Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chapter Six

Haven't written anything for the Doktorling for a while but here's an episode from a few years ago.

“You can’t bring that into my pub!” Ed growled. He had changed T-shirts. The new one was marked out in lines which divided his chest into Chuck, Brisket, Blade, Thin Rib, Thick Rib, Sirloin, Skirt and Flanks.

“Bring what? Ai, ai, aiKIdo!” Coleridge was a sneezing picture of innocence.

“That dog. That long-haired scruffy thing stumbling around at the end of that piece of string.”

Porlock fumbled in a top pocket for his cigarette case. He had been seated at the bar for some time, watching Polly playing with a set of cuff-links. “You will have to be more specific than that,” he pointed out.

“The scruffy long-haired thing on the other end of the string from Coleridge.”

“Ah, that dog,” Coleridge admitted. “I will have you know that Lassi here is a Nepalese Curry Hound, of the finest pedigree, borrowed from an Indian restaurant. Kunggg…FU!”

“Let me remind you of the ‘No Dogs’ rule in my pub, a rule which I enforce with unbending severity, because otherwise people would bring in talking dogs. And that would lead inevitably to a veritable plague of talking animal jokes.”

“You mean the one about the gorilla who walks into a bar and asks for a banana daiquiri?” said Coleridge. “Karate! Judo!”

“Exactly. Jokes like that.” Polly decided against saying anything, even a squawk. She abandoned the cufflinks so as to focus on looking lonely and pathetic.

“Jiu-jitsu! Or the horse who goes into a bar, and the barman asks…”

“No-one wants to hear that joke, Mr Coleridge.”

Porlock was wondering when Coleridge had developed this interest in martial arts. Having found the cigarette case at last, he flipped it open and took out a black glossy cylinder. “How about the one about the blond who walks into a bar with a frog on the top of her head?”

“That’s quite enough of that,” said Ed. “And I will not be responsible for my actions if anyone so much as mentions the joke about the duck who wants a bag of nails.” He threatened the detectives with a cocktail swizzle-stick. “Mr Porlock, you’re no better than your friend,” he added, pointing the swizzle-stick at a No Cigarettes sign. “You can put that away – this is a non-smoking bar.”

“It’s OK,” said Porlock cheerfully. “It’s not a cigarette.”

“Kendo! What is it, then?” Coleridge wanted to know.

“A dried leech.” Porlock held his lighter to the end. It is barely possible to describe the resulting smell, but only by using technical words from medical dictionaries.

Ed’s voice was muffled – but still recognisable as a growl – as he leaned forward with elbows on the bar to bury his face in his hands. “Go away, both of you; and take that dog with you. It is not allowed in my bar.” The dog tried to growl back but she could not manage Ed’s authentic level of anger.

“Judo! Tae-kwondo! Tai CHI!” Coleridge stifled a paroxysm of sneezes as the acrid aroma of burning leech reached his nostrils. “But by law, you cannot ban a seeing-eye dog or other personal-assistance animal from these premises, since that would violate the rights of disabled customers.”

“Clause 16(b) of the Hoteliers and Publicans Act of 1953,” Porlock added helpfully, confident in the knowledge that no such law existed, so no-one could contradict him.

“The only disability affecting either of you is your total lack of common sense. Neither of you is blind or deaf. Am-Tuat! Now you’ve got me doing it. Please remove that motley canine of uncertain ancestry from my bar, take her back to the hearth-rug museum or wherever she came from before she disgraces herself… bugloss, too late.”

“Lassi is my tasting-tongue dog!” declared Coleridge, with an air of triumphant dignity, which he practiced in private by reading aloud the letters he had written to the Christchurch Press. “Now you’ve scared her; I hope you’re ashamed of yourself.” His dignity lasted only until his next tissue-shredding outburst of “Tae-KWONdo!”
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Coleridge weaved a path between various empty tables and chairs to the table of his choosing. Porlock headed in the same direction, abandoning his seat at the bar… the space was immediately taken by a backpacker in sandals who wanted a closer look at Polly’s cage.12 Ed also followed. He knew that hearing the details behind Coleridge’s excuse would take more time than he had to spare, but he was interested despite himself. He was detained at the bar for as long as it took to strain the bubbles from a pint, and pour a white wine for the backpacker, but he reached the table at the same time. Lassi was behaving as dogs are supposed to… trotting away to investigate whether interesting spills in the corners needed her own contribution, tripping over her own ears, then running back to Coleridge and lashing his legs together with her lead by orbiting him like a coin spiralling down a funnel.

“Since when have you needed a ‘tasting-tongue’ dog?” Porlock wondered as he seated himself.

“Since the other night on the golf course, when I caught this cold. Not that your production of noxious fumes has helped my sense of smell. Tai CHI! Pass me that saucer.”

Porlock scooped the last half-dozen peanuts from the saucer and slide it across the table. “I’ve never heard of ‘Am-Tuat’,” he complained as Ed arrived.

“It was a standard form of self-defence in ancient Egyptian,” Ed insisted. “Passed down from Pharaoh to Pharaoh. Defeat your opponent armed only with an ankh and a ceremonial flail.” He placed the pint glass in front of Coleridge, and glared accusingly at the dog, who was in turn staring longingly at the peanuts as they disappeared into Porlock’s mouth. What the peanuts were looking at is not recorded. Coleridge gazed into the depths of the beer.

His next actions astonished everyone. Instead of filtering half the glass straightaway through his moustache like a whale straining krill though its baleen, he tipped its contents into the saucer. Porlock and Ed were struck dumb as he lowered the saucer carefully to floor level. Consequently we will never hear Ed’s explanation of how the secrets of Am-Tuat were recorded in a unique papyrus (inscribed by Pharaoh Apop-Tosis III in person) which was passed down through the millennia until it came into the possession of the N’Bro family, before they emigrated to Christchurch.13

Lassi sniffed the beer, took a few tentative slurps, and sat up stiffly while she considered its flavour. She placed an emphatic paw on the saucer’s rim, spilling its contents across the floor, where they briefly formed a puddle in the shape of the head of the Virgin Mary, before trickling though the gaps in the floorboards.

Ed said nothing but returned to the bar to fill the saucer from a different tap, labelled ‘Pooter’s Porter’. In the meantime, the tourist had been making friends with Polly. Now she finished her wine, collected her backpack and left, stopping to ask Ed for directions to the nearest pet-shop.
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This time, once Lassi had lapped from the saucer with so much splashing that the sound could have been used to advertise swimming-pools, she sat up and nodded with enthusiasm. She had forgotten to reel her tongue back into her mouth, so it flapped around like a wet sock. She crouched down to finish the saucer, then staggered several steps sideways before rolling over and going to sleep under the table with her paws in the air. Porlock retrieved the empty saucer to use as an ashtray for the butt of his dried leech.

Ed offered an excuse for the first beer: “I’m beginning to think that the tap is possessed. Sometimes it won’t pour at all – nothing comes out but froth and farty noises. Sometimes it pours but the beer tastes like old ropes.”14

“You have a portergeist!” exclaimed Coleridge.

“I saw that in a movie once!” said Porlock. “Is the pub built on top of an old graveyard?”

“It could be a ghost left over from the days of the Killing Jar theatre,” said Coleridge. “Acting must be a high-risk occupation… no theatre is complete without its own ghost.”

Porlock thought about this. “I think that’s supposed to be cats.”

“No, being a cat isn’t dangerous at all.”

“Then why do they need nine lives?”

Coleridge shook his head. “That business about nine lives, and nine tails, is a metaphor.”

“A metaph or what? I don’t believe that ‘metaph’ is a real word. You’re making it up.”

Ed decided to intervene in the argument: “A Metaph is a kind of angel. A Metaph ranks lower than a seraph in the heavenly hierarchy, but higher than a cherub.” Again he ambled back to the bar to collect a pint for Coleridge from the second tap, leaving the detectives to continue their discussion of how well an exorcist could cope with a haunted beer-tap.

Talk of exorcism somehow reminded Porlock of green slime, which in turn reminded him... “Do you really have a cold?” he asked.

“To tell the truth,” said Coleridge. “I think I’m allergic to Lassi.”

“That must be why you stopped sneezing as soon as she fell asleep.”

“I’m sure she’s going to be a great asset in detection work. Well-developed sense of smell, and all that – in Nepal, of course, her breed are used to sniff out raw naans. They also hunt the wild tikkas. Hence her stumpy little legs, all the better for crawling down burrows.”

Ed had returned in time to hear this. “So you don’t really need a ‘tasting-tongue’ dog!”

“Oops. Hi, Ed. I did not realise you were in earshot.”

The last word puzzled Porlock. “Earshot? I had always imagined that to be something like grapeshot… from Caribbean buccaneering, or the Napoleonic days of battles at sea. ‘Load the cannons with earshot, Midshipman Leafblower, and we’ll clear the decks of Frenchies!’ ‘Aye-aye, First Mate!’ That sort of thing.”

Ed was happy to correct him. “Not at all… it means being close enough to someone else’s private conversation to hear what they’re saying about you, and your ears turn hot with embarrassment.”

“This sounds like a familiar experience,” Coleridge muttered.

Ed took no offence. “What’s that? I couldn’t hear over the snoring of your dog.”

Reminded of Lassi, Porlock glanced under the table. The sight concerned him. “Are Nepalese curry hounds supposed to swell up when they’re asleep?”

“Oh yes.” Coleridge was quietly confident about this. “That way they block the burrow, and stop the tikkas slipping out past them.”

“It’s nothing to do with the beer?”

“No. If beer caused swelling, imagine what it would have done to me by now.”

“And when they swell, is it normal for little spines to stick out in all directions?”

Coleridge leaned sideways in his seat to look under the table, while Ed crouched down.15 There was a moment’s silence. Then Ed and Coleridge spoke together:

“Owning a possessed dog is a big responsibility… they need regular exorcise…”

“That must be to stop the desperate tikkas from pushing them back out…”

“The liver is the poisonous part – remember to remove every fragment when you eat her.”

They looked around at the third speaker who had entered the pub silently.
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12. It reminded her of the Taj Mahal (if the Taj Mahal had been a wire-frame model rather than constructed out of marble). Or it might have been the Brighton Pavilion.

13. For a small payment – barely enough to cover expenses – Ed’s brother is willing to take on pupils and give them Am-Tuition in these invaluable techniques of self-defence.

14. The truth is that he knew the beer in the first keg had gone off two days ago, and was fit for nothing except removing hard-to-shift bathroom stains. All the same he had nurtured hopes of selling some of it, since Coleridge normally didn’t know any better.

15. They came close to bashing their heads together, which would have ended up with them both lying senseless on the floor while Lassi licked their faces and Porlock drank the beer, but fortunately this is not the kind of story that resorts to crude horseplay for laughs.

6 comments:

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Haven't written anything for the Doktorling for a while

I look forward to the anthology, A Child's Garden of Smut.

“Lassi is my tasting-tongue dog!”

Bravo!

Instead of filtering half the glass straightaway through his moustache like a whale straining krill though its baleen

Bravissimo!

Smut Clyde said...

A Child's Garden of Smut.

That would be "The Garden of Feckin' Paths".

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I guess Lassi rode home on her bicycle (when she sobered up)?
~

Substance McGravitas said...

“A Metaph is a kind of angel. A Metaph ranks lower than a seraph in the heavenly hierarchy, but higher than a cherub.”

They are short, those cherubs.

Another Kiwi said...

Good to see that Pooters Porter has had the usual effect. Lassi will be free of internal parasites

tigris said...

I love these. Also, I want that t-shirt.