TOO MANY IDEAS...NOT ENOUGH COFFEE...

Rants, raves, fiction, and laughs

Friday, May 25, 2012

Scoundrels

By Monica Marier
One misty moisty morning,
when foggy was the weather,
I met a jolly gentleman,
all wrapped in leather.
With rings on his fingers,
And bells on his toes…
“…No hang on, that’s not right,” mumbled Marion Byrnes, scratching his stubbly chin. “I can’t remember the rest. Something about the fat git falling in a puddle and sinking to his middle.”
“What was the point of that, may I ask?” asked Heinrich Drechsler with a disdainful sniff. “Another one of your Irish wisdoms?”
“No, it’s just a nursery rhyme. The morning reminded me of it, that’s all,” said Marion lightly, looking around. 

The tropical forests of Chowra rose thickly overhead. Their boots squelched in the thick carpet of rotting vegetation, sending beetles skittering every which way.  Tendrils of fog curled from the ground, joining the wall of white mist that obscured everything.

Marion and Heinrich each held a lantern up, trying to cast a ray upon the impenetrable fog, but all they saw were fairy reflections upon the slick forest walls. The cloying scent of wet vines and trees stank in their nostrils.

“We’re lost,” grumbled Heinrich, in a deep rasp that Marion still found incongruous with the man’s slim girlish face and short stature.
“Nonsense. No one’s ever mapped this place, so there’s no directions… ergo, no place that we are supposed to be going to, nor anyplace we’re not. We’re exploring. That means we can’t be off-course, since we never had a course. So we are not lost.”
“Alright, we’re disoriented, then,” snapped the surly German.
“Yeah, there you go, mate,” nodded Marion in sheepish approval.

They continued in grim silence. The only sound above their squelching was the clank of their gear and the tink of glass upon glass.

“Are you sure we’re even going to find any here?” asked Heinrich after a while. “It’s rather remote. I’m sure these Islands are rather cut off from each other.”
Marion coughed in the damp air. “That’s what I’m counting on. I’m sure we could find a really unique specimen here—one that’s singular from the others on the Indian continent.”
“And what then?” asked Heinrich.
“We make sure they stay rare,” said Marion darkly, covering his mouth with a handkerchief.

“You know, I don’t quite agree with that,” said Heinrich stopping to wipe the beads of moisture that had formed on his wire-rim spectacles.
“It’s part of the business, Heinsy. You knew that when you took the job.”
“I took the job, because the money was good,” sniffed Heinrich. “But so far I’ve yet to see any of it.”
“Look,” said Marion spinning around. “It’s not my fault Mad Hippo got our last shipment out from under us, but we’ve got our legs under us again. MacGilleDhonaghart’s  got The Dachshund docked and waiting for us at Great Nicobar and then we scuttle off for Paris, got it?”

“It’s not the first time Mad Hippo’s gotten the drop on us,” said Heinrich with a frown at Marion.
“It won’t happen. I was very covert this time,” said Marion, tapping his nose.
Heinrich held the lantern up to examine his partner. Marion’s pale face belied nothing beneath his inky black ringlets, dripping with water. At any rate Marion thought he’d been covert, but Heinrich had his doubts. 

Marion was generally as subtle as a fish in a flower vase.

“So how did you hear about Chowra anyways?” asked Heinrich, plodding on in determination.
“A bird merchant told me about it at the market. I got him talking about his Nicobar pigeons. He was the only one selling them— a big chap with a scarred face.”
“And he willingly told you where he got his rare one-of-a-kind birds?” asked Heinrich incredulously.
“Of course not! I got him drunk first!”
“To find out where his birds came from?” asked Heinrich shaking his head.
“No, I asked if he’d tell me some stories of his hunting. Told him I was writing a book.”
“A book?” asked Heinrich.
Marion gave another lopsided grin. “I maaaaay… have led him to believe I was Rudyard Kipling.”
“There is a special Hell devised for people like you,” said Heinrich, mildly impressed.
“Anyway he told me stories about bird hunting, and he eventually let slip what I wanted.”
“What?” asked Heinrich growing eager.
“That while he was stalking a beautiful pigeon, he saw a cluster of bright orange flowers among the tree boles.”

“Orange!” cried Heinrich in excitement. “We haven’t seen any orange ones yet!”
“That’s what I thought! I asked more questions about them, and he let loose the name Chowra. I gave him some money and here we are.”
“Orange. I wish you had said that earlier. I would have known what we were looking for.”
“You didn’t see any, did you?” asked Marion nervously.
“No,” admitted Heinrich. “But then, I couldn’t see a rhinoceros if it were an inch in front of me.”
“Are there rhinoceroses in tropical forests?” asked Marion, uncertain.
“No. They live on the veldt,” said Heinrich.
“Oh,” said Marion.

“Do you hear that?” asked Heinrich.
“Hear what?” asked Marion.
Heinrich screwed his eyes up as he strained his ears, pondering what it could be.
“A crackling sound,” he said. “Sounds like someone cracking nuts.”
“Monkeys, maybe? Do monkeys—?”
“Yes, monkeys live in tropical forests,” interrupted Heinrich. “How do you know so much about birds, but nothing about zoology?”
“I take interest in what I take interest in!” snapped Marion. “Anyway—!”
“Shut-up!” said Heinrich. “It’s getting louder. Is it getting warmer too?”
“Yes, and less drippy. But I still can’t see a thing— the fog’s getting worse.” Marion dissolved into a fit of coughing again.

“That’s not fog, that’s wood smoke!” shouted Heinrich. “The forest is on fire!” Heinrich panicked and dropped the lantern. The glass smashed and the wick guttered and went out— smothered by the spongey undergrowth.

“On fire?” cried Marion. “Don’t be stupid! Everything here is covered with water!”
“Campfire?” suggested Heinrich.
“We’ll see,” coughed Marion, the smoke was burning in his throat and making his eyes water. “Let’s get out of the smoke’s path and see.”
“Pistols?” asked Heinrich, pulling out his colt dragon.

Marion didn’t answer but nodded, while covering his streaming eyes. Heinrich squinted in the smoke while guiding Marion away from the suffocating clouds. As soon as they were out of the way, they noticed that the fog had cleared and the crackle of burning wood was growing louder.

Marion blinked the tears out of his eyes to see a fringe of green leading to an open field. Handing his lantern to Heinrich, he kept his pistol at the ready, and pulled out his machete. Making awkward left-handed swipes at the vines, he managed to cut his way through to the clearing beyond.

Heinrich and Marion stood, mouths agape at the sight beyond. Nearly two acres of forest were reduced to smoldering ash. Marion was right in that the flames seemed reluctant to consume the saturated undergrowth. 
A second odor was now prevalent over the dull sting of smoke.

“Kerosene,” said Heinrich dully.
“Yeah,” sighed Marion, feeling sick to his stomach. “I think we’ve been had again.”
“Actually, I was wondering… ” said Heinrich.
“Yes?”
“You don’t speak a word of Hindustani, do you?” asked Heinrich. Marion had specifically hired him due to his ease in learning languages.
“I told you, I take interest in things that interest me,” shouted Marion, his fuse burnt down. He kicked a clump of dead wood that dissolved into rotten wood pulp.
“So how did you talk to the bird-catcher?” asked Heinrich.
“Because he…” Marion stopped, eyes wide. “Spoke… English.”

There was the sound of deep gravely laughter behind them. Marion and Heinrich spun around in terror. A large silhouette towered over them, topped in a wide-brimmed hat. It cast a shadow over the scarred, lantern jawed face of Hippolyte Jones.

“Mad Hippo,” gasped Marion.
“G’day,” said Hippo. Under his arm was a Wardian case; nestled in the black soil was an orange orchid. In his free hand was a Winchester rifle.
“There was an orange orchid!” cried Marion.
“There were over five hundred of them,” said Hippo. “But I only had ten cases with me, so the rest had to go. Sorry mates. You had a good run, but you’re not gonna get these’un.”

Marion sagged in defeat.

“So you’re going to kill us then?” asked Heinrich. “So why make sure that we came out here?”
“Kill you?” said Hippo with a condescending grin, “Why would I do that… when you lot are making me one of the most famous orchid hunters in the world? With every defeat that you complain about at the pubs and salons, I become more infamous… and my prices go up. Nah. You failures and your drunken boat captain are what’s keeping me in expensive boots and fancy beers. And if you pathetic excuses ever manage to land an orchid to sell, that’ll be a true rarity worth a king’s ransom. See? Help eachother, we do.”

Heinrich was the only one who felt the sting in this. Marion was too happy at being allowed to live to feel any insult.

“So you’re going to let us go?” asked Marion, giddy with relief.
“’Course I am,” said Hippo with another scarred grin. “But, since I don’t want you two buggering up my operation either…” He let the comment hang. Sun mottled arms the size of tree-trunks swung a shovel towards their heads.

The last thing Marion felt before slipping into unconsciousness was a Nicobar pigeon landing on his head and tugging at his hair.

6 comments:

Larry Kollar said...

Highly witty and entertaining as always, Mon! Glad to see you flashing Twitter anew!

CharlotteC said...

When I started I didn't think I was going to enjoy your story-I was wrong

Monica Marier said...

@Larry Hope to make my flashes more of a regular thing!

@Charlotte glad I changed your mind!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Always entertaining - and you do love your male buddy stuff!

Monica Marier said...

@Icy I can't explain why, but I'm never happier than when I just have 2 guys chatting. It's a sickness prob'ly.

Deanna Schrayer said...

"subtle as a fish in a flower vase" - that might be the best analogy I've ever heard Monica. Super story!