- Related books:
- A Second Roald Dahl Selection: Eight Short Stories
- Completely Unexpected Tales
- Further Tales of the Unexpected
- More Tales of the Unexpected
- Tales of the Unexpected (Volume 2)
- The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl
- The Complete Short Stories: Volume Two
- The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories
- The Umbrella Man and Other Stories
- TV Shows:
- Tales of the Unexpected (1979)
Spoiler warning! Two young men (the narrator and his friend George) are lamenting their state of poverty and discussing the morning’s newspaper. In it, a society columnist named Lionel Pantaloon reports some scandalous gossip about several prominent citizens. The narrator gets a brilliant idea. He reckons that the people Pantaloon insults would like to punch him in the nose, but they’re unable to because of their standing and position. He proposes that he and George start a business performing such acts of vengeance for a price. They come up with a list of services, such as giving someone a black eye and putting a rattlesnake (venom extracted) in their car. Then they have a number of cards printed explaining their business and listing their prices. They deliver these to the offended parties, and within two days they have several orders to fulfil. They begin to dream about the riches they’ll be paid and living in grand hotels. The narrator has another brainstorm and realizes they can get paid multiple times for the same act. Each customer will think that the vengeance was for them alone. Thus as they have three orders to punch Pantaloon in the nose, they decide to handle him first.
The plan is simple: Pantaloon is always at the Penguin Club late at night, so they’ll show up and ask for him to come out. George will punch him and then escape in the rented car the narrator has waiting. They telegram the three customers with the details of the encounter so the customers can watch. Then they procure a fake mustache for George to disguise him. At the appointed time, George approaches the doorman and passes him a note to give to Pantaloon. He claims to be a Soviet Consulate worker with a scoop for the famous columnist. Unable to resist the bait, Pantaloon comes out to talk with him. George gives him a tremendous punch on the nose that lifts him clear off his feet. He then dashes to the car and the two men escape. They drive quickly through the snowy streets but soon realize that they’re being tailed. Knowing they can’t escape, they stop. Instead of the police it turns out to be one of the customers. He explains that it was the funniest thing he’s ever seen and he happily pays them double their fee. He also advises them to get out of town quickly before Pantaloon figures out what happened. The men wait around another day to receive the rest of their payment and then catch a train out of town. They discuss their plan to bet the money on a horse race, and they daydream about how wealthy and important they’ll become. “Perhaps we might even get ourselves mentioned in Lionel Pantaloon’s column,” George muses. “That would be something,” the narrator answers.
- “The Art of Vengeance” by Joyce Carol Oates (The New York Review of Books)