“How do we get inside?” Daphne asked the other three as they stared at the front entrance to the jade fence that surrounded the lofty, juniper building.
“By waiting outside,” Nick answered. “The Emerald Angel doesn’t allow just anyone onto his property- if he made it available to the public, then everyone would want to see him! There’d be a line going around the block ten times over! He only lets certain people in, and that’s only after his team thoroughly vets them first! We can’t simply walk in, but we can stand by until one of his approved guests appears at the gate! If we explain our situation to them, they’re bound to-.”
Heathrow pointed to a small button on the wall and queried, “Couldn’t we ring the doorbell instead?”
Nick seemed flustered by the detail he overlooked, and he clumsily strove to cover it up, “Possibly! But it… he… Well, we can consider that, I suppose…”
As Heathrow reached for the button, Lionel’s eyes grew wide. Prior to Heathrow completing his task, Lionel cried, “Hold on! Let’s turn back!”
“What? After all of the trouble we went through to get here, why would we give up now?” Daphne challenged Lionel.
“Why? Why? You wanna know why?” Lionel shakily responded.
Daphne retorted, “Um, yeah! That’s why I said it!”
Lionel spouted, “Well, there’s something almost scarier than Whitney- rejection! Oh, we’ve set ourselves up for an enormous failure!” He let out a whimper and then threw himself into the nearby hedges.
“If we don’t even make an attempt, then for sure we’ll fail!” Heathrow differed with Lionel. “At least if we give it a try, we’ll have a small shot of success!”
“That’s true…” Lionel acknowledged from the bushes.
Nick reached into the thicket and pulled Lionel up by his shirt. “Get out of there! We didn’t come this far to only come this far!”
Daphne directed Heathrow, “Go ahead and ring the bell.”
Heathrow pushed the button, and a loud chime echoed throughout the interior. Everyone’s heart beat wildly as they anticipated the door opening up for them! Daphne initially assumed that the Emerald Angel himself would greet them, but since Nick mentioned that he had employees at the helm, she contemplated who would actually come down to receive them. Based on the descriptions of all the wonderful things that the Emerald Angel did, she conjectured that his staff would act warmly and welcome them with open arms. She stood up straight and planted a friendly smile on her face to ensure that their graciousness was reciprocated, but then…
“Who rang the doorbell?” an irritated male’s voice growled. The five travelers emitted a startled reaction, but before they could verbalize anything, a small square above the button became ajar. A man with thick, red hair, bushy sideburns, and a grand mustache poked his head out, and he crassly spoke to them, “Can’t any of you read?”
“What are we supposed to be reading?” Heathrow inquired. He glanced around and came up blank. “Can you help me out, fella?”
The man released a noise of annoyance. “Ah, we’ve got a wise guy here, huh?”
Heathrow disagreed, “Me? Not at all! I’m totally brainless, which is why we-.”
“Ugh! I’m talking about the sign right there! It’s as plain as the nose on my face!” He gazed down, and when he saw that nothing was there, he changed his tone, “Oh, shoot! I forgot to put it up! I better do that! And get my nose checked probably!” He ducked down and returned shortly with a notice.
“Doorbell broken! Please knock!” Heathrow, Lionel, Nick, and Daphne all read aloud after he placed the placard on a nail below the window he occupied. The man shut his opening, so Heathrow rapped the entryways…
The man popped back up, and he more pleasantly regarded them, “Well, that’s more like it!”
Nick somewhat perplexedly stated, “The doorbell sounds fine to me…”
“I don’t know you well enough to get into the details of that! How can I help you?” the man canvassed them.
“We’re here to see the Emerald Angel,” Daphne informed him.
The man seemed confused by her assertion. “You are? I don’t recall seeing any of you on the schedule…” He retrieved a clipboard and scanned through the agenda. “You wouldn’t happen to be the Hickory family, would you? You’re three hours early, you know…”
Heathrow let him know, “We’re not the Hickory’s! My name’s Heathrow, and this here is Lionel, Tater, and Daphne. We traveled a long distance to see if the Emerald Angel would help us.”
“Yeah, you and everyone else! Listen, there’s a reason the Emerald Angel is so exclusive. His powers are extraordinary, and he can solve anyone’s biggest dilemmas, but he can’t solve everybody’s dilemmas! The whole world would use his services if they could, but that’s simply not possible for him, so he only reserves his abilities for those in the greatest need of a boost,” the man spelled out for them. “For example, the Hickory family want to restore their farm so they can feed needy individuals in war-torn countries.”
“So, you’re not gonna let us in?” Lionel questioned.
The man shook his head, so Nick joked, “Well, in that case, we’re the Hickory family after all!” The man stared at him without an ounce of amusement so Nick tried another tactic, “Actually, we’re already aware of how restrictive the Emerald Angel is about visitors. We came here ‘cause of our mission to benefit humanity…” The man appeared skeptical, but he listened with intrigue. “We’re gonna prove that the Ochre Angel is guilty of heinous crimes and put a stop to her mayhem for good!”
With a heavy sigh, the man relayed to him, “Go onto his website and fill out the proper paperwork. Our personnel will review it, and if we’ve found that your cause meets our strict criteria, we’ll contact you to set up an appointment within six to ten weeks.”
“Six to ten weeks?” Daphne uttered in appall. “Oh, no! We can’t wait that long!”
“I’m sorry,” the man articulated in a manner that implied he didn’t sincerely possess any remorse over this, “but those are the rules!”
Nick probed, “What are the exceptions to the rules?”
The man folded his arms contemptuously. “What makes you believe you’re special enough to deserve an exception?”
“Sapphire, the Blue Angel of Boulder Expressway, sent us here,” Lionel reported.
“Prove it,” the man spat.
Heathrow gestured towards Daphne’s feet. “She’s got the Carmine Clogs!”
The man looked unimpressed by this revelation. “Uh-huh. Every shoe store in Vegoz has replicas of those!”
“These are real! I can’t get them off! See!” Daphne lunged towards her footwear, but she got shocked by a jolt of red electricity. “Ow!”
“Well, bust my buttons!” the man gasped. “I’ve never seen any replicas do that!”
Lionel beseeched him, “Please, let us in! Whitney wants to kill us over these things! I don’t wanna get murdered like that!”
The man glimpsed at them with a softer visage. “Wow! You guys really are in fear for your lives, aren’t you?” Daphne, Nick, Lionel, and Heathrow all vigorously affirmed this, so the man mulled it over for a moment. He then reluctantly agreed, “Alright, alright! You can come in!”
Daphne and the others lit up in delight of this development. They could hardly accept it as reality until the man opened the entryway. Their jaws dropped as they soaked in a large and lush courtyard filled with leafy plants and blossoming fauna, and a fountain in the center gently circulated mossy water! Dozens of genial folks in various shades of green business wear strolled by with authentic grins, and the gorgeous, minty architecture above them glistened without a hint of dust or dirt! The quartet was in awe of this spectacle, but their admiration got interrupted as the man grouchily barked, “Will you hurry and get in here before that awful woman shows up?”
They all rushed in, and the man swiftly shut the door behind them. He then stood before his guests and formally introduced himself, “Welcome to the Emerald’s City Center! I’m Charley Toto, Guest Relations Director. I’m going to contact Henry Grapewin, the Emerald Angel’s personal assistant, to fill him in on the situation…” He took a gander at their disheveled appearances, and he added, “… after you four get a makeover!” Tater glared at him, and he addressed him, “What? You want a bath?” Tater started licking his face and ignored Charley.
“A makeover is a lovely idea, but we don’t have any money for that,” Daphne sheepishly conveyed to him.
“Yeah! I don’t even have a wallet!” Heathrow rummaged through his back pocket, and it surprised him to discover something there. “Oh, wow! I do have a wallet! And there’s something in it! Ah, it’s a coupon for apples. Do you take these as payment?”
Charley explained, “Sir, we’re a nonprofit agency, so we don’t charge a fee for our services. We do accept donations if our clientele have them, but please, keep your coupon! We’ll get you another later that isn’t expired. Follow me!”
While Charley led them through a hallway, various passersby merrily bade them hello, which prompted Lionel to opine, “Dudde! This place is great!”
“It really is! I keep wondering what the catch is!” Daphne eyeballed Charley, but he gave no indication of any stipulations to their stay.
“Hey, everyone! We have four!” Charley alerted the bored attendants of a rather ritzy salon. They snapped to attention, and Charley regarded the four patrons, “Enjoy your spa treatments! We’ll fetch you when the Emerald Angel is ready for you.”
Nick catechized, “What are the odds of him never being ready for us?”
Heathrow quarreled, “Oh, come on! Do you really expect they’d hand out beauty transformations just to avoid speaking to us?” Daphne and Nick exchanged distrustful glances with each other, but Lionel and Heathrow were sold on the concept. Neither Nick nor Daphne could discern any contrary evidence to the other two’s opinion, so they shrugged and agreed to participate.
“First, we’ll clean your clothes!” one of the attendants told them.
“Alright, where do we change?” Lionel wanted to know.
The attendant responded, “You won’t need any privacy for this!” Daphne and the other three nearly fainted at that notion, and the attendant elaborated, “We have state of the art technology that makes wardrobe removal unnecessary.”
With a trio of attendants tending to each individual, they were scanned by electronic wands that simultaneously sprayed out soapy water and sucked in moisture. It was hard to not get impressed by these devices, but Nick cynically remarked, “They got these from mere donations?”
“We certainly did! The Emerald Angel gets several large donors to participate in his various projects. And these machines were manufactured by a small business that he funded,” another one of the attendants illuminated him.
“Oh, don’t touch my shoes!” Daphne warned them. An attendant got zapped, and Daphne apologized, “Sorry! I didn’t choose the Carmine Clogs, but I’m stuck with them!”
That particular attendant focused on another area, and she commented, “Gee, the Carmine Clogs! It’s amazing you need the Emerald Angel’s assistance at all! You’d think you could magick the solution to your issue yourself!”
Daphne eagerly quizzed her, “Can they do that?”
“No clue! Okay, you look sharp now! Please sit in that chair over there,” that attendant instructed her.
“Same with you,” an attendant of Nick echoed.
A person working on Lionel decreed, “Same with you too!”
One of Heathrow’s attendants esteemed, “This’ll take a while!”
Daphne got her hair washed, Nick got his nails cleaned, and Lionel got a facial shave. Daphne unwillingly admitted, “This is really relaxing!”
“How do I apply to this joint?” Lionel pondered.
“It’d be volunteer work,” Nick advised him.
Lionel notified him, “I meant to live here!” They all laughed, and Lionel blissfully articulated, “Luxurious detoxing and no fallen angels… Seriously, I could get used to this!” Heathrow, Daphne, and Nick concurred, and then a dark shadow shrouded the premises…