The Final Adventures Of Smoking Man And Beagle Boy
Through the rotting plaster and peeling flock wallpaper, came a soft breeze. It gently skidded along the dust-stacked drawers before dissipating. Just under the heavy, black curtains. They quietly parted, having clung together as sun-lust lovers for over a decade. The light streaked through the pale and sallow eyelids of Barry Manvers – sitting opposite – and scorched his sockets. Blinded and panicked, Barry grasped for the nearest object and hurled it in the direction of excruciating pain. The black cat hit the curtains with four outstretched claws, dug in and hissed violently. She hated heights, how would she get down?
In the cat-shaped shadows, Barry crawled behind the dilapidated armchair for comfort. And tried to weep. A short, sharp nugget of air became entangled in the chewing-gum maze at the top of his windpipe. It leapt for freedom, with whistling bursts that caused Barry’s cumbersome upper-frame to rattle and convulse. With his sob strangled, mid-pipe, Barry’s face filled with blood, until the cat decided to use his quivering bulk as a landing pad. Its stay was short-lived. The wheezy rumble grew exponentially, until Barry Manvers exploded into a murderous cough that shifted time and rattled the pictures on the wall. They fell to the floor. Barry singing Smoke On The Water with Deep Purple. Barry lighting a Havana with Fidel Castro. Barry making the keynote speech at the World Peace Conference, before later sharing a Black Russian with Marilyn Monroe. Barry’s life as a superhero lay in shatters.
Luckily for Beagle Boy he had heard Manvers’ corpulent, chest-zipped rumblings. Buckling a collared, fawn mac, he clasped the iron braces fused to the wall and rode out his friend’s raking bellows. Unlike Manvers, Beagle Boy had kept his felon-busting moniker. Some said that he looked like Lieutenant Columbo. Beagle Boy disagreed. He looked like Peter Falk, the actor who played Columbo, a fictional character. Beagle Boy was real. As the house subsided, he freed himself and made for the door. Barry needed help. Out on the corridor, Beagle Boy tightened his mac and ventured head-down into the belching fog. Feeling his way along the wall, he reached the nebulous handle to Barry’s smoking room. And twisted. “Hey boss hog,” breezed Beagle Boy. “I think it’s time for me to get my gloves and give you one of them there chest rubs.” Barry usually responded well to the inane optimism of his companion. With a superhero-sized void to fill, both he and Beagle Boy had found security within the smothering confines of shallow personas. But not today. Barry was breaking. “Look at me, Beagle Boy. Look at what I’ve become. No one needs Smoking Man. I’m half the man I used to be!” Barry’s quivering girth was barely concealed by a yolkish, translucent skin. It stretched with sad smiles, from lumpen thighs to the peeling peak on Barry’s matted head. Below the thighs…there was nothing.
It hadn’t always been like this. 50 years previous, Barry Manvers had stood under a gathering sky, watching for the first time his musical hero take to the stage. As Howlin Wolf thundered into Smokestack Lightning, the clouds crackled and a mysterious travelling man gave young Barry his first cigarette. Paper smouldered. Lungs blazed. And Howlin Wolf summoned Zeus from the bowels of Hades. The nub hit the ground. The Wolf stopped howling and Barry was ripped from his berth by a thunderous bolt. The next five years were difficult for Barry; the lightning strike had rendered his legs useless. He didn’t take to the rudimentary, prosthetic alternatives and spent long, lonely weeks locked in his room with only a packet of Lucky Strikes and Howlin Wolf to keep him company. Frustration and bitterness overcame Barry. Until on the morning of the fifth anniversary of his tragic accident, he awoke feeling inexplicably different. Over breakfast he found an ad in the job supplement. It read: “Calling all anonymous addicts. We can make you feel better. Come and see the man at number 1 Love Street and let your addictions float away.” Exiting the cab on crutches, Barry entered his palace of hope. Above him the sign fizzed: “Welcome to the awakening.”
It was at addicts anonymous that Barry met Beagle Boy. He had a kind face, a sturdy mac and a name with a canine connection. If he couldn’t have his Wolf, then Beagle Boy was fine by Barry. In a strange way, Beagle Boy had been expecting Barry. Having read law at Cambridge, Beagle Boy spent the next five years unemployed, at the behest of a mysterious traveller who had visited him on graduation night. The hours of incessant boredom had given way to heavy drinking and chain smoking. But now, in the company of Barry, Beagle Boy felt his calling. Addicts anonymous was run by Bongo Bob, who encouraged the use of liquor and narcotics. “See boys, it helps your addictions just float awaaay.” He used to say. Often experiencing alternative realities, the two friends spent their days building for Barry a mode of transport and a mask to hide his shy features. And at night they scoured the daily papers for stories about damsels in distress. After six months, the transformation was complete. Beagle Boy gently lowered Barry onto the angled, iron can and strapped him in. The contraption, on which the bottom half of the daleks was modelled, could hold a week’s supply of cigarettes. On the under-carriage, a pair of 2CV wheels was lashed to a pivoting axle, for speedy apprehensions. In an odd coincidence, Barry’s mask was later copied, for the character Darth Vader, of the Star Wars films. But Barry’s mask was yellow. And better. For he was now Smoking Man.
With the strength of 2000 non-smokers and more wit and cunning than Sherlock’s pipe, Smoking Man and Beagle Boy dedicated their lives to smoking injustice wherever it lingered. At the peak of the their fame in the sixties and seventies, the duo couldn’t walk down the street without being noticed. Rampant smoking had diminished the sniffing powers of Beagle Boy. But to compensate, he developed the best hearing in the world, tuned to the frequency of distress. Day and night he walked the streets, with an antique ear-horn cocked and ready. As soon as a cry went up, our wily, wheezing buddies dashed to the rescue. Well. Ok. Got there as quickly as possible, hindered by reduced lung capacities. Boasting a swag-bag of crowd-pleasing powers, Smoking Man and Beagle Boy freed the troubled and enjoyed the trappings of global fame. But the heavy living took its toll. Compelled to constantly smoke, the duo developed severe bronchial problems. Every crook in town could here them coming. And then health kicked in. The educational campaigns. The transparent replacement therapies and endless joggers. By the mid-nineties, Smoking Man and Beagle Boy had coughed in the face of their last villain.
“Until now,” Beagle Boy muttered, angry at the plight of the fallen hero. Reaching behind the dusty drawer, he pulled out the antique ear-horn and drew it towards his face. “Smoking jimminies,” cried Barry. “What are you doing?” Beagle Boy strained, for his ears had grown accustomed to the silence of loss. Beyond the stray dogs howling and amateur bands rehearsing in their backyards, he heard a distant cry for help. “Heyelp!” Beagle Boy turned to face his beleaguered friend: “Smoking Man, put on your outfit, collect your mask and then I’ll strap you into the can. A lady needs our help.”
“Coughing calamities!” spluttered Barry. “I thought you said that damsels in distress no longer existed?”
“I did,” replied Beagle Boy. “But unless I am very much mistaken, I was wrong. There’s no smoke without fire. Now move it fat man and transform yourself, once again, into…Smoking Man!”
Out on the streets, Smoking Man rolled along in a dejected way. “I told you I’d look stupid.” Beagle Boy walked two paces behind him, stifling a snigger. “You look fine.” The waxed, lycra suit had been made to fit a body of rippling strength. Now it simply ripped. It had been three hours since the two had last heard their cry for help. “Let’s go to Bongo Bob’s,” sniffed Beagle Boy. He’ll ease the pain.” Thirty minutes later Man and Boy were relaxing into the voluptuous, velvet recesses of Bongo’s boudoir. “I don’t know where she’s gone,” whispered Smoking Man, from behind his stoned-wall glaze, “but it sure feels good to be on the road with you again Beagle Boy. Let’s stay at Bongo’s. We could be out of this word again, every day.” But his companion stayed silent; ear cocked and horn trembling. After three Lucky Strikes he put down his horn. “We’ve got another call Smoking Man.”
The Church Of Our Unmerciful God teetered and groaned on All Hallows Hill. Inside, Rusty McFerrin – the resident preacher – spurned wisdom in favour of a bilious cauldron of torment and ruin. Clutching the holy book high above his head, he faced his Sunday-School class and bellowed: “This book drips with the unending anguish of miserable sinners like you! PICK UP YOUR COPIES! You’re going to eat every single page, until you are sick and writhing in the pride of our ancestors. And then, when your’re old enough to read we will moan and wail at the futility of man, self-flagellating until maybe, one day you get a glimpse of the glories of the Palace Of Heaven.” Puddles grew under the pews as the toddlers trembled and mewed. Rusty paused to deepen the fear. And then…
Smoking Man and Beagle Boy paused outside the oak door. Linking hooked arms, they ticked each other’s throats, took a deep breath and then entered the church. Never had the world experienced such a thunderous display of strategic coughing. Rusty’s brimstone was extinguished under a barrage of raking barks. Our two superheroes ushered the startled class to the safe, lush pastures on All Hallows Hill. Unfortunately, little Mickey Owens was attacked by a crowd of disgruntled crows and horribly maimed. But at least he was free. Rusty cowered under the pulpit. “I, I, I thought you had b-b-been defeated.” He stammered. “Out of breath but never defeated,” wheezed Smoking Man. Beagle Boy then stood in front of Rusty, smoked his eyelids and punched his cigarette. “That’s what I call an original sin!” quipped Smoking Man. The pair walked off laughing. Until, suddenly…
“Emphysemic enigmas!” exclaimed Beagle Boy, with horn cocked to his ear. “The whole town needs us!” Through the evening and past the night, Smoking Man and Beagle Boy smoked injustice wherever they found it. The benevolent bank robbers were trapped, until the duo showed the way through the lasers with their all-seeing wall of smoke. Estranged, over the demise of a raspberry flan, Mr and Mrs Evans were reunited through the powers of Beagle Boy’s husky whisper. And Tom McGroat almost got his wicked way with Leslie Ash, only to be foiled by Smoking Man’s yellow finger of almost certain death. McGroat only just survived. As the pair sat in the mid-morning sun, it dawned on them. The damsel in distress had never returned.
”Oh well,” sighed Beagle Boy, with the horn resting in his ear. “At least it means that someday, somewhere there’s still a job for Smoking Man and his trusty aide to finish.” And then he froze, with horn humming. Following the vibrations, Beagle Boy stood up from the bench, turned round and walked to the apartment window behind them. Cupping two hands around his Falkian face, he peered through. On the television set by the pantry door, Penelope Pitstop was in full flight. “Heyelp!” she cried. “Heyelp!” A face came to the glass. And then squawked with delight. “Beagle Boy!” it exclaimed. “You and your busty buddy have been all over the news! You’re heroes! You’re famous! You’re beautiful! Oh, I never expected to fall in love with a smoker!” With that, the face fainted. Beagle Boy ran to tell his crime-fighting father figure. But Smoking Man had already heard. And the joy was too much. He collapsed onto the bench. Grasping Beagle Boy’s arm, he barely murmured. “Smoke for me when I’m gone my friend.” And then he coughed his last.
Smoking Man received a state funeral, during which the world stopped and had a two-minute fag break in his memory. His bravery afforded smokers greater freedom throughout the land. And Beagle Boy? Taking his trusty ear horn with him, he retired to the Swiss Alps where he spent the rest of his days tracking the distinctive sounds of mountain goats in distress.
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- June 13, 2006 / 5:42 pm