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The Only Game In (Very Nearly A) Town

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There was no way in hell that the game was going to resume any time soon, so this was a great chance for Georgie to rush after Eric - and break his stupidly perfect, muscly legs, clad in expensive trousers, if he tried to insult her boss.

She caught up with the trio just as Eric called out. 

‘Rudyard, wait.’ 

Looking up, the older Funn cleary registered both of their presence. 

‘Boss?’ Georgie allowed her voice lilt under the weight of all the threat she could cram in the short, single word but Rudyard simply made an abortive gesture. 

‘Let the man speak, Georgie.’

‘I simply wanted to apologise.’ Eric sounded strangely out of breath. ‘I didn’t know that this is how you’ve felt. I didn’t understand.’ 

‘No,’ Rudyard said slowly, quietly. ‘I don’t expect you could.’

And while a bit of gloating wasn’t alien to her employer, Georgie knew him well enough that she could tell that he wasn’t trying to rub in how, for once, he managed to beat Chapman to something that his rival so nakedly wanted - founding a family. No, Rudyard was simply too tired and too oblivious to register how Chapman stiffened like he was slapped across the cheek. 

‘I had no idea that burial grounds were in such a terrible state.’

‘Of course not.’ Despite its apparent calmness, there were tides of bitterness under the surface of Rudyard’s level voice. ‘And why would you? All you ever wanted was to have a bit of fun. That’s all that everybody ever wants around here, while I am left to play the bad guy over and over again. Just like back in the days when I used to be on the council - they always wanted to throw lavish parties leaving me to bang on about budgeting. They even put me in charge of the local events to pressure me into conceding. Well, jokes on them. It just made me more determined to prop up our crumbling infrastructure.’

‘I didn’t know that this was the case!’ 

‘No, how would you? You are not from around here, after all.’ 

Eric seemed to shrink in his fancy leather shoes a little bit again and once more, Rudyard wasn’t even trying for the kind of sick burn he just delivered. It was so strange to see the two of them like this - Georgie felt like when she watched Freaky Friday with her Nana. The two-man seemed to have totally swapped roles - Chapman was acting all humble, while Rudyard was behaving super graceful and dignified. 

It was a bit nice - but a bit too weird too. 

‘But you simply must prioritise when the total income of your local authority comes down to the generous donation of a fiver.’ Rudyard chuckled without mirth and Georgie saw Eric’s hand spasm, like he wanted to reach out, which prompted her to step closer in.

‘Rudyard…’ Eric said, not unkindly, and somehow that made her want to hurt Chapman even more. But the Funn twin wasn’t paying attention. 

‘You know, when they allowed me to spend more on the maintenance of the graveyard, I thought they’ve begun to see the err of their ways. And while I knew that my agenda will never exactly make me popular, I thought they might have begun to accept me too. Sure, they were always going to regard me as a stick in the mud - but you can hardly expect a sombre funeral director to be fun.’ 

For the first time, Rudyard met Eric’s eyes and flashed a wonky smile at him. 

‘Or so we thought until you showed up.’ 

‘I feel terrible, Rudyard.’ Eric said earnestly and it was hard to tell if he was talking about tonight or all those other times he undermined Rudyard before. Perhaps it was a bit of both. ‘Desmond and I simply got a bit carried away. That research from the late Professor Carbuncle you’ve dug up in the archives? It suggested that Lake Chapman might have a very rich ecosys…’

To Georgie’s relief, Rudyard finally lashed out at that in his good, old-fashioned Funn way. 

‘Don’t try to blame this on me!’ 

‘I’m not!’ Eric fought back with reassuring familiarity. ‘All I am saying is that based on your findings we thought that it’s time we developed the Lake into the bustling hive of tourist activity it deserves to be. 

‘Ooh, yes, I see.’ Rudyard finally switched his gears up to a typical, full-blown, sarcastic Rudyard tantrum and Georgie almost cried out with the relief of having her old boss back. Sometimes she still struggled to consolidate her idea of Rudyard with the new persona he was trying to cultivate - even as she actively helped his rebranding. ‘I am sure that the lack of visitors in Piffling has nothing to do with our main roads being more potholes than tarmac and everything to do with the lack of attractions around here. I mean it’s not like we don’t already have a cafe, a waterslide, a bouncy castle, an Owl Sanctuary and a Ferris wheel. No, what we need is another asinine tourist trap!’ 

‘Jesus, Rudyard, point taken!’ Chapman threw his hands up in defeat and Georgie could tell he too was smiling, despite facing his back. She could hear it on his voice. ‘You are right. And to show you how much I agree with you, I want to donate the funds that we raised for the boathouse to the upkeep of the burial grounds.’

‘I don’t need your alimony, Chapman.’ Rudyard spat reflexively, making Antigone flinch by his side and Eric sigh with exasperation. Georgie could understand. This was precisely the opportunity Rudyard wanted and he was ready to turn it down on account of it coming from Chapman. 

‘It’s not charity, Rudyard. Believe it or not, I also care about our community.’

‘Sure you do.’ Rudyard mumbled, causing Chapman to actually pinch the bridge of his nose with barely capped irritation. 

‘It’s also in the best interest of my business.’ Chapman syllabised. ‘Even I can’t put the fun in funerals if our graveyard looks more like a scrapyard.’

Rudyard finally nodded in agreement - he could subscribe to the idea if this was Chapman’s logic.

Only Antigone looked worried by now. 

‘I’m not sure that Mayor Desmond will allow any of that.’ She admitted gloomily. ‘He’s really bent on building that boathouse.’

‘I know what you mean. But I have just the idea as to how to convince him.’ Eric said, voice all chipper again and Georgie, for once, welcomed his enthused attempt to play the hero. ‘I’ll go and talk to him right now!’   

‘Chapman.’ Rudyard said in a small voice, making him halt. 

And the air, once again, filled with the strange charge between the two men that Georgie could very clearly feel, but struggled to explain away. It wasn’t rooted in their rivalry - it was something far more tentative and fragile. 

She almost thought that they were beginning to sympathize with each other - if that wouldn’t have been the most ludicrous of ideas. 


‘Yes, Rudyard?’ Eric asked gently. 

‘Did the Mayor actually read my findings from the archives?’

‘Well, he is usually kept very busy…’

‘And doesn’t always read everything he is given, yes, yes.’ Rudyard sighed, visibly deflating. 

‘But I did.’ Eric rushed to say, gripping the door frame as he looked back, clearly torn between wanting to instantly start developing his new scheme and seemingly needing to comfort Rudyard. ‘Every single one of them. I’ve got to admit, you are quite a brilliant archivist, Rudyard.’ 

And there it was again, like the faint taste of ozone, barely there yet distinct; a strange presence reared its head up between the rival funeral directors. Georgie noticed that those lingering glances they were exchanging now were becoming a more frequent occurrence in the past months, remembered the way Eric leaned in to plant a kiss on Rudyard’s cheek and she didn’t like any of it, not one bit. 

‘Come on, pretty boy.’ She growled, shoving her hands into Eric’s back. ‘You’ve got to talk to the Mayor, remember?’

And she squeezed Eric over the threshold and shut the door rudely in her bosses’ face. 

Inside the village eminence were still in disarray like a disturbed chicken coop. Sid Marlowe must have realised that he had quite a scoop delivered to him on a silver tray and was pressing the Mayor for comment and for the definition of the word ‘periodical’ simultaneously. Reverend Weavering was fending him off presently, so Mayor Desmond took the opportunity to run up to Chapman, worrying his hands. 

‘Oh, Eric, whatever are we going to do?’

‘We are going to do the right thing, of course, Desmond. We will redirect the money for the upkeep of the burial grounds.’

‘Ooh.’ Mayor Desmond’s face fell as he began to fiddle with his insignia as a sure sign of planning to argue and acting petulant. ‘But I do so wanted to have the boathouse built.’ 

‘And it still will get built.’ Eric clapped his back. ‘We raised the funds once, we can raise them again.’ 

‘Throwing another charity gala so soon might make us look a bit greedy, Eric.’ Desmond frowned, but Eric snaked a hand around his shoulder and made a sweeping gesture as if painting an invisible picture with one efficient motion. 

‘I have a much better idea. We are going to organise the First Piffling Bakesale this time.’

‘We?’ Desmond whined, eyeing his furious husband where he was locked in a dispute with Sid Marlowe. ‘It’s just that I am a very busy man…’

‘Oh, well.’ Eric looked a bit surprised, caught off guard, glance roaming the room for an idea as to who to rope in on the duty of organising yet another fundraiser. 

He wasn’t quick enough. Desmond lit up with glee, nudging his side. 

‘Oh, I know! Why don’t you get that Funt fellow to do it with you? He sure likes to poke his nose in village business, I am certain he’ll be delighted to be offered the honours.’

Georgie watched as a range of emotions crossed Chapman’s face - there was an equal measure of trepidation and calculation, only to finally settle on something disgustingly hopeful. 

‘Remarkable idea. I’ll talk to him first thing tomorrow.’ 

‘Excellent, dear boy.’ Desmond exclaimed and hurried off to relay the news to Sid Marlowe. 

Eric, meanwhile, just stood there, eyes glazed over with a dreamy expression. Then he shook his stupor and looked about himself. He at least had the decency to blush when he caught Georgie staring. 

And if Georgie Crusoe had some sinking suspicion about the man, she wasn’t going to tell Rudyard about it.

Just yet.