Periwinkle, who was a six-foot-tall rooster, had never suffered so irksome a Venereal Complaint. Yes, it appeared he’d been stricken with a case of the Smoldering Downstairs, but he intended to “walk it off” as he had so many bodily ailments aforetime. “Languishing,” he had once been heard to remark, “is a pass-time for women and for cattle; I am neither.”
The Colonel had been sitting in his tent, poring over yet another leatherbound volume of ancient Mesopotamian lore. He now closed the book with a sigh, cursing the rash he’d developed, the humidity, and the eyestrain of long hours of arcane research. He downed the last of his gin and tonic with a grimace—the tonic he imbibed for the quinine, as a preventative against Malarial Affect, and the gin he drank because there was precious little else in the way of diversion out here in the steaming jungle. Bother that boy, and bother his damnable strumpetry! the Colonel thought grumpily to himself.
Periwinkle hobbled out of his tent into the explosion of tropical heat and light, toting his trusty blunderbuss out with him, as was his unvarying wont. He looked up: blue skies, white clouds, and the vast H.M.S. ASTRAL FAG, the Colonel’s dirigible, looming over the clearing. And bother this accursed humidity!
Periwinkle scanned the campsite until he spotted him: a dark-skinned little native boy who was at that moment lounging in his favorite trashy old lawn-chair, reading a magazine, listening to Destiny’s Child on a Walkman, chewing a piece of bubble-gum that had long since lost its flavor, and sipping blithely from an R.C. Cola.
“KIKI!!!” the Colonel bellowed, startling a family of nearby toucans into the air.
Kiki looked up from his magazine and peeked over his sunglasses at the bird, smiling brightly. “Oh hai, Meeser Curner, Sir!”
The abnormally large rooster approached the boy menacingly.
“I seem to have acquired a most vexing case of the Scathin’ Nethermosts, Kiki. Now, I wonder, just whom might I have acquired this particular dis-easement from, hmm?”
Kiki giggled: “Oh! Kiki super very sowwy ’bout dat, Meeser Perryrinker,” said the ethnic tart impishly, hiding his coy little face behind the issue of Nickelodeon Magazine he had been “reading” upside-down. Something about the gleam of playful mischief in the boy’s eyes, something about the inviting pout of his full, boyish lips, softened and warmed the old Colonel to his very gizzards.
“Well, I should say you are, my little cherry cordial,” the giant bird said grumpily. True, the Colonel had only Kiki to blame for his present infirmity; yet somehow he could scarce bring himself to remain cross with the sinewy little man-child for long. They certainly weren’t logical, these indulgences he continually allowed the boy—but then, since when had love ever been logical? No matter—the boy would be getting the business-end of the Colonel’s frustrations soon enough.
Periwinkle hobbled over to a table at which a strapping, mustachioed man of forty-five was presently making notations on a map of the surrounding environs.
“I say, Hollings,” said the Colonel, “But I am in a royally foul mood to-day!”
Hollings, a shrewd man, knew better than to indulge in the pun that immediately suggested itself; the Colonel had always been touchous on the subject of his speciation, and had been known to blast the heads off of men’s bodies for less than an unwisely-timed jibe.
“I’m very sorry to hear that, sir. May I offer you an up-date?”
“Mmyes, Hollings—how go the excavationary efforts?”
“It gives me no pleasure to report this to you, sir,” Hollings warily began, “but dissent seems to be fomenting among the laboring natives. It appears there’s been another death due to malnutrition, and several more cases of Blackened Lung among the children, sir.”
Periwinkle scoffed. “Tell them the faster they dig, the sooner we can all be done with this bothersome enterprise,” said the Colonel. “Once the job is done, they can all go home and eat their spicy ‘piñatas‘ and sacrifice coconuts to their pantheon of monkey-gods—or whatever the bloody hell it is these people do—but not before.”
Hollings did his best to suppress the note of impudence in this voice; the Colonel was a reasonable rooster, but he was not a forgiving rooster. “Sir, with all due respect, these are people we’re talking about here—many of them children…”
“And this is an archaeological dig we’re running, Hollings, not some charitable soup-line, for God’s sake! Give them a five-minute banana-break, then tell their laggardly backsides to get back to work!”
A pause ensued, during which Hollings seemed to be weighing the matter carefully. Then, steeling himself against the Colonel’s wrath: “I’m sorry, sir, but I simply cannot in good conscience follow your orders.”
For a moment the giant rooster seemed unable to reply, paralyzed with shock and rage; and it was many moments before he was able to composed himself. “I’m giving you to the count of three, Hollings,” he said in a measured voice, extending a single, slender primary feather to indicated one.
Hollings was, perhaps, a more principled man than was good for him. He understood the peril he was in, yet tried his level-best to keep his voice from shaking: “Sir, I cannot stand idly by as women and children are left to—”
“That’s two,” the bird interrupted, extending another menacing feather.
“Sir, I feel that I must respectfully refuse—”
KerBOOOF!—the Colonel obliterated Hollings with single, well-placed blast from his trusty blunderbuss. Where once stood a man, there now was naught but a smoking ash-poof dispersing into the humid jungle air.
A shocked silence hung over the camp. Another life dispatched by the Gallus Blunderbusticus, forged in 1802 by General Alastair T. Periwinkle himself, the Colonel’s most infamous forebear.
From the sidelines, Kiki tittered girlishly and clapped his tiny hands at the diverting spectacle. The Colonel, depleted of patience by the happenings of the day, whirled on the boy and pointed the gun directly into his face.
“I beg your pardon, Kiki my love, but does something about this strike you as amusing?”
Eeep! The dark-skinned little lad dove for cover behind his lawn-chair. The Colonel chuckled darkly, pushing Thoughts of Impurity to the back of his mind… for now.
“Congratulation… uh, Myers!” the giant rooster then hollered, turning to the person nearest-at-hand. “You are my new Number-Two. I want the natives back on-line within the hour—now hup-to!”
“Yes, sir,” Myers assented immediately, not wanting to earn himself a taste of the Colonel’s leady irritability, and he scurried away with alacrity.
Thaddeus J. Periwinkle felt a fair sight better after having blown Hollings all to hell, and forthwith he limped over to Flannagan Galloway, the dirty Scotsman who was in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of the Colonel’s beloved dirigible.
“How’s our girl doing, Flannagan? I trust you’ll have the… er, the various workings of the vessel, uh, her sundry mechanisms and fulcra and gaskets and what-have-you, up and running in short-order?”
“Aye, Colonel—The Fag, she’s a good ship, and a sturdy one, sure as I’m standin’ before ye,” said the filthy Scot. “Treat her right—a little tenderness and a generous applyin’ o’ cannister-oil—and she’ll always bring ye home.”
Though Galloway was but a stinking Scot, Periwinkle hastened to remind himself (or was he a Mick?), he couldn’t help but feel a touch of warmth for this man, about whom he harbored lingering suspicions of leprechaunism.
“Right! Good man, Flannagan—carry on.”
Just then an underling (Werner, the Colonel thought his name was) came running from the jungle, waving something frantically in the air.
“Colonel! Colonel Periwinkle! There’s—from the site, there’s—Great Majesty’s Steamshovel, sir, but they’ve—”
“Pull it together, man,” shouted the Colonel, generously striking Werner across the face to help clear the man’s head.
“Thank you, sir! Down at the excavation site, they’ve found—why, they’ve found it, sir—they’ve finally found it!!” Here the man proffered a Polaroid to the Colonel, who snatched it up with mounting excitement. The Colonel immediately forgot his rash, the unrest festering among the working-folk, and the fact that he’d just exploded his first-officer.
The rooster stared, rapt, at the photograph.
For a moment, Periwinkle misbelieved his eyes. Could it be? he thought. Could it be, after so many years of searching—after decades of poring over through archives, of far-afield voyagings—of bloodshed, bribery, scholarship and pederasty—could it be that I’ve finally found it??
Kiki’s boyish curiosity had by now been piqued, and he wandered over to the giant rooster, whose longtime obsession seemed now to have been kindled to madness by this latest development. He looked into the Colonel’s eyes, and hardly recognized the bird.
“What ees dees, Meeser Curner, Sir?” whispered the little brown boy in awe.
“This, my darling boy,” said Colonel Thaddeus J. Periwinkle, not looking up from the photograph, “is the very reason we all came down here…”