Lucy Fur doing a random spot-check on my writing.
Every city, no matter where it is on the globe, has places that, if not abandoned, are at least left deserted for long stretches at a time. Wherever they went, Madame Rag and Mister Bone went out of their way to seek out such places, and if one couldn’t be found, they simply created the vacancies they required.
It wasn’t that the husband and wife team didn’t enjoy the modern perks of hot running water, fine food, and comfy beds, it was simply that things so often seemed to go badly when they brushed shoulders with “the normal folk.” They mixed less well with the public than sea birds did with ruptured oil tankers. The end result in both cases were rows of dead things, be they migratory sandpipers, or uniformed hotel staff.
It was decided years and years ago that to maintain a healthy breeding population of hospitality workers, that they would strictly curtail their contact with the world of the regulars—especially Mister Bone, who admittedly had impulse control issues. Whenever they were called in for a job that required more than an afternoon to complete, they would simply retire to the closest abandoned motel, condemned home, or recently-depopulated flop house to await their orders.
When their employer was Doctor Knox, this arrangement was even more desirable. Being around Knox made both Rag and Bone feel as though they were walking on eggshells, eggshells made of unstable high explosive. This was likewise fine with Knox, to whom the idea of any kind of familiar relationship with “the help,” was unthinkable.
The evening found Mister Bone and Madame Rag sitting by lantern light on the moldy cushions of decomposing deck furniture at the edge of a long-neglected indoor pool. Emerald moss and black mildew clung to the tiled walls in streaks, and floating in the center of the once-luxurious pool was a large hummock of brown stringy vegetation. The cold air was moist and held the dark stink of decomposing fungus. Both Rag and Bone were silent, it was the tight expectant silence of an impending unpleasant conversation.
In Mister Bone’s time he’d been shot, stabbed, poisoned, drowned, and defenestrated. He’d lived through Cholera, Typhus, and Plague. He’d been set upon by dogs and burned by acid. He’d been buried up to his neck in the desert sand and left for dead. He’d had limbs caught in steam-powered machinery, and been hung by the neck on no less than three separate occasions. Being nearly crushed under a car was something new, and the novelty wasn’t a welcome one.
As he considered this new turn of events he marched a large brown spider across one set of his knuckles then the other. He’d once seen a street magician do the same trick with a coin, but his way was better.
“Want to know something?” he asked Madame Rag in a dolorous voice, “Being run over really hurts.” As he said it, he rubbed at his shoulder where tire rubber was still visible against his pale skin.
“It was just a small car,” she said tightly, throwing a quick deprecating glance at his shoulder. “I was crushed by an omnibus. Remember that Shillibeer in Westminster? Three times the weight, and three sets of hooves. That car didn’t even crush your rib cage, I had scars for a week.”
Bone gently released the spider on a cracked resin coffee table, and peered down at her curiously. “Healed fine,” he said, fingering open a gap in the buttons of her top. He leered in an expression of happy lust down at her and attempted to squeeze a cucumber-sized finger between the gap in the buttons.
“That’s not the point,” she replied, slapping away his gargantuan hand. “We were caught unprepared and our quarry has gone to ground. Himself will not be happy,” she predicted.
Bone’s expression fell limp as an overcooked noodle at her words. He shrugged and stared at her with a face like a bucket of still water, and with as much comprehension. After a moment, he began looking around the table to relocate his spider. There would be no help from that quarter. No, Bone’s main contribution to any conversation lay in being an immovable wall to echo ideas off of, and not as a fount of sober advice.
Sometimes when Madame Rag was in one of her less charitable moods, as she was now, she imagined that Mister Bone’s brain was like one of those fattened veal calves kept in it’s little plastic igloo, all tender and wobbly from lack of use. It was well that Mister Bone’s brain was not the feature that most attracted her to him.
Madame Rag’s pocket chimed in the digital imitation of an old telephone bell. She didn’t need to see the caller ID. She’d only given the number to one person, and after last October’s shenanigans, the surviving telemarketers had spread the word around that she wasn’t to be disturbed.
Rag closed her eyes and assumed a smile that revealed so many teeth that if anyone had seen her, they might have been forgiven for thinking that she was the product of an experiment meant to fuse Julia Roberts with a Great White shark.
The smile was the brainchild of an article she’d read in a Scientific American she’d inherrited from the house’s previous owner. The article claimed that the act of smiling itself could improve one’s mood. With all that had gone pear-shaped that afternoon, she felt that she could do with any quantum of positivity she could bring to the impending conversation. She smiled, and her skin stretched tight as a piano wire across a bike path.
She prepared herself, and picked up on the third ring. “Hello, Doctor Knox, and how are we on this fine winter evening?” she asked, face contorted into a rictus of manic joy, her voice the smooth obsequiousness of rancid fat. “Yes, yes, we did in fact catch up with him…” she stood and began to pace in a circle. “Sadly, no. I have to report that I was quite unable to detain him, another party interfered. They proved to be quite the handful of rusty razorblades…” At this last she glared at Mister Bone who was too focused on his spider to notice a thing. “The Webmage, Dimitri Singh… Yes, the very one.” She took her seat again and sat completely rigidly while she listened.
“I’m afraid I have another small morsel of bad news,” she said, her eyes a-twinkle with mandatory cheer. “Our quarry was able to escape with the notebooks that we’d procured earlier…” The phone’s metal casing began to indent and Rag tried to smile even harder. It wasn’t easy, the muscles in her cheeks began to ache and her molars were becoming visible. Her smile was not having the desired effect on the conversation she had hoped it might. There could be a time in the not-too-distant future when the staff of Scientific American received an unexpectedly lively visit to discuss the veracity of what they chose to publish.
Bone finally looked up at her with the slack expression that passed for curiosity before going back to his spider. It appeared to have fewer legs than it had only moments before.
Rag stood so abruptly her chair zoomed and skittered across the tiles behind her before crashing into a wall with an echoing boom and the sound of shattering ceramic. She began to stalk around the stagnant pool. “Might I humbly suggest that taking the mark out for drinks and the cinema may not be playing to our strengths? We do ever so well with a spot of slaughter and mayhem… No, I would, of course, never presume to tell you your business, I simply refer to our past successes…”
The smile on Rag’s face slowly asphyxiated, and slumped over into a snarl. “In three centuries of being in the business, we have never failed to complete a commission. We will complete this one, one has a certain professional reputation to maintain, you see… Yes I know of it… Very well, I’ll ensure they are made aware… I must say that when that news gets out the cat will be among the canaries… Is there anything else?…” Rag’s face suddenly became blank and inexpressive. “All of them? You would like me to wake all of them?… No I was simply making sure I received your instructions correctly… Very well.”
For the first time in the conversation, Rag’s expression began to slowly melt into genuine pleasure. Mister Bone knew that expression, it was the expression that let him know that soon, hopefully very soon, he’d be able to get his hands wet, red, and sticky.
Rag completed her phone conversation and joined him next to the pool. She looked down to the table where the spider’s dismembered body now sat neatly next to a row of twitching legs arranged from largest to smallest. The spider’s abdomen still moved in tiny shifting twitches, as though it could somehow wiggle away.
“Shall we go, my dear Bone? We have a good deal of work to be about.”
“Good work?” Bone asked.
“The very best,” Rag confirmed. “Murder and skulduggery, Mister Bone! Murder and skulduggery.”
Bone nodded solemnly in reply.
Rag paused a moment and carefully picked up the legless spider between a thumb and forefinger to examine it. After a moment of thought, she popped the dainty into her mouth, puckered her lips, and began to gently suck on it. They left the room without a backward glance.