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Authors: Tim Davys


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Tim Davys



The Task

here was
once a fox who was stricken by love. The fox's name was Antonio Ortega, and this
love was of a rare variety, the kind you only experience once in your life. Her
name was Beatrice Cockatoo, and the moment the fox saw her he knew it was her or
no one.

Ortega was not a stuffed animal with much sense. Up
to this point he had lived his life without direction, but the day he saw
Cockatoo everything changed. From one moment to the next he was filled by a
purpose that gave his life meaning.

Fox Antonio Ortega was one of the most beautiful
stuffed animals that had ever been delivered to Mollisan Town. His intensely
dark red fur glistened as if strewn with gold dust. His stuffing was so compact
and hard that not the slightest unevenness could be found, his seams so discreet
not even the rain could reveal them. His nose was made of onyx and his eyes were
opals; his ears stood at strict attention and his tail, with a tip as white as
sugar, was so majestic it caused other stuffed animals to turn around on the
street and sigh with envy.

The day he went to ask for Beatrice Cockatoo's claw
he put on the finest clothes he had: a stylish, narrow-cut black suit in the
latest pattern, a white shirt, and a dark red tie that reinforced the color of
his own fur. Ortega the fox was as poor as everyone else in the neighborhood,
but he had plenty of clothes. On his way toward saffron yellow Puerta de Alcalà
he took the detour past Cle Torija, where he bought three long-stemmed, golden
yellow roses at the Sors Rose Studio. A little farther down the same street he
stopped at Sax's Fabrics and Notions and bought an exclusive polishing cloth for
eyes, beak, and nose. The cloth had small embroidered roses on the edge, and he
had it wrapped in a red silk ribbon that also cost a pretty penny. But, Fox
Antonio Ortega reasoned, this was the first and last time he was going

Beatrice Cockatoo lived on the top floor of La
Cueva, a restaurant believed by many to be the foremost in all of Mollisan Town
and run by her father, the frightful Dragon Aguado Molina. In his role as
restaurateur and host at La Cueva, Dragon made an effort to appear jovial and a
little silly. At the restaurant his physical appearance was more grandiose than
unpleasant. He was not green, like many others of his sort, but dark and
alarmingly violet. His sharp teeth glistened in his mouth, which was padded with
a fiery red silk fabric, and from the farthest tip of his long tail, across his
back and all the way up to the neck, he had triangular black patches of cloth
standing straight up. His arms were short while the claws on his back feet were
thick as bottlenecks.

Molina laughed loudly as he piloted the guests to
their tables, he applauded his own jokes—though he knew how ridiculous that
looked with his short arms—and he let his long tail sweep along the floor while
pretending not to be aware of it. The guests loved it.

But Dragon Aguado Molina was only a fat, kindly,
amusing restaurateur five evenings a week (La Cueva was closed Sundays and
Mondays). When he had his henchmen smash the furnishings of a storekeeper who
didn't pay his “insurance premiums,” Aguado Molina no longer appeared silly. No
jovial laughter was heard as he mercilessly burned up squealers and forced the
cubs of police officers to betray their parents. When he counted his protection
money, he served up no applause or good-hearted smiles.

stuffed animals living in other parts of Mollisan Town, Yok, the southeast part
of the city, was one big source of infection, an evil that could only be
tolerated by being ignored. For those of us who lived there, its four districts
were distinct.

Mindie was Yok's northwest corner. Bordering
Amberville and Lanceheim, it was the entertainment district of that part of the
city. Stuffed animals went there at night and stayed out until the wee hours.
For the poor creatures who lived in the midst of this melting pot of drug trade,
prostitution, and gambling, there was only one possible strategy: hose down the
sidewalks in the morning and go on with their laborious lives without worrying
about what happened outside their doors.

The area south of Mindie that bordered the forests
south of the city was called Pertiny. The cityscape in Pertiny differed from the
rest of Yok and was dominated by large, flat, and similar industrial buildings,
surrounded by expansive parking lots and tall chimneys that day in and day out
spewed forth foul-smelling, gray-black smoke; anywhere you were in the district
there was a pungent, acid stench.

Corbod made up the southeast tip of Mollisan Town
and Yok. Corbod differed from the other districts in that trash collection
functioned, the bulbs in the streetlights were changed when they burned out and
the potholes in the asphalt were repaired instead of traffic being rerouted up
onto the sidewalks. The stuffed animals in Corbod got up in the morning, went to
work—some worked in other parts of the city—and returned home again in the
evening by way of food stores and day-care pickups. They lived a life that made
society function, and they longed for nothing different and better.

Dragon Aguado Molina resided in the fourth
district, called Sors, wedged in south of mint green East Avenue and east of
deep blue Avinguda de Pedrables. In Sors were the official buildings and
agencies that Mollisan Town had relocated to Yok for the sake of fairness and
job opportunities, including the city's largest library; a large university
campus; and a number of well-maintained stone buildings where the ministries of
Environment, Finance, and Culture had been forced to house various less
significant committees and departments. The area where Molina had ruled for more
than thirty years was a bit south of the official buildings, and consisted of
almost forty blocks where saffron yellow Puerta de Alcalà comprised the northern
border and indigo blue Calle Gran Via its eastern boundary. Though Aguado Molina
had controlled the neighborhood for so long, he took nothing for granted;
internal power struggles, gang warfare, and maintaining official corruption were
an ongoing process. For the past few months he had been provoked by an octopus
who made repeated, irritating incursions from the north. Molina underestimated
no one but did note that many of the octopus's sort had come and gone over the

day when Fox was on his way with flowers and the polishing cloth to La Cueva had
begun unhappily for the gangster boss. His breakfast was always served in the
private dining room facing the courtyard, and this morning, before he had read
the sports pages or wiped the egg yolk from the corner of his mouth, Luciano
Hyena showed up with depressing news. In a pinstripe suit, Hyena stood at the
threshold to the dark room like a little cub, voice shaking, and looked at the
floor as he told what had happened. The morning liquor transport to Tourquai had
been ambushed in one of Yok's thousands of narrow alleys, and now moonshine was
running down the sidewalk instead of down the rich throats who paid generously
for a beautiful label and a stylish bottle, regardless of the content.

Dragon threw down his napkin and hurried into the
restaurant. He screamed his orders at Luciano: Everyone who had been in that
truck should immediately appear at La Cueva and be held accountable. Just as the
hyena was leaving to execute the order, Molina's personal bodyguard, Vasko
Manatee, came running from the Little Bar, where he was having his morning

“Witnesses!” the dragon roared at Vasko. “There
must be someone who saw what happened!”

The dragon placed himself at the headwaiter's
station and dialed the number to the local police, while Vasko made his way to
the streets in search of someone who would be forced to tell Aguado Molina what
they had seen. The dragon listened to the phone ringing as he calculated in his
head what he had lost on the transport, and how much he would be forced to raise
prices to compensate for the reduction in income. But those details weren't the
most essential. Most important was to set an example. No one was allowed to
think you could challenge Dragon Aguado Molina and go unpunished.

It took a couple of hours, but then the
unfortunates that Luciano Hyena and Vasko Manatee managed to get hold of
appeared. Molina was sitting in one of the half-moon-shaped booths on a red
velvet couch. On the round table in front of him was a small cup of espresso,
which he sipped meditatively while Manatee brought up one stuffed animal after
another who had to stand in the middle of the empty restaurant floor and tell
what happened. Molina asked a question or two, but he wouldn't have needed

The stuffed animals who worked for the dragon and
were responsible for the transport, like those who lived in the neighborhood and
had seen, or thought they'd seen, what happened with the truck, stammered out
their confessions. Shadows rested over the large dragon on the couch. He yawned
at regular intervals, and at the sight of the sharp fangs in the massive red
jaws, all the witnesses got talkative. It did not take long for him to
understand what had happened.

Somehow Octopus Callemaro—these days it was almost
always that confounded octopus!—and his crew had found out the route of the
transport, constructed a barrier of scrap in the path of the vehicle, and
overpowered the driver and guards when the truck was forced to stop. The load
had been smashed, which was quicker than trying to carry away the thousands of
bottles on the truck, and it was all over in a few minutes. Presumably Callemaro
knew which wholesalers the liquor was headed for, and presumably today these
wholesalers had to buy liquor from Callemaro instead.

Dragon Aguado Molina was listening with half an ear
to the stuffed animals' confessions. In the middle of the day a restaurant can
feel like one of civilization's most deserted places. The overly bright lighting
above the bar, the chairs turned upside down on the tables, and the smell of
cigarette butts and alcohol from last evening: a space created for life and
enjoyment becomes frightening when exposed to daylight and emptied of stuffed
animals. The coffee in his cup cooled before he could finish it. On the shelf
above the bar on the other side of the room was his favorite wine, but he
resisted the temptation.

When there were only a couple of stuffed animals
left to question, Molina decided—one of each. That was always a sensible
principle. He would punish one of his own, because someone must have told about
the route, and one of the stuffed animals who lived in the neighborhood, because
they hadn't told about the scrap barrier the octopus's crew had built ahead of

He could not bear listening to the final
confessions. Instead he waved Vasko Manatee over to him, and randomly selected a
vole and a nightingale that he thought were suitable to torture. Vasko dragged
the wretches to the cellar below La Cueva, where they had to wait in the room
next to the freezers, and where there was plenty of equipment to torment a
stuffed animal with, artfully and at length.

Then Vasko sent the others home. The dragon sighed
heavily, yielded to temptation, and asked for a glass of the excellent red

As Vasko poured, Molina muttered to himself, “We
have to do something about that suckerfish.”

Before Vasko could answer, the unexpected happened:
Dragon and Manatee watched as a lone figure stepped unannounced into the
restaurant through the doorway from the Little Bar. It was a fox. His fur
shimmered like red spangles, his steps were light and determined at the same

“Dragon Aguado Molina?” the fox asked.

The dragon stared at the stranger. Vasko did the

“I have come to ask for your daughter's claw.”

might wonder about Fox Antonio Ortega's arrogance. How could he, how did he
dare? But for one thing you must remember that Ortega was no intellectual giant,
and it is unclear whether he truly understood the extent of his actions.
Besides, Ortega was used to getting what he wanted, without having to ask. There
were doors that beauty always opened, and the fox was used to being adored.

Would it be better, perhaps, to try to explain
Antonio Ortega's hubris by telling it from a different perspective? I think
immediately of Wolle Hare, and the evening Fox saw his beloved Beatrice for the
first time.

Hare was a legend in the advertising industry, and
had seen models come and go over the years. But he was the first to admit that
Fox's pictures were sensational.

Hare leaned back, twirled around toward the window
so that he was sitting with his back to the desk, holding up one of the photo

“Completely out-of-this-world amazing,” he

Cat Nikolaus sat on the other side of the desk in
Hare's elegant corner office with adjoining conference room. The cat had on
trendy short jeans, black patent-leather shoes, and a washed-out T-shirt, none
of which was by chance. Now his mission was to agree with the boss in an
intelligent way.

“Can't be said better,” he said. “It's a brilliant
piece of work. The composition. The tail that follows up the lines of the chair.
And there's a forlornness in his eyes that's—”

“He's so damn good-looking”—Hare's voice was heard
from the other side of the tall chair back.

“Yes . . . good-looking. But
. . . it's not just that,” Nikolaus agreed without losing integrity.
“There's something in his eyes that makes stuffed animals—”

Wolle Hare twirled around and fixed his eyes on the
cat, who only a week ago had been named vice president, executive creative
concept director. Hare waved the pictures.

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