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Update 7 March 2005
1,001 Mornings of
Character by EO Costello in collaboration with Simon Barber
Morning HeadIt is the very first moments of the day, when you struggle out of the depths of sleep, that usually supply the mise en scene for that which follows. When you awake to the soft sounds of distant surf, or the gentle breezes, or the fragrant air of tropical flowers, a perfectly oojah-cum-spiff day can be said to be in the offing.
Then there are days like today, where I could swear I had the sensation of feeling my antlers growing inside my head, and not doing it silently, either. I had vague hopes that my antlers were doing this in a valiant effort to evict something small and furry that had taken up residence in my mouth, which, upon delicate experimentation, turned out to be my tongue. I had vague hopes of lying perfectly still for a number of hours, which might allow for the sense of impending death to recede, hopes which were shattered, along with my eardrums, by the soft whispering of my valet.
"Good morning, sir."
This was a perfectly beastly lie. Not the morning part, as a briefly opened eye discerned that a ghastly and powerful glare from the sun was running riot in my room. The hunter of the East had failed to catch the Sultan's turret in a noose of light, and had instead wrapped it around my neck. The fact that said morning was good was the subject that was open to fierce debate, though my ability to wax eloquent was hampered, largely by the fact that my tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth with what seemed like third-quality rubber cement.
"Gaaaanarrrgggh." Not, I admit, something Ciceronian, though I'm willing to bet he said something similar after a night with the Cypriot wine. He just had a good editor who blue-penciled it out of his memoirs.
"Indeed, sir. You have a visitor, sir."
I felt around in my bed, to see if the visitor was already present. Having found no such visitor present there, I came to the conclusion that any visitor under these circumstances was, like as not, probably intent on conversation. Gathering my thoughts under these circumstances would be like picking up mercury with a toothpick.
"If they are wearing perfume and a dress, offer them a seat and a cocktail. If they aren't, offer them a one-way ticket to Manila."
"I am afraid, sir, that it is a policeman."
I have experience with policemen on three continents, and I have known few in my time that wear a dress and perfume, though I've also known a few that would be greatly improved by the adoption of such a fashion.
"I did not order any policemen for breakfast. Send him back, and have something that will settle my stomachs sent up."
"That, I regret, is not possible, sir."
"Why the devil not?"
"The policeman I referred to is standing next to me, sir."
I took the risk of opening an eye. After about fifteen seconds, the room stopped spinning, and a further ten seconds allowed the colours to stop swirling, revealing a brother whitetail deer, who was looking at me with an _expression that was more fatherly than brotherly. In fact, the _expression was similar to that which my father used when I was sent down from Eton. He was looking at me with an air as if he were trying to determine if I was still alive, and, if so, whether I was worth reviving. I could see his point.
"I am Inspector Stagg, of the Spontoon Islands Constabulary. You are the Hon. Reggie Buckhorn, I believe?"
"If you're investigating my murder, I can inform you that it was Colonel Mustard, in the bar, with the cocktail shaker."
The Inspector looked back at me with an _expression of stern reproof. The fellow's whole air reflected a certain joie de vivre deficiency. He took out a mechanical pencil, clicked it a few times, producing a series of noises like gunshots, and an index card that rustled like a forest fire.
"I'm investigating some other incidents, sir, that occurred last night, events in which I am informed that you played a role. Starting with the theft of a constable's helmet."
"The one, at present, that you are wearing on your head."
This was a relief. I thought I had a ghastly swelling between my antlers. I reached up with a shaking paw, and gently felt it out. Indeed, a standard-issue constable's helmet.
"Does it go with my outfit?"
"I am not in a position to say, sir, since you are not wearing an outfit."
A peek under the covers revealed that this man had earned his detective's post through the development of keen powers of observation. There was a minimalist air about my attire.
"Lodge? I seem to have misplaced my wardrobe."
My man coughed discreetly. "I have made enquiries, sir. I have located your straw hat, which was adorning a statue in front of the hotel, and I have hopes of tracing the exact whereabouts of your undershorts, sir, momentarily."
"I would request, sir, that you also instruct your valet to assist us in locating a pair of standard-issue shorts."
"The shorts belonged to the constable who also lost his helmet to you. It appears that, in the words of a witness, you 'de-bagged' the constable in question, and further claimed his helmet as a 'trophy of war.'"
"De-bagging builds character. Ask any Oxford man."
"De-bagging also builds enmity. Ask any Spontoon constable this morning. My superiors sent me here this morning, as there seems to be a degree of ill feeling among the constables."
"Tell them to try a prairie oyster. It works wonders for me."
The Inspector rolled his eyes. I wish I could do the same without hurting them. "I am referring, Mr. Buckhorn, to anger, not the kind of lingering nausea you are suffering from." The deer squinted at a card in his paw. "Moving on to a point earlier yesterday. Did you, at any point, purchase four dozen duck eggs from a native vendor?"
This required thought, which was even more painful than usual. A vague, fugitive memory gave itself up, waving a white flag.
"I believe so. I was attempting to show the barman the proper method for making a whiskey flip. Surely, that's not illegal?"
"No, but a segue from a demonstration of bartending to a demonstration of cricket bowling, using the same eggs, is arguably illegal."
"Only if it's a no bowl."
The rozzer stared at me with a wild surmise, decided that he had, in fact, heard me correctly, and made a further note.
"That means, in the act of bowling, that I overstepped..."
"You seem to have engaged in overstepping most of last night, sir. Do you have anything to say regarding a certain ricksha race that occurred on the grounds of this hotel at approximately midnight last night?"
"Yes. I want a word with the stewards. That rotter in the other ricksha clearly fouled my driver. People who throw mangoes at ricksha drivers in the middle of a race should be warned off the Turf."
Another look of incredulity. This deer has obviously lived a sheltered life. "Inspector, I think you should take into consideration that I helped that young vixen find her parasol."
"Would that be the parasol you threw into the swimming pool, sir, in an attempt to assist her escort?"
"Refresh my memory. What was her escort doing in the swimming pool? Other than the backstroke."
"You appear to have said to him, quote, 'View holloa, gone to ground!' and pitched him, ears over brush, into the deep end."
"Well, he was wearing hunting pink. That means I saw a red jacket." I took pity on the Inspector, and helped him out, since I could tell from his New Haven accent he probably didn't ride to the hounds that often.
"I think the gentleman in question was also seeing red. You threw his fiancee into the swimming pool, after her parasol."
"See? She found it. Like I told you."
"Lastly, sir, there's the issue of the lobsters."
"I am informed by the maitre d'hotel of the restaurant that you purchased the hotel's entire stock of live lobsters, in order to, quoting you again, 'give them their freedom,' endquote."
"Ahhh! *Those* lobsters. Yes, well. The natural state of lobsters is freedom. Rousseau said so."
"I would venture to doubt that he did."
"Well, if he didn't, he should have. Cooped up in a tank like that. If I hadn't freed them, you'd have had a revolution on your paws. Lobsters marching in the streets, waving banners, and storming the gates. You'd have had an homardocracy in no time."
"Strictly speaking, was it necessary to place the lobsters in the hotel elevators?"
"Surely, Inspector, you can't expect lobsters to climb stairs. That would be cruel."
"A point that is very much disputed by an elderly and nearsighted mephitess who is also staying at this hotel. The doctors tell me that they were able to remove the lobsters from her tailfur, though it will take a few days for the hysteria to die down."
"On the part of the lobsters?"
"No. The mephitess."
"Well, it's probably her fault. Lobsters charge when they're wounded."
"That's all well and good, Mr. Buckhorn. Perhaps we can continue this conversation in my office, at police headquarters?"
"Yes, but I'm not giving up the helmet until we get there."
I had to assert my dignity, here. A line had to be drawn. "A gentleman never goes anywhere without his hat."