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The Porpoise Prologue

by twiglets 

Posted: 23 April 2003
Word Count: 8644
Summary: Well, it makes me smile...

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Laszlo had an ‘s’. He didn’t want it. He didn’t need it. But it was there, slap bang in the middle of his name. As far as he was concerned the ‘z’ worked fine. Razor didn’t have an ‘s’. Nor for that matter did lazy or amazing…so why should he, Laszlo, have to have one? It was an unnecessary burden, an encumbrance…a downright embarrassment. ‘What’s the matter’, his friends would scoff, ‘the other letters getting lonely?’ And then they’d laugh and point.

He’d tried to lose it. The ‘s’ that is. On more than one occasion. The first attempt was casual. A letter to the Inland Revenue. He’d signed his name without it. Even he had to admire his handiwork. Lazlo Kevorkian without an ‘s’. How good it looked, how pure, how uncomplicated.

The superfluous ‘s’ discarded just like that. He couldn’t wait for the reply. For there it would be…on official notepaper, government notepaper…Lazlo with no ‘s’. No one could argue with that. Not when it was on official notepaper.

Every morning he rushed to check the post. And then it came. Two weeks and three days after his forty second birthday. The envelope lay on the doormat. He stared at it in trepidation. Fingers trembling he picked it up. The moment he’d dreamed of, for so long. How sweet it would be. A deep breath and then he tore it open, hurriedly unfolding the letter. His eyes scanned the page looking for Lazlo. And then his face fell. For there it was in black and white ‘Dear Mr. Kevorkian…’. No mention of Lazlo. Not even a mention of Laszlo. Just plain old Mr. Kevorkian. His next attempt at losing the ‘s’ would have to be more cunning

Laszlo picked up his suitcase and opened the front door. The taxi was waiting outside. Laszlo smiled. This was the start of a journey that would change his life.
It was a long flight, and expensive, but Laszlo felt it was well worth the effort. The woman at passport control had asked the purpose of his visit. ‘Business’ he answered. ‘What do you do?’ she inquired. ‘I’m a man of letters’, came the answer, ‘too many letters. I’m here to shed my load.’ He smiled wryly. Soon he’d be free. If there was one place in the world he could be liberated it was here., in the south. Why hadn’t he thought of it sooner? Why had he waited so long? It was so obvious. Here in Mississippi. there were so many ‘s’s, his one could easily be abandoned and no one would notice.


‘How do you do?’ inquired the man at the door. ‘How do I do what?’ replied Iskowitz. The man at the door looked at him quizzically. Iskowitz shook his head and walked inside. He had no time for fools.

The lecture hall was empty. Iskowitz looked at his watch. There was still an hour to go before his address. He smiled. The guests would be arriving soon, there was nothing to worry about. He pulled a packet of Old Bayoumis out of his pocket and opened it. Three left. One now, one before the talk and one on his way home. Perfect. He took one out and lit it. Ah, the sweet aroma.
The smoky scent wafting from the subtle blend of Egyptian herbs brought back memories of his trip along the Nile in seventy eight. Or was it seventy nine. No, seventy nine was the weekend break in Torquay. Still they were easily confused. Not so his fortnight in America. That had changed his life. That’s what had brought him to this lecture hall. The podium, the overhead projector, the cardboard badge that bore his name. Yes he had a lot to thank that holiday for.


Laszlo Kevorkian oozed sincerity. It was a medical condition he’d had since birth. He’d seen doctors, the best there were. But the ointments they gave him just made his skin all the more greasy.

Epidermal disorders were the last thing on Kowalski’s mind. Sure he’d met Kevorkian. Who hadn’t? But at a time like this it wasn’t the kind of thing you thought about. To be honest Kowalski had never thought about it. His meeting with Kevorkian had only been fleeting. In his line of work Kowalski encountered many people. Why only the other day he’d bumped into Billy Two-Shoes. And that’s what was occupying his mind right now. As he stood beneath the lamppost on this chilly September evening Kowalski was trying to figure out why they called him Billy Two-Shoes. Not that he wasn’t entitled to have a nick name. It just seemed a strange one. Kowalski was puzzled. He’d have to ask Charlie. Charlie knew everything. He was a stand up guy. It was a shame Kowalski was here to kill him. Kowalski made a mental note. Before you kill Charlie ask him why Billy Two-Shoes is called Billy Two-Shoes.

Kowalski struck a match and lit his Mama Mankabadi cheroot. He drew on it hard, savouring the Albanian tobacco’s delicate flavour. His mind drifted back to the time he and Charlie had been friends. Friends? He’d thought so, but this was not a time for sentimentality. In this game friendship was of no consequence. After all, he was here to kill Charlie. The reason? It wasn’t important. Kowalski had his instructions. He didn’t want to know anymore and in any case it wasn’t wise to try to find out too much. The Belgian didn’t like people who asked questions.

The light came on in the apartment. Kowalski could vaguely make out Charlie’s silhouette against the curtains. Now was the time to strike. He opened the car door and took the violin case off the back seat.

Charlie must have known something was up. For when Kowalski reached the third floor the apartment door was already open and Charlie was there to greet him, a glass of iced tea in each hand. He held one out. Kowalski didn’t take it. Charlie knew he had a weakness for iced tea, but Kowalski had to be strong. Charlie shrugged. ‘So you finally came. I knew it would only be a matter of time.’ Kowalski was silent. He hated talking to his victims. Somehow it didn’t seem right. It seemed messy. Particularly if the victim was a friend. Charlie spoke again. ‘Come in. We may as well do it inside.’ But Kowalski was in no mood for hospitality. He wanted to get it over with. He wanted to do it quick. He wanted to get home and forget all about it. No, he wasn’t going to go inside. He was going to do it right now. He flicked back the catch on the violin case. Charlie smiled. ‘So what are you packing Kowalski? A luger? A forty five?’ Kowalski didn’t answer. There was only one weapon for this kind of job. Something reliable, something clean and something deadly. Kowalski knew it and he knew Charlie knew it as well. He lifted the lid of the case and held it open for Charlie’s inspection. Charlie nodded his approval…’A twin tailed porpoise. I’m impressed.’ But Kowalski wasn’t in the mood for conversation. He removed the porpoise and hurled it at Charlie. It was over in a moment. Charlie lay motionless on the floor. ‘Damn’ thought Kowalski. ‘I forgot to ask about Billy Two-Shoes.’ He shook his head then picked up the porpoise and placed it in the case. His work was done. It was time to go home.


Ginsberg knew. Ginsberg had been there. Ginsberg had tasted of the forbidden fruit. He’d shaken hands with the devil. (He would have danced with the devil, but Satan had sprained his ankle during a tennis match the previous week, which was a shame because Ginsberg could cut a pretty mean rug.) Ginsberg, descended from a long line of Ginsbergs, was sitting in the hotel bar, glancing furtively at the faces around him. Here was Ginsberg listening to the aging pianist tinkle his way through a medley of popular folk songs.

A man walked past. Ginsberg noticed something fall from his hand. ‘Excuse me’ called Ginsberg, but the man was hurrying away. Ginsberg picked the item up and chased after him. He caught up with the man by the lift and tapped him on the shoulder. The man turned. ‘You dropped your ‘s’ said Ginsberg. Laszlo Kevorkian sighed. This wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d hoped. Ginsberg returned to the bar and looked at his watch. Fenster should have been here by now. Maybe he was having second thoughts.

Friday was a miserable day. And Fenster should know. After all, he’d been there. Not just once or twice, but every week. Every week a Friday. Fifty two times a year. Fenster experienced a Friday fifty two times a year. It was a nightmare. Thursday nights he’d lie awake in bed shuddering. Sometimes he’d sweat. It was no wonder his wife talked of leaving him. She was unforgiving. She didn’t care. A heartless woman.

A heartless woman who talked. At her weekly coffee mornings at the tennis club, she laid out every detail for scrutiny. Who could stay married to such a man. They all murmured their agreement. Husbands were all the same. Not worth the effort.

That’s why Ginsberg had strayed. The Beatles medley ended and the pianist dived into the Yellow Rose of Texas. Ginsberg looked at his watch again. Fenster was late. Fenster with his crazy fear of Fridays. What was his problem? Irrational, stupid, crazy. Crazy, that was the word for it. The man was clearly crazy. So maybe his wife was right. Maybe he was a hopeless husband. Hopeless husband? Ginsberg thought again. There was no such thing. It was the wives. With their scheming minds and evil thoughts, there was no doubt. It was the wives. They drove their husbands crazy. Yes, that was the word for it. Crazy. After all, Fenster had always seemed perfectly reasonable. A pleasant man, a good head for business. No one could dislike Fenster. They’d played bridge together. They’d sat on committees together. Alright, so maybe his bidding technique left a little to be desired. He was no Omar Sharif. But crazy? No Fenster wasn’t crazy. It was the wives. And Ginsberg knew. Ginsberg had been there.


Fenster looked at his watch. Ginsberg would be waiting. Waiting to show him, Fenster, a good time. A good time? Fenster didn’t know what a good time was. Fenster and good time didn’t go together. What was he doing here? He should go back home. His wife would be wondering where he was. Worrying what had happened to him. Or would she? She didn’t care, she hated him. She talked. At her weekly coffee mornings at the tennis club she talked. She wouldn’t be wondering, she wouldn’t be worrying. She talked. She didn’t like him. Why had he married her? Why had he married a woman who talked. No, he wouldn’t go home. He wanted a good time. He, Fenster, wanted a good time. ‘Fenster is going to have a good time…Fenster is going to have a good time’. He said it aloud. It rolled smoothly off the tongue. A strange but nonetheless pleasing sensation…like the first time he’d smoked a Caspian Caspedo…mellow but strong, fruity yet bitter.

He started to sing it. ‘Fenster’s going to have a good time, Fenster’s going to have a good time.’ A woman threw some coins at his feet. Oh boy, was this his lucky day or what? Money to burn and a place to light it. He was going to walk into that hotel. He was going to walk straight up to Ginsberg. And Ginsberg was going to show him, Fenster, a good time. After all, if anybody could, Ginsberg could. Ginsberg knew his way around. Ginsberg knew how to bid. Ginsberg had organised that charity luncheon. If anyone knew their way around it was Ginsberg.


Kowalski sat in the corner of the café, polishing his porpoise. It had served him well this evening, but the buttons on Charlie’s waistcoat had left scuff marks on the dorsal fin. Typical of Charlie to have the last laugh.

‘Nice porpoise you’ve got there’. Kowalski raised an eye. The face looked familiar but he couldn’t quite place it. Mind you, Kowalski encountered a lot of people. Why only the other day he’d bumped into Billy Two-Shoes. ‘Been with you long?’

‘A couple of years’ replied Kowalski. He turned his attention back to his porpoise and resumed polishing. He wasn’t in the mood for small talk. ‘Try counter-clockwise. It gives you more of a gloss.’ This was all Kowalski needed. Show a porpoise in public and suddenly everyone thinks they’re an expert. He ignored the advice, exaggerating his clockwise sweeps. ‘Suit yourself…’ said the man , as he started to walk away, ‘…but the Belgian won’t like your attitude’ Kowalski looked up with a start. Now he remembered who the man was. ‘Mr.Roth….Mr.Roth.’ The man turned. ‘Please. Everyone calls me Uncle Nat’.That wasn’t strictly true of course. The only people who called him Uncle Nat, were his two nephews. To the rest of the world he was Jukebox Sammy. Not that he owned a jukebox, and where the Sammy came from was anybody’s guess. It was one of those mysteries like Billy Two-Shoes. Kowalski made a mental note. Find out why Nat Roth is called Jukebox Sammy.


Iskowitz was no stranger to intellectual infamy. The world of academia had already been torn apart some years earlier by his daring dissertation ‘Il Duce’s Descendants’. Few had forgotten the furore that followed. But Iskowitz didn’t care. Audacious was, after all, his middle name - a strange choice by his parents and one that had led to much bullying at school.

Standing in the empty hall, Iskowitz thought back to those playground scuffles. How he’d suffered at the hands of his peers. And how grateful he was when in the third grade a new pupil appeared at St. Ringfellow’s College. For then the school’s psychotic students had a new boy to abuse. Poor little Laszlo Kevorkian with his superfluous ‘s’.

Much has already been written on ‘Il Duce’s Descendants’. Scientific tracts supporting the theory. Scientific tracts denouncing the theory. Indeed some history books devote an entire chapter to the riots of eighty-seven, ignited by Iskowitz’s thesis. University towns ablaze as students and academics alike burnt copies of his opus. Questions were asked in the House. On TV his words had to be voiced by an actor. (Less stringent regulations governing radio broadcasts meant Iskowitz could speak himself, under the proviso he adopted a Welsh accent). That was a long time ago though and after a four year sabbatical in Iowa, Iskowitz had been allowed to return to his homeland.

Iskowitz thought it was a lot of fuss over nothing. After all, the facts were hardly open to dispute. Mussolini was known to his followers as Il Duce. Gary Glitter was also known to his followers as The Leader. Both men were fond of strutting around, their chests pushed forward. And both were bald. The empirical evidence laid out, was it really so outrageous to suggest they shared the same DNA? Iskowitz was unrepentant. And tonight, in this hall he was prepared to challenge the establishment again.


Nat Roth had grown up within porpoise parameters. The legend was part of his heritage. As a young child he had often heard tales of the old country. Tales he’d ignored in his youth, but which had served him well as time marched by. Not that the porpoise principle was a philosophy by which one could live. But there were lessons to be drawn from it. Kowalski, by comparison, was an amateur. As a child he’d never heard tales of the old country. Not that his forebears hadn’t come from somewhere else. The name Kowalski bore testament to that.

Kowalski’s ancestry was rooted some six degrees south west of the old country. A hotly disputed territory which both the old country and Tsarist Russia resolutely refused to incorporate within their own borders. While other nations struggled to attain their independence, this territory struggled to belong. A village consisting entirely of indecisive, apolitical and apathetic peasants, this was a people with no yen for self determination. A people desperate for someone else to tell them how to live. How often Kowalski had wished that his family had been peasants some six degrees to the north east. That’s all it would have taken. For then he, Kowalski could have also heard tales. Tales of the old country. Tales of the old country, where the posters went up on a Thursday afternoon.


Perhaps it was biological. What other explanation could there be for Fenster’s fear of Fridays? A fear that had plagued him his whole life. A fear which couldn’t even be conquered by a night out with Ginsberg. Ginsberg who had shaken hands with the devil. Ginsberg who knew how to bid. If a night out with Ginsberg couldn’t cure this malaise…Fenster shuddered. Perhaps his affliction knew no cure.

Dr. Octopus studied the file. Indeed this was a strange condition. A chemical imbalance? A genetic disorder? Strange indeed, but nothing which he, Dr. Octopus couldn’t account for. Other medical minds may have been perplexed, but he, Dr. Octopus was in a class of his own. Then again Dr. Octopus had always been in a class of his own, ever since that first day of primary school.

Thirty seven had been a loveless year in the old country. Only one couple had had time to share a moment of intimacy with each other. The rest of the population had seen the posters. Big bright posters with big bright letters. They’d gone up on a Thursday afternoon and within minutes word had spread. Pensioners tossed aside their zimmer frames and danced merrily through the streets. Children tore off their clothes and frolicked naked in the mud. Such a buzz, such a sense of excitement. For the posters proclaimed an imminent visit…the porpoise was coming…the porpoise was coming…the porpoise was coming to town! Little wonder then, that thoughts of romance were the last thing on people’s minds. The Octopuses, however, were on their honeymoon that Thursday afternoon and without the news on the posters to distract them, romance flourished. So it was that nine months and three days after they became man and wife, little Zoltan joined them. Zoltan Octopus, the only child born that year. And hence when it was time for young Zoltan to start school, he had no peers. The only pupil in the class…a class of his own.

Fenster’s fear of Friday’s was indeed a strange condition, but Dr. Octopus had seen more unusual cases. That man, for instance, who’d come to his consulting room two years earlier. The one who wanted his ‘s’ surgically removed. How sorry the good doctor had felt when he informed the man that such a procedure was beyond even his fantastic capabilities. (He had however given the man a prescription for an ointment which could clear up his oozing sincerity). Fenster though could be cured. Of that the good doctor was certain.


The world had done alright before they put in an appearance. And yet now they seemed indispensable. To most people maybe, but not to Iskowitz. He considered them arrogant. What gave Celsius and Fahrenheit the right to think they were the only ones who could come up with temperature scales. Any fool could do it. And to prove his point, Iskowitz produced his thermometer. Gasps from all sides of the room. Murmurs of disbelief, amazement and shock.

Had Celsius and Fahrenheit ever met? Had they argued over which of them had the best system? Perhaps they came to blows. Perhaps they’d arm wrestled in an attempt to resolve their dispute? Perhaps they played paper, scissors, stone? What rivals they must have been. And as for their respective followers – had they been the Mods and Rockers of their day? Eighteenth century scientists, travelling in packs and brawling in the streets over which of their idols was the true master of degrees.

If only he had been alive two hundred years earlier. If only Iskowitz had been there, how much bloodshed could have been prevented? Not that it was too late now. Clarity was still required and Iskowitz could provide it.

How hot is it today? Why, it’s seven degrees iskowitz? What’s that in celsius and fahrenheit? Who cares? It’s seven degrees iskowitz, that’s all you need to know. The boiling point of water? Seventeen degrees iskowitz. The freezing point of water? Minus eight degrees iskowitz. So long Celsius, farewell Fahrenheit…there was room for only one set of numbers on the Iskowitz thermometer.


Slow-slow-quick-quick-slow. Slow-slow-quick-quick-slow. Laszlo watched in admiration as the other hotel guests danced nimbly to the strains of The Clifford Kestenbaum Quartet. Laszlo loved dancing. Other people’s that is. They were so graceful, so elegant, so…so…so lucky. Yes, lucky. That was the word for it. And Laszlo was envious. He’d tried to dance once. At his uncle’s wedding. He’d asked a cousin if she’d care to partner him for a waltz. But after a mere two minutes on the dance floor she gave up, telling him he had two left feet. Laszlo was taken aback. He hadn’t realised it was so obvious. After all, he always wore a regular pair of shoes to disguise the abnormal arrangement of toes on what should have been his right foot. But from that day to this he never tried to dance again.

Not so Ginsberg. Ginsberg was renowned for his dancing skills. And Laszlo could see why. (Legend has it, the devil himself had once wanted to dance with Ginsberg, but had had to cancel their date because of a tennis injury) Laszlo watched in awe as Ginsberg glided across the floor flawlessly. The resentment and bitterness evaporated. True this man had found and returned the ‘s’ that Laszlo was so desperate to lose. But who could hate a man who demonstrated such feats of fancy footwork.

It was little wonder Ginsberg was such a natural mover. After all, he had a musical ear. (Strike the lobe with a tuning fork and you got a perfect C minor).As a young man he’d had offers from the Bolshoi. So keen was the Muscovite troupe to sign the gifted dancer, they offered him a percentage of the box office and a year’s supply of Dr.Octopus’s Rejuvenation Tonic. But Ginsberg could not be tempted. Yes, the opportunity to dance with Nureyev and Baryshnikov was alluring, but given his allergy to synthetic fibres he could never wear the tights.

That though was all a long time ago. True, Ginsberg often thought back to his heady youth. Of the decision he had made. Sitting in his favourite armchair he would light a Drozha cigar and as the coarse scent of Siberian snow peas wafted past his nose, his mind would wander back to the evenings he’d watch the sun setting over the Volga. Regrets? He had just one. That he’d never been able to dance The Porpoise Fandango, a piece specially written for him by the great Sinovian composer, Esposito Espedrille. Still, that was all a long time ago. Destiny had taken Ginsberg down a different road. As they used to say in the old country ‘The bluer the smell of the river, the louder the speed of the mud.’


Jukebox Sammy? Wholly inappropriate, yet somehow consistent with the company he kept. Billy Two-Shoes of course was one of them. As were, Hubcap Harry, Last Chance Thompson and, needless to say, The Belgian.

The Belgian. All four foot six of him. Ever dapper in his fedora and suede slacks, only his penchant for gingham shirts let him down on the style front. But that didn’t dissuade the ladies. Indeed The Belgian’s winning way with women was much admired by his compadres. As Hubcap Harry observed, on the female front, The Belgian reckoned himself as a real Bossa Nova. ‘You mean Casanova’ said Last Chance Thompson. ‘Bossa Nova’s a type of dance.’ Billy Two-Shoes tried to make peace…‘Maybe, you’re both right. Maybe he’s a Casanova who likes to Bossa Nova’.

‘Maybe he’s a Casanova who likes to Bossa Nova in a Vauxhall Nova’. All eyes turned to Kowalski. The stranger’s attempt at wit was clearly not appreciated. Feeling awkward, he tried to change the subject. ‘I don’t eat them whole. I suck the pimentos out first.’ Again the others just stared. But then Nat began to nod. ‘My approach to cocktail olives also incorporates sucking prior to chewing.’ The rest of the group thought for a moment before murmuring their agreement. Nat smiled reassuringly at Kowalski. Perhaps they would accept him after all.

One problem still needed to be overcome before Kowalski could become a fully fledged member of the porpoise lodge. He lacked a sobriquet. Not that he didn’t want one. After all, some years earlier he’d applied to the Office of Pseudonymical Allocations, requesting that henceforth he be known as Pine Tree Boris. His application was turned down on medical grounds . And to be honest, now he couldn’t even remember why he wanted to be known as Pine Tree Boris. He made a mental note. Find out why I wanted to be called Pine Tree Boris


Iskowitz was in no mood for a fight. A physical one that is. He’d have been happy to spar verbally. After all in verbal skirmishes he was second to none. But here in the alley, confronted by a group of seething scientists, shaking their fists and brandishing chains, Iskowitz felt a little uneasy. As he backed against the wall he tried to work out if these were Celsius supporters or Fahrenheit fans baying for his blood. Which of the intemperate temperature groups had got hottest under the collar on hearing his radical suggestions? Not that it mattered that much. With a lengthy spell in intensive care only minutes away, Iskowitz decided there were more important things to worry about at this moment in time.

Iskowitz couldn’t run very fast. A mix up in the maternity ward on the day he was born meant he’d been delivered with two right feet. Some other poor boy had been delivered with two left feet. When Iskowitz discovered the error in later life he’d tried to track the owner of his left foot down so they could do a swap. But a fire at the hospital that very week meant all the records were destroyed. At the time Iskowitz had shrugged it off. He comforted himself with the thought that two right feet are better than no feet at all. Now though, that thought was of little comfort. Pursued by an angry mob, Iskowitz’s attempt to escape was severely hindered by the fact that all he could do was run round in circles. They were bound to catch up with him very soon.


Clancey Coltrane was a jinnelman. Least ways that’s what Clancey would tell folk. Sure he was rich and the garments he wore were mighty fancy, but a jinnelman? Clancy didn’t have the class. And class is a quality you gotta be born with. Clancey Coltrane had started life without a nickel to his name. He tried to make a living as a bounty hunter. But after three years riding the open plains searching for a herd of wild bounty, he finally gave up. A brief spell rustling porpoises earned him a few dollars. Not much, but enough to invest in the enterprise which would earn him a small fortune.

The name of the man who came up with the idea for dehydrated water has long since been forgotten. But it was an idea which certainly appealed to Clancey. For the princely sum of twenty seven dollars he purchased the South Dakota franchise and travelled the length and breadth of the state selling the product. In an age when few properties had their own taps, it was bound to be a surefire money spinner. Easily stored and ready for use whenever you wanted a drink. Just add water and hey presto…water.

It wasn’t too long before Clancey Coltrane was a man of means. Wealthy enough to fulfill his lifelong ambition of opening a bordello. And in an age when few properties had their own whores, it was bound to be a surefire money spinner. Decency does not permit close examination of the sordid goings on in ‘Clancey’s Cabin of Fun’, but rest assured nudity and debauchery were prominent features. Like many a madam, Clancey soon tired of his house of ill repute (a syndrome known in medical circles as bawdy bordello boredom). Seeking a new challenge, he turned his attention to politics. Unfortunately for Clancey, in South Dakota, the power of the purse was not the decisive factor it is in so many electoral systems. True, he had a not inconsiderable fortune with which to finance his campaign. But to make it in politics here, one had to ascend the greasy pole…a nineteen foot length of steel doused in olive oil, planted outside the town hall. For seven years political office remained a distant dream. Clancey couldn’t hope to compete with the nimble footed agility of Lemuel Jackson. A three times winner of the All American pole climbing championships, Lemuel’s scaling skills, not to mention his magnetic palms and feet, ensured he would hold the title of Mayor until the day he died. The day he did die, Clancey was caught up in a dispute over pay and conditions at the bordello. But after lengthy talks, strike action was averted, industrial relations returned to normal and Clancey could ride into town to claim his prize. A forty seven minute ascent, a blister on his left thumb and olive oil dripping from his favourite shirt…Clancey was proclaimed Mayor.

Which is how, over a hundred years later, Laszlo Kevorkian and Galileo Ginsberg came to be sitting in Clancey Square. It was a cold night (six degrees iskowitz to be precise), but the chill wind couldn’t cool the warmth which was developing between the two men. In Ginsberg, Laszlo saw a man who was everything he wanted to be – confident, assured and with an ‘s’ that performed a useful function. In Laszlo, Ginsberg saw…well he wasn’t quite sure what he saw. But so long as Laszlo was paying for the drinks, he wasn’t going to walk away.


It wasn’t that he didn’t have faith in Doctor Octopus. It was just that he was in a rush. And the six month course of medication the physician had prescribed was not going to cure his fear of Friday’s as soon as he’d have liked. That’s why Fenster was digging a tunnel. He started in on a Thursday. And if his calculations were correct, it would take him right underneath Friday, bringing him out to the safety of Saturday.

Thirty meters in, the air was becoming quite thin. With over a mile left to go, Fenster began to wonder if this was such a wise idea. (Not that he was worried for himself of course. As a child his family had employed an au pair from the old country who’d taught him the ways of the porpoise). However those who were planning to make the perilous journey to the weekend with him, would find it harder to cope with a limited supply of oxygen.

Originally Fenster had planned to break out of Thursday alone. But the task was too much for one man. He needed someone to keep watch while he dug. He needed help disposing of the soil. And needless to say, in keeping with the traditional spirit of tunnel digging, it was vital to have someone to run up who’d run up a set of civvies and forge some false papers. Hence Fenster’s brush with the Belgian. If anyone could lend this undertaking the requisite element of criminal authenticity it was the mysterious man from the Low Countries

With Christmas fast approaching, Santa’s Grotto at the Reisenbach Sausage Factory seemed an ideal place for the two men to meet. Fenster knew the Belgian didn’t come cheap, but a suitcase stuffed with gingham shirts seemed a small price to pay to ensure his plan passed off smoothly. Now all he needed was for the Belgian to show. Fenster had no reason to think he wouldn’t, after all it had all been arranged with Jukebox Sammy the day before. But then Fenster didn’t know the Belgian had been shot, gunned down in Clancey Square fifteen minutes earlier. The age of innocence was no more.


They say everyone remembers where they were the moment they heard the Belgian had been assassinated. Not so Iskowitz. He’d been slipping in and out of consciousness since his beating at the hands of fanatical fahrenheit fans the week before. Teetering on the edge of death himself, he lay in the intensive care ward of Clancey General, hooked up to a heart monitor, a saline drip and a lava lamp. The latter was of little medical value, but it amused Dr. Octopus. And to be honest, with this difficult patient, the illustrious physician needed all the light relief he could get. Problems began as soon as Iskowitz came out of his coma. He refused to allow the nursing staff to take his temperature with a conventional thermometer, insisting they use one with an iskowitz scale.

The worse for drink, Ginsberg and Laszlo were also slow to learn of the Belgian’s demise. Sure they’d been in Clancey Square that night, but they’d left before the bloodshed. Ginsberg had had an idea. Not a good one, but an idea nonetheless. He’d heard laser treatment could remove tattoos. Perhaps Laszlo’s superfluous ‘s’ could be erased in a similar manner. The pair had spent the small hours in Laszlo’s hotel room with a torch, a magnifying glass and a bottle of porpoise punch. Suffice to say the treatment was less than successful.

Fenster first became acquainted with the news on his return from the sausage factory. As he trudged despondently home he caught a glimpse of the headline on the Clancey Chronicle…‘Belgian Waffled’. Fenster felt death was a lame excuse for missing their appointment. Fatal shootings or not, he had a tunnel to build. He’d certainly think twice before contacting the Belgian on business matters again.

It hadn’t been much of a movie, but it had helped Kowalski pass the time. And at this time of year there was plenty of that to pass. The world of contract killing was always slow in winter. After all it’s not easy pulling a trigger when you’re wearing mittens. That’s why he’d gone to see a film. Or at least that’s what he told the cops.

As he sat in the picture house, sipping an ice cold lemmingade and laughing at the on screen antics of Fuzzy Calhoun, he was blissfully unaware that he’d just become public enemy number one. He didn’t even know he’d been nominated. Perhaps if he had, he’d have shaved for the occasion or at least worn something a little smarter. To be honest, he looked quite scruffy, if not a little surprised, when the police burst in and demanded he give himself up. He was even more surprised when they told him the charge. He’d always thought they’d catch up with him for carrying an unlicensed porpoise…but Murder In the First? And of the Belgian? Confused and disorientated he was escorted out of the cinema. His nerves shaken he was plunged into a fit of dyslexia as he protested his innocence. ‘I’m a pasty. I’m a pasty’, he screamed. But a public eager for someone to blame and intent on revenge, paid no heed.


Kowalski didn’t want to fry in the chair. He was a lousy cook at the best of times. But this was Clancey County. Reactionary rednecks held the balance of power and culinary punishment had not yet been abolished. His only hope, according to counsel, was to plead the fifth. Unfortunately they could only find three people to plead before him, meaning he had to plead the fourth.

Kowalski wasn’t the first Kowalski to spend time behind bars. His uncle Maximilian Kowalski had been a bar tender, mixing cocktails at some of the finest hotels this side of Sheboygan. And not just ordinary cocktails. Guava juice and crème de menthe, combined in equal measures, with a touch of taragon and a teaspoon of tabasco – in the early twenties an unknown concoction, but by the end of the decade a recipe familiar to all barflies. No social event and no drinks menu was complete without a Kowalski Monkey Wrench.. And for that matter no hospital waiting room was complete without someone suffering the side effects of a Kowalski Monkey Wrench. As his reputation as a master mixer grew, Maximilian’s shaking skills were increasingly in demand. He toured the globe, serving drinks to the upper echelons of society – the White House, the Orient Express and the Kensal Green Comedy Emporium, to name just a few of the exotic locations to which he was invited to tickle the tastebuds of the landed gentry. But it was in the 1930’s that Maximilian’s life took a turn which would impact on the Kowalski clan for generations to come.

It was the heyday of Hollywood when movie moguls such as Hirschel B.Hirschmeyer and Solly Schuffhausen still controlled their studios like despotic tyrants. Over at Paraphrase Pictures, brothers Marvin and Maxwell Mendoza ruled the roost. In 1934 they’d signed an aspiring young comic, Fuzzy Abramovitz. Three bit parts and a name change later, Fuzzy Calhoun had just finished filming his first starring role. ‘The Great Spectator’. Tipped to be the toast of tinseltown, the Mendoza brothers decided to throw a spectacular wrap party for their new matinee idol. Everyone who was anyone was invited. And who better, they thought, to mix the drinks than the cocktail king himself. Maximilian excelled that night and it was he, rather than Fuzzy, who stole the limelight. The following day’s gossip columns were full of praise for the quality of the drinks, with little or no mention of Fuzzy Calhoun. ‘The Great Spectator’ bombed at the box office and it was to be another ten years before Fuzzy ever worked again. But it wasn’t that so much which upset Fuzzy. What really got his goat (apart from the goat catcher who discovered he didn’t have a goat license) was that Maximilian went on to woo and win the heart of the woman he’d hoped to make his own. Screen starlet Dulcie Demery, a platinum brunette with legs up to her waist.

The whole of Hollywood turned out to wish them well at the start of their new life together. A simple ceremony at the Chapel O’Love, followed by a dinner and dance at Clancey’s glitziest hotel, the Waldorf Hysteria. With music provided by the Clifford Kestenbaum Quintet, it was the happiest of nights. Happy, save for one guest who sat scowling in the corner – Fuzzy Calhoun. That night he swore revenge on Maximilian Kowalski and all who bore the Kowalski name.

It may not sound much of a defense but it was the best Kowalski could come up with. He’d been framed and the man responsible was the Hollywood hearthrob his uncle had robbed of true love.


All of which takes us (and not a moment too soon) to September 23rd, 1736. The scene, a two up two down semi on the outskirts of Linkoping. Ottershaw rushes into the living room and thrusts a copy of The London Times into the hands of a man balancing a testtube on his head. The man gazes down at the newspaper, then looks up stunned.
“He is dead?”.

Ottershaw sniggers. Even in 1736 there’s something comical about a Swedish accent. Ottershaw composes himself. “That’s right Anders. And with Fahrenheit gone, your name and your name alone will denote how hot and cold it is...Forthwith the Anders scale shall reign supreme.”

Anders frowns. “I’m still not convinced. I still say we should call it the Celsius scale.”

Ottershaw sniggers again. Yes, that Swedish accent certainly is a hoot. The President of the Royal Society composes himself and the two men launch into a debate about the respective merits of forenames and surnames.

All of which is of no consequence to us, at least not yet. More important, at this moment, is that we fully comprehend the momentous impact Messrs. Fahrenheit and Celsius had on history. For until they came along, there was no such thing as temperature. Fire was yellow, snow was white and that’s about as far as description could go. Ask someone how hot or cold something was and either they’d think you were from another planet or you’d be burnt at the stake for witchcraft. Which is exactly what happened to sixteenth century physicist Sir Rodney Tepid…who, as his name suggests, dabbled with the notion of temperatures but didn’t get very far in either direction.

The more scientific among you may have noticed a dichotomy…if heat did not exist, how could someone be burnt at the stake? The simple answer is that technically, prior to Fahrenheit and Celsius, people weren’t so much burnt at the stake, as yellowed at the stake…the very yellowness of the flames killing them. It was a common practice in the sixteen hundreds to yellow someone to death. Indeed, occasionally, if a match couldn’t be found to set the stake alight, witches would be made to roll around in a field of sunflowers or sit in a lemon tree – the painful impact of the yellowness being identical to that caused by the flames. And if you don’t believe me ask yourself this…’What do I do when I’m in pain?’ The answer, of course, is ‘Yell ow!’. That being how the colour got it’s name. (For a more detailed discussion of colour as a means of torture prior to the eighteenth century, you may wish to consult my book ‘Color As A Means Of Torture Prior To The Eighteenth Century).


Had the two ever met? Once. In 1718. At the Stockholm Science Expo. Celsius was only seventeen at the time and had a holiday job, working as a waiter in a Bjornie Inn. When not serving smorgasbords, he’d often slip into the back of the lecture hall, where leading minds of the time were delivering speeches. He’d always been keen on science, much to the disappointment of his father, who’d hoped young Anders would follow him into the family herring business. Not that his father lacked vision. When Anders was still a child, his father had gone into partnership with one Olaf Sauna, who’d invented a wooden room where people could sit naked. (Remember, this was prior to the discovery of heat, so the full potential of the sauna, or the olaf as it was then called, was not yet realised).

Trying to market the olaf was by no means Gunther Celsius’s only brush with venture capitalism. One night, in a dream, he’d had a vision of a big shop where the people of Sweden could buy flat pack furniture. The following day he’d ridden around the Linkoping countryside searching for a forest of flat pack trees, but to no avail. Another of his sure fire money making schemes bit the dust and Gunther returned to his herring processing plant.

Young Anders though had the ambition and drive to succeed. He knew that for a poor white kid in the Scandinavian ghetto, it was kill or be killed. He also knew that the best ticket out of there was science, and the Stockholm Expo gave him the chance to see his heroes in action. This was 1717 after all and the Brit Pack was taking the world by storm. Among them Sir Isaac Newton. Yes, it may have been twenty years since the release of his seminal classic ‘Principia Mathematica’, but the crowds still flocked to see him. Like Elvis in the Vegas years, the self styled King of Calculus was fat as a house, but he could still wow the audience.

The hall was packed. Ushers were selling peanuts, programmes and ‘Principia Comeback Tour’ T-shirts. Anders was tempted to buy one, but, wisely, thought better of it. He was, after all, saving up to buy his first set of wheels…wooden ones that turned three hundred and sixty degrees. Lawks, what fun he’d have when he finally got them. The lights dimmed. The excited buzz of anticipation which had echoed across the auditorium subsided. And then from the darkness a voice boomed out. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…the Godfather of Gravity…Sir…Isaac….Newton!’ The crowd went wild as the septuagenarian scientist stepped onto the stage. Glancing down at a little piece of parchment in his hand he returned the greeting…’God dag Sverige…Good evening Sweden!’ And with that he pulled an apple from his pocket and threw it up in the air. Naturally after rising, it fell to the ground – an occurrence which we in the twenty first century are well used to. But remember, back in the early eighteen hundreds gravity had only just been invented. Watching falling fruit was akin to witnessing a miracle. Thus when the apple hit the floor, the crowd, Anders among them, leapt to their feet, applauding and cheering this feat of physics. The show wasn’t over yet though. For the next forty minutes, Newton repeated the stunt working his way through a whole fruit bowl…a banana, a pear, a mango, a pineapple. And each time the crowd clapped, amazed at the scientific scenes being played out in front of them.

At nine thirty the curtain fell for the half time interval…again the audience cheered (understandably so, as in 1717 curtains falling were as much a novelty as apples falling). As the crowd rose to stretch their legs and purchase popcorn, the announcer issued a stern warning…’Ladies and gentlemen, please remember Sir Isaac is a fully qualified physicist. Do not attempt to drop apples in your own home.’

The second half of the show was billed as an ensemble piece. Having entertained on his own for forty minutes. Newton was now allowing others to bask in his glory. And so, when he returned to the stage, he was accompanied by four other scientists, each carrying various implements. Newton introduced them one by one. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, on Bunsen Burner tonight…Mr Edmund Halley.’ Halley increased and diminished the flame on his bunsen burner, to polite applause from the audience. ‘On testtubes, Gustav Leibniz.’ Leibniz picked up a spatula and started tapping out a tune on a rack of testtubes in front of him. Again the audience clapped. ‘The Prince of petri dishes…Mr. Robert Hooke.’ Holding two dishes in his left hand, Hooke clicked them together like castanets, much to the delight of a party of Spanish holidaymakers who were visiting the Expo that night. ‘And finally, last but by no means least…all the way from Gdansk…on the mercury thermometer…Gabriel Fahrenheit.’

It was the first time Anders had ever heard that name. It wouldn’t be the last. The young Swede watched as the Polish scientist picked up a strange looking glass tube and held it aloft so that every member of the audience could get a good look. And then, suddenly, he popped it in his mouth. The crowd was stunned. No clapping, no cheering…just silence. And then a murmur. Had what they thought just happened actually happened? Had the person sitting next to them seen it too? Surely it was a trick. Sleight of hand, mirrors, something, anything…it was too incredible to be actually true. But no, it was true…the good folk of Stockholm, Anders Celsius among them, had witnessed the arrival of temperature in Sweden.

Yes, Sir Isaac Newton may have been headlining the show, but the night belonged to Fahrenheit. And Newton knew it. As the band emerged from the backdoor of the theatre, they were met by the usual horde of fans. But it wasn’t Newton they wanted to see. Instead they flocked around Fahrenheit. Hundreds of jostling teenagers, holding out their quills, hoping for an autograph. Anders was among them, but so great was the throng that he couldn’t even get close enough to catch a glimpse of the Pole.

What happened after the Stockholm gig has been well chronicled in other tomes. But for those of you not familiar with the tale, allow me to give a brief precis of events. In short, Newton had returned to the band’s penthouse suite at the Stockholm Holiday Inn spitting feathers. Upstaged by the younger scientist, he demanded Fahrenheit be dropped from the line up. Needless to say, Fahrenheit was less than pleased. After all, he’d signed a contract to tour with the group for six months. A heated argument broke out, in fact the first heated argument in history, since this was the first time a row had occurred since temperature had been invented. The two men then came to blows and as fists flew a commode was thrown out of the window…a symbolic moment in the history of modern physics as it confirmed science had replaced chamber music as the new rock and roll. What followed was a bitter legal dispute. After that night the feuding physicists didn’t meet again until six months later when they faced each other in the High Court. Newton lost the case, the judge ruling that the only public appearances he could now make were on the back of one pound notes.

Fahrenheit had been victorious and his star was in the ascendant. The undisputed heavyweight scientist of his generation, he became something of a playboy figure on the international scene. Sales of his thermometer went platinum and there was even talk of him appearing alongside George 1st in a Hogarth etching. But despite his celebrity, all Fahrenheit wanted was the quiet life. At heart he was a simple scientist, never happier that when he was hunched up over some testtubes. Which is why in May 1718, he declared he was taking a break from touring to work on some new experiments. He returned to Gdansk, hid away in his laboratory and vanished from the public eye.

But if Fahrenheit craved the quiet life he was to be frustrated. Back in Sweden, the country where he’d first hit the headlines, a young maverick physicist was about to challenge the Pole’s pole position in the scientific starting grid.


Traditionally we associate epiphanies with the road to Damascus. Hardly surprising, as it was on that very thoroughfare that St. Paul had his encounter with Jesus and Martin Paperclippe had his encounter with a twisted piece of metal. But, in truth epiphanies know no geographical boundaries. If the conditions are right, any road in the world can be the location for a moment of revelation. Even roads in Sweden. The B326 between Stockholm and Linkopping is no exception. Indeed, it was the B326 that young Anders Celsius was travelling down as he returned home from Newton’s Principia Comeback Concert. Like everyone in the audience that night Anders’ mind had been blown away by the scene played out on stage. That dazzling display of falling and rising temperature encapsulated in a little glass tube was near miraculous. And yet, unlike everyone else in the audience, something troubled Celsius. Numbers. Plain and simple numbers. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it but for some reason Fahrenheit’s numbers had seemed so arbitrary…and more to the point so complicated. What good did it do anyone having a boiling point that was 212 degrees and a freezing point that was 32 degrees? I mean if you’re going to go to all the trouble of inventing degrees in the first place, why not make them straightforward? And as the Linkopping Routemaster cart rolled past the Ulvaeus Clog Factory, that was the question Anders Celsius resolved he would answer. That would be his life’s work.


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Comments by other Members

Richard Brown at 12:38 on 22 July 2003  Report this post
Very quirky! Clever too! There's some very neat writing here. It's not really my kind of thing but, despite that, there's much that's I found very amusing and intriguing. I was trying to analyse why it's not my kind of thing and came to the tentative conclusion that I didn't identify strongly enough with any of the characters. I warmed to Laszlo's preoccupation with the redundant 's' but it wasn't quite enough to draw me on. I know that many people don't have this identification thing when reading, so it's not anywhere near a fatal flaw - just my taste. But I feel that the piece is of very high quality - as I mentioned above, 'clever'. I'd be very interested to know what others think.

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