Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument. Doubtless these are wise words; but when there’s a baying pack of werewolves on your track (again), the urge to swear quite loudly is considerably more difficult to resist. I thought I’d distracted them by diving through the restaurant and it’s kitchen. I thought I’d lost them in the evening crowds around Covent Garden. I’d even hoped that jumping in a taxi and tipping extra would get me enough of a head start to make my trail go cold.
No such luck. The pack had all the tenacity of the hungry, coupled with the anger of the betrayed, and seasoned with that tricky human knack for subterfuge. I’d hoped that I could at least match the latter while outrunning the former. I had hoped to talk my way out of things when it all started heading south, but you know when you get that sinking feeling that the other person already made their mind up? Yeah, trust me, it’s worse when your audience really is hoping you’re going to die on stage.
So let me give you some context here. My name is Dorian Quiller, and I spend an awful lot of time these days choosing discretion as the better part of valour. People ask me to fix things that go bump in the night. Those things are usually quite happy not to be fixed, and believe me I can really relate to that.
This evening had started quite simply, with an email from someone who had obviously been talking with an old client of mine in Southall. He was running an adult learning course in stand-up comedy which usually cumulated in an evening above a bar near Leicester Square where everyone performed material. He was a bit spooked, if you’ll pardon the phrase, by a visit from the boys in blue.
Apparently the worst-rated acts from the last three courses he’d run had ended up going to pieces shortly afterwards. To be more precise, each had been found in pieces, in what had been thought to be animal attacks. What had got him reaching for my email address wasn’t the suggestion that he had anything to do with it; but that when he’d tried and failed to recall anything about performances on the nights in question.
I have no idea how the guy came to the conclusion there was something unusual going on that couldn’t be explained by the presence of alcohol, or how he knew Hari. The offer of a night out in town and the possibility of some half decent comedy wasn’t to be sniffed at, especially as it was a bit of a skint month. I’d left Kay doing online Christmas shopping (yes, I know it isn’t even May yet), and jumped on a train to Waterloo.
Now, when you have a tendency to see what’s really there and are walking through areas redolent with history and heightened emotion, things can be distracting. There are memories of ghosts in window reflections, and the music of the past plays in the tinkle of bicycle bells and engine roars. And of course, Jonah’s venue had at least three ghosts in the audience and a travelling cold spot on the narrow wooden staircase.
The ghosts weren’t the problem. That would have been the rowdy group of students who took over one end of the back row and started heckling the performers. I was backstage, watching for trouble when they started. Heckling is something that any stand-up comedian has to deal with, so at first I wondered if this was a set-up as part of the course assessment. Two things dismissed that thought.
First was the annoyance on Jonah’s face, and as he tried to compere between acts that didn’t improve. Second was the feeling of the air on stage getting thicker, and the increasingly wooden expressions on both audience and performers’ faces. The familiar prickling sensation in my protective tattoos were my best clue. Something or someone, and it didn’t take a genius to guess who, was pulling a Veiling on the room.
Veilings are pretty much what they sound like – hiding the truth from the world. In this case it was making everyone not care about the increasingly bestial and aggressive students now openly jeering and debating who they were going to eat out of the performers. I’ve heard of comedians being thrown to the wolves, but never thought it could be literal in this day and age.
Now Kay will quite happily tell you I have less sense than a March hare when it comes to people in trouble – especially when it comes to women. It’s probably not going to be a surprise then when I tell you that everything hit the fan when they started to advance on the last act of the night: a mid-thirties woman called Shona.
She was stuttering and stammering through her routine despite the mind-numbing influence of the jackal-faced creatures now starting to gather at the foot of the stage. Most of the audience was sitting slack-jawed in a stupour. The rest of the class and Jonah weren’t faring much better. I noted that even the ghosts seemed to have lost a degree of animation.
That’s when I stepped out onto the stage and started talking loudly over Shona. I started with a couple of one-liners in quick succession and then faltered in the face of the frankly hungry expressions on the werewolves. Rather stupidly, I ventured the beginning of a knock-knock joke. Silence fell.
There we were. Comedy club critics, red in tooth and claw on one side; yours truly wishing I’d thought this through on the other. Fortunately I have another talent that helps in moments like these. I lie for a living.
Oh, I’m not talking about spinning tall tales, though I’m told I’m reasonably entertaining when I get going. I’m talking about being very convincing when i need to be. Convincing enough to make people believe the improbable, and to be able to push that suspension of disbelief quickly into the realms of the impossible. If I do it fast enough and well enough, I can trick the universe into going along with things for brief periods.
That’s how I was able to casually reach into my pocket and pull out an ampoule filled with what can best be described as military grade nasal nausea and spray it over the werewolves. It’s a nasty trick, an improbable thing to have to hand, but not so impossible that the universe couldn’t not believe I’d do it. There is a shorter word for this type of trickery and lies: magic.
I wanted them so angry at me that they would forget the comedy club and come after me. Spraying them with something that surely had skunk oil in a porta-loo on top of road kill at a chilli cook-off competition definitely fit the bill. I just wish that sometimes I would remember to stop and think of the end game before setting things in motion.
So that’s how I came to be running into the no man’s land woods out the back of the Sunbury skatepark, having bailed out of the cab a short while ago. The horrendous stink still clung to the vehicle rather than to me – how lucky, I know – and that gave me enough time while the pack chased it another few miles to pick my spot.
When they finally worked out where I was, they came creeping through the hole I’d cut in the wire fence. I’d bent the wires back so it wasn’t easy, and I’m sure the scratches they got getting through continued to endear me to them. I wanted all their attention to be on me. I didn’t want to shout to get it. In short order I had my attentive audience. Their leader, a grey-furred brute, approached but stopped when my hand dipped into my pocket. I flourished another vial, this one emblazoned with even more lurid warning labels. Several of the werewolves flinched.
“If I drop or damage this, you will never get the scent out of your nostrils so back off.” I spoke calmly. I had improved my argument. It would never have worked with wild animals, but that’s the point people forget with werewolves: there’s still a mind in there to intimidate and then talk to.
Now to open negotiations, and prove again to the universe that there’s more than one way to spin a story round on its axis. I guess in some ways this proved to be more of a shaggy dog story than even I anticipated.