A Lusty Cup Of Bliss

A Novella.

38. Red Eye Flight

Jim and Roger got to the plane and were immediately set upon by Bembol.
“Here,” said Bembol when everyone was gathered around the plane. “Let’s take a picture of the four of us, please.”One of his men took the camera, made them say cheese and took a picture. Then three more, having snapped Bembol arm in arm with each of them in front of the plane.
The flashbulbs had come short of blinding Maddox, who had to be guided into the pilot seat. He rubbed his eyes for ten minutes before starting up the engine. “Here goes nothing!” He yelled at Bembol. “Thank you, my friend. ‘Til we meet again!”
He gave Bembol a quick and happy hand wave then slammed shut the door to the plane.
“Contact. Roger and out,” laughed Jim.
“I just got here,” joked Roger.
“Righty-ho,” said Maddox to himself as he swung the plane around at the start of the runway. “Off we go.”
The plane sped towards the little pub, Bembol and his men.
Everyone, even Maddox, wondered at what would happen since the plane was not even attempting to rise off the ground.
At the last second Maddox pulled exceptionally hard on the steering wheel and the plane veered up and over the pub.
“Excellent,” screamed Bembol running and slapping the wheels of the plane as it lifted into the air.
Bembol’s men broke into wild applause. Everyone started hugging each other. Another celebration was in order.
“You bloody did that on purpose!” screamed Jim panic-stricken.
“I did not.” said Maddox.
He was anything but calm but his drunkenness gave the impression of it.
“God! I need to pee again,” said Jim.
“Can it wait?” asked Maddox.
“It’s a long flight, you know,” said Roger to Jim.
“I dunno, Maddox,” whined Jim.
“Secure yourself to the plane and pee out the door, if you must,” advised Maddox.
“Excellent!” said Roger.
Jim looked around for an anchor, “you’re starting to sound like Bembol.”
“Am I?” asked Roger.
“Yeah.”
“Excellent.”
“You’re starting to annoy me.”
“Excellent.”
“Both of you!” shouted Maddox, “Shut your mouths!”
“And you sound like Big Kahuna,” griped Jim.
“You sound like a broken record. Now, shut up, please. My headache’s bad enough.”
Jim and Roger looked at each other like brow-beaten children before smiling at each other.
Jim showed Roger three fingers, then two, then they leaned over to Maddox, then one.
“EXCELLENT!!”

37. Faint-Hearted Barn Owls

“Cursed,” exclaimed Fate, “with this mad little Canuck, I really am!”

After dispensing with B.K. twenty minutes ago, Fate returned to the spot where she’d broken Dan’s nose.
“To finish him off,” she said aloud “And the cretin’s bolted. How long must I -” Something caught her eye. It was a small group of men toying with her skateboard. She popped a blood vessel, the sound of which caught the collective ears of the men, who collectively hooted in fear and shuffled back in a huddle against the wall behind them. Fate pulled out a day-planner and scanned through it in search of the names of any of these four men. Just once she wants to be lucky.

The one holding the skateboard got a nasty look from Fate. He immediately rolled the skateboard to her …to no effect. Foul moods are the order of her day. She was in a foul mood for several reasons: filling in for Death, who’s on vacation – she’s sick of dishing out mortal wounds (Death’s job) and wants to get back to being the signpost that people take notice of on their way to meet Death. Then there’s Dan – a major annoyance. Now these yellow-bellied barn owl dolts take her skateboard, which she prizes above everything because it’s got the coolest Skull and Crossbone stickers on it with the words “Groovy”, “Shine On” and “Edmonton Oilers Rool!” (just ’cause Dan’s a Montreal Canadiennes fan) plastered around the skulls.

Nope. Nothin’ in the day planner. Lucky louts But she can still mete out a good thumping, to the lot of them.
“You’re next, chump!” she screamed at the ether.

Somewhere else in Tripoli, Fate’s yell filtered down to a singular pair of ears.
“Did you hear that?” said Dan to himself. “It’s the crazy woman.” He is still recovering from the blows she gave him a short while back and he’s afraid she’s in the mood for more. “I hate being a celebrity,” he sighed, wrapping himself even more tightly foetal around his skateboard.

Fate, on the other hand, felt pretty good. This brief violent outburst seems to have cleared her head, her bad mood having simply been, as in most of these situations, transferred to the last person she interacted with. In this case, the last four she interacted with are all terribly annoyed with the world.
“Hoot! Hoot! Hoot!” cried Fate.
The four men hooted back in terror.
Fate was on top of the world.
“On your left!” she screamed from her skateboard at some kids, who jumped to the right. A grinning fool – she loved this skateboarding thing.

36. Calling Ancient Africa

Cafe Qaddafi, located in one of the trendier neighborhoods of central Tripoli, was a tidy, sun-bleached, whitewashed thirty-by-twenty-foot room with two of the walls being mostly windows.

The decor was of a modest nature, comprising mostly rough hewn wooden furniture; the tables spruced up with white, cotton-blend tablecloths. The tablecloths played a role beyond that of merely aesthetic; they helped reduce the amount of skelfs patrons got. The same applied to the cushions tied to the chairs. The last thing anybody wanted as they sipped at a beverage was a splinter of wood in the elbow. Proudly beaming down from the wall, high above the wooden drawer that doubled as a cash register/toothpick holder, was a larger-than-life-sized photo of Muammar with the owners of the cafe flanking his sides, each raising an espresso high in salute. Most notable amongst the cafe paraphernalia was a cast-iron monkey dressed in a bell-hop outfit replete with pillbox hat, perched on a box – similar in shape to the hat – with a drawer that filled up with ground coffee when you cranked the monkey’s right arm around in it’s iron socket. The eyes of the monkey clanking shut and opening again in ferrous rapture as long as the arms rotated in a clockwise fashion, which turned out to be the only direction the coffee could be ground. The walls of Cafe Qaddafi were otherwise devoid of items of real ‘cafe’ significance.

Of more immediate importance was the presence of two large fans, each situated diagonally from the other, in opposite corners of the room; the constant whirr of their motors benignly pushing soft rushes of air over the damp, clammy faces of the cafe patrons. For all the heat, only a handful of people sat in direct line of the coolness offered by these machines. The most ‘obvious’ of this handful were friends, two beautiful young women from Hong Kong, in search of Africa of ancient times.

Not having been immediately surrounded by lions upon disembarkation at Tripoli International, they felt the trip to be ill-omened and tried not to think about it by instead focussing on a single-minded search of relief from a heat that seemed, at the moment, more savage than the heat they’d grown up with.

Attired in what could only be described as provocative Seventies discotheque kitch, with small, almost useless, black patent leather purses attached to their backs like growth-stunted turtles, the two women reeled around Tripoli strapped to five-inch platform shoes. Weariness had now set in. And fear. Exhausted by their footwear, and alarmed by an overabundance of Libyan stares from every street corner, both agreed it was nothing like the movie, Tarzan; though one of them admitted to never having seen the film, adding it was nothing like the brochures shown to them by Kiki, their travel agent. No surprise, really, since this was the natural state of things in Hong Kong: nothing was ever what it seemed, the inhabitants of this capitalist behemoth long ago concluding that surface imagery equalled depth and substance. No wonder, then, that their holiday was fraught with difficulties. Difficulties which were unravelling these two otherwise unflappable iconic Hong Kong beauties. Screeching for joy at the sight of it, they had successfully manoeuvred themselves to an easy topple into the cafe…in which Daring Dan was hiding. Dan could almost breath on the legs of these two women, being as he was, under their table.

Having opted for a hotel poolside vacation, and sightseeing tours of the area via airport-purchased postcards, both women hurriedly wrote to friends and family in hopes of making a mental connection to home and thus to the familiar. Tripoli, however, would not go away. Nor would the strange, hot, irregular puffing on their knees abate.

In hushed Cantonese they tremulously decided to draw straws to see who would be the one to peer under the table but having no immediate access to straws they compromised by making the unfortunate peeper the one who had the shorter lipstick. The task going to Sherry Lee, the slightly prettier of the two women. Her friend, Ming Tse, the taller of the two, ought to have been the elected one since in reality it was her lipstick that was shorter; however, she had the hidden advantage of a brand new Lancombe lipstick, which she surreptitiously unwrapped. It paid to pack properly before going on a trip.

Sherry pulled herself away from the table and attempted to peer under the cloth. Ming noticed a large amount of blood on Sherry’s nylons and fainted. Sherry looked down at the cause of Ming’s distress and immediately started screaming. Dan, scared witless and stooped over in agony, painfully bolted from under the table and made for the door.

A big guy stood up and punched him as he tried to jump on his skateboard. Sherry bear-trapped the screaming in her mouth only to slacken her jaws in eye-popping silence at Dan slobbering on his chin in a state of unconsciousness. Then she stopped panicking altogether, having just remembered she’d brought thirteen new pairs of nylons, one for each remaining day of their trip. This calmed her enough to revive her friend and investigate together this strange and bruised man who lived under their coffee table.
“Who are you?” asked Ming of Dan.
Dan looked at his aggressors in abject terror. This was his second beating in less than thirty minutes. He hoped against a third.
“Pleased to, ehm, …meet you, name’s Dan.” He recognized no one – didn’t know whether to feel relieved or to be filled with fright at this fact.
“Dan,” he repeated, “What’s, umm, what’s your name?”
He propped himself against a table leg.
“Sherry.”
“Ming” said both women in unison.
“Olaf” said the bruiser who’d knocked Dan silly, “See?” he said, showing the fist he’d used to hit Dan with. Carved on his knuckles were letters that spelled “Olaf” when read together.
“Nicer introduction than the last one,” laboured Dan.
Olaf sympathetically showed his teeth in a smile that said he was quite happy at having flattened Dan even though Dan seemed a likable enough fellow. It was a subtle smile.
“Choo got a hard head, my frenn, my hann eez peenk. Look, right at dis knuckoh.”
Dan had a bit of a look at Olaf’s pinkened hand.
“Sorry.”
“Aiee chood sue you,” Olaf said. and filled the room with raucous laughter.
The two women acquiescing with feint laughter. Dan being helped to his feet, also laughing, was wondering what nightmare he’d fallen into this time.

35. The Cheque Is In The Mail

The deal was done.

Bembol had secured the distribution rights to the Maddox Fan Club merchandising arm for all of Africa and the Middle East. Maddox’s take was three percent of net profits after tax. Bembol thought he was a genius at having reached such an agreement so quickly with Maddox, but the fact was that Maddox couldn’t hold his liquor and so agreed to everything after the tippling turned to swilling.
The only one who could reasonably absorb alcohol and withstand the effects was Roger. Even he, though, was hard pressed to avoid breathing through gills, such was the inebriated state of the farewell party’s befuddled condition.
Bembol, a man true to his word, had arranged for a plane to whisk the three giddy visitors in safe passage from his homeland to exotic climes beyond his imagination.
The only catch was they would have to fly the plane themselves. This was a small, one-propeller job and the disappearance of its pilot at the hands of B.K. many months ago had forced Bembol’s men to push the thing for a half mile to the little cinder-block hut that was the local pub, restaurant and grocery store.
“Don’t worry,” burped Maddox, “I’ve got my pilot’s license.”
“Excellent.” said Bembol.
“Yes, excellent,” said Jim
“Yes, well,” said Roger, ” let’s go then.”
Maddox jumped to attention and grabbed his jacket, feeling for the cube.
He smiled upon discovering it still in his pocket and started for the door, “I’m ready.”
“I need to go pee,” said Jim.
“Hurry.”
“Okay.”
“How long’s the flight?” asked Roger.
“Long,” Maddox replied.
“I’d better go, too, then.” Roger jumped out of his chair. “Hey, Jim, wait up.”
“Meet us at the plane!” yelled Maddox as they sauntered off.

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.

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