Mr Lush wakes up on the floor of the dive bar next to a crocodile wearing an extraordinarily beautiful tie and a pair of penguins named Elmo and Gregor. He recalls that the penguins had introduced themselves the night before and had then proceeded to chatter on all night. They were sharing their old sailors’ yarns, one more untrue than the next. Lush, ever the consummate gentleman, listened without interruption to all of these works of fiction. He was actually not unhappy not to be left with his own thoughts. His pride was bruised. Inevitably, Olivier the Ocelot had thrashed him in every single game of billiards the night before. The cheap drinks he had choked down at the time in order to find a measure of solace certainly aren’t helping in his quest to get up off the floor. Moreover, his back hurts like Hell and, in general, he feels (and the feeling is oddly familiar) like an old pile of misery. As he is served his morning coffee (unfortunately, with only a feather where he had been hoping for the hair of the dog) by one of the hummingbirds, he isn’t even surprised that the room seems to have been filled with high-tech training equipment overnight. ‘A man in my situation must learn to accept certain inevitabilities’, he muses.
Olivier, now in a full officer’s uniform, inspects each piece of equipment quickly and efficiently before giving his rescuer a short wink. Lush attempts to wink, closing both eyes slowly, before waving to his friend wanly. The bar, which last night had felt rather cramped, seems to have inexplicably taken on the size of an airplane hangar. Lush sees a good dozen or so animals completely various tasks enthusiastically, before his attention focuses on a small dove with oversized headphones who seems to be in charge of the sound system. After a second coffee (tears of joy come to Lush’s eyes as he recognises that someone has charitably added a shot of vodka), Lush is filled with a nameless dread. It dawns on him that this must be some kind of circuit training.
Already at Eton, he had succeeded (one of the only successes of his formative years) at avoiding any physical exercise. Many a mysterious illness had befallen Lush during those years (followed by many a miraculous recovery). Consequently, Lush is as sporty as an opera pump. The fact that Lush hasn’t had to combat obesity until recently is the only convincing evidence he has come across, in all of his wanderings, of the benevolence of God. An ocelot-blown whistle and a short, sharp shout of ‘Lush, first station’, awakens our hero from his reverie. Lush shuffles, coffee-cup-in-hand, to the station marked with a large rainbow-coloured 1. He is filled with anxiety at the sight of the bench and pole and that familiar sense of inevitability at the sight of two baby sea lions standing to attention next to them. His reptilian former bedfellow, now wearing an undershirt, hands Lush a towel and some sports attire. At the sight of the crocodile’s grin, he considers making a remark about the former Mrs Lush’s penchant for exotic leather bags. Ultimately, he decides against it. “Lush, do you know what you’re in for over the next seven days?” “No?”, Lush offers hopefully. Ocelot smiles. “Perfect! Then I can skip the long explanation. It’s going to be tough, Lush. At times, unbearable. We don’t have a choice; time is running out. We must get started as soon as possible.” “With what exactly?” “Baby seal bench press.” “Of course. What else?”, Lush mumbles to himself.
The baby sea lions take on a look of crocodilian sympathy before Lush changes into his training clothes. When he’s ready, they jump onto the pole and hang down. Lush lays down on the bench and lifts with all of his might. As he lifts the dumbbell, Vivaldi’s setting of Gloria in excelsis Deo fills the room.
Lush, taking a break, flips the bird the bird. DJ dove gives a knowing smile. “Arsehole”, thinks Lush, trying to catch his breath. He has already developed something of a dislike for the dove. This dislike turns into full-blown hate as he recognises Donny Osmond’s I’ll make a man out of youplaying through the room.
Olivier is counting Lush’s reps and yells encouragingly: “One more for the mothers.” – “I never met my mother”, Lush whimpers. “I meant their mothers!” This is the first time Lush notices the mother sea lions clapping encouragingly (one, inexplicably, balancing a ball on its nose. “Is that really necessary right now?!”, Lush wonders). Lush lifts with what little energy he has left. “Now, one last one for the officer!” The dozen or so animals have stopped what they were doing and are cheering Lush on. As Lush summons his last bit of strength and lifts the two baby seal lion for the final time, he screams “I hate you, Olivier!” Olivier smiles. “I know. One and a half minutes break.” Lush spots the DJ flying back to his booth at full tilt. He has clearly been waiting for this moment his entire life. He plays You’re the best!by Joe “Bean” Esposito.
The week feels like an endless nightmare to Lush. Olivier, he decides, is the Devil. Each day another animal teaches Lush a new skill. A raccoon teaches him to sneak properly. A kangaroo teaches him to jump. A leopard teaches him to run. For some reason, a horse spends three hours teaching him to neigh. The flying lessons didn’t go well either. After the third hard crash, the eagle decided to call the whole thing off. To make matters worse, the DJ (whom Lush has christened PiJohn Peel) provides appropriate musical accompaniment throughout.
After seven days of torture (even God got a day off before me, Lush whines), Lush sits at a large table across from Olivier and Flavio Flamingo (who has proven indispensable during Lush’s training) drinking a beer. Olivier shakes his head. “We need more time, Flavio.” “It’s now or never, Olivier.” Olivier, still wearing his officer’s cap, turns to Lush, whom has been daydreaming about the portraits in the ancestral gallery in his uncle’s castle.
“Okay, Lush. I know this might surprise you…” “Nothing could ever surprise me anymore, Olivier.” “We have no time for your sarcasm right now, Lush! Tomorrow we break into Mahto’s stronghold.” “And how exactly do I infiltrate a fortress?” Olivier turns towards Flavio: “How many birds are there in your regiment, Captain?” MM/DC