I have now read every book on the shelves of my retreat in Kamar. I had already brought all the paperwork up to date; corresponded with Mr. Zeplin; toured the Ages, toured them again; picked up the odd prim that I must have left there eons ago (I wanted to say “ages” ago but I’ve already used that joke more than once)…There was nothing else to do here.
Should I just go home to Winterfell now? And then have to make the trip back later? That would be a wasted effort. So I just sit here. Damn! I’m a time traveller – a man on the go! I enjoy just sitting around doing nothing when that is my choice but sitting around doing nothing because one has no control over the situation is another matter entirely.
I mixed a G&T while I considered the options, such as they are.
I have been here every day for nearly a month. Well, not every day. I’ve had to travel back and forth to Winterfell a couple of times and to Dankoville too. And there were a couple of side trips here and there, now and then. But I have been here often. Doing what I have done so many times over the past four years…
Waiting for Quin.
(I’ve been threatening to write a song with that title. It would be something to sing or whistle while I wait.)
Waiting for Quin,
When has he been?
Waiting for Quin once again.
When will he be in?
Shall I pour more gin –
While I sing the same old refrain?…
Waiting for Quin….
I put down my G&T and picked up the telegram and read it again.
EXCITING NEWS! BREAKTHROUGH! SHOULD RESTRUCTURE OUR AGREEMENT RE AGES IN YOUR CARE. MUST MEET!
“Must meet!” Yeah, sounds urgent there Quin. Real urgent.
I have been given the honor of having my likeness displayed among some of Winterfell’s notables in the upstairs gallery of the Wolf & Raven Tavern, a fine dining and drinking establishment in Winterfell Absinthe (SL), under the ownership of His Grace, the Duke of Wolfsbane.
I thank the Duke for including me in this fine exhibit (and for keeping my favorite cigars in stock).
“…and the time traveller says, ‘I don’t have the foggiest. I just got here myself!'”
“HA! HA!” We were doubled over with laughter. And we were only on the third round.
It had started as a sleepy Thursday afternoon at Storytellers Pub in Winterfell Laudanum. Dark Moon, the day bartender (most of us call him Bert), was on holiday and I was watching after things for a couple of hours in between the lunch rush and the 5 p.m. business crowd. I was nursing a black IPA and leafing through the sport section of the Winterfell Mourning Crier when the door opened and in walked a tall man with flowing white hair and beard, dressed in a green suit. I knew in a moment it wasn’t St. Nick. Nor St. Patrick either.
It was Seamus Gumbo.
Sourcerer, Time Wizard, hippie, former merchant seaman, one-time head shop owner and my old friend and business partner. I’d received a couple of letters but he hadn’t visited Winterfell in more than two years, since “the Duke Ages” – Seamus’ joking reference to my time as the Duke of Evergreen.
“Line ’em up, barman,” he hollered in my general direction. “Whiskey! Your best! Three glasses. Straight, no chaser.” His fingers played an imaginary piano and he hummed – or grunted – a syncopated melody.
It was the worst Thelonious Monk impression I had ever heard. Though I can’t say I have heard many.
“Don’t worry about the bill,” he announced, “I’m a close friend of the owner of this establishment.” He sat himself down at the bar with mischief in his eyes and a smile of satisfaction on his face. He seemed quite pleased with his entrance.
“I’ll need to see some ID, sir,” I deadpanned.
“ID?!!” He responded as if highly insulted. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a business card and offered it to me.
“Seamus Gumbo,” I read aloud, “Time Wizard.”
I sniffed. “Yeah, time wizards, time travellers, time lords – we get all kinds in here.”
“C’mon, Danko! The card’s embossed!” He was impressed with his own business card.
I was impressed with the card too but not with the cardholder. “Finally spent the extra ten bucks to raise the lettering, eh? You cheap bastard!” I slipped the card into my pocket as Seamus began to laugh.
“That’s why I can’t pay for my drinks!” He slapped his hand on the bar as the laughter grew. My smile became a laugh as well and I came around from behind the bar to give him a big hug.
“How’ve you been, old-timer?” I said loudly. “Where have you been? Whatcha been up to? What brings you to Winterfell after all this time? How come you didn’t warn me you were coming, so I could have arranged to be out of town?”
“Let me answer that last question first,” he started. “No, wait. Let me answer the second one first. No, I’ll answer the third one, second. Wait. Can you say them again?” he continued to mock me, “In alphabetical order this time?” Laughter.
And this was before I starting pouring. We were just getting started!
It was only the two of us but the pub had come alive on this hazy afternoon as Seamus recounted his travels over the past couple of years over a couple of rounds of ale and a cheese platter and I responded in kind. Then came the cigars and more ale and more stories and more laughter.
Not long after Seamus arrived, Ulysses The Cat had wandered in from his favorite sleeping spot on the window seat in the pub’s sitting room. I knew he’d remember Seamus’ voice and would join us sooner or later. I put a couple of treats down for him and he walked right over to devour them. Then he sat and stared at Seamus for a bit. Next time I noticed Ulysses, he was scratching at the floor near the end of the bar, by the back door. Ever since I brought him from home to live in the pub, he has been fascinated with that area of the floor. You know how some cats are when they find an imperfection in something? They have to chew it or scratch it? They’ll work at it like they’re obsessed…for awhile. Then they go do something else. Later, they’re back at it. Obsessed once more. That’s how Ulysses had been. The floor does need some work around that door. Whoever put the tile in, made a mess of it. It’s driving that cat crazy.
As Ulysses scratched away at the floor, Seamus and I laughed and ate and drank and talked and talked and puffed and drank and laughed some more. It was a full afternoon of story-swapping – with a little impromptu sing-a-long thrown in now and then – at Storytellers Pub. What a great time we were having, catching up. So good to see Seamus again.
“My friend Sage ever stop in?” he asked me at one point.
“Yes. Sage Wright. Right?”
“He was passing through Winterfell…quite some months back. Last summer, I guess. I wasn’t much help to him, had nowhere to put him up. Not like the old days,” I smiled. “I helped him find lodging. He wasn’t here long. A couple days.”
Seamus nodded. “You’ve seen him more recently than I have,” he said.
“Funny you should mention him,” I went on, “I just met his niece not a week ago in Ireland. 21st century.
“Laura?” said Seamus but quickly corrected himself, “Laurel!”
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“How’s she doing? She’s a nurse, I think,” Seamus said.
“She mentioned something about that,” I said. “She seems nice. Cute. Funny too. Took me a moment to catch on that she was putting me on a bit,” I laughed. “She remembers you, hanging out with her uncle. Oh, and I met Jamie too. By chance, in a pub there in Ravenbaille. She was working the bar. I didn’t put it together that she was Sage’s daughter until later.”
“You’re not the only one,” muttered Seamus as he looked away for a moment.
“Huh?” I was surprised at his response.
“Never mind,” he said, waving his hand, “go on, continue.” He sipped his beer and looked down at the bar.
“uhhhh…Jamie came over to Dankoville last fall. I’m doing business with her boss and she came over for that.”
“How are things in your little town?” asked Seamus, changing the subject.
I filled him in on the goings-on in Dankoville and out at Whitfield Farms. And I told him how my family members were doing, especially those he knew, including Annie.
“Your sister…is the sweetest person I have ever met,” said Seamus. He took a puff of his cigar and watched the smoke lift toward the ceiling. “Why, if I was 25 years younger, I —”
“You still wouldn’t be good enough for her,” I interjected.
“Says you!” Seamus came back.
“That’s right!” I said adamantly.
Another burst of laughter. Then Seamus’ laughter started to turn into a cough. Or maybe it was the cigar smoke. I reached for a glass to get him some water. He put his cigar down in the ash tray. Almost. He missed. The cigar rolled slowly along the bar…on the other end from me. The cough ceased and Seamus rose from his seat to follow the cigar. He reached over as far as he could stretch just as the cigar reached the edge of the bar and grabbed for it —-
An expensive cigar lay on the floor of the pub. Ulysses came over to sniff it.
“Thief! That’s my cigar! Get your great big paws off it!” Seamus hollered in jest at my cat, who apparently did not take the joke. Ulysses scampered away.
Seamus moved a bar stool and got down on his knees to reach under the bar rail for the cigar.
Ulysses came back over, cautiously. He resumed scratching at the floor.
“I think your cat has found something,” Seamus said as he crawled toward Ulysses. The cat backed away.
“Your cigar?” I inquired with a teasing tone.
“No. A secret.”
I turned in his direction.
“What?” I asked him.
“How long did you say you’ve owned this pub?” Seamus asked from his hands and knees as he ran his fingers along the floor where Ulysses had been scratching.
“Over a year now. 15 months I guess,” I replied as I placed his glass of water on the end of the bar and looked over at where Seamus now lay on his stomach.
“Did you ever suspect termites?” he asked.
Was he joking now or what?
“Okay Sea, what’s going on?” I walked out from behind the bar as he rose to his knees and leaned forward, placing his hands on the floor.
He looked up at me. “There’s a hole in your floor, Publican,” he said with a sly smile. He carefully pushed his fingers into a couple of cracks in the floor.
(I had been meaning to have this floor fixed, I assure any patrons of Storytellers Pub who may be reading this. It was just a decorating question that was yet to be decided – of whether to simply redo that one area or the entire floor. I assure you, the structural integrity of the pub is sound and no customer has been placed in any danger at any time. Aside from the usual Winterfell danger – witches, dark elves, the occasional vampire, The Mist – for which the management of the Storytellers Pub are not responsible. Please address any further inquiries to my attorneys, Dewey, Cheatham & Howe aka Moe, Larry & Curly.)
Seamus lifted one tile that at closer inspection seemed a bit out of place. “It’s a door!” Seamus said in surprise. I was also surprised but I can’t reprint here what I said there.
We looked down into this dark hole in the floor of my pub.
“Bring a candle,” Seamus said.
“There’s some water,” he said as he leaned into the hole with the candle I had fetched.
He put his hand in. “It’s pretty cold.”
He put his face just above the water and stared as he held the candle by his head. “There’s a ladder just a couple feet down. It looks pretty deep. I can’t see the bottom,” he added. He placed the candleholder on the floor and lowered himself into the opening.
Ulysses leaped onto the bookcase against the back wall to watch the show.
I peered into the hole. Waiting.
“How long can he hold his breath?” I thought with visions of Lloyd Bridges starring in Sea Hunt floating through my head (for those of you with knowledge of the 1960s).
After a few minutes, the waters parted and Seamus arose.
“Well?” I welled him.
“This water is only two feet deep. Then you are under it. Completely. Clear of it,” Seamus said as he climbed out of the hole. He walked to the bar and grabbed his ale and took a long sip.
“What? How? How is that even possible?”
He looked at me.
“Damn it, Danko, I’m a Time Wizard, not a plumber,” Seamus said in his best DeForest Kelley (which was much better than his Thelonious Monk).
He was wet but not as wet as if he’d been swimming with Lloyd Bridges.
He sipped his brew. I poured a whiskey.
“At the bottom of the ladder, there is a stair. I followed it down another level to a series of tunnels,” he said.
“In all directions,” Seamus said as he reached over the bar for a napkin to wipe his brow. “I didn’t go far, I could see there were many turns. Didn’t want to get lost down there.”
He took another sip of beer and returned to the trap door. He propped it open and handed me the candle. I placed it on the bar and came back around to stare with Seamus into the hole.
We just stood there. Speechless. Staring at the hole in my floor.
A series of tunnels. Under Winterfell. Wow!
This was quite a surprise. It was incredible really.
It was My Spot.
That’s where I always stand! Most of the time, I don’t like to sit at the bar. I like to stand. If I’m there for the evening, I will sit of course. But if I’m just there for one or two rounds, to keep an eye on things and confer with the bartender, I stand right there! Every night I’ve gone in to town since we opened more than a year ago!
And all this time I had no idea that I was standing over a secret passageway. To a series of more secret passageways.
Now what do I do? Should I tell people about this?
“Best to keep it quiet until you investigate further,” said Seamus as he read my mind while re-lighting his cigar.
We were both speechless again. And, after six rounds of ale, not in any condition to climb into a deep, dark hole in the ground that leads to who knows where, who knows when.
There was only one thing to do.
Pour another round.
Stout this time.
And, after six rounds of ale and one of stout – not to mention the stray whiskey or two, we were – surprisingly – not in any better condition to climb into a deep, dark hole in the ground to who knows where, who knows…what……was I saying?
“I’m taking one more look,” Seamus opened the trap door again and stood at the opening, swaying in the wind. Wait, we were indoors. Probably wasn’t the wind. Probably was the ales. Or the stout maybe. Damn stout.
Ulysses The Cat left the room and returned to his window seat. He had seen enough.
Seamus opined that the tunnels would probably still be there tomorrow. I agreed. He also agreed. There was nothing else to say at that point, as gentlemen, we just had to agree to agree.
On his way out, Seamus dropped some cash into the donation box. “That’s for your staff, for the trouble they’ll have to go through tonight, trying to set things straight after your shift!” he said. And out he went.
I walked back over to that trap door, opened it again. Just to look.
“Been there, right under my feet all this time,” I thought, shaking my head.
“Hard to believe.”
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