The Venetian Bind - Part Two.

Dredly was very full and slightly drunk, but all the food and drink had been more than offset by the espressos and the enormous nicotine hit from their huge cigars. All in all he felt good. Finally, after a few false starts and a near death experience with a nun, the holiday was starting to swing. Tomorrow they’d go to the Lido to chat up some rich Italian ladies on the beach, and the day after it would be off to Murano to buy some glassware. First there was the small matter of the casino later that evening. Now that their luck was changing it was the perfect moment for some roulette. Dredly’s nerves tingled at the prospect of a long night on the tables – yes, he and Sage were going to have a great… hullo? Dredly stopped in his tracks and looked up. From the edge of the roof tiles of the building next to him there was a puff of dust and little bits of decayed concrete were coming to earth a few yards away. He looked all around, then made a show of shrugging his shoulders and carrying on as if nothing had happened, while actually slipping his right hand into his pocket and palming his change. He knew something was wrong and his only means of defence would be throwing his change into an attacker’s face and then making a dash for it. In his left hand pocket, he palmed his keys in such a way that three of them poked through the gaps of his fingers when he made a fist. Yes, that would do some damage if he punched someone. But the fact was that he needed back-up and prayed that Sage wasn’t engaged in one of his infamous hour-long bowel movements that rendered the bathroom unusable by anyone with a nose for the next three days. 

High above on the rooftop Il Cuculo and Mad Freddie were frozen. Had they been spotted? It was impossible to know. Incredibly it had been Il Cuculo himself who had trodden on a section of crumbling masonry and sent the cascade of bits over the side. They stood still and watched. The man seemed to be continuing as before. Il Cuculo gave a nod and they shadowed him again. The man was entering the empty square. Soon he would be in the perfect position for the attack… yes, that’s it, walk right into the middle of the square… that’s it… now! Mad Freddie hopped off the roof and glided in to land in front of Dredly. Il Cuculo merely had to wait and pick his moment. Mad Freddie strutted up and down in front of Dredly, cooing and bobbing and the man’s reaction of,
“Look, will you lot just bog off,” seemed genuine. He suspected nothing.

As soon as Dredly saw the pigeon land at his feet, he knew that Danger had swooped into the square. He immediately recognised the bird as the punchy one he’d seen earlier so, while he stood apparently engrossed in its antics, his senses were questing for the slightest rustle, flap or blur of swooping grey. When it came, he would be rea… it was the lightest flap of feathers and Dredly spun to face the attack, but it was too late – Il Cuculo had raised the heavy wooden cosh that had been hidden under his wing. The club swept down at Dredly’s face and the arm that flashed out instinctively in protection cracked horribly as wood met bone. White pain exploded with such force that Dredly stumbled backwards and fell. That saved his life. Mad Freddie, cosh in wing, was already rising up to smash Dredly’s skull when he tumbled back onto him. The pigeon’s snarl turned to a look of terror as the big bird, unable to manoeuvre, was caught under the falling man. Even Il Cuculo was sickened by the flump, muffled squawk and puff of feathers as Dredly unwittingly squished his foe. The momentary relief of a soft landing was almost instantly banished by the agony of the broken arm, but Dredly had to act or die. Il Cuculo’s split second of indecision after seeing his partner crushed was the only chance Dredly had and he took it. He snatched a coin out of his pocket and hurled it at the mafiosi bird, rolled over, scrambled to his feet and was running before Il Cuculo could react.

Dredly is mugged by mafia pigeons in one of the comedy books at Dredly.comWith the cosh in one wing and the other flapping to keep him steady, the bird had no defence and was caught full in the face by the well-aimed coin. Had it simply been a ten or twenty cent piece, he might have been able to shrug it off and press home his attack, but Dredly had had a pocketful of one and two Euro coins ready for a quick fling on the casino slot machines later that night. And it was a heavy two Euro coin that connected with Il Cuculo’s right eye, popping it clear out of the socket in a spray of blood. Il Cuculo shrieked, plummeted to the hard flagstones and was left flailing blindly in agony and anger at the man who was already halfway across the square and shouting for his friend. 

Sage had meanwhile had a few problems of his own. Spotless as the restaurant toilets were, he was loath to put any of his bags of souvenirs down on the floor. There wasn’t enough space to put them next to the sink and this meant that he had to try to stand at the urinals with his bags still in hand. Unzipping and so forth was difficult enough, but the balance of keeping an accurate stream while trying to stop the bags from bumping into the bowl or the undoubtedly urine spattered porcelain dividing barriers between the urinals was next to impossible! It took every ounce of concentration, but as his stream started to peter out, his real problems truly began. With the force of the flow subsiding, he would have to get closer to the urinal or risk peeing on his shoes, but if he got any closer his bags would surely make contact with the bowl. It was a dilemma that was fast becoming an emergency. Sage strained to increase the rapidly dying torrent and bought himself an extra second to think. That was the moment the carrier bag struck!

Of all species of bag, from simple plastic to faux armadillo skin designer bags, one stands head and shoulders above the others as the most spiteful and vindictive. The paper bag with ‘reinforced’ paper handles. Favoured by tourist traps, eco-friendly stores and high-class boutiques, this bag has one aim and one aim only – to ruin the day of the poor wretch carrying it around. It will seem perfectly sturdy and easily up to the task of containing the load entrusted to it, but this is a smokescreen. In truth the bag is biding its time, watching and waiting for the absolute worst moment possible to split, break a handle or simply burst.
Sage was holding two such bags in each hand. Outnumbered four to one, he never stood a chance. Just as he started to move forward to correct his flow, the handle of one of his bags broke and a jumble of postcards fell haplessly into the urinal,

Sage has toilet trouble in one of the funny books at Dredly.com
“No!” Sage yelped, but his reaction was too quick and the sudden torsion as he tried to jerk the first bag away from the toilet gave the other bags their chance. There was a sudden ripping and bursting and then it was all over. Sage looked miserably at the selection of cards, miniature models of famous landmarks, the model gondola, carnival mask, St Mark’s snow globe and other bits of touristy tat that now adorned the floor and bowl. It was as if a small gift shop had exploded in the urinal. He swore, then did what any right-thinking man would do in the same situation and scarpered.

As Sage came dashing over the bridge of the restaurant, he caught sight of Dredly running towards him and instantly knew something had gone horribly wrong.
“Pigeons!” Dredly panted.
“We’ve gotta get you outta here,” said Sage, then, “Oh crap!”
Dredly followed his friend’s gaze down the narrow alley that led back towards the Rialto Bridge and their hotel. A group of about ten tough looking pigeons were walking deliberately towards them with coshes gripped in their wings and murder in their hearts.
“Follow me!” Sage cried, “I’ve got a plan.”
And with that he sprinted off down a side alley. Dredly ran off after him, but the pain from his arm was slowing him down. Then came a sound that turned his blood to ice – the clatter of pigeon wings. The thought of being clubbed to death like a helpless seal pup spurred him on and somehow his legs found an extra couple of miles an hour.

Sage was diving down one alley after another and, for Dredly, following him was like chasing the white rabbit down the hole. Within moments he had no idea where he was or where they were heading. Up ahead, however, Sage knew exactly where he was going. He’d spotted an incongruous power boat moored alongside some gondolas a little earlier and had wondered what it would be like to steal it. Soon he would find out. But as he plunged headlong down another shadowy side street, a quick glance over his shoulder confirmed his fear that the pigeons had not only taken off and were fast catching them, but that they had mobilised their compatriots. A flock of the vile birds was heading straight for them. Sage instinctively knew they would catch him before he could reach the boat. He had to slow them down, but how? Up ahead stood a man in a clown costume selling helium filled novelty balloons and fifty or more must have been strung around his wrist. Yes, that would do nicely!

For Giuseppe Delvecchio, sweating in his heavy clown outfit, balloons were his love – the joy they gave children warmed his heart and made all the sweat, toil and blisters from his big clown shoes worth it. But times had been hard and he was barely scraping by. If he sold this whole selection of balloons by nightfall he would just be able to keep trading. And so far that day everything had been going according to plan. Yes, everything would be all righ… the sudden jolt, blur of beard and body odour and shout of
“Sorry mate,” happened so fast that before he knew what was going on, the clown was lying on the ground with the wind knocked out of him, looking up at his balloons floating away into the air. But before he could even clutch desperately for the trailing strings, a flock of pigeons had flown headlong into them and the alleyway was filled with the sounds of popping balloons, smashing windows as disorientated pigeons crashed into the buildings, and angry cooing, comically made higher and sillier by the helium. It was the sound of Giuseppe Delvecchio’s dream ending and his head slumped back to the ground in final defeat. Fate had crushed him and now be would have to return to street sweeping in Naples and the shame of failure*.

*To this day the street sweeping clown of Naples is a feature of the city. Tourists flock to have their photograph taken with him and he gets by, but the merest glimpse of a deflated balloon in the gutter will reduce him to a weeping wreck.

As he ran on, Sage was rather pleased with his brilliant plan to slow the pigeons down. And anyway, the clown would be okay – balloons were easy to come by. He rounded a corner and saw the speedboat gleaming in the sunshine alongside some gondolas. He slowed as he ran to the mooring and looked back to Dredly, who was steaming up the street.
“Speed boat or gondola?” Dredly gasped, catching up.
“Speedboat!” Sage yelled.
“But the gondola’s more traditional…” Dredly began.
“Sod tradition, they’re gonna tear us apart!” Sage snapped, leaping behind the wheel.
Dredly lifted the rope off the mooring and bundled into the back of the boat. He winced with pain and cradled his broken arm as Sage gunned the engine and the prow of the boat rose in the water. Dredly watched the pigeons that had by now regrouped recede into the distance and had to admit that Sage had been right about taking the motorboat. It was just a shame about the gondola – Dredly had really wanted to ride in one and felt that they had missed out on some of the romance and joie de vivre of the trip by not having a proper gondola ride through the city. But in life timing’s everything and a gondola ride at that point would have been a one-way ticket to a feathery, poop encrusted death.

Sage turned into the Grand Canal and thrilled at the power at his control. The only snag was that he didn’t have the first idea how to drive a car, let alone a boat. The beautifully preserved 1970’s Riva Olympic that he’d stolen could still do over 60 knots and was a handful for even the adept driver. Sage’s ham-fisted mishandling turned it from a sleek masterpiece of the shipwright’s art into a careering death trap.
“What-are-you-doing?” Dredly shouted, each word punched out of him as the boat skimmed off the water, then slammed back onto it. But Sage said nothing. His jaw was clenched in a rictus of sheer terror and exhilaration as he weaved through the jumble of gondolas, river taxis and pleasure boats full of fat tourists wobbling at them angrily. The kaleidoscope of shapes and colours flashing towards him and the cacophony of screaming, swearing, air horns and crashing boats was a tidal wave of super-sensory overload. Sage had brought Grand Theft Auto to Venice and it was bitchin! But just as he was finally getting the hang of it, disaster loomed up out of the water in the shape of an enormous black Hummer. It was slap dab in the middle of the canal and the boat with the crane that was fishing it out took up the rest of the space. Sage let out a primaeval yell – the sort he made on discovering that Dredly had secretly snaffled the left over curry – and turned the wheel hard right. The boat responded, but would they make the tight turn into the side canal? The bank was coming at them fast. Too fast! They were going to crash into those innocent tourists! Oh shit – they weren’t tourists, they were
“Nuns!” Sage screamed as the boat skidded across the water sideways. Then incredibly – miraculously – the propeller dug in and, with millimetres to spare, the boat made the turn. From the back, Dredly watched in horror as the huge wave they’d created crashed over the nuns, pitching them in all directions like so many novelty religious ninepins.
“Terribly sorry,” Dredly called as he and Sage sped off so fast that he only half heard the heavily built Mother Superior howling a threat about feeding their balls to Satan’s poodles.

But aside from the eternal fate of their dangly bits, there were other things to worry about. Where were those pigeons? Dredly checked the sky behind them and could see a patch of grey wheeling from the Grand Canal to follow them. And there was something else. Right above them, very high in the sky, was a black cloud – a black cloud that seemed to be circling. Could they be crows? Dammit! As if battling pigeons wasn’t enough. Up front, Sage had managed to get his bollocks back down to where they belonged from the place somewhere near his throat to which they’d bolted in terror as he’d taken the corner. He felt that he’d now built up a rapport with the boat, that they understood each other. He was half right. The boat fully understood that it was in the hands of a hopeless incompetent and that if it didn’t do most of the work it would end up as driftwood. It was therefore doing its level best to help the men, even if the beardy one smelt funny. And anyway, this was much more fun than being driven slowly round the canals by the boring old fart who owned it, cruising for girls whom he would ultimately disappoint when it came to the bedroom. Yes, so long as it could keep Sage from ramming them into the Doge’s Palace or parking them half way up St Mark’s bell tower they’d be fine.

Sage looked hard into the distance. There was something strange up ahead, like a curtain of mist across the canal even though it was a bright sunny afternoon. He eased up on the throttle and then realized what he was looking at,
“Sparrows,” he shouted, pointing as the hovering mass of tiny birds blocking their progress.
“Shit! They’ve got every bird in Venice after us,” Dredly didn’t like it. He cursed the decision that had brought them to Venice – none of this would be happening if they’d gone waffle hunting in Belgium like he’d suggested. First off they’d both have guns and secondly there hadn’t been a single waffle attack on humans in over four hundred years. No, Venice had definitely been a mistake!
“I’ll try down here,” said Sage taking a sharp left turn at a sensible speed, then opening up the taps.
“They aren’t following,” Dredly called, but it didn’t give him any sense of relief. It was almost as if they were being corralled. Having said that, though, it did seem that Sage’s outrageously reckless driving had given them a healthy lead over the pigeons. The boat roared down the narrow canal and Sage was hoping that it wasn’t going to get any narrower, when they suddenly shot out into open water with the isle of Giudecca dead ahead. He eased the wheel left… now he could see the glittering waters of the main lagoon up ahead, but would they make it? They had to get past the mouth of the Grand Canal and St Mark’s Square. The pigeons still had plenty of opportunities to cut them off. Sage gave the throttle the beans and prayed that the pesky pigeons had lost interest, spontaneously combusted or found a new statue to decorate.

In his exquisitely appointed salon, Massimo Grassi was listening to a nervous young dove tell him the news of Il Cuculo’s failure,
“…and he has lost an eye and Mad Freddie will live, but he’ll never fly again and the men have stolen a speed boat and we’re giving chase, but if they get out to sea…”
Grassi raised a wing to silence the twittering. It didn’t really matter what state his lieutenant was in. It didn’t even matter that Grassi himself had heard the uproar from the Grand Canal as the men had sped past his apartment leaving destruction in their wake. All that was important was stopping the men. If he couldn’t catch them and kill them himself conspicuously and ferociously, his grip on the city would be lost and he would be a dead duck.
“We need every bird now – sparrows and crows included. This ends here!”
The nervous bird flapped out through the window to spread the word to the troops and Massimo Grassi fluttered unhurriedly to a magnificent silver casket on the ornately carved walnut and olive wood sideboard. He raised the lid to reveal a beautifully polished mahogany truncheon, which he took and hefted in his wing. It was a perfectly balanced piece of brutal art, made all the more menacing by the scores of neat notches down one side. Today, two more notches would be added. Grassi stowed the cosh under his left wing and flew out of the salon with a cry of
“Pigeons to war!”

The sky outside his apartment on the Grand Canal was filled with pigeons eager for slaughter and they immediately flocked to their leader. The tourists below them were still recovering from Sage’s driving and only one or two noticed as phalanxes of pigeons flapped off in the direction of the sea. As Grassi led his birds forward, he could see the little boat with the two men shooting up the channel between the main city and Giudecca. It would be a close thing as to who would make the mouth of the Grand Canal first – the men or the birds. Grassi gave a signal and the left flank of his force wheeled towards St Mark’s to try to cut the men off if they made it past the Grand Canal. Another signal sent the fastest fliers straight on in a wave of feral, flapping hate. They would certainly catch the men and if they could slow them down for the main force to join the assault, the men were doomed. Grassi looked over his shoulder and could see the crows high up to the right of the chase. They were circling in the thermals. Typical lazy crows! They would only enter the fray once it was obvious who would win. They were the worst kind of allies and he cursed them. And where in hell were those sparrows?

As Sage pushed the engine as hard as he could, Dredly looked to the left and felt his sphincter suddenly contract. The sky was full of pigeons and they were on a direct course to intercept them at the mouth of the Grand Canal.
“Got company to port,” he shouted. Sage didn’t even glance up, but just kept on driving.
Quick calculations of distances and relative speeds flashed through Dredly’s keen, gambler’s brain,
“We’ll beat the main flock, but they’ve got outriders that’ll give us a run for our money.”
Sage could do no more than press home the throttle as the big V8 engine bellowed with the kind of wonderful deep roar that would make Jeremy Clarkson have a trouser accident. The boat was doing its damnedest to beat the pigeons. It was not about to allow its warm, highly polished wood and sumptuous cream and turquoise upholstery to be ruined. Its official top speed was 70 knots – about 80 mph – but for this it was straining every valve, every piston to stretch to 85 knots. Could the pigeons beat 97 mph in a straight sprint? In seconds they would know.

Dredly knew they needed an edge and desperately searched the back of the boat for a flare gun, boat hook or something that would help repel the pigeons. He opened a cubby hole to find an icebox with a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Rose Champagne, two glasses and some caviar – not massively useful, but at least if they got out of all this they’d be able to celebrate. Another compartment contained a supply of Viagra, condoms and a leather posing pouch, none of which he wanted to touch. One drawer was stuffed with lubricants and nipple clamps, another with well-thumbed back copies of Old Man Porn Monthly. Who was this guy? Everything aboard was naughty and nothing was nautical! Dredly would have to make do with what was there. He grabbed the Champers, tore off the foil and wire and turned to the onrushing pigeons. They were close enough for him to see their savage expressions, their eyes gleaming with the endorphin high of battle, but Dredly only had one shot and had to wait for it… gotcha! The Champagne cork popped straight and true, catching the lead pigeon right between its beady eyes. It stopped mid air and was instantly rear-ended by the following pigeon. In a split second there was a ball of piled up pigeons plummeting to the water. In a flash, Dredly had put the Champagne back into the icebox, taken the tin of caviar and hurled it like a Frisbee at the nearest bird. It dodged the missile, but the bird behind took it in the shoulder and another mess of tumbling feathers signalled that it had taken out some of its compatriots.

Now the birds were so close that Sage could hear their flapping near his head.
“Weapon!” he cried and was somewhat surprised when a slightly sticky copy of some old man’s porn mag’ was shoved into his hand. But there wasn’t time to worry about the fact that a gun would have been more useful, or about what might have caused the stickiness, or to peruse the fascinating articles on how to pleasure a woman forty years your junior. Sage barely had time to roll the magazine up before the first pigeon went for him. He batted it off with the magazine and caught a brief glimpse of it as it hit the water, but was then assailed by another and another. First he tried to target his blows, but this quickly descended into aimless thrashing which seemed to work just as well. Then came a moment of horror. Suddenly the note of the engine changed and Sage looked down to see a crafty pigeon had got to the throttle and was easing her down,
“Oh no you don’t,” Sage growled before beating the bird senseless with old folk filth. He pushed the throttle back and the engine sang once more. The sudden lurch even worked in their favour as the birds were caught out and left flapping at thin air for a few moments. It was a short respite, as it only took seconds for them to catch up with the boat again.

Sage and Dredly repel pigeon boarders in one of the humor books at Dredly.comIn the back Dredly was using every weapon at his disposal. Even the posing pouch was thrown at the birds and Dredly almost felt sorry for the dove that caught the musky gusset full in the face. A movement to Dredly’s right caught his eye and he just intercepted a pigeon as it was about to hit Sage with its cosh. The bird, intent on its target, was caught unawares and the first it knew of Dredly’s attack was the sudden agony in its breast. It clutched at the vicious nipple clamp, pirouetted with a cry of
“He got me,” and fell limply into the embracing waters of the lagoon.
Facefuls of lube accounted for a couple of other birds as the fighting turned into dirty hand to wing combat. And when Sage glanced back to see how Dredly was doing, even he was horrified at the sight of his friend pouring Viagra pills down a pigeon’s gullet and throwing it over the side. If it survived the water, would it overdose? And what actually happened when you overdose on Viagra? Sage didn’t know, but he felt sure it wouldn’t be pretty. Now Dredly was down to nothing but a magazine and he and Sage were lashing out at their feathered foes like a pair of demented Errol Flynn wannabes, but their tactic was working. At one point the boat had been a swarming mess of blood, sweat and feathers, but now the men were down to the last few of the vanguard and with a couple of well-placed swats, a head-butt from Sage and a clean uppercut from Dredly, the last of the belligerent birds was cleared from the boat.

The advanced party had failed to stop them and the boat bolted across the mouth of the Grand Canal before the bulk of the pigeons could cut it off. But Sage knew that with St Mark’s still to come they weren’t out of it yet. Dredly was in agony with his broken arm and was covered in poop, scratches and peck marks from the battle. His energy was running out fast and so was his hope. They couldn’t repel another attack and the view from the back of the boat of thousands of death-dealing pigeons racing towards them was frankly terrifying. Perhaps it would be better to just jump ship and give themselves over to a watery grave than suffer an ignominious death under the coshes of these vicious birds. If the view out the back was frightening, the view to port of a cloud of birds wheeling in their direction from St Mark’s Square was even worse. Sage corrected their course to head away from the shore. He pointed the prow of the boat straight at the bar of land across the lagoon that was the Lido with a course that would just miss the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Once they were out in the middle of the lagoon he would sweep left towards the throat of the bay. It was essential to keep up the pace. If they didn’t take the entrance to the lagoon at full tilt they’d be dead men.

Massimo Grassi’s sharp eyes took in the entire scene and, like any good general, he knew at once what the result of the battle would be. A smile played across his face. The men might have the legs on them across the lagoon, but there was no way they could go through its mouth at full speed. That would be the killing ground. The day was his even without the help of those no good crows and sparrows. Yes, when all of this was over, he would mete out summary retribution on his so-called allies. Soon the heads of their leaders would be displayed on the spikes running around the roof of the Doge’s Palace. The birds surging from St Mark’s Square were unable to intercept the speeding boat, but that didn’t matter – the entrance to the lagoon was the key. Grassi gave the command to regroup. The St Mark’s flank wheeled to join the main force and now they flew on the wings of hate to rain death from above on the men. As they soared out across the lagoon, none of the onrushing pigeons saw the vast swathe of sparrows rise up from the city behind them. They had been waiting for the moment the pigeons cleared the land before they made their move and now they flocked in their tens of thousands to guard the rear of the pigeon attack. Meanwhile the crows, too, were making their move. As the circling crows to the right of Grassi’s force formed up into a menacing flank, a huge black cloud rose up from the island of Murano far to the left of the battle and started to flap slowly towards the fray. The crows were creating a pincer and there was no way on God’s good earth the men in the boat could escape.

Dredly saw it all and gave a dry gulp. So this was it…
“Oh my hairy arse!” Sage gasped and Dredly turned to look. He instantly wished he hadn’t. Up ahead of them the whole shoreline of the Lido seemed to erupt in white.
“Seagulls,” Sage shouted as the horde of birds came at them.
Sage kept the power on and started the turn towards the harbour entrance, but knew that it was futile. The seagulls would catch them in seconds and tear them limb from limb. And the worst of it was he still didn’t know what the hell they had done to deserve it. It was a matter of counting seconds before the endless wave of seagulls crashed onto them. Did he have anything important to say to Dredly before they died?
“Mate, I just want you to know I’ve never liked the way you say ‘quagmire’.”
Dredly didn’t have the strength for a witty repost and simply closed his eyes and waited for death. Three… two… one… one… one… was it over? Were they dead? He opened one eye, then the other, then stared in utter astonishment at the drama playing out in the skies above the lagoon. The host of seagulls appeared to have slammed straight into the grey mass of pigeons, which was trapped between the seagulls, two flanks of black crows and a vast bank of sparrows behind. The birds seemed to have gone mad and started attacking each other, for everywhere he looked pigeons were raining from the sky as they were mobbed by the other birds.
“Keep going,” he called to Sage as they raced, unmolested, towards the lagoon entrance.

As he had led his pigeons across the lagoon, Massimo Grassi had only had one thought in his head and that was to kill the men. He had not questioned what other motives the crows and sparrows might have had for not joining the attack beyond their assumed incompetence. He had led his entire force out across the water purely to save his own reputation and the price of his vanity would be high. It was only when the seagulls had suddenly charged that the truth behind the crows’ and sparrows’ actions became instantly, horribly clear. It was a trap! The seagulls must have made a pact with the crows and sparrows to draw him out into a battle on their ground and then shut the door behind him. They must have heard about his deal with the cormorants and decided to take him out first. All these thoughts raced through his head in the seconds between the launch of the seagull assault and the moment the seagull vanguard crashed into his flock. Then everything became a blur of pecking, scratching, feathers, talons, coshes and beaks as he and his lieutenants tried to withstand the attack, but to no avail. His cosh was knocked from his grasp as four or five gulls mobbed him. All he knew was a welter of blows he couldn’t defend and then a starburst of pain at the back of his neck. Massimo Grassi, don of doves, colossus of crime, prince of pigeons was nothing more than a limp ball of feathers as he dropped from the sky and slapped onto the surface of the Venice lagoon. He lay, held up for a moment by surface tension, staring up at the battle raging above him. He had led his whole organisation to disaster and as the water started to seep through his feathers to drag him under, Ecclesiastes Chapter One, Verse Two came to his mind,
“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
Then the waters closed over him and Massimo Grassi was gone.

Sage saw nothing of this as he pushed the boat on towards the mouth of the lagoon and safety. He seemed to be having so much fun that Dredly didn’t have the heart to tell him that they weren’t being chased any more. Not a single bird had followed them. In fact, with the pigeons so preoccupied, it was probably safe to turn around, head back to the island of Murano and go shopping for glassware. Dredly toyed with the idea, but then dismissed it. The idea shuffled off miserably, feeling cheap, as if it had been used. Meanwhile Sage slowed to take the turn out of the mouth of the lagoon, but then opened her up again and, with a boom of the muscular V8 engine, they were surging across the azure waters of the Adriatic.
“We’re safe.” Dredly patted Sage on the shoulder. Sage looked round and could see they had already put a couple of miles between themselves and the birds. He stared in wonder at the aerial battle above the lagoon. It seemed like a strange, seething cloud was raining great, grey drops into the water below.
“What happened?”
“The seagulls attacked the pigeons,” Dredly replied, then opening the icebox, “Champagne?”
“What is it?” Sage was very picky when it came to that sort of thing.
“Pink. Billecart…”
“You had me at pink,” Sage smiled as Dredly poured two generous glasses.
“To life!” said Sage and the two men drank deeply. The wine was chilled to perfection, light, dry with just a hint of blush fruitiness.
“Lovely,” Dredly winced as the dissipation of adrenalin allowed the pain from his arm to flood his body, “And now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll faint.”
With that he sank onto the soft passenger seat and the awaiting arms of Morpheus…
“Er… are you going to faint or what?” Sage asked as Dredly sat there wide awake.
“Apparently not,” Dredly replied, somewhat annoyed. He had been rather looking forward to fainting dramatically and not having to endure the pain for the rest of the journey.
“Just sit still and drink while I get us to safety,” said Sage kindly.
“We’ve got the fuel, so why not. Be nice to have the whole of the Adriatic between us and those bloody birds.”
“Amen to that!” Dredly filled up their glasses and settled himself comfortably, “I just wish I knew what it was all about.”

The question kept coming up over the course of the next three days, but for the life of them neither Sage nor Dredly could work out what they had done to cause the pigeons to attack. After an easy ride across the sea to Trieste during which Sage truly bonded with the boat, he decided not to give it back to the old perv who’d owned it. Instead he moored it in style in the swanky Marina San Giusto. The boat was overjoyed and a fierce feeling of loyalty, bordering on love rose inside its hull for this short, smelly man who had saved it from a lifetime of curb crawling. It would be ready to go whenever Sage needed it. Dredly was touched by the relationship, but wished Sage had taken him to the hospital first and sorted the boat out afterwards. But when they finally got to a hospital, Dredly cheered up. The break in the arm was clean, the nurses were pretty and the painkillers copious. Yes, as he lay in his bed three days later, washed and brushed, Dredly was happy. This was partly down to the pills, but mainly because one of the nurses – lithe, tanned and with fire in her ears - had taken a fancy to him. Her name was Valentina and Dredly suspected she might be a Satanist. He didn’t mind - everybody has their little foibles. Maybe they could make it work…

“They’re gonna let you out today,” said Sage, finishing the last of the grapes he’d brought for Dredly and of which Dredly had had precisely two.
“Pity. This is much nicer than that hotel in Venice.”
“Oh yeah, that reminds me, I phoned ‘em up and the concierge said we can’t have our luggage back ‘cos he’s already sold it.”
“What? But I had a uniform of the Scots Greys in there I hadn’t even worn yet,” Dredly said bitterly.
“I know. My favourite pants have gone too.”
“Not the…”
“Iron Man ones. Yes.”
“The fiend!” Dredly cursed – did the fellow have no honour? Then a more worrying thought occurred,
“Who on earth would want to buy a pair of your used pants?”
“Scary, isn’t it!” Sage shivered at the thought of depraved weirdo who’d stump up for an item like that. Neither of them would ever know the fate of the pants, but at that precise moment in the bedroom of an expensive Venetian apartment, saggy old limbs were putting on those very pants. They felt good! They made the wrinkly old man feel powerful. And perhaps they would be as much of a babe magnet as the motorboat he’d lost a few days previously. That night he would find out.

“Anyway, on the bright side, at least we won’t have to pay loads extra for luggage on our budget flight home.”
“Good point,” Dredly liked the thinking. The breakdown of costs for their outward bound flight had been frightening. Although the flight had cost only £10, they’d been charged £30 each for having a suitcase (£60 in Dredly’s case, because he’d been half a gram over the 15 kilo weight allowance); then there was the £20 for the luggage tags; £17 for the check-in lady to look at the bags; £26 for her to ask them whether they’d packed the bags themselves; £53 for conveyor belt upkeep; £12 to have 3 burly men kick their bags to the plane; £41 to throw them into the plane; £65 to drop them out of the plane onto the tarmac on arrival; £27 to have an Italian sniffer dog wee on them and £69 for carousel usage.
“Come on, get dressed and we can go for some lunch before the flight. I’ve found a great place.”
“Does it do spaghetti vongole?” asked Dredly, who felt that a trip to a port city in Northern Italy wasn’t complete without a bowl of it.
“Best in town,” Sage grinned.

As Dredly swung out of bed and started getting dressed, neither man noticed a movement outside on the window ledge. A mangled pigeon with a bloody patch over one eye landed inelegantly, cursing its sudden lack of depth perception. It hobbled along the ledge to get a better view of the men inside and fury boiled within it as it recognized them. They were smiling, laughing – one day it would turn that laughter into screams of pain! If only it could find out where they were going… now the blonde one was dressed and they were leaving. The pigeon painfully opened its wings and didn’t so much swoop as tumble down to the tree overlooking the hospital entrance. After a pause the men appeared accompanied by a very attractive nurse. She kissed the blonde man and gave him a scrap of paper, fought off the short one’s attempt to kiss her goodbye too and went back into the hospital. A cab drew up and the pigeon strained to hear the short man say the destination, but missed it. As the cab pulled away the bird tried to fly after it, but it was no use. Its injuries and the flight across the Adriatic had left it exhausted. It landed in a heap, then slowly limped after the cab. As the vehicle disappeared into the city, the pigeon raised its eye to heaven and swore revenge. If ever they dared to show their faces in Venice again, Il Cuculo would be waiting.



But the team will return:

Albert and Calorie are buying a new Jag, but will Albert get his wish and have a French maid fitted as standard? Will the sat nav take them where they want to go, or will they find themselves on the highway to hell? All will be revealed sometime in the not too distant future in the cunningly titled...


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