SMUGGLER’S BALOO

 

A TaleSpin Fan-Fic

By

Herodotus

 

 

 Chapter 7

 

 

            “I really appreciate you looking after Molly for me, Esther,” Rebecca said gratefully.

            “Oh, think nothing of it, my dear.”  Esther laughed.  “Molly is such a dear child, and is no trouble at all.” 

            Rebecca tried not to look incredulous.  Were they talking about the same Molly?

            “Thank you all the same.  There is something I have to take care of, and Baloo is busy helping catalog the artifacts.”

            “With Miss Dodd?  I see you’ve finally decided to trust him a little.”

            “Well, Myra is there too.  With two people around I don’t see how much mischief he can get into.”

            Esther had a laugh like small silver bells.  “Rebecca, you can be so wonderfully innocent at times.  But you are right, from what I’ve seen of that bear of yours, you have nothing to worry about.”

            Mystified by the genteel rabbit’s words, Rebecca thanked her again and departed.  She really was grateful that Esther was willing to watch Molly for her.  There was someone she needed to talk to, and she would be much more comfortable doing it without any distractions.

            The only problem now was finding the person with whom she wanted to speak.  The Macadamian royal palace was enormous, and apparently princesses did not have to maintain much of a schedule.  She spent the better part of an hour wandering the ornate hallways.  The few servants she encountered did not seem to know where Princess Lotta was either.

            Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of searching, she almost ran straight into the princess as she rounded a corner.  Princess Lotta was as lovely as ever and carrying a vase very similar to the one she had broken over Baloo’s head.  A look of disdain came into the Princess’ eyes as she recognized her.

            “Hello ... Rebecca.”

            Rebecca had gotten warmer welcomes in Thembria.  “Princess Lotta, I’ve been looking for you.”

            “That’s nice,” she said and tried to step around her.

            Rebecca planted herself squarely in Princess Lotta’s way.  She was not going to be so easily dismissed.  The princess tried again, only to once more find the small bear stubbornly blocking her path.  Lotta scowled, but Rebecca was not intimidated.

            “I was looking for you for a reason, Princess.”

            “Really?”  Lotta said, raising one eyebrow.  “And what reason might that be?”

            “We need to talk.”

            “I can’t imagine what we could possibly have to discuss.”

            “Listen, Princess, where you come from this kind of behavior might be considered acceptable, but where I come from we call it being a...”

            Even Rebecca did not believe the next word that came out of her own mouth.  She would have washed Molly’s mouth out with soap for using it.  If she had been less angry she would have blushed.  One simply did not use that kind of word in public, let alone use it when addressing royalty.  Much to her surprise, Princess Lotta did not become angry.  At first she looked hurt, but then her expression softened.  She seemed almost sad.

            “I’m sorry, Princess, I shouldn’t have said that.”

            “No, you’re right, I had that coming.  You’ll have to believe me, I’m usually a much nicer person.  It’s just that ... well ... you’re right, we do need to have a talk.  But not here.  Let me put this vase with the others and we can relax in the sauna and have a talk.  Woman to woman.”

 

 

            Baloo was amazed at how involved taking inventory of the artifacts had turned out to be.  He had figured it would be something along the lines of picking up gem-encrusted gold goblet, writing “gem-encrusted gold goblet” in a notebook, and tossing it in the “out” pile.  Instead, they would photograph an item from every angle, then take notes of every little ding and scratch.  Then they would cross check the item against a small mountain of books that Katie had brought along.  As if it was important to know which long forgotten civilization had produced the gewgaw before he could fly it somewhere.

            Then they would finally make an entry in their notebooks… big, impressive-looking notebooks, with black covers and red leather spines.  Not just short little entries either.  Most of the entries were longer than any book report Baloo had ever written in school, some almost two pages long.

            He was not even really sure why they felt they needed his help.  He wasn’t an archeologist, he was a pilot!  Occasionally they would ask him a question about how he could pack something or other into the Sea Duck, but for the most part all he was doing was what he called “gofer duty”, as in “go fer this, go fer that”.  That and sit around, and be bored out of his skull.

            As he pawed through some of the uncatalogued items out of boredom, something caught his eye.  Reaching down, he picked up a bust about the size of both his fists.  It was a bust of a bear, carefully carved from a single piece of crystal.  Baloo squinted at the artifact.  The face looked very familiar, and ruggedly handsome too!

            “That’s a bust of Delbergit.”  Myra’s cheerful voice interrupted his musings.

            “Ya don’t say.  Who’s he?”

            Myra took the bust from him and brushed it lovingly with her fingertips.  “We don’t actually know if he was anybody.  Well, at least not yet.  According to legend, Delbergit is a great hero who will come riding on the back of a golden bird.  He will help the oppressed, fight evil, rescue damsels in distress, you know, all that kind of hero stuff.”

            “Sounds like a swell guy.”

            “Oh, that’s not the most interesting part.  He is also supposed to find the lost treasure of the raiders of the last crusade!”

            “The treasure of the whosits whatsits?”

            “The treasure of the raiders of the last crusade.  During the last crusade the Knights of Multi collected all sorts of ancient and mysterious artifacts.  Some rumored to have awesome powers, like the Key of Time.  They felt these artifacts were much too dangerous to be left lying around where they might fall into the wrong hands.  So they gathered them up from the four corners of the land and were going to send them back to their strong hold on the isle of Multi.  But then disaster struck.  The caravan that was transporting all the artifacts was attacked by a band of raiders lead by a fearsome red wolf known as Von Slaughter.  They captured all the treasure and carried it off.”

            “So what happened to the treasure?”

            “Well, according to legend he buried it in a secret cave some where in the Haggard Mountains.  Unfortunately the map to the location was drawn by one of Von Slaughter’s trusted lieutenants, someone called Crazy Puppy.  It turned out that Crazy Puppy wasn’t very good with directions, nor was he very good at drawing.  No one has been able to find the treasure since!”

            “Heh-heh... sounds like some pirates I know.”

            Myra studied the crystal bust that she held in her hands.  “Hey, Katie, I just noticed.  Doesn’t this bust look a lot like...”

            “Oh, Baloo.”  Katie spoke up suddenly, cutting Myra off, “I forgot a book in my room.  Would you be a dear and run down and get it for me?  It’s a small green one by Henge.  It’s on my night stand.”

            “Might as well.”  Baloo shrugged.  “I ain’t doin’ much here.”

            Actually he was glad for an excuse to leave.  Not that he normally minded being stuck in a room with two good-looking females, but it made it hard to remember he was supposed to be a married bear.  Particularly since Katie seemed to be paying more attention to him than the last time they had met.

            After Baloo had departed Myra turned to Katie with a curious expression.  “What was that all about?  I mean, Henge?  What do you need a book on pre-ironage pottery for?”

            “Did I say Henge?  My mistake.  I guess I’ll just have to apologize to Baloo when he gets back.”

            “Speaking of Baloo,” Myra said holding up the crystal bust.  “Doesn’t this bust of Delbergit look just like him?”

            Katie took a quick glimpse at the bust and then turned back to the artifact she had been studying before.  “Not really. The nose is too big, the ears are too small, and the eyes are all wrong.  I’d say there’s no resemblance at all.  Besides, who believes in silly old legends about lost treasure anyway?”

            With a shrug, Myra put the bust down and returned to her own work.  Well, she thought, I think it looks an awful lot like Baloo.

 

 

“Now this is much more relaxing.”  Lotta said as she leaned back on the cedar and marble bench.

            Maybe Lotta was relaxed, but Rebecca was not.  She had never been inside a sauna before, so she had not really known quite what to expect.  The floors and walls of the vaulted chamber were faced in pink marble and in the center of the room was a large pool of steaming water that was heated by unseen fires.  The air of the room was heavy with steam and beads of condensation ran down the marble walls.  But it was not the climate of the room that made Rebecca uncomfortable.  She glanced at Lotta, trying not to stare.  The princess was wrapped in a skimpy towel that did not go very far towards preserving her modesty.  Rebecca had found her less intimidating dressed as a princess.

            “My, you certainly found a large towel!” the princess commented.

            “Well, er, actually, it’s three towels.”  Rebecca admitted.  “I tied the corners together.”

            The princess smiled.  “You don’t have to worry.  This is my private sauna, not a public one.  No one will intrude.”

            People do this in public?  Rebecca thought in horror.

            “Uh, Princess...” Rebecca said hesitantly, trying to figure out just where she wanted to start.

            “Please, call me Lotta.  After all I’ve put you through, you deserve at least that courtesy.”

            “Very well, Lotta, I really should explain to you about Baloo and myself.”

            “And the children?”

            “That might be a good place to start.  You see Kit and Molly are not our children.  Well that is, they’re our children, but not our children.”

            Lotta looked confused.

            “What I mean is, Molly is my daughter for a previous marriage. I am, er, I was a widow.”

            “And the boy, Kit, is he Baloo’s son from a previous marriage as well?  Was he a widower?”

            “No Baloo has never been married...  before.  I guess the best way to think of Kit is as Baloo’s adopted son.”

            “Best way?”

            “Well, there is nothing down on paper, but they are as much father and son as any I’ve ever seen related by blood.”  Although, she had to admit, sometimes it was difficult to tell which one was the adult and which one was the child.

            “Well, you might want to check into having him officially adopted when you get back to Cape Suzette.  It could prevent trouble later on.”

            Would the Cape Suzette Child Welfare Board allow a bachelor to adopt a child?  Rebecca did not think that was likely.

            “You’re right, we’ll look into it when we get back.  It’s just something we didn’t think about.  What with getting ready for our honeymoon and all.”

            “Then you and Baloo really did just get married?”

            “Yes,” Rebecca said, hoping she was not blushing.  “It was a spur of the moment sort of thing.”

            “I’m glad to hear he was single when he was here the last time.”

            This time Rebecca did stare at her.  “Why, what happened last time he was here?”

            Lotta laughed.  “Don’t worry.  He was so busy saving the kingdom there wasn’t much time for anything else.”

            “Then Baloo really did save this kingdom once?”

            “Oh yes, and me from the prospect of a rather odious political marriage.  But I’m afraid there wasn’t much money in the reward.”

            Rebecca wondered just what his reward had been.  She looked at Lotta, clad only in her brief towel.  The princess had told her not to worry --- that left a lot of room to worry.

            “Lotta, I have to ask you something.  Just what kind of feelings do you have for Baloo?”

            Lotta did not answer her right away.  She stared at the steaming pool of water as if studying something Rebecca could not see.  Just before the silence became strained she spoke.

            “You have no idea what it’s like to be a princess, Rebecca.”

            I wouldn’t mind giving it a try, Rebecca thought.

            “I know it looks like a lot of fun, beautiful clothes, court balls, and all the rest.  Trust me, there are times when I would much rather have been born a commoner.  Do you know I was thirteen before I spoke to a male that I wasn’t either directly related to or wasn’t one of my father’s ministers?  I was fourteen when my mother died and suddenly everyone realized I was my father’s only heir.  That was when anyone who had an eye on the throne started showing an interest in me.”

            “But it must have been nice to have all those men paying attention to you.”

            “Men?”  Lotta shuddered.  “I wouldn’t exactly call them that.  A more pathetic, anemic, spineless, oily collection of title chasers you have never seen.  Can you imagine what it is like to have a forty-seven-year-old count propose to you on your sixteenth birthday?”

            Usually, wealthy people who complained about how tough their lives were repulsed Rebecca.  She always wanted to slap them and tell them a few things about a hard life.  Such as what it was like to suddenly find yourself a single mother with no job, no real money in the bank, and no one to turn to for help.  But Lotta’s story actually made her feel sorry for her.  What was the point of being a princess if you could not have a little romance in your life?

            “Then when my life seemed to be at its darkest moment, Baloo showed up,” Lotta said.  “He was so unlike anyone I had ever met.  He was so brave and noble.  He was strong, yet gentle at the same time.  A rock I could cling to in my time of need.  He spoke his mind and you just knew you could trust him.  He was unimpressed by money or power or titles, and was willing to risk everything for a cause.  He was the first real man I had ever met.”

            A real man?  Rebecca thought.  A rock you can cling to?  That bear has to be one of the most unreliable people I know! 

            Then she thought about it.  She remembered the time he saved all those people on the Spruce Moose.  The number of times he had saved Cape Suzette from air pirates came to mind.  She also recalled how he would always seem to have a joke handy when she was really depressed and felt as if there was no hope.  He’s always there when she needed someone to help with the shopping or she needed an escort, even if he did complain about it the whole time.  There had been more than one occasion when he had risked his own life to save hers.  Then there was Molly.  Most of her dates lasted about as long as it took her date to find out about Molly and it was all over.  Baloo actually liked Molly, and she liked him.  And Kit.  How many people would be willing to take a chance on a twelve-year-old orphan with a criminal past?

            “And for the first time in my life, someone was interested in me for something other than who I was.”  Lotta continued.

            “I don’t understand.  You mean you were pleased because he was interested in...?” Rebecca hesitated, and then timidly gestured at Lotta’s scantily clad figure.

            “That was very flattering, but I mean more than that.  He was interested in me as Lotta, not as Princess Lotta Lamour, heir to the throne of Macadamia.”

            “So you weren’t really in love with him.  It was more of an infatuation?”

            Not answering her, Lotta stood up and walked to the edge of the pool.  Dipping one delicate toe in the warm water, she stirred it about for a few moments, causing ripples to sail across the pool.

            “What first attracted you to Baloo?” she asked Rebecca.

            Rebecca burst out laughing before she realized what she was doing.  The princess looked at her questioningly.

            “Let’s just say he made quite an impression the first time we met.”

            Lotta sat down on the edge of the pool and leaned back, resting on her arms.  Rebecca could just imagine what cause Baloo had been willing to “risk everything” for.

            “You really are lucky, Rebecca, he’s a wonderful bear.  If you two weren’t already married I might just give you a run for your money.”  She sighed.  “I should just be grateful to both of you for taking time out of your honeymoon to help us again.”

            Rebecca realized that now might be a good time to tell Lotta that she and Baloo were not really married.  There were just the two of them there, and Lotta had just said no one would barge in on them.  They were only keeping up the pretense of marriage to keep the real reason for their visit to Macadamia a secret, and Lotta already knew why they were here.  She watched as Lotta stretched out sensuously by the edge of the pool.

            “Baloo can be like that.  Dropping everything to help a friend in need,” was all Rebecca said.

            Standing up, Lotta walked back to the bench and sat down next to her.  “Yes, but it’s your honeymoon!”

            There was sympathy in her voice and sincere compassion in her eyes.  Deep down inside Rebecca felt just a twinge of guilt.

            She smiled sheepishly at Lotta.  “Well, it’s a lot more exciting than my first honeymoon.”

            Lotta gave her a sisterly hug, which she returned.  She really isn’t so bad after all, Rebecca thought.

            “You’re such a dear.  I really am sorry for the way I’ve treated you.”  Lotta said.

            “And I’m sorry for calling you ... that word.”

             “I really had that coming, didn’t I?”  Lotta said.

            “Well...”

            The both laughed.

            “And I really should apologize to Baloo for hitting him over the head with that vase.”

            “He should be flattered.  I know how much those things cost!”

            “I was just so angry when I thought he had played me for a fool last time he was here.  He had seemed so warm and sincere.  Then he shows up this time with a wife and two children, one of whom is thirteen and calling him ‘Papa Bear’.  You know what it’s like when someone you ... had feelings for ... turns out to have been using you?”

            Unfortunately Rebecca knew just how that felt.  Merely breaking a vase over his head might actually be considered showing a great deal of restraint.

            “I’ve been meaning to ask you about all those vases.  There must have been close to a couple dozen of them in that closet.  Where did they all come from?”

            “About six months ago I saw one and made the mistake of saying I thought it was kind of pretty.”  She sighed.  “Now every eligible suitor within two thousand miles is sending me one.  Do you like them?  You can have a couple.  Consider them a wedding gift.  How about four?  That way you could each have one!”

            “Are you sure?  They are rather expensive.”

            “After some of the things I’ve done to you, it’s the least I can do.”

            “You mean like the wonderful outfit you provided for the ball last night?”

            “That was a bit much, wasn’t it?”

            “Or not nearly enough, depending on how you look at it.” Rebecca laughed.

            “Well, you must admit, the men did notice it.”

            They both laughed again.

            “Let me make it up to you, Rebecca.  I’ll have the royal seamstress make you a real gown for tonight’s ball.”

            “Another ball?  How many balls are there going to be?”

            “At least one every night that you are here.”

            “What on earth for?”

            “Father’s trying to keep Herr Gerbils too busy to do any snooping.  Balls, safaris, gorilla bird races, anything he can think of to keep the ‘goodwill’ ambassador on the go.”

            Rebecca was impressed.  Baloo was right, King Amuck was not as crazy as he looked.

 

 

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

            This time Rebecca hoped that everyone was looking at her.  She was outfitted in a strapless gown of emerald satin with panels of mint-green silk.  It had a long flowing skirt that brushed the floor, swirling about as she moved.  The daring décolletage was much deeper than she liked, but it made the gold and emerald necklace she was wearing that much more obvious.  While it did not have sleeves, she was wearing long gloves, made of the same green silk as the panels of her dress that almost reached her shoulders.  Her left wrist was adorned with an emerald and gold bracelet that matched her necklace.  Her usual, conservative, hairstyle had been combed out and arranged into an intricate flowing coiffure that was held in place by a small diamond tiara.

            From the looks she received as they swept out on to the floor, Rebecca knew she had made an impression.  She could hear an appreciative murmur run through the males standing near the receiving line.

            Baloo’s outfit consisted of a royal-blue jacket with tails, trimmed in yellow braid and with gold buttons on the cuffs, lapels, and collar.  He wore a golden brocade waistcoat with amber studs.  The effect was spoiled only by his ever-present pilot’s hat.

            It had taken a lot of effort on Rebecca’s part just to get Baloo to wear the outfit, but even she could not talk him out of wearing the hat.  Maybe the next time he was asleep she would hide it.

            “Rebecca, my dear, you look simply stunning this evening.”

            Rebecca turned and looked at Esther.  This time the rabbit was dressed in a robin-egg blue gown and sapphires.  Rebecca wondered for a brief moment just how many gowns Esther had packed for her vacation.

            “Thank you, Esther.  Princess Lotta loaned them to me.”  Rebecca said, indicating her wardrobe and jewelry.

            “I gather you two have reconciled your differences?”

            “Let’s just say we’ve come to an understanding.”

            Esther looked to where Baloo had wandered off.  He was dipping a goblet into a punch bowl.

            “Your husband looks very dashing tonight.  Did the Princess send his clothes as well?”

            “Yes, she did.”  If Esther could ignore his behavior, so could she.

            “I’ve been meaning to ask you, Rebecca, does he ever take that hat off?”

            “Well... er, he did let me wear it once.”

            “How sweet.”

            A pleasant, almost mischievous smile spread across Esther’s face and her eyes twinkled.  It was obvious that she had read a great deal more into that statement then had been intended.  Rebecca reddened.  Before she could explain about the time Baloo had gotten his pilot’s license suspended, and she had to fly the Sea Duck to make a delivery, Princess Lotta approached them.

            “Rebecca, Esther,” she greeted them warmly. “How are you this evening?”

            “Quite well, your Highness.”  Esther bobbed a short curtsy.

            “Wonderful, Lotta.”  Rebecca smiled.  “Thank you ever so much for the loan of such a wonderful dress.”

            “You misunderstand, Rebecca, I’m not loaning you that gown.  It’s yours.”

            Rebecca was absolutely stunned.  “You’re not serious!”

            “I’m very serious, consider it a real wedding present.”

            Somewhere, in the back of her mind, Rebecca wondered if that meant she would have to give it back once Lotta found out she and Baloo were not really married.  She also wondered if the gift included the jewelry.

            “You can also have the one you wore last night.”  Lotta continued.  “It might come in handy some cold winter’s night.”

            Rebecca was confused.  How could that skimpy little outfit possibly keep her warm on a cold night?

            “Er, thanks again, Lotta.”

            “And how is Baloo this evening?”

            Rebecca scanned the crowded ballroom, looking for Baloo.  Finally spotting him she frowned.  He was still near the punch bowl, but now he had company.  Katie Dodd was standing next to him.  She was standing a little too close, smiling up at him and talking animatedly.

            Noticing Rebecca’s expression, Lotta gave her a wicked smile.  “I’ll take the one on the left, you get the one on the right.”

            “Don’t be too rough on her.”  Rebecca gave her an equally evil smile.

            “Not to worry, I need her to finish her cataloging.  But anything short of that I figure is fine.”

            For a moment Rebecca almost felt sorry for Katie, but only for a moment.  “Sounds fair.”

            With that, the determined pair moved across the ballroom.  There was purpose to their step, and mischief in their eyes.  Esther watched them go.  She wished she could have heard the conversation in which Rebecca and the princess had “come to an understanding”.

            “Really, Baloo,” Katie said. “You should join me on my expedition to the Haggard Mountains.  You were so much help the last time.  I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather have along with me, in the middle of nowhere, alone...”

            “Sounds like it could be a lotta fun.”

            Baloo addressed her without looking down.  He had made that mistake once.  Standing as close to him as she was, and wearing the kind of dress she was wearing, it had resulted in a rather disconcerting view.

            “I’ll have ta check it out with the bos ... er, with Becky first.”

            “Do you have to check with her on everything?  Just who wears the pants in your family?”

            He thought about that for a moment.  “Uh, come ta think of it...”

            “Baloo, there you are,” Rebecca said as she glided up and wrapped her arms around one of his.  “I’ve been looking for you simply everywhere.”

            “Hey, Beckers, we were just talkin’ about ya.”

            “I just bet you were.” The way she was smiling made Baloo nervous.

            “Why, Katie, here you are,” Princess Lotta said, taking the archaeologist gently by one elbow and steering her off.  “There are some very ancient chambers under the palace that I think might have some archeological significance.  I’ve been dying to talk with you about them.  Maybe you could take a look at them and tell me what you think.”

            “But, but, I...” Katie spluttered as she was led away.

            “Shall we dance... Sugar Bear?”  Rebecca said.

            Baloo knew by that tone that this was not a request.  That and the clenched jaw way she was smiling at him let him know that he was in trouble again.

            “Um ... sure ... Honey Pie.”

            Taking her left hand in his right and placing his left on her back he swept her out on to the ballroom floor.  Within moments they were swirling across the polished marble floor, spinning in prefect time to the music.

            “Baloo,” she said as he expertly guided her across the floor. “I’ve always meant to ask you, where did you ever learn to dance so elegantly? ”

            “Hey, hey, Beckers.  What’d ya think I do at Louie’s?”

            “Eat Krackatoa Specials and swill Orange Fizzies until you’re ready to burst.  I’ve been to Louie’s. This is not the kind of dancing that goes on there.”

            “What can I tell ya, Becky?  There’s stuff about me ya just don’t know.”

            As he danced her artfully around the room she realized just how true that statement was.  Other than his piloting skills, and a handful of undoubtedly exaggerated stories he liked to tell, she really did not know that much about him.  She knew nothing about his background or family.  She did not even know if he had a family.  He would often talk about a “sick relative” he need to visit when he was trying to find an excuse to goof off, but he had never mentioned any names, and she had never met any of his relatives.  For all she knew he was an orphan, like Kit.

            Baloo looked down at Rebecca as they danced.  He smiled fondly.  She had that soft dreamy look in her eyes that he found so charming.  Usually the only time he saw it was it was when she was singing Molly to sleep.  Maybe he should take her dancing more often.  He really liked it when she looked like that.  He also liked the way she looked with her hair loose and flowing.  She looked better with her hair down, he decided.  And maybe she should wear more dresses like the one she had on now as well.  Between her expression, her new hairdo, and her new dress, she looked... she looked... different... somehow.  Like a stranger he was not entirely sure of, yet holding her in his arms as they danced... it felt oddly right.

            “Thanks, Beckers.”

            “Mmm, for what?” she murmured.

            “For the rescue.  I owe ya one.”

            “Rescue?”

            “From Katie.  She’s a mite more aggressive then the last time I met her.  I thought she kinda liked me, but nothin’ like this.  I musta used a little too much of the ol’ Baloo charm on her last time.”

            Rebecca did not laugh out loud, but he could feel her chuckling.  “Why, what did you do, offer her the bigger half of the doughnut?”

            “Hey, I’ll have ya know I’m real particular about who I share my doughnuts with.”

            The music ended and much to Rebecca’s surprise she discovered she was disappointed that the dance was over.  She was just about to ask him if he would like to try another dance when they were interrupted.  The Verman ambassador, Herr Gerbils, came strolling up to them.  He was dressed in a uniform trimmed with ornate gold braid and had a particularly condescending smile.

            “Good evening, Herr and Frau Baloo.”

            “Evenin’, Hairy Gerbil,” Baloo said, not bothering to concealing his disgust.  “You’re sure in a chipper mood tonight.  Did ya find a sack of helpless kittens ta torture?”

            The Ratzi ambassador replied as though he was completely indifferent to the bear’s sarcasm.  “Let us just say that I have received a very interesting communiqué from home.”

            “No kiddin’?  Ya mean there is actually someone who would write ya a letter?  What was it about?”

            “I am at afraid I am not a liberty to divulge its contents at this time, but do not worry, you shall see.  All in good time, all in good time.”

            With that the enigmatic statement Herr Gerbils strolled off, looking singularly pleased about something.  If there was anything that worried Baloo, it was a happy Ratzi.

            “Baloo!”  Rebecca scolded him in a loud whisper.  “How could you be so rude?  Her Gerbils is an ambassador from an important country.”

            “Yeah, and I’d like ta kick him right in his diplomatic immunity.  I’m tellin’ ya, Becky, those Ratzis give me the creeps.”

 

 

            A convoy of three Ratzi half-tracks raced through the desert.  The sound of their tracked drives filling the night air with an ominous squealing sound.  Long trails of dust billowed out behind them, illuminated by the bright light of a full moon.  Their cargo was a load of grim-faced rodents, clutching stubby, wicked looking, schnauzer sub-machine-guns.  And one very annoyed feline.

            “I still say I should have a gun too!”  Douglas whined.  “Everyone else has one. Why can’t I?”

            “They are all members of the Verman military, you are not!”  Captain Von Los gritted his teeth as he explained for the eighth time.

            It was worse than being stuck in a car with an annoying child on a long trip.  If Herr Sturm had not been along he would have been tempted to see if Douglas could accidentally fall out of the half-track.

            “I’m just saying I should be armed in case anything goes wrong.”

            You having a firearm is one of the things I place in the category of something having gone wrong.  Captain Von Los thought.

            “Well?”  Douglas demanded.

            Leutnant, give your pistol to Herr Benson.”

            Ja vohl, mein Captain,” the lieutenant said as he unsnapped his holster, withdrew a small mauser, and offered it to Douglas.  “Here you go, Dougie.”

            “Douglas, Doug - las!  Don’t call me Dougie!  Captain I order you to order your men not to call me ‘Dougie’!”

            Leutnant, you are to refrain from referring to Herr Benson as Dougie.”

            “Very well, here you go, Nancy.”

            With an angry scowl, Douglas snatched the weapon out of the Verman lieutenant’s hand.  He did his best to memorize the officer’s face in the poor light.  He would be another one who would find out what it meant to cross Douglas P. Benson.

            Satisfied that he could remember the lieutenant’s face, Douglas turned his attention to his new acquisition.  It was a small, deadly looking automatic, dark blue-black in color, with dark hard wood grips.  He hefted it a few times in his hand to get a feel for its weight.  People will have to respect me now --- I have a gun!

            Captain Von Los studied Douglas out of the corner of his eye.  The safety was on the pistol, so his crew was not in too much danger.  He was just relieved that the annoying feline was happy enough with his new toy that he had finally shut up.

            After a few minutes Douglas quit fiddling with the pistol and squinted into the darkness, trying to see what lay ahead.  “Are we there yet?”

            Clenching his fists and gritting his teeth, Von Los reminded himself that officers in the Verman navy did not shove people out of moving vehicles.

 

 

            “And what are you looking so pleased about, young man?”  Rebecca asked.

            “What do you mean, Mom?”

            Kit was stretched out on a couch, his hands behind his head and a contented look on his face.  He was dressed in a blue, collarless silk shirt.  It had originally been one of Esther’s dress shirts, but when Rebecca had mentioned she was not too pleased with Kit running around in just his undershirt, the skillful rabbit had removed all the feminine frills and taken needle and thread to it until it had made a respectable boy’s shirt.

            Rebecca gave him a suspicious look.  “If there was a cookie jar around I’d be checking to see how many cookies were missing.”

            “Nope, no cookie jars here.”

            “Or Frosty Pep, either,” Molly said as she bounced out of the bathroom, dressed in her pink nightie.

            “My turn... finally,” Baloo said as he disappeared into the bathroom with a nightshirt draped over one arm.

            “Well, I just hope you didn’t get up to any mischief while Baloo and I were at the ball.”

            “Who, me?” Kit said with a mock hurt expression.  ”You know me, Mom.”

            “Yes, I do.  That’s what worries me.”

            Kit merely flashed her his most charming smile.  He had been a little disappointed when he had found out that as a child he was excluded from the ball.  But in his opinion it had always been the prerogative of children to spy on their parents when there was a party going on.  Circumstances being what they were, he felt that he qualified in this case.

            The palace guards had proved to be every bit as alert as Kit remembered.  It had been no problem to slip past them and into the second floor gallery of the ballroom.  From that vantage point he had watched Baloo and Miz Cunningham dance.  They had obviously been enjoying themselves and the way they had been looking at each other had been something else.  Miz Cunningham had looked so elegant in that dress, and Papa Bear had looked almost dashing.  Kit had been surprised at how happy it had made him feel to see them like that.  Maybe having a “Mama Bear” would not be so bad.

            “Kit?”  Rebecca asked as she tucked Molly into the large bed.  “Why didn’t you think to pack extra clothes, like Molly did?”

            “Uh ... I was kinda busy doing other stuff.”

            Like buying a plane.  That was one little detail he had yet to get around to tell Miz Cunningham.  It was something he would like to put off until later.  Like until he was thirty-five.

            “Besides, I don’t really have that many other clothes.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Well, I have my sweater, three undershirts, and my trunks.  That’s about it.”

            “WHAT!”

            Rebecca was horrified.  Although considering that the closest thing Kit had for a parent was Baloo she should not have been surprised.  The boy really needed a mother.  Someone who would make sure he had enough clothes to wear.  She would just have to see what she could do once they got back to Cape Suzette.  Maybe Steers and Roadbuck would have a sale on boys’ wear.

            “Well I’m done,” Baloo said as he came out of the bathroom, draped in a large red and white-striped nightshirt.

            He suddenly noticed Rebecca’s accusing look.  “ Aw, man, what’d I do now?”

            “Never mind, we’ll talk about it in the morning.”

            With a shrug Baloo retired to the couch he was using as a bed.  Whatever he had done, he was sure that she would tell him all about it, chapter and verse.

            “Mommy?”  Molly asked as Rebecca started to climb into the bed with her.

            “Yes, honey?”

            “If you and Baloo are supposed to be married, shouldn’t you be sleeping in the same bed?”

            Rebecca froze with the covers lifted halfway.  Behind her she could hear Baloo choke.

            “No, pumpkin, Baloo and I are just pretending to be married.”

            The young cub looked at her innocently.  It was obvious that Rebecca’s explanation was not working.

            “We’re just pretend married, so we only pretend that we, uh... sleep together.”

            “But how can you pretend if you’re here, and he’s way over there?”

            “Honey, Mommy’s really tired, why don’t we just go to sleep now and I’ll explain it later.”       

            “Oh, okay.”  Molly said, crossly.

            She hated it when grown-ups told her they were going to explain something later.  They never seemed to get around to it later.  She would just have to ask Kit about it tomorrow.  Maybe he would explain it to her.  With a mental shrug, she snuggled up next to her mother and was soon fast asleep.

 

 

End of Chapter 7

 

Back to TaleSpin Fiction