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.