It took every bit of strength and patience I had, but I kept my angry words in check, just like dad had taught me. I tried to give Jimmy my death glare instead, but the knotted strands of ratty blonde hair kept on falling in my face, ruining the effect. I’ll bet that was somehow part of his plan too, I wouldn’t put it past him.
“Alright, the stupid wig is on. Will you tell me the plan now? What’s prong three? How do we infiltrate?”
Jimmy gave me a thumbs up and smiled. “First of all,” he started, “the hair looks great. You’re like a ninja Fabio.” He waited for a response, but I kept my mouth shut. “I just gave you a compliment, JB. It’s rude not to say thank you.” I rolled my eyes and thanked him. “You’re welcome, JB. I meant it though, so no thanks are needed.” I didn’t think it was possible, but I rolled my eyes even further inside my head.
“Now, the plan gets a little more complicated from here. Before I go into it, we need to go over all the dangers we might encounter inside. Namely, the mutants.”
“Jimmy, I really don’t think - ”
“THE MUTANTS,” he continued loudly, ignoring my interruption, “are as follows. First, Don the gorilla security. As we all know, monkeys are pretty smart. They know sign language. They star in the best Ronald Reagan movies. We can’t just flip him off and throw a banana at him like we do at the zoo, he’s not a regular monkey. We have to surprise him.” Jimmy paused and turned to us, trying to dial up the drama. “And what surprises a monkey, you guys?”
I thought that that was an incredibly stupid question, possibly a trick one leading to a terrible punch line, and I was about to voice that opinion. Before I could though, Lizzy spoke up, apparently having thought hard about it and decided it was worth answering. “Fire?” Lizzy guessed.
I turned to her. “I really don’t think that fire would be - ”
“Actually, fire is exactly right,” Jimmy said, much to my chagrin. I very quickly and sternly told him that we were not using fire in our plan. “JB, think about it. Monkeys are scared of it because they can’t control it, that’s why they never evolved like we did. Pigs stampede when they see it too, so we got Spitler covered in case he’s around. And as for the cat lady - ”
“NO. No fire. That’s a hard pass. Not only would we get into huge trouble, but we could actually die if that got out of control. Is that what you want, Jimmy? Do you want to die?” It took me a minute to process what I had said. It was true, sure, but it also scared me that, for a minute there, I sounded exactly like my mother.
“I’d rather die than live in a world without order,” Jimmy answered in a deeper, huskier voice than was natural. I noticed too that, as he said that line, he pulled out a package of candy cigarettes, put one into his mouth and pretended to spark it just to add to the scene.
This was bad. It was starting to feel like everything was getting really out of my control. I intended to support Jimmy on this case, figuring it would work itself out and my influence would be able to help keep things on track and keep things safe. Now, after being given the full power to lead, Jimmy is going even more insane than usual. He seems to be in almost an entirely different reality than us.
“Jimmy,” I started again, the worry creeping into the edges of my voice, “maybe we should slow down a minute and rethink the plan. Now that we’re here and can see things, maybe we can come up with a plan together.”
Jimmy fixed me with a hard stare. His eyes searched me, trying to read me. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable, scared that every twitch and movement and breath I took might convey something for him to misread. His eyes narrowed into thin, suspecting slits. “Okaaayyyy,” he started slowly, “I think I know what’s going on here, JB.” He took a step forward and then awkwardly placed a hand on my shoulder, where he began to slowly pat me like a weirdo. “It’s okay to be scared, JB. I know this situation seems dire.” He looked around solemnly and then nodded his head sagely. “Dire,” he added again, this time soft as a whisper. I couldn’t stand this.
“Jimmy that’s not what - ”
“Shhhh,” he said as he hushed me, trying to lift a finger and hold it to my lips. I stepped back and swatted his hand down, red faced. “Dang it Jimmy, you’re not listening to me! I’m not scared, I’m worried that your plan might not be the best plan. Why can’t we make the plan together? Aren’t we a team?”
Jimmy smiled a small, tight smile and nodded his head. I felt relieved, he actually seemed to be listening. “Okay,” I began, “I think that we - ”
Abruptly, Jimmy turned and faced Lizzy. “Do you understand the instructions on your supplies?” Lizzy hastily rummaged through her pockets and her bag, checked the index cards that accompanied everything, and she nodded that she did. “What’s going on?” I asked them. Instead of answering, Jimmy rummaged through his stuff until he pulled out a lighter that I didn’t remember seeing him pack. “Jimmy, what’s going on? I thought we were coming up with a plan together.” Once again, he put a comforting hand on my shoulder. This time, however, it was followed by a little push that took me by surprise.
I stumbled back a step and, after I regained my balance, saw with horror that he was touching the lighters flame to the corner of the rolled up paper. “You ready to get your mother flippin’ cat back?” Jimmy asked in his gruff action voice. The flames illuminated his grin, both of which spread in earnest after Lizzy responded with an enthusiastic ‘hell yeah!’
“Check your left pocket, JB!” Jimmy called out over his shoulder as he ran a few steps toward the shelter before pivoting and cocking his arm back. At this moment, I reached into my pocket and found a note, which read “I knew you’d stop cooperating at prong three. Trust me and follow the cue cards. Regards, LEAD detective.”
I looked up in time to see him hurl the fiery paper into the hedges. As the twigs and leaves began to catch fire, I thought he was yelling out ‘Attica’, but I was wrong. This time, he was shouting ‘Cattica’, and I knew that I had officially lost any shred of control over the situation.
I followed Jimmy and Lizzy, who both ran and chanted ‘Cattica’ all the way to the corner of the building. From there, we dove behind a different row of bushes, these ones not on fire. As I caught my breath, I managed to give Jimmy one solid punch to the arm. I wanted to lay into him, really tell him how stupid he was being and expressing how mad I was. But I didn’t. This was because I realized something. Fight it or not, Jimmy’s plan was already in motion and at least one fire had already been set. I wasn’t going to win any arguments, so I just had to roll with it and try to get us all out of here in one piece. And preferably not in handcuffs.
Jimmy pointed up at the far corner of the building, where a bulky rectangular camera was mounted on a swivel. “We don’t have a lot of time,” he said. “It would be suspicious if a camera was suddenly taken down, which is the only reason I’m not doing it. If I was, I would probably use a perfectly aimed rock like Crocodile Dundee, or maybe a sweet running backflip kick. But, like I said, that would give us away.” He paused, but no one argued that he could have done such a thing if the situation had called for it. “Also, a camera? On an animal shelter? This is a building full of animals that nobody wants, who would steal them? It’s a gross misuse of my tax money.”
“You’re fourteen Jimmy, you don’t pay taxes.”
“Oh,” he said. “Right.” He was silent for a moment, then he grunted to concede the point. “Well then I guess it’s just a pain in the ass.” I reminded Jimmy that a fire was burning, so he should hurry up and tell us the plan.
“So, the fire will draw out the security guard. Which means, right now, no one will be monitoring the cameras. So now is the time for us to sneak in. Everyone, make sure your disguises are on tight.” Jimmy straightened his plastic beard and tried to flex his fake muscles. Lizzy tugged on the knots of her wrestling mask and then cinched the strings of the inappropriate hoodie tightly. The head of her stuffed panda stuck out of the front pocket. I noticed for the first time that Jimmy had provided a disguise for the bear too, who was wearing a miniature ski mask made out of a cut-up black sock. I sighed as I made sure my wig was on straight and I smoothed out any lines in my name tag. I couldn't help but notice that even the bear got a better disguise than me.
We heard shouts from around the corner and now knew that someone had spotted the fire and was doing something about it. We made a beeline towards the side door. Well, maybe beeline isn’t exactly the right word. Following Jimmy’s lead, we all started and stopped sporadically on the way, waving our arms around like mating peacock spiders. Apparently all of this would help confuse the cameras if they were ever to watch the footage back.
As we approached the heavy door, I had questions about how we were going to get past it, but they were all instantly answered when I saw Jimmy simply open it. As we slipped quietly inside, I saw the wad of blue Silly Putty jammed in the crevice of the lock. “Oldest trick in the book,” Jimmy said, his voice dripping with satisfaction. He had come and done his homework for a change.
We walked quickly but stealthily. The end of the hall was fast approaching and Jimmy held up a hand to halt our progress. “JB, check your back pocket.” I did with some embarrassment, and found a stack of cue cards. I assumed they were the ones mentioned in the note. Jimmy held me with his most serious gaze. He turned and gave Lizzy a taste of the look too, making sure everyone knew he was being dead serious.
“I can’t stress this enough you guys. In here, no matter what happens, no matter what dangers and what surprises are in store, we have to stick to the plan, okay? If we don’t stick to the plan, it’s pure chaos. Pure, unadulterated, Nazi mutant chaos. Got it?” Lizzy and I both nodded, myself a little more reluctantly. His gaze didn’t waver.
“For real guys, I can’t say it strongly enough. We need to stick to the plan. No matter what. It's the only thing that is keeping us safe. Promise?”
We all promised and locked pinkies before walking directly for the end of the hall and into the unknown. Whatever was in store, we were in it together.