pennies fell out

The curtain fell with a scrape. The audience members in the big top roared with satisfaction. Clownmaster Drutherstone bounded up to the stage and took a self-congratulatory bow. Somewhere in the shadows, Ungulen rolled his eyes at his boss until pennies fell out of his pockets.

Lorelei was already out of his seat. He intercepted Drutherstone as he descended the platform. With fastening eyes, Lorelei demanded, “Tell me about the puppetress.”

Drutherstone was slow to reply and couldn’t dam the fearful flush spreading through him. “Marrionetta?” He sought to confirm, “You liked her act?”

“What is she?”

Drutherstone considered the question. “Well she’s crazy for one thing. Expensive tastes to boot. Fashioned in a toy shop in Finland a long, long time ago. She’s fond of jam but would never admit it.”

Lorelei appraised Drutherstone closely. He thought he knew when he was being mocked but couldn’t tell what Drutherstone’s play was.

“Where does she live? On the grounds?”

“Funny you should ask that,” Drutherstone fidgeted with his cravat and stifled a rippling sensation in his waterlogged lungs. “She was living in The Emerald House but I asked her to leave so you could take those rooms for yourself. How is it up there, by the way? Settling in comfortably?”

Lorelei rocked back on his heels. His posture took on an exclamatory seize.

“She’s made with pegs?”

“I believe so? We’re really not that personal.”

Lorelei nodded but was already marching away. Drutherstone heaved a sigh as Ungulen approached.

“Pretty good haul tonight, sir.”

“Yes. We’ll keep the mess stocked for another month or two.”

“What’s so grievous with our new friend on the hill? I always think he’s about to rough someone up the way he strides around. You’d probably be first.”

“Evidently, he’s keen on Marrionetta.”

Ungulen squinted for a long moment and then doubled over in bellowgoats of laughter. At last he managed, “God help us all.”

Drutherstone — unamused — agreed wholeheartedly.

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