Since the day I turned twenty-one, I’ve had a sarcastic dog squatting in my brain. This uninvited visitor made himself—yes, it’s definitely a he—known to me just as I was blowing out the candles on my cake. I must’ve blown some fuse; I’ve always had this thing about the dreadful luck I’d have if I didn’t blow out all the candles on the first go. Well, this time I got them all, and the upshot was Chadwick—yes, that’s his name; I’m not making this up—screwing around with my life from that moment on. I might as well slap in the moral to the story right here, from the get-go, in the first paragraph, no less: Never you lot bother about the effing candles.
More? Fine: Whilst I did my best to smile and accept congratulations on having survived another year in this hellhole of a world without succumbing to the pristinely rational temptation to top myself, I felt something warm and furry and flatulent lumping around up there in my head. I didn’t mention it, because my friends and family already thought I was mad enough as it was, but when I excused myself to go puke up the cake—I’m not bulimic or anything; it was just really shite cake that I’d totally got over by the time it reached my oesophagus—and looked in the mirror in the loo, I could see him, crouching there, gripping my head.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he woofed. “Thanks for letting me crash here.”
“Is that supposed to be charming?” I asked straight back, impressively non-nonplussed, if I do say so. “Like I’d let a Doberman sleep over in my brain?”
“Um, Beauceron, actually, don’t mention it. And please, don’t put yourself out. You take the bed, I the throw rug, for sure. So, Demetria”—yes, that’s my name and yes, I’m a girl; get over it—“what’s on the cards for today? Stroll through the woods? Bite to eat? Chase our tail?”
“I caught my tail long ago, thanks very much,” riposted I. “You can go now. So long. It was swell.”
He yawned. “Good night.” And slept.
Well, he wouldn’t go, and I kind of got used to the bastard, though he managed to, without ever once letting on he was there, disrupt my classes, annoy my professors, death knell several friendships and alienate my folks. So with a mighty existential sigh but undeniable whiff of adventure, I—we—quit uni, moved to the city, where I thought there might be slightly less chance of looney behaviour getting noticed, and found a place across the street from a park (non-negotiable, really).
One day—I think it was a Friday, but quite possibly a Thursday—
“Who cares what day of the week it was?”
“Stop it! I’m writing this story, you know.”
“Oh, so you’re labouring under the delusion that you have some creative ability, are you?”
“Ha! Like you could write a map to your fridge without my help.”
“Shut up!” Anyway, I got a job straightaway in a high-end gift shop, but Chad kept whispering saucy suggestions in my ear regarding this posh chick’s Chihuahua and when I tried to drown him out by belting out “Hello, Dolly!” with exact Gouletian inflection, the jig was up.
“What are we going to do now?” I appealed, knowingly pointlessly, as I swayed down the lane.
“Never fear, Demerit, we’ll think of something.”
“Stop calling me that, for God’s sake.”
“There’s always my old idea, you know. . .”
“Which old idea? The rummaging-around-in-dustbins-behind-restaurants old idea?”
“I still can’t believe you’ve never seen Lady and the Tramp! They’ll give us food, sweetheart, just for showing up! Will you finally succumb to Netflix, please!”
“You’re still sore that I dozed off during Lassie Come Home.”
“You could have been a touch more respectful, don’t you think?”
“It’s just running!”
He did an extremely childish mockery of my voice: “‘It’s just running, it’s just running!’ Fine! Then I don’t want to ever have to sit through The Notebook again.”
“Like you could seriously compare Ryan Gosling to—”
“You think he could run like that?”
“Could we get off the subject and—”
“The old idea to which I was referring was, actually, the song-and-dance routine.”
“I’m not going to dance with you. Especially in public. Especially with a hat on the ground for money. Especially since no one can see you.”
“You could do the Trololo song, and I could whisper moves.”
“I’m not going to ever sing that song again, after that night at Peachy Keen.”
“Well, then, I think I just saw a sign for Shit’s Creek, and if you don’t have a paddle, and I don’t have a paddle, then I think it’s safe to say—”
A shaft of Spielbergesque God light illumined before us a fibreglass cottage adorned with flowery trees, gingerbread mannequins and other assorted sweets too large and plasticky for actual human consumption, certain segments of America excepted, conveying the overall impression of something the Sugar Plum Fairy might dismiss as too kitsch. “Kathy’s Kanine Kandy Kennel”, adorably misspelt in rainbow bubble letters, hung from a faux-wooden sign.
“Cute colloquial K alliteration trumps spelling every time,” Chadwick concurred.
“A kennel!” I exclaimed, somewhat more to the point. “What a perfect place for a—”
“Nervous breakdown,” Chadwick inserted. “All that barking, howling, shitting—can you imagine?”
“It’s our best shot,” I overrode, and strode inside, noting with aesthetic sense suspended the Candyland décor.
“I have never,” opined Chadwick, “witnessed a dog consume a man-sized candy cane. Piss against it, yes, but not consume.”
We wound down a corridor festooned with Turkish delights, with which any Turk with a neutrino of nutritional nous would be decidedly undelighted.
“All right,” Chadwick grumbled as we strolled past maniacally smiling Haribou bears twice his size, “but if I spy a single pair of twins baking in an oven, I’m outta here.”
The previous occupant of the position having apparently scooted out whilst tearing out his hair and self-flagellating with a strip of blood-soggy flesh canine-incised from his leg, we were hired, on the spot, by Kathy—large, rotund, ginger-pigtailed, smiley (no surprise there; a curmudgeonly grumpbucket having decorated the place in such offending fashion would’ve been much more interesting)—herself.
Chip, the resident sadist, was tasked with showing us the ropes.
“You feed ’em when you feel like it,” he expounded, blonde goatee juddering with self-amusement.
“Barbarian,” Chadwick whispered. “Implore him to take a nap, and we’ll wrap a lead round his neck and hang him from the marzipan clouds.”
“He’s kind of cute,” I wavered.
“Really? Is it the nickel eyebrow ring or the beef jerky breath that tickles your biological clock?”
“Look how classy you are all of a sudden! Tell me, how many times in your life have you wiped yourself after taking a poo?”
“You know I can’t hold things.”
“All the same.”
“And I don’t need to wipe. All my pooing’s done in your head.”
“That’s disgusting. And no doubt why I have such appalling dreams.”
“Your dreams are exquisite, Missy. Especially the ones when you’re chasing cats.”
“Are you listening?” Chip asked, probably not used to such flagrant disregard of his instruction.
“Sorry! I tend to get caught up talking to myself, internally, at times.”
“Don’t apologise to him!” Chadwick scoffed.
“Sounds like you’re a little lonely,” smarmed Chip, kicking a Pekingese for punctuation.
“If you only knew,” I swooned, eyelashes aflutter in time to the ambient howling.
“You’re horrid!” Chadwick hissed.
Sadly, Kathy sent Chip on a rehousing—or, as Chip called it out of earshot, a “drowning”—during lunch. I sat alone—insofar as that was possible—on a plastic stool and ate cold ravioli. Chadwick sat on my hypothalamus.
“You’re only flirting with this bozo to make me angry!” he harped.
“You’re only angry ’cause you’re jealous,” I returned, upending a raviolo vertically between my upper and lower teeth for want of something more fulfilling to do.
“Wait—look at that!”
I was already looking, which he well knew, as he couldn’t look at anything my eyes weren’t already pointed at, but anyway, a rather randy Pomeranian was rubbing itself in an unambiguously erotic manner against a (mercifully) unplugged cattle prod.
“You can’t look away,” Chad murmured. “You know you can’t.”
“I’m looking away.”
“Don’t look away! I can’t see! Look back!”
“I’m not looking back.”
“You are cruel.”
All four of our ears pricked up: Kathy’s boyfriend Lentrosh was visiting, sputtering in hushed tones about some steel case he waved around. We couldn’t understand the language, but he visibly browbeat her into accepting said container and, as we could see while she couldn’t see that we could see, storing it with quaint clandestineness in a compartment built into the underbelly of a giant plastic-iced slice of hanging cake.
“Did you hear that bloke’s accent?” Chadwick asked, needlessly. “Eastern European, I reckon—must be a spy!”
“So what if he is?” I advocated devilishly, swirling the floating dog hairs in my mug. “Haven’t spies got a right to safe, private storage for their possessions just like anybody else?”
Chad was doubtlessly preparing to propose some perfectly impractical exploit when Chip returned with a bouquet of flowers, Sainsbury’s barcode still attached to the waxy wrapping.
“For you,” he proffered, verbally confirming that the posy wasn’t intended for, say, the Pomeranian, presently lounging in post-coital tristesse, the regret over his late public debauch palpable for all who might care to see.
“Give me a break!” Chadwick derided, to, as the following paragraph will soon enough make clear, no avail.
Yes, we went out, that night, the three of us, on a date, a real date, to the local franchise of a catering concern, bursting 1812 Overture-like with special offers, the name of which I don’t care to divulge. At Chip’s repeated prompting, we tumbled through the doors just in time to catch the buffet, following which he essayed his best Mr. Creosote impersonation (unconsciously, it must be assumed) while I attacked my bowl of mass grave-slung chicken parts with precious little more daintiness.
“The next time someone refers to a dog dining from his bowl as anything other than a study in elegance. . .” Chadwick whinged in my ear.
“You’re just flabbergasted we’re on this date,” I muttered, inaudibly under Chip’s breathless slurping.
“I don’t deny it,” he replied aloofly.
“How’s the chicken?” Chip inquired through a mouth full of shifting shapes apparently magnified from a Petri dish.
“Revolting,” answered Chad.
“Lovely,” answered I.
“Wanna come to my mate’s place after this?” Chad propositioned.
“Who’s your mate?” I asked, out of limited curiosity.
“Nobody,” he replied, with admirable honesty. “But he’s out of town, and I’ve got the key.”
“Maybe,” I said, because I really wasn’t sure.
“This has gone far enough,” Chadwick declared with off-putting finality, and suddenly I felt something unusual in my throat.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“What’s what?” asked Chip.
“Must be something you ate,” Chad replied.
“I was talking to Chadwick,” I explained.
“Who’s Chadwick?” Chip responded, not unreasonably.
“Go on,” urged Chadwick, “tell him you’ve got a dog in your brain.”
“I will not,” I stated.
“Will not what?” asked Chip.
“Will not say anything about a dog in my brain.”
“That’s my girl!” rallied Chad.
“I’m not your girl!” I declared.
“Well, maybe someday you will be,” Chip speculated. “You never can tell, in this madcap world of unpredictable randomness,” he added.
The sensation had meanwhile passed down my throat, into my torso, and was grasping around somewhere near my kidneys.
“Are you reaching down my throat?” I demanded.
“Never you mind, Missy,” Chad sniggered.
“Are you talking to the chicken?” Chip wondered. “Is Chadwick the chicken?”
“I’d rather you dated a chicken,” Chadwick grumbled, “even one in such a state as that in your bowl.”
“They’ve bottomless frozen yogurt here,” Chip added, philosophically.
“What’re you looking for?” I asked Chadwick.
Chip shrugged. “Just a good time. Aren’t we all, really, when it comes down to it?”
“Oh, little thing known as your adrenal medulla,” Chad elucidated.
“My what?!” I queried.
“Why’re you—er—flopping about like that?” Chip asked, a trace of heretofore undetected concern soiling his speech.
“I think I’m gonna choke!” I spluttered.
“Chicken bone? Heimlich!” Chip boomed while, with gentlemanly poise, kicking back his chair, leaping over, wrenching me from my seat and grabbing me round the waist from behind.
“Yes, sir!” announced the waiter, popping into existence out of the antimatter universe by our side.
“Is your name ‘Heimlich’?” I asked of the waiter whilst attempting to ignore the dual stimuli of dog leg down my throat and dry hump from behind.
“Don’t worry about chucking it up; it’s all-we-can-eat, remember,” Chip confided in his inimitable bedside manner.
“Why, how did you know?” asked the stupefied maître d’. “Dan Heimlich—born in Baden-Württemberg, currently of Colliers Wood!”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” I gagged.
“Charmed, I’m sure,” Chadwick put in.
“Please, what’s an adrenal medulla?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t know, madam,” Heimlich answered. “We don’t serve that here.”
“It’s part of the adrenal gland,” submitted a fellow diner.
“Are you a nurse or something?” Chip asked between thrusts.
“Doctor, thanks,” said the doctor.
“And what does it do?” I asked her.
“If I may join in,” said an elderly, dead-eyed man at the next table, “I’ll introduce myself: my name is Cyril Sereswain—doctor of endocrinology, retired.”
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” said doctor the first.
“The same,” said he, shaking her hand.
“So who wants to tell me what this medusa thing does?” I asked. “I won’t get into why I’m asking, just now.”
Dr Sereswain (Ret.) locked his fingers thoughtfully together, wrinkled his brow, cleared his throat, twice, adopted a statesmanlike stance—all of which I could see in a blur through the fingerprint-smudged, shuddering wineglasses down amongst which my face had been plopped—and orated, “The medulla, upon which subject I wrote my undergraduate thesis many, many years ago, not long after its existence had been finally proved; the medulla, I say—”
“Secretes hormones,” the lady doctor chimed in.
“Quite. Quite so,” chuckled Dr Sereswain. “You must all forgive me—an old man, you see, encrusted with the callouses of an unfulfilled life as I am; a life steeped in regrets stretching out in an unending line toward the horizon—a horizon which I can never reach. . .”
“It converts tyrosine into epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine,” the lady doctor, more practically oriented, as all the rubbernecking diners now crowding around could attest, offered.
“Indeed!” Dr Sereswain turned a newly appreciative eye upon the fair doctor. “Have you specialised in the endocrinological arts?”
“Elementary textbook stuff—first-year pre-med, please!” she threw off with a shrug, turning away, but with a secretly pleased flush of the cheek, followed by a flirtatious glance back over her glenohumeral joint.
The eminent endocrinologist tossed his hairless pate as into the wind, then shuffled between overturned chairs to approach her, gingerly, halting at a distance respectful of her rank and sex. “Madam, if I may. . .my name, again, is Cyril. What pray tell is yours?”
“Swanahilda,” she fluttered. “Swanahilda Stoob.”
With arthritic, liver-spotted hand, he bent and enfolded hers. “An enchanting name—enchanting. . .!”
My nipples, reverberating from the rhythmic jolts, described compass-precise circles, part-excruciatingly, part-pleasantly, upon the tabletop upon which they were pressed.
“Ah,” mused Cyril, bedecked by a cloud of wistfulness, “when I was a young lad, I met a spirit, on a misty hill, at midnight, on the last day of the decade, and her name too was—”
“‘Swanahilda’,” her namesake echoed. “Because that spirit was I—in another guise, in another time, before my birth into the body you see and salivate over here; the body I now offer up—as the Ammonite to Moloch—to you.”
Struck as with a diesel-soaked rag, the doctor dropped down on one corduroyed knee onto a squashed chip in a small puddle of gravy, crossed himself with closéd eyes, wrapped her hand in both of his, and asked, softly, but, in the distant-space silence punctured solely by Chad’s trouser-erect protuberance thumping against my upturned bottom and my intermittent gagging, decipherably: “Will you be my bride?”
She bent her Eileithyian majesty towards his pathetic frame, cupped his quavering jowls between her palms, and answered, simply: “Yes.”
The assembled diners, waiting staff and squires cheered. Cyril, beaming beneficently, announced: “You’re all invited to the wedding—a fortnight from today!”
“Where?” came the multithroated reply.
“Vegas—where else?” answered Swanahilda.
“I’ll don my old army duds, into which, I’ll have you all know, I still fit,” Cyril winked, arm round his maid’s waist.
“And I’ll dress as Elvis!” she announced to general laughter, before turning and kissing her knight full on the lips.
“Yes, yes, love’s all very well,” Heimlich interrupted the wolf calls and claps, “but
hormones, medullas—what does it all mean?” he asked the room.
The romance, shattered—but only for the nonce. “Yes, yes, quite. . .” Cyril turned to Swanahilda, utterly at a loss, and, what’s more, existentially drawn-and-quartered, psychologically horsewhipped, because he knew that he was. The question he now put to her was one he endowed with more than its quotidian share of profundity: “What does it mean?”
With a generosity of grace born of an aristocratic soul, Swanahilda squeezed Cyril’s hand—gently enough so as not to risk crushing his feeble finger bones—and, raising her other hand aloft, cupped as if to nest an alighting dove, and shaking her head, Columbia era Sinatra-like, in disbelieving relish of the wonders of this world, disclosed: “The adrenal medulla releases adrenaline into the blood. So, when faced with undue stress, the mental effect of its manipulation can be a simple case of—”
“Fight-or-flight!” Chadwick finished, upon which I found myself bolting up from my prone position, smashing Chip in the face with a quarter-filled—or, if you prefer, three-quarters-empty—wineglass, throwing over the table, blowing congratulatory kisses towards the happy couple and dashing out of the restaurant.
Then rushing back in, grabbing my purse and running back out again.
“Don’t tell me you’re still sore?” Chadwick grumbled the next morning as we arrived for work. Upon receiving my none-too-responsive silence, he followed up: “Are you still not talking to me?
“Oh, come on!
“This is so boring now!
“Is this what it was like before I came along?
“If that’s the case, well, then, you’re welcome!
“You completely sabotaged my dinner date!” I obvious-stated, since it apparently needed stating.
“For your own benefit—you seem to have forgotten that minor facet!”
We swerved around a statue of a gnome. “Okay, okay, so Chad’s a creep who dry-humped me on the guacamole! But he might not have been—how did you know?”
“How did I know?!”
“How did you know he wouldn’t turn out to be a sensitive, caring soul who listens to Bright Eyes and washes the dishes?”
“You’re right. That’s Chad all over.”
“Do you think he’ll be here this morning? What should I say?”
“I imagine he’s still getting stitches across his face. Serves him right.”
“Just don’t fuck with my adrenal medulla again, okay?”
“You’re the first girl ever to ask me that.”
“If you promise to be more careful of half-witted romantic snares, in future.”
I shook one of my hands with the other, to sort of close the deal, if that makes any sense.
We turned the corner into the office. “Maybe now things can finally get back to—”
“Mm! Mm mm!”
That’s the best I can represent the sounds Kathy, tied via dog collar to a ceiling-high fibreglass ice cream cone, was making through her gag.
“Do you think that’s her safeword?” Chadwick mused.
“You know. Like in Fifty Shades of Gray.”
“You read that?!”
“We read it together.”
“Oh yeah. So you think Lentrosh is around here somewhere?”
“Beats me. Um—maybe not the best choice of—”
We opened the door to the kennel and found Lentrosh lying in a pool of blood.
“That’s really taking it to an extreme,” Chadwick observed.
“I don’t think he did this on purpose,” I guessed.
“Really, Missy? So you’re a detective now, are you? How can you tell?”
“Something about the way that meat cleaver’s sticking out of his back suggests to me a third party was involved.”
“Well, it wasn’t from my species. You know all about just how rubbish we are at holding things.”
“Okay, Chad, you’re in the clear. But what’s this?”
The panel to the compartment in the plastic cake slice was swinging open: the steel case was gone.
“So what?” Chad got straight to the point. “What’s a world with one fewer steel case? I’ll answer that: the same world we’ve always known, and none the less rewarding for it. So let’s just get on with our day and pretend that—”
I heard noises above me.
“Is that you?” I asked Chadwick. “Moving around or stretching or something?”
It was on the roof.
We wrenched down the collapsible ladder and threw open the trapdoor—I say “we” but, really, I did most of the heavy lifting, Chadwick being only a semi-tangible spirit and/or, depending on what you believe, symptom of psychosis—and climbed through the hatch onto the roof, from which standpoint we couldn’t help but notice two burly gentlemen in bulletproof vests and balaclavas and barking probably profanities in a distinctly Eastern European hue dashing toward the end of a rope ladder which flailed out of a helicopter.
“Spies!” Chad hissed. “Don’t deny it!”
“They could be looking for a ski slope and just have shit senses of direction,” I argued. “Or their GPS could be way out of whack. Anyway, it’s really windy up here. What say we mosey on back down to sea level and grab a coffee? Éclair?”
“Don’t just stand there like an expired halibut! We’ve got to do something!”
“Oh, you’re really one for criticising my sedentariness. When was the last time you took a stroll outside my cranium, exactly, hm?”
“They’re getting away!”
“So what would you have me do?”
“What would Black Widow do?”
“What would a black widow do? You mean—a Briton of Afro or Caribbean descent who’s lost a husband? Er. . .mourn, then get on with her life? Search for another long-term companion—ideally human, rather than canine, and with real corporeal form? Tinder? Match.com? Classic FM Romance? I don’t know!”
While I was thus babbling, my legs had other ideas, and I leapt to grab hold, mid-air, of the rope ladder just as it passed off the roof of Kathy’s Kanine Kandy Kennel, was tossed about in the wind—“about”, not “off”, thanks very much—and soon the two Eastern European gentlemen were, like gentlemen, helping me up into the helicopter.
So then Chadwick and I were in a cell in the bottom of their spy headquarters. Yep. It was dark, it was dreary, it was cramped, it was damp, it “required improvement”, as an unfortunately detained Ofsted inspector might have judged, or had “tremendous scope for improvement”, as an incarcerated estate agent might opine, or was “home sweet home”, as the Collyer boys might have sighed.
“Black Widow would’ve broken us out of here by now,” Chad grumbled under his breath, which I still heard because it was only millimetres from my eardrums.
“What was that?”
“How about an apology, or something?” I suggested.
“Apology? Ha! For what?”
“For dragging me into this mess, and, while you’re at it, for dragging me into a countless number of messes since you first decided to take up residence in my brain?”
“You’re loving this, just like you’ve loved every second of our time together.”
“Ha! Sure I did. That was sarcasm, by the way.”
“No it wasn’t.”
“Yes it was.”
“No it wasn’t. I can tell, remember? I’m in your thoughts. I can tell what you feel and what you mean.”
“Oh yeah? All right, then. What am I feeling right now?”
“You’re feeling that you hate it more than anything, and if you could change it, you would—you’d jump at the opportunity—you wish for nothing so much in this life than the power to change it—”
“You’ve repressed it, denied it, silenced it, talked it away—”
“Chased it through Möbius strips of logic, tried to drown it in a sack in the pond—”
“Your love for me.”
“What?!” I hollered, and a hairy guard arrived.
“Blah blah blah blah blah,” he said. “That’s Slavic for, ‘You’ve got company!’”
“Thanks for translating,” I said.
He opened the door and thrust two dogs into the cell, then closed it.
“Cabbage is at four,” he added, and left.
The mutts looked at us, then to each other, and straightaway began to shag.
“That’s disgusting,” I mumbled, failing to turn away.
“Is it?” came that voice from my mind.
They went at it in intimate Chazellian spotlight—sorry for all these movie references; Chad’s a real buff; he watches everything—while, Pavlovianly, I suppose, spit dripped off my lip to the straw on the floor. Chadwick, meanwhile, began stomping about on my hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus and I came.
The four of us lay on the floor, tenderly stroking hair/fur.
“Do you think we could have a future together?” I asked.
“I don’t see any way around it,” Chad replied.
“I mean—as husband and wife. I’m a little old-fashioned in my romantic notions, I know.”
“That’s just one more thing I love about you.”
Come midnight, we were shaken awake, chained and led onto a boat. We just had time to bid Danny and Camille—those were the dogs—farewell. We sailed through the day and into the next night, until, whilst we cuddled in the brig, the ship struck something massive and the lights went out and water started filling up the room.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” I shouted.
“Runner-up for Most Obvious Statement of the Year award, losing only to, ‘Cold out today, innit?’”
I pounded my fist against the door.
“They’re gone,” I concluded. “We’re finished.”
“Mm. . . .Bit of a cliché, all this, wouldn’t you say?”
“All you need to say now is—”
“‘What else could possibly go wrong?’”
As if on cue, the ceiling caved in, and with it more water and some body parts (human), but at least we could clamber up the debris and onto the deck, which warped and buckled in the storm. Amidst the dark, we could see only one spy, stumbling around—“Probably drunk,” Chad assumed, persisting with his offensive Eastern European stereotype—wailing into the wind and swinging the steel case about.
I ducked behind a—I don’t know what it was, exactly; something on a ship. I don’t know much about ships, I’ve got to tell you. But it was big enough for me to duck behind, and so I did, prompting Chadwick to say:
“What are you doing?”
“We can get away! Look, there’s a lifeboat! Let’s run to the port bow!”
“That’s the starboard bow.”
“No it’s not! Starboard’s left!”
“Port is left. Here’s how you remember: ‘port’ has four letters, and so does ‘left’.”
“Hey! That’s brilliant. Thanks. If we survive this, I’ll be sure to put that to good use, next time I. . .uh. . .”
“We can’t go! He has the case!”
“Who cares about the case? What about our lives?”
“What will our lives be worth if we pass up this chance to get back that case—have you considered that? Riddle me that, why don’t you, Nancy Drew.”
The spy was beating his chest with one hand and looked about ready to chuck the case into the tantrumy sea with the other.
“So what should I do, bright boy?” I asked.
“The Trololo song.”
“Listen: you’ve ignored me, repressed me, and treated me with contempt all this time, all the while secretly, in your heart, adoring me. Now, just this once, I’m asking you to trust me. Finally trust me. And sing the Eduard Khil tune.”
I sighed, and stepped out from behind the thingamajig. The spy turned round and clocked me. (I mean “saw”, not “hit”.) I stepped forward.
“‘I Am Very Glad, as I’m Finally Returning Back Home’,” I declared. The wind jabbed me from the side; the waves tackled me from on high; I skidded on my platform pumps across the deck, all the while endeavouring to maintain positioning to allow proper diaphragmatic technique.
“Ah, ya-ya-ya, ya-ya-ya, ya, ya-ya! Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-ya-ya, ya-ya-ya, ya, ya-ya!”
Chad pitched in: “Ah-yieeeeeeeeeeeeeee, yi-yi-yi!”
“It is catchy,” I admitted in whisper to Chad.
“Them Soviets did some things spot-on.”
“Ya-ya-ya-ya-ya, ya-ya-ya, ya-ya-ya, wo-ho-ho-ho-ho! Ya-ya-ya-ya-ya, ya-ya-ya, ya-ya-ya, oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!” And so on.
We finished. The spy stood staring at us, dumbly.
“More?” I wondered.
Through the slashing-knives rain, a fusillade of antipathetic elements, this man stared at me—then broke down, dropped to his knees, howled and wept into his undeniably masculine but aesthetically unpalatable beard with overpoweringly cloying nostalgia. Battered with wet, I knelt at his side, embraced him, rocked with him, assuring him via stroke of hair and Proto-Indo-European murmur it was okay. He nodded, then, looking away, handed us the steel case—I shook my head, but he pressed it against my chest—a little inappropriately, I felt, under the circumstances, but I took it and when the Portuguese tanker arrived to rescue us, he would not hear of leaving his ship, and so sank with it into, I can only envisage after the fact, a deeply painful death involving as it would laryngospasms, brain failure, body bloating and extinguishment-from-reality/descent-into-fiery-eternity-of-torture (delete as appropriate depending, Choose Your Own Adventure-style, on the eschatological preference of the reader).
In the privacy of the captain’s cabin, which he gave us, with reluctant chivalry, for our own, Chadwick and I strove to prise open the steel case.
“With these diamonds, or doubloons or plutonium vials or whatever it is, we can move where we want, do what we want—and devote ourselves to our love,” Chad surmised. I struggled with the junior crowbar the ship’s mate had, with smouldering suspicion, lent us.
“You mean, sex all day long?” I sought to specify.
“Must you drag everything down to the level of bitch in heat?” he sighed.
The case popped open.
“It’s a turd,” Chadwick stated calmly.
“It’s old,” I said. I pushed it around the case with the crowbar. “Like it’s petrified or something.”
“What’s that paper say?”
I read it: “‘This is to certify that the provenance of the enclosed specimen has been authenticated through documentation and genetic investigation to have originated from the anus of Pal Weatherwax, a.k.a. Lassie the Miracle Dog.’ . . .Chad, if this is true. . .”
“It must be worth a mint!”
“You mean, a breath mint? A Polo? That’s not so much.”
So it was that the first words we asked, in broken Portuguese, when we arrived at port of passers-by were, “Excuse me? Zoocoprologist? Nearest zoocoprologist, por favor?”
Apparently the most eminent local zoocoprologist didn’t have an official office, forcing us to bribe our way into an underground club that catered to this particular fetish, found through a false wall of a role-playing game/Middle Earth memorabilia shop.
To the faded mumblings of the Dungeon Master and his pimply elves or trolls or whatnot arguing over dice throws heard through the wall, we bartered with a professorial fellow in burgundy smoking jacket and sandals against a backdrop of beaming, corpulent village dignitary types gyrating to what sounded like a Portuguese Pet Shop Boys whilst smearing themselves with Nutella-consistency baboon faeces (or so we gathered) in various states of undress. To his left—or maybe right, but I know you know it doesn’t matter—sat a silver-haired barmaid, translating, and simultaneously dipping a finger in various jars of animal excrement, pulling it out and scrutinising the effect.
“Don Alapicuzzo says that he will pay you for the shit either three million euros, or his soul.”
“We’ll take the euros,” Chad and I replied as one.
We posted a cheque for a significant sum to Petrushka, the kindly old kleaning lady at the kennel, as payment towards her retirement fund should she agree to free all the dogs into the wild streets of Highgate.
Most of the rest of the cash we spent on the black market for weapons. And so it came to pass that we stood before the mirror in our hotel room, clad in superpowered armour, upsweeps of graphene thrusting out of me like Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space—Chadwick, preening in his barding, clearly visible—at least, to me—beneath my burnished helm—resting a blazing ahlspiess upon my shoulder. Jointly yclept “Janus the Redresser”, we proceeded to stumble down the stairs, hand in our room key and take the subway toward the airport.
An amused businesswoman sat across from us with her young son piped up: “English, yes?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“My son would like to know where you’re off to.”
“Switzerland,” I declaimed, “and then China, South Korea, and every land where they eat dog.”
The mother translated for the boy, then he asked her something, and she translated to us:
“And what feats shall you there perform?”
“We shall cook the caninovores and free the dogs.”
“Good luck to you!”
We strode through the airport toward our gate. One of the wheels on my wheelie-bag was chipped, so the whole thing wobbled when I pulled it. I didn’t let it get to me.
“So, what have we learned from all this?” I enquired of my love.
“You don’t mean that lesson with the birthday cake was a red herring?”
“I’m thinking something bigger; more noble; existential.”
“Gosh. Save your own kind, and to hell with others?”
“Absolutely not! I know.”
“That ‘port’ stands for ‘left’. There’s a lesson I’ll take away with me.”
“You see, Missy? You need me.”
“And you need me.”
“That’s certainly true.”
I showed my permit for our enchanted weaponry at the gate and we boarded the plane.
“You know what?” I suddenly remembered.
“What?” said Chadwick.
“We never untied Kathy.”
“Oops. . .Do you think Petrushka would have?”
“We didn’t specify it in our instructions.”
We soared into the clouds. In the plane, I mean.
“Goodbye, Portugal,” I sighed.
“So long, old life, nice to meet you, new. You know this story’s totally going to
be in my voice, don’t you?”
“Dream on, four legs. . . .Are you going to have those pretzels?”
David Brooklyn spent eight years as the backing vocalist for Fontaine’s Hernia, a criminally underrated Teutonic crabcore scrunk wigger slam kawaii djent band that splintered from Uriah Heep in disagreement with that band’s increasingly commercialised approach in the late nineties, only to discover upon his termination that his mike had been switched off all along. Following which, he decamped to the Levant, where he joined a kibbutz of Ghoreb Zereq and trained as a macrobiotic chef. He now resides in Kent, where he restores abandoned Cabbage Patch Kids. He can be found most days online, losing at Mario Kart 8.
If you enjoyed Gavotte of the Righteous, leave a comment and let David know.
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