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Boatmans cabin strewn with the dismembered bodies of rotting seagulls and the unconscious form of Pat the tug skipper.

Max and the Unfed Cat

Max, the large brown and black woolly dog and his owner Dave, a tall, stick like chap with hair the colour and style of a badly constructed straw sparrows nest, were sitting out on deck in the summer sunshine. It was a Saturday morning and the traffic over the old stone bridge that crossed the slowly winding river was starting to increase.

“Where on earth has Mick got to?” grumbled Dave, looking at his watch. “He said he would be here by nine o’clock and it’s a quarter to ten now.”

Max looked up at his owner in a patient yet despairing manner and raised an expressive eyebrow to show that he was indeed interested in what his owner had to say. “Hmmmm,” pondered Max, “I don’t know what you are getting in such a tizwaz about. Mick’s always late when he’s not on his boat. You should know that by now. Suppose I better humour him or he’ll only start pacing up and down; it drives me mad when he does that.” Max got up padded over to where Dave was sitting and lay his great head on Dave’s lap, hoping that this would do the trick and stop his owner from working himself into a mood where any chance of a good walk along the river later would be out of the question.

Dave patted the great woolly head and smiled down at the dog. “At least you’re reliable, Max,” commented Dave. “I do wish he would be on time. I have things to do.” Max’s nose began to quiver; there was a slight breeze blowing along the river bank and it was carrying a faint but unmistakeable aroma of diesel, damp sand and tug bilges.  Max began to wag his tail as the familiar figure of Mick the tug skipper hove into view.

“Now then, Mick. How are you?” announced Dave. “I’m all right, thanks, Dave,” replied Mick. “Shall we go and have a breakfast at Stavros’ Cafe then?” Dave slipped the lead over Max’s head and the three of them set off into town. Breakfast at Stavros’ was always something to look forward to: he believed in real breakfasts and used butcher Pete’s best sausages and bacon. It was only when they were sitting down outside at one of his tables and a formidable fry up was placed in front of Dave and Mick that the conversation turned to what had happened during the previous week.

“Where have you been all week then, Mick?” enquired Dave through a mouthful of sausage.

“Dredging at Monkston,” replied Mick. “There’s some really good clean sand up there. But I’ve been on my own this week so it has taken me a lot longer than usual.”

Mick was just on the verge of taking a large mouthful of fried egg and tomato when he became aware of a loud purring and gentle snoring coming from underneath the table. Stavros’ large ginger cat was curled up next to Max and the two of them were obviously very relaxed in each other’s company. Mick stopped chewing and let out a low moan, “Oh no. Oh dear, dear, dear,” exclaimed Mick.

“What ever’s the matter, Mick? You don’t sound very happy,” replied Dave.

“I’ve forgotten to feed Alan’s cat. I knew there was something I was meant to do but couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was,” wailed Mick.

“When did he ask you then, Mick?” replied Dave as he wrestled a reluctant piece of bacon and fried bread.

“Last Saturday,” moaned Mick, before continuing, “We better finish this up and get down to the moorings and see if Fluffy is still alive.”

There followed a period of silent munching; only the sound of knives and forks in action and the slurping of tea punctuated the stillness. Finally the fruits of Stavros’ labours were devoured and Dave and Mick pushed back their chairs and stood up to leave.

“Come on, Max!” Dave gave Max’s lead a tug and a sleepy woolly form uncoiled itself from underneath the table.

“See you again, Stav. Excellent breakfast. Thankyou,” called Mick as he piled up the plates into some semblance of order. With that, Dave and Mick gave Stav a final wave and headed off back down to the river.

The trio headed back through the cobbled streets that were now beginning to fill with shoppers and past the large square with the big fountain, before making their way across the old bridge and down the stone steps to the small commercial wharf. “Mojo”, the Sheffield sized barge, was moored on the outside of a motley collection of large and somewhat used tugs, dumb barges and floating cranes. Max sniffed the air; there was a strong smell of rotting dead thing coming from the general vicinity of “Mojo”. Max had met Fluffy, the very unaptly named feline resident of Mojo, before, and he was not looking forward to a second meeting. Fluffy was a very large and very independent, jet black tomcat who regarded any visitor to “Mojo” as being in one of two categories: either a) generally unwelcome or b) possibly edible.

Max, not wishing to try his luck in category b, sat down firmly on the cobbles of the quayside and refused to move. Dave too had no wish to try carrying a large struggling, snapping dog across a selection of watery obstacles, so he fastened Max’s lead to the end of a length of free mooring line and made Max lie down and await their return.

“After you, Mick,” proffered Dave, stepping back to allow Mick to go first.

“Thanks!” replied Mick as he very reluctantly hauled himself up onto the first of the floating obstacles.

Mick and Dave made their way across the fore decks and gunnels of all the craft until they arrived at “Mojo”. The faint smell of rotting dead thing was now strong enough for Dave and Mick to detect and it grew stronger the nearer they came to the front cabin.

“Oh no,” moaned Mick shaking his head. “Please don’t let that be what I think it is.”

Very slowly and with even greater reluctance he put the key into the padlock that secured the cabin hatch and undid the padlock. Mick pulled back the hasp and slid the cabin hatch back. The stench of death was now overpowering and a few bluebottles buzzed noisily past as they headed for the daylight. “Oh well. Here goes,” said Mick in a resigned tone as he started to make his way down the ladder into the gloom of the front cabin. Mick’s head disappeared from view and there followed a loud crash, a yell of pain and then silence. Dave had been standing looking over the edge of “Mojo” into the slow moving browny greenness of the river in a desperate attempt at trying to avoid getting personally involved in the possibly gooey side of things, however this unexpected turn of events now meant that he felt compelled to assist.

Dave made his way over to the open hatchway and peered down into the darkness before calling out,
“You alright, Mick?”

The only response was a low moan from the depths below. Reluctantly Dave swung himself down the ladder. As he got nearer the bottom he could make out the prostrate form of Mick lying face up on the cabin floor. The air down below was absolutely horrific, so thick you could have cut it with a knife: a mixture of rotting fish, meat and feathers. 

Mick appeared to be lying in the remains of several rotting and dismembered seagull and pigeon carcasses which were strewn across the floor. Dave reached the bottom and swung to one side to avoid standing on Mick who was slowly starting to come round. 

“Give us a hand up will you, and pull those curtains so we’ve got some light,” slurred Mick, as Dave helped him to his feet.

“What happened, Mick?” enquired Dave.

“I skidded on one of those rotting seagulls and smacked my head on the ladder as I went down,” grunted Mick, rubbing the back of his head and dislodging a seagull’s wing from one of the benches so he could sit down. Dave meanwhile was pulling open the curtains and light was gradually illuminating the sheer scale of chaos and carnage that littered the cabin.

Fluffy had clearly been doing a very successful bit of self catering in the absence of any food from Mick, but rather than consuming his take-away out on deck, Fluffy had felt it much more appropriate to dine in the comfort of the captain’s cabin via one of the open portholes.

“Well at least Fluffy hasn’t starved to death, Mick,” chuckled Dave.

“Although I doubt Alan is going to be very happy with the state of his bed when he gets back,” commented Dave nodding in the direction of a particularly green and maggoty dismembered seagull’s rib cage that was lying on the pillow of the captain’s bunk.

Mick looked up from where he was sitting and groaned. 

“I think you could be right there, Dave,” Mick replied. “It’s going to take hours to clean this lot up, talking of which I still haven’t seen the cat.” 

It was at this point that a large black furry head with two great glaring green eyes stuck itself through the porthole and fixed Mick with an unblinking stare.

“Morning, Fluffy,” commented Mick, “I see you’re looking well fed.” 

The cat continued to glare, and Dave could just about make out the swishing of a long black tail which was never a good sign where Fluffy was concerned as it generally signalled displeasure with a capital D.

“I’d better be off, Mick,” announced Dave as he made his way to the cabin ladder; “I can’t leave Max tied up for too long.”

Dave hauled himself up the ladder into the fresh air and daylight. 

“See you later, Mick,” called Dave.

“Aye. See you later, Dave,” came a resigned voice from below.

Dave made his way back across the various crafts to Max who had very much taken things in his stride and stretched himself out in the sun, head between his paws. Dave bent down and patted Max on the head before untying the mooring line that held his lead. 

“Well, Max,” exclaimed Dave. “I can honestly say that after seeing the inside of that cabin, I am well and truly a dog person. I swear I will never complain about a muddy paw print ever again.” 

Max looked up at his owner and stretched himself, raised an expressive eyebrow to show his interest and grinned.

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