Two Dozen Black Dresses: Part One
Prigpants and Swolthy, Tailors. The name of the store meant many things to many people: to some, it was a portent of funerals; to others, it was a sign of galas to come. To Marius Finchley, Lackey, it was a harbinger of dreadful tidings, unleashed upon him daily from nine until five, excepting, of course, those rare occasions when Mr. Prigpants, the ungainly yellow Lenny, would stalk, Spyder-like, into the back room and say, "Mr. Finchley, you may run along home now. There shall be no more customers today." On days such as this, it was all Marius could do to not dash outside immediately, leaving behind the tapes and stitches that had become his entire mission in life. The life of a poor Kyrii in Neovia was no easy task.
Today, however, was no such day. Mr. Swolthy, the immense purple Mynci, had just that morning received an order for two dozen black dresses, to be created nigh-instantaneously, packaged, and had ready for pick-up by no later than three in the afternoon. All this was delivered to the tailor's chubby hands by a pitch-black Crokabek. Marius heard the joyous exclamations through the keyhole of the door leading to the back room. It was expected of him that he remain with his work from dawn until dusk, living through the unbearable hours with only the shades of what might one day be clothes to keep him company. On this day, it would evidently be filled with a veritable crowd.
"Listen to this, Prigpants! I say, listen to this! Two dozen black dresses, all done up by this afternoon. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Have you ever in all your days?" The grating sound of Mr. Swolthy's excitement crawled through the keyhole and into Marius' ear as though the words had been viciously scratched across a chalkboard.
"No, Mr. Swolthy. I really can't say that I have. Although, to be sure, it is a most dreadfully ill-timed request. The mayor has requested my presence at a luncheon today, and I'll be hanged if I can get away from it for even a moment." The greasy molasses that was Mr. Prigpants' voice oozed through the keyhole, soothing Marius' ear and almost filming it over. It was quite easy to get lost in the slow, easy words of the salesman and effective face of the tailor shop.
"No, no, I suppose you can't. Well, it'll just be me and the boy, then, won't it? Me and the boy. Two dozen black dresses, Prigpants! Two dozen indeed!"
"Yes, two dozen. I do believe we've gone over that most numerically inclined fact."
"Yes, yes, quite, quite. Me and the boy, and you, I imagine, at least until you must see yourself off to that luncheon. Most unfortunate. Highly unfortunate on such a day as I've never seen, Prigpants!"
The alternating shrieks and drones were lost to Marius as he removed his ear from the keyhole and slouched back against his scraps table. It had really been too much to ask that there be no customers today. And now, instead of getting off lightly with only one or two orders of a hat due next week sometime, it would be the largest order of stuffy, puffy dresses Marius had seen in all his days of working for the tailors.
The door to the back room swung open, suddenly and violently, and the two masters of cloth bustled their way inside the dingy space. Mr. Prigpants assumed an air of casual indifference whereas Mr. Swolthy could barely contain his excitement. When he spoke, his words bubbled up out of him as though heated from underneath.
"I say, Master Finchley! Prigpants and I have just gotten the most curious order! I wonder if it can't be for a funeral or else a masquerade, but then, they must have ordered veils or masks as an accoutrement, surely."
"Mr. Swolthy, the order." Mr. Prigpants' voice melted across the effervescent excitement of Mr. Swolthy's rambling and slowed it to its original meaning.
"Yes, the order, yes, of course. Master Finchley, we - that is, Prigpants and I - have been contacted to create two dozen of the darlingest black dresses Neovia has ever seen by three o'clock today! And it is up to you, my dear Master Finchley, to help us bring those dresses into creation."
It was as Marius had feared; the two pompous fools would not lift a finger to help in the creation of such an absurd workload. "But Mr. Swolthy," he attempted, "I'm not sure I can even make two dozen black dresses by three! That's nearly four dresses an hour, sir, and that's never something I've seen done, sir."
Mr. Prigpants' monocled pupil moved slowly down from its perch to gaze at Marius indifferently. "You shall be compensated most satisfactorily, Mr. Finchley. To be sure, we'd each of us roll over in our figurative graves if we should fail to compensate you."
"Oh yes, oh yes." Mr. Swolthy's giant head nodded up and down furiously and seemed liable to come undone any moment and roll across the floor. "We might even give you time and a half! Imagine! Time and a half for you, Master Finchley, and two dozen black dresses for the customer. And, of course, I shall be doing the designing, so the credit shall go to me."
This bit of news cheered Marius slightly; it would be a new pattern for the special order as opposed to an old one that could be used. The time it took Mr. Swolthy to design the pattern would be time Marius could spend elsewhere. The room used for the creation of clothes was also the room used for their design, and Mr. Swolthy could never suffer another soul in the room as his genius spewed itself across paper after paper. The next half hour would be glorious freedom, supposing it took even that long a time for the authoritarian order to be designed.
"Which means, Mr. Finchley, that you may relieve yourself of the premises for the time being. Mr. Swolthy detests intruders, as you are quite aware, and I shan't be needing your services at the front." Mr. Prigpants' eye had returned its fixed gaze to the ceiling where it appeared to be studying the grains of the ceiling panels with the utmost intensity.
Without another word, Marius brushed past the two and nearly sprinted for the entrance; fresh air and freedom were his. As he threw open the door, he collided roughly with a well-dressed Blumaroo who had apparently frequented the store many times before. He dressed solely in black save for a gray ascot which bulged gently from just below his chin. His hair was impeccable, his mustache was elegant, and, to complete the image of aristocratic perfection, he held in his hands what could only have been an ancestral cane.
"I-I-I'm sorry, sir," Marius muttered, not looking at the Blumaroo. "I wasn't looking where I was going."
The Blumaroo eyed Marius distastefully but said nothing. His words, if he had any, were not for the ragged Kyrii seeking forgiveness. He continued looking at Marius, silently, until something behind the poor worker caught his attention and his eyes darted up.
"Ah. Prigpants. You got the order." If a Cobrall could talk, it would have the Blumaroo's voice. His staccato remarks came through a forked tongue, slithering their quiet way through his lips before filling the room with their inexorable hiss.
The Lenny appeared suddenly at Marius' shoulder, towering above him. "Yes, but I daresay we should go elsewhere to discuss the... particulars." He bent his neck down so that his face was unnaturally at Marius' level. "Run off and play, Mr. Finchley. I'll flip the sign over so we won't receive any more customers. It is well that we should close. After all, we do have two dozen dresses to make." Something in Mr. Prigpants' tone frightened Marius, though he couldn't say why. If anything, he should have been glad at his urging to leave the store and go elsewhere. He followed the other two out of the store and watched as Mr. Prigpants flipped the sign from "OPEN for business" to "CLOSED temporarily."
"Shall we?" asked the Blumaroo, whereupon Mr. Prigpants nodded sharply and began walking in the direction of town hall. Marius was left alone on the deserted street.
It was a mere moment's hesitation before Marius set his paws after the two shadowy figures at the end of the lane. He couldn't have said why he chose to follow his employer nor why he felt a vague sense of apprehension. There was the fear of being caught following them, to be sure, but there was a deeper, keener fear at work. It was a fear of something unspeakable, unnameable. It was a fear of some horrible unknown and yet Marius was barely cognizant of this growing terror within him. All he knew was that he wanted to follow Mr. Prigpants and his mysterious Blumaroo friend.
He kept a distance for some time, always making sure that the Moach-like silhouette of Mr. Prigpants was within view. The gentle murmur of voices occasionally slipped back to Marius, but he could never make anything out other than the odd vowel sound. The enigmatic conversation was well-hidden in the misty Neovian morning.
"Where are you going?" Marius asked the question to the tendrils of fog curling around his nose and to the stagnant puddles of last night's rain. He was quite alone aside from his two evasive friends. Something caught his eye, however, as soon as his answerless query had left his mouth. The pale shadows that had eluded him for so long suddenly grew more defined and somehow larger. His quarry had stopped. Marius drew a little nearer so he had a better view of what was happening and promptly ducked behind a rain barrel hidden under a corner of a building.
The tall, menacing figure and the short, mysterious one stood for a moment at some door further down across the street. They appeared to lean in momentarily before suddenly disappearing from view. Marius assumed they had entered whatever building they had been stopped in front of. It was here that Marius felt the first real pang of nerves since had embarked on his pursuit. Before, it had been a bit of a bore, simply walking behind them; now, he had a choice. He could either continue his idle stroll and return to the shop after another few minutes or he could try to find out what was happening inside that building. Mr. Swolthy would surely be worried if neither of his two coworkers were there upon his exodus from the design, and the order was quite large, after all. It would be best to simply go back.
Having made up his mind to go back at once and explain how Mr. Prigpants would be back later, Marius rose from behind the barrel and stretched his legs. Then, inexplicably and quite against what he had had in mind, he crossed the street, raised his paw, and knocked twice at the door.
To be continued...