The three men wore fixed expressions as Clackprattle ranted on. They were sitting around a table with Clackprattle at its head, his goblet dripping wine as he swung it round manically.
“And it is I that has triumphed,” he shouted. “It is I that have succeeded and it is I that have the key.”
Pook smiled insipidly at his employer.
“Indeed, Master, it is a great success, one that, I feel sure will be greatly remembered for years as a stepping stone to a most splendid achievement,” he said.
“Stepping stone!” roared Clackprattle, quite red in the face. “Don’t you see Pook, you fool, see how easy it was for me? The other three keys will be ours in a week and we shall then hold the weapon.”
Pook, who had flinched only slightly at the insult, went to speak but was interrupted by the man opposite him.
“Indeed, Master Clackprattle is correct,” said Bisset. “We have achieved a famous victory and the next steps will proceed as quickly as possible.”
“I trust we haven’t forgotten our bargain?” said Clackprattle, waving his gloved hand. “We aren’t stalling, are we?”
“Most certainly not,” said Bisset. “We are indebted and I trust our support is clear. Indeed, even now we are working without pause to locate the other three parts. But, you have had a tiring day, no doubt. Why not retire to your chambers whilst we continue the investigation?”
Clackprattle sat down.
“It is true,” he said. “The exertion required is quite astounding.”
“Of course it is, Master,” said Pook. “Monsieur Bisset makes a valid point, why tire yourself more when we, your willing servants, can carry out your biding while you rest?”
Clackprattle made a grunting noise, his head lolling onto his chest.
“It would expedite matters if we could take temporary possession of the key-piece,” said Bisset, still smiling.
Clackprattle rotated a bloodshot eye at the man.
“You mean to take it from me?” he said groggily.
Bisset went to speak when Pook interrupted.
“I, your most loyal and devoted servant will be here all the time,” he said. “Nothing untoward or unseemly will occur.”
Clackprattle seemed to think on that for a minute. He made another grunting noise and dropped the round key-piece on the table. He then stood up woozily and headed out of the room.
Bisset and Pook looked across at each other, both still smiling.
“You need the key-piece to find the next one,” said Pook, “I surmise.”
“Most astute,” said Bisset. “Not only must the pieces be retrieved in order, it is necessary to use the first to find the second, and so on. You won’t mind if I take the piece to look?”
“I am sure you will return it in good measure, after what Master Clackprattle has done for you,” he said.
“Naturally!” said Bisset brightly. “But may I ask you one question?”
“Please, feel free to do so,” said Pook.
“Earlier by the fire, what were you doing?” said Bisset.
“I was warming myself,” said Pook. “I find that I feel the cold quite acutely.”
“It looked like, you…” he started, then shook his head.
“What shall we do with him?” said Pook, indicating the man at the end of the table, dressed in an acrobat’s outfit.
Bisset looked at the ashen face.
“Someone will deal with him,” he said and got up from the table. “I will take my leave and will start on the key.”
As Bisset left the room, Pook and the other man both stared into space.
“What a remarkable day indeed,” said Pook, turning to the other man. “I imagine you’ve not seen one like it before?”
The acrobat, long dead, stared vacantly in front of him.
Pook made a little giggling sound then got up to leave the room.