Max And The Argentinian Death Penguin, Part 3: The Smell of Danger
Reginald Winterthrop, when he was alive, was a man of rigid dignity and noble adventure – until the unfortunate instance in the Egyptian tomb left him a ghost, doomed to wander the Earth forever. Maxine Cho had found the amulet that could free him from the tomb, and for that he was grateful. But this… was – literally and figuratively – beneath him.
He’d faded in to a cloud of vapor and was hovering at the ceiling of the foulest men’s toilet, in the foulest tavern he’d ever experienced. Why? To keep an eye out. “You’ll know when it happens,” Maxine had said. And so, while they were out front, he hovered over the noxious odors, the noxious language, waiting for… what…?
“Two highballs,” Max said to the bartender as she and Bonkers pulled up to the bar.
“One in a bowl,” Bonkers added. “So what are we doing here?”
“This is where I lost the Giggling Penguin. We need to meet The Dragon, and this his his bar.”
Bonkers’ tail started thumping against the stool. “A dragon!? Oh, boy, and I thought the talking cow was cool! Hot damn! But why did we have to stop at a toy store?”
“Because The Dragon—“
‘BECAUSE THE DRAGON WHAT?” thundered a thickly accented voice from the end at the bar. Max and Bonkers turned. At the end of the bar stood a giant man who must have weighed at least 400 pounds. His head was shaved and, as he smiled, he revealed teeth that closely resembled decorative corn.
Max said, “Hello, Dragon. Long time.”
“LONG TIME,” bellowed The Dragon. “YOU HAVE SOBERED UP AND COME FOR ANOTHER CONTEST, YES?” He laughed.
“Something like that.”
The Dragon nodded to a table in a far corner and walked toward it.
Bonkers scowled. “Aw man, The Dragon is just some big guy with a temper? What a gyp.”
“He’s not called the dragon because of his temper, even though it is legendary,” Max muttered. “He and I go way back, but we are not friends. He doesn’t have friends.”
The bartender said, apparently a little too loudly, “He wasn’t hugged enough as a child.”
The Dragon picked up a chair and hurled it at the bartender, yelling “I TOLD YOU THAT IN CONFIDENCE!!” The bartender ducked the chair adroitly as it crashed into the glasses behind him, and Dragon stomped on toward the corner.
Max continued at a whisper, “He’s called The Dragon because of his breath. And he’s very sensitive about it.”
“Okay,” Bonkers nodded. “Diplomacy. Got it.”
Max picked up the box she’d carried in with her and they went over to Dragon’s corner and joined him. As she sat, Max asked, “You still have the penguin you won from me?”
“THE LITTLE ONE WITH THE STRANGE EYES. PERHAPS, YES. WHY?”
“Holy Jesus God!” Bonkers shouted, his face twisting. “Oh, that—that is awful! That breath is the… the worst thing that’s every happened to my nose! Ugh! Gyug!” Everyone stared at Bonkers in shock. “And I’m a dog, man! This is a dog telling you this! I find the smell of feces fascinating and I’m telling you that’s the single worst—how does a living organism even produce that smell?! Was there a tire fire in your lungs?! Have you seen a doctor? Or a dentist? Probably not a dentist because he’d murder you in his chair. Oh God, that is so horrible! I think my brain is damaged! Yuck! Guck! Eeeeeyyuuugh!!”
There was a terrible silence throughout the bar. Drinks froze in mid-air. Conversations stopped mid-word. Max’s face was a wash of horror and rage. And The Dragon’s face had turned brick red. A vein throbbed in his forehead.
“ I SEE,” he spat.
“Oh God!” Bonkers blurted. “Every time you exhale it’s like being shot in the face with a dead, flaming skunk! What do you eat?! What – seriously, this isn’t rhetorical I’m really asking – what do you eat?! Sun-baked garbage boiled in cabbage water. That’s the best I can come up with. Sun-baked garbage boiled in cabbage water. My God. I mean… I mean, My God.” He looked around. “Um, sorry. You know what? I’m just gonna…“ he nodded at the bar. “I’m just gonna go get another drink. Let you two catch up without me.”
The Dragon slowly stood up. The temperature in the room seemed to rise with him.
“Listen, Dragon,” Max said very carefully. “I brought you something. Can I show you what I brought you?” She reached carefully toward the box she’d set on the table. From inside she pulled a pair of enormous roller skates. “The bartender’s not the only one you’ve opened up to. About an hour in to our contest you told me about your 9th birthday? When you wanted the skates but got a machete instead?”
Dragon hesitated. “YOU BROUGHT ME SKATES?”
“If you wanted to give me back the penguin, I’d sure appreciate it, but you don’t have to.”
Dragon’s eyes flicked toward the bar for just an instant. Max glanced at Bonkers. He’d seen it too. “I ALWAYS WANTED SKATES.”
And it was at this moment that a fairly battered looking Agent Paulson and Agent Little Dog stepped through the door. “Okay, Dragon,” Paulson announced. “The bar is surrounded. Hand over the Penguin right now and this can go easy for you. “
Dragon smiled terrifyingly. “CAN IT, NOW?” He reached under the table and pressed a button.
Inside the Men’s room, Reginald saw a panel in the wall slide open. It was in the furthest toilet stall, the one that appeared to have self-destructed or perhaps committed suicide. From behind it a dozen men armed with clubs and knives began charging. “I would surmise that this is ‘it’,” Reginald said to himself. He flew threw the wall into the bar and regained his human shape. “Beware! Beware!” he moaned dramatically, waving his arms slowly. Reginald didn’t like being a ghost but if he was one, well, he believed in doing things right.
There was an open window to her left. She and Bonkers would have just enough time to jump through it and get out of there before Dragon’s men entered and hell broke loose. From his glance, she was pretty sure the Penguin was behind the bar. But whatever they were going to do, they had to do it now…