|The Best Medicine
by Doug Linger
© Doug Linger -- all rights reserved
I awakened to pain beyond belief.
Searching through the scrambled files that were my mind, I tried to figure out why. I hadn't had that much to drink, only three beers. I'm not a heavy drinker, but I knew I could take more than that!
Last night has been spent at what had become a favorite hangout of mine, the Blind Pig Gin Mill. It's a bar with a great atmosphere and great fellow patrons, whom I had spent the night playing poker with. Well, some of the night. The last thing I remembered clearly was ordering my third bowl of beer.
I remembered a little more, but it was in snatches of memory fuzzier than I. Someone pulling at my fur. Someone picking me up, and probably the same someone dropping me off, here, at my apartment. Lord only knows how they got in, since the door has a voice-activated comination lock (about the only one I can use, without hands).
I got up from my "bed", which still consisted of a pile of blankets. I may never sleep in a bed again, with these claws; at least a cat morph can retract his. The noise of the blankets moving was agony; if you've ever had a hangover while human, trust me, it's nothing compared to a hangover when you have canine senses.
I padded over to the bathroom somewhat unsteadily, my vision blurry. This is really too much for three measly bowls, I thought. I didn't have any anti-hangover medicine in my dispenser, so I took some asprin. As I said, I'm not a big drinker. Hell, the last time I drank was before I got the Flu, when I could afford it. Waiting for the pain to subside, I looked blearily into the mirror. Then I looked again, my pain momentarily forgotten and much more awake than before.
My fur had been messed with, messed being the operative word. In most places it was sticking straight out, and everywhere it had been dyed. Instead of the usual brown and grey, there were ghastly combinations of yellow, blue, red, green, and others. I looked like a graffiti artist's wet dream.
Being a Scab may suck to hell and back, but I had my pride, my dignity. And this wasn't dignified.
I was out the door before I realized it, my hangover now completely forgotten. I rushed downstairs, passing and shocking my new landlord (who luckily was much friendlier to Scabs than my old one), and was out on the street. I knew that the Blind Pig's patrons did this, even if I couldn't remember them actually doing so. Maybe it was subconsious, or maybe somewhere in my head I had deduced that muggers would have done a bit more to me than this. So I started running to the bar.
Coyotes like me can go at a pretty good clip when they set their minds to it. Since I had the mobility of a pedestrian but a velocity around 30 mph or so, I made better time than I would have if I'd taken a bus or cab. When you add in that I was upset enough to largely disregard pedestrian laws as well (jumping on car hoods intead of running around them I'm sure would have been a troublemaker, if anyone had realized I was a Scab and not a dog), I made very good time indeed.
I reached the Blind Pig just as it was opening for the day. I'm not sure if it was coincidence or if Donnie had seen me through a window, but the door opened for me as I barreled through.
"What the hell is going on here?" I exclaimed, and for the first time realized that I hadn't stopped to put on my voder (a difficult task, I might add). Luckily, nobody had removed it when they dropped me off, so Donnie understood me.
Unfortunately that doesn't mean I could understand him, since he disdained a voder in favor of sign language. After a couple of seconds of watching wriggling hands, I turned to Edwina. "Perhaps you could tell me who did this and why."
She sighed as she leaned against the bar. "I'm afraid you're the victim of one of this place's stock-in-trades: practical jokes."
"'Actical...!" I sputtered. "Who's idea was this?"
Edwina looked at Donnie, who shrugged and did a few signs. Edwina shrugged back. "No, I guess not." Then to me, "It was Wanderer's idea. He and the Lupine Boys did you up after you passed out. I don't see what the big deal is, though. It's not like it's permanent."
I had been about to go off again, but that stopped whatever I was about to say in my throat. "Not? Permanent?"
Edwina and Donnie rolled their eyes. "You mean you didn't even try to wash it off?"
I shook my head. "No. I just got pissed."
"Oh, brother. Look, you go into the bathroom and wash all that crap off," she ordered, and I silently turned and trod to the restroom.
The Blind Pig's restrooms were and are a bit different from that of a normal business. Discrimination laws have been slow to be made or enforced for Scabs, and few legislators realized that the bathrooms needed work just as much as everything else. But the Blind Pig catered to Scabs, and was run by one. Whereas in the men's room of the average business there would be sinks, toilets, and urinals, the bar also had toilets and fixtures designed for different body shapes, or people without much manual dexterity.
I could use the sinks, due to them being equipped with those sensors that tell when there are hands (or paws) under the faucet. But that would only clean my paws and tail, and I was colored all over. So I headed over to what was unusual even in a Scab-oriented bathroom, and I had initially thought was an excercise in overkill: the industial bathtub. I decided if practical jokes like this one really were the Pig's "stock-in-trade" I might have been mistaken.
I stopped dead in my tracks just before the tub, a stray thought suddenly lighting like a beacon in my head. Fight fire with fire. I thought for a moment. If practical jokes are common around here, then nobody could mind me playing one back. Especially when they consider the circumstances. And I already knew what I was going to pull. But to do so...
I jumped up on the counter by the sinks. The mirror still showed my painted visage. At least I'm not plaid, I thought. I put an orange paw under the faucet, and the water started running. The stuff didn't wash off.
My ire gone for the moment in favor of anticipation, I jumped down from the counter and walked back to the tub. I dumped enough liquid soap into the tub to make a small puddle, and carefully stepped in it with all four paws. The undersides weren't painted, and nobody would see them much anyway. I turned on the water, rinsed the area out, but not my feet. A good prank is like a good murder: it has to be planned carefully. To someone with a good nose -- like, say, werewolves -- I now smelled like I had tried to wash all that crap off.
Edwina was in back helping Donnie with something, but she must have heard the door as I left the bathroom. "You done already? That was..." Her voice trailed off as she came out to the main room and saw me. "Oh, no. It was permanent?"
I briefly considered telling her yes, but quickly discarded that idea. The way I had barged in here, I owed them enough to let them in on it. A little anyway. "No. But pretend it is, especially around Wanderer." Her expression quickly changed from concern to thoughtfulness.
I took a seat at the Lupine Boys' table and waited. It was early still, but even so I didn't have to wait long before the first customer (besides me) came in. Jack headed straight for the piano while Edwina poured a gin without being asked. "Hey Ed! What song do you want to hear?" he called out.
"How about 'It's Not Easy Being Green'," she replied, nodding in my direction as she handed him the glass.
He looked over and did an honest-to-God double take. "Woah there! Why don't you wash that off before you make someone go blind, Doug!"
I looked at him calmly. "I would, but..." I said, allowing him to draw the obvious conlusion. I could practically read his mind: Uh oh. In my mind I grinned. He turned back to the piano without another word and dutifully began tinkling the ivories with the requested song.
The afternoon wore on, and other patrons came and went. Many weren't regulars, and they tried to ignore me. Scabs who go for the punk look have a reputation of having an even worse attitude than norm punks. The regulars were a bit more understanding, and tried to engage me in conversation. I acquiesced, simply ignoring questions about my fur.
It wasn't until almost dinnertime that Wanderer entered. "Hello, my people!" he announced as he strode in the door with another of the Lupine Boys. "Jack, my good friend, why don't you play gadzooks, Douglas!" he interrupted himself with a start when he glanced my way.
"'Fraid I don't know that one, Wand. Mind if I ad-lib?" Wanderer didn't answer and just walked over to the table, adjusting his cape absently. Jack chuckled and began to plink out some tune on the piano.
"So, ah, Doug. New look?" he asked as they sat.
"Oh, come on, Wand," I said. "You knew I'd look like this today."
"However do you mean?" Both wolf morphs tried to looked shocked and innocent.
I smiled, amused. Then I made my face become more serious. "Come off it. I know you guys did it." Wanderer's companion began looking around the bar, as if someone would be wearing a sign saying, "Yes! I told him!" Wanderer himself took a more direct approach. "Who told you?"
"I'll let you detectives figure that one out."
Wanderer's companion -- Lupe, I suddenly remembered him calling himself -- stopped looking and turned to me. "Ah, you don't mind, do you?" he asked through his voder.
"I didn't mind at first," I started casually. I was interupted by a furious bout of coughing from Edwina, who was behind the bar getting drinks for patrons. I spared her a glance and continued, "But then I found it was permanent." I had tried to make my voice sound upset, but my mood had changed enough that is sounded merely stern.
"Permanent?" The two looked at each other in shock, genuine this time. A few nearby heads also turned at the outburst.
"That was stage makeup. It should wash out with soap and water."
"Well, someone pulled a switch, I guess. It didn't wash out when I tried."
Wanderer peered at me for a second or two. "Are you sure you tried?"
I blinked, thrown off script. "Huh?"
He waved his hand in my direction. "Your fur is still spiky." He reached across the table and pulled on a spike on my neck. "My, my, this still has hair spray in it. Is our wily Wile E. trying to pull one over on us?"
Oops. A good prank is also like a good murder in that one mistake and you're screwed. My mind raced for a few moments as I grabbed the first excuse I could think of. "I tried to wash it out in a sink first," I said, putting a paw on the table. The fur on the leg was short enough that nobody had bothered to put any spray on it; its lack of absence wouldn't be noted. "When the color didn't wash out there I didn't bother trying over the rest of my body."
Wanderer nodded, apparently buying it. "Well, my friend, I'll take a look into this. I hereby pledge that until I find the culprit I shall not rest!" Then he grinned. "You may find me doing a damn fine imitation occasionally, though."
The night wore on. People continued to express sympathy for my predicament, those that hadn't earlier, that is. Many told tales of being the butt of similar jokes. I was also told tales of not-so-similar jokes, several of which made this seem tame.
Wanderer pulled every Lupine Boy aside as they entered. This was what I had been looking forward to all afternoon. I watched with a small smile at all the arm-waving and finger-pointing, absently wondering how long this witch hunt would last.
I got an unexpected bonus to the night's entertainment when Jon entered the bar. Having not even been here last night, he was more surprised than most concerning my appearance, which made things even more amusing. I got an even greater bonus when Jon noted how I'd have to go to work like this (Says who? I thought in his direction; he didn't notice.). He guilted Wanderer into making a second vow: the Lupine Boys would be buying my drinks at the Pig until whoever did this was found, or it came out with the summer molt, whichever came first.
Sunday was much the same as Saturday. Wanderer continued his investigation, which seemed to me to consist of lots of glares at the other Lupine Boys, although he said he was pursuing other avenues as well. They all continued to buy my drinks; this necessitated my sitting at their table, which I didn't mind at all. I saw no indication that anyone knew of the sham, and I was forced to consider revealing it. It was either that or actually show up at work like this.
In the end I didn't tell anyone, and so the next day a brightly colored coyote was working on an article about a breakthrough in quantum computers when my boss stopped by. "So the rumors are true," she said, smiling a little.
"I think that depends on which rumors," I said after a few seconds. I had accidentally had my voder print it on the screen, which resulted in a slight delay as I removed it from the middle of the article and gave the command for Speech Mode.
"This one says you have a new hairdo."
"Then you're right, in that it's right. I might add that it wasn't by choice."
Her smile grew. "Aah. I see you visit the Blind Pig."
I blinked. "You've been there?" I'd never seen her there, but...
She shook her head no. "But when you know as many Scabs as myself, you hear of the place. So I know its reputation, and I've probably heard all the stories."
"Then you know about the pranks."
"Oh, my, yes. Jon gets a kick about telling me the good ones. Which this qualified for." My boss looked me over for a few moments. "I must say you're taking this well. I was under the impression that you'd be a lot angrier about this."
I gave a loud bark which was my new laugh. "You should have seen me when I first looked in a mirror. I think the only reason Wanderer's still alive is he wasn't at the Pig when I came in. I've had a few days to get used to this, though. The free drinks are a nice compensation, too." I didn't tell her the third reason I was taking this well.
"Well, I'm glad you didn't commit murder. It would be bad publicity for the paper, you know. And speaking of which, how's that article coming?" And with that the conversation devolved into work-related subjects.
I went to the Blind Pig Monday evening, as I usually do. I was greeted with the customary "Hi, Wile E.!" from various regulars, and I gave them the customary glare. I wasn't really feeling much like it, though, and I had to put some effort into it to make it even a little plausible.
I padded over to the Lupine Boys' table and took a seat. Colleen brought over a bowl of coke, and soon they were joking around and making passes at Rydia. The atmosphere was suffuciently light that I even joined in at one point.
"So, Wand, what's the new play you're working with called, anyway?" It was a few hours and a few more drinks into the evening. Passes at Rydia had stopped abruptly when she demonstrated how to cut an orange without knives, emphatically staring at our table all the while. And now the conversation had turned to work.
"I think it's time for me to use the water bucket," was his reply.
"That is an awful title," I mentioned to the wolfmen still sitting.
"Ah, he's probably keeping it secret for some reason," one of them replied.
"Yeah." I looked over my shoulder to see the restroom door close, then turned back to my drink. "Probably working on that re-release of 'Cats', eh?"
A minute or three later I was soaking wet.
It came utterly without warning from behind. The water wasn't cold, closer to lukewarm, but it startled me enough that I gave a yell. This stopped pretty much everything in the bar for a few moments.
I turned to see Wanderer standing with a mostly-empty bucket of soapy water in his hands and a grin on his snout. "Sorry about that, Doug. You just seemed sooo thirsty, that I thought, 'Why not give him one big drink instead of buying all those little bowls?'"
"My mouth is not on my back, Wand!"
"Unfortunately," he continued without responding, "the only container large enough was this bucket of water. So I was rather forced to use it."
This explanation was so ridiculous I enjoyed it. It was just another standard-issue practical joke.
Wanderer's expression changed to mock-distress. "Oh dear, I seem to have ruined your lovely colors!"
Startled, I looked at my body. My fur was wet and matted, which I had expected; what I had not was for the colors which I had worn for the last three days to be running like ink on a wet paper towel. "What...?"
"I guess there was some soap in there. Oops." Wanderer didn't sound repentant.
It took a second for the implication to hit, and when it did I had the first canine belly-laugh of my life. "A round on me!" I had my voder shout once I was able, which was greeted by cheers.
"So you finally decided to spend money here, did you?" Wanderer asked as he sat.
"So how'd you figure it out?" I asked him.
"Oh, little things, mostly. The touch of paranoia that this place breeds helped. And of course your calling it a `witch hunt' out loud yesterday was a big clue."
"I did say that, didn't I? Oh well. Guess that'll teach you guys to let sleeping dogs lie." Everyone growled at the pun.
"Yeah, it can get expensive," Wolfshead commented.
"You realize now we have to call you wily," Wanderer noted. This time I groaned. "In the meantime why don't you go in back and wash the rest of that off. It looks terrible and smells worse."
"True enough," I said, and headed for the restroom. I was almost there when I suddenly heard a loud, low, clear voice.
"Ladies and gentlemen and assorted others," Wanderer announced, "I would like to present to you...Wiley! Sure he's not lupine, but we decided to overlook that most grievous of faults. To that end, he is now an honorary member of the Lupine Boys!" The room burst into applause.
I rolled my eyes. I doubted I'd ever be called by my name in here again, even by non-regulars. Oh well. I can live with it.
"Speech!" someone shouted.
"Aah... thanks? And, well, you're gonna have to watch out now, as I try to live up to my name." More applause followed.
As I entered the bathroom to clean off I saw Donnie striding towards the Lupine Boys' table with a mop and stern looks at its most prominent wolf morph.
I laughed quietly to myself. It felt good to be part of a group again. A pack, one might say. It had been too long since I'd had fun. It had taken this to make me remember that a sense of humor can get a person through anything.
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