Tri Hoodwinked!

Chapter Three

Bo Peep was relieved when she saw Red and Wolf walk into the Command center, which was a first since Flippers had brought them along with Twitchy and Granny in years ago. Even her sheep seemed to settle a little. "Did ya two find anything?" she asked as she rounded on them before they could disappear. She was too worried to be amused when Wolf tried to discreetly put Red between them. First the breakout, then learning that Twitchy had disappeared, and now Flippers had left to investigate his own lead. She was having a hard time assuring her sheep that everything would be okay, let alone herself.

"Well, we know wherever Twitchy is, he had his coffee," Wolf said dryly, which earned him a dark look from the sheppardess. Like always, it didn't seem to faze him. But then it was no secret he didn't care what most people thought of him. As long Twitchy and Red weren't mad at him, he was okay.

"Ya've been gone this long and dat's all ya have?" she fumed slightly. "Nothin' else?"

"Calm down," Red tried to sooth, "We have some other leads but their... vague."

Bo raised an eyebrow, "Whadda ya mean, vague?" She wasn't much of an investigator even after years of working at the agency. Then again, her only job was keeping her sheep focused on their jobs. Sheep were wonderful at mundane tasks, always eager to please and hardly ever complained. However, they did get distracted easily without someone to keep them focused.

However, she could tell when someone was trying to evade a question.

"We have a name," Red said carefully, raising Bo's suspicions even higher. "We just need to do some more research. Where's Flippers?"

"He ain't' here," Bo answered shortly. "He said he had a few leads of his own that he wanted to check personally. I've been working with that bullfrog for over ten years now and whenever he does this, it means somethin' really bad is goin' on. Actually, the last time he did this he brought you guys back."

Red and Wolf looked at one another, allowing their pretenses to drop as they shared a worried look. They've never seen Flippers out on the field except to wrap things up and be a liaison between them and the local police force. "Did he say what kind of leads?" Wolf asked. Bo frowned, her blonde curls bouncing as she shook her head.

"Nah, but he was worried about somethin'. Now what's this name you have?"

"The name's Nemo…" as soon as Red answered her, Bo turned her head and nodded to her sheep that had gathered around the trio. Instantly 'baas' and the click-clack of hoof against keyboards sounded through the office as they researched the name.

Bo turned back to the two, "I can't say the name's familiar, but we'll find out all we can."

Flippers crouched on the high wall, catching his breath while watching the guards beneath him. Had it really been that long that he had done this? He remembered having no difficulty sneaking past the guards and leaping across walls and up the high towers with not needing to stop once for a breath.

Since this was an official investigation, his HEA badge probably would have gotten him through the gilded doors without any of the usual fuss. However, his instincts alerted him something was wrong when he made it to the main gates without so much as a peep from the guards or anyone else. He had quickly hidden himself among the branches of an old oak tree and watched.

Before, the guards had been humorously lazy, only snapping into shape when a supervisor or visitor strolled by. He could remember easily evading them as they chatted about the last game or whatever soap opera that had become their guilty pleasure. Now the trimmed animals stood at attention at every doorway and gate, eyes staring unseeingly forward. A thrown pebble had revealed they were paying minute attention to their surroundings, and he was lucky his green mottled skin and dark suit blended with the leaves.

Now he was sure something was going on, and he dearly wished that he was merely imagining the faint scent in the air.

He waited until the guards had returned to their posts, with their blank stares, before quickly crawling higher in the tree to where the branches were only a few feet from a ledge. From the ledge it was a use-to-be-easy climb up the trellis, a few precarious jumps and one last clamor to open a window that was usually open before he fell into room far away and high above where he started.

The first thing he noticed was the usual overwhelming scent of Lilacs were gone, replaced by a faint sting of bleach. Others fell in quick concession- the cluttered room was spotless. No clothes laid on every surface. Books were not piled in dangerously high stacks, papers and art utensils weren't scattered, and the purple wallpaper wasn't plastered with artwork. Instead, the walls were barren, he could actually see the dark wood floor, and every piece of clothing was in its place.

Except for the white gown on the mannequin standing smack-dab in the center of the room. The traditional-styled dress was trimmed with pearls and sequins, and Flippers could see why Zel had bolted without notice. It was a beautiful dress, but it wasn't her. And it also had a slight tinge of Hazelnuts around it.

"She still cannot take care of herself." He froze at the giggle, his eyes darting to find the owner. "And it appears she only traded one cage for another one. And this one cannot even hold her!" The hysterical laugh reached its pitched when he saw something move in the deeper shadows along one of the curtained wall. "Is this so much better, Inspector? You said you worked in Happily Ever Afters, but is she so happy?"

"She has a better chance at it," he replied calmly. "This is where she belongs."

A cloaked figure stepped out of the shadows, its movements disjointed. "You thinks so, Inspector?" The voice sneered. "That is why I hate you and your kind. You swan in, restricting freedom and breaking up families! We were perfectly content before you had arrived! You turned her against me! You planted ideas and fears into her mind!"

"Madam, she feared you long before I arrived." Flippers stood his ground, even as the cloaked figure circled him from a distance. His sharp eyes noted the unusual gait, the unfamiliar click of nails on the floor. "The interesting question at hand is: how are you here?"

The cloaked figured stopped, and two small paws reached out from beneath the heavy black material and turned down the hood- revealing a lop-sided face of a rat, its eyes unseeingly white, and its yellow teeth half missing. "Oh-ho-ho, I would not face you personally, Inspector. Not yet. Nor will I reveal my cards to you." The rat's mouth didn't move, nor did it even take a breath. Flippers felt slightly sick when he realized it was a product of Necromancy. The darkest of magic, forbidden in the Kingdoms for good reason. "I will tell you one thing, however. This is all for you. You took everything away, so I am paying you back in turn."