“Some duels over the course of history have been rather out of the ordinary,” Noah was saying to the large audience. “Because duelists would pick their locations with the particular goal of not being disturbed, some of them got interesting. In 1808 there’s a documented case of two Frenchmen fighting a duel from hot air balloons.”
A murmur of laughter went through the crowd and Noah grinned. “It’s true, you can read that in Smithsonian,” he said with a rakish smile.
Wyatt smiled and watched as his friend walked around the lectern. He wasn’t your typical lecturer, but his talks had the highest attendance by far. Detractors would blame his off-color topics or his good looks and charming personality, but Wyatt firmly believed it was his skill and charisma as a speaker and his stellar reputation as a scholar.
“The men shot at each other’s balloons with pistols until one of them was hit so many times it caused the balloon to crash, killing the duelist and his second.” Noah pressed a button and the picture behind him changed. It was a cartoon-like drawing of two men in balloons, pointing muskets at each other. “By the late nineteenth century, the act of dueling was becoming somewhat passé. Gentlemen were beginning to think it barbaric and when challenged, many were known to pick outrageous methods of dueling to show their disdain. Howitzers, crowbars, sledgehammers, forks full of pig dung.”
Another ripple of laughter went through the crowd. Wyatt chuckled as Noah clicked through his graphics. Some of them were very graphic indeed.
Noah glanced up into the darkness of the audience and Wyatt waved the papers he had in his hand under the red glow of the Exit light. Noah gave him the barest of nods and continued his lecture. Wyatt stood and slid out of the lecture room. He almost regretted not hearing the end of the lecture, but he drew the line at forks full of pig dung.
He waited outside, leaning against the wall, trying to look innocuous in case any of the trustees happened to be wandering by. He could hear the low murmur of Noah’s voice, and the occasional laugh as he wound the lecture down.
Wyatt stood where he was and smiled and nodded at people as the attendees filed out of the room.
Several minutes later, Noah emerged and looked him over. “Lunch?”
“Forkfuls of pig dung?”
“It’s documented.” Noah grinned and turned to head for the cafeteria.
“Is dung the proper term for that?” Wyatt asked. “It doesn’t change with different animals?”
Noah laughed. “What?”
“You know, like in terms of collectives; a herd of wildebeast or a murder of crows. Guano versus manure versus dung?”
“It does change, actually. Wild carnivores have scat, while domesticated animals have dung. Birds have droppings, but sea birds and bats have guano.”
“What? I know things.”
“I’m sorry I asked.”
“Only horses produce manure, unless it’s used as fertilizer, and then it’s all called manure. And for some reason otters have their very own crap that’s called spraint.”
“There are also different names for individual versus bulk. Meadow muffins versus dung.”
“Meadow muffins? What the hell does that have to do with dueling?”
Wyatt just looked at him, and Noah stared back as they both tried not to smile. “Are we eating lunch?”
“Of course,” Noah said, and they continued on as if they’d never paused. They made their way to the staff cafeteria. “Collective names are fascinating, have you ever studied them?”
“I can’t say that I have.”
“Some of them are pretty self-explanatory. A prickle of porcupines, a cackle of hyenas, a pounce of cats, a slither of snakes. But it’s a nest of vipers, a quiver of cobras and a rhumba of rattlesnakes. They also have a parliament of owls and a congress of baboons, which I find insulting to baboons myself.”
Wyatt sighed, trying to hide his smile.
“And solitary animals are given collectives regardless of the fact that you’ll never see a group of them. Groups of people have collectives too. A den of thieves. Even things that don’t exist have collectives. Unicorns, sasquatches. Sasquatches?” Noah stopped walking. “Sasquatchae. Sasquatch,” he tried instead. He looked at Wyatt and shook his head, a furrow creasing his handsome brow as he held up one hand.
Wyatt pressed his lips hard together and tried not to laugh. He waited for Noah to work out the ramble. It was perhaps his favorite aspect of Noah’s personality.
“Anyway,” Noah said as he began walking again.
“What are they called?”
“What are what called?”
“A collective of sasquatch … es.”
“Oh. A pungent. Creative, huh? My favorite is a smack of jellyfish.”
“How do you get laid as much as you do?”
“I don’t know. I know things. Lots of things. Lots of dirty things. What were we talking about?”
“Dueling,” Wyatt said.
They chose a table in the far corner and they ate and talked about Noah’s vast and weird knowledge of collectives.
“So,” Noah final said as he crunched a Cheeto.
“Yes?” Wyatt sat back and placed his sandwich on the table. He’d known Noah would broach the subject sooner rather than later.
“Wyatt!” Noah said. He looked up as if appealing to the gods and flopped his hands, closing his eyes and sighing. “You were at Gravedigger’s last night!”
“And aren’t you glad, because you and Caleb would have been walking home if I hadn’t been there.”
“And that’s why I didn’t bawl you out last night. But I rode the Shadow today and I know I’ll get home safe so I can bitchslap you a little and it’ll be okay.”
Wyatt laughed and shook his head.
“Wyatt,” Noah said, leaning forward and pinning Wyatt with a glare. His entire demeanor had changed. His voice was lower and just this side of offended. “I asked you nicely.”
Wyatt closed his eyes. “I didn’t go to get him into bed,” he said, voice soft. He looked around them then scooted his chair around the edge of the table so they were closer. Hell, most of the museum staff thought they were screwing anyway. “I was showing him those documents I found, okay? Completely innocent.”
“Caleb said when Ash showed up for work this morning that he could barely stand still. He said he was spooked by something.”
Wyatt frowned and leaned back. “I was well-behaved, I swear.”
“Just stay away from him, okay? It’s not so hard.”
Wyatt hesitated, looking at Noah with a mix of pain and relief. “It is, actually.”
“Oh, Christ.” Noah smacked his forehead. “Are you telling me you’re falling for him?”
“I just … he’s—”
“I know what he is. I know what you are. And I never would have introduced you if I thought you were going to do what you did!”
“I know!” Wyatt hissed. “And if I could change that, I would. But I like this guy, Noah, I really do. And he wasn’t upset to see me, I swear.”
“Then what’s wrong with him?”
“Why don’t we go ask him?” Wyatt said with a wave of his hand.
Noah narrowed his eyes, then he reached out and grabbed his bag of Cheetos without looking away and stood up. “Very well, then,” he said in an affected regal manner, sticking his nose in the air. How he managed not to smile through the performance, Wyatt didn’t know.
Wyatt stood as well, inclining his head to match, and he grinned. They stood staring at each other for a moment until Noah broke into a smirk. “We only have ten minutes left to lunch.”
“Meet you at five?”
“And bring your fork, sir,” Noah drawled in a horrible imitation of a British accent as he turned away.