As the three men followed the cat towards the back of the abandoned water park, Lionel fretted, “Oh, I hope we’re not too late!”
“Nah, we’re fine!” Heathrow confidently stated.
“How do you know?” Lionel challenged that.
Lionel filled him in, “Just a feeling inside of me. That’s how I’ve been getting by all these years- I may not have a brain, but my gut gives me guidance! Besides, I’m sure if Whitney got the Carmine Clogs, we’d all know it! She wouldn’t keep something like that a secret!”
Tater halted in his tracks by the reargates, and while Nick gave him the utmost attention, Lionel continued his conversation with Heathrow, “Would she though? We have no proof they do anything!”
“Guys!” Nick tried to redirect their focus.
“They must do something!” Heathrow insisted. “I know women love shoes, but I can’t imagine they’d kill one another over them!”
Nick gave it another go, “Guys!”
Lionel brought up, “What if the magic in them expired? Then Whitney would realize she wasted her time kidnapping Daphne, and who knows what she’d do when she-!”
“Guys!” Nick furiously whispered. They heeded his demand, and Nick quietly apprised them, “I think he’s signaling that we’re getting close!”
“Ha, look! He’s yelling at you!” Heathrow indicated to Tater, who was giving them a stern stare.
Lionel disagreed, “He’s not saying a word!”
Heathrow argued, “If he could speak, he would be hollering-!”
“Shut up!” Nick hissed.
“Exactly!” Heathrow chirped.
Nick warned them, “If you want Daphne to stay alive and well, you’d better zip it!” Lionel and Heathrow nodded in compliance, and when the group stayed silent, Tater continued their trek.
Tater led them to the top of a hilly garden with sandy rocks, thorny bushes, and palm trees, and the three men hid behind topiary in the shape of a cartoonish-looking tiger. They peaked over the hedge, and they saw a dozen men and women in ornate, security guard uniforms. Not only did they have a matching shirt and pants combo, but they had a multi-pocketed utility belt; large, orange ball caps; jackets with frizzy stripes on both arms; and sparkly shoes with matching gloves. They had elaborate, amber lettering of Pumperdink Gulch’s initials on their backs, and they carried big, tangerine billy clubs. One of the guards heard the rustling of leaves in the distance, and he whipped his head in that direction. The four males ducked, and Lionel softly suggested, “Maybe we shouldn’t use the front entrance!”
With a very low volume, Nick asserted, “This isn’t the front entrance! It’s the door with the least amount of cover!”
“Alright, so what’s the plan?” Lionel canvassed Nick.
“I don’t have a plan!” Nick confessed. “I was sorta hoping that we’d instantly figure it out when we got here!”
Lionel remarked, “You know who would probably have figured out what to do lickety-split? Daphne!”
Nick beseeched him, “Concentrate!”
“Yes!” Heathrow concurred. “We’ll never get our wishes if we don’t get that cellphone!’
“Screw that cellphone! I don’t care about the Emerald Angel granting my wish right now! All I want is for Daphne to come out of there safely!” Nick wiped a tear off of his cheek.
Prior to either of the other men getting a chance to respond, they heard some guttural chanting emanating from the apartment complex. They peered over, and they beheld the guards doing some elaborate marching while they recited, “The Ohhhh-Oh! Ochre Angel! The Ohhh-Oh! Ochre Angel!”
They repeated that chorus a couple of times, and then they resumed their stoic positions. Nick puzzled, “What in the blazes was that?”
“I’ve heard them do that at the top of every hour,” Heathrow reported. “I never questioned it ‘cause I like to sing too!”
“So, what do we do?” Lionel inquired.
Heathrow replied, “Oh, it’s real easy! You exhale out of your diaphragm, and-!”
Nick snapped, “He meant about Daphne! Why would we ask about singing when our beautiful damsel is in distress?”
Lionel appeared as though he was going to say something, but he changed his mind. A lightbulb went off in Heathrow’s head, and he excitedly proclaimed, “I’ve got an idea!”
“This better not be about singing!” Nick warned him.
“No, no! Not unless you want it to…” Heathrow gauged his reaction, and then he went on,, “Alright, that’s fine! We don’t need any sort of music for my plan!”
Lionel raised his eyebrows to that. “You have a plan?”
Heathrow confirmed, “Yes! And you’re gonna take the lead role in it!”
He initially laughed at that concept, but once it sunk in that he was serious, Lionel exclaimed,“Oh, you’re serious!” His teeth chattered as they vacated that spot.
The guards stood in silence for several seconds, and then one of them petitioned his comrades, “Did you hear that?”
“Zeb, we’ve been over this!” the man next to Zeb exasperatedly reminded him. “If tacos give you indigestion, stop having them on your lunch break!”
“No, Rak! I think I detected something on the side of the building!” Zeb paused and added, “And I’m never giving up tacos! Are you crazy? Tacos are the best-!”
A female guard interrupted him, “Forget about the tacos! What did you hear?”
Zeb stayed silent, and then he gestured towards the female guard. “There it is again! It’s closer to you, Nimmie! Can’t you-?”
“Hang on! There is something there!” Nimmie determined.
“See? I told you!” Zeb triumphantly commented.
Rak pointed out, “Now isn’t the moment to celebrate! If something happens on our watch, can you picture how the boss will react?”
Zeb shuddered. “I don’t want to!”
Nimmie shushed him, and then she motioned for her two colleagues to follow her. They crept around the corner, and to their startlement, they beheld Lionel striving to open a window! “Freeze!” Nimmie commanded.
“Oh, hi!” Lionel sheepishly regarded them. “I wasn’t trying to bust in here! I was simply taking a stretch before my run… which I’m gonna do right now!” He bolted away from them.
“Stop!” Rak ordered, but Lionel didn’t listen. The three guards chased after him, and they gained some ground as they headed into a walled-off dumpster area. They sprinted at full speed, and they almost caught him when…
Zeb and Rak tripped over Nick and Heathrow’s legs, and they fell to the floor in addition to falling unconscious! Nimmie nabbed Lionel, and Lionel let out a high-pitched scream as he defensively elbowed her in the forehead! She became unconscious, and Lionel rejoiced, “Yay! I hit someone! In all my years of trying to box, I’ve never done that! I’m so…! Oh, no! It was a woman!”
Nick spat, “She’s no woman! She’s a vindictive, self-serving, lying monster!” Heathrow and Lionel and ogled at him in bewilderment, so Nick clarified, “We used to date! You know, back when I still had a heart…”
“Oh! Awkward! Well, if you need a minute, we can wait,” Heathrow offered.
“No, we can’t wait!” Nick declined. “I could care less about her at the present! Daphne is my priority! The plan proceeds as normal!” As they removed the guards’ jackets, Nick reckoned, “Besides, this stunt could get her fired, and I’ll let myself feel amused by that!” Lionel and Heathrow tittered as they carried on.
After waiting for a few guards to pass by, the three men emerged from the dumpster area in their newly-acquired uniforms. Nick gazed at the garish trim in disgust, and Heathrow cautioned him, “Act more natural!”
Lionel muttered, “Easy for you to say! You didn’t have to squeeze into a chick’s outfit!” His boxers were showing, so he pulled his pants up some more.
Nick grabbed Tater and articulated, “Come on, dude! It’s showtime!” Tater rested comfortably in his arms, which signaled that he was ready, so the three men marched on.
The vast north entrance had twice as many guards on the half circle walkway in front of the door. Nick, Heathrow, and Lionel tried not to make eye contact with anyone, and it seemed that they would prove successful in that feat until they reached the portal to the interior. Two guards blocked them from going inside, and one of them huffed, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To see the Emerald Angel!” Heathrow covered his mouth after making that slip.
“Huh?” The first guard eyed him quizzically.
Nick nervously chuckled, “He’s kidding! Why would we ever do that?”
To their relief, the guards found that humorous, and following their brief amusement, the second guard asked, “What are you really doing? Your break isn’t for an hour!”
“We’re bringing this cat to the, uh, boss,” Nick answered prior to Heathrow getting to communicate with them again.
“Why?” The second guard now eyeballed them suspiciously.
Nick fibbed, “I dunno! But she demanded we bring him in, and we can’t exactly say no!”
Both guards seemed appeased by that explanation, and the first guard opined, “Sounds about right!”
The second guard advised them, “You better hurry! You don’t wanna keep her waiting!” As soon as they gave them the leeway, Nick scurried inside and the other two mimicked his move.
A couple more security guards sat at a gaudy receptionist desk with their chins rested in their hands as they stared at a screen, and they appeared far too engrossed in their task to pay much notice to the three men’s behavior. Nick, Heathrow, and Lionel glanced around due to an uncertainty of where to go, and when Tater squirmed towards the staircase, they took it as a sign of where they ought to travel and ascended towards the upstairs. As they tiptoed up the rickety, antique steps, Lionel hoisted up his trousers with a bit too much force and accidentally tore them! This caught the receptionist guards’ interest, but the three men raced out of their sight to precede their opportunity to view or discuss this development.
“Jeez, Whitney sure uses some cheap material for her employees’ clothes!” Lionel denoted as he shed the torn material.
“What are you doing? You’re gonna give away our cover!” Heathrow worried.
Nick esteemed, “It’s probably too late for that! They’re all residents here and could easily change their clothes if there was an accident like that, so him carrying around his split pants would be a dead giveaway! In light of that, I gotta get this extra layer off or else I’ll boil and never reach Daphne!”
Lionel pondered, “How are we gonna get out of here now though?”
Throwing his arms up in a fashion that conveyed he was clueless, Nick expressed, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it!”
“There’s a bridge in this complex?” Heathrow’s visage contorted in confusion.
“Go, Tater! Show us where Daphne is!” Nick set the feline down, and Tater galloped down the hall closely tailed by his three male companions.
At the far end of the foyer, the triad espied a unit closed off with a carrot-colored tape that had the word “condemned” displayed on it several times. “That’s gotta be it!” Nick affirmed. Tater parked himself in front of the door of the one next to that, and this baffled Nick slightly. “Really?” Tater put a paw on the exterior of his chosen site, and Nick acquiesced, “If you say so!” He knocked on the door and called out, “Daphne?”
To their great alleviation, Daphne’s voice rang out, “Nick?”
“We’re all here, Daphne!” Heathrow assured her. “We’re gonna get you out!”
“They use digital codes?” Lionel questioned. “They have this technology, but they skimp on the uniforms?”
Heathrow posed to them all, “How will we guess the password?”
Nick responded, “We don’t!” He opened up a fire emergency cabinet next to him and took the ax to the doorknob. The computer fizzled out, and it became ajar! Daphne looked elated to encounter them, but her smile quickly faded when she saw something ominous behind them…