STAR IS TORN
(Part 1 of 3)
TaleSpin and its characters are the property of Buena Vista Television/Walt Disney Co. This short story was adapted from the televised episode written by Dev Ross. No profit was made, so please don’t sue me. Some extra parts were written and minor changes were made in order to improve the narrative flow for the written page. I would also like to thank my good pal Ted for his invaluable feedback and advice.
by Michelle “Gidget” Beaubien
During the daylight hours, the downtown streets had been bustling with cars, people rushing in different directions to work and shop. But now, the nocturnal sky blanketing the metropolis was so infused with the neon signs, softly-lit street lamps and the occasional vehicle’s headlights that it became a ghostly blue, almost violet. It was Saturday evening and Baloo and Rebecca Cunningham had decided to try the newest five-star restaurant in Cape Suzette.
Last week, Baloo had delivered his cargo to their various destinations on schedule. Much to her surprise and pleasure, Rebecca Cunningham was able to deposit ten thousand shaboozies into the Higher for Hire bank account. For once, the habitual scowl was absent from her expression as Baloo at last came in shortly after six o’clock that Friday evening. Without pausing to say hello, he headed straight for his favorite faded green armchair with an exhausted sigh and closed his eyes.
“Man, my dogs are barkin’ somethin’ fierce tonight,” he complained, rubbing his aching feet. “And my back’s killin’ me too. All them crates of anvils I loaded onto the Duck did me in.”
“But you did deliver everything I gave you on time, and that’s the important thing!” Rebecca assured him. “Oh, Baloo, I’m so happy I could just kiss you!” Baloo opened his eyes and gave her an odd, almost wary look. She flushed and amended, “I mean, you do deserve a reward...um...you have been a model employee this week.” An awkward moment passed, then an idea formed, and relieved, she snapped her fingers.
“I’ve got it. All right, Baloo, tomorrow night I’m taking you to dinner!” she said, grabbing her blue raincoat from the coat rack.
He brightened. “Dinner? At Louie’s? Or Joe’s...aw, I keep forgettin’ that Joe went out of business. Man, I sure do miss his chili....”
“Let’s try that fancy new restaurant on Della Street. It’s getting excellent reviews,” Rebecca suggested. She slipped her coat on and picked up her purse and briefcase. “Goodnight, Baloo. I’ll come by the office at seven.”
“Solid! Thanks, Rebecca.” Baloo never turned down a free meal.
“You’re welcome. Oh, and wear a clean shirt and tie too. Without stains this time.”
“Awww...” he moaned as the front door closed behind her. “I knew there hadda be a catch!”
* * *
Kit couldn’t believe it. He sat on his bed watching as Baloo got ready. “You’re going on a date with Miz Cunningham?”
“It ain’t a date, Kit,” Baloo said defensively. He sucked in his breath and buttoned his best white shirt. The buttons held, but barely. “It’s just dinner--a reward for a job well done, she said so. Ol’ Baloo’s gotta take care of the big guy.” He patted his large stomach. “So, kiddo, which tie should it be?” He held up two, the only ties he owned. They were identical, both olive-green with brownish-yellow spots here and there. One was a pattern; the other used to be solid green at the time of purchase.
The boy hid a smile and pointed to the one without food stains. “Are you sure? Maybe it’s a excuse to get to know you better.”
“That gal knows me far too well as it is.”
The boy sniffed the air. “Gee, is that the scent of soap? Did you actually take a shower?” Kit marveled, hands clasped to his chest in mock amazement.
“Yeah, yeah, yuk it up, kid,” Baloo admired his reflection in the portable oval mirror propped in a corner. A sight for sore eyes, he thought approvingly. Aloud, he added, “and don’t tell her nothin’, either, got it?”
“Got it, Papa Bear.” Kit said. He glanced at Baloo’s favorite battered old brown bomber jacket laid out on the other bed; next to it was his brown flight cap, complete with a buckled chin strap. All he needs are a pair of goggles and a scarf, thought Kit. It was hardly suitable for a fancy eating establishment. “Uh, Baloo...”
Downstairs, they heard the sound of Rebecca’s key in the lock and her voice rose, floating up the stairs. “Knock, knock, Baloo! Taxi’s waiting.”
“COMING!” Baloo bellowed back. Quickly he slipped on the jacket and cap, checked himself in the mirror once more. “Wait’ll she gets a load of me, eh, kiddo?”
“Yeah,” Kit smiled weakly but gave him a thumb’s-up signal anyway. “Have fun.”
“Probably not, but thanks anyway.” Together, they headed downstairs.
Rebecca’s expression when she saw him descend the stairs was similar to Kit’s. “Is that soap I smell?”
“Nope, just pure Baloo,“ he said, then, changing the subject, “My, Rebecca, don’t you look nice!” The taxi driver honked his horn outside.
She wore a smart, rather prim mauve frock, long-sleeved with a prim neckline. A jaunty lavender bow was tied at the collar, softening the severe outfit. She did own a couple of strapless gowns, but didn’t think them appropriate attire for dinner with an employee. Was this a mistake? She smiled at him. “Thank you. We’d better get out there. Good-night, Kit.”
Kit gave them a devilish grin. “Have a great time, you two!” he said.
“Don’t be late. Baloo has a
curfew.” Both rolled their eyes and
headed for the taxi.
The French doors of Chez Juliette l’Enfante suddenly flew open; Rebecca charged through with swift, angry strides.
“I have never been so embarrassed in my entire life!” she yelled. Baloo dutifully followed her, a few steps behind. The clean white shirt he wore strained the buttons fastened across his middle even more than before dinner. Sure would be nice if my ol’ pal Buzz could invent an elastic shirt for such occasions. At least he didn’t spill anything on his tie. During appetizers, Rebecca had commented that he looked almost respectable.
“Aw, sure ya have!” he said helpfully, spreading his beefy hands in a placating gesture. “Remember the last time we went out?”
Furious, Rebecca wheeled to face him. With one accusing finger, she jabbed the air at his chest, punctuating each word.
“Tonight you turned a perfectly charming dinner into a football game!”
“Yeah,” The gray bear preened, pleased with himself. “And I think some thanks are in order, Becky.”
“That’s Rebecca. Ree. Beck. Kaa.” she bit out the syllables. Suddenly, an unwilling chuckle escaped her. “Though...the look on Mr. McFibble’s face when you tackled him into the caviar...he always did have egg on his face. Get it, Baloo? Caviar? Egg on his face?” Her chuckle erupted into a full, throaty laugh at her own joke. Baloo grinned, relieved that Rebecca was back in good humor. Man, that gal gets mad quicker than swarm of wasps during tree-prunin’ season.
Mr. McFibble, a badger and an unpleasant business rival, had also opted to try the new restaurant that night. Seated at a table next to theirs, he had lit up a cigar after supper and casually blew the noxious fumes in their direction. When asked to extinguish it, he had nonchalantly snuffed out the offensive object in the middle of Baloo’s triple-scooped strawberry liqueur ice cream smoothy, melting the center with a loud, wet hiss.
Baloo was incensed; this fancy dessert was no Krakatoa Special, but a person just didn’t do that to a poor, helpless dessert. Ever. So he stood up, backed up a few steps down a small aisle between the tables. Then, with a bellow, he charged into the startled Mr. McFibble, plowing them both into the hors d’oeuvres cart. Rebecca had watched the entire thing with openmouthed horror.
But now it just seemed --- funny. She could never stay mad at Baloo for long. Baloo would never know that her threats were empty, that in a way, he had as much power over her emotions as she did over his future. It galled her to no end. It was better to keep him off balance, to make him wonder what she was capable of if he pushed his luck too far. But not tonight.
My paperwork is caught up and we’ve got ten thousand shaboozies in the bank. Life is good. Baloo grinned at her mischievously and a reluctant smile tugged at her lips. Oh, hell, she thought, not tonight. It’s been ages since I’ve gone out with a ma--she aborted the thought and revised it: It’s been ages since I’ve gone out for an evening. Satisfied, she relaxed into an easy stroll and fell in step with Baloo. It was a lovely starry night, Wildcat was babysitting Molly, so she was free to enjoy the company of adults for a change.
Adults? No, she thought wryly, regarding Baloo’s attire with mildly annoyed amusement, but tonight I’ll take what I can get. Baloo and fancy restaurants don’t mix. You knew what could happen the minute you saw him in that get-up.
“Whoa, Becka--er--Rebecca,” he said, slipping his arm comfortably around her shoulders. “You’re startin’ ta have a good time.” Absently, Rebecca let it stay; it was a familiar, almost brotherly gesture and she didn’t mind. Rough around the edges Baloo may be, but at least he wasn’t a wolf in bear’s clothing. She could trust him.
Rebecca relaxed against him as they walked down the neon-lit sidewalk. “Yeah, well, maybe I am. So?”
“Well, you better be careful. Or someone might mistake us for friends.”
Her voice softened. “Maybe we are, a little...Baloo.”
“Well, stranger things have happened, Rebecca...”
“Becky,” she corrected him, smiling. The faint sound of voices reached them. They were approaching a small group of people talking animatedly to each other.
“Becky. Just think of it, you and me --- friends! We’d talk more, trust one another, help each other out, and stick together through thick and thin ---!” Suddenly, Baloo gasped and dashed forward --- and in doing so --- his arm resting across his boss’ shoulders sent poor Rebecca spinning like a demented top on a freshly polished linoleum floor.
Finally, she staggered to a stop, holding her head to quell her dizziness.
“B-Baloo?” She blinked, staring after him.
Baloo turned his head to call back excitedly, “A movie, Becky! They’re shootin’ a movie!” He pushed through the throng of onlookers, earning several glares. Oblivious, he made his way to the front. “Move it, folks...comin’ through...MEDIC!”
Filming a movie was always a huge event, ever since the first talkie, The Jazz Swinger. A visit from Starrywood was a taste of magic. Everyone on the set was hard at work, adjusting spotlights, adjusting a large, dimly lit street lamp, focusing cameras or memorizing their lines. It was a world far removed from the everyday one of Cape Suzette, with access granted only through the purchase of a movie ticket. The director, a short, portly platypus, watched the proceedings with a critical eye. Standing next to him was his assistant, a lanky gander, wore a large cylindrical megaphone strapped around his long neck. He seemed nervous and kept glancing at his boss every couple of seconds.
Oh, boy, thought Baloo. I hope they’re doin’ an airplane picture. Maybe Airol Flyin will be in it!
The director suddenly grabbed the handle of the megaphone around the gander’s neck, jerking it toward him like reins, nearly strangling him. A reverent silence fell over the crowd. He raised the mouthpiece to his beak and barked, “Quiet on the set...lights...cameras... ACTION!”
A crew member snapped a “Take seventeen!” clapboard shut.
Then Baloo’s heart skipped a beat.
Moving so fluidly that she seemed to float, a beautiful blonde feline emerged from the darkness and leaned gracefully against the set street lamp. She gazed out at the audience dreamily, with a small smile at no one in particular. Her long, blonde hair fell down her back in a smooth tumble. The numerous sequins of her indigo blue gown sparkled like a thousand stars; the fabric clung to her curvaceous figure as though painted on. Her gown was long-sleeved, high-necked yet daring, emphasizing every luscious curve and her skirt was slit high, displaying one long, shapely leg. She was the envy of every woman and the desire of every man present. And she knew it.
Baloo gazed at her longingly. Oh, baby, I musta died an’ gone to Heaven ‘cause I see an angel.
Then her lips parted like two pale rose petals and, sirenlike, she began to croon in a husky, sultry alto: “La, la-la-laaa...la, la-la-laaa...” She began to stroll down the walk, still singing to herself. Her honeylike, dulcet tones soothed and teased, seeming to wrap themselves around Baloo’s slowing brain (never quick to begin with), overwhelming all thoughts except, Oh, man….He swallowed until his mouth went dry. “Ohhh, Kitten-ka-boom!” he breathed aloud, “It’s Kitten Kaboodle!” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the shoulders of a man and woman on either side of him and rubbed his face with both hands. It was the woman whose face was the last he saw at night (when he wasn’t thinking about flying or enjoying a juicy hamburger). In his daydreams, Baloo would save the tightly bound Kitten from oncoming trains, buzzsaws, man-eating sharks, angry bosses...Baloo flew the Sea Duck above endless clouds, while the lovely Kitten kissed him between regular servings of hamburgers, fries, cookies, a Krakatoa Special with sprinkles. Mmmm, sprinkles.
Directly over the actress’s head, one of the overhead spotlights creaked loudly, then snapped! Kitten Kaboodle gasped, looked up and pointed.
“Oh, no! Another accident!” Her eyes widened with fear and she seemed rooted to the spot.
“I-I’ll save ya, Miss Kaboodle!” People cast startled glances for the source of the rough voice. A big, burly bear broke their ranks, charged forward and dove into the obstacle’s path! Kitten found herself scooped up and lifted out of harm’s way. The heavy light struck Baloo squarely on the head.
Still gazing adoringly at Kitten, he felt a dull thud on his tough skull, but no pain.
“Oh! My hero!” Kitten sighed as she raised a hand to her dainty brow, eyelashes fluttering. Then she swooned in Baloo’s arms. Dazed, he couldn’t have been happier than at that moment.
Suddenly, a swarm of photographers surrounded the two of them; an explosion of flashbulbs dazzled Baloo and bright spots danced before his eyes. Then they were gone in a cloud of dust. Disoriented, he shook his head to clear it and gently laid Kitten’s unconscious form on the ground. Then a familiar female voice cut through his fuzzy thoughts and he winced at the sound.
“Baloo! Are you all right?” Becky had fought her way through the spectators and was at his side in an instant. She caught his shoulders. “Speak to me --- say something!”
He blinked; his head felt like it had been rammed repeatedly into a stone wall. He peered at her blearily. “Cowabunga! Did--did anybody get the license number of that piano?”
* * *
When he came home at eleven that night, Baloo entered the bedroom, singing softly to himself “Dooby-dooby-dooby-doo-wah...” His head still throbbed, but Kitten’s sultry voice made it a pleasant sensation. My hero. My hero. My hero. He took an aspirin and flopped into bed, not bothering to change into his nightshirt. Kit was already in bed, reading his favorite flight manual. He looked up.
“So how was it? Didja have a good time?”
“Oh, yeah, great. Played football and saved her from a knock on the noggin.” Baloo said dreamily.
“What?” Kit put down his book. “Baloo, you’re not making any sense. Football?”
“Sorry...” Baloo yawned mightily, exposing his back teeth. “Big night with the most gorgeous gal in the world. Long story. Tell ya tomorrow.”
“Wait! Does that mean that you and Ms. Cunningham...?”
“Who?” was Baloo’s sleepy reply before the rumbling, loud snores began. Sighing, Kit inserted his earplugs and clicked off the lamp.
* * *
Monday, 9:05 am
A very excited Kit Cloudkicker ran into the office, that morning’s Daily World tucked under his arm. The headlines screamed, ”Pilot Saves Movie Star!” and a large picture of Baloo, holding the swooning Kitten Kaboodle dominated the front page.
“Hey, did you see this?” he shouted. Then he stopped short. No one was here. Piles and piles of today’s newspapers were stacked all over Rebecca’s office; on her desk, the floor, and the chairs. Two stacks of papers toppled over the edge of the desk, revealing Rebecca, her expression that of puzzlement at being surrounded by a fortress. Kit was somewhat crestfallen. “Oh. I guess you already have.”
Wildcat walked in triumphantly, carrying more newspapers. “Wow, I didn’t even have to pay for these! I just found them lying on a bunch of doorsteps.” Rebecca and Kit exchanged amused glances and Rebecca shrugged. Wildcat was...Wildcat. Kit grinned.
Baloo came in next, and it was obvious that he was still in high spirits from his brief brush with a certain glamorous movie queen. “Hey-hey, Becky! Do ya think I could get these bronzed?” He regarded his hands, the very ones that had held Kitten for an enchanted moment with wonder. He hadn’t washed them since Saturday night.
Rebecca was disgusted. “I’m gonna get your head bronzed, Baloo, if you don’t get to work.” She shoved one pile of papers off her desk onto his hands. He staggered a little under the weight.
“Aw, yer just jealous ‘cause ya didn’t get your picture in the paper.”
“I am not.”
“You are, too,” Baloo sang, leaning towards her, enjoying himself. Sometimes I just can’t help it. There were days when it was just plain fun to rile up ol’ Beckers.
“Are too!” Suddenly, the telephone rang loudly, unseen. Kit, who sat on one paper pile reading the article, finally found it on a neighboring pile, under the top page, and picked up the receiver.
“Higher for Hire...what?...sure, we’ll take the deal!” He hung up, excited once more. “Baloo, Tantamount Studios wants you to fly a big, important stunt in Miss Kaboodle’s film!”
Baloo couldn’t believe it. “Wha-? Yahooey!” he threw up his hands, tossing the newspapers he’d been holding into the air. They floated back down and a couple of pages landed on Rebecca’s head. “Starrywood!” he sang, “Hoo-hoo--and I’m gonna be with Kitten!”
“You think maybe I could get a part in a movie?” Kit asked eagerly.
“And I could see a star?” Wildcat added. Baloo caught them both around the shoulders under his massive arm.
“Oh, you better believe it. In Starrywood, anything’s possible!” Baloo swept his other arm before them, in a ‘can you see it now?’ gesture. They could. The excitement was definitely catching.
“Ahem,” Rebecca cleared her throat loudly, halting their celebration. Uh-oh, all three of her employees thought, their hearts sinking, Here it comes.
“Since when do you accept a job without asking me--your boss--first?”
Baloo thought fast. “Oh, but you’re comin’ too!” Rebecca started to wave him off and push past him, but he suddenly let go of Kit and Wildcat and caught her up in his arms, lifting her off her feet to get her attention. “Besides, I’m not askin’ my boss, I’m askin’ my friend.” He chucked her under the chin playfully and set her down.
She felt a myriad of emotions---feeling strangely manipulated by flattery, but also...pleased. Damn the man, he knew how to be charming when he wanted to be and here she was, letting herself be charmed. “Well....”
Kit spoke the magic words. “They’re paying three big ones...”
Rebecca brightened. “When does he start?” Three thousand shaboozies. She could buy Molly piano lessons and a piano first, of course...renovate the office...hire a secretary...get her hair done...
The sharp honk! of a car outside interrupted her daydream. Baloo opened the front door and poked his head outside to see an elegant, sleek silver-gray limousine parked in front of Higher for Hire. “Wow! Talk about service.”
The others eagerly followed and gaped in
delighted awe at the gleaming vehicle, the magic carpet ride to Starrywood, the
town of dreams.
* * *
The ride through Tantamount Studios was a bizarre, yet strangely entertaining one. They passed smoothly through the arches separating the real world from one that was manic.
They passed sets, witnessed a shoot-out between cops and gangsters with tommyguns. Like a traffic light changing from green to red, the hail of bullets (blanks) stopped suddenly to let the limousine pass, then, without missing a beat, resumed the make-believe carnage.
In the back seat, Kit peeked through the right-side rolled-down window past Baloo and caught his breath. “Wow! Isn’t that--?”
A half-dressed woman in curlers ran across the street, screaming. Chasing her were four odd-looking men, the leader chomping on a cigar and wriggling his eyebrows and bringing up the rear was a blond fellow with curly hair and long coat, honking a little horn. It was the hot new comedy team, the Narx Brothers.
“Oh, yeah! It is, it is!” Baloo was thoroughly enjoying himself, recognizing actors as though they were old friends.
“And here’s some of my favorite stars!” Two comical characters, one tall and thin, the other short and rotund, stepped off the curb into a puddle, and sank to the bottom, leaving two derbies floating on the surface. The only signs of Plural and Tardy were the air bubbles.
“My favorite star is the North Star,”
Wildcat confided. The limousine driver
gunned the motor and they sped off with shrieking tires.
Kitten Kaboodle, leading lady and glamour queen of the silver screen was a pirate today. Standing on a small rocking platform designed as the prow of a pirate ship, she gripped the wheel, pretending to guide her ship home. A prop man sloshed a bucket of water on the ‘deck’, simulating a ‘storm’. The actress wore a very abbreviated costume, looking better than any buccaneer ever could: A low-cut white silk blouse was tied snugly in front and her black ragged shorts displayed her long, shapely legs to excellent advantage. Perched on her head at a rakish angle was a large black pirate hat, adorned with a “Jolly Roger” skull-and-crossbones motif. A well-behaved parrot perched upon her shoulder.
When the limousine finally parked in front of Kitten’s set, Baloo jiggled the door handle impatiently. Rebecca, sitting at the far left, with Wildcat and Kit between them, couldn’t see anything. She watched Baloo, somewhat amused at his eagerness to get started. That’s the first time I’ve seen him so anxious to go to work. This one-day job is definitely worth more than three thousand shaboozies. The slow-moving, slothful pilot was definitely not himself today.
Kitten saw them and her lovely face lit up with pleasure. A bird-wrangler took the parrot; then Kitten abandoned the ship’s wheel and made her way down the gangplank, her hips undulating enticingly.
“Ho-ho, does she shiver my timbers!” Baloo said fervently.
“Darling!” she drawled the endearment, so that it came out as “dah-ling”. The driver depressed a button so that Baloo’s door came unlocked. He tumbled out, followed by Kit and Wildcat. Rebecca started to emerge, only to find the door slammed rudely in her face! She started to protest, “Hey--!” and saw Kitten briefly through the window; the other woman’s face was bland and innocent. Didn’t she see me?
Kitten Kaboodle was saying to Baloo, “I’d hoped you’d do the stunt, you big hunk of a bear!” Her drawling voice was husky and smooth, making Baloo’s fur tingle. It was a foreign, yet not unwelcome feeling for him. He was not used to women, yet she made him feel kind of...manly. Up close, she was even more beautiful than on a remote flickering screen. Her long silky hair draped gracefully past her shoulders, dipping over her right eye in the latest ‘peek-a-boo’ style. Her sky-blue eyes absorbed him, gentle and sweetly alluring. Her lips were as pink as rose petals and perfectly shaped; they seemed to beg to be kissed. A tiny brown beauty mark on the left side of her chin accentuated her beauty.
Giddy with awe, Baloo squirmed with embarrassed pleasure. “Hubba-hubba! Show me where!” Laughing lightly, Kitten reached up and tweaked his nose with a little honk!
“Silly, “ she said, “that’s not till tomorrow. Let me give you a personal tour of the studio first, hmmm?” Playfully she reached up and patted his cheeks. She held out her hand and dazed, he took it. Her elegant hand disappeared into his large, meaty one. A little thrill went through him at the contact. Guess I can’t wash my hand today either.
“Oh, solid! Delighted!” Still dazed, Baloo followed her happily off the pirate set, with Kit and Wildcat bringing up the rear. Something in Baloo’s slow brain nagged at him, but he blissfully ignored it. It wasn’t often that a beautiful woman showed interest in him. Am I forgettin’ somethin’?.nah....
“Guys! Wait for me!”
As the distance grew further between them, Rebecca continued to struggle with the locked car door. It was locked from outside and only the driver could deactivate it. He had seen the little group follow Kitten and relaxed in the knowledge that his job was done until the next one came. Rebecca rapped on the soundproof window dividing the front and back seats, yelled until she was hoarse but to no avail. Then she noticed that the side door window was still partly open, just enough to admit her slender frame. Grunting, she managed to wriggle through, lost her balance and fell flat on her posterior.
Swearing softly, Rebecca rubbed her backside to numb the pain and started to walk. She could still catch up if she hurried...
“Excuse me, miss, you forgot to tip,” a soft, pleasant voice startled her. The limousine driver, a monkey with large, jug-like ears and heavy-lidded eyes put out a hand, an obvious hint.
Rebecca thought, oh, well. When in Rome... She quickly fished around in her hip pocket for a tip. Nuts. “Can you break a ten?”
“Frankly, my dear...I don’t have a dime,” the monkey driver told her. Grumbling, she handed the bill over and hurried away, muttering under her breath.
Kitten drove the caddie, pointing out different parts of Tantamount Studios, a pirate queen playing tour guide. Baloo sat next to her in the front. Wildcat and Kit managed to squeeze into the back. She drove quickly and expertly, maneuvering several sharp turns around crates, sets and passing crew members. Actually, she drove a little too fast, just out of Rebecca’s reach as she ran to catch up. She seemed oblivious to the other woman’s faint calls to please wait.
Wheezing, lungs on fire, Rebecca continued to chase the elusive speeding cart. She imagined that she saw Kitten take a quick glance in her direction but that was all. “BALOO! Here I am, guys! BALOOOO!” Her normally clear, crisp voice was spent, could not compete with the vroom! motor noise of the caddie. At last she slowed to a walk and gave up. Then: Did I hear something? It sounded like a groan, coming closer....
“...and over here is where we build sets for my fabulous movies, “ she could hear Kitten telling her little tour group a few feet away, when she again caught up.
Rebecca caught a glance of the retreating wheels of the caddie just before it rounded another pile of crates. “Here I am! Baloo--!” Suddenly, a big bandaged thing staggered in front of her, cutting her off and she yelped in surprise. Then she relaxed. It was only a harried-looking elephant, his pudgy features almost completely hidden by clumsy, unraveling bandages and even a plaster cast. “Oh! You scared me with that mummy costume. Are you doing a horror film?” The elephant looked at her as if she was insane.
“Costume! Mummy!” he cried indignantly, as though she should know who he was. “I’m the cameraman of the Kitten Kaboodle flick. Every ten minutes---something goes blooey!” his voice broke and to Rebecca’s astonishment, he began to cry! A large wooden set of a hotel front creaked nearby; but both were too distracted to notice.
Rebecca laughed kindly, “You show business types are so dramatic. I’m sure accidents just...!”
Crash! The wooden structure suddenly swayed and fell on top of them! Coughing from the cloud of dust rising from the impact, Rebecca managed to step aside so that she was standing in the middle of the square hole “window” cut out of the set . Unhurt, she looked for the cameraman. A painful moan came from underneath the debris. He was sore but alive.
“...happen.” Rebecca finished lamely.
The flustered businesswoman frowned. Suddenly, she was blinded by flashbulbs. The
same aggressive group of newshounds from the scene of Baloo’s ‘rescue’ of Kitten
Kaboodle, ever attuned to scandal and public suffering, fired their shutters at
her and the poor cameraman, then dashed off for their next scoop. Rubbing her eyes, Rebecca looked around in
bewilderment. “Then again...?”
Baloo sat in a folding chair, doing his favorite thing, relaxing.
Startled, Baloo found himself face-to-face with a panting, red-faced boss. “Well, Becky, where ya been?” he asked genially. Just ol’ Beckers, he thought.
“Where haven’t I been?” she snapped. “I thought friends were supposed to stick together!” That man has the attention span of a fruit fly.
“MAKE-UP!” Without warning, a gravel-voiced make-up assistant drew back his arm and hit Baloo, full force with a giant powder puff, emitting gritty powder which drifted over Rebecca as well, who began to cough, her eyes and throat itching. A backdrop of igloos and a snowy landscape magically dropped behind them. Rebecca moved to the side to avoid being in the shot.
“Kiki wanted me to take some publicity shots,” Baloo said. Oh boy, she thought, he’s got the same look he gets when Louie has that Two-for-One Krakatoa Special on the menu.
She raised a cynical eyebrow. “Kiki?”
“You know. Kitten,” he explained, as though to a slightly backward child. She didn’t like the way this was headed. What in the world was so fascinating about that rude, flashy blonde? I bet she dyes it. Why on earth was she taking such a shine to Baloo, who was someone who was, say, a person one had to get used to? He shouldn’t be interested in such a woman. Why was he acting like such a ninny over someone like that? Typical man, she thought sourly, and stopped.
“Ready, Mr. Baloo? He assumed what he considered to be a heroic pose. “Smile!”
Every ten minutes...something goes blooey. The cameraman and the near miss with the falling hotel set. She had to tell him.
“Never mind that, Baloo! Something weird is going on around here.”
He started to ask what, when a sexy female voice interrupted them.
“Oh, Baloo!” Kitten smoothly moved in front of Rebecca, accidentally-on-purpose giving her a hard, vicious nudge with her hip, knocking her off-balance. Rebecca tottered on her heels, trying to stay upright. She fell and found herself sitting on the floor. Again, Kitten ignored Rebecca and batted her baby blues at Baloo, the idiot.
“Just in time for a little lunchie,” Kitten cooed, as she caught Baloo’s hand again and led him outside to another waiting limousine. “Caio!” she called gaily over her shoulder. Baloo followed like an obedient puppy.
“Ya hear that, Becky? We’re gonna chow!”
Rebecca stood up. “Good! That’ll give me time to tell you about the accidents that--!”
“I’m sorry,” Kitten poked her pretty blonde head out the back window and said with obvious regret, “but this is a private lunch.” She rolled up the window, leaving Rebecca staring back at a square of opaque glass before the silver car roared off, leaving her choking on thick exhaust fumes. My lungs are going to be black tomorrow.
“Hey, how do I look, Miz Cunningham?” A strange, very short gangster with Kit’s voice approached her. She stared. The glossy brown hair was obviously a wig and his handlebar mustache was much too big for his face. It was Kit, dressed to kill. He was bristling with a restless energy, eager to be somewhere else. Normally Rebecca would make a comment, but now wasn’t the time.
“Listen, Kit. I’ve got to talk to you about---!”
“Gee, sorry, Miz Cunningham, but I’m on my way to an audition.” Kit apologized, not listening. “Maybe Wildcat can help.” He hurried away.
“Wait!” she shouted after him. “Where is Wildcat?”
“Stargazing!” he answered, before turning a corner and disappearing into a building.
Before she could digest this, Wildcat suddenly appeared in front of her, frantically waving a large butterfly net and weaving around passing celebrities on their way to work. They easily eluded his net and he was getting frustrated, which was a rare thing. Usually so sweet-natured and unflappable, Wildcat now showed signs of breaking the pattern.
“I can’t get one star to stay still long enough!” he complained.
Outside stood a cityscape set. One-dimensional hollow buildings such as hotels, office buildings and restaurants dotted the lot. Near the animation studio, Rebecca sat at a concession stand, absently stirring her coffee. She was almost used to the insane pace around her. In yet another take, the Narx Brothers chased that shrieking ninny all over the lot. A couple of thespians in Renaissance garb ran through their lines over sandwiches and coffee. Lack of tables and chairs forced them to improvise, using a large overturned crate as a makeshift table and two smaller boxes as chairs.
“Baloo’s some friend,” mumbled Rebecca. “Something fishy’s going on and he won’t even listen.” She felt hot, tired and depressed. All her friends had deserted her, leaving her alone in this strange place, surrounding by lunatics in Halloween costumes.
Her self-pity was interrupted by a sudden scream from above!
Rebecca whipped her neck around and upwards to look: A broken railing, followed by a blur of gray suit and feathers descended from the top floor of one of the “office buildings” at heart-stopping speed.
The Renaissance couple glanced up from their sandwiches, unimpressed. The woman was exasperated. “Not another accident! We’d better move.” They rose in concert, taking their lunch with them just before the falling man hit. Crash!
Before she could register the sight, or even cover her eyes, he slammed headfirst into the vacated crates, sending wooden slats and splinters flying in all directions. When the dust cleared, Rebecca looked around. No one seemed concerned. They continued on their business, as though this was a common occurrence. It was probably a stunt, like the rest of the antics around here.
She stood up and rushed to the scene. A meek-looking turkey lay in the ruins, stunned and moaning with pain. His cheap gray business suit was shredded, his toupee askew and black horn-rimmed glasses hanging on one ear. Other than that, he was alive and sore. Rebecca shook her head disapprovingly. Actors!
“That was very dangerous!” she chided him. “Maybe you should think twice about being a stuntman.”
The turkey stood up cautiously, balancing his weight. Adjusting his orange mop-like toupee on his head, he tried to straighten his spectacles. They made a sickening cracking sound, then hard little pebbles of glass sprinkled from the frames, landing on the ground. He stared at her, incredulous at her apparent naivete.
“Stuntman? Lady, I’m just the accountant for the Kitten Kaboodle film,” he exploded. “I’d be crazy to be a stuntman on this movie. Oh, I sure pity the poor bozo who’s flying the big important, final stunt---he’s sure to be a goner!” Rebecca could only stare after him as he limped away, trying in vain to fit the two halves of his glasses together.
no! her mind screamed.
That’s the stunt Baloo’s doing!
After asking around, ten minutes later Rebecca managed to find out where Kitten Kaboodle had taken Baloo. She scanned the names of the buildings, finally seeing the ornately scrolled La Rotune Restaurant. I’ve got to warn him, she thought. Oh, Baloo, trouble just follows you everywhere!
She watched and followed at a short distance; an actress, a voluptuous, heavy sow sauntered down the blossom-lined walk through the front doors, swinging a little parasol. It was Mae Chest, the controversially risque actress from “My Little Piggledee”, and “I’m No Cherub”. Next to Kitten Kaboodle, she was considered one of the most powerful actresses in Starrywood.
At the hat-check booth, the bored maitre d’, an obese but well-tailored hippo, perked up and hurried from his post to greet her.
“How nice to see you again!” Sweating and smiling so widely that his back teeth were visible, he was not merely hospitable, not downright unctuous, oozing good will. Rebecca grimaced with distaste, then smiled approvingly as Miss Chest ignored his chatter and tossed her white mink stole from her shoulders, where it landed carelessly on his head.
Unfazed, the maitre d’ took it off and hung it lovingly on one of the branches of an iron coat-rack next to the door. Apparently, this sort of treatment was acceptable and even cherished. “and have a pleasant lunch!” he added.
My turn, Rebecca thought; she saw Baloo and Kitten sitting at a table several feet away, partially concealed by large ferns. He was seated with his back to her, eating a generous plate of spaghetti. A basket holding a long loaf of French bread sat in the middle. Kitten had a glass of white wine in front of her. They were talking but she couldn’t hear a thing. She marched boldly forward, past the hippo but wasn’t quick enough. He caught her shoulders, lifting her and planting her firmly in front of him.
“Yyyessss?” Another horribly arch smile nearly split his face as he drew out the word for effect.
Rebecca shook him off, annoyed at the delay. Didn’t he know she had to hurry? Her next words were rushed: “I’vegottotellmyfriendaboutianaccidentthathasn’thappenedyetbutprobablywillifIdon’tget
tohimfirsttowarnhim!” She panted, barely finishing the sentence without passing out from lack of air.
The maitre d’ waved his hand impatiently, dismissing her. “Fine, fine. Are you a movie star?”
“Movie star? What does that have to do with it?” she said indignantly, too disgusted by this idiot to bother justifying herself to him any longer. Baloo needed her! She took two steps forward before his unpleasant singsongy voice assaulted her ears and a heavy hand clasped her shoulder.
A hulking, homely gorilla suddenly materialized before them. He regarded her stolidly, with hard piggy eyes and, in a businesslike fashion, began to roll up his sleeves. His forearms bulged with fat, hair and muscle.
“We only serve movie stars,” the hippo said primly. Before Rebecca could wonder why he didn’t recognize a celebrity without asking, she saw the huge, hairy-knuckled paws of Brutus reach for her.
Too furious to be frightened, Rebecca jabbed his nose with her finger, startling him. He winced and rubbed his nose, staring at her with surprise. “Hold your bananas, buster!” she hissed at him, “I can find my own way out! Hmmph!” Then she pivoted and stalked out the door, slamming it.
She waited a moment, then cracked the door open, and carefully peeked through the sliver of space. Brutus was gone, leaving the maitre d’ alone, writing in the reservation book. She spotted Mae Chest’s discarded fur stole, still hanging on the coat-rack.
Plan B, she thought slyly. She tugged the garment free, wrapping it around herself, feeling a guilty pleasure as the cool softness caressed her face. Show your stuff, she commanded herself.
The hippo beamed at the graceful, haughty young starlet approaching. He wondered who she was. Her face seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. There were so many celebrities who passed that very spot that he had trouble keeping these famous people straight. But it stood to reason: Anyone who dressed so elegantly and moved with such confidence had to be a movie star in this town. Who else would dare to march past him with such poise and quiet arrogance? They ruled Starrywood and he was their faithful servant.
“How nice to see you again,” he said automatically, as she carelessly tossed the fur stole to him. This time he caught it before it could land on his head.
Rebecca crouched and waddled, stealthily making her way toward Baloo and Kitten. Keeping her head low, she staked out a spot behind the thick foliage, behind Baloo. Through the leaves, she could see Kitten smiling and nodding animatedly, apparently enjoying the big bear’s company. Kitten wasn’t eating but she did take the occasional dainty sip of white wine. Rebecca could hear Baloo noisily wolfing down his food, and smirked. If she were sharing his table, she would have died of embarrassment at his bad table manners. Now, though, she was perversely glad that Kitten had to suffer. I wonder if he’ll tackle someone in this restaurant. That’ll show ‘Kiki’ for sure!
She heard Kitten say, “So, darling...about this...Rebecca?” There was a hint of distaste, the way she spoke Rebecca’s name, as though it smelled. Smug smile disappearing, the businesswoman strained to hear better, ignoring the leaves tickling her face.
“Rebecca? Rebecca who?” Baloo twirled some noodles around the tines of his fork with expertise, then they disappeared into his mouth with a satisfied slurp. Rebecca winced, mentally picturing it.
Kitten laughed softly, the sound of tinkling bells. She leaned, one elbow on the table, genuinely amused. Her lips parted in a sweet smile, showing tiny, perfectly white teeth.
“Dahh-ling! Your humor is so...humorous,” she said at last. “You know. Rebecca...your...girlfriend?”
Are you kidding? Her brain shrieked in outrage. Then: Well, I suppose it’s a natural mistake. Her seeing us together and all.
Baloo stopped eating. “Girlfriend?” he said incredulously. “Oh no, she’s just my boss.”
Rebecca’s head began to ring. Baloo’s voice: Well, you’d better be careful. Or someone might mistake us for friends. Maybe we are, a little...Baloo. Rebecca remembered his arm slung around her shoulders, the pleasant weight of it, making her feel safe, protected...
We’d talk more...trust one another...help each other out...stick together through thick and thin...Then he ran to see Kitten, leaving her reeling on the sidewalk....
Besides, I’m not askin’ my boss, I’m askin’ my friend. She had felt a strange warmth then, when he had included her. Then: Just my boss. Just my boss. He didn’t mean it, she thought bitterly, he just wanted to go to Starrywood and got his way by sweet-talking me---as usual. He wanted to be with Kitten. Something exploded in Rebecca’s brain, obliterating all reason. There was a stinging sensation behind her eyes, but she was too enraged to cry. She stood up, roughly knocking the ferns over, scattering dirt everywhere.
“Just your BOSS?! Why, you---!” Rebecca roared. Grabbing Baloo’s dinner plate, she viciously flipped it, dumping a warm mess of limp noodles and spaghetti sauce over his head! Kitten blinked and watched the commotion with bright interest. Well, well---drama just seemed to follow her whenever she went. She leaned one elbow on the table, obviously entertained by Rebecca’s outburst.
Baloo sat stunned, dripping in oozing pasta. Where’d Becky come from? Why’s she so all-fired steamed?
“Becky!” he protested, too surprised to be angry, or even to wipe his face. “What are ya doin’?”
She growled deep in her throat. He had no clue, no idea! She spotted the loaf of French bread and picked it up, hoisting it like a baseball bat over her head. Other diners watched the crazy woman, enjoying the show.
The words came rushing forth. “Friends are supposed to help each other, remember? So I’m helping you!” she snarled. Swiftly, she swung it down hard, connecting with his skull. Too late, Baloo ducked and crossed his arms over his head, trying to shield it. It didn’t hurt, but man, it sure didn’t stop either! Crumbs flying, she rained blow and blow with relentless fury and kept whacking until someone grabbed her roughly from behind. Powerful arms wrapped themselves around her in a steely grip, wrenching her off her feet.
Brutus held her, stifling her struggles, turning so that she faced the officious maitre d’. The hippo looked down at her, his expression that of one who sees a worm in his salad. Brutus’s piggy eyes narrowed. Oh yes, he was going to enjoy this.
“You again!” the maitre d’ spat. He jerked his thumb at the gorilla, a definite signal to let the games begin. “Get rid of her.”