The Venetian Bind - Part One.

The fat pigeon sat on the plump cushions of a massive armchair and noisily sucked up the last string of his pasta vongole. The spaghetto thrashed its tail in final defiance as it disappeared into the pigeon’s mouth, spattering his pudgy cheeks with thick tomatoey sauce. The fat pigeon dabbed around his face with a heavy linen napkin and belched wetly. He had the complacent look of a pigeon that had made it to the top. The grand salon in which he sat was filled with everything that a wealthy Venetian pigeon might want – marble floors and fireplaces, beautifully preserved Rococo furniture, stunning Murano glasswear, paintings by Tintoretto, more busts and statues than even the most incontinent bird could hope to poop on and a ceiling by Michelangelo …’s cousin, Eddie. Okay, so Eddie couldn’t paint, sculpt or draw like Michelangelo, but his abilities with a plastering trowel and his reasonable prices were legendary. The coving around the room still brought gasps of admiration from visitors over 500 years on.

Now the pigeon sat back and patted his paunch with some satisfaction, but the truth was that not all was quite right in the world of Massimo Grassi, Don of the notorious pigeon gangs of Venice. Before him stood his most trusted lieutenant, a sharp-eyed, immaculately preened pigeon who was known only as ‘Il Cuculo’ – The Cuckoo. Just minutes before, Il Cuculo had given his boss some disturbing news and now he awaited the response.
“And you told this man exactly who you were?” Grassi’s voice would have had the timbre and world-weariness of a cultured European aristocrat had it not been for one thing – that he was a pigeon and thus simply making cooing noises.
“Yes, Excellency,” his lieutenant replied, “I made it quite clear.”
“Then he must either pay or we shall have to make an example of him.”
“It shall be done at once,” Il Cuculo replied, giving a slight bobbing bow before turning and flapping away through the open window.
“Problems, problems,” Grassi mused as he slumped back into the soft cushions. Yes, there were always problems even for the leader of the most vicious mob of feral pigeons in the Western world. Ever since the savage Pigeon Wars of the 1990’s had set the pecking order, Grassi had been the chair-bird of a European cartel of turtle doves, wood pigeons, feral pigeons and collared doves that controlled the great cities. Every year the pigeon leaders from London, Paris, Barcelona, Venice, Istanbul and Berlin would meet in secret to plan new schemes, share out the dividends from joint ventures and to sort out differences of opinion. No one wanted to return to the turmoil of the ‘90’s, so the yearly meeting was a good way to vent steam.

Grassi’s brow clouded as he remembered the hell of it all. No one could even remember how the wars had started – some said it was a squabble over a discarded bag of fries, others that a senior Parisian pigeon had been crapped on during a visit to London – but whatever the cause, the wars had riven Europe. Massed armies of cut-throat doves had massacred each other in the skies, and on the ground anarchy had reigned so that even going out to take a dump on a newly waxed car could be fatal. For the most part the humans had been blissfully unaware of the tumult above their heads. Yes, there had been collateral damage – the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square got so caked in pigeon shit that it had to be replaced and the famous ‘Bird Lady’ of Paris had been stripped to the bone in a feeding frenzy – but aside from these minor problems, the wider world never knew anything of the great upheaval that tore apart the pigeon community for over a decade. Of course, where there was chaos, there was also great opportunity. Grassi’s tactical genius, towering physical strength and ruthless streak marked him out as a leader of birds and he had pecked, clawed and bludgeoned his way to the top. It was he that had masterminded the final downfall of the Franco-Spanish coalition, luring their leaders to a food processing plant in Holland. They had gone there to secure a reliable supply of stale bread… they left there as a consignment of ‘chicken’ nuggets.

Although peace had now reigned for twelve years, there was still much work to be done. Grassi was constantly negotiating with pigeons around the world so that one day they might unite to take on their true nemesis – children. Unconsciously, his features took on a snarl at the thought of human children. The little horrors thwarted the plans of pigeon-kind at every turn. Somehow every child instinctively knew that groups of more than two pigeons were always plotting to take over the world and that such groups must be broken up. On every street and in every square there was always a child chasing pigeons, scattering them before they could get up to mischief. The parents, who for some unknown reason (perhaps caused by the process of growing up) had long since forgotten the danger that pigeons posed to the safety of the world, would laugh as their kids ran about, harassing and shouting at the birds. The parents were just glad their kids were expending some energy, little realizing that their children were the guardians of their very existence. But the solution to the ‘kiddie problem’ was part of a long game. One day. One day…

In the meantime, Grassi and his crew ran the most important racketeering centre in Europe and had to keep order with an iron beak – not easy in a place like Venice. The city was known as the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’ and it was his job to make sure that groups of marauding crows, sparrows and seagulls didn’t pull down her skirt and gangbang the hell out of her. The sparrows were easy – typical small time con artists. They only saw as far as the next mark, so Grassi tolerated the groups of them that haunted St Mark’s Square, eating crumbs out of the tourists’ hands while their friends sneaked up behind them to pick their pockets. Of course, Grassi’s pigeons got a cut of the action. It was a nice little business and if the sparrows ever got too greedy, the pigeons could easily put them into a flap and restore the order of things.

The crows were a tougher prospect. Having spent years simply mugging anyone who strayed from the main tourist paths, they had recently got into identity theft. It was lucrative for them, but they didn’t think! Clearing someone’s bank account or running up huge credit card bills on sunflower seeds and fat balls were fine, but making faking driving licences for themselves? In Venice?
First up, not one of them could drive – not even vaguely. They’d just all bundle into a new car and squabble over who was driving, who’d be shotgun and the music they were going to listen to while cruising. It always ended up in violence and brand new upholstery irretrievably stained with blood and droppings.
Second, their lack of taste or subtlety was stunning – they always chose black Hummers dripping with bling, which they would have delivered to their headquarters in the beautiful square of the Campo San Polo by helicopter.
And third, there were no roads to drive them on. The city’s narrow alleys (or ‘calle’) were fine for pedestrians to wander down, but if the crows ever did get their act together and get a new Hummer actually moving, the vehicle would be wedged tightly between picturesque medieval buildings inside 30 seconds. And almost every week the authorities were having to pull a Hummer out of one canal or other. Questions were now being asked.

Grassi knew that soon he would have to get tough with them, but the crows’ antics looked like a clown car sideshow next to what the seagulls were doing. They had their beaks in everything – stealing food from the tourists on the Lido’s beaches, egg trafficking, budgie smuggling, video piracy of nature documentaries, wholesaling fake bird flu vaccine and supplying 70% of Europe’s catnip through their contacts in Amsterdam. They were tough, they were ruthless and if they were ever losing a fight, they would simply head out to sea where they knew the pigeons couldn’t get them. But in spite of his bird brain, Grassi felt that he had finally solved the seagull problem. He had recently brokered a deal with the barbaric Black Sea cormorants – for an even split of the catnip trade, the cormorants had agreed that when the showdown came they would stop the gulls from escaping out to sea. Then the pigeons would finally be able to stamp their authority on the gulls… literally. The reckoning was coming and the seagulls would rue the day they’d dared to ruffle the feathers of Massimo Grassi!

Mafia pigeons do a deal with vicious coromorants in one of the humor books at Dredly.com

But now there was this man to worry about. Would he be as much trouble as Il Cuculo feared? Grassi hoped not. The fat pigeon heaved himself up out of the cushions and belched again. The seagull issue was making him hurry his food and his post-prandial wind was becoming embarrassing. Burping before, during and after meals might be all well and good in Belgium, but since their national emblem was a boy having a piss in the street, Grassi wasn’t about to allow his manners to sink to their depraved depths. He would summon his personal physician later in the day to see if there was anything that could be done. He shrugged his shoulders and fluffed up his feathers to dismiss the subject, then flapped over to the ornate balcony and perched on it to look down at the sun sparkling on the dancing waters of the Grand Canal. It was a colourfully chaotic scene. Pleasure boats stuffed with tourists taking holiday snaps of anything from beautiful buildings to bits of excrement bobbing in the water vied with hundreds of gondolas for right of way. The gondolas lent the tableau a romantic majesty with lovers kissing, holding hands and generally drooling over each other while their gondoliers belted out the theme from the Cornetto ad for €120 an hour. Interwoven with the colour, vibrancy and mystique were the ever-present scents of drains and fish that made a cruise down the Grand Canal so special. It was an idyllic panorama. One particularly handsome couple – clearly newlyweds – were sipping chilled Prosecco while being serenaded by their handsome gondolier. The couple were young and full of hope and living in this glorious, shimmering moment, which they would remember forever. It was perfect. Massimo Grassi always liked a good shit after lunch and they’d do nicely…

Salokin Dredly sat in the sunshine at a neat table outside one of the better cafes in St Mark’s Square and looked ruefully at the iced bun that had cost him the best part of 10 Euros. It smelt wonderful and looked appetizing, although the curious dollop of greyish icing on the very top seemed like a quirky culinary touch. In fact it wasn’t. It was the act of retribution by a cheeky sparrow Dredly had thwarted in its attempt to pick his pocket only moments before. The little urchin had been quite put out that a tourist such as Dredly wouldn’t let it steal his money. It had squawked angrily, thumbed its beak at him among other obscene gestures, flown out of Dredly’s reach, hovered above the table and then quite deliberately pooped on his bun.
“Well at least it didn’t ruin my new suit,” Dredly sighed as he sat resplendent in a perfect copy of a Prussian Hussar’s uniform of 1815. Needless to say, about five nano-seconds after the words had left his mouth there came the light patter of a second helping of sparrow pooh all over his left shoulder.
“Dirty little blighter!” Dredly exclaimed, trying to clean the mess from his shoulder with a napkin, but merely succeeding in working the stain deeper into the dark blue cloth and gold braid of his dolman jacket. Dredly silently thanked the urge that had made him leave the fur-trimmed pelisse over-jacket in the hotel room, because the poop would have utterly ruined the fur.

His best friend Jedec Sage, who was sitting across the table from him, couldn’t help but laugh. Each man had an unconventional style – Dredly with his white-blonde locks and penchant for military uniforms of the 18th and 19th centuries, Sage with his birds-nest of black hair, a beard that looked like it might actually have a bird’s nest in it and no fashion sense whatsoever. He had, however, chosen a much more sensible tourist outfit of garish Hawaiian shirt, knee-length khaki shorts and flip-flops for their holiday to Venice.
“Two shots and not a drop on me or my Danish,” Sage chuckled in his thick Cornish accent, “You should’ve brought a brolly, mate.”
“The only reason it didn’t crap on you is because its friends have just stolen your wallet,” Dredly replied, pointing to a couple of sparrows that were indeed in the process of making off with Sage’s purse.
“Oh what! Come back here, you little buggers,” Sage bellowed as he leapt out of his chair and started to chase the sparrows around the square. This was a mistake. The sparrows had agility, home advantage and street smarts on their side. Sage had nothing to help him but a straggly beard, a bellyful of anger and a flip-flop in his hand. As he charged after them with a flapping, lopsided, half flip-floppy gait the sparrows knew that they were in for some fun. They fluttered off about twenty yards, then landed and tauntingly took the money out of Sage’s purse. They waved the bundle of Euro notes at him as he flailed towards them like a short, hairy Cornish rhinoceros, waving his arms and shouting dire imprecations at them. They watched him come on, twittering gleefully at the idiot tourist, then just at the very last moment, off they flew. Sage jumped to try to catch them, but merely ended up crashing through the easel of a street caricaturist.

Sage swore and then realised that his head had gone through the paper the artist was working on so that it looked like his head was attached to Katie Perry’s body. Sage looked down appreciatively at his new physique and fleetingly wondered whether it would be morally wrong to start fancying himself. His hands started moving towards his beautifully drawn breasts when the teenage girl paying for the caricature started crying, the caricaturist started jabbering at him in Foreign (probably Italian) and the sparrows landed thirty yards away to laugh at him uproariously.
“Er… sorry, mate,” Sage stammered to the caricaturist as he took off the drawing and placed it over the head of the girl, “Um… I’d give you one…” Sage spluttered, trying to make the girl feel better, but only succeeding in making her wail more loudly.
He turned and charged at the sparrows again, but again the sparrows simply taunted him and then flew off at the last possible moment, leaving him swatting at thin air with his flip-flop.

On the other side of the square, Dredly sat back, sipped at his frighteningly overpriced cappuccino and smiled as the sparrows found Sage’s spare passport photo. They took it in turns to wipe their bottoms with it and then flew off before Sage could murder them. 
“Right, that’s it you badger buggering bastards! I’m gonna squab you flat as pancakes,” Sage cried as he dropped his flip-flop and picked up a café chair to give chase once more. This spectacle caused the sparrows to laugh so much that they nearly didn’t take off in time and the swipe from the café chair riffled the feathers of the ringleader. However, it escaped and simply taunted Sage all the more. By now, the vast crowds of tourists in the square were watching Sage’s antics with some amusement and many were filming him in the hope of making cash by sending the clip in to one of those home video blooper shows. Even the most world-weary, tourist-hating waiters had stopped to laugh at the hairy fool with the chair. One spectating pigeon, convulsed with laughter, fell off a café awning into a man’s goulash soup, whereupon both pigeon and man simply laughed all the more.

After half an hour, Sage started running out of steam. The sparrows sensed the change and finally delivered the coup de grace by emptying the purse of the rest of Sage’s money and personal things, before filling it to the brim with doo-doo. Then off they flew, laughing as they went. Sage looked like a broken man as he picked up his purse, poured out what he could of the sparrows’ doings and shuffled back to the table. He was soaked in sweat, spattered with dung and his face was still involuntarily twitching in barely contained rage.
“Padstow,” he said as he slumped into his chair, randomly naming a Cornish town as was his wont in moments of stress.
“And I’m afraid some pigeons stole your pastry…”
Sage’s face fell at Dredly’s news and before it could pick itself up or dust itself down, Dredly added “…and turned your black coffee into coffee with quite a lot of cream.”
“Oh… Feock!” By happy coincidence Sage had hit upon a Cornish town whose name fitted the moment rather well.
“Look, being glum won’t make us feel any better,” Dredly sensibly observed, his crystal-cut aristocratic accent lending weight to the remark.
“But a skinfull of booze might help,” said Sage, hitting the nail firmly on the head.

A sneaky sparrow shares a wallet with a gangster seagull in one of the humor books at Dredly.com

Two Negronis later and the invigorating combination of gin, Martini Rosso and Campari with a twist of orange peel was making them feel a wee bit happier. As the waiter delivered a third round of delicious liquid oblivion, Dredly reflected on a holiday that had been, so far, really quite pants. They had left their London home partly to escape the dismal October weather, but mainly to get away from their elderly neighbour Albert and his portly cat, Calorie. Sage and Dredly loved them dearly, but recently they had been a bit annoying. It had all started in September when Albert had been inadvertently brainwashed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It wasn’t like they’d gone to his house or anything, far from it – after all the verbal and physical punishment Albert had meted out on them down the years, they’d long since given him up as a soul they’d gladly see tormented by Satan for all eternity. No, Albert had been covertly rootling through the bin of the attractive blonde five doors down in the hopes of finding some discarded item of saucy underwear, when he’d found a scrumpled up copy of The Watchtower. Albert had read the magazine cover to cover and instantly fallen for it. From that moment on, Albert had been incorrigible, knocking on Sage and Dredly’s door twice an hour trying to convert them. He had immediately got the ‘Witness’ style down-pat – the vapid smile that was the natural expression of everyone whom God was pals with, the hopelessly ill-informed quoting from a spectacularly poor translation of the Bible, and the sudden and absolute loss of any kind of fashion sense.

Albert had then used the full gamut of Witness tricks to try to convert his friends – he told them about how fab heaven was; he explained to them exactly how the world’s 19 million Jehovah’s Witnesses would all be able to enter the kingdom of heaven even though there were only 144,000 places in it; he gave them fully pose-able Jesus dolls complete with cross, hammer and nail set; he told them about the two-for-one offer of salvation it they signed over the deeds of their house to the Witnesses; and he even offered them a complimentary child with every conversion to sweeten the deal. It had been relentless. Then he’d decided to build his very own watchtower in his back garden from which he preached at them 24/7 via a tannoi system. Between all that and Calorie’s disastrous attempts to develop a Jekyll and Hyde potion, which had so far only resulted in Dr. Calorie and Mr. Flatulent, Sage and Dredly had decided they needed a holiday. They felt they needed a bit of luxury and damn the credit card bills*.

*These events took place before those noted in the critically ignored ‘A Pinch Of Sage And Dredly’, so please don’t start bugging the author with emails asking why they’d worry about their credit cards when they’d won the lottery, because right now they haven’t… and now we’ve had to give away part of the plot of the book, dammit! Look, any nerdy types out there, please just take it as read that we’ve thought of everything so we won’t have to spoil any other stories with explanatory footnotes. Thanks.

So they had hopped online and found a ‘boutique’ hotel about 50 yards from St Mark’s Square, down what the website described as a ‘quaint medieval thoroughfare’. They’d loved the look of it and immediately booked through the website. Yes… the hotel’s website. It hadn’t quite been accurate on a few of the details – and by not quite accurate, Sage and Dredly had swiftly discovered it was a pack of lies. The hotel was 500 yards from St Mark’s Square down a piss-stinking alley opposite a medical waste facility. The hotel itself wasn’t so much ‘boutique’ as ‘appalling cack hole’, where the ‘friendly and helpful staff’ were surly and Sage suspected they might be cannibals after spotting the concierge trawling through the medical waste dump and surreptitiously stuffing body parts down his jumper. The room that had been described as ‘palatial, with a stunning view’ was actually so small that even Sage, who had once held the record for being the world’s tallest midget, found it claustrophobic – although they had to admit that the view from the window of a rotting boar’s head sitting atop a fifty foot high pile of medical waste had indeed stunned them. Normally they’d have just chalked the whole thing up as a bad bet and simply found a new hotel, but every room in town was booked up. Former Monkee Peter Tork was in the middle of a 3 week sell-out residency at the Opera House and even the park benches had been rented out to his legion of avid fans.

Sage and Dredly were stuck in a crap hotel and to top it all, Nature herself seemed to have turned against them. The incident with the sparrows was one out of a long list. At every turn they were being hassled by pigeons and Dredly seemed to be their main target. He wasn’t sure what he’d done to offend them, but they just kept landing in front of him before strutting about cooing and fluffing up their feathers.
“I don’t know what it is with these pigeons,” he said with the thick proto-slur that comes with one’s third Negroni.
“Maybe you’re giving off some sort of pheromone,” Sage replied, “Cos what they’re doin’ does smack of courtship behaviour.”
“That’s all I need - some randy pigeon humping my leg. Flea-ridden rats with wings… Just sod off the lot of you!” Dredly shook his fist in the general direction of some pigeons near the main entrance of the Cathedral. Unfortunately his outburst coincided with some nuns coming out through the door. Dredly noticed the look of shock on their faces and tried to make amends with,
“Sorry, not you, your holinesses,” which didn’t seem to do the trick. The Mother Superior, a burly looking lady for whom a quarter of a century of celibacy had left her full to bursting with the fury of a thousand lost orgasms, marched straight towards him, rolling up her sleeves as she advanced.
“Er… I think we’re about to get into a rumble with the clergy,” Dredly observed, but before Sage could even turn around to look, the nun had pulled Dredly out of his chair by his jacket and was right in his grill,
“You listen to me, ya stinkin’ piece of shit…” Ah, she was American – that explained a lot, “You wanna piece of me? You wanna go? I’ll fuck you up! I’ll do things to you they ain’t even thought of in the eighth circle of hell. I’ll tear your skin off and use it for a fucking trampoline. I’ll pull out your eyes, tie your optic nerves together and hang them on the rear view of my car as a charm. You get me?”
“Madam, I’m awfully sorry if I’ve caused any offence,” Dredly spluttered.
“Yeah, he was just shouting at the pigeons,” Sage added, showing how the alcohol had messed with his judgement, because usually in such a situation he’d have just let the nun give Dredly a going over.
A burly nun throttles Sage with her rosary in one of the humor books at Dredly.comShe turned on him and pulled out her rosary, which she whipped around Sage’s neck in a heartbeat,
“Oh, you want some, hairy?”
“No,” Sage croaked.
“Zip it!”
The angry nun throttled Sage until his face began to turn the same shade of poppy red as the cuffs of Dredly’s dolman, then let him go. He fell to the floor panting and clutching his throat, which still bore the marks of the rosary. Dredly helped him up and the pair looked to the nun with some dismay, wondering what she’d do next as she raised herself up to her full height and suddenly pointed at them in wild eyed wrath,
“Sinners! Repent thy evil ways or I swear by Jesus’ nut sack I’ll go Old Testament on your asses!” she shrieked, fixing them with a bowel wobblingly insane stare. But Sage’s expression turned from fear to confusion and before Dredly could stop him he said,
“But we don’t even own a donkey.”
Dredly sighed, then whispered through gritted teeth,
“Asses as in bottoms, you nitwit.”
“Oh…” Sage ‘oh-ed’ in understanding, then gave a quailing “Ooh…” as the true nature of the nun’s threat sank in.
“I taught ten years at the Torquemada Seminary and I can do things to you with this crucifix that make the Exorcist look like the Muppet Show,” and with that, she turned on her heel and swept across the square.

A few moments later, the owner of the café added to their woes by asking them to leave and banning them from his café – making exhibitions of themselves with sparrows was one thing, but antagonising nuns was unforgivable. Sage and Dredly downed their drinks and slinked off out of the square. Once they were away from the eyes of all the tourists they relaxed. They popped back to their hotel to change out of their dirty clothes, studiously avoiding eye contact with the frankly vampiric looking concierge as they went through the lobby. Ten minutes later they were back outside and looking fresh. Sage was in a more sober white T-shirt, jeans and sturdy boots (if he was going to come under nun attack again, he wanted to be able kick back), while Dredly had favoured a simple black jacket and britches combo favoured by clerical workers in the 1790’s – if birds were going to crap on him again, he was damned if they were getting any of his lovely uniforms. They decided to do a bit of sightseeing before lunch, sauntering easily through the achingly beautiful Venetian backstreets. These were like narrow, high-sided canyons weaving through the city and back through time to the Renaissance. Venice was indeed a magical place – where else in the world could buildings with peeling paintwork, chipped stucco and clearly hazardous brickwork all adorned with lines of people’s washing and obscene graffiti be described as charming? Sage and Dredly ‘ooohed’ and ‘aaahed’ at the landmarks – the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto market, the Golden House and more - even though grossly obese tourists milled about ruining the views and clogging the city’s lanes like the choking fat cells clogging their very own arteries.
“With all these fat tourists cluttering up the place, it’s no wonder it’s sinking,” Sage mused as they rounded a corner to find yet another breathtaking view.
“No, that’s a myth,” Dredly returned.
“Straight up?”
“Yes, the Venetian tourist board started telling everyone the city was sinking back in 1750 and they’ve been sponsoring scientists to back up the lie ever since,” Dredly explained sagely (not in a hairy, Cornish manner, but like a wise person).
“Well I never,” said Sage also sagely, but in the hairy, Cornish sense.
“The city council was very forward thinking. They knew their maritime empire was finished and needed a dependable revenue stream. Tourism was just kicking off, so they went for it. Fooled everyone from Byron to Hemingway.”

Just then there was a clatter of wings and a pair of pigeons landed in front of them. One was beady-eyed and immaculately preened, while the other was a big, slovenly pigeon that had the disjointed deportment and somewhat battered features of a former boxer. The sleek looking pigeon went up to Dredly and started strutting up and down, bobbing its head and cooing.
“Hell’s teeth, not again!” Dredly exclaimed, restraining his urge to give the bird a hefty kick.
“See, they fancy you. Maybe it’s your aftershave?” Sage suggested.
“Surely not,” Dredly replied. He certainly hoped not, because he’d recently switched from Acqua di Parma Colonia with its light notes of orange blossom and rose petals to the cooler, greener and slightly more manly Acqua di Parma Colonia Essenza – although even thinking about the components of scent threw whatever ‘manliness’ the aftershave gave him firmly out the window. But metrosexuality aside, Dredly really liked his new cologne and would be bitterly disappointed if it turned out to be some sort of pigeon aphrodisiac.
“You should be like me and stay natural,” Sage advised. He didn’t believe in using scent and preferred his own potent musk.
“I think I’d describe it more as agricultural than natural,” Dredly rejoined. Sage certainly had a unique aroma, but while it was true that it was keeping the pigeons off him, it also had the same effect on 97% of women, sometimes made small children cry and had even caused the tigers at London zoo to turn tail and run for cover when he approached their enclosure. In fact, Sage’s natural odour was so strong that Calorie had made a fortune by secretly collecting it from Sage’s laundry basket, synthesizing it and selling the formula to an arms manufacturer for use in their pepper spray.
“Well whatever you’ve got, these pigeons love it,” Sage laughed, “Look at ‘em go!”

Il Cuculo’s bobbing and cooing might have looked comical to Sage, but the truth was that he was threatening them and all the men could do was witter on about cologne.
“I give you one more chance,” he said in a chilling, sharp tone that was heavy with the threat of unspeakable violence, “Pay us the protection fee or my associate here will set to work on your tender parts with a nutmeg grater.”
“He definitely fancies you, mate.” Sage was loving it.
“Great,” Dredly remarked dryly, “Here we are in the most romantic city in the world, but do I find myself wrapped in satin sheets with a sultry Italian countess? Hell no. All I’ve got are feathered freaks trying to groom me for some filthy pigeon porn.”
“Aw, that’s sweet, now his friend’s started,” Sage pointed at the fatter, stupider looking pigeon, which had come forward and started cooing.
“Nah pay attention yer lanky streak of piss,” the heavily built pigeon began in his gruff cockney tones, “Pay us the facking maney or I’m gonna stab yer eyes aht wiv vis fevver!”
The big pigeon, known as ‘Mad Freddie’, was an internationally feared enforcer from the London mob who had come on holiday to Venice in 2001 for the good food and weather, but stayed for the high living and ultra-violence. He picked up a feather from the street and menaced Dredly with it.
“It’s a gift of love,” Sage was grinning ear to ear as he made fun of Dredly, “If you accept it, you’ll be married.”
“Right that’s it,” Dredly snapped, “Bugger off, the pair of you,” and he waved his arms at them angrily.
Oddly enough the birds didn’t seem put off by this, but stood their ground and gave him a hard stare.
“Funny…” Dredly mused, “That usually does the trick.”
Sage and Dredly looked at the pigeons and the pigeons stared back. There was tense silence, then
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were trying to stare us out,” said Sage.
“Oh who cares? Let’s just go and get some souvenirs, then have lunch.”
Sage readily assented – he’d been very impressed with the Venetian restaurants, so another afternoon spent stuffing themselves silly on seafood risotto and ice cold rose wine from the Veneto was a great plan! They turned away from the pigeons and wandered off.
“Come back you facking cants!” Mad Freddie screamed, wielding the feather.
“It is no use,” said Il Cuculo, putting his wing around his colleague to calm him down, “We will watch and wait, and when they split up we kill the blonde one.”

And so the pigeons watched and waited and bided their time as the doomed men went into various shops before having what was to be their final meal in the Antica Trattoria Posta Vecie. In spite of himself, Il Cuculo had to admit that the men had taste, because the food there was excellent and he himself regularly went through their bins for leftovers. Inside, Sage and Dredly were having a fine old time. The restaurant claimed to be the most ancient in Venice and had a fabulous ‘old school’ ambience with its dark wood ceiling, cool flag-stoned floor, cavernous ornate fireplace and frescoes around the walls. The waiters were polite and attentive, and didn’t even vaguely give the impression that they would happily garrotte every customer or surreptitiously hock up greenies into the pesto linguine. Sage and Dredly shared the grigliata mista and then a huge seafood risotto, followed by overloaded bowls of ice cream. Normally that would have been more than enough lunch for them, but as Sage rightly pointed out as the waiter was clearing the dessert plates away,
“Seeing as we’re on holiday, it’s our sacred duty to stuff ourselves as much as is humanly possible.”
“Very true… waiter, the cheeseboard if you please,” Dredly announced merrily.
“And a bottle of your finest port,” Sage added.
“And a couple of Cohibas – big ones,” Dredly chimed in.
“And a couple of large Armagnacs – triples,” Sage couldn’t possibly have a cigar without a fine brandy.
“Two double espressos,” Dredly couldn’t possibly have brandy without an espresso chaser.
“And a selection of Amaretti biscuits,” said Sage, adding the perfect coda to the order.
The waiter nodded and hurried off happily. He’d hit paydirt! The tip from this part of the lunch alone would feed his family for a week.
Sage leaned back and stretched, then stroked his already distended belly,
“Maybe all those fat tourists didn’t arrive fat, but got fat ‘cos of the food?”
“Could be…” Dredly nodded, but before they could get into any kind of philosophical debate on the subject, the cheese arrived and soon they were in a reverie of dolcelatte, gorgonzola and various local specialities.

Perched on the roof opposite the restaurant, Il Cuculo awaited an intelligence report from Mad Freddie. The bells were striking four – could the men really still be eating or had they somehow given the pigeons the slip? With a somewhat laboured flapping caused by his bulk, Mad Freddie alighted next to his boss,
“Still fackin’ eatin’,” he puffed, ”Nah they’re aht in the garden wiv cigars, brandy, coffee – you fackin’ name it, they’re staffin’ it darn their gullets!”
“Bastardi!” Il Cuculo cursed. He hated having to wait before doling out pain, so for this delay he decided to make the killing that little bit more savage. Now they would have to wait and, since Mad Freddie wasn’t the best conversationalist unless you got him on the subject of acids and which was best for body disposal, they passed the time by pooping on passing American tourists. Yes, sometimes it was the little things in life that gave the most pleasure. Then, soon after the bells struck five, the blonde man emerged from the door of the restaurant. He looked uncertain on his feet and, as he started to cross the quaint wooden bridge that linked the restaurant to the street, Il Cuculo worried that he might fall into the canal and rob them of their kill. No… all was well. He made the other side without incident and stood leaning on one of the red and white poles next to the bridge.
“But where is the…” Il Cuculo began, then saw Sage appear at the door, laden with shopping bags full of touristy trinkets.
“Dredly, sorry, but I’ve gotta use the crapper,” Sage called, proving the point that going to a classy restaurant doesn’t necessarily make you classy yourself.
“Fine. I’m just going to walk off some of that cheese. See you in the square down the way here.”
“Righto,” and with that, Sage disappeared back into the restaurant.
Il Cuculo’s senses sharpened and his cruel eyes narrowed. Now their chance had come! He signalled Mad Freddie and as Dredly walked heavily along the street, the pigeons shadowed him from the rooftop. Soon they would strike!



Will the mafia pigeons make Sage and Dredly an offer they can't refuse - like free tickets to the Peter Tork concert? Or will our heroes flip them the bird and tell them to go pluck themselves?

Find out the answers to these questions and more - though not much more - in the next historically beautiful, but frankly overpriced episode of...

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