From the forceps applied to my infant cranium during birth along with time spent reading the likes of Los Bros Hernandez, Kryil Bonfiglioli, Saki and Mervyn Peake, comes The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry. Here, for the first time, is a short story from a collection of same, entitled “Cigar Chewing Chumps.” So, open the door to the public-house, The Frog and Radiator, enter the premises and the world of Fekenham, order a pint of Widows Whiskers, and settle back and enjoy yourself. It could be habit-forming.
Arthur Bentwhistle poured a long measure of Absinthe into a short glass for Elvis Linkthorpe the village priest then watched amazed as the vicar downed the drink in one swallow. The cleric’s face went bright crimson, he wrinkled his nose then bit his lip before settling his features into their normal arrangement. Eyes, brown, set above a steady nose that quivered slightly when the owner was intoxicated or stoned; mouth a straight line with an upper lip that hung above the lower like a pelmet. A chin that knew no-nonsense yet accepted that its master knew no common sense. As a man of faith, his faith was less Christian than orthodoxy demanded yet more Pantheist than desired. ‘God,’ he would say when asked, ‘is a word, it is the great creator, the vast unknowable, the eternal from which all things have sprung.’ He was fond of sprinkling quotes from the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tipitaka but also having Sanatana Dharma music (he refused to refer to it as Hindu) played on a Sunday during mass. ‘There’s nothing like a sitar to make a sermon zing,’ he would say. That, along with an organ as fingered by Herman Cole to the accompaniment of a gospel choir gave rise to Bishop Harmonious Boyle’s disgruntlement at his junior pastor’s renegade religious ramblings.
‘I’ll have another, please Arthur,’ said the grinning holy man.
Arthur poured another two fingers. As he did he observed Susanne Beaufont, Linkthorpe’s French amoureux, his maítresse. The former putain had fled her native France after Bentwhistle, Brigadier Largepiece and Linkthorpe had mistakenly sought refuge in a house of ill repute thinking it a hotel before causing more chaos than a box full of foxes in a hen-house. Susanne’s working name had been Anaís Sin but since settling in Fekenham she had turned her talents to business. She now owned the only Bordello in Dorset.
‘She’s a gorgeous girl,’ thought Bentwhistle whose roving eye didn’t so much rove as run rampant. Arthur had always been the village lothario but now, having nearly lost his wife, Lupini’s, love he was, or so he claimed, a changed man. ‘I’ve turned over a new leaf,’ he would say knowing full well a new leaf soon drops when fall arrives even if nothing of Arthur’s ever dropped but always rose to the occasion.
Susanne Beaufont sat at a small round table near to where Ethel Blowvalve and her good friend, Millie Mead sat hogging the fire that greedily burnt the logs recently tossed upon it. Whatever the two were saying couldn’t be heard by Arthur. The hubbub made by other villagers supping their favourite tipples whilst engaging in deep discussions on a variety of matters made eavesdropping nigh on impossible. To the side of Ethel and Millie was Ernie Stallworthy, the weasel featured former cockney who had left Hackney to live in the countryside. Ernie, a thin package of a man, all skin and bone tautly stretched across his meagre frame was seated nearest the door, a position he always took for outside his dogs, Codpiece and Scrubbs, waited. Codpiece, a low bellied Dachshund had never spoken with Scrubbs even though the latter always engaged him in canine conversation. Their’s had always been a one-way kennel of a relationship but Scrubb’s didn’t mind, in fact, he quite liked things the way they were for, after all, Codpiece never asked questions.
‘Well, well, well. What have we here? Take a look at that. Have you ever seen the like before? I mean hominids and canines, sure, I have no problem with that but really, a chimp and a chump walking together. Go on, take a look,’ quipped Scrubbs, his tongue lolling, his tail wagging furiously.
Codpiece turned his head to see what was so exciting his friend. Coming across the Green was a man in a suit holding hands with a chimp dressed in the same way each of them smoking a cigar. The man held an umbrella in his right hand, the chimp a gnawed cucumber in his left. Neither looked best pleased. The man was stocky with long arms that grew from his shoulders ascending the length of his torso before reaching his knees. The one hand holding the umbrella thrust the folded canopy of cloth before him as though he were a blind man wielding a white stick whilst the other clung fast to the chimpanzee for support.
‘There it is, see? I told you there was a public-house across the green but did you believe me? No, you didn’t but there it is as plain to see as, as…I say, look there a couple of dogs. Two mutts no doubt waiting for their master’s return. C’mon, Leghop, let’s go have a sup and a bite to nibble.’
The chimp made a sound like the whooping of native warriors. Codpiece scampered away as fast as his stumpy legs would carry him his belly occasionally grazing the grass. Scrubbs stood wagging his tail. The chimp threw the chewed cucumber at Scrubbs who tore off like a tornado in the general direction taken by his friend.
‘What d’you do that for? The dog wasn’t bothering you now, was it? Anyhow, there’s the door. Let’s go inside and take a gander.’
The Chimp, Leghop, opened the door with his free hand then released the man from his grip before bounding inside the pub. The man followed on dragging the umbrella behind him. Arthur was down in the cellar changing barrels whilst Lupini was serving Verity Lambush. No one, at least no one behind the bar, saw the two suited primates stumble into the Frog. In the snug sitting all by himself was Cyril Updike. During the day he was the village bobby, now a sergeant. Married to the lovely Cybil with their single son Jonah but tonight he’d popped out for a swift half leaving his family to their own devices. His face grew grey as he watched the man and his chimpanzee walk up to the bar.
‘Will you look at this,’ said the man indicating with his hand the absence of anyone to take their order, ‘you’d think they didn’t want my custom.’ Lupini, overhearing the comment, passed Verity two drinks. One a dry martini the other a bourbon. ‘Have to go,’ she said, ‘There’s a customer needs serving.’ Verity smiled, nodded her understanding then turned and walked back to where her husband, Ralph was sitting.
When Lupini saw the man and his companion she looked bemused. ‘Are you together?’ She asked to which the man replied they were adding, ‘I never go anywhere without Leghop.’
‘What would you like to drink?’ she asked thinking that the man would order a lemonade for the chimp and possibly something stronger for himself. ‘Two pints of your finest, please.’
‘And for the chimp?’
‘I’m having one whilst he’s having the other.’
‘Oh, I see,’ laughed Lupini finding the whole business amusing, ‘I’ve never seen you in here before. Are you new to the area or just visiting?’ As she spoke she drew the first pint. The sound of beer cascading into a glass was music to both man and beast.
‘We were here a couple of years ago, the village I mean, but we didn’t get the opportunity to experience your hospitality nor your legendary beer.’
As Lupini pulled the second pint she observed the two visitors more closely. There was a translucence about them, a sort of shimmer which gave the pair an odd look. There was something strangely familiar about them even though she was certain she’d never seen the pair before. She placed the pints in front of her guests. ‘That’ll be seven and six please.’ The man took a wallet out of his breast pocket, tugged a ten-pound note from within its fold’s then passed the money to Lupini.
‘May we have two of your finest cigars, please?’
Lupini smiled, ‘Diplomaticas or Cohiba?’
‘The first reminds of the dinosaur so I’ll go with the Cohiba.’
Lupini removed a box from the shelf filled with the elegantly rolled bundles of dried, fermented tobacco leaves before presenting the box to the primates in front of her.’Help yourselves,’ she said.
The man, who had neglected to introduce himself, took one for himself which he then thrust into his suit pocket, whilst Leghop took the other which he clamped firmly between yellow teeth. Lupini proffered a guillotine style cutter to the chimp who bent his head slightly to allow her to slice the top off the cigar. The chimp whooped then slapped his palms together when Lupini lit his parejo. Taking a deep swig of his beer Leghop let out a loud bark of a burp and then inhaled deeply from his cigar. A fug of smoke billowed about his head settling like a shroud about him as he exhaled. The man languidly drank from his glass taking down small mouthfuls. ‘Absolutely delicious,’ he confirmed, ‘the best beer I have ever tasted.’ The chimp guzzled his. In minutes his glass was empty.
Arthur returned from the cellar and gave a hearty welcome to the odd duo sitting at the bar. ‘Evenin’ each. Nice t’ see new faces.’ Neither hairless man or hairy homininae responded lest it was with a twitch of an eyebrow. Arthur turned to Lupini as he whispered in her ear. ‘What have we here then. Man and monkey sipping ale at my bar?’
‘Chimpanzee,’ said Lupini.
‘Never seen ’em before yet, somehow, I feel as if I know ’em.’
Just then the door opened and a tall woman dressed in black lace walked in. She had the same limpid aura. Saying not a word she indicated to man and pet that they should follow.
‘Right, we’ll be off then. Thanks for the beers and cigars.’
Arthur watched them leave, Lupini by his side. An ashen-faced Cyril Updike approached them. ‘What’s up Cyril, you looks as if you’d seen a ghost,’ chortled Arthur.
‘Those people who just left, didn’t recognise ’em?’
‘Well, I thought I did but I can’t quite put my finger on when or where,’ replied Arthur.
‘They were here a couple a year ago, you know with that circus that came to the village.’
‘What, that Spiegielie Zirkus?’ retorted Arthur.
‘Yes, that’s the one. Don’t you recall the accident, that car what drove into a tree? Well, them’s the people who died that night, those folk who just left.’