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 10

 

 

Earlier that day (Wednesday)
Cape Suzette Museum

“Not that I’m complaining,” said Archer to his partner as they climbed the museum steps. “But I thought Chandler was handling the key caper.  Ain’t the museum robbery his case?”

 

“Negative, Lou.  He got assigned another key case.  Something about a missing glass key, not a gold one.  I don’t know the details.  Since this key is a direct clue to the Weazel homicide, we get that gold key case too.  There was a mix-up in the paperwork, Effie says.”

 

“How?”

 

“The Gold Key file was lost for a couple of weeks. One of the boys at the precinct was using it as a coaster.”

 

“Who’s this archaeologist we’re jawing with?” They entered the foyer, and quickly flashed their badges at the bored-looking guard at the front desk.

 

Thursday quickly fished in his jacket pocket, found a small piece of paper and glanced at it.  “We’re here to see a… Miss Dodd.” 

 

Archer snorted.  “Miss… as in a female miss?”

 

“You may call me Dr. Dodd.” A hard-edged feminine voice cut in, startling them.  “Or Professor.  Take your choice.”

 

They turned around and found themselves facing a red-haired vixen in a conservative, severely tailored navy blue suit.  Her pretty features were strained and unsmiling.

 

“Detectives?” she inquired, eyeing their shabby attire critically.  Archer quickly made sure his pants were buttoned.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” said Thursday as he and Archer showed her their badges.

 

“I’m Katie Dodd, archaeologist.   We’ll use one of the spare offices.  This way, please.” She briskly walked ahead of them, leading them down a corridor until they stopped at a small office.  As they followed, Archer’s eyes fell to her undulating hips, then her shapely calves.

 

Nice, he thought.  Too bad they don’t stay a size ten forever.  Then he suddenly remembered that his wife asked him to buy some pickles and ice cream on the way home. Holy mackerel, Betsy’s sure getting big.  Takes up half the bed.

 

When they were seated across from her, Katie came to the point.  “I’m the one found the Gold Key of Comixia last year.  Every time a new discovery is delivered to the museum, we take several photographs of it, both for study and insurance purposes.  Look at this.”  She opened a file, withdrew several photos and passed it across the desk to Thursday.

 

Thursday concealed his disappointment at the perfectly ordinary pictures of a slender gold skeleton key with an oval at the top.  He looked them over, then gave them to Archer.  “Miss Dodd, what exactly are you getting at?  I don’t see anything unusual here.”

 

“My mistake. Sorry.”  From her desk drawer, she produced a large magnifying glass and guided it over a close-up shot in one of the photos.  Archer noted with disappointment that her blouse was buttoned up to the neck and did not gape open at all.

 

“It’s gibberish,” he said.  Thursday kicked him under the desk.

 

Writing,” Archer amended.

 

“It’s an inscription,” Katie corrected him.  With an elegantly gloved finger, she pointed at one of the photos. “I spent months translating this before donating it to the museum.  When I heard it had been stolen, I came back to Cape Suzette to warn you.”

 

Archer snorted derisively.  “You wanted to warn us that it was stolen?”

 

“No,” she said evenly.  “I’m telling you that this isn’t a mere robbery… this particular artifact is of enormous historical and monetary value.”

 

“You don’t say,” Archer remarked, ignoring Thursday’s warning look.

 

“Tell us, Miss Dodd.  Any information you could give would help.”

 

“The Gold Key of Comixia is said to have great power.  Just west of South Usland, there was an island so small that it was never put on the maps until a few years ago, when the island of Comixia was discovered. The locals were mostly metalworkers, specializing in gold mining for their living, and traded their wares with other villagers for food and supplies.  Unfortunately, one of the deals went bad.  The food they received from a neighboring community was tainted and several people became violently ill.  It was most likely an accident, but that hardly mattered.  As some of you may know, contracting any sort of disease at an early age can be fatal. Since their immune systems weren’t fully formed, young children and babies were especially vulnerable… more than half the children died of food poisoning.”

 

“Terrible,” Thursday murmured.

 

“Yes,” Miss Dodd agreed. “And since the very future of a village depends on the well being of its children, it was a bitter blow.  Some people wanted to move on, to leave the now-silent village, devoid of the sound of childish laughter and play.  But the king refused to allow it, for it would mean the end of his reign.”

 

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

 

“No people, no kingdom,” she said bluntly. “The king was furious.  He couldn’t declare war, because Comixia was outnumbered, especially after all those deaths.  The elders advised him to employ a different strategy, very similar to the legend of the ‘Trojan horse’… when the Geeks brought a huge wooden horse, what the Trojans thought was a gift, inside their guarded gates. The Geek soldiers hid inside the horse until they were past the barricades, then attacked, killing them.

 

“So the king ordered his subjects to ‘treat’ the metal products like this key, as well as tools, eating utensils and cooking pots with a substance called Goldfingerite.  It’s composed of gold, oxalic acid and lead and leads to death.  Oxalic acid is a toxin that is found in rhubarb leaves.”

 

Archer yawned.

 

“…after coating each spoon, cup and bowl with gold, they went to market and traded with their neighbors as usual.  Constant contact with these everyday objects, touching them, especially eating from them, had deadly consequences.   First the children, then the elderly, then finally the others… all dead.  That entire village was wiped out in a matter of days.”

 

Thursday regarded her, careful not to show skepticism.

 

"That's not all," she said quietly.  "The children and the old people --- they succumbed to the poison first--- they were the lucky ones."

 

"What do you mean?" Thursday asked, frowning.

 

"I mean that the others --- people from in their twenties to middle age --- they didn't die right away."  She swallowed.  "They went insane... psychotic.  They tore each other to pieces."

 

They fell silent. Then Archer gave a rude snort.

 

“Well, that’s a nice ghost story.  We’re looking for facts, lady, not fairy tales.”

 

“It’s not a fairy tale!” she flared, blue eyes snapping with anger. “I know it’s true.  When I first dug it up, I spent a few minutes studying it.  Usually this takes me about an hour or so.   I had to stop after a few minutes because I was feeling dizzy and weak.  Then I... had this urge to smash my shovel into my assistant's head.  It was only after I put the key in my knapsack for safekeeping and tied the pocket closed that I felt better.   I had to crawl back to camp to sleep it off.  Luckily I always wear gloves, or the lead might have been absorbed into my hands as well.”

 

“You poor thing…” Archer started to pat her on the back but she deftly pulled out of reach and sat down again.  Offended, he glowered out the window behind her.

“Do you have any clues at all?” she asked. “While the key is no longer deadly to touch, there are still traces of the toxin and it could still make whoever has the key very sick.  Nobody even tried to claim the ten thousand dollar reward we offered.”

 

“The perp’s not stupid enough for that.  He’s either laying low somewhere in Cape Suzette or could be out of the country altogether.” Thursday was suddenly very depressed at the thought.

 

Archer shook his head. “All we’ve got is a cockamamie story.”

 

”He might try to get the inscription translated.  We could ask around, see if any experts were approached by him,” Katie suggested.  She pointed to one of the photographs.  “Here’s a close-up of the inscription on the other side, a map.  Notice the shape of the largest character.”  She waited until Thursday finally saw it.

 

“Why… it looks just like South Usland!”

 

“Yes.  Once he gets a translator, I have a feeling he might try to go there.  See, the map on the key is supposed to lead to a much bigger treasure and…”

 

“That’s great, lady,” Archer cut her off.  “Thanks. It’s been an education.”  To Thursday, he said, “We’d better hit the bricks.  Cap wants a report on his desk this afternoon.”  Abruptly, he turned and left the room.

 

“Thank you for your time, Miss Dodd,” he said, shaking her hand.

 

Lips pursed, she nodded at the doorway that Archer had vacated.  “Good luck.”

 

He knew she didn’t mean the case.

 

* * *

 

Wednesday night
8:30pm

Exhausted by the hard work of ordering the pizzas, Baloo dozed in his chair.  In the other one, Kit had closed his eyes, feigning sleep to discourage Molly from pestering him. So she amused herself by sitting at his feet, staring up at him intently, hoping for a reaction.  Kit tried to ignore her, but it was an effort to do so.  A silent battle of wills ensued until Rebecca returned from the laundry room.

 

She prodded the big bear awake.

 

“Wake up, Baloo,” she scolded. “What if Joanna sees you?”

 

“Aw, she’s seen me sleep before.  Big deal.”

 

Rebecca was scandalized. “Baloo! Not in front of the kids, remember?”

 

“Geez, Becky, yer makin’ a federal case outta nothin’.” 

 

Just then, Joanna emerged from Rebecca’s bedroom, looking very uncomfortable in lavender slacks that were much too short, a white turtleneck, and a fluffy pink sweater embroidered with tiny rosebuds --- no, they were hearts.  She had unfastened her ponytail, letting her damp hair hang loosely down her back to dry.  “I’m starving.  Is the pizza here yet?”

 

“Nope, not yet,” Kit answered, opening his eyes.  Her attire reminded him of the way donated clothing at the orphanage usually fit… very poorly.  

 

”Hey, Joey,” Baloo said, giving her an appreciative glance.  “Ya look, uh, different.”

 

“I’ve been Beckied.”  She grinned ruefully. “I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment.”

 

Molly asked, “Aren’t those Mom’s clothes?”

 

“That’s right, kid. I’m playing dress-up.”

 

“Oh, boy!  Wait here, okay?”  The little girl suddenly darted from the room and momentarily returned, brandishing a spatula, wearing a blanket as a cape and a colander as a helmet.  Ta-da!  I’m Danger Woman!”

 

“Not the Danger Woman!” Joanna said in mock awe, clapping her hand against her heart.  “Gee… could I have your autograph?”

 

“Who’s Otto Graff?” Molly asked.

 

“Nobody you know.”

 

“Oh.”  Then:  “Hey, Joanna!  Come see our waterfall!”

 

“Uh… no thanks.  I saw it before we came inside.” She did not want to see the view from the twenty-first floor.

 

“Molly, why don’t you just settle down and play quietly?” her mother suggested. “We’re all tired, honey.  Let Joanna rest.”  Distracted, Rebecca sat on the sofa, regarding the other woman with a troubled expression.  It was nearly impossible to banish the terrible image of a hot iron searing tender flesh.

 

“You okay, Miz Cunningham?” Kit murmured, speaking from the side of his mouth.

 

“I’m fine.” Her voice was barely audible.  

 

“Aww… Joanna, please play with me…”

 

“Molly...” Her mother’s voice had that warning tone that Molly hated.

 

“Sure.  It’s no fun to be the only kid in a roomful of older people, is it?” Joanna asked the little girl, who shook her head.  “Do you have any cards?  We could play a game.”

 

The child brightened.  “Okay.  Be right back!”

 

As they knelt on either side of the coffee table, Joanna took the deck and expertly flipped and fanned the cards in a blur of color, with the expertise of a professional dealer in a gambling house.  The others watched, fascinated.

 

“Wow!” Molly breathed.  “Can you teach me to do that?”

 

“Yeah, sometime maybe.  Let’s play.” 

 

At first, the two played alone.  Joanna was not the type to allow Molly to win merely because she was a child, but she did say things like, “I see a move right there.  Do you see it?” waiting until Molly spotted it.  Soon, Molly got the hang of it and, much to her delight, began to win a few games, thanks to Joanna’s coaching.

 

“Here,” Joanna said.  “I’m going to teach you a game you can play anytime you want.”  She patiently demonstrated how to deal the cards, advising Molly of opportunistic moves and praising her when she caught on and began to learn strategy.

 

“Look, Mom!” Molly said proudly.  “I can play Solitaire all by myself!”

 

Rebecca chuckled.  “That’s wonderful, sweetie.”

 

As they played Gin, Molly said suddenly, “Joanna, I wish you were my big sister.  Then we could play all the time.”

 

Joanna coughed. “No, I don’t think that would work out.  I wasn’t a good sister at all.”

 

“You have brothers and sisters?” Rebecca asked.

 

“I did. One older brother and one younger sister.  Buddy was always out with his friends knocking over mailboxes or something, so he didn’t bother with us girls much.  Ju…my sister was a little princess.  She wasn’t allowed to play outside or get dirty.  She was a tattletale. I couldn’t stand her.”  Joanna seemed more interested in her cards.  “Your turn, Molly.”

 

Kit’s eyes narrowed at the omission of the other child’s name.  “What was your sister’s name?”

 

Joanna kept her voice neutral.   “J-Judy.  She was spoiled rotten… she was in show biz… vaudeville and that kind of thing.”

 

“Really?” Rebecca was interested now.  “Have we heard of her?  Is she famous?”

 

“Judy Dimple was her stage name.  I doubt you’ve heard of her… this was way back in the early twenties.  She was just another child star.”  Joanna still didn’t look up from her cards.

 

“Judy Dimple?”  Rebecca frowned.  “I’ve heard of her.  Blonde curls, always dressed in pink?”

 

“Yup.”

 

“I know---she was in The Cutest Little General or something, right?”

 

“That’s right,” Kit added. “The Cutest Little Colonel --- one of the first talkies ever made, after The Jazz Swinger.”

 

“I forget.”  Joanna shrugged.  “I haven’t seen a movie in years.”

 

“Well, we can fix that!” Baloo said.  “How’s about I take ya to a movie tonight, Joey?”

 

“Great.”  Joanna blinked a couple of times --- all the clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades began to dance before her eyes --- she couldn’t seem to focus. “When’s that pizza coming again?” She looked at down and all the little hearts on Rebecca’s sweater blurred, making her eyes swim…

 

 

“You can’t reach,” Marie said, watching Judy stretch for the branch.

 

“Come on, you can do it, kid,” Patty called. Judy beamed and leaned out further.

 

“You’ll get dirty and Mother’ll kill me.  Why don’t you just forget it?”

 

No!” Judy insisted. “You promised.”

 

“Oh, for Pete’s sake—here!  Take my hand.” Marie crawled along the supporting branch and stopped when she heard a dry, brittle sound. She felt it begin to bend under her weight. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea…”

 

“No fair, Marie.  You promised.”

 

“Okay, okay!”

 

Gingerly, Judy swung her other leg over the sill; her feet dangled nearly three stories above the ground.  She swallowed.

 

“Don’t look down.  It’s better that way.” Marie stretched out her arm. “Take my hand.  Come on, hurry up. Me and Patty want to go.”

 

Judy regarded her suspiciously. “No.  You’ll just pull away.”

 

Marie paused, just a moment too long.  “Don’t be stupid.”

 

“Come on, Judy,” Patty called from below.  “You can do it.”

 

“Well…”

 

“Reach inside and grab the curtains,” Marie told her. “Twist them like a rope.”

 

The little girl reached behind her and grabbed a fistful of sheer pink material.

 

“No, not that way, you dumb Dora!  Grab the whole thing and wrap it around yourself so you won’t slip.”   Finally, the little girl obeyed.  It took nearly ten minutes of painstaking care.

 

“Tighter, Judy.”

 

“I can’t.  My dress’ll get wrinkled.”

 

“What do you think it’ll do to the curtains, dummy?” Marie snapped.  If they were caught, maybe the brat would get punished too.  It would be worth it to see Mother chew her out for being an ungrateful daughter. 

 

Marie made a mental note to shove the curtains back inside so Mother would not see them hanging outside the window.  “Okay. Now reach.”

 

Judy shifted her weight, then heard a tearing sound.  “Oh no!” The lacy trim of her pinafore had caught on a bent nail.

 

“Come on, just do it.”

 

Biting her lip in concentration, Judy, with one arm clutching the rumpled sheers tightly around her, inched forward and reached out for the sturdy branch.  Her fingers just touched it. Marie watched her and raised both hands…

 

 

Molly said, “I bet you were fun when you were a kid.”

 

“No, I wasn’t.  I was a monster.”

 

“Why?” Baloo asked her. “What’d ya do?”

 

“Oh, I used to play tricks on Judy all the time.  I remember one time when me and Buddy – that’s my older brother – once told her there was a pirates’ treasure chest buried in our front garden. There she was, with her little pail and shovel, digging up Mother’s prize-winning roses.”

 

Rebecca stared at her. “That’s awful!  Why would you do a thing like that?”

 

Joanna shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Something about her always rubbed me the wrong way.  She was the ‘good’ one who never got dirty, always kissed up to the adults.  She was always in the center of family photographs.  Every Christmas, Mother made us stand in the same pose.  Buddy was on Judy’s right and I was always on the left.”

 

“You were jealous of her.” It was not a question.

 

Jealous of her?  No, I wasn’t.  I just wanted what she had, that’s all!

 

 

 

Marie stood next to her sister in the parlor as their mother’s words rained on them.  Mother, looming over Judy, jabbed her chest with one pointed, accusing finger.  No, that always left bruises. Her mother always yelled at her instead. Judy Dimple was not allowed to get bruises

“Judith, after everything I’ve sacrificed for you, you… do this to me!”

 

“But it was Marie’s idea, Mother.  She told me to do it...”

 

“Well, of course she did! You know she’s jealous of you.  You’re the pretty one.  I don’t expect much from her, but you’re special.”

 

Marie kept her face carefully expressionless, watching her mother’s mouth open and shut.  Sometimes there was even spittle. Concentrating really hard on a spot on the wall helped, or even the large dark brown mole on the left side of Mother’s mouth as she talked, watching it move up and down like a demented period, blocking out her words, distorting them until they became the drone of a beehive, sometimes it worked.  Mostly, though, Marie heard and remembered every hurtful word hurled in her direction like a bucket of scalding water.

 

“What are you looking at?” Mother never spoke Marie’s name, so she knew she was being addressed.  She was always referred to out of necessity to outsiders as ‘Judy’s sister’ or ‘my other daughter.’

 

“Nothing,” she mumbled, dropping her insolent gaze.

 

“What if you fell down?  You think you’ll get the starring role in The Sweetest Little Hobo if you show up with skinned knees?  Judy Dimple does not get scabs!”

 

Judy sobbed, “But I just wanted to play outside with the other…”

 

Mother’s voice escalated into shrillness. “Do you know how hard I work to keep you clean and decent so those scrubby neighborhood urchins don’t ruin you?  Your father’s soldier pension only goes so far.  It’s up to you to help us keep our nice home.  We just got accepted into the country club.  Do you think you’d have all your pretty clothes and dolls if I didn’t take you to auditions?  Do you want to be a nobody?

 

“N-no…” the child’s voice quavered.

 

“…I would have loved to have the advantages you have.  I never had anything… my sister was always the one people noticed.  I got her hand-me-downs and toys she was tired of.  If a boy liked me, she took him away from me every time, even…” Then she stopped, swallowed and abruptly changed the subject.

 

“Your agent just telephoned, dear.  You have dress rehearsal at six tonight. And then a fitting tomorrow at nine.  And if you’re extra good, Mummy will buy you ice cream and maybe a little gift.”

 

“A new doll?”

 

“We’ll see.”

 

“Oh boy!”

 

 

Joanna shrugged again. “No, not really.  Jealous of the attention she got because of the ‘Judy Dimple’ thing, maybe.  To me, she was just annoying. She supported the family with the money she pulled in every week.  Mother was always buying things to impress her rich ‘friends’ in the country club and even made poor Daddy buy a new automobile and had it custom-painted to match Judy’s eyes.”

 

“Ugh!”  Kit couldn’t help saying.  “No wonder you hated her.”  It didn’t escape him that she called her father ‘Daddy’ instead of the more formal, ‘Father’.  It was obvious from her tone which parent Joanna loved.

 

“No, I don’t… well, not anymore.  Actually, it couldn’t have been easy with Mother riding her all the time.  She wanted the good life and Daddy’s soldier’s pension wasn’t enough.  She was always taking Judy to rehearsals and costume fittings and meetings with her agent…kissing her goodnight… that kind of sap.”  Joanna’s voice seemed to crack a little, then she quickly recovered. “Both Mother and Judy were always tired at the end of the day, so I guess they earned it.”

 

“That’s terrible,” Rebecca protested. “How could your parents force a child to support them?”

 

“No! It wasn’t Daddy… um, Dad’s idea at all.  He just came home from fighting in the Great War and… he just didn’t like confrontations.  He used to be a music teacher and taught me to play the piano since I was three, you know.  He just wanted us to be happy, so he let Mother do what she wanted.”

 

Kit thought he detected a brittle edge to her voice.  But he went along with it, didn’t he? he thought, but wisely did not pursue the subject.  Joanna obviously loved her father, despite his unwillingness to stand up for himself.

 

“Yer daddy sounds like a great guy,” Baloo said heartily.

 

Joanna beamed at him.  “He was.  He used to visit me sometimes…” Then she stopped, aborting the rest of the sentence.

 

“Visit you where?” Molly asked.

 

“Nothing.  Nowhere.  Forget it.”  Joanna seemed to deflate.  “How about another round of Old Maid?” 

 

Kit, then Baloo, and finally Rebecca, gathered around the table to join the fun. They played Old Maid, Go Fish, Gin, and Memory.  Joanna and Kit won most often, with Rebecca a close contender.  As for Baloo, the most frequent phrase to come out of his mouth was, “Well, doggone it.  I’m out…again.”

 

When the pizzas – three kinds in all -- arrived, Rebecca had the anchovy one all to herself, with the others’ blessing.

 

“So how’s that friend of yours – the one with the fake diamond ring?”  Baloo asked Joanna.  “She makin’ out okay?”

 

“We’re not friends,” she answered. “And we’re not even roommates anymore, which suits me just fine. That creep she’s engaged to has her completely bamboozled, but I’m staying out of it.  He’s not worth the trouble.”

Maybe I’ll even slip that lousy key under his door… or better yet, in the horse dung… and maybe the cuff links could go…

 

“What creep?  What diamond ring?” Rebecca asked them, startling Joanna out of her reverie.  Briefly, she explained.

 

“You should have been there.  Right there, in front of everyone, he lies to her about the how jeweler must have pulled a switch with the diamond.”

 

“Say, Kit, remember that suitcase ya pulled outta the bay a few months back?”

 

“Yeah.  Why?”  Kit swallowed a mouthful of pepperoni pizza.

 

“Thursday thinks it might have something ta do with the guy who messed with the gals’ stuff.  And -- get this, guys – he could be the one who killed that Weazel fella.”

 

“You mean that crook who tricked you into skywriting secret codes to other criminals?” Rebecca asked.

 

Baloo said huffily, “Ahem.  Don’t even try ta lay that one on me, Becky.  He tricked us.  Besides, I did save Cape Suzette.”

 

We did, Baloo,” Kit corrected him. “I was there too, remember?”

 

“Oh… yeah.”

 

“Come on, don’t fight over some dead guy,” Joanna said.  “His troubles are over.  What about this suitcase?  It had a guard’s uniform.”  A strange expression crossed Joanna’s face. “Kit… what did the guy at the docks look like?  Tall and thin?”

 

“Yeah,” Kit said. “How’d you know?” 

 

“It came up at the station.  Happened almost the same day that the museum was robbed and the guard disappeared.”

 

“How’d ya know all that?” demanded Baloo. 

 

“I read the file. Remember how Thursday and I sat across from each other at the police station?  He had the file open, so I read his notes upside-down while everyone else was talking.”

 

“But those notes are confidential and sensitive documents!  And you just… read them?  Rebecca was incredulous.

 

“Wow! You can read upside-down?” Molly asked, impressed.  Her mother frowned at her.

 

“Yeah.”  The way Joanna answered, it was in the same way one would have said, can’t everyone?

 

“Let’s stay on track, huh, guys?” Kit was exasperated.  ”The suitcase, remember?”

 

Suitcase, thought Joanna.  I’m missing something.  Clothes, he bought those, probably soon after Helen hired him.  Suitcase…suitcase...

 

“Okay.  I hate to admit it, but Lance had to be the guard.  He stole the key and disposed of his uniform. It was him you saw, Kit.  It makes sense now.  He’s been nosing after that key I found on the beach since the day I met him. I bet it was him who tossed our trailer.  I’m glad that little maggot’s shoveling manure.  Serves him right.”

 

Kit’s ears perked up. “Did you say ‘shoveling manure’?”

 

Joanna looked puzzled. “Isn’t that the polite term for it?”

 

“This Lance --- tall and thin?  Works at the pony ring?” 

 

“That’s right.  You meet him?”

 

“You bet I did,” Kit said grimly.  “That’s the creep who made Wildcat cry.”

 

“What? How?” Both Baloo and Rebecca asked at once. Molly sat quietly, listening.

 

Briefly Kit related the incident about Wildcat colliding into Lance, knocking off his toupee.  “It was an accident, and that creep just tore right into him, calling him nasty names, right in front of Clementine.”

 

“What a horrible man!” Rebecca said. “Poor Wildcat.”

 

“Want me ta slug him?” Baloo growled, punching his open paw, like a baseball glove.

 

Yes!” Molly shouted. 

 

“Baloo!  Not in front of you-know-who.”

 

“Easy, Iron Paws,” Joanna cautioned.  “He’s too small.  You’ll just end up throwing him back.”

 

Iron Paws?  Rebecca again wondered.

 

Joanna added, frowning, “Besides, that doesn’t sound like Lance.   He’s a creep, sure, but I can’t see him screaming at anybody.  Quite the opposite, actually.”

 

“What do you mean?” asked Rebecca.

 

“Oh, you know the type.  Tries to get by on good looks and charm to get what he wants. He tried to shine up to me the first day I met him.”  Joanna quickly caught Rebecca’s hand between hers and purred in rich, elegant tones, “’Joanna, a name for a queen!’  It was disgusting.  I mean, what idiot couldn’t see through that cheesy act of his?”

 

“Sounds like a real piece of work, all right,” Baloo agreed, his mouth full of pizza.

 

“Tell me something,” Kit said to Joanna. “Does he have a glass eye?”

 

She let go of Rebecca’s hand.  What?”

 

Kit sighed.  “When the lady horse-trainer threatened to tell your boss about how Lance treated Wildcat, he gave her this song-and-dance about being blind in one eye and being ashamed of it. That’s why he blew up when he bumped into him.”

 

Joanna frowned.  From a faraway place in her brain, she heard voices, arguing over Lance’s attractiveness.

 

Violet, teasing:  “Lance doesn’t have a chance.  You’re going to be an old maid if you’re this picky.”

 

Her own voice, retorting: “And there’s that eye of his, the left one.  It keeps staring straight ahead.  Gives me the willies.”

 

“Come to think of it, he does have a funny way of looking at you.  His left one?” she asked Kit.

 

“Yeah, that’s it.”

 

“Interesting.” 

 

“What about this gold key?”  Rebecca asked.  “Joanna, you said you found it on the beach.”

 

“That’s true.  So?”

 

“Well, why didn’t you turn it in to the police?”

 

“I just thought it was just a fancy trinket, not stolen from a museum.” Joanna said sheepishly.  “Don’t worry, it’s in a safe place.  It was stupid of me to keep it.  I just wanted to yank Lance’s chain for a while.”  Rebecca glanced at Molly, then shot Joanna a look.

 

Baloo caught Kit’s eye. They both knew that look.

 

Joanna began to squirm. “It was wrong of me.  Sometimes I can go too far.”

 

Cutting her eyes at Molly meaningfully, Rebecca waited a beat.  Then two. Finally, Joanna got the hint.

 

“Oh. And tomorrow, like a good little citizen, I will turn it in to Thursday,” she said mechanically, as if by rote.  “Okay?”

 

“I’ll go with ya, Joey,” Baloo said. “It was just a misunderstandin’, that’s all. 

 

“Miss Understood, that’s me.” 

 

“There’s a reward, ya know.  I heard about it on the radio sometime ago.”

 

Really?” both Joanna and Rebecca asked.

 

Then Joanna cleared her throat.  “Uh… how much?”

 

“Ten thousand shaboozies.”

 

“Well, it is my civic duty...”

 

Kit hardly listened to the exchange.  He was too busy thinking, his brain processing a myriad of images and sounds… the flowery way Lance spoke to the horse-trainer.  The feeling that something was not right.  He knew him from somewhere.  Kit jumped up.

 

“Forget the key ---that guy didn’t just steal ---Thursday’s right!  I bet he’s the same guy that killed Weazel! We have to warn them --- everybody on the fairgrounds could be in danger!”

 

“I’ll get my coat!” Molly ran out of the room.  Rebecca had already picked up the telephone and begun dialing.   Baloo and Joanna followed her.

 

“Uh, Becky?” Baloo asked. “Who are ya callin’?”

 

“A sitter, what else?” she told him. “Then we’ll go over there and roust out that phony!”

 

“I have a better idea,” Baloo said.  “Why not call the police first?  They’ve got guns.”

 

“Yes!  And then we’ll meet them at a rendezvous point and nab him!”  Rebecca’s eyes gleamed as she rubbed her hands together in anticipation.  “Maybe Mrs. Poppins will come back for a few more hours.  I wonder if she likes pizza.”

 

“But I want to go, too!” Molly whined.  “You never let me help.”

 

“Cupcake, you can help by staying here, safe an’ sound,” Baloo soothed, earning an evil glare from the little girl.  He ignored it and addressed both Rebecca and Joanna, who were standing on either side of him.  “You gals stay too.  Me an’ Kit’ll check it out.”

 

“Forget it, buster!” Rebecca told him.  “I’m going, and nobody tells me what to do, capishe?

 

“Yeah,” Joanna said.  “Who are you, my father?”

 

“Aw, now, don’t go takin’ it like that… ” Baloo pleaded with them.

 

“Wait a minute --- where’s Kit?” Rebecca suddenly asked.

 

Kit had left without them.

 

* * *

 

The rain had abated; now the ground was shiny and damp, punctuated by a puddle here and there. Kit had sprinted two blocks and was about to cross the street when he heard a familiar voice several yards behind him.

 

Kit!  Wait for me!”

 

Aw, Molly, not now!  He was sorely tempted to put on a burst of speed and race ahead, pretending he did not hear her.  Instead, he stopped and whirled around, and waited impatiently until she limped toward him, panting.

 

“Molly, go home.  I don’t have time for this!”

 

“But this way Mom doesn’t have to call a babysitter,” she said reasonably.  Kit wanted to shake her, but settled for treating her to a patented Rebecca-like glare.

 

“Do they know you’re gone?”

 

Molly looked abashed.  “Um… no.”

 

Kit was furious.  “Molly, you can’t keep running off like that.”

 

You did,” she protested.

 

“That different -- I know what I’m doing!  All these stunts you pull, like hiding in the cargo hold that first time and almost getting shot by pirates… climbing into that scientist’s house to spy on him… then that rat attacked you… dammit, one of these days, you’re gonna get killed!

 

“I’m sorry, Kit.” Molly was near tears. “It’s just th-that you guys get to do all the neat stuff and just leave me behind… l-like I’m a baby.”

 

“Aw, geez, I can’t stand here and argue with you.   Start walking.”

 

“I’m seven now!  When do I get to do anything fun?”

 

Passersby gave him disapproving glances as her eyes began to pool.  Aw, great.

 

“Molly, it isn’t fun.  It’s not like Danger Woman, for Pete’s sake!”

 

“I know that!  I’m not stupid.”

 

Kit sighed and handed her his handkerchief.  “This isn’t a game,” he said more gently.  “I don’t have time to take you back.  If you come, you have to keep up, understand?  Do what I tell you, no questions.  This is serious, got it?”

 

She blew her nose.  “O-okay.” She gave him a watery smile and pocketed the soiled square of cloth.  “Thanks, Kit.  I’ll get Mom to wash it.”

 

“Fine,” he said gruffly. “Maybe I’ll use it as a blindfold when she shoots me.”

 

* * *

 

“I’m goin’ after him,” Baloo said grimly. “He shouldn’t be out after dark -- he’s gonna get himself into trouble – just like the time them no-good street pirates cornered him.”

 

We’re going after him,” Rebecca corrected.

 

“Now, Becky…”

 

“Don’t argue with me, Baloo!”

 

“Well… four eyes are better than two, I guess.” 

 

“Wait a minute,” Joanna interrupted. “Where’s Molly?”

 

After searching the apartment, calling her name, no Molly was to be found.

 

“Oh, I should have known!  Why didn’t I watch her?” Rebecca cried.

 

“Aw, she probably went with Kit.  He’ll look out for her.”  Baloo headed for the door.

 

“He wouldn’t take her along, Baloo!  She can barely walk as it is -- she’d just slow him down.   I bet she’s trying to follow him!  Oh, Baloo, we have to find them!”

 

Joanna asked, “Shouldn’t you call the police before storming over there?”

 

“Good idea,” Rebecca said hurriedly. “Why don’t you do that?  It’ll save time.”

 

Me?  What about ---?”

 

“Joanna, I hate to ask, but would you please stay here in case Molly comes back?”

 

“Why me?” Joanna was indignant.  “She’s your kid.  And I know how to find people… um, at the carnival, I mean.”

 

“It’s all right, we’ll handle this.” Rebecca shook her head at Joanna’s ill-fitting ensemble. “Besides, you’re not dressed for it.”

 

“But---!”

 

“Joanna, would you please call the carnival right away if she comes back?  Thank you.” She said it in a rapid-fire way, almost as one word.  Then she was out the door.

 

“But---!”

 

Baloo said soothingly, “Now, don’t you worry, Joey, honey.  Ol’ Baloo’ll be back before ya can say---!”

 

Baloo, hurry up!

 

Comin’!” he bellowed back.  Quickly he grabbed a slice of pizza and said almost apologetically, “Uh, this is just one for the road.”   He left Joanna standing there, blinking after him in amazement.

 

How’d they do that? she wondered.  Wonderful. Either everybody shows up for our date or I end up alone.

 

Swearing under her breath, Joanna picked up the receiver and dialed the police.

 

“Cape Suzette Tout Sweets,” a female voice sang. “Cake, pastry and pie --- and that’s no lie!”

 

Oh yeah, the bakery.  Joanna cut her off.  “Get me Detective Thursday.”  In a moment, he was on the line.

 

“Thursday.” His gruff voice sounded tired.

 

“Joanna Midway, about Lance Carrington,” she said. “I think you’d better pick this guy up, and fast… before he gets spooked and kills someone else.”

 

* * *

 

As they reached the entrance gate, Molly suddenly piped up.  “Kit, do you have any money?”

 

“Forget it -- I’m not buying you anything.”

 

“Not me,” Molly said, pointing. “We have to pay to get in.”  Despite the dampness, in front of them were a few line-ups of noisy customers, mostly with whiny children clamoring for their parents to hurry up and pay.  Kit peered past a few heads and saw a sign that offered rides for half-price, because of the weather.

 

Kit sighed.  “Not this time. This is an emergency.  We’ll go around.”

 

She smiled at him.  “Danger Woman to the rescue.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

They circled a long stretch of makeshift fence that the carnival crew had erected around the fairgrounds until they reached the trailer area.  In front was a tall gate that was chained shut.

 

Kit tried to climb over, but couldn’t reach any handholds, namely, the top of the gate. He swore under his breath.

 

“I could climb it,” Molly said.

 

“I’d like to see that,” he said irritably. “You’re shorter than I am.”

 

“Lift me on your shoulders, I’ll climb over and let you in from the other side.”

 

It worked.

 

“What do you think of me coming along now?” Molly asked smugly, as he locked the gate after them.

 

“Great, kid.  Don’t get cocky,” Kit retorted, but reaching down, he ruffled her hair. “Gotta admit, though.  You come in handy sometimes.”

 

“Yeah!” she said proudly. “Like the time Wildcat was trying to fix the engine and couldn’t reach so I just…”

 

“Wouldn’t brag about that one if I were you, pigtails.”

 

“Let’s go,” she said, pulling his arm.

 

“Go where?” he objected, planting his feet. “Wait.  I let you come with me.

 

“I know this place,” she said impatiently. “I was here with Baloo and Joanna, remember?”

 

“Fine.  Just be quiet.  We’ll be kicked out for sure. Who do we talk to, anyway?”

 

“Um…” Molly chewed her lower lip as she tried to think.  “Well, I remember two ladies.  They were sort of fat and one was real old and talked funny. She gave me ice cream.”

 

“Forget the ice cream.  Who was the other one?”

 

“The other was that nurse who patched my knee… sort of.  It fell off and Mom had to do it again.”  She glanced down at the latest dressing, so tightly wound around her knee that it would not bend.  When her mother bound anything, she was thorough. “Someone broke her doll and made her cry.  Why would he do that?”

 

“This guy’s done far worse than break some old doll.” Kit told her.  “Let’s find the nurse.  She’ll know you and help us explain to the owner.”

 

“Well, well… what do we have here?” A man’s voice rumbled from behind them.  Before they could react, a pair of powerful hands caught each by the collar, hoisting them in the air.

 

 

End of Chapter 10

 

 

 

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