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Vertically Challenged

by  Zigeroon

Posted: Saturday, February 5, 2005
Word Count: 4229
Summary: The small guy hits back.


“It’s good to have all you little guys and girls in the studio, here today. I’d like you to tell all those of us who are normal height what you go through day-to-day. When I was at college I had a little buddy who was vertically challenged…”
“Vertically challenged!?” He inhaled too quickly, coughed and spluttered as the dry biscuit crumbs hit the back of his throat. He fought for breath, drank a large mouthful of tea to swamp the crumbs that were tickling his throat, shot tea out of his mouth and nose, wiped at the mess on his face and tried to contain his temper. “Vertically challenged,” he screamed at the TV as though the tea stains on the sleeve of his cream shirt were its fault. “We’re bloody dwarfs and proud of it.”

The TV zapper bounced off the screen and flew away into a corner of the room, happy to be out of range. He pressed the centre of his chest with the flat of his hand, trying to catch his breath.
“We’re dwarfs, from a long line of dwarfs, you stupid bastard,” he finally screamed, having got control of his breathing.

On the screen the presenter continued with his introduction. Using the supposedly politically correct way to describe dwarves as people of restricted growth, suggestively intimating that lack of height might hint at inferiority, Jerry Springer style, the little smile playing at the corner of his handsome mouth hinting that maybe he was toying with the studio audience, being a little provocative, lighting the blue touch paper of popular debate and all the while getting ready to stand back and watch the fireworks fly, a non-participant catalyst. A large part of the audience had the same reaction as Dave Burrows, he of the tie-dye tea stained shirt, being as they were, ‘vertically challenged’. The restrictions of the studio meant that they could not throw things but they shouted and screamed.

Dave added his voice to the baying throng while the presenter, Dirk Sprintzer, stood in the wings satisfied that another taboo subject was hitting the spot.
“My growth is not restricted, I’m fully, and perfectly, formed, you prick!”
“Are you OK dear?” said his wife, Mary, her pretty face appearing round the lounge door.
“OK?” he queried suspiciously. “I’d be OK if Dirkin Sprintzer didn’t always try and be politically correct. He’s as tall as a willow and just as droopy.”
“Dirkin? I thought his name was Dirk, like Bogart.”
“To me he is, and always will be, Dirkin. ‘Firkin Dirkin’ to his friends and I used to be one of them. Six foot eight tall he was, and probably is, and I was, and still am, four foot three. Can you imagine how funny that looked on campus?”
“Well I’m five ten darling, some people laugh at us.”
“That doesn’t matter. I love you, and you love me. Dirkin and I were thrown together by adversity. We formed a bond to protect ourselves from the sizeists and bullies. I don’t think we ever loved each other. Tolerated maybe. But I can’t tolerate his patronising description of my obviously diminutive height as ‘vertically challenged’. If anybody’s vertically challenged, he is.

My dad was a dwarf, as was his dad, and his dad’s dad was the projectile member of the All England Dwarf Throwing Championship winning team of 1888. Following that success even tall people looked up to him, especially the ones that had won a lot of money on him.

He was an artist, the best. He could float through the air. His ability to be thrown was second to none. His gliding abilities meant that his partner, Joe ‘Dwarf Chucker’ Coleman, became the standard against which all future dwarf throwers would be compared. They were an invincible pair and Joe couldn’t have done it without my great, great granddad, Tom.

Even now my cousin Martin continues the family tradition, being thrown at the back of pubs, well not at them but in the gardens, he’s part of an underground revival of things that made dwarfs what they are, different, superior. Do you think we’d have let them throw us if we didn’t want to? We were an integral part of the team. The essential part.”
“I’m sure,” said Mary, having heard it all before. She’d even witnessed Martin being thrown, which she had considered to be a bit barbaric, like being at a revival of bear baiting in the heart of London She kept those views to herself, not wanting to upset Dave’s positive view of the past.
“Dinners ready,” she said.
“I’ll be through in a minute. I want to take the number down at the bottom of the screen so that I can contact him.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea Davie? Contacting him after all these years?”

The acid smile that crossed Dave’s face, and the malicious twinkle in his eye suggested, rather convincingly, that he thought it was an exceptionally good idea. She sighed heavily. One of those ideas, she thought.
“It could be interesting,” he said, in a matter of fact way that made her shudder, she had heard that tone before, just before he moved in on some poor unsuspecting, under performing company and made a few more million. She still could not understand why he kept on risking everything just to make more money. Surely they had enough to live on for the rest of their lives. It made him happy though and that’s all that mattered to her.

What upset her were the disparaging comments in the press about Dave Burrows skulking in his hole in the ground, squatting on his piles of gold. ‘The dwarf axes another.’ ‘Dave takes out Goliath; golden rain again.’ How they knew about their private life she couldn’t imagine. Reporters seemed to be everywhere these days.

Dave wrote the number down and made his way out of the wing of the house that he had specially designed so that everything was three-quarter size or less. As he stepped into the ordinary proportions of the main part of the house he felt as though he was shrinking. It gave him perspective, made him feel exactly what he was, an ordinary man in an extraordinary world.
“Cabbage?” said Mary.
“Lots,” replied Dave. “Got to keep my strength up.”
“Might help you grow.”
Mary hummed a tuneless tune.
“He’s had it coming for years,” said Dave through a mouthful of dumpling. “Stews good.”
“Don’t try and change the subject. Yes, up. You don’t have to take on the world, let some one else sort him out for a change.”
“He’s got to be stopped. How many times is he going to have a go at the ‘vertically challenged?”
“About as many times as he’s going to have a go at the blind and the lame,” replied Mary. “Does it matter?” She winced at the look he gave her. Of course it mattered, to him, she just didn’t see him in any other way than the Dave she loved. For all the jokes told against himself about his size, and his phenomenal success in business, it still hurt when people, Dirkin Sprintzer in particular, said thoughtless things.

The glazed atrium and soaring, full sized trees forming a small forest in the reception area had been impressive. Now he sat in the ante-chamber to the star’s lair upon a low slung, soft, black leather sofa that was designed to put the seated visitor at a distinct disadvantage as they struggled to their feet if they had the clout to be greeted by Dirkin, in person. Dave obviously didn’t have the clout. He was left to view the white walls, stripped pine floors, abstract art adorning the walls and the immaculate, stunningly beautiful black receptionist who sat behind a glass desk and occasionally tossed her long black curls, crossed and uncrossed her long, elegant legs but did very little else.

Ten-thirty came and went. Dave glanced at his watch, a custom made Rolex Oyster. That got the receptionists attention. She was obviously geared up to sniff out designer labels thought Dave. It must be some kind of evolutionary thing amongst aspiring wannabe’s. He smiled a smile of enquiry that encompassed his frustration at being given the ‘My time’s more important than yours, you can wait,” treatment.

Dave laughed silently, the receptionist eyed him nervously; she had seen what people like Dave had done to the studio during that vertically challenged special last week. Her beloved Dirk had been lucky to get out with only a black eye.

Dave’s attention was elsewhere, back at college. They had been known, amongst other things as ‘The long and the short of it,’ and if he was honest with himself, they had been inseparable. Inseparable that is until Amanda Arrowsmith had come along.

Dave had been a brilliant basketball player. He had perfect hand eye coordination, balance and poise, talents that were wasted in a dwarf, so his father said. To prove the old man wrong Dave had joined the basketball squad and after the usual jokes about his size, his technique and ability had added a new dimension to the team’s game. Dirkin’s jealousy could probably be traced back to that time, for old ‘Dirk’ was built like a basketball player but had no ability.

Fame bought its rewards on campus and Dave began dating Amanda Arrowsmith. She was five-eight, firm bodied, raven haired, intelligent, witty and loved Dave for who he was, not for the novelty value. He had always been lucky in that way. Their love life, his first taste of carnal pleasure, was no problem. As she often said, “we’re all the same size, lying down.’ Standing up or lying down Dave had the added advantage of being hung like a donkey. Amanda thoroughly enjoyed his attentions and Dave thoroughly enjoyed giving her attention.

He slowly came back from the past and realised that it was nearly eleven o’clock, more than enough time for Dirkin to show Dave how far up the greasy pole he had managed to climb.
“Will he be long?” he enquired politely.
“As long as it takes,” replied the receptionist with a flick of her curls.
“How long is that, usually?”
“Depends what he’s doing.”
“Or who?” he said.

She ignored him although he had to say she looked a little sheepish as she returned to sanding her already perfect nails. Dave resumed his viewing of the artistic splashes of psychedelic colours on the canvas’s that hung intermittently upon the walls. He liked modern art and calculated the cost of each canvas to while away the time.

The phone rang. Her crooked finger commanded him to rise and with an elegant twist of her wrist she pointed him in the direction of Dirkin’s office. All without speaking, he was impressed.

If the ante-chamber had been minimalist, the stars lair was empty. Rich, red, bare brick walls, a stark white floor, cream ceiling and one chair. A large wing backed, black leather affair that was wired for sound and any other entertainment device you could think of. Music emanated from the ceiling that acted like a giant speaker cone, woofers and tweeters combined. Dave recognised the product as one developed by one of the companies he owned.

Dirk uncoiled and leapt out of the chair.
“Firkin’ Dirkin,” said Dave, getting his put down in first.
“Short House Shorty,” responded Dirkin, a broad white smile diluting the venomous barb.
“How’s Amanda?” asked Dave knowing the answer but enjoying watching Dirkin squirm.
“Divorced, from me. Living in luxury, off me, with our three beautiful daughters, who she is trying to poison, against me.”
Me, me, me, thought Dave. “It didn’t work out then?”
“Not as well as I would have liked,” replied Dirkin, matching Dave, understatement for understatement. He pressed a button on the arm of the chair. The room filled with the voice of an angel asking what he wanted. “Two coffee’s Alicia, darling,” he said with another grin at Dave that Dave interpreted as knowing.
“Do you always make your guests wait so long?”
“Only the important one’s.”
“I’m important?”
“You could be. I don’t know. So I had to meditate first, calm down. When I’m hyper I miss things. You’re a slippery bastard Titch. I don’t know why you’re here and I don’t like that. Anybody comes to see me, they’ve usually got an angle, to make money off me, or for me. They want what I’ve got. So why are you here?”
“To see you. Maybe talk over old times.”
“Now I am worried,” said Dirkin. He looked it too.
Dave chuckled. “So why didn’t you keep in touch?”
“Hey, come on Micro-man. I dumped on you with the love of your life. What was I going to do, play best friends? I don’t think so.”
“Could have phoned after a while.”
“Phone lines go both ways.”
Dave nodded, acknowledging the truth of that. “I thought we were best friends. Setting Amanda aside, we got on, we were different but we were the same.”

Alicia entered with the coffee, giving Dirkin a few moments to gather his thoughts and try and work out where this conversation was going. He knew Dave’s reputation, his legendary belief in never wasting time and yet here he was, calm and relaxed even after Dirkin had made him wait for over half-an-hour in an attempt to unbalance him. The ploy had failed.

He couldn’t get a handle on why Dave was here at all. Being a control freak, it bothered him. The only reason he had set up this production company up was to get full control over the product he had created. It galled him to think he had to rely on his backer’s money but he was nearly in a position to buy them out.

They stood in the centre of the room, each holding a steaming bone china cup and saucer in the palm of their right hand. Alicia smiled as she left the room; the sight reminded her of a high-rise block of flats towering over a two-storey cottage. She had begun an architecture course but realised she could sleep herself to the top a lot faster if she worked on reception.
“Do you fancy sitting down?”
“You do have seats then?”

Dirkin pressed another button on the chair. Part of the wall to Dave’s left slid aside and they walked through to a roof top conservatory with breath taking views over the River Thames towards the Houses of Parliament.
“Impressive,” said Dave, sinking into a soft chair.
“I’m glad you like it,” Dirkin said, leaning back and looking up through the frosted glass ceiling set two stories above their heads. He had a brief understanding of what it must be like to be Dave looking up at a ceiling at normal height. He felt slightly vertiginous. “So?”
“College days?”
”The more recent past, first.”
“How recent? I haven’t seen you in ten years?”
“Last week. The ‘Vertically Challenged’ programme.”
“Oh, that. Just a bit of fun,” said Dirkin an uneasy feeling stirring in the dark recesses of his mind. Perhaps he had been a little hard on Dave.
“It’s not so much for me,” said Dave.
“What’s not?”
“The apology you’re going to make.”

Dirkin laughed, and laughed, and laughed, slapped the glass table-top that sat between them, jumped up, then sat down again in an attempt to control his nervous energy. It was either that or take a swing at Dave. On the basis that the police were still deciding whether he had been provoked or lashed out at some of Dave’s diminutive pals he sat on his hands.
”We never apologise, never. Our shows are of the people, for the people, by the people. It’s the energy and attitude of the audience that generates the spectacle, the lively debate, it’s bar room talk writ large on the small screen.”
“It was offensive.”
“Come on Dave. No more than usual. No more than you got used to at college. Look at the press reports of your successes. They’re always highlighting your size, or lack of it,” he held up his hands, “Sorry, sorry, cheap shot.” He stuttered to a stop, realised Dave wasn’t about to say anything, so bumbled on, on the attack now. “I’ve got nothing to be sorry about. The show thrives on off the wall subjects, not that dwarves are off the wall, just different,” he checked the ground beneath him hoping it might open up and swallow him. “We’re never directly derogatory. It’s a laugh, Dave.” He realised, too late, that the subject lacked a lot of humour as far as Dave was concerned. Dirkin started to get nervous.
“Too you it might be a laugh but to people like me it’s not that funny.”
“Look,” said Dirkin, thinking that maybe a change of tack might lighten the moment. Thinking he might get through to the old Dave, who, it must be said, now that he thought about it, with hindsight, had not really been as thick skinned about his height as Dirkin thought he remembered him. “It’s that kind of show; the kind of show that’s on every channel. If we start apologising it’ll never stop. We’ll always offend somebody. That’s why people watch, that’s why advertisers want to be associated with us. Big audiences. Low production costs. Big profits. Come on Mini-me you must appreciate the draw of the big buck.” He waited for Dave to agree. Dave just stared at him. “Look. I’ll apologise about what I said about you, to you, I apologise, how’s that?
“No where near good enough. But I’ll tell you what,” said Dave as though an idea had just occurred to him. He shuffled forward in the chair, lowering his voice. “I want you to make a TV special on me.”
“You? A TV special on you? But you hate publicity.”
“I do.”
“Why do I…?”
“No. Why do it, I mean…”
“Because I think it will be good for you.”
Dirkin savoured that comment, running it through a million different connotations to see if any made sense, they didn’t. “So, let me get this straight. You want me to do a special on you because you think it will be good for me.”
“Is there anything you don’t understand?”
“I’m sure there is, I just can’t understand what I don’t understand, yet,” he paused, a mere blip in his delivery. “What’s the angle?”
“Your retribution,” said Dave, deciding to be honest with him.
Dave smiled.
Dirkin swallowed hard.
Dave said, “Are you in?”
“I’m not sure. I should run it past my backers before I make any rash decisions.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“You don’t know my backers.”
“I think I do.”
As Dirkin responded his mind registered Dave’s comment. “They never want to meet the product. They’re money-men. Programme making’s left to me. It’s the way I like it.”
“I think they might have even less interest now.”
“Why’s that?”
“Because I’m the new boss. The last time I saw them they were heading off to the bank with the cheques I gave them for their shares.”

Dirkin’s nervous movements came to a dead stop. His body quivered briefly, then stilled. He felt like a honey worker bee grinding to a halt just inside the entrance to the wrong hive, realising that if he got away with his life, nothing would ever be the same again.

As Dirk said to Alicia, when he got back from Dave’s place after filming the special and after she had calmed him down enough to get him into bed. “Would you say no to your boss?”
Alicia spread her legs beneath him and purred that, “No, she couldn’t remember ever saying no to her boss.” Dirkin looked non-plussed until she added that she’d never say no to her present boss, him, not ‘The Dwarf’, as Dave, unsurprisingly, was already known within the company.
“Another thing,” said Dirkin. “That sign on that gate thing, it should have made me even more suspicious of the little git.” If he was being truthful with himself he would have to admit that it had made him wary but he didn’t appreciate the depth of Dave’s reaction to the ‘vertically challenged’ jibe.

As Alicia did her best to distract him Dirkin reran the interview with Dave.

Dirk, the sound man and the camera man stood at the head of the gravel drive outside Dave’s Elizabethan manor house. Dave stood on the half landing waving at them from inside the storey and a half height leaded picture window, indicating that they should go round to the side entrance.

Muttering dark invocations about money’d dwarfs they stomped around to the entrance into Dave’s specially reduced part of the house. A modern adaptation of a lych gate, two columns and a lintel made of bleached oak, that had upturned ends, marked the gateway to a stone pathway. A bit oriental, thought Dirk.

'Mind Your Head’ was carved into the beam. On the other side was, ‘Ouch!” The three of them were laughing when they came to the door. Two-thirds normal height. The sound-man stooped, the camera man bent down, and Dirk doubled up. Half way over the threshold he had a nasty feeling that Old Dave might be just about to have a bit of a joke, and at his expense.
“You two wait outside,” he whispered. They slouched, heads bent forwards onto chests, necks against the ceiling.
“Are you sure?” said the sound man.
“What’s he gonna do, bash Dirk round the ankles?” said the camera man. They laughed as they popped back out the door onto the pathway.

Dave appeared, or perhaps he had been there all along, thought Dirk. He felt a sliver of paranoia slide through him like a chill that someone walking across your grave creates.
“Trouble?” Dave said, looking up at Dirk who, even on his knees towered over him.
“Camera’s playing up,” replied Dirk, wincing, the flag-stoned hallway floor was painful on his knees. If he knelt down at all these days it was usually on his bed, immediately behind Alicia, and, not surprisingly, then he felt no pain.
“A preliminary chat then?” said Dave.
“Mnnnh,” said Dirk following Dave down the hallway through the door on the left into a part sized study.
“Take a seat,” said Dave.
Dirk looked intently at the scaled down Louis XV furniture and then at Dave.
“Give it a try,” said Dave with a malicious grin. “You never know whether you can do any thing until you try.” It had been a pet phrase of Dirk’s at college, one usually directed at Dave trying to do something that his lack of height made difficult. Dirk began to feel claustrophobic. It was a new experience.

Dirk swivelled his legs round, stood up too quickly, bashed his head on the ceiling, ducked, smashed his head on the back of the wooden chair that Dave had thoughtfully moved into position. Grabbing the elegant arms of the chair he twisted himself into a semi-seated position. His face peered out from between his knees.
“You don’t look all that comfortable,” said Dave.
“Nor would you if you were wearing your knees as a pair of earrings.”
“You could sit on the floor,” said Dave from behind the desk.
Dirk frowned. “This isn’t fair.”
“What isn’t?”
“All this…” said Dirk, sweeping his arms wide and almost slipping off his perch at the lip of the seat. He lowered himself down to the floor, feeling more secure.
“Welcome to my world,” said Dave. “Shall we begin? Time’s getting on. It’s almost time to go on air.”
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you about that,” said Dirk.
“Since when?”
”Since I entered this mad house. I bet your wife doesn’t have to come in here to talk to you.”
“She comes in from time to time. We live in the ‘normal’ part of the house. I use this part for perspective.”
“Bloody weird perspective,” said Dirk. He studied the study around him and smiled. “I don’t think the camera will work in here.”
“That’s convenient,” said Dave amazed at how Dirk could think he could take him for a fool. “What about if we moved up in the world, back to reality?”
“It probably would then.”
Dave scratched his chin. “So you feel disadvantaged?”
“Vertically challenged,” said Dirk, going for empathy with his intended victim who seemed to be enjoying his discomfort. How dare the little bastard.
It was Dave’s turn to smile. “That’s all it takes,” he said pressing a TV remote that he took out of the top desk drawer. “Do you want to see how the programme went?”
“What programme?”
“The one we just took part in.”

Dirk looked at Dave as though Dave had finally lost his marbles. Dave showed Dirk the video camera set up on the shelves behind him then flicked the TV on revealing the baying laughing studio audience that had watched their cosy chat live.
“Do you want to throw the floor open to discussion Dirk?” said Dave. “Half the audience is below five foot tall and the other half are over six foot six.”
“Bollocks,” said Dirk and crawled out the door.