The toilets were out of commission at the Handy Pavilion. That wasn't the terrible thing in Christian's book. There were a couple of porta-loos out the back, so it wasn't like no one could go. It did mean that the customers would be asking questions about the bathrooms all day, in spite of the dozens of big signs up explaining the situation. So annoying! But still not the problem.
The problem was that the plumbers would be digging up part of the toilet floor, and in doing so they'd find the passage to the Phantasm's lair. They'd have to. Wouldn't they? And then what would happen?
Christian stood outside the grotty little toilet anteroom, watching two overall-clad figures sorting out their tools. What to do? He had to protect his mistress and patron, the Phantasm… But on the other hand…
"Christian!" It was his supervisor -- Ali, who ran the power tools section -- glaring at him from near the umbrella stands. "I got an idea, instead of watching plumbers work, why not go back and do your job?"
"Yeah, but…" Christian began. He realised almost immediately that he didn't have a way to end that sentence, but fortunately Ali jumped in before he had to try.
"Why do you want to watch plumbers work, anyway? Never seen a butt-crack before?"
"That's a stereotype!" one of the plumbers said, looking up from her bag of tools.
"Oh," Ali said. "I didn't know you were a woman."
"So it's okay to look at a woman's butt-crack, is it?" the other plumber said. Both Christian and Ali did a double take as they realised that, under a denim boiler suit was another woman.
"No, no, that's wrong too," Ali said, backpedalling with all his might. "I just mean it's not so bad as looking at a bloke's butt-crack."
"So you're a homophobe as well as a sexist?" the first plumber said.
"No, no, what I mean is butt-cracks…"
"Ahem." They all looked around to see Ms Shan glaring at them. "Could you all stop saying 'butt-crack'? Or at least say it quieter. "
Ashen faced, Ali made his retreat back to power tools, apparently forgetting about Christian as he went. Finding himself alone with the plumbers, Christian sought for an excuse to stick around and keep an eye on things.
"So what's the problem with the plumbing?" he said.
"Big blockage here," the first plumber said. She was a shortish woman, with olive skin and a few tendrils of black hair peeking out from under her cap. "We tried to root it out with a drain-snake but it won't budge, so we're going to have to pull up some floor and replace a bit of pipe."
"Nah, should be done in a day, with the two of us," the second plumber said. She looked a lot like the first plumber, but taller and a little thinner.
"You two related?"
"Sisters," the first plumber said. "I'm Maria, this is Leona."
"Catholic, but we don't get to mass as often as we'd like."
"No, my name is Christian." Damn, but it was one of those days, wasn't it?
He watches as they maneuvered a small jackhammer into place. He should do something! He had to do something. But what could he do? If he spoke up, he'd give himself away. If he didn't they'd cut right down into the Phantasm's lair… What to do? What to do?
Delay? Might work. He knew a lot about power tools, maybe he could distract them that way. "That jackhammer a Ryobi, isn't it…" he began, but he was cut off by a terrible racket of hammering and a cloud of choking dust.
Christian closed his eyes, his insides melting from terror. When the horrible din ended, he slowly opened his eyes, fearful of seeing the ladder to the Phanstasm's realm, exposed for all the world to see.
Instead, he saw a length of metal pipe at the bottom of a hole in perfectly normal concrete.
"Could you have two things in the same space?" he wondered aloud.
"Yeah, you could have some sort of spatial warping field," Maria said, taking off her ear protection. Her dust covered goggles made her look like a big grey beetle.
"Or a hyperspatial pocket," Lenora said, dusting concrete off her clothes.
"You and your hyperspatial pockets!" Maria said. "Hyperspace costs you, sis. You think we're made out of hyperspace?"
"Yeah, hyperspace's not cheap, but…"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Christian said.
"We're plumbers," Maria said. "We learned all about hyperbolic topology during our apprenticeships."
Christian gaped. He could literally feel his jaw drop and his eyes bulge, yet there was nothing he could do to stop it.
"I mean, think about it," Maria continued. "You don't want to hit a power cable when you're digging, right? But you also don't want to fall through a dimensional warp into another plane of existence. It's just good OH&S practice, really."
"Still, accidents happened," Lenora said. "Remember that time we fell through the pipes into that fantasy realm?"
"The one with the racecars or the mushrooms?"
"Oh, yeah, and we had to rescue that prince from that tower," Maria said.
"His highness had a tower of his own," Lenora leered.
"You didn't?" Maria laughed. "Dirty cow…"
Christian ignored their blather. His mistress was safe, but what had happened? Was her ream in some other dimension, or in a hyperspace pocket or what? Could he get back there? Could she get out? What was causing a spatial anomaly in a goddamn Handy Pavilion?
"Here's your trouble!" Maria said. Her sister held a length of pipe, and she was armpit deep in it, fossicking around. The smell was probably terrible. Christian was glad his nose was full of dust.
Maria gave a yank and pulled out something big and crusted with filth. "There you go! I tell you, whoever passed that…"
"Alright, shush," Christian said. "I'm getting a bit tired of all this 'Carry on Up the Khazi' stuff, you know? What is it?"
Maria ran the object under a tap. She let up a whistle. "Not every day you see one of these," she said. She turned and held the object in front of her.
The light the object emitted was reflected by the mirror over the sink and nearly-white walls of the little room. The white-hot rays seared Christian's retinas. Desperately, he closed his eyes. Even through the lids he could see the brightness, the terrifying brightness.
"Hang on, I'll switch it off," Maria said. Instantly, the light went dim. For a while, Christian could see nothing but an afterimage floating before his eyes. An image of a burning skull, faceted like a crystal.
"It's so beautiful," Christian whispered. "Like it was alive, and somehow knows all the secrets of the universe!"
"Nah, that's nothing," Lenora said. "One time we found the Philosopher's Stone in a septic tank."
"Yeah, and don't forget the time we found the Holy Grail. Honestly, the shit people flush isn't just shit…"
"Oh, shut up the pair of you," Christian muttered.