In The Land of the Dead
"Excuse me? Is this cab for hire?"
The man perched on the seat looked up from his sandwich. "Right after I finish my lunch," he told Lizzie, wiping his mouth with his handkerchief. "Haven't seen you 'round these parts before."
"We just got in yesterday," Lizzie explained, glancing at the anxious group clustered around her. "And we're a bit lost, unfortunately. Tell me, do you know where Burtonsville is?"
"The cannery village? Yeah, I know where that is," the cabbie replied with a nod. "Hell, my last living job was taking some people out of there and to here."
Lizzie clapped her hands. "Oh, wonderful! The last idiot we used almost sent us completely off course because he was too proud to admit he didn't know where it was. . .how far is it from here?"
"Five days, tops, but if we don't stop it'll probably be more like three," the cabbie told her. "In a bit of a hurry, aren't we?"
"It's important business," Arthur spoke up, using his best "dean" voice. "We have to see Elder Gutknecht as soon as possible."
"Well, won't take me more than a couple of minutes to finish this," the cabbie replied, grinning. "Throw any luggage you got on board and hop in."
"Thank you." Arthur promptly followed instructions and hoisted the suitcase containing everyone's change of clothes onto the back. "About bloody time we found someone who knows what they're doing! How far behind are we, do you think?"
"Just a coupla days," Bonejangles assured him. "I was startin' to worry we weren't gonna get there 'til September!"
"We probably would have been in Scotland by then if Danny hadn't noticed we were going in the wrong direction," Lizzie muttered. "Seriously, we're dead. How can you still be so desperate for a fare that you'd lie straight to your passengers' faces?"
"Well, we don't need to worry about him anymore," Lorina said, patting her shoulder. "And I doubt he'll ever pull such a trick again with the way you and Bonejangles laid into him."
"Yeah, that was a hell of a blue streak you cursed, Liz," Bonejangles agreed, all admiration. "I swear, he'd gone white again by the time you were through!"
"He deserved it," Lizzie snapped. "We told him that my sister needed us. Oh God, I hope she's still all right. . . ."
Lorina hugged her. "I hope so too. But we're very close to finding out once and for all."
"She sounds tough," Danny said, opening the door to the cab. "I bet she'll be fine. Maybe she's already figured out who the scunner is and got him thrown in the clink."
"Ooooh, one can only hope."
The cabbie swallowed the last bite of food, then sucked the grease from his fingers, watching them curiously. "Family trouble?"
"My living sister really needs our help," Lizzie provided. "We're hoping Elder Gutknecht can get us Upstairs."
"Is that so? Well, I heard that there was a plague of living dead over in Burtonsville at the beginning of the year, so I'm guessing he can help."
"Yeah, you're looking at part of it," Bonejangles grinned as the others started piling into the cab. "Your final passengers tell you all about it?"
"Just overheard some whispers from the back – you guys scared them silly," the cabbie chuckled. "Guess I should be thanking you, though – gave me a heck of a story to tell the boys when I dropped them off! Never thought I'd have a lord and lady in my cab!"
Bonejangles paused, one hand on the door. "Lord and lady?" he echoed.
"Yeah, Ever-something. Plus their daughter, maid, and butler. Surprised they didn't have a driver of their own. . .then again, the way Old Frog-Face had to paw in his wallet to pay me says they weren't exactly on the ups of society anymore."
Bonejangles ground his teeth together. "Everglot, you think?"
"That's it!" The cabbie slapped his knee. "I remember the lady because she had her hair piled on her head so high I never thought it would fit in the carriage! Was constantly on me to go faster too – drove both me and Pretty Ebony here to distraction, let me tell you. And the girl. . .she was in a wedding dress, but I didn't see any husband. Looked sad as anything. Figured she tried to elope and got caught."
"Mmmm. . .ready to go?" the musician asked, rubbing the side of his skull.
"As soon as you're in." The cabbie waited as Bonejangles joined the others inside, then slapped the reins. "Hiya! Hold on, folks – we're off!"
The carriage rocked forward as Pretty Ebony (who was now more a pretty ivory thanks to most of her skin having fallen off) broke into a quick trot. Lizzie grinned eagerly at her companions. "Three days away! I can hardly wait!"
"You and me both, Liz," Chauncey said, leaning against the back of his seat. "I can already taste the latest Ms. Plum's whipped up at the B&S."
"Think Paul's picked up anything new while we've been gone?" Danny asked.
"Oh, you know Paul – he ain't satisfied until he's got some new cocktail on the menu," Teddy replied.
"Paul?" Arthur asked, tilting his head.
"The headwaiter at the Ball & Socket," Teddy provided.
"Your pub has a headwaiter?"
"Well, he used to work in a fancy restaurant, but when he ended up down here, he and Ms. Plum really hit it off, so. . .he's a nice guy, you'll like him."
"Ms. Plum too," Chauncey agreed, nudging Bonejangles with his foot. "She's a real peach, isn't she?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah," Bonejangles said, staring out the window. "Peachy. Great."
Lizzie frowned. Well, this wasn't like him. He should have been the most enthusiastic of all, apart from herself, about getting back on course. Instead, he seemed distracted – and not in the good "composing a new song" kind of way. "Sam? What's wrong?"
Bonejangles rolled his eye toward her. "Well. . .you know how I was just talkin' with the driver about that lord and lady?"
"Yes, I can remember things that happened not five minutes ago."
"I'm serious, Liz," Bonejangles replied, turning to look at her properly. "It's got me worried."
"What about?" Lizzie asked, swallowing down her next teasing remark. He did look anxious, jaw held tight and eye hooded. It wasn't a good expression on him. "Did you know that family? Play for them once?"
"Not really. Ya see. . .Everglot's Victoria's last name."
Arthur and Lorina stared blankly at each other. Lizzie, however, was able to make the leap – as were the Bone Boys. "Our Victor's Victoria?" Raymond asked. "That sad little girl behind the pillar?"
"That'd be her," Bonejangles confirmed.
"You're sure, Bonejangles?" Chauncey pressed, leaning forward.
"Course I'm sure! I was sitting next to their housekeeper during the whole mess, wasn't I? She told me everything about it, and that included who she worked for!"
"So after Emily dumps her biggest dream down the toilet for that lady's sake, she turns around and does a runner on Victor?" Teddy said, steaming. "What a bitch!"
"Language!" Lorina cried, folding her arms.
"Sorry, Mrs. Liddell, but I'm pissed! All of us knew how much Emily wanted a husband, and Victor was right on the verge of giving her one when she saw Little Miss Living's face and decided it was wrong! Now we hear that Old Rosy Cheeks didn't even bother getting married?"
"Hang on, hang on," Lizzie said, holding up a hand. "I heard what the driver said too, and – well. Would you think that someone who looked 'sad as anything' actually wanted to be in his cab?"
"You saying her parents – kinda kidnapped her?" Danny asked, tapping on his mushroom-shaped skull. "Why?"
"Think that's our fault, boys," Bonejangles said, guilt oozing out every little crack and pit in his bones. "We got in their house intendin' to give 'em a fright, right? I'm thinkin' we gave 'em enough of one that they decided they weren't gonna live there anymore. Hildy told me they weren't wild about marrying their kid to somebody in fish anyway. Us showin' up might have been the last straw."
"Aw cra – crud," Raymond corrected himself with a quick glance at Lorina. "And here I was thinkin' we were doing Victor a favor. . . ."
"Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, if you'll allow me the cliche," Arthur said. "But it might not be as bad as you think. I don't know how eager the parents were about the match, but if Victor really loves this Victoria, I'm sure he'd stop at nothing to track her down."
"He did fight a guy waving a sword around with a barbecue fork for her," Bonejangles said, perking up a little. "And from what I heard from Hildy, his parents were crazy about finally gettin' into high society. Bet they wouldn't let the Everglots slip away." He drummed his fingers on his knee. "Would be nice to know for sure, though."
"We can spare a few minutes for you to ask about any news when we get there," Lizzie assured him. "Besides, I know you're not going to let us go see the Elder without introducing us to all your friends first."
That finally made his skeletal grin look like an actual smile again. "Damn straight." He clapped his hands together. "All righty then – who's up for a game to keep us from worryin' about this three days straight?"
". . .This is it?"
"Yup," Bonejangles said, spreading his arms wide. "Home sweet home." He smirked back at her. "Never said it was a big home."
"Yes, but – I'm sorry, I was still expecting a little more," Lizzie admitted, looking around them. Their cabbie had dropped them off in the Burtonsville town square – which, to her eyes, was barely a square at all. There were all of the requisite elements – an open area in the center, shops and houses in a ring around it, and some sort of decoration – in this case, a pedestal sporting the skeletal remains of a horse – for visual interest, but. . .the whole place had a rather hemmed-in look. The buildings pressed up against each other, hunching over the cobbles like children studying insects, and all the streets leading out were quite narrow and crooked. Even the people tended to form smaller, tighter groups, navigating the space with care to avoid collisions. It was like the village was attempting to hide from the world. "Suddenly I'm not surprised nobody could find it."
"Lizzie, that's rather rude," Lorina scolded. "It seems a perfectly nice village."
"Downstairs, yeah, for sure," Bonejangles nodded. "Upstairs they tend to get a little uptight. And yeah, I know it's pretty much a big streak o'nothin', but it's our big streak o'nothin'."
"Which way is your pub?" Arthur asked, squinting at a nearby barber shop. "Hmm. . .I've been wondering lately if I oughtn't do something with my beard. . . ."
"I wouldn't ask Mr. Clipper – he takes off just about everything, including your nose," Chauncey warned. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Ball & Socket's that way."
"And Elder Gutknecht's tower is thataway," Bonejangles said, pointing to the left. "But he does sometimes wander down for a drink, so we might as well check the pub first. Gotta get all the introductions out of the way too." He winked at the Liddells. "Plum won't forgive me if I don't give her the chance to crack a few of your ribs."
The trio chuckled. "Lead on, then, Bonejangles," Arthur encouraged. "After all that traveling, I could do with a pint."
A couple of minutes wandering around the twisty little side streets later, they were in front of the pub. It was a true companion to The Hip Joint, Lizzie, noted – a cozy hole-in-the-wall nestled between decaying stone walls and advertised mainly via a faded wooden sign. Lizzie snorted as she noted Bonejangles's distinctive jaw plastered on the worn brown circle. "Such ego."
"Hey – lead act and part owner here," Bonejangles replied, poking her in the shoulder. "I earned my ego."
"Fair enough – I hope Bumby doesn't have his awful face on the Houndsditch sign," Lizzie added, mood darkening. "I can only imagine how awful it would be for passers-by to have his eyes following you about." She shuddered. "I still can't believe he's running an orphanage. . . ."
"Try not to worry about it too much, dear," Lorina counseled. "We're almost to the point of seeing him off."
"Right on," Bonejangles agreed. "Chin up, Liz. Think about all the neat stuff you'll be able ta tell your sister when you see her again."
That – was actually a very comforting thought. She could already see Alice watching her with bright eyes, hanging on her every word and peppering her with questions about how the afterlife worked. Maybe a bit of it would even end up in her Wonderland – if the Queen of Hearts ever succeeded in beheading someone, they would need a place to go. She nodded. "Better learn all your friends' names then."
"That's the spirit." Bonejangles pushed open the door of the pub and waved them in. "Ladies first!"
Inside, Lizzie again found herself making comparisons to The Hip Joint. The layout was roughly the same – a maze of tables on the green-tinted floor, lit with lamps spewing purple and yellow light; an old, scratched-up bar looming in the back, a rainbow of glowing alcoholic alchemy sitting on its shelves; and a rickety stage to the left, complete with a pink-lined coffin that had been repurposed as a piano. Rather than cards, though, billiards seemed the game of choice for the customers – she could see a couple of skeletons in the back sending the multicolored balls rolling all over their little green field. There was also a dart board, though all the darts seemed to have ended up in the wall beside it. At least there's more room to move in here, she thought, venturing down the stairs with her parents close behind. After so long in carriages, I need the space!
Raymond made a beeline for the piano, followed by Teddy and Danny. "Ah, my sweet baby," he said, running his fingers along the frayed padding lovingly. "Hope they've bothered to keep you in tune!"
"Oh, they know what you'll do to 'em if they don't," Danny teased, zipping his finger down Ray's ribcage.
The sound caught the attention of one of the billiards skeletons. He looked up, and his eye sockets seemed to go wide. "Hey! Bonejangles and the Boys're back!" he called, dropping his cue.
Almost as one, the crowd turned to see – and then corpses were erupting from their chairs and dashing across the floor in a mad explosion of cheering to welcome their wayward son and his merry band of misfits home. Lizzie squeaked, pressing up tightly against her parents. "Good God!"
"Tell me about it!" Lorina said, gripping her tightly. "All that energy – if half of them weren't skeletons, I'd barely know they were dead!"
"And Bonejangles claims the living Upstairs can be uptight?" Arthur said, face full of overwhelmed disbelief. "I'll believe that when I see it!"
A face belonging to a rather wrinkled lady sporting an absurdly large brown hat with what looked like reeds sprouting out the top turned toward the three. "Oh, and there's new arrivals too! Hello dears!"
"New arrivals?" A skeleton with pigtails peered over her shoulder. "No, wait, don't ring the bell, they look as if they've been dead for a while."
"They must be visitors!" another withered lady in a large hat, this time in blue, cried, clapping her hands. "Welcome!"
The crowd surged toward them, everyone shoving their hand forward and eager to make friends. "What are your names?"
"Where are you from?"
"She's a pretty girl – shame to see someone so young down here!"
"Reminds me of poor Emily – you're not a murdered bride too, are you?"
"You must tell us how you keep your hair so well-attached, madam!"
"Look at their clothes, Albert! They must be rich!"
"Why's the Mummy and Daddy look so crispy?"
"Bonejangles, did you pick up some strays?"
"Hell of a thing to call one of the old Oxford deans!" Bonejangles retorted, pushing his way through the mass of people to stand with the trio. Lizzie shuffled behind him a few steps for protection. "Back off, give 'em a little space! They ain't here just for the pleasure of it!"
"But who are they?" a tiny skeleton child in a blue sailor suit insisted.
"Arthur, Lorina, and Elizabeth Liddell," Arthur said, waving at the crowd.
"Lizzie, please," Lizzie said, scanning the crowd. "Excuse me – is Elder Gutknecht here?"
"Nah, haven't seen him in days," one of the skeletons replied. "Why are you looking for him?"
"Well, we – we need to go Up."
The bar abruptly fell silent. Lizzie squirmed as every eye and eye socket seemed to burn a hole through her. "Up?" the blue-hatted lady echoed.
"Everyone wants to go Upstairs these days, it seems," her friend in the brown hat commented. "Why do you want to go back there, my dear?"
"Never ash nice as you – hic – remember," one rather wobbly-looking skeleton at the bar, a tankard in his hand.
"Oh trust me, our nostalgia was removed long ago," Lorina informed him. "It's – it's our daughter. Something awful's happened to her."
"Yeah – she'sh dead," the wobbly skeleton replied, thrusting out his tankard at Lizzie.
"Obviously we have two," Arthur snapped. "Look, this is a delicate subject, but the short of it is, we died in a house fire twelve years ago set by a man who couldn't or wouldn't understand that Lizzie here didn't fancy him." Lizzie shivered, and he squeezed her shoulder. "He was never caught, and now works as a psychiatrist and owner of an orphanage, where – he doesn't have the children's best interests in mind."
A ripple of whispers went through the crowd. "He ain't one of those who–" one of the billiard-playing skeletons started, tone hard.
"We don't know about him himself, but he's certainly selling them to those who are," Lizzie told him. "And – and he's got my sister in his power. Alice was only eight when the fire happened, and she's – she's been in bedlam for the past decade. She doesn't know what sort of evil he's capable of, and–" She swallowed, somehow, despite the lack of necessary soft tissue. "And she happens to look a lot like me."
The bar exploded into noise again, although this time of an angrier sort. "That rotten bastard!"
"Messin' around with little ones – how the hell does anybody do that?"
"Oh, I thought our poor Emily had the worst story of all of us!"
"Bet Barkis or Eddie or whatever would get along great with him."
"Don't worry, folks, the Elder will be sure to help!"
"Oh yes – this demands justice be done!"
"He's a good fellow," a heavyset man in a long coat and top hat nodded. "Gave Master Victor and Miss Emily a chance at a real wedding, after all. And it was nice for me to talk to old Cleavehard one last time. Let him know I'm all right down here."
"Master – oh, you knew Bonejangles's friend?" Lizzie guessed, glancing hopefully at the musician.
Bonejangles shook his head. "Died before the whole mess."
"More in the middle of it," the man confirmed with a grin. "I was the Van Dort driver back when I was breathing. Loved the pipe a little too much – cough finally caught up with me while we were looking for him on the eve of his wedding to Miss Victoria." He chuckled. "Funny thing – the last bit of news I ever heard from our crier was that he'd run off and eloped with a corpse. Then I get down here and find out it's true! Well, mostly." He turned a fond gaze to the ceiling. "Nice bloke, our Victor. Quiet and shy as anything, but with a good heart. Kinda considered it a shame he was going to follow his father into the family business. The way he played his piano. . .course, he didn't like too many other people listening to that. Think his mum scared him off going professional."
Bonejangles winced. "Yeah. . .speaking of scarin', Mayhew, you haven't heard anything about him lately, have ya?" he asked, leaning forward with an anxious look in his eye. "Got some bad news about that Miss Victoria earlier that shook my bones. What went down here after me and my Boys left?"
Before Mayhew could continue, however, there was a delighted yell from the direction of the bar. "Bonejangles! You're home!"
"Ms. P! Hey!" Bonejangles laughed, waving to someone Lizzie couldn't see. "Yeah, had to come back in a hurry–"
"Yes, I see!" There was a commotion near the back of the crowed, and then a short blue woman like a squat bell, clad in an oversized chef's hat and a stained apron, came barreling through assembled corpses, shoving people aside with nary a thought. She flung her arms around Bonejangles – and Lizzie too, to the girl's surprise. "About time you settled down with someone! We'll have to prepare another wedding feast! Who are you, my darling? And oh, you must be the new in-laws! Swept your daughter right off her feet, I'm sure."
"Whoa, whoa, wait – friend, Ms. Plum!" Bonejangles cried, eye darting frantically about the room as people began to catcall. "I ain't – she wouldn't – it's not like that! Christ, woman, you're gonna get me killed by her dad all over again!"
Lizzie giggled, any annoyance over the misidentification melting into amusement. "Lizzie Liddell, and we really are just friends," she said, managing to extract herself from Ms. Plum's sturdy grip. Yikes, cracked ribs is right. . . . "He's doing me a favor – my sister's in trouble Upstairs, and I need Elder Gutknecht's help to warn her before it's too late."
"One of the others will be happy to give you the full story, I'm sure," Arthur said, extending a hand. "Arthur Liddell, and this is my wife Lorina."
"Ms. Plum," the woman said, shaking it. "Oh dear, I'm sorry about all that, it's just – he really needs to find himself a proper lady friend," she added, frowning at Bonejangles.
"I did!" Bonejangles protested, grinning and nudging Lizzie. "You didn't say she had to be more than a friend."
"You know what I mean! A man needs someone to look after him, even after he's dead." She shot a warm look over her shoulder at Mayhew, who returned it. "I still think you and Emily would have done well together. . .though I guess everything with Victor worked out in the end. After all, if she went Up, it couldn't have been a complete disaster, now could it?"
"Maybe not for her, but I heard something just before we got here that makes me think 'complete disaster' mighta hit Victor," Bonejangles said, turning serious again as he crouched in front of her. "We get any new arrivals with the scoop?"
"You can just ask me – Bonejangles, was it? Though I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of good news to tell."
The group turned toward the voice. Tucked away at a corner table was a little old prune of a lady, sitting with a nattily-dressed skeleton sporting a carefully-waxed mustache. "It's all down to that dreadful pastor," the woman replied, adjusting her tiny gold-rimmed glasses – though her eyes were so squinted behind them Lizzie doubted she could see anything at all. "Can't leave well enough alone."
"Hey, I know you," Bonejangles said, straightening up. "You're Alfie's gal, ain't ya? The one who nearly knocked his block off with your walker."
The old lady laughed and rubbed the back of her head. "It's hard to recognize someone when they haven't got any flesh anymore! You did give me quite a turn!"
"It doesn't matter, buttercup," the skeleton – presumably Alfie – assured her, one arm slung lovingly around her shoulders. "Not even a crack. It would take a lot worse than that to keep us apart." He nodded politely at the Liddells. "Alfred and Gertrude Carter, at your service."
"Pleasure to meet you," Lizzie said, dropping a curtsy as both Arthur and Lorina nodded back.
"Yeah – guess it was more of a turn than we thought," Bonejangles said, looking her up and down. "Last time I saw you, you were still breathing."
"Ah, well, it was wonderful to see my Alfie again, but all the excitement. . .my poor heart just couldn't keep up," Gertrude confessed, adjusting her glasses again. "Bedridden the next day, and Below just three days after that. Not that I minded too much," she added with a loving squint at her husband.
Lizzie surprised herself with a tiny spurt of jealousy. She'd thought she was long past any desire for marriage, but – still. Why couldn't that have been her future, instead of what she'd gotten? "I'm sorry about your death. . .but what about the pastor being dreadful?" she asked, pulling her mind away from the subject.
"Yeah, what did Old Stiffy do when he wandered back to the church?" Bonejangles added, slipping into the seat across from the Carters. "Last I saw of him, he was wanderin' down the road in a daze after Johnny told him to shut his yap and stop gettin' in our way."
"Well, he came back, and more's the pity," Gertrude replied, puckering her lips. "The very next day, when the maid came in with my lunch, she told me Galswells had declared poor Master Van Dort damned."
"Damned?" Bonejangles swiveled his head around to look at the rest of the crowd. "Victor? Really?"
"I heard him through my window later – he was going on about how he'd 'broken the veil' and 'summoned demons from Hell' and things like that," Gertrude said, rolling her eyes. "According to him, Master Van Dort was practicing black magic in the woods and brought all of you up as his undead army of darkness or some such nonsense."
"He did see the giant wedding cake, right? And the band? And the girl in a white gown?"
"Yes – labeled it a 'Satanic ritual' to 'bind his soul to the Underworld.'"
Bonejangles plopped his skull into his hands. "Ah jeez. . . ."
"He sounds like he's not all there in the head," Arthur said, tone disbelieving. "He must be quite a lot of entertainment for the living villagers."
"Oh no – the trouble with Burtonsville is, everyone's afraid of Pastor Galswells," Gertrude said, raising a finger. "I told him where to shove that ridiculous hat of his when he came in to do my last rites and told me I'd be slaving in the fiery pit for 'lending assistance to Master Van Dort's infernal activities,' but for most of the village, his word is law. By the time I died, almost everyone else had taken up the cry. Between that and the Everglots vanishing, I don't think that poor boy has a friend in the world Upstairs."
Lizzie bit her lip as her thoughts turned to Alice, all alone with Bumby in Houndsditch, her happiness stolen from her too. "That's simply awful."
"Tell me about it," Bonejangles growled. "Where does that preacher get off. . .hey, you know what happened with the Everglots? Whole reason I got worried 'bout Victor was 'cause the cabbie who got us here said he took the lot of them to Sandford."
"Gone the very next morning – they must have whisked off right after you all left," Gertrude said. "I don't know much more than that, beyond Miss Victoria almost certainly not wanting to go. That moment in the church they had together. . .I can't see her leaving that all behind. Neither could the Van Dorts – last I heard before my death, they were hiring detectives to track her down."
"Yeah, the cabbie said as much too. . .Goddamn, this wasn't how things were supposed to turn out," Bonejangles complained, slumping across the table and dragging his hat low over his brow.
Lizzie patted his spine. "I know all about that. And you seem to know a lot for a woman who was bedridden," she added, looking up at Gertrude.
"Thank our town crier – he makes it his business to know everything everyone is doing and scream it throughout the village. There's no such thing as a secret in Burtonsville unless you pay him off!" Gertrude laughed. "And I wasn't shy about badgering my maid for news – ended up making a last adjustment to my will to leave her a little extra, I was on her back so much. I hope she's found herself another situation."
"Those sort tend to hit the ground running," Arthur said, wrapping his arm around Lorina. "I'm sure she's just fine, Mrs. Carter. And hopefully this Victor Van Dort will be too."
"Yeah. . . ." Bonejangles straightened back up, rolling his eye to the right socket. "Least one good thing came of all this mess. Where's Barkis? I owe him another tooth-rattler."
"Ah, our esteemed 'lord' left us not long after you did," a French accent reported. Lizzie saw a blue head weaving its way toward them, disappearing and reappearing as he struggled through the crowd. "By Bloated Barry's account, he's gone Down."
"Oh, no kiddin', Paul? Wasn't expectin' it to happen so soon," Bonejangles said, disappointed.
"Well, if he's ended up in Hell, surely he's getting more than just a punch to the GAH!"
Lorina leapt backward, and Lizzie herself nearly jolted out of her remaining skin as Paul's head broke through final line of corpses – carried on a silver tray by a man in a chef's outfit. "What – where's the rest of you?" she blurted, unable to help herself.
"Unfortunately, I have never found out, mademoiselle," Paul said. His bow tie twitched as he spoke, and Lizzie realized with a surge of revulsion that it was in fact a pair of cockroaches. "I think perhaps it was shipped back to my parents in France. . .I do hope they never learned the exact circumstances of my death."
"What exactly happened?" Arthur asked as Lorina goggled.
"Let me just say I have learned it is a bad idea to get drunk and take bets in a kitchen in which there are many sharp knives," Paul replied blandly.
Lorina suddenly groaned. "Head waiter. . .you awful people," she said, frowning at Bonejangles.
"He came up with it," Bonejangles retorted, pointing at a chuckling Paul. "Anyway, our favorite sinner's with the rest of the devils?"
Paul nodded – not an easy task when you didn't have much in the way of neck. "Barry told us all about it – Barkis jumped him with a knife near his pond, screaming about how he'd have his revenge for the way we'd treated him."
". . .Seriously?" Lizzie asked, arching an eyebrow.
"That was Barry's thought precisely," Paul laughed. "He said he was ready to just go for a paddle and ignore the man when suddenly, thick white smoke rose from the ground around them. Moments later, they were surrounded by a ring of bloodied young ladies in wedding gowns, who immediately fell upon Barkis. According to Barry, there was quite a lot of screaming, then a fog came over them, and when it cleared–" Paul bobbed his chin in his best imitation of a shrug "–pas plus Barkis."
"Huh – sounds like every girl he killed came back for him," Bonejangles murmured. "Barry see Emily in there?"
"No, he didn't – but I'm sure she was there in spirit," Paul grinned.
"Ugh, that was a bad one, Paul. But yeah, sure you're right. And no matter what, it was no more than the bastard deserved." He pushed back his hat and nodded at the Liddells. "All right – you folks must be itchin' ta get movin', so we're off to see the wizard. You boys keep this lot amused 'til we get back, okay?" he added toward his Bone Boys.
"I think we can manage without ya for a while," Chauncey replied, angling his grin into a shadowed smirk. "Go on, get everything straightened out. And if the Elder tells you 'no. . . .'" He cracked his knuckles. "We'll find ways to get persuasive."
"Yeah, and probably get turned into a newt for your trouble," Bonejangles joked. "But it's appreciated, Chaunce. All right, you guys, hang tight until I get back! Then we'll all have a round, just like old times!"
The pub erupted in cheering. "Don't be long, BJ!"
"Good luck with the Elder, folks!"
"Nice meeting you! Hope you stay around a while!"
"We'll drink to your sister cracking the bastard's skull open!"
"I'll try what's on tap for that!" Lizzie called back, grinning.
There were a few more shouts expressing good wishes for their quest and their rapid return, then gradually the crowd dissolved back into individual pursuits. Raymond slipped onto the piano bench and began to play, while the rest of the Bone Boys took over the billiard table. Bonejangles said a quick goodbye to the Carters, then offered Lizzie his arm. "Come on, let's blow this joint."
Lizzie took it. "I'm with you."