The Quotable

A Shaggy Monkey Story

You probably didn’t know Bert Akins. No great loss. Akins fancied himself a lot of things he wasn’t, startin’ with tellin’ people he just met he owned one of those hydraulics supplies store. The truth of it is the man only managed the place for the real owner — a ne’er-do-well who called in from his yacht once a month to be sure nobody had nipped his tank balls. I suppose some people‘d say that’s the ideal way to put bread on the table, no daily bother from the higher-ups, but that wasn’t good enough for Bert Akins. He never passed up the chance to say he’d made the bread, the oven where it was baked, and the grain out in the field.

What nobody was the wiser to was all his. He also had this annoyin’ way of talkin’ to you like you were blind. “Well, as you can tell from the pen I’m holdin’ here in my hand. . .” That kind of thing. He had to take care of his blind mother for 25 years and he never got over it. I don’t know how his wife and kid put up with it every day. I would’ve thrown a chair at him. How long can you be told what you can see for yourself? But that was his family’s lookout, not mine. If they can deal with it every day, I tells meself, I can put up with it on the odd now and thens I run into the man.

Anyways, one day Akins says to me he’s thinkin’ about buyin’ a piano. I says why do that, he’s no piano player.

He says I got ten fingers and I got two ears here, Doherty, so you’d have to say I’m well along on the road to bein’ good at it, wouldn’t you?

I laugh because I can’t believe he’s serious.

He turns to a beet. You don’t like to see that because if there’s one thing Akins likes to believe about his horseshite, it’s that others take his word as gospel as much as he does. When he sees they don’t, you get more wingein’ than any five-year-old will give you. Woes about everythin’ from havin’ had to take care of his old blind mother to how he can’t visit people without them expectin’ him to give a look at their toilet for any necessary repairs. Anythin’ at all, you see, to get off the subject of bein’ caught in one of his little farcicals. You never hear the end of it.

So I right the ship as fast as I can. Life’s short, and Bert Akins whinin’ don’t make it any longer. Couldn’t agree with you more, Bert, I says, you got the rudiments right there, so why not take the next step and get yourself that piano?

Too bad for me he don’t recognize diplomacy when he hears it and he’s got an answer. Because I don’t have money to buy one, Doherty, he says. You send a kid to school nowadays and they want money for computers because that’s the only way they teach the fuckin’ alphabet. When I said to them I never needed a computer to learn the alphabet, I get this down-your-nose look that says right you are, and that accounts for the letters you never learned how to use. But don’t get me off the point, Doherty. It’s a favor I’m askin’ you.

Uh, oh. I know an alarm bell when it goes off. Oh, no, I says, not carin’ if he turns red as the sun itself, I’m in no position to start lendin’ out the cost of pianos!

No, no, he says, I just want to borrow Rudy for a few days.

This, believe me, was a stumper. Rudy was this little monkey I’d been takin’ care of for somebody who left me stranded with the bloody thing. One favor too many, if you ask me. But that’s another story for another time. The gist of it is I’ve got this cheeterin’ creature at home and every day is a treasure hunt except it’s not gold I get up in the mornin’ to find, but the turds and piss Rudy’s left around somewhere durin’ the night. You want to make a few coin, open a school for trainin’ monkeys to look after theirselves. You’ll be a millionaire inside a few months.

Anyways, as soon as Akins says he’d like to borrow Rudy, me first objection isn’t to what he wants to use Rudy for, but — and never say crassness isn’t always upon us — it’s why he has to be talkin’ of borrowin’  him instead of takin’ him outright. I don’t blurt that out, of course. It’s shame enough to be thinkin’ it with people dependin’ on me to watch over Rudy. Besides, it’d undermine me negotiatin’ position. I kind of shrug, like as to say lendin’ the animal out isn’t all that thrillin’ a prospect unless he can throw in a little more of what they call allure.

Well, first Akins starts with how much of a favor he’s doin’ for me since I’d complained more than once in his presence about Rudy. I pretend not to hear word one. He finally reads the signals and says, okay, he’s got a scheme for makin’ a few coin with Rudy that he’d put against the price for a piano. Would I oppose takin’ some of the profit from the scheme seein’ as how I’d contributed to it with the monkey?

Well, I got to admit it: Pounds, euros, dollars, drachmas — the teller’s window in me pocket is always open for deposits. Akins says he wants to take Rudy on a little trip to the countryside for a few days. Truth to tell, it was a lovely vision — Akins in his old car and Rudy jumpin’ up and down in the back, over the front seats, all over his face to pick at his mustache as he’s drivin’ along, Akins endin’ up in a ditch. Put some of your piano music to that little scene, I think to meself. But then the practicalness of it all spoils my little picture. Where does he want to take the animal, anyways? Not to some travelers who need a monkey for their carnival, I hope. I don’t need the damn creature wreckin’ me apartment every day, but I did promise to keep an eye on him until the owner gets back. A Doherty promise is a Doherty promise.

No, no, says Akins, not to worry. He’ll bring Rudy back. Nobody will know he was ever gone. But if I wouldn’t mind, he’d prefer not hexin’ his scheme and tell me about it only when he gets back. And I’ll have a little more coin for my trouble.

Okay, that much I understand. You got a lot of superstitious people in the world and they don’t want to say they’ve shagged the cute little waitress with the mole on her chest until everyone’s showerin’ off afterwards. You have to respect people’s fears even if they don’t belong to one of your organized religions.

If he can get the leash around the creature and promises to bring him back, I tells Akins, he can borrow Rudy for three days.

And how much is my blind trust in him worth?

I can rest easy, he assures me. He’s sure he’s goin’ to make a few pennies and that means I will, too.

Well, the short of it is I let him have Rudy without more conditions. The least it gets me, I figure, is the time to clean up me place and maybe shoot one of your deodorizers in all the corners.

Over comes Akins one mornin’, I throw in showin’ him how the leash works, and off the two of them go. Rudy’s already on Akins’s head as they go down the stairs. And let’s give him credit — Akins isn’t mad, he seems to like it! The thought occurs to me that even with his wife and kid and customers at the store, he must be a lonely man. What other sort thinks of startin’ to play the piano at his age and probably with no talent for it outside his fingers and ears? The thought makes me a little sad as I close me door on both of them.

For the next three days, I hear nothin’ but the radio in the apartment. Then on the fourth day there’s a knock at me door. Rudy’s sittin’ there in the hall perched on Akins’s shoulder and lookin’ none the worse for wear. He’s even got a little red beret Akins bought for him. He gives me a big cheet-cheet and hops over to my shoulder, but then he’s right back on Akins. I know right away I’ve lost a little authority with the bugger. As for Akins, you never saw a rooster so proud of himself as he steps inside. Flops down on me rockin’ chair so hard I thought he’d go through the floor with it. It’s all a little too violent for Rudy so he goes scamperin’ off his shoulder out to where he remembers his bowl is in the kitchen. At least that much loyalty I still have from the animal. You wouldn’t believe it, Doherty, Akins says. And to back it up, he pulls out two wads of notes you could prop under a cathedral to keep it standin’ straight. I got a lot of money here, he says to me, and for once I don’t mind him tellin’ me what I can see. I don’t even have to ask for what he promised. I’m still gapin’ at all the bills when he peels off a chunk from one of the wads and tosses it in me lap. Jeezus, I say, where did you get all that?

He left the city with Rudy, you see, and he drove and drove. Finally, he finds the right village, gets into the right conversations, and goes into the right local a coupla hours before closin’. Well, you can imagine how the regulars take notice of Rudy. And here Akins runs true to form — tellin’ them how Rudy is his. The man couldn’t pay for a ticket to a film without claimin’ he made the picture he was goin’ in to see. But none of the locals in the pub know Akins as well as I do, so they don’t dispute his farcicals and everyone has a grand time watchin’ Rudy cavortin’ here and there. Suddenly Akins is their friend and they’re his, and the rounds go back and forth. If I’m tendin’ the counter, I’ll tell you, I might not be so happy seein’ Rudy wavin’ his tail ’round all the glasses and bottles, and that’s without mentionin’ what he probably broke. But I didn’t get into that. Akins was too full of himself talkin’ about his triumphs to dwell on a monkey’s arse dippin’ into your pint. Anyways, as he tells it, in the middle of all the festivities, there’s a word here and there about the dog fights they have behind the establishment after closin’. Akins says, oh, really? And he asks more about it. Well, believe me, Rudy never left more turds ’round my apartment than this oh, really? Akins’s whole scheme, you see, was based on knowin’ this little fact before he ever left the city. Seems one of his customers at the hydraulics store had talked about it and that’s what got the idea racin’ in Akins’s skull for buyin’ his piano in the first place.

Be clear here I’m not defendin’ these dog fights. Personally, I’ve seen only one in me lifetime and there’ll be more lifetimes before there’s another one. You got your pit bulls and your shepherds and your mastiffs and your other big monsters and all they want to do is get down in the pit and rip out the belly of the other one. Say what you want about your professional sports, but you can’t ever feel half as dirty after watchin’ one of them as you have to feel after seein’ these dogs go at it. But that’s what some people do anyway to make money, and I’ll never understand it. Like they say, the only race you never bet on is the human race because you’ll always come out a loser.

Anyways, with all this talk in the pub, Akins springs his scheme. My monkey, Rudy, he announces to one and all, will defeat any dog in the village. Well, of course they all have a big laugh at this. At least until Akins convinces ‘em he’s serious. And down on the counter goes the money he’s absconded with from the hydraulics store. They want to go on laughin’ at him or they want to take his punt? You know the answer to that one.

Here goes the money down so fast the barman needs a calculator to keep track of it. And not a single one of the locals bet on Rudy, it’s all on whatever the local champion dog was. And as Akins is tellin’ me this, I have to admit feelin’ sorry I wasn’t there. Maybe it’s just because Rudy is out in me kitchen pullin’ stuff out of the closet droppin’ it all over the floor and I know he survived the night at the pub, but I had this teensy twinge of havin’ missed somethin’. I guess it’s always a fairy tale knowin’ the endin’ to somethin’ before you get there.

The short of it, though, is that Akins follows them all out to the back where they got a zoo of growlin’ beasts tied up in a shed. As soon as he walks into the shed, he says to me, he had some real doubts about what he’d gotten himself into. His scheme looked marvelous when he was thinkin’ about it, even when he was drivin’ along with Rudy in the car, but now he’s in this dim shack smellin’ of smoke and old kegs, all his money from the store in the grubby fist of the barman, and, to make it even worse, Rudy’s lookin’ far more interested in goin’ back inside the pub to slurp the heads off more pints than to get into the circle with one of these beasts. But there’s no time for dallyin’. One of the locals unhooks his mastiff and brings him into the circle and everyone’s yellin’ for Akins to get Rudy in there with him. Rudy lets out some of those annoyin’ cheets of his at the sight of the mastiff and runs up Akins’s arm. This gets a big laugh from everybody. Everybody except Akins, anyways. You can imagine how the man must’ve felt the weight of the world and the money he’d taken from the hydraulics store on his shoulders.

But he snaps to. He hasn’t come that far to see all the store’s money lost on a bluff over a pint. He reaches into his pocket and comes out with the little toy he’s been practicin’ with all day with Rudy. It’s one of your small hammers you use to bang things back to shape inside your toilet tank. Hard as any hammer, mind, but small enough so you can squeeze your hand inside all those little pipes. Rudy grabs the hammer like he’s been handlin’ it all his life, jumps off Akins, and hops into the circle. The one holdin’ the mastiff lets it go, and the dog goes straight for Rudy. But Rudy’s nothin’ if he’s not a monkey, so he jumps up out of the dog’s charge and ends up right on the dog’s shoulders. And there he is, right from there — bang, bang, bang! Right on the growler’s noggin! The dog is down in three seconds flat!

Akins sat there in me place glowin’ with relivin’ the moment. He said he’d never heard a more religious silence in his life. The mastiff was down on the ground unconscious and even Rudy shut up his cheeterin’ for a minute to study what he’d done. The locals? They seemed to need to summon up nerve just to gape at one another, like maybe what they’d just seen hadn’t really happened except in their own heads and would stay there if they didn’t see their neighbor next to them confirmin’ it was all true. Well, it was all true, and the barman bein’ an honest sort, he handed Akins his money. The way he tells it, Akins gives back just enough for a round for everyone, then tries to look as casual as he can as he edges out with Rudy on his shoulder. A coupla them are shoutin’ after him for another bout, and there’s one or two who’re wondering if what they just saw was legal, but Akins pays them no mind, thinkin’ only about getting’ to his car before they stop worryin’ about what’s legal and what isn’t and just come after him with their own hammers. And he makes it, not sure to that day, he says, if it was his own wheels kickin’ up gravel in front of the pub or if they were startin’ to throw stones after him.

Well, that was just the beginnin’. For the next two days Akins and Rudy keep drivin’, as far away from their first fight as they could get, and find another village, another pub, and another fight. Then a third one. And by the time he gets around to bringin’ Rudy back to me, he’s got all the money I mentioned before. Buy a piano? He could’ve bought a blessed orchestra!

And there you might close a happy enough tale except for one thing and another. Akins never got over so much success with Rudy, so there was no more talk of usin’ his winnin’s to buy a piano. The only thing he was suddenly keen to play was Rudy against these monster dogs all over the country. He already had his next trip planned, he says.

Well, I disabused him of that notion quick. Sure, it was good to have the extra cash and to have the apartment smellin’ some nice cherry deodorant for a change. But I had me responsibilities to Rudy and his owner, I reminded Akins. There was no way I was goin’ to have to explain one day that I couldn’t give Rudy back because he hadn’t swung his hammer fast enough.

Think that discouraged Bert Akins? Not on your life. The man turned into an addict. You got your junkies and your alcoholics and your sex fiends, but with old Bert Akins it was matchin’ up a monkey against wild dogs. When he finally stops tryin’ to wheedle Rudy out of me, what does he do? Jeezus if he don’t go out and buy his own little creature! And that leads to more trouble because his wife don’t want the damn thing in their house so he’s forced to keep it in the store. You can imagine! The bright and early customer who wants to be first to buy tubes that don’t leave his bathroom a cesspool ends up walkin’ in the door and steppin’ into what he’s trying to clean up in his own place. Not the ideal way to conduct your business. Word gets back to His Nibs on his yacht, and Akins gets an ultimatum: Lose the monkey or lose your job. That’s like sayin’ to a junkie another dose or a good book to read. Akins never hesitates. He tells the ne’er-do-well what to do with his job because he can make more money on a coupla trips than he would sellin’ basins and the like for a whole year.

About that he turned out to be right because he went on to make it hand over fist with his little tours. But the tragedies kept comin’. His Missus is scandalized by the change that’s come over her husband. She wants him to go back to the hydraulics store and make a respectable livin’. The boy says other kids at school are mockin’ him as the Son of the Monkey Man. He wants his Da to be like all the other fathers with their suits and ties and shirts and the rest of it. Akins starts stayin’ away for weeks and then months at a time. When he comes back, he’s always got more cash for the Missus and the boy, but it’s like some peddler droppin’ by every so often. And believe me, he don’t get to sharpen his knife in the house, either. The wife wants nothin’ more to do with him, the son is embarrassed whenever he’s seen in the neighborhood. You had some talk of how the son tried to kill Clarence — that was what Akins called his pet — but I never put too much stock in it. I mean, there was a logic to it, no denyin’ that, but that’s also the reason to doubt it.

The main thing was that Akins and Clarence became unwelcome around the hearth. He finally got the message and settled for sendin’ his winnings home by the post. Nobody ever saw him in these parts again, though there were plenty of tales. Most said he’d become so notorious everywhere in the country he had to go abroad to ply his trade with Clarence. You had your variations on that tale, too, one of them sayin’ it wasn’t Clarence, but a Clarence II or even a Clarence III. Meself, I never really knew for sure.

Don’t get the idea, though, that Akins leavin’ was the end of it. His wife had the money he sent regularly, but she couldn’t come to terms with livin’ off just the proceeds from dead canines. She got herself a job as a receptionist for a doctor, and one day some excitable patient with a poor prognosis — some kind of tumor, the papers said — decided to take the whole waitin’ room off with him for company. He killed four or five before turnin’ his gun on himself. The boy talked a lot about suicide as he was growin’ up. Seems he got over that, but not his mother’s obsession with someone in the family earnin’ a stable livin’. They say he turned into an accountant for one of your bigger companies.

I’d be lyin’ if I said Akins’s little adventures with Rudy didn’t have its effect on me, too. For awhile there, Rudy couldn’t see a dog through the street window without hoppin’ off the sill and runnin’ to the hall closet where he knew I kept me toolbox. He’d screech and screech to get inside, but I wouldn’t open the door for him. Broke me heart frustratin’ the creature, but I wasn’t about to let him go through the window to attack every dog that passed by. After a bit, he seemed to get over it, though he’d throw me a glance every so often like as to see if I’d changed me mind about givin’ him me hammer. Ended up havin’ the creature for two years. The owner didn’t come back for him, and, truth be told, I was glad. Bawled me eyes out when he got an infection and died on me.

And there you have the story of Bert Akins and him wantin’ to play the piano because he had ten fingers and two ears. Except for one thing that I carry around to this day. Only a suspicion, mind. No provin’ it because Rudy could never talk about it and I never even met any of the Clarences. But you know how they say we all descend from apes? Well, I’ve always had the thought that Rudy and the Clarences, that they had one of those primitive gene hands in all that happened. Sometimes, when he was still livin’ with me of course, I’d look across the room to Rudy on the sill watchin’ for the dogs to pass, and I could feel some secret knowledge there. Like me and Bert Akins and his family were the last to know what Rudy had known from the start. The thought made me sad for the human race. How long do you have to be told what you can see for yourself?



Donald Dewey has published more than 30 books of fiction, nonfiction, and drama for such houses as Little, Brown, HarperCollins, and St. Martin’s Press. His awards have included those named after Nelson Algren and Tennessee Williams and several of his books, including biographies of the actors James Stewart and Marcello Mastroianni, have been translated into numerous languages. His latest published work are the e-novel Wake Up and Smell the Bees and the biography Ray Arcel – A Boxing Biography.

Subscribe or Buy

Like this piece?

Support the artist!

Share This