Originally published at Amazon
I’m covered with nine kinds of filth, but then Fudge is gone. Every time I try to gasp in a lungful, I wonder if he never got the better end of the deal.
Fudge never really enjoyed my company anyway, not as such. Oh, he’d smile and nod my way whenever I came around, but I could always see him grit his teeth when he turned to look at something else. Fudge always had something else to look at when I came around–unless, that is, he needed a patsy for his double-damned schemes.
He used to live downtown. Before all this bubble nonsense, it was always four hours on the beer and three hours puking into Fudge’s toilet every Friday. I never much minded his four a.m. resentment of me, at least not so long as I could puke in his toilet and sleep on his floor. I would imagine that the scatter time I got the two reversed didn’t help matters, though. You could say it was a symbiotic relationship, although I don’t suppose I could tell you what benefit Fudge derived from it. Reinforcement from below, I suppose. Let him know that yes, there were creatures even lower than he. That, and I paid for his drinks.
Fudge, as I have forgotten to mention, was none other than Ben Fudge, recently late city St. John’s council member and schemer-at-large. It’s been said of Fudge that he always lived up to his last name, but nobody I ever heard say it was implying he was any kind of sweet. Fudge was the kind of man who, when a street kid with change box said “Spare change?”, would grab a loonie out of the box and laugh. I’ve seen him spend fifteen minutes in a rage at a downtown drunkard for his waywardness and then go in and get loaded to the two eyeballs, and don’t you even think about turnabout if you’re intending to enjoy peace and/or quiet for the next two months. No, nobody was ever going to give Fudge the congeniality prize.
But for all his foulness he didn’t deserve the kind of end that he got. Terrible thing to happen to a man; I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Shitty way to go, so to speak. Then again, Fudge never was the kind that could leave well enough alone. He’d get an idea in that half-bald skull and hang onto it like it was his lifeline. Like a dog with a bone, was Fudge. So I knew I was in trouble when he started talking about the harbour.
“Edgar, my son, we got to clean that place up,” I recall him saying, “Problem is nobody knows how big the damn bubble is.”
“So what?” I retorted. Best to make Fudge aware what kind of mire he was mucking through before he got too deep. The scatter time it might even make a difference.
“Well, what would you say if I said I knew how to determine the answer to that question and make a tidy dollar while doing it?” At this point I knew that the steel jaws of Fudge’s intellect were clamped onto the bloody stump of my ability to back out. I usually try to make the best of things when they come to this point, but then I usually also fail miserably. No use bucking tradition, I suppose.
“I’d say you’re fulla harbour water, Fudge. And even if you weren’t, I’d say I don’t want to know.”
“Now Edgar, we’ve known each other for a while now, and that type of comment, as you well know, is bound to cause a man of my predilections a great deal of mental anguish.”
I didn’t give a damn if it gave him epilepsy, as long as I had no part in it.
“Despite your negative attitude, I’m gonna give you the chance of a lifetime, Edgar my fine fellow. I’ll make you a wealthy man, and no gratis expected.”
“Very kind of you Fudge, but…”
“Butt’s the arse end of things, Edgar. Don’t you worry about this little proposition. I’ll take care of the fine details, and all you got to do is sit back and make money. How’s that sound to you?” He was smiling to kill himself, schemer that he was.
Now I have a weak spot for money. It’s my one vice. If I was Superman, money would be a kryptonite ice cream float. Fudge knew this, and never failed to exploit the rather large hole in my armor where a sense of values would normally go. I think in his eyes it was my one redeeming characteristic.
“Sounds good to me,” I said. Looking back, I know I said it too forcefully, by which I mean it was sufficiently loud that an elephant might lean in and decipher words one and three. Hence more than enough to commit me for better or for worse in Fudge’s books.
“That’s what I likes to hear, Edgar m’boy. Don’t you worry about this. You’ll find yourself high on the hog before long.” ‘Grinning like a maniac’, I believe they say. Well, the maniac was Fudge. Of course, I knew that already, even if you did not.
Two days later I thought a miracle might have occurred in the form of Fudge releasing me from my reluctant verbal contract. And pigs fly across the sky at night, too, in the universe where that sort of thing happens.
“Good morning, Edgar!” Fudge shouted, banging the door open, never mind that I might have been stark naked having mad sex on my sofa for all he knew–as long as I’m in an alternate universe anyway I might as well get my rocks off.
I pulled bits myself off of the vinyl covering on my sofa, tearing, I am sure, vital parts of my anatomy to shreds. Whoever makes vinyl covering should just go into the glue business and have done with it.
Fudge was standing on the welcome mat with some sort of shimmering black octopus writhing in his hands. I understood a moment later that it was not so much an octopus as a wetsuit, with all the accompanying pain and terror that might ensue from such a creature being brought into my home, particularly when the bringer was Fudge.
“Fudge, if you are about to say what I believe you’re about to say, then you might as well bang that door open again and walk right back out into that street, because there is no way I’m swimming in the harbour, not for all the tea in China.”
“Good news!” said Fudge, and I knew it wasn’t. “I got a man from White Rose interested in the project. Now, how good is your SCUBA training?”
“Fudge, you know damn well that I might as well be a lead sinker for all the SCUBAing you’ll get out of me,” I said, working overtime to get him out before he pulled the six-shooters on me.
“Big numbers, Eddie m’boy. Real big.” He just smiled, the goddamn sharky bastard.
“Fudge, you, uh, um…” I was losing my resolve by the second – no time to waste.
“How big?” Strange that it came out like that. Before I spoke I’d been certain I was going to tell him to get bent, in more or less those words. More or less. Did I mention my kryptonite analogy? Ah, yes, I did.
Fudge, grinning like the first man on Sex Mountain, just shoved the suit at me.
“Try ‘er on.”
Now I am, was, and have always been reasonably sure that a man who decides to brave a system of water-flavoured sewage such as our beloved harbour, yet expects a suit with the approximate thickness of one sheet of bumwipe, single-ply, to shield him from what lies beneath, is a man who is going to smell like shit in the morning. So you might call it a surprise that I learned the suit fit me admirably. This, in retrospect, is the point at which even Superman himself, bound and gagged and tossed into a kryptonite coffin, would have been screaming “Have some frigging willpower, man!”. I am blessed with nothing if not selective hearing. Also a severe deficiency of morals.
Of course, Fudge’s grin by now indicated he’d mounted the mountain, so to speak, and found waiting for him not just a harem, but also a full liquor cabinet and a brand spanking new set of golf clubs with matching 36-hole course. In fact, just at that moment when the zipper came all the way up the suit I believe he was mentally exploring the possibility of redefining ‘foursome’, but that’s mainly conjecture. I could barely see anything what with all the fire and the brimstone and the flapping of my soul on the end of his shiny black horns. Or maybe that last part was just my imagination; it’s always hard to tell with Fudge.
Another thing I should point out here is that I am not a fit man, by which I mean years of vomiting into Fudge’s toilet have taught me that anorexia is a lie, or at least a very cruel joke played upon me personally by an uncaring God. Also, that smacking my hand on the flesh of my stomach will produce a wet slapping noise even if the skin itself is dry, even if I use the back of my hand, and that such an action will, furthermore, send jiggles that could swamp a dory across my abdomen. Nor can I claim to be big-boned, unless those bones are rubberized. Which, despite its attractiveness as a theory, sounds desperate even to me.
“Edgar, my son, you looks some good,” said Fudge with delight in his eyes.
“Fudge, I can’t be going out in this,” I said, “I’m a respected member of the community.”
He barked out a short laugh at that one, the bugger.
“Edgar my dear soul once you gets rid of that bubble in the harbour, sure they can’t exactly call you pariah, now can they? Even if you does end up stinking like a premier’s campaign promise, who among us would be so cruel as to shun the savior of St. John’s harbour? It’s ridiculous. Now put these on.” He held out a pair of plastic C-cups, complete with nipples. Seeing my confusion, he continued, “For disguise purposes only, of course.”
“Ah yes,” I said demurely, grabbing the ‘disguise’. Or was it, “Over your corpse, maybe!”?
“We can do without the disguise, I s’pose,” he replied. The latter, then.
“This had better be worth it, Fudge,” I said, shaking one tit menacingly.
“Not to worry, my dear Edgar. Leave it all up to me.”
In one of my less intelligent displays, I decided to follow his advice. In my defence, I was still wondering where in the name of the good Saviour this madman had found a walrus-sized diving suit to fit me.
It took a week to hear from Fudge again; I even missed my regular session with the porcelain god to keep myself out of trouble. Trouble, however, appears to ask no encouragement of me.
“Edgar!” he cried, bursting into the bathroom. I made a mental note to get double deadbolts for every door in the house. At least then he’d have to stop long enough to fix the damned things, and more time to escape was fast becoming better time to escape when it came to Fudge.
“Edgar, my good man, I have wonderful news regarding your endeavour.”
“*My* endeavour?” I asked. Or shouted. Then, remembering the pants around my ankles, “Do you mind?”
“Ah yes,” he said, turning his back. “Edgar, I believe I have procured a source of funding for your bubble expedition.” He started to turn back around.
“SHUT THE DAMNED DOOR!” I screamed.
“Yes sir.” He shut the door. “Now, as I was saying: a certain gas company, believing it might harvest the bubble’s constituent methane via a short underwater pipeline, has agreed to fund an excursion into the depths.” Fudge waited for me to respond–leaned, in fact, against the sink and studied the sheaf of papers he’d brought along.
“Fudge,” I said with absolutely atypical restraint, induced, no doubt, by proximity to the madman of my worst acid-trip nightmares, “would you mind discussing this, um, after…?” I attempted body language, since my English was apparently malfunctioning.
“Nary a problem,” he said, dropping the sheaf on the rim of the sink, “I needs a good baloney sandwich anyway.” And finally, finally, he exited the bathroom. Without, of course, shutting the double-damned door.
By the time I made it downstairs Fudge had cooked up a stack of half-blackened baloney which appeared to greatly exceed the height of the piece I’d left in the fridge, and was fighting a losing battle with the bottle of maple syrup. “Fudge,” I began, making a careful approach on the food, “what are you doing?”
Halting his valiant struggle, he addressed me in a grave tone. “Edgar, it appears that your syrup has decided to engage in a contest of wills it cannot possibly win.” He struck the bottle vigorously against my counter, shooting a stream of sticky brown sweetness across the kitchen and directly into my left eye, crying “Hah-hah, that got you!” at the bottle. I grabbed a towel, conceding defeat in the war on sanity.
Between bites of his sweetened baloney, Fudge outlined the state of affairs. Actually, he mostly outlined a big pack of heroic-sounding lies about his exploits with women and corporate executives, then quickly summarized his phone call with our new sponsor, which, reading between the lies, consisted of Fudge asking for money repeatedly until the poor missus on the other end was forced to concede defeat.
I could sympathize, as I used to get that call just before we headed down to George Street to drink our faces off. My own persistent drinking in the face of these calls convinced me that either Pavlov was a quack or I was alcoholic, and that either way I could only afford to drink during paycheck weeks. Not that that had made any difference in when I actually went drinking, mind.
“Fudge,” I said tentatively, “what exactly do we need *funding* for? I thought we already had the SCUBA gear.”
“Ah,” he said, making an admirable go at enunciating the shortest possible version of “My little retarded one”. “That, my dear Edgar, is what I come over to speak with you about.” If I’d been worried before, this statement brought me well into heart attack territory. “See, I been researching your proposed mission, and I discovered that what you’re going to need is what they calls a core sampler. For scientific purposes.”
Now my scientific knowledge is basically limited of a variety of formulas for beverages whose strengths range from “strong” to “temporary insanity”. I suddenly found myself wishing for a top-end drink.
“What in God’s name am I going to need a core sampler for if I’m swimming in a million gallons of filth?” I wondered aloud, summoning a shield of solid rum to protect my apparently feeble mind.
“It’s the only way I could get that oil company to sponsor you, Edgar. Please keep up.”
“Ah-ha.” Deep, lovely golden, it would be, with shaved ice up to about the half-full line. A healthy dose of light, a little dollop of black, and whatever I could get away with in terms of straight-up whiskey, stirred and then downed in one gulp. Preferably chased with a shot of one-eighty-proof moonshine.
“Once you reaches the approximate area of the bubble, you needs to retrieve several samples from the harbour bed using the core sampler. I got to say, I’m impressed with your resolve, Edgar. It’s a dirty job you got here. Lucky thing you got me along.”
The drink would stink like gasoline, and its effects could be measured in horsepower.
Deep down I knew there was a problem with Fudge’s chain of thought, but I feared that losing the scent of whiskey would render me permanently vegetative. Or, worse, that I’d have to join battle with Fudge-logic again. I think somewhere in there I also resolved to refrain from using the toilet for any reason, alcohol-related or no, until we’d had done with the whole harbour affair. No sense in making things worse on myself. I certainly know I kicked myself for flushing before I came back down.
“So, that’s the plan, as she stands right now,” Fudge concluded. I nodded slowly. The less I knew about what was going on, the better.
So on May 15, with the pack ice making its last surly charge away from the harbour and into the safer, cleaner waters of the North Atlantic, I found myself brawling with the wetsuit, which, despite my last-minute baloney-and-pancake spree, still zipped up like the shiny black devil bent on throwing me into liquid shit that it was. Somewhere along the way I’d added enough gear to the ensemble to seal me off from the sludge; I could, I figured, maintain some semblance of dignity. Or, at least, of moderate health.
Fudge, meanwhile, had retrieved our core sampler. Which, as it turns out, was just perfect for use in prospecting oil, but outsized the three other partners – namely, me, Fudge, and the boat – by a good three feet or ten.
“Fudge,” I said, throwing a hard look at the monstrous creature (and sparing a glance for the sampler), “there is no way I’m carrying that thing into the harbour.” I may be a weak, small, petty man, but I devoutly refuse to be stupid.
“Not to worry, Edgar,” he said, and I immediately began hyperventilating, certain I’d been sold into slavery to the Lord of Hell for ‘protection’. He continued, “You see, when I explained the situation to our sponsor, he immediately assumed responsibility and agreed that the best way to salvage the situation would be for me to build us a smaller version of our giant friend here.” Fudge always did have a funny definition of ‘best’. “So I got to work and built us this.” He pulled out, from nowhere or thereabouts, a foot-long copy of the core sampler. I use the word ‘copy’ loosely, of course; both were roughly cylindrical, but the real sampler, for example, was made of metal rather than a loose conglomeration of wood, styrofoam, and duct tape.
“Mmm-hmm,” I said, looking around for something with which I could set the damn thing on fire. Nothing. I cursed myself for quitting smoking.
“Spring loaded and everything, she is,” he said unhelpfully.
“Mmm-hmm,” I noted, trying desperately to burst the damn suit by expanding my chest to its fullest extent. Ok, so I was expanding my gut to its fullest extent. I submit that desperate measures were necessary if I was to have any hope of leaving my shower for the next year or so.
“Plus I got us an advance,” he said, holding up a gigantic roll of twenties.
“Mmmm.” Somewhere inside me the man of steel drowned in a sea of green death, and I’ll be damned if I could tell you his dying words. Fudge had a hard enough job holding me away from the water long enough to get the rest of the gear on. My shower was carried away on a wave of extremely forgotten Prime Ministers.
Gear on, Fudge wasted no time booting me over the gunwales. My first shock of the day came when I discovered that a sea of shit could be cold; I just about lost my expensive sealed headgear snapping my neck around to take aim at the surface. I pulled myself up to bobbing level in order to wave my fist threateningly in Fudge’s direction. A thin brown film trickled down over the mask, but I put it out of my mind. Fudge was shouting again, and waving the roll of money. Down I went.
We’d had trouble finding a shop that would give us a dive light for the job at hand, but failure was not a mode Fudge recognized, even when it wielded a sledge for the express purpose of persuasion. Lo and behold, in a final statement on the nonexistence of a loving God, the tarp- and duct tape-wrapped 450 watt electric spotlight he’d put together actually lit up, and it didn’t burn through the tarp. At least, not right away.
With my “dive light” for ballast, and wondering how I was supposed to get back up while towing a hundred pounds of electric spot which had special tarp wingy bits sticking off, apparently designed to catch at least as much water as possible, I took off for bottom. “Took off” might be a little strong, actually; “sank slowly” probably captures the mood better, but it leaves something to be desired in terms of its heroic connotations. Regardless, I was headed for bottom. A condom drifted lazily into my expensive headgear and then refused to let go, having found enough suction to stay. I gave up on it; better something I could scrape off than something I had to scrub.
I settled on the bottom a couple of minutes later, spotlight illuminating a field of brown like I want to never see again. When it quickly became apparent that “settling” on the bottom meant only that the clouds stirred up by my every movement were going to be four times as large as the average brownout, I decided I could work from a little ways above the slush, at least until I’d found a spot with some promise. One false move and the clouds would go up like a triple-OT bench-clearer, but I wasn’t worried, which of course calls into question my sanity during this phase of the operation.
By the time I’d found a spot that vaguely resembled my already vague idea of what I was looking for, I’d begun to believe I could smell the place through my mask. Certainly, the horrors of drifting through the public toilet of a city with three dozen drinking establishments packed cheek by jowl had set me to wondering about God and his role as a complete bastard when it came to teaching me the hard lessons of life. Finding that spot, then, was a little piece of salvation for my quickly-withering religious branch. The 450-watt, in an unusual turn, cooperated. More precisely, a dab of oxygen from my spare tank, administered via the spare mouthpiece (and pray for the poor soul that next has to use it) through a quickly-sealed gap in the duct tape, filled the damn thing up enough to get at least some level of buoyancy out of it. I gave the spotlight some slack, and laid the tank on the bottom
Pulling out Fudge’s voodoo core sampling device, I tried to figure out exactly what my demented companion might have considered to be the “right” way to use such a delicate tool. Inspiration struck in the form of a bottle of Old Tyme syrup buried in the stack.
I reached back over my head, and brought the bad mojo down into the soft silty stuff, hard. Bingo, I thought, as the spring fired down out of its housing to drive the scoop well into the muck. But then she dug in.
Fudge’s duct-taped doweling wunderkind gave way, and I found myself dodging the turbo-charged harpoon that used to be her ‘up’ end along with the burst of ominously clear bubbles that shot out with it. As I turned to grab the remains of Fudge’s mini-corer, two things became abundantly clear: first, that the spring mechanism had continued well beyond me and torn up and through the tarp wrapped around the spotlight, releasing a cloud of oxygen and a hail of sparks; second, that the ominous stream of bubbles, which I took to be methane, were about to encounter the other two little beauties; and third, that the spare tank, valve still open, was awfully close to the whole works. I dug into the disgusting morass beneath me like Scrooge McDuck in a money vault.
The explosion rocked me and, I would imagine, blew the shit out of (or at least onto) Fudge’s one-man surface crew. I thought the worst was over and started swimming up, near as I could determine, to the surface. Stupid me. Any lifetime wherein I have met Fudge, you may feel certain, is one wherein the phrase “the worst was over” will never describe my current circumstances unless I am just standing up from Fudge’s toilet on a Friday night.
The bottom flexed once, and then broke into a billion tiny pieces that you couldn’t so much see as smell, five or six of which were perfectly happy to carry me, along with what seemed like several Siberia’s worth of bubble gas. My fortune going up in fart, I thought as the whole lot kicked me upwards. Never in my life would I have guessed I’d be so afraid to get out of St. John’s harbour.
I managed to survive, even to drag myself back to the docks. One feller, between wheezing on the pleasant harbour air and scrubbing himself down with dilute acid, said he’d seen a boat winging its way towards Signal Hill, five or six hundred feet above the water. Nobody had seen nor heard tell of Fudge.
I turned to slump up the hill to sit in my shower for a month, gasping on gas and slipping on harbour slime, and resolved to get myself some financial counselling. For the moment, Fudge can rot where he lies. With nary a clean toilet in town I’ll have little enough else to do come Friday than find out what’s happened to him.