SMUGGLER’S BALOO

 

A TaleSpin Fan-Fic

By

Herodotus

 

  

 Chapter 5

 

 

            Kit admired the sleek Grummlin PT-8a as it bobbed in the water in front of Higher for Hire.  It had been designed as a light passenger seaplane with twin inline engines that would give it tremendous speed --- a regular flying hot-rod.

              Like the Conwing L-16, the PT-8a had its engines in a twin boom arrangement.  Unlike the L-16, however, its wings were mounted much lower on the fuselage.  Its central fuselage was also much sleeker than that of the Sea Duck’s, almost bullet-like, and much smaller --- being designed to carry only its crew of two, and six passengers.

            The PT-8a had not been one of Grummlin’s biggest commercial successes.  Too large to be useful as a general air taxi and too small to be an efficient passenger aircraft, this combined with the relatively higher maintenance requirements of its inline engines had resulted in very disappointing sales. Only a few had been purchased by companies for use as fast couriers.  Grummlin had ended up selling off the rest of the production run to the Usland navy.  The navy had converted them to the PT-8a by the addition of a hard-point under each wing so it could be fitted with either drop tanks for long reconnaissance missions, or small bombs for anti-sub warfare.

            Wildcat slammed the cover down over the starboard engine.  Wiping his hands on an oily rag, he walked across the wings, which were not much higher than the dock; when he reached the end, he simply stepped down.  “There you go, Kit.  Good as a rose and smelling like new.”

            “Thanks, Wildcat.”

            “Say, Kit, I was just wondering… where’d you get the money to buy a plane?”

            “Out of petty cash.”

            “Wow!  You must of, like, gotten a really good deal!”

            Well, Kit had to admit that four thousand dollars had been a heck of a deal.  His original plan had been to raid petty cash in the hope he would find enough money to be able to buy Molly and himself food to last a trip to Macadamia on whatever ride he had would be able to beg, bum, or steal.  He had been completely stunned to find ten thousand dollars!

            At first, he had simply planned to buy tickets on the next flight to Macadamia.  He discarded that plan when it turned out that the next scheduled flight would not be for at least another three weeks. Then he had decided to charter a plane, only to find out that very few pilots were willing to charter out their plane to a couple of kids.  One of them had even called the cops to report a couple of runaways.  The only pilot who was willing had wanted more than what his plane was worth.  It was then that he had got the idea of just buying his own plane.

            “Well, it was military surplus,” Kit said, as if that explained everything ---

 that and it had been in poor condition.  One of the engines had been shot, and the body streaked with rust.  Within an hour and a half, Wildcat had her looking like she had just rolled off the assembly line.

            The aircraft was still in its original Usland navy colors, dark blue with slate-gray belly and under-wings.  Wildcat had helped him paint over the old military markings, but he had absolutely refused to cover up the aircraft’s original nose-art, claiming that it was bad luck.  He was so adamant about it he even threatened to refuse to work on the plane at all if Kit covered it up.

            Actually, Kit liked the name.  Painted on the port nose of the fuselage, in bright yellows letters, were the words, A Young Bear’s Fancy.  It was the picture below the calligraphy he suspected that Miz Cunningham would not be pleased with.

            Turning, Kit saw Molly staring intently at the picture.  Molly was seated on an old battered suitcase in which she had stuffed everything she felt would be need on such a long journey.  She was dressed in a faded gray jumpsuit that was about a half a size too large for her.  Perched on her head was a set of goggles they had found in the back of A Young Bear’s Fancy, and around her neck was her mother’s very best pink silk scarf.  She called them her ‘flying clothes’.

            She leaned forward, elbows on her knees and her favorite doll, Lucy, grasped firmly to her chest.  She squinted and wrinkled her nose as she concentrated.

            “She’s not wearing a lot of clothes, huh, Kit?”

            Kit ignored her question.  “We have to get going, Molly, pass me your suitcase.”

            “Hey, Kit,” Wildcat said, tossing a large picnic basket into A Young Bear’s Fancy.  “I was just thinking... you know, isn’t Miz Cunningham going to be a little upset when she finds out you spent money out of petty cash?”

            “She said I could use it in an emergency,” Kit told him as he loaded Molly’s luggage on to the plane.  Well sort of.

            “Beside, she’s been talking about buying a second plane for Higher for Hire for some time.”

            True, she had also said she was going to do so once she had her pilot’s license.  Kit had just kind of gotten one for her a little early.

            “Really? That was nice of her.  Most kids your age don’t get to have a plane of their own.”

            “I know, Wildcat. Trust me, I know.”

            With her luggage safely aboard, Kit helped Molly into the plane.  She immediately dashed into the forward section of the cabin and jumped into the copilot’s seat.  She then proceeded to show Lucy all of the wonderful and mysterious controls.

            “Say, Kit, just what kinda emergency is this? Does, like, Molly really miss her mom or something?”

            Kit glanced at where Molly was playing in the copilot’s seat.  Making sure she was completely engrossed in talking to Lucy so that she would not overhear him, he turned back and addressed Wildcat.

            “Baloo and Miz Cunningham have eloped.”

            Wildcat just blinked and stared back at him as if he had not said anything that unusual.

            “Wildcat!  Didn’t you hear me?  I said Baloo and Miz Cunningham have eloped!”

            Wildcat cupped his chin in his left hand and thought carefully.  “Then shouldn’t you be calling her Mrs. Baloo, not Miz Cunningham?  No, no, that’s not right.  The wife gets her husband’s last name, not his first.  Although they do say a wife gets everything her husband owns.  So that would make her Mrs. Rebecca Cunningham Baloo something.  No, that’s not right either, she doesn’t get to be Cunningham anymore.  So it would be Mrs. Rebecca Baloo... something.  Say, Kit, what is Baloo’s last name?  Isn’t it Cloudkicker?  No wait, that’s your name.”

            All Kit could do was stare at him in openmouthed amazement.  Wildcat just did not seem to grasp the magnitude of the situation.  Papa Bear and Miz Cunn... Rebecca had gone and gotten themselves married!

            “Well, I guess I’d better get going, Wildcat.”

            "Yeah, I'd go with you, but I told Miz Cunningham, er, Mrs. Baloo, I mean... Hmmm, I wonder who it is I'm watching the store for now.  Say, Kit, when you catch up with them, could ya find out?”

            “Sure, Wildcat, I’ll do that.”

            “You know, I keep thinking I’ve forgotten something.  Let’s see… packed the sandwiches, drinks, bowling balls.  Hmmm... did you remember to pack extra shaving cream?”

            “Wildcat, I don’t shave.”

            The gangly lion shrugged.  “Well, I’m sure I’ll think of it later.”

            “You do that,” Kit said.  “But right now could you give me a hand with the hatch?”

            With the hatch shut, the dark blue seaplane taxied away from the dock and into the open waters of the bay.  Then the sleek aircraft rocketed across the bay and was airborne in an impressively short take-off.

            “Now I remember what it was I forgot,” Wildcat said as he waved at the rapidly departing plane.  “Kit doesn’t have a pilot’s license!  Oh, and I forgot to pack the macaroni to throw at the wedding. Guess I’ll just tell him when he gets back.”

            Kit kept A Young Bear’s Fancy close to the water to avoid detection, and the throttles wide open.  Once he was five miles out he would be in international waters and his lack of a pilot’s license would be a moot point.

            “Kit?”

            “Yeah, Molly?”

            “What did you mean when you told Wildcat that Mommy and Baloo were ‘envelopes’?”

            The wings of A Young Bear’s Fancy wobbled wildly as Kit almost lost control of the aircraft.  At the speed they were flying, if he let a wing tip hit the water, it would be a catastrophe.

            “Uh... it means they’ve gone somewhere together to...  to... do some special stuff,” Kit said nervously.

            It appeared that the young cub had overheard at least some of his conversation with Wildcat.  He could have sworn that she had been too preoccupied to notice.  He had forgotten how sneaky she could be sometimes.

            “I don’t think they want everyone to know just yet,” he said, giving her a stern look.

            Molly nodded.  She had that most serious of expressions that only little girls seemed to be able to master.  She let their hurried flight continue in silence for almost a full minute.

            “Kit?”

            “Yeah?”

            “If Baloo becomes my daddy, does that make you my brother?”

            It took effort, but this time he managed to keep the aircraft flying steady.

 

 

            Rebecca and Mrs. Chaddberry sat at a table in an outdoor cafe facing a dusty Macadamian street.  Mrs. Chaddberry daintily sipped a cup of very hot, very sweet coffee.  How anyone could drink a hot drink in such miserably hot weather was beyond Rebecca.

            “Are you all right, my dear?”

            “I’m fine, Mrs. Chaddberry,” Rebecca said, trying to keep herself cool by fanning herself with one hand.  “Summers in Macadamia are just a little too warm to be wandering around in leather clothes, that’s all.”

            “Please, Rebecca, it’s Esther.  Remember?”  Mrs. Chaddberry said with an endearing little smile. 

            “Okay.  Esther.”  She could not help but smile back at her.

            At least the elderly rabbit was dressed a little more sensibly for the climate.  She wore a light cotton blouse and a khaki skirt that came down to just below her knees.  Her head was protected from the sun by a white cork pith helmet wrapped with a long green silk scarf.  The scarf hung down her back, protecting her neck from the sun. She looked like a fashion plate out of a magazine for desert explorers.  Even if they had not been able to locate Rebecca’s luggage, they had at least found Esther’s.  Rebecca hated it when she lost her luggage on a long flight.

            “You know, Esther, you didn’t really have to come with us.  They offered to fly everyone to the next port of call for the SS Reallybig and you could continue your cruise and put this horrid incident behind you.  Not that I’m not grateful for all the help you’ve given us… offering to pay for our lodgings if we need it, and buying us that wonderful breakfast.  And you were a great deal of help in calming down the passengers. But don’t you want to get on with your cruise?”

            “What and miss all the fun?  You two are much more fun to be around than all those fuddy-duddies on that ship.  You know I really never thought of myself as old until I went on that cruise.  Being captured by pirates was the first interesting thing that had happened.  I don’t know how I let my daughter ever talk me into it. I’m just grateful that you and Baloo let me tag along, being as you are on your honeymoon.”

            “Speaking of Baloo, where is he?”  Rebecca asked, frowning.  “It shouldn’t take him that long to find out where we are supposed to be staying.”

            “Now, now, Rebecca, don’t fret.  And don’t pull on your clothes like that, it isn’t ladylike.”

            Without even being aware of it Rebecca had inserted her fingers into the top of her leather bodice and was pulling it out in an attempt to let some cooler air in.  Blushing, she dropped her hands onto her lap and let her top snap back into place.

            “That husband of yours is quite a capable young man,” Esther continued.   “I’m sure he is doing his best.  We will just sit and wait for him here, just as he asked.”

            As if on cue, Baloo emerged from the milling crowd.  Behind him walked a pair of rhinos that towered above the large bear.  His escorts wore fancy plumed turbans and were dressed in bright purple silk vests, and orange and red striped pantaloons.  They carried large scimitars.  Anywhere else in the world they would have stood out in a crowd.  But in the crowded, noisy, colorful Macadamian market street, they were almost on top of her before Rebecca noticed them.

            “Fret ye not, hottentots, the Ace of the Base has arrived!”

            Trust Baloo to make a subtle entrance.  “Well, it’s about time.”

            “Patience, Rebecca,” Esther said.  “Part of the secret to a successful marriage is patience.  Trust me on this.”

            Swallowing her frustration Rebecca addressed him again.  “Did you find out where we’re supposed to be staying?”

            “Oh boy, did I ever!  Yer gonna love this one, Beckers.  We’re stayin’ at the palace!”

            The palace?”  Rebecca brightened, her discomfort apparently forgotten.  “You mean where the king lives?’

            “You betcha, Becky.  Turns out ol’ Amuck had people out lookin’ for us all day.  Just ran into these fellers a little while ago.”

            “You know the king of Macadamia?”  Esther asked politely.

            “That was pretty much my reaction,” Rebecca said.

            “Make yerselves useful.” Baloo addressed the two hulking rhinos. “Get the lady’s luggage.”

            It was apparent from the look in their eyes they were not happy with his request, but sheathing their swords, they started to gather up Mrs. Chaddberry’s luggage.  For a small rabbit she seemed to have an inordinate amount of baggage.  Even with his escorts loaded down with as much as they could carry, Baloo still found himself responsible for a rather large steamer trunk.

            “Well then.” Esther picked up a parasol that had been resting against the table.  “Shall we be off?”

            With that, she popped the parasol open, slung it over her right shoulder, and took off at a brisk pace.  The others were forced to try and keep up with her.  Rebecca was amazed at how spry the elderly rabbit was.

            “I forget, Becky,” Baloo huffed from beneath the trunk.  “Will ya remind me why we’re lettin’ Miz Easter Candy tag along?”

            Hush, Baloo,” Rebecca scolded.  “She might hear you.  Mrs. Chaddberry is a prospective client.  She could send a lot of business our way.”

            Not that she would ever admit it to Baloo, but the real reason she had agreed to let Esther join them was she had begun to take a liking to the old dear.  She was so charming that Rebecca just did not have the heart to turn her down when she asked if she could join them.

            “Only you would invite a client along on yer honeymoon,” he snorted.

            Rebecca fought an urge to grab him by the throat and yell that she was not on her honeymoon.  As that might attract too much attention, she satisfied herself by leaning on the trunk he was toting.

            The trip through the hot dusty streets went rather quickly.  Even laden down with all of Esther’s baggage, their escorts were intimidating enough that everyone seemed more than willing to get out of their way.  As quick as the journey was, the heat of the day and the weight of his burden began to take their toll on Baloo; he was puffing and sweating by the time he set down the steamer trunk in the entrance hall of King Amuck’s palace.  The rhinos snorted and dumped their cargo, nearly burying Baloo in a shower of luggage.  Their duty complete, they stomped off.

            Rebecca stared about her in openmouthed amazement.  It was as though she had stepped into a different world.  Gone were the smells of camel dung and sweat --- the air in the palace carried the scent of jasmine and lilacs.  The floors were paved with large slabs of marble that were smooth and cool beneath her feet.  Tall alabaster pillars reached to the vaulted ceilings.  Gold, bejeweled, peacock statues decorated the walls, and the room was decorated liberally throughout with gold leaf.

            They were interrupted by a sweet voice.  “Baloo!”

            Snapping back to reality Rebecca looked in the direction of the voice.  On a wide stairway she saw a comely vixen.  She was dressed in an ivory colored blouse with billowing sleeves and a wraparound tiger print skirt that showed just a bit more leg than Rebecca cared for.  The gold and silver bracelets on her wrists and ankles chimed like miniature bells, and the pink silk veil that crowned her dark brown hair swirled about her as she threw herself into Baloo’s arms.  The kiss she planted on the startled bear’s mouth would have done credit to the best Starrywood had to offer.  Rebecca watched, her eyes wide and her mouth hanging open.

            “You came, Baloo!” the lovely vixen cried joyfully, with her arms around his neck.  “I told Father you would!”

            “Hey, now that’s what I call a welcome!” he gasped, catching his breath and holding the vixen by her slim waist.  “But I didn’t know I’d been sent for!”

            The lovely fox stepped back, holding both of his hands in her own, and looked up at him coyly from under long lashes.  “Didn’t they tell you I had Father request you specifically?”

            “Uh, no they didn’t.”  That sneaky little Vulps, he hadn’t mentioned a thing about that.

            “I told Father that if anyone could save Macadamia again, it would be you.”

            Someone cleared her throat behind them. The vixen looked over Baloo’s shoulder and gave Rebecca a curious look.

            “Uh... Baloo, who is this…person?

            Baloo turned around and looked. Rebecca was standing there with one hand at her mouth to cover her ‘cough’.  Dressed in her leather bodice and form-fitting pants, covered with dust and sweat, he had to admit that she did look a little less the prim businesswoman and more...  well... he could not quite put his finger on it.  She also had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes that made Baloo nervous.

            “I might ask the same question of you.”

            She had that same wicked smile that always preceded some painful form of revenge.  This did not bode well.

            “I’m Princess Lotta Lamour, crown princess of Macadamia.  I am also accustomed to having my questions answered in my own home.  Who are you?”

            “Oh, no one, really.”

            This was so unlike Rebecca.  She was always so polite to people who had money, especially if they could throw in an honest-to-goodness title to go with it.  Now Baloo began to feel really nervous.

            Lotta raised a questioning eyebrow.  Rebecca sauntered up to Baloo and wrapped both of her arms possessively around one of his and gave the princess a smile that would have charmed a snake.

            “Just his wife.”

            The look on Lotta’s face ran the gamut from shock to disbelief.  Then her expression turned cold.

            “You never mentioned a wife.”

            Rebecca snuggled up against Baloo.  Batting her eyelashes, she addressed Lotta in a simpering, girlish voice that Baloo knew meant he was in trouble for something.

            “That’s funny, he never mentioned you to me.”

            Tugging at his collar with his free hand, he cleared his throat.  “It’s not what ya think, Lotta.  It’s like this...”

            “So, this is where everyone is.”  A new voice cut through the air like a carnival barker.

            Everyone turned and faced the steps from which Lotta had entered the room.  This time standing on the steps was a short chubby white rabbit.  He was dressed in a purple tunic that clashed with the red and orange plaid cloak he wore.  On his head sat an orange and red turban fastened with a diamond so large that Rebecca found it hard to believe it was real.  His face was so comical that she suspected that he was the court jester.

            Next to him stood a rat in a white uniform with an impressive amount of gold braid on it.  He had a stern look on his face that seemed to say, I know what you are all up to and I don’t like it.

            “Father!”  Lotta ran up and gave the rabbit and gave him affectionate hug.

            Father?  Rebecca was stunned.

            That’s the king of Macadamia?” she whispered to Baloo.

            “In the flesh.”

            “She must take after her mother!”

            “Don’t know, never met the lady.”

            “Got tired of sitting by myself in the throne room, don’t you know,” the diminutive monarch said, hugging his much taller daughter back.  “So I figured I see where everyone had gotten to.”

            “I was greeting our guest, Father.”

            “Oh, Baloo!”  King Amuck said.  “Am I glad to see you, don’t you know!”

            He scampered up to Baloo and began shaking the hand that Rebecca did not have a grip on.  His handshake was quite vigorous --- to the point where his feet almost left the ground.  There was no mistaking the sincerity of his greeting.

            “And who is this lovely lady?”

            There was not a hint of sarcasm in his voice.  Nor did she get the feeling he was being facetious.  She suspected he tended to see more of a person than was just on the surface

            “That’s Baloo’s wife,” his daughter informed him.

            “Really?  I didn’t know he was married.”

            “Neither did I.”  Lotta’s tone was not quite a growl.

            “And who is this enchanting creature?”  Amuck asked gallantly, finally noticing Mrs. Chaddberry.

            Esther performed a textbook perfect curtsy.  “Mrs. Esther Chaddberry, your Majesty.”

            “Not the Mrs. Chaddberry, the one who is responsible for all those delicious chocolate thingies?”

            “The same, your Majesty.  Although I don’t have much to do with the day-to-day running of the business these days.”

            He smiled and clapped his hands together several times happily.  “We will have to have a talk later, so I can tell you about all my favorite ones.  Candies that is, don’t you know.”

            “That’s very nice, Father.  But don’t you think we should show our guests to their rooms first?”

            “Quite right, daughter, quite right.  If you’ll do the honors?  I’d do it myself, but affairs of state take precedence and all that.”

             “Good idea,” Baloo said, “Hey, skycap, take care of the luggage, will ya?”

            Baloo flipped a nickel to the rat who had entered the room with the king.  The rat caught it in a reflex action, and then angrily hurled it to the floor.

            “Do you not know who I am, you mangy bear?”  The rodent had a Verman accent thick enough to cut with a club.

            “No, no, Baloo,” Amuck said.  “That’s Herr Gerbils of the Verman government.  He’s here on a goodwill mission.”

            “A Verman goodwill mission, huh? That oughtta take about twenty minutes.”

            The Ratzi dignitary gave Baloo a look that indicated that he did not find him amusing.  Baloo had the feeling that there was not much he would find amusing.  Unless it was something like tearing the wings off a fly.

            “We are here to let the Macadamian people know that we are their friends, and that we feel that closer ties between Macadamia and Vermany would be to the benefit of both countries.”

He ended his statement by clicking his heels together so loudly that Rebecca gave a little start. Since she was still holding onto Baloo he could feel it.  He gave one of her hands a reassuring squeeze.

            Tanks!  she thought.  That crazy little rat has tanks at his command!

            “Enough chit-chat,” King Amuck interrupted.  “Lotta, why don’t you show Mr. and Mrs. Baloo to their room?  And I’ll see if I can find something suitable for the lovely Mrs. Chaddberry.”

            With a smiling Esther on one arm, King Amuck escorted her away, apparently finding her more interesting than ‘affairs of state’.

            Lotta seemed to have recovered from her shock, and gave the Baloo and Rebecca a smile that seemed only a little strained.  “If you will follow me?”

            The rest of the palace turned out to be even more impressive than the entrance hall.  Rebecca had to do her best not to act like a tourist, rubbernecking at all the opulence around her.  She could not figure out how Baloo could not be impressed by it all.

            It did not take long before they found themselves in their room.  It truly took Rebecca’s breath away.  The single room was larger than her entire apartment back in Cape Suzette.  It was full of expensive-looking furniture, costly embroidered rugs and pillows, and an enormous four-poster bed that was even larger than the one back on the Iron Vulture.  There was even a fountain in the center of the room!

            “Do you remember this room, Baloo?” the princess asked warmly.

            “Oh, yeah, the royal suite.  How could I forget it?”

            Rebecca’s eyes narrowed and she stared at Baloo.  What did that mean?

            “But ain’t that paintin’ new?”  Baloo said pointing to a wall.

            “I was hoping you would notice that,” Lotta said.

            The painting depicted a heroic-looking Baloo brandishing an ornate cutlass in one hand and embracing Princess Lotta in the other arm. He was standing on a pile of treasure, and was smiling down at her.  At his feet lay what appeared to be a defeated buzzard.

            “I realized that father was a bit... thrifty with his reward for you saving the kingdom so I had this commissioned in your honor.  I call it ‘Princess, we make a swell team’.”  She smiled at Baloo.  “Do you remember saying that to me?”

            Rebecca’s mind flashed back to a time last summer on the shores of Lake Flaccid.  A smiling Baloo looking down into her eyes.  We make a great team, eh Becky?  How many times had he used that line?

            “I wonder if you remember something else?”

            With that Princess Lotta ran up to the four-poster bed.  Reaching out she garbed one of the posts and pulled down a section.  With a start, Rebecca realized that she was talking about a secret lever.

            There was a grating sound and a section of the wall began moving.  Rebecca gaped as it slid away to reveal a small pile of bright metal objects.

            “What’s that?”

            Baloo entered the secret chamber.  He picked up a statuette of a falcon that appeared to be made of solid gold and encrusted with precious gems.

            “The stuff that dreams are made of, sweetheart.”

            Returning the bird to the pile, he exited the chamber and Lotta pushed the lever back up and the door slid shut. “So how soon can I load all these gewgaws onta the Sea Duck?”

            “I’m afraid not for a couple of days yet,” Lotta apologized.  “We still have to catalogue it all.  We’ve brought in an expert, but she hasn’t had time to even start yet.  You’ll meet her at the ball tonight.”

            “Ball!”  Baloo and Rebecca gasped.

            “Of course.  Didn’t I tell you about that?”

            A ball?  In the palace?  And she was invited?  Rebecca’s heart soared; she had always wanted to go to a royal ball.  Then her heart plummeted.  She could not ever remember feeling so grimy.  All she could think about was her lovely pink gown, lost along with the rest of her clothes.

            “I ... I’m afraid I’ve lost all my luggage.  I don’t have anything to wear!”

            “Don’t worry,” Lotta said, smiling slyly.  “I’m sure I can find something for you to wear.  I will have the servants drop off something appropriate for you.  While they are at it, they can pick up your present... outfit, and we’ll have it laundered.”

            Rebecca felt a rush of gratitude.  Maybe Princess Lotta was not as bad as she had first thought.

            “How about you, Baloo?”  Lotta continued.  “Would you like me to have your shirt laundered as well?”

            “Why, is it the first of the month already?”

            He slapped his hands on his shirt.  Small clouds of dust billowed up, making him cough.

            “Baloo!”  Rebecca coughed.  “You are not going to a fancy royal ball in a filthy pilot’s shirt!”

            “Well, okay, but I don’t know why yer so upset.”

            Lotta smiled graciously.  “I’ll leave you two to freshen up.”

 

 

            Douglas wondered how long he had been sitting in the lifeboat.  As far as he could tell it had not even been a day yet.  He did not remember seeing the sunset.  Of course there was that time he passed out.  Maybe a couple of days had gone by while he was unconscious.

            He just wished they would pick him up soon.  Or that he had thought to bring along something to eat --- or at the very least something to drink.  He could not remember ever being this thirsty.  It did not look as if they were going to come and get him anytime soon.  It was a particular calm day and he could see for miles.  Not a plane or boat in sight.  How could they just leave me here?  Don’t they realize how important I am?

            When the submarine surfaced, its wake almost swamped his little boat.  Frantically he rowed to avoid being plowed under by the long gray metal shark-like vessel.  On its side was painted the Ratzi iron cross and the submarine’s designation.  It was Unterseeboot Number two.  The U-2.

            He did not know whether to be mad that they had almost swamped him, or grateful that they finally come to get him.  In the end he settled for just letting the Verman crew to help him out of the lifeboat and into the sub.  Once he was inside, a proud-looking rat in Verman captain’s uniform greeted him.

            “I am Captain Von Los,” the Captain said crisply.  His manner was cool and professional, and not overly cordial.  He did not offer his hand for Douglas to shake.  Douglas would remember that when he was an important person in the Ratzi government.

            “This is Herr Sturm,” Von Los continued in the same curt voice.  “He is from the Gestapo.”

            Heil!  A thin rat in a black leather coat and hat clicked his heels together and shot his right hand out in a stiff straight-armed salute.

            “Am I glad to see you!”  Douglas said excitedly.  “I’ve got some real important stuff to tell you.  And trust me, you’ll be real grateful to hear it.”

            Captain Von Los shook his head and returned to his duties, leaving the pair to talk in private.  Spies and Ratzis!  This was no job for an honorable seaman.  He may have been a Verman, but that did not mean he had to like his country’s present government.  But, he was an officer of the Verman navy, with over fifteen years of loyal service; he would do as he was told.  It was his duty, but that did not mean he had to like that either.

 

 

            “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell ol’ Louie where you got that sweet lookin’ little plane, would you?”

            Kit signed for the fuel that Louie’s crew had put in A Young Bear’s Fancy.  He handed the clipboard back to Louie and gave him a weak smile.

            “It’s kinda a long story.  But it’s important I catch up with Baloo and... and... Miz Cunningham.”

            It looked as if Kit was going to be every bit as forthcoming as his partner had been the day before.  There was definitely something afoot.  And, he wondered, why did Kit’s voice break every time he tried to say Rebecca’s name?

            “Fine, don’t tell me, this seems to be ‘leave Louie out of it week’.  But could you at least tell me why you even bothered to stop for gas?  With those drop tanks a PT-8a could make it to Macadamia and halfway back without having to refuel.”

            Molly came running up.  “All done, Kit.”

            Kit smiled.

            “Oh!”

            “My turn next.  I would like to make this trip with as few stops as possible.”  But with the number of sodas Molly had drunk, he suspected this would only be the first of many such stops.  “Could you watch Molly for me?”

            “Sure.  How much trouble can one seven-year-old be?”  Louie laughed. Then he frowned.  “Hey, what’s that look supposed to mean?”

            “Nothing, Louie.  Just thanks. I’ll be right back.”

            “So how is my favorite little lady doing these days?” he asked her as Kit departed.

            “Lucy and me are doing fine.  But Kit doesn’t seem to be very fine today.”

            “I kind of noticed.  What’s up with the little Cuz?”

            “I don’t know.”  Molly shrugged as she fiddled with Lucy’s dress.  “I think it has something to do with Mommy and Baloo.”

            Finally, someone who was willing to talk. 

            He tried to sound casual.  “And just what might be up with that?”

            Again Molly shrugged.  “He won’t tell me.  All he keeps talking about is how they’ve become envelopes.”

            “I’m back,” Kit announced as he trotted back to A Young Bear’s Fancy.  “Molly give you any trouble?”

            “Nah, like I said, how much trouble can one seven-year-old be?”

            Kit shook his head.  “Don’t ask that kind of question --- you might get an answer.”

            Accepting responsibility of Molly back from the orangutan, Kit helped her back onboard the Young Bear’s Fancy.  This time the take-off was a little more leisurely.  There was no one to stop him and question the right of a thirteen-year-old to be piloting a plane.  Even so, the fast little plane reached altitude in an impressively short time.

            Louie chuckled.  He had no idea what Kit was so worried about.  Molly was such a swell little kid.  It was cute how she sometimes used the wrong word.  Like envelope.  She was probably trying to say ‘eloped’.  He remembered the time...

            He froze as if he had gazed into the eyes of the medusa.  Eloped!  He remembered how secretive Baloo had been the day before.  He remembered think that there were only two things Baloo was that secretive about. Treasure and dames.  Eloped!  Louie’s jaw dropped.  His face had that same expression a half hour later when his crew came looking for him.

 

 

            Rebecca looked at the garments that Lotta had provided.  She wondered if it was possible to actually die of embarrassment.  After Lotta departed she had found the royal suite’s equally luxurious bathroom, complete with marble countertops, gold taps and fixtures, and a large marble bathtub that was big enough for two people.  She had wrapped a fluffy white towel around herself and passed her dusty, sweaty clothes out to a very polite servant who accepted them, bowed and withdrew.  After taking a very long, very well-deserved bath, she again donned the towel and came out to find her replacement garments lying on the bed where Baloo lay snoring. 

            At first she was going to wake the lazy bear and tell him to go take a bath.  Then she realized that this was the first sleep he had gotten since they had left Cape Suzette the day before.  That had been almost thirty hours ago.  No wonder he had passed out.  Shaking her head she did not have the heart... or the energy to wake him.

            So instead she had turned her attention to her new clothes.  When she picked them up her jaw dropped.  The outfit made the one that the pirates back on the Iron Vulture had given her look positively modest in comparison!  The bottom half consisted of transparent green gauze pantaloons and a green silk bottom that did not look big enough to fit Molly.  The top was no better.  It seemed to be made of a pair of very narrow green silk scarves that she was supposed to somehow wrap in a kind of X shape over her chest in a vain attempt to protect her modesty.  To Rebecca, the whole thing looked like it could fit in a teacup.

            This was Princess Lotta’s idea of an appropriate outfit for her?  What kind of girl does she think I am?  Given the choice between this outfit and parading around in her underwear, she would have chosen her underwear.  Unfortunately she did not have even that option this time.

            She walked over to a full-length mirror and studied herself.  Maybe she could just wear the towel.  It covered more than twice as much as the outfit Lotta had provided.  With a sigh she discarded the idea.  Looking over her shoulder to make sure that Baloo was still sound asleep, she dropped her towel and quickly wriggled into the costume.  She studied herself in the mirror again.  If she sneezed she was sure she would be arrested for indecent exposure.

            It was then that she noticed the jewelry sitting on the small marble table next to the mirror.  She did not usually wear much jewelry, but then she usually did not parade around looking like a Macadamian courtesan.  She sorted them and found a very nice set of silver-and-ruby earrings.  The rubies were cut to look like small hearts.  Unfortunately they were for pierced ears, and she only wore clip-ons.  Besides, there were three of them.  They were obviously a set, but how was one supposed to wear three earrings?  She then picked up an intricately fashioned bracelet with a large green stone, again shaped in the form of a heart.  It looked like it was made of gold.  She dropped it experimentally on the marble tabletop.  It rang true.  Solid gold!  That little bauble could pay for six months rent on her apartment.  It was too large for her wrist but it fit nicely around her left ankle.

            “Wow... nice outfit, Becky.”

            Rebecca spun around, her cheeks on fire.   She wanted to cover herself, but could not think of where to place her hands.

            “Baloo!  How long have you been awake?”

            “Just woke up.  Heard a sound like a bell and thought it was a dinner bell goin’ off.  Why, did I miss somethin’?”

            It must have been when she dropped the bracelet, she realized with relief.  “No, you didn’t miss anything.”

            “Where’d did ya get the fancy duds?”

            Rebecca smiled sheepishly.  “They’re from Lotta.  It isn’t what I’d have chosen for myself.”

            “I don’t know, I kinda like ya in green.”

            Baloo.  Will you just go get cleaned up? It’s almost time for the ball.”

            Preferably a long cold shower, she added to herself.

 

 

            “Baloo and Rebecca, friends of the royal family,” the butler announced as they stepped into the ballroom.

            Baloo was dressed in a red silk tunic and blue trousers that Lotta had provided for him.  However, he had flatly refused to wear the turban that had been sent with the outfit.  Instead his red pilot’s hat was fixed firmly on top of his head.  He would wear the ‘suit’, as his shirt had not made it back from the laundry yet, but there he drew the line.  He was here to be a pilot and that was how he would dress.  But it was not the odd hat that the big bear was wearing that everyone was staring at, Rebecca was sure.  She could just tell.  She would never live this down.

            “Baloo, Rebecca,” Princess Lotta said cheerfully as she approached them.  “How are you doing?”

            “Just fine, yer Princessness.”

            “And you, Rebecca?  How are you doing?”

            “Oh, fine, Your Highness,” she said drily, suppressing the impulse to rub her arms she tried to ignore how drafty she found the ballroom.

            “By the way, Baloo there is someone I’d like you to meet.  That archeologist I told you about is here.  Katie!” she called.

            At the princess’ call, another vixen, whose figure filled out her slinky blue strapless gown quite nicely, turned and stepped in their direction.   Her bored expression lit up as her eyes fell on Baloo.

            “Baloo!” she called as she rushed up and hugged him.

            “Katie, Katie Dodd!” he gasped as he returned her hug.

            “Baloo, you have no idea how happy I am to see a friendly face.”

            How friendly is that?  Rebecca wondered.  And what is this thing he has for vixens?

            “You two know each other?”  Rebecca and Lotta asked in unison.

            Baloo noticed the look on Rebecca’s face.  Oh man, I’m in trouble again.  What’d I do this time?

            “Oh my yes, we’ve met before,” Katie said.  “He saved my life once.”

            “Really, you must tell me sometime.”  Rebecca’s voice was just somewhere below the freezing point.

            The shapely archeologist noticed her for the first time.  Much to Rebecca’s chagrin, she seemed to appraise her, as if determining what she was from the way she was dressed.

            “Baloo, would you care to introduce me to your... friend?”

            “I’m not his friend, I’m his wife.”

            “Oh!” Katie seemed a little surprised.  “He never mentioned that he was married.”

            “He tends to forget things like that.”

            “I guess he had other things on his mind at the time.”

            “I bet he did,” Rebecca said, eyeing the way the archeologist filled out her dress.

            “We’ll have to get together sometime and for a little... ‘girl talk’.  But right now I have to talk to Baloo about the Macadamian artifacts.”  With that, she slid her left arm into Baloo’s right and steered the startled bear away.

            “If they are going to talk about the artifacts, I really should be there.”  Lotta smiled and hurried after them.

            That bear!  Rebecca fumed.

            “How are you doing, Rebecca?”

            Rebecca turned and saw Esther.  She was dressed in a gown that Rebecca could only dream of owning.  It was a lavender silk creation with an empire waist and long sleeves capped with ivory lace.  Small diamonds twinkled across the bodice and the flowing skirts brushed the polished floor, making her look as if she was gliding across it.  Her intricate lace collar was high, almost Victorian, and pinned at her throat was a pale-blue cameo brooch.

            She’s so elegant!  Rebecca thought ruefully, glancing down at her own attire.  I’m being punished.

            “Frustrated,” she said, and then ran her hands up and down her bare arms.  “And a little embarrassed.”

            “I suspect they both are Princess Lotta’s doing.”  Esther offered her a sympathetic smile.  “Don’t worry, I’m sure that bear of yours will do a good job of defending his honor this time too.”

            This time too?

            “As for your attire, I think I can help you with that.  We’ll look through my trunks tomorrow and see if there is anything we can find that we can modify to fit you.  I used to be pretty handy with a needle and thread, before the late Mr. Chaddberry hit it rich in the candy business.”

            Rebecca’s gaze drifted back to where Baloo stood with the two shapely vixens.  Esther noticed her nervous expression. She patted her reassuringly on one hand.

            “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.  You just have to know how to handle royalty.  Let me tell you about the time I met Prince Tedward of Blokeland...”

           

 

            “Yer mad at me, ain’t ya, Becky?”

            She did not answer him.  She just sat at the dressing table, vigorously brushing her hair with jerking, angry strokes

            “Aw, everyone’s mad at me.  Lotta hardly spoke ta me at all tonight.  Just kept lookin’ at me like I’d taken the last doughnut off the plate.”

            Rebecca still did not answer him.

            “Could ya at least tell me what I’ve done?”

            Slamming her hairbrush down, Rebecca stood up and spun around.  She jabbed him in the chest with an angry finger.  He stumbled back and tripped over a cushion on the floor, coming down hard on his rear.  That was just fine with her.

            “We’re supposed to be married!  Remember?  How are people supposed to believe that if you go making goo-goo eyes at every female with red hair that you meet?”

            “Huh?”

            “Will you shut up and listen to me!”  She grabbed him by both ears and shoved her face into his so he could not look away.  “From now until the end of this insane mission we are married --- no matter what!  Do you understand, mister?”

            “Yes.”

            “Yes --- what?

            “Er... dear?”

            “Oooooh!  Never mind.  I’m tired, I’m just going to bed.”

            “Well, then, good night ... dear?”

            “Good night, Bal ...  Oh my God!

            “What’s wrong, Becky?”

            “Baloo, they only gave us one room!”

            “So? That’s ‘cause they think we’re married.  Um... don’t married couples always stay in the same room?”

            She grabbed Baloo by his lapels.  Her eyes were wide with panic.

            “But we’re not married!”

            “So what?  It’s a real big room --- ya can have the bed and I’ll take one of the couches.”

            “What if people find out that I spent the night in a room with you, alone, dressed like this!”

            “Actually, I kinda like the way ya look in that outfit.  It...”

            “BALOO!  What if word gets back to Cape Suzette?  What will people think?”

            Finally understanding began to dawn on him.  “Ya mean that they might think that you... that I... that we... ooh, er, um... I mean...  hummana, hummana, ...  that is... um...?”

            “Exactly!”

            “Why... that’s just plain crazy!”

            The way Baloo said that made Rebecca pause.  “What do you mean... plain crazy?”

            “I mean, I would never... that is... “

            “Come on, Baloo, of course they would think that.”  For some reason that Rebecca could not fathom, Baloo’s comments made something welling up inside her, like a sour ball of bile.  “Do you think I’m so unattractive that I have nothing to fear if I share my room with a strange man?”

            “Hey, I’m not that strange!”

            “I can still turn heads, I’ll have you know.  I’ve still got my figure.  I mean, I may not be some young vixen with more in her blouse than in her head, but I saw the way some of those guys were staring at me at the ball. Let me tell you, Baloo...”

            Baloo groaned and wished he could cover his ears without getting into even more trouble.  Some nights a guy just can’t win for losin’.

 

 

            A Young Bear’s Fancy flew through the night sky, its dark-blue paint job rendering it almost invisible.  Kit knew he should have the running lights on.  But he had seen both the Iron Vulture and a Ratzi sub earlier and he did not want to attract attention.  He looked over to the copilot’s seat.  Molly was curled up fast asleep, wrapped in a blanket he had covered her with.  Murmuring gently in her sleep, she hugged Lucy tighter.  She had fallen asleep several hours ago.  It was the longest stretch of silence he had experienced today.  He did not know whether to feel grateful or lonely.

            Originally he had not been sure whether he should bring her along on this trip or not.  He had considered leaving her with Wildcat.  In the end, he decided he could not do that.  This was too important an event in her young life for her to be excluded.  It would be better if Baloo and Miz Cunning... Rebecca explained it to her.  How could they run off like that without telling her?  What a thing to do to a kid.  He could understand Baloo, it would not even occur to the easygoing bear.  But Miz Cunn... Rebecca?

            In a way, he envied Molly.  She was about to get a real family with Papa Bear, completing the circle.  Something tugged at Kit’s chest.  Where did that leave him, the kid with the made-up name?  Well, whatever the future brought he would survive.

 

End of Chapter 5

 

 

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