You Had Me at Sex
‘Do you like water-sports?’
‘What? You want to piss on me?’
‘Well, OK, but only in the bath. I don’t want a mess on the lino.’
‘What are you going on about? I meant boats. Boating. Boating in these.’ The man waved his arm in an encompassing panorama at the vessels a distance from them on the other side of the lake.
‘Yes, but how seaworthy are they?’
Striding confidently towards the lake, the portly man snorted and ignored her. ‘Seaworthy. Dear Lord,’ he muttered to himself. Now at the water’s edge, his hand rested on the safety rail that surrounded its circumference. The wind thumbed his hair and he gazed at the grassy island at the centre. He puffed lightly on a bright pink cigarette, ignoring the no smoking sign.
The middle-aged woman, who had been waddling a few steps behind him, now caught him up. Her left fingers rubbed at her right shoulder underneath the T shirt she was wearing and she adjusted elastic causing her considerable frontage to joggle. Now they had stopped walking, the Kwatari sun was making her sweat and droplets began to fall from her nose to her partially exposed cleavage. She gazed at him and then at the placard next to his puckered mouth.
‘Why do you actually smoke those, Tim?’
‘Yeah. They look like coloured crayons. They’re banned in the UK, you know.’
‘Of course they are. Everything is banned in the UK these days. I smoke them because they’re dirt cheap at the airport, that’s why. You can get 200 for a few riyals. And they make me look cool.’
‘You don’t actually inhale, though. I’ve noticed. You just let the smoke enter your mouth, then blow it out quickly.’
‘Course I don’t, smoking is bad for you.’
‘Then why fucking smoke?’
‘Shut up, Jane, will you? I’m trying to think.’ Tim shaded his eyes against the sun and looked to the far side of the lake. There they were, clustered together, alongside a small jetty and sheltered under lightly steaming canvas.
Jane followed his gaze and noticed that Tim’s back stiffened. She watched as he threw the gaudy cigarette onto the floor and scrubbed it into the gravel underneath his heel. She trailed behind him once again as he began to trek towards the jetty, circumnavigating the lake. ‘Don’t go so fast, will you?’ she complained.
‘You’re out of shape. You’re carrying too much timber,’ growled Tim, slowing slightly. ‘Come on. It’s essential we get six.’
‘No six, number six. Haven’t you been listening? Boat number six has the best undercarriage and streamlining. Without the advantage of six, we could lose the race.’
‘I thought you were making that up to get me into bed last night. Trying to impress me with your knowledgeable opinions on seamanship and knots.’
Tim stopped, turned and looked critically as Jane caught up again. Aware he was looking at her frame, she frowned and indicated her chest. ‘Carrying these around isn’t easy you know. They’re a terrible strain on the back.’
‘But exactly what attracted me to you in the first place,’ smirked Tim, ‘ideal for my purposes.’
‘You filthy devil.’
A flash in the sun caught Tim’s eye. He swivelled round. His mouth opened with a snarl. ‘Bollocks! Bollocks, bollocks! Fucikity shit!’
‘Captain Cutlass, that’s what!’ snapped Tim, pointing.
Ahead of them was a tall man, also striding towards the huddled vessels. He was striking. Dressed as a swashbuckler, with a vicious looking sword strapped to his waist, he turned, looked at Tim and raised his feathered tricorne theatrically. Mocking laughter was carried towards them by the breeze. Cutlass increased his pace, swaggering towards the jetty as fast as his one limb would permit, wooden peg carving holes into the shingle.
Tim abandoned Jane and broke into a run. Despite the heat, he sprinted, sweat staining his armpits. Aware of this, Cutlass increased his pace, bounding carelessly across the gravel. To no avail. The distance between them decreased until Tim was alongside. He swung his right leg accurately and smacked Cutlass’ wooden peg, sending it flying several metres ahead of him.
The Captain balanced for perhaps a second then gracefully toppled forwards and landed painfully at Tim’s feet.
‘Sorry, old chap, accident.’ Tim smirked and continued towards the jetty at a more sedate jog.
‘You bounder! I’ll have you keel hauled for this!’ screamed Cutlass, spitting grit.
By the time Jane reached him, Cutlass was crawling forwards, painfully, through the dirt. The wooden limb was agonisingly just out of reach. Tim was by the jetty. She noticed he was grinning, lighting a mauve cigarette and flicking his two fingers in glee. ‘ Can I help you, Captain Cutlass?’ she asked, politely, retrieving the leg. ‘Let me screw this back on for you.’
‘Screw me? Perhaps later, wench, when I have won the race. I’ll tie you up and give you a bare backed lashing with the cat.’
Jane dropped the leg pointedly and walked towards Tim. ‘Here,’ she said, ‘Cutlass just offered to tie me up, whip me and give me jolly good rogering.’
‘You what? I thought you were head of Women’s Studies at the university?’
‘True. But that does not mean I’m not partial to a bit of bondage, Tim. It’s all the rage these days. And marital aids.’
‘Aids? Go with him and you might get your wish.’ Tim looked back up the path. Now reacquainted with his leg, Cutlass was approaching, snarling and puffing on a clay pipe. ‘Wait here. I need a slash.’
‘Water sports, you know.’ Tim indicated the nearby concrete conveniences and darted towards them, leaving Jane momentarily alone. She looked down at the jetty. Now they had arrived, she could see that they were not boats as she had assumed, but gigantic pedalo swans. Each had two hearts intertwined on the side and a large number. Tim had chucked his bag into swan number six.
‘Captain Cultlass, I presume?’ asked Jane, now the pirate was alongside.
‘Where’s that scurvy knave?’ growled Cutlass, ‘I’ll feed his liver to my hounds.’
‘Gone for some cash.’
‘Trash? I’ll give him trash,’ screamed Cutlass, ‘But first, my dear, I’ll deal with you.’
Mad and deaf, thought Jane backing away slightly, nevertheless. ‘You don’t frighten me, Cutlass. All I have to do is walk very quickly away from you.’
‘I’m relentless and I never give up! I’ll pursue around the horn if I have to!’ The Captain waved his cutlass, a maniacal glint in his one good eye.
‘Get away from her, Cutlass!’ shrieked Tim, now returned. ‘Keep your filthy hands off her. She’s mine!’ He ripped some of the rope that made up the safety rail and held it up. ‘See what I have here? Do you see it?’ he bellowed.
‘You wouldn’t dare, you lily livered land lubber.’
Wouldn’t I, Cutlass? Take this!’ Tim took three rapid steps forward. He avoided the swinging sword. Within seconds he had lassoed Cutlass’ wooden limb to a rail post. Cutlass, now tethered, screamed out impotent obscenities and began to hack at the rope with his blade. Tim and Jane retreated behind a swan and watched his progress from a distance.
‘We should be safe until his lackeys get here and release him,’ muttered Tim, stroking his moustache.
‘I don’t get it,’ puzzled Jane, watching, genuinely confused.
‘Neither do I.’ Tim looked at a damp patch on the front of his shorts in irritation. ‘Those blocks of ice they shove down toilets. What are they all about? They sit there, smelling of piss. No matter how hard you try, you can’t melt them. And the splashback looks awful.’
‘Not that. These!’ Jane indicated the swans. ‘when you told me we were to take part in a race, I didn’t expect pedalo swans on a boating lake.’
‘Yes. And it’s essential we win, Jane. Essential. For too long now, Cutlass has been menacing the users of these swans: courting couples, families, children. All out for an innocent watery pedal until he sees them, menaces them and takes all of their money. He’s a bastard. No, this time the winner takes all. The prize. And the biggest is the humiliation of Cutlass. We will strip him of his record. Render him toothless and a figure of fun. People will feel free to point and laugh.
Jane looked over at the struggling pirate, who was still beating at the rope with his sword. ‘I’m surprised they don’t point and laugh already.’
‘It is our civic duty to defeat him. Our gift to the good people of Kwatar.’
‘I see that now.’ Jane pointed at several figures now running across the park towards the cursing Cutlass. ‘Who are they?’
‘Quick! Into the swan! Hurry’ urged Tim, leaping aboard number six. ‘They’ll free him and we’ll lose our advantage.’
Several small men, also sporting garish costume, surrounded Cutlass, released him and, as Jane manoeuvred her bulk aboard the swan, gathered, jeering and swearing on the jetty, jumping up and down, shaking fists, brandishing knives, swords and flintlocks. One took out a telescope, clapped it to his eye and shouted something like ‘thar she blows, Cap’n’, but Jane couldn’t be sure.
Tim had pedalled the swan several metres from the gaudy horde into the lake. Jane felt her hair riffled by the breeze blowing across the water. She tried to sit beside Tim, but he angrily thrust her towards the bow. ‘Not here, there!’ he exclaimed, pointing to the swan’s neck.
‘Here?’ asked Jane.
‘Yes. Clasp the neck and sit at the front. Your weight will cause the swan to tilt forwards and give us an advantage. Put these flippers on and you can also serve as extra propulsion.’
Jane wasn’t sure, but she did as instructed. Her flippered feet dangled into the warm water and she tested her strength against it. The swan inched imperceptibly forwards. ‘How long is the race?’
‘It has been measured by the Kwatari authorities,’ answered Tim, ‘We have to pedal to the duck island, circumnavigate and back to the jetty. A dangerous course but if we beat the pirate, he will be banned from the lake in perpetuity. And we’ll go down in the record books.’
‘Duck island? Do they have ducks here?’
‘Not as such. This one was imported by from the UK. It used to belong to some politician or other who misappropriated parliamentary expenses. Kwatar paid him handsomely for it, I’m told.’
Tim ignored her, lit a crimson cigarette and watched as Captain Cutlass was helped into his swan by several of his crew, two of whom joined him, leaping aboard and taking position, one at the neck and the other to the stern of the fibreglass fowl. ‘You one legged turd,’ he screamed. ‘This is where you get yours, Cutlass!’
‘Shiver me timbers! You’ll pay dearly for these insults, you scurvy dog!’ Cutlass started to pedal furiously with his one good leg until the two swans were almost neck and neck. He glanced alongside at Tim, leant forward and attempted to stab him with the sword, jabbing rapidly. It failed because the distance was just too great and the swan started to list, threatening to capsize.
‘You’ll have to do better than that, Cutlass!’ sneered Tim, flicking his fingers.
‘Belay there, me hearties,’ shrieked Cutlass, as the swan pitched and yawed. ‘I will! I will lash my scimitar to my wooden leg! This will give me the extension I need to lacerate you!’
‘You pathetic pirate! That will achieve nothing!’
From shore side, a Kwatari, holding a megaphone, strolled onto the jetty. ‘Let the race commence!’ he bellowed into the microphone. And they were off.
Tim pedalled furiously and gained an advantage on the pursuing pirates. Behind them the buccaneers swore and grunted as Cutlass pumped his leg like a piston. The crewmembers crouched on the superstructure of the swan scooping water frantically, trying to propel the vessel forwards by any means possible.
The breeze was against them both. Cutlass released a terrible curse of rage as his swan began to fall further behind. ‘Faster you dogs or you’ll feel the tender caress of my lash! Faster! Scoop the water harder! Work in time: One, two three, scoop…one, two three, scoop!’ Cutlass began to lay about with his nine-tongued whip, bringing it crashing down upon the backs of his minions. Obediently both began to synchronise the scooping. But it was hopeless. Cutlass was losing ground. ‘How? How can they be winning?’ he wailed, thrashing the water with his hook. ‘What is their secret?’
‘I think…’ began one of the crew.
‘What? You do not think in my presence, you scupper tripe. Scoop! Scoop!’
‘No, Captain, but surely it is because of the fat, huge chested woman giving the vessel extra ballast?’
‘Damn your eyes!’
‘Ha ha!’ bellowed Tim, a few metres in front, pumping and puffing on the gaily coloured cigarette. ‘You fool! You can never catch me now!’
‘Avast and belay! When I clap my hands on your throat, I will stub that cigarette out in your eye. Faster, you mutinous dogs!’
One of the scooping crew twisted his neck round to speak. ’Captain! I now do perceive through my spy glass that he is not smoking that cigarette. He does not inhale!’
‘What is your point, Smithers? Back to your scooping, you cringing cur!’
‘No Captain! A man who does not smoke, yet smokes, this is a weakness we can exploit.’
‘It is? Belay your scoopering and give me time to think, dogs. Yes. You have it right. Such a man is like to approach the lady garden of some buxom wench, wave his limp todger at it, then retreat, leaving the lady distressed and lacking satisfaction.’
‘Yes, Captain!’ nodded Smithers, once more pointing the telescope at the advancing swan in front. ‘Let me overboard. I will swim to his vessel and slit his gizzard, capture his wench and drag her aboard!’
‘No. I have a better plan,’ hissed Cutlass, stroking his beard with his hook. ‘You, Thompson, dive overboard, swim underneath their swan, disable the pumping paddles and tip the wench into the water. Then we will see. We are not beaten yet!’
‘In secret, Cap’n?’
‘Aye! Secret. That be best.’ Cutlass raised his voice to a mighty hail. ‘Ahoy there! Prepare to be boarded and surrender your plunder! I am releasing my dogs of doom!’
Thompson poised himself amidships and drew up his arms gracefully. He gripped a dagger between his clenched teeth and dived in a swift motion. There was a splash, then nothing.
‘Fuckwit!’ roared Tim, pumping harder. They had nearly gained the island now; it was rearing up in front of them and Jane waved in triumph at the beleaguered pirates.
‘What happened, Cap’n? Where is Thompson?’
‘How do I know, you barnacle bearded buffoon? Probably dead, supping rum with Davy Jones, atop his locker.’
‘But he was my best friend.’
The Captain scratched his chin and looked over the side of the swan. Thompson was floating motionless on the port side, arms outstretched. His dagger glinted from the bottom of the lake, a few inches below. ‘There he is. Foolish dog! He should never have dived into such shallow waters. I have told him that before.’ The Captain glared at Smithers. ‘You must go.’
‘No, Cap’n. No!’ wailed Smithers, looking at his prone colleague.
‘Do as I command or I will strip the skin from your back and use it for stockings.’ The Captain shoved him overboard.
Smithers took a moment to get his bearings, blinking water from his eyes, then began to wade determinedly towards Tim’s swan. He broke into a run and water sploshed from his dungarees as he screamed in a bloodthirsty fashion: ‘Ha Harrrrrrrr! You’re mine, wench! I will toss you overboard then ravish you!’ He rounded the swan and seized Jane roughly by the shoulders.
‘Help me, Tim, help me!’ wailed Jane, clinging tighter to the swan’s neck. She removed a flipper and beat the lustful pirate frantically with it, catching him a mighty blow in the eye. With a snarl, he wrenched it from her and hurled in the direction of Cutlass, who caught it in triumph. ‘Booty!’
‘Get your filthy hands off my tits!’ howled Jane, angrily. As both struggled against the other, the swan was pitched from side to side. It didn’t stand a chance. The paddles broke and it gracefully keeled over, depositing Tim and Jane into the briny. Smithers wasted no time and was off and away, clambering aboard Cutlass’ vessel. He grabbed the flipper and taunted from a distance as Cutlass stole ahead and rounded the island.
From a prone position in the lake, knee deep, Tim glared at Jane. ‘You could have put up more of a fight,’ he snapped.
‘Don’t have a go at me. You weren’t the one in danger of losing her honour.’
Tim glared but bit his lip. He stood and waded over to the swan, pulling it upright. ‘Get on board.’
‘Why? Everything is lost. He stole my flipper and broke the pedal mechanism.’
‘Get on board. I have an idea. They’re not far ahead. Cutlass can’t maintain that one-legged pumping indefinitely, you know. Look. They’re slowing down. He’s taking a breather.’
‘We still can’t make this thing move,’ muttered Jane, climbing back on board and assuming a position by the neck once again.
‘Can’t we?’ Tim grinned. ‘Cutlass has made an error. A fatal error that I intend to exploit. He failed to take you away my dear.’ And Tim laughed a terrible laugh.
‘What do you mean?’ Jane flinched and looked at the maniacal glint in his eye, wondering if she might have been safer with the buccaneers.
‘Wind, my dear. He failed to take wind into account.’
‘Surely you can’t mean…you intend to fart our way to the finish line?’
‘No. Better than that. I intend to make sails for our ship!’ Tim exclaimed triumphantly. ‘I told you that your outsized chest was ideal for my purpose!’
‘You villain! You’re worse than Cutlass!’ Jane’s eyes widened in horror at the implication.
‘Give it to me.’
‘No. I will not.’
Tim leapt across the decking and seized Jane by the shoulders, reaching beneath her sopping blouse. With deft fingers he released the catch, tugged like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat and held her bra in his fist. ‘A ha!’ he laughed, ‘it’s massive!’
The bra, now attached between the wing tips of the swan, filled with wind and began to billow like a spinnaker. The swan urged forwards and began to carve a wake in the lake, picking up speed and hurtling towards Cutlass and the finish line. Soon the two vessels were neck and neck and Tim glanced across to the pumping pirate with a grin of victory. ‘You are no match for me, Cutlass! I have defeated you, your dogs of doom and consigned you to the history books. Have at you, Cutlass, you blind, lame, one handed fool!’
‘Blast your barnacles! You scurvy dog! I will never surrender!’ cried Cutlass. ‘Smithers, seize that lingerie!’
But it was too late. Tim’s swan sailed gracefully across the line and manoeuvred alongside to the sound of the Kwatari finishing pistol.
As they both disembarked, Tim unhitched the bra from the swan and passed it back. ‘Sorry if I was a little rough on you back there,’ he admitted, ‘but it was a crisis situation. And we’ve won. We get the world record, the freedom of the lake and Cutlass can never return.’
Jane said nothing as she hooked herself back up with a dignified glare. Then her mouth opened in shock. ‘Tim. Look. You forgot the other dogs of doom!’
Sure enough, the jetty was swarming with miniature pirates. Both Tim and Jane were seized and pushed back against the decking, knives held to their throats. ‘Silence!’ snarled a now recovered Thompson, who had waded across the lake. ‘Our captain will want to question you both. Painfully. I hope.’
Tim flinched as he heard the uneven thud of the Captain’s steps. Cutlass glared at him and took a step forward. His hand reached for his sword. ‘Wait, Cutlass, just wait. You and I both know we are bound by the sailor’s code of conduct. You entered that race fair and square. You knew the rules. You knew the stakes. You lost. The prize is mine. Killing me will only make it worse.’
Smithers nodded. ‘He be right, Cap’n.’
‘Bah,’ spat Cutlass. ‘I suppose so. I’ll just have to admit defeat. Shame. I will miss my weekend menacing on this lake. Let them go, you dogs.’
Tim offered his hand. ‘No hard feelings, Cutlass. Look, if you like, you can do a bit of menacing, maybe on a Tuesday evening?’
Cutlass shook his head. ‘No, Tuesdays are no good. I have my nails done on Tuesdays.’
Tim took Jane by the hand, but as they started to walk away, they stopped. A Kwatari was running towards them, waving a paper. He looked distressed. ‘Sir, sir, wait!’ he shouted, ‘wait. I have some very bad news.
Cutlass and Tim leant forward and listened.
‘Many apologies, sir. There has been a terrible mistake. Terrible.’ The Kwatari official mopped sweat from his head, looking downcast. ‘I am afraid to tell you that while you were racing, the government measured the race course again. It was found to be 150 metres too short, gentlemen. One hundred and fifty metres. You know what this means, of course?’
Tim and Cutlass nodded.
‘All records are canceled. The race itself counts for nothing. I’m afraid, gentlemen,’ mouthed the official, ‘you will have to do it all over again. Next Saturday.’