Devon, Arlo, and I walked into the podcasting garage to find Bella and Poppy practising the show’s theme song. Gypsy was leaning back in my desk chair, throwing balled up pieces of scrap paper into a basketball ring. I motioned for her to get off but she just flipped me the bird.
Our producer, Ralph, was pacing back and forth. He looked nervous and agitated. His guinea pig whiskers and nose twitched constantly as if he was trying to figure out if he could smell something bad. He scurried over to us when we entered.
‘Oh, Arlo! Good, you’re here. Listen, I took it upon myself to check the Skype connection with the Kardashian’s cat crew, and well, oh God. Now we don’t have any sound at all! And since you’re the sound guy, I think I better let you do it.’
‘Well that’s great news, isn’t it?’ snapped Arlo. ‘Bella! You got my carrots? I can’t deal with Ralph’s bullshit without my morning carrot.’
‘Thanks a lot,’ Ralph squeaked, going through his tiny notes on his tiny clipboard.
Ralph was the perfect choice for our producer. He was the only animal I knew who could get so much done in such a short period of time. He did everything so incredibly fast that he almost seemed to accrue a few extra hours in his day. But his talents were not without consequence. OCD had set in, and we were constantly telling him to take a breath. Gypsy tried getting him to meditate but he couldn’t seem to sit still.
When Ralph started to hang with us, one of the things we first noticed about him was how he ate his meals. He scoffed everything down so quickly that he was put on medication for heartburn. He did so much damage to his knee by running around in frantic little circles that he had to have a knee reconstruction. Also, Ralph speaks so unbelievably fast that Gypsy, Bella and Poppy had always assumed he spoke with some sort of European accent, until just last month when he had gotten drunk on spiked beer water. It had managed to slow him down for an hour or so and suddenly everyone could understand him perfectly.
‘I thought you were from Ireland or somewhere,’ Poppy had said to Ralph, stunned.
He burped, ‘What? No, I’m from Footscray.’
Bella walked back in from her owner’s house, carrying a bag of carrots.
‘You’re not giving Arlo that whole bag of carrots,’ said Gypsy, warning her sister, still sitting in my chair.
‘Watch me,’ Bella replied, and threw the bag onto the rabbit’s desk.
Arlo started on his first carrot of the day, crunching away in minuscule bites. He tapped around at his desk, fiddled with microphone volumes, and adjusted some cords. Still there was no sound.
‘What did you touch, you hyperactive fuck?’ Arlo shouted at Ralph, who was now pacing around in circles. ‘You’ve messed something up and I’ve told you not to touch this stuff! How many times do I have to tell you, man?’ He slammed his carrot down onto the keyboard and just like that, the garage was filled with the almighty loud sounds of the Kardashian cat crew arguing from the other side of the world.
‘..because Ming’s a hack, darling, that’s why,’ said the Kardashian cat’s publicist, who represented most of TAK’s talent.
The room went quiet. Eventually Devon gasped. If Ralph was too fast, Devon was a bit slow.
I walked into the camera’s view and sat down.
‘Hi, Carol,’ I said.
Carol snapped her black, crow face sideways and looked at her screen with one of her shiny eyes, ‘Ming, darling! Thought you’d never get those morons to get with the program. What is this? Amateur hour?’
‘One of those mornings, dear,’ I replied. ‘Let’s get on with it though, yeah? How’s our fabulous guest doing over there?’
‘Honey, about that,’ Carol said quickly. ‘There’s been a bit of a change in plans, and darling, I’m sure you’ll understand where I’m coming from here, being that there’s no contract or anything, but well, we aren’t going to be coming on your podcast today, okaaaay?’
Carol blurted this out so fast that at first, the only one of us to comprehend what she’d said was Ralph.
‘What the hell, Carol?’ Ralph yelled. ‘No! You can’t just call up and announce that she’s not coming on the show, just like that, with no warning, with two hours before we go live. Yeah, ok, there’s no written contract but there most certainly was, and still is, a verbal contract. She asked for us. She wanted her book launch announcement to be with us! You wanted it, too.’
Carol shrugged. ‘What can I say, darling? What’s done is done. Unfortunately, I cannot change her mind. Don’t you think I’ve tried? This looks bad for the both of us, I know, but let’s move on already, I’ve got things to do.’
‘Move on?’ said Ralph. ‘I’ve been advertising her exclusive for three weeks! The momentum is huge. Do you know what’s the most talked about campaign in the industry, right now? Our Kardashian Kat Kampaign. KKK for short.’
Carol coughed. ‘Yes, the KKK part has been mentioned.’
‘Of course it has, it rolls off the tongue! All those K’s. Just like Kris Jenner wanted! A family of KKK’s! It’s an adorable play on their theme and a cute little reminder of the fact that the Kardashian family seem to have forgotten that there is, in fact, a letter ‘c’ in the alphabet. KKK. See? Kardashian Kat Kampaign,’ he said again, turning back to beam at us all.
Poppy cringed. A few of the crew rolled their eyes.
‘It seems a little politically incorrect,’ mumbled Devon to the girls.
‘You think?’ said Poppy, sarcasm dripping.
Ralph wasn’t exactly up on human history.
‘I’m warning you, Carol. If you walk, you’ll be losing the best campaign you’ve ever seen,’ he said.
Arlo kept crunching on his carrot. The crunching becoming faster and faster. Crunch crunch crunch.
‘Alright, I’m sorry. Anyway, must be off, scandals to cover up and all that,’ Carol said. She lowered her head, ready to peck at the sign-off button.
‘Listen here! You are working with the best of the best here. You better fix this mess, Carol,’ Ralph continued, fanning his face with his clipboard. ‘We are the best, bestest, bloody besss..shit, I can’t breathe…having…trouble…breathing.’
Poppy handed him a paper bag. ‘Breathe,’ she said.
Carol laughed gently. ‘Yes, gorgeous, of course you are. The best, the very best. I hear you, I get you. But unfortunately it’s out of my hands, darling. She’s just not keen to be on A Dog With A Pod anymore. There’s nothing I can do.’
‘It’s actually A Dog with a Pod…Cast, but whatever,’ said Devon.
The sound of Ralph’s paper bag, rhythmically crinkling in and out, showed no signs of slowing.
‘Carol?’ I said quietly.
‘Whose show has she decided to go on instead? I mean, I can’t imagine her deciding to not promote her new book at all. She must have made a deal for an exclusive somewhere.’
Carol scratched behind her eye with her long talon, she cracked her neck. ‘Aaah, yes. Well, you’ll be hearing about it soon anyway I’d imagine, so you may as well hear it from your good friend Carol first.’
‘And we are friends ok, Ming? This is nothing personal, darling.’
‘Whose goddam show?!’ I barked.
Carol flinched. She stopped scratching her head and slowly pulled her leg down out of sight.
Arlo, having finished one carrot, chose another from the bag, and the nervous munching resumed. When Carol finally spoke, the crunching was so loud that I couldn’t hear what she had said.
‘Arlo, please. Stop it,’ I put my paw over his face, pushing him away slightly. ‘Say it again, crow.’
‘Darling, it’s Phillip Macaw’s show.’ She held her head very still, blinking periodically.
The silence in the garage was palpable. I heard dogs barking in the distance.
And then I heard my ratings fall.
‘What? How the fuck did that happen?’ I rubbed at my eyebrows. I was getting a headache.
‘Oh, darling. I’m not sure. She’s not even telling me why. It was all very sudden and she doesn’t quite seem herself since last night. She hasn’t even taken one selfie today, which is worrisome. Anyway, they recorded it this morning, sweetie. It’s over. I’m so sorry. Talk soon.’ She pecked at the keyboard and our screen went blank.
Ralph, still breathing into his bag, laid himself down on the floor, moaning.
Arlo continued crunching. Crunch, crunch, crunch.
‘If we’re going live at 11:30, we’ve got less than two hours to rewrite our whole show,’ said Devon.
‘Fuck!’ I said.
Crunch crunch crunch
I snatched Arlo’s carrot and threw it across the room.
I was sitting in a sunshine patch in the backyard trying to compose myself. I was actually trying not to rip through the bushes and chase down the Australia Post guy whose motorbike was making an irritating putt putt putt noise a few doors down. I was starting to pant when Bentley Badass sat down next to me.
‘Rough mornin’, dawg?’
‘You could say that,’ I said.
Bentley was wearing his custom-made dollar sign necklace, and his cap was on back to front. ‘Shiiiiit, man. Just got in and the guys told me what happened. They all thought you were gonna fling poor Arlo across the room, or go Mike Tyson on his ass ,’ he said, lying down on his back in the same patch of morning sun.
‘Yeah, I know. I need to apologise,’ I sighed. ‘It’s just, all that work Ralph and the crew have done trying to secure that cat as a guest, you know? I lost it when Carol said we’d been dumped for that shitlips macaw,’ I looked down at Bentley’s face, his schnauzer beard was perfect. How did he manage that?
We sat for awhile. I ran my paw across some leaves that had circled in and around from the breeze. The sound of the fish pond and its bubbling waterfall feature failed to be calming. ‘You know what I can’t understand, though?’
‘Tell me, brother.’
‘How does a bird even get a cat on his show? Why would a cat wanna talk to him instead of us? It makes no evolutionary sense,’ I said.
‘Because she’s a publicity whore, bro. She’s gonna go with whoever is offering up the best deal, and I guess that flying rat offered her something better. Don’t worry ‘bout her,’ he said, moving himself from side to side on the grass, scratching his back. ‘We’re gonna get that bird though, I promise. I’ve sent the Rat Pack over there now to check out what’s going on. Johnny and his rat team will uncover something, I’m sure of it. It does sounds fishy though, doesn’t it? That cat choosing the bird’s show?’
‘It’s suss, yeah,’
‘Let’s get back inside. We’re still gonna go live this morning, even without the Kardashian cat. We’ll wait for the Rat Pack to get back to see what intel they’ve gathered. I think I’ve got a plan,’ he said and started back towards the garage.
I got up and stretched. As I turned to follow Bentley back to the garage, I noticed a flock of galahs sitting in one of the gumtrees. They were staring at me, no preening, no chatting.
We had sent the Rat Pack to spy on Mac, and so it seemed, he had sent his galahs to return the favour. Crows, macaws, galahs. I was really starting to hate birds.
Our head of security, Batdog Jack, was leaning against the garage door, watching me, and chewing on the end of a stick. He stood on his hind legs, the muscles in his arms and chest rippling with every chomp he took on that stick. His mixed breed of english bull terrier and labrador made him look like a massive kangaroo when he stood like that. His radar-like ears, huge and standing to attention made me feel safer immediately. Next to him, eagerly pacing back and forth, was B-Max (otherwise known as Bentley Max).
B-Max was talking into a walkie talkie, pointing at the galahs. ‘Come in, Cayman, come in. We’ve got a possible situation here. Looks likely we’re having native bird for breakfast. I repeat, native bird for brea-‘
‘Yeah, alright,’ Cayman, a giant schnauzer, said as he rounded the corner from the side of the garage. He turned off B-Max’s walkie talkie as he stood next to him, looking out at the galahs above the fence line.
‘Heeey! You didn’t even let me say “over and out.”‘
‘We don’t need these stupid things,’ Cayman said and threw his own walkie talkie out onto the lawn. It bounced a couple of times and came close to falling into the fish pond.
‘What? When I offer up ideas, you guys are always saying that you can’t hear me on account of you both being so much freakishly taller than I am’ B-Max said, standing on his hind legs, his shoulders open and square, still only a quarter of Jack and Cayman’s size.
‘Oh, we can hear you,’ said Jack. He and Cayman high fived.
‘So what’s up, boss?’ asked Cayman.
I nodded over to the trees and the army of galahs.
Jack spat a glob of bark out onto the concrete and motioned to his right-hand man to follow. ‘On it,’ Jack said, towering over me as they strolled by.
One of the galahs threw something down out of the tree. It fluttered onto the grass and then came a whoosh of sound, a rushing of air from all of flapping of wings, as the flock took flight from the tree. The screams of the galahs filled every space of the backyard.
‘Oh my God! What is that paper? Wait, I’ll get my hazard suit. Don’t touch it ’till I get back!’ B-Max yelled over his shoulder as he ran to the garage. ‘It could be laced with anthrax!’
‘It’s just rubbish, it’s nothing,’ I said, and walked back to the garage to come up with a new plan.