The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 15

“Oh, really?” Heathrow questioned in a level of skepticism unusual for his nature. “How in the world are you gonna change the straw in my head into a brain without magic?”

As Oswald printed something from his laptop, he chuckled, “My dear boy, you already have a brain! You couldn’t function without one! Even the tiniest of bugs have brains! What you have is low self-esteem; you don’t think very highly of yourself, do you?”

Heathrow admitted, “I guess not! But I’m just a dumb drifter, so I-!”

“That’s where you’re wrong!” Oswald interrupted him while opening up the other curtain and digging through some old crates. “Your kindness helpd a lost person find direction, and your bubbly spirit never got tarnished regardless of what negativity came your way! That alone sets you apart from the average citizen, but when it was important, you set your mind to the task and persevered!”

“That’s true!” Nick concurred. “He was the one who came up with the plan to rescue Daphne! The rest of us were clueless!”

Heathrow smiled gratefully, but he didn’t seem convinced. “Goh, that’s awfully nice of ya! But that wouldn’t help me figure out how to get out of poverty and stuff!”

Oswald put the paper he printed into an ornate frame, and he asserted, “What you need is a jolt of confidence! That’s why, due to your quick wits under extraordinary pressure, I am bestowing upon you an honorary degree in thinkology!”

“Is that a real-?” Lionel began to enquire. Daphne elbowed his side, and he clammed up.

“Wow! I have a degree!” Heathrow rejoiced. “Now, I can find myself a wonderful job!”

Oswald assured him, “You always could! You just needed to believe it!” Heathrow grinned, and then Oswald turned his attention to Nick. “Now, you wanted to gain some evidence to put Whitney behind bars, but I believe you’ve already accomplished that.”

Nick nonverbally acknowledged the truth behind that, and when he saw Oswald rummaging through his belongings, he warned him, “Don’t you dare to drum up some kind of a heart for me! I don’t care what you heard- I don’t need emotions!”

“You’ve already got emotions!” Oswald disputed. “You’ve proven that in bits and pieces during your journey!” Heathrow and Lionel nodded vigorously in agreement, and Nick pouted from getting proven incorrect. Oswald went on, “Young man, you’re not an unfeeling robot- you’re depressed. You’ve numbed your feelings in order to protect yourself, but if you’re trying to be productive, that’s not the route to take! If you didn’t possess a strong desire tosave Daphne, you wouldn’t have had the nerve to break into Pumperdink Gulch! You didn’t fare well the first time you faced the Ochre Angel, but you sure bested her with the right motivation guiding you!”

“That’s true,” Nick thoughtfully conceded.

With a twinkle in his eyes, Oswald added, “Besides, I don’t need to give you a heart, you need to give your heart to that beautiful lady behind you!” Nick whipped his neck around and gazed at Daphne. Daphne began to furiously blush, and he followed suit. Oswald handed him a watch and instructed, “If you ever feel guilty for your emotional state, simply read the inscription.”

Nick read out loud, “It’s okay to not be okay! That’s… accurate!” He wiped a tear off of his cheek.

“I doubt you’ve got anything back there to make me into less of a coward!” Lionel morosely expressed.

“You’re under the false impression that having a lot of fear makes you unable to be brave, but it’s quite the opposite!” Oswald resumed sifting through his property once more. “Having no misgivings aout participating in dangerous activities doesn’t make you courageous, it makes you dumb! It’s only human to feel a certain level of apprehension in those situations, and your courage is born when you do the thing that scares you despite your fright! You suffer from anxiety since you’ve been through more horror than most people, but you push past more terror than anyone else! Why, you’re  the bravest guy I know!” Lionel beamed with pride, and Oswald went on, “In case you need a reminder of this, I’m presenting you with a championship belt in honor of the heroic feats you pulled off in your quest!”

Lionel put on the ornate belt with glee. “Wow! This outta get the respect of all the other boxers at Suntop!” As he admired his newly acquired gift, he spotted Daphne out of the corner of his eye, and he asked Oswald, “Hey! What about Daphne?”

Daphne bashfully responded, “Oh, it’s okay! I don’t even know what I want!”

“She wants a purpose and the feeling of truly being at home,” Oswald answered Lionel.

“Huh! That is what I want! How did you know that and I didn’t?” Daphne questioned.

Oswald laughed, “I wasn’t lying when I said I know everything!” Proceeding his moment of mirth, he more seriously explained, “You spent many years trying to survive, but you never really considered how you might thrive! You strove to appease society’s standards, but you never truly looked inward and acted on a path that woul please yourself! Clearly, you are passionate about solving mysteries, so why not choose a career in that realm?”

Daphne animatedly chattered, “Jeez, that’s always been a secret dream of mine! But, I never thought I could do it! I don’t have the stamina to pass the police academy, so I couldn’t become a detective!”

“Actually, there are multiple methods of assisting with investigations!” Nick interjected. “You could get certified as a private eye and get hired to work on personal matters, but if you have your heart seriously set on murder cases, there are always crime scene investigators and federal analysts. I’m not positive on what their certification process is like, but based on some of my colleagues’ behavior, they wouldn’t have passed any sort of physical!”

“That makes a lot of sense! I’d love to go that avenue, but I can’t afford the schooling it’d take…” Daphne gave Oswald a wry look. “Hold on, were you planning on offering me some sort of scholarship?”

Oswald’s expression grew pleasantly prideful. “Great deduction! See, you’ll be fantastic in this vocation!”

Daphne cried out, “Yay!” 

She did a merry jig, and when Heathrow joined in, she danced with him. Lionel and Nick mimicked that move, and Oswald fondly tittered at their celebratory antics. Once their fervor ebbed slightly genially stated, “I’ll have Henry sned over the necessary forms. I would recommend an online course so you can continue your studies while you return to Vegoz for a visit.”

“Visit? Oh, right! I’ve got to go home! But Aunt Mae’s home blew here! Where are we gonna go? And my friends- Jack, Ray, and Bert! I gotta see if they’re alright! What if we’ve all lost our home?” Daphne fretted.

“Darling, home isn’t a place- it’s a feeling!” Oswald sagely articulated. “As long as you’ve got your loved ones around, you’re home! Whether you choose to reside in Kansas, California or you wind up roosting here, you’ll be surrounded by love and support, and you’ll be home!” Everyone appreciatively drank in his words, and then Oswald offered, “If you’d like to leave, I’ll take you back myself! I’ve been meaning to return Morgan’s balloon anyhow!”

Heathrow puzzled, “If you can’t do real spells, how did you get a balloon to last so long?”

Lionel relayed to him, “I’m assuming he means a hot-air balloon.” He paused and then wondered, “Don’t you?”

Oswald confirmed, “Indeed! That’s where the inspiration for the Emerald Angel stemmed from- everyone was amazed that I flew in!” They all guffawed at that, and Tater let out a happy meow. “What is your wish? A yummy fish?” He opened up a mini fridge and tossed the cat a piece of salmon. As Tater devoured that morsel, Oswald remarked, “And all is well! Nothing else shall go wrong!”

In the courtyard of  Emerald City’s Center, Daphne held Tater inside of a basket below a large, green, inflated structure. She stood beside Oswald, who spoke to all of his employees whom had gathered, “Don’t worry yourselves too much! I shall return one day soon! During my absence, I decree that these three will rule in my stead: Heathrow for his superior brain, Lionel for his outstanding bravery, and Nick for his extensive legal background.” Some of the staff politely clapped, but many began to murmur in confusion. The three named men awkwardly stood before them, and Oswald, seemingly oblivious to all of this, carried on, “Treat them as you would myself! Now, I bid you adieu!”

Tater espied another cricket, so he hopped out of Daphne’s grasp and pursued the insect. “Tater, no!” Daphne hopped out of the basket and swiftly retrieved her animal. When she turned back to the balloon, she was horrified to see it ascending into the air! “Come back! Come back!” Daphne beseeched him.

“I can’t! I don’t know how it works!” Oswald shouted.

“What? Then how on Earth were you gonna get me home?” Daphne challenged him. He merely shrugged ash he drifted away, and Daphne commented, “Wow! I’m really glad I missed that opportunity! Oh, but how will I get home now? I don’t have the money to take a plane!”

Nick proposed, “I’ll get you back to California! … Eventually! Apparently, I’m partially in charge of this joint going forward! How’s that gonna work? I gotta go back to my job tomorrow…”

Henry inquired, “How are you three gonna fulfill the Emerald Angel’s duties? You don’t even have any powers!”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna be an issue…” Lionel replied.

“How’s that possible?” Henry shot back.

Lionel didn’t know what to say, but luckily for him, he didn’t have to create any sort of excuse! Heathrow pointed to a speck in the sky, and he announced, “Look! There’s someone who can help us!”

The blue speck gently floated down to the ground, and Sapphire appeared! Charlie gasped, “Lawksamercy me! Is that the Blue Angel?”

“Yes! And she’s the only Angel of Vegoz right now!” Daphne conveyed to him.

“For a short period, I am. I’ve seen plenty of angels come and go from here- trust me, I won’t be alone for long!” Sapphire addressed the crowd. “Anyways, Oswald may be gone, in every sense of the term, for a lengthy stretch, so I’m gonna take over this operation. Unless you fellas would rather do it…?” Nick, Heathrow, and Lionel all vehemently shook their heads. “Sweet! I can finally stay in Summerland without all that hassle! Okay, so what’s the first order of business?”

Nick requested, “Can you get me some transportation so I can take her home?”

Sapphire declined, “I don’t need to. She has the means to travel right there!” She indicated to the Carmine Clogs on Daphne’s feet.

“WHAT?” Daphne roared. “You mean this whole time I could have magicked myself out of here?”

“Technically. But if you had done that, you would’ve missed out on all you’ve gained this city,” Sapphire countered.

Daphne mulld that notion over, and she concluded, “Yeah, I suppose so! I wouldn’t have met my new best friends, and I wouldn’t have found my found my true purpose! I could’ve done without the whole getting kidnapped thing though!”

Nick reckoned, “I guess this is goodbye then!”

“Only for now! I’ll be back! And I can take down your number to…” She pulled out her busted cellphone and instantly changed her tune, “I’ll get a not-broken one in Kansas, and…”

“Here’s my number.” Nick handed her a business card. “Call me as soon as you can!” After Daphne stowed away his info, they gave each other a kiss.

Heathrow let her know, “We’ll miss ya, Daphne!”

Lionel concurred, “We will! Thanks for everything!”

“I love you guys!” She embraced them all, and once they parted, she notified Sapphire, “I’m ready!”

“Tap the Carmine Clogs together three times and say, ‘There’s no place like home!’” Sapphire instructed.

Daphne heeded her advice, and sooner than she anticipated, she and Tater were drifting through a swirling vortex. Flashes of her stint in this town played back to her, and suddenly, it all disappeared!

Quite alleviated, Aunt Mae proclaimed, “She’s awake!”

“How did the house get back from Vegoz?” Daphne pondered. “Did your insurance have it towed?”

“Boy! You can hardly tell you got hit in the skull!” Aunt Mae kidded. Daphne still seemed addled, so she clarified, “You were dreaming, kiddo!”

Daphne disagreed, “It wasn’t a dream! I got captured by pigeons and battled a fallen angel! … I can see what you were saying! Maybe I was dreaming!”

Jack canvassed her, “Was I in your dream?”

Ray echoed, “How about me?”

“Or me?” Bert tacked onto that chain.

“No…” Daphne glanced behind her, and Professor Frank poked his head in. “You were there though!”

Professor Frank blinked in surprise. “I was where? Sorry, I just came to see if you were alright after walking home in that storm!”

Daphne reported, “I’m fine! I had this really strange vision though! Your cousin was gonna take me home in a green balloon!”

“Oh no! He better not have! That’s how he wound up getting lost!” Professor Frank darted off.

“Wait, was that really a hallucination then…?” Daphne pensively glimpsed at the ceiling.

Aunt Mae comfortingly pat her purple footwear. “Get some rest! You’ve been through a lot!” The maintenance men vacated the room, and Aunt Mae paused prior to her departure. “Ooh! Where did you get those new shoes?”

Daphne sat up and was shocked to discover, sitting in her closet, the Carmine Clogs! With a wide smirk, Daphne affirmed, “Over the rainbow…”

The End

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 14

Daphne, Nick, Tater, Lionel, and Heathrow all stood before the jade fence. Heathrow gave it a loud knock, and they waited patiently for someone to respond. After a minute or so, Charlie poked his head out of the small window above the knob, and he nearly jumped from the shock he received from the sight of them. “My word! You’re still alive?”

“Yeah! We’re just as surprised about that as you are!” Nick remarked.

“I bet! Speaking of bets… Hey, Henry! I owe you twenty bucks!” Charlie ducked back down, and the front entrance swung open.

Heathrow queried, “Did he bet that we would…?”

Daphne recommended, “Don’t look too much into it! Let’s keep our focus on getting in and out so we can all go home!” She mulled over that sentence, and then she apologized to Heathrow, “Oh, right! Sorry!”

“You must be excited to go back home to Kansas, California!” Lionel supposed.

“Sure…” Daphne’s stomach lurched at that notion.

Nick probed, “That is what you’re wishing for, isn’t it?” He gazed at her with hopeful eyes, and she couldn’t give him a reply. She visually scanned over her companions and then all of the friendly employees of the Emerald City’s Center, and suddenly, she didn’t feel so certain about anything! All that she wanted was to get a dangerous killer off of the streets, and now that she had done that, she realized that she was jobless and directionless again. She possessed a purpose during her stint here, and since her quest came to an end, she would return to exactly where she was in the beginning! Her newly acquired acquaintances and the harrowing journey she endured changed her though, and at the present moment, she didn’t know where she wanted to go from here…

The five travelers approached the stage with far less apprehension than their previous visit. Heathrow called out, “Your excellency! We’re back!” A brief pause ensued, and Heathrow beseeched him, “Aw, come on! Don’t make me go near the fire again! I’ve had enough of that today!”

Without the theatrics in this instance, the Emerald Angel manifested onto the platform. “Why have you come back so soon? Didn’t I tell you that you couldn’t do that until you had the Ochre Angel’s cellphone?”

“You didn’t say we couldn’t come back without it!” Nick contended. “You simply said we wouldn’t prove we were worthy of getting your gifts without it!”

“Do not play semantics with me!” the Emerald Angel roared. “I set my terms, and you did not follow them! Whatever reason you entered my quarters is moot! I’m denying your requests, and-!”

Daphne held up Whitney’s cellphone and differed with him, “But we did get her cellphone!”

The Emerald Angel’s eyes widened upon this revelation. “Is that…? Did you…? You really got it, huh?”

“Yup! But, then again, you already knew that, right?” Daphne glimpsed at him suspiciously. “You told us you know everything!”

“Do not question my prowess!” the Emerald Angel bellowed. “Your colleague’s quarrel merely confused my perception.”

Lionel petitioned the Emerald Angel, “So, you’re gonna grant our wishes now, correct? Cool! I’m so excited! There’s a tournament I wanna register for, so I’m ready to get my courage now!” He did a few boxing moves in anticipation of this occurrence.

The Emerald Angel austerely announced, “The matter requires further contemplation! Come again in the twenty-four hours!”

After a collective outburst from everyone as they drank in this bitter disappointment, Daphne vociferated, “Twenty-four hours? That wasn’t part of your terms! You said we’d get our wishes after we brought you the cellphone!”

“Don’t argue with me, chippy!” the Emerald Angel grumbled. “Twenty-four hours is still after you brought the cellphone in, isn’t it? You’re lucky I don’t force you to wait longer than that! This is a complicated situation, and it requires more deliberation!”

“What’s left to deliberate?” Daphne shot back. “You mandated us to get this device from her, and we did! Now, it’s your turn to hold up to your part of the bargain!”

The Emerald Angel huffed, “And I shall! Provided that I can authenticate your claim…”

Daphne held up the phone closer to him and persisted, “Go ahead and study it! You’ll see that we’re telling the truth!”

“Don’t get sore with me!” the Emerald Angel snapped. “Don’t you understand that most of my beneficiaries have gone through months of processing and vetting? You guys are total strangers to us, and yet we allowed you onto the premises and gave audience to your requests! Regardless of how long I have you wait, you’ll still receive your wishes faster than all of my other clients!”

“And we’ve also done more than all of your other clients!” Daphne disputed. Tater began chasing a cricket as she spoke, but she ignored him. “How many of your clients had to battle a fallen angel to get their wish granted?”

The Emerald Angel bickered, “Excuse me, but everyone is fighting a battle in their own way- do not seek to diminish what they’ve been through!”

Daphne refuted that argument, “I’m not diminishing their experiences, but we nearly lost our lives on a venture you convinced us to go through! I’m sure others have been through extraordinary hardships too, but ours stemmed from circumstances that you created! It’s not like we were like, ‘Oh, battling an evil being with supernatural abilities- that’ll be a laugh!’”

“Well, I kinda did until, you know, the whole near-death escapade!” Heathrow interjected.

“That ordeal scared the bejesus out of me!” Lionel put in. “I did it ‘cause I thought it meant something to you, but apparently, I was fooling myself!”

The Emerald Angel eyeballed Tater nervously as his bug-hunting grew closer to the curtained area on the right, and he assured his human visitors, “I’m not belittling anything you’ve done! You just don’t seem to understand that I can’t solely rely on a person’s claim! I will consider your story, but if I don’t have the evidence to back it up, how am I supposed to accept it as truth?”

Daphne pushed the cellphone closer to him, and she asserted, “All you need to do is inspect the property we’ve brought you, and you’ll see that we weren’t lying! None of us are good enough techies to have faked something like this! Come on!”

“Leave it on the steps, and I’ll take a gander later,” the Emerald Angel directed her. 

“Why can’t you do it now?” Daphne challenged him. “It doesn’t seem like you have any appointments any time soon, and it’ll only take a minute!”

The Emerald Angel offered, “Why don’t you return to the beauty salon and finish your makeovers? You must be tense after such a grueling episode, so relax! Soothe your aching muscles and jangled nerves as you soak in the luxury! Then, go out and properly celebrate your victory! We can provide beds if you’d like! Then, after a decent recovery, you will be able to come back and fully enjoy the next chapter of your life!”

Daphne declined, “I don’t need any more spa treatments! I need you to take this cellphone and give us our requests!”

“How long does it take for a feline to catch its prey?” the Emerald Angel posed to them as Tater remained in hot pursuit by the curtains.

“You’re changing the subject!” Nick observed. “Why won’t you take the cellphone from her?’

The Emerald Angel folded his arms in defiance. “Because I do things on my own accord!”

Heathrow suggested, “Well, then grab it and do it in whatever fashion you choose!”

The Emerald Angel still refused, so Lionel chimed in, “Dude, you’re making this more complicated than it needs to be!”

“Did you seriously call me dude?” the Emerald Angel scoffed.

“Sir! Your honor! Your majesty! Whatever you like to be called, take the freakin’ phone!” Nick demanded.

The four people erupted in a chorus of clamoring for him to obtain the device, and he got so taken aback by this that he didn’t notice the insect deciding to roost on the curtain. Tater hopped onto the curtain, and to his alarm, he knocked the entire structure down! As he zoomed away from the fright, the contents once hidden revealed themselves. Daphne and the others expected to find old furniture or unused equipment, but what they didn’t expect to find was…

An elderly gentleman with wispy, white hair and bright, green eyes stood at a small table with a laptop on it! He looked very startled and very familiar to Daphne! Other than avoiding eye contact with everyone, he didn’t seem to know what to do, and eventually, he decided to speak into his headset. At precisely the same juncture, the Emerald Angel commanded, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

“Okay!” Heathrow very willingly obliged. Nick swiveled him back to facing the elderly gentleman, and his brows furrowed. “Huh? Who are you?”

“He’s a fraud!” Daphne alleged.

The Emerald Angel stood firm, “I am no fraud! I’m the great, the powerful, the legendary…” The elderly gentleman realized the futility of his grandstanding, so he lamely finished, “Emerald Angel of Vegoz.”

Lionel questioned, “So, are you holding the real Emerald Angel of Vegoz captive somewhere, or…?”

“No, no, no! I may have engaged in a bit of deception, but I’m no criminal!” the elderly gentleman defended himself.

“How do you make time for this deception between teaching college classes and heading the anthropology department of USCK?” Daphne interrogated him.

The elderly gentleman informed her, “You must be thinking of my cousin, Professor Morgan Frank. I’m the reason Almira took a position there! Of course, she had no clue about my true nature- she was using him as leverage for me to not interfere with her activities on the East Side. I got the impression that she was beginning to view this practice as pointless, which is partially why Whitney decided to off her. I could never prove that though, which is why I wanted you to retrieve the cellphone…”

Nick vehemently exclaimed, “You’re not getting it now! Not only are you a terrible person for tricking everybody, but you’re not even a real angel! You can’t do anythin to help anyone, so-!”

“My boy, you have me all wrong! I haven’t been honest, but it was all for a great cause! I couldn’t stand by and witness all of the suffering of the world, and it occurred to me just how many people could solve each other’s problems simply by connecting with one another. Take the Hickory family that I recently met with- so many hungry individuals come to me begging for food, and the Hickory family came to me begging for assistance in their efforts to feed hungry individuals! I aimed to make a business out of this concept, but no investors showed interest in financing Oswald Frank’s idea. I invented the Emerald Angel character, and all of a sudden, I had everyone’s respect! They even dropped the Oswald part- I was simply the Emerald Angel, a powerful divinity! I’ve lost count of all of the philanthropic feats that the ‘Emerald Angel’ has pulled off! The ‘magic’ is staged, and the stories about his accomplishments are phony, but isn’t it worth it to help so many individuals out?” Oswald entreated them.

“Maybe for everyone else, but you can’t help us out!” Daphne morosely articulated. “That’s why you sent us on that mission, huh? You were hoping it’d be too impossible for us to pull off!”

Oswald refuted, “Actually, I have a higher purpose for that. You see,, I may not possess paranormal gifts, but I have an advanced knowledge of technology. In my crusade to go beyond our depth of understanding of the universe, I accidentally invented a gadget to communicate with the Heavens! They watched the cyclone that killed the Crimson Angel, but they could not prove that Whitney purposely got her sister annihilated. I hoped that getting a hold of this would show some admission of guilt so that the Heavens would strip her of her powers. I seems more important than ever at the present- who knows what would transpire if someone removed Whitney’s shackles!”

Daphne hesitated. “That is a wonderful cause, but we went through a lot to obtain this, and we won’t get anything out of it except for the satisfaction of doing the right thing! Which is fine and all, but still!”

“You want your wishes?” Oswald surmised. “Listen, just because I can’t do magic doesn’t mean I can’t make magical stuff occur…”

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 13

“You!” Whitney ogled Heathrow, Lionel, and Nick in an outraged shock. “How did you get in here?”

“Through the door..” Heathrow gazed at her like she lot her marbles.

Whitney let out a noise of annoyance, and then Nick smirked as he asked her, “Surprised we outsmarted you, huh?”

After letting out a derisive laugh, Whitney answered, “Oh, please! You didn’t outsmart me! I saw the guards’ uniforms down the hall, and it dosn’t surprise me you could best those idiots! What I wanna know is how you found this place after I cast a confusion spell on you!”

“Oh, you were right, Nick!” Lionel lauded him.

“What? You’re not gonna tell me?” Whitney questioned.

Daphne responded, “Why would they do anything to help you?”

Heathrow concurred, “Yeah! Why would we help out a dirty, old witch?”

“Witch? No! I’m a fallen angel, you nitwit!” Whitney snapped.

“You’re real evil, you cast spells, and you fly through the sky… Why am I a nitwit for assuming she’s a witch?” Heathrow wondered.

Nick assured him, “You’re not! She’s just being mean ‘cause she knows she’s about to loe this battle!”

Whitney cackled at that concept, “You? I have supernatural powers, and you’re cornered! The odds are in my favor!”

“It sounds like some of that confusion spell blew back to you!” Daphne bantered.

“Ugh! That’s it! We’re finishing this now!” Whitney raised her hand to strike, and without hesitation, Lionel punched her in the forehead! While Whitney absorbed this pain, Daphne grabbed Lionel’s wrist and pulled him into the fire exit with the others.

As they descended the staircase, Lionel queried, “She doesn’t count as a woman, does she?”

Daphne commended him, “No, you can hit her! And you did hit her! Quite well too!”

“It felt great!” Lionel celebrated. “I’ve been so scared to get back into the boxing ring, but I-!”

“Let’s get done escaping before we start patting ourselves on the back!” Nick advised.

Daphne confidently stated, “I’m sure we’ll be fine! I didn’t see anyone guarding the emergency exits!” She opened the entryway to the outside, and she beheld a bunch of pigeons waiting for them! She slammed the door shut and then stated, “Nope! Not doing that again!”

Heathrow urged them, “Come on! Let’s go out the main way! We’ll be fine as long as-!”

“Attention, personnel!” Whitney’s voice boomed throughout the building. “We have a code orange! All hands on deck!”

“Oh, fudge!” Heathrow lamented.

The five travelers dashed through the residence, but when they espied a group of guards towards them, they bolted in another direction. More o them streamed in, so they ran upstairs. People started emerging from their domiciles, so they made a bid for the rooftop. That terrace had more birds, so they hurried tot he laundry room. There wasn’t anyone in there but there also wasn’t a route for their departure! They huddled in the corner, and Nick shakily articulated, “We’re gonna be alright! We can find a solution! It’s not totally hopeless!”

Lionel apprehensively eyeballed the guards that encompassed them, and he conjectured, “Maybe one of us will come back as an arc angel so our side can come back and kick her-!”

“Ah-ha! I’ve got you surrounded!” Whitney trumpeted.

“Yeah, duh!” Daphne shot back.

Whitney put her hands on her hips and probed, “Can we skip the whole heroic last-stand thing? I’ve got other stuff to do besides deal with you!” She pulled her cellphone from her pocket and groaned, “Drats! I’m gonna be late!”

Daphne scoffed, “Really? You could magick someone into oblivion simply for looking at you funny, and you’re worried about tardiness? Who is this you’re late for? Do you actually have a date?”

“I’m late to ambush someone heading home from work! You’re not the only enemies I have, you know!” Whitney folded her arms in a huff.

“I could see her getting dates…” Nick remarked.

Whitney approved of his assertion, “Thank you!”

Daphne reacted in startlement, “You can?”

“Yeah… she’d have to threaten them, but they’d do it!” Nick joked.

“Hey!” Whitney barked as her captives giggled.

Heathrow sincerely offered her solace, “Aw, it’s alright! I’ve gone through periods of time where I don’t have anyone who likes me too!”

Whitney became aghast at that statement. “Don’t put me on your level! I’m wealthy, admired, and very popular!”

“Uh, you only got one out of three right!” Lionel kidded, which made the others guffaw.

“Shut your traps!” Whitney roared.

Daphne interrogated her, “Is that why you killed your sister? People liked her better than you?”

Whitney growled, “That’s it! We end this claptrap now!” She grabbed a broom from a set of cleaning supplies close to her, and then she commanded “Nimmie, hand me your lighter!”

“I don’t have it, ma’am!” Nimmie came forward wearing a garbage bag and nothing else, which made even her colleagues snicker.

“What on Earth are you wearing?” Whitney incredulously inquired.

Nimmie irately replied, “Someone stole my clothes!”

Nick told her, “Don’t look at me! I had enough of seeing you clothesless! I’m the one who insisted on covering you up!”

Half amused, half bewildered, Daphne canvassed Nick, “You were two were an item, huh?”

“Unfortunately! But fortunately, I broke it off prior to her stint with the Ochre Angel!” He glanced over to Daphne and added, “Actually, I’m glad I broke it off period…”

“Nimmie, you said you dumped him!” Zeb asserted while he and Rak showed up in their underwear.

The entire room cracked up at this spectacle, and preceding Nimmie responding to that topic, Whitney regained control of the room, “Enough! You three, go home and change! Someone else who smokes hand me your lighter!”

Somebody enquired, “Can’t you just do a hex to produce a flame?”

“Who dared to utter such impertinence?” Whitney demanded to all of her employees. No one confessed, but someone else produced a set of matches. “Thank you!” She snatched them from their grasp, and as she lit a matchstick, she aimed one of her palms at a sprinkler head. Her jinx contained the water that flowed out close to the ceiling, and the crew murmured in understanding of her actions. “Now then, you’re about to get… fired!” Her staff cheered, so she yelled, “Not you!” Most of her employees emitted a very audible sigh of disappointment.

“Woah, careful where you point that!” Heathrow requested with very wide eyes. “I’m highly flammable, you know!”

Whitney wryly stated, “Sounds like I need to get you hot first!”

Heathrow declined, “Nah! I’d rather burn to death!”

After releasing a horrible howl, Whitney moed the broom towards Heathrow. Lionel and Nick shielded him, but Daphne spotted a janitorial bucket in the cleaning supplies, seized it, and hurled its contents at Whitney’s torch. There was a lot of water inside, and much of it landed on Whitney’s visage, which caused her to let out an ear-splitting screech! She dropped the broomstick, and Lionel immediately put it under the freely flowing sprinkler. Everyone else curiously peered at Whitney, who had her hands hiding her front…

“You cursed brat!” Whitney bellowed. “Do you see what you’ve done?”

“No! Can you show me?” Daphne entreated her.

She wailed, “I’m melting! Melting! Melting!” She sunk to the floor, and…

After a minute or two of watching her inactivity, the collective began to exchange whispers of leeriness. Eventually, Daphne broke the silence, “So, are fallen angels water soluble, or…?”

“She doesn’t seem like she is!” Heathrow attempted to moee one of her hands, but Whitney instantly snapped it back into place. “Why, you’re not melted at all!” Heathrow esteemed.

“You’re dead fo this!” Whitney snarled.

Heathrow chuckled, “Gosh! She’s all kinds of mixed up!”

Nick grabbed her arms, and she kept her hair low enough on her face to keep it concealed as he pulled a pair of manacles out of his pocket. “You carry around handcuffs on your off days?” Daphne catechized.

“Yeah!” Nick confirmed. “Just in case…”

“In case you have to arrest someone!” Heathrow finished his sentence.

With shifty eyes, Nick responded, “Sure…” Daphne blushed, Lionel grinned, and Heathrow appeared confused.

Lionel asserted, “Okay, I gotta know what she’s hiding!” He reached out to brush her hair back, and she tried to bite him! She wasn’t successful in her endeavo, and, in fact, she created worse circumstances for herself…

“What happened to your looks?” a male guard gasped.

“Wow! You wore a lot of makeup before!” a female guard observed.

The masses all caught a glimpse of her altered image and became overwhelmed in astonishment. The dark beauty she once possessed had vanished, and she now resembled a much different person! Her chin was sharper, her noe was lopsided, and her skin was overtly pop-marked! The color in her cheeks was gone, and she developed circles so dark that it nearly meatched her hair! The congregation hooted in amusement, and Whitney’s scowl became more and more pronounced. “Go ahead- have your fun!” she yelled. The mirth intensified after that statement, and she grumped, “Oh, come on! It isn’t that hilarious!”

Daphne affirmed, “Hey, so I was correct in guessing that you killed your sister ‘cause she’s prettier than you!”

“Oh, please!” Whitney disagreed. “Almira’s lucky she had a house covering her ugly mug when she died!”

“Whitney Hamilton, you’re under arrest!” Nick proudly proclaimed.

With a defiant expression, Whitney argued, “You think so, huh? You’re the ones who broke into my territory! I have a legal justification for what I do to trespassers onto my land! Plus, you assaulted me and destroyed some of my property!”

Lionel contended, “Woah, woah, woah! It’s not our fault you used such cheap material for their uniforms!”

“I doubt the courts will care about any petty misdemeanors when you committed a major felony!” Daphne articulated.

“Excuse me, I never admitted to any murders! You just keep bringing up that theory!” Whitney spat.

Daphne differed, “Uh, I was talking about kidnapping me!”

Whitney insolently claimed, “Those pigeons did that on their own!” Nobody in the lot shared her enthusiasm for that hypothesis.

“Oh my goodness! It sounds like she’ll be in prison for a long time!” Rak excitedly realized. “That means we’ll be free of her! Free! Free at last!” All of the guards burst into jubilation.

“Why don’t you call the police station now?” Nick suggested.

Daphne petitioned the gaggle, “Hold on! Can we grab her cellphone first?”

Zeb reached into Whitney’s pocket and handed her the device. “Please, take it with you! And no hard feelings about the whole hunting you down thing, right?” Nick and Nimmie gave each other sour side-eyes, so Zeb refined his sentence, “Well, at least not with most of us…”

“I don’t mind ‘cause I’m about to get a mind! Finally!” Heathrow clapped and hopped in delight.

“Oh, yeah! We can get our wishes now!” Lionel denoted.

Daphne verbalized, “Eventually! Before that, we gotta tell law enforcement our story. By the way, what is our story? We can’t give them the true reality or they’ll evaluate our sanity!”

Nick shrugged. “Let them! It’s not illegal to be crazy!” The whole space chortled at that quip. Nimmie dialed the number for the authorities, and Whitney severely glowered at their glee.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 12

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…

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 11

Whitney smiled in delight as her flock of pigeons brought in two captives. “Good work, my birdies!”

The winged creatures carried Tater over to their master, and as Daphne got dropped onto the floor, she saw this transaction take place, which prompted her to shout, “Give me back my cat!”

“You’re in no position to demand anything!” Whitney leered as she stuffed Tater into a cardboard box and closed it.

“Alright, then, what do you want? New furniture?” Daphne glanced around the room, and her face soured from bewilderment.

Whitney was affronted by that. “What? Why would you think I needed that?”

Daphne ridiculed her, “Seriously? Despite all of the power you have in this town, you choose to live in what can only be described as the Golden Girls’ attic?”

“These aren’t my living quarters, you foolish girl!” Whitney snapped. “This is just where I work out my plots with my feathered friends! Obviously, I can’t let them into my apartment or my tenants will get the idea they can keep dozens of pets in their households too! How would that be sustainable?”

“You have tenants?” Daphne questioned. “Who would wanna live with the Ochre Angel of North Vegoz?”

Whitney impatiently let her know, “They’re my employees, and before you ask who would wanna work for me, I forced them into it, you know, threatened to curse their families and stuff.” Daphne nodded in comprehension, and then Whitney shifted the conversation back to the original topic, “Now then, I’m keeping your kitty unless you give me the Carmine Clogs!”

Daphne inquired, “Why do you want them so bad? Oh they must do more than stay stuck on my feet…”

“If Sapphire didn’t tell you, then you’re not gonna find out ‘cause I’m certainly not gonna tell you!” Whitney folded her arms defiantly. “You’ll see when you hand them over to me!”

“Why would I do that?” Daphne shot back. “You’ll kill me whether I hand them over or no, so in light of that, I’d rather follow the Blue Angel’s advice and prevent you from taking them!”

Whitney seethed, “If you don’t give them to me, this box is getting tossed into a flood channel!”

Daphne objected, “You can’t do that! My cat is in there!”

“Uh, yeah! That’s the idea…” Whitney coldly responded.

“I… I can’t let you have them!” Daphne hesitantly told her.

Whitney ordered the beaked beasts, “Go ahead and drown that stupid animal!” The pigeons darted towards Daphne, so Whitney barked, “Not her, you idiots! Take the box and toss it into the flood channel!”

The fowl began to obey her command, and Daphne’s heart plummeted at the tragic premise this posed! Tater was family to her, and she couldn’t let him lose his life like that! She unwillingly relented, “No, don’t do that! You can have the shoes as long as you promise you won’t hurt him!”

“Yes, fine!” she brusquely agreed prior to diving for the red footwear. “Finally! You’re mine!” Her clutches crept closer to them, but when she fell within inches of the Carmine Clogs, they shot out a bolt of scarlet electricity! “Ouch! Oh, that can’t be right! She gave me permission to take you! You’re mine now! You have to allow me to touch you!” She made another attempt, and the shoes issued another zap! “I’m your owner now! You must bend to my will!” She made another bid for them, but the footwear repeated the same action. Daphne stifled a giggle, and Whitney growled at her, “What did you do to them?”

“Nothing! I can’t make them do anything!” She paused and then followed that with, “Can I?”

Whitney snarled, “You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you?”

Daphne asserted, “I can understand why you’d assume that, I would’ve found something like that extremely amusing! But no, I’m serious! I didn’t jinx them or anything. Actually, they even attack me if I get too near them! I could’ve mentioned that to you, but it was more fun to watch you figure it out yourself!”

“Hmm… How do I get those clogs?” Whitney wondered.

“If I had any inkling on that, would you really expect me to tell you?” Daphne snidely articulated.

Whitney let out an exasperated exhale, and then she yelled, “I wasn’t talking to you! I was thinking out loud!”

Daphne needled her, “Oh, really? Well, could you specify that next time? I wasn’t very clear…” Whitney gritted her teeth, and then she began to pace around the space. She spotted Daphne getting comfortable, and she ogled her in disbelief. Daphne very nonchalantly regarded her, “What? You expect me to be cowering in fear right now? If you wanted to watch someone tremble from terror, you would’ve been better off kidnapping Lionel instead!”

“You should be scared!” Whitney hissed. “You don’t know what I’m capable of!”

“What are you capable of? Murder?” Daphne grilled her. “Have you killed before?” Whitney chose not to reply and resumed her pensive movements, and Daphne continued to hurl enquiries at her, “Did you murder your sister? Huh? Did you get the impression that you could obtain her shoes if you annihilated her? Or did simply wanna take over her territory? Oh, maybe you just got jealous of her…”

Whitney paused her pursuit as she doubtfully acknowledged her assertion, “Really? Why would I be envious of her? I have far more power and influence than that so-called professor ever had!”

Daphne sort of smirked at her slight against Almira. “If she showed as much compassion towards her students as she did the staff around her, I wouldn’t doubt that statement! However, her teaching ability evidently isn’t something you covet much, but there could have been other things! Like… Well, maybe you thought she was prettier than you..”

“Ha! That’s ridiculous! That dog was not prettier than me!” Whitney argued. 

“I guess we’ll never learn the truth since you made her disappear!” Daphne retorted.

Whitney refuted that allegation, “I wouldn’t assassinate Almira over something so superficial!”

Daphne probed, “Then what would you assassinate her over?”

“Enough!” Whitney roared. In her fury, she gestured wildly and wound up flipping over the box Tater was held in. As soon as he got the opportunity to do so, the cat burst out like a spring and darted out the window!

“Go, Tater! Go!” Whitney encouraged him as she watched him jump off of a canopy and onto the nearby pavement. “Man, I wish this was big enough for me to copy that move!”

Whitney held her hands up in confusion. “Why did he escape? I already agreed not to hurt him!”

Daphne vocalized, “Maybe he left in case you changed your mind. I bet you did the same to your sister- did you promise that she’d stay safe so she’d get rid of her suspicions?”

“Quit interrogating me, you strumpet!” Whitney screamed. “I’m not gonna crack, so zip it!” She returned to her speculative steps, and Daphne stayed silent for a stretch. Suddenly, she ceased and declared, “I’ve got it!”

“You’re gonna execute me?” Daphne presumed.

Whitney spat, “I’m not telling you anything! You’ll discover it for yourself soon enough!”

Daphne shrugged. “Perhaps! Meanwhile, I have backup en route here, so you’ll have to contend with them soon enough!”

“Ugh! You’re right!” Whitney cringed.

“About the murder?” Daphne cheekily quizzed her.

Whitney clicked her tongue in annoyance, and then she informed her, “Do you picture me getting to where I am by being dumb? Listen, you see this timer?” She adjusted a timer in the shape of a chicken, and then she darkly conveyed to Daphne, “This is how long you have to be alive! I won’t say how, but when this goes off, you can hassle Almira about how everything went down personally!”

Whitney cackled as she left the room, and initially, Daphne stayed defiant. After a while, the reality of the situation hit her. She was all alone up there! Tater fled, and her three other companions were getting subjected to whatever depravity Whitney had in store for them. She was completely by herself in there, and the next instance she would have another soul in her presence would likely stem from the onset of her demise! She had no manner in which to escape either! She felt so helpless, and she berated herself for beckoning this fate to her direction! She wanted to lend innocent folks a helping hand, and instead, she evoked the termination of her lifespan! Her stomach tied itself into knots, and she wistfully cradled her knees as she contemplated it all.

“Daphne? Daphne! Where are you?” Aunt Mae’s voice sounded from Daphne’s pocket.

“I’m here, Aunt Mae!” Daphne gratefully held her busted cellphone up so she could speak into it. Her heart flooded with joy to hear a friendly ally during a juncture like this! It was a relief to have someone who could offer her comfort in her final moments, but then it occurred to her that it didn’t necessarily have to be final for her after all! She swiftly reported to her, “I’m in Vegoz, Aunt Mae! I’m being held captive by a woman who’s named Whitney Hamilton, and she’s keeping me in the Pumperdink Gulch apartments! Please call nine one one! I can’t, my phone broke during the cyclone!”

Daphne expected Aunt Mae to assure her that she would comply with her request, but no noise got emitted from her device. “Aunt Mae, do you hear me?” She got no response, and her spirits sank. She allowed her optimism to prevail as she fell under the belief that she had unearthed a method of breaking away from this deathly predicament, but alas, it appeared to have been a deceptive concept instead! Daphne desperately strove to restore her idealism once more, “Oh, Aunt Mae! Please don’t leave me! Please, come back! Please! I’m frightened!”

Whitney’s image abruptly manifested onto the monitor by her, and she mocked Daphne, “Aunt Mae, please come back!” She snickered at her cruelty, and then she sneered, “I knew all that bravado was inauthentic! Nothing gets past me! … Except the pool boy! I don’t let him go anywhere near my proximity!”

“Why?” Daphne pondered.

“Never you mind why!’ Whitney grumbled as she disappeared from the screen. Daphne couldn’t furnish any other avenues of faith or solace, so she buried her face in despair.

Whitney stirred a giant cauldron and gave it a sniff. “Ooh! It’s almost ready! If those meddling boys are convinced they can rescue that bratty tramp, they have a huge shock coming!”

Two men entered into the vicinity with pretzels and a six pack of beer, and when they beheld Whitney in the lounge, one of them assessed, “Uh, we should probably come back later!”

“Yes! Or I’ll mandate overtime with no pay!” Whitney screeched at them. They sped out, and then Whitney opened a window that faced the water park. “No person can carry on with this in their system! Enjoy!” She guffawed as the vapors floated outside.

“We’ve already been to this spot!” Nick complained.

Heathrow disagreed, “No, we haven’t! I don’t remember seeing this slide before!”

Nick pointed out, “You carved your name into it!”

“Oh, yeah!” Heathrow recalled. “So I wouldn’t forget!”

“We’re lost!” Lionel esteemed. “I don’t know how though! It’s not that large of an area, and all we had to do was go straight! How did we get so turned around?”

Heathrow concurred, “It’s strange! Even being brainless, I don’t usually get this mixed up!”

Nick catechized, “Hold on! Did we get some sort of spell cast on us?”

“Probably!” Lionel reacted nervously.

“So, what do we do now?” Heathrow canvassed them.

Heathrow and Nick motioned in a fashion that indicated their dubiousness. All of a sudden, Tater entered into their scope! “Tater! Where did you come from?” Nick addressed him. Tater swiveled around and craned his neck back, so Nick determined, “I think he wants us to follow him!” Heathrow and Lionel obliged, and the three of them tailed the feline.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 10

A bus with old signage that depicted a cougar’s silhouette with the phrase, “Passage of Urban Masses Association,” on it pulled up to a battered and dingy stop, and Heathrow got off with a happy sigh, “Oh! That was refreshing!”

As Nick and Daphne dragged Lionel out of the coach, Nick muttered, “Speak for yourself!”

“What? You didn’t enjoy that?” Heathrow puzzled.

“There was nowhere to sit, it smelled funky, and strange people were staring at us like we were strange!” Daphne complained.

Lionel shrugged. “That’s the PUMA bus for ya! Like it or leave it!”

Nick exclaimed, “Leave it! Always leave it!”

“Oh, come on! It wasn’t perfect but at least it was a ride!” Heathrow debated them. “So, we had to deal with a few minor discomforts! It beats walking, don’t it?”

“Only ‘cause time is of the essence here!” Daphne argued. “I took the bus passes from Henry so we could get this mission done and over with, and it was our only real option! I don’t know why no one could’ve given us a ride!”

Lionel illuminated her, “Well, no one wants to go into Mangaboo’s Baum willingly! Including me! Personally, I’m used to taking public transit… Why didn’t you leave me on the bus all day instead of bringing me here?”

Nick dryly responded, “That’s a stupid question! Okay, how do we get to Mangaboo’s Baum?”

“You don’t know where it is? I thought law enforcement has a good layout of the city they work in!” Daphne remarked.

“I told you no one ever goes in there!” Lionel emphatically pointed out.

Nick disagreed, “It’s not that I was scared! Remember, fear is an emotion, and I don’t have any of those!” Daphne rolled her eyes at that claim. “It’s just that nobody enters onto the property, therefore, there are never any crimes to solve in that area. Well, now we have a case to untangle there, so it makes sense to go in. It’s a new experience, but I’m not nervous at all!” After he said that, his hands were visibly shaking.

Heathrow relayed to them, “Oh, it’s real easy to get there! You simply turn onto Mangaboo’s Baum Boulevard, and it takes you all the way down there!” He indicated to a side street a short distance away.

Nick seemed abashed by the obvious solution he missed, and Daphne inquired to Heathrow, “Have you been here before?”

“Yeah, once! And I vowed never to come back again!” Heathrow casually mentioned.

“Well, let me help you honor that vow!” Lionel grabbed Heathrow’s arm and tried to drag him away.

Daphne pulled Heathrow’s limb out of Lionel’s grip, and Nick advised him, “Your fears will only get worse if you don’t deal with them immediately!”

Lionel acknowledged, “You’re probably right! Okay, let’s go!” The other three people as well as Tater forged ahead, but Lionel stood in a frozen stance. Daphne and Heathrow linked elbows with him, and they headed away from that site.

At the end of an avenue full of aged and mostly unkempt homes, they beheld several towering slides with faded paint and rusty parts. It was surrounded by a lanky iron fence with a gate that had a banner which had become warped and barely legible. “Mugaboo’s Baum Water Pork?” Daphne’s brows furrowed from perplexity.

“Water park,” Nick clarified for her. “It used to be a very hip spot, but after a few lawsuits were filed, they closed the joint down. They turned the corporate office into an apartment complex, but they still haven’t done anything with the rest of it.”

“Pumperdink Gulch is in the back section. Explain again why it makes sense to go through the front,” Heathrow requested. 

Daphne queried, “Don’t you think Whitney will expect us to go that route?” Heathrow opened his mouth to speak, but Daphne cut him off, “I know, I know! You don’t think! But can you imagine all of the safeguards she’d have at the entryway to her lair?”

Lionel read from a sign near the knobs, “I’d turn back if I were you!” Before he could budge an inch, Nick and Daphne clasped his forearms, which made Lionel pout.

“How do we get in?” Daphne wondered.

“I’m gonna hold onto the door handle and push my weight into it. That lock looks pretty ancient, so it shouldn’t be too hard to bust it!” Nick clutched onto the latch, and he twisted it as he butted the entryway with all of his might. It was apparently unlocked since he nearly fell into the park’s grounds! “They didn’t secure the premises- I didn’t see that coming!”

Daphne gestured in a manner that conveyed to Lionel that he should enter, and Lionel feigned a courteous bow to her. “Ladies first!”

With a smirk, Daphne told him, “Yeah, right!” She nudged him in, and Heathrow shut the door behind them. The thud it created caused everyone to pause, and Daphne somewhat apprehensively articulated, “Wow! This is it! We’re really doing this! I mean, I knew we were going here all along, but now it just feels so… real!”

“Well, what are we waiting for? The Ochre Angel to come find us?” Heathrow laughed at his quip, but he quickly realized that he was alone in that sentiment. He glanced at their faces, and even Tater’s expression bore a note of distaste for that humor! He apologized, “Sorry! No brain, remember?”

“Uh-huh!” Daphne tersely reacted as they began to explore the territory. She surveyed the space, and it really struck her to see how untouched the expanse appeared. It was as though somebody had placed them in a time capsule from two decades ago! It also had more square footage than she anticipated, which prompted her to ask, “This is a lot of land! How is it that not a single soul ever tried to use it?”

Heathrow answered her, “Oh, it’s probably ‘cause of all the ghosts!”

Nick raised an eyebrow at that concept. “Ghosts? Seriously?”

“No, it’s true!” Lionel put in. “I’ve heard Mugaboo’s Baum is super haunted! It’s like when the living left, the dead took over it!”

“What a bunch of bunk!” Nick scoffed. “How could you say it’s true when you’ve only heard it? If it were actually true, you would give me a reason to know it!”

Lionel posed to him, “You don’t believe in ghosts, Nick?”

Nick asserted, “Oh, please! I’ve been around a bunch of bodies, and I didn’t see any evidence that their spirits were still around! If someone’s essence does return to the planet, they do it as Earth Angels. You can see how rarely that happens, it’s not like Vegoz is brimming with them! Gosh, it’d be nice if more of them did so they could take care of this whole mess!”

“I dunno… I’m pretty positive that not all of the individuals that go over the rainbow and back can get to their bodies!” Lionel opined. “There are probably loads of them around! And they’d have nothing better to do than bother all of the humans who are still alive!”

“Bunk!” Nick disputed. “There’s no such thing as ghosts!”

All of a sudden, something picked Nick up by his shoulders! He got suspended in the air for a minute, and he was too frightened to scream! He flailed his legs a little in the hopes that it would assist him in getting down, but it didn’t have an impact on the force that carried him up. Then, with an amount of abruptness equal to the juncture that elevated him, Nick’s suspension stopped and made him plummet to the floor! His companions checked on him to ensure he had not injured himself, and he jerked back into an upright position. His eyes darted in random directions, and he catechized, “What in damnation was that?”

Daphne sarcastically regarded him, “Hmm… Ghosts aren’t real, so maybe it was a pixie?”

As they resumed their trek, Lionel chanted, “I do believe in ghosts! I do, I do, I do!”

From her antiquated television, Whitney watched their frantic reactions and cackled, “Not so brave are you now, detective? A silly ‘phantom’ spooked you, and you still believe you have the guts to take me on?” She guffawed at that notion, but then she studied the screen more closely and frowned. “And yet, they haven’t given up! They’re scared, but they didn’t get scared off! That means they’ll still try to come here! Oh no! We can’t have that, can we?” She swiveled around to face her pigeons as if they would respond to her, and she took their blank visages as agreement to her sentence. She paced the room until a lightbulb went off in her head. “I’ve got it! It’s time we finish this ridiculous saga once and for all! Go get the girl! Do what you want with the others, but make sure she is unharmed.” the creatures did nothing more than blink, so she hollered, “What are you lingering for? Go! Fly, my birdies! Fly! Fly!” The entire flock took off, and she shrieked in delight as she watched them soar outside of her window.

“Maybe it was gas!” Nick theorized.

“Don’t look at me! That dragon fruit and a bit of corn were the only things I’ve eaten in a week!” Heathrow defended himself.

Nick elucidated, “No, not that kind of gas! I meant the entity that carried me up a bit ago! Maybe this facility has a natural gas leak!”

Lionel cautioned him, “Quit calling it stuff other than ghosts! “You’ll insult them and provoke them to do more!”

“So what? All they did was elevate me a tad! They don’t seem very harmful! What are they gonna do next? Spin me around and make me do the Lindy Hop?” Nick shot back.

“What’s that?” Daphne peered at the sky as she threw that question out there.

Nick ogled her in surprise. “It’s a type of dance! Like in swing music, it-!”

Daphne interrupted him, “I know what a Lindy Hop is! What I wanna know is what that is!”

She pointed to a formation moving towards them in the atmosphere. The three men did a visual examination, and Heathrow concluded, “They’re pigeons. Vegoz is full of them!”

“Typically, yeah!” Lionel focused on them with mounting trepidation forming on his profile. “These don’t seem so typical…”

Nick assessed, “They’re definitely heading straight to us! There isn’t anything here though… except for us! But birds like them wouldn’t band together to hunt humans, would they?”

As the feathered critters neared them, Daphne recommended, “Maybe we should run for cover…”

Lionel and Nick hid in a pair of tubular chutes, and Heathrow dove into a trash can and shut the lid. Daphne scooped Tater up and shielded the two of them in some topiary at precisely the best moment to do so- dozens of the winged beasts scoured the vicinity! A select number glided over the territory as if they were striving to maintain coverage in case anyone decided to flee, but most of them hovered over the sites of refuge. A few of them pecked at the surfaces above them, and Lionel denoted, “They’re not gonna hold off ‘til we come out, are they?”

“I’m guessing not!” Heathrow chimed in. “And what’ll happen if we relent to them?”

“Uh, I’d rather not find out!” Nick stated.

Daphne covered her cranium as they inched themselves to her proximity, and she urged the others, “We gotta do something! We can’t let them get us!”

The instant she voiced that, Tater defensively swiped at the beaked brutes! They were able to clutch his paws, and they dragged him out of the brush! Daphne immediately hurled herself to their level and vociferated, “Leave him alone!” She grappled onto him and attempted to pull him back, but instead, the pigeons all united and pounced on her! They hoisted her up, and Daphne cried out in terror as they carried her off the surface!

“Daphne!” Nick bellowed as he sped to save her. Lionel and Heathrow moved with swiftness too, but all of them were too late- the fowl toted her out of their reach! Nick clenched his fists and avowed, “Don’t worry, Daphne! We’re gonna rescue you!”

“You’re darn right we are!” Lionel echoed his inclination.

Heathrow pondered, “How?” Nick and Lionel signaled their cluelessness on that concept, but all three of them also demonstrated their determination to unearth a fast solution.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 9

“He’s in the room at the end of the hall,” Henry informed them. “Good luck, and God speed!”

“You mean you’re not coming with us?” Daphne inquired.

Henry replied, “I’m… gonna stay out of it! Unless your presence puts him in a good mood- then I’ll come in and take full credit for this idea!”

Nick sardonically stated, “Thanks for the vote of confidence!”

“I dunno, Nick! That didn’t sound like he had much confidence in us at all!” Heathrow opined.

“Yeah, I…!” Nick rubbed his temples in frustration. He apparently decided not to argue with him since, seconds later, he more pleasantly acknowledged him, “You’re right! Good observation!” Heathrow clapped in delight.

Daphne addressed the others, “Well guys, this is it! This is the moment we’ve been working towards all afternoon! Has it really only been a day? It felt so much longer… Anyways, everything we’ve been dreaming of is on the opposite side of this hallway! The Blue Angel wouldn’t have sent us here if anything detrimental was gonna occur to us, and our deepest wishes are about to get fulfilled, so nothing to be nervous about, right?” Henry uttered a noise of dissent, so Daphne instructed them, “Ignore him! Let’s go!”

Tater led the pack as they walked down the extensive passageway. They rounded the corner, and Daphne got relieved to lose sight of that bundle of discouragement! A large room lined with stately pillars and glistening, green walls entered into their vision, and its prominent appearance did nothing to soothe their tension! Daphne had expected something much warmer and friendlier based on his benevolent reputation, so it was somewhat disarming to behold something without an ounce of amiability! When they grew closer, they espied a colossal stage with dark curtains on both sides. Daphne assumed they would find an office much like the one she visited at the university, but it seemed as though this space had been set up in a fashion that would encourage friendly banter! Actually, it looked like his guests were supposed to visit him on that platform like peasants beseeching their king for a favor! This didn’t square with the Emerald Angel’s glowing notoriety, and Daphne found it quite disconcerting!

“Let’s turn back!” Lionel whimpered as he ogled the area with trepidation.

“What did I tell you after I revealed that we had a fallen angel after us?” Nick questioned Lionel.

Lionel responded, “I dunno! I fainted after you said that1”

Nick insisted, “Uh-huh, I know! I meant after that.”

“All great things come with great risk,” Lionel recalled. “That’s probably true! I’ve chickened out on everything I’ve ever wanted, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere! I’m not gonna chicken out this time! I’m gonna do it!” As Tater, Nick, Daphne, and Heathrow entered into that daunting room, Lionel stood still in the entryway. Daphne and Heathrow circled back, grabbed his arms, and escorted him inside.

They gingerly approached the stage under the presumption that the Emerald Angel would emerge from the back, but when no one emerged, they lingered before the dais scratching their heads. Once a minute or so had elapsed, Daphne timidly called out, “Hello?” Silence ensued, so Daphne wondered, “Did we go to the wrong spot?”

Heathrow speculated, “he must have a bell or something to alert him to people’s arrival!” He glanced around, and when he discovered nothing, he theorized, “Maybe there’s some kind of trick door or something. I’m gonna try pulling that wooden handle.” He reached for a torch holder on a pillar, and then suddenly, it lit up along with several other lights and sparks around the scaffold! Heathrow darted down immediately, and he snapped, “Careful! I’m highly flammable!”

A tall man with long, pine hair, a matching and equally lengthy beard, olive robes, and jade, feathery wings manifested onto the staging space! His sharp, juniper eyes glared at them with total mistrust, and his scowl was pronounced enough to cause all five visitors to get spooked! They stared at with frozen fright, and nobody felt bold enough to speak to him! After an extensive stretch, the figure declared, “I am the Emerald Angel of Vegoz! Why have you disturbed me in my chambers?”

“Uh… Well, you see, we have an urgent matter that we-,” Nick started to explain.

“Do not bore me with details I already know!” the Emerald Angel barked. “I merely meant why have you disturbed me when I specifically asked you to go away?”

No one knew what to say because they all feared that if they did anything to invoke his wrath, they would destroy any chance they still possessed at fulfillment of their aspirations, so everyone clammed up. Daphne noticed Tater sniffing by one of the curtains, and not wanting to provoke the Emerald Angel any further, she quickly scooped him up. In doing so, she realized that she had stepped forward from the pack. She felt as though she had gotten herself elected as a representative for the group. They couldn’t give him nothing, someone had to be the one to speak up! So, following a deep breath, Daphne articulated all she could conjure up in her mind, “Sapphire, the Blue Angel of Boulder Expressway, sent us here to seek your guidance on our battle against Whitney, so we had to act!”

The Emerald Angel grilled her, “So, you couldn’t wait for a time and date of my choosing?”

“No, we couldn’t!” Daphne affirmed. “As long as the Carmine Clogs are on my feet, the Ochre Angel will always go after me!”

“The Ochre Angel goes after a lot of people. Why should I give you preferential treatment over them?” the Emerald Angel argued. 

Daphne countered, “Hey! We’re not just here for ourselves- if we succeed, then we can make every citizen of Vegoz significantly safer!”

The Emerald Angel sneered, “If! That is a loaded word. You’re yearning to force me into providing my valuable resources on something that is far from a sure outcome!”

“Is anything in life a sure option though?” Daphne contended. “If you invest in the Hickory’s farm, you could have a fire burn up their entire acreage! I’m positive that not all of your ventures have yielded the results you wanted, but they’re all worth the risk since the outcome of success could have a considerable impact on our planet!” She paused and added, “Oh, and please help the Hickory family! They sound like lovely individuals!”

“What makes you think you are worthy of the universe bestowing triumph to you in this endeavor?” the Emerald Angel queried.

Daphne took a moment to mull that point over. “Hmm… Gosh, I have no idea! I don’t know why the universe sent a cyclone to my home and had it drop on the Crimson Angel, and I definitely don’t understand why her magical shoes placed themselves onto my feet! I can’t grasp why the universe put these three men onto my path, but it did, and that must mean something! I don’t imagine that any of that occurred on accident- the universe put us into this realm for a reason, so we’re here and ready to try and do some good for the world!”

The Emerald Angel challenged her, “What about your goal of returning home to Kansas, California? What happens to your mission if somebody were to offer you a first-class ticket back to your hometown?”

“How did you know about that?” Daphne puzzled.

“I am the Emerald Angel- I see all and know all!” he told her.

Daphne retorted, “If you see all and know all, then why do I have to tell you?”

The Emerald Angel grimaced at her sass. “I can predict the possibilities you may face, but I cannot fathom what actions you will take at each juncture!”

“Listen, if I make a promise, I keep it!” Daphne avowed.

“Huh! I suppose you would! You have no job, so you have nothing better to do!” the Emerald Angel jeered. Daphne got insulted, and he did not seem at all remorseful for his slant. “And you, Heathrow! How can you commit to this crusade?”

Heathrow stated, “Well, being homeless and all, I’ve literally got nothing to lose and everything to gain!”

The Emerald Angel scoffed, “Uh-huh! Yeah! But how do you picture yourself as being useful for this expedition?”

“Hey! I’m useful to them! Why, I…!” He considered the topic briefly, and he got crestfallen at first, but then inspiration struck him. “Oh! I know! I may not have a brain, but I have a big heart! It evens things out since this guy doesn’t have a heart at all!”

“Will you stop telling everyone that?” Nick scolded him.

The Emerald Angel accosted Nick, “And you! You’re supposed to be some kind of quick-witted intellect, and yet you don’t have a plan on how to capture the Ochre Angel!”

Nick disagreed, “That’s not accurate! The plan is for you to assist me in collecting evidence, and I’ll get a warrant for her arrest!”

“How are you gonna get a warrant when you’re not working on a legal case?” the Emerald Angel probed.

“Uhh…” Nick’s thoughts raced striving to obtain a clever comeback for that.

The Emerald Angel further prodded him, “Do you really foresee a method of entrapping a powerful fallen angel without any sort of supernatural abilities?”

Nick repeated, “Uhh…”

“How about you, Mister So-Called Fighter?” the Emerald Angel enquired to Lionel. “Do you seriously believe you can be practical in this problem when you’re too scared to engage in any kind of combat? When the final battle commences, can we count on you to pull through, or will you continue to cower like the pusillanimous poltroon you usually are?” Lionel appeared on the verge of emitting a vocalization, but after taking a sizable gulp, he fainted instead.

“Shame on you!” Daphne rebuked the Emerald Angel. She handed Tater over to Nick and then checked on Lionel’s vitals. As she went through this process, she persisted in her berating, “You scared him to death when he came to you for help! You don’t deserve the adoration this town has given you ‘cause clearly you don’t possess an iota of compassion for your fellow human beings!” Nick and Heathrow stood in awe of her audacity, but she did not view her behavior as audacious- there was simply no purpose in pretending she wanted to stay on his good side! Lionel began to stir, so she recommended to her male counterparts, “Let’s get out of here, guys! Obviously, this jerk has no interest in anything but making us seem like fools for daring to dream of making a difference!”

Prior to anyone moving an inch towards the exit, the Emerald Angel thundered, “Don’t act like such a sensitive whipper-snapper! I have every intention of granting your requests!”

A glimmer of hope sparkled in Heathrow’s eyes. “You will?”

Nick maintained more of a skeptical stance on this development. “You will? And you gave us all that guff because…?”

“I can’t assign this responsibility to just anyone! I will not get fooled into supporting charlatans!” the Emerald Angel remarked.

“Cool, cool! Could you do mine before theirs? I won’t be very productive if I wind up passing out again!” Lionel appealed to him.

The Emerald Angel filled them in, “I’m not doing anything yet! To prove you are trustworthy of my miracles, you must complete a task for me. If you want to get courage, brains, evidence, or a way home, you have to bring me the Ochre Angel’s cellphone!”

Daphne catechized, “She has a cellphone? I mean, she can hex anything she wants into existence, and she still chooses to partake in technology us mortals have to depend on to make things happen? Huh!”

“How are we supposed to get it?” Nick pondered. “She must keep something like that on her person at all times!”

“Wow! We’d have to kill her to get an object like that!” Heathrow hypothesized.

The Emerald Angel did not bat an eyelash at that concept. “Go!” he commanded.

Daphne astoundedly commented, “Really? You’re alright with that?”

“I said go!” he ordered.

“Got another house to land on her?” Nick darkly joked as they departed from the premises.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 8

Daphne petitioned the others, “Is something terrible happening, or is this just how people in Vegoz react to bad weather?”

Nick told her, “That darkness didn’t come from the clouds!”

All of the employees of the City Center streamed out of their various offices, and when they went into the courtyard, they gasped at what they saw in the air! It gave Daphne quite the spring of startlement to behold Whitney in the sky! She was in her fallen angel form, which was intimidating enough, but as she flew around the atmosphere, she was using spray paint to scribble a message! In bold, orange letters, she wrote out, “Surrender,” which prompted Lionel to raise his arms up in resignation, but Nick pushed them back down. When she finished, the communication read, “Surrender Dafney!”

While many were wincing and wailing, Daphne yelled, “Hey! That’s not how you spell my name!”

“That’s not important!” Whitney shouted from her lofty position.

“But it is!” Daphne refuted. “You’re trying to intimidate me, but it looks too silly to be scary to me!”

Whitney bellowed, “I’m not done yet! When you see the rest of the threat, you’ll become overwhelmed with fear!”

Daphne folded her arms as she expressed, “Not if your grammar continues to be atrocious!”

“Ooh! You’ll see!” Whitney seethed.

“Someone go get the Emerald Angel!” one of the salon attendants pleaded with the crowd. “The Ochre Angel is terrorizing us!”

Whitney cackled in delight to overhear the sounds of distress coming from the Emerald Angel’s staff as she wrote out, “Or else.” She addressed Daphne, “See! These folks know the consequences of daring to defy me! You’d do well to take their advice, and-!”

Prior to her having the ability to complete that sentence, an airplane flew by and smacked her! Everyone reacted in shock, and then Heathrow inquired, “Did she get hurt?”

“Heathrow, how many individuals do you know who can survive getting hit by a plane?” Daphne replied. Whitney popped back up, and Daphne had to retract her statement, “Well, I guess she can, so the answer is one.”

“Maybe only one half,” Nick kidded as everyone witnessed her flying around erratically with a glazed expression.

Whitney dizzily hollered, “Don’t think this changes anything! I’ll be back!” She was still traveling in staggered circles when the magic she evoked caused her to vanish.

The entire facility except for the five travelers were still panicking about her appearance. Daphne, Nick, and Heathrow gazed at Lionel in surprise, and he shrugged it off. “Normally, I’d be crying in the corner by now, but we’ve got the Emerald Angel here! Let her try and start something while we’re close to him!”

“If that’s true, then why are they going nuts?” Nick wondered.

“How are we supposed to go home to our families with her lurking around?” a personnel member fretted to her peers. 

Something clicked for Daphne. “Oh! That’s the purpose of that stupid stunt! I mean, it didn’t seem like a very dangerous situation with some dumb, misspelled writing above our heads, but that makes a lot of sense! She doesn’t expect me to give up willingly, she’s trying to frighten us into giving up on our mission by making us anxious about going anywhere beyond this property!”

Lionel appeared daunted by the concept initially, but then he assured himself, “Eh! I’ll get my courage from the Emerald Angel, and then I won’t get bullied into backing down!”

“Yeah! And I’ll have the brains to outsmart her!” Heathrow chimed in. “And Nick will have a heart again, so he’ll-!”

“I keep telling you I’m not here for that!” Nick corrected him. “I’m here to collect evidence to build a case against her! With her behind bars, you won’t need your brains or courage! …Well, not for that anyways!”

A jumpy worker queried, “What’ll we do?”

From the other side of the courtyard, an elevator shaft opened up, and a man in a fine, malachite suit walked out. His slicked-back, black hair and flawless, porcelain skin gave him an aura of complete poise and prestige. Daphne posed to the other three, “Is that the Emerald Angel?”

“Attention, everyone!” the man vociferated. Everyone ceased their apprehension and gave him their utmost attention. “The Emerald Angel has seen your concerns, and he wants you to know that he’s got everything under control!”

“It sounds like that’s a no!” Daphne figured out the reply to her enquiry herself. “Unless he refers to himself as a third person…”

The man went on, “He says to go about your business and that everything will be fine!”

Most of the multitude breathed a sigh of relief, and some conveyed their gratitude to him with, “Thanks, Henry!”

“Henry? You wouldn’t happen to be Henry Toto, the Emerald Angel’s assistant, would you?” Nick questioned him as the collective dispersed.

“Are you all new here?” Henry catechized.

Heathrow chirped, “Very! We didn’t even get a chance to finish our beauty treatments!”

Comprehension dawned on Henry’s visage. “Ah, you’re the group that Charley mentioned. Listen, no one just sees the Emerald Angel. He’s very busy!”

“See, I knew it!” Lionel bemoaned. “We came all this way for nothing!”

“We did not!” Daphne disagreed. “The Emerald Angel has to talk to us!”

Henry raised an eyebrow to that concept. “Oh, really? The most powerful arc angel in the world has to chat with you all, huh?”

Nick countered him, “Yes! Our goals are mutual! His help to us will help himself too! We’re not here for some selfish, petty problems!”

“Well, they’re definitely not petty…” Lionel remarked.

“Interesting!” Henry eyeballed him with intrigue. “How exactly do you plan on helping the Emerald Angel?”

Daphne informed him, “We’re attempting to collect evidence to prove she’s guilty of murder and other heinous crimes. Obviously, the Ochre Angel is a menace to your organization, so incarcerating her would benefit him as well as us and the pocket of Vegoz that he protects!”

Henry gave this notion a bit of consideration. “Okay… but many individuals have strove to attain success in this endeavor, and how successful did their ambitions actually turn out?”

“Very?” Heathrow postulated.

“What makes you believe you’re different from the rest?” Henry probed.

Lionel gestured towards the area above them as he articulated, “Would we have a fallen angel doing this if we weren’t different?”

“Yeah!” Daphne confirmed. “But if you fill out paperwork about this, don’t go by her miswrite of my name!”

“Goodness gracious! This changes everything! I’ll go discuss this with the Emerald Angel immediately!” Henry dashed back into the elevator and exited their vicinity.

The quartet cheered at their perceived victory. Lionel rejoiced, “Yay! I’m gonna get my courage after all! I suppose my fears aren’t always accurate!”

Heathrow did a merry jig as he commented, “Hurrah! I can get my brain! Huh… I wonder what they’ll do with all the straw that’s in there! Hey, Nick! What’s the Emerald Angel gonna clean out of your chest when you get your heart?”

“Nothing! How many times do I have to tell you I’m here for my legal case, not my emotional space!” Nick somewhat vexedly reminded Heathrow. “Then I can go back to my precinct with pride after getting my car stolen and getting stuck in a sewer! And Daphne can go back home with a sound peace of mind!”

“Sorta! I don’t know if I’ll have much of a home to return to since that cyclone dragged it here! Ugh! What am I gonna do? Aunt Mae was my last resort after I lost my parents!” Daphne sat on a set of steps and gazed downwards in despair.

Nick sat beside her and put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder as Tater nestled up against her legs. “So, that’s why you have an emotional support cat! I’m sorry! I had no clue that your parents died!”

Daphne redressed him, “Oh, they’re not dead! They joined a cult and they’re ‘gone,’ you know…”

“Oh! I see…” Nick glanced around as though he was searching for the proper vocabulary to utter to her.

“No, you don’t! But that’s alright! It’s a weird set of circumstances, and I wouldn’t expect you to!” Daphne reached back and patted his grip. After lingering for a second, the two of them bore awkward fronts, and then Daphne abruptly stood up and affirmed, “Hey! Let’s not let my tragic backstory put a damper on this occasion! We’re about to meet the Emerald Angel, and our wishes are about to come true!”

Tater scurried to remove himself out of the path of his four human companions who all embraced each other as they anticipated this momentous juncture. They noticed that the elevator was returning, so they eagerly anticipated Henry’s reappearance. Daphne didn’t like how stoically he presented himself- it caused her to suspect the worst possible outcome to manifest itself! They held their breaths as he approached their proximity, and then…

Henry curtly announced, “The Emerald Angel says to go away!” He swiftly turned back towards the elevator before they got a window to react to this development.

They stood there in disbelief for a stretch. No one could quite process this setback until Heathrow observed, “Go away? He can’t even say three words to us?”

“Gosh, I was so happy too!” Daphne sank back to the stoop and began bawling.

“Don’t cry, Daphne!” Nick resumed his perch beside her and offered his empathy. “It’ll be alright!”

Daphne argued, “No, it won’t! For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was doing something right! But I was wrong! Trying to solve this murder was a fool’s errand! If no one else cares about a killer roaming the streets of Vegoz, then why did I bother to make an attempt to rein them in? I should’ve just stayed by my Aunt Mae’s house and guarded it! It’s probably gone now, and it’s all my fault! Poor Aunt Mae! She was so good to me! She took me in when I needed it the most, and I couldn’t even do her the favor of protecting her property! And unfortunately, I don’t even know if I can ever tell her I’m sorry! How am I supposed to get home now?”

Once a considerable measure had elapsed, Lionel caught sight of Nick and grilled him, “Dude, you’re crying too? What happened to not having any emotions?”

“I don’t! It’s my frickin’ allergies!” Nick sprang up and swiveled around so that none of them could read his mood. “What was in Whitney’s paint thingy anyways?”

“You are too shedding tears!” Heathrow contended after they heard a very audible sniffle.

Nick very honestly relayed to them, “That wasn’t me!”

He gazed past some nearby shrubs, and the other three curiously peeked too. To their astonishment, they found Henry weeping extensively from his hiding spot! His despondent frenzy was intense enough that he didn’t bother trying to evade their scrutiny whatsoever! He simply stated, “Please quit your hopelessness! It’s unbearable! I had an Aunt Mae myself! I’ll take you to see the Emerald Angel!”

“You will?” Daphne lit up with hope, but she remained cautiously optimistic in case she misunderstood his intentions.

“I promise!” Henry swore. “As long as you don’t voice anymore heartbreak! I can’t take it!” 

Lionel warned him, “Deal! But if you’re lying to us, I’ll share my tragic backstory! Heathrow too! He’s homeless, so there’s bound to be a lot of material there!”

Henry shot up and ardently acquiesced, “No, don’t! I’ll do it, I’ll do it! Don’t reveal any of that, please! I’ll do it!”

As they awaited the elevator, Daphne wiped her eyes and nudged Nick, “Did you notice how emotions saved the day here? Not so useless, are they?”

“I’m admitting to nothing!” Nick acted in defiance.

“He doesn’t like emotions?” Henry pondered.

Heathrow griped, “He claims he doesn’t have a heart! What a ridiculous idea! Even I know that’s not possible, and I don’t have a brain! There’s only straw up there!” Henry looked skeptical about his premise, and Heathrow misinterpreted this move, “Don’t worry! The Emerald Angel will fix me up!”

Henry responded, “Perhaps! If you can convince him to cooperate, but… well… I’ll escort you to his office, but I can’t guarantee anything more than a hello!” With that grim assessment broadcasted, they stepped inside of the lift as the elevator doors opened.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 7

“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… 

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 6

In a shadowy room full of pigeons, Whitney stared at the screen of an antique television set, and she viewed something on there that made her shout, “Curses!” A flock of the birds flew up in fright, but they settled back down pretty quickly when they realized that she meant no harm. At least not to them anyways… Whitney bolted up from her faded and worn cushion seat, and she went closer to the box to gain a more advantageous perspective on the matter. “Ugh! They made it to Summerland alright! I let them get too close! They’ll make it to Oswald in no time flat!”

She growled as she held her hands in the air, and with a lot of venom behind her movement, she sent orange sparks flying across the room! The fowls evaded her advances, and her dark magic reverberated off of a mirror and zipped straight to her! She ducked, and it hit the sable stones that comprised the walls above her. The impact created a cascade of rocks that pelted her! Whitney let out a screeching noise, but as she gazed into her winged associates’ eyes, she calmed down a bit. “What am I getting all bent out of shape for? I’m Whitney, the Ochre Angel of North Vegoz! I strike fear into the hearts of everyone I meet! I can cause the hardest of men to buckle at the knees! I can make the toughest old broads break down in tears by my mere presence! I don’t let anyone stand in my way, and I know a certain dead relative can attest to that! I have the ability to make anything I want occur, so I’m sure as heck not gonna allow a brainless bum, a wimpy warrior, a dull detective, or a lost loser to defeat me!”

She marched back to her previous position, and she studied the screen. “Hmm… There’s still a stretch before they can access his domain! I could go there, and… No, that didn’t turn out well when I tried it recently! They got by with a lot of inane chatter and dumb luck! I need something to slow them down though…” She mulled it over for a moment, and then a lightbulb went off in her head. “I know! Pot seeds! Yeah, pot seeds will do the trick! Pot seeds…” She pointed her palms at a particular location on the screen and cackled at her concoction…

“Well, the cones end here! So, now where do we go?” Daphne petitioned the blue skies above the deluxe dwellings close to where they wound up. Nick, Lionel, and Heathrow gazed at each other questioningly, and then Nick inquired, “Which one of us are you talking to?”

“None of you!” Daphne replied. “Sapphire told me that help would always be available whenever I need it the most, and we need it now! I don’t know how else to access this assistance that’s supposed to be there for me on this journey! She didn’t mention anything about Gold Stone Road coming to an end! And now I look like a crazy person yelling at the clouds!”

Heahtrow assured her, “Don’t worry! I’m pretty sure that I’m still the one they’ll fret over the most!”

A terrier from a nearby yard began barking at them, and after letting out a squeaky utterance, Lionel dove behind Nick’s legs and used his limbs as a shield! “Let me know when the monster is gone!” 

“I’d call you a scaredy cat, but that would be an insult to the courageous kitties out there!” Nick gestured to Tater, who was licking his paws and seemingly oblivious to the hound’s howls.

“I’m pretty positive we went the wrong route,” Heathrow conjectured. “Maybe we should go back toWink Gipliken park and go north instead of west.”

Daphne shut down that suggestion, “We’re not backtracking! This has gotta be the posh neighborhood that the Blue Angel is ‘not’ jealous of at all, so we have to have gotten close!”

Lionel poked his head out from between Nick’s knees, and he put in, “There used to be a golf course that led to the Emerald Angel’s headquarters somewhere over here. If it wasn’t for all of those cannabis plants, I would’ve sworn that it was right there!”

“Will you get out of there?” Nick sharply addressed Lionel. Once he emerged from that spot, Nick theorized, “I’m fairly certain those crops are new. They almost appear as though they’re hiding something…”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go check it out!” Heathrow dashed towards the plants without hesitation.

Daphne strove to stop him, “Hold on! We need to wait and see it’s-!” Heathrow immersed himself into the greenery, and Daphne remarked, “Too late!” After a few seconds, she questioned him, “Okay, nothing immediately attacked you, can you make out any hints that anything will?”

Heathrow excitedly reported, “No! No one and nothing is out there right now! And once you get past all of the hemp, you can see the Emerald Angel’s headquarters!”

Nick, Daphne, and Lionel all eagerly raced over to Heathrow, and they crowded over his shoulders to behold the sight. To their delight, they discerned that past the tall, herbal plot as well as the rest of the lush golf course, there was an ornate, jade fence surrounding a lofty, juniper building! “That’s it, guys! We made it!” Lionel rejoiced.

“Hurry! Let’s run there before Whitney has a chance to ambush us!” Nick recommended. They all joyously scampered through this mini forest.

“I can’t believe we’ve finally gotten here!” Daphne exclaimed. “It felt like we were gonna travel forever, but this… was.. a… cinch!”

Lessening his gait slightly, Lionel celebrated, “Soon… I’ll… have… my… courage!”

Nick and Heathrow recognized that they were sprinting alone. They turned around, and it startled them to witness Daphne, Lionel, and Tater moving in slow motion! “Are you three alright?” Nick posed to them.

“I’m fine!” Daphne relayed to him while yawning. “I… I… I need… rest!”

“We can’t rest! We’re almost there!” Heathrow asserted.

Lionel sleepily observed, “Tater… is… napping!” He pointed to the ground, and Tater had, indeed, closed his eyes to slumber. Lionel volunteered, “I’ll… carry… him!” He knelt down to retrieve him, but then he did not stand back up again. “Actually… forty… winks… does… sound… nice!”

He settled onto the floor, and Nick chided him, “No! We can’t spare any precious minutes for snoozing! We gotta meet the Emerald Angel immediately or else the Ochre Angel could-!”

“I’m… awake! But… I… need… a… hand… in… standing!” Daphne leaned onto Nick’s side, but shortly upon doing so, she fell limp and Nick had to catch her!

“Come on, get up!” Heathrow lowered himself to Lionel’s level and prodded him. “Don’t you wanna get the bravery you need to become a champion boxer? Remember your dream at Suntop Arena?” Lionel started snoring.

Nick shook Daphne with vigor. “No! Don’t you quit on me!” Daphne’s status didn’t budge, and tears formed in Nick’s eyes.

Heathrow glanced up in surprise. “Nick, are you crying?”

“Me? Am I showing emotion? Never! Feelings are for suckers!” He couldn’t suppress the urge to weep any longer, and as he cried, he commented, “I guess I’m a sucker then! How could I not be though? I knew that getting civilians involved in a dangerous case could have some terrible consequences, and I did it anyway! Now look what happened!” He sniffled, and he almost lost his balance from this action. “Woah!”

“What was that?” Heathrow urgently asked.

Nick answered, “I dunno! It’s like as soon as I cleared my sinuses, I got super lethargic!” After a brief contemplation, Nick pondered, “Hey! How come you and I aren’t getting effected by… whatever this is?”

Heathrow deduced, “Maybe it has something to do with our sniffers! I have nasal issues too, but I imagine mine arose from my life on the streets. Ya know, I had to evolve past the sense of smell to not gag twenty four seven…”

“Hmm… You may be onto something!” Nick affirmed, which surprised Heathrow. “My sinus problems make my nose constantly clogged. Neither of us can inhale through that passage, but Daphne, Lionel, and Tater can… These crops are new… Holy smokes! This is a spell!”

“Oh no! We better do something!” Heathrow thought about it for a second, and then he queried, “What can we do though? We don’t have the power to reverse a jinx! But the Emerald Angel could fix them! Let’s get them there!”

Nick rejected that plan, “Yeah, right! Do you really think that they’ll let us into a business center with three unconscious bodies?”

Heathrow responded, “I don’t really think at all! My noggin is full of straw! You see, when I was born…” He espied the expression of impatience on Nick’s visage, and he refocused. “Of course, that’s not important at the present! Hmm… If we can’t get assistance from the Emerald Angel, maybe the Blue Angel can come to our rescue!”

“How exactly are we supposed to get her here?” Nick countered. “We don’t have her number or a phone, so we can’t exactly call her!”

“Yes, we can!” Heathrow disagreed. “We can call out our distress to the universe, and maybe she’ll hear us!”

Nick catechized, “Maybe?”

Heathrow argued, “It’s worth a shot, ain’t it?” 

After shrugging, Nick complied. He cupped his hands over his mouth, and he yelled, “Help! Help!” Heathrow mimicked that move, and for a minute, nothing resulted as a result of their effort. The two were prepared to give up when suddenly, Sapphire’s translucent form appeared in the clouds above them! She smiled at the pair, and then she raised one of her palms. Once she vanished, snow began to fall upon the land! Nick and Heathrow eagerly watched their three companions in avid anticipation…

To their relief, all three began to stir! Daphne groggily spoke, “Where are we, Aunt Mae?” She got a glimpse of Nick’s face, and her eyes widened. “Wow! You’re not Aunt Mae!”

“No, I’m not!” Nick grinned. They each nervously chuckled, and then they instantly broke apart from one another. They proceeded to stand around awkwardly and avoided eye contact with their counterpart.

“Boy! Unusual weather we’re having, huh?” Lionel kidded as he admired the flakes.

Tater soured at the moisture this atmospheric condition brought, which invoked laughter from the four humans. With much alleviation in his voice, Nick regarded the recovered folks, “I’m so glad you’re okay!”

Nick audibly inhaled through his nostrils, and Heathrow advised him, “There still could be poison particles in the air, so if I were you, I wouldn’t start crying again!”

“Again?” Daphne and Lionel repeated incredulously.

“Um… Shouldn’t we be hurrying to the Emerald Angel?” Nick changed the subject. “With her scheme failing and all, Whitney might decide to find us in person…”

Daphne agreed, “Yeah, let’s get out of here!”

The travelers all enthusiastically scampered out of the area. Shortly after their departure, a golf ball landed in a pile of fresh powder. A man in a yellow polo and green cargo shorts went over to the site. He looked around, and his brows furrowed. “Hey, Henry! I can’t see it anywhere!” He gawked at the shrubbery, and he wondered, “When did they put this trap in?”

From inside of her lair, Whitney screamed in rage. The pigeons cleared a path for her, but she chose not to act out in this instance. Instead, she stared at the trekkers and seethed, “Bah! Someone always comes along to help that girl! Ach! I can’t show up in Oswald’s domain, and, no doubt, they’ll worm their way inside prior to my arrival! But, I can’t simply hang back and let them go see the Emerald Angel! So, what on Earth do I do now?” Whitney paced around her chamber, and some of her feathered friends dared to return inside. Whitney irately stewed over her dilemma, and then she abruptly reached a conclusion. “I got it!” The volume of her verbalization prompted the birds to scurry away again! She grabbed a cellphone of of an antique table, and she decreed, “Those do-gooders are gonna fail their quest if it’s the last thing I do!” She dialed a few digits on her device, and she faded out of that locale.