Thursday, March 29, 2012


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.

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