Owligators. There were flamingo dancers too, but the owligators were what really stood out. Giant flying alligators with entirely too many feathers and a taste for small mammals like voles. And five year olds. Giant nocturnal flying lizards, with eyesight the envy of great hunting hawks, and hearing so good it made grown bats crawl back to their caves and contemplate taking up careers as jewelers and diamond-cutters.
And they were infesting my nightclub. Pete's Ballroom and Casino, home of the Star-Studded Flamingo Dancers. We didn't even allow five year-olds. Or voles. The help occasionally chased down a rat or two, but nothing to fill a full-grown owligator. I mean, why didn't they take over Harry's All-night Kindergarten? Lot's of five year olds there. Juicy celebrity five year-olds, with ballet lessons and designer eyewear. They probably had them in designer flavors even. We just had flamingo dancers, and one of them was so old she thought she was a heron.
But about the owligators. The thing that's always given me the creeps about owligators is their feathers. They just have way too many of them. Okay, so any feathers on a giant flying reptile is too many. Of course, any flying giant reptiles is probably too many. And it really doesn't matter whether the feathers are a flat khaki on a Short-Jawed Chinese Owligator, or bright green and purple, like peacock feathers on the Southwest American Owligator, the americanus quetzalcoatus. Some people think they're pretty, but they just give me the creeps. For Christ's sake, the eyes move. They're sort of walleyed, so I know they can't be following me, but they still make me nervous.
We'd booked the flamingo dancers by accident. I know what you're thinking – how do you book two-dozen bright pink chorus girls with extreme plumage by accident? Flamingo dancers are so raucous, venues have to apply for special disturbing-the-peace permits for every public performance. We keep fighting with the city to keep from being annexed by accident, because they'd shut us right down. And their agents have been very careful about truth in advertising ever since the passage of the Avian Performers Act and that nasty lawsuit in Illinois that held the booking agent partially responsible. That whole lawsuit was totally unfair – how was the agent supposed to know that moas are carnivorous? They're from Australia, and everybody knows how gentle marsupials are. Sheesh.
The flamingo dancers showed up in their tour bus, a delapidated wreck that had seen much better days as a Grey Flyer on the coast-to-coast run before being pressed into the service of the entertainment industry. And let me tell you, that coast-to-coast run is brutal. They staff the Grey Flyer line with Kodiak bears, because they can stay awake for the entire seven day trip – and believe me, you do not want to stop on that run. I've heard about old interstate truckers who were required to take rest breaks eight hours out of every twenty-four, and that's just insane. I think they must be a myth.
It was a hot morning in Southern California when the Grey Flyer pulled up, Franco's Amazing Flamingos! blazoned on its side in bright, required by law, four foot high red and green helvetica type. It was earlier than I expected any of them to be awake, so I assumed they'd driven all night. I later found out they'd been chased out of town by the civil authorities, just after their last gig. Something about some irregularity with the disturbing the peace permit, but I thought the owner was just trying to stiff them.
The narrow door of the bus opened, and out stepped someone I hoped was not the headliner. A muscular black woman with incredibly unlikely blonde hair stepped out and started checking the bus for damage. I was just revising my assessment from "muscular woman" to "committed transvestite" when the headliner did step out, ducking her head to get through the door. The booking agent had told me this troupe was something special, and I realized that that might be a good thing after all.