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Storm of Bawdy Sprites
Act 7: Bruno the Younger, Lictor at the Gate of Pipes
© 2023 James LaFond
APR/20/24
Dusk, Caesarsday, Second Day of Sepulcher
Bruno gloried inwardly in his post. Outwardly he was the very shy shield of modesty.
Though a mere Lictor of the First Grade, he was a veteran of 8 years scrapping with the mobs. also the treasured son of a father who had retired honorably, after 40 years service, 30 a Lictor, all that was allowed, and ten as a corporal, a duty he liked not. Bruno the Elder had advised his son against promotions in Lictor rank, said that such “false elevations” opened one up to mob hit men, Censorial graft and paid little for the honest law man. Only the crooked kind of law man made money on promotions through bribes and such. For a fellow that was a simple, straight away servant of the Censor, in particular Increase Publico, that rare descent politician, Bruno the Younger had been advised, that a “bonus post,” by which well to do and even descent men might tip coin into the hand of a helpful Lictor, was the best path to a good life in this bad world of strife.
Bruno the Younger, all of 26 years, still in possession of all of his clean teeth, which he picked and polished quite regular, had met with some success helping young women of the good sort to their distaff factories, and even secretarial maids and dames of the banks, factories and merchant offices where they sorted and scribed for men of high account. Among these he fancied he might soon find a good wife.
He knew better than to involve himself with whores, though those wicked women preferred nothing but a hit man or a crook for a regular paramour than a Lictor. The money customers were such a wicked wench’s stock in trade. But a protector, only the live in concubines—usually the maid of the wife in order to keep up appearances—enjoyed the actual protection from bawd, pimp and snipe [0] that a Lictor might afford.
Bruno avoided this wretched road, and according to his good Christian upbringing, protected those poor misguided sons of Mammon, those rich fellows that sought concourse with the Bawdy Sprites, who owned whoring at Bell Station, and in return was often awarded a fair tip of the silver coined hand. As each such man left the Well of Sprites, quitting himself of one of those famed acrobatic harlots, Bruno the Younger gave to this man a prayer pamphlet recommended by Father Unctius.
Father Unctius provided these to Bruno every Ascent Day after mass, usually inscribed with a psalm. Additionally, for those who might be smitten by venereal taint, Bruno, as a concerned officer of the law, carried the card of Surgeon Pendelton, who was a fast partner of Hatter Brunt, sharing the same office and the same quicksilver supply. The genius twain’s pueter tankard filled with quicksilver, embossed with the image of the Angel Mercury, had been set up by none other than Bruno, it being so valuable and him in “high trust as a slave of the law,” as it were.
And as well, for such as run afoul of Bruno and the laws he was charged to enforce, there were the cards of Barrister Barnes. All three of these leading men of learned society were his exclusive accounts. Then there was Jude of Mirrors, the crazed alchemist who set up his weird array next to the very Grand Bell, charging persons a view of men of means negotiating beyond the locked gate—the gate for which Bruno held the key—with the acrobatic lurids above.
For turning the key, a shilling.
For each voyeur or private investigator who used Jude’s device while Bruno was on duty, a few pence—but these added up and bought Father’s brown ale.
Bruno did have to wear ear plugs—provided by Surgeon Pendelton, gratis—to protect against deafness. Even his whistle, ever at the ready, could harm his ears. This, and the soot, were the hazards of his trade. However, the gray uniform of Lictorkin did not show the smoke stack soot right off.
Bruno kept his threads clean and creased with an iron, and as well kept his eyes on 24 more years of service. Father said that “Corporal duty will rot your soul, laying on lashes well upon the backs of so much of suffering humanity, so that the devils driven fourth might leap into one’s own soul.”
Indeed, Bruno had passed this Christian test, by turning down silver pounds and shillings by the sack, for beating slaves and children, even wives.
In honor of this pledge, Father Unctius had bestowed upon Bruno a brass chained bronze rosary with 4 petals [1], 3 empty and one having been filled by a petal shaped medal by that holy priest, embossed with the image of the Cross around which was scribed the banner of the parish, that of Divine Unction.
The great bell geared up and the hundreds of bats fled for the darker creases of the narrow ways before the brazen thing that always shivered his soul, rang, announcing the Fullway Train, the mainline that ran from Execution Dock, through the city, and across the river up Patrician Way. Fear ever gripped Bruno at this time, causing him to press his hand to his four leaf clover rosary, hung discretely under his vest. Some great dignitary might be upon that mighty train that even now whistled.
‘Might my simple, blunt honesty offend such a one?’ worried he, ever and verily.
The bats were gone with a flutter. A dark cloth screen shielded the doings in the well from the ordinary gaze. Jude was up charging some patrician for a better view of a paramour being hauled up the well to a sultry balcony… and a commotion from down Bell Alley squeaked out like a fury of tykes, “Mamma, a boss o’ bloody sand done kilt Check, the Bigs, the Twigs, and a right few Gigs! He commin’ Mamma!”
Bruno acted with a just hand and shoved the patrician gambler’s two men off to the right along with their curtain to the sound of Jude’s rude gripe, “Fer Chrise’s very Sake, Bru—its commin’ out a yer take!”
Bruno never forgot that such side business as Jude provided were based on his fine record as a Lictor, and if he wanted to keep his post at the gate, a good post from advent, thru noon and closing out at dusk’s end, that he would well and good keep the order at this gate.
Below, and before him, stood Tyke, the very brashest, randy and entitled of the wee gang of Pipes. He held a sharp pipe in his left hand and a brass dart in his right hand. He sneered up at Bruno then back at the shambling paragon of the arena, a man that Bruno could not mistake, Max Scott one of the Brothers Born, hatched it was said in a dragon’s ancient nest, as scandalous bastards to Queen Beatrice the Whore, actual mother of Caesar, who ruled all of North Pannonia from Augusta, less than a day by steam or train from Bruno’s very post.
The little shit pleaded with the Bawdy Sprites above for help. Yet none of them would raise a Pipe into their midst, lest whispers of incest, a crime far worse than whoring, begin to circulate among the gathering shadows. The creeping gloom was not altogether kept off by the cressets, or the new gas light just installed above the great bell that yet hummed from its ferocious call.
Bruno was worried for the patrician gambler up there and bawled, “Now Gentleman Jem, mind yer couch and stay back lest the mischief o’ Pipes and Sprites stain your fine jacket of blue.”
Betty Sprite, the senior of them, cursed down from her balcony, “Mind your own gray bees wax, ye miserable licker o’ boots!”
The limping and battered form of this most storied gladiator, followed by a gaggle of Jap children in white scribbling upon pads, came forward as stately as he might, his shoulders nearly brushing the alley sides, his helmet dented, his black and silver tartan spattered with blood. A great steel pipe was in his hand, decorated with blood, scalp, brains and even blond hair. The gladiator used a blackthorn cane as a crutch.
The great man nodded to Bruno, “Lictor,” ground out the voice like a many cracked bell.
Bruno nodded back, “Scott,” silent like declining to have his voice peep in the departing shadow of that great crowd pleasing tone, and pleasantries were formalized. Bruno felt sunken and out of his depth. Lictors had no authority over men of the Twelve Sworded Houses. These were crusaders and above the laws of common men. In addition, Bruno and his kind had all been trained by the least of these men, the House of Rods, lesser even then the Boxer House. Before him strode a Scott, and not just any Scott, but Max Scott, first Highlander of them all.
Yet the chattering bawl of the very scourge of Tykes dominated the scene before him, on his wee, gutter stage.
“What be these wee Jap tykes a scribblin’, Tyke?” asked Betty, as the gladiator emerged into the round well surrounded on most sides by stone wall all around and by 12 acrobatic whores above hung menacingly from their balcony. Some held hair pins, some iron fans, some heavy clay roof tiles from some other building, some bricks from another and some pipes…
“Same as dese behine’ dis boot licker gate o’ gates, Maw!”
As the train brakes hissed already back down the tracks and the steam pipes above banged, the iron foundry whistle blowing the break of Dusk, Bruno realized that a crowd had gathered at his back. Among the very pants knees, coattails, dress bottoms and boots, between gate and crowd, scribbled a like troop of tiny Jap tykes in white, drawing furiously like angels reporting to God of things done down in this sordid world.
“They are so sweet and right, like candles in our night,” declared a well to do lady, flanked by her footman and maid.
The gladiator, Max “Scott” Born, then said in a level voice, looking up at Betty, whose looks were about faded, but formerly a great beauty, “Madam Sprite, I apologize for my hurried scrap with ye tykes and would atone by gold, blood or favor.”
As the women looked at one another with calculating minds and communicating criminal eyes, the maniacal little Tyke stabbed that gladiator in the right thigh and bawled, “Dis mug done kilt us all!”
This was punctuated by a snarl from the giant as one with an armored back hand that sent brash Tyke flying back down the alley, bowling one Jap over and unconscious.
That action, along with the knowledge that at least one whore upon her balcony had just received news of the death of a son, at the very hands of he who stood beneath them, ignited a fury, a very storm of Sprites. In the middle of that 18 foot round, a mere three paces for that big man, the gladiator with manica and rod in one hand and a great pipe in the other, parried bricks, tiles, pipes, bottles and sharp hair pins to his front, yet was bricked, clubbed and stuck upon his broad back and battered upon his armored head and shoulder from the sides and behind. Without that helmet of House Scott upon his head, Bruno would ever warn new recruits, who were prone to complain about wearing helmets in summer time, that even this storied brute would have been dead. [3]
Notes
-0. Bawds run whore houses, pimps street girls and snipes “Fifth Floor Girls” for the patrician class.
-1. This is based on the False World institution of NYPD officers giving pass cards to friends and family, and is present in SPQR as a Church device copied from military and gladiatorial medals, who use the same bronze four leaf clover pattern for acts of mercy. Gladiators receive such a medal, embossed with their house device for each time they show mercy in the arena and look to the editor before dispatching the fallen foe. A man who held a four leaf clover medallion full of such petals from Church or a Crusading Gladiatorial Order, was assured of high esteem.
-3. King Phyrrus of Epirus, father of the “Phyrric Victory,” the best military commander of his age, was slain in a street fight by a roof tile hurled down from a second story window by a woman, in Corinth, a city famous for its women of the night.
-JL, 11/9/23
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