“Dinosaur Spots Comet in Sky.”
“That’s the headline I’m going with,” said Dilly the crocodile to Tony the T-Rex, as they faced each other across the entranceway to the latter’s luxurious cave.
It was the most modern of eras in an alternative universe containing the 88th iteration of “standard” earth where the animals had evolved to rule the planet and humankind was nowhere to be found.
Dilly had received his rather silly and soft nickname years ago, but had come to appreciate its value for disarming interview subjects.
He worked as a reporter. The name of his paper was the Daily Drumbeat, since that was the method by which the news was distributed.
Tony the T-Rex was mayor and financial mogul in this particular zone of the jungle.
“Why have you come to me with this story?” asked Tony.
“I thought I should give you a heads-up,” said Dilly “and present you with an opportunity to confirm or deny it.”
“Why would I have anything to say on the subject?”
“Because you’re the dinosaur referred to in the article,” said Dilly.
“What? Preposterous.” Tony took on an expression of outrage.
“Mandrake said you would deny it,” Dilly answered calmly.
Tony gave Dilly a quizzical look, like he’d never heard the name before.
“You know Mandrake, right? The monkey. Short little guy. Screeches a lot. He’s a star-gazing friend of yours. You belong to the same astronomical society,” said Dilly.
“Oh that Mandrake. Yes, I do know him. A very pleasant chap, but apparently delusional. ”
A wary look crossed Tony’s face nonetheless.
Dilly was neither fooled nor distracted.
“He told me the two of you were on Space Cadet Hill late Saturday night when you saw an anomaly through your telescope, a comet coming straight towards earth. He took a look as well and confirmed your sighting.”
“No. That’s absurd. I never saw any such thing.”
“He said you’d deny it. The implications for your kind are too dramatic and terrifying. I’m guessing dinosaurs will be wiped off the face of the earth. You’re likely to become extinct. ”
“If it was true, it would still be well into the future. And don’t you think all life forms would be destroyed?” asked Tony.
“No, I think the rest of us would probably be okay. Sure, there’ll be a lot of chaos, but we’ll emerge in pretty good shape in a million years. We can get by on a lot less than you. We don’t need the same level of fueling.”
Tony looked stunned.
“There’s also the other matter,” said Dilly.
Tony was startled from his reverie. “What other matter?” he asked.
“According to Mandrake, you may have a bigger and more immediate worry.”
“He says your publishing empire is crumbling.”
“No, what he says makes sense. You’ve been the intermediary between monkeys who write and monkeys who read – although they’re not mutually exclusive – for decades. Let’s examine your business model.”
Tony stared ahead, clearly struggling to maintain his composure.
Dilly proceeded. “You take the work of one specific monkey, reproduce it and sell it for several coconuts each.”
“It’s a good system,” said Tony.
“I’m not so sure,” said Dilly. “This way, you keep the coconuts and the writer-monkey gets paid in chicken feed.”
“I act as guardian,” said Tony. “A lot of rot is brought to me. I filter out the weak material and let only the best work through.”
“But you can’t deny your opinion is largely subjective.”
“I have faith in my superior taste,” Tony said rather huffily.
“In any event, the monkeys have made a discovery. With their two opposable thumbs, they can not only write, but mass produce their works as well. They’re planning to establish their own distribution channels and keep the rewards for themselves.”
Tony tried to look impassive.
“They’ll no longer need your approval,” said Dilly.
“They know I’ve only been working in their best interests,” commented Tony.
“Again, I don’t think so. As guardian, you ask for the exclusive right to judge their work then sit on it for months before issuing a form letter of rejection.”
“You’ve also been playing it pretty safe lately.”
Tony’s confidence took a beating with this jibe. He knew where his vulnerabilities lay.
“The material you’ve been publishing has been following a formula – brontosaurus sleuthing novels, biographies of famous pterodactyls, stories about romance in the stegosaurus set that are so sweet they can rot your fangs.”
“You should see the junk that’s submitted to me,” Tony almost pleaded.
“I don’t doubt that’s true,” said Dilly.
“I’m always receiving ‘undead’- monkey stories with accompanying letters that read ‘this one’s completely different from all the others’ because of some minor change in the protagonist.”
Dilly sensed an opportunity to inject some levity.
“You mean, as opposed to just two, our hero has nothing but opposable thumbs?” he asked.
“Yes! Exactly,” Tony exclaimed.
Dilly’s creative juices were flowing. “That way, whenever the “vampire” monkey thinks about sucking blood, guess what he chooses to suck instead.”
The T-Rex was starting to share in the fun. “Thumbs. Twenty of them. One after another. Slurp, slurp.”
“Our monkey hero becomes a force for pacifiers rather than evil,” joked Dilly.
In their nervousness, they both laughed a little too much.
Tony acted impressed. “Say, you’re good. You should be writing fiction.”
“Sure,” said Dilly, “when I get tired of my non-fiction day-job.”
The moment passed and the realization slipped in that they were far off topic.
Dilly was surprised by Tony’s countenance. It seemed hardly credible that a T-Rex could look sheepish.
Dilly revved up again. “If someone has something to say and a new discovery makes it possible for them to reach an audience, why should they hold back?”
Tony snorted and the odiferous blast flattened Dilly to the ground.
When he recovered, he threw Tony a baited life-line. “Mandrake says there is one thing that might save your business.”
“What’s that?” asked Tony.
Tony’s breathless enthusiasm belied his assumed indifference.
“Experimentation is integrating the written word with live action. The media event will be half book and half theatre,” said Dilly.
“That’s a good point. It’ll be a hybrid,” said Tony.
“Yes and only the wealthiest can afford to stage mini-plays,” added Dilly.
A mischievous twinkle snuck into Dilly’s eyes.
“Mandrake says he’s tried to talk his wife into “live action” scenes a couple of times. She always says no and sometimes gets pretty angry about it.”
He held back the wink and the nod and the “Ya know what I mean?” elbow nudge.
“Hmmm,” said Tony. After a heartbeat or two, he followed with “Huh?”
Tony’s look of contemplation was replaced with one of annoyance as he realized he was being joshed.
A change of topic seemed in order.
“So do you really think I saw the comet?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied Dilly.
“You can’t publish that. It will send all my friends into a panic.”
“Are you trying to be a guardian again?” queried the croc.
“Yes. Someone has to do it and I’m best qualified.”
“I don’t think so.”
Dilly wondered how many times he’d used that phrase.
He was no longer saying it with petulance, but rather as the sum of quiet reflection.
Tony wasn’t prepared to give up the fight.
“You don’t think so? What does that have to do with anything? I’m the mayor. I’m a dinosaur in a position of authority.”
The croc straightened his tail, stood on tippy toes, puffed out his chest and raised his jaws in the direction of the T-Rex looming over him.
“That’s fine, but let me tell you how I view my reporting job,” replied Dilly. “I think I’m supposed to say what I think.”