Excerpt from chapter 5 of Lie of the Tiger. The old men go cap in hand to former mayor Peter Rowbottom. But Wish-Wash struggles to keep a lid on his contempt for the confirmed bachelor.
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‘WHERE are we going?’ Wish-Wash said as he struggled to keep up.
Oodles kept striding on, but turned his head. ‘We’re going to see a man about a dog.’
‘I thought we had already done that, and the answer was no.’
‘This is another man, another dog.’ Oodles stopped and let Wish-Wash catch up. ‘Strewth, it was your idea!’
‘So you keep saying. But I think you need to explain it to me.’
‘Two words: Peter. Bumface.’
‘Him? You’re joking.’ Wish-Wash used this pause on the footpath to pull back the sodden fabric at the back of his pants. ‘Bumface doesn’t have a dog.’
‘But he’s entitled to own one as a former mayor.’
They resumed walking. Now Wish-Wash knew where they were going, he did a much better job of keeping up.
It was well known no love was lost between Peter Rowbottom and James Northan.
Jimbo, of course, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and felt he had some kind of divine right to become mayor, which he managed to do for nearly 30 years. But Bumface rose through union ranks, door knocking for state Labor politicians, lobbying, getting himself on to school boards and the local show committee, until the day he was voted on to the council. In just his second term, he was elected Deputy Mayor, a position he held for the next 10 years, much to Jimbo’s chagrin.
When Jimbo proposed to ban non-mayorall dogs from Windy Mountain he probably didn’t expect much resistance from his deputy because he would have known Rowbottom preferred cats to dogs anyway. But he should have known Rowbottom would oppose the motion on behalf of his dog-loving constituents. Jimbo was livid. How dare that pussy-loving pansy stand in the way of civic progress! But Rowbottom wasn’t moved. He said he had never heard anything so utterly ridiculous.
‘You’d soon change your tune if you knew one day you could be among the chosen few,’ Jimbo taunted him.
‘Me? With a dog? You must be joking,’ Councillor Rowbottom said.
Heaven knows how the motion passed? But it did.
Bumface, of course, did become mayor. After Jimbo had his breakdown, Bumface was the right person, at the right place, at the right time.
When Oodles and Wish-Wash reached Doggie Dougall’s house, they knew they were close. Peter Rowbottom’s house was just a few doors up.
Oodles saw Wish-Wash screw up his face. ‘Why do you always look like that when we walk past his place? At this time of the day Doggie’s probably not even home.’
They saw a small dark-haired woman pegging out washing on the rotary hoist in Doggie’s yard.
‘Looks like he’s got himself one of those young Asian brides,’ Wish-Wash said.
‘What makes you think that?’
‘Well, he’s just the type, isn’t he! I’ve never seen her before, have you? Who else would she be? At his house? At his washing line. Hanging out his Y-fronts.’
Peter Rowbottom’s front gate was open, which figured. What was the point of closing gates with all those cats? They’d just jump over it.
Oodles pressed the doorbell. ‘Let me do the talking. All I want you to do is to sit quietly and nod from time to time.’
When Bumface opened and saw his visitors he immediately looked suspicious.
‘Can we come in?’ Oodles said.
‘I suppose. I was just cooking a soufflé. You want something to eat?’
‘No thanks, this won’t take long, Pete,’ Oodles said.
They were ushered into the living room.
Rowbottom sat down and motioned for his visitors to do the same. ‘Just move Tiddles out of the way. He’s only pretending to be asleep in order to make you feel guilty about moving him.’
‘How do you know he’s thinking that?’ Wish-Wash laughed. ‘He’s a cat. He’s probably got an IQ similar to that red cushion there.’
Rowbottom glared at him.
Oodles cut in. ‘What Wish-Wash means —’
‘Is you really need a dog,’ Wish-Wash said.
Now Oodles glared. He had asked just one thing of Wish-Wash, and that was for him to keep his big trap shut.
‘A dog is the last thing I need.’ Rowbottom glanced down at Tiddles who had now jumped on to his lap. ‘Remember what this town used to be like? You couldn’t walk down the street without getting something disgusting on your shoe.’
‘But you opposed the dog ban?’ Oodles said.
‘Yes, but mainly to stick up for the underdog.’ He laughed at his pun. ‘And to annoy James Northan.’
‘You succeeded with that.’ Oodles laughed too. ‘But don’t you want to annoy him even more?’
‘By getting a dog? You must be joking. What would I do with a dog? I’m retired.’
‘You’d have lots of time to walk it then.’ The comment came from Wish-Wash and this time both men looked at him.
‘What Wish-Wash means is: you wouldn’t have to walk it at all. We’d take care of that, wouldn’t we, Wish-Wash?’ Oodles winked at the other old man.
‘Now you mention it, I suppose we would,’ Wish-Wash said. ‘And pick up its poo.’
‘Really?’ said Rowbottom. ‘You’d do that?’
‘Of course,’ Oodles said. ‘You wouldn’t even have to feed it. We’d do that.’
‘And we’d look after it,’ Wish-Wash said. ‘Well, not me,’ he added quickly. ‘They don’t allow any animals in the pub. But it could be kept at Oodles’s and the Professor’s place.’
‘Professor Paddy O’Brien, the new bloke running the Tasmanian Tiger museum,’ Oodles said. ‘He’s Irish, which is another thing Jimbo doesn’t like. So you’d really be twisting the knife.’
‘I would, wouldn’t I?’ Rowbottom gazed into space and a smile came to his face. ‘So this Irishman wants a dog, eh?’
‘He doesn’t know anything about this,’ Oodles said. ‘I have no idea if he wants one, but he sure needs a dog.’
‘Needs one? Why?’
‘You don’t really need to know why. All you need to know is you’d be annoying Jimbo.’
‘I don’t know.’ Rowbottom bit at a fingernail. ‘I’m not sure it’d be legal for me to own a dog but for the dog to live elsewhere.’
‘No one would have to know what its living arrangements were,’ Oodles said.
‘Surely this Irishman would,’ Rowbottom said. ‘When are you planning on telling him? When he finds it chained to its kennel in the backyard?’
‘Let me worry about that, Pete. All we need from you is your consent. Let us take care of the details.’
‘I don’t know. I’m 77 and I’ve got through my whole life without a dog. What would my cats say?’
Wish-Wash screwed up his face. ‘You really have lost it, Bumface. Talking cats? What next?’
Oodles rolled his eyes.
‘Did you blokes come here just to insult me?’ Rowbottom said. ‘Don’t think I don’t know what people say about me? Just because I like cats.’
Oodles could tell by Rowbottom’s change of tone the cause was now lost, and braced himself for what came next.
‘Well, you’re barking up the wrong tree. You can just find yourselves another ex-mayor.’
Lie of the Tiger.
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