Guess we should have known by the hotel sign. 96 LETOM, it read. A clue, for those who needed to get one, that our stay might be just a little unusual. Not to mention cocked up.
But we three gals—me, One-Eyed Mary, and nuclear-physicist-turned-poledancer Cherry Noble--weren’t much into figuring anything out just then. It had been hard enough just inching our way down the infamous Landing Strip to our retro-trendy getaway-in-the-city for the night. It was down to one lane in each direction, to accommodate all the new vegetation planted to replace the old-growth trees they’d ripped out the week before. To make room for the toll lane. Their slogan? “Pay-as-you-grow.”
Anyway, we were there because our friend Dyna needed us. One final night before the @#$%storm hit and she was blued and tattooed into matrimony. She’d promised “a wet-n-wild frolic of four free women.” A last hoorah for the hoo-ha, as it were.
We pulled into varlet parking—boy, were they churlish—and brought out the booze. Nothing like getting things started with crabapplejacktinis and sourmash chasers. The highfalutin’ stuff would come soon enough, we figured.
“Who’s on his way?” Cherry asked, tugging her minibar carry-on into the bathroom. She always set it up there. Nearer my john, to thee, we guessed.
“You ordered him,” Dyna slurred, trying to sit up and collapsing back onto the pile of plush twisted blue fibres. For a moment it looked like she was trying to crawl through a giant smurf head.
“We ordered who?” I demanded. Dyna mumbled something into the carpet and fell asleep.
One-Eyed Mary looked guilty.
“I did,” she said. “Hey, they said 50% off with suite rental, I figured, where’s the harm.”
“What, some guy delivering pizza?”
“Male stripper. Hey, don’t blame me. It’s a bachelorette-party tradition.”
She grabbed the flyer. The garish psychedelic font read “Strippers to-go-go! In the privacy of your hotel room. Your choice of male, female, both, or neuter. Cash or credit. Fun, fun, fun!”
“Cool,” Cherry put in from the kitchenette as she popped open a bottle of champagne—prosecco, really, but oodles better than the cold duck we’d packed—and poured three full wineglasses’ worth. She eyed the upsweep of foam in her glass, added more, then flopped onto the couch and downed it in one long gulp. Leather, chintz, repeat.
Mary and I took the appetizers we’d brought and set them out on the table. The hotpoppers had to go in the oven, but the chips and the hummus-and-PETA snacks—no animals, only the least sentient vegetables used—were good to go. We began munching and swigging prosecco and Mary started a pot of coffee brewing for our guest of honor. Maybe she’d remember something of her own party someday. Hey, a girl can dream.
We’d just gotten the first caferucito rojo—a quadruple-bypass espresso with a shot of cinnamon liqueur—into our blotto’ed friend when the knock came at the door. We patted our hair, touched up lipstick, powdered our noses. Mary propped Dyna up and as we answered the door she actually opened her eyes.
Okay, he wasn’t THE ugliest guy I have ever seen. But then I used to work in Public Policy. This guy was a contender, though. Swarthy, squat, with hair sprouting from his ears and nose and a big toothy grin. Couldn’t have been a day under forty. And reeking of burqa-shave.
He waltzed in, oblivious to the bloodcurdling shriek that had greeted him, stepped over poor Dyna, still out cold on the floor, and went to the window. Backlighting didn’t help. His neck had fat rolls, and his five o’clock shadow had apparently stayed up past midnight.
The fella politely handed us a little clipboard with a pen and a printed receipt. We looked at each other and shrugged. What could go wrong? I threw down a credit card and Cherry signed off on the release. We stood there, glasses in hand, watching him set up a little mp3player and turn on some generic chick-a bow-wow music, very tinny. He got right down to business, I’ll say that much. Smiling unctuously—we could see he was greased up, and probably well lit—he took off his cheesy faux-velvet jacket and laundered tie and swung them around his head before sending them flying across the room. Hips swaying, he did the same with his snap-down shirt and his shabby wifebeater. You could have lost an army in the jungly thatch on that chest. He shimmied out of his loafers, peeled off his sweaty socks one by one, and made them soar over the bed. One of them hit the Thomas Kinkyade knockoff on the wall. It crashed down onto the carpet. Dyna groaned a little but did not wake.
Then he took off his hat.
His head came with it.
Cherry went down for the count. Fortunately she fell backwards, right onto the hotel bed. Mary and I clutched each other, but it was hard to take our eyes off him. It. Whatever. The head had kinda snapped off, as if it were attached by a ball joint. We saw no exposed circuits or anything. No blood either. Hey, at least no muss, no fuss.
The guy’s arms set the head down on the side table near the pleather couch, turning it so the detached kopf, wearing its big-toothed smile, could watch us and still keep an eye on what was left of him. Then the body started dancing again. Now this was just bad directing on somebody’s part. The head totally pulled focus. It was weird having our reactions gauged, too. Not sure how Mary took it, but I felt exposed. The headless body did some bumps and grinds, keeping the beat to the music. Then it sped up. Pretty soon the arms were flailing in so many directions it looked like they were multiplying. Made me think of the goddess Kali, a non-blue version, down on her luck and stripping for money. Half off when you book a head.
The song slowed down to a kind of heavy fire-alarm backbeat. Mary grabbed the prosecco and poured another round. We needed it. The body did a little catwalk-turn, only the catwalk underneath his feet was an uneven electric-blue meadow. He lost balance and nearly fell over. Real slick. Next the arms next did some hula waves. I started getting seasick. The guy uncinched his belt and used it to whack his own ample rear end a few times. Sexy it was not. Though it did give me a new perspective on corporal punishment. Finally the hands reached down and slowly, tantalizingly undid the zipper. The pants slid to the floor.
You know how it is, when you’re driving someplace and you see there’s an accident up ahead, with the ambulance and the police cars, and you pass by and you just gotta look but boy you wish you hadn’t?
Yeah, this wasn’t like that.
It was so much worse.
First off, the guy was wearing Grandpa-Moíses-style paisley boxers. The pattern and colors made me think of cornucopias disembowelling themselves. They soon gave way to shiny mauve speedos. A little the worse for wear, if you know what I mean. Actually, a lot. Protip: Woolight. Just use it, OK, guys? I winced and Mary squealed like a lolcat that has just lost its cheezburger. We hoped—actually I was praying--that the guy would just prance around a little more and leave it at that. No such luck. The music’s tempo shifted again, and the speedos sped off into the night. We tried to avert our gaze. We failed.
And we couldn’t believe our eyes. All three of them.
There was another head. A small one. Where his...well, you know. Should have been.
Gotta say, this one was a heckuva lot better looking than the smirking one perched on the hotel table. This little guy was blonde—that’s right, carpet did NOT match drapes—with a square jaw, a firm, aquiline nose, and gorgeous green eyes. Clean-shaven, to boot. For once, manscaping kinda made sense.
One of the hands switched off the music player, and the little head batted its eyes with their exasperatingly long eyelashes and smiled up at us. As it opened its mouth, I panicked a little. What if it got--excited? Who knew what might come out?
I was right to worry. But not in the way I expected.
It started singing.
And it couldn’t carry a tune in a sludgebucket.
OK, so “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad” was never gonna win any awards for auditory aesthetics. But this version so mangled the original that it was murder-inducing. Mary and I waved our hands and tried to cut it off but the thing steamrollered on. Seemed to be angling for a rap vibe, but it came out more prison-gangnam-style. Then the other head—I was privately calling it Big Ugly—chimed in. Probably going for harmony but only getting the harm part right. The duo went on for several verses, sounding like an amped-up concert of cats in heat. Just as they got to a reprise of “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah,” Dyna sat up woozily. She stared at the tableau before her, glassy-eyed, uncomprehending.
Then she reared her head back and started hurling full force. Her aim was true, if probably unintended. Caught the little head straight in the mouth.
Which was, of course, open.
Well, at least it made it stop singing.
Mary and I back-somersaulted over the bed—barely clearing Cherry--as the barf fest broke out in earnest. The two mouths kept trading volleys at each other, though Dyna had the clear edge in ammunition. We tried to pull her away without getting splattered but she was dead weight and her heels kept getting caught in the carpet. The body, its little head spewing for all it was worth, was trying to shield itself from Dyna’s torrent but kept bumping into the wall, the window, and the bed. On the side table, Big Ugly was shrieking and blubbering and demanding to see his contract. Just when we thought the duelling Vesuvius eruptions might be running out of steam, we heard several loud BANGS! from the kitchenette. They were followed by big puffs of smoke and a hint of flame. Mary and I looked at each other in horror. We’d forgotten the hotpoppers in the oven. Now THAT was a lesson learned the hard way. The directions specified not to overcook them, but they neglected to say that the damn things would turn into lethal weapons if you did.
Next thing we knew, the kitchenette curtains had caught on fire. Mary and I raced to put them out and save what we could of our supplies, trying not to step on Dyna, still moaning and coughing on the floor. In seconds the ceiling sprinklers came on. Poor Cherry was almost flooded off the bed. She leaped up shrieking and crying, her tank top plastered to her fake boobs. Big Ugly leered at her from the table. That made me mad, so I tossed a couple sacks of Frankenrice Cheatos at the thing. Knocked it off balance and onto the floor behind the chair, where it lay groaning on its ear. There was yelling outside in the hall, and pounding at the door. Our barf-covered stripper’s body, the little face streaming with tears, grabbed its soggy pants and started yanking them up. Wouldn’t you know, the poor tiny nose got caught in the zipper. It squalled like a banshee until it got unstuck. With the little head empantsed and no guidance from the big head, the body was forced to grope around the room to find the rest of its clothes. We had to slap the hands a couple times when they got fresh. The thing was in such a rush to get away, it left the big head in the corner, threw its boxers over its shoulders, and sprinted out of the room. Didn’t even take the clipboard. Which was good, since my credit card had been declined.
The fire crew trooped in, then the hotel manager, half a dozen insurance adjustors, and a brace of agents from HomeWorld Security. Then it was our turn to do a little strip-tease, only nobody was teasing.
“Mutants,” explained the concierge, when we enquired about our room service. “They got the stripper concession last year. Up for renewal next month.” He clicked his tongue. “Gotta say, this isn’t gonna look good for ‘em.” Grabbing the head by a tuft of neck hair, he stuffed it, hat and all, into an empty bowling-ball case. “Can’t leave your equipment behind like this. Unprofessional.” He picked up a stray sock and the speedos and tucked them into the case, not noticing he was shoving them right into Big Ugly’s mouth.
We packed up, signed off on the damage estimate, trundled Dyna to the car and poured her in. It was past midnight and the stars were out. Not that we could see any, with all the bright lights of the Landing Strip. Still, we liked to think they were there.
“Half off,” One-Eyed Mary muttered glumly as she adjusted the shoulder harness. From the back seat, Dyna hiccuped and giggled. “More like a two-for-one special.”
“Guess you get what you pay for,” Cherry said through chattering teeth.
I turned the heater up to full blast. “Yeah, well. Wet and wild, maybe. Frolic, my eye.”
Mary glowered. “You trying to pick a fight?”
I tossed a tip at the parking guy, and we raced off into the night.