"Thank you," said Clifton and he and Pip raced down the stairs. The receptionist studied the photo. "And the framing: superb!" he said to himself.
Clifton and Pip burst out of Town Hall's front doors and down the steps. Clifton looked for a private place where they could talk. The museum was next door and always empty, but closed because the Historical Society was bumping-in a new exhibition. It seemed to Clifton that the museum was always closed and their opening hours appeared to be whenever someone could be bothered. Millicent’s Tavern was down the road, but he knew Pip would order a black wine spritzer and the drink took fifteen minutes to make. Not only did the Guinness need time to settle, but it often explosively reacted with the other ingredients. Giving up he blurted out, "Did you see the photo?"
"Yes, it was like a real life Instagram," said Pip.
"It was a print; an actual photo."
"Oh! How quaint," said Pip.
Two stories up, the Mayor could be seen through the window to her office. Clifton could vaguely see that Mayor Birch was drinking an emerald milkshake.
"It was of the Mayor! She's a hundred and fifty years old."
"I thought it was a relation, like we saw in that episode of I Love Lucy?"
"That wasn't an episode of I Love Lucy and it wasn't a relation. It was the current Mayor. Mayor Birch is wearing so many mayoral robes because each time a new term starts, she throws on another one."
"But how does she stay alive and youthful?" asked Pip. "Oil of Olay? Snake oil? Snake Oil of Olay?"
"No. The same way Brother Milkwood manages. It started to become clear to me during the vision we saw."
"The episode of I Love Lucy?"
"Fine, the ghostly flashback, slash, 50s sitcom we witnessed. At the race, the food stalls on the Brandon College side were selling dishes of diamonds and foie gras. But on the the Military Academy side--"
"Delicious offal! God, I'm hungry."
"Brother Milkwood treats himself to luxury items every day. The finer things in life are keeping them alive!"
"Yes," said Pip "and the trophy room at the Academy was the only part of the building that wasn't falling down."
"When the Lieutenant was screaming, 'Where's our gold?' she wasn't just talking about a cup. The rich in the town were hogging the wealth to expand their life expectancy. And..." Clifton trailed off in thought.
"The statue kept calling me lower class. What if the quotation marks on the Xavier Brandon 'Military Academy' sign weren't incorrectly used for emphasis? They were for irony."
"Irony? Oo, big fancy university student word," said Pip.
"You have three PhDs!" snapped Clifton. "The Academy was a school where poor kids were sent to be straightened out and disciplined. The rebellion was an uprising of the poor!"
A passing street food vendor, wheeling a cart, stopped in front of Town Hall's steps.
"Offal! Get your offal!" said the vendor.
"We'll have three bags!" said Pip.
"No, we won't," said Clifton. "Are you even allowed to sell that?"
The vendor shrugged and continued on their way.
Clifton noticed Mayor Birch plodding toward the window.
"Come on, I'll buy you a black wine spritzer," said Clifton.
The pair settled into a table at Millicent's Tavern. Clifton gulped at a pint of Seagull Beak Ale, a local and popular beer. Most assumed the brew didn't actually contain seagull's beaks, but no one really knew. Their loyal fan base either didn't want to believe or were too afraid to ask, despite many drinkers dying of what doctors described as "beak poisoning". Pip had decided against a black wine spritzer and opted for a hemlock Martini.
"You know, those are bad for you," warned Clifton.
"Pfft, there's hardly any hemlock in it," said Pip, shaking as she brought the glass to her mouth.
An ember from one of the Tavern's seven fireplaces jumped from a burning log and landed in Pip's drink. The Martini burst in to flames and Pip solemnly put it down.
"Why did the ghosts appear this year?" asked Pip.
"I don't know, but I think if we expose the Mayor, it'll be the last time they do."
"Clifton, Pip," said Mayor Birch, who had snuck-up behind them. "I thought I saw you rushing in here."
Clifton swallowed hard and nearly choked on a beak fragment.
"Mayor Birch. Can we offer you a Martini? Or a pint of opium?" said Clifton.
"No. Thank you," said Mayor Birch, biting into a binder of rare stamps. "I wanted to catch you, while you're still in town, to invite you to be my special guest at the race."
"Love to," said Clifton.
"Excellent! It's going to be quite the event. Li will be giving a stirring account of your harrowing journey to the Academy."
"But she left her lectern on their boat," said Clifton. "Pip could build her a new one?"
"Yes!" said Pip. "I've been experimenting with--"
"Safe and stable building practices," interrupted Clifton.
"Sounds splendid," said Mayor Birch. "I will see you both there. Oh and Clifton, try to wear something, eh, not terrible."
"Of course," seethed Clifton.
The Mayor turned sharply and the girth of her robes tipped over several glasses and knocked a painting off the wall.
When Mayor Birch was out of sight, Clifton leaned forward. "I have a plan," he whispered.
"Me too," said Pip, unrolling a set of blueprints.
"I have a useful plan," said Clifton.
"Oh," said Pip and she tossed the blueprints into the fireplace.
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 jewel encrusted snack recipes, comment away!