Jonathon Postlethwaite and the Seed of Corruption

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The Scholar was woken early the following morning by a loud cursing from outside in the yard below. He dressed quickly and looked down into the courtyard to see an enormous, red faced man in a dirty red and white apron who was hurling small, blackened objects violently against the gates.

“Fucking bollocks, fucking shit bollocks!” he howled in a highly agitated state. “They’re ruined, fucking ruined” he almost sobbed as he examined the charcoaled remains of yesterday’s work.

With an unintelligible grunt, he turned his reddened face up to the window, where a puzzled spectator stood watching. The scholar looked into the visage of Victor the Mad Baker in full fury. His face was almost purple now, except for the red, bulbous, porey nose which contrasted with his wild shock of white hair.

The baker’s bloodshot eyes narrowed when he saw the fat, bald man looking down at him. He held up a ruined pie at him and shouted.

“What d’you think y’staring at runt! Want a pie for y’fucking breakfast, eh!” he screamed, baring his brown teeth, and hurled the burned offering at the now frightened observer.

The burnt pie rattled off the window frame and the scholar withdrew from the window taking in a deep breath. He turned and saw Mrs.Lovenberry shuffling down the corridor from the direction of the stairs and in the process of tying on a pinafore.

“Ah ” she said.” Good morning. Did you want breakfast, Mr. er, What was your name again.” she inquired, unsure of whether they had been introduced the night before. “Scholar.” said the pale faced little man who still had his eyes on the baker who had now begun to take out his frustration on the yard gates with his boot.

“Ah, yes, Mr. Scholar of course, Breakfast?” she inquired.

Mr. Scholar, as he had been newly titled, was tempted to explain that ‘scholar’ was not in fact his real name, just something that Flax called him. His real name Pinky Makepeace, but he decided that he would keep the new title. It seemed to have a ring to it. “Yes, breakfast.” Pinky replied, still watching the baker who now sat down by the gates with a bottle to his mouth.” Breakfast” he repeated.

He followed Mrs. Lovenberry down the stairs and into a room behind the bar. Agnes apologised for forgetting her guest’s names, even though they had never given them to her, and inquired of the names of her other two guests.

Even though she had not heard the names before, she repeated them after the Scholar with a false familiarity. It was old age she said, it played tricks with her memory. Would his friends be down for breakfast soon? she asked.

Pinky the Scholar shook his head. They had along journey and were very, very tired, he explained. No, he thought, definitely not, judging from the moaning and groaning that had come from Scoggins’s room the night before. They would be completely exhausted.

At breakfast, Mr. Scholar wolfed down the somewhat alien food with relish. It was good, despite its unfamiliarity he thought, and continued to extract as much information about the place he found himself in by asking the old woman subtle questions.

Mrs. Lovenberry was very obliging. Soon Mr. Scholar knew enough about the geography of the small town of Bramston to plan a trip to the local library. The old woman had mentioned it several times during his interrogation when stumped by some of his strange questions. It was “a place of books and knowledge, if you needed to know anything, you should go there.” she had suggested.

For her part Mrs. Lovenberry had many questions of her own to ask, but found them all adequately answered by the Scholar who had composed a cover story for thier sudden nocturnal appearance which he hoped the old woman would find plausible.

They were travellers from a place far away. They were himself - Mr Scholar, Mr. Flax the man with the large nose and last but no means least Mr. Scoggins. Mrs. Lovenberry was tempted to add her own thoughts concerning the latter, but did not. She had been bought up in an age where one kept one’s opinions to one’s self, even if she did think that Mr. Scoggins was in fact a woman or at least a ‘Nancy boy’. But on this occasion she broke the rules.

“May I ask a question” she ventured. Pinky raised his eyebrows. “Is Mr Scoggins a Gay person?”

Pinky Makepeace shrugged.

“I guess he’s as happy as the rest of us Mrs Lovenberry.” He responded. Mrs Lovenberry sighed.

The three travellers had been caught in the rain and had sought shelter in her yard. Mrs Lovenberry did not ask how they got through locked gates and over the glass topped walls. Mr. Flax was here on business and the other two were here to assist him. No, they were not undertakers, the Scholar explained. Mrs.Lovenberry had been dying to ask that question and Pinky did not know what an undertaker was. So he denied that they were in order to avoid further embarrassment if he and his companions did not behave like undertakers should, and therefore compromise his story.

As for their profession the friendly little, over friendly and definitely a bit odd, Mrs Lovenberry thought, man, said they were here to purchase some equipment. No, sorry he didn’t know what sort of equipment. He was only an assistant. he only knew that they would buy lots and lots of it.

“Oh!” exclaimed Mrs. Lovenberry, her eyes suddenly widening in comprehension. “Wholesalers! My nephew Richard’s a wholesaler. He never knows much about what he’s buying or selling either, just how much money he’ll make.”

The Scholar laughed, partly because he was surprised at the success of his story and partly to relieve his nerves. One final explanation was due to the old woman though, one detail Mr. Scholar seemed to have over-looked and which intrigued her.

“But what about these strange clothes you wear, shouldn’t people in your profession wear proper suits?” she ventured her curiosity overcoming her manners.

Pinky was lost for words. Strange clothes? Strange clothes! Of course! He had never looked upon them as strange clothes. His mouth opened in response.

“Well, er we, er, hum....yes.....”

A loud knocking on the door saved him the effort from concocting some strange excuse for their clothing on the spot. The person knocking at the door had knocked impatiently twice again before the arthritic old woman had reached the door. She opened it and the huge, ruddy faced baker stepped a foot inside and towered over little woman.

His face gave the expression that his head would explode at any moment, but he presented an apologetic mood. He attempted a smile, but was unable to manage it, creating the impression he was about to throw up instead. “Ah, Mrs. Lovenberry my dear.” he parted his pink lips to reveal enough of his teeth to mimic some form of a smile. “Thought you were still in bed m’duck. Here’s the rent I owe you and a little extra, since it’s slightly overdue.” he laughed apologetically.

Agnes Lovenberry smiled smugly and stared at the baker as she took the small envelope from his huge hairy hand, then crossed her arms across her chest.

“Well Mr. Burns, let’s not let it happen again shall we?” she said sternly. “Because I’ve got other income now” she warned, pointing to Pinky, who cringed immediately the baker set his beady eyes upon him. “and they’re wholesalers!” she proclaimed triumphantly. “I don’t have to rely on you pittance of rent! ” she added.

Victor Burns was slightly taken aback by his landlady’s sudden and newly acquired financial independence of him. Yet he laughed and patted Mrs. Lovenberry on the shoulder.

“And I’m very pleased for you, my love.” he slimed. “I know you have a good sense of humour! I was only telling the wife this morning what a good sport you are and not lost a spot of it over the many, many years we’ve been such good friends.” he said as he strode over towards the table where ‘Mr. Scholar’ sat shaking.

Mr. Scholar involuntarily stood up as the wobbling mass of the mad baker approached. It was the Scholar’s survival instinct that told him to flee by throwing him upright out of the chair. The baker stretched out a hand. The Scholar did the same, his face draining of all colour. The baker grasped it tightly.

“Didn’t quite catch the name - I’m Victor Burns, baker of extraordinary pies.” he growled as he began to squeeze the Pinky’s hand in his own gigantic, bear-like paw and pulling him closer as he did so.

Victor’s breath stank of beer and garlic, his tiny bloodshot eyes bore directly into the Pinky’s own. “Wholesalers? Wholesale what? Coffins? ’cos that’s what you and your mates will need if you fuck with me you little tosser.” he threatened and then laughed loudly sending a shower of spittle into the Scholar’s face. “Don’t cross me you little twat! Some cunt was in my bakery last night” the low growling continued. “I don’t like trespassers, here or in my bakery. If you’ve got plans for this place forget it. When the old dear pops her clogs, which won’t be long, it’ll be my name on the will., understand creep?” he finished giving Pinky’s squashed fingers one final violent crush before releasing them.

“Yes “whispered the Scholar, wincing in pain as the blood rushed back into his fingers to set the nerves on fire.

All this time Mrs. Lovenberry had been slowly counting the cash Victor had given her in the envelope. As she came back to the table, Victor smiled again, this time a self-satisfied grin.

“Ah, Agnes dear, I was just telling thingy here about the Wheatsheaf’s excellent facilities, we’re going to have a drink together sometime.” He laughed jovially, then got up and slapped the Scholar hard between the shoulder blades.

“Cheerio then, and don’t forget what we’ve said my friend” he said and gave the Scholar one final and threatening stare before making his way the door, humming himself out of the room through clenched teeth, pausing only briefly to peck Mrs Lovenberry on the cheek.

Pinky Makepeace, or Mr. Scholar, collapsed into his chair, relieved that the mad ox of a man had gone and resolved to do something about him. He was a High Hat and no-one would have spoken to him like that at home without losing some part of his anatomy in punishment.

He soon forgot the baker and his threats however, his immediate concern was to brief Flax with all the information he had gleaned from the withered old woman. Pinky excused himself to his host and made his way upstairs, his mind boggling at the thought of what he would find in Scoggins’s room. Outside the door he had second thoughts about disturbing Flax and his playmate. The sounds of heavy breathing and a renewed agonized moaning from within told him that now was not the time to interrupt Flax and that freak with him. He ambled downstairs again and into the room behind the bar where he found Mrs Lovenberry reading a newspaper which she lowered to peer over at him through her horn rimmed spectacles.

“Oh, Mr. Scholar, I forgot to ask will your friends be coming down for breakfast, I forgot to ask. “she asked again, although she had already asked him once.

“No, er, I suspect they’ll be very tired” he spluttered almost laughing.

“Very well” the old woman smiled. “I’d better think about lunch then. I’m sure they’ll be very hungry when they wake up. Will one o’clock be alright?” looking at the Scholar over her reading glasses. Pinky smiled. She was so stupidly trusting. Then a thought drifted into his head which made him lick his lips, not of dinner of course, but a symptom of a more perverse appetite.

“Of course, of course, Agnes, my I call you Agnes? Lunch at your convenience.” then he excused himself again and putting on his hat and coat telling her that he had some errands the run.

Pinky Makepeace the Scholar left by the side door and walked warily into the yard. The baker was at work in his rented kitchen, his loud singing ravishing the cold air. Pinky Makepeace spat bravely in the direction of the bakery where `Some enchanted evening...′ was being destroyed by the grinding bass tones of Victor Burns.

This man disturbed him, but only because this was not Dubh. He would tell Flax about him, he was a threat to their mission here and no doubt Ivor Scoggins would be detailed to sort him out.

“Baker of Extraordinary pies.” scoffed the Scholar, they’d be extraordinary if Burns found himself to be an ingredient in them he thought and could not stifle his laughter. The singing stopped abruptly but, by the time a bemused Victor Burns had emerged from his bakery to investigate, Pinky had slipped out of the yard and into the narrow street beyond the gates.

Pinky Makepeace now found himself and took him by surprise, lifting his top hat from his head and sending it dancing along the cobbles as if it had a life of its own.

Pinky charged after it, his long coat flapping wildly in the wind and hindering his progress. The alley, in which he now stumbled along in pursuit of his head gear was empty, the high buildings on either side channelling in the winter wind which roared towards the open market square ahead of him.

The top hat continued its quest for freedom and shot out into the market square. But its brief flight came to a sudden end. As Pinky watched, a bright red, horseless carriage howled past, squashing the hat flat as the Scholar stared open mouthed. Flabbergasted, he now stood at the edge of the market street and stared as the engine on wheels disappeared around the corner. Another appeared and roared after it, a green one this time, with a man leaning one arm out of the window and guiding the machine, by means of a wheel, with the other.

Pinky Makepeace wrapped his coat around himself against the unfamiliar cold and walked cautiously around the corner, abandoning his hat to the traffic. The square narrowed into a single street to his left, where a few early risers walked purposefully along the wet pavements, heads down in the squally rain. Most wore overcoats against the weather and on this day the Scholar’s attire drew little attention, although, had it been a summer’s day he would probably still have worn his High Hat uniform.

The Scholar walked along the street gazing through the vast expanses of sheet glass windows into shops which displayed a multitude of goods, flattening himself against the windows every time a motor car roared past until he eventually he realised, that on the raised walk- ways at the edge of the carriageway he would not suffer the same fate as his lost hat.

The variety of goods on sale amazed him. Everything imaginable could be bought here it seemed, at least initially. Food, clothes, boots and shoes - things he couldn’t even recognise. Even the noisy carriages were displayed in some large shops.

There were a few shops, of a kind, in Dubh. Ale houses and food-halls, brothels, multi-purpose slaves if you wanted one and were of the right class and power. But this place was different. It seemed that there was more on sale here. Yet to the Dubhian Scholar, the real basic necessities of life, the brothels and ale houses, where few and far between, if they existed at all. But they definitely did not abound in the profusion they existed at home, he thought.

Some places smelt of ale, but were strangely dark and silent. No drunken singing and the sound of laughter came from them. He finally though he had found a slave shop, but quickly realised that the people he saw were in fact, not real at all, just dummies dressed like people and displaying clothes for sale.

The Scholar spent the few hours wandering along the high street until he found a shop which excited him even more than the pet shop he had spent an hour in, before he was ejected for slobbering over the rabbits.

This was it! Flax would be so pleased he thought. It was a gun shop. Row upon row of strange double barrelled muskets and smaller weapons made him shiver with excitement.

“Gun Seller!” he shouted out loud. Flax said that a gun seller would be here and would provide the High Hats with all they required and he Pinky Makepeace the Scholar had found him - he would go down in the annals of High Hat history.

Pinky entered the shop and approached the glass topped counter. All around him the shop was packed with racks of shotguns and rifles chained together or secured in heavy cabinets with large padlocks. A bell had rung as Pinky entered the shop and now a portly, grey- haired man, wearing a padded green waistcoat and sporting a military style handle bar moustache, emerged from behind a bead curtained door in response to it.

For a moment he stared uneasily at the Scholar, and then a smile grew, with difficulty, on his ruddy face. “Good morning, Sir. How may I help you?” he intoned automatically.

The Scholar nodded a brief greeting.

“You are the gun seller?” he asked. The gunsmith raised his eyebrows.

“Probably.” he responded, his eyes rolling to stare at the ceiling.

“I want to buy some guns” Pinky stated bluntly. The gunsmith looked back him.

“And what type of guns does Sir wish to purchase?” he answered with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. The gunsmith’s potential customer shrugged his shoulders and swung his arm around the racks casually.

“These type of guns?” he ventured, not really sure. The portly man sighed, the horns of his moustache quivering with impatience as he exhaled.

“Small bore, large bore, automatics, shotguns, rifles, pistols - a water pistol or pop gun perhaps?” he mocked. Pinky did not see any joke as he peered around the room. The gunsmith stepped out from behind the counter.

“What does ‘Sir’ want a gun for?” he asked.

“Guns, corrected Pinky. Guns for a war.” then something caught his eye on a rack and he marched towards it. “What about these guns? How much are they?” the gunsmith joined him shaking his head wearily. The world was seething with nutters nowadays he thought and here was a prize winner in his shop.

“Kalashnikov AK 47, also known to its devotees as the Widowmaker. Not an automatic now, a collector’s piece, and retailing at four hundred and fifty pounds plus V. A. T. “he spat impatiently.

The Scholar whirled around, his eyes wide in amazement. “Four hundred and fifty pounds of what!?” he shook his head in disbelief. “Look, I’ll give you three ounces of opium, no more.” he snapped and held the gaze of the astonished and angry gunsmith whose lips were beginning to curl back over his teeth as his face reddened. He blew up.

“Now look here you buffoon! Get out of my shop before I call the police! What are you? One of these junky loonies they’re turning out of the asylums nowadays?” he barked and grabbed the Scholar by the scruff of the neck and frogmarched him to the door. Pinky protested.

“But it’s a perfectly good price, I could buy three muskets for that price in the city.” The portly gunsmith opened the door and hurled the Scholar onto the wet pavement.

“Now piss off back to the hospital or wherever before I call police ” the door slammed hard and the bell tinkled chaotically for a long time.

An irate, highly confused and bruised Pinky Makepeace picked himself off the damp ground. He had been deadly serious in his offer for the gun, but it seemed that weapons were either very expensive here or there was some subtle detail he had missed when attempting to deal with the gunsmith. Had he offended the man somehow? He had certainly offended him.

Pinky was angry at his treatment by both the baker and this gun seller, they both deserved to be punished and would he would have used his influence to ensure that they did if his were Dubh. But he knew this wasn’t Dubh and consoled himself in the lessons he had learned today, because the learning of such lessons was the reason Flax had brought him here. His master wanted answers. Currency, weapons and the people who held power here. These were the things that Flax wanted to know about.

Pinky Makepeace, the Scholar, had just learned valuable lessons from his visit to the gunsmith. Opium was not acceptable to him and the ‘police’ were obviously an organisation who held some power here. He said he would call them, they must be like the Tans.

The Scholar continued his observation for most of the morning. He watched people trading in various shops and soon learned that people used notes and coins to purchase goods. This currency was the same as an older form which had been replaced in Dubh many ago and gold had been the basis of note value of then. The Scholar was relieved that he would not have to tell Flax that all the cargo he had brought through the gate worthless here.

Pinky’s visit to the town library provided him with a wealth of information on all the subjects he had been briefed by his master to find out about. When he had left the silent halls of books accompanied by curious, and sometimes anxious, stare of its librarians, Pinky Makepeace had in his mind a fuller picture of the strange world they now resided in which would both delight and dismay Silus Flax.

Having committed all the information he had gathered to memory, he left. There were many types of weapon to be had here, the gunsmith catered for a different type of customer than Flax intended to be and the guns he required would be difficult to procure, since they were reserved for the armies of those who held power, and part of the reason that they held power.

The ‘police force’ was part of the army that kept the gunless in their place here. The type of weaponry Flax wanted would bring him into conflict with these people and their rulers. They would stand in his way in all of his activities. But Flax would be happy to know that there were those who would sell him such weapons regardless of the risks – greed motivated.

Drugs were illegal here too, but markets existed out of control of the authorities who declared their use immoral rather than normal. Human beings still pursued pleasure in the same way those did in Dubh, but such hedonism was frowned upon by those in power as it threatened the very structure and order on which their power was built.

Pinky Makepeace believed that those in power here did not understand the true nature of humanity at all and that the deprivation of people of their pleasures made this world a very unstable place indeed. When these people saw through the mesmerising veil of ideas that those in power used to subdue them and saw themselves for what they were, this whole world would begin to disintegrate.

Yet it had remained this way for centuries. One small group controlling the masses, first with the sword and now with the idea....and few guns. The subduing of the masses grew more complicated all the time and the powers which opposed the order which had evolved grew stronger. But the order would not be attacked and toppled from without - it would rot from within. Corruption was growing here, it wished to bring chaos and then grow strong in the despair that followed as it had in Dubh. Flax would enjoy Pinky’s analysis of the situation here, it would please him to know that he could worm his way to power here in the same way as he had at home. Happy with his day’s research, the Scholar turned and made his way back through the winter evening to the Cross Keys.

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