Once they have turned the corner, Olivier immediately points to a nearby drain cover. The zebraffes’ hooves come to a screeching stop and Lush (first alone, then with some help from Olivier) lifts the cover and pushes it aside – all the while, Kiki and Kuku impatiently tapping their hooves. They take one last look to see if they’ve been followed, before Olivier begins the short descent into darkness. Lush gallantly lets the zebraffes go first before scrambling after his friends. As Lush tries to pull the cover back into place, his feline companion yells, “Are you mad? I cannot light this lamp (which I VERY conveniently just found down here) in the dark.” Olivier lights his tiny Funhill lighter and ignites the oil lamp. He gives his squad the hand sign to follow. Lush pushes the cover back into place with all of his strength before jumping down the ladder into the sewer.
It smells like rat poison, excrement, and discarded food. Londoners don’t seem to eat very well, Lush thinks. Holding their noses, they wade through the pitch-black sewers of London. Lush cannot recall ever having been this deep under the city before.
“Where are you taking us, Olivier?”, Kiki asks. “To a bar, of course”, replies Olivier. Lush groans and stops moving, before screaming: “Firstly, it’s only just past 4pm and you’re already thinking about drinking? Secondly, we’re wanted by the police and we’re going to a public place?” “To your first point”, responds Olivier calmly, “people in glass houses…” Advantage ocelot. “To the second, unlike you, not all bars I frequent are open to the public. Now, calm down, be quiet, and stop complaining.” Game, set, and match. The next few minutes pass in a grumpy silence while our heroes continue their journey through the sewers before Kuku chimes in: “I’ve always wondered… Why shouldn’t people in glass houses throw stones?” “We’re here!”, announces Olivier, before knocking on a small steel door. “I’ll do the talking. Zebraffes, your job is to look cute. You, Lush, keep shtum.”
In response to Olivier’s dainty knock, a small eye slit opens, sans eye. “Code?” “Flamingos do not only drink water,” answers our ocelot friend. The door swings open. Lush can barely believe his eyes. The bar is entirely filled with animals. The doorman is a blue budgie in an ill-fitting black suit. At the bar, a small pack of leopards clad entirely in biker garb are downing what Lush suspects might not be their first beers of the evening next to a number of gazelles in alluring poses. Out of the corner of his eye, Lush spots a group of peacocks wearing monocles and top hats counting their cash at a table at the back. Entertainment is provided by a lemur enthusiastically playing The Entertainer on a grand piano.
Lush, as the only human, feels decidedly unwelcome. The decor is reminiscent of old pictures of American prohibition-era bars: over-sized chandeliers, large Chesterfield couches, and dark parquet. Perhaps aiming to blend in to his animal surroundings, Lush strolls into the bar Reservoir Dogs-style and leads his friends straight to the counter.
The bartenders are two hummingbirds, buzzing from table to table transporting glasses of various liquors. Once they spot our illustrious ocelot, they light up “Olivier, it’s been far too long! How’s life been treating you?” Lush orders a double scotch and slumps down with his head on the counter while muttering “Of course, Olivier is a regular here…” Kiki and Kuku order a coke with two straws.
“Life is good. And you, my sweet?” “Oh, you know. Nothing is quite like it used to be. Who’s Mr double-scotch-and-head-on-the-counter?” “This, right here, is my good friend Lush. He’s actually the reason I’m here. Is Flavio available?” The hummingbird turns around and shouts: “Flavio! Olivier is back and wants to talk to you!” Lush briefly lifts his head before putting it right back where it was almost. What emerges from the back room is another hummingbird with a pink mohawk and a heavy gold necklace.
“Olivier, old sport, how are you?” Flavio shouts. “Flavio, allow me to introduce you to my good friend, Mr. Lush.” Short (somewhat awkward) hand-wing-shake. “Lush, this is Flavio Flamingo, the best bartender in London and probably the best drinker in the country.” “Is that so?”, Lush replies sarcastically. Flavio puffs out his chest and raises a hummingbird eyebrow. “That sounds like a challenge, old sport!” Lush accepts. The hummingbird is about the size of half of Lush’s bespoke Imposter and sons shoe. Flavio winks at the hummingbird bartenders. Lush can feel the tension grow and a little crowd begins to form around the two competitors. The first two shots of Jägermeister are placed on the bar, one with a little straw. “Oh, how I hate Jägermeister”, thinks Lush. Flavio sets down at the bar across from Lush. “On three, we begin.” The audience, which is steadily growing, yells “Three!” and both opponents swallow their drinks and exhale in disgust. “Two more!” They are downed as soon as they are placed on the bar, as are the next. This continues for about nine or ten rounds, until Lush finally falls off his chair and lies face-down in the middle of the bar. After a ten-count, his zebraffe cornerman springs into action and takes care of his downed combatant.
Flavio, meanwhile, downs a final shot and says “Let this be a lesson to you, old sport. Humans can’t drink!” Mr Flamingo turns to Olivier. “Now, how can I be of service, Olivier?” Reading the surprise on the ocelot’s face, he explains with a laugh: “Mine were flat coke.” Olivier smiles and rolls his eyes. Classic hummingbird! “Listen, Flavio, we’re in a bit of a pinch and I can’t think of anyone better to help us.” MM/DC/EG