Pussy galore

“Salut,” slurred Crotchet, raising his (or her) goblet and knocking back the contents.

I swirled mine more cautiously, admiring how well the slightly steaming (though ice cold) liquid cleaned the inside of the goblet, and took a sip. “So,” I wheezed, “you’re saying Spider’s in more of a fix than just mishandling the news about Coma?” Or, I added to myself, a sparsely populated coronation painting.

“Oh, that’s the focus of his worries right enough, the incitin’ incident, if yer like, but it’s the timin’, see?”

I confessed I didn’t. Crotchett gave a conspiratorial wink. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure the door to the cook’s office was securely latched. The fire in the grate sparked and spluttered, casting a demonic glow over the cook’s ruddy face.

“It’s the foreign visit,” Crotchett whispered. “King’s in a right filthy mood.”

I pondered how, exactly one would tell the difference, but was still puzzled. “According to Pox ...”

“Pox? Pah! That’s the official version.” Crotchett tapped his nose with her bony finger (or was it the other way around?) “Sources say, he tried to stroke High Chancellor Murky’s pussy.”

I gagged on the sip I was ill-advisedly taking at the time. Visions of scabrous fur floated in front of my blearing vision. “What happened?” I gasped.

“Got scratched and bit, din’ ’e? Daft puddin’” Crotchett poured another snifter from the heavy, iron-bound bottle, and set it back on the table with exaggerated care. “Queen Melanoma ain’t touched ’im since. Says he must ’ave fleas or rabies or summat.”

Again, I wondered how much difference that would make in the grand scheme of things. “Well, that would explain Spider’s anxiety. You don’t want to get in Grump’s crossbow hairs when he’s having a tantrum. But how do you know this?” An awful suspicion formed. “You haven’t been sneaking visits to the pigeon loft again, have you? You know what’ll happen if they catch you interfering with the King’s birdie post.”

The cook’s face settled into a picture of innocence. “Got ter collect eggs for the palace breakfast, ain’t I? And wiv me eyesight”-I was painfully aware of the gimlet gaze skewering me that would do an Inquisitor proud-“a pigeon can look awful like a chicken.”

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