Save the Tiger

 A novelization based on the screenplay by Steve Sustersic

Adapted by Allie Ann


I decided to novelize this particular episode, because it’s one of my favorites. It shows how interdependent Baloo, Rebecca, Kit, and Molly really are, although Baloo would be loath to admit it. :o) I also added a few scenes, which I hope enhance the story and make it flow better. But enough of my rambling. You want to read the story, not read my comments. On with the show...

 

September 1937

A state-of-the-art plum and taupe airplane belonging to the richest man in Usland, Shere Khan --- one could tell from the encircled ‘SK’ on the nose --- cut through the clear azure skies over the Pacific Ocean. When the pilot increased the throttle, the starboard engine burst into flames.

“Engine number one is out, sir,” the grey panther pilot said over the intercom as one of the two co-pilots cut the fuel flow to that engine in an attempt to put out the fire.

Meanwhile, a few hundred feet below, the Sea Duck, an orange-trimmed yellow Conwing L-16 seaplane was cruising on its way to Cape Suzette with a load of cinnamon from the Far, Far East. Its pilot, a large grey bear named Baloo von Bruinwald, lounged in the patched pilot’s seat. The plane was running on autopilot: a crowbar slung across the steering yoke. In addition to sorely missing his navigator --- twelve-year-old Kit Cloudkicker was in school --- Baloo felt hotter than one of Louie’s fresh-out-of-the-oven pizzas. The broiling tropical sun turned the cockpit into a sauna. The hot wind blowing through the open windows did little but ruffle his fur and yellow, button-down shirt. Only a cold drink would hit the spot. Unfortunately, all he had was a case of room temperature strawberry soda --- and no bottle opener. 

“Aw, yuck. Warm soda pop,” the pilot grumbled to himself. “Why couldn’t she just buy me an icebox like I asked her?” The ‘she’ referred to his tight-fisted boss, Rebecca Cunningham.

Taking another bottle from the crate sitting on the navigator’s seat, he tried to open it using a small pry bar just above his head. He was rewarded with sticky pink liquid spewing in his face. 

This wasn’t the first time it had happened. The entire cockpit was sticky from his previous attempts to open a bottle. Sticky floor, sticky clothes, sticky console, sticky control yoke, etc... The pile of empty bottles behind his seat and the frown on the big bear’s face attested to his repeated failures. 

Rummaging through the glove box, he procured a blue handkerchief, which he used to wipe his face. “I mean, here I am on time an’ everythin’.” 

In Khan’s plane, things were heating up. Literally. Without seeming provocation, the other engine caught on fire. The pilot announced over the intercom, “Things have gotten worse, sir. Engine number two’s out.” 

Unaware of the plight of the other plane just above him, Baloo placed the handkerchief over the top of the bottle and twisted as hard as he could. The cap didn’t budge. Desperate, he banged the bottle against the control panel. More sticky soda everywhere. “Guy could die of thirst up here.” He tossed the empty bottle over his right shoulder in disgust. 

“I can’t hold it, sir. We’re going down.” Khan’s plane began a sharp dive towards the blue ocean below, thick grey smoke billowing from its engines.  

Finally, on the last bottle of soda, Baloo oh, so carefully lifted the cap, murmuring, “Easy does it, baby. Come to Papa,” and joyfully shouted, “Hallelujah!” as it came off in his hand without spraying all over. 

But before one drop could touch his parched tongue, the Sea Duck jerked to port, causing soda to drench his face. Shere Khan’s plane had grazed the wing. “Oh, no!” he spluttered, wiping soda from his face with the back of his hand. “Sunday flyer!”

“Mayday! Mayday!” shouted Khan’s pilot over the radio. 

Baloo jammed his cap down over his head. “Don’t worry. Ol’ Baloo’ll save you.” He tossed both the empty bottle and ‘autopilot’ aside with a clatter. 

Taking the control stick, he dove the seaplane, gauged the distance between Khan’s plane and the Sea Duck quickly, and propped up the other plane under the starboard wing, flashing a thumbs-up to Khan’s pilots. A small deserted island appeared through the cumulus clouds. He aimed for it. Upon landing, Khan’s nearly identical panther pilots immediately fell to repairing the engines. 

Baloo rafted to shore, ready to offer his assistance or use of his tools. From the cargo hold of the Khan’s plane, a door opened. A smallish tiger let down a folding stairway and brushed traces of dust from the three carpeted steps with a whisk broom. An imposing, barrel-chested tiger in an expensive, navy three piece suit descended the stairs regally. 

Catching sight of the well-known tiger businessman, Baloo hurried over to him, saying, “Hey, do you know who you are? You’re Khan!” 

Shere Khan merely lifted an eyebrow. He was used to being revered by the poor people of the world. He’d seen this commoner before, but what was his name? It started with a ‘B’ and ended with an ‘oo’. A very odd name, indeed. “You saved my life, Mr. Buffaloo.” 

“Uh, that’s Baloo,” the pilot corrected. 

“Mmmmyes...I owe you everything.” He snapped his fingers and the yes-man opened a large platinum watch in front of Khan. “At this moment, Khan Industries is worth three point seven billion dollars.” 

“My watch must be runnin’ a few thousand slow,” Baloo chuckled, holding up his own much smaller, tarnished pocket watch. 

“You may have whatever you want. Simply name it.” Khan thought he was being exceptionally generous. 

Baloo waved a dismissive paw. “Aw, you don’t owe me a thing.” He was just glad that he could help. 

“Perhaps...but my motto is to always repay your debts and never break a deal.” 

“Well, don’t want much,” Baloo considered, stroking his chin in thought. 

“Yes?” 

Offhand, Baloo blurted out the thing that was foremost on his mind. “Maybe a refrigerator...” 

“And?” Khan asked. A refrigerator seemed such a paltry item in exchange for his life. 

“I don’t know. Some sodas...an’ a bottle opener might be nice. I really can’t say.” 

Owen, the small tiger toady, wrote these items on a notepad. Per his employer’s instructions, he would order them and have them delivered. 

“Take all the time you need. Drop by my office when you’ve decided.” Shere Khan ascended the stairs, turning around in the doorway of the cargo hold. “Only one stipulation: I’d like to keep our little arrangement a secret.” He flicked his menacing, sharp claws out. “I may be indebted, but I don’t want it known to everyone.” 

Baloo watched as Owen folded the steps, pulled them back into the plane, and closed the door. “Man, now, there’s a guy who knows how to live!” he murmured to himself as he paddled the raft back to the Sea Duck. “Must be great to be rich an’ have everythin’ ya want with just a snap of the fingers.” 

Actually, Baloo was wrong. Khan didn’t have everything. The billionaire may have had everything money could buy, but he was missing one very crucial thing in his life: friends. In that respect, Baloo was much, much richer. 

 

Higher for Hire

Thirty Minutes Later

The Sea Duck splashed down for a landing in the sparkling blue-green waters of the Cape Suzette harbor and taxied up to the dock. Kit, a small brown bear cub in an olive green sweater and red-billed blue baseball cap, ran down the dock to greet him. “Hi, Papa Bear! Good flight?” 

Baloo fondly ruffled the boy’s hair, boasting, “Yep, an’ you’ll never guess in a million years who I ran into.” 

“Who?” Kit asked as the duo strolled up the dock to an unpainted wooden building with a crow’s nest reaching towards the cloud-dotted sky. The boy smiled. It wasn’t much to look at, but it was home. 

Just in time, Baloo recalled his promise to Shere Khan to keep their arrangement a secret. “Uh...never mind. Tell ya later, L’il Britches.” 

The two male bears stepped into the small, semi-messy office. The walls were unpainted; in fact, they weren’t even plastered. Wiring and pipes were visible. The furnishings were sparse: a patched maroon chair in one corner, a few mismatched rugs softened the glare of the bare hardwood floor, a few empty crates served as tables or chairs as needed, three filing cabinets under the stairwell, and a desk at the far end of the room. However, despite its shabbiness, the office had a certain homey quality, partly because of the mellow afternoon sunshine streaming in through two large windows, partly because the inhabitants cared for each other.  

“There you are, Baloo! About time!” curtly remarked the owner of Higher for Hire. Rebecca Cunningham was a petite brown bearess in a magenta sweater, white turtleneck, and purple slacks. Her six-year-old daughter Molly, a yellow cub in blue overalls and pink shirt, played with a doll on the floor beside her mother’s desk. 

“Hey, Beckers. Boy, if I could tell you what just happened to me,” Baloo chuckled, twirling his cap on one finger. 

“No stories. Just tell me where that came from.” She pointed to a brilliant white, brand-new, top-of-the-line refrigerator sitting in one corner of the office. 

“My icebox!” Baloo cried in surprise. He hadn’t actually expected to get a refrigerator. He opened it. It was filled with cold strawberry soda. A bottle opener lay on top of the refrigerator. 

“Yours?” Rebecca queried suspiciously. 

“Uh...I...I bought it,” said Baloo uncertainly. 

“With what?” Her pilot never had ten cents, let alone enough money to purchase a nice appliance like that. 

“Uh, well, I...” Baloo squirmed under her shrewd, skeptical glare. 

Molly came to the rescue. She approached her mother and Baloo, dragging the doll Lucy with her. “Did you find some money, Baloo? I found a quarter in the gutter once.” 

“Yeah, that’s it.” He popped the cap off a soda and sank into his favorite comfy maroon chair. “I found it in the, uh, gutter.” 

“Which is probably where you were all day instead of delivering cargo,” Rebecca retorted sarcastically, arms folded across her chest. 

“Hey, I was on time...before I got late.” He took a swig of soda. 

“This business may not be important to you, but Higher for Hire means something to me.” 

Sensing an imminent scolding, Baloo tilted his cap over his eyes and slouched down in the chair. He wished that Rebecca would just leave him alone. It had been a hard day. “Yeah, it means work, work, work.” 

“No!” To get Baloo’s attention, Rebecca snatched the cap from his head. He stared at her in amazement as she blurted out, “It means a home...and a life...and...and everything that’s important to me.” 

Baloo grabbed the cap back. “Yeah, like M-O-N-Y, money.” 

Rebecca frowned at the insinuation that money was all that mattered to her.

“Why, all the dough in the world wouldn’t be enough for you. But not me; if I had the bucks, I’d quit workin’, lay back, relax. Oh, baby.” He stuck a bendy straw in the bottle and swilled down half of the soda in a few gulps. 

Rebecca laughed. “Keep dreaming. You don’t even have enough to buy your plane back from me.” 

Baloo smiled a secret smile. He knew exactly what he wanted to request from Khan to even the score. “Hey, you’re right, Becky, but I will have.” Tired of this conversation and just plain tired, he took off for his room to take a real snooze in a real bed. 

The bearess stalked after Baloo, unwilling to let the subject drop. He’d still hadn’t produced a satisfactory explanation concerning his tardiness, let alone the refrigerator. Moreover, he hadn’t unloaded the crates of cinnamon from the plane. The truck was going to be here any minute to pick up the cargo. “Where do you think you’re going, mister? Baloo! I’m yelling at you, Baloo!” 

They stomped past the cubs, who were playing with Molly’s doll over by the window. 

“Is Mommy mad at Baloo?” Molly asked softly, crouching on the crate under the window. She hated it when her mother and Baloo fought, something that they did quite often. 

Kit, sitting on the floor, leaned against the crate. He smiled, saying truthfully, “No. She really likes him, and he really likes her.” 

Contrary to Kit’s statement, both adults continued to argue. 

“Back off, I’m busy, lady!” Baloo growled from upstairs. 

Rebecca retorted, “Busy goofing off! What is this...?” 

Both cubs cringed when the bedroom door slammed; they flicked frightened eyes upstairs towards the noise. 

“There’s just times when they like each other better than others,” Kit concluded. 

Rebecca stomped down the stairs to her desk, fists balled, ranting with anger. “Oooo!!! That bear! Lazy, irresponsible...one of these days...why I ought to...” 

To distract Molly from the argument, Kit suggested that they go outside and find out what Wildcat was up to. 

 

The Next Afternoon

Baloo had to wait until he had completed his deliveries before he could slip over to Khan Towers. It hadn’t been easy to evade Rebecca’s persistent, mosquito-like questions about why he was dressed up and where he was going and why he never told her anything. He breathed a sigh of relief when he was in the cab speeding towards downtown and Khan Towers. It was the tallest, most impressive skyscraper that loomed over all other skyscrapers in Cape Suzette, but everything associated with Shere Khan was impressive. 

The big bear, sporting a brown corduroy jacket and an aquamarine tie in addition to his usual flight shirt, found himself ushered into Shere Khan’s penthouse office. Remembering his manners, he whipped off his cap. He stood just outside the elevator for a moment, gawking in awe at the surroundings. No matter how many times he’d been here it was still intimidating. Thick jungle growth, watered by fountains springing from the walls, lined both sides of the massive room. Actually, it was amazing that plants could grow there; it was dark, save for a little sunlight filtering in through a crack in the heavy maroon curtains of the gigantic wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor window at the far end of the room. The patch of sunlight spotlighted a large desk and chair. The chair’s tall back was turned to the room.            

Baloo stepped quietly through the hushed office to the desk. The room was swathed in a sinister atmosphere of anticipation as if the man enthroned in that huge chair was a powerful predator waiting for precisely the right moment to pounce on its defenseless prey. Fumbling with his cap nervously before the desk, Baloo said timidly, “Um...hello?” 

The chair swivelled around, and there was Khan. His composed, forbidding face was hidden in shadow. “Sit,” he ordered sharply in his cultured bass voice. 

Baloo dropped obediently in a plush chair. The tall bear had to sit on the edge of the chair to look over the desktop, and he had to crane his head to look at Khan’s impassive face. Shere Khan had those chairs built low on purpose. They were a reminder of who ruled in that room. 

“I expected you fifteen minutes ago.” 

Lamely, Baloo explained, “I woulda been here sooner, but I had trouble with my tie.” 

Looking over a million dollar contract, Khan murmured condescendingly, “How dreadfully uninteresting. Have you decided on what you would like to even the score?” 

“I, uh, was kinda hopin’ ta buy back the Sea Duck,” Baloo anxiously fiddled his fingers on the desk, “if it isn’t too much trouble.” 

“Granted.” Shere Khan snapped his fingers. Owen was instantly at his side with a briefcase full of money. 

“Really?” Baloo exclaimed in amazement. “That’s all there is to it?” 

“As I said, I always repay my debts. Now, if there’s nothing further...” That was Baloo’s cue to leave. Khan picked up the phone and dialed a number. 

“Well...I don’t know,” Baloo began, fingering a bundle of bills. He was wondering how far he could take this whole arrangement. “I could use some gas. An’ maybe one of them little air fresheners?” 

Owen made a notation. 

Slightly peeved because Baloo was taking up precious time, Khan said impatiently, “Yes, yes, is the score settled?” 

“Well, you did say I could take all the time I needed.” 

Hanging up the phone, the tiger sighed heavily in defeat. It was true. He, billionaire Shere Khan who made a habit of choosing his words carefully, had uttered that foolhardy phrase. That near brush with death must have rattled him more than he thought. He had to live up to his motto. “So I did,” he murmured finally. 

Snatching up the briefcase, Baloo hurried out of the office, throwing over his shoulder, “Then I’ll be back tomorrow.” 

As soon as the elevator doors closed behind him, Baloo opened the suitcase to look at the money. The Sea Duck was his! And that was just the tip of the iceberg. “Hoo-hoo! Never thought Khan would be so dumb as to offer someone anythin’ he wants. Sometimes I think that guy isn’t playin’ with a full deck of marbles. Ha! Ha!” 

Baloo wasn’t aware that Khan had microphones hidden in the elevators as well as other strategic places around his building. Hearing Baloo’s gloating, the businessman scowled, raking his claws across  his desk.
 

Higher for Hire

Whistling about his good fortune, Baloo stepped into Higher for Hire. He’d been waiting for his moment ever since Rebecca had purchased the business from him. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Rebecca’s face when he showed her that money. He couldn’t wait to get away from Higher for Hire and work and begin a life of ease. “Hiya, Li'l Britches. Becky.” 

Kit, who had been sweeping the floor, turned off the vacuum. He knew something was up right away. Baloo hardly ever got dressed up unless Miz Cunningham made him. Curiously, he wondered what was in the black briefcase that swung by Baloo’s side. 

Baloo set the briefcase down on the desk in front of his boss. 

“What’s this?” Rebecca asked. Opening the lid, she gasped. 

Grinning with ill-concealed expectation, Baloo explained nonchalantly, “Oh, just fifty odd thousand dollars for the Sea Duck. Keep the change.” 

“Wow! Where’d you get all the moolah, Papa Bear?” Kit asked. He picked up two stacks of bills. 

“It was left to me by my favorite uncle...” Baloo’s eyes happened to alight on the vacuum. “Hoover. Happy Hoover.” 

Rebecca looked up in surprise. “I didn’t know you had any rich relatives.” She didn’t know that he had any relatives. He had never mentioned any except his Uncle Moe and a countless number of made-up ‘sick’ aunts. 

Kit began stacking the money up like a tower while Rebecca looked on. She grinned at the boy when the tower toppled. 

Conjuring up a few fake tears, Baloo continued, “The two of us were very close. Uncle Huey Hartley meant everythin’ to me. Maybe even a million everythings.” 

“I thought you said his name was Happy Hoover,” Kit interjected. 

Rebecca shot a suspicious look at her pilot. Was this another one of Baloo’s screwball schemes?

“Uh...it was,” Baloo said quickly. “Huey Hartley was his nickname. Uncle Happy ‘Huey Hartley’ Hoover. But enough of the past.” Baloo knew that if he kept talking, he’d probably trip himself up. “Now that I’m an heiress, I’m gonna take the Duck an’ fly.” He did a little jig around the office, took a bundle of bills from Kit’s hands, tossed it in the briefcase, and shut its lid. Smiling, he pushed it towards Rebecca. 

An infinitesimal tear streaked down Rebecca’s cheek. She rose from her chair. “You’re going to quit Higher for Hire?” 

Kit, seeing the tear and hearing the catch in her voice, became concerned and a bit surprised. Leaving Higher for Hire hadn’t occurred to him. 

Baloo settled on the desktop, insensible to Rebecca’s sadness. “Yep,” he answered happily, only thinking of himself. “I’m gonna do the things I’ve always dreamed of, like nothin’, an’ I’m gonna work at it every day. Whattaya say, Kit?” 

Beaming, Kit threw himself in the big bear’s arms; then he caught Rebecca’s sad expression over Baloo’s shoulder, dampening his happiness. “But what about Miz Cunningham?” 

It took everything Rebecca had to keep her emotions under control. “Oh, I’ll be all right.” She hugged the briefcase.  “Why, with this money, I’ll get a new plane and a pilot.” Her voice nearly cracked when she concluded in a quavering tone, “Only the best for Higher for Hire.” 

“But you guys are friends,” Kit reminded softly. 

Baloo wrapped a friendly arm around Rebecca’s shoulders and pulled her to his side. “Aw, we’ll still be friends. It’s not like I’m movin’ to the other side of the world, just the other side of the tracks,” he chuckled. 

Rebecca looked up at her soon-to-be ex-flight crew with a feeble smile masking her sorrow.


Early the Next Morning


Baloo wasted no time in packing up his few belongings and leaving Higher for Hire. He was so excited that he didn’t notice Kit’s somber expression when they got into the Sea Duck and took off. Kit thought it was all happening too fast; he didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye to Miz Cunningham, Molly, and Wildcat. A few minutes later, they were at their destination. The Sea Duck was now nestled between two millionaires’ yachts in the prosperous section of the harbor. 

“How do ya like it, kiddo?” The big bear took a deep breath. “Smell that rich air,” he said, grinning, as he tied the plane to the gold-plated post. “Lots cleaner than that other air an’ the water looks bluer, too. Maybe they’re imported.” 

“Great, Baloo.” If Kit looked really hard, he could barely make out the shiny tin roof of Higher for Hire across the harbor reflecting the sunrise. 

“Yessirree, from now on yer gonna have everythin’ yer heart desires. Speakin’ of which...” Baloo whipped a box out of the cargo hold and handed it to Kit. 

Kit tore off the red bow and wrapping paper to reveal a model airplane kit, one that he had wanted for a long time. “An Aronca P-39 Thunderbuster?” he squeaked. “Gee, thanks, Papa Bear!” He hurled himself at Baloo. 

Baloo hugged the boy back and pushed his cap down over his eyes. “Now, you better get goin’ ta school, Li'l Britches.” 

After Kit left, Baloo threw on his jacket and tie and took a cab to Khan Towers. He was in Shere Khan’s office even before the businessman was, and Khan’s living quarters were right above his office. 

“Ah-ha. Just the typhoon I’m lookin’ for.” Baloo ceased spinning his cap on his index finger to procure a list from his jacket. 

Shere Khan took his seat, paying more attention to the papers in his hands than to Baloo. Money waited for no man, especially a poor, nobody pilot. 

“I think I’ll start with a set of trains, a rolly-coaster, a platypus, a purple kite, seven snakes, a pinball machine, an’ a carton of chewin’ gum.” 

“Granted.” Khan cracked one of his rare smiles, slightly amused at Baloo’s proletarian tastes. “Is that it?” 

“It?” Baloo laughed. “I haven’t even warmed up yet! A monogrammed hammock, two pairs of snow shoes, a blue kazoo, a bag of goobers, a thousand ping-pong balls...” 

 

That evening...

Khan was boiling with fury. I mean, this guy was livid! Baloo hadn’t stopped asking for things all day - the stupidest things in the world - and he didn’t show any signs of stopping. This was costing him a fortune. Not only in paying for these imbecilic items, but in invaluable time. 

Wearily, Baloo droned on, “A peck of pickled peppers, twelve dozen snorkels, an electric bow tie, two baseball bats - one for each team. A hundred pairs of wax lips. No, make that two hundred pairs of wax lips.” 

Khan crumpled up a paper, wishing that it was Baloo’s face. 

“Boy, my mouth is dry. Askin’ for stuff is hard work. I’ll break an’ be back tomorrow with more.” With a tired wave, Baloo got into the elevator, unaware that he was annoying Shere Khan to no end. 

Khan glared at Baloo’s retreating form. He’d endured all he was going to endure. He pushed the intercom button and demanded of his secretary, Mrs.. Snarly, “Send in Garth. I have a job. I do deplore,” he slammed his fist down on a beetle crawling across his desk, “pests!” 

Disdainfully, he flicked the insect’s carcass off the desk.


Higher for Hire

The Next Day


Hand in hand, Rebecca and Molly rounded the corner of Higher for Hire. Rebecca was in good spirits, for she had finally located a pilot. Better still, he came highly recommended by the staff at the Pilot’s Agency. 

“Well, Molly, pretty soon we’re going to have a brand-new pilot. We’ll do even better than before.” She knelt down beside Molly, placing her paws on the little girl’s shoulders. “Aren’t you excited?” 

“Uh-huh, but why is the new pilot called The Barber?” 

“I don’t know, honey, but I’m told he’s very good.” 

Just then a boxy, grey twin-engine cargo plane zoomed out the sky, shaved the tops off a row of trees behind Higher for Hire, and plunged towards the two bearesses. 

Aah!” Rebecca screamed, throwing Molly to the ground and diving on top of her. 

To Rebecca’s immense dissatisfaction, the plane landed at the end of Higher for Hire’s dock. This daredevil obviously was her new pilot. Seething with anger, Rebecca stomped down the dock, fists clenched. She was going to give that pilot a piece of her mind. He was going to find out who was the boss! Molly, mimicking her mother’s scowl and demeanor, trailed after her. 

A scrawny, middle-aged cheetah emerged from the plane. He was slightly taller than Rebecca and wore a brown leather flight cap, goggles, and navy flight jacket. A bandage was wrapped around the tip of his tail. He pulled a bulging suitcase from the plane’s innards. Clothes poked out from the sides of the suitcase. 

“What’s the matter with you? What kind of pilot flies like that?” Rebecca snapped, hands on hips. 

“Crop duster, ma’am. But I had to give it up,” The Barber said in a shaky voice. “Nerves, see?” He held out two trembling hands. 

“Well, in the future I expect you to fly higher.” 

“Can’t. Got this pesky fear of heights.” He put the suitcase on the dock. Then, placing one hand over his eyes, he tentatively, tremulously stepped down from the six inch step. Rebecca and Molly looked on, fascinated and astonished. 

“Of course I could wear a blindfold,” The Barber suggested. 

Blindfold?!” Rebecca gasped. 

“You’re right,” the pilot agreed gravely. “Have this pesky fear of the dark, too.” 

Rebecca was thinking, what have I gotten myself into? A pilot who’s afraid of heights? And the dark? I’m going to have a little chat with the head of the Pilot’s Agency! Highly qualified, indeed! Highly qualified for a loony bin! They better not have sent me this nut just because I’m a woman! This is the 1930s, after all. However, she only asked, “Is there anything else you’re afraid of?” 

“You don’t happen to have any platypuses around, do you?” came the unexpected question. 

Rebecca shook her head, mouth hanging open slightly. Why did he have to be the only available cargo pilot? 

“I just hate platypuses.” Clutching his suitcase tightly in both hands, The Barber cast timid glances from side to side --- on the lookout for platypuses and other scary creatures --- as he walked into Higher for Hire. 

“Mommy, I miss Baloo,” Molly stated, leaning against her mother’s legs. The Barber seemed to be like he wouldn’t be any fun to play with, unlike the big jovial bear. 

“Oh, me, too, Molly. Me, too.” 

 

The Sea Duck

One evening three days into their new lifestyle, Baloo and Kit lounged on deck chairs on the Sea Duck’s wing, watching the sun sink lower in the horizon. Both bears were enjoying a piece of birthday cake. Baloo had at least one cake delivered daily from the bakery. He said that now that he was rich, every day seemed like his birthday. 

“Ain’t this the life, kid?” Baloo said jovially, taking a sip of his frothy chocolate soda. “No work, no bosses, no worries. Nuthin’ but a whole lotta nuthin’.” The big bear stretched out on the well-padded chair. 

Taking a bite of chocolate cake, Kit grinned over at Baloo, who now wore a snappy powder blue tuxedo, a matching top hat, and a monocle - the very picture of prosperity. Kit was happy, too. He liked the ability to choose whatever he wanted to do, after school hours, of course. Yet something was missing... 

The boy fixed his gaze across the harbor where he knew Higher for Hire was. He still thought of it as home. Don’t get me wrong, Kit enjoyed the luxuries, but wasn’t ecstatically happy like Baloo. It wasn’t that he didn’t like all of the gadgets and toys cluttering the cargo hold. They were fun playthings. It was that he preferred the old, simpler life when Baloo was working for Rebecca. He missed the Cunninghams and Wildcat. He missed cloudsurfing. He missed navigating. He missed going to exotic, and not so exotic, places with Baloo on cargo trips. They hadn’t gone anywhere in the past three days. At least not in the Sea Duck. With all of the additions and the chock-full cargo hold, it was too heavy, even with the new, souped-up engines, to take off. 

Kit just wanted things to be the way they were before. He wanted to have Rebecca smile at him, wanted to play with Molly, wanted to help Wildcat fix something. Of course, he could never tell Baloo that. He wouldn’t understand. 

At last the sun dipped below the horizon, leaving just a faint stain of sunlight dancing on the dark water. The velvety purple sky was smudged with pale pinks and oranges and sprinkled with a myriad of stars. 

Baloo sighed in contentment and got up for another soda from his personal soda fountain. “Don’t get much better’n that, huh, Kit?” he said, meaning the sunset. 

With one last longing look across the harbor, Kit echoed softly, “Not much better than that.” He wasn’t referring to the sunset. 

 

Higher for Hire

The Next Day

Rebecca felt rather than heard The Barber’s plane buzz Higher for Hire, shaking the building on its foundation. A sprinkling of dust fell from the ceiling, peppering the ledgers spread out on her desk. She dreaded The Barber’s coming. Each time he had returned, he had brought an angry note from a customer and a bill for repairs. What would it be this time? Broken window? Busted dock? Smashed airplane? The expenses piled up faster than the profits. 

She watched the door with apprehension. If only another cargo pilot had been available! Then The Barber would have been fired so fast it would have made his neurotic head spin. But as it was, the Pilot’s Agency had no one available and private inquiries produced nothing. So, Rebecca was stuck with a mountain of bills and a hypochondriac pilot. But a hypochondriac pilot was better than no pilot at all, right? 

The doorknob turned and The Barber entered --- backwards. He averred that he did that to prevent running face first into germs. Germs were sneaky things, he said. In one hand was a handkerchief that he used to turn the doorknob. He held a bunch of documents in the other hand. 

“Here you go, ma’am,” The Barber said, placing the stack of papers on her desk, being extremely careful not to touch the desk itself. He gyrated wildly to avoid a fly buzzing around his head. 

Rebecca quickly thumbed through the documents. Her eyes grew wide when she saw a bill for five hundred dollars to repair a ceramic goose. “A goose?!” she shrieked in astonishment. 

The Barber dove behind the easy chair, mindless of germ-filled dust. There, he cowered in fear. “G...goose? Where? I hate geese!” 

The bearess sighed. “It says here you broke the beak off of a one hundred foot goose statue. How in the world did that happen?” 

The Barber cautiously crawled out from behind the chair. “Didn’t see it, ma’am.” 

Once again, Rebecca sighed in exasperation. That was The Barber’s excuse for most of his accidents. She had once suggested an eye examination, but he alleged that optometrists gave him the willies. Flipping through more papers, she discovered an angry note from Incredible Edible Egg Inc., stating that they would no longer do business with Higher for Hire due to failure to receive their cargo. 

“You didn’t deliver the egg timers?” 

“No, ma’am. The crates fell out of the plane when I hit the goose, then the trees, then the ocean liner, then that building, then...” 

“Enough!” Rebecca groaned, rubbing her temples. She felt a headache coming on. “I can’t take anymore. Just...go upstairs.” 

She watched as the cheetah slowly, painstakingly inched his way up the stairs to his room using trembling baby steps, not daring to peek over the banister, before she turned back to the stack of bills and irate letters. Taking out her adding machine, she added up the expenses and compared it to the profits in her ledger. Higher for Hire was bordering on bankruptcy. 

“Second client I’ve lost this week,” the bearess murmured in despair. 

For once in her life, she longed for one of Baloo’s outrageous excuses. At least he delivered the cargo (mostly on time) without damaging any property. Higher for Hire had been profitable with him as her pilot, and, furthermore, Rebecca missed him. But he had made his choice, and that choice didn’t include her or Higher for Hire. She had to accept that fact and move on. With a huge sigh, Rebecca forced herself to focus on the papers before her. 


Saturday

Over the course of a week, the Sea Duck underwent numerous dramatic changes: white paint with blue trim, new engines, and spoilers. But the biggest addition was a folding, retractable tennis court that spanned the Duck’s wings. Baloo had had it specially made and installed the day before. Kit thought that Uncle Happy ‘Huey Hartley’ Hoover must have been extremely wealthy, and he wondered when the money was going to run out. Baloo had been spending money like there was no tomorrow. 

This Saturday was yet another bright, sunny day in Cape Suzette. The sun glinted off the Sea Duck and sparkled like diamonds on the blue water. The jazzy melody of Baloo’s second favorite tune, I’m Gone, drowned out the sounds of the waves lapping against the sides of the plane, the seagulls cawing, the occasional airplane engine, and the clanging harbor buoy. 

Baloo and Kit were trying out the new tennis court. On one side of the net, Baloo bounced a tennis ball twice and served. Kit, who had never played tennis before, swung at the ball wildly. The ball whizzed past his head, bounced off the edge of the court, and splashed into the ocean. 

“Oh-ho! Point for me,” Baloo crowed. 

Baloo bounced a second ball and whacked it over the net. Kit swung again, missed the ball by a mile, and ended up falling face down on the court. 

“An’ another,” Baloo said cheerfully. 

Baloo served a third time. This time, Kit tried another technique. He stood still in the middle of the court, racket held up like a shield, eyes squeezed tight shut. Luckily for him, the ball hit smack on the racket, bounced over the net. Baloo dove for the ball, missed, skidded across the court. The ball splashed into the water. But it didn’t matter how many balls were lost. If they ran out, he would just ask Shere Khan for more. 

“Whew! You win, L’il Britches. Nice rally.” Baloo vaulted over the net to shake Kit’s hand. 

Dazed, the boy was thinking, two points to one? Okay...            

Baloo sauntered over to the soda fountain. Pulling a lever, the full-sized tennis court folded, then sank into the seaplane’s cargo hold. “Spin it again, old buddy of mine. That song makes my feet happy.” 

Kit moved the gramophone needle to the beginning of the record. 

Baloo bopped across the top of the fuselage to the soda fountain perched on the edge of one of the wings. “Another soda, my good man?” 

“I do believe I’d like that,” Kit replied with a smile, taking the proffered drink.            

“Isn’t it grand bein’ rich? They’re right. Money does buy happiness.” The cuckoo clock behind Baloo chimed three. “Oh, look,” he chuckled, “it’s time for another birthday.” 

“But you’ve already had four birthday parties today.” 

“Yeah, if I keep this up, I’ll be old before my time.” Baloo scrambled down a ladder to the dock. He opened the cargo hold door. Out spilled a mountain of toys, burying Kit in its deluge. Balloons and a banner reading, ‘Happy B'day to Me’ floated at the top of the door. “Boy, I love havin’ all this stuff!” Suddenly, Baloo noticed that his friend was missing. “Kit? Where’d ya go?” 

Kit poked his head out of the toys, his eyes spinning and his head reeling. 

 “Hey, good idea,” Baloo said, bonking Kit lightly on the head with a paddleball, causing the boy’s eyes to cease spinning. “Maybe later we could play a little hide-and-go-peek.” 

“Do you know what I’d really like to do? Visit Miz Cunningham. It’s been over a week,” Kit remarked wistfully, crawling out of the toys. 

“Who?” the pilot asked as the paddleball ball boinked him in the eye. 

“Rebecca, your ex-boss,” the boy replied in an exasperated tone. How could he forget his boss and friend? It had only been a week, after all! 

“Oh, right, yeah, yeah. I kinda miss ol’ what’s-her-name, too. Whattaya say we wander over an’ invite her to a party?” Baloo took off his hat and made a sweeping bow. “After you.” 

Running a short way down the dock, Kit said, bowing like Baloo, “No, no, after you.” 

Baloo walked past Kit and bowed with exaggerated courtesy. “After you.” 

This little routine went on until they got to the car. 

“No, no, after you.” 

“After you.” 

“No, no, after you.” 

“After you.” 

“No, no, after you.” 

“After you.” 

Behind a fence crouched Garth, a grim-faced grey panther in a grey vest, tie, and a bowler hat. With him was his associate Gus, a stocky tiger sporting a green jacket and mashed brown cap. They were Shere Khan’s most effective hit-men. Cunning and lethal.

“There he is,” said Gus in a low voice. 

“Yeah, we snatch the lug tonight,” replied Garth ominously.

 

Higher for Hire


Rebecca chased after a rhino (her latest ex-client) who hurried out of the office and climbed into a truck, a scowl etched on his face. He had been waiting five hours for his company’s cargo to arrive, and he wasn’t going to wait anymore. “Please, don’t go! I’m sure my pilot will be back later today.” The truck started and roared away, leaving Rebecca eating their exhaust. “Or tomorrow. Or next month!” she yelled after them. 

Hearing her mother’s shouting, Molly ran out of Higher for Hire. “Mommy, what’s the matter?” She tugged on her mother’s pants to get her attention.

“That’s the third client we’ve lost this week.” Rebecca placed a gentle paw on her daughter’s golden head. “It can’t get any worse than this.” 

Then, it did... 

The Barber’s plane zoomed out of nowhere. Rebecca and Molly once again hit the dirt as it buzzed Higher for Hire. Rebecca watched in horrified amazement as The Barber’s seaplane plowed into her Higher for Hire sign, knocking it into the harbor. 

Both bearesses rushed down the dock. 

“I quit!” yelled The Barber from his plane. 

Rebecca cried, “What? You can’t quit! How about my shipments?” 

“Sorry, lady, but you never told me I’d be carrying strawberries,” he said stonily. 

“But that’s just cargo.” She picked up one strawberry and looked it over. Looked like a normal strawberry to her. Nothing about it to strike fear in anyone’s heart. 

“Strawberries give me the willies. Nah, a joe’s gotta draw the line somewhere.” The Barber hooked the handle of a umbrella in the cargo door’s handle and closed it with a reverberating, definite bang. “Ooo....strawberries!” He flew low across the harbor, shearing the masts off of three little sailboats. 

Rebecca plopped down on a crate, distress plastered across her brow. Deep down in her heart, she was a little relieved at The Barber’s departure. At least she wouldn’t have to reimburse those sailors for damages done to their boats. 

“That’s it!” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands. “Where am I going to get a pilot on a moment’s notice?” 

As if in answer to her rhetorical question, a car horn honked. The gaudiest, biggest automobile ever owned by any member of the nouveau riche pulled up behind Higher for Hire. This car was ugly in its ostentatiousness. Ugly with a capital ‘ug’! Needless to say, it was the pride of Baloo’s heart, being the first car he had ever owned. The spotless white, gold- trimmed convertible was at least a half a block in length. A swimming pool shaded by a glaring purple umbrella occupied the rear. The hood ornament was a gold-plated miniature of the Sea Duck. Small gold wings stuck out from the sides. Gold flags, a gold windsock, and a gigantic gold horn completed the ensemble. 

“Baloo!” squealed Molly in delight. The little girl ran into Baloo’s outstretched arms. She nuzzled her cheek against his cheek, then reached a paw over the big bear’s shoulder to touch Kit’s hand. 

“Hiya, sweetcakes. How’re ya doin’, Beckers?” Baloo said merrily. 

Not wanting Baloo to know of her failure, Rebecca replied brightly, “I’m doing fine, Baloo, though I’m kind of looking for a pilot.” 

Baloo didn’t get the subtle hint. “Well, good luck. There’s lots of ‘em out there,” causing Rebecca’s forced smile to change to a frown. 

Meanwhile, Kit was shocked by the dilapidated state of Higher for Hire. Junk and undelivered cargo were piled up all around it, and the building itself was in disrepair. Broken windows and gaping holes in the walls. Even the windsock on top of the crow’s nest was tattered. “Miz Cunningham, what happened to Higher for Hire?” he gasped out finally. “If you’re in trouble, I’m sure Baloo will help.” 

“Don’t be silly,” Rebecca replied quietly. Catching Baloo’s eye, she added with feigned cheerfulness, “Things couldn’t be...better.” 

“Outstandin’!” Baloo beamed. “Wanna come to my birthday party? It starts in fifteen minutes.” He took out a huge, gleaming gold pocket watch from his waistcoat and opened it. It both cuckooed and chimed the half hour. Molly gazed at it with wonderment. 

“Sorry, Baloo, but I’m not much in the partying mood,” said Rebecca. Her smile couldn’t hide the despair in her voice. She felt like she needed a good cry. 

But, once again, Baloo was insensitive to her feelings. Handing Molly to Rebecca, he remarked breezily, “Some people have no sense of priorities. C’mon, Kit.” 

“But, Baloo!” Kit protested, unwillingly climbing into the car. 

Back at the Sea Duck, Kit reiterated as he hopped from the vehicle, “Baloo, you’ve gotta do something to help Miz Cunningham.” 

“She said everything was hunky-dory,” Baloo said unconcernedly. 

“But you saw the place!”

“So, everyone has their off days. Look at me. One day I had nothin’ an’,” he laughed, plopping down in a deck chair; “things worked out.”  

“But she needs your help,” Kit pleaded. 

“It’s not like I owe her anythin’. I paid her.” 

“Well, she’d do the same for you, Baloo.” Kit stepped into the Sea Duck, frowning and shaking his head. What was Baloo thinking? How could he not help Rebecca? Why was he being so stubborn and selfish? 

Baloo picked up a paddleball lying on a nearby table and began batting the ball with the paddle. To justify his actions and to chase away twinges of guilt, he grumbled to himself, “I gave her fifty gees, even invited her to my party. What’s the big deal? Just because I’m the galoot with the loot. Ow!” The ball had smacked him in the eye. “Must be defective.” He carefully put the offending paddleball down. 

Garth and Gus approached him with a huge burlap sack. 

Baloo said jauntily, “If that’s another birthday cake, just dump it over there.” When the sack was tossed over his head, he yelled, “Hey!” and struggled with all his might. 

But it was no use. The big bear was out-muscled by the two hit-men. They securely tied up their ‘package’, dragged it away to their car, and sped off.


Higher for Hire

Rebecca sat at her desk; a long roll of paper trailed from her adding machine to the floor. Ledgers and invoices and shipping orders were strewn all over her desk. She tossed down her pencil in defeat. “Oh, I’m never going to stay in business like this,” the bearess murmured forlornly. She looked up in surprise when an extremely agitated Kit burst through the door. 

Upon discovering Baloo’s disappearance, Kit had run to the one person he knew he could count on --- Rebecca. “Baloo’s been kidnapped! Baloo’s been kidnapped!” he panted. 

What?!” Rebecca cried in disbelief. 

The boy waved the ransom note that he had found on the table under the paddleball. “They have Baloo and want two hundred thousand dollars.” 

Rebecca read, “Put the money in the trash can under Clapton Bridge at midnight. If you contact the police you’ll never see your friend again.” 

“You’ve got to do something, Miz Cunningham,” Kit implored. 

“What can I do, Kit? I’m nearly broke!” 

Molly walked down the stairs. She had heard the news of Baloo’s capture. Wanting to help, she offered everything she had in her piggy-bank. “Mommy, I got some pennies. Will that help?” 

“Maybe if we sold everything he owns...” Rebecca suggested slowly. 

“Yeah.” Kit put a paw on Rebecca’s arm. He knew that she would think of something. 

Immediately, they set to work making garage sale signs. While they were working, Wildcat wandered in. He stepped over Molly who was sitting on the floor, holding a ruler for Kit. The boy was laying on his stomach on the floor, writing on a piece of cardboard with a black marker. 

“Garage sale,” the mechanic read off of a sign propped against Rebecca’s desk. “I didn’t know you had a garage for sale, Miz Cunningham.” 

Kit hid a smile. 

“I don’t, Wildcat,” answered Rebecca, stapling a sign to a wooden lath. “We’re going to sell all of Baloo’s things to pay for his ransom.” 

“Oh.” Wildcat pondered this for a moment before saying, “Does he have a garage? I would like a garage. Could put lots of things in it, like my tools and some oil and some cabbages.” 

Rebecca rolled her eyes. This time Kit couldn’t contain his laughter.
 

At the Sea Duck’s garage (er, cargo hold) sale... 

The seaplane was swarming with people. People inside, people outside, people on top the plane... In other words, there were a lot of people! People grabbing and arguing over things. 

“Why would anyone want, let alone need, two hundred pairs of wax lips?” Rebecca cried, slithering out between two people to escape from the cramped cargo hold. 

“I don’t know, Miz Cunningham, but they’re selling like hot cakes.” Kit took money from a male badger with an armful of wax lips, a pogo stick, and a toy train engine. “Thank you, sir.” 

“You got any more of those wax lips?” puffed a chubby middle-aged female feline to Kit. 

“First come, first serve. If we’re out, we’re out. Sorry, lady.” Kit shrugged. 

The woman walked away, scowling, until she noticed a pile of paddleballs. “Ooo!” she squealed, clapping her hands. “Jasper simply loves these!” 

Kit felt a pang of regret when a little hippo boy tripped off with his Aronca P-39 Thunderbuster model. Kit had barely looked at the pieces and the instructions. But he quickly shook off the woebegone feelings. They needed every dollar for Baloo’s ransom. 

Two hours later, the Sea Duck was stripped bare. Rebecca sat in the pilot’s seat, sorting and counting the piles of bills and change. “Not enough,” she murmured finally, adding and re-adding. 

“How much, Miz Cunningham?” Kit asked eagerly from the navigator’s seat. 

Rebecca smiled over at the boy. “It’s a good start, but...it’s not half enough. I hate to do this, but...” She glanced around the cockpit and ran her fingers lightly over the control yoke. She had become very attached to the Sea Duck and didn’t want to sell it. 

Realizing what she was thinking, Kit nodded slowly, sadly. The Sea Duck was a good friend, but Baloo was a better friend. They could always buy another plane, but his Papa Bear was irreplaceable. “Go ahead, Miz Cunningham. We have to get Baloo back.” 

“You’re right, sweetie.” Rebecca flashed the boy a weak smile, patted the arm of the chair, and rose. “We have to get Baloo back.” 

 

Redbud Hotel

The Redbud Hotel had once been a luxurious four-star hotel nestled on the shores of the Cape Suzette harbor. Wealthy people had flocked from all over the world simply to enjoy its beautiful views of the scenery and deluxe accommodations. Of course, that was years and years ago. Now it was a run-down ruin that should have been condemned. A perfect place to hide a kidnapped bear, especially a vociferous bear who refused to pipe down even when threatened with a gun. As was wise, the other inhabitants of the hotel --- mainly bums --- didn’t notice the bedlam that was going on in Room 202. They were used to shady dealings. 

Room 202 offered attractive surroundings such as: bare brick walls, peeling wallpaper, faulty wiring, dusty furniture, a filthy bathroom, large cockroaches, and friendly furry rats. All this for the low, low price of seven dollars a night. The mustiness was free of charge. 

Gus, the tiger, was busy tying Baloo to a straight-backed chair while Garth, the panther, telephoned Shere Khan to inform them of their success. 

“You ain’t goin’ nowheres, brudder,” Gus proclaimed gruffly, securing the handkerchief gag around Baloo’s mouth extra tight. That guy’s big yap was getting on his nerves. Baloo was the most difficult kidnapping case that he had ever encountered in his career. Why couldn’t he cower in fear like everybody else did? 

Baloo mumbled louder and hopped in the chair. One of the chair’s legs came down on Gus’s foot hard.  

“Ow!” Gus screamed in pain, hopping about the room. 

Baloo saw a chance to make his escape. He hopped towards the open door. 

Gus gave chase. 

Garth tried to ignore the loud scene behind him. After all, it was imperative that he be polite to Shere Khan. One didn’t want to arouse the businessman’s wrath. “Yeah, we did like you asked, sir. Nah, he’s not hurt...yet.” Baloo’s mumbling and Gus’s shouting was so loud that he couldn’t hear Khan’s instructions over the line. He yelled accidentally into the phone, “Will you shut up!” 

Khan murmured a cold, threatening remark. One never, ever told Shere Khan to shut up. 

Sweat poured down Garth’s face as he stammered out, “No, not you, sir! Yes, I do like my knees very much, sir.” 

Baloo plowed right over Garth, knocking him to the floor. He screamed in agony, “Ah! Ah!” He was sure that every bone in his body had been shattered. Into the phone, Garth said politely, “And have a nice evening.” 

Gus caught Baloo and shoved him into a pitch-dark anteroom. He bolted the door with a large beam. “There, that should take care of him,” he said with self-satisfaction, brushing off his hands. 

It did --- for about five seconds. 

Baloo kicked down the door, strong board notwithstanding, propelling Gus and Garth behind it. The big bear headed for the door and basically bounced/careened down the stairs, screaming, “whoa!” despite his gag. 

After a few dazed moments, Garth picked up Gus by the lapels and demanded, “Go get him!” To add insult to injury, the retractable bed fell out of the wall and bonked Garth squarely on the head.


Higher for Hire

It wasn’t difficult finding a buyer for the Sea Duck. A few well-placed phone calls and that was that. Fifty thousand dollars was in Rebecca’s hands, and the Sea Duck had a new owner. After it was sold, the seaplane - back to its familiar yellow and orange --- was towed to the dock in front of Higher for Hire to await its new owner. 

Rebecca added the fifty thousand dollars to what the garage sale brought in. They only had $56,742.17. 

“How’d we do, Miz Cunningham? Good news?” Kit asked, hoping against hope. He peeked at the paper Rebecca held in her hands. 

But Rebecca crumpled the paper so Kit wouldn’t see the huge amount they had to obtain. “I’m afraid we’re still short by a lot.” 

She stared into the blue waters of the harbor, thinking. She had no idea how she was going to get almost one hundred fifty thousand dollars that fast. The Barber’s incompetence had nearly cost her her business. Her business! She could sell Higher for Hire, even though it meant losing all that she held dear. But Baloo, her best friend, was dearer to her. There was no question about it. The business had to go. 

“But we sold everything.” Kit took off his cap and crushed it in his paws. “Even the Sea Duck.” 

“Well, there’s still one thing that hasn’t been sold.” 

“But I’m only a kid!” the boy exclaimed, panic rising inside him. 

“No, Kit,” Rebecca said gently, kneeling beside him. Smiling, she gave his shoulder an affectionate squeeze. How could Kit ever think that she could sell him? Him, whom she loved like her own son? 

“But what’s left to sell?” 

Glancing over her shoulder at her business, she said quietly but resolutely, “Higher for Hire.” 

One hour later, Kit watched as Rebecca nailed a ‘sold’ sign next to the building formerly known as Higher for Hire. 

“I’m sorry, Miz Cunningham,” the boy said softly, looking up at her with mournful eyes. 

Rebecca pushed the sign with her finger, causing it to sway. Her business, in which she had invested so much time, energy, and money, was gone. “Oh, it’s just a dumb old business anyway.” Fighting down tears over the loss of Higher for Hire, she tossed the hammer away and hugged Kit close to her.

Kit returned her hug, knowing how much her ‘dumb old business’ had meant to her.

“The important thing now is we get Baloo back,” she murmured.


Midnight

Clapton Bridge was located in the bad part of Cape Suzette. It was a filthy place inhabited by tramps, prostitutes, drunks, and gang members. Not a nice place to be during the day. During the dead of night it was downright dangerous, especially for a petite bearess and a twelve-year-old boy. The occasional patrol boat did little to dispel the dark doings there. 

Rebecca stepped carefully around piles of rubbish and accidentally put her foot into a mud puddle. She shook the water off her foot and pulled her trench coat closer around her throat, stifling a scream when she spotted a jumbo-sized sewer rat scurrying over a dumpster a short ways from her. She hated rats! A few paces behind her, Kit dragged the heavy bag of money. The coins clinked as he scraped it along the pavement. 

“Shh! You want to scare away the kidnappers?” Rebecca hissed. 

“Sorry, but all Molly’s pennies are heavy.” 

“Well, we’re just lucky she had enough to put us over the top.” 

Kit tripped over an old mattress and fell headlong on it. He sighed with weariness. It had been a long tramp from Rebecca’s apartment. He was glad that they had finally reached Clapton Bridge. 

Ahead of them was an elderly, grey-bearded shrew in rags. The rags were secured about the man’s waist with a piece of rope. He wore an old pot on his head. He was rummaging furiously through a garbage can. 

“Look! It must be the kidnapper,” said Kit. 

Rebecca assisted Kit to his feet and dusted him off. “Judging by his attire, he’s not a very good one.” 

Kit approached the man, lugging the sack of money. “Excuse me, mister. I think I have what you’re looking for.” 

“Fish sticks? Mmmmmm!” cried the man. 

“No, two hundred thousand dollars.” Kit opened the bag to reveal the money inside. 

“Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” The man clapped his hands for joy. He snatched up the money and pranced away quickly. “This will buy a lot of fish sticks.” 

“Wait! Where’s Baloo?” asked Rebecca, with an arm around Kit’s shoulders. 

Both bears spun around when an authoritarian voice said, “We have Baloo. Did you bring the money?” Garth stood there, tossing and catching a quarter as if he were a professional gangster. 

Rebecca and Kit stared at each other in confusion for a second. If he was the kidnapper, then who was that other man? 

“Uh, excuse me.” Kit ran off to detain the homeless man before he spent all their hard-earned money on fish sticks. 

“Give me that!” Kit exclaimed, grabbing the sack. A game of tug-of-war ensued over the money. 

“Hey, no!” the homeless man cried. 

“Ow! You bit me!” With a sharp yank, Kit wrenched the sack away from the homeless man’s grasp. He took off like a shot. 

“No, let go! My fish sticks!” the bum sobbed.

Kit returned triumphantly with the bag of money and a bite mark on his left hand. 

Rebecca took the sack from Kit and opened it in front of Garth. “It’s all here. Now, where’s Baloo?” 

Garth smiled, took the money, and pointed up. Above his head, Gus was babysitting Baloo --- more like reading a newspaper. He was unconcerned about the big bear’s plight. Baloo was still bound hand and foot to the chair; now he sported a stylish blindfold.  But the blindfold hadn’t stopped him from trying to escape his captors. He bounced along the railing of Clapton Bridge blindly. 

“You’re not taking me alive!” Baloo hollered. He toppled off of the bridge, headlong into a police patrol boat. His landing forced the officer out of the speedboat into the water. Baloo accidentally bumped the throttle into high gear with his knee, and the boat shot down the river like a flash. “Help!” 

“Baloo!” cried Rebecca and Kit simultaneously, breathlessly. 

Sprinting down the sidewalk, they spotted a rope trailing along behind the speedboat. Kit and Rebecca jumped into the water, grabbed hold of the rope, and were dragged behind the runaway boat. 

“Whoa!” they both exclaimed. 

Kit thought fast. Reflexively, he pulled his airfoil out, flicked it open, and slid it under his and Rebecca’s feet. The airfoil was designed for one person. Two, if the other person happened to be as small as Molly. Rebecca was small, but not small enough. Kit found it difficult hanging onto the rope and Rebecca’s waist at the same time. It was one of the wildest rides he had ever experienced. 

A bridge loomed before them...and they had no choice but to go under it. 

“Miz Cunningham!” Kit shouted in warning. He forced all his weight down and yanked down on Rebecca, causing the airfoil to decrease in altitude. They sailed safely under the bridge. 

Ah!” Rebecca’s screech echoed under the viaduct. 

To get closer to the boat, they started walking along the rope hand over hand. Unfortunately, the rope snapped, and they dropped into the river. “Whoa!” 

Dripping wet, Rebecca and Kit pulled themselves up onto a dock where a small fishing boat was moored. 

“We’ve got to head him off!” Rebecca gasped, climbing into the boat. She helped Kit in before starting the engine. 

“Come on. Faster, faster!” Kit urged as Baloo’s speedboat sped by them. The boy spotted a large cargo ship dead ahead. “Oh, no. Pull up!” It looked like the end for Baloo; his boat was on a collision course with the ship. 

Stopping their boat, Rebecca spied a fishing pole at her feet. “Wait, I’ve got an idea.” 

Meanwhile, Baloo had wriggled out of his bonds. “Ha, ha! I’ll be free in a minute.” Taking off his blindfold, his triumph turned to fright. A massive ship loomed before him, and there was no time for him to correct the speedboat’s course. 

A split second before the speedboat smashed into the ship, Rebecca cast her line, snagging Baloo by the back of his tuxedo. Upon impact, the speedboat burst into flames. Baloo, being towed through the water by the fishing line, took a few deep breaths to calm himself. That had been way too close! Kit and Rebecca hauled him into their boat with an ‘oof’ from the big bear. 

“Baloo, are you okay?” Kit asked urgently, embracing his Papa Bear. 

Rebecca affectionately tousled Baloo’s hair, causing drops of water to scatter everywhere, before wrapping her arms around him. “Oh, we’re glad you’re safe.” 

“Thanks a million, Becky,” said Baloo, grinning. “You really saved my anchovies.” 

“You don’t know the half of it. Miz Cunningham sold the Sea Duck to raise the ransom money,” Kit blurted out before he thought. Oops! Did I say that? 

“You sold the Sea Duck?” Baloo snarled, clenching his fists in anger. How dare she sell his baby? 

Fearful of the menacing tone in his voice, Rebecca shrank away from him, half hiding her face behind her trench coat. The easy-going bear hardly ever got that mad, but when he did, it was terrible to behold. 

“And Higher for Hire,” Kit added quietly. 

“What?!” Baloo said in disbelief, astonishment. What had he done? His greediness had cost him not only the Sea Duck, but Higher for Hire as well. He never meant for things to get so out of hand. In a flash, he knew that he didn’t need all of those possessions to be content. Things weren’t important. His friends and their happiness, now, that was important. And his two closest friends, who had just saved his life, were in this boat with him right now. 

“Hey, I was getting tired of the silly old business anyway.” Rebecca picked up an oar and began paddling towards the shore. She sniffled, trying not to cry, but the tears came anyway. Furtively, she wiped her eyes. Now that Baloo was back and the crisis averted, the full force of losing her business hit her like a ton of bricks. She tried to sound nonchalant.  “Now, look. All this running around in the night air, I’ve caught a cold.” 

The boat arrived at the dock and Baloo stepped out. “Wait one second. There’s someone I have to see.” He strode away with a determined expression on his face. He had to put things right. He got them into this mess, and it was his responsibility to get them out. 

Rebecca and Kit shared a quizzical look.

 

Khan Towers

“I was expecting you fifteen minutes ago,” Shere Khan purred languidly, glancing at his pocket watch. 

“I gotta ask you another favor,” said Baloo. He leaned over Khan’s desk, dripping water on it and onto the floor. 

“This is the last one, correct?” the businessman asked with a lift of his eyebrows. 

Desperate, Baloo blurted out, “I just want everything the way it was.” 

“Here you are.” Khan handed Baloo an envelope. 

“What’s this?” 

“Everything back to the way it was.” 

Baloo grinned, clutching the envelope. He couldn’t wait to see Rebecca’s and Kit’s faces when they got a load of this. “Yeah. Oh, yeah. Guess I’ll be on my way.” He headed for the elevator with a spring in his step. 

“Yes, a wise decision,” Khan replied with a smile. 

Behind the bushes Garth and Gus lurked. 

Gus stepped out of the shrubbery, chuckling, “He didn’t expect a thing. Thought we were real kidnappers.” 

“We taught him a lesson he’ll never forget,” added Garth, a little confused about one point. “But why didn’t we just bump him off?” It would have been a whole lot easier than chasing Baloo all over the city. He had a massive headache from that bed falling on him. 

However, Shere Khan had not wanted Baloo killed; he only wanted to scare him into submission. He answered, “I always repay my debts and never go back on a deal. And this one has concluded,” once again he consulted his watch, “ten minutes ahead of schedule. Now, shall we move on to more important matters?”

Higher for Hire

Dawn

Rebecca packed up her few personal belongings in her brown briefcase and called a cab. Her eyes glistening with unshed tears, she glanced about the office. She sighed. She was going to miss every single corner, every crack in the walls, every squeak of the floorboards. But most of all, she was going to miss all the times --- both good and bad --- that she had shared with Baloo, Kit, and Wildcat. In the doorway, she took one last, long look to fixate Higher for Hire forever in her mind. Then, she turned and closed the door behind her. 

Kit ran up to meet her before she climbed into the waiting taxi. “I’m really sorry, Miz Cunningham, but at least we got Baloo back.” 

That prompted a slight smile from the bearess. Rebecca gave Kit’s shoulder a comforting squeeze. Both Kit and Rebecca were surprised to see Baloo running towards them. He was waving an envelope in his hand. 

“Hold on! Hold on!” the big bear puffed. In his haste, he failed to notice a tree branch protruding in his path. He tripped over it, rolled head over heels, and bonked his head against the ‘sold’ sign, sprawling on the sidewalk.  “Oof!”

“You okay, Papa Bear?” Kit asked, hurrying over to Baloo. 

“Yeah, couldn’t be better,” Baloo gasped, out of breath from running. He passed the envelope to Rebecca. “This is for you, Becky.” 

Rebecca’s eyes widened when she saw the contents of the envelope. “I don’t understand. It’s the deed to Higher for Hire.” She shared a confused look with Kit, who was peeking around her arm at the document. 

“That’s right. It’s all yours,” Baloo grinned, standing up. “Along with the Sea Duck.” 

“But where’d you get it?” Kit asked. 

“I can’t say, but it’s perfectly legal. You know me.” 

Rebecca fixed a cynical eye on the big bear, arms crossed. She suspected that something was fishy about the whole situation. Uncle Happy ‘Huey Hartley’ Hoover, indeed! 

Baloo grinned sheepishly. She did know him, all too well. “Well, it’s still perfectly legal.” 

“But...why?” Rebecca queried softly, incredulously. 

“Because,” Baloo wrapped an arm around Rebecca’s and Kit’s shoulders, “I owe you everything.” 

“Aw...you’d do the same for me,” Rebecca gently nudged him in the stomach with her elbow, “right?” 

“I would now. I would now,” Baloo agreed sincerely. Everything was back to the way it was supposed to be. After all, working for Becky wasn’t that bad...when she wasn’t nagging him about punctuality and cleanliness. He had learned a lesson about avarice the hard way and had miraculously escaped, thanks to Rebecca. He had a new sense of respect, of gratitude, of appreciation towards her. By giving up everything for his sake, she had shown him what a true friend really was. Baloo wasn’t apt to forget that easily. 

The trio of bears walked into Higher for Hire. As Kit passed through the doorway a few paces behind Baloo and Rebecca, he glanced around the office, grinning from ear to ear. He was home again, and home had never looked so good. 

Kit quietly closed the door.

 

The End


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