A FAIR TO REMEMBER

An original fanfic
by Gidget 

 

TaleSpin and its characters are the property of Buena Vista Television/Walt Disney Co.  The other characters are created by me, and may not be used without permission.  My deepest gratitude to Bearcat, Staci “Cody” Faulkenberry, Beth “Starflash” Boemert, and Will for their fabulous AND honest feedback and support. And a special thanks goes to Allison, who co-wrote a great deal of this chapter (namely the best part!)
 (Rated PG for mild coarse language, suggestiveness, and occasional violence.)
 

Chapter 17

 

Main Gate Entrance
Midnight

The explosion sent a couple of figures flying in the air as though shot by a cannon. There was a burst of orange, leaving a trail of smoke billowing from the flaming missiles.  It was so loud that people living a block away poked their heads out of their windows, sleepy and tousled from the rude awakening.

“Great flamin’ catwhiskers!” Baloo shouted.  “What was that?”

Rebecca’s mouth fell open.  “The reporter --- I think!”

“All of you --- get back!  Somebody call the fire department!” Thursday commanded. He looked around at the injured:  Archer was too busy retching in a garbage can to be of any use.  As for Handy, he was curled up on the ground, cupping his mouth and groaning from the impact to his teeth.  “And a dentist!”

“I’m on it, Chief!” one of the police officers said.  “I’ll radio ‘em.” 

A driver said, “We need more ambulances too.”

Another starburst of fire shot high above them.  Flaming debris landed in the mud beside them and on the other trailers and tents. The canvas began to smolder.  As the wind sent the acrid smell in their direction, everyone began to cough.  They covered their noses, eyes smarting.

Kit said dully, “We’re gonna need more fire trucks.”

How did this happen?” Violet shouted.

“I-I swear I just locked him inside!” Strummer said weakly. “I-I didn’t know it was on fire!”

“What?” Thursday turned to him sharply. “Who?  Who’s inside?  Tell me!”

In halting sobs, the young man stammered.  “I-I didn’t mean to--!”

Who!”

“L-Lance…”

“Oh, great!” Violet said bitterly, making him flinch.  “Fancy-Lancy just had to pick our trailer.”

“His name’s Covington,” Rebecca corrected wearily.

“Who cares?”

Joanna said snarkily, “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.  I hope that creep died screaming.  He burned my stuff --- everything I own!”

Helen’s voice was like a slap.  “Joanna! Shut up!”

Joanna’s mouth dropped open in shock.

“We don’t ‘ave a place to live, or anywhere to go!  We don’t even ‘ave insurance!  We got nothin’!”  Helen yelled at her. “Yer not the only one who lost everythin’, miss!  Do ye ever think of anyone but yerself?”

“I didn’t… I didn’t think…”

“No, Joanna, ye never do.” She rounded on her, as a shocked Violet and Strummer looked on. “Yer a spoiled brat --- nothin’ but trouble. Why don't ye just grow up?"

“What?” she said stupidly.

"What did ye have to lose?  Some skirts and blouses? Did ye even think about what the rest of us lost?  Pictures!  Stuff from loved ones that can't be replaced!  But ye wouldn't know about that, would ye?" Then, after a short pause: “I should never have taken ye in.”

The words were stab wounds.  Joanna’s eyes glistened with tears.  “Helen…”

“Just go away.” Without another word, Helen turned her back on her, and watched her carnival burn. “I don’t ever want te see ye again.”

For a few seconds, Joanna stared at her, disbelieving.  She felt as though she’d been punched in the stomach.  She backed away slowly, waiting for Helen to turn around and say she didn’t mean it. 

But Helen didn’t turn.  Not once.

“Okay,” Joanna croaked. She kept backing away until she tripped backwards, landing in a puddle.  Sobbing, she picked herself up and raced heedlessly into the night.

In the distance, the sirens of fire trucks wailed their arrival.

“Out of the way!  Out of the way!  Coming through!” Several firemen expertly attached the hose to a hydrant outside the park and were busy charging the pumps. 

“Get these people out of the way!” the chief ordered.  “All of you --- start moving toward the front gates to the sidewalks.  Don’t go anywhere.  We have to do a head count.”

They were herded to the sidewalk just outside the main gate. Strummer followed them like a forlorn puppy, favoring his left arm.  He kept protesting, “I didn’t know it was on fire… I didn’t know!”

They heard a terror-stricken whinnying in the distance.  There was straw scattered on the grounds connecting the living quarters and the stables and the flames were spreading quickly.  It was still drizzling, but some of the straw near the stables was tinder-dry enough to burn.

My babies!” Bonnie yelled. “We have to get them out!”

The fire chief gaped at her. “What!  Why didn’t you say so before!  What kind of mother are you?  Where are they?”

“In the stables!”

“The what?”

“I need help rounding them up!  Come on!”

“How many?”

“Six.”

A Dalmatian firefighter caught her elbow. “Stay here.  You might get trapped back there. …hey!”

“I’ll be right back!” Bonnie broke away and raced to the stables.

“Hey, get back here!  Joe, go after her!”

A tall meerkat instantly complied.

“Does anyone know first aid?  Do you have a nurse on the premises?”

Violet said absently, “Yeah, but she got shot.” She glanced distractedly around, as though looking for someone.

“I’ll help,” said Helen wearily.  Her cheeks were wet.  “It’ll take me mind off… things.” 

The fireman looked at her with respect and said gently, “The boys will set you up, ma’am.”

A few feet away, Rebecca was busy with her daughter. 

“Mom… I don’t feel so good.” Molly said in a small voice.  She gingerly touched her left elbow, which was swollen to the size of a small grapefruit.  “My arm hurts, too.”

Stiffly, Helen knelt so that they were eye-to-eye. “Let me see, luv.  Oh dear.  Looks like a bad ‘un.”

Rebecca held Molly in her lap to keep her from breaking free as Helen dabbed her scrapes with iodine.

“Ow-ow!  OW!”

“I know it hurts, sweetie.”

With a grunt, Baloo knelt next to them and said, “You were real brave, Pigtails. Try to be brave a little longer.  For ol’ Baloo?”

“I don’t want to be brave!  I want to go home!” 

Violet scowled.  “Well, it’s been fun, but I’m going to go find a nice gas oven and stick my head into it.”

She stalked off in the direction that Joanna had taken.

 

* * *

Several moments later, Bonnie was back with the ponies, exhausted and covered in soot and coughing.  Bluebelle and Misty had minor burns from falling ashes, but other than fright, were unharmed.

She said to the chief, “Thanks for sending that nice man to help me.  We had to do some serious calming—the horses were hard to handle with all that smoke in the air.”

The chief frowned. “Where is he?  He was supposed to come back with you.”

“He told me to go ahead.” Bonnie, of course, was too preoccupied with her ‘babies’ to pay much attention to anything else.  “Oh, darlings,” she cooed, “Mama’s so glad you’re alright!”

The chief approached Thursday. “Is everyone evacuated?”

“Yes, I think so,” Thursday answered. “But we’d better check on your man Joe.  I have a bad feeling about this.”

* * *


The fire was now under control, though more than half of the park was destroyed.  Joe scouted around the wreckage, looking for debris that had been thrown clear of the explosion, and found a soot-blackened body in a dark dress lying in a stack of cardboard boxes. It looked like a tar baby. 

“Hey! Ma’am?  You still alive?” He leaned over and took the thing’s pulse. Upon a closer look, he noticed with puzzlement that the dress was a huge, ill-fitting dark-green shirt and that this definitely was no female. 

Before he could ponder why a skinny guy would wear a shirt that was too big for him, the eyes opened.  Joe jumped back, startled.  Then he sighed with relief.

“Say, buddy!   Don’t move!”

“Wh-what happened?” the tar baby slurred, clumsily tried to stand. “Wuz I flyin’?”

“The explosion threw you.  You look bad.  Is anything broken?”

“No… maybe my watch.”

Something shiny glinted from Joe’s belt --- the lens of a large flashlight.

“I feel rather dizzy…” He let himself go limp, forcing his rescuer to catch him.

“Oof! Here, let me help you.”

“Oh, thank you… thank you…”

With deft fingers, he unhooked the flashlight and swung it with all his might against the side of the other man’s head.  

Joe didn’t even see it coming. 

* * *

Finally, more ambulances arrived and took the more seriously injured away.  Handy’s front teeth were smashed, and Archer was so nauseous that he couldn’t stand up.   Strummer’s arm was indeed broken.  As for Iggy Sparks, he was found sprawled unconscious a short distance away.  Fortunately, a pile of old tents that needed mending softened his fall, saving him from a broken neck.  Groaning and beginning to stir, he was carted off in a stretcher, ranting about suing for bodily harm, emotional damage and something about bug-eyed freaks and mud girls. 

One of the paramedics came over and said to Molly, “Your turn, little lady.” 

After declaring Molly's arm broken and gently fitting a sling around it, the paramedic asked, "Does anyone else need medical assistance?"

"Kit hit the pavement pretty hard coming off of that roller coaster. I'd like you to make sure that he's okay." Rebecca glanced around quickly. "But I don't see him."  

"He and Baloo were gonna look for their hats, Mommy."

"Hats?  Of all the things to worry about at a time like this!" Rebecca turned to Helen.  "Mrs. Haley, would you please watch Molly for a few minutes?"

Distractedly, Helen glanced at them. "What? Yes… all right."

"Don't leave me, Mommy!"

Rebecca knelt beside Molly and caressed the little girl's hair. "I'll be right back, honey.  Stay with Mrs. Haley, be good, and do everything she and the paramedics tell you."

"Okay," Molly murmured.

"That's my brave little Danger Woman."  Rebecca kissed Molly's forehead, then took off towards the roller coaster at a brisk pace. 

After about five minutes and no Rebecca in sight, the attendant said, “Forget it, we don’t have time to wait.  Ma’am,” he said to Helen, “could you ride with the child?”

“Why not?” she said absently, gazing at the smoking ruins of the midway. Guiltily, she glanced at the ambulance where Strummer was being loaded aboard.  “Wait, I can’t just leave!  Her mum’ll have a fit!  And what about my Nicky?  I oughta be with him.”

“He’ll be fine. I’m sure this little girl needs you more than he does.”

In the back of the ambulance, Strummer moaned in pain, rolling on the gurney.  “My arm… it hurts so much…” Then he looked up at the paramedic who was elected to sit with him.  “Please… where’s Mum?” 

“I dunno.”  The paramedic shifted uncomfortably and avoided eye contact.  Those pink eyes, bulging and wet, were just so unnerving. 

Strummer moaned again. The paramedic regarded him thoughtfully. 

“Ow!” The albino bear felt a prick, then a rush of something heavy coursing through his body.  His eyes began to droop, then close.  His eyelids were translucent, with tiny, fork-like purple veins.  “What did you…”

“Just something to make you sleep. You’ll be fine.”

As the laudanum took effect, the other man sighed in relief. 

Why’d I have to lose the coin toss? 

 * * *

Rebecca hurried across the carnival grounds.  The ground was muddy from the rain as well as the firefighters' drenching sprays.  A sharp bolt of lightning made the charred remains of the tents and rides look like gruesome, misshapen giants.  

A few minutes later, she spotted the pilot and navigator.  Baloo stood near the roller coaster with Kit on his shoulders.  The boy, arms outstretched, was trying to reach something on one of the roller coaster's cross beams.

"Ba-LOO!  What in the world are you doing?"

"Gettin' my lucky cap," Baloo replied as Kit unsnagged the red cap from the bolt it dangled from.  The boy deftly tossed it onto Baloo's head.  "Thanks, Li'l Britches."  He lowered Kit to the ground.

"Come along, you two."  Rebecca took both by the arm.  "The paramedics are checking everyone out and I want them to look at that wrist, Kit."

"It's not that bad, Miz Cunningham," Kit lied as they made their way towards the main entrance.

"That's for the paramedics to decide.  You're both getting a thorough examination."

"But, Becky!"

"No 'buts'!  Higher for Hire must have its flight crew in top condition.  And speaking of condition, when we get home, I want you to take baths and wash those filthy clothes, especially those caps."  She grimaced at the headgear.  "How can you wear those things?"

"Like this."  Grinning mischievously, Baloo plopped his cap on his boss's head. 

Rebecca plucked the disgusting object from her head and shoved it at Baloo's chest.  "Not funny!"

"It's not a funny.  It's a cap," the big bear joked. 

"You know what I mean."  Rebecca rolled her eyes. 

They came in sight of the main entrance where the fire trucks and ambulances were bunched.

"I do?" Baloo said innocently.

"Baloo, stop being... oh!" Her annoyed expression turned to panic when the sirens blared, and faded as the ambulances drove away; she started to run after them.  “Wait for me!”

With a burst of speed, Kit passed both adults and latched onto the back bumper of the last ambulance as it pulled away from the curb. 

As the ambulance sirens shrilled into the night, Rebecca stopped suddenly and began to cry.

“It’s okay, Beckers,” Baloo tried to comfort her.  “Miz Haley’s with her, an’ Kit’s on his way… sort of.   I’m sure they’ll take good care of Molly until we get to the hospital.  Let’s just keep goin’.  Maybe somebody here will give us a lift.”

One of the firemen limped past them, adjusting his oversized helmet. 

Baloo pointed. “How about him?”

“Let’s ask.”  She sniffed and raised her voice.  “Excuse me…”

He ignored them, heading toward the main entrance where the crowd had been.

Rebecca tried again. “Yoo-hoo!  Mister Fireman!  Where’s Detective Thursday?”

He didn’t reply, but turned up his collar and simply pointed in the general direction of the dying tents, which were crumpling, then turning black. 

Rebecca spotted a group of men standing in a huddle. "I see them by the Tunnel of Love."

“Thanks, buddy.  Sorry to have bothered ya.”  Baloo gave the fireman a wave.

Limping away, the fireman waved back. 

* * *

 

Near Tunnel of Love

Later, Joe’s colleagues found him lying facedown in the dirt with a lump just a few inches from his temple.   His fireman’s gear was missing.  They gently turned him over, examined the wound and summoned Thursday.  By the time the detective arrived, they had managed to decipher enough of Joe's incoherent babbling to surmise what had happened.

Covington ’s here,” Thursday said, his voice taut with suppressed excitement. “He must’ve taken this guy’s clothes.  Boys, I want you to spread out and search for a fireman you don’t know---!”

“Detective, wait!”

He turned to see Rebecca and Baloo running toward them.  When they got there, both were panting.

“I told you to stay put at the gate. This is police business!”

“But they took my daughter to the hospital without us.  Couldn’t someone give us a ride?”

“Negative. You’ll have to wait until we’re done here.” 

Joe was very agitated.  “Green shirt!  Didn’t fit… he was bald, burnt…”

Baloo and Rebecca looked at each other and said at once:  “Covington !”

“Wait!”  Rebecca snapped her fingers.  “Baloo, that fireman we saw on the way here… that had to be Covington too!  He was probably wearing this man’s uniform!”

Thursday blinked.  “Huh?”

“And we just waved to him an’ let him go!”  Baloo punched his open palm.  “That rotten little---!”

“Franklin, Mooney --- you look after Joe, then give these folks a lift. You, you, you and you…” Thursday pointed to four of the men, "come with me."

The bears led Thursday and his men to the general area where they’d encountered the disguised jaguar. 

Baloo said, “It was somewhere around here.” 

“Look!” A young rabbit firefighter came hurrying up to them, carrying a heavy yellow bundle and a red fireman’s helmet.  “I found these tossed in some bushes!”

“That makes sense,” Thursday said.  “Those firefighter gigs are heavy.  He must’ve realized he’d make better time without it.”  He became brisk. “Mike, where’d you find this?  Show us.”

Mike suddenly dropped the uniform on the ground, looking a little queasy.  He shook his head as if to clear it, and pointed.  “That…that way.”

“He’s on the run now.   Someone get the medics over here!  We got two guys who need help and I’ve got a manhunt to organize. Let’s go!  We’re nailing this guy if we have to go through Cape Suzette with a lice comb!”  Then he turned to Rebecca and Baloo.  “Thanks for your help.  Why don’t you folks go see about your little girl?”

“Yes, sir,” Baloo said. “Come on, Becky.”

She stared at the abandoned uniform.  Something had fallen out of one of the coat pockets.  Seeing a flash of gold buried in the mud, Rebecca bent over and picked up the object. She wiped it clean with her fingers, turning it towards the lamplight to get a better look.  "I wonder who this belongs to." 

“What?” Thursday asked.  His eyes widened.  “That’s the Key that was stolen from the museum!” 

"What's all them funny squiggles say?" Baloo asked, peeking over her shoulder at the Key.

“I… don’t know…”  She wavered on her feet.  “Ooh… I feel funny…”

Thursday remembered when he and Archer had interviewed Dr. Katie Dodd:

“I had to stop after a few minutes because I was feeling dizzy and weak.  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.”

“Put that down!” he snapped.  “Now!”

But his warning came too late.

Rebecca, eyes glowing green, snarled and sniffed the air greedily.  All her senses came alive with a jolt so powerful that it hurt.  She rasped out something in a garbled language that none of them could comprehend.  The only word they could understand was ' Covington '.

Baloo jumped, startled.  It was as if Rebecca had been replaced by a demon.   He tentatively put a hand on her arm.  "Uh, you don't look so hot, Becky.  I think you'd better see the doctor, too."

She snarled, roughly shook him off, and took off down the street. 

“Becky!  Come back!”  Baloo started after her.  "Oh, baby, this ain't good."  

* * *

After circling the fairgrounds, Joanna backed away from the smoking ruins, watching it die; the only sound was the crackle and hiss of flames as the firemen put it out.  She slowly realized that she had nowhere else to go.  For now, the Tunnel of Love was one of the few buildings left relatively unscathed by fire.  She would spend the night there, then she would have to figure something out.  Now and then she heard men’s voices outside, shouting orders, calling for assistance. 

Like a blind woman, she held her arms out in front of her as she stumbled around in the dark. She stumbled against one of the cars, cursing and sobbing. 

“There you are.” Violet came in. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Joanna quickly wiped her eyes and tried to regain her composure. “Are-are they gone yet?”

“Who, Helen?” Violet asked, knowing exactly who “they” was. “She’s on her way to the hospital. You don’t have hide in here. You can come out now.”

“I’m not hiding.”

“Whatever.” Violet sounded bored.  She studied her nails, then glanced at her, as though weighing a decision.  “I just came to make sure you didn’t jump off a cliff because the old lady yelled at you.”

Joanna swallowed, then said tightly, “I have bigger problems, like where I’m going to live.”

“Me too.”

“Oh.”  Joanna blinked.  “Oh… right.  You  too.”

“Thanks for eventually remembering that.”

“Sorry.”

They fell into sullen silence.

Then, Joanna asked, almost timidly, “What are we going to do?”

“What people like us always do.” 

“People like us?” Joanna said sharply, momentarily forgetting about Helen.

“Yeah.  Pick up and keep going.  We’re going to be okay.  I’ve got some money saved up.”

“Where, the Bank of Burnt Offerings?”

“An off-shore account, actually.”

Joanna was confused. “Vi, what are you talking about?  You have money?  Why are you even here? What are you doing hawking hot dogs?”

“Sorry, but it was necessary.  You wouldn’t have been as open-minded if I’d been more direct.  Besides, I like the cloak-and-dagger game.  I had to get to know you first.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just tell me something. Would you have strangled Pearl if Helen hadn’t talked you out of it?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Come on,” Violet wheedled, as though they were exchanging gossip at a slumber party. “Just between us girls. Would you have done it?”

Joanna shrugged uncomfortably. “I don’t know.  Maybe.”

“Oh.”

“Disappointed?”

Violet’s eyes gleamed in the dark like twin emeralds, still gazing at her nails. “A little.”

“Well, now you know.” Joanna began to back away, not liking the turn of this conversation.

The easy comradery, the playful insults… all lies.  Pretending to be her friend all the time, just watching, waiting, and smiling to herself.

She remembered all the times that Violet changed in the bathroom with the door closed, claiming modesty.  It should have been so obvious that she was hiding something.

Like a scar.

Fresh tears sprang to her eyes, but she fought them, forcing herself to stare glassily at Violet, hoping it came across as icy rage, instead betrayed hurt.  She spoke coldly, fighting the urge to scream.

“The scar… you have it too.” She paled, her heart in her throat.  “You’re from the Foundation.  You’re tracking… me.”

“Guilty.” Violet smiled.  She untucked her blouse and briefly flashed an angry red M on her hip.  She tucked it back in and continued, “When you went missing five years ago, Gordon was going to send me to find you.  Nobody really believed you were killed in that truck explosion. You’ve got more lives than the proverbial cat.  Some of our people examined the site. There was only one body in the wreckage, smashed and burned to a crisp --- definitely a male and definitely not you.”

An assassin who failed to take out their target… became the target.  Violet had been keeping tabs on her all this time… surely she would have reported faithfully to the Leader.

Joanna began to tremble. She whispered, “All this time, you-you were watching me, pretending to be my friend… planning to turn me over to the Foundation.  Y-you’re going to kill me.”  Her eyes darted wildly, seeking a weapon.

Violet smiled, almost kindly.  “Jo, relax.  If I was going to kill you, I would’ve done it years ago.  You’re rude, selfish, and self-centered.  Frankly, you’re a big pain in the butt.” 

She was too relieved to be insulted. “But why…”

“There was no point to it.  And while you have your faults, I still like you. I don’t work for the Leader anymore. Why should I kill for him?  Besides, the world is far more interesting with you in it.”  At Joanna’s blank look, she added, “Oh, right.  You don’t know.  You don’t have to worry about him anymore.”

“Why?” She felt, rather than knew the answer.

Violet shrugged. “Poison.  Took five minutes.”

“That’s all?”  She felt curiously deflated, yet oddly pleased. “He would’ve hated that.”

“I know.  Isn’t it wonderful?” Violet said cheerfully. “He was such a megalomaniac.  Probably thought he’d be assassinated like Caesar, not just bumped off like anyone else.

“Don’t get me wrong.  I was hoping that you and I could work together, start our own operation.  You know the drill.  But you’re lousy with people, and you’ve become soft.  You’re useless to me now.  Too bad. A little competition would’ve done Gordon a world of good --- if he was still around.”

Joanna was too flabbergasted by ‘lousy’, ‘soft’ and ‘useless’ to reply.

“I raided his safe, got the key to his safety deposit box, learned to sign his name and that was that.  Got my money and skedaddled.”

She finally squeaked, “What happened to… everyone?”

Violet shrugged again. “Who cares?  They’ll be fine, if they can learn to wipe their noses without being told.” She grinned at her. “Or maybe they’ll find another master to tell them what to do.  Like you did.”

Before she could retort, a meaty arm shot out from below and caught Joanna by the ankle, knocking her down.  But it was only a moment of instinctual strength --- the last, desperate act of an animal to protect itself.   Not that it mattered.   A paw as big as a trash can lid clamped itself around her throat, and squeezed, nearly crushing her windpipe. 

A slurred voice growled, “Come to finish me off?”

Violet stood there, watching them with the polite interest of a spectator at a tennis match.

Choking, Joanna fought to free herself. She tried to kick him in the groin, but since he was lying down, she missed and fell on top of him.  Finally, she jabbed him in the eye, making him yelp with pain. 

Surprisingly, he released her. “You? 

You!” Coughing, she scrambled out of his reach.  Even injured, the big bear could do damage.

They stared at each other, panting.  Almost absently, she realized that he wasn’t wearing a shirt.  There was a fresh lump on the side of his head, just missing his temple.

Then Big Al swore.

“Aw, dammit.  Did I hurt you?”

Unconsciously, she blinked and put a hand to her bruised throat. Of all things for him to say, that was the last thing she expected. 

Coughing, she managed to croak, “I’ll live.”

He looked ashamed.  “I… thought you were…That creep jumped me… took my favorite shirt,” he mumbled, rubbing his eye. “Ow! You fight dirty, lady!”

“Sorry about that.  I was trying to kick you in the…”

He grunted, closing his eyes. “Women.”

At 'women' she glanced up at where Violet had been standing.  Gone.  

Heart pounding, she scrambled to her feet, looking around wildly.

Big Al’s eyes snapped open again.  “Hey… don’t leave me here… in the dark.”

“Wait here.”

“I ain’t goin’ anywhere.” His speech became slurred. “Where… where you goin’?”

She paused.  Violet could have killed her anytime she’d wanted to. There was no immediate danger to herself, but Big Al needed medical treatment --- fast.   

“I’ll be right back. I’m going to get help.”

“Police! Covington! Put your hands over your head!” A flashlight beam scanned them both, momentarily blinding them. 

Joanna obeyed, squinting into the light beam. “Get that light out of my face! We need an ambulance.”

He peered at them in the dark. “Who’s hurt?”

“Him.” She indicated Big Al, whose face had gone positively gray.

“You coming?”

“What?” She thought for a moment.  Despite Violet’s promise not to kill her, she still didn’t feel safe staying here.  She needed to sort things out.  A hospital would offer shelter, free food… but only if she told a little white lie….

* * *

Downtown Cape Suzette  

Several blocks away, Covington limped into an alley littered with trashcans.  Exhausted and reeking of smoke, the injured jaguar slumped beside a dumpster with his back against the building's brick wall.  Because he was already soaked to the skin, he didn't notice the damp pavement.  He shivered with cold. Every bone in his body ached.

"I'll rest here for a minute then you and I will leave this accursed city, my darling."  He pushed the baggy green shirt aside to reach into his trousers pocket. 

Empty.

He checked the other pocket.  Also empty.

"Blast!" he swore. "I must have put the Key in the firefighter's suit by mistake." Regaining his composure, he continued, "No problem.  I'll just wait until dawn and retrieve the suit and the Key. After all I’ve gone through tonight, it’ll be a piece of cake, right?”

Covington leaned his head against the dumpster and closed his eyes with a deep sigh.

A moment later, he was awakened by a loud clattering.

"Who... who's there?" he stammered, heart racing.  His good eye anxiously scanned the alley.  He listened intently.  All was silent save for the light pitter-patter of drizzle against the trash cans.  Thunder rumbled overhead. 

Covington shrieked when something streaked across his leg.  When lightning shot across the sky, he saw the tail of a cat disappear into a garbage can.

"Only an alley cat," he chuckled nervously.

Once again, he closed his eyes.

A split-second later, he was jolted awake by a second clattering.   "Drat that cat!" he said, annoyed. "Will you kindly shut up, you mangy...furball?"

The latest lightning bolt had revealed not a cat, but the slender figure of a green-eyed, frazzled-haired woman.  The demon Rebecca stood over Covington.  She held a rain spout above her head.  There were eight deep indentations in the hard metal where Rebecca's fingers had dug in.  The Key, embedded in her palm, pulsated with an eerie green light.

When the initial shock had subsided, Covington stammered, "Of course, I didn't mean you, my dear."

"Silence, fool!" Rebecca snarled.  "Tonight you will pay for your crimes!"

"C-couldn't we talk about this… like civilized people?"

Just as the rainspout came crashing down, Covington lunged to the side.  The spout ricocheted off the dumpster with a reverberating clang.

Panting with fright, Covington crawled towards the end of the alley.  He howled with pain when she slammed the pipe into his thigh.  In desperation, he grabbed a trash bag and flung it at his adversary.  He used the diversion to scramble to his feet. 

He pushed past Baloo at the end of the alleyway, who cried, "What in tarnation is goin' on?"

Dazed and confused, Baloo stared in amazement as Covington fled down the lamp-lighted street with the rain-spout brandishing Rebecca in pursuit.  "What's gotten into that gal?" he wondered, running after them.

Covington ran and ran.  He knew not in what direction nor did he care.  He just wanted to get away from the demon.  However, every time he dared to glance over his shoulder, the pair of eerily glowing green eyes were there.  Worse still, they were gaining on him.  

Don't demons ever get tired? he thought.

Just when Covington thought things couldn't possibly get any worse, they did.  He had come to the end of the docks.  The harbor with its dark water stretched before him.  A lightning bolt crackled across the sky, briefly illuminating the mist-shrouded cliffs.

"Blast! I’m trapped!" he cried.

He could hear Rebecca's light footsteps coming down the dock towards him. 

"Double blast!" he swore.  Heart pounding, Covington looked desperately for a means of escape. 

His attention was drawn to the sound of a gruff voice shouting, "Cast off, men!" followed by the loud, mournful drone of a nearby tugboat's foghorn. 

Seeing a sailor untie a chugging tugboat from the dock, Covington murmured, "Sweet deliverance!"

Despite his leg injuries and the stitch in his side, Covington sprinted towards the tugboat and scrambled aboard.   He breathed a sigh of relief when the boat pulled away from the dock.

The captain, a weathered-looking canine of indeterminate breed approached him. "What are you doing here, buddy?  This isn't a ferry."

Covington leaned against the railing, gasping for breath as the tugboat chugged at a steady pace towards the cliff opening. "Can't...this thing...go any faster?" he panted.

"Why?" the captain asked suspiciously, taking in the scrawny jaguar's disheveled appearance.

"Because...because..."

"C'mon, spit it out, buddy.  Who are you, and what are ya doin' here?"

"She's chasing me," Covington looked back at the city, which was wreathed with a misty halo; they were now about halfway across the harbor; "with a rain spout!"

The captain guffawed.  "In dutch with the wife, huh?"

Covington shook his head vehemently. "Not my wife, thank goodness.  Much worse. She's a..."

Before Covington could say more, another sailor exclaimed, "Look!"  He pointed to something behind them. 

A speedboat sped towards the tugboat with Rebecca at the helm.  Baloo, hanging onto the speedboat's stern, was being dragged through the water.

"Well, I'll be dipped," the captain murmured.

Covington shrieked, "Full throttle!  Full throttle!"

Unnerved by the sight of Rebecca’s glowing eyes coming at them, the captain complied.  The tugboat raced towards the cliff opening.

However it wasn't fast enough and the swifter boat caught up with the slower just as it began to pass through the narrow waters of the bottleneck entrance.  Seemingly with no exertion whatsoever, Rebecca leapt onto the tugboat.  Ignoring all others aboard --- who hastily jumped over the sides to get out of her way --- she made straight for Covington, who cowered, sniveling, against a corner of the starboard railing.

"Tonight you will pay for your crimes," Rebecca growled.

"Stop saying that!" Covington panted. When lightning flashed again, the jaguar spied something shiny embedded in the nearby cliffs. Squinting through the darkness, he could barely make out the doors of an elevator and a short dock leading up to it. 

He slipped through the tugboat's railing and jumped into the water.  He bobbed to the surface and swam with uneven strokes towards the dock and to safety. 

Grunting with pain, Covington pulled himself onto the dock. Hearing a splash behind him, the dripping jaguar slipped and slid towards the closed elevator doors.   He pushed the 'up' button frantically. 

“Come on, come on…” he pleaded.

Looking behind him, he saw the driverless tugboat weave around aimlessly and finally chug toward the open sea.  Then he saw a speedboat with a soaking Baloo at the wheel approaching the dock.  His stomach plummeted to his knees when Rebecca climbed up on the dock, rain spout still in hand. The possessed woman tore down the dock towards him.

The elevator opened and Covington rushed inside.  He punched the 'close door' button repeatedly.

Rebecca came closer.  Her recent dip made her appearance even wilder.  The fire of intense hatred practically shot from her glowing green eyes.

"Won't this blasted door ever close?" Covington whimpered, waiting for his life to flash before his eyes.

Finally, the doors slid shut.

There came a series of dull metallic clangs that had nothing to do with the elevator's normal function.  Rebecca, in her fury, was pummeling the door with the rain spout.

Now that there was a wall between himself and his pursuer, he breathed a sigh of relief and slumped against the back of the elevator.  "Oh, what a night!  What did I ever do to her?"

Several stories up, the elevator doors opened. Covington cautiously crept out.   He stood on a narrow ledge.  The sheer face of the cliff opening extended above and below him.  Just when he was going to step back into the elevator, the doors closed.  "Drat!" 

He watched the floor numbers of the elevator recede.  He knew where the car was going - to pick up his adversary. 

Covington pulled the baggy green shirt closer around him.  The wind whipped through the cliff opening with an eerie howl.  Rain pelted his face.

Lightning crashed across the sky, allowing him to see a narrow rope bridge that spanned the entire width of the cliff opening.  On the other side was another elevator. 

Glancing behind, he noticed that the elevator numbers were slowly climbing.

He had no choice.

Covington put one trembling foot onto the slippery, sodden bridge.  He whimpered when it swayed beneath him. White-knuckled, he slowly inched across. 

His heart nearly stopped when the elevator doors behind him opened.  He didn't even turn to see Rebecca speeding towards him with her damp hair whipping around her face.  Her features were twisted --- evilly distorted.   He just ran.   To his relief, this second elevator was already open.  He ran inside, pushed the 'up' button, and waited, panting.

A few moments later, Covington, bruised, battered, and bemoaning his fate, stumbled out of the elevator onto the top of the dark, rugged cliffs.  "No more. Please, no more," he mumbled. 

Then, his bleary eyes fell on one of the large cliff guns as well as the gunner, who was standing guard.  Some of the weariness left the jaguar's wiry frame.

Picking up a large rock, he hurtled it at the guard, knocking him squarely on the back of the head.  The guard slumped to the ground with a groan. Covington positioned himself behind the large gun.  With difficulty, he swiveled it around to face the elevator.

He stood there, heart pounding, as the elevator floor numbers rose, frantically trying to figure out how to fire the gun.   Then, he realized something.  "Oh no!  I'm perspiring!"

Cold beads of sweat broke out on his forehead when the elevator reached the top. Covington's trembling finger was poised over the gun's trigger.

A green-eyed, brown-furred demon streaked out of the elevator and made right for Covington.  She was empty-handed, having tossed the dented rain spout away at the base of the cliffs.

"Come and get me, you witch," Covington muttered under his breath.

The elevator door opened again.  Baloo took in the situation at a glance: Covington crouched behind the gun, ready to fire upon Rebecca, who was running full tilt towards the jaguar.

"Come a little closer, my dear," Covington murmured, a malicious gleam in his eye.

Just as Covington fired, Baloo tackled Rebecca.  The gun backfired, sending the jaguar reeling over the cliffs. 

To break his fall, he tried to grab hold of the cliff. The friction slowed him down but the serrated edge turned his hands into raw meat. But it worked.  Halfway down, he dangled on a crag jutting out of the face of the cliff. 

He looked down and whimpered, "High.  Very high."

He could hear the angry waves crashing against the boulders below.  He looked up.  Nothing but cliffs. 

The adrenaline rush was gone.  He felt the feral strength that had kept him alive draining from him like liquid pus from a blister. This just wasn't his night.  His plans to get the Key were foiled, his plans to kill everyone failed, he almost was burnt alive, and now he was being chased through Cape Suzette by a madwoman.

“No more… please… no more…”

Meanwhile, Baloo and Rebecca were grappling for the Key that was tightly clutched in Rebecca's fist.  She was pinned underneath him, as he was trying to pry her fingers from the Key.  She sank her teeth into his arm. 

Yeowww!” Startled by the pain, he let go.

That was all she needed.  With her super strength, she sprang to her feet and tossed him over her shoulder.  He landed on his back, the wind knocked out of him.

Head cocked to one side, she sniffed the air and listened. Somehow, she could sense that the jaguar was still alive, and she wanted to finish the job. 

A voice said softly, weakly, “I just want to go home…”

Her nostrils flared as she raced towards the edge of the cliff, towards her cowering victim. 

Cov…ing…ton,” she growled, licking her lips. She leaned over the cliff, fixing her psychotic, hypnotizing gaze on her prey.

Covington had nowhere to go --- he was trapped. The jaguar whimpered, "Please, Rebecca!  Th-this is a most unattractive side of you ---p-please get a hold of yourself!”

She grinned insanely, terrifying him. In her current state, he would be no match for her.

I’m going to… snap your bones like matchsticks… 

Stop!” he shrieked. “I'm too handsome to die!

"Becky, no!" Baloo yelled.  Moving faster than he'd ever moved, he grabbed her around the waist just as she leaped off.

Up close, he saw that her normally brown eyes were now a pale, otherwordly blue and dilating like pinwheels.  "Holy moly!  Becky, what the heck didja do to yer peepers?"

She hissed at him. 

He jumped back, momentarily startled.   "Here, Becky...nice Becky...h-how's 'bout lettin' ol' Baloo have that thing?"

He tried to pry the Key away from her again, but it was still a struggle.  Rebecca was no pushover; he remembered wrestling her for his grade-school yearbook once --- all she had to do was plant a dainty foot in his mid-section and shove. 

Now that she had superhuman powers, she put up a greater fight. She kicked and tried to strangle him --- luckily, his neck was too thick.

Stay out of this, you oaf!” she snarled at him, baring pointed teeth.  Suddenly, she lunged, teeth snapping together as she tried to bite him again. “He’s mine!

It’s the Key… gotta… get it away… from her!

The first couple of times, his hands were so sweaty that he could not get a good grip. 

“…always… knew you was… tight-fisted, Rebecca,” he panted, “But this is ridiculous!”

I can’t knock her out… can’t hurt her!  But what do I do ta get make her let go?

“Doggone it!  This is like tryin’ ta count feathers on a chicken!”

Wait… feathers…

He gave up trying to open her fist and suddenly began to tickle her! 

She shrieked with outrage.  How dare you! Stop that! 

“Sorry, Becky! But it’s for your own good!”

He kept tickling her ribs until her grasp on the Key loosened.  Finally, he grabbed it, tore it from her hand, making her shriek in pain. He threw it as hard as he could over the cliffs, then caught her as she went limp.  “There! Good riddance!”

He examined her palm. A Key-shaped strip of skin had been torn from her hand, leaving it raw and bleeding.  “Aw, I’m sorry, Beckers!  I didn’t mean ta hurt you!”

Hope she doesn’t fire me.

Baloo, holding Rebecca gently, peeked over the cliffs.  Seeing Covington's perilous plight, he called, "Hang on.  I'll go find a rope or somethin'."

“Hurry… please!” Covington said, feeling his fingers slipping from the damp rock.

While he waited to be rescued, he heard the faint 'ping' of metal against rock.  Looking up, he saw that the Key, still emitting a pulsating green light, had caught on a small branch that grew from the side of the precipice.  

The fear in his eyes turned glints of greed.

"Here comes the rope!" Baloo shouted.  “Catch!”

Covington grabbed onto the rope and started to scale it while Baloo pulled it up.

Lungs on fire, he managed to gasp, “Thank youthankyouthankyou... you're too kind!”  He eyed the Key as it grew closer.

When he was at the same level with the prized possession, he murmured, “I can get you… I’ve come too far!  Just have to…”  Stretching as far as he could, he reached for it, but only his fingertips could brush against it.

“Blast!  I’ll have you, my darling!  You’re mine, mine, mine!

He started to swing from side to side on the rope in ever-increasing arcs. 

"Whoa!  You're rockin' the boat!" Baloo shouted, feeling himself being pulled towards the edge by Covington's shifting weight. On top of that, the slippery rocks and gusting wind made for dicey footing.  He gritted his teeth and dug in his heels as best he could, trying to make himself a solid anchor.

"A-almost...have...it."  Finally, he managed to curl his fingers around the warm, throbbing metal.  He held it up, hypnotized.

“It’s beautiful!” he breathed.  He began to laugh insanely.  Then, in the Key’s reflection, he saw a terrifying visage looking back at him. It looked like him, except now he had needlelike teeth and his eyes were pale icy blue, turning white, then black! 

Covington screamed with terror.

Creeeeaaaaack!

A sharp bolt of lightning shot through the sky and hit the cliffs, severing the rope.

Baloo, who had been given the shock of his life, flew backwards.  His yelp of pain was drowned out by an earthshaking boom of thunder.  The jaguar's sickening screams pierced the night as he plunged several stories, the sizzling Key in his grasp.  The howls ended abruptly with a solid thunk when his bones shattered on the sharp rocks, then his lifeless body slowly sank into the sea.

A few minutes later, Baloo, all his blackened fur on end, crawled to the edge of the cliffs and peered over.  "Covington?!" he yelled.

Silence.

He slowly pulled the rope up.  Its ragged end was smoking.

After his stomach stopped rolling, he crawled over to where Rebecca lay, unconscious.  He scooped Rebecca up in his arms, fearing the worst. "Becky?"

No response.

He brushed her damp hair from her still face.  "Rebecca?" he said, louder this time.

Still no response.

Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled onto his cheeks. He shook her gently, desperately.  "C'mon, honey, give ol' Baloo just one little sign that you're with him."

Rebecca suddenly began to snore loudly.

Relieved, Baloo half-laughed, half-sobbed. "Close enough." He rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes.  "An' she complains about my snorin'."  He lumbered to his feet, gathered her in his arms, and carried her to the elevator.

“Let’s get you outta the rain, honey.”

 

End of Chapter 17

 

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