Please wait. Loading.
Collection III (in progress)
Volume I, Unit 2
by D. Lavie

Falcon, The Maltese

Chapter 2 - Wenn Pigfly (Volume I. Unit 2)
Your browser is obsolete - it does not support HTML5 Canvas.

Chapter II - Wenn Pigfly

The clock struck five minutes to nine, but Cory Staid was feeling like it was nine to five. ‘Ready to go home right now; any minute,’ he thought.

Pleasurably tired after a busy night with the missus, he needed shuteye badly if he was going to make it through the day. This is when Stagnant popped a half-pound of RigleyField chewing gum into his mouth, also popping a rubber band from a cocked thumb in the direction of Staid’s head. Faced with the double threat of Stagnant’s loud chewing and murderous intent, Staid deduced that sleeping was out of the question. He buzzed Rosa for some coffee – black with lemon, as usual – and opened the morning edition – *Express*! – with a loud snap just as Stagnant relieved the tension in yet another stretched band of rubber by squeezing his middle ‘trigger’ finger. The hurtling piece of caoutchouc hit the printed page and fell away.

“What happened, you didn’t get anywhere with that tomato last night?” Staid asked, the paper screening him from Stagnant’s repeated volleys.

“Don’t know what you mean,” Stagnant replied in the voice of a girl about to cry. “Sure you do, Staggie. But never mind that. Here’s the real problem.”

He gestured for Stagnant to come over. When he did, Staid pointed his index and middle fingers at a headline puffed out by Stagnant’s rubber-band shot earlier. Ice Caps Shrinking At Glacial Pace, it said.

‘What the heck could that mean?!’ Stagnant wondered. “Slow going today, huh?” he finally guessed and gave a protracted yawn. He sighed, and there was a hint of something fake in that sigh; too long, too loud, too sing-songy. “Things are pretty stagnant around here. Sure wish we’d get some indication of who that Orange Silver character could be and what her angle is on this whole business. Of course, it’s not like someone’s just gonna spill the beans on it right here and now.”

“Fat chance of that,” echoed Staid and reached into a vest pocket for a small silver case.

There was some shuffling in the anteroom, a thousand whispered ‘thank you’s’ and a faint knock on the frosted glass of the door.

“Come in!” hollered Staid, cigarette in mouth, match ready to strike the cardboard home it left for good. The door opened to reveal a short, impossibly fat man dressed to the nines and sweating like a pig, a too-small bowler hat on a bowling ball of a head.

“Pardon me for barging in like this, kind sirs!” the man panted.

‘Well, well, speak of the Devil,’ Cory thought. “No problem” he drawled, clutching the cigarette with his lips, bringing the match up to the matchbox.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” the man squealed. “With all the excitement, I forgot to tell you my name.” “Please allow me to introduce myself,” he said as Staid struck the matchbox, producing fire. He allowed, with a princely gesture of the right hand. Wincing instinctively, Staid brought the flaming match to the end of the cigarette, ready for the smoke to invade his eyes.

“My name is Pigfly,” said the man a bit ceremoniously. “Wenn Pigfly.” Staid’s jaw dropped, as did the cigarette. “Got that right,” he stammered.

The fat man smiled a polite smile and added, somewhat coyly, “At your service.”

Rory Stagnant, legs resting on the table while he leaned back in his chair, still enjoying his morning chewing gum, swung them down and got up. “Is there any way in which we can be of service to you, Mr. Pigsty?”

“Oh, yes, oh, yes, I do hope so,” the man rapped in a high-pitched voice. “You see, I am an expert on dogs, and –”

“Aaah!!” screamed Staid, waving his arm up and down and blowing on his fingers. Distracted, he forgot about the burning match until it reminded him of itself. Blowing on his hand, he blew the cigarette off the table and then stepped on it to boot.

“What sort of dogs?” Rory asked, chiseling each word out of stone. His eyes narrowed.

“Why – toy breeds, naturally,” replied Pigfly. “Malteses are my specialty.”

Cory Staid mentally let the crushed cigarette under his half-boot go, rounded his desk, and walked to where the fat man stood. Smoking this morning would have to wait.

Solicitous, he offered, “Won’t you sit down, Mr. Pigfly?” The fat man lifted his hat in gratitude and sat down on the couch behind him, his behind making a permanent imprint of itself in the black leather. “As it happens, my partner, Mr. Stagnant, and I were having a little argument about Malteses just yesterday and were sorry we didn’t have an expert around to set us straight.” Stagnant arched an unexpecting eyebrow.

“Well,” the man beamed at Staid from his low seat, “it would seem that my arrival is rather auspicious, then. I will consider it an honor to provide expertise to you, gentlemen!”

“That’s all well and good, sir, but maybe first you could tell us what brought you here in the first place,” spoke Stagnant.

“Well, yes, of course. How rude of me. You see, it’s a rather long story. Where shall I start?”

Staid walked back, past his desk, put his hands in his trouser pockets and stood looking out the window for a second or two. “How about at the beginning?” he said to the view.

“Well, yes, yes, of course,” the fat man sang in the high-pitched voice again, but Stagnant interrupted him.

“You see, Mr. Pigby, at Stagnant & Staid we do things the old-fashioned way. We ask questions; we talk to people face to face; we pursue every lead; we think through every possibility; we think before acting, and we trust our gut to make decisions. Some may call this – well, staid.” He chuckled knowingly. “Our approach is too dignified, too proper for some. Those guys want activity, they want development, they want constant progress, instant results. To them, we’re stagnant.” He winced. “But I say: we know our job and we’re darn good at it, too. So, as I was saying, please start at the beginning.”

“Well, sir, I’m glad you asked. Yet, if I am to start at the beginning, I may as well start at the very beginning, and if I am to begin there, I may as well start from the very very beginning, if you don’t mind.” Staid nodded to show that he didn’t mind, then awoke Stagnant – who was starting to doze off, feet on his desk again, a position best suited to napping – with a well-aimed across-the-room rubber-band shot.

“Of course, the last thing I would want to do is take a didactic tone – this isn’t about teaching anybody anything. Just a small excursion into the history and characteristics of the breed.” Staid sat down in his chair and interlaced his fingers on his crotch, ready to listen, while Stagnant, on the sly, went back to sleep.

“Gentlemen, I intend to sing no less than a paean to one of the most noble canine breeds to have ever inhabited the Earth – one with magical and mystical powers! And while I do not intend to sound like a braggart, I am nevertheless something of a savant in the canine-science circles,” he clumsily suppressed a smile, “recognized as an authority and accorded acclaim even by the benighted people who think dogs are not human. Of course, such people are merely under the influence of an illusion – perhaps an evil spell of sorts – but, fear not, I am quite adept at dispelling such illusions, should you have them.”

Staid waved the fat man off, as if to say that he would never think dogs anything other than human. Stagnant remained completely motionless, eyes completely closed, ears perked up.

“Malteses are indeed the kindest, most human-like – even superhuman, as I just explained – of creatures.” “Now, the Maltese is actually a spaniel, possessed of a healthy and spirited temperament. History tells us that it was cultured as a house pet in ancient Egypt and China, as well as in Rome, where the poet Martial wrote his famous panegyric to Issa, an aristocrat’s favorite Maltese puppy:

‘Issa, the pet puppy of Publius, is purer than a dove’s kiss, gentler than any maiden, more precious than Indian gems. If she whines, you will think she is talking; she feels both sadness and joy. And when driven by the longing of the stomach she has never secretly stained her cover with any drop, but with a caressing foot she alerts her master and warns him. And lest the last days that she sees light should snatch her from him forever, Publius has had her depicted in a painting more lifelike than the puppy itself; either you will think that each is real or that each is painted.’

There was some shuffling in the anteroom, a thousand whispered 'thank you's' and a faint
knock on the frosted glass of the door.

Illustration by Devon Doss

“Impressive powers of memorization, Mr. Pigsfly,” said Stagnant through his gum, chewing furiously to wake himself.

“Thank you kindly,” the fat man replied and, in the same breath, continued: “In later times, the personal physician of Queen Elizabeth I wrote – also in Latin – about the breed as being ‘very small indeed, and chiefly sought after for the amusement and pleasure of women. The smaller the kind, the more pleasing it is.’ ” Staid coughed nervously. “ ‘…So that they may carry them in their bosoms, in their beds and in their arms while riding in their carriages.’ ”

Letting out a sigh of relief, Staid interrupted, “Sounds fascinating to be sure, but is this why you came to see us?”

Here the fat man hesitated for a second. In the next, it seemed that he would say something. Ghosts of a mood and a thought here and there flashed by the dozen across his brow. He sat silently for some time. “I- I- I-,” he stammered, starting to say something. Seeing the struggle and seeking the source of the stilted speech Staid said softly, “Tell us what’s bothering you. Take your time.”

Still, Staid’s attempt to soothe this impotent suffering only stymied the fat man’s attempts to speak. He sighed, but could say nothing. Then, taking a white kerchief from an inner pocket, Pigfly wiped the sweat hanging in fat droplets from his forehead. Like a faucet that had been turned on full-force by a casual brush of the hand, he suddenly gushed forth, “Gentlemen, please pardon me in advance! I don’t mean to sound querulous – I’m not usually one to fret fruitlessly –” Staid and Stagnant exchanged glances “– or complain needlessly, but there is someone I must tell you about, someone who is the reason I came to visit you today. She’s caused me much grief already and I fear what may happen next. She has managed to outwit me once, getting her hands on the book, and if she does so again, then woe is me, gentlemen, woe is me!” Pigfly muzzled his mouth with pudgy paws, afraid to speak whatever woe he meant.

Staid flew from his seat, screaming at Pigfly, “Well, out with it, man! Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak burdens the overwrought heart and bids it break.*”

Stagnant rolled his eyes at the ceiling, thinking ‘there goes Staid with his Shakespeare again!’. His eyes the size of Turkish tea saucers, Pigfly tore his hands away from his mouth and many chins, and whispered, “I will tell you, gentlemen! I will tell all. I know now that I am in the company of cultured men who will fully appreciate all I have to say.”

“What is this book you mentioned?” shot Staid, to focus Pigfly before he went off on one of his mannered tangents.

“Oh, yes, the book, the book… You see, a beautiful, morocco-bound volume called Falcon, The Maltese was stolen many years ago from the home of Professor F.L. Why, the foremost expert on the Maltese breed and the author of The North American Maltese Lion Dog, a comprehensive survey of the breed, covering every little detail one would ever want to know about Malteses. Every little detail, that is, but what was in Falcon, The Maltese. This is why this book was so precious. I suspect that Dr. Why was in the early stages of an experiment to create Falcon –”

“What the heck does that mean?” interrupted Stagnant.

“Mr. Stagnant!” the fat man was stern for the first time. “I, a serious scholar and zealous zoologist, find myself having to compete with a fatuous young lady with the no-less-silly name of Orange Silver – an opportunist, profiteer, and pariah of the Maltese-specialist community for her thieving ways. I am forced to do battle with her for a book the possession of which allows one to breed a flying and caped Maltese and thus rule the world of Maltese breeding and showing! Do you gentlemen understand what this means?! Can you comprehend the power a man would possess if he could do that?!” Pigfly sang rhapsodically, his eyes glazing over.

Choked up, he swallowed hard, brushed a tear from his cheek, and went on hoarsely, “Needless to say, this book has special powers and has been the object of a ruthless, no-holds-barred international search for more years than either you or I have been alive! And two days ago, when I was this close to knowing the secret of breeding flying Malteses, a most inauspicious circumstance prevented me from getting my hands on that book!” “I thought all was lost. It was the nadir of my professional career as far as I was concerned. After a dogged five-year search I was frustrated yet again in my efforts to have a small dog take a giant leap into history. And then –”

“And then – what?!” Stagnant shrieked in impatience.

“Easy there, Staggie,” reacted Staid. “Settle down, boy, or we’ll have to pacify you with a dog treat or something.”

“I’m calm, I’m calm,” said Stagnant, panting.

“So, as I was saying,” the fat man began.

“Wait a minute!” now it was Staid’s turn to scream. “You mean to say that you know Orange Silver?!”

“Indeed I do, Mr. Staid. And if you and Mr. Stagnant quell and, as Mr. Staid said, pacify your fearsome outbursts, I shall be happy to tell you all about Falcon, The Maltese and those who want to get their undeserving paws on it. But first, a bit about the book and what it promises.” “You see, the sought-after strain of Maltese is named Falcon in the book because the animal would be able to fly with the aid of its jet-black ‘cape’ – the long hair that grows from its forehead; a feature that is highly rare, even among highbred dogs – as rare indeed as the black tulip. The amateur breeder who wrote the book all those centuries ago, before it was all but lost forever, even went to Holland to try to absorb the local cluster-industry know-how on how to breed black things.”

“If it was lost, then how did this Why guy get it?” Stagnant interrupted again.

“Dr. Why spent her entire life searching for a copy of the book, which she knew about from some very old texts, and found it just days before her inexplicable demise. When I was about to have the book in my hands a few hours later, I knew it would be the acme of my career. But, as I already informed you, it was, unfortunately, its nadir. A paradox, isn’t it, gentlemen? A man can only fail in a great way only once he has had a great measure of success…”

“The higher they climb –” Staid began.

“The harder they fall!” finished Stagnant.

“Thank you, gentlemen, for your supreme tact,” Pigfly replied crisply. “In any case, in the book there is a precise recipe, with a list of ingredients and a baking-temperature chart, for making a ceramic statue of a flying dog – The Falcon. You see, whoever possesses the statue of Falcon can arrive at such a black, caped flying dog as I described not a minute ago.”

“But how?” Staid and Stagnant asked almost in unison.

“To breed such a specimen,” the fat man continued professorially, “the statue – a dog god of sorts – must be placed on an altar in a room measuring exactly 13 by 21 feet horizontally, with a vertical height of 13 feet. The measurements must be highly exact. The male should be brought in first and given time to make himself comfortable, preferably reclining against some rough-silk pillows upholstered in a black-and-white hound’s-tooth pattern at the moment when the female is allowed to paddle in, front paws bound in the manner of Chinese courtesans of yesteryear. Thus, the conjugal play begins…”

“Now,” he continued in a master storyteller’s voice, his eyes glazed again, “all the formalities having been attended to, there is only one matter more – no, two: the choice of food, to set the mood, and music, to seal the intention –”

“Now, look here, Mr… –”

“Pigfly. Wenn Pigfly.”

“Yes, Mister, uh, Pig, uh, flies… This is awfully interesting and all, but I really am more of a, uh, cat fancier and, besides, all this… conjugation business is a bit too hot and heavy for me at nine o'clock in the morning, if you know what I mean –”

“O, but Mr. Stagnant,” the corpulent man huffed, rubbing his gigantic girth with frenzied little paws, attempting to roll over into a standing position, “I am merely speaking of canine courtship – what a beautiful process it is to behold! This is a most fascinating subject, I’m sure you’ll agree! You must allow me to continue. I promise you will find this information of keen interest if you just let me speak but five minutes more.”

Twenty-five minutes later, the fat man paused to catch his breath and wipe sweaty palms on his fleshy flanks when there was a knock on the door.