Securing the prize client of E.J. Harris propelled Sarah Probert to accounting stardom at the venerable Launceston firm of Jenkinson, Storm and Kinder.
The coup confirmed her position with the company and earned her a nice bonus at her first performance appraisal which the celebrity accountant invested in a bottle of fine barrel-‐aged Tasmanian whisky and a barrow-‐load of bulbs for her burgeoning garden beds.
But there was a twist. Sarah did not realise that her special client would require a special relationship, and it would not be all bourbon and blossoms.
The first clue came when she received a call at work one morning from Errol’s housekeeper to ask her a favour.
“Sarah, it’s Emily here, would you please look in on E.J. after work tonight? I have to go to the Mainland on urgent business for a couple of days and will be unreachable.
“Er, yes,” hesitated Sarah, “that should be fine.” She could hardly bite the paw that fed her.
“Wonderful!” gasped Emily and rushed on before Sarah could change her mind. “If you could just make sure he has everything he needs. I will leave a spare house key in the letterbox for you. He can look after himself; he really is no trouble, at all.”
It was a frantic day at the office and Sarah didn’t give her promise to Emily another thought until she was driving home. Swinging the car around, she drove to ‘Marsupial Manor’, parked the car, fished the key out of the letterbox and let herself in.
Once again she found herself in the dark foyer. Sarah negotiated the heavy curtain, which she now understood screened Errol’s secret garden from prying eyes when the door was open.
“Errol! It’s me, Sarah Probert, your accountant.” she called to alert the devil of her presence. There was no reply.
The forest was blushing mauve, gold and pink in the evening twilight washing through the glass dome. In the shadows beneath the forest canopy she could see the inert form of Errol sprawled on his back. He was asleep and his belly was weirdly distorted; he looked like he had swallowed a bowling ball. Lying nearby were the chewed remains of a pink dog leash.
Her mind raced to pesky poodle next door that Errol detested. “Oh no, he’s eaten the dog!” she thought aloud.
“S’matter?” said Errol waking up with a snort.
“You’ve eaten the poodle, haven’t you?”
“And it’s nice to see you too, Sarah.” he replied in a hurt tone, struggling to sit up.
Sarah would not be placated. “That’s a beastly thing to do, Errol Junior,” she scolded him, pointing first at his bulging gut and then at the mangled lead.
Errol followed the movement of her accusing finger and finally understood what she was suggesting. His ears flushed red with anger.
“ I didn’t eat that blasted dog and I resent the insinuation,” he snapped.
“Then what is in your stomach?”
“Several quail and a haunch of wallaby if you must know. Today’s my gorge day”
“A what day?”
“A gorge day,” he explained. “It’s how we Tasmanian devils feed; feast one day, starve the next. We can eat forty per cent of our body weight in half an hour, you know.”
Sarah did not know that but was still suspicious, “What about the dog leash?”
“Guilty,” he said, holding up his forepaws in mock surrender. I ‘acquired’ it from the dog’s yard on my nightly ramble around the neighbourhood. I thought it would make a tasty appetiser but the dog has got the last laugh; the lead was decorated with diamante studs and I’ve broken a fang chewing on it.”
Errol opened his gaping jaws and poked the chipped canine with a claw. It hurts like hell,” he moaned, “You must make an appointment for me to see my vet tomorrow.” And, struggling onto his paws, Errol waddled to his den, squeezed his belly through the entry hole and disappeared.
“Which vet, where?” asked Sarah, following him. “E.J., please, speak to me,” she pleaded getting down on her hands and knees and sticking her head in the burrow. “How do I contact your vet?”
A crescendo of classical music blasted Sarah backwards out of the burrow and into the garden. Wiping soil and leaf litter from her business suit, she slowly got to her feet. “I’m sorry,” she yelled over the music, but there was no response. Her offended client was sulking. To make amends, Sarah realised she must find him a fang fix and pronto if she wanted to retain his account.
Night had fallen and the house was in darkness. Picking her way along the path to the back of the house, Sarah found a light switch on the rear wall near the little sitting room where she had taken tea with the devil on her first visit. She flicked it on and gasped with amazement.
The forest glowed, illuminated by hundreds of twinkling fairy lights coiled through the foliage and bordering the pathway. The up-‐lit devil fountain, cast a giant wobbly shadow onto the walls.
Hanging next to the light switch was a second curtain like the one in the entry foyer. Sarah hadn’t paid any attention to it on her previous visit but now she wondered if it too concealed an entry. She drew back the drape and discovered a door.
Opening it, Sarah entered a modern annex building. This was obviously the nerve centre of Errol’s manor. A central corridor ran the length of the wing; on one side of it were a large food preparation area and a cold room stocked with a selection of fancy meats to rival a gourmet butcher shop. Errol had a big appetite and deep pockets.
Across the hallway from the carnivore kitchen were an office and car garage. Sarah found the vet’s business card posted on a pin board above the housekeeper’s desk along with other contacts necessary for the proper running of Errol and his household. She pocketed the card. She would make the call from home once she’d fortified herself with a shot of single malt.
As she left, she stopped by the den, “I’ll see you tomorrow, E.J.,” she called but he did not answer.
Sarah returned to the manor the following morning. She had taken a day of carer’s leave to devote to Errol’s vet expedition. Making the appointment had been easy; the doctor would see Errol at midday.
The real challenge, Sarah figured, would be getting him to and from the clinic without ending up on the nightly television news. The covert operation would need careful planning by Agent Probert.
Errol had slept off his meat hangover and was in good spirits despite his toothache. He graciously accepted her apology for the ‘dogicide’ accusation and together they went to the garage so Sarah could inspect Errol’s wheels.
Sarah located the car keys on a hook in the office and walked through to the adjoining garage. It was a black sports wagon with dark tinted windows and hubcaps trimmed in red and black. A large animal carrier was stowed in the boot compartment. The garage door opened onto a service lane that ran along the back of the property so the devil-‐mobile could exit and enter the premises discretely.
“Excellent,” she thought, “I might just pull this off,” and then she struck a glitch.
“I am not travelling in that thing,” whined Errol, pointing to the crate.
“It’s not dignified,” he sniffed, wrinkling his snout, “I want to ride in the front.”
Sarah would not let him ride in the passenger compartment. Errol may be a civilised creature but, as the leash incident proved, there was still an unquantifiable amount of devilry in him. She wasn’t going to risk discovering another one of his wild behaviours while trapped in a travelling car with her fanged friend.
“It’s not safe for you to ride in the front,” she told him, “and it’s not safe for me, either,” she thought to herself. “You have to be properly restrained.” His whiskers drooped sadly; he looked down at his hairy feet.
Having resolved not to upset Errol again, Sarah thought for a moment, studied the wagon’s darkly tinted windows and then smiled and said, “I have a solution. I’ll be back in about an hour, E.J.,” she told him, and grabbing her handbag, she drove the wagon to a downtown outlet store, Lil’ Devils Everything for Young Tasmanians.
Sarah was caught by surprise when the sales assistant asked her for the age of the child she was purchasing the car seat for. “He’s about this high and this wide,” she said, gesturing Errol’s approximate proportions with her hands. “He’s my nephew,” she added weakly in response to the rep.’s disbelieving expression.
She chose a deluxe seat for children aged one to four years, which the assistant installed in the wagon. He cast suspicious sidelong glances at Sarah but did not say a word. After all, a sale was a sale.
Errol gave a bark of delight when Sarah returned with his new chair. She buckled him in, and satisfied that he couldn’t undo the latch with his claws or be recognised through the smoked glass, they hit the road.
Other motorists occasionally tooted and waved but Sarah realised that was due to the car’s black and red personalised plates, ‘GROWL-01′.
However, their cover was nearly blown while they were stopped at a red light. Hearing giggles and squeals coming from the back seat of the car waiting alongside them, Sarah turned around to see that Errol had managed to put down his window with his toes and was pulling funny faces at a toddler to make her laugh. Luckily, the lights turned green before the child’s mother discovered that a Tasmanian devil was entertaining her daughter.
“Errol Junior, behave yourself,” Sarah said sternly, putting up his window and flicking on the window lock.
To distract him, she tuned into a classical music radio station. Maestro Harris conducted the orchestra for several movements before dropping off to sleep and christening his new seat with a stream of drool dribbling from his lolling tongue.
He awoke as Sarah slowed the car approaching their destination; Errol’s vet worked at a wildlife park an hour’s drive from the city in a beautiful rural setting. They were early for the appointment so Sarah found a secluded stretch of river where Errol could stretch his legs in privacy.
Sitting on the sunlit riverbank, Sarah watched Errol’s spiky russet tail waving like a flag as he explored the reeds and rushes bordering the meandering waterway. She learned that devils were nippy runners as Errol darted around herding up a gaggle of geese.
She also discovered they were nimble climbers when the geese, tiring of the black and white interloper, turned on Errol and chased him up a tree. Wading through the gang of angry, honking birds clustered around the base of tree, Sarah prised her trembling client off the trunk. “Time to go, E.J.” she said.
Sarah phoned the vet to alert them of Errol’s imminent arrival. A kindly looking keeper named Andrew met them at the front gate. He directed GROWL01 around to the rear of the park where the special patient could be discretely unloaded.
“Nice ride,” said Andrew releasing Errol from the car seat. The pair knew each other well and exchanged happy ‘arfs’ of greeting. “Arf means ‘hello’ in devil speak,” Andrew explained to the bemused accountant as he carried E.J. into the park’s clinic.
“Emily always buys me a small toy when I visit the vet,” called Errol with a meaningful look at Sarah as he disappeared into the surgery.
While Sarah waited for him, she strolled around the park eating an ice cream and admiring the beautiful mountain scenery. She browsed the gift store and bought a Tasmanian devil print tea towel for herself and a plush toy wombat for Errol.
After his dental work, Andrew loaded the drowsy devil into the carrier. He explained to Sarah that for their size, Tasmanian devils have the strongest bite pressure in the animal kingdom and that the vet would not risk putting his fingers near Errol’s powerful jaws unless he was sedated.
“Here,” he said, handing her a manual on the captive management of Tasmanian devils, “I think you might need a copy of this to understand Errol.”
“Thanks,” replied Sarah, “they didn’t teach this in accountancy school.”
By the time they arrived home, the anaesthetic had worn off and Errol was awake. Emily had also returned and greeted them in the garage. She released Errol from the carrier.
He showed the pair his repaired tooth. “What a handsome devil you are!” exclaimed Emily, making Errol’s ears blush pink. “Now come through to the sitting room, you two. I’ve made tea for us,” she instructed the travellers.
Being a ‘gentledevil’, Errol politely offered the armchairs to the women and perched on a low stool to take his tea. Sarah presented him with the gift she had purchased at the park.
“Thanks Sez!” cried Errol, making little chuffing noises of happiness as he clawed open the paper bag to discover his toy. He lapped his drink quickly and then excused himself so he could install ‘Mr Wombatty’ in his den, leaving the two women to debrief the day’s doings.
“What’s with the toys?” Sarah quizzed Emily. “Isn’t E.J. a bit old for them?”
“Oh, devils are neophiles which means they love new things. He has a whole zoo of animals stashed in that burrow. I fear that they will erupt out of it one day.
He led you on a merry dance with that car seat,” Emily told Sarah. “He always complains about riding in the carrier.”
“I guessed as much,” sighed Sarah, “but he is such an important client. I suppose you could say he led me on a ‘fangdango’.”
By Anne Gilles from Australia