Millicent stopped me at the coat check room, a small envelope in her hand.
“Oh, good. You’re here. This came for you.”
I took it, removed a small horizontally-folded card, and glanced at the script written on it before looking back at Millicent. “Who’s this from?”
I looked at the card again, holding it so Millicent could also read it.
“Hello, again!” it said. “You’ll be seeing me soon! Looking forward to visiting the club! Stay fabulous! (signed) The VIP.”
“Who’s the VIP?” she asked.
“I still don’t know,” I replied, remembering a mysterious, similarly-signed email the club had received a few weeks back while Sadie Mason-Smith was visiting. “I wonder when we’ll find out.”
In the dining room, an animated conversation was under way as I sat down at a table where Noe Herrera, my big burly buddy from below the border, was slicing into a perfectly-cooked porterhouse.
“So what’s everyone talking about?” I asked.
“The most unusual animal you’ve ever been bitten by,” Noe said.
“Ah. Too bad Wade Smith’s not here yet.”
“He was once bitten by an ostrich.”
“No way!” Mandy Shunnarah said from the next table where she sat with Sarah Miller.
“Way,” I replied. “It was radioactive. That’s how Wade got his super ostrich powers.”
“It wasn’t by chance the same bear that was balancing on a big ball while biting an ice cream cone Ed Sullivan was holding in his mouth?” I asked him.
“Who’s Ed Sullivan?” Mandy whispered to Sarah, who shrugged.
“Old person reference,” the artist answered.
“A pack saddle?” I echoed.
“A spiny caterpillar that injects poison into you through the spines,” Lisa explained. “I got stung by one once while I was working in my flower bed. It hurt like no other sting I’ve ever had.”
“Not bad, but it’s going to take more than that to win the Radioactive Ostrich Award,” Noe said.
“All right, Noe, what have you got?” I asked.
“It’s what happens when your son tells you to pull up a railroad tie because he saw something cool. In reality, it was trying to get away from us and it hung on to my knuckle skin for five minutes.”
“How about a goose?” Tripp Warren asked.
“You got bitten by a goose?” Sarah replied as Mandy, wearing an up-to-something grin, left the table and disappeared from the room.
“I was at the Shakespeare festival to watch Twelfth Night, in which I was soon to co-star as Sebastian, the twin brother of Viola. We brought picnic lunches to eat on the grounds, and the goose apparently wanted my sandwich more than me. It attacked with the raging ferocity of a velociraptor, quickly throttling my arm and removing the sandwich from my possession,” Tripp said, reenacting the foul’s aggressive behavior. “I left the lawn, bereft of nourishment but with contusions as badges of honor to display as evidence of my fierce battle.”
“What a relief that you survived to tell the story, sir,” Currie said dryly as he appeared to place a glass filled with amber liquid in front of Tripp.
“I got stung by a stingray once,” Christy Brown said. “Does that count?”
“You mean a jellyfish?” I asked.
“No, it was a stingray. I saw it swim away. It was in Cape San Blas, Florida, and we had only been there like 30 minutes or so. We were swimming but Addi wanted to go play in the sand. So being the good aunt I am, I was carrying her back to shore and I stepped on part of the sting ray, and then it stung me.”
“It hurt so bad I could barely walk back. They came and got Addi so I could sit on the beach. I felt like I was dying! They were trying to do anything to help. Lori even offered to pee on my foot. That doesn’t work, by the way. I told her no!”
“I don’t even want to know how you found out Lori’s suggestion doesn’t work,” I said.
“Hey, there was no way I was letting her pee on me!” Christy said, laughing. “Thank goodness a neighbor saw and told us what to do. You have to soak it in really hot water. She said if I went to the hospital, which was an hour away, that’s all they would do for me. She said it would be the most expensive water you ever pay for. Anyways, I have learned to do the string ray shuffle when I go in the water now. I’m not getting stung again.”
Nanci Scarpulla was a couple of tables over, being uncharacteristically quiet and looking slightly perplexed, as if she was debating joining the quest for the Radioactive Ostrich.
“My mom,” she finally said, “was bitten in the nipple by a Birmingham police horse once. The cop was embarrassed beyond belief and, seriously, how do you comfort a middle aged woman after that? Talk about awkward.”
“I presume, Nanci, that the horse was shielded by the immunity provision?”
“Yes, unlike my mother’s… Anyway, it was one of those let’s-not-talk-about-it moments. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
“I declare the horse story to be winner,” Noe said. “Hand that woman her radioactive award!”
“Radioactive award?” Wade asked as he walked into the room.
Currie appeared at his elbow, a glass on his silver tray. “For you, Mr. Smith.”
“Oh. Thanks, but I haven’t ordered anything yet.”
“Of that I am aware, sir. This cocktail was ordered for you by Ms. Shunnarah,” Currie said, nodding at Mandy, who had returned to her table. “Baxter prepared it especially for you based on a recipe of her own invention.”
Wade accepted the glass and sipped the magenta liquid. “Hmm. This is not bad. What’s it called?”
The left corner of Currie’s mouth rose half a millimeter. “A Chomping Ostrich.”