A Lusty Cup Of Bliss

A Novella.

34. Sleepwalking Through Fire

“Hey, fella! Hey! Hey! Buddy! Wake up! Hey! Hey! What the – ? Is he dead?” Guttersnipe bonked a little old man on the head.

The bonk woke him up.

“Whassamatta?”

“Wedding bells, Old Geezer, can’t you hear them? You know what that means? I mean, besides a bit of foolishness that will end in heart break.”

“Piss off!” said Old Geezer laying his head back down in the dust, “I’m sleepin’.”

“Just get up, would you? And unlock the doors, the wedding party will be here in fifteen minutes and we need to prepare.”
“Who are you?”
“Part of the wedding party – bartender to be specific. He delivers pizza, I’m the bartender and you, unfortunately, are the keeper of the key. Cleverly explained?”
Old Geezer strained his head off the ground and did a quick half nod, “Mmm.”
“Now that we’ve established identities we can thrive on, let’s get the door open.”
“Sleepin’, I said.” Old Geezer collapsed his head back into the dirt.
“Look! Hey! Look!” Guttersnipe kicked Old Geezer’s foot. “The bride will be furious if you don’t let me in and believe you me, she knows how to deal with people that upset her. You’ve heard of Gwen, huh? Gwen, the Bashing Bride? C’mon, give us the key.”
“Alright, alright,” said the old man rising off the ground in front of the Babylon night club entrance, “but I’ve never heard of her.” He yawned and did a tiptoey stretch.
“Aarggh! Put your arms down, quick!” yelled Guttersnipe.
“Smells like you just kicked a dead dog, old feller,” said Brynn sympathetically.
“‘Geezer’, ye bastard, ‘Old Geezer’. ‘Feller’ is my brother’s name. We’re always being mistaken for each other. Blame our mother, I suppose…” His voice trailed off as he searched his pockets for a key.

Vinnie screamed blue murder from the box on the bike.

“Good nose on that cat,” said Brynn.
“I think he just wants out,” Guttersnipe waved a finger towards the bike, “D’you mind? And untie him from that stupid car.”
“Okey-dokey, my lad, one freed-up cat coming up. Here, kitty kitty, come to Uncle Brynn, darlin’.”
The box, though not airtight, held back most of world’s light. Vinnie wasn’t afraid of the dark, but he was sure hot and uncomfortable. Plus he hated Brynn because he called him ‘darlin’.
“Time to slay the beast,” said Vinnie.
With outstretched arms and grotesque, smiling face, Brynn opened the box and yelled for Vinnie to come to Uncle. Vinnie was out in a flash, scratching Brynn with unbelievable anger.
Brynn thought Vinnie to be happy to see him and tried cuddling the cat. Vinnie, in possession of a first-rate dentist, bit down hard and cracked Brynn’s nose like eggshell lobster claws. Brynn didn’t like it and tried to protect himself by squeezing Vinnie really hard ’til he collapsed in Brynn’s arms.
“Now let’s get this motorcarriage off your body. Sheesh, pussycat, what a fuss you are.”
Brynn released Vinnie from his motorized flower bed and took him into Babylon. Vinnie reluctantly relaxed a bit and thought that maybe Brynn was okay. He started purring, and rubbing himself affectionately against Brynn’s trouser legs. Brynn was immediately enchanted and mooned all over the place, rubbing Vinnie’s nut, stroking his chin, and altogether giving Vinnie a good tickle.
“I could get used to this.” Perhaps Vinnie had found a new owner.
“Such a nice pussy…….CAT,” warbled Brynn.
“God! He’s serenading me.”
Vinnie thought on it a moment and decided to test the limits of ownership. He went absolutely berserk with affectionate rubbing, miaowing at the top of his lungs.
“Let’s see what Uncle Brynn does for this little sideshow. Heh, heh.”
Brynn howled with laughter, “Damned clever of me not to wear my velveteen trousers, eh, boyo? And so I ask you,” he yelled, picking up Vinnie and getting an affectionate tail-whipping on his eyes, “is pussycat hungry?”
Vinnie stopped cold. “He did it, he did the owner thing and offered food to me! I love this guy! No more Gwen, can you believe it? Oh happy day, you blessed cat! Oh happy day!”

Gwen and the wedding party were en-route via the obligatory waterfalls photo session to the reception hall .
“Cheh, cheh! Wan, two, tree! Cheh!

Inside Babylon the Rusks were already doing sound checks.
Guttersnipe’s eyes bulge in brief confusion before clouding over in deliberate ignorance.
“Get dem Tapir bah from de drums, eh? Get dem behine de stage na! Cheh! Wan! Two! Cheh! Cheh!”

Bob was all for Barney standing in for Eric as Eric bounced around looking for bargains in the markets, but he had to contain his ‘children’, especially during the gig. Barney had promised that they would be snug in the bus luggage nets right after the sound check but he hadn’t planned on Old Geezer checking up on the goings on and inadvertantly releasing them into the streets of Dar es Salaam.

Bob would later write a humorous song about the incident and become famous through Eric Clapton’s rendition of ‘I Shot The Sheriff’. “Someting from someting,” said Bob in a subsequent interview for a popular British pop music magazine. “Dat’s what Socrates rap about to ‘is frens. I an’ I dig de man, ye know? Intelligent. Not like de tapirs.”
“Yes but did you ever get the cheque cashed?”
“Um… but me need some identification wid a photo,.” he apologized, “so I use me passport. Yeah.”

In a dizzying run at the door, lummoxy even by tapir standards (leaping at menacing coloured lighting gels, attacking fuzz pedals, and chewing threatening microphone cables), the hardy but dim tapirs bolted through Old Geezer’s legs in a whirlwind of emotional outbursts the second they saw daylight.
Barney was not happy.
Nor Old Geezer, who’d given the most emotional outburst of the lot since it was his legs that had gotten bruised.

The tapirs had escaped out the door, ploughing immediately into the wedding party, sending Leo head-over-heels into the closing limo door. He chacked his thumb and howled in agony. The tapirs thought he was courting them and followed suit. The photographer kept the camera whirring and got some brilliant shots of the tapirs standing on two legs a few seconds at a time and Leo clutching his swollen thumb, all the while in apparent chummy sing-song poses.
Gwen refused to pay for them but the local gossip rag forked out thousands.
Barney dashed out to get his ‘babies’ and collided with Gwen. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
“You!?”
“Gwendolyn! My love!”
“Leo, my husband,” she replied, gesturing at Leo flapping around on the ground with the Tapirs as back-up singers.
“Say it isn’t true! Please tell me you jest and that I’m the one you love! Please!”
“Those creatures belong to you?”
“Yes, yes, they are…but tell me you joke! Oomf!”
“I’ve wanted to do that for a longtime now,” said Gwen with skinned knuckles, “It’s good, ’cause now I won’t have to go see my therapist about you. Thanks. Now what the hell are you doing at my wedding?”
“Drummer. I’m the drummer for the band.” Barney rubbed his mouth. “But I had no idea it was for your…” Barney looked incredibly sad.
“I hope this won’t interfere with your drumming abilities.”
“No, I-“
“Professional, are you?”
“Absolutely professional, you bet.” Barney had snapped to a resolve to win back her heart and make her abandon her new husband in a fit of passion for Barney by being the best drummer ever to play at Gwen’s reception. Bit stupid really, since Eric wasn’t scheduled at all.
“Collect your animals and get to work then.”

It was a bit difficult to get the tapirs to stop humping Leo’s legs, but Barney soon enough had them up in their luggage racks, their minds fomenting dissent at having been rudely deprived of creating a namesake for themselves.
Like any other creature on earth, they wanted to be part of a loving family, and were willing to make one to feel such love. Plus it was mating season. They were starting to squirm again.

Barney started the bus and left it running. Tapir ecstasy! Barney went back to the club, leaving the tapirs to howl for nine straight hours then fall asleep after the bus ran out of fuel.

For Barney, being at this wedding reception felt like last year; working a thirty hour shift at the office whilst filled to the brim with flu and flu medicine. Only this was more hallucinatory in content…Barney thumping out a reggae beat for Heartbreak Hotel and being forced to watch Gwen and Leo swirl in loving embraces across the flashing dance floor. Listening to Bob improvise through the Elvis songbook with a mixture of lyrics from his own songs felt at times a trifle sci-fi-ish. Barney thought he’d lose his mind, especially at such reggae inspired screams of “NA, WOMAN, NO CRY…I JUST WANNA BE YA TEDDY BEAR, NAH!”

Of course, Leo loved every second of it, yelling for an encore at the hybridized classic Jailhouse Rock/Jammin’ tune which lasted a full hour. An encore gladly given, taking the song to a total length of two hours, with a brief dedication of the second time around being given to Leo.

Leo had never felt so empowered.
Barney had never felt so lost.

Between sets Gwen threw down the gauntlet of diplomacy and introduced Barney to her new hubby. She insisted on a fast three rounds of tequila shots then ripped off Barney’s shirt and had a good laugh at the recounting of the tattoo story. Barney blushed and ran off to hide behind his drum kit.

The reception continued on long past the bus running out of fuel, much tequila being consumed and much blushing from Barney, who had become a bit of a celebrity because of his tattoo story. He met a wonderful girl who caused his image of Gwen to pale. He invited her round the bus once the gig had ended.
“To see my Tapirs.”
“Don’t you think you are rushing things just a bit?” she asked.
“No, not at all. As a matter of fact, they’re probably starving. I really have to go see them.”
“Starving?”
“The tapirs.”
“Tapirs?”
“Animals.”
“Pets?”
“More like children, really.”
“Oh.” She smiled and held out her hand.
Barney almost fainted from the thrill of it all. He walked with her for what seemed an eternity to the bus, his legs like blocks of barely solidified Jello. He felt vaguely confident about the future. He thought he’d take a chance on love and before he could really think about it, he’d invited her to dinner at his flat. She accepted. He was flabbergasted and backpedalled.
“Thing is, I don’t have a flat. Least, not in this country”
“Well, let’s get the paper and find you one, shall we?”
“Maybe even get a job, yes?”
“It would certainly help pay for the flat.”
“Yes.”
He was intensely excited at this new turn of events. The flames of love dimmed momentarily when he thought about work visas, but quickly flared high when he thought of the general lawlessness of this part of the world.
“Yes,” she smiled, feeling the excitement Barney felt at the prospects of settling down for a while. She blushed a little, and looked at the ground.
“I’d better tell Eric that he needs to start drumming again, hadn’t I?”
“Come on, then,” she replied, taking his hand and leading him back to the club. “Eric. He’s the one that likes to shop?”
“Mad for it. As you can probably see from our swollen bus.”
“Do you know what I like? I really like mango-sticky rice. It’s a sweet dish from Thailand.”
“Never had it.”
They stepped over Old Geezer holding a glass in each hand, rosy-cheeked, and sound asleep at last.
“I’ll make some for dessert.”
“Great.”

Wine-stained and missing portions of her apparel but not giving a damn, Gwen was foetal-positioned, sleeping on a table.

Leo was face to face with Bob; who were involving themselves in a medley. Bob singing and Leo banging out noises from an electric bass guitar. Leo had just given Bob another large money cheque for singing a Bob Dylan song, a Neil Sedaka Song, and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” classic. Which, incidentally, was the one to cause Gwen to curl up on her round banquet table, not, as the rest of the wedding party had done, fold up at the sounds of Neil Sedaka.
Our musical duo were rehearsing ‘til they got it right.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry!”
“Ney problem, na, Leo. Ye got ta be relassed wid ye fingers, aye? Like dis.”
“Relassed. Relassed, ye, mon, relassed,” Stressed Leo, hoping to catch a relaxed Farley vibe if he imitated Bob’s Jamaican accent.
“There’s Eric with his new t-shirt. I’ll be right back,” said Barney.
Larissa clasped her hands and sat in a chair to wait.

Eric was holding hands with Doris.
Doris sported the exact same style of t-shirt that Eric wore, and both had that vacant stare of freshly hatched lovers.
Old Geezer slept at the foot of the table on which Gwen slept.
Bob and Leo rehearsed and smoked gnarly big spliffs. One each. Leo’s wedding gift of Earl Grey tea was getting cold. Bob’s Red Stripe beer was already warm.
Guttersnipe was puzzled. He pulled Doris aside.
“I just got paid, didn’t I?”
“You were her bridesmaid?”
“I met Eric and decided to go shopping instead.”
“Oh, sure. Leave me to suffer the whole night -“
“I went to the wedding and that was enough, and as for us, well, now there’s Eric.”
“Yeah, we would never work out,” Guttersnipe said all too quickly.

Things went quiet for a moment as they reflected on the day. Barney stepped up to Eric and told him what was on his mind. Guttersnipe smiled affectionately at Doris, who smiled back.
“Pretty funny with Vinnie, wasn’t it?” he said.
“I got pictures of Gwen operating the remote control.”
“Love to see them some time.”
“I put them in for developing already.”
“God! I just love that cat!”
Guttersnipe paused for a millisecond then went for the throat. “So you like this Eric gent?”
“Nice enough, I suppose.”
“I’d like to meet him. What does he do?”
“He’s the drummer in Bob’s band.”
“But I thought?”
“He and Barney have an arrangement. “
“Musical?”
“Oh shut up.”
“What? It’s funny!”
“It’s a lame joke, mildly amusing because I’m dead tired.”
“Ah. So… now what,” said Guttersnipe looking for the just-add-water-denouement to Doris’ tale.
“I dunno. Let’s ask Eric.”
Moments later Doris was in tears.
Eric felt compelled to stay with the band until they found another drummer. Barney and his damned nesting instinct. He was leaving the band. So they couldn’t go shopping tomorrow.
Doris blamed Barney for her crumbling love life and dealt him a violent blow to the head. Larissa, spun Doris around and dealt her the same. Though they saw Barney and Doris knocked cold, neither Bob nor Leo heard a thing over their guitar playing. They raised their eyebrows to each other, their drinks, then the volume on their amplifiers.
“If ye wannta be a professional musician, Leo, ye must be wit-ouh distraction. Meditate, I an I say.” screamed Bob.
“Or turn up the volume!” Leo screamed back.
“True enough, na,” laughed Bob. “But block out dese tings aroun ye.” He waved his arms around, “Dat’s de lesson.” Then, as if he’d judged the content of what he’d just said and had himself agreed to its wisdom, Bob looked over at the dazed couple climbing to their feet, thumped out an extra hard riff on his guitar and nodded, “Yeh, man.”

33. Jug Lugs

Roger knew his ears were a bit on the big side but living with that realization all his life didn’t make it any easier to hear names like Jug Lugs appointed to his lobes.

It hurt his feelings no matter what age he was. Age. He couldn’t remember how old he was. Was he such-and-such an age or was he years older? He was trying to remember because right at the moment he wasn’t sure if he felt really old for having no energy left, or really young for being so naive. He was shocked and angry and hurt and confused and bewildered and vengeful and weepy and didn’t know which one of these feelings he wanted dealt with first. What he really needed was an explanation.
“It better be a damned good one.”
“What do you mean?” asked Maddox defensively.
“I mean this is no coffee plantation, and Jim isn’t sick with cancer, and these guys,” he pointed at the party progressing around the jeep, “aren’t murderous jackals, they’re idiots dragged into some bully’s idea of playing warlord. None of this is what it seems, Maddox, there’s no silver – right?, no coffee plantation – right?, no sickness and death – well, three or four now – right? What am I doing here? What’s your explanation? And you can make it really interesting by skipping the lies for once.”
“I see,” said Maddox, “Caught at last. Well, simply put, we mistook ‘nice’ for ‘gullible’.”
“What does that mean? -” Roger started to say.
“Let me explain, Maddox,” Jim jumped in. “Well, … well … Roger… there … is a coffee tree here, we’re standing under it. Look, Roger, those pods, they’re ripe now, you could pick them and roast the beans inside and have a really great cup of coffee… I’ve tried some, believe me…. But, but … yes, …yes…well …this is … kind of difficult …Maddox?”
“Difficult.”
“Difficult …”
“Practice makes perfect,” said Roger sarcastically.
Jim’s temper flared. “Yes, yes, well, maybe I don’t want to tell you anything, you floppy-eared barf bag, so why don’t …”
“I flex a bit of muscle? Is my rifle big enough to get your attention?” said Roger pulling a weapon from behind the coffee tree. “So why don’t I what? Get a nose job for my ears? Shoot you through the head at close range? What? I need just a bit of help from you, Jim. What should I do?”
A cold clammy sweat was on Jims’ hands and face. He was scared speechless.
“I’m listening, Jim.”
“How about an explanation, Roger? No lies, no stalling, if you’ll just put down the rifle, lad …” put in Maddox.
“An explanation, Jim, did you here that? Yes, please, Maddox, why don’t you give me one.” said Roger taking aim at Jim’s head. “I’m all ears.”
“Yes, all ears.” Jim attempted a conciliatory laugh but it came out all wrong. “An explanation from Maddox, my little brother. Yes, Maddox?”
“Business partner,” said Maddox to Jim before turning to Roger, “We’re not brothers, we are business partners, Roger – full on, no lies.”
Roger’s eyes widened slightly but not too much, he was getting used to endless surprises.
“No silver, no cancer, no coffee plantation. You’re right about that. What there is here is a sanctuary from the law. American. They’re chasing us down ’cause we’ve done a bit of pilfering from one of their more megalomaniacal software companies.
“Why drag me into it. What are we doing out here?”
“Well, because I thought you could use two million American dollars to cheer you up. “
“How much?”
“I discussed it with Jim a while back and we decided that if things got a bit out of order here we’d cut in some help for two percent of the net payback on the job. The only reason we had to get Jim out was the Yanks were on to us; found out about Jim’s whereabouts and are probably headed this way to retrieve their software.”
“Who told you that?”
“The powers that be, the ones paying for the whole thing. So we had to use any means possible to get this little piggy to market.” Maddox waved a disk briefly above his head before returning it to a pocket deep in his jacket. “See, we took this really brilliant little holographic cube that’s got the potential to give certain business clients the edge in the computing world. It’s a radically new operating system with detailed instructions on new material combinations for a dazzling little sort-of-microchip set. It’ll revolutionize the world of computing as we know it. Ever heard of ‘nanotechnology’? Well, this goes one better than that. It has the potential to create the consummate monopolistic corporation. Inside job, of course, and, if I don’t mind saying so, we’re the masterminds making a few dreams a reality. The whereabouts of the code is right here on the cube. The only existing copy, I might add.”
“You mean you don’t actually have the data? All this is for an address book?” said Roger. He was confounded. Truly surprised.
“Ah, that’s the genius! You see there were about fifty people working on the project, all of them working on one portion of the data, codified and buried deep in the world wide web. This floptical disk has the bookmarks for the locations of this data. Now, others involved in this project have bookmarks of their side of things but what we have in addition to the bookmarks is the passwords for breaking the add-on security of the files. No one else has these.”
“How do you know? What about the project leader, there surely must be one, and he -“
“Or she,” said Maddox.
“Or she”, added Roger, “would have all of the information required to piece it all together. What’s to stop him-“
“Or her,” said Maddox.
“Or her,” added Roger, “from changing the whereabouts of each part of the data, or even just changing the passwords?”
“Because she’s dead. We made a little visit to get the cube and the project leader, lovely woman; Agnes, I think her name was, – who, incidentally, was the only one to know of all the passwords because she created them – happened to put up resistance and …”
“And?”
“She fought with Jim to stop him sending a virus down her chains of communication, corrupting the various virtual backup copies she’d made, leaving only the version on this cube and the one on her hard drive, which we data-zeroed during a reformat. So that’s it!”
“You said she was dead.”
“Oh, yes. She struggled with Jim to stop the virus thing from happening and he shoved her away from him. She banged her head on a coffee table and cut her eye and that was it.”
“She bled to death?”
“No, she started screaming in pain so I shot her, poor beast.”
“So why not just kill me?”
“Well, because you’re a lovable sort, Roger, and despite having large ears, we think of you as one of us. Now all we have to do is get the cube delivered and then we can go home a little bit weary but a lot richer. And we can help you have that feeling of being rich, Roger. We’re going to give you some of the money for your invaluable assistance… and please don’t look at me like that. Mind this: they were getting close, so we had to think of something, we decided that Jim should lay low with the cube and I’d run off as the decoy, a wild goose chase, then once we’d given them the slip, I’d return and get Jim out, and head on to our final destination. B.K. was a complete idiot – one who took himself seriously, we admit that, but a fool nonetheless.”
“Why did he go along with the coffee plantation ruse when it’s something you made up?”
“Good question. We just don’t know. I sort of think he may have been deluded. A bit mental, as the saying goes. Maybe it was just another form of playacting for him. This time, he was given a role rather than choosing one. Who can say? He’s dead and I’m not his psychiatrist. I’m sorry he got killed but it wasn’t exactly our fault. We knew that if the Americans figured out the wild goose chase and doubled back to this location, B.K. would put up resistance enough to allow us some measure of time to piss off out the back way, so to speak. It appears that this little plan B won’t be working at all, so now we have to get out of here with Bembol’s help..”
“What’s the final destination?”
“Malaysia.”
“Why?”
“Certain big players have interests in that region.”
“Who?”
“Can’t say… We don’t really know. I could hazard a guess, but there’s no point.”
“I see,” said Roger.
“Two million sound like a fair trade for your troubles?”
“Yeah, that’ll be just fine,” he said. “Yeah, two million. American dollars?”
“Good stuff, Roger, I knew you were a stand-up bloke. Yes, American dollars. C’mon, let’s catch our ride into town.”
“I’m aiding and abetting known felons. Interpol will shred me to pieces if they catch me.”
“If they catch you.”
“Exciting, isn’t it?” said Jim. “There’s a movie in this, you know! Exciting industrial espionage, exotic travel and adventure, high stakes and heartpounding tension, and heroes…handsome ones…risking all for fortune…getting the girl! Who’d play me, do you think?” said Roger excitedly.
“I’ve always wanted to be an actor. Perhaps I could play me!”
“Hopefully not,” Maddox said drily.
“Don’t think I can get the girl? What?” yelled Roger all irate. “Not handsome enough for your cinematic tastes? Rude, Maddox! Very rude!”
“It’d mean we’d been caught.”
“What? Oh. Yes, I see what you mean.” Roger was all deflated but after a quick rethink got real chipper again. “I guess I’ll just have to settle for the two million, yes?”

Everybody smiled. Then Roger frowned.
“No double crosses, right Maddox? Fair and square with me from now on, right?”
“Absolutely.” Maddox answered. “Absolutely.”
“I’ll leave the safety catch off just in case, though.” said Roger gripping the rifle in a more comfortable, ‘long-trip’ sort of way.
“Can’t blame you, old son.”
“Two million!” said Roger in a trance. “Think of all the lottery tickets I can buy with that amount of cash!”
“Not a bad compromise, eh, lad? Two million instead of a movie.” said Maddox to Roger before yelling out for Bembol’s attention.

In order to fully capture this attention, Maddox had to suggest a field trip of sorts to the local tavern in town, and a round of drinks for the whole gang, on him, Maddox, reluctant head of the Maddox fan club… in return for driving exceptionally fast to town.
“Deal,” beamed Bembol.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” said Maddox, “Thank you very much for everything, Bembol, my friend.”
“May I take a photo of you for the t-shirt?”
“Can’t do any harm,” replied Maddox. “But can it wait ’til we get to the tavern?”
CLICK!
“I wasn’t ready, Bembol, and I’ve probably got red eye. Can we do it again?”
“At the tavern?”
“Now, please.”

Bembol flashed a smile and pulled out his camera. He enjoyed teasing Maddox.

32. The Ties That Bind

Cockerels crow early in the morning to wake people up, that’s the misconception.

The reality is they are Nature’s alarm clock gone haywire, waking people up too early, jarring their nerves at breakfast time, sending them into blinding rages at lunch, exasperating them at dinner, and by bedtime temporarily breaking their spirits.

In an attempt to get back at these insidious creatures from hell, humankind almost simultaneously across the world claimed greater self-esteem by opening up fried chicken franchises. The good news in all of this is there’s a chicken (and rooster) shortage, however the bad news is that some lunatics feel the need for chicken farming, so we’ll all be prone to bad moods for some time to come.

The rooster crowing his lungs out on top of B.K.’s accelerating Jeep was whumped quickly from B.K.’s field of fire with B.K.’s rifle butt. Doing 40 miles per hour on a bumpy dirt road and trying to get a shot off at Maddox and crew wasn’t easy, but B.K. managed to get Roger’s head in his sights and squeezed the trigger.

Fate popped into the scene and whacked her heel into the road, creating a pothole. The jeep hit it full on. B.K. lost his footing and shot the jeep’s engine as he flew over the top of it. An alarming thud brought the jeep to a standstill. B.K. was under it.

From a bush nearby the rooster crowed triumphantly.

B.K.’s men prodded under the jeep with sticks and shoes, declaring at length the fact of B.K.’s death.
“Back at ya!” yelled Fate, making an awkward curtsey as she silenced the still-beeping pager.
Maddox, Roger and Jim had crept nearer the commotion.
“He’s dead. They’re saying he’s dead,” Jim whispered.
“Let’s see, shall we?” said Maddox. “Is he dead?” asked Maddox, stepping into view.
“Maddox!” yelled Bembol. “Hello! Yes! Dead!”

Fate made ‘happy’ fists and disappeared.

“Very sorry to hear that,” replied Maddox.
“Us, too!” smiled Bembol.
Jim and Roger hesitantly crept into view.
“What now?” said Maddox.
“More tree huts, perhaps! Professionally tailored costumes! Zorro for me!” cried Bembol, happily swishing the air with an imaginary sword.
“I mean us,” said Maddox, swinging his arms left and right to include Jim and Roger. Roger was gone. “Where’s Roger, Jim?”
“Gone up to B.K.’s fortress,” said Jim. “And I don’t know why,” he added, intercepting Maddox before he could ask the question.
“Well…,” said Bembol in a helpful way, “you could either give us a hand with the tree huts or we could give you a lift to town in the truck.”
“That’d be lovely, my friend.”
“Tree huts?” said Bembol, grinning ear to ear.
“Truck, I’m afraid.” Bembol nodded, “Can you hold on a bit while we revere Maddox?”
“Least we can do, right lads? Right, Jim?”
“Yup.”
“Lets collect Roger and get out of here, Jim.”
“What’s he doing up there anyway!?” Jim hissed.
“Bembol, we’re just popping up to get Roger, won’t be a minute.”
“You know where we’ll be,” replied Bembol. “Oh, and Maddox, sorry about that unfortunate incident earlier. If it’s any consolation, those peas do terrible things to my stomach.
“Glad to hear it,” laughed Maddox. “Shan’t be a moment in any case!”

Maddox and Jim started up the hill. Bembol turned to the Jeep and waved his hand ever so slightly for the others to move away from B.K.. He gingerly knocked B.K.’s head with the toe of his shoe.
“He’s dead.”

The others looked on with dropped jaws. Bembol knocked B.K.’s head once more.
“Definitely dead,” he said,” and climbed up into the driver seat of the defunct jeep.

The others followed Bembol with their eyes full of fear, jaws a little lower, their hearts desperate for hope. They needed Bembol’s guidance. Bembol held the steering wheel and looked down at the pedals on the floor. At great length he lifted his head to look at his compatriots.
“With the deepest respect to B.K,” he said solemnly, “Let’s party.”

The others screamed for joy and linked hands, dancing a full circle round their squashed but not forgotten ex-leader. Bembol jumped up, wiggling his bum in some sort of truncated tango, and leaned with all his musical weight on the jeep’s horn.
“Reverence, eh?” said Jim, at the gates.
“I quite disagree. Do them the world of good, I suspect,” replied Maddox. “That’s the trouble with the world these days, no time taken to stop and smell the roses. And whether we like it or not, B.K. is a rose of sorts. Those men are doing what comes naturally to them.”
“What?”
“Taking time to sniff B.K.”
“Are you serious?”
Maddox chuckled, “Of course not, but never mind. Come on, let’s get Jug Lugs and clear out.”

From up on high, Roger sharply lifted his head and watched with deadened eyes as Maddox and Jim approached.

For a split second Maddox wondered if Roger had heard the derogation aimed at him.

31. Downwardly Mobile

Dopey Dan was spooked.

A creature he could only describe to the local constabulary as “like the image of Death but with wobbly bits on the chestal area, possibly a lady-type monster” was out to get him for reasons he couldn’t discern.

The police refused to take him seriously since his idea of death certainly wasn’t theirs and so shunted him out the station in a brusque and timely manner, for who should pop into view but Fate herself; her hand wrapped in the tensor bandage, her mind wrapped around killing Dan for good this time.
“I spy!”
Heads spun around, mouths opened wide, Dan hid behind the police.
“With my little eye!”
Fate walloped the three police officers senseless.
“Something …beginning …with” she phrased each word with a step over the prone policemen, “‘rotten little Canadian bastard’!”
Dan ran screaming into the street and onto his skateboard.
Fate zig-zagged over the floored policemen, likewise dashing into the street.

An all-points-bulletin was placed as soon as Fate ran out the door. Sirens sprang to life as police cars whizzed in large arcs around the city in search of what looked like Death with wobbly bits ‘on the chestal area.’

Fate, determined to beat Dan at his own game, jumped on a skateboard of her own. She was much better at it than Dan, taking only seconds to be at an arm’s length from nabbing him by the scruff. Dan squinted at the hulking great chimera bearing down on him, stopped shrieking long enough to duck Fate’s swinging arms, lost his balance and crashed.
Fate sped over his legs and also crashed. She jumped up and thumped him square on the nose.
He was knocked cold.
“It’s about time, don’t you think!?” She pulled him up and was preparing to break his back in a sort of illegal wrestling hold when her pager went off. “Fuck!”
She bashed Dan to the ground and checked her pager.
Dan came around in a most restrained and partial way, aware only of Fate looming hazily over his groggy head. He painfully shambled his shoulders onto his skateboard and tried to make off as Fate tried shutting off her pager.
She caught all this in her peripheral vision and tried booting Dan’s muddled head as he rolled away from her. Glancing back to the pager, at the word “TIME” etched on the display, she groaned…then vanished.

30. Gentlecats, Start Your Engines!

From a beautiful spray of flowers next to his pulpit, the Priest lifted a slim remote control panel and pressed the “Go” button.

Clicking and whirring noises underneath Vinnie snapped his attention to the church and his predicament inside it. Strapped to a motorized toy car in a Super-Creature-Flying-pose and weighed down with flowers and wood glue, lay Vinnie, all doe-eyed and plaintive-like. His mood abruptly changed to terror when the car spun around the foyer of the church.

The alter boy charged with the task of opening doors for Vinnie’s grand entrance had to delay his task to put Vinnie right-side-up. Guests and Bridal party alike heard growing crashing noises behind them as the Priest blustered about with increased insecurity of his abilities to use the remote.

Gwendolyn stepped up to him and sharply whispered for him to stop clowning with it.
In utter panic he let go of all the buttons and levers, dropped the remote on Leo’s feet, hurriedly picked it up again, and hid it from view under his open Bible.

He placed the remainder of the ceremony in God’s hands and tried to relax.

This brief respite was long enough to introduce Vinnie, flower- cat and ring-bearer, to the wedding assemblage.

He was a disheveled horror. Lots of flowers had fallen off, leaving little tufts of pointy, glued cat hair.
He was sweating bullets of panic as evidenced by his unusually wet nose and drool from his stuck-out tongue.
One of his back legs had gotten free in all the thrashing about and it looked as though he were pedaling down the aisle.

A strange and eery silence filled the church as Vinnie was hauled to his fate.
Guttersnipe was in top form.
As Vinnie whizzed by he devilishly picked up the ring, stuck it deep in the cheese of the remaining pizza slice, then whapped the lot back on Vinnie’s rump.
Vinnie screeched at the insult.
A silent gasp rippled through the church.
Glaring daggers wasn’t enough for Gwen, she sent out really angry Cruise missiles.
Guttersnipe returned a retaliatory smirk.

Gwendolyn turned her thoughts inward, praying for an obnoxious TV host to show up with his camera crew and tell her she was being made a fool of on national television, but the sinking feeling in her stomach told her this was all real.

Vinnie scuffed against Leo’s patent leather shoes and ground to a halt.
The priest encouraged Bride and Groom to move aside as he reached forward and picked up the slice of pizza.
Pulling it out and wiping it clean, he handed the ring to Leo’s best man and asked who had the ring.
The best man blushed at the insanity of it all and sheepishly handed it back.
Doris glanced back from the wedding party in Guttersnipe’s direction and flashed a broad smile.
Guttersnipe smiled back.

The priest started in on his ‘Do You Take’ and ‘Do You Promise’ stuff with Leo and Gwendolyn nodding affirmations and gazing lovingly at each other like mountain goats startled by hikers down a mountain path.
Vinnie slowly increased the frequency of his loud popping and hissing noises as he struggled furiously at the tethers holding him in place.

The wedding guests shifted about on their pews, distracted by the cat and now paying attention only to it.

Guttersnipe was on his third can of coke when in burst Brynn McGinn, visor down on his helmet, the thin wail of his scooter heard briefly as the church doors opened and closed.
He clattered down the aisle in search of Guttersnipe.
“Psst! Hey! Psst!” As with the rest of the congregation, Guttersnipe’s head spun round at the noise, but he was the only one who was glad of Brynn’s sudden appearance.
“Hey! Psst! Fella! Thanks for the callydosh, old son, but I didn’t get your fixed address.”
“Shh, shh, shh, shut up and sit here. Shove over, would you, please?”
“Sorry,” said the guest next to Guttersnipe, shifting over a bit.
Brynn removed his helmet, “T’anks, Miss. T’anks, boyo. Loike I was saying…”
“Say it later, just watch what’s happening. Any second… if I know that cat…”

Vinnie let out an enormous howl and spun the motor round with his free leg. Some of the guests started giggling.

It was more than Gwen could take. Lurching forward on her four-inch high heels, she grabbed the remote from the Priest and put it on full blast: first forward then back, now to the left in circles, now to the right. Vinnie was shocked into silence as he sped off the length of the church and slammed into the doors he had entered a few short minutes earlier.

“I hate being a cat! I hate it! I hate it! Is it something I said? Is it because I’m a cat? It is! Isn’t it? So embarrassing! I just hate it!”
As if to answer his questions, Alter Boy hands shot out from behind the doors and whisked Vinnie and motor attachment out of sight.

Gwen flung the remote at the Priest’s feet. His first reaction was to pick it up. He even started to.
“Where were we?” demanded Gwen.
“You may, um, kiss the …groom…I expect,” replied the Priest, straightening up his back.
“Leo,” Gwen said, nodding at him to come closer.
“Do with a kiss, could you?” said Leo bravely.
“Plant one,” Gwen tapped her lips, “Right here, loverboy.”

Standing ovations erupted from the guests. With relief, the priest furtively munched on the last slice of pizza and stopped chewing to smile nervously at the happy couple whenever they shot him a look.

Guttersnipe rose quietly to leave. “Looks like I’m bartending, doesn’t it?”
“Will you be needing a lift anywhere?” asked Brynn.
“Yeah, let’s drown our sorrows for a while at the doughnut store.”
“I’ve only got the one helmet.”
“I’ve only got the one head.”
“Eh?”
“Never mind,” said Guttersnipe, “You wear it.”
Guttersnipe threw Vinnie and attachments into the delivery box on the back of the bike as they lurched into traffic in search of deep- fried ‘yum-yums’.

29. Ready to Rhumba!

The high-pitched scream of a mistimed Honda 150cc Scooter made itself apparent to no one in particular as it pulled upside the church steps.

A bedraggled Brynn McGinn in an oversized crash helmet blazed off the seat and pulled out a cellular phone. He dialed, hung up, lifted the visor on the helmet, better able to see, and dialed once more.

Inside the church a cellular phone interrupted the ceremony of Leo and his “adorable little black-eyed pea” bride-to-be, Gwendolyn Spiggot-Hermes; soon to be Mrs Leo Spiggot-Hermes-Claine. With a possible future with that lot on a tax return, something had to give. Leo’s surname, perhaps.

“Hallo?” whispered Guttersnipe.
“Pizza Hut!”
“Shh, shh, shh, not so loud,” whispered Guttersnipe, “I’ll be right out.”
Guttersnipe quietly apologized to his row of guests as he made a clumsy exit from the church.

Outside he met Brynn, whose wild eyes matched his voice as he let Guttersnipe have it. “
I’m trying to get enough local currency together to get me back ‘ome, now, ‘an the loikes oh that tip won’t get me petrol for a day on this delivery bike.”
“Smart man. Here’s more than your worth if you promise to send me a postcard explaining what it’s like on the outside.”
“Righto.”

Several slices of pizza and slurps of cold cola later, it was time.
“The ring, please.”

Guttersnipe asked the guests in his row if they cared for the last slice. He was glad they didn’t.

28. Dinner For Two

B.K. lowered his bullhorn a moment.
“Is that so awful? A nice cup of coffee, for those who drink it?”
His underling nervously shook his head.
“No,” said B.K. “TALL PEOPLE!”
“This obsession with coffee is ruining the world,” said Maddox to Roger.
“SINGLE CUPS!”
“Yep. That and leaking nuclear submarines off the coast of Norway.”
“That, too.”
“The pulp mills and water dams in Canada destroying sacred aboriginal lands.”
“And using cyanide off the Great Barrier Reef to catch fish.”
“Really?”
“And stupid bloody political thinking resulting in coal plants going up in China faster than Hagen Daaz ice cream parlours in Hong Kong.”
“What could be worse?”
“A revitalized Nazi party. “
“Gives you the chills. “
“A HOT, TASTY BEVERAGE!”
“And the dumping of untreated industrial waste into the rivers of Mexico that feed the broccoli the Jolly Green Giant loves so much. Eeugh!”
“BASTARDS!”
“Absolutely!” screamed Maddox.
“It’s your last! GET ME? No more thirst-quenching beverages. NO! You’ll be feeling a bit weak on account of you being DEAD!! I want them ALIVE!!” shouted B.K. with sudden switch of audience. “ALIVE! So’s I can kill ‘em in a most foul and upsetting manner!”
“God! He’s obnoxious,” said Roger.
“I tell you what,” sighed Maddox with a deep and immediate weariness, “he rates three out of ten as far as his crazy laugh goes. Reminds me of weak and tepid tea made all the worse with big dollops of cold, sour milk.”
“Gosh. The imagination you have.”
“I didn’t ask for it, believe you me.”
“No?”
“No.”
“Well… um. Do… um… do you believe the claim by some tuna manufacturers,” asked Roger, “that they’re dolphin friendly?”
“Ah, there you are!” said a B.K. soldier with outstretched rifle.
“Looks like we’ve been nicked, old son,” said Maddox. “Just when it was getting interesting.”
“Well, at least it’ll shut up B.K. for a while.”

Back at B.K.’s place stuff was happening.

Preparations were underway for an intimate meal. The setting was a small, single room hut, big enough for a table and two chairs, the food delivered to the table through a small wooden window frame, haphazardly cut into the wall opposite the door, facing onto the compound. The kitchen, it seemed, was elsewhere on the grounds.

B.K. stood on the bottom step outside this small room, praising Bembol, his favourite B.K. Soldier, who stood on the top step, his arms limp as B.K. shook them warmly, ingratiatingly.
“You know you are my best interrogation tool, Bembol. It is with great skill that you defeat those who resist you. It makes me proud to have you serve under me. I cannot help but think of you like a son. Go, Bembol. Bembol, who is like a son to me, and do what you do best. Interrogate the enemy.”
Bembol had heard it all before. He took the faint praise and smiled as proud a smile as could be mustered. He had his comrades to keep in mind. As long as he could keep Maddox here, his comrades would have an easy time of it. No early marching drills, no manic sentry duty directly following dinner. It would be an interrogation of unparalleled protraction. Bembol learned that word in school and enjoyed the many inferences it contained: protraction. He used the word with self-assuredness and always with perfect enunciation when around B.K., it allowed Bembol to maintain his high ranking amongst the men. It delighted and sustained B.K. no end to think he had an intelligent right-hand man in the front lines, maintaining and preserving morale in his private army. Bembol was accorded many privileges and responsibilities to help his comrades. Bembol! A definite favourite with both men and leader.

Maddox was tremendously entertained by the attempts to throw him off his guard. The lighting of candles, the placement of a linen napkin on his lap, the complimentary basket of bread rolls…but it didn’t phase him, he knew it was all a crock. You see, the butter was actually margarine. If they’d been serious about tricking, even wooing Maddox for information, they’d have provided full cream, lightly salted butter. He knew he was being prepared for a sucker-punch. He had his plans. He had his timing. These idiots were no match for Maddox’s Ferrari-like tuned mind. Bring them all on, he thought. Bembol quietly entered and closed the door.

“Huh?” thought Maddox.
“Please, no!” exclaimed Jim from a cell a stone’s throw from the dining hut, “Not Bembol!”
“What!? What!?” Roger clamoured from behind to see what Jim was seeing.
“And he’s brought his guitar!” moaned Jim in defeat. He slumped down to the floor, allowing Roger to leap to the cell window to try and assess this new and scary situation.

Bembol sat down and placed his guitar against the wall behind him. B.K. pushed as much of his bulk through the small window as he could and addressed Maddox.
“This is Bembol. Bembol, say hello to our adversary.”
“Hello,” said Bembol as instructed, flashing a warm smile at Maddox.
“A pleasure,” responded Maddox.
“Well, it won’t be for long. Do you know what these are?” exclaimed B.K. as he thrust a medium-sized sack of food at Maddox.

Maddox looked into the sack and pronounced them to be dried peas.
“Wasabi peas. They are Wasabi peas. Do you know where they come from?”
“Japan?”
“Arrgh!”
“I love Japanese food,” added Maddox. “May I?”
“No interruptions!” hollered BK. “I hate Smart Alec’s. Yes, JAPAN! Okay. Here’s a question for you…Why did I give them to you?”
“They’re for my dinner, I expect.”
“No! Ha! Not as smart as you think, are you! They’re for Bembol’s dinner. Pass them to Bembol. Bembol is eating. You are not eating.”
Maddox picked up a dinner roll.
“Not even a dinner roll?”
This caught B.K. off guard but he agreed to it.
“Just one.”
“Two?”
“Nope.”
“Please?”
“No! Well, all right. But just two.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”
B.K. wrenched himself out of the window frame and turned to his left, made a sharp gesture with his head and stepped aside.
A B.K. soldier donning a chef hat stepped up to the window with a tray. On the tray sat a large jar of chili sauce, a spoon and a large pitcher of water. Bembol quickly rose to take them from the chef.
“And what, pray tell us, Mr. Smarty Pants, is this lot for!” yelled B.K. from out of view.
“Well, on first impressions, FATSO,” said Maddox mischievously, “I’d have to say more dinner for our dear friend, Bembol. Am I right?”
B.K. flew into a rage. “Seal the area!”
“But the nearest zoo…” said the chef. “Oh!”
The chef threw his hat onto the steps and ran around the small dining room hut with sheets of opaque-blue, bubbled packing plastic, creating an almost hermetically sealed dining area within a matter of minutes.
Maddox was utterly bewildered.
“They’ve wrapped the hut in blue plastic, Jim,” said Roger.
“Cover your ears,” advised Jim, following his own advice. “Worse than the bloody Sirens of old.”
“This is a little something I whipped up just for the occasion, Mr. Maddox,” said Bembol, picking up his guitar.
“Call me Maddox, please.”
“And you can call me Bembol, supreme Minstrel, and breaker of women’s hearts,” tittered Bembol, strumming his guitar.
“That’d make quite a business card, old son,” chuckled Maddox.
“A love song, Maddox, for you from my heart, but please allow me to strum a bit more as I eat my dinner.”
“He’ll eat, then he’ll sing.”
“What?” asked Roger of Jim.
“Allow me to demonstrate,” said Bembol to Maddox.
“Then it’ll be ghastly. Awful. Poor bastard, Maddox,” said Jim.
Bembol strummed. Bembol ate. Bembol finished and began singing. It was the most beautiful voice any of them had ever heard. It was serenading Maddox at close range – a simple, rhythmic chant, soft and low. Maddox was in shock. The guitar playing was also beautiful. Bembol was a man of immense talent.

Maddox was bawling his eyes out. He couldn’t stop. He felt as though his heart would burst if the beauty didn’t stop. So when the lyrics ceased for a moment to allow Bembol a moment to indulge himself in wondrous guitar playing and pea munching, Maddox had a moment to collect himself and meditate; breathing deeply and exhaling. Frantically tantric. He’d defeat this torturous bastard. He’d retreat into the deepest recesses of his soul and hope to God it wasn’t a full scale concert they had planned for him, but his deep sobs were uncontrollable. He was losing to Bembol. What the hell could they have in store for him when he had succumbed? Why such charming torture? But he mustn’t give in. Think bad thoughts. He must think bad thoughts. Rid himself of this beguiling monstrosity. Hellish thoughts were attempted, but to no avail. Such beautiful and imposing music! He must try deep breathing and meditation instead.

No sooner had Maddox started in on his deep breathing exercises than the immense beauty was interrupted by flatulence from Bembol. Bembol apologized to Maddox in the midst of all his chanting. Maddox wailed to Bembol not to worry, that it was quite all right. Then the smell hit him. Maddox clutched at his throat, gasping for air, trying to stop blubbering, trying to calm down through rhythmic breathing. Angelic voices mixed with sulfurous hellions. What kind of horror was this? He lifted his head off the table to plead with Bembol but Bembol looked back at him through a gas mask.
“Sorry, Maddox, It’s my other talent.”
The guitar playing, the beautiful but muffled singing, the wasabi peas and chili sauce munching continued through the night.
Maddox, despite his self-proclaimed intelligence, fell insensible after the third set. Bembol took only one toilet break the entire night.
“God have mercy on his soul,” uttered Jim, barely audible.
Roger couldn’t answer for crying.

The morning brought with it a very angry B.K. Anger directed at Bembol.
“Why did you protract the interrogation? Look at him. We’ll never get anything out of him now.”
Maddox was a crumpled heap in a puddle of tears, staring weakly out of the hut at Bembol being reviled in an indelicate manner.
“Kick him, B.K., right on the bastard’s shins,” murmured Maddox.
“Then fall down a mineshaft yourself. Bastard, you.”
“Release him. And the others. Now!”
Bembol knew this meant a fifteen minute head start on foot then a savage manhunt and death by rifle fire from a speeding jeep. B.K. might be unpredictable in most ways, but his favourite form of killing was always the same.

Bembol had overdone it. He should have made it quick and lied about the resulting cache of information from Maddox. Now his compatriots would have to kill all three men. This would be a sad day indeed. Bembol strained with all his reckoning to figure a way out of the situation. He had no time to lose. He had, in the end, no chance of winning.

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