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Clyde of Taps
Act 13: Orpheus Synchronus, Runaway Slave of the Censor
© 2024 James LaFond
Night, Fishday, Fourth Day of Sepulcher
‘Please, Doris, fly, get away. Do not wait, do not seek me,’ sank the dying muse inside of Orpheus’ heart, now as battered as his ribs.
“I know, I know,” he answered her echo, “your song will die.”
A big, gauntleted hand dragged him to his feet, while the other cruel-gloved hand examined his face and ribs while he dangled like a mouse in a cat’s maw. He looked into the dented face of the boxer, for there was nothing else this fellow could be but a pug. He made to spit in that face and it smiled, showing a full set of teeth, somehow preserved from that perverse art of fists.
A great finger strapped into a cestus waved, “Now, now, pretty boy, I but dinged ye sweet, caught yah so ye pretty head did no crack on the paves, en sure ‘nough saved ye from worse den me!”
Orpheus, indignantly dangling, was raised higher in that left hand as the weird Japanese sketch artist children, who had somehow followed him like hawks a rabbit, found space to sketch among the ring of workmen, waiting to take the train into the city after sweeping the platform. Patricians hustled off with their footmen and coachmen towards the head of the train beyond. The other great-gloved hand pointed down at a wicked looking fellow, armed with net and sheathed dagger, net coiled like a snake in his manicaed hand, holding his side and wincing from an ignominious place which he inhabited with no grace, as it was obvious to the dangling Orpheus, that this man was not used to defeat.
“Look there, dancer fair, I won yer nabbin’ fair en square over Ole Netty Sam here, the both of us in competition over you en yer fair siss.’
“House Fist!” roared a workman, seconded by his fellows, some of whom stalked closer to the net man for a kick, only to be waved off by Orpheus’ comedic catcher, “None of that, now! Clyde of Taps is a sporty fellow.”
The brawny workmen halted and backed off.
The man named Sam, Orpheus now recalled seeing in posters before and on broadsheets declaring him undefeated by crook hitmen in the arena and un-evaded by runaways… and fugitives from the Iron, Steam and Dock Police. This sinister man spoke in a low even snarl that carried enough to be heard over the hissing of the engine, “Clyde, I’ll not give you fair play—will never be the Champion of Nets to stoop so low as to give a boxer his day versus Nets on the sands—I know you’re doing this to hustle up a duel for your wretched house! You have only a broadsheet advertisement, I have a handbill warrant from the Master of Orpheus Synchronus.”
Clyde let Orpheus rest on his feet, keeping hold of his neck now, from behind. The bent faced boxer then grinned, “So it be like that, oh High House Netty Sam, he who spends more time draggin’ workmen back to the whipping post for the Company Man then on the sands?”
The menacing man began to take to one knee, drawing his breath back in it seemed, from some wicked body blow, “Like that, Pug,” menaced the sharp tone.
Clyde then somehow grinned wider and motioned to the mob of workmen with an open hand, which glided into a giving hand pointed palm-up at the grounded net man and exclaimed, in a personable way, “In that case, My Good Stout Lads, how about some of that!”
Five burly workmen in heavy boots closed in on the net man with kicks and blows. The net man was soon rolling like a kicked log wrapped in his own net, as Clyde, satisfied, heaved Orpheus over his shoulder and sighed, “Like that, my pretty boy, like that! You see don’t you, that Ole Clyde of Taps is your friend—aye?”
Orpheus groaned, “I fail to envision our friendship in any civilized way, save that in the relation of baggage to a stevedore.”
“Indeed,” laughed Clyde, “you are not as light as you look, and, as you are unbranded, I might risk censorial censor in the sands for branding you? See, there is a cresset over yon end of the platform. And, my portion—since I have no warrant and am goin’ off broadsheet, could be to brand you myself and sell you back. Granted, that puts me in the bad sight of the man who commands the sands—but this young censor loves a good fight and he might get me the fight over you that could rise my stakes, the image of my house—so popular among the mobsters—against Netty Sam. Mate, I just nabbed you to get a fight with Netty Sam—I can whip him, I can!”
“Thrilling,” groaned Orpheus, “I am the prize of a brute rather than a fiend.”
“It’s more than that, Boy—I have seen you dance, and I wondered, I did. Ole Clyde of Taps, sweetest boxer of them all, dared to imagine if I could train that beauty up to the fist—boy, you would never be hit! You could be a boxer.”
Something like pride, but stronger, struck Orpheus, and he said in a dead tone, “Then stand me down so I can take the boxer brand—I’d like to lay low such a man as you did.”
Clyde stood him before him and they found, almost to each other’s surprise, that they were the same height, but with Orpheus less then half the age and slightly more than half the weight.
Clyde let go and extended his hand for a grasp, “On your honor, a boxer you’ll be?”
“I never knew honor could be open to me,” snarled Orpheus, who took the great hand and tried not to wince too deeply when it closed.
Clyde looked into his eyes and liked what he saw, letting go.
“Then shoulder to shoulder, mate, to the cresset, and your fair sister over there, I’ll leave for you to take. I have no stomach for nabbing girls.”
‘This man trusts me, not to run, already? Is he some spiritual kin to Dear Master Publio?”
It seemed obliviously so, as Clyde behaved by his jaunt and tone of common cause—for any glance would name Orpheus winner in a chase, not even considering his acrobatic skill—already, on the instant, that the captive by his side was his mate, shouting at the circular mob of people on the coach platform by the branding cresset, “Make way for House Fist, to meet its fancy newest!”
‘My new mate is an actor of sorts—this is so strange to fall in with one so functionally the same.’
Orpheus frowned boxer-like, as he had once mimed upon the occasion of Odysseus at the Suitor’s Door, as the crowd parted, another occasion he was used to; though this crowd was of a rougher sort than he normally mimed to…
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