Read Part One Here / Read Part Two Here
Joey’s life was spiraling out of control, and the icing on the cake happened when he was leaving his shop after a long day of work. As he headed for his car, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a suspicious man dressed in black, watching him intently. Alarmed, Joey picked up his pace.
As he turned a corner, a loud bang echoed through the street, and a section of the wall next to his face exploded. Brick fragments peppered his face, stinging but not blinding him. Fear overrode shock, and Joey darted into a nearby alley, seeking cover from the maniac taking potshots at him.
Joey was fortunate; this wasn’t one of those dead-end alleys—at least, not in the conventional sense. However, the man in black was far quicker than him and rapidly closed the gap between them. The gun fired several more times, but Joey assumed he wasn’t hit because he didn’t feel any pain, so he continued to navigate deeper into the complex network of alleys. His heart hammered in his chest, and adrenaline fueled his every move. He spotted a stack of wooden crates and, with a forceful kick, sent them crashing to the ground, forming a makeshift barricade that momentarily blocked the man in black’s pursuit. Muffled curses and the sound of the assassin scrambling over the debris filled the air.
Spotting his car parked at the end of the alley, Joey sprinted towards it, his legs aching and lungs burning. Desperate to escape the relentless pursuit, he fumbled with his keys and flung the car door open. As Joey climbed into the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut, he thought he had made it.
But he was wrong.
As he reached for the ignition, he was caught off guard by a sudden blow from behind. A figure, hidden in the back seat, had clobbered him. The world went dark as Joey’s consciousness slipped away.
“And then I woke up here,” Joey said.
The woman took a long moment to process everything in Joey’s story before speaking. “So, let me get this straight. You’re saying that uniform is made from a unicorn hide and you were tricked into wearing it?”
“I’m no fashion plate, but this definitely ain’t my style.”
“And you can’t take it off because it’s grafted to your skin?”
“See for yourself.”
Her curiosity piqued, the woman got up from her seat, approached Joey cautiously, and began to examine the edges of the uniform. She tugged at it, attempting to pull it away from his skin, and he winced, but the uniform remained firmly attached.
“That’s what I call the woman I work for,” Joey said. “She refuses to tell me her name.”
“Jaclyn Hailee Dean.”
“Really? How did you…?”
“We have ways.”
“And how about you? What’s your name?”
“You can call me Marlene.”
“Okay, Marlene… the reason I took the job was because Dean—uh, Boss, that’s gonna take some getting used to—said she knew how to remove the uniform and agreed to do it if I signed and fulfilled a fixed-term contract.”
“Just because I can’t explain how a pearlescent uniform made from the hide of unicorns can graft itself to your skin doesn’t mean I can trust or should trust you. You’ve been butchering unicorns. That goes against everything I stand for.”
“Were you there, on the picket line?” Joey asked.
“Every single day.”
“Do you remember the first day when I came to work and saw the protest for the first time?”
“I certainly do.”
“This might be asking a bit much, but do you remember how long I stood there and watched your group? Did you happen to notice the expression I had on my face? My mother says I have no poker face. You can see what I’m feeling plain as day. Do you recall that Dean had to come outside and drag me into the building?”
Marlene hesitated before answering, “Yes, to all of that.”
“You have no idea how much I wanted to join your protest, how much this job has flushed my life down the toilet.”
“Choices have consequences.”
“Yeah, I know,” Joey said, unable to meet Marlene’s eyes. “What I’ve done is terrible. But I can’t turn back time and undo any of it. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to make amends.”
“You could have done that at any time. Hell, you could have said no from the start. Why the sudden change of heart?”
“Having someone trying to kill you is an excellent eye-opener.”
“We didn’t sanction that,” Marlene admitted. “Someone got a little carried away and took matters into their own hands. We caught up with him, and he’s been corrected.”
“Do I want to know what that means?”
“No. Definitely not.”
“Copy that,” Joey said. “So, what happens to me now, Marlene? I told you I’m down with your cause. Do you believe me, or do I need to be corrected too?” He meant that last bit to sound more confident than it came out.
Marlene studied Joey’s face, searching for any signs of deceit. After a long pause, she finally said, “All right, Joey Mac. I’ll take a gamble on you, but know this: if it even looks like you’re going to betray us, we’ll help you remove that shiny uniform of yours the hard way.”
“Copy that. Now, do you have the key to these cuffs? I’d really like the feeling to return to my hands.”
Unicorn rescue acquaints a man with strange bedfellows, and as night fell over the city, Joey Mac and his newfound allies from the PAUTU prepared to liberate a stable of mythical creatures from the clutches of the ruthless businesswoman, Boss née Jaclyn Hailee Dean.
Marlene gathered everyone around a table covered in blueprints and photographs of Jaclyn Hailee Dean’s butchery.
“All right, everyone, listen up,” Joey began, his voice filled with mock confidence and determination in hopes of earning the respect of the activists. “Tonight, we’re going to pull off the biggest rescue operation this city has ever seen. And we’re going to do it in style.”
“Just a sec,” Marlene said. “Who put you in charge?”
“Show of hands, who here has actually been inside the building, knows the physical layout, and actually has keycard access?” Joey said, putting his hand up and looking around the table for someone to join him. When no one did, he continued, “I think that answers your question. And since I’m the new guy here, maybe we should go around the table and introduce ourselves. You all know me, of course.”
The team members were handpicked by Marlene for their unique skills and expertise. There was Glitcher, the tech-savvy hacker; FlimFlam, the charming con artist; Flexy Lexy, the agile gymnast; and Boom-Boom, the explosives expert.
“So, I’m the only person with a real name here?” Joey asked.
“You want a code name? How about Butchie?” said Flexy Lexy. “Ooo, or Chop Sucky, what do you think?”
Joey cut the gymnast a look. “Joey Mac’ll be fine, thanks.”
With Marlene’s help, Joey outlined the plans for the heist which began as night fell, with Glitcher sitting in the back of a nondescript van parked near the butchery. Her fingers flew across the keys of her laptop as she breached the butchery’s security network with ease. With each keystroke, she disabled the security cameras and alarms one by one, rendering the building’s security team blind and oblivious.
Outside the butchery, FlimFlam received Glitcher’s green light signal through a subtle earpiece. He strode inside like a man with a purpose, wearing a perfectly tailored suit and carrying a clipboard, the picture of professionalism. As he approached the front desk, he flashed a confident smile and presented his forged health inspector credentials.
The guard on duty examined the documents and FlimFlam, master of persuasion that he was, kept up a steady stream of conversation, regaling the guard with anecdotes of past health inspections gone awry and the hefty fines imposed on those who failed to comply with regulations.
Meanwhile, Flexy Lexy and Boomzie, dressed in form-fitting all-black stealth gear, approached the butchery from a secluded alleyway. They moved with practiced precision, using grappling hooks to scale the outside wall and reach the rooftop. Safely on top, they located the access hatch Joey had mentioned in their planning session, and carefully opened it.
Inside, they navigated the dark, cramped air ducts, aided by their flashlights and guided by Joey’s whispered directions through their earpieces. They managed to make their way through the labyrinthine network of ducts.
When they reached their destination, Flexy Lexy gripped the edges of the vent cover, carefully removed it, and lowered herself into the room where the unicorns were being held. Fluid and graceful, she dropped to the floor, landing on the grass carpeting without a sound.
Along the way, Boomzie placed several explosives at strategic locations. He remained poised in the air duct, ready to create the necessary diversion at a moment’s notice. His hands hovered over the detonator, and when she gave the nod, the bomber triggered a series of muffled explosions that echoed through the building.
At the same time, Glitcher reactivated the butchery’s security system, setting off a cacophony of alarms and flashing lights. The combination of the alarms and the sound of the explosions threw the guards into a state of chaos and confusion. They panicked and scrambled to investigate the source of the disturbance.
Joey accessed the building with his keycard, stopping briefly to chat with the guards at the various security checkpoints just as he had done every day of his employment. When he reached the room marked “Unicorn Holding,” he found Flexy Lexy and Boomzie already there, awestruck by the sight. The entire space had been transformed to resemble a peaceful meadow, complete with artificial grass, trees, and even a small stream that trickled softly through the room.
The unicorns were huddled together in a corner, eyeing the two PAUTU members with a mixture of fear and curiosity. Though they shied away when the pair approached, their reaction to Joey was entirely different. As he stepped closer, the unicorns seemed to regard him as one of their own.
Noticing their bewildered expressions, Joey explained, “It’s the uniform. Maybe it makes them think I’m one of them.”
“Can you talk to them?” asked Lexy.
“Well, no, not in words exactly, but we understand each other.”
“Then Dr. Doolittle this thing and let’s get the hell out of here before the guards decide to check this room,” Boomzie said.
Joey calmed himself and reached out with his mind, broadcasting a series of images of Flexy Lexy and Boomzie frolicking in a field filled with unicorns.
Gradually, the unicorns allowed Flexy Lexy and Boomzie to come closer. Joey shared a moment of silent gratitude with the majestic creatures as he continued to reassure them because the most difficult and time-consuming part of the plan still lay before them. Somehow, amidst the chaos of blaring sirens, they had to lead the bewildered and disoriented unicorns through the labyrinth of hallways to the bank of freight elevators.
Not. The. End.