by EW Farnsworth

SHERIFF FATTY MILLSTONE and Dr. Sara Pickford braced themselves before they read the morning tabloids. They had expected to read about the sheriff’s and Crenshaw’s rescue of the free-range tentacle that lived in the bend of the creek in the park. Instead, the entire issue was devoted to the protest that was filling every street in every city in the nation with angry protesters against the idea of farming octopuses in the Canary Islands.

‘Sara, the popular sentiment about this horrendous development is overwhelmingly positive. I am reading words like sensitive, intelligent and emotional to describe the octopuses. The key issue seems to be how inhumane the proposed method of killing the creatures is.’

She responded, ‘Well, I would not like to be killed slowly in a bath of below-freezing ice-water. As far as I am concerned, there is no humane way to kill an octopus. Besides, I am against raising any sea creatures in blinding light and close proximity to each other with ten-to-twenty percent lethality.’

‘Fortunately, those in favour of the project are few and far between. Their arguments are all on the commercial side. The prospect of selling one-million organisms each year appeals to capitalist greed. The number is so large that I cannot help thinking we are on the brink of a species-transforming event.’

Sara looked sad. ‘I would have preferred to read about the rescue event in the park. I can understand Crenshaw’s editor’s desire for readership. Picklock Lane is full of people holding signs with slogans. Orators are taking turns climbing on the orange crate to exhort citizens to action.’

‘I am going to push my way through the crowd to get to the Cracked Bell pub. We need to know just how deep the feelings about the tentacle-bearing creatures run. I should like to think the sympathy shown in the newspaper accounts could help our cause.’

‘I may drop by the pub near the end of the day if only to hear the news-hounds’ latest opinions. I know how fast the news trends change in this city. Do you think Sir Douglas Hudibras will be sitting at your table?’

Millstone said, ‘I would not be surprised if the PM decided to make an appearance in the late afternoon. We have an impromptu holiday, and he likes to shake hands and be seen. If the crowd remains peaceful, Lady Lucille might be with him.’

The sheriff bade Sara farewell. She went back to her clinic, and he pressed through the teeming throngs toward the Cracked Bell. Everyone seemed to be talking simultaneously. No one was listening to anyone else. When Millstone passed the orange crate orator in front of the Aquarium, she was haranguing the inhumanity of the farm in the Canaries. She had enough facts and figures to seem an expert in aquaculture. The people surrounding her were like-minded against the farming venture. The sheriff thought she was ‘preaching to the choir.’

Millhouse ducked away from signs painted with slogans into the pub, which was crammed with patrons. He squeezed his way to the back where Mildred Riddick served him a pint of bitters. He took a sip of his drink and took stock of the others sitting around his table. Crenshaw and Straight were visible. The tabloid staffers—cartoonists, cub reporters and designers—were laughing and gesturing at odd figures in the crowd. Even Mrs. Fanfare, Crenshaw’s elderly mother, was present, urging her son to utter words of wisdom ‘while everyone else was daft.’

Millhouse focused on Crenshaw, who had been preparing to speak but thought otherwise when he saw the sheriff’s frown.

‘Crenshaw, I thought you had decided to write about our venture with the tentacle. Did your editor have a change of heart?’

‘Sheriff, my editor not only has a nose for news but a fine sense of what will sell newspapers. He had caught wind of the European protest movement against the Canary Island scheme and followed the path of least resistance.’

The young cartoonist for the Quotidian Scourge asked Crenshaw, ‘What’s “the venture of the tentacle”? This is the first I have heard of it.’

Crenshaw turned toward his tabloid’s cartoonist with a superior smile and said, ‘The sheriff and I teamed up yesterday to save a free-range tentacle, that’s all. If our editor permits me to run my story, you’ll be the first to know. Likely, you’ll be tasked to illustrate the story.’

Sam Straight, Crenshaw’s competitor, jumped into the fray. ‘I smell a scoop! Sheriff, is there any truth in the rumour you and my competitor saved a tentacle in the park yesterday?’

The sheriff could not tell a lie, so he acknowledged the fact with the caveat: ‘The creature did not have a cancerous abscess after all. If you want an expert opinion, just ask Dr. Pickford when she drops by this table later today.’

Crenshaw, whose story was suddenly no longer a scoop, buried his head in his hands. His mother said, ‘No need to be sorrowful. The creature had no cancer. You heard the sheriff. But what were you thinking to fiddle with a lone tentacle?’

Straight went immediately to the point: ‘Why did you bother with a free-range tentacle in the park?’

‘The creature had a growth halfway along its feeler. We took it to Dr. Pickford so she could test the growth for signs of cancer.’

‘Crenshaw, was the examination of the tentacle in any way connected with the proposal in Parliament to include tentacles in the national health plan?’

‘There was no direct, stated connection between our act of kindness and the plan.’

‘Yet you took the tentacle to Dr. Pickford. She examined the growth and made her diagnosis. I would say that is a prima facie case for a connection. Sheriff, what do you say to that?’

‘I say, Mr. Straight, good deeds don’t need association with a political agenda to be valid. Take, for example, the topic of the day: The Canary Island octopus farm.’

‘Pardon me, Sheriff, but you are trying to change the subject. Today’s news about what is happening in the Canaries has absolutely nothing to do with our national debate about including tentacles in our healthcare program.’

‘Perhaps not, but what links the two stories is our human concern for justice in our healthcare administration.’

This pronouncement made everyone go silent for a moment. Greasy Joan and Mildred took the opportunity to refill the pint glasses. Millstone thought the pub had become even more crowded than before. New patrons were closing their umbrellas as it had started raining. The wetness would certainly change the mood from festive to melancholy among the protesters.

One unruly protester, just in from the rain, said, ‘The entire protest is bollocks! What does our nation care if another nation like Spain wants to feed its people with a new initiative?’

For voicing this opinion, the newcomer received a knuckle sandwich, after which everyone started punching everyone else in an old-fashioned raucous, ideological Donnybrook.

The sheriff stood and, in his stentorian voice, announced that any man fighting was going straight to gaol. He illustrated his point by grabbing the troublemaker and frog-marching him to the door. In spite of the rain, Millstone stepped the man to the gaol and put him in an empty cell. Then the sheriff returned to the pub where order had been restored by his admonitory action.

Through the noon hour, the pub’s clientele continued to be docile. They argued in low tones about the relative merits of the ‘octopus initiative’ in the Canaries and the legislation to include all free-range tentacles in the nation’s healthcare coverage. The newshounds, who hoped to find the materials for tomorrow’s headlines, stoked the fire of any controversy that arose.

In the early afternoon, Dr. Sara Pickford entered the pub. She folded her umbrella and made her way through the crowd to sit next to Millstone and across from Straight and Crenshaw and their associates from the tabloids.

‘The rain is coming down so hard now that the protesters have nearly all dispersed. A few die-hards with umbrellas are milling around the orange crate, but no one is speaking. A rumour about the sheriff having thrown a rowdy protester in gaol is keeping the mood sombre.’

‘That was no rumour. I did throw a protester in gaol,’ said the sheriff. ‘But he deserved it, and I will be letting him out at the end of the day with a warning.’

Straight said, ‘I am glad you are here as I have some questions for you.’

Greasy Joan served Dr. Pickford a pint before she could reply. Millstone was about to object but Pickford waved him off. ‘Mr. Straight, I have no objection to your asking questions. If you don’t print exactly what I answer, I have a dozen lawyers at my beck and call. So, with that cautionary note, go right ahead.’

‘Did you treat a tentacle that Sheriff Millstone and Mr. Crenshaw brought from the park to your clinic yesterday?’

‘I did. I examined the creature’s growth and assured it was not cancerous with a biopsy. Since its wound is not malignant, the tentacle will likely live another eighty years. My service was free of charge to the public. As far as I know there are no issues related to my act of kindness.’

Straight nodded and said, ‘I am not imputing there were issues. Do you support the idea that such services should be supported under our national healthcare plan?’

‘I do. But that is a matter to be decided by our Parliament.’

The crowd around the back table now moved forward to hear every word of this remarkable interview.

‘Was it your intention to perform your service to the tentacle as an example for what should be done under the national plan in the future?’

‘No, but I like that idea if you want to print it with my denial included.’

When the laughter had subsided, the intrepid Straight asked, ‘What is your view about the protests that occurred throughout the nation today?’

‘I think the people have a right to voice their opinions in a peaceable manner at any time they choose. The fact that today’s protests were about proposed actions in a foreign land does not affect the people’s rights.’

‘I am sorry to have been overly general in my question. What I meant to ask was, “Do you think octopuses should be farmed for food?”’

‘Speaking as a medical doctor, I do not, at least according to what I have read in the commercial proposal. The conditions under which the octopuses will be grown and the methods for killing them are inhumane.’

‘You use the word “inhumane” as if the octopuses are actually human.’

‘I intended to use the word. Consider how you would feel if you were imprisoned in a cage full of fellow humans and subjected to harsh lighting when you are used to darkness and solitude. As for killing them by slowly freezing them, consider how you would feel about that.’

‘Millions of octopuses are killed and eaten every day.’

‘Let’s be clear, Mr. Straight. Millions of free, naturally grown octopuses are fished and eaten every day—as they have been for centuries. Farming those organisms is quite a different matter. No one has demonstrated a method for farming them without causing considerable distress and, yes, torture at every stage.’

‘What do you think about the jobs that will be lost by denying a company the right to farm octopuses?’

‘Poppycock! What you mean to ask is do I object to depriving the billionaires the right to make additional hundreds of millions by raising octopuses which will soon not resemble their ocean-going relatives because they will be transformed.’

‘What you just suggested has no foundation in science.’

‘What I have just suggested is the only valid scientific hypothesis, yet to be proved.’

‘Thank you for granting me an impromptu interview. If you’ll excuse me, I must depart to make my evening deadline.’

Straight departed forthwith, but Crenshaw remained at the table nursing his pint.

Behind the sheriff, one of the patrons was snickering with another. They were joking about opening a hunting season for free-range tentacles as a commercial food delicacy. The withering look the sheriff gave them over his shoulder shut them up.

Crenshaw said, ‘You treated the tentacle as if it were a human with human sensitivities and feelings.’

‘I certainly hope I did. What is your point, Mr. Crenshaw?’

‘Your integrity with respect to the tentacle and the octopuses is, in my judgment, remarkable. How many of your colleagues have similar views?’

‘All medical octopus specialists believe the creatures are able to feel and understand in very human ways. They are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. Few humans are capable of doing what octopuses can do with no training or experience. It has been postulated that octopuses might be able to endure long space travels at light speed. Humans could never do that.’

‘Thank you for your candour, Doctor. How are things going in your prototype clinic?’

‘I am learning a lot that can be interpolated in the live operational clinic when it comes on line later this year.’

‘And is the clinic fully funded as we approach the grand opening date?’

‘Yes. The nation’s billionaires have paid their fair share towards the alien medicine facility. Construction will be completed on schedule.’

‘And will it service free-range tentacles?’

‘Only if Parliament legislates that it should.’

‘Thank you, Dr. Pickford. Now I must depart to make my deadline. My whole team and my mother will be departing with me. Have a good evening.’

Sara Pickford and Fatty Millstone were left almost alone at his table. The other patrons were bent over their pints.

‘Well, Sheriff,’ she said, ‘I guess the MP will not come after all.’

‘Sir Douglas Hudibras does not like the rain when he shakes hands and kisses babies. He has a busy schedule.’

‘I would have liked to discuss a few things with him, but we have time. I will raise my questions on another occasion. Now I am going to go home and get in a nice hot tub. Will you be coming home soon to join me?’

‘I shall be right behind you. First I must free a rowdy protester from gaol.’

Dr. Pickford threaded her way to the door where she fetched her umbrella from the large porcelain container while the sheriff picked up the offender’s umbrella which lay under his table and headed for the gaol.

EW Farnsworth’s Picklock Lane stories are available now from Amazon

Modify Website

© 2000 - 2024 powered by
Doteasy Web Hosting