“The door to the outer office is open and there’s a light on,” Emerson whispered as he and Count Bologna crouched near the top of the stairs, peering down the hall toward Mr. Underby’s outer office. Through the open door they could see a young blonde woman in a snug-fitting grey cashmere sweater, sitting behind a desk copying notes into a ledger. Behind her, a solid looking oak door barred the way to the inner office.
“That would be Miss Fanny Buxombottom, Mr. Underby’s secretary,” Count Bologna explained. “I should have known Underby’s secretaries would be twenty-four seven. She is going to be a problem.” The Count looked at Emerson with a seriously earnest expression. “As congenial as her appearance would suggest she is immune to the male charm. Trust me, I have already tried.”
“Count, please,” Emerson held up his hand and rolled his eyes. “She just needs a little sweet talk from the Knight Crusader.” Emerson reached into his satchel and retrieved two fuzzy orbs that resemble miniature kiwi fruits. “Smoke bombs for my grand entrance,” he explained in response to the Count’s raised eyebrows.
Emerson stood at the top of the stairs, adjusted his helmet and mask then sauntered the rest of the way down the hall, the smoke bombs palmed in his left hand. He was all swagger until he reached the office door where he caught sight of Miss Buxombottom casually brushing a stray golden lock behind her ear… something about the way the lamplight reflected off the curve of her neck… that’s all it took to distract Emerson from the task at hand. He stood dumbly in the doorway until Mr. Underby’s administrative assistant looked up.
“May I help you?” the young lady furrowed her brow. Emerson tried to reply but he was suddenly struck by such an extreme bout of cotton mouth the best he could manage was a kind of wiggyfish-out-of-the-water impression, his mouth opening and closing like a ventriloquist’s puppet. As he was unable to form coherent words the young secretary tried again. “Why are you wearing a leather helmet, mask, snow boots and a woman’s catsuit?” She handed Emerson a green bottle containing fizzy mineral water from Falun.
Emerson gulped down the contents of the bottle in several long swallows then gasped. “Catsuit? I’ll have you know that this is my uniform I am—” unfortunately that is as far as Emerson got. He drank so much of the effervescent mineral water so fast he was unable to contain the burp that erupted most embarrassingly from deep down in his belly, sending fizzies all the way up out his nose like a grade school science experiment.
“Uniform?” Miss Buxombottom repeated, taking the bottle and handing Emerson a tissue. “You must be the new security guard. Well, it’s about time.”
“Time?” said Emerson, confused by this turn of events. “Time for what?”
“It’s been over ten minutes since I heard the sounds in Mr. Underby’s office and rang that bell,” she took a step closer and dropped her somewhat breathy voice to a husky whisper. “He’s already livid because of the break-in earlier this week… what would I do if there really were intruders here?”
Emerson shifted his focus from Miss Buxombottom’s eyes to her lips then quickly back. Had she noticed? He balled his hands into fists to release some tension. It was only then that he remembered he had been clutching a couple of smoke bombs in his left hand. Not only did the office suddenly fill with smoke but a foul stench nearly choked them as well. “Sorry about that,” Emerson apologized between fits of coughing. “I think they may have been a bit off.”
Miss Buxombottom, unable to bear the noxious assault any longer, ran to the door and down the hall, right on past Count Bologna who smiled and nodded most cordially as they crossed.
“A brilliant execution, my friend, but that smell is practically unbearable.” Count Bologna held his arm across his face as he made straight for Underby’s door.
“I have some tools if you need to pick it,” said Emerson.
“No need, it looks like the lock is broken. How fortunate for us.” The door creaked like a horror show prop as the Count pushed inward. “Come.”