We rounded the corner and waited for our eyes to adjust to the low light emitted from the flickering fluorescent tubes. A few yards away there was a medium-sized plastic pet carrier that was left next to an intimidating door decorated with a caution sticker and a biohazard warning. I felt ice run through my veins. We were really here now, in the belly of the beast.
“Remember guys, follow the plan. We’re going to do our best to be in and out, grab the cat and go. No funny business.”
After I concluded my final warning, I signaled for my associates to be quiet and to stay low. I expertly tip-toed, heel to toe, just like the ninjas do in the movies. You couldn’t hear my footsteps if you were right next to me. It was slow going, but it was safe going. You should be trained for war, but always do your best to avoid conflict. I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at that.
As we neared the crate, I couldn’t help but look inside and I saw that there was a dog in it. He may have been a different color at some point, but right now the dog was gray, both from age and from the dark shadows cast across it. It let out a little whimper as I got closer. I froze.
“Guys, we have to let this dog out.”
JB and Lizzy both protested immediately, but it was JB who I heard clearly first. “Dude, you just said to stick to the plan. I think that’s a bad idea.” Lizzy chimed in, adding, “he’s probably locked up for a reason. He might bite.”
I pointed out that her cat was locked up in here too, and that I doubted she thinks that Velcro deserves it. This gave her some pause, but JB went on. “Come on Jimmy, this isn’t smart. I know that you hate that they put animals down in here, I do too. But he’s obviously very old.” JB leaned in and pulled a pained expression, waving a hand in front of his nose. “He stinks too, Jimmy. It’s probably just his time. He’s old and smells, he might even be rabid.”
“I know,” I said. “That’s why his name’s Old Smeller. And we have to help him.” Lizzy giggled and JB groaned. I smiled, for now I knew that they were both with me. As soon as you give something a name, especially a good one, then people have to accept it. That’s just a rule of life that I’ve learned.
“Fine,” JB relented. “So how do - ”
Before he could finish, I simply opened up the crate. Old Smeller retreated as far back into the crate as it could. I reached out a hand in a comforting gesture, just like I had to do to a scared JB not that long ago. Seems I’ll be comforting scared b-words all night.
“It’s okay buddy, nobody’s gonna hurt you now. Let’s ge- ” the rest of my words disappeared in a spit-riddled huff as the dog lunged out of the crate and it barreled into me like a freight train. We tumbled backwards, doing a somersault and a half until we landed hard on the tiled floor, Old Smeller’s paws pinning me to the ground. “Stay back guys!” I yelled, “he’s got mutant strength! They probably gave him bull blood!”
Old Smeller snapped his teeth in the air near my hat, snot flying from his slick nose like a bull at a rodeo; the red stripes on my outfit were probably sending him into a blind rage. I was about to spring my counter-attack, to expertly monkey-flip the dog off of me and right back into the crate, but I didn’t have to do it. At that precise moment, the pig showed up.
Sid Spitler, the disgusting snouted face of evil, suddenly opened the door with all of the warnings on it, catching us by surprise. Before he could so much as say a word, however, Old Smeller turned his attention towards the big slab of bacon that had just presented itself.
The dog pounced and Spitler let out a blood-curdling, agonized yelp as they fell backwards together through the doorway, a mess of gray fur and pink flesh and gnashing teeth and ill-fitting shirts. The door closed behind them with a tiny electronic beep. The inch of steel muffled the worst of the noises coming from behind the door.
I turned and shared a look with JB and Lizzy. All of us were wide-eyed, gasping for breath. Once I collected myself, I shrugged. “Guess that’s what happens when you don’t follow the plan, huh?”
JB stepped to me angrily and gave me a hard shove. “You could have gotten killed! Or gotten rabies!” His words were loud, but I could tell that they were laced with fear and not anger. “Sounds like my date last weekend,” I said, trying to use my awesome humor to diffuse the situation.
Instead of the laughter and applause my joke deserved, we heard cursing and shouting echoing down the long sinister hallway. We turned in unison and saw Don running our way, flashlight and hairy knuckles swinging at his sides.
“Run!” I shouted. And we did. We took off toward the end of the hall and we hooked a quick right, and then a left at the next turn. As quickly as I could, between my labored breaths, I laid out the next part of the revised plan and told them what we needed, sending my associates into a frenzy looking through their bags and pockets.
The sound of heavy footsteps and jingling keys signaled to us that Don was about upon us. I stepped out into view, ready to bait the trap. I flexed my padded muscles and pumped my fists, shouting “USA! USA! USA,” until I was spotted.
Don took the far corner at top speed, his stupid gorilla arms flailing and throwing him slightly off balance as he rounded the turn. I waited for him to get to just outside of grabbing distance before I jumped and somersaulted back around the corner. “Now!” I signaled to Lizzy while I was in mid-roll, but I could tell that I didn’t need to. The girl was a natural.
Lizzy yanked her panda out of her front pocket, letting out a small grunt as she did so due to the extra added weight. Lizzy dug into the fur of its belly and undid the hidden zipper we had added. Instead of stuffing, it was marbles that came spewing out of the panda’s open belly. As dozens of marbles of all shapes and colors clattered to the floor, I began to reach into my back pocket, ready to do my next part.
Don saw the marbles, but his mutated mind didn’t process what they were quickly enough to save his half-primate body. His momentum tried slowing down too suddenly and it threw him even more off balance. As he waved his hairy arms, his boots tried to find traction, but it was no use. A few shooters had rolled underfoot and Don’s feet flew out from under him, sending him to the ground with a crash of limbs. Lizzy flipped a cue card over, read it and then stepped forward, “Hey Don, way to lose your marbles,” she said in a husky voice, trying her best to sound like Rey Mysterio. It wasn’t bad, actually.
While Lizzy delivered her line, I ran up to the pile of Don before he could recover his senses and I pulled out a pair of handcuffs I had borrowed from my mom’s room. They originally had leopard print fur on them, but I had peeled that off, exposing the cool, hard steel underneath. These aren’t meant to be comfortable. They’re meant to teach criminal catnapping thugs that justice shows no mercy. I clamped one over his right wrist, the other I closed around a radiator pipe. After that, I stepped back and said, “You look tired. Why don’t you take arrest?”
Don struggled to sit up, muttering incomprehensible threats at us as he did. He pulled a walkie-talkie from his belt but before he could use it, I dove and knocked it from his hand, yelling out as I did so that it was time for JB to deploy weapon number four.
Hearing my words, JB pulled out his cards, found it, and nodded. He stepped forward, taking out a small bottle of Doc Johnsons Deep-Throat Spray that we had an older kid buy for us from Spencer’s Gifts.
“You kids are in so much trouble,” Don began, but it was cut short by a few short puffs of a numbing liquid that I secretly hoped tasted as bad as it smelled. “What was thargghh?” Don asked. JB and Lizzy looked at me expectantly, waiting for the next directive.
“Not until you do the line, JB.”
He sighed, shook his head and then read the back of the card. “Say it, don’t spray it, Don.” JB gave me a begrudging look and then asked again what was next. “Wulf,” came Don’s words from the ground below him, “Merf plummy uh bud is nime!”
Either the spray had taken effect, or the stress of the defeat had sent Don spiraling back to his Nazi gorilla roots, as those words could very well have been Monkey German, which I didn’t speak because I'm a man and an American. Ignoring his babbling, I reached down and removed the security card clipped to his belt. I stepped over and swiped it at the door, but the red light didn’t turn green.
I swiped it again. Red. I swiped it two more times. Still red. I looked down at the card clutched in my hand. It was bent. Don’s big gorilla behind must have bent it when he hit the ground. Drat!
A worried voice over my shoulder asked me what was wrong. I ignored it. These things happen. The greatest detectives in the world all know how to adapt, and I am one of them. I whirled on Don, pointing a powerful finger in his face. I tried to encompass all of the authority that my outfit should convey. “Listen here you big ape. You’re not just messing with our cat. You’re messing with America now! So either give us the code for the door, or I’m going to Indian burn your arms til the hair smokes off, you got me?”
“Ee waf awife,” he began, but I cut him off. “Not in mutant speak, give us the numbers in English, pal.”
“Ee waf awife,” he said again. This time, I pointed my finger at JB. “You big stupid idiot! You sprayed too much, now we don’t have the code!”
“Oh, I’m the idiot? This whole thing was your idea,” he said.
“I didn’t tell you to spray that much, were you raised in a barn?”
“That doesn’t even make sense! Why would I spray too much of things if I was raised in a barn?”
“Shut up, JB! I have a plan.” I turned to Don, put my fists up in a fighting stance to show that I meant business. “Okay Don, we get that you can’t talk. So you’ll just have to give us the numbers by holding up fingers. Got it?”
He held up only one finger, and it convinced me that maybe he wasn’t going to be helpful.
A loud and hollow crash sounded close by. Another thud and then an animalistic whimper came from around the corner, followed by slow and heavy footsteps and grunting.
We froze. We waited. A short moment later, although it felt like forever and a day, we saw the monstrosity round the way and come into view.
Large, blotchy flesh was crammed into an ill-fitting salmon shirt that now had more holes in it than my grandma’s afghan. Snout snorting, tightly-clenched fat hoof-hands at the ready, Sid Spitler methodically limped our way, menace in every pained step. His beady black eyes were simmering like dark coals in a fire. His chapped lips parted with a snarl when he began to speak.
“I just took care of Scooby Doo back there the old school way. And next up are the meddling kids.”
He took a lumbering, Frankenstein-ish step closer, and then I leapt into action, going for the oldest and most reliable move in my arsenal. “For Old Smeller!” I yelled as I took two quick steps and then a giant leap right at Sid’s ugly but surprised face. My jump was majestic, like an olympic gymnast on speed. At the topmost part of my perfect bound I let loose the contents of my hand. Crushed cayenne pepper flew right into his smoldering eyes, adding to the burning that I saw in them.
Sid clutched his eyes and screamed out in utter agony, collapsing to his bulbous knees in the hallway and crying out his pain for the world to hear. Best I could, I put his pained noise out of my mind and I ran over to him. Since he was temporarily blinded, he couldn’t stop me from grabbing the ID card that was clipped to his struggling belt.
With a shout of victory, I bolted to the door and swiped. This time, I saw green.
We rushed into the room and slammed the door shut behind us. Don yelled at our fleeing backs, and some of the words were actually words again too. We didn’t have much time before he’d be able to recover his walkie and call for help.
I pointed Lizzy to the crate I had seen Velcro in earlier. She ran over, calling out his name, happy amidst all of the chaos to have her fuzzy companion back. When she reached the crate, she froze, her face dropping in slow realization.
I ran over to see what was the matter. Were we too late? Had they already melted his poor cat flesh onto Nancy? When I got there, my stomach sank, just like Lizzy’s face had. It was even worse than I could have ever imagined.
There, in the crate, locked in the back room of the nefarious animal shelter, my eyes beheld the awful, terrible, horrifying gut-wrenching fate that Velcro had met. The room started to spin, my head felt foggy. I couldn’t catch my breath, my whole world was collapsing down around me. My once finely-tuned heart was now beating so fast from the shock that it sounded like it was just one singular, continual, deep throb. Like the tell-tale heart underneath the floorboards. The bell tolling for the end. I felt tears teasing at the edges of my anguished eyes. I turned to Lizzy. I wanted to stay calm, stay strong for her sake, but I was barely able to even maintain my upright position; I was so sickened and shocked by the sight. All I could do was utter over and over, so quietly that it was barely audible, that I was sorry. I was so, so sorry.