Stephen McQuiggan

Stephen McQuiggan was the original author of the bible; he vowed never to write again after the publishers removed the dinosaurs and the spectacular alien abduction ending from the final edit. His other, lesser known, novels are A Pig’s View Of Heaven and Trip A Dwarf.

WOOPS!

Despite being allergic to them (their fur seemed to burrow its way into his nostrils) and overly sensitive to the foul musk that emanated from their exposed behinds – despite being convinced of their inherent wickedness since being bitten by one as a small boy – and completely undeterred by the fact that he lived in a small third floor flat that could barely contain his own person, Clive Reilly bought himself a dog.

The biggest one he could find – one that would need a lot of walking.

Clive made this purchase with no altruistic motive in mind, with zero intent to foster inter-species harmony, for at heart he still reviled all canines for the slobbering vermin they undoubtedly were.

Clive’s sole reason in acquiring Rudy (named after his father; another vicious, fornicating beast) was based solely on his need to see a murdered body – one preferably mutilated, but a stab victim would do in a pinch – and an in-depth study of news reports statistically proved that most corpses were found (almost exclusively, Clive had come to believe) by early morning dog walkers.

At the pound he had been on the verge of asking if they had any former bomb dogs, adept at sniffing out rotting flesh, but realised that such a request might come back to bite him as surely as any of the mongrels they housed.

He took Rudy down the canal early the first morning, knowing the chances of striking it lucky on his maiden try were slim but feeling hopeful nonetheless. There hadn’t been a murder in the town for years but there had been a few disappearances, and who was to say those missing boys and girls weren’t lying, decapitated and putrefying, in the bushes by the tow-path.

Things got off to a bad start. As soon as he let Rudy off his chain the great brute bounded away and it took Clive the best part of the morning to find him again. The day went further downhill when, stopping by a little red bin to deposit a bag full of Rudy’s humongous dung (Clive had to squeeze and prod it in, and it still protruded over the lid) he met Bobby Steeple for the first time – Clive disliked him the moment he saw his oily grin; despised him the moment he opened his bucket mouth.

‘Woops!’ Steeple said, as Clive gave the dung bag a final slap causing it to split and a deluge of faecal matter to run down its sides, ‘There she blows!’

From that moment on Steeple never stopped talking. His vocal cords seemed as unable to cease vibrating as the man himself was of taking a hint, for no matter how surly and unresponsive Clive became, and no matter how much he inched away, Steeple filled the awkward void with his yammering and sidled ever closer.

To make matters worse Rudy took an immediate shine to the irritant, fawning over him like a pup, making embarrassing mewling noises as Steeple ruffled his fur. He doesn’t gush like that over me, Clive fumed, I can’t even let him off his chain without him bolting –

His thoughts were cut off by a sudden high pitched yelp of a more human variety.

Clive and Steeple turned to see a woman further down the path, standing by the water’s edge and squealing like a banshee. That was when Clive’s day took a turn for the better; that was the moment he first clapped eyes on the fair Amelia.

Steeple was already racing down the bank before Clive could untangle Rudy’s chain. By the time he got there he saw Steeple emerging from the weed choked canal, wearing a grin like a shark fin, holding aloft what seemed to be a bedraggled guinea pig but which turned out, on closer inspection, to be a very wet and very tiny dog.

‘Oh my God,’ Amelia cried, cradling the rat like creature, ‘you saved my Pookie.’ She planted a kiss on Steeple’s slimy forehead: ‘My hero! But your clothes are ruined. You’ll catch your death.’

‘Nonsense,’ Steeple said, wringing a good half pint of brackish sludge from his cuffs. ‘They say Beethoven dipped his head in icy water every time he went to compose – didn’t do him any harm, eh?’

Rudy let out a throaty rumble and Clive could only concur; he had a feeling Steeple was about to debut a symphony of smugness. Yet Rudy wasn’t growling at Bobby Steeple’s inflated ego, but rather at the diminutive Pookie rolling itself dry on the grass as Amelia stared star-struck at her saviour.

 Before he could introduce himself and steal Steeple’s thunder, Clive felt Rudy slip his chain and lunge for the tiny dog. Amelia yelped again, in a most attractive manner, and Clive dove to the rescue, planting the heel of his boot in Rudy’s backside, sending the mutt into the canal so recently vacated by Pookie.

Rudy yelped (not so winningly as Amelia) and clawed his way back up the bank to slink shamefaced behind Bobby Steeple’s dripping legs.

‘What on earth did you do that for?’ Amelia demanded of Clive, her brow all puckered up like he’d just kicked her behind.

‘Woops!’ Steeple butted in, handing Clive Rudy’s chain. ‘Looks like the big fella caught you napping, buddy. Dog that size, you need to maintain a firm grip.’

Clive smiled a thank you, imagining maintaining a firm grip on Steeple’s throat, before flashing Amelia a more sincere version. ‘I was worried he was going to hurt your dear little Pookie. He’s a rescue dog and…Well, I don’t know what he’s capable of. He’s probably been abused.’

Amelia’s face, with the elasticity of a true innocent, sprang back into its natural happy demeanour. ‘I think that’s so noble of you, taking on such a responsibility. You’re both my knights in shining armour.’

Steeple laid a hand on her shoulder, smearing her dress with mulchy duckweed. ‘I must ask you,’ he said, attempting to blush, ‘not to go to the papers about this. I’m not the kind to seek out glory or publicity. I saw a lady in distress and I acted on instinct. Anyone would have done the same.’

‘Of course,’ she nodded; ‘I wouldn’t dream of it.’ Steeple removed his hand, though his crestfallen expression remained. ‘I walk my little darling here every morning. No doubt I’ll be seeing the two of you again.’ With a flick of her immaculate hair she turned, sashaying her way down the tow-path, leaving Clive, Steeple, and a much chastened Rudy to stare silently after her.

From the next morning on, Clive got up earlier than usual and made his way down to the canal. He deduced that Steeple and Amelia came from opposite ends of town, so he waited at the carpark of the local LUKA superstore that led onto the canal in order to get to her before bugbear Bobby. Whilst waiting he would laugh at the notion that he was taking Steeple to church, schooling him in the art of cunning seduction.

The amount of walking Rudy received over the following weeks, coupled with the fact that Clive was loathe to feed him (he felt the hound would be more inclined to sniff out rotting flesh if he were hungry), led to the dog growing ever more rangy and wolfish.

Clive’s burgeoning obsession with the fair Amelia changed his appetites too, though on the plus side it drowned out her more obvious faults – her devotion to her verminous little handbag of a mutt, her inability to see Bobby for the blowhard he undoubtedly was, and the fact that she always seemed to be in a constant hurry for some vague appointment when Clive met her on the path; an appointment quickly forgotten whenever Steeple hoved into view.

Steeple didn’t even have a dog: He just loved his ‘morning constitutional’ which allowed him to ‘commune with Nature’. Amelia declared this to be highly admirable, though how a dank river, choked with beer cans and shopping trolleys, could be deemed to even be on speaking terms with Nature, Clive could never fully ascertain.

Such was his infatuation with Amelia, Clive almost forgot his desire to find a dead body. Rudy now transformed into an excuse to meet her, rather than an instrument to root out death. Sure, Clive still looked up images online, still rehearsed his phone calls to the police and the shocked manner in which he’d tell of his discovery, but now most of his time was spent in thinking up conversational gambits to use on Amelia instead.

Yet Rudy, although undoubtedly an effective excuse, was also a liability.

For a dog that was on a strict diet he was prone to forceful, and copious, bowel movements which were timed, Clive was convinced, for maximum embarrassment –usually when Steeple arrived on the scene, his smile glinting off the gloomy water like a synthetic sun. As Clive spent his last few precious ‘alone’ moments with Amelia before Steeple swaggered into view, Rudy would adopt the position of a ragged, furry question mark and deposit a steaming faecal pyramid (twice the size of the trembling, awestruck Pookie) right by Amelia’s dainty little feet.

‘Woops!’ Steeple would laugh as he sauntered over; a laugh that would wipe away the pinched disgust from her face and cause her to laugh too. By the time Clive had transferred Rudy’s warm gift to romance into a plastic bag Bobby and Amelia would be huddled together, chatting animatedly about subjects far less entertaining than the ones Clive had so fruitlessly regaled her with the whole way there.

It was obvious that Steeple’s basic charms were beginning to have an effect on her. Clive decided that he would need to declare his intentions soon or be forced to concede the field to his rival once and for all. However, Clive had never had what was generally termed ‘luck’ with the ladies and was at a loss on how to proceed.

A quick online search on aggressive pick up techniques left him aghast at the amount of arrogance required – he would have to become a Steeple clone and that would never do. He would win the fair maiden by other tricks and traps. He would show Amelia his true, sensitive heart and she would love him all the more for it. When she compared him to Steeple the difference would be as apparent as that between Pookie and Rudy.

As this idea took hold, his other dormant ambition of finding a corpse emerged again – it was as if his love for Amelia was the generous soil that nurtured it, and as their roots mingled, sprouting up entwined together, a new unified idea came to him. It caused him to laugh out loud with its simple synchronicity.

Surely the answer to both his prayers would be for Rudy to stumble (Woops!) over Steeple’s battered body?

It was all fine and dandy to imagine such things, but to actually carry them out of the realm of daydream and into cold reality was a completely different bag of bananas. Bobby Steeple was too big, too strong to best in a fight, and having Rudy attack him and tear him to pieces was impractical on several levels. The mutt, much like Amelia, seemed to dote on Steeple for one thing, and it would blow his cover story of the dog accidentally sniffing him out for another.

So, in the chill light of the early morning, as he stood waiting for Amelia and her tedious little dog, he tried to come up with alternative solutions, each one more fanciful than the last.

As Rudy scratched around in the undergrowth, preparatory to another bowel Armageddon, he heard Amelia’s tinkling laughter cascading down the tow-path. Yanking his dog roughly by the chain he stepped out to greet her, only to find her already accompanied by a grinning Bobby Steeple. He had been gazumped; his nemesis had met Amelia in town. His anger was further exacerbated by how close they were (had Steeple got his hand on her butt as they strolled?), and by the look of disappointment on her face when she clapped eyes on him and his shitting mutt.

‘Why, look who it is,’ Steeple beamed, ‘it’s only my favourite friend…C’mere Rudy!’

Rudy bounced and gyrated and did his best to strangle himself to reach Steeple, but Clive kept a firm grip on the chain (and his raging nerves).

‘It’s nice to see you too,’ he said, affecting to have misunderstood Steeple’s childish insult. ‘And you too, of course.’ He forced himself to look directly at Amelia; she smiled unconvincingly, but at least she had the good grace to look ashamed. Clive turned his attention back to the smirking clown by her side. ‘I didn’t realise you were from this end of town.’

‘I just went for a stroll,’ Steeple said, ‘and the next thing you know, Woops! I find myself with the angelic Amelia.’ He gave her waist a proprietary squeeze. He may as well have wrapped his fingers around Clive’s heart and dug his nails in.

Clive looked at his watch, remembered a rather pressing prior engagement, and left them, going home to surf the net on various methods of killing a much bigger opponent.

All night he sweated over his dilemma. The pale morning rewarded him with an equally pale compromise. He would declare his undying love for Amelia right to her stupid face and if she had any sense, she would fall into his arms. After a few days he would have Pookie put down by a vet, leaving his new fiancé with no excuse for ever venturing near the canal ever again.

If she turned him down he would act like it was no big deal (perhaps even laugh in her stupid face), walk off whistling until he came across Bobby fucking Steeple and proceed to stab him repeatedly in the back. On the TV reports following his ‘discovery’ of the body, Clive thought he could get a lot of mileage from the line, ‘I knew him y’know, he was a dear friend.’

It might not come to all that, he consoled himself, fishing his dead mother’s wedding ring from the trinket box he kept behind the washing up powder; she might say ‘Yes’ after all.

Nevertheless, it took Clive almost a week to screw up the courage to plight his troth. One bright Friday, he finally found the pluck to return to the canal and face his destiny head on. He even gave Rudy a hearty breakfast for once, no longer worried what effect the dog’s sphincter might have on his future happiness – if Amelia accepted his proposal he’d drag the hound to the pound with a smile on his face, and let it shit its last days gaily in peace.

He waited in the bushes by the carpark, praying that Amelia would be alone. As the rising sun glinted off the shutters of the LUKA store she appeared, clipping along at a brisk pace and almost dragging the preposterous Pookie behind her. Of Bobby Steeple there was no sign.

‘They think I’ve been vanquished,’ he told the indifferent Rudy. ‘She doesn’t need his escort anymore now they think I’ve taken the hint.’ He gave the dog a vicious swat on the behind. ‘They’ve no idea how stubborn I can be.’

He let her pass, smelling the overpowering scent of her mingle with the water’s effluence, before emerging from his post, trailing in her wake like a dirty secret; but a secret badly told, for she stopped as if she sensed him lurking. The expression on her face almost made Clive crush the flimsy little ring box in his fist. He flashed the cheeriest of smiles.

‘I’m glad I caught you,’ he said, ‘I wanted to –’

‘I’m in a dreadful hurry I’m afraid,’ she cut him off, cradling Pookie to her chest like a furry rape alarm.

‘It’ll only take a minute, I assure you. All I ask is that you give me a fair hearing.’

Before she could reply Clive descended on one knee and held aloft the ring box, opened now to reveal its slightly tarnished treasure. From this position the early morning sun haloed behind her head, blurring her disbelieving expression with a soft divinity. ‘Would you do me the honour of –’

His solemn, earnest tone was drowned out by a snort of derisive laughter. He faltered, numbed by her unexpected reaction. She pointed to his side and carried on laughing. Rudy, in a hateful parody of his heartfelt pose, was squatting by his elbow, his teeth bared in a grin as he strained to release his breakfast.

Clive could no longer tell the difference between the dog’s yelps and hers. He dropped the ring, and the chain, and rose to his feet unable to decide who he should strike first – the treacherous dog or the treacherous bitch. He settled on the latter.

She hadn’t had the decency to even hear him out; all those loving words he had sweated over and honed. He raised his fist and strode toward her and her laughter ceased.

Amelia fumbled in her bag, pulled out a little box of her own and, as Clive bore down upon her, unleashed a spray that stung more than any rejection. Blind and screaming, he grabbed hold of her. Through his chemical tears she was nothing more than a blur with a flash of silver in her watercolour hand: A flash of silver that came down and pierced his chest, again and again and again.

Clive fell. There was no pain, in fact the stabbing alleviated the burning of his face, but he was suddenly very cold, and very, very tired. He slipped down into the duckweed as his mind slipped down into darkness, accompanied by the sound of Amelia’s galloping heels, until finally it slipped so far he could no longer follow and the void wrapped a consoling nothingness around him in an eternal embrace.

Bobby Steeple was whistling a medley of chirruping notes as he strolled along the tow-path, when a less melodic overture stopped him in his tracks. A clanking crescendo was fast approaching, so disconcerting in the early morning calm it forced him to remove his hands from his pockets.

From around the bend a dog appeared dragging its heavy chain. It bounded straight at him, its muddy paws striking his chest and almost certainly ruining the fresh shirt (Amelia’s professed favourite) he had ironed so diligently the previous night.

‘Whoa, Rudy!’ Steeple said, grabbing the chain and bringing the rangy beast to heel. ‘Have you fled your awful master again? Can’t say I blame you. I’m afraid I’m gonna have to return you though.’ He gave the dog’s head a scratch. ‘You’d be better off giving him a hefty bite than trying to escape.’

Recommencing his whistling, Steeple set off once more with the dog by his side. He had almost reached the carpark, and almost trodden in Rudy’s most recent calling card when, with a sharp tug on its chain, the dog made a dive into the bushes by the canal.

‘Come on out of there,’ Steeple called, training his eye over the carpark in search of a glimpse of blonde hair. Wet snuffles were his only answer. Cursing mildly, he descended gingerly down the bank to retrieve the heedless hound.

‘Woops!’

His foot jarred on something less malleable than mud. Looking down, he found he was standing on a pair of human legs. As Rudy panted contentedly, Steeple’s eyes travelled the undergrowth, pausing momentarily on a pair of scissors jutting incongruously from a chest, before resting on a familiar, if overly pale, face.

‘Woops, indeed,’ he whispered, hauling himself back up onto the path. ‘Looks like you’ve escaped once and for all,’ he told Rudy as he fumbled for his phone.

He stopped, his finger hovering over the touchscreen – there would be statements to be made, interviews with journalists, maybe even a spot on the TV news. He would need to plan out what he was going to say, to paint himself as the modest, unwilling hero. As he was perfecting his pained, respectful man of the people tone, his foot crunched down on something hard.

‘Woops!’ he exclaimed, stooping down to pluck a diamond ring from the gravel. This really was turning out to be quite the morning – local fame to melt Amelia’s heart, followed by a ring to win it in one fell swoop. And if she turned him down? Well, then she’d end up buried with the others who had rejected him.

Bobby didn’t like to think negatively. Everything would turn out just dandy, the way it usually did. Pocketing the bauble, he practiced his sad voice a few times and then rang the police.

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