Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Novel Idea

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Prestige Animals: Installment 2

Dog with ConeClick here for installment 1 of Sam Wilson’s winning Novel Idea story, “Prestige Animals”.


It was only a small tree. It took out a headlight, bent the bumper and gave the engine a whole new sound. Dennis agreed to drive to a lay-bye and call it a night. We sat side by side in the dark, and a couple more questions came to mind. “Why did he want an animal?” “You know these drug lords. They aren’t worth a damn without a leopard. This other guy he knows has a crocodile, and they’ve got a one-up thing going. So I said, hey, my brother’s a vet at the game park -” “I’m not a vet.” “No?” “I’m writing guide books,” I said. He shrugged. “Mom never tells me anything. Anyway, he said if I could get something like that, he’d let me off.” “What was he going to do?” There was a silence from Dennis that might have been embarrassed. “He was going to cut off my fingers,” he said. I flailed around in the darkness trying to hit him, but he grabbed my broken nose and held on until I calmed down.


The next morning we sat in Dennis’s office over an abandoned porn store, watching daytime television and discussing our situation. The microlight was technically Dennis’s, but he’d sold it to me cheap when he found out it was too noisy for smuggling. It had been my main source of income. Now it was gone. The Golf had just gone down in value. Dennis was technically squatting in the office, so that couldn’t be sold. We were both broke. Nothing was insured. The only hopeful thing was an insert on the news saying that researchers were making great strides in medicine, and they’d soon be re-growing fingers using an extract of pig’s bladder. Other than that, things were bad. And they got worse when a guy with a face like a brick kicked Dennis’s door into splinters.


Brickface fixed us with a glare that said, “Don’t complain about the door,” and stood aside for a guy in a grey suit who had his hair combed to look like toupee. I felt Dennis tense up. “So this is where you work!” said Mr. Grey. “Appropriate.” He pointed two fingers at Brickface, then at the door, and Brickface went to stand in the porn-strewn hallway. Mr. Grey turned back and gave us a smile out of a training video. “You know me, Mr Pennant,” he said to Dennis. “I’m a manager. Strategically, I should be leveraging your failure with public punishment to reinforce protocols and motivate sustained workforce discipline.” He paused for effect. I don’t know if Dennis fully understood what was said, but he must have understood “punishment.” “However, a suitable prestige animal would have a similar long-term effect, as well as being a superb and multifunctional negotiation tool. It could be used as a conversation piece, a status symbol, a torture device, or a badge of irrationality to highlight the futility of attempted compromise.” He gave Dennis a look. “I trust I will get the delivery forthwith?” he asked. “Tomorrow?” asked Dennis. Grey winced as if Dennis’s voice was a few octaves too high. “That’s stretching our agreement,” he said. “I’m afraid I will now have to demonstrate my dominance.” He unplugged the television set, and peed on it.


After Mr. Grey left, Dennis tried to plug in the TV. There was a bang and a cloud of smoke. “Should have left it to dry,” he said. This was typical Dennis, and it should have made me angry. Instead, it was a moment of enlightenment. What I realised was: my older brother was an idiot. Up until that point, my plan of action was to get quietly on the first bus, spend the next eight hours traveling to Namibia and let Dennis sort out his own mess. But it was clear now. If I left, Dennis would die. It was up to me. I made a cup of coffee (instant, no sugar, hot water from the tap, plastic cup) and went through the yellow pages, getting the numbers of all the local vets. I was in luck. One of them was a classmate from my first year, and he was in on the veterinary surgery gossip. After some unnecessary reminiscing, he gave me the name and number I needed, and asked me what I wanted it for. I told him. “Right. Good luck. Later, yeah?” he said in a strangled voice, and hung up. I was pretty sure I’d never hear from him again, even if I lived.


At closing time, Dennis and I waited outside the offices of Dr Charlene Adams, veterinary surgeon. People came out carrying various animals with plastic cones on their heads. The secretary had gone home early, and through the glass door we saw Dr Charlene finishing up behind the counter. She was a couple of years older than me, with her hair up in a bun and the expression of someone who spends their days looking into cats. “Why did you tell him we’d get it for tomorrow?” said Dennis. “It isn’t nearly enough time.” “That was you,” I said. “No, I’m pretty sure it was you.” Dr Charlene saw us, and waved us in. We probably didn’t look our best, wearing leather jackets and covered in bandages. “Hi,” I said. “We heard that you might know where we can find a crocodile.” “Are you with the cops?” she said. “No. I guess we’re robbers. But -” I didn’t get much further because she pepper-sprayed me in the face.


I curled up on the floor and cried while Dennis did his best to explain that we weren’t planning to rob her specifically. When Dr Charlene had a rough idea what we were up to, she sat me down on a dog-hair covered sofa and got some milk to wash out my eyes. I explained to her who we were and what had happened to us, while Dennis flipped through a copy of “National Geographic Kids”. “Is that why I can smell honey badger?” she asked. “Yes.” I told her what we needed from her. She thought about it carefully. “Get out,” she said. “Well, okay. But can you help us first?” “Not a chance.” My face fell. I must have looked really pathetic, with red eyes, a broken nose and nine fingers, because she sighed and said, “Okay, fine. I’ll show you where it is. But that’s all.”


“This is Golden Boy’s place,” said Dr Charlene, gesturing at a mean huddle of buildings surrounded by a peeling wall. We were in a part of town that made Dennis’s porn squat look like a hotel in Dubai. The street cleaners had obviously been mugged a long time before they made it to this alley. “That’s his name? The guy who made Mr Grey jealous with the crocodile?” I asked. Dennis nodded. “He’s a bad one,” said Charlene. “He marched into my office with a gun while I was taking a puppy’s temperature. He told me to come with him, and took me off in a big black car to see this crocodile. It was sick because it hadn’t been eating stones to help it digest. He told me if I told the police about it he’d kill my family. When I got back the thermometer was still in the puppy.” Charlene’s eyes glazed over at the memory. A rumbling at the entrance of the alley made us turn. A black SUV was driving in. “Don’t look,” said Charlene. “It’s Golden Boy.”


We turned away and pretended to be fascinated by a giant graffiti painting of what I slowly realised was a penis. I heard the metal gates opening, and the SUV pulled in. I risked a glance and caught the tail end disappearing inside, black and shiny. I let out my breath. There was a change in the motor’s sound, and the SUV reversed back out. I held my breath again. A guy who couldn’t have been more than twenty dropped down to the ground. He was wearing a tracksuit, covered in acne, and chewing gum. He pointed at Charlene, sneering. “You, you’re that vet, aren’t you? Who are these guys? Cops? SPCA?” Some much bigger men unfolded from the SUV with curious bulges in their jackets. They might have been carrying baguettes, but I doubted it.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Michelle</a>
    October 23rd, 2008 @17:30 #

    Pig's baldder... bwa ha ha... baguettes... bwa ha ha. Man, it's still hilarious the sixth time you read it!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Michelle</a>
    October 23rd, 2008 @17:49 #

    Bladder, dammit. (PS. Thanks to the inimitable Helen for checking over for typos.)


Please register or log in to comment

» View comments as a forum thread and add tags in BOOK Chat