Continued from Part 3…
Max and the Argentinian Death Penguin, Part 4: Hidden Where None Dare Venture
Maxine frantically searched through the bottles and glasses behind the bar, crouched down out of the line of fire. On the other side of the bar, an enormous brawl had broken out between Dragon and his henchmen, the two agents, and the bar patrons who saw no reason to get left out of a perfectly good bar fight; the agents had, apparently, been lying about having more men outside.
Tensions had been high enough, but then Agent Paulson picked up the skates Max had brought for The Dragon, and that set him off. Now it was all shouts and crashes and occasionally someone shrieking, “My God, what is that stench?! What did you eat?!”
“Come on,” Max muttered, moving bottles of whiskey aside. “Where the hell is it? Come on, you stupid penguin.” Beside her, Bonkers and Reginald looked around the bar. “How the hell did Paulson even find us?”
Bonkers cocked his head at her. “What?”
“Nothing; it was rhetorical.”
Just then, Agent Little Dog stepped behind the bar, .38 in one hand, the Giggling Penguin in the other. “Looking for this?”
“Bad dog!” Max yelled. She turned to Agent Little Dog. “Where’d you find the Penguin?”
“Behind the butterscotch schnapps.”
“Of course,” she said standing up. “The one bottle you can be sure would never get touched.”
Agent Little Dog fired three shots in the air, stopping the fight as suddenly as it broke out. Paulson pulled himself out of Dragon’s headlock and brushed himself off. “Okay, then,” Paulson said. “We’ve got what we came for. We’ll just be going. Dragon, thank you for a lovely time. And there’s no shame in using mouthwash, by the by.”
“I EAT A LOT OF GARLIC.”
“Yeah, unless you import your garlic from Chernobyl, that’s not it. So long, everybody.”
And with that, he and Agent Little Dog were gone.
A moment later, Bonkers came running up with the roll of toilet paper in his mouth. “Go’ i’,” he said, his mouth around the large, lumpy roll.
Maxine sighed. “Wonderful.”
An hour later Maxine, Bonkers and Reginald and thanked Dragon for his help and apologized for causing so much trouble (“IS OKAY”, he’d laughed. “IT’S LONG TIME SINCE WE HAD LIVE ENTERTAINMENT.”), and were back on the road. She drove aimlessly along. “Unbelievable. It was right there. I’ve lost my touch. And Paulson, that lowlife – no way he’s still with the government.” She sighed. “Reginald, good job on bathroom lookout.”
From the backseat Reginald moaned, “I am grateful only that I still have sight and hearing in this calamitous spectral prison in which I reside. Gone, gone are my senses that-“
“Uh-huh,” she interrupted. She picked up the lumpy roll of toilet paper and shook it at Bonkers. “And you. Chasing toilet paper rolls!?”
Bonkers said, flatly, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin.”
Max’s face went red with rage. “What? You-? Really?! Now seems like the time to quote 70’s TV commercials at me?! Well, here comes an ‘ancient Chinese secret,’ pal, I’m about two seconds from throwing you out of the car!”
“You’re not Chinese, you’re Korean.”
“I know I’m Korean! That’s from a 70’s TV… Oh, you make me so…”
“And besides, I don’t want you to squeeze it because it has delicate equipment in it.”
Max and Reginald looked at him.
“What you said about Paulson finding us. I went out to the car and, sure enough, he’d planted a tracker. So, I put the tracker on his car and took their monitor and wrapped it in the toilet paper so it wouldn’t get, you know, drooly. We can see exactly where they’re going.”
Max pulled over. She had to think about this. Finally, she smiled. “Good boy,” she said. “Good boy.” She reached in to the glove compartment and got Bonkers a Chewie Biscuit. “Alright, let’s see where we’re headed.”
“Welcome to Escheron Caves,” droned the man at the mouth of the vast caverns. He was around 30, and stared half at, half through the visitors in front of him. His ‘Official Tour Guide’ cap was perched precariously on his white-guy dreadlocks. “My name is Phil, and I’ll be leading you through this walking tour of the caves. Please don’t step off the path or you’ll disrupt the delicate natural something, and also you’ll die. These caves have existed for nearly two hundred years and stretch-“
“Do you mean two million?” someone in the crowd asked.
“Probably. And stretch through a vast network from the closest cavern, called The Chapel, to the Manatee Cave, which is the deepest cave.”
A man asked, “Why is it called Manatee Cave? Manatees aren’t native to these parts, right?” Several people laughed.
Phil stared vacantly for a moment. “Please follow me, and be sure your flashlights are working properly before entering the caves.”
Maxine, hidden among the tour group, rolled her eyes. “It’s called Manatee Cave because of the cave manatees, you doofus.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘cave manatees,’” Bonkers said, skeptically.
“Oh, yes there is. All those gentle–”
Phil suddenly noticed Maxine. “Oh, hey Maxine,” he said, his drone tinged with bitterness. “Come to see if my broken heart is in the cave somewhere? Maybe stomp on it a few more times?”
She sighed. “Hi, Phil. No, Phil. Sorry, Phil. I don’t suppose you know anything about a Giggling Penguin?”
“Isn’t that a jam band from Austin?”
“Never mind, Phil.”
Phil went back to the head of the tour group and starting giving highly questionable facts about the mineral make-up of the caves around them. Pragyawati had said someone at the caves would help them, but stupid Phil? They continued on the tour for nearly forty minutes until the came to the entrance to Manatee Cave. Phil gave a brief explanation of the cave before telling the group that it was too dangerous to actually go in to the cave and leading them on.
Once the group had gotten far enough ahead, she and Bonkers started down the narrow passage toward Manatee Cave. Within moments, her flashlight flickered out, leaving them in total darkness. “Damn!” she shouted.
A voice from in front of them said, “You have no need of sight here.” Max shook her light back to life and shined it in front of them. Before them stood a man draped in a black and white cloak, patterned to resemble a penguin. He didn’t react to the light in his face, because his eyes were gone – replaced with two, blood-red glass orbs.
“Oh my God,” said Maxine. “A priest of the Penguin Death Blood Cult.”
“You wish to come to the altar?” he asked. “You need only follow me. Your friends, the men in suits, are already here.”
“We have to get to that penguin,” Max said to Bonkers. “You don’t know what its eyes can do.”
“Not like this,” he replied. “You heard stupid Phil. This is a vast network of tunnels. There’s got to be another route than just following the priest to Paulson and the altar. I’ve got a beagle nose. I can sniff it out.”
“But can you do it in time?”
Continue to Part 5: Death Holds A Staring Contest