Fortunately there was an animal expert with me at the time

The hallway remained empty—proof of Tristan’s passing.  We cornered as a small contingent of casino-goers slipped from one of the conference rooms: a stout black man in a suit, a white dad-type with a Hawaiian shirt, a mom-type on his arm, and a young woman with short blond hair and a short skirt revealing lots of leg.  Her eyes carried heavenly sexual implication; I could feel them deconstructing me. 

The black man in the suit addressed us as spokesman for the group. 

‘Is the situation under control?’ he said, looking to Fuco. 

‘Always, it is under control,’ Fuco said, tipping his top hat. 

I looked again at the blond.  She met my eyes and parted her full lips as if to say something before thinking better of it and giving me a smile that hinted at some licentious comforts that could be mine if only I knew the password. 

Why does she look so familiar?

Another scream marked Tristan’s passing ahead of us.  I couldn’t dwell on the blonde as we passed through the small crowd and continued down the hall.

‘Where did you find the ape?’ I said, trying to resume our previous line of questioning and push the blonde from my mind.  ‘I didn’t know people could own apes.’

‘The ape…her family and I have known each other for some time now.  Our families have a blood bond.   When my father was very young he spent five years with a Chinese circus and…’ 

But I wasn’t interested in the ape.  I knew that woman.  I wracked my memory for her name.  Fuco recognized I was no longer paying attention.

‘What is it, my friend?’  Fuco rubbed his bearded chin. 

‘I thought I saw someone I knew.  It’s nothing.  Please continue.’  We cornered again and I saw some of the plastic palms that decorated the lobby.  But no sign of Tristan. 

Fuco droned on with the lineage of his menagerie. 

‘…Brünnhilde I found while she was very young.  She had lost her way and fell into the hands of wicked people.  Wicked!  I saved her, and she has repaid me countless times with her love and affection.’  I didn’t mind Fuco’s rambling.  I hadn’t spoken much with anyone, not since arriving in Mississippi.  But at the moment I couldn’t concentrate on Fuco.  It was the woman’s face.  So familiar… 

I turned to look over my shoulder, straining for another sight of her, knowing she was several corners back, yet even as I turned I was assaulted by a golden blur.  As I fell forward on my face I cursed Tristan the lion for jumping me from behind.  Then the blur spoke. 

‘Jackson Calvert—number five on the all-time weirdo list.’  The voice triggered recognition. It was Meg Holmes.  Not even number five on my list but a solid number one.

I squirmed underneath her and managed to flip onto my back so I could look up at her straddling me.  One look at that wicked smile and I wondered how I ever could have forgotten Meg’s face.  She leaned forward so her mouth was close to my ear. 

‘I’m so glad to see you, Jackson,’ she said softly.  ‘I was beginning to think I’d have to give some geriatric a blowjob tonight.’  She began kissing me. 

‘Ho ho,’ I heard Fuco say from somewhere above me.  ‘My friend, you have such unusual talents.’ 

‘Meg…’ I gasped when finally she let me up to breath.  ‘You…you got a haircut.  I didn’t recognize you.’

‘Yeah right.  You’re in trouble mister.  Where you been?’ 

‘The last time we spoke you told me never to call you again.’

‘You were doing that stalker thing.  I couldn’t deal.  But I haven’t had a sensitive guy in a long time.  And I always thought you were the best repressed lay I ever had.  You have a room here or should we go to mine?  We should at least get the hell away from the lion.’ 

‘We’re the safest place we can be,’ I said.  ‘We’re with the lion tamer.’  I pointed up at Fuco.  ‘I don’t believe the two of you have met.’  Meg climbed off me, straightening her skirt as she regained her feet.  She feigned a shy smile for Fuco.   

‘I am Fuco.  And you, my lady?  I see you have met my friend already, but we have not been properly introduced.  Meg?  Was that it?  Lovely name.  I shall name my next reptile Meg.’  Fuco hoisted the top hat from his head and performed a graceful bow.  Meg’s cheeks darkened in a staged blush.

‘How charming.  A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Fuco.’   Meg beamed, thrusting her chest at Fuco.

‘No Mr.  Just Fuco.’

I interrupted their moment. 

‘What are you doing here, Meg?’

‘I quit the airline,’ she said.  ‘I’m traveling the states, seeing the country.  Actually, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here.  What are you doing here?’

‘Well it’s a long story.  Remember me talking about my dad?’

‘Oh god not that wounded son stuff!  I figured you were over all that.’  Meg waved me aside and turned her full attention to Fuco.  ‘Do you ever have to wrestle that lion?’ she said. 

I’d already lost my status as acting buck.  How long did I last, 45 seconds? It was the fastest beatdown since Tyson knockd out Sphynx in eight seconds.

‘We play,’ Fuco said with a grin.  ‘Sometimes we get rough.  But Tristan will do whatever I want.  I am in charge.’

‘I wonder if you’re also that way with the ladies.’  Meg began to close the gap between her and the red-coated lion tamer.

‘With the women,’ Fuco said, pausing for dramatic effect.  ‘It is a different kind of wildness that must be tamed.’

We should go find the lion,’ I said.

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