Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

The Mallard

The Berenstain Bears, a book series matched to its authors’ names, is by no means unique. Stan and Jan Berenstain, meet Robert Quackenbush. Quackenbush is the author of the Miss Mallard series of detective stories. This story is dedicated to him:

It’s dinner time at Cafe Raj. A bird lands on one of the tables: perhaps the last table it will ever be on, unless, of course, there are leftovers. The diners continue their conversation, paying no attention to the bird hiding underneath that layer of ginger tomato sauce, spying shamelessly. One of them mentions an encounter with a creepy guy. This prompts another to make a confession, and the table fills with laughter. The bird tries to continue its surveillance, but the game is up. It’s been discovered. An hour later, its remains are found in a plastic container.

The trio of M, S, and K leave the restaurant, bird in hand. M has mentioned that she’s discovered the perfect study place: open late, free Internet, good lighting, and it smells like a bubble bath. They’re not going to study, but they decide to check it out. As they enter, the smell overpowers them. Amaretti? No, soap. No, Amaretti. M smells the soap. K wants to buy an Amaretti, but the Cafe is not willing to part with day-old cookies. Instead, there is a station to sample Frog Fuel, and S takes a cup. K decides to order the Frog Fuel ice cream, specially made for the Cafe by Ici. K detects a hint of chicory in the Frog Fuel and the trio continue their conversation at one of the tables. The table generates a surplus of laughter, tampering with the Zone of Perfect Studying. They leave.

It’s time to go home, but they’re still pumped and excited. M and K decide to head over to The Mallard, a block north of Cafe Saint-Honore. They enter, but there is something mysterious about the place. They suspect Miss Mallard might already be on the case, but there are no ducks to be seen. The inhabitants are either busy playing pool or staring contemptuously off into space. An eyewitness report might be difficult to extract, and they don’t even know what questions to ask.

M and K look around the room, and the walls, lined with logs, give the impression of a cabin in the wilderness. They sit down by a table elevated less than two feet off the ground. As they tower over it, one of the inhabitants comments that they might be giants. How musically comical! A giant-sized table opens up, and the two move. It’s at this point that M directs K to one of the chandeliers. Wait a second… is the chandelier made out of antlers? Then they take a closer look at the walls. Trophies! Not the golden ones with plaques on the bottom, but heads mounted on boards. One of the deer trophies shares the same blank stare as the inhabitants. M and K ponder the mystery a bit more carefully. Aren’t mallards hunted? A look of horror covers their faces. They walk up to the bar. There is some mallard-related paraphernalia; they try to ignore it.

The bartender casts her steely eyes on M. “What will you have, baby?” she asks.

M places her order and looks at K. “Did she just call me ‘baby’?” 

M and K go back to their table, and continue their night of conversation, the laughter colliding with pool balls and mixing with 80’s music. A song drowns out their voices, and they take it as a cue to leave. Their laughter crescendos upon exiting, and as they make their way back to Solano, the neon light flashing “Club Mallard” looks at them, wondering if they will ever return.


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  1. Pingback: 2009: The Album « Dirty Hands

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