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The main bar at the Workers Club is strictly traditional. Grey, splintered wooden floors, wooden tables dotted with hundreds of burn scars, nicotine-brown ceiling. It used to be said that on a clear day you could see as far as the poker machines. These days, you can see right to the walls, decorated with large NO SMOKING signs in thirty nine languages, including a graphic of a volcano with a red line through it.
Des, in a tailored cream tropical suit, was sipping at an orange and green confection in a tall glass. Robbie, in a loud T-shirt decorated with palm trees, a bubbling cauldron (with immersed missionary) and the logo CANNIBAL TOURS, was sucking at a beer. Kathy, in her Save Every Whale T-shirt, and Emma, in executive casual, sipped reluctantly at glasses of house white vinegar.
"Got ourselves a new business," Robbie said. "Got the idea from Kathy here." He gestured at his T-shirt with his beer, slopping not a drop.
Kathy withdrew visibly. "That's not what I had in mind. I was making a rhetorical point."
"'Course you meant it. It's a great idea. Can't back off now. You're no choker."
"We are reviving an old tradition," Des said. "Bringing back a key element of Pacific Island life."
"Got a great island," Robbie said. "Great reef. Lots of sand, Big lagoon for the cruise ships. Get a big one in, and we'll treble the population overnight."
"Initially," Des said, "we're aiming at the Adventure Cruise market ..."
"People with cast iron stomachs who thrive in wallowing rust-buckets," Robbie said. "Come home and tell horror stories about mistaking a giant cockroach for the ship's cat."
"We offer interesting, out of the way, locale and a unique culinary experience," Des said.
"Sort of eco-gourmet." Robbie pushed a book across the table. The cover picture matched his T-shirt, but the words now said MANU'S CANNIBAL COOKBOOK — 101 Ways to Cook Long Pig. "That's our bible," he said.
He flicked it open to a picture of an earth oven, filled with hot stones. "That's how we usually do it. Baked, with sweet potatoes. More committed tours, we do a spit roast."
"Who's Manu?" Emma asked.
"Dunno," Robbie said. "We probably invented him."
"He's a distinguished chef," Des said. "Got his own TV show. Specialises in primates. His Chimpanzee Caught Napping won an award."
"Is it real long pig?" Emma asked in a chilling voice. "Where does it come from?"
"Left-overs," Robbie said, with undiminished enthusiasm. "From the men in white coats."
"There is an established research program," Des said. "Institute of Gastronomic Studies. It is an evaluation of the effect of eating whale meat on the human body. The research protocol calls for a random sample of five hundred inhabitants of significant whaling nations each year. Once the data is collected, it would be wasteful just to dump the bodies. This way, it helps fund the program."
Emma looked at Kathy. "So that was how this business started."
Kathy nodded. "Speech to Friends of the Whale. I suggested Japanese tourists. It was a joke."
"Tourists are too hard," Robbie said. "People count them on or off. What they do is harpoon commuters on the Tokyo subway. It's so crowded, nobody notices."
"They've also got a Russian nuclear submarine," Des said. "Cold-war surplus. With crew. Shadows the whaling fleets. Cuddles up to them with an inflatable explosive whale. When they harpoon it and haul it on board, Boom!"
Kathy leaned forwards, momentarily impressed. "I like that," she said. "But not what you're going to say happens afterwards."
"They're not all usable," Des said. "Not if they've swallowed too much oil. But there's enough."
"He who lives by the harpoon dies by the harpoon," Robbie said. "It's only fair."
"How do you get away with it?" Emma asked. "Doesn't the government of this island object?"
"They're down the other end of the island chain," Robbie said. "They couldn't care less."
"They need the money," Des said. "The Japanese welshed on the payments they were making for their vote on the International Whaling Commission. It was this, or agree to a Taiwanese ambassador. We think they found this option more culturally acceptable."
"What sort of people do you get?" Kathy asked.
"Two sorts," Des said. "Most of them are promiscuous gourmets. They've tried everything from maggots to frozen mastodon straight out of the permafrost. This is the last taste sensation. The rest have it in for the human race. They really want to eat their boss, their ex or the infidel, but they're happy to compromise provided it once was human. They're the ones that want to engage in the whole process, and are happier the more recognisable the meat is."
He looked at his watch, finished his drink and gestured to Robbie, who skolled the rest of his beer and stood up.
"Gotta go," Robbie said. "Gotta pick up this week's party from the Bush Tucker restaurant. Been feeding them bush tomato and witchetty grubs. Soften them up a bit."
As they vanished through the door, Kathy leaned back. "Yuk," she said.
"They must be doing okay," Emma said. "That's a new suit that Des is wearing."
"It also explains something that happened to me this morning," Kathy said. "I had this deputation on my front doorstep. A bit scary, until I realised that they were friendly. A toothless tiger, a salt water crocodile and a couple of vultures. Said they'd come to thank me for making eating people respectable again."
Copyright © D.W. Walker, 2007
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