The Butler and the Novelist

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Prologue

Thomas set down his cloth, using his thumbs to pull up his waistband. He adjusted his jacket, taking a quick peek in the mirror that was angled down above the fireplace. His eyes were a bit baggier and his belly certainly a little bigger. But, at 48, he still looked decent for his age. He pinched his necktie with his right thumb and index finger, pulling it back to center. To the left of the mirror was a beautiful stone clock with a brass bezel and shiny brass hands. It was 10:10 in the morning. Glancing to the right, he noticed an old porcelain bust of Thomas More. He recognized the face from an imprint of Utopia he had muddled through at primary school. Though a difficult read, Thomas had liked it for some reason. He'd never noticed the bust before, which was odd considering he'd been the butler for the Rothscombe-Deloney household for more than twenty years. Surely he would have noticed the bust, especially considering his reading history-and the fact that they shared a first name. There was a small brass plaque screwed into the base of the bust. It was faded and unreadable.

Thomas retrieved his cloth, picked up the bust and began vigorously to polish it. After a few moments, he could make out the simple words.

"Count to ten..." read the small inscription. Smiling, bemused and curious, Thomas took a breath. And counted.

1.

"How now, Thomas!" came a hearty voice behind him before a heavy hand slapped him hard on the shoulder.

"How do you fare?" said a second voice.

Thomas blinked. In front of him was a long wooden bar, a crowd of men jostling for position, reaching out, grabbing pints of dark beer. He spun to look at the owner of the hand on his shoulder, the second man shouldering past him to the bar. He stared at the man, whose hand was still clasped, friendly, on his shoulder. The man was dressed in a funny getup like he was going to or coming from a costume party.

"Cat got yer tongue, then, Thomas?" The man smile, his mouth full of straight but yellow teeth.

"This'll loosen yer vocalator," said the other man, turning from the bar and handing a large pint of beer to Thomas. Thomas took the glass and stood there, mute and dumb, staring back and forth between the two men.

"Let us come sit," said the man with the friendly hand, guiding Thomas away from the bar. They found a bench against the wall and sat, the three of them, with Thomas in the middle.

"Who are you guys? And why are you dressed in costumes?" asked Thomas.

It was very loud, the crowd becoming rowdier as the minutes passed.

"I come not into a guise of any sort, Thomas," said one of them seriously. "What manner of costume do you think he means, Edward?" he asked, looking across Thomas at the other man.

"Methinks Thomas has come over odd, Robert," said Edward. "Do you ken his meaning?"

"Tis Greek to me, Edward," said Thomas. Both men laughed and knocked their glasses against Thomas's, then drank from them. Thomas smiled awkwardly and took a sip. It was strong and bitter-sweet. And cool. Thomas smiled more broadly.

"Hey, this is pretty good," he said. Was he dreaming this? He looked at each man in turn. Then he blinked.

2.

Edward shook his head, looking over at Robert. "Seems his mind has gone over to his writing," he said.

"Tis a foregone conclusion, indeed," said Robert.

"My writing?" asked Thomas. He was starting to sense something wasn't right. The scene around him had changed. He was in a dark office, a writing table against one wall, quills and paper scattered haphazardly across it. Everything was too real to be a dream. Edward and Robert smelled too pungent, their clothes too authentic. What was going on?

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