The night is deepest black. Mr Lush is descending rapidly towards Mahto’s fortress. The 100 hummingbirds, attached to each other by little harnesses to form Lush’s paraglider, are struggling under their load. They have been carrying him for over twenty minutes at this point. “Whose great idea was this?”, groans one moustachioed hummingbird. “I didn’t sign up for this!” opines another. Mr Lush, far from being empathetic, has his own concerns in mind. He has never liked heights and he’s trying to remember the last time he had some solid ground under his feet.
They started from the roof of Lush’s London apartment, shortly after he had slipped on his black uniform. Lush never suspected that he might not have entirely understood Olivier’s orders to wear black clothing for the final assault. As such, he was all the more surprised when Olivier, seeing Lush step out onto the roof in a double-breasted dinner suit and opera pumps, slammed the palm of his right paw against his forehead and asked quite earnestly: “Lush… Are you an idiot?” However, he seemed to think better of it. “Actually, never mind. This is entirely my fault. Never work with children or humans. Anyway, buckle up and hold on tight. By the way, this will your travelling companion, Ingo Messerschnitt.” Lush, resisting the urge to explain to the ignorant ocelot what any gentleman should already know, namely that black tie is, when worn correctly, the most inconspicuous outfit in any man’s wardrobe, held out his hand to a small, black marten. “Ingo”, said the little marten, climbing onto Lush’s shoulders. “Lush, enchanté”. “Ingo was supposed to travel in your bag during the flight. However, as you inevitably didn’t bring one, I suppose he’ll have to be your evening scarf. We have to get moving now. Godspeed and remember the plan.” Two leopards helped Lush get ready while the hummingbirds went through their final engine tests. “Prepare for take off.”
Lush is awakened from his reverie by Ingo shouting “Mayday! Mayday! We’re losing engine power.” Lush, realising that they are rapidly losing altitude, looks up and indeed sees a number of hummingbirds too exhausted to keep flying. Lush looks around in a panic, as they rapidly descend towards Mahto’s compound. Ingo holds his little paws in front of his eyes. “I hope your dinner suit has airbags”, cries Ingo. “Those would be rather unfortunate final words”, quips Lush. Lush and Ingo land with a crash in the panther enclosure, a small distance from their planned landing zone in the forecourt.
As soon as Lush realises he is not dead, he finds that he has landed in a bush of some kind. Judging from the smell, it has recently been used as a litter bush. Ingo already has his wits about him and is checking their surroundings. Everything seems to be calm. He whispers to Lush: “Are you alright?” Lush nods, sadly. He is clearly in pain. He has realised that he has a large hole in the seat of his trousers. “I don’t even think there is any of that vintage barathea left to replace these trousers.” He is hit with a wave of paradoxical relief when he recalls that there is no guarantee that he will ever have to deal with that problem, as it is unlikely he will survive the night.
Lush stands up. He does not seem to have broken any bones. With Ingo back around his neck, Lush begins to sneak, just as the raccoon had taught him. The gate to the enclosure is already in sight. Approaching the gate, Lush begins to pick the lock. Unfortunately, just at that moment, the marten sneezes loudly. He must be allergic to Lush’s cologne. Lush holds his breath. Out of the corner of his eye, Lush, much to his disappointment, sees a panther wake and begin to stretch lazily. “Thankfully, these trousers were already ruined”, Lush thinks, as he begins to feel the urine run down his leg. Lush quickly turns and continues picking the lock. After a few tense moments, the lock springs open. By this point, the panther has noticed the intruder and is bounding towards the gate. Lush removes the chain holding the gate, opens it, jumps out, and closes the gate in the face of panther. There is a brief moment of silence. Though the panther is unable to speak, Lush feels that there is a connection between the two of them. “We are here to free you”, he whispers. The panther gives a short nod and sits down. “We’ll come back for you”, he says, before sneaking off to find Ingo, who is already a short distance ahead. “I found it. You just open it and I’ll do the rest.”, whispers Ingo. The plan is for Ingo to open the gate, at which point Lush will signal the animal cavalry and the assault can begin. Lush moves swiftly up to where Ingo is waiting and picks the lock on the electrical box. The marten, putting on a pair of children’s reading glasses, begins to examine the cables.
While Lush is getting in position near the gate, he realises just how much he is sweating. The last time he was this excited was when, as a young man, he went to meet with the family to discuss the estate of his recently deceased grandfather. Unfortunately, he soon found out that his grandfather’s will stated explicitly and in no uncertain terms that Lush was to be given nothing, as he was (and I quote) “a silly, little man”. However, every cloud has a silver lining. That was the only point Lush’s family could ever agree on.
“That should do it”, Ingo screams, at an impressive volume considering he still holds the cable between his teeth. Just as the gate begins to open, Lush places the whistle in his mouth and takes a deep breath. However, before he can blow, he feels a tap on his shoulder. He turns to see Mahto, flanked by two tigers, all in matching New and Dingalingwood morning gowns. The whistle falls from Lush’s lips in amazement.
“Ah, Mr Lush. Fancy seeing you here! And so late at night too. You know what they say; it’s easiest to find something once you stop looking for it. Listen, I really don’t mean to interrupt, but could I perhaps talk to you for a moment, over there, in the tiger enclosure?” MM/DC