Lola Takes a Walk

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A vaudeville performer is reunited with his ex-partner, permanently.

Submitted: July 12, 2012

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Submitted: July 12, 2012

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It had been five years since he’d sold her to the zoo, and Dieter had only been to visit Lola twice. The first time, yesterday, she hadn’t been on display, so this was really the first time he’d seen her since. She’d grown a lot in five years.

He felt a small and wheedling twinge of something, possibly guilt, on seeing his former partner coiled listlessly on the cool cement. Her immense delta shaped head rested on the lacquered root of a manmade fig-tree-type-thing. Her eyes glinted in the heat lamps.

The proud brass plaque spoke of dwindling numbers and deforestation and showed a tiny map with a tinier ‘Natural Range’ highlighted in red. In large letters at the top of the plaque it read, ‘Lola’, and in smaller letters beneath, ‘Kindly Donated by Mr. Dieter Probst, Esq’. The ‘Esq’ was a marketing device. The ‘Donated by’ was an outright lie.

The club where Dieter had last performed with Lola had been raided because the manager lacked the proper license, or had been using undocumented labor, or some such claptrap. Of course, the knuckle-headed cops took one look at Lola and called in Animal Control. Then, the damned Animal Control people got on their high horses about how he should have had a permit for a snake like that. In his defence, Dieter claimed ignorance of any such regulation. He then went on to point out that two-hundred bucks was well beyond his means, even if he had heard of it, which he definitely hadn’t.

Then, accusations flew about and one of the Animal Control Wardens ended up sitting on Dieter while the other two bundled Lola into a big dog carrier and whisked her away.

After heated negotiations, the zoo’s committee of keepers and curators had offered Dieter less than one-tenth the market-rate for a healthy Reticulated Python. This figure was, coincidentally, nearly an exact match with the sum of his fine and the cost of an engraved brass plaque, which the negotiations stipulated he must contribute as a donor. He’d been robbed, or so he continued to tell himself.

However, all that had been a long time ago, and lately Dieter had come to think that going solo had been a mistake. The truth was that without some kind of animal, he didn’t have much of an act. Besides, the restraining order had expired last week, meaning that he could go to the zoo without being arrested.

He’d tried in the past five years to build an act around animals that didn’t require expensive handling permits. He’d got a couple of dogs from the pound and had trained them up in no time. The only problem was that they didn’t look showbiz enough. He’d put a lot of time and effort into rectifying the issue, but a shaved Border Collie cross and twenty yards of pink cotton wool do not a poodle make. He’d had to bill himself as ‘Dieter and the Dog People’ to get any interest at all. Pitiful.

The upshot had been that he’d managed to make enough cash from the doe-eyed tourists down on the boardwalk to actually buy a Standard Poodle from a pet store. Of course the thing didn’t last the week, and when he’d demanded a refund over the corpse, the goon behind the counter had called mall security on him.

He hadn’t been about to let that go unanswered. He’d gone back that night and caused a diversion by setting a bunch of dumpsters on fire at one end of the shopping center. Then, while security were busy scratching their heads, he’d cut the lock on the back door of the pet store and gone straight for the keenest looking dog in the place. Unfortunately, the dog was so keen that as soon as Dieter had its cage open it took off out the open door and he never saw it again. After that he’d become despondent.

A couple of months of unemployment later, Safari Bob’s Jumbo Circus rolled into town. Dieter managed to ‘rescue’ two ageing Colobus monkeys. They had all got on like a house on fire until Dieter came down with Dengue fever from some infected flea bites. When the fever finally broke and he regained consciousness, he found every light in the apartment on, the refrigerator empty and the TV smashed. The monkeys were conspicuous by their absence. They'd also managed to defecate in every available receptacle except the toilet.

After that, he’d had to resort to training stray cats. All he got for his trouble was one mangled tom who did nothing but cough up fur-balls and strange detritus like keys and human teeth, and an enthusiastic Persian that did that hind-legs-spread-butt-dragging-across-carpet-thing on cue. Watching that for an hour or so decided him on renewing his pickpocket skills.

Lola had put Dieter in clover for the only time in his life. Everything had been easy with her. With a snake there was never much training. Dogs and monkeys needed commands to get them on their marks and get people going. Snakes, though. Snakes got people going just by being snakes. Sure, every once in a while they needed a good smack to wake them up, but that was okay. Nobody seemed to mind if you smacked a snake. Raise your hand to something furry and your audience was gone before you heard a whimper.

Anyway, Lola was glad to see him. Dieter was sure of it. It had been a long time and he hadn’t really hoped that she might recognise him (he’d lost weight since she’d been taken), but she did, after he’d tapped on the glass with his keys. He stood marvelling at how she’d grown since her incarceration.

She raised her head to a level with his and slid forward until all that separated them was four inches of air and two of plexi-glass. Dieter looked straight into her eyes. He went misty thinking about the money those iridescent marbles could bring in.

"Magnificent," he said to her. "They’ve certainly been looking after you well enough. All that cement must get depressing, but I’d love to know what they’ve been feeding you."

Lola flicked her tongue about, trying to confirm Dieter’s scent. She raised her head to the vent above the glass and scented some more. She seemed to eye him with apprehension.

"You’ll need a bit of training, my lovely. And discipline. Definitely discipline." Dieter was shoved roughly aside by a gaggle of sticky-palmed fat children in stained T-shirts. Lola retreated to the relative seclusion of fake fig roots.

Dieter left the reptile house in high spirits, making a leisurely circuit around the rest of the zoo. The heat was oppressive and it ripened the already high smell of the dung of thirty different species. As he walked, he began to sweat. He paid particular attention to low spots or weaknesses in the perimeter fence, where wheelbarrows and little electric golfcarts were corralled, and how sturdy the locks on the back doors were. Then he walked home to dig out his little black book and call in a favor or two. By now the sweat was making wet sounds through his socks.

He got to the zoo the next morning, five minutes after it opened. He parked the van he’d borrowed near what he thought was the easiest way over the wall.

He’d got the van from some magician guy he’d met at some Shriners’ stein-hoist or other. The magician had been reluctant to loan out his main means of advertising, and sole means of transport, until Dieter had reminded him of what had transpired behind the hat-check counter at said stein-hoist. Dieter had gone on to remind him that that beautiful and momentous coupling had involved the magician and the wife of a very powerful and largely built Shriner and local politician. This event had been captured on film by the ever-industrious Mr. Probst. All this taken as it was, the loan of a battered and ill-kept Ford Econoline for a single day was a small price to pay to prevent copies of Dieter’s magnum opus from landing on desks at various local newspapers. The magician was forced to agree.

Dieter went straight to the reptile house. He was still in a good mood, optimism being a rare thing for him; unheard of for longer than twelve consecutive hours. He even whistled, off-key, as he turned the little zigzagging corners. He passed gekkos, and monitors, and toads, and turtles, and countless other small and insignificant and uninteresting snakes. Snakes you could step on and squash, or worse, snakes that weren’t remotely dangerous. Very unshowbusiness animals. He turned the corner to Lola’s enclosure and stopped abruptly, his whistle fading like a punctured tyre.

Lola’s enclosure was closed. That is to say, it was not currently exhibiting. Thick pale green roller blinds had been pulled down and in the centre of her main window hung an absurd little sign with a cartoon zookeeper and a cartoon alligator on a leash. Above the smiling pie-eyed duo was the jolly message, ‘Gone for Walkies! Back Soon!’

Dieter stood with his mouth open for several minutes, not knowing at all what to do, or to whom to do it. Before long, enough gaps emerged in his wall of confusion to allow him to press his face against the glass in the corners of the windows in an effort to peer around the blinds. All he could see was cement. He knew that snakes, granted smaller ones than Lola, had an unsettling ability to get through minute cracks. But Lola was huge, so why couldn’t he see her through this crack? The only answer was that she wasn’t in her enclosure. But, if that were true, where the hell was she?

He stood back again and reread the sign. Snakes didn’t go for walkies. Did they? He’d certainly never taken Lola for walkies.

He decided to find a keeper and introduce himself as the donor of the zoo’s prize reptile in hopes that maybe light could be shed on this walkies business and he could confirm that she was still back there somewhere awaiting liberation. He could find no one. He noticed for the first time that he was alone in the reptile house. This realisation triggered a hectic flood of claustrophobic memories: strange tickling crawling things scuttled over his face in the darkness of a closed closet, outside, his big-boned older sister sat on the chair that barred the door, ignoring his pitiful pleas.

Dieter gasped for breath and looked around frantically at the shining eyes and flicking, licking tongues. He ran for the door and took several lungs-full of fresh outside air.

Once he’d composed himself and started hunting around for someone in green, his panic dried up and was blown away by a hot arid wind of anger. There was no one about. When he did finally spot a zooworker, the idiot disappeared into the bushes before Dieter could get to him. All of this aside, he was still seeing dollar signs, so he dove through the rhododendrons in pursuit.

The keeper was poking around under the thick foliage with a very long stick and his expression and posture gave Dieter the idea that he wanted very much to find nothing at all.

"Hey!" Dieter said rather loudly. The keeper jumped straight up in the air about four feet. He landed in a strange pose that was half defensive, half checking his pants.

"What the hell are you doing?" Dieter asked, still angry but inwardly laughing.

"Buh, buh, buh…," the keeper stuttered, looking sheepish.

"Well?" Dieter pressed. It had been a long time since he’d had the upper hand in any situation whatsoever, and he was keen to milk it. The keeper took a deep breath and counted to ten.

"A camera," he said at last.

"Huh?"

"Somebody lost a camera. I’m looking for it."

"Oh." Dieter was somewhat deflated by the slight stature of this explanation. He jerked a thumb back over his shoulder at the reptile house. "Where’s the big snake?"

The keeper became instantly suspicious and looked sideways at Dieter. "What do you know about the big snake?"

"Just what the stupid sign says. ‘Gone for walkies’."

"Ah," the keeper said, relaxing a bit. "Good."

"What kind of bullshit is that?"

"Beg pardon?"

"You heard me. You people are pulling a fast one. Snakes don’t go for walkies."

"Oh. Well, that’s just a-"

"I paid my entrance fee. I wanna see the big snake."

"Yes, I’m sure, but-"

"So, where is it?"

"I’m sure I don’t know."

"Why not?"

"I work in small mammals."

"You do what?"

"I work in the small mammal house. You know, mice, rats, bats, that sort of thing."

"I don’t give a fig about that."

"Don’t you?"

"No. I’ve already told you, I want to see the big snake. Where is she?"

"I’m very sorry, but I don’t know." The keeper looked around at the bushes, distinctly nervous.

"Well, who will know? I came specifically."

"Information kiosk? Possibly? Near the main entrance."

"Right." Dieter turned and left the keeper alone in the bushes, mumbling. "Why didn’t he say that in the first place?"

The keeper looked beseechingly at Dieter’s back and began to whimper.

At the information kiosk, Dieter had to rap on the window for a full minute before he was attended to. Then he had to stoop and speak through a tiny hole in the plexi-glass. The woman behind the counter appeared distracted and kept glancing into the corners of her little room. Dieter repeated his query.

"Lola is resting backstage," Information Lady began, looking not at Dieter, but down at the counter. "Like all of our animals, she enjoys periods of exercise and relaxation away from public view. This is one of those times."

Dieter saw right through this. "That sounds like a prepared statement to me."

Information Lady held up the piece of paper she’d been reading from. It was headed, ‘Prepared Statement’. Somehow, this official snubbery incensed Dieter further. He leaned down to the little hole and raised his voice.

"I paid my entrance fee and I want to see that snake. I came specifically."

Information Lady made small jerking movements with her left hand while maintaining eye contact with Dieter.

"Don’t you people know anything about customer service? I demand my rights as a consumer. I demand to see your supervisor. I demand a ref-"

A beefy hand landed on Dieter’s stooped shoulder and he jumped straight up in the air about four feet. The security guard seemed amused by this. The man’s sudden appearance took the wind right out of Dieter’s sails. He went all furtive and studied his shoes. He knew he had a tendency in certain situations to get carried away, but it usually had to do with something on TV and therefore didn’t actually threaten him physically. On measure, he decided he preferred it that way.

"What’s the trouble?" the guard asked in an impossibly deep voice.

"N-nothing."

"Well, what’s all the shouting about?"

"S-sorry. I… uh… lost my camera."

"Yeah. There’s a lot of that around here. Say, don’t I know you?"

"No! I mean, uh… no. Sorry to be a fuss. Must dash." Dieter fled through the adjacent entrance, leaving the security guard and Information Lady to exchange curious glances.

Once outside, he decided to play it cool. He would go home and get some rest, then, tomorrow he could go to The Galleria and lift a wallet or two, just enough to see him through the next couple of weeks. After that, he could come back and re-assess the situation, put his plan into action.

Lost in thought, he forgot all about the borrowed van and started home on foot. He stopped for a hotdog and ate it in front of a couple of mimes, one short, one tall, who were engaged in an elaborate, but as far as Dieter could tell, meaningless performance. The taller mime eyed Dieter’s hotdog with serious envy. Dieter made a show of its mysterious and unexpected delectability.

He looked at the scant coppers in the mimes’ upturned hat and shook his head. Some people never learn; an act like that didn’t stand a chance. No animals. Christ, not even any dialogue. He shook his head again and added a few crisp ‘tut’s for emphasis.

"Well, gents, see you in the funny papers." He dropped his spent hotdog wrapper next to the hat and left the mimes to their pathetic selves. They paused in their routine long enough for the short one to plead non-verbally and point to their meagre takings and for the tall one to give Dieter the finger.

The hotdog and the growing heat of the day soon conspired to ignite a mighty thirst in Dieter and he thought longingly of the last beer in the refrigerator in his dingey apartment. It would be ice cold and crisp and refreshing and it called to him through the heat haze now rising from the asphalt.

Previous dreams of financial security and snakeskin boots were overshadowed by a growing need for something cold to drink and the possibility of a good beer buzz. By the time he got to his apartment building he was almost running, his thin legs doing that hippy fast walking thing: sort of jogging but keeping one foot in contact with the pavement. He swung his arms, bent at the elbows. A fine sweat stood out on his forehead. His underarms and back grew damp. He took the stairs to his fourth floor apartment two at a time and had his keys in his hand before he reached the door.

Once inside, he was glad he’d left a couple of windows open. Nothing by the fire escape of course, this was Big City after all, but one in the front, overlooking the street and the little one in the bathroom. No one could break in through either of them; the ledge outside wasn’t even six inches wide. The cross-ventilation created a breeze and Dieter felt the benefit of his sweat stains almost immediately.

He dropped his keys onto the rickety table and went straight to the kitchen.

The smoke-yellowed and grease-pocked Frigidaire concealed a few slices of bologna, a squirt-bottle of cheap mustard and a single beer.

Dieter took the beer and stood with the refrigerator door open, basking in its radiant coolness. He closed his eyes and rolled the cold brown bottle back and forth across his face, thoughts of glaciers and polar expeditions large in his mind. Then he twisted the cap with the aid of his un-tucked shirt and put the bottleneck to his lips.

He got two indulgent swallows before he registered the arrangement of coils on top of the refrigerator. They stacked nearly to the ceiling.

Dieter blinked several times and shook his head, as if to clear the dust out of it. He looked at his beer in amazement.

Two more swallows and she was still there; piles of patterned scaly skin lapping over the edges of major appliances and adjacent countertop.

Dieter looked closely. Lola raised her head and looked back.

"That’s my baby," he said, breaking into a wide grin. All of his troubles were over.

Then she dropped on him.

Faster than he could say, "Bu-", Dieter was encased in reptilian reticulation. The beer bottle clattered to the faded and filthy linoleum and hissed out its wasted froth. Dieter spied this from the corner of his vision and uttered a small remorseful whine.

Lola tightened her grip steadily and the two of them stood, looking like a stack of used tyres with two heads, supported more by a sound base of coiled muscle than by any strength in Dieter’s legs.

There were two or three muffled snaps as Dieter’s ribs began to give under the increasing pressure.

He looked up into the golden eyes floating above him and wondered what would have happened if he had just gone to the pound.

Lola unhinged her double-jointed jaw.

Dieter liked the brilliant shade of pink, but had to concede that he preferred the outside of the snake.

Two days later, the ‘Gone for Walkies’ sign came down, the roller blinds went up, and the zoo staff unclenched collectively. Lola was back on display and seemed none the worse off for her little adventure.

The staff in the reptile house referred to Lola’s absence, among themselves at least, as an adventure because she had returned on her own. They couldn’t deny that their crown jewel was a bit wider around the middle, but not much was said. Her swelling reduced every day until she was back to her old self.

When she eventually passed an assortment of torn and stained clothing and a few bones, the keepers discretely burned the threadbare rags. They arranged the odd bones and bone fragments around the base of the fake fig tree. The general opinion was that they lent atmosphere.


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