Something Old, Something New: Deadly Dreams and Paradise
Chapter One – Old Memories and a New Addition
“Hey, Aunt Eva!”
Theo Maplewood bounded into Ranger Headquarters, eager to show his aunt the results of his latest test. She’d been tutoring him on the side in algebra, and his grades had steadily improved. He called again but she didn’t answer, so he ran into the exercise room. His vigilance was rewarded, and with a smile he could barely contain he marched up to her. “Hey, look at…today’s…”
Theo stopped when he saw the look on his aunt’s face. She was staring out the window intently and had actually flinched when he’d started his sentence. Theo approached, slowly. “Is everything okay?”
She didn’t look away from the window. “I’m okay, Theo. There are just some days the old memories haunt me more than others.” Theo wasn’t sure what to do, so he took a step back. Eva disembarked from her train of thought. “Oh Theo, I’m sorry! Ah, is that a good grade paper I see?”
For the next few minutes, Eva went over Theo’s paper with him, praising his progress and noting areas where their tutoring should be expanded. Theo watched her face with a feeling down inside that told him something wasn’t right. When she finished, Theo thanked her then took his opportunity. “Aunt Eva, is it anything you can tell me about?”
“Not really, dahling. Some problems are totally our own.” Eva smiled at him again and sent him on his way. Theo paused at the door to the exercise room, watching his aunt as her attention returned to the window. The feeling was still there, and Theo found it saddened him a little to know he couldn’t help her. Then he heard Bink call from the veranda, shook it off, and went out to play.
Just outside the city limits of Hondo, Texas, the Double-D ranch had been a-bustling with activity for some time now. Ever since Noel used Gadget’s modified metamorphicizer to turn into a bat, he’d wanted to go down and visit the Fairmonts again. It was a transition time for him, learning what being a bat was like. Foxy was helping him, though, and their love for each other helped more than anything. This morning, the two of them were out watching Uncle Bedivere tend to his herd of bombardier beetles.
The Texas prairie bat was graying some, his fur leading the way, but he still cut a handsome figure. He barged his way through the herd, shielding himself with the cut-off bottom of an aluminum soda can. Small fountains of flame shot up often from the beetles as he headed toward the gate and closed it. “Lawsy! Feeding time’s a downright hazardous thing!”
Bedivere put away his shield, dusted himself off, and took a look at Noel and Foxy. “Noel, I must say you make one handsome bat! Shore did pull the wool over my eyes the first time I saw you. I’d plumb fergot about Foxy and you telling me on the phone and I’d thought you were some local sidewinder! Good thing mah scattergun only had salt in it.”
“Yeah, that would’ve been quite a mess to clean up, in more ways than one,” Noel said. Foxy was sympathetic, as always. “Don’t feel bad, uncle. It was an honest mistake.” Bedivere was many things, but no one ever accused him of getting down on himself. “Oh, don’t fret none, darlin’. Your Uncle Bedivere’s made worse mistakes than that in his time! Now that we’ve got a little time ta chew the cud, tell me how you’re ad-jus-ting to being one of the winged set, Noel.”
Noel started to gesture with his arms, but remembered in time. He’d done that once before while discounting the wind, and it knocked him right into the wall of the barn. This time, he kept them folded. “It’s not easy—learning to fly when you lack all the bat instincts is tough, but I’m managing. Luckily I have that crash helmet and padded vest to keep me from breaking any more bones. I’m getting there, but I still have trouble trusting my ears rather than my eyes to tell me what’s going on.”
Bedivere slapped him on the back. “Maybe what you need is a little in-flight training. We can go out to Boondoggle Canyon tonight when it’s good and dark and fly the length of it. You’ll find that echolocation’s a lot more handy than those peepers of yours!” Noel found the idea to his liking. “I might try that. I’ve gotten past the point of still using the hand glider and then letting go and flapping madly to stay in the air.”
Foxy giggled, remembering. “It’s a good thing dad was there the last time you tried it. You panicked and he had to fly you down. Maybe Uncle Bedivere’s right and if you’re flying at night you’d be able to concentrate better. We could all go.” Noel ducked his head, embarrassed. “I just feel silly, fluttering around like a newborn bat still earning its wings.”
Bedivere slapped him on the back, hard this time, and Noel’s wings kept him from falling over. For the first time, he realized that Bedivere was used to doing that to bats and it hadn’t occurred to the elder bat what slapping a non-winged fellow would do. Bedivere starting walking with them toward the ranch house. “Now, everyone’s gotta start somewheres! Main thing is, you’re willing. Foxy, how do ya feel about flying over to see Pete Steadman and Sweet Melissa? We’ve got a standing offer for a ten-course meal anytime we get the craving!”
Foxy held her stomach. “Oh, don’t mention food right now! I think that tarantula burrito I had for lunch is playing havoc with me. Maybe I’d better let the two of you go tonight alone.” Noel was instantly concerned, for nothing in his life came before Foxglove. “Are you sure, Foxy? I don’t want you to have to stay alone.” Foxy did her best to appear confident. “No, it’s okay really. I’m...uh, oh...”
Foxy flapped for the bunkhouse, a queasy feeling running through her. When she came back out, it was evident that she and the burrito had parted company. Bedivere helped her stand up against the bunkhouse wall. “Maybe you oughta rest a spell, darlin’. It’s a pretty warm day; must be nigh on to 102. It’ll be a real scorcher when it gets to the height of summer!”
“No, we’re taking Foxy to see a doctor, right now!” Noel insisted. Foxy was queasy, but she still had enough energy to mount a protest. “Oh Noel, I’m fine! It’s just a little upset stomach is all, really.” Noel took her wing. “Please, Foxy, let’s see a doctor. I’ll worry non-stop until I know you’re okay!” Foxy looked over at her uncle, but she could tell he was on Noel’s side in this one. “Oh, all right.”
“We’ll go see Dr. Lazenby,” Bedivere said. “He’s a stubborn old cuss, but one of the better doctors around.”
The three of them flew to town, where the top of an old stable had been converted into a clinic. Dr. Lazenby was a native brown bat, and kept with the old ways. He was dressed like a doctor out of the old west, which meant a suit instead of the regular white doctor’s lab coat. A black silk hat hung on a peg next to his desk and when the trio came in they found him working over his records. “I swan, someday I’ll git that Billy Bob Hatcher t’pay his bills or leave the next cockle-burr where he found it!”
Bedivere stomped in, purposefully loud. “Get up, you lazy old galoot! You’ve got customers!” Dr. Lazenby looked over at them. “Well, if it ain’t Bedivere Fairmont! What prairie dog threw you off this time, you ornery Texas twister?” Bedivere shook wings with the old doctor when he stood up. “You know there ain’t a prairie dog born that can throw this bat! Ah’ve come here to see that you treat mah niece proper.”
Dr. Lazenby bowed ceremoniously to Foxy. “You’re a sight better-looking than your uncle, I’ll say that. So, what seems to be the trouble?” Foxy held her stomach, the queasiness still there. “It’s the flu, I think. I’ve been under the weather and I got sick after lunch today.” Lazenby rubbed his chin. “Hmm...well, take a load off on the table over there we’ll see what we see.”
Foxy sat on an old examination table and Dr. Lazenby proceeded to check her blood pressure and temperature. He also got Foxy to breathe for him so he could listen to her lungs. “Well, it’s not the flu. Your lungs are clear, and your temperature’s a little high but nothing serious. Have you been irritable lately, or having trouble sleeping?”
“Yes, a little of both,” Foxy said.
“Hmm. Have you felt sore, and maybe some joint stiffness early in the morning?”
“Yes—” Foxy stopped and gasped. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Are you saying...are you saying...I have Lyme Disease?” Dr. Lazenby put away his medical bag. “Nope, but it’s something I can’t do anything about—at least for another six months or so. You are, as they said in the old days, with child.”
Foxy nearly fell over. “What?! I...I’m going to have a baby?!” Foxy let out a shriek of joy that made all the others present cover their ears from the intensity. She leaped off the table and grabbed Noel, hugging him so tight she nearly crushed him. “You’re going to be a daddy!!!”
**If I live through the congratulations** A twinge of doubt came to Noel’s mind and he glanced over at Dr. Lazenby. “Doc, are you sure she’s pregnant?” Dr. Lazenby put on his top hat, preparing to leave. “Boy, I’ve been a doctor since before your daddy was born. When I say this here gal’s pregnant, I know what I’m a-saying.” Noel kissed his wife, suddenly realizing that what they’d hoped for had come, and he picked Foxy up and spun her around. “It worked, Foxy! It really worked! Oh sorry, I forgot.” Noel put his wife down, the spinning having made her queasy again.
“Lucky for you I’m too excited to be sick,” Foxy said, then she hugged Bedivere. “You’re going to be an uncle... again!” Bedivere whipped his hat around in the air. “YEE-HAW! Another generation to go on! Say, we’d better mosey on back and let the others know. How much do we owe you, you Sunday banker?”
“Fer that? Not a red cent,” the doctor replied, then took Foxy’s wing respectfully. “Ma’am, right glad I could be of help. Now for your uncle, I’d recommend a dip in a frozen pond to cool off that hot air he’s going to send around about his newest relative!”
Bedivere laughed, and they headed out. All the Fairmonts were more than elated to hear Foxy’s news, and Daisy immediately hugged them both. “Oh, I’m so happy for you two! You will stay here until the baby’s born at least, won’t you?” Foxy looked over at Noel. “I’d like that. I’d want our child to be raised like a bat, rather than the strange way I grew up. What do you think, Noel?”
“I agree, but I’d like to visit my folks before the baby comes so they can share in the good news,” Noel said. Galahad put his wings around the both of them. “Why not invite them down here? We’d love to see them again, and they could stay over at the Steadmans’.” Foxy left it up to her husband. “What do you think, honey? We could invite all the Rangers down to share the news!”
Noel smiled at the idea. “That’s a great idea! Boy, I can’t wait to see the look on Chip’s face when he hears the news.” Little Foxy, named after her big sister, was just learning to speak, and frequently exercised her ability “Foxy? Foxy, is Dale gonna come?” Foxy picked up the little bat. “Sure he is, honey! He’ll be here will all his friends and guess what, you’re going to have a little playmate soon! Noel and I are having a little bat of our very own!” Little Foxy was delighted. “Yay! When does the little bat get here?”
“In about six months,” Foxy said.
Little Foxy pouted. “Aw, I wanted to play dress-up with it tonight! Why’s it take so long?” Noel cleared his throat. “Your parents will explain that to you in about fifteen years, Little Foxy.” The young girl’s interest returned to the coming visit. “Oh. I hope Dale brings balloons this time! He made me a hipplypotamus last time.”
Daisy took Little Foxy in her arms. “Come dear, it’s time for bed now.” Foxy giggled and hugged her father and mother. “Oh, I can’t wait! I’m going to have a baby! A little bat of our very own.” Daisy took Little Foxy off to roost, and Galahad and the others waved when she did. “She’s at the question stage now, no doubt. Just think, Chip, soon you’ll have one of your own to ask you every question under the sky.”
Noel winced at Galahad’s slip of the tongue. “It will be an odd experience, but we’ll have a lot of help looking after the baby. We need to get Kate down here and guess the baby’s gender.” Galahad wondered at his look, then it clicked. “Oh, sorry about that Noel.”
“That’s all right, dad,” Foxy said. “I still have to remember to say Noel sometimes. Noel, maybe you ought to call Mr. Steadman in the morning and let him know our plans. I’m sure he won’t mind playing host to the others, and then we can invite them all down here for a nice time and celebration!”
“That’s a good idea,” Noel said. “Better than getting everyone all excited right at bedtime.” Galahad stretched and yawned. “Speaking of bedtime, it’s time we all got some sleep—especially you, daughter, now that you’re managing two lives rather than one.” Noel had begun to really think about this, and a question found its way to his lips. “I wonder if there’ll be any residual chipmunk genes in the baby?”
“Well, we’ll know as soon as we see its back, most likely,” Galahad said. “But even it doesn’t look resemble you, Noel, it’ll still have a lot of you inside I’m sure.” Noel turned to his wife. “What do you hope it will be, Foxy?”
Chapter Two – A Happy Announcement, Family Thoughts
Everyone went on to bed, and the next morning Noel called Pete Steadman. The wealthy oilmouse was more than glad to play host to his old friends who’d helped save his wife. That secured, Noel called the Rangers and his parents. He wouldn’t tell them the news, but said it would be a pleasant surprise and for all of them to come down at once and meet up at the Steadmans’ that night for supper. Jonathon met the Rangers et al at the door, greeted them cordially, and brought them into the huge dining room.
Noel and Foxy stood up immediately, greeting them. Chip was first in, and hugged his brother warmly. “Noel, you sure sounded mysterious on the phone. Now what’s this all about?” Noel had to go through a lot more greetings before he got a chance to respond. After he and Foxy had said hello to everyone, Noel took the floor. “I suppose you’re all wondering why I’ve called you here. Well, it’s great news and if you’ll all be seated we’ll spill the beans.”
“I’m going to have a baby!” Foxy shouted.
The group gasped as one in surprise, and then shouts of gladness sprang forth as one as they surrounded Foxy. Noel shrugged. “Oops, there went the beans…” Pete Steadman tapped his glass with his spoon, catching the others’ attention. “Ah’d like to offer a toast on this here awe-spicious occasion...” Everyone went to an available chair and picked up a glass, already filled with Texas spring water. “To Noel and Foxy Maplewood, on the announcement of the new life about to enter their lives. May their child grow healthy and strong, and fill their hearts with all the joys a parent could want.”
“Golly, I’ll toast to that!” Gadget said. Dale downed his spring water in one gulp. “Zowie, Noel’s gonna be a dad... again!” Monty slapped Noel on the back. “Me little pal’s gonna have a nipper of his own! That’s great, Noel.” Noel took it in stride. “Thanks everyone. I’m glad you were able to come down on such short notice and share this with us.”
Noel glanced over at his parents, as they hadn’t said anything yet. The talk at the table was quite lively, and Sweet Melissa, Pete’s wife, insisted that she would organize a baby shower for Foxy’s child. “Oh I do de-clare, I am so looking forward to springing something new on the social scene! Now ladies, if you will come with me I am sure we can arrange to split the needs for the newborn so you can handle an equal share among Foxy’s friends in New York.”
The ladies save Jennifer headed off, and Pete made a similar excuse to pull the guys away, which left Foxy and Noel alone with the Maplewoods. Roger pulled up a chair. “I suppose you weren’t the only ones who read the looks on our faces. I’ll say one thing, it was certainly a surprise.” Noel for the first time realized how different it was for him now, being a bat. “I don’t know what to say, folks. I hope it was good news.” Jennifer came over and held her son’s wing. “It’s not that, son. It’s just that it really did take us by surprise! We knew you’d managed to take on the body of a bat, but we had no idea you were going to be, well…compatible with Foxglove.”
“It’s no judgment on your marriage, son,” Roger added quickly. “Foxy, we’re finding this awkward to talk about, but we love you the same as we did. We need to let this sink in a little first.” Noel’s answer was frank, but also a little defensive. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted to become a bat, to start new roots with Foxy.” Jennifer went over to Foxy, the concern evident in her voice. “Are you okay, dear? We’ve both dealt with our concerns about Noel’s change, but are you sure this is safe? You’re a part of the family now, and this is new ground for us. We don’t want you to be in any danger.”
“I’ll be fine, Jennifer,” Foxy said, hugging her. “I’m so excited, I can’t wait! Now you’ll get the whole grandparent treatment.” Roger joined Jennifer, reflecting her concern. “Are you sure you’re fine, Foxy? You can’t have been tested out here yet. But yes, I like the sound of grandparent. We already love Theo, and your child will be just as welcome as he is with us.”
Foxy smiled at them reassuringly. “Don’t worry about me. Noel won’t have a moment’s peace until he’s sure everything is fine. I’m so happy that you’re happy about the baby. Now I’ll have my own family!” Jennifer gave her a hug in return. “Foxy, congratulations! Congratulations, son!” Noel hugged his parents. “I know this has been a strange mess over the last couple of months, suddenly having twins and now having a bat as a grandchild. I’m glad you’ve taken it as well as you did. I hope Sean doesn’t mind.”
Roger gave a chuckle. “Oh, you know dad. You couldn’t faze him with anything.” Noel readily agreed. “That’s true. Chip and I showing up there didn’t even warrant an arched eyebrow from him.” Jennifer looked at them inquisitively. “Will you be staying here to have the baby, or will you come home to us? We’d be glad to set you up in our house for the term.”
“I’d like to stay here,” Foxy said, sitting back down. “Since the child will be a bat I’d like for it to be around bats, rather than the kooky way I grew up, being a bat in name only. This way our child will understand what it means to be a bat, but we’ll visit all of you as often as possible.”
“I understand, and that’s what I figured,” Jennifer said. “Let us know as soon as the baby arrives and we’ll be down here so fast you’ll think we were next door!” Foxy was so excited she stood up again. “You can be sure of that! This baby will be every bit a Maplewood.”
The foursome quickly rejoined the others, who were already getting plans going for Foxy and Noel’s child. When they learned that Foxy had decided to stay in Texas, the New York contingent decided to send their baby shower gifts down to correspond with Mrs. Steadman’s shower. It was getting late, so Pete had Jonathon show his guests to their rooms. Noel went outside with Foxy onto the old Southern style veranda. “Foxy, it took a little song and dance but we got through it! I knew that mom and dad wouldn’t know what to think at first, but you handled it really well. And I just want you to know you’re going to be a great mom.” Foxy hugged Noel, then kissed him. “With you for a dad and me for a mother, it’s going to be the happiest baby there is!”
Noel and Foxy’s conversation had not gone unheard. On the second story veranda, Lahwhinie had come out in a silk nightgown and was enjoying the warm Texas night when the conversation below her began. She listened, then waited until they went back in. When Chip came out to join her, she started at the noise of his moving the door. Chip closed it behind him. “Oh, sorry Lahwhinie. I didn’t know anyone was out here. Are you okay?”
She reached out her hand for his, and put her arms around him. “I am now that you’re here, loverboy. It’s a nice night for thinking. Care to know what I’m thinking about? Children. I know it’s bound to have been on your mind tonight too, what with your brother and Foxy’s announcement.”
Chip was taken aback some at Lahwhinie introducing the idea of kids into the conversation. “Yeah, but it’s not been as bad as it could have been, what with having Theo and all. I always thought being a father would cramp my style, but if anything, being Theo’s dad has brought out the best in me. But you’re really thinking about kids? I’m actually kind of surprised at that.”
Lahwhinie let go and put both arms on the veranda railing, facing him. “I have to think about it, Chip. We’re getting married, and for most couples that’s part of being married. I didn’t have to think about it so much before Noel changed, thanks to that metamorphodingy, but now that he has I know I could too. Would you be disappointed in me if I refused?”
Chip could see that this meant a great deal to her, and he thought hard before he spoke, taking off his hat. “Lahwhinie, I love you and nothing’s going to change that. Yeah, I’ve been thinking about Noel’s change but that’s not the important thing right now. If you marry me, that means we’ll share in everything. We’ll make that decision together when it comes. I don’t have the right to be disappointed in you for that.”
“That’s a lot for a girl to go through. I don’t know if I could ever bring myself to do something like that.”
“Well, it’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get there. Maybe by the time we’re ready, Gadget’ll have come up with an easier way. Still, it would’ve been nice to have a child we could call our own.”
Lahwhinie chuckled and put an arm over Chip’s shoulder. “Chip Maplewood, master of subtlety! I never said that I’d never have kids, just give me some time to get a little more secure with being me and then maybe I’ll let Gadget use that doohickey on me and turn me into a fabulous looking chipmunk babe and we then maybe we’ll enlarge the Maplewood clan that way. Just be patient. Remember, I’m the one that’d have to go around looking like she swallowed a golf ball.”
Chip smiled at the image Lahwhinie brought up. “I can just see Dale hollering ‘fore’ every time he’d see you! But there is another alternative, you know. I could become a handsome mouse. But unlike Noel, it wouldn’t have to be permanent. I think we both like looking the way we do, and changing that would be like changing who we are.”
“You’d change to a mouse for me?” Lahwhinie said, surprised. “That’s sweet, Chip. Then I wouldn’t have to spend months as a chipmunk. But then you’d have a baby mouse. Would you be okay with that?” Chip had to admit, that one hadn’t crossed his mind. “Well, it’s certainly not what I expected coming out of biology class, but the child would be ours. It’d be a job explaining to people that Theo’s the adopted child and the other was natural-born, but I expect you’d like a child that looked like you too. Maybe we could have one of both.”
“I think I’d like that—one day. I can practice being a mom with Theo before we go for the real thing.”
Chip took her in his arms, and held her close. “Tell me, how come you’re so cute?” Lahwhinie smiled back at him. “I don’t know, but it sure came in handy to mesmerize a handsome chipmunk and to make all my dreams come true.”
Chapter 3 – Goodbyes and A Royal Invitation
They embraced, and Lahwhinie leaned against Chip as they listened to the night sounds together. When the next dawn arose, they joined the other visitors at the front door, again congratulating Foxy and Noel and giving their thanks for the Steadmans’ hospitality. Sweet Melissa was the perfect hostess as always. “Oh now, it wasn’t putting us out the least little bit! Fact is, I hadn’t entertained anyone for four whole days. I was starting to just stagnate!”
“Thank you, Sweet Melissa,” Noel said. “We’re grateful for all your help. If you’re ever by the Double-D ranch, don’t be strangers.” Sweet Melissa kissed him on the cheek. “We’ll be sure to drop by, especially to see that cute little baby when it’s here!”
Foxy gave her a hug. “You’re welcome anytime, both of you! Zipper, you haven’t said much since last night. Are you just acting normal or is there something on your mind?” Zipper shrugged. “It’s nothing personal, Foxy. Like last time, I’m a little bug in the bat capital of North America. I’m trying to keep as low a profile as possible. I really am happy for you and Noel though.”
“Thanks, Zipper. Hey, how’s tricks with you and Honey? Any news?”
Zipper grinned, showing his boyish charm. “Well, we’re officially engaged, so that’s progress. We’re still taking it slow, and she has a lot of adjusting to do to life outside the hive.” Foxy figured it would be that way. “Yeah, all she’s been is a queen. Let us know if anything big happens. I’d like to be there when the big day comes!”
“Oh, I’m sure we can all count on something big happening if it involves the Rescue Rangers. That’s what I like most about our lives, it’s never boring. So, how are you adjusting to being among bats, Foxglove?”
Foxy blushed. “Wellllll....”
“She’s still learning a few things, Zipper,” Galahad broke in. “We were all out last week catching a late dinner and these two bats from the Bar-L saw Foxy’s echolocation signal and came over to her. I’d forgotten to tell her about not giving back the mating call, and it got a little messy from there. Suffice it to say Bedivere and I took care of the matter.”
Foxy leaned in close to Zipper. “Whoever says ignorance is bliss never ran into two lovesick bats!” Zipper laughed. “Well, I’d probably have similar problems if I ever decided to act like a fly and be a part of their society. It’s probably tough for both you and Noel, learning to be bats.”
“Tell me about it,” Noel said. “My vision’s all different, I can see things by shrieking at them and the littlest sound wakes me up. I’ve taken to putting cotton in my ears at night.” Zipper was only too sympathetic. “I won’t go into the gory details of the changes I’ve made in the way I eat as compared to the way that flies normally eat, but I understand what you’re talking about. I have to admit, it’s been enlightening, getting to meet bats as people rather than predators. You’re really all a nice bunch of people.”
Galahad nodded his appreciation. “Thanks, Zipper. I don’t blame you for laying low. It’s got to be more than scary for you. Well gang, this bat needs his rest. Bedivere’s already planning another beetle drive soon, and there’ll be work to do in the morning. Rangers, glad you came.” Zipper shook Galahad’s wing. “Thanks for having us, and we’ll certainly be back for the birth of the baby. And you guys have to visit for when Chip and Lahwhinie tie the knot!”
“Hey, yeah!” Foxy said, turning to the couple in question. “What’s the news there, Chip? Have you two set a date yet?” Chip glanced over at Lahwhinie. “Not quite yet. We’re still working on the details, but soon, very soon.” Lahwhinie affectionately punched Chip on the left arm. “Yep, we’ll tie the knot and I’ll be stuck with the old ball and chain.” Chip smirked at her. “The only ball and chain we’ll see is Dale’s beach ball and the chain Gadget uses to lock up the planes with. Besides, you probably won’t get tired of me for a whole week or so.”
“I hope not. You won’t like me when I’m bored.”
Monty put a hand on each of their shoulders. “Aw, there’ll be plenty of things to keep the likes of you two occupied! Just being Rangers is enough excitement to keep the juices flowing. And I’m sure young Theo will have you both on your toes.” Lahwhinie put her hands on her hips. “Ah yes, Chip and I are responsible for molding our son into the greatest hero that the world has ever seen.”
“I think he’s already got a good start on it,” Chip said. “We’d better get back home, team. We left Theo and Colby with Tammy, and I’m sure she’ll be ready to rest tonight.”
It was hard to let go, but after several fond farewells the Rangers left and headed home. It was late in the evening when they once again stepped across the threshold of Ranger headquarters. Theo immediately hugged Chip and Lahwhinie and then he and Tammy—who was holding Colby—greeted the others.
“Hi! Glad you’re all back safe,” Theo said. “A letter arrived for Zipper. How’s Foxy and Noel and Uncle Bedivere and Galahad and Daisy and the little Fairmonts and what’s the news?” Chip knelt down by his boy. “Noel and Foxglove are going to be having a baby!”
“Really?” Tammy said. “That’s wonderful! If they’re coming here, I’d better get Bink to help me some during the week. She’s got a lot more stamina than I do.” Theo was intrigued. “They’re having a kid? Will it be a bat, or a chip-bat?” Chip shook his head. “We have no idea what it’ll look like, Theo, but we think it’ll be a regular bat. Tammy, don’t worry, they’re having the baby down there so it’ll get to grow up around bats, but they promised to visit often.”
Tammy relaxed at that news. “That’s good, because I’m taking my college entrance exams next week. Dad’s working on getting me a scholarship to his old university for this fall! I’m thinking about getting a degree in criminology.” Chip was pleased with Tammy’s decision, and his fatherly approval showed in his eyes. “You’ll do just great, Tammy. We’ll have to get someone to watch over Colby during missions, though.”
“Don’t worry, Chipper. I’ve already been training Bink. She knows almost everything I do, and she said she’d be glad to help out.”
Chip didn’t know if he wanted Bink over all the time, considering how close she was to Theo. “Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. That’s great to hear that you’re continuing your education. Criminology? Any future plans for after school?” Tammy grinned. “Well, I’m thinking on either joining the RAS or coming back to help with the Rangers—maybe some of both. Rob and I are talking about going through the RASCALS training program together like your parents did.”
“That’s a good idea. That way you’ll be ready for anything. Plus we know Bianca, so we can pull strings to get you a good job with the RAS.”
Eva stepped forward. “I am sure my sister vill be more than happy to help you. Now Theo, you said something about a letter for Zipper?” Theo took center stage. “Oh yeah! You should’ve seen it. This bee comes in here dressed like a royal messenger and all and blows this big long trumpet and announces he’s got a letter for Zipper. I thought it was at least going to be some kind of big news. Here’s the letter.”
Theo handed over a white envelope, sealed with beeswax and sporting Zipper’s name on the front in calligraphy. Zipper opened the letter, reading it eagerly. “It’s from Honey! She says that I’m invited to a ceremony a week from today where she will officially step down as queen and Valeria will assume the throne. She also says for me to wear my tuxedo, because I’ll have a special part to play in things. Oh, and listen to this! ‘P.S.: The carpenter bees will be coming soon to build my new room, because when I step down I’m coming to live with you and the Rangers’. She’s coming! She’s really coming!”
Zipper buzzed everyone, bubbling over with happiness. Monty watched him zoom around, glad for his old friend. “Well, looks like we got a welcomin’ party ta plan, mates! We’re gonna have a new Rescue Ranger. Uh, what do bees eat?”
“Pretty much what I do,” Zipper said. “She liked that meal you fixed for us on our first date, Monty. I’m sure she’ll adapt okay.” Lahwhinie gave out a small laugh. “Well, if I couldn’t be a queen, at least I can hang out with one. Maybe she can teach me some tips for when I become supreme ruler of earth.”
Theo immediately protested. “Hey, no fair! That’s what I wanna be when I grow up. That or own my own mega-conglomerate company dedicated to making kids around the world happy. Such tough choices.”
“Do both,” Lahwhinie suggested. “I think I’ll rename earth, ‘Lawhiniana’.” Theo thought it over. “I was thinking about having a place called ‘Theo’s World’ and making up lots of neat characters to put in feature films and charm the public for decades. Sounds like too much bother though. I think I’ll stick to my first dream and be the next leader of the Rangers. Then when I retire I’ll be so famous they’ll give me my own amusement park!”
“You’ll be the Walt Disney of the animal kingdom!” Dale said. “You could have a lovable character, Mickey Human.” Lahwhinie looked at the others questioningly. “I’ve always heard of the animal kingdom, but I’ve been out of the loop most of my life. Do we actually have a king or something?” Monty pulled on his moustache. “Well, some folks calls the lion the king ‘o beasts, but for my money the king of the animal kingdom’s a bloke I met down in Tasmania once. Roight meanest creature y’ever saw—had teeth like a steel trap and spun around loike a bloomin’ tornado! Couldn’t understand a word he said; just spit and growled and threw his arms around, most like.”
“I’ve dated guys like that,” Lahwhinie quipped.
It was late, so everyone called it a night and headed for slumber. As seven in the morning rolled around, the door to Chip’s room creaked open and a hand reached out to stir Theo in his bunk. The young chipmunk’s eyes came open and a smile formed when he saw who was there. Then that same hand reached down and tickled Chip’s nose. The dozing leader of the Rangers lazily moved his hand to alleviate the problem, and Theo giggled. The hand returned and tickled his nose again. Chip slowly opened his eyes.
“Wake up, sleeping beauty or I’ll have to give you a magic kiss—or I could just give you a straight left to the snoot,” Lahwhinie quipped. Chip stretched and looked up, grinning and yawning. “Oh, hello there. You’re a nice sight to wake up to. Hear anything on the early news?”
“I hope you don’t have a lot invested in the stock market.” Lahwhinie tossed him his jacket and turned around while Chip got up. “Never believed in investing myself,” he said. “What’s the use of having money if you can’t get hold of it?” Chip came over and wrapped his arms around Lahwhinie. They’d been moving slowly for the past month, and this was something they both had agreed was okay. “Besides, I like holding you better. Now, were you really going to give me a straight left?”
Lahwhinie’s eyes gleamed with fun. “Well, if a kiss doesn’t work, pain usually gets the same result.” Chip laughed, as he was often heard to do these days. He’d found the right balance in his relationship with Lahwhinie so far, and he was content to go at her pace. Well, at least until she grabbed his fedora.
“Hey now, that’s private property!” Chip said, half-joking. Lahwhinie slipped the hat behind her back, slowly edging out of the room. “I wonder how I’d look with this on…” The look in her eyes told Chip all he needed to know and in less than a second he transformed from reasoning adult to playful schoolboy. “I’m gonna get it back!”
Lahwhinie’s giggles sounded through the hall as she bolted from Chip’s room. He bumped against the doorframe in his haste to chase her, then he was laughing and running again. Chip sped into the main room, but she wasn’t there. “Now where…aha!” Chip headed for the kitchen, and threw open the door. The Rangers were already at breakfast and quite surprised at Chip’s dramatic entrance. They were even more surprised at what came next.
From behind, Lahwhinie came in, signaling the rest of them to keep quiet. She promptly planted the fedora on Chip’s head, covering his eyes. “Hey, what’s going on!” Chip said, pulling the fedora up with both hands. That was exactly what Lahwhinie wanted, as she slipped her arms around him. “Looks like you win the prize, loverboy…” And right there in front of everyone, she smooched him good and proper.
It took a minute for the others to collect themselves, watching this spectacle. Dale led the way when he gasped and pointed, “Look! Engaged for 38 days and she’s kissing him like that! I think there’s hope for them!” Monty grinned at the joke as he got breakfast out. “Aw, nothin’ like young love wanting ta show off. ‘Course, it’s always good ta watch yer step with any lass that knows how to handle herself, right Eva luv?”
“Precisely, dahling,” Eva said, smiling as Chip and Lahwhinie took their places at the table. “Of course, keeping track of little Colby has made defense training a little harder these days.” Theo had been mesmerized, but now he spoke through his corn flakes. “Well, it’ll be an adventure for him to grow up here.You never can tell what each day’s going to bring.” Gadget passed Theo some more milk. “Golly, it’s an adventure for all of us, and two of us in particular right now. But don’t worry about defense training, mom. We’re all coming along fine, even if you can only check on us a few times a week. I’ve already figured out how to mentally map any opponent’s abilities in less than ten seconds and develop appropriate countermeasures!”
Dale rubbed his arm, but was still enthused. “Don’t I know it! Your flying kick was so fast it caught me totally off-guard!” Gadget hugged him and kissed his cheek. “Oh now, I didn’t mean to hurt you, dear. It was just that I slightly miscalculated on how much strength I should apply.” Dale took on his boyish smile again. “That’s okay, Gadget. It’s sorta cool—I get to fight with my wife and we both don’t mind it!”
Lahwhinie took Chip’s hand at the table, giving him a positively sultry smile as she kissed him again in front of everyone. “So what’ll we do today, loverboy? We could just take the day off and snuggle up on the sofa…” Chip ducked his head a little as the room’s attention turned to him. “Uh, I was planning on going to the police station today to look for cases. You can join me if you want.” Lahwhinie didn’t bother to hide her disappointment. “Well, all right. There’s always later on.”
When Lahwhinie finished breakfast, she went to her room to freshen up. Chip let out a long breath. “Sorry, guys. I didn’t mean to embarrass anyone. I guess we got a little carried away.” Gadget smiled in kind. “Well, you are going to get married, after all. Maybe in time she’ll learn to be a little more tactful.” Dale looked toward the door through whence Lahwhinie had left. “Yeah, she got a little carried away there.”
Monty thumbed in that direction. “You want I should have a talk with her, lad? I’m sure Eva’ll do it, once she gets back from shopping and all.” Chip shook his head. “It’s okay. I did help it along with chasing her and all. Still, lately she’s started to get...I dunno, weird at times. This was just the latest thing.”
“Maybe you should talk to her, dad,” Theo suggested. Gadget nodded in approval. “You really should have a heart-to-heart talk with her. She’s not used to genuinely liking a guy and probably just doesn’t know how to act.” Before Chip could reply, Lahwhinie came back in the room. She was wearing her new outfit, but she also had on her pearl jewelry and she’d freshly painted her nails to go with them. Lahwhinie came over and hugged Chip. “Ready to go, sweetie?”
“Yeah,” Chip said, trying to hide his misgivings. “Don’t you think you’re a bit overdressed for crime-fighting?” Lahwhinie checked herself in a wall mirror. “Oh, how silly! Of course...” Lahwhinie removed her earrings and put them in her pockets. “There, now we’re ready. Toodles, everyone!”
Chip hesitantly took her hand and together they left the room. When they were outside he took her aside, remembering to speak calmly. “Lahwhinie, please, don’t ever do that again. You’re not the only person who doesn’t like to be humiliated in front of others.” Lahwhinie looked totally surprised. “Whatever do you mean, dear? Does my nail polish clash with your fur color? I’m not really into earth tones.”
“Stop playing dumb,” Chip said, the calmness starting to erode. “You know what I’m talking about—kissing me in the kitchen the way you did, in front of the others.You know how I feel about doing things like that.” Lahwhinie took off the rest of her jewelry, and her demeanor went back to its usual state. “That’s the last time I read MouseTeen to find out how to please a munk. Look, I didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of everyone. I just wanted to make you happy, and I don’t know anything more about that yet than I do about tightening those little doo-dads with the big metal thingy Gadget uses.”
Chip took a long breath. “Just be yourself. Don’t change just to please me. I love you just the way you are!” Lahwhinie crossed her arms. “Oh yeah, right. I fit in about as well as a broken toe and you know it. It’s a good thing I love you and you’re cute as the hills.” Chip looked around to make sure no one was watching. When he was sure they had privacy he stepped up to her, put his arms around her and pulled her close. He smiled and then kissed her. “It’s a great thing that you love me.”
Lahwhinie grinned and kissed him back. “Why are you so private about kissing me and your feelings? Does it go back to when that girl embarrassed you when you were a kid?” Chip hesitated, then nodded. “That’s part of it. Other people don’t know how deeply we feel about each other, so they just giggle and laugh. I love you more than you can imagine, but it’s not easy to express that with others standing around reminding me of my weaknesses.”
“Chip, there’s nothing weak about expressing your feelings. I do admit I went a little overboard, but still it was fun! I guess I can get used to reserving my more intimate moments for when we’re alone. Does this mean no snuggling on the sofa?”
Chip grew nervous. “Maybe first we should work out what ‘more intimate moments’ means exactly...” Lahwhinie smiled and took his arm. “So loverboy, when are we getting hitched? We haven’t talked about that in a while and I guess this is a good time since we’re talking about intimate moments.” Chip smirked, and his voice took on a note of fun. “Well, I don’t want to rush you, of course. We’ve got the rest of our lives to be together. How about this afternoon?”
“Suits me. Call your old friend, and we’ll get hitched at noon. By 12:15 we’ll head out to an all-you-can-eat buffet for the reception, and at 1:30 we’ll head to Las Vegas for the honeymoon!”
The two of them laughed at the in-joke and then their attention was diverted as a group of carpenter bees showed up to prepare Honey’s new home. Once they had seen where Zipper lived—and criticized everything about it—they set in to burrowing a home for Honey right next to his. The droning buzz of the bees was a constant background for the next several days, and after a while the group just ignored it. When the day of the big ceremony came, Zipper rose early. Queen Honey was abdicating her throne to her sister and to make it more nerve-wracking, he and Honey would also be formalizing their engagement before the entire hive!
Needless to say, he was nervous but did his best to hide it. After checking his suit to made sure everything was perfect, he flew out of his hole in the wall and headed for the kitchen, where the only Ranger that was awake was currently making breakfast. Zipper flew up to Monty’s eye level, trying to appear confident. “This is it, Monty. Today Honey becomes the newest Ranger and we will officially become engaged. I’m so excited that I’m kinda numb!”
“Too roight, mate!” Monty said, as he put some onions and peppers into his cheese omelet. “Guess up till now it’s all been thinking about it, but now you get a taste of the real thing. She’s a bonzer lass, lad, with more class than a gaggle of professors! Did those carpenter bees finish up her place yet?”
“It’s a place fit for a Royal Rescue Ranger! It’s beautiful—she’ll think it’s primitive compared to what she’s used to, but she’ll like it.”
Monty served up part of a cheese omelet to Zipper, then downed a half-dozen of them himself. “Well, we’ll see she gets a proper welcome when she comes, won’t we mate? Soon as you’re out the door, we’ll start with the preparations. Speaking of preparations, you’d better put a tiger in your tank! Don’t that ceremony start pretty soon? You’ll wanna be there early fer that, pally.”
Zipper looked at the kitchen clock. “Yeah, I’d better hurry. She’s doing this for me...isn’t it amazing, Monty, she’s doing this for me! She loves me that much.” Monty grinned, and his eyes showed his appreciation of his friend’s good fortune. “Ain’t nothing better than the love of a good lass. Just you remember that, and treat her right now!”
“I certainly will, Monty. I better split or it’ll be ‘off with his head’ if I’m late for this!”
Zipper waved goodbye and rushed out the door. With a song in his heart that came out as humming, Zipper buzzed his way over to Queen Honey’s hive. It was a grand time for the little fellow, as Honey had finally decided that Valeria was ready to assume her duties as queen. He was admitted immediately, and found Honey in the throne room clothed with her full regalia. It was nearly time, and soon the entire hive would be assembled here. She smiled as Zipper made his presence known.
“You had best remember this day, Zipper,” Honey said. “It will be the last time you will see me this way.” Zipper took her hand. “I will always see you this way, my queen. This ceremony will not diminish you in my eyes.” Aliwicious came in, carrying a small cloak of royal blue silk, which Honey presented to Zipper. Aliwicious left, but not before giving Honey a meaningful glance. She looked down at Zipper. “This is for you to wear during the ceremony. It symbolizes that I’ve accepted you as my betrothed. But before you put it on, there’s something I have to tell you.”
Honey bade Zipper sit down on the footstool in front of her throne as she sat there. “I haven’t mentioned it, but I feel it’s fair now to tell you that I was engaged once before. It was to be an arranged marriage between me and one of the nobility in a nearby hive. It would have transpired, but then my dear mother died suddenly and I had to assume her place. The marriage was put off, and since I was queen I had the right to refuse any suitor and I did. It created quite a stir among the peerage, but I knew I did not want him. I just wanted you to know it from me, Zipper, in case you heard it from someone else sometime.”
Zipper couldn’t imagine where such a backhanded way of marrying people got started. “Thank you for your honesty, Honey. It doesn’t matter to me that you had been engaged before.”
“I knew it would not, but you deserved to know. Now, take your place beside me and affix your cloak. I can hear the procession coming.”
Zipper readied himself and made sure his cloak was perfect, then he hopefully held out his arm to her. “Are you ready for this moment, Honey?” Honey took his arm, gratefully. “No, but I’ll manage somehow.”
Eva returned home from shopping, an armload of purchases in her hands. When she reached the park her eyes quickly scanned everywhere, missing nothing. She smiled as she sensed all was well and proceeded on as she saw Theo and Bink playing in the main grassy thoroughfare with a few other friends. Her attention had already begun to shift when a reflection caught her attention.
Within an instant, Eva’s entire demeanor changed. She dropped her packages and moved far faster and with more purpose than her seemingly gentle form would indicate. “Theo, get down!” Before anyone including Theo could react she leaped into the nearby bushes, where she’d seen the reflection. After a very brief tussle, Eva emerged with a weapon in her hands, about to finish off its former owner.
Theo ran toward the bushes. “Aunt Eva, stop! It’s a water cannon!”
By now the Rangers had come down, and a group of kids and parents had gathered. Eva looked at what her instincts had told her was a sniper’s rifle, and then down at the boy mouse at her feet, frozen in abject fear. Eva returned the plastic toy to the boy and helped him up. “I am sorry. I thought…”
“Mom?” Gadget asked, coming over to her. “Mom, are you all right? What happened?” Eva watched as the boy slowly backed away and then ran for it. “I did not mean to frighten the boy, dahling. I was coming home and I saw someone aiming vhat my instincts told me was a weapon at Theo. I did not think, Gadget. I did not have to.”
Theo came over, breaking the tension by taking his aunt’s hand. “It’s okay, Aunt Eva. I’d rather you did that and be wrong than do nothing and be right. Wow, you moved like lightning!” Eva studied Theo a moment. “That vhas the training, Theo, plus instinct. This time, my instincts were wrong. Perhaps I am becoming the rusty nail.”
Now that the tension was past, activities began returning to normal. Monty took his wife’s packages up the tree for her, and Lahwhinie was at her mother’s side. “Don’t worry about it, mom,” Lahwhinie said. “You did what you had to.” Eva nodded, but she wondered if she could’ve stopped herself if Theo had not warned her. She hoped so.
Tiny trumpets announced the beginning of the royal ceremony, and through the main doors come the procession. Bees dressed in their finest walked into the throne room, some carrying spears and some swords made of amber. Valeria’s attendants came next, then Aliwicious. Everyone assembled and faced the door as the trumpets sounded again. Valeria came in, walking with the confident stride that her training had endowed her with. It was amazing that so short a time ago, this regal young lady had been a bitter and frustrated girl. Now, she seemed to have an aura of contentment as she proceeded forward to the throne. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs to the throne and Honey stood.
“Do you have a final act to perform, sister?” Valeria asked. “It is your right by law, if you wish it.” Honey looked from Valeria to her expectant court. “My subjects, as you know I have chosen to step down of my own free will. You have my gratitude for your loyalty and understanding at this trying time. I will be leaving you, but I will visit often. And now, as a final act, I wish to grant two knighthoods. Aliwicious, Zipper?”
The bee and the fly stood before her and knelt. Honey accepted a royal amber sword from her attendant. “Of all those I have known in my reign, none have done more to sustain and nurture the hive more than these. Aliwicious has been a faithful servant and advisor to the royal family since before I was born. Zipper and his allies saved this hive from the evil machinations of a human, and he proved worthy of my love.”
Honey touched the two kneeling forms on the shoulder with her sword. “I dub thee Sir Zipper and Sir Aliwicious. Rise, knights of the realm.” They did so, and faced the applauding crowd as Honey returned the sword to the waiting attendant. The trumpets sounded again and Valeria came up the steps, and knelt in front of Honey. The bees all came forward, none of them wishing to miss this most rare moment. Honey removed her crown.
“Valeria, receive now from me the symbol of rule. Wear it with honor and wisdom,” Honey said, placing the crown on her head, then removed the royal cape she wore and put it around Valeria. “Rise, my queen.” Valeria did so, and again the bees applauded. She gave them a queenly wave, then signaled for silence. “I, your queen, thank you as my sister did. I will rule with honor and wisdom, and I hope that she and Sir Zipper will return often. And now, I believe my sister has another word for you.”
Honey descended the stairs leading to the throne and took Zipper’s hand at the bottom of them. “I formally announce before you all that Sir Zipper and I are engaged. We have not decided on a date of marriage, but you will all be welcome to the ceremony when it happens.”
The bees came forward to congratulate Honey and Zipper. Both of them received the thanks warmly, and then Valeria signaled for quiet again. “I will not make it a royal decree, but I for one will be happy to attend this wedding. Sir Zipper, you have done me a great service as much as any other, and I thank you for that. Zipper bowed deeply before the new queen. “I am honored by your praise, Your majesty. Thank you.”
As her subjects came forward to pay homage to their new queen, Zipper and Honey took advantage of the moment to leave the hive. Honey flew over to a nearby branch, and Zipper sat by her. “Well, it went more smoothly than I thought it would,” Honey said. “I must confess, it will take some time for me to get used to not having a crown anymore. Now I am merely a member of the royal family, with little more privilege than the other bees. Now that you are knighted, technically you outrank me.”
Zipper smiled at the idea. “Don’t worry, I won’t abuse my powers as protector of the hive. What about Aliwicious? Now that he’s a knight, how will that affect him?”
“He can act as regent of the hive if Valeria has to leave for any reason, or another queen has to be chosen. In fact, if both of them disappeared, that role would fall to you now. But assuming the status quo, he will have the right to lead the army and to answer only to Valeria.”
Zipper realized she’d planned ahead, and again put her subjects in good hands. “Thank you for honoring us both with such a title. I didn’t realize just how important these roles were.”
“Knight of the realm is a title bestowed only rarely in a queen’s reign. In fact, that double knighting is the first one I have ever heard of. Both of you deserved it, though, so I know that it will not be questioned. Now, my knight, would you provide a lady escort to her new home?”
Zipper bowed to Honey. “Of course, my queen. I would be honored.” Honey smiled. “Now I told you, I’m not queen anymore. I’m simply a bee who loves you.”
“You will always be me queen, for you rule my heart.”
Chapter 5 – The Queen Who Would be Ranger
Off they flew together, glad to be in each other’s company. Honey had to admit it was a little scary leaving the home she’d known all her life, but she knew that Zipper would be there and the Rangers would be supportive. If she had any question of that, it was erased the moment she and Zipper appeared inside the door of headquarters
Honey just stood there, looking. A giant banner reading “Welcome Home, Honey!” overlooked the makings of a surprise party. The Rangers were all bedecked in festive attire, and the atmosphere was one of fun and celebration. “Come on in, Honey!” Gadget said. “We’ve got cake and ice cream. It’s a house-warming party for you!” Monty blew on a noisemaker. “All yer stuff’s put away, so all that’s left ta do is to relax and join the party, lass!”
Eva came forward, taking Honey’s tiny hands. “Velcome to the family, Honey dahling. You are welcome here.” Zipper escorted Honey to the dining room table, where Gadget had made a very nice chair for her. She and Zipper now had seats at one end of the table, while Monty sat at the other end with the others in between. Lahwhinie and Gadget served up the goodies to everyone, but even Dale waited until Honey had tried some first. She complimented them on it, and then everyone digged in.
After a minute, Dale jumped up. “Speech, speech!”
“Yes, let’s hear from the newest Ranger,” Chip added.
Honey stood up, and all eyes went to her. “Thank you all for this most gracious welcome. I admit to wondering what my thoughts would be on this day, but I find myself surrounded by friends and one who loves me. I cannot think of a better place to be. Have patience with me, because it may take a while for me to learn how to be a Ranger. I will do all I can to contribute to making this august team even more successful.”
“Spoken like a true Rescue Ranger, Aunt Honey!” Theo said. “You can join Aunt Lahwhinie, Bink and me in Ranger training.” Dale appeared confused, “She’s not an ant, Theo. She’s a bee!” Gadget corrected him immediately. “Dale, I think he means he’s treating her like Eva, Lahwhinie and me—another aunt.”
“Oh, I gotcha! She’s not an Aunt Bee, but a bee aunt!” Dale joked.
Honey took it all good-naturedly, but Theo’s last comment had her a bit worried. “Training? You mean physical work? Oh dear, I’ve never done anything like that. Is it difficult?” Lahwhinie answered that part. “Your life and ours may depend on your strength, and we all have to be fit. Being a Rescue Ranger is a life or death lifestyle. You’re going to have to make some great changes if you want to join us in the field, but no one said you had to become a Ranger in order to stay with us. If it’s not to your liking we won’t think less of you.”
“Well, perhaps I will observe at first so as to see what would be expected of me,” Honey offered. “With my diminutive size, I’m not sure just how much help I could be in terms of strength. I do have a great deal of education in the higher arts, but I think this experience will be another education in itself.”
Zipper could her hand, his voice encouraging. “Don’t worry about being small. I’m smaller than you are and that often has worked to my advantage. Enemies tend to underestimate me, and I’m more agile than larger foes.” Monty took on an advisory role. “Zip’s roight, lass. It ain’t your size that matters, but what you do with the natural talents ya have. You’ll find your part in the Rangers soon enough.”
The party continued on, then Tammy got up when they heard Colby wake up and start to cry. The others headed for the main room, and Tammy brought the little one to her mother. Honey was immediately captivated by the new arrival. “Oh, he’s simply adorable! I have only seen him once before, and how much he has grown since then! You must be very pleased with him, Eva.”
“He is my little dahling,” Eva said, smiling down at her son. “I only vish I could have been there for my other little ones at this age. He was an unexpected blessing for us all. As ve are all family here, in spirit if not in blood, he is part of your family as well, Honey.” Honey buzzed over and instantly Colby was fascinated with her. His eyes followed her everywhere, and when she started to leave to go to Zipper, he began to cry.
Honey looked to Eva. “What is the matter with him? Is he not well?” Eva smiled, shaking her head. “I think he has just grown very attached to the pretty lady with wings. I take it you have never had much contact with infants?” Honey approached again, shaking her head. “None whatsoever. When a queen or a drone is born, the attendant bees take care of them. Everyone has his or her assigned duty at the hive. Here, there seems to be no set order at all.”
“Ve all look after Colby from time to time. Tammy is our resident nanny and looks after him when the rest of us are busy with Ranger work.”
Chip joined the two of them. “You’re right about there not being much order, though. Although each of us keeps our own area straight, mostly we work by volunteering or as a group.” Honey found this amazing. “But how do you get anything done that way?”
“By everyone being willing to pitch in and help when they see that something needs to be done. Granted, it doesn’t always work. I can remember Dale leaving some pretty huge messes around at times.”
Dale marched over in protest. “Hey, it isn’t just me! You may be Mr. Neat Freak, but I’ve seen you leave a shambles in front of the TV a time or two.” Gadget, ever the peacemaker, came to the rescue. “We’ve all done things like that. None of us is perfect, Honey, but we try to live by a community rule of respecting each other’s space and helping out.”
Honey looked at them all, uncertain. “I guess it must work. I mean, all of you have been together all this time.”
“It takes time, luv,” Monty said. “Yer makin’ a really big change o’ life style and we know it’ll take a while to adjust from bein’ queen to being one of the group.”
Lahwhinie crossed her arms. “Tell me about it.”
The party ended with everyone helping out with the dishes. Honey wasn’t used to pitching in, but she did her part without saying a word. Later that evening, she found a new source of curiosity—television. The hive naturally didn’t have one, and somehow Honey had deemed it beneath her on previous visits to watch what she considered “common” entertainment. Now, she found herself watching the glowing screen with an air of curiosity.
“Gadget, how does this device work? The images must come from somewhere,” Honey said. Chip, Dale, Zipper and Monty all traded silent looks as Gadget perked up at the question. “It’s easy, Honey! It all starts with an electron…” Gadget began explaining television down to the smallest detail. By the time she’d finished, Honey felt as though her head was going to explode and she still didn’t feel she understood it any better than she had before she asked the question. She’d learned the first rule of asking Gadget questions—don’t.
“Uh, thank you, Gadget,” Honey said. “It’s all so clear to me now.”
“Really? Golly, most people don’t seem to follow my explanations for some reason,” Gadget said. Gadget and Honey looked around, finding the men asleep, Lahwhinie intent on the show, and only Eva really paying rapt attention to Gadget’s talk. “Oh. That would account for it,” Gadget added. By instinct—or in some cases by prodding—the guys were re-awakened and the movie-watching continued.
Soon, Honey found she was thirsty. “Tammy, would you be so kind as to bring me a beverage?” Tammy smiled and nodded. “Sure, what would you like?”
“Water would be fine, thank you.”
Dale looked over at her. “Could you bring me a Coo-Coo Cola?”
“And a prune juice?” Eva asked.
“And some cheese balls?” Monty added.
Everyone added something, and Tammy returned in a couple of minutes with her arms full. “Okay, next time everyone gets their own stuff!” Dale chuckled as he got his Coo-Coo Cola. “Hey, you volunteered!” Honey realized she’d make a mistake. “Oh dear, I thought from what Zipper told me Tammy was acting as your servant. You mean she was just being nice?”
“I’m the nanny, not the maid,” Tammy said. “I take care of Colby; the rest of you are old enough to take care of yourselves. But yes, I was doing that to be nice.”
“I’m sorry Tammy, I just thought...”
“No harm done, lass,” Monty said. “You’re used ta being looked after, after all.”
Honey answered, but a little quieter than normal. “I’d just figured you Rangers had to have a servant, what with all these people. I guess I made an assumption.” Tammy patted her on the arm. “It’s okay. I understand how you could’ve made that mistake. No need to apologize.”
“Okay, Tammy. But you really don’t have servants at all? How do you manage it, considering all of you are occupied with casework? I couldn’t imagine doing what all of you do and not having someone to help with the ordinary tasks of the day!”
Chip leaned forward on the sofa. “Well, it helps to keep us occupied when things are slow and helps to keep that sense of teamwork and family that makes us what we are.” Honey realized in just how different a world she was in. “You mammals certainly do think strangely. I thought I knew what to expect, but I suppose it will take getting used to. Zipper, would you escort me to my room? It has been a long day for me already.”
Zipper buzzed up beside her and offered his arm. “Certainly, my queen.”
When they reached her home in the wall, Honey stopped at the entrance and hugged Zipper good night. The others had gone back to watching their movie, but she kept her voice low still. “It’s different from what I thought it would be, Zipper. They’re all nice, but I suppose I had this idea of fitting right in. I suppose that was not realistic. Are you sure I did not insult Tammy?”
“She’ll not hold it against you. She’s a good kid. We all knew you’d have some tough transitions to make by coming here. Just be patient. Besides, you handled yourself very well there.”
“I hope so. I’m afraid that I’ll do something to make them mad, or that I won’t feel needed.”
“Well, at first you may feel that there isn’t a place for you,” Zipper said. “We know each other so well that we all trust each other in all things. It’ll take time for you to find your place. We’re not used to having new members, but Foxy, Noel, Lahwhinie and Eva are still finding places in our group.”
It didn’t make her feel better. “I suppose. Good night, Zipper.”
“Good night, your highness. Sleep well.”
Zipper returned to the others, knowing that Honey needed some time alone. Honey did fine solace here, as her new room was set up almost the same way as her old one, with her own furnishings. It helped her to regain some sense of security, but she still felt like crying. The sense of displacement was really hitting her now, and despite her knowledge that she’d made the right decision it was still a struggle for her.
She tried to sleep, but new sounds and smells kept her awake. About two hours after she’d said good night to Zipper, she heard Colby crying. The Erskines’ door opened, and as Honey looked out she saw Eva holding her son and comforting him. Honey flew out and hovered next to the two of them. “What is wrong, Eva? Is there a problem?”
“No, dahling,” Eva said, doing her best to balance the conversation with her duties. “Colby is just a bit cranky. He does not like to be left alone and sometimes just needs to feel someone holding him and then he vill feel secure and then he sleeps.”
Honey smiled wearily at the young mouse. “I can sympathize with him. Perhaps I can help. My swarm felt secure when I hummed the tune they worked by, so maybe it would work for Colby too.” Eva set Colby down on the sofa in front of Honey. “I’m sure he would love to hear your song, your highness.” Honey buzzed over near Colby, who again found her a curiosity. He reached for her, but Honey wisely kept her distance.
She smiled down and him and began humming a soft tune. Colby kept his eyes fixed on her, and as the humming continued his eyes got heavier until he was fast asleep. “Everyone says that the droning of bees makes one drowsy. I’m glad in Colby’s case it is true.”
“Thank you, dahling,” Eva whispered, picking Colby up. “He seems to have taken a liking to you, but I hope he doesn’t abuse your kindness and refuse to sleep without his Aunt Honey singing him to sleep.” Honey thought she really wouldn’t mind. “At least I will be needed by someone, and for right now that is important. Good night, Eva.”
As they went their separate ways, Honey felt more a part of things. No, she wouldn’t mind singing Colby to sleep at all. Honey slept well the rest of the night, and come the dawning she was up and about. The sounds of Monty in the kitchen drew her attention, and she found him hard at work. “Good morning, Monterey. You seem to be in a lively mood this morning.”
“Mornin’ luv!” Monty said, breakfast-time being his favorite time of day. “Up with the dawn just like me? You hungry? Ya got first dibs bein’ the first one up. Sleep okay?”
“It was difficult at first, but I managed,” Honey said, settling into another Gadget-made chair, similar to the one at the main room’s dining table. “Do you think the others will be up in time before your clients arrive?” Monty did a double-take at that question. “Clients? Well, we’re not really set up that way, luv. Sometimes people in need come to our door, but most often we go lookin’ fer trouble. We’ll wait at the police station or go flyin’ around the city lookin’ around for things that ain’t right.”
Another shock to the system. “Really? I would have thought a team with your reputation would have an endless stream of clientele! So on top of everything else, you go and look for people in trouble. Do you receive rewards or payment for what you do?” Monty brought her over a thimbleful of his famous cheese chowder. “Well, sometimes they say thanks and once in a blue moon we’ll get a reward of some kind, but that’s the exception, not the rule. We just do it ‘cause it’s right.”
Honey finished the chowder, finding it to her liking. “Before the Rangers entered my life, I had not ever been more than a few minutes’ flight from the hive. I probably never would have as long as I had lived, but now I have been away from my hive longer than any queen would normally be. It is strange and yet exciting as well…not to mention a little scary.”
“You’re among friends, lass, never doubt that. We’ll stick by ya, through thick and thin.”
As if by an unheard signal, the others came in and took their places. After breakfast was over, Chip began discussing the day’s schedule. “Once we’ve checked for new crimes at the police station, I think we should check to see if there’s any word about Fat Cat being back.”
“Oh yeah, we haven’t heard from him in ages!” Dale said, his interest up immediately. Chip was interested as well, but it was more in the line of concern that they might have missed something. “He may already be back, and just hiding out. I’d rather know than have him sneak up on Ranger Headquarters when he chooses.”
Honey raised her hand. “Chip... may I accompany you to the police station today?” Chip was surprised, especially at the way she said “may I”. Chip pushed his fedora back a bit on his head. “Well...of course, you’re a part of this team now. I’m glad to see you’re ready for action. Okay, Honey and I will check on the police records, and the rest of you prepare to scour the city as soon as we get back.”
Honey followed Chip to the police station, and felt like a bee out of her hive—which she was. They entered through Gadget’s secret entrance and ended up on top of the filing cabinets, overlooking everything. Honey ran her finger along the top of the cabinet. “Oh, it’s so dusty here! I would never have tolerated such sloppiness at my hive. Do the humans not have their own type of drones to handle keeping their places clean?”
Chip spoke while checking things out with a ranger-sized pair of binoculars. “There are humans who care for the place, but there’s a great deal for them to do otherwise. And as this is just their job, not their purpose for existence, things will tend to get sloppy from time to time.” Honey pointed to Spinelli, who was eating a hoagie sandwich at his desk and spreading toppings all over it. “Well no wonder, if that human is their leader! A leader should set an example for the others, and I can see in this case he does. How does this law enforcement group get anything done when they cannot even keep their own place neat?”
Despite it all, Chip found himself grinning about her questions. “Crime fighting’s a high-stress, intense job. Other things like hygiene tend to fall by the wayside in order to keep up with the never-ending flow of crime in the big city.” Honey never thought she’d see such a thing. “These humans are strange creatures. They are doubtless intelligent, but it would seem they are limited in focus. Too bad they cannot speak to us bees, for I think we would have some helpful ideas for them.”
Honey started to talk further, but noticed Chip was distracted. “Is something the matter, Chip? You seem preoccupied.” Chip put down his binoculars. “I’m sorry, Honey. I’ve got a lot on my mind right now.” The two of them watched the happenings below for a while, but nothing of interest presented itself. Honey returned her attention to Chip. “Is it something difficult to talk about?”
The chipmunk wondered if he should confide in her, then realized she’d be the safest person he could choose. “I’m planning on marrying Lahwhinie soon, Honey. I’m excited about it and all, but at the same time I’m kind of scared too. I love her—that’s not the problem, but…I’m just nervous, it’s a whole new life.”
“Now that I can relate to,” Honey said. “I have just begun one of my own, and for me it’s much more terrifying. I am in a whole new element, but I am beginning to adjust. I think you will adjust fine, as well.” Chip sighed. “I’m sure that I’ll be fine once I’m married. I didn’t think I could handle being a father to Theo, but I love him like he was my own flesh and blood.”
“I can see that you do. He tells me you’ve taken him places and played with him a lot. Chip, maybe you should do something just for Lahwhinie, just the two of you. It would give you an opportunity to talk more one to one, and she would see it as something special.”
Chip stopped and ran the idea through his head. “Maybe that would be a good idea. It’s hard to have a private moment when you share a home with so many other people. Maybe she’d like to get away from New York for a while.” Honey nodded in approval. “Good. I think that is what she needs as well. I watched her last night, and she seemed restless. Remember Chip, no matter how tough a lady acts, she still likes to be reminded of how special she is.”
“It’s probably difficult for her to feel special,” Chip admitted. “I know she feels like she’s never as good as Gadget and she can’t feel unique with an identical twin around. It’s how Noel felt around me.”
“All the more reason for you to spend some time alone with her. Where do you think she would most like to go, if given the choice?”
Chip laughed lightly. “That’s easy, she’d probably like to visit Hawaii again.”
“There you go, then! Just bring it up to her, and see how she reacts. I expect she will go right along with that.”
Chip knew he should have thought of this himself, but maybe Honey’s being around would help fill such gaps. “Honey, thanks. That’s a great idea! It’s tough getting back into a crime fighting frame of mind after nearly a year out of the loop.” Honey was glad to feel useful. “You are quite welcome, Chip. We queens are trained to read people, but in her case it was not a difficult matter…oh, what an odious-looking character!”
Honey pointed down at a criminal being registered, sporting a red mohawk, no shirt and faded jeans. “What happened to his head? Was he attacked by a rogue gang of fleas?” Chip chuckled. “That’s just a way that humans show rebellion. They take to strange haircuts and ways of dressing. By the sound of it, it’s just disorderly conduct, not a big deal.”
“Well, I should think so!” Honey said. “Anyone who did such a thing in my hive would have been on the disposal detail until he got his antennae on straight.”
Chapter 6 – Blue Hawaiian, A Big Decision and Leaving for Paradise
Once Spinelli read out the reports and they were sure that nothing serious was at hand, the two of them headed back for headquarters. Chip bided his time and finally managed to get some time alone with Lahwhinie after the others left the main room for the night. Chip and Lahwhinie had decided to stay up and watch a movie—or actually Chip had remembered her suggestion to snuggle and decided it sounded pretty good. He went off and made some popcorn while Lahwhinie settled in. Chip suddenly recalled that Lahwhinie didn’t like popcorn all that much and was about to poke his head back in to see if she’d like something else. He stopped at his first word when he saw her.
Lahwhinie was sitting on the floor by the record player, with the mini-headphones that Gadget had built for it. She was swaying back and forth some, and moving her arms like she had when she danced the hula. Chip quickly and quietly returned to the kitchen. It made perfect sense. **No wonder she’s been acting so weird. She misses her home!** Honey had been right on the mark, and Chip knew Lahwhinie well enough that she wouldn’t like it if he told her how he’d found out. He put some cheese on crackers and brought them with the popcorn, once he’d confirmed she was back on the sofa.
“Okay, here we go!” Chip said, divvying out the goodies. “I hope you’re hungry, because we’ve got enough stuff here to last even Dale a while.” Lahwhinie selected a cracker. “Well, I suppose I’ll find some way to survive being in this place that’s always so well stocked with food. What are we watching, loverboy? Another one of those black and white movies or something not from the Stone Age?”
Chip grinned as he sat down. He knew Lahwhinie didn’t really care for the classic movies, or if she did she never let on. Chip searched through their tape collection—another benefit of having Gadget around—and found just the one he was after. “I thought tonight we’d watch something for pure fun. Have you ever seen Blue Hawaii with Elvis?” Lahwhinie nodded. “Of course! The King lives on in our hearts. I also loved Gidget Goes Hawaiian. I liked the actress who played Gidget. She reminds me of Gadget for some reason.”
“Huh, that’s strange. I thought she reminded me of you, and Foxy too for that matter. I guess we see coincidences in whatever we see. All right, the King’s about to enter the building!” Chip put the tape in, and soon they were listening to Elvis singing on a surfboard. Lahwhinie didn’t seem to be watching the movie at all. She just stared at the screen in what appeared to be a daze, but there was a small smile on her face.
Chip put his arm around Lahwhinie. “I’d forgotten how pretty Hawaii is. I bet you really enjoyed it, didn’t you?” Lahwhinie’s voice took on a wistful tone. “Chip, it’s the most beautiful place in the world.” Chip turned his attention back to the set, so she wouldn’t see the smile that was beginning to build on the inside of him. “Well, things are pretty calm here right now. What say you and I go back and visit?”
The next thing Chip knew, he was in Lahwhinie’s embrace and she was covering him with kisses. “Really! Really, really?” Chip knew he’d get a reaction, but he found himself laughing at her zest. “Wow, if I’d known I’d get this reaction I’d have suggested it sooner! When do you want to go?”
“How long will it take you to pack?” she asked quickly.
Chip smiled and hugged her. “Don’t you think you can wait until morning? It’s going to be a long flight over there, even with the jet stream helping. We should probably get a good night’s rest first. We’ll tell the others at breakfast. I’m sure they won’t mind.” Lahwhinie sank back on the sofa, frustrated. “I hate waiting, but I will. But don’t think that I’ll be sleeping well! I can’t wait to see home again. I hope Theo doesn’t mind us running off for a while.”
Chip grinned on the inside, noting that her thoughts were running the same way as his. “I don’t think he’ll mind. He knows as well as I do that you’ve been moping around about something, and when he sees how excited you are he’ll be as glad as I am. Why didn’t you tell me you were homesick, though? You know your happiness is important to me.”
“I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t appreciate my home here. Plus I thought I was sick and tired of Hawaii, but even though I’ve got a lot of enemies there I still miss it. You know, maybe when we’re there we should pay a visit to some old friends. I need to see if I can make peace with Shaka Baka and the villagers.”
“That’s a good idea. I bet they’ll really be surprised when they see how much you’ve changed. You’re strong, compassionate, smart, and have excellent taste in guys. I wouldn’t trade you for anyone else.”
Lahwhinie cast him a questioning glance. “What if you could have Foxglove back?”
Chip had told Lahwhinie about his feelings for Foxy before he’d split into two chipmunks. He’d wanted to hold nothing back from her, and at first the idea hadn’t set well with Lahwhinie. Still, once he’d explained fully she accepted his reasons. Now, he knew how important the question was to her, so he took a moment to think on the right words.
“If she came to me now and was available, she’d be too late. It would hurt me to tell her, but I’ve given my heart already. You’re the one, and the only one for me, now and always,” Chip said.
Lahwhinie smirked. “Is that your final answer?”
Chip chuckled, and took her hands. “You’ve been watching Regis too much, but yes, that’s my final answer. You’re the only girl I’m going to marry, and when I say my vows there won’t be any second thoughts. I love you with all my heart, precious.”
Lahwhinie stroked his ear. “I wish we were married right now...uh, I...” Lahwhinie blushed and looked away. “Sorry.”
Chip turned her face back to him, and kissed her gently. “It’s okay. I know how you feel. We could get married while we’re there, you know. It’s a lovely place for it.” Lahwhinie was instantly upbeat again. “Great! Let’s get hitched tomorrow!” The Hawaiian mouse was so enthusiastic that she was bouncing up and down on the sofa, and Chip couldn’t help but giggle some at her response.
“Well, that wouldn’t allow any of the others to be there. How about we go over and spend a couple of days visiting your old haunts and having some time to ourselves, then the others can come join us once they’ve rounded everyone up and we’ll have the wedding?”
“Sounds great, Chip. I promise you, you won’t regret it!” She hugged him again tightly, and Chip could feel not only how strong she was, but how sincere she was in her thanks. Chip couldn’t think of a better feeling. “On that point, I’m absolutely positive.”
They’d long since lost track of the movie, so Chip innocently went over to the record player and turned the music up to where they could hear the soft sounds of the Hawaiian music. “Perfect. Care to dance?” Lahwhinie leaped over the sofa and rushed into his arms. “Don’t mind if I do. You know, Chip, we could probably find a preacher right here in New York who could marry us right now—your old pal maybe. We could be hitched in a quiet little service right now, then go to Hawaii on the honeymoon.”
Chip looked down into her eyes. “I’m sure Beefy could do that, but I want our wedding to be special and something we’ll both remember the rest of our lives. I don’t want to do it just as a convenience for what comes after, as wonderful as that will be. Once we’re married, there’s going to be lots of great times, and lots of tough ones too. I want you to know that I’m marrying you for it all, and we’ll face it all together.”
“And they say that chivalry is dead,” Lahwhinie said, nestling her head on his shoulder. “You’re one of a kind, Chip. Okay, we’ll wait.” Chip grinned down at her. “Thanks, Lahwhinie. It’s the right thing to do, and I wouldn’t feel right rushing it through. Besides, my mom would lynch me if she wasn’t there for my wedding!”
Lahwhinie straightened up at that thought. “You better let them know, loverboy. They’ll want to plan ahead.” Chip stopped in mid-step. “You’re right about that. I’ll call them first thing and let them know. They can coordinate their plans with the others, and that way they can all come together.” Chip blinked, a big smile coming to his face. “It really just hit me—I’m going to get married!”
Chip picked Lahwhinie up and swung her around a couple of times in his happiness, then set her down. “And I’ll be the envy of every fella, because I’m marrying the best girl there is.” Lahwhinie gave Chip a warning look. “Just remember, Chip, I’m not a trophy wife. I’m not your doormat or a mousewife. I’m not here for you to show off. This is the real thing and we’re going to be partners in life from now on.”
“And I’m not a trophy husband, or a safe harbor or a stepping stone. Partners.”
Chip extended his hand, and she took it. They tested each other’s strength and found they were both able to the task. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Chip said. Lahwhinie smiled in response. “Good. Now I better turn in for the night or I may not be able to control myself much longer.” Lahwhinie took Chip’s face in her hands and gave him a memorable kiss. “Good night, hunk munk. See you bright and early tomorrow morning!”
“Good night, Peaches. I’m looking forward to it.”
Chip was ecstatic, something he hadn’t felt in quite this measure before. He nearly floated to his room, and got in bed as quietly as he could to avoid disturbing Theo. He lay there, unable to sleep. His mind was going mile-a-minute, and all with one goal in mind—to make sure their wedding came off perfectly.
“What movie did you two watch?”
Chip flinched, jolted out of his train of thought. “Movie...oh, uh, one with Elvis. We uh, sort of lost track of things what with talking and all.” Theo poked his head down from the upper bunk. “Talk about anything that I should know about?” Chip gauged whether he’d yell or not, and decided to take precautions. He motioned for Theo to come down. “Well, don’t scream or anything but we did make a pretty big decision.” Chip put his hands on Theo’s shoulders. “Lahwhinie and I have decided to go to Hawaii tomorrow, then everyone else will come in a few days and…we’re going to get married there.”
Theo hugged his dad. “That’s great, dad! Congratulations! I bet you can’t wait!”
Chip smiled, but shushed him. “Keep it down, son! Don’t wake the house yet. I’m sure they’ll be plenty excited come morning. But yeah, I’m looking forward to it. Lahwhinie’s so happy about it she was bubbling over. We’re going to go over there alone first so she can talk to her old friends and try to settle things with them. It’ll take a couple of days to round up the families, and then we’ll have a wedding that no one will forget. And you’re going have a mom as well as a dad. What do you think of that?”
Theo didn’t say anything at first, but then some tears fell and he hugged his dad tightly. Chip held him close. “You still miss them, don’t you?” Theo kept his face against Chip’s shoulder and nodded. “I always will, but this is the best thing that can help.” After a bit, Chip helped Theo up into bed. There was a smile on the boy’s face again, and Chip knew everything was going to be okay. The leader of the Rescue Rangers went to sleep, and his dreams were filled with the two people he loved the most.
When Chip came in the next morning, he had all the others as an audience. Lahwhinie had beaten him to the kitchen—almost unheard of for that late riser—and the Rangers were already discussing the big news. “Married in Hawaii? Golly, how romantic!” Gadget said. She got up and hugged Chip and her sister, starting the round of congratulations. Monty pulled on his jacket lapels. “Always knew that lad had a sense of how to do things. Why, I remember back in ‘77 I was there for the big volcano races. We’d all caught these wild boars and when Kilauea blew her top I jumped on that big pig an…”
“Wowie zowie!” Dale said, interrupting Monty’s reverie. “Can we all come? Can we?”
“Sure, Dale,” Chip said. “We’ll need a couple days’ head start to iron out the details and all, but then everyone’s invited. Monty, would you see to it that grandpa Sean’s told? I’d like him to be there, and I’m sure he’ll want to come.”
“Too right,” Monty said. “I like that bloke. I’ll take whatever plane you don’t and go up there. Who else ya want told about it?” Lahwhinie spoke first. “I’d like you to tell Mrs. Pendergast. She’s been so nice an all, but even if she can’t come I’d like her to be invited.” Theo was right there with her on that one. “Yeah, and can Bink come? And the rest of her family too?” Chip rubbed his son’s head. “I don’t see why not. We probably should invite Bernard and Bianca, too.”
Lahwhinie went to get her bags and Theo looked up at his dad. “You guys are gonna be okay there...alone, without me, right?” Chip knelt down by his son. “You know there’s no one else I’d rather be with than you, son. This is just a time where Lahwhinie and need to be alone, to be able to talk and share things privately. It won’t be long, and if things go like I figure you’ll be joining us with the others soon enough.”
“Well okay, have fun, and remember, don’t die,” Theo said, hugging him tightly. Chip hugged him back. “I think dying’s going to be the last thing we’ll think about. But don’t worry, we’ll be careful. You watch out for everyone else, and don’t you die, either. Lahwhinie would pound me into the ground!”
“Don’t worry, mate,” Monty said, taking charge. “We’ll all look after Theo and make sure nothin’ goes wrong while ye’re away.” Eva came over and hugged Chip in congratulations. “Have fun, Chip.” Chip already thought of Eva as a mother in some ways, and it pleased him to think that she’d be his mother-in-law. “We sure will, Eva, and thanks for coming back to us. I know Lahwhinie and I are both a lot happier with you here.”
No one saw Eva’s reaction to that, because just then Lahwhinie ran out in her traditional Hawaiian garb, happy as a lark. She handed her suitcase to Chip, who found it was heavier than he thought. Lahwhinie looked to the others. “Does anyone mind if we go? Theo, sweetie, you don’t mind that we’ll be gone a couple of days do you?” Theo gave her a hug and grinned at her. “It’s okay. Dad already explained it to me. You two go have fun, but remember to treat him good! He’s already promised to take Bink and me camping once school’s out, and I want him back in one piece.”
Monty caught Lahwhinie’s attention. “Lass, we’re counting on you to be a perfect lady while you’re there.” She winked at him. “Don’t worry, I won’t break him. He’s got to last a long time. We’ll just be gone a couple of days, and you’ll be giving me away before you know it, dad.”
Theo broke in, hugging Lahwhinie again in his joy. “You and dad are the two best people on earth, as far as I’m concerned. Maybe you can find Don Ho over there and get him to sing ‘Jingle Bells’!” Lahwhinie hugged him in return. “We’ll keep our eyes open and see if we can find a fitting gift for the future leader of the Rangers. I’ll miss you, Theo. I love you.” Theo leaned close. “I love you too...mom.” Lahwhinie hugged her family next and then prodded Chip to get the lead out.
The others wished them well, and soon both of them had their supplies on the RangerWing. Gadget stood next to Lahwhinie’s seat. “Have fun, sis. I’m glad you found someone special like Chip.” Lahwhinie nodded back to her sister. “He’s a treasure all right, one I never thought I’d ever possess. Keep an eye on Theo for us and be careful in your workshop!”
“I will, on both counts,” Gadget promised.
Chapter 7 – Old Wrongs Righted, Old Dreams Buried
Chip started up the Wing, and with one last wave to everyone he headed the plane east to take advantage of the jet stream. They passed over Europe and Asia, then came to the blue waters of the Pacific. After what seemed too long a time to Lahwhinie, she woke up to find the Hawaiian Islands poking up over the horizon. “I never thought I’d ever feel so glad to see Oahu again.”
“It’s beautiful, just like the girl who came from there,” Chip said. “Now, you choose what you’d like to do. Where’d you like to go first?” Lahwhinie didn’t have to think long on that. “I guess let’s bring this whole thing full circle. Let’s visit Hubba Hubba and see if we can bury the hatchet.”
“Are you sure?” Chip asked. “You don’t have to, but I think you’re doing the right thing if you do.”
“I’d like to be able to clear at least a small part of my conscience, Chip. I need to do this, then there are other places I think I need to go to finish burying the past.”
Chip put his arm around his beloved. “You’re the leader on this trip, Lahwhinie. To the mouse tribe village, then!”
Chip guided the Wing in. It wasn’t easy for Lahwhinie, to say the least. She’d taken full advantage of these mice, especially Shaka Baka. When she thought back on how badly she’d treated him, it almost made her cry. Now, Chip was helping her out of the Wing and they headed across the tourist trap area. Soon, the huts of the village were in plain view. A voice from behind caught them both off-guard
“Whoa, it’s the Chip-meister! I’d recognize that hat...and Lahwhinie? Hey babe, what brings you back to this pad? It’s been like years, hasn’t it?”
Lahwhinie turned slowly, not knowing just what to expect. “Uh, hello Shaka Baka, it’s good to see you again. Uh, how’s... things?” Shaka Baka walked up like they’d talked just yesterday. “Hey, surf’s up and I’m there, y’know. You seem kinda chilled out, babe. Something wrong?”
“Well, I’m just surprised you’re not enraged at me for the terrible way I treated you, that’s all. One of the reasons I came back here is to say…well, I’m sorry, Shaka, for what I did to you.”
Shaka Baka just stood there for a minute, dumbfounded—no, for real. “Whoa....you really meant that. Thanks, babe! You didn’t make me mad, though. I was just bummed out that you weren’t nice and all. Say, didn’t you give Chip here a major bum rap when he was here? Why are you two here together?”
Lahwhinie hoped he’d take the news well. “Actually, I’m going to be marrying Chip soon and I wanted to come here to make peace with the people I wronged. But yeah, I gave him a raw deal when he was here last and he forgave me.” Shaka Baka looked over at Chip and he nodded. “Like whoa, who’d a thunk it?”
“Yeah, I know it’s pretty hard to believe, but it’s true,” Chip said. “Lahwhinie’s changed a lot and we love each other.”
“Whoa....” Shaka Baka echoed.
Chip could see that they’d about run through Shaka Baka’s vocabulary. “Uh, is Hubba-Hubba around?”
“The big kahuna? Sure, he’s in residence, dude. He’ll be wiped out by this, too. C’mon!”
Shaka Baka led the way to the main hut, where Hubba Hubba was having his mid-afternoon poi break. “Chip come back, welcome Chip. And what this? Lahwhinie? You come back to make volcano gods hoo-hoo again?” Lahwhinie shook her head, trying her best to look sincere. “No, I’ve come to make peace with them, and with you. I’ve come to face my sins and accept whatever punishment I deserve for what I did to this community.”
Hubba Hubba stood up. “You sure this one Lahwhinie, Chip? She not talk like Lahwhinie.” Chip could certainly understand that reaction. “It’s her all right, chief. She’s turned over a new leaf, and really does want to make peace. I’ll vouch for her.” Hubba Hubba considered it. “Hmm, Ranger’s word good. Okay, we give Lahwhinie chance. Come.”
The native chief gathered the villagers and told them what had happened. They talked things over, and soon Hubba Hubba came back. “Villagers say Lahwhinie do bad thing, but they listen if she want to talk with them.” Lahwhinie stood before the crowd. “I’ve come here to…beg your forgiveness for my crimes, to say that I’m no longer the person I was then and give my promise that I’ll never be that way again.” The villagers looked at each other in some confusion and then Hubba Hubba talked to them again. After a minute, they all came forward.
Hubba Hubba signaled for silence. “Tribal council has ruled. Lahwhinie is forgiven and is member of village again, but can never be queenie. We do away with queenie title after you leave, save much trouble in village. Now, is what Shaka Baka say true? You marry Chip, and he want you?”
“As unbelievable as it sounds, he does want to marry me,” Lahwhinie said. “I was kinda wondering, would you be willing to do the ceremony for us?” Hubba Hubba smiled at the prospect. “He hale kou, Lahwhinie. Chip, that mean ‘you have a house’ here. You always welcome. Yes, we perform traditional ceremony. For friend Chip, and Lahwhinie who returns to tribe, we must have much celebration!”
Lahwhinie was amazed at how easily they could forgive her. “Well, there are a few more skeletons that must be buried first. Then we get hitched, but soon though.” Lahwhinie did something she had seen Gadget do so often at times like this—she hugged Hubba-Hubba. The chief was as shocked as anyone, then hugged her in return. “`A`ole pilikia. You are welcome. You are truly much changed, and we begin preparations now! You say when wedding is, and we will be ready.”
“Give us a about a week, then it’s time for wedding bells. Is that okay with you, Chirp?”
Chip caught the playfulness in her eyes, and relished it. “Sure thing, Peaches. That’ll give us a few days on our own, plus time to get the others here. I know Dale would never excuse us keeping him from the one place on earth where that shirt of his blends in.”
As the evening rolled on, Chip and Lahwhinie decided that with the jet lag they were both too tired for any kind of celebration that night. They embraced, then went to their separate huts. Chip stayed up a while, thinking on the surprising turn of events. Indeed it had surprised even him that Lahwhinie had handled the situation so well. She was still progressing, but Chip was pleased with her sincerity. **Tomorrow may be harder, though**
That was precisely what Lahwhinie was considering as she lay on her grass mat, staring at the ceiling of her hut. She had long thought of revisiting the island where the young recruits of Project Phoenix had spent some harrowing days. Part of her longed to go, and another part dreaded it. After an hour, she turned over and decided to let the time of arrival dictate her reaction.
When morning came, Chip checked the RangerWing for the distance they would be flying was considerable. Hubba Hubba had offered to have some of the villagers guide them there, but Lahwhinie said she only wanted Chip with her. The chief understood, and waved from the shore as the duo flew northeast toward the island known locally as Moku Manu but by everyone else as Nihoa Island.
Lahwhinie was quiet as Chip flew the Wing past several islands. Then it was before her—a small island with mixtures of green and rock, topped by the volcanic cone that had formed it long ago. Man and rodent had inhabited the island at different times, but as the locals shunned it and RODENTS was long gone, it was the domain of the birds alone. As Chip circled the island, the ruins of the old fortress on the part of the island known as Devil’s Slide came into view. The razor wire was gone now, with only the rusted posts that supported it remaining. Only half of the stone edifice was standing, and that part was mainly a mixture of loose rock. Chip landed the Wing on the shore.
“Do you want me to wait here? I understand if you want some time alone,” Chip said. Lahwhinie took hold of his arm like a child would grab onto a teddy bear. “No, this is a place where I absolutely don’t want to be alone, Chip.” Her grip on his arm became painfully tight and Chip pulled her to him, speaking some soft words before he convinced her to let him get out first and secure the boat on the shore. A few moments later, he helped her out of the Wing and set her down on the beach. She held his hand as they both looked at the stygian sight.
“I can still remember this from the dream,” Chip said. “The guards came out from the central entranceway, and past the electric fence right in front of us. I didn’t know it was a dream until I saw Susan and Sharon on the inside. I’m just glad it turned out the way it did.” Lahwhinie’s spirit was already filled with the gloomy memories of the place. “You won’t find Haley Mills and Haley Mills in this place. This is where it all happened, Chip. This was my home, my world, and my universe as a child. They destroyed me here, and ripped every shred of love and kindness out of me.”
“I know. I saw them in my dream on the way to save you, and they were awful. In part, I share the pain you feel every time you think about them.”
Chip turned and faced her. “If I’d only known you existed then, I would’ve risked everything to get you out of here!” Lahwhinie gave him a sarcastic look. “I don’t think your parents would’ve approved of you flying to Hawaii while you were still in elementary school, sweets.”
“You know what I mean. Part of the reason I became a Ranger is because I hate anyone being made to suffer, but especially someone I love. If I could have, I would have kept you from this. I just wanted you to know.”
Lahwhinie leaned on him, and whispered into his ear, “I know, Chip, and I love you for it.”
Lahwhinie walked among the ruins of the building and gave Chip a tour of the place. “Here was the indoctrination room and over here was the lunch room—I bet there’s still some of that meatloaf they used to dish out around here somewhere. Rain and wind wouldn’t affect that slop. And over here... is where I was trained.” Lahwhinie paused, the memories seeming to stare her in the face. “Since I was so beautiful, they created a special training program just for me...I wish they were all here right now, so I could kill each and every one of them.”
Chip had tasted the rage in her heart during the special dream, so he knew it was useless to say anything at this point. Instead, he touched her arm and led her to a collection of gravestones he’d just spotted. They were weather-beaten and overgrown, but the chiseled names on them were still clear enough. Here laid the last remnants of RODENTS, the leaders of a cause that had scarred so many more lives than this one girl who now stood before them. In that light, she felt she had a right to speak for all of them.
Lahwhinie approached the graves, hoping they could hear her. “It seems that there was a bit more trouble than you planned, the night of the big breakout.” She stood on top of one mound and stomped her foot on the ground. “Hey gang, hot enough down there for you?” Chip looked at her in a quizzical manner, then walked up and joined her. He stooped down to read the names, then spoke. “I feel sorry for the lot of you. You hoped to dominate the world, to make everyone see things your way. Well, you failed miserably. The world’s not a perfect place, but it’s doing fine without you. And now we’ve come back to show you proof.”
Chip took Lahwhinie’s hand. “Can you see this girl? You tried to pervert her, and you thought you’d succeeded, that she’d carry on in your place. But there was one thing you didn’t count on, that you couldn’t understand. That was love. You tried to beat it out of her, but love can’t be destroyed. Now she’s alive again, and one of the most caring people I know. She’s a living testimony to your failure, RODENTS, and everyone that sees her will know that in the end she won, not you.”
“That’s telling ‘em, Chip,” Lahwhinie said, a malicious toothy grin forming on her face. Lahwhinie changed venues to the largest of the graves and began dancing the hula on it. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited to dance on your graves, you—”
Chip was shocked by the language that Lahwhinie began spouting. He grabbed her arm and jerked her off the grave, grabbing her shoulders and making her face him. “Stop it! They’re dead, Lahwhinie. There’s no reason to go on hating them like this! They’re not worth it, Lahwhinie, and they never were.” Lahwhinie got right up in his face, throwing her arms up and gesturing. “How can I stop hating them?! You know what they did to me, Chip!”
“I don’t care about them! I care about you! The person I just saw now was a stranger—a vindictive and hateful person. Lahwhinie, that’s not you. It’s what they left in you. You have to let it go, precious.”
Lahwhinie’s fists shook in rage and Chip could see tears start running down her face. “I was just a child and look what they made me into! I hate them and…and I hate Gadget, because she got the life that I didn’t! I wanted to be pure and innocent. I wanted to grow up with a mommy and daddy and all that stupid mushy stuff that families have. I wanted to be the one that mom gave to Aunt Bianca to be whisked away to safety and happiness. I hate being me!”
She pulled herself away from him, not able to look him in the eyes anymore. Her voice broke as she continued. “I didn’t ask to be raised to be a slut and be treated like dirt my whole life. You have no idea how ashamed I am every time I look at myself in a mirror! It makes me sick just thinking about what and who I am—sick…”
Chip came over to her and cupped her face in his hands, forcing her to look into his eyes. “Lahwhinie, look at my face. There’s no shame in it when I look at you. I know what they raised you to be, but it was a lie—it was always a lie. Inside, you were never what they wanted you to be. You were misguided, but I was there with you when you overcame all that. You don’t have to be ashamed of that past anymore, or live with regrets. None of us sees that person anymore. You’ve shown now that you’re a good and loving person, and as long as I live you’ll never see me treat you as anything else than my beloved wife. It’s time for you to realize that, and let the lies rest here with the ones who manufactured them.”
Lahwhinie’s emotional dam burst and she hugged Chip, crying like she’d never cried in her entire life. Chip cried with her, whispering words of love and comfort. She was trembling in his arms, and he knew that for the first time since she was little she was truly trusting and depending on someone. For a long while, there was no sense of time until Chip looked up and saw the sun directly above them. He put his arm around Lahwhinie’s waist, and guided her so they were facing away from the building and the graves. The sun was shimmering on the blue-green ocean past the shore and a flock of seagulls passed by in the distance.
“There’s a world out there filled with life and beauty, and it’s time we both went back to it. We need to call home and tell them that I’m marrying the sweetest girl in the world in Hawaii.”
Lahwhinie chuckled weakly. “You are? Are you going to invite me?” Chip knelt down, taking her hand. “As long as you say yes. You know how I love you, and I’m not alone. Theo adores you, and he’ll back me up in saying that both of us are the most fortunate chipmunks on the planet.” Lahwhinie wiped some of the tears off her soaked face. “I just wish I had more to offer you both.”
Chip knew this side of her, and how to deal with it. “I’m not judging you by the past, but by your heart. As far as I’m concerned, you never did those things. That was someone else, certainly not the girl who hugged Hubba Hubba and cried in my arms this morning. And as far as having something to offer, you have something more valuable than anything else—yourself.”
Lahwhinie’s face regained much of its normal look. “Well, that girl you saw this morning is someone that you won’t see very often. I don’t turn on the waterworks very easily, Chirp.” She pulled Chip into a passionate kiss. “I hate having to wait, loverboy, but for you I will.”
Chip kissed her in return and they headed toward the Wing. “I realize you can only be truly open like that when you’re alone with me. That’s why your mask doesn’t deter me like it once did. I can see under it, and I know what you’re feeling. You’ll have to decide when and where to remove it. As for waiting, good things will come, and soon. I’m sure the families will be on their way by tomorrow if we ask them. Are you ready for the ceremony now, or do you need a little more time to collect your thoughts?”
Lahwhinie didn’t need any time to think that over. “Yeah, I’m ready. One of the reasons I wanted to come here was because I was sure that being here would bring out the worst in me and I wanted you there to see me that way, so that we’d both know our true colors.”
“And I came here to help you put to rest that worst part that wasn’t yours in the first place. I’d say we both succeeded in our missions.”
Lahwhinie got in the Wing and Chip started it up, heading away from the island that for so long had held such misery behind its fences. Once, Lahwhinie was tempted to look back and started to, but then she caught the glint of her engagement ring on her finger and she stopped. Instead, she put her arm around Chip and her head on his shoulder. In a few minutes, the island disappeared over the horizon like a mirage.
Chapter 8 – A Wedding in Paradise
“The wedding’s on, everyone! We’re going to Hawaii!”
That was Gadget’s reaction when she hung up the phone. Immediately, the families were contacted and a big contingent headed out the next morning on planes and albatrosses. Everyone had already been told to be on stand-by, so it was no problem to gather the gang together.
Two days after Lahwhinie’s visit to Nihoa Island, the betrothed were waiting eagerly at the mouse village for the first sign of their guests. It came in the form of the Rangers, with Dale running toward his old pal and tackling him playfully in the sand. “Hiya, Chip! Now it’s your turn to feel all nervous and wonder if you’ll make it through the ceremony without fainting!”
Chip dusted himself off in good humor. “I’ve been through the rough parts, Dale, and I can stand up to anything now. I’m glad you all could make it.” Eva walked up and gently hugged Lahwhinie, then Chip. “Oh, ve are most happy to share this time with you, dahlings! Chip, we have brought a special guest with us.”
Sean rounded the corner and waved to his grandson. He shook his grandson’s hand, and kissed Lahwhinie’s. “Once I heard, there was no way of keeping me from this, boy. Congratulations to you both.” Chip was overjoyed that his grandfather could make it. “Thanks for coming, Sean. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.”
“And there’s a roight special guest fer you too, Lahwhinie!” Monty said. Escorted by Tammy, Mrs. Pendergast walked into view. “Sure, and it’s a grand day for us all!”
“You made it!” Lahwhinie shouted, running up and hugging her old friend. “I hope the trip wasn’t too rough on you.” The old mouse shook her head, laughter in her eyes. “Oh, nothing to worry your sweet head about. Now, I’ve got a little something for you.”
The old Irishwoman took Lahwhinie’s hand and placed a gold locket in it. “My dear Arthur gave that to me the day I was married. Oh, I can still remember those fond times. It’ll be that way for you too, dearie.”
“It’s beautiful, ma’am,” Lahwhinie said, looking at it. “But I can’t accept this. You’ve already given me that beautiful bracelet and this was a wedding gift for you!” Mrs. Pendergast stood her ground. “Don’t you understand an old lady’s heart, dearie? I have no daughter or even a child of me own to leave these things to. Please, let me give what I can while I can.”
Mrs. Pendergast took the locket and fixed it around Lahwhinie’s neck, then kissed her cheek. “Faith, if only I’d had a daughter like you! Now you’ve something old for the wedding besides an old friend.” Lahwhinie hugged her again. “Thanks, Mrs. P. I accept your gift.” Then she leaned in closer and whispered, “And you have a daughter now.”
They both cried a little, the feelings far separated from the ones that had forced Lahwhinie’s tears a couple of days ago. Next to come were the parents. Roger and Jennifer were all smiles, and they made Lahwhinie feel welcome as a member of the Maplewood family. They quickly broke off with Monty and Eva to discuss parent-talk. Then another surprise came.
“Hey, is someone getting married over here?” Foxy asked.
“If they’re not, they’re sure missing their chance!” Noel added.
Noel the bat swooped down and tackled Chip. “So, my brother’s getting married at last to his dream girl! I know it’s been a tough road, bro. I’m glad you finally got here.”
Chip was overwhelmed. “Noel! But how…”
“Mr. Steadman loaned us Jonathon and his jet plane!” Foxy said. “We just couldn’t miss the wedding, and when I voiced my concerns to Pete about the baby and all he insisted.” Foxy promptly hugged Lahwhinie, who for her changed nature was still somewhat reluctant to be hugged. “Lahwhinie, you treat Chip good. He’s such a sweetie and you be a good mom to Theo too.”
“No need to worry on that account, Foxy,” Lahwhinie said. “The little Napoleon and I’ve worked a few things out while we’ve been here. Say Noel, you’re flying pretty good over there. Keep it up and you’ll get your license soon.”
Noel laughed at the little joke. “We’ll see. The Fairmonts wanted to come too but it’s the great bug drive now and it was too late to change plans. They did send y’all an invitation to visit Hondo after your honeymoon and said they’d throw a hoedown for the happy couple.”
Eva came over at this news. “Ah, then you will have two places to visit. Mother and father have invited you both to come to the family castle in Hungary. Ilsa wanted to come, but she is not well enough for travel so Viktor stayed with her. I hope you can make it by to see them.”
“We’ll certainly visit them as soon as possible,” Lahwhinie said. “I wanna see the Râboga ancestral home. Okay, where is that son of mine? He hasn’t said hello yet!” Noel thumbed in the direction they’d come from. “He must be lagging behind with the Chesnutts. He and Bink were talking a minute ago. Yep, here they come.”
The Chesnutts had come too, as they owed so much to their affiliation with the Rangers. Theo had indeed been talking with Bink, but the moment he saw his soon-to-be mother smiling at him and holding her arms out to him he ran and took a flying leap, knocking her down in the process.
“Hi, mom!” Theo said, all-excited. “Wow, did I ever miss you guys! Sorry I got a little carried away.” Lahwhinie held Theo tightly and helped him to his feet. “If you hadn’t done that, I would’ve, kiddo. I really missed you. See, we kept our promise—we didn’t die.”
“And I managed to stay alive too. I’m glad you kept dad in one piece,” Theo said.
Lahwhinie glanced over at Chip. “I’m not letting loverboy out of my sight until we’re hitched. Then we’ll have that whole silly family thing, just like on TV. So, did you have a good time while we were away? Solve any crimes, go on any adventures?”
Theo shuffled his feet. “Bink and I helped this boy at school find a missing notebook. That’s about it. Hey, maybe we can rustle up a crime to solve over here once the ceremony’s done! This island ought to be full of opportunities for crime solving.”
Lahwhinie crossed her arms. “Well, the rest of the Rangers will have to make do without us, and if any bad guys are dumb enough to disturb Chip and I tonight, their lives will end, violently.”
“Lah-whinie...” Chip warned, taking Lahwhinie’s hand. She gave him a most meaningful glance and smile. Chip looked back at Theo. “I’m sure no one will disturb us.”
Next up were Honey and Zipper. Zipper was trying to explain everything at once to her, and Honey was totally bewildered. “And you mean people come to this isolated, hot place for fun?” she asked, incredulous. “I will grant that the view is unforgettable, yet the climatical change from our home is most dramatic. This sun won’t harm my delicate skin tone, will it?”
Zipper pointed to a human female putting some lotion on her arms. “That’s what suntan lotion is for. We’ll have to get you some, but yes, people come from all over the world to see Hawaii. There are the volcanoes...”
“What are those?” Honey asked.
“Uh, big mountains that belch forth smoke and magma, which is liquid rock that’s so hot it burns up everything in its path.”
Honey looked at him quizzically. “Why do people want to see smoke and burning rocks?” Zipper racked his brain for a suitable explanation, but settled for the first thing that sounded reasonable. “Well, it looks really neat.”
“Oh... I see.”
Chip decided to save Zipper any further need for explanations. “Hi, you two! What do you think of Hawaii so far, Honey?”
“I’m not sure yet. Apparently there are many things here that I need to see. But aside from the geographic isolation and the scorching heat, it is quite nice and the people have been friendly.”
Lahwhinie smirked at Honey’s response. “That’s about the best tourist description you’ll get of Hawaii right there. Honey, we’ll have to get you outfitted for the islands. You need some lighter fabric like mine. Maybe a muumuu would do for you.”
Honey looked horrified at the notion. “Exchange my royal attire for that of a common, tribal people?!”
“It’s that or bake in the sun. Your choice.”
“Well, I suppose in that case I could make a concession to practicality,” Honey said, though with a note of reluctance. “Very well, I will try these other fabrics and that muumuu of which you spoke.”
Lahwhinie had one of the villagers escort Honey and Zipper to see to the queen bee’s wardrobe change. Mrs. Pendergast had already found a shady spot to rest, and Sean was sitting as well, talking with her. Some of the parents were showing signs of jetlag.
“I think you guys need to rest up before tonight,” Lahwhinie said. “I don’t want you snoozing through the vows. Hubba Hubba and the guys will show you where the guest huts are.”
Sean nodded his appreciation. “Thank you, Lahwhinie. I for one could stand a little recuperation time.” Sean gave Mrs. Pendergast his arm and he escorted her to one of the huts while he took another. Some of the others took advantage of the invitation as well, while a few like the kids decided to go on down to the waterside and play in the surf and sand.
Roger was one of the ones who’d stayed out, and now he came over to Chip who was watching Lahwhinie and Theo down by the shore. “It’s quite a sight, isn’t it son? You’re about to be a husband, and responsible for two lives instead of one. How do you feel about it?”
Chip leaned back against a palm tree, putting his arms behind his head. “It feels great, dad. And I’m not nervous—much. It’s helped a lot that Noel’s married and can handle marriage, so that means I can too.”
“True, but it’s different for everyone,” Roger reminded him. “Lahwhinie’s a very special girl, and a bold soul from what I’ve seen. Remember to think things through, Chip, and even if she says she’s prepared for everything she may not be. Go slow, and if she’s not ready for the burden of wife and mother, then help her until she is.”
“She’ll do fine, dad. Being a wife and mother will fill some very big holes in her heart. She needs this and will do everything she possibly can to make it work.”
Roger looked on his boy, and wished he could give him his years of experience. “I’m sure she will, son. Just don’t take anything for granted. Give her space if she needs it, and time if she asks for it. Your mom and I took some time getting settled in, and there were some arguments along the way—some knockdown drag-outs too. I think maybe you two will do better in that department, but if it comes don’t let it throw you.”
“She’ll be the one doing the throwing,” Chip said. “She’s got martial arts kills that make her the equal of anyone. I’m sure there’ll be arguments, though. I know going in that Lahwhinie’s going to be a handful; she’s no Donna Reed. But we know each other deep enough not to let the little setbacks affect us for long.”
Roger smiled knowingly on the inside, but said nothing. “All right. Your mom and I are here if you need us, and that goes for Lahwhinie too.”
“Thanks, dad. I’m glad you both could get down here on such short notice—wow, the biggest day of my life!”
Roger nudged him. “Just wait till your first child is bo...uh, well.”
“It’s okay, dad. We all knew about this when we decided to take the plunge.”
“That was pretty thoughtless of me son, sorry. But maybe you will have kids, the way Noel and Foxy are. It’s something to think about, anyway.”
Chip stirred a little. “We’ve talked about that when Noel decided to make the change, but it’s her I worry about. I don’t think she’d ever be willing to go through such an ordeal. Besides, we have Theo.”
“That’s so. Theo’s a good boy, and the best grandson we could ask for. Still, the time may come when she’ll bring it up with you. You’d better have thought out your answer ahead of time.”
“She already has, but I knew what my answer was already. She’s the one who would have to make it come true and that’s a lot to ask of her, at least right now.”
Roger stood up, looking toward his soon-to-be daughter in law. “Chip, I’ll tell you what Jen told me. Never underestimate a woman.”
Father and son went down to the shore and joined in with the other revelers. Soon, the sun melted into the ocean, a mixture of red and orange flame on the waves. The villagers lit their tiki torches, giving the area set up for the ceremony a spectral glow. As the nuptial hour struck, the guests found seats and the islanders entertained them with ukulele music and hula dancing. Poi and all the other island delicacies were at their disposal as well.
In Chip’s hut, the dashing chipmunk inspected every thread of his tuxedo. His habit of spotlessness was still very much in evidence, so he didn’t even notice when two newcomers came in.
“Chip, I hope you’re not going for that magnifying glass of yours,” the first one said. Chip turned to find Bernard standing there, with Cheddarhead Charlie next to him. “Too roight, Bernard me lad! This here ain’t a bloomin’ fashion show. We got here soon as we could, mate! Glad we’re in toime!”
Chip was glad to see them both. “Wow! Thanks for coming Bernard, Charlie. I keep forgetting that Lahwhinie’s part of both your families.” Bernard shook Chip’s hand. “Glad we could make it. Miss Bianca insisted on coming, and I wasn’t about to miss this either. We picked up Kate and Charlie here on the way.”
Cheddarhead slapped Chip on the back, and elbowed him in the ribs. “So mate, ready to tie the ol’ knot? She’s a bonzer lass, she is! Takes after my side of the family.” Chip recovered, then managed a smile. “Ready as I’ll ever be. I’m counting the minutes, guys. I bet Lahwhinie’s cool as a cucumber in her hut.”
“Why can’t we go ahead and get this over with?” Lahwhinie said, pacing like a lioness. “I’m ready to go now! This waiting bit’s silly!” The bride squirmed impatiently in her wedding gown on her seat, making it difficult for Eva to fix a ring of white orchids in place on her head. “Dahling, do you not vant to look your best for Chip? He will certainly try to look his best for you.”
“Oh mom, you know men. They don’t have any real fashion sense at all. He’d marry me if I came out wearing a tube top and hip-huggers.”
Eva chuckled. “Imagine what the look on his face will be like when he sees you dressed in this vedding dress. Besides, you love to dress up! Here is the chance to stun everyone with your beauty.”
Lahwhinie straightened the locket on her neck that Mrs. Pendergast had given her. “Yeah, yeah. Local girl makes good and all that. I just hope the papers don’t print the back story on me.” Eva grabbed a brush off the table in front of Lahwhinie and worked on her hair. “Now stop fussing. This is your big day! You and Chip are getting set to spend the rest of your lives together. You should be happy.”
Looking up, Lahwhinie checked her face in the table’s mirror, and was surprised at the soft look in her eyes and the happiness that was reflected there. “Well, there is someone better in there today. Maybe it won’t be so bad, after all.”
Gadget had waited at the door until Eva finished, and now she came forward. “Sis, I’ve got something I’d like you to have.” Gadget opened a hand-crafted wooden box, and the diamonds inside sparkled in the light. “It’s your turn to wear grandma’s necklace, Lahwhinie, and I want you to keep it. It’s yours.”
Lahwhinie was stunned. The family necklace she had secretly coveted ever since she had first laid eyes on it at Gadget’s wedding. She gently ran a hand over it, then looked at Gadget. “I don’t know what to say, Gadget. Are you sure you want to part with it? It’s worth a fortune! Most likely, more than one fortune!”
Gadget produced one of her patented smiles. “Sure I’m sure! It’s too fancy for me to wear, and it’s too pretty a thing for someone not to enjoy it. Just remember, that’ll also make you responsible for seeing that the future Râboga girls wear it at their weddings. Now here, let’s see how it looks on you.”
Gadget slipped the necklace around Lahwhinie’s neck, the gold locket forming a nice centerpiece with the diamonds and precious metals surrounding it in a loop. Mrs. Pendergast gasped at the sight. “Oh, you look like a bonnie princess!” Even Honey was impressed. “It certainly is a necklace worthy of royalty.”
“You look so beautiful!” Tammy sighed, wishing she could wear those diamonds on her wedding day. Lahwhinie was blushing, pretending to not enjoy their words of praise. “Okay, it does look really nice. Thanks, Gadget. I’ll make sure the next girl in the family gets to wear it for her wedding.”
“And I hope I vill be around to see that one as well. Hello, everyone!”
It was Bianca, and she promptly came over and hugged Lahwhinie. “Your Uncle Bernard and I just got in, and we brought a couple of other people along.” Kate came in, smiling bright as day. “Oh, there you are! You look like the spitting image of me on my wedding day, except that you’re a sight prettier than I was. Congratulations, Lahwhinie!”
Lahwhinie hugged Bianca and Kate in kind. “Wow, the gang’s all here. I was kind of afraid that after Gadget’s wedding, no one would feel like showing up for mine.”
“Horse feathers!” Kate said. “You’re just as important to us as your sister is.”
“That is right,” Bianca said. “We are most glad to be here for your happiest day.”
Lahwhinie looked at a wooden clock on the hut’s wall. “Now that everyone’s here, how much longer do I have to wait to marry prince charming?”
“It’s just a few more minutes, Chip. They’re setting up out front, now,” Sean said. Chip was already pacing in his hut. “I’ve never liked waiting.” Sean couldn’t help but remember his own wedding day. “You look like me before every concert I’ve given. Here, I’ve got a little something for you.”
Sean gave Chip an ancient coin. “That came from your ancestor from his trip with Magellan, according to the family legends. I know how you appreciate history, so I also know it’s in safe hands. For me, it’s always been a link with the other Maplewoods and a reminder of what kind of stock we come from.”
Chip had heard about the coin from his father before, but never thought to possess it. It was Sean’s most prized Maplewood family treasure, and he knew that the elderly chipmunk had always kept it in safety deposit. Chip held up the ancient gold piece to the light. “It’s a wonder, Sean. I’m honored, but are you sure?”
“I’m sure, Chip,” Sean said. “I know that you and Theo both will look after the Maplewood legacy. Roger and Jennifer have already told me that they’d rather you inherit my house and the responsibility for it.” Chip gulped. It was a big order, but Sean knew he’d chosen right. Chip pocketed the coin. “Okay, Sean.”
Monty stuck his head in. “Okay, they’re ready for you, lad. Straighten anything that’s supposed ta be, ‘cause it’s show time!” Chip nodded to Monty, then addressed his entourage. “Okay, is everything ready? Ring? Best men?”
Dale saluted. “I’ve got the ring...whoops! Hee hee, just kidding.”
Theo stood next to his father. “Ready here, dad!”
Noel put a wing around Chip. “Let’s do it, bro.”
“Ready to party!” Dale said, lining up next to Noel.
The guys headed outside, and stood at the front. Chip was a little nervous, but not as much as he thought he’d be. The last few days with Lahwhinie had helped them both, and now he truly felt prepared to take this major step. The villagers’ music accented the tropical feel of the surroundings, and the trade winds blew warmly on the attendees. At a signal, the playing grew louder, announcing the bride’s arrival.
Monty came out, Lahwhinie on his arm. “You’re a bonzer princess, lass. I love ya more’n I can say.”
“Thanks, dad. I love you too.”
As Lahwhinie walked down the aisle, her first reaction was satisfaction at the general awe the people showed at her regalia. She was in the spotlight, and she still liked it. She returned the smiles of the people in the audience and then she saw Chip. He was smiling as well, and she could tell he was impressed. As her gaze locked into his, she found unexpectedly that everything else was being blocked out. He was drawing her into him, and she eagerly accepted it as she walked toward him.
For Chip, once he’d seen Lahwhinie the entire remainder of the universe had ceased to exist. There she was, resplendent with her natural beauty, accentuated by the gorgeous white dress and the radiant diamonds. Somehow, it almost seemed he’d envisioned this once, and then he remembered—Dale’s painting of Gadget in her wedding dress. He’d wanted to see himself in that painting, and now he realized it hadn’t been Gadget he’d seen at all. He felt tears starting to come as his true dream was about to be fulfilled.
As Lahwhinie came forward, Foxy began to sing at the front. Chip had requested a particular song, and now he realized just how appropriate it was.
Long ago and far away,
I dreamed a dream one day,
And now, that dream is here beside me!
Long the skies were overcast,
But now the clouds have passed,
You’re here at last!
Chills run up and down my spine,
Aladdin’s lamp is mine,
The dream I dreamed was not denied me!
Just one look and then I knew,
That all I longed for,
Long ago, was you...
Monty and Lahwhinie stopped at the front, and Hubba Hubba stepped forward, bedecked in a ceremonial costume. “We come together in this traditional way to join this kâne and this wahine in marriage. Let all agree to marriage or if not speak now.”
Lahwhinie gave the crowd an evil stare, just daring someone to say something. When she was sure that no one would speak, she smiled and turned back to Chip. Chip leaned over and whispered, “I think that means we’re okay.”
“I better not hear a peep out of any of them,” she whispered back. Chip thought about laughing, but he knew she meant it. They both looked up at Hubba Hubba, who continued.
“Chip Noel Maplewood, you take Lahwhinie to be yours always, to love and protect her, to have and to hold, through good time and bad, remaining only with her until death?”
Chip looked through the veil at the face of his beloved. “I do.”
For a moment, the sound of crying broke Chip out of his spell because it was coming from his mother. He dared a peek at the front row, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Roger gave him a signal that everything was okay. Hubba Hubba turned to Lahwhinie. “Lahwhinie Eva Valkerie Râboga Erskine, you take Chip to be yours always, to love and protect him, to have and to hold, through good time and bad, remaining only with him until death?”
Lahwhinie looked into Chip’s eyes, and spoke with the most sincerity that anyone could attribute to her. “I do, now and forever.” Now it was Eva’s turn to cry, plus Dale. It was a real contest as to which one was making a bigger show. Hubba Hubba waited until things were under control again.
“Let us have rings,” Hubba-Hubba said.
Gadget brought Lahwhinie her ring, and Dale gave Chip his. Lahwhinie smiled at him as Chip put the ring on her finger, and had to fight the impulse to kiss him right there but decided to wait and placed the ring on Chip’s finger.
Hubba Hubba raised his hands. “Chip and Lahwhinie show they truly love each other and wish to be joined.” Hubba Hubba then took a native spear and tapped Chip on the shoulder with it. “Chip, receive Hawaiian name of Koa, which means brave and fearless. You are no longer stranger to the tribe, but part of us all.”
Hubba Hubba put the spear down and raised his hands again, addressing the audience. “Pili olua e, moku ka pawa o ke ao. ‘You two are now one, the darkness is passed’. I say now for all to hear that you are kâne and wahine. Kiss the bride!” Lahwhinie grabbed Chip, lifted him off the ground and gave him a kiss that left him dazed.
“I really love you, Chip,” she said.
Dale had been waiting, and snapped a picture at just the right moment. “I can’t wait to develop that one!” Chip regained his composure and put his arms around his new bride, crying for joy. “And I love you so much it’s running over.” Chip kissed her with all his heart, and she quickly embraced him again. The crowd was all smiles, and when they separated the applause was unanimous.
Chip’s eyes never left his bride. “If they’ll applaud that, they should really clap for this...” Chip picked Lahwhinie up and kissed her again. Lahwhinie wiped her eyes and looked at Chip. This was more than she had ever dared to dream about, even as a child—a good guy, a loving family, a nice home, lots of friends and a dream wedding. She couldn’t believe that she’d been allowed the privilege of having all this after all the terrible things she had done.
Chip smiled knowingly at her. “Hey, you’re crying too? I thought a tough girl like you didn’t cry.” Lahwhinie tried to cover. “It’s, uh...volcanic ash. Yeah, that’s it.”
“Don’t worry, Peaches. I’ll keep your secret.” Chip set her down, and Sean came forward, carrying a clarinet. “It’s time for your first dance as husband and wife. If you would step out on the dance floor?”
Chip escorted Lahwhinie to a clear area on the sand, and Sean began playing “Stranger on the Shore”. Husband and wife danced in each other’s arms, and when Sean finished the others, dancing to the island rhythms, joined them. It was a romantic scene, and one that had Dale wishing he’d brought his paints and canvas along for.
Theo watched his new parents dancing, then felt someone tap him on the shoulder. It was Bink. “Hey, want to try it too? Might as well put those lessons mom pays for to use.” Theo turned and saw Bink standing there in the beautiful dress that she wore in her role as flower girl for the wedding.
“Uh, I guess. Gee you look really nice, Bink. I guess we both look kinda strange all dressed up like this,” Theo said. Bink smiled in an amused way. “Don’t tell me that Jake Stone’s nervous! After all the adventures and dangers you’ve overcome, why should dancing with your old partner bother you?”
Theo grimaced. “Because despite Jake Stone’s ability to get others to do things, he’s never danced with a girl like this in his whole life.” Bink grabbed his hand, and put his other hand on her hip. “Now, all you gotta do is move your left foot first and start moving around with the music. Trust me, it’s easy.”
Theo had helped Lahwhinie learn to dance, but he’d just watched the others and copied them then, not letting on he was as inexperienced a dancer as she was. Theo froze when she grabbed his hand and was more startled when she put his hand on her hip, but he gulped and nodded, following her instructions. She really did look nice.
“Am I supposed to move my right foot in and then out and shake it all about or something like that?” Theo quipped. Bink laughed, but kindly. “No, silly! Just move forward, then right, back and left. It’s called a box step.” **I feel like I’m in a box trap** “Okay, Bink. Say, you’re pretty good at this. We could...practice this some in case we ever need to go on a secret mission where we’ll have to dance.”
Bink was enjoying herself, and was glad that they’d both been able to dance here first, without any pressure of being seen by their friends back home. “You’re doing fine, Jake. All master spies have to know how to dance, you know. You never know when you might be called on to dance with some countess or enemy agent. And you did say you wanted to know how to do everything.”
“Yeah, that’s true. But I think we should wait till we’re older before we try that tango and stuff like that. I’m sure Uncle Dale could teach us how to polka.”
Once the natives had cleared away the chairs, they brought out a grand Hawaiian feast for the reception. Everyone sat on either side of the long table formed of large leaves spread over the sand, and the fare was excellent. While they ate, the natives entertained with twirling fire batons—much to Theo’s liking—and hula girls. At the end, the whole village joined together for a native song, expressing their good wishes for the bride and groom. Chip and Lahwhinie thanked everyone, and then it was time for them to go.
Hubba Hubba stood before them. “We have private hut on nearby island ready for you both. Rowers take you there as soon as you give word.” Lahwhinie pulled on Chip’s arm. “Let’s get a move on, Chip. The love boat is ready to sail!” Chip laughed as the theme song ran through his head. “Come aboard, we’re expecting you...”
Hand in hand, they went to the native pontoon boat and stopped just before getting aboard. The crowd had followed, and now Chip hugged Theo goodbye. “We’ll be back soon enough, son. Mind the others, and have fun.” Lahwhinie hugged him as well. “Now be good, kiddo. We’ll be gone a couple of days, then we can do that whole family thing that other families do.”
Theo was cool with it all. “Don’t worry about me, guys. I’m in Hawaii—there’s surf, sand and sun! Bink and I’ll have a great time keeping the local beaches safe for animal-kind.”
Lahwhinie gave Bink a circumspect look “Well, you two have fun and don’t get into too much trouble.” Bink understood what the look meant. “We won’t, Mrs. Maplewood! And thanks for letting us all come!” Lahwhinie smiled at her new name. “That’s going to take a while to get used to, Mrs. Maplewood. But I think I’ll like it, don’t you agree, Mr. Maplewood?”
“Indubitably, Mrs. Maplewood. Indubitably,” Chip said.
As they waved goodbye, Chip helped Lahwhinie into the boat and they sat together in a special seat made for them in the middle. The onlookers shouted their best wishes to them, and soon the night had engulfed the pontoon boat. Chip held his wife close, enjoying the intimacy of the darkness and the lapping of the waves. “It’s like we’re king and queen of the tribe, Lahwhinie. See, in a way you did become queen.”
“It was all part of my master plan, Chirp,” Lahwhinie laughed, kissing Chip again. Chip laughed with her. “I knew you had a beautiful laugh. It goes with the rest of you.”
As the villagers rowed them ashore again, the lovers found themselves in a private lagoon with a hut decorated with all manner of flowers and flora. The natives lit the tiki torches for them and left as quickly as they’d come. Chip walked up to the door of the hut, Lahwhinie at his side.
“Let’s see what the inside’s like,” Chip suggested.
Chip picked up Lahwhinie and they crossed the threshold. The islanders had been generous, for they found more than enough food in the kitchen area to last them several days. The bedroom was through the other side of the kitchen and was also tastefully decorated. Lahwhinie put her arms around her husband’s neck at the bedroom door.
“Now that we’re married, I’ve got something to tell you. My name’s actually two names rolled into one. My full name’s Laila WahineKoa. That’s Laila Mathilda to you Chip, and you alone.” Chip smiled down at her. “Laila, that’s a beautiful name. I have a confession too. My name is really Charles. Chip is just a nickname.”
“Come on, Charlie. The world’s ours now.”
Charles...er, Chip picked up Lahwhinie again and she giggled as they headed into the bedroom. The view remained in the kitchen, and then began pulling back slowly. Lahwhinie stuck her face around the corner. “Are you still here? Move it or lose it, buster!”
The camera very rapidly left the inner view of the hut behind, and then slowed again on the outside. The only noises now were the crackling of the tiki torch fires and the dull crashing of the waves on shore. All was peaceful with this little acre of the world, and happiness reigned.
Chapter 9 – Surfing Lessons and Old Resentment
The next morning, the Chesnutts and Theo invaded Honolulu. There were tourist shops aplenty, and Bink and Theo ran through them all to be sure of not missing one plastic lei or fake shark fin. Come lunchtime, they headed for the beach and a nice surfside restaurant. Both kids ate well and the talk was lively, if family oriented.
Theo and Bink were in their own booth, and Theo opened the conversation. “Are your folks enjoying Hawaii?” Bink downed a fruit-laden dessert, and looked across the aisle from where she and Theo were sitting. “Yeah, I guess so. Mom and dad really seem to like it, but I think Tammy misses Rob. She keeps pulling out his picture and looking at him. Still, she’s had a pretty good time, what with Eva looking after Colby most of the time.”
“This place looks even better than it does on ‘Hawaii 5-0’! It was the perfect spot for mom and dad to get married. Now I’ve been to four states—pretty good for a kid who hadn’t been anywhere until last year,” Theo said.
Bink slurped down her Coo-Coo Cola, speaking between slurps. “Hey, it’s all experience for the spy-in-training! Wanna see if we can go surfing after lunch?” Theo had to admit, Bink was always coming up with great ideas. “Yeah, but we’ll look like the cast of a fifties beach movie. Maybe that Shaka Baka guy that’s a friend of my mom can teach us.”
“Sounds cool. Hey, mom!”
Bink jumped out of her seat and zipped over to her parents’ booth. Theo could hear the negotiations going on, and for a while it seemed that Bink was going to lose. Just then, Oscar said something and motioned to Tammy, who nodded her head and Bink came back. “We’re gonna go! Dad suggested Tammy supervise us, and she said she would. Mom and dad already have some kinda plans this afternoon so it’s just the three of us. Isn’t that rad?”
Theo nodded emphatically. “Cool, let’s hit the surf!” Tammy was already one step ahead of them. “Only after you’ve waited half an hour after eating, you two.”
“Aw, man!” Theo and Bink echoed.
While Oscar and Donna hired a rickshaw driver, Tammy and the kids headed down onto the beach in their swim gear. While Tammy caught some rays in her black one-piece, Bink and Theo worked on a sand castle—while watching the clock. Pretty close to the time declared, a shadow fell over Tammy
“Unh, not yet you two!” Tammy chided. “I’ll let you know when it’s time.” Shaka Baka stared down at the sunning squirrel. “Hey babe, I was told someone needed surfing lessons. That you?” Tammy looked up to see a blond, over-muscled mouse looking down at her. “Oh, hi there! I guess you must’ve run into my folks. Yeah, me and Bink and Theo over there want to learn. Say, I remember you from last night at the wedding. You’re that friend of Lahwhinie’s, uh Shake and Bake, right?”
“That’s Shaka Baka, but you can call me ‘Shake’ for short or the Big Kahuna. Whoa, you look mondo amazing, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
Tammy blushed a little as she stood up, but Shaka Baka was right. Tammy didn’t normally wear a swimsuit, preferring loose-fitting clothes, but it did her justice. She was now the same age Gadget had been when she’d joined the Rangers, and her maturity had already attracted the attention of several young males that day. “Thanks, Shake. So how do you stay on one of those boogie boards without falling off?”
Shaka Baka didn’t know about a lot of things, but when it came to surfing he was a genius. “Well, with time and practice you become one with the board—it becomes part of your body and they cannot be separated...it’s like a Zen thing, I think.” Tammy was all-attention. “Far out. C’mon, let’s round up the kids and once we’ve rented some boards you can give us some pointers, okay?”
Actually, the kids didn’t need rounding up. They’d seen Shaka Baka at the wedding too, and they’d just been waiting for the right time. Now they ran up and bounded off with Tammy and the beach bum. Shaka knew all the local surf shops of course, so he was able to swing their boards for a nice discount.
Bink, Theo and Tammy sat on the sand with their backs to their surfboards, which were planted in the sand. Shake stood before them, holding his surfboard, “The first thing to know about surfing is that it’s tough, but once you’ve got the hang of it it’s really awesome. Now, I got you all those really big, gooney looking boards because you need to start with the bigger boards to get used to standing on them before you can use the ones that goofyfeet like me use.”
Theo looked at the big bar of wax Shaka had in his hand. “Hey, are you going to put that wax on the boards? Wouldn’t that make them slippery?” Shaka Baka shook his head. “No, surfboard wax is used to cut down on slipperiness. If you didn’t wax the board, you’d go flying right off and into the dangerous shark-infested waters! Now color’s important too in a board.”
“Color?” Tammy said. “Why’s that important, other than coordinating with your outfit?”
“Your board says more about you than your clothes do. A board’s unique, and it should reflect the uniqueness of its other half,” Shaka said, actually sounding intelligent. Bink for one thought so. “Hey cool! I’d make mine up with a big picture of Goslyn on it. What about you, Theo?”
“I’d put the Ranger logo on it,” Theo said.
Tammy returned her attention to Shaka Baka. “Okay, I can see where’s that important. But how do you look cool on a board? How do you get up and stay on one?” The beach bum put his board down and stood on it. “Balance is the key. Imagine that the board’s like a seesaw and the wave is that...that thing in the middle that it balances on...”
“Fulcrum,” Bink said.
“Yeah, that’s it. Thanks, dudette! Well, when you’re on the wave, you don’t want to go too far out front on the board or you’ll go over the front, which is real bad, ‘cause you’ll get hit with the board. And if you’re too far back, you lose momentum and lose the wave too,” Shaka said.
Theo absorbed this, then asked a question. “What about if you want to get off? You could just dive in front of the board and get clear, right?” Shaka shook his head. “No, little Kahuna! Front is bad, go over the sides.” Theo made a mental note. “Oh okay. But what about if the board gets away? Do you swim after it, or let one of the lifeguards get it?”
Shaka held up what looked like a dog leash attached to the board, and put it around his ankle. “That’s what the leash is for—the leash is your friend. It keeps your board from getting away if you wipe out. Just keep it attached to your ankle and you’re home free.”
Theo picked up the leash attached to his board. “I thought that was to balance yourself on the board. That’s a cool idea. Well, sounds like it’s surfing time now! Where do we start?”
“On the little waves. All of you can practice standing on the boards, getting your balance and learning proper foot position, then it’s surf city!”
In a minute, they were all in the water along with a lot of other surfer-wannabes. Shaka stood in the water and showed them how to come up fast from lying on the board to a standing position. The kids noticed that most of his attention went to Tammy, but chalked it up to the usual attraction. Soon, all three of them were managing to stay aloft in the mild whitewater.
Theo pointed to some surfers coming in. “Let’s try out one of those waves now! Show us how it’s done, Shake!” Shaka got on his board. “You got it, little Kahuna. Watch the master in action!” Shaka Baka paddled out into the surf and quickly caught an awesome wave, managing to get back to his starting position without having to paddle.
“That’s how it’s done,” Shaka said, to the accolades of the others, “but don’t try anything like that yet, or you’ll just wipe out, drown or get eaten by sharks.” Bink was amazed. “That is too cool! Wish we could surf back home. We don’t have waves worth thinking about. Let’s try where the waves aren’t so big.”
Finding that practice makes wet, the surfing continued for most of the afternoon. All three of them managed to keep from falling off the front, though they fell off every other way. By the time supper came, they were doing well for their first day. Shaka helped them out of the water and they checked in their surfboards
Tammy gave Shaka a friendly hug. “Thanks, Shake! It was a fun day.” Theo gave him a high-five. “Yeah, thanks! Now I can go home and tell my friends I’ve surfed with a real pro!”
“We’ve gotta get Gadget to build us a wave machine!” Bink said.
Shake looked to Tammy, suddenly nervous. “Uh, are you like, free this evening? I know this awesome luau that they’re having up the beach.” Tammy was flattered, but uncertain. “Well, I dunno. Mom and dad will be back in—oh, here they are!” The elder Chesnutts arrived back at the beach just in time to hear Tammy tell them about Shaka’s invitation.
Oscar was the one to respond. “As it happens, I think we’re going to the same luau if it’s the one with all the people at it. They’re having it because...well, shall we tell them now, dear?” Donna drew close to her husband. “Oscar and I were so impressed by Chip and Lahwhinie’s wedding that we’ve asked Hubba Hubba to marry us over again!”
Bink tried to hide a grimace as she muttered, “Well, it’s the least he can do for her.” Theo nudged Bink, then addressed them. “That’s great news, Mrs. Chesnutt! That’s what Uncle Monty and Aunt Eva did too.” Tammy’s attention returned to Shaka. “Well, I guess that’s a yes, then!”
“Cool, dudette! See you there!” Shaka said, heading off to clean his board.
The luau was one big party. Everyone had a great time, except for Bink. She seemed preoccupied, particularly when all the guests began congratulating her parents when they learned of the ceremony to follow. When Hubba Hubba stood up to do the ceremony, the entire crowd gathered in respect of the moment. Tammy and Bink stood by Donna, and Theo, as a friend of the family, stood behind Oscar.
Bink was uncomfortable with the whole thing, and kept looking for an out. Theo saw it and he came over next to her and instead of providing her with the escape she was planning, he took her hand and kept her in place. When the ceremony ended, the people clapped and cheered, and Oscar kissed Donna as he’d done so many years before. Bink took the first opportunity to get off on her own, and Theo followed
Bink stopped when she reached the surf. “I’m glad that’s over with. Maybe he should marry her again—they say third time’s the charm.” Theo wasn’t used to this attitude in his friend. It disturbed him, and he found himself wondering why it disturbed him so much. “Hey Becky, he’s just trying to do the right thing. He’s not perfect, but at least he’s giving it a go.”
“Well, he can hardly do worse than he did the first time! Are he and mom going to do what Eva did and have another baby? They should do it, since they did such a poor job as a family for Tammy and me.”
Theo frowned at this display. “Becky, that’s unfair. Your mom’s about the hardest-working lady I know of. She cares about you and Tammy a whole lot. I think your dad should’ve done better by you. He knows that.” Theo stopped and sighed, kicking the sand. “At least you’ve got your parents. Chip and Lahwhinie are a great mom and dad, but with them off on their own I had the old feeling come back for a little bit today. You oughta be grateful you’ve got them around to resent.”
Bink sighed and looked at Theo. “I’m sorry, Theo. I guess my problem doesn’t look so bad compared to that.” Oscar approached them, backlit by the tiki torches. “Talking over old times? Give us a couple minutes, Theo.”
Oscar had seen Bink heading off and it didn’t take a mind reader to figure out why. Theo nodded and walked off, leaving father and daughter alone. “I know you’re angry with me, Bink, and I don’t blame you,” Oscar began. “It’s been hard on me some days, looking into your face and knowing what you’re thinking. You remind me a lot of myself at your age, strong and independent.”
“I hope for my sake that I’m not a lot like you were,” Bink said.
He knew he had it coming, so even though it hurt, Oscar took it. He managed a smile and looked down at Bink. “We’re more alike than not, really. I was independent, full of energy and dreams. My dream was to travel and see all the places I’d read about. When I met your mother, I thought she had the same dream but she didn’t want to leave her home. We talked about it a long time, and I decided to go for one year. Well, after that year I got a better job offer with more pay and after talking it over with Donna I stayed on. When I’d come home, it was like meeting her all over again, and then Tammy and you were born.”
Oscar put his hands in his pockets, looking out at the ocean. “I told myself I was doing it for her, and for the both of you. I knew after a while that wasn’t all of it, because I enjoyed what I was doing. I was living out my dreams, and seeing the world. The problem was, I was ignoring my wife’s dreams, and those of my daughters. Finally, I came to realize that and saw how big a mistake I’d made. I’m just now beginning to be a father, but I’d like to help you make your dreams come true, too. Now that I’m here and I see you, you mean more to me than any dream I had.”
Bink stared up at him, not friendly. “All you can do now is not do any more damage to us than you’ve already done. Is it because you only had girls? Is that why you left? Would you have stayed home if you’d had a son to follow in your footsteps?”
Oscar knelt down in front of her, his eyes moistening. “No, sport. It was me, not you. When I see the resentment in your eyes, it hurts because I know I put it there. I want to make things right with you. You deserve a father that’s going to be there for you, and that’s who I’m going to be from here on. I love you, and...I apologize for neglecting you all these years.”
Bink looked away, refusing to make eye contact with him. “If you love us like you claim you do, you’re going to have to prove it. Maybe once you’ve done that, I can forgive you.” Bink remembered what Theo had said about how she should be grateful to even have a father. She hesitantly looked back at her father and met his gaze. “But I’ll give you the chance to prove it.”
Oscar took her hand. “Thank you, Bink. That means a lot to me. I’ll do my best to show you that love each day, and I’ll start with this.” Oscar hugged her, and kissed her cheek. “There’s a lot more where those came from, sport. Now, tomorrow I’m all yours. Whatever you’d like to do, we’ll do.”
“Some ground rules: don’t try to smother me with attention and gifts, because you can’t buy my love. Just be there and be dependable and I’ll be happy.”
Oscar could see that Bink had been around the block a few times. “I figured that, and your mother wouldn’t let me spoil you in any case. I’m glad you’re the kind that’s above bribery.” Bink stole a peek at him. “Of course, a pair of native sandals would be nice, and some beachfront property to go with it…” Oscar laughed, and for the first time there was some mirth between them.
Chapter 10 – The Newlyweds Return, Farewell To Paradise, A Strange Malady
Father and daughter headed over to the rest of the Chesnutt family, where they spent the remainder of the evening together. Theo noticed that Bink seemed a little more communicative with her father, and he was glad for that. The next two days went by quickly, and everyone had a nice time touring the islands. When Theo saw Chip and Lahwhinie coming back in the natives’ boat, he was ecstatic. The whole group was there to greet them, and it was evident from the newlyweds’ faces that they’d enjoyed their time away from the others.
Theo ran to the surf’s edge. “Mom, dad! I learned how to surf without killing myself or being eaten by sharks or anything!” Lahwhinie smiled widely and hugged Theo. “That’s great, Theo. I hope you got Shaka Baka to teach you. He’s the best surfer I’ve ever met. Did you and Bink have fun?”
“Oh yeah, Bink and I are pals. And it was Shaka Baka that taught us! He also taught Tammy, though he spent most of his time just staring at her.”
Bink giggled. “Yeah, Shake’s got a crush on her!”
Lahwhinie wasn’t concerned. “Don’t worry about him, he’ll find another surfer girl soon enough. The big lug’s a nice guy with a soft spot in his heart for a pretty girl—and a soft spot in his head too, come to think of it.”
“I thought he was real nice,” Bink countered.
Theo broke up the discussion. “Enough of that for now. Guess there’s no point in my asking how things went, but I bet you’re both ready to tear into the next case! This place has to be a hotbed of criminal activity, so there’s bound to be something for us to sink our teeth into.”
Chip hugged his very excitable son and then put an arm around Lahwhinie. “The only thing we’re gonna sink our teeth into today is lunch. Would you and Bink like to join us, if you can resist crime fighting for a little while? I want to hear about your adventures in the surf.”
Bink was all a-twitter. “Yeah! Can I go with them, mom?” Donna looked over at Oscar. “Better ask your father, dear. I think you and he were going to make plans.” Bink gave him her “cute” smile and Oscar relented. “As long as you do what they say, and behave yourself.”
“Oh, all right, deal. Can we still do something this afternoon?” Bink asked. Oscar nodded. “Sure, sport. Chip, we’ll meet up back here after lunch. You’re all welcome to join us for whatever Bink decides to do.”
Theo regaled Chip and Lahwhinie with the surf lesson story all the way to the restaurant. “You should’ve seen us out there, dad, hanging 11 and all that!” Chip could imagine. “Well, maybe we’ll try it too before we leave. I expect everyone’s starting to get homesick by now.”
“Not by a longshot!”
That retort came from Dale, who was escorting Gadget and Foxglove. “Noel’s gone to see about getting him and Foxy home,” Dale explained. “This place is great! Gadget and I’ve had a marvelous time.”
“It’s been nice for Noel and me, too,” Foxy said. “Sure beats the touring circuit, and with a child coming it’s good to relax.” Gadget smiled at the thought of Foxy’s child. “Has Kate listened to the baby yet to learn its gender?”
Dale interrupted before Foxy could answer. “What’re you gonna name the baby? Lothar? Brocktoon? Nimrod the Hunter?” As timing would have it, Kate and Cheddarhead had come into the middle of the conversation. “I’d be glad to take a listen, dearie. Here, Cheddarwheel. Hold me purchases.”
Cheddarhead was soon loaded down with gift bags. “Me love muffin knows how ta buy out the town! Looks like we’d best be headin’ fer Shanghai soon or we’ll have so much baggage we’ll never make it!” Kate ignored him, as usual, and leaned over and listened to the baby.
“It’s a boy!” Kate declared.
“All right, Lothar it is!” Dale said.
Foxy chuckled, and shook her head. “Not exactly, Dale. We decided to honor the Fairmont naming traditions, and Noel’s ancestors. His name will be Arthur Lancelot Maplewood.” Dale crossed his arms. “I guess it’ll fall to me to name a child Lothar.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Gadget whispered in his ear.
Chip surveyed the scene and took charge. “Well, we were just going to eat, so everyone come along. Let’s go, the poi’s on me!”
The happy news had the grand contingent talking. Sean and Mrs. Pendergast were already in the restaurant when they got there, and they joined the group. Sean recounted tales of the original Arthur Maplewood to the guys, while the girls talked about baby showers and things the expectant mother would need.
After lunch, Bink decided she wanted to go surfing again, so they recruited Shaka Baka again—who was all too glad to see Tammy again—to help them out. Foxy stayed on the shore with Sean and Mrs. Pendergast but everyone else gave the waves a try.
Gadget still remembered how to surf from the last time, and her knowledge of wave physics made her look like a pro. Chip and Dale’s competitive spirit had them wiping out constantly, each trying to top each other. To everyone’s surprise, Lahwhinie had never learned to surf—which was one of the reasons she’d originally recruited Gadget to take her trials for her. She was shaky at first, but with encouragement from the others she gradually began to get the hang of it. She’d just managed to stand for the first time when Theo and Bink came in on a wave
“Hey mom, looking good!” Theo shouted. “Soon you’ll be outdoing us all!”
“I’ll just be happy to not be eaten by the sharks!” Lahwhinie shouted back, making all sorts of contortions in a wild attempt to keep her center of gravity. When she made it to shore, she fell to her knees and kissed the sand. “Ah, terra firma again!”
“Shark!” someone yelled from shore. Instantly the beach was on a state of high alert. It was Eva who had given the alert, and now the lifeguards were calling in everyone. The head lifeguard came over to Eva. “Where do you see it, ma’am?” Eva pointed to a particular spot. “There! I saw the fin, but now it has submerged.” The lifeguard pulled out a pair of binoculars. “We’ll keep everyone in at least fifteen minutes until it either shows again or leaves. Thanks for the warning.”
The day passed quickly and despite the shark alert everyone said they couldn’t remember when they’d had a better time. As tomorrow was departure day, the natives held one more luau for them to commemorate their visit and wish them well for the future. Dale looked up from his third bowl of poi. “Hey Chip, why don’t we make this part of our annual trek too? Hawaii’s the best!”
“Sounds good to me, Dale. But I know it’ll be tough to drag my wife and son to Hawaii every year,” Chip said, winking at his new wife. Lahwhinie snuggled up to him. “I was on the verge of asking you myself; you know, sort of a way to commemorate all this.”
“All right, surfing every year!” Theo said. Monty was all for it. “Sounds bonzer to me, mates. These native blokes really know ta live.” The atmosphere was pleasant, as it always seemed to be in Hawaii. After a while, the couples split off on their own and Chip and Lahwhinie went down and walked the shoreline.
Chip held Lahwhinie’s hand, enjoying even that simple pleasure. “I’ll miss this place, Peaches. It’d make a great place to retire to when our crime fighting days are over.” Lahwhinie was happy as well, with the munk she loved on one side and the ocean on the other. “Well, you’ll still have your hands full, having to use your cane to drive off all the old guys that are after your geriatric goddess when we’re at the senior’s center.”
Chip put his arms around her. “And I’ll still love you as much as I do right now, Mrs. Maplewood.”
“You’d better, Chip. I have a long memory.”
Chip smiled and kissed her, and they went on down the beach enjoying the lovely evening. It had been the nicest time in Chip’s life, and finally he felt content with himself. When they went back to the village, everyone else had already retired for the night so they headed for their hut too. Chip stopped just outside, turning to his wife. “You know, the first dream I had about you, you looked just about like this. We were outside one of the huts and you put your arms around me to kiss me. I was so startled by it I woke up screaming that night. Now I’m glad I had that dream.”
Lahwhinie gave Chip a coy smile. “Now’s the time to live that dream, Chip.” She put her arms around his neck and this time there was no dream to wake up from. She kissed him with all the love in her, and with one heart they went into their hut.
The morning found the Rangers reluctant to go, but Chip’s promise of a return trip made things easier. The natives sang a farewell song as the Plane and Wing rose into the air, along with the albatrosses. With the jet stream helping, they made it back home just in time to collapse on the furniture.
Lahwhinie to her credit had thought ahead and had packed all the leftovers from the luau, which not only fit the bill but gave everyone a nice reminder of their trip. Chip had just finished eating when Theo tapped him on the shoulder. “Uh dad, remember what you said about moving into mom’s room when you two were married? I knew you didn’t think about it, so I moved some of your things in there so you’d have them when you got back. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all, Theo. It’s a move I’ve been looking forward to for some time,” Chip said. Theo was glad that was over. “Cool. Oh, Bink told me to say thanks for inviting her and her family. I’m glad she came and we had a blast. Aunt Gadget, could you build us a wave pool in the fountain and make us some surfboards?”
Gadget actually thought about doing it, or at least the concept. “Golly, I’ll have to think about that. I don’t know if the other park dwellers will like that idea. I’m just so glad everything worked out okay in...oh.” Gadget grabbed at her stomach, suddenly showing discomfort. Dale was instantly at her side. “What’s wrong?! Are you okay?”
Dale led Gadget over to the couch, and the others gathered around. Gadget took a moment to collect herself. “I don’t know. Suddenly I feel sort of queasy. I guess one of those mangos must’ve gone bad.” Lahwhinie echoed that idea. “Yeah, sometimes Hawaiian food can turn on you. Don’t worry, just take a few deep breaths of that cool, clean New York City air and you’ll feel better in no time.”
Gadget rested on the couch while Eva went and mixed her up part of an antacid tablet mixed with warm milk. Gadget felt better shortly, and when she and Dale said good night to everyone the others went on to bed too. Come the next morning, Honey and Zipper insisted on going to the police station to the others rest. They ended up spending most of the morning helping to rearrange Chip’s room for Theo and moving a few things into Lahwhinie’s room. When lunch came, everyone was ready,
Chip looked up when a certain mouse inventor came into the room. “Feeling okay today, Gadget?” She smiled easy, dismissing any concern. “Yes, it was nothing. I usually don’t get sick, though. It must be the Erskine hardiness in me.”
“Too roight,” Monty said, stirring up some flapjacks. “I kin remember entering a cajun food-eatin’ contest down in Tibbidoe, Louisiana. It was me and these two Cajun mice an’ everything had sauce on it hot enough to fire a volcano! The other lads were in the hospital a week, but me, I just got up like I’d been eating me favorite cheese.”
Dale ignored Monty’s story, which was probably a good thing. Instead he focused on Gadget. “Good. I’d be worrying constantly if you got sick.” Eva brought over a glass of milk for her daughter. “Take it easy tonight, dahling. Just in case it is a bug that you have caught, you vant to be well rested.”
Gadget downed the milk and cleaned off the moustache it left. “Well, I guess I could take the night off. I was planning to get back to my inventing, though. I’m working on a practice dummy for our self-defense class. I’ve used some leftover computer parts to program it with the moves we use in class so we can safely work on our techniques without hurting anyone.”
Dale didn’t know if this was good or not. “You’re building a robot that has fighting skills and will learn all our strengths and weaknesses and then it’ll try to destroy us all with that knowledge and then Theo in the future will have to travel back through time to here and stop you from making it to prevent the world domination by machines from destroying all life on earth!” Gadget looked over at her husband, annoyed. “Dale, did you sneak down and watch the late, late, late show last night?”
“Well, it could happen,” Dale said, ducking his head and smiling boyishly.
“I thought I heard the television on,” Theo said. “Uncle Dale, next time let me know! I haven’t seen a good B-movie in ages!” Dale cradled his head on his hand, his elbow on the table. “Well, just wait till it takes over the world and makes all living things its slaves! Then you won’t be so confident.” Gadget laughed and hugged him. “Don’t worry, I already put in a failsafe. It operates by remote, so it’s easy to shut down.”
Outside, a mailman’s whistle sounded and Lahwhinie quick-marched to the door, opening it. “Hi, Gary. Any fan mail for lil’ ol’ me?” Gary sorted their mail out, and handed it over. “Not today, miss—oh excuse me, Mrs. Maplewood. The Chesnutts just told me the big news, congratulations! Just a telegram today. It’s for your mother.” Lahwhinie called Eva to the door where she signed and accepted the telegram.
Eva headed over the couch, opening it en route. With Lahwhinie’s attention shifting back to her new husband as he entered the room and Dale’s attention on his wife, only Theo noticed the momentary look of horror that crossed Eva’s face before it returned to its normal, pleasant demeanor. She quickly stuffed the telegram in her pocket and rejoined the others on the couch.
“Just an old friend dropping me a line,” Eva said. Chip called a Ranger meeting. “Well, I think before Zipper and Honey get back from the police station, we should go ahead and have a meeting about her. She’s still new to the world of mammals, and we all need to pitch in and make sure she doesn’t make any costly mistakes or embarrass herself. We’re her friends, so it’s up to us to help out.”
“What do we have to do to make the place bee friendly?” Dale asked.
Lahwhinie was always ready with an opinion. “I say she’ll have to learn through trial and error—experience is the best teacher.” Gadget didn’t like that idea. “But Honey’s not used to trying anything. All she’s been is a queen, and she doesn’t know a four-stroke engine from a flyswatter. I think Chip’s right—she could use some more briefing on our life here.”
“We’ve already talked to her and warned her,” Monty said. “There’s not much more we can tell her. Well, except to look out fer aliens pretending to be one of us or something like that.”
Honey and Zipper flew in, with Zipper’s backside toasting and Honey looking apologetic. “Honestly Zipper, if I had realized that wire had the ability to hurt you, I certainly would have warned you!” Honey said.
“Oh, it’s okay,” Zipper said, in a tone that made it clear it wasn’t. Honey flew up to Chip. “The reports from the law enforcement office were ‘regular’ according to Zipper. Some of the profligates I saw in that building made me think otherwise. What do we do now, Chip?”
“What happened to you, Uncle Zipper?” Theo asked, not sure whether to laugh or what. Zipper blushed some at the memory. “It was an accident, Theo. We were leaving for headquarters, and I was helping Honey out through the secret door to the roof. I moved the opening up top and accidentally touched the wire that Gadget uses to power the white Christmas light bulbs in the tunnel. It was frayed, and I got a shock that went through me pretty good.”
“Golly, I’m sorry, Zipper,” Gadget said, feeling negligent. “I’ll fix that today.” Eva appeared confused. “But I do not understand. How did your rear get cooked if you touched the wire with your hand?”
“Oh that,” Zipper said, not really wanting to explain. “Well, after Honey helped me out onto the roof, she set me down on the first place that looked okay. Unfortunately, it also happened to be the hot metal shielding for the police kitchen’s oven.”
Monty patted Honey on the shoulder, who was looking forlorn. “Don’t worry none luv, these things happen. Sometimes when you want to make the best impression, everything just goes wrong. Zipper’s not too hurt. Live and learn.”
Honey flew back to Chip. “I am quite sorry for having not measured up on my first day so far. I suppose it will take time to truly feel a part of things. Now that the police have provided no aid for our cause, do we devote the afternoon to receiving clients? You really should hire a manservant to announce them, you know.”
“We’re too informal for that,” Chip said. “If someone needs help, they just knock. But if no casework comes up, we just entertain ourselves.”
“Entertain...yourselves? I certainly do have much to get used to. What sorts of entertaining things do you do?”
That was Dale’s department. “Watch TV, fence, go for a walk in the park.”
“Get involved in unexpected adventures,” Theo said.
“Invent new things,” Gadget added.
Monty rubbed his hands. “Raid cheese ships.”
“Read,” Chip said, holding up his detective novel.
Honey pursed her lips. “And what should I do?” Zipper flew over next to her. “What did you do for recreation at the hive?” Honey contemplated that one. “Well, I had my fool drone come in to make me laugh. I had my dancing drones come in to dance for me. I had my singing drones come to sing songs.”
“Now you’ll have to learn how to do all those things for yourself,” Zipper said. “You’ll have to find out what talent’s been hiding beneath that regal exterior.” Honey was really surprised at how common the commoner’s life was. “You mean, I have to be my own jester, singer, dancer and butler? By the hive, you people are certainly strange! Still, I must not let prejudice get in my way. But what do you mean find out what’s beneath my exterior? Do you perform some kind of strange bloodletting ceremony here you didn’t tell me about?”
Zipper chuckled. “No, it’s just an expression. I was encouraging you to get to know yourself. You’ve chosen a new path in life and you have to find your place in that.”
“I suppose I must. How will I know my place when I have found it? Back at the hive, everyone had his or her place assigned. Here, there seems to be no order at all.”
“Finding that place in life sometimes takes a lifetime.”
Honey frowned. “Oh dear, and I’m off to a late start.”
Lahwhinie nudged her. “Don’t feel alone. I had to start my whole life over just last year when I found out I had Ranger blood in me. My change was tougher, since I had to go from bad to good.” Honey’s eyes were already shining with tears, but Lahwhinie’s words encouraged her some. She came over and gave her a queenly hug. “Thank you. I am determined to try. It is no easy task for a queen to assume another role.”
As the day went by, Honey talked with the Rangers more, trying to figure out what they did and what she should do. Her eyes were just beginning to open, and that evening she sat outside with Zipper on the railing of the veranda. “I suppose I should have been prepared for something like this, but I’m really not. I had these expectations that I would simply fall into place here as I did at the hive. Now...now I feel like I did when I lost my swarm!”
Zipper stayed close, knowing now of all times she needed some comfort. “Think of it more as joining a different hive. You’re not alone here. You probably see yourself as a bee surrounded by mammals, but over time that will change and you’ll see them less as them and more like us.”
Honey started to cry again. “But how long will that take? I don’t really know how to fit in, and I’ve never done anything for myself. I feel so useless!” Zipper hugged her neck. “Don’t cry, Honey. Honestly, each of us Rangers has gone through that phase. We’ve all felt useless from time to time. Time and patience is the only cure. You’ll find your place, just be patient.”
Honey hugged him back, needing the attention. “I’ve always tried to have patience, so I’ll do my best. Will you help me to find my role here?”
“I would never do less than my very best for you.”
Gadget watched from inside as Honey and Zipper embraced, then came back over to the sofa. “I was getting worried about those two, but it looks like Zipper’s talked her through it.” Gadget sat down next to Dale, then rubbed her left leg. “Golly, that’s strange. I don’t remember overexerting myself today, but my leg aches. I guess I could’ve done it when I was cleaning up the workshop.”
Dale didn’t like for anything to be wrong with Gadget. He practically worshipped her, and as far as he was concerned, any pain she felt was his pain too. “Are you sure you’re okay? You’ve been having a lot of aches and pains lately. Maybe we should take you to Doc Batorious.”
Gadget smiled, and shook her head. “Dale, it’s just muscle aches! There’s times after a two or three-day inventing spree I have to rest a full day to handle it.” Dale wasn’t convinced. “But you haven’t been pushing yourself, Gadget. You’ve been taking it easy and you still haven’t been feeling well.”
“I think perhaps Dale is right, dahling,” Eva said. “It vould not hurt to have yourself checked. You might have picked up something over there in Hawaii, as we thought.” Gadget sighed. She didn’t like going to doctors, even though Doctor Batorious was a friend of hers. “All right, I’ll call him in the morning.”
“Good, but you should take two aspirins first,” Dale quipped.
Gadget grabbed a pillow and bopped him. “Thanks, Doctor Dale, but actually I think I will get something.” Gadget got up and headed for the kitchen, Dale going with her. Eva watched them go, talking her own husband. “Ah, he is a good boy. He is so very protective of Gadget.”
“Oy, but she’s right,” Monty said, speculative. “Besides, ya can pull a muscle in yer sleep. Could’ve happened any number o’ ways.”
Chapter 11 – Monty Takes Command and A New Case
The next morning, Chip and Lahwhinie hugged Theo goodbye and left for Hungary and the Râboga ancestral estate. No sooner were they out of sight than Dale insisted on taking Gadget to see the doctor. When Doctor Batorious saw them, Dale looked more like the patient than Gadget for all his nervousness.
After a series of tests, the doc prescribed some muscle relaxant pills and told Gadget not to overexert. He also gave Dale a lollipop to settle his nerves. When they got back, Eva and Monty were waiting, as were Zipper, Honey and Tammy.
“Welcome back, dahlings!” Eva said. “So, vhat is the news from the doctor?” From Gadget’s look, it was obvious she thought it had all been a waste of time. “He felt I was working too hard and told me to relax and he gave me some pills.”
“And it’s my job to make sure that she’s not going to hurt herself,” Dale said, coming to attention. Monty raised an eyebrow. “Oy, then you’re in fer a long day, pally. Me little Gadget’s quite a go-getter!”
Gadget gave him a mock grimace. “Aw dad, I’m not that bad! Say, did we drop in on something?” Tammy stood up from the sofa. She’d come over while Dale and Gadget were away and now she took center stage. “Well, sort of. We were just all talking about who should be leader while Chipper’s away. This is the first time we’ll be without him for any extended time.”
Dale hadn’t thought of that. “Zowie, we’ve never even talked about this with Chip. Monty, you’re the oldest, you should do it.” Zipper agreed. “We’ve never really seen if any of us is leader material without Chip.” Honey buzzed uncertainly. “Well, I’ve never done Ranger work before but I do know how to lead. Still, perhaps experience in this case would profit us more.”
“Suits me fine,” Gadget said. “What you think, dad? You’ve always said you’d do things different if you were the leader. Now’s your chance!” Monty rolled it over in his mind. “Okay, if you’re all agreeable with it, then I’ll give it a go. But you know I ain’t got Chip’s mind fer plannin’ and all, so you’ll have to help me along.”
“We’ll help you, Monty!” Dale said. “It’s all for one, and one for all!”
Monty pulled on his jacket lapels. “Okay, and me first order is that we get a bite ta eat. After all, ya never know when trouble will come knocking at the door.” Gadget grinned. “ ‘And you never know where you may get your next meal’. Right dad, we know that one.”
They sat down to lunch, and when Theo returned from playing that morning over at Bink’s house they discussed who would handle which duties. They’d just decided that when a knock came at the door.
“I’ll get it!” Dale shouted, running to the door.
When he opened it, he discovered a sight he certainly wouldn’t have predicted—a church mouse holding the hand of a little boy mouse that appeared bewildered at the sight of Dale.
Pastor Beefy smiled in greeting. “Hello again, Dale. Is this a good time? I think I have a case for you Rangers.” Dale motioned them inside. “We’re always ready for a case! What’s the problem, Pastor Beefy?”
Dale led them inside to the kitchen where Beefy sat down, and the child sat next to him. When he saw the other Rangers, his bewilderment turned to awe. Beefy gestured to the child. “One of my parishioners found this boy lost and I’ve been trying to learn where he’s from and who his parents are. He won’t tell me anything, and said the only ones he would tell are the Rescue Rangers. So, here we are.”
Monty stepped forward. “I’m the actin’ head o’ the Rescue Rangers, lad. So until Chip gets back I’ll be leadin’ the group. What’s yer story?” The child blinked at Monty, towering over him. “Nuh-uh! Not til you promise not to take me back right away!”
Beefy grinned at the boy’s reaction. “I’ve already gathered he’s a fan of your team. I think perhaps he got lost looking for you, though I haven’t been able to find even that out.” Monty knelt down, coming to eye level with the boy in the chair. “Now lad, we’ll do whatever’s needed ta get ya home safely. Where are ya from and where are your folks?”
“Won’t tell you,” the boy said, with a decidedly British accent. The boy pointed to Gadget. “Tell her, though.” Gadget took Monty’s place. “Golly, what is it that you need to tell me? Uh, what’s your name?”
Gadget smiled, sensing progress. “Okay Justin, where are your parents and why aren’t you with them?” Justin thought a moment, then replied. “Mum’s home. Daddy’s off at his old meeting. Told me to stay with Mrs. Jenkins, but I wanted to see you!”
Justin started to cry. “I wanted to see you, but got lost. Pastor Beefy helped me.” Gadget took a handkerchief from Monty and wiped Justin’s face. “Golly, just tell us your address and we’ll take you home in the RangerPlane. Would you like that Justin? Your parents must be very worried about you.”
Justin just looked at her for a moment, then mumbled, “London.”
“London?!” everyone said.
“How did you get here to New York?” Gadget asked.
“Do you perhaps know your phone number so we could call your parents and tell them that you’re safe?” Zipper asked.
“Otherwise we’ll just have to call Scotland Yard and tell them that we’ve got a lost boy,” Dale added. “His folks have no doubt filed a missing persons report.”
“Daddy brought me,” Justin started to explain. “I wanted to come to New York and see you. Mrs. Jenkins, she’s the one that daddy told to look after me. I asked her to take me to the park and she was, but then she got a phone call. Daddy had to go to the airport right away and she was dragging me with her. She said we’d come to the park next time, but I wanted to see you now! So I broke away from her.”
“Vell, now you have seen us,” Eva said, softly. “Now please, be a good little boy and help us to get you home.” Justin’s face turned to one of pleading. “But I still haven’t told you what I need to tell!”
“Well, what is it you need to tell us?” Dale asked.
Justin looked first from one face to another, his own pleading. “Someone’s gonna try to kill my daddy!” Gadget gasped. “Golly, this is a job for the Rescue Rangers!”
“Crikey, don’t keep us in suspense, lad!” Monty said. “Tell us who’s gonna try ta kill yer dad and where!” Justin started to cry again, and Gadget hugged him, which seemed to help. “I...I was looking for you. I stopped at the corner of the block after I lost Mrs. Jenkins and looked for a map of the city. There were these two mice in suits, talking on the phone, but they didn’t see me.
“I heard them talking about me getting away from Mrs. Jenkins so I stopped to listen. Then one of them said the trap was set as soon as daddy left his meeting in London. I heard him! I hid and made sure they wouldn’t see me. I heard them say on the phone that someone else had seen daddy at the airport and for the others to be waiting. He laughed real mean and left! Please, save my daddy!”
Monty grimaced. Considering the amount of time that had passed since the death threat and the time it took for the boy to get here and the time to return, the prospects looked pretty grim. “Do you recall what the guy’s exact words were, lad? Maybe you just mistook what he said as a threat.”
Justin’s eyes were full of tears. “Nuh-uh! The man on the phone said as soon as the Prime Minister left the meeting with the Queen, to let it go. My daddy’s the Prime Minister. You can save him, can’t you? You can do anything!”
Monty suddenly understood the scope of all this. “Okay, we leave in five minutes. Eva, I want you to stay here with Colby. Theo, well, you know you gotta stay—yer mom an’ dad would kill me good and proper if I let anything happen to you while they’re away. Eva, contact Scotland Yard and let them know that we found a missing boy, son of the Prime Minister, and let them know that someone might be after the boy’s dad. Say lad, did you happen to catch the name of the bad guy?”
“He never said,” Justin said. “But he talked rather funny. Like a leprechaun.” Monty grimaced more. “IRA assassin? I ain’t never heard of animals taking up the fight like this, but I suppose it’s possible. Okay, shake a couple o’ legs gang, we got work ta do!
The next few minutes went by in a blaze of activity. Monty grabbed everything he’d need and might need, and when he came back Gadget had already loaded a pack of tools and her plunger gun into the RangerPlane. “We’re set to go!” Gadget said. “With the jet stream, we should get there about 57 minutes after he lands.”
“I vill find Mrs. Jenkins and alert her to the situation. This is one time I am hoping for a delay at the airport. Monty, Gadget, be careful!” Eva said.
“Yeah, but nail ‘em good!” Theo added, pumping his fist with emphasis. Honey fastened herself in. “Oh dear, I hope I’m able to do this.” Zipper followed suit. “Don’t worry, you’ll do fine. This is called learning by the seat of your pants. We’ll guide you the whole way. Besides, they’ll need us to go where they can’t and keep an eye out for any terrorists or whatever’s waiting for Justin’s dad.”
Monty put Justin in back with him, Zipper and Honey. Gadget took the pilot’s seat, Dale at her side. Within a minute, they were off and climbing fast for the jet stream. Eva waved goodbye and turned to the others. “I hope they vill be okay. We’d better go call Scotland Yard now.”
As Eva headed for the phone, Gadget put the Plane into overdrive. Every second counted now, and she wasn’t about to let Justin down. The trip seemed to take forever, but at last the coast of England came into view. They skirted it until they came to the River Thames and followed it up to London.
They didn’t stop to check at Heathrow, but went straight to Buckingham Palace. Gadget landed the Plane just outside the main checkpoint and the Rangers ran up, towing Justin. A guard signaled for them to stop. “I say, what’s this bloody row about?”
Monty jumped out. “We’re the Rescue Rangers and we’re here to return the missing son o’ the Prime Minister and deal with a possible assassination attempt on the PM, mate!” Gadget joined him a moment later. “Scotland Yard was contacted by our team and told about our coming here.”
The guard looked skeptical. “Just let me check with them, then. You do look like quite a nattered bunch, though.” After calling to the Yard, the guard came back out, his demeanor totally changed. “Okay, I’ve confirmed your story. The meeting this little tyke’s talking about is about to wrap up anytime now. Yard agents are already in the area, and I’ve called for reinforcements to make sure no one gets through without top clearance.”
Gadget realized the guard didn’t perceive the extent of the danger. “You’ve got to stop them from coming out! They’re going to try to kill him!” The guard appeared nonchalant. “Don’t worry, no one will get by us.”
The Rangers felt more than a little frustrated, what with the death threat hanging over Justin’s dad and the inability to do more about it. Monty was about to suggest an aerial reconnaissance when Justin pulled on his tail and whispered something in his ear. Monty nodded. “Mates, we’d best keep an eye out from above. Let’s get back to the RangerPlane and make sure no one’s lurkin’ about.”
The group got in the Plane and went up a few feet to be out of listening distance, then Monty turned to the boy. “Lad, tell ‘em what ya just told me.” Justin turned to the others. “I said that man wasn’t the regular man who waves hello to me when Daddy lets me go in the palace.”
“It could just be a regular guard you haven’t seen, Justin,” Dale said. Justin shook his head. “They have one guard that works at each place at a particular time, and he’s not the one!” Gadget immediately saw what he was driving at. “You mean, he’s one of the terrorists? Golly, then he didn’t call anyone! We’ve got to find the Prime Minister, fast!”
Gadget flew over the palace wall this time, ignoring the guard’s shouts when they came. As they rounded the backside of the palace, a rodent-sized limo was just pulling out. “That’s daddy’s car!” Justin shouted.
Monty could smell danger. “The meetin’s over, they’re gonna attack at any moment! Let’s use the Plane and give ‘em some cover.” Zipper flew up next to Gadget. “Gadget, does the Plane have enough power to lift the limo?”
“No, it’s too heavy,” Gadget said, maneuvering the Plane into position. “Zipper, you and Honey fly down and warn them! We’ll play escort!”
Zipper flew down and got the driver’s attention. Honey wasn’t quite as fast, but in this case it paid off as she got a good look at what was beneath the rear bumper of the limo. “Zipper, tell them to get out! There’s a bomb under the car!”
Zipper flew along the car and tried to get their attention, but it seemed that the appearance of the Rangers had startled them and they were reacting as if it was an attack. Zipper flew under the car, keeping pace with the bomb. He desperately tried to see if he could detach it, knowing they probably didn’t have long. “Got to...get it loose...”
Honey flew back up to the Plane. “A bomb under the car! Make them stop!”
Gadget dove for the car and set the Plane down in front of it. The Prime Minister and his escort got out.
“Now see here, what in the world,” the Prime Minister started to ask. Justin waved at his father. “Daddy, run! It’s a bomb!” The elder mouse instantly focused on the source of the voice. “Justin? But you were back...”
“No time fer arguin’ mates!” Monty said, grabbing the Prime Minister and his escort and running as fast as he could, the others right behind. Honey stopped when she didn’t see Zipper, and headed back for the car to find him still trying to disarm the bomb.
“Zipper, they’re safe! Come on!” Honey shouted. Zipper left with her, and just as they reached the others the car exploded, shattering windows nearby. The RangerPlane was heavily damaged as well.
“Great Scott!” the Prime Minister shouted, incredulous. Gadget tugged on Monty’s sleeve. “Monty, the guard! We’ve got to stop him before he gets away!”
“Now I’m steamed!” Monty shouted, rolling up his sleeves. “As a member o’ the British Empire, it’s me duty to protect those in charge of it. No one tries to kill the PM when Ol’ Monterey Jack’s in town!” Monty took off running in the direction that they had gone, the others close behind. Zipper motioned to Honey. “Stay here with Justin and fill the Prime Minister in on what happened!”
The Rangers headed off, searching for the man they’d seen at the guard post. They went into the street, looking, but there was no sign. It appeared he’d gotten away when all of a sudden a rodent-sized lorry screeched around the corner, headed for them. Their self-defense training took over, allowing them to easily dodge the oncoming truck. In an instant, Gadget pulled the harpoon gun off her back and fired. The plunger took hold of the rear of the truck and while Dale and Monty took hold of the rope, Gadget passed out some skates, which they quickly put on.
“Hang on, everyone! Here we go!” Gadget said.
The rope went taut, and all three of them were jerked along with the truck. Gadget kept the rope taut while Monty and Dale followed the rope to the truck, then climbed up. Removing their skates, the duo crawled over the top and got in position. Monty motioned to Zipper, who’d caught up by his own means. “Zipper, you fly in front of the window to distract him and when we lower the boom, grab the keys so he can’t drive away.”
Zipper saluted, and flew down to the window and began making faces at the pretended guard. “I’ll fix you!” the pretender said. “You and your friends spoiled my plans, but I’ll get even!”
He accelerated, and Zipper was pinned against the windshield by the wind shear. The assassin laughed, but not for long. Monty grabbed on the cab’s railing and came in at the driver feet-first, knocking him out of the driver’s position. Monty stopped the truck, but lost his grip on the fellow and he jumped out. Dale saw it and jumped from the cab, falling on him.
The assassin slipped out of his jacket and left Dale holding it, but he didn’t bother to look where he was going and ran right into Gadget’s round kick. Monty and Dale caught up a few seconds later and subdued him. Gadget stood there, hands on her hips, beaming with the satisfaction of victory. “Score one for the home team and mom’s training!”
Zipper flew up to them a few moments later, keys in hand. “I think we bagged ourselves a bad guy. Say, where’s the Prime Minister?” Monty looked back toward Buckingham Palace, now in the distance. “Crikey! We better go make sure he’s safe!”
Monty used the jacket the assassin had shorn to tie his arms, then hefted him as they headed back for the palace. There, they found Honey and the Prime Minister, surrounded by several Scotland Yard agents.
“Ah, here they are now, and they’ve caught the blaggard, by Jove!” the Prime Minister said. The agents immediately took the assassin into custody, and the agent in charge addressed the Rangers. “We understand from your comrade and little Justin here that you flew over to help prevent our Prime Minister’s assassination. The fellow you’ve got there is the leader of a terrorist organization who wanted to spoil Mr. Durkstan’s meeting with other global leaders next week in Paris.
“We’ve alerted the other world leaders and we’ll soon have any other terrorists in custody. We’d have been here sooner, but the louts went and sabotaged our vehicles! Seems they had this all planned out. All but you, that is.”
Monty walked over to the Prime Minister’s boy, patting him on the back. “Well, it was little Justin that saved the day. His tellin’ us what happened brought us in ta do the job. A right bright lad ya got there, mister Prime Minister.”
The Prime Minister knelt by his boy. “Justin, you did the right thing and I’m proud of you. You saved my life.” Justin jumped into his dad’s arms. “Me and the Rescue Rangers, father! See, I told you they were worth going to see!”
The elder mouse laughed. “So you did, so you did. Rangers, I’m very grateful for your service this day. I see your plane is in need of repair. Allow me to take care of that, and while that’s being done come and stay at my estate.”
“Yes!” Justin echoed.
Monty took off his flight cap and nodded in appreciation. “That would be a right big honor for us, sir.”
“A most appropriate arrangement,” Honey agreed. Gadget looked around for a telephone booth. “Golly, we’d better call home and let them know that we’ll be here a while.”
Chapter 12 – The Mysterious Malady Recurs and An Old Problem Manifests Itself
Gadget was about to ask where the nearest phone was when suddenly she felt the need to sit down. Finding nothing else convenient, she chose the ground. Dale ran over to her.
“What’s wrong, Gadget?” Dale asked.
Gadget felt woozy, and put her hand to her head. “I dunno, but all of a sudden it’s like my fuel ran out. Maybe the chase was more strenuous than I realized, but I’m...just about exhausted. Jeepers, maybe I’m having a bad reaction to those pills the doctor gave me.”
Dale sat down next to her. “Well, we’re going to find out if Dr. B has any relatives here, cause you’re goin’ to a doctor.” Gadget snapped at him. “Dale, I’m just tired! That’s all!” Dale stood up, not expecting Gadget to yell like that. When she realized it, she had an apologetic look on her face.
“Oh, I’m sorry Dale. I guess it’s just the last few days and all catching up with me. Help me up, and once I’ve rested some I’ll go see a doctor,” Gadget said.
“No need, ma’am,” the Prime Minister said. “My own family physician will attend you at the estate.” Dale was relieved at once. “That sounds good, sir. Thank you.” With that problem solved, Honey turned her attention to Zipper. “Are you hurt in any way?”
“Thanks for the concern, Honey, but I’m okay,” Zipper said, dusting himself off. “That ride on the windshield wasn’t fun, but we got the last laugh on him. Thanks for giving us all that warning when you did.” Honey wasn’t sure what to do. She was used to praise, but she knew that as part of the team she couldn’t have done it alone. “Thank you, Zipper. I am glad I did not let any of you down.”
Monty spoke to her approvingly. “You came through with flying colors yer first toime out, lass. Now, let’s us get Gadget some rest and we’ll see about repairing the Plane and all.”
The Prime Minister ordered another limo and Monty called home from the limo’s phone. Eva told him that she and Theo had found Mrs. Jenkins and now she was on her way home. She was glad to hear things had gone well on the mission, but was also alarmed at Gadget’s troubles. “Dahling, I do not like this. How is she doing now?”
“Sleeping in Dale’s arms at the moment, luv. Said she was real tired, but she didn’t do any more than the rest of us. Could it’ve been the muscle relaxin’ pills?” Monty asked.
“Possibly, but I do not think so. I agree vith Dale, that she should see a doctor again. Keep a close watch on her, dahling.”
“Too roight I will,” Monty said. “With Gadget and the Plane like they are, it’ll likely be a few days for us getting back.” Eva understood of course. “We will be here when you do, dahling. Tell Gadget I love her.”
Eva hung up the phone, concern written on her face. Theo saw it and knew it wasn’t good news. “What’s wrong, Aunt Eva?” Eva put a hand on his shoulder. “It is your Aunt Gadget. She is again not feeling well. Oh, everything with the mission went fine. They saved the boy’s father, but Gadget vhas very tired after. She has not been right since coming back from Hawaii.”
Theo knew she was worried, and that made him worried too. “Well, maybe it is just a tropical bug from Hawaii. If it were Africa I’d worry if it was Ebola or something, but she’ll be fine.”
“I hope so, Theo. I hope so,” Eva said, not convinced at all. Theo decided to change the subject. “Did they say how long it will be till they get back?”
“No, dahling. There vhas some damage to the RangerPlane and with Gadget needing rest they decided to stay vith Justin’s father, the Prime Minister. It will likely be a few days before they are back.”
“Okay. I just hope they get back here okay. I really miss them.”
Eva hugged him. “I know, Theo. I miss them too, and I am concerned for my little Gadget. I am going outside for some fresh air now. Remember, we vill cover the basics of jujitsu tomorrow so get lots of rest!”
Eva watched as Theo went on to his room, then she went outside. The cool of the evening stirred her memories, and she could recall for a few brief moments the excitement of the old days. Those times weren’t something that she normally dwelled on, but despite her shame for what she’d done she still carried the memories. She’d just relived her first meeting with Monty in her mind, when she decided to go in and get some rest.
She did an about-face, heading for the door, and stopped short. On the veranda railing there was a letter in a neat white envelope. Eva looked all about, but saw no one. She picked up the envelope warily and found it was addressed to her, the name written in calligraphy. The letter hadn’t been there when she came out, and now all her instincts screamed danger. She hid the letter under the light jacket she wore and came inside. Discreetly, she checked on the others—all okay.
Eva silently returned outside, and opened the letter.
The day of reckoning is at hand. I have delayed justice for the sake of your family, but now the time has come for us to meet for the last time. You know why I have contacted you and you know what must happen now. I give you until tomorrow to get your affairs in order, then meet me at the place circled on the map included at 10:30 in the morning precisely. You know why I have chosen that time.
Eva read the note, and re-read it. There was no mistaking the handwriting, for she’d seen it many times before. She put the note back in the envelope, and went inside.
Theo was asleep, thankfully, for Eva didn’t want to answer any questions tonight. Sobering memories ran through her head as she lay in bed, and sleep never came. Never came close.
Across the pond, sleep had come easily for the Rangers, save one. Gadget had slept fitfully, and when she awoke she felt just as tired as when she went to bed. The Prime Minister had given her and Dale the best guest suite in the mansion, and Gadget wished she were in a condition to appreciate it. She arose, and found that Dale had slept in a velvet-covered chair pulled up next to her side of the bed.
“Poor thing, he must’ve watched over me all night.”
Gadget kissed his forehead lightly and then proceeded on toward the spacious bathroom. She felt woozy and a little queasy, and began to wonder if perhaps she’d done something internal to herself during the previous day’s chase. All thought was removed when the queasiness took over and she quickly covered the rest of the distance and ended up slamming the bathroom door. Dale awoke immediately, disoriented at first, and then noticed that Gadget wasn’t in bed anymore.
Dale’s ears told him enough. He waited till the worst was over then lightly tapped on the door. “Gadget, I’m going to call the doctor.” Gadget’s muffled voice came from inside. “This time, I won’t argue with you. I feel worse than a misaligned camshaft with rust buildup.”
After another minute, Gadget came out, looking terribly pale. “Dale, I don’t know what I’ve done but when we find out make sure I don’t do it again.” Dale put his arm around her, sensing she might faint. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. I’ll go call a doctor right away. I don’t want anything happening to you!”
Dale rushed to a phone and made a frantic call. Gadget felt weak as water, and when Monty came in to check on his daughter, he was alarmed at both her appearance and the way she was teetering in an effort to sit up straight on the bed’s edge. “Gadget, ya look like you’ve been through fourteen rounds with the Spanish Flu! Here, lean on me now...”
Monty got her to lie down and helped her in bed. “This ain’t like you, lass. Any idea what’s upset that Erskine constitution o’ yours?” After the phone call, Dale was at Monty’s side. “Don’t worry, he’s on his way. You’ll be as good as new in no time.”
Gadget had seen better days. “I don’t have any idea, dad. I think it’s just a virus or something.” Monty checked her forehead for fever. It did feel a little warm. “Don’t take this wrong, Gadget luv, but I sure hope it ain’t catching. I hope that doc gets here fast so’s we can find out what this is all about!” Dale began pacing nervously. “I hope so! Gadget’s the most important thing in the world to me!”
Soon, Honey and Zipper joined the party surrounding Gadget. Fortunately for Dale and the floor he was pacing on, the doctor arrived shortly. Dr. James Malcolm was an old British mole, wearing a three-piece suit and spectacles that made him seem a bit too dressed up for his chosen office. He was rotund, but soft-spoken and big-hearted. When he saw Dale’s worry, he patted him on the wrist. “Now, now, we’ll find what’s the rot soon enough. If it’s not a bother, I should like some time alone with the patient.”
Dale hustled everyone out of the room and began pacing nervously in the hall. “She’s gonna be fine, she’s gonna be fine…”
The doctor looked kindly on Gadget, trying to reassure her. “Keep your chin up, now. I’ve never lost a patient—my car keys, my pocket watch and my stethoscope, yes, but never a patient. Now Gadget, when did these symptoms of yours begin? Think back.”
Gadget made an effort to concentrate. “Well, they started just after we got back from Hawaii.” The doctor began a regular series of tests, starting with her blood pressure. “I see. Tell me, did you come into contact with anyone who was exhibiting any signs of illness or lethargy?”
“No, everyone seemed in great spirits,” Gadget said. “It was a very exciting and romantic trip, very romantic. But no one seemed ill.” The doctor nodded as he pulled out a penlight and checked her eyes. “Very well. Were you ever in a small contained area with others, like a restaurant perhaps or a small store? Sometimes contagion can spread in that manner.”
Gadget squirmed some under the light. Doctors were her least favorite people to interact with, after salesmen. “We were in a native village for a wedding, and we were there over a weekend.” The doctor put the light away. “So no prolonged exposure or suspected contraction from anyone present. Gadget, did you do anything unusual or out of the ordinary over that period? Any changes in routine, for instance?”
Gadget blushed. “Well, Dale and I both felt...well…very romantic, more than usual, that is. But Dale doesn’t have a cold.” The doc smiled and nodded. “Don’t worry, my dear. I understand perfectly, and I’m not one to discuss what is after all private. If I may ask an unrelated question, have you been feeling pain anywhere? In your arms, legs or trunk, perhaps?”
“Well, I did have a really bad leg cramp the other day, and I’ve been feeling some cramping in my abdomen. But that’s probably a stomach virus.”
Doctor Malcolm nodded again and checked her temperature. “Your temperature’s a little high, but not too bad. So, you’ve been unusually tired and from what your husband told me irritable. Have you had problems holding your food down?” Gadget nodded emphatically. “Yes, for the last day or two I’ve been having trouble and I was just sick before you got here.”
The doctor put his tools away. “Gadget, I asked these questions because I wanted to be absolutely certain. I was pretty sure of what the diagnosis was when I first saw you, but the other things you’ve told me have given me assurance. One other thing...have you had cravings for any strange foods, or ones that you don’t normally eat?”
Gadget couldn’t figure the reason for that last question. “Well yes, but what does that have to do with a virus?”
“Nothing in the least, since you don’t have one. If you like, I’ll tell you what it is before I tell the others. I can assure you it’s not life-threatening, but it will take some time for you to recover from it. Several months in fact.”
“Golly, do I need an operation?” Gadget asked, concerned.
“Hopefully not, but this condition can require it on occasion. Shall I call the others in? I think they’d like to hear my diagnosis, and particularly your husband.”
“Well, I guess,” Gadget said, uncertain.
Doctor Malcolm went to the door, and motioned the others in. Dale ran in and was instantly at Gadget’s side. “Gadget, you gonna be okay? Please don’t die!”
“I do hope she will soon be well,” Honey echoed.
The doc put a friendly hand on Dale’s shoulder. “I assure you, she’s going to be okay. I must admit, I am a bit mystified though.” Dale didn’t know what to make of that. “Mystified in a good way or a bad way?”
“I’m not sure. I’m embarrassed to ask this, but I feel in light of everything I must. Gadget, is Dale the only person you’ve been...shall we say...very romantic with?” the doctor asked. Gadget blushed, but then got upset. “Of course! What are you implying?”
Dr. M raised his hand. “Nothing at all, I assure you. You both seem to be honest and aboveboard, but what I have to tell you required that question.” The doctor took Dale and Gadget’s hands. “Dale, your wife is pregnant.”
Gadget looked back at the doctor, shocked. “But…but Dale’s a chipmunk and I’m a mouse! We’d have to have used artificial methods to have produced a transgenic child!” Honey wondered at the thing. “Then there must be an explanation. Otherwise it could not have happened, so there must be a way for a mouse and a chipmunk to have a child.”
“Honey’s right,” Zipper said. “Impossible stuff happens to us all the time. This is just...impossibler than normal.” Gadget stared at the doctor blankly, then she became angry. “You’re wrong! You’ve got to be wrong! I never cheated on Dale and never would! How dare you accuse me of that! Dale, you know I’d never do anything like that, don’t you? Dale?”
Monty pointed to the floor. “Afraid he’s been out since the doc used the ‘p’ word, lass. Gadget, I know you’re honest as the day is long, but...”
“But what? Dad, I told you he’s the only one I’ve...”
Gadget stopped in mid-sentence, her mouth opening and a look of sudden recognition sweeping across her features. “Oh...jeepers.” She looked down at Dale, where Zipper was trying to wake him up. “Artificial. And he and I were...and then we...so theoretically it could be possible that...oh, jeepers! Honey, I think you’re right! Dale? Dale, wake up honey!”
“Ba... ba...” came a sound from near the floor.
Gadget leaned over the edge of the bed. “What’s that, dear? What are you trying to say?” Dale opened his eyes and looked up. “We’re gonna have a baby…a baby! Wowie zowie!” Dale jumped up and hugged his wife, and she was so relieved when he did because it meant he trusted her. “Thank you, Dale. Thank you!”
Monty took off his flight cap and scratched his head. “Lass, do you have any idea of how this ‘ere thing happened? Well, besides the regular-type reason, I mean.” Gadget sat up in bed, Dale now sitting next to her. Her composure was back, and she actually seemed excited that she’d discovered the reason. “I think so, dad. I was as shocked as anyone at first, but when I mentioned the word artificial it brought back the memory of what happened to Dale and me. Remember when we switched heads in Nimnul’s modemizer?”
“Switched heads?” the doctor remarked. “That’s not possible!”
“Well, it happened,” Gadget replied. “The doc’s right though, it should’ve been impossible, but the molecular regurgitater was malfunctioning. Its recompiler must’ve searched for a way to keep us all alive and the only way it could’ve is if it sampled some DNA material from both of us and replicated a secondary DNA strand to support that new head. Gosh, why didn’t I think of this before!”
“Because it sounds a bit crazy, lass,” Monty said. “You mean it left enough chipmunk in ya and enough mouse in him ta make ya just enough of the other ta have a baby?”
“There’s more to it than that, Monty. If I’m thinking right, that secondary strand would’ve stayed in us because the repaired regurgitater would’ve seen it as a normal part of our bodies. It would just lay dormant normally, because the amount of cellular energy required to activate it would be far more than we could normally generate. But then we were exposed to it the second time.”
“Again?” the doctor asked, amazed at all this.
“Yep,” Gadget said, “and in the explosion I recall that we were surrounded by that energy blast before I fainted and we ended up on the other side of town. It must’ve infused us with an energy boost that, when combined with that secondary strand, allowed us to be genetically compatible! Actually, it’s so evident that I really should’ve realized it much sooner.”
“Of course, it’s so simple!” Dale said. “Whee! We’re gonna have a baby!”
“Incredible,” the doctor remarked. “Well, if there’s any bit of truth in what you’ve told me—not that I claim to understand it, mind you—it’s a relief to my mind. However, if you really are compatible with him in the way you stated, that could mean that you were for the purposes of procreation both a mouse and a chipmunk, as was he. Your child could be either one, or possibly even a combined mutation, like the combination of horses and mules, for instance.”
Then it hit Monty. “Crikey, I’m gonna be a granddad!”
Honey shook her head, as amazed as the doctor. “Well, I knew being around you Rangers would be different but this goes beyond the pale for certain. It would seem congratulations are in order, Gadget!”
“Yes, congratulations!” Zipper agreed.
Gadget’s enthusiasm at having solved the puzzle waned as she realized the full implications of it all. “Wow, uh... I’m actually going to be a mom. Dale, you’re going to be a father. Are we ready for something like this?”
Dale stopped spinning around like a top and looked at his wife. “A father, me? Zowie...” Monty put an arm around Dale. “Don’t let it throw ya, mate. We’ll all help you both out ta adjust and everything.”
Dale knelt down next to Gadget, and very tentatively reached forward, gently touching her stomach. “My child...our child’s in there.” Dale looked over at his wife and smiled. “Yeah, I think we’re ready. Guess we’d better be!” Gadget smiled back. “Tammy’s going to have her hands full with nanny duty and teaching us how to look after a baby.”
“She sure is! Maybe Bink can come help too.” Dale stood up, turning to the others. “Um, could you guys give us a few minutes?”
The group nodded and Dale and Gadget returned their waves as they went outside. When the door closed, Dale sat on the bed and took his wife gently in his arms. “Gadget, I’m almost afraid to ask. Are you okay with this? I mean, you didn’t ask to have a child and all. It just sort of happened.” Gadget looked him in the eyes. “Well, I believe things happen for a reason, so I’m content to say it’s a blessing. It’s too much to say it’s a coincidence.”
Dale was still worried. “Do you think that modemathingy will hurt us any? Will the child be okay and normal?” Gadget thought about it. “I think we’ll be fine, but there’s no telling what effect it will have on our child. It might not even survive to term.”
Dale blinked, not having thought of that yet. “Not...not survive? Oh Gadget, it’d tear my heart out if our child...” Dale began to cry some at the idea, and Gadget comforted him. “I just wanted you to know that there’d be risks, dear. Something like this has never happened before. It’s not like what happened with Noel and Foxy.”
Gadget wiped a few of his tears away, then sat up straighter to explain. “Noel became a bat, but we’re still more or less what we always were, only with a few genetic add-ons. Dale, I’m hoping the child will be fine too, but we just need to be realistic. We’ll have to have tests done when we’re back home and monitor the baby’s growth and all. We’ll need to think of a name too.”
Dale took her hand. “Then you...you have enough hope that we could name it? I guess bringing all life into the world’s a danger.” Gadget smiled and squeezed his hand. “Nothing’s impossible, Dale. Even a mouse and a chipmunk having a happy, healthy bouncing baby boy or girl.”
Dale got all excited again at the idea. “Yeah! An’ it’s always good to think things’ll go well. If it’s a girl, we could name her Althea after my grandma. She was really nice, so I figure it couldn’t hurt to pass the name along. Althea Danger Oakmont. Sort of has a ring to it, don’t you think?”
“Danger doesn’t sound very feminine, Dale. Is there anything else you’d like to name our daughter?”
“Not Danger…how about Adventure? That way she’ll be able to tell people that Adventure is her middle name!”
Gadget laughed with Dale at the pun. “Okay, if it’s a girl you can name her Althea Adventure Oakmont, but if it’s a boy, Geegaw Jack Oakmont, agreed?”
“Okay, deal! Say, now both you and Foxy are gonna be moms! Ranger Headquarters will be kid central soon!”
“Don’t forget about Colby. Mom’s a new mom again, too. Wow, Colby will be the uncle of our kids, even though he’s less than a year older than they’ll be!”
Dale was simply amazed at it all. “Hey, you’re right! That’s neat. Say Gadget, I just had a thought. Did that modemawhatchamathingy just affect us the first time or all of us Rangers?”
Gadget realized how important that question could be. “Well, we probably all have residual DNA with whomever we switched with, but you and I were affected twice by the machine, in that we had our DNA charged both times, so with the others it’s probably just genetic debris that the body could eventually remove.”
“Well, it’s just that Chip and Monty did the ol’ head switch too, so that could mean Chip has mouse genetical stuff,” Dale pointed out. “He got zapped by the modemadoodle too, you know. Maybe we oughta call ‘em and find out if Lahwhinie’s feeling sick too!”
Gadget giggled despite herself at the thought of Lahwhinie having a baby. “Well, we’ll certainly let them know, but she’s never had any exposure to the negative effects of the device and Chip’s second exposure wasn’t the same as ours.” Dale laughed at the idea too. “Hey, you were the one who said it—nothing’s impossible! Boy, if the same thing happened to them wouldn’t ol’ Chip get the shock of his life!”
“Not to mention Lahwhinie,” Gadget added. “That would certainly test the mettle of their marriage. They’re doing great with Theo, but would they be able to handle a newborn?” Dale’s look went from smiling to a concerned frown. “I dunno. I mean, Lahwhinie’s come a long way but I don’t know what she’d do if she was suddenly pregnant like that. Chip could handle it, but she might not. What do you think?”
“I think she’d be angry at first, but eventually she’d like the idea of being a mom.”
Dale was worried again, now for his friend. “I hope so, for Chip’s sake anyway. Uh oh, I just remembered! Eva said that there are no phones where they are in Hungary. It’s something called a ‘dead zone’ or something or other. They have to go into another town to call, and there’s no guarantee they would. We might haveta wait until they get to Hondo to be able to tell ‘em!”
Gadget shrugged. “Well, Chip and Lawhinie’ll just have to take their chances, just like us.” Dale took Gadget’s other hand. “I just want to say I love you, no matter what happens. I’d sure like a child to be able to share all my knowledge with, though. Just think, with your brains and my abilities our child’s going to be the funniest, most inventive genius painter on the face of the earth!”
The mouse inventor smiled, then became reflective. “I wonder if this is a permanent effect or is this our one and only chance to have a child?”
“I don’t know, but imagine the two of us with lots of kids! Well, who knows, maybe you’ll have twins! Imagine the carnage they could do if they’re an equal mix of you and me.”
Gadget chuckled at the idea. “Creatively obsessed geniuses who are easily distracted by inventions, cartoons and comic books. Perhaps with your artistic abilities and my inventing skills, they’ll be architects or master painters or animators for some world-class studio.”
“They’d be real challenges to bring up, but imagine what they’d be able to do,” Dale said, his imagination already kicking in. Gadget had another thought. “Gosh, I hope our child or children won’t be dyslexic. Of course, I know the signs of it now so I could train them to handle it. There’s so many things to think about. Oh, and I love you too, Dale. I know you’ll make a great father.”
“I love you too, Gadget. Man, we’re gonna be great parents! Just wait till my folks find out—it’s faint city again.” Gadget suddenly held her stomach. “Ooh…speaking of fainting, I think you’d better guide me for another visit to the bathroom because I’d faint before I’d make it!”
Chapter 13 – Old Debts and a New Promise
Dale helped her, and once Gadget was situated he went outside and spoke to the others for a while. They too wondered about Chip and Lahwhinie, but all they could do was speculate. A few hours later, dawn sprang up back at Ranger Headquarters. Eva was up first, the sleepless night telling on her, and she went into the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast. Theo was up soon after, and bounded in.
“Morning, Aunt Eva!” Theo said, ready for the day. “Mm, smells good in here. Some breakfast, and then we’ll try that jujitsu out, right?” Eva hated to disappoint him, but there was reason enough. “Breakfast dahling, but not martial arts today. There is something I must take care of, and it vill not wait.”
Theo’s enthusiasm was cut short and he looked over at Eva with curiosity. “What’s wrong? You look tired, Aunt Eva. Did you sleep okay?”
“I am not feeling well, Theo. There is a matter that I must take care of very soon. But you are hungry. Let me get you your breakfast, dahling. So, how is school going, Theo?”
Theo watched her as Eva worked on breakfast. His instincts told him something was wrong, but just what that was he couldn’t know. He decided to play it by ear for now. “Okay, I guess. Bink can beat any of the guys at soccer. I’ve made a new friend named Xooger. He’s pretty cool, and likes to play drums. Roberta Highwater says her father’s going to buy her a custom-made car once she’s old enough to drive. Classes are okay, but Ranger work’s a lot more fun.”
“Vell, it’s important that you learn much about so many things,” Eva said, bringing over a plate of food. “There are things they teach you in school that you can’t learn in the Rangers. It’s nice that you are making so many young friends, though. A child your age should be around other young people, rather than just us adults.”
Theo started eating. “Well, the others are just there pretty much, but Bink and I are real good friends. She’s pretty neat for a girl. Did you have a lot of friends growing up?” Eva winced at the question. “No, I did not make many friends. I was antisocial and it vas very offputting for others.”
“But you’re so nice! You never had any friends at all?”
Eva sat down next to him. “I vhas good at making enemies, not friends. No friends until dear Monty.” Theo decided not to press the issue. “Well, I’ve got to catch up on my math homework. Don’t suppose you’re any good at quadratic equations are you?”
“I am, but I think you will have to wait till your aunt Gadget returns to help you... I’m a bit rusty about such things,” Eva said. She hated to lie like that, but she couldn’t afford to get distracted now.
Theo started working his problem. “Okay, but I like it better when you help. Aunt Gadget’s great, but when she explains a math problem you can be there an hour getting to the next one!” Eva smiled, knowing he was right. Just then, Tammy came in with Colby. “Hi! We were just about to sit down and watch Zobo the Clown. Anyone want to join in?”
“No, dear,” Eva said. “Why don’t you rest for a little while and let me look after Colby?” Tammy shook her head. “Oh, that’s all right! I bet you’re the one who could use the rest. After all, you’ve been helping out with the cooking and taking care of Colby and running your defense class. Some fresh air would do you good.”
Eva took Colby in her arms and gently kissed his forehead, whispering, “Farewell, my dahling little one.” Eva returned him to Tammy, trying not to reveal anything by her facial expression. “Well, goodbye everyone.”
As she left the kitchen she turned back and gave a last longing glance at her dear friends and family. She quickly turned away when she saw Theo’s look of concern. He watched her go, realizing why he couldn’t concentrate on algebra this morning. He quickly ran out and caught up to her. “Aunt Eva, there’s something wrong, isn’t there?”
Eva smiled and patted his shoulder, reassuringly. “No, there is nothing wrong, Theo dahling. Don’t let me disrupt your homework.” Theo couldn’t get his mind off that moment of horror he’d seen in her eyes when she’d seen that telegram. “I’ll manage that all right. Are you sure? You seem edgy.”
“Nothing that you should trouble yourself with, dahling. Now, be a good boy and go back to your studies.”
Theo gave her a circumspect look. “Well, if you say so. Still you do seem edgy. Maybe you do need that walk in the park.” Eva nodded. “Yes, indeed. I need to leave... for a while, dahling.”
Eva was having an increasingly difficult time keeping her emotions in check and her tears were beginning to show. She quickly opened the door and stepped outside
Theo’s instincts were telling him something was very wrong. He went to the window and caught Eva looking back at the bottom of the tree, and it was obvious she was crying now. As she started walking off, he was deliberating whether to go after her when the phone rang.
Tammy’s voice echoed from the hall. “Theo, it’s Gadget! She wants to talk to Eva.” Theo looked back to find that Eva had just entered the wooded area in front of the treehouse and was now out of sight. “She’s already heading off. Let’s see what she wants.”
Theo took the phone. “Aunt Gadget? It’s Theo. Your mom just left for a walk in the park.” Gadget’s voice came over, full of emotion. “Oh, Theo, could you catch up to her, it’s something very important!”
“Sure thing, I’m off to the races!”
Theo handed Tammy the receiver, stuffed his books in his backpack and ran out the door. He’d seen the direction Eva was headed so he was confident he’d find her quick enough. That wasn’t the case right away, though, because he found she didn’t head into the park. He didn’t know just where to look at first, but then he thought to ask one of the park pigeons. The bird said he’d seen a mouse answering to Eva’s description heading out of the park and toward Times Square.
**What’s she up to?** Theo wondered, as he ran off in that direction. He’d suspected that there was something up, but now he knew it and it made him run even faster. When he left the park, he thought to check with another animal and again they’d seen Eva. Theo switched his direction and found himself moving toward an older section of town.
He managed to spot Eva as she went into an old hotel and stealthily he followed.
The Bentley Building had been a mainstay for years, but now it was run-down and slated for the demolition crew. Theo entered the hotel and found that it led to a private enclosed area in the rear. As he left the building proper and headed into the unkempt grassy enclosure, he heard voices. One of them was unmistakably Eva’s, but the other he’d never heard before. Slowly, he edged his way closer.
Eva knew why Terminus had chosen this place. It was secluded and would prevent them from being disturbed. That was his way, to plan things out to the last detail. While Theo had followed her, she had entered the enclosure surrounded by two feet of brick and rimmed with tall weeds. It doglegged, and at the far end of it she found who she knew would be there.
He was older obviously, but she was surprised how sickly he looked. She’d known Terminus when he had a glint in his eyes as sharp as a fine blade, but now it was dull and morose. He was dressed in black, as that had always been his favorite color. The paleness of his fur and the whiteness of his hair made the mink look like an apparition.
“Greetings, Eva,” he said, his voice sounding almost mechanical. “Part of me had despaired of us ever meeting again. It’s been so many years since our last meeting. Life was so much different then. There were big plans and worlds to conquer, but now that we’re older and wiser we see that death and destruction are never far away from us.”
“Yes, Endre. The years have not been kind to you, I see. So tell me, vhy do you now seek me out?”
The mink known as Terminus made no move as yet, but it was clear that he would soon. “I had no desire to hurt those around you. There was a time not long ago when I would have made them all suffer for your crimes, but not any more. This is just between you and I, Eva. A price must be paid for the death of my son. There must be a reckoning. I care not a bit for all the others that died—there is only one life I want avenged.”
He took a long breath that seemed to tax him, then he continued. “I had thought you dead in the explosion, so I threw myself into my work with fatalistic despair. Imagine my surprise when many years later you suddenly return to the land of the living so that you can rejoin the family you left so long ago. Rage consumed me. You had regained everything you had lost, while my only child, my pride and joy, my future, lay moldering in his grave!”
Eva’s face was like flint. “Endre, you know I am not to blame for that! It is unfortunate he died, but he died serving the organization that both of us hated. You know it as well as I. If the explosion had not killed him, you vould have. You need not pretend to hide behind any allegiance to RODENTS this day.”
He drew a gun from under his vestments and pointed it at her. “What has brought me here is a promise I made as I stood over the grave of my Vasily. I swore that I would kill you—eye for an eye, as they say. I wanted you here alone so that no other lives need be lost in any foolish attempts by your friends to stop me.”
Again he stopped to breathe, and it was obvious whatever had ravaged his body had taken its toll on him. “I know you were aware of my presence, Eva. That is why I sent the telegram. The old instincts never die, but perhaps my condition made me falter and alerted you on some level that danger was near. For months now I have followed you and your friends. I have spied on all of you. I was present at the wedding of Dale and Gadget, and I even got to dance with the bride.
“For you and yours the world is an open book, a future limited only by your imaginations. Imagine how stunned I was when I found out how Chip became Chip and Noel. And even more recently, Noel’s becoming a bat and the utterly impossible fact that Gadget’s going to have Dale’s child. A home filled with love, loved ones and family—roots, the future, children and soon even grandchildren. My future is filled with nothing but darkness, and soon that same darkness will consume me. All that I have left is the promise I made.”
Eva had heard little past the startling fact that Terminus had just revealed. “Gadget...she is having a child with Dale? But how can that be? And if it is so, how have you found it out? I have not heard from Gadget myself!” Terminus held up a cell phone. “I have your phone tapped. She just called Ranger Headquarters and told Tammy. Apparently it’s a side effect of the mishap with the two modemizer incidents. And unless I’m mistaken, your grandson Theophane, who Gadget asked to fetch you as you left to come to this meeting, shall shortly visit us.”
Eva looked around quickly. She was not so concerned for herself, but Theo was another story. “Leave him out of this, Endre! This is our problem. But I did not kill young Vasily. The ceiling in the laboratory caved in and saved you the trouble, if you remember.”
“True, he had to die so that the experiment could be destroyed,” Terminus said. “But it was you who set the Institute to self-destruct, so his blood and that of those that died in the disaster is on your hands, not mine. Had I been forced to kill him, I would have taken my own life as payment for such a deed.”
Eva’s voice softened. “Endre Zoltan, now you know that is not the whole story. It vhas RODENTS who trained your son, and whom you allowed to be trained. I knew what they would do to Gadget if she had stayed, so I smuggled her out and was labeled a traitor. RODENTS ruined my life, and that of your son’s. The revenge you vish for can no longer be. They are all gone, Endre.”
“Not quite. There are still two very dangerous people left, you and I; I, their top assassin and you their most brilliant mind. My body has betrayed me and my doom is sealed. However, you have all the details of project Shiva still in your head.”
Eva took a step toward him. “If I did not use the knowledge by now, then you know I never will! I am happy now, and I have no desire to resurrect an organization that was doomed from the start. Project Shiva was simply the death knell of RODENTS. Let it stay that way, and go in peace.”
Terminus seemed to shake with rage. “Peace? There is no peace in my soul! For many years I have been the master of my craft and I could look a man in the eye as I killed him and not even blink. I have served death well and perhaps in some dark and twisted corner of my soul I thought that if I served it well enough I would be allowed to escape its clutches myself, but now as I face the true face of my master I see death laughing at me, eager to drag me down into the abyss with it. My last effort can be to assure that nothing RODENTS ever conceived ever sees the light of day again. There is no other legacy left that I can leave the world.”
Theo ran out in front of Eva. He’d waited for the right moment, and now seemed to be it. “I don’t care what she did in the past, I love her!”
“Theo, get out of the way!” Eva shouted.
Theo ignored Eva and looked into Terminus’ eyes. “You think you’re the world’s authority on pain? How would you like it if your parents had died in a fire and you were powerless to save them? How would you like growing up alone, thinking that no one would ever care about you again? Eva means as much to me as my new mom, because she cares about me! If you kill her, you’re killing part of everyone who loves her.”
Terminus kept the gun pointed Eva, but shifted his eyes to the newcomer. “Ah, Theophane, we’ve been expecting you. A rash lad; you didn’t hesitate to follow Eva into unknown danger. You love her, even if she’s responsible for the deaths of many people in a lab explosion? Love her even though an evil organization used and profited from her work?”
Theo looked back at Eva, and she nodded. He returned his attention to Terminus. “If you knew anything about real love, you’d know that wouldn’t faze me. I knew some of her past already, but she put that behind her and she’s making up for it now. Maybe she can’t make up for anything she’s done, but you have no right to take her life. I defy you setting yourself up as her judge and executioner!”
Eva ran up to Theo, on the verge of panic. “Theo, don’t! Dahling, please, just walk away. This isn’t your fight.” Theo looked at her grandmother soberly. “The moment he threatened you, it was my fight. We’re both Rescue Rangers, and more than that we’re family.”
Terminus brought out a withered hand from under his robes to waive the boy off. “Step aside, so that I can rest. I have both feet in the grave already and don’t think I would be unwilling to kill one so young as you. Don’t think of engaging in any foolish and ultimately futile heroics. I made a graveside promise, and that promise I will honor.”
Theo listened to the words, and really looked at Terminus for the first time. He had obviously suffered much, and Theo found himself able in a way to pity the white-haired mink standing in front of him, pointing the gun. “There’s another way. How about if you exchange that promise for one of my own? You say you’re the last of your line. If you’ll spare her life, I’ll give your son’s name to my own when he’s born. A promise for a promise.”
Terminus stood there, weighing the offer. “You are a indeed a clever child. That is perhaps the one thing you could have said to give me pause. My son was my world, and I let him be turned against me and that ultimately took him away from me. Soon I will be joining him in death, and this is the only way that some part of us will live on. Theophane, if you keep your promise, I will trade Eva’s life for that of your son’s. Your son will bear the name Vasily.”
Eva knelt down by Theo. “Theo, are you sure about this?”
“I’m sure,” the young munk said. “ I’ll have a time explaining this to mom and dad and the others when my son’s born, not to mention my future wife. Zoltan, you have my word.”
Terminus put the gun away. “There aren’t many people who would make such a promise. Eva, I have been struggling since you returned with how to deal with you. Facing death makes one rethink rash plans and petty revenge. Your death would mean nothing in the long run. If this boy abides by his promise, I will spare your life. Theophane, if the name of my son lives on, you must also promise me that he will know the truth about his name and the circumstances of his getting it—a painful price, but one you both must be willing to pay to escape my grasp. Do you agree to this condition?”
Theo locked eyes with his adversary. “If I’m to agree to this, I want to know more about him, and what happened. I’ve already heard your side of it, Zoltan.” Terminus pointed to Eva. “I will trust Eva to give you the remainder of the story after we have parted. But I can tell you that I was as proud of my Vasily as Chip is of you. Theophane, I will accept your offer and I expect you to abide by it, even though I’ll be dead. I swear to whatever power hears me, I’ll strike back from beyond the grave if the promise is broken!”
Theo boldly stepped up to the mercurial figure and put forth his hand. “I agree, on all counts. I hope you can find some peace now.” Terminus grabbed Theo’s hand and held it palm up, then took out a knife and cut his own hand and then looked at Theo. “Are you prepared to swear to a blood pact, boy?”
Theo looked at the knife and the hand. “You don’t have some kind of blood disease or anything contagious, do you?”
“No. Cancer is not contagious and I’m not radioactive enough to be a danger to you from so little exposure.”
Theo gave a nod. “All right, then.” Terminus cut Theo’s hand very lightly, just deep enough to draw blood and then shook Theo’s hand where his own cut was. “Your promise is sealed in blood, Theophane, remember that. Let this meeting come to an end.”
With that Terminus bowed to them both. He turned on his heel and began walking away. “And don’t think about trying to stop me, catch me or follow me. You needn’t concern yourselves with me any longer. I have but one last stop to make before my time on this earth is done. Good evening.”
Eva came up immediately, and began tending to Theo’s hand while they both watched Terminus leave. “Theo, dahling, I...do not know vhat to say except thank you. He vould have killed me if not for you.” Theo had a mini anxiety attack and started shaking. “That was too close…I...could we go home?”
“Yes, of course. But you do realize he expects you to keep your promise. Endre was always a mink of his word, and to my knowledge never broke it until now.”
Theo began to calm down. “I know, Aunt Eva, I’m a munk of my word too. I just hope my son can forgive me for giving him a name like Vasily. And you’re welcome. You mean the world to me, and I couldn’t have just stood there and watched him kill you. I couldn’t live through that again, not when I could save you.”
Eva hugged him. “I know that now, dahling. I will never forget what you did for me today. And never doubt you are a hero, Theo. You have already proved that. When it comes time to name your child, I hope I vill be there as well to explain.”
“You’d better be there, because he’s never going to believe me otherwise! I want you to tell me about what really happened, Aunt Eva—the real story, not the story you told us before.”
Eva led Theo through the old building again and stopped at the front stoop where they both sat down. “First, did you overhear vhat he said about Dale and Gadget? They are having a baby together.”
“I caught something about a baby and a bugged phone. Dale and Gadget are having a baby! How is that possible? Did they use her shapechange thingamajig?”
“Endre said it was a result of their contacts with the modemizer. I do not claim to understand it fully, but I am sure Gadget vill explain it in due time. Now, as to what really happened...”
Eva’s face changed as her mind touched on a time that was uncomfortable for her. The memories were still vivid, and so was the pain. “You know the parts of my story involving Monty and my smuggling Gadget out of the country. Vhat you do not know is that when I chose to return to the Institute, it was not because I was afraid of society, but it was while I vhas with Monty that I realized I had made terrible judgments.
“For over a year, I had worked on the secret Project Shiva. It was RODENTS’ answer to their crumbling empire. They intended to use a genocidic biotoxin, and eliminate all animal life on the planet, save those that they would preserve in special underground facilities. The biotoxin vould wear off in five years, and then their picked people would repopulate the planet, indoctrinated in their dogma. That vhas the true purpose of Project Phoenix, Theo.”
Theo just stared. “That’s insane! And you helped make it?”
Eva hung her head and nodded. “I was one of the head researchers. Theo, you must understand that from a very young age I was taught that anyone who opposed RODENTS or lived outside their influence was to be seen as common rabble and not fit to live. For a long time, I believed it, but when Project Shiva came into being, for the first time I began to question things.
“I could not reconcile destroying all animals everywhere without at least going to see some of them and see whether what my leaders said was right. Once I met Monty and the others, I knew I had been deceived. I also knew I had to go back and prevent them using the biotoxin. So I returned, and they locked me up in the Institute. They said I was a traitor, but they still needed my knowledge in case something went wrong, so they kept me alive. They assigned a guard to me, and told him to protect me with his life. That guard was Vasily Zoltan.”
Theo was beginning to put the pieces together. “So Terminus’ son was your bodyguard? Why didn’t he turn on you, then? I mean, it was his father who came after you.” Eva shook her head. “It vhas his duty, and in RODENTS, duty comes before everything.”
The Hungarian took a deep breath. “But getting back to the story, I was kept in a maximum security cell in an underground level of the Institute. The Institute was located on the border of Hungary and Yugoslavia, near Zagreb. It was disguised of course to appear as an ordinary building on top, but underneath it housed some of the most advanced research labs on the planet. It was there that they would take me, for when a question came up they vould consult me. I lied to them a couple of times, but then they caught on and punished me so I hit on the idea of doling out the information they needed slowly to give me more time to plan.
“That makes sense. So did you bust out?” Theo asked.
“No, not exactly. You see, they had built my cell with me in mind, so despite my best efforts I could find no way to escape. Then, as Project Shiva neared completion, one day Terminus appeared in the lab where I was being forced to help. He pointed at me and said, ‘I have come for her. No one will interfere’. Vasily immediately asked for Terminus’ clearance and he said he had none.”
Theo shook his head in wonderment. “So Terminus was trying to kill you on his own. Why?”
“Not just me, dahling,” Eva said. “He knew as I did that Project Shiva was foolhardy. He may have been an assassin, but even an assassin’s taste for death has limits. He’d decided to kill the RODENT leaders and researchers to ensure that the project would fail, then destroy the genocidic biotoxin itself.”
Theo found it all reminded him of one of the Dirk Suave movies he’d watched with Dale. “So what happened? Did Vasily protect you against his own dad?”
Eva nodded. “Yes, he did. For him it was only a matter of his obedience to duty, just as Terminus saw it a matter of duty to kill me. Vasily fought him, and the other lab assistants came at him. He threw Vasily off, and shot the others within seconds. I had already taken cover, so when he looked for me it gave Vasily another chance.
“The boy jumped him, and they struggled for the gun. That was when it occurred to me that I’d been given an opportunity to escape. I went to the primary energy feed circuits for the Institute’s power plant. It was a nuclear fission reactor, designed to keep power running after Project Shiva was in effect. I sent the reactor into meltdown, and when the atomic pile began to overload it triggered a series of explosions throughout the building. One of them caved in the ceiling in the lab.”
“And that’s what killed Vasily,” Theo remarked. “Did Terminus go after you again then?”
Eva shook her head. “No, we were separated by a mountain of debris. I did not know if he’d lived through it or not. I was trapped for a few minutes as I dug my way out, but once I did I had no intention of hanging around. I found the security protocols had all been destroyed and in the melee it was a simple matter to escape.
“I thought him dead, Theo, but I would soon learn that was not the case. On my way out of the Institute, it also occurred to me to make a copy of their data records in case the information would prove useful in dodging their efforts to track me, or possibly I might learn something of value on them. With the protocols down, I found I had access to their entire secret file library. I downloaded it all, and it was only after I had escaped and settled elsewhere that I explored that disk. That was when I found out about Lahwhinie’s existence and whereabouts.”
Theo whistled. “Did you go after her right away? She was your daughter.”
“Yes, my daughter. I did go, Theo, but when I tried to save her I found Terminus waiting. I had gone in disguise to the island where she was, and to my horror I saw him outside the gate, looking. I was fortunate he did not recognize me, for I have no doubt he would have tracked me down and killed me. That day I realized I could never again contact the living world, for to do so vould put the people I cared about in jeopardy.”
“But you did go back for Lahwhinie,” Theo pointed out.
“Yes, I did. I finally decided years later to try regardless of Terminus and found to my dismay that she was already gone and the castle destroyed. When Terminus did not appear again, I thought he was dead. I decided to risk it, because I was so alone. I think you know what that feels like, Theo. But he was not dead. He lived, and he simply vaited until the time was right. And if not for you, he vould have carried out the assignment that he’d been given all those years ago. Does that answer your questions?”
Theo wished he knew how to write a story, because this would be a whopper. “Yes, and I want you to know I don’t think less of you for what you did then—just like mom’s not the person she was then, you’re not the person you were then and I still love you just as much as I did before.”
Eva hugged him and stood up. “Theo, you are amazing. Now, let us get home and tell the others about Gadget. Hopefully Tammy has her number, so we can call her back and find out when he vill be home.” Then she looked over at Theo, whose hand she was holding. “There is one more thing. I am not sure we should tell the others about this. The situation is resolved, and perhaps it is best not to vorry them.”
Theo had to agree. “Dad would blow a gasket if he found out how much danger I was just in.”
“Yes, and he vould be proud of you after, as would your mother. Theo, would you promise me not to mention this unless they specifically ask about it? You can say that you cut your hand protecting me, because that is true. If they press further, then tell them it is a secret between us. They will understand.”
“Well, I think it would be better if we just say I hurt myself doing something foolhardy, which is also true. I was playing around a building and I got cut.”
Eva took his hand. “Very well. I do not like the idea of being deceptive, but I think you can understand why in this case. Terminus is not dead yet, and even after he is there could be danger pursuing anything to do with him. He had allies, and they could still be alive. Hopefully, they are no longer affiliated with him.”
“Yeah, this will be our little secret for as long as possible.”
Eva smiled down at him. “Theo, now I think you are understanding vhat it is to be a man.”
Chapter 14 – Family Talk, Heading Home and Breaking the Bomb
Theo didn’t say anything in return, but inside he felt a sense of satisfaction. He’d done well this day, and even if no one else knew it, he knew Eva would. That was more than enough for him. When they returned, Tammy did ask after Theo’s hand and she accepted his explanation.
Tammy had gotten the phone number, and with a quick call Eva learned that Gadget and company would be coming home tomorrow. “Oh precious, I am so looking forward to congratulating you and Dale both! You vill both do quite well with the parenting. This will be quite a surprise for everyone, but I think particularly for Chip and Lahwhinie as they have been out of touch. They should be en route to Hondo now, so hopefully we will be able to tell them the good news soon.”
“They’ll be in for a big surprise, all right,” Theo said. “There’s gonna be a chipmouse in the family!”
“Thanks, mom!” Gadget said. “There’s something else we’ll have to discuss with them as well when we get home. Has Theo been helping out good?”
“Yes, dahling, he has been a valuable helper around the house. Very valuable. He is such a vonderful boy, just like his father.”
“Great, mom. Well, we’d better get packing over here. Mom, thanks for understanding and all, and I just want to say I love you.”
“I love you too...I love you and your baby, dahling. I can’t vait to see you all again!” Eva said. Gadget caught the level of emotion in her voice. “Mom, is everything okay?” Eva gave her a reassuring tone. “Everything is vonderful, dahling. I have never felt better in my life.”
“Oh good! Well, look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Bye now!”
Gadget hung up the phone and returned her attention to Dale, who was packing his Hawaiian shirt collection. “Golly Dale, did you really need to bring all those shirts? They’re all the same, you know.” Dale sat on his suitcase to lock it. “I always need backups, just in case. How’s everything back home? Everyone okay—no floods, fires or disasters?”
“Mom seems real happy, but I think she’ll be glad to have us back. I know I’ll sure like life better back at headquarters. The Prime Minister’s place is nice, but I miss my workshop.”
Dale managed to relax a little. “Well, you’ll have to be real careful around the workshop now that you’re going to have a baby. No dangerous chemicals, no electrocution, nuthin’ dangerous at all!” Gadget finished packing what little she’d brought, and closed her suitcase. “Oh Dale, I’m not a hothouse flower! I’ll be careful, but I still have to work. I couldn’t imagine doing nothing for six months. I’d be bouncing off the walls!”
“Well, maybe we could do like what we did with your mom when she was carrying Colby—you could design and she could do the building. You might even try to get Lahwhinie to help you build stuff. You just have to be really careful, because it only takes one accident.”
Gadget walked over to her husband. “I’ll try, but it’s going to be a big adjustment for me. I’m used to working, and if I have to sit on the sidelines it won’t be as fun. And there’s so much to do! We’ll need to decide where the baby’s crib will be, then I’ll...Eva will have to make it. I think we should install an infant security system too so we can be sure the baby does all right at night. Then there’s clothes and supplies...gosh, we need to hurry up and get home!”
Dale felt the press of time as well, but tried to put up a bold front. “We have six months to get ready, Gadget. We can relax a little.” Gadget nodded, but already her obsessive mind was beginning to turn toward the tasks at hand. “As soon as we get home, I’ll begin work on the blueprints. Oh, but maybe before that we should visit your parents.”
**So much for relaxing**. Then Dale had another thought. “Oh yeah, I forgot. We got to tell mom and dad that they’ll be grandparents soon.” Gadget’s eyes widened in realization. “Jeepers, and Kate and Charlie, and Chip and Lahwhinie! I sure hope they don’t all faint over this. Of course, the surprise is such a monumental one that I nearly fainted myself so I suppose fainting could be expected, but maybe again they’ve survived enough of our shocking announcements that this one won’t seem quite so bad.”
Dale couldn’t help but chuckle some at the way Gadget put things. “Well, they didn’t faint when they saw Chip and Noel together. I think we might be able to glide through this one without any fainting.”
“I hope so. Dale, there’s...something else I’ve been thinking about.” Gadget sat on the edge of the bed, and Dale sat next to her. “I don’t know anything about being a mother. I know I care about people and all, but being a mother’s different. I’m a little scared of the responsibility, plus you know how I can so get obsessed with my work. I don’t want to neglect our child.”
Dale put his arm around her and hugged her close. “We’ll have an army of people breathing down our necks to make sure we don’t make any mistakes—the whole crew plus Donna and company. But with all these kids, we’re going to have to make some changes to the Rangers. I think we’ll have to start working in shifts, so that those of us with families can have time with them.”
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that. It’s going to mean a change in Ranger work as well. We’ll have to decide what to do when emergencies come, or when one of the kids gets sick. Our first responsibility has to be the children.”
Dale was already imagining his child, running around merrily breaking things. “That’s gonna be a blast! Theo’s gonna have his hands full being big brother to a bunch of kids. I hope he doesn’t go overboard with trying to mold them into future Rangers.”
Gadget stood up, thinking. “We’ll have to get another babysitter as well. When Foxy and Noel’s baby is born and mine, that’ll be three youngsters at least in the house! That’s too much to ask of Tammy.”
“Well hopefully my folks or Chip’s folks can help us out in a pinch,” Dale said. “There’s gonna be tons of stuff to think about! Boy, we haven’t even had our first anniversary and already the whole world has changed for us.”
“That’s life in the fast lane, dear. We really seem to have started something with our marriage. Now all the Rangers are married save Zipper, and I figure it won’t be too long before he and a certain queen bee change all that. Just think—within five or six years Theo will be old enough to be a regular member, and by the time we’re at retirement age our child will the age we were when we started the Rangers!”
Dale couldn’t even fathom that. “Zowie! We’ll be the shadowy mentors to a new generation of crime fighters, working secretly from stately Ranger manor—Theo Maplewood and his team maintain the facade of wealthy playboys as their secret identities.” Gadget laughed. “Leave it to you to think of Batman and Robin. Well, I think it’s time we retired for the night, Caped Crusader. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow and for quite some time after.”
“Yeah, we’re not going to be getting much sleep for the next few years. We better get as much as we can now. Think—in a few years, we’ll have a kid jumping up and down on the bed to wake us up in the mornings and who’ll wake us up in the middle of the night for a drink of water! Man, it’ll be great.”
Gadget hugged him good night. “I can’t wait.”
The next morning, the Rangers were up early. They all thanked the Prime Minister heartily for his hospitality, and he wrote it off as repayment to their aiding Justin and saving him. The mechanics had the RangerPlane ready to go, and they’d even flown it to Heathrow where the Prime Minister’s limo took them. Gadget decided that since they were all ready to get home fast (and Dale didn’t want her strained), they’d gain some assistance. She flew the Plane into a New York-bound jet’s cargo hold and there they rode out the trip in relative comfort.
When the baggage handlers opened the hold at La Guardia, they were surprised when a small plane flew past them and headed for Central Park. Gadget set the Plane down at headquarters, and with a sense of relief they all disembarked. Eva ran up and kissed Monty, and then Gadget and Dale in turn. “It is so splendid to have you all back! Gadget, are you feeling all right? You know, the first few weeks are the hardest with the adjustments.”
“It’s no problem,” Gadget said. “The only things that bothers me are the mood swings, the puffiness, the cramps and the nausea. Come to think of it, that’s quite a lot.” Eva nodded. “Yes, I have been there and back. Come inside and rest, and if you need anything I vill be glad to do it.”
Gadget assented, and they all headed inside. Theo had been straightening his room, and now he came out too. “Hi, Aunt Gadget! Wow, you look tired. Do you need anything?”
“No, Theo, I’m fine. I hope you had a good time with all of us away,” Gadget said. Dale gave Theo a high-five. “Did you have any heroic adventures while we were gone?” Theo glanced over at Eva. “Nothing that Jake Stone couldn’t handle. I did have a little accident with my hand, but Aunt Eva fixed me up good as new. You guys were the lucky ones, though! You got to stay in the Prime Minister’s house and all. I bet it was just as good as being at the Steadmans’ house.”
If there was one thing Dale liked, it was being made over. “Well, they did talk with funny accents, so it was almost the same. But I’ll take Texas food over British food any day.” Theo had to agree there. “Mmm, enchiladas. Say that reminds me, have you heard from mom and dad? We called Uncle Bedivere yesterday, and he said he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of them but was looking for them anytime.”
Gadget stepped into the fray. “Well, they said they might stop over again in Hawaii before they left for Hondo. So we’ll give the lovebirds a little more time.”
“Too roight,” Monty said. “No reason ta hurry ‘em back home after all. Sure is grand to see the old tree again, though. I might’ve been a wandering mouse before, but ol’ Monterey Jack knows where he wants ta be now.” Monty kissed Eva. “Grand ta see you again too, lass. You’re still as lovely that night we spent by the fire in Kenya!”
Eva giggled at the flattery. “And you are still as handsome and as brave as you were that day we first met.” Monty blushed, a rarity for him. “Aw, let’s go before we get to crying all over ourselves.”
Theo bailed Monty out. “Hey, Uncle Zipper and Aunt Honey! How’d it go with you two? Did you enjoy your first big mission, Aunt Honey?” Honey was only too glad to enter the spotlight. “Yes, dear. It was quite an exciting adventure and quite illuminating as to what the world can really be like. I look forward to future adventures, particularly when we aid such regal company as a Prime Minister.”
“Hopefully we won’t cut it so close next time like we did with that car bomb,” Zipper said. “But it’s great to get to work with you at last, Honey. I feel like we’re really getting to know each other now.” Honey felt that too. “I would never have imagined putting myself in such danger for any reason. We made the world a better place by our actions, and it was quite an experience.”
Gadget moaned lightly and Dale and Monty led her to the sofa. Zipper flew over next to her. “Gadget, you should probably rest the next few days. That long a trip in the air’s tough on a mammal, you know. You’re not really built for it.” Gadget nodded and tried to relax. “I’m okay, everyone. We’ve flown to Europe lots of times without any discomfort. I’m just out of sorts right now.”
“Too roight you are, lass!” Monty said. “You’ve got me grandson or granddaughter inside you. Say, that puts me in mind of ma. I’d better call and let ‘em know, so she can come over and tell us which one it’s gonna be!”
“And you’d better report in to Dr. Batorious tomorrow, Gadget,” Dale said. “He’s gonna want to keep up with everything and all.” Gadget put her head on her hands. “Golly, our lives sure are strange. Just think what I would’ve missed if I had stayed in the airplane.”
Eva hadn’t heard about this before, as Gadget hadn’t spoken much on her own past. “You lived in an airplane, dahling? You never mentioned that to me. Vhy did you choose such an abode?” Gadget appeared somewhat apologetic. “That’s where mom and dad lived, and it was the only home I knew till the guys showed up. It was also sort of my ‘mad scientist’ lair for years.”
Monty grinned. “Yeah, and I know who you were mad at. Salesmen!” Dale looked over at Gadget, and they shared a knowing look. “We were just lucky Gadget came with us when we were trying to stop Klordane! Without her, it would’ve been a mess.”
“And she’s a doll,” Monty said. “She built a submarine just to retrieve me home from the bottom of the bay after that rat Fat Cat sunk it when I first met Chip and Dale.” Gadget smiled at the memory. “Oh Monty, it was the least I could do! After all, you were the closest thing I had to a father back then—little did I know it was the truth. Dale, after I go see the doctor and he says everything’s okay I think we should get the word out. Chip and Lahwhinie will want to know, as will Noel and Foxy. I hope the news won’t ruin either couple’s time.”
Dale was all for that. “I can already hear Foxglove’s high pitched shriek of delight now! Chip and Lahwhinie might be bit different. She can be a bit...sensitive about things that involve her. I hope Chip’s prepared.”
“Don’t vorry about Chip,” Eva said. “He can handle himself, and he knows when to give Lahwhinie her space. Honey, you have been mostly quiet since you have returned. Is there something on your mind?”
Honey flew up the others’ eye level. “There are so many strange events taking place in so short a time, I’m really at a loss for words. It seems that the unexpected is commonplace here with the Rescue Rangers. I’m not accustomed to such a chaotic lifestyle yet.”
“Don’t worry about it, Honey, you’re doing just fine!” Dale said. “Say, we should do something you like to do. Sort of a ‘getting to know you’ deal.” Gadget was into the spirit of it at once. “That’s a great idea, Dale. Lahwhinie helped us put together that luau and it was great. What sort of things do you like to do?”
“Sit on my throne and have others do whatever I say,” Honey said. “It’s not really a group activity. I must find something that I can share with all of you.” Monty twisted his moustache. “Well, maybe we could all be royalty for a day, like. Always did want to know how the better half lives. You could show us what queens and kings and the like haveta know, and we could put on like we’re all rulers of various places and whatnot.”
Honey shook her head. “Well, I’d prefer not to have to be reminded of what I once was, that’s still a little painful to think about. Perhaps you could help me to find new interests. I would like to try things I have never done before.”
“Surely!” Dale said, all enthused. “I can teach you how to fence, draw and paint. And then there’s werewolves, vampires, aliens, comic books, watching the late late late late show, and the art of being funny!”
“I would like that,” Honey said, strangely enough. “I have witnessed others doing those things, but have never taken part in them.” Gadget caught her attention again. “And I can show you my workshop and how to use my tools! Maybe you’d like to build things.”
“An’ I can take you into the kitchen and show you me culinary talents!” Monty said. Eva was right there with him. “And I will be glad to teach you whatever I can as well, including self-defense.”
“And don’t forget yours truly!” Zipper said. “I may be small, but I can pack a punch!” Honey was overwhelmed. “I am grateful for your patience and enthusiasm. I would like to try all of these things, and see if I have talents that I never dreamed of. Maybe there is a life I was always meant to have.”
The conversation stretched into evening, and then Gadget announced she was tired. Immediately, everyone helped her upstairs, despite her protests, and come morning she went to see Dr. Batorious. When Gadget told him her condition, the normally-controlled bat nearly fell over in surprise. Once she explained, the doctor regained his composure.
“I see, Gadget,” the elderly bat said, readjusting his spectacles. “This is certainly a surprising turn of events. The unique nature of your pregnancy concerns me, though. I would like to run some tests to be sure your body is reacting normally, and that there’s no hint of difficulties.”
“Golly, how long till you can give me odds?” Gadget asked.
The doctor sat down in his office chair, Gadget across the desk from him. “This is not a betting pool, Gadget. Life doesn’t work that way. We’re dealing with an interaction of technology and nature, and there’s simply no way to predict the effect. For now, we’ll treat this as a normal pregnancy.”
Batorious began scribbling out a prescription. “That means extra vitamins and supplements, increase your protein intake, avoid strenuous activity, and be aware that you can have mood swings that will not be in character with your normal friendly nature. You may become very irritable and impatient, and then it could suddenly swing and you would be overly motherly or tender. This is a regular part of the process, as your body is adapting to the child inside of you.”
Gadget sighed. “Till just a few days ago, I never imagined being a mom. I’m scared—not just of what the effects of all this will be, just...with something like this. This is something that will change the rest of our lives.”
“It’s a big responsibility, to be sure,” Dr. Batorious said. Then he removed his spectacles and leaned forward. “Gadget, do you take good care of your inventions?” Gadget was surprised he’d ask such a question. “Of course! My workshop is almost a part of me.”
“Then think of this child as your greatest invention yet. You and Dale have helped form a new life, and he or she is a part of you. You’ll have to maintain it and keep it clean like your other inventions, but this invention’s a little different. It will give back to you, because you’ll be able to love this one and it can love you back. That’s the wonder of life.”
Gadget glowed at the thought. “My baby brother Colby’s quite a handful. It’s going to be strange with Dale and I having one of our own. Dale’s going to be a great dad, though. He’s still got an inner child that will help him relate.”
“And there are few people as naturally caring as you,” the doc said. “You’ll do just fine as a mother. Once we’ve determined the specifics on the child, do you want me to tell you then or keep the surprise until delivery time?”
“I’d like to know when you know. That will relieve a lot of concern about what kind of life the child can expect.”
Dr. Batorious nodded and put his spectacles back on. “Very well. If you’ll follow Louise we’ll run a few standard tests to check your current state and compare that with the baseline we took before.” Gadget stood up. “Okay. Uh, how long till you can tell what the baby is?” The doc let her walk beside him. “Normally, after a month we should know. Considering the nature of this pregnancy, I wouldn’t care to speculate.”
For the next hour, Gadget allowed them to test her. At the end of the battery of tests, the doctor spoke to her again. “From what little I’ve seen so far, you appear to be normal. That’s encouraging, but I will want you to report back at least once a week. If you experience symptoms like dizziness or headaches, or any kind of lingering pain I want you to contact me, day or night. I want you and Dale to have this child safely if possible, and I’ll to everything I can to help you.”
Gadget hugged Dr. B. “Thanks for understanding, sir. And thanks for not treating me like some freak of nature.” The doc’s baritone shook the floors as he laughed. “Believe me, I completely understand your need to be treated normally. Some of these tests will take a few days to get back from the lab. I’ll call you and let you know as soon as I’ve compiled the results.”
“Thank you! We’re all really in you debt, Doctor Batorious. I don’t know how we can ever thank you,” Gadget said.
“Thank me by resting when you’re tired. You may do some inventing work, but promise me you’ll stop when you feel fatigued. I’m sure your friends will be looking after you in that department.”
“Okay, I will. Goodbye, Dr. Batorious. Thanks again!”
Gadget headed back, where Dale eagerly awaited her news along with the others. Dale was disappointed that she didn’t already know what the child’s gender was, but he relegated himself to waiting—or at least he said he would. “Zowie, it’s all beginning to feel so real now! I’m a father-to-be! I need training! Where’s the nearest father boot camp?”
Gadget crossed her arms. “Well, you could just ask your dad what it was like bringing you up.” Dale blushed. “Oh, I did that one before. He said I ran him and mom ragged, and they were always wondering if I’d be safe or not. Oh man! We haven’t told mom and dad yet! Gadget, do you feel up to going over there?”
Gadget giggled, then nodded. “Just remember to make sure they’re sitting down first.” Dale grinned. “Oh yeah! We can’t let them faint right on the floor.” Eva put an arm around them both. “Dale, I am sure they vill be very happy when they hear of this. Do you really think they vill faint?”
Dale nodded emphatically. “Yep. Fainting’s an Oakmont tradition that started way back in the family somewhere. We may not be the best at conversation and the like, but we’re the best fainters that you’ve ever seen!” Gadget slowly stood up. “Well, we may as well let them in our on our little surprise.”
Dale offered his arm, and together they went out to the RangerPlane. A short flight later found them at the home of Duncan and Anne Oakmont. They were both elated to see Dale and Gadget, and the time went quickly with varied points of conversation. Anne in particular was talkative. “Oh, all of you Rangers have grown up so fast! First our boy, and now Chip and his brother Noel. It’s so...wonderful!”
Anne cried some, as mothers will, holding Dale and Gadget’s hands. Duncan knew his place, and had waited for Anne to finish before adding his two cents. “We’re both very happy that things have worked out so well. Dale, you should come by more often. It’s been ages since I’ve had the opportunity to fence with you. I’m sure Gadget would like the extra training too.”
Gadget gave Dale a questioning look and once she knew he was agreeable she replied. “Actually, I won’t be doing much fencing for a while. About six months or so.” Duncan was concerned at once. “Oh really? What’s the matter? Did you sprain your wrist or damage your sword? I could always lend you another if that’s the case.”
Gadget and Dale looked nervously at each other and then back to the Oakmonts. “Well, it’s doctors orders, actually.” Now Anne was concerned. “You had to have doctor’s orders to keep you from fencing? Dale, have you been working her too hard? Gadget, you do look a little tired, come to think of it.”
Dale sighed. “Okay, no more beating around the bush. Mom, Dad, Gadget’s going to have a baby...my baby. You’re going to be grandparents!” Duncan fixed his eye on Dale, as he always had when he’d caught his son telling a falsehood. “Now Dale, you know it’s not right to make excuses. If you’ve been overexerting yourselves, then just say so.”
“Yes, that’s right!” Anne echoed. “Dale Archer Oakmont, do you remember what I told you about making up stories?” A look of anger and indignation quickly made its way across Dale’s features. “Do I look like I’m lying?” Anne backed off, but only a little. “Now dumpling, you know you have been prone to exaggeration at times. Remember the time you told us the park was being overrun by a gang of vicious termites? You had the whole neighborhood in an uproar, and after all, three termites in leather jackets really weren’t such a danger.”
Gadget took Dale’s hand to help him sooth his ire. “Dale’s not exaggerating. I’m really going to have his baby. It’s a side effect of the same malfunctioning device that made Chip and Noel.”
Duncan just stared. “Ba...ba...”
Anne did the same. “Dale’s...Dale’s baby?”
Fortunately, Dale and Gadget had seen it coming and were able to guide Anne and Duncan to the couch before they lost all consciousness. A glass of water on each face later, and they started up again. Anne looked over at her husband. “Duncan, they did it to us again...”
Anne turned toward her husband. “Duncan! Darling, are you all right?”
“Ba...ba…baby! Wowie zowie!”
Dale laughed. “Yep, he’s all right!” Gadget did too. “Like son, like father. Good, I’m glad you’re taking this well. I wasn’t sure what you’d think of a chipmunk/mouse hybrid in the family.”
Anne sat up. “Gadget, I knew when my Dale was old enough to walk that nothing would be typical for him. He’s a special boy, and his child will be too. But Gadget, are you okay? What happened with Chip and Noel wasn’t natural.”
“Well, that worked out for them, even so,” Gadget said. “Hopefully it will work out for us as well. There’s still a long way to go before we know more about the baby and its chances. But we’re hopeful.”
Duncan had regained his faculties as well. “My boy...a father. Dale, how are you holding up over this? It must’ve been a shock.” Dale sat down next to him. “Well, this year got me to the point where there’s nothing left to surprise me anymore. I handled it better than I thought I would. I’m excited now!”
Anne looked at her boy, and came to a realization. “I didn’t think this day would come, but I am beginning to be a little excited too! Come here, you two...” Anne hugged them both, and Duncan quickly joined in. “It will be good to know that the Oakmont name will go on,” Duncan said. “Melanie hasn’t voiced any desire to have kids. Her career comes first. I think, Dale, that you are the only Oakmont of your generation having children. Most people these days are waiting longer and longer.”
“We probably would’ve waited longer too if we’d had a choice, but since the baby decided to make itself known now, hey, we’ll go with the flow,” Dale said. Anne raised a warning finger. “Just make sure to take this seriously, dumpling.”
“Of course I will!” Dale said, raising a hand in pledge. “I’m not the Dale I was before, mom.” Anne patted him on the check. “I know, dear, but being a parent is different. You have to put the child’s interests above your own. It means making sacrifices that you won’t even think of at this point. When you were born, we had no idea what would be required of us.”
“We have an idea of what’s required,” Dale countered. “We have Colby at HQ, so we know some of what’s to be expected.”
“That’s true, but he’s Eva’s child,” Duncan said. “When this one cries, you’ll have to be one to walk him in the middle of the night and see that he’s fed and burped. There’s no sick leave on this duty, son. But you will have the joy of watching him take his first step, speak his first word and give you his first hug. Those are the things worth living for.”
Gadget was glad to have people around who cared about them both like this. “Well, we have a nanny on staff that will help us. Tammy’ll make sure we know what we’re doing.”
“Good,” Anne said. “Make sure she trains you both so that you can handle things without her if need be. Never take anything for granted, and Dale, make sure not to over-worry about Gadget or the child. A woman needs to feel useful, even at this time. Let her do what she can, but be there to help.”
“I’ll try, mom, but I have a feeling I’m going to be very nervous during the whole time,” Dale said. Duncan slapped him gently on the back. “I was incredibly nervous the whole time, son. I was afraid to let Anne out of my sight in case she needed me or something happened. Finally she got tired of me being her shadow and gave me a good old-fashioned tongue-lashing. I backed off and things were okay. Trust me, Gadget’s going to be fine.”
Dale breathed a sigh of relief. “Good, I know that it’s not just me then. Gadget, if I get on your nerves, just let me know and I’ll back off.” Gadget hugged him. “Okay, dear. The doctor warned me I might be a little more emotional now than usual, so if I yell or something don’t take it personal, okay?”
“Forgiven in advance, Gadget. Just forgive me if I get too overprotective.”
“All right, done. Anne, Duncan, any more parenting advice for us?”
Duncan shook his head. “I think we’ve said enough. You’ll have to get most of your training on the job, anyway. Let us know as soon as you know if it’s a boy or girl! Dale gave him a thumbs-up. “We’re gonna see if we can get Monty’s mom to tell us. She correctly guessed the gender of Eva’s baby before the doctors knew. She said it’s her eighth sense.”
“I’ve heard of that,” Anne said. “Some women seem to have an innate sense about things. Of course, there are those who say that all women do, but most of us will deny it.” Dale glanced back at Gadget. “I guess that just falls under the category of ‘female things that scare guys’.” Gadget chuckled. “Golly, don’t let it scare you Dale. After all, guys have a special sense too.”
“Sure!” Gadget said. “The sense to make themselves scarce when they see we’re in a cranky mood!” Dale laughed. “That’s one of the reasons guys like to go golfing and to the hardware store.”
Chapter 15 – Breaking the Bombing Again and the Aftermath
Everyone had a good laugh, and the conversation continued until Gadget and Dale had to go. When they returned to Ranger Headquarters, Eva motioned them inside. “Dahlings, Chip and Lahwhinie are on the phone! They asked after you, and we said that you have a big surprise for them. Monty is talking to them right now.” The two of them headed over to where Monty was waxing poetic about his exploits in London. When the Aussie saw them, he coughed once. “Well, I’ll tell ya the rest later. Here’s Gadget and Dale!”
They huddled around the receiver and Chip’s voice came over clearly. “Hey, you two! Monty was just telling us about the great mission you had in England! Wish we could’ve been there, but Hungary was pretty fun too. Viktor and Ilsa were really nice, and Uncle Bela showed us all around. Foxy and Noel are here at the ranch with us, too. So what’s going on? Monty said there was some news.”
Dale hesitated, but Gadget urged him on. “Chip, old buddy, it’s hard to explain it, but...uh...Gadget’s going to have a baby—our baby.” It wasn’t Chip that replied, though. “Whaddaya mean our!” Lahwhinie shouted. “Dale, did you get too close to that bomb explosion? You’ve got to be suffering from shellshock or something!”
Dale spoke quickly before Lahwhinie could get rolling. “We did get too close to an explosion, but not that one. That first time that we all got mixed up with the modamadingy left some mouse DNA in me and some chipmunk DNA in Gadget. Well, this second ride through the machine gave us each a power boost—so much, in fact, that Gadget was able to be a mom and me a father!”
Gadget took over when silence permeated the other end of the line. “Yeah, we didn’t exactly plan this, like with Noel and Foxy. We were both surprised, but now we’re both treating it like a regular pregnancy.” Chip didn’t know what to say at first. “Gadget...that’s incredible. I mean, that’s really incredible! Do you have any idea if the child will be, well normal?”
“There’s no way of telling yet,” Dale said. “But we’re hopeful as ever.”
Lahwhinie spoke again. “Well, at least it’s my sister that’s going to look like she swallowed a golf ball and not me.” There was noticeable silence on the line once more. “Um, hello? Is there something you’re not telling us?” Lahwhinie asked.
Gadget gulped, then spoke again. “Well, there is a microscopic, and I mean tiny, chance Chip retained enough mouse DNA from his first encounter with the modemizer that youcouldpossiblybecomepregnant.” Now, there was a more than noticeable silence on the line.
“You mean the Little Napoleon and I...oboy...” Lahwhinie said. Chip’s voice immediately followed. “Gadget, are you sure?” Gadget gripped the phone tighter. “Like I said, Chip, there’s a tiny, tiny chance. The odds of Dale and I having a baby were good, because we were sharing so much DNA and extra cellular energy. But Lahwhinie was never exposed to the machine, so she’s in the clear and you only had a single exposure.”
Chip blinked, looking into Lahwhinie’s surprised eyes. The idea of them having been in any way compatible never had occurred to either of them, of course. “We’ll...talk to you in the morning, guys. Good night.” Chip hung up the phone. “Lahwhinie...I...I don’t know what to say. Like she said, the chances are next to zero, but even so I know neither of us was really thinking about children. Are you okay?”
Lahwhinie didn’t know whether to feel mad or confused. She crossed her arms in a protective motion, and turned aside. “I don’t know. I guess. Don’t get me wrong, loverboy, it’s been glorious being married to you. I’ve enjoyed every day of it, but I wasn’t ready for this yet.”
Lahwhinie began pacing, her pace quickening all the time. “What if I’m pregnant? The child may be a crossbreed or who-knows-what? Blast, I should never have watched those creepy sci-fi shows where the alien child jumps out of the mother!” Chip tried his best to calm her. “Lahwhinie, the chance of that happening is very, very small. We’ll just take it easy the rest of the trip and when we get home we’ll have some tests done to find out what kind of chances there are. Like Gadget said, you don’t have any chipmunk genes in you and I only have a little residual material from that first mishap. There’s not enough in me to worry about.”
“You don’t know that!” Lahwhinie shouted. “You’re just guessing!”
Lahwhinie ran out and Chip followed her out into the moonlit night. He put his arms around her, and Lahwhinie leaned against him. Her voice lowered to almost a whisper. “Chip, I didn’t...want to say anything yet...but I really was starting to think about doing that changeroo doodad that Gadget did for Noel and Foxy. Now, I don’t know. I’m scared—scared of the whole idea.”
Chip was stunned into silence for a few moments. “You were considering it? You have changed. What are you afraid of, Lahwhinie?” Lahwhinie wiped away a couple of tears. “Like I say, I was starting to think about it. I saw how happy mom and dad were with Colby, and what it meant to Foxy and Noel. But when Gadget said I might be pregnant...it was more than just an idea. I think...I’m afraid that...oh, this is silly...I think I’m afraid that if I get pregnant I’ll never look nice again and you’ll not want me anymore.”
Chip turned her around. “Lahwhinie...Laila...you’re as beautiful to me with my eyes closed as you are when they’re open. I love you—heart, soul, and mind. That whole warm, jaded, sarcastic, secretly compassionate person inside.”
Lahwhinie began to cry. “Ipo laua`e...my sweet love...I want to believe it. Chip, all my life, my looks have been all I have. I know that you love me and I love you and we both love Theo and everyone else loves us, but inside I keep wondering each day if I’m going to wake up and find this was all a dream or you’ll turn me away. I’m sorry, Chip. I know I shouldn’t think that, but...”
Lahwhinie cried more, burying her face in his chest. Chip comforted her. “We’re no longer two individuals, Lahwhinie. We’re a family, we’re part of each other, to death do us part. And if I ever did anything stupid, like leave you, I’d deserve the killing you’d give me.” Lahwhinie tried to laugh some amidst her tears. “You’d never get out the door without me. Chip, do you think I can be a good mother?”
“Of course,” Chip said. “I’ve seen the love that’s there and I’m sure Theo would back me up 100 percent. You have a lot of love to give—love you’ve had to hide almost your whole life.”
“Oh, Chip...” Lahwhinie hugged him tightly. “I’m so glad I found you.”
The feeling was mutual. “Who would ever have imagined that we’d end up like this after our first meeting in Hawaii. Talk about bad first impressions.” Lahwhinie managed a smile. “It didn’t help that I tried to kill you.”
“That’s easy to forgive. After all, Dale’s nearly killed me plenty of times over the years. It’s as regular as the passing of the seasons.”
Lahwhinie hugged him tight. “Kâne, you make me wish we could get married all over again...” Lahwhinie took Chip’s face in her hands and kissed him. “Tell me it’ll always be this way.” Chip kissed her back. “It will, I promise. Maybe we could renew our vows from time to time, to relive the moment.”
Lahwhinie giggled. “How about the first of each month?” Chip laughed in reply. “As often as you want, my dear. We could do what Dale always wanted to do, and go to Las Vegas and get married by a minister dressed like Elvis.” That did it. Lahwhinie laughed at the idea of that in her head. “Oh no! I’d never let anyone upstage me, and I don’t sing quite that well. C’mon, Chap. We’d better get some shuteye, because I have a sneaky suspicion we’re headed back to Ranger Headquarters.”
Chip picked her up and carried her away. “Soon our little adventure will be over, then it’s back to the daily grind of action and adventure, thrills and danger. We’ll have to settle in with Theo and figure out just what exactly our family dynamic is going to be like.”
“You check his homework and I’ll take care of the prospective girlfriends.”
Chip smirked, knowing she could more than handle that. “Sounds like a good idea. You ready to be a mom?” Lahwhinie imitated a horse snorting. “Not hardly, but I’ll wing it.”
Chapter 16 – An Old Dream Returns
As Chip carried Lahwhinie into the ranch house, another person was struggling with the idea of becoming a parent. A few thousand miles away, Dale Oakmont tossed in his sleep. He’d been thinking about being a father all day long, and now it crept over into his dreams. Once again, he found himself on the steps to Charlie Brown’s house.
“Back again, huh?” Charlie Brown said, sitting next to him. “Well, what’s your problem this time?” Dale had his elbows on his knees and his head on his hands. “I just found out that Gadget and I are going to have a baby.” Charlie Brown nearly fell off the back stoop. “Whoa, that came from out of nowhere! Sort of like when I’m pitching, and the batter knocks off most of my clothes with a line drive. Are you happy about it?”
“I’m still too stunned to know if I am. What happens if I’m not happy about it? I mean, it’s not like I can just walk away from this. I’m partly responsible!” Dale said. Charlie Brown held up his hands. “Don’t ask me! I’m still a kid, at least in appearance.”
At that moment, a blond, black and blue blur sped into the scene. “Hey there, chipmunk with the loud shirt and long face! Did I hear you say you needed advice? Lay it on the master!” Dale sighed with worry. “Johnny, Gadget’s going to have my baby.”
Johnny instantly put up his hands, looking nervous. “WHOA, MOMMA! And I do mean momma! Children are definitely not on my expertise list, man. I remember this one little brat who had these weird powers. He’d just look at me really mean-like and then he’d send me out into this cornfield or shrink me or set my clothes on fire. You’re gonna have to deal with the little ankle-biters on your own, daddy-o!”
Johnny sped away, and then Yoda the Jedi Master appeared before him. “A worried look you have. Heard I right, and your child Gadget has?” Dale never could get used to this guy’s way of talking. “Yeah, you sure heard right. Gadget’s gonna be a pretty momma!”
Yoda’s stare was unwavering. “As Jedi Master, wise am I. As father, not so wise. Still, one piece of advice can I give.” Yoda nodded his head, and a portal appeared, through which Gadget walked. “When indecision of this kind you face, talk with the woman you love you must.”
Yoda faded from view, and Gadget came over to Dale. “Golly, it’s sort of strange, this business of talking in dreams and all. Did your people help you any?” Dale got up from the stoop. “Not really. I guess fictional characters just don’t have much parenthood experience.”
“You should’ve seen what Babs and Dot did in my dream when I told them!” Gadget said. “I thought they were going to freak out. Well, actually they did freak out some since those characters are a little freakish in their antics after all. But anyway, I spoke to my dream version of Bianca and she suggested that we talk first, so here I am. I guess you’re nervous, uncertain and wondering what to do next too, huh?”
Dale hugged his wife tightly. “I’m so nervous I feel ill! Who do we talk to about this?” Gadget shrugged. “Who else? Our parents. Still, I don’t want you to feel like you’re carrying the burden of this all alone. We’re in this together, and I don’t regret what’s happened.”
Gadget gingerly touched his face. “I love you, and if I’d known we could’ve had a child this way I might have elected to wait a little longer. Still, I can tell you that I had made the decision before all this for us to have a child. I just thought we’d adopt one, but now it’s so special because it’s ours. Neither of us knows much about being parents, but we do know about love. We’ll love him or her, and keep our baby safe as we can. That’s about all any parent can do, I suppose.”
“For there will be much work for you both, for in fact there are two within you.”
Gadget and Dale turned as one, finding the Jedi Master had reappeared. Gadget gasped. “Two?”
“T..t..two?” Dale repeated.
“Two,” Yoda said firmly.
Gadget blinked, taking in the thought. “That means...twins! Golly, just like mom and Aunt Bianca and me and Lahwhinie. How about that, Dale?” Dale was reeling, of course. “I’m twice as excited and twice as nervous! I better sit down.” Dale sat back on the stoop. “Oh wow! Hey, we’ll be able to beat Kate to the punch and tell her what the babies are!”
“It’s sure going to be a surprise!” Gadget said. Then she halted and faced Yoda again. “Hey wait, are they chipmunks or mice? Yoda, can you tell us?” Yoda concentrated. “One chipmunk, one mouse, one boy, one girl, but as to which is which you must be patient.”
Gadget drew in a breath. “A chipmunk...and a mouse? Jeepers...what do you think of that, Dale? Dale?” Dale had fainted on the steps and Gadget went to help him. “Dale, speak to me!” Dale looked up and muttered, “Here I come to save the day…” Gadget shook her head and grinned. “My hero.”
They returned to the Jedi Master, and Dale had a question. “Yoda, you can see into the future and all that. Tell us, what’s going to happen with our kids.”
“And the Rangers,” Gadget said. “Will our futures be good ones?”
Yoda began to concentrate. “Difficult to always see all of future. Good times there will be, happy times. I see…”
“Yes?” Dale asked.
“A time of trial I see. Your children a great crisis will face. Much danger there will be.”
Gadget clenched her hands. “When? When they’re born?”
“No,” Yoda said. “Much later. When ready for the burden are they. Also trouble ahead I see for child of Chip.” Dale was worried for Chip now. “Theo? What’s going to happen to him?”
“A time of trial he will face as well—not the same as yours, different. Someone else I see at his side.”
“Who?” Gadget asked.
“It fades now,” Yoda said. “Be sure to train your children well. On this much depends. May the Force be with you.”
The dreamscape faded around them, and Gadget awoke to find herself in her nightgown next to Dale. She shook him awake, “Dale? Dale, are you okay?” Dale turned over, groggy. “Gadget, I just had the weirdest dream that you were going to have my baby and Yoda said we’d have twins but they’d be a mouse and a chipmunk.”
“Yeah, it was weird, wasn’t it. I don’t know if it’s true necessarily, but they steered us right last time.”
Dale jerked himself into a sitting position. “Oh, wait, you are having my baby! Even the Red Badger didn’t have this kind of problem!” Gadget sat up and put a comforting arm around him. “Easy now, Dale. Like I told you in the dream, we know what love is. We just need to learn how to give it right when it comes to our children. I know that giving birth’s not going to be an easy thing, particularly if Yoda’s right and there’s two of them. Still, with you there to help me be strong, I’ll make it okay.”
Dale settled down. “Okay, but just so long as you’re there to help me be strong. I promise you that when it counts, I’m not going to faint. I might get sick, but I won’t faint.” Gadget laughed and hugged him. “Don’t worry, Robin. You’ll do just fine, and I’ll be sure to encourage you too.”
She yawned and laid back down, staring at the ceiling. “I wonder which one will be the mouse, and which the chipmunk. If it’s a girl mouse like me, that could be neat. Still, if it’s a girl chipmunk that would be a nice addition to the Rangers—well, assuming she’d become one. That would mean the boy would be a mouse, assuming he wasn’t the chipmunk. I wonder what they’ll be like. What do you think, Dale?”
Gadget turned to look at her husband, but he was sound asleep. She smiled and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Good night, Dale.”
Chapter 17 – Parent Talk
When Dale came downstairs the next morning with Gadget, she whispered into his ear and kissed him good morning. Dale kissed her in return, then rather not-so-subtly announced he was going to go outside and take a walk before breakfast. That raised a few eyebrows, but Dale didn’t stay around. Gadget came into the kitchen and ate with the others. When they saw how Gadget kept looking over in Eva’s direction, they understood Dale’s actions and announced their own activities.
Once they were gone, Eva moved over next to Gadget. “I think I know vhat the topic is, dahling. I had expected to have this conversation before now, but I can understand it coming after visiting Dale’s parents. So, tell me your thoughts, my daughter.”
“I’m just scared, mom,” Gadget said, moving closer to her. “What was it like having three kids? Do you think I’ll be a good mom?” Eva took Gadget’s hands in her own. “I can still remember being your age, and my first days of loving your father. They were some of the happiest I vill ever know. Like you, I did not plan for a child to come so soon.”
Eva let her memory take over. “For me, it was a frightening time because I had so much more to deal with than being a mother. I had no safe place to raise you, and I knew that RODENTS was going to try to take you away from me. I looked down at your tiny face, and I decided I vould fight the entire world to keep you alive and give you a chance to be happy. That is vhat being a mom is like. I think you will feel the same about your own sweet children when they come.”
Gadget looked down, thinking. “I’ve just never had that kind of responsibility before. It’s something that’s going to change my life. How do you even prepare for something like this?”
“You don’t, dahling. It’s something that is on the inside of you. When the time comes, you will have the strength and the love you need to deal with it. As for being responsible, that vill mean a few changes. You will have to consider your daily routine and put the children first. It vill hamper your inventing for some time, but I will be glad to help the Rangers if you cannot where inventions lie. We must also consider hiring on another babysitter. I doubt that Tammy will be able to handle Colby and your baby as well. Perhaps Bink will help, since she is already attached to the Rangers.”
Gadget looked up. “Uh, mom, I think I’m having twins.”
Eva’s face brightened. “Twins? Why, that is vunderful! Twins are so special, like you and your sister. Quickly, tell me more!” Gadget started explaining about the dream. “One’s a mouse and the other’s a chipmunk, but we’re not sure which is which.”
In a moment, Eva’s face went from happiness to wonderment to critical reflection. “Really...if that is true, then the genetic linkages between you and Dale really were dual. I admit I was dubious that you both could sustain the energy states needed to engender both species, but apparently you did. This is most unusual, to be sure. How are you feeling about it?”
“I’m glad we’ll both have a child of our own kind, so neither of us will feel left out.”
Eva asked a pointed question. “And do you know vhat you will tell strangers when they ask? The Rangers are known to many in the world. Such an unusual birth could draw attention. I think it vould be wise if you decided now how you will handle questions that may be embarrassing.”
Gadget stood firm. “I plan to just tell the truth. It was a wonderful accident.”
“That is always the best way to go, dear. Now, how is Dale handling this news? I know he has matured some, but he must be vundering what to do next as well.”
That thought caused Gadget to squeeze her mother’s hand a little tighter. “It’s really testing his new-found maturity. He’s doing better than I hoped, though. He’s handling it well.”
“He is a strong-hearted boy. Keep encouraging him, and he’ll stick with you.”
Then Eva suddenly realized something. “Oh, dear. If you are having two children, we should be looking at your diet more closely! You vill need extra vitamins and nutrients to sustain yourself and them as well. With one of them being a chipmunk, it could be a further strain on your system. Ve must be sure your immune system is strong, and that you are off processed foods as much as possible. RODENTS did at least teach me about eating right prior to delivery. You must be on an all-natural diet, to assure your children have the opportunity to develop normally.”
Gadget glanced over at Monty’s pot of cheese chowder, simmering on the stove. “Golly, I guess dad’s all-cheese meals won’t cut it as a proper diet.” Eva laughed softly. “No, not quite. I will prepare a daily list of vhat you must have. I apologize for not thinking of this sooner, for you should have been on this diet from the start. However, I think we are more than in time at this point. I vill send Monty out tomorrow and he will be sure to know where to find everything.”
Eva hugged Gadget, smiling. “Oh dahling, these are going to be exciting days! Soon, you vill have two children to call your own and your father and I will be grandparents. I can tell you now, there were many days I thought I would never live to see this happen.”
Gadget knew that feeling. “When I was still living in that old airplane I never thought I’d be at this point in my life. I never thought that I’d ever meet anyone. I never dreamed I would have children.”
“We were both fortunate, and have good men that love us and will stand by us. Your life won’t be the same anymore, because it will be richer. You won’t have to give up your inventing, but you will have to fit it around your motherly duties for a time. I suspect once they are big enough, they vill be right in there with you. Nothing fascinates a child so much as technology.”
If they were anything like her mother or grandmother, Gadget knew that would be the case. “I wonder what parts of Dale and I they’ll have. Are they going to be brilliant, artistic and so on?” Eva reflected her own speculative face. “It will be interesting to see, will it not? I suspect they will each have some of your talents and perhaps some of their own. The main thing is to love them and let them know they are loved and valuable. I can think of no one better-suited for that job than you, dahling. You have the kindest heart.”
“Well, we’ll have to see about that. Lahwhinie’s my twin and she’s nothing like me, so who knows what I’m capable of.”
Eva stood up, “Tomorrow vill tell the story, but I have confidence that you will handle things very well. You can always come to Monty and I when you need help, of course. It is a reward to me to know that your children are going to grow up in such a caring environment. It means it was all worth it, because in a way I was fighting the vorld for them too.”
Gadget followed her toward the main room. “They’re going to grow up hearing so many adventure stories—yours, dads, Kate and Charlie’s, Rescue Ranger ones. I wonder if they’ll carry on the family tradition?”
“I would be very surprised if they did not. I have a feeling there will be a new generation of Rangers to follow you, particularly if young Theo has anything to say about it. He is a very bright and eager young man, and I suspect he vill fill his father’s place admirably when the time comes.”
“True, but I hope he doesn’t try to pressure Colby and my kids into becoming Rescue Rangers if they don’t want to.”
Eva stopped in front of her room. “I would not think that of him. He followed his dreams to be here, and I am sure he vill respect theirs. Plus, you and Dale will have a say in that I am sure.” Eva hugged Gadget again. “Good night, dear. Vhen you get to be my age, even in my condition sleep becomes more of a necessity.”
“I know that soon I won’t be getting much sleep, so I better get all that I can, while I can. Good night, mom”
Eva smiled and headed into her room while Gadget started upstairs, then hesitated. Everything was changing, and for a mouse that liked life to be straightforward the thought was scary. It helped to know that she had a lot of support, but now she was going to be a wife and mother as well as a Rescue Ranger. It would mean less time for some of the things she liked, and less time to spend alone with Dale. Still, they would be together taking care of their children.
Gadget thought about Dale with children, and she smiled. He would love it once he got over the fear of breaking them. Dale was a natural-born playmate for any child, and she knew he’d love every minute of being with them. But would she love them? Was it all worth this trouble? Gadget looked down at her stomach and rubbed it. A warm feeling came over her, knowing that her children were safe within her. Eva was right—she’d do whatever she had to in order to keep them safe.
Gadget suddenly thought of her other father. Geegaw Hackwrench had been protective of his daughter, not allowing her to get around the heavy machinery she’d been so interested in at first. On her fifth birthday, Geegaw asked her to make a wish and blow out her candles. When he asked what the wish was, she’d said, “I want to work on the planes with you.” Geegaw had relented, and from then on Gadget had steadily and quickly learned everything about machines. Would it be the same with her children? At that moment, she realized that she hoped so, because she knew the joys she experienced from building those first simple machines and making them work.
Gadget leaned over, and whispered, “One of you be an inventor, okay?” With that, she continued her trek upstairs and soon joined her husband in the peace of slumber.
Chapter 18 – Farewell to Hondo and a Happy Homecoming
The sun in Hondo, Texas was just about to wink over the horizon when Bedivere Fairmont rang the large triangle set up in the yard. “Last day, pardners! Let’s get moving and get in all we can. YEE-HAW!”
In their private quarters in the loft of the barn, Chip’s eyes cracked open, and he yawned. “He’s one thing I won’t miss when we’re gone.” Chip stretched and dressed, Lahwhinie still asleep. He’d already figured out she could sleep through a typhoon, and she’d even told him as much. Chip carefully opened the small door that led outside, and then breathed in the cool morning air.
“I will miss those sunrises though...say, what’s this?”
Chip found two trays outside, and uncovering the dishes he found a nicely-prepared breakfast for he and his wife. Chip smiled at the Fairmonts’ generosity, then Bedivere flew up to the loft. “I figured you two’d want to sleep in today, so I held off long as I could. Gonna miss you two cowpokes. You and that spirited gal of yours really bring a lot of color to the Double-D.”
Despite his initial annoyance, Chip was grateful. “Well, you have Noel and Foxy and the little one on the way, that should keep things interesting after we leave. I want to thank you, Bedivere. You’ve all been so nice to us and it means a lot to Lahwhinie and I. This has been a wonderful honeymoon.”
“Glad to do it, pardner. You’re all like family to me, and you know the road leads this way whenever yore looking fer a place to stay. Well, I’ll leave you to it, Chip. Gotta check to make sure none of the herd broke out last night. You shore married a fine woman.”
“I sure did,” Chip said, waving to Bedivere as he flew off and then he went back inside. He sat on the edge of the bed, leaned over and kissed Lahwhinie gently, whispering, “Wake up, Lahwhinie, breakfast is here. Eat it before it burns a hole in the plate.”
Lahwhinie turned over, mumbling. “I hope it’s not as early as it feels...”
“It’s even earlier,” Chip quipped.
Lahwhinie pulled the covers back over herself. “I was afraid of that. I’m tempted to twist that triangle around that gung-ho bat’s neck. Sorry, you know I’m always cranky before the crack of noon.” After a few more minutes’ stalling, she got up and dressed while Chip went and brought in breakfast. Hot food helped her attitude, and soon she was only humorously cynical.
Lahwhinie finished her breakfast quickly. “So, what’ll we do with our last day? Bust some broncos? Eat some of those super-hot peppers again? Enter a yodeling contest?” Chip pulled on his fedora. “Well, I still have one day to live my dream of being a square dance caller.”
“Well, I’ll give them this—they sure know how to have fun,” Lahwhinie said. “I’ve never seen a bunch of people that like to yell more and kick up their heels. When I yelled at Bedivere for dipping me when we danced, he actually thought I liked it! Then when I threw him to the ground for it the second time, all he said was, ‘what a woman!’ and went right on. Still, he was nice about it I guess. Most folks out here are.”
Chip smiled at her recitation. “Well, Bedivere had his chance at having you for Mrs. Bedivere. I’m glad I’m the one you liked more.” Lahwhinie leaned over and kissed him. “He’s a little old for me, even though he is fun to be around. I’m sure he could find himself someone if he wanted. He’s the type that enjoys life too much to think about settling down now. Me, I’m getting sentimental. I miss Hawaii already, and the Bavarian food they stuffed us with at grandma and granddad’s place, and yeah I’ll even miss the early morning wakeup calls here. But you know what? I’ve missed someone more than all those things put together, and his name’s Theo.”
Chip pulled out the picture of him he carried in his jacket pocket. “Yeah, I miss the little guy too. He’s always there in the morning, bright and early, ready for the next adventure. He’s probably been worrying about us the whole time. It’ll be good to put his mind at ease.”
Lahwhinie suddenly got a wistful look on her face. “I want to give him a big hug and find out what all he’s been up to. He’s my boy now, and I can really feel that! I know we’ve already picked up a lot of stuff for him, but couldn’t we stop in Austin along the way? I’d like to find him one more little thing or three.”
“Well, I don’t suppose that would hurt,” Chip said. “But it’s his grandparents’ job to spoil him.” Lahwhinie winked, “Not when I’m around.”
When breakfast was over, the two of them went out and watched Bedivere and his hands working to shore up the fencing around the bombardier beetles. Foxy and Noel were already out there, and the two brothers shook hands. “Well Chip, it’s been good having you down,” Noel said. “Be sure to say hi to Theo for me when you get back, and tell Gadget we wish her and Dale the best.”
“I will, Noel, and I’ll miss all of you. We had such a good time here. You’ve got to keep us informed about your baby, too. We want to be here for that,” Chip said. Foxy gave him a warm smile. “We’ll let you know, darling, and we want to be there for Gadget’s baby too if we can! It looks like we’re going to be pretty close together, though, so I don’t know if that’ll work out or not. If we can’t be there, we’ll be sure at least to send along a special greeting!”
Chip pushed his fedora up on his head, thinking. “Except for Zipper and Honey, the rest of us are all going to be parents! That’s the strangest part of all.” Noel had the same thought, which wasn’t unusual. “I’ve got to admit, I never thought I’d see the day. I think we’d skirted around the issue of relationships for so long, that we’d been denying what we knew all along. I’m glad things worked out the way they did, though.”
Noel wrapped a wing around Foxy. “I’ve gotten used to being a bat now, and the Fairmonts have all treated me as one of their own. I’m very glad it worked out with you and Lahwhinie too. I can still remember that day in granddad’s lodge where he finally talked some sense into us and we made our decisions.”
“We both made the right choice. Well, we better get a move on because the longer we stay the harder it will be to leave all this behind.”
Foxy rushed up and hugged them both. “Oh, and I was just getting used to the two of you being here! Lahwhinie, thanks for helping me with those wardrobe choices. It’ll be a while before I can wear them again, but Noel and I do plan to tour some more once I’ve rested up and all.”
Lahwhinie found she wasn’t jealous of Foxy—much. “Take it easy, Foxglove. Don’t overdo rehearsing and such. That kid inside you is soon to be my niece or nephew.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll take it easy. I can’t wait until the baby comes!”
Noel put his arm around Foxy. “Me too, precious.”
The foursome said a last farewell, and then Chip and Lahwhinie headed for the RangerWing. Bedivere gave a final whoop from over at the beetle corral and the Plane was away. Lahwhinie might not have gotten to be queen of the mouse tribe, but she was queen of the shoppers. She led Chip through half of Austin before they left, but they both had fun with it.
The ride back seemed to take forever, since they both were looking forward to getting there and seeing everyone again. At last, they sighted Central Park. “Boy, it’s good to be home again,” Chip said, spying their tree. “It’s never looked better to me.”
Chip landed the Wing, and had just stepped off onto the veranda when a small furry person suddenly tackled him.
Chip laughed and dusted himself off, rubbing his son’s head. “I knew there was someone I missed having around. How’ve you been?”
Theo turned and Lahwhinie was smiling and waiting, her arms open. Theo launched himself at her too. “Mom!” Lahwhinie hugged him tightly, and kissed his cheek. “I missed you something awful, adviser.”
“Hey! What about hugs for us?” Gadget asked.
The others had waited to give Theo first shot, but it was tough given the joy of Chip and Lahwhinie’s return. Greeting after greeting ensued, then they all went inside and gathered around the sofa where the Ranger family felt almost complete. Chip looked at Dale and Gadget, and found himself smiling in wonderment. “You two, parents. We sure have come a long way since that first case with Klordane. We should tell Detective Drake about this too, unless we think he couldn’t handle it. So Dale, what’s it feel like, knowing you’re going to be a dad?”
“It’s weird, scary and really neat all at the same time,” Dale said. Chip nodded. “Yep, that sums up my experience too. Wouldn’t you say so, Lahwhinie?”
“Yeah, times a hundred. You two’ll do great. You’ll be such perfect parents they’ll put you on every family magazine cover from here to Timbuktu,” Lahwhinie said. Monty looked over at Chip and Lahwhinie and could tell they’d put in a full day. “Why don’t you two go ahead and get some shuteye, and we kin all catch up in the morning?”
Eva thought the same. “Yes, it has been a long day for you both. Ve will have breakfast piping hot for you in the morning!” Lahwhinie pushed herself up. “Uh, if it’s all the same, could we make that a piping hot lunch? Uncle Bedivere’s been getting us up before dawn the past few days.”
“No problem, dahling. You and Chip head on now, and ve will be waiting whenever you decide to awaken.”
Chip joined his wife. “Sounds good to me. Thanks everyone! It’s great to be back home, with all of you. Our lives wouldn’t be the same without you.” Dale gave his old friend a hug. “Same here…Uncle Chip and Aunt Lahwhinie.”
Chip shot him a look, but there was no malice in it. He knelt down by Theo. “Tomorrow, you name it and we’ll do it. We talked it over, and your mom and I decided we three would spend the whole day together, out on the town.” Theo hugged his dad again. “That’s great! I can’t wait. Don’t worry, it’ll be something we all can enjoy. Good night, mom and dad.”
Then Lahwhinie hugged Theo. “I’m sure it will be, sweetie. I love you, son.”
The others said their goodnights to Chip and Lahwhinie and watched them go. With that, the Rangers settled down, content with the knowledge that their leader and his love were once again where they belonged. All was right with the world, though that world would soon be getting bigger and a little more complicated for the team known as the Rescue Rangers
Duncan and Anne Oakmont, Roger and Jennifer Maplewood, Sean Maplewood, Theo Maplewood, Eva Erskine, Oscar Chesnutt, Pastor Beefy Lewis, Pete Steadman and Sweet Melissa, Justin Durkheim, Bedivere, Galahad, Daisy, and Little Foxy Fairmont, Doctor Batorious, Doctor Lazenby, Doctor Malcolm, Endre “Terminus” Zoltan, and Anna Pendergast are all original creations of Indy and Chris Silva. Hubba Hubba, Shaka Baka, Bernard and Bianca, Cheddarhead Charlie and Camembert Kate, Tammy, Bink, and Donna Chesnutt, Lahwhinie, Honey and the Rescue Rangers are copyright Disney and used without permission but with the utmost respect. Johnny Bravo is copyright Hanna-Barbera, Yoda is copyright Lucasfilm and Charlie Brown is copyright UFS Inc and all are used without permission. Jerome Kern wrote “Long Ago and Far Away” and Elvis is one of a kind.