The Tomlin led them to the treehouse's base, coming to a stop beside the riverbank. It cupped it's hands to its mouth and shouted, "Ballanoosi!", and a wooden platform surfaced from beneath the water, granting them passage across the river between the many stilts. The Tomlin ran onto it, gesturing for Sol and Goone to follow. Goone strolled on with no concerns at all, but Sol was a little more apprehensive. He had only put one foot on but the platform was already shifting under his weight.
"Is this thing safe?" Sol asked.
Goone shrugged and jumped, landing as hard on his feet as he could. The bridge bobbed a little but didn't take on any water. "Seems sturdy enough."
"How deep is the water?"
"I don't know. Why don't you jump in and find out?"
"Because I can't swim."
"Oh. In that case... just walk quickly."
Not about to stay behind outside his new house, Sol swallowed his fear and followed Goone onto the platform, moving at a brisk pace. It grew dark very quickly the further he went, for they were directly beneath the house and daylight was sparse. By the time Sol had caught up with Goone, he found the Tomlin had led them to a large stilt in the centre of the river. It was hollow and seemed to house a rudimentary kind of elevator supported by thick green ropes. The ropes stretched upwards for almost fifty feet before disappearing into the base of the house.
The Tomlin threw a wooden lever and the platform shuddered as it started to ascend, hauled upwards by the ropes. It picked up a surprisingly fast speed and soon passed into the body of the house. The Tomlin threw the lever again as they arrived at the first floor, and the platform came to a stop.
"Moonapopalop!" said the Tomlin as he ushered the two men out. They stepped into the middle of a magnificent atrium overlooked by balconies on every floor of the house. Tomlins were everywhere, some scrambling up and down walls, others running across tightropes. A staircase was wrapped around the elevator stilt like a helter-skelter ride, spiralling all the way up to the top.
"This place is amazing," Sol said.
"It's got a certain charm," replied Goone.
"Chookapanto!" shouted a voice from above, and the two men looked up to see a Tomlin running down the spiral staircase. This one was wearing black overalls and a white Panama hat.
"This must be the chief," said Goone. "All Tomlins have a chief."
The chief jumped the last few steps to the first floor and ran right up to Sol and Goone, looking less than happy about their presence. He turned to the one in blue and started shouting.
"Gambeesy falamorta! Jingahl sootanasky!"
"Teetamoo dakkadum," said the one in blue. "Rangasinkle Nobbly Odor."
"Nobbly odor?" The chief looked at Sol and Goone with a quizzical expression. The one in blue didn't wait around to be shouted at again, diving back into the elevator and descending out of sight.
The chief pointed a suspicious finger at Goone and said, "Diega minky."
Goone cleared his throat and took out his badge again. "Famiscancha tomana. Bumpatar zanchampia. Pan Magal... sumara."
The chief's frown dissolved. He stared at Goone blankly for a long time after that, stroking his hairless chin as though he had a full beard.
"What's he doing?" Sol whispered.
"I just told him Pan Magal's dead," replied Goone. "He might need a minute to absorb it."
"He doesn't look very sad about it."
"Tomlins aren't very emotional. They work and sleep and that's about it."
"Yip!" yelped the chief in sudden excitement. He was looking at Sol's hand with wide eyes.
He'd seen the ring.
"Chimmypokano!" The chief darted to the stairs and grabbed hold of a big silver bell and shook it until a loud ringing filled the whole treehouse.
The Tomlins on the balconies stopped what they were doing and poked their heads between the rails to look down at the commotion. Others began jumping up to stand on the bannister while more stampeded down the stairs and scrambled down ladders on the walls. By the time the chief had stopped ringing, every ledge and nook in the atrium was occupied by Tomlins.
"Napicas!" shouted the chief. "Nuchacha makkatak! Titchatango cocomor!" He pointed at Sol, and every one of the tiny beings looked at him. "Choopadoor samusan Pan!"
"Interesting..." said Goone.
"What is?" Sol asked.
"It would appear that they've already chosen their new master."
Sol's eyes bulged.
"Pan," said a little voice from above.
"Pan," said another from the floor, and within seconds, every Tomlin in the room had started chanting it.
"Pan! Pan! Pan! Pan!"
The Tomlins in the atrium started moving as one, closing around Sol like a rising tide. When they had him surrounded, they started pulling at his legs.
"Stop that!" Sol said, feeling his balance start to falter. "I'm going to fall!" But that was apparently what they wanted. Sol tumbled into the mass of Tomlins who caught him and lifted him clean off the floor.
"Pan! Pan! Pan!" they chanted as they carried him off towards the spiral staircase.
"Put me down!" Sol shouted. He looked back at Goone with pleading eyes. "Tell them to put me down!"
But the detective just shrugged with a bemused expression and watched as Sol was carried up the stairs and out of sight.
YOU ARE READING
* Updates every Wednesday * Manhattan, 1929. The City is on its knees following a devastating crash in the stock market. Thanks to the Prohibition, criminals are making a killing off illegal bars while thousands of honest labourers can't find a sing...