“Do you think it’s got anything to do with what the Admiral is up to when he’s behind closed doors?” I whispered in excitement.
“I can’t say for certain, but I’ve got a really strong gut feeling about this,” replied Camille.
“That’s good enough for me, it can’t really hurt. Let’s talk more about it after tonight’s show, I’ve gotta go.”
When I heard her say goodbye I hung up my phone and resumed my position lurking in a bush with binoculars. Little did Wiseacre know taking my cats gave me ample time to skulk around his affairs and try to figure out what he was up to—not that it had helped me come up with anything concrete. I was worried sick about my babies and if I didn’t hear anything soon, I was going to do something insane.
I struck gold when, after several long and boring hours, Wiseacre emerged from the tent exit closest to his looking as shifty as ever. As I focused the zoom on the binoculars, someone leaned in close to my ear and whispered, “It’s not ladylike to peep.”
I couldn’t contain my scream as I turned around and used the binoculars to smash the intruder’s nose to hell.
“Ow! My face hasn’t done anything to warrant a smashing; I suggest you put those lovely hands to less violent work, Nix.”
My relief was immediate, seeing it was only Luke Jones, our stunt guy, and not Orzo. Luke was scowling at me while holding his nose tight with both hands.
“I would actually feel bad if you hadn’t scared the shit out of me,” I shrugged. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you to respect a lady’s space, Luke?”
“You know I prefer it when the females call me Stinger,” said Luke, gently squeezing his nose to make sure nothing was broken. “Besides, I don’t think ‘your space’ counts as spying on the boss.” He gave me a knowing smirk.
“Yeah yeah, whatever makes you feel manlier,” I said, waving him away. “I don’t have time for this. You can’t tell anyone you saw me doing this.”
I saw the hypothetical light bulb flash in his brain and instantly regretted my choice of words.
“It sounds like you want to strike a deal. How about I don’t tell anyone about your secret, and you can take me on a date or 4? Or you can just prance around in those pretty little outfits of yours in my dressing room, whichever one you prefer.”
“How about you keep your words about me to yourself, or I’ll shove them back down your throat?” I said sweetly, tightening my grip on the binoculars and fighting the urge to hit him with them again.
He chuckled and shook his head, because in Stinger’s world nothing fazed him. “You know, Nixie, you’ve got a funny way of coming on to a guy but I kind of like it. I’ll keep your little covert operation to myself; I only came over here because Orzo sent me to tell you the cats are back in action in their holding room.”
“Excellent news, sorry about your face!” I yelled back at him as I took off to see Kaveh and Ensi with my own eyes.
I had been skeptical that Wiseacre really sent them to the vet, or that I would ever see them again but maybe I was wrong about the guy. Maybe…
I pushed the door to their holding room open and stopped short, the smile wilting from my face. The two large cats looked exactly like my lions but there was something very wrong with them. Their eyes that had previously held so much warmth and playfulness were cold and lifeless.
Slowly I walked towards them, and placed my hands on each of their backs. I could feel them breathing, so I knew there was life in them, but neither of them responded to my touch. A throat cleared from the doorway and I would have known it was Wiseacre even if my back was turned.
“What did you do to them?” I accused.
“I improved them,” he said, grinning. “They were sick, close to death and I had my team of doctors handle them.”
“No, I don’t believe you! They were fine when I left them.”
“That you saw, but I wouldn’t have taken them if they weren’t ill would I?” Wiseacre sneered.
My world was suddenly taking a sinister turn and was about to spiral out of control. Wiseacre was holding all of the strings and pulling them at his will.
“What do you mean by ‘improved’?” I asked, afraid of the answer.
“Leave the logistics to me. All you need to know is you can give them commands in your native tongue, and they will obey.”
That was impossible. I raised them on English; there was no way that they would understand Slovak commands. Unless these weren’t my lions, or something worse was going on. “No way, I want nothing to do with anything you’ve messed with. Keep your abominations, I won’t perform with them.”
“Oh I think you will. Utok,” he said sharply, nodding his head at Kaveh.
In an instant, the male lion I had raised from a cub had me pinned to the ground and was snarling and gnashing his teeth inches away from my face. For the first time ever, I was afraid of Kaveh.
“Just remember something every time you want to tell me no, Nixela: I’ll always be more powerful than you. Uvol’nite.”
Kaveh released me but I was still shaking too hard to get up from the ground. I heard the Admiral leave the room, and I had to force back the tears that were beginning to well up.
I was in a world of trouble.