He looked hurt. “Aw, no, come on mate, you just sat down!”
Viska put a hand up. “No, I really can’t. But, look, I came over here to repay you for your hospitality that night, right? Tell me what room you’re in over at The Aegis and I’ll have a bottle of the finest schnapps waiting for you.” The finest inn in Winghem boasted a turn-down service, only a minimal amount of bodily fluid staining the furniture, and little else in the way of excellence.
“Actually I’m not staying there, we we’re all about to head back to the barge to enjoy a little music and a steam bath. You have to come, man. You have to.” He turned to the rest of the ladies lounged around the room. “Girls, girls, tell Selnick he’s got to come back to the boat with us, eh?”
Immediately the entourage of tramps began to whimper and pout about his departure. The one on his lap caressed his cheek and begged him to join the group. His blood boiled and he imagined steam leaking from his ears and nostrils. That of course set him to giggling; he rose from his seat with a forlorn smile and grabbed his cane. “Ok, ok I will talk to my captain. That’s all I can promise. You’ll either see me at the dock,” he pointed at David as he stepped through the curtains, “or at least see that schnapps waiting for you.”
“Hey, you tell that son of a bitch that the Family requires your service, eh?” David called after him.
Viska threw up a playful wave and glanced at the little girl with her downturned face for but a moment before walking over to the bar. The smile was gone now…only the hollow, determined scowl of an angry man who’s decided to do something rash and unthinkable remained. He slapped a hundred mark down on the oak next to his abandoned plate and left. He barely heard the bartender’s confused, “Thank you.”
Outside he quickly checked his pocket watch as he strode down the now lamp-lit street towards The Winking Lady. He wagered he had a little over three hours before departure…plenty of time. He stopped at a grocer two blocks down and bought the most expensive bottle of pink champagne he saw; the man behind the counter tried to be pleasant but the scowl plastered on Viska’s face only meant trouble.
“How goes it this evening?” he asked with concerned worry in his voice.
“Bugger off.” He tossed another hundred mark on the counter and moved on.
It was full dark and the town was hauntingly lit by the streetlamps and glowing window signs up and down the main circle when he finally arrived at The Winking Lady. The spire was especially beautiful, with a spiral of tiny lights winding up the great staircase and deck lamps dotting some of the swaying airships; soon the fog would make visibility poor, and the brutally cold wind would keep most people indoors next to their boiler vents, but the view was pleasing nonetheless. Viska quietly slipped around the back of the establishment and spotted the huge boiler humming and churning against the wall. As he neared, the vents noisily shot steam up into the air to drift away and dissipate. The pressure gauge showed the needle still dancing around normal levels with an internal temperature far below dangerous.
He could hear laughter inside the building, along with the warble of some working girl singing into an ampliphone. He couldn’t quite make out the song, but it sounded an awful lot like You’re Past Due. Glasses clinked; whistles and catcalls were constant. He opened up the maintenance panel and eyed the dutifully turning gears. Poor things, they weren’t doing anything wrong.
He took a look at his cane; it was certainly thin enough to do the trick. He took aim and rammed it in between the two biggest gears, grunting as he struggled to wriggle it as deep as possible. The gears immediately halted with a slight squeal. He started humming along with the tune inside as he closed the front panel; the cane protruded enough to keep it from latching. He tapped the pressure gauge with his finger as the needle started to move away from the safe zone and the internal temperature began to rise.
It wouldn’t explode. No, these newer models were designed to force vent if the gauge read too high–a well-designed safety measure for folks on holiday. But Viska had better plans for all that pressure…Magnus would answer for his destruction of innocence.
His pace quickened as he made for the dock stairs. Another look at his watch put his remaining time at just over two hours. The wind was picking up and the street traffic was sparse. As he neared the bottom step he felt the distinct tickle of tiny raindrops in his hair. He climbed his way up past some arriving merchants on their way down and several Cogbots hauling large crates. He passed the Royal Barge at Dock 6 and wound up, and up, and up to docks 17 and 18. He peered off the jetty at 17, taking care not to drop the champagne; directly below and a good seventy-five feet down was the Barge’s cream colored envelope swaying in the biting wind. The lights of Winghem twinkled and were barely visible in the clouds of steam covering the town. The rain had picked up during his climb, soaking his vest and silk shirt; matting his blond tangles to his forehead and sideburns. Without any second thoughts he grabbed the end of a spare mooring line tethered to a bollard off the gangplank of the clipper docked there and tossed it over the edge of the pier. He watched it tumble down, down, down, unwind and finally snap to a stop just above the deck of the Barge. With all the grace of an acrobat Viska dropped off the side of the pier and nimbly grabbed the soaking wet, thick rope with one hand–clutching the bottle of champagne in the other.
The notion that a mere slip of the fingers could send him plummeting to his death was of no concern. His heart would stop before he hit the ground anyhow. Would he even scream? Or would the whole affair of his life thus far make him erupt into laughter before the end? None of that mattered. The boorish David, the brothel owner with a penchant for the untouched, the little girl being violated; those were the forces driving The Mad Jester.
The wind and the icy cold rain battered the rope, and the man dangling from it. With ease, he wrapped his legs around the line and began a slow, steady slide from Dock 17 to the Barge below. The friction burned his palm at times, but he hardly noticed the searing pain. The rain stung his eyes and his vest was soaked and heavy, but the pure, angry disgust never drained from his face. As he neared the boat, he spotted David’s only guards all the way at the other end of the jetty. Their backs were to the ship, and both of them huddled together under a small lean-to meant to shelter crates of food or fine silks in stormy weather. At the very bottom of the rope, Viska started swinging back and forth, trying to build up enough momentum to propel a nice leap onto the deck. The wind made it difficult, blowing him in every direction like some giant pendulum. Finally he swung back, forward, and then let go; gracefully somersaulting through the air to land with a near silent thunk on the deck. He swept his hair out of his eyes, adjusted his vest, and rolled up his sleeves. Blood stains would only look incriminating and less than fashionable. He let out a small giggle of utter madness and headed for the stairs leading below.