Late For His Shift
By Peter G. Reynolds
After the trawler docked, Gary pulled Carl and Ron aside.
"I want the two of you to scout ahead. Check out the town and our accommodations. Report back tonight."
Carl's nostrils flared; he was not pleased. "I'll move a lot faster and quieter if I don't have to cub-sit."
"I'm not a cub!" Ron protested, looking up at his two older brothers. He was seventeen and fully grown if a little small by pack standards.
Gary said nothing. He stared directly at Carl, who stared defiantly back. The contest lasted nearly a full minute (a new record) before Carl turned away.
"Fine," he said, grabbing a large, well-used rucksack and throwing it effortlessly over his shoulder. He then climbed the rusty ladder out of the hold, pausing briefly at the top. "It's on you if he screws up."
Ron quickly followed his brother, and soon the two were standing on the dock, the city of Waterford spread out in front of them. The low-rise buildings were a mix of old and older, with the remnants of an ancient fortress wall peeking out from behind quaint shops, hotels and restaurants. In the distance, the tops of towers and church spires stood guard over the city, like a chess set made for gods.
Fisherman unloaded their catch in large nets, bound for local markets. Ron could smell trout, salmon and even eel, but little else. It was like being inside the fisherman's trousers. Humans typically gave off a particular odour, almost like a fingerprint, but it was masked by the all-consuming smell of fish. The clans called it noise-blindness.
Carl stared straight ahead and walked quickly, paying no attention to the fisherman, buildings or tourists, who parted for him like the Red Sea. Ron wasn't so lucky and had to dodge around foodies and photographers just to keep up.
"Did you know, Carl, that Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland? It's also the fifth most populated. It's believed to have been established by the Viking Ragnall, grandson of Ivar the Boneless in 914 AD."
If Carl found this information interesting, he didn't express it in any way. He turned down a side street paved in cobblestones and another lined with small shops. The smell of fish reduced to a distant memory.
"Of course, the city's really known for Waterford Crystal," continued Ron. "Founded by George and William Penrose in 1883."
"Will you BE QUIET?" said Carl in his I'm-this-close-to-making-you-unconscious voice. He stopped abruptly in front of a large red door. A sign hung above it, an illustration of a large dog's nose with three scratches cutting across it.
The Scratch and Sniff Inn, it read.
Carl spat. "Why Gary would want us to stay in this flea-ridden dump, I'll never understand."
"Rudeness is no way to say hello," said a melodious voice from above. Carl and Ron looked up to see a young woman leaning out of a window whose sill was covered in colourful flowers. She had a round, friendly face and huge eyes that seemed to smile as she spoke. She held a small plastic watering can in one hand and a pair of shears in the other.
"What?" Replied Carl.
"Rudeness is a terrible way to say hello," the woman repeated, though this time more slowly, like she was speaking to a child. "You called my inn flea-ridden, and I can assure you, it's a sight cleaner than whatever hole you crawled out of."
Carl's whole body tensed. He was about to say something when the woman interrupted.
"And it's 1783."
Now it was Ron's turn. "What?"
"You said Waterford Crystal was founded by George and William Penrose in 1883. It's actually 1783, a hundred years earlier."
"Sorry." Said Ron sheepishly, suddenly feeling very exposed.
"Well," replied the woman to no one in particular. I guess they can't be handsome and smart." She laughed, tossing her curly red hair, which was at least a shade lighter than Ron's face at that moment.
Carl sniffed the air deeply. "You must be Mary," he said without a trace of warmth.
"And you must be Carl," replied Mary, sniffing the air equally deeply and then holding her nose. She then turned and winked at Ron. "And you must be Ronny. Come on in then. It's not locked."
Carl opened the door and walked in without another word, the door slamming shut behind him. Mary disappeared from the window.
Ron stood in the street, still looking up at the flower box.
"Yes. I'm Ronnie. It's nice to meet you too."