The Hog, insufferable and all but insuperable, brings off one coup after another and seldom fails to triumph over his hated rival, Papa the Greek. Neither is a match for the Rabbit, for though R.R. rarely knows what he is doing or why, he is always saved from himself by a guardian angel.
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Murder in the Menagerie
with Phillip and Robert King
© Victor Mollo, Phillip and Robert King 2002
The moral rights of the author have been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the copyright owner.
First published in the United Kingdom as eBook in 2014 by
1 Gower Street
London WC1E 6HD
An imprint of Pavilion Books Company Ltd
1. All’s Well that Ends Well
2. To Pause or not to Pause
3. Crime and Punishment
4. The Rabbit Loses a Loser
5. Even Whirlwinds Have Silver Linings
6. Cryptology at the Griffins
7. Squaring the Vicious Circle
8. The Art of Going Down
9. Karapet Forewarned
10. Tops and Bottoms
11. Perfect Mistiming
12. The Biter Bit
13. The Gentle Art of Misreading
14. Not in the Book
15. The Right Time for the Wrong Bid
16. Dishonest Cheating
17. Programming the Rabbit
18. The Hog Saves Precious Time
19. A Squeeze Without the Count
20. The Guessing Game
21. What Odds the Grand Slam?
22. Some Points are More Equal Than Others
23. The Kibitzer Crisis
24. Catherine Wheels All the Way
25. The Ace of Trumps Costs a Trick
26. The Rabbit Savages the Secretary Bird
This is the second posthumous collection of Victor Mollo’s Menagerie stories which, whilst they have appeared in bridge magazines around the world, have never been published in book form.
Once again, we have revised some of the hands and analyses, and tampered with the text, but we have relied on his wife, Squirrel, to make sure that our efforts would have earned Victor’s seal of approval.
All’s Well that Ends Well
“Napoleon was right,” declared the Hideous Hog, “or it may have been Einstein, but the distance from A to B isn’t always the same as from B to A.”
“Which is the greater?” asked Peregrine the Penguin, who had inherited a logical streak from his French grandmother.
“That,” replied the Hog cryptically, “depends on what it was before.”
Twirling his glass thoughtfully, H.H. went on philosophising. “On exactly the same hand and against the same opponents, what’s more, you’ll do one thing today and another tomorrow and you’ll be right both times. Maybe opponents doubled you into game on the previous deal. If so, you can be more venturesome than you would otherwise, for they are likely to hang back a bit. Did they bring off a risky double? Emboldened by success they may try it again. Better be cautious.
“There are times,” he continued, “when the cards seem to be running for declarer. At others sound contracts are going down. Superstition, if you like, but it can affect the play. Then, of course, there is the break in concentration induced by a mistake. The mind goes back involuntarily, dwells on it, and one error leads to another and yet another.”
“But if you make a mistake ...” interposed the Owl.
“I don’t,” snapped back the Hog. “Personal factors should not intrude into any discussion,” he went on less irritably. “I was thinking of the Rabbit. Since his mind is never on what he is doing, no one can tell what will happen next. Now those two slams ...”
Admittedly, R.R. has a curious knack of turning every blunder to his advantage, yet rarely, even in his case, had two wrongs so blatantly made a right.
This was the first of two successive hands which were the talk of the club.
Game All. Dealer South.
Charlie the Chimp was fractionally below a Two Club opening, but as opponents, the Toucan and the Rabbit more than made up for the difference. The Emeritus Professor of Bio-Sophistry, better known on account of his habits and appearance as the Secretary Bird, doubtless took that into account as well. The final contract reflected this duplication of values.
The Toucan led the ten of clubs. The Chimp went up with dummy’s ace and called for the nine of spades to which the Rabbit followed with the two of clubs.
“What! No spades?” asked the startled Toucan, bouncing giddily. It seemed unnatural for a long solid major to be suppressed entirely in the auction.
“Spades?” repeated the Rabbit, looking quizzically at his partner. “Yes, of course, I have one and ...” His voice trailed off as on closer inspection the two of spades turned out to be a club. In sorting his hand he had inadvertently transposed the two cards, such an easy thing to do.
“Exposed card,” announced the Secretary Bird. “Are you familiar with Law 72?”
The Rabbit shook his head ruefully. “Must be played at the first opportunity,” he murmured. “I know.”
The Emeritus Professor beamed. How right he had been to allow for a trick in defence.
The Chimp won the first spade trick and continued the suit, driving out the ace. The two of clubs now presented him with an unexpected trick, but the contract was no longer makeable. The Chimp had three tricks each in spades, diamonds and clubs and two in hearts, but that was his limit, for he would have to discard on the third club before the Rabbit was squeezed by the fourth spade.
“Well played, R.R.,” said the Hog, who was kibitzing against the Chimp. “It was the one and only way to break the contract.”
“No need to be sarcastic,” retorted the Rabbit.
The Hog chortled. How could he explain to R.R. that had he returned anything but a club he would have been the victim of a progressive squeeze? On the third round of spades he could part with a club, but he couldn’t throw another on the next one without making all dummy’s clubs good, and if he let go a heart the Chimp’s nine, now a master, would squeeze him in the minors. A diamond discard would be no better for the fourth diamond would squeeze him in hearts and clubs.
As he picked up the cards on the next deal the Rabbit was still squirming. How could he have made such a silly mistake? Defending against a slam, too.
The next board, which has been rotated for for convenience, gave R.R. another opportunity to blunder his way to glory.
Game All. Dealer North.
The Chimp, who never missed a chance to exercise low cunning, led the eight of spades. The Rabbit played dummy’s queen, gathered the trick, stacked it neatly in front of him and counted carefully. Two spades, two hearts and two clubs came to six tricks. Five diamonds, allowing for one loser, would bring the total to eleven and one trick he had already.
“What’s the running total?” he asked the Toucan.
“We are 110 up,” replied T.T.
A thirteenth trick wouldn’t affect the rubber points, so, spreading his hand, he announced, “I’ll just take my twelve tricks.”
‘Which twelve tricks?” asked the Secretary Bird.
“Just my winners,” replied R.R. “I don’t need the diamond finesse for a thirteenth trick wouldn’t affect the score and ...”
“No, but a twelfth might well do so,” hissed S.B., “and since you have only eleven I suggest that we call it one down.”
“This is monstrous!” cried the Hog. “To save time my friend puts down his hand and tells you in the clearest terms that he is not taking the diamond finesse. The contract is icy cold and you are trying to talk him out of it!”
The Secretary Bird’s Adam’s apple was throbbing loudly. “Would you like me to read out the Law on Claims and Concessions?” he asked menacingly. There was an angry glint in his pince-nez and the wiry tufts of hair were standing out belligerently over his ears.
“No, no, I beg of you,” pleaded the Rabbit. He had broken the laws so often that he knew the penalties by heart. “I may not exercise freedom of choice,” he cited, “in making any play the success of which depends on finding either opponent...”
No one was listening. He probably wasn’t listening himself. R.R. was in disgrace and he knew it. Because his mind was on the previous hand he had made a silly mistake. His one thought now was to make as many tricks as he could and apologise later.
At trick two he crossed to the ace of hearts. Then, going back to dummy with the ace of spades, he discarded a spade on the king of hearts, ruffed a heart and returning to dummy with a club, ruffed another. Back to dummy with the second top club, he ruffed a club, coming down to this position:
With half shut eyes he exited with a spade, hoping that the Chimp would have the knave. For some reason he ruffed instead. The Rabbit wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. One by one he counted his twelve tricks and looked S.B. straight in the face.
“Never mind, Professor,” he said with a genial smile. “Anyone can miscount, I’ve done it myself more than once. All’s well that ends well.”
To Pause or not to Pause
Dinner was over. The Delaforce ’63 was circulating, mainly around the Hog.
“All this nonsense about ethics. Such a waste of time,” he was saying. The Hog had been summoned to give evidence before the Monster Points Committee and he resented the loss of playing time which he assessed at two-and-a-quarter rubbers.
“But surely standards of ethics must be maintained,” insisted Oscar the Owl.
“Not at committee meetings,” rejoined H.H. “Bad players are unethical through sheer ignorance and no committee can cure them of that. Good players know that it doesn’t pay, so ...”
“Come, come,” broke in the Owl, “some of the world’s best players have been accused of downright cheating.”
“Only when they’ve been playing for honour and glory, never for money,” retorted the Hog. “World champions need screens and bidding boxes and coffee tables between their feet, and soon, no doubt, we’ll have electronic devices to scramble coughs and sneezes, but all that belongs to the rarefied atmosphere of tournament bridge at the summit. Playing for money, with a different partner every rubber, ethical lapses are apt to boomerang.”
The Owl opened his mouth.
“On the contrary,” quickly countered the Hog. “You cannot trust a poor player at his best, so how can you rely on him when he doesn’t know what he’s up to himself? Say that he passes after a long pause. Does it mean that he was nearly worth a bid? It’s a gamble.
“No,” declared H.H., shaking his head. “Look after your own tell-tale pauses and let the pauses of others look after themselves.”
“But you’ve just said,” protested the Corgi, “that good players don’t indulge in tell-tale pauses.”
“Not in unethical ones, certainly not,” agreed the Hog. “It’s the perfectly proper pauses that can be so important.”
“Like wondering whether or not to cover an honour?” suggested the Owl.
“No, a bad example,” replied the Hog. “You anticipate situations like that and have your answer ready in advance.” As he spoke the Hog delved into his capacious pockets and, producing an unopened letter from the Inland Revenue, hastily scribbled on the back of the envelope.
Game All. Dealer South.
“Play this with me. I’ll call the cards,” he said. “West leads the knave of diamonds. You go first, Oscar.”
“The king is obviously offside,” said the Owl. “Nothing to think about there. I go up with the ace and lead a trump to my ace.”
“All follow,” the Hog told him.
“Next the king,” called the Owl.
“East throws a nondescript club,” said H.H.
The Owl looked wise and blinked. The Corgi slowly sipped his port.
“Where do we go from here?” asked the Hog.
After due thought, the Corgi came up with a solution.
“I cash the queen of hearts and take three rounds of spades, discarding a club. Then I play a diamond from dummy. On the lead South will surely place his partner with the ten, and if so, he won’t rise with the king. Now I switch to clubs, getting rid of my diamond loser. How’s that?”
“The idea is good. The execution is bad and, worse still, the rhythm is ragged.”
“The rhythm?” repeated the Owl. The Corgi, too, looked puzzled.
Pointing an accusing finger at each in turn, the Hog proceeded to explain.
“You started jauntily enough, then, when East showed out on the second round of trumps, you paused to regroup. You should have done the opposite, paused first to make a plan in case of a bad trump break, then continued smoothly when East showed out, just as if you had started with six hearts and had drawn all the trumps.”
He paused to scan the immediate vicinity for an unguarded drink. Finding none, he resumed inexorably. “Your ragged rhythm, your telltale pause, alerted East. Realising that you have a trump loser and that it was worrying you, he was on his guard. That crafty discard of a club on dummy’s third spade, to make it appear that you had no diamond loser, could only increase his suspicions.”
“Don’t interrupt, Colin,” he admonished, as he noticed a tell-tale twitch from the Corgi’s lip. “The ploy wasn’t worthy of you. Had you started with a singleton diamond, two spades and five hearts, you would have had five clubs and a discard would be worthless to you. Even had you had a sixth heart, it wouldn’t help. Besides, there was no need at all to paint the lily in such gaudy colours.
“Try the same manoeuvre with the metronome working smoothly. Having made your plan in advance, you cash the queen of hearts, immediately turn to spades, discarding a diamond, and in even cadence lead a low diamond from dummy. East places you with six trumps and, knowing nothing about the clubs, has no reason to suspect anything.”
The Hog filled in the diagram.
“The basic difference between my play and yours,” concluded H.H., “is in the rhythm. I knew when to pause and you didn’t. You failed to consider what effect that pause would have on East. But do me the courtesy of pausing now, while I show you a deal which will complete your education.”
The Hog produced another piece of paper. I recognised at once the hand he was writing down for I had seen it played a couple of days earlier.
Game All. Dealer West.
Papa led the queen of clubs. The Toucan, bouncing excitedly, encouraged with the ten. It was apparent to the Greek that the only hope of breaking the contract lay in a trump promotion. If the Toucan could be persuaded to win the next club and play another, the ten of trumps would score the fourth trick for the defence. But, of course, declarer would duck the knave of clubs in the dummy and the Toucan wouldn’t think of rising with the ace. So, at trick two, Papa switched to a low diamond. The Chimp went up with dummy’s king and continued with a trump to his queen. Pouncing on it with the king, the Greek shot back like lightning the knave of clubs.
The Toucan could see that something dramatic was expected of him and after a recount, to make sure that only one more club was outstanding, he duly went up with the ace. The defence needed one more trick. Should he return a club, hoping for a trump promotion, or a diamond in case Papa had underled the ace?
“Oh dear,” he sighed, “whatever I do will be wrong. Can I toss a coin? You know all the rules, Professor,” he said turning to the Secretary Bird. “Is it allowed?”
S.B. hissed. “Puerile, but not illegal,” was his verdict.
The Toucan looked appealingly at H.H. The Hog demurred. “It’s not against the letter of the law,” he agreed, “but strictly speaking, it’s not quite fair to your opponents.”
“And why not, I should like to know?” demanded S.B., resentful that anyone should poach on his preserves.
“Because,” purred the Hog ingratiatingly, “tossing a coin presents an even-money chance, whereas left to exercise his judgment, Timothy is more likely to do the wrong, the er, unlucky thing than the lucky one. It’s all a question of odds.”
“What shall I do?” asked the bewildered Toucan, turning to Papa. “Give the casting vote.”
“Toss,” said the Greek unhesitatingly.
The coin spun in the air. “Heads,” cried T.T. and promptly led a club to break the contract.
“Very lucky,” said the disgruntled Hog. “He didn’t deserve it.”
“Anything wrong with the rhythm?” asked the Corgi when the Hog came to the end of the story.
“No, but observe that no pause, proper or improper, would have helped the Toucan. And yet, Papa should have paused. Before leading at trick two he should have stopped long enough to consider the dilemma in which a low diamond might place the Toucan. He should have made life easy for him.”
“How?” asked O.O.
“By leading the queen of diamonds, not a low one. No defender, sitting with the ace-queen under the king, would lead the queen. Even the Toucan could work that out.
“As I was saying,” concluded the Hog, “concentrate on your own proper pauses and don’t worry too much about the improper ones of your opponents.”
Crime and Punishment
Rarely had the Owl’s diplomatic finesse shown to greater advantage. Sending the carpets and curtains in the Green Room to the cleaners was truly a masterstroke. Now the Monster Points Committee couldn’t meet till Thursday, at the earliest, two days after the return to Australia of Charlie the Chimp’s cousin Charlotte. The Committee meeting would be adjourned sine die, of course, and a very embarrassing situation for all concerned would be averted.
“Actually, I believe she’s a very distant cousin,” Oscar informed us.
“Not distant enough,” complained an Ancient Griffin. “It took the Chimp three months to become the black sheep of the Griffins. She became our black ewe after three rubbers.”
Complaints against Charlotte couldn’t be brushed aside indefinitely, especially as not all came from Molly the Mule.
A fearless feminist, the Mule made no secret of her dislike of men. She seemed to dislike women as much, however, and Charlotte was no exception. She had, apparently, met her years earlier on Kilimanjaro or in Kathmandu, or it may have been in the Kalahari Desert, but wherever it was, the occasion reflected no credit on Charlotte. “If you knew what I know,” M.M. would begin, implying that there was a good deal more to be said. Charlotte was much the younger of the two and that in no way endeared her to Molly.
“Those fancy clothes might sit well on a girl of twenty – if they were well cut. At our age it’s ridiculous, but then, of course, men can’t see through anything,” she would add with a curl of her lip to emphasise her contempt for the weaker sex.
Not everyone’s objections to Charlotte were so personal. What riled the Griffins most was her strictly disciplined absentmindedness, which worked invariably to her advantage. If she misheard a bid, appropriated inadvertently a trick that didn’t belong to her, claimed honours too freely, every lapse somehow yielded a dividend. Murmurs and mutterings came to a head after a rubber in which Charlotte and her cousin, the Chimp, opposed Molly the Mule and the Secretary Bird. I heard about it the next day from the Hideous Hog, who told the story with relish, savouring every milligram of ill feeling.
“There you are,” he said, coming up to us in the bar. “These are the East/West hands.”
Game All. Dealer North.
“S.B. leads the king of diamonds. You go first, Peregrine.”
Oscar the Owl, who had been fully briefed already, sighed deeply.
“On any other lead it would be lay-down,” began P.P. “In fact, all thirteen tricks would be there on a ruffing finesse in hearts. Now I must guess. Should I play East for the king of hearts or West for the queen of spades? Eitner will do, but if I pick the wrong finesse, I shall go down at once, two down if I try the spade, one down if I run the queen of hearts, discarding a diamond, so perhaps ...”
“You must try to make the contract, not to limit your losers,” broke in the Hog.
“I could, I suppose, improve the odds slightly by ...”
Again H.H. stopped him. “There’s no ‘slightly’ about it. Try giving yourself a 3-1 on chance.”
“3-1 on? Absurd!” scoffed the Penguin.
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