the pale sun glinted off benway's half filled glass as he continued to hold it high in salute to the apparent "leader" of the pack of feral children.
"poor boy you've got to die... danny deever in the morning... all the sad young dogs... heh, heh..... heh.... ..... heh..."
benway's hitherto inexhaustible fund of boozy cheer finally faltered under the boy's pitiless eyeless gaze. he coughed , like a parliamentary speaker testing a microphone.
"well, then, i guess you don't want a drink."
the boy continued to stare - if that was the proper word - through, or with, the white bangs falling over and covering his eyes.
"in that case, " benway continued, with the air of the host of a party who suddenly realizes the guest he has been desperately trying to amuse does not speak his language and is actually a police agent come to arrest him. "i will drink it myself." and he started to raise the bottle to his lips.
"don't drink it." the boy finally spoke. in an accent that would not have been out place in the winners circle of the derby.
the sound of the boy's voice seemed to revive the doctor's good humor. "and why should i not drink it?" he enquired, in the voice of noel coward.
"cause me and my mates might just care to drink it, that's why." the boy laughed. "we be thirsty - right thirsty." for the first time he looked back at the smirking "toady" behind him, as if for approval - or to check on his loyal reactions.
"oh, dear me," benway chuckled. "i believe it should be "cuz" and not "cause". 'we be' is a completely inappropriate transplant from the african-american. and 'right thirsty', though not completely off key, sounds like 'quite thirsty' because of your dulcet oxbridge tone." and he began to raise the bottle to his mouth again, in a hearty jack the lad manner.
"here, i said don't drink that."
benway lowered the bottle again, with his best telly game show host smile.
"so," the boy continued, "what yer saying, is, i am not altogether authentic, is that what yer driving at, mate?"
"well, that is putting a bit crudely - " the doctor began.
"do you think anybody gives a toss how crudely it's put - or how bloody anything it's put, or about anything you think or say about anything, you senile fuck?"
"here now, no need to take offense - mate..."
"no need to take anything from you, is there , mate ... chum... buddy.... you bleeding cunt....?"
"heh, heh, i was only attempting polite conversation ..."
"it's authenticity you'd be having, is it now? i have news for you, father william, authenticity is being rubbed out and sent down the shitter, along with language, civilization, science, religion, truth, justice, freedom ... " the boy turned back and looked at the sharkily grinning toady " .... am i leaving anything out?"
"the rights of man, maybe?" the second boy replied.
"right-o, the bloody fucking rights of man," the whitehaired boy snarled at benway.
"and wit, and charm, and common courtesy, and polite conversation , no doubt... " the unflappable benway replied.
"common courtesy! ha, ha, ha! you are old, father william, if you can remember common fucking courtesy! "
"yes," benway answered with a touch of sad asperity, like a savile row suited mullah sentencing a woman to be stoned, "where is courtesy now? o tell me, where is kind treatment now?"
"i will tell you where, " the boy replied, "it has been washed away with a thousand shopping malls and a million coffee shops - down swollen rivers of mrs blankenship's collection of african masks - long ago dog whistle lobster claws of unseen sunsets -
whispering galaxies of abandoned airport parking lots - badgers and baboons battling for bragging rights in the dark recesses of the duke of devonshire's wine cellar - ain't that right, sternby?"
"that's right," the toady replied, and he stepped up and moved closer behind the whitehaired boy, " crocodile eyes watch impassive as the last 747 circles the overgrown airport behind the last mongolian space center -
galaxies laughing on corn chex and sugar free venezuelan cocoa - collapsing universe forgot to put extra starch on my dress shirt - please leave a message at the beep - "
"you see," the whitehaired boy said, looking at maitland for the first time, "sternby knows the score. how about you, mate, do you know the score?"
maitland, who had thought to slip away unnoticed as the boy harangued benway, was now struck as dumb as a princely lover in a lithuanian fairy tale.
"cat got your your tongue, chum?"
and now, perhaps at some unknown signal. or perhaps for no reason at all - blind nebulas writhing in weeping galaxies like strait-jacketed finance ministers in a bombed out housing project on easter island - the other "children" started moving forward - silent laughter in a darkened pawn shop 1937 belgrade -
battle-scarred chimps selling bootleg dvd's of bruce willis movies in praetoria 2003 -
"what's the score, buddy?"
closer and closer they approached - the empty swimming pool whispered sweet nothings behind him - oh harold i never knew you were so naughty -
marble columns of bombed out libraries in the purple moonlight - a feral chihuahua takes a shit on an overturned bust of robert browning -
nobody left to beat the frog pond - even faithful jeanette has run away with the second coachman - the frogs chase them across the mountains and the swollen rivers to the abandoned streets of montparnasse - cafe tables overturned in the gleaming rain -
torn posters of belmondo and francoise hardy flapping in the wind -
it's all up, rogers - every bugger for himself now - the children and the giant spiders pour through the broken stained glass windows and over the barricades of file cabinets -
this guy came at me with a knife - i showed him a trick -
you can do some damage with this motherfucker - just make sure to keep it a 36 degree angle -
please henry you are not fooling anybody - now or ever
a clever fellow, burnaby - but i never did trust him, and now we can see why -