Sunday, October 29, 2006
Friday, October 27, 2006
The turd, the cholecystectomy and the gross injustice
Imagine a turd on a white slab of rock in the blistering sun somewhere far from civilisation. The turd is a little crisp from the heat, and has a bootprint in it. One of God’s bootprints.
I was that turd once. What I mean is, I was a house officer for a year. A house officer, or intern in America, is a doctor stuck in no-man’s-land between the Scylla of medical school and the Charybdis of a fully-fledged medical career. The problem is that it’s a no-man’s-land seeded with landmines. I know those metaphors are a little mixed but I’m very upset by this story, and it’s my blog anyway, damn your eyes.
As a house officer you’re the doctors’ skivvy and much of the time the nurses’ as well. There is no task so demeaning but that it won’t dribble down and splash in your eye eventually. From picking up the consultant’s dry cleaning to scratching his balls for him while his hands are full, from disimpacting bowels to being called upon to relieve the junior nurses’ sexual tension, yes, it’s old muggins to the fore. Okay, I lied a bit there.
Half of that year I spent on a surgical unit at a large teaching hospital. My consultant was called Mr Fry. He had big knuckly hands and a big face and big hair coming out of his nose. Despite this he was regarded as a little man as he was only five feet two inches tall without the platform shoes he usually sported. He barely looked me in the eye while I was there, and not because he was shorter than me. He never called me by my name either. Instead he would make up names for me: ‘Hey you,’ sometimes, or ‘You there,’ or, as he got to know me, ‘You fucking arsehole.’ There were six of us house officers on the unit and I don’t really think I had a harder time from him than any of the others did, but then again this story isn’t about them. Chris, Rebecca and the rest of you, if you’re reading this, sorry, mates, but it was every man for himself and you know it.
One afternoon I was scurrying around the wards, trying to catch up with various duties so that I could leave at a reasonable time after spending the previous night on call and getting three hours’ sleep. One of the sisters mentioned that Mr Fry was about to start a cholecystectomy.
‘I’d better lie low, then, before I get roped in to assist,’ I laughed.
‘Funny you should say that,’ she smirked.
Half an hour later I was scrubbed up and in the theatre. I’d tried to palm off the job of assisting, of course. My first choice was one of the four medical students attached to our team but they’d all buggered off to ‘lectures’ or something. Probably just left early to go and get drunk and do drugs and have sex, the workshy little bastards. Next I tried Keith, the Australian junior surgeon who was over on an exchange programme. He tore himself away from admiring his blonde surfer’s looks in the mirror above the sink to grin and say ‘Dilligaf, mate,’ before disappearing amidst a bevy of cooing student nurses. I used to think Dilligaf was the name of the Aussie town he was from until he explained that it was an acronym for do I look like I give a fuck.
So, all my hopes of getting away on time having shrivelled like an old man’s todger during a bed bath in January, I gowned up and pushed open the doors of the theatre. The patient was already on the table, anaesthetised and draped and having his exposed abdomen painted with disinfectant by one of the theatre nurses. Another nurse was tying Mr Fry’s mask behind his head for him. He didn’t look in my direction but muttered, ‘About fucking time.’
We got to work. When I say ‘we’, I just stood there and did what Mr Fry told me. You learn it as the golden rule when you start assisting in theatre: never contribute an opinion, never do anything that you’re not explicitly asked to. So I pulled on a retractor to hold the flaps of the patient’s abdomen apart while Fry rummaged, which wasn’t easy because as luck would have it the patient was clearly a fitness freak and had abdominal muscles like the halves of a mantrap which kept trying to spring back together again. Helping Fry was his registrar, a trainee surgeon called Dave who was one of the most miserable bastards I’d ever met and looked like Freddie Mercury – yes, I know those statements sit oddly together – and also in the theatre were two nurses and the anaesthetist, who sat on his customary stool looking utterly bored and reading what could possibly have been a skin mag. Unlike many surgeons who hold forth during surgery on such riveting topics as golf and the price of the new model Jaguar, Mr Fry doesn’t go in for small talk, and the only sounds were the steady beep of the anaesthetic machine, the hiss and gurgle of the suction apparatus which Dave used periodically to clear the wound space of fluid, and Fry’s intermittent mutterings of ‘fuck,’ ‘shit,’ and, in a rare venture into polysyllaby, ‘fucking wankers’.
Things started to go a bit wrong. The patient was a fit man in his mid-forties but for some reason his blood pressure started doing strange things, rising and then dropping. The anaesthetist was perturbed enough to reach out and turn some dials on his machine. Mr Fry glared at him and snarled, ‘I need more fucking muscle relaxant. It’s tighter than a dog’s arsehole in here.’ (The anaesthetist is responsible for keeping the patient’s muscles in a state of sufficient flaccidity for the surgeons to work with ease.) The tension in the room rose noticeably. We were all waiting for something to trigger one of Fry’s legendary rages. Usually what happened at times like this was that someone dropped a clanger – literally, by knocking some bowl or instrument to the ground.
Instead, there came the sound of air being gradually released through the pinched neck of an inflated balloon, starting as a mosquito-like whine and dropping in pitch before climaxing in a rubbery noise of alarming moistness. An instant later the foetid stench of bowel gas cut through the ambient smells of the theatre. I would have thought Mr Fry or Dave had accidentally cut into the patient’s colon if it hadn’t been for the preceding noise.
You could have heard a swab drop. Mr Fry raised his head and, looking at no-one in particular, said: ‘Who the fuck was that?’
We glanced at each other over our face masks: Dave, the two theatre nurses, the anaesthetist and I. Slowly Fry let his gaze fall on each of us in turn.
The noise came again, fainter this time but unmistakable. Our eyes darted from one to another like escaped ferrets.
‘For Christ’s sake, which of you fucking pigs is it?’
We shuffled in our theatre shoes, saying nothing. I knew he was going to pick on me, just knew it, and sure enough, when I looked up he was staring at me.
‘Do you want to do this operation yourself?’ he screamed.
I said nothing.
‘Seriously, do you want to give it a try? While I stand off to the side fucking poisoning you?’
‘It wasn’t me,’ I muttered.
‘Like fuck,’ he shouted, and turned back to the business at hand.
The rest of the procedure passed without incident. Afterwards in the scrub room I flung off my gloves and gown and stomped out into the corridor.
I was getting into the lift when as luck would have it Mr Fry leapt in just before the doors closed. We were the only ones in the lift and we dropped three floors in silence. One floor above mine it stopped for him and he said, ‘Never, ever fucking contradict me in front of other people again,’ and stepped out.
Leaving the faintest whine in his wake, and the lingering smell of bowel gas.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (epilog)
Kim Ayres and Dr Achilles ‘Ack’ Maroon were found guilty on multiple counts of murder, kidnapping, amputation, robbery and gross bad taste, and were sentenced to serve fifteen life sentences each in Alcatraz. Maroon made an abortive attempt to escape after a year by secretly building a jet engine out of scraps from the prison’s metalwork shop. Ayres became a born-again Christian and eventually ran his own televangelist TV network from his cell.
Joe K’Mayall decided to leave his drifting days behind him and pursue a career teaching sign language to deaf kids. Last I heard, he wasn’t doing so well work-wise.
Gorilla Bananas was fished out of the river after two days, hypothermic but alive. He was given the freedom of the city in recognition of his contribution to apprehending the perps, and rumors are he’s going to run for mayor. El Barbudo was never found.
Oh, and my Pussy was found entangled in the gorilla’s fur and returned to me. Wet, hairy and smelling of fish, she worked fine.
Sam Bride and I keep in contact. She’s considering being Bananas’s campaign manager. The law which (quite rightly) forbids romance across the species barrier means that the affection between them has to be restrained, but they’re still good friends. And if first thing in the morning she sometimes carries the faint but unmistakable scent of gorilla, why, it’s none of my business.
Sarah Laughs was sentenced to ten years for her part in the conspiracy, but McShae decided he still loved her and hijacked the van that was transporting her to gaol after her trial. I don’t know where exactly they are now, but the other day I got a blank postcard from somewhere south of the Rio Grande, and attached to it was a generous check. It bounced, of course.
Philip Challinor went on to become head of the FBI, but, frustrated by that agency’s exclusively domestic role, he switched to the CIA. We exchange cards every time he topples the government of a small Latin American country.
SafeT quit dressing up as a trash can and went for the leafy vegetable look instead. Now, if I want information, I have to visit the greengrocers and supermarkets to find him.
Fat Mammy Cat got five years for aiding and abetting but was released after six months as the prison governor and all the warders were too scared of her to keep her there.
Old Knudsen I had assumed perished in the fire, but a couple of years later I was real depressed one night and called up the Samaritans and there was his voice on the line. I’ve never been depressed since then.
And yours truly?
Well, the morning after the events of that night I woke up with crushing, vice-like chest pains that radiated down my arm. I got to the phone in time and was rushed to hospital where I underwent emergency quadruple heart bypass surgery followed by a month in intensive care. My doctor pronounced himself baffled by this turn of events and said that I was one of the healthiest people he knew. We were in his office six weeks later, sampling the brandy and Monte Cristo cigars I’d bought him as a thank-you gift. He concluded that there were some mysteries medical science just wasn’t up to answering, even in 1949, and he advised me to avoid stress and to include more lard in my diet.
A couple days ago I was sitting alone in my office well after midnight, drinking and smoking and thinking about how the human heart was just a fleshy shell with a void inside it. I picked up the paper and read the funny pages and then my horoscope. It said to avoid straining because Cancer is creeping into Uranus. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair.
Then I noticed an envelope on the floor by the door. I must have left it there when I picked up the mail. I couldn’t read the postmark.
Inside the envelope was this drawing:
and a clump of coarse, curly hair.
Like from a buffalo's crotch.
Or a beard.
And I lit a cigarette.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Fifty-one essential things
I’ve realised recently that I’ve been missing the fundamental point of maintaining a weblog. It’s supposed to be about one’s self, isn’t that right? Lots of you have meme-type entries on your own sites in which you list assorted facts about yourselves. A couple of you have emailed begging for more details about me, the man behind the mask; so herewith are 51 interesting and important things about me. That’s me, as in Foot Eater, as in I.
1. I was born in South-East London, but if you tell anyone I will find you and hurt you, and that's a promise.
2. I have some Welsh in me. I had some Scots in me too until they arrested Mr McTavish.
3. I have a third nipple which fortunately is hidden behind my ear.
4. My parents were liberal enough to let me play with dangerous toys like knives and chainsaws. In fact they positively encouraged it.
5. I spent a lot of my early years playing on motorways.
6. My first pet was called Roadkill and I peeled it off the M25 near the Chertsey exit.
7. I’ve always had a very good memory.
8. When my pet kitten Spike died, my father made a little coffin for him and a little hearse for me to pull him around in.
9. I still have both in my attic to this day.
10. When my pet budgerigar Violet died, we had to cut open two of our cats to find her.
11. I was so upset at her death that my father built a little jetpack for her to make her fly again, but it didn’t work.
12. My fingernails are getting a little long.
13. My father is in prison doing ten years for the irresponsible use of spoons.
14. When I was a child I created an imaginary world filled with fantasy friends and I used to spend most of my waking moments there.
15. Thanks to the wonders of blogging I have rediscovered this world thirty years later.
16. I have a habit of laughing during funerals.
17. At Easter the egg hunt at our house was made more challenging by my parents’ throwing the eggs into the sea.
18. My favourite music is tonal in character but can be of any genre as long as it has that certain je ne sais quois. You can keep your pretentious rubbish.
19. My favourite song lyric is this, from The Gift by The Velvet Underground: ‘Then she sank down to her knees, grasped the cutter by both hands, took a deep breath and plunged the long blade/ Through the middle of the package, through the middle of the masking tape, through the card-board/ Through the cushioning and (thud) right through the center of Waldo Jeffers’s head, which split slightly and caused/ Rhythmic arcs of red to pulsate gently in the morning sun...’
20. I lost my virginity at an early age but I seem to have found it again.
21. The most unusual place I have ever had sex is in a woman’s arms.
22. I never went in for doggy-style until I learned that it didn’t necessarily involve howling for hours until the neighbours turned the hose on you at three a.m.
23. As a teenager I dropped acid once and burned off three of my toes.
24. I've never tried illicit drugs, though once I swallowed an enema and ended up shitfaced.
25. I just saw a leaf fall from a tree in the garden.
26. I've experimented with fisting but I decided it wasn’t my sort of thing after barely a year.
27. My memory is excellent.
28. I’ve started to write a book of proverbs I have thought up myself. The only entry so far is a son of a bitch should be made to sleep in a kennel.
29. My next writing project is a Muslim version of The Da Vinci Code.
30. Sometimes I like to sit and contemplate infinity until my nose bleeds, before going to work in the morning.
31. I solved the Boolean problem seconds before reading the answer on Dr Maroon’s site.
32. Since the age of 13 I have had curious unexplained blisters on the palm of my dominant hand.
33. I successfully resisted family pressure to follow my older brother into business, but have lived in the shadow of his achievements ever since.
34. I have one older brother who is the premier crack dealer in Billericay.
35. I have one sister who is dead and lives in Cardiff.
36. I’ve just noticed some dust on the mantelpiece.
37. My mother lost her life in an unfortunate spooning accident.
38. My biggest ambition is to own a rocket launcher.
39. I am a committed citizen of Great Britain and I despise people who refuse to exercise their right to vote.
40. I stamp my individuality on the voting process by putting a tick next to my candidate of choice and crosses next to all the others.
41. I’m allergic to seafood – it gives me nightmares, and I wake up with bad breath and pubic hairs between my teeth.
42. I have a very good memory.
43. If I can’t have a rocket launcher then I’d settle for an Uzi.
44. Hurricanes depress me.
45. I snigger whenever I hear the title of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl.
46. I have a morbid fear of Punch and Judy.
47. I don’t like Richard and Judy much either.
48. I’m told I’m very immature.
49. I have worked as a grave digger, a corpse mechanic and a park attendant.
50. I like to eat After Eight mints at 19h55 and point this out to everybody around me.
51. I’m convinced that if I stare at my navel long enough I’ll discover the ultimate secret of existence.
SafeTinspector is absolutely right. Please replace the current number 25 with this:
25. When Petal, my Rottweiler, died, I was so upset that my father took a course in taxidermy and in the nick of time stuffed her corpse and mounted her on castors. I stopped taking her with me when I got to high school because there were a lot of stairs.
SafeT is right again. Please replace the current number 12 with this:
12. When my pet goldfish Colin died, my father purchased a huge aquarium and swam around in it painted orange and using an aqualung. My first wife left me because of this.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (VII) (ii)
The gorilla towered over me, his breath so overpoweringly fetid I wondered briefly which end of him I was facing. Not for the first time my life tried to flash before my eyes, but this time it was tired, monochrome, a wind blowing tumbleweeds down the back alleys of a dead-end one-horse town.
As the ape raised his great hands and clasped them in preparation for the killing blow, I became aware of little details: El Barbudo’s high-pitched snickering like an Italian castrato, the chanting of the crowd, Dr Maroon slipping a piece of gum into his mouth and lifting the lid of a trash can to dispose of the wrapper – hang on, that trash can wasn’t there before…
Several things happened at once then.
An arm sprouted from the trash can and grabbed Maroon’s wrist and twisted his gun free, and beneath the lid I saw the face of SafeT, my stool pigeon.
Through the vents in the ceiling dropped floor-length ropes and people began to shimmy down them, commando-style.
The doors thru which I had been brought in heaved open and more people ran in, as did a small blue terrier, yapping ferociously. Monstee!
The gorilla stopped, arms poised above his head, as startled as the rest of us.
There were a dozen or so of them. Sam Bride led; alongside her were assorted denizens of the night who I’d encountered over the years and, critically, done favors for (or possessed blackmail material about). They included SafeT, naturally, and that chainsaw-wielding dinosaur hater from Bo Khaki’s, and the arm-wrestling broad from Boston, and that other dame from Frisco with the poison-tipped stilettoes.
The tableau held for a few seconds, and then battle commenced.
Monstee ran straight for Glark, the wolf hound, and with a sound like a ripe pear being punctured sank her teeth into his family jewels. Mr Dinosaur Hater revved his chainsaw into life and set about him. Sam put away her Browning as Fat Mammy Cat rocketed toward her. It was going to be hand to hand. Cat was well known as an expert in the deadly Chinese martial art of Fah Kyu, and as she aimed a slap upside Sam’s head I winced. But the speed with which Sam blocked it and retaliated with an even harder slap upside Cat’s head made me realise that Sam was skilled in the even deadlier art of Fah Kyu Too.
I weighed in with my fists, giving Ayres’s minions the same rough treatment I’d received as a kid growing up in the docklands of Hell’s Toilet. It was harsh, and it was ugly. A group of them attacked me with heavy wooden sticks. After sustained attempts on their part to force me to submit to their huge poles, I finally beat them all off.
But we were outnumbered and outgunned, and as I planted my steel toecap in yet another crotch, I noticed that my would-be rescuers were all either flagging or captive. Poor Joe K’Mayall had gotten his other hand cut off during the struggle. Before long we were surrounded by guns and stood huddled together. Thru all of this the gorilla had stood frowning, befuddled by the drugs they’d given him.
‘How did you find me?’ I asked Sam.
‘A little bird told me,’ she murmured. Quickly she explained that her trained sniffer sparrow – the one I’d met in my cell - had led her and her posse here. I gave her a smile. I’d been wanting to give her one ever since I’d met her.
I glared up at Ayres and Barbudo grinning smugly atop their pyramid. Ah, well, at least we gave those G-d-damn Southern hicks a taste of Yankee spunk.
Maroon looked up at them enquiringly. Ayres held out his fists, both thumbs pointing downward. Around us the safety catches were eased back.
This was it, then.
Except maybe we had one chance.
‘Guys,’ I called out to no-one in particular, ‘how do you circumcize a whale?’
‘With four skin divers.’
It was the worst joke I’d ever told. I prayed it would do the trick.
Barbudo snarled with contempt. ‘G-d damn it, Pappy! It’s amazin’ t’ think we descended from the apes an’ not the other way round!’
Slowly the gorilla raised his head and stared at Barbudo. Then, with a noise like lava rumbling up from the bowels of the earth, he drew himself up to his full awesome height and let out a roar that drowned out all thought for a few seconds. With a violent jerk of his leg he broke free of the chain that was holding him in place.
It worked! I’d managed to goad Barbudo into displaying his ignorance of basic hominid evolutionary principles and committing a faux pas that to an intelligent gorilla’s ears would have been a grievous insult. (Humans are of course not descended from gorillas, or from chimps either; rather, we share a common ancestor.)
As the gorilla began to thunder his way over and Barbudo started to blubber and squeal, I took the cigarette from my mouth and tossed it onto the pyramid, which you’ll recall was made of comic books. All eyes were on the approaching ape and so nobody else noticed the blaze until it was well underway.
The room erupted. The gorilla reached the pyramid and lashed at it with his ham fists, knocking burning comic books flying. Ayres slid on his tush to the ground and scrambled away. Barbudo tried to do the same as the gorilla grabbed for him. He would have made it if it hadn’t been for his beard, which the ape seized and used to draw him closer. I knew we had to get out of there but I couldn’t help watching for a moment. The gorilla’s hair had caught fire but he ignored it and, clutching the screaming Barbudo under one arm, began to climb one of the steel ladders to the aperture in the ceiling above.
‘No!’ yelled Ayres. ‘The warehouse is above us! The comic books will all go up!’
I grabbed Sam and a dazed-looking McShae and beckoned to SafeT and, Monstee ahead, we ran for the doors. Around us people were burning, screaming, trying to get out. Thru the doors we raced down corridor after corridor, seeking a random path out before the warehouse above us collapsed in a storm of burning timber and buried us. Eventually we reached a dead end. I lit a cigarette.
‘Up there!’ said McShae, pointing at a child-sized hole in the wall some eight feet above us.
McShae bent over and one by one we mounted him and entered his hole. I pulled him up after us and we crawled awkwardly along a seemingly endless tunnel until fresh air breathed on us from ahead. In a minute we were tumbling out on to a grassy bank up river from the warehouse.
I got up and looked back. It was night-time and against the black sky the warehouse was ablaze, millions of dollars of evil smut in the form of comic books going up in smoke. Already the sirens were sounding in the distance. Between the warehouse and the river was a crane and I could make out a figure climbing up its side. It was Bananas the gorilla, still on fire and still holding on to the tiny struggling shape of Barbudo. The pair reached the top of the crane and the gorilla stood there, beating his chest and letting out a bloodcurdling bellow of anger. Beside me Sam gasped as the crane began to topple sideways and, before it hit the ground, Bananas and Barbudo were flung into the murky iciness of the river.
I cursed. Barbudo still had his hands on my Pussy.
We stood, Sam Bride and me, in the organized chaos of flashing lights and ambulance crews and police and I smoked a cigarette and sucked on a bottle of JD. McShae had been carted off to hospital with delayed shock, but not before I’d gotten him to promise me a check for rescuing him since Laughs wasn’t going to be paying me now. SafeT too was under the medics, having suffered minor burns when the trashcan he was dressed in had heated up.
Lieutenant O’Nann came up to us. ‘We got Ayres and Maroon in custody, along with most of the others who didn’t die in the fire. Barbudo we’re presuming drowned.’
I said nothing, just looked out over the river and thought of blackness and cold razor steel and the oblivion of the bottle.
After a minute O’Nann said gruffly: ‘You done good, Eater. The city’s in your debt.’
He held out his hand but I didn’t shake it; it had just been in his pocket.
I poured some JD into a saucer for Monstee and lit her a smoke. In a while I reached into my pocket and said to Sam, ‘I got this for you. For saving me. And because -’
She looked down at the ring, then smiled sadly at me. ‘Thank you, Mr Eater,’ she said. ‘But my heart belongs to another.’ And she gazed out at the river, where the gorilla had disappeared.
I put the box away. Ah well, it was probably for the best. The last time I got a dame to put her finger in my ring it had gotten painful.
‘I would like to give you some jewelry, though,’ I said. ‘As a keepsake.’
She smiled acceptance.
So I gave her a brooch.
You thought I was going to say ‘pearl necklace’, didn’t you?
Is that it?! What about all the loose ends?
- He’s probably got an epilogue up his sleeve.
- If so, he’d better get on with it.
- Does anyone fancy a pint?
Monday, October 16, 2006
Who’s got the biggest ego in the blogosphere? I’m not including all those big political blogs, which are run by lizard-like beings and not humans anyway, but am referring rather to ‘our corner’. ‘Our Corner’ is a somewhat ill-defined term given that we all move in slightly different blog circles and have different links, but nevertheless…
I hereby announce the opening of nominations for the 2006 Cock of Narcissus Awards. Narcissus was of course the most narcissistic person in history, and how better to symbolise rampant self-obsession than with a crowing fowl standing erect. So send me your choices of the three most up-their-own-arse bloggers, in order, and I’ll collate the results and publish them when I get a moment in my busy and important life to attend to such trivia.
Remember, I’m not looking for the funniest, most self-actualised or most self-confident blogger – that would be me, of course – but for the person whose swollen sense of self-importance is such that David Hasselhoff is made to look like a dilettante by comparison. (Look up that word if you don’t know it; it’s not my fault you can’t speak French like me.) I’m aware that this exercise might lead to cases of shattered self-esteem, threats of violence, and a bitterness that could echo down the generations (as did the first annual Blunt Cogs Smug Awards, which I won as Best Character); but to achieve this will require an effort on the part of all of us.
You can post your choices in the comments, or email me. Confidentiality is guaranteed subject to my discretion.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (VII) (i)
The first part of part seven of seven in a thrilling new hardboiled noir serial.
Maroon’s breath on the back of my neck smelled like haddock as I stumbled forward. Far ahead was the echo of voices. After what seemed like forever the twists and turns of the passages led to a pair of oak double doors straight in front of us. One of the goons pushed past me and knocked.
‘Come in,’ called a voice that was as Southern as deep-fried turkey. A steel skeleton claw of pure frosty fright clamped itself around my unmentionables. I knew that voice.
The doors groaned open and we were shoved inside. I blinked in the bright artificial lighting. It was an enormous room, with ten or more doors leading off along all sides. Great steel ladders reached up to apertures in the ceiling, thru which air was blowing. It was some kind of giant basement or cellar.
I was in trouble, more trouble than I’d been in since I was a kid and my mom came home to find me energetically beating the bishop on the front lawn. It wasn’t my fault the clergy were so lousy at croquet.
There were around thirty people in the room. At the centre was a huge pyramid, ten feet high, formed from what I came to recognise as comic books. On top of the pyramid were two crude thrones made of wicker and Scottish tape. And seated on the thrones, bearded and grinning, were two people whose faces I’d prayed never to see again.
Kim Ayres and El Barbudo.
The rest of the people in the room milled around the base of the pyramid, standing guard, playing cards or whatever. Ayres and Barbudo didn’t acknowledge my presence at first; they were playing with money, great fistfuls of it, throwing it in the air like confetti and giggling like kids. Ayres tossed a wad of notes held together by a clip high in the air and put a bullet thru it with a Webley he’d drawn from his pocket. Barbudo laughed at this and joined in, producing a Tommy gun and hurling packets of cash ever further to see if they could hit them. Barbudo won, shooting his wad all the way across the room.
At last they tired of this sport and muttered to each other, pointing at me and Joe K’Mayall. One of their retinue came forward. I recognised him; he worked at the same sleazy nightclub as Knudsen. He was dressed in a rabbit costume and eating a very big carrot. He appeared – how can I put this? - he appeared to have a very big carrot down the front of his pants too.
‘Nyaaah, what’s up, Doc?’ he said to Maroon.
‘Package for Mr and Mr Cosifantutti,’ Maroon growled. His growl was returned and I noticed a large, wolf-like dog curled up at the base of the pyramid.
‘Eater!’ crowed Ayres. ‘Long time no see.’ It was his voice I’d heard thru the door. He was from Kenbraskansas and it showed in his accent and in his fondness for raw swampfish.
‘Kin ah killum now, Pappy? Kin ah? Kin ah?’ jabbered Barbudo, spittle spraying between the gaps in his front teeth and his wall-eyedness more pronounced than ever.
Pappy? Junior? ‘I thought you two were cousins,’ I said.
‘That, too,’ said Ayres.
Now Ayres and Barbudo are apt to use some mighty ripe language, and so rather than clutter up the text with dashes to censor all the curse words, from now on I’m going to use ‘flip’ and ‘shoot’ as substitutes for… well, I guess if you’re a man you’ll know the words I mean, and if you’re a dame, you won’t and you’ve not got no business knowing neither.
‘So what’s your game, Ayres?’ I asked. ‘The kidnappings, the hand amputations, the comic books, the Mafia business?’
‘Shoot, Eater, you always was a flippin’ nosy flipper,’ he spat. ‘But flip it, I might as well tell you.’ He pulled a mandolin from somewhere and began to pluck at it absently as he spoke. I never knew he played; he’d never mentioned it before.
‘El here and I are AKA Linguini and Ravioli Cosifantutti. We set this Mafia front up so the cops and the flippin’ Feds wouldn’t take us seriously and would leave us alone. Our business was wicker until recently. Still is, but the real money is in comic books. Eater, you’ve no flippin’ idea how much the underground comic book industry has taken off since you were involved. Every street in this city has its comic book junkies. Soon every household in America will. Back in your day we sold thru specialist outlets. Now we’re expanding to drugstores. Where kids go.’
‘You inhuman bounder!’ I yelled. I didn’t really yell that but I can’t print what I did yell, and this sounds kind of British and cool.
‘Flippin’ shuddup, you flippin’ shooter!’ shrieked Barbudo, spraying a burst from the end of his Tommy into the air. Ayres flipped him fondly under the chin.
‘But Pappy,’ said Barbudo, almost in tears, ‘there’s no nat’ralness to any of his comments or responses.’
Ayres continued. ‘With an increase in the market, there’s an increasing demand for harder, more realistic stuff. All those pictures you posed for, that’s so tame, so 1930s. And so we hit on the most brilliant flippin’ idea ever. Photorealism. You take a photo and get an artist to draw over it on tracing paper. The result: a super-realistic comic book.’
It made sense now. That was why they were kidnapping people, chopping their hands and feet off, shopping for individual body parts. They needed photos for their sick, violent strips. I needed a drink. JD, preferably, but Scottish would do.
‘Where’s my client, McShae?’ I asked. I feared the worst.
Ayres chuckled. ‘Right here.’ He made a movement with his hand. Two of his people went over to a door. I recognized one of them as the kick-boxing dame from Bo Khaki’s bar. Fat Mammy Cat, I think she was called. They emerged with a haggard-looking figure between them. McShae.
‘Hello, Foots,’ he said weakly. ‘You’ve aged.’
‘He was a real flippin’ catch,’ said Ayres. ‘He’s the best artist we knew, so he gives us a real edge over the competition. He refused to join us willingly, so we’ve had to use coercion. Also, he was bait to trap you, Eater.’
Something was nagging at a corner of my brain. The female voice on the phone just before Maroon had coshed me... As if she could read my thoughts, a woman stepped forward from the shadows. It was Sarah Laughs, and laugh she did.
It had been a set-up from the start. She’d sold her hubby to these guys and then had ‘hired’ me to lead me straight into the trap. Damn. I knew I should’ve expected a femme fatale somewhere along the line.
‘Why me?’ I asked.
‘Because, motherflipper,’ said Ayres, ‘you always died so well in the original Blunt Cogs strips, we wanted to capture your actual death on camera. Shoot, it’ll be our best selling issue ever, especially when it’s drawn by McShae.’
I was going to be glarked. Glarking meant decapitation, usually by ax, and El Barbudo had named it that after his dog Glark, who lay slavering now at the base of the pyramid. Rumor had it that Barbudo had such a fetish about decapitation because he was embarrassed about being such a redneck, and wanted to turn everybody else into one as well.
‘One last request,’ I said.
‘Smoke? Sure,’ said Ayres, and an attendant brought a package. I lit up three at the same time.
‘That wasn’t what I was going to ask for,’ I said between sucks. ‘Let it be anyone but Barbudo. I deserve better than that.’
‘J-s-s Chr-st! Flip!’ El Barbudo ejaculated. ‘Pappy, tell him to stop running away from who he is!’
That got me riled. Cussing I can deal with, but not the taking of our Lord’s name in vain. I’d also noticed that he had my Pussy tucked into his belt.
‘As it happens, Eater,’ said Ayres, ‘we’ve got something more spectacular lined up for your demise.’
He snapped his fingers and a large slab of the wall began to descend with a grinding, moaning noise. Blackness yawned beyond. And then there was a collective intake of breath as a huge figure shambled out. It was Bananas, the giant gorilla kidnapped from the city’s zoo. His one leg was manacled and from this a chain stretched back into his cell, so that he stopped short before he could reach the pyramid. His eyes were red and bewildered as though he’d been drugged. Even from where I was I could smell the wicker they’d doped him with.
A couple of goons had already set up the camera to one side, and now I felt gun barrels in my back, prodding me forward. The people in the room had formed a semi-circle and were beginning a rhythmic chant of glark, glark. The gorilla fixed his gaze on me and life flickered there in his eye. Life, and hate.
Behind me, Maroon hissed: ‘One is a phony buck!’
I lit a cigarette.
Having your head pulled off by a giant gorilla or being shot in the back – it’s not much of a choice, is it!
- Just finish the damn thing, will you.
- The double entendres are wearing a bit thin, aren’t they?
- Where can I get a handsome calfskin-bound collector’s edition of this story?
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Ref: your manuscript, The Drugstore Comic Book Incident
Thank you for furnishing us with the sixth instalment of your serial (more properly the seventh, as the episode titled Interlude is really an instalment in itself, as I suspect you well know). My colleagues and I feel we should remind you of certain conditions with which it is essential for you to comply if we are to publish the final instalment and indeed if we are even to consider publication of the entire story in book format.
1. Your contract specifies that you will include no more than three (3) jokes of a crude and/or sexual and/or scatological nature per instalment. In the sixth and most recent episode, we counted four (4) such jokes. Please note that we have drawn your attention to earlier violations of this contractual stipulation. Your response on those occasions, namely that ‘they’re the only thing people read the story for,’ was and continues to be unacceptable. Furthermore, the jokes have of late suggested an unusually high degree of fixation on the male masturbatory act. Please refer to our pamphlet, Guidance to Authors, specifically the sections titled ‘Variety - The Spice of Life’ and ‘The Pen, Not the Penis – Wholesome Solutions to Writer’s Block’.
2. The latest instalment contains a disquietingly large number of crass national stereotypes which could prove problematic from a marketing and indeed legal point of view. Please refer to the enclosed photocopy of the relevant section of the Race Relations Act (1975). We ask that you avoid such xenophobic caricaturing in the next episode. Also, please see our last memo as regards the correct use of ‘Scotch’ and ‘Scottish’.
3. Without wanting to cast doubt on your authorial skills, we must nevertheless express our concerns about the number of disparate plot strands and details that have been left unresolved or unexplained in your story thus far. It appears to us unlikely that you will be able to tie up these strands to the reader’s satisfaction in the one remaining episode, given your hitherto rather flexible approach to the concept of plotting. Please consider this carefully.
4. My colleagues and I are quite willing to engage in lively debate about matters of mutual interest with our clients, and indeed welcome such discussion as a healthy element in the artistic process. That said, your response to our memo to you last week is to our minds unacceptable. We feel strongly that your returning the letter with ‘You cornholing sons of bitches’ and ‘Bite me’ scrawled across it was inappropriate and unhelpful. Kindly desist from similar behaviour in the future.
C. Gaylord Ramsbottom
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
The Drugstore Comic Book Incident (VI)
Part six of seven in a thrilling new hardboiled noir serial.
My head jerked up as the sting of ice water arced across my face. I was on my hands and knees and must have been dozing. I was secured to the wall by a manacle clamped round my neck and attached to a three foot length of chain.
It was a ten foot square cube of a cell with damp walls and no windows and a single electric bulb hanging from a piece of flex in the ceiling. The light was always on, day and night, not that I could tell the difference. I had no idea how long I’d been down here. I’d woken up here, my head aching. I hadn’t seen Maroon since but I’d glimpsed him behind me in the moment before the blow to my head. I’d been set up. The woman with the naggingly familiar voice had kept me talking on the phone while Maroon had snuck up behind me.
There was some sort of air vent in the wall to my left and an old wooden door in the wall opposite me. Twice since I’d been here a man had come through the door. He was little, old and Italian by the look of it: greased down shiny black hair, a pencil mustache, a tendency to contextless hand gestures, and with a funny accent when he spoke, which he seldom did. Both times he’d come in to feed me, dropping a bowl of stuff that looked like congealed pond scum at my feet. It tasted like something you’d wring out of a dead wino’s underwear, but I ate it anyhow. I needed the protein.
Both times the little old man had been carrying an enormous shotgun, and he was carrying it now. From his other hand dangled a bucket with which he’d just doused me.
‘You-a wake-a up-a now-a,’ he said rudely. He wasn’t close enough that I could make a move on him but he was close enough that I could smell the garlic, and the wicker too. He pulled a towel out of his pocket and threw it at me, then disappeared out the door again. I wiped my face.
I blinked. To my left was a pair of beautiful, plump tits.
Except they weren’t tits, they were sparrows, and there was just one of them. I’d been there so long I was starting to see double. It was a female, and it must have flown in accidentally through the air vent, on the rim of which it now perched. Pity. I could have done with a carrier pigeon.
The door opened again and the old man tottered back in, lugging a camera and tripod as well as his gun. He deposited the bundle on the floor and started to set up the equipment. He was sweating from the exertion, and I noticed that his mustache was peeling off, as was the toupee he was wearing.
‘I know you,’ I said.
‘You-a no-a talk-a,’ he snarled, in an accent I now recognized as incorporating elements of Scotch.
The toupee flopped off entirely to reveal a bald, gnarled, liver-spotted pate. It was Knudsen. He worked at the Glory Hallelujah Hole, the most decadent nightclub in town. I was there once on a case and they had this jazz band, except what they were playing wasn’t jazz. They all had long hair and weird guitars that were plugged into the wall and which they ritually smashed at the end of thir performances. One of the players was even wearing a schoolboy’s uniform. The Anachronisms, I believe they called themselves.
‘How’s it hanging, Knudsen?’ I asked, chuckling at my wit. Knudsen worked as a stripper and table dancer at the club. Like I said, it’s a sordid joint.
He glared at me, then laughed nastily. ‘Och aye the noo, ah suppose there’s nae point in keeping up thae pretence any longer, seeing how yoo’re nae gonna leave heer alive anyhoo.’ He crouched under the cloth hood, checking the light settings but levelling the gun at me at the same time.
‘In that case you might as well tell me what’s going on here,’ I said. ‘Why are you trying to pass yourself off as an Italian?’
‘Hoots mon, thae Mafia thing is just a front,’ he said cryptically.
‘And why are you taking a photo of me?’
‘That’s enough exposition for noo, laddie,’ he said. He jacked a shell into the breech of the shotgun.
The fat little sparrow rose shrieking into the air, startled by the noise. Knudsen glanced up at it just as it was directly above him, and it unloaded a great runny stream of white and yellow ordure into his face.
He gave a roar and stumbled forward, blinded. I grabbed at him, the restraining chain round my neck pulled taut, and got a hold of the barrel of his shotgun. I tugged harder and harder on his enormous weapon and it discharged against the ceiling. He faltered, disoriented by the noise of the blast, and I punched his lights out.
He had the key to the manacle in his pocket and I freed myself and took the shotgun (though I would have preferred Pussy) and locked him in the room. I had to move fast because the sound of the blast was bound to alert somebody. Thru the door was a corridor running left and right. From somewhere in the building came a drawn-out scream. If my blood was warm it would have curdled.
The sparrow was flying down the corridor and I figured it had some instinct for the way out so I followed. It felt like I was underground. Doors led off from the passage and there were small windows in some of them. Despite myself I stopped and peered into one of them, curious.
A red-haired young man was strapped on his back on a table. Two men stood over him, one of them anonymous-looking and operating a camera on a tripod, the other poised with an enormous butcher’s cleaver in his hand, about to bring it down. I fired thru the window. The blast caught the camera man in the back and flung him against the wall. I kicked open the door and started to reload but the guy with the cleaver was swinging it down and I brought my hand up instinctively and grabbed his fist. With expert rhythmic movements of my wrist I worked at his huge chopper until I achieved its release. I threw it in a corner and prodded him with the shotgun.
He was ruddy-faced with tiny round glasses and dressed in shiny black boots and lederhosen with a sausage sticking out of his pocket. ‘Gott in Himmel! Achtung! Schweinhund! Raus! Schnell! Scheisse!’ he shouted.
The guy strapped to the table said weakly, ‘I think he’s trying to be Italian, but he hasn’t quite got the hang of it.’
I undid the guy’s straps and he sat up and rubbed his wrists. For the first time I noticed that his left hand was missing and the stump bandaged. He told me his name was Joe K’Mayall, the kid Sam Bride was looking for. He’d got mixed up in the seamy wicker underworld and had gone to the Wicker Universe store to meet his dealer, but had been kidnapped and brought here. He’d been photographed in all kinds of bizarre situations: being menaced by a large dog, dressed in women’s underwear, and yesterday, having his hand chopped off. He had no idea why.
The man with the chopper had fainted so I couldn’t question him. I gave him a kick to make me feel better and looked at K’Mayall, but he shook his head. ‘Let’s go,’ he said. I searched the man for cigarettes but dammit, there weren’t any. I was desperate, so I ended up smoking his sausage.
In the corridor my new friend the sparrow was waiting, and she took off as soon as we emerged. We rounded a bend –
- and cold steel pressed against my temple, too close for me to bring up the shotgun. The voice was like the opening of a crypt door.
Dr Maroon. ‘You’ve put on weight,’ I said.
He had two goons with him. Beside me, K’Mayall slumped, looking defeated. They divested me of the shotgun and jabbed us forward with their own pieces.
It was an old trick but I tried it anyhow. ‘Say, Maroon, what’s the difference between a counterfeit dollar and a thin prostitute?’
He smiled unpleasantly. ‘That’s not going to work on me any more.’
Maybe, maybe not. I had to hope that the riddle would torment him on some unconscious level, and thereby distract him. It might be my only chance.
‘Where are we going?’ I asked.
His face was like the Siberian tundra after an atomic war. ‘The bosses would like to see you now.’
Don't miss the thrilling finale!
1. Which characters aren't what they seem?
2. Will Glark feature?
3. What's the punchline to the riddle and will anyone give it away in the comments beforehand?