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Like many people let down by the humans in their lives, Flippers loved animals. Gary Neville was number one but Flippers had time for them all. Tonight he was particularly concerned with old Mrs. Baker’s red setter, Banjax. Hit by a car as a pup, Banjax  had only three legs and age had now left his eyes covered in a white rheumy membrane that made him look like an ancient sifu from some old kung fu movie. Flippers had good reason to believe Banjax was in danger.

Through his activity on various online forums and animal rights websites and networks, Flippers had been following ‘the Pet Killers – Miles and Myles’ for some time. They dealt in domestic animals, procuring the pelts of household pets for the fake fur sweatshops of Seamus ‘The House’ Conliffe whose chosen nom de guerre was ‘The Russian’ because he thought it sounded scarier than ‘The House’. He was the head of B.L.O.O.D., a network of criminal enterprises operating out of five centres around the country – Belturbet, Loughshinny, Oranmore, Omeath and Dripsey – dreaded no-go-zones if you wanted to give your beloved pet a happy existence. Now, thanks to their far-reaching claws, the death-van of Fibrous McNulty, AKA Miles, and Density O’Neill, AKA Myles, was parked in his village and filled with the accelerated heartbeats of numerous terrified dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and whatever else they’d managed to get their hands on.

“We’re not afraid of a little blood, are we Gary Neville,” whispered Flippers. He opened the door of his wardrobe and quickly began to get ready.

Outside, Density looked at the list in his left hand while his right hand picked the remains of a Kola Kube out of one of his blackened molars.

“Only one to go, Fibrous. A Red Setter. Banjax. Maureen Baker. Husband deceased. It should be the green door over there. Will I ring the Russian, Citizen McNulty?”

“We’ll get the dog first, do a head count, cross-check, double-check and triple-check. Then, and only then, will we be calling the Russian, right?”

“Check.”

“What?”

“Check. Or Czech? We’ll take our time, Fibrous, we won’t Russian. Get it? Russian – ‘rush in’.”

“Are you being smart, Density? Don’t be smart Density, or Jesus help me, there’ll be one more name going on the list, fur or no fur.”

“Ah fur God’s sake Fibrous, I vas only pullink on your leg.”

Fibrous, as he had done countless times before, pictured the wheel brace he kept under his seat and how embedding it in Density’s skull would give him so much pleasure, such instant gratification, that he almost salivated at the mere thought of it. His eyes glazed over and he stared through his partner with a slightly deranged expression on his face.

“Everything alright there, Fibrous?’ asked Density nervously, ‘”you’ve got that look again.” He exaggerated his breathing and made rising and falling gestures with his hands in a bid to help Fibrous compose himself. It appeared to work but as the rage dissipated down his spine Fibrous was still able to caution his accomplice.

“One day you’ll push me too far Density, and when that day comes, I will not be held responsible for what I may do. No judge, once acquainted with the staggering depths of your stupidity, would do anything less than commend me for what could only be regarded as a feckin’ mercy killing.”

“That’s no way to be talking with Christmas just around the corner. What would Santa say?”

“Don’t you start on Santa now, I am not going down that road with you.”

“Santa wants us to be good, that’s all, Fibrous.”

“Density. What are we doing here tonight? Giving out kisses to grannies? Offering homes to the little orphans? Dispensing peace and good will to all mankind?”

Density wasn’t big on reasoning but Fibrous’s insinuation very slowly revealed itself to him and he knew the answer was no. A little bit of his innocent heart quietly ached as he digested the truth of their situation.

“We’re not good boys, are we.”

“No. Far bloody from it. Now let’s grab this Setter and get our arses home. Fecking ‘Santa’.”

The men approached Mrs. Baker’s green door under the mistaken assumption that their night was soon to be resolved with the consummate professionalism upon which their reputation had so successfully been built. How could they know that the architect of their doom was contentedly sitting in a belly sling attached to an oversized adolescent who had effectively been stalking them, albeit online, for the guts of a year?

Gary Neville was tucked snugly inside the very large Santa suit which now covered Flippers from head to toe. He sensed his owner’s adrenalin and was himself beginning to feel a little feral, a little shitty even. Or perhaps that was the liquorice chews that Flippers allowed him earlier that evening – they always loosened his bowels and he could feel potent aniseed farts forming in his furry belly as Flippers delicately tiptoed down the stairs and past his mother who was sitting in the kitchen with a crossword and a ‘World’s Best Mum’ mug of tea. Without turning her back she called out “Is that you, Dermot? Where are you trying to sneak off to?”

“Yeah, it’s us, Mam. I’m just taking Gary Neville out for fresh air before he starts doing those vicious farts up in me room.”

“You shouldn’t let him eat those liquorice sweets, then. They’re not right for a cat. Even a cat like Gary Neville. Now, I know –”. She stopped herself as she heard the front door close and returned to her crossword.

Flippers and Gary Neville were on the move. Flippers was wearing a high quality latex Santa mask which was covered with a beautiful moustache and beard. His suit, which was equally impressive with fine red velour and synthetic ermine trim in all the right places, had a large hood which shaded his face to such an extent that it was almost impossible to detect the presence of the mask. The black boots he wore were thick-soled so standing fully erect he was close to six and a half feet tall. He was a big Santa and he was hoping that would be a major factor in running the Pet Killers out of town. He had hoped to hook up a little hidden PA system on his person so he could speak with a recorded Santa voice but he couldn’t organise the technology in time. He was going through that awkward phase where his own voice was neither boy nor man and he could never predict what sound he would make when he opened his mouth. He prayed the more manly end of the octave would emerge when the time came. Santa sack slung over his shoulder, he began to walk towards Mrs. Baker’s door where he could see his targets readying themselves for action.

Her green door opened, Maureen Baker looked warily at the men standing under her outside light. She distrusted them instantly and Banjax growled ominously at her side.

Fibrous was quick to start his spiel.

“Madam, we are representatives of the Appropriate Animal Activity Socialisation Society.”

“That’s AAASS,” offered Density. “AAASS with capitals.”

Fibrous’s left eye twitched violently.

“I don’t think I’ve heard of you boys,” said Mrs. Baker, “what would you be wanting with me this close to Christmas?”

Fibrous whipped out a formal looking document and read from it in a haughty and officious tone.

“Madam, our department has been notified of a breach of Code 855k, namely the attempted fornication with an unwilling party by your canine on several separate occasions this past three months. I am afraid to report madam, that we are here to remove and destroy said canine. Any attempt to stop us in the execution of our duty will leave you subject to a two thousand euro fine and/or prison sentence.”

Mrs. Baker was incredulous. Her tongue worked frantically back and forth over her lower lip as she tried to defend her dog.

“What! You’re here for Banjax? Sure he’s as blind as a bat – he’s always jumping up on something. That’s hardly a crime, is it?”

“There you have it, Mr. Myles, an admission of guilt if ever I heard one. The mutt may be taken forthwith.”

“With what?” asked Density.

“Excuse me?” replied Fibrous, noticeable heat creeping into his voice.

“The mutt may be taken forth with what?”

“Mr. Myles! Just grab the feckin’ dog, will you!”

Density made a sharp move towards Banjax which provoked a primal shriek out of Mrs. Baker as she threw her arms around the blind dog’s neck. Banjax, for his part, began to howl plaintively. Fibrous decided enough was enough and he was slipping his fingers into the knuckleduster in his inside pocket when he felt a firm tap on his shoulder.

That Flippers wasn’t a naturally violent person was something that could be told from one look at his face but with the face unseen it was his considerable bulk that registered first and it would take a person of exceptional self-assurance not to feel some tremor of apprehension when confronted by that bulk. Fibrous was no different to anyone else in that regard and as he turned to take in whoever had been foolish enough to interrupt him when he was in full ‘boss’ mode, he succumbed to an involuntary intake of breath which synchronised exactly with the activation of every single muscle responsible for the clenching of his arse. He stood silently, staring at the biggest Santa he’d ever seen. Density was at his right side, still preoccupied with the desperate antics of Mrs. Baker and Banjax and for the moment unaware of his partner’s temporary paralysis.

Flippers knew that this was his window. If he didn’t act decisively now, he would have to live with Banjax’s blood on his hands as well as those animals in the back of the death-van. He slowly raised his arm and pointed his index finger at Fibrous.

“Oh! No! No! This doesn’t look like a very merry Christmas. I think you boys are being naughty.”

Density stopped what he was doing and looked up in astonishment.

“Santa, is that you?”

Flippers tried to speak with a voice of authority.

“Of course, my boy, who else would it be? Now what are you trying to do to poor Mrs. Baker’s dog?”

Density looked upset.

“Why do you sound like a girl, Santa?”

Flippers blanched behind his mask and cleared his throat.

“It must be all the high altitude travelling I do. This is what people sound like in Mexico City.”

With both Fibrous and Density distracted by the huge Santa, Mrs. Baker rushed Banjax back inside and locked the door.

“You can feck off if you think you’ll be getting my dog, you hooers!” she cried.

The sound of Mrs. Baker’s door being locked was the slap in the face Fibrous needed to gather his senses. His eyes narrowed and he fixed Flippers with a menacing gaze.

“You just cost me a dog, Santa. A very valuable dog. I hope you have something in your sack to make up for it.”

Flippers felt a bit sick in his stomach as he realised he hadn’t really thought through his plan of attack. Coincidentally, Gary Neville’s stomach was troubling him too but for completely different reasons. Those liquorice chews he had been given must have been a particularly strong batch. His belly squelched.

Before Flippers could speak Density addressed them both.

“There’s nothing in Santa’s sack for bold boys.”

Fibrous was having none of it.

“Don’t go there, Density. Santa is not real, he’s just for kids. This isn’t Santa. This is just some eejit in big boots.”

“We’re not good lads, Fibrous. We’re bad lads. We’re naughty. Aren’t we, Santa?”

Flippers nodded his head slowly. Density was in some sort of trance, fully in the grip of the epiphany he was struggling to come to terms with. His eyes filled with water as he whispered into the night:

“We’re bad lads. We’re not good lads. We’re bad lads.”

“Santa, will you tell him he’s a good boy, for Jesus’ sake!” barked Fibrous.

Flippers spoke before he thought.

“But he’s not. You’re not. You’re naughty. You’re bad men. You work for the Russian. You kill poor defenceless animals. I know who you are!”

Fibrous reached for his knuckleduster while Density grinned maniacally and called out:

“Santa knows all! Santa knows all! Forgive us, Santa! We are bad men! I am a naughty, naughty boy! Forgive me!”

Flippers watched him fall to his knees and beginning weeping big man-tears as pathetic mucus poured from his bulbous nose. It was an ugly scene. From inside the cowl of his hood he suddenly sensed something moving towards his face. It was Fibrous’s right hand which was swinging violently with his fingers firmly wrapped around his knuckleduster. Flippers jerked out of the way just in time to avoid being hit but the jig was up, Fibrous was coming for him and leaving no room for misinterpretation.

“I don’t know who the feck you are sonny, but you’re going in the van with the rest of the catch; the Russian will sort you out.”

Gary Neville had heard enough. He knew something wasn’t right outside the confines of the Santa suit and he also knew he badly needed some form of kitty litter as a matter of some urgency. He cried out to get Flippers’ attention.

Fibrous stopped in his tracks. “What was that?”

Gary Neville wailed again and Flippers instinctively put his hand over his stomach to placate his cat.

“Oh Santa, now why didn’t you tell us you had a little friend in there? Not Rudolph, I take it? Let me see.”

Fibrous lunged at Flippers and successfully got hold of his lapels. He thrust his non-knuckleduster hand inside the jacket to grab his prey. Gary Neville was outraged by the intrusion and with one swift movement sunk his teeth into the fleshy part of Fibrous’s hand between his thumb and index finger. He tasted blood and was disinclined to let go so as Fibrous recoiled his arm, Gary Neville was still very much attached.

Fibrous seized Gary Neville’s neck with his free hand and yanked him loose. The puncture wounds in his other hand oozed dark blood but he seemed exhilarated by his discovery and purred sadistically at Gary Neville.

“A Siamese, no less. Oh,this is going to be a very special Christmas after all. Let me look at you. Let me see you front and back, you little devil.”

That was a poor move by Fibrous but he had no way of knowing what had been brewing inside Gary Neville for most of the evening. Gary Neville, on the other hand, did, and the moment Fibrous hoisted his haunches to inspect little Gary’s derriere, the cat let rip with a noxious stream of black awfulness from the darkest parts of his surprisingly capacious bowels.

It is not often one hears a grown man scream but they say of the night that Fibrous ate Gary Neville’s faecal matter that a thousand vengeful banshees must have descended on the village and cried in unison for one dreadful, soul-chilling second such was the astonishing sound emitted by the darker half of the Miles and Myles outfit.

The aftermath was uncomplicated in its startling brutality. The people in the village thereafter referred to it as the night Gary Neville saved Christmas. As Flippers reported it, such was the frenzy that overtook Fibrous in his futile attempts to detoxify himself that he managed to break his own jaw with two ferocious swipes of the knuckleduster hand. He also shattered his left eye socket, which settled his twitch for good. He smashed every tooth in his head, cracked his sternum, broke his left clavicle and even dislocated his right kneecap. The coup de grâce occurred when he was seized by a coughing fit and he struck his chest so violently to clear the blockage that he stopped his own heart. He fell dead on the spot. All of this was witnessed by three parties. Flippers and Gary Neville being two and Density O’Neill being the other. Density, already fully enraptured by the appearance of Father Christmas in all his cleansing glory, was convinced that the whole event was an act of God and in fact that everything in his life up to that point had been leading him to the village, to Mrs. Baker’s door and to the final verification that Santa Claus was indeed real. From the moment Fibrous fell, he was born again. He released the captives from the battered old Hiace and pleaded with Flippers to direct him to the nearest Garda station to which he duly drove and confessed everything he had done and also everything he knew. No further arrests were made but it is believed he was subsequently as happy a fool as he had been before but now he had Jesus, and Santa, firmly in his heart.

As for Gary Neville, he attained a whole other level of amazingness in Flippers’ eyes. He would hear people slagging off his human namesake and Flippers would grin warmly at his friends and tell them with no little assurance:

“You’ve got it wrong lads, all wrong. Gary Neville is alright. Gary Neville is one of the good boys.”

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