Clifton and Pip hurried out of the Military Academy. "What did you make of that?" asked Clifton. "It left me wanting to play charades. What am I now?" said Pip, striking-up a mime.
"An idiot in four fifths of a diving suit?"
Pip laughed normally, Clifton noted.
"What's your plan?" asked Pip. "Do we give them a gold cup?"
Clifton thought for a moment. "I don't know. I have no idea," he said, despondently. Let's go see the Mayor and we'll take it from there."
Clifton attempted to step forward, but felt something gripping his ankle. With all his strength, Clifton struggled to kick free, but whatever was clamping his ankle was too strong.
"Clifton!" exclaimed Pip.
Clifton fell and gazed back at the horror clutching his leg. With a large, outstretched arm, the overturned statue of Xavier Brandon squeezed his leg.
"Miscreants!" cried the statue. "Dirty, filthy wretches!"
The statue's legs were crumbled from the knee down and its free arm was chipped, cracked and immobile.
"Let me go!" Clifton shouted.
"Ok," said the statue. "No! Wait! I'm not doing that!"
Clifton pulled back and managed to drag the statue a few inches. The torso of the statue slightly crumbled.
"Stop that!" ordered the statue. "I know your type; you should be marching. We'll soon sort you out. Look at you, with your ragged clothes. Not like her; she's clearly educated. I can tell she's from better stock."
"Pip is my sister," said Clifton.
"Extra-marital birth, were you? Typical of the lower classes."
Clifton shuffled backward again, dragging the statue. Pieces of its sides fell away and the statue's ear split off completely.
"Oh, wonderful," said the statue. "you'll have to speak-up now."
"Stand clear, Clifton," cried Pip.
Pip launched at the statue with her power saw. The blade struck just above the ghostly sculpture's elbow. It ground to a halt, lodged in the stone. The statue of Xavier Brandon clasped Clifton's ankle tighter and Clifton writhed in pain.
"Pip, do something!"
Pip desperately pulled at the power saw, but could not pry it free.
"Discipline is what you need, you beggarly urchin!" the statue bellowed, squeezing tighter and tighter.
With a final heave, Pip prised the saw from the statue like King Arthur drawing Excalibur from the stone. She held it aloft triumphantly. The blade spun back to life and then suddenly the frog Pip had seen earlier hopped onto the statue's back. With a pained cry, the statue crumbled into dust under the frog's weight.
"No!" moaned the statue.
"Nice work," said Clifton.
"He's right, you know?" said Pip. "You do look like an urchin."
"Let's find the bath. I've had enough of this place."
The following morning Clifton and Pip arrived at Town Hall and wearily climbed the stairs to reception. They had stayed up the entire night debating a plan of attack. Taking a leaf out of Li's book, Pip had built a lectern to stand behind while she argued. She had also, unfortunately, mimicked Li's debate style and the pair had argued in circles all night. Clifton felt a piece of the puzzle was missing and pushed for an approach that gave them more time. Pip, on the other hand, kept making meaningless points such as the future lies beyond the future and together we can forge a new era of togetherness, if we forge from our inner forge of together. The debate ended abruptly when Pip's shonkily constructed lectern collapsed on her. With Pip on her back under a pile of Masonite and realising it was 11:30 am, Clifton decided to ignore Pip and act unilaterally.
Clifton groggily leaned on the receptionist's desk.
"Hi," said Clifton.
"Hi? Oh yes, hi! Hello. Howdy. Greetings. All acceptable salutations," said the receptionist. "Now, it's--"
"Yes, that's right. Great name."
"And this is my sister, Pip."
"Pip, less taken with that."
"Nice to meet you," said Pip, not realising she had a piece of pressure molded wood stuck to her back.
"How did you go? Can we stage the race again?" asked the receptionist.
"Not yet," said Clifton. "Not until we can guarantee the event can be held safely."
"Oh," said the receptionist.
There was an awkward silence. The receptionist grinned at Clifton, expecting him to continue the chitchat.
"So," said Clifton after a time, "we're here to see the Mayor."
"Of course!" said the receptionist. "Sorry, just to clarify, did you want to see a photo of the Mayor or were you planning to see her in person."
Clifton sighed. "In person, please."
"Shame," said the receptionist. "It's a really splendid photo, this one. It's of the Mayor at a ribbon cutting. It's quite simple but the exposure is perfect."
The receptionist pulled the photo from under his desk and held it in front of Clifton. "It really captures something, doesn't it?" he said.
Clifton's eyes widened. The photo was of Mayor Birch, but it was old and decayed. Clifton guessed it must have been at least a hundred years old. The sepia toned picture showed Mayor Birch opening the town's railway station. She was wearing less mayoral robes, but more than one. In the background was a steam locomotive.
"Oh my God," said Clifton.
"I think next time I'll use nails and glue instead of play dough," said Pip.
"Should I let the Mayor know you're here?" asked the receptionist.
"No," said Clifton with urgency. "We'll come back another time."
Before they could rush away, the door swung open and Mayor Birch strode out.
"Clifton!" she said. "Good to see you. I was getting worried."
Mayor Birch turned to Pip. "You have a piece of wood stuck to your back."
"I know," lied Pip.
"What news do you have for me?" asked the Mayor. "Can we rerun the race?"
"Yes," said Clifton, with over eagerness. "All good. Tell the students to ready their oars. You can race whenever you like."
Pip was surprised by Clifton's sudden change of mind, but was distracted planning how she could lean backward in a way that would seamlessly drop the Masonite into the bin behind her.
"Excellent!" exclaimed the Mayor. "And the soldiers won't attack?"
"No, it's all sorted."
"That is great news! What did you do? You found the Academy?"
"Oh, it's just boring ghost stuff. It was all pretty easy and I didn't have to destroy any piers this time."
The Mayor laughed heartily. Pip also laughed with gusto in an attempt to mask the sound of the wood dropping into the bin.
"Good work!" said the Mayor. "We will hold the race this Saturday! On behalf of the town, thank you."
The Mayor turned abruptly and returned to her office.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Next installment of Clifton and Pip’s folkloric adventures will be next Saturday.
If anyone has any thoughts on the story, or rowing tips, comment away!