The Prophetic Monkey


H. Turnbull Smith

I had been boring myself silly peddling Americana Life Insurance semi-successfully about East Asia for seven years when I was accosted by a blind native in a filthy red turban on the streets of Dharanjapoon. Before I could object, he thrust a scrap of paper in my hands and was gone.

"Leave the country immediately before someone is murdered!"

"Utter nonsense," I said to myself, crumpling the scrap into my palm. Perhaps this was what was meant by the mysteries of the inscrutable Orient. Mysteries! I was having none of it. I had sales quotas to meet and I had seen enough magic of my own in my unsuccessful stage career to have little respect for Oriental mysteries. The human being was simply a credulous ape and the hand was quicker than the eye, else how explain my ability to peddle Whole Life to destitute Asians?

At any rate there I was bogged down in Dharanjapoon on the top floor of the ramshackle, dirty-brick Modern American Visitor Hotel, occupying a room that faced across a narrow alley to a blank wall that some fool had chosen to decorate with the poster of a fifty foot high monkey. God knows what it is with these natives, but they've somehow got it in their head that monkey wisdom verges on divinity.

Anyway it was exactly a week after the blind man stuffed the murder warning in my hand that I heard about Mogwain and the Amazing Charles the Buddha. The whole city was abuzz, or at least as abuzz as these wheezing tropical places get, about this strange phenomenon, a so-called talking monkey that was able to read the future. Well naturally the act had stirred up quite a fuss in that naive corner of the globe.

So kicking myself for not having thought of it first, I took in Mogwain's act a few nights later in the muggy stink of the Old Dutch Theater. Mogwain was dressed in shabby Indian pajamas and sat on a rickety stool. Next to him, clearly needing a bath, sat the blind man who had accosted me in the streets, and next to him perched the Amazing Charles, looking nothing more spectacular than an ordinary flea bitten monkey of the European-organ-grinder-type, except for the golden Nehru hat jauntily perched on his head.

A guest from the audience, Mr. Panju, "volunteered" to come up onto the stage. Mogwain introduced the "volunteer," the blind man scratched himself, the monkey chattered some barely intelligible comments in broken English, and then Mr. Panju started bowing towards the monkey, acting like a man simply blown away by the accuracy of what he'd just heard.

"Damn clever ventriloquism," I said to myself as Panju stumbled back to his seat, "but such an incredibly tired act. Well, Dharanjpoon is only a backwater."

Sensing an opportunity for quick profit, I approached Mogwain's dilapidated house the next day on the pretext of selling insurance. Worming my way by the blind man at the door, I made my pitch. Mogwain looked at me uncomprehendingly as I tried to sell him life insurance, so I was finally forced to lay my cards on the table by broaching the subject of Charles. I didn't mince words. I told Mogwain I was a student of conjuring myself and was very impressed by the quality of his trickery.

He stared at me with a wounded air and muttered, "Yes, we've been expecting you, Mr. Smith, but there's no trickery. You understand it's very dangerous for you in this city?"

I laughed out loud. "Dangerous and expecting me? Of course! But naturally we magicians are reluctant to reveal our secrets; I understand," I said and then added with a brilliant stroke. "I'll tell you what, Mogwain; if I can reveal to your satisfaction the secret of Charles' prophecy, you must agree to buy a one hundred thousand dollar whole life policy from me."

"The secret is in the jungle from whence Charles has come to me," Mogwain said, "thus I repeat you must leave Dharanjpoon quickly."

"Sorry!" I said, "but I don't scare easily. Is it a deal?"

This time he laughed aloud. "And if you fail?"

"I shall give you ten thousand dollars." Which, unfortunately, I don't have I added to myself.

"This then is a deal," Mogwain said, smiling through rotting teeth.

Later that day I found Mr. Panju sitting cross-legged in a tailor's shop in a dingy quarter in the market area near downtown. I told him I was a theater aficionado and had seen him on stage at the Old Dutch and was mightily impressed.

"I had the impression that perhaps you and Mr. Mogwain knew one another," I said.

He smiled, showing me an all-gold bicuspid. "No, not at all. It was very, how you say, eerie? The monkey not only spoke, but knew my occupation, my wife's death date, the impending marriage of my daughter."

"Daughters are always getting married when men are your age," I objected, "and look at your fingers obviously a tailor. Now come clean, Mr. Panju, surely you and Mogwain knew one another prior to your appearance on stage."

"No, this man I never saw before," Panju insisted. "The little monkey is truly prophetic."

Well I hadn't been a beneficiary of a Western education as well as a student of conjuring in order to believe such patent nonsense, so having struck out with Mr. Panju regarding the Amazing Charles, I wasn't about to lose a ten thousand dollar bet too. A little subdued, however, I made my way to the library and then back to the theater.


Madame Sonangi was the theater manager. Describing myself as a booking agent from Melbourne, I asked her if she had ever seen Charles speak other than on stage.

"No, this I never have," she admitted, picking her teeth with a golden toothpick. "Mr. Mogwain does business alone."

Of course she was lying. We insurance salesmen lie enough to have a sixth sense about that sort of thing. No doubt she thought I was from the newspaper. Well, I asked, did Mogwain have assistants who worked the audience getting information? The blind man perhaps?

"No, Mr. Mogwain is very solitary."

"I'm sure he is. Secrecy counts for much."

Unfortunately hundred rupee bribes to the ushers revealed the same story as Madame Sonangi's.

Frustrated, I made my way back to Mogwain's place, an ugly granite relic of the Dutch occupation. A bluff would be worth something.

"See here," I said, holding up a fistful of moldering clippings I had scrounged from the library, "I've looked into your background. You learned ventriloquism in Bombay at the feet of one of Europe's finest. You were arrested in Brisbane for impersonating an Indonesian government official."

"You are very clever, Mr. Smith," he said, "but that doesn't win our bet."

"Of course it does," I said fishing in the dark. "Mr. Panju and the others are simply your collaborators in a skillful ventriloquism act. Excellent actors the lot of you. The monkey's voice is no more than your own."

He shook his head with closed eyes that seemed to pity me and said again, "The secret lies in the jungle. But perhaps you would like to speak to Charles yourself."

The monkey sat there on a stool eyeing me with ill-concealed distaste.

"Well, how do you do," I said reluctantly extending my hand.

"Why did you give up your stage routine for insurance sales?" the monkey mumbled, giving my hand one abrupt pump. "Show business is much more suitable work for you."

"Now that was a neat trick," I said to myself, watching Mogwain's mouth closely. This Mogwain does his homework, I thought.

"I got bored with talking to people who found me boring," I said in Mogwain's direction and then to Charles, "It's amazing how smoothly Mr. Mogwain moves your lips."

"Mr. Mogwain does not move my lips," Charles said. "By the way your ex-wife has remarried."

"What nonsense," I replied. "There's no one in the world fool enough to take my ex-wife in her condition."

"A distinguished gentlemen, a military man, is impressed by her overcoming alcoholism," Charles insisted.

"Absurd," I said. "But I must compliment Mr. Mogwain; the words certainly do seem to come from within you, Charles."

"Of course, because it is I who is speaking," Charles said, plucking one of his own fleas. "Too bad, Mr. Panju couldn't have been of more help to you."

"I found Panju extremely helpful." I said.

"Lying doesn't become you," Charles said.

I turned to Mogwain. "I've got to hand it to you, Mogwain. He's the most cleverly wired dummy I've ever seen. You'd make a fortune with this act in the states. I've had a career in magic myself; I can certainly tell a class act from clumsy amateurism."

Mogwain smiled politely. "Charles is no act. He is not electrical. He is the product of a mating that could only occur in the jungle. We do not aspire to live your Western way of life. Charles is quite tired this evening for you see he is ill, but if you should return tomorrow perhaps you would like to examine him more closely yourself. There is a small fee, however."

"Un huh, no Western lifestyle, but money still talks," I said to myself, bidding Mogwain good-bye.

When I got my mail that evening , I was shocked to find a card from my ex informing me that she had remarried -- a colonel-- and that I would be happy to discover that my alimony payments would thus be ending. What a blind lucky guess by Mogwain!


It was an elementary act of theft to kidnap Charles while Mogwain was asleep in one of those profoundly Eastern snoozes. I hustled the clever mechanical fraud under a blanket and bolted Mogwain's house with my prize.

I took Charles to my apartment and prepared to do surgery to reveal the complex wiring that Mogwain had hooked up. Administering ether from a handkerchief, I watched Charles jerk abruptly, then settle into a coma on my kitchen table which was serving as surgical gurney.

I lifted the scalpel and cut a neat incision behind the left and the right ear expecting to expose the wires cleverly leading back to Mogwain; however, there were no wires only the bright flush of the bluest, thinnest blood I had ever seen. Balked, I staunched the blood with gauze pads, but no clotting occured.

"Wake up, you damn impostor, and stop bleeding," I shouted exerting more and more pressure on the incisions, but the blood refused to congeal as I broke into a sweat, feeling the feeble declining pulse of Charles while I struggled to stop the bleeding. However, the blood stubbornly refused to clot as I feverishly pressed harder and harder; then the most fabulous primate in the history of the world stopped breathing and died on my kitchen table.


That evening as I returned from the restaurant, the murder of the monkey heavy on my mind, I stopped for a drink in the lobby of the hotel. I sat by myself morosely staring into space, barely sipping at my gin, when Mogwain and the blind man shuffled into the bar.

They were both in native dress, feeble and insubstantial looking as all the natives were. Mogwain eyed me intently. Perhaps guilt was evident on my face, but I was damned if I'd be made uncomfortable by a bunch of hustling native fakes. I rose to go to the bathroom, which meant I had to pass close by their table.

"How are you, Mogwain," I brazened out, refusing to be intimidated.

"You have murdered a God," Mogwain said.

"What kind of trash are you talking?" I said. "You're nevous about the bet."

"The warning has been given," Mogwain said cryptically.

"The hell with your warning," I said, pushing on by and heading back to my room.

It was later in the sweltering darkness, no air-conditioning in Dharanjpoon, as I stood at the window unable to sleep that I heard it.

"Coming for you," the voice said.

"Coming for what?" I muttered back.

"You were warned," the voice that I recognized as Charles' said.

I stared out the window. It was six floors down to the alley. The alley stood deserted except for a toppled garbage can and what I recognized as the stooped figure of the blind man apparently standing guard at the corner.

"You people think you can bother me?" I shouted. "But I'm not that weak."

The blind man didn't move, gave no gesture of recognition that he'd even heard my voice.

I shouted again. "You heard me all right. I'm not chicken hearted. You natives don't scare me!"

Still nothing but silence. I stared across the alley at the huge poster of a monkey on the opposite wall. It's penetrating eyes were right at the level of my window sill. Wherever I moved in the room, those eyes seemed to track me relentlessly. I flattened myself against the closet door.

"Got to get a grip," I told myself, "bunch of damn native nonsense."

Then I heard it in the hall. It was distant at first and unintelligible, but as it grew closer, I recognized it -- it was the sound of monkeys moving, a vast army of primates chattering outside in the hallway, beginning to beat at my door, insistently, hundreds of little fists beating on the door at once.

The door began to sway on its hinges. It would only be a matter of seconds before it collapsed. That's when I determined what to do.

No by God! No -- they weren't going to get me. Just as the door heaved in and the brawling horde of monkeys came ripping into my room, I lurched for the windowsill. It was thirty five yards to the cobblestones. Better to die of my own volition, than torn apart by some vengeful brutes.

Feverishly, I climbed up on the windowsill, stood to my full height, then with a roar of defiance against Indonesia and its stupid deceiving magicians, launched myself into the blackness.



Author Bio

Turnip Smith spends his day illuminating minds in a community college in lower Ohio. By night he cranks out lies and yearns for women who have not known our President. Proud possessor of a thousand rejection slips, Smith has on two occasions received checks for $1,100 from airline publications.

Recently crossing over from literary magzines, Smith has found the conversion approximately as easy as learning to use a Japanese typewriter. When he finds time, the Turnipman is a 90% free throw shooter in the Wonderly Park Amateur Basketball Union of Greater Dayton and is not a vegetarian.




Copyright © 1998 H. Turnbull Smith. All rights reserved. Published by permission of the author.
This page last updated 10-10-98.

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