The Return of Douglas Benson

by

Bill Hiers (Kooshmeister)

   

Mr. Sulton stood in his plush high-rise office in the headquarters of the Miniversal Corporation, with one hand stuffed into his pants pocket and a martini in the other. A black briefcase was sitting on top of his desk, and the old tiger was nervous as he looked out at the wintry skyline of Cape Suzette .  

The office doors opened and Sulton's assistant entered. "The gentleman you sent for is here, Mr. Sulton," the assistant said. "Shall I send him in?"  

"Of course, you idiot," Sulton growled, making his assistant wince. Sulton watched him scramble from the office, and a moment later a thin jaguar in a blue suit and a horribly obvious toupee entered.  

"Ah, Mr. Covington," Sulton said, smiling. He sipped his drink and then walked over to his desk. "I hope your limo ride was comfortable?"  

"Skip the pleasantries, Sulton," Covington said with a hint of an English accent. "Have you got the money?"  

Frowning, Sulton gestured wordlessly to the briefcase sitting on his desk, then took his hand out of his pocket and slid the briefcase across the desk to Covington .  

Grinning, Covington caught the briefcase and opened it to reveal roughly half a million shaboozies. He scowled. "What's this? The deal was for a million shaboozies!"  

"Half now, half on completion of the task," Sulton said. "As I understand it, Mr. Covington, you have a reputation for cutting and running with your payment and not actually doing the job."  

Covington grinned nervously as he closed the briefcase. The former jewel thief had only recently gotten into the murder-for-hire business. "Very well," he said, smoothing out his toupee and picking up the briefcase up. "You can consider Mr. Khan a bad memory. And with him out of the way I imagine Miniversal will buy out and absorb Khan Industries?"  

Sulton smirked. "I don't discuss company business with outsiders," he said. His smirk vanished, and he glared at the jaguar. "Just make sure Khan is taken care of, then you'll get the other half of your payment. You can use it to buy a toupee that actually looks natural."

Covington scowled. "Good day, Mr. Sulton," he said, then turned and walked out of the office with the briefcase in hand.  

Sulton drained the last of his drink. Covington was right about one thing: after Shere Khan was gotten rid of, the Miniversal Corporation would buy out Khan Industries, and then Miniversal would reign supreme as the largest company in Cape Suzette.  

Sulton felt a minor twinge of guilt about hiring a two-bit assassin to kill Khan, but after he'd wasted $1 million paying that fool Mr. Perry to steal the secret experimental helicopter, Miniversal was deeply in debt and only eliminating its only rival would enable the company to come out on top again.

 

~*~

 

Walters and Harmon exited the front of Khan Tower and were immediately assaulted by freezing wind and snow.  

"Whoa, it's cold!" the gray panther said, thankful for the scarf and overcoat he was wearing.  

"You just now noticed?" the tiger laughed.  

"Well I was kinda hoping yesterday's blizzard was just a bad dream."  

It was the first week of December, and the second year in a row when Cape Suzette had suddenly begun getting snow for some inexplicable reason that even the brilliant scientists employed by Khan Industries were unable to explain.  

Harmon started down the front steps of the building, intending to catch a taxi. Walters followed after her, grunting at the weight of his briefcase. "Hey, Harmon, wait up!" he called, stopping her at the sidewalk. "So, uh, what're you doing tonight?"  

"If you're asking me out on a date, Walters, forget it," Harmon responded. "You know how Mr. Khan feels about relationships that begin among coworkers. Besides, I happen to agree with him."  

"Ah, shucks," Walters said, snapping his fingers in good-natured disappointment. "If I got myself fired, then would you go out with me?"  

"Maybe," said Harmon, and she hailed a cab. "See you tomorrow, Wally."  

Walters sighed as she got into the cab and was gone. "Oh yeah," he said. "She's mine."  

Unlike Harmon, Walters only lived a few blocks down from Khan Tower , so in spite of the cold, catching a taxi cab was impractical. Much as Walters hated to, he was walking home. Midway through his journey, he encountered an elderly hyena wearing a ragged coat and a pot on his head, obviously a bum.  

"Uh, excuse me, sonny," the hyena slurred, holding out a shaky hand, "spare some change?"  

"Uh, sure," Walters said, pausing and setting his briefcase down as he dug into his pocket for his wallet. He was sure that this old timer would just spend the money on booze or something, but the panther's inherent generosity sometimes got the better of him. Unlike many of Khan Industries' executives, Walters had made himself from nothing, and so he understood what it was like to be poor and living on the streets. He gave the hyena a twenty. "Here."  

"Oooh," the old bum said, "thank ya sonny. This'll buy a lot of fishsticks!"  

Walters blinked, then watched the hyena toddle off with the money, muttering about fishsticks. "What the?" He shook his head, deciding he didn't want to know. He picked up his briefcase and continued walking, and eventually he came across another bum, this one slouched just inside an alleyway. He was a short tabby cat wearing what looked like a badly ripped and torn maroon business suit, an oversized green scarf all but hiding his head completely.  

He wasn't moving, and for a second Walters feared he might be dead, but was relieved when the cat flinched a bit. He considered continuing on home, but then decided that this cat looked much worse off than the hyena, and so even though the cat didn't ask him for anything he handed him some money, 50 in all. It was the only way he'd be able to sleep at all tonight. "There you go, buddy," he said. "If I were you I'd use it to buy a new coat."  

As he turned to leave, the tabby said, "Thanks, Walters."

Walters stopped dead in his tracks. The cat knew his name? He spun, suddenly recognizing the voice, dropping his briefcase and stooping down, grabbing the shorter feline's shoulders and making him stand so he could see his face, and gasped aloud. It was Douglas Benson! "D-Dougie!" he cried in amazement.  

" Douglas ," the smaller feline said, then coughed. Walters was amazed that Benson even still cared about whether or not someone got his name right in a situation like this. When he was released, Douglas immediately began to fall, and Walters caught him. Douglas didn't say any more, going limp in the panther's arms as Walters held him.  

Walters was speechless with shock. The last time he'd seen Douglas, they'd returned to Cape Suzette from spending an evening at Louie's, someplace Walters no longer went to. Walters had heard about Dougie's harebrained scheme to buy Louie out by forging Shere Khan's signature and misusing the elite pilot squadron, but until today this was the first time Walters had seen his friend in over a year. He wondered what he should do, and then decided there was no way he could simply leave Douglas here, now, in the state he was in. He looked seriously ill.  

Walters decided to take Douglas "Dougie" Benson home with him.

 

~*~

 

In Walters' apartment later that night, Douglas Benson had showered at his friend's polite insistence and the ragged remnants of his old business suit had been swapped out for some fresh clothing that belonged to Walters. Of course, with Walters being so much taller than Douglas , the only thing that fit him was a sleeveless undershirt and boxer shorts.  

Now, Douglas himself as sitting in a chair in the kitchen wrapped in a blanket, shivering and occasionally sneezing. Neither had any doubts that he had a cold, and at the moment Walters was spoon-feeding the sick tabby some chicken soup. The hot liquid tasted good and was the first real meal that Douglas had had in some time. He was eternally grateful to Walters, the only real friend he'd ever had at Khan Industries, or anywhere else for that matter.  

Walters, after giving 'Dougie' as much of the soup as he figured his stomach could handle, set the bowl aside and sat at the table across from him. "Now, Dougie--"  

"Douglas," Douglas said, and coughed. Why was it so difficult for everyone to get his name right? Even Walters, who he'd known since he first came to Khan Industries, continually slipped up and called him 'Dougie' despite his constant insistence he do otherwise. At least Mr. Khan had always just called him Benson.  

"Right, right," Walters murmured, looking embarrassed. "So, uh, Douglas , look, we've got to talk. What in the world happened to you? I mean, I know Khan fired you for the whole fiasco with Louie's - and believe me, I'm no longer welcome there myself - but what happened after that? It's like you just dropped off the face of the planet."  

Douglas sighed. How could he rationally explain his time in a psychiatric clinic? He decided not to mention that to his friend. "Well, I tried and I tried, but I just couldn't find a job that paid anything halfway decent. Underskilled and overeducated, they said. And too funny. Yeah." As he talked, Douglas shrugged off the blanket and began pacing back and forth through the kitchen in his borrowed boxers. "Just like everyone else, they couldn't stop laughing at me, and said if they hired me I'd be a serious distraction to the other employees. I'm starting to wonder how I even made it as far as I did at Khan Industries."  

Walters raised an eyebrow as he watched his friend pacing, trying very hard not to laugh at the sight of the smaller feline in underwear far too large for him. Douglas Benson being considered such a joke he'd be a distraction? All the panther could say in sympathy was, "Gee, Dougie-- Er, Douglas , I'm sorry."  

Douglas shot an annoyed look in Walters' direction at his friend's slip-up, but then sighed. "Anyway, I ended up having to sell practically everything I owned so I could buy groceries and keep up my rent payments."  

This surprised Walters. "Gee, Douglas , if you needed money, why didn't you come to me? You know I never would've turned you down."  

"I would have, except you and Harmon were both off on that business trip to Walla-Walla Bing-Bang at the time, remember? Khan had sent you guys as financial emissaries or something to Prince Wudolph. You left practically right after we went to Louie's."  

"Oh," said Walters, "well, uh, still, I would've helped you. And the offer still stands, y'know."  

Douglas stopped his pacing and turned to look at his friend. "Well, I doubt you could give me enough money to buy a new apartment, or even afford a good hotel for however long it took me to get back on my feet, if ever."  

Walters stood and walked over, putting a hand on Douglas ' shoulder. "Hey, listen, cowboy," he said, using a nickname Douglas had never liked but tolerated anyway because it was still better than 'Dougie,' "I know that, but who says you need a hotel? You can stay here at my place until you find your feet again. I could even try and get you a job someplace. I mean, I'm not a top-level executive at Khan Industries for nothing, huh?"  

Douglas ' eyes lit up and he grinned widely, almost maniacally, "That's it, Walters," he cried, and before Walters could respond, continued, "you'll help me get my job back at Khan Industries!"  

"What!" Walters cried. "Are you insane? After Khan personally fired you? H-He'd fire me just for suggesting he let you come back!"  

Douglas ' smile vanished. Walters was right. What reason would Shere Khan have for wanting him back after all that he'd done? Despite his situation, Douglas was not filled with anger at Khan, or even at that ape Louie and his friends. Having had time to think over his actions he had come to realize that he had gotten what he deserved for his irresponsible actions. But he'd paid for his mistakes! He was determined, by hook or by crook, to get his old job back.  

"Besides," continued Walters, "how would you even get into Khan's office to talk to him? No one can get past that gargoyle of a receptionist."  

"Well, I've got a plan," Douglas said, "but you're gonna have to fib a little, Walters."  

~*~

 

The following morning, Douglas Benson, wearing a new suit and tie he'd bought cheap, entered the lobby of Khan Tower for the first time in over a year, followed by Walters. His heart was pounding in his chest. Now that he was actually here, he had no idea what he was going to say to Mr. Khan in order to persuade him to give him his job back.  

Nevertheless, he had to try. He swallowed nervously as he and Walters approached the front desk, where Mrs. Snarly sat filing her nails. She arched a brow at the sight of Douglas , but said nothing.  For the moment.  

"Good morning, Mrs. Snarly," Walters said, turning on the charm. "I have a 5:00 appointment with Mr. Khan?"  

"One moment," Mrs. Snarly said in her usual monotone, seemingly unaffected by Walters' flirtatious tone as she flipped through a small appointment booklet. After a moment she said, "Yes, Mr. Walters, you can go right on up. Mr. Khan is expecting you. And what is he doing here?" She pointed at Douglas with her fountain pen, making him flinch.  

"Oh, uh, don't worry about him, Mrs. Snarly, he's with me," Walters said, smiling.  

Mrs. Snarly simply said, "Hmmph. Fine, but I doubt Mr. Khan will be very pleased to see him."  

"Whatever," said Douglas , grabbing Walters by the sleeve of his suit jacket and dragging him over to the elevator. "Come on, Walters. Thank you, Mrs. Snarly."  

As they got into the elevator, they saw Mrs. Snarly press the button on her intercom and say, "Mr. Khan? Mr. Walters is on his way up.  Plus one." Then the elevator doors closed and they were moving upwards.  

"So," said Walters, "do you have any specific plan for convincing Khan to give you your job back, or are we just winging this?"  

"Winging it, of course," said Douglas with a sigh. He watched the numbers above the elevator doors light up one by one, twiddling his thumbs. "Thanks for doing this, Walters."  

"I still say you're out of your mind, Dougie, but, uh, you're welcome. Anything I could do."  

The elevator doors opened after a bit and the pair stepped out into Shere Khan's cavernous office. Walters started forward, but Douglas stuck his arm out, holding him back and indicating that he wait by the elevator. Walters nodded and Douglas proceeded forwards on his own, nervously adjusting his tie. Khan's high-backed office chair was facing the picture window, so Khan couldn't see him. Upon reaching the desk, Douglas stopped and stood before it, waiting for Khan to turn around. All he could see of Khan was one of his arms on the armrest of the chair.  

"Well, then, Walters," Khan said without turning around, "what is it you wanted to see me about?" The arm disappeared for a moment and then came back into view holding a ticking pocketwatch. "Make it fast. I have a two o’clock appointment with a representative from our old friends, the Miniversal Corporation."  

Douglas gulped, and it was only when he went to adjust his tie again that he realized he was shaking like a leaf in the wind. He said nothing.  

"Well?" said Khan after a moment, his arm disappearing again and then reappearing without the watch. "Speak up, Walters, or else leave." There was another pause and finally the chair turned to reveal Shere Khan in all his coolly menacing glory, and if Douglas had been reluctant to say anything before, he was struck speechless now.  

Khan frowned and began drumming his fingertips on the armrest. "Benson," he said, "what on earth are you doing here?" He looked past Douglas at Walters, who grinned and waved nervously. "What is the meaning of this, Walters? Explain yourself before you end up like Benson, here."  

Finally, Douglas found his voice. "Please, Mr. Khan," he said hoarsely, "it was my idea. I simply got Walters to make the appointment with you so I could get into your office to talk you."  

Khan glanced left and made a small motion with his hand. His all-purpose goons, Garth and Gus, emerged from his jungle of plants. The panther and tiger frowned at Douglas , clearly ready to pounce on him and eject him from the office the minute Khan gave the word.  

"About what?" Khan asked after a moment, raising an eyebrow. "I know of no unfinished business between us. What, pray tell, is there to talk about? Wait, let me guess. You've come here in a feeble and misguided attempt to persuade me to re-hire you, a scheme you no doubt concocted within the last twenty-four hours and haven't thought through entirely. Correct?"  

Douglas was shocked. He could only nod slowly, wide-eyed.  

Khan frowned, examining his claws. "Well, you can forget it. As far as I'm concerned, Benson, your deceit and ineptitude aside, you have nothing worthwhile to offer Khan Industries. And you should know that I employ no one who is not useful to my company in some form or fashion."  

Khan snapped his fingers, and Douglas was suddenly seized by the arms by Garth and Gus, who began dragging him towards the elevator.  

"But Mr. Khan," Douglas pleaded, struggling against the two massive goons, "please, hear me. I-I've learned my lesson. I know I've made some bad choices in the past and hurt a lot of people, not to mention the company's image, but I want to make it up to you. Please. All I ask for is a second chance."  

Khan stroked his chin a moment in thought. Finally, he said, "Wait." Garth and Gus stopped, blinking, and released Douglas, who allowed himself a small smile as they walked back to the desk.  

"All right, Benson," Khan said, "I suppose I could take pity on you. However, I didn't fire you over a bad investment or a clerical error. I am not simply going to let you back on as an executive as if nothing happened, Benson."  

His original plan to pick up right where he'd left off, jobwise, was now scrapper, Douglas realized. "Please, Mr. Khan," he begged, "I'll take anything."  

Khan thought for a moment, then smiled wryly. "As it so happens, there is an opening in our custodial workforce."  

Douglas ' heart sank. "Y-you want me to be a janitor?" he asked, horrified.  

The intercom on Khan's desk beeped, and he pressed the button. "Yes, Mrs. Snarly?"  

"Mr. Covington from Miniversal is on his way up, Mr. Khan," Mrs. Snarly said.  

"Thank you, Mrs. Snarly," Khan said, and terminated the call. He turned to Douglas once more. "Take it or leave it, Benson."  

Douglas looked down at his feet. He was desperate, but he wasn't that desperate, was he? Walters had said he could get him a job elsewhere, but Douglas wasn't so sure. "I, uh," he stammered, then sighed deeply. "I'll take it."  

Khan smiled slightly. "Very good, Benson," he said, "report for work at six o’clock sharp tomorrow morning. Now, if there is nothing further, I have my appointment with Mr. Covington from Miniversal."  

Douglas nodded, looked nervously at Garth and Gus, then scampered towards the elevator doors where Walters was waiting. The skinny panther smiled, and was about to turn and press the button when the doors opened and a tall, rakishly handsome jaguar with an atrocious toupee stepped out, holding a briefcase. Covington , obviously.  

He glared at Douglas and Walters, the crossed the office to Khan's desk. "Good morning, Mr. Khan," he said, looking at Garth and Gus even more nervously than Douglas had.  

Douglas and Walters got into the elevator, but Douglas felt uneasy. Something about that seconds-long glare Covington had given him made him think there was something wrong about him. Maybe it was the toupee. Walters was talking, but Douglas wasn't really paying attention.  

The panther pushed the button for the lobby, and just as the elevator doors began to close Douglas saw Covington put his briefcase on Khan's desk and open it, taking a revolver from within. Khan's view of this was obscured by the top half of the open briefcase, and Garth and Gus were already heading for their hiding place in the plants again, so their backs were to Covington and they did not see the gun either.  

"Mr. Khan," Covington was saying as he removed the gun, "on behalf of the Miniversal Corporation and Mr. Sulton, I would like you to accept this..."  

Khan raised an eyebrow, clearly suspicious, but unaware of just how close he was to death. Douglas ' arm shot out and prevented the elevator doors from closing, and they automatically slid back open briefly, the small tabby cat rushing out of the elevator and back into the office before the doors closed again, preventing Walters from following.  

"Mr. Khan!" Douglas yelled. "Look out! He's got a gun!"  

Covington 's and Khan's eyes widened at the exact same moment, Khan's because he realizes Covington was about to make an attempt on his life, and Covington for obvious reasons. The jaguar fired the pistol through the briefcase, but because Khan knew the shot was coming he was able to quickly dive out of the way. The bullet went through the back of his chair, shattering the window behind it.  

Now Covington spun and aimed the revolver at Douglas who was running towards him. Seeing this, Douglas yelped and skidded to a halt. But before Covington could pull the trigger he was tackled by Garth and Gus. The gun went flying from the would-be assassin's hands, and his toupee also flew off his head and landed amidst Khan's ravenous venus flytraps, who quickly devoured the awful hairpiece. The bald jaguar ended up pinned to the floor beneath the much bigger panther and tiger.  

"Blast!" he yelled, more upset over the loss of his toupee than the fact he was caught and going to jail. "Mother said I should have been a plumber..."  

Khan emerged from behind his desk, calmly adjusting his tie and suit lapels. He frowned as he examined the bullet hole in the chair and the window behind it. To Covington he said, "I applaud your bravery, sir, but you are a very poor assassin."  

He then looked over at Douglas , and seemed about to say something before the elevator doors opened once more and Walters rushed in followed by five uniformed security guards, all with guns drawn. Garth and Gus got off of Covington , but only so the guards could haul him to his feet and place him in handcuffs. He was seething with rage.  

"The chair cost approximately nine hundred and eighty dollars, and I expect you to pay every cent for it to be reupholstered in addition to serving your time in prison, Mr. Covington, as well as for the repairs to my window. Take him away." Khan waved his hand and the guards dragged Covington from the office.  

"Are you all right, Mr. Khan?" Walters asked, concerned.  

"Of course," Khan replied, then looked at Douglas , "thanks to young Benson. You saved my life, lad."  

"I did?" Douglas stammered. He knew about the rumors that if you saved Shere Khan's life you could have anything you asked for, and he could hardly believe this was happening.  

Khan waited until the security guards were already in the elevator with Covington and the doors closed, then nodded to Garth and Gus, who also departed, going back into the plants where they would remain until their boss called on them again. Only Walters remained with Khan and Douglas.  

Ignoring the panther, Khan said to Douglas , "This must never leave this office, Benson. You have saved me from a pathetic but admittedly dangerous attempt on my life by an emissary of one of my greatest adversaries. You may have whatever you like, simply name it."  

Douglas was speechless. But then he smiled. He knew exactly what to ask for. Finally, Douglas "Dougie" Benson's luck had turned around. He was back, and he intended to stay.  

The End

Back to TaleSpin Fiction