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Update 7 March 2005
Update 20 February 2013: Art by Tegerio added
1,001 Mornings of
Character by EO Costello in collaboration with Simon Barber
My valet, Lodge, has slipped into a habit, albeit one engendered by long-standing experience. It’s a rare morning indeed when I am up and about at around eight o’clock, but my appearance in the living room of our suite at Shepherd’s Hotel, cheerfully perusing the morning edition of the Spontoon Mirror, took him by surprise.
“Good morning, sir.”
“True for telling, Lodge. May I ask why you are looking at me like that? I know for certain that this silk scarf goes with my dressing gown...”
“Well, sir, it’s like this: number one, you are up early; number two, you are sober; number three, you do not have a hangover; and number four, there are no police about asking questions.”
“And you are so struck by the novelty, that you are unprepared for my beaming countenance.”
“I regret sir, that I have not provided for any breakfast for you. I am told that the kitchen and restaurant in the hotel are out of service.”
I perused the front page of the Mirror, which carried a well-composed photograph showing the remains of a dining room. “Yes. Of course, this is assuming they don’t have a stand-up buffet.”
Lodge coughed politely. Twice. I encouraged him with an eyebrow and a smile to speak his mind. “Am I right to assume, sir, that you had a paw in this...ahem, occurrence?”
I lightly tossed the newspaper aside, thoughts of breakfast likewise cast aside. “Gather near, Lodge, and lend me your pink and shell-likes, and I will explain all...
The matter began simply enough, with an early afternoon, post-prandial refreshment in the hotel bar. The consumption of gin and tonics is necessary in tropical areas. The quinine, you see, keeps the malaria at bay, while the gin instills a sense of peace and well-being.
Thoughts of which deck chair to occupy for my early afternoon, post-prandial nap were interrupted, when there appeared at my elbow a rather well-dressed red fox, who bore the marks of a stressful morning. I could tell from the way he gripped the edge of the bar that immediate first aid was required.
“You, sir, are suffering from bruised feelings. I recommend the immediate application of ice to the injured area. The ice should be accompanied by gin and tonic, to speed the therapeutic effects.” I obtained the attention of the bartender, who provided the necessary supplies.
The fox took the medicine internally, and after a few minutes, began to feel the effects. The aforementioned sense of peace and well-being took hold, which facilitated the making of introductions. He introduced himself to me as Richard de Reynard, spending a week or two in the balmy precincts of the Spontoons away from the hustle and bustle of busy Detroit. It transpired that he chose to frolic far away from home, because he wished to frolic not alone, but with a friend whose existence might provoke awkward comment.
“Cherchez la femme?” I enquired, discreetly. My companion nodded. He stated that his current inamorata could be cited as a demonstration of a certain well-known mathematical proposition, namely:
Let S = shapeliness
Let B = brains
S * B = a constant
“So you do not while away the hours here in paradise discussing the finer points of medieval French literature, I take?”
“Well, if certain of my relatives find out about this, they’ll wish to reenact some of the more action-packed parts of the tale of Abelard and Heloise.”
I shuddered. And felt sympathy, which was expressed by another round of G&T both for myself and Mr. de Reynard.
“But you pursue the life of a lotus-eater happily here?”
“I would if it wasn’t for that dashed maitre d’hotel at the restaurant here.”
I knew whereof he spoke. That would be André, five feet eleven inches of squirrelian insolence. There is something about the position of being maitre d’hotel in a restaurant that rapidly gets to one’s head. I had only been in the hotel a few weeks, and already I had a few run-ins with André. I felt particularly aggrieved that he had dropped nickel on me and had informed the police about the incident with the lobsters. This showed no discretion. I asked Mr. de Reynard for details.
“Well, we were having breakfast in the dining room. Both of us had ordered the Eggs Benedict. I thought mine was just fine, but Trixie insisted on getting some ketchup for hers. We had something of a problem getting it.”
I could imagine. Herbivore that I am, I do not consume Eggs Benedict for breakfast. Indeed, I’m usually in a state where I rarely eat breakfast at all. However, I do know that ketchup is not a standard part of the recipe for Eggs Benedict. I maintained a diplomatic posture of nodding in sympathy, to encourage the provision of further details.
“Well, I took things up with the waiter, and then André himself. Eventually, they did provide the ketchup. It was accompanied by a number of what I thought were rather personal remarks on Trixie’s taste in food and clothes. I’ve spent the rest of the morning calming Trixie down, instead of what I had planned.”
I could well believe that what had been planned involved a minimum of talk, and a maximum of action. de Reynard, reflecting on this, relapsed into a gloom that required another stiff ration of G&T to counteract. I myself sipped reflectively, pondering the tragedy of the matter, when I sensed a looming shadow pass me by, and proceed to the middle of the bar.
After being startled out of my reverie, I beheld that it was not a shadow, but what appeared to be an enormous mink, red-furred in colour. He appeared to be one that missed neither many meals nor any chance to engage in vigorous exercise. I had to say that it was the first time I’ve ever seen a mink with muscles in his tailfur. Combined with the general lack of neck, prominent brow, and the deep, growling voice in which he demanded a Molson, I beheld that I was quite possibly in the presence of The Missing Link in Evolution. de Reynard followed my astonished look down the bar.
"Reggie meets Marcel Macradon" (Larger file here - 302 KBytes) - Art by Tegerio
“I’ll bet you’re wondering who that is.”
“Actually, I’m wondering what it is, but I’ll adopt your question.”
“That’s Marcel Macradon. He plays professional hockey up in Montreal.”
“Bit far away from home, isn’t he?”
“Well, the team is here in the Islands. It was supposed to be a celebration. They were expected to sweep the championship against Toronto, and they did take the first three games. In the fourth game, with a few minutes to go, Macradon sucker-punched a guy just as they were going into a face-off. Got slapped with a double-minor penalty. Toronto scored twice, won the game, and swept the rest of the series. My uncle owns the Detroit team, so I can’t say I’m particularly sorry. All the same, I imagine Macradon has some emotions, right now.”
I looked over at this Macradon. He had a look on his phiz that did not suggest he had celebration in mind. It was something along the order of the commission of some major felonies. I lowered my voice, for my own safety.
“I say, are you sure he’s a mink? He doesn’t look like any mink I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh, he’s one of those sea minks. Not many of them around; they’re from the Maritimes up in Canada. Macradon’s from that little French colony of St. Pierre up there. His father moved to Montreal when he was little. He’s been tipped to be a hockey star from the time he was little.”
Given that the gentlemink in question seemed to be about six feet seven, and well over two hundred pounds, I found it amazing anyone could possibly tip him. Even I, with my long experience in consumption, stood amazed at the way he could consume bottles of Molson as if it were ice water. Thoughts came to mind of what would happen if the bar’s supply of Molson ran out. It was at that point that inspiration struck. I whispered in a confidential manner to de Reynard.
“Are you and your lady friend free tonight for some dinner and revenge?”
I could see that I had the fox with me, so I continued.
“Follow my lead, and be agreeable.”
I cleared my throat, and raised my voice. “I mean to say, it’s devilishly clever how the restaurant keeps its recipe for poutine secret.”
The uttering of the magic word “poutine,” I could see, made the mink’s ears twitch, and he shifted his beady little eyes over to where I was standing.
“The finest in Maine potato, imported French cheese curd, all smothered in a rich poutine sauce. It’s all in the ingredients, you know.”
de Reynard, true to the nature of his species, grasped the import of what I was saying with alacrity. “Oh, quite, quite. No wonder it’s not on the menu. I mean, you’d have every diner ordering it, and where’s the exclusivity in that?”
“Yes, well, I’m certainly considering ordering some when I dine tonight. Won’t you join me? I’ll make reservations for three, for, say, eight thirty?”
“You don’t think it’ll be gone by then?”
“Oh, no. I’ve heard the chef prepares it around that time. For the sauce to mature, you see.”
“Ah, of course. Well, yes, I’d be delighted to join you. Eight thirty it is.”
It was with great interest that we watched Marcel Macradon twitch his ears, and then go waddling out of the bar, after draining his sixth Molson. We could tell that the engine of his train of thought was slowly gathering steam.
In fact, I made reservations for seven o’clock. Such an unfashionable hour was ordained by the need to be nearly finished with our meal by the time the festivities started. Trixie, the companion of Mr. de Reynard, proved to be a vigorous specimen of vixen-hood, and the possessor of attributes that were held in check, barely, by a gown that must have had some remarkable engineering. The plans for the evening were almost rendered moot, when André rather ostentatiously deposited a bottle of ketchup in front of Trixie as soon as she had been seated. She made as if to heave the bottle at his retreating head, which required swift action on my part to relieve her of the missile and pocket it.
Dinner proceeded uneventfully, and not unfruitfully. Trixie provided me with a wealth of background information regarding the profession of being in the chorus of a musical comedy, information that was shared, by virtue of the penetrating power of her voice, with a few nearby tables. The growing level of disharmony was checked by the appearance, shortly before eight thirty, of Marcel Macradon, followed by a group of largish individuals which I took to be his companions in arms. I, for one, was not previously aware that they made evening dress in those sizes.
The party of eight occupied a large, circular table in the centre of the dining room, and the waiter, with some trepidation, offered the group some menus. Macradon waved his away with a massive, meaty paw.
“Eh bien, mon p’tit. Je voudrais manger un peu de votre poutine. Ca suffit.”
The waiter blinked in confusion, and began flipping through the menu with furrowed and sweating brow. Macradon did not seem like he was in a mood for polite table-chat.
“Hein! Accouche qu’on baptise! Poutine! Maintenant!” And with that, the meaty paw referred to smacked the table, making the silverware jump. This was accompanied by some vigorous nods from his companions, who seemed to be poutinards as well.
“Mais, m’sieur, nous n’avons rien de poutine ici. M. le chef, il a ne a Paris, et...”
The sea mink was not to be fobbed off with explanations. He stood up from his seat, and grabbed the waiter by his lapels.
“Menteur! Cherchez le chef! Preferes-toi un poincon dans la visage?” At this, he produced a fist, and gave a tap on the waiter’s head, by way of demonstration, followed by a shove which propelled the waiter across the room and through the swinging doors to the kitchen.
This produced M. le chef himself, who turned out to a black poodle of large size and even larger temper, bearing a heavy metal ladle.
“Qui est l’idiot qui veut le poutine?”
Macradon took some exception to being identified as such.
“Eh bien, voila le fifi. He, mon bonbon, prepares-toi le poutine, ou je te donne un coup de pied dans la derriere.”
The chef liked neither the description of himself, nor the impertinence of the request, in form or substance.
“Ecoutes-moi, batard Quebecker. Je ne te preparer pas c’est poutine, pour toi ou cette tas de barbares.”
This brought the rest of the poutinards into the argument, and the allegations began to fly that one or another was a “bete allemagnois,” “lourdaud,” “taudis de pouce,” and so forth. The wait-staff and a few of the under-chefs began to rally about the chef, as things began to descend into personalities. It was at this point that I chose to take my after-dinner brandy and cigars on the patio, and I escorted Mr. de Reynard and his friend there as well. We had just cleared the French doors to the patio when the chef chose to apply the ladle vigorously to Macradon’s head.
As de Reynard pointed out to me later, this was, in hindsight, a tactical error, as the thickness of Macradon’s skull likely made that area of his physique the least sensitive to pain. His brother athletes flipped over their table for eight, sending assorted glassware, silverware and chinaware to the floor, and leaped to the defence of Macradon. The restaurant’s staff rushed into the fray, as the other diners abandoned their dinners and adopted a statesman-like policy of cowering neutrality in the far corners of the dining room.
It was rather hard to tell which side, the poutinards or the anti-poutinards, had the upper paw in the matter. I was rather surprised that the chef was giving a good account of himself, blow-for-blow, with Macradon. Perhaps the ecoles de cuisine of Paris were rougher than I had previously imagined. Macradon, for his part, reverted to the overpaw punching style of his profession, likely hindered somewhat by his evening dress. Most of the other scrimmages around the dining room were less easy to analyze with regard to technique, as tables kept flipping over, obscuring the view. Some of the combatants seemed to prefer using chairs, either thrown or swung. At one point, we had to abandon our vantage point from behind the French doors when a form hurtled through one of them.
It turned out to be André himself, somewhat the worse for wear. He bore a large, dirty pawprint that sullied his previously gleaming shirtfront. I think Inspector Stagg would have expressed professional admiration for the clarity of the impression. Feeling the chivalric impulse, I retrieved the bottle of ketchup I had confiscated earlier and gave it to Trixie. Trixie applied the bottle to André’s head with much the same vim and vigour as if she had been christening a battleship. The dazed maitre d’hotel felt his throbbing head, and came away with a deeply reddened and liquid paw. The obvious (if erroneous) conclusion was drawn, which prompted a surprisingly high-pitched squeal of terror. This, I thought, would not do.
“Come, come now. Let’s have a little bit of that “ils-ne-passeront-pas” spirit. Get back in there and show them what you are made of.” And with that, de Reynard and I grabbed him by the seat of his trousers and flung him back into the fray through the other French door, just in time to bowl over a pair of hockey players about to pommel the sommelier with a bottle of red wine.
I observed to Trixie that we were just in time. “That chef was right. They are barbarians. Everyone knows you serve white wine with poutine.”
Eventually, it took the combined forces of the constabulary and a detachment of the fire brigade to sort out matters. Some ambulance attendants toted out the casualties from the battlefield that could not walk out under their own power. Macradon, carried out by four burly constables, bore the honours of war, as he was wearing the chef’s toque jauntily on one side of his head.
Lodge did not seem amused by my narrative, and frowned.
“Well, that’s as maybe, sir. But there is still the matter of your breakfast.”
I lit my first cigarette of the day, and picked up my newspaper from where I had left it. “I’ve developed something of a craving for poutine, Lodge. Pop down to the prison and see if you can’t get Macradon to give you his mother’s recipe. I’m sure he would be happy to share it with you.”