TaleSpin and its characters are the property of Buena Vista/Walt Disney Co. and are used without permission. No profits are being made from this story. It is intended only as a tribute to the original stories. The rest is mine. The following fan-fic is rated PG for occasional coarse language, innuendo and violence.
Rebecca Cunningham studied the documents carefully. “Well, I guess you check out, Mr. Muller.”
The fox seated across from her desk gave her a tired smile. “I must admit, Mrs. Cunningham, I’m impressed by both your professionalism and the care you take. It’s something we look for in the people with whom we work.”
Rebecca looked at the fox. “Let’s just say I’m not one to be impressed by a fancy trench coat.”
Well, not again, anyway, she added silently.
The fox gave the prim-looking female bear a curious look, as if he wanted to say something. Instead he changed his mind and said, “A rather interesting way to put it, Mrs. Cunningham.”
“I must admit I’ve never heard of the Office of Secret Stuff.”
“Well, as the name would imply, we don’t exactly advertise our presence.”
Rebecca pushed his documents back across the desk to him. He picked up his government ID, driver’s license, Kiwana’s membership card, and his library card. He placed them back into his wallet before returning it to an inside pocket of his expensive-looking trench coat. Rebecca was not sure, but she thought she caught a brief glimpse of a pistol butt under his left armpit as he did so. Was he armed?
She picked up a piece of paper from her desk at random and pretended to study it to hide her nervousness. “So, Mr. Muller, what exactly does the OSS want with Higher for Hire?”
Reaching out, he gently removed the document from her hands and turned it right side up before returning it to her. The tired look that had been in his eyes when he had first entered her office was replaced by a boyish twinkle.
“Please, call me Vulps. And you can trust me, Rebecca. I really am one of the good guys.”
Could she? Rebecca studied him even more intently than she had his credentials. More than once in the past she had judged on appearances and had lived to regret it. There did seem to be a glow of sincerity in his deep brown eyes. Despite the fact that he might actually have brought a gun into her office, she did find that she felt she could trust him. Maybe it was his calm manner, maybe it was the fact that he only asked her to trust him and did not try to convince her, or maybe she was just a chump for a handsome face.
She hoped this would not be another one she would live to regret. “Okay, Vulps, I’ll trust you. For now. But you still haven’t told me what a secret government agency would need with Higher for Hire.”
He gave her a little-boy smile. “About what any other person would want. We would like you to go somewhere, pick up a cargo, and bring it back for us.”
“Then why the cloak and dagger routine?”
And why are you carrying a gun? she added to herself.
“I’m sorry, Rebecca, I didn’t mean to be so cagey. It is one of the pitfalls of my line of work. You tend not to tell anyone anything more than you have to.”
Rebecca put her head in her hands and rested her elbows on her desk. She was already beginning to regret trusting this nice-looking young gentleman. With a sound that could have been either a sigh of disgust or a growl of frustration, she looked up at him.
“Listen, if you expect me to do a job for you I am going to need a little more information than that!”
“A very reasonable request, Rebecca. Let me start by filling you in with a little background. As you may have noticed, things are becoming a little unsettled on the international scene lately. There are forces out there that do not have Usland’s best interests at heart. People who would not hesitate to use violence to achieve their goals.”
“Does this have something to do with Thembria?” A worried tone crept into her voice. “I’ve heard rumors lately, but I haven’t...”
“No, it isn’t Thembria.” He shook his head. “That is a threat we will have to face sometime in the future, but not yet.”
“The Ratzis?” Rebecca was incredulous. “But Vermany is just a little country. And after how soundly it was defeated in the Great War...”
Vulps Muller stood and walked to a window. The boyish twinkle in his eyes was completely gone as he stared out over Cape Suzette’s harbor. Staring as if he could somehow see further than the great cliffs that lined the harbor.
“Mrs. Cunningham, you must fly a lot in this business of yours.”
“Well, er, that is, probably more than most people.” Not wanting to admit that she was not really a pilot. Well, not a licensed pilot anyway.
“Have you ever been out at sea where you can see a storm front closing in on you? A great black wall of clouds and rain? You can see it coming, and yet there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t outrun it, you can’t dodge it, all you can do is brace yourself and hope you can pilot your craft through the storm and bring her through in one piece.”
“Well... ” A shiver ran down Rebecca’s spine. There was something about the calm way in which he spoke that was almost spooky.
“That is the position we in the OSS often find ourselves in.”
This guy could give Orson Whales lessons in being creepy, Rebecca decided. “But what does that have to do with Higher for Hire?”
The little boyish smile returned to his face as he sat down again. “Sorry, didn’t mean to get up on a soapbox there. The basic nub of the mission is we need someone to fly to Macadamia, pick up a cargo and bring it back to Cape Suzette.”
Rebecca gave him a wry look. “Have you thought about having it sent parcel post?”
The fox shook his head. “Besides the inherent risk involved in doing it that way, this all has to be done without anyone being the wiser.”
“Don’t you have pilots of your own who could do it?”
“At the OSS we specialize in unconventional operations. The whole idea of this operation is to have as few people involved in it as is possible. If we send out a government pilot I’d have to fill out so much paperwork that half the government would know what was going on. At that point, the odds are the Ratzis would probably know what we were up to before the plane’s wheels lifted from the runway.”
“Do you mean you don’t even trust our own government?” How paranoid could you get?
“A person I admired a great deal once told me to trust no one.” He shook his head. “No, I’m not that paranoid, but part of the problem of having an open and free society is the fact that it is so easy to infiltrate. And if there is one thing the Ratzis are good at, it’s espionage.”
Creepy did not go far enough to describe this guy. If he was not for real he should take his act on the road. Boars Carlough had nothing on this guy. She was not sure she wanted to get involved in whatever it was he had in mind.
“In that case aren’t you telling me an awful lot? I mean what are you going to do if I decide not to take the job?”
He reached into his trench coat once more, and again she caught a glimpse of deep brown wood and blue-black metal. This time he brought forth a large envelope, which he tossed onto the desk in front of her. With nervous caution, she picked it up and looked inside. Her eyes widened.
“There are a hundred C-notes in there, Rebecca. There will be four more packets just like it when the mission is over. I’m quite aware of the financial situation that Higher for Hire is in. I’m also quite aware that you are a single mother with a child to support. You, literally, can’t afford to turn me down.”
Fifty thousand dollars! Rebecca swallowed.
“I think you had better come with me and see the bear you’ve chosen to pilot your craft through the storm.”
Baloo lounged lazily beneath the starboard wing of the Sea Duck in his favorite faded canvas hammock. It was a perfect day for lounging. One of those hot, humid days that could make a person wish they didn’t have fur. Off in the distance he could hear a radio playing Glen Miller’s “String of Pearls”, accompanied by the bells of the harbor buoys, and the lapping sound of the waves against the pier. The sound of sea birds overhead and an occasional boat whistle added to the din. None of them were in rhythm, but somehow oddly in harmony. Even the occasional rumbling of his belly letting him know that it had been too long since it had last been fed could not rouse him to action. And when Baloo did not answer to the call of the “big guy”, it meant something.
The best part of it all was the fact that he did not have to worry about being disturbed. Becky had given him the next three days off. She had given him her solemn word after that last nightmarish week of eighteen to twenty-hour days getting those rush orders of umbrellas and warm beer to Blokeland that he would get three whole days off.
Maybe in an hour or two he would get up and get something to eat, and then maybe take Kit fishing. Or better yet --- fix up a picnic basket and take both it and Kit fishing! Maybe he would even see if he could talk Becky into joining them.
Now if there was one person he knew, other than himself, who really needed to take a few days off, it was Becky. That was it --- he would grab Kit, Becky, Molly, and a picnic lunch and they could make a day of it. Or a half a day of it, as he had no intention of rousing himself any time before noon. Kind of like a family outing. Family outing? Now why did that phrase make him feel comfortable and nervous at the same time?
Now there was a sound that did not make him feel comfortable at all. He knew that voice, and he knew that tone. The voice belonged to the boss lady, and the tone was that sweet gentle one she used when she wanted to talk him into something he was not going to like. Usually involving work, or being somewhere he did not want be, in clothes he did not like wearing.
A bad feeling coiled itself around his belly. A belly that was no longer crying to be fed as his appetite had been completely destroyed.
“I ain’t gonna do it,” he muttered under his breath as he heard footsteps on the dock. “No matter how much she pleads, begs, or threatens, I ain’t gonna do it.”
“Baloo, I need to ask a favor of you.”
“Becky, you gave me your solemn word.”
“Will you at least open your eyes and listen to what I have to say?”
Baloo sighed. Maybe he would get lucky and she wanted him to take the kids fishing. He opened his eyes. No such luck. The well-dressed fellow standing next to Rebecca positively reeked of hard work. A no-nonsense client of the first order if Baloo was any judge of character. There were two things Baloo could smell a mile away. One was Louie’s pizza, and the other was hard work, and this fellow did not smell of pizza.
“Okay, Becky, lemme have it.”
“Baloo, will you behave.” She turned to address the well-dressed fox next to her. “You see, Vulps, I don’t think my pilot is quite what you had in mind.”
“Quite the contrary, Rebecca, he is just the pilot I want.”
Baloo scowled. Who was this fancy pants to be calling Becky by her first name?
The fox stepped forward and offered his hand to the bear, who was still reclining. “I’m very honored to meet you, Baloo.”
With a grin, Baloo stood up and shook his hand. “Ya hear that, Becky? I’m famous.”
“Yes, but famous for what? That’s the question,” Rebecca grumbled.
“So ya gonna introduce me ta your new friend or what, Becky?”
“Baloo,” Becky scowled. “He’s not my friend, he’s a government agent.”
“What, another one?” Baloo laughed. “I hope ya asked for more identification this time than just a trench coat.”
Muller turned his head and looked at Rebecca, amused understanding danced in his eyes. She reddened.
“Of course I did. He had all sorts of identification.”
“What is it this time, another box of worms that needs to be delivered?”
Rebecca looked at Vulps with an embarrassed smile. “As you can see, Baloo is not really the kind of person you want to entrust with such an important mission. Oh, he’s good enough for regular kinds of cargo runs, like delivering pickles and manure, but...”
“Wait a minute, Becky, what do you mean ‘good enough for regular kinds of cargo runs’? I’d hardly call some of the harebrained schemes you’ve had me do normal!”
“I don’t mean that, Baloo.” Becky placed a gentle hand on one of his massive arms. “You are, without a doubt, the best pilot I’ve ever known, but Mr. Vulps is looking for a secret agent sort of guy. You know, dangerous and desperate mission kind of stuff.”
“What, you don’t think I could handle it?”
He wished she would not touch him like that when they were arguing. For some reason he found it hard to keep up his end of the argument when she did that. It was ... it was... well, distracting.
“I have to agree with Baloo on this, Rebecca. His record is quite impressive. He has taken on air pirates more than once and come out on top. He has also saved Cape Suzette on more than one occasion, such as the Panda-La incident and the time air pirates captured the air defense batteries on the cliffs. Then there was the Macadamia incident. Not only does it show how well he can think on his feet, he also has some knowledge of Macadamia itself.”
“That’s fine, but Baloo on a secret mission? I thought you were worried about someone finding out?”
“Actually, Rebecca, Baloo can lie better than most seasoned agents I know.”
“Ha! Did ya hear that, Becky, I can... hey, wait a minute, I think I’ve just been insulted!”
“The Martian invasion incident is ample proof of that.”
Rebecca managed to look both shocked and embarrassed at the same time.
“You know about that?”
“You can’t cause an entire armor division to mobilize without someone checking to see what’s going on.”
“You mean the OSS looked into that?”
“No, not the OSS. The Weird Happenings Office has jurisdiction over incidents like that. But WHO and the OSS do a pretty good job of keeping each other informed when we think it might be something that the other might find interesting.”
Rebecca gave him a confused look. “Who?”
“Did you ever feel like you wandered in halfway through a comedy routine?” Baloo asked.
“Baloo, what are you talking about?”
“That’s just it, I’ve no idea what we are talkin’ about!”
Vulps Muller studied the pair with an amused look in his eyes. He could not quite put his finger on it, but for some reason they reminded him of his parents.
“Okay, let me start over, and this time I’ll use real small words.” Rebecca said with the same tone with which she might have addressed Molly. “This is Mr. Vulps Muller, he works for the Office of Secret Stuff. He needs someone to pick up a cargo and bring it back here.”
“Give me a break, Becky. I could figure that much myself. I don’t need ta know who. What I need ta know is what, where, and why.”
Rebecca gave him a puzzled look. Baloo grinned and continued.
“What do I have to get? Where is it? Why me? And trust me, Becky, if ya expect me to cough up my three days off I’d better be real impressed by the answers.”
“Baloo!” The petite female bear scolded him, and Muller almost laughed out loud. It was so much like a mother scolding a wayward child.
“Mr. Muller is from the government, and he needs our help.”
“Then maybe he should tell me just what it is I’m supposed ta do.”
“An excellent idea, Baloo,” Muller broke in. He had a suspicion that these two could keep this kind of exchange up for hours, if not all day.
“Let me explain. As I was telling Rebecca earlier, these are quite turbulent times. Forces are in motion. Forces that can not be easily dissuaded from their intended courses. It falls to an unfortunate few to try and do what they can to protect the innocent from these forces. I am one of those few, and I was hoping what I knew about you indicated that you would be willing to be one of us.”
Not taking his eyes from Muller, Baloo addressed Rebecca out of the side of his mouth, “Boy, he is good.”
“Tell, me about it,” she whispered back. “I think I’m going to have nightmares for days.”
“I think I’ll join ya.”
“One of these innocents,” Muller continued as if he had not heard their exchange. “Is the country of Macadamia.”
Vulps smiled. “I thought that name would ring a bell. Yes Macadamia. Its present government is close to Usland philosophically, despite the fact that it is a monarchy. Unfortunately, it is closer to Vermany geographically.
While it would like to side openly with Usland, the Ratzis are able to keep political pressure on them due to their close proximity. Macadamia is rich in natural resources that the Ratzis desperately need to fuel their rearmament’s program. Not the least of which is oil, to make fuel itself. Up until now, the King of Macadamia has been able to keep the pro-Ratzi faction at bay because he has the backing of the people. The Ratzis are working on eroding the people’s confidence in the King. They hope to make the people feel he is unfit to rule so they can depose him and install a pro-Ratzi puppet government.“
“Hey, I know the king of Macadamia, He’s a lot sharper than people give him credit for.”
“You know the King of Macadamia?” Rebecca gave Baloo a surprised look.
“Yeah, I spent a year there for a couple of days once. He comes off a little nutty, but trust me, he’s no fool.”
“You... know... a... king?”
“Their latest plot involves the theft of the ancient artifacts of the Macadamian monarchy,” Vulps continued. “Artifacts that supposedly grant the ruling monarch his right to rule. The theory being that if the king is foolish enough to lose control of those artifacts, he is not fit to be king.”
“So what does that have ta do with me? I mean I kinda liked the guy and all that, but couldn’t you just send any ol’ pilot out ta pick it up?”
“You... know... a... king?”
Vulps shook his head. “The Ratzis would stop any attempt to remove them from the kingdom.”
“Yeah, but it’s still his kingdom. I mean, if he just wants ta send them somewhere, say to Cape Suzette for a cleanin’, how could they prevent him? What kind of political pressure could they use ta stop somethin’ like that?”
“How about three panzer divisions, two paratroop battalions, and a wing of fighter bombers on their northern border?”
“Man! Now that’s what I call political pressure.”
“You know a king, a real live king,
like with a palace and oodles of money?”
Rebecca continued as if she was unaware of the conversation going on
between Baloo and Vulps. “A king with a
crown and you never told me?”
“Yes, Becky, a king with crown, and a palace, and a royal treasure and all that jazz.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about that? Do you realize the kind of business a head of state could throw our way? Baloo! You never tell me anything!”
“What are ya complainin’ about? I just told ya, didn’t I?”
“If we could get back to the business at hand?” Vulps asked calmly.
“Oh, yeah, right, go ahead, Mr. Muller.”
“Please, call me Vulps, Baloo.”
“Knows a king, with all kinds money. But does he think to tell me? Noooo.” Rebecca continued to grumble to herself.
“You see, Baloo, with that kind of threat hanging over his head the King of Macadamia just can’t risk blatantly flaunting their power.”
“And that’s where I come in, right?”
“Right. We need a pilot who can slip in and smuggle the Macadamian artifacts out. All without anyone knowing a thing about it. It is a job that calls for a very skilled pilot. A pilot who can handle himself in a scrape and is no stranger to danger. For danger there could be aplenty.”
“Danger?” Baloo said, not sounding too thrilled.
Vulps gave him another boyish smile. “When the Ratzis are involved there is always an element of danger. I hope I’m not scaring you off?”
“Nah, it’d take more than a couple of panzer divisions to scare off ol’ Baloo,” Baloo said. I just don’t have ta like it, he added silently.
“So, Vulps, just how big is this ‘cargo’ you need me to pick up? And I mean size-wise. How much space will it take up?”
“Hmmm, at a guess, I’d say maybe eight to ten cubic feet.”
“And how big is the largest piece?’
“About twice the size of a bread box.” Vulps said, indicating the approximate size with his hands.
“Hmmm,” Baloo said, rubbing his jaw thoughtfully. “It just might fit.”
“Baloo, What are you talking about?” Rebecca demanded.
Instead of answering her, Baloo turned around and walked to the Sea Duck’s open cargo bay and entered. Rebecca and Vulps had to scamper across the seasoned planks of the dock to catch up with him.
“Baloo,” Rebecca called. “Will you answer me!”
Much to Rebecca’s horror, instead of answering her, he began tearing up the floor of the Sea Duck. Already there were gaping holes in the decking and he was still pulling up more and more deck plates. Finally the large gray bear stopped his apparent wanton destruction of the Sea Duck and proudly studied his handiwork.
“Have you completely lost your mind?” Rebecca screamed at him.
“Heh, considering who I work for, that’s always a danger.”
Unlike Rebecca, Vulps studied the present state of the Sea Duck’s floor with an appreciative eye. “I must admit, Baloo, I am impressed!”
“What!” Rebecca screamed. “Are you nuts? That big dumb bear is wrecking the plane you wanted to use to rescue the Macadamian treasures. What’s more, it’s my plane.”
Vulps gave her another of his mischievous smiles. “If it truly is ‘your plane’, why are you so surprised that he is opening all the secret compartments?”
“Secret whats?” Rebecca turned to face Baloo, storm clouds gathering on her brow. “What’s the idea of never telling me that the Sea Duck has secret compartments, mister?”
Baloo grinned in spite of himself. Smiling at Becky when she was mad was not the best of ideas. It could be real hard on the ears, both volume-wise and physically.
“Well, I guess the subject just never came up.”
Besides, he thought to himself, a feller needs a place to hide a case or two of Orange Fizzies when his boss is trying to cram every possible space in the Sea Duck full of whatever cargo she has decided he need to haul to the far corners of the world.
With her hands on her hips, Rebecca gave Baloo a stern look. It was just like him to enjoy keeping a little secret from her. Sometimes he was just like a little boy.
“Baloo, one of these days we are going to have a long talk.”
“Sure, Becky,” he chuckled. “Someday when you have nothin’ better to do. But right now we have more important things ta talk about.”
With that he turned to Vulps. “Well, what do you think? Will it fit?”
“I must admit, Baloo, I am impressed. Even our best information on you did not indicate this. Yes, I think it should fit rather nicely.”
“So how soon do ya want ta get this show on the road?”
“How soon can you be ready? As far as the OSS is concerned, the sooner the better. Right now would not be too soon.”
“Hmmm, let me think a moment.”
For once there was a serious look on Baloo’s face. He sat down on a frame chair that was bolted to the Sea Duck’s bulkhead. His eyes flicked around the cabin as if he was looking at things that were not there.
“I should have Wildcat go over the engines. Macadamia ain’t right next door, and I don’t like the sounds that one of the pots on number two engine is making. And of course we’ll need ta fuel the Sea Duck, and of course I’ll need ta pick up some new charts. I’ll have Kit plot us a course. Hmmm. I’d say sometime tomorrow mornin’.”
With a grin, Vulps thrust out his right hand to shake. “Welcome to the few, Baloo.”