I watched Jimmy scream in horror about us being too late as he opened up the second closed crate that we had come across. This one, luckily, didn’t seem to contain any rabid dogs. Which is why I was confused as to why Jimmy was having such a strong reaction to this one, as the only thing he pulled out of it was a small Travancore tortoise that he held it up over his head.
“They did it! The bastards really did it!” Jimmy yelled at the heavens, his free hand balled into a shaking fist. I asked him who did what, and he looked at me with huge, paranoid eyes. “They did it,” he answered me, unhelpfully. “They ‘mutalized' him!”
Instead of either correcting his grammar or believing that the animal shelter was a front for Nazi experiments that turn cats into tortoises, I quickly checked another crate on the other side of the room. Inside of it, I was amazed to actually find an orange tabby with a little M shaped pattern in the fur of its head. It was a picture perfect match with the poster I’d memorized. The one that had Lizzy’s phone number on it.
I turned to ask Lizzy if it was truly her cat, but before I could start to form the words she was already squealing and running over, knocking me out of the way and opening the crate herself. Kitty and cutie reunited at last, I thought with a blush. A thought that I soon realized was incredibly out of place for the pickle that we were in at the moment.
Over the lamentations of a still clueless Jimmy on the other side of the room and joyous Lizzy celebrating, I heard a short electronic beep. I turned and saw a tiny light turn from red to green, and I gulped as the door began to open.
The door swung open with a sinisterly slow creak, the noise of it causing both Jimmy and Lizzy to turn around and see what I saw. A sweaty, bleeding, seething bulk of a man in the tattered remains of a pink shirt filled the open doorframe.
“Oh hink I neesh a fewb morbh minins,” Don said to Sid’s back. Without turning, Sid smiled a big, evil, toothy smile. “Don’t worry about it, Don,” Sid said, his voice dripping with malice. “Call the police soon as you can talk again. I wouldn’t mind a few minutes alone with these kids anyway.” With that, Sid stepped into the room, letting the heavy metal door close behind him; not with a slam, but a soft click and electronic beep that signaled that we were in huge trouble now.
Jimmy looked back and forth, eyes sweeping the room, looking for an escape, for a plan. My heart dropped when he didn’t seem to formulate one, his eyes going wide with shock and confusion when he turned and saw Lizzy holding an orange cat. Jimmy looked down at the tortoise still in his hand, back at Velcro, then back at the tortoise again.
“You have no idea the trouble that you punk kids are in.” Sid took a slow, lumbering step further into the room. He looked at all of us, one at a time, but decided that it was Jimmy he was going to start with. He took another big step towards Jimmy, the long adult gait of his walk cutting the distance between them practically in half. Jimmy shank back until he was up against a tall metal shelf, nothing but a few feet of open air and one hard-shelled reptile between him and the angry pig person.
My mind was in a total panic, I had no idea what to do. Sid laughed like a lunatic when Jimmy held the tortoise up in a shaking hand, trying to use it as a miniature shield. “You really think that a stupid turtle is going to protect you? You’re even dumber than you look.”
Jimmy’s hand suddenly steadied, a new reserve of strength and defiance flowing through him. I saw the glint in his eye that meant that he had the beginnings of a new plan in his mind. “First off,” he said, pointing the tortoise at his enemy like a landmine, “this is a tortoise, not a turtle. You should know the difference, since you work at an animal shelter, so I guess that you’re the dumb one.” Sid’s eyes narrowed into angry thin lines, the white of them a dark scratchy pink from the earlier pepper assault. “Secondly,” Jimmy continued, “she has a name. And it’s Jennifer Slowpez.”
Sid took another step forward, the space between him and Jimmy was now whittled down to almost nothing. I gulped as I watched. Outside of the door, we heard Don cough a few times and then start to speak muffled words, presumably on his phone or a walkie.
Lizzy looked over at me, fear in her eyes peeking through the eyeholes in her mask. Her look was pleading, asking me what to do. I had no answers, I felt frozen in place.
Jimmy side shuffled a bit, trying to gain a little bit more space between him and the approaching enemy. “Don’s out there calling the police right now, you Schutzstaffel swine. This whole thing is about to be busted wide open. You, the monkey experiment, the cat-lady.” Jimmy looked at Jennifer Slowpez in his hand. “And god knows what you were going to do this tortoise.” He emphasized the last word to annoy Sid, which worked and got him to snarl. His puffy pink face turned a deeper pink, almost a magenta, when Jimmy added, “Probably a sex thing.”
Sid spread his hideous mouth wide open to let out a wheezing, squealing peal of laughter. Rage shook every inch of his flabby frame. He lunged for Jimmy, who ducked and jumped a few steps to his right, which allowed him to escape the grasp but it put him into a corner with nowhere to go. Jimmy held the tortoise out as far as he could and tried to stand tall as Sid turned, stumbled and adjusted.
“I know that you’re an idiot, which isn’t your totally fault since you’re half-pig. So I’d like to explain a few things before this goes down.” Sid halted his advance but he held his ground, ensuring that Jimmy wouldn’t be able to slip past him. Despite all his rage, all his pain, there was still a bit of curiosity on his end about what Jimmy was going to say or try. And you could tell that Sid was dead serious in his belief that whatever it was, it wasn’t going to end well for Jimmy.
“I know you think you have this under control, but I assure you that you don’t. Because you didn’t know who you were messing with. A-HA!” With a little flourish of his free hand, Jimmy ripped off his plastic beard and mustache, throwing it at Sid’s feet. Sid, for his part, looked unimpressed.
“My seven-prong master plan has been unfolding ever since the first time you thought that you saw through my disguise.” I simultaneously wanted to roll my eyes and also cheer outloud. I could tell when he was about to be on a roll. The psychotic hamster was running on the wheel at full speed in his brain. “Prong one, infiltration, I wore a bad mustache on purpose, knowing it would draw suspicion. I gave you a false sense of security by letting you see through it, and then also thinking that you caught me later on. But that was simply me unleashing prong two: swine time.” Sid bobbled his weight from knee to knee, getting impatient. “Prong two was about seeing how fast you pigs talked, and I found out how quick the police response time is. It took them only four minutes to get here.” When Jimmy said this, the impatience in Sid’s body language was partially replaced by something that looked close to nervousness.
“Prong three was recruiting backup, as you can tell by the luchadore and his, uhhh, companion that I brought along. Both had special skills that were needed to break in again. It’s was like Ocean’s Eleven, but we’re so good we only needed three people. That’s eight less than George Clooney needed, by the way. I know you’re probably not good at math.”
I could tell that Sid was about at his limit of patience, his heavy breathing was threatening to tear away the last remnants of his salmon shirt. I hoped that Jimmy knew what he was doing for real.
“Prong four: shell-cocked, where I broke up the disgusting reptile sex fling you’ve been having with my friend here.” Sid hit his limit and reached one of his raw meaty hands to grab Jimmy around the throat. Jimmy tossed Jennifer Slowpez at the open hand. Her stubby reptile feet flapped in the air, her tail swirling like a propellor. Finding no support under her, she did what was natural. When Sid’s thumb was within range, she clamped down and bit with all her might.
Sid stumbled back, letting out another howl of pain, this one guttural and choked with hot, seething anger. “Prong five is jail break!” Jimmy shouted as he ran about the room, opening every box and crate and cage he could reach. Taking his cue, Lizzy and I did the same. Within seconds, the room was a mess of cats, dogs, lizards and rats. Velcro, wanting to do his part, ran up and bit a lizard, causing it to bite the closest animal to it and that started a full-fledged animal brawl on the floor.
In the ensuing chaos, Jimmy slipped past Sid and ran up to us quick as he could. Sid screamed again and swung his arm violently, finally freeing his thumb of Jennifer, who clattered across a metal counter and bounced into a utility sink. His thumb was bleeding profusely and Sid instinctively put it into his mouth and sucked, salmonella be damned. His eyes were full of tears and still burned from cayenne, so it took him a minute to reorient himself. In that time, Jimmy said in a whisper to me, “You know what prong six is. We have to do it.”
My whole body went cold. Of course I knew what it was. It was The Finisher. Before I could protest, Jimmy grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in my eyes as best he could from six inches below them. “JB, I know that you don’t want to do it. But if there was ever a time, this is it.” I was frozen; I was on fire. I didn’t want to do it, never ever. I had hoped it would always have been just a hypothetical move, one that he would talk about and laugh about but actually never do. There had to be another way.
“There’s no other way,” he said, as if reading my thoughts. “Jimmy,” I said, but that was all I got out before he continued, “JB, if this doesn’t work, I will never ever make you work a case you don’t want to again. I’ll even make you lead detective.” I couldn’t believe my ears. “Lead detective?” I asked him. He nodded quickly and in earnest. “Yes, I swear it. I know that I’ve been wrong about some things, but I’m right about this. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my whole life. I’m right about this.” I myself wasn’t sure, but I knew from his steely gaze that he one hundred percent was. As his friend, as his partner, I’ve seen him pull off some crazy stuff. Maybe this was going to be one of them. After all, he was right about the cat.
Just like that, my resolve hardened to rock. The cat, Velcro. Lizzy’s cat. Lizzy. It wasn’t just about us, she was in trouble too. If this is what it took, then so be it. I nodded and Jimmy took his hands off my shoulders. He gave me a quick hug too, out of character for him, but I guess it was a nice gesture in the moment. “See you on the other side,” he said. He turned to Lizzy, who was already asking what she should do. “Go by the door. As soon as you see the police turn the corner, bang on the window and scream for help. JB and I will do the rest.” Lizzy saluted and started towards the door, but Jimmy stopped her by gently grabbing her arm. “Prong seven,” he added in a fast, hushed tone, “is that you just agree with everything I say while this shakes out. I promise, we’ll get out of this.” He hesitated one more moment, then gave her a short hug too before ushering her towards the door. She scooted a stool to stand on so she could look out of the high slated glass window.
Sid was picking his way through the tangle of animals on the ground, not taking any time to be gentle about it. He was making a direct line towards us. “Spread out,” Jimmy shouted to me, we broke apart and fled different directions. “I’m the one you want, you pork-chop. Let’s dance.” Jimmy fell into a karate stance, waving his arms wildly, imitating the praying mantis style we had seen in a movie a few weeks ago. It seemed like time was slowing down, but that was just the adrenaline. Time was moving at its normal pace. And it had been four minutes.
“Help! Help! Help us!” Lizzy shouted, pounding on the door. Sid turned to look at her, distracted momentarily, still sucking his bleeding thumb. That was all the opening we needed. Jimmy and I made eye contact and nodded, then he held up three fingers. Then two. Then one.
As the last finger dropped, I committed to The Finisher and stepped forward. With every single fiber of strength I had, I lashed out with a single straight snap kick, just like my dad had taught me, and I caught Sid directly in the testicles. With his attention on Lizzy and his expectations on Jimmy, he didn’t see me coming at all and couldn’t protect himself one bit. Sid doubled over, his eyes rolling into the back of his skull. His cheeks puffed up even more as he tried to let out a stunned, pained gasp around his thumb, but it was stuck in place as his teeth bit down on impact.
As my kick landed right on target, Jimmy did his part. He rubbed his face with the hand that had held the pepper earlier and he stuck those fingers in his eyes, bringing out streams of tears. After that, as Sid doubled over, Jimmy pulled his pants all the way down to his ankles and tried covering himself with his hands. It was mere seconds later when we heard a beep and saw a red light turn green. As pairs of policemen entered the room, they saw Jimmy, crying in his underwear in the corner. Sid was a few paces away. Doubling over had been the last straw for his shirt, which broke apart and fell to the floor before being dragged away by a couple of loose dogs playing tug-of-war with it. No shirt, pink faced, sucking his thumb with one hand and grabbing his junk tightly with the other while moaning, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Maybe things could have been explained away, but Jimmy made it all clear when he choked out between burning tears, “Please mister, I just want my cat back, but not like this. Not like this.”
Like Sid picking his way through the fighting pets before, the police were not too gentle when taking Sid down, cuffing him, and dragging him from the room.