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The Mug of Doom
by Hallan Mirayas
Hallan Mirayas -- all rights reserved
 

My friends and I got a lot of attention when we walked into the Blind Pig on a chilly March evening. It wasn't that we were almost all SCABs. It wasn't even that three of us were very obvious animorphs: me (a lionmorph), Roger (a wolverine morph), David (a fullmorph bear), with Chris, Matt, and Katie being the only normal-looking ones of the crew. Katie was the only real 'norm' among us, Chris having raccoon-striped hair, and a raccoon paw for his right hand, and Matt being an exceptionally rare type of chronomorph. No, what drew the attention was our age. Something about being the largest group of non-age-regressed youngsters in the bar in years. We had two things to celebrate: David's 18th birthday, bringing the last of our crew into the age bracket that can legally enter bars (but not drink alcohol), and Katie's early graduation and acceptance to Harvard. We planned to cause some "typical teenage chaos" before the night was over.

It surprised me how quickly my friends hit it off with the regulars. Chris and Wanderer, both eccentrics par excellence, seemed to hit it off right away, as did Raven and Katie, but who would have expected Roger to sit down at the piano next to Jack and start plinking away? I never even knew he played piano, much less that he was so good at it. He always seemed more the type to be tinkering with a car or a motorcycle than tickling the ivories. Yet there they sat, a wolverine and a mule, playing duets. I chuckled to myself and thought of Kagan's Law of First Contact: You'll surprise you more than they will.

David, Matt, and I stayed at the table, watching Chris challenge Raven to a game of pool, when Wanderer and a few other Lupine Boys who were at the bar that night brought over a deck of cards and a bundle of poker chips. "Time to introduce you boys... and lady," he added when Katie came back with a fresh Coke for herself and a lemonade/7-up mix for David, "to an old Blind Pig tradition. High-stakes poker. However, since you're new and we wouldn't want to introduce impressionable young minds to the addictive perils of gambling," he said theatrically, "how about 'for bragging rights' poker instead?"

"Sounds fun."

"I'm in."

Katie and Matt volunteered quickly, and David too once Wanderer produced a card holder for him: a wooden rail with a slot running lengthwise. Knowing how lousy my poker face (and ears, and whiskers, and tail) was, I was more hesitant. However, faced with seven hopeful faces (including Wanderer, Ringwolf, and Lupe doing shameless puppy eyes), I finally agreed. Jubatus blurred in as the cards were dealt, startling Matt enough to spill his drink in his lap. While he left to go dry off, Jube appropriated his seat, replying to my disapproving growl with, "Just making sure his chips don't go wandering off while he's away." Wanderer and I kept a close, but unnecessary, watch on him for upshifts while he did just that, raking in a modest profit on the first two hands, though he had to split the second with David on matching pairs of kings.

Matt was just returning to the table when Ms. Carter walked in. The conversations in the bar, previously animated, chilled for a moment before resuming as she sat down at a table of her own with an ornate mug she produced from her oversized handbag. I was just watching Donnie fill it, my curiosity piqued by what looked like a latchable lid, when David impatiently nudged me with the elbow of his grasping prosthesis and said, "Eyes on the prize, fuzzy. I can't take your money if you don't play."

"I am not fuzzy," I replied as I hastily folded my hand, which was lousy, and finished off my Coke. "Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear, remember?" I added with a grin and a tousle of his headfur timed just for when he was snagging another card. It earned me another swat when the card flipped to show an ace of hearts to everyone at the table, but it was worth it. "I, on the other hand, have a proper leonine mane," I added as I twirled the coppery brown hair with my finger, speaking with an awful fake British accent that got even Wanderer to groan.

"Ahem."

Conversations stopped throughout the bar as Sue Carter got to her feet and showily latched the lid on her mug, locking it with a key before proceeding to the restroom. I noted that more than a few people, including Wanderer, gave her dirty looks as she passed, and that she looked pleased when they did. "Okay, what's going on here?" I asked once she'd closed the restroom door behind her.

Ringwolf grumbled. "She's challenged the entire bar to prank her using that mug. But the thing is booby-trapped."

Wanderer nodded and frowned slightly. "I may certainly vouch for that. When I attempted to open the blasted thing, I received a hearty dosing of butyl mercaptan, better known as 'skunk stink'. Or, as the illustrious dryad herself phrased it, 'a binary chemical which, reacting with organic compounds found in perspiration, produces an aroma almost indistinguishable from its organic counterpart'," he added, imitating Carter's down-the-nose 'teacher voice' perfectly.

"And if you break the lock, she just throws it away," Jubatus growled, blurring away to get another chair for himself once Matt took his spot back.

"Why break the lock?" Katie asked, beating me to the question by half a second.

"Planning to spike the drink?" I added, and Jubatus' nod confirmed that suspicion.

Matt paused, looking thoughtful. "So you can't touch it, can't break it, and can't get inside."

"And there's a time limit: She's only in town for two more days," Ringwolf grumbled.

After a table-wide long moment of thoughtful silence, David bared his teeth in a grizzly grin. "Who says you need to get inside?"

An idea popped into my head, and I quickly relayed it to the rest of the party. "Won't work," Jubatus replied shortly, picking up his cards again. "I already thought of that. Her nose is so damned acute, she'll smell it a mile off." After a moment, he added, "I call."

Chris, who had paused in his second game to listen to our plan, said, "Wait a minute... this can still work." He outlined the extra step necessary, then plunked down a few dollars on the table.

Jubatus pondered, then nodded. "Should work," he said, though with a distinct reserve. Nods around the table set the plot in motion.

While Katie headed for the restroom, I stood up and asked, "Would anybody be interested in some fried chicken? Jubatus has kindly offered to make a KFC run if we'll pass the hat for the money." It seemed that many people were, and the cheetah was soon out the door with the cash... but not before he handed in a spray can I'd remembered seeing in his car while he was fitting me for my gauntlets. Wanderer, suppressing a smile, waved the conversations of the bar back into existence to cover the hissing as I set to work. Even Donnie got in on it, producing a small electric fan to dissipate the chemical smell. Jubatus returned a few minutes later with his arms full of Kentucky Fried Chicken bins, which Roger stopped playing to help distribute, spreading the savory aroma all around the room.

Katie's return from the restroom cued us back into our places, with Donnie willingly secreting the spray can behind the bar. Grins ran all around when Katie sat down, looking serene, and Lupe leaned over to quietly ask, "How did you manage to distract her for so long? I thought for sure she'd step out in the middle of the setup."

My friend's elegant British features twitched into a quiet smile. "I really shouldn't tell you... it's a trick I've used on more than one teacher." She trailed the sentence off for a few moments, long enough to savor the looks of balked curiosity all around, then explained. "Just by watching her, I could tell she had an enormous ego." She turned slightly to look at Wanderer. "And you yourself demonstrated that she likes to show off her knowledge. I just took advantage of that."

"How?" The question came from at least three sources around the table.

Katie resumed her serene expression. "I only mentioned that I was class valedictorian and that I was going to Harvard after an early graduation."

Jubatus snorted. "And she took the bait."

"Indeed. It was an interesting and informative experience, I must say."

Before we could get more information out of her, Susan rejoined us, looking almost smug when she saw her mug undisturbed. Once again, conversation died aside from the thunk-thunk-thunk of Raven demonstrating a trick shot for Chris after winning the third game in a row.

This time I elbowed David to get the game moving again, keeping my gaze away from Sue so I wouldn't give the trick away with my lousy poker face. I knew when Wanderer cracked a smile that she'd picked up the mug, and Lupe's snicker got me to look just in time to catch the tail end of her look of surprise as the contact adhesive spray glued her hand to the mug.

Laughter was a sweet reward... and so was the chicken. Even though I did get trounced at poker.

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