Introduction to Wolf Moon: The Ranulph Fables
This is the first of six stories about a wolf called Ranulph, newly arrived in Portsmouth. Against the wishes of his mother and uncle, Ranulph has abandoned his university studies. He joins forces with two foxes and a wolf-husky cross and, with these new associates, scampers around Southsea in search of fun and adventure. He catches fish on the pier, becomes a partner in a small business on the seafront and experiences first love.
The observant wolf comments on the ways of foxes and dogs, as well as the habits and social institutions of the humans they interact with in Pompey. His sense of humour and good nature keep him buoyant through the ups and downs of his new life.
RANULPH, a wolf
TOD, a wily fox
TRIXIE, a fox, Tod’s sister
ORLA, a wolf-husky cross who appears in the third episode
Episode 1: Ranulph and the Canidae
‘Tod?’ That’s a fox name.’
Tod’s a dude,’ I said. ‘Chill out, Ma.’
‘What’s all this slangy talk Ranulph?’ Her voice battered my eardrums, even with my phone on speaker. ‘And since when have we wolves shared dens with foxes?’
‘We’re the same family, the Canidae,’ I told her. ‘Canis lupus, that’s us wolves, and the foxes, Vulpes vulpes. Oh, and the dogs, Canis domesticus.’
‘If you want to spout Latin, why didn’t you stay at university?’
I’d dropped out of my biology course at the end of the first year.
‘I don’t like the sound of the company you’re keeping,’ she went on. ‘It’s common knowledge that foxes are tricksters.’
‘They get a bad press, especially in the country.’
‘And we know why. Mightn’t a dog be better to share with if you can’t find your own kind in the town?’
‘Dogs have sold out to the humans. Clue’s in the name. Canis domesticus.’
‘There were huskies in my father’s bloodline,’ Ma persisted.
‘Huskies are one thing. You should see the mutts around here. They don’t even look like Canidae.’
‘I wish you’d come home, Ranulph.’
I stifled a yawn. ‘Sorry Ma, got to go. I’ve arranged to meet someone.’
I hadn’t actually arranged to meet Tod but I had a shrewd idea where I’d find my host. Arriving in Portsmouth a couple of days earlier, I’d had no plans for accommodation, figuring something would turn up if I hung out where the action was. That meant the harbour. I was admiring a little fishing boat tied to a jetty when along came this fox with a bunch of old nets, which he flung into the boat. We got talking and he said I could stay at his until I found my feet. He knew a lot about fishing. His den was stuffy and not too clean but I didn’t plan to stay there long.
I found Tod on the jetty where we’d first met.
He tapped a long ash off his fag. ‘How about me and you do a bit of business Prof?’ A nickname already. Why had I mentioned university?
‘What kind of business?’ I asked.
Tod sucked his teeth. ‘I’ve got lobster pots out there. I bring the catch in, you cook them while I get some shuteye and I take them down the market first thing.’
‘How do I cook them?’
‘Boil them of course. Don’t you know that?’
Tod motored out while I set a cauldron over a fire outside his den. It only accommodated four lobsters and Tod brought twenty. They deserved everything they got, I thought as I manhandled them into the cauldron. Although he’d tied their claws, I got my muzzle pinched twice.
The job took most of the night. It took Tod an hour to sell them at a tenner each. He gave me forty quid.
I cradled my sore muzzle. ‘How did you work the sums out?’
‘I’m the one taking the risks.’ He cracked open two lobsters he’d brought back and spooned on mayonnaise, offering me one claw.
That evening Tod proposed fishing for sea bass with lobster remains as bait. ‘Fish will think it’s Christmas.’
‘Are we going in the boat?’ A moonlight fishing expedition. Great start to my maritime life!
‘Ah, the boat. Er, someone else is using it. There’s an incoming tide and the bass should swim up by South Parade Pier.’
Tod showed me how to bait the lines, then scooted off. ‘Gotta rush, business to see to.’
I’d only fished rivers. With a spinner or a fly, or sometimes in the old way, just wading in the shallows, biting the heads off. So I observed closely to get the technique. There were a couple of humans who were skilled, a few dogs who knew what they were doing.
Before long, a shoal of bass came in, right near where I was standing. Beginner’s luck, I caught lots. But as I knocked the last one on the head, a couple of Canis domesticus bustled up. Terriers, one large and curly-coated, one small and tufty-haired, half an ear missing.
‘You new in town? Two a day only for recreational fishing,’ growled the curly one.
‘What do you mean, two a day?’
‘Look, it’s written there,’ squeaked Tufty, pointing at a notice with his muzzle.
They didn’t look the type to be over-worried about the law. I bared my teeth and glared.
‘That’s not a dog, it’s a bloomin’ wolf,’ said Curly. ‘Look at the size of his teeth.’
I wrinkled my nose and laid my ears back, stretching my neck forward.
Tufty rushed at me, yapping, then scuttled back to a safe distance.
Curly raised his voice and looked around. ‘What’s a wolf doing on our pier?’
Heads turned in our direction. But at that moment another shoal came in.
The terriers weren’t distracted. ‘Look at his bait – lobster, that is,’ said Tufty. ‘Bet it was him stole our catch last night.’
I picked up my bucket. Time to leave.
The two dogs followed me down the pier, rushing at my heels then scuttling back. As I turned off the pier into the promenade, Tufty gave me a sharp nip.
What was Ma going to say when she saw the scar above my precious dew claw, that throwback to the husky ancestry she claimed? I didn’t want things to escalate. I gave the dogs half the bass and headed back to Tod’s den with the remaining seven.
He took them and handed me a fiver.
‘You’ve got to be joking!’ I said.
‘It’s piecework, I told you. Must dash. Catch you tomorrow, Prof.’
When I woke next morning, a lady fox was making coffee. She had facial markings like Tod’s. They looked a lot better on her.
She smiled sassily. ‘I hear you’re a good worker. Want some coffee, Prof?’
‘Thanks. My friends call me Ranulph.’
‘I’m Trixie.’ She handed me a mug of coffee. ‘Shame about the fish, Ranulph.’
I nearly choked on the coffee, which was strong and black.
‘That lowlife brother of mine would cheat his own grandmother. Six pounds apiece, he sells them for. You got any bait left?’
I sipped my coffee and watched as she stuck a bit of smelly lobster into each pleat in the curtain over the entrance to Tod’s den.
‘That’s going to stink.’ Folding her forelegs, she eyed the curtain with satisfaction. ‘I think you’d better come with me.’
And that’s how I met Trixie, my landlady, friend and later my business partner.
Foxes are fine if they’re on your side, but you do need to know what side you’re on yourself. As for dogs, well, you live and learn.
Next instalment – The Fast Food Game: Ranulph and Trixie cook up a business idea.