Gossip and Single-Malt

Doc Willoughby rolled the whisky around his palate appreciatively. This was the real thing, right enough. He could only wonder how Durosimi had come by the stuff and, more to the point, why he was sharing it. Their last meeting had not ended on a particularly cordial note, to say the least, with the Doc being sent away with a flea in his ear for being too ethical when it came to the matter of hurling various unwitting participants back in time. (My apologies to any reader who has just choked on their coffee. I appreciate that it stretches credulity when the words ‘Doc Willoughby’ and ‘too ethical’ appear in the same sentence).

“More whisky, Willoughby?” asked Durosimi, proffering the half-empty bottle.

Despite his concerns, the Doc was not going to refuse. Opportunities of this variety did not arise every day.

“So, what is the gossip in The Squid, lately?” queried Durosimi.

The day was becoming ever more peculiar. Between Durosimi’s unheard of generosity with his precious single-malt, and this sudden interest in the goings-on of the island, Doc could only think that the old scoundrel was going soft in the head. But so what? Where was the harm in humouring the man? Anyway, the world had become fuzzy and warm and, in soft-focus, even Durosimi did not look quite so forbidding.

“Well, that old charlatan John Dee seems to have sloped off. Back to his own time, I wouldn’t wonder. Good riddance too. Couldn’t stand the man,” said the Doc.

“No, neither could I,” said Durosimi, truthfully. “Anything else?”

“Oh yes – the Night-Soil Man, you know, what’s-his-name, has proposed marriage to that blasted Bucket woman. Never much liked her, either.”

“Really?” exclaimed Durosimi, suddenly interested and surreptitiously replenishing the Doc’s glass. “Tell me more.”

“Well,” began Doc, “when she first came to the island I treated her for anosmia. That’s a loss of the sense of smell.”

“I know what anosmia is,” said Durosimi, stiffly.

“Of course… as I was saying, she’d lost her sense of smell, and it seems that within a few yards of leaving the sinking ship in which she had stowed away, something nasty grabbed her with its tentacles and she was within an inch of becoming lunch.”

The Doc took a generous swig of his whisky, dropping all pretence of savouring it.

“How did she escape?” asked Durosimi, tipping the remnants of the bottle into the other man’s glass. “Did she use magic?”

“Magic? What makes you think she’d use magic? That’s ridiculous!” slurred the Doc.

Intoxication had made him bold to the point of foolishness. Durosimi quietly counted to ten and smiled thinly.

“Just a thought,” he replied. “Do go on.”

“Where was I? Oh yes, it looked as though she was done for, when young what’s-his-name, the Night-Soil Man, rescues her. The creature who was attacking her couldn’t stand his reek, and because of her anosmia, the Bucket-woman didn’t know that the wretched fellow stunk like a cess-pool. Of course,” continued Doc, “it was inevitable. He was her knight in shining armour, so the silly girl falls head-over-heels in love with him. All would have been well, but not long after that she got a nose-full of sea water, which flushed out the seeds that had been blocking her olfactory system. That’s the …”

“I know what it means,” said Durosimi, impatiently holding up his hand.

“So, naturally, once she found how awful he smelt, the romance was off.”

“But now it’s back on again?” asked Durosimi.

“Seems so,” said the Doc.

Durosimi said nothing for a moment or two, staring pensively out of the window, then he turned his head sharply and said,

“Doc, I think you should go. We’re both busy men and I have wasted enough of your time.”

“But I haven’t told you about Norbert Gannicox’s verruca, yet.”

“No… but we’ll have to save that one for another day. I look forward to it. Now let me show you out…”

With that, the Doc was unceremoniously bundled out through the door. Durosimi watched him swaying unsteadily down the cobbled pathway, and singing ‘Sweet Betsy from Pike,’ at the top of his voice, almost in tune.  He had just got to the first chorus of too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay when Durosimi decided that enough was enough and strode back into the house, slamming the door behind him.

Regular readers will remember that Durosimi O’Stoat, having learned that Philomena Bucket had somehow acquired magical powers which were possibly greater than his own, felt threatened, and plotted to get rid of her, once and for all. When, during the previous year, he confronted Philomena in the town hall, she had all but killed him, blasting him from one end of the room to the other. Strangely, she seemed to have no idea or memory of what she had done. Soon after, and to Durosimi’s relief she, and Doctor John Dee, disappeared, seemingly off the face of the earth. He thought – indeed, hoped –  that maybe Dee had whisked her back to Elizabethan England, where, with any luck, she would be burned as a witch. For a whole year there was no sign of either of them, then Philomena returned, apparently more powerful than ever, and able to throw off his strongest spells. It occurred to Durosimi that if he could not hurt the witch – as he now thought of Philomena – then he could at least weaken her, maybe even destroy her, by attacking those she held most dear. He smiled to himself, reflecting how love and grief are two sides of the same coin; there is an inevitability that today’s love will become tomorrow’s grief.

“And grieve she will,” he thought to himself. “That old fool Willoughby has told me all that I need to know. She must be using her magic to mask the stench of the Night-Soil Man – there is no other way she could possibly countenance marrying him. Well, she won’t be needing to do that for much longer. His days are numbered…”

The recently promoted ex-apprentice, Naboth Scarhill, read the note again, his chest swelling with pride. The scrap of paper only contained a handful of words, but they meant a lot.

My dear Naboth, thank you so much for agreeing to take over the role of Night-Soil Man from Rhys. You cannot know how much this means to me. Rhys has told me how highly he regards your work, and that you will one day become as great and renowned as any who have wielded the lidded-bucket and long-handled shovel.

Thank you again,

Your grateful friend



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