By Wendy de-Veryard
There was a matter of great concern for those inhabitants of the tunnel world living beneath the streets of New York.
Groups of Mole people from beneath the streets of Brooklyn had broken in to the tunnels beneath Central Park and were there to stay. By force if necessary as news of William's fantastic fare had led them there, hungry cold and very bad tempered.
They'd been there for weeks, and what was more had prevented any of the tunnel residents from coming to eat at the dining area. They completely hogged the place to themselves, even sleeping on the dining room floor.
William was the only one that they permitted to enter, and then only because he was the cook.
It had become such a problem that the council had met on several occasions to work out a way of evicting the people that had clearly outstayed their welcome.
"These people have taken advantage of our hospitality Father, please reconsider the option." Cullen announced at one such meeting.
"Yes I know but we have to remember that having Vincent waltz in there and bodily throw them out is not the best of ideas. As far as we know, they are not aware of his existence and I would like to keep it that way." Father rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "I'm sorry but that idea must be ruled out."
"What about sleeping pills." Mary suggested, "If William was to slip them sleeping pills, then Vincent could carry them out of here when they were out cold."
"It's a sound idea Mary, but not enough to stop them from coming back again. No try as I might I can not think of a single way to get rid of them. How have they been these past few days William, any change in their attitude?"
William shook his head. "Just the same, they live like gluttons, and nothing seems to stop them. Not only that but from what I have overheard they are talking of bringing others of their kind down here."
Everyone groaned. People that really needed the sanctuary to the tunnels were acceptable but Mole People, many of them people that were very often criminals trying to escape the law were not. Mole People lived in the deeper recesses of the world below, and rarely came above. Many were illiterate and so badly troubled that they would kill first and ask questions later. One of the reasons Vincent did not want Catherine involved, even though she had offered. Perhaps amongst them there were people that the police had sought after for years.
"It is a terrible problem, and one I find no solution for " Father's words were cut short as Mouse darted into his chamber. "Mouse what the?" Father cried as the lad's eyes darted here, there and everywhere.
Guiltily Mouse looked straight at the gathering, "Sorry didn't know." He muttered and backed out into the tunnel.
"Mouse!" Called Father halting the boy in his tracks, "Whatever is wrong?"
Mouse didn't really want to say, but he needed help on this one, "Lost Arthur." He replied sheepishly.
"As if we didn't have enough trouble! Mouse how many times have I told you to keep that racoon under lock and key? I'm sorry Mouse this is the final straw, that animal will have to go."
Horrified Mouse stared at Vincent for help, and received it, "Oh Well Mouse, you will have to gather some people together to help search for your furry friend, and quickly too, there's no knowing what that racoon will get up to or into before he is caught." Vincent told him gently with a smile and Mouse knew from that, that if any one could talk Father out of forcing Arthur to go, Vincent could.
Everyone nodded in agreement to Vincent's words as many of them had fallen victims to Arthur's escapades in the past.
"I'll help you Mouse." Jamie called. Well that was unexpected (not).
A few other young people said they would too, and the small group went with Mouse, eyes peeled in the hope of catching a glimpse of the animal.
"Well at least that's one problem solvable but what about the other? Any ideas anyone? No matter how slight?" Father looked around hopefully, but not one hand was raised. "Then we just have to sit it out, and hope that they leave us or get fed up sleeping in the same place or something. But until then any one with any idea no matter how ridiculous it might sound, please, please bring it to me. This can't be allowed to go on."
Everyone nodded, and as the council meeting was called to an end, they left the chamber to return to their own.
Heavy-footed William returned to the kitchen. It used to be a place he loved, but no more. Gone were the days when appreciative people ate there or met there, and gone were the days when he would welcome friendly faces to partake of the food he had so lovingly prepared.
,br> Rounding the corner to his kitchen William groaned, he could even smell the people now. His stomach lurched, at this rate any food that he prepared there would be contaminated if they didn't wash soon.
"There you are." The leader of the group greeted him. "We were just wondering when you would be back to start dinner, we're starved."
"Well it will be a while yet, so you will have to be patient."
"What's for dinner anyway?" The fellow had seen William bring in a large quantity of vegetables just that morning, brought down by a helper from above.
William couldn't be bothered to tell them anymore. The same happened every day, 'what's for dinner' and then as they were eating they'd say 'this is great - what's in it William?' Well no more, he'd throw in any old thing, peelings an all and not tell them what they were eating.
"It's a surprise." He told them now.
The fellow raised his eyes, "Hear that everyone, William is preparing a surprise. Let's hope it will be a good surprise." He touched the knife strapped to his belt, "Know what I mean William?" William knew full well what he meant he had eyed that knife for days wondering if the fellow had ever used it.
"Its nothing fancy." William told him, "In fact you've had it before, so don't worry."
"So tell us what it is then?"
"You'll see. I'm just putting it all together in a big stewing pot today, adding some lentils and making some dumplings. This will be the finest stew you have ever eaten."
"Same ingredients as always?" The fellow looked sceptical.
"Okay then go ahead and surprise us."
William worked in silence for the next hour or so preparing everything and conscious from time to time of the leader of the group standing at his side to watch, but as he began to put the food into the large pot the fellow started asking questions.
"Aren't you supposed to scrape the mud off them carrots first?"
"Usually, but not today. The helper that brought them said the soil was particularly rich in vitamins and minerals, so with this particular stew I leave it on."
"Oh. Well what about the potatoes then?"
"Will you be eating this?"
"If there's any left."
"Oh I insist you have the first plateful." The fellow sneered and looked at his friends who grinned back at him.
"Thank you, I am rather hungry." William told them without a hint of disgust.
"What meat will you be cooking?"
"Yeah, it's a stew right, we ain't no veggies, so I hope you are putting some red 'hair on your chest' meat into that pot." The fellow touched his knife.
William felt a cold sweat breaking out. "Of course." He stated as calmly as possible, "I told you I shall be putting exactly the same ingredients in it that you have eaten all week, in fact ever since you arrived here."
"And that would be beef right?"
William shared the joke, "Yeah right." It was seldom they had beef in the tunnels, it was too expensive. Mostly they ate chicken, or lamb, and a great deal of pork, but William was using none of that today. Today he was chopping up great chunks of mutton. Only the best for these people he told himself with a wicked grin that thankfully no body saw.
Finally the stew was ready, he ate some of it first to show that there was nothing wrong with it, declining to say that it was rather gritty, and then filled all their plates with a large steaming amount topped with dumplings.
He watched smugly as they ate, imagining the amount of muck that had gone into the stew being consumed, and hoping that his wicked idea did not backfire on him as he noticed again that menacing knife.
"This is good." He was surprised to hear that but then with what they usually lived on perhaps it was.
Everyone agreed, "Yes it is."
William noted that the leader was, their leader not only because he was the largest and meanest looking of them all, but it seemed that none of the others could think for themselves. In all the time they had lived below, they had only echoed his words or agreed with whatever it was he had said. Perhaps they were afraid of that knife too. William shuddered.
"So what's in it William?"
"I told you it's a secret recipe."
"Ain't no secrets between friends. What's in it William?" He touched the knife. Something reminded William that he would never use it on him, after all they wouldn't survive without him to cook for them.
Just then a sound at the doorway caught his attention, plus that of everyone else. They swung round to look.
Mouse darted in and out again. "Brought more food." He cried and left it outside the kitchen.
"Thank you." The fellow called to Mouse's disappearing back before asking again, "So William for the final time, what's in it?" He jabbed a finger at the stew on his plate. "TELL ME!" He threatened.
Before he could answer Arthur darted into the kitchen and under a table and William really hated having that rodent in his kitchen, "MOUSE! ARTHUR RACOON!" William bellowed, racing across the kitchen to feel beneath the table for the animal and pulling it out roughly by the scruff of its neck.
Everyone stopped eating, looked down at their plates and turned green with disgust. And then they pushed back their chairs with one accord and dashed from the kitchen with hands held over their mouths.
William stared after them. What did he do? What had he said?
He began thinking back, and with disbelief that they had actually gone, he realised what had happened and his face lit up. "Arthur." He told the wiggling animal still held in his hands, "I ain't ever been so pleased to see you in my life! Here have some stew. Have it all. You deserve every mouthful my furry young friend."
Father was amazed to hear Pascal sending messages that the visitors were seen leaving, fairly running from the tunnels with their hands over their mouths, and the world Below was soon buzzing with the news of their departure.
"I don't know why they are leaving in such a hurry." Father was concerned as he picked up his little black bag, "But I hope William is all right. He was so worried about a knife one of them carried. Vincent you run on ahead and see that he is well."
Grabbing his cloak Vincent ran towards the area of the kitchen stopping dead upon the sight of a small gathering at the entranceway. "What is it? What's wrong?" he asked breathlessly as he slowed to their sides.
Cullen, Mary, Kanin, and Olivia all turned with questioning glances of their own, and cleared a pathway for Vincent to see for himself. And he could not believe what he was seeing.
William feeding Arthur?
And what's more feeding Arthur plate after plate of fresh stew!
Cullen rubbed his temple thoughtfully, whispering, "Could be I suppose that Will's so used to feeding scum now that he can't differentiate between the two." Fortunately Mouse wasn't there to hear him say that.
Slightly out of breath Father reached the small group, "What's happening. What's going on?" he asked much as Vincent had a few minutes earlier. Once again the group parted so that another could see.
"I don't believe it!" Father exclaimed, "William are you all right?" he asked stepping into the kitchen his concern evident.
"Never felt better Father."
"The visitors have gone?"
"Yes all thanks to this little fellow. He scared them clean away."
"Sure did. He ran in here and moments later they all ran out. Never seen anything like it and probably never will again, but for some reason those people just hate racoons. And I tell you Father once I wouldn't have blamed them, but now seeing how this little fella saved the day, I love 'em to bits."
Father chuckled "Well I have to join you there William. I was never a great lover of the animal myself but it would appear that he does have his good points."
Mouse appeared then just in time to hear Father say this his eyes lit up, "Arthur can stay?" he asked happily.
Father patted the boy on the back, "Yes he can stay, we can't throw hero's out onto the street can we?"
Everyone laughed, and now that the visitors had gone everyone was happy as things could return to normal at last.
However none of them would ever know the real reason for the exodus of the visitors, or that it was nothing to do with the sight of the racoon, but was in fact William's answer to the final time the question was asked 'What's In It William?'
Hurrying from the tunnels the visitors made as fast an exit as possible, their hands still firmly clamped over their mouths, their stomachs heaving.
To think they'd been eating that stuff for the best part of three weeks too, it didn't bear thinking about and every time one of them did think of it, the contents of his stomach reacted so violently they thought they would die.
As they finally arrived back in the tunnels beneath Brooklyn they met a group of friends coming the other way.
"Lenny! Glad you could meet us. So where's this famous chef you bin raving on about. Lead the way we're starving."
"Outa my way man, I'm gonna throw up."
"Hey hey what's this?" He waited and watched with disgust as first the leader then each of his gang in turn brought up their insides.
"Way to go man. You resorted to eating them track rabbits after all?"
Lenny shook his head, his complexion a decidedly pale shade of green. He grunted wiping his mouth with the back of one hand and gasping for breath.
"What then poison?"
"Might well have been. Believe me man you want to stay well away from that lot. Do you know what we bin eating all the this time?"
"Nah. Tell me?"
"Stew." He uttered and could say no more as his stomach churned again at just the thought of it.
"Stew don't sound so bad."
"It does when it contains a mouse and half a racoon."
"Oh my god, you're kidding me right?"
Lenny's face was enough to convince him otherwise.
"Man I'll put the word out, no one will go near them people. Why they're as bad as those that do eat track rabbits. Probably they eat them too. Hey maybe you've even had some " His voice trailed away as the group of friends started being sick again.
So it was William that had saved the day, and no one in the tunnels would ever know, which was a shame really because knowing that would really have made Father's day!
For those that don't know - a track rabbit is the American name given to rats living in subways along railway lines.
The Mole People capture, kill and chop off rats heads then roast them over a spit before eating them and sucking out their innards.
I bet you really wanted to know that - hope you weren't just about to have dinner!
'MOUSE ARTHUR RACOON' really! Whatever next?