The story so far
A disappointing experience with rascally fox Tod has taught our hero Ranulph the need for circumspection. That doesn’t dissuade him from lodging with Tod’s feisty sister, Trixie. In this episode, she and Ranulph cook up a business idea.
RANULPH, a wolf
TOD, a wily fox
TRIXIE, a fox, Tod’s sister
ORLA, a wolf-husky cross who will appear in the third episode
Episode 2: The Fast Food Game
‘There’s a food market on in Southsea.’ Trixie wrenched a clump of feathers out of the fowl she was plucking and spat out some fluff. ‘Palmerston Road. Let’s have a look around.’
I rubbed my nose. The feathers were irritating its sensitive membranes. ‘Is Tod selling there?’ I was keen to avoid Trixie’s brother whenever possible.
‘Way too upmarket for him. They sell fancy, cooked stuff. The humans love it. Make a good living doing that, we could.’
Since those mutts on the pier had clocked I was a wolf, I’d been fishing from the beach, which didn’t promise much of a living. Trixie and I sold a few fish and chickens to her friends. Best not to ask where the chickens came from. Trixie brought back bits of game from her foraging expeditions as well – squirrels, the odd rat or rabbit, once a couple of guinea fowl. We baked them in clay in the embers from the barbeque. It saved the trouble of skinning them as most of the fur came off with the skin when you cracked the clay. I was sick of this kind of food and longed for a shank of venison, something I hadn’t tasted since I came to the city.
Trixie dressed up in a string of beads and a sunhat. Walking proudly on hind legs, she resembled a fox in a children’s picture book, tripping off to market. She looked a lot smarter than the humans we could see milling about in Palmerston Road precinct, even though she wasn’t wearing any other clothes. You can’t beat natural fur of course, but humans haven’t got any. As we approached the stalls I smelled roasting pig.
‘What wouldn’t I give for a taste of that!’ I said.
‘No money, no pig,’ said Trixie.
The humans had plenty, it seemed. They paid the high prices without turning a hair.
‘Lovely potatoes, dug this morning,’ a woman shouted from her stall.
‘Ooh, I love fresh spuds,’ said a man to his wife. ‘We must get some of those.’ They hurried forward to pay two pounds for a small bag of potatoes with no soil on them.
Trixie eyed the burnished hog rotating on the spit. ‘Look at that, Ranulph. We need to get into the cash economy.’
We watched as the pork filling from a child’s bread bun flopped onto the ground.
‘Whoopsie!’ said its mother. ‘Can’t eat that now sweetheart.’
The toddler’s face crumpled but the stallholder handed the mother another piece. She thanked him effusively, removed the crackling and popped the rest in the bun. ‘There, aren’t you lucky!’
The child noticed me and brandished the bun. ‘Doggie.’ Heroically, I resisted the temptation to make a snatch. The child swivelled its head. ‘Nuvver doggie. Look! Doggie hat.’
I turned, just in time to catch Trixie bolting the discarded bit of pork.
‘Doggie hat,’ the child repeated.
‘Yes, sweetheart, the doggie’s got a hat.’ The mother bit into the crackling. Everyone had pork except me.
‘Come on.’ Trixie licked her whiskers. ‘Let’s have a sniff at that chicken over there.’ Even through its coating of spices, the meat smelled enticing.
‘Where do they get all those wings from?’ I watched them sizzling on the grill. ‘And what do they do with the rest of the carcass?’
Trixie snorted under her sunhat. ‘Hens lay boxes of wings just for humans. Have you noticed, you never see any heads!’
But something else was competing for attention. ‘What’s that?’ I said.
‘Cheese.’ Tucking an ear under her hat, Trixie addressed the stallholder. ‘May I try your Stilton?’
‘No problem, Miss, help yourself.’
She took two pieces and gave one to me. It smelled rank and tasted of mould, coating my teeth and tongue in a sour residue. Trixie gulped hers down with every appearance of relish. Seeing my appalled expression, she smirked. ‘Acquired taste, Prof.’
‘My friends don’t call me that,’ I protested as usual, but a display marked mixed game had now seized her attention.
I gulped. ‘I could kill for some venison.’
Trixie jabbed me in the ribs with a sharp claw. ‘You’re drooling, Ranulph. Not a good look.’
The mixed packs were mainly rabbit but nobody seemed bothered. It could have been anything at all they were buying. Nobody asked what was in the game pies either.
‘I’m as hungry as a hunter,’ I said. My stomach rumbled agreement.
When we got home, Trixie opened the freezer. She extracted two squirrel carcasses and a rat and flung them in the sink.
‘They’ll take a while to thaw,’ I said.
‘It’s ages till supper time,’ she said tartly. ‘Now Ranulph, I’ve got an idea. With the game I hunt and the fish you catch, we could set up a little business selling wraps on the seafront. Mixed game, a nice sauce with plenty of tomato. What do you think?’
‘It sounds feasible.’ My stomach gave a loud rumble. ‘Are any of those fish heads left over from last night?’
I made a banner to go above the stall.
‘Wild Food Wraps, great name,’ said Trixie. ‘Edgy.’
‘I’ve heard they think wild is more ethical,’ I said. ‘Let’s see how it goes.’
We prepped the wraps, adding lettuce and tomato from the allotments. ‘Now, don’t smile too broadly,’ said Trixie. ‘Just keep saying, “No problem.”’
She had the lingo. ‘Two game wraps, and here’s two serviettes for you. Ketchup, of course, no problem at all. Anything else for you?’ Smothered in sauce and shrouded in lettuce, squirrel meat sold like hot cakes.
We got bolder. ‘Sorry, we’re out of chicken today but this foraged meat is similar. Here, have a taste! On or off the bone?’
What could possibly go wrong? Until two unpleasant looking individuals appeared on the fringes. Terriers, one big and one small, and I’d seen them before.
‘It’s him from the pier,’ one said. ‘And that’s Foxy Tod’s sister with him. He had my lobsters again last week.’
They barged to the front and stood grinning. ‘Small world eh, fisherwolf! Give us a couple of wraps and we won’t dob you in.’
‘No problem at all.’ Trixie added an extra squirrel leg. ‘Any sauce? Enjoy!’ Her attempt at a simper would have alarmed anyone and they headed off, shoving squirrel into their maws. Trixie was thrilled with our success.
‘What did they mean about dobbing us in?’ I asked.
She tapped the side of her muzzle. ‘We need a licence now we’re in the fast food game.’ She keyed ‘how to start a food stall,’ into her big button phone. I noticed she tapped slowly and tried different spellings for stall. It wasn’t just the problem of claws on a keypad, I was beginning to see. Any writing that needed to be done got delegated unless it concerned prices, which she managed expertly.
‘I wish they’d make the text bigger,’ she said, but she didn’t move the screen closer or farther away.
‘We wolves have excellent near vision. Give me your phone.’ Scrolling down, I read out, ‘Entrepreneurship at its most vibrant.’
Trixie’s ears pricked up.
Licence……….hygiene course…, I read, skimming the website for salient points. It seemed complicated just for a pop-up on the seafront.
‘I’ve done a hygiene course,’ said Trixie. ‘I did the health and safety stuff for my last business. Level 3.’
I should have realised from the efficient way she set about preparing the wraps that she was no novice in the catering business. Her claws were no better adapted than mine to the job, she just knew what she was doing.
Her eyes were shining. ‘Prof, I mean Ranulph, with my knowhow and your brains, we’ll be unbeatable. You’re so well-spoken. And I’ll never have to do any more paperwork. What d’you say?’
‘See me go!’ I said.
Trixie burst out laughing.
Next instalment: Ranulph finds his voice: Our hero joins a choir. He finds his voice, and more besides.