Monday, March 11, 2013
Down the Hatch
You know how it starts: it’s Saturday night, and there’s this bar with a bunch of drunks in it, and one of them makes some grandiose claim, somebody scoffs, then suddenly money’s exchanging hands and the bets are on. Nobody ever really cares if the claimant can come through. What matters is, somebody’s going to have to pay for a free round of drinks when it’s over, and it’s not going to be you.
On this particular Saturday the bar in question was Dante’s, the drunks were a bunch of rowdy shapeshifters, and the poor schmuck only now realizing he’d just stuck his ass—and his tab—in a bear trap was Lamar Balboa. “A moose?” he’d called out only moments before. “Hell yeah, I can deep-throat a moose. I can deep-throat anything. There’s not a man, woman, bi or undecided who can take in more than I can.”
“Oh yeah?” And with those two words, the traditional throw-down to any and all braggarts, the bet was on.
Somebody dashed to the kitchen and came back with an armful of the longest, plumpest bananas Chiquita had to offer. “You could choke a horse with one of these,” the server said. “I think we did, last week.”
Lamar glanced over at his partner, Jamie. The red wolf sat shaking his head. “Look on the bright side,” Lamar whispered. “I won’t have to demonstrate on you.”
Jamie glowered up at him. “I am so relieved.
“Hola!” Lamar snapped an eight-inch ‘nana off the bunch and held it aloft. “Who wants to try me first?”
A woman stepped forward, and the crowd ooh’d. Evie St. John was the town librarian, and a coyote. Coyote flexibility was legendary. But esophageal capacity? That had never been tested before.
Evie plucked the banana from Lamar’s hand with a wide, challenging smile. “Watch and learn, little boy,” she purred.
A quick snap and a trio of slo-mo, deliberate tugs and Evie had the stiff, denuded fruit lying across her palm. “Sure, you can strip it,” Lamar scoffed, “but can you make it disappear?”
In response, Evie tipped back her head as if about to howl. She slid the banana past her porn-star lips. The canines in the crowd did howl as inch after inch of pale pulp vanished down her throat. And then—
“Ha!” Lamar crowed. “She bit it! Look!”
“Yeah.” That was Grayson Chase, the wolf EMT. His face was unreadable, his pants an open book. “Coyotes do that.”
The server with the bunch provided the measurements. “Six out of eight.” A cheer went up from the males in attendance. The females muttered quietly and scoffed loudly. The server selected a banana of similar dimensions and passed it to Lamar. “You’re up.”
“My natural state.” He peeled the fruit, then licked it. “Gotta get it nice and slick.”
Jamie groaned. “I don’t know you.”
Down, down the banana went, into Lamar’s seemingly bottomless throat. All eight inches disappeared. He drew it back out halfway, teased the crowd with it, then eased it back in all the way. One gulp and it was gone.
“He swallows,” somebody in the back said loudly. “Tolja.”
“Drinks are on the coyote,” Lamar announced. “I’ll have a—”
“Just a minute.” Evie stepped forward. “He cheated. He unhinged his jaw. I was watching.”
“Well, yeah. That’s how we swallow. It’s a snake thing.”
“So if you had a rigid jaw like the rest of us, you couldn’t take that much in.”
“I can’t help it if you mammals are handicapped. Tell you what: you find me a she-snake and I’ll go up against her. Then we’ll see.”
“Right here, sugah.”
The whole crowd turned in one enormous wave with Lamar at its apex. Rosa Terranova undulated through the tight-packed mass of drunken bodies without touching a one. Five feet, eight inches of Texas sidewinder up from Amarillo. It was rumored her cowboy boots were fashioned from the skin of one of her many ex-husbands.
Lamar gulped audibly.
Rosa fit her hands around twin seven-inchers and snapped them free of the bunch. She tossed one carelessly to Lamar. “First one to get it all the way down—”
“And back up—”
She nodded. “And back up and down again, wins it.” She flashed a poisonous grin at Lamar. “Ready when you are, sugah.”
The server called the count. Twin bananas slid full-length down serpentine throats. Were drawn back up. Were plunged back in to the hilt. The crowd sighed its satisfaction.
All but one. “What the hell does that prove?” former mayor Lance Link bellowed from his stool at the bar. “They both unhooked their jaws. Either one of ’em could swallow a bus, they do that.”
Lamar squinted at him. “Lance? Since when does he hang out here?”
“Since his wife left him,” the server murmured. “He practically lives at the Pleasure Club.”
Muttering, Lance shoved away from the bar and lurched his way up to the stage. He grabbed the remnants of the bunch away from the server. “Out’a the way, amateurs. Let an expert show you how it’s done.”
Snap. One banana broken free. Peeled. Shoved whole into a wide mouth that didn’t need to bother with such pansy actions as jaw-unhinging. Down and gone without a blink. Then another. Then another. Six inches, seven, eight, and the one runty fiver from the bottom. All vanished unbroken down Link’s endless throat without so much as a hitch.
For the first time all night, the bar went totally silent.
“Jesu Cristo,” Lamar breathed. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Not even in Ed’s movies. Mr. ex-Mayor, I bow to you and your superior skills. You’re the best deep-throater in Talbot’s Peak.”
“Deep throat?” Lance cried, appalled. “I thought it was a banana-eating contest.”