The Service Is a Drag

Part 1

by Dr. Susan Calvin (StrangeRelations at aol.com)
11/15/01

Here's a lighthearted one....

Duane stared down at his nametag, and wondered why he put up with Mack, Garth, and Jo's merciless taunting. Why, even his nametag was spelled wrong. "Dwayne". It looks like Rusty spelled it, for Mike's sake!!! he thought, scowling. Sure, he saved the world four or five times a day, but he still got no respect. Like now, for example -- they had all just sat down for a 'friendly' game of poker, and already he had been the butt of three practical jokes. "Figures, since I'm so trusting of my own co-workers," he muttered, eyebrows knitting together. First, he had sat down on a whoopie cushion, then his chair had tilted onto a rigged Halloween mat, which screamed in electronic outrage. As soon as his Pit Crew's uproarious laughter had finally tapered away,he had gotten down to business by snatching the card deck and shuffling. And then...then he had turned as red as Rusty's swollen metal cranium as he realized that he was not only playing with a nudie deck, but the Pit Crew had drawn glasses and curly black hair on each nudie cutie to make them all look like Dr. Slate. Oooooooh, how they laughed. But they weren't gonna laugh any more, no sir, not once they got their asses whupped in less than five minutes----

"ROYAL FLUSH!!!!" shouted Garth, displaying his cards for all to see while doing some kind of victory gyration. Mack grumbled incoherently about how in the old days, poker wasn't so utterly distracting. His eyes were affixed to "Dr. Erika Ace of Hearts" as his hands pulled absently at his collar. Duane was disturbed. Not by Mack, though -- they had all long ago come to terms with his senility. Duane was profoundly disturbed by the fact that he was already lagging behind in the game.

"You may have won this round, but don't gloat too much or you'll miss out on the inevitable," Duane challenged. His mouth quivered, then suddenly jerked askew into a smirk. Dammit, I've really got to see a doctor about that, before it gets any worse, he worriedly thought. The smirk was actually a nervous twitch that had progressively developed into an uncontrollable spasm. It had only become really noticable after his first introduction to Rusty.

"The inevitable?!? You be jokin', riiiight?" exclaimed Garth in his best 'sassy talk show guest' voice. He leaned over the table towards Duane with a sharklike grin. "The chances of you winnin' this here poker game are next to NONE. It's like seein' Donovan win the Nobel Peace Prize!!!"

"Is that SO?" inquired Duane, trying to frown ominously but abandoning the impossible to mirror Garth's features. He took out his wallet and dangled a crisp ten dollar bill in front of Garth's face. "Wanna bet?"

*******************

Fifteen minutes later, the pile of money had grown to encompass the entire table. There was barely enough room to fit their elbows, not to mention several forgotten drinks and their playing cards. Jo nervously chewed on her lip as Garth, beaming from ear to ear, took a card from the center deck. The man seemed to thrive on pressure!!! A bead of sweat slowly rolled down Duane's nose and unceremoniously plopped onto his worthless hand. Only this betrayed his true emotional state; years of training had perfected his stoic pokerface. Yes, on the outside he was impenetrable as the robotic shell he wore to work every day, but on the inside his organs had turned to Jell-O. Not just any Jell-O, but icy Jell-O filled with miniature wiggling octopi tickling his innards with suckered tentacles. Replacing some of many weak cards for an even more useless hand, he decided that there were no ifs, ands, or buts about it:

He was going to lose.

The octopi began cartwheeling as he wiped his brow. Glancing surreptitiously at Mack, he was startled to find that the older man was staring straight at him with an amused expression on his face.

Duane's eyebrow quirked. "Have something to say, ya old coot?" he demanded with his patented smirk.

Mack puffed up imperiously and unbuttoned the back pocket opposite of the one he usually kept his wallet in. Several dusty moths fluttered out and cobwebs spilled over the edge.

"As a matter of fact, I DO," he retorted in his gravelly voice. "I raise everyone FIFTY BUCKAROOS!" With that, he slapped two of the oldest twenty-five dollar bills Duane had ever seen down on the pile of dead presidents. Even the washed out bills' renditions of Nixon's typically crabby features looked ancient and more disgruntled than usual.

Jo gave an exasperated pout and used her middle finger to pull down her lower eyelid. "Nyeeeeaaah!" She stuck out her tongue in Mack's general direction. "I fold! I don't even HAVE ten bucks left thanks to Garth!!!"

Laughing heartily, Garth somehow avoided her kicks from underneath the table and fetched a fifty from his wallet. It flitted onto the pile of bills like a butterfly joining its fellow brethren in covering some massive corpse. Duane hesitated to do the same. Should he even bother? He was bound to lose...but what did it matter anyways? Truly, the only thing that would be hurting would be his ego. He had been able to boast that he had never, ever lost a single poker game to his crewmembers, and now his lucky streak had finally broken. Little by little, Duane began to relax. So what if he lost? It was only a game. Sometimes, losing was okay. It was better to give others a chance every once in a while. And it didn't hurt him financially at all, since in reality Duane had as much money at his disposal as he desired. He needed but ask, and the government would provide. It was a simple compensation for basically taking away any normal kind of existence Duane could have enjoyed were he not saving everybody's asses all the time in the Big Guy. Compared to losing a fight, or losing body parts, losing one poker game was nothing. Much assuaged after this inner reassurance, Duane fearlessly probed his wallet. Abruptly, Mack grabbed his hand, dislodging it from its intended destination.

"Oh, no you don't!" Mack groused, vigorously shaking his head in the slightly deranged way he had of performing the simplest of gestures. "Money don't mean JACK SQUAT to you. Whenever you need money, you just wiggle yer fingers around in Unkle Sammy's pockets. And he LIKES it!!! Yeah, he just looooooves ya foolin' around down there!"

Jo was blushing madly at the perverted(yet patriotic) image this produced in her mind's eye, and she was not alone. Garth squirmed in his seat, a disgusted wrinkle in his nose.

Duane cleared his throat uncomfortably. "...Okaaaaaaaay... then what do you suggest I bet with, my medals or something?!?" He rolled his emerald orbs at the thought and slapped one of his many pockets. Countless medals of honor, courage, and valor obliged him with a happy jingle.

"Naaaah, you don't give a rat's patootie about those. Let's make ya bet with something insubstantial," the older officer grumped. "How 'bout this: If you lose, we can make ya do whatever we please for twenny-four hours."

"Hey, yeah, great idea, Mack!" piped Jo, suddenly bubbling with enthusiasm."WE'LL be the ones ordering Duane around!"

"Total role reversal," chimed in Garth. "Sounds like fun. Whaddaya say, man?" He winked at Jo and smiled wickedly at Duane.

Duane rubbed the back of his neck and glared at Mack. Maybe he wasn't so senile after all. To say no was to fold, and he had never given up on a game before, no matter how dire the circumstances were. He couldn't look like a coward! Yet, before, it wouldn't have mattered if he lost. Now the stakes were much, much higher. The octopi materialized in the pit of his stomach again, whirling like dervishes. What could they really do? They'd probably just order him to drop and give them twenty-thousand, or mop up the mess hall. He could handle that. That was no problem. Yeah.

"Yeah. Uh...sure. I'm up for that," he said aloud. Duane managed another emotionless facade, trying to internally convince himself of his mechanics' harmlessness. His heart was pounding in his ears, and he felt queasy. The last time he had been this nervous was when he had rescued Dr. Slate the split second before she was explosively ejected into space. What was wrong with him? There was really nothing to worry about. They might even be bluffing...

"Everyone, show and tell!" shouted Garth gleefully. Mack thrust his cards onto the moneypot.

"Ace of Slate and three of a kind." He proudly fanned them out for all to oggle. Garth ignored them, barely able to contain his jiggling.

"I've got a Full House!!! What about you, Duane?"

Duane swallowed, mouth suddenly dry and cottony. Would it hurt to just call the whole thing off? There was still time... His fingers twitched, ready to dump the cards back in the deck. However, his honesty intervened. He had agreed to this. He had to go through with it. Heaving a sigh, he tossed his hand onto the green carpet of bills.

"I'm a loser, baybeeeeeee, so why don't 'cha kill meeeeeee!" He belted out the popular swing tune in his impressive tenor, getting up from the table to do a few Broadway-worthy dance moves. Maybe if they were distracted enough....

"Yiiiiiiiiipeeeeeeeeeee!!! Gimme five, my friend!" whooped Garth, clasping Mack's shoulder with a beefy hand while the other was held poised in midair. Chuckling, Mack returned the high five. Jo jumped out of her chair, blond hair flying about her head as she hung off of Mack's elbow and bounced up and down. The victorious trio then surrounded Duane. He quickly abandoned his musical act and smiled at them nervously.

"So what can I do for you guys?" he managed in a friendly, even voice, even though the octopi were spontaneously combusting and he felt like screaming at the top of his lungs. The three officers whispered amongst themselves for a moment, then nodded at each other and turned back to Duane with pleased expressions plastering their features.

"Lt. Hunter," intoned Garth in a very forced formality (which seemed on the verge of collapsing at any moment), "we order you to dress in drag---"

"DRAG?!?" exclaimed Duane, guffawing."Drag!!!" He breathed an inward sigh of relief. "That's no problem!!! Sure, I'll dress in drag. It's not like I've never done it before. Geez, I hope this isn't the best you can come up with!!! Drag...." His laughter tapered off when he noticed the scheming looks hadn't left the expressions on his friends' faces.

"You didn't even let me finish," complained Garth in a mock whine. "We order you to dress in drag--" He could barely contain himself as he paused again for effect. Jo's blue eyes sparkled with antici-pation and Mack giggled like a little schoolgirl. "--And take Dr. Slate out on a DATE!" Garth concluded with a flourish.

It's way too late!!! I'll have to finish this later! To be continued....

On to Part 2!

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