From The Dangling Prussian
Drunks of the Canon
An Episode from the Dangling Prussian
"The constable's features broadened into a grin. "I've seen
many a drunk chap in my time," he said, "but never anyone so
cryin' drunk as that cove. He was at the gate when I came out, a-leanin'
up ag'in the railings, and a-singin' at the pitch o' his lungs about Columbine's
New-fangled Banner, or some such stuff. He couldn't stand, far less help."
"Drebber himself was drunk half the time, but Stangerson was not
to be caught napping."
"Twice since I have been with them he has been quite drunk, and
yet Mr. Rucastle seemed to take no notice of it. Recently he has been
drinking hard, and yesterday evening he was very drunk; and when I came
upstairs there was the key in the door. I have no doubt at all that he
had left it there. Toller had drunk himself into a state of insensibility
that evening ...
"An hour later, when we entered the house, we found him stretched
dead drunk upon the dining-room sofa."
"When I came, I found him three parts drunk and in a vile temper."
"He was a good-hearted man when he was sober, but a perfect fiend
when he was drunk, or rather when he was half drunk, for he seldom really
went the whole way."
"I think he was a bit drunk that night, or he would not have shown
it to me."
"For he was terrible at all times, and murderous when he was drunk."
"That was the longest bunch of quotes that I EVER saw leading off an article. Angie, on the long bunch of quotes that lead off this article Im reading," the barmaid said, slapping the paper onto the bar.
"Sarcasm will get you nowhere," I replied, wiping up the bar, a characteristic sort of part-time bartender gesture. "Everybody probably thought your line was just another quote and skimmed past it. Itll probably be paragraphs before they get their land-legs again."
"Jeez, will you give up with the Sherlock on CD-Rom stuff already!" Kendall Pagan burst out, crumpling the article and using it to mop up a beer spill on his corner of the bar. "Youre not fooling anyone, you know."
"Yeah, look whos talking," I sighed. "Lift the beastmasters elbow for me, hes sleeping on my copy of the Times."
Suddenly, the elbow was no longer on my copy of the Times.
"WHAT DID YOU CALL ME, YOU IMPERTINENT BAR-WIPER!" the beastmaster roared, flailing his arms about wildly. "ILL KILL YOU! "
He tried to leap over the bar at me, but only gained enough altitude so the rail hit him square in the ribcage, knocking the wind out of him.
"You should read the quotes at the beginnings of articles," I told Angie. "If youd have finished, youd have known the beastmaster is murderous when drunk. Hes also not very effective."
Angie smiled condescendingly, the way one does at the addle-brained, and stepped over Ronder on her way to a newly seated table full of curators from the British Museum. Must be six-thirty, I noted. The Museum is such a huge place that it takes a small army of curators to maintain its various collections. After work, several of them have gotten in the habit of stopping around the corner at the Dangling Prussian to brag about their latest acquisitions.
A scream diverted my attention from the curators round table. The scream, definitely female and young, came from somewhere in front of an expensively-dressed fellow who was standing with his back to me ... thank goodness. It was Gruner again.
"RICOLETTI!" I shouted, realizing that our own local fury had somehow appeared and had her hands on Gruners coat by the time I had uttered the second syllable of her name.
"I think he was a bit drunk that night, or he would not have shown it to me," Pagan was reading from the paper he had uncrumpled. "Carrying this demonstration a bit far, arent you?"
"Not at all," I replied. "Reading the quotes at the beginning of a written work is a very important thing. Besides, keep your eye on the door."
Peter Blau was obligingly holding the front door open, having just come in, while Ricoletti chucked Gruner out onto the street.
"Ow!" Pagan grimaced in sympathy. "She through threw him right at that little foreign man."
"Hit him right in the face, too. Want to guess his name?"
"Yep," I grinned. "Our own hell-cat just threw Baron Gruner in the face of Armand Vitriol. The universe is a balanced one."
Before the door was to shut again, a few stragglers from the British Museum scurried in, among them one of the few women Id ever seen among their ranks, the woman they based the librarian stereotype on, if ever I saw her.
"131 Pitt Street!" Kendall Pagan exclaimed as she caught his eye. He turned round to me and I gave him a questioning glance, which delighted him no end. "You dont recognize it, do you?"
"Its an address!"
"Yes, but what address, and what does it have to do with that woman that just walked in? Come on, Mr. Pseudo-Sherlockian Scholar, figure it out. Ill even give you a clue -- Six Napoleons!"
I had the distinct feeling Pagan had been saving this one to spring on me, and now that his trap was sprung, I was caught. I gave my discoloured white bar rag a bored wave of surrender.
"Okay, you win. Whats the address got to do with her?"
"I simply referred to her as Watson referred to number 131 Pitt Street, all flat-chested, respectable, and most unromantic. Probably suits her better than it did that poor house." Pagan grinned smugly.
"And youre basing this on a knowledge of women drawn from how many continents? If I remember correctly, your entire experience of the fair sex derives from an incident in a stalled elevator in Des Moines, Iowa. Id say you should ask that fellow over there for lessons ...." I indicated a couple seated at a table to his left. The man appeared slightly intoxicated. The woman was looking up at him with large, pleading eyes.
"But its been months ...." she begged. "Why must you tease me so?"
"Dont recognize them?" I asked Pagan, who snarled an coarse reply. "Its Eustace and Mary Brackenstall -- when he was drunk or half drunk he seldom went all the way."
Pagans mood suddenly changed. "Umm, do you think you could get Ricoletti to toss him? Its been a while since Ive met a sexually deprived babe as good looking as that."
"Shes married, even if he is out the door."
"Yeah, but hell be dead soon. Shes already a widow, she just doesnt know it. Why should she wait for a mans loving attentions?"
"Like youve got a shot. You couldnt pick up women if they came with handles."
Pagan sulked for a time, but then turned his attentions back to torturing me. "Okay, smart guy, I can see youre still trying to work your way through the quotes at the beginning of the piece. Wheres Peter Carey?"
I untied my bar apron, and hung it over the beer spigot. "Follow me," I told my arch-nemesis. Grabbing my coat, we headed for the door.
Out on the sidewalk and two doors down, we found Philchmans Pharmacy. I led Pagan inside and through a hallway in the back that led to a stockroom. In the center of the room sat a brand new machine that, when cranked by an operator, would move little pharmaceutical jars down a conveyor belt as little steel plungers placed cotton in the mouth of each little jar and then pushed it down on top of whatever pills were inside.
"So?" Pagan protested. "It stuffs cotton in bottles. Wheres Peter Carey?"
Gesturing grand as a stage magician, I opened a large wooden panel at the machines base. Inside, Peter Carey was curled up with a bottle of rum.
"Remember the quote," I explained. "I found him three parts drunk, and in a vial tamper."
"That was vile temper!"
"Another typesetting error. Looks like it tamps down vials to me." I didnt like the look coming onto Pagans face, so with an "Exit, stage right" I was rapidly headed back to the Prussian. I had to stop short on the sidewalk just in front of the Prussians door, however, as they were carrying Hudson out. He was dead.
"He ordered it," Winters was explaining to Arminius when I got back to the bar. They were both scrutinizing a half-empty bottle of home brew from the case Id just brought in. It was, quite literally, home brew. A local brewer who had run out of funds to buy grain and other raw materials had started using his furniture and other household items to brew his beers from. The bottle they stared at had a crude label with the hand-written words "dining-room sofa" on it.
"It must take a long time to distill a sofa down to liquid form," Winters observed.
"Who has a couch in their dining room, anyway?" I asked trying to change the subject, since my ordering that case was probably responsible for Hudsons death. "Must be some big eaters in that family."
When they werent looking, I nabbed a bottle labelled "great big horsehide chair" to serve Pagan when he returned.
Some time passed. I say some time passed, because, in actuality, several things did happen that Id rather not record here. Heres a sample:
"And thats the least of what you deserve, Mr. Part-Time Bartender!" Violet Hunter raged, putting her gloves back on.
The whole business is a rather long story. I did, perhaps, cast certain aspersions on Mrs. Stoper and her girls. Also, my sense of humor and that of a Victorian governess do not always coincide. And, the be-freckled Miss Hunter has yet to forgive me for a earlier incident in these pages.
Suffice it to say that you wont be hearing about Tollers brief appearance in the Prussian that night from me.
Pagan returned somewhere in that time period, and was sitting at the bar, seemingly unaffected by three straight shots of "great big horsehide chair." I was amazed.
"Let me tell you a little thing about Silver Blaze," he was explaining to me. "Originally, it was that trespassing turf guy that was going to give the opium to the stable boy. He was going to sneak it in with the kids breakfast cereal. The plot was foiled, however, when they wouldnt let the tout in the milk."
"Oh, everyones heard that," I sighed. "But what about those bars that feature womens whipped cream wrestling. They work up to it, you know. I hear they tryout in the milk."
"The promoter has expensive tastes in sheets, its more like a bout in the silk ..."
"Yeah, but handymen usually con them out of it -- theres grout in the bilk ..."
"Boy, presidential assassins middle names sure make me thirsty -- drought in the Wilkes."
"Uhhhhh ...." Id done it. Pagan was stumped. Just in time, too.
"Hiya, Troutie!" I said as the object of our pun-duel walked in the door. Pagan snarled in defeat. "Ah, go pout with your ilk," I told him.
"What can I make fer ya, Trout? Ive got some new drink recipes from Sadie down at the Alpha."
"YOU WONT HAVE MY SCALP, COMMANCHE DOG!!!" a delirious outburst split the air, followed by wild gunfire. The bullets all seemed to imbed in the extra-stout ceiling planks, and Ricoletti had possession of the offending pistol before the remaining bullets could be fired. Its owner was out the door about that fast as well.
"Its Stangerson. He gets as drunk as Drebber, but you dont want to catch him napping. He has Indian country flashbacks."
"The Mormon from A Study in Scarlet?" Mel asked.
"Yep, you came in too late to read the quotes at the start of the article. Weve only one left, so if you wouldnt mind standing ..."
The gaslights dimmed, and a giant bullseye lantern was directed near the piano, where Jefferson Hope leaned, dressed as Kate Smith. Behind him hung the little-known flag of the Dangling Prussian, a big pot of coffee (traditionally believed to be Columbian), the most common Canonical beverage, on a field of stars. With a nod and a smile to the crowd, he gave a gentle curtsy and began asinging at the pitch o his lungs:
"OH, SAY CAN YOU SEEEEEEEEEEE ....
"AT THE DAWNS EARLY LIGHT ....
"IF YOU CAN, JUST KEEP DRIN-KING ...
"UNTIL TWI-LIGHTS LAST GLEAMING!!!
"A BROAD WIPES OFF THE BAR ...
"THROUGH A TERRIBLE FIGHT ...
"EIGHTY PROOF THROUGH THE NIGHT ...
"WILL KILL ALL YOUR HAIR!!!
"CO-LUMBINES, THAT NEW-FANGLED BANNER THAT WA-AVES ...
"OER THE BAND LED BY ARCH-EEEEEE ....
"AND THE HOLMES ... THAT WE ... CRAAAAAAAVE!!!!!"
As one, every man and woman assembled cried out: "Play ball!"
Being London of 1895, of course, most of them never really knew why.