10-21-2011, 09:18 PM
He looked at JD warily. "Hey, how come you know so much about ducks, anyway?"
"Oh, I did a little Googling last night," JD replied. "For one thing, keeping wild ducks as pets is against the law--they're a protected species. And second, since you were the first thing they saw move, they adoped you as their mommy. They're gonna follow you no matter where you go, so...you might as well get used to it if you wanna keep them."
"First of all, I'm not keeping them as pets," Criss argued. "I just rescued them, that's all. And second, I can't have them following me all over the place 'cause they'll get stepped on or lost or whatever. I want them to be safe, but I don't want them underfoot. I mean, I got my shows to do, and the demonstration to tape. I can't spend all my time baby-sitting a bunch of ducks."
"Well, you'd better make a decision soon," JD told him. "Those ducklings are too young to take care of themselves, and if you leave them here at home, Hammie's gonna have them for breakfast."
Criss looked down at the ducklings huddled around his feet. JD did have a point, he conceded. If he left them here at Serenity, Hammie would make short work of them. But the minute he was out of their sight, they would start crying for their mother. They had just been hatched from the egg; they were newborn babies who needed constant care. It wasn't as if he could hire a baby-sitter for them or leave them at a day-care center for the day. He pitied the six tiny orphans standing helpless before him, but at the same time he resented the responsibility for caring for them. What did he know about raising ducks? Hammie had never been a problem. Cats were practically low-maintenance to the point of self-sufficiency: a bowl of food, some water, and a clean litter box and they were fine. The ducklings, however, needed round-the-clock care, something he could not afford to do, not with his career and all. Yet he could not bring himself to abandon them; they would die without someone to feed them. He had to do something, and fast.
The sleek black Dodge Viper glided up to the main entrance of the Luxor Hotel and Resort and came to a stop millimeters from the curb. Matt Behr, the clubfooted parking attendant on duty that morning, limped up to the driver's side, smiling broadly. He knew only one person drove that particular vehicle; besides, the circle-A logo was branded prominantly on the wheel rims. "Mawnin', Mr. Angel," he drawled, "how ya doin' today?"
"Morning, Matt," Criss said, handing Matt the keys. "Gimme a hand here, willya?"
He jerked his thumb at the passenger seat bearing a wire cage with six lively ducklings inside. Matt did a double-take when he saw them. "Criminy! Is them ducks?"
"Yeah, them's ducks all right," Criss replied drily. "I need you to get 'em outta here, okay?"
Matt limped around to the passenger side and opened the door. He picked up the wire cage and laughed. "Well, I'll be hanged! I've seen you bring in all sorts of critters, but this takes the grand prize at the county fair! Where'd you get 'em, anyway?"
Criss took the cage from Matt. "Long story," he replied. "I gotta get going here, okay. I'll be by later."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Angel, sir," Matt said, saluting. It did no good to pry. Criss Angel was a magician, and magicians were full of surprises. At least it wasn't a snake or one of those big bugs from Africa or somewhere; things like that gave Matt the willies like nothing else. A bunch of baby ducks? No big deal.
In fact, the baby ducks turned out to be an even bigger deal than Matt surmised. Everyone in the production office had to drop what they were doing and gush over the cute little duckies. They cooed, they crooned, they giggled and they fussed over the six downy chicks cowering in the cage, terrified of the giants surrounding them. A few stuck their fingers through the wire mesh to pet them, only to see the poor things cringe and flee in terror. In the end, Criss had to take the ducklings into his office, ordering everyone back to work.
He set the cage next to his desk, plugged in a small space heater and set it next to the cage. He turned it on low heat, then settled himself down at his desk to work out the details for his latest demonstration. The heat calmed the ducklings, lulling them to sleep. Criss was able to work undisturbed throughout the morning.
A knock on the door interrupted him. "Who is it?" he called out.
"Criss?" he heard his personal assistant, Tom, call back. "Meeting time."
Criss looked at his watch. It read eleven AM. (Bleep)! he cursed to himself. I forgot about the production meeting!
He rose from his chair and stepped toward the door. Unfortunatly, he tripped over the duck cage, waking his little brood. The shaken ducklings peeped loudly, frightened out of their wits over the sudden jolt. Criss hissed a few choice expletives as he regained his bearings. He lowered himself to the ducklings' level. "I got a meeting to go to, guys," he told them. "You'll be safe here in the office." He adjusted the heater. "There, now you'll be nice and warm while I'm gone."
He rose to leave. The frantic peeping grew even louder. Criss could almost detect a look of absolute panic on their faces. Don't go, Mommy! they seemed to be saying. Don't leave us! We want to go with you! We need you to protect us!
Criss sighed and picked up the cage. "Come on, guys," he grumbled. "We got a meeting to go to."
From the moment Criss arrived at the meeting with the ducklings, he knew he was in trouble. The quacking from his crew clued him in on what to expect for the next two hours.
JD fired the first round. "Well, if it isn't Mother Duck!"
More quacking and laughing. Criss raised his hand in a placating gesture. "Okay, guys, you had your fun. Now let's get down to business here, shall we?"
He set the cage on the table and turned to JD. "You had to go and tell them, didn't you?" he said accusingly.
"Look, Criss, everyone knew you took those eggs. I didn't have to tell them anything--at least, not much."
Joaquin Ayela, a fellow magician and consultant, leaned over the cage. "Hola, little patitos!" he cooed. "Hola."
"What are you gonna call 'em?" Doug Malloy asked Criss.
"Yeah, what are you gonna call 'em? You gotta call 'em something, right?"
"They're called ducklings, okay?" Criss retorted.
"I meant, what are their names?" Doug pressed.
Criss shrugged. "Gee, I dunno. It never occurred to me to give them names."
Doug looked at Criss in mock indignation. "Geez! What kind of mother are you, not naming your kids?"
"They're not my kids!" Criss exclaimed. "I just rescued them, okay?"
Doug leaned over to the cage. He pointed out one duckling who had just stepped away from the others. "Hey, Ducky," he said. "You're our little ducky, ain't ya? Yeah, you're just ducky, ain't ya?"
Criss rolled his eyes. Doug pointed to another one. "And this one we'll call...um...Downy."
"You mean like the fabric softener?" Criss' cousin, George, asked."
"Yeah, whatever," Doug replied. "And this one will be...?"
"Quackers!" George blurted.
"Quackers!" Doug cheered. "So we got Ducky, Downy and Quackers. Any suggestions?"
Joaquin petted a duckling huddled in a corner. "I'm gonna call this one Omlette."
"Hey, it's a nice name," Joaquin protested. "A pretty name, a French name. Especially if it's a girl."
Doug nodded. "Okay, Omlette it is."
JD started laughing all of a sudden. "Hey, I got a great one!" he said. "How about Yolk-O!"
Criss stared at his brother in bewilderment. "Yolk-O?"
"Sure, as in Yolk-O Ono?"
Everyone groaned at the pun, but the name was adopted anyway. "Okay," Doug said, "we got one more. Any ideas?"
"How about Donald?" George suggested.
The suggestion was vetoed down. "Too obvious," Doug said.
Costa, who had been enjoying the scene from the sidelines, spoke up. "How about Ferdinand?"
"Ferdinand?" everyone chorused.
"Isn't that a bull?" Criss asked.
"Hey, don't you remember the movie Babe?" Costa said. "There was a duck named Ferdinand in it."
"Well, I never saw the movie," Doug said, "but, okay, we'll go with Ferdinand."
Criss rose to his feet. "Okay, the ducks got their names," he said. "Now, can we please get on with the meeting?"
The meeting lasted for two hours, but very little got accomplished. The ducklings were too much of a distraction sitting on the table, but whenever Criss moved them, they peeped loudly in protest, so back on the table they went. Near the end of the meeting, someone suggested lunch. "How about that new Chinese place?" George suggested. "I forgot the name, but I hear they got some great food there, especially the Peking duck."
Everyone stared at George for such a callous statement. George clamped his hand over his mouth. "Oops! Sorry, Criss. No offense."
Criss looked down at the ducklings. "You didn't hear that," he said.