A FAIR TO REMEMBER

An original fanfic
 
by Gidget


TaleSpin and its characters are the property of Buena Vista Television/Walt Disney Co.  The rest of the characters are created by me, and may not be used without permission.  As usual, my deepest gratitude to Ted for his fabulous AND honest feedback and support.  A big thank you to Cody for reading the drafts I was unsure of.  (Rated PG for mild coarse language
and occasional violence.)

Chapter 6

What?  Joanna’s voice cracked as she caught Strummer by the shoulders. “Is anything missing?” 

“Well, I’m not sure… but I could take you…” Flustered by the physical contact, he could only stammer.  Impatiently, she released him. He looked rather disappointed. 

“Forget it --- I know where my trailer is!”  Suddenly she remembered Baloo and Molly and said apologetically, “Sorry guys. I have to see about this…” 

“We’ll come with ya,” Baloo said firmly but had to scoop up Molly so he could run after her.  By the time they caught up with her, Baloo was wheezing for air.  Man, that gal’s got great legs… and fast ones! 

“Uh, that’s okay… I’ve got everything under control…” Strummer started to say.  Then he realized that he was talking to himself. 

Gingerly, wistfully, he touched his shoulders where Joanna had so roughly grabbed them.  Then, with a sigh, he hurried after the three bears, wishing that the big one wasn’t blocking his view of Joanna.

A small crowd was gathered round her trailer. Handy and Big Al were standing at the edges, looking rather lost.  Lance saw the three of them approach and ducked behind Big Al just in time.

Drat!  She brought the oaf and the brat with her!

By the time she got there, Joanna was nearly out of breath.  She spotted Pearl at the center of it all, holding something and sobbing inconsolably.  Helen had her arm around her, cooing meaningless comfort.  Bonnie awkwardly patted her shoulder.

Helen’s head jerked up. “Joanna!  Thank ‘eavens yer back.  Where were ye?”

“I’m fine.” Joanna ignored the question.  “What happened?”

Pearl raised a puffy, tear-stained face. “Look!”  She held out the object.  Covered with yards of tulle and organdy, her beautiful bride doll’s head was missing.

“My g-granny gave me Matilda for my seventh birthday,” she choked.  “Of everything I own, w-why her?

“You’re not hurt.”  It was not a question.

“N-nooo…”

“Good.” Satisfied that no blood had been shed, Joanna turned away.

“But…” Pearl’s mouth hung open in protest at this blatant lack of interest in her misfortune.

“Never mind her,” Bonnie advised.  “How about I get you some ice cream?” She led the sniffling Pearl away.

Joanna entered their trailer and gasped. The two duffel bags were still on her cot, but now sagging dispiritedly.  She checked them, turning them upside down… empty!  She swore loudly, making everyone jump, including Lance, who didn’t like to hear a lady use such language. Baloo covered Molly’s ears.

“Cut it out, Baloo!” She shook him off impatiently.  “I heard Mom say that when she stubbed her toe.”

They heard heavy breathing and frantic scuffling sounds.

Baloo motioned for Molly to stay put as he entered the trailer as well.  The vehicle sank under his weight.

“Uh, Joanna?  What’s missin’?” 

“My clothes.  I can’t find them anywhere.  I had everything in these bags…” Her eyes were wild and her face was panic-stricken.

“Why?  Were ya goin’ on a trip?” 

“No.  That’s where they belong.”

Baloo was puzzled.  “Don’t ya keep yer stuff in drawers and closets?” 

“Of course not!” snapped Joanna.  “Baloo, I’m really sorry, but I’m not the greatest company right now.  Maybe you should take Molly and…” Then:  “Drawers?”

Cautiously, she slid open one of the drawers on her side of the trailer, one of several never used.  “I don’t believe it.”  She opened the rest of them, pulling out articles of clothing, mostly combinations of black and different shades of blue.

Baloo said in relief, “See? They’re right here.  What’d I tell ya?”

Not listening, she brushed past him, out the door.

He followed her out. “Honey, what’s wrong?”

It took a moment for her to get the words out. “My clothes.  They… they were folded and put away.”  Her voice was that of disbelieving horror.

“Is that all?” Big Al muttered to Handy. “Cripes, nothin’s broken but that doll and she complains about the joint being neat.  For this Helen called the cops?”

The police are coming? Lance felt sick.  That silly old bag called the police?   He had deliberately held back on causing any real damage so it would be deemed unimportant by the authorities. Except for that bloody doll, of course.  Just seeing that sweet porcelain face made him lose control --- grabbing it and swinging it hard against the wall, smashing its head.  He was lucky no one was awakened by the noise.  He remembered that same feeling, months ago when that disreputable weasel tried to mug him.  The nightmares that had robbed him of sleep for weeks afterward!  He was glad he hadn’t stayed to watch.  Just imagining what had happened to that wretched weasel… he did so hate such ugliness.

All that bother and I still didn’t find the Key!
He remembered his brief employment as a museum guard, when he’d spied the latest guest speaker, a visiting archaeologist, a Miss Katie Dodd.  Her voice was clear and crisp, almost imperious.  Her listeners did not care, especially the male ones.  He had briefly considered approaching her, hoping to tap a weakness that would enlist her to aid him in his quest.  But something about her stopped him.

Once, when she’d passed him in the hall en route to the curator’s office, he’d given her a dazzling smile and tipped his cap, expecting at least a giggle and a blush.  She’d barely nodded back.  Indeed, his presence seemed to irritate her in that she’d had to stop to acknowledge him.

That’s the trouble with women who are too attractive,
he now reflected.  They received more than their fair share of male attention and were thus unimpressed by yet another admirer.  They forced him to waste his talents on the insecure, unaesthetic girls like Pearl.  A terrible waste… a tragedy, really.

Her passion for her work was obvious, so much that he knew that she would not be swayed. 

The power… so out of reach, yet somewhere inside! Of course, the legend itself was preposterous… imagine such a small object being deadly.  He’d held the darling thing in his own hand and was still standing.

I can always pose as an archaeologist and offer it to another museum, far away… for the right price, of course.  Historians are so obsessed with the past.  They’ll pay me handsomely.  Oh, look at yourself.  Making plans and you don’t even have the bloody thing anymore!

He watched Molly from behind Big Al, who was too busy complaining about the idiocy of calling the police to notice.

Joanna and Molly were together when they arrived.

Hmmm… could the little brat’s presence be a blessing in disguise? he thought, stifling the urge to rub his hands together with glee.  Two birds and one stone…

“The cops are here now, Joanna.” said Baloo.  “You can tell ’em about it.”

“Yeah, right,” Big Al muttered. “They’ll comb Cape Suzette in search of the mastermind of the Great Clothes-Folding Caper.”

“Hey, you ain’t helpin’, pal!” Baloo snapped.

“Wasn't trying to, pal.”   

“Never mind, Baloo,” Joanna sighed. “For once the big doofus is right.  This is small potatoes, crime-wise.  At least whoever was here didn’t find everything that’s mine.”

“For once?”  Big Al was indignant. “And who’re you calling a doofus?”

Handy said sternly, “Joanna, I know you’re upset, but that’s no call for name-calling…”

“Who are you, my father?”

What? Lance leaned forward, listening.  What did I miss?

“There they are,” Violet said.  Detectives Thursday and Archer entered the fairgrounds.   Alarmed, Lance edged closer to the group rallying around Pearl, taking care to stay out of Baloo and Molly’s sight.  Helen hurried over to meet the detectives.  “Violet, go find Pearl and Bonnie.  There’s a good girl.”

At first she looked resentful --- whether it was being sent on an errand or being called a ‘good girl’ was uncertain.

However, she said, “I’ll be back,” and headed in the direction of the ice cream stand.

Thursday nodded curtly to Baloo but didn’t say anything to him.  He began by taking down their names.  Lance managed to control his urge to run when he was approached.

“Where’s the body?” Thursday asked.

“Here,” Pearl said, holding out the headless doll.

“Very funny,” snapped Archer. “Lady, has a crime been committed or not?”

Pearl was incensed. “Look at her!  My granny gave her to me…!”

“Was the head broken or missing?” Thursday asked.
“Broken,” she said, and began to cry again.  Helen put her arm around her.

“Check inside, “ he told Archer, who did so, then came back out, looking extremely annoyed.

“It’s neat as a pin in there.  So where’s the pieces?  And don’t lie to us.  We have ways of making you talk.”

Helen interrupted. “Oh, I swept those up after I called you.”

Archer stared at her like she was the biggest idiot in the world. “Cheese it, why, if you knew we were coming?”

“It was a bloody mess.  I wanted the place to look presentable,” Helen said innocently.

Archer moaned.  “But that’s the scene of the crime!  Lady, you don’t touch the crime scene.”

“Well, I beg yer pardon, Inspector,” Helen retorted, miffed. “How was I s’posed to know?”

Read a few murder mysteries, Joanna thought, then felt ashamed.  Helen meant well, but she could be a little dense sometimes.

“We’d like you and Miss Clambake to come downtown and answer some questions, if you don’t mind,” said Thursday.   Looking at the sea of curious faces around them, he added, “This isn’t the place to do it.”  It wasn’t a request, and everyone knew it.

“Okay,” she said, “Let’s go somewhere private, like a crowded stadium.” To Baloo, who was standing nearby, she whispered, “Sorry, I have to go with them.  You might as well go home, Baloo. This can’t be much fun for you or the kid.  Besides, it could take a long time.”

“Ya sure?” he asked.  “Molly an’ me could go with ya.”

“If you want.  Why don’t you ask Helen for some ice cream for Molly?  She’ll do it.  Tell her I asked.“ Then she sighed. “I have some thinking to do.”

As Baloo walked toward the knot of people to find Molly, she turned, startled to find Strummer standing there.

“Do-do you want me to come with you, too?” he asked.  He stood much too close to her, his nose practically grazing the top of her head.  Joanna had to take a couple of steps backwards.  She hated it when people crowded her.

“No, I’ll handle it.”  Then, almost an afterthought: “Thanks anyway.”

“I’ll be there for you.” Strummer called softly as she walked away, but she did not hear him.

“Is Joanna going to jail?” Molly whispered to Baloo, as Helen handed her a chocolate ice cream cone.

“Naw,” he said. “I know one of ‘em.  He’s a good guy.  They just wanna talk to her, private-like.”  Then, to Helen, “Uh, could ya make mine a double, no – make that triple-scoop?”

“Of course.  If yer a friend of Joanna’s, ye can have anything ye want. Yer a growin’ boy.”  The lady koala looked at him.  “Eh, ye mind if we talk for a minute?”

“Uh, I guess,” he agreed, glancing at Molly.  “Cupcake, would ya mind if…”

“I know, I know,” she sighed, limping a few feet away.  I never get to hear anything good.

“We ain’t been introduced proper,” the woman began.  “I’m Helen Haley --- I own this place. And you are…?”

“Baloo.  I’m a pilot for Higher for Hire.  Nice ta meet---!”

“Baloo, I just want ye to know that I was very worried about Joanna last night.”

“Oh?” He wondered, what’s the big deal?  First Beckers gets on my back, then this lady.  “I’m real sorry about that, ma’am.  It was gettin’ late and she fell asleep on the plane, so I kinda… put her up for the night.”

“I see.  Well, it really ain’t none o’ my nevermind,” she said. “I just would appreciate a ring if she’s goin’ to be… late.” Her round cheeks turned scarlet.  “So…  we don’t worry about her.”

“She was safe and sound in my own bed, ma’am.”

“Oh, dear!” She blushed even more.

Suddenly, Baloo finally understood why Rebecca was so angry that morning.  “Oh me, oh my, no, no, no!  Nothin’ happened, lady.  I slept in my old chair downstairs.”  He did not mention that Kit had been in the other bed.

“You mean… nothing… oh!

“Scout’s honor.”  He solemnly held up three fingers in a scout salute.

Helen pursed her lips. “I ’pologize fer the personal questions, but she’s very dear to me, Mister Baloo, and she has no one… no one but us…” Very quietly, Strummer joined them.

“That’s right,” Strummer added. “No one but us.”

“Nicky, this is between this gentleman and meself,” his mother retorted.   Pursing his lips in much the same way she had, the albino bear stalked off.

“I really should get back ta Molly, ma’am.”

“Oh, dear, I’m sorry fer keepin’ ye.  She’s a real cutie-pie.  Is she… yours?”

“Naw, me an’ Joanna are babysittin’ for my boss.”

“Ye seem like a right nice feller, Mister Baloo.  As long as ye treat her right, ye won’t ‘ave no trouble from me.  No worries.”  She reached up and patted his shoulder.  “Now run along.   Our Joanna’s waitin’.”

“Thanks, ma’am.  I’ll get her back here when she’s done.”

 

* * *

Police Station
Early afternoon

Baloo, Molly, Joanna and Pearl rode downtown with the two detectives, and were surprised when Thursday and Archer escorted them inside Cape Suzette’s Tout Sweets, the local bakery.  Both Baloo and Pearl inhaled deeply, almost intoxicated by the fresh, sweet smells of bread, cakes and other pastries.

“Man,” Baloo sighed, closing his eyes.  “I think I’m in bear heaven!”
 

As they passed through the kitchen doors and entered a large, deliciously fragrant room full of ovens and counters heavily dusted with flour, sugar and other ingredients as the bakers rolled out dough and stirred strange, yet wonderful concoctions.  Archer casually reached for a hot donut as he passed.  A matronly donut baker glared but did not say anything.  Apparently, having a badge gave him certain privileges.  

“What’s this?” Joanna asked Thursday. “I thought you were taking us to the station.  Can’t you cops live without your donuts?”  Archer gave her a dirty look and withdrew his hand from the pan. 

Molly followed them, limping.  The baker gasped, seeing her bandaged leg. 

“Aw, you poor thing,” she cooed.  “Here, honey, have one.”  Then she glared at Archer’s back, muttering something about ‘police brutality’.  Baloo brightened and tried to scoop up one for himself, but she turned around suddenly and smacked his hand. 

Ow!” yelped Baloo, rubbing it.  “Hey, no fair. Ya let them do it.” 

“Those cookies are deputized members of law enforcement, buster. Hands off.”

“Why are we here?” Joanna asked Thursday impatiently.

“Secret headquarters…” Thursday murmured.  Then he groaned.  “Aw, nuts.  Don’t tell me she’s working here now!” 

Ahead of them a heavyset, rather frowzy lady rhinoceros bent over an open oven, about to set a pie on the rack.  She wore a hair net over her heavy nest of dark brown hair and her starched white apron stretched widely over a light blue dress. 

Might as well try, he thought.  “Look!” he suddenly shouted, pointing out the window to her right. “There’s a dancing bear outside!  And he’s turning cartwheels and chewing gum at the same time!” 

“Oh-ho!  So it’s you again!” she boomed, her thick Irish brogue ringing through the rafters.  Some of the other bakers gaped, but one hard glare from her convinced them to turn their eyes elsewhere.  “This is my oven, so it is!” She planted her feet, daring him to challenge her. 

“This oven is a deputized member of law enforcement, so kindly back off, ma’am,” Thursday said, thinking, it’s déjà vu all over again. 

“Is it now?  Suppose I do me bakin’ and washin’ at the station?” 

“That’s a brilliant idea!”  He handed her a business card.  “Look, call this number, it’s the Cape Suzette Penitentiary.  They’re looking for a cook and laundress for the prisoners.  The last girl quit last week.  You’d be perfect.  Give ‘em a call.” 

With that, he moved on, leaving her staring after him. 

“Who was that?” Joanna asked him as the woman hurried away to tell her boss that she was quitting. 

“Some dame I knew from my old headquarters.  She kept stealing the dryer when it was our turn.  A repeat offender, you know the type.  Kept obstructing justice.” 

“Oh,” she said, neither understanding nor caring.  Suddenly, she did a double take. “Hey, what’s Chuckles doing?” 

Archer removed the oven rack and crawled inside.  They heard the echoes of him sliding to the basement below. Thursday nodded, indicating that they should follow. 

“Come on.  We’re going for a spin… er… never mind.” 

Joanna watched Archer slide down a short chute into a small patch of light below and heard a small grunt as he landed on something soft.  “You’re kidding, right?” 

“Ladies first,” he said.  “It’s not far.” 

“Me!” Molly cried.  “I wanna go next!” 

“It looks dirty,” Pearl commented, wrinkling her nose. 

Joanna peered into the darkness and balked.  “Forget it.  No way am I going down there.”  

“Miss, I’m going to have to insist,” said Thursday.  “I can assure you that we mean you no harm.  This is the only way to get inside from the kitchen.” 

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Baloo put a paw on her shoulder reassuringly.  “It’s okay, Joey.  I’ve done this before.” 

“Really?” she asked.  “What were you in for?” 

“Bad spellin’,” he answered, grimacing. 

“Tough town.”  She scowled.  “Is it a… long drop?” 

“Naw.  How’s about I go first? Then I’ll catch ya, okay?”

At first, her lips thinned mutinously, then she looked up at him.  Promise? 

“Of course.” 

“Scout’s honor and hope ta die.” 

“Don’t die, just catch me, Iron Paws.” 

With a hard shove from Thursday, Baloo managed to squeeze into the opening and slide down.  They heard him land with a dull thump and a moan.  Molly squealed with delight as she followed suit, landing on his big belly, knocking the wind out of him. 

“Yer landin’s are improvin’, button nose,” he huffed, setting her aside. 

“Come on, Joanna!” Molly called up to her.  “It’s fun!”

Then the rest took turns sliding down a chute inside the mouth of the oven. When it was Joanna’s turn, she said to Thursday, “After you.” 

He didn’t smile, just jerked a thumb at the shaft. “Ladies first.” 

“This is so stupid,” she muttered.  Her heart was pounding madly, and her legs felt boneless.  Only pride kept her from throwing herself in the detective’s arms and begging him not to make her jump. 

By standing behind her Thursday made it clear that he would go last, no doubt to prevent her from leaving after everyone else had gone down.

“Just get it over with.” 

Get it over with.  Right. Shutting her eyes, she tried not to look down.  Baloo’s deep voice floated up to her.

“I’m here, Joanna.  I promise ol’ Baloo’ll catch ya.”
 

Taking a deep breath, she slid fast, landing hard on his stomach, knocking them both to the floor.

“That wasn’t too bad,” Joanna said, climbing off him.  “Thanks, Iron Paws.” 

“Don’t… mention… it…” Baloo managed to gasp.  Gingerly, he checked to make sure that everything was where it should be. 

Man, any lower and she woulda crippled me! 

Pearl fell and slid backwards, squealing all the way down, where she was caught in the arms of a large, strapping police officer.  Immediately she brightened. 

“My, but you’re strong,” she murmured, stroking his arm.  He quickly set her down and backed away.  Slowly, he thought.  They can smell fear. 

They were inside a police station.  A bored-looking blonde poodle was seated at one of the desks, typing in the old ‘hunt-and-peck’ method, using only her index fingers.  There were a few men in crisp blue uniforms, some typing reports, others leaning on desks, reading papers, talking among themselves.  All of them looked up as Joanna got up and dusted herself off.  One gave an appreciative whistle.  She ignored him.  Pearl smiled tentatively at him, momentarily forgetting why she was there, but he’d already turned away, more interested in the sports page. 

Thursday hunkered down to his haunches and addressed Molly.  “Kid, would you mind keeping Effie here company?”  He nodded to the blonde secretary, who sighed loudly, as though she was exhausted.  

“I’m no babysitter, Chief.”

“Hey, I’m not a baby!” Molly said indignantly.  “I’m seven and a half!”

“My mistake.  Want another donut?” 

The child folded her arms and stared at them.  “Well… okay.    And some cookies?”

Suddenly she smiled sweetly. “To keep me busy and out of trouble?” 

“Sure, go ahead. Effie’ll get them sent down.” The secretary sighed again, got up and spoke through a pipe snaking down the wall.  “Hey, Irma, the boss needs some donuts and cookies for the kid.”  A disembodied, muffled voice answered her.  Grabbing a baseball mitt from her bottom drawer, Effie hurried to the bottom of the chute and crouched like a center fielder waiting for a grounder.  In a moment, three sugared donuts and six cookies slid down, landing in a puff of powder into her mitt. 

Joanna grinned.  “You missed your calling, Effie,” she said.

 

The secretary made a face. “Don’t I know it.”

 

“Be good ‘til I come back, Muffin,” Baloo said.

 

“Sure,” she said.  Until you come back.”  Then she took a bite of donut, grinning at him through a mouthful of powdered sugar.

 

Thursday led them to small room with a battered wooden table and several chairs around it.  “Have a seat, people.” Baloo sat at Joanna’s right, Pearl at her left.  Thursday faced them straight on while Archer leaned against a wall and stared at them over his partner’s head.    

 

Thursday had his notebook flipped open to a fresh page, pen busily scratching down notes as Joanna explained her whereabouts the previous night and exactly what she had found upon her return.  Neither detective, especially Archer, looked terribly impressed. 

 

“You say there was a break-in, the results being a broken doll and folded laundry?” Thursday asked her. 

 

“It’s not as trivial as you make it sound,” she answered testily. “I think this person might know me and Pearl and wanted to scare us.  Why else would he or she smash a doll, for Pete’s sake?  Dolls and toys belonging to adults have sentimental value.  She always kept the doll on display on the pillow during the daytime.  Obviously it meant something to her.”

 

“Huh?” This came from Archer, of course.

 

She sighed and said as though to a not-very-bright child, “If you can’t hurt someone directly, the next best thing is to destroy their property.  Or harm someone they love.  It’s a way of getting inside their head… to control them.”

 

“That’s true,” Thursday agreed.  “But your belongings were only moved, not ruined, right?” 

 

“Yes.  But how would you like to go away for a while, or wake up to find that some stranger’s been pawing through your stuff?  What if Pearl had come home early and caught him in the act?  Maybe you’d find more than a broken doll.  That would make you happy, wouldn’t it?”  This last question she fired at Archer.

 

“Watch your mouth, skirt.”

 

“Please, Miss Midway,” Thursday said.  “We’re trying to help.”

 

“Easy, honey,” Baloo said, patting her hand. “I know him.  He’s okay.” 

 

She snatched her hand away.  “Don’t patronize me.”  Then, she was contrite. “Sorry.  I’m having a bad day.”

 

“Me too,” Pearl added plaintively, but Archer hushed her.

 

“You’ll get your turn.  Even though the evidence is gone, thanks to Sally Housecoat back there.”

 

Joanna’s dark eyes flashed. “Don’t call her that. Helen didn’t mean any harm, Detective.”

 

“Well, it did us a heap of good.” 

 

Exasperated, Thursday finally turned to Pearl. “Miss Clambake, what was the position of the doll when you found it?”

 

“P-position?”

 

“He’s asking if it was lying on its back or front and where the arms and legs were pointing,” Joanna explained.

 

“Oh…well…Matilda was… um…” Poor Pearl was confused. “I can’t.

 

Thursday suggested, “Try lying on the floor.  Pretend you’re, uh, Matilda.”

 

“Well… she was lying… like this.” Pearl flopped onto the floor and lay on her back with her left leg folded under her.  Her arms stretched out on either side of her body, as like a baby waiting to be picked up.

 

Now just imagine her without a head, Joanna thought nastily. 

 

Thursday continued to encourage Pearl to describe everything, every sensation she felt when she entered the trailer to discover her dearest possession was so maliciously destroyed.  She started to cry again.

 

“You’ve been through a terrible experience,” he told her, helping her to stand. “You’re very observant, an excellent witness.  We sure do appreciate your help.”

 

Pearl sniffled noisily. “Th-thank you, officer.”

 

“Detective,” he corrected her.  “And he’s a very lucky man, whoever he is.”

 

“What?”

 

“I noticed that congratulations are in order,” he said, nodding at her engagement ring.

 

“Nice rock you’re sporting.  Diamond?”

 

Joanna squinted at it.  “Where’d you win that?  The ring-toss booth?”

 

“No, smarty, it’s a real, true-to-life, bony-fide diamond!” Pearl said angrily.  Forgetting her promise to Lance, she defiantly thrust her hand out for them to admire.  “See?  I’m going to live in a big mansion and get as far away from all of you as I can!”

 

“Great. I’ll finally get some privacy and won’t have to listen to you snore.”

 

“Well, you talk in your sleep.” 

 

“I do not!” For a moment, Joanna looked stunned. “Do I?”

 

Baloo cleared his throat and tried not to look at her.

 

“Yes, you do. And who’s ‘beetlebrain’, anyway?” 

 

“Ladies, if we could get back to the subject at hand?”

 

“Yeah, shaddup,” This came from Archer.

 

“I once knew a guy who liked his diamonds,” said Thursday.  “Even his teeth were made of the stuff.”

 

“Wow!” Pearl said, almost forgetting her flash of anger. “They must have been so pretty!”  She tried to imagine herself with diamond teeth.  She loved shiny things.

 

“They used to be.”

 

Joanna raised an eyebrow. “Used to be?”

 

“They were stolen, ripped off the rings of about thirty engaged young women. He had to be held down while the prison dentist took a pair of pliers to ‘em.  Now he can barely chew a sponge. Those sparklers had been tagged as evidence during the trial, then restored to their rightful owners.  Strange how those poor girls didn’t want their diamonds back.”

 

“Heimlich Menudo?” Baloo asked. “The nut that tried to blow up Cape Suzette last year?” 

 

“Oh yeah, that guy,” Archer snorted, twirling his index finger near his temple, miming the universal sign of insanity.  “What a loon.”

 

“Negative.  He was a brilliant criminal mind,” his partner corrected. “Luckily for Cape Suzette, the only rocks he’ll ever see are the ones he’s breaking in the big house.”

 

Archer chortled at the memory. “He looked good in stripes, last time I saw ‘im.  And there was that other guy, some schmoe by the name of Weasel or something?”

 

“I knew him too,” Baloo told Joanna. He puffed out his chest proudly. “Yep, I saved the city from their gang of real dangerous criminals.”

 

“All by yourself?”  Again she raised a cynical eyebrow.

 

“Uh, well, Kit was there too.” He blushed.  “Couldn’t have done it without him, actually. I’ll tell ya about it sometime… say over dinner?”

 

Archer interrupted them. “Didn’t that Weasel fella get bumped off a coupla months ago?” 

 

“Weazel, Archer.”  A dark look shadowed Thursday’s world-weary features.  They never caught the guy.  Cape Suzette had a very low crime rate, as far as homicide went.  Burglaries, petty theft, and assault were common occurrences, but murder was rare.  It was one of the reasons that Cape Suzette was one of the most popular cities in the world. 

 

I hate loose ends, he thought.  “In April, I think.”

 

Archer’s eyes suddenly narrowed. “Wasn’t that around the time that circus of yours came to town?” he asked Joanna sharply.

 

“Carnival.”

 

“Whatever.  Just answer the question.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“When?”

 

“I don’t know… somewhere in the beginning of the month… I think it was April or something?”

 

Thursday’s thick eyebrows shot up. He felt a surge of excitement.  “April? You’re sure?”

 

“Pretty sure.  I had to help check off our bags when we got off the boat.   My sheet was probably dated for April.”

 

“Holy catfish!” Thursday exclaimed. “Wait right here.  I’ll get the file.”  He stood and opened the door, poking his head out. “Effie, get the Weazel file out of storage, will you?  I smell a lead!”

 

The bored secretary stopped her half-hearted typing and stood.  Molly sat on the floor, contentedly eating her third cookie.  Taking her time, Effie strolled to the desk of the officer who had whistled at Joanna.  Lifting his coffee cup, she whisked a thin brown folder from underneath, then set the cup down again.

 

“Effie, that’s my coaster,” he complained. 

 

Without a word, the secretary handed it to Thursday. She closed the door after her. There were a few circular coffee stains on the front.  He sat down across from Joanna, opened it and began to read. 

 

“Hey, what about us?” Joanna wanted to know. 

 

“And what about Matilda?” Pearl whined.  “I want justice!

 

“This is more important.  I think there’s more than a mere vandalism afoot.”  Thursday looked up from the file.  “I’ll level with you.  This is one case we’re still dealing with.”

 

“The trail got cold, huh?” Joanna said.

 

He paid no attention, enumerating his points on each finger. “One, I find it very strange that one of Cape Suzette’s most notorious gangsters was murdered practically the same morning that you people arrived in town. Which boat did you come in on?”

 

The Peppermint Ferry,” said Pearl.  “Isn’t that a cute name?”

 

“That’s the boat our suspect was trying to board, all right,” the canine detective said. 

 

“I’ll need a list of everyone who was on that boat that morning.  Can you get it for me?”

 

“I guess so.”

 

“Good.  Now, have you hired anyone new?  Someone who didn’t come to Cape Suzette with you?”

 

Joanna tried to think.  “Um…yeah, we hired two guys.  There’s that obnoxious barker and this new guy that cleans up after the horses. They met us at the docks.”

 

“Names?”

 

“Alphonse McGuire or ‘Big Al’.”  She smirked at the nickname. “You think he did it?  And then there’s Fancy-Lance What’s-His-Face.  You remember his last name, Pearl?”

 

“How should I know?”  Right away, Pearl knew she made a mistake.  Joanna pounced.

 

“You’re engaged to that loser and you don’t even know what your last name’s going to be?”

 

“We’re in love.  It’s not important.”  Then:  “He’s not a loser!”

 

“Oh, I’d still say you knew each other pretty well.  What about yesterday, when I found you two in the nurse’s tent, chewing each other’s face off?”

 

Shut up!” Pearl yelled at her. “You’re just jealous!”

 

“Gee, that ring Lance gave you must be worth its weight in manure.”

 

“Weight!” Thursday said suddenly.

 

“What?” the women asked simultaneously.  “Wait for what?”

 

“Not ‘wait’.  Weight, as in ‘how-much-does-it-weigh’ kind of weight.”

 

“Aw, not that again,” moaned Baloo.  “I told ya I’m a lousy speller.  When are ya let me off the hook?”

 

The detective addressed Pearl.  “Miss, may I see that?” Reluctantly, she twisted the ring off her finger and handed it to him.  As soon as she did, Thursday’s mouth fell open. 

 

“It’s… it’s so light.”

 

“What do you mean?” Pearl demanded.  “Hey, give that back!”  She tried to grab it, but Archer restrained her. 

 

“Relax, sister,” he said.  “I think I know what he has in mind.”

 

Still holding the ring, Thursday went to the window, and in one sweeping downward motion, scraped the stone against the glass.  It squealed in protest, but left no mark.

 

He returned the ring to its very peeved owner.  With sincere regret, he told her, “I hate to say this, miss, but this is no diamond.  See the window?  The genuine article would have left a nasty scratch.”

 

What?” It came out as a squeak.

 

“Figures.” Joanna said.  Then she softened, seeing Pearl’s lower lip begin to tremble.

 

“That’s rotten, kid.  What a lousy trick.”

 

“It’s not true.” Pearl sank into her chair and silent tears rolled down her round cheeks.

 

Thursday patted her shoulder sympathetically. “I wish it wasn’t, sister, I really do.”

 

Pearl whispered, “Please, sir… m-may I please just go home?”

 

“We’re almost done here.  Hold tight.” Thursday went to the door, opened it and said,

 

“Effie, go to the evidence room, will you?  We need that soggy suitcase the kid pulled out of the drink a few months ago.”

 

“Ya mean the one Kit found?” Baloo asked.

 

“The very one.”



* * *

 

Higher for Hire
7:40 pm


Rebecca was bored; she had finished her work hours ago and wanted to go home.  She stood and paced the room, checking her watch.  Almost five-thirty!  What’s taking them so long?

 

Kit sauntered in, covered in grease.

 

“Ugh! What happened to you?” asked Rebecca, recoiling.

 

“Nothing.  I was helping Wildcat fix the engine.”  Kit started to go upstairs, intending to clean up.  “Why are you still here?”

 

“Baloo and that friend of his haven’t brought Molly back yet.  I’m stuck here until they do.”

 

“Oh.” For a moment, neither said anything, so Kit continued up the stairs. Then her voice arrested him in mid-step.  With a patient sigh, he waited.

 

“Kit,” Rebecca asked. “Do you think I’m a… grouch?”

 

“You?”  Kit shook his head.  How’m I supposed to answer this one? “Uh… not exactly.”

 

“Just be honest, please.”

 

“I dunno…maybe a little uptight sometimes.  Why?”

 

“Oh, no reason.  It’s nothing.”  I just made a fool out of myself and where is that bear with my daughter!

 

“Hey, Beckers.” Baloo and Molly came in.

 

“Thank goodness – I’ve been waiting forever!  Molly, let’s go home.  It’s time for dinner.”

 

“I’m not hungry.”

 

“What?  Come here, young lady.” Rebecca crouched in front of the child.  “Open your mouth.” She sniffed Molly’s breath.  “Let’s see your tongue.  Aha! You’ve been eating chocolate ice cream…donuts…and cookies!  Oh, Baloo, I told you not to stuff her with that garbage!  What took you so long anyway? And where’s that… friend of yours?”

 

“We went to the police station,” Molly said helpfully, making Baloo wince.  “They wanted to ask Joanna some questions.  It was fun.”

 

Aw, man, why’d Becky hafta teach her ta talk?

 

A police station?  Why am I not surprised?  Rebecca opened her mouth to scold the big pilot, but then she heard Joanna’s voice in her head:  You wouldn’t even let him explain. 

 

“Baloo.  Explain.”

 

Kit decided that his bath could wait and came back downstairs.  Molly stared.

 

“Wow, look at you! Mommy never lets me get that messy.  Where were ya, Kit?”

 

“Drilling for oil,” he answered, deadpan. “Me and Wildcat are going to be millionaires, Pigtails.”

 

“Wow!”

 

Then Rebecca remembered Molly and said, “Honey, why don’t you go play?”

 

“No.  I want to hear.”

 

“Kit, could you take her outside for a few minutes?”

 

“Sorry, Miz Cunningham, but I’m not missing this.”  Kit understood though. “Molly, Wildcat’s still working.  He needs help.”

 

“Drilling for oil, right?  Okay, Kit!”  She limped outside, singing to herself. “I’m gonna be rich, I’m gonna be rich…”

 

“Thanks…I think,” said Rebecca.  “Baloo…”

 

“Well, uh, ya see, Beckers…” Baloo looked down at his stomach the way a slimmer person would look at their feet, as though they held the answer. “Well, after we got ta the fair, there was this goofy-lookin’ guy with pink eyes waitin’ for us…” She forced herself to keep quiet, tapping her foot impatiently until he finished.

 

“Well,” she said uncertainly. “You’ve certainly run into Detective Thursday a lot lately.  That’s odd how nothing was missing, just… moved.  And breaking that poor girl’s doll… why, that’s just plain mean.”

 

“You wanna hear the rest of it or not?” Baloo asked, settling into his armchair.

Rebecca sat at her desk.  “All right, go ahead.” 

 

“Where was I?  Oh yeah…”

* * *

Police Station
6:35 pm


When the tagged suitcase arrived, Archer slipped on a pair of gloves and carefully opened it, removing a wrinkled dark blue uniform from the museum.

 

“Tell me something else.  This uniform is the one worn by the suspect before disposal.” Thursday addressed Joanna and Pearl. “Would it fit either of the men who were hired after you came?”

 

“Alphonse?  No way,” Joanna declared. “He’s, well, you know, big.  She tipped her head toward Baloo, adding, “About his size, just the way I like ‘em.”

 

“Aw, shucks!” Baloo blushed, wriggling in his seat.

 

Thursday checked his notes, then looked across the table at Joanna.  “Did this Alphonse person have any bags or suitcases with him?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What about this Lance character?   Would this uniform fit him?”

 

“I don’t think so. I just can’t see him as a security guard.  He’s not the type.  He’d probably shoot himself in the foot.  Pearl, did he ever mention having a job like that?”

 

“No.” Her voice was a whisper, barely audible.

 

Thursday tried to keep the growing excitement out of his voice.  “Well, that’s not relevant.  But did he have any luggage with him?”

 

Joanna opened her mouth to speak, but it was Pearl who answered.  “Yes.  He was keeping it in a locker at a bus station.  He picked it up later, after Helen hired him.” 

 

Joanna shot her a sharp look. 

 

“Oh,” Thursday said, disappointed.  He glanced down at his written notes in the folder.

 

“Our man didn’t have any luggage when he tried to board the ferry.”

 

Joanna leaned forward eagerly.  “Like he was on the run?  No time to pack, right?”

 

Archer scowled.  “Lady, leave the police work to us.”

 

“Yes, sir,” “Yessuh,” she said, adopting in a mock southern accent, bowing her head with mock humility.  “You’re right.  Lawdy, Ah don’t know whut got into me.”  Had anyone looked a little closer, they would have noticed under the lashes that her eyes darted back and forth, dancing rapidly across the page of the upside-down file, as it lay open in front of Thursday.

 

Baloo asked, “Ya mean the guy who fits the monkey suit killed Weasel and messed with the gals’ stuff?”

 

“It’s a possibility.”

 

The questioning finally ended, and after signing a statement, they were permitted to leave.  Thursday helped Pearl into the back seat of the police car and held the door open for Joanna.

 

“I suppose I should go with her,” Joanna said reluctantly to Baloo.  “See you Wednesday?”

 

“Wednesday?”

 

“Our tour, remember?” She grinned slyly. “I promise it’ll be fun.  What time is it?”

He took out his pocket watch.  “Almost seven. Why?”

 

“Wow, it’s late!  You two better get home, or Rebecca’ll have a fit.”

 

“Yeah, okay.  I’ll pick ya up around six?”

 

“No, how about I wait for you at Higher for Hire?” 

 

“You sure?  What if Becky’s there?”

 

“Well, it’s easier than you trying to find me in the crowd.  And I don’t like the carnies watching my every move and gossiping.  I’ll just stay outside and read so I don’t bother her.”

 

“Well, okay. You can find it?”

 

“I think so.  I can ask for directions if I have to.”

 

“Fine.  See ya then. “ And he leaned toward her expectantly. 

 

“Wait, hold that thought,” she muttered, laying a halting hand on his chest.  Molly was watching with bright-eyed fascination.  “Not in front of the kid.”

 

“Oh.  Sorry.” 

 

“Molly, look!” Joanna pointed over the child’s head excitedly.  “They’re bringing in a guy in handcuffs!”

 

“Where?” Molly turned around to look; as she did, Joanna caught Baloo by the shoulders and kissed him full on the mouth for a few seconds.  When they were done, Baloo had to grab the nearest parking meter to keep from swooning.  Holy…

 

“I had so much fun last night,” she whispered.

 

He smiled. “Me too.”

 

“Hey, I don’t see any…” When Molly turned back to them, the adults were pleasantly smiling and waving to each other as Joanna climbed into the police car.

 

“Bye!  See you Wednesday!” she called as the car pulled out onto the street.

 

Happily dazed, Baloo watched it go.

 

When he took Molly back to Higher for Hire and relayed the tale to Rebecca, Baloo did not mention the kiss.  He didn’t think it was important. 
 

End of Chapter 6


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