This is the first chapter of my successful NaNoWriMo attempt from 2008. I am always planning to go back and revise this into something more like a real novel, as I am fond of it.
Jack Devlin was drunk. When some people get drunk, they become violent, combative, and argumentative. Jack, though, just became talkative and over-friendly.
"So yeah, how is business going for you at the moment?"
"It has been better", replied his taxi driver. "People do not take so many cab trips now".
"Yeah yeah, the economic situation. It's not holding me back! I've just closed a big case. I'm a private investigator, you know? It's not as exciting as it sounds, all insurance scams and taking money from saps whose wife is getting it on with their best friend. It was a bit of that this time. This guy, he thought his wife was seeing someone else… turned out she was seeing half of Dublin. Jesus, I might be in with a chance with her myself. She's a really fine looking woman… great pair of tubridies… ". He trailed off in silent contemplation. And then: "Maybe I should give her a ring – I've got her number!"
The taxi driver made no reply while Devlin fumbled for his mobile and keyed in the numbers. The phone went straight to voicemail, unsurprisingly given the lateness of the hour.
"Hi! Yeah, how are you? Listen, you don't know me, but I was wondering if you might fancy meeting up for a meal or a drink or something, taking it from there, you know, seeing where it goes. The Korean places on Parnell Street, they're good crack, not too expensive, and you can do a it of karaoke afterwards, puts you in an excitable frame of mind, see what happens… what do you – ".
The voicemail's closing beep cut him off. Devlin started to imagine the woman disrobing in front of him, but then he remembered where he was and started to engage the taxi driver again.
"Hey, have you ever seen Taxi Driver? I've always wondered whether you guys watch it".
"Oh yes, it is very good. That Danny De Vito, he is a very funny man".
"I think that's the TV series you're thinking of. I mean the film, with Robet De Niro. You know, 'Are you talkin' to me?' and all that".
"Is Marilou Henner in it? She is very beautiful lady".
"No, but they had yer one from Moonlighting. But the film isn't the same, it's about this guy who drives taxis, and he is a Vietnam vet, and he turns into a bit of a psycho".
"That does not sound as good as the TV programme. It was very popular in my country. Seeing it made me decide to come here and become a taxi driver".
"But it's set in New York…"
"It's all the same".
Devlin looked out the window. Where was he? How long had he been in this cab? Where was he going?
"Eh, is this the way to Rathgar?"
"Ah yes, short cut, avoiding congestion".
A few minutes later Devlin was outside his apartment building. Thirty five Euro seemed a bit steep for the fare, though he was not really in a position to argue.
There was a guy in a white tracksuit and a shifty looking moustache loitering near the front door of Devlin's apartment, who now started trying to engage him in conversation. Devlin ignored him, opening the door as quickly as he could, tense in case he would suddenly have to fight for his life. "Here bud! Come here! I got something for you, Mr Devlin", but the slamming of the door drowned out his words. Devlin found himself wondering how the skanger knew his name, but did not dwell on this mystery. His bed was calling him, and that is where he soon found himself.
Devlin slept late the next day. After a leisurely breakfast he rolled into the office, said hello to his floor's receptionist and buried himself in some of the paperwork he needed to catch up on. Distraction soon set in, and he found himself checking webmail and reigniting a frank online discussion on the relative merits of the different Indiana Jones films. And then his phone rang, he answered a call from his receptionist, and his day changed course alarmingly.
"Mr Devlin, there's a… a Panda here to see you", said his receptionist.
"A Panda, Jane?"
"Well, not an actual Panda. That would be weird. What I mean is, there is a guy in a panda-suit here to see you."
"OK, it takes all sorts, show the fucker in".
And so Devlin found himself ushering a somewhat chubby looking man in a panda-suit into his office. "Please do not take offense, Mr Devlin, if I decline to shake your hand", began the visitor, speaking in a deliberate and distinguished voice that suggested time spent studying art history in Trinity College Dublin. "Incorrect assumptions about pandas abound in this age of debased culture, and one of the most pernicious is that pandas crave nothing more than physical contact with complete strangers. Hence the propensity for people to try to give me hugs" (at this he shuddered) "when we have barely been introduced. The truth is, Mr Devlin, that I loathe physical contact of any sort with any but my own kind, and even then only after a long and extensive courtship. Even a touch of the hand is something that I find rather disgusting, especially with a – with a person such as yourself".
"Sure, sure, no hand-shakes, I get the idea", said Devlin as he ushered the Panda into a seat into which he was barely able to squeeze. "So, what can I do for you, Mr…? Someone been at your bamboo?"
"Very droll, Mr Devlin, I see your reputation as something of a humorist is well deserved. I am not, however, in a situation where jokes are of much assistance. And you can call me Mr Chubbytail".
"I take it that's not the name on your birth cert?"
"No sir, it is not, but if you are asking whether it is my real name then I can assure you that it is. I changed my name by deed poll five years ago when I adopted this persona. Mr Chubbytail is the only name by which I am known".
"No first name?"
"I have no need of such a thing. In formal situations Mr Chubbytail is perfectly appropriate, while in more intimate company the mister can be dropped and I become simply Chubbytail. But, Mr Devlin, this is not an intimate encounter, and all this talk is taking time away from more important matters".
"Sure, you'll have to forgive me if my normal professionalism lapses. I've never had a guy in a panda-suit in my office before, so – "
"Mr Devlin", interrupted Mr Chubbytail icily, "Please do not under any circumstances ever refer to my skin as a panda-suit. It is not something I take off and put on at will, but an intrinsic part of what I am".
"Sorry! Jesus, look, this is all new to me, don't take it the wrong way if I make a wrong step. Let's start again. What has led to you requiring the services of a private investigator, and what has brought you to me?"
"Well Mr Devlin, I can answer the second part first. I was given your name by an associate, who recommended you as someone who can deal with the most sensitive matters with the necessary tact and discretion. He warned me of your less appealing personal qualities, but he made clear that you were the kind of fellow who can accomplish wonders, and all at a highly competitive price".
"I aim to please".
"And as to what brings me here – well surely you can guess. I mentioned that I loathe physical contact with any save my own kind, and even then a courtship that your sort would find unacceptably lengthy is necessary. Now, after years of disappointment, I had found a mate, a most delightful lady Panda called Miss Cuddlebuns. The more we came to know each other, the more in love we grew. Last year we took the logical next step – Miss Cuddlebuns became Mrs Chubbytail. Yes, Mr Devlin, we got married. Marriage is not just for your kind, but for ours as well".
"Well, I've no problem with that, take love where you find it and all that".
"My mate and I set up home together. Our life was one of unremitting joy. We looked forward to the day when we would be blessed with offspring, when our house would echo to the sounds of little Panda cubs gambolling around. But that… that was then. Things are different now". A hesitation crept into his voice, but he forced himself to continue.
"Last Tuesday, I arrived home from the office to find that my wife had gone. She had left me a note – and her skin. Mr Devlin, she is a Panda no more".
"I see. Do you have the note with you?"
Mr Chubbytail's suit seemed to come equipped with pockets, and from one of these he produced a piece of paper and began to read. "'My dear husband. This is the hardest letter I will ever have to write. I love you, and I always will, but all this time I have been with you, I have been living a lie. I have tried to deny it, but I can do so no longer. Chubbytail, I am not really a Panda'", and at this a choking quality came into the Panda's voice, as his black-eared head slouched forward. "'I am a human being. I belong with my own kind. I must leave you now. We must never see each other again. I hope one day you will find yourself a good lady Panda, god knows you deserve it. Yours with eternal affection, Laura'. Do you see Mr Devlin, she didn't even sign the letter with her real name?"
At this Mr Chubbytail broke down into tears, sobs causing his black and white frame to convulse. Devlin jumped up and was about to give him a reassuring hug when he remembered Mr Chubbytail's aversion to physical contact. Another tack was called for, so he ran over to the filing cabinet and produced bottle of cheap Irish whisky. "There there Mr Chubbytail, how about a glass of Paddy to cheer you up?"
"Thank you Mr Devlin, you are too kind", sobbed Mr Chubbytail. "But I never drink alcoholic beverages".
"Come on, just this once, it's not every day a man, eh a Panda loses his wife" he said, forcing a well-filled glass into Mr Chubbytail's paw, albeit with the minimum possible amount of skin-fur contact. "Look, I'm going to have one myself, don't make me look like the kind of guy who drinks on his own like a sad alcoholic".
"Alright Mr Devlin, I will take a couple of sips", said Mr Chubbytail, bringing the glass up to the suit's mouth, where a small aperture allowed it access to the human mouth behind.
"Now Mr Chubbytail, tell me, where do I come into all this?"
"Well Mr Devlin", he said, with composure returning to his voice, "I want you to find my Cuddlebuns. I need to talk to her again. If I can speak to her one more time, then I am sure that I can persuade her of the error of her ways. Mr Devlin, what she said in that note is just not true – she is a Panda, through and through. She can never be happy in the human world".
"Mr Chubbytail, I am happy to take this job, but I have to warn you – you are probably setting yourself up for a big disappointment. You may be the first Panda to come into this office, but I've seen a lot of husbands whose wives have done a bunk, and they always think they can make them come back. They can't. When a woman walks, she's gone".
"But my Cuddlebuns is not a woman, Mr Devlin – she's a Panda".
"I'm not sure if that makes a big difference, but look, I've tried telling you, my ethical duty is done. So now let's get on with things. Have you any idea where your wife might have gone?"
"No, Mr Devlin. She is in the world of humans now. Your world. That is why I am hiring you to find her".
"I see. Well, can you tell me anything about her background, or even her real name – I mean her name before she became Miss Cuddlebuns?"
"I cannot, Mr Devlin, save that the note reveals that her former first name was Laura. She was already Miss Cuddlebuns when we met".
"Is that the name on her marriage certificate?"
"Mr Devlin, we did not marry in one of your churches, or in a registry office for your kind. We married in a ceremony before those who share our persuasion, and yes, I can assure that Miss Cuddlebuns was recorded there as her name before marriage".
"I see. But can you tell me where and when did you meet?"
"Five years ago, Mr Devlin. We met at the Zoological Club, known somewhat more informally as the Zoo. It is a convivial environment where our kind meet and relax together, away from… your sort. I say that without meaning to give offence, Mr Devlin. I am sure your kind are happy in their own way, but we are always happier without the snide glances of the furless. That is why we seek out our own exclusive company, wherever and whenever possible".
"So, a whole club full of Pandas?"
"Not all Pandas, Mr Devlin, not all Pandas. All kinds of furry creatures frequent the Zoological Club. The venue opens its doors to all who are blessed with a body covered completely in thick hair".
Devlin wondered if his ex-girlfriend had heard of this place, she would fit right in. "I see, Mr Chubbytail. I think this is going to be a bit difficult. But tell me, do you have any pictures of your wife?"
"Why yes, of course", said Mr Chubbytail as he produced some photographs from another of his pockets.
"Ah, I meant photos of her not wearing the, ah skin, whatever you call it".
"Mr Devlin, what do you take me for?" replied the Panda, with a hurt expression. "I am not the kind of person who is interested in taking obscene photographs of his loved ones. That kind of sordid smuttiness disgusts me". He shuddered.
"Fair enough", said Devlin. "I thought maybe she could have some photos from before she had become a Panda, or… whatever. This is not giving me much to go on. Does she have a mobile phone?"
The Panda wrote down a number on a piece of paper and handed it to Devlin. "I have tried telephoning her, but the phone seems to be switched off".
"Well I don't know, Mr Chubbytail, this all does not give me much to go on. I will see what I can find and come back to you in a week. If the trail is cold, I won't take your money any further, but if the leads are going somewhere you can decide how you want to play it. Speaking of money, there is the small matter of my remuneration…"
That led to a brief discussion of payment rates and expenses, after which a short document was signed. Devlin then walked the Panda back to the lift, promising to do his best to find his wife.
"I have complete faith in you, Mr Devlin. You cannot fail. I must speak to my wife again. Deep down inside I know one thing – that Miss Cuddlebuns misses her Chubbytail".
"I'm sure she does", replied Devlin waving his client into the lift. Strolling back into the reception area he came across Jane reading some celebrity scandal sheet. "It takes all sorts, eh Jane?" he said by way of a conversational opener.
"Yeah? Oh you mean the panda? Yeah, I suppose it does".
Devlin went left her to her reading and went back into his office. How the hell was he going to get anywhere with this case? While helping himself to another whisky, he checked his mobile for messages. Someone he didn't know had texted him.
"SCREW U ASSHOL U TINK U R BIG MAN HOW BIG U B WHEN I CUT UR DICK OF N FEED 2 UR DOG?"
"Charming", thought Devlin. Then he remembered that he didn't have a dog. What was this all about? Probably one of the lads playing some kind of prank.
"FUKC YOPU CNUTY UR GAY" he texted back. That made him feel better. Then he decided he had been in work for long enough and headed out to the pub.
If anyone wants to read the rest of this unedited first draft, they should send me an e-mail and I will mail you a PDF. My e-mail address is over to the right.