in an awkwardly cute attempt to wave for the curtain call, causing the customers to cheer loudly. Bowing before all of his customers, Edward smiled.
‘Thank you for listening to this song, my dear friends. And now, I believe, is time for breakfast.’
As he finished his sentence, Edward put the flute back onto his belt and walked down the stage while the rat ran off on its own upstairs. He stood crookedly, leaning on a colorfully-decorated walking cane nearly half his height, with several chimes hanging on it.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Edward said politely. ‘What’s your order today?’
And immediately, dozens of voices spoke in unison.
‘I want pancake!’
‘Waffle for me please!’
Edward was pleased to hear so many orders.
‘Their favorites anyway.’ He mumbled before shouting. ‘Giles! Where are you, Giles?!’
Edward’s eyes scanned the whole room quickly as he shouted, and stopped at a table with two beautiful young ladies, one was blonde while the other was red-headed, and a tall young lad in his early twenties with messy black hair and a red and yellow jester outfit for attire. Finally found his target, Edward sighed and moved toward that table, grumbling with every step.
The two ladies giggled with amusement as they watched the black-haired lad still chatting nonchalantly, trying to impress them with his clumsy stories, when Edward came right behind him. The young man, thinking he was only one more step from catching the ladies’ affection, went on to tell another story of him rescuing a damsel in distress, a story which he considered ‘The Masterpiece’ or ‘The Final Blow’ among his long list of badly-made-up-stories-for-flirting. Unfortunately, those ladies might never be able to hear how he saved the girl in the end.
Edward poked the youngster on the back with his walking cane but the lad, still high on his story, brushed him off while saying ‘Not now old man! Can’t you see I’m busy telling the great story of my life?’
‘If that’s the story of your miserable life as the waiter of this inn then, please, do tell, Giles.’
Edward put a hand on the lad’s shoulder and spoke sarcastically. The Pied Piper’s owner definitely ‘encouraged’ Giles to continue telling his story and much to his expectation, Giles suddenly stopped talking.
‘Is that you… sir?’ Giles mumbled. The young lad slowly turned back and saw Edward standing there with a not-so-pleasant look on his face.
‘Go on. Tell us your story. We are dying to hear it right now.’ Edward sneered while grabbing the back of Giles’s shirt. For some reason, the word ‘dying’ is especially stressed.
Seeing that Giles could not let out a single word, Edward turned to the two young ladies and said politely while taking his hat off:
‘I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, miladies but it seems like this guy already had an appointment. Would you mind me taking him away for a while?’
‘Not at all, Mr. Alden.’ The blonde lady replied. ‘Somebody has to serve us customers, right?’
‘Thank you, Ms. Campbell.’ Edward smiled. ‘And what would you and Ms. Haley here want for breakfast?’
‘Two sandwiches and bacons, plus two cups of black tea, if you please.’ Haley said.
‘Right away, miladies. This guy will bring your order as soon as possible.’
Edward walked hastily back to his stand, quite fast for a man with a peg leg, while pulling Giles with him. As they were now hidden behind the stand, Giles cried:
‘Sir why?! Why couldn’t you let me find the love of my live?’
’First, need I remind you again that you have to call me ‘Your Excellency’, you cabbage-brain?’ Edward replied with utmost irritation and contempt. ’Second, I don’t pay you just for you to fool around, doing nothing like that. Oh, and lastly, nobody loves a total bum who rarely has even fifteen plebbs in his pocket and tells obviously made-up heroic tales of himself just to fish for women like you. Now go ahead and get the customers’ orders already.’
‘Right away, your Excellency.’ Giles immediately rushed toward the tables, dared not to ask anymore question or forget to call Edward by his clearly self-appointed title.
‘That brat. He doesn’t know how lucky he is.’ Edward mumbled.
Giles has never been a good waiter but he was the only waiter in the Pied Piper and happened to get hired by Edward just because he appeared right at the grand opening of his inn while being attacked by a black cat, something which Edward considered good luck. Yet the klutzy waiter has brought Edward more troubles than luck, like the time he ‘invited’ some of his drunken buddies to infiltrated Edward’s inn while he was away and threw a wild party there. The next day and a few days afterward, Edward had to close his inn to repair all the broken chairs and clean the wall of graffiti, which cost him quite a lot. Not to mention his flirtatious side, which usually resulting in him forgetting his duty as a waiter at best and getting slapped at worse.
But it seemed like the inn’s owner still tried to look at him positively. After all, not everyone can bring a black cat to his inn’s grand opening, or asked for as much salary for a drink or two. And for Giles, all he ever need in life was a few bucks to buy booze, a place to sleep, which happened to be the basement of Edward’s inn, and last but not least, not being arrested by the police or attacked by black cats every single day like he used to be, even though there can never be five minutes passing without Edward berated him for his folly. In the end, both the master and the servant had no choice but to tolerate each other, one for a dirt cheap worker and one for a place that he can call home.
Edward made some more sandwiches while watching Giles as he ran hastily from table to table to get his customers’ orders. And while Edward was quietly cursing the young waiter for his incompetence, another one of his employee showed up. A young girl of roughly Giles’s age moved into the inn from the back door with her hands full of grocery bags. She was dressed in pied clothing in the same manner as Edward and Giles, which consisted of a rainbow-colored dress, a cape made entirely of ribbons stitched together and a no less flamboyant cone-shaped hat, to match the inn’s theme. The girl had her light brown hair tied into a braid, which was ‘dyed’ red, blue and yellow using paints. Her blue eyes were an especially salient feature on her rather dark skin tone and freckled face. Unlike when dealing with Giles, Edward’s usual grumpy and domineering attitude was replaced by a surprisingly pleasant smile in her presence.
‘Ah, good timing Farida.’ Edward grinned. ‘You got what I ordered?’
Farida nodded, taking out everything in the grocery bags and laying them out on a table: flours, eggs, butters, syrup, milk, orange juice… Edward scanned those items while carefully counting them. Old habits die hard, even when he already knew that Farida would complete any given task perfectly.
‘Well done, Farida. Unlike a certain someone, you never fail me.’ Edward said with a hint of satisfaction while glancing pointedly at Giles, who was (again) trying to flirt with some female customers.
Sensing his master’s death stare from afar, Giles clumsily apologized to the women and scurried back to the food stand to get his customers’ food. As soon as Giles got behind the stand, Edward hit him on the back with his walking cane and gave him a silent warning: ‘Do that again and your dinner will be air, savvy?’ The waiter knew too well that punishments were not among the stuffs his master would use for jokes and pleasantries since he himself had experienced that on many occasions. Surely Giles did not enjoy eating air for diner or not getting any money for his works at the end of the day, which were only a few of the many punishments Edward could come up with (administering punishments was always one of his favorite ‘pastime’). As a result, Giles quivered and nodded at his master’s words fearfully before getting back to work again while Farida seemed to be chuckling out of amusement. After all, these were all part of their daily routine and she enjoyed the fun brought about by Giles’s incompetence.
After having reminded the young lad of his duty, Edward turned to Farida and ordered her to put away the groceries and help him with the cooking. Instead of answering, Farida put up a cardboard sign with the sentence ‘Yes, your Excellency’ written on it and proceeded to do as she was told. For an unknown reason, the poor girl was mute from birth but her great dexterity and sense of duty was more than enough to make up for her disability as she they helped her got the job at the Pied Piper. In fact, she hung a huge stack of organized pre-written cardboard signs on a metal ring that she wore on the waist most of the time and will pull them out whenever she need to ‘say’ something. Writing messages on cardboard signs was her method of communication and while it could hardly replace a voice, it was good enough for her to work effectively at the inn. On the bright side, she would not need to worry about forgetting to call Edward by his favorite title and her master actually preferred an employee who could not complain (at least by speech).
As usual, business was going well at the Pied Piper. Since most customers have settled down with their meal at the moment, Edward allowed himself to rest by laying down on his favorite rocking chair, with a glass of orange juice in his hand and left all the work to Giles and Farida. Suddenly, he felt something rubbing on his feet in a very familiar manner. It clung on his robe and crawled all the way to his shoulder but he knew it would not bother him, unlike Giles the waiter.
It was the white rat that performed during every of his morning debut. Its whole body is covered in a long coat of soft whitish fur, which would make it looked like a fluffy hair ball without those clothes. The rat’s two beady red eyes scanned around and stopped upon seeing a stack of pancake waiting to be delivered, showing that it was hungry. In fact, it has always been hungry and it was not an easy task keeping it satisfied.
‘Hello Jones. Have you got any news for me?’ Edward talked to the rat while feeding it a strawberry while Farida greeted the creature with a cardboard sign.
Jones the rat crawled in a circle on its master’s shoulders and clapped its front legs together, as usual.
‘So they are coming, yes?’ Edward chuckled. ‘Better prepare something for those guys.’
Edward poked Farida, who just had done making a cup of coffee, with his walking cane and whirled his fingers in a series of fast and strange motions, which stood for ‘take care of my job for a while’ in the mute girl’s dictionary of sign languages at the Pied Piper. Farida nodded and took Edward’s place as sandwich maker while Edward moving toward the rainbow-colored tavern doors behind the food stand that led to the inn’s kitchen. Behind those doors was quite an unsightly scene: an old man in his sixties and untidy clothing, which consisted of a crooked toque, a ‘yellow’ apron (about thirty years ago, it was white), a blue T-shirt that could not fit his large beer belly properly and a stained brown pants. He was a tall man as even when being hunched, he still stood somewhat taller than Edward. His most distinguish feature, however, was an extremely bushy and unkempt moustache that made him looked exactly like a walrus walking on two feet. If not for the crooked, patched-up toque on his head, nobody would have guessed that he was the Pied Piper’s cook due to his horrible demeanor and personal hygiene. At the moment Edward entered the kitchen, he was running around and trying to smash a rodent trio of unusual size with his rolling pin while shouting in panic. ‘Kill them! KILL THEM!’
The whole place was a real mess, with frying pans and pots lying on the floor alongside some rat-bitten apples and spilled sugar. The only things that were still clean in the entire room was, fortunately the kitchen’s table, a large tray of pancakes and the old man’s pair of gloves, which Edward forced him to wear to keep his customers from getting dysentery. Edward let out a ‘Uuugh’ while grimacing in disgust as he shambled through the filthy kitchen floor, trying his best not to touch any garbage in the process. Meanwhile, Jones crawled down from its master’s shoulder and chased off the bigger rats all by itself before returning and gnawing on a half-eaten apple on the ground. For some reasons those giant rodents were more terrified of their smaller and flamboyantly-dressed cousin than a big fat old man with a rolling pin. Noticing Edward and his pet, the cook stop running but he still would not stop shouting curses at the rats that had retreated into the alley through the window.
‘Hey, Jeff! Shut your yap and get back to work! You’re going to scare my customers away with all of those screaming. Or worse, if people come and see this disgusting pigpen of a kitchen then our business is as good as dead.’ Edward said to the old man.
‘Dag nab it! Now you too, scruffy-chin! Like those rats haven’t pestered me enough!’ Jeff grumbled and whirled the rolling pin at Edward’s face.
Edward’s nostrils flared and he threw Jeff a deadly gaze while caressing his carefully-trimmed beard. He was not the type to take insults lightly, especially if they mentioned his precious beard or his choice of attire.
‘You want to get into it, old coot?’ Edward scowled. ‘If it was not for the fact you are in my kitchen and being my chef then I would happily drop some more rats on you. See if they like to pick on those bushes on your face?’
‘Bushes? Bushes? What happened to manners these days?’ Now it was Jeff’s turn to snap at Edward for insulting his moustache. ‘This moustache style was once the hottest trend all over towns and a real lady-killer thirty years ago! Thirty years ago I tell you!’
‘Yeah, right. Tell that to your apron, old man.’ Edward replied sarcastically. Apparently, showing manners to the elderly was not his primary concern in speaking. ‘Like you can teach me a thing about manners with all that cursing of yours. And have you gone too senile to remember that you must call me “your Excellency” like everyone else here?’
Jeff bent down with great difficulty as his old age and weight took their toll. He collected the frying pans and pots that had been lying around all over the place and put them back onto a table. He then turned to Edward and replied. ‘You realize you are the most flamboyant clown in this entire city, don’t you? I reckon that “Ringmaster” is a more suitable title for you.’
‘Hey, don’t try to be smart here.’ Edward sneered and poked Jeff’s belly with his walking cane while looking down on him, even when Jeff was nearly a head taller than him. ‘I own this place and thus, I have absolute power. I will call myself by whatever title I want but you, on the other hand, shall do whatever thing you are told to do. Now quit your gibbering and give me six dishes of waffles. Some important guests are going to drop by here any minute now.’
‘By important, you mean…’
‘Yes, now it’s good for you to be smart.’ Edward chuckled and clicked his fingers. ‘So get your job done quickly, on the double!’
As he finished his sentence, Edward turned around and walked away, not forgetting to bring a tray of cooked pancakes with him. Jones followed him suit, leaving only Jeff to clean up the messy kitchen. The old cook muttered some curses under his moustache while trying to “squeeze” Edward from afar with his fingers before the inn’s owner vanished behind the tavern doors. Jeff then let out a sigh and carried out Edward’s order. As much as Jeff hated Edward’s dictatorial attitude, he was still the master and the old cook did not have any choice but to comply, especially when those orders involved “important guests”.
And Jones has been never wrong. Just a couple of minutes later, a group of six persons in blue uniform and wearing helmets entered the inn. They were from the Police Department, the town’s security forces and officers of the law. Walking in the center of the group was a high ranking officer, whose presence immediately struck the inn with utter silence. He was a venerable middle-aged man with peaked cap, well-combed hair, well-trimmed moustache and an old trench coat. That man’s name was Henry, Chief Inspector Henry and he might be one of the most powerful men in Kalsas, whose power was proportional with the amount of medal on his coat and of course, the size of his big, protruding belly.
‘Take care of Jones for a while.’ Edward said to Farida and she nodded understandingly as Jones crawled from its master’s shoulder to hers.
He then walked into the center of the inn to greet the policemen, not without bowing politely.
‘Good day and welcome. I am humbled to have you visited this little, shabby place of mine, dear sire.’ Edward said while signaling Giles to come to his side. ‘What service may I do you and these gentlemen?’
‘No need for formality, Mr. Alden.’ The middle-aged man shook his head. ‘My men and I just need some waffles and coffee for our breakfast, which I believed you are capable of providing us.’
‘What a coincidence!’ Edward chuckled. ‘In fact, my dim intuition told me that somebody important may turn up at the inn this morning so I have already prepared some good stuff here.’
As he said, Edward slightly turned his head toward Giles and coughed, as if he were trying to say ‘What are you standing there for, you daft? Go and fetch those waffles and coffee at the stand!’
Without saying, Giles hastily head to the stands to get the food as his master demanded then served them to these respectable officers of the law. In truth, he has never felt comfortable around the police. He was no stranger to the jail, even when he already had the job as a waiter, and their presence made him felt uneasy. But with his master Edward who was holding his long walking cane which can always be used as a beating stick in his hand standing behind him, he had little choice but to keep a friendly smile on his face.
‘I hope you enjoy your breakfast, sire.’ Edward said. ‘By the way, would you like me to play some music for you? I think I can offer you and these gentlemen some entertainment.’
Chief Inspector Henry replied him. ’No thanks. Hearing the sound of bird chirping from the street is enough for this old man.’
‘Then I shall take my leave, sire.’
The inn’s owner retreated back to his stand, with his faithful employee followed him suit. By his grumpy expression, Giles could tell that he was annoyed by the police officers’ presence as well, even though he acted all nice and gentle in front of them. Just like him.
’Forgive me your Excellency, but who’s that scallywag anyway?’ Giles asked.
‘You don’t even know him, you mangy cur? I thought you know him better than myself. The prison was like your second home, yes?’ Edward gave Giles a sarcastic look and asked him mockingly.
‘That’s true. But I don’t remember having seen him before.’ Giles shrugged. ‘And what’s so great about him that you have to act like that, sir?’
Edward gave a strawberry to Farida so that she could feed it to Jones, before pulling the waiter closer to his side.
’Believe me. I would pay you 10 more plebbs if you call the damned geezer by that again.’ He whispered while giving the venerable middle-aged man a secret glare. ‘But since he is the Chief Inspector of this town I can’t help but putting up an act. You too, better behave in front of him, you cabbage. After all, with his authorities, he can even say that my old chum Jones here is a bloody big roach and our inn will have to shut down for good.’
It was not clear if Jones understood what its master just said but the rat kept staring between Edward and the Chief Inspector. Maybe Jones knew it did not look a tad like a roach.
‘That scallywag is some Chief Inspector?’ Giles pointed at the venerable man, who was taking a great bite of his waffle. Edward frowned, as to confirm the matter. ‘That explains everything.’
’And to hell with all the ‘bird chirping’ craps of his. Like anyone could hear those birds out of all the noises out there. What’s more, he has never given any tips before.’ The inn’s owner wailed ‘Can you imagine? I always give him the best service available. I even prepared him food beforehand. But he doesn’t even give me 5 plebbs as a tip.’
Giles gave Edward’s word a piece of mind. It was clear that the Chief Inspector has been to their inn several times before. It was also clear that he has never tipped them before. But why couldn’t he remember anything about that venerable man? Maybe he was always busy chatting up some ladies when the Chief Inspector enjoyed eating sandwiches or pancakes and his master did not care a whit about that. And Giles himself was too absent-minded to remember any customers he served, unless they were beautiful ladies, of course. But now, since Edward has called him, he was clearly up to something.
They started to hear the customers demanding their food and of course, as the employer and employees of the inn, Edward, Giles and Farida had to go back to work. Farida made more coffee, Edward put more breads into a toaster while shouting at Giles, who was trying his best to follow his orders. It was not an easy job, running an inn with a master who always shouted at him and called him cabbage. But to Giles, Edward was still a saint compared to those policemen. He paid him for working as a waiter and provided him shelter for working as an errand boy at his house. To Giles, that was a hundred times better than getting beaten with clubs and sitting inside the cell one or two times a week. Therefore, the young man dared not disobey his master, for he never knew when the street would be his home again.
‘What do you want me to do with those guys?’ Giles quickly asked Edward, who was busy making more sandwiches.
‘Those bobbies?’ Edward was fed up when he looked at the policemen. His green eyes turned up and down. ‘If you aren’t too busy flirting with some customers then perhaps you can drop by occasionally and ask how they feel about the food or something. But as I told you, behave nicely around them or we will be in big trouble. If you can do that, they may consider giving us a tip and I will let you have twenty percent. Savvy?’
Giles thought: ‘I knew it! He planned to use me to get some tips from that scallywag! It is a good thing he still considers sharing it with me.’
‘As you wish, your Excellency.’ The waiter replied shortly. ‘Oh and there’s one more thing.’
‘What do you want?’ Edward sighed.
‘Forgive me, your Excellency but I believe you said that you would give me 10 plebbs if I called that, you know, Chief Inspector a scallywag, yes?’
‘Seriously, did you learn that bloody word from Jeff?’ The inn’s owner growled while inspecting a handful of plebb coins to pick out the rustiest ones.
‘Indeed I did.’ Giles replied gleefully. His hands formed a cup to hold Edward’s coins.
‘Here, buy booze or whatever rubbish you want with them. Now go away, you cabbage-brain!’
‘Thank you, your Excellency.’ Giles bowed gratefully before dashing toward Edward’s beautiful and familiar guests, Haley and Campbell, with two cups of coffee in hand and a joyful smile on his face. ‘Here is your drink, ladies.’
After a few minutes, the policemen have finally finished their quick meal and decided to leave. Edward and Giles sighed in relief as they stood up and headed toward the stand to pay for their waffles and coffee. Their eyes sparked with delight when the policemen handed them stacks of cash but they still tried to keep themselves from looking too happy. They expected to see more from those gentlemen. But contradict to what they have been hoping, none of those officers of the law even thought about tipping them some plebbs. When their hope began to wither as Henry, the last person of the line, prepared to pay them, Edward discreetly hit Giles on the back with his walking cane while rubbing his fingers together. Giles, fully aware of his master’s signal, politely asked the Chief Inspector:
‘What do you think about our service, sir?’
‘Very good food you have there, gentlemen. I will come back here next time.’ The venerable middle-aged man replied while heading toward the door.
‘Forgive me, sir but don’t you think our service was somehow…’ Suddenly, Giles forgot the last word and he instinctively turned back for help. Fortunately for him, the first thing his eyes caught was Farida’s cardboard sign, with the word he required written on it in bold red ink.
‘…rewarding?’ Giles continued and tried his best to put on a smile.
‘Gentlemen,’ The Chief Inspector sneered lightly. ’I really want to ‘reward’ you but well, today is not yet my payday and so, you know, my budget is really tight. I only have enough to buy a steam-bus ticket to get here from my shabby home. In fact, right now I am having a big loan and I must save up every…’ He said slowly. ’…single coin to pay it. You see, it’s a really tough time for me so let’s save the cost of my meal as well as your ‘reward’ for some other time, ok.’
The venerable man patted Giles on the shoulder while talking with a really ‘unhappy’ look on his face. Then, as soon as he left Pied Piper inn, he burst out laughing in a sarcastic manner, leaving Edward and Giles speechless. After a moment of silence, Edward continued with his job, but he was not in a good mood. He wailed while putting lettuces and cheese on a piece of toast:
‘You see? That old prat will never tip us! After all I have done to him, he just left without paying and even laughed at us. At least he…’
And suddenly, Edward’s speech was interrupted by a loud thudding sound coming out from the door to the underground cellar behind to the kitchen. Alerted by that sound, Edward told Farida to keep on working as he and Giles approached the cellar. They found a large sack of flour lying on the staircase and Jeff, who was turning red from anger. Apparently he had been hauling the flour sack upstairs when he heard Edward talking about how the Chief Inspector. Apparently, news of the venerable gentleman skipped paying for his meal, gave them no tip and mocked them triggered his berserk button. The old man rolled up his sleeves and raged his way up the cellar.
‘I’ve gone through all the troubles to make him the best waffles and that was how he treated us? That darn fat scallywag has gone too far this time! Too far I tell you! Wait till I get out there and teach him some REAL manners!’ He roared.
‘No good.’ Edward panicked for a second before turning to his employee and barking out orders. ‘Giles! Close the bloody door quickly before that old geezer Jeff gets all of us into jail!’
Upon hearing Edward’s warning of a future in prison, Giles rushed toward the cellar doors, shut it down and locked it without a second thought. Being confined was the last thing the young lad would want to befall him and he would do anything to ensure that would not happen again, even if it meant trapping an angry elderly man in a cellar.
‘Dag nab it, scruffy-chin! Cuckoo-head (Jeff had also given Giles a good nickname)! Let me outta here! I gotta beat some senses into that darn Chief Inspector!’ Jeff furiously knocked on the cellar doors while shouting.
‘Take it easy, old man! You want us all to get arrested?’ Edward tried to sooth down the old cook but all he got was more curses and bashing sound coming from beneath the cellar
Frustrated, the inn’s owner whispered to Giles. ’Get Farida over here and tell her to talk some senses into this stubborn geezer. She’s the only one he would ever listen to anyway.’
Giles nodded, hurriedly following Edward’s order and coming back with Farida by his side a few seconds later. Both Edward and Giles slowly moved back to the food stand while looking nervously at the scene as Farida opened the cellar doors. Normally, Jeff would rush out of the cellar with vengeance in mind and Edward or Giles would be the first persons to face his wrath. However, the sight of Farida standing right at the entrance to the cellar somehow snapped him out of his anger. After all, it would be rude to act violently in front of a woman. Jeff let out a sigh and walked out of the cellar slowly and silently, returning to the messy kitchen with Farida patting on his shoulder to calm him down. Only after seeing that scene did Edward and Giles truly feel relieved. Farida moved back to the food stand with them and everything seemed to have returned to normal. Luckily for them, there were no more customers at the moment and so they could take a short break after that incident.
‘That was a close one.’ Edward said as he dropped himself on his rocking chair. ‘Looks like we all owe you this one, Farida.’
The mute girl smiled and put up a ‘Thank you, your Excellency’ cardboard sign. She then handed a glass of orange juice to Edward, which he happily accepted and drank half of it in one big gulp.
‘But that bloody old bobby still gets on my nerves.’ The inn’s owner continued while tapping his walking cane on his wooden left foot. ‘Every time he comes here, he always uses his “Super-Chief-Inspector-Power” to get what he wants and then leave without tipping us even a single coin. I can assure you he’s the most despicable guy I’ve ever seen in my whole life.’
‘Indeed. Sounds just like someone I know around here when it comes to abusing authority.’ Jeff’s voice came out from the kitchen, having returned to its normal tone, with a hint of sarcasm.
‘I don’t pay you to make fun of me, Jeff.’ Edward grumbled irritatingly while Giles and Farida (and probably Jeff too) snickered secretly.
‘But I think old man Jeff is right about the Chief Inspector guy. That scallywag really needs a nice ripe beating. How about I pound him with a cane the next time he comes here? Won’t hurt if we do it sneaky-style, yes?’ Giles suggested while punching his palm.
‘Marvelous! But then what will happen when they find out?’ Edward smirked. ‘You will be put into prison for the rest of your miserable, sullen and godforsaken life and I will have to bribe some wardens to get you out of that place, you mangy cur. And worse, you might be hanged, dead like a sewer rat. Then where the hell do you expect me to find a low-wage waiter and errand boy, someone who would even eat a three-week old moldy, stale pie just for 10 plebbs?’
‘Good point, your Excellency.’ Giles nodded but then realization struck him so hard that his face turned pale. ‘Wait, did you just speak of that…?’
‘Yeah, so...’ Edward was going to give Giles a most nonchalant reply when he too, realized that speaking of “that event” was a taboo for them. ‘Oh, right. I forgot.’
Edward did his best not to recall that certain event as even the slightest glimpse into it was already enough to make his eyes twitched and his body shuddered in both fear and disgust. Jeff’s miserable groans can also be heard from the kitchen. Only Farida did not seem to be affected as she was away for grocery when that event took place and she just knew of it from Giles, who told her to stop him or Edward should any of them carelessly try to mention that forbidden topic ever again (but apparently he put his trust on the wrong person since Farida could not speak). Giles’s condition seemed to have worsened as his face turned green from the recollections of his disturbingly disgusting actions that came back to invade his mind. Perhaps such horrid memories were too much for him.
‘Excuse me for a moment, your Excellency.’ Giles tried to put on a distorted smile before rushing right into the toilet. From his stand, Edward could hear his klutzy waiter’s barfing sound.
‘Whew.’ Edward whistled in amusement. ‘I didn’t see that coming.’
Suddenly, a customer asked: ‘Hey, master! Where’s the waiter?’ Probably he was waiting for his tasty syrup-coated waffle, which Edward had finished making but too lazy to deliver in Giles’ stead.
‘Pardon us, sir’ Edward replied while motioning Farida to serve the food to their customers and she readily complied.
‘Oh bloody plebb! Hurry up and get back to work, you cabbage!’ Edward thought as he lazily reached for Jones, who was crawling toward a dish of pancake, while trying not to move his back an inch from the chair.
‘Master, I want to pay.’
After a while, suddenly, a voice echoed in his mind, yet he heard nothing but the word ‘pay’. For a man of business like him, money seems to be irresistible. Without a second of thought, Edward stood up and tossed Jones, his pet rat onto the ground with a swipe of his hand before turning toward his customer with a cheerful smile on his face.
‘Oh, yes. What was your order?’
But not until now did he noticed the difference in that customer’s voice and scent.
The voice of a young woman who was in her early twenties and the fragrant of jasmines emitted from her body filled the air. Edward was no stranger to them.
Jones crawled back onto its master’s shoulder and stared at the woman in front of it.
She was a pretty one, with long, silky black hair and deep, hazel eyes. Her skin was white as snow and she clad in totally black clothing, which consisted of a long-sleeved coat, with a silver sword-and-scale badge was attached on it and a dress. The outfit seemed to set off her fair complexion. She looked at Edward emotionlessly, as if they had never met before. But in truth, Edward knew her better than anyone else in that room.
‘Good day and welcome, Tsubaki.’ Edward finally spoke while lifting his hat up a little. ‘What brings you here, I wonder.’
 Plebb: The lowest value currency used in this universe. Other types of currencies include the Midd, which worth 200 plebbs and the Knobb, which worth 50 midds.