Mr Lush sits in the Urostar (named for its yellowish colour) to Paris with Kiki, Kuku, and Olivier and reflects on his recent promotion to the rank of captain in the hummingbird infantry, of which he suspects he is the only member. Indeed, when he first heard of the promotion, Lush asked the ocelot if he thought that the idea of an infantry was not perhaps to be considered incongruous with the nature of hummingbird existence. Although he also conceded that he was no expert on avian affairs. Or military history, for that matter. Olivier, looking up from his morning paper with a look of frustration, replied: ‘Just accept it… It’s the highest honour they have ever conveyed on a koi [editor’s note: koi = the hummingbird term for a non-hummingbird]. Must you always question everything?’
In any case, Lush now sits proudly inspecting the pin in the lapel buttonhole of his mid-grey double-breasted Prince-of-Wales check suit with a lilac overcheck. Unlike the sole member of the hummingbird infantry, time on this journey flies. The foursome passes the time playing contract bridge. Kiki and Lush are, perhaps unsurprisingly, unable to take a single trick from the formidable bridge duo that is Kuku and Olivier. As inevitable as the defeat might have always seemed to Lush, it still shocks one of the participants into a tantrum of near-epic proportions. A gentleman author does not kiss-and-tell, so, without naming names, let it simply be said that a window was damaged by a hoof, a fire extinguisher was torn off the wall, and Lush was left with a bruise on his upper arm and a fear of crosswalks. Equanimity could only be restored by the purchasing of champagne for Lush and Olivier and two coca-colas for the Zebraffes and a promise of different bridge partners in future.
The motivation behind the trip to Paris is that Olivier feels that Lush deserves a vacation after his most recent run-in with his ex-wife. Olivier used his connections to arrange for two double-rooms at the Kitz at Place Condôme. He sent one quick e-snail (Lush was not sure if this was an e-mail equivalent or a literal snail with some sort of electronic propulsion system. Sometimes it’s better not to ask.) and everything was in place in no time at all.
As they arrive at the Kitz in their summer suits and carrying only light luggage, a tapir bellboy, greets them at the door. Our four musketeers gallantly throw their Maison Koiard (no relation to the hummingbirds) weekenders on the luggage trolley and make their way inside. The weekenders once belonged to his cousin Mortifer but had gone missing shortly after his beloved cousin’s death. Much to his surprise, Lush had found them in his possession a short time later. Evidently, through no fault of his own, he must have, in his grief, accidentally (frantically) packed them into his car when no one was looking. Not wishing to intrude on the family’s mourning, he had decided to hold onto them for a while before returning them to their rightful owners.
As soon as they enter the lobby, Lush and company move towards the hotel bar. In the bar, Olivier exchanges kisses with the blushing hotel manager Mlle Kitaux while Lush tries not to look too envious. As Olivier leans in to compliment her on her diamond collar, whispering in her ear ‘you little manx’, it all becomes too much for Lush to bear. He clears this throat loudly: ‘May I introduce myself? Lush, my name! These are my friends, Kiki and Kuku.’ ‘Ah… enchantée’, replies Mlle Kitaux, as if waking from a dream and curtsies to Lush and the Zebraffes. She digs in her Herpès Merkin briefly, before handing Lush a key to the Execative Suite and two keys to the Zebraffes room. ‘We’ve placed two king-sized beds end-on-end for each of you’, explains Mlle Kitaux with a wink. Lush’s envy subsides somewhat, and he even allows himself to feel some gratitude towards Olivier at the site of the Execative Suite key. He hasn’t been in a suite of any kind since his short and rather unsuccessful stint as a gigolo. One word would summarise that experience: scammers. Let no more be said of that.
Lush is brought back from his memories by a sharp whistling sound from Mlle Kitaux. Three golden retrievers in hotel uniforms come running around the corner. One of them tries to lay a set of slippers and the morning newspaper at Lush’s feet. ‘Aux chambres. Tout de suite!’, commands Mlle Kitaux authoritatively. The golden retrievers turn literal tail and run towards the luggage cart to carry the guests’ bags to their rooms.
‘You are my guests. Feel free to have a drink at the bar. On the house, of course’, suggests Mlle Kitaux in an accent that can only be described as becoming more French with every passing word. ‘Meanwhile, I will show our exotic friend to his room personally’, she laughs. ‘I hope you’ll always allow me to break the rules, ma chérie. I suspect the customer will not come first today’, replies Olivier and waves goodbye to the rest of the group. Lush just rolls his eyes and tries to get the attention of the barman.
After a second French 75, Lush begins to feel more himself. In the meantime, Kiki and Kuku have been gorging themselves on walnuts roasted in truffle oil and knocking back coca-colas at an alarming rate. Lush, perfectly cognisant of the risks posed by Zebraffes when they consume sugar and caffeine, decides to ignore this fact and place his faith in his oldest friend: alcohol.
‘A pick-me-up, please. Dealer’s choice.’
The waiter, a young marabou stork who has given no indication of understanding any English at all, nods eagerly and immediately pulls out a phone from behind the bar and places a call. In the time-honoured tradition of the English, Lush doesn’t remember a word of the French he learned at school. As such, he has no idea what the content of the mumbled conversation on the phone might be. ‘Five minutes, sir’, mimics the stork using wings and feet. Lush, not generally one to rock the boat, decides to make no further inquiry and rather to simply enjoy a champagne palate-cleanser.
Three minutes later, the dolphin concierge enters using a railing to keep himself upright and asks the group to follow him. He leads them slowly and carefully through the revolving doors before pointing to a black and silver Trolls-Choice that has just pulled up. ‘Your pick-up, sir’, says the dolphin with a bow. Unfortunately, in his commitment to a dramatic flourish, the dolphin lets go of the railing and proceeds to flop onto the ground. Shaking himself briefly and without speaking another word, he slides back through the revolving doors into the hotel on his belly.
The chauffeur (a peccary wearing a black cape and a cap) tears open his door, rushes towards the back of the vehicle, and invites the group to enter the car. Upon seeing the Zebraffes, he moves back towards the front to open the sunroof. Lush, not easily perturbed at this point, shrugs before inviting Kiki and Kuku to enter the car: ‘Let’s see where this takes us.’
Having seated themselves comfortably in the back of the car, Lush opens the chilled bottle of Coallinger. They slow drive towards the Seine. After marvelling at and then crossing the river, Kuku pokes his head back into the car to ask Lush where they are going. Lush gives instructions to the peccary in his less-than-perfect French: ‘Monsieur. Tour Eiffel, oui?’ As the driver nods, Lush translates this complex message for the Zebraffes. Lush feels a sense of calm. Simultaneously, he is aware that, in the past, his absurd surroundings would have made him laugh. A particular tale from his Eton days comes to mind. Lush had a laughing fit during the Christmas Oratorio at seeing a squirrel fall from a window ledge in shock at the beginning of the musical performance. This angered the head master so terrifically that aside from the Christmas beating from the older students that had become customary, Lush had to endure being forced to stay at the school during the break. This latter punishment Lush didn’t really mind, though; he felt no desire to go home to his family anyway.
Arriving at the Eiffel Tower, the chauffeur politely opens the door to Lush and his companions before pouring Lush a glass of champagne to enjoy with the view. Just as suddenly as the chauffeur came into their lives, he departs again, leaving our heroes to stagger towards the tower. A toucan, spotting the seemingly wealthy tourists, immediately beckons to the group to jump the queue and take the next lift to the top. Lush, at this point ready to admit even to himself that he might be slightly tipsy and thus cannot be held accountable for his behaviour or that of the Zebraffes, leans on the railing and looks out at the city of lights. ‘Just as blurry as I remember it’, he sighs, contentedly.
Turning to his left with a smile, Lush vaguely registers what a more sober version of himself would almost certainly have described as a problem. The caffeine has really kicked in and the Zebraffes are running around at full tilt, crashing into each other, and generally causing mayhem. When the lift reaches the oddly deserted uppermost viewing platform, Kiki and Kuku explode out of it. Lush’s brain isn’t totally reliable at the moment and so, as he attempts to find the right words to calm the two sugar junkies, he is reminded of a particular saying. It is a quote from one of the great minds of the 20th century, a doctor, and it goes as follows: What’s the worst that could happen?
Unfortunately, this hypothetical becomes harsh reality very quickly. Seeing the Zebraffes trying to climb up the outside of the tower, Lush sobers up immediately. ‘Have you lost your minds?!’ The Zebraffes share a look before bursting into laughter of pure joy and malevolence. Lush, considerably more sober than he’d like to be now, recalls why he has never been up the Eiffel Tower without many a glass of liquid courage: he is afraid of heights. Just the sight of the Zebraffes’ precarious position is enough to turn his legs to jelly. Kiki and Kuku continue to climb the tower mercilessly. Lush realises he will have to do something. First, he places his glass down on the floor and walks towards the edge. Second, he backs away from the edge and goes back to down his champagne in one. Third, second try at the edge, more successful this time. He steps out over the edge and begins to climb. Lush is too busy lamenting Olivier’s absence to formulate even a semblance of a plan as to what he will do if indeed he does catch up with the Zebraffes. Kuku calls down: ‘Lush, what do you suppose this button does?’
Lush, summoning all of the bravery that he possesses (it’s not much), looks up to see that Kuku is about to push a big red button that does not look at all like a button that a Zebraffe should be pushing. Unfortunately, he is powerless to stop it. As soon as Kuku presses the button, a countdown begins over the loudspeakers and the top of the tower begins to shake. Lush sees engines begin to spark up and three thoughts pass through his mind in an instant. 1 This cannot possibly be happening. 2 It was quite amusing when the dolphin fell on his face. 3 I suppose I should hold on tight.
At the end of the countdown, the top of the Eiffel Tower blasts off into the Parisian sky.
Back in Mlle Kitaux’ suite, Olivier, in a hotel cathrobe, steps out onto the balcony to enjoy a glass of cognac. Taking a deep breath, the ocelot thinks of Mlle Kitaux and sighs to himself. He takes another deep breath and closes his eyes. ‘It’s good to be back in Paris.’ He takes a sip of cognac and opens his emerald eyes. Seeing the top of the Eiffel Tower taking off into the Parisian sky, he calmly sniffs at his glass in an attempt to discern its contents before taking another cautious sip. Reassured that it is only cognac, he decides to close his eyes again and take another deep breath. ‘Yes, it really is good to be back in Paris.’ Olivier is hopeful (although, admittedly, more than a bit doubtful) that the Eiffel Tower will be exactly where it should be once he opens his eyes again. Opening his eyes again slowly, his suspicions are confirmed. He takes another sip of cognac. He nods to himself slowly, pursing his lips. Stepping back into the suite, he turns to his companion: ‘Kitty, I don’t suppose you know where Lush is?’ MM/DPFC