Ted tensed and stared at Israel fiercely. It looked for a moment as though he might actually reach out and grab Israel and throw him off the bed, but he seemed to think better of it, and instead he turned his back on him and wandered slowly round the coop, which didnt take longit was only one roomsniffing and poking around at the books and clothes piled on every surface. T-shirts. Toby Litt. Alice Sebold. Pants.
Israels ambitious program of refurbishment for the coop had stalled some time agohis most recent acquisition, an old sofa that hed found out in someones yard, was wedged tightly between the wardrobe and the Baby Belling tabletop cooker balanced precariously on a stool. The place clearly hadnt been cleaned or tidied for quite a while.
Hed always the breath of a garlic eater, said Ted, fanning his hand in front of his face in a vain attempt to dispel the rooms fumes.
I dont think hes been eating much, said George.
No, said Ted, removing a spoon from an open jar of peanut butter.
Hey! said Israel. Leave that alone! Thats mine!
Shall I leave you boys to it, then? said George.
Yes, said Ted. I think thatd be best.
No problem, said George. I thought it wise to get you in, Ted. I hope you dont mind. We were all getting a wee bit worried about him. I wasnt sure if I should have called the doctor.
Dont ye be worrying about him anymore, my dear. No need for the doctor. Ill soon have him sorted, said Ted.
George shut the chicken coop door behind her.
Right, ye brallion, said Ted, stepping briskly toward the side of Israels bed. What are ye on, the auld loonie soup?
What in Gods name dye think yere doing?
Im not feeling well, said Israel. Aye, right, me elbow. Lying in yer bed when theres work to be doneyer heads a marlie.
What? said Israel. What are you talking about? Bob Marley?
God give me strength, said Ted. Right. Up. Come on. Its no good you lying there.
I cant get up, Ted. Im . . . cultivating my mind, said Israel dreamily, stroking his beard. Like Saint Jerome.
Hes the patron saint of libraries.
Patron saint of my arse. You can cultivate your mind out in the van with me. Come on. He went to grab Israels arm. Israel shrank back.
Get off! Im on holiday, said Israel.
Aye, said Ted. Ye were. But yeve had your two weeks off and another week off sick.
Ive not been feeling well.
Im not surprised, said Ted. Ye been in this stinking pit the whole time?
More or less.
Right. Good. Time to get out then.
Ted threw the bedcovers from Israel, scattering books and toppling wine bottles in the processmerlot and Roberto Bolaño everywhere.
Up! Come on, lets go.
Leave me alone! said Israel.
That I shall not, said Ted. Ye might be able to run rings round the others, but you cant fool me.
Im not trying to fool anybody.
We were all a bit worried about him, Ted said, mimicking George.
Excerpted from The Bad Book Affair by Ian Sansom. Copyright © 2010 by Ian Sansom. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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