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 non-TaleSpin 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.  Special thanks to Herodotus for sharing his knowledge about law enforcement firearms. (Rated PG for mild coarse language and occasional violence.)

 

Chapter 12

 

 

At the top of the Ferris wheel, Kit peered through the binoculars, wiping the lenses several times with his sleeve.  Water trickled down the back of his neck like a cold finger, making him shiver.  His discomfort made him surly.  He didn’t know whether he was angrier with Big Al for scaring Molly away, or the kid herself for getting lost yet again.

 

It was Handy who finally volunteered to operate the ride, bringing Kit jerkily to the top, swaying slightly in the seat.  Bright lights twinkled from the little rotating cars, emitting a harsh glare around the perimeters of the ride itself, but that was all.

 

“See anything, son?” he called up to the boy.

 

“Nothing,” Kit shouted back.  “This isn’t working. It’s still too dark.”

 

“Um…why not turn all the rides on?”  This came from Strummer.  He coughed and blinked as the rain streaked the lenses of his glasses, despite the dubious shelter of one of the concession stands nearby.  Baloo, Rebecca, Joanna and Violet stood shivering under a red-and-white awning, but no one was waiting in line for a candied apple tonight. “Well, the whole place would light up, wouldn’t it?”

 

“That’s a good idea, Nick,” Joanna said admiringly. “Let’s go turn everything on.”  Strummer beamed with pleasure, practically glowing at her praise.

 

“But don’t these rides also play music when turned on?” Rebecca argued.  “We won’t be able to hear anything.  All these flashing lights don’t help either.”

 

“Shoot,” Joanna said, disappointed. “You’re right.  Sorry, Nick.” Strummer scowled and abruptly headed for the trailers, mumbling something about “checking on Ma”.  No one noticed.

 

By now, the rain had turned Rebecca’s neat coiffure into a long stringy mass down her back.  Viciously shoving her bangs out of her eyes, Rebecca lost her temper. “This is ridiculous!  We’re not getting anywhere!”  She stormed off.

 

Baloo caught her arm, but she shook him off. “Where ya goin’, Beckers?  Ya shouldn’t be lookin’ for Molly by yerself!”

 

Joanna added, “He’s right, Rebecca.”

 

“And of course you agree with him.  Listen, I will not be patronized---!”

 

“Now Becky, don’t go takin’ it like that…”

 

“Lance is out there.” Joanna spoke with quiet urgency. “I don’t want to scare you, but I’ve been thinking about what we’re up against.  This isn’t just some dumb goon.  I know he tossed our trailer that other day.  I keep everything I own packed – always. This man hates my guts, but instead of trashing my clothes, he puts them away to scare me.”

 

“What does that have to do with finding Molly?” Rebecca demanded.

 

“Don’t you get it?” Joanna snapped back. “That was cold… and planned.  He likes to get into people’s heads and exploit their weaknesses. If Pearl had come home early, he might have panicked and killed her like he did that Weasel character.  He’s dangerous.”

 

Rebecca’s face paled and she started to speak, but Joanna shook her head.

 

“Why would he give my belongings the tender treatment?  And if he couldn’t find what he wanted, why didn’t he steal something?  Pearl had her jewelry out in the open.  Somewhere along the line he lost control.  He fears confrontations but is full of rage.  But when he lost it, he didn’t wreck my things --- he smashed a doll.  Why a doll?  Something made him turn vicious.”

 

Something cold nibbled at Rebecca’s mind, urging her to think. 

 

Joanna was saying to Baloo, “I knew there was something fishy about that guy.  I can’t believe how pathetic he was.  ‘Joanna! A name for a queen!’” Joanna mimicked, shaking her head in disbelief.

 

“Some guys just ain’t got a clue,” Baloo agreed.  “What a moron.”

 

“Wait!” yelled Rebecca.  “Say that again!”  She remembered how Joanna had caught her hands in hers, demonstrating Lance’s histrionic declarations.  She been so preoccupied with guilt over her part in the wreckage of Baloo and Joanna’s evening and shocked wonder about the scar that it just hadn’t… registered.

 

A horrible thought occurred to her.  Please, God… for once in my life, let me be wrong about this…

 

Joanna gave her a blank look.  “Huh? What a moron…”

 

“No!  The other thing!”

 

“‘Joanna… a name for a queen?’”

 

That’s it!  There were times when Rebecca enjoyed being right, especially when it meant that Baloo was wrong.  This was not one of them.  She felt sick.

 

“Geez, Becky, I admit it’s a goofy pick-up line but hardly worth…”

 

Rebecca --- A name for royalty! And it suits you so well, my dear… When she remembered, she felt a wave of horror engulf her.

 

“Oh, Baloo!” Rebecca caught the lapels of Baloo’s shirt.  It was raining even harder now; her eyes were glassy, almost trancelike. Her voice was unnaturally soft, a ghostly imitation of itself.  “We have to find Molly before he does.”

 

“Who, Becky?  You’re spinnin’ yer propellers but ya ain’t gettin’ anywhere…”

 

When she told him, the color drained from Baloo’s face; he suddenly took Rebecca into his arms and held her tightly. 

 

She could hear Joanna’s voice in her head:  He smashed a doll. Something made him turn vicious…

 

Rebecca buried her face into his chest.  Neither cared that the rain plastered their hair to their scalps, that her tears were staining his shirt. 

 

“We’ll find her, sweetheart,” he murmured into her hair.  “We’ll find her.”

 

Although his voice was gentle, Baloo’s expression was hard as he met Joanna and Violet’s questioning gaze over Rebecca’s head.

 

Without looking up, Rebecca said softly, “If he hurts Molly… you’d better hope Thursday finds him before I do.”

 

* * *

 

A memory flashed… only for a few seconds, but it seemed to be a lifetime...

 

April, 1936:  His hair was blond and he had used his real name then. He had succeeded in shaking his partners, Rob and Roy Lightfinger, off his trail when he pulled a double-cross, stealing a wooden artifact doll.  At first glance, it was a crude child’s plaything; in reality, it was the key to finding the largest ruby in the world.  A hellish series of events, beginning with him having to hide the doll in the big slob’s aeroplane and the Cunningham brat finding it, then refusing to relinquish it to his deserving hands.  He tried to woo her pretty but gullible mother in a bid to reclaim the doll, but his efforts were repeatedly sabotaged by that little imp. No bribes, sweet talk or threats worked---the child was much sharper than her mother. Molly had a few tricks of her own: putting a fork in his chair before he sat down, tying his shoelaces together, tripping him.  But most humiliating of all, one of her practical jokes caused him to lose his toupee, revealing a bald pate that had plagued him since his middle twenties. Oh yes, she saw right through him.  They were enemies from the beginning.

 

His chance finally came when he had the brilliant idea of luring Rebecca away with a phony distress call from Higher for Hire.  Fed up with Molly’s nasty pranks during a home-cooked candle-lit dinner, Rebecca had left her in his care.  Oh, the horrible things that little imp put him through!  Instead of handing over the doll, she kicked him in the shins---he hated that! --- and managed to escape through a window, using an umbrella to slide down a clothesline; she jumped to the ground, and ran down an alley.  He could only follow the same way---but without an umbrella to protect his hands from rope burns and ended up slamming headfirst into a wooden pole.

 

Later, he managed to catch her and escaped a beating by manipulating his angry partners, Rob and Roy, into holding the child for ransom until he could reclaim the valuable doll.  He meant to take the doll from its hiding place on the Duck and disappear with it, until Rebecca, the slob and the urchin suddenly questioned him.  He tried to spirit the wooden doll away, pretending to prepare to make the trade for Molly.  Rebecca had insisted that they accompany him.

 

At Skull Island he slipped away from the others, doll in hand, to find the treasure on his own.  Somehow Molly had escaped Rob and Roy and snatched the doll from his avaricious grasp and led him on a merry chase where he nearly fell into lava and, in swinging over the bubbling liquid, mistook a snake for a vine.  So many close calls, so many near escapes from the jaws of death.  All caused by that nasty, selfish little monster!

 

He managed to chase the child into a hollow tree, trapping her inside.

 

“There’s no way out, you little rug rat!” he sneered, leaning as far into the tree trunk as his adult frame would allow.  “Hand over that dolly.”  He tried to snatch it, but she flattened herself against the trunk wall, just out of his reach.

 

“No!  You can’t have her!” Then a peculiar expression came over her face, but he did not heed it as a clue that someone was behind him.  “You never loved my mommy!”

 

He had stared at her in disbelief, then snorted derisively. “Don’t make me laugh.  She was just an easy way to get to you and the doll.  Now give it to me!  He managed to catch the doll’s leg and in a war of wills, each tugged hard.

 

“No!”  she yelled, but his greater strength won the tug-of-war and at last, the doll was in his hands, where it belonged.

 

“Easy way!” A woman’s angry voice startled him into whirling around to face the furious expressions of Rebecca, Baloo and Kit.  Apparently, they had heard the whole heated exchange. 

 

Rebecca’s voice shook with hurt and rage.  “Why, you two-faced, thimble-headed, no-account…man!”

 

“Rebecca!  My peach!” he stammered. “I-I was only thinking of you.”

 

“Oh?” she asked bitterly.  Gone from her eyes was the adoration of the last few weeks.  In its place was a combination of hurt and contempt. “And what about your partners?”

 

“Those imbeciles?” he asked in disbelief. “Why, I could lose them in a phone booth.”  Then a familiar, raspy voice sent a nasty chill through his bones.

 

“Hiya…partner.”  Rob, the shorter of the brothers, sank his fingers into his shoulders, digging in hard.

 

“It was just a joke!” he protested. “Can’t you take a joke?”

 

“The question is,” Roy said ominously. “Can you take it?”

 

“Yeah!” his brother added.

 

He shoved him hard, toppling him backwards to the ground, knocking his toupee clean off his skull.  It landed near Baloo’s feet.  He cast a pleading glance at the bears, especially Rebecca.  Kit and Baloo stared at him impassively.  Rebecca held Molly close and the little girl buried her face into her mother’s shoulder.  Both refused to look at him.  He would get no help here.  He was so frozen with terror that he could not move, let alone run.

 

Roy grabbed his feet and Rob took his arms.  Between them, they easily carried him into the jungle beyond. He saw Baloo bend and pick up his toupee.  The last thing he heard before the trees swallowed him was Baloo commenting, “Too bad these things don’t come with brains.” The humiliation of those words before his ordeal…suffering that would have toughened another man… left him broken and alone.

 

 

Covington!  Molly couldn’t stop staring at him.

 

Covington had changed a great deal.  Besides the darker toupee and absence of the pencil-thin mustache he used to cultivate, there were other, more profound differences.  His face, while still faintly handsome in a Patrician sort of way, once smooth and pleasant-looking, was now a cruel parody of itself as though viewed through a skewed lens, like a funhouse mirror.  His right eye darted back and forth and settled on the girl while his left eye… did not move at all.  His thin lips seemed to compress, like he was clamping them together to keep from releasing profanities.  His shoulders, once broad and proudly straight, were now stooped and he was terribly gaunt; he had lost so much weight that he resembled a wraith.

 

He was as Molly remembered him… yet he was not.  Like a ghost of an old enemy.

 

“Put me down!” she yelled and promptly bit his ankle.

 

Yow!” he yelped, dropping her.  Molly saw a sunburst of colors as she landed on her head; dazed and sore, she lay on her back, moaning.

 

“Lance!”  Pearl cried.

 

“Sorry, darling.  Reflex,” he replied, not the least bit sorry.  “Help me pick her up.  We’ll put her over there.”

 

Outside, Big Al was on his way to his trailer.  “Lucky punch,” he muttered to himself.  His jaw throbbed painfully as he rubbed it.  Where the hell did that guy learn to hit like that? Maybe that dippy nurse has some ice handy.  And a quick stop to pick up my binoculars on the way back.  He spotted the nurse’s tent and headed for it, then stopped.  The lights were off, but he heard muffled voices from within the confines of the canvas.

 

“Bad girl!” Pearl scolded Molly, who squirmed beneath her.  “Stop that!”

 

“Keep still, you little brat!”  Lance?

 

He heard the sounds of scuffling, then, “Ow!  I really hate that!”

 

“Let me go, creep face!”  The kid?  “My mommy’ll get you! You’ll see!  She’ll--!”  From the mewling sounds, he could tell that something had been shoved into her mouth to silence her.

 

“Good show, Pearl.  Keep her nice and quiet.”  Lance continued, “I’m not like other people, Pearl.  I cannot bear pain. It hurts me.”

 

“I know, Lancie.  Let me put some iodine on that…”

 

“No!  She didn’t even break the skin, see?  No iodine!  He wasn’t about to go through that again.

 

“Okay, okay.” She tried to placate him.  “Here, would you like me to rub it for you?”

 

“No, thank you,” he said through clenched teeth. “My… peach.”

 

The big bear rolled up his sleeves, unable to believe his luck.  All those idiots running around and I’m the one who finds her.  Fancy-Pants Lance, meet Mr. Fist.  I’ll be a hero for saving Minnie, Maggie, or whatever her name was… my picture in the paper… then maybe a parade would be in order…yeah!   And I’ll be on the lead float with a good-lookin’ dame on each arm…

 

Big Al strode over and yanked the tent flaps open.

 

“All right, pal…” he started to say, but the sight that greeted him cut his words short.  What the hell!

 

There was a collective gasp.  It was difficult to know who was more surprised.

 

Pale light seeped through the tent’s opening, giving Big Al a fleeting glimpse of Molly, who lay helplessly on top of the gurney.  Her hands had been hastily tied together with a strip of gauze bandage, and her little legs kicked awkwardly in the air.  Some sort of rag was balled up and shoved into her mouth.  Lance’s refined feline features seemed to be carved out of stone, so frozen was his expression. Although it trembled a little, there was a note of desperation in Lance’s voice that would have warned a certain seasoned detective like Thursday not to make any sudden moves.  But Big Al was never one to fear another man’s fists ever since he was old enough to start brawls… and finish them.

 

Covington’s eyes widened as the big bear’s shadow nearly eclipsed the tiny room.

 

“Why, Al, old chum!  What frightfully wonderful timing you have!  We were just about to take the little dear to her moth---!”

 

“Cut the bull,” Big Al snarled, recovering from his surprise. “You think I’m stupid? Everyone’s out there lookin’ for the kid. This place is crawlin’ with cops, buster, all armed to the teeth.  You think you’ll get past ‘em?”

 

“Well… no,” Covington stammered, thinking fast.  “But perhaps we could.”

 

“Say what?

 

“Oh, come now,” he said reasonably. “Don’t you want more out of life than taking orders from that foolish old bat?”

 

“Who, Helen?  Well… yeah.”  He hesitated.  “What are you getting’ at, buster?  What’s in it for me?”

 

Affecting more confidence than he felt, the jaguar continued silkily, “Wouldn’t you rather live like a king in your own luxurious quarters than that ‘sardine can’, as you often so quaintly put it?” 

 

“Stupid question.  Who doesn’t?”

 

“And a bevy of beautiful women surrounding you, willing to do your bidding?  Imagine, if you can, being fanned by two lovely damsels --- er, dames --- as you recline on silken cushions. One ring of a bell summons yet another beauty so she can kneel on the floor and feed you a grape!”

 

“Just one lousy grape?  Why not the whole bunch?”

 

“Well, of course you may have the whole bunch,” Covington said, grinding his teeth even more. “This is just the beginning.”

 

“Just what are you getting’ at?  Spit it out already.”

 

“Why not form a partnership? The child will most certainly fetch a small ransom, if nothing else.  And I could use a goon… er, good enforcer.”

 

“Yeah, I see that,” Big Al said contemptuously. “You can’t even handle a kid.”

 

Molly’s breathing was labored as she struggled to breathe through her nose, since the air to her mouth was effectively blocked.  I can’t breathe!  Her eyes sparkled with tears of frustration and terror.  She looked up at Pearl imploringly, but the nurse continued to watch Lance with rapt fascination. 

 

“Hmmph… er, then you understand my dilemma.”

 

Big Al thought for a moment.  “Fine.  I’ve been meaning to leave this crummy job anyway.  Okay.  On one condition.”

 

“Which is?”

 

“One, I’m in charge.  Two, keep the skirt out of my way.”

 

What!  Pearl was outraged.  “Lance…”

 

“Pearl, be a good girl and watch Molly, will you?” He waved her off.  “Anything else… partner?

 

“Yeah.  You two greenhorns are obviously new at kidnapping.  You won’t need the gag.”

 

“But won’t she---!”

 

“The cops’ll be all over you like a cheap suit if they don’t believe you’re serious.  Make the kid say something, so they know you’ve got a real hostage.  Believe me, they won’t shoot if there’s a chance they’ll hit the girl.”

 

“But… what if she screams for help before we’re ready to dictate terms to the authorities?”

 

“She won’t.  Leave that to me.”  Big Al leaned over the still kicking Molly, casting a large shadow over the entire gurney.  Fiercely, he scowled down at her, making her shrink back.  “You don’t cut that out, the next thing you’ll be kickin’ is the bucket.”  Immediately she lay still, unable to look away from that hard, unsmiling face. “If I remove the rag, kid, you don’t make a peep.  Not a sound.  Right?

 

Tearfully, she nodded.  With distaste, he carefully eased the gag out.  Gauze, a big handful of it, had been jammed into her mouth but good.  He scowled at Pearl, who cowered from him.

 

“You little idiot.  No wonder the kid’s choking.  Geez, she’ll be no good to us dead.”

 

“Lancie!” Pearl whined. “Are you going to let him talk to me that way?”

 

“Put a sock in it, sister… unless you’d like some gauze shoved down your throat.”  She clamped her lips shut and scurried away to a corner of the tiny room.

 

“Well done, old chap.” Covington was impressed.  The big oaf would be useful in keeping the little fool in line.  “May I assume that you’ve had some, uh, experience with this sort of thing?”

 

Big Al glared at him. “Mind your own business, pal.  The less you know, the better.”

 

Covington took a step back, alarmed.  “Right, right!  Of course!  Forgive me.”

 

“Now hold the flap of the tent open so I can see what I’m doing.  No bright light… we can’t attract attention,” Big Al told Lance as he bent over Molly, turning his back to them.  Lifting Molly’s bound wrists, he carefully inspected them.  Disgusted, he said over his shoulder, “Geez, you call this a knot?  A baby could undo it.”

 

“I was in a hurry,” Pearl mumbled.

 

“Shut her up, or I will.” Big Al did not look up from his task. “There.  Good and tight.  Just like a birthday present.”

 

“Quiet, Pearl,” Covington ordered.  “Let the man work.”

 

Big Al asked, “Just where’d you plan on going?”

 

“I, er…we just need to run a small errand.”

 

“What kind of ‘errand’?”

 

“That Joanna woman has something I want.”

 

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Big Al grinned.

 

“Not that.”  Ugh, the man and his vulgar appetites.  “The nasty little harpy stole something very precious from me and I’m not leaving this cesspool without it.”

 

“What, those stupid cuff links?”

 

“No, oaf!… oaf course…not.”  Covington tried to conceal his irritation.  “It’s a museum piece that will fetch a very nice sum…”

 

Pearl approached Molly and checked her bonds.  Her eyes widened.

 

Molly opened her mouth but it was so dry that nothing came out but a croak.  Big Al was saying, “You ask me, it’s a waste of time…” Suddenly, he noticed by Covington’s incredulous expression that something was behind him. “Hey, what’s goin’ on---!”

 

He felt something hard slam him in the back of the head, sending him to his knees in agony.  He tried to stand, but the impact sent waves of pain into his brain.  Colors seemed to radiate into his eyeballs, blinding him.  Finally, groaning, he landed face first on the ground with a thud.  Pearl was standing behind him, holding a chair.  She raised it to hit him again.

 

“What are you doing!

 

“But Lance…!”

 

“You’ll spoil everything, you little fool!”

 

Pearl’s face was stricken, and her lower lip trembled.  He didn’t care.

 

Setting the chair down, she spoke quietly.  “P-please don’t say that.  I was just…just…oh, Lance, look at her hands.”

 

“Of all the stupid, imbecilic, moronic…”

 

Just look!

 

“All right!”  He lifted Molly’s wrists and tested her bonds.  Molly’s eyes were round with terror as she watched his darkening expression.

 

The gauze was untied.

 

“See, Lance?” Pearl said shrilly. “I told you!”

 

He barely heard her. “Don’t just stand there.  Help me.”

 

Hurriedly, he retied it, pulling the ends so hard that Molly’s hands felt numb.  When he tried to tie a cloth strip across her mouth, bandana-style, she bit his finger.  So, with Pearl firmly clamping her jaw shut, he managed to plaster a huge bandage over her mouth.

 

“Stop that struggling, you little brat.  You’re lucky I don’t put one over your nose as well.”  Immediately, she obeyed. Voices were somewhere outside, getting closer.

 

Joanna was annoyed. “Come on, guys, give.  Just who is this Covington?”

 

“Covington?”  Pearl echoed.  “Lance, it’s all right --- they’re looking for somebody called Covington!  We can clear your name now.  We can get married and --!”

 

“Shut up!” he hissed, catching her roughly by the shoulders.  His mind was churning.  “I can’t think!”

 

Pearl lowered her voice. “But it’s okay now.  They’re not looking for you anymore.”

 

“What?”

 

“The cops think the guy they’re chasing showed up waiting for the ferry without anything packed to go on a trip.  Like he’s running away or something.” 

 

Covington felt as though someone was tugging a belt across his chest, tightening it until his heart would burst.

 

“I’m just telling you what Joanna said to them.”

 

“Joanna?” he whispered, bewildered, no longer bothering to conceal his guilt. “But…but…how would she know?

 

“Don’t worry, Lance.  It doesn’t matter,” Pearl said earnestly. “I told them you had a suitcase waiting for you in a locker when you came to Cape Suzette.”

 

“I don’t understand.  Why would you tell them such a thing?”

 

“Oh, you big silly-billy… why else?  I love you!”  Her eyes were shining with adoration. “Sweetie, I’d do anything for you… don’t you know that by now?”

 

For once in his long career of convincing gullible females of his devotion, Covington did not know what to say.  But before he could reply, they heard Baloo’s rough voice float closer to them.

 

“Hey, girls, this way --- I hear voices!  We’d better check it out.”

 

“Let’s bust that bum.” Rebecca’s voice was low and dangerous. She thought: Molly, I swear when this is over, I’m gonna lock you in your room for the rest of your life!

 

Mommy!  Baloo!  Molly felt a surge of hope.  She strained against her bonds and tried to shout around the gag. 

 

“But what if he has a weapon?”  They heard Joanna argue.  “We should get Thursday and What’s-His-Name.  At least they’ve got guns.”

 

“Aw, that Covington cat is a real pantywaist.  Remember how ya once said he’d probably shoot his own foot?”  Baloo’s voice was contemptuous… and closer still.  “Don’t worry, I can take that no-good polecat.”  Covington shuddered as he imagined him rolling up his sleeves and drawing back his meaty fist…

 

He felt panic arise like bile in his throat.  The same feeling he had when that disreputable Weasel scoundrel got himself killed.  It’s not fair that these things happen to me. It wasn’t my fault.  He made me do it!

 

“Oh, Lancie, what are we going to do?”

 

In confusion, he took a step back, nearly tripping over Big Al’s prone body.

 

He lost control then.  “Stop calling me that!  My name is Covington!  Covington Alistair Donahue the Third!”  It came out as a shriek.  Horrified, he clapped a hand over his mouth, but it was too late.

 

“That tent!” they heard Rebecca shout.  “He’s in there!”

 

Pearl misinterpreted his dismay.  “It’s all right, darling.  You didn’t mean to yell.”  Timidly, she tried to pat his arm.  “I’ll love you no matter what your name is…”

 

Impatiently he pulled away.  “I’ve got to get out of here!”   Maybe if I make a dash for it… I will not be cornered like a rat in a trap.  He took a deep breath, backed up, preparing to run through the tent flaps.

 

Pearl clutched his arm. ”Don’t do it!  You’ll never make it!”  He shook her off, his heartbeat roaring in his ears.

 

Suddenly, they heard Thursday’s voice as well.  “Any luck, people?”

 

“You bet, detective!” Baloo declared.  “Right this way.”

 

Oh no!

 

Pearl whined, “You can’t leave me… how do I explain her?” She jerked a stubby thumb at Molly, who was watching them with wide, terrified eyes. 

 

“For heaven’s sakes, I don’t care what---!” Then a grim smile curved his lips and his tone sweetened.  “Oh, Dewdrop…”

 

* * * 

From his perch at the top of the Ferris wheel, Kit craned his neck and continued to scan the grounds with the binoculars. 

 

“This still ain’t working, son,” Handy called up to him. His voice was barely audible.  “Here, I’ll bring you down.”  He started to pull a lever on the control box.

 

Something caught Kit’s eye.  “Wait, I see ‘em!”

 

Baloo, Rebecca, Joanna and Violet were no longer aimlessly wandering the fairgrounds, searching, but standing close together, several feet off to the side, behind the detectives. Thursday and Archer stood on either side of the tent flaps, weapons drawn.

 

Cupping his hands around his mouth, Kit called, “Okay, Handy, bring me down.”

 

No answer.

 

“Um… Handy?  You there?”   There was no one at the control switch.  Uh-oh.  “Hey, Handy, come back!  Don’t just leave me up here!” 

 

Kit watched in amazement as the elderly beaver, no longer able to contain his curiosity, hurried over to where the others were standing, huddled together.  He carefully stood, shifting his weight, making the car creak as it tilted dangerously.  Quickly he sat back down, grimacing when he landed in a puddle.  The rain had accumulated in the seat.

 

Damn.  Now I’m stuck up here!

 

“All of you… stay back.  Let us handle it,” Archer ordered.  The rain made the service revolver slippery, but he firmly held it, enjoying the feel of its hardwood grip and the cold metal trigger under his finger.

 

I have a bad feeling about this, Joanna thought.  Like a frightened moth, her memory flew toward a bright, fiery light, attracted to the danger, yet sensing disaster in getting too close to her dark knowledge.  It’s been years.  I don’t know if I can I still do it.  Then a hard voice: You have to.  

 

“Come on,” she murmured to her companions. 

 

“Where are we goin’?”

 

“Quiet.  I know what I’m doing.”

 

“What are you doing?” Rebecca demanded hoarsely.

 

“Keep your voice down or shut up,” Joanna ordered.  Then she continued softly, “Getting out of the way, of course.  What if that Archer does something? That idiot’s just itching to pull the trigger.” She started forward.

 

“Good idea,” Violet said.  “I’m not anxious to get shot today.”

 

“Me neither.”  Baloo looked around nervously.

 

“Wait!” Rebecca hissed to Joanna.  “He might see us…which eye is the one he can’t see with?”

 

Joanna frowned at her.  “Um… his left one, why?”

 

“Then we should stay on his left side, right?”  She was surprised when both Joanna and Violet regarded her with new respect. 

 

“Good thinking, “ Joanna said and changed direction.

 

What are they doing?  Kit wondered, watching Joanna sneak around the tent, then peer around the corner, careful to stay on Covington’s blind side.  She picked her steps as nimbly as an acrobat, keeping her head low. Hesitantly, the others followed her.

 

Way to go, lady, Kit thought, watching them from his perch on the Ferris wheel.  You’d better have a plan.

 

“Easy,” Thursday whispered to Archer.  His world-weary features were grim.  “We don’t want to spook him.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Ready…?” Thursday murmured to his partner. “Now.

 

He cleared his throat and commanded, “This is the police. You’re under arrest.  Come out with your hands up.”

 

Suddenly they heard the faint squeaking of turning wheels.

 

“Listen,” Archer muttered. “What’s he got in there, a shopping cart?”

 

Finally, the occupants emerged.  Shadowy at first, then etched in sharp relief, one of them was short and plump, and slowly pushing a gurney in front of her.  There was a small, sobbing bundle lying on it.  Molly turned her head and gave the detectives a desperate, pleading look.

 

Molly,” Baloo and Rebecca breathed in horror.

 

“Oh my Lord,” Handy gasped.  Both Joanna and Violet’s eyes narrowed.

 

Following closely was a tall, cadaverous figure. He held something shiny against the young woman’s neck.  She looked terrified, not daring to turn her head.

 

“Don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me…” she pleaded.

 

“Be quiet and keep walking, you silly twit.” 

 

The detectives kept their weapons trained on Covington.

 

“I’ve got a clear head shot,” Archer said softly.  “He’s a lot taller than the dame.”

 

“No!  We can’t risk hitting the hostages.”

 

“Dammit!  Come on, Sam, we’ve got him by the short hairs.”

 

No!

 

“I do hope you two aren’t planning on doing anything foolish,” Covington said lightly.

 

“It’s over, mister,” Thursday said roughly. “We’ve got you covered.  Give yourself up and maybe the judge’ll go easy on you.”

 

“On the contrary, my dear detectives.  You will surrender, not I.”

 

“Yeah?” Archer sneered.  “Last time I checked, we had the guns.”

 

“Not for long.  Drop your guns and kick them over here, both of you.”

 

“I don’t think so, friend.” Thursday said grimly.

 

“No?  Well, perhaps this will give you a change of heart.  As you can see, I am holding a syringe. If you don’t comply, I shall be forced to inject dear Pearl here with a substance known as morphine, rendering her, well, dead.  I do assure you that it’s a very nasty way to go.”

 

Pearl whimpered and looked at Thursday beseechingly.

 

Molly turned her head and she and her mother stared at each other, creating a fragile thread of contact, perhaps their last one.

 

Baby! 

 

The woman felt a hard fist squeeze her heart.  Without thinking, she started to dash forward, but just as swiftly, Baloo wrapped his arms around her body, restraining her.

 

She struggled, her voice a furious whisper. “Let me go!  I have to---!”

 

“Rebecca!”  Baloo never called her by her full name unless he was serious or upset.  “Ya can’t go runnin’ in there like a plane without a rudder!”

 

“But---!”

 

Joanna’s hand shot out, covering her mouth.

 

“Stop it right now,” she said harshly.  The intensity of her tone startled Rebecca out of her rage.  “You can’t do this, understand? Think!  You want to get Molly killed?”  Then she turned her back to them and peered around the corner again, watching the standoff.

 

“Joanna…” Handy was shocked. “How can you be so cruel?”

 

“Noooo…” Rebecca moaned.  Baloo turned her around and held her close, her face buried in his shirt.  They stood there trembling.  She looked up and saw that he was crying too.

 

“Joey’s right. We gotta let the cops handle it.”  Baloo’s voice cracked with emotion.  “I’d like nothin’ better than ta tear that creep’s head off but not yet.  We can’t get in the way, honey.  Understand?”

 

“Yes…no… oh Baloo…” He pulled her close again, silencing her against his chest once more. 

 

They both looked up when they heard Covington say, “Of course, we mustn’t forget little Molly, here.  I could oh-so-easily give her a generous dose of this as well. I’m sure you wouldn’t allow a child to be die, just to capture me.”

 

Rebecca had to bite her own hand to keep from screaming.

 

What?” Archer was outraged.  “Listen here, you son of a---!”

 

“I am a desperate man, detective, so do not force my hand.  I would prefer not to kill anyone, but I shall do what I must.”

 

“If you do, you’ll swing for it.  You’re already got a murder charge on your head.” Thursday still would not budge.

 

Dear God, Rebecca thought wildly. Baloo squeezed her hand.

 

“What?  For that-that inebriated… bum?  I did Cape Suzette a favor.  I should get a reward.” 

 

“Yeah?  Well, here’s your reward…” Archer started to raise the barrel, but Thursday shook his head urgently.

 

He hissed, “No, Lou! Don’t! 

 

“This is nuts… he’s got a needle and we’ve got the guns. One shot and it’s over,” Archer hissed back.

 

“He’s got us.  We can’t risk it.”

 

“Well?  What is your answer, detective?”

 

“Harm either one, you’ll fry for it, mister.” Thursday swallowed, but his eyes were hard. “That’s a promise.”

 

Covington paled but said evenly, “Perhaps.  But by the time you ‘collar’ me, it’ll be too late.  One push of my thumb and poor Pearl here will pay for your mistake.  Or little Molly.  I really don’t care which one.”

 

“That guy’s crazy!” Baloo whispered.

 

Rebecca met her daughter’s tortured gaze and willed herself not to tackle the man who had brought nothing but misery in his wake.  I can’t stand this!  I have to do something!

Joanna muttered, “Wish I had a baseball.  I could knock his brains in.”

 

Sharp-eared Handy quivered with righteous anger.  “Like you did to that purse snatcher?” he hissed back. “You nearly killed that boy!”

 

“The operative word is ‘nearly’, Handy.”

 

Violet added, “Forget it, Jo.  He’s armed, for crying out loud.”

 

“What boy?” Baloo and Rebecca asked at once.

 

“Never mind,” Joanna snapped.  “Handy’s exaggerating, as usual. All of you get out of here. I need to concentrate.”

 

* * *

 

Maybe I can climb down.  Wiping the rain from his eyes with his sleeve, he slid on his rump to the right side of the Ferris wheel seat, cringing with distaste, balancing his weight and sliding until his hip touched the side.  Easing himself carefully, keeping a handhold at all times on the bar, then the back of the seat, Kit slowly stood up.  The seat began to rock gently.  He gritted his teeth, forcing himself to stand still until it subsided.

 

Oh boy. Concentrate.  Keeping his eyes on the supporting spoke that held his chair aloft, Kit reached with one hand and tried to touch it. His fingers barely grazed the smooth, slick metal.

 

I’ve got to get higher.  Holding his breath, Kit straddled the back of the seat and accidentally caught a glimpse what his fate would be if he made even one careless mistake.  It was an almost hundred foot drop but from his viewpoint, it might as well have been twice that.  Peering into the gloom below, he made out a horrific design of silvery metal beams and wooden chairs that would break his fall, breaking several bones.  If by some bizarre coincidence he managed to fall through the spaces between the spokes, the hard ground at the bottom would break him.

 

 

* * *

 

 

“All right,” Thursday said to Covington wearily. “You win.”

 

“Naturally.  Drop your weapons and kick them over here.”

 

Very slowly, Thursday complied. 

 

“Aw, not my Magnum PI Special…”  But after a few second’s hesitation, Archer did so as well. 

 

Thursday silently commiserated with him.  Very cautiously, he raised his foot and noticed the absence of a familiar weight.  His backup gun was not strapped to his ankle.  Damn it, I forgot to pack my insurance!

 

Archer patted his own ankle and winked at him.  Unfortunately, Covington saw the wink and the pat.

 

“I say, is that a bulge in your pant leg, detective?  Unstrap it at once and toss it over here… gently.”

 

“Great, Lou,” Thursday growled.  “Just great.”

 

“What’d I do? At least I remembered my backup.”

 

“Forget it. The fine art of subtlety is lost on you.”

 

Covington interrupted them. “Stop arguing and remove your coats.  Empty your pockets, both of you.  I don’t want any surprises.”

 

After this was done, Covington was the proud owner of two Magnum PI Specials and a smaller, but no less deadly, backup gun. 

 

Now what?” Archer said under his breath.

 

Thursday muttered back, “He’s got too many weapons.  He won’t be able to hold all three guns and a syringe.”

 

“Yeah… while he’s fooling with all that hardware, we’ll nab him!”  Their lips barely moved, like ventriloquists.

 

“Easy, Lou.  Wait and see what he does.”

 

Wrinkling his nose with distaste, Covington bent and picked up one of the Magnums and was surprised to find that he had to use both hands to lift it.  A wiser man would have taken the smaller weapon, one that he could handle.  Not really knowing anything about firearms, he was attracted to the Magnum's impressive size.  It looked more like a gun that you could threaten people with.

Just like the movies, he thought.

 

His toupee slid forward, hanging comically over his eyes before he hastily pushed it back into place and stood up, training the weapon on the two men.  A raindrop hung precariously from the end of his nose like mucous; he wiped it, grimacing.

 

“Nice hairdo,” Archer couldn’t help saying before Thursday elbowed him in the ribs.

 

“Shut your yap!  You don’t provoke an armed man.  You’re as bad as that Midway dame.”

 

Covington tossed the needle aside, where it landed a few feet from the hot dog stand where Joanna had held court before, demanding that they heed her instructions.  To their shock and dismay, Pearl bent over and retrieved the other two guns, placing them on the end of the gurney several inches away from the child’s feet.

 

“Leave them on the ground, would you?  I don’t want the brat kicking them off the gurney. Thank you, darling, that’s fine.”

 

Beaming and terribly proud of herself, Pearl turned to Covington.  She was trembling with excitement… not fear.

 

“How’d I do, Lanc…I mean, Covie-Wovie?” she said triumphantly. “I told you it would work!”

 

 

End of Chapter 12

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