A taxi came around the corner and pulled up along the curb in front of me. The driver leaned over to the passenger side and rolled down the window. He had a disarming smile that contrasted intense eyes that would have fit nicely in a larger head.
“Pugs?” he asked.
The bullet holes in the side of the vehicle were a little disconcerting but the service was prompt and friendly. I nodded, got into the cab, and off we went.
“I’m Igor,” he said, turning around to shake my hand as we sailed through a red light.
“Dave. Pleased to meet you,” I said. Taking note of his name, I checked his back for a hump. There wasn’t one.
“This is your first time. Yes? Here, you better drink this then,” he said, handing me a shot glass-sized vial full of murky liquid.
I didn’t have to ask what the contents were. Moral crusaders against pug rooms had been all over the news recently, making sure the use of that stuff got plenty of press. Called “pug potion” or “vitamin P,” it was at the time the only illicit component of the subculture. Its ingredients were reputed to be MDMA, schnapps (peppermint or peach), St. John’s wort, and a blend of antioxidants added to appeal to the health-conscious consumer.
“No trans fat,” Igor assured me.
I unscrewed the vial and knocked back the liquid in one gulp. The schnapps was peach. I would know about the rest of the concoction soon enough.
Igor said it was going to be long ride, all the way to the Outer Richmond district but told me not to worry about cab fare. Transportation there was complimentary for first-time customers. He asked me if I wanted to listen to some music and I said OK. Techno blasted from the car stereo and made conversation impossible for the rest of the trip.
When we reached our destination, we were way out in the Avenues, just a few block from the beach. The cab pulled into the driveway of an auto-repair shop with the sign:
“We denounce stallin’!”
Igor said the entrance was in the back and I was expected. I thanked him for the ride and pug potion and got out of the taxi into the cold night, blanketed by fog.
There was no light along the side of the building and I stepped on some guy passed out in the walkway.
“Pugs,” he said and went back to sleep.
I reached the door at the rear of the building without further incident and knocked on the door. A middle-aged man who wore his toupee at a rakish angle answered.
“Oh do come in. I am Anton, the habitat’s liaison, ” he said with an accent that seemed to come from someplace in Europe but it was hard to tell exactly where. I’d traveled quite a bit on the continent but never made it Andorra so I decided he must come from there.
I stepped past him and into a room that was decorated in such a way that could only be described as “International Pug.” Shelves were adorned with Asian figurines of the breed and Delft Blue plates depicting them frolicking with their clog-shod owners. On the far wall hung a large velvet painting of an Aztec warrior in full headdress cradling a lifeless, supine pug in one arm. His free hand was pinching a teat.
Like the room, Anton was dressed to impress. His decision to greet visitors in a robe and smoking a pipe was no doubt an effort to impart a Hugh Hefner mystique. If he had opted for satin instead of terry cloth, the overall effect would have been a little more Hef and a little less Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man. Still, I had a hard time faulting the man because he had the most adorable little pug at the end of a leash. I wanted to be sociable but not knowing quite what to say to an Andorran, I struck up a conversation with the dog instead.
“What’s shakin’, girlfriend?” I asked, crouching down to pug level.
“It’s a he, and he’s not one of the love pugs. He is my personal pet. That’s why he is neutered.”
“You don’t do that to the others?”
“Oh no. We found that there is greater enthusiasm from animals who have not been fixed. By the way, is name is Fenrir, from the wolf in Norse mythology.”
“Hiya Funrear,” I said to the dog. ” Do you know what I am? I’m intact. You’re not. And I see that look in your eye. Yes I do. It’s envy. That’s one of the seven deadly sins. Yes it is. And do you know what the punishment for that sin is? It’s castration, so I guess you have nothing to worry about.”
“Please sir,” said Anton. “We’re on a bit of a tight schedule. If you could kindly disrobe completely and place your clothes in that basket, the attendant will be with you shortly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some matters to see to.”
He led the dog out and I got undressed. I stood there naked for a minute or two before a door opened and Classy Lady asked me to follow her into another room. I never did catch her name and refer to her as “Classy Lady” because that is what was tattooed on her neck.
She was American, which almost seemed out of place at this point. Judging from her twang and how she did not remove the lit cigarette from her mouth when she spoke, I guessed she hailed from somewhere in the rural South.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” she said. “You ain’t got nothing I ain’t seen plenty of. I had five brothers.”
We entered a carpeted room with the walls and ceiling painted black. A steroid-enhanced Russian stood in the corner with his eyes crossed, eying me. Classy Lady told me to stand on the tarp laid out in the middle of the floor.
“Now spread your goddamn arms out. You know, like Jesus,” she added. “I’ll be back in a second.”
She returned with a pewter soup tureen and a paintbrush. She then started basting me head to toe with lukewarm beef bouillon.
That’s when the pug potion hit me. Every stroke of the brush sent a tidal wave firing synapses through my brain. I began to hyperventilate. Classy Lady finished up just before I thought I was going to have a seizure. I barely had the mental wherewithal to acknowledge her telling me it was time to lie down on the tarp.
I got on the floor and looked up to see the large man smiling at me with an impressive array of gold teeth.
“You party now,” he said.
Both he and Classy Lady left the room, turning off the light and closing the door behind them. I lay there staring into the darkness, hearing nearby snorting and grunting. Then there was the sound of a metal panel sliding open.
A moment later, the pugs were all over me.