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Tantallus of Snipes
Act 18: Doris Synchronus, Runaway Slave of the Censor
© 2024 James LaFond
Ascent, Wineday, Sixth Day of Sepulcher
The children had known, that she knew things.
Her life entire, from being ripped cruelly from her mother and looking down into her loving, dying eyes, Doris had known many things, had seen things in the eyes of Patrican men, had heard things in the tidal tears of Plebe women.
The wooden eagle for killing Chinese cities that Caesar dreamed of—for she had seen eagles in his eyes as he listened to her sing the Sorrow Song of Silver-Footed Thesis as Orpheus danced the mime of the Shield of Achilles. There, in those cold, cruel eyes, soft Doris saw eagles glare.
Doris had a mind called idetic by some learned man who had certified her neither stupid, insane nor heretical. This man also counseled Master Increase Publius and his kind wife to reveal only her gift for song to the Church. For, Doris knowing that the crab grew in the great lady’s lungs before the doctor had, could be taken as a case of possession or witchcraft. Off to the Black Nuns of Doctrine she would go.
It was quite simple, really, when Lady Publius coughed the first cough of that kind, Doris saw floating before her breast the sign of Cancer, just as she had seen it upon the throat, like a body picture of light, of the Obscurist.
When she looked upon the face of her inheriting master, Gentile Publico, she saw her rude rape writ there, saw in light floating before his cat's eyes her sale to Silver Nose, the masked fiend who bought virgins who were never seen again, a man who Doris knew only in dream.
Likewise, when, having been pushed headlong down the train platform by Orpheus as he faced that wicked Netman, she had seen, a prodigy above the small mob of people in the form of a Sword of Justice, a Christ Cross with point and edge. She knew there that her bodily savior would be, and when she saw him hulking among the workmen and sporting sort that Christian Sword of white light burned bright in his tartan chest, hovering before and merging with him.
‘Jesus sent you,’ she looked up at him as they took the train from Litigation, escorted by 30 mobsters and also 20 mechanics with great bars and wrenches come to second Billy Gear. The Conductor assigned a coach attendant to file them all into the Audition Car just behind the Business Car. Just as where merchants met with Patricians in Business, merchants might mix with artisans, straw bosses, mobsters, rent collectors and such.
He smiled down at her as she hung on his armored arm, not permitted near the sword arm, which now held his walking stick. His eyes were magnetic and his words like a rumble of coal fire in a cresset, “Your eyes dance like when you whisper to me.”
She hung on him and kissed his ear, whispering, “My words are only for you—only you. Jesus sent you.”
He stopped and grinned, then whispered in her ear, “You have played mute but for me, ye life entire?”
She whispered back as the conductor began to complain that progress was being upheld and thought better, “I could speak only to mirrors and, in the dark, whisper to Orpheus, not out of lack of voice, but of fear, for I know what is nigh and near.”
He looked into her eyes and she knew, knew what he saw, that she could speak to him because he was already dead among men, soon to be in the After Lands what received flaming souls such as his. On the brazen crest of his helmet burned a gravestone and their next to it she knelt, crying, watering lily flowers that gathered and crept and bloomed in profusion all the seasons of the year, which was to say, whenever it snowed.
He picked her up in the cook of his arm as the mobsters and gear-men made two files for him to board. He hissed in her ear as she cuddled close to his head, “You knew about this snow.”
“Yes, Master. Also, that you will refuse the offer momentarily to come.”
This car was all tables and benches, small ones for men to meet, scheme and profit.
She loved being carried like a doll, did not want this day to end.
One table was held for them at the front of the car, one of two at its head which had divan like couches.
‘A couch on a coach,’ thought the lass in her, who now hid safe in that picture window of the mind, while the woman of her wiles was held as such savage property.
She whispered in his ear, “Do not drink tonight, please. Make love to me from dusk until dawn.”
He grunted, agrin, “I will, Girl, never knew of such sweet ken.’
Soon seated, the attendant barred the door after the last of their party of some sixty souls.
Clyde, a genius of fighting, a champion of his kind never beat with fists, who it was said served up steel as sharp as leather, was busy assigning two mobster hitmen and a big monster of a gearman to be Billy Gear’s trainers. Doris was concerned with Billy’s plight, yet was unconcerned once she saw the scythes hovering above the two mobsters, knowing well and good that these murder men would school him well for his fight with the Lictor.
A glance at Orpheus, as usual revealed nothing, as she could never divine a thing about her twin. He saw her worry and grinned, “Sister, I’m Pollux [1] now, you may rest assured.”
Max grumbled, “Minicus, you ever killed a dog?”
“A pit bull, with a pipe, Sandy, bashed its head in with two hands.”
“Good Man. Minicus—you are in. That beast of the Censor they say is an oversized rot, big as me. Feed it the edge of ye targe, and when it bites, run it through the throat, twist that dirk and hold on, so when he shakes like a lion and ye get throwed, the blade comes out with its life.”
“You bet, Sandy.”
“Practice it two hours after dark and two hours first light to shadows.”
The boy nodded and then he was there, Silver Nose. He used a silver ointment to dab the tip of his nose, as Doris gathered, to hide his skin from the sun that might otherwise devour his night-crawling hide. The symbol of the Devil coiled black above his brow, in the prodigy image bestowed by her sixth sense.
A very well dressed patrician, with cape, and white blouse shirt and slick top hat, boots and silver cane, to match his nose, had entered as the train pulled off. He stood respectfully before Max and tipped his hat to Doris, then seated himself across from them, shewing Minicus towards the window.
“Master Great Scot, Max Born, Lyle Japhet at your service.”
Doris pinched Max, pleadingly, letting him know she was in terrible skin-crawling fear. Unlike other men, both of these understood her completely, one to a den of comfort, another to the precipice of all fears.
“Mister Lyle,” Max extended his hand, and it was taken in that elongated gloved hand, not dainty so much as snakey.
Max did not let go, but said, “Minicus, open the window.”
The lad obediently stood and slid the window pain up, then ducked down under the table as Max stood, pulled the man out of his seat by his elbows, then grasped his hips and threw him headlong with such force he hit the tunnel wall with a sickening crunch, heard even over the din of the train.
The gaslights of the tunnel cressets [2] set the tunnel and the coach occupants in weird illumination. As Max pulled the window up and shut.
A couple moments later, the Conductor came through from the head of the train and asked Max, “A certain gentleman was seeking you. Did he come through?”
Max answered, “Yes, Conductor, he did.”
The Conductor went onward looking for Silver Nose. [3]
-1. Father Murphy, boxing chaplain of Augusta was currently agitating the Pope for a synod about Pollux, brother of the divine twin Castor, who seconded Jason among the Argonauts, famed boxer of antiquity, as a possible saint. This was said to be a large part of Clyde’s reason for affronting the Censor and challenging the Nets, to bring boxing into vogue as protection racket for women regarded as holy, as many believed Doris to be.
-2. Gaslights set in old coal cressets to cut down on noxious fumes.
-3. This man, known by many names, was Tantallus of Snipes, supplier of the finest virgins for the vilest Patricians. The Mobsters on board knew him well.
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