mainly posting for those poor sods who read the first beta of my novel. Would like an opinion on the reworking of this chapter...
changed the character of the cabbage quite comprehensively. had a go at shortening it (7000 words is too long, really, but there is no real organic point for a chapter break that I can think of). Can't think of another word for glow that fits into the end. Lots of stuff, really.
uh, comments plz.
Chapter 15 – A Cabbage with Lipstick (12/10/12 beta 8)
MN – broke the third wall here. Maybe a bit dodgy.
7000 words (1900 in alpha).
Imported into veni10.doc 12/10/12
Our journey back into Blair was a brisk one out of necessity; the sun had set upon our backs and we were treading dangerously close to sobriety. Freezing claws plucked at nipped at what little of our skin was bared against the elements; we walked quickly, for we needed alcohol to dull our senses and warm our blood.
The first business of the evening was deciding which of the miserly banks on the High Street it would be safest to defraud. Once again, the ever-watchful Orwellian eye would be our nemesis; to confound Big Brother, we wore our scarves bandito style whilst approaching the Clydesdale cashpoint.
Ziggie produced the credit card from her wallet and slid it easily into the bank machine; the pin code already committed to memory, her fingers moved dexterously across the keypad in a sweep of computerized beeps that was very nearly musical. To my eye, her poise and movements suggested supreme confidence; she stood hand on hip as we waited, apparently irritated with the dawdling pace of the cash machine.
I, on the other hand, was starting to have second thoughts about the whole bank robbery thing. I was nervously jiggling from one foot to the other in a fashion that suggested that I had shit my pants, or was at least in the process of doing so. It was plainly obvious to me that the machine before us was not to be trusted; even now, the devious contraption might be sending a coded distress signal to the agents of law and order. I cast an anxious gaze over my shoulder as I squirmed; at any second, I expected blue lights and siren sounds to split the night air around us.
Abruptly, the cashpoint began to grunt and whirr with industry; to my suspicious mind, the chattering mechanism sounded like morse code. Ziggie, unburdened by morbid fancy, chortled with glee as the transaction was electronically approved from afar. The metal slot peeled back and a fat wedge of banknotes spilled forth from the innards of the machine.
Aside from the temporary prosperity of giro day, I rarely had the pleasure of holding money in any great quantity; my questing fingers would seldom find much in my pockets other than worthless shrapnel and copious lint of questionable heritage. The stolen three hundred was warm to the touch; the notes radiated heat into my hands, both thrilling and illicit. The Queen’s face grinned up at me, the wrinkles of her face alive with devilment, her eyes twinkling with the secret knowledge of a shared conspiracy.
Spend me, by royal command.
Ziggie rudely interrupted my psychic communion with our treasured head of state, tearing the banknotes from my grasp and squirreling them away inside her wallet. I hungrily stared at the bulge in her pocket and spoke my misgivings aloud; might we not share the wages of sin in a more equal fashion?
Ziggie snorted and spat phlegm, letting me know what she thought about that particular idea. I consoled myself with the knowledge that the cash wouldn’t sit in her wallet for long. No, its destiny lay elsewhere; soon the money would be tucked away deep within the stygian recesses of Barlord Kenny’s till, never to see daylight again.
We stole away from the scene of the crime in good order, eager to report to our stations in the pub and piss away the profits. I followed Ziggie down the dark alleyways and lesser-known footpaths that threaded through Blairgowrie like varicose veins. I was glad that Ziggie saw fit to keep our profiles low; I knew full well that the Constabulary would be out in force with our names writ foremost upon their thoughts. Detectives would be detecting, investigators would be investigating, bobbies on the beat would be carefully combing the streets like a battalion of bastard nit-nurses.
The medicated shampoo of justice was close at hand.
The town became progressively busier as we approached the Wellmeddow; the indigenous inebriates were hitting the town tonight and having a high time of it. We passed a few insensible natives clutching polystyrene trays, spooning dubious kebab meat into their mouths with plastic cutlery; seagulls darted back and forth between their legs, opportunistically feasting upon mechanically recovered or partially digested meat. Across the street, the man from Oasis watched the birds gorge and stroked his beard thoughtfully; local legend maintained that, concealed behind the counter of the takeaway, there was a large nylon fishing net enmeshed with blood and feathers.
The Ericht Alehouse was situated slap-bang in the middle of this gastronomical ouroboros. We stood on the pavement before the pub like a couple of thirsty moths, basking greedily in the warm light spilling from the door.
Imagine; an umber glow illuminating a central bar. The lighting here has been judged to perfection; it is both bright enough to make the pint glow with lusty good health and dark enough to hide the fact that the glass has not been washed properly. Irish Mo's grubby fingerprints are still all over it, and everyone in the pub knows that the dirty bastard never washes his hands after visiting the toilet.
The beer served here is the perfect pub beer. Barlord Kenny, in his infinite wisdom, would not tolerate the presence of mass-produced lager in the Alehouse. He was astute in his prejudices; the ubiquitous Scottish Special was a staple element of my diet for nutritional purposes only. It was financially viable, but in truth, the taste left something to be desired; consider the metallic tang of the tin as it presses against the lips, followed by the warm, salt-sweet taste cascading down the throat. Barlord Kenny, heedless of lawsuits from the brewery and the palpitations of his publishers, says that the best way to describe drinking Special Brew is to imagine yourself sucking a mouthful of rancid brine from the deepest crevice of Margaret Thatcher's snotty labia.
So, the Special was not to be found behind the bar of the Alehouse. In its place was a proper European lager; none of the regulars knew exactly how to pronounce the name emblazoned upon the beermats, but there were at least three umlauts in there as proof of quality.
This was really only the beginning of the Alehouse odyssey; lager, no matter how exotic, was frowned upon by those stalwarts who took their beer seriously. A vast selection of hand-pumped Real Ale was available for the delight and delectation of the alcoholic connoisseur; Sunbursts and Brew Dogs, Stewarts and Tempests. The Ossian was nice, the Duval divine; all tastes were accommodated, all moods were catered for. The beers on hand ranged from light and fluffy honeyed ale to utterly lethal ten percent doom juice.
Alas, there is a saying oft repeated and immune to the law of diminishing returns; nothing is perfect. The building lacked for decent extractor fans and got a pretty good stink going during still evenings. The furniture could be best described as slightly foxed, lightly wolved, possibly mastodoned. The varnish on the tables had been scoured away by the scrape of a thousand beer steins, the bartops stained black by the spillage of a thousand more. The barmaid's arms were well muscled from the pulling of a thousand pints, the leather barstools worn thin from the caress of a thousand buttocks. The echoes of a thousand curses still lingered in the air, air made rank by the stench of a thousand arseholes.
Not all the souls sailing over the edge of sanity aboard the good ship Alehouse were human; the animal kingdom was duly represented by the Barlord’s dog, a genetically unsound union between wolfhound and toilet brush that rejoiced under the name of Charlie. He was a queer looking creature, a shaggy midden that roamed the pub drooling uncontrollably and had a lovable habit of raiding the sanitary bin in the women’s restroom.
Of particular note were Charlie’s balls, a source of considerable perplexion to all who set their eyes upon them. They were completely bald, those balls; not a single hair would grow upon them. They hung huge and pink between his legs, naked and cratered, their surface as barren as the moon.
Nevertheless, some credit Charlie’s balls with magical powers; some say that touching the balls brings good luck, that a brief caress might heal the sick and make the blind man see. Others say otherwise, and the balls are in fact a deadly curse; they point to Old Norman’s naked plate and belabor the obvious parallels.
Some say that Charlie's balls glow blue when Orcs are near.
Charlie's owner was less magical in aspect, but no less a legend in his own mind for it; Barlord Kenny’s gift to humanity was the composition of the Alehouse Banned List, a mighty epistle that rivaled the great tales of Dante in it’s depictions of blasphemy, greed and incorporate treachery.
It made entertaining reading for the most part.
Kenny would begin his day by erasing the petty misdemeanors of last nights villains from the slate, sanguinely forgiving those that trespassed against him with a serenity that would have made Jesus himself come down from the Cross. Alas, his saintly disposition lacked for stamina, never lasting much past opening time. By the hour of noon, it would occur to Kenny that his customers were both the manure from which the money tree grew and the shit in which he must daily tread. We were a stench in his pub that must be tolerated for the good health of his bank account, and his disposition was modified accordingly.
By the time darkness descended, Kenny would be utterly convinced that we were out to kill him. In addition to robbing his till blind, we were also secretly adding hemlock to his pint. Around eleven o’clock, hyper-dimensional Machine Elves would begin to teleport into his beer barrels; when toiled midnight, everyone still soiling the Alehouse with their continued custom would find themselves banned for life, Kenny’s apoplectic revenge against all known associates of time-traveling hallucinations acting on behalf of the Masonic Illuminati.
It was, as any law student will tell you, illegal for someone under the influence of alcohol to stand and serve behind the bar of a pub. Kenny neatly sidestepped this thorny legal problem by never actually doing any work. The minutiae of the daily grind was accomplished by a small army of part-time bar staff - such shifty personages as illegal immigrants, students and other assorted plebeian scum, absolutely none of which were worth describing in any great detail. Their tenures behind the bar tended to be as short and uninteresting as Fred Durst’s penis; like the proverbial Limp Biscuit, their careers were destined to end in a premature, embarrassing mess.
So, it was fair to say that the Ericht Alehouse was a mongrel pub of character, if not pedigree. I liked it a great deal, and had always felt more comfortable tucked away within the folds of its resident mob of eccentrics than I would do in a pub filled with synthetically fashionable trendies.
Ziggie and I approached the pumps and greeted the usual stalwarts and worthies who stood proudly propping up the bar, much like Atlas had once propped up the heavens. Old Norman in particular was taking his punishment from the Gods very seriously tonight, knees all a-wobble beneath the weight of his labours. I nodded my greetings to a couple of other acquaintances, gently nibbling at a few morsels of gossip whilst I waited for Ziggie to get the pints in.
The part-time barmaid worked the beer engines, the faceless automaton dispensing the pints without the celebration or fanfare that such superlative examples of the brewer’s craft deserved. Ziggie delved into her wallet and produced a rather soggy twenty pound note as payment. The assembled patrons surrounding the bar ceased their petty squabbling and raised their collective eyebrow in surprise; under the normal scheme of things, there would be much patting of pockets, vulgar diatribes against the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the careful counting of pennies before any transaction between Ziggie and Kenny’s till would be brought to a close.
The worthies began to circle like wolves; my man-hackles rose as some primitive instinct urged me to defend my territory against these randy males sniffing around Ziggie’s metaphorical arsehole. This unexpected burst of testosterone dissipated as swiftly as it arose; it belatedly occurred to me that the approaching predators were interested in the sudden appearance of a high-denomination banknote, nothing more.
Their belligerent avarice would soon transmute into something approaching astonishment; Ziggie broke the habit of a lifetime and offered to buy a round. Shock electrified the faces of those around us and Old Norman’s jaw hit the floor, quite literally; his false teeth fell out.
I accepted my pint and basked in the reflected envy that was being projected towards Ziggie, slaking my thirst with a heroic draught of cool lager before making my excuses and leaving the bar. My eyes had roved across the room and spotted some people with whom I desired to speak; the information they undoubtedly held could prove to be of paramount import.
Speiros and Andrew-James sat huddled by the open fireplace, whimpering periodically and licking their various wounds. Their eyes were downcast and beaten, their bruised features thrown into sharp relief by the flickering light of the coal fire. I offered them both salutations and commiserations before collapsing into the chair opposite, gratefully placing my feet up on the tabletop and turning my trenchfoot to the flame.
My comrades were, like Wednesday’s child, full of woe; they mourned for Ten Inch Dave, who had been arrested at the site of the car crash and was currently keeping company with the constabulary. Dave had drunkenly decided not to utilize his one and only phonecall to summon the best defense solicitor in the land to his side; he had instead phoned Speiros' mobile, and then proceeded to spend fifteen minutes dreamily describing how he had fallen head over heels in love with Supernurse.
As a result, the police had Ten Inch Dave locked away in a cell, probably handcuffed to an overhead waterpipe while C.I.D menaced him with a large Alsatian. They would be interrogating him and extracting sworn confession, incriminating not only himself but also his villainous accomplices.
It got worse; Paul Fucking Cruickshank had also up and vanished like a fart in the wind. Where he was currently hiding was anyone’s guess, assuming he was hiding at all; it was not beyond the realms of possibility that Paul was locked in the cell opposite Dave, sweating buckets into his y-fronts whilst the nice officer with the crocodile clips looked to his nipples for purchase.
Either way, things were not looking good for Speiros, Andrew-James, et. al. A deep nausea was beginning to gurgle through my lower intestine, a gut feeling that today had not been the best day to commence my career as a credit card fraudster.
The sensible response would be to drink the evidence as quickly as possible. Ziggie would also have to be appraised of the machinations of the constabulary and the impending destruction of all we held dear.
Unfortunately, Ziggie was way ahead of the constabulary when it came to matters of destruction; in the short time I had spent locked in conversation, Ziggie had been sinking shot after shot of Jagermiester, and as a consequence, she was beginning to wobble a bit. I arose from the chair and took myself to her side, securing her ear and muttering my darkest suspicions into it; Ten Inch Dave, I said, had turned Supergrass.
Ziggie scoffed at my conspiracy theories and denounced me as paranoid; I was to lighten my mood or bugger off and leave her be.
If her words were harsh then her actions were designed to soothe; she ordered a pint of liquid death for me, passing it into my hands with great delicacy. She advised me to drink deeply from the well of oblivion, returning to her only when the alcohol had liberated my synapses from guilt, fear and other such piffling earthly concerns.
I accepted this wisdom and this pint before setting off to find a darkened corner. There I would rest a while, meditating on my place in the grand scheme of things and pacifying my squirming brain into the bargain.
All good pubs have at least one designated dark corner; this is where the truly inebriated or socially ostracized go to sit and hang their heads in shame. The Alehouse, being a superlative pub with high ceilings, a vertically challenged landlord and two broken light bulbs, currently had two such dim niches. My first choice was already occupied by the Landlord’s dog and his naked balls; Charlie and my leg had once embarked upon a brief, yet enthusiastic love affair; since I had no wish to rekindle that particular relationship, I was obliged to make a brisk retreat in the opposite direction.
The other corner proved to contain even worse company. Gambit was sitting alone in the dark, drinking his way through the last dregs of his disability benefit. He reacted to my unexpected appearance by drawing his lips back and exposing the innumerable cavities of his ruinous dentistry. The irrepressible retard was overjoyed to see me, which just goes to prove what a poor judge of character the man actually was.
Gone were the distended dregs of Irish Mo's wardrobe; now Gambit was dressed in an incandescent Hawaiian shirt that somehow managed to glow luminous even when submerged in the darkest corner of Kenny's pub. He was pished and happy to be so, chirping away like a demented budgie and eager to be off on another ill-conceived adventure.
I was less than enthusiastic as Gambit described how his lust for glory had been reinvigorated by last night's disastrous flirtation with doom. He was with tumescent with enthusiasm; in the brief hours of my absence, he had already started making plans as to what our next escapade was to be.
He explained, I listened; he finished explaining, and I laid my head in my hands and despaired.
Gambit had bought a yacht.
Worse, Gambit had bought a yacht from a man he met in the pub.
Here was insanity distilled into it’s most pure and driven form; Gambit buzzed happily of the inheritance bestowed upon him by his dead father, of dredging the final depths of his ISA account, of second-hand yacht salesmen, buckets of vodka and a small boat called The Seamanship.
My disabled friend waxed lyrical on the subject of hopes and dreams; he saw himself reborn and rebranded as Captain Gambit, Master of the Seven Seas. Women would throw themselves at his mismatched feet at the mere mention of his mighty Yacht; he pawed and rubbed the flesh of his leg as the excitement grew within him. It was now his life's passion, his new-found ambition, his latest obsession - Captain Gambit would soon cast off and pilot his mighty vessel across the ocean waves. He would visit strange lands, meeting gorgeous girls, dusky women and exotic maidens. He would wine and dine them at the captain’s table, he would screw them in the captain's cabin.
I went to great pains to suggest that his plans might be a touch grandiose. That, perhaps, he ought to consider practicing on a smaller scale first and work his way up from there; he could start, for example, by having a wank in a canoe.
Undeterred by my skepticism, Gambit reached into the breast pocket of his tastelessly gaudy shirt and extracted a set of keys, folded away inside in a faded Polaroid photograph. Grinning like a dentally deranged loon, he passed the bundle over the table to me.
It was with grim resignation that I examined the proffered items; the photograph was indeed that of a small yacht, the picture creased and stained with neglect. That said, the vessel itself looked in pretty good nick; I felt the vestigial fingers of hope pluck tunelessly at my heart strings.
This feeling turned out to be nothing more than mild indigestion; closer examination of the photograph revealed a moustache and mullet upon the smiling captain's head. The photo was probably over thirty years old and The Seamanship was probably lying somewhere on the bottom of the Atlantic.
Gambit was stroking his upper lip now, asking me if I thought he would suit a moustache. I debated trying to educate the fool, once again reiterating to him the cardinal rule of sensible fiscal acumen; you never buy anything from a guy you met in the pub. This wisdom was halfway out of my mouth when I realized that such admonishment would be pointless; the accident that had robbed him of his arm and leg had obviously also caused severe brain damage. I changed tactics and told the smiling cretin before me that, yes, he absolutely would suit a moustache, provided he grew it big and bushy enough to successfully cover his entire face.
I always like to leave on an insult, and that was probably as good as it was going to get. I bade the good captain farewell and took myself back to the bar in better spirits than before; to Gambit’s credit, one always came away from a conversation with him feeling slightly better about the state of your own mental faculties by comparison.
The Alehouse was beginning to fill up with undesirables now, which was Barlord Kenny’s euphemism for tourists. Only a complete idiot would actively choose Blairgowrie as a holiday destination; alas, my life experiences thus far proved that the world is indeed utterly infested with those selfsame idiots. Fat Americans, held in rapture by the cinematic delusions of Mel Gibson, often visited the Alehouse in order to sample Scotland’s famous hospitality. Our English neighbors would also float through the saloon doors with surprising regularity, mainly out of nosiness. Visitors from other parts of Scotland were a rarer breed, but they could occasionally be seen lurking close to the fire exits with a glazed look of horror fixed upon their faces.
There were those who made the pilgrimage to the Alehouse for reasons that were less than wholesome; the Aberdonian Cabbage could be considered a fair example of the genus. This terrible vegetable would materialize in Blairgowrie over the course of the weekend, mercilessly rampaging through the town’s virtuous sons like she was on some sort of slut’s safari. The gossiping worthies contended that she was a high-flying legal eagle from up North who, rather than shitting in her own nest and upsetting the parochial magistrate, descended instead into Blairgowrie to slake her unnatural desires incognito. Her sins were myriad and the stuff of local legend; one particularly infamous night had seen her climb naked atop the bar Coyote Ugly style, a stunt that had earned her a broken ankle and two years on the sex offenders register.
The Cabbage was sitting on Ziggie’s barstool, a grievous lapse in etiquette that demanded sternest censure; the Alehouse operated on a Dead Man’s Stool system, in which a permanent parking place by the bar could only be issued once the previous occupant had died. The waiting list for this privilege was long and hotly contested; it was said that Old Norman went to bed at night clutching a pistol, such was his mortal fear of assassination.
The woman lounging in Ziggie’s spot was not, in truth, a pretty picture; the skin on her face was peeling away in great sheaves, lending her the complexion of a decomposing vegetable and earning the Cabbage her moniker. Bright red lipstick framed a mouth as pursed and joyless as a dead cat’s arsehole. Cosmetics applied to conceal her dermatological condition merely served to draw attention to it; fake tan had been liberally slathered on with a trowel and subsequently turned to dust. It fell in orange drifts across her low-cut blouse, intermingling with the cornflakes of dead skin already adhering to the fabric.
The other patrons at the bar were studiously ignoring this outsider; if she were to be ousted from my favoured spot by the bar then it would have to be done by my own hand. I was forced to detour around a massive perm of hair to find a face to at which to direct my complaint; en route, I happened to catch a glimpse of the world outside the window and quailed at what I saw.
A brace of policemen were peering through the dirty panes, their evil features squinting as they searched the pub interior. Immediately I backed away behind the fortuitous conifer of faux-redhead and began to frantically scan the room for Ziggie.
For once, fortune smiled down upon us; Ziggie was nowhere to be seen, probably answering the call of nature inside one of Kenny’s lavatories of ill-repute. The eyes of the constabulary continued to boggle through the glass; I muttered and prayed they would go away before Ziggie chanced to return.
Unfortunately, the Aberdonian Cabbage became attuned to my circular motions around her and completely misinterpreted my intentions; she began to grind her hot-pants into my groin. Her lined and puckered mouth cracked open, revealing the shrunken gums and long teeth of an Egyptian mummy. With breath like fumes from a newly exhumed grave, she bid me welcome with a tongue dipped deep in the pungent brogue of her hometown.
It was immediately apparent that the woman was disgustingly drunk; the arm that clutched the bar seemed to have a spastic elbow, causing the Cabbage to bob back and forth in the manner of a dirty, half-chewed pigeon. Her greeting was repeated, louder this time on account of my selective hearing. Cursing inwardly, I muttered a non-committal reply, one that I hoped would dissuade the Cabbage from further conversation whilst keeping her held immobile before me; a quick peek through her hair revealed the police were still at the window, giving the human fishtank before them their full and rapt attention.
The Cabbage stayed put, fluttering her plastic eyelashes and continuing to make small talk with a voice that could carve runnels in glass. Undeterred by my mortified mumbling, she reached into her purse and summoned the barmaid for service; she ordered herself a long vodka, stretching the vowels out in a manner I can only describe as obscene. That would have been bad enough, but she also directed the barmaid to provide one of whatever her new friend here was drinking as well.
The hand clutching the banknote clenched into a fist, and a long boney finger pointed in my direction. A mute sniggering was beginning to foul the air around me as the regulars took their pound of flesh from my hide. I began to feel uncomfortably hot, both out of embarrassment and as a result of the coal fire blazing away to my rear.
Regardless, it was imperative that I keep the Cabbage between myself and the constabulary; I was forced to accept the proffered pint, though it tasted bitter to the tongue and turned to ashes in my mouth. Shoulders shook in silent hilarity as the worthies watched me make halting small talk with my human shield; a conversation more awkward I can scarce imagine, the Cabbage twisting even the most simple of pleasantries into a line of double entendres that would make even a Frenchman think twice. She remained nameless, jobless, without interests or history; she revealed nothing of her intent, save for a carnal curiosity with what lay within the confines of my second-best pair of jeans.
There was one grace granted to me during this whole ordeal; Ziggie had not yet emerged from hiding, sparing me further emotional trauma.
Desperately I drank my pint, affixing the glass to my lips in a bid to avoid any further conversation. Not that this stopped the Cabbage; she unwound a spool of information about me that I had previously assumed to be private and confidential. Exactly how she came across this intelligence was a mystery, but I vowed that someone, somewhere, would suffer for it. Frantically, I tried all the usual distraction techniques, none of which were even remotely successful. I couldn’t even sneak off to the toilet and escape out the window until I was sure the constabulary had left the area.
I was saved, after a fashion; Gambit, flapping about the pub like the proverbial butterfly of chaos, had risen from his corner and decided to join us. He introduced himself as Captain Gambit. He had a yacht, he said; soon, he would feast exclusively upon wild lobster.
By means indiscernible, the conversation moved from yachts and lobsters to what colour thong the Cabbage was wearing. My brain spontaneously dislocated itself in self-defense, refusing point-blank to process any more of the hellish details. Cast adrift from the reassuring murmur of my frontal lobe, I began to sink into a kind of delirium and, quite contentedly, began to drown.
A strong hand grabbed me by the earlobe and painfully raised me from my stupor; Ziggie, it transpired, would very much like a word with me. With a savage twist she dragged me across the room, sending the precious beer slopping over the edge of me glass and down onto the wooden floorboards. I cried out in protest at this mistreatment and, fearfully exposed, cast a worried eye to the window.
The police loitering outside the pub had, fortuitously, grown bored with idle observation and taken their tedious persecution elsewhere. I did not ask where Ziggie had been hiding during the unpleasant interlude spent with the Cabbage; judging from the sudden panicked exodus from the women’s toilets, I thought I could guess well enough. That we had avoided the attentions of the constabulary was sufficient; we had been lucky almost to the point of providence.
I thought it wise not to ask the Lord for further intervention on our behalf. A full strategic withdrawal from the Alehouse was obviously in order; we should beat a retreat back to the Winnebago and wait for things cool to down a bit.
I tried to pull Ziggie away from the bar, which was a bit like trying to separate two industrial magnets. She vehemently pooh-poohed my notions of escape; she was still in possession of three full pints and was going nowhere until those glasses were drained.
To help move things along a bit, I selflessly volunteered the services of my own gullet. We sank the drinks in rapid succession, leaving nothing but scorched earth for our enemies to possess. Then, rallied by the restorative effects of fine ale, we decided to go on the offensive and ordered another round for the present worthies.
And then another.
Pints were bought, pints were drunk. The assembled alkies stood awestruck by Ziggie’s largess; the murmured consensus around the bar was that she had either won the pools or some sort of prizefight. The assumptions and conjecture did not irritate Ziggie in the slightest; conversely, she was in fine fettle, smirking at me as I wiped away the froth from my upper lip. Her temperament was accommodating, her smile contagious; my worthy paranoia diminished as I felt my spirits buoy.
The Alehouse was descending into its usual post-ten fiasco; Barlord Kenny was dredging his pint suspiciously for poison and machine elves, Old Norman was slowly coming to the conclusion that his false teeth had been reinserted upside-down. Charlie the dog was stretched out before the fireplace with his nose wedged up his arsehole. Ziggie, less accustomed to the heat, had divested herself of her combat jacket. She sat on her barstool, absentmindedly shredding beermats, getting a good pair of sweat stains going across the oxters of her vest. Gambit was sitting quite happily across the bar from us, winking lewdly in my direction every time he caught my eye; he had discovered the only woman in the known universe with lower standards than himself, and he was feeling that tonight may be his lucky night.
The Cabbage was pawing at my disabled friend, apparently unperturbed by the dribbling avatar of failure before her. She had the air about her of a woman determined to make the most of a bad situation, courageously ignoring whatever nonsense was spaying from Gambit’s lips whilst she hiked up her hot pants and tried to sit on his lap.
He was, in all honesty, not the world’s greatest communicator. Gambit relied on volume and punctuated his sentences with points of saliva. His single arm waved and punched the air in some obscene variation of sign language, he frothed and foamed and banged the table top for emphasis on the high points of his doubtless fascinating discourse. Watching him talk was like watching Hitler suffer a seizure during the Nuremberg Rally.
The Cabbage, a creature that fed ravenously on the attentions of others, tilted her head back to see who was watching her impromptu lap dance. Ziggie glared back malevolently from behind her mountain of shredded cardboard and the two engaged in a topsy-turvy staring contest.
The Cabbage blinked first; what little satisfaction Ziggie could gain from that was dispelled by the shit-eating grin that crossed her opponent’s features afterwards. The Cabbage’s lips moved in silent mockery; Fat cow, the harlot mouthed, before turning her head back to continue ravaging Gambit.
Ziggie took this better than I expected; her face remained cheerful even as her pupils dilated and her pulse quickened in murderous preparation. She raised her pint glass in a white-knuckled death-grip and quaffed the soothing nectar; revenge, she muttered, would be served cold on this occasion. She delved into her wallet and instructed me to get more drinks in whilst she dealt with caging the savage beast raging in her breast. I opened my hand and awaited possession of a nice, crisp twenty pound note; what I got instead was a fistful of icy shrapnel from waterlogged depths of her leather wallet.
It seemed a trifle unfair that Ziggie got to play the millionaire whilst I suffered the indignity of paying with pennies. She gave my grievance short shrift, instead reorganizing the contents of her vest so as to better disguise what portions of her body she evidently felt offensive.
Her fussing and occasional flash of forbidden flesh stirred memories and sent a little blood coursing around my system; my objections to spare change forgotten, I summoned the barmaid and ordered another pair of pints. God, I decided, was clearly in his heaven tonight, and all was once again right with the world.
Then my heel began to throb and itch. Pins and needles trickled upwards, tracking the nerves and blood vessels all the way up to my brain. My trenchfoot and my subconscious exchanged cordial greetings and began to converse; between them, they came to the conclusion that something wasn’t quite right here.
The cynics and skeptics of the world may scoff and thumb their noses, but there is weirdness in the world beyond the ken of mortals. The yeast between my toes was no longer my enemy; my trenchfoot, possessing more spatial awareness than I, was warning me ahead of time that danger threatened.
I was filled with a prescient, instinctual foreboding plucked directly from the space-time continuum itself; the Spice Mélange had apparently evolved inside my boot.
It was the Barlord Kenny who directed my attention to the source of the dread suffusing me; the owner of the Alehouse roared aloud as the Cabbage abandoned all sense and reason and began to shakily climb on top of his bar. A booty that had no earthly business being shook was thrust beneath the unwilling noses of the assembled worthies; a belt clicked and a pair of hotpants were deposited in a steaming pile next to the till.
There, clad in nowt but thong and blouse, the Cabbage began to dance.
Kenny’s displeasure reached another octave, his famous red pen already deployed as the Alehouse Banned List made yet another tiresome appearance. The Cabbage ignored him, reaching behind her and pulling the string of her underwear taut. Old Norman genuflected wildly as the Cabbage stalked his way, her high-heels clattering drunkenly across the oaken bar top. Speiros and Andrew looked on in mute horror whilst Gambit slathered wildly at the chops; the good Captain was waving a five pound note above his head and begging the Cabbage come hither.
The menopausal stripper squatted down and plucked the money from Gambit’s grasp; swaying now rather than gyrating, the Cabbage stooped her head to regard Ziggie before thrusting her pelvis into her face. This, she proclaimed, pointing to her purple thong with fiver protruding from it, was what a real woman looked like. She pointed to Ziggie’s beer gut and, with her face snarled and sneering, asked the patrons of the bar if anyone knew who the father was.
Ziggie took this grotesque slur against her magnificent undercarriage quite well, all things considered. Holding the Cabbage steady with a glare, she pulled her wallet out and opened it wide; the Cabbage’s gloating failed in her throat as Ziggie teased a fingernail through the wedge of cash sat fat within. Then, licking her thumb in the manner of bank tellers everywhere, she counted out an even one hundred pounds. Ziggie’s hand reached up to the Cabbage like the hand of Adam reaching for God; then gently, oh so gently, she slipped a finger down the front of the purple thong and eased the elastic aside.
Their eyes met in a moment of ecstatic wonder; Ziggie smiled serenely, winked lasciviously, and dropped exactly seventy two pence of spare change directly into the Cabbage’s crotch.
The result was an impressive, ear-shattering shriek; the metal coins were, apparently, a bit on the chilly side. The Cabbage toppled backwards, spilling copper and silver like an incontinent slot-machine. A mad scramble erupted as the worthies moved to protect their pints against the sudden deluge. The Barlord Kenny howled condemnation as the Cabbage fell on top of him, scattering the papyrus pages of his precious list to the four winds. Ziggie roared in primal triumph, thumping a fist into her breast, daring the Cabbage to come forth and meet her murder.
Ziggie was about to do to the Cabbage what a bad farmer with a shovel had once done to Tarka the Otter.
The patrons fell out of their seats in a mad rush to get the hell away from the two lunatic combatants; Barlord Kenny roared dire warnings to the two women whilst simultaneously taking cover behind the solid oak bar. The furious Cabbage stood firm against his verbal onslaught, her long teeth bared in patent aggression, her hands hooked into straining claws. Ziggie, for her part, stilled her outrage, falling silent so as to better hear the last words of her foe.
I rushed to separate them, being perhaps the only person in the pub foolish enough to place myself between an edifice earmarked for demolition and a wrecking-ball named Ziggie. I held out a placatory hand, inviting her to renounce violence and come with me to the back door; if we were quick, we could leave via the fire escape, flee past the empty beer kegs and out into the night. We could still leave this terrible debacle to our rear before someone summoned the constabulary and we all ended up in the clink.
The Cabbage, alas, would not let common sense save her hide from the righteous thumping she was about to receive. In a final act of lemming-like stupidity, she jammed a boney finger into Ziggie’s chest and drew breath to speak.
This was a mistake. One does not touch Ziggie.
A fist like a piston came out of nowhere, faster than the speed of thought. One second the Cabbage was standing by the bar, mouth split wide and spitting venom, the next she was flattened against the floor like a sewer rat hit by a bus.
The fist that had done the damage still hung in mid-air, trembling with shock and numb adrenaline. The tendons behind the knuckles sang like taut strings, the muscles bunched and knotted tight. Pain from a broken pinky finger spiraled through bone marrow, cutting through the crimson fury that had burst within my brain.
My brain. My fist, my arm, my brain.
I had just done a bad thing.
Gambit was wailing somewhere in the background, his voice rising and falling in an unquantifiable vowel of distress. His voice was joined by that of Barlord Kenny, screaming a proclamation of banishment upon my head. I scarcely heard them, consumed as I was in examining my wayward hand and cursing the day I was born. That my body should betray me so; that my arm should launch such a devastating attack without bothering to await confirmation from my cerebral cortex.
Charlie padded through it the mortified crowd of witless worthies; the dog looked up at me in silent approval, wet pride glistening in his soppy brown eyes. The sad, shaggy mess sat by my feet in a touching show of solidarity, wagging his tail and, by extension, wagging his balls. Legend came to life that moment; out of nowhere, a magical blue light began to flicker and glow, bathing the walls of the pub in a cerulean (glow).
I raised a finger to point at the dog’s bollocks; the legends spoke true! Orcs! Orcs were near!
With one arm jammed up my back and the other still hanging in mid-air, I looked absurdly like Superman as the nice policeman used reasonable force to ram me headfirst into the wall. Barlord Kenny’s caterwauling began anew, this time begging the arresting officers to mind his furniture and fixtures. This, in turn, gave Ziggie an idea; she hit nearest policeman with a chair.
I lay prostrate and gibbering upon the floor, my horizons filled with well-polished boots and the hems of well-pressed trousers. The municipal authorities descended upon Ziggie in a black clad swarm, snubbing the deployment of pepper-spray in favor of toecap and baton.
Charlie stood amongst the chaos, studying my comatose form with an air aloof indifference. His rheumy eyes, as always, did his talking for him.
Idiot, said Charlie the dog.