The Greenhouse Effect
The hero of this story is a young, swaggering lad of 23 by the name of Harrison McCaw- ‘Harry’ to friends and ‘Hey you!’ to his superiors, a surprisingly large number of people. Like many of those blessed with a lack of undue intelligence, Harry’s self confidence was something you couldn’t dent if you threw adamantine horseshoes at it. As such, he didn’t consider any job beyond his capabilities, up to and including nuclear reactor technician. Fortunately, the boys in admissions spotted him coming that time and managed to complete the signing on of another delighted-yet-bewildered prospective candidate within 5 minutes. Unfortunately for Harry, his capabilities didn’t match up to his opinion, although it matched those of his employers’ all too closely. Harry McCaw was becoming something of a legend in select and unfortunate circles. Believing that his reasonably well built torso was best suited for physical activity, he had worked for, in succession, an engineering firm, a transport company, a dockyard outfit and a fire-fighter. The in-operative word being ‘had’.
Currently, Harry was cooling his talons between jobs, his latest spell of employment in a food processing plant having ended quite abruptly three days previously. (So he’d mixed up a couple of buttons and had flooded out a 4-storey building with tapioca. Big deal)
Just because he’s the hero of this tale doesn’t mean he has to be competent. He’s just one of the cogs on which society runs.
Have a closer look at our ersatz champion. All 6 feet of him is sprawled across the sofa in the cluttered living room of his two-roomed flat and idly leafing through the jobs section of his local paper. The room can be written off as a typical bachelor pad- a mess, the only light illuminating it currently filtered through the thin, grubby curtains he’s got pulled across the windows. One good thing you can say about Harry- he isn’t choosy about what kind of jobs he does. He’s happy doing anything, and pretty much equally dangerous in each. It isn’t so much his technical inability to do a job that causes this, rather that, as a parrot, his attention span wouldn’t stretch across a shower cubicle and he has the irresistible compulsion to be chatty, thus putting everyone else off as well as himself. As he blankly turns the page, he stretches out a burly, feathered arm without looking and picks up a handful of cheese and onion crisps (anyone injudicious enough to use the word ‘cracker’ in front of this broad-shouldered avian is liable to be proffered violence. And it’s very hard to refuse.) He’s shirtless, leaving the ubiquitous scarlet of his plumage exposed. The only relief in this comes from the trapezoidal green ‘faceplates’ around his eyes, his large yellow beak and the emerald patches under his arms. He is, however, currently conceding to wear loose denim shorts and flip-flops on his scaled feet. If asked, 99 out of 100 people would look at him and offer the description ‘casual’.
* * *
Behind another set of closed (and somewhat cleaner) curtains lay an office. But here ‘casual’ would have smartened itself up and straightened its shoulders. The light gleamed off polished wooden surfaces, glowed on the rich varnish of the walnut coffee table, showed up the thread-of-gold hints in the antique Persian rugs which covered the floor and picked up the glints in the black stone of the top of a huge desk. This desk was definitely the centre of attention for the room. Even though it was of ordinary height it loomed. The most power-mad of Barons or the wealthiest of Tycoons in history would have given their impregnable castles, chauffeur-driven limousines and probably several pints of blood to be able to sit at a desk like that. The desktop was empty except for a small, minimalist executive toy and a black stone ashtray. And somehow that still somehow managed to be intimidating. Not a scrap of paper was in sight, and this wasn’t because it was a paperless office. This was the kind of office used by someone so high up there is no longer any paperwork to deal with. And could deal serious damage to whoever might try to cause them paperwork.
It was a good office. Here was where business got done. And it gave the impression that, if you were business, you’d get done too.
Around the desk sat two figures. Both felines- tigers in fact. But note another, more important fact: one was very much behind the desk and the other very much in front of the desk. In the two far corners of the room stood what might easily have been mistaken for dummies or mannequins, but on closer inspection would turn out to be the best bodyguards forged money could buy.
Mark Anthony don Giovanni, who also happened to be Don Giovanni (a.k.a. ‘Big Tony’), leaned back in his plush, leather-upholstered chair. Such was this creature’s reputation there was speculation as to whom it had been upholstered with. He lit his second cigar of the meeting, and in the comfortable gloom and silence he blew out a cloud of blue, choking smoke which hung in the air between the two like some ephemeral sculpture. He steepled his fingers, and over them inspected the underling. It wore a well-cut suit- not as elegant as Don Giovanni’s own of course, but a good several sizes smaller and perfectly acceptable in this somewhat salubrious company. Besides, they were both felines and whatever they wore, felines had style. The interviewee had his fur cut short and slicked back in the latest fashion, whereas Don Giovanni had a suave, understated pony tail to hold his longer locks out of his face. And unlike the older, broader tiger the younger had his whiskers cropped close, robbing him of the traditional square jaw favoured by the giant of the underworld. A gold ring glinted on one finger, set with a very expensive topaz.
Don Giovanni transferred the cigar from his mouth to his hand, and began without preamble. It was the first thing he’d said since the other had sat down ten minutes ago. (He always found silence the bast way to start a meeting. It concentrated the mind of his interlocutor on the worrisome question of what might actually be said to him.) His voice was deep and gravelly, exactly what was expected from a tiger who’s fur was going grey at the temples, who had been a chain smoker for 5 of his 6 decades on this Earth and who would probably be a terminal one, too.
“So you see what I’m proposing, my boy. I have this old garden centre on my paws- it came in an old buyout of mine, like Aunt Delilah’s broken table lamp. Right now it earns me nothing. It’s a nuisance. You’re a bright kid. Real potential, I’ve always said so. Now is the time to give you a little responsibility, eh?” He leaned forward, his eyes practically glowing with fervour. He stabbed a finger into the desk emphatically. “What I want you to do is take this dump over, do it up, and run the best damn money laundering racket this side of Sicily.”
The younger tiger shifted slightly in his seat and mulled the situation over. Don Giovanni sat back and confidently awaited the master plan that was to be presented to him. The kid seemed to think for an awfully long time, then looked up and smiled. His voice was sweet and clear, that of someone who knows full well the dangers of smoking stick-shaped tar pits, and even better how much compensation you can claim for passive smoking.
“Well Dad, it sounds fine, but I’ve got a better plan. Why don’t I take over this garden-centre, build it up, leave out the money laundering and make a killing out of it?”
Don Giovanni blinked, and not for the first time when dealing with Phillip don Giovanni, his eldest and only son. The cigar stayed in place, but the smile that had taken up station around it fell away.
“Kill whom? I haven’t told you to kill anyone. Why are you planning to kill people you haven’t been told to? And what are you doing getting wrapped up in killing anyway? You need to keep your paws clean, haven’t I always told you that?”
“Yes Dad. And no, Dad.” Phillip rolled his eyes and used that special, pained tone reserved for parents by children when they believe that they’re being stupid. “I meant: ‘make loads of money.’”
Don Giovanni’s expression hardened as his even nastier suspicions were confirmed.
“You mean… you want to run a straight operation, don’t you? You want to be-” he couldn’t restrain the shudder of distaste “-legal.” He pronounced the word in the same tone as other people might use for ‘-wormed’ or ‘-taxed’. Phillip sighed in resignation. This was going to be difficult.
“And why not? I mean, the home gardening industry is booming at the moment! Now is just the right time to set up a garden centre and nursery. I can make a mint!”
“How can you do this to me?” Don Giovanni almost wailed. “For this I sent you to the best schools, the best universities! You have a degree in economics, with additional detailed courses in the intricacies of financial law! Why bother if you aren’t going to put them to an honest use? What would your poor dear mother, God rest her soul, say if she knew you wanted to go out and be a legitimate trader?”
The boy just sat there impassively, smiling at him. Don Giovanni carefully avoided sighing. Phillip’s mother had been the best dealer in his locally owned casino, and had been able to switch cards on even him! It was that gall that had first attracted his attention to the little firecracker. But he didn’t know where it had gone wrong with the boy. If anything, he was too bright. He seemed to positively delight in shunning all the traditions of their proud family, going back over 10 generations of mobsters. He realised that his cigar had burned down to a fat finger of ash. Irritably he collected himself, and tried one last time to appeal to reason.
“So you’re just going to trust in market forces, are you? Have fair play?” He could easily have been saying ‘caterpillar stew’. “How will you make money, then? Think of the damage you could do to the family.” He tried to see the cunning, devious plan his child had woven, but if there was one, it was too damn fine for him to see it. He was a traditionalist, and distrusted new-fangled thinking when the benefits (such as tax exemption) weren’t immediately apparent. He groped for some leverage in the argument. “Not even a protection racket to keep those other… greenhouses… in line?”
“No Dad. Not a one.”
“As a favour to your old father, who has kept you all these years and to whom you owe so much?” Ok, that was low, but he hadn’t got where he was today by scrupulously avoiding all regions below the belt.
“Sorry, but no.”
For the first time in 20 years Don Giovanni found himself sweating over a conversation, and he felt a genuine pang of parental worry. He’d already given the boy freedom to do as he pleased with this project, up to a point. He’d given him this tin-pot business like a more normal father might give a child a car on their 17th birthday (Phillip had had one when he was 10). He couldn’t take it back. He’d hoped that with a little responsibility and proper guidance the boy would settle down into the right way of doing things. Now it seemed as though he were going off the rails completely.
Phillip watched his father’s cigar burn itself out between nerveless fingers before he decided that the old thing had suffered enough. He allowed his ancestors’ trademark smile to slide across his features. For a moment he looked almost as nasty as his father.
“Actually, I’ve got something much better than that in mind.” Like a conjuror producing a size 12 rabbit out of a size 6 hat, a sleek, matt black laptop seemed to materialise on the desk out of thin air.
And he explained…
* * *
Harry sighed in a vaguely disgruntled manner and stared at the TV. As usual, nothing was on, but he watched it anyway. His eyes kept straying back to the newspaper strewn around him, and eventually he scooped it back up, flicking slowly through the pages. He found the advert he’d been thinking of, and regarded it again thoughtfully. It was an ad for some new plant shop, a surprisingly large piece for something so simple, but that wasn’t the bit that interested him. At the bottom was a line, in pretty small print:
‘Jobs Vacant. Good pay. Apply 07703 473367.’
As mentioned, Harry wasn’t fussy about what kind of work he did. And ‘good pay’ sounded… good. He took a few more minutes to think it over, then got up and lumbered to the phone, clutching the sheet of paper. Reading the number off it, he laboriously dialled and hoped for a reply. On the third ring the receiver at the far end was snatched up and a voice spoke.
“Hi. Is that… uhh…” Harry glanced down at the ad again, “‘GreenFingers Inc.’?” The voice at the other end of the line chuckled inexplicably.
“This is where it will be in a few days. Why?” Harry took the plunge.
“Err… I saw your advert in the paper. Do you still have any jobs available?” The presence at the other end of the phone made a shuffling noise, the sound of large piles of irrelevant paperwork being sifted rapidly for the one sheet you want.
“As a matter of fact, we do have a few left. Would you be interested?”
“Umm… yes. Yes, I would.”
“Okay then, come in the… day after tomorrow, and we’ll see if you’ll do. Can I have your name?” There followed the routine that occurs in every application for a job: name, age, address, phone number etc. Afterwards, there was a slightly embarrassed pause, as though the voice at the other end of the phone felt it ought to say something but doesn’t like to. Eventually it cracked. “I think perhaps I should warn you that the job is a bit… unglamorous.”
“Oh, that doesn’t bother me,” said Harry cheerfully. Indeed it didn’t, but the voice didn’t seem convinced.
“Probably quite mucky too.” Harry shrugged, then realised that this didn’t translate well down the phone. The voice seemed to have trouble letting go of the subject. It seemed to be preying on his mind.
“In fact, what we really need is some menial labour. The ‘plants’ side of the job sheet has already been filled. It’d mainly be carting things around, loading and unloading, maybe even some cleaning.”
“I don’t mind, honestly.” Harry was getting a little worried, in case the voice had just realised it had made a mistake and wanted to get rid of him there and then. He thought he heard a snort and the muttered aside:
“Then you’re the only bum in this city who doesn’t.” Then the official tone and volume returned abruptly. “Alright then. Oh, one last thing: some of the lifting might be pretty heavy. Are you suitably qualified?” Harry idly flexed a muscle in his free arm and inspected it. Looked good enough.
“Oh Yeah, I’m pretty sure I am....”
* * *
Phillip smiled benevolently as his newest employee got on with his new job. This bird fit the… ahaha… bill perfectly. Big, strong, could take orders, didn’t think too much. For his part, Harry had been working at GreenFingers Inc. for a little less than 4 hours and he felt right at home already. This was a dream job. Pick stuff up, put it on the special cart (a kind of flatbed wheelbarrow), trundle it to wherever it needed to go. There were a few other things too, but this seemed to be the essence of the job. It wasn’t difficult and there was a lot to do. As far as he could tell he was the only haulier in the place. Perfect. It meant there wasn’t much chance of his being sacked soon, and he wasn’t going to be left with nothing to do. He hated that. For now most of the work seemed to be helping set up the selling area by bringing all the plants through. There were a lot of them, and even to Harry’s untrained eye they looked big and healthy. It was going to take all day and the next, and at £7.50 an hour he was really looking forward to it.
The tiger, reassured that the lug knew what he was doing and was in little risk of running over his own foot, pulled the blinds in his office and relaxed in the tranquil half-darkness that ensued. He ran an eye over the less-than-glowing employment record his agents had been able to acquire, and lifted a sardonic eyebrow. Yes, perfectly suited. The job was foolproof. Short of jumping up and down on the plants, there was no way apparently even this bozo could louse it up. Phillip let a confident grin touch his lips. Everything was going perfectly. Yes, the business was small right now- so small it was nearly non-existent. The accumulated holdings of GreenFingers Inc. comprised of a sign, the steel girder framework of a long, low building with clear plastic roof, concrete floor and roll-down flaps for walls, a medium sized polythene commercial greenhouse, his office and a shed. All this was on a grotty little lot in a very undesirable region of town, with cheap land and closed down businesses on most sides. The not-quite-a-building was for selling plants. The greenhouse was for growing them. But although people failed to realise it, it was the little run down shed that was the most important of the lot.
His smile broadened. Surprisingly, the most difficult bit of the whole set-up had been finding someone willing to be general lackey and produce shifter. It seemed that the general workforce had its pride: out of about 40 people interviewed for the post, when they discovered what it entailed most had left in disgust, and the others had found better employment almost instantly. For some reason, when they thought about a garden centre they thought that they were going to be involved with plants in a meaningful way, rather than be treated slightly worse than them. But why should they? He employed other people for those jobs, and wanted to hire someone capable of these jobs. It seemed that the only people attracted to jobs in a plant centre were those interested in plants. He was rather relieved to have finally found someone lacking enough imagination to take the job- it had been getting frustrating. With that little detail out of the way, he could finally get on with selling merchandise.
He smiled down at the open paper on his desk, the large glossy advert showing. It was a lot bigger and more impressive than he’d actually paid for. He knew who’s influence that was. Dad just couldn’t help it- crime was in his blood. Phillip idly wondered how much the editor had been leaned on- after all, Don Giovanni covertly owned that whole newspaper group. But when it came to GreenFingers itself, Big Tony had agreed to leave well alone. In addition, Phillip had also wrung agreements for him not to ‘help’ in any other way. There would be no little accidents happening to his rivals, no strange acts of sabotage, no hostile take-overs. It had made Dad wince to promise it, but Phillip knew that he’d keep his word. After all, he was family. Phillip wanted to organise this thing his way. No cheating.
And he was going to run this company his way, too. He had settled on a completely no-frills, very basic-yet-efficient system to maximise his profits. The only exception to this philosophy was his office, which he had paid for out of his own pocket and hadn’t included on the books. It was an office fit for a future Gardens Tycoon, in a style reminiscent of his father’s. But unlike Don Giovanni’s silent, terrifying desk, Phillip’s was crammed with piles of paperwork which were shifted around so much he occasionally had to stop to let it cool down lest it burst into flames. It practically buzzed. There was a lot of work involved when starting from the very bottom. But he’d reach the top. Phillip don Giovanni knew.
The desk also sported a small pot plant in one corner. Next to it was a water sprayer, the cheap plastic kind normally sold in job lots of 3 for a fiver at other established garden centres. The tiger picked it up and smiled indulgently, lightly spritzing the plant and being careful not to get moisture stains on his suit. And how did he know? In a way, it wasn’t the plants that ensured him success. It was the water…
* * *
4 months ago, the deservedly little-known academic and botanist doctor Emilio Scapegoat had, in the uncharted swamps deep in the Amazon, stumbled upon a shabby group of huts. These weren’t the important bit. But what they contained were the remnants of a tribe of natives who could trace their ancestry all the way back to the great Inca. They were friendly enough, having very occasional contact with the rest of the banana republic to whom they nominally belonged, and seemed to eke out a living by acting as guides to lost explorers and scientists. Scapegoat, not all that keen on trekking through fly-infested jungle simply looking for new and pretty flowers for exploitation, decided to study them instead. What he discovered was the solution to the Mystery of the Inca.
What is the Mystery of the Inca? Despite appearances, most of the soil in and around the Amazon is remarkably unfertile. All the nutrients have been sucked out and hoarded by the plants desperately trying to survive determined efforts by their neighbours to kill them off, and they’d rather rot their own roots off than let anyone else have them. Added to this is the fact that the Inca farmed land that most sheer cliff faces would have felt a bit vertiginous on. So the Big Question was, how did they grow enough food to support such flipping huge populations in the agricultural equivalent of grey paint whilst the seeds dropped off the sides of the mountain?
And the Big Answer turned out to be… fertiliser. But not just any fertiliser- guanaco dung isn’t that good. Within the tribe, passed down from generation to generation, Scapegoat had discovered a sacred recipe. It consisted of over 30 different rare and highly localised ingredients, conditions and ceremonial rites, and took a total of 8 months to prepare. But at the end of it you got sticky green goop that smelled vaguely reminiscent of peaches, and when fed to a plant produced sunflowers 25 feet tall and lemons the size of footballs, to say nothing of the weeds. It was this that allowed this tatty tribe to grow their entire year’s crop of scrawny, native corn and brittle sugarcane in window boxes. They parted with the recipe in exchange for Dr. Scapegoat’s spare boots, his saxophone, his motorboat and the local guide he had brought with him as an interpreter.
Scapegoat had returned home in the greatest secrecy, his mind afire with dreams of curing world hunger, international recognition and prestige for life. With casual and purely social links to the underworld, he had boasted of his coming notoriety. Some weeks later, he entered into a meeting with Phillip don Giovanni, in which his dream rapidly metamorphosed into a far more common one- the one where you have so much money your bank bursts from the pressure, but without the dancing platypi that usually spoil it by starring as well. He left with a travelling trunk full of money and never thought of it again. It turns out that silence is a comparatively cheap commodity.
And so the secret had passed into Phillip’s paws, who promptly passed it on to those then-university friends studying chemistry and biology. They were now all shareholders in GreenFingers’ Inc., so they had incentive. In the run-down little shed at the back of the lot stood the fruits of their labour- it looked like a very complicated sort of still crossed with a small industrial fermenter. And from it issued the first-world equivalent of green goop- exactly the same chemicals, but made faster, more pure, and from locally available raw materials. And fully water-soluble. The storage tank was hooked into the sprinkler system that automatically watered the plants in the greenhouse, applying a carefully controlled dosage of nutrients to the plants at the same time. Compare it to running a Mini on rocket fuel.
Phillip had considered auctioning the formula to the highest bidding corporate giant for a deliriously overpriced lump sum, but had reasoned thusly: sell someone an idea once, and you can never sell it again. But instead, sell them expensive and ludicrously thriving ornamental plants, and you can go on profiting all the way to the secluded tropical paradise that you can now afford to buy.
And the best part of it all? It was legal! That was where Dad was a bit limited: he believed that only illegal methods ever produced the most return on investment. But some things are so new they don’t even have a law against them yet. Phillip should know: he’d studied them enough at university, even having the loopholes helpfully outlined by his lecturers. It wasn’t even in the same league as profiting from genetic patents: he had bought the formula fair and square, and the original owners had happily relinquished it of their own free will. It was developing traditional techniques. What could they do, barge in and declare copyright infringement? He thought not.
* * *
It was the end of the first day of business and Phillip was impressed despite himself. Don Giovanni was not. He looked out morosely at the last few happy shoppers staggering away under heavy pots, and sipped at the drink offered to him by his son.
“Plants,” he growled disconsolately. “Pots. Pretty flowers.” He sneered, then looked at his offspring. “Is that any way for a don Giovanni to behave? What kind of a profit can you make on those?”
Phillip passed over the running total taken from the tills a few minutes ago. Don Giovanni ran his eye over the figure circled at the bottom, and tried to stop his eyebrows from climbing his forehead. It was, he had to admit, a respectable number.
“First day novelty,” he grumbled. “It’ll wear off, and they’ll go elsewhere.”
“Good advertising.” Phillip corrected him. “And they won’t go elsewhere. They’ll go ‘Ooh, gosh’ and run off to tell all their friends. And then the friends will come back with them to spend money.” Don Giovanni gave him a very grudging look.
“And when you run out of people to sell plants to? Your market is fickle. Extortion, booze and gambling are reliable.”
“They’ll come back and buy more plants. People always want new plants. Antirrhinum is the new cannabis. And they’ll come to me because I sell the biggest, best plants. And I can sell more because I can grow them twice as fast as anyone else. I did explain this once.” He reached over and delicately watered his pot plant. It had grown noticeably since yesterday. Don Giovanni scowled, temporarily thwarted.
“I don’t like it,” he muttered.
“You don’t have to like it, Dad,” Phillip smiled thinly at his parent, “just watch the money flow in. Who cares where it comes from?”
But, Don Giovanni reflected as he left, he did care. It was, he was beginning to suspect, a difference between Phillip and him. Don Giovanni never said much- he never had to- but he thought a lot. Yes, Big Tony stole, extorted, assassinated, ran gambling dens and brothels, but when he thought something was wrong, his organisation had nothing to do with it. No drugs, and no kids. Full stop. It was a worrying thought that, whilst being as amoral as any gangster’s son could be expected to be, Phillip was unprincipled as well. This whole business left a bad taste in Don Giovanni’s mouth. It wasn’t a clean breaking of the law. It bent them instead. You needed solid, well-defined laws. That was something Don Giovanni very firmly believed in. In his own highly unique way, Don Giovanni was a very law-abiding creature.
And, more importantly, this whole episode reflected on his reputation. His vaunted position, so high up in the Underworld’s messy hierarchy, was a precipitous one. No matter how indisputable your power, there was always one thing you had to have- respect. It was the grease on the axles of your bandwagon. You could order an entire warehouse to be made to disappear overnight, but if those below you didn’t respect you, could you be sure they’d carry out your orders? Those who survive in the underworld had highly flexible morals and, more to the point, highly developed self-preservation instincts. Why did people think they were referred to as ‘rats’? Respect and bowel-shaking fear replaced loyalty for the most part. Already some associates of his, relatively sure of protection from his wrath, had made bland remarks about ‘your son, the gardener.’ He had to protect the family name, if not family individuals. If it got much worse, he might have to make an example of someone. It was through one of his ‘examples’ that now no one used the nickname coined by his detractors- “Fat Tony”- within a good mile of his hearing (he knew this for a fact). Or at least got past the first syllable. That majestic, well-rounded and fine figure of a tiger smiled to himself as he got into his chauffeur driven car. Oh yes, reputation was a wonderful thing.
Phillip, although glad to see his father of course, was quite relieved when he left. It gave him time to get working on the paperwork that needed doing. He looked up, scowling, as his assistant poked her head around the door.
“What, Sara?” She hesitated, then handed him the fresh bundle of forms, sheets and cash flows for checking and approval.
“Oh, one other thing, sir,” she added deferentially, “that worker, Harry, I think his name is, asked if he could work overtime, sir.” Phillip didn’t even look up. Sometimes pointless details like that could be very irritating when trying to run a company.
“Yes, certainly,” he growled. “Tell him he can work evenings if he wants. He’s got an access card to get out, hasn’t he?” After all, working for longer would mean that more got done, at only marginally increased cost. And for the expansion Phillip was already planning, that could only be to the good.
He dismissed Sara, and bent his full attention to the paperwork in front of him.
* * *
Sweating somewhat, Harry pushed the cart in front of him through the doors of the greenhouse. It was 8:00 at night, and the lights inside were on low. They cast a slightly odd radiance, their wavelength adjusted to maximise absorption by plants, which looked unusually dark under their blue-ish glow. As he entered, a bank of them slung at the far end of the greenhouse winked out. They were computer controlled, he’d been told, to match the ‘photoperiodicity’ (whatever that was) of the different plant types. He shrugged internally and headed for the bunch of plants he was in the middle of transporting into the main building for tomorrow, content as only someone working time-and-a-half on top of ‘good pay’ can be. Harry liked money, and to his mind overtime was the most efficient way of accruing some. The new dark red, short-sleeved shirt he was wearing had been bought with his first week’s pay. The colour accentuated the glowing vibrancy of his own cardinal plumage. With it he wore a pair of cheap, dark grey trousers and his old sandals. On top of his head perched a cap of about the same colour of his shirt.
He reached the bank of plastic pots, each containing a little plant that was growing like crazy. Harry had been surprised- he hadn’t thought that plants grew that fast. These seemed bigger every time he looked at them. Almost grew before your eyes. Carefully, he began stacking several layers of seedlings onto the trolley, making sure not to crush any of them. At the back of his mind, Harry would accept that he was a bit what you might call ‘accident-prone’. He was rather relieved that, so far, he hadn’t made any unfortunate howlers at GreenFingers Inc. People with past experience would have said he was long overdue one.
Just as he was making a start on the third layer, there was a great rustling of leaves around him, and suddenly he was being drenched by a monsoon storm. Indoors. Harry cursed and spluttered as the initial downpour relaxed, the sprinkler system getting over the initial push and settling down to a continuous spraying of fat water droplets onto the stock. The big bird stood and swore, soaked to the bone as rivulets of water ran off his beak. Oh, yes. The irrigation system was computer controlled too, and was used at night to increase the speed of work during the day. He’d forgotten. Great. Just great. And there were still at least another three trips to make. Grimly shaking surface water off his feathers, pulling the peak of his cap further over his eyes, and with his good mood utterly washed away, Harry finished loading up and squelched out of the greenhouse, leaving behind a lingering aroma of peaches.
* * *
He made it back home by 10 p.m., tired and irritable and still wet. He’d had to endure several more soakings to get finished. He’d dried out a little on the way back, mainly by the heat of his annoyance, but his clothes still clung translucently to his body and the occasional water-drop still leapt from the end of his beak. Urgh! It was unpleasantly uncomfortable, and it proved a successful damper on Harry’s enthusiasm. His temper wasn’t improved by his carelessly banging his head on the way through his front door. If this was going to happen to him every night he’d have to rethink overtime. He surveyed his bedraggled feathers with distaste. Despite their great waterproofing potential, they hadn’t been able to cope with that much water, and were only now drying out (hah, waterproofing worked both ways, didn’t it? It kept water in as well as out.) Some stuck up at odd angles; others were stuck together by dampness. He shuddered slightly, dislodging little reservoirs of water from between them. It wasn’t even as if they sprayed the plants with warm water…
Well, he’d had enough for tonight. He was fed up. Right now, he was going to have a hot shower, some hot dinner and then to a warm, and above all dry, bed. He headed for the bathroom, plucking at his damp shirt. On entering he immediately turned the shower on, and jumped back to avoid the near-scalding torrent that roared against the glass walls of the cubicle. As far as he was concerned right now, the hotter it was the better. Almost instantly he sensed the air filling with warm steam, which began to take the edge off his chill. Feeling a little better, he took the time to peer at his reflection in the generous wall mirror he’d invested in (all parrots like to look at themselves. It’s hereditary). Grimacing at the sight, he began to rearrange his mussed plumage. It was going to need some diligent preening when he could spare the time.
Grief, this shirt was uncomfortable! He tugged at it again in irritation, but got a surprise when he discovered that it wasn’t so much damp as tight. He could feel it pulling snugly around his back and shoulders. Oh, joy! It had shrunk, for all the promises on the label. Grumbling viciously, he tested the tightness by flexing his arm. Maybe it would still be wearable once dry-
Harry’s eyes bulged when a muscle far larger than any he’d owned before rose up to greet him. The shirtsleeve pulled tightly around his biceps, showing off its muscular curve. He stared at it, a hunk of tensed flesh rising an inch or two above the flat of his arm. It was visibly wider and hunked more than usual. With that slightly unreal feeling one gets when the universe stops making sense, he inspected the whole arm more closely. Was it thicker and more bulky than he remembered, or was he just losing his mind? He tried to convince himself credibly that it was a trick of the light, that it was because he was tired, but the more he looked the more he had the nagging feeling that it was distinctly more built than earlier. Unable to shake the idea off, he stared instead at his other arm, twisting and flexing it. Muscles he didn’t know he had stood out with undue prominence.
The bulky bird again tried to shrug the feeling off, laugh about it even. Hallucinating more muscles. What next? He looked into the mirror instead of at his arms, and the smile died as other things began to nag insistently.
Did his shoulders always look that wide?
Oh, for goodness sake, so the shirt’s tight! It shrunk!
Yes, but there was usually more mirror between his shoulders and the frame…
The running shower went totally unheeded. In a sort of daze, Harry undid the shirt and peeled it off (noticing absently as he did so that the buttons across his chest felt tighter and usual) and stood in front of the mirror. He realised that his jaw was hanging down, and hitched it back up again. He stared at a reflection that had been working out when he wasn’t looking. His dominant flight muscles were clearly defined beneath the covering of feathers, making a raised pentagon across his frame. The barrel of his ribcage had expanded, firm meat pressing under his solid arms. Turning his head drew his attention to his neck, which definitely rippled more than usual. And, come to think of it, his jaw-line seemed firmer, now, as well. The faint suggestion of a double chin that had plagued him recently had vanished. He rubbed a disbelieving hand over a firmer-than-usual abdomen, a cement pedestal with the ridges of his abdominal muscles sculpted over it. He’d never been able to feel abdominal muscles there before! It was with shock he realised that he was actually feeling these changes with his own hands. They weren’t just artefacts of his reflection, a vague longing in a mirror.
That shock broke the spell that had laid its hold on him, and he leapt back from the mirror in panicky confusion. He promptly cracked his head on the lintel of the doorframe. He doubled over, cursing and clutching at his head, fireworks going off behind his eyes. It was quite some moments before he realised that he’d never banged his head on the door before. Nor on the front door, neither. He was… too… short…
Slowly, Harry uncurled and peered gingerly at the doorframe. Then he took his hand, put it horizontal at the top of his head, and slowly stepped forward. It touched the wooden lintel. And, as sometimes happens when you’re in a dream, Harry suddenly realised, in a light-headed sort of way, something else that had been bothering him subconsciously. Things felt weird and out of place because the view was wrong. He felt as though he were looking at things from higher up…
The bird tottered out of the bathroom still clad in damp trousers (and didn’t they feel tighter than usual, too?) and sodden red cap. He then began a bizarre series of tests, measuring himself up against the everyday fixtures of his flat that he was so familiar with. Finally, in a kind of determined frenzy, he resorted to grabbing book and pencil and measuring himself the traditional way: against a wall. Grabbing the old tape measure he possessed, he pressed the end to the line and dropped its length to the floor. He pressed a thumb on the tape and slid downwards, thinking feverishly. He knew his height: he’d been 6 foot, give or take half an inch, since he was 18 years old. He knew he was that tall.
He stared at the point where thumb, tape and floor met. The tape read 6’3”
“2 inches?” he squawked weakly to the world in general. Stupidly, he re-measured with painful slowness, double-checking every movement. He got a result of just over 6’2½”. “Over an inch, then? I’ve grown over an inch since… when? This morning?” He got up slowly and staggered back into the steam-filled bathroom, where he stared into the mirror again. His newly expanded self blinked back.
* * *
5 minutes later and Harry had undressed and got into the shower on auto-pilot. He’d forgotten to take his cap off, and was only just beginning to realise the fact. But the hot water was making him feel better. His head was clearing, and the heat was seeping deliciously into his astoundingly bigger blocks of muscle. His shoulders slumped in pleasure, and he swayed on his feet. He ran his hands over his body yet again, just to make sure. He still felt bigger. Cautious inspection showed that the phenomenon included his lower half as well as his upper body. He’d never had thighs like this before!
But what had caused it, he asked himself in futile wonderment as he got around to massaging a special avian shampoo into his plumage, instinctively avoiding bashing his feathers about despite the fact that things were more cramped in here than usual. “What could make someone bulk up like this?” he pondered amidst the rising suds. “Hard work?” He may have self-confidence, but he wasn’t delusional- he hadn’t worked that diligently.
“Instant-workout cream?” There was no such thing, and anyway he hadn’t used any.
“Inflammation? Water retention?” He prodded at his bulging musculature once again. It certainly didn’t seem to want to die down again. And how would it make you swell in height? It must have been something recent, too. He hadn’t felt weird at work though- it had just been a perfectly ordinary day.
He tried to soap his head, and it finally dawned on him that he was still wearing his cap.
“Gah!” Annoyed, he snatched it off his head and wrung it out. A strong smell of peaches filled the shower cubicle. Harry was smote by a remembrance. He turned the shower off, the only sound in the sudden silence the trickle of water draining out of the showerhead.
“The water?” He stood and watched the trickling stream, thought back to the greenhouse with its plants, and watched the water some more. “Something in the water?” Inside his head, thoughts went ‘click’.
A slow, disbelieving grin cracked Harry’s beak, and he flapped his cap back on. He flexed his broad, bulging biceps yet again. Well, one thing was for certain. He wasn’t going to tell anyone about this.
It probably counted as a perk.
* * *
It was now just over three weeks since the start of trading and business had grown dramatically. Even Phillip couldn’t believe how successful GreenFingers was becoming. Business was booming! People were practically queuing outside in the mornings to get in, desperate to give him their money. It seemed that the market was just dying for a new competitor.
The pot plant, thanks to regular watering and careful attention, had now passed 4 feet in height from its original 6 inches. It was better than an executive toy. And it worked wonders on the morale of his rivals, three of whom had sent local representatives in the past few days. A glance at the triffid apparently sitting tame on his desk was enough to have them sweating.
Phillip sank back in the chair and smiled with malevolent satisfaction as he recalled those meetings. He’d planned for them quite carefully. After all, things can get pretty rough in the world of horticultural retail. He’d expected them to come in here all guns blazing, threatening the small business-animal, or possibly with oily friendliness, followed by a very friendly and generous offer to take over his business, seeing as he couldn’t possibly compete against them in the long term. Marketplace too small, too much supply, not enough demand, etc. etc.
He’d been quite perturbed when, instead, they’d been all deference and respect. He’d matched their politeness, poker-faced. Then they’d very politely enquired as to his plans for the future, and whether they included the possible take over of their companies! When he had stopped laughing long enough to find out they were serious, he’d been gob-smacked, then suspicious, convinced that somehow his father had found a way of wriggling out of their deal and had leaned on them.
The solution, as it turned out, was remarkably simple. It was the way they’d stood to attention the whole time that had tipped him off. He saw himself as a future giant of the industry. They saw it too. The mere mention of the name ‘don Giovanni’ in some quarters was enough to set bladders trembling, and even plant sellers kept their ears to the ground. And, of course, the name ‘don Giovanni’, his name, headed all the official notepaper, was in the government records as ‘owner and manager’ and was even printed on the ‘Produce guaranteed by-’ stickers on 98% of the pots. It almost wasn’t funny. They assumed that, by opening a garden centre under the proud name of don Giovanni, the Mob had decided to take an interest. He doubtless had his father’s ‘family business’ supporting him. They were probably expecting calls any day now from very smartly dressed people asking whether they’d renewed their insurance against inexplicable accidents and nasty cases of spontaneous death recently.
On the spur of the moment, Phillip’s sense of humour had inserted itself. He had told them in no uncertain terms that, as an independent trader, he had absolutely no intentions of stepping on anyone’s toes, and incidentally would be very grateful for any possible advice that his more experienced fellow traders might be able to offer him in future. He hoped to build prosperous and profitable relationships with them all. Then he gave them each a cigar. It didn’t reassure them.
But Phillip had stuck to the truth. No, he planned to build up alone first, expand this site, increase the output. Those plans were already well underway- the cheap, tatty location of this site was now coming into its own. The second, specialised tropical greenhouse was being planned as he sat there. Then maybe he’d set up a chain of GreenFingers centres, strategically located to reach as much of the population as possible. Then he might consider some take-overs. And he doubted that the others would make a move against him.
His dad had given him this place as a job. He was going to have a real stab at making it a career. Phillip smiled as he finished watering his pot plant, and in his eyes every green leaf was another high-denomination note.
* * *
After the boots had dissolved, the yellow twisted tube rusted, the guide ran away and the boat-that-went-by-itself sank, the elders of that little tribe in the Amazon were quite glad that they’d done what they’d done to the copy of the Recipe they had given to the impertinent foreigner. In some areas, heritage-theft is understood instinctively. As is revenge by delayed comic effect.
* * *
It was still just over three weeks since the start of trading. Business, as stated before, had grown enormously. So had Harry. Friends who saw him regularly over that period watched first in amazement, then shock, then in a kind of fascinated horror as he expanded, seemingly by inches a day. They had now reached polite, terror-stricken gibbering as he threatened to break 8 foot in height within the week. They put it down to a really good gym program.
Harry himself was in ecstasy. If growth were he drug, he was helplessly and unrepentantly hooked. It was Sunday afternoon, and he was in front of the bathroom mirror having a good long ogle. He smirked in narcissistic bliss as he twisted and flexed, raising scarlet foothills. He should be forgiven this- even the most self-effacing animal would feel a bit smug if were suddenly handed a body like that. At 7’10” high and about 4 feet wide across the chest, his body looked better suited to a pair of bullocks than to a bird, even a prehistoric ostrich. When he shrugged, it looked like watermelons mating. His arms were 2 ½ feet in circumference, and they looked reasonably in proportion, albeit with every muscle group superbly defined. He was shirtless- two days ago he had bought the biggest size stocked anywhere in town, and already it was getting tight around the cuffs and chest. Even with elastication, no manufacturer had ever dreamed there’d be a need for a size like Harry’s. His shoulders were now wider than the doorframe, and he had to hunch his head over to avoid constantly banging it on the roof. His legs were easier- Harry could still fit into his old shorts. But now, instead of being loose and flapping, they squeezed and stretched around gigantic thigh muscles like shrink-wrap, and were taut against the rock-hard column of his abdomen. He had a 45 inch waist and was proud of it! Hahahahaha! He turned his head, feeling the muscles in his neck tighten like arm-thick high tension cables, and smiled at his rear elevation. Never had there been a pair of more perfect gluteus maximi. Almost unthinkingly he clenched, and was rewarded with the creak of faded fabric under tension as huge slabs of meat contracted and bulged outwards.
His old shirt- which wouldn’t reach half way across his back, now- was long gone. The monstrously massive bird went dreamy eyed and nearly trembled in delight at the delicious memory. He’d allowed himself to wear that shirt three days solid until his Herculean bulk had finally ripped buttons and burst seams, exposing musculature that was almost visibly growing to fill out his skyrocketing stature. Perhaps he should have taken things a bit slower, but by that time Harry couldn’t help himself, and had worked overtime every night. The feeling of size and… and power was just so enticing. It was euphoric. To grow bigger… and bigger… and bigger…
Snapping out of it, Harry wiped drool off his beak and then revelled in his size anew. He was ripped! He brought new meaning to the word ‘built’. To fit all of Harry into the definition you’d have to chisel letters 4 foot high out of granite. He was a monument. He was a monolith. He was very nearly a mountain! And it was all muscle. There was not a scrap of excess body-fat in evidence anywhere on his titanic torso. Not only that, the muscle worked! His gaze lingered over the Himalayan ridge of his chest. He could probably bench press trucks if he wanted to. In one myotome-crazed moment, he’d wildly tested his strength by punching through an internal wall in his flat. The plasterers had filled it up very professionally, but the agony it had caused his hand had persuaded him to stick to looking rather than acting. As it was, that seemed enough exercise to keep the momentum going. He could almost feel the muscle fibres growing, dividing, bulking beneath his skin, stretching him wider and larger by the minute. The glorious weight of his body pulled down through him, a comforting reminder of his sheer massiveness. He’d given up on scales after he’d broken three sets in quick succession. He’d outgrown them.
Alright. One last peek, and then he’d stop and go and find something better to do. Harry felt a wrench as he forced himself to set a deadline to leave the mirror. Oh, it was so hard to tear himself away. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs to their utmost. His ribcage rose and expanded, making his torso even more gigantic in appearance. Then he tensed every muscle that he could, screwing his face up in concentration as he bent his arms and squeezed, stretching himself, willing himself to grow, feeling the tectonic thump-thump of his heartbeat ringing in his ears, pounding up from his chest. He felt bulges rubbing across each other grudgingly, muscles that were swelling like rising bread competing for what little free space was still available. It was getting harder and harder to bend, Harry knew, weighed down by his acres of body mass, but he was willing to make sacrifices to be this obscenely beautiful. He felt the warm, rewarding glow of self-satisfaction mix with the heat of his worked muscles, and relaxed. Breath whooshed out of his lungs. His magnificent frame sagged.
And kept on sagging. Picture a big, water-filled balloon or rubber ball, squeezed at the bottom so most of the top bulges and looks vaguely like an animal torso. Now picture that squeeze being released, and the whole thing bouncing back out into rotundity. Feel the vibration of the aftershocks, and the enormous, heavy bulge of that curve. Can you? Good. Because that’s almost exactly what happened to Harry. As his shoulders slumped, all the weight of his massively muscular upper body seemed to slip, and sank towards his stomach. There it expanded with a sensation that was more felt than heard, but was nevertheless the equivalent of ‘bloing!’ As though he’d been holding it sucked in for all this time, a fat paunch flopped over the waistband of his shorts and ballooned in size. The already tight elastic dipped as it tried to contain this dramatically expanding shape, then burst apart as it was hopelessly overwhelmed. You might as well try to hold back the sea, and indeed it did look as if some strange tide were sweeping back into Harry’s 8-foot frame. His sides mounded out as they were swamped by untold calories, bulging over the straining remnants of his waistband. His chest shrank and donated generously to his gaining middle, which now dominated the scene entirely, Within scant heartbeats it had swollen out into a red giant, so fast that it almost caught gravity on the hop. The vast, pear-shaped thing sagged and slapped against Harry’s thighs, where it rebounded and then lay, jiggling and quivering like a beached whale on the shores of his burst shorts.
Harry was thrown off balance by the tremendous shift in bodyweight and he staggered backwards, talons clattering on the floor, gasping and eyes popping like a landed fish. He did so to the loud, cringe-making accompaniment of tearing grey fabric as some of the rampant excess weight tried to find a place to be expressed. His bottom burst its banks. With all the unstoppable momentum of an overloaded HGV, Harry careered backward, but a massive, blubbery impact brought him to an abrupt halt. A sudden hard pinching on both sides indicated the unfortunate avian that he had run up against the empty doorway and stuck thanks to his back being wider than it. In the stunned silence that followed, his belly snatched the chance to gain a few more inches in girth, and pressure popped his jiggling form back into the bathroom.
Panting in shock, he could only stare dumbly in the mirror. The image there had been transformed. The irresistible hunk had turned into a kind of feathered ambulatory blimp. For a good 10 minutes, Harry was frozen to the spot, surveying the wreckage of his figure with a kind of nightmarish feeling. He couldn’t know the value at the time, but precisely 804lbs of excess adipose sat smugly around his middle and refused point-blank to budge. All he knew was that, somehow, for some terrible reason, he was FAT!
He couldn’t think of any stronger way to describe himself, although that hardly covered the extent of the situation. The dominant thing about him now was his flabby ball of a torso, on top of which sat a plump neck at just under 8 feet from the floor. Whenever he moved his head a chubby double chin rolled and wobbled, and his face was rounder, making his beak look stumpy by comparison. His shoulders were two extra rolls of fat at the top corners of his bulk, barely noticeable between the other, larger rolls of his bloated chest and flab-swollen arms. The only bulges in those were mounds and mounds of lard swaddled under his skin. Instead of a waist there was now a sharp crease where his belly and love handles sat on top of his behind, which was giving his belly a run for its money. As is the convention in these things, his boxer shorts still clung grimly to their economy-sized cargo.
There was still no shirt in existence that would contain all of him, for all the wrong reasons. Blinking owlishly, he poked at his gargantuan middle in disbelief. But whereas his muscles had risen like bread, this far more closely resembled dough.
Amazingly, there seemed little changed about his legs until you looked closely and saw that the firm definition had vanished. Still in his stunned state, he lifted a leg in experiment and really noticed the difference. It was like trying to lift a stack of waterlogged sandbags. The top of his leg rubbed against his belly, sending odd tingles up his spine before the pressure that movement generated forced his grudging gut to sag to the side. Teetering wildly, Harry grabbed at the sink beneath the mirror in a desperate attempt to retain his precarious balance. His weight bearing down on it promptly snapped the sink off the wall. The bird that now resembled an award-winning sumo wrestler moaned faintly, gaping first at the sink, then up at the mirror, in horror.
“No.” He whimpered disbelievingly in a cracked voice. It rose to a shrill, semi-hysterical squawk. “No! Noooo…”
* * *
It was just pure bad luck that this particular bodyguard was on duty outside the offices of GreenFingers Inc. Mr. Don Giovanni was in a meeting with Mr. don Giovanni, and didn’t want to be disturbed. But then again if they valued their careers, spleens or both, no-one interrupted Don Giovanni when in a meeting if they could possibly help it. So it was an undemanding task, and the guard had kicked back, officially ‘at ease’. Lounging across a chair as only a feline can, his feet propped on the secretary’s desk, he was engrossed in a comic.
The first hint he had of something untoward was when the sun was suddenly blocked out. He glared up, expecting to come face to face with someone. Instead he stared face to belly. It was the biggest he’d ever seen in his life, or was ever likely to. Huge, round and red, it blotted out the view like an incoming meteor, the curves of it vanishing in the far periphery of his vision. The very bottom of it rested on the desktop, making the polished wood bend. Jaw hanging slack, the guard’s eyes were winched inexorably upwards. They took in the width, the shoulders, the arms folded across the massive sagging chest. At the summit of the mountain were a beak, a pair of eyes, and a cap. They looked distinctly annoyed.
Glowering, Harry leaned down until his head was within 2 feet of his target. From behind him, the guard caught sight of the wide-eyed secretary.
“Well?” the monumental bird rumbled dangerously, “Just what have you got to say about this?” He indicated his all-encompassing gut. Mesmerised, the guard replied without thinking.
“Well if I were you, I’d seriously lay off the crackers-GLACK!”
* * *
The pot plant had rather begun to take over the desk, so had had to be moved into the corner of the office instead. Even so, it was still getting crowded in there. Phillip and Don Giovanni were having an extremely polite argument on the finer points of business strategy. Phillip, secure in the knowledge of rampant profits and skyrocketing success set to continue long into the future, was admittedly beginning to lose patience with the old fossil. He simply refused to move with the times.
“I assure you, father,” he said in a respectful tone but his teeth biting off every word, “I am more than capable of handling anything that comes up. You paid to make sure of that, remember?”
“You were taught by the best money could buy, Phillip,” Big Tony replied in a bland tone- and anyone looking closely would have seen that he was gripping his glass a touch harder than necessary- “But now its time to learn from me. Nothing can beat experience. For example: you’re young! Big new ideas, but no habit of covering your tail.” He took a sip of his drink, letting the liquid sit on his tongue like velvet before swallowing. “Now I, I always have a backup plan for when something goes wrong.” He smiled brightly at his son. “I trust you’ve thought one through?”
Phillip kept his knuckles firmly planted on the desk as he leaned forward, his humour wearing thin. It showed in the suddenly brittle edge to his voice.
“I have confidence in my abilities, Dad, and it would be nice to expect the same from you. Nothing will go wrong.” Don Giovanni looked surprised, and in an amiable tone delivered his most important lesson to his child.
“Something always goes wrong.”
At that point the meeting was interrupted for a very good reason. The wall just to the right of the closed door burst open without warning and the unconscious guard, propelled by raging avian fury with nearly a ton of momentum behind it, sailed across the room and hit the far wall without touching the ground in between. He left a second hole to the outside world, through which poked his legs. Harry squeezed in through the incoming hole, and glared at his up-until-now employer. Phillip stared at him, then looked over sharply at his father. Don Giovanni merely smiled back, and twisted his head to inspect this new arrival with apparent interest.
“Like you said: you can handle anything that comes up. This looks like your first case of a dissatisfied customer.”
To his credit, Phillip’s eyes flicked only briefly to the forcefully recumbent guard before returning to the large and smouldering problem standing on the other side of his desk. He was, after all, a don Giovanni, and that family hadn’t risen to the pinnacle of success without their smarts back up by remorseless determination and the ability to cope under pressure. He stared hard at the intruder whom, his composure faltering momentarily in astonishment, he recognised vaguely as that oaf Whatsisname that he employed. Had employed, Phillip decided on the spot. Sometimes you just know when it’s time for someone to move on.
“What can I do for you?” This comment seemed to infuriate the bird further. He swelled with wrath, feathers bristling and stomach quivering in rage
“‘What can you do?’” he shrieked, “It’s what you DID! I look like a womble!”
“Calm down, please. I’m afraid I have no idea what- urk…” Parrot temperaments aren’t built for patience. With a speed that completely and utterly belied his vast bulk, Harry grabbed the tiger by his lapels, dragging him out of his chair and halfway across the desk. This was really tough negotiating.
“Your ‘Wonder-Gro’ or whatever you put in the water did this to me,” he growled murderously as he half-throttled the hapless feline, “and if you don’t do something about it right now something’s gonna be done about you!”
In the deathly silence there was an expensive ripping sound and Phillip collapsed onto his desk, leaving Harry clutching 2 rags of sheer black silk. Never, ever, disarrange a cat’s wardrobe. It’s a question of status. All felines pathologically hate the thought that someone could get away with damaging his clothing. In the split second where he realised what had happened, Phillip’s ice-cold reserve flash-evaporated into Mercurial rage. He decided to do something about this right now. Sometimes tried and tested solutions worked best. As a pair of meaty hands grabbed his shoulders from behind, the tiger’s flailing paw grasped the cold and reassuring shape of a trigger. He flung his arm back and pulled.
Harry fell back squawking and spluttering under the vicious squirt of water that drenched him. Phillip blinked, totally nonplussed. He stared at his paw, in which was gripped his pot plant sprayer. Uttering an expression that under normal circumstances he would not have admitted to even knowing, he began to search frantically for his revolver (another present from a doting if single-minded father). Frantically trying to check his backward velocity, the dripping Harry snarled, his expression a sight terrible to behold.
The fight was suddenly punctuated by an ominous gurgling. It was coming from Harry’s expansive and wet middle, as was the odour of peaches. Anyone watching the parrot’s face as one expression metamorphosed into the other that replaced it would have been hard put to say which they thought was more terrible. He now looked pitifully horror-stricken as the sounds increased in volume, shaking him with their intensity.
“N-n-nurr!” he gurgled helplessly, his eyes as wide as saucers as he felt his belly grow yet bigger. Having just got his staggering motion under control, he teetered on one leg as the extra-extra weight forced his backward lean to increase. After a few more inches his weight-gain faltered, and Harry was able to stop, but it was a precarious tableau. He wobbled, unable to right himself, arms thrust out wildly, his centre of gravity hovering dangerously near the edge of his base of support. One wrong move could topple him. He was stuck there on one leg, almost impossibly defying gravity.
Phillip was quick on the uptake. He looked down at the water spray still in his hand, and stopped looking for his gun. He had found something better. A look of pure vengeful glee crossed his muzzle, and he advanced nonchalantly on the avian acrobat. His unlikely Nemesis made a strangled clucking noise, eyes riveted on the plastic container being brandished. His wobbling increased franticly as the terrible tiger got closer. Phillip stopped a couple of feet away, and took the time to straighten his tie and adjust his lapel-less suit. He cleared his throat:
“Ahem,” and, smiling horribly, spritzed the bird’s stomach. Harry’s eyes stretched even wider in terror as his body began to balloon once more, the floor creaking dangerously under this abuse. The growing weight dragged at him, and he was forced to take a teetering step backwards, then another much more rapidly, and another faster again. Momentum took him, and he hurtled headlong at hole in the far wall. Still swelling, he hit it and went straight through, tripping over the supine (and now slightly flatter) body lying there. The rest of the wall came down with him.
When the dust cleared and the noise died away, Harry found himself sprawled on the ground, most of his view obliterated by his stomach. He tried to stand, or even sit up, but over 1,000lbs of abdominal fat pinned him. He blew up even further before finally running out of steam, gut sagging between his legs down to his knees. Struggling frantically, all he could do was jiggle and flop very slightly, more like a beached whale than ever. He tried desperately to get arms or legs underneath him, but fat now pressed them out away from his sides, and the pressure of thick tyres of blubber stopped them from bending.
The tiger appeared menacingly in his field of view, silently but very meaningfully pointing the spray gun at him. It sloshed, over 2/3 full. Harry’s eyes nearly crossed in an effort to focus on it, pupils shrinking to pinpricks. The only other sound was the far off background noise of sirens somewhere in the city as Harry hardly dared even to breathe. He wondered how fat you could become before you burst…
Phillip smiled a true tiger’s smile, but before he could do anything the distant wail of the sirens suddenly got a lot closer, and a series of police cars burst into the lot. They disgorged a group of uniformed officers and a detective in plain clothes. The latter, flanked by a pair of the former and ignoring the living mountain of flesh on the ground, went straight over to Phillip and asked,
“Excuse me sir, but we’ve had a report of a disturbance on the premises. Your secretary phoned. Is that correct?” He pointedly looked at the flattened wall. Phillip, mentally readjusting to the situation, straightened up and gave the detective a relieved smile. He indicated the supine blimp in front of him.
“Yes, yes there has, detective. You see, this-”
“Right!” Phillip suddenly found himself with the two uniformed officers on either side of him, spiritedly twisting his arms up behind his back.
“Huh? What’s the meaning of this? I’m not-”
“Oh, aren’t you now?” The detective grinned nastily. “We’ve had our eyes on this place since you started up, and I’ve been waiting, just waiting, for something like this to happen. We’ll find out what your little game is, and bang you behind bars for the rest of your natural.” Phillip goggled at him.
“What? Do you know who I-?”
“You’re Mr. Phillip don Giovanni, are you not?”
“Hah! A don Giovanni expects us to believe he isn’t guilty as sin? Over 20 years we’ve been hoping someone would finally slip up, and you’re the one that did it!”
Reputation is a wonderful thing.
“You don’t have any evidence!”
“I’ll charge you with loitering if I have to.”
“He’s armed, chief.” One of the officers holding Phillip said helpfully.
“It’s a water sprayer!” Phillip snarled in disbelief, dropping it as though it were made of hot coals. The detective waved the objection away airily.
“Details, details. You’re not going to wriggle out of this. You, chum,” he said with far too much cheerfulness to be professional, “are nicked!” Handcuffs clinked into place around the gob-smacked cat’s wrists, and he had to be towed away backwards towards the waiting police car.
“Hey, you can’t do this to me! You can’t do this! Do you know who my father is? Do you? Hey, where is he? Dad? Dad! Where are you, you-!”
Don Giovanni, with far more experience in these matters and much better instincts, watched from a safe distance as his son was taken into custody, systematically insulting him, his grandmother, his aunt, goats and, technically, himself as well. The cars drove off in an uncharitably happy peal of sirens, and the ageing tiger sighed regretfully.
But not too regretfully. It was a shame, but it’d be good for the kid in the long run. A new experience. Maybe when he came out- he had no intention of risking himself to extricate his son from this mess- he’d be willing to learn a few things. Like ‘listen to your father’.
Smiling already, he returned to the deserted office, picked up his drink from where he had judiciously left it, and finished it. He’d sell this place before Phillip got out. Thanks to the boy’s success he should be able to make a pretty good profit on it. Now that was proper business. He turned and looked out through the missing wall. Something looked back.
It took a good 10 minutes for a couple of Big Tony’s boys to haul the gigantic bird upright. He blinked owlishly down at the tiger, and instinctively stood up straighter. Disrespect felt like a very bad move right now. The feline regarded him in silence for a few minutes, then asked.
“Hey. You going to fall over a lot, kid?”
“Not if I can help it.” Harry replied fervently. Again, instinct prompted him to add “Sir.” Big Tony nodded approvingly, and continued his inspection.
“You need a job?”
“Huh? Yes.” Harry blinked, feeling lost.
“Good, because you’ve got one.” Dusting it off, he put Harry’s cap back on his head. It was quite a reach. “I have a vacancy or two. You can have both.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Once more, something about his new employer made Harry add, uncharacteristically, “Umm… I’m not too sure that I’ll be any good at-”
“You’ll do fine. It’s all in the loom, and you’re good at that.” Don Giovanni glanced over at the fallen water sprayer. “Pick that up and bring it with you. You might need it,” he added meaningfully. Harry gaped.
“Huh?!” Grinning, the tiger patted Harry on the stomach. It wobbled.
“Your waistline’s working for me, now, kid. Hah!” He rubbed his paws together. “Let’s see ‘em call me ‘Fat Tony’ with you around. Now, first off, we’re going to need to find you a decent suit. It’s a good job a tailor friend of mine owes me a favour…”
He strode off towards his car, and Harry followed with the rest of them. Hell, he decided light-headedly, it was a happy enough ending. He wasn’t choosy about what kind of job he did.