When Richard awoke, he was not in his bedroom, which was the customary place for him to rise. Nor was he in any bedroom that he recognized, although if you quizzed him on it, you would learn that there weren’t that many that he could. Indeed was he not in any bedroom at all.
Instead, he was in a sitting room, lying flat on the floor and staring at an ornate ceiling that appeared to be moving. This was not what he expected. The last thing he remembered was playing a friendly game of cards in the home of a well-to-do clergyman, or someone of that ilk.
He peeled himself off the carpet, woozed lurchingly to his feet and looked around. The room was furnished in the older style, with an ornamental ceiling, too many chairs, and all of it in angry mustards and burgundies and pink pinstripes. It was enough to give one a headache.
There weren’t any windows to the room, which struck Richard as odd. There was a door though. It was a simple affair compared to the garish colours and patterns of the rest of the room. The handle had a curve chosen to match the crest of the chaise longue and the swooping legs of the chairs and tea tables that seemed to be everywhere in the room.
And yet, whatever symmetry intended by the deranged mind behind the decor for the room was marred by the bulbous and ungainly body slumbering unquietly in the opposite corner.
Richard quickly tried the handle. His memories of last night were only slowly returning to his fogged mind, but the snoring hillock of flesh in the corner was hard to forget. The door was locked, naturally. Some deep, reptilian reaction made him shake frantically at the handle, only to stop immediately as the more rational fear of waking the beast began to take hold.
If only we were sooner gripped by our better doubts! The gelatinous mountain stirred, rising on its hind-quarters and emitting a bellow that rattled Richard’s teeth.
“Jacob, what a delight to see you”, said Richard, demonstrating that he was not incapable of deceit.
“Richard? Yes. Good. What time is it? Where’s Smith? Right.” Even at the best of times, Jacob tended to spare his interlocutor the difficulty of replying to his enquiries, and it appeared that immediately after rising was far from that. Richard tensed his legs, ready to run even though there was nowhere to run to. Any minute now, Jacob would remember.
“You took my money”.
“Oh?”, said Richard, as some answer seemed to be expected.
“You took my money”, Jacob repeated, wagging his finger – which happened to be nearly the same size, shape and colour as an uncooked Cumberland sausage – at Richard. As he said this, he stepped forward and knocked over one of the ridiculous chairs, its leg snapping under his heel.
Richard edged back slowly toward the door. If one were given to a sort of narrow-minded, technical, hopelessly out-dated, moralistic way of putting things then, yes, one could say he had taken Jacob’s money. Richard himself preferred to think that anyone who sat down to an obviously fixed game of cards instead gave him money. It implied a generosity of spirit that did Jacob credit.
Still, occasionally one must sacrifice nobility of sentiment on the altar of rude circumstance. “I didn’t take your money”, Richard lied, “I was merely looking after it for you.” He wouldn’t fall for that, but perhaps it would delay the beating for long enough for someone to open this blasted door and rescue him.
“Is that so? Well, return it to me now and I might even thank you for it.” Richard didn’t believe him, but reached for the winnings anyway. Desperate times and all that.
It wasn’t there. Richard stumbled sideways over a too dainty table, fell over and quivered back up again. “I don’t have it on me”. But where the hell was it? “Carrying that much lucre on my person would be both demeaning and foolhardy”. After the game, his partner Smith had left, leaving him with the two they had just rinsed. Why had he done that? Jacob’s hands were perilously close to his throat. “I was afraid that we would both fall to drink and so hid the money elsewhere, to protect it from our worser selves.”
“You took my money, and you lost it”. Normally Richard would prize such clarity of thought.
“No, I didn’t lose it. Someone must have stolen it. Why else would we be imprisoned here?”
Jacob looked confused, as if their situation had only just occurred to him. He went to the door to open it. The handle was tiny in his hands, but despite his turning, shaking, and pulling, the door remained firmly shut. He banged on the door, shouted and waited, yet no one answered.
“You took my money, lost it, and trapped us both.”
“Well, we are both trapped together, although I do not know how it came to be, or even where we are.”
Even as he spoke, a key rattle in the lock. Richard spun around, and James orbited on his axis. The door began to open.