In the Oubliette, Preparatory
The basement of the Greeves Institute was curiously unguarded that night we two shapes peered into that oubliette. Gaffney had silently led me through the foggy streets of Zanzibar, knowing that Gibney and his followers were celebrating heavily from the capture of the Giantess. We could dimly hear her elephant-like moaning from blocks away, we could see the twinkle of the lights Gibney had set up for the feast. The crabs had been boiled and the Gibney-ettes (a sort of biscuit made of sea-cucumber) were plentiful, even the artificial wine that the Greeves scientists had been working on for decades would have uncharacteristically been flowing heavily. It was a wine in name only, it was more of a verjuice-flavored sop water. As one who sat on the Permanent Research Committee, I was allowed Artificial Wine Plus, which was generally not too bad, although one had to consciously forget it was made from pine resin.
Gaffney had planned for the absence of the guards. We crept to the oubliette, passing Milo’s office as we did so. Milo, the half-brother, was as much a malcontent as Gaffney and I, although he had long spent his time perfecting drugs from the desert poppies to be of any use. We could hear his choppy snores from behind his glass door. Gibney had deliberately refused to allow him residence in the main floors of the Greeves Institute out of deference for the memory of Reegs, who had banished the dope head to the lower sanctum decades earlier for simply being alive. He was of no concern for our dark proceedings.
Gaffney pulled up the trap door, and turned on a little torch he had with him, allowing us to peer at the three ghastly prisoners for the first time. One was in an advanced state of decay. His skull had a large hole in it and was obviously on the edge of death from gangrene. The second was missing an eye and his legs were missing entirely, or so I thought, but he could have easily been simply lying in a particularly deep puddle for all I knew. The third, however, was our man. I could tell in an instant. He had the Greeves nose, a sort of nose like a flat slab of tomb granite, a hawkish profile that made no differentiation from forehead to upper lip. His eyes were like black buttons that had been sewn into place, and though he had the face of his father, neither Alice nor Leviticus had eyes like those. Tiny and atrophied, I thought.
“Which one of you is Argus?” Gaffney so-to’d down the hole. He was having fun pretending to be in danger, despite the entire building being his to do with as he pleased.
Not a single noise came out.
“Now look here you lot, one of you is Argus, and I’m going to...”
I chose to interrupt Gaffney here. This is usually how it began. “Pardon, Gaffney, I’m quite certain that fellow standing up is Argus, wouldn’t you agree? He has the family nose.” Indeed, Gaffney had the nose, as did Gibney. Milo, however, did not. Rather than looking like an overhanging bird of prey, Milo’s nose was small, daintily pointing out, almost elfin. Further, he had his mother’s eyes, eyes quite unlike Alice’s, eyes that expressed a persistent state of abject terror blended with a sort of watery curiosity. Milo, despite his constant and persistent state of inebriation, could almost be mistaken for a decent human being at first glance, unlike his brothers, who both looked like death warmed over a nice, steaming Sterno can of hatred.
“Ah. I see. You there, standy-Stu, I am lowering a rope to pull you up, and I want you to make sure that the other two don’t come up it as well, do I make myself perfectly clear?”
The one we were certain was Argus nodded.
“What about us then?” said the hole-in-head.
“What about you?” retorted Gaffney, drearily.
“Are we to die down here?”
“That’s sort of the point of an oubliette, darling.”
Gaffney lowered the rope. He had tied a noose-like loop at the bottom of it. The supposed Argus peered at it nervously, he grabbed it, and with a surprising amount of strength and muscularity neither Gaffney nor I had supposed possible. Standing before us, it became clear that he was not truly related to Gibney and Gaffney, and that the experiments Reegs and Greeves had wrought had created something quite different entirely. His face of Greeves, yes. His body, however, was nearly two feet taller than Gaffney and Gibney, his neck was as thick as a bull’s, he was a literal mountain of muscle. He was garbed in a filthy rage about his loins and a poncho sort of garment over his head and across his chest, but beyond that, he was a bluish-pale, hairless gorilla. Across his neck and down his arms and legs were dreadful white scars, as if he had been clawed by some terrible dinosaur. All the while, his little black eyes never blinked. We saw, perhaps most eerie of all, that they had no whites.
Gaffney, quite nastily, slammed the oubliette door after pulling the rest of the rope up. “You’ll stay down there and you’ll continue to rot, Roger!” He stomped a little on the door to emphasize his point, and to express a particular hatred for Roger, whoever Roger was. This complete, he curled his fingers around his newfound brother, and walked him toward the stairs, passed Milo’s door, Milo’s snore still audible.
“Oh, to be in the presence of my long forgotten brother, Argus. Argie? Argus. Seems more Greevesian to me. I’ve long despised that my first name ends in a feminine vowel. I, dear brother, am Gaffney, your elder by four years, your savior, having trod over land and fen to find you here, imprisoned by our brother Gibney. But first! A brotherly embrace, and an introduction where introductions are due, to the founder of our mutual liberation, Dr. Gregory Thwack: a man who has been more of a father to me than that father of ours, a man who shall be the same to you as I know he has been to me. A man who has inspired us, Gaffney and Argus Greeves, the better scions of the Greeves name, to stride forth and take back what is ours from the hated, the vile, the blackguard we share chromosomes with, Gibney. And, of course, Milo, blah blah blah, he’s around here somewhere. But we! Bosom brothers and friends we shall be. You shall be clad in a suit of scarlet kid, with a cloak of deep blue hue. We shall abscond to the hills beyond, where the loathesome Gibney canst not hear our conspiracy, we shall plan our revenges, such a tragedy they’ll weep for over our eventual justly deserved and deeply poetic demises by our own hands, thrusting the blades deep into our ribs, as our loyal and dutiful hangers-on bawl most grievesome. And that shall be the end of us. But first! We shall make the end of Gibney, a slow end, an end like a clown falling over a cliff, knowing that for the sake of the audience, he shall fall and bruise his crown upon ever stone on the way down. Are we comedy? Nay. We are tragedy. Gibney, however, is comedy. None shall mourn his passing, for he shall in his way set things right by removing himself from the stage. The world can be kind in it’s cruel way.” He wasn’t really waiting for Argus to speak. Gaffney enjoyed speaking just to speak.
Argus nodded his head, “Supposing so.”
I followed a few paces behind. Behind his back, tauntingly, Gaffney held the envelope and whatever blackmail was in it, in my view. I was out of choices.