A Parable: The Saving of Mr. Pintle

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Speaking Truth to Power

Here’s a parable/short story I wrote a good few years ago now. Like all good parables, it has layers of meaning and lots to give in terms of wisdom.

Enjoy!

The Saving of Mr. Pintle

If Mr. Horace Pintle could be said to love anything, it was his job. Having been promoted to Enforcement Management Officer, Dog Fouling, a couple of months ago, he’d gone to work with a vengeance, and now his town was a much better place for it. Granted, he’d had to work hard and had had some very unpleasant arguments with many awkward and powerful people, but he was confident that his job was being done properly, as it ought to. Besides, he loved the aura of power that he felt when he won his ‘discussions’ with people whom he was sure thought they were better than he was. Dog Fouling Enforcement was a most important job, and since the new ‘Council Initiatives to Combat Dog Fouling’, he knew that he had the full force of the Law behind him. Oh, he was a powerful man indeed, more powerful even than the man he had come to see today and in whose office he now sat, sipping an excellent coffee from a proper coffee cup, not those cheap plasticky ones he was forced to use from the coffee machine at the Council offices. The little things like this – he liked to think of them as ‘perks’ – were something he enjoyed immensely.

“Dr. Adams, the law is quite clear on the matter. Under Subsection 5.8.8.2 of the ‘Pavements, Fouling of by Dogs Order, 2008’, the dog must be destroyed if the owners fail to comply with the instructions of the relevant authority. That authority is of course myself, and these people were obstructive and rude when I confronted them with their offence. And since you are the dog’s veterinary surgeon, you are the most suitable candidate for the task. Clearly, it is in the dog’s best interests.”

Dr. Dave Adams steepled his long, sensitive fingers and looked at the little man at the other side of his desk. His clear grey eyes took in Mr. Pintle’s little moustache, his pince-nez spectacles and his thinning hair, carefully combed across his balding head. In another age, Dr. Adams thought, he’d have also been wearing a bowler hat and a pinstripe suit; such was the type of person he had in his office at that moment.

“Mr. Pintle, it is a completely disproportionate response to destroy a dog, simply because its owners failed to pick up completely the last vestige of faeces from the pavement. Did the Martins not explain to you that their dog had a tummy upset that day, and that although they used four separate bags and did their very best, that they simply could not collect all of the mess because it was simply impossible?”

“That is none of my concern”, said Mr. Pintle. “In any case, it is simply out of my hands. The law is very clear on the issue: these people are clearly not fit to own a dog if they cannot be bothered to clear up after it. It is a simple matter of cruelty, Dr. Adams. The dog is obviously not happy with people like these who cannot be bothered to obey the law. It is simply more than my job is worth to allow this situation to continue.”

Dr. Adams thought of Jeffrey and Martha Martin, the couple sitting anxiously in the waiting-room outside his office with their ten-year-old daughter Lucie. Only six months previously, Dave Adams had put to sleep their precious ten-year-old dog, Saladin, whose arthritis was so bad that he simply couldn’t get up any more. Mr. and Mrs. Martin had paid for only the best veterinary treatment in order to do their best for the animal, but to no avail, because the arthritis had been so far advanced by the time it was detected. Lucie had of course been particularly devastated when the dog had died; she’d grown up with him there all her life. Their new dog, Lollipop, was a shaggy brown mongrel who absolutely doted on Lucie and would certainly lay down his life for her, and who was now lying forlornly in a cage at the other side of Dr. Adams’s office, observing them both through soft, intelligent eyes. These people, Dr. Adams thought, were born to be dog owners. He felt he’d grown close to them on a professional level, while treating Saladin, to know that fact quite clearly.

Dave Adams spread his hands placatingly. “Mr. Pintle, I have taken a professional oath to not do any harm. I cannot simply put a dog to sleep because you demand it; there has to be a proper medical reason. And you must consider the family. The little girl dotes on the dog. Her life would not be the same without him. I’m appealing to your humanity, your sense of decency. Surely you’re a good man, with feelings too? This is tearing them apart!”

Horace Pintle felt the delicious flare in his chest that he usually experienced when people put on what he called their ‘be nice to Horace’ veneer. People had to be nice to him, or at least show him some respect. Even if it was only on the surface, they had to do this in the hope that he would decide to be nice to them; in case he felt like being lenient – to perhaps not come down as hard on them as he could. This was another aspect of the power that he loved. People knew that unless they at least maintained a façade of being civil with him, they had no chance of any leniency whatever; if they were rude to him then, well, they’d get no favours from him. Oh, no. They knew it, and he knew that they knew. He’d learned it during his time as a traffic enforcement officer. People had often been obsequious and wheedling, trying to avoid a simple parking ticket, that they could easily afford with their flash cars, families and nice coats. Posh old ladies who’d overstayed their car park tickets by ‘it’s only ten minutes, love’. One young mother in particular he remembered – obviously with a rich husband, of course – struggling with an expensive buggy packed with screaming kids and laden with heavy shopping bags; almost in tears as she’d pleaded with him while he gleefully pinned their fixed-penalty notices under her windscreen wiper the regulation eight minutes after her ticket had expired. Oh, yes, he knew what power was, and he enjoyed it to the full. He hated children and families, young families especially, with their dogs and buggies, nappies and shopping bags. They offended his sense of the order of the universe, the rightness of everything that was properly ordered and set out nice and neat and in accordance with the regulations. Dog mess on the pavement was an affront to him, not because it could infect young children with some unpronounceable disease or other, but because it just was plain wrong. Everyone in the world knew that.

“You remember our advertising campaign, Dr. Adams. We have received text messages from bystanders reporting this family committing this offence; we have surveillance cameras which corroborate their stories. I have made this my personal crusade – to eradicate dog waste from the streets. I have taken personal charge of this case and I intend to pursue it to completion. You realise that I can have your licence to practice revoked, Dr. Adams. I’m sure we both want to avoid any unpleasantness. Naturally, all your professional fees will be paid by the Martin family. It’s in everyone’s best interests, and from what I hear of your professionalism, it won’t feel a thing”. He smiled at Dr. Adams with his mouth only, not his eyes, of course. That would be too unprofessional on his part.

Dave Adams lowered his eyes and looked at his desktop, as if surrendering the point and the interview. Pondering for only a few seconds, he appeared to come to a decision. “Very well, Mr. Pintle. I had hoped it would not come to this; that perhaps we could come to some agreement; some sort of reprieve. I can see now that unfortunately you leave me no choice. No doubt you would like to observe and see that your wishes are carried out. Would you like some more coffee while I make the necessary arrangements?” With that, he stood up slowly, almost tiredly, from his chair, and went across to the place on his workbench that held the coffee-pot, near his dispensary cabinet. While the coffee was brewing, Dr. Adams opened the cabinet and began to make up the required drugs. Bringing across Horace’s fresh coffee, he placed it on the desk in front of Horace and then turned back to the cabinet to continue his work. Glancing down for a moment at Lollipop in his cage, Dave, always the compassionate vet, he tried to give him a wan smile of encouragement.

Savouring for a moment in his mind the recent application he’d put in to become an auditor of large professional companies, Horace Pintle re-stirred the hot coffee in his cup – it had to be properly mixed; anything else just was not proper – and took a good long swallow. Hmm. It was definitely a good brew, smoky, dark and delicious. Hopefully his career record would be immeasurably enhanced by this successful campaign, and give him a good chance to impose his own kind of order into yet more people’s lives. For the moment, though, he was feeling particularly tired. These arguments, or ‘discussions’ as he preferred to think of them, he always found tiring, but the inevitable victory at the end was always sweeter for that. In fact, this one had made him particularly drowsy, and, despite the good strong coffee, he was having difficulty keeping his eyes open. Ah, it looked as if Dr. Adams had finished his preparations and was ready to administer the injection. The vet turned slowly, heavily, from his dispensary towards the dog, and the syringe filled with blue liquid and fitted with a long, sharp needle came into view…..

Outside, in the waiting room, the tension reached its peak as Dave quietly opened his door and came out to confront the Martin family. Lucie was red-eyed with weeping, as were her parents, and the three of them had formed a close, family huddle in their moment of need. Dave closed the frosted-glass door of his office behind him and leaned tiredly against the frame. “That’s something I hope I never have to do again. But it was peaceful in the end; he didn’t feel a thing.” He turned, reopened his office door, and clicked his tongue. Lollipop trotted gamely out to meet his beloved family, and Dave, glancing back over his shoulder, said, “Don’t worry, it’s all been sorted out”, as he went back into his office where Mr. Horace Pintle had finally been put out of his misery.

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