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 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.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 5

The trio instantly stood up and got into defensive stances. Daphne wasn’t sure why though- she doubted any of their physical movements could ward off an attack from a fallen angel! Neither she nor Heathrow knew how to react, but Nick accosted her, “You! What did you do with my vehicle?”

Whitney snickered, “You can’t prove I did anything from your previous vantage point! But I will say that someone turned it into a beehive!” She laughed derisively as Nick’s face soured from that update.

“So, what? Are you gonna kill us?” Daphne probed. “Gosh, I never thought I’d die this way! Seriously, murdered by an evil angel over a pair of shoes! I never saw it coming!”

“Any last words?” Whitney menacingly queried.

Heathrow began rattling off, “Word, name, resort, supper…”

Whitney gazed at him in complete bewilderment. “What are you doing?”

“Those are all words that go with last,” Heathrow justified himself.

“Oh, that’s idiotic!” Whitney snapped.

Nick differed, “Actually, that’s a pretty intelligent list to come up with! Ooh, don’t forget call!”

Daphne added, “Chance, dance…”

“Shut up!” Whitney barked. “Wow, I’m sorry I asked! Prepare to meet your doom for-!”

“How do we prepare for that?” Heathrow wondered. “Make a will? I don’t have any belongings to give away…”

Whitney let out an irritated growl. “Quiet! Or I’ll stuff a mattress with you!”

Daphne needled her, “Yeah, Heathrow! Be quiet so she can slaughter you! Don’t be inconsiderate!”

“Okay!” Heathrow obliged.

“No, you-!” Daphne tried to correct his misjudgment.

Whitney bellowed, “Enough of your blather! We’re doing this now! Say goodbye!”

Heathrow opened his mouth to do precisely that, and Nick covered his jaw with his hand so that he couldn’t. Whitney raised her hand as though she was about to throw something, and the triad was ready to duck and weave out of her hex’s path, but then, Daphne felt a raindrop fall onto her shoulder. Whitney scrutinized her intensely, so she took advantage of her distraction to shovel out another dig in her direction, “Maybe you should conjure an umbrella to use while you commit your felony!”

A couple of sprinkles hit Whitney’s dress, and she looked positively nettled at the concept. Daphne anticipated a huge blowup following her slur, and she was looking forward to watching her meltdown, but then they heard the familiar chime of an ice cream truck. As it approached their vicinity, Whitney disappeared! Her voice called out, “Don’t get too comfortable! I’ll be back!”

“Wow! Saved by the bell!” Heathrow remarked. Nick and Daphne groaned at his pun.

“Why would they do business now?” Daphne puzzled as she watched the ice cream truck drive through its route.

Nick instructed her, “Wait for it…”

A minute or so later, the rain stopped. Some children ran out of the houses next to the retirement home, and Daphne questioned, “That’s it? That’s how long wet weather lasts in Vegoz?”

“Pretty much,” Nick answered her. “Unless it floods. Either scenario makes headlines in local news! Thank heavens it’s gonna stay dry today though! I’d hate for a storm surge to block our path to the Emerald Angel!”

Our path?” Daphne enquired. “Does the man you’re coming with us?”

Heathrow reveled, “Oh, joy! You’re gonna get yourself a heart after all, aren’t ya?”

Nick sarcastically stated, “Yeah, everything about this experience convinced me to want one!” Heathrow clapped his hands in delight, and Nick more seriously told Daphne, “No, you were absolutely right about the Emerald Angel knowing a thing or two about Whitney. I’m completely on board with going with you if it means that I can finally get some evidence on that she devil! Psh! Made a beehive out of my vehicle! Let her try and explain that in court!”

“She said she was gonna stuff a mattress with me! That doesn’t sound very comfortable! I may not have a brain, but I do have bones!” Heathrow knocked on his skull.

“Well, the three of us should get moving in case that Ochre Angel finds us away from possible witnesses again!” Daphne recommended. The two nodded in agreement, and they all walked westward alongside the traffic cones on Gold Stone Road.

Some time later, they passed by an enormous avenue perpendicular to their own, and its vision made Daphne’s eyes widen! Several large businesses were adorned with neon signs and colorful lights, and a dome above the terrain blinked in vivid designs and various advertisements for an assortment of casinos. Street performers tended to the tourists that flooded the area, and Daphne noticed that everyone gave the locality her ensemble was on a wide berth. She could easily understand why though! The buildings were drab and somewhat dilapidated, and trash was scattered throughout the sidewalks. The few occupants of this spot dressed in dingy clothes and kept to themselves, and the skies got covered in a dusty haze. “It’s like two different worlds!” Daphne observed as her eyes darted between both scenes.

Heathrow conversed, “That’s downtown Vegoz for ya!”

“Is it safe here?” Daphne inquired as a grumpy guy with far more outerwear than the warmth warranted walked past them.

“Oh, sure,” Nick replied. “Although you do occasionally get liars, muggers, and pimps.”

Daphne fretted, “Liars, muggers, and pimps! Oh my!”

Heathrow giggled, “That’s kinda catchy!” He then chanted, “Liars, muggers, and pimps! Oh my! Liars, muggers, and pimps! Oh my!”

 He repeated that line a couple more times, and while Daphne initially ogled him for making light of her worries, she couldn’t deny the accuracy of his statement and joined him. Nick stared at them judgmentally, but he soon shrugged and also joined in. The three travelers repeated that refrain until…

“Put ‘em up! Put ‘em up!” a man with tawny skin, a bald cranium, and dark stubble along his round jawline shouted. His white muscle shirt showed off his burly biceps as well as an ornate lion tattoo, and his fists were surrounded by white bandages. Almost everything about his appearance suggested he was an experienced fighter, so Daphne hid behind a couple of old newspaper stands. “Which one’s going first?” he addressed Nick and Heathrow, who did not have the fortune to evade him like she did. “I’ll fight you both together if you want! Scared? I’ll fight you with one arm around my back if you think that’ll be more fair! How about standing on one foot? Or with my eyes closed?”

“Go away! Leave us alone!” Nick somewhat nervously commanded.

The man espied Heathrow trying to sneak into the pawn shop he had burst out of moments ago, so the man aggressively regarded him, “Hey! Pulling an escape on me, huh? Not on my watch! Let’s go! Come on!” He turned back to Nick, who grew more apprehensive when he didn’t see a manner in which to elude his malice. “Afraid, huh? Don’t have the goods to take me on, do you?”

Heathrow chided him, “Now that’s getting personal!”

“Yeah! Go teach him a lesson, Heathrow!” Nick urged him.

“What… What’s wrong with you doing it?” Heathrow responded with his teeth chattering.

Tater hissed at the man from in front of the periodicals, so the man combatively expressed to him, “Oh, you wanna play, kitty? Alright, if you insist!”

The man lunged for Tater, so Daphne protectively hit the man on his crown! Nick and Heathrow gasped in alarm, but Daphne was too enraged to consider the consequences of her actions! As he fell to the floor, she berated him, “Shame on you! How dare you pick on a poor little animal! What gives you the nerve?”

Heathrow and Nick monitored the situation on pins and needles due to his previously contentious behavior, and Daphne readied herself to counter whatever argument the man had in store for his defense, but to their astonishment, the man began to weep! “I don’t! I don’t have any nerve at all! You weren’t supposed to hit back!”

Nick, Heathrow, and Daphne became thoroughly confused by his reaction, and Daphne posed to him, “What did you expect would happen when you went after my cat?”

“I wasn’t gonna hurt him!” the man cried. “I was just trying to get you to run away so I could strengthen my reputation!”

“That’s a real cowardly thing to do!” Nick commented.

The man sobbed, “You’re right! I am a coward! Ever since I was a boy, I’ve dreamt of being the king of the boxing ring, Lionel the Maniacal they’d call me, but I can’t fight no one! Everyone can best me! Old ladies, toddlers, pets… I even got defeated by a roadrunner once!”

Heathrow related, “Oh, I’ve been there!”

“Uh-huh… So, I gotta ask- what exactly changed you from a brawler to a bawler?” Daphne petitioned Lionel.

“I moved to Suntop Mountain!” Lionel caught Daphne’s befuddled visage, so he dramatically elaborated, “You don’t know what it’s like out there! Fires, earthquakes, and the scariest figures you’ll ever meet!”

Daphne blinked in shock at hearing that claim. “The scariest? You mean, there are scarier people out there than here?” She gestured to across the lane where a very shaggy fellow held up a handwritten sign that both beseeched the passersby for money and threatened to remove his attire if they didn’t.

Lionel nodded, and Nick reiterated a disposition he relayed earlier, “See? Didn’t I say that this place wasn’t too bad?”

“Why would you live in such a terrible location?” Heathrow pondered.

“Suntop Arena!” Lionel dreamily recalled. “It’s the finest of the fine! All the best athletes in the world train there! I was gonna get myself hired there and surround myself with champions! Then, during my days off, I could compete in matches! But no one will take me now! Everyone knows what a wimp I am! I’m no pugilist! I’m pathetic!”

Nick catechized, “Was your neighborhood terrorized by a fallen angel?”

Lionel filled him in, “Two of them! I live by Niles Air Force Base, which is both east and north. Whitney occupied the space mostly, but Almira kicked her out whenever she was in Vegoz.”

“Did you ever see them disputing over this territory?” Daphne interrogated him.

“As a matter of fact, yes! They’d meet up once every so often, and their feuds made conditions worse for us ‘cause they took their anger from this out on us! And it’s been occurring a lot more than usual lately!” Lionel shivered at the memory.

Nick and Daphne exchanged knowing glances, and then Nick pressed him, “Did you ever overhear either of them hint about using violence against each other?” 

Lionel whimpered, “No! I’m usually too busy hiding and blubbering to catch anything else that goes on!”

“If it makes you feel any better, Almira is dead now,” Daphne strove to console him.

“If Whitney’s still around, it won’t help much!” Lionel sniveled. “Oh, if I could learn to not be such a chicken, I’d learn some counterattacks and walk my block in peace! That’s an impossible idea though! I’ll never get enough bravery to go toe-to-toe with her! I’m doomed!”

Heathrow disagreed, “No, you’re not! You can come with us to see the Emerald Angel! He’ll fix you up, no problem!”

Lionel declined that offer, “Nah, I couldn’t! I’d be too afraid to talk to him!”

“Don’t be silly! We can assist you! We’re all in this together, aren’t we, guys?” Heathrow articulated to Daphne and Nick.

“Apparently!” Nick shrugged.

Lionel appeared heartened by this offer, and he somewhat shakily stood up. “That’s awfully kind of you! But won’t you be ashamed to be seen with a sissy like me?”

Daphne assured him, “Of course not!”

“Hooray! The four of us are off to see the Emerald Angel of Vegoz!” Heathrow kicked up his legs into the air, and he did another merry jib while humming.

“Get used to seeing a lot of that!” Daphne acquainted Lionel.

As Heathrow linked his arm with Lionel’s Nick leaned in close to Daphne and whispered, “Shouldn’t we warn Lionel about Whitney?”

Daphne watched Heathrow attempting to persuade Lionel to skip with him, and she decreed, “Let’s just get to Summerland as fast as possible. Maybe we will get there before another encounter.” Nick didn’t seem so convinced, so Daphne demanded, “Do you want him to start shedding some more tears?” Nick signaled his distaste for that notion, and the quartet trekked towards the west.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 4

As they passed a desert lot full of tall, green cacti with spiky, red fruit hanging from their bases, Heathrow hummed that same tune while obliviously prancing alongside an increasingly irate Daphne. Daphne couldn’t take it anymore, and she halted her footsteps to let out a loud sigh. Heathrow caught wind of this, and he ceased his frivolity in order to enquire, “Did you want me to stop humming and skipping too?” 

“No!” Daphne mulled over her response for a second, and then she amended her sentence, “Well, yes! But that’s not why I was groaning. I’m mad at myself ‘cause I gotta put us behind schedule by pausing for a food break! Sorry for the delay, Heathrow!”

“Oh, don’t apologize! There’s no need to rush to the Emerald Angel,” Heathrow consoled her.

Daphne brought up, “What about the Ochre Angel targeting us?”

Heathrow’s face fell as he recalled, “Oh, yeah!” He considered this notion for a moment, and then he esteemed, “Ah, well, so what! If she comes, we’ll deal with her! But if you need to take care of yourself, then don’t feel guilty about it! You won’t get there if you’re not feeling well at all!”

“You’re right!” Daphne acquiesced to his argument.

“I am? Boy, that’s a first! Hooray!” Heathrow did some lively leaps in celebration of this occasion. 

Daphne managed to push past her annoyance and persuaded her lips to portray a bit of amusement. “It’s a good thing we don’t have to use stealth to avoid Whitney!”

As she reached for one of the dragon fruits, Heathrow frowned. “You’re not gonna eat that, are ya?”

“Well, of course! They’re not poisonous, are they?” Daphne probed.

“Uh, no, but…” Heathrow started to object.

He was too late! Quite abruptly, a cane blocked her hand’s path! A man with very aged skin, a tropical shirt, and a green sun-hat growled, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”

As numerous elderly folks popped up between the plants, Daphne gawked at them in startlement of their aggressive stances. She attempted to assuage their risen temper by politely addressing them, “Forgive me! I was hungry, and-!”

“Psh! She was hungry!” the aged man muttered to his peers.

“She was hungry!” an old lady grumbled.

Another member of that congregation griped, “She was hungry and  very rude!”

The others concurred with his sentiments, and the aged man accosted her, “Listen, missy! How would you like it if someone trespassed into your retirement home’s garden?”

“This is private property?” Daphne puzzled. “It doesn’t look very private!”

“Do you just pick fruit from random greenery where you come from?” the old lady challenged her.

Daphne affirmed, “Yes! My town has trees in public places, and anyone can help themselves to them.”

The aged man sneered, “Well, we don’t do that here in Vegoz, so scram!”

“Yeah, scram!” the old lady repeated his command.

“Scram!” a third individual echoed.

Daphne fretted, “Goodness! I keep forgetting we’re not in California anymore!”

Heathrow joined his arm with hers, and he suggested, “Come on, Daphne! We don’t want any of these dragon fruits!”

“What are you saying? That our crops aren’t what they ought to be?” the aged man inquired.

“Oh, no!” Heathrow replied. “It’s just that she doesn’t want any dragon fruits with little green worms in them!”

The old lady carped, “Those are spines!”

Heathrow whispered to Daphne, “You want some dragon fruit? I’ll show ya how to get it!” He turned back to the elderly crowd and taunted them, “Those are worms! Bleck! Disgusting!”

The aged man bellowed, “Why, you!” He plucked a dragon fruit and hurled it at Heathrow! Daphne shrieked, but it didn’t appear to bother Heathrow much! In fact, he beckoned them to hurl some more, and a few of them did! As the crew vexedly walked away, Daphne and Heathrow gathered the dragon fruit. One of them rolled into the street, and as Daphne retrieved it, she noticed something strange coming out of the sewer…

“Crowbar!” a strong but soothing voice called out from beneath the manhole.

“What’d he say?” Heathrow posed to Daphne.

The voice restated, “Crowbar!”

Daphne told Heathrow, “He said crowbar.” She glanced around, and she spotted a crowbar in the gutter. “Ew! It’s slimy!”

“Do you wanna know why?” Heathrow asked.

“Definitely not!” Daphne answered.

The voice requested, “Open it! Open it!”

Daphne stuck the crowbar in one of the holes, and she maneuvered it so that it lifted up. Heathrow assisted her in removing the sewage cover, and when the hole was uncovered, the ash blond man inside didn’t budge an inch! “Do you need some help?” Daphne checked in with him.

“Yes!” the man confirmed. Daphne and Heathrow each grabbed an arm, and they managed to yank the man out! Daphne was expecting another bum, but to her astonishment, he didn’t look homeless at all! His silvery eyes were slightly bloodshot, and his gray suit seemed somewhat scratched up, but otherwise, he appeared too well-groomed to be hanging out in the trenches like that! Actually, Daphne would have found him rather handsome if he simply smiled! After he caught his breath, she expected him to gratefully grin, but he remained impassive as he dusted himself off! “Excuse my intrusion into your day! I’ve been stuck there for nearly twenty four hours now! And I couldn’t call for backup ‘cause some witch stole my vehicle!”

“Backup?” Daphne reacted quizzically. “Then you must be-!”

He flashed his badge and curtly introduced himself, “Detective Nick Mantin, Lahr County P.D. I’m in the middle of a very important case right now, and I was surveying my lead suspect when that suspect caught me and trapped me in there.”

Daphne petitioned him, “If you were in the middle of a shift when this happened, wouldn’t your fellow officers have realized you were down when they tried to check in with you?”

“Uhh… Well, it wasn’t an official case, you see…” Nick abashedly admitted. “I was acting on a hunch, and I was hoping to collect evidence to make it official, but that didn’t work out too great! Do either of you have a phone I can borrow?”

“Daphne has a cellphone,” Heathrow notified him.

After taking her broken device from her pocket, Daphne briefed him, “It won’t do you much good unless you wanna chuck it at the person who made off with your car!” Daphne observed that he nearly smirked at her joke, which caused her to beam in pride. She got this vibe that he had been through a lot, so she liked thinking that she could have a positive impact on him! She further strove to entertain him by kidding, “You’d be better off tying a note to my cat and sending him to the police station!”

She anticipated a small chuckle, but instead, Nick gazed at the feline and pondered, “Can he do that?” 

“Um, no!” Daphne bashfully communicated to him as she absorbed the sting of this miscalculation. “Tater follows me around ‘cause he has an emotional support job to do.”

“Oh!” Nick somehow grew even more disappointed than he already was. “Okay, I guess I gotta walk somewhere where I can make a call! Thank you for getting me out of that bind!”

As Nick began to leave, they heard his stomach emit a very audible gurgle! Heathrow genially advised him, “Why, you can’t travel on an empty tummy! We were just about to snack on these dragon fruits. Won’t you join us?”

Nick’s expression clearly indicated his hesitancy on eating with the two of them, but he couldn’t deny his hunger, so he relented, “Oh, alright!” He sat down between Heathrow and Daphne, and they each cracked open a fruit and munched on the substance inside. As they supped, Nick eyeballed his two counterparts, and eventually, he blurted out, “Why are the two of you fraternizing together? Are you his social worker or something?”

Daphne started contemplating some plausible explanations for their actions, but to her dismay, Heathrow beat her to the punch, “No! We’re off to see the Emerald Angel of Vegoz!”

“You’re off to see the Emerald Angel of Vegoz?” Nick reverberated in a skeptical manner.

“Uh-huh! He’s gonna give me a brain!” Heathrow attested to Nick.

Nick definitely didn’t share Heathrow’s optimism on the subject. “Yeah, I’ve heard he can pull off great miracles, but what makes you believe you’re worthy enough for his exclusive services?”

Heathrow laughed, “Me? I’m probably not worthy whatsoever, but he’ll see me ‘cause he’ll see her for sure! She’s got the Carmine Clogs!”

“Wow! Those are the real Carmine Clogs?” Nick reached out to touch them, and the shoes gave him a mild shock! “That’d be a yes!”

“Sorry! I didn’t know they could do that! Or anything really!” Daphne apologetically regarded him.

Nick pressed her, “How did you get them?”

Daphne spelled out for him, “They magically appeared on my feet when Whitney was trying to grab them off of her sister’s body.”

“Almira’s dead?” Nick responded in astonishment. “But it’s nearly impossible to kill a fallen angel!”

“Not if you have the right house!” Daphne espied the confused expression on Nick’s face, and she clarified, “The mobile home I was staying at got caught in a tornado, and it fell on top of her.”

Nick rubbed his chin speculatively. “Interesting! And you say that Whitney was on the scene?”

Daphne remarked, “Boy, and Sapphire said that law enforcement wouldn’t have any interest in this crime!”

“Actually, she’s absolutely correct,” Nick countered. “They wouldn’t even be able to prove she’s missing since no one is missing her.”

“Oh! That’s what you were unofficially investigating, wasn’t it?” Daphne deduced. “You were hoping to catch Whitney committing an offense so that you can finally penalize her for her misdeeds!” Nick stayed silent about it, but she inferred the truth from this behavior. “I was investigating her too! I mean, the killer could turn out tobe anyone, but it seemed odd to me that she got more upset about footwear than her deceased family member! And this witness described a strained relationship and possible disputes over power and territory!”

Heathrow visually scanned the area as though he wasn’t certain who she was referencing. “Do you mean me? I couldn’t have uttered something so smart!”

Daphne elucidated, “I reworded your story, Heathrow.” Heathrow comprehended this, and Daphne switched her focus back to Nick, “Oh, you gotta tell me everything you’ve learned about her!”

“No, I don’t!” Nick disagreed. “I’m not gonna involve a civilian in such a dangerous matter!”

“But this isn’t an official case, so aren’ you a civilian too?” Daphne retorted.

Nick couldn’t argue with that logic, but he didn’t feel compelled to divulge anything, so Heathrow appealed to him, “Come on, brother! Have a heart!”

After making a noise of derision, Nick proclaimed, “I don’t have a heart! I don’t need any feelings, they only get you into trouble! My position already attracts enough struggles, I don’t wanna tempt any more into my life!”

“Oh, please!” Daphne scoffed at that claim.

“The best ones are!” Nick insisted.

Daphne rolled her eyes, and Heathrow suggested, “Maybe the Emerald Angel can give you a heart!”

Nick adamantly folded his arms. “Hearts will only be useful when they’re unbreakable!”

“Gee, it’s too bad you don’t wanna go! I was planning on asking the Emerald Angel about Whitney, and I’ll bet he has loads of information on her! I would’ve been willing to give it to you later if you had shared what you know, but it sounds like you’re not interested in cooperating!” Daphne teased him.

“Ah, getting acquainted, are we?” Whitney materialized in front of them and let out a huge cackle at their bewilderment…