The sign said, "Flamingoes and buzzards for rent." If that wasn't a sign from God and the fates, I don't know what was. I went in. There was as guy behind a counter reading the racing form.
“Help you?" he said.
"I need to rent a buzzard," I said.
"Okay. How long?"
"I don't know," I said. "I wonder if you'd have a recommendation."
"Well," said the man. He folded the racing from, stuck it under the counter, took out a laminated card, and turned it so I could read it. "These are the buzzards we've got. Different sizes, sexes, it all depends on what you need it for. What do you need it for?"
"Got a dead sheep on my property," I said. "It's been there a while."
"And the buzzards?" asked the man.
"I was hoping I could get a buzzard to eat it. So I don't have to haul it out of there. How long's it take a buzzard to eat a sheep?"
"Oh," said the buzzard man. "You'd want several buzzards, I'm afraid. Just one, that'd take way too long. You'd really save money by renting, say, a half-dozen buzzards for a week rather than one buzzard for a month. We've got a volume discount. Unless this sheep of yours is in a confined space. Is it in a confined space?"
"Well, I don't know—you mean like the trunk of a car?"
"Is it in the trunk of a car?"
"No… it's. Well, it's in the bedroom. I was hoping to get rid of it pretty quickly."
"Ah," said the buzzard man. "You'll be wanting a couple of indoor buzzards. I've got just the thing." He disappeared through a beaded curtain into the back room.
I had a look around the room while he was gone. The place looked like a rental car office, or maybe a shipping company. There was a large package scale on the counter, a couple of chairs in a waiting area, and a low table covered with magazines. I moved them around to have a look. There were a few reasonably current issues of Hawk and Handsaw. Carrion weekly. The Flamingo Times printed on pink paper. And, strangely, something called Slots and Spinners, with a picture of a shiny silver slot machine on the cover.
I picked it up and had a look inside. There, in the first article, was a picture of the buzzard guy standing in front of a row of neon-lit slot machines. He held a flamingo under one arm, Alice-in-Wonderland style. There was a man in a suit with slicked-back hair, smiling and holding up one of those giant checks they give you when you win the lottery. It was made out in the amount of $200,000.00.
"That was last year in Vegas," said the man. He was behind the counter again. "That's my lucky flamingo, Janice. I take her with me every time I go, and every time I win a couple hundred grand. She tells me which machines to play."
"Mm-hm," I said.
"She never misses," said the man. "Betcha can't guess where we stay when we're there."
I laughed. "Bet I can."
"How much you bet you can tell me where we stay?"
"What, for real?"
"Of course for real. I'm a gambling man. Couldn't you tell?"
"Tell you what—" He bent down behind the counter and came up with a pair of plastic pet carriers, each about the size you'd carry a beagle in. He set them on the counter. "We'll make it a contest. You guess where we stayed, and I'll give you the first day's rent for Frankie and Johnny here for free. Otherwise you pay full price. Deal?"
"Okay," I said, "give me a minute here."
The man stood behind the counter, smiling. Rustling noises came from the pet carriers. Sounds like claws on paper.
"Could it be," I said, "the Flamingo Hilton?"
"Damn," said the man. "You're good. Nobody else has gotten that." He pulled some papers out of a tray next to the cash register. "Well, looks like you got yourself a free day of buzzard rental.
"You know, we stayed at the Luxor once, but Janice got drunk on one of those drinks in an obelisk glass, and she made a spectacle of herself. They won't let us go back there."
"I was wondering," I said.
"The flamingo rental…"
"You want to know if you can rent Janice, don't you?"
"Well, I thought maybe…"
"You could," he said, "but the luck doesn't seem to work if she's with anybody but me. Some kind of symbiosis, I think."
I shrugged. "It was worth a try."
"Sign here, then initial here and here," said the man. "We'll see you in a week."
He held the door for me as I left with Frankie and Johnny. Time to get home. That sheep wasn't getting any fresher.