Thursday, April 19, 2012

CHAPTER EIGHT
A Conversation Between Brothers



GAFFNEY: I suppose you are wondering why, after so long, I’ve decided to grace you with my presence.
MILO: I imagine a certain degree of boredom. Haven’t you been allowed to flay the giantess yet? I thought that was your entire reason for supporting the program.
GAFFNEY: In due time, although it worries me.
MILO: It is unlikely that you’d be worried about anything.
GAFFNEY: No, for once, I am worried. Genuinely unnerved.
MILO: Now you’re lying to me.
GAFFNEY: If I am, are you discontinuing this little trek?
MILO: Far from it. I appreciate the extension of the lie. In some small way it seems as if you notice my desires to not be lied to, although it continues your previously expressed opinion of my gullibility.
GAFFNEY: I don’t think you’re gullible, not at all. Simple, yes.
MILO: That’s a mild improvement.
GAFFNEY: No. No. Briefly consider the giantess, tiptoeing around the subject.
MILO: I know some aspects of the project, and I know you’re attempting to discern what I know. Your opinion of my supposed simplicity makes you assume I am also easily impressed by you and your general presence, and although the murderous threat you have quite succinctly proven in the past may have been dulled by time, you know that I am actually just as capable of sociopathic facade as you. In fact, you know that I pretend to be the fool specifically to remain beneath your notice, and you consider this fact a natural extension of your omniscient awareness of the scene around you.
GAFFNEY: Gadzooks, Milo. You’ve gone all self-aware on me.
MILO: You forget that I’m so full of toxins that at any moment I may be on the cusp of clarity. I seem to be there now. Make use of it before I fog away back into my usual negligent stupor.
GAFFNEY pauses briefly, considers stabbing his half-brother with a knife he has hidden in his sleeve for such possibilities, but decides to continue the conversation for curiosity’s sake.
GAFFNEY: Well then, this leads us to the uncomfortable question of remuneration for exactly what you’re going to tell me shortly.
MILO: Supposing I didn’t tell you anything at all, Gaffney? Supposing, just once, I divert from your scheme, and allow myself to be an individual of my own stance momentarily?
GAFFNEY: I don’t think you’re capable of it. You’re going to tell me what you know of the giantess project, and I’m going to give you a little vial I have in the sole of my shoe, containing a liquid whose name you would never gasp in even your most debauched of reveries. And you’ll go home, and probably overdose on it.
MILO: Or, perhaps even better, it’s just simple poison, and you’ll be rid of me at last.
GAFFNEY: You confuse me for some other person. You know I enjoy the infliction of pain.
MILO: Supposing I don’t want the vial. Supposing I simply want to be involved.
GAFFNEY: (chuckling) Oh, that’s rich.
MILO: No, hear me out. Supposing I know something about Gibney that you don’t.
GAFFNEY: I know everything about Gibney.
MILO: You don’t know what I know.
GAFFNEY: No.
MILO continues to walk silently. He forgets that he doesn’t even know where GAFFNEY was taking him.
GAFFNEY: Now we’re off-script, Milo. I don’t care for it.
MILO: I know.
GAFFNEY: Tell me, I pray you.
MILO: You’re not praying hard enough.
    GAFFNEY: Don’t expect any more than this.
    MILO: I’ll take that as deviation enough, then. May I consider it a small victory?
    GAFFNEY: A pathetic one.
    MILO: Of course.
    MILO points up at the Greeves Institute, and GAFFNEY realizes that a single light in the tower is on. It glows with a weird green light.
    MILO: What is that room, Gaffney?
    GAFFNEY: One of the laboratories.
    MILO: Which?
    GAFFNEY: Munitions?
    MILO: No.
    GAFFNEY: Damn you.
    MILO: That is Gaffney’s private laboratory. The one you have bugged for years.
    GAFFNEY: And the one he knows I’ve bugged for years.
    MILO: And, in your paranoia, you have assumed that the one room you’ve bugged for years is exactly the one he’d never perform his true experiments in, because, being your twin, he is as paranoid as you are. However, unlike you, he’s also not a megalomaniac, and is capable of the clarity you and I could never achieve. It’s there that he’s finishing his latest toy.
    GAFFNEY: You’re clever, Milo. I like you on whatever it is you’re on.
    MILO: What is the problem with murder, Gaffney?
    GAFFNEY: They never choke fast enough.
    MILO: That says maybe, but for those of us not immediately concerned with constant and perpetual spree killing, the disposal of bodies does seem to be a pressing annoyance.
    GAFFNEY: And he’s working on the way to...
    GAFFNEY snaps his fingers, understanding what GIBNEY is up to.
    MILO: Just as you were skulking around trying to resurrect the Argus Project, he’s already rebuilt the Disintegration Ray. It’s already done, now he’s just in sort of an existential angst about it.
    GAFFNEY: Oooooh, Milo.


    Our two momentarily central Zanzibarbarians walked in silence for the remaining quarter mile, neither one making eye contact with the bedraggled streetgoers as they passed. It was unnecessary. For once, Gaffney was too dumbstruck to accept their silent praise, and Milo had spoken more than he had spoken in months, except perhaps to certain marital aids he kept in reserve.
    When they arrived at Gaffney’s fortress, both walked creakily up the stairs to the second floor, to the room Argus was kept. Silently, Gaffney pushed open the door. In the rear of the bedroom, Argus was licking a brass bed knob, hoping to find some sustenance. For the next day and a half, in preparation for the fete, the three brothers reacquainted themselves. Milo was most notably interested in Argus’ tendency to lick nearby inanimate objects. He mentally noted it as vital, similarly licked the bed knob, found nothing jazzy about it, and proceeded to question Argus about life in the oubliette.
    That evening, under the pretense of getting prepared for the party, Milo soaked a bit of the fungus around the oubliette door into a rag. He sucked on it like an infant with a gin sop. He had the greatest high of his life, experiencing communion with digitally etheric eyeball-fairies.

Friday, April 6, 2012

CHAPTER SEVEN





Removing, ever so momentarily, my personal narration hat in exchange for the one glorious omniscient, I now turn to the scene, several hours prior to the previous chapter, wherein Argus is introduced to Milo. If one will recall in chapters previous, while Gaffney and I were liberating Argus from his oubliette, due notice was made regarding our mutual reticence and due deligence in avoiding Milo’s office, situated nearby to the oubliette. Further, one noticed a prosaic reference to Argus’ subsistence solely upon the fungi growing on the walls of his cell, and, perhaps, this may be of some immediate relevance to the plot. How right and clever you are, dear reader, to have pointed this triviality out. Slap thyself upon your back most heartily.
Gaffney kept Argus in a second floor parlor in his own personal home. It was a large, concrete, tomb-like structure with few walls several blocks away from the main Greeves Institute complex, and had originally been used as a bunker for the Mercenaries. Finding it necessary to create space from his brother, as well as one that could withstand the screams and bellows of potential victims, it was the most convenient spot. Gaffney had decorated it as best he could with soft linens and flocked wallpaper, but, unfortunately, he had yet to overcome the grimness of it. The third floor, dominated by a large, round, window, out of which Gaffney could sneer out at the surrounding Zanzibarbarian populace was appropriately melodramatic, and had the duel advantage of being in direct sightline of the Greeves Institute’s front gate. He could know at a glance when his brother left his safe haven. He could generally be seen glaring out of it and rubbing his hands together with a lugubrious combination of intensity and intimidation.
Argus took to his new cell rather like his previous one, being rather dim. “One cell is as good as another,” he thought. He tried to lick the walls but discovered they were inedible. The door was politely closed and Gaffney was at a loss as to what to do with him.
The next morning, Gaffney’s maid, Mrs. Yunt, shuffled a breakfast to Argus, and provided the oaf with some new garments Gaffney had procured to alleviate the smell of the oubliette from mouldering up the bedroom. Mrs. Yunt had, some time previously, ripped her own tongue out upon the insistence of Gaffney. She agreed it was the best idea considering otherwise he’d fire her. She kept it, mummified in seasalt, in a small silver box she wore on a chain dangling from an undergarter under her waist. In Gaffney’s credit, he paid for it, sparing no expense. Argus never knew exactly what the jangling noise was when she opened the door, but he took it as a sign that Mrs. Yunt was nearby, noting it as rather pleasant.

Proud of his minor victory, Gaffney decided he was owed a promenade. He placed a straw boater upon his head, replaced his mundane walking stick with a polished sperm whale ivory swagger stick, and set out to ponder the possibilities of what to do with his liberated brother. The day, as it had risen, was clear and brisk. Gaffney noted that it didn’t quite feel right. He could not quite place why. Perhaps, if I may propose a theory, the hurdy-gurdy had not been tuning that day. Zanzibar had, for so long, ignored the noise that it was now quite eerie to not have it. He put on his finest lavender leather gloves and prepared to saunter the city.

“What a wonderful thing I’ve done,” he thought to himself, stepping out. “It’s all so very clever. The Argus will now be obligated to vote on my side, as I freed him from the hole, and once I get it established that he is my pet, all of Zanzibar will have to pay attention to him.”

The streets of Zanzibar, at 9 am in the morning, were already bustling with the unemployed and the lazy. The Opportunists were strutting around in the various liveries of their posts, the Mercenaries were stumbling out of the lodging houses a’grog, and the Carnies were not so much walking as wafting about, flopping onto convenient stoops and leaning on posts. Unlike Gibney, who never left the Institute without his entourage, Gaffney was considered one of the mass. They all knew who he was, and they all tipped they their hats as he passed, averted their eyes from his glance, and mumbled greetings. The eager ones, the Opportunists who were of the smarter sort, would hurl a “Morning Mr. Greeves” at him, and he would smile, as he always did.

The curious thing about Zanzibar, and a fact that I was never entirely aware of, was that the sheer mass of Zanzibarbarians were flaneurs of some sort, a sort of strange communal wasted quality. They existed to stare at each other. Those who worked were keenly aware of those who didn’t, and those who didn’t were particularly suspicious of anything out of the ordinary among themselves. An eccentric hat, worn by an Opportunist, would be mocked mercilessly by those inside his caste, but never from without. A Mercenary who took airs and wore a feather in his lapel when off-duty, similarly, would be in danger of a swift slash from a peer’s knife, if he was insufficiently graceful in carrying it off, but for the Opportunist who stared at the Mercenary’s feather, it was a source of enormous wonderment. Said Mercenary’s Feather would be seen on the lapels of every Opportunist the next day, despite the outrage the Mercenary may have felt from within his own circle. Even more outrageously, to my senses as one of the original Party Members and existing in a superior state from this rubbish, if the Mercenary was successful in his step, and was able to convince his peers of his fashionable affectation, he would then be thrown into a special class of Zanzibarbarians: the seen. It kept everyone interested in each other’s boutonni√®res and away from the soulcrushing misery of it all. If I, for instance, tried to wear a feather in my bonnet, it would simply be considered a right I had earned. It kept the Party Members boring, in fact. Nothing we did was ever taken as novelty.

The fact that nothing Gaffney could ever do would ever impress the hoi polloi annoyed him. He craved their attention and their acceptance, but he did so only half-heartedly externally. The one person who he could consistently impress, other than Mrs. Yunt and on extremely rare occasions, myself, was his half-brother, Milo. While he did not intend to set out to meet Milo, he found himself winding toward the Institute anyway, subconsciously desiring to annoy the shit out of his older brother.


Milo, meanwhile, was impressed by everything. It couldn’t be helped. He had the spine of a unicellular organism and the humility of an Anchorite on “Let’s Be Humble Day”. He kept to himself, largely out of the limpness of his entire being, and busied himself with various hobbies, none of which were enormously unique or valuable, and all of which were deeply undercut by his constant and persistent addiction to everything, ever. While he himself was the milkiest of milquetoasts, his personal stamina was almost superhuman in scope. His current addiction at the moment was injecting a substance called “Vint” (a combination of certain pituitary hormones excreted when a dolphin is bludgeoned with a wooden facsimile of a codfish and common household solvents, placed in a brown glass vial and allowed to mellow with spirits of ether) into the space between his toes. It provided a sense of vagueness. That was it. “Vagueness”. “Neither here nor there,” Milo would describe it. To a normal human, Vint was lethal five times over. You’d actually die, momentarily come back to life, and die a subsequent four times before finally dying; not for Milo, the attraction to Vint for him was that it not only did nothing of the sort but made him feel like those to whom it would and probably had dozens of times.

Procuring Vint was a relatively easy matter for a Greeves, even an ancillary one like Milo, although the process of bludgeoning the dolphin was generally left to the Squanch family, themselves somewhere on the food chain between the Mercenaries and the Party Members. The Squanches occupied roughly the same social space as Milo himself, and thus he was able to do business with them. Hieronymous Squanch, the leader of the clan, and the fat, toad-like man I would later see at the fete, dealt with Milo with the same sneering sort of tolerance one would usually show to a slug that, while not devouring your prized tomato and nearly four miles from the garden, could still be quite dangerous in a long enough time frame.

Coming down from a Vint medium (it never really gave highs) was relatively calm due to the short step involved in doing so. Milo was doing exactly that when Gaffney enterered his office/apartment, unannounced.

“Good and gracious morning, Milo, dear brother. Whatever is it you’ve accomplished this week?”

“I was not expecting you!” Milo sputtered.

“Quite the accomplishment, if I say so myself, it takes an enormous degree of effort to not expect one such as I.” Gaffney collapsed into Milo’s favorite wasting chair and daintily removed his gloves.

“Can I offer you some tea? I have some lovely moss leavings from the seaside rocks, it brews up not entirely unlike something delicious.”

Gaffney waved it away with his swagger stick. “Sit, my flesh and blood, sit.”

Milo did as he was told.

“Now, Milo,” Gaffney began unhesitatingly, “In a few days time, Gibney is hosting a reception for his little giant.”

Milo’s little eyes looked askance. “Oh? I was not informed.”

“Of course you weren’t, as he didn’t invite you. However, I am inviting you, as my guest. Can you waddle out of your coma long enough to attend? I’d appreciate it.”

Nods. Stupid, blank eyed nods. Stupid, fat, blank eyed, easily manipulated, little nods.

“It seems, brother dearest, that the prisoner in the oubliette down the hall, near to your little door, has escaped.

“Oh no!”

Oh yes, Milo. Oh yes. And on your watch, no less.”

“I can’t imagine how.”

“You’ve never been terribly imaginative, Miloscz.”

“This is true.” And it was.

“Regardless,” Gaffney feigned magnanimity, “as it turns out, hallelujah, he was actually our own brother the whole time! Fancy that. Just down the hall, you had a potential chum, somebody to await your every phase, was waiting and you failed to free him.”

Milo blinked.

“Not to worry, Milocz, most dear to my breast, he doesn’t blame you one bit. He knows how hard it is down here for you.”

“It’s just so lonely, Gaffney. Every day is an abyss of misery, just a bottomless Hell. And for that poor man to be so close and be my own brother...” Milo began to cry.

Rising, and bringing Milo to meet him, Gaffney began to lead Milo out the door. “Not to worry, not to worry. People are trapped in oubliettes for decades all the time. Say, I have a new treat for you.”

Milo’s eyes jumped up to Gaffney, who removed a small vial from his vest pocket. “A little treasure harvested from the salt mines, I’m sure you’ll know what to do with it.” He threw the bottle into Milo’s open hands. Milo accepted it and calmly followed Gaffney into the streets, still wearing his morning robe.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

CHAPTER SIX




The Soldier with One Eye had once been introduced to me, at a salon nearly 30 years earlier. His name was irrelevant at the time, and irrelevant still. It was simply his single, emerald green eye, on the right side, which never seemed to relax, which served as his personality and his name. In truth, his name was Agent Dicatur, but I never heard anybody refer to him as anything other than “Sir”. I never had a need to refer to him at all. His left eye was covered in a weathered grey patch with a rather elegant silver thread embroidery around the edges. It was the only soft thing about him. Somebody made him that patch, somebody with a feminine softness. If anybody ever knew who that somebody was, they were not in Zanzibar.
I arrived to the fete in my least impressive suit, quite deliberately. It was my intent to prove to Gibney that I was entirely incapable of handling anything. I had gone out of my way to pull an old stick out of the back alley, which I hobbled on rather desperately. The Soldier with One Eye had been the first to meet me.
“Must show you giant,” he said, in a dreary monotone. “You are on the list. Follow me.”
He slowly led me to the courtyard of the Greeves Institute, where the giant stood in her enormous brass cage, which loosely followed the contours of her body.
“My God,” I gasped.
The giant, within the cage which formed an open sort of Iron Maiden, was wrapped in iron chains. To prevent the possibility of her shifting her weight, the cage was sunk deep into the ground, and equally heavy chains were tenting out from the cage itself, attached to vast cement pyramids that Gibney had designed as anchors. They bore a stylized image of the giantess herself, identical to the image on Gaffney’s silver coat buttons. Within seconds I realized that situated around the courtyard were crimson banners on poles that bore the same device. I turned back to look at her eye, which was shut. She breathed slightly, enough for me to know that she was alive. I was amazed that she remained standing, although the tightness of the cage prevented any movement and forced her to remain in the position.
Scattered throughout the courtyard were Gibney’s retinue, several dozen of the higher ranking Mercenaries, a few Carnies who had dressed up for the event, and all of the scientists. Like myself, they were mandated to be present. Gibney stood at the far corner of the square, chatting with a squat, unhealthy looking man who was dressed far too warmly for the weather. I avoided his glance and approached the giant.
“Is she to be standing like this all the time?” I asked the Soldier with One Eye.
“Not my concern,” he said. He seized a piece of Melba Toast from the buffet as he led me closer. He gobbled it down like a frog snatching a fly. “Told she will be sedated, your first orders. Don’t see need. Won’t open her eye, won’t look at us.” He grabbed a glass of the carbonated Artificial Wine Plus that was being passed around by a few Opportunist waiters, all of whom were dressed in identical tuxedos of an embarrassingly sheer blue crepe. I took one out of politeness.
“How tall is she?” I asked.
“Not my concern,” he said. “Told she is three stories. Measuring is up to you. Keeping her in the cage is my concern. Keep her in the cage and I won’t be concerned.”
“Not your concern,” I muttered. “Obviously.”
Gibney had seen me, and was quite clearly in the process of separating himself from the shopkeeper he was in mid-haggle with. I knew I had a few moments before he could successfully do so. I turned from the giantess to scan the rest of the room, noticing both Drusilla and Festus Gargg. They both gave me slight waves as I made eye contact and I casually returned it, making sure to end the gesture with snapping an amuse bouche from a passing waiter. I did not yet see Gaffney.
Appearing suddenly was Ephidious Higgenbotham, smiling enormously and extending his hand to greet mine.
“Dr. Thwack! Pleasant to see you again. Enjoying the party?” He didn’t even pause for me to respond. “The giant is looking fantastic, glad to see she’s in good health, wouldn’t want anything to sneak up on us in the bad news department, especially now that we’re working together on the research project, would we?”
“We are? You’re involved?”
“I was appointed just this morning to be your amanuensis. Nothing special, just taking notes and filing all the proper paperwork, making sure your comments are properly correlated to established findings, so on and so forth.”
I choked on my amuse bouche, a bolus of clotted cream and crab roe flew up my nose and lodged itself into exactly that part of the sinuses which results in extreme pain and the sensation of drowning. I withdrew my handkerchief and shot the concoction out my nostril with a sting and saltiness which cannot be properly described unless describing it knowingly to somebody else who has had a bolus of clotted cream and crab roe sucked up into the sinus cavity. In such a case, certain wincing glances and woeful downcast stares would be all that is necessary to convey the agony. Higgenbotham, sensing my distress, slapped me on the back repeatedly, grabbing my glass as he did so.
My hope of having a few moments to compose myself before Gibney arrived was dashed, and I was forced to stoop to pick up my glasses, which had fallen on the ground in my fit of cream and crab distemper. I put them on my face only to discover the lens was cracked. I am quite sure, to this day, that Higgenbotham had actually stepped on them as he distracted me with the back slapping. Quite sure.
“The man of the hour is here, everybody!” Gibney shouted. He motioned for everyone present to attend me. An unseen band began to play a cheerful martial tune. Higgenbotham made sure to stand to the right of me in case of photographers, so as to have his name be mentioned before my own in the Zanzibar Proconsul, the rag Gibney had published on a weekly basis to tout his own genius.
Turning around, and for perhaps the first time in my life since I arrived, I noticed just how many people there are in Zanzibar. Perhaps I had been locked up in my office for too long. I took a deep breath. Entering the courtyard at the far end, as Gibney prattled on about my achievements, Gaffney entered. Argus and Milo followed behind. Gaffney was wearing a plum colored situation that could only be described as a ludicrous silk balloon. Argus wore an ill fitting suit of secondhand tweed, while Milo wore something akin to a plaid bathrobe, only quite seriously.
Milo and Argus held back by the buffet board. Gaffney twirled about the crowd, shaking all hands he met. The group parted, like soldiers at a parley. “Gibney!” shouted Gaffney, an insincere but well rehearsed smile bisecting his face.
Gibney’s lips curled as if he had eaten a boatload of desert apples. “Glad to see you, Gaffney. Have you met the giantess?”
“I haven’t yet shaken her finger, no, dear brother. In due time. However, however, however, I thought I might introduce you to a protege of mine, an equal to your own Mr. Higgenbotham. Argus, my monolithic friend? Find yourself hence and meet the second greatest scientist to ever grace our beloved colony.”
Gibney’s glance turned, hawk-like, to the new face, who was enjoying a lobster croute en papillote enchilada toastette from the buffet.
“Come here then,” Gibney said. Taking the cue to position himself into a position of theatrical lordship, Gibney seized a glass and moved to a camp chair nearby which had been set up for the eventual court that would have built up eventually anyway as the night carried on and the partygoers would switch into bootlicking mode. He prematurely collapsed it, less sitting and more flopping. “And they’re taking time out of their party for you, sir, so at least make it radiant,” he added.
Milo courageously swallowed a bite of roast grouse Argentine and led Argus near, deferentially bowing and stepping away when Argus was deposited in front of Gibney. He disappeared into the half moon crowd engaging in the scene. As usual, Ephidious Higgenbotham was well positioned off on the far right.
“Argus comes well qualified,” Gaffney said. “He’s sort of your do-it-all-man. Fixes, cleans, adjusts, maladjusts, situates, advances, delineates, defines, makes it all run. Bit of a mechanical genius, I’d say. Horologist. Clocks. Fine clockwork. Work. Works on clocks. Do you know what we need, Gibney? Gibbers? Gibberidoo?”
“We have clock, Gaffney. You’re boring me.”
Indeed, there was a large clock on the top floor of the Greeves Institute. It was operated on the Greeves Principle, a complicated system of weights which very nearly, although not quite, replicated perpetual motion. The idea was to sell the Greeves Principle as the “closest thing to perpetual motion,” knowing all along that the Greeves Institute had achieved perpetual motion all along, quite willing to withhold it and present it in increasingly minute details so as to milk the profits as long as possible. The difficult with something “perpetual”, however, seems to be that an infinite proposal is, in fact, binary: either it is “perpetual” or it is not “perpetual”. No gradation in the idea exists, and therefore the market for something very nearly perpetual is a short one indeed. Unfortunately, this fact could never be explained to Leviticus Greeves, who insisted on allowing Alice Reegs to market the Greeves Principle as “the very closest thing to perpetual motion.” Not many fell for the hustle upon the slightest of straightforward observation. Shortly before leaving the mainland altogether, they pondered as to whether or not to just release the perpetual Greeves Principle. Reegs never agreed with giving something eternal away, and the knowledge was packed off to Zanzibar with the rest of us.
“Ah, yes, I agree, a clock we do most certainly possess, but it’s not aesthetically pleasing. It merely tells the time. Imagine a clock which tells the story of the Zanzibar people, a parade of automatons that will proceed at the stroke of high noon, the people will come, I say! They’ll come to see it!” Gaffney was flailing his arms about quite demonstrably.
Gibney took an annoyed sip of port. “Mr... Angus, was it? Are you an engineer?”
“No,” said Argus, quite honestly.
“You’re lying again, Gaffney.”
“You’re right! A simple party jest. No. Indeed, Argus is not an engineer, nor even a machinist. However, I’m sure he’ll find a home here in Zanzibar, a place, perhaps even an opportunity.”
Gibney’s green spectacles reflected the sunlight as he turned his head to inspect Argus. “An opportunity? Oh, yes. We have plenty of those, Gaffney. Why didn’t you say so? Where’s Squanch?”
The short and round little goblin which had previously held Gibney’s attention at the start of the party appeared from the crowd. “Right here, Mr. Greeves.”
“Angus here will fill your opening quite splendidly. See to it that he’s taken care of.”
Squanch’s sausage-like fingers curled in excitement. “Yes, of course. Much appreciated, sir. We’ll see that he’s taken care of.”
Argus was led away by Squanch, and I didn’t see him for some time. However, as an omniscient narrator, I’ll continue with what happened next very shortly. At the time, however, I was feeling quite inebriated, and rightly so. The party continued until I passed out, and the giantess never opened her eyes the entire time. Gaffney and Gibney skulked into a side parlor, where they were heard in the midst of a loud and terse conversation. Ephidious Higgenbotham never touched a drop, the leering vulture, and I’m quite sure my pockets were rifled through before I got home.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

CHAPTER FIVE


Gibney





A few days passed until I saw Argus again, although the realization that I was not the sole member of this conspiracy slowly began to dawn on me. A few others, most notably Drusilla Gargg, the daughter of Festus Gargg, a sculptor from the original Reegs-Greeves Party, were stopping by my office on personal visits. This was a notable exception, since, as a rule, I never had clients anymore, if one didn’t count Gaffney. They would simply stop in, give me their cards, and mention that they had read my pamphlets. Drusilla Gargg was particularly intriguing. I hadn’t seen her in over a decade and she had grown up to be a wildly flirtatious young woman, albeit an unnervingly tall one. She seemed to be fond of dramatic capes and knee high, high heeled boots. She mentioned a “radical theater project collective,” an idea which immediately made me suspect she was a true convert to Gaffney, rather than a blackmail like myself. I wondered just how many young dramatists there could feasibly be in Zanzibar without an audience of which to speak. Not aloud, obviously.

On the Tuesday following the springing of Argus, however, I received a visitor I had zero interest in talking to: Gibney Greeves himself.

Unlike his twin, Gibney is a taciturn gentleman. He has an aversion to the colorful and eccentric clothes of Gaffney, prefering a pale blue wardrobe of a generous cut and comfortable shoes. His slab-like nose remains identical to both Gaffney and Argus. I found him waiting in my office with his usual retinue of hangers-on, a group of about fifteen people in a room the size of a medium sized coffin.

“Dr. Thwack! How rarely I get to see you, we just stopped by to invite you to the Fete.” Unlike Gaffney, Gibney has a low, almost whispery tone, which one could quite nearly mistake for pleasant.

The entourage consisted of the more serious minded of Zanzibar’s younger set, the sorts who were still convinced they had inherited something of their familial genii, the sorts who wear identical garments less as a uniform and more like a badge of competitive sport. Having rarely attended the usual symposiums and parties that I, as the notoriously secretive Dr. Thwack, was obliged to ignore. One of them, a high shouldered fellow in his late 20s, was actively reading the titles of the books on my shelves, and had seized upon an early Leviticus Greeves text, “On Distribution Of Galvanized Sub-Electrical Neurotronics.” Heavy reading that was not only inscrutable to the likes of me but also something I had long suspected of humbuggery anyway. Another follower, a black-haired little man who looked like a shaved marmoset, was staring at me with all the hatred of a thousand starved buzzards, and he handed me an invitation.

“I can’t say I knew you were holding one,” I said to Gibney. “To celebrate the giant?”

“Of course. I’d like you front and center, Thwack. Front and center.”

“New glasses?”

“Oh! I’m surprised you noticed. I had them specially made, I’ve been wearing them for, oh, what has it been? A year now?” Gibney’s round spectacles were tinted the same light blue as his suit, reflecting the light in a most deliberately effusive manner.

“At least a year,” said the high shouldered reader.

Gibney clapped his hand and rose, motioning the reader into a hand shake, introducing him. “Dr. Thwack, this is Ediphious Higgenbotham, you do remember the Higgenbothams? He’s joined us from the Carnies, one of my favorite bootstrap sorts.”

“I’ve read your cookbook,” said Higgenbotham. His handshake was limp.

“I’ve read your natural history of the Zanzibarbarian Birthday Crab, Mr. Higgenbotham. You made me actually interested in the subject.” I lied, but such was handling one of Gibney’s proteges.

“It’s a dry subject,” Higgenbotham replied, slapping the Greeves book shut and replacing it neatly on the shelf. He was the sort of young man that had a recessed chest, the type which usually grows out of weedishness eventually. His chest curved in on itself as he stepped back slightly to give me room. I didn’t know if he was serious or just arrogant. “I’d be happy to discuss it with you if you’re interested in the finer details, I find that I dumbed it down a bit for the regrettably small audience of Zanzibar.”

“Naturally,” I said.

Gibney then did the introductions of the other camp followers, but I was much too busy staring at Higgenbotham, who continued to avoid my gaze. He seemed to shrink from view the more I tried to get a pinpoint on just who exactly he was in his own space. There was Beatrice Waggerly, who was some sort of mechanic; Gerard Somethingerother, who yawned as he was introduced and refused to shake my hand; Gerard’s brother, Hubert, who shook my hand much too firmly, pressing into the knob of my wrist with overly hooked fingers; several Needlemans, who were the sons of Henk Needleman, a scientific critic from the original expedition who I was told was still alive and on artificial respiration. And, the marmoset, Gyro Dervington, whose name and face I simply had no connection to. Most citizens of Zanzibar are related to somebody, and Dervington was related to nobody, not even a Carnie. He was the “Greeves historian,” who I assumed was there to act as personal amanuensis to Gibney.

Quickly, the followers, as if of their own accord (but I knew quite well they were trained to know when Gibney needed privacy), left the room. Gibney sat down in my own desk chair, and motioned me to sit down on the psychiatry couch. “I need to ask you a question, Thwack. And I need to remind you that you neither owe me anything nor have ever presented yourself as a threat, two personality traits I simply cannot abide. This needs to change, you understand. However, I have been told you are accepting patients again.”

“I am.”

“Then I’d like to book your time, and bring you as the chief analytical researcher on the giantess.”

He drummed his fingers slightly on my desk in the manner with which one stalks a small insect one wishes to pluck one wing off and observe how many circles it flies in before it bleeds to death and dies.

“Ah,” I sputtered. It was sort of a gasp. “My... new patients haven’t even started intake yet, Gibney.”

“Excellent! They’d not be let down then.”

He rose, and approached the door. “The Fete is your chance to return, Thwack. To prominence. Dress well.”

Gibney left, closing the door without a sound. I could hear the entourage all the way down the hall, down the stairs, and into the street. I was in for the long haul now. I opened the invitation:


YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO

THE GRAND CELEBRATION

OF THE RECOVERY AND DISPLAY OF THE GIANTESS

BY THE PERSONAL EXTENSION OF

DR. GIBNEY GREEVES

“Friday, June 27th, 7 pm”


I fell asleep at my desk, six hours later, after staring at a particular knot of wood on the surface of it, trying to figure out what options I had to avoid the scenario. I had none. I had stepped into the shoes of Claudius, and I had thought I was so clever for so long pretending to be too dull and too stupid to be taken seriously. They had left me alone. It had worked. Why had it stopped working? Why all at once, why suddenly and in such numbers? It only seems the natural thing to do among people who think themselves clever. The problem with this plan seems to be that people who think themselves clever must raise their own status by finding and eliminating the dull and stupid, whether or not they actually are, and those of us who think it clever to pretend to be dull and stupid will eventually be gulled by those who are dull and stupid but think they’re clever, proving that it’s universally dull and stupid to think one’s self is clever regardless of how clever one actually may or may not be.




The giant returned to the camp. She was gone.
The wind had wiped away her footsteps.
Her scent, which he knew to the depths of his soul, was long gone. He didn’t need it, however. He knew where she was. He knew she fell for the brass idol.
The giant pulled his cloak closely, and considered what he was to do. Did she leave him? Or was she taken? How could he know? What if they were what she had been wailing for?